Archive for the ‘Quetzal’ Tag

Costa Rica part 6: Hacienda Solimar, Monteverde and San Gerado. 11/04 – 15/04 2017   Leave a comment

This post covers our time at the Hacienda Solimar in the dry north-west of Costa Rica, the ecotourist resort of Monteverde and the research station at San Gerado.

 

A common bird through much of Costa Rica but especially in the dry north-west was Great-tailed Grackle. The males are much larger than the females and the strange twisted tail feathers looks pretty impressive in flight.

 

Gnatcatchers were more common in these dry area. I find the nomenclature of the two species to be most confusing, this is a female Tropical Gnatcatcher and has pale lores, on the other hand White-lored Gnatcatcher has a dark line on the lores and is identified by the lack of white supercillium in the male or narrow one in the female. We saw a pair of each species together at one point – no wonder I get confused.

 

 

Yellow-naped Amazon was a great find and a life bird for me.

 

In due course we arrived at the lovely Hacienda Solimar where we were to stay for the night.

 

A working cattle ranch, but with areas dedicated to wildlife conservation, we were able to see substantial numbers of waterbirds during our stay.

 

Perhaps the most numerous bird was Black-bellied Whistling Duck ….

 

…. which rose in large numbers when the pair of local Peregrines appeared.

 

But the main prize was the huge Jabriru, the largest stork in the Americas. in the background are White Ibis and an immature Little Blue Heron.

 

Although this was a paradise for birds we were in a bit of a rush as the light had started to fade and we didn’t get out of the vehicle to scope up the wetlands.

 

Fortunately before the sun had set we had good views of a pair of Double-striped Thick-knees, a relative of out Stone Curlews.

 

Sunset over the Hacienda ….

 

…. and moonrise over the mountains.

 

The following morning we saw beautiful butterflies, flushed Spot-breasted Bobwhites ….

 

…. and watched Streak-backed Orioles building their nests.

 

In the dry forest and open pastures we found ….

 

…. Howler Monkeys,

 

…. Black-headed Trogon,

 

…. the huge Lineated Woodpecker and

 

…. another of those tricky Myiarchus flycatchers, this time Nutting’s Flycatcher,

 

…. and the striking Short-tailed Hawk.

 

Banded Wren showed well ….

 

…. and even did a little show jumping for us.

 

Hoffman’s Woodpecker is the common ‘pecker of the arid north-west ….

 

…. and we had more close up views of Lesson’s Motmot.

 

Ferruginous Pygmy-owl is a widespread and relatively common diurnal species and its call is often imitated by leaders in an attempt to drawn other species in.

 

On the other hand the diminutive Pacific Screech-owl is nocturnal but the guy at the guest house knew exactly where one was roosting.

 

The best bird of the morning was this lovely Lesser Ground Cuckoo which I flushed from the grass just yards from the bus as we were about to board. It flew to nearby trees and gave great views.

 

…. but the species of the day and mammal of the trip was this Northern Tamandua, a species of arboreal anteater that Hermann spotted from the moving bus! It slowly climbed down the bough ….

 

…. and then climbed up the main trunk until lost to view in the foliage.

 

After lunch we left the dry lowlands and headed up into the mountains and the ecotourist mecca of Monteverde. When I visited Monteverde in 1981 it was a 25 mile drive on a dirt road to a small Quaker community where there was a research station with basic accommodation and a small hostel. Now it is Costa Rica’s premier ecotourist resort with accommodation that caters for everyone from lethargic backpackers to the well-heeled.

 

As well as catering to birders, the area has several canopy walkways to allow the naturalist and the curious to get close to treetop wildlife, multiple zip-lines for  adrenaline junkies and a nice line in rainbows. East of the continental divide at 1500m  it is pretty wet, but to the west you can see the clouds billowing over and evaporating in the dry Pacific air. It was quite windy, especially in the vicinity of our hotel which was in an exposed location.

 

The area consists of at least three large areas of protected forest. On our first outing we scored birding gold with not just views, but photos as well, of the retiring Chiriqui Quail-dove.

 

Although we saw another Resplendant Quetzal (making it the third location of the trip) ….

 

… the highlight was the amazing Three-wattled Bellbird. To hear it’s incredibly loud song go to http://www.xeno-canto.org/331004

 

Can any other songbird open its mouth as wide as this?

