Category: Costa Rica (Page 1 of 2)

Costa Rica (2018) #3 – Birding Dominical: Small Birds

Golden-hooded Tanager Dominical Costa Rica

Golden-hooded Tanagers add sparkle to mixed flocks

Birding Dominical: The Tiny Birds

In a previous post , I covered the big birds we saw from the property at Villa Chill near Dominical, Costa Rica.  In this post, I’ll cover the small birds I identified (think tanager and smaller). The rate of identified birds per bird seen was much lower here than with the toucans and hawks and such. Many were moving quickly at the tops of trees or moving quickly through dense cover. Some were calling but never seen. Others were calling, and staying perfectly still. There are many ways to detect but not identify a bird. And I succeeded in them all.

The first full day we had on the property, I got up at the crack of dawn and wandered around. I thought at times I’d never make it back to the house. At nearly every turn, you could stand still for five minutes and a dozen birds would be moving all around you. Some were easy to ID. The easiest were the familiar birds, like Summer Tanager, Chestnut-sided Warbler, House Wren and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. I had also studied up, so I was ready to identify birds I’d never seen before. Great places for prep work on Costa Rica bird knowledge: Patrick O’Donnell’s blog about birding Costa Rica, and the best (and delightfully compact) field guide to the birds of Costa Rica.

But nothing can prepare you for your first big mixed flock in Costa Rica. It happened to me about 45 minutes into my walk. And it was like being a kid in a candy store. We don’t get fallouts on the West Coast. And this surely wasn’t anything close to a big fallout. But I’d never seen so much activity in a single tree. All told, I found in the same damn tree all of the following: Golden-hooded Tanager, Scarlet-rumped Tanager, Palm Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Blue Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Philadelphia Vireo, an apparently unusual Blue-headed Vireo, and countless other unidentified birds. A nearby row of brush held a Mourning Warbler, Blue-black Grassquit, and a Riverside Wren. This is the reason you come to Costa Rica.

A family scene from a birder’s dreams (they’re actually pointing at spider monkeys)

It really didn’t matter where I wandered. The bushes and trees around the property were buzzing with activity. Regular small visitors to the backyard included Variable Seedeaters, Scarlet-rumped Tanager, Bananaquit, Blue-gray Tanager, and Palm Tanager (so apparently boring I never even took a photo of one), (not to mention the hawks and whatnot soaring overhead, and the woodpeckers, cuckoos, tityra and flycatchers coming to and fro).

Costa Rica has over 50 species of hummingbird. But they aren’t all called hummingbirds. There seem to be nearly as many names for hummingbirds as there are species of hummingbird. There are sicklebills, hermits, barbthroats, lancebills, sabrewings, jacobins, violetears, mangos, coquettes, emeralds, woodnymphs, goldentails, plumeleteers, snowcaps, thorntails, mountain-gems, brilliants, fairies, starthtroats, and woodstars. The property didn’t have any hummingbird feeders, so it was up to mother nature herself to bring in the hummers.

A few were easy to identify. The White-necked Jacobin‘s blue head and clean white lower body made it obvious. Same with the long tail of the Long-billed Hermit. The orange-red bill of the Blue-throated Goldentail helped seal the ID. But many hummingbirds zipped past and disappeared into the foliage,  gone in an instant. All told, I managed to identify 8 species on the villa property. I only managed to photograph three.

Band-tailed Barbthroat Dominical Costa Rica

Band-tailed Barbthroat

There’s nothing like being in a foreign bird land to make plain the power of bird call knowledge. Mysterious sounds abounded, Was I hearing a single bird with a repertoire like a Northern Mockingbird? Or are there seven species of something in that row of bushes? Frequently, I’d track one curious call for minutes to no avail, only to begin tracking down the source of another strange sound. The small birds are a challenge, but I loved every minute of it.

