donderdag 11 februari 2016

'fencing' in Costa Rica Hummingbird style!

Costa Rica is the place to be for birders.
It's a small country – 19,700 square miles (51,100 sq. km) - as big as Denmark or the U.S. State West-Virginia.
Nonetheless, it has a wide array of habitats – rainforests, mountains, green valleys, mangroves, vulcanoes etc- attracting more than 800 species of birds.

the hummingbirds

When I recently visited Costa Rica, one family of birds caught my attention: the hummingbirds, also known with their scientific name: the Trochilidae.

Ever since my fascination for birds started in my childhood, I always wanted to see hummingbirds in the wild: seeing them 'hum' from flower to flower, drinking its nectar.
Costa Rica has been on my bucketlist for 20 years and now I had the opportunity to fulfill both wishes.

Figure 1: The magenta-throated woodstar (Calliphlox bryantae)




Although the hummingbirds are present in all Costa Rica (even in the busy capital San Jose), the best time I saw them was in Monteverde (see Figure 1 Costa Rica map nr.13)
Monteverde is a city in Costa Rica, known for its surrounding cloud forests, which are visited yearly by numerous tourists and scientists.
The cloud forests are full of plant- and wildlife, which you can explore from the ground and up into the canopy. Monteverde has the largest number of orchids in the world and it is also home to the shy jaguar and the quetzal, one of the most beautiful birds of the neotropics.

Hummingbird Gallery

When exploring the forests for hummingbirds you will not find them that easily, because they are agile and small. A better way is to observe them at the Hummingbird Gallery in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Here, the hummingbirds are attracted by feeders, filled with sugarwater.
Different species were present like the large violet sabrewing, but also smaller ones like the mangos and the very small and beautiful magenta-throated woodstar (as seen in the picture above)
The Youtube-video below show some of the species I saw.

Video 1: Violet sabrewing etc. at feeder at the Hummingbird Gallery at the Monteverde preserve.

Observing hummingbirds

These birds were awesome and I noticed a lot of stuff I want to share.
When flapping their wings, the hummingbirds make a 'zooming' noise: the 'humming'.
Now I know why they are called hummingbirds in English.
In Dutch, they are called 'kolibries', which might be derived from a Carribean language meaning 'shiny surface'.
Next to the 'humming', the birds were also very agressive towards each other when feeding.
I saw several fights at the 'dinnertable'. Quite brutal, because the hummingbirds have sharp long beaks, with which they can hurt each other quite easily when 'fencing' in the sky.
Smaller birds were easily scared away by the larger species, but not always.
The already mentioned woodstar 'fenced' fiercely with the mangos, although it was no match for the sabrewing. Fortunately there were enough feeders, so every bird could get its nectar.

Your experiences with the hummingbirds

I only spent an hour at the Hummingbird Gallery and I was sad leaving the hummingbirds.
But it is an experience I will remember.
What are your experiences with the hummingbirds?
Do you have a feeder in your garden attracting them or do you also observe them in the 'wild'? 
I would like to hear your stories!

zondag 27 december 2015

Costa Rica, walking in the clouds!

From Arenal to Monteverde, a long drive.
From vulcano grasslands / forests to cloud forests, a different ecosystem with different birds.

Monteverde is a small community in Puntarenas, located in the Cordillera de TilarĂ¡n.
Roughly a four hour drive from the Central Valley, and you know when you are in the region by the condition of the road: gravel!
Luckily we drove a 4WD. So we drove for an hour or more on the mountain roads and suddenly a big bird soared in front of us. Big, black and a typical red ugly non-feathered head: the turkey vulture
It soared for more than 10 seconds in front of us and then it disappeared in the valley below of us.
Its relative, the black vulture is shorter winged and tailed and has a different color pattern on the wings beneath: the turkey vulture's flight feathers on the wings appear to be silvery-gray beneath, contrasting with the darker wing linings. The black vulture's bases of the primary feathers are white, producing a white patch on the underside of the wing's edge, which is visible in flight.
Both beautiful birds, soaring the Costa Rican skies eyeing carrion.

