Great Day at OTS/Las Cruces on Saturday, June 1, 2019

The SVBC activities at the Annual OTS/Las Cruces Dia de Las Puertas Abiertas were better than ever this year due to our stellar volunteers.

Here, for example, is the Bake Sale table that brought in more than $100 — the most we’ve ever made in more than five years of rustling up muffins, cookies, bird nest delicacies, cakes, cinnamon rolls and more!

Kathy Bauer, Karen Kennedy and Betty Peterson enhanced the day with painting activities including the ever-popular face painting so that by the end of the day we saw butterflies, puppies, parakeets and hummingbirds running around the trails.

Bird Walks and a mini-course on bird bill evolution were conducted by our own SVBC President Peter Wendell and Detectives de Aves Instructor Marco Mora, seen below preparing to push off with a family group. Thanks to one and all for volunteering your time and expertise.

Marco Mora, second from right, Peter on right. Photo by Jo Davidson

Join Us for a Fun Family Day at OTS/Las Cruces! Dia de las Puertas Abiertas sabado 1 junio!

Please come to the Las Cruces Biological Station this Saturday for a fun-filled family day! The Las Cruces staff will provide events, workshops, music and more for every member of the family. As usual, the SVBC will host an Annual Bake Sale, Face Painting, an Artistic Mural for all to create plus an environmental education activity. See the schedules below for detailed information! Hope to see you there!

Friends From Afar — We’ve Got Mail!

Greetings, members of the SVBC:

We wish to convey to you all our sincere thanks for the welcome that the SVBC members extended to us during our recent visit to San Vito this past March. Our little group of six was comprised of short term visitors (a few days for four of us; an additional couple of weeks for two of us). Although there was only one formal SVBC member among us, we were all treated as regulars and included in a delightful variety of birding adventures: the walk and brunch at Cecilia Sansonetti’s beautiful finca; the walks at Cántaros (with the opportunity to meet new owner, Lilly, and managers, Yei and Marylin); the tense photo competitions, the awards, the refreshments, etc.

Greg Homer took two of us on an early morning walk to Tres Rios in search of, among other birds, the albino vultures. Peter Wendell gave us a primer on using eBird. Alison Olivieri gave us perfect directions to Rio Negro. And everyone else was equally gracious. We were also impressed with the club’s industriousness—from its nascent effort to merge with the Pajareros del Sur, to the continuing inclusion of young birders, the involvement with the local schools and the Detectives de Aves education progam. You folks gave us all great memories of San Vito, its birds and its birders. Thank you! 

David and Audrey Fielding, on our own behalf and on behalf of our friends: David Rorick, Sandra Braden, John Denvir and Miriam Rokeach.

David and Audrey Fielding, members from San Francisco


PS – It must be about time to renew our membership, so for David & Audrey Fielding, our check is in the mail (via Paypal).

The SVBC responds: this is the nicest news we’ve had in forever, so thank you both for your note and your Membership Renewal.

Bird Quiz Winner: Randall Jimenez!

Felicidades a Randall Jimenez for correctly identifying the Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner! An uncommon to rare resident of the Cordillera de Talamanca on the Pacific slope, this individual was photographed on the road to Las Tablas in March 2019.

An educated guess says this hole on the roadside embankment is probably the bird’s nest entrance. Note it is an oval shape, wider than it is tall, typical of the members of this group that nest in burrows, like the more commonly seen Chiriqui Foliage-gleaner and our special resident of San Vito, the Ruddy Foliage-gleaner.

Special thanks to Ellen Beckett, Jean-Phillipe Thelliez, Tom Wilkinson, Roni Chernin, Nancy Nelson, Dorothy MacKinnon and Sara Clark for playing along with us!

Please Join Us for 2019/Afiliarse con nosotros 2019!

Birding with the Pajareros Del Sur at the Wilson Botanical Garden. Photo by Jo Davidson

It is time to join the San Vito Bird Club for the first time OR to renew your membership for 2019!

