About hhull3

Photographer, creator of mandalagraphs.com photo blog, editorial consultant.

P.O.W.-Week #1/F.D.L.S.-Semana #1

Congratulations/Felicidades a Donna Goodwin y Gail Hull.

Theme: Local extremes! Extremos locales!

Photo/Foto #1: massive and beautiful King Vulture; taken in late May 2016 at El Tangaral. Photo by Donna Goodwin.


Photo/Foto #2: Costa Rica’s smallest woodpecker; the bold but tiny Olivaceous Piculet. Photo by Gail Hull.

Olivaceous Piculet, photo by Gail Hull


To learn how to submit your photos for P.O.W., click here.

Happy Holidays! Felices Fiestas!

(Sigue en español)

Happy Holidays to All!

We hope you enjoy our beautiful 2015 Holiday Card — a unique greeting created by SVBC Communications Committee chair, Harry Hull.

To one and all, we extend very best wishes for warm and wonderful holidays and a good New Year to come.

From 2015’s Executive Committee:

Alison Olivieri, Greg Homer, Lydia Vogt, Fred Schroeder & Harry Hull

Click image to view full size. If viewing this on the SVBC website, then click the back arrow on your browser to return to this post.

Click image to view full size. If viewing this on the SVBC website, then click the back arrow on your browser to return to this post.

Those interested in seeing more ‘mandalagraphs’ can visit Harry’s photo blog at mandalagraphs.com

Felices fiestas a todos!

Esperamos que todos ustedes disfruten nuestra nueva tarjeta 2015 especialmente creada por miembro Harry Hull.

Esta tarjeta es una manera única y hermosa de extender nuestros mejores deseos de unas felices fiestas y prosperó año nuevo.

Comité Ejecutivo del 2015:

Alison Olivieri, Greg Homer, Lydia Vogt, Fred Schroeder & Harry Hull

Si quiere ver mas ‘mandalagraphs’, vaya al sitio web de Harry: manadalagraphs.com.

Bird Walk Report: White-ruffed Manakin Lek

Looking for manakins. Photo by Harry Hull.

Looking for manakins. Photo by Harry Hull.

This story comes under the category of “Things That Go on While You’re Doing the Laundry” because we know now — thanks to Colleen Nell and Dave Janas — White-ruffed Manakins are dancing in a nearby forest! On Saturday, June 20, Colleen and Dave led us to a mossy log along the Rio Java Trail that these tiny black and white birds have chosen as a ‘lek’ in the OTS Las Cruces forest.

What, actually, is a lek? Well, it’s a little bit like a Single’s Bar but far more enchanting: leks are arenas where males display competitively to entice visiting females to have sex. (Several kinds of birds, including hermit hummingbirds, cock-of-the-rock, grouse, birds of paradise and pihas, as well as some fish, butterflies, moths and orchid bees use leks.)

We were not lucky enough to see the manakins do their thrilling displays but most of us saw them flying around and we saw two predators in the area — likely attracted by the goings-on — a Double-toothed Kite and a Roadside Hawk.

Thanks to the technical know-how of Harry Hull, you can see a short video of a full display from the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s Macaulay Library collection, by clicking here. This opens a video player in a separate tab/window in your browser where you can play the video by clicking on the “go” arrow. (Close that tab/window to return to this post.) In the clip, two males with bulging ruffs compete for the attention of a female. Both males do the “Butterfly Flight” that Colleen described as part of the display and then they dance in step on the log. Finally, as the female waits, both males, one after the other, do a stupendous aerial dive that ends with a flip and a loud mechanical wing flap!

Hiking the Rio Java Trail, Front left Dave Janas, Intern Norman Liu, Alison Olivieri. Photo by Harry Hull.

Hiking the Rio Java Trail. Front, from left, Dave Janas, Intern Norman Liu, Alison Olivieri. Photo by Harry Hull.

We are grateful to W. Alice Boyle who made this video (and more) in the course of her research on this species in Costa Rica in March 2009. Our guide Colleen worked as a field assistant for Megan Jones at Rara Avis on this very project. Colleen is currently at work on her PhD dissertation at the University of California Irvine. Dave Janas, well known to SVBC bird walk participants, will start working at Las Cruces/Wilson Botanical Garden as the staff horticulturist on July 1.

Happy Holidays! Felices Fiestas!

(Sigue en español)

Happy Holidays to All!

We hope you enjoy our beautiful 2014 Holiday Card — a unique greeting created by SVBC VP Harry Hull.

