Saturday, September 30, 2017

Purple-crowned Fairy

Purple-crowned Fairies range from southernmost Mexico through Central America to Colombia and western Ecuador. They inhabit forests and tall, second-growth woodlands. You can also find them in gardens and forest edges. They often pierce flower-bases, taking a shortcut to extracting nectar. This behavior short-changes the flowers, which don’t get pollinated in the process (Arizmendi et al.).

This Purple-crowned Fairy perched motionless, high in the jungle canopy in Carara National Park on 4 July. No other Costa Rican hummingibrd has entirely white underparts.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Varied Dancer

On the morning of 4 July at the Villa Lapas eco-lodge, we photographed this Varied Dancer (Argia adamsi). This damselfly is found from Honduras south into South America. It favors sunny spots along streams (Haber).

This day had a different rhythm. We returned to Carara National Park for a second forest hike. Again the walk was interesting but frustrating. Birds were difficult to see. Dragonflies seemed to be discouraged by intermittent rain showers. Our group was spread out in a long line, making seeing much difficult for those not in the front of the parade. After a lunch, again at the Carara parking lot, we returned to the Tarcoles region, where we took a tourist boat ride into a mangrove swamp. Boat rides are not my favorite occupation. There is too much movement for really good photos, you are usually not very close to your subjects, and it seems like there is always someone blocking your view. We did see some fancy birds, but, again, very few dragonflies. That being written, I will need a couple of weeks to share with you the photos from the Fourth of July.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Streaked Flycatcher

This photo confirms the Handbook of Birds of the World’s assertion that Streaked Flycatchers are tolerant of human and degraded habitats. From scaffolding at the Villa Lapas Hotel on 3 July, this individual made repeated aerial flights after various insects. The species favors cicadas, beetles, wasps, and flying ants. They also take small lizards and a variety of fruits. When not near people, these flycatchers inhabit a variety of forest types and edges. Streaked Flycatchers range from central Mexico to northern South America. They are migratory in the Northern reaches of their distribution.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Ruddy Ground-Dove

Ruddy Ground-Doves greeted us at the Lapas Hotel on  3 July. These doves are ground feeders, common from Mexico to northern South America. Scattered records also exist from the southwestern United States. They eat grass seeds, spilled grain, and other human food. The species adapts to human alteration of the environment and may be expanding in range (Handbook of Birds of the World). 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Red-bordered Stink Bug

A Red-bordered Stink Bug at the Villa Lapas Hotel in western Costa Rica. This species is found from Mexico to Argentina. It eats leaves, occasionally causing drop damage.

Like all animals, stink bugs have three choices in life: hiding, running, or fighting. When it comes to fighting, stink bugs vigorously shake their antenna and secrete repulsive chemicals. Stink bug nymphs are often guarded by ants. The nymphs pay for the ants’ service by secreting sweet droplets, which the ants drink. Stink bugs, nevertheless, are often preyed upon by various ants, wasps, and other bugs (

Monday, September 25, 2017

Turquoise-browed Motmot

Turquoise-browned Motmots are found from southeastern Mexico to Costa Rica. This species is common and conspicuous, often perching in the open as it searches for insects and small reptiles. After a productive afternoon on 3 July in the Tarcoles District of Puntarenas Provencie, Costa Rica, we stopped for supplies and to arrange for a boat tour the next day along the Tarcoles River. We discovered a pair of motmots in the garden of a local store.

Motmots are strange birds. They have racketed tails that they swing back and forth like a clock pendulum. The rackets are formed because the feather vanes are only weakly attached to the shafts. The vanes are not plucked by the birds, but simply detach.

Both sexes sport elaborate tails. Males use their tails to advertise sexual fitness. Males with the longest tails have greater reproductive success. When a predator is nearby, both sexes wag their tails as a “pursuit-deterrent signal.” The predator is warned that it has been seen by the motmot, thus attacks will likely be unsuccessful (Wikipedia).

