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Wednesday, 27 February 2019

A Roundup of Recent Walks

     Of late we have had one snowfall after another, so our outings have been sandwiched into lulls in the precipitation, and confined to nearby favourite destinations. Here are a few highlights from recent forays.

Riverside Park, Cambridge, ON

     This location is always a reliable spot to see birds, and sometimes an interesting variety, and even on "slow" days it is still a pleasant walk. Many people bring bird seed in their pockets and distribute it liberally; in consequence birds have become a little less wary of humans than is usually the case.
      White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta canadensis) are not especially timid, but seem to have been emboldened by the behaviour of Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus), and sometimes will feed from the hand. They are in any event not reluctant to approach within a metre or two.



     Downy Woodpeckers (Dryobates pubescens) are sometimes almost as confiding, and I have had them almost land on my hand, only to pull away at the last minute. I suspect that with a little more patience and the willingness to invest an hour or two, it could be done.



     Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) display no such intent, but are nevertheless drawn to sunflower seeds and do not hesitate to feed at close range.



     Due to its rapid flow, sections of the Grand River remain open during the winter, and Common Mergansers (Mergus merganser) are frequently seen in small groups, generally of both sexes.  These three males were part of a larger flotilla, but quite distant.



     Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) always seem especially placid and spend hours perched in one spot. Quite often in my backyard they are hunkered down in the snow.



     House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) are drawn to the food distributed by humans and as might be expected from these aggressive little birds they manage to get their fair share.




Three Bridges Road, St. Jacobs, ON

     This location is very reliable for bird watching, and there is a great variety to be seen, with the number of species only expected to increase as spring draws ever closer.
     You will pardon the inclusion of another picture of a Northern Cardinal, but this female will show how beautiful she is, muted in comparison with the male, but very attractive indeed.



     At one location along Three Bridges Road Downy Woodpecker verges on a guaranteed species, if there is such a thing.




     I could not even imagine how many times I have seen Downy Woodpecker, but it would be in the thousands probably, yet I never tire of seeing them even for a minute. I would also be unable to count the hours I have spent observing their behaviour at different times of the year; every minute worthwhile, a repository of precious memories.
     Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) is a species whose numbers have increased exponentially over the last twenty-five years or so, and it has gone from being rare to common. It is to my eyes the most handsome of our woodpeckers.




Hillside Park, Waterloo, ON


      Our most recent outing was just yesterday, and there were signs aplenty that spring is approaching. This pair of Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) was celebrating in their own special way.



     After their tryst they sat together quite contentedly on the branch.


     A male Belted Kingfisher (Megacryle alcyon) had elected to spend the harsh winter here, rather than migrate to a more hospital clime; presumably the advantage of already having a territory when the females return in the spring, outweighs the benefits of moving south.


     I will not subject you to another picture of a Northern Cardinal, but males were singing from the tops of trees, and the feebee song of Black-capped Chickadees resonated throughout the woodland. In our backyard a pair of chickadees is already checking out a nest box.
     I mentioned earlier that Red-bellied Woodpeckers have become quite common and we heard their churr call before finally locating a couple.



     We were able to show one of the birds to a lady who was visiting from Saskatchewan and was walking in the park. She had never seen one before and was quite thrilled to have her first encounter with this lovely bird.
     There were lots of American Crows (Corvus brachyrynchos) to keep us company throughout our entire walk, and they seemed to enjoy frolicking in the snow. A black bird on a stark white background does not make picture taking easy.


     There was a group of about twenty-five or thirty Mallards (Anas platyrynchos) and it looked as though some kind person had been scattering a little corn for them In any event they have come to associate humans with food for they approached us as we rounded the bend on them. I was especially drawn to this pair, happily resting on the snow, like an old married couple on a comfortable sofa.


       Today was not a day to do much of anything outdoors. We have had a very substantial snowfall. I am not sure of the depth but fifteen to twenty centimetres would seem like a reasonable guess. I know that I shovelled the sidewalk and the driveway this morning, and less than two hours later you could not even tell I had touched it.
      You can guess what I'll be doing in the morning!   

