Sunday, December 31, 2017

Inca Dove

A few Inca Doves flushed ahead of us on our 8 July 2017 Ensenada, Costa Rica, hike. I have posted a couple of times on Inca Doves we’ve previously seen in south Texas. The species’ range is expanding north and, in Central America, south. We should have heeded this dove’s call, “no hope, no hope,” as we made our way into the hot swamp.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Slender Skimmer

On 8 July 2017, we had a morning and an afternoon adventure at Costa Rica’s Ensenada Lodge. In the morning, our bus took us near the lodge and parked on the roadside, while we hiked to and along a long pond. The heat index was over 120 degrees F. Our group quickly became spread out, making it easy to miss things. Although Erika and I paced ourselves, at the end of the morning we were worn out.

We saw a fair number of birds but I have only three dragonflies to show you from the hike. A couple of other dragonflies went unidentified or were better photographed elsewhere on our travels. The dragonfly in this photo is a Slender Skimmer. This dragonfly is found from Mexico to Venezuela. They fly from low vegetation, making hunting forays or guarding their territories against transgressors.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls appeared to be very common in the trees on the Ensenada Lodge in western Costa Rica on 8 July 2017. These tiny owls range from the southern Texas and Arizona south to central Argentina. They can be found in almost any wooded habitat. I have written about a pygmy-owl that we saw in 2014 in southern Texas.

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl calls are a long series of staccato whistles. Playing tapes is often a good way to attract pygmy-owls, along with a host of songbirds, hoping to attack the owl. The whistles are also fairly easy for people to mimic. I have, occasion, whistled up small birds in the northern United States. The whistle works best for birds that spend the winter in the tropics.

Mobbing behavior is typical of small birds, even when the songbirds are potential prey for the owl. Pygmy-owls also eat other small vertebrates and large insects (Larsen 2012).

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Pacific Screech-Owl

The first creature we saw on 8 July 2017 at the Ensenada Lodge was a Pacific Screech-Owl asleep in a tree within the lodge grounds. I am not sure how our guides found it for us—perhaps via hotel workers. These birds are not often seen in the day. These owls are found along the Pacific Coast from southern Mexico to northwestern Costa Rica. Interestingly, they are not closely related to our screech-owls, and are in a different genus—Megascops rather than Otus. In any event, they are found in dry woodland and secondary growth, and survive on arthropods and small rodents (Cornell).

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

La Ensenada

We arrived at La Ensenada hotel on the afternoon of 7 July and spent two nights. Despite ominous Internet reviews, and despite not being our preferred destination, we saw dragonflies, birds, and enjoyed adventures in the surrounding countryside. The hotel grounds were spectacular and looked over the Nicoya Gulf of the Pacific Ocean. La Ensenada is a working cattle ranch, also producing salt. The hotel boasts of reforestation projects and of being a wildlife refuge.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Purple Dancer

Purple Dancers are common from Mexico to northern South America. We saw several during our tour, but this image was my best effort. It was taken near the Rio Corobici on 7 July 2017 in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. We found it along a small stream along a road between forest and fields—perfect habitat for this species.

Purple Dancers are in the genus Argia. Curiously the word Argia comes from the ancient Greek for laziness. But these damselflies or not slothful, being known as dancers due to their rigorous, if jerky, flight. Dancer wings are often held slightly raised above their abdomen and are narrow at their bases (Wikipedia).

Monday, December 25, 2017

Nathalia Shadowdamsel

Nathalia Shadowdamsel, Palaemnema nathalia. has to be one of my favorite dragonfly names. I must be fascinated with nomenclature. I was wondering about who Nathalia Shadowdamsel is named for. The ode was described by Selys in 1886. That disqualifies quite a few women named Nathalia. Nathalia in Palaemnema nathalia, however, does not appear to be a Latin possessive. My Latin ain’t great. Nathalia does refer to Christmas Day. Perhaps Selys found in on Christmas.

We found this Nathalia’s Shadowdamsel on 7 July along the Rio Corobici in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. We were walking up a rocky, muddy road that ran from a cafe to the river. The roadsides where steep, with overhanging vegetation. The shadowdamsel hung under the vegetation—perfect habitat for the species. This damselfly prefers shady, rocky streams. This species, found from southern Mexico to Venezuela, is the most wide-ranging of the genus.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

River Dancer

Our intrepid dragonfly guide, Dennis Paulson, predicted we would see River Dancers on the rocks in the Rio Corobici. We stopped for lunch there, on 7 July 2017, along the Pan American Highway in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Dennis collected the species there in his youth. In 1967 these were the first records for Costa Rica. We quickly found them basking on the river rocks. Dennis announced that he lacked a good photo of this damselfly. I did my best to remedy this situation, but the dancers perched too far out for me to capture the detailed closeup Dennis desired.

