19 Highlights of 2019

The year 2019 was yet another year chocked full of action-packed adventures and amazing experiences. I spent half the year in the incredibly beautiful and diverse country of Colombia guiding at Parque Nacional Natural Tatamá (Montezuma Rainforest) and continuing my explorations of other regions. As well, a few weeks were spent in Panama where I had the privilege of visiting two of the country’s premier eco-lodges, Mount Totumas Cloud Forest in the highlands and Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge in the Caribbean. As a second-year limited-residency student at Prescott College, I also had the opportunity to participate in amazing and rewarding field classes, Community-Based Conservation in Costa Rica, and a suite of Marine Studies courses at the Prescott College Kino Bay Center in the Gulf of California, Mexico. Though my time at home in Colorado was very limited this year, I had the honor of assisting with American Birding Associations’ Camp Colorado for young birders, guiding for Colorado Birding Adventures, and birding around my hometown of Lyons. Thanks to everyone who helped make 2019 unforgettable!

_K1A1049
A Golden-fronted Redstart forages for insects on Montezuma Road in Parque Nacional Natural Tatamá, Risaralda, Colombia. Twelve-kilometers long, Montezuma Road climbs in elevation through one of the best-protected forests in the world. Over 500 species of birds can be found along this legendary road and one never knows what surprise may lie around the next corner.
Such_BluebackedConebill
Flitting through an elfin forest laced with colorful moss, a Blue-backed Conebill briefly pauses before disappearing into the dense vegetation. This vibrant bird was moving in a large mixed flock of several high Andean songbird species in Parque Nacional Natural Chingaza above Bogotá, Colombia’s capital city
Such_GBPuffleg
Just below treeline on Nevado del Ruiz, an active volcano in Colombia’s Central Andes, a Golden-breasted Puffleg perches on a grass stem.
Such_AmericanDipper
After making a food delivery to its young, an American Dipper perches on driftwood in the middle of a mountain stream near Lyons, Colorado.
_K1A6278
In the largest alpine-tundra ecosystem in the world, Páramo de Sumapaz, a Bronze-tailed Thornbill flashes its striking iridescent gorget feathers. This special hummingbird’s distribution is restricted to páramo habitats in Colombia’s Central Andes, barely extending into Venezuela.
Such_AWPE
“Wave Rider” – An American White Pelican endures an early spring windstorm in a small pond on Colorado’s Front Range.
Such_Parrotlet
A pair of Spectacled Parrotlets blend in with their environment at Laguna de Sonso, the last intact wetland system in the Valle del Cauca of Colombia.
Such_RedtailedHawk
An immature Red-tailed Hawk takes flight from a ponderosa pine to ambush a small rodent below. – Boulder County, Colorado.
Such_Puffbird
A Russet-throated Puffbird silently perches in the dry thorn-forest of Santuario de Flora y Fauna Los Flamencos in La Guajira Desert of Northern Colombia.
8AF4DEA9-BC40-4B3C-9625-FE432DEAD8AC
Separated from their mother, two recently hatched Common Merganser ducklings seek shelter on the edge of a swift mountain stream near Lyons, Colorado.
Such_GreencrownedBrilliant
A Green-crowned Brilliant strikes a gorgeous pose in the spectacular hummingbird gardens of Mount Totumas Cloud Forest Reserve in the highlands of Panama.
Such_BrownPelican1
After a spectacular sunrise, the sun peeks through the clouds illuminating a feeding frenzy of Brown Pelicans and Black Terns. This moment was captured while kayaking in the pristine waters of Tranquilo Bay in the Caribbean of Panama.
RedbilledTropicbird_BocasdelToro_JoelSuch
One of my all-time favorite experiences of 2019 was watching Red-billed Tropicbirds circle Swan Cay, a tiny, pristine, and magical island in the Caribbean of Panama. While circumnavigating the island, it felt as though I had time traveled to an unblemished, prehistoric world.
Such_NOWA
After a long migration from North America, a Northern Waterthrush skulks in the mangrove swamps of a Carribean island in Panama. – Tranquilo Bay, Bocas del Toro, Panama.
Such_Sloth
A mother three-toed sloth cradles her sleepy baby, the most precious moment I had the privilege of capturing in 2019. – Tranquilo Bay, Bocas del Toro, Panama.
_K1A3448
Western Sandpipers forage in a hurricane-flooded field in Bahía de Kino, Sonora, Mexico. Like these shorebirds, I too migrated down to the Gulf of California this past fall. Though these birds migrate to escape the harsh winters of the northlands, I arrived to study the fascinating marine and desert environment of the region.
_K1A1131
Off the shores of Isla San Pedro Mártir, an isolated island in the middle of the Gulf of California, a pod of ~600 bottlenose dolphins hunt federally protected waters.
_K1A6362-2
A big personality of the Sonoran Desert, a Cactus Wren perches atop an organ pipe cactus. – Bahía de Kino, Sonora, Mexico.
_E1A4656
During a flaming sunrise, Brown Pelicans stream across Bahía de Kino, a magical place in the Gulf of California.

