The Gone Birding Newsletter

Vol. 2, No. 1

January 2001



New Bird Species Reported for Costa Rica!

On 30 November 2000, Jim Zook discovered Crested Oropendolas (Psarocolius decumanus) in southwestern Costa Rica. During the following two weeks, he had a total of five sightings of both small groups of oropendolas and single birds. Several sightings were within a few kilometers of the Wilson Botanical Garden, Las Cruces, Coto Brus and the others about some 20 Km away. Apparently, Luis Diego Gómez, the director of the garden, has seen unidentified oropendolas flying over the grounds, so visiting birders ought to be on the alert.

Since this species ranges from nearby western Panama south to Bolivia and inhabits forest borders, second growth, and clearings with scattered trees, there doesn't seem to be any reason why it wouldn't have eventually reached across the Costa Rican border.



Lark Sparrow Digitally Documented

Well, no, they didn't take its toe prints, but a WINGS tour group led by Rich Hoyer found a Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus) while here in November. Cathy Pasterczyk sent the following report:

"Participants in the October-November WINGS Costa Rica tour saw a Lark Sparrow. Rich Hoyer, the WINGS tour leader, spotted the bird on Monday 6 November 2000 at 4:30 PM in southern Guanacaste Province, one kilometer west of the Abangaritos Bridge. Rich immediately knew that the Lark Sparrow was not in Stiles and Skutch and therefore required documentation. Cathy Pasterczyk, one of the participants, took four photographs of the bird with a Sony Mavica digital camera, through a Leica scope. All the tour participants, including also Kent Lannert, Eric and Patsy Decker, and Charlie Carruthers got to see the bird. It was life bird only for Ricardo Gómez, our excellent bus driver and bird spotter from Horizontes, a San Jose-based ecotourism company. Once home, Rich told Gary Rosenberg, another WINGS tour leader, about the bird. Gary said that his brother [Ken] also saw a Lark Sparrow in Costa Rica many years ago (around 1990) during a Christmas Bird Count. That bird was located near Carara along the entrance road to Jaco."

Yes, I remember the moment well . . . sitting at the Tico-Tico Restaurant in the tropical twilight at the end of a long day -- the first and only (to date) Carara Christmas Bird Count -- and hearing Ken Rosenberg and Charlie Gómez tell us of how a Lark Sparrow "fell out of the sky and landed on a fence wire" practically right beside them!

As far as I know, the recent sighting constitutes just the third record for this species in Costa Rica, and the second documented record following a bird mistnetted and banded in Tortuguero National Park by the late Daniel Hernández in October 1992.




Oilbird Found on Cerro de la Muerte

This time it was a whole bird! On 3 October 2000, an Oilbird (Steatornis caripensis) was discovered roosting in a tree on Eddie Serrano's Farm at Km 70 on Cerro de la Muerte. Jorge Serrano spotted the bird amidst a sprawling epiphyte on a limb some six meters up in a tree while birding with three visitors -- one of who took photographs, which reportedly didn't turn out too well owing to all the vegetation.

Interestingly, Jorge told me that the roosting bird was close to a spot where a year ago he found a large concentration of droppings on the ground one morning . . . ? ? ? Since the sighting in early October there haven't been any additional observations.



Thick-knees et. al. at Los Reyes

At 7:30 on the morning of November 1, as I was in the middle of getting the kids out the door and off to school, Winnie Orcutt rang with news of an Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) she'd just been watching from her kitchen window. Always a nice bird to see as it passes through the country on its way south, I was tempted to jump in the car and run right over to the Los Reyes Country Club, where Winnie lives. But duty called.

Once the kids had climbed onto the school bus, I called Rudy Zamora, a birding buddy who lives fairly close by. Soon after, he showed up at the house with José (El Indio) Calvo and we drove out to Winnie's (which is across the street from the Butterfly Farm in La Guácima, for those unfamiliar with Los Reyes). It was nearly 9:00 by the time we actually arrived and Winnie told us that it'd been about half an hour since she'd last seen the bird. Surveying the area, my spirits began to dim as I realized just how much suitable habitat there was -- grass was everywhere and the bird could have been anywhere.

We'd wandered around the neighborhood a bit, even peering into a few backyards and waving to the fellows in the security patrol vehicle, when Rudy, standing atop a small boulder, announced he had the bird. Sure enough, the big peep was working its way through the grass at the far side of the field and we all had good looks, including scope views, before it eventually vanished in vegetation taller than it.

