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An Early Spring Birding-By-Ear Quiz

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Friday, March 30, 2012 

The last few days I've been out hiking and enjoying the spring. It's been a good time to put my ear to the test. Thought I'd record a few songs and calls and give everyone else a chance to practice birding by ear as well. Below are a series of videos each with 1 or more birds on them. See if you can get them all. Then there's a bonus picture at the bottom. Make your guesses in the comments. I'll reveal the answers in a few days. Good luck!

Quiz #1 - There are 2 birds singing in this clip. Hint: one is in the finch family and the other is in the sparrow family.

Quiz #2 - Again, there are 2 bird species to ID in this clip. Both are calling repeatedly.

Quiz #3 - This song reminds me of springtime.

Quiz #4 - Even though there is a brief visual of the bird in flight, this is a tough one. Listen for the repeated call as the bird flies away. You may want to turn your sound up a bit to hear it. Sorry for my voiceover excitement. Hint: The feathers below (Quiz #5) didn't come from this bird, but one that is close in relation.

Quiz #5 - Can you identify what species of bird these feathers came from?


Drawing More Birds on the Computer

posted by Tim Avery at
on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 

Seems like I've caught the illustration bug at least for the moment.  After finishing the Rufous-crested Coquette last week I started on a couple more illustrations.  But not before I had a print made of the coquette--and put it in a matte and frame:

5" x 7" print in 11" x 14" cream matte with 2" black frame
(click image for larger version)

If you are interested in a print,  I can have more like this made.  A photo quality print on matte stock costs $35.  A framed and matted version can be picked up for $60.  Just let me know what you want at western.tanager@gmail.com and we can work something out.

But like I said above the coquette was just the beginning.  Maybe it's the fact that the birds of Peru are so colorful and amazing to look at that I just want to make my own renditions.  Right after I finished the first one I started working on a second bird, that was even more stunning than the Coquette--a Golden Tanager:

Golden Tanager about 50% Complete

Right now it's about 50% finished.  I have a lot of details to add but got a good start on it.  The Golden Tanager is an absolutely striking species and the color is so vibrant.  I've worked on this one an hour or two most nights this week and will probably finish it up this weekend.

I also started working on a Peruvian specialty this week--a bird with one of the coolest names, the Bearded Mountaineer! Cool right?  It's a species of hummingbird endemic to southern Peru and has some very stunning but simple features.  This one is about 10% finished so it's probably over a week out, but you can see the various states from beginning to end with what I've done so far.

Bearded Mountaineer about 10% Complete

You can see how I start with the basic shapes then go into smaller and smaller details as I layer the design.  On this last one I have the basic shapes, and most of the low level details laid out.  I have a at least a couple more birds in mind to work on in the next couple weeks.  I'll be sure to share those as well as the finished versions of the above when they're done.

If you have something you want illustrated let me know and I can see what I can do.

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Drawing Birds... On the Computer

posted by Tim Avery at
on Saturday, March 24, 2012 

Rufous-crested Coquette Illustration
click on the image for full size version

Growing up I liked to draw things.  In my grade school years and teens I took art classes learning to paint, and to illustrate.  When I got into birding I started to sketch and draw a ton of birds and always wanted to illustrate a book with birds, or contribute to a field guide.  When I went to college and decided to continue to pursue art in a Studio Art program I shifted from drawing to photography.  I loved what  you could do with a camera, and in my college years it was the dawn of the digital age.  I took a computer illustration course at the end of my freshman year.  After all, you had to have a breadth of classes for the degree, and I figured it was worth a shot to see what could be done on a computer.  My first illustrations were simple, and usually contained little detail.  As I became more comfortable with it I was able to create illustrations with subtle details, and over time was able to crank designs out pretty quick.  The class was the only digital class that my college offered at the time and after it was over everything I did was on my own.  

I shifted from illustrations into photo manipulation as I tried to figure out where I was going in life--I only illustrated a few things after that first year, and mostly forgot about what an art it was.  By my senior year I started doing web design and did a little illustration for the designs, but no full scale drawings.  And after I graduated it was much of the same.  I shifted my work to user interface design, and most of what I was doing had to do with laying out pages and figuring out how to make a graceful experience for people visiting a website.  I was no longer an illustrator.

