Festival at Las Cruces/Wilson Garden Saturday, June 28!

Festival_Eco_Cultural_2013 036Come one, come all to the OTS Las Cruces Biological Station/Wilson Botanical Garden Festival de la Conectividad Saturday, June 28.

We will be painting faces and selling yummy cookies and cakes to support our education class ‘Detectives de Pajaros’! Hope to see you there!Festival_Eco_Cultural_2013 039


A Birder’s Bird

A guest “Viewpoint” written by Greg Homer, a birder’s birder who has led many trips to Costa Rica over the years. Greg and his wife Helen are our newest members. . . . .

It’s possible — even probable — that in the entire history of the world no non-birder has ever uttered the phrase “Ooh look, a Thrushlike Schiffornis!”.  But this wonderful creature, described by field guide author Richard Garrigues as “. . . a non-descript olive-brown bird . . . ” and somewhat more generously by the great Alexander Skutch as ” . . . not brightly colored”, is most definitely a joy to behold when seen by a birder.

Greg Homer, on deck at his new digs near the Wilson Botanical Garden.

Greg Homer, on deck at his new digs near the Wilson Botanical Garden.

Toucans, motmots, most parrots and many tanagers fall into a category of birds often referred to as Charismatic Avifauna (C.A.).  These birds are so colorful and/or charming that both birders and non-birders alike stop what they’re doing to give them a look. It’s extremely easy to love a Bay-headed Tanager or Fiery-billed Aracari.

But the Thrushlike Schiffornis most certainly does NOT fall into the C.A. category.  Not only is the Thrushlike Schiffornis non-descript and not brightly colored, it does not live a particularly exciting or charismatic lifestyle (at least not to all of us non-Thrushlike Schiffornises).  The terms ‘sluggish’ and ‘secretive’ and ‘solitary’ are often used to describe its behavior.  The song of the Thrushlike Schiffornis is unlikely to ever become a Top 10 ringtone.  And, on top of all that, there is the name — to me, ‘Thrushlike Schiffornis’ sounds more like a medical diagnosis than a bird.

“Mrs. Hartoonian, we have the results back on that culture we did on your eye.  You have thrushlike schiffornis.”

 “Is that bad?”

“Well, it isn’t good; but these days it is treatable with antibiotics.”

And get this. . . in my copy of A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by F. Gary Stiles and Alexander Skutch (first edition 1989), the Thrushlike Schiffornis isn’t even called a Thrushlike Schiffornis.  Back then it was listed as a “Thrushlike Manakin . . . which may possibly be a Thrushlike Mourner.”

When I was a kid back in the citrus belt of California, family, friends and neighbors used to look at me, smile and then tell my parents, “Well, there’s a face only a mother could love.”  And so it goes for the Thrushlike Schiffornis — a bird only a birder could love.

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.

Festival Eco-Cultural 2013

Rock Art rocks!

Rock Art rocks!

A big THANK YOU to all the SVBC volunteers who helped organize and implement all the children’s activities during the recent Festival Eco-Cultural at OTS Las Cruces Biological Station/Wilson Botanical Garden.

Rock Art with Wendy Bernstein and Face Painting by Kata Ulaenars, Barbara Barton, Pat Morgan and Liz Allen are always popular at this annual event and we try to introduce new crafts and other activities each year.

Lantern finished!

Lantern finished!

This year Roni Chernin led a craft table transforming recycled material into flower vases and Kelley Rasch and her neighbor Rosemari helped kids make gaily decorated lanterns.

Held in June during Environmental Awareness Week, Las Cruces is transformed into a hubbub of activities including musical events, videos, guided walks, local food, crafts, artwork, demonstrations, plant and seed exchanges and more. Traditionally, members of the SVBC have volunteered to run the children’s programs for both days of this much-anticipated celebration.

Please enjoy these pictures by Alison Olivieri from a two-day “photo op” and plan to join us next year!

Beautiful painted faces.

Beautiful painted faces.

Below is a report of this year’s Festival, in Spanish only, by Ariadna Sanchez, Environmental Education Coordinator at Las Cruces.

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 Departing Desvenains

Our VP Kate and her family, Patrick and Luca, recently left Costa Rica for Washington, DC, a city that Kate has described many times as one of her favorite places to live.

All of us who have enjoyed Patrick’s hospitality and culinary skills; who have walked, talked, birded and banded with Kate, and who have played with “Luca-paduca” will miss them terribly. But naturally we saw them off with a terrific Farewell Party at Las Cascatas and we wish them all the best the world has to offer!

‘Kate’s Last Walk’ photo by Landon Daft

This photo was taken on June 16 at the Wilson Botanical Garden to commemorate what will now be known as “Kate’s Last Wilson Walk”. Standing from left to right are Liz Allen, Barbara Keeler-Barton, Peace Corps Volunteer Darien Combs, Elena Murillo, Heysen Esquivel, Hellen Castillo, Wally Barton, Alison Olivieri, Judith Ippolito, Erick Ilama Loria, Joe Ippolito, Roni Chernin, Mark (who is taking over Morphose Mountain Retreat B&B) and Wendy Schulz. Kneeling in front are (from left to right) Kate Allen Desvenain, Edwin Borbon Abarca, Yoiner and Royce Schulz (really not kneeling). Special thanks to visitor Landon Daft for taking this picture.

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!