30 January 2009

Crossbills - 30 Jan. 2009

Today Ashley and I decided to head east to find some White-winged Crossbills in the Cedar Rapids area.  They were relatively easy to find at Squaw Creek Park, just east of Cedar Rapids.  Initially we checked the spruces up behind the Red Cedar Lodge but didn't find anything.  We received a tip from some other birders that the crossbills were just to the west of the lodge maybe 1/4 mile (just downhill from the trailhead).  There, we found a pretty decently sized flock, probably about 40 birds in all.

Below is a male White-winged Crossbill.

As we were leaving Red Cedar Lodge, Ashley spotted this Northern Shrike (with prey).

On the way back to Ames, we decided to drive some dirt roads north and west of Nevada.  We ended up with several Rough-legged Hawks, Horned Lark flocks, and even a small flock of 7 Snow Buntings.  No Gray Partridge.

We swung by City Hall in downtown Ames to have a look at their resident Long-eared Owl.  Being present here on a daily basis for over a month, I can't think of a more reliable and easy-to-see Long-eared Owl.  Anyone out there have an easier spot?!

25 January 2009

Overview of Costa Rica

All in all, what a great trip full of phenominal birding, amazing scenery, and great wildlife!

We easily tallied over 200 bird species, all without touching either coast (and despite several rain days)!

We were able to photograph over 120 bird species!  For most of the bird photos, I used a Nikon D50 with a Nikon VR 70-300 mm lens (which I might add BROKE halfway through the trip!).  For most of the landscape shots, we used a Nikon Coolpix P2.

Many thanks to Kevin Easley, Melvin, and Kip Miller for all the tips!

Savegre to Chicago - 9 January 2009

Today was our last day in Costa Rica.  But before focusing on the fact that we had to LEAVE this lush paradise, we decided to get up and get some more birding in!

Realizing that only later today I was going to be in the snow of Chicago, I put my camera to good use, trying to capture some species I hadn't yet.

The endemic Yellow-thighed Finch, above, was common during our stay at Savegre.

One can't leave Savegre without seeing the White-throated Mountain-Gem, pictured above.   This, too, was a common highland endemic species present at Savegre.

Another hummingbird you can't miss at Savegre is the above Magnificent Hummingbird.

We snagged the uncommon Yellow-bellied Siskin near the headquarters that morning.  This was our only new species of the day.  See picture below.

With just a few minutes before 8:30, we took one last stroll down along the river.  Although we didn't turn up any new species for the trip, we got more looks of Yellow-thighed Finch, Band-tailed Pigeons, Louisiana Waterthrush, etc.

During our stay at Savegre, we were surprised to find not only one, but two Stripe-tailed Hummingbirds along the river!  A very rare bird at Savegre proper, we made it a priority to get photos (see above).

Our transportation to the airport arrived at 8:30 AM.  Our drive back to the airport was delayed a good hour due to a car wreck!  Luckily we were still on time for our flights, etc.

The rest of the trip was uneventuful.  We shed our shorts for pants and our t-shirts for sweatshirts.  We arrived back in Chicago that night to a nice 4" of new snow, below freezing temperatures, and not a new bird for hundreds of miles around.

Savegre - 8 Jan 2009

Today was our second and last full day at Savegre (and lukily, void of rain)!

We woke before dawn to make a quick jaunt up the trails in hopes of Dusky Nightjar, a highland endemic.  Without any leads (or ideas as to where to look/listen), we headed further up the mountain with our headlamps.  Suddenly we stopped, a Dusky Nightjar was calling up the mountain!  We were pretty stoked, what a way to start a day!  (I had secretly put this pretty high on my "wish list" for this trip!  Whew)

After coming down the trails, we birded our way down and around the headquarters before breakfast.

A Scintillant Hummingbird, a highland endemic, was seen on both our chilly mornings.

After breakfast, we met our guide for the morning, Melvin.  After loading up in his vehicle, we were off to bird our way up the mountain!  It wasn't long to realize that Melvin knew exactly what he was doing.  What a help it was to have a local birder!

One of our first stops yielded many Volcano Hummingbirds, pictured above.  This was another highland endemic.

At one of our stops, a hawk flew in (and stumped Melvin in the process).  Later we decided it was probably a Broad-winged Hawk, just higher in elevation than they usually are.

