Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Costa Rica Part 1: Rancho Naturalista

As you all know, I recently spent two weeks in Costa Rica, with the first week spent leading a tour and the second week traveling to other parts of the country with a couple friends. The tour was a custom trip for two families from the Cincinnati, Ohio area. This made the trip extremely fun for me, as it was the first time that two of the young birders had seen most of the birds that we found! You can read about Ethan and Tyler's (the two young birders) experience on their blog, Cinci Young Birders.

In order to really cover everything that I experienced while I was in Costa Rica and to do justice to all of the amazing things the country has to offer, I decided to break my posts down by each lodge that we stayed. So now, the first part of my adventure - arriving in San Jose and our first day at Rancho Naturalista.

On my first day, I arrived in San Jose a little before noon and quickly made my way though customs after seeing my first lifer for the trip at the airport - a Gray-breasted Martin. I was hoping to have some time to go birding that afternoon, but it was pouring outside so the local guide that I hired for the week took me straight to my hotel.

My group arrived the next morning, and we immediately started our drive to Rancho Naturalista. Along the way, we took time to stop at a lookout point and then made our way to the Ruins of Ujarras. This was a great place to get out and stretch our legs while seeing some really cool birds. The highlights were Provost's Ground-Sparrow, Blue-crowned Motmot, Common Tody-Flycatcher, and Crimson-fronted Parakeet.

This Blue-crowned Motmot was extremely cooperative and was posing for the cameras!
Common Tody-Flycatchers are small, but they have a lot of personality. This bird was was checking us out and trying to figure out what we were doing with our cameras!
A large flock of Crimson-fronted Parakeets spent a long time flying around the ruins and would land from time to time. Luckily this one landed near me so I could snap this photo.
One bird that I really wanted to see while in Costa Rica was the Provost's Ground-Sparrow. It was really amazing to find them on the first day of birding!
Once we felt that we had seen all the birds that the ruins had to offer, we headed off to lunch in Turrialba. After lunch, we stopped at and around Casa Turire and were extremely excited that Red-breasted Blackbird was one of the first birds that we saw on the beautiful grounds! Once we moved onto the main part of the property, we quickly found a pair of Southern Lapwings and three Green Ibis! As excited as I was about all of these birds, some members of the group were even more excited when we found our first Keel-billed Toucan of the trip.

I was surprised by how striking this Red-breasted Blackbird was.
The local guide that I had hired didn't tell us that he was taking us to a location that had Southern Lapwings. Man were we surprised when we saw these guys!
As we arrived at Rancho Naturalista, the staff was there to welcome us to the property and to help us get all of our luggage to our rooms. We immediately felt at home at Rancho Naturalista (more about the property in another post) and couldn't wait to start exploring! Unfortunately, there was only about an hour of daylight left, but we made the most of our time watching their bird feeding station. Everyone was amazed at the number of hummingbirds zipping around the feeders!

White-necked Jacobins are the most common hummingbirds at Rancho Naturalista and do their best to chase all of the other hummingbirds off when they can.
Even though my group wasn't going to be meeting me until 5:45am, I woke up really early and couldn't get back to sleep. So I headed for the deck that over looks the feeding station to see what might be moving as it started to get light outside. Although it was raining and quite foggy, some birds were already coming in to feed, and several others joined me shortly after I arrived on the deck. We had planned to head off looking for birds right away, but the rain kept coming down so we spent a little extra time at the feeders. Highlights during our two hour feeder watch included Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Bay-headed Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, and Orange-billed Sparrow. (Complete eBird List)

Once the rain started to ease up a bit, we decided to take a hike down the entrance road of the property. We had barely started hiking when we found one of the highlights of my whole trip, a Black-crested Coquette! Over the next couple hours, we found 75 species, and everyone saw many lifers. My favorite birds that we saw during the hike were Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Cinnamon Becard, Stripe-breasted Wren, and Slate-throated Redstart. (Complete eBird List)

I've seen Long-billed Gnatwrens before, but they have never been easy to photograph. I was very happy to get this shot!
Since we still had some time before lunch, we continued on to the more wooded trails on the property. The best birds were Rufous Motmot and White-ruffed Manakin before we hurried off to find our delicious lunch waiting for us. (Complete eBird List) After the wonderful lunch, we were all feeling ambitious so we decided to hike up to the higher elevation areas of Rancho Naturalista.

The hike had some elevation change but wasn't too tough, and it produced some awesome sightings. We were surprised to happen upon a group of four Crested Guans high up in the trees. Just around the corner from the guans, we found 2 White-crowned Manakins on a known lek! (For those that don't know, a lek is a location that male birds go to in order to put on breeding displays for females.) We knew we still had quite a hike back to the hummingbird pools to watch the afternoon show so we made our way back as quickly as possible. It was at the pools that we got our first looks at the amazing Snowcap. While watching the hummingbirds, Harry, the guide from the lodge, found a Dull-mantled Antbird which was a lifer for our whole group! You can see our complete list from the afternoon (Complete eBird List).

The photo is a little blurry but it was the best I could do with this Rufous Motmot.

It was getting quite dark in the forest when we found this White-crowned Manakin. The photo isn't great but we did have amazing view of this species.
Our day ended with another incredible meal back at the lodge. Check back soon to hear more about Rancho Naturalista and the rest of our time there!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Whitefish Point-The Start of the Waterbird Count

Sunrise at Whitefish Point
I arrived at Whitefish Point in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan last Thursday.  The waterbird count started on Friday so I have been spending each of the last few days out on the point.  Each day, I count all the migratory waterbirds that pass by or use the point.  The count has started out fairly slow but there have been a number of highlights.  

