Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Costa Rica Blog for March 21-22, 2015

I last left off when we arrived in Monteverde, and now we have just one more day left on the tour. Time has flown.

It's been amazing to have virtually no rain on the tour. On one afternoon at Savegre we had a brief shower when we pulled out our umbrellas for about 10 minutes. Then we drove through an isolated shower on our way to the Osa Peninsula. We all awoke to a brief shower here in the Caribbean lowlands at Sueño Azul Resort the night before last, but otherwise it's been sunny, but overcast in afternoons, and not too hot. Perfect birding weather. My own bird list for the trip has reached 460 species in 12 days, and it's hard to stay caught up with lists, photos, and research. Here are some photos from our day at Monteverde and our travel day to Arenal Observatory Lodge.

At Monteverde we began with two resplendent Resplendent Quetzals right at the parking lot. I was the only one to see the Buff-fronted Quail-Dove on the trail as we started to head into the forest, but three of the participants had seen one up at Savegre Lodge a few days ago. Not far down the trail I spotted an orchid growing on a rotten log in the understory, and as usual I stopped to smell it, and it was heavenly. One of the group has a highly trained nose, and he declared it was of ethyl vanilla, and I thought it smelled like a roll of freshly opened Necco wafers. My Costa Rican contact Mario Rosas quickly identified it from my photos as Prosthechea vespa, a new one for me.

Not far after we passed the orchid, two different pairs of Prong-billed Barbets began duetting, one just back down the trail, but by the time we got there, they had gone quiet, and no one was spotting any movement. We stood there for at least five minutes, searching all the branches, hoping they would move or vocalize, and I noticed this huge shelf fungus growing on a tall snag in the mid story.

As I scanned it my eyes fell on the shape of this gorgeous Prong-billed Barbet right next to the trunk. Later its partner began excavating a nest on the left side of the stump, not far below the fungus.

Our hike took us all the way to the continental divide, unusually visible, but typically windy.

I'd love to know more of the plants here, but the diversity is daunting. The gesneriad (African Violet) family is well-represented here, especially the genus Drymonia. I think this one is D. lanceolata.

On the way back down a activity wave of birds coincided with us and another birding group working their way up the road. The birds included some very close Three-striped Warblers, an Eye-ringed Flatbill, and at least two Orange-bellied Trogons. This species is flanked on nearly all sides by the red-bellied but otherwise identical in every other respect Collared Trogon. I don't know how much intergradation there is, but I suspect a lumping might be in order here.

We made the usual stop at the Hummingbird Gallery for the seven of the expected eight species of hummers (we did not see any Green Hermit), including Purple-throated Mountain-gem and Green Violetear.

The morning we left, four of us got up extra early to try for owls, and we scored two pairs of Mottled Owl.

Before leaving the area we spent a couple hours at the Santuario Ecológico where we enjoyed the amazing, rich velvet duets of Rufous-and-white Wrens and had a fabulous experience with this Chiriqui Quail-Dove.

Our next destination, largely to break up the drive all the way to the Sarapiquí region is the touristy-filled Arenal Volcano area in the Caribbean Foothills, a transition region between the Cordillera Central and the Cordillera de Guanacaste. We stopped for this photo looking at the western flank of the mountain (which stopped erupting regularly four years ago), and then drove to our lodge on the southern flank.

On the way we surprised a male Great Curassow in the road. They have increased in numbers greatly in Costa Rica since I first started guiding here 18 years ago.

This female Hercules Beetle (Dynastes hercules) was crossing the road. My driver Ricardo spotted it as he straddled it, stopped the bus, opened the door, and told me to go get the beetle in the road. One of my participants is fine with snakes, but she really didn't like having this exceedingly slow beetle, mouth parts free of any biting apparatus, inside the bus.

It seemed to be a day for beetles. It's been too warm and dry for moths, it seems, and the lights at Arenal Observatory Lodge aren't quite bright enough, but I did find just these few beetles at one light along the driveway.

I'm pretty sure this one is a soldier beetle, family Cantharidae.

This is a click beetle, family Elateridae.

