Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween! (All Hallows Eve)

For this year's Halloween, I wanted to share with you one of my favorite Halloween stories.

Happy Halloween! :D

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Peruvian Paradigms: Pt 3: Rainforest reminisces Pt 2: 1000 birds and counting

Inca Terns, Callao, Peru
 When I first arrived in Peru, I knew I would break the 1000 mark on the first full day of birding.  I guessed that I would at least break the 1400 mark.  What blew me away was the number of species I actually saw.   I still don't have the exact total, but I'm fairly certain that my life list is now upwards of 1600. That would be nearly 600 species seen in two weeks in Peru, 465 of them in one week. Talk about insane......

The number of species in a single week was so mind blurring that had I not photographed a lot of them I might not even believe that I had seen them.  During the trip, I birded almost every habitat in Peru; from coastal mudflats to beaches to western slope foothills to paramo to Andean bogs to east slope foothills to cloudforest to tropical rainforest and more.

The two Inca Terns above were one of my most wanted birds in Peru. The most elegant of all the Terns, these birds are graceful (if not somewhat chunky) fliers.  The other coastal species I saw were pretty awesome too. Guanay (pronounced "wan-aye") Cormorant, Peruvian Booby, Peruvian Pelican, Kelp, Grey, Band-tailed and Andean Gulls, South American Tern, Peruvian Thick-knee, Surfbird, Whimbrel and many other species that were both lifers, and familiar residents in the US.

Of special interest were the members of the Toucan family that I encountered, like this Chestnut-eared Aracari and Blue-banded Toucanet:

Chestnut-eared Aracari, Puerto Maldonado, Peru
Blue-banded Toucanet

Higher up in the Andes,  the stunning Gray-breasted Mountain-toucan takes over:
Gray-breasted Mountain-toucan
Toucans are a family of birds that have no living relatives in the ABA area, so for me, it's always fun to see one of the Toucan family.

Birding the tropical rainforest is always fun. You never know what you're going to see and you can always get a lifer, no matter how long you've spent in one spot.  I actually know someone who spent three months at a single lodge in the Ecuadorian rainforest and got a lifer on his last day.

Rainforest birding is much like birding in Southern AZ in the fall. You spend a lot of time walking the trails looking for mixed flocks. Once you find one, you spend half an hour following it trying to glean out every last species in the group.  Sometimes, there are so many birds in the flock that you don't know which way to look.  There were a few times that I ended up birding with my camera rather than binoculars just to make sure I had a picture of the bird to identify it.  This was necessary, because by the time you saw the bird, got a good look at it, flipped through half the field guide trying to find it, ID it and then look up again, the flock would be gone.   Had I not been birding that way, I would've missed this Peruvian Recurvebill:
Peruvian Recurvebill, Puerto Maldonado, Peru
The bird came zipping through the leaves, landed on the branch for a second, then took off again.  Too short of a time to see the diagnostic bill, but just long enough to snap a shot off.

One of the highlights of the week in the Amazon rainforest was a short trip up the Tambopata River to a small oxbow lake known for being the only place in Peru where one could find Unicolored Blackbird. A bird discovered at the location previously by our guide, Gunnar Engblom, of Kolibri Expeditions.
We did eventually see the Blackbird, though my photo of it is mostly grass and reeds.

Gunnar was pretty happy about getting the Blackbird:

The other inhabitants of the lake provided some better photo ops. This Hoatzin posed quite nicely:

Hoatzin, Puerto Maldonado, Tambopata, Peru
Hoatzins are, perhaps, the wackiest, as well as largest, member of the Cuckoo family; being roughly the size of a small turkey, with their spiky crown and the most insane call of any Cuckoo.

