Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Bulletin 221 - Costa Rica #3 - Woodpeckers and frogs

Woodpeckers are a favorite family of birds for many birders (me included as they photograph easily). The woodpeckers of the tropics can be quite differently plumaged from the black and white coloration of most of our USA birds.

The 9" Chestnut-colored Woodpecker (Celeus castaneus) is a neat brown bird marked with black spots. His head is a little paler than the body and he has a bushy crest. This is a male with the red cheeks. The female does not have the red.

Chestnut-colored Woodpecker - male
The 7" Rufous-winged Woodpecker (Piculus simplex) has an olive back, striped underparts and reddish primary wing feathers that can be seen in the photo. This is a male with the extensive red on the head. The female just has red on the back of the head.

Rufous-winged Woodpecker - male.
The 8" Golden-olive Woodpecker (Colaptes rubiginosus) is the same genus as our much larger flickers. I guess it wasn't called a flicker because of its size. Who knows how these names were applied? It has a olive brown back, and streaked underparts. This is a male with the red all over the top of the head and the red malar stripe. The female would just have red on the occiput and the malar stripe would be black.

Golden-olive Woodpecker - male
The 13" Pale-billed Woodpecker (Campophiles guatemalensis) is black with striped underparts and completely red head with a crest. It has a white bill. The sexes are quite similar except the female has a black forehead. We saw both of them, but I can't tell from the angle of this photo which it is.

Pale-billed Woodpecker
The 7" Black-cheeked Woodpecker (Melanerpes pucherani) was seen again. I had photographed it in Panama last year, but this time it was closer. The pair took turns excavating this hole in a dead tree and it was neat to see them pick the sawdust out of the hole and drop it to the ground. I hadn't seen this behavior in a woodpecker before. This is the male with the red extending to the top of the head.

Black-cheeked Woodpecker - male

And in the female, the red just cover the back of the head.

Black-cheeked Woodpecker - female
The 9" Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) is a resident of the USA but its range extends to the mountains of Costa Rica. The unusual clown-like facial pattern makes this bird an easy ID. This is a male with the red touching the white on top of the head. The female has less red and a patch of black separating the red from the white.

Acorn Woodpecker - male
The last woodpecker was the 7" Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus). This bird has an extensive range from Alaska and Canada all the way to Costa Rica where is is found in the mountains. These birds are unlike the birds in eastern North America in that they have almost no white on the wings and are brownish underneath. This is a female as she lacks the small red patch at the back of her head.

Hairy Woodpecker - female
Costa Rica is home to 138 species of frogs and toads. The most famous are the Red-eyed Tree Frog and the poison dart frogs. These are often illustrated in travel brochures etc. I photographed 3 species, all at La Selva in the rain forest.

Why are they called poison-dart frogs? Well the Amerindians noticed that the skin exuded a potent toxin, so they  rubbed their arrows against the skin of the frogs to make a small dart become lethal. The poison stayed active for up to 2 years on the dart. The frogs get the poison from the mites and ants they eat. They don't manufacture it themselves. There are about 170 species in . All are brightly colored, but the level of toxins varies considerably. They range in the neotropics from Nicaragua south to Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. The most toxic species is the 2" Golden Poison-dart Frog (Phyllobates terribilis) which lives in the Pacific coast of Columbia. It has enough toxin in its skin to KILL 10-20 men or 10,000 mice! It is the largest species of poison-dart frog and may be the most poisonous of any living animal.

Interestingly, these frogs are popular terrarium pets. The frogs raised in the pet trade are non-toxic, because the grubs they are fed contain no poison.

The Strawberry Poison-dart Frog (Oophaga pumilio) is a small 1" or less frog popularly known as the 'blue jeans frog'. It is orange to red with blue front legs and blue hind quarters and legs. Other color patterns exist, some without any blue at all. It inhabits the leaf litter and the males guard the eggs in the leaf litter until they hatch. Then the female carries the tadpoles to a bromeliad that has retained water, and returns to feed them unfertilized eggs over the course of 10 weeks, until they are fully grown. Noel Urena, my guide, had a tape of the males call, and knew where some frogs were. He played the tape and the males crawled out into the open to defend their territory!

