Saturday, March 31, 2018

Green Honeycreeper

Three species of honeycreepers flocked to the feeders at the Laguna del Lagarto lodge on 13 and 14 July 2017. All are small, bright tanagers. We also saw all three at other locations in Costa Rica, but the feeders at the lodge offered the best opportunities for photography.

The first of these birds is the Green Honeycreeper. The female is in the first photo, a male in the second. This species mostly eats fruit but also consumes insects and nectar. Like other honeycreepers, they can be found alone, or in pairs, often traveling in mixed species flocks through the forest canopy. Green Honeycreepers range from southern Mexico south across across much of northern South America. Although common where it is found, relatively little research is devoted to this species (Zamudio and Burns 2011).

Friday, March 30, 2018

Metallic Pennant

Metallic Pennans, Idiataphe cubensis, are found from Central America into central South America. One key feature to their identification is their dark coloration. In other species in the genus, males are often found near water. Females seldom approach water except when they lay eggs (—so this individual is probably a male. I photographed it along the Laguna del Lagarto Lodge ponds on 13 July 2017.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Keel-billed Toucan

Keel-billed Toucans also fed at the Laguna del Lagarto lodge in mid-July 2017. Their bills are even more colorful than the Chestnut-mandibled Toucans in my last post. The Keel-billed Toucan seemed to be the slightly scarcer of the two. They have similar diets. Chestnut-mandibled Toucans often follow Keel-billeds to discover food supplies. Keel-billed Toucans range from southern Mexico south to northwestern Columbia and Venezuela. Both species suffer after deforestation.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Chestnut-mandibled Toucans often descended on the Laguna del Lagarto Lodge’s bird feeders during our two-day stay in July 2017. The toucans ate fruit and, perhaps, fruit-eating insects. In the forest, toucans eat fruit, insects, lizards and frogs. They also use their huge bills to plunder eggs from long, hanging bird nests. As you cann see in the first photo, toucan bills can be dextrous tools.

This was not our first encounter with Chestnut-mandibled Toucans. We often saw and heard them in many locations in Costa Rica. Their call is described by Rice et. al (2010) as “yelping, far-carrying cry…Dios te De,” God Gives You. These crow-sized birds travel through forests in flocks of up to a dozen birds.

Chestnut-mandibled Toucans breed from Honduras south through western Ecuador. Similar birds, Black-mandibled Toucans, range from western Venezuela south through Peru. Ornithologists are still studying if these populations are one species or two.  If the populations are genetically similar, then the two go by the inclusive name of Yellow-throated Toucan.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Caribbean Yellowface

This Caribbean Yellowface flitted back and forth from its perch on a lily pad. When the damselfly flew, it kept low to the water surface. Erika and I found it in the lagoon at the base of the Laguna Lagarto Ecolodge in northern Costa Rica on 13 July 2017. Caribbean Yellowfaces are found from the southern tips of Florida and Texas south through the Greater Antilles, eastern Mexico, and the lowlands of Central America south to Venezuela.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Long-tailed Tyrant

Long-tailed Tyrants are flycatchers found from Honduras to much of northern South America. In this range, they are common but local. They require a stump with a nesting hole and nearby stingless bees. They flick their long tails up and down and fly out after their insect prey. A pair of these birds greeted us when we arrived at Costa Rica's Laguna del Lagarto Lodge on 12 July. They nested in a dead palm stump next to the hotel.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Amazon Sapphirewing

Looking through photographs of Costa Rican Odonata, the Amazon Sapphirewing (Zenithoptera fasciata) stands out as one spectacular dragonfly. All of us hoped we would encounter this species. On the morning of 13 July 2017 at the Laguna del Lagarto Lodge, we hiked up an incredibly muddy road along the lodge’s ponds. There we found sapphirewings. I regret that I did not spend more time chasing the sapphirewings. The male in the first photo perched quite some distance away in a marsh. The female in the second was much closer, on the roadside. I would have liked to get closer images of a male.

Later in the morning we took a hike in the jungle. We came upon another female sapphirewing deep within the forest. Dennis remarked that seeing a dragonfly with its wings splayed out in different directions was strange. Perhaps the dragonfly was moving oxygen through its wing trachea. Most dragonfly wings lack air passages, the wings being composed of non-living cuticle. Guillermo-Ferreira et al. (2017) discovered trachea within Zenithoptera wings. These authors surmise that the trachea in sapphirewings are needed to supply air to melanin-filled cuticle layers, which contribute to this dragonfly's unique structural coloration.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle

Among the King and Turkey vultures, flew a Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle. The hawk-eagle is probably a rarer sighting than the King Vulture, thus further cementing the Laguna del Lagarto lodge as my favorite place in Costa Rica. We only saw one once, on 13 July 2017.