I still had to illustrate the occasional icon, or graphic, but nothing that was overly complicated and nothing that required a ton of detail.  Occasionally I feel like drawing something and will hop in and give it a shot.  Usually, I get frustrated and just walk away from what I am working on because it isn't turning out how I hoped.  This week I had an urge to draw a hummingbird.  I started and the first couple versions jsut sucked.  The shapes were off, the details were too big, and I just wasn't liking the final product.  So last night I sat down and dove into a drawing.  I picked up again this morning and finished everything up.  The picture above is what I came up with.  I worked off this picture:

Photograph from Kolibri Expedtions

Overall I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.  This species is one of the birds I hope to see when I go to Peru this fall--a truly spectacular hummingbird.  I was able to get a lot of detail without having to draw any real feathers.  The individual lines helped create the feathered look.  

Based off this first try I might have to do a few more--it has been a long time since I have seriously illustrated and I lost some of my finesse, but I really enjoy it and it's not something anyone is really doing (semi-realistic photo illustrations of birds).

In any event I hope you enjoy! 

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The most obvious choice......

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Friday, March 23, 2012 

When birding, the most obvious choice is usually the correct one. For instance, a Red-tailed Hawk with a whitish head or tail in Utah is almost certainly a Harlan's (top, Utah), not a Krider's (bottom, Oklahoma). Not saying a Krider's couldn't be seen here, that would be silly...birds have wings. Just saying that the likely candidate should be considered and ruled out before accepting the less obvious choice.

This is true for most birds....of course rarities occur, but turning something into the rarer bird while overlooking the obvious choice is easy to do. Also, its easy to focus on plumage when trying to identify a rare bird or separating two similar-looking birds. But structure and call are often the clinching trait to note. I often see posts about songbirds, shorebirds, etc. that are tough ID's, and the call or shape is never mentioned. I understand, they don't always call, but sometimes they do. Just a post to keep in mind, I don't know it all of course...just like to blog.

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Accipiter tail tips...

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Wednesday, March 21, 2012 

I have many accipiter posts I'd like to get to, but here is a quick one, and a subject that has been talked about recently. Accipiters will always be tricky, especially Sharp-shinned vs. Cooper's Hawk, since they look so similar. Many Sharpies have very rounded or slightly rounded tails (especially females), and some Cooper's have square-tipped tails for certain reasons. Here are some examples. Also note how some Cooper's (especially males) can appear small-headed and stocky overall in certain poses or instances.

One trait only does not make an accurate accipiter ID, it is a combination of traits, so don't get caught up on a single trait that "distracts" you from the rest of the bird. There is much to say about this group of hawks, so more to come.

Hope this helps...and if anyone has a request on a specific subject regarding raptors to discuss, please feel free to bring it up.

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Another silly raptor quiz

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Monday, March 19, 2012 

Anyone interested in taking a crack at this one....

No pressure, just post as "anonymous" if you like....if these posts bring about discussion and interest, that's good enough for me. Mike Shaw has to post his name though, hah!

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My Top 25 List - Peru Prepping Part 1

posted by Tim Avery at
on Thursday, March 15, 2012 

When I sat down to come up with my Top 10 Species to see in Peru I was immediately struck by the fact that 10 was too limited.  By the time I reached Barbets and Toucans I was already at 12 species narrowed down from 100's of possibilities.  I hadn't even reached my Achilles heel in the Tanagers section.  I knew that my top 10 must instead be a top 25--endemics, wants, needs, everything and anything that make up the birds that will be the most sought after for me.

In Costa Rica I felt a Top 10 list was tough, but I came up with one.  They were prize birds--and by god were they hard to come by.  In the end I only saw 1 well; had fleeting glimpses with plenty of calling of another; and heard 1 more from the list.  I wondered if I had set the bar too high?  There were some specialties, an endangered species, a highly secretive species, habitat specialists, and restricted ranges on a number of birds.  For Peru I figured I would probably do the same and thus far the list is similar, with endemics, habitat specialists, rarities, and secretive birds.   I did however mix in some of the more common and still spectacular species I hope to find so that I hopefully have a better than 30% success rate. I have too have a list--there are just some birds I want to try harder for and seeing them adds a little something to my life.

