Can You Identify Birds from Just a Silhouette?

In a perfect world every bird would pose on a bare branch in the full sun. That bare branch would always be real close to you and to your camera. That bird would slowly turn, showing off all aspects of its plumage and design, always while in full sun. That bird on the bare branch would patiently remain on that branch while you called over all twelve of your birding chums. As all of your loudly talking birding chums fumbled up their binoculars, scopes and cameras that bird would continue to pose.

Ah, but that is not our world.

In our birding world, the scenario described above has a rare-to-never occurrence rate. Birds are often secretive and private. Branches, leaves and the sun seem to almost have a perverse sense of humor when it comes to birding. Ergo, we must be prepared to meet these challenges head on and to identify birds under imperfect conditions. One of those imperfect conditions? Bad lighting. I refer to bird watching when the lighting is either so bright or so low that all you can see is a SILHOUETTE image.

Many bird guides, such as Cornell University’s Merlin Bird ID, offer silhouette images of the major categories of birds. Study these bird silhouettes.

San Vito Bird Club member Tom Wilkinson recently sent me a wonderful photo (see below). It is not actually a silhouette but a shadow! See if you can identify what group this bird belongs to and maybe even what species it is. Take a moment if necessary; and then scroll down to see a photo of the actual bird.

Here is the actual bird; living up in the roof of Tom’s house!

A Tropical Screech Owl! Listen to the Tropical Screech Owl by clicking the link below. The call is quite common at night. Click the green Listen button in the lower right of the screen to hear it.

https://ebird.org/species/trsowl

Perhaps you have some silhouette or shadowy photos of birds? Send them to me and we’ll get them posted on this website and maybe have some fun.

And one other thing. At the start of this article I mentioned ‘…in a perfect world…’. Upon reflection, the world we live in is already a perfect world, even with its many flaws and frustrations.

Send your silhouette photos to:

eltangaral@gmail.com

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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.

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.

The Children’s Forest of Coto Brus, Part 2

Tree Sources

The first 50 trees for this future forest were donated by Finca Las Alturas de Coton. The tree species include roble (tropical oak), amarillon (a hardwood), aguacatillo (wild avocado) and inga (pollinator attractor). You can watch a short video about Las Alturas, narrated by the manager Fernando Castañeda, by clicking here.

Rod de Sousa at Las Cruces

The OTS Las Cruces Biological Station’s Native Tree Nursery, started and managed by Rodrigo de Sousa, contributed more trees and Rod helped with placement and reforestation expertise.

Maria Rosa Rodriguez Rodriguez also provided trees for the new forest. She has a highly regarded booth at the local Feria de Agriculturas on Saturday mornings at the Campo Ferial de San Vito from 7 am to noon. Many SVBC members consult with Dona Maria for flowering plants, shrubs and trees for their gardens.

More Collaborators

LSAMP Las Cruces 2019

A university student group from the OTS Las Cruces Biological Station’s program called the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) came to observe the program in action as well as help plant trees.

Coordinator Scott Walter.

The group’s Coordinator Scott Walter is a longtime OTS staff member and SVBC supporter.

All in, this is a great project with volunteers spanning generations from the 5th grade to senior citizens: SVBC-ers share the same curiosity, fascination and reverence for wildlife and natural history. From now on, ‘habitat restoration’ is our middle name.

The Children’s Forest of Coto Brus, Part 1

Dr. Lilly Briggs is up to something very wild in her new digs at Finca Cantaros: she’s working to create The Children’s Forest of Coto Brus — or, perhaps a little more melodically speaking, El Bosque de los Ninos de Coto Brus.

We talk endlessly about our Detectives de Aves environmental education program from the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. In fact, Lilly is one of the co-authors of this curriculum, Lesson 9 of which is a Community Project.

This Flows So Well

In the first two weeks of July, students from six participating schools chose to plant trees as their Community Project — so they, and we, are part of the reforestation effort that will ultimately create The Children’s Forest.

Alexandrina is all smiles with her ‘personal’ part of the future forest. Photo by Peter Wendell.

The staked out young trees have been GPS-ed by SVBC President Peter Wendell and every student was photographed with his/her planting. Lilly is encouraging them to come back whenever possible to check on the tree’s growth and — one day — to bring their children and grandchildren to see their trees in the future mature forest.

Each school heard a talk on the history of Finca Cantaros, given by former owner and reforestation leader Gail Hewson Hull, followed by a discussion of the importance of trees for healthy environments and habitats, and, lastly, a brief demonstration of tree planting techniques.

