(A Quick Look Back)-February 9, 2014- Sachuest Point NWR, Middletown, Rhode Island-
"One Hour-Three Species of Owls!"
It was chilly at 16 degrees F......and you would never know it by looking at the long line of photographers and birders lining up along the wooden rail along the western side of the parking lot at Sachuest. You could feel the heat being generated from all the excited anticipation as the last minutes of the day ticked away! For the last few weeks, the late afternoon has produced and amazing Owl spectacle, with a few Raptors added to the mix. There have been three Snowy Owls, maybe two or three Barn Owls, and two Short-eared Owls have been hunting the lower fields during the last minutes of light of the days. Top that off with a spectacular showing of a Harriers (including a beautiful gray ghost), Rough-legged Hawk or two, Red-tails, Accipiters, Peregrines and Merlins, it was a birders bonanza!
Jen and I arrived about an hour before sundown and found an opening in the line of nearly fifty birders and photographers along the rail. We knew many of them and chit-chatted a bit, but everyone was looking out of the corners of their eyes to the brushy edge of the field......soon we all thought, soon!-
While we waited, a trio of Harriers which included the stunning gray male buzzed the field giving a great performance.
What seemed like a minute later, a Merlin flew in and landed atop a nearby tree.
A long wait and the rapidly dropping cold temperatures may have taken a toll on some of the birders and photographers as some started leaving, followed by a few more. Within a few minutes, half of the original group had left. I muttered under my breath (which cast a plume of smokey condensation) you might want to wait a few minutes! No one had seen a single Snowy Owl that afternoon, that may have discouraged some since the Owls had been keeping a regular afternoon schedule. But it was much colder this day, it was possible the Owls were holding up a little longer conserving their energy reserves. A minute after my thought.....the first Barn Owl appeared over the bottom left of the field coming from behind the brush at the bottom. Against the snowy landscape, this Owl appeared even more stunning!-
It hunted over the field, often coming close to all of us giving a spectacular show!-
Several times it would land on the ground or land in this one lone tree. The Owl(s) also disappeared into and re-appearing out of the brush.....maybe different Owls?
The Barn Owl put on a fifteen minute show, than all at once it disappeared into the brush, and didn't re-appear. Many of us started getting a little bit anxious thinking it was now getting to the time for the Snowy and the Short-eared Owls.
I mentioned to Jen that I had a hunch.....we should go down to the marsh at Third Beach and look there. Maybe the Snowy Owl was there, and we had a good shot at maybe seeing the Short-eared Owl flying over that section of the marsh. When we pulled into the Third Beach parking lot, Jen spotted the Snowy Owl standing on a rock off the beach about twenty yards, and one hundred yards down the beach. I took a brisk walk down the beach to get a few shots of the Snowy Owl from a safe distance, and then hurry back to the parking lot to (hopefully) get a look at the Short-eared.-
I left the Snowy Owl (as you see it above) after a few minutes and after taking maybe two dozen shots of it. In my hurry to get down to the Snowy and back with only a little light remaining, I forgot to take an extra camera card with me. With the last shot of the Snowy Owl, that all too familiar blinking light indicator "Card Full" on my camera reminded me of my stupid move. So while I scurried back up the beach, I managed to delete five blurry images of the Snowy Owl leaving just a little space on my card....just in case! It could not have been planned better, and another one of those birding circumstances of being in the right place at the right time Just as I opened my car door the Short-eared flew right by! I took the last five shots from the deleted space on my camera card, and managed three quick shots of the Owl as it flew by. It was almost dark at this point, and thanks to the automatic setting on my camera,I am amazed that any of the shots came out at all! The first two were blurry, and the last three showed the Owl passing over the parking lot turning right towards me.! I cropped the images, and lightened the last shot to see the Owl better. This was a very memorable day.....Barn Owl(s), Snowy Owl and Short-eared Owl, all within an hour!-
(Another small look back)- June 1, 2014- "A Touch of Irony" - "The Bird Feeding Tree"-
In my front yard right outside my office window stood a big Mountain Ash tree. This was the tree I would hang my many bird feeders and suet feeders in. Well a couple of years ago, the tree was toppled by the hurricane. The tree was cut up for fire wood leaving only the stump behind. Today I looked out my window and saw this Pileated Woodpecker tearing the heck out of the stump looking for grubs! Looks like this tree was still feeding the birds a few years after it was gone!