Strawberry Poison-dart Frog
The less common Green-and-black Poison-Dart Frog (Dendrobates auratus) is about 1.75 inches. The guide didn't have a tape of this one, but he spotted one as we were walking the trails. The males guard the clutch of 3-13 eggs in the leaf litter until they hatch. Then he carries the tadpoles, one at a time, to a suitable water filled plant. The tadpoles feed on algae until fully grown in 7-15 weeks.

Green-and-black Poison-dart Frog
The last frog was a species of Rain Frog . There are 47 members of this group in Costa Rica and I don't know which one it is. We almost stepped on the frog, as it is about 1.5 inches and was in a puddle on the path. Fortunately my guide, Noel Urena, spotted it. It looks pretty cool with purplish body and what looks like a yellowish epoxy coating on his back.

Rain Frog species

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bulletin 220 - Best of 10 years #3 - waders, water and marsh birds

In this edition, I will look at my favorite photos of the groups that include cranes, waterfowl, herons and rails etc. Many ducks are beautiful in the breeding plumage. The first is the amazing Wood Duck. I photographed this bird in Hermann Park in downtown Houston in 2008.

Wood Duck - male
The next one is the Ruddy Duck. The male in breeding plumage is rusty red, with a black and white head, stiff black tail and blue bill. I saw this bird in Carmel California in 2007 and is the only one I have ever seen in this plumage.

Ruddy Duck - male

The next two birds were photographed in Barrow Alaska in 2010. The male King Eider has a colorful face.

King Eider - male

The Long-tailed Duck was formerly know as Oldsquaw. The breeding male here has a black head and neck with a white face. The body is brown and of course he has long spiky tail feathers.

Long-tailed Duck - male
The Nene is the state bird of Hawaii and it is a handsome goose. The easiest place to see it is on Kauai as there are no introduced mongoose. They can be seen around the resorts etc. On Hawaii and Maui, they are high up on the mountains to avoid predation by the mongoose, so are much more difficult to find.

The 52 " Whooping Crane is the tallest bird in North America. It is also one of the rarest birds in the world with a wild population less than 500 birds. In the 1941 the population fell to just 23 birds and a joint USA and Canada project was launched to save the species. They summer in northern Alberta and winter on the Texas coast. Attempts are being made to establish other flocks in Florida, Louisiana, and a migratory flock in Wisconsin that was taught to migrate to Florida using an ultralight aircraft as was pioneered in the movie 'Fly Away Home'. See the article in Wikipedia for more info on these efforts.

Whooping Crane
Aransas NWR - Texas
Herons and egrets are very common in the Houston area so we get kind of blase about seeing them, but I have selected 4 for inclusion in my favorites, 2 from my local area, and 2 from Panama.

The most difficult to find member of this family in the USA is the secretive 13" Least Bittern. Fortunately, Anahuac NWR is considered the best place in the USA to look for them. In the summer of 2008, my goal was to get a good photo of this bird. I went there Saturday and Sunday for 2 weekends in a row, but just got some mediocre photos. The next weekend, I tried again. I parked my car at the boardwalk and I guess this bird felt sorry for all my efforts as it climbed up on the reeds to eye level right in front of my car, 15 feet away.
Least Bittern - female
The Reddish Egret is a salt water bird. It occurs around the Gulf coast, and on the Pacific coast from Mexico southwards. Some of the birds are pure white however, and they are rare. Sibley says about 2-7% of the Gulf coast birds are white. None of the Pacific coast birds are. This bird was reported on Bolivar flats in July 2008, and I went the next weekend and found it. It is the only pure white morph bird I have ever seen. So how does one ID this all white bird as this species rather than some other common white heron or egret. First by the size, it is large 30" and much taller than 24" Cattle or Snowy Egrets. Also the location, along salt water. But the pink lower mandible is a clue as the Great Egret has a yellow bill. Also the shaggy plumes on the neck and chest are diagnostic for this species.

