Saturday, November 18, 2017

Cerulean Dancer

We found Cerulean Dancers along the roadside near Monteverde, Costa Rica, on 6 July. This damselfly is found from Costa Rica to Mexico. Curiously this species has made a rapid range expansion into the southern half of Arizona, where it was first found in 2012. Most of the US records are of males, like this one. Females are rarely found (Pierre Deviche/FaceBook).

Friday, November 17, 2017

Amber-banded Clubskimmer

As I recall, this clubskimmer perched on the rocks near the Mountain Rubyspot on 6 July. The roadside habitat must have suited these dragonflies as they recharge their solar-powered muscles. Dennis Paulson calls this ode an Amber-banded Clubskimmer. Guillon, who writes in French, informs us the English name is Rapacious Clubskimmer—a big descriptor for this little arthropod. Dennis shrugs and reminds me that all dragonflies are rapacious. The New York Times reports that dragonflies enjoy a 95% success rate with prey capture, compared to 25% for lions and 50% for sharks. "they may well be the most brutally effective hunters in the animal kingdom,” writes the Times. By whatever name, this species is widespread from Mexico to Venezuela and Peru.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Sky-blue Dancer

These damselflies are Sky-blue Dancers, Agria medullaris. I think the first photo is of a female, the second a male. Both were along the dirt road we walked near Monteverde on 6 July. Keys to their identification include their clear wings and the top of the male’s abdomen being all blue. Bill Haber writes that this species is found from 700 to 1600 meters on the Pacific and Caribbean slopes of Costa Rica. These damselflies also range north to Mexico and south to South America.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Orange Daggerwing

Orange Daggerwings (Marpesia berania) are common, ranging from Honduras to Peru. Like this one on the road near Monteverde on 6 July, they are often found one at a time. Males do, however, occasionally flock to puddles as the butterflies search of mineral nutrients. Females are usually restricted to the forest canopy and are seldom seen. Both sexes form large nocturnal roosts (Learnaboutbutterflies).

This butterfly is the third daggerwing we have seen. Nearby we photographed a Many-banded Daggerwing. On 20 March 2011, Erika and I found a Ruddy Daggerwing in south Florida.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Highland Rubyspot

Also observed along the Monteverde road on 6 July—a Highland Rubyspot. This is the third rubyspot of our Costa Rican adventure. At least ten species inhabit the country. I never really got a handle on identifying them. Most seemed to be found near streams. One key is the elevation in which they are found. In the mountains, your options are somewhat limited.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Mexican Heliconian

The Mexican Heliconian, Heliconius hortense, ranges from Mexico to Ecuador. This butterfly inhabits cloud forests up to 2300 meters. We found this one on 6 July next to a dirt road near Monteverde, Costa Rica. I suppose one should use caution, even among friends, when sharing results of Rorschach tests. I thought, “Whoa, that insect has white lightening bolts on its wings!” Later they didn’t look so much like lightening; more like sexy barroom cigarette salespeople. Still later—oh, never mind.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Common Redpoll

Two Common Redpolls appeared at our feeder yesterday morning. Redpoll numbers fluctuate at about a two-year cycle. (It seems like it has been more than that since we have seen them here in numbers in central Minnesota.) Redpolls wander widely, A bird banded in Michigan was recovered in Siberia. One banded in Belgium was recovered two years later in China (All About Birds.) This source also cites a record of a seven-year, ten-month old Common Redpoll in Alaska.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Cardinal Meadowhawk

“Cardinal Meadowhawk,” said Dennis Paulson, “just like home in Seattle.” Even I knew this species, in my case, from Olympia, Washington. This observation was one of but a handful of Costa Rican dragonflies that were not new for us. This meadowhawk watched as our group hiked down the road near the UGA Costa Rica Campus near Monteverde on 6 July.

