Thursday, March 4, 2010

Costa Rica, Day 1- Intro to Tropical Birding

We arrived in Costa Rica around 11:30. There is nothing too interesting to report about the flight, but I saw the first bird of the trip as we descended toward San Jose- a Black Vulture. By the time we had gotten our rental car, gotten lost, and finally gotten to our hotel, I had seen 3 lifers- Great-tailed Grackle, Red-billed Pigeon, and Rufous-collared Sparrow (below).

Our hotel was called the Hotel Bouganvillea, and its extensive gardens provided good birding and the perfect place to learn some of the more common tropical species. I found a Clay-colored Robin, the most abundant species for the whole trip, and an Inca Dove in the parking lot of the hotel. 2 more lifers. For the rest of the day I swam in the pool and birded the hotel grounds (below)
 Some of the better birds included a fly-over flock of Crimson-fronted Parakeets, the first endemic of the trip (it is only found in Costa Rica and western Panama), great looks at a White-tailed Kite, Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, which would be trash birds if they weren't hummingbirds, a Rufous-capped Warbler, Blue-gray Tanager, Grayish Saltator, and Hoffman's Woodpecker(below), the 2nd endemic of the trip (Found only in Nicaragua and Costa Rica).
The birding also interesting because, even in such a tropical setting with parakeets and motmots, there were some birds that were the same as those that will be up in New York in just 2 months- Yellow Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Philidephia Vireo, and Tennessee Warbler. This Baltimore Oriole, leaving its tropical wintering grounds, could end up in Central Park, Magee Marsh, Mount Auburn Cemetery, or any other patch of forest in the eastern U.S:
The birding was really easy- no bitter cold, not oppressive heat, no tall trees or dense brush, so I continued to rack up birds. Tropical Kingbird. Brown Jay. Great Kiskadee. Summer Tanager. What might have been the best bird of the day was a White-eared Ground-Sparrow, a somewhat secreative bird which, along with a similar but rarer relative, the Prevost's Ground-Sparrow, was a specialty bird of the hotel gardens. I tried, but could not find the other ground sparrow. 

I ran into a British woman who was also a birder and also hoping to see ground-sparrows, but who had not seen White-eared either. While I was trying to re-find the spot where I had seen it before, ("I think it was this path. Wait, no, this is a dead end. It has to be here somewhere, the gardens aren't that big...") she pointed out a green-blue bird that had just flow by when I was looking the other way. It was a Blue-crowned Motmot, a large (bigger than a jay) blue-green bird with a long, racquet-tipped tail and a brilliant iridescent sky-blue crown. My photos don't do it justice (or even close), but it was awesome. 

(They actually might be better if you click on them to see the large image. The flash made the eyes weird though.)
After dinner, 3 minutes of listening for owls and nightjars came to nothing because by then it was raining, but that did not make the day any less of a success. In 3-4 hours of walking through the hotel gardens, I had seen 28 species, 20 of which were life birds. I was now 6 away from 300. 

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