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. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Yellow-faced Grassquit

Also feeding in the lawn at the Hotel de Montana Monteverde were a couple of Yellow-faced Grassquits. The little finch is common in fields and roadsides in lowlands from Eastern Mexico south through Cental America to northwestern South America. It casually occurs in Florida and has been recorded in south Texas. Yellow-faced Grassquits are introduced in Hawaii.

DNA research suggests that the Yellow-faced Grassquit, although definitely a finch, is not closely related to other species in the genus Tiaris, where it currently resides (Torok and Burns 2011). One assumes some reclassification is in order for this species.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Clay-colored Thrush

We saw Clay-colored Thrushes in many of the locations we visited in Costa Rica. I have shared with you a photo of one from our hotel on our first evening in San Jose. Both its ubiquity and its pretty song contribute to its being Costa Rica’s national bird. They are often found around people—cleared woodlands, clearings, open areas, lawns, cities, and, occasionally into more heavily wooded areas. They range from southern-most Texas to Venezuela and Colombia. This image was taken on 6 July at the Hotel Montana Monteverde.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Yellow-throated Euphonia

What are euphonias? Ornithologists used to classify them with tanagers. Now DNA studies indicate that they are finches. These Yellow-throated Euphonias were acting just like finches, as they fed on the lawn of the Hotel de Montana Monteverde. A male is in the first photo, a female in the second. The species ranges from eastern Mexico to western Panama. Yellow-throated Euphonias usually eat fruit, especially mistletoe berries. I am not sure what they were eating in the hotel lawn—insects or weed seeds? Either is possible.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Rufous-collared Sparrow

Next I have a series of bird photographs from the grounds of the Hotel de Montaña Monteverde. Most were taken on 6 July, but others on the afternoon of 5 July, or the morning of the 7th. Rufous-collared Sparrows greeted us at the hotel. These birds are in the same genus as our White-throated Sparrows.

Rufous-collared Sparrows are abundant from southern Mexico to Tierra del Fuego. They are also found from sea level to the tops of Andean peaks. Across their range, they flush along roadsides, parks, human habitations, and other cleared areas. With such a huge range, it is not surprising that at least 25 subspecies are recognized by ornithologists. The Handbook of Birds of the World speculates that some of these races will be declared full species. The race found in Monteverde is found from Costa Rica to Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Black-tailed Darner

Black-tailed Darners are found along sunny ponds from Mexico to Panama. This individual is probably a female due to her yellow side stripes. Our companions had netted this dragonfly at the pond at the base of the hillside at the Hotel de Montaña Monteverde on 6 July. She remained perched after she was released. Before Erika and I returned to our forest trail, I was able to capture this image.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Thorn-tipped Dancer

This dancer used to be named Argia exranea, found from Arizona to Panama. But entomologists realized that this damselfly was actually two species—a northern and a southern one, with no overlap in range. The southern one, Argia elongata was only described in 2017! The Northern species is now called a Spine-tipped Darner. the southern one, the Thorn-tipped Darner. Argia elongata are found in Costa Rica. I took this image from the pool below the Hotel de Montaña Monteverde.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Long-tailed Manakin

We returned to the Hotel Montana Monteverde in the mid-afternoon of 6 July. We stopped first for a protracted lunch at the Hummingbird Cafe we visited the day before. At the hotel, most of our group hiked down to a small pond at the base of a hill. Erika and I were intrigued by the hotel’s 15-hectare forest trail, which also ended at the pond. Two of our companions walked with us, but, about half way down the trail we went separate ways.

We saw very little during our hike. On the way back up the trail Erika exclaimed, “look at that small, green bird with the long tail!” I never saw it, but figured that a female Long-tailed Manakin was a possibility. I played the manakin’s song on my cell phone, not knowing that male Long-tailed Manakins do not respond to each other’s calls. But a small, black and azure manakin flew across the trail and landed on a bare perch within the forest. I was able to get one, not so good photograph before the bird flew again. But, as you can see below, this was quite a striking bird.

Male manakins form dancing courts called leks. Any male is welcomed to the lek, at least until a female shows up. Then lower-ranking males are chased away. Long-tailed Manakin leks are strange. Two unrelated males hold court. The two males remain together, even outside the breeding season. These pairs may last several years. Younger males move from lek to lek, often dancing with other males. Females watch and listen to the males, but visit relatively few leks. Only a few males mate successfully in any given year. Usually only the dominant male mates, but females may mate with his partner if the alpha male is absent—even if she has already mated with the dominant bird (Neotropical Birds).

