Ask the Experts: #5

Please join me in welcoming back our three birding Experts as they once again answer a birding question as submitted by our most excellent San Vito Bird Club members.

Jim Zook: Professional ornithologist, bird population specialist for Stanford University and co-author of ‘The Wildlife of Costa Rica‘. https://www.amazon.com/Wildlife-Costa-Rica-Tropical-Publications/dp/0801476100/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&qid=1595426723&refinements=p_27%3AJim+Zook&s=books&sr=1-1&text=Jim+Zook

Pepe Castiblanco: Co-owner and proprietor of Casa Botania B&B and professional birding and nature guide. https://www.casabotania.com/en-gb

David Rodriguez Arias: Tropical Biologist and natural history guide in Monteverde, Costa Rica. https://www.facebook.com/david.rodriguezarias

QUESTION #5: From SVBC member Vincent Albright; Hall’s Gap, Victoria in Australia.
‘On my previous two visits to Costa Rica I’ve been fascinated by the diversity of your Flycatchers.  There are SO many different species!  Can you provide some tips on how I can best learn to identify them?’

Pepe: If you were looking for the most diverse family of birds of America, stop. You found it. Flycatchers are fascinating birds that range from very local to long distance migrants. All of them eat insects, except for the ones who don’t! (bad joke). Despite their name, many had been the pressures that have split these birds in over 400 species across America, going from bright scarlet, to dull gray/brown, long crests and tails to tiny pigmy tyrants, true insect catchers to berry eaters. 

So how can you ID them? 

Insect eaters are very acrobatic and like to jump up in the air in pursuit of a fly. So they mostly perch on a bare branch or a place with visual advantage. Easier to spot since most of them have a yellow belly-breast and are dull brown or gray on the back. Great Kiskadees or Social Flycatchers are great example. Their color patterns and their blatant nature helps them find themselves or confirm if a perch is free or taken. Fruit eaters are more passive. Their prey is not going anywhere so you can find them among the foliage of fruiting trees like ficus, melastomes, rubiaceae family or berry bushes. A couple fruit eaters have long crests and tails like the Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher or the Yellow-bellied Elaenia. Their colors are also very subtle. Most blend with the foliage. The deeper you go in the forest, the harder it will get to find and ID them for they turn almost invisible to the inexperienced eye and their colors get dark green, gray, rusty and their size gets smaller and so their physical appearance also varies a lot. So you can have super specialized birds like the Bentbills, or the Todies. All insect eaters but filling a different niche and found at various levels of the forest. 

Field guides and apps like Merlin are good companions to have but a local expert will be ideal to help you pick them out by call, habits or even bill shapes.

Below, a couple of extreme bill size differences between a Boat-billed Flycatcher and a Black-capped Flycatcher.

(photos courtesy of Pepe Castiblanco)

Jim: Yes, there are a bunch of flycatchers in Costa Rica. The Tyrannidae, or Tyrant Flycatchers (to distinguish them from Old World Flycatchers) is represented in Costa Rica by 81 species (mas o menos). Some of those are very rare species that have only been seen a few times here, others are migrants that are present only during the northern hemisphere winter or during migration, but at any one birding spot in the country one can expect to encounter regularly 10 to 20 different species – more if you include the rarer possibilities. One key is to know what the common species are in any given area, and learn to identify them well first. Then you’ll have a base for comparison and if you see something odd you can ask yourself “why isn’t this one of the common species?” Less common species are often associated with specific micro-habitats, so knowing what a species prefers is also important as in “that looks like a Yellow Tyrannulet, but those are only found in short, scrubby vegetation and we are in dense forest, so we can rule that out”. If you have to focus on one physical trait I’d say pay close attention to the bill – It’s length and width, color, and if bicolored the pattern, shape of bill tip (hooked or not), etc. But probably the best trick is to learn the vocalizations as that will be the key for separating those little green and gray birds that all look the same.

David: You’re right about the flycatchers diversity, in fact it is the most diverse family. It’s a new world family, which means that it is distributed only in the Americas. My recommendation is to observe the behavior; for example, flycatchers fly to try and catch an insect and then return to the same perch, making a loop. You can also learn the song and the call. When you’re fed up you catch them and analyze their features up close, because you when you catch them you can observe special characteristics on the primary and secondary feathers (I am talking about the Empidonax genus). You will understand that sometimes it is so difficult to identify them that you just give up and go to look for some other birds.

