Here’s to You, Bird Taxonomists!

We’re often scornful of bird taxonomists. Most often this is due their use of nomenclature…the bird names they come up with. These bird names can frequently be counter-intuitive. We find bird names that do not appear to describe what our eyes tell us. We even see bird names that use obscure (even bizarre) terminology.  For example:

The Green Heron isn’t really green; at least no one would ever say, ‘Hey, look at that green heron over there.’

Green Heron: photo from public domain

The Mistletoe-Paltry-Mistletoe Tyrannulet; Taxonomists changed the perfectly named Mistletoe Tyrannulet (so named because this little bird is often found eating Mistletoe/Mata Palo berries) to the bizarrely named Paltry Tyrannulet. Paltry?  Isn’t that a term most often associated with a weekly salary?  ‘How am I supposed to live on this paltry sum?’  To their credit, the taxonomists changed it back a couple of years ago!

The Gartered Trogon?  Gartered? Aren’t garters something from the era of Jane Austin and Arthur Conan Doyle?  What was wrong with Violaceous Trogon?  

Yes, taxonomist decisions often vex us.  In return we give them a lot of heat.  So maybe it’s time we turn down the heat…let’s now give these troubled (and possibly lonely) souls some love.  Please join me and raise a glass of cheer to some of the wonderful bird names the taxonomists have come up with over the years.  Here are a few bird names that fit that particular bird to a TEE!

Roadside Hawk: My guess is the office-bound taxonomists were staring down at the skin of this bird but were stumped to come up with a name.  The head taxonomist probably decided to ask a field biologist for some insight; ‘Hey,’ they asked.   ‘Where do you find these hawks?’ and the simple answer from the field biologist came back, ‘We always find them alongside a road.’  Hence, the perfect name was born…a name based on the bird’s behavior.  This same process likely occurred with our next bird.

Roadside Hawk: photo courtesy of Helen LeVasseur

Social Flycatcher: ‘’These birds’ replied the field biologist when asked by the taxonomist, ‘like to hang out around people and with other members of their clan.’  And a great name was born.

Social Flycatcher: photo courtesy of Julie Girard

Double-striped Thick-knee: Looks like a giant Plover or shore bird with a couple of stripes but it has tremendously thick knees.  Voila, a great name.

Double-striped Thickknee: photo from public domain

And my favorite of all taxonomist christened bird names: the Eye-ringed Flatbill.  The entire name is a perfect descriptor of this otherwise bland appearing bird.   Both the eye ring and the flat shaped bill are quite prominent.  Here’s my theory as to how such a perfect name was able to get through the traditional taxonomist sticky nomenclature web……..It was about 10 minutes to 5pm on a Friday.  The annual Bird Taxonomists’ Ball and Cotillion was scheduled to begin at 7pm.  So, rather than come up with an obscure, counter-intuitive name for this bird the head taxonomist just threw up his hands and said, ‘Oh hell, just called it an Eye-ringed Flatbill and let’s go to the party.

Eye-ringed Flatbill: photo from public domain

Bird Taxonomists…here’s to you!  Who else could come up with over a dozen different names for the color RED.

Taxonomy Changes: 2021

(From San Vito Bird Club Taxonomy Tsar, Jo Davidson)

Not even a global pandemic can keep the Taxonomists of the American Ornithology Society from their appointed duties. Right on schedule, as always, they have announced the classification changes for this year. I’ll start with the three birds that have changes to both their English and scientific names.
Let’s begin with one of my local favorites. The Rufous-capped Warbler has been split into two separate species:

Rufous-capped Warbler (Basileuterus rufifrons)
Chestnut-capped Warbler (Basileuterus delattrii)

Chestnut-capped Warbler: photo by Jo Davidson

The easiest way to differentiate the two is that the Chestnut-capped Warbler has an entirely yellow
belly, and in the Rufous-capped, the lower portion of the belly is grey. There are other small differences, but they are very difficult to distinguish in the field. All the pictures I have taken in Coto Brus are of what is now called the Chestnut-capped, so I am guessing that one is more abundant in our usual birding spots.