Benefits of membership include bi-monthly Bird Walks at the Wilson Garden/OTS Las Cruces Biological Station, invites to the members-only Annual Meeting at Cascatas Del Bosque, day trips in and around the Coto Brus Valley and occasional overnight jaunts throughout Costa Rica in search of rarities like the Lanceolated Monklet. Plus your membership support helps us bring BirdSleuth-International, an environmental education program from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, to local schools as “Detectives de Aves”. Please read President Wendell’s post about the Detectives de Aves year 2018 here.

Detectives de Aves teachers Carla Azofeifa and Paula Mesen with SVBC President Peter Wendell. Photo by Alison Olivieri

Part of your membership dues will be donated to the Organization for Tropical Studies Las Cruces Biological Station that provides us with an exciting place to bird and free coffee and camaraderie after the walks.

We are keeping dues at 2018 rates: C11,000 or $20 per person for International Members and C14,000 or $25 per person for residents of Costa Rica. Family membership are priced for two people but always include children.

Without you, we are nothing so please join today! You can give your dues to Peter at the Bird Walk on December 9 or to Randall Bourbon Jimenez or to any other executive committee member: Greg Homer, Alison Olivieri or Harry Hull.

A New Bird Quiz: Let’s Go ‘Urban Birding’!

Quiz Bird #1

City parks are often sites of great birding adventures. In New York, Central Park is a famous spot with more than 230 documented species. It is particularly ‘hot’ during spring and fall migrations and is the subject of a wonderful documentary called ‘The Central Park Effect’. Likewise, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco is another birder’s dream and hosts 175 field trips per year for all birding skill levels. In Costa Rica, La Sabana Metropolitan Park has been reforested with native trees and now boasts about 200 species of birds.

Recently, in an enormous park in Mexico City – Parque Chapultepec  — we ventured out to bird one morning and took some amazingly not-great photos BUT they are good enough to make a new Quiz Bird post for you!

Quiz Bird #2 — just the families will win the game!

Just name the five families and the first person who figures them out correctly will win either 6 Currant Scones or a six-pack of Imperial, Costa Rica’s national beer (your choice). If you can name all five species, you’ll get an extra surprise. Send your answers to: If you live in San Vito, your prize will be delivered at our next Bird Walk on Sunday, November 4 at 7:30 a.m. at Las Cruces. If you live anywhere else, we’ll mail you a non-comestible prize.

Quiz bird #3

In Cornell University’s local environmental education program, Detectives de Aves or BirdSleuth-International, any of the students would ace this quiz. Lesson 7 features bird family silhouettes and these photos, although they appear to have been taken by our anti-photographer, are perfectly adequate for you to correctly identify these groups. All our Detectives de Aves students are eligible to win this contest but no beer for them; instead, a dozen homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies. Attention Detectives: please include your name, school and grade level for proper eligibility.

Quiz Bird #5 — and it’s a gimme!

Quiz Bird #4


A correction: that last notice you just received had an incorrect date, so here we go again:

Please join us this Friday, September 21 at the Inauguration of the new Environmental Education Room at Las Cruces. Several members of the SVBC contributed time, talent and energy to this project under the guidance of Carla Azofeifa, one of our Detectives de Aves/BirdSleuth-International teachers. Club Secretary Lydia Vogt painted the oropendolas; local artist Kathy Bauer created the agouti family and Helen LeVasseur produced about 100 leaves: wait ’til you see! Starting at 9:30 a.m., we look forward to seeing you there!

Watch this video of Detectives de Aves in Guatemala! Mira el video de Detectives de Aves en Guatemala!

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Because Detectives de Aves is THE most exciting program sponsored by the SVBC, we decided to re-post this 7 minute video from the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology — they hit it out of the park with this short film!

In April, two of our teachers — Carla Azofeifa and Paula Mesen — went with SVBC President Peter Wendell to the highlands of Guatemala to share teaching experiences and learn from indigenous teachers Vilma, Gilda and Norma.

That visit was reciprocated in May when Tara and Rob Cahill came to San Vito in May with Vilma and Norma — all from the Cloud Forest Conservation Society — to participate with us in local schools. These travels were funded by a grant to Dr. Lilly Briggs from National Geographic. (See a report here.)

It’s just a GREAT program and we are proud to play a part. In this presentation, those of you who don’t live here will meet Carla Azofeifa and Paula Mesen, two of our wonderful teachers! Please consider sending a donation to continue this program in local schools by visiting our Support the Club page.

