Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Violet-headed Hummingbird

Violet-crowned Hummingbirds fed in the Arenal Observatory Lodge’s gardens on 10 July 2017. These small birds have an odd range. They are found at low elevations from Honduras through Panama. Others are found in humid mountain forests in the Andes, from Columbia to Bolivia. Still others are found in northern Venezuela. Forest interiors are reported to be their favored habitat. They feed on small flowers and also flycatch for insects.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Passerini’s and Crimson-collared Tanagers

I have already posted about the look-alike birds, Cherrie’s and Passerini’s tanagers. The first two birds in this post are Passerini’s Tanagers, a female and a male, from the Arenal Observatory on 10 July 2017.
Another flamboyant tanager visited the Arenal bird feeders—the Crimson-collared. This tanager ranges from southern Mexico to Panama. Unlike the other tanagers mentioned in this post, male and female look similar.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

We saw Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds in many locations across Costa Rica. The top photo was from Monteverde, the bottom from the Arenal Observatory. The Cornell Neotropical Bird Website writes, "The Rufous-tailed Hummingbird is perhaps the most common species of hummingbird at forest edge and in gardens and cultivated areas from southern Mexico south to northwestern South America.”

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Orange-chinned Parakeet

Orange-chinned Parakeets are common from southern Mexico into northern South America. They form flocks and are easy to see. They either excavate their own nest holes or use cavities abandoned by other birds, such as woodpeckers. We found this bird in a flock at the Arenal Observatory Lodge on 10 July 2017. Later during our trip we found a parakeet in a woodpecker hole—see the bottom photo. The nesting bird appeared to be giving finishing touches to its cavity.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Crested Guan

Crested Guans visited the bird feeders at the Arenal Observatory Lodge on 10 July 2017. They are found from Mexico to northern South America. Curiously, DNA research suggests that guans are most closely related to Australian megapodes (Handbook of Birds of the World). 

Where hunted, Crested Guans can be elusive and hard to see. Where protected, like in Costa Rican national parks, these large birds can become quite tame. These arboreal birds visited the lodge bird feeders. They also travel in flocks as they search for fruits.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher

Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers breed from southern Arizona south to Costa Rica. They winter south to northern South America. This flycatcher nests in natural cavities or old nests of woodpeckers or quetzals. In Arizona, nesting usually takes place in the rainy season (Lowther and Stotz 1999). Overall, remarkably little is known about this bird’s biology. We found this bird near the Great Kiskadee and Social Flycatchers at the Arenal Observation Lodge on 10 July 2017.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Blue-gray Tanager

Blue-gray Tanagers are common from Southern Mexico to the northern half of South America. They prefer secondary habitats, gardens, and even vegetation in cities. They eat fruit and arthropods and often visit bird feeders like those at the Arenal Observatory Lodge on 10 July 2017.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Social Flycatcher

Social Flycatchers are small, Kiskadee-like birds that are often found in pairs or in small groups. They range from northern Argentina to Mexico. This photo is one of a pair at the Arenal Obsrvatory Lodge in Costa Rica on 10 July 2017.

My friend Ricard Hoeg reminds me that he posted a fine collection of birds of Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Check it out at:

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Great Kiskadee

Noisy Great Kiskadees abounded almost everywhere we traveled in Costa Rica. This one patrolled the Arenal Observatory Lodge on 10 July 2017. Kiskadees are found from southern Texas through South America. Kiskadees are flycatchers, but they also take fish, amphibians, fruit, and even dog food. They consume a wider variety of food than does any other New World flycatcher. Several superficially similar species inhabit the tropics. One thought is that the black masks on these flycatchers may reduce glare and thus help the bird capture prey (Brush and Fitzpatrick 2002).

