Birding near Tucson, Arizona: April 2022

Birding near Tucson, Arizona: April 2022

After we got back from Costa Rica near the end of March, we went out birding with the camera about fifteen times. This blog includes photos of some of the birds we saw.

Sweetwater Wetlands was the spot we visited the most. The trees had leafed out and were full of warblers (Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Lucy’s and Wilson’s)

This Yellow Warbler was singing high in the branches of a dead tree. Just as Doug focused and took its picture, it took off in flight.

We saw a Black-crowned Night-Heron on a couple of our visits.

We saw an American Bittern more times this year than we ever had before. This sighting was extra special for us because we were by ourselves when we saw the bird fly into the reeds. On all the other times, other people had seen the bird first and pointed it out. Here’s a photo of the bittern in its “You can’t see me, I’m just another reed” pose.

The pond at El Rio Open Space Preserve had been dry for an number of months. Marana Parks had done some rehabilitation work, removing overgrown trees along the shore and cattails that were encroaching the pond. Here’s a view looking south of the banks that were built up at the far end, taken about a week after they started filling the pond.

There were some waterfowl, but more will likely arrive later. This Abert’s Towhee with seeds in its mouth was in a drier area surrounding the pond. Abert’s Towhees are usually found in pairs; when you see one, its mate is usually nearby.

This is an Ash-throated Flycatcher, with its short bushy crest.

We visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum a couple of times. Wendy is looking at a Cooper’s Hawk sitting on the highest horizontal branch on the right.

Here’s a close-up photo of the same bird. This Cooper’s Hawk was calling frequently from the same perch, so we were able to locate it easily.

Every time we visit the cactus garden at the Desert Museum, we check out the Cactus Wren nest. We saw the wrens building this nest earlier this year and now they are feeding chicks. Here’s a shot of a Canyon Wren exiting the nest.

The Desert Museum is a great place to photograph hummingbirds. This is a female Anna’s Hummingbird.

On our last visit in April, we were lucky enough to see a pair of Hooded Orioles. They usually nest in the palms on the museum grounds. Here’s a photo of a male Hooded Oriole. The “hood” in this case is the yellow top and sides of the head.

Every month we try to visit Reid Park. Even though it is a city park with lawns, ball fields, playgrounds and picnic sites, it attracts a large number of birds. Many of the birds are waterfowl that enjoy either of the two lakes. This Neotropic Cormorant is drying its feathers after diving for fish. Cormorants’ feathers are not water resistant which allows the bird to dive deeper, but requires the bird to dry its feathers before it can fly.

This male Mexican Duck was feeding in a small stream. His plumage is similar to a female Mallard, but he has the characteristic yellow bill of a male. Until recently, Mexican Ducks were considered a sub-species of Mallards.

We went birding in Madera Canyon, not only because there are lots of birds there, but also because it is a bit cooler because of its higher elevation. This is a Cassin’s Vireo. At home in BC, we usually only recognize this bird by its distinctive song because it usually stays hidden in the foliage.

This is probably the first photo that Doug has captured of a Pacific-slope Flycatcher.

We made a last visit to Tubac, about an hour an a half south of Tucson. The female Rose-throated Becard was building a new nest, so she was easier to locate than other times. Birders come from all over to see this species because they are found in only a few spots in the US.

This Summer Tanager has returned to the area. Summer Tanagers are long-distance neotropical migrants that winter in southern Mexico and northwest South America. Their favourite foods are bees and wasps.

Just as the “summer birds” are returning to the Tucson area, we “snowbirds” need to head home. We’ll be taking a break from posting blogs until we travel again in the summer. Until then…

Arizona Activities – April 2022

Arizona Activities – April 2022

This blog will cover our hiking and biking activities as well as spring flowers, a visit to downtown Tucson and the regular events around our place on North Desert View Dr on the outskirts of Tucson. This post includes our activities in the last part of March as well as April.

Our first few hikes were at the end of March. The temperatures were heating up so we ventured south to Madera Canyon, where it wouldn’t be as hot. It was warm enough to wear shorts and t-shirt when we headed up from the upper parking lot (Mt. Wrightson Picnic Area) on the Old Baldy trail. We found a few patches of snow in the shade near our highest elevation.