Here is a recording of a Hoatzin from the same area:

Also present on the lake was a bird that I had been hoping we would see.  If you recall last fall, a Sungrebe turned up at Bosque Del Apache in central New Mexico constituting a first US record of an unexpected species.  Fortunately, the bird is far more common in the tropical Amazon and provided us with some great looks:

Sungrebe, Puerto Maldonado, Tambopata, Peru
Other birds seen during the day proved far too numerous to mention.  Along the river, we had two chance sightings of birds that we never saw again. The mystical Bare-necked Fruitcrow in a quick flyby, high above, and the almost comical Red-crested Cardinal sitting on a rock in the middle of the river. Not wanting to get my camera wet (the river boat we were in was slightly more than a long, motorized Canoe...), I missed the chance to photograph either of these species.

Tune in again soon for part 3 of Rainforest Reminisces.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Peruvian Paradigms: Pt 3: Rainforest reminisces: Pt 1

Sunset in the Amazon
As we crested the top of the last hill, all of a sudden the earth dropped away before us and turned from rolling foothills and wide river valleys to a vast ocean of trees, stretching as far as the eye could see towards the east. The land became utterly flat without a hint of the rolling hills we had just left. Sad was the view from the highway as we entered this sea of green for it appeared not as it had from above. Comprised not of continuous rainforest, but rather of small tracts of trees interspersed with vast open pastures, farm fields, savannah and lowland marsh.  Only those few protected areas we visited displayed any resemblance to the stunning, untouched rainforest that is so often advertised.   The town of Puerto Maldonado, while quite a large town, appeared nothing like the city of Lima that we had left the day before.  Just as North American cities appear all the same, each Peruvian city was different. Puerto Maldonado was characterized by long, cobblestone or dirt streets lined with cinderblock or often mud brick buildings; power lines on the poles above all clumped together like a string of dense vines through the jungle; few of the buildings were more than one story high, and yet, this town, because of its location along the edge of the Rio Madre de Dios, is one of the most important cities in southern Peru due to the wide use of rivers in the Amazon as rainforest superhighways.   Unlike the US where you can drive anywhere you want, much of the Amazon basin is not stable enough to support a vast highway or rail system. The result is the continuing use of riverboats as a primary means of transportation.  So much so, in fact, that the city of Iquitos in Northern Peru, the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest, is accessible only by water.  

But what, might you ask, is the primary mode of transportation on land?  Well, it's not a car.  

Auto Rickshaws, also known as Mototaxis or Pedicabs, like these below, are little more than a dirt bike with a metal or plastic cab attached: 

Sorry for the blurred photo. Taken from a moving car
So how many people can you fit in one of these Pedicabs?  Ten I think is the most I saw.   Four in the back, four in the front (including the driver) and two riding on the back of the cab just like you'd ride on the back of your friend's bicycle.  

Tune in again soon for Part 2 of Rainforest Reminisces when I actually start talking about birds again. :D

Monday, October 18, 2010

Peruvian Paradigms: Pt 2

Andean Fox
Eight, two-legged creatures carrying weird-looking things over their shoulders walk up the road towards me. They stop, all facing the same direction, apparently looking and listening for something.
I slip through the dry brush to get a closer look. They're facing away from me, looking out over the nearby lake. They raise some curious looking black things to their eyes. I move closer.
There are ruins nearby, from some long-lost civilization who my ancestors must have watched as I watch these creatures today.  Ruins that these present-day creatures now observe intently. What could these creatures be looking at with no apparent intent to hunt? A small bird flies up from the ruins and away towards the lake, and yet, these creatures make no move toward it. They simply observe.  
I move closer, making sure they can't see me, and give them a good once over.
They carry no weapons I know of. They don't appear to be out to harm anything.  Simply to observe.

The day is moving on, the sun rising higher in the sky. I must be off to find food before it becomes to warm.  Sensing that these creatures pose no threat, I run across the road, up the hill a little ways and stop and turn for one last look. One of the creatures points something at me, but nothing happens save for a clicking sound. I turn and make my way around the hill and out of sight.
These creatures are a regular part of my life. There are many of them, but only a few of us.
I will live day to day and forget, but they will remember me for a long time to come.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Peruvian Paradigms: Pt 1

