Migration Is On: Sweepstakes Early Spotting Prize to Judy Richardson!

Judy Richardson, photo by Juan Carlos Calvachi

Herewith we announce the Early Migrant Sweepstakes winner: Judy Richardson!

Wait, what? You didn’t realize we had a Migrant Sweepstakes going on? Neither did we until a minute ago. Never mind, we have it now and the first bird reported was a beautiful Orchard Oriole.

Orchard Oriole, photo by Mark Garland

Judy found him in early August at Hacienda Pino Collina, next door to the Wilson Botanical Garden; her home in San Vito where she’s been passing Covid-19 pandemic time birding, gardening, reading and cooking.

Let’s get into the swing of this people! How about we run a Migrant Spotting Contest from now until September 30? Just go outside with your phone and the two apps from Cornell, Merlin and eBird, and get started. Send your list to our Birder-in-Chief Greg Homer at: eltangeral@gmail.com by September 30, 2020 and we will see who finds the most waterthrushes, warblers, flycatchers and more.

Or, if you’re still operating like it is 1970, take a pencil, notepad and the Garrigues and Dean field guide outside and get going with those.

We will give you a prize, promise!

Judy is going to have one of her favorite desserts: Sticky Toffee Pudding with vanilla ice cream — delivered to her door. Just think what you might win?! Yum yum!

Heliconia Help Line: Ask Us Anything!

Excellent field guide by Fred Berry and W. John Kress.

Do you have a hankering to learn to identify something other than birds? How about the wild and beautiful tropical plants called heliconias?

We’ve become hooked on these exuberant blooms recently after walking in the Wilson Botanical Garden Heliconia area where all the plants are sprouting improbably-shaped and wildly-colored inflorescences holding small flowers for hummingbird species with just the right bill. The bills fit perfectly into the varied flowers which, if you weren’t looking closely, you might miss or mistake for detritus, hidden as they are in the bright framework.

Green-crowned Brilliant on the widely-cultivated Heliconia bahai. Photo by Jo Davidson

 

 

In fact, here is the ideal transition photograph by Jo Davidson to move your mind from birds to blooms. This is an ‘early Jo Davidson’, taken in 2009 — one of her first attempts at capturing a hummingbird — this time, a Green-crowned Brilliant.

 

Heliconia lingulata, Peru to Bolivia. Photo by Ellen Beckett

Here is another beauty, an erect yellow showing off in the sun. Geographic distribution of Heliconia is restricted primarily to the American tropics. A disjunct group is found in the Old World tropics from Samao to Sulawesi, all of which have primarily green bracts and flowers with coppery red leaves.

The OTS Las Cruces Biological Station aka Robert and Catherine Wilson Botanical Garden is open for visitors  — a stroll through the newly-renovated Heliconia Garden is worth the trip all by itself but other highlights await, for example, the Maranta Garden, the Pollinator Garden and the Canopy Tower.

At Heliconia Central, on a recent visit, every plant was in bloom and birds were busy investigating available nectar and fruit. So it’s a must-see stop for birders and natural history photographers will hardly be disappointed.

Wipe off your lenses, be they eyeglasses, spotting scopes, binoculars or cameras — it is all out there, waiting for you! Send an email request to visit to: recepcionlc@tropicalstudies.org with the date, number in your party and then just follow the four new rules:

— Wear a mask

— Pay at the Entrance Gate, fee is $10 tourists or $3 residents

— Have your temperature taken

— Wash your hands

Pendant ‘Sexy Pink’. Photo by Julie Girard

We can practically guarantee your spirits will be lifted by some intensely beautiful  tropical plants, feathered delights in every direction and the occasional agouti gambolling across the grounds.

 

 

Bird Walks Coming Soon as Wilson Botanical Garden Re-Opens

Violet Sabrewing, the largest hummingbird in Costa Rica. Photo by Jean-Philippe Thelliez

OTS Las Cruces/Wilson Botanical Garden re-opened to the public yesterday, Friday, June 26. New Rules due to Covid-19 preventive restrictions include mandatory reservations for any kind of visit including Bird Walks. Entrance Fees must be paid at the new Gatehouse; costs are $3 for locals and residents and $10 for non-residents. (The colones equivalent will be calculated at the daily exchange rate.) Masks and hand sanitization are required so bring your mask! Staff will have hand sanitizer at the gate and at Reception.