Cardinal Meadowhawks range across the West Coast and in the southern South West in the United States, south through the mountains to Panama. The wide range of some dragonflies, compared to limited distributions of others, is intriguing.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Many-banded Daggerwing

During our morning hike near Monteverde, Costa Rica, on 6 July, we photographed a Many-banded Daggerwing. This butterfly flitted through the roadside vegetation. The species is found from Argentina to Mexico and the West Indies. They frequently stray into south Texas, and, more rarely, to Kansas and  southern Florida. They are known, in the tropics, to undergo population explosions and mass migrations.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Neon Skimmer

Along the way on our 6 July Monteverde (San Louis) stroll, we passed a wet, weedy, seepy hillside full of dragonflies. Among them was this Neon Skimmer, clearly territorial, since it repeatedly returned to the same perch. The species is found in clean streams and ditches in mountains from Costa Rica into widely scattered areas of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas (Paulson). We did not see courtship displays, in which the males fly with their tails raised high.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Thick-tipped Greta

Greta morgane, the thick-tipped greta, is a day active ithomiine butterfly from the subfamily Ithomiinae” (Wikipedia). So now you know. This butterfly is common from Central America, the Caribbean north to Mexico. In 2004 a stray was recorded in Texas.

The roadside we explored near Monteverde, on 6 July, was full of butterflies. In fact, in July 2017, all of Costa Rica experienced high numbers of butterflies. It was kind of like a scene from “A Hundred Years of Solitude,” if you are familiar with that book.

We remarked on this butterfly’s transparent wing patches. The pink color you see is actually flower parts fallen from the trees. Their caterpillars feast on deadly nightshade, rendering both caterpillars and adults poisonous to birds. The birds, needless to say, avoid Thick-tipped Gretas.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Middle American Pearlwing

Unlike the dasher without a name in my last post, this little damselfly has a huge name. Around the dasher pond near Monteverde, Costa Rica, we photographed an immature, female Middle American Pearlwing. The species ranges from Mexico to Costa Rica. According to the IUCN Red List, pearlwings tolerate human habitat disturbance, are common, but little studied. Apparently all they need is a local water source. No data suggest pearlwing populations are declining.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Dasher without a Name

Also at the first pond we explored on 6 July were several dashers with no name! Our intreped guide, Dennis Paulson, still is in the process of naming this species! Soon, he hopes. He figures he still has 13 undescribed species in Costa Rica. Hopefully he’ll have them named before he publishes his book on dragonflies of the country.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Malachite Darner

We spent the morning of 6 July strolling along a dirt road through forests and fields owned by the University of Georgia/Costa Rica. We parked the bus and walked about a quarter-mile to a rushing mountain stream surrounded by forest.

Our first stop was at a pond in a small, forest-edged pasture—perfect habitat for the Malachite Darner that greeted us. This dragonfly ranges from southeastern Arizona to Argentina. This individual behaved typically for the species. It flew back and forth about six feet above the water. It flew between the pond plants and occasionally hovered. Getting a photo required patience and waiting as the ode repeatedly passed. The Malachite Darner gets its name from its green sides that resemble the color of the mineral, malachite.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Three-wattled Bellbird

We enjoyed the view from the Hotel de Montaña Monteverde. One of the joys of our dragonfly tour was the varied expertise of our traveling companions. I am not sure who heard the Three-wattled Bellbirds in the distance. We set up scopes and found several far away. Bellbirds are cotingas, a South and Central American bird family. I immediately identified these birds by their white upper-parts and chestnut bottoms. I tried to record the bellbird calls with my cell phone. I guess it is amazing I got anything at all. The second photo is what we saw without the scope, with a greatly enlarged insert in the lower-left corner. Still fairly small. The bellbird is in both images.
I can not tell you which of our days was the best of the tour. The sixth of July is a contender. That morning we met Dennis Paulson’s colleague, Bill Haber. They are writing a guide to Costa Rican dragonflies. Bill took us several miles down the mountain to a research station run by the University of Georgia. We parked in the middle of nowhere and walked about a quarter of a mile down a dirt road. In the next posts, I plan is to describe some of the dragonflies and butterflies we saw. Then I will talk about birds at our hotel. I will end with our amazing quetzal search the next morning.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawks follow the migrating songbirds out of the Northwoods. The last week I have been doing a land office business, banding robins. This occupation is curious because between 12 June and 12 October I banded no robins—not even young birds of this relatively common summer resident. (OK, it did not help that I was traveling during most of July.) Since late October, I’ve ringed over 100. On 30 October, I discovered this young female in my net among the robins. I was pleased by this photograph, taken by Erika with her Pixel XL phone and developed with Topaz Lab Studio. This software, at least in a basic format, is free.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Lesson’s Motmot

