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!



Black-bellied Whistling Ducks at Finca Cantaros

Club member Gail Hull reports seeing two Black-bellied Whistling Ducks for the first time at her Finca Cantaros in Linda Vista de San Vito. They were observed on branches emerging from the water on the western side of the Finca’s Laguna Zoncho on July 8th and on a fallen Cecropia tree in the water on the eastern side on July 9th.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks on a branch next to Laguna Zoncho, Finca Cantaros. Photo: Gail Hull

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis) are abundant permanent residents of Costa Rica, primarily in the Palo Verde N.P. (20,000 recorded) and the Caño Negro regions. Alison Olivieri told Gail that she has seen them in ponds near Potrero Grande on the way to Alta Mira.

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks favor tropical lagoons with some tree cover at edges and are found on lakes, reservoirs, wetlands, mudflats, and even occasionally on riversides. They are frequently found near agricultural land. They eat primarily grass and grain seeds, but will also eat molluscs, insects and spiders. Interestingly, they forage at night.

Finca Cántaros is a private nature reserve open to the public for a ¢2,000 entrance fee (residents). If you only want to see the ducks, inquire if they are still around!

Distinguished Visitor: a Crested Owl at Finca Cantaros

One of the most charismatic owls in the country was spotted in late June at Finca Cantaros in a large bamboo grove near the lake. Although not considered “rare”, Crested Owls are not common and provide lucky viewers with a striking visual of the large white “V” between the eyes that sticks up over the head — all feathers, of course — and known as an “ear tuft”.
Lophostrix cristata, photo by Harry Hull.

Lophostrix cristata, photo by Harry Hull.

This beautiful owl was spotted by Ismael Cruz Medina, one of the students in a local environmental education program from nearby Sabalito called “Guardianes de la Tierra”, created and taught by the SVBC education program “Detectives de Aves” teacher Eugenio Garcia.

Cantaros owner Gail Hull would be happy to show visitors where the owl has been seen during the day but, of course, no guarantees! The reserve opens at 6:30 am every day, closing at 5:00 pm. The entrance fee for permanent residents and Ticos is C1,750 per adult, C1,000 for adolescents (12-17), and free for kids under 12. Foreign visitors pay $6 per adult and $3 per teen.

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Uno de los búhos más carismáticos del país fue visto durante los últimos días de junio en
Finca Cántaros en un bosquecillo de bambú, cerca de la laguna. Aunque no se considera
“raro”, el Búho Penachudo no es común y dio a los suertudos observadores un vistazo a su llamativa “V” blanca entre los ojos, que sube por su cabeza, – toda de plumas, por
supuesto – y conocida como “ear tuft” (penacho).

Este hermoso búho fue visto por Ismael Cruz Medina, uno de los estudiantes de un programa de educación ambiental de Sabalito llamado “Guardianes de la Tierra” creado e impartido por el profesor Eugenio Garcia del programa educativo del SVBC “Detectives de Aves”.

La dueña de Cántaros, Gail Hull, estaría feliz de mostrar a los visitantes dónde fue avistado el búho durante el día pero, por supuesto, ¡no se garantiza que se vuelva a observar! La reserva abre a las 6:30 am todos los días y cierra a las 5:00 pm. La tarifa de entrada para residentes permanentes y ticos es de C1,750 por persona para adultos, C1,000 para adolescentes (12-17) y gratuita para niños menores de 12 años. Para visitantes extranjeros, la tarifa es de $6 por persona para adultos y $3 para adolescentes.

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.

Life’s Cycle Begins Anew/El ciclo de la vida comienza de nuevo!

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The windows on the side of our car next to the garden are covered with black plastic and both of the side-view mirrors sport jauntily-angled BM shopping bags: this is our standard car ‘look’ for April and May. In the morning, from about 10 to noon, if we removed these defenses, the car will be splattered with bird excrement almost immediately. It is under attack by a Silver-throated Tanager AND a Clay-colored Thrush, both of which are laboring under the same mistaken conviction that their reflections in the windows and the mirror are rival males muscling into valuable nesting territories.