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Costa Rica 31 January - 01 February 2019

31 January 2019
El Coco - Caño Negro

      We had booked transportation to Caño Negro with Costa Rica Expeditions for 07h:00 and a little before that hour our driver, the friendly and personable Carlos Ramírez, arrived with an immaculately clean van and a well-stocked cooler. As a matter of fact Carlos had checked in with us the previous evening so as to be absolutely sure where to pick us up the next morning. Great diligence indeed. I should note that based on two previous trips organized by Costa Rica Expeditions, this was exactly the standard of service I would have expected. CRE has only one standard - Extreme Excellence!
    Having collected Jim and Francine we began our journey to Caño Negro, with Carlos a steady hand at the wheel.
     Based on prior knowledge of the route, Carlos knew of a place to stop where there was a great likelihood of seeing toucans. And he was right! The first species we saw was Yellow-throated Toucan (Ramphastos ambiguus), the first toucan ever for some members of our group. It was a little distant for photographic purposes, but spectacular as only toucans can be.



   
     It was not long before it was joined by a Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus), even more distant unfortunately, yet gloriously beautiful and enigmatic - and Francine managed to get a picture.



     Not only were the toucans exciting, but Carlos learned from a local fellow that a Brown Three-toed Sloth (Bradypus variegatus) was present, another very appealing representative of the exciting fauna of Costa Rica.
     When travelling through rural Costa Rica in the past, I have always found it a grand experience to visit small restaurants, locally referred to as "sodas." Often this starts out as a bathroom stop, but evolves into a chat with local people and the partaking of a little food. This is how to understand the country, away from the tourist destinations which, while entrancing in many ways, are somewhat artificial.
     Carlos knew of exactly the soda that would please us all!



     The ladies inside were friendly as could be and happy to chat, all the while working, however. I think that an intense work ethic is part of their genes!



     We bought a little food, had a coffee or two, chatted, laughed.....and Carlos and Francine could not resist an impromptu dance to the rhythm of the music playing in the background.



     I suspect that local dance competitions will not be facing a serious challenge from this pair of hoofers!
     Roadside Hawk (Rupornis magnirostris) is quite common in Costa Rica, and true to its name is sometimes observed perched alongside a road, much in the fashion of Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) at home.



     Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus) vied with Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus) as the most common flycatcher in the area.



     Great Kiskadee is similar to several other flycatchers and one of the distinguishing features is the fact that the white superciliaries meet on the nape.



     When we arrived at Hotel de Campo, our home for the next two nights, we were immediately struck by the friendly staff, the overall appearance of the place and the ample well-treed grounds with a range of birds flitting around.







     We had arrived a little early and our rooms were not ready, giving us time to explore a while. When we gained access to our room, however, we were delighted with what we found.



     We knew that we would be comfortable here for the duration of our stay.
     There were many birds to be found and one could either stroll around the grounds or simply sit and watch. Birds would sometimes land almost at arm's length as one waited quietly.
     Passerini's Tanager (Ramphocelus passerinii) was often observed, both the brilliant male......




     ..... and the more subdued, but equally attractive female.



     Yellow-throated Euphonia (Euphonia hirundinacea) was also not hard to find.




     Clay-coloured Thrush (Turdus grayi) the national bird of Costa Rica was appropriately common throughout our entire stay in the country. 



     It seems to be a source of eternal wonderment that a bird so dull in colour, in a land populated by brilliantly hued parrots, tanagers, toucans and oropendolas, was named the national bird. I have heard various explanations but the one that seems to be most persuasive is that Clay-coloured Thrush lives in close contact with humans, many of whom over history were poor and lived off the land, and is often mentioned in typical songs and stories, and in literary works by Costa Rican authors.
     The brilliance of a Red-legged Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes cyaneus) is in stark contrast to the sombre tones of a Clay-coloured Thrush.



     Grey-necked Wood Rail (Aramides cajaneus) is very bold as rails go, not hesitating to come right up onto the lawns and strut around with total lack of concern over the two-legged creatures sharing its space.



     Hotel de Campo fronts onto a lagoon where birds were prolific.



     Black-necked Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus), wading through the shallows on those outrageous legs, were common.



     It is amazing how quickly species become "background birds," and so it was with the stilts. If we were to see them here in Ontario, however, we would be jumping up and down at their sheer rarity. Time, place and distance, and mindset to some extent I suppose, have a way of determining what is exotic and what is not.
     Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) is a familiar North American breeding species, exceedingly common is spring and fall migration. 



     It was interesting to be spending the winter together in Costa Rica!
     I don't think we visited any waterway in Costa Rica where we did not see Bare-throated Tiger Heron. Caño Negro was no exception.



