Contest Winners! February 2021

Congratulations to our San Vito Bird Club contest winners for 2021. As you may recall, this year we changed the contest from a Bird Feeder Contest (since Costa Rica frowns on feeding wildlife) to a three-pronged contest:

  1. Bird Feeder Contest for members who DO NOT live in Costa Rica during the month of February.
  2. Photos taken in February, in three categories; a. Birds having a meal b. Birds in action c. Still life
  3. Original Bird Act created during the month of February.

Here we go! First, second and third place in the Not-in-Costa Rica Bird Feeder Contest

First place with 17 species: Charles and Sara Beeson-Jones from Fen Ditton, United Kingdom.

  1. Blackbird (male and female) – Turdus merula
  2. Greenfinch – Carduelis chloris
  3. Goldfinch – Carduelis carduelis
  4. Long Tailed Tit – Aegithalos caudatus
  5. Blue Tit – Parus caeruleus
  6. Great Tit – Parus major
  7. Woodpigeon – Columba palumbus
  8. Collared Dove – Streptopelia decaocto
  9. Robin – Erithacus rubecula
  10. Pheasant (male and female) – Phasianus colchicus
  11. Hedge Accentor (also called Dunnock) – Prunella modularis
  12. Carrion Crow – Corvus corone
  13. Blackcap – Sylvia atricapilla
  14. Magpie – Pica pica
  15. Great Spotted Woodpecker – Dendrocopos major
  16. Chaffinch (male) – Fringilla coelebs
  17. Jay – Garrulus glandarius

Second place with 16 species, Judy Richardson from Connecticut, U.S.A.

1.  Northern Cardinal
2.  American Goldfinch
3.  White throated Sparrow
4.  Dark eyed Junco
5.  Song Sparrow
6.  Mourning Dove
7.  Black capped Chickadee
8.  Carolina wren
9.  House Finch
10. Eastern Tufted Titmouse
11.  Blue Jay
12. Red bellied Woodpecker
13. White roasted Nuthatch
14. House Sparrow
15. Chipping Sparrow
16. European Starling

Third place with 11 species, Peter and Petra Heck from the Netherlands,.

  1. House Sparrow
  2. Hedge Sparrow / Dunnock
  3. Blue Tit
  4. Great Tit
  5. Robin
  6. Jackdaw
  7. Blackbird
  8. Chaffinch
  9. Greenfinch
  10. Turkish turtle dove
  11. Wood Pigeon

Next, our Photo Contest Winners.

Winner of the Birds Having a Meal photo Jo Davidson.

(Swallow-tailed Kite dining)

Winner of the Birds in Action photo; Peter/Petra Heck.

(Little Red Robin in snow)

Winner of Still Life photo; Jo Davidson.

(Yard plants resembling a Post-Impressionist painting)

Lastly, our Bird Art Winners.

Four bird paintings created during the month of February were entered. All four are equally deserving of First Place! Here they are, in no particular order.

Lydia Vogt’s Three Wood Storks

Helen LeVasseur’s Gray-cowled Wood-rail.

Julie Gerard’s Fiery-billed Aracari.

Lydia Vogt’s Golden-browed Chlorophonia.

We hope you enjoyed this posting. And thank you for your continued support of the San Vito Bird Club.

Where We Bird: Las Pangas

Rice is nice. Rice fields are also an AB-SO-LUTE-LY fantastic habitat in which to observe and study birds.

When I’m not here in San Vito I also live near California’s Sacramento Valley, which is also a wonderful rice field/bird observing destination; home to hundreds of thousands of migrating wildfowl as they move from Canada and the Arctic down the Pacific Flyway.

Sandhill Cranes: photo courtesy of Chico Enterprise-Record

We are fortunate to have the rice fields of Las Pangas very near to us in San Vito (see directions below). A tour of Las Pangas has become a vital destination for birders who live in or visit the southern zone. As with the northern rice field habitat, Las Pangas hosts thousands upon thousands of migrating ducks and other shorebirds that are seldom otherwise seen. Just this year (2021) several birders were able to view and to photograph the White-cheeked Pintail duck; normally exclusive to South America. Our profound wet season this year inundated Las Pangas with much higher than normal water levels, providing greater resting and feeding space for these often weary migrants. Several birders have told me that Las Pangas rivals the wetlands of Palo Verde up in Guanacaste.