The waterbird shack at the point.
Throughout the day, the shorebirds and raptors have put on a show, so even when the count is slow there is some entertainment.  The most common bird I have been counting are Red-necked Grebes.  The numbers have been fairly low, averaging around 40 a day.  Common Loons have also been coming by in steady but low numbers.  Shorebirds have been interesting with ten species so far.  There is some great habitat at the point so hopefully this increases quickly.  The highlights have been Black-bellied Plovers, Piping Plover, and Baird's Sandpipers.

Juvenile Northern Goshawk
A Merlin, that like all Merlins, is super aggresive.
A Sharp-shinned Hawk that made a pass over the waterbird shack.
For daily updates from the point visit

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Whitefish Point Waterbird Count

This fall (August 15-November 15) I'll be conducting the waterbird count at Whitefish Point in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Whitefish Point is the premier spot on the Great Lakes for waterbird migration with 75-100,000 being counted during most fall migrations.  Among the large numbers of Long-tailed Ducks and Red-necked Grebes that migrate by the point each fall; there is a chance for Sabine's Gulls or any of the Jaegers.  And if that's not enough almost any vagrant has the potential to show up at the point; crazy birds such as Lucy's Warbler and Common Ground-Dove have been seen.   Needless to say, it will be an interesting fall.

Visit the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory Waterbirds' blog to keep up with the bird sightings at the point this fall!

Here are some pics of a few of the species that will be flyin' by the point:

Long-tailed Duck-
Black Scoter
Common Loon
Surf Scoter


Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review: A Sparrowhawk's Lament

A Sparrowhawk's Lament focuses on the birds of Britain but also highlights issues that affect birds of prey on a much larger scale. From the shooting of these species to "protect" livestock to poisoning them from the use of pesticides, raptors all over the world face many threats.

This book takes an in-depth and entertaining look at each of the raptor species that occurs in Britain. Although it might seem like a dry topic, the author weaves his personal stories of his time observing each species into each species account as well as his time talking with those that have made the conservation and recovery of many of these species possible.

I found the author's focus on the use of nest cams and wildlife filming as ways to educate the public very interesting. With people having focused on persecuting raptors for so long, the education of the public about this species is critical to their long-term survival. I found myself agreeing with the author that nest cams and wildlife filming have done great work to convert people from a dislike of birds of prey to raptor enthusiasts.

No matter where you are in the world, this book will help you better understand the threats that birds of prey face and what can be done to save them.

Title: A Sparrowhawk's Lament: How British Breeding Birds of Prey Are Faring
Author: David Cobham with Illustrations by Bruce Pearson
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: June 25, 2014

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Spotlight on a Hotspot: "Ding" Darling NWR

Yellow-crowned Night-Herons can be seen
feeding in the lagoons during the early morning hours.
For someone that lives in the Midwest, I've spent a lot of time birding in southwest Florida. Like most birders that have traveled to the area, "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is one of my favorite hotspots to visit when I'm in the area. This NWR is located on Sanibel Island and is most definitely worth the trip.

The easiest way to bird the refuge is from the Wildlife Drive. This takes you along many of the water units throughout the property and has plenty of places to pull over and explore. The drive is 4 miles long, and you are sure to find many species all along the route.

There are also two trails at the refuge that can be good birding spots - Shell Mound Trail and the Indigo Trail. The Shell Mound Trail is one of the best places in the refuge to find Black-whiskered Vireos, and the Indigo Trail is the best place to bird on Fridays when the Wildlife Drive is closed.

Another part of the refuge, called the Bailey Tract, is located just a few minutes away. It's a great place to look for herons, egrets, Black-necked Stilts, and alligators.

You can learn more about this refuge by visiting the NuttyBirder's location guide here.

Anhingas are extremely common at this refuge.
Always keep an eye on the sky for a chance to see a Magnificent Frigatebird.
If you get really lucky during the summer months, you might catch a glimpse of a Mangrove Cuckoo.
"Ding" Darling NWR is a fantastic place to see Roseate Spoonbills.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Highlights from My First Week in Costa Rica

Rob writes: My Costa Rica trip is off to a great start! I had a fantastic group from Cincinnati including two young birders who have a blog,

We've visited Rancho Naturalista and Savegre Mountain Lodge and made many stops in between. The group arrived back in San Jose yesterday so that they could fly home and I will be continuing on to Laguna del Lagarto and Selve Verde for the next week. Check back for more detailed posts about our trip but for now, here are some of my favorite photos from the past week!

I was blown away by how bright red this Crimson-collared Tanager was!
I always love seeing antbirds and this Dull-mantled Antbird was no exception.
Long-billed Gnatwrens can be tough to photography but this guy was pretty cooperative.
These Southern Lapwings have been one of the highlights of my trip so far!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Finishing Breeding Bird Surveys in the Great Plains

Over the last few weeks, I have been finishing up some breeding bird surveys from the Niobrara and North Platte Rivers in Nebraska to the Little Missouri River in North Dakota.  I even spent a day counting breeding birds in the presence of four great Presidents in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  From avoiding bison, to avoiding rattlesnakes, and miserably failing to avoid mosquitoes, my last month had very few slow days. 

A typical view in the badlands of North and South Dakota
The birds didn't disappoint either.  Northern Cardinals in western Nebraska were exciting until I had many, many more along the Niobrara River.  Some eastern birds that are difficult to see throughout the western Dakotas and Nebraska abounded along the Niobrara River.  Listening to Western Wood-Pewees singing next to Eastern Wood-Pewees was a real treat!  

A view of the Missouri River in North Dakota