So with out further ado here are the first 10 of my top 25 (#25 to #16):

25. Spotted Tanager

If you've followed the blog for the past year this bird may look familiar.  It is a close relative to the bird that was my #1 on the top 10 for Costa Rica--the Speckled Tanager.  I was fortunate to see Speckled only at a Zoo while there so missed out on my #1.  I knew that Spotted needed to make my list for Peru, but in terms of stunning tanagers it isn't quite as stunning as the others in my top 25.  None-the-less it is still a beautiful bird and I should have several opportunities to look for them at various locations from Machu Pichu to Amazonia.

• • •

24. Orange-backed Troupial

The Birds of Peru states the Troupial is a fairly common and unmistakable bird on rivers edges in Amazonia.  This striking icterid truly looks spectacular.  The orange and black is reminiscent of our Bullock's Oriole--the black mask and throat set against the rest of the head and body making it very memorable, and one I hopefully pickup in my short time in the Amazon.

• • •

23. Rusty-backed Antwren

It's not an overly colorful bird--but the pattern is striking.  It is also only found in very small pockets across Peru making it a tough target species.  I should be spending a couple days where they are found near Cusco and might luck out with this one.

• • •

22. Ornate Flycatcher

A "characteristic" bird of the east slope of the Andes.  The white spot in front of this birds eye caught my eye as I was roaming through the field guide.  Small flycatchers with big eyes and big heads like the Ornate remind me of our Least Flycatcher.  This safe pick should be a sure thing on this trip but also a bird I won't soon forget.

• • •

21. Flame-faced Tanager

Five birds in and already another Tanager.  But I think the picture speaks for itself.  The name gets it right with the orange gradient face.  The black back and wings, and green-blue markings on the rest of the body really set the face off and give this tanager a great look.  Another species listed as fairly common on the east slope of the Andes I expect to see a few as I get my fill of tanagers.

• • •

20. Orange-cheeked Parrot

There are going to be a number of parrots and parakeets that are pretty much sure things--the Orange-cheeked does not fall in that category.  Found in Amazonia it is found in the western reaches of the Madre de Dios, but isn't as common as a number of cousins.  But the orange cheek and multi-colored underwings  make this species a standout.  It is known to spend most of the time deep in the forest often near the canopy.  Maybe I'll get lucky from a canopy tower and pick this gem up as a pair cruises from one tree to another.

• • •

19. Golden-headed Quetzal

In Costa Rica I missed the quintessential bird of the cloud forest and know I have to go back especially to see the beautiful Resplendant Quetzal.  I have always been fascinated by trogons and quetzals and the batch found in Peru give a few options.  The Golden-headed snagged me with the coppery-golden gloss I saw in various pictures.  Along with the emerald green and bright red this is a standout species without a doubt.  Hopefully, I will have better quetzal luck this go around.

• • •

18. Inca Wren

Endemic--that sums it up quite well.  With over 300 endemics in Peru I have to see a few.  Given that quite a few are only found in the northern half of the country I will have to work on those near where we'll be in the south.  The Inca Wren is supposedly a pretty easy find at Machu Pichu, so fingers crossed.  The black-and-white face, and streaked throat along with the rufous body make for a gorgeous little wren and one that you won't see anywhere else in the world.

• • •

17. Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager

Are you surprised that a third tanager made it in the top 25? I'm not--and this is just the tip of the ice-berg.  Another east slope specialty--this bird is found at much higher elevations, and referred to as an"emblematic" species of the upper montane forest.  Red, purple and black make it s standout--the mountain-tanagers in general are all pretty stunning and it was hard to pick one among the group.  Given that it's fairly common I hoped it would make it somewhat easier to pick up.