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Green-eyed Firetail

At the motel pond we visited in Tarcoles District in western Costa Rica on 3 July, we photographed several Green-eyed Firetails, Telebasis isthmica—a gorgeous damselfly. They inhabit temporary rain pools and marshy pastures. The species ranges from Mexico to South America.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Streak-headed Woodcreeper

Woodcreepers used to comprise their own family but many ornithologists now consider them to be a group of ovenbirds (Furnariidae) with stiff tail feathers adapted for tree climbing. Streak-headed Woodcreepers are found from southern Mexico to northern South America. They are common habitat generalists—they are happy in secondary growth and human-modified areas. The first photo was a glimpse of one at the Tarcoles ponds on 3 July. The second is from later in the trip at the Hotel de Campo near Caño Negro.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Common Blue-eye

We saw several Common Blue-eyes (Anatya guttata) around the Tarcoles ponds on 3 July in western Costa Rica. This image is of an immature female. The genus inhabits partially shaded ponds and other waterways (Cresswell).

These are interesting times for neotropical dragonfly watchers. As I have mentioned, dragonflies outside of the United States and Canada lack official common names. Dennis Paulson hopes all this changes in a few years when he publishes his guide to Costa Rican Odonata. Meanwhile, these dragonflies often have different common names. Paulson calls this one the Common Blue-eye, although, like many dragonflies, eye color varies among sex and age classes. Cresswell names this ode the Spotted Anatya—Anatya being the creature’s genus—which, offhand, means little to me. Perhaps a compromise of Spotted Blue-eye might be in order.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

We have seen Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks in Texas and Florida, where the species is common and expanding its range. This duck is also found in other southern states and in Arizona. Whistling-ducks used to be called tree-ducks, but the Black-bellied is far more often found in trees than are other species of whistling-ducks. Elsewhere in this blog I discussed how birds can sleep with one eye open. I wonder if the opposite eye of each of these birds is closed or open.

Black-bellied Tree Ducks were abundant in western Costa Rica. These two guarded one of the Tarcoles ponds. These ducks range south to northern Argentina (Dale and Thompson 2001).

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tikal Spreadwing

A Tikal Spreadwing on 3 July 2017 at one of the Tarcoles ponds in Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica. The second photo is of another we saw later on our trip, on 15 July, at La Selva Reserve in Heredia Province. Tikal is the location of famous Mayan ruins in Guatemala, and this species is found from southern Mexico to Panama. This spreadwing is common in many locations across its range

Tikal Spreadwings are found along shallow ponds and marshes in forested areas. They prefer regions that enjoy marked dry and wet seasons. Prolonged drought, however, and deforestation might adversely affect this species (IUC Red List).

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Claret Pondhawk

Claret Pondhawks (Erythemis mithroides) are rarely recorded in the lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas. This dragonfly is found across much of South America, with an isolated population in Central America (Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras). At one time, the northern population was thought to be a different species. But subsequent study revealed that Claret Pondhawks are simply variable across their range (Paulson, per. com.).

Claret Pondhawks patrolled the Tárcoles ponds we visited on 3 July. This pondhawk and others we observed usually faced toward the pond centers—better to see prey and competitors. I am not sure to which population these Costa Rican pondhawks belong.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Squadron of Pelicans and a Red-banded Gull

What do you call a flock of pelicans? Google suggests a squadron. Considering the smell of a pelican colony, I find that answer somewhat fishy. How about a whiff of pelicans? 14 September found Erika and me at nearby Circle Lake as we took photos of American White Pelicans. A few gulls, Franklin’s and Ring-billed, loafed in front of the pelicans. I noticed one sported red bands on its left leg. A post to the Minnesota Birding FaceBook group drew this response: "Todd Froberg Hi All, I'm a graduate student at the University of Minnesota working on this project. Thanks very much for the report on RBGUs with red bands. They are part of a University of Minnesota study on presence of non-pathogenic avian influenza in gulls. Birds were banded at 3 colonies and at various landfills in MN. We have had reports of gulls we banded as far as Lake Erie and Lake Michigan so far this late summer/fall. The bird in the photo was probably banded at the Rice county landfill. One aspect of the study is to learn about gull movement among different locations in the state, particularly in relation to poultry farms, so your reports and photos are of great help and interest. For more info, send questions/reports to Francie Cuthbert (”

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Shadow Darner

During the last week, a large, dull darner hovered over our water feature. Each time, I ran for my camera, only to have the dragonfly disappear. Friday, 15 September 2017, I caught an image. This observation is not my first for a Shadow Darner in the backyard. In an earlier post, I commented about this species’s cold tolerance.

