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.

Let the Breeding Bird Surveys Begin!

Eastern Meadowlark (Photo by Julie Girard)

In the mid-1960s, the US Geological Survey initiated a long-term, large-scale international avian monitoring program with the Canadian Wildlife Service called the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). It was undertaken in response to the noted decline of songbird populations accompanying the widespread use of DDT for mosquito control at that time. (To learn more about this effort in North America, please click here.) Continuing to this day, the BBS is run out of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, home to the Bird Banding Laboratory where records of all birds banded in the US are stored. Although rampant use of DDT has declined as a cause of songbird mortality, bird populations continued to be subjected to numerous omnipresent threats including habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, land-use changes, chemical contaminants and other problems. These issues occur worldwide and need to be closely monitored so that local populations are not lost and species do not become extinct simply because no one is paying attention.

In addition to North America, many other countries around the world use bird monitoring surveys to estimate populations, understand species’ distributions and discern decline. Although many professional ornithologists and biologists take part in these surveys, the vast majority of participants are local birders practicing citizen science.

Laughing Falcon (Photo by Alison Olivieri)

This year, Gerardo Obando of the Asociacion de Ornitologica de Costa Rica (AOCR) has taken the initiative and begun a national program of Breeding Bird Surveys! These surveys can be either a single place survey, like a garden, or a route with at least 10 stops, 200 m apart, for five-minute bird counts. The surveys must be completed between May 15 and June 30, the height of many of our resident birds’ breeding season.

Your bird club completed three surveys in mid-June consisting of one privately-owned garden, a route through Finca Cantaros (one of our Avian Monitoring Project field stations) and a route through the Wilson Botanical Garden. Very special thanks go out to Mauricio Sarmiento of the OTS Las Cruces Biological Station for helping record the GPS coordinates of each point along both of the routes. Next year we need to add more routes and we will need more volunteers to accomplish this! “Ace Birders” of the SVBC: please come join us in 2013 — we need your help!

You can read about this new effort — and practice your Spanish if you are not a native speaker — by clicking here.  We are proud to be a new Institutional Member of the AOCR, about which you can read more by clicking here.