Las Pangas is also home to several bird species seen almost no where else in Costa Rica; Scrub Greenlet, Rusty-margined Flycatcher and Brown-throated Parakeet to name but a few.

But I know why you’re here and it’s not to read…it’s to see bird photos from our wonderful local naturalists. I get it…I get it…and I’m fine with it.

Roseate Spoonbill, Wood stork and Snowy Egrets: photo courtesy of Helen LeVasseur
Savannah Hawk: photo courtesy of Randall Jimenez (how about those long legs!)
Paint-billed Crake: photo courtesy of David Rodriguez Arias (one of the most secretive birds in the world)
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture: photo courtesy of Yeimiri Badilla
Red-breasted Meadowlark: photo courtesy of Helen LeVasseur
Fork-tailed Flycatcher: photo courtesy of Randall Jimenez

How to get to Las Pangas? When you get to Ciudad Neily crossroad, don’t turn right, don’t turn left…go straight. Follow the signs to Coto 47. Take the rural road on the right, just before you cross the first big bridge. This road is an ‘up-and-back’ road, not a loop. Four-wheel drive recommended but not necessary in the dry season.

Oh…and probably a good idea to wear shoes.

Photo courtesy of Helen LeVasseur (she wanted me to go stand by it to give it scale but I wouldn’t do it.)

It’s February: Contest Rules and Reminder

February is here. Just reminding you of our modified contest for 2021 and the rules.

  1. If you are a San Vito Bird Club member living in a country other than Costa Rica (and we know there are many of you), send us a list of the birds you see on your feeder during the month of February, 2021.
  2. If you are a San Vito Bird Club member living in Costa Rica, send me a few (no more than five) of your best bird photographs TAKEN DURING THE MONTH OF FEBRUARY, 2021. Photo categories are: a. Rarities b. Birds in action c. Birds having a meal d. Baby birds e. Still life Send to:
  3. If you are a San Vito Bird Club member living anywhere in the known (or even the unknown) universe, send a photo of any bird-related artwork you CREATED DURING THE MONTH OF FEBRUARY, 2021. Again, send to:

Feb. 2021: A Modified Contest!

February is the traditional month for our long-standing ‘Bird Feeder Contest’. This year, 2021, we must break with tradition. Why? The country of Costa Rica has a nationwide policy against the feeding of wildlife. And while the focus of this policy seems to be on eliminating people feeding terrestrial and marine mammals and reptiles, the policy does not exclude the feeding of Costa Rican birdlife.

***We cannot in good conscience promote a contest that flies (if you will) in the face of this policy.***

Life is full of paradoxes, as you all know. Just look at the photo below. Actually this is more of a ‘pair of ducks’ than a ‘paradox’; but the intent of our Bird Feeder Contest has always been to promote an appreciation of birds…to get folks to spend more time observing and identifying our avifauna; not to in any way do them harm.

I truly believe we were extremely successful in that intent of promoting bird appreciation. And so…this year we must go in a different direction to achieve that goal.

Here is how YOU can participate!

  1. If you are a San Vito Bird Club member living in a country other than Costa Rica (and we know there are many of you), send us a list of the birds you see on your feeder during the month of February, 2021.
  2. If you are a San Vito Bird Club member living in Costa Rica, send me a few (no more than five) of your best bird photographs TAKEN DURING THE MONTH OF FEBRUARY, 2021. Photo categories are: a. Rarities b. Birds in action c. Birds having a meal d. Baby birds e. Still life Send to:
  3. If you are a San Vito Bird Club member living anywhere in the known (or even the unknown) universe, send a photo of any bird-related artwork you CREATED DURING THE MONTH OF FEBRUARY, 2021. Again, send to:

Some time during early March, 2021 we will post your efforts from the three categories above on this website and on Facebook.

Thanks for your understanding and participation and please continue to support the San Vito Bird Club with your generous donations.

Where We Bird–The Magic Road

What makes The Magic Road a magic road? Unlike Dorothy’s magic road (made of some curious yellow brick-like material), our Magic Road will not entice you to an Emerald City with a Wizard. But our Magic Road COULD tickle your fancy with an Emerald Toucanet with a lizard (sorry). Located just 20 meters north of El Tangaral (see blue dot above), the Magic Road has become an increasingly popular birding destination. A birding hot spot, if you will.