At Josephine Saddle we had our lunch, then headed down the “Super Trail.” Most people do the loop the opposite way, but we would rather climb the steeper trail and take the longer more gradual trail downhill. Here’s a view towards Josephine Saddle which is the low point just to the right of Wendy in the photo below.

The next week, the weather was not as hot so we hiked closer to home. Here’s Doug on the Pima Canyon trail. We hiked up to an old dam and back. (4hrs, 10km) We saw plenty of birds even though we didn’t bring binoculars.

By the next week, it got really hot, but we wanted to get out anyway. We started walking before 8 for a two hour ramble with views of Sombrero Peak. We made a loop around the rock bluff that is behind Wendy in the photo below. We were home well before lunchtime, and spent the afternoon in our air-conditioned trailer. It reached 37 degrees Celsius that day. (April 8)

Now to our mountain biking. We revisited the Honeybee Canyon area in early April. The trail has vast views and the landscape is more open than our usual spot at Tortolita Preserve. Many people travel farther than our 30 kilometre ride, but we wanted to keep it under three hours. It was 27 degrees Celsius when we finished, so warm enough for us.

We were surprised on our ride by this small clump of Golden Poppies out in what seemed like the “middle of nowhere.”

Here is another photo of our favourite mountain biking trail at the Tortolita Preserve.

And another one taken on our last day riding there in the middle of April. On this ride, it felt like we had the trail “wired”; we knew each bend and drop, when to brake, how fast to take a corner and what gear to be in to do a climb. We know the twenty times we rode the trail over the season taught us that. We can hardly wait until next season.

Along the Tortolita Preserve trail, we usually see birds and sometimes a cow. This time we rode past a scary-looking snake. We stopped and Doug got this photo before it slithered away. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but if you look closely you can see that the yellow stripes have red in the middle. We think it is a deadly coral snake, but we didn’t get close enough check out its fangs to be sure. The rhyme that can help you tell if it is a coral snake or not is: “Red touching yellow will kill a fellow, but red touching black is safe for Jack.” It’s another reason to travel north when it gets hot: the snakes come out.

Another spot that we visited many times over the season was the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The first time we visited the museum back in the spring of 2019, it was to see an art quilt show, so it was fitting that we saw the latest exhibition on our our last visit of this season.

This wall displayed works by four different artists. It’s interesting how each one is similar with the use of bright colours and artists’ decisions to show only part of the creature in their work.

Springtime brings the flowers to the Desert Museum. It seemed that all the Ocotillo bloomed at once. It was a bit weird to see them blooming when most of them didn’t have leaves.

This is a blooming barrel cactus at the Desert Museum. We forgot to get its name, but we don’t think it is a local species. The cactus garden has cactus from all over the world.

This is a flower of a prickly pear that is found in the Tucson area. It’s red interior is a distinct feature of Opuntia macrocentra or black-spined prickly pear.

This Engleman prickly pear grows beside the dirt road on the way to our place.

So did this Buckhorn Cholla. Without flowers, its interestingly shaped arms are quite formidable, but the flowers give it a softer look. We had never seen them bloom before.

The week before we came home, we thought about things that we hadn’t done yet and going into downtown Tucson was one of them. In early 2020, we saw that the Old Pima Courthouse was being renovated. The work is now complete and it’s beautiful. This is a view from the back near the gardens for The January 8th Memorial that commemorates the tragic event on that day in 2011 and the wonderful Tucson spirit that emerged. The city’s visitor centre is housed in the building and has interesting displays about Tucson’s past.

The University of Arizona’s Rock and Gem Museum has also moved to the Old Courthouse. We were not expecting such an extensive collection and amazing displays. Our favourite section was the full-size model of the mine in Bisbee, Arizona, showing the crystals and gems as they may have looked on a mine wall. We spent more than an hour looking at the museum and only saw about half of the displays.

Our main objective, however, was to have lunch at the famous El Charro restaurant. Doug had the same favourite meal (Enchiladas Banderas), but we hadn’t been there since February of 2020, so he really enjoyed it.

