Monday, July 31, 2017

Esther’s Threadtail

Esther’s Threadtails are tiny, but beautiful damselflies that live in southern Central America and northern South America. Males hover over quiet streams. Finding dragonflies that someone else spotted was often challenging. “Its on the leaf over the rock,” was all fine and good—except if the stream is strewn with rocks. Our guides used laser pointers to indicate the approximate location of our quarry. The guides, gentle readers, were careful not to directly point a laser beam at an individual animal.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Fiery-eyed Dancer

Fiery-eyed Dancers flitted about the Calle Loros stream, landing on rocks and on stream-side vegetation. They are a neotropical damselfly, ranging from Colombia, north through Central America and Mexico into Arizona, with a few records in New Mexico and Texas. They prefer shallow, rocky streams. Erika and I were awestruck with their beauty, portending exciting dragonflies to come in our Costa Rican adventure. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Smoky Rubyspot

Arriving at the small stream along Calle Loros in Alajuela Province, Costa Rica, we found our first Odonata. Several Smoky Rubyspots perched along the stream. I was aware of this damselfly, even through it was new to me. It ranges across Mexico and Central America into the southeastern United States, north to northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin, and Iowa. In the United States, males perch along shady pools. Females are not found near water unless they are mating. Our Costa Rican Smoky Rubyspots appeared to behave in the same way.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Gartered Trogon

On the morning of 2 July, we piled into our bus and headed towards the Pacific Coast southwest of San Jose. Along the way we stopped at a small woodland. We walked along a muddy track to a stream, where we searched for dragonflies. Slipping and sliding along the path, we spied a Gartered Trogon.

The key to identifying a Gartered Trogon are their yellow eye-rings. Trogons are pan-tropical species, found across many of the world’s tropical regions. The birds tend to sit still in woodlands. They eat arthropods and fruit. Gartered Trogons used to be classified as a race of the Violaceous Trogon, but that bird was split into three separate species. Note that not all ornithologists agree with this classification. Nonetheless, Gartered Trogons are fund from central Mexico, south through Central America, to northern South America.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Variegated Squirrel

Variegated Squirrels (Sciurus variegatoides) ran about the trees in the Bougainvillea Hotel garden. These callico-colored squirrels are found across much of Central America. They are diurnal, tree-dwelling squirrels that seldom venture onto the ground. They eat seeds, fruit, and insects. They do not hoard food, thus do not disseminate seeds like other squirrels.

Captive Variegated Squirrels brought to Europe have harbored bornaviruses, which cause numerous and sometimes fatal neurological disorders in humans and other mammals. These viruses have a world-wide distribution, but it is not known if the European animals became infected in Europe or brought the viruses with them from Central America (Wikipedia).

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Red-billed Pigeon

Red-billed Pigeons are found from the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas, south through Central America to Panama. These pigeons appeared to be common throughout our travels in northern Costa Rica. We found them in the Hotel Bougainvillea gardens on 2 July. These pigeons feed on various berries and other fruits. Throughout their range, however, populations appear to be declining.

Our tour routine quickly became established. Alarm at 5 AM. Bird walk from 6 to 7. Breakfast 7 to 8. Traveling and stopping at dragonfly spots until noonish. Quick lunch. More traveling and dragonflying. Supper at 7. Night stroll searching for frogs after supper. Downloading photographs from camera to computer. Exhaustion. One consequence of this schedule is that bird and dragonfly photos are somewhat clustered—we were either seeing dragonflies or birds.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Rufous-naped Wren

I think that when I wrote, “we birded in the garden in the back of the Bougainvillea Hotel,” that you do not have an appropriate vision of how luxuriant it was. In the 30 minutes we had on our first evening between rain showers and an hour on Sunday morning, we saw six bird species—and 16 the next morning. 