Ya que Detectives de Aves el EL programa más emocionante patrocinado por el SVBC, decidimos volver a postear este video, de 7 minutos, del Laboratorio de Ornitología de la Universidad de Cornell. ¡Realmente se lucieron con este corto video!

En abril, dos de nuestras maestras Carla Azofeifa y Paula Mesén, fueron junto al Presidente del SVBC, Peter Wendell, a las tierras altas de Guatemala para compartir sus experiencias de enseñanza y aprender de las maestras indígenas Vilma, Gilda y  Norma.

Vilma y Norma nos devolveron la visita en mayo, cuando vinieron junto a Tara y Rob Cahill, de la Cloud Forest Conservation Society, para participar en nuestras escuelas locales en San Vito. Estos viajes fueron financiados mediante una donación del Dr. Lilly Briggs de National Geographic (vea el reporte aquí).

Este es un GRAN programa y estamos orgullosos de tomar parte. En esta presentación, aquellos de ustedes que no vivien aquí, ¡conocerán a Carla Azofeifa y Paula Mesén, dos de nuestras maravillosas maestras! Por favor considere enviar una donación para continuar con este programa en nuestras escuelas locales, visitando nuestra página Apoye el Club

Birds on the Move/Las aves en movimiento


Female Flame-rumped Tanager, a new record for Costa Rica. Photo by Pepe Castiblanco

On a sunny morning in early November, Pepe Castiblanco and I went to look for a bird that had never been recorded in Costa Rica until it was discovered in October. Most followers of this website know Pepe but, in case you do not, he is a birder, natural history guide, musician, raconteur, photographer, baker, restaurateur and co-owner – with his wife Kata Ulenaers — of a nearby B&B.

Pepe’s friend, Juan Abel, who is dashing and works at the Organization for Tropical Studies as a forest guard, found this bird – a Flame-rumped Tanager – on his finca, consorting with a group of Cherrie’s Tanagers. He called some friends, extraordinary birders, to come take a look and so it went. Because this is private property, the search becomes a question of permission. We were grateful to have a chance to go look and got lucky with the bird.

Juan and his wife Ruth have a large, enthusiastic dog that lunged through the door as we pulled into the driveway. Before we were able to get out of the car, the dog clipped one of Juan’s sons’ legs, sending coffee dribbling all over its back, and climbed into the car onto my lap. It was an auspicious start.

We walked around the house, through a guava orchard. The trees look odd because each round, fat fruit is sequestered in a bag to stymie insects and birds. The Abels have chicken coops and banana feeders and a ring of old trees around their farm. We saw four Rose-breasted Grosbeaks taking the sun in a pine tree and heard woodpeckers and Slaty Spinetails churring from the woods.

After a bit, Hafjeth Abel, 19, joined our search party while he fed the chickens, steering us away from making hopeful glances at their banana feeder. The group of tanagers we were after apparently does not frequent the feeder but hangs around the other side of the property near the forest edge. Over we went and suddenly they arrived, sputtering and squeaking, with the Flame-rumped female in plain view, perched for Pepe’s camera. Two Yellow-billed Caciques came out of the forest — an uncommon sighting as they are more often heard than seen.

The new tanager comes with some confusing taxonomy. It has three common names: Flame-rumped, Lemon-rumped and Yellow-rumped. And two scientific names: Ramphocelus flammigerus and R. icteronotus plus a subspecies indicator like this: Ramphocelus flammigerus icternotus. You can consult the authority of your choice, but the Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica follows the American Ornithologists Union checklist so this one is being presented to the Rare Records Committee as Flame-rumped Tanager, Ramphocelus flammigerus.

Maybe another one will join it or show up elsewhere. We will try to keep ourselves updated and report back from time to time.

Juan Abel, standing back row center, found a new bird for Costa Rica in October 2017. Also pictured Pepe Castiblanco, standing right. Photographer unknown.