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Black-striped Sparrow

Black-striped Sparrows range from southern Central America into northern South America. The species is common, if inconspicuous and shy, in shrubby woodland. This sparrow feeds near to the ground. Black-striped Sparrows foraged amongst the garden plants at the Arenal Observatory Lodge in Costa Rica on 10 July 2017.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Great Curassow 2

The Arenal Observatory Lodge bird feeders hosted Great Curassows. The first photo is of a male. The second two are females, which come in three morphs—barred, dark and red. These curassows are found from eastern Mexico, through Central America, and along the Pacific Coast of Colombia and Ecuador. Costa Rica is one of the few countries where healthy populations persist. Elsewhere the birds are heavily hunted or captured for use as domestic fowl. Habitat destruction also threatens these birds. The Handbook of Birds of the World estimates that fewer than 40,000 individuals survive across their range.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Arenal Observatory Lodge

Although, as I said in my last post, I shake my head at the concept of building a hotel half-way up a very active volcano, the view from the Arenal Observatory Lodge is phenomenal. The lodge is surrounded by jungle and maintains active bird feeders, making it a birder’s paradise. Miles of nature trails wind their way through the forest and the lodge maintains large flower gardens.

Unfortunately for us, 10 July, was the rainiest of our tour. The weather cut down on the birds we saw and made finding dragonflies difficult. As you will see, however, we did not completely strike out in the wildlife department. The tour was planned for the rainy season, since this time affords the best dragonfly viewing when it is not raining. The good news is that we enjoyed fairly dry days for almost all the other days of our trip.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Turkey Vulture

A Turkey Vulture bade us adieu at the Ensenada Lodge in western Costa Rica. 9 July proved to be mainly a maintenance day during our expedition. I think I explained that our 18-day tour was actually two back-to-back segments. People signed up for one, the other, or both. When I proposed the trip to Erika, not only did she immediately accept the proposal, but she also proclaimed, “If I’m getting into an airplane, we are going to stay in Costa Rica as long as we can!” 

Erika, I, and two other intrepid souls were the only continuing participants. We drove to the airport in San Jose, let most of the group scramble for their out-bound flights, and waited to meet our new companions. Our destination that afternoon was the Arenal Observatory Lodge. I still shake my head at the concept of building a hotel half-way up the wide of a very active volcano. The photo below shows our approach to Mount Arenal.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

White-throated Magpie-Jay

White-throated Magpie-Jays joined us for breakfast on our last morning (9 July 2017) at the Ensenada Lodge in western Costa Rica. These birds are found from western Mexico to northwestern Costa Rica. 

The behavior of these jays is extraordinary. These birds form flocks comprised of a dominant female, her female offspring, and her mate. Young males leave the flock and randomly accompany other flocks, so long as the dominant female is not nesting.

The females in the flock feed the dominant female (their mother) and help her feed newly hatched young. A helper female occasionally attempts to nest, but she is not assisted by the other females in the flock—unless the dominant female’s nest fails. Helpers, however, occasionally lay eggs in their mother’s nest—the resulting chicks are raised by the group (Cornell).

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Stripe-headed Sparrow

Stripe-headed Sparrows are found in western Mexico and western Central America. Mexican birds lack the gray breast band. Erika and I saw several in small trees and shrubs along a roadside near the Ensenada Lodge in western Costa Rica on 8 July. These birds are the only New World sparrows that breed cooperatively, where offspring help fledge their parents’ subsequent brood (Cornell Neotropical Birds). Evolutionary biologists wonder why the young would sacrifice their own reproductive potential in favor of their parents. Presumably time spent “baby sitting” improves the young’s chance of successful reproduction when the young get around to breeding.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeaks breed from the United States south to Costa Rica. They nest in shrubs along forest edges or roadsides (Lowther and Ingold 2011). Erika and I flushed this one from a roadside near the Ensenada Lodge in Costa Rica on 8 July 2017. Blue Grosbeaks eat arthropods and, to a lesser degree, seeds of weeds and grains. They are parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds in the United States and by Bronzed Cowbirds in Central America.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Banded Orange Heliconian