The afternoon of 5 July 2017 saw our checking into the Hotel de Montaña Monteverde. In the parking lot, a Lesson’s Motmot greeted us. One of its field marks is that its tail rackets have shorter stems than many other motmots. Check out the Turquoise-browned Motmot we saw earlier. The Lesson’s Motmot is common from southern Mexico to Panama. This species is similar to other motmots, such as the Blue-crowned Motmot. Until recently these two motmots were considered to be the same species. Now they and other South American populations are treated as separate species. All motmots flick their tails like clock pendulums.

The Hotel de Montaña Monteverde was definitely one of the one of the nicest we visited. The view across the mountains was spectacular and the birding, first rate. The sunset, as you can see in the last photo, after our rainy day was outstanding.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Black Guan

The “best” bird at the Monteverde Hummingbird gallery on 5 July wasn’t a hummingbird or a tanager—but a Black Guan. This large, arboreal, turkey-sized bird is only found in Costa Rica and western Panama.

Across their range, Black Guans are heavily hunted. In many areas, the guan populations are highly fragmented and some near extinction. Costa Rica made hunting illegal in 1988, and the species is fairly common near the Monteverde National Park and near other national reserves.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Bananaquits are small tanagers found from Mexico and the Bahamas south through the Antilles and Central America to much of northern South America. Bananaquits were once classified as Honeyeaters, but this family proved genetically to be a collection of unrelated species. Across this large range, their plumages are highly variable—41 races are described (Handbook of Birds of the World).

They are primarily necter-feeders, but will also consume fruits and insects. They are not birds of heavy forest, preferring shrubby forest borders. They probe their bills, hummingbird-style, into flowers. Sometimes they pierce the flower bases in search of nectar. They are easily attracted to bowls of sugar or to hummingbird feeders, where they can become both bold and tame. Such was the case at the Hummingbird Gallery cafe near Monteverde, Costa Rica, which we visited on 5 July 2017.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Review: Birding without Borders

Birding Without Borders. Noah Strycker. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing: New York. 326 pp. Hardcover and digital formats. $27.00 Hardcover (but note link above).

The book begins with a forward by Kenn Kaufmann and continues with an attempt to justify extreme birding—breaking the world record for seeing more birds than anyone else in one year. No such justification of expense and consumption of fossil fuel (contributions to a carbon-offset program or not) can be made. This story is really a description of a man on a personal, obsessive quest. Such quests, however, make for good reading—especially for anyone interested in birding. Strycker quit his job, broke up with his girlfriend, and depleted his savings. Strycker enjoyed an advance from his publisher, corporate sponsorships and the hospitality of hundreds of birders around the world—he spent “about $60,000 on travel, lodging, food guiding, [and] gear” —a cost of about ten dollars per bird.

His gear list is actually one of the more interesting features of his book. Also fascinating is his itinerary. He begins in Antarctica—an odd choice given the relative paucity of bird life there. He then works his way up most of South America, stops in Jamaica, and continues through Central America and Mexico. He only visits five US states (taking about ten days)—Texas, Arizona, California, Oregon, and New York. Then it’s off to Iceland and Norway. He goes to Spain by way of Turkey. Single species are added in France and Germany. Strycker must be bored by European birds, because they are almost completely left out of the book. He then crisscrosses Africa. Arabia and India are next, followed by Southeast Asia and China. He then does Australia and New Zealand, finally returning to India.