That was the only time that we ate out at a Tucson restaurant for our whole stay. We enjoy preparing our own meals. We keep our air-conditioning at 25-26 degrees Celsius, so on days when the air-conditioning is still running at dinner time, we cook outside. In the photo below, Wendy is preparing a bulgar pilaf on the induction plate. The chicken will be grilled on the barbecue.

Tucson sometimes feels the effects of the winter storms that dump snow in northern US and Canada. On March 29th, we actually had a hail storm. Here’s the view looking south, taken from the trailer doorway. On days that we have a forecasted high of 20 degrees Celsius or lower, we plan a dinner that we can make in the oven.

The clouds from the storm that day helped make a stunning sunset.

The time came that we had to make our way home. This is the view on our last night, with the truck in place to hook up early in the morning.

After four days of driving, we made it home to Cranbrook, BC. It’s springtime here, the grass is greening up and the daffodils are almost up.

All the bird photos will be in the next blog post coming shortly. The Redwood has been cleaned and will be ready for our next travels in the summer.

Costa Rica in March – Part 6 (final)

Costa Rica in March – Part 6 (final)

This blog will be about our last two days of birding with the Tropical Birding’s Birding with a Camera tour. Our bus took us north along the Pacific coast. We stopped at an overlook near Jaco. This was the view of the beach.

Flocks of Brown Pelicans flew by and so did a couple of Scarlet Macaws. The group walked down the road a couple of hundred metres following them and Doug spotted one and was able to get a photo. A beautiful bird!

We continued north to our hotel for one night, Villa Lapas. We didn’t take any photos of the hotel; it wasn’t as unique as the lodges that we had stayed in previously. They had a large lawn area and we had a good look at a Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) that was just outside our room.

On our afternoon birding walk, we walked down a dirt road that followed the river.

There were two Yellow-throated Toucans, high in the trees. Here’s one of them.

The toucans flew over to another tree, and while Wendy was looking at them there, she saw a pair of Scarlet Macaws stick their heads out of two nest cavities. The toucan continued to keep watch on a branch just a few metres away. Our guide told us the toucans were probably waiting for the macaws to leave the nests so they could eat the eggs or young. Luckily that didn’t happen when we were there.

Doug spotted this small Green Kingfisher along the riverbank. We know that this one is a male because of the rufous breast-band. A Green Kingfisher is half the size of a Belted Kingfisher that we are familiar with at our home in BC.

We saw this White-whiskered Puffbird sitting in the middle of a forest trail. It acted as if it was injured, because it didn’t move as we came close. The specialized feathers (bristles) of a puffbird that project from the base of its beak likely protect the puffbird’s face and eyes from the scaly moths, butterflies and other large noxious insects that make up the puffbird’s diet.

This is a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, which we only saw once on the trip. They are more common later during the wet season.

We watched a pair of Rufous-naped Wrens having a dust bath and later perching on a railing. They are noisy and conspicuous wrens.

We’ve already posted a photo of a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in this Costa Rica series of blog posts, but we really like this little bird and it posed so nicely.

Our hotel was really close to the Tarcoles River and a birding river cruise was arranged as part of our tour. We boarded one of the Jungle Crocodile Safari boats at about eight o’clock, way ahead of the regular tourists who ride the boat in order to see crocodiles.

We had lots of room to move from side-to-side depending on which side was close to shore or out of the sun. It was a slow-moving river and also quite shallow. We were impressed at how our driver could maneuver the boat so that we had good views of the birds.

We had a pair of Mangrove Swallows who stayed close to the boat the whole time. It looked like they were building a nest on the boat’s roof. Here is one feeding close to the boat.

We had a good view of this Turquoise-browed Motmot. We saw two that day, but they were the only sightings of the whole tour. This species of motmot has a large area of bare shaft on its central tail feathers.

We only saw a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron once. It eats a variety of prey items, including baby crocodiles.

Here are two photos of a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron; the first in its more common pose and the second when it was doing a stretch. It forages for crabs and other crustaceans in the estuary mud, and is often active at night.

Our captain made sure we saw a good-sized crocodile before he turned the boat around.

The boat headed out towards the ocean.

The Magnificent Frigatebirds were plentiful in the wide section of the estuary. Here are two views: head-on and side-view. These birds are females, because males have a red throat patch. These pterodactyl-like birds are really big (90 cm – 130cm). Although they will pluck their own prey from the water’s surface, they generally maneuver skillfully to harass other seabirds in order to steal their prey.