Ringing in the New Year

The full moon illuminates a mountainous landscape of forest and cow pastures. Wind whistles through the treetops and cold air cuts through our jackets. It is 11:50 PM on New Year’s Eve and our eyes lock onto the eye-shine of a Dusky Nightjar. In ten minutes, we hope to call this species our first bird of 2018. As the clock strikes 11:59, the eye-shine abruptly vanishes into the darkness. We cry out in disappointment, but are determined to re-find the bird. With an early morning of work ahead of us, we desperately search for the bird so we can snag both our first bird of the year and a few hours of sleep. My partner in this mission is fellow bird bander and Coloradan, Holly Garrod, who is visiting the Madre Selva banding station here in the highlands of Costa Rica. After ten minutes of scouring the landscape, we finally relocate the endemic nightjar hawking for insects in the top of a swaying tree. With a sigh of relief, we turn in for the night.

Before the first rays of sunlight, I emerge from beneath my warm blankets. Accompanied by Holly, and my coworker, Steve Dougill, we pull on rubber boots and head out to set mist nets in the cloud forest behind the house. On behalf of Costa Rica Bird Observatories and their avian monitoring efforts, we are literally preparing to ring in the New Year. As the nets unfurl, birds begin vocalizing. First, I hear the ascending whistle of a Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush. Next, a pair of Black-cheeked Warblers flit across the trail. In quick succession, I hear the calls and songs of a Mountain Thrush, Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, Ochraceous Wren, Large-footed Finch, Black-faced Solitaire, Lesser Violetear, Collared Redstart, Barred Forest-Falcon, and Spotted Wood-Quails. This strong predawn chorus is a good predictor that our morning of mist netting will be productive.

Across six hours, we capture and process 31 individuals with 20 represented species. For Steve and me, this is one of our best days of ringing in Costa Rica yet, and we are both immensely grateful for this opportunity to contribute to the research on the many regional endemics, as well as all the other spectacular residents and migrants of Madre Selva.

Today was certainly an excellent way to kick off 2018. Happy New Year everyone!!!

_K1A8079-6
Spangle-cheeked Tanager (Tangara dowii), a regional endemic.
_K1A7665-2
Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher (Phainoptila melanoxantha), a regional endemic.
_K1A7921
Slaty Flowerpiercer (Diglossa plumbea), a regional endemic.
_K1A8243-3
Flame-throated Warbler (Oreothlypis gutturalis), a regional endemic.
_K1A7899
Yellowish Flycatcher (Empidonax flavescens)
_K1A8314
Red-faced Spinetail (Cranioleuca erythrops)
_K1A7836
Louisiana Waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla), a common North American migrant found along the creeks of this region.
_K1A7515
Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia), another North American migrant spending its winter in the Costa Rica Highlands.

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.

IMG_0818
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.

_K1A1975
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.

antbird
Chestnut-backed Antbird (Poliocrania exsul)
antwren
Checker-throated Antwren (Epinecrophylla fulviventris)
antbird-2
Mantled Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliata)

Great Green Macaws (Ara ambiguus)

antbird-3

_K1A5309
Bare-throated Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum)
whimbrel
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

IMG_0419