Costa Rica in March – Part 2

Costa Rica in March – Part 2

We stayed three nights at Rancho Naturalista, a birding lodge in the Central Caribbean foothills of Cartago province. Here is the main lodge, where we had our meals and where some of our group had rooms.

From the entrance, we could walk through to our dining area.

We ate outside on the covered veranda.

This is the lounge where we met to go over our birds lists. We saw over 130 species of birds around the lodge as well as in the general area.

Our room was in a separate cabin, a short walk from the main lodge.

Every morning, we would start our birding with our coffee or hot drink, up on the deck overlooking the garden.

Here’s a view of the garden and one of their hummingbird feeders. White-necked Jacobins were the most plentiful hummingbird.

The deck also overlooked the mountains and the valley below the lodge. This is a Crested Guan, which mostly stays in the trees which is surprising for its size. It was feeding on fruit in a tree about a hundred metres away from the deck.

This is a Lesson’s Motmot, a species we saw several times on the trip. Most motmots have long racquet-tipped tails which they swing like pendulums.

It was a treat to see this Crimson-collared Tanager because while they are fairly common throughout the Caribbean lowlands and foothills, we only saw them twice on the trip.

We saw many Golden-hooded Tanagers throughout the trip and enjoyed looking at each one with their distinctive colouring.

One morning after breakfast, we walked up farm roads to a more open pasture area.

We found a spot that had good views of the surrounding trees, because we were hoping to see a cotinga. We waited quite a while with nothing happening, so Wendy walked up a bit from the group, following the sound of a small flycatcher. She recorded its call so she could study the recording to help identify the bird. On a whim, she played the recording back and the bird responded by flying closer and perching nearby. Soon after, Doug joined her in the shade and she played the recording again. The Yellow-bellied Flycatcher perched close enough for Doug to get this photo. Yellow-bellied Flycatchers are the most common migrant empid. flycatcher around, spending its winters in the tropics and its summers in Canada, but they are not found southeastern BC where we live.

We spotted a Keel-billed Toucan way up in a tree along the skyline.

The toucan was so far away (about 200 metres) that the best view of it was through the scope. In the photo below, Wendy is taking a picture with her iPhone through the scope (digiscoping.) The photo was okay, but not as good as the one that Doug took with his telephoto lens.

We walked down from the pasture and along the road and then up to a house off the main road. They had planted verbena bushes to attract hummingbirds. Here is a photo of the photographers trying to get that perfect shot.

This is Doug’s photo of a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, sipping from the purple verbena flowers.

This little hummingbird is aptly called a Snowcap. It’s a little smaller than the Rufous Hummingbird that we have in the summer in BC. It also liked to visit the verbena flowers and the perches of the nearby bushes. We also saw a Black-crested Coquette, but it was very skittish and difficult to photograph.

After lunch, we took a bus ride to the La Angostura Reservoir.

We saw a Collared Aracari in a tree alongside of the road. It is in the same family as the toucan but a little smaller (about 40 cm).

As we worked our way along the road, we had better views of the water. There were distant views of Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Blue, Little Blue and Green Herons along with a Limpkin (a new bird for us.)

These Black-bellied Whistling Ducks looked comical perched in a tree. They nest in large hollows or holes in trees and often perch in trees.

This female Ringed Kingfisher perched near the water. Ringed Kingfishers are the largest kingfisher in the Americas (about 40 cm in comparison to the Belted which is 33 cm).

After breakfast the next day, we stopped at a spot on the road that overlooked a ravine. We were almost even with the upper branches of a tall fruit-bearing tree. We waited for about half an hour before a cotinga arrived. This beautiful blue-coloured cotinga is called a Lovely Cotinga, and was a new bird for us. It’s a rather chunky bird, that is just a little shorter than an American Robin.

The bus took us to another birding spot where we walked on a road beside the Tuis River. There was one place where we could access the river and check for Black Phoebes and American Dippers. (which we saw)

This Black-and-White Warbler was feeding along the sides of a branch of a tree near the riverbank.