When we were near the beach, we could see that there was a crew doing a cleanup. People come from all over the world to volunteer in beach clean-ups. There are tours that you can pay to join that are specifically set up for this or tourists can volunteer for a scheduled beach clean-up event.

The boat turned again and headed back inland. We got a good view of a Common Black Hawk. Common Black Hawks are found year-round along the coasts of Central and South America. Some of the population migrates into Mexico and Arizona. In Arizona, its pretty special to see one because they are only found along permanent streams.

This silly-looking bird is a Roseate Spoonbill. Its distinctive spoon-shaped bill is obvious in the photo below.

Here is a Roseate Spoonbill feeding. Spoonbills walk slowly while sweeping their bills from side to side in the water. They swallow their prey whole.

We were really lucky to see this American Pygmy Kingfisher. The boat backed up so we could get a better view, but it was still behind a lot of foliage. It is the smallest kingfisher in Costa Rica.

As we made our way back to the dock, we looked carefully for shorebirds. There was a group of Ruddy Turnstones that were well camouflaged among the rocks. This bird is just developing its breeding plumage. From April to September they develop a rufous colouring. They were all turning over rocks in their search for prey.

A Willet walks purposefully, picking and probing the ground for prey. Their territorial song is “pilly WILL WILLET” which gives them their name.

This is a White Ibis. Ibises detect and grab prey with their long-decurved beaks, which they use in up-and-down, sewing-machine-like movements.

We saw over fifty species on our hour-and-a-half tour. After we got back to the hotel, we packed up, checked out, and had lunch before we set out on our final bus ride back to the San Jose area. One of the group members requested that the bus driver find us a “tourist trap” so we could pick up souvenirs. Luis drove us to the biggest souvenir shop in the area, “El Jardin.” We bought some wonderful things, but no socks.

By mid-afternoon we were back at Hotel Robledal. We enjoyed our last dinner with the group and headed off to the airport in the morning.

Throughout the whole tour, we saw some amazing birds as well as some beautiful scenery. The people were friendly everywhere we went. Often if we were near a roadway, people would honk their horns as a welcome. The occupants of one car, yelled, “Pura Vida” as a greeting. Going through all the photos (over one thousand of birds alone) and writing this blog has helped us extend our enjoyment of the trip.

Now that we are almost half-way through April, we will start putting our “Arizona in April” blog posts together.

Costa Rica in March – Part 5

Costa Rica in March – Part 5

This blog is about our stay at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge in the Pacific Lowland Rain Forest.

After we left Talari Mountain Lodge, we continued south on the Inter-American Highway. There were many banana plantations alongside the main highway. When we turned off the highway, the road was more rural with fields and small houses. We started our birding list along this entrance road to the lodge.

A Ruddy-breasted Seedeater perched up on a branch. We were lucky to see this bird, because they are not very common. The sky was so bright, it appears white in the photograph below.

There were Brown-throated Parakeets feeding in the banana trees in a small yard. Mostly when we saw parakeets throughout the trip they were flying by in noisy flocks, so it was nice to see one somewhat stationary.

This Yellow-headed Caracara was keeping a look-out over a field. Caracaras are raptors that will hunt their own prey but feed mostly on carrion. Yellow-headed Caracaras will pick ticks off the backs of cattle.

There was some standing water in one of the fields that we passed. There were dozens of Wood Storks, but this one was close enough to the road to get a good photo. The stork’s neck and head are featherless.

This is a Gray-cowled Wood-Rail, which we were glad to see because although we had heard its raucous call we had not seen one yet. One guidebook likens its chorus to the sound from a group of drunken chickens. They are also often found near water.

Southern Lapwings are becoming more prevalent in Costa Rica since the species was first recorded in 1997. They favour open grassy areas near water.

We saw this Little Blue Heron taking off. It is about half the size of a Great Blue Heron.

After looking at birds along the road for about an hour, we finally made our way to Esquinas Rainforest Lodge. The lodge is on the edge of Piedras Blancas National Park.