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Blue-throated Toucanet

The taxonomy of small, emerald toucanets is a mess. I was aware that ornithologists split Mexican and South American subspecies into two species, Northern and Southern Emerald-Toucanets. In fact, nobody seems to know what to do with the dozen or so populations from Mexico to Bolivia. Their ranges almost never overlap, so it is hard to tell if they might interbreed. Consequently, ornithologists recognize anywhere from one to eight species. The “splitters” call the toucanets of Costa Rica, the Blue-throated Toucanet.

High in the treetops a Blue-throated Toucanet watched while we headed back towards Monteverde after our 6 July jungle stroll. Northern Emerald-Toucanets range from eastern Mexico through Central America. They prey upon small vertebrates and eat fruit. They nest in tree cavities. We saw other birds during our morning adventure, but none that we did not subsequently see better. I will cover those in later posts.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Mountain Flatwing

A few inches away from the Costa Rican Flatwing of my last post, we found a Mountain Flatwing under the same riverbank. These two damselflies are in the same family, but different genera. Thus they are not so closely related. Mountain Flatwings are found in Costa Rica and Panama south to Peru. They inhabit the edges of cloud forest streams, and thrive with high humidity, shade, and cold water (Nadkarni and Wheelwright).

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Costa Rican Flatwing

On 6 July, as we hiked along a dirt road near Monteverde, Costa Rica, we turned around where a creek rushed over the road. Under the overhanging logs and vegetation of the riverbank, we found two species of flatwings. This habitat is typical of flatwings, although occasionally females wander in the forest away from water. These are a family of damselflies that are larger than spreadwings and hold their wings flatter. Usually the forewings are at a different angle than the hind ones.

These photos are of Costa Rican Flatwings. The first photo was taken on 6 July, near Monteverde. The  second was taken a week later, on 16 July,  at Braulio Carrillo National Park. Costa Rican Flatwings are known only from Nicaragua and Costa Rica. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Chirripo Cora

I found it hard to find information about the Chirripo Cora, Cora chirripa. Finally I happened upon Bill Haber’s web page, Odonata of Monteverde, Costa Rica. On 6 July, not only was that exactly where we were—near Monteverde—but our guest guide was Bill Haber! Haber writes that cora have large eyes and stout bodies. (Later I will show you a photo that shows just how big and strange cora eyes are.) These damselfies perch on leaves and twigs. They are usually found along small, forest streams. Chirripo refers to Costa Rica’s highest peak, which is found in the southern mountains.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Rusty-tipped Page

Rusty-tipped Pages are among the most common Central American butterflies. They range south to Brazil and Bolivia and north into Texas and New Mexico. We found several during our hike near Monteverde during the morning of 6 July.

They are often found near the ground at forest edges. Like other tropical butterflies, they often gather at pools. They also drink nectar, rotting fruit, dung, and carrion. The caterpillars resemble poisonous swallowtail larva, and so are an example of Batesian Mimicry, where harmless creatures resemble poisonous ones. Rusty-tipped Butterflies are therefore avoided by birds (Knowlegebase).

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Cerulean Dancer

We found Cerulean Dancers along the roadside near Monteverde, Costa Rica, on 6 July. This damselfly is found from Costa Rica to Mexico. Curiously this species has made a rapid range expansion into the southern half of Arizona, where it was first found in 2012. Most of the US records are of males, like this one. Females are rarely found (Pierre Deviche/FaceBook).

Friday, November 17, 2017

Amber-banded Clubskimmer

As I recall, this clubskimmer perched on the rocks near the Mountain Rubyspot on 6 July. The roadside habitat must have suited these dragonflies as they recharge their solar-powered muscles. Dennis Paulson calls this ode an Amber-banded Clubskimmer. Guillon, who writes in French, informs us the English name is Rapacious Clubskimmer—a big descriptor for this little arthropod. Dennis shrugs and reminds me that all dragonflies are rapacious. The New York Times reports that dragonflies enjoy a 95% success rate with prey capture, compared to 25% for lions and 50% for sharks. "they may well be the most brutally effective hunters in the animal kingdom,” writes the Times. By whatever name, this species is widespread from Mexico to Venezuela and Peru.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Sky-blue Dancer

These damselflies are Sky-blue Dancers, Agria medullaris. I think the first photo is of a female, the second a male. Both were along the dirt road we walked near Monteverde on 6 July. Keys to their identification include their clear wings and the top of the male’s abdomen being all blue. Bill Haber writes that this species is found from 700 to 1600 meters on the Pacific and Caribbean slopes of Costa Rica. These damselflies also range north to Mexico and south to South America.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Orange Daggerwing

Orange Daggerwings (Marpesia berania) are common, ranging from Honduras to Peru. Like this one on the road near Monteverde on 6 July, they are often found one at a time. Males do, however, occasionally flock to puddles as the butterflies search of mineral nutrients. Females are usually restricted to the forest canopy and are seldom seen. Both sexes form large nocturnal roosts (Learnaboutbutterflies).