The species deposits eggs into “wet, rotting wood of a floating log or a partially submerged log” (Mead). This day the darner behaved strangely. It repeatedly returned to the dry, mossy edge of our artificial pond and appeared to deposit her eggs along a crease along the pond wall, The eggs seemed to be placed deep into the mossy mat about four inches above the high waterline.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Band-winged Dragonlet

Band-winged Dragonlets were fairly common along the Tárcoles ponds on 3 July 2017. This observation was not the first time we’ve seen this dragonfly. The first was in southern Texas on 18 March 2012. Judging by their numbers in Texas, Band-winged Dragonlets may be partially migratory. They are abundant in the tropics, from Argentina north into the United States (to Ohio, Georgia, and Florida). Look for them low in the grass or as they fly over ponds (Paulson).

Friday, September 15, 2017

Three-striped Dasher

These male (above) and female (below) Three-striped Dashers are from the Tárcoles district of Costa Rica. This dragonfly ranges from the southern tip of Texas to northern South America and from southern tip of Florida through the West Indies. They tend to perch in the shade, often with their wings drooped down. Their breeding biology is poorly known—males are found at or over water, while females stay further away. Pairs copulate in woodlands away from water (Paulson).

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Northern Jaçana

Almost every day during our Costa Rican trip, we saw at least a few new dragonflies (as to be expected on a dragonfly tour). Several days, however, were outstanding. The afternoon of 3 July was one of those mega-days. We explored two freshwater ponds in the Tárcoles District near the Pacific Ocean. The ponds were quite different, one surrounded by forest and the other beside a motel in the outskirts of the village of Tárcoles. I have combined these locations in my posts.

But first a bird—Northern Jaçanas greeted us at the motel pond. Everything about jaçanas is interesting. The cedilla hanging below the c in jaçana is often found in French and is pronounced like an “s” rather than a “k,” as in façade or garçon.

Northern Jaçanas range from coastal Mexico south to Panama. Occasionally they stray into eastern Texas. Note the yellow spurs, outgrowths of their wrist (carpometacarpus) bones. These are displayed during courtship. These structures are not unique to jaçanas, some plovers also have them.

Female jaçanas are larger than their males and their sex roles are reversed. Males build the nest, incubate, and bood their young. Females rarely brood the chicks. The females mate simultaneously with up to four males. The females defend their mates' nests against other females and other male jaçanas. This polyandry occurs in rich habitat. In poorer habitat, male territories tend to be larger, the result being their females may mate with fewer or just one male (Birds of North America).

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Lemon-tipped Helicopter

As I recall, Netta Smith saw a Lemon-tipped Helicopter (Mecistogaster ornata) first thing at Carara National Park, but nobody else saw it. After our lunch, she found it again. Photographing Lemon-tipped helicopters, as these damselflies row lazily through the air, is nearly impossible. No structure is visible to the camera’s autofocus. I took this photo with manual focus.

These elegant odes are sometimes called Ornate Helicopters or Yellow-tipped Helicopters—no official common names exist for most Costa Rican dragonflies. They range in tropical woodlands from Mexico to northwestern Argentina. Like the Blue-winged Helicopter, these dragonflies are web-spider specialists. Apparently the yellow wing spots distract the spiders before they are captured. Lemon-tipped Helicopters also eat insects trapped in spider webs. These damselflies lay their eggs in water-filled holes in trees (ICN Red List).