This tiny thing is in the obscure family Ptilodactylidae, the "toe-winged beetles," with just 500 species worldwide. (P.S. I wonder if "toe-winged" involves a mistranslation of "ptilo," at it does look a bit like "ptero." The silky-flycatchers are the Ptilogonatidae, known for their soft feathers, and that's the meaning of that prefix. It also seems to have misconstrued the logic of word order. If you think "band-winged," "stripe-faced," or "spot-breasted" you realize that "toe-winged" means it has toes on its wings. Correcting the translation of "ptilo" and then fixing logic of the word order, I would then suggest "feather-toed beetles" for the family name.)

Finally, I actually found a name for this gorgeous longhorn on the New World Cerambycidae Catalog website, and it's quite clearly Sibapipunga beckeri, a monotypic genus.
Sibapipunga beckeri

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant

Just one photo from Costa Rica today, though I have lots. Long days, lots of birds, and many other cool critters have made this a good tour.

Today we birded La Selva Biological Station, seeing over 100 species of birds, most of them along less than 3 miles of trails. One was this Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, one of the smallest passerines in the world at 6.5 cm. It was carrying food to a nest, a messy sock of fibers hanging below a philodendron leaf about 4 meters above the trail.

We have two more days left in the tour, and maybe I'll find time to post a few more photos from the past days.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Preening Spotted Wood-Quail

Here's a video of the Spotted Wood-Quail we had at Savegre Mountain Lodge early on my ongoing Costa Rica tour.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

From the Field Costa Rica – More from Bosque del Rio Tigre

Here's another quick update from Costa Rica. Today we arrived in the Arenal area, with tons of fun sightings, but since the previous blog was part of my From the Field post to the WINGS website, I tried to keep it short, leaving out some highlights from Bosque del Rio Tigre lodge on the Osa Peninsula.

It's a short walk down a forest trail from the lodge to a small pond where a pair of Boat-billed Herons breeds. One one day, the two fledged juveniles were perched perfectly visible from the trail, one of them in a very comical sitting position.

Just outside the kitchen in the main lodge building is a little cleared area where they scatter a bit of rice. Seeing a Little Tinamou is nowhere as easy as here, and we were lucky to see at least three individuals. Other things coming to the rice included Blue and Ruddy Ground-Doves, a Dusky Rice Rat and a Tome's Spiny Rat.

Paltry Tyrannulet is perhaps the most widespread bird in Costa Rica, found at more elevations and habitats than even Clay-colored Thrush or Great-tailed Grackle. But this is the first time I've spotted a nest. In this photo, you can see the two birds in the upper right, and I've drawn an arrow at the entrance to the nest where we watched one bird carry some moss.

I recognized this lovely terrestrial orchid from a trip I took to Alagoas, Brazil eight years ago. It is Sacoila lanceolata, and it turns out to have a very large range that even includes Florida.

This little metalmark is the common but very difficult-to-find and photograph Guianan Jewelmark, Sarota gyas. It is only about eight millimeters in length. This male (note the four functional legs; females have six in metalmarks) was on his territory at the late hour of 12:40 p.m. – sitting on top of leaves and flying out to chase intruders right in front of the lodge.

From the Field Costa Rica 1

A quick report from my ongoing tour of Costa Rica:

We arrived at Monteverde this evening for a two-night stay, meaning our 13 days of birding in Costa Rica were half over at noon today. We've already had almost too many amazing bird and wildlife encounters to remember, but we're snapping lots of photos to keep track. At Cerro de la Muerte we briefly disturbed three Spotted Wood-Quail next to the trail, but then they settled down almost right away for a preening session right next to the trail. Rarely are these birds so confiding.

Then we discovered some great things in the far southwest at Bosque del Rio Tigre. While we were watching a Squirrel Cuckoo gathering caterpillars over the road, one of the group noticed something large moving in the grass on the roadside. Out from there emerged this Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth, slowly crossing the road right in front of us.

Most of the group took a short hike up a forested stream bed to see this most gorgeous little Gulfo Dulce Poison Dart Frog.


Near the town we found this Gray-lined Hawk, only recently split from the northern Gray Hawk, and this was also a first for me in Costa Rica.


Today we birded Carara National Park for a bit, where one of the most memorable sightings was a pair of Red-legged Honeycreepers feeding on the bright red arils of the open fruits of huevos de caballo, a member of the dogbane genus Tabernaemontana.


