Saturday, July 18, 2015

Bulletin 228 - Costa Rica #8 - mammals

This is my first trip since Alaska in 2010, that I had enough different mammals to make their own bulletin. A few I had already seen, but a couple were fantastic. 

As you know, I like squirrels as often they are the only mammals seen because they are diurnal. The Variegated Squirrel (Sciurus variegatus) at 24" is the largest squirrel in Costa Rica. I have photographed it in Panama last year as well. It comes in several different body colors, red, black, white or a mixture. The tail is salt and pepper.

Variegated Squirrel
The Red-tailed Squirrel (Sciurus granatensis) is smaller at 17" is red bodied with a red tail. This was a new species for me to photograph.

Red-tailed Squirrel
The White-nosed Coati (Nasua narica) is a 42" member of the raccoon family. I had seen this animal in Panama as well, but I saw 3 or 4 in Costa Rica. This one was on the side of the road. He has a bald spot on his tail where he might have gotten to close to a predator. 

White-nosed Coati
The Collared Peccary (Pecari tajacu) is a 36" mammal related to pigs, that is familiar to many of us in the USA as it occurs in south Texas. It is gray with a white collar. They were common at La Selva and used to people. They would walk around the cabins and it was funny to watch them when it rained. They would all gather under the eaves of the cabins to stay dry.

Collared Peccary
The Mantled Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliata) is the largest primate in Costa Rica. I had also been treated to a troop of them in Panama. This time they were higher in the forest and they moved rapidly across the trail.

Mantled Howler Monkey
The next 2 mammals are sloths. Sloths are mammals confined to the New World. There are 6 species still alive, but many huge ground sloths went extinct with the arrival on humans in the New World. Some were as large as elephants! See wikipedia for a complete account, it is amazing.

The surviving sloths are actually in 2 families (2-toed and 3-toed). One of each is in Costa Rica. Although they are superficially similar, I thought a person would have to count toes to differentiate them, but their faces are distinctive and diagnostic. Also all of them have 3 claws on the rear foot, it is only the forefoot where they differ! Some have called for them to be renamed as 2 or 3 fingered sloths.

Here is the Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth (Bradypus variegatus). His face is distinctive and he looks like he is smiling. This was my first photo of this species. The greenish cast on his fur is an algae species that is unique to this animal. There is also a sloth moth that feeds on the algae! Note the bare black stripe down his back. This is a display patch males use to warn other males of their territory. Also his nose is black.

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth

Here is another photo where one can see the three claws on the forefoot.

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth
The Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) I had already photographed in Panama last year and I almost didn't take a photo of this one as it was high in a tree and I had to take my camera off the tripod and look straight up. However, I was sure glad I did as you can see. There is a baby sleeping on the mothers stomach! Notice the white fur completely around the face and the large 'pig snout'. 

Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth with baby
Finally, the absolute highlight of my trip was a Cougar (aka Puma, Mountain Lion) (Puma concolor). They are the 4th largest cat in the world. This is a common predator from Alaska to southern South America but it is extremely secretive and seldom seen. This was my first ever sighting as well as for my guide!  At La Selva, on my second day birding, one was spotted close to a path and we hurried there to see it. It was about 60 feet away and just lay there for a couple of hours! Perhaps 100 people there that day got to see it. It is rare to see even at La Selva as the scientists say they spot one 3-4 times per year and mostly just running across a trail, not posing for photos. My guide and I watched him for 20 minutes. I should have taken some video as he was yawning and stretching etc, but I was so excited I didn't even think of that. What a magnificent animal!



In addition I saw another raccoon family mammal called a Cacomistle and also a Dice's Rabbit. Both were life mammals, but we found them at night and I wasn't able to get any photos.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bulletin 227 - Costa Rica #7 - Trogons, Toucans and others

Trogons are a small (43 species) worldwide tropical family of colorful medium sized forest birds. 2 species occur in Southeast Arizona. 10 species can be found in Costa Rica.

The male Black-throated Trogon (Trogon rufus) is a 9" green headed bird with a black throat and yellow breast and bill. The long square tail is finely barred black and white. The eye ring is blue. The female (not shown) is duller with a brown head.

Black-throated Trogon - male
The 10" male Collared Trogon (Trogon collaris) has a dark green head, the belly is red and it has a white collar.

Collared Trogon - male

The female has a brown head and back.

Collared Trogon - female
The 12" male Slaty-tailed Trogon (Trogon massena) has a green head, red belly, orange-red bill and plain gray tail.

Slaty-tailed Trogon - male
Quetzals are 6 members of the trogon family with more elaborate plumages. The   male Resplendant Quetzal (Pharomacrus mocinno) is a 14" trogon with 4 very long tail feathers (up to 30"). This bird is considered by many to be the most beautiful bird in the world. It was sacred to the Mayans and is the national bird of Guatemala and their currency is called the quetzal. It has a green head and back, bushy crest, red belly and yellow beak. Notice also the green feathers that cover the wings.

Resplendant Quetzal - male
And a frontal view.

Resplendant Quetzal - male
The female has a gray belly and lacks the crest and long tail feathers.

Resplendant Quetzal - female
The toucans are a neotropical family of birds familiar to everyone because of their large colorful beaks. The sexes are similar. The Black-mandibled Toucan (Ramphastos ambiguus) is a 22" toucan with bicolored bill (yellow and dark brown). This bird flew to this bare tree at dawn each morning at La Selva, and played the role of a rooster to get everyone up.

Black-mandibled Toucan

Aracaris are smaller toucans with more pointed bills. the 16" Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus) has a whitish upper mandible, yellow belly and a band across it.