Winnie mentioned that the thick-knees were back again -- this is the fourth year now that she's seen Double-striped Thick-knees (Burhinus bistriatus) at Los Reyes and, together with a sighting she had a few years ago at El Rodeo (just across the river gorge from Los Reyes) constitute the only Central Valley records of this species in Costa Rica -- so we drove over to have a look. A lot easier than finding the Upland Sandpiper, three thick-knees stood stoically in a field at the back end of the complex. Neat!

When the kids got back from school it was raining and they were disappointed about having missed the sandpiper, so I took them out to look for it at dawn the next morning. We couldn't find the sandpiper in the vicinity of where it had been, but I got lucky and saw a Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) perching on the top of a cane stalk before dropping down and disappearing in the dense plantation. This migrant warbler is not commonly seen in Costa Rica and would have been a lifer for the boys, but none of them saw it, which only compounded the frustration of missing the Upland Sandpiper, too.

The thick-knees were still in the same general spot; four of them, in fact. Winnie has seen as many as eight in previous years. However, since they weren't lifers, the boys were not impressed. What I'm curious to know, though, is if this is a seasonal migration from Guanacaste at the wettest time of the year there (Winnie has only seen the thick-knees at Los Reyes in October, although this year was not all that wet), or do these birds represent a range extension (and if so, where are they spending the other 11 months of the year)?



Cartago CBC Couldn't Be Choicer

The Costa Rican Christmas Bird Counts kicked off on December 10 with the 14th Annual Cartago Count organized by Julio Sánchez. My route encompassed the lower section of Tapantí National Park and, together with three of my sons (Daniel, David, and Roberto) and Robert Dean, we set off on Saturday afternoon (Dec 09) to be in situ for the count. Taking advantage of the last hour or so of daylight, we birded the Oropendola Trail and just a few paces into the forest were nicely rewarded with a mixed flock that included Red-headed Barbet (Eubucco bourcierii), Red-faced Spinetail (Cranioleuca erythrops), and Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant (Lophotriccus pileatus), along with a nearby Black-bellied Hummingbird (Eupherusa nigriventris).

It was almost 17:00 when we reached the picnic area down by the Orosi River, where we tried playing a tape of Scaled Antpitta (Grallaria guatimalensis) since I'd seen this species there in the past. It wasn't long before young Roberto called, "Aquí está!" The bird had hopped right out in the open in front of him while we'd been peering into the brush around the other side of the restroom building. More playback produced adequate looks through the fairly thick vegetation that it had hopped back into.

With a life bird for all of the rest, we were feeling pretty good as we continued along the path, but hadn't gone very far when a small bird flew up on our left and landed about eye-level on a branch. I had an entirely backlit view of a plump bird with a very short tail that gave the first impression of being a spadebill. I was just getting bins on it when David announced that it was "the other antpitta!" Sure enough, we were all face-to-face with our first Ochre-breasted Antpitta (Grallaricula flavirostris)! It behaved extremely well and flew short distances to new low perches several times during the two minutes or so that we watched it.

One remarkable thing about the bird was that it repeatedly swiveled its body back and forth around its longitudinal axis. Only the body seemed to make the short rotations, the long slender legs scarcely moved at all.

We could hardly get over having seen two antpittas within less than ten minutes, but kept wondering if we'd see either of them the next day during the count. Well, in the interest of brevity, yes! And not only did we get them both, we even had better and longer looks at each!

As if this weren't enough, six days later during the Birding Club of Costa Rica's December outing at the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, we saw another Ochre-breasted Antpitta, which eight of us got to watch for nearly ten minutes!

My oldest son, Leonardo, wasn't with us for these sightings and would have been really gripped off except for the fact that while participating in the Monteverde CBC at the Poco Sol site he saw three species of antpittas: Ochre-breasted, Scaled, and Thicket!

All of these sightings make me wonder how I could have missed the Ochre-breasted Antpitta all these years. I guess it's one more example of "breaking the ice" with a species.

CBC Quick Summary

Although I haven't received all of the final data, by all counts the Y2K CBCs were very successful here in Costa Rica. Cartago broke its previous record by some 20 species, logging a total of 313. Likewise, La Selva had an all-time best effort with 345 spp., topping the old mark of 333 -- this in spite of what initially seemed like a lackluster year with nothing terribly noteworthy being reported in the sector of La Selva proper, although Orlando Vargas and those with him on the river route (including my wife and daughter) added a new species to the area list: American Wigeon (Anas americana).