COSTA RICA!! Sept. 14 through 24- "Central Valley and Pacific Highland Cloudforest"
Any time Jen and I get a chance to go to Costa Rica we really look forward to it! I had business to do in Costa Rica, so Jen and I planned our trip. Most of my business was in the San Jose area so we decided to stay in a Hotel that was located nearby, and also offered a good place to go birding on the Hotel's grounds. The perfect Hotel was easy to find; Hotel Bougainvillea http://www.hb.co.cr/
The first five days we would be spending in San Jose, the last five days we would be spending in the southern mountains at the Savegre Mountain Hotel. We made our reservations there and at Hotel Bougainvillea and we were ready to go. Although we had a few weeks before we left, Jen and I were ready to leave that day!
When we go to Costa Rica, we always hire our dear friend Beny who owns a driving service called American Service: http://www.oldhickory-ct.com/CostaRicaDriver.html
We keep in touch with Beny and his family throughout the year, and we were so excited to tell him during our last phone call that we were coming back to Costa Rica, and we would be spending time with him. It had been a few years since our last visit and we were really looking forward to seeing him. On Monday, our Delta flight touched down, we were back! Beny and his wife Vanessa met us at the airport, and after really big hugs.....we were off to the Hotel But before checking in, we had to stop for a casado (a typical Costa Rican lunch)......that was long overdue! Beny and I at the Hotel (I was a bit anxious....just got to the Hotel and I already have my camera ready)!!-
The Hotel Bougainvillea is a beautiful Hotel, very comfortable, clean and just makes you feel like you are in Costa Rica and very welcome! We were greeted by the concierge, a very friendly man who made you immediately feel like you were long time friends. Every day he would stop by and chat with us and he was very interested in the birds we were seeing on the grounds of the Hotel. The view out the front entrance of the Hotel-
Every time Jen and I have been to Costa Rica it was in the month of September which is in the "rainy" season. It rains just about every day, but not usually until the afternoon. Taking this into consideration, I scheduled all of my business meetings for the afternoons which worked out perfectly. Also, birds in Costa Rica are most active in the mornings, with the first two hours being the most productive. Usually by almuerzo (lunch) the birds are taking a siesta. Often on days during the rainy season, it rains for a few hours after lunch and lets up an hour or two before sunset. This is also perfect, because the birds become active again after taking shelter from the rain, resting, and then go back out to forage before dark....its a perfect scenario!-
The Hotel Bougainvillea has a magnificent Tropical Garden that covers the entire ten acres of the Hotel's grounds. This Garden is not only well known for its extensive and beautiful tropical plants, but also well known for its main attraction; its excellent birding! There is an extensive list of birds that can be found here, including resident species that are commonly seen such as the Blue-crowned Motmot, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Clay-colored Robin, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, and Squirrel Cuckoo. Here is the view of the beautiful gardens from the deck of our room.-
What also makes their garden so special to me is the varied plantings of local tree species. I am also interested in the trees of Costa Rica and collect wood samples from Costa Rican trees. They have many of these species growing on their grounds.-
Many of the trees are covered with Epiphytic plants like these orchids-
The view from the observation tower-
From the gazebo at the back section of the Hotels grounds-
Since I recreate many of the tropical plant species on my tropical bird carvings, sculptures and in my paintings, I was fascinated by the extensive species in their garden such as this cluster of Tillandsia Bromeliad. I took hundreds of photos of all the different types of plants here-
Magnificent Orchids were seen throughout the property-
I was really happy to see that the Hotel Gardens contained many species of Tropical fruit trees and plants which included Guava, Oranges, Limon, Papaya, Pineapple, Banana.....