New birds came quickly as we birded up the road.  Some notables were highland endemics such as Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush and both Long-tailed and Black-and-yellow Silky-Flycatcher.  However, perhaps most rewarding was when we crawled into the forest to try to coax in a Wrenthrush.  It took a while, but we eventually were rewarded with actual views of this mega-skulker just a mere meter away!

One of the species I really wanted to see, the above pictured Sooty Robin, was easy to find up the mountain a bit.  This highland endemic is related to our American Robin... but just so happens to be all black!

After reaching the Pan-American Highway 9 km up the way, we pulled off at a spot Melvin knew for Fiery-throated Hummingbird, photographed above.  This was also a highland endmic.

Up above 3000 meters in elevation, the vegetation started to change into a short, stunted bamboo habitat, the Paramo!  The views were amazing (even though it was cloudy), and at one point, it's sometimes possible to see both the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Carribean to the east from one spot!  It's the only spot along the whole Pan-American Highway that this is possible.

Up in the Paramo, we took a couple panoramic shots.  Makes sense, huh?

We started our hunt for many of the paramo endemics.  Many of these species have extremely small ranges, limited to the tops of mountains between Costa Rica and Panama.  Our first success came with a couple singing Timberline Wrens!

Another paramo specialty, the above pictured Volcano Junco, was another bird high on my wish list!   We were treated to lengthy views of several (I might add that they're eerily tame)!

Although not limited only to the parmo habitats, the above Large-footed Finch is still a highland endemic.  This skulker decided to pop up much to the delight of my Nikon.

Another huge highlight of mine was when we managed views of another Paramo specialty, the uncommon and endemic Peg-billed Finch!

By mid-day we headed back down to Savegre.  We wandered the lodge grounds for a couple brief minutes.  In the process, we found this exceedingly tame Yellowish Flycatcher, pictured below.

We had just sat down to lunch when I noticed my glass of water trembling.  After asking Ashley why she was tapping the table with her foot, she said she wasn't!  "Hmm" we thought, is this an earthquake or something?  Turns out it WAS an earthquake, a first for both Ashley and I!  Fortunately for us, it was centered NW of San Jose (and not at Savegre).  However, and most unfortunately, it was a serious quake that killed over a dozen people and badly scarred many pristine birding spots.

After lunch, we made a last trek up the mountain to the Los Robles trail.  I badly wanted to see the rare and local Silvery-throated Jay which was a possibility along certain parts of the trail.  As luck would have it, at one point we heard the raspy calls of something, it just HAD to a be a jay!  We bolted uptrail and stood gazing up as over a dozen Silvery-throated Jays started to filter through the tree tops!  I was completely ecstatic.  (Getting their picture was another story though!!)

One of my most-wanted species on this trip, I barely documented the highland endemic Silvery-throated Jay.

Overall, it was another great day of birding the highlands at Savegre!  It was sad to know that our time in Costa Rica was drawing to a close.

Below is a list of NEW species for our trip seen today:

* = Highland endemic

* Finch, Peg-billed 
* Flycatcher, Black-and-yellow Silky- 
* Grosbeak, Black-thighed 
Hawk, Broad-winged 
* Hummingbird, Fiery-throated 
* Hummingbird, Volcano 
* Jay, Silvery-throated 
* Junco, Volcano 
* Nightjar, Dusky 
Peppershrike, Rufous-browed 
* Robin, Sooty 
* Thrush, Black-billed Nightingale- 
Woodpecker, Hairy 
Wren, Gray-breasted Wood- 
* Wren, Timberline 
* Wrenthrush

Savegre - 7 Jan 2009

Today was our first full day at Savegre.  What a place!  Waking early, we descended the hill to the feeder area where we saw many new birds for the trip.  Lifers came quickly with the feeders ablur with Green Violet-Ears, White-throated Mountain-Gems, Magnificent Hummingbirds, and other non-hummingbirds like Slaty Flowerpiercer.

The most common hummingbird at Savegre, the Green Violet-ear, photographed above.

Mountain Thrush, above, was very common during our stay at Savegre.

After breakfast, we headed uphill to the trails in the oak cloudforests.  The transformation between habitats was amazing and the birdlife even moreso!

