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.
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.
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.
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.
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).