Here’s a view of the main building that houses a lounge, the bar and the restaurant. The pond in front has a couple of caimans living in it.

On the afternoon that we arrived it was about 35 degrees C and very humid, so we got our bags into our rooms, and ….

… we changed into our bathing suits and headed to the pool. So refreshing!

Our group had two tables for our meals. While we were here, we shared our table with our friends from Cranbrook and the bus driver, Luis. Our friends can speak Spanish and Luis has some English, so we could have interesting conversations.

After dinner, we sat outside on our veranda and listened to the rainforest sounds.

The next day, we stayed on the grounds around the lodge. This tayra wandered on to the lawn in front of the lodge, and was especially interested in the bananas that were hung to ripen. Tayras are members of the weasel family and are omnivorous.

As usual, we saw many birds throughout the day. We’ll start with the larger ones. This is a White-tipped Dove. The light-blue orbital skin differentiates it from two other doves in the same family.

The Great Curassow is in the same family as the Crested Guan which was featured in a previous blog post. The curassow is uncommon to rare in protected areas. There was a pair at the lodge and we expect they knew they would not be hunted. Here’s a photo of a female Great Curassow.

The male Great Curassow was more skittish and moved quickly away.

This is an Orange-billed Sparrow that frequented the lawn and gardens near the lodge.

We took a short trail through the forest to a pond. The morning clouds were lifting just as we arrived.

There was a Northern Jacana that walked on top of the pond vegetation with the help of his spread-out toes.

Green Herons like to overhang the water so the lodge provided a suitable perch.

This Purple Gallinule had a few chicks and mostly stayed hidden.

Then we searched for birds in the forest, and found this Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, high up in the branches.

This Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher was also a long ways up and so the photo is a little fuzzy.

On another forest trail that crossed over a bridge and climbed a hill, our guide heard a trogon calling, so we were aware that there was one in the area. Doug was near the back of the group and lucky enough to be in a position to see and photograph the Slaty-tailed Trogon that was way up in the treetops.

Farther along the same trail, on a narrow section in a tangle of rainforest, Wendy looked up and saw a bird that reminded her of a kingfisher. Doug knew there couldn’t be a kingfisher that far from the water, but he followed her gaze and found the bird perched as a kingfisher might do. When we had seen the bird and could think more clearly, we realized it was a Rufous-tailed Jacamar. A Rufous-tailed Jacamar is about the same size as a Belted Kingfisher and hunts butterflies and other insects with its long, needle-like bill and perches at low to mid-heights.

We caught a glimpse of a Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager in the morning, but later in the day, another one was more cooperative. This ant-tanager is uncommon and only found in the region.

We were also pleased to see a pair of Spot-crowned Euphonias. It was the only time during the trip that we happened to see them. You can see that the male bird in the photo below has bands on his legs. These are not regular bird bands, but ones that are used as part of the lodge’s local research.

This pond is along the road between the lodge buildings and other trails and is the home to caimans. The caimans could climb over the short fence if they chose to, but mostly they stay near the water.

Caimans are related to crocodiles and alligators and are mostly nocturnal. These slow-moving creatures mainly eat fish, but they will also hunt insects, birds and small mammals and reptiles.

We saw this Purple-crowned Fairy up high in the trees near the caiman pond. Because of its bright white underparts and shining green back, its easy to identify from a distance, even being a small as it is. (12 -24 cm)

Yes, this Charming Hummingbird was very charming. This one is a male, having a blue-violet patch on his breast. You can see that he’s been feeding on flowers because he has pollen on his bill.

This Long-billed Hermit is feeding in a Heliconia (hanging lobster claw), so it is hard to see its long-bill, but it is also noted for its long tail, which you can see.

We saw this Common Basilisk summing itself on the roadway.

We also saw a lot of butterflies throughout our trip. Mostly they were moving erratically as butterflies will, so there are no photos of flying butterflies. This swallowtail was drinking at the water’s edge, so it was easier to take a picture of. We realize that calling this butterfly a “swallowtail” is the equivalent of calling a bird a “sparrow,” but we have not gone to the effort to learn more about butterfly identification, at least not yet…

Only two more days of the tour are left to describe! Part 6 will be posted soon.