• • •

16. Andean Cock-of-the-Rock

Like the Resplendant Quetzal in Costa Rica, the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock is a symbol in Peru.  Often referred to as the national bird of Peru (it actually isn't) this 13" red (and orange) and black beast screams "Andes".  It breeds at leks like our Sage Grouse.  Can you imagine 25 or 50 of these at Henefer?  The males are polygamous and spend most of their time at the leks doing confrontational battles with other others.  Just an all around interesting bird--and worthy of the top 25.

• • •

In a couple days look for Part 2 where I'll cover #15 to #6  before finishing up with the top 5.  The birds only get more spectacular from here, and there might be a few surprises in the top 15.  If the first 10 were any indication, I bet you can imagine what a few of the next 15 will be!

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Prepping for Peru

posted by Tim Avery at
on Wednesday, March 14, 2012 

Trying to decide where to go on a vacation this year, my wife and I had been looking for months.  We looked at possibly returning to Costa Rica, or visiting any number of islands in the Bahamas.  We checked out Nicaragua, Belize, Hawaii, and even staying state side and in Florida.  Then by chance we saw a deal for a trip to Peru--and almost instantly we were both hooked.  We talked about it for several days, looked into flights, accommodations, things to do, and in the end decided we would go to Peru this fall.

So now with about 5 months till we plan on leaving it means learning the birds, and learning them fast.  But Peru is a whole other story.  Costa Rica had over 800 species, and I thought that was quite a task to learn the majority of the birds I might see.  But 800 is just a drop in the bucket in Peru.  How about 1,800 species?  That's right, one-thousand eight-hundred plus species of birds.  Granted in a 10 or 12 day trip you couldn't possibly come anywhere near seeing all those birds.  You could likely make a dozen trips all over the country and you still wouldn't come close.  But there has to be a number, a reasonable number worth shooting for... So what is it?

I picked up the Birds of Peru: Revised and Updated Edition on Amazon last week and have spent a great deal of my free time going through it, looking at the species, reading accounts, and trying to understand the maps, habitats, and ranges.  It is like no other bird book I have--being that there are just so many species and so much to learn.

We have basically figured out where we are going and how long we are spending and that has given me a rough idea of what is possible.  We will have a couple days on the coast in Lima, followed by a couple days over 11,000' in Cusco.  After that we are going into the far western edge of what is called Amazonia--giving us a taste of the birds of the Amazon.  After a couple days there we are returning to Cusco and spending 3 of the next 4 days just north of there in the Sacred Valley.   The other day will be spent deep in the mountains at the treasure of the Incan Empire--Machu Pichu.

Thsi trip will be similar to Costa Rica in that I won't be birding the entire time, and will pass a lot of places where I should go birding but just won't have time.  Unlike Costa Rica I probably won't be going back to Peru any time soon as it is pricey to get there.  In any event I have done the math and my preliminary research puts the realm of possibility in the 700-800 species range.  But I know better and based off what I learned in researching for Costa Rica.  350-500 species are either common, fairly common, or uncommon--and provide the sweet spot to shoot for.  My goal is to hit somewhere between 300-400 species while there.

In the coming weeks I will be writing a series of lead up posts including my Top 10 Species to See, my Top 10 Endemics to See, more information on the research, the birds, the places, etc.  This truly is the trip of a life time and the birds will be a major highlight.

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A Sure Sign of Spring

posted by Tim Avery at
on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 

Nothing in my mind is a surer sign of spring than American Robins singing in the middle of the night. We have a male that has set up territory in our neighbors backyard. I have heard the bird as early as 4:00am this past week and shot this yesterday around 6:45am on my phone. The microphone on my phone doesn't usually pick up sound all that well so that gives you an idea of how loud this bird is.


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Banded primary tips on Red-tails

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Sunday, March 11, 2012 

A few things about the pattern on the tips to the outer primaries of Red-tailed Hawks. On juvenile Harlan's, the tips are almost always banded instead of solid dark (see photo above, click to enlarge). However, a few can be solid like other races. Also, other races can show banded primary tips, especially Eastern and even more commonly on Krider's. One thing I have heard a bit too often is birders discussing the primary tips of adult birds....this issue only pertains to juveniles, so don't confuse the issue by trying to help determine the race of an adult based on primary tip pattern.