 

A Coati trotting away down the track resulted in this unusual shot.

 

We were only one night at the nice hotel. Leaving most of our gear there the following day we hiked down a wide trail for a couple of hours to a research station at San Gerado on the Caribbean slope where we stayed for two nights. On arrival we had a stunning view of Volcan Arenal further to the east.

 

The accommodation was probably the most basic of the trip, but there were some nice compensations such as complete peace and quiet, a supply of wonderful moths to photograph ….

 

…. and a balcony with great views of Volcan Arenal. Alison is demonstrating how to get into a hammock without ending up on the floor, something I have yet to master.

 

It was a good job we saw Arenal on arrival as this was the view for most of our visit.

 

We had our fair share of mist and rain whilst at San Gerado ….

 

…. but it did clear enough to allow us to bird the nearby pastures and mature montane forest.

 

Our main target was the amazing Bare-necked Umbrellabird which used to lek in a tree some 45 minute walk from the lodge. Unfortunately this lek site has been abandoned since 2014 (although the tour information still says that you have a very good chance of seeing one here). We did see some great birds in the area though. In the pastures around the lodge was a colony of Montezuma’s Oropendolas (above) ….

 

…. and this was the only place on the entire trip where we saw the scarce Blue and Gold Tanager. Another goody was the riverine Sooty-faced Finch which after hours of searching numerous stream-beds was tracked down at a little river close to the lodge just minutes before departure.

 

Raptors included Black-hawk Eagle, the elusive Bicoloured Hawk (above) ….

 

…. and the ubiquitous Turkey Vultures that roosted adjacent to our rooms.

 

After two rather wet nights (and one rather wet day) at San Gerado it was time for the long slog back to Monteverde. I walked, but about half the group paid extra to be ferried on the back of a quadbike.

 

Back in Monteverde we returned to the hotel and visited some great hummingbird feeders nearby. This is a Violet Sabrewing.

 

…. male Green-crowned Brilliant,

 

…. but the chestnut-throated juvenile Green-crowned Brilliants are a trap for the unwary.

 

A male Purple-throated Mountain-gem shows off all it’s best bits.

 

A female Purple-throated Mountain-gem joins a Lesser Violetear at the feeder.

 

Magenta-throated Woodstar was a life bird ….

 

…. as was the diminutive Coppery-headed Emerald.

 

Although we had started to see a number of species of owl, we still were short of Bare-shanked Screech Owl that we had dipped on so spectacularly at Cerro de la Muerta. Pete suggested we go back to the start of the San Gerado track after dark where to everyone’s delight we scored with Mr Bare-shank (but I didn’t get any photos). Later at a restaurant near the hotel we met up with Robert Dean (left), an acquaintance of Pete’s and a Monteverde resident. Robert is the illustrator of the Helm Field Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Originally from the UK he once had an interesting career as a rock guitarist and was a member the 80’s band Japan.

 

The following morning we had wonderful views of Black-breasted Wood Quail but I got no decent photos in the gloom of the forest floor. So I’ll conclude this post with another photo of a female Purple-throated Mountain-gem.

 

From Monteverde we drove along the mountain ridge to Celeste Mountain Lodge to the north. This will be the subject of the next post.

Costa Rica part 2: Cerro de la Muerta and San Isidro – 2nd – 4th April 2017   Leave a comment

The last post covered our trip as far as Rancho Naturalista on the Caribbean slope of the central mountain range. From here we joined the Pan-American highway and climbed back into the mountains at Cerro de la Muerta, literally ‘the road of death’ as many travellers, unaware of the cold condition that can occur at 3600m, died as they made their way to the central valley where San Jose is situated.

 

We arrived at Savegre Lodge on the mountain massif of Cerro de la Muerta on a very wet afternoon.

 

In spite of the rain and low light levels we still got to see birds like this Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrush ….

 

…. and Flame-coloured Tanager (this is a female, only the males are the vivid orange that the name suggests) ….

 

…. and Grey-tailed (or White-throated) Mountain-gem which was a life bird for me.

 

The following morning we searched for the elusive Spotted Wood Partridge, we were successful but my photos were useless. However we did chance upon this suitably named Resplendent Quetzal, one of the key birds of the Cerro de la Muerta area.