To one and all, we extend very best wishes for warm and wonderful holidays and a good New Year to come.

From 2014’s Executive Committee:

Alison Olivieri, Harry Hull, Lydia Vogt and Fred Schroeder

SVBC Holiday card 2014

Click image to view full size. If viewing this on the SVBC website, then click the back arrow on your browser to return to this post.

Those interested in seeing more ‘mandalagraphs’ can visit Harry’s photo blog at mandalagraphs.com

Felices fiestas a todos!

Esperamos que todos ustedes disfruten nuestra nueva tarjeta 2014 especialmente creada por el VP del SVBC, Harry Hull. Esta tarjeta es una manera única y hermosa de extender nuestros mejores deseos de unas felices fiestas y prosperó año nuevo.

Comité Ejecutivo del 2014:

Alison Olivieri, Harry Hull, Lydia Vogt y Fred Schroeder

Si quiere ver mas ‘mandalagraphs’, vaya al sitio web de Harry: manadalagraphs.com.

Costa Rica birding applications revisited

by Harry Hull

Bird apps for Costa Rica have now been around for several years, and this post revisits the birding applications (“apps”) dedicated to Costa Rica’s rich bird life that I reviewed in March 2013: Costa Rica Birds Field Guide and BirdSounds Costa Rica. Both apps are now available for Android devices as well as Apple mobile devices—iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.

costaricabirds-appCosta Rica Birds Field Guide, published by Birding Field Guides. $14.99 for full version, $2.99 for Basic version  for Apple iOS 8.0 or later for iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. $9.99 for full version, $2.99 for Basic version for Android 2.3.3 and later. Size: 405 MB (full version); 206 MB (Basic). This app became available in January of 2012 in the iTunes Store, and is now also available on Google Play. It has steadily been improved as the publishers continue to add species, photos, and sounds. It considers itself the first digital field guide completely focused on birds that are seen in Costa Rica. (The publisher also has an app for the birds of Panama.) Michael Mullin, head of programming for Birding Field Guides, expects this app to make it easier for eco-tourists and birders of all levels of experience to identify and learn about Costa Rican birds with images, range maps, and text for more than 890 species. Vocalizations of more than 660 bird species are also included along with a search filter and other features. The latest full version now seems appropriate for serious birders as well as more casual bird enthusiast visitors to Costa Rica.

Basic features of the full version:

  • All Costa Rica bird species are listed. (The Basic version covers 360 of “the most spectacular and commonly encountered bird species”, appropriate for more casual birders.)
  • Photographs for more than 890 species.
  • Range map for each bird.
  • Description, including field marks and habitat for each bird.
  • Bird sounds for around 660 species.
  • Extensive search options, including searching by name, by “Group” (for example, “Barbets & Toucans”), by Family (for example, “Accipitridae”), and detailed search filters (for example, “Region” and “Stratum”; “Color[s] (2)” and “Size”, “Head Pattern”, etc.). [“Stratum” indicates whether the bird frequents the “Understory”, “Mid Canopy”, “High Canopy”, “Ground”, “Sky” or “Water”.]
  • New “Similar Species” feature allows quick comparison of field sightings.
  • Place for personal notes, recording GPS position, and ability to email notes.
  • Ability to access device’s camera and photos from within the app.

My take: Based on my use of the app on my iPhone, I find the data included in the app quite well organized and easy to navigate, with the search functions comprehensive and pretty intuitive; and the latest version of the app is very comprehensive, enough to be a digital substitute for a paper guide, especially if you’re only a visitor to Costa Rica.

birdsounds-costa-rica-appBirdSounds Costa Rica, published by Bernard Geling/BirdingApps (they don’t yet have a new website up and running as of this writing). $19.99 for full version, free for Lite version; requires Apple iOS 5.1 or later for iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. The same price for the full  version (and free for Lite) on Android 2.3.3 and later. Size: 1.02 GB for the full version, slightly less for Android version; 69.5 MB for the Lite version. This app became available in January of 2013 in the iTunes Store, and is now also available for Android devices on Google Play. This app is dedicated exclusively to an extensive collection of bird sound recordings: there are no bird photos, range maps, or other data about the birds covered. According to the publisher, BirdSounds of Costa Rica is “the perfect complement to your paper field guide to the birds of Costa Rica;” however, the most recent version of the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app reviewed above has bird sounds for about 660 species, so some might not feel this is as essential as it once was. All of the sounds are included in the app, so there is no need to connect to the internet to access sounds or other content. This is why the full version of the app is in the hefty 1 GB range.