Despite a large range from Mexico south to northern Argentina, this large raptor is poorly known—apparently only one nest has been documented (Tate 2012). These hawks soar, then dive on prey, which includes mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

Friday, March 23, 2018

King Vulture

The Laguna del Lagarto Lodge was my favorite location in Costa Rica. Anywhere with King Vultures soaring overhead vaults near to top spot! During our graduate research in Peru and Ecuador, we seldom saw King Vultures. In Ecuador we only occasionally saw them when we flew in small airplanes over undisturbed jungle.

Ornithologists argue if King Vultures were historically found in Florida. William Bartram described one from the St. John’s River in the 1770s. His painting is not quite accurate for a King Vulture, leading some to suspect it could have been simply a flight of Bartram’s imagination or a distinct subspecies. At least one other pioneering ornithologist, however, claimed to have seen this vulture, and several Native American artifacts depict what could be King Vultures (ABA Blog).

My seventh grade teacher and birding mentor, John Trott, believed that Bartram did not hallucinate his King Vulture record. He believed Bartram to be scrupulously honest. John pointed out that several Florida plant species became extinct after record freezes occurred in the region shortly after Bartram described the vulture. Perhaps the vulture, never common, met the same fate.

Update: an apparent King Vulture was photographed in Miami on 14 March 2018: Zoos in south Florida do keep King Vultures, so the eBird record may be an escaped bird. On the other hand, the nearest wild King Vultures to south Florida are seen in the Yucatan, not that far (as the vulture flies).

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Laguna del Lagarto

The Laguna del Lagarto Lodge was my favorite stop on our tour. We were a few miles from the Nicaraguan border. We stayed two nights, 12 and 13 July 2017. The region felt wild. The 30 km rocky road into the lodge contributed to the feeling of isolation. The lodge, if not the most luxurious of our stops, was more than adequate.

The forest was so full of dragonflies and birds that I never got around taking a photo of our accomodations—Dennis Paulson gave me this image. The hotel boasted wonderful bird feeders. You can see one of the muddy lagoons in front of the lodge. One of my best interludes was, after returning from a hike through the jungle, sitting at the edge of the lagoon and photographing dragonflies as they came up to me. I kept my eyes open, however, since Laguna del Lagarto means Lagoon of the Crocodile…

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Nicaraguan Seed-Finch

As we left the marshes in northern Costa Rica, suddenly our bus screeched to a stop. Our guides spotted a small group of Nicaraguan Seed-Finches. Once this finch was restricted to Nicaragua. Apparently in response to deforestation, populations spread into Costa Rica and western Panama. This species is now uncommon and local on the Caribbean slope of southern Central America. Schulenberg (2015) suggests maybe a more appropriate name for this bird, given its expanding range, may be Pink-billed Seed-Finch. The bill does look a bit pinkish in my photos, although, in the field the color just seemed pale.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Gray-breasted Martin

Gray-breasted Martins perched on the roadside power-lines as we drove through marshes in northern Costa Rica on 12 July 2017. We also saw them in cities, where they nest under eaves or in drainpipes. In more wild settings, they use natural cavities or old woodpecker holes (Lagasse 2016). Both sexes of this species look much like female Purple Martins.

These swallows breed from northern Mexico south to central Argentina. Most populations are local residents. Northern birds, however, migrate south in the winter, while southern ones fly north in the non-breeding season. The details of these movements remain unstudied (Lagasse 2016).

Monday, March 19, 2018

Black Pondhawk

In the marshy grass in northern Costa Rica on 12 July 2017, Erika and I photographed a number of Black Pondhawks. All appear to be females, with the one in the lower photo being somewhat older than the first one. Unfortunately I did no look for the all-black males. I thought I had such photographs, but earlier images are of Pin-tailed Pondhawks. Black Pondhawks are relatively easy identified by their rather robust abdomens. Black Pondhawks range from southernmost Texas (with a stray in central Alabama) south to Argentina. They are also found in the West Indies. They perch on or near the ground in swamps or near ponds.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

White-throated Crake

As we chased dragonflies in the marshes along the road in northern Costa Rica in July 2017, we heard a curious bird call. A White-throated Crake briefly appeared from the undergrowth. Crakes are small rails. This species is hard to see, but is, nevertheless, fairly common in overgrown pastures, ditches, and stream-sides (Cornell). The species ranges from Honduras south to western Ecuador.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbirds may be the most abundant North American birds. The species breeds south to northern Costa Rica, which is where we found this individual. Here is a link to a couple of Red-winged Blackbird posts I have previously included in this blog.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Tawny Pennant

On 12 July 2017, we photographed a Tawny Pennant in the marshes of northern Alajuela Province, Costa Rica. These dragonflies are fairly plain creatures with brownish wings. They range from southermost Texas and the Florida Keys, with only scattered records further north, south to Argentina and the Galapagos. They are also found from the southern tip of Florida through the West Indies. They usually perch on the tips of pond plants over water. They hold thier wings at an upward angle. From their perches, they make patrolling flights over the shores of their ponds (Paulson 2009).