Reddish Egret - white morph
The Capped Heron is a really pretty bird with its blue skin around the eye, black cap, yellowish neck and long plumes. It is a South American bird whose range extends into Panama. We only saw this one bird, but he sat still and allowed multiple photos.

Capped Heron

The last heron is the Boat-billed Heron. This nocturnal bird uses stays hidden during the day, but the guide in Panama knew of a roosting place and we saw perhaps 20 birds, both adults and juveniles. It is similar to the common Black-crowned Night-Heron, but has the peculiar enormous bill. I think I had seen this bird only once before in Brazil.

Boat-billed Heron - adult

The rails, coots and gallinules make up a family of chicken-like marsh birds. The coots and gallinules are common and easily seen in the open. Rails, however, are secretive and in general hard to see as they stay in the reeds. My best rail photo in the USA is this Virginia Rail that I photographed in Carmel, California in 2010.

Virginia Rail
The most easily seen rail in the Central America is the 15" Gray-necked Wood-Rail. I had seen it several times before, but on the Costa Rica trip, I got my fist photo of this bird.

Gray-necked Wood-Rail
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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Bulletin 219 - Costa Rica #2 - Wrens and Guans

I really enjoy wrens, Yes, they are mostly LBJs (little brown jobs) but they always seen so active and industrious. The forest wrens of the tropics are fiendishly difficult to even see, let alone photograph. So I was really pleased that my guides were able to find a number for me. In all wrens, the sexes are similar unless noted.

The first day, on the way from San Jose to La Selva, we found this 4" Ochraceous Wren (Troglodytes ochraceous) in the vines coiled around a tree as we were looking at some tanagers in the trees. It was pure luck as I just saw the movement and got a photo of the bird at eye level.

Ochraceous Wren
The next day at La Selva, there were a pair of Band-backed Wrens (Campylorhynchus zonatus) nesting in some bromeliads on a tree trunk just outside the dining hall. The 7" bird is the same genus and similar to the Cactus Wren in the southwestern USA. Notice that their proximity to all the researchers has them both banded.

Band-backed Wren pair
At La Selva, in the woods, we found a Black-throated Wren (Pheugopedius atrogularis). This 6" wren is all dark brown except for the black throat.

Black-throated Wren
The last wren at La Selva was this 5" Stripe-breasted Wren (Cantorchilus thoracicus).It has a brown back and streaked face, throat and breast.

Stripe-breasted Wren
At Savegre Lodge in the mountains, a pair of Gray-breasted Wood-wrens (Henicorhina leucophrys) were making a home.This 4" wren has a dark brown back, gray breast and streaked face.

Gray-breasted Wood-wren
We had to to the paramo (scrub above the tree line at 11,000 feet elevation) to find the 4" Timberline Wren (Thyrochilus browni).The dots on the wings and white edging of the primaries are diagnostic.

Timberline Wren
The last one was the common 4" House Wren (Troglodytes aedon). This bird is a permanent resident throughout Costa Rica except on the paramo.

House Wren

The Cracidae family of birds is a New World family of large chicken-like game birds including chachalacas, guans and the most intriguing, curassows. These birds are hard to find except where protected from hunting in sanctuaries, national parks etc.

I had seen the Black Guan (Chamaepetes unicolor) on my first trip to Costs Rica in 1994 on the first morning of the trip. I definitely wanted to see it and get a photo this time. It is a resident of the mountains and IDed by blue facial skin, red legs and all black body. We found a pair on the first day as we drove over the mountains from San Jose to La Selva on the Caribbean lowlands.

Black Guan
At La Selva, they had lots of 35" Crested Guans (Penelope purpurascens) and we saw several every day. I like the genus name of this bird. It is all brown with a crest and red skin on throat.

Crested Guan
The last is the 36" Great Curassow (Crax rubra). I remember this bird well from my first birding trip to the tropics to Belize in 1993. The male is all black with a white belly, and a yellow knob on his face and a curly punk rock crest. The female is brown but we didn't see her. This bird was also seen at La Selva.