This Collared Trogan allowed us good views of its beautiful back, but we couldn’t convince it to turn around and show us its reddish belly.

On our way back to our lodge, the bus took us to another birding “hotspot;” a bridge crossing a small, swiftly moving stream. A pair of Sunbitterns had made a nest on a branch over the stream which was about thirty metres from the bridge. We also saw a pair of Torrent Tyrannulets foraging at the stream’s edge. We waited awhile, but the Sunbittern stayed on the nest. It was fortunate that the birds chose to build a nest so close to a bridge and we would have been extremely lucky if it also chose to display its beautiful wings.

Later that afternoon, we took a trail from behind the cabins into the rainforest surrounding the lodge and walked along the edge of a ravine.

Below us, our local guide spotted a pair of Rufous Motmots on a branch overhanging the ravine. Here’s a photo of one of them. Motmots tend to stay still for long periods while they scan their surroundings for suitable prey – large invertebrates and small reptiles and amphibians. It is unusual to take a photo of a bird from above and it was tricky to get a view that was unobstructed by leaves and branches.

Further along the trail, our guide found a spot where two Crested Owls were roosting. We were quite a ways from them on the trail so they weren’t bothered by us, although it might be hard to tell from their expressions. They were the same species that we saw two days before.

After seeing the owls, we headed down another trail to the “Hummingbird Pools.” The trail winds along the sides of a steep canyon and ends at a viewing platform where you can see the pools in the stream below. We saw a hummingbird (a Crowned Wood-nymph) bathing in the shallow pools, and other birds also came to drink at the stream, but it was too dark to take good photos.

The next day we headed to the Talamanca Highlands and our next blog will be about our next few days at higher elevations.

Costa Rica in March – Part 1

Costa Rica in March – Part 1

This March, we travelled to Costa Rica and joined an eleven-day “Birding with a Camera” tour organized by Tropical Birding. In keeping with our “Travels with a Fox” theme, we brought along our little fox mascot. In the photo below, the fox is tucked into the arms of a decorative frog which was on the wall of one of the lodges. The little fox will be included in various photos throughout the blog, but not pointed out, so it will be a bit of a “search and find” exercise.

This blog covers the first three days in San Jose, Hotel Robledal and the road trip to Gualipes.

We spent a few days in San Jose before the tour to acclimatize. We stayed close to the city centre in Hotel Grano de Oro, one of the best hotels in the city.

Our room on the second floor had a terrace with overlapping roofs that allowed air to come in but no rainfall.

Here’s a view of the hallway right outside our door. The restaurant is below in the central courtyard, which allowed for good airflow when the windows were open. There was no air-conditioning, yet it was comfortable.

The food was amazing. The photo below was taken after 8 pm on the night we arrived, so there were less people there than the next night when we ate earlier. The hotel only has 37 rooms, so we were never crowded.

One day we reserved a spot for a hot tub on a roof-top terrace.

The Sabana Metropolitan Park was a fifteen minute walk away from the hotel, so we went there one morning for some birding on our own. If you do an internet search about this park, you will see images of a beautiful park surrounding a large lake. The lake is now totally dried up and looks like it hasn’t had water in it for quite awhile. But is was a large open space and we got some exercise and saw some birds.

Here is a weathered wooden statue carved from a stump. Most of the structures in the park were done in the 1970s and they are showing their age.

We located a pair of noisy Orange-chinned Parakeets. Because we were looking up at them, we could see their orange “chins” easily. Although we had seen this species in a previous trip to the tropics, it was the first time that we had found and identified these birds by ourselves.

We searched out a Rufous-collared Sparrow because we had read that although it was a common sparrow throughout the middle and upper elevations, it was not found in forests. It turned out that we saw plenty of these sparrows throughout the trip, but we think the first one that we saw was pretty special.

The Sabana Metropolitan Park is on land that used to be an airport. Adjacent to the park, is the Costa Rican Museum of Art, which is housed in the old terminal building. The building was opened as an air terminal in April of 1940 and its neo-colonial style was typical of Latin American architecture of the time. It served as an international air terminal until 1958.