The chill wind whipped across the nearly barren landscape. Nothing moved or shuddered under it's influence. Most of the plants growing up here were pressed close against the ground.  I, being the sole object in its way, had to lean forward slightly to avoid being blown over backwards.
The mountains rose around me like a circle of sentinels, ever watching with a stern impassiveness. The valley fell below me like some deep chasm seeking to pull its known world down into its clutches.
The spectacular scene was lost on its observer however. Ignoring the stunning view, I raised my binoculars and scanned the boggy tundra in front of me. A flash of white caught my eye. White-fronted Ground-tyrant. It was a good bird, but rather drab by the standards I was searching for. I skipped over it moved on to the next bird in line. This one displayed a brown back and a pure white belly. White-bellied Cinclodes. An endemic and certainly a very desirable bird, but since I had spent time observing one at length about an hour earlier, I again skipped over it.  Not finding my quarry, I started walking on a heading that took me through the bog in front of me. Hoping to flush something, I hopped and skipped from dry grass to raised lumps of hundred year old moss.  Something dark moved in front of me. Excitedly, I raised my binoculars for a closer look. False alarm. It was one of the dirt common Bar-winged Cinclodes. Don't get me wrong, they're cool birds, but once you've seen a thousand of them, they lose some of their interest.  I picked my way around the outskirts of the bog trying not to dunk my foot in the frigid water.  Some of the small ponds were still covered with a thin layer of ice, still shaded this early in the morning from the harsh sun by a clump of grass or moss.  Sunlit areas were bright and shadows were dark in the harsh light making finding birds a bit of a challenge. There were too many places to hide out there.  I kept walking.  

Stopping to scan again, I noticed a movement in the shadow of a clump of moss. I watched for a minute. Eventually, the bird popped out.  It took only a split second to figure out what it was; a long-legged Charadriiforme with a slate-grey back, black and white barred chest and belly, black face, long, weirdly bent bill, rusty-rufous nape, and a thin white diadem encircling it's head.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ecuador-Part 2

First of all, sorry for not posting for two months. Every time I start to write, someone or something distracts me. So far, I've covered my first week of birding in the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest. This post will cover the next two weeks and some of the different places I visited while in Ecuador:

Part II:
Week 2 and 3.

The next two weeks were spent birding the heck out of the Tandayapa Valley and surrounding areas.  5 hiking trips to Bellavista Cloud Forest and the upper valley, 3 half day trips to Yanacocha Reserve, Milpe and Mindo cloud Forest reserves and to Paz de Aves, home of Maria, the Giant Antpitta.

Birding on the trails around the lodge was very good at times. One of the loudest residents of the main trail was this Rufous-crowned Warbler.  While a Warbler, it is a member of the genus Basilueterus rather than our northern Dendroica genus.

Like in Costa Rica, Rufous-collared Sparrows were a common sight in the valley.

Immaculate Antbirds were another common sight at the hide behind Tandayapa Lodge.

And now my computer is giving me problems uploading photos, so I will finish the rest with text.

Yanacocha Reserve sits at around 10,000ft and is one of the few places in the world that one can find Black-breasted Puffleg. Unfortunately, these awesome Hummingbirds did not wish to cooperate with me. However, my single highland target bird did. A single Sword-billed Hummingbird posed just long enough for me to get it's picture.  Other birds including Thornbills, Shining Sunbeam, Golden-breasted Puffleg, Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, Masked Flowerpiercer and Crimson-bellied Mountain-tanager made up for the lack of Black-breasted Pufflegs. The spectacular scenery lasted til about 9am when a cloud descended over the mountain and shut us in.  After the scenery petered out, I focused my attention on the Hummingbird feeders where Glossy Flowerpiercers, Great Sapphirewing, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Sapphire-vented Puffleg and others were busily emptying the feeders.

Milpe Reserve turned out to be the exact opposite of Yanacocha. Being in the foothills (~1200ft) it had more potential for tropical species. However, it turned out to be one of the worst days I'd had. Arriving 2 hours later than I'd wanted to, I hiked every trail in the reserve, including, at one point, scrambling over a fallen tree, wading through ankle deep mud and walking down a steep slope down to the river and back up again. Except for the first 100yds of trail, the place was deader'n a doornail. No Choco Toucan, no Moss-backed Tanager, nada. At least the Club-winged Manakins were nice to see. A Brown-billed Scythe-bill in a small Funariid flock made it a worthwhile day.