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Reminder: Do you have a birding question you’d like to ask our Experts? Send it to…

eltangaral@gmail.com

Ask the Experts: Question #4

Welcome to Question #4 of our Ask the Experts feature where each week we pose one of your questions to our birding experts and then see their responses.

Please welcome this week’s two birding experts:

Pepe Castiblanco: Co-owner and proprietor of Casa Botania B&B and professional birding and nature guide. https://www.casabotania.com/en-gb

David Rodriguez Arias: Tropical Biologist and natural history guide in Monteverde, Costa Rica. https://www.facebook.com/david.rodriguezarias

Question #4: (from SVBC member Janelle Boyett-Hinds from Winnipeg, Canada) ‘I was visiting San Vito (and other parts of Costa Rica) I noticed some bird species could be found all over the place.  In particular, the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Scarlet-rumped Tanager and the Clay-colored Thrush.  Why are these species so successful?’

Pepe: Just as there are many species that don’t tolerate habitats with human impact, there are also species that won’t survive in primary forests. At some point in the evolutionary race, many saw the potential and wide range of food opportunities in the urban areas and adapted to them. Birds exist longer than humans and topographic and/or climatological changes were back then the trigger that would push a species to split into two or several more species. When humans also took part in that game by building cities, roads and plantations, birds did what they had been doing already for millions of years: they continued adapting. Our Thrushes and dear Grackles are no exception to that. Many others couldn’t find a quick way to adapt and disappeared as fast as new species replaced them filling the empty niches. Humans did that too until the Homo sapiens took over.

David: Surely there are others reasons in addition to what I am going to say, but in my opinion, these species of birds evolved in a such an interesting way that allows them to be adapted to live in different habitats. No doubt diet is one of the main reasons they can live in different places. There is a variety of things they can eat: worms, pollen, nectar, fruits, insects, seeds, spiders… The fitness of these species is definitely way stronger than the fitness of some other species that need a specific habitat, or elevation in order to nest and survive.

The best part of all this is that they all are special, one with amazing flight adaptation, one with a beautiful combination of colours on its feathers, and finally, one with a lovely melody.

Land Use Survey: You Can Participate!

The San Vito Bird Club is pleased to introduce you to Savannah Lenhert, a Graduate Student from Northern Arizona University. Ms. Lehnert is requesting your help.

*****

Estimado Señor,

Soy una estudiante de maestría en Northern Arizona University y estoy trabajando en un estudio acerca de la administración de la tierra y programas de conservación del gobierno. Me gustaría saber sus opiniones y preferencias en la administración de la tierra y los programas que ofrece el gobierno. Esto nos ayudará a entender las necesidades de los propietarios en Coto Brus, y nos ayudará a contemplar maneras para hacer la tierra más accesible para la vida silvestre. La encuesta sólo le tomará 5 – 10 minutos, y sus respuestas serán totalmente anónimas. 

Usted podrá llenar la encuesta una sola vez, pero es libre de compartirla con otras personas en su domicilio o comunidad. Como agradecimiento por llenar la encuesta, usted puede elegir a participar en una rifa para ganar una orden de compra en Súpermercado BM. Para llenar la encuesta por favor haga clic en el link: http://nau.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_5ywGwIM8dKTQk9n

Si tiene preguntas me puede contactar por correo a: sll378@nau.edu 

Muchas gracias por su participación.

Savannah Lehnert

*****

Greetings, 

I am a Master’s student at Northern Arizona University and am conducting research on land management and government conservation programs. I would love to hear from you about your preferences for land management and thoughts on government programs. This will help us to understand the needs of land managers and landowners in Coto Brus, and consider ways for making the landscape more accessible to wildlife. The survey should only take 5 to 10 minutes, and your responses will be completely anonymous.

You can take the survey once, and are free to share the survey link with others in your household or community. As a big thank you for taking the survey, you can choose to enter in a raffle to win a $40 gift card to Súpermercado BM.  To take the survey, please click on the link: http://nau.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_5ywGwIM8dKTQk9n

If you have any questions about the survey, please email me: sll378@nau.edu

I really appreciate your input!

Savannah Lehnert

Ask the Experts: Question #3

Welcome to Question #3 of our Ask the Experts feature where each week we pose one of your questions to our birding experts and then see their responses.