Costa Rica in March – Part 4

Costa Rica in March – Part 4

This blog is an account of our two night stay at Talari Mountain Lodge near San Isidro de El General.

We left Trogon Lodge and worked our way south on the Inter-American highway. Our first birding stop was on a roadway to a communications tower at about 3400 metres, near Cerro de la Muerte. This area was close to treeline and was covered with shrubs and dwarf bamboo. Clouds enveloped the surrounding hills.

This area was home to the Volcano Junco. The yellow eyes of this endemic bird made it seem angry.

This Black-cheeked Warbler lived in the same habitat, and is also an endemic bird to the region. It also shared the “angry bird” look when viewed head-on. (See the second photo)

After trying to persuade a wren to show itself, (it was not cooperative), we hopped back on the bus and headed south to lower elevations. We stopped at a small lodge called Bosque del Tolomuco. The owners have worked hard to cultivate bushes and plants that attract birds, especially hummingbirds. In the photo below, some of the group is walking down the steep driveway from the main area.

In the trees down by the hut, we saw a group of these Elegant Euphonias. This is one of the males.

The bushes on the side of the driveway were full of hummingbirds. Here’s a small White-tailed Emerald, a hummingbird that is only found in Costa Rica and Panama.

Here’s a male White-throated Mountain-Gem. (There was a photo of the female White-throated Mountain-Gem in the previous blog.)

This Scintillant Hummingbird is very small, only 5 – 11 cm long. The male has a beautiful orange-red throat.

The garden was home to many hummingbirds that are only found in this region, and this female Volcano Hummingbird is another one of them.

Green-crowned Brilliants prefer to perch to feed rather than hover.

This Violet Sabrewing zipped in and out so much that it was difficult to get a photo. Its wings were really pointed.

This is a Silver-throated Tanager which liked to visit the fruit feeders.

The bird on the left is a Speckled Tanager.

A Rose-breasted Grosbeak also visited the feeder for a few moments.

And we were lucky enough to see these capuchin monkeys, grooming each other in a tree near one of the outbuildings.

The next stop was lunch at a rustic restaurant (Traphiche de Nayo). Here’s a photo of our Cranbrook friends with their freshly squeezed pineapple juice.

And here we are with a view of the other side of the restaurant. Behind us are artifacts and a poster explaining the traditional ox-driven sugar cane press.

Doug chose the “Costa Rican” plate with chicken. The only concern we had about the food throughout the whole trip was that the portions were so big. We resorted to sharing a lunch on some of the days.

That afternoon we reached Talari Mountain Lodge. The rooms were simple, yet comfortable. The signs were made of reused tires, which were cut into shapes and decorated.

We ate in a huge open air room. Here the group is getting ready to go over our daily list of bird sightings.

The next morning, we went out birding as usual.

Perhaps the photographers were trying for a photo of a Long-billed Starthroat in the photo above.

A couple of Scaled Pigeons were also nearby. Here’s one of them.

Also up in the treetops was a Turquoise Cotinga.

We had never seen a White-crowned Parrot before coming here, although they are fairly common in the lowlands and middle elevations of Costa Rica.

Talari Mountain Lodge is on the Rio General, so we could look down at the riverbank. Here is a Crested Caracara. It was competing with a Black Vulture for some sort of prey and at this moment, the vulture was the one with the food.

We found this Pale-billed Woodpecker in a tree near our cabins. It is similar in shape and size to the Pileated Woodpeckers that we have in Canada. Its distinguishing characteristics are its pale bill, its red head and the white “V” on its back.

This Streaked Flycatcher was gathering nesting material.

The dining room was situated on a hillside that gave us views of the forest on two sides. We spent some time looking for hummingbirds in the flowering bush below, but only caught glimpses.

After breakfast on the first morning at Talari Mountain Lodge, our bus driver drove us a short ways to Los Cusingos Bird Refuge.

We saw outdoor hand-washing stations everywhere we went in Costa Rica. The one at the entrance to the refuge was unique.

This morning, a grasshopper caught our attention.

The forest at Los Cusingos was full of these peculiar-looking trees. They are Socratea exorrhiza, the walking palm or cashapona, and they have unusual stilt or buttress roots. The roots allow the tree to cover a wider area for collecting nutrients in the nutrient-poor tropical forest soil, and they prevent the tree from falling over.