Hope this helps.

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Unlocking Migration's Secrets - Audubon Magazine

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Saturday, March 10, 2012 

This article was in the latest issue of Audubon magazine. As spring migration is picking up, I thought this would be an interesting read for all of you. Migration is like real life magic - a story going on all around us at all times. I love it. Good Birding!

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Costa Rica Recap - Part 3 of 3... Finally

posted by Tim Avery at
on Friday, March 9, 2012 

Signs like this dotted the Roads in the Highlands

The mountains that split Costa Rica into the Pacific and Caribbean sides rise up from sea level to over 13,000 feet and run from the Panama border north to Nicaragua.  From the lowlands you pass through various stages of jungle and rain forest into the cloud forests and the Paramo.  The terrain above the tree line is reminiscent of that in the high Uinta’s but with far more and interesting vegetation.  The cloud forests are lush and humid, and unlike anything in North America.  On our last 2 days in Costa Rica we traveled through the mountains—the following wraps up our 10 day adventure honeymoon in Costa Rica (I know--9 months later).

Day 9

On Monday the 20th we packed the car early in the morning, and left Uvita around 7:00am to head north into the mountains, back to San Jose and to end our trip at the Poas Volcano. From Uvita we traveled up the coast about 20 miles before turning east and following the Rio Baru up into the hills.  The windy road took a while, but after about an hour we rolled into San Isidro de General.  We made one stop just to the west of town on an overlook where BLUE-AND-WHITE SWALLOWS were circling.  Several SHORT-TAILED HAWKS were soaring over the road, and a few miles down Sam spotted a CHESTNUT-MANDIBLED TOUCAN sitting on the side of the road.

 San Isidro De General from above.

After stopping for a few minutes to refuel and grab some food, we hopped on the Pan American Highway to begin our accent into the Talamanca Cordillera and the most reliable location in the world for Resplandant Quetzal.  The actual distance to Kilometer 70 and the stretch of high elevation highway was only 40 or so miles, but the two lane “highway” was slow going because of the traffic and the visibility.  As the road rise in elevation you enter the clouds and the visibility drops to under 100’ and in some areas even less.  It took about an hour and a half  from leaving the valley before we emerged above the clouds into  the blue skies near Villa Mills.  We took the drive out to the town to see what we could find but only encountered a RUFOUS-COLLARED SPARROW.

 One of numerous Rufous-collared Sparrows seen in the area.

Hopping back on the highway we kept heading north. Along the highway we started spotting SOOTY ROBINS everywhere.  I pulled over to photograph one which posed nicely a few feet from the car.

Sooty Robin along the Pan-American Highway

Further up the road we pulled over again where I could hear what I thought was a WRENTHRUSH calling form the understory.  As I sat pishing several birds started moving around and sure enough the Wrenthrush moved to the edge of the bushes.  I had heard this bird was very difficult to get good looks at, and was glad I was able to see it nicely.

 Secretive Wrenthrush peeking through the understory.

A little after 10:00am we rolled into Kilometer 70 and took the road to Paraiso de Quetzal to see if we could find one of the most sought after life birds for birders around the world.  It had started to sprinkle as we arrived and I knew that was a possibility as we were in the rain forest, and more specifically the cloud forest where currently we were in the clouds!  Along the road in there were several NIGHTINGALE-THRUSHES perched on snags and the ground nearby. We parked at the hotel, and walked in just as several people were heading up the mountain to go look for quetzals.  Inside they spoke basically no English but we were able to talk out what we wanted to do.  They pointed us to the back of the building and the hummingbird feeders and was truly a spectacle.  At the feeders were dozens of FIERY-THROATED and MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRDS fighting over the sugar water.  I say dozens and I mean it; about two-dozen of each species were flocking to the food source.  And they were not afraid of people at all.