Banded Orange Heliconians are found from Mexico to Brazil. They are rare vagrants to Texas and Kansas. Erika took this image at the Ensenada Lodge, Costa Rica, on 8 July 2017. I was paying less attention to the abundant butterflies of the area. At the time, my plate was full of dragonflies and birds.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Gulf Fritillary

I was surprised to find a Gulf Fritillary on 8 July 2017 at the Ensenada Lodge in Costa Rica.  I knew this butterfly from Key West, Florida, in 2011. The species is found from South America into the southern United States. They wander further north—there is even a record from central Minnesota (Butterflies and

Friday, January 12, 2018

Little Blue Heron

Another oceanside bird at Ensenada Lodge on 8 July was a Little Blue Heron. I have previously posted in this blog: “Little Blue Herons come in all-white and all-dark plumages. Little Blue Herons are unique among herons in that these plumages are correlated with the age of the bird. Young are white, older birds are dark. A white young bird molting into its dark adult plumage is sometimes called a Calico Heron.”

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Brown Pelican

Erika and I spent most of the afternoon of 8 July 2017 exploring the grounds of the Ensenada Lodge in western Costa Rica. We found a Brown Pelican guarding the end of a rickety pier. We were familiar with Brown Pelicans along the coasts of the United States. They range south into northern South America. Other posts on the species can be found by searching this blog.

Ogden Nash did not write the famous pelican limerick:

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill will hold more than his belican,
He can take in his beak
Enough food for a week
But I'm damned if I see how the helican!

Instead this poem was written by Dixon Lanier Merritt (1879–1972). He was not only a poet and humorist, but also a founding member of the Tennessee Ornithological Soceity (Wikipedia).

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


When Erika and I returned to the Ensenada Lodge on the afternoon of 8 July, the hotel folks were all pleased to have captured this tarantula. I suspect it is a Costa Rican Red-legged Tarantula. They are relatively non-aggressive and grow to a leg-length of five inches. iNaturalist shows their range to be restricted to Costa Rica.  While looking for Internet information on this species, Megaphobema mesomelas, I was surprised at the robust pet-industry interest in tarantulas.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Six-Dog-Eating Crocodile

As I was taking photos of the Thornbush Dasher, Erika warned, “whoa—there’s the crocodile!” The reptile swam low in the water, away from us, towards the center of the pond. You may recall that the ranch foreman had given us permission to walk to the pond on condition that we be alert for the crocodile that had consumed six farmyard dogs. Crocodiles, you also may recall from an earlier post, have “catholic” diets. Not interested in testing this crocodile’s religious, or species preference, we heeded the warning sign and hurried back to the Ensenada Lodge. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Thornbush Dasher

Erika and I were just leaving the Six-Dog-eating Crocodile Pond at the Ensenada Lodge (Puntarenas, Costa Rica) on 8 July, when we spied a different dragonfly. The ode flew among the tree branches and bushes at the edge of the water. It was relatively large and sported numerous yellow spots along the upper-side of its abdomen. The green eyes are also obvious. This dasher held its wings downward as it perched on the shoreline vegetation.

Dennis identified it for us as a Thornbush Dasher. The species is found north to eastern Texas and south to Panama and through the Greater Antilles. Just a week earlier, I tried to identify a Blue Dasher as this species. Just for the record, here is a photo of the Blue Dasher taken on 30 June 2017 in Flower Mound, Texas. The abdomen spots and the eyes are clearly different than those of the Thornbush Dasher.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Green Heron

Perhaps a baby only a mother could love—a fledgling Green Heron. This heron nested near the anis in a shrubby island at the Six-Dog-Eating Crocodile Pond at the Ensenada Lodge, on 8 July 2017. Tropical Green Heron nesting is often tied to the rainy season, which was the season in Costa Rica. High water levels make a mote, which protect the nesting areas. They usually nest within small colonies or among other herons. Young are usually capable of flight after about three weeks in the nest (Davis and Kushian 1994).