Hearing a beautiful thrush-like song, we eventually traced it down.  See below.

The Black-faced Solitaire, an endemic of the highlands of Costa Rica and nearby Panama.

Spangle-cheeked Tanagers, photographed above, were present in many of the mixed flocks.  This is also a highland endemic.

Ashley took some close-ups of some of the flowers on the trail.

We decided to head back downhill and it was a good thing we did, the rain showers began.  We took this time to mention to the Savegre staff that we had no hot water in our cabin!  And as they said... "one DEFINITELY needs hot water at Savegre".  They were right.

The rain continued through most of the afternoon.  That evening after the rain broke, Ashley and I decided to walk down on the Waterfall Trail. 

A Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush, pictured above, were easy to spot along the road to the trail.

It wasn't long before we spotted a particular bird perched over the stream, a Resplendent Quetzal!  The striking male sat in view for many minutes to our delight.

The evenings get dark QUICKLY down in the bottom of the valley and we raced the dark to get back to the lodge that evening.

Overall, a great day of highland birding!  Below is a list of NEW bird species we saw today:

* = Highland endemic 

* Chlorophonia, Golden-browed 
Elaenia, Mountain 
* Finch, Large-footed 
* Finch, Yellow-thighed 
* Flowerpiercer, Slaty 
* Flycatcher, Black-capped 
* Flycatcher, Long-tailed Silky- 
Flycatcher, Tufted 
Flycatcher, Yellowish 
Hawk, Red-tailed 
Hummingbird, Magnificent 
* Hummingbird, Scintillant 
Hummingbird, Stripe-tailed 
Kite, Swallow-tailed 
* Mountain-gem, White-throated 
* Owl, Costa Rican Pygmy- 
* Parakeet, Sulphur-winged 
Pigeon, Band-tailed 
Pigeon, Ruddy 
Quetzal, Resplendent 
* Redstart, Collared Robin, Mountain 
* Solitarie, Black-faced 
Tanager, Flame-colored 
* Tanager, Sooty-capped Bush- 
* Tanager, Spangle-cheeked 
* Tapaculo, Silvery-fronted 
Thrush, Ruddy-capped Nightingale- 
* Treerunner, Ruddy 
Trogon, Collared 
Tuftedcheek, Buffy 
Violet-ear, Green 
Vireo, Brown-capped 
* Vireo, Yellow-winged 
* Warbler, Black-cheeked 
* Warbler, Flame-throated 
Waterthrush, Louisiana 
Woodcreeper, Spot-crowned 
Woodpecker, Acorn

15 January 2009

Arenal to Savegre - 6 Jan 2009

This morning it wasn't actually pouring the whole time!  We had until 1 PM to bird at Arenal before our transportation was to pick us up.  

We made good use of it and birded the grounds pretty well.  Many of the mixed flocks were productive on our way up the mountain that morning and we added a few neat species such as the Black-throated Wren, etc.

Once our transportation arrived, we settled in for the 5-6 hour drive to Savegre!  The drive was long but we eventually arrived at the Savegre Mountain Lodge which is several hours south of San Jose.  We had our own cabin complete with a space heater (it was COLD up in the mountains!).  Tired from the drive, we fell asleep to the sound of the space heater.

Above is a Coati near the bird feeders at Arenal (this was a common sight for us in Costa Rica).  This one was snarling at another nearby Coati.

The eerie Lake Arenal that morning.

We were able to add a few birds that morning at Arenal before our ride came.  Below are the NEW species for the trip:

Cowbird, Bronzed 
Euphonia, Tawny-capped 
Flycatcher, Olive-striped 
Heron, Little Blue 
Pigeon, Red-billed 
Trogon, Orange-bellied 
Wren, Black-throated

Arenal - 5 Jan 2009

When traveling in the rainforests of the tropics, one has to consider the rain.  Today we did just that.  Even before it was light out, the fact that it was pouring buckets was easily heard.  The rain continued through 95% of the day!!  It greatly hampered our plans, our birds, and our spirits.  However, from the shelter of a couple buildings we were still able to see 1 or 2 new things for the day.

Above was a coyote that we spotted from our shelter.  It seemingly didn't notice us.

The Blue-and-white Swallows were very common here.  This one decided to get out of the rain as well.