He checks off 6,042 bird species. Only a fraction of these are discussed in his book. The book is surprisingly sparsely illustrated. A photo section only includes nine birds! The most interesting photo is a selfie of Strycker standing next to the bird identification guides that he digitized to download to his laptop. One assumes such an endeavor is compliant with copyright laws.

Strycker writes well (although I am surprised by a trend by his editors to incorrectly use the words “I” and “me.”) His prose does, however, occasionally wander. He takes almost ten pages to get to his first bird sighting. Do we really need to know the American Birding Association’s birding rules or that some birders cheat? (I wonder if Strycker’s capturing a Common Poorwill qualifies as a bird seen under ABA rules.) I can’t say that I needed to read so much about Strycker’s angst over birding as a competitive sport. Strycker might have quoted Pete Dunn that beginners may occasionally misidentify birds, but experts have misidentified thousands. Can you count species you only hear?  Strycker counted just over 5% of his birds by sound alone. What constitutes a bird species, anyway? Can you list species that someone else sees and identifies?

Strycker relied on local birders as guides. Locals often know a region better than professional international guides and can protect birders from bandits or corrupt officials. Local guides usually come free of charge. We are told tidbits about these people, but we learn very little about them. We also get glimpses of some of the environmental problems in places Strycker visits. One chapter covers a very brief history of American birding and Big Years. These subjects are all well and good, but I was left feeling they took the place of more discourse about or images of the birds Strycker saw.

Overall, Birding Without Borders is well-written and one of the best books of this genre.  High points include his account of seeing a Harpy Eagle—the raptor and its ecology are entertainingly described. I wish he devoted more to other species he listed. I could have lived without as much minutia as he sometimes writes about nonbirding topics such as two pages on the dangers of driving in Peru. A photograph or drawing of a Marvelous Spatuletail would have been a nice addition. Perhaps it is a good thing that the book does not devolve into an annotated list of birds. Enjoyment of the book does require that the reader develops some sympathy for Strycker’s frenzied running around the world listing birds. I enjoyed reading Strycker’s account and, unlike with some similar books, I was never bored. His account was much less of “I had a good day today, these are the birds that I saw” book and, for better or worse, much more like a typical travel book, covering snapshots of countryside and human encounters.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Green Hermit

Green Hermits are found in a variety of habitats, both pristine and human-altered. They specialize in relatively large flowers, like the heliconias in the second photo, not surprising given the length of their long, curved bills. They also hut for small arthropods and spiders. The first of these photos is a male from the Hummingbird Gallery near Monteverde on 5 July. The second photo is a female from the Arenal Observatory, where we stayed a few days later. Their long, white central tail feathers are not clearly visible in either photograph.

Like many other species, they forage by trap-lining, making a regular route to favorite flowers. As do many of the other hummingbirds we saw, hermits form leks during the breeding season. Females, in quick succession, mate with multiple males. Curiously, at their leks, males often perform false-matings with small pieces of vegetation (Cornell).

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Striped-tailed Hummingbird

The Stripe-tailed Hummingbird’s tail stripes are hard to see. They are best identified by their copper wing patches. Males defend flowers and are aggressive. They occasionally pierce flower bases, thereby robbing longer-billed species that specialize on larger flowers. This hummingbird is found in mountains from sotuhern Mexico to Panama.

Costa Rica recently passed a law forbidding the feeding of wildlife. The law is probably well-meaning. Feeding changes eating habits. An abundance of bread and popcorn does wildlife no good. Feeding may also attract wildlife to roadsides, with potentially disastrous consequences of both animals and people.

