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

Sigue en espanol

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!

Espanol aqui:

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!

The Nidification of San Vito

Golden-hooded Tanager in nest. (Photo: Harry Hull)

This will sound a little strange to North Americans: “Winter’s in the air and nests are everywhere“! We are two months into our rainy season, aka tropical winter, and that puts us deep into the nesting season. When we stand still and watch, we find nests everywhere: under the eaves, high in the trees, low down in shrubs, under plant leaves, in tree trunk cavities and even on fence posts.

Common Potoo with its egg on a fence post. (Photo by Barbara Keeler Barton)

Because the nesting season started back in April we see now, in early June, fledglings chasing their parents begging to be fed. In a short walk this morning, I counted at least six young birds pestering adults: Tropical Kingbird, Cherrie’s Tanager, Variable Seedeater, Bronzed Cowbird peeping at a surrogate parent Rufous-collared Sparrow, Lesser Elaenia and Silver-throated Tanager. By the time they get to this stage, you can almost see the parent birds swiping their foreheads with the side of their wings thinking: will these young birds EVER learn to feed themselves?

A few days ago, an adult Blue-crowned Motmot led two young birds to our banana-papaya feeder and sat there alternatively stuffing pieces of fruit into the gaping bills of each of its offspring. This was, of course, a truly  thrilling ‘National Geo’ moment with my camera nowhere nearby.

Then, too, I recently caught a Fiery-billed Aracari peering into a large shrub outside our front door where a pair of Cherrie’s Tanagers are going for a second nesting. No doubt it was looking for food for its own young but it’s hard not to root for the littler guys.

Golden-hooded Tanager nestlings, 11 days old. (Photo by Alison Olivieri)

We are puzzling over what happened to two nestling Golden-hooded Tanagers that seemed ultra-secure in a hanging basket on our porch. The adults chose a safe-looking spot where the voracious local squirrels might overlook them, but they disappeared in mid-day while we had a little pool party with friends. They were 15 days old and didn’t seem big enough or strong enough to fledge. Maybe a snake wound its way up there or the squirrels managed to grapple up the beams after all.

Squirrel Cuckoo nest. (Photo by Aracelly Barrantes)

Predators and other dangers are everywhere here. First-time nesters sometimes build flimsy nests without adequate protection from heavy rains that are subsequently washed away. Hummingbirds in the ‘hermit’ group build nests hanging from the underside of large maranta or heliconia leaves that can be toppled over in strong winds or unrelenting rain storms. Trees fall over regularly at this time of year and raptors, like the Swallow-tailed Kites that come from South America to breed here, are constantly on the hunt. This is to say nothing about the many opossums, raccoons, weasels and snakes that patrol at night. Or humans wielding weed-whackers, machetes and chainsaws.

Because danger comes from all directions and at all times, birds must take counter-measures. My favorite is the swaying flycatcher nest attached to a wispy branch in a tall tree with the entrance hole on the side or at the bottom. It is an absolute marvel and one wonders how that clever pendant, retort or ovoid-shaped blueprint got started. No predator weighing more than a few ounces could ever get inside. We found a beauty at Finca Cantaros several weeks ago, painstakingly constructed by a Yellow-olive Flycatcher. In the meantime: go outside! Look around! It’s amazing what you will see.

Yellow-olive Flycatcher entering nest from below. (Photo by Harry Hull)

Golden-hooded Tanager nesting

Several weeks ago, Gail Hull spotted Golden-hooded Tanagers building a nest in one of the jaboticaba bushes near Laguna Zoncho at Finca Cántaros, and now, we assume, there are eggs in the nest being brooded. I shot the photos in the slide slow below of the female (?) Golden-hooded Tanager sitting in the nest. Frequently, the bird has its beak open as though panting, so I’m guessing that it was hot or tired. Harry Hull

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