Archive for the ‘Howler Monkey’ Tag

Costa Rica part 3: The Pacific lowlands of the south-west: 05/04 – 08/04 2017.   Leave a comment

This post covers our visits to Los Cusingos, Las Cruces, Escinos Lodge and Rio Ricon, all locations in the far-south-west of Costa Rica’s Pacific slope.


Before we left San Isidro we birded around the hotel seeing a wide range of birds such as this Cherrie’s Tanager which is common in the south-west of the country. This male of this species is almost identical to the male Passerini’s Tanager which we saw commonly on the Caribbean slope. However the females differ and I think there are vocal and genetic differences too.


We headed for Los Cusingos, the former home of ornithologist Alexander Skutch. The forest surrounding his home is maintained as a reserve and his simple house which had no electricity or running water is maintained as a museum in his honour.

We headed for Los Cusingos, the former home of ornithologist Alexander Skutch. The forest surrounding his home is maintained as a reserve and his simple house which had no electricity or running water is maintained as a museum in his honour.

Alexander Skutch was one of the most prolific and distinguished ornithologists of all time. He lived a simple life with his English wife Pamela at Los Cusingos up until his death in 2004, eight days before his 100th birthday. He was a prolific author publishing 40 books and 200 papers, mainly on tropical birds.


We visited his reserve in 1981, as he knew our guide well and I was privileged to meet him and his wife. Los Cusingos (we just called it Skutch’s Finca then) was one of the few places that I visited 36 years ago that I still remembered when I returned this year.


Among the many species we saw were White-crowned Parrot ….


…. Speckle-breasted Hummingbird ….


…. Baird’s Trogon ….


…. and just as we had given up on it and were about to board the bus, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper.


After Los Cusingos we paid a brief visit to marshy area ….


…. where we saw Chiriquí Yellowthroat, a species restricted to the borders of Costa Rica and Panama.


From here we headed to the research centre at Las Cruces, another area that I remember from the 1981 trip. The centre has extensive gardens but also areas of mature tropical forest.


…. with enormous fig trees (previous photo) and stands of bamboo.


There were plenty of birds to add to our list such as Spot-crowned Euphonia (but you would need a magnifying glass to see the spots) ….


…. Charming Hummingbird (which I don’t think is quite as charming as some of the other hummers) ….


…. and the diminutive and recently split Mistletoe Tyrannulet.


In the extensive gardens where a huge selection of bromiliads and other plants are propagated ….


…. we saw migrants from North America like this Baltimore Oriole ….


…. as well as this resident male Green Honeycreeper (the females are undoubtedly green but the males look more bluish to me) ….


…. and best of all, the tiny and scarce Garden Emerald.


We took a dirt road near the Panama border to look for Panamanian species like Veraguan Mango that might just have crossed the border. It was very hot as we were now close to sea level. We had no luck with the mango but it was a very birdy area especially in the vicinity of this bridge.


Here we saw a good selection of waterbirds; White Ibis, Southern Lapwing, Little Blue Heron and Greater Yellowlegs are in this photo and there was quite a lot else further upstream but the setting sun produced dreadful viewing conditions.


Grey-breasted Martins perched on roadside wires ….


….nearby we had good views of  Mantled Howler Monkeys (we were to hear their howls and roars every morning in both the lowlands and on the slopes of the volcanos).


We saw the impressive Streaked Flycatcher ….


…. and a number of Bare-faced Tiger Herons were nesting in the area.


We also had good views of Grey-lined Hawk. For a long time it has been known that there are two different populations of ‘Grey Hawk’ in Costa Rica. The northern population (Grey Hawk) extends from the north of the country to southern USA and the southern one (Grey-lined Hawk) from SW Costa Rica to northern Argentina. Recent genetic work has confirmed what birders have long suspected, that they are two different species (this was announced in the Neotropical Birding journal under the heading of ‘no more guilt about ticking Grey-lined Hawk’).


We headed on to Esquinas Rainforest Lodge where for the first time on the trip we stayed at the same place for two nights. It was very hot and humid, probably the most uncomfortable conditions of the trip.


Good birds include this male Golden-naped Woodpecker ….


…. the scarce Grey-capped Flycatcher


… and best of all, wonderful views of this Ornate Hawk-eagle with prey, thought perhaps to be a Little Tinamou. I have seen this large eagle in flight before but have never had the chance to study this magnificent bird through a scope.


Nearby we saw a Purple Gallinule (not to be confused with an entirely different species in Europe that was once called Purple Gallinule but is now known as Western Swamphen).


The so-called ‘caiman pond’ held a Spectacled Caiman that was all of 30cm long. There was a small fence about 15cm high separating the pond from the path. When Pete stepped over the fence to get a photo a security guard came running up shouting ‘peligro‘, peligro‘!


A night-time excursion along the access road gave us wonderful views of this Striped Owl.


A pre-dawn departure the following day saw us at a bridge over the Rio Rincon. Viewing downstream was very difficult due to the early morning sun ….


…. but fortunately most activity was in the other direction.


From our elevated position we had great views of this juvenile White Ibis ….


…. several Green Herons ….


…. and Spotted Sandpipers, most like this one in full sum plum.


Along the bank the huge Ringed Kingfisher sat patiently ….


…. whilst downstream a Green Kingfisher used this stick ….


…. to launch its fishing forays.


Mangrove Swallows were common ….


…. as were Grey-breasted Martins.


But the bird we had come here to see was the exquisite Yellow-billed Cotinga. After quite a wait we saw up to eight. Most were fairly distant, appearing briefly at the tops of large trees upstream or flying past rapidly. The only one that came close enough for photographs was this female. The stunning male is pure white with a yellow bill.


Later we visited a nearby area of mangroves.


The highlights here was the subtle Mangrove Hummingbird ….


