Monday, August 28, 2017

The Talamanca Highlands

Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher
We have come to the end of the Costa Rican adventures.  This was one of the last birding adventures we had near the Cartago area.

Spangle-cheeked Tanager
Once again, we had wonderful friend and bird guide Serge Arias with us.  We explored his new home in an area known as the Talamanca Highlands.

Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush
This is probably the one place where birders need to rent a car as the Talamanca region covers quite a few areas.  I have to say that this was one of my absolute favorite birding spots in Costa Rica. 

Similar to birding larger areas, we made several different stops along the road to get a decent sampling of species.

We stopped at the Quetzal Paradise lodge where supposedly it's easy to spot the Resplendent Quetzal.  We didn't see one on this day, but it didn't matter as we found so many other birds!

When we arrived, we saw several Magnificent Hummingbirds coming to the feeders. We had suspected that the Magnificent Hummingbird was going to be split once again into separate species as the Rivoli's and Talamanca Hummingbirds.  So we paid special attention to this hummingbird during our visit to the lodge.  I'll be quite honest.  The hummingbird looks almost identical to the Rivoli's Hummingbird here in Arizona.  Although, it's a tad darker.....  

However, I really noticed the differences between the female Rivoli's and Talamanca hummers.

Talamanca Hummingbird
The bills on the female Talamanca hummingbirds are out of control!  The female below was impressive!

In July, the split was made after our trip and we added yet another lifer to the list.  It pays to note the subtle differences in birds because sometimes they are recognized as their own species.

Collared Redstart
Beyond that technical aspect of birding, everything else was brand new! 

It was another day of keeping up with lifers everywhere!

Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush

It was comfortable birding.  And the birds were pretty beautiful as well.

Sooty-capped Chlorospingus
Serge once again casually set us up for lunch at the lodge.  What a beautiful place to relax and bird!

Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher
It took us several hours to observe the property grounds. While we there, we saw many people come into the lodge for lunch.  Several birded.  Several were staying at the lodge.  And others were doing serious photography like the man below.

It was great.  Writing nor photography do this place justice.  You need to see it in person to understand the preserve better.

Golden-browed Chlorophonia
But it got better!  Serge took us to a new habitat called the páramo!  I had to look up the word as it was a completely new word for me.  Basically it's like the tropics version of the alpine level.  The plants were razor sharp and the smell that the plants gave off reminded me of um.....animal poop.

Anyhow, it was exciting stuff. At this elevation, one can spot such wonders as the Timberline Wren and Volcano Junco.

The behind of the Timberline Wren
 And we did!  So here's a deep thought.  Juncos.  As I'm observing the Volcano Junco, I'm making mental observations to myself noting how different the bird looks when compared to our own Yellow-eyed Junco.  So if they split all these Yellow-eyed Juncos into various species like the Baird's and Volcano Juncos, why in the world did they lump all the various subspecies of Dark-eyed Juncos into one species?  Won't they do the same thing with the Yellow-eyed Juncos down the road?  So for now, they are considered separate species.  It just seems inconsistent.  Dark-eyed Juncos were split into 5 separate species until they lumped them all back together many years ago. Will these similar yellow eyed juncos follow suite?

Volcano Junco
One thing was clear.  The hummingbird show in the Talamanca highlands was awesome.  We added Volcano and Fiery-throated Hummingbirds to our lists.

Fiery-throated Hummingbird
Sadly, our Costa Rican journey has come to an end. I want to thank Serge Arias for showing us his beautiful world of birds.  When you come to visit Serge, we'll be waiting to show you our Arizona birds.  Thank you so much for your friendship and wonderful hospitality.  I had a blast!

As with all good things, there must come an end. For our Volcano Junco and Timberline Wren, click here. For the Paraiso Quetzal Lodge, click here.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Rancho Naturalista

So.  Here we are.  Nearly 2 months after our Costa Rican trek.  So much has happened since that amazing trip but it's time I finish off these last two posts.  Today we'll visit the infamous Rancho Naturalista, home of the Snowcap hummingbird.

Originally we had planned to visit Poas National Park on this day, but the volcano had other ideas.  So we moved our agenda up a day and headed over to Rancho Naturalista. I am so grateful to new friend and bird guide Serge Arias for taking us to this magical place. Without him, a lot of our time would have been wasted on transportation.

White-necked Jacobin
Even better?  Serge knew everyone at the places we went to visit.  He's great.  And he knows when your tummy is about to growl from hunger.  He had our lunches all set up without even a second thought.  Now that's awesome!

Green Basilisk

People can stay at Rancho Naturalista or they can visit.  Lisa Erb runs the ranch and she was wonderful!  What a fantastic place!  There were trails, sitting areas and lots of fantastic birds!

I was so caught up in the bird activity that I forgot to take landscape and people pics!  I know many of you enjoy those photos as well. Anyhow, in this pic,  Serge and Lisa talk about an upcoming conference that they will attend.

Chestnut-headed Oropendula
As a birder, I can tell you that I enjoy these "movie theater" kind of places.  You get a cup of coffee or tea and sit down to watch the incredible bird life around you. After walking trails, it's a nice and welcome break.

Brown Jay
Photography is fun here.  There are lots of great spots to point your camera and shoot. 

Blue-gray Tanager

Once we had our coffee and break, it was off to hike once again.  How can this place have so many birds?  The lifers seemed endless. 

