From SVBC member and former Detectives de Aves instructor Roni Chernin.
For years I had heard about how Yellow-throated Toucans rob other birds nests and eat the eggs; but I had never seen it personally. Until now.
The other morning I heard some scuffing in a tree and looked up. A Toucan was in there along with a few other birds on nearby branches.
I watched him take off for a nearby tree, carefully balancing an entire nest in his beak. He perched in a fairly open tree so I could plainly see him working his beak and claw with the nest. Though I could not see the outcome I hoped the meal was eggs and not chicks
When he was finished, the empty nest fell to the ground, not unlike a discarded sandwich wrapper.
Some may call the Toucan’s behavior nasty or rude. But nature makes no such judgements.
A couple weeks ago I was checking in on my epiphyte-filled trees (as one does), and I was just about to brush aside some thready dead fern leaves when they began to vibrate. There was no breeze and nothing else was moving, so it got my attention. It took a second to figure out I was looking at a…praying mantis.
I suppose her defense mechanism of vibrating didn’t evolve to defend against humans! Ironically, it may have saved her from an accidental death at my hands. I have been checking in on her regularly and she’s remained within 6 inches of where I found her. It’s always fun (for me, anyway) to follow some individual creature going about its life.
Yesterday, as nightfall approached we heard the familiar call of our neighbor from the forest, the Gray-cowled Wood-rail. This bird frequently calls while walking the perimeter of our cabin. The call is very loud and although short-lived, less than 30 seconds, it has a cadence and frequency that denotes urgency. This is evident and most dramatic at dawn, just before sunrise, as two voices echo beneath our windows, announcing the beginning of the day. In effect, the Gray-cowled Wood-rail is our alarm clock.
I am very fond of these neighbors. Do any of you use the same alarm clock?
Last week I had the opportunity to do some birding on the property of a friend who lives in Campo Dos (down the hill from San Vito). Wonderful secondary and some primary forests; valleys, quebradas, waterfalls and hillsides.
As we hiked on the trail I commented;
‘This sure is a beautiful spot.’
The owner replied;
Now normally I’m pretty quick on the uptake; but it took me about 3 1/2 seconds to get his meaning. At that point I gave out with genuine and prolonged laughter.
We were renting a small house near the “Garden” and were sitting on the north-facing porch as the sun was setting. Suddenly, a few Crimson-fronted Parakeets dashed past the yard. Then came a few more. Soon, we had hundreds. The calls were deafening but what made the moment memorable was that the angle of the setting sun illuminated each irridescent feather. The emerald bodies seemed to be carrying fire on their foreheads and underwings. These parakeets are trivially-common and sometimes a pest, but those brief moments were breath-taking. (We were less delighted when they left the nearby roost at 5AM, the next morning!)
Last weekend longtime SVBC member Joe Ippolito hosted a very special memorial, in conjunction with Rodrigo de Sousa and the Osa Conservation project.
Perched on a perfect hillside setting on the Ippolito property, a tree was planted in memory of the passing of Joe’s dear wife Judith Ippolito. Judith passed away in January of this year. She was a dedicated rainforest devotee and a great lover of nature in general.
The Osa Conservation crew recently planted over 2,000 trees on the Ippolito property, with one very special tree planted to oversee all the rest. A memorial plaque to Judith sits next to that tree.
Not too long after moving from San Vito to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2019, I started hiking with a few other spry 70-year olds almost every Friday. Our preferred outing was to start at the Santa Fe Ski Basini n the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, just 30-minutes from town, and climb Deception Peak, a gentle mountaintop that, at 12,320 feet elevation is in the tundra above tree line. In the summer months, especially, we usually encounter the highly curious, intrepid Canada Jay, which I assume from years of sharing their forest habitat with skiers and hikers, have become quite bold in approaching us as we’re having a snack or lunch, looking for a handout. Now I know many people think indulging such bird behavior is inappropriate; and as I understand it, feeding wild birds is now illegal in Costa Rica. But after having had the magical experience of holding a bird in my hand during mist-netting sessions at Finca Cantaros, I find it impossible not to offer these Jays a few nuts or a crust from a sandwich.
While hiking down one of my steep, remote and muddy trails I stopped to reflect and sit on the bench you see below. To my right, I watched a male and a female Green Hermit hummingbird perform a sophisticated, lengthy and alluring nuptial (mating) dance.
Added to that, on the left side of where I was sitting were two Lesson’s Motmots who were singing, in perfect harmony, that great Righteous Brothers tune, ‘Unchained Melody’.
The amazing thing is that, except for the singing Motmots…this is all true.
A few years ago a pair of Roadside Hawks nested on our property in San Vito. We often heard those distinctive calls, occasionally spotting the pair in the late afternoon. But it was their single offspring that captured our attention.
This bold young hawk often perched in a tree close to our front door, silently making his presence known as we performed our routine activities. Periodically, he would swoop low over our heads as we made our way out of the house. One afternoon, I realized that he was perched on our back porch railing. As I slowly entered our bedroom, I saw he had changed position and was now facing me from the window sill. The youngster perched there and scrutinized the bird he saw reflected in the glass.
It was a thrilling moment. In a sense for those few weeks, we participated with the parents in this fledgling’s development and it filled me with family pride.
For many of us who are not full-time residents of San Vito, the many bird interactions we enjoy in Costa Rica can feel like a great loss during the months in our non-tropical homes. We settle for less colorful and abundant birds that are usually more prosaic, not as showy, and seldom spectacular. But Tiny Moments do still occur, and if we’re persistent we stay aware and find our lives peppered with avian interactions that can provide joy during our daily mundane existence. Here are a few that I have noted this summer in the hot, dry chaparral of the back country in San Diego county.
An early morning walk, before the temperature rises to drive you indoors, flushes a covey of a dozen California Quail from the sage bushes beside the trail. Their wings thrum as they flee their hiding place and disappear into nearby plants.
A White-breasted Nuthatch, one of the more unique visitors to the sunflower seed feeder, gains access by walking straight down the side of the large camphor tree, flitting across to the feeder where he grabs one seed from the dish, and then rushes back up into the tree to ferociously hammer at the shell until the tender reward is pried out. Repeated endlessly, with time-outs for occasional bug searches in the deep furrows of the tree bark.
The arrival of the migrant Lesser Goldfinch, joining their year-round cousins, brings seating reservations at the Nyjer Cafe to a premium. As the level of seed plummets in the feeder, it is obvious the Maitre d’ has fled, and opening seating, with shoving and pushing encouraged, has ensued. The tube feeders become battlegrounds.
The winner of the oddest behavior has to go to a small flock of European Starlings in non-breeding plumage, trying to find an afternoon meal in the parched grass of my lawn. With the thermometer stuck at 100º all are hot and thirsty, and the starlings are panting with their long pointy beaks wide open. So every dive into the grass looks more like a Nightjar than a songbird. If they are lucky and find a grub, the beak is closed as they bring their head up. The unlucky fellows straighten up with beak still wide open, giving the birds the look of a group of mad seamstresses attacking the grass with open scissors.