At last we arrived in the lodge at the borders of the Monteverde city. A lodge, settled between trees and bushes, full of birds, butterflies and lizards. One tree especially struck me, I counted a lot of species of birds in it at first glance: amazone parrots, woodpeckers, grackles, different tanagers (summer, blue-grey, blue-necked) and even a turkey vulture in the top.
Amazone parrots, I never saw them on the wild and I was curious which Amazone species it was.
Its white-feathered forehead and thick red colouring around the eyes identified it as the white-fronted amazone. A Monteverde beauty.
When I examined the bushes in the garden the next day 2 amazones flew away from the bushes: loud and wing-flapping. Finally I came up, close and personal with a Central American bird I always wanted to meet in the wild. As most amazones, an acrobat on the branch, using its beak and legs to do crazy movements. I really enjoyed myself that early morning.
That afternoon we went ziplining in the cloud forests, an experience I can recommend.
Something I wanted to do for a long time, ever since I heard the stories of zip-lining researchers during my biology study.
As you may know, the flora and fauna in the canopy are completely different than on top of the forest: different insects and butterflies (blue morpho) , other plants living on the trees and a better sighting of birds including tanagers and high flying parrots.

 That brings me to the hummingbirds of Monteverde, but that will be the next story.

donderdag 24 december 2015

Costa Rica, going Volcano!

From the Caribbean it was now time for the Arenal region in central Costa Rica.
Arenal Volcano National Park is a Costa Rican national park in the central part of the country, forming the Arenal Tilaran Conservation Area. The park encompasses the Arenal Volcano, which "was" the most active in the country, which had previously been believed to be dormant until a major eruption in 1968. It neighbors Lake Arenal, which is the site of the country's largest hydroelectricity project, the Lake Arenal Dam.
Waking up by hummingbirds and viewing the Arenal Volcano is quite an experience.
A quiet hotel, but the scenery and birdlife were grand.
From our hotelroom hummingbirds were seen feeding from nectar, while a local squirrel was trying to get into the hotelrooms.
A logical bird to introduce here is the Quetzal, but I didn't see the bird, so I will focus on 3 other species:
the rufous-collared sparrow, the rufous-tailed hummingbird and the summer tanager.

Our first bird, a fine sparrow, was very present during breakfast, stealing food whenever possible.
Fast wing-flapping birds, but not afraid and a strong voice, singing from the top of a tree.
From a distance you could think it's a house sparrow. 
However, the house sparrow belongs to the genus Passer (family Passeridae) and the rufous-collared sparrow is a member of the genus Zonotrichia (family Emberizidae).
Seeing it closer it also looks more like relatives from the family Emberizidae. 
A joy to observe.

The rufous-tailed hummingbird is a bird you first hear and then see. The call reminded me of the wren.
Quick moving feeding on nectar it went from flower to flower. But I also saw it was territorial, bullying 
away other hummingbirds. Something I also saw in the future in Monteverde.
I have read this is one of the causes these birds are difficult to keep in aviaries. This always wondered me, 
because I did not see them in Burger's Zoo in my hometown Arnhem.
A great bird to see for a beginning hummingbirder!

Last but not least, the summer tanager, a winterguest from North-America. What a red color in the green canopy.
When seeing, you immediately recognize it.
Surprisingly, the first time I saw it (first heard the robin-like call), I thought I saw an escaped red canary 
(brings back memories), but bigger.
Tanagers are an unknown family to me, and I never thought they were so big with strong beaks.
Summer tanagers feed on wasps and bees which were abundant, but I did not see it.
Unfortunately I also didn't see the mustard-colored females. Next time!

Just a glimpse of the birds I saw. Next time Monteverde!



zondag 20 december 2015

Costa Rica, Caribbean adventures: part 2

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, reggae time Costa Rica!

Well, Puerto Viejo was also reggae time for my birding.
Relaxing at the beach enjoying birds.
As with the Costa Rica locations I already discussed I will highlight 3 bird species:
the magpie jay, the brown pelican and the magnificent frigate bird.

You're drinking your coconut cocktail and suddenly you hear noises above in the trees.
There are those blue-white magpie jays again, with their long tails and crest of headfeathers.
But why were they so noisy?
The answer materialized nearby. Some kind of hawk was sitting silently in the top of the tree nearby. First time I saw mobbing in Costa Rica. Nice!