Mindo simply had the same species as Tandayapa. Nothing new to see there other than to say that I've visited the World-famous Mindo Cloud Forest. :)

Easily, the best day I had was a visit to Angel Paz at Paz de Aves Reserve near the Tandayapa Valley.
My guide at the reserve managed to call in Yellow-breasted Antpitta, Dark-backed Woodquail and Rufous-breasted Antthrush. All three species fairly difficult to see otherwise. Then, after much searching, we finally found, waay in the back of the reserve, Maria, the Giant Antpitta. The single most famous Antpitta in the world if I'm not mistaken.   Hiking back to the feeding platforms at the beginning of the trail, the guide put out fruit and whistled in Sickle-winged Guan, Black-chinned Mountain-tanager, Toucan Barbet and others.

The birds in the Tandayapa Valley were equally as spectacular. White-winged Tanager, Flame-faced Tanager, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Beautiful and Turquoise Jays, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Tropical Parula, Brown-capped Vireo, Powerful Woodpecker, Guayaquil Woodpecker, Common Potoo, and many other species graced the Cloud Forest during my walks.  Pale-legged Hornero, Torrent Tyrannulet and White-capped Dipper were among the species that frequented the stream in the small village of Tandayapa.

In all, it was an awesome 3 weeks of amazing birding in and around the Tandayapa Valley.  Many thanks to Tropical Birding for allowing me to stay at Tandayapa Lodge during my 3 weeks there.

I will try and post more photos to this blog eventually. Til then, most of my best photos from Ecuador can be viewed at:

I am flying to Lima, Peru on Thurs (Sept 16th) and will be attempting to blog about my adventures in Southern Peru for the next 2 and a half weeks. I will be in Peru from Sept 16- Oct 4th.

So til next time, many safe and happy travels to you all!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Ecuador: Republic of the Equator. Week 1-Part 1

Tandayapa Bird Lodge.  The name is famous among those in the birding world, even to those who have never been there, those who wish they could go someday.  What does the name mean? It means birding in the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve, a place in which more than 300 species can be seen.  It means traveling a short distance and birding the world famous Mindo Cloud Forest Reserve, some of the most pristine cloud forest in the world. Travel a short distance down-mountain and you reach the Jocotoco Foundation's Reserva de Milpe, a lesser known, but up and coming birding hotspot.  It means driving the old Nono-Mindo road, home to some of the best birding in the world.  But it also means home to Tandayapa Lodge, the best spot in the world to see Hummingbirds.  Some 14 species regularly patronize the lodge feeders with some days seeing 16 or more species.

Tandayapa Lodge is owned and operated by Tropical Birding, a birding tour company that runs tours around the world.  During the spring and summer, there is usually a volunteer resident at the lodge to help point out birds to clients and keep the place shipshape.  I had the good fortune to spend 3 weeks in April as one of these volunteers.  The following is an account of the 3 weeks that I spent birding around the lodge and areas nearby. In all, I found 209 species (rather pitiful for South America, but pretty decent considering where I went and that I spent most of the three weeks right around the lodge itself).

I flew into Quito on April 1st. The 5 hour flight got just a tad long towards the end. Arriving at the airport after 9pm, I caught a taxi to my hotel in downtown Quito.  The next morning, I awoke early and hopped outside on the balcony.  I quickly picked out a dove that looked suspiciously like a Mourning Dove. A quick check of my field guide revealed that this was in fact an Eared Dove, superficially similar to Mourning Dove but, of course, Ecuadorian.  Several Great Thrushes were present in the area as well.