In Central America, River Dancers are found along forest streams and rivers in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. They are also encountered through a large area of northern South America.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Two-striped Leaftail

Two-striped Leaftails are found from Mexico to Costa Rica. We found this one in a forested area along a small stream draining into the lake at Hacienda La Pacifica on 7 July 2017. This habitat is typical for the species. I am surprised that this image appears to be my last from the hacienda. Next we stopped at the nearby Rio Corobici for lunch and a few more dragonflies. After Corobici, we headed further south to the Ensenada Lodge for the next two nights.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Apple Snail

When you find Apple Snails, you should look for Snail Kites. These kites eat almost nothing else but Pomacea snails. These raptors’ long, down-curved bills are adapted for extracting their prey from the snail shell. As we walked along the large wetland at Hacienda La Pacifica on 7 July, we found both Apple Snail shells and Snail Kites. Unfortunately, the kites flew too far and too fast for me to take a pictures of the kites.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Green Heron

We saw Green Herons several times during our Costa Rican tour. This young bird strolled along the edge of the large pond at Hacienda La Pacifica on 7 July 2017. Green Heron systematics have been giving ornithologists fits for the last few decades. Many populations are described among North American, Old World, and tropical Green Herons. At one time or another, these populations have been lumped together in various combinations. Birds of North America Online presently treats the New World birds as a single species, the Green Heron.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Thaos Swallowtail

Thaos Swallowtails danced aside the path to the large wetlands at Hacienda La Pacifica on 7 July in Costa Rica. Erika took this image. The species is similar to the Giant Swallowtail, but the large marks on the forewings near the body of the Thaos are square instead of round or triangular. Thaos Swallowtails are found from south Texas to Brazil. They stray north to Kansas and Oklahoma. Caterpillars look like bird droppings on exposed leaves (Butterflies and Moths Org.).

Monday, December 18, 2017

Striped Saddlebags

The second “pond” we visited at Costa Rica's Hacienda La Pacifica on 7 July was a large wetland. My impression is that our guide, Dennis Paulson, was disappointed in the dragonfly diversity here, but we did see some interesting ones. We parked the bus on a hill top and walked to the lake shore. Atop a large bush, fairly far from water, perched this Striped Saddlebags.

Striped Saddlebags are found in South Texas and are vagrant over much of that state, southern New Mexico and Arizona, and, up the Atlantic Coast, sometimes wandering as far as Massachusetts. They are also found in southern Florida, the West Indies, south to Argentina. They often forage relatively high in the sky, although sometimes lower over water. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Great Pondhawk

Great Pondhawks are found from the south-central United States, southern Mississippi, and much of Florida south through Mexico and the West Indies, to Argentina. This was one of the few species we saw on our tour that was not new for me. I saw one in Long Key, Florida, on 2 April 2015. This one was at the small pond at Hacienda La Pacifica on 7 July 2017, I am surprised that the stigmata, the spots at the end of many dragonfly wings, are not green in this photo. I thought green stigmata were the benchmark for a Great Pondhawk. Dennis Paulson assures me that Great Pondhawk stigmata are, in fact, variable.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Citrine Forktail

At the first pond at Hacienda La Pacifica, Costa Rica on 7 July 2017, we encountered this immature, female Citrine Forktail. This damselfly enjoys a curious distribution. It ranges from southern New England across to Iowa, south to southern California and the southwestern United States. From there it is found through Mexico south to Venezuela. Isolated populations are also occur in the Galapagos Islands and the Azores.

Mating Citrine Forktails are infrequently seen. Females apparently only need to mate with one male to fertilize all the eggs they will lay. In the Azores, males are unknown. The females there lay unfertilized eggs that develop into more parthogenetic females. In this respect, Citrine Fortails are unique among the Odonata. This photo was taken by Erika.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Rambur’s Forktail

Rambur's Forktails are widespread. These damselflies range across the southern United States, further north in the East, even to Maine. They are found south to Chile, Paraguay and across the West Indies. They inhabit a variety of habitats, so long as water and some vegetation are present.
The first photo is of a male at the first pond at the Hacienda La Pacifica in northwestern Costa Rica on 7 July 2017. The other photos, of a female and a rusty-colored immature, are both from the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina on 24 March 2016.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Spot-tailed Dasher

Several dragonflies and damselflies flew about the first Hacienda La Pacifica pond in northwestern Costa Rica on 7 July 2917. One of the larger ones was this Spot-tailed Dasher. This dragonfly ranges north to southern tips of Texas, Arizona, and Florida. It is also found in the West Indies, and south to northern South America.