If you would like to go on your own, please send an email to recepcionlc@tropicalstudies.org, noting the date and time you wish to go and the number of people in your party.

Upright red with yellow trim. Photo by Alison Olivieri

In the coming weeks, we will schedule a SVBC Bird Walk with an imbedded link for you to RSVP. That way, we can make the reservation and keep numbers within an acceptable limit.

Because the pandemic has hit tourism spots very hard, SVBC members must now pay Entrance Fees – additionally, we encourage you to add a donation of whatever you can afford!

Hellzapoppin Heliconias!

Right now, the Heliconia Garden is glorious; nearly every plant is in flower and they are all amazing. As you birders know, hummingbirds are going to be busy in there – nectaring and zipping around — so you will have a double treat if you go soon.

Pendant ‘Sexy Pink’. Photo by Julie Girard

Two of the Country’s Five Jays Have Hit Our Patch!

Brown Jay, photo by Jo Davidson.

Suddenly we have two species of jays to be pursued in San Vito: the garrulous Brown Jay and the far more flamboyant Black-chested Jay.

Brown Jays have been with us for some time now – not in great numbers as in the rest of the country but every so often one or two pop up, giving their “piyah, piyah” call. This usually brings us up short and, as we struggle to place it, this unmistakeable fellow glides into view.  Traveling in “Boisterous parties” is how they are described in the second edition of The Birds of Costa Rica by Garrigues and Dean.

Black-chested Jay. Photo by Pepe Castiblanco.

Meanwhile, Black-chested Jays are far less common with a range formerly restricted to southern Caribbean lowlands. They have been seen sporadically over time in and around Coto Brus; for example near the Panama border at Canas Gordas.  In contrast to their brown cousins, they are described as “. . . a bit more furtive.” But now we have a small flock up in Concepcion, above the Wilson Botanical Garden/Las Cruces, that can often be seen in early morning near the open-on-weekends restaurant Los Jilgueros. In fact, Sr. Gamboa, the owner, is quite attuned to these handsome birds and can often point a hopeful birder in the right direction.

Jays fascinate us for many reasons. They are loud and have a big presence — when you are near a jay you know it. They have personalities with definite likes and dislikes, complex social systems, tight family bonds and some species are good mimics. They’re smart and can solve problems posed by researchers like their fellow corvids, crows and ravens. Often Costa Rican birders who visit the United States come back with the North American Blue Jay at the top of their Favorite Bird list.

Bird Walk Tomorrow: Sunday, October 27!

Northern Waterthrush: a migrant to watch for! Photo by Gail Hull

Please join us for a free Bird Walk at the Wilson Botanical Garden tomorrow morning, October 27, at 7:30 a.m.

As usual, we will meet at the Reception Building and have binoculars and bird guides to share.

Many migrants have arrived in the past several weeks so we will look for them as well as whatever other beauties we can find.

Look forward to seeing you there!

 

Welcome White-winged Doves!

We have been waiting for quite some time for these angelic-looking birds to show up in our beloved southern zone and it appears our vigil might be over.

White-winged Doves. Photo by Jim Zook

First, a pair was spotted in September near La Union de Sabalito by Jim Zook who was on the job doing bird counts for Stanford University. Shortly thereafter, one was found by Randall Jiménez Borbón, a Pajarero Del Sur member and Detectives de Aves teacher, in his garden in Linda Vista just south of San Vito on the road to Ciudad Neily.

In the Stiles and Skutch Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica (published in 1989), they were considered a ‘. . . locally abundant permanent resident in dry Pacific NW, south to Jaco.’ In more recent times, they are described as ‘. . . common resident in northern Pacific and across the Central Valley . . . ‘ by Garrigues and Dean in the second edition of The Birds of Costa Rica. You can see the trajectory; it was just a matter of time.

They are pretty easy to see if you are expecting them: Garrigues describes them as “. . . commensal with humans. . . ” and goes on to say they favor open areas and are often seen feeding along roadsides. They look a lot like Mourning Doves except for the white band down the length of the wing – this is easily seen at rest and a lovely display in flight. Further, Mourning Doves have long, tapered tails and black spots on their wings, both of which are lacking in the Whities.

