Friday, January 28, 2011

Deep Snow at Millennium Park

Millennium Park, West Roxbury, MA

The snow is still too deep to do the normal circuit around Millennium Park. I started at the first parking lot and quickly figured out (boots full of snow) that I'd be wise to move on.

Down to the canoe launch where the water is open and the waterfowl assemble

The regular folk--mute swans, mallards, Canada geese plus

a large group of herring & ring-billed gulls (nothing exotic that I could see)

and our old friends, the mergansers--hooded

and common (only females today)

(this photo is actually from Mill Street)

Most interesting encounter today--a very vocal fish crow hanging out in the Roche Bros parking lot.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Return to Mill Street

Assemblage of Waterfowl, Charles River, Mill Street, Dover, MA

As has been the case for the last couple of years, the area below the waterfall on the Needham/Dover line is one of the few local spots of open water in January. Here 50 odd mallards can be found all winter long, along with black ducks, Canada geese, hooded mergansers, common mergansers (4 today), and the occasional rarity.

Last year we had a family of Barrow's goldeneye come for a stay. The goldeneye are back this year, but appear to be more of the common variety

though when it comes to females, I'm never quite sure...

(sorry for the graininess of these images--I had the camera on the wrong setting...)

Most surprising Mill Street find. A gray catbird!

I know they will sometimes over-winter, but this is no weather for a catbird! (Wouldn't you be happier in Central America?) Hope the berry supply holds out...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Return of the Leucistic Goldfinch

Last January I posted about a remarkable bird that was showing up at my feeder. This week it returned, looking even whiter than it did last year.

Some more images.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Costa Rica: Epilogue and Chronological Links

Here are the Costa Rica posts in chronological order. Note: we were there for seven days, two of which were travel days, so the day numbering here is a little off--mostly for clarity's sake.

Day One: Villa Blanca
Day Two: Monkeys and Motmots
Day Two: La Fortuna
Day Three: Tabacon
Day Four: Xandari
Day Five: Carara
Day Six: A walk down the road
Day Six: A walk down the beach
Day Seven: Los Sueños

Epilogue. One of the pleasures of visiting Costa Rica in the winter is encountering our summer birds. Except you may encounter them in enormous flocks. Take the orchard oriole, for example. It's not uncommon to see a few of them up here in the summer-time. My jaw dropped one day sitting at the Xandari when I saw a continuous stream pour from just one tree. There must have been a hundred of them.

The other appeal of a trip like this is the way it allows you to repeat the excitement of being a junior birder, when everything is so new (really not so long ago for me). Costa Rica, because of its bio-diversity, allows you to have this experience of newness repeatedly.

Final notes:
  • My "once-in-a-lifetime" description has more to do with the tier of resorts we stayed at than the expense and accessibility of getting to and traveling around Costa Rica per se. I'd like to come back some day.
  • Ticos are often described as crazy drivers (which discourages some people from renting cars), but I actually found the driving relatively easy (Boston is a good preparation), only really stressing out when I found speeding cars pulling up behind me impatiently on narrow mountain roads.
  • Night driving is probably a bad idea in the mountains, but is not impossible along the Pacific Coast. Do watch out for the occasional collapsed roadway.
  • Do get a GPS device, but don't trust it absolutely.
  • The driver on the Carara trip may not have always paid close attention to the road, but he made sure to toot his horn when seeing a child (or a great-tailed grackle!) on the shoulder of the road.
  • We were warned about insects in hotel rooms. To my wife's relief, and to my mild chagrin, we only spotted one--a garden variety hotel cockroach--the whole trip. (This may have something to do with the location and tier of hotels we visited).
  • We ended up not visiting Manuel Antonio National Park, one of our key goals when initially planning the trip. The birding is reportedly not top-notch and the good trails are apparently still closed because of last summer's storm damage. (And I had already seen plenty of monkeys).

Costa Rica Day Seven: Los Sueños Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort

Royal Tern, Playa Herradura, Costa Rica

I was ready to be ambivalent about Los Sueños. It has a mixed reputation in the tour books, seen as a particularly aggressive development project and an English-speaking colony in a Spanish-speaking country.