Please welcome this week’s two birding experts:

Jim Zook: Professional ornithologist, bird population specialist for Stanford University and co-author of ‘The Wildlife of Costa Rica‘. https://www.amazon.com/Wildlife-Costa-Rica-Tropical-Publications/dp/0801476100/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&qid=1595426723&refinements=p_27%3AJim+Zook&s=books&sr=1-1&text=Jim+Zook

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

Question #3: What are your thoughts on bird feeders? Do they help the birds or is it possible they do some harm. From SVBC member Ellen Beckett.

*****The San Vito Bird Club recognizes that Costa Rica currently has a nationwide policy forbidding the feeding of wildlife. Please do not interpret this article…or the responses from our Exerts…as giving permission or approval to feed Costa Rican wildlife.*****

Jim Zook: I feel that feeders can provide a valuable opportunity for wildlife appreciation and thereby education. The negative impact on birds can be reduced by limiting the size of feeding stations and set-ups and the frequency at which they are replenished, by maintaining the quality of food and the cleanliness of the entire operation and by locating feeders where exposure to predators or window strikes is minimized. Bigger, all day feeding setups that are poorly sited, stocked with inappropriate food and that fail to practice proper hygiene would certainly be more likely to cause problems. For tourist operations a good feeding setup can be a major added attraction, even to the point of becoming legendary (think of Cope’s or the Monteverde Hummingbird Garden) and I don’t think it’s right to deny them the option of having a well run feeder. Perhaps there could be some kind of certification. An outright ban is certainly the easiest solution.

Basil (Baz) Kirilenko: Our main concern is, and always should be, the protection of wildlife. Let’s remember, the wildlife has been here longer than we have…a lot longer…and wildlife has thrived successfully without our food augmentation. But as a young boy I remember sitting near a platform feeder (with guidebook and Tasco binoculars in hand) enthralled by the diversity of life so close at hand. That experience proved to be very influential in my future life’s work and no doubt the same goes for many other naturalists. Yes, this is a paradox. Great…just what we need right now…another paradox.

Ask the Experts: Question #2

Welcome to Question #2 of our Ask the Experts feature where each week we pose one of your questions to our three birding experts and then see their responses.

Please welcome this week’s three birding experts:

Pepe Castiblanco: Co-owner and proprietor of Casa Botania B&B and professional birding and nature guide. https://www.casabotania.com/en-gb

David Rodriguez Arias: Tropical Biologist and natural history guide in Monteverde, Costa Rica. https://www.facebook.com/david.rodriguezarias

Uzvaldo Franzini: Birding guide and monthly contributor to the prestigious Zanti Journal of Zoological Sciences.

Question #2: (from San Vito Bird Club member David Fielding) ‘The Sunbittern’s wings, when spread, each have a big beautiful eye-like spot. What do you suppose is the evolutionary reason for that spot? Is it to scare away predators? Is it to attract a mate? Are the wings spread to display the spot during courtship? . . . Or is it for both reasons?’

Pepe: This is a question that goes beyond my knowledge and has to be answered based on my observations in the field. Two things trigger the bird to display the ‘sunset’ or evil eyed patterns: gliding and landing and/or deterring others to approach their nesting site by standing between the nest and the intruder and lowering its head and spreading its wings fully. Does it work now? Will it have to adapt through the next thousand years? Very likely yes to both questions. For now, all we can do is enjoy every sighting with respect and keeping our distance discreetly. 

Below, a picture of the wing display when landing on a rock in Turrialba.

(photo by Pepe Castiblanco)

David: That’s an excellent question! As far as I know, the Sunbittern (both male and female) use the spots on their wings to communicate both things. They use the spots to express their interest in each other, or to sound the alarm when there is an intruder in their territory. We can’t forget that those colours look different to them, because the spectrum of colours that birds see is wider. 

And since we’re talking about the Sunbittern, I would like to share something else interesting about its closest relative. The Kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus) is found in New Caledonia, and because of this, it is believed that at one time they shared the same habitat in Gondwana. With Continental Drift, however, the two species were separated. 

I hope one day those readers who haven’t seen the Sunbittern yet have the opportunity to marvel at this stunning species!

Uzvaldo: I am reminded of that great song by Donnie and Marie Osmond; ‘A Little Bit Country-A Little Bit Rock ‘N Roll’.