........and Cacao trees, and several small groves of Coffea arabica, or Coffee!-
And of course many trees loaded with ripe Mango.......my favorite fruit!-
This menacing-looking tree is actually a species that I have carved the wood from: Bombacopsis quinata, aka Pochote! I had never seen this tree in Costa Rica before, but had seen many pictures in books. The "thorns" are quite large with many reaching 3 inches in length....and yes they are sharp!! Pochote wood has a rich brown color similar to Walnut. It carves easily with hand tools similar to Cedro or Spanish Cedar-
Everywhere you walk in the gardens it is alive with brightly colored butterflies-
One beautiful morning after desayuno (breakfast) I was walking the grounds and birding. Jen went back to our room to catch up on a few emails. I was standing by a beautiful and brilliant flower garden photographing Butterflies when a very friendly woman approached me and asked me what I was photographing. I mentioned that I was photographing the beautiful Butterflies but unfortunately I didn't know the species, I was just admiring them. I told her my main interest was watching and photographing the birds on the Hotels grounds. This very friendly lady introduced herself. Her name was Judy Paskel, the owner of the Hotel. She was very happy that I was enjoying their beautiful Hotel and magnificent gardens.
She asked me if I was a professional photographer, which I humbly replied, "oh no, more of a picture-taker". I explained that I use the pictures that I take for my reference for my bird carvings and paintings. Of course that made her even more curious, and she anxiously asked me if I had any pictures of my work with me. Just so happens.....I did, and started showing her some of the images of my tropical bird decoys, carvings and paintings that were stored in my camera bag. Mrs Paskal really enjoyed looking at my carvings, she mentioned she had never seen anything like them before.
The she asked me if I would like a tour of the Hotel's grounds, and I enthusiastically accepted. We walked the entire grounds while she explained the planting procedures and natural history of the species. What was more fascinating, was that while we walked, she was collecting seeds form many of the plants. Every seed she collected was placed in a small envelope made from a piece of a Cecropia leaf. All these seeds she said would be planted in the greenhouse (on the side of the property). When they had grown to the correct size, they would be re-planted on the Hotels grounds.....that was wonderful!
As my private tour was coming to an end, Mrs. Paskel told me about the Debra Foundation of Costa Rica. She is the President of this wonderful non-profit Organization dedicated to raising awareness of the skin disease called Epidermolisis Bullosa (EB), and giving support and treatment to families of children affected by EB. How wonderful! To read more about EB and contribute, use this link:
I thanked Mrs Paskel for the wonderful tour and promised to help raise awareness to her wonderful Foundation, Debra.
Monday late morning, when Jen and I checked into our room, I immediately walked out onto the deck to take it all in....and of course impatiently looking for birds. During the day (but mostly in the early mornings and late afternoons) you could always look up and see (and hear) many birds flying over head going to the feeding areas in the mornings, and heading back to their roost in the afternoon. During the last hour of the day, the air was filled with feeding Swallows and Swifts like this large White-collared Swift-
Many species of Pigeons and Doves (like these White-winged Doves) were flying overhead all day-
The screeching calls of the Crimson-fronted Parakeets filled the air in the early morning and the last few minutes in the afternoon.On a few of the days, Mealy Amazon Parrots announced their arrivals over the city. Here is a single Crimson-fronted Parakeet-
The Hotel was wonderful, their staff exceptional, the Gardens magnificent, but the food.....was the BEST we have ever had in Costa Rica.....the BEST! The meals at Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner were delicious, ample, and beautifully prepared. But my absolute favorite meal was the Casado with grilled White Sea Bass. I had this every day for lunch......absolutely delicious! What is a Casado or typical Costa Rican lunch? A Casado starting with fresh tropical fruit (usually Pineapple and Papaya). The plate is filled with Gallo Pinto (Black Beans and Rice), fried Plantains, Vegetable, Tortilla and meat of your choice, top it off with a sprinkle of Limon, and Lizano (classic Costa Rican sauce) and you have a meal that is about as good as it gets!-
Well, remember I mentioned my being a Mango aficionado??? Every day while we were out walking and birding, a Mango or two (or three) would drop off the trees (I didn't help them fall....honest).-
Jen and I would have them with lunch........