Escuela Copal from Concepcion; Director Jairo Murillo accompanied his students. Photo by Peter Wendell.

The students fanned out in the pasture directly east of F. Cantaros to find their own personal sapling that they then planted with shared shovels, big smiles and great vigor!

As of the end of July 2019, 110 trees were planted by an equal number of students.

To date, participating schools include Escuelas Santa Rita, San Marcos near Sereno, Copal in Concepcion, Los Angeles, Linda Vista and Gonzalo Acuña in Sabalito. We will update this list as the forest grows!

Hello and Goodbye: Please Welcome Dr. Lilly Briggs!

Most of our readers are familiar with the beautiful Finca Cantaros, a public center of activity in San Vito that until recently was owned and operated by Gail Hewson Hull and Harry Hull. This magical place has hosted many of our bird walks, research projects by international scientists, educational opportunities and other events that SVBC-ers cherish and, yes, we all cried at the Hull’s Farewell Party.

In her element. Photo by Michael Olivieri

But please join us in welcoming the new owner of Cantaros, Dr. Lilly Briggs from the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. With Jennifer Fee, of the Laboratory of Ornithology Education Department, Lilly is the co-author of the BirdSleuth-International (aka Detectives de Aves) curriculum with which SVBC members work daily and happily!

After earning her PhD in 2016 at the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell, Lilly now works as a Postdoctoral Associate in Education and Citizen Science Programs. To learn more about Lilly’s career and see her publication list, visit this page.

Their legacy lives on in San Vito; we send every good wish to the Hulls.

‘Goodbyes’ are hard — sob, sniff — we miss the Hulls and wish them well in their new desert habitat in New Mexico.

‘Hellos’ are fun — whoo hoo! — please join us in a warm welcome and a huge hello to Lilly!

 

 

We’ve Got Mail from Our French Friends!

A most welcome letter from Jean-Philippe Thelliez (“JP”) and Christopher Stamp who visited us in April: among the most accomplished and energetic birders and photographers we’ve ever encountered:

Jean-Philippe Thelliez and Christopher Stamp, our bon amis de France

What a wonderful chance or was it destiny that put JP (Jean-Philippe) in touch with Peter?
Whatever it was, thanks to that contact one Frenchmen and his Franglais sidekick, Christopher, had the pleasure of meeting Peter and joining the San Vito Bird Club for its Sunday visit to the Wilson Botanical Gardens on the 6th of April.

What a wonderful experience it was. First, the warm welcome by members of the group, most of whose names are remembered (more than can be said for the names of the birds! Thankfully, others have recorded the names for us).  We have never been to a place where so many birds could be seen at the same time. It was impossible to capture them all on celluloid as they whizzed here and there and at the end we felt veritably shell shocked – rather like small children being let loose in a sweets factory. But we went back for second helpings!

The following day Peter took us up to Las Tablas with Marco Mora, one of the SVBC Detectives de Aves teachers. The Resplendant Quetzal and Three-wattled Bellbird were on the menu, among others, and we had good weather until the heavens opened on the trip back down but — fortunately, according to Peter — not until after we had already negotiated the slippery bits.

Great Green Macaws in Ara Manzanillo on the Caribbean coast. Photo by Jean-Philippe Thelliez

We enjoyed a couple of days exploring the Coto Brus area following Peter’s advice and met up again with Jeimiry Badilla from Finca Cantaros. He proposed a trip to his home near Cuidad Neilly on a holiday Thursday. So us two, Jei, his wife Marylin Saldana and their daughter Georgea were jimmied into our rented “Jimmy” for an exciting road trip.  What a trip! Jei and his wife are formidable birders; highlights of the trip were a Savannah Hawk, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, a nighthawk, three trogons and three manakins (we told you we couldn’t remember all the names…).

On the social side we apéroed chez Judy and chez Jo and Peter, where the latter kindly introduced us to their pet armadillo! We ate at Rancho Amigos with Alison, Jo and Peter; Peter then joined us at Liliana’s for a final meal and helped us plan the rest of the trip.

We thank you all — and especially Peter, who helped us with initial planning and without whom our Costa Rica safari would have been much less memorable and colourful in both human and avian terms.

Oh! and the San Vito Bird Club now has two new French members who would be delighted to welcome visiting SVBC members to share the French birding experience. I think the only bird that we have in common is the House Sparrow — Moineau domestique — but WHAT are you waiting for?

Many thanks

JP and Christopher

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.