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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Back to the Tropics: Banding in Costa Rica

In early November, I packed my bags and migrated south to Costa Rica. Leaving behind frigid temperatures in Colorado, I arrive in Costa Rica ready for another winter in the tropics. For three months, I will be banding birds for Costa Rica Bird Observatories. First, I ride a bus up the winding Pan-American Highway to Madre Selva, a field station in the Cordillera de Talamanca. Here in the cloud forest, there is an extremely high density of regional endemics. Beyond the familiar North American migrants, I am bombarded with an exciting new suite of birds. With my coworker, Steve Dougill, we begin to familiarize ourselves with the amazing bird-life of the region.

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Collared Redstart (Myioborus torquatus), one of the many birds endemic to the highlands of Costa Rica and western Panama.
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Spot-crowned Woodcreeper (Lepidocolaptes affinis)
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Banding in the Clouds
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Black-faced Solitaire (Myadestes melanops)
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Chestnut-capped Brushfinch (Arremon brunneinucha)
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Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera), one of the wintering North American migrants of the region.
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Black-cheeked Warbler (Basileuterus melanogenys), a regional endemic.
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Gray-breasted Wood-Wren (Henicorhina leucophrys)

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Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize

31 March – 2 April, 2017

As I near the end of my five months in Central America, I visit Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, a lagoon in Belize famous for harboring multitudes of birds in early spring. Most of these birds are North American migrants staging for their migration back north. Just like the migrants, I am staging for my flight back north as well.

For three days, I intensively bird the sanctuary by canoe and foot. In the process, I meet friendly local birders and even an enthusiastic young birder. Two of the birders (Francis Canto and Ernaldo Bustamante), are kind enough to show me the elusive Pinnated Bittern. Below is a selection of my favorite images.

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Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
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Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria)
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Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria)

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Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)
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Pinnated Bittern (Botaurus pinnatus)
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Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)
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Bare-throated Tiger Heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum)
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Wood Storks (Mycteria americana)
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Fledgling and adult female Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus obscurus)
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Fledgling Vermilion Flycatcher
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Great Egrets, White Ibis, and Roseate Spoonbills congregating on the lagoon.
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Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)

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Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) hunting for snails.
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Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)