 Fiery-throated Hummingbird at Paraiso de Quetzal

After spending some time taking pictures and enjoying the show, the guide took us and we headed up the hill into the wild avocado orchard. The switchbacks up were paved and after a few minutes we were in the forest.  NIGHTINGALE-THRUSHES were singing everywhere.  As we walked the guide started to whistle, switching back and forth between Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl and a Quetzal call.  Some birds were reacting but no quetzals came in.  YELLOWISH FLYCATCHER could be heard calling in the trees, along with OCHRACEOUS PEWEE, RUFOUS-BREASTED WREN, and GRAY-BREASTED WOOD-WREN.  A small flock of BARRED PARAKEET came flying over and were gone in a moment, but the high elevation specialty was an exciting pickup.

 Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush at Cerro De La Muerte

After walking around a while the guide stopped and start whistling again, then he pointed and said, “TAPACULO”.  Two SILVERY-FRONTED TAPACULO were chattering in the brushes ahead of us.  I started pishing and one shot out across the trail into a bush nearby.  Despite my best efforts the bird would not emerge for photos, but I was happy with the brief glimpse.  Further up the trail the guide stopped again and started whistling—this time about 20 or 20 hummingbirds came in and were circling above us.  I had never seen anything like that and it was pretty cool to watch—but still no quetzal.  The ground was like a bog and the rain was constant.  After an hour in the forest I told the guide, we were done.  Sam said we could continue, but it seemed pretty hopeless.  Hiking back the guide stopped and pointed out a couple VOLCANO HUMMINGBIRDS feeding in a bush nearby. My camera was away in my backpack and I didn’t want to take it out in the rain to try and get a photo because I thought I would see more—I never saw another.

 The Only Quetzals we saw at Paraiso de Quetzal

Back at the hotel we watched the hummingbirds for a little while longer before hopping in the car and heading north towards San Jose.  We dropped out of the forests and back into the central valley and made our way through the bustling cities that create the capital area.  It was probably the most stressful driving I have ever done.  The highway would become city streets, then turn into highway again, then turn into a round-about, and then back into highway, and so on and so forth.  It was nuts, and I was ecstatic when we made it through and to the east end of San Jose in Alajuela. From here we took the short drive out of the city towards Poasito.  Just outside of Alajuela I spotted a STRIPED OWL perched on the power wires along the road. We stopped and took a look before continuing up again gaining elevation as we made our way up the south slope of Poas Volcano.

Striped Owl we saw along the highway.

Along the road we saw a couple birds, nothing new for the trip. Finally, in the late afternoon we arrived at the Poas Lodge.  It is a deceptive looking place, but I highly recommend it for anyone staying in the area.  The caretakers were from South Africa and extremely nice.  They also had great food, and an amazing view of San Jose from their restaurant.

 Poas Lodge

After settling in I went out to the hummingbird feeders where there were PURPLE-THROATED MOUNTAIN GEMS and VIOLET SABREWINGS fighting over the sugar water. The hummers were not nearly as tame as those earlier in the day.  As I watched a flycatcher nearby caught my attention, it was a MOUNTAIN ELEANIA, a life bird and one of only a handful of small flycatchers I saw on the trip.

Mountain Eleania at Poas Lodge

Back in the lodge, I made my way to the restaurant where there were more feeders, and a few hummingbirds were visiting.  A SCINTILLANT HUMMINGBIRD stopped by briefly—while in the distance I caught a glimpse but more the sound of a flock of AZURE-HEADED JAYS flying across a meadow.  Also from the lodge I could hear BROWN JAYS making a racket out in the clouds, but too far away to see.  We ended the day at the lodge with an amazing view of the city lights below after dark.

 Scintillant Hummingbird at Poas Lodge

Day 10

For our last day in Costa Rica we started off the morning by driving up the road into Poas Volcano National Park. After parking we started walking towards the visitor center when I spotted a couple LARGE-FOOTED FINCHES digging through the debris under some bushes.

Large-footed Finch at Poas Volcano

After trying to take a few pictures we headed up to the volcano. There weren’t really any birds on the way up, nor at the actual crater.  We spent about 40 minutes on top waiting for a clear view between long stretches of being fogged in.  When we finally did it was an amazing view, and there was a single bird to top it off— a RED-TAILED HAWK soaring out of the crater.