I'm still awaiting word from Alex Villegas and Rafa Campos about the final outcome of the Monteverde and Grecia counts, respectively. Everyone I've spoken to about the Monteverde count has given the impression that it'll be another big year. And although the Grecia count suffered somewhat from fewer participants than hoped for, Winnie Orcutt, the boys and I turned in our best effort ever for the La Garita/Turrucares sector that we've been doing for the last seven years. We managed to tally 98 species in what is predominantly an agricultural (and increasingly suburban) area, and added three new records for the count: Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja), Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata), and Streak-backed Oriole (Icterus pustulatus). The former two species were both represented by single individuals at the San Miguel de Turrucares I.C.E. catchment pond, where seven Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis) were also present. The Streak-backed Oriole was one of eight icterids found in the Rancho Montisel development. If this was not just a wandering individual (or even an escaped cage bird), it represents a significant range expansion for the species. Likewise, the Boat-billed Herons (Cochlearius cochlearius) were again found roosting at the I.C.E. La Garita dam site. At some 600 meters above sea level, this site represents an elevational record for the species in Costa Rica.



Two Pheasant Cuckoo Reports

During a visit to the Wilson Garden in October, I couldn't help being impressed by Jim Zook's report of a Pheasant Cuckoo (Dromococcyx phasianellus). And not so much for the bird itself, rare and elusive goodie that it is, as for the manner in which Jim left an entry in the logbook for animal sightings (kept near the coffee machine in the dining area). As a lesson to all of us who should know better, and with Jim's permission, I reproduce his record:

Sept. 2, 2000 - Pheasant Cuckoo (Dromococcyx phasianellus)

A juvenile, seen along the Wilson Forest Trail (WG 32 trail marker) just above the carril and mojón that mark the old Gamboa property boundary, at 7:00. No sign of foster parents although the bird seemed pretty old, old enough to be on its own. The bird flushed off the trail and flew up to a vine at eye level and perched so that I saw mostly its back, but also the side of its head and neck. It was very dark brown above, no prominent white tips to upperpart feathers, what I could see of underparts were all rich buff in color, with a pronounced buffy eye stripe, head was not crested, or what crest there was, was layed flat. Big head, thin neck and strong dark and light pattern made it look almost like a sungrebe. Long markedly graduated tail, all dark from above. The bird sat still while I watched it for about 5 minutes. I gave a whistled imitation of the adult's call but there was no response from the bird other than to slightly puff out its throat. As soon as I took a step to get closer (I was about 20m away with an unobstructed view) the bird flew off, uttering a single sharp, Quetzal-like bark, and that was it. Hope I don't have to wait another 12 years before I see my next Pheasant Cuckoo.

- Jim Zook


In October, George and Val Wallace apparently saw a Pheasant Cuckoo at El Rodeo, about one kilometer before the Cabriola Restaurant, in a coffee plantation alongside the road. That makes eight species of Cuculidae known for El Rodeo.



Lana @ Luna Lodge Logs In

After the last edition of the GBN, Lana Wedmore and I had the following exchange of correspondence:

LW: I just wanted to tell you about some of the birds that we have been seeing at Luna Lodge on the Peninsula de Osa near Carate. The guides have seen the Crested Eagle (Morphnus guianensis) more than six times and last week on the 22nd of Sept. I was doing yoga on the deck at around 4:00pm and he flew right in front of the deck. One of the guides came out and then all of the staff and we all saw it. He stayed in front of the Lodge for quite some time, long enough for all of us to get a good look. He then flew up and was right above us. Circling for the longest time. We saw and heard him for at least 30 mins. We saw on the 14th of Sept. six Turquoise Cotingas (Cotinga ridgwayi) on our property right around the Lodge. We have seen the Ornate Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus ornatus) quite a few times. The Black-cheeked Ant Tanager (Habia atrimaxillaris) is common here. We see it quite frequently. I just wanted to inform you of some of the special birds that we have been seeing and keeping track of. The bird watching has been amazing this year.

RG: Having had such nice looks at the Crested Eagle, what do you think: Was there really a Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) around last year, or might it have been Crested Eagle (which is impressively large)?

LW: The guides are still quite sure it was a Harpy Eagle. The size was quite different. We will keep you informed.

Please do!