Next on the list is the Tropical Gnatcatcher, which has also been split:
White-browed Gnatcatcher (Polioptila bilineata)
Tropical Gnatcatcher (Polioptila plumbea)

The Costa Rican species is now called White-browed Gnatcatcher. The species retaining the Tropical Gnatcatcher name resides in South America.

There is also a split of the Sedge Wren:

Grass Wren (Cistothorus platensis)
Sedge Wren (Cistothorus stellaris)

The Costa Rica resident species, which has an astonishingly small range in the Cartago area, is now called the Grass Wren. Note that the scientific name has not changed. The other species, which kept the English name but was assigned a new scientific name, is found in the U.S. and Canada.

Finally, here are the birds which have had changes to their scientific names only:
Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianum) is now Nannopterum brasilianum
Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway) is now Caracara plancus
Striped Owl (Pseudoscops clamator) is now Asio clamator
Elegant Euphonia (Euphonia elegantissima) is now Chlorophonia elegantissima
Magenta-throated Woodstar  (Calliphlox bryantae) is now Philodice bryantae

Until next year, Happy Birding!

Calling All Parrots: (of the Southern Zone)

Crimson-fronted Parakeet (Crimsy): photo by Pepe Castiblanco

I think I know why we like parrots so much.

  1. They are colorful and pretty birds.
  2. They are good family birds, many mating for life with each parent providing for the young.
  3. They just LOVE TO TALK!

And so for your approval, I present some photos of our southern zone parrots; all taken by our local SBVC photographers.

We have three true ‘parrots’ around San Vito and all three are quite common. Parrots have a short, squared tail, as opposed to parakeets who have a pointy tail. The first parrot is the Brown-hooded Parrot. Look for that bright-white eye-ring.

Brown-hooded Parrot: photo by Alison Olivieri

Next is my personal favorite, the Blue-headed Parrot.

Blue-headed Parrot: photo by Jo Davidson

The last of this triad is the White-crowned Parrot; quite similar to the Blue-head above.

White-crowned Parrot: photo by Jo Davidson

Next, we have two members of the Amazon Parrot group. Amazons are big, stocky parrots. Almost always green and always noisy. The Mealy Parrot (below) is the largest of all the Amazon parrots. It’s call is ‘YAK-YAK-YAK’.

Mealy Parrot: photo by Jo Davidson

A little smaller and somewhat more common, the Red-lored Parrot is a frequent inhabitant of the palm plantations. It’s call is ‘SO-QUICK SO-QUICK’.

Red-lored Parrot: photo by Helen LeVasseur
Red-lored Parrot: photo by Helen LeVasseur

Seemingly everyone’s first parrot family sighting in the southern zone, the Crimson-fronted Parakeet is almost always seen flying or roosting communally. There are few guarantees in bird watching but finding these guys in the Botanical Garden palm tree by the back gate comes pretty close.

Crimson-fronted Parakeet: photo by Jo Davidson

We have a couple of specialty parakeets found in the southern zone; one up high, one down low. Let’s start with lowland one; the Brown-throated Parakeet. Once again, big white eye-ring.

Brown-throated Parakeet: photo by Helen LeVasseur

Up in the highlands (Las Tablas for example) is the beautiful Sulpher-winged Parakeet.

Sulpher-winged Parakeets: photo by Pepe Castiblanco

A tiny little parakeet, gregarious in nature and sounding like a flock of Budgies, the Orange-chinned Parakeet can be found in downtown San Vito feeding on flowering trees. The orange chin can be hard to see…but it’s there.

Orange-chinned Parakeet: photo by Helen LeVasseur

From the smallest to the biggest; Scarlet Macaw populations have thankfully made a profound comeback in the last 25 years. Unmistakable when seen but surprisingly, the Scarlet Macaw can almost disappear within the leaves of an Almendro (almond) tree. Their call? Think of a bronchitis clinic.