 Poas Volcano

Walking back down the road to the visitor center the birding started to pickup. First, several COMMON BUSH-TANAGERs flew by, followed by a couple BLACK-BILLED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSHES foraging along the trail.  Near the restrooms I spotted a lifer in a RUDDY-CAPPED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH that allowed a couple of shots.

Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush at Poas Volcano

Continuing down the road we found a few SOOTY-CAPPED BUSH-TANAGERs, then got great looks at a SLATY FLOWERPIERCER.  Nearby a SLATY FINCH didn’t give us long enough looks for photos, followed by a BLACK-AND-YELLOW SILKY-FLYCATCHER flying over.  And then that was it.  It got quiet and we didn’t see nay more birds walking back to the car.

 Slaty Flowerpiercer at Poas Volcano--awesome bill.

Driving out of the park we headed to the Doka Estate Coffee Plantation to buy some coffee, and just take a look around.  We didn’t spend a great deal of time at the plantation before heading over to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens.  In the parking lot there were a few PASSERINI’S TANAGERS, the Caribbean counterpart to the Cherrie’s we saw all over the previous 9 days. After paying the $35 per person entrance fee we made our way into the gardens and right away were stopped by the fruit feeders and a handful of tanagers coming in.  A BAY-HEADED TANAGER was a nice addition for the trip here, while the BLUE-GRAY TANAGERS came and went.

 Bay-headed Tanager at La Paz Waterfall Gardens

We headed down and walked through a couple exhibits before ending up in the hummingbird gardens.  If you have never been to Costa Rica this is a must see.  It is pretty much the coolest place to see hummingbirds  in the country (or at least that we visited)  There were probably 30 or 40 feeders, and more hummingbirds than you could count.  The number of species only makes it even more of a spectacle.  COPPERY-HEADED EMERALD, BLACK-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD, VIOLET SABREWING, GREEN-CROWNED BRILLIANT, GREEN THORNTAIL,  GREEN HERMIT, PURPLE-THROATED MOUNTAIN-GEM, BROWN and GREEN VIOLET-EAR, and BANANAQUITS roamed the gardens.  There was a constant flurry of activity and it was almost hard to keep up.  I added 5 lifers while in that small area and spent well over an hour photographing the birds there.

Mountain-Gem, Sabrewing, Thorntail, Emerald, Brilliant, and Violet-Ear

Aside from the wild birds here, the aviary was exceptional, and we were able to get close looks at a bunch of colorful and local birds.  The Toucan cage allowed visitors to hold toucans and see them at an arms length.

 Me holding a couple young Toucans.

Even if you don’t get to see a number of species in the wild, it’s cool to see so many so close to get an idea of what you can see.  Continuing through the gardens I added SILVERY-THROATED TANGER and saw a couple SLATE-THROATED REDSTARTS.  The trail down to the waterfalls put us back in rain forest .

Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush at La Paz Waterfall Gardens

SLATY-BACKED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSHES were singing all over the place.  I got some night shots of one on a hillside along the trail.  At the first waterfall a COMMON BUSH-TANAGER made an appearance while a few other birds called in the forest—that I never did ID.  I got excited for a minute when I saw what I suspected was a Torrent Flycatcher, but when I got a second look I felt it was too big, only confirming that it was actually an AMERICAN DIPPER when I got my binoculars on it.  Perhaps the strangest bird to see so many 1000’s of miles from home that I see just a few miles from my house here in Utah.

 American Dipper at La Paz Waterfall Gardens

After making our way to the bottom of the falls, we caught the bus back to the visitor center.  Before we took off we headed out to the fruit feeders one more time—and were lucky we did.  3 or 4 SILVER-THROATED TANAGERS were coming in along with PASSERINI’S and BLUE-GRAY TANAGERS.  A handful of MASKED TITYRA came in for a minute, before the bell of the ball showed up.  Just about 5 feet away a GOLDEN-BROWED CHLOROPHONIA appeared—too close to photograph but an amazing thing to see so close.  After backing up I started to get some shots of what was truly an awesome bird to see.  I didn’t include this bird in my top 10 list, and quickly realized what a mistake that was.  It is a stunner, a spectacular show stopping bird.  Each person that walked by stopped and admired it when I pointed it out.  A bird even a non-birder can admire.

