Thursday, November 30, 2017

Yellow-faced Grassquit

Also feeding in the lawn at the Hotel de Montana Monteverde were a couple of Yellow-faced Grassquits. The little finch is common in fields and roadsides in lowlands from Eastern Mexico south through Cental America to northwestern South America. It casually occurs in Florida and has been recorded in south Texas. Yellow-faced Grassquits are introduced in Hawaii.

DNA research suggests that the Yellow-faced Grassquit, although definitely a finch, is not closely related to other species in the genus Tiaris, where it currently resides (Torok and Burns 2011). One assumes some reclassification is in order for this species.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Clay-colored Thrush

We saw Clay-colored Thrushes in many of the locations we visited in Costa Rica. I have shared with you a photo of one from our hotel on our first evening in San Jose. Both its ubiquity and its pretty song contribute to its being Costa Rica’s national bird. They are often found around people—cleared woodlands, clearings, open areas, lawns, cities, and, occasionally into more heavily wooded areas. They range from southern-most Texas to Venezuela and Colombia. This image was taken on 6 July at the Hotel Montana Monteverde.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Yellow-throated Euphonia

What are euphonias? Ornithologists used to classify them with tanagers. Now DNA studies indicate that they are finches. These Yellow-throated Euphonias were acting just like finches, as they fed on the lawn of the Hotel de Montana Monteverde. A male is in the first photo, a female in the second. The species ranges from eastern Mexico to western Panama. Yellow-throated Euphonias usually eat fruit, especially mistletoe berries. I am not sure what they were eating in the hotel lawn—insects or weed seeds? Either is possible.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Rufous-collared Sparrow

Next I have a series of bird photographs from the grounds of the Hotel de Montaña Monteverde. Most were taken on 6 July, but others on the afternoon of 5 July, or the morning of the 7th. Rufous-collared Sparrows greeted us at the hotel. These birds are in the same genus as our White-throated Sparrows.

Rufous-collared Sparrows are abundant from southern Mexico to Tierra del Fuego. They are also found from sea level to the tops of Andean peaks. Across their range, they flush along roadsides, parks, human habitations, and other cleared areas. With such a huge range, it is not surprising that at least 25 subspecies are recognized by ornithologists. The Handbook of Birds of the World speculates that some of these races will be declared full species. The race found in Monteverde is found from Costa Rica to Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Black-tailed Darner

Black-tailed Darners are found along sunny ponds from Mexico to Panama. This individual is probably a female due to her yellow side stripes. Our companions had netted this dragonfly at the pond at the base of the hillside at the Hotel de Montaña Monteverde on 6 July. She remained perched after she was released. Before Erika and I returned to our forest trail, I was able to capture this image.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Thorn-tipped Dancer

This dancer used to be named Argia exranea, found from Arizona to Panama. But entomologists realized that this damselfly was actually two species—a northern and a southern one, with no overlap in range. The southern one, Argia elongata was only described in 2017! The Northern species is now called a Spine-tipped Darner. the southern one, the Thorn-tipped Darner. Argia elongata are found in Costa Rica. I took this image from the pool below the Hotel de Montaña Monteverde.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Long-tailed Manakin

We returned to the Hotel Montana Monteverde in the mid-afternoon of 6 July. We stopped first for a protracted lunch at the Hummingbird Cafe we visited the day before. At the hotel, most of our group hiked down to a small pond at the base of a hill. Erika and I were intrigued by the hotel’s 15-hectare forest trail, which also ended at the pond. Two of our companions walked with us, but, about half way down the trail we went separate ways.

We saw very little during our hike. On the way back up the trail Erika exclaimed, “look at that small, green bird with the long tail!” I never saw it, but figured that a female Long-tailed Manakin was a possibility. I played the manakin’s song on my cell phone, not knowing that male Long-tailed Manakins do not respond to each other’s calls. But a small, black and azure manakin flew across the trail and landed on a bare perch within the forest. I was able to get one, not so good photograph before the bird flew again. But, as you can see below, this was quite a striking bird.

Male manakins form dancing courts called leks. Any male is welcomed to the lek, at least until a female shows up. Then lower-ranking males are chased away. Long-tailed Manakin leks are strange. Two unrelated males hold court. The two males remain together, even outside the breeding season. These pairs may last several years. Younger males move from lek to lek, often dancing with other males. Females watch and listen to the males, but visit relatively few leks. Only a few males mate successfully in any given year. Usually only the dominant male mates, but females may mate with his partner if the alpha male is absent—even if she has already mated with the dominant bird (Neotropical Birds).

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Blue-throated Toucanet

The taxonomy of small, emerald toucanets is a mess. I was aware that ornithologists split Mexican and South American subspecies into two species, Northern and Southern Emerald-Toucanets. In fact, nobody seems to know what to do with the dozen or so populations from Mexico to Bolivia. Their ranges almost never overlap, so it is hard to tell if they might interbreed. Consequently, ornithologists recognize anywhere from one to eight species. The “splitters” call the toucanets of Costa Rica, the Blue-throated Toucanet.

High in the treetops a Blue-throated Toucanet watched while we headed back towards Monteverde after our 6 July jungle stroll. Northern Emerald-Toucanets range from eastern Mexico through Central America. They prey upon small vertebrates and eat fruit. They nest in tree cavities. We saw other birds during our morning adventure, but none that we did not subsequently see better. I will cover those in later posts.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Mountain Flatwing

A few inches away from the Costa Rican Flatwing of my last post, we found a Mountain Flatwing under the same riverbank. These two damselflies are in the same family, but different genera. Thus they are not so closely related. Mountain Flatwings are found in Costa Rica and Panama south to Peru. They inhabit the edges of cloud forest streams, and thrive with high humidity, shade, and cold water (Nadkarni and Wheelwright).

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Costa Rican Flatwing

On 6 July, as we hiked along a dirt road near Monteverde, Costa Rica, we turned around where a creek rushed over the road. Under the overhanging logs and vegetation of the riverbank, we found two species of flatwings. This habitat is typical of flatwings, although occasionally females wander in the forest away from water. These are a family of damselflies that are larger than spreadwings and hold their wings flatter. Usually the forewings are at a different angle than the hind ones.

These photos are of Costa Rican Flatwings. The first photo was taken on 6 July, near Monteverde. The  second was taken a week later, on 16 July,  at Braulio Carrillo National Park. Costa Rican Flatwings are known only from Nicaragua and Costa Rica. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Chirripo Cora

I found it hard to find information about the Chirripo Cora, Cora chirripa. Finally I happened upon Bill Haber’s web page, Odonata of Monteverde, Costa Rica. On 6 July, not only was that exactly where we were—near Monteverde—but our guest guide was Bill Haber! Haber writes that cora have large eyes and stout bodies. (Later I will show you a photo that shows just how big and strange cora eyes are.) These damselfies perch on leaves and twigs. They are usually found along small, forest streams. Chirripo refers to Costa Rica’s highest peak, which is found in the southern mountains.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Rusty-tipped Page

Rusty-tipped Pages are among the most common Central American butterflies. They range south to Brazil and Bolivia and north into Texas and New Mexico. We found several during our hike near Monteverde during the morning of 6 July.

They are often found near the ground at forest edges. Like other tropical butterflies, they often gather at pools. They also drink nectar, rotting fruit, dung, and carrion. The caterpillars resemble poisonous swallowtail larva, and so are an example of Batesian Mimicry, where harmless creatures resemble poisonous ones. Rusty-tipped Butterflies are therefore avoided by birds (Knowlegebase).

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.