 

After breakfast we were taken by jeep to the forest above the lodge and slowly walked down via a network of trails. We found these Sulphur-winged Parakeets at their nest hole.

 

We also saw them perched nearby. The sulphur colouration is mainly visible on the spread wing.

 

Yellowish Flycatchers were relatively common. This is a resident member of the genus Empidonax aka ’empids’. The migratory species from North America are particularly difficult to identify and many get logged as just ’empid sp’.

 

A particularly cute warbler was the Collared Whitestart. When British settlers colonised in North America they found a bird with a reddish-orange tail and called it American Redstart after the European Redstart they were familiar with from home, in spite of the fact that they weren’t closely related. Later other tropical members of the same genus were name ‘xyz’ redstart. Of course redstart is derived from the Old English for tail steort (which is also the origin of the word ‘startle’) so these tropical warblers were named for red tails when their tails were largely white! Recently it has been proposed that their names are changed to the more appropriate ‘whitestart’ and I’m glad to say this is catching on.

 

Another montane speciality was Blue-throated Toucanet, a member of the ever shifting Emerald Toucanet complex.

 

We also came across another male Resplendent Quetzal, this time the red belly was on show. None of the birds we saw had particularly long tails, whether they were all immatures or still growing their long plumes I don’t know, but this subspecies generally has a shorter tail than the one in southern Mexico.

 

But the best bird of the morning was the Wrenthrush also known as Zeledonia (a name I prefer as it neither a wren nor a thrush). Originally considered to be in its own family it was then moved to the New World Warblers, recent evidence has shown they were right in the first place and it really does deserve to be in its own family. Hardly surprisingly this was one of my top targets and I rated it number two bird of the trip. This skulking bird is hard to see let alone photograph and I have used this image taken by Juan Pablo Solano  and the Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica. Our views today were brief but we had much better views the following day near Quetzal Lodge.

 

Back at the lodge, now in good light conditions there was time to search the flower beds and bird feeders for species like ….

 

.. Acorn Woodpecker (this species stores acorns in holes drilled in a tree trunk) ..

 

…. the beautiful Silver-throated Tanager ….

 

…. and more views of Grey-tailed Mountain-gem.

 

Later we transferred to the Quetzal Lodge which is just off the Pan American Highway at an altitude of 3265m asl. On the balcony just outside the windows is a set of hummingbird feeders.

 

As usual the hummers were completely oblivious to onlookers and you could stand nearby and admire or photograph them for as long as you liked. Most are Lesser Violetears (formerly Green Violetear) but the one on the left is an Admirable Hummer.

 

Here three out of the four are Admirable Hummers. At this angle the right hand bird shows the ‘admirable’ colours of the head and throat well. Colours on hummers are produced by refraction and are only seen from a certain angles. Thus a field guide may show a kaleidoscope of colour but all cannot be seen at once, as you cannot view the bird from all angles at once.

 

Formerly known as Magnificent Hummer, the species has been recently split into two; Rivoli’s in Mexico and southernmost USA and Admirable further south. There is a convention, mainly applied in the New World, that if a species is split then all the ‘daughter’ species get a new English name, so you can tell whether an English name has been applied pre or post split. That said, it means yet more names to learn and more potential confusion for the unwary.

 

The other common hummer at the feeders was the pretty Fiery-throated Hummingbird, which lived up to it name.

 

The afternoon and much of the following morning was spent walking side roads through some excellent montane forest. It was quite cold overnight and in the early morning.

 

A chilly pre-breakfast walk produced Hairy Woodpecker, a widespread North American species whose breeding range extends from Alaska to Costa Rica and western Panama ….

 

…. the rare and initially confusing Ochraceous Pewee ….

 

…. and Black-thighed Grosbeak, confined to the mountains of Costa Rica and western Panama.

 

As you can see the weather gods were kind to us. Of the many birds we saw one of the best was the Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher ….

 

…. a member of an unusual family comprising just four species most closely related to the Waxwings.

 

The Empids were with us again, this time another resident species, Black-capped Flycatcher.

 

We had been having very little luck owling. The first morning of the trip had been a complete failure and the night at Quetzal Lodge had produced good views of Dusky Nightjar, but no owls what so ever in spite of hours of searching.  So it was a great relief when we came across the diurnal Costa Rican Pygmy Owl.