Una mañana soleada de noviembre, Pepe Castiblanco y yo salimos a buscar un ave que nunca había sido registrada en Costa Rica, hasta que fue descubierta en octubre. La mayoría de quienes siguen este sitio web conocen a Pepe, pero en caso de que usted no lo conozcan, él es un pajarero, guía de historia natural, músico, anecdotista, fotógrafo, panadero, restaurador y co-propietario – con su esposa, Kata Ulenaers, — de un B&B de la localidad.

El amigo de Pepe, Juan Abel, quien es gallardo y trabaja para la Organización para Estudios Tropicales como guarda, encontró esta ave, Flame-rumped Tanager, en su finca, compartiendo con un grupo local de sargentos. Juan llamó a unos amigos, pajareros extraordinarios, para que vinieran a ver. Dado que esta es una propiedad privada, la búsqueda se convierte en una cuestión de permiso. Tuvimos la suerte de tener la oportunidad de ir a observar y encontrar el ave.

Juan y su esposa, Ruth, tienen un perro grande y entusiasta que se lanzó a través de la puerta mientras nos parquéabamos. Antes de que pudiéramos salir del carro, el perro atrapó una de las piernas de un hijo de Juan, echándose el café sobre el lomo, y se encaramó en el carro hasta llegar a mi regazo. Un prometedor comienzo.

A guava, bagged to exclude insects and birds. Photo by Alison Olivieri

Caminamos por la casa, hasta llegar a una plantación de guava. Los árboles se ven extraños porque secuestran su fruto en una vaina, para protegerlos de aves e insectos. Los Abels tienen gallineros y alimentadores de aves, y un anillo de árboles viejos alrededor de su granja. Vimos varios Picogrueso Pechirrosado (Calandrias) tomando el sol en un pino y escuchamos carpinteros y Arquitectos Plomizos en el bosque.

Después de un rato, Hafjeth Abel, de 19 años, se unió a nuestra búsqueda mientras alimentaba las gallinas, alejándonos de echar miradas esperanzadas al alimentador. Aparentemente, el grupo de tangaras que estábamos buscando no frecuenta el alimentador, sino el otro lado de la propiedad, cerca del lindero del bosque. Fuimos ahí y llegaron, chillando y revoloteando, con la hembra Flame-rumped a plena vista, en una posición privilegiada para la cámara de Pepe. Dos Caciques Picoplata salieron del bosque, una observación entraña, ya que frecuentemente se los escucha más de lo que se los ve.

La nueva tangara viene con una taxonomía confusa. Tiene tres nombres comunes: Flame-rumped, Lemon-rumped y Yellow-rumped; dos nombres científicos: Ramphocelus flammigerus y R. icteronotus; y un indicador de subespecie: Ramphocelus flammigerus icteronotus. Usted puede consultar con la autoridad de su escogencia, pero la Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica sigue el listado de la American Ornithologists Union, así que esta especie está presente en el Comité de Registros Raros como Flame-rumped Tanager, Ramphocelus flammigerus.

Quizá otra se le unirá o aparecerá en otro lugar. Trataremos de mantenernos al tanto y reportarle de cuando en cuando.

Special Report: Birding in Southern Africa/Reporte Especial: Pajareando en África del Sur

African elephant. Locals call them "ellies". Photo by Alison Olivieri.

African elephant; locals call them “ellies”. Photo by Alison Olivieri.

Going to Africa is a lifelong dream for many who grew up looking at National Geographic magazines. So it was for us as we traveled recently to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana for a three-week vacation.

It turns out Africa is as magical as we had hoped it would be – and more. It is ancient and majestic, savage and tender, thrilling and funny.  You can hardly stop looking at elephants as they eat their way across the savannahs and finish the day playing in any available water source. Plus your attention is constantly diverted by rhinoceros, lions, baboons, leopards, giraffes, zebra, Cape buffalo, hyenas, warthogs, jackals, honey badgers and five or six antelope species.

Could this get any better? Well, try the birds as many tourists do after about the third day of seeking the Big Five on game drives. The “Big Five” — a phrase from African big game hunters referring to the most difficult animals to hunt on foot and now used by safari operators as a marketing ploy — are African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros.

Jackass Penguins at Boulders Beach, South Africa. Photo by Alison Olivieri.

Jackass Penguins at Boulders Beach, South Africa. Photo by Alison Olivieri.