I love the Sunbittern.  It’s one of those birds existing in its very own private family (Eurypygidae).  The Sunbittern’s appearance gives us ‘a little bit of this and a little bit of that’.  Imagine if evolution tried something new…combining the best parts of a heron with the best parts of a rail.  Then, to top off the experiment, evolution added some spectacular colors and bold eye-spots on the wings.  Are the eye-spots for defensive purposes?  Are the spots there to attract a mate?  Once again we have a situation where we get ‘a little bit of this and a little bit of that’.  Most researches suspect both purposes are in play!  

I can think of another Costa Rican bird that uses the ‘a little bit of this and a little bit of that’ evolutionary strategy; our very own Rufous-tailed Jacamar.  Even though the Jacamar is not closely related to hummingbirds or to kingfishers, it looks a little like both of them.

*****

Please continue to send your questions for our panel of experts. Send to:

eltangaral@gmail.com

Ask the Experts: Question #1

Please join me in welcoming our three birding Experts as you San Vito Bird Club members have your birding questions answered on a weekly basis:

Jim Zook: Professional ornithologist, bird population specialist for Stanford University and co-author of ‘The Wildlife of Costa Rica‘. https://www.amazon.com/Wildlife-Costa-Rica-Tropical-Publications/dp/0801476100/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&qid=1595426723&refinements=p_27%3AJim+Zook&s=books&sr=1-1&text=Jim+Zook

Pepe Castiblanco: Co-owner and proprietor of Casa Botania B&B and professional birding and nature guide. https://www.casabotania.com/en-gb

David Rodriguez Arias: Tropical Biologist and natural history guide in Monteverde, Costa Rica. https://www.facebook.com/david.rodriguezarias

QUESTION #1: What family of Costa Rican birds are your favorites?  And why?

Pepe Castiblanco: Wrens are by far my choice. They not only have a unique physical characteristics that differentiate each one of them but they also have a remarkable sense of rhythm, making them the most musical family of all, battling each other in complicated musical lines when one of them often starts the phrase and the other one completes it making a perfect composition worth of a Grammy or a Figaro selection!

Jim Zook: Too many to pick just one. My favorite family to listen to is the Troglodytidae (Wrens). Think Song Wren. My favorite family for common names is the Trochilidae (Hummingbirds). Snowcap, Coquette, Woodstar, Mountain-gem. My favorite migrant family, the ones I most miss when they aren’t here? Parulidae (Wood Warblers). My favorite family name is the Rhinocryptidae. Camouflaged Rhinoceroses? Sorry, it’s just the Tapaculos. My favorite new family is the Rhodinocichlidae (Rosy Thrush-Tanager). If ever there was a species deserving of its own family this is it. Favorite pelagic bird family and the one most likely to produce some stunning surprise? Procellariidae (Tubenoses). But the family that has probably been my favorite, ever since I started birding, is the Accipitridae (Hawks). Lot’s of old familiar faces and challenges that still make my heart soar, plus the possibility of something new – that Harpy Eagle that’s out there waiting for me.

David Rodriquez Arias: It is hard to tell which are my favorites family, but well, here I give you three that I like the most. My favorite family of birds of Costa Rica is Trogonidae, because my first project when I started getting in touch with birds at my university was about Trogons. Also, thanks to my father (who is a farmer) I have been in touch with Quetzals since I was 5 years old, due to I went with him to his farm, and Quetzals were nearby us. So, that also made me focus in this family when I was at the university.

I also like the Charadriidae (plovers and sandpiper-like birds) family, because of the incredible journeys they do every season. I always think about all the things they can see during their migration movements. I also like to watch them when they go to rest. All together in a small place, sometimes hundreds of individuals of different species sharing that place they have chosen.

And the last one is Trochilidae (hummingbirds), because of the amazing adaptations they evolved to survive in different habitats. I also like the way how the evolved to fly and their stunning plumages. Moreover, they play an important role in the forest, another incredible adaptation of natural selection between a bird with a plant.

Thank you gentlemen for your responses; insightful and wise.

Next week we pose Question #2, which was submitted by SVBC member David Fielding:

‘The Sunbittern’s wings, when spread, each have a big beautiful eye-like spot. What do you suppose is the evolutionary reason for that spot? Is it to scare away predators? Is it to attract a mate? Are the wings spread to display the spot during courtship? . . . Or is it for both reasons?’

New Feature Coming Next Week: Ask the Experts!

A new feature for the San Vito Bird Club website is coming next week; and YOU can be part of it! We call it…

Ask the Experts

Each week (or maybe a little less) we will be posing a birding related question to our panel of three experts. Our three Experts are:

Pepe Castiblanco-Local business owner, long time birding guide and photographer.