Males, like this one, spend their days in vegetation around ponds. The drooped wings are typical of the species on hot days. Females usually stay away from water and can be hard to find. The females roost in shrubs and trees (Paulson). 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Plain Amberwing

I already posted about Plain Amberwings. Almost every amberwing I photographed in Costa Rica proved to be this species. The dark legs, dark sides, and distinctly spotted abdomen all point to this identification. I don’t think that I mentioned that Plain Amberwings are found from Mexico to Argentina. This photograph was taken at the Hacienda La Pacifica on 7 July 2017.

I find this photo to be remarkable. Taking great photos is a matter of luck for me. Have I mentioned Costa Rica was hot and humid? I do not think extreme heat and humidity do digital cameras any good. Our camera batteries also acted strangely. Many days we ran through two and even three batteries. One reason for this battery drain, of course, was that we were taking 300 photos per day.

Monday, December 11, 2017

White-tailed Deer

After leaving Monteverde, Costa Rica, on 7 July, we made a side trip north, before turning around and driving south. Our northern foray ended at the Hacienda La Pacifica. The hacienda was a working cattle ranch. Tourist facilities may have been attached, but we had reservations at La Ensenada Lodge (also a working cattle ranch) for that afternoon. Actually, the original plan to to stay at the Hacienda Solimar, yet another ranch and often frequented by bird tours. But the Solimar was booked and would not allow us to enter without our paying an exorbitant entry fee.

We stopped at the Hacienda La Pacifica and asked if we could look for dragonflies. A small pond promised to be excellent habitat. The owner graciously gave us permission, saying, “be careful for crocodiles”  (He would not be responsible for the crocs). Further, when we finsihed at the pond visible from the highway, which you can see in the photo, his foreman took us to a much larger and wilder wetland. Finally, there was a cafe along the nearby Rio Corobici. The cafe would provide more dragonfly opportunities and, more importantly, lunch.

A small herd of White-tailed Deer grazed near the pond. White-tailed Deer are found from Canada and the United States south through Central America to northern South America. I am not sure how wild these deer were. They may have been a feral herd or they could have been wild. Overall, we spent an excellent midday at the Hacienda La Pacifica.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Resplendent Quetzal

I have many photographs that are candidates for The World’s Worst Bird Photography Club. The bad news is that this image is one of them. The good new is that I DID get a picture of a Resplendent Quetzal. We were boarding our bus at the curassow/trogon stop. Our driver, Ramon Vargas Monge, suddenly froze and whispered, “I hear a quetzal!” He pointed into the treetops. I fumbled with my camera and snapped the shutter just as the quetzal flew.

You can almost see how impressive is the quetzal’s tail. In the breeding season, earlier in the year, the tail is almost two meters long. Now, after the season, the tail is broken and worn down from the bird’s entering and leaving its tree-cavity nest.

Pre-Columbian people prized quetzal feathers. The birds fare poorly in captivity. Early people may have trapped and, after harvesting feathers, released the birds. Other birds may have been hunted. With the advent of Europeans, many quetzals were collected, The birds survive now due to their wild, mountainous habitat. Deforestation threatens the species. Quetzals are now found from southernmost Mexico to northern Costa Rica.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Orange-bellied Trogon

While we were watching the curassow in the last post, an Orange-bellied Trogon flew into the trees high above us. Known only from mountainous areas of Costa Rica and western Panama, this trogon is  a mystery bird. This species was formerly thought to be a color morph of the red-bellied Collared Trogon, also found in Costa Rica. The two populations are known to interbreed, so they may be variations of the same species.

Whatever its taxonomic status, not much is known about Orange-bellied Trogons. They eat fruits and insects and inhabit humid, tropical forests. Despite its restricted range and threats of deforestation, this species is not included in lists of threatened species (Cornell Lab of Ornithology).

Friday, December 8, 2017

Great Curassow 1

Leaving Monteverde, Costa Rica, on the morning of 7 July, we made a quick trip back to the Monteverde National Park. All but the most die-hard dragonfliers wished to see a Resplendent Quetzal. But we struck out at the park, The quetzals were not breeding and are silent, making them hard to find in the rainy season. On the way back to town, we came to a screeching stop for this Great Curassow.

