Since the Covid virus pandemic, I have been sheltering at home like everyone else. Fortunately the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve has re-opened and I go almost every day. I had been going since December, recording the spring changes of birds and plants but the Coronovirus put all of that on hold for a while. It has been a repetitive comfort to me to have a beautiful place to walk each morning with an ever changing cast of beautiful birds. One constant and always welcome bird companion has been the tiny Verdin who are resident at the bird preserve. The Verdin is a very small bird. At 4.5 in (11 cm) in length, it rivals the American bushtit as one of the smallest passerines in North America and it is smaller than many hummingbirds. At the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve, Verdin the most common bird, rarely seen but almost always heard. It is most easily detected by its surprisingly loud calls, which sound like “cheep” followed by a pause the another “cheep”. These tiny birds are difficult to photograph, rather like shooting skeet or pinball. The tiny birds are quick and athletic, jumping from branch to branch sideways, up and down. You need a hair-trigger on the shutter, shoot first and check your focus and framing later, you will not get a second chance. Since I have collected quite a number of photographs of my avian friends the Verdin, I decided to make a post of it.
This past spring I traveled to Arcata California for some birdwatching in the Pacific Northwest. In Arcata, they have a bird festival in April called Godwit Days that I could not attend. Nonetheless, I thought it might be an interesting time and place for birding. The local Audubon Society says birding is at its best from winter through early May. You’ll find songbirds in spring through fall, shorebirds, wading birds and waterfowl in the cooler months of October through April, and raptors year round. As predicted, April was not a particularly good time for water birds, although there were songbirds and plenty of spring flowers. Nearly 500 species of birds have been found in Humboldt County; many of these species are unique to Humboldt County. Fortunately I was able to secure Rob Fowler as a guide to the birding areas around Arcata. He knew when and where to look and made most of the following pictures possible. I suspect I will return in a different season to see a different set of birds and of course to see the beautiful scenery in a different light.
This past spring I decided to visit Arcata California a week after their annual Godwit Festival in April since I could not make the sanctuary festival.. The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary is home to the City of Arcata’s innovative wastewater treatment facility. The sanctuary is 307 acres, including freshwater marshes, salt marsh, tidal sloughs, grassy uplands, mudflats, brackish marsh, approximately 5 miles of walking and biking paths and an Interpretive Center. Located at the north end of Humboldt Bay, the sanctuary is situated along the Pacific Flyway, a major migratory route for thousands of birds that breed in the far north and winter in California, Mexico and Central and South America. The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary is touted as the highest bird populated coastal site between Bodega Harbor and Washington. While I had visions of masses of migrating birds the reality was somewhat more quiet. I did find a collection of Godwits, and some local ducks, egrets and shorebirds.
I happen to love woodpeckers, they are colorful, noisy and just fun to look at. Their cheerful tapping always calls to me to take a look. There are about 200 known varieties, many of which are threatened or endangered. The plumage of woodpeckers varies from drab to conspicuous. The colors of many species are based on olive and brown and some are pied, suggesting a need for camouflage; others are boldly patterned in black, white and red, and many have a crest or tufted feathers on the crown. Woodpeckers tend to be sexually dimorphic, but differences between the sexes are generally small, usually involving the head. I thought it would be nice to present these all together so that you could see and compare the various forms and colors that woodpeckers exhibit in different places. I have some beautiful woodpeckers from Africa, Costa Rica, Colorado and Arizona. Sapsuckers are also part of the Woodpecker family and I have a beautiful Red-Breasted Sapsucker from Humbolt county in California.
For those fortunate few who view a King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) for the first time, the experience will be unforgettable. King vultures are one of the largest New World vulture, second only to condors. It is not their size however that is visually arresting, but their bright white feathers with a vividly colored head. Certainly early native Americans would have immediately sensed the singularity of this majestic bird and would associate it with a god-like presence in their jungle world. In fact in Mayan legends, the bird was seen as a king who served as a messenger between humans and the gods. They would have observed its habit of displacing smaller vultures from a carcass and eating its fill while they wait, thus warranting the crown of a king among fellow birds. This bird was also known as the “white crow” by the Spanish in Paraguay. It was called cozcacuauhtli in Nahuatl, derived from cozcatl “collar” and cuauhtli “bird of prey”. [Read more…]
As part of my birdwatching tour in Costa Rica we headed for the hot and dry Guanacaste region in the north-west of the country where we had a two-night stay at Hacienda Solimar or Solimar Lodge. Guanacaste, in the northwest of Costa Rica, is bounded on the east by a group of green-swathed volcanoes forming the Cordillera de Guanacaste and the Cordillera de Tilarán. The rivers that tumble out of these steep mountains flow down to rolling flatlands, drained by the Rio Tempisque, which empties through swampy wetlands into de Gulf of Nicoya. Guanacaste’s climate and culture are unique among Costa Rican provinces. The province experiences little rain and consistent heat from November to April, resulting in tropical dry forests as a natural adaption to the dry season conditions. Tourists seek out this dry heat during the North American winter to enjoy the beaches and Guanacaste is home to a large colony of American expatriates. The Solimar Lodge is just east of Palo Verde National Park, which is part of the Tempisque Conservation Area, that contains much of the area of the valley of the Tempisque River and covers an area of 45,492 acres in Guanacaste Province. The surrounding region is mostly tropical dry forests, and the Park concentrates on conserving vital floodplain, marshes, limestone ridges, and seasonal pools from the encroachment of civilization which was putting the ecology of the area at risk. The Solimar Lodge is just one part of the large Solimar ranch (Hacienda Solimar), one of the largest cattle ranches in Costa Rica. They specialize in Brahmin cattle which have been bred for arid terrain such as Guanacaste where cattle is raised mainly for beef.
