Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Birds of Central America

     On our trip to Central America, we did the most birdwatching that I have ever done on a trip. And my husband who is not really a birder, also enjoyed some of our hikes. He was able to do a lot of bird photography so I have much material for this blog.
     Let's start with Guatemala. We were so lucky that our guide in Tikal is a birder of some renown. So he showed me a lot of birds that I am sure I would have missed if I was doing the watching on my own.
The beautiful large scarlet macaw

red lored parrot

lineated woodpecker

oscellated turkey

Montezuma oropendola
The Montezuma oropendolas' nests
   Let's move on to Costa Rica. As I said on a previous post, Costa Rica is all about nature. We saw lotts of birds, many of them quite unusual. The first group was sighted at Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean. We went there to see the sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs, but we were a little early. None were arriving. But it didn't matter. We saw many birds and other interesting insects and animals.

These are bats hanging on a tree trunk. You can see their faces tilted toward us.
They have white spots on their backs but they are called long nosed bats.

A lovely large praying mantis

The anhinga drying its wings. Interestingly it does not have the oily feathers that
other diving birds have, so it must dry out its feathers after a dive for fish.

I think this is one of the loveliest birds -- the little blue heron

Just an artistic view.

The Northern jacana which walks and nests on top of these rafts of water hyacinth.
   Next we are going to Monte Verde, a birding destination for many people in the highlands of Costa Rica.  Here we met Carlos outside Stella's Bakery in St. Elena, neighboring Monteverde Park. Apparently this is a common place for birdwatchers to meet. Several different guides showed up with their tourist charges. There is good birding right their in the middle of the rustic little town. There is a large fig tree which was bearing fruit so the birds of all kinds are coming and going. After a while birding, Stella had opened up and we all took a coffee break with some bakery of course. Then it was time to ascend to the intermediate zone just below the cloud forest. There we would see a different habitat with different birds. But Carlos was on a motorbike. So he called a taxi and we were escorted to the foot of a trail for more birdwatching. It looked like this was going to be a long and productive morning.

This bird looks like a bump on the tree branch. It just sits here
during the day as it is nocturnal -- the great potoo. We were
lucky to get this photo.

A common bird, but I couldn't skip this lovely photo. The great egret.

We see these birds out in California commonly. They are black necked stilts.

The green basilisk lizard of Costa Rica. I know this post is billed as birds
but I couldn't resist this photo. 
   I must write a little bit about this lizard. In Costa Rica, there are three species of this lizard, of the type called basilisks. This one is the largest (can reach 32 inches long) and the prettiest. The other two species are more olive or brownish. Another name for all three species of this lizard is "the Jesus Christ lizard." The reason it is called this is because it can actually walk on water. Its toes have webs which increase the surface area and due to the fast pumping of its legs (at 5 mph) it can actually stay on the surface of the water for short distances. When first seen, it usually freezes as this one has done, but if further threatened it will escape  into the forest, under leaves or across water surfaces to disappear quickly. It also is an excellent swimmer so sometimes it just swims away. They can often be found along water courses and are omnivorous eating insects, small invertebrates, and small mammals and birds as well as vegetation and fruits.  With its sail like decorations on its head, back and tail it certainly is an attractive fellow.

Another birding group preparing to start the trail at
one of the Monteverde sanctuaries. Notice the size of
the tree. 
The local version of the jay. A pretty gregarious bird.

The resplendent Quetzal. A hard to find bird in Central America, but Carlos
knew where to look. 
   This magnificent bird deserves a little elaboration to match its beautiful dress. It is found from Mexico to Panama, but is often a little reclusive in the deep and thick forests. It likes the heavy rain forest and therefore even if present is often hard to see. This is the male with its iridescent green back, wings and head, a crimson lower breast and belly, black outer tail feathers, white tail covers underneath, and two long iridescent green central tail feathers that can't be seen here but extend out beyond the bird when it flies at least twice its body length. The female is a drab brown color. It became known among the indigenous peoples here as a flying snake. It is very important in both the Aztec and Mayan culture and is the source of the name for the primary god of the Mayan people, Quetzalcoatl. Because it does not survive in captivity it has become a symbol of liberty throughout the region. Here is a website in case you are interested in this birds natural life history and cultural history.     Click on this address and I think you will be offered an option to go to the site.

   The Respendent Quetzal is the national bird of Guatemal, perhaps because it is so prominent in their historical culture. Of course, we saw it in Costa Rica. Interestingly, the national bird for Costa Rica with all of this country's dramatically colored bird life, is the clay-colored thrush. Here is a photo of this bird.

The clay colored thrush looks almost identical to our robin both in appearance
and behavior, just minus the red breast. 

The crested guan. Not such a good picture but
a pair were in the treetops near the quetzal. Just
goes to show the density of wonderful birds
in this rain forest.

The three wattled bellbird, actively calling.

   This was the last bird we saw on the Monteverde bird walk. We heard it constantly during the walk, and I asked Carlos about it. He just kept saying, "We'll get there in good time." Then as I knew we were nearing the end of the walk,  I began to worry, because we kept walking along the path and seemed to be passing the bird by. Finally near a large dead snag along the trail, Carlos said, "OK, Amos you can put your folding chair right here facing that snag. Ann, you can wait here or come back along the trail with me, either one, but you will do fine just to wait here." I was tired so I waited. But Carlos was gone for quite a while. I did walk backwards along the trail just to see what was happening. I saw Carlos off trail traipsing through the undergrowth a little bit. After maybe 10 minutes or so, guess who showed up near that snag. Yes, indeed, it was Mr. Bellbird as pictured above. And as you can see he is calling with a wide open mouth. Apparently the bellbirds use about 3 different perches. If they are threatened on one perch, they will move to the second one. And if threatened there they will move to the third which happened at this time to be the one along the trail near the snag. So Carlos just went back and spooked him out of the other two perches in succession and predictably he showed up right in camera range where we were waiting. What a nice climax to this productive rain forest walk. Just to show  what this bellbird sounds like here is a YouTube video showing him calling and you can hear the reason for his name.

   Now, as you may know from my previous posts,  our trip to Central America also included Panama where our guide for the whole 6 days, Archibald V. Kirchman is an avid birder as well. So we saw some excellent birds in Panama as well, but I will post those at a later time in another post. This one is getting unwieldy. But don't forget, look for the second post on Central American birds soon.

1 comment:

  1. great i love the images of the birds. One correction, the image of the "Montezuma oropendola" is actually a brown jay. The brown jay has a white under belly shown in the picture where the oropendula has a brown underbelly and yellow tail feathers.