Basic features of the full version:

  • More than 2000 recordings for 764 species of birds found in Costa Rica, a pretty high percentage of the species found here, leaving about 80-90 species unrecorded. (The Lite version covers 133 recordings for only 30 species, clearly a teaser version.) There are multiple recordings for most birds.
  • Several playback modes, including ability to automatically repeat a single track or all of the tracks for a species. There are no annoying voice-overs identifying the bird or track number.
  • Extensive search options, including browsing by Group (for example, Tinamous, Pigeons & Doves; Parrots & Parakeets), by first or last name of the bird, or by typing in any part of a bird or species name.
  • A customizable list of favorite species for quick access.
  • A list of the 20 most recently accessed species.
  • Information behind most of the recordings, including where and when the recording was made and by whom.

My take: I’ve found the bird sounds included in the app of good quality, quite comprehensive and easy to access. The automatic repeat playback mode is really handy if you’re in the field and want to play the bird sound several times in succession without having to resort to the controls. While there are still about 10% of Costa Rica’s bird species not yet included, this is an app worth considering as an audio complement to your bird guidebook; however, now that the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app reviewed above has bird sounds for about 660 species, this app might be less compelling.

birdeye-costarica-appBirdsEye Costa Rica, published by Birds in The Hand. $9.99 for Apple iOS 7.0 or later; Size: 13.4 MB. This app became available in May 2014, after my initial review of Costa Rica birding apps, and I hasten to add at the outset that I have not yet used this app for reasons I’ll mention below. A “free” app for Android 4.1 and later–BirdsEye Bird Finding Guide–purports to do much the same thing but to also cover birding “around the world”; but “in-app purchases” ranging from $0.99 to $79.99 mean the actual cost for Costa Rica use isn’t clear.

This app is somewhat of a hybrid in that it requires an active internet connection in order to access images and bird sounds “for the first time”. (A companion Birds of Costa Rica Sound Collection data base can be purchased and downloaded from the publisher for $24.99 that can then also be installed on your device  via the BirdsEye Costa Rica app.) The description of the app on iTunes contains these caveats: “BirdsEye is not a field guide” (although it’s claimed to be “an indispensable field tool for finding birds”). The bird sounds accessible on the app “are available only for the migrants from North America.” And as mentioned, an active internet connection is required for to access eBird sightings for your location and “to download images and sounds for the first time. Photos are available for more than 95% species but are missing for a few birds that are rare in Costa Rica.”

One of the key features of this app seems to be access to the eBird data base that could give you “up to the minute” updates on species seen in your location. (The app is described as being “powered by eBird,” and all purchases of the BirdsEye app helps support the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, a good thing!) For all practical purposes, this requires that you to have a cellular data internet connection, something not that reliable in many birding areas and certainly not practical for most casual visitors to Costa Rica who don’t sign up for a cellular data plan during their visit. The description of the app also mentions the requirement to sign up for a free Birds in the Hand account in order to take advantage of some customization features (personal bird lists, etc.) and an optional $4.99 monthly BirdsEye Membership “to unlock all the media available in the app for each bird (new photos and updates available daily)” and other search and bird list features. It’s somewhat unclear if this membership requirement applies for access to the basic “media” (especially photos) for the app or only new media, whatever that might mean.

My take. Because the more straightforward Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app reviewed above requires no internet connection to use in the field (only to download from the relevant app store), I am not inclined to pursue this app further. However, if anyone reading this has used this app in Costa Rica, I’d welcome your thoughts. It’s certainly possible that by not personally trying the app,  I’m not doing it justice here.

Some last thoughts. In 2013, shortly after I wrote my initial review of these apps,  I ran into Robert Dean, co-author of Garriques & Dean’s The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide, and he confirmed that an app based on this popular field guide is underway. One of his goals is that the app be as complete digitally as his field guide is in the print media, with the addition of other features such as bird sounds, photos, and access options that digital guides can so readily provide. Presumably, such an app will also include Robert Dean’s wonderful bird illustrations. I suspect that when this app eventually appears–and as of this writing, it still hasn’t–it will likely become the best Costa Rica bird app available.

At last–a website for the SVBC!

Harry Hull (Photo: Gail Hull)

In this age of the ever-expanding Internet, the San Vito Bird Club is excited to have its dream of its own website finally “hatch”! As the Club’s activities expanded, communicating more frequently with its members than the twice-annual Newsletter became more desirable, and we’re confident the website will accomplish that and much more besides.