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Wood Stork and Cattle Egret

On our drive on 12 July to the Laguna del Legarto Lodge, we enjoyed marshy cattle fields full of interesting dragonflies and birds. We stopped and explored the area. In the distance, Cattle Egrets filled the treetops. Closer in, a few Wood Storks foraged the wet meadow.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Laughing Falcon

On the morning of 12 July 2017, after our boat tour of the Rio Frio, we loaded our bus at the Hotel de Campo. We drove to the the Laguna del Lagarto Lodge. The drive did not look far on the map, but the last 20 kilometers traversed a horrendously maintained road. This Laughing Falcon is one of the first birds we observed.

Laughing Falcons are found in forests from northern Mexico south to Paraguay. The falcons are especially attracted to forest edges. The main component of their diet is snakes, which often warm themselves at the forest edge. They consume a wide variety of snakes,  even eat pit vipers and coral snakes (Barkley 2014). They are also known to hunt rodents, birds, fish, and bats.

These falcons hunt from exposed perches, from where they look for snakes. They usually drop on their prey. Sometimes they approach snakes on the ground. When hunting on the ground, the birds spread their wings, presumably trying to distract the snakes (Barkley 2014).

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Snowy Cotinga

Our wizard bird guide, Steve Bird, spied and identified this Snowy Cotinga. We were in a boat on the Rio Frio in northern Costa Rica. The bird perched in a treetop about a quarter of a mile distant. We confirmed identification by seeing the striped wings in the photograph. This bird is a female—males are snowy white.

Snowy Cotingas range along Caribbean slopes from Honduras to Panama. They often perch on bare treetops. The eat fruits and wander in search of fruiting trees and shrubs (Cornell).

Monday, March 12, 2018

Central American Spider Monkey

Depending on your taxonomy, Central American Spider Monkeys range from southern Mexico to western Colombia. They are among South America’s largest monkeys, weighing up to 20 pounds. Their arms are long and, having only a vestigial thumb, are adapted for swinging between tree branches. Their tail is used as an “extra limb” (Wikipedia).

Spider Monkeys live in groups composed of 20 to 40 members. These groups are not stable, with individuals free to join or leave. They require large areas of forest to survive. Habitat loss, hunting, and poaching for the pet trade all contribute to Spider Monkeys’ being endangered across much if their range. We found this monkey in a small group along Costa Rica's Rio Frio on 12 July 2017.

Sunday, March 11, 2018


Anhingas are found from the southeastern United States south through much of the Amazon Basin. I have previously posted about why Anhingas are peculiar birds. We found them nesting along the Rio Frio near Caño Negro, Costa Rica, on 12 July 2015. These nestlings will molt into their black, adult plumage.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Green Ibis

Green Ibises have shorter legs than do other ibis. The bird is placed in its own genus, Mesembrinibis. The species ranges from southern Central America through much of the Amazon Basin. It feeds on invertebrates in shallow water and in mud (Molfetto 2011). This Green Ibis foraged along the Rio Frio in northern Costa Rica on 12 July 2017.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Green Basilisk and Green Iguana

Both Green Basilisks, Basiliscus plumifrons, and Green Iguanas, Iguana iguana, hugged the tree limbs we passed under as we floated up and down the Rio Frio near the Hotel de Campo in northern Costa Rica.

Green Basilisks are among the largest of the Jesus Christ lizards. They get that name from their ability to run short distances across water. They can also swim on the water surface or dive to river depths. They are found from Honduras to Panama.

Green Iguanas are common across much of South and Central America. They are herbivores. Although difficult to properly care for, they are often kept as pets. Escaped populations exist in Florida, south Texas, and Hawaii. We saw many during our travels in Costa Rica.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Nicaraguan Grackle

Nicaraguan Grackles are relatively small but long-tailed blackbirds. They are restricted to southwestern Nicaraguan and far northern Costa Rica. Our intrepid leader, Dennis Paulson, was the first to discover Costa Rican populations in 1966. These grackles prefer lake-shores and cattle pastures. Their numbers appear to be increasing. We saw a small flock of these birds on 12 July 2017 on our Rio Frio, Costa Rica, boat trip.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Spectacled Caiman

On the morning of 12 July 2017, our tour hustled into a tourist boat at the Hotel de Campos for a short ride up the Rio Frio. I really don’t like boat rides. Invariably, the critters I want to photograph are on the other side of the boat, which tends to be wobbly. Its hard to get close to wildlife. Getting good images of dragonflies is pretty much out of the question.

