Sunday, 23 March 2014

Costa Rica - The Final Cut (Arenal Part II)

It has been 17 days since Donna and I got back from Costa Rica. It was difficult at first adjusting to the glacial world we live in.  I've adjusted to the weather but the birds! There is an absolute lack of novelty around the Avalon Peninsula in late March.  We try to turn overwintering Ring-billed Gulls into spring migrants. We get excited now that local nesting kittiwakes have moved into St. John's harbour where they will be daily until early August when they go back to sea.  Quidi Vidi Lake was our sanity savoir during the winter with the gulls and ducks.  But in spring we are seeing the same ducks that we've been looking at for months and there isn't anything much turning up among the gulls. Besides those nasty Bald Eagles are keeping the gulls thin on the ground. Spring is desperate times in Newfoundland. After a long winter scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel-birding of spring is going to be a mental challenge.  I suggest an alternative hobby to get us though the last week of March and all of April. It is called DYFO  (drinking your face off)  every day for the next five weeks. The consequences will be less severe than trying to live on the satisfaction from spring birding on the Avalon. 

Below are images from a time that seems like a life time ago but were actually just a few weeks back.  

Golden-hooded Tanager is a fairly widespread and locally common tanager in Costa Rica. It is possible to get used to them. It happened to me, but overall they are well up there in the ten most stunning colour combinations of all the Costa Rican tanagers.  They are much smaller than the Hepatic Tanager in the same frame.

A Golden-hooded Tanager waits for a Clay-coloured Robin to finish feeding on a watermelon skin.

Passerini's Tanagers were even more numerous than the Golden-hooded Tanagers at the fruit feeder just off the deck of the Arenal Observatory restaurant.  

Bay-headed Tanagers did not visit the feeders but were present in these trees I heard called 'gumdrop' tree.  This was also where the stunning Emerald Tanagers were found.

Banaquits were commonly seen in the flowers planted around the restaurant.

Although common and a frequent sight, I never got used to the Red-legged Honeycreepers feeding in the flowers. 
Brown Jay is another bird one could forget to photograph because they are so in your face around the fruit feeder.

The only White-throated Robins I have ever seen were the dozen of so feeding around one particular 'gumdrop' tree every morning.

Black-crested Coquettes were uncommon but tame when you found them feeding on the flowers.

This Gray-crowned Yellowthroat was one of the few birds that actually came to my pishing in Costa Rica.  I was trying to get better looks at various seedeaters at the time.

Arenal is a place I could easily go back to. There was plenty I learned about after I departed. For instance the panoramic view of the forest behind this Keel-billed Toucan has visible Lovely Cotinga and Three-wattled Bellbird in the late afternoons if you know what tree to search.

Birders visiting Costa Rica usually land at capital city of San Jose. Thirty minutes from the airport is Hotel Bougainvillea where birders often spend their first and last nights in Costa Rica. The huge garden behind the hotel has lots of nice birds.  It is a bigger hit on the Day One than the last day after already being blasted by Costa Rican bird novelty.  Below are a few snaps of birds in that garden.

Rufous-capped Warbler is probably widespread within its Costa Rican range but the only individuals I saw were behind Hotel Bougainvillea.

Red-billed Pigeon is an attractive woodland pigeon and quite widespread. If you don't take a picture of it on your first day you might forget to do it later.

White-eared Ground-Sparrow has a very limited range in Costa Rica and if don't see it at Bougainvillea you might not see it at all. Shy! Very shy for a so called sparrow.

They are plenty of North American breeding species spending the winter in Costa Rica. At Hotel Bougainvillea Tennessee Warbler was particularly numerous but there were also Yellow Warblers, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Summer Tanagers and this Yellow-throated Vireo.  