I never expected to see a curassow. Elsewhere in the tropics, these turkey-sized birds are heavily hunted and elusive. Despite being protected in Costa Rica, curassows are common only in a few locations. This female fed nonchalantly along the roadside. We were to see more curassows during our tour, and, later, I will have more to write about them.  

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Frosted Flasher

On our last morning at the Hotel de Montana Monteverde, 7 July 2017, while waiting for our bus to load, I noticed an azure skipper in a hedge row. I had no idea that skippers came in such a stunning color. I assume, with a little help from Liam O’Brien, that this butterfly is a Frosted Flasher, Astraptes alardus. This species is found from Argentina to Mexico and Cuba. It strays to the lower Rio Grande Valley.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Green Spiny Lizard

On the morning of 7 July 2017, a Green Spiny Lizard greeted us at the Hotel Montana Monteverde. Another name is Emerald Swift. They spend the early moring foraging for insects, but bask in the sun during the rest of the day. If they get too hot, they retire to burrows or under rocks or logs. Unlike most lizards, they are ovoviviparous—their eggs hatch inside the females, which give birth to fully formed young (Wikipedia). Look for Green Spiny Lizards from southern Mexico to Panama.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Minnesota Birds

Over the past two months, I have posted a bunch of Costa Rican images. But I have also photographed a number of common Minnesota birds that I will quickly share with you now. I have linked each species to my previous posts with more information. The first image is of the yellow-shafted race of the Northern Flicker. I have written about how, out West, the flickers have red or orange shafts to their feathers. Winter is a good time to look for these western birds in Minnesota.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers are fairly common in our back woods, although we hear them more often than see them. In the second Red-bellied photo, you can actually make out the bird’s red belly.
Earlier this fall, on 12 November, Erika and I strolled in the Carleton College Arboretum. We happened upon a large flock of American Tree Sparrows. On this late afternoon, the setting winter sun cast a pretty yellowish light across the prairie.
Beginning birders are often surprised by winter records of American Robins. But robins are always possible anywhere sufficient berries remain on bushes or trees. From banding, my hypothesis is that our winter birds breed much further north and west of us. Winter robins tend to be much darker than our breeding birds. This robin, however, is relatively pale. Perhaps, on 27 November, it is just a slow migrant. Or my hypothesis is wrong.
Finally, on 28 November, I discovered a Greater White-fronted Goose among the larger Canada Geese in a suburban pond here in Northfield. White-fronts are common enough in eastern Minnesota, although nowhere near as abundant as migrant through the Dakotas.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Grayish Saltator

Grayish Saltators are yet another Costa Rican species that has ornithologists confused. First, scientists do not really know what family belong to—are they cardinals or tanagers? DNA studies suggest they are large tanagers. Next we are unsure how many species of Grayish Saltators exist across their range from Mexico through much of tropical South America. Genetic research and song analysis suggest that the Grayish Saltators from Mexico south through Central America differ from those in South America. By whatever name, Grayish Saltators are fairly common in Costa Rican fields and gardens. We found this individual at the Hotel de Montana Monteverde on 6 July.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Mountain Elaenia

Elaenias are difficult to identify neotropical flycatchers. The relatively large size and mountain habitat of this one at the Hotel Montana Monteverde indicate that this individual is a Mountain Elaenia. It is found from Guatemala south to Panama and northwestern South America. It prefers open woodlands and shrubby areas. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Hoffmann’s Woodpecker

Hoffmann’s Woodpeckers range from Honduras and Nicaragua to Costa Rica. DNA research suggests that these woodpeckers are not as closely related to Golden-fronted Woodpeckers as once thought. They enjoy a wide variety of arthropod prey, many fruits, and even the nectar from large flowers. They are primarily arboreal (Winkler and Christe 2017).

Especially in Costa Rica, these woodpeckers are often abundant. They readily adapt to human altered habitats. We listed them often during our travels, even within greater San Jose. These photos are from the Hotel Montana Monteverde.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Bronzed Cowbird

Bronzed Cowbirds range from the southwestern United States and southern Texas south to Colombia. Like our common Brown-headed Cowbird, this species is a brood parasite, laying its eggs in host birds’ nests. Bronzed Cowbirds are slightly larger than Brown-headed Cowbirds. Their host species are likewise slightly larger. Bronzed Cowbirds may be more particular in its selection of hosts, but the species is not well studied (Ellison and Lowther 2009). Judging by the ruffed nape of the male in this photo, their courtship displays may be similar. Little is known about the interaction between the two cowbirds or how the presence of both species is affected as the Bronzed Cowbird expands its range across the southern United States.