Red-legged Honeycreeper Dominical Costa Rica

Red-legged Honeycreepers were welcome regulars on the property

Tropical Gnatcatcher Dominical Costa Rica

Tropical Gnatcatcher on a big tropical leaf

Costa Rica (2018) #2 – Birding Dominical: Toucans, Hawks, Kites, and Vultures

Yellow-throated Toucan Dominical Costa Rica

Yellow-throated Toucans were regular visitors to the property

Birding Dominical: The Big Birds

Because the birding was so unbelievable where we stayed (I tallied 95 species on the property in a week, and dozens more I couldn’t identify), I’m going to break up the recap into several posts. But first, a few words about our amazing home for the week. The property is called Selva Escondida. It sits between the towns of Dominical and Uvita on a steep slope about 1,200 feet above the Pacific Ocean. The accommodations are known as Villa Chill.  It has 8 bedrooms splits between a main house (with a pool) and two small guesthouses. There were 15 of us staying together, so we needed all the rooms. It’s not cheap, and I think you have to rent the whole thing, so small groups and budget birders will need to look elsewhere. Any place in the area would be great, frankly. But this place had 250 acres of diverse habitat, laced with a couple of roads and a few miles of hiking trails. For a birder, it was nearly heaven.

Dominical Villa

The balcony in Dominical – great for spotting soaring birds

Of the 95 species I identified on the property, a lot of them were big birds. I saw 3 species of vultures (King, Black, Turkey), 4 species of kite (Double-toothed, Swallow-tailed, Gray-headed, Hook-billed), 2 species of hawks (Roadside and Broad-winged), a Crested Caracara, and whatever a Hawk-Eagle is (Black Hawk-Eagle).  EBird says Double-toothed Kites are frequently seen soaring “with wings bowed down, tail closed, and puffy white feathering visible under the base of the tail—a distinctive combination of features.” That’s exactly the picture I got! It also says they are rarely seen perched, but I managed to photograph one perched on the property. 

Double-toothed Kite Dominical Costa Rica

A Double-toothed Kite made a low fly-by

I came to suspect that the Roadside Hawks I kept seeing were actually a single bird that resided on the property. On multiple morning walks, I found it standing on the same rock. Each time, at first glance, I thought the rope it was standing on was a snake. Broad-winged Hawks were more often hidden in the branches of forest-edge trees.

At any moment of the day, if you could peel your eyes away from the small birds flitting around the bushes and trees and look up, you were bound to see something soaring by.  Three days in a row a Black Hawk-Eagle circled overhead, screeching like an Osprey. I was stoked to see this bird, but would have loved a closer view. They have crest feathers on their head, and look like they’re wearing striped leg warmers. Twice a King Vulture wandered past.  The Swallow-tailed Kites stayed over the ridge, but close enough to make out their awesome tails. And I lucked into my lone look ever at Wood Storks when a group of 9 went by headed south.

Of the massively-billed birds, I saw Yellow-throated Toucan (daily) and Fiery-billed Aracari (two disappointingly fleeting views). The toucans are elegant fliers, who swoop up to their landing spot. When they weren’t hopping from branch to branch gobbling up fruit, they were conspicuously perched and calling loudly.

This hut on the slope above the property was also great for hawkwatching and chilling

There were big birds who weren’t soaring above, too. During my wandering, I stumbled into Great Tinamou, Crested Guan, Great Currasow, and Gray-headed Chachalaca.  It’s always odd to see such large creatures in the trees, but that’s always where the Crested Guan and Chachalaca were. Because of their size and the way they shake the branches, you often think at first that they are monkeys.

Great Currasow Dominical Costa Rica

This pair of Great Currasow wandered the property

Crested Guan Dominical Costa Rica

Crested Guan somehow move through the canopy pretty skillfully

A Bare-throated Tiger Heron lurked along a creek. In the lower right of the photo you can see an adult Basilisk, also known as the Jesus Christ Lizard, for its ability to run on water. While my oldest son isn’t as in to birding as he used to, the possibility of finding Basilisks got him to accompany me on several 6:00am walks (to this father’s great delight).

Bare-throated Tiger Heron Dominical Costa Rica

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