Zooming With Owls — Part 2

 

Mottled Owl, photo by Pepe Castiblanco

Everybody loves owls, no? Yes! They are particularly endearing and, with their round heads, round bodies and big eyes, they almost look like Bobblehead Toys. The problem is we need to go out at night to see them or have a spectacular bit of luck on a daytime bird walk.

Mottled Owls are the most commonly heard of them all in San Vito. You can often hear them start to call at dusk or later into the night and they sound a little bit like dogs in the distance until you accustom yourself to their voice. They start breeding in February and, when two of them get each other wound up — calling back and forth — it makes a big, kind-of-scary, duetting racket!

Apparently there is a question on the correct scientific name of this owl. According to the Taxonomy Seer of the SVBC Jo Davidson, in Costa Rica we use Ciccaba virgata. You will see it referred to as Strix virgata in the links below. In either case, or both, Mottled Owls are found from Mexico to Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina.

Black-and-white Owl, photo by Yeimiri Badilla

The larger Black-and-white Owl is far less common but has been reliably seen and heard near the forested area around the Las Cruces Biological Station. It takes bigger prey than its cousin, feeding on small rodents and bats in addition to large insects favored by both.

You won’t be surprised to learn these owls are in the same genus with their similarly rounded shape, no ear tufts and prominent, fancy eyebrows. Ciccaba nigrolineata is the Black-and-white found from Mexico to Venezuela and Peru.

Let’s see what they have to say for themselves when asked about swiveling their heads around to nearly 180 degrees: is it fun? It looks like a conjuring trick! Click the link here and press play to hear the Mottled Owl’s reply. It sounds like it is saying, “Wow, wow, wow!” And the Black-and-white had this to say: click and press play. This sounds like “Just who are YOU?” to us.

And finally here are both of them arguing over the answer; see if you can tell who is calling by clicking here!

Just one more view of the Mottled Owl from Pepe Castiblanco’s collection.

 

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.