......and prepare the cut slices Costa Rican style with Limon and salt, amazingly delicious!
This bird gets its name from its habit of running down branches like a Squirrel-
It hopped down from the tree branches onto a stone fence post. It posed there for a minute......
......and back into the branches to hunt Katydids.-
Interesting note....we only saw this species on the first and last days of our stay at the Hotel-
The bird foraged on the ground for a minute and then flew up onto the top of the wall. It sat there for a minute swallowing its Katydid, and then it was off, it flew into the trees by the backside of the tennis courts.-
After breakfast Jen joined me for our morning walk, and then we decided to look for the Motmot. We searched along the trail that surrounded the tennis courts, but no luck. I knew that Motmot was here somewhere, and it was Jen who found it up in a small tree tucked in with the branches-
For the first few days, the Motmot was never in an opening, it was always hidden in the tangles of the trees and tropical vegetation. I just couldn't get a photograph of the complete bird in the open.-
But I did get plenty of photos of "parts" of the bird; the head......
They are a very beautiful bird. Even with these "small pieces" of the bird, I was able to really study the bird; I became very familiar with this species-
I also got the impression that this bird was very shy. However, I did have a great opportunity to study its anatomy closely. Now I know when I carve one of these magnificent birds, I am completely confident with its features so I can reproduce it accurately.-
Finally later in the week, the bird must have gotten use to our routine (I tried to keep a regular schedule), it began to come out more in the open for much better looks-
While I was photographing the bird in the above image....Jen tugged at my shirt and informed me that there were two birds! That was fantastic!!!
On the last day, the two birds must have become use to us....they let us get a little closer to them, and they would be more out in the open.-
Guess what....three Motmots.....and this one was missing a tail!-
Close-up portrait of a stunningly beautiful Blue-crowned Motmot.-
Other than one of the birds occasionally holding a Katydid prey, we never saw the birds feeding. One morning, I spotted the three birds perched in a small fruiting tree over the hidden water garden. One of the birds was holding a ripe fruit. I was able to take a few close-ups......
Love that red eye.......
This close-up shot really shows the tomial serrations of the bill, similar to a Merganser!-
The Clay-colored Thrush/Robin or "Yiguirro" were the most common bird species on the Hotel's grounds. You could see them throughout the property at anytime of day. The "Yiguirro" is Costa Rica's National bird. There are many reasons this bird was chosen as the National Bird. The male birds are cherished in Costa Rica for their exquisite calls especially during mating season. Their mating calls coincide with the start of the green season (April-June) and the Farmers have always understood the song of the Yiguirro as sign of the coming rains. The plumage color of Yiguirro also resembles the color of the soil from which the life-sustaining plants and vegetables are grown.-
The Greyish Saltator was another common bird species on the grounds........