There is serious exotica on the Hotel Bougainvillea grounds including Squirrel Cuckoos, Grayish Saltators and everyone's favourite to start of a Costa Rica vacation with, the Blue-crowned Motmot.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

More Costa Rica - Arenal Part I of II

Gets harder each day to go back and edit pictures from a trip that seems so far away now. The first place my wife and I stayed in Costa Rica after leaving San Jose was the Arenal Observatory Lodge. It is difficult to pick a favourite place in Costa Rica when each place is so great with significant differences between each place but out of the three locations visited in 2014 and four places visited in 2008, Arenal might be my favourite location. It has excellent gardens and feeders with a great and varied supply of species. There is good forest habitat within walking distance of the lodge and plenty of very good areas within a short drive if you know where to go (I did not) but the information is there with some research. The lodge area is good birding. The first bird I saw from the back window of the room was a male Orange-bellied Trogon. The deck behind the restaurant provides a huge panoramic view of primary rain forest. White Hawks live here. I saw one. The feeders host an endless supply of exotic colour.  Berry bushes and ornamental flowers attract other species in good numbers. And the peak of the volcano occasionally comes into view depending on the mood of the clouds. The restaurant is excellent. The beer is cold. They make a drink called the White Hawk.  
Less than a minute after entering our room at Arenal Observatory Lodge I noted this Orange-bellied Trogon out the back window.

The next day the female showed up.  I saw no other Orange-bellied Trogons during the trip.

These purple flowers were planted in rows everywhere around the kept grounds.  They attracted plenty of hummingbirds and small flocks of the irresistible Red-legged Honeycreeper. 

The fruit feeders were well attended but best be there in the first hours of daylight before the fruit is all eaten.  The Green Honeycreeper was a jaw-dropper even among the non-birders sipping their morning coffee on the deck and casually watching the feeders. 

From left to right - Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Hepatic Tanager and Green Honeycreeper (female).
Buff-throated Saltators also visited the fruit feeders.

The Black-striped Sparrow cautiously scratched in the shade under the garden trees.

Chestnut-sided Warblers were perfectly at home at Arenal. Wonder why they would even think about flying all the way back to eastern Canada to nest?

Chestnut-billed Toucan (this photo), Keel-billed Toucan and Collared Aracari are all fairly easy to see around the Arenal hotel gardens.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar is one of the many interesting species to be found on the wilder trails within easy walking distance of the hotel. 

Black-headed Nightengale-Thrush on a deep jungle trail seemed like a very exciting find to me but it is said to be common in the area. It is the only one I've ever seen. Books do not do this bird justice. I am thinking not many people actually see this 'common' species.

A Laughing Falcon surveys a cattle field for snakes. A new bird for me.

Generally I had the poorest of the poor luck with raptors in Costa Rica. This Semiplumbeous Hawk was the one exception to the rule.

 Howler monkeys provided an interesting dawn chorus to the dawn sounds at the hotel.

This Masked Frog clings to the side of a rain forest tree just like it should.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Idle Sunday Around St. John's

Yet another quiet Sunday birding around St. John's. Basically this means sitting by Quidi Vidi Lake half of the day waiting for a miracle while looking at the same old ducks and going through the gulls seeing the same old species.  No miracle bird noted today.  Attached are a few pictures of the day.

The first three pictures are of a 1st winter hybrid GBBG x GLGU.  This hybrid combo has surpassed HERG x GLGU as the most numerous combo in St. John's during winter. Numerous is a relative term, hybrid gulls are still rare compared to the Pacific coast of North America.

The above two photos are of a 2nd winter hybrid GBBG x HERG. In the first picture the hybrid is swimming with a pure GBBG of the same age. The pale primaries are the key feature in picking out all ages (including adults) of this hybrid combo.

This adult Common Gull is a winter fixture  at Quidi Vidi Lake. It was banded in St. John's when in 2nd winter plumage three winters ago. So the bird is now nearing the end of it fourth year of life.  It's 4th birthday will be in June 2014.

There are endless opportunities to photograph perfect plumaged Tufted Ducks and both scaup species at QV Lake.  They do look good but I don't use up too much digital space on them.

Common Mergansers became a hit for photographers this winter when they started showing up in confined water holes at the lake. 

I did check out other ponds and the harbour today. At the pond in front of the Health Sciences Building I was distracted from the gulls and ducks by a good flock of robins, about 75, that started feeding on the bare patches of grass under the ornamental pine trees. There is a realistic chance there could be a wintering Redwing among them. As per normal when you are getting deep into checking out a winter robin flock a Sharp-shinned Hawk flies in to ruin the party. Usually the hawk disperses the birds and then goes on without catching anything. That is what seemed to be happening again as the 75 robins shot into the air  and headed toward Long Pond.  Then I heard the squealing and looked over to see a puff of feathers. The hawk had surprised a robin and me. They went down behind a snow bank.  The crows reacted and sat low in the trees cawing angrily and looking down to where I was guessing the hawk was.  I drove the car over to the next parking lot to see what I could see.  