Above is a Bay-headed Tanager, one of the many colorful tanagers here in Costa Rica.  

Bird-wise, today was a hard hit.  In terms of NEW species seen for the trip, we had the following:

Fairy, Purple-crowned 
Warbler, Black-throated Green 
Warbler, Tennessee

Arenal - 4 Jan 2009

Waking up in our very nice accomodations to the sounds of the volcano was something rather surreal!  However, we hurried up to reception at 5 AM to meet our guide who was to take us to the Arenal Hanging Bridges.   

Unfortunately, it POURED nearly the entire time we were there.  It was a neat place... but we saw very few bird species due to the weather.  However, being 150 feet up above the forest floor was something I won't forget anytime soon!

We had the whole afternoon/evening to explore and bird around Arenal Observatory Lodge and the nearby trails.  One particular trail, the Waterfall Trail, proved to be quite productive birding!  (Oh, and the waterfall was really enjoyable as well).

Perhaps the highlight for me today was actually SEEING a Nightingale Wren!  This dark and secretive wren is very seldom seen but we were fortunate on a trail near the feeders of the observatory lodge.  We were also very lucky to hear the quirky-sounding Song Wren today as well.

Above is a Brown Jay, a large and common jay species of the tropics.  This one was surveying the feeders.

This is the waterfall at Arenal Observatory Lodge.  The trail to/from this was exceptional birding as well.

This photo was taken from one of the very high hanging bridges at Arenal Hanging Bridges.  

Above is a Violet-headed Hummingbird.  I was able to get this picture from the Hanging Bridges near Arenal.  Looking DOWN on a hummingbird was something I had never done before.

I decided to take a quick (and therefore poor) picture of a Yellow-faced Grassquit at the Arenal Hanging Bridges.  This species is one of the more common species in Costa Rica.

This was the view of Lake Arenal from the observatory lodge.

Above is the cloud-shrouded Arenal Volcano.  With a scope or binoculars, one could see the huge chunks of rocks tumbling down the side once in a while!

This was a sick or messed up Margay we saw at Arenal.  We believe it was sick because it had large bite marks on its back.  Oh, and the fact that it trotted around people without care was another clue!!

Below are the NEW bird species we saw today for the trip:

Ani, Groove-billed 
Antbird, Bicolored 
Antbird, Spotted 
Antpitta, Thicket 
Blackbird, Melodius 
Euphonia, Yellow-throated 
Flycatcher, Sulphur-rumped 
Grassquit, Yellow-faced 
Grosbeak, Rose-breasted 
Hawk, Short-tailed 
Hermit, Green 
Hummingbird, Violet-headed 
Jay, Brown 
Owl, Striped 
Parakeet, Orange-chinned 
Parula, Tropical 
Phoebe, Black 
Sapsucker, Yellow-bellied 
Sparrow, Rufous-collared 
Swallow, Blue-and-white 
Tanager, Emerald 
Tanager, Hepatic 
Warbler, Golden-crowned 
Warbler, Wilson's 
Warbler, Yellow 
Wren, Nightingale 
Wren, Song 
Wren, Stripe-breasted

La Selva to Arenal - 3 Jan 2009

Today we woke up at La Selva but for the last time this trip.  We had until 1 PM to bird La Selva before our transportation came to take us to Arenal Observatory Lodge.  However, this morning proved to be another amazing morning of birding.

At 1 PM our driver (lets call him "Mr. Cranky") drove us to Arenal, a good 3+ hour drive.  We didn't see much in the way of new species as we got whipped around the windy roads.  

Arenal Observatory Lodge is situated at the base of the VERY active Arenal Volcano.  It didn't take long for us to realize that the loud cracks and bangs were actually giant pieces of volcanic debris (the size of cars, some of them) rumbling down the mountain!  Don't worry, the lodge is a safe distance from those boulders.

One of my favorite pictures from Costa Rica!  This was taken at La Selva on a misty, early morning.

This Northern Barred-Woodcreeper was found just in front of our cabin at La Selva.

Another great find at La Selva was this White-whiskered Puffbird.  Puffbirds are notorious for being difficult to find.  We lucked out this morning though.

The above Rufous Motmot is the biggest of the motmots, this one at La Selva OTS.