 

Before we left this mountain massif we stopped at the highest point where the forest gives way to paramo. Our target was the rare and irruptive Peg-billed Finch which we failed to find (although the lookalike Slaty Flowerpiercer caused a false alarm) ….

 

…. but we did get excellent views of the high altitude Volcano Junco.

 

Leaving the cool (and now rather wet) highlands behind we dropped down to the steamy Pacific slope lowlands and the town of San Isidro. On route we stopped at a location where the beautiful and declining Turquoise Cotinga can be found.

 

Nearby in a stand of flowering eucalyptus we strained to see several diminutive hummers at the very tops of the tall trees.

 

Rather more visible was this Fiery-billed Aracari.

We overnighted near San Isidro and over the next few days explored a number of locations in the south-western corner of the country. This will be the subject of the next post.

Central Peru part 5: Lake Junin to Apaylla – 19th – 23rd November 2016   Leave a comment

This post covers our journey from Lake Junin across the puna and the descent (again) into the more humid eastern flank of the Andes, visiting several different valleys before heading back west towards the continental divide.

 

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To reach our next destination at Villa Rica we took a short-cut through the mountains, that way we hoped to avoid all the lorries crawling along the main road.

 

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It was well worth it as we had great views of these Vicuña, wild camelids of the puna grasslands.

 

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Vicuña wool is said to be the softest in the world and they were once almost hunted to extinction. Vicuñas are now well protected and have been reintroduced to parts of their native range.

 

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The short cut was going well until after an hour or more we found the road ahead was closed. There was a diversion but it was on more of a mule track than a road. In spite of some scary moments we made it through.

 

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The following day as we descended into the cloud forest again we realised that the bamboo had flowered recently and now was in seed. Various seedeaters were common and we even saw the nomadic Slaty Finch, although the equally nomadic Maroon-chested Ground Dove was a ‘heard only’.

 

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By lunch time we arrived at Ulcumana Lodge, a beautiful location in some charming subtropical forest. The forest here was similar to that at the Carpish Tunnel but was more extensive and less degraded.

 

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It would be worth the tour operators spending less time at the Carpish Tunnel and more here, but I would have hated to go home without the Orange-breasted Falcon under the belt that we only saw at Carpish.

 

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We saw many birds here but few were photographed, at least by me. Here is the diminutive Peruvian Tyrannulet ….

 

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…. and here the rather more impressive Golden-headed Quetzal. The best birds by far were seen at night, a magnificent Swallow-tailed Nightjar and also Cloud Forest Screech-owl a species new to the Birdquest Life List (which now must be approaching 10,100) Photos of both will be available on the Birdquest tour report once it has been uploaded to their web-site.

 

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We didn’t have enough time at the lodge as the next day we had to move on, on route we saw a whole new range of birds resulting in multiple ‘write-ins’ and I managed to photograph these oropendola nests if not the oropendolas themselves.

 

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On route we saw this Cliff Flycatcher ….

 

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The two adults were feeding a juvenile.

 

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The Cliff Flycatcher’s rufous flight feathers shows nicely in this shot.

 

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We descended further into the lowlands where even more ‘write-ins’ were added to our ever-growing list ….

 

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Blue-and-White Swallows were a familiar site although this young bird is neither very blue nor very white

 

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There are few hotels in this remote area and we spent the night in this basic accommodation, but as our evening  meal was prepared by our helpful drivers and they had a stock of cold beers in for us, it was no great hardship.

 

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The following day we headed for the nearby Upper Mantaro Valley, an area that has been neglected by birders yet has recently be shown to harbour several endemic species.

 

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Some of the first birds we saw were the widespread Andean Guan ….

 

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…. and Spectacled Whitestart

 

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The recently described Black-spectacled Brush Finch is a much more restricted ranged bird ….

 

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…. although I prefer the alternative name of Black-goggled Brush Finch.

 

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White-winged Black Tyrant is quite widespread ….

 

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….. but the ‘Mantaro’ Wren is a newly discovered (and possibly still undescribed) form of Plain-tailed Wren that almost certainly deserves specific status ….

 

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…. the lightly barred tail and paler grey head are some of the features that distinguish ‘Mantaro’ Wren from the highly disjunct Plain-tailed Wren. Photo by fellow tour participant  Steve Lowe.