Monday, September 11, 2017

Blue-eyed Setwing

Back at the tour bus for a picnic lunch on 3 July at Carara National Park. With our bee allergies, picnicking can be a bit dicey. We ate quickly and searched the parking area for more dragonflies. This Blue-eyed Setwing (Dythemis nigra) perched at the forest edge. The species is known from northeastern Mexico (almost to the United States) south through most of Brazil. This habitat is typical for the species. Males perch on dry stems and survey their territories (Benoit.Guillon).

Sunday, September 10, 2017

White-whiskered Puffbird

Also attending the army ant swarm on 3 July at Carara National Park was a male White-wiskered Puffbird. Puffbirds are neotropical birds related to Jacamars and, more distantly, to woodpeckers. The White-wiskered Puffbird inhabits forests from southeastern Mexico to Ecuador. Males are more rufous than females. Puffbirds perch quietly, occasionally capturing insects, frogs, or lizards. White-wiskered Puffbirds are known to join mixed species flocks around army ant swarms (Cornell).

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Bicolored vs White-cheeked Antbirds

Bicolored Antbirds are common across their range. This bird is an obligate army ant follower. As the ants move through the forest, they stampede a host of invertebrates in front of the swarm. Army ant followers pick off the stampeding invertebrates, leaving the army ants alone. Bicolored Antbirds also take small frogs and lizards.
Two disjunct populations exist—one from Honduras south to northern Colombia and western Ecuador; the other in upper Amazonia, from southeast Colombia to north-central Peru. Erika and I worked with Bicolored Antbirds in Ecuador. I am surprised I have not shared a photo of the Ecuadorian bird with this blog. Note the bird in the second photo. Unlike the Costa Rican bird in the first photo, the Amazonian bird is white below the eye; behind the eye is black, not brown; the upper-parts are richer chestnut; and the calls are different. Genetic studies show that the two populations are not closely related.

eBird, presumably following the American Ornithological Society, now classifies my Ecuadorian bird as the White-cheeked Antbird (Gymnopithys leucaspis) and the Costa Rican one as the Bicolored Antbird (Gymnopithys bicolor). When we saw our Costa Rican bird at the furthest point of our jungle hike on 3 July at a bridge over a small river, we had no idea we were adding a life bird to our lists. One thing for sure, the ground was swarming with ants!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Broad-winged Hawk and Darners

On Thursday, 7 September, Erika and I strolled in the Carleton College arboretum in Rice County. Swarms of darners flew over the prairie. Most, as one might expect, were migratory Common Green Darners. One, however, was the Green-striped Darner in the second photo. This record is only my second for this species. Curiously my first sighting was only several hundred yards disrtant, and almost exactly two years ago. We also saw several Red Saddlebags, but they proved impossible to photograph.
A Broad-winged Hawk circled above the darner swam. These hawks are opportunistic feeders, and they are known to take various insects. To my surprise, dragonflies are not mentioned as being among the hawk’s prey in The Birds of North America. Hawk Mountain’s website, however, informs us that “During migration, broadwings will feed opportunistically on insects, including migrating dragonflies…”

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Blue-winged Helicopter

My readers have patiently read my complaints in the last couple of posts about viewing wildlife in the jungle. Dragonflies were no exception. We were in Costa Rica in July because odonates are most abundant in the rainy season. But dragonflies withdraw when it is raining or even cloudy. What a conundrum!

My dragonfly chasing is only a half-dozen years old. I did not know much about Costa Rican dragonflies. I did know that Blue-winged Helicopters are perhaps the largest living odonates—at least in terms of wingspan. Definitely one of my target species—imagine my delight at our finding one on our third day in Costa Rica!