As to the birds, in addition to excellent wine and the stunning city of Cape Town, South Africa has penguins which are every bit as comical and endearing as you think. From the ridiculous to the sublime, all three countries have ostriches. Male ostriches are almost three meters tall and – get this – they have bright red shins in breeding season.

Everyone wants to see hornbills, resembling nothing more closely than our Costa Rican toucans. Most are cavity nesters and the females of some species are known for sealing themselves in the holes and depending on the males to feed them during incubation. Along the way, we saw four species, including the now rapidly declining Southern Ground Hornbills.

Exquisite Lilac-breasted Rollers, another highly desired quarry, are common residents with harsh rattling sounds and rolling displays, often seen perched and posing for photographs (see below).

Arrow-marked Babbler, after a dip in our plunge pool in the Manyeleti Reserve. Photo by Alison Olivieri.

Arrow-marked Babbler, after a dip in our plunge pool in the Manyeleti Reserve. Photo by Alison Olivieri.

Babblers, like rollers, are a group of Old World passerine birds not found in the Western Hemisphere. Of the five species in Southern Africa, we were lucky to see two, the Arrow-marked Babbler, and an endemic species, Southern Pied Babbler.

High on our ‘most desired’ list were mousebirds, a group endemic to Africa, that look like titmice with very long tails. They are found bush, scrub, forest edges and, luckily for us, suburbia where we found Speckled Mousebirds in our Johannes burg hotel garden!

Some years ago, landlocked Botswana became known as a hot birding destination due to the Okavango Delta, a huge, swampy inland delta with massive concentrations of animals including waterbirds. Maribou and Saddle-billed stork, Hamerkop, African Openbill, pelicans, herons, egrets, African Jacana, plovers, lapwings, vultures, raptors – it is enough to make you drop your binoculars as you pole through watery canals in a silent dugout canoe called a mokoro.

Cape Giraffe in Botswana, festooned with Red-billed Oxpeckers. Photo by Alison Olivieri.

Cape Giraffe in Botswana, festooned with Red-billed Oxpeckers. Photo by Alison Olivieri.

Near the Moremi Game Reserve, we witnessed an unusual and merciless assassination. Two Blacksmith Lapwings attacked and killed a Pied Kingfisher in about 5 seconds flat. Our guide who had not seen this before said, “Poor Mr. Kingfisher, he must have been too close to their nest”.

This report is all the better for photographs and far less text but unmentioned, yet outstanding, experiences included the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, sunset cruises, sundowners under a full moon in acacia scrub, bush walks and our tents with impressive plumbing, decks and plunge pools – all nearly indescribable. Between us we have more than 1,000 photos which we would be happy to show you anytime. And, if you’re going, we’ll lend you our bird book because you are going to need it.

This trip was flawlessly arranged by Julian Harrison, an African tour specialist, and his team at Premier Tours in Philadelphia, PA.

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Leopard in the Manyeleti Reserve, South Africa. Foto de Alison Olivieri.

Leopardo en el Manyeleti Reserve, South Africa. Foto de Alison Olivieri.

Para muchos de quienes crecieron leyendo las revistas de National Geographic, ir a África es un sueño de toda la vida. Lo era también para nosotros, por lo que viajamos recientemente a África del Sur, Zimbabue y Botsuana para unas vacaciones de tres semanas.

Resulta que África es tan mágica como pensábamos que sería – más incluso. Es antigua y majestuosa, salvaje y delicada, emocionante y divertida. Difícilmente uno puede dejar de ver a los elefantes mientras se alimentan durante su viaje a través de las sabanas y terminan su día jugando en cualquier depósito de agua disponible. Llamaban nuestra atención constantemente los rinocerontes, leones, babuinos, leopardos, jirafas, cebras, Búfalos del Cabo, hienas, jabalíes, chacales, rateles, y cinco o seis especies de antílopes.

¿Podría ser mejor? Bueno, intente buscar las aves como tantos turistas hacen después del tercer día de buscar el Gran Cinco durante las travesías del juego. El “Gran Cinco” – una frase que los cazadores africanos utilizan para referirse a las cinco especies de animales más difíciles de cazar a pie y actualmente utilizada por los operadores de safaris como estrategia de mercadeo – son el león africano, el elefante africano, el Búfalo del Cabo, leopardos y rinocerontes.

