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).