Scarlet Macaw: photo by Helen LeVasseur

There is one more member of the parrot family found in the southern zone; the Barred Parakeet. Living in the extreme highlands, the Barred Parakeet is a specialist feeder, dining on the seeds of our native bamboo. The next time our native bamboo flowers and then produces seeds, we should see them up on the Paraguas ridge. When that happens please take some pictures…I don’t have a single one!

The San Vito Bird Club does not condone keeping any parrot as a pet or cage bird.

Birds We Rarely See (possibly because they don’t want to be seen): part II

Oilbird: photo courtesy of Randall Jimenez

The bird you see above is an extreme rarity…the Oilbird. Rarely seen for three reasons:

  1. It is a nocturnal bird and is dressed in the colors of the night.
  2. It lives primarily in caves during the day.
  3. It is,,,rare. To learn more about the Oilbird, one of the most unusual bird species on Earth, follow the link below. But be sure to come back.

Now let’s have a look at some more of our local birds; those with subtile and clandestine coloration.

Ruddy Foliage-gleaner: photo courtesy of David Rodriguez Arias.

A lot of birders come down to Coto Brus to see rarities and localized species. These species are often referred to as ‘target birds’. The Ruddy Foliage-gleaner (above) is definitely one of our most targeted. You’ll hear it more often than see it; and almost always in the lower stratum of the forest.

Rose-throated Becard (female): photo courtesy of Randall Jimenez
Barred Becard (male): photo courtesy of Randall Jimenez

A bit like Cotingas, a bit like Flycatchers the Becards are an interesting family. Dressed in subtile and elegant earth-tones you’ll find them (if you’re lucky and quick) in the upper middle to canopy level of our forests. Both the Rose-throated Becard (the first one above) and the Barred Becard (just above) have distinct sexual dimorphism; meaning males and females look different. But all Becards seem to have heads just a little too big for their bodies.

Brown-billed Scythebill: photo courtesy of David Rodriguez Arias

If you ever need a bird to retrieve the last olive out of the olive jar, may I suggest the Brown-billed Scythebill (above). One of our many Woodcreeper species; all having a shadowy brown coloration and robust calls.

Black-and-White Owl: photo courtesy of Randall Jimenez

For the gloriously-marked Black-and-Whitle Owl (above), a bright street light on a clear, dark night has all the attraction of a full buffet to a hungry tourist. Big moths and other nocturnal insects are irresistibly attracted to bright lights…Black-and-White Owls are irresistibly attracted to big moths (and bats!). As Walt Disney taught us; IT’S THE CIRCLE…THE CIRCLE OF LIFE.

Birds We Rarely See (but would like to see more often). Part 1

Do birders like colorful birds more than drab birds? That’s a tough question…but the answer is clearly a YES! However, when two or more birders get together you will often hear them waxing rhapsodic about such features as ‘…that subtile bran-colored wash on the primaries‘ ‘…a slight pinkish tinge on the lower mandible‘ and especially ‘…wing bars‘; we just LOVE talking about wing bars.

But when beautiful, colorful, charismatic birds (like the ones below) show up, birders turn into little kids who have been let into an ice cream shop.

So, yes; we like pretty birds more than drab birds just like everyone else.

The photos below, all submitted by our good friend Pepe Castiblanco, are examples of colorful, beautiful and charismatic birds that we rarely see but would like to see more often.

Turquoise Cotinga: photo by Pepe Castiblanco
Resplendent Quetzal: photo by Pepe Castiblanco
Rosy Thrush Tanager: photo by Pepe Castiblanco
Golden-browed Chlorophonia: photo by Pepe Castiblanco

Next week, on ‘Birds We Rarely See‘ the focus will be on some of those bird species that are less brightly colored and with more subtile beauty…and possibly wing bars.

ps: If I ever open a saloon for birders I’m going to call it ‘The Wing Bar’.