Website by Association

Another online birding resource for Costa Rica now exists. The Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica recently unveiled its website (in Spanish), where in addition to finding out about some recent rare bird sightings you can see a photo of an albino Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl) that's been hanging out around the church in Curridabat (east of San José).




Beginning with this edition of the newsletter, I'm introducing this section to address updates to information presented in past editions.


Rufous-necked Wood-Rail News Gets Response

The report of a Rufous-necked Wood-Rail (Aramides axillaris) nesting in Monteverde drew some raised eyebrows (though apparently the folks at the Ecological Farm have video of the bird) and also prompted this interesting input from Eduardo Amengual:

Today I was reading (one can never stop) the Handbook of the Birds of the World and I found some info that might be helpful to understand the presence of Rufous-necked Wood-rail at Monteverde. The description of the habitat of this species is as follows:

"Mangrove swamps, coastal marshes, lagoons and mudflats, and swamp forest: in South America also dense forest undergrowth, forest edge and deciduous woodland. Mainly occurs in coastal and low altitude areas in Central America, but in South America ascends to 1.800 m. in open cloud forest." I'd say not only in South America!!!!

It seems very likely that this is one more example of new light being shed on the whereabouts and habits of the Costa Rican avifauna.

By the way, I recently heard of two reports (October and November) of this wood-rail at the Wilson Garden. I admit to being a bit skeptical since I know that the Gray-necked Wood-Rail (Aramides cajanea) is quite common there. Also, I asked Jim Zook, who has done a lot of bird censusing at the garden and in the surrounding areas (see elsewhere in this edition) and he's never seen the Rufous-necked Wood-Rail there. Nonetheless, you never know what other people saw.


More on Caribbean Caracaras

Eduardo Amengual also passed along this information regarding the occurrence of Yellow-headed Caracara (Milvago chimachima) on the eastern side of Costa Rica:

During my stay at the South Caribbean I birdwatched a lot and I read in your July newsletter that you have no info on the presence of Milvago chimachima in Caribbean Costa Rica. I saw it twice during my stay there. On December 20, 1999 I saw two birds flying together and playing on the wing 2 kilometers after Bribri on the main road to Sixaola. On February 24, 2000 I also saw a bird between Cahuita and Tuba Creek. In CR the only possible confusion is with Herpetotheres, a fairly common bird in the area, which I saw quite often. I had also seen Milvago on the Pacific side of CR long before.

So, Paul Coopmans' prediction has come to pass!


Blue-tailed Hummingbird Seen by Robert Dean

Following my "discovery" of this rare hummingbird in my slide collection [someday I'll have the photos scanned and posted], Miguel Ortega mentioned that he was quite sure he saw this species in Sarapiquí several years ago. And Robert Dean has recently (November) had two sightings of Blue-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia cyanura) while birding near his home in Montezuma.



Eagles, Birdies and Fowl Play

As a final note, I'd like to pass along this tidbit gleaned from the naturerecordists group:

Date: Wed, 11 Oct 2000 20:57:46 -0000


Subject: PGA nat sound

Hey, what do you guys think of this? Several weeks ago our group discussed hearing White-Crowned Sparrows [Zonotrichia leucophrys] singing out of range (for the month of August) at the PGA golf tournament in Louisville KY. More on this comes from a syndicated NEWS QUIRKS column written by Roland Sweet (Athens NEWS and AlterNet Contributor): "CBS Sports admitted dubbing recorded bird sounds into the background of televised golf tournaments after bird enthusiasts watching the PGA Championship on television said they thought some of the bird calls they were hearing belonged to birds that were not normally found in Louisville, KY, in August. "The network explained it was experimenting with using a compact disc of bird sounds to provide ambient sound but promised not to do it again, although a source at CBS told the New York Times that technicians still scatter birdseed around microphones on the ground to attract genuine ambience.


Scott M. Moody, Associate Professor & Chair, Undergraduate Advising and Curriculum Committee Dept. of Biological Sciences, Irvine Room 318 (office) 316 (lab) 042 (vertebrate collections) Ohio University, Athens OH 45701-2939 740-593-2360 FAX 740-593-0300


[Ever since reading this, I've listened to televised Costa Rican soccer matches with renewed interest, but so far haven't even heard a Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)!]



I hope that you've enjoyed this newsletter and welcome any comments at or if you're in Costa Rica, feel free to give me a ring at 293-2710.

Wishing you all great birding,

Richard Garrigues


April 2000

July 2000

October 2000