I always like observing birds hunting. And the brown pelican did not disappoint me.
Not afraid of anyone, it crashed into the water amidst swimmers and surfers.
But it also could soar for half an hour spotting fish.
A real reggae bird, laid-back pelican.

The forke-tailed magnificent frigate birds, one of the 5 species of frigate or Man-of-War birds
Soaring high in the sky (unfortunately without the scarlet throat pouch, not the breeding season), it attracted my attention because it was not afraid of the vultures which were soaring meters away.
Well, the magnificent frigate bird has a wingspan of more than 2 meters, so I can understand the vulture.

Just a taste of the laid-back birds of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
Next time the birds of the Arenal region (we go vulcano!) will be discussed,

donderdag 17 december 2015

Costa Rica, Caribbean adventures part 1

Pura vida!

Well, that's what birding is in Costa Rica.
And especially traveling the Costa Rican Caribbean coast.
Travelling on foat, by boat and by car!

First we started at Tortuguero, where we had 3 days of discovering new birds in this wet, tropical, protected area.
Birds, spiders, bats, frogs, snakes, caymans and even a basilisks lizard. (the Jesus lizard, it can run over water, they really do :-)).
And don't forget the plantlife, which was plentiful.
All seen walking and by boat.
But, back to the birds. Next to the abundant vultures and  grackles, 3 bird species stood out.

The anhinga , the white-collared manakin and the magnificent great green macaw, which is a threatened species.

The anhinga is a bird, which I never saw in the wild. I am used to herons and cormorant, but this beauty was more of a heron / cormorant crossbread.
A long neck, and when wings spread, the wings looked like a set of piano tiles.
Near our lodge (anhinga lodge, awkward :-) ) always one was present.
A real wetlands beauty, and I can understand why they choose the name for this excellent lodge.

Another bird, the white-collared manakin, was more heard than seen.
But when you saw it, it was not inactive!
Hopping around, wings flapping, body shaking, the lot! And the sound, astonishing bird, which I also saw at more Caribbean spots.

Now, the greaty green macaw, my first macaw in the wild. A real macaw, which I immediately recognized. Not operating solo, but in a group of 4-5 birds foraging in the trees next to the river.
A threatened bird, food depended on the nuts of the almendro tree (tonka bean tree), which it can crack.
Habitat loss makes it difficult for this beautiful bird, which is a true Tortuguero treasure.

Three days bird Paradise, a shame I had to go.
No worries, the adventure continues.
Next time I will tell you about the birds seen at Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, another Caribbean treat.

vrijdag 11 december 2015

Costa Rica birding, Pura vida!

Yes, I did it!
I finally went to the small Central American country of Costa Rica for a 2 1/2 week of adventure, beach-bumbing, cocktail-drinking and not to forget feast of bird-watching.
Well, the birds did not disappoint me.
Everywhere you went, there they were. In the highlands, at the volcanoes, the beaches and the wetlands, and even in the busy streets of San Jose.

Time for a blog series :-)

The next blog posts I will treat you with my experiences I had crossing the different parts of Costa Rica:

  • The mysterious wetlands of Tortuguero
  • The laidback atmosphere at Costa Rica's Caribbean coast
  • The explosive times at the Arenal Volcano region
  • The moist cloudforests of Monteverde
  • The phantastic scenery at Costa Rica's Pacific Coast
  • The busy streets of San Jose
Stay tuned the next weeks for a Costa Rica Bird extravaganza with some spectacular bird behaviour you have never seen.

maandag 22 december 2014

Crows, a sociable lot

Bird behaviour is a fascinating subject.
You can study an individual, a pair or a group of birds.
The last weeks I've discussed senses and bird behaviour.
Just look on Twitter for #BirdSenseSmell and #BirdSenseTaste.
Areas which are just barely being touched by science and still have a lot
of mysteries.
This week the subject will be the behaviour of crows, member of the Corvidae family, which are very sociable birds with strong communication skills. It's not only craaa !!
What do we know of the crow's behaviour, which research groups are there and what are still mysteries?
I will focus on the carrion crow, a common bird in my country The Netherlands and Europe.

Tune in on Twitter and Facebook where I will daily tweet /post this week.