Presumably this law includes prohibiting bird feeders at hotels and refuges. Many studies conclude that feeding birds results in no harm. Feeding birds also greatly enhances the ecotourism experience for bird and nature loving tourists of all nationalities who flock to Costa Rica. Ecotourism is a large contributor to Costa Rica economy. Far more injurious to birds than bird feeders is deforestation, monoculture, and urban sprawl. Curiously, those activities do not seem to be included in the wildlife law.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Coppery-headed Emerald

Coppery-headed Emeralds are only found in the highlands of Costa Rica. They were relatively uncommon at the hummingbird feeders at the Hummingbird Gallery near Monteverde on 5 July. I do not recall seeing a female (which have green-speckled, white breasts). Like many hummingbirds, Coppery-headed Emeralds form leks, where males sing and females mate with one or more of the males. Males spend most of their time in the forest canopy, wheres females are found closer to the ground (Neotropical Birds). The two photos in this post are both males, which gave me a bit of confusion, since they look so different. Presumably the difference is caused by different angles of light against the iridescent feathers.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Lesser Violetear

Lesser Violetears are found from Costa Rica south to northern Argentina. In my youth, birding in Mexico, I would have identified this bird as a Green Violetear. But populations north of Costa Rica are now thought to be a separate species, the Mexican Violetear. The two species have different plumages, the Lesser Violetears lacking the northern birds’ blue breast patch. I assume the violetears that occasionally stray into the United States are the Mexican species.

The violetear in this photograph, like other hummingbirds at the Monteverde feeders, appears to be sleeping during a rain shower. The species was fairly common at the hummingbird cafe. I identified the species, not by the violet ear feathers, but by the dark band at the end of its iridescent tail. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Purple-throated Mountain-gem

Perhaps the most striking hummingbird we saw on 5 July near Monteverde was the Purple-throated Mountain-gem. This species inhabits mountain cloud forests from Nicaragua to Panama. As you can see in these photos, males (upper image taken by Erika) look quite different than the ochre-breasted females. Unlike many tropical birds, this hummingbird usually breeds in the rainy season (Cornell).

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Green-crowned Brilliant

Green-crowned Brilliants were also abundant at Monteverde’s Hummingbird Gallery on 5 July 2017. These large hummingbirds are found from southern Central America to northwestern South America. Across their range, these relatively high-elevation inhabitants often visit local bird feeders. The first of these photos is of a male, the second—a female.

This species often uses a trapline feeding technique. Here birds follow a specific route to visit flowering plants. Presumably this strategy helps reduce competition among nectar-feeders by spacing them apart. Trap-lining, named after human trappers who check trap lines, has been described in various hummingbirds and also bees, bats, rats, and other fruit-eating mammals. Clearly, however, the hoards of competing hummingbirds at the Hummingbird Gallery do not force brilliants into trap-lining—although I suppose they may parade from one feeder to the next.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Violet Sabrewing

The afternoon of 5 July 2017 became increasingly overcast, with widely scattered downpours. Our normally laid-back dragonfly enthusiasts became downright glum. Arriving at Monteverde, instead of checking into our hotel, our intrepid guides decided to detour to the Hummingbird Gallery.  This small, hillside, coffee house was surrounded by forest at the end of the road next to the entrance to the Monteverde National Park. The gallery sign promised a “gift shop, local crafts, photo exposition, mail box, green disposal, Welcome.” The draw, however, was dozens of hummingbird feeders and hundreds of hummingbirds. The birds zipped back and forth in a feeding frenzy. I suspect at least two species of hummingbirds (and a Bananaquit) are in the first photo. Sorting out field marks and identification still leaves me astounded. The species diversity was like being in an aerial Great Barrier Reef.
Violet Sabrewings were the most common species, or, at least, the most belligerent. These hummingbirds range from southern Mexico to Costa Rica. They dominated the feeders, chasing interlopers away. Oddly, almost all were males. The males are polygamous and form leks, which are areas where males sing and females pick their mates. Several females may mate with one male. The males do not participate in raising the young. I only recall seeing one female, the bird in the second to last photo in this post.
We quickly figured out that we got better photos if we looked for birds perched away from the aesthetically distracting feeders. As rain began to fall, this male sabrewing appear to be taking a short nap. Violet Sabrewings get their names from their sabre-shaped outer wing quills. Dennis Paulson says that this strange feather shape makes an impressive rattling sound when the Sabrewings fly.
The rain developed into a short-lived downpour. We tourists were glad to be under the eaves of the cafe. A few of the sabrewings bathed under the downspouts from the roof. The birds spread their wings and fluffed the body feathers. Clearly these hummingbirds did not mind getting soaked.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Pileated Woodpecker