With a nice mix of disturbed secondary forest, open pasture, low scrubby plants and a variety of seed-bearing annual grasses, birders are likely to encounter many species that are rarely seen in dense forest or closed canopy rainforest. For example; all three of our Spinetail species are regularly seen on the Magic Road.

Sooty Spinetail- photo courtesy of Pepe Castiblanco
Pale-breasted Spinetail-photo courtesy of Pepe Castiblanco
Red-faced Spinetail-photo courtesy of Pepe Castiblanco

The Magic Road is also home to some of our specialty birds…those species that birders often come down here just to see. The first one is the Scaled Pigeon; very large and spectacularly marked.

Scaled Pigeon-photo courtesy of Jo Davidson

The next is truly a ‘birder’s bird’; the Bran-colored Flycatcher (who knew bran was a color?)

Bran-colored Flycatcher-photo courtesy of Yeimiri Badilla

Here is the dynamic Swallow-tailed Kite; also known as the Tijereta (scissor bird).

Swallow-tailed Kite-photo courtesy of Jo Davidson

The term Magic Road really began to stick when birders started seeing some very rare species (often migrants) on their walks. Here are two of our recent rarities; the Sora, a migrant rail species and the Mississippi Kite; a very rare passage migrant raptor.

Sora-photo courtesy of Pepe Castiblanco
Mississippi Kite-courtesy of Pepe Castiblanco

We’ll leave you with our San Vito Bird Club banner bird; the Turquoise Cotinga…also seen on the Magic Road (this one is a youngster).

photo courtesy of Troy Edson-Smith

Enjoy the solitude, enjoy the panoramic scenery of the Magic Road. You never know…’X’ may mark the spot where you see something really special!

Where We Bird: A San Vito Bird Club Guide to Our Coto Brus Hot Spots (coming soon)

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021 we’ll be presenting a series of bi-monthly articles we call ‘Where We Bird’. In each article you’ll read a brief description of a particular birding locale from our area and more importantly…you’ll see several photos of the birds frequently (or infrequently) seen at that site. Photos are taken by SVBC members and by our colleagues from the Pajareros del Sur. Here are just a few of the birding sites we’ll be sharing with you:

Las Cruces/Wilson Botanical Gardens

The Magic Road/Camino Majico

Finca Cantaros Environmental Center

Rio Negro

The Porro Road

Cerro Paraguas

Coto 47

We hope you’ll enjoy these articles and the photos!

Ask the Experts: #10

We all love a good scare, from time to time; or more precisely we all enjoy hearing about a good scare. Here are three scares that happened while guiding or birding, as reported by three of our Experts. (FYI: this will be the final Ask the Expert column for a while. Hope you enjoyed this feature.)

From SVBC member Anzu Matsuyama; Kobe, Japan.
‘What is the most frightening experience you have ever had while birding or guiding?’

David Rodriguez Arias: Tropical Biologist and natural history guide in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Each day of a birding trip with customers is not easy. You always have to be attentive to any kind of circumstances that could happen. Probably the most scary one I experienced so far was the day I was with a couple in the Caño Negro Wetlands. That day we decided to go all the way up an observation tower that is in the protected area. The idea was to check for American White Pelicans that were hanging around the area. When we were at the top of the tower (almost 60 ft high), one of my clients did not see a hole that was in the floor and he  fell into it! Luckily he got stuck when half of his body was passing through the hole. After we helped him up, one of his legs was covered with blood, so we came down from the tower and started to clean his leg. At the end of the day I was so happy to think that this guy only got a scratch on his leg, and there was no greater tragedy. And lucky for us, the story has two happy endings: the next day we did find the flock of American White Pelicans!

Greg Homer: Natural History and Birding Guide–retired.

In Australia they often say, ‘Most everything down here is either poisonous, venomous or just in a bloody bad mood.’

I was escorting 20 clients on a remote stretch of beach on an even more remote island in the Great Barrier Reef for a day of snorkeling, exploring and lunch. Two of the clients were not comfortable in water so I stayed with them on the beach while another guide lead the snorkelers.

‘Hey Greg!’ I heard one of my clients shout, from about 100 meters down the beach.