A couple hours later, Nick Athanas of Tropical Birding came to pick me up and take me to the Tropical Birding office. Sparkling Violetears were almost deafening, calling from the trees around the office. There, I met Pablo Cervantes (the manager of the lodge) who was going to take me up to the lodge.   Pablo spoke some english and he and I communicated fairly well, so the drive up was quite pleasant.  On the way, I was surprised at the amount of rainforest that had been logged off for farmland:

Once we got back into the Tandayapa Valley, it became a bit more natural and much more of the forest was protected. The "road" up the valley was narrow and muddy and full of potholes. Not the world's greatest road by any means, but at least you could call it a road. Sort of.....

The driveway up to the lodge was in substantially worse shape due to a recent landslide that took out half the driveway:

You could sort of call it a road.

I hauled my suitcase out of the car and then discovered the infamous stairs. Rising nearly 100ft straight up from the parking area. 77 steps later, I got my first look at the lodge. It was a long, low building with a single main room and a long hallway with bedrooms on either side.  Pablo directed me to what was to be my room for the next 3 weeks.

Once I had dumped my belongings in my room, I grabbed my camera and bins and took off, checking out the amazing bird life around the lodge.

Since there wasn't much light left, I spent most of the time watching the Hummingbird feeders attempting to figure out exactly what each Hummer was.
The most common bird at the feeders was by far Buff-tailed Coronets like this one above.  They were also one of the more vocal Hummingbirds in the area.  Green Violetear was the other.

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird was the first species I recognized having seen it in Costa Rica a month earlier:

This one appears to have gotten into quite a fight and lost part of it's lower mandible.
I was amazed at the number of Hummingbirds there that had bent or broken bills. I would guess a lot of it is due to fighting, but who knows how much of it is due to environment as well.

As I watched, another Hummingbird with a long tail flew in. It made a quick visit to the feeder, then flew to a nearby perch, flaunting it's long, violet-purple tail.  Violet-tailed Sylph!!  This Choco endemic was high on my list of must-see birds and here was one, sitting right in front of me:

Unfortunately, the bird's tail was too long to get the whole bird in the frame, and have it appear larger than a pixel.  They are amazing birds. One of the larger Hummers at the feeders, they can be bullies sometimes, but nowhere near as bad as the Buff-tailed Coronets that perch near a feeder and guard it.  

One of the other common birds at the feeders was this Booted Raquet-tail. While not an endemic, these little guys are one of the most sought after birds of the tropics.  They're about the size of a Rufous Hummingbird (maybe a tad smaller) and the males have long tail streamers with feathered "Raquets" at the end. The only similar species is the Peruvian endemic Marvelous Spatuletail.  Both sexes of Booted Raquet-tail have the white, feathered "boots" around their legs. 


A less common, but still totally awesome visitor to the feeders is the tiny Purple-throated Woodstar.  While not the smallest of Hummingbirds, they do have the fastest wingbeats of any bird; their wings buzzing at nearly 130 beats per second.

Seeing 14 lifer species of Hummingbirds in less than an hour is a completely overwhelming experience. Identifying each of the 12 species proved tricky at first, but within a day or two, I became used to recognizing each of the 14 regular species without having to refer to my field guide.  

After a quick dinner, darkness falling, I turned in after an awesome first day in the tropics of Ecuador.  

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Where in the world is Chris?

That's always the question anymore among my friends. I'm always vanishing off to some different place and showing up where people least expect. 

Currently? I'm sitting in Denver Int airport waiting to see if I can catch an earlier flight home. 
I spent the past 10 days birding Colorado and adding 6 lifers and a host of state birds. 
Finding some of them proved tricky. White-tailed Ptarmigan, Sage Sparrow and Mountain Plover were among the trickier ones.  

I will detail the trip a bit more when I arrive home. 

Where am I off to next? I have no idea. I think it'll be family vacation to somewhere in the US... but... if you know me and how my schedule changes, I could end up half way around the world next week.......

Til next time, Happy Birding! 

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ecuador Republic of the Equator

A very common question as of late has been "where in the world is Chris?"  Well, 24 hours from now, I will be in a hotel in downtown Quito, Ecuador.   What will I be doing?  I have a position as a birding volunteer at Tandayapa Bird Lodge in the Upper Tandayapa Valley about an hour's drive north of Quito.  For the next two months, I will be living and working at Tandayapa Bird Lodge. My job is to assist the staff with whatever they require, help guests with finding and identifying the local bird life, and pretty much just go birding all day every day and find as many of the local endemics as I can!