But then I discovered the warbler trees and the macaw bushes...

We only had a half a day, really, at Los Sueños. It was our final stop and our launching point for the drive back to the airport the next day. I had a couple of hours in the afternoon to explore the grounds.

By the way, the beach at Los Sueños isn't much of a "beach" but it IS teeming with wildlife. Herons and egrets of all sorts, whimbrels, willets, and spotted sandpipers.

We rented a kayak and took a tour of the bay--very calm water but beware the jet skiers--and got stunning views of the environs, including close-up looks at the royal tern (above) and brown pelicans hanging out a buoy.

OK, about the warbler trees and the macaw bushes...

I spent most of my time at one magical place, the bridge connecting the hotel area with the club area on the way to the marina. Working the river, the now exceedingly familiar bare-throated tiger heron

with its compatriots, the white ibises.

and then a ringed kingfisher flew up (I'm not sure I even want to know what it has in its grasp).

Working the trees along the riverbank were warblers, both yellow

and, especially, Tennessee.

and this interesting bird, which I took for a warbler until I saw its beak

--a red-legged honeycreeper in non-breeding plumage, it turns out.

Also, myriad noisy palm tanagers (much more beautiful than they appear in field guides)

and then, just everything else

Clay-colored robin (Costa Rica's national bird)

orange-chinned parakeet

(you should be able to recognize this bird by now!)

and a tiny common tody flycatcher

Crossing the bridge, and recording my giant iguana encounters,

I heard a now-familiar squawk. Macaws! I looked around and saw the pair land in a nearby tree.

They left flying directly over pool at the Marriott. (The Marriott has clearly managed its relationship effectively with this scarlet macaw pair).

On to the marina, with its mangrove swallows

and a glimpse of what the area must have looked like before development (sigh)

by now, birding fatigue had set in

Oh another hummingbird

I can't ID it but I do like the way it's sticking out its tongue...

I finally cracked when I saw this non-descript finch

grassquit? seed-eater? I should have been excited, but I just felt very tired (and the field guides haven't been very helpful either, though I believe it is female blue-black grassquit).

It was time to go home. Time for one more gorgeous sunset.

Up at six the next morning, I stepped out into the narrow balcony and surveyed the scene. Hey, look at that, a female Baltimore oriole.

See you in May!

Well, that's it. A once-in-a-lifetime Costa Rica trip, a splendid 25th anniversary destination, with some good birding on the side. I hope you enjoyed this series of posts. Please email me or comment here if you have any questions.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Costa Rica Day Six: A walk down the beach

Tropical Kingbird, Playa Esterillos Este, Costa Rica

I had time for one more walk down the beach. I read the previous evening that the beaches in this area were divided by "nature-rich estuaries" (!). I had to see for myself.

And indeed, I eventually came upon an outlet entering into a mangrove swamp. And there was our old friend, the spotted sandpiper, and our more distant friends, the whimbrel

and the tri-colored heron

OK OK. I've got to say it. Here is the dirty secret of Costa Rican beaches, and maybe of Costa Rican birding in general. The bird you will encounter most--more than the tropical kingbird--which sits on every wire ever strung between two poles in this country--maybe even more than the raucous and ever-present great-tailed grackle--is the black vulture. Not only do you see them soaring wherever you go, they (in this area at least) are the dominant shore bird.

They know exactly when the tide is receding and they stand around waiting for large dead things to wash up.

Sometimes they are exceedingly lucky. I personally find the following image rather upsetting, but it is part of the beach scene here.

They are also quite stubborn in protecting their carrion, and won't be budged by the casual beach walker.

So, who will take on the black vulture? Check it out.

Another common beach presence in this part of the country is the yellow-headed caracara (its cousin the crested caracara is also common, though I found it a little bit more shy).

These black vultures might think they're safe, sitting on their palm perches waiting for the tide to change.

But they didn't take account of this caracara pair who will have nothing to do with it.

Watch them as they drive the black vultures away.

This scene continued for quite a while, though eventually the vultures got the message. Apparently, the caracara are also carrion feeders, so the vultures are not simply taking their perches, they are direct competitors for food.