Near the canopy of the forest, our guide spotted this Rufous Piha. The piha is in the cotinga family.

This Brown-billed Scythebill is a kind of woodcreeper, with a strongly decurved bill.

This Golden-crowned Spadebill also has a name derived by the shape of its bill. Its an uncommon flycatcher in Costa Rica, so we were lucky to see it.

Here’s a photo of the group taking pictures of the Golden-crowned Spadebill. You can see how tricky it is to get a camera focussed on a small bird with so many trees and people nearby.

After our forest walk, we spent some time looking at the former home of Dr. Alexander Skutch, a pioneer researcher of neo-tropical birds. His whole 78 hectare (192 acre) tropical forest property has become a bird sanctuary and his home has become a museum.

The simple house was built in the 1940s and didn’t have running water until the 1990s. Dr. Skutch was almost 100 when he died in 2004. His house has been left the way it was when he died. There were bookshelves in almost every room.

Near the back of the house, we noticed a Streak-headed Woodcreeper investigating an opening in a hollow tree.

This Grey-headed Tanager was in the front yard.

When we were working our way up the road towards the parking lot, we had a quick glimpse of a Swallow-tailed Kite. (This photo, however was taken the next day, when the bus stopped by the side of a road on our way to our next lodge.)

That afternoon we were back at Talari Mountain Lodge, and went up the mountain trail that starts right beside this shed with a old sugar cane cart.

We saw Heliconia plants in many place in Costa Rica. Heliconia rostrate, the hanging lobster claw or false bird of paradise is a perennial plant native to Costa Rica and is also found in parts of South America.

Towards the end of our birding hike in the afternoon, we noticed a number of hawks high in the sky. Soon the sky was filled with thousands of Swainson’s Hawks migrating north from their winter homes in South America. There must have been a thermal above the lodge, because the hawks circled around for several minutes before heading north. The photo below only captures a fraction of the sky.

Here are three of the hawks from a cropped and enhanced photo that Doug took. These are all showing “light adult” plumage.

We headed to Esquinas Rainforest Lodge the next morning, which will be the topic of our next blog.

Costa Rica in March – Part 3

Costa Rica in March – Part 3

This post includes our bird-watching activities on the two days that we stayed at Trogon Lodge in Costa Rica. The first bird photograph, however, is from our final morning at Rancho Naturalista. We went birding by ourselves and this Red-throated Ant-Tanager perched in good light.

This is a view of the hilly countryside in the Reventazon Valley, taken out of the bus window.

We drove to the town of Ujarras, one of the few places that a rare endemic ground-sparrow is found. We wandered down a country road and before long, a couple of the Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrows were seen hopping around a small yard.

We continued on our route to our next lodge in the Talamanca Highlands, stopping at a few spots to look for birds. One stop was in Los Quetzales National Park. The Resplendent Quetzal was the main draw of the area, but we didn’t see any this day.

The quetzal was promised for the day after, so we enjoyed looking for other high elevation birds. Mostly, the birds were hard to photograph, but Doug was able to catch this Yellow-thighed Brushfinch before it flew away. Its yellow “thigh” is just visible on its right leg.

The road cut through steep forested terrain. The bus stopped for a few moments for us to get photos of the vista.

We stopped at a small restaurant in the Savegre Valley. For the price of a cup of coffee, we could look at the birds that gathered at the feeders and in the garden. The restaurant was on the edge of hillside, so we were above or even with the birds. No straining of necks was required!

There were plenty of Talamanca Hummingbirds. This is one of the bigger hummingbirds and can be 12 – 24 cm long. It is closely related to the Rivoli’s Hummingbird that we see in Madera Canyon in Arizona.

Another amazing hummingbird is the Fiery-throated Hummingbird. In certain light the throat is a mix of red, orange and yellow.

Another fantastic hummingbird is the Lesser Violetear. It’s a very small hummingbird of only 5 – 11 cm long. The violet (or in this case bluish) patch on each side of the face give it its name.

This male Slaty Flowerpiercer was about the size of a hummingbird but chunkier. Flowerpiercers are nectar robbers that poke a hole through the flower base to draw off nectar without helping the flower transport pollen.