‘What?’ I responded. (When you’re guiding 20 people you hear that same shouted phrase about 48 times each day…equalling twice per hour.)

‘There are some snakes on the beach!’

‘Do they have big heads or little heads?’ I replied. Knowing that there were harmless Children’s Pythons in that area and that Children’s Pythons have big wide heads, while the extremely deadly Brown Snakes (also common) have narrow little heads. No sense running the 100 meters for nothing, right?

‘Little heads!’


Sure enough, this client had stumbled into a group of about 5-8 young (but very deadly) Brown Snakes.

No harm done to anyone and I found out I could run the 100 meter dash in 11.3 seconds which is not bad in beach sand, wearing sandals.

Basil (Baz) Kirilenko: Owner and Operator of Mindo Valley Tours; Mindo, Ecuador

Without a doubt, this was the scariest experience I have had while guiding. One of my clients–an extremely enthusiastic, charming and energetic woman (in other words, the PERFECT client)–stood looking out at water birds on a beautiful lake about an hour before an apricot-colored sunset. One might say this was one of life’s perfect moments. Except…except…except, she was standing square on a fire ant mound. I don’t know how many fire ant stings she took but in a very short time, her leg swelled up to twice its normal size and her face became quite red. Clearly an allergic reaction was occurring and anaphylaxis could be next. I iced down her swollen leg and I loaded up the rest of my tourists and drove, very fortunately, only about 45 minutes to a small rural medical clinic. The staff there were quite familiar with fire ant symptoms and gave her antihistamines and some pain killers. After a night in that clinic she was fine and once again became the perfect client!

Ask the Experts: #9

In this episode our Experts are confronted with a wonderful fantasy. Let’s see how they respond.

From SVBC member Hayden Delevan; Willows, California:

Hi guys, here’s a fantasy. You stop to help out some helpless dude who has a flat tire.  The guy turns out to be multi-billionaire Bill Gates.  Mr. Gates says, ‘Hey, thank you so much.  As a reward, here’s my credit card.  I want you to go birding at three places, anywhere in the world.’  What are the three places you would go to?

Pepe Castiblanco: Co-owner and proprietor of Casa Botania B&B and professional birding and nature guide.

First, I need to finish seeing and visiting my own country and some places I haven’t been to. Second, I would go to South America and see at least Brazil and Colombia. Third, visit any country with the most birds of paradise, whether it is Papua or Sulawesi or Indonesia or all three. That’s what Billy G will sponsor me to go to!

Uzvaldo Franzinni: Monthly contributor to the Zanti Journal of Ornithology.

I have always been fascinated and irresistibly drawn to the remote islands of the world. There is something so alluring about the biogeography of islands; they are often home to unusual endemic bird species. And we, as naturalists, are just goofy for endemic species, in case you didn’t know.

And so first of all I would say, ‘Thank you Mr. Gates but rewarding me for helping out another human being is not necessary. But since you are Bill Gates and perhaps it is money that you have and peace that you have not, I will accept your most generous gift. And be assured Mr. Gates, I will send you an email with a photo from each of my three destinations (using a Microsoft product).’

My three desinations:

  1. Easter Island; WAAAY off the coast of Chile. I might even find time to look at those weird stone monuments.
  2. Bruny Island; an island off of an island off of an island. Bruny Island is south of the island of Tasmania, which is south of Australia.
  3. Your very own Cocos Island.

David Rodriguez Arias: Tropical Biologist and natural history guide in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

I think every single birder would love to experience a fantasy like this one. The three places I would choose are: 

  1. Papua New Guinea: It is well-known that most naturalists have the thought of going to this side of the world. With all the stunning feathered and non-feathered creatures, this island is a place I always keep in my mind to go one day.
  2. Colombia, the country with the most species of birds reported: I am still waiting to go to this side of the tropics and enjoy all the habitats this nation offers, from sea level, up to the Andes and the Amazonian forest.
  3. Australia: the name of this country brings up a lot of wonderful memories from my childhood watching Blue Planet. This massive piece of land definitely is a place I would love to go one day to experience all the stunning wild life in real life.

I just hope Mr. Gates will soon pass near Finca Cántaros.

(ps, from Greg Homer: The San Vito Poker Club would also welcome Mr. Gates along with Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos to our next poker game.)