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Groove-billed Ani

In Costa Rica, at the Six-Dog-Eating Crocodile Pond at the Ensenada Lodge on 8 July 2017, Erika and I found a Groove-billed Ani on a nest. At the time, we were well-aware that anis are strange cuckoos. As such, we should have expected strange breeding behavior. Anis live in groups of one to five pairs that defend a territory. All the females lay eggs in a single nest. All of the group incubate the eggs and care for the young. Other anis show similar behavior. The Groove-billed Ani is unique, however, in that females will sometimes remove eggs from the communal nest before laying their own (Bowen 2002).
The second photo is of a young Groove-billed Ani at the Ensenada Lodge. The final photo is of an adult seen near the Laguna Lagarto Lodge later during our travels. Anis range from southern Texas to northern South America.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Turquoise-browed Motmot

On the afternoon of 8 July 2017, Erika and I abandoned our tour group. The morning’s hike had been too strenuous. We were about dragonflied-out. While the others went off in search of dragonflies and a shorebird-laden salt factory, Erika and I asked if we could stroll down to a small cattle-watering pond near the Ensenada Lodge. The manager said, “No problem. Just keep your eye out for the crocodile that lives in the pond. So far it has eaten six of our dogs.” Erika and I enjoyed a lovely walk, saw about a half-dozen dragonflies (including a new one for our list), and several interesting birds. And we kept our eyes out for dog-eating crocodiles.

One of the first birds we saw was a Turquoise-browned Motmot. I have already posted on this species. You may recall that motmots have oddly shaped tails, kind of like grand-father-like clock pendula. The birds even swings their tails back and forth. Motmots are relatively closely related to kingfishers. Fossil evidence suggests that motmots originated in the Old World, although now the family is restricted to the New World tropics (Snow 2018).

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

I assume this swallow is a Northern Rough-winged, since Southern Rough-winged Swallows have tawny throats. We found it near the Ensenada Lodge in lowland Costa Rica on 8 July 2017. Both species are found in Costa Rica. Ensenada seems a bit low for breeding Northern Rough-wings, which are found at all elevations when they are joined by northern migrants. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Pin-tailed Pondhawk

During our 8 July 2017 hike in Costa Rica, we found several male Pin-tailed Pondhawks. At the time, I thought they were Black Pondhawks, but the Pin-tailed has a much slimmer abdomen. Later I will share with you a photograph of a female Black Pondhawk. Pin-tailed Pondhawks range from eastern Texas and southern Arizona and much of Florida south through Central America and the West Indies to Argentina. The species usually perches low to the ground and is fond of ponds, open marshes, and other waterways.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Roseate Spoonbill

We found a Roseate Spoonbill perched in a tree overlooking the Ensenada swamp on 8 July 2017. We have other spoonbill photos from the America Gulf Coast. They are found south through coastal and swampy areas of South America. Ornithologists are in general agreement that spoonbills are closely related to ibis and they classify them in the same bird family. Several spoonbill species are found around the world. The Roseate Spoonbill's closest relative appears to be Australia's Yellow-billed Spoonbill rather than other Eurasian species (Dumas 2000.)

Monday, January 1, 2018

Rose-throated Becard

Rose-throated Becards nested in the trees at the edge of the Ensenada Lake during our 8 July 2017 hike. Becards are New World, tropical birds, descended from flycatchers and closely related to another neotropical family, the cotingas.
Costa Rican Rose-throated Becards look different from those that sometimes wander into southern Texas or Arizona, where they very rarely breed. The species ranges south through Panama. Males, like those in the first two photos, lack rose throats. The males are darker than more northern individuals. Males sport white shoulders, which they display during courtship. Intermediately plumaged birds are found in central parts of the range. In all populations, the females are cinnamon-colored and have gray crowns—see the last photo.