We visited the museum one morning. Below is a photo of the Golden Room which used to be the diplomatic room of the former airport. The stucco mural covers all four walls and depicts Costa Rican history from pre-Columbian to 1940. It also includes plants and animals of the region.

There are other permanent displays outside in the sculpture garden. We like to call this one, “Bumpy Soccer Field” or for Latin America is could be “Bumpy Football Field” but its real name is “Heterotopia.” There seems to be a lot of deep thinking involved in this kind of art.

We also walked the other direction from our hotel towards downtown, to the Central Market. It is an enclosed city block and is full of all kinds of shops. Wendy bought a couple of handbags, but mostly we were there to experience the place.

Soon it was time to join the group at Hotel Robledal that was located close to the airport in Alajuela. We enjoyed a cool swim in the pool.

The grounds were home to many birds.

There were two Feruginous Pygmy-Owls roosting in the trees just outside our balcony.

These Spot-breasted Orioles were new to us. Both males and females have similar colouring.

We took a long detour on our way to our first lodge, that took us over the Central Mountains to Guapiles and the Caribbean region of Costa Rica. Near Guapiles, we visited a private home that had set up a bird-viewing area for visiting birders.

We got very good views of a Montezuma Oropendola. Oropendolas produce bizarre gurgling and rasping noises. They nest in colonies and produce long pendulous nests.

Here are two Green Honeycreepers. The species is named for the female one (the green one), and not the black-headed blue one (the male).

This pretty bird is a male Red-legged Honeycreeper. Honeycreepers feed on fruits, insects and nectar.

A guide from the “Guapiles Feeder Place” (our name for it), came with us and we loaded into our bus and headed out to a nearby location.

We tromped through some rutted fields to an owl roosting location. We saw a pair of Crested Owls, but they were quite obscured behind branches. Two days later we had a better view of the same species, so the later photo will be on the blog.

We took another forest trail so we could see Honduran white bats (Ectophylla alba) also known as Caribbean white tent-making bats. These bats build “tents” out of Heliconia plant leaves that they first cut carefully with their teeth. Here the local guide and our tour guide are looking at the roosting bats.

Here is a photo that Doug took with his cell phone. They are really tiny bats with wingspans of no more than 10 cm. They are frugivorous, preferring one species of fig which means that habitat loss will greatly impact the population numbers.

Our local guide took us to another location that was a known roosting spot for a Great Potoo. The nocturnal potoo looks so much like a stub of a branch that it isn’t concerned about being harassed while it sleeps the day away.

We continued our route to our first lodge: Rancho Naturalista in the Central Caribbean Foothills. The next blog will be about our adventures there.

Birding in Arizona: February 2022

Birding in Arizona: February 2022

This blog is mainly about the birds we saw in February. Although the first several photos are actually from January.

We drove up to the Phoenix area on January 24th to bird at the Riparian Preserve at the Gilbert Water Ranch. These American Pelicans were basking in the morning light.

We were glad we went early enough to see them, because they soon flew off. One flew overhead when we exploring other trails. They are very distinctive and comical-looking birds.

There was plenty of shallow water at the Preserve. We saw at least thirty Black-necked Stilts, but this one was the closest. Black-necked stilts walk delicately on their extraordinarily long red legs.

American Avocets can be seen in BC, but when we see them there, they are in breeding plumage with rusty heads and necks. Both males and females have the same plumage, but females’ bills are strongly upturned. The bird in the photo is likely a male avocet since his bill is rather straight.

We also saw over forty Long-billed Dowitchers. They also prefer shallow muddy pools.

The most exotic bird in the Preserve was the Roseate Spoonbill. It sticks around, mostly roosting in the same area. Most of the time it was sleeping. Doug was lucky enough to catch a photo in the few minutes it was awake. Normally spoonbills are found along the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, or along the coast of Florida, so this one was a long way from its regular home.

A Nashville Warbler usually spends its winter in Mexico and farther south, but we suppose this one thought Arizona was a fine place to spend some time. Doug’s camera caught him with a curious expression.