........as were the Melodious Blackbirds. Their morning songs were magnificent!-
The large Rufous-naped Wren was also quite common at the Hotel.....they were just about always seen near the back doors of the Hotel and around the thickets near the tennis courts with the Motmots-
Variegated Squirrels were common in the Gardens.....usually where the fruiting trees were located-
The forested property on the other side of the wall at the back of the Hotels grounds was also a great location for looking for birds. Often I would stand by the large Guanacaste trees near the back wall and continually watch those trees on the other side. Birds were abundant there especially in the mornings. One morning I saw a large Falcon (probably a Collared Forest-Falcon) chasing a Brown Jay. I saw the Falcon briefly but heard its calls before it appeared. The Brown Jay passed through the trees and vanished with the Falcon on its tail. On another morning I got another wonderful surprise........I spotted something in a tree on the other side of the wall. It was a Two-toed Sloth (Perizoso dos-dedos). I had never expected to see a Sloth here in the city!-
We also birded the area in the front of the Hotel. This trio of Inca Doves were very receptive to us watching them-
One day Jen and I were going in for lunch, and of course our very friendly waiter Diego asked me if I wanted "Casado con Corvina (White Sea Bass)....and I of course replied "Si"! When he delivered our drinks (Coke lite and a Pineapple juice) he politely asked me what I did for a living. He and the other waiter Fernando were curious because every day when we came in for lunch, we would have our binoculars and I would have my camera around my neck, I would enter my notes in my journal,....and of course my birding outfit must have certainly peaked his interest. Jen told Diego that I was a woodcarver and I carved birds and proceeded to show him the pictures of my bird carvings.
He politely mentioned that because Fernando was an artist and he was curious also. Jen and I finished another delicious lunch, and when Diego brought us the room check to sign, he presented me with this caricature which was me drawn by Fernando. That was very flattering! Jen and I went over and Thanked him....he is a very good artist, that was a really nice gesture. His drawing is now framed and in my office.....another wonderful memory from Costa Rica!-
That same day, after my business was completed, I came back to the Hotel in a typical tropical downpour! I just had a feeling that the torrential rains would not be letting up any time soon that afternoon. So Jen and I decided to stay in and rest a bit. She had a little work to do on the computer, but I just couldn't get enough of being outside....we were in Costa Rica....."Pura Vida"!! So I sat on the deck and watched the rain. There were no birds moving, but you could here one calling or singing every few minutes. I again looked at the drawing that Fernando did for me, ad I decided to draw a little something for him....to return the gesture. Since I am interested in birds, and that's why we were in Costa Rica, I think I had an idea what the subject would be......a Toucan! Even if you don't know very much about birds, a Toucan is a very good recognizable species to represent Costa Rica. So I sat on the deck drawing the afternoon away.-
The finished Keel-billed Toucan drawing. I signed it to Fernando and we gave it to Fernando at dinner. He was very flattered that I made this for him!-
During the week I was looking for the Owls, but was not having any luck. I started asking the Gardeners and Grounds Keepers if they knew where I could find "Lechuza" and the ones that knew of the Owl all pointed to the stand of Giant Bamboo in the middle of the property. I started looking into the deep cavernous openings between the huge Bamboo culms, but I wasn't having any luck. I decided to hang my Owl decoy and leave it out overnight...maybe I would find an Owl near it in the morning!-
Well, no luck! I was just about to take down my decoy when Judy was walking by. She asked to hold my decoy and while she was admiring it, she told me that the Owls raised a family right there in that Bamboo stand a few months earlier. She told me that they would watch the young Owlets lined up on the branches everyday. Then she told me that the Owls left a month ago! Oh well, it was a good idea!-
Without question, my absolute favorite rainforest bird song comes from the call of the Montezuma's Oropendola! Combined with the raspy calls of the Toucans there is nothing that represents the Tropical Rainforests more in my mind. Every morning just as the sun would start to break, the melodious calls of the Oropendolas and raspy chirps of the Swainspon's Toucans filled the air at the Hotel. These calls came from the far side of the property behind the back wall of the Hotels property. We would occasionally catch a brief glimpse of the Orropendolas flying quickly from tree to tree. But that beautiful song was more evident.-
On one morning, we had a closer look at a pair of Oropendola in one of the nearby Palm Trees. I really enjoy this species and so glad we had good close views of them. Jen and I have enjoyed Oropendolas every time we have been to Costa Rica when we would spend the day on the Caribbean lowlands. It was so wonderful having them here on the edge of San Jose--
The Swainson's Toucans were another story. For the most part, they were mostly heard and stayed to the farthest back side of the other property. We only caught a glimpse of them once when they moved positions in a distant Cecropia Tree. Again a bird that we really enjoy seeing. But here on the edge of the city...their being here was a bit of a tease!-
Like the Oropendola, we had a very quick sighting of a single Swainson's Toucan one day in a Palm Tree feeding on the Palm Nuts. The tree was on the other side of the wall near the right corner of the Hotels property....another unexpected bird sighting that made us very happy!-
Other birds seen on the property were- Rufous-capped Warbler......