From November to May, our resident populations are joined by migrants from the southwestern US. The entire range goes from Arizona, New Mexico and Texas in the US; throughout Mexico and down through Central America to western Panama, as well as throughout the Caribbean islands.

Breeding season is January to March, so we will try to keep an eye on the Sabalito pair. And, meanwhile, keep a sharp eye out as they may turn up at your house any day now!

October Big Day: Join Us in the Field on Saturday the 19th!

How to participate

  • Get an eBird account: eBird is a worldwide bird checklist program used by millions of birders. It’s what allows us to compile everyone’s sightings into a single massive October Big Day list—while at the same time collecting the data for scientists to use to better understand birds. Sign up here. It’s 100% free.
  • Watch birds on 19 October: It’s that simple. You don’t need to be a bird expert, or go out all day long. Even 10 minutes in your backyard will help. October Big Day runs from midnight to midnight in your local time zone. You can report birds from anywhere in the world.
  • Enter what you see and hear on eBird: You can enter your sightings via our website or—even easier—download the free eBird Mobile app. You can enter and submit lists while you’re still out birding, and the app will even keep track of how far you’ve walked, so you can focus on watching birds. While you’re downloading free apps, try out the Cornell Lab’s Merlin Bird ID app for help with identification. Please enter sightings before 23 October to be included in our initial results announcement.
  • Watch the sightings roll in: During the day, keep an eye on how the lists are growing in different parts of the world. Follow along with sightings from more than 150 countries. Stats will be updated in real-time on our October Big Day page.

An Exquisite Visitor

Stop the presses! Male Rufous-crested Coquette debuts in San Vito. Photo by Pepe Castiblanco.

For several weeks in September, excitement ruled the birding world of San Vito as a male Rufous-crested Coquette was found feeding at an Inga tree on the road to a nearby neighborhood called Piedra Pintada. It was a THRILLING find — a new species for CR!

This captivating, tiny bird was a source of delight and fascination for the many birders who came running to see it, along with unsuspecting motorists puzzling over the crowd that suddenly appeared daily at 5:30 am clamoring out of cars and off motorcycles with telescopes, tripods, binoculars and cameras.

Look at this flare!

The RCCO has a short history here. It was reported in 2016 and again in 2018 at Rancho Naturalista in Turrialba. In the second edition of The Birds of Costa Rica by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean it is listed in the back under ‘Rarities’. Historically, it is included in A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by Gary Stiles and Alexander Skutch, published in 1989, that cites four male specimens taken near San Jose in 1892 and 1906. It can be found in six other countries: Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.

What about the tail?

Considered ‘uncommon’ where it occurs, it zooms around like a large bee. It has two ‘country cousins’ that share the same status of ‘uncommon’: the White-crested Coquette and the Black-crested Coquette. ‘Whitey’ is endemic to southern CR and western Panama so we are often hosting birders who hope to see it at the Wilson Botanical Garden. ‘Blacky’ can be found in the Caribbean foothills —  Arenal Volcano National Park is a good place to look — and is likewise beelike and difficult to find.

The lesson here is that you never know! It could easily appear in your garden on one of our beautiful flowering trees – Corals and Mayos will start flowering soon – and roadsides and gardens have hedgerows of Rabo de Gato (Stachytarpheta), favored by many species of hummingbirds.

Can’t have too many photos of this wonder so here is just one more.

A special thank you to Pepe Castiblanco, co-owner of Casa Botania Lodge, for these photos.

Please read this article about the decline of bird populations in the Western Hemisphere

Here is a link to the study that many of us, professionals and amateurs alike, are thinking about today. Please take a moment to actually read the study — and not just the headline. It is a dire message we must consider as we go forward with our lives here on earth.

Scarlet Tanager, a migrant from North America. Photo by Jo Davidson.

Read the study here by clicking here. 

You can read the ‘summary’ or the entire article if you want more detail. As many have said, “There is no Planet B”! 

We would like to hear your comments — and how we can work together, going forward, to stem this frightening trend.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak, another migrant from North America. Photo by Gail Hull.