Surprise Bonus! Where We Bird

I’m not recommending you should drop everything you’re doing and speed out to this spot; but our Bonus Where We Bird location does have a couple of nice birds you can add to your list. The location is the Rio Java Gas Station (between the BM supermarket and Grupo Materiales). These two species are not your typical stand-offish, I-must-have-privacy, please be quiet birds. These two species seem to just LOVE being around us humans…with all of our noises and smells and dropped potato chips.

The House Sparrow and the Gray-breasted Martin.

Please enjoy watching these two species when you are there. They are as worthy of our time and admiration as any of the other 900 bird species in Costa Rica.

It’s Time for…Kids’ Korner!

This week, Kids’ Korner brings us a question from Mandi Prudehomme, age 8, from Toulouse, France. She writes:

‘Dear Uncle Greg. Do birds have teeth?’

‘Hi Mandi and thank you for asking that wonderful question. No, birds do not have teeth. But it’s easy to see why you could become confused and think that birds have teeth. Several cartoon birds do have teeth. See the pictures below. But cartoon birds are not real birds. Real birds do hot have teeth.’

Welcome to New SVBC Members and Neighbors

Tom and Kim

A very warm and enthusiastic San Vito Bird Club welcome to Tom Johnson and Kimberly Dawson; new members and new neighbors. These two great birders have settled into their new home in Santa Teresa de Sabalito and plan to become active in the San Vito Bird Club.

Tom and Kim are both long time birders; Tom for over 30 years and Kim for over 8 years. Kim is also a skilled photographer (see her work below). They hail from west and southern Texas (a great birding area) and have participated in many birding tours including Belize. But, as with us all, they have fallen and fallen hard for Coto Brus.

Please join me in welcoming them.

(Hopefully, we’ll be doing some bird walks very soon!)

Photos from Kim Dawson:

Barred Antshrike-male. Taken on the Magic Road, March 17th.
Yellow-throated Toucan in nest. Tres Rios, March 17th.
Bay-headed Tanager
Scarlet-thighed Dacnis-male.

Where We Bird: Cerro Paraguas

In ‘Where We Bird’ we have tried to show you some diverse and exciting birding sites…locations and ecosystems that are no more than one hour’s drive from downtown San Vito. We’ve taken you to the steamy rice fields of Las Pangas…the explosion of color on the Poro Road…the tunnel-like walk through the forests of Rio Negro…the world famous diversity of the Wilson Botanical Garden…and the never-ending surprises of the Magic Road. This, our last entry in the series, is quite different; Cerro Paraguas.

A genuine cloud forest habitat, Cerro Paraguas is closer to San Vito than you might think. See that long, high ridge to the west of Linda Vista? The one with the tall tower. The one almost always blanketed in clouds? That is the Cerro Paraguas. The entrance for us (see below) is the gravel road to the right just past Wilson Garden (as you’re heading down the hill).

Follow that road…up, up, up. Four-wheel drive recommended but it can be done without. Keep your eyes open and your windows down as you traverse the hilly route. Eventually, (less than a half hour) you’ll find yourself in a new habitat; a tropical cloud forest. FYI: A cloud forest gets much of its moisture from daily cloud and fog condensation. You’ll find some beautiful primary forest near the top and in that forest are some bird species we rarely, if ever, see down in San Vito. One species of note is the Black-faced Solitaire (or Jilguero). This lovely gray and black bird delivers the iconic sound of the cloud forest; a sound like an other-worldly flute being played by some other-worldly flautist. Click on the link below and then click the ‘LISTEN’ button to hear it. There is a photo below as well.

Here then are some of the inhabitants of…Cerro Paraguas.

Black-faced Solitaire; photo courtesy of Pepe Castiblanco.
Golden-browed Chlorophonia; photo courtesy of Marilin Saldana.
Red-headed Barbet; photo courtesy of Yeimiri Badilla.
Black-throated Jay; photo courtesy of Yeimiri Badilla.
Northern Emerald Toucanet; photo courtesy of Yeimiri Badilla.

There are of course many more bird species to be seen and photographed. And for you wild-eyed botanists, Cerro Paraguas will keep you busy as a bee for several trips to come.

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.