Spot-crowned Euphonia female. Photo by Caroline Torres.

Spot-crowned Euphonia female. Photo by Caroline Torres.

At this time of year, nearly all our resident birds are courting, staking out fruitful patches of habitat, building nests, laying eggs and feeding young. During the Club’s bird walk last week at the Wilson Botanical Garden, we found paired up Gray-capped Flycatchers, a Common Tody-Flycatcher nest and a Spot-crowned Euphonia nest inside of which we could see two huge, gaping bills attached to two tiny nestlings. An extra bonus for us: we got to watch both parents feeding the chicks!

At home over coffee, we watched a family of four Rufous-breasted Wrens working the trees close to the house and later, walking the dog, we saw Tropical Kingbirds feeding fledglings on the electric wires along the road.

Clay-colored Thrush nestlings at 11 days old. Photo by Alison Olivieri.

Clay-colored Thrush nestlings at 11 days old. Photo by Alison Olivieri.

Birds try to be as inconspicuous as possible during the breeding season. Understandably, they don’t want you or other predators to see them or find their nests. So, when people tell us they see fewer birds in their yards or on their feeders in April and May, we say, “Good! Their strategies are working!”

And there is another reason for this noticeable drop in casual bird sightings: the migrant species are leaving, heading north to breed in North America where they face fewer predators and can (hopefully) find more food and more space to claim. Three common ‘feeder birds’ you will NOT see now are Baltimore Oriole, Tennessee Warbler and Summer Tanager.

Female White-winged Becard carrying nesting material at Finca Cantaros. Photo by Harry Hull.

Female White-winged Becard carrying nesting material at Finca Cantaros. Photo by Harry Hull.

Thrushes, flycatchers, warblers, orioles and tanagers are included in the neotropical migrant group that leaves the tropics around April and returns, after breeding in the north, in October and November. About 25% of Costa Rica’s bird species fall into this category. To provide a local perspective, we have 21 species of warblers that can be seen in or near San Vito with relatively little effort but only six are year-around residents.

At the same time, you will hear us exclaim over migrant species from the south that come here at this time of year to breed in Costa Rica. These include the lovely and ubiquitous Swallow-tailed Kites, nest-stealing Piratic Flycatchers and cheerful Yellow-green Vireos.

Piratic Flycatcher, an austral migrant. Photo by Harry Hull.

Piratic Flycatcher, an austral migrant. Photo by Harry Hull.

So even though some birds have temporarily left, with a little effort you can still spot the remaining ones that are deliberately hiding and observe their fascinating breeding behaviors. We say, “Get up and go outside with your binoculars”! You’ll never see any of this if you’re inside watching television (or reading this on your computer) but outside birds are putting on an incredible show and you really don’t want to miss it!

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Las ventanas y espejos retrovisores al lado de nuestro auto junto al jardín están cubiertas con plástico negro: este es el ‘look’ estándar de nuestro auto para los meses de Abril y Mayo. En la mañana, hasta alrededor de la 10 am, si removemos estas defensas, el auto terminaría salpicado con excremento de aves casi inmediatamente. Nuestro auto  está bajo el ataque de un Silver-throated Tanager y un Clay-colored Thrush, ambos de los cuales están empecinados y con plena convicción  que su reflejo pertenece a un rival de su misma especie intentando tomar su valuable territorio para reproducción.

Common Tody-Flycatcher at its nest. Photo by Harry Hull.

Common Tody-Flycatcher at its nest. Photo by Harry Hull.

En estos momentos del año, la mayoría de todas nuestras aves residentes están en pleno cortejo, y territorializando los pequeños  parches de árboles frutales, construyendo nidos, poniendo sus huevos y alimentando la siguiente generación. Durante la caminata del club de la semana pasada en el Jardin Botanico Wilson, encontramos una pareja de Graycapped Flycatchers, un nido de Common Tody-Flycatcher y Spot-crowned Euphonia donde pudimos observar con asombro dos picos gigantescos junto a dos minúsculos acurrucados en el nido. Como un bono extra para nosotros pudimos observar a ambos padres alimentando a los pichones.