Our backwoods become gold in the fall. Up flew a noisy, male Pileated Woodpecker. I have previously written about this crow-sized woodpecker. After a day of rain and two days of wind, most of the golden leaves are now in my banding nets. Winter can not be far behind.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Roseate Skimmer

Real dragonfly entusiasts net their quarry. Many species can be positively identified no other way. With binoculars, camera, notebook, and eBird list on cell phone, I’ve never had enough hands for a net. Nevertheless, before our Costa Rica tour, I asked Dennis Paulson if I needed to invest in a net. He replied, “no.” He had a net, and that would be enough. Furthermore, dragonfly collecting would require permits. The dragonflies we did net were all released. Some, like the Wandering Glider perched on Dennis’s nose, were reluctant to depart. On the other hand, the Roseate Skimmer in the bottom photo was the only one I saw during the tour. I took the photo, but regretted the creature was hand-held. The resulting photo is never as aesthetic as an unrestrained dragonfly. This individual is the first adult male I have seen, but I have photographed a couple of wild Roseates in southern Texas.

Friday, October 20, 2017


Erika wondered what Karen Kearny and I were stalking in the restaurant parking lot puddle (across the highway from the dragonlet cattle pond). You never know on a wildlife tour such as ours. Turns out to be a Malachite (Siproeta stelenes), a butterfly found from Brazil, through Central America and into the southernmost United States. This insect is also found in southern Florida, presumably migrating there from Cuba or Hispanola in the 1960s. In Florida, Malachites inhabit citrus orchards; in Central America they fly in forests.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Red-faced Dragonlet

Just north of the town of Sardinal, Costa Rica, on 5 July 2017, our tour bus came upon a grassy cattle pasture. A few trees shaded a pond. Our guide, Dennis Paulson, exclaimed that this looked like prime dragonfly habitat. Erika and I looked at each other with dismay as Dennis announced that we would definitely require two and a half hours at this location. Fortunately, the only nearby building was a small restaurant across the street.

Dennis was mistaken. He really needed all day in the pasture, but took every minute of his two and a half hours. A number of dragonfly species flew about the area. Most were Red-faced Dragonlets, found from Texas to Argentina, and north into the Lesser Antilles. Their variability makes these dragonflies fascinating. In the United States, Mexico, and northern Central America to northwestern Costa Rica, adult male abdomens are blue. Further south in Costa Rica and western Ecuador, the abdomens are red. East of the Andes and on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, they are blue-tailed. As you can see in these photos, both morphs of Red-faced Dragolets are found in the Sardinal area.

Dennis later wrote me that “It would be interesting to know if a male that stays red is different genetically from one that becomes blue, but because there are at least some intermediates, it doesn’t seem like a simple genetic difference. It’s definitely an interesting situation. In fact it was very near there in 2010 that I first noticed this variation in one spot.”

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wandering Glider

On 5 July 2017, we drove northeast from the Villa Lapas hotel to Monteverde. I looked forward to this tourist mecca since quetzals and other highland birds inhabit the area. Along the way, we stopped for gas. Costa Rican law demanded all passengers leave the bus when refueling.

Big yellow dragonflies flew over the asphalt. Wandering Gliders are well named. Erika and I have recorded them from Minnesota. They wander across all continents except Antarctica. I have posted notes about this species in August 2011 and in 2016. Judging from this glider’s ragged wing condition, I suspect this individual traveled some distance as it circled our gas station.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Julia Heliconian

At the Lapas Hotel in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, we encountered our first Julia Heliconian. The scientific name is Dryas iulia (apparently often misspelled as Dryas julia—the letters j and i are often interchangeable in Latin). This wonderful butterfly is found from Brazil to southern Texas and Florida. They often stray north to eastern Nebraska. Heliconians are said to be avoided by birds. Orange butterflies are usually distasteful. This species is often kept in butterfly zoos, since the insect is long-lived and active throughout the day (Wikipedia).