How many species is that?  The lodge checklist is approx 300 species long. 250 of which are fairly regular around the lodge.  200 of which I will likely see.  Considering it's spring, there won't be any boreal migrants around and almost all 200 species will be lifers. The only exceptions being the ones that I saw in Costa Rica at the beginning of the month.

Did I expect to be flying to the tropics twice in the same month? nope! Even two weeks ago I couldn't have told you I was leaving in just a few hours.  Just another surprise trip for me. Just like the Costa Rica trip.

Anywho, I will update this as often as possible with photos and tales of my adventures in the tropics, so stay tuned!!

Til next time, as always:
Happy Birding!!!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Aerial Tram and Savegre Lodge

Yes, that is a Resplendent Quetzal.  One of the most sought after birds of the Tropics, possibly in the world.  They are endemic to Central America, ranging from southern Mexico into central Panama.  A bird of the highlands, their range is usually restricted to above 7000ft in elevation, but sticking to the deep valleys rather than the mountaintops.  
With their deep, blood red chest,  iridescent blue head and shimmering blue-green back, they are widely regarded as the most beautiful bird in the world.  
The twin "feathery" feathers extending past the tail are one of the signature field marks of this species.  Not really tail feathers, the two feathers are actually the extended central two upper tail covert feathers. 
We saw a total of about 8 Quetzals during our 2 day stay at Savegre Lodge.  Not bad eh? :D

Our last day at La Selva Research Station brought rain, a few lifers, and a sighting of a bird that we would see only once. Mimi picked out a Laughing Falcon sitting on a dead snag half a mile away through the rain.  Not a bad find considering how tricky these birds can be!

Our drive to Savegre Lodge was marked by an early start, a stop at the Aerial Tram and Butterfly Garden and a rather long day.

The stop at the Butterfly Gardens was a productive stop considering that we saw only a couple species of Hummers. Violet-headed made up most of the birds we saw. Rufous-tailed made up the rest.
The lack of Hummers was more than made up for by the flight of raptors that went through.  It started with a flyover Double-toothed Kite that some of us managed to get onto before it vanished over the trees.  Then, while waiting for a Lattice-tailed Trogon to come out, someone happened to look up and spotted this huge, black and white bird cruising slowly over, far above us.  The call went up within a matter of seconds. KING VULTURE!!!  In all, 6 of these awesome birds floated over, high above us.
Then a few people (including me) spotted a large, buteo-like raptor with broad wings and after much discussion, decided it was a Great Black-hawk.

A flock of Tanagers flew through. Mostly Olive, but also containing Golden-hooded among others. A Scarlet-thighed Dacnis gave quick views and our thousandth Chestnut-sided Warbler was seen (well, somewhere up there anyway...)
After deciding that we had plundered all the goodies from that section of forest, we moved on to Savegre Lodge.

Savegre Lodge turned out to be nestled at the very bottom of one of the most beautiful valleys I have ever seen.  The greenery was a welcome change from the drab brown I'd been seeing all winter here in the upper midwest.  The entire valley was a glittering shade of green.

Panorama stitching is courtesy of my friend Andrea over at the Earthbirds Blog

 The buildings blended well with the surroundings and the blue sky overhead was a welcome change from the grey clouds we had been seeing all week.

Even as we hopped off the bus, the birding began in earnest. This was a completely different group of species than the lowland rainforest birds we had been getting used to.  This Black-capped Flycatcher posed quite nicely for the camera.

The Hummingbirds proved to be easier to see and even a little more spectacular than the lowland Rufous-tails.  The star of the show turned out to be this White-throated Mountain-gem who appeared to be well versed in the art of posing:

Green Violetear was by far the most numerous Hummingbird and possibly the most numerous bird of the highlands. You could hear their fast, chipping call almost everywhere we went.