Book Club Members Discuss a B.A.O. (big-ass owl)

Shown below, San Vito Bird Club members discussing their most recent book club selection ‘Owls of the Eastern Ice, A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl’.

(Row 1: top left–Charles and Sara Beeson-Jones, Lydia Vogt. Row 2: Helen LeVasseur, Jennifer Talbot, Julie Girard. Row 3: Alison Olivieri, Jean Schroeder)

The world’s biggest owl; from the book.

Ask the Experts: #8

Do bird song playback devices do any harm? Let’s ask our experts.

From SVBC member Elizabeth Van Pelt from Devon PA:

Hello San Vito Bird Club Experts!

As a long-time birder and believer in ‘going with guides’, I find myself more and more uncomfortable with too much guide-generated playback to attract birds’ attention and get them closer to the group. It seems to me this practice forces birds to use energy to check the source of the calls/songs, fight off ‘intruders’ and otherwise engage in extra, unnecessary behaviors. How do you, as professional guides, suggest I handle this?

Pepe Castiblanco: Co-owner and proprietor of Casa Botania B&B and professional birding and nature guide.

Playback has always been a topic of division between both bird guides and birders. On one hand we have the birder that travels thousands of kilometers to see as much as possible in two weeks and on the other hand you have the guide that wants you to be happy and satisfied with his/her sightings. However, there is an ethical paradox because most of your success as a guide for that particular customer or in general as a guide that wants to give a good tour, will depend on playback in order to produce and materialize as many and as exciting bird species as possible.What I do in that regard is to evaluate the situation and know my birds. If someone asks me to find a Bran-coloured Flycatcher in January, is very likely that I will wait to hear the call and walk in that direction instead of playing it back since I know that they are nesting and I won’t under any circumstances, do it myself or allow anybody in my group to do it cause I have the moral authority and the ethical obligation to do so. When a bird is not in a nesting season and I’m playing it back and it doesn’t react after hearing the first couple of calls, it’s also a very clear sign that it’s not interested and I won’t play it any longer. So there are some times when we don’t use it:Nesting, feeding and mating season,and when we don’t have a reaction from the bird. For the rest, I could play it a couple of times for the bird to come out from behind a tree and move a couple of feet to the side so we can see it. If it stays long enough for the picture, that’s a bonus but seeing it should be enough.

Omar Sidebe: Turacao Tours owner and guide, Loango National Park, Gabon (Africa)

Oh my goodness, as to the use of bird song playback devices it is a question of degree. Just as with ice cream bars…to much is not good but once in a while is most pleasant.

Birds are quite robust and generally not the frail creatures some think. Birds are perfectly capable of handling a bit of added stress now and again; it may even strengthen and embolden them. Playback devices do, indeed, cause them added stress. But we must also remember, stress that comes when these same birds see a group of massive upright bipedal primates walking through their neighborhoods…’pishing and pishing and pishing’.

Playback devices? Limit the frequency and duration of the playback; the birds will be fine. And limit your ice cream bar intake too!

David Rodriguez Arias: Tropical Biologist and natural history guide in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

As guides, this is one of the most interesting and important aspects that we have to deal with. Using playback to attract birds works most of the time. Nevertheless, those aspects you are concerned about, in terms of what we are really doing to the birds, is still unknown. Based on my experience, using playback to attract one specific species is sometimes the best tool I can use. There are customers who really like birds and like to get at least a glimpse of one target, but in some situations these people cannot go right into the place where the bird is found. I think at times it is better to attract the bird to us, instead of going deep into the bushes with the risk of being bitten by a venomous snake. I know people who say: “You don’t need to do that, go and look for some other species.” But we all (as birders) know the joy we have when we can find that nemesis we have been chasing forever.

I have to be very clear about this, because I know there are always people who just want to find a bird, no matter the way. Those guides/customers are the ones who sometimes show less respect for Nature. Nowadays there are different ways to use a song or a call of a bird, so my recommendation is if you want to use them, remember we don’t know exactly how the playback is affecting the species we want to attract, so be careful to use playback for short periods of time and not close to the nesting areas. And always keep in mind that no matter how careful you are, you are still affecting the routine of the species you would like to find.

(Black-chested Jay responding to a playback recording; courtesy of Helen LeVasseur)