 

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Other goodies in the Mantaro drainage included Eye-ringed Thistletail.

 

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One problem of using a bridge camera is that it is impossible to get a sharp focus if there is vegetation between you and the bird, but at least I got a record shot of this Creamy-crested Spinetail.

 

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We had good views of this Violet-fronted Starfrontlet (don’t hummers have the most marvellous names) ….

 

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The Peruvian form of this species may be split as Huanaco Starfrontlet (and indeed already has been by the Lynx/BLI Illustrated Checklist) the remaining population would the become a Bolivian endemic and be known as Bolivian Starfrontlet.

 

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In due course we left the Mantaro drainage and headed towards our stop for the night ….

 

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….  more basic accommodation, but the single bright light by the outside wash basin attracted a multitude of moths and I took many photos to send to moth-er  friends back home (the hyphen is essential otherwise moth enthusiasts become ‘mothers’).

 

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The next morning we had a field breakfast just as the sun was touching the high peaks.

 

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It certainly was a breakfast table with a view.

 

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These cecropia trees are typical of the subtropics, the low cloud and poor visibility is typical of the subtropics as well!

 

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A Broad-winged Hawk, a winter visitor from North America watched from a nearby branch.

 

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During the morning we slowly gained altitude and left the subtropical zone and the humid eastern slope of the Andes behind. From here we would cross the continental divide and descend towards Lima. That will be the subject of the next post.

 

 

 

18th February – 12 March – Two very different sides to Mexico   Leave a comment

I have just returned from a double trip to Mexico, a two separate trips taken back to back.

The first was to the El Triunfo reserve in the southern state of Chiapas, close to the Guatemalan border. This huge area  covers 120,000 hectares of montane forest and is completely undeveloped. For eight days we hiked from the east side of the park to the west, climbing up to 2200m and dropping down to a few hundred metres asl on the Pacific side. We stayed in basic accommodation at the park HQ for four nights and camped for three nights at three separate sites.

It was a small group with just six clients, as well as leader Mark van Beirs we were accompanied by two local birders, Jorge and Amy. As this was a very important landmark for Birdquest, the 10,000th bird species ever to be recorded on one of their tours was expected on this trip, managing director Mark Beaman came along to document the event.

Birding was great, I personally recorded 272 bird species or which 47 were ‘life’ birds. There were many highlights, two of which are shown below, others will follow in due course.

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El Triunfo early morning mists over the park HQ. It was wonderful to spend a week in these cool, moss covered montane forests. Apart from the buildings at the HQ we saw no evidence of human activity what so ever, no  sounds from vehicles, planes, no localpeople, even no phone reception.

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The highlight of the trip came quite early, the first afternoon in fact. El Triunfo is the only accessible location where you can see the bizarre Horned Guan. This huge cracid was found making its deep booming call from a tree top at dusk. It was claimed that this was Birdquest’s 10,000th species but I have a sneaking suspicion that that was actually the unassuming Paltry Tyrannulet!

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Another key bird in the reserve is the Resplendant Quetzal. Birds here have an even longer tail than the better known birds from Costa Rica

The second tour was to the Yucatan peninsula. Mark and I flew to Mexico City and then on to Cancun where we met up with the rest of the group. Compared to El Triunfo, the contrasts in the terrain, habitat, physical effort, birds, group composition and level of isolation from the noise of the 21st century couldn’t have been greater. The Cancun and Cozumel area was particularly noisy, not only were they full of sun seeking tourists but it was the Mardis Gras festival and locals partied well into the night.

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The boat crossing to Cozumel took far longer than expected due to the large number travelling to the island to partake in Mardi Gras. We didn’t loose much birding time but had to queue for hours in the hot sun. That night the Mardis Gras procession went right past our hotel

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At Rio Lagartos on the north coast of the peninsula, we saw a wonderful range of water birds including flocks of beautiful American Flamingos

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No trip to the Yucatan would be complete without a visit to one of its famous Mayan ruins. Most tourists visit Chichen Itza (shown here) but we also visited Calakmul further south which is even more impressive and also has great birds like Ocellated Turkey and Great Curassow along the access road.

This is only a quick overview of the two tours. I have over a thousand photos to edit but first I must prepare a talk for the Dorset Bird Club AGM in ten days time, so it might take a little while!