En casa con una buena taza de café, pudimos observar una familia de Rufous-breasted Wrens trabajando en unos árboles cercanos a nuestra casa, luego cuando paseábamos el perro, pudimos observar Tropical Kingbirds alimentando a sus polluelos en uno de los cables eléctricos que sortean el camino.

Las aves tratan de ser tan poco conspicuas como les es posible durante la estación de crianza. Entendiblemente, ellos no quieren que otros predadores los vean en sus respectivos nidos. Así que cuando la gente nos comenta que ven menos aves en los comederos de su patios o jardines entre Abril y Mayo, nosotros decimos “Bien! Sus estrategias funcionan!’’

Clay-colored Thrush nestlings. Photo by Alison Olivieri.

Clay-colored Thrush nestlings. Photo by Alison Olivieri.

Además hay otra razón por la cual el detrimento muy notable de avistamientos casuales de aves: las especies migrantes están dejando el país, desplazándose al Norte para reproducirse en Norte América donde encontraran menos predadores y donde (afortunadamente) encontraran más fuentes de alimento y espacio donde puedan establecerse. Tres aves comúnmente encontradas en los comederos NO los veras más como es el Baltimore Oriole, Tennessee Warbler and Summer Tanager.

Thrushes, flycatchers, warblers, orioles and tanagers estan incluidos como los grupos de migrantes neotropicales que dejan los trópicos alrededor de Abril y regresan después de reproducirse en Norte America, en Octubre y Noviembre . Acerca de un 25% de las especies de aves de Costa Rica coinciden en esta categoría. Para proveer una perspectiva local, tenemos 21 especies de reinitas que pueden ser vistas alrededor de San Vito con un esfuerzo relativamente bajo, pero solo 6 de ellas son residentes anuales (se quedan todo el año).

A la vez, nos escucharan muy entusiasmados cuando se puedan observar especies migrantes del Sur que vienen a nuestro país en esta época del año a reproducirse en Costa Rica. Estas incluyen las adorables y omnipresentes Gavilán tijereta, roba nidos o Piratic Flycatchers asi como los joviales Yellow-green Vireos.

Golden-hooded Tanager at Finca Cantaros. Photo by Harry Hull.

Golden-hooded Tanager at Finca Cantaros. Photo by Harry Hull.

Aun así dado que algunas especies de aves nos dejan temporalmente, con un pequeño esfuerzo podemos observar a las que se quedan deliberadamente a escondidas en su época de reproducción y más aun pudiendo apreciar su comportamiento reproductivo. Nosotros decimos ‘’Levántense y vayan afuera con sus binoculars!’’ Nunca verán esto si están adentro viendo la televisión (o leyendo sobre el tema en su computadora) dado que fuera las aves están poniendo un show increíble que definitivamente no te quieres perder!

Kansas Students Invade Finca Cantaros

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Bird banders Julie Girard and Alison Olivieri gave a Mist Netting Demonstration on January 22, 2013 for students in Professor Jon Piper’s biology course at Bethel College in North Newton, KS, the landscape of which could not possibly be more different than San Vito!

Bethel College students at Finca Cantaros.

Bethel College students at Finca Cantaros.

The 16 students have been traveling in Costa Rica since January 3 and their stay here at the Las Cruces Biological Research Station gives them an OTS hat-trick for visiting all three stations, including Palo Verde and La Selva. Their interest in birds and, we hope, bird study, was piqued by close-up looks of at a handsome White-throated Robin, Speckled Tanager, one male and one female Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and two neotropical migrants, an Ovenbird and a Northern Waterthrush.

Over many years, Jon has been bringing groups of students to Costa Rica in January where they become familiar with the many different habitats in this tiny country. They participate in biological study projects, are continually quizzed and challenged and eventually have their final exam.