As chairman of the Club’s Communications Committee (“CommComm”) appointed by Club president, Alison Olivieri late last summer to bring a website into being, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on the process of developing a website and the potential that it creates as well as give recognition to the key contributors (to date!).

Creating a website for a small organization such as the SVBC seems at first a rather straight-forward task: make it primarily a vehicle for announcing–and reporting on–the Club’s activities, throw in some of the “content” that the Club has generated over its relatively short history (like the old Newsletters and a few publications), and liven it up with plenty of photos, one of the great attractions of the Newsletters. The CommComm quickly realized that this view of what a website could be did not do justice to the powerful medium of the Internet: the observation that if a picture is worth a thousand words, a website is worth a million gives you the idea. The structure of the site grew to include topics and “content” that would be of interest to visitors to this corner of Costa Rica, whether real or virtual. So the site is enhanced with a Gallery of Local Birds and a guide to the best birding sites that will be of interest to almost any birder curious about the species special to our area and how best to see them. Plus there are links to websites useful for birders and travelers to Costa Rica in general. And of course, the site is a perfect way to explain what the SVBC is all about–its mission, goals, and projects past and present.

One of the greatest challenges for me personally has been reining in my ambitions for the website. The more we learn about the wealth of information “out there” relevant to the Club’s interests, the more tempting it is to find a way to make this information easily accessible from the site. Keeping the focus on what is really unique about our organization and location has kept the “construction” process from getting out of hand! But this doesn’t stop us from expanding the site over time into subjects that are dear to our hearts and mission. For example, we plan to add information on what to do if you encounter an injured bird, or what organizations to contact for birding trips.

A quick comment on the kind of website we’ve chosen. We decided early on that the website had to be easy for the Club’s leadership to personally maintain without having to become expert at HTML and the complexities of sophisticated websites. This led us to WordPress.com, a web-based website creation system developed primarily for bloggers. You’ve no doubt visited many such sites, perhaps without realizing it. WordPress.com (WP) is also very economical–free if you don’t want a few bells and whistles such as a custom domain name (like our sanvitobirdclub.org). And WP has a zillion “themes” or pre-designed “looks” from which to choose. This does limit control over a lot of possible website design features; but for our modest purposes, such limitations in no way frustrate our goals for the site, and, as it turns out, help satisfy our requirement for a web-masterless site. We’re very happy with the results and hope you will be, too.

Finally, I’d like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Liz Allen, a great friend of the Club with experience in creating custom websites, who has been our technical guide as well as frontline site developer using the WordPress system. It is comforting for us that she will continue to be a resource for us as the Club takes over the responsibility for managing the site. And the other members of the CommComm–Alison Olivieri and Lydia Vogt (the Club’s Secretary)–who have put in many hours of work, from brainstorming to content wrangling, should also take a virtual bow. It’s been a real pleasure working with such a dedicated–and jolly!–team.

So please, explore our site! Let us know what you think, and information you’d like included. And if you really like what you see, consider joining the Club… With your involvement, the sky’s the limit!

Trip to Drake Bay, Feb 24-27, 2012

Summer Days on the Pacific Ocean at Drake Bay

by Gail Hull

Expedition members less photographer. (Photo: Dave Woolley)

(Please see the slide show of photos and complete bird list at the end of this article.)

Eight members of the San Vito Bird Club took a three-night trip to Las Caletas Lodge, just south of Drake Bay on Costa Rica’s famous Osa Peninsula from February 24-27. Fred and Jean Schroeder, Michael and Alison Olivieri, organizer Julie Girard and her husband, Dave Woolley, and my husband, Harry, and I enjoyed a marvelous get-away with unexpected good fortune. Part of the felicitous luck was owed to Jim Zook, ornithologist and bird guide extraordinaire, joining San Vito Bird Club members for the fourth consecutive year of the club’s annual outings.

After an early morning departure from San Vito, we stopped en route at a junction near the town of Rincon, where a new bridge offers a wide vantage point over the Rincon River. In just minutes a pair of Scarlet Macaws flew and squawked overhead, and soon thereafter we were delighted by a coveted sighting of several Yellow-billed Cotingas doing some aerial gymnastics over the towering trees on both the lowland side and the forested hill next to the river.

Fording one of the creeks. (Photo: Dave Woolley)

The gravel road from Rincon to the village of Agujitas on Drake Bay is in very good condition, but it can only be driven in the dry season due to various creeks that must be forded. The trip took less than an hour.