We had reports of sightings of a LeConte’s Thrasher in the salt flats northwest of Tucson. So we went to see if we could see one too. It was a very harsh and arid environment with lots of bare sandy ground interspersed with saltbrush and creosote bushes. Here’s the view with the eastern mountains in the background.

And here’s looking in the other direction, with the western mountains in the background. A whole lot of nothing…and no LeConte’s Thrasher.

But we did see a new kind of sparrow to us (Sagebrush Sparrow) and this Sage Thrasher sang and posed.

We also had a good view of an Ash-throated Flycatcher.

If you look closely at the crook in the saguaro, you can see a tangle of sticks with a Great Horned Owl sitting on top. There were no trees in the area, so the saguaro was the best roosting spot around.

We birded at Madera Canyon a couple of times in February. It’s a much more hospitable environment. This Rufous-backed Robin was enjoying the berries in the pyracantha bush (a non-native shrub that grows to 3 metres or more.) The Rufous-backed Robin is a bit more secretive than the American Robin that we are familiar with in Canada. Notice that along with rufous colouring on its back and wings, it has an all-dark face without white markings around the eye.

This photo shows the berries on the bush really well, but it also shows a bit of the white with black-streaked throat. Not all birds pose for the camera; sometimes they stay hidden in the branches.

At Madera Canyon we can usually count on a Hermit Thrush to perch up on a rock, or in this case a branch.

On our way back to Tucson from Madera Canyon we usually stop at Canoa Ranch Conservation Park. This time there was an Eared Grebe and some Hooded Mergansers. An Eared Grebe doesn’t develop its wispy yellow plumes (which give the impression of ears) until April.

There are at least a hundred sparrows at Canoa. White-crowned sparrows are the most numerous, and are the bigger birds in the photo below. The smaller sparrows in the photo are Brewer’s Sparrows. We’ve also seen Lark, Lincoln’s, Savannah, Song and Rufous-winged Sparrows. Persistent (or lucky) people could spot a couple of Clay-coloured Sparrows among the large flocks, but we have not put in the effort required, especially for a bird we can see very easily in the summer in BC.

Another favourite birding destination is Tubac. At the end of February we were fortunate enough to get good views of a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. It’s a very small bird of just less than 4 1/2 inches or 11 centimetres long. Even though there is “Northern” in its name, it is only found as far north as southeast Arizona.

Also on that same day in Tubac, we saw a yellow-shafted sub-species of Northern Flicker. This photo doesn’t show the yellow undersides of the wings (which we saw when it flew), but the red nape crescent, gray crown and brown face are visible.

These were some of the 143 species that we saw in February 2022. In the next few weeks we will be birding in Costa Rica, so we can assure you that there will be many bird photos to view in the upcoming blogs.

Arizona Adventures: February 2022

Arizona Adventures: February 2022

At the beginning of February we travelled to Page, Arizona. No visit to Page is complete without a stop to view Horseshoe Bend. The city has put in a new parking lot and the National Park Service has rerouted and improved the trail. Yes, there is a $10 parking fee, but the upgrades are worth it. We had been here a couple of times before, and didn’t miss the old sandy trail over the hill.

Horseshoe Bend is an amazing natural phenomenon, widely photographed and publicized, yet still awe inspiring. The Navajo Sandstone cliffs tower over 1000 feet above the river.

Here is the typical full horseshoe view.

Here’s a different view. It’s amazing to think about how the water could cut through those huge sandstone cliffs that tower over 1000 feet above the river. The Navajo Sandstone was formed 190 million years ago when a large part of the western United States was blanketed in sand dunes.

Doug looks pretty calm that close to the edge.

Page was our staging stop for our hike to “The Wave” in the North Coyote Buttes area. We posted a whole blog about our adventure that day, but here are a few photos to remind you or in case you missed it.

On our drive back to Tucson we decided to take a detour to the Grand Canyon. We’d only made one other visit. There are a few remnants of snow in the foreground of the photo below .

It was really cold that day, (-9C when the photo was taken), but Wendy had the winter gear.

