The Land of Turtles

While our current position with Costa Rica Bird Observatories is primarily based out of the highlands, Steve and I also have the privilege of working on the Caribbean Coast for several days each month. Compared to the cold, wet, and windy highlands, the Caribbean’s warm weather is a nice change, even though tropical rainstorms are prevalent. Even more so, the birds of this region are entirely different. From Madre Selva (our highlands base near San Isidro), we descend the mountain towards the Caribbean coast. After a series of bus rides and a boat trip, we arrive in Tortuguero, a small beach town only accessible by river.

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During the two hour boat ride, one can see crocodiles, caimans, iguanas, and Green Ibis.

Tortuguero means “The Land of Turtles” in Spanish, and the beach here is the Western Hemisphere’s most important nesting site for the endangered Green Turtle. During our first visit to Tortuguero, we were lucky to catch the tail end of turtle nesting season, which ends in November.

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A Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) hatchling entering the ocean for the first time. If it reaches adulthood, this tiny turtle could live more than 80 years and reach a weight of over 400 lbs (180 kg).

We are here specifically to band birds, so we get to work. Over the course of five days, we band at five different locations. Our sites consist of both primary and secondary forests, some near the beach and some along rivers. During this banding cycle at Tortuguero, we capture a nice variety of birds. For the resident birds, we capture Bronzy Hermit, Stripe-throated Hermit, Long-billed Hermit, Green-breasted Mango, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Red-capped Manakin, White-collared Manakin, Checker-throated Antwren, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Western Slaty-Antshrike, Clay-colored Thrush, White-breasted Wood-Wren, and Olive-backed Euphonia. As well, we capture some overwintering migrants from North America. These include, Wood Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, Gray Catbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Prothonotary Warbler, and Northern Waterthrush.

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Chestnut-backed Antbird (Poliocrania exsul)
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Checker-throated Antwren (Epinecrophylla fulviventris)
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Mantled Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliata)

Great Green Macaws (Ara ambiguus)

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Bare-throated Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum)
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Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

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Bird Banding with FUNDAECO

14 February – 11 March 2017

The Foundation for Ecodevelopment and Conservation (FUNDAECO) in Guatemala runs the longest continuous bird banding and monitoring program in Latin America. For nearly two decades, Guatemalan biologists have been banding birds in the Izabel province. Thanks to FUNDAECO’s banding crew, I join local field researchers for nearly a month. Most days consist of ten hours of banding in mature forests, camping in remote locations, swimming in pristine rivers, laughing together, and snacking on corn tortillas with hot sauce.

Thank you Alexis, Miguel, Obdulio, Antonio, Yaquelin, and Thelma for a truly remarkable and memorable experience!

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White-whiskered Puffbird (Malacoptila panamensis). These elusive birds inhabit Central American rainforests and consume all sorts of interesting prey including spiders, frogs, and snakes.
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Red-capped Manakin (Ceratopipra mentalis), on of the most abundant birds at the field sites.
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Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher (Terenotriccus erythrurus), a flycatcher smaller than a kinglet (8 cm).

A Tawny-winged Woodcreeper (Dendrocincla anabatina) that was banded a previous season.

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Ruddy Woodcreeper (Dendrocincla homochroa)
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Ivory-billed Woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus flavigaster), one of the largest woodcreepers (23 cm).
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Wedge-billed Woodcreeper (Glyphorynchus spirurus), one of the smallest woodcreepers (15 cm).

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Crowned Woodnymph (Thalurania colombica) and Long-billed Hermit (Phaethornis longirostris)

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Orange-billed Sparrow (Arremon aurantiirostris)
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Blue-black Grosbeak (Cyanoloxia cyanoides)
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Female Dot-winged Antwren (Microrhopias quixensis)
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Ochre-bellied Flycatcher (Mionectes oleagineus)
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Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus)

Royal Flycatcher (Onychorhynchus coronatus)

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Lousiana Waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla)
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Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivorum), one of the most abundant North American migrants captured.
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Swainson’s Warbler (Limnothlypis swainsonii), an incredibly rare North American migrant.
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Sunset on the Guatemala/Belize border.
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Hooded Warbler (Setophaga citrina)
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Plain Xenops (Xenops minutus)
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White-breasted Wood-Wren (Henicorhina leucosticta)
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Bright-rumped Attila (Attila spadiceus)
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Northern Schiffornis (Schiffornis veraepacis)
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The FUNDAECO Banding Crew in Action
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We used waterways and boats to access our field sites near the Belize border.

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