Con respecto a los pájaros, bien, además del excelente vino y la impresionante Ciudad del Cabo, África del Sur tiene pingüinos; que son tan adorables y cómicos como usted se imagina. De lo ridículo a lo sublime, los tres países tienen avestruces. Los avestruces machos miden casi tres metros de altura y – ojo a esto – tienen canillas rojo brillante durante la temporada de apareamiento.

Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, South Africa. Foto de Alison Olivieri.

Un bucero, South Africa. Foto de Alison Olivieri.

Todo el mundo quiere ver buceros, que se parecen como nada a los tucanes costarricenses. La mayoría anidan en hoyos y las hembras de algunas especies son conocidas por encerrarse en los hoteles y depender de los machos para alimentarse durante la incubación. Durante el camino, vimos cuatro especies, incluyendo al amenazado cálao terrestre sureño. [Bucorvus leadbeateri]

La hermosa carraca lila [Coracias caudata], otra búsqueda altamente deseada, es un residente común con sonidos severos y exhibiciones circulares, se observan con frecuencia paradas posando para los fotógrafos.

Lilac-breasted Roller in the Okavango Delta. Fofo de Alison Olivieri.

Carraca lila en el Delta del Okavango. Foto de Alison Olivieri.

Los turdoides, como la carraca, son un grupo de aves paseriformes del Viejo Mundo que no se encuentran en el Hemisferio Oeste. De las cinco especies que habitan en África del Sur, tuvimos la suerte de ver dos, el Turdoide de Jardine [Turdoides jardineii] y el Turdoide bicolor [Turdoides bicolor], una especie endémica.

Entre los primeros en nuestra lista de los “más deseados”, estaban los cólidos, un grupo endémico de África, parecidos a herrerillos con colas muy largas. Se encuentran en arbustos, maleza, el margen de los bosques y, para nuestra suerte, los suburbios – donde encontramos al pájaro ratón común [Colius striatus] ¡en el jardín de nuestro hotel en Johannesburgo!

Hace algunos años, el pais de Botsuana, se volvió un atractivo destino para los pajareros gracias al Delta del Okavango, un enorme delta terrestre con masivas concentraciones de animales, incluyendo aves acuáticas, marabúes africanos [Leptoptilos crumeniferus], avemartillos [Scopus umbretta], picotenazas africanos [Anastomus lamelligerus], pelícanos, ardeidas, grazas, jacanas africanas [Actophilornis africanus], caradrinos, vanelinos, buitres, rapaces – suficiente para hacer que uno baje los binoculares mientras atraviesa los canales inundados en una silenciosa canoa labrada conocida como “mokoro”.

Cerca de la Reserva Moremi, parte del Delta, fuimos testigos de un cruel e inusual asesinato. Dos avefrías armadas [Vanellus armatus] atacaron y mataron un martín pescador pío [Ceryle rudis] en alrededor de cinco segundos. Nuestro guía, quien no había visto esto antes, dijo: “Pobre Señor Martín Pescador, debe de haber estado demasiado cerca de su nido”.

Vervet Monkey at Tintswalo Lodge. Foto de Alison Olivieri.

Mono verde [Chlorocebus pygerythrus] de Tintswalo Lodge. Foto de Alison Olivieri.

 Este reporte es bastante para los fotógrafos y muy poco texto, pero hay experiencias sobresalientes no mencionadas como el Museo del Apartheid en Johannesburgo, las Cataratas Victoria, cruceros en el atardecer, puestas del sol bajo una luna llena en un matorral de acacia, caminatas entre los arbustos y nuestras tiendas con una plomería impresionante, piso y piscinas de inmersión – todos indescriptibles. Tenemos más de 1000 fotografías, que estaríamos felices de enseñarles en cualquier momento. Y, si usted va a viajar allá, le prestaremos nuestra guía de campo, porque la va a necesitar.

Este viaje fue perfectamente organizado por Julian Harrison, un especialista en tours africanos, y su equipo en Premier Tours en Filadelfia, Pensilvania.