As part of my birdwatching tour of Costa Rica with Tropical Birding, we visited the Tárcoles River, also called the Grande de Tárcoles River or the Río Grande de Tarcoles, in Costa Rica. It originates on the southern slopes of the Cordillera Central volcanic range, at the confluence of Virilla and Grande rivers, flows south-west, passing by the Carara Biological Reserve, drifts into the Guacalillo Mangrove Estuary and eventually empties in the Gulf of Nicoya in the Pacific Ocean. Although the river is somewhat polluted, it is significant for the country’s residents, as nearly 60% of Costa Rica’s total population lives along its basins. The river is perhaps best known for its abundance of American Crocodiles. It’s said that the Tárcoles River has one of the highest populations of crocodiles in the entire world, up to 25 crocodiles per square kilometer. Several tour operators take advantage of this fact by offering river tours that guarantee croc sightings. Much of the time these large reptiles (which can grow to a length of thirty feet) can be spotted swimming through the river or sunbathing along the banks. In addition to the crocodiles, the river also supports more than 300 species of migratory, native and coastal birds. Located on the Central Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, the Guacalillo Estuary and the Tárcoles River offer the chance to observe the one of the richest mangrove forests in the mid pacific coast and the most important conservation area for the Scarlet Macaw in the country.
Most tanagers are multi-colored birds of tropical forests in Central and South America. Four species including the Summer Tanager breed in North America. There are places in South America, in the foothills of the Andes, where flocks of small birds may include a rainbow palette of a dozen species of tanagers. As in most tanagers, only the male has brilliant plumage. The Blue-Gray Tanager is probably the most widespread and my personal favorite since I first saw it at Machu Picchu. Tanagers are often brightly colored, but some species are more subdued. Males are typically more brightly colored than females and juveniles. Most tanagers have short, rounded wings. The shape of the bill seems to be linked to the species’ foraging habits. I am trying a little different format, fewer but larger photos with a short description, which loads a little slower but gives you the reader a better view. Let me know what you think.
Situated among the mist-covered peaks of the Talamanca Mountains, Los Quetzales National Park was established in 2006. This park lies 47 miles southeast of San Jose, and you can easily reach this park from Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Ocean. From Jacó it’s about a two-hour trip. The entrance to the park is on Cerro de la Muerte, just before the turnoff for San Gerardo de Dota. Most of the park area is around the both side of the Savegre river that emerges in the Cerro de la Muerte and connects to the Pacific Ocean close to the Manuel Antonio National Park. it is surrounded by natural rainforest, breathtaking waterfalls, and beautiful canyons. This park includes not only rainforests but also cloud forests, formed by the collision of warm, moist Caribbean trade wind with the Talamanca mountain range which stretches from southwest of San José to beyond the border with Panama. When tiny droplets are deposited on surfaces before they collect together and fall as rain it’s called horizontal precipitation and in cloud forests it can be the main source of moisture. Peaks enveloped by trade wind-derived clouds can capture huge amounts of water when they are covered with tropical montane cloud forests. Their sponge-like epiphytes (mosses, ferns and bromeliads) massively increase the surface area for horizontal precipitation. Vibrantly colored, from the miniature to the gigantic, Los Quetzales flora is some of the most beautiful in the world. There seemingly endless tropical flower species and even orchids. Many can be found growing wild on the trunks of giant trees.
Since I visited Denver recently to visit my mother, I decided to indulge in a bit of winter birding to get her out of the house. Although many people like to look for birds in the summer, when the weather is nice, winter allows you a unique opportunity to actually see the birds without the cover of leaves. As winter snows fall many mountain dwelling species of birds will come down into the valleys and even into cities in the winter. Moreover, species from north of the US/Canada border fly down into the areas where winter is milder, even to Denver as it turns out. The purpose of this post is not to be inclusive, just the the birds I found in a few favorite places. I grew up in Colorado and learned about nature from my late father who was an avid outdoorsman. He would have enjoyed getting out and viewing the birds on display in the nearby parks.