And after lunch at Ensenada Lodge we spotted some good mangrove specialties (Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, Mangrove Vireo, and Mangrove Warbler), but a highlight for everyone was this roosting Pacific Screech-Owl with two fledged young perched right above it.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

My First Rough-legged Tyrannulet in Costa Rica

Today was my first full day guiding my 19th tour (20th trip) in Costa Rica. We've gotten off to a rather disjointed start. Since Volcán Turrialba blew a big cloud of ash that drifted right over San José and its international airport on Thursday mid-day, all flights were canceled for a day and a half. I was stranded in Fort Worth for two nights, while one participant was stuck in Houston, and the other in Phoenix. I got in yesterday afternoon, one participant should be arriving around midnight tonight, and the last one won't catch up with us until tomorrow afternoon. Makes life interesting.

We were in the Cerro de la Muerte area all day, birding around Savegre Lodge and the Providencia Road. The highlight for me was my first Rough-legged Tyrannulet in Costa Rica, finally. My first ever was just in Brazil a little over a year ago, but it seems that these are quite likely two different species. This one would be called either Zeledon's or White-fronted Tyrannulet if they are split (which the IOC already does).

It was mostly sunny with lots of butterflies, but few would sit. This Pale-banded Gemmed Satyr, Cyllopsis philodice, finally did.

A pair of Long-tailed Silky-flycatchers are nesting right outside our rooms. The male seem to stand guard most of the time.

I spotted this orchid blooming next to the road and made Ricardo stop so we could look at it. Marino, the owner of the lodge, tells me it is in the genus Telipogon, and it is one of the few orchids that can be found blooming during this time of year. August is the main season for orchids.

In the late afternoon we had some good finds, but three Spotted Wood-Quail that were not threatened by our presence just a few feet away sat next to the trail and preened each other.

Not a bad day.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Some Birds of Chaparrí Reserve

White-winged Guan is one of the reasons that Chaparrí Reserve exists (the other being the Spectacled Bear). Endemic to just NW Peru, it's one of the rarest birds in South America, as pressures from habitat loss and hunting nearly wiped it out. So a program to release captive-bred birds was started here. Soon they were seeing more of these marvelous birds than they had released, including adults that couldn't have been offspring, confirming that some did still exist here. A super tame bird like this one that I photographed in December 2011 may very well be one of the released birds, but this far into the program, and ten years since the last release, third and fourth generation birds from this very successful program are being seen. The largest single population of the species is in these hills, and it's estimated that 250 wild bird exist.

Not so rare is the Andean Condor. If they had had as much lead ammunition here as we do in North America, it could very well have gone extinct by now.

I spent most of the time looking for birds in the denser woods at the lodge and along the stream, but the entrance road with it's more open, desolate desert had some interesting birds.

This is where we found Sulphur-throated Finch as well as flocks of these Parrot-billed Seedeaters.

Once at the lodge there was plenty to see. This is a Baird's Flycatcher, closely related to Sulphur bellied Flycatcher.

A Collared Antshrike, one of the specialties of drier SW Ecuador and NW Peru.

What to call this one? Golden-bellied Grosbeak? Southern Yellow Grosbeak? Or the current SACC name Golden Grosbeak, changed just a year or so ago?

The cute Gray-and-white Tyrannulet is in its own genus (Pseudelaenia) and doesn't seem to be closely related to other tyrant-flycatchers.

Long-tailed Mockingbird is a conspicuous bird here.

As is the gorgeous White-tailed Jay, which comes to feeders.

Pacific Parrotlets fly around in little twittering flocks, feeding on seeds in the weeds and trees.

The tiny Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant, actually showing its rusty front (the front in birds is the same as forehead – the feathering between the bill and the crown).

Sooty-crowned Flycatcher is endemic to the dry forests of western Ecuador and Peru.

This bird is called Tropical Pewee by current AOU/SACC taxonomy, but it's one of the more obvious errors committed by the deaf lumpers of the past century. The IOC does split it, calling it Tumbes Pewee, but there's more work to be done there, as two or three of the remaining subspecies of Tropical Pewee are obviously not conspecific, with utterly different vocalizations.

The Tumbes Sparrow is a regional specialty, and one of few true “New World Sparrows” in South America. It was once together with a bunch of ours in Aimophila, but it and the southern Stripe-capped Sparrow are in the new genus Rhynchospiza.

My favorite here was the White-headed Brushfinch, another New World Sparrow, closely related to our towhees.