     And Southern Lapwings (Vanellus chilensis) were frequently seen too.



     Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is very familiar in North America, and those found in Ontario are migratory. There are many subspecies, however, and birds found in Costa Rica are resident. They belong to the subspecies A.p. grinnelli if I am not mistaken. Personally, I find it fascinating to come across these distinct subspecies of commonplace birds.



       On the way back from the lagoon, we saw our first Black-cheeked Woodpecker (Melanerpes pucherani), a handsome bird, busily working away on a tree. The Spanish word for woodpecker is carpintero, a graceful appellation it seems to me.



     Blue-grey Tanagers (Thraupis episcopus) were not hard to spot.



     Just before it started to get dark a group of Central American Spider Monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) bounded noisily through the trees, sometimes scampering across the roofs of building, providing fine entertainment for all.




     We all gathered outside Franc and Carol's room to have a glass of wine or two before dinner and to congratulate Carol on having found so agreeable a place for us to spend our stay in Caño Negro. 
      Dinner was very tasty. Miriam chose fajitas and I opted for arroz con pollo. Dessert was fresh fruit. And they had the most amazing creamy fruit drinks imaginable. I had a mango concoction and Miriam watermelon; refreshing and fantastic!

All species 31 January: Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Crested Guan, Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Anhinga, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, White-tailed Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite, Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, Roadside Hawk, Grey Hawk, Grey-necked Wood Rail, Black-necked Stilt, Northern Jacana, Rock Dove, Inca Dove, Common Ground Dove, White-winged Dove, Amazon Kingfisher, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Keel-billed Toucan, Yellow-throated Touca, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Hoffmann's Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Northern Crested Caracara, Woodcreeper, sp., Common Tody Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher, House Wren, Tropical Gnatcatcher, 
Clay-coloured Thrush, Yellow-throated Euphonia, White-vented Euphonia, Black-striped Sparrow, Montezuma Oropendola, Red-winged Blackbird, Nicaraguan Grackle, Great-tailed Grackle, Golden-winged Warbler, American Yellow Warbler, Passerini's Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Palm Tanager, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Slate-coloured Grosbeak, Thick-billed Seed Finch.

01 February 2019
Caño Negro

     After a good night's sleep and a little birding from right outside our door we went for breakfast. There was good coffee, fruit, and scrambled eggs, rice and beans, and toast, with marmalade on the table. Perfect!



      We walked through the village to a boat dock on the Río Frio, to embark on our boat tour.



      The river was teeming with birds and we very fortunate to see both Mangrove (Coccyzus minor) and Squirrel (Piaya cayana) Cuckoos.


    

     These sightings have been adequately covered in an earlier post so no more needs to be said here.
     Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) was often seen, teetering along in characteristic fashion, another reminder of home.



    This female Morelet's Seedeater (Sporophila morelleti) was perched in thorny bush on the bank.



     Grey-breasted Martins (Progne chalybea) coursed through the sky, occasionally coming to rest for a brief interval.



      No doubt the insects above the river provided rich feeding for this species.
     A Pale-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus guatemalensis) derived all it needed from the trunk of a tree. Perhaps one of the large holes was an active or potential nest site.



     Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) was seen at various points along the river, mostly resting, with the odd bird in the water, however.



     Given the large number of Spectacled Caimans (Caiman crocodilus) present, one wonders at the various species of birds swimming and diving for food seemingly without any noticeable level of caution. One can only presume that the birds have learned to recognize danger when it exists and take evasive action accordingly.




      It seemed to us, however, that this Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) was playing a dangerous game of chicken.



       Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) was another species that coexisted with caimans, apparently successfully, for the species was numerous.




     As we drifted along the river, one of the premiere rewards in a whole range of sensory excitement was the ability to get close to several species of kingfisher. Coming from a part of North America where Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) is the only species, the vibrant colours of neotropical species are especially thrilling. This male Amazon Kingfisher (Chloroceryle amazona) proves the point.



     I wonder whether the dirt on the end of the bill is the result of digging out a nesting hole along the riverbank?
     A Great Egret (Ardea alba), stately and aloof, neck extended, resembled nothing so much as avian aristocracy.



     Green Iguanas (Iguana iguana), some quite massive, could be seen moving through the treetops.



     The diminutive size of the American Pygmy Kingfisher (Chloroceryle aenea) did nothing to diminish its extravagant beauty.