 Golden-browed Chlorophonia at La Paz Waterfall Gardens

After enjoying the bird for a few more minutes we headed out.  Along the road back a flock of BROWN JAYS flew across the road and into the jungle.  Back to Poasito we got our bags from the lodge, and headed towards San Jose.  And just like that the trip came to an end.  Before we knew it we were sitting in the airport, waiting for 12 hours overnight for our flight home. The last lifer of the trip—the Chlorophonia; what a way to end a journey! And the next day we were back home, our honeymoon over, and 4400 pictures to go through.  The memories will last forever but the brief trip is already a blur…

Now 9 months later the pictures are done, the lists are entered in eBird and I know I saw 245 species, while in Costa Rica.   It’s not a spectacular number given how many species can be found there, but the 200+ lifers were most I had had in a year since the first year I was birding almost 20 years go.

In the time since the 2nd part, I received word from Timarai Bamboo Resort that they have closed their business. I think about the 50 or so lifers I added in the area and realize that no one will ever get to experience that.  I feel lucky that I was able to.

Costa Rica holds so many other beautiful places, and we only touched on a few. We both knew the minute we left we wanted to go back.  It’s just a matter of when.  I know I will go back and can’t wait for the time I do.  The best part of the entire journey was the person by my side while I did it; the memories with Sam will be there long after the birds.

 Our last morning in Costa Rica at Poas Volcano.

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A Bird of a Different Feather

posted by Tim Avery at
on Monday, March 5, 2012 

This past Sunday I planned on getting out birding and running amok around northern Utah County and southern Salt Lake County with fellow Utah Birders Jeff Bilsky and Carl Ingwell.  But the plans fell through and I found myself awake at 7:30 am on a Sunday morning and wasn't sure birding was the right direction to start my day.  I mean don't get me wrong--any day birding is a good day--but I just wasn't feeling the bug at the moment, so I opted to do something different.  As the Yellow-rumped Warblers shipped in the yard, and American Robins sang up and down the block, I turned on the broiler, washed my hands and grabbed my chefs knife--it was time to make salsa. Say what? That's right--salsa.  Over the years I have crafted many a variety of the spicy condiment, and every once in a while I make a large batch to bottle and use for a few months so I don't have to make any.  Truth be told I can't stand store bought salsa--the thought of Pace Picante makes me gag. So every couple months my kitchen becomes a mini salsa factory.

Getting Prepped

The first time I made my own salsa was 4 or 5 years ago--and it was hot. Literally, so hot I could only eat a little at a time.  Since then I have retooled, changed, and updated my batches to come up with a flavor that is sweet, spicy, smokey, and savory.  Its a mix of chunky and sauce--it's the perfect blend to go along with chips, in a taco, or even on eggs. So anyways, while my tomatoes, peppers, and garlic were roasting I watched the Flickers chase the starling away from the suet.

Roasting the Goods

 Juncos came and went and the House filled with the aroma of peppers and garlic.  After the salsa was made and bottled, I decided I needed to name it--and being a birder, a bird name is the obvious choice.  There are so many birds that are evoked just by looking at the colors of salsa.  Oranges, reds, greens, and yellows bring to mind the most vibrant of birds.  But let's be honest, no one wants a wimpy "Wilson's Warbler Salsa".  Salsa has heat and can be "fierce", so it needs a name that represents that.  When I think of a fierce bird with red on it, I think of the Red-tailed Hawk--and thus, Redtail Salsa was born.
The Label

By the time I designed a label, got them printed, and adhered them to the bottles it was dark, and any chance of birding for the day was lost--aside from the feeders and a few short drives around Sandy and Cottonwood heights.  But that's okay--as today I can go birding, and enjoy a few scoops of Redtail, perhaps while I watch a  Red-tailed Hawk.  When you're a bird nerd, you can tie just about anything into birds and birding--even salsa!

The Finished Product

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