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.

Masked Ducks at Finca Cantaros!

A pair of Masked Ducks, Nomonyx dominicus, was seen Saturday, April 25 at Finca Cantaros, by an intrepid group from the SVBC including Roni Chernin, Jo Davidson, Peter Wendell, Nick and Mary from Colorado, and Gail Hull. These birds are often described as “secretive” and “uncommon” and can be difficult to find SO: here’s your chance!

Male Masked Duck in breeding plumage! Photo by Gail Hull (2014).

Male Masked Duck in breeding plumage! Photo by Gail Hull (2014).

English Language Students Attend Bird Walk

We were happily overrun with students from the CaRob Instituto de Ingles in San Vito on a recent Bird Walk at Finca Cantaros, a change in venue from our regular twice-monthly outings at the Wilson Botanical Garden.

Lush trails at Finca Cantaros. Photo by Barbara Barton.

Lush trails at Finca Cantaros. Photo by Barb Keeler-Barton.

Alma Dionisi, one of the Instituto’s English teachers, brought her class of 10 via minibus for a two-hour bird walk followed by an English language practice session. Wendy Russell Bernstein, Barb Keeler-Barton, Roni Chernin, Caroline Torres, Susan England and Judith and Joe Ippolito were all on hand to help out – both with bird spotting and practicing conversational English.

The idea for this walk came from Wilkin, one of Alma’s students. Wilkin is a passionate birder, a friend of SVBC Member Cecilia Sansonetti’s and has birded with us several times in the past. Unfortunately he cannot attend more of our walks at the moment because his Saturday mornings are occupied with learning English!

Chatting in English in the Rancho Grande. Photo by Barbara Barton.

Chatting in English in the Rancho Grande. Photo by Barb Keeler-Barton.

It was a large group but we nonetheless managed to see 28 species of birds including one neotropical migrant, a Black-and-white Warbler, sighted by Susan England. Thanks to Alma for organizing this fun morning and also to our loyal volunteer helpers.

Birding from the Canopy Tower

On a recent Bird Walk at the Wilson Botanical Garden, our group of 10 climbed the Canopy Tower to look for returning migrants. Although we did not see any of those, we did see two Masked Tityras, spotted by Caroline Torres.

Masked Tityra. Photo by Mark W. Eaton.

Masked Tityra (Photo by Mark W. Eaton)

I’m not sure why but these birds always give me a jolt of surprise. Maybe it’s the incredible white plumage or perhaps it’s the bright pink orbital skin around the eye and face? Being close to them in the canopy was a thrill as their size is often diminished when they’re seen – typically high in the trees — from the ground. Here, on the Tower, we had the chance to view them at slightly lower than eye level, allowing us to experience them as striking-looking, big, white flycatchers.

When the Tower was inaugurated in May 2011 (click here to read more about this event), we decided to keep a list of all species seen and/or heard in the immediate vicinity. On our recent visit we added add two new ones to the Canopy Tower Bird List: Laughing Falcon (heard not seen) and Spot-crowned Euphonia.

Laughing Falcon (Photo by Alison Olivieri)

Laughing Falcon (Photo by Alison Olivieri)

The falcon’s resonant, slightly eerie call is described by F. Gary Stiles and Alexander F. Skutch in A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, as “. . . . a long, rhythmic series of loud, hollow notes with somewhat the quality of a child’s shout.”  The local name of this raptor, Guaco, is synchronous with its call so once you learn and hear it, you can be certain it’s a Laughing Falcon. It is well known that this bird of prey’s favorite food item is any kind of snake so they are cherished by local people and those of us who wish they would visit often and eat their fill.

Our female Spot-crowned Euphonia perched quite close to the Tower, affording some of the group excellent looks at her distinctive field marks of rufous forecrown and belly. Identifying this species is easy if you are prepared to do a little work with your field guide. The males are the only euphonia with yellow spots on the crown patch but, if you are looking from below, it is often easier to identify the female. This is a puzzle where the range maps in the Garrigues and Dean field guide (The Birds of Costa Rica) really come in handy. You’ll quickly see another species with similar markings on the female, Olive-backed Euphonia, but a glance at the map will tell you the Olive-backed is found on the Caribbean side and Spot-crowned is the bird you see here.

To date we have 67 species on this list and 10 birders have contributed sightings. If you are curious and would like a copy, don’t hesitate to contact us. Likewise, please let us know if you see or hear a species we are missing.

Thanks to Caroline Torres, Roni Chernin, Jeff Wick, Barb Barton, Judith and Joe Ippolito, Donna and Tony Pagano and their surrogate grandson Rolando for joining us on this walk.

Wilson Walk Report: May 12, 2012

Several new member and guests joined our recent bird walk in the Wilson Botanical Garden, including the youngest member of the SVBC, Elias Castiblanco U., participating with his mother, Kathleen Ulenaers, and grandmother, Philomen Schutters.

L to R: Barbara Keeler Barton, Philomene Schutters, Kathleen Ulenaers, Elias Castiblanco U., Pat Morgan; back row: Wally Barton. Photo by Alison Olivieri

New member Barbara Keeler Barton joined us for the first time as did Morphose Mountain Retreat guests Celia Lucente and Randy Bonsignore, vacationing here from Florida.

As for the birds, for the second time in as many months we spotted a handsome Rufous-winged Woodpecker actively foraging near the entrance gate. Other favorites of the morning were two perched Blue-crowned Motmots, possibly a pair, and a White-crowned Parrot that obliged us by sitting still for several minutes on a palm trunk stump.

Although new member Wally Barton did not actually walk with us, he did make it for “Coffee-and-the-List” and found the last bird of the morning, a male Yellow-faced Grassquit, bringing our total to 35 seen or heard species on our one hour and 45-minute outing.

Don’t miss the fun: join us for the next walk on May 26 at 7:30 am at the main entrance to the Wilson Botanical Garden!

Wilson Walk Report, April 14, 2012

Several new members joined us for one of our regular Wilson Walks on Saturday, April 14. In addition to Philomen Ulaeners and Tom Wilkinson, Donna Goodwin and Nick Green joined us along with Hellen Castillo and Juanita Castro and their students and guests. In total, we saw 31 species of birds — not an easy feat with such a large group. Highlights included Blue-crowned Motmot and Squirrel Cuckoo, both spotted by Nick Green without binoculars, an impressive feat. We hope to see all these participants and more at our next walk in two weeks, Saturday, April 28.