Although not a great picture, above is a Hook-billed Kite.  This species, along with a Double-toothed Kite, were seen rising on late morning thermals at La Selva.

Above is a Common Tody-Tyrant near reception at La Selva.

One of many flycatcher species at La Selva, this is a Gray-capped Flycatcher.

This is an Olive-backed Euphonia, a common species here at La Selva.

Above is a Crested Guan, a huge turkey-like bird that prefers sitting in trees over the ground.  Every morning along the same trail at La Selva, a flock of these would explode into flight from over our heads.

Although not a great picture, the Squirrel Cuckoo is a really neat species and I went to Costa Rica in hopes of getting at least some kind of picture of it.

Below are the NEW species for the trip seen today:

Antshrike, Fasciated 
Antshrike, Great 
Attila, Bright-rumped 
Becard, White-winged 
Flycatcher, Yellow-margined 
Honeycreeper, Shining 
Mourner, Rufous 
Pewee, Tropical 
Puffbird, White-whiskered 
Redstart, American 
Seedeater, White-collared 
Warbler, Blue-winged 
Warbler, Golden-winged 
Woodcreeper, Cocoa 
Woodcreeper, Northern Barred-

La Selva - 2 Jan 2009

Today we had another full day at La Selva.  The diversity was just incredible, you can walk the same path multiple times a day and still see a dozen new things!

Our meals at La Selva were in a cafeteria on the grounds and they often consisted of pretty basic foods (lots of beans, rice, juice, etc).  The La Selva biological station is by-no-means a place for Reebok tourists.  School groups, though, visit in numbers.  There were actually a couple school groups visiting at the same time.

This is a Passerini's Tanager, one of the most common species in this part of Costa Rica.

Above is a White-necked Puffbird, a rather tough bird to find when you actually want to.  We were lucky to have spotted it (and even got a couple pictures to boot).

This is a White-collared Manakin.  Manakins are a very fun family of birds found only in the tropics.  La Selva was the only place we found any manakins at all on this trip.  This male was particularly hard to photograph, however.  Even though it's brightly colored, the dark understory of the rainforest makes all things rather difficult to photograph.

Above is a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, the most common hummingbird in most parts of Costa Rica.  This perched one near the cafe let me go-to-town with my camera.

Above is a Semiplumeous Hawk, an uncommon woodland species in the lowlands.  We saw several during our stay at La Selva.

This striking bird is a Long-tailed Tyrant.  Turns out, it's pretty darn common too around the reception area at La Selva.

Above is a Social Flycatcher, another one of the most common species here.  This one was in the process of regurgitating pits!  Lovely, huh?

One of our best birds at La Selva was this Yellow-tailed Oriole!  I was birding around the reception when this bird came into view.  Knowing it's an oriole, I decided to get some pictures.  Soon after, all the guides rushed out pointing to the oriole!  It was then that I realized that this bird was actually one of the rarest we had seen in Costa Rica so far.

Cinnamon Becards were easily seen at La Selva, such as the above bird.

Above is the Chestnut-mandibled Toucan.  This is another common species at La Selva.

Overall, another splendid day of birding at La Selva.  Here is the list of NEW species to our trip, ones that we had not seen until today:

Antbird, Chestnut-backed 
Barbthroat, Band-tailed 
Becard, Cinnamon 
Dacnis, Blue 
Dove, Gray-chested 
Dove, Ruddy Ground- 
Euphonia, Yellow-crowned 
Flycatcher, Common Tody- 
Flycatcher, Yellow-olive 
Gnatcatcher, Tropical 
Hermit, Stripe-throated 
Honeycreeper, Green 
Kingfisher, Ringed 
Kite, Double-toothed 
Kite, Hook-billed 
Manakin, White-collared 
Oriole, Yellow-tailed Osprey 
Owl, Black-and-white 
Owl, Central American Pygmy- 
Owl, Vermiculated Screech- 
Puffbird, White-necked 
Sparrow, Orange-billed 
Swallow, Mangrove 
Swift, White-collared 
Tanager, Red-throated Ant- 
Tinamou, Slaty-breasted 
Vireo, Yellow-throated 
Vulture, Black 
Woodcreeper, Streak-headed 
Woodpecker, Rufous-winged 
Woodpecker, Smoky-brown 
Wren, Band-backed 
Xenops, Plain