The best part about Savegre Lodge was the beautiful gardens on the grounds.  Words cannot fully describe them. Neither can photos, but here is my attempt at it:

I spent most of the last part of our first day at Savegre exploring the gardens with Dave, Mimi, and a few other people.  The actual number of species at the lodge wasn't even close to the diversity of the lowlands, but the quality made up for it. There were still some reminiscent species from the lowlands. The ever present Tropical Kingbird had perched himself high on a power line, and Clay-colored Thrushes still attempted to wake me up long before the designated time, but the higher-elevation, montane species took over from the rest. Flame-colored Tanagers were very vocal, Grey-breasted Wood-wren replaced it's White-breasted cousin, Spangle-cheeked Tanagers took over from Olive and Swallow-tailed Kite filled in the nearly absent spot that the Turkey Vultures once filled.
Perusing our way through the garden, a Ruddy-capped Nightingale-thrush captured our attention as it acted much like a Robin. Hopping around on the ground out in the open and giving excellent looks:

Here in the highlands, a few extra families reside that don't show up at all in the lowlands.
The ringing, echoing, bell-like tones of Black-faced Solitaire filtered down from above like sunlight filters through the leaves of a forest. We never saw the majority of them, but fortunately, a few did give us excellent looks and one was nice enough to pose just long enough to have his portrait taken:

Hunting deeper through the gardens, someone eventually spotted one of the far cuter birds of the area.

I had taken a break and gone rock hopping down the creek, but managed to get back just in time to see and photograph this Collared Redstart. Unfortunately, he didn't pose long, but did stay long enough for everyone to get excellent looks at this awesome bird.

Back at the lodge that evening, several of us took advantage of the hummingbird feeders (something non-existent in the humid lowlands due to the extra-high maintenance they require down there)
The hummingbirds proved to be very much used to people and would let us walk right up to them without even blinking.

White-throated Mountain-gems are totally awesome aren't they? :D

Just as a comparison to how close they'd let us get, I took the following photo with my little Point & Shoot rather than my big DSLR.  Crazy eh?

Our first and only full day of birding at Savegre Lodge involved a run to the very top of the nearby Cerro de La Muerte. As one goes up in elevation in the tropics, the species diversity decreases with every 1000ft of elevation gain. Only about half a dozen species live at the top of Cerro de La Muerte. Several of them are Endemic to the highlands of Costa Rica and Panama.

Sooty Thrush is one of the simplest birds to ID in the Costa Rican highlands. Simply because it is bigger and darker than anything else that can be found at the top of Cerro de La Muerte.  Although, even when seen further down the mountain, it is still unmistakeable.

Our trip to the top of the mountain targeted only a couple species because they could be found nowhere else.  Our primary search was for Volcano Junco. A bird that is restricted to a few mountain-tops in Costa Rica and Panama.  Fortunately, the search proved easy as we saw 3 within the first 15 minutes of getting off the bus. This particular individual posed quite nicely:

After some searching, we eventually found Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Large-footed Finch, Volcano Hummingbird and Timberline Wren.  Having filled out our list, we headed back to the lodge for the evening.

Our final morning at Savegre, we started with one of the most productive hikes I've ever been on.
We made excellent use of the Lodge's 4X4 vehicles as we headed to the top of the mountain in preparation to hike down.  On the way up, several of us in the first vehicle heard a Rufous-browed Peppershrike. A hidden testament to the fact that there were more birds here than we could possibly see in the alloted time.  Arriving at the top of the trail, we checked out a staked out Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl nest. Despite our repeated attempts to coerce one into showing itself, we gave up and started inspecting the other local birds. Here, at 8500ft in elevation, Golden-bellied Flycatcher replaced the Kiskadees of the lowlands.  While the group headed off chasing one of these admittedly awesome birds, I stuck it out for the Pygmy-owl.  Reverting to my 4 months of experience looking for cavity-nesting owls in Arizona, I decided to try a classic trick. I walked up and scratched the tree. Having proved it working on every cavity-nesting owl I had tried it on so far, I had high hopes for it working this time. Sure enough, curiosity got the best of the little owl and he poked his head out just long enough for me to take his portrait:

Unfortunately, even though I called to the group the moment he stuck his head out, they arrived just as he poked his head back in and, not to be outsmarted again, refused to come out. Despite all further attempts at convincing him to appear.