…. and gaudy Mangrove Warbler, a resident species that is sometimes lumped with the widespread and migratory Yellow Warbler.


We also had good views of Osprey ….


…. and the first Magnificent Frigatebirds of the trip. Back in 1981 I was desperate to see this iconic species. Of course since then I have seen many thousand but the memory of that first sighting in the Pacific lowlands is still with me.



From here we headed northwards along the Pacific coast, made a boat trip on the Rio Tarcoles and eventually reached Carara NP where we stayed for two nights. These locations will be the subject of the next post.

6th – 11th March 2014 The Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico part 2. Chichen Itza, Felipe Carillo Puerto and Calakmul   Leave a comment

This is my fourth and final report on my February/March trip to Mexico and the second report on the Yucatan part of that tour.

IMG_0827 Chichen Itza

After some early morning birding at Rio Largatos on the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula we drove south to famous Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. As it is within easy reach of Cancun and the coastal resorts this is by far the most popular of the Mayan sites. This partially restored pyramid dominates the site. Each side has 91 steps, so with one for the top there is 365 in all, one for each day of the year. it is astronomically aligned and at certain times of the year the rising sun on the edge of the steps casts a serpent like shadow which appears to move as the sun rises.

IMG_0813 ball court Chichen Itza

The famous ball court. The Mayan civilisation had already faded when the Spanish conquistadors arrived and thus there are no written records.


IMG_0810 Chichen Itza

This ball court was certainly used for competitive games, the object being to throw a ball through the small circular ring on the wall, although there is no proof of the legend that the losing team (or at least their captain) was offered up as a human sacrifice.

IMG_0854 Iguana

Iguanas were commonly seen around the ruins.


IMG_0874 Chichen Itza

The visit to Chichen Itza was most enjoyable but as the morning drew on crowds of grockles from Cancun arrived and it became quite crowded. One aspect I didn’t enjoy was that the ruins were dotted with stands selling souvenirs, something that should be restricted to an area outside the ancient monuments.


IMG_0860 TB Motmot

We had wonderful views of Turquoise-browed Motmots in the surrounding forest.

IMG_0967 Yucatan Fly

From Chichen Itza we traveled south to Felipe Carrillo Puerto where we spent a day and a half birding the locals woodlands. Birds were abundant and included this endemic Yucatan Flycather, a member of the genus Myiarchus which contains 22 very similar looking species.

IMG_0876 Grey hawk

This Grey Hawk were observed on the roadside ….


IMG_0933 Roadside Hawk

..,. whilst this Roadside Hawk wasn’t!

IMG_1135 Yucatan Jay

Other goodies included the endemic Yucatan Jay ….

IMG_0926 FPO

… and the widespread Ferruginous Pygmy-owl

IMG_1065 Royal Fly

A particular treat was multiple sightings here and at Calakmul of Northern Royal Flycatcher. One of a group of four similar species, none of which are easy to see, we had repeated good views of birds building nests over the road. When in display/alarmed the birds raise their crests, which uniquely are held across rather than along the head. I have never been lucky enough to see this amazing sight but apparently it occurs regularly with birds in the hand.

Something I would love to see: a Northern Royal Flycatcher trapped for ringing and with its crest fully extended. Photo from

IMG_0980 Lodge at Calakmul

We continued on to Calakmul where we stayed at a pleasant lodge in midst of the woodland.

IMG_1033 Ocellated Turkey

It is something like a 40km drive from the lodge to the Mayan ruins at Calakmul. We were given special permission to drive the road at dawn which was so worthwhile, as over the two days we were there we saw a total of 38 Ocellated Turkeys on the road in the early morning. Unlike its widespread and domesticated northern relative, this species is restricted to the lowlands of the Yucatan and neighboring Guatemala.


IMG_1078 Calakmul

We eventually arrived at the Calakmul ruins only to hear from a Dutch couple who were driving behind us that we had just missed the Puma that crossed the road in front of them!


Most of the group at Calakmul. Leader Mark van Beirs is taking the photo and participant Leslie  Coley opted to stay behind. L-R Riita Viinanan, Audry Baker, Martin Hill, Anne Hill, Andre D’Penha and me.

IMG_1084 Anne and Martin at Calakmul

The spectacular view from the top of the highest pyramid. Situated in the 7200 square km Calakmul Biosphere Reserve there is a 360 degree vista of forest stretching to the horizon.

IMG_1088 Calakmul

The view to an adjacent pyramid.



IMG_1168 Howler

We saw and heard Howler Monkeys near the ruins and at our lodge. They produce the loudest noise of any land animal and would be in severe breach of Health and Safety if the regulations were applicable to monkeys!


It’s not often you see a ‘danger bats ahead’ sign along the highway ….


IMG_1179 bat cave

… but the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of bats that emerge at dusk from this sinkhole, can at times sweep down over the road and present a traffic hazard.

IMG_1194  bats

You can stand on the edge of the sinkhole and have thousands of bats pass with inches of your face yet not one  will collide with you or with each other, so accurate is their echo-location.

IMG_0989 bats

Broad-eared Bats. We watched this amazing emergence for over 45 minutes until it was too dark to see.


IMG_1176 juv Gt Black Hawk

A juvenile Great Black Hawk clung to the sides of the sinkhole but in spite of being spoiled for choice it seemed to be having a hard actually catching a bat. Over our two visits we saw Zone-tailed, Cooper’s, Roadside, Bicoloured, Short-tailed and Great Black-Hawk, Hook-billed Kite and Bat Falcon turn up for their bat supper.



From here it was just a matter of returning to Cancun the next day in time for our overnight flight. The two trips, El Triunfo and The Yucatan were excellent. I have already birded Western Mexico, I need to complete the set of Birdquest Mexico trips and do Southern Mexico soon.