Nevertheless, I have to admit you do see from a boat wildlife that you otherwise would miss. Also the Rio Frio is relatively narrow, which helps for seeing things. Take this Spectacled Caiman, Caiman crocodilus. This species is the most common caiman in Central and South America, mainly because this reptile is tolerant of both fresh and salt water. These caimans eat small prey like insects, crustaceans or mollusks and, sometimes, small fish.

Caimans are interesting because their nest temperatures determine the sex of their young. Nest temperatures over 32 degrees C produce females; temperatures under 31 degrees become males. Further, adults can regulate temperatures by placing decaying vegetation in the nests (Wikipedia).

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Pale-green Darner

We were enjoying breakfast at the Hotel de Campo, Caño Negro, Alajuela Province, Costa Rica on 12 July 2017. Into the open dining area flew a Pale-green Darner. Those who had them ran for their nets. Before it could be captured, the dragonfly became entangled in a spider’s web in the rafters. We retrieved the darner, but it had already been killed by the spider.

Pale-green Darners are found in the woodlands of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where they can be common, south to Bolivia and Brazil. They are also known from the West Indies and southernmost Florida. They fly at dusk and dawn. Females probably oviposit in dead wood that becomes flooded in the rainy season (Paulson 2009).

Monday, March 5, 2018

Bare-throated Tiger-Heron

These are three photos of Bare-throated Tiger Herons at the Hotel de Campo on 11 and 12 July 2017. We saw tiger-herons many times in Costa Rica. I have already blogged about one. The bird in the first two photos may be trying to cool down by drooping its wings. Other species of herons show similar behavior. The bird in the last photo looks quite different since it is young.

Sunday, March 4, 2018


This Bananaquit, at the Hotel de Campo in northern Costa Rica, appears to be tailless. Normally Bananaquits feed on nectar and fruit in flowering trees and shrubs. Some people in Costa Rica would like to pass legislation against feeding wild birds. Among other issues, they feel that bird feeding makes wild birds dependent on handouts from the ecotourist industry. On the other hand, feeders make wild birds easier to see, thus fueling income from ecotourists. I can not imagine that the few feeders we enjoyed watching have affected more than a infinitesimally small proportion of Costa Rican birds.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Olivaceous Piculet

Piculets are tiny woodpeckers. Olivaceous Piculets are found from Guatemala south to Northwestern Peru and northwestern Venezuela. They inhabit open forests and clearings, such as the gardens at the Hotel de Campo. We found this piculet on 11 July 2017.

Piculets differ from other woodpeckers in that their tails are small and not used for support. They often join mixed-species flocks. They tap on branches, looking for ants and termites.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Snowy Owl

For the past six weeks, Erika and I drove a monumental road-trip to Key West and the Rio Grande Valley. I will write about our adventures after I finish my Costa Rican posts. Today, 1 March 2018, we ran errands around southern Minneapolis. Between the errands and a celebratory dinner at our favorite restaurant, ie-Italian Eatery, we stopped at the airplane viewing area at the Minneapolis airport. 

At least two and possibly more Snowy Owls frequented the airport all winter. We made at least a half dozen visits in search of these owls. Amongst a big pile of snow sat a dirty snowball. Except it wasn’t—the female Snowy Owl turned its head and looked straight at me. To my surprise, the half-dozen observers at the viewing area were not birders. Instead they were airplane enthusiasts, taking photos of jet planes. I did not bring my camera, so I asked one of the the plane spotters, Patrick Lentsch, if he would send me a photo of the owl. He quickly and graciously agreed, and here is his photo. The copy-right, of course, belongs to Patrick.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Black-headed Trogon

Trogons are primitive birds found in many of the world’s tropical areas. Ornithologists are uncertain about to which birds they are most closely related. Surprisingly, genetic research indicates a relatively close affinity to African mousebirds (Collar 2018).

Black-headed Trogons range from southeastern Mexico to northern Costa Rica. Unlike most trogons, this one is found in open habitats—this bird flew between trees and shrubs in a suburban area near the Hotel de Campo on 11 July 2017.

Trogons nest in arboreal termite colonies. Here the make nesting cavities, which contain a long, curved tunnel that ends in a circular nesting chamber. They eat fruit and arthropods, such as caterpillars and large insects (Riehl 2012).