Beth Piper, seen at right.

Beth Piper, seen at right.

Several years ago, the Piper family came to live in San Vito during a sabbatical year for Jon and they have been missed by all of us associated with Las Cruces/ Wilson Botanical Garden ever since. It was good to have Jon’s wife Beth with him this year — if only for a moment!  We look forward to more Piper-style visits with curious, funny and bright students in years to come.

Las Anilladoras Julie Girard y Alison Olivieri dieron una demostración con redes de niebla el pasado 22 de Enero, 2013 para estudiantes del profesor Jon Piper del curso de biología del instituto  Bethel al norte de Newton KS, en donde el paisaje no podría ser mas diferente que el de San Vito.

Los 16 estudiantes han estado viajando por Costa Rica desde Enero 3 y su estadía aquí en la Estación Biológica Las Cruces completa el triplete perfecto luego de visitar las otras dos estaciones de la OTS en Costa Rica, una localizada en Palo verde Guanacaste y la otra en la Selva en Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí. Su interés en aves y esperamos sus futuros estudios en esta rama, se hayan acentuado después de observar a muy corta distancia un White-throated Robin, Speckled Tanager, un macho y una hembra de Rufous-tailed Hummingbird y dos migrantes neotropicales: un Ovenbird y un Northern Waterthrush.

A Piper-style Pop Quiz -- answer: Mulberry bush!

A Piper-style Pop Quiz — answer: Mulberry bush!

Por varios años, Jon ha traído grupos de estudiantes a Costa Rica en Enero donde el grupo se familiariza con los muchos y diferentes ecosistemas que ofrece este pequeño país. Los estudiantes participan en proyectos de estudio biológicos, son continuamente evaluados con exámenes cortos y desafiados con la materia, eventualmente también son examinados al  final de curso.

Hace algunos años atrás , la familia Pipier vino a vivir a San Vito durante un año Sabático para Jon y han sido extrañados por todos los que tenemos relación con las Cruces/Jardín Botánico Wilson desde entonces. Fue grandiosos el tener a la esposa de Jon (Beth) con el este año—al menos por un momento! Esperamos con ansias mas visitas al estilo Pipier con mas estudiantes curiosos , graciosos y brillantes en los años por venir.

Mystery: a Missing Colony?

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On a recent birding trip to Rio Negro, we drove home through Sabalito, looking for activity in a site where we have reliably seen Crested Oropendulas nesting in the past.

Oropendula nests. Photo by Monique Girard.

Mysteriously, all the nests have vanished and not a bird was found.

More recently, three sightings of a flock of these beautiful and conspicuous birds have been reported in San Vito — one at Casa Botania, one at Finca Cantaros, and one flying over the Linda Vista bus stop. As many as 14 birds were counted, and in two of the sightings, several were carrying nesting material in their bills. A flock was seen in Sabalito, too, near the town center.

Our question is: where are they building their new colony? Please keep your eyes and ears open, and if you find them, please CONTACT US.

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En un reciente viaje a Rio Negro, manejamos a casa pasando por Sabalito, buscando actividad en el sitio donde siempre estaban las Oropéndolas anidando en el pasado. Misteriosamente, todos los nidos han desparecido y ningún ave fue encontrada.

Crested Oropendula. Photo by Alison Olivieri.

Mas recientemente, tres avistamientos de estas hermosas y conspicuas aves han sido reportados en San Vito — uno en Casa Botania, uno en Finca Cantaros y otra en la parada de buses de Linda Vista divisada mientras pasaba volando por el lugar. Al menos 14 aves han sido contabilizadas y varias cargaban material para los nidos en sus picos. Una bandada fue vista en Sabalito, también, cerca del centro del pueblo.

Nuestra pregunta es: donde están construyendo su nueva colonia? Por favor mantengan sus ojos y oídos abiertos y si las encuentran, por favor déjenos saber pulsando este link: CONTACT US.