     And I have to say that the pictures do not do it justice, for they do not capture the iridescence as the bird knifes its way above the river, or dives with lightening speed to capture a fish. 
     Sungrebe (Heliornis fulica) is one of only three members of the family known as Finfoots (Heliornithidae) and the sole representative in the Americas, ranging from Mexico to Argentina. I have only ever seen this distinctive species in Costa Rica, moving along the water under the shade of the bank and overhanging vegetation, always difficult to photograph.



     A female Amazon Kingfisher watched it paddle by.



     Neotropic Cormorants didn't appear concerned about much of anything.




     Ringed Kingfisher (Megaceryle torquata) is far and away the largest kingfisher encountered in Central America and is an impressive bird when judged by any standards.



     Snowy Egrets always are appealing and children especially seem to be amused by their yellow feet. It is a recent fashion among human males to wear brown or tan coloured shoes with dark suits; perhaps Snowy Egrets served as precursors of this trend. Thank goodness they don't have the stripy socks above them! How handsome does this bird look in breeding ornamentation?



     The juvenile Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) is just starting to acquire the first hints of adult plumage as it marches purposefully along the bank.



     An adult Green Heron (Butorides virescens) was sleek, glossy and elegant.



     Herons come in myriad forms and colours, from Night Herons and Little Egrets to the giant herons of Asia and Africa, but none are more distinctive than Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius), a nocturnal resident of coastal mangroves, found from Mexico to Argentina. Since they roost during the day, they are fairly easy to see. 





     We meandered slowly along the river immersed in wildlife at every turn. What an amazing experience! What a privilege! What a pleasure!



     Numerous Common Sliders (Trachemys scripta) were sunning themselves on logs and on the river bank, totally unconcerned with boats passing close by.



     A Grey-headed Kite (Leptodon cayanensis) surveyed his domain along with us.



     At the end of our spell on the river, we disembarked and walked along a boardwalk  where in the distance we could see Green Ibis (Mesembrinibis cayennensis) feeding in a swampy area near a small tributary.



     There were also several juvenile American White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) foraging in the same area.



     A Neotropic Cormorant barely stirred as we passed close by.



     The walk back through the village was pleasant and we saw a dozen or so Montezuma Oropendolas (Psarocolius montezuma) flying from one tree to another, but none stopped for a portrait.
     A Black-cheeked Woodpecker was a little more obliging, however.



     And this Black-headed Trogon (Trogon melanocephalus) was perched low and in the open.



     Just before going back into the grounds of Hotel de Campo a Red-legged Honeycreeper showed well.





     It was not quite lunchtime so Miriam, Carol and Francine headed to the pool. Our guide on the boat brought us delicious cold fruit drinks and suggested that we place our lunch order so that he could have the kitchen prepare it. What incredible service!
     One of my favourite dishes when I visit Costa Rica is sopa negra, a traditional soup, and this is what I ordered and it was delicious!
     After lunch we relaxed, took a nap, walked around the grounds, checked in at the lagoon, saw some new birds, and generally amused ourselves in fine style.
     We all met at Franc and Carol's room to have a glass of wine before dinner and bring the checklist up to date, and then enjoyed a tasty meal. Miriam and I had exactly the reverse of what we had chosen the night before - I had the fajiatas and she the arroz con pollo.
     It had been a very enjoyable day indeed.

All species 01 February: Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Grey-headed Chachalaca, Wood Stork, Green Ibis, Amerian White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Green Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Western Osprey, Grey-headed Kite, Roadside Hawk, Sungrebe, Grey-necked Wood Rail, Black-necked Stilt, Southern Lapwing, Northern Jacana, Solitary Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Greater Yellowlegs, Ruddy Ground Dove, White-winged Dove, Squirrel Cuckoo, Mangrove Cuckoo, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Black-headed Trogon, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Northern Crested Carcara, White-fronted Amazon, Common Tody Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Black-crowned Tityra, Yellow-green Vireo, Mangrove Swallow, Grey-breasted Martin, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Clay-coloured Thrush, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Black-striped Sparrow, Montezuma Oropendola, Baltimore Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Northern Waterthrush, Prothonotary Warbler, American Yellow Warbler, Passerini's Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Palm Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Red-legged Honeycreeper. Variable Seedeater, Morelet's Seedeater, Bananaquit.