Jim Zook-Long time professional ornithologist and occasional guide.

David Rodriguez Arias-Top birding guide and photographer from Monteverde.

The three Experts will provide a short answer to your questions based upon their years of field experience and knowledge.

Please feel free to pose a birding related question to the three Experts. Send your questions to:

eltangaral@gmail.com

Our first ‘Ask the Experts’ posting will appear next Thursday, July 23rd.

Hairy Black Caterpillars

A wild roller coaster ride. That phrase describes the fluctuating annual population numbers of many insects. Some years insect ‘X’ is just EVERYWHERE! Other years, insect ‘X’ just can’t be found.

This year, that wild roller coaster is apparently nearing its apex for hairy black caterpillars! (see photo below) I’ll bet you’ve noticed them all over the place.

I’m sure Dr. Daniel Janzen* knows exactly what these caterpillars will transform into; hell, he probably first named the species. But I do not know the species or even the family. I’ll bet it’s a moth.

Most folks who have been down here for more than a day or two already know the Hairy Caterpillar Cardinal Rule–NEVER TOUCH A HAIRY CATERPILLAR. Those hairs are urticating** hairs and will cause pain, swelling, rash and possibly even a systemic reaction. So, do not touch…no tocar…ne pas toucher…non toccare…不要碰.

*https://www.bio.upenn.edu/people/daniel-janzen

**causing a stinging or prickling sensation like that given by a nettle.”the urticating hairs”.

ps: I’ll bet some of you know the species; let us know.

eltangaral@gmail.com

Taxonomy Update: 2020

If you are looking for something to keep you amused during quarantine, this probably
won’t fill that bill. However, even in these crazy times, the American Ornithology
Society’s North American Classification Committee (NACC) continues its mission to
update the taxonomy of North American birds, and it is my duty to report its decisions.
There are two new English names for Costa Rican birds. These changes were made last
year by the South American Classification Committee (SACC), and so are already
included in eBird and Merlin. The NACC adopted these changes this year.
1) The Paltry Tyrannulet is now officially called Mistletoe Tyrannulet. It’s scientific name
has been changed from Zimmerius vilissimus (which is now Guatemalan Tyrannulet) to
Zimmerius parvus.
2) The Checker-throated Antwren (Epinecrophylla fulviventris) is now Checker-throated
Stipplethroat.
Scientific name changes (In order as presented in Garrigues and Dean’s 2nd edition):
Canivet’s Emerald – Cynanthus canivetii
Coppery-headed Emerald – Microchera cupreiceps
White-tailed Emerald – Microchera chionura
Blue-tailed Hummingbird – Saucerottia cyanura
Snowy-bellied Hummingbird – Saucerottia edward
Sapphire-throated Hummingbird -Chrysuronia coeruleogularis
Blue-chested Hummingbird – Polyerata amabilis
Charming Hummingbird – Polyerata decora
Blue-throated Goldentail – Chlorestes eliciae
Chestnut-backed Antbird – Poliocrania exsul
Dull-mantled Antbird Sipia laemosticta
Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner – Dendroma rufa
White-crowned Manakin – Pseudopipra pipra
White-shouldered Tanager – Loriotus luctuosus
Comb Duck (listed as a rarity in the back of the guide) – Sarkidiornis
sylvicola
For the further edification of anyone who has not fallen asleep by now, the remaining
changes made by the NACC have to do with changing the linear sequences within
groups. For example, in Garrigues and Dean’s second edition, Selasphorus scintilla,
Scintillant Hummingbird, comes before Selasphorus flammula, Volcano Hummingbird. In
future editions, that will change.
To see the complete report of the NACC, you may visit
https://academic.oup.com/auk/article/doi/10.1093/auk/ukaa030/5865308

(Article content and photo below from SBVC ‘Taxonomy Tsar’, Jo Davidson).

Les Oiseaux du Costa Rica: Final

Part III of bird photos from notre bon ami (our good friend/nuestra buen amigo) Jean-Philippe Theilliez. Jean-Philippe has returned to France. We wish him a speedy return.

All photos taken in Costa Rica except the Great Jacamar, which was taken very near…in Panama.

FYI: Note the detail in the Turkey Vulture’s beak. That big hollow space houses the most sophisticated and efficient olfactory (smell detecting) organ in the entire animal kingdom. Turkey Vultures can smell death from several miles away. Their close cousin, the Black Vulture, relies more on their eyesight.