Some entomologists hypothesize that the Blue-winged Helicopter color mimics a foul-tasting butterfly, and thus birds tend to avoid them. As this creature flies through the forest, its dark wingtips look almost like spinning helicopter blades. These damselflies are web spider specialists. Apparently the spiders are distracted by the hovering black wing tips and never see the damselfly’s mandibles. Scientists, without distracting black spots, try to capture spiders with a remarkable lack of success.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Green-and-Black Poison Dart Frog

During our Costa Rica, 3 July, trek through the Carara National Park jungle, we kicked up a Green-and-Black Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates auratus). The frog’s (as is the case with many in the genus) bright coloration serves to warn predators to stay away. Indeed, unlike many other frogs, Poison Dart Frogs are diurnal and, lacking predators, tend to be conspicuous. The frog absorbs toxins from its prey—perhaps ants. Some Native Peoples use frog skin secretions on their arrows. Monkeys that survive being hit by arrows can thus be brought down. Handling the frogs is not dangerous per se, unless you have cuts on your hands or you rub your eyes after touching the amphibians. The frog in the second photo, taken two days later, hopped about our front porch at the Villa Lapas eco-lodge.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Northern Tamandua

I mentioned in my last post that a drawback to jungle hiking is that the understory tended to be too dark to take really good photographs. But wonderful creatures were to be seen. Northern Tamandua are a species of anteater that range from southern Mexico to northern South America.

Tamanduas are mainly nocturnal, but are also active during the day. They spend about 40% of their time in trees. They are active for about eight hours, sleeping the rest of the day in hollow trees. They are generally solitary. They eat ants and termites, and consume up to 9000 insects per day. They search by smell and dig into, but do not completely destroy, ant nests with their claws. They avoid soldier ants and look for non-noxious workers. They use their long, sticky tongues to capture prey. They also eat bees and honey (Wikipedia; Encyclopedia of Life).

Monday, September 4, 2017

Barred Antshrike

After we finished at the parking lot of Costa Rica's Carara National Park on 3 July, we hiked a couple of miles into the jungle. We enjoyed being back in the tropical forest. For us the forest seemed relatively tame. Unlike in Peru and Ecuador, were we explored barely visible hunting trails, the park paths were wide, cleared, and occasionally wheelchair accessible.

This enterprise proved to be fairly frustrating. With our guide and dragonfly expert at the front of the line, three-fourths of us missed seeing dragonflies. We were supposed to rotate our positions in line, but that tended not work so well. Our bird experts were better at moving along the line, but the birds were not very cooperative. For one thing, it was not breeding season. Birds were not on territory and did not respond to calls.

The jungle was dense, making seeing birds even more difficult. Take this male Barred Antshrike. That’s my best photo. Barrred Antstrikes are found from eastern Mexico south through most of Amazonian South America. These birds are omnivores. They consume both plants and small animals. According to Koloff et al., “Barred Antshrikes are found in dense areas with highly tangled foliage and consequently are heard more often than seen.”

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Common Woodskimmer

Little information exists in Interlandia about Common Woodskimmers. They are sometimes named Tropical Skimmers, but all members of its genus, Uracis, are tropical. Records exist from southern Mexico to northern Argentina. One sighting was made in eastern Cuba. Lasley writes, “The Tropical Skimmer (Uracis imbuta) is a widespread and common species in parts of South America.” We found this male on 3 July at the entrance to Carara National Park in western Costa Rica.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Boat-billed Flycartcher

Boat-billed Flycatchers look superficially like Gray-crowned Flycatchers or Great Kiskadees. Their huge bill sets them apart. Like the Gray-crowned, the Boat-billed often inhabits forest edges, plantations, and clearings. With such an outsized bill, it is not surprising to learn that they take large insects like cicadas. They even take small vertebrates, but are not adverse to figs, berries and seeds. The species is found from Mexico to much of northern South America.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Gray-capped Flycatcher

Gray-crowned Flycatchers are common in Central and northern South America. They look similar to about a half-dozen other flycatchers, but can be identified by their gray crowns and relatively short eye stripes.

A couple of these flycatchers hunted for insects over the Carara National Park entrance on 3 July. This species inhabits areas of secondary growth, agriculture, and even residential areas. They prefer more humid habitat than do other, closely related species. This day was fiercely hot and humid.