Sunday, February 18, 2018

Tropical Kingbird

We saw Tropical Kingbirds across most of Costa Rica. This flycatcher is common from central Argentina north into southern Arizona and Texas.  Northern populations appear to be expanding. This bird is often encountered in gardens, towns, and other human-modified habitats. This image, my best for the species, was taken at the Hotel de Campo on 12 July 2017. 

Tropical Kingbirds tend to perch in the open, often perching on roadside power-lines. They specialize on large, flying insects. Similar kingbirds use other feeding techniques and consume a wider variety of prey. Like other kingbirds, however, Tropical Kingbirds also eat fruit (Stouffer and Chesser 1998).

Friday, February 16, 2018

Cracker Butterflies

Crackers are butterflies found from Arizona and southern Texas south across most of Central and South America. Nine species are found in Costa Rica. We found two species at the Hotel de Campo on 11 July. Both perched on tree trunks. Crackers always perch with their heads pointed downward. They feed on fruit and tree sap.

The first is a Starry Cracker, the second is a Gray Cracker. Males make a loud crackling sounds when the fly from their perches. The sound comes by their “twanging a pair of spiny rods at the tip of the abdomen against bristles on the anal claspers” (Dennis Paulson, pers. com,). They make these noises as part of their territorial displays and also when predators approach. Just how these butterflies hear their noises is not well understood, and they may have more than one kind of hearing organ located in their wings. They can hear each other and also hear bats’ sonic calls.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Amazon Kingfisher

Amazon Kingfishers range from central Mexican coasts south through Central America to most of Amazonian South America. I am aware of a few strays along the Rio Grande in Texas. They behave similarly to our Belted Kingfisher. The male Amazon Kingfisher has a rufous breast (upper photo), while the female is mostly white. In our kingfisher, its the female with rufous in her plumage.

Both of these photos are from near the Hotel de Campo campus. We found the male on 11 July, and the female on the 12th. Both waited patiently to dive for unsuspecting fish in the water below.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Russet-naped Wood-Rail

Russet-naped Wood-Rails are found from northeastern Mexico south to northeastern Costa Rica. They can be hard to see, since they inhabit swampy forest, river, and swamp edges. This habitat well-describes the lakeshore near the Hotel de Campo on 11 and 12 July 2017. Often they remain hidden in the vegetation Only occasionally, do they venture out into the open. I took these photos with difficulty.

Looking these birds’ bills, you can see why rails are classified in the same order as cranes. They hunt for invertebrates, small vertebrates, and vegetative matter. Russet-naped Wood-Rails used to be named Gray-necked Wood-Rails. But the northern wood-rails are quite different—in both voice and plumage—from those found from southwestern Costa Rica to Argentina. Those southern birds are now called Gray-cowled Wood-Rails.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Red-tipped Swampdamsel

Soon after we arrived at the Hotel de Campo, near Caño Negro, Alajuela Province, in northern Costa Rica, our group located a few Red-tipped Swampdamsels on 11 July 2017. These damselflies flitted about shaded weeds at the edge of a large lake in back of the hotel. The species ranges from Mexico to northern South America. I am aware of only one record from the United States—at Santa Ana NWR on 2 July 2009 (Odonata Central).

Red-tipped Swampdamsels spend the dry season as immatures. With the advent of rains, they quickly mature. Two broods are produced in the rainy season. The larvae rapidly become new immatures (IUNC Red List).

We spent only one night at the Hotel de Campo. On the morning of 12 July, we took a tour boat ride up a nearby river. We saw lots of bird, but dragonfly photography from a moving boat leaves something to be desired. Taking bird photos is hard enough. I have combined my pictures from the hotel campus from 11 and 12 July, and will then proceed with the boat trip images.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kites are found from the southeastern United States south through Central America into most of the Amazon Basin of South America. Swallow-tailed Kites sometimes wander into the American Midwest—here is a photo I took several years ago in South Dakota. The kite in this post was photographed near the Arenal Observatory Lodge on 10 July 2017.

This hawk is another dragonfly hunter. They soar above and through the forest canopy searching for insects, frogs, lizards, snakes, and small birds. I am not sure what causes the spots on this bird’s wings. Perhaps they are the result of wing molt. Such spots are not visible in most photos.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Coral Snake


In North America, upon seeing red, black, and yellow snakes, Erika and I have a mantra. “Red on black, friend of Jack” — a harmless King Snake; “Red on yellow, kill a fellow” — a venomous Coral Snake. I don’t know how well this mantra works in Costa Rica. I suspect this snake we encountrd in the parking lot of the Arenal Observatory Lodge’s parking lot is not good news. Someone obviously agreed and had already chopped off its head.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Satiny Parrot Snake


On our Costa Rican tour, we often made night hikes, with hopes of seeing frogs. During a walk at the Arenal Observatory Lodge on 9 July 2017, Erika was startled by a strange-shaped tree branch. It turned out to be a Satiny Parrot Snake. These reptiles feed on lizards, frogs and small snakes (Wikipedia). The species is found from Central America and most of northern South America.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Creamy Crescent

The butterfly people on our dragonfly tour enjoyed an incredible diversity of butterflies along the road leading from the Arenal Observatory Lodge on 10 July 2017. I am now disappointed that I did not pay more attention to our butterfly experts during the tour—there was a lot to be learned. At the time, however, I had my hands full with the diversity of dragonflies and birds.  I may have mentioned earlier that this year seemed to support a surprising number of butterflies in Costa Rica. This Creamy Crescent (Eresia clio) is found from southern Mexico to Brazil and Bolivia. This butterfly feeds on nectar and also comes down to feed on minerals on river sandbanks.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

While we hunted for dragonflies along the road near the Arenal Observatory Lodge on 10 July 2017, we flushed up a Rufous-tailed Jacamar. This family of birds inhabits Central and South America. They sally forth from perches in forest clearings, often eating dragonflies. You may notice the jacamar was successful competing against us—the bird has captured a Slender Skimmer.

Jacamars are primitive birds, related to kingfishers, trogons or puffbirds, Ornithologists are uncertain of the exact taxonomic relationships of jacamars.