......and a few friends visiting from home; American Redstart.......
..... Orchard Oriole......
......and Louisiana Waterthrush.-
A few more of the local residents included Blue-gray Tanager.......
......and a very distant White-tailed Kite that was passing over the city, one of my favorite Raptor species. This bird was at least five hundred yards away (heavily cropped images)-
The beautiful song from a pair of Tropical Kingbirds filled the garden-
Friday morning (our last day at the Hotel) started out with mu usual Owl search. This was also the morning that a Brown Jay was being chased by the Falcon. Shortly after that episode this Brown Jay appeared on the the Hotels grounds. This was the only morning that I saw or heard a Brown Jay here. Maybe this bird was the one being chased, or maybe with the other Jay, or possibly a coincidence.-
After the Brown Jay flew over the wall to the South, I decided to stand by the same large Guanacaste Tree where Jen and I saw the first Squirrel Cuckoo and a host of other birds. This tree seemed to be attracting many birds to it. Jen would be showing up in a little while and I told her I would meet her by the Guanacaste tree. While I watched the upper branches of the tree in the dim light...a single fist-sized bird flew in and landed on a branch right in plain sight. I thought to myself that this bird looked like an Owl. I had never seen a flying Pygmy Owl before, but it just said Owl to me. I raised my binoculars, and a huge smile came over my face....it was the Owl!!! What turned out to be perfect timing, Jen walked up the path and asked me "What are you looking at"?? Jen loves Owls....and I was so happy to tell her that the Pygmy Owl just flew in and perched on the branch near the top of the tree. In fact I told her that it must have known you were coming....it flew in just for her. A few years ago when we were traveling down the mountain road on our way to the Savegre Hotel, Beny stopped his van so I could photograph a female Quetzal on the side of the road. Jen looked over and found a small Costa Rican Pygmy Owl perched on an eye level branch a few feet off the other side of the road.
Her timing being perfect, we both enjoyed this Ferruginous Pygmy Owl for five minutes before it flew off. That was amazing gift that came to us the last morning of our stay at Hotel Bougainvillea. W had tried all week and it finally gave us a beautiful view that last beautiful morning!- (All these images are cropped)
(And a few lightened to see the Owl looking down at us)-
I am fascinated by Woodpeckers, and it wasn't until the last morning after the appearance of the Owl that a single Hoffman's Woodpecker flew into the Guanacaste Tree-
These two birds are new species for us....Streaked Flycatcher.......
......and Masked Tityra, quite a lovely bird!-
Jen and I highly recommend Hotel Bouganvillea. When you travel to Costa Rica it is a place you should go to. Many birders start and finish their Costa Rica birding adventure here, but I think you should enjoy it for a few days. We really had a wonderful, comfortable and enjoyable time here....and the birding wasn't bad either!! :^)
We will be checking out today after breakfast and traveling to the Savegre Valley in the Talamanca Mountains for the next four and a half days and we fly home next Wednesday. We will be staying at the Savegre Mountain Hotel in the heart of the land of the Quetzal. This is our favorite Mountain location in Costa Rica. We have stayed here on all four of our previous visits. This morning we are going on a little side trip to the town of Orotina (Mango country) on the Pacific slope. In Orotina there is a small and very charming Park in the middle of this small town which is home to a pair of Black and White Owls which we saw on our last visit. After spending the morning in Orotina, we will then head up to San Gerado de Dota and the Savegre Mountain Hotel. Part 2 of this report starts in Orotina and then to Savegre. It continues.......
For Part 2 Costa Rica and Part 4 Highlights click on "Older Posts" below right