Olive-backed Euphonia

The star of the show here at the ranch is the Snowcap.  It's why birders from all over the world come to visit.

It was on my list of "must sees" on our trip to Costa Rica.  This is a striking hummer with distinct coloring. The male has a deep merlot color. Our human eyes are very limiting but with the camera, I was able to catch the subtle walk and fly motion that this bird did while feeding.

Palm Tanager
We met with Lisa's parents who also live on the ranch.  It was a hot and muggy day, but it was all made better by a wonderful cold drink! 

 With Serge, we never needed to ask for a food or drink stop.  It was always there when you needed it. Right when I felt thirsty, this amazing cold drink appeared out of nowhere!  That is the mark of an excellent bird guide. Some people need bathroom breaks.  Others need snacks.  I need fluid!

Orange-billed Sparrow
The birds also had the same idea as they bathed in the trickling water feature at the ranch.  I love ALL sparrows, and the ones found in Central America are quite unique! 

Crowned Woodnymph
We had a blast. For birders, this is a great 1 or 2 day stop for your Costa Rican birding adventures.  For the Rancho Naturalista list, click here.

Until next time.....

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Treasure Hunts

The month of August is a busy one.  I've returned back to work, continue to monitor key bird areas around Tucson and lead several trips.  August is also known as an excellent month for shorebird research.  And it's also challenging due to their hidden and remote locations. 

Currently in my yard, I am monitoring a Broad-billed Hummingbird nest. On the 14th of this month, I found the nest with two eggs.  

Now I have two baby hummingbirds growing up right before my very eyes.  The mother decided to put this nest right next to my car.  So now I have to be super careful getting out!

Okay.  Currently, their bills are poking out of the nest and it's a bit of a poop fest. I know it's a full time job Mom but couldn't you clean up around the edges?:) To help Mom out, I filled up the feeders.  She now begins to catch insects and drink nectar to make a slurry for the babies. Think of it as a bug protein shake. And there are plenty of mosquitoes in my garden right have at it:)

August also brings with it bugs and heat.  However, shorebird migration is rather exciting.  Encouraged by a report from friends, I went with Micheal and Magill to find a rare Ruddy Turnstone.  It was nasty work.  I have a strong stomach but on this day, I almost lost it.  

White-faced Ibis
It was 108 degrees and we were at a cattle slop pond, not the most scenic of places to bird. The flies were terrible.  And the smell.....well that was its own special reward.  At one point, I almost threw up.  I looked over at Magill and asked her what that god awful smell was.  She pointed to the pile of dead cows and I almost tossed my cookies. We were downwind from the ground up piles of rotting flesh.

I laughed because Micheal had just gotten out of work and there he was in his bright pink scrubs in the middle of Mad Max land.  However, I needed company.  I can't drive these longer distances anymore without falling asleep at the wheel. It's hot and it's boooooring!

An excellent state bird for Arizona, the Ruddy Turnstone
State birds are difficult now and they require some team work if only for shared misery and encouragement.  Micheal enjoys birding when we are in beautiful places.  He also likes cool looking birds.  This one didn't do it for him, but it was an important state bird.  

A couple weeks later, I get a text from Magill about a Red Knot.  This is ANOTHER state bird that can be tricky to spot.  It's also a very rare migrant.  But the catch?  It was found at yet another sewage treatment facility up in the Phoenix area.  

Stilt Sandpiper
 During this time of year at the Glendale Recharge Ponds, it's hot and muggy.  At one point, Micheal almost passed out from the heat.  He did get to see the bird but once again, he wasn't thrilled. When these birds are in their breeding plumage, they are quite beautiful.  

A fantastic state bird for Arizona, the Red Knot
Once again we celebrated another new state bird for Arizona.  This month alone has landed me THREE very tricky birds for the state.  I missed the Fulvous Whistling-Ducks and Reddish Egret due to the time factor. There just wasn't enough time with my busy schedule. 

While work has taken up a good chunk of that precious time, I have found a little break time to monitor our nesting Purple Martins at my job site. They are gone now. But each year I get a couple weeks with them before their large group migrates away. 

I'd like to also stress the importance of vegetation.  If that saguaro wasn't there, there would be no Purple Martin activity ever. Sadly, this saguaro has seen the pristine desert around it disappear over the last 16 years.  Today, a huge solar panel stands next to the last of its remaining brethren. They are also now surrounded by a developing housing project.  Yes, I worry about this saguaro and I will be sad if anything ever happens to the 4 that still remain.  But this one saguaro has been home to 5 different nesting bird species AND provides food during our hot spring month of May for our desert birds!

a male Purple Martin flies about their Saguaro
Between the bugs and the heat, I'm ready for this month to be over.  If you like birding and don't care about chasing state birds, there are many great alternatives for cooler birding on the higher elevations. 

I just came back from Mexico and will be writing that blog post in a few days.  I'm taking the weekend off to catch up with all of you and have a nice cup of coffee in my pajamas. 

So for now, I hope you avoid(or not), nasty piles of ground up dead cattle.  If you are in Arizona, this is where you'll find the rare treasure birds right now.  These excellent birds are found around these poop filled watering holes.  While it's not as scenic as say the Grand Canyon, it's where state chasing birders go this month.  Until next time.....