One interesting bird was the Rufous-naped Wren. This species often nests near wasps, which provide the nesting birds with protection against predators. Rufous-naped Wrens are found from southern Mexico to northern Costa Rica. Compared with more northern populations, the Costa Rican birds are hardly marked below and have the rufous on their napes extending onto their backs. Their calls also differ. Many ornithologists now consider them to be a separate species, the Rufous-backed Wren. In any event, this bird was common in most of the northwestern Costa Rican locals we visited.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Clay-colored Thrush

Our first Costa Rican bird was this Clay-colored Thrush in the garden of our first hotel, The Bougainvillea on the outskirts of San Jose. We arrived late, after our airport ordeals. Many of our companions were surprised that this thrush, despite all the stunning birds of the country, is the National Bird of Costa Rica.

This thrush is found from the Rio Grande Valley south through Central America to northern South America. The males’ songs are like those of American Robins, but “smoother, clearer, mellower, and more melodious” (Handbook of Birds of the World—Alive). In Costa Rica, Clay-colored Thrushes are commonly kept as cage-birds, despite their being the National Bird.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Costa Rica

We visited our kids in Texas on our way to Costa Rica. Many of you know that we hate airplanes. Flying from Dallas, at least, allowed us a nonstop flight. We spent the first 18 days of July with a tour under the auspices of Sunrise Birding, led by Dennis Paulson, one of the world's foremost dragonfly experts, and Steve Bird, a tour guide with awesome bird identification skills. 

This tour was a first for us. We enjoyed being tour clients. No worries about itineraries, reservations, or navigating Costa Rican highways. The tour focused on dragonflies, which meant arriving during the rainy season, the best time for Odonata. But to our delight, we also chased birds and anything else we could discover. Posting my photos from the tour will take many months. I will interrupt my report with local observations.

Flying to Costa Rica did not cure our fear of flying. Thunderstorms in Dallas forced us to fly over Louisiana, before we turned south. Much of Central America lost power as we tried to land in San Jose. We made an aborted landing to avoid a plane on our runway. All the computers in the airport were inoperative, leaving a line of about 1000 people in front of us. Matters could only improve, which they definitely did, beginning with our being met by a patient Steve Bird when we finally escaped customs.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Texas Odes

On 30 June, we explored a small, artificial pond in Denton County just north of Dallas, Texas. Like our photos from Kansas two days earlier, all were well known to us in Northfield, Minnesota. I was excited when I found the first dragonfly. It was flying about thorny bushes fairly distant from water. But, instead of something exotic, it proves to be a female Blue Dasher.
The second is a male Widow Skimmer. Except the Rocky Mountain west, these dragonflies are common across much of North America. The second photo is of a female Eastern Pondhawk, abundant across most of eastern North America. (We also saw an Eastern Amberwing, like the one from Kansas in my last post.)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Kansas Odonata

Our adventures last June began with a quick trip to visit kids in Dallas. Texas in the summer heat may not appeal to all, but I looked forward to seeing a few new dragonflies. Our first afternoon was in Andover, Kansas. We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express that boasts a small duck pond. We found a number of dragonflies. Unfortunately, none was new. The first photo is of a male Eastern Amberwing.
Flying over the pond was a Prince Baskettail. Hard to photograph, but occasionally seen in Northfield.
This third photo is a Blue Dasher, abundant in many parts of the country.

This last damselfly is probably a Skimming Bluet. Note the lack of blue rings on the abdomen. The lily pads upon which it perched is also typical habitat for this species. (Thanks to Scott King for help identifying this one.)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

We have been away from the Internet for the past three weeks. Our adventures began with a quick trip to Dallas to visit grandchildren. My target bird for this first leg of our journey was the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. I lacked a good photo in my collection and also missed seeing a vagrant flycatcher in Minnesota in June. These flycatchers are common in Texas and the southern Great Plains, They specialize in eating grasshoppers and beetles. Individual tail length is variable, although males generally have longer ones. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Four-spotted Skimmer

Four-spotted Skimmers are found across Canada and the northern United States (further south in the West). They also inhabit Europe and Asia, where they are known as Four-spotted Chasers. I caught this individual backlit in Erika’s garden on 8 June 2017. Some populations are migratory, and can be found in large aggregations. The prey upon other dragonflies, even those of similar size (Odonata Central).