Collared Aracari

Toucanets, as the name suggests, are smaller toucans. The 12" Blue-throated Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus caeruleogularis) is green bodied with a brown head, a bicolored bill and blue throat.

Blue-throated Toucanet

Jacamars are another small (18 species) neotropical family of birds. They have long pointed bills and look like large hummingbirds. The 9" Rufous-tailed Jacamar (Galbula ruficauda) is green with rufous belly and undertail and a very long black bill. This is a male. The female is duller with a beige rather than white throat.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar - male
Puffbirds are another small (37 species) neotropical family of mostly black and white or brown and white birds. They eat insects and small reptiles or amphibians. The 6" Pied Puffbird (Notharcus tectus) has a black head and body, white underparts and a black band across the breast. These birds sit quietly are are very difficult to find.

Pied Puffbird

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Bulletin #226 - Best of 10 Years #5 - Shorebirds and Seabirds

Shorebirds include sandpipers, plovers etc and are favorites of many birders. Many of them are long distance migrants from the Canadian arctic and Alaska to South America. Here are my favorites form the first 10 years of photography.

The Wandering Tattler is an 11" Pacific coast sandpiper that breeds along streams in Alaska and winters on rocky coasts from California to Mexico. I took this photo in Monterey, California and I just like the composition of the rock, intense blue water behind and the birds yellow legs.

Wandering Tattler
Next is the female Red Phalarope. Phalaropes are sandpipers that swim. The Red Phalarope is pelagic  in that it can be found on the surface of the ocean far offshore. It can be found along both coasts but is rare and occasionally occurs inland. I haven't seen it in Texas. Phalaropes are also unusual in that the female is the more brightly colored of the pair. On a trip to Monterey in the spring, a storm blew a number of birds onto the coast and I found this bird in a pond at the famous Pebble Beach golf club. 

Red Phalarope - female breeding

Third next is the 8"  Buff-breasted Sandpiper. This bird summers in the Canadian arctic and migrates through the central states to South America. It prefers short grassy fields and can be found on sod farms but seldom on the coast. In fact, this is the only one I have ever seen, and it was in Carmel, California where they are a reportable vagrant. I found it myself which is always exciting to be the first to find and report a rarity. He is in the kelp washed up on the beach.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

The Ruff is a Eurasian sandpiper that occasionally shows up along both coasts and a few can be found in Alaska in the summer. The male is unusual in that he has a ruff of feathers on his neck that he uses in displaying. I have seen females occasionally in Texas, but this is the only breeding male I have seen and he was in Barrow Alaska.

Ruff - male breeding
The last sandpiper is the 10" Wilson's Snipe. This is a long-billed shorebird of muddy fields. They are difficult to see on the ground and usually only seen when flushed and flying away. I found this bird in a roadside ditch in Galveston one afternoon when I didn't have my camera as I was at a meeting. I went back the next day with camera and he was there again. I parked my car and go this close-up from 15 feet away through the window.

Wilson's Snipe
Plovers are another family of plump shorebirds closely related to sandpipers. The common one that most people are familiar with is the Killdeer. 

The  9" Mountain Plover is probably the most difficult of the North American plovers to find. It breeds on the plains of Montana, Wyoming and Colorado and winters in central Mexico, although a few are seen in south Texas. It is extremely rare to find on the upper Texas coast. I did find one in Galveston in 1995 and another was not found for 13 years. However, last winter, this one spent several weeks on Bolivar flats and many birders got to see it. I had looked for this bird in California, and south Texas several times to try and photograph it without success.

Mountain Plover

Lapwings are tall plovers, often boldly patterned. Unfortunately for us in North America, there are none. Every other continent has a several resident species. This 14" Southern Lapwing was photographed in Panama.

Southern Lapwing
The Northern Fulmar is an 18" pelagic seabird member of the shearwater family of birds. These birds have a peculiar tube nose. They are found offshore on both oceans. I found this one however in Monterey Harbor, where on the water, he looks like a gull. But the tube on his beak shows that he isn't a gull.

Northern Fulmar
Finding a rare bird by yourself and reporting it and having other birders go to look at it (and confirming it) is still exciting for me even after 25 years of birding. Such was the case of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper above and that Mountain Plover in Galveston in 1995. Well the next 2 birds also fall into that category.

The 37" Northern Gannet is a member of the gannet and booby family of large seabirds. This bird breeds on offshore islands of Atlantic Canada and winters along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, usually well offshore. I had seen it once before in Florida. In late July of 2010, I was driving along the seawall in Galveston and saw a large bird swimming close to the rocks. At first I thought it was a pelican, but as I got closer, obviously the color was wrong. I stopped and got out to see what it was. I realized it was a gannet that shouldn't even be here at this time of year. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera, but went home and returned with camera. By the time I got back, he had climbed out onto the rocks at the base of the seawall. I climbed down the stairs and went over the rocks to take his photo. I posted it on Texbirds and several others saw him and Wildlife Rescue was called and took him. Unfortunately, one can never find out from the rescue service what was wrong and what happened to the bird.

Northern Gannet
One morning during spring migration in 2008, I crossed over the Bolivar ferry early and stopped at Bolivar flats. I saw this unusual looking 'gull' on the beach. I took some photos and several more as he flew off. I knew it wasn't any gull I was familiar with. I got to High Island and asked the volunteers there to look at it. It was a Pomeraine Jaeger, not a gull. They are closely related to gulls, but now are a separate family. They are oceanic birds that come ashore only to nest, so seeing one on the beach is a reportable rarity.

Pomeraine Jaeger
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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