The Sharp-shinned Hawk was mantling his prey to shield it from the view of the crows that could potentially drive it off the prized prey.

The robin was still alive.  I am thinking it didn't want to draw attention to robin by killing it while the crow were watching.

The robin was alive in the talons of the hawk for 2 or 3 minutes.  When the bird was finally dead (suffocation?) the hawk picked it up and flew low and rapidly over the lawn into thick cover where it could enjoy that fat robin in peace.  

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Carara Area, Costa Rica Feb 26-28, 2014

Carara National Park, midway along the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, is one of the best birding locations in Costa Rica.  We stayed in a nearby beach resort called Punta Leona. This gated complex is definitely aimed at pleasing beach goers but the extensive manicured grounds are excellent for birding. The road in from the highway, while busy, goes through some nice forest.  This was a good base for visiting nearby Carara and Tarcoles River. It was also hot and very humid. My Canon EOS 1D Mark IV failed half way through the stay. The mirror was sticking in the up position after every shot.  It was fine again after moving to the cooler mountains but it meant I did not have the camera while visiting Carara.  Carara was the only place I paid for guiding services during the trip. For six hours I had the excellent services of Johan Fernadez.  A true master at getting the birds out of the jungle. The six hours birding with him in Carara was by far the highlight of the entire Costa Rica trip. We saw many nice jungle birds including sweet views of a Streak-chested Antpitta.

Scarlet Macaw is conspicuous and noisy at the Punta Leona beach resort. I ended up knowing about five nests on the grounds. I am sure there were more. 

These macaws were present in the evening at holes used for roosting and probably nesting. No matter how often you saw these spectacular birds it was difficult to think of them as free ranging wild birds and not part of zoo set up. 

A pair of Slaty-tailed Trogons had a territory by our sleeping unit. 

A Pale-billed Woodpecker is bringing this very large grub to a nestling in a tree by the road in the middle of the hotel complex.  An Orange-chinned Parakeet had a nest hole at the top of the same tree.

The Rufous-naped Wren was very numerous on the hotel grounds.

Great Kiskadee and its smaller cousins Social and Gray-capped Flycatchers were rarely out of sight or sound on the Punta Leona hotel grounds.

Groove-billed Anis walk with the Great-tailed Grackles on the manicured lawns looking for insects.

My prize find in the jungle habitat along the road coming into the hotel was this female Black-hooded Antshrike which actually turned out to be fairly common in Carara Nat Park. Oh well it was exciting at the time.

Blue morpho butterflies were common in the jungle habitat. Like waving a sheet of paper up and down that is glowing sky blue on top and brown below this amazing insects turns to leaf brown as soon as it hits the dirt.

Costa Rica is full of surprises for a Newfoundland birder but the biggest surprise of all was encountering this crab  in the woods.  How could I have not heard about this one!? They are called the Halloween Crab. It lives on land.  Then I realised  the leaves on the forest floors were moving with many hundreds of these crabs all crawling down slope like an army of alien  invaders.  There were none to be seen the next morning.

Lizards are a common sight on the hotel grounds. This is called the Jesus Christ lizard because of its ability to run short distances over the surface of water.

The Tarcoles River which empties into the ocean from Carara Nat Park into mangrove delta. There are a number of boat rides into the bird rich channels.  Most people on the boats want to see crocodiles which are unmissable but the boat drivers also know what important birds the birders are after such as Panama Flycatcher, Mangrove Vireo, Mangrove Hummingbird and American Pygmy Kingfisher.  Missed Mangrove Hummer on this trip but luckily did see it on the same boat ride in 2008.

The Tarcoles River crocodiles are very friendly.  This one looks like it hasn't brushed its teeth in a while and it doesn't care.

Purple Gallinules and several species of heron (even Great Blue Heron) and egrets were familiar North American birds numerous along the river.

A Mangrove Cuckoo in the mangroves was a life bird.

American Pygmy Kingfisher was just one of five species of kingfisher we saw along the river  Many people add it to their life lists on this trip, as I did in 2008. We had good looks at two on this trip. They are about one third the size of a Belted Kingfisher.