Great Curassow - male
A close-up of his head shows the curly crest feathers and the peculiar yellow knob.

Great Curassow - male

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Bulletin 218 - Costa Rica Hummingbirds part 1

I had a recent great trip to Costa Rica. I used a local guiding service 'Costa Rica Birding Tours' and the brothers Noel and Carlos Urena were fantastic. Their web site is here. I went to La Selva on the Caribbean side and Savegre Mountain Lodge for the Quetzal.

As you know, hummingbirds are among my favorites. There are 57 species of hummers in Costa Rica.  I photographed 25 and glimpsed a couple of others. 

First is the Long-billed Hermit (Phaethornis longirostris). This is a large 6" brownish hummer with a long curved bill, and 2 long white tail feathers. The sexes are similar.

Long-billed Hermit
The Stripe-throated Hermit (Phaethornis striigularis) is a smaller version at 4" in length.

Stripe-throated Hermit
Also, I was fortunate to be able to photograph this bird in its nest. It builds a nest out of leaves and spider webs and attaches it it the tip of a broad leaf. The bird can be seen with his head above the nest.

Stripe-throated Hermit in nest
The 3" male Black-bellied Hummingbird (Eupherusa nigriventris) has a green back and a black face andunderparts. He also has a rufous wing patch. It is endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama and was a lifer.

Black-bellied Hummingbird - male
The 4" Stripe-tailed Hummingbird (Eupherusa eximia) is the same genus and has the sane rufous wing patch. The male is bright green below. It was also a lifer.

Stripe-tailed Hummingbird - male
A stunning bird is the Violet Saberwing (Campylopterus hemileucurus). The male of this 6" hummer has a purple body and white tail. I had seen this bird before and was hoping to get a photo this time.

Violet Saberwing - male
Violetears are hummers that have purple patches on the sides of their heads. I saw 2 different species on the trip. The 4" Brown Violetear (Colibri delphinae) is brown with a brown streaked breast.
Brown Violetear
His cousin, the 4" Green Violetear (Colibri thalassinus) is much prettier as he is all green with a purple ear patch. This hummer occasionally shows up in the USA.

Green Violetear

Hummers call mountain-gems are residents of montane forests. One is found regularly in SE Arizona, the Blue-throated Mountain-gem or as it is commonly called, the Blue-throated Hummingbird. I saw 3 others of this genus on the trip and got photos of two. The male White-throated Mountain-gem (Lampornis castaneoventris) is a 4" green hummer with a white throat and a vertical white stripe below the eye.

White-throated Mountain-gem - male

The female is green above with the white eye line and beautiful rufous underparts.

White-throated Mountain-gem - female
The male Purple-throated Mountain-gem (Lampornis calolaemus) has a purple rather than white throat, but is otherwise similar to the previous bird. I did not see a male, but did photo a female. Likewise she is similar to the previous female, but has a greener tail. Their ranges do not overlap, so you can tell by the location which is which.

Purple-throated Mountain-gem - female
I had photographed the 3" Violet-headed Hummingbird (Klais guimeti) in Panama, but it was at dawn and the light was poor. This time, I was able to see his colors. The male has a purple crown and throat and a distinctive white spot behind the eye.

Violet-headed Hummingbird - male
The female is green with a white throat and breast and the white spot behind the eye.

Violet-headed Hummingbird - female
A tiny hummer that is on every birders wish list is the Snowcap (Microchera albocoronata). The 3" male is bright reddish purple with a white crown. I had seen a female once before, but never the male.
Snowcap - male

The female is a tiny hummer with green back and white underparts. She is IDed by the short straight bill.

Snowcap - female
Lastly, the 4" male Blue-chested Hummingbird (Amazilia amabilis) is green with a white belly and a prominent blue chest patch.

Blue-chested Hummingbird - male
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

To have these trip reports sent to your email, please email me at the above address and ask to subscribe.