As we were about to head down the trail, Dave's sharp ears picked out the sound of a Silvery-throated Jay calling from somewhere nearby. Using playback with great effectiveness, Dave lured the Jay closer so we could see it. Highly intellegent, like most corvids, the jay was not easily convinced and kept his distance. Just close enough for us to see. Just barely. Eventually, he flew into the tree directly above us where we lost him. While looking for the jay, I spotted a movement at the top of a 100ft Oak.  The white belly combined with long, spotted tail and black and yellow bill left little doubt as to the family but the exact ID was a tad harder in figuring out. The weirdness of the location left me guessing for a second before it hit me.  I called to Dave "Dave, I've got a Cuckoo"  Dave just gave me a look that said "a what???" He called back "A Cuckoo???" "Yea, I've got a Cuckoo" I replied.  He came running over and we both studied the bird. After photographing and examining both the photos and the highly cooperative bird through the scope, we both reached the same conclusion. The pattern of the tail and the rather buffy coloring underneath left no doubt. It was a Mangrove Cuckoo.

It was definitely one of the rarer birds that we found during the trip. It is also my understanding that this was not only a new bird for the tour's all time list, but also a new bird for the Savegre Lodge list.
Seeing a bird that I connect with the lowland swampy forests of southern Florida so far from it's regular habitat at the top of an oak halfway up a mountain was, while wacky, pretty awesome!  It was the last new bird for the trip that we actually saw (we heard Buffy Tuftedcheek on the way down).

In all, it was a completely awesome 8 days in Costa Rica with an awesome group and awesome guides!
Many thanks to Dave and Mimi for putting up with my nearly constant questions!

The rest of my photos from the trip can be found at:

Would I go back? of course! In a second!!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

La Selva and the area around

I discovered very quickly that Green Honeycreepers are excellent at posing for photos. This female gave great views and posed quite nicely.   It was a start to an awesome day. 

Male Green Honeycreepers, as I found out, aren't all that inclined to pose. They prefer finding Bananas to eat........

They sure do light up though. Like an iridescent fluorescent light bulb. 

After breakfast, we hopped on the bus to La Selva. This time, we stopped only a couple times on the entrance road. Once, long enough to find and photograph this Slaty-tailed Trogon: 

While waiting for our guide, I found out that Blue-black Grosbeaks don't like to pose either. This one stayed for only a second long enough to snap this shot: 

Black-striped Sparrows are open-country birds and we found them only when we left La Selva and headed toward the foothills.  This cooperative individual posed quite nicely: 

The research station did have a few species that we couldn't do without and couldn't find elsewhere.
This Crested Guan was one of a group of 6 Guans that came to the feeders at the station. 
They're pretty awesome birds and nothing like anything else I've ever seen.
Kind of a cross between a Chicken and a Turkey.........
Very cool to see. 

Many species in the rainforest are easy to see. They have bright colors, they're gaudy, they sit out in the open, etc.  But some species can be very difficult to see. Tinamous are a family of birds that has roots that go back to the first bird-like creatures.  They have no other living relatives and are in a family to themselves.  Looking a bit like big chickens almost, they are very seclusive birds and very difficult to find at all, much less see.  Our luck turned out to hold for the good as Dave spotted this bird sitting right beside the path.  I was surprised it came out so sharp since I was using manual focus practically in the dark when I took this: 

The other species we couldn't go without was another Guan-like bird. 
This time, a special bird of the lowland rainforest of Costa Rica, Panama.
Great Currasow is perhaps the most striking of these birds and deserves it's place here at the bottom as the last bird mentioned and a prominent one.
It was definitely a highlight species of the trip as this was our only chance to see one: 

Sorry for the clipped post, but I wanted to get some photos out there. I have a couple more posts about Costa Rica coming soon and hopefully, I'll include more story-telling. 

Til next time, Happy Birding!