On our loop back we drove the 89A into Sedona. Mostly when we’re driving through this area, we’re pulling the 5th Wheel, and can’t drive the narrow, winding road, so it was only the second time we had driven the road.

We had hoped to go for a short walk on the Bell Parkway, but we couldn’t find a parking spot, so we stopped at the side of the road and grabbed a photo. It reminded us of why we don’t visit the Sedona area anymore. It’s beautiful but too crowded.

On February 8th, we did our annual hike to the highest mountain near our place. It’s only 4,688 feet, but with over a 2000 foot elevation gain. Our favourite starting point is at the Sandero Esperanza trailhead on the Golden Gate road.

The other big peaks in the area, Panther Peak and El Sombrero are in background of the photo below.

The trail joins the Hugh Norris trail at the ridge. There’s a break in the climbing while we traverse.

We had our lunch at the top, along with a dozen others. Here’s the view looking southeast at Tucson from very close to the top.

This photo was taken a few minutes later. The view is of the Avra Valley in the west.

It was a special treat to enjoy the Desert Museum later that week with our friends from Cranbrook.

Raptor Free Flight is a “must see” at the Desert Museum. Doug took these photos of a couple of Harris’s Hawks with his iPhone. The birds get really close.

We have found that watching the raptors in this controlled setting has helped us better identify them in the wild.

There are many different environments close to our place near Tucson. So another day we decided to explore the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, hoping to see different sparrows and longspurs. We saw lots of sparrows and a White-tailed Kite, but no longspurs. But there were some beautiful views.

On February 15th, we hiked along the wash beside the petroglyphs that the Picture Rocks Road and community are named. The petroglyphs are carved into the rock by the early Hohokam people.

The petroglyphs are on the rock bluffs on the right in the photo below. This portion of the trail isn’t in the national park, and you can see tracks of motorized vehicles in the sand. The wash is called Picture Rocks Wash, as you might expect.

Farther along the trail we discovered several pretty pinkish-purple flowers. They had long thin leaves that reminded us of chives. This photo is enlarged; the group of flowers were about the size of a quarter. We think it is Taper-tip Onion, a native plant to Arizona.

The Modern Quilt Guild’s annual big show, QuiltCon was in Phoenix this year in the middle of February. A friend who used to live in Cranbrook joined Wendy. She was spending a few weeks in the area. The men went birding at Gilbert Water Ranch, so the quilters had plenty of time to view the quilts.

Wendy asked her friend to stand beside this quilt, to give it a sense of scale. The quilt was called, “Pride and Joy,” and won first place in the piecing category. At the end of the show it was also awarded the People’s Choice Award. Veruschka Zarate made it as a self-portrait of herself and her two little boys.

Which brings us to quilt-making at the Fifth Wheel. Wendy tries not to run an iron inside when the air-conditioning is on, so this outside pressing station was set up. It works fine unless it’s windy.

Wendy completed this quilt top called “Sparrows” for our new grandbaby. The quilting will probably have to wait until she returns home because her machine here is pretty small.

And now to our flower section. This cutey was taken at the Desert Museum on February 11th. It’s always amazing to us to see flowers blooming so early in the year.

By the third week in February there were many flowers blooming at the Desert Museum. The stately pink flower is a penstemon and the yellow flowers are brittlebush.

The only mammal photo this month is of Collared Peccaries. They are locally known as javelinas. The “collar” on the javelina on the right is more prominent. When we first came here three years ago, we were excited to catch a glimpse of a javelina in the wild. Perhaps the plentiful rain last summer allowed their population to soar, because they have now become “problem animals.” In many places, javelinas are diurnal, but in the suburbs of Tucson they are more nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk).

This photo was taken on one of the rare times that we saw them in the yard in daylight. After this sighting, Doug followed them to see where they got through the fence. So the fence was reinforced again with wire dug into the ground, and rocks blocking weak areas. Checking for tracks in the morning and fixing spots that they have pushed their way through has become one of Doug’s daily routines.

Here are a few sunset photos from our place. The good thing about clouds is they help make the best sunsets. There’s another sunset photo on the banner that you can see if you view the blog on your computer.

The next blog is all about birds.