This Flame-coloured Tanager was hopping around the garden.

Not every bird is as bright as that tanager, but we also want to include the “less flashy” birds. Here is a Sooty Thrush, which is a little bigger than the American Robin that we have at home in Canada.

We see this comical looking species at Madera Canyon in Arizona quite often, but this Acorn Woodpecker posed so nicely, that it needed to be included as well.

Another bird we see often is a Wilson’s Warbler, but we rarely get a view of one from above. The male’s black cap is really easy to see in this photo.

After a long day of birding, we arrived at Trogon Lodge, just as the light was fading. Here is a view of our cabin. Our room was on the right.

The lodge had a fancy restaurant and we ordered from a menu. Most of the other lodges that we stayed at had set meals and everyone received the same food.

This is the view of the path from our cabin the next morning. The lodge is set at the bottom of a steep valley.

We did manage to catch a glimpse of a Resplendent Quetzal on the grounds. Here, Wendy is scanning the treetops in hopes of seeing it again.

This rhubarb-type plant dwarfs our friend.

Here’s a view of the restaurant and the trout pond in the foreground, just as the light was hitting the hillside above. We enjoyed fresh trout for each of the dinners we had at the lodge. The trout ponds are fed by a cool mountain stream.

They also grow their own lettuce.

Here’s another view of the gardens and the surrounding hillside.

Later that morning, the bus took us up out of the valley and to even higher elevations. Pariosol Quetzal Lodge is at 2650 metres (just under 9000 feet), and like most places in the area, is situated on the side of a hillside.

We took the trail down to a viewing platform with nearby gardens. Here’s the view looking out from the platform.

A Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher was one of the first birds to show up.

The nearby flowers allowed for good photo opportunities. This hummingbird is a female White-throated Mountain-gem.

Here’s another photo of the female White-throated Mountain Gem, taken in the nearby garden. (The male has the white-throat.)

Here’s the whole group (except Wendy who is taking the photo) looking at the birds that visited a fruit-filled bush.

One of the “birds in the bush” was this male Golden-browed Chlorophonia. He shows only a little bit of his “golden brow,” so perhaps he’s immature. A beautiful bird, nonetheless.

Wendy spotted this Peg-billed Finch in the same bush. This type of finch is considered rare in Costa Rica so it was a lucky find.

And this Black-thighed Grosbeak flitted among the bushes on the hillside to the left of the fruiting bush. The white spot on the wing is distinctive.

We explored the rest of the gardens and walked a little ways down the path. We met people who had walked a few hours down into the valley and all the way back up.

We saw this Black-billed Nightingale-Trush beside the trail.

On our way out of the garden we stopped to take a photo of these succulents, planted in the shape of a lizard.

Our bus took us to a nearby location which we call the “Quetzal Stake-Out.” The lodge and their birding guides have a partnership with a farmer who planted the quetzal’s favourite tree over twenty years ago. Now they can provide tours to those who want to see the Resplendent Quetzal up close. Here’s a view of some of the rest of the farm.

Here’s the special tree, an aquacatillo, which has avocado-like fruit. Quetzals pluck the fruit from below in mid-flight. Also note the perches that have been provided. And you can tell by Doug’s clothing that it was raining, although it was more like a drizzle that is typical of the cloud forests.

We had a quick view of the quetzals as we were hiking up the trail, but we were assured that we’d get a better view later in the afternoon when the quetzals generally fed. They made us coffee and there was a bathroom, so we were relatively comfortable while we waited in the shelter.

It was worth the wait. Here is a front view of the male, Resplendent Quetzal.

And a look at the male’s backside. Doug took over thirty photos of the quetzals. We saw them flying and picking fruit, but Doug’s photos were a bit blurry. It was an exciting experience that we will always remember.

Here’s a front view of the female Resplendent Quetzal. The female, without the fancy tail, looks more like other trogans, because quetzals are part of the trogon family.

Satisfied with our sightings, we headed back in the rain to Trogon Lodge.

The next morning, we had a final view of Trogon Lodge and the surrounding hillside.

Our next night was at Talari Lodge in the Pacific Foothills, but we had lots of country to see before we got there. Part 4 will be posted soon.