Las Caletas Lodge arranged the boat pick-up at the Agujitas beach, where we left our cars. It is just a 10-minute boat ride to Las Caletas beach, and a few minutes walk to the hill-top rustic cabins. After lunch in the Lodge’s family-style dining area, we spent the afternoon settling in and enjoying the vistas and rich bird life right on the property overlooking the Pacific to the southwest and the coastline in the distance to the northeast.

Las Caletas Lodge mirador. (Photo: Harry Hull)

On Day Two most of us opted for the main event of the trip—a visit to renowned Corcovado National Park (CNP), a wildlife refuge large enough to sustain populations of jaguars and tapirs, as well as the more common mammals. After a dawn breakfast, eight of us took a fast boat almost an hour further south to a beach near the La Sirena entrance to the Park, pausing en route near some off-shore rocks where we saw Brown Boobies and Brown Pelicans.

Trekking along the beach near Sirena. (Photo: Harry Hull)

Then, upon arriving at the rocky beach at La Sirena, we saw a Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstones, a Least Sandpiper, and at least one Spotted Sandpiper among other shorebirds.

Red Brocket Deer. (Photo: Julie Girard)

Fortunately, we were joined by José Huertas, our Lodge’s resident naturalist guide, who was familiar with the trails of CNP. Very dry conditions prevailed, as they do over the whole Pacific region in January and February, but the rain forest habitat of primary and transitional secondary forest did not disappoint. Some of the high points for birders were the Long-tailed Woodcreeper; a Great Curassow, making its strange, deep and loud humming notes; a Common Potoo, cryptic but unusually active at its very high perch; a Great Tinamou; Baird’s Trogon; a Double-toothed Kite carrying nesting material, and a group of Tawny-crowned Greenlets. (See below for complete bird list.) Before the end of the walk we also saw two unexpected mammals—an adult Red Brocket Deer, about the size of a large dog; and oh-joy-of-joys, an adult Baird’sTapir. For many of us this was a thrill beyond compare. The tapir was snoozing in a muddy creek bed, cooling off under forest cover barely 50 yards from the beach. The sudden fall from a tree of a scrapping White-Nosed Coati, of which there were a half dozen or more between us and the tapir, woke the hippo-like tapir from its nap, and we were able to get some photos of its face from a safe distance. These animals can be dangerous, as are hippos, if one finds oneself between a mother and baby. During the four-hour forest walk we had also seen many Howler and Spider Monkeys.

Scarlet Macaws necking. (Photo: Julie Girard)

On the way back to Las Caletas after our picnic lunch, we enjoyed the company of dolphins swimming along off the bow and either side of the boat.

Our afternoons were relaxing, and the birding on the lodge grounds was superb. Imagine lounge chairs, hammocks, views of distant cruise ships, rainbows, cumulous clouds and a constant variety of bird species flying into and out of trees on all sides. A Scarlet Macaw pair preened and then did falling somersaults in either a mating act or a playful tumble. The hummingbirds, such as the Charming Hummingbird, kept us entertained in the verbena bushes covered with flowers just a few feet away. Overhead in the Cecropia trees, a pair of Golden-naped Woodpeckers were busy hunting ants.

Relaxing at the Lodge. (Photo: Harry Hull)

Northern Tamandua (anteater) near the Lodge. (Photo: Julie Girard)

Julie Girard was the one guest who encountered a Northern Tamandua (anteater), another exciting and uncommon sight, just about 25 meters from the Lodge. Julie did a super job organizing the trip, so she deserved this extra reward!

This was a perfect trip for both very experienced birders and some of the rest of us who are not exactly gifted practitioners of the art. All were very amply rewarded for their patience and passion for feathered friends as well as four-legged creatures.

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Golden-hooded Tanager nesting

Several weeks ago, Gail Hull spotted Golden-hooded Tanagers building a nest in one of the jaboticaba bushes near Laguna Zoncho at Finca Cántaros, and now, we assume, there are eggs in the nest being brooded. I shot the photos in the slide slow below of the female (?) Golden-hooded Tanager sitting in the nest. Frequently, the bird has its beak open as though panting, so I’m guessing that it was hot or tired. Harry Hull

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SVBC Trips

When the next overnight trip has been planned, it will be announced here! Our last trip was Feb 24-27, 2012 to Las Caletas Lodge on Drake’s Bay near Corcovado National Park, Osa Peninsula. (See the trip report by Gail Hull here.)