This butterfly is the third daggerwing we have seen. Nearby we photographed a Many-banded Daggerwing. On 20 March 2011, Erika and I found a Ruddy Daggerwing in south Florida.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Highland Rubyspot

Also observed along the Monteverde road on 6 July—a Highland Rubyspot. This is the third rubyspot of our Costa Rican adventure. At least ten species inhabit the country. I never really got a handle on identifying them. Most seemed to be found near streams. One key is the elevation in which they are found. In the mountains, your options are somewhat limited.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Mexican Heliconian

The Mexican Heliconian, Heliconius hortense, ranges from Mexico to Ecuador. This butterfly inhabits cloud forests up to 2300 meters. We found this one on 6 July next to a dirt road near Monteverde, Costa Rica. I suppose one should use caution, even among friends, when sharing results of Rorschach tests. I thought, “Whoa, that insect has white lightening bolts on its wings!” Later they didn’t look so much like lightening; more like sexy barroom cigarette salespeople. Still later—oh, never mind.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Common Redpoll

Two Common Redpolls appeared at our feeder yesterday morning. Redpoll numbers fluctuate at about a two-year cycle. (It seems like it has been more than that since we have seen them here in numbers in central Minnesota.) Redpolls wander widely, A bird banded in Michigan was recovered in Siberia. One banded in Belgium was recovered two years later in China (All About Birds.) This source also cites a record of a seven-year, ten-month old Common Redpoll in Alaska.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Cardinal Meadowhawk

“Cardinal Meadowhawk,” said Dennis Paulson, “just like home in Seattle.” Even I knew this species, in my case, from Olympia, Washington. This observation was one of but a handful of Costa Rican dragonflies that were not new for us. This meadowhawk watched as our group hiked down the road near the UGA Costa Rica Campus near Monteverde on 6 July.

Cardinal Meadowhawks range across the West Coast and in the southern South West in the United States, south through the mountains to Panama. The wide range of some dragonflies, compared to limited distributions of others, is intriguing.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Many-banded Daggerwing

During our morning hike near Monteverde, Costa Rica, on 6 July, we photographed a Many-banded Daggerwing. This butterfly flitted through the roadside vegetation. The species is found from Argentina to Mexico and the West Indies. They frequently stray into south Texas, and, more rarely, to Kansas and  southern Florida. They are known, in the tropics, to undergo population explosions and mass migrations.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Neon Skimmer

Along the way on our 6 July Monteverde (San Louis) stroll, we passed a wet, weedy, seepy hillside full of dragonflies. Among them was this Neon Skimmer, clearly territorial, since it repeatedly returned to the same perch. The species is found in clean streams and ditches in mountains from Costa Rica into widely scattered areas of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas (Paulson). We did not see courtship displays, in which the males fly with their tails raised high.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Thick-tipped Greta

Greta morgane, the thick-tipped greta, is a day active ithomiine butterfly from the subfamily Ithomiinae” (Wikipedia). So now you know. This butterfly is common from Central America, the Caribbean north to Mexico. In 2004 a stray was recorded in Texas.

The roadside we explored near Monteverde, on 6 July, was full of butterflies. In fact, in July 2017, all of Costa Rica experienced high numbers of butterflies. It was kind of like a scene from “A Hundred Years of Solitude,” if you are familiar with that book.

We remarked on this butterfly’s transparent wing patches. The pink color you see is actually flower parts fallen from the trees. Their caterpillars feast on deadly nightshade, rendering both caterpillars and adults poisonous to birds. The birds, needless to say, avoid Thick-tipped Gretas.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Middle American Pearlwing

Unlike the dasher without a name in my last post, this little damselfly has a huge name. Around the dasher pond near Monteverde, Costa Rica, we photographed an immature, female Middle American Pearlwing. The species ranges from Mexico to Costa Rica. According to the IUCN Red List, pearlwings tolerate human habitat disturbance, are common, but little studied. Apparently all they need is a local water source. No data suggest pearlwing populations are declining.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Dasher without a Name

Also at the first pond we explored on 6 July were several dashers with no name! Our intreped guide, Dennis Paulson, still is in the process of naming this species! Soon, he hopes. He figures he still has 13 undescribed species in Costa Rica. Hopefully he’ll have them named before he publishes his book on dragonflies of the country.