Saturday, January 15, 2011

Costa Rica Day 1: Villa Blanca

Tropical Kingbird, San Ramon, Alajuela, Costa Rica

We landed at 2, rented a car, and managed to make it out to Villa Blanca, a lovely resort in the Los Angeles Cloud Forest north of San Ramon, by nightfall. The first bird photographed was the tropical kingbird, seen above, roadside. We would see more of them.

Villa Blanca offers a series of beautiful detached lodges, each with its own fireplace and porch. Sitting on the porch, looking over the landscape, I heard rustling in the grass. I ran to get my binoculars. A huge black bird. A black guan? (See video below). Soon colorful birds I had never seen before came streaming past the porch, landing in a nearby tree. They would roost there over night. (At least one of them was a bright yellow silver-throated tanager). Then it was dark and I looked forward to the next morning. I would try to record the dawn chorus and then my wife and I would go on a guided tour of the property.

Here is a portion of the dawn chorus. It was windy and rainy. One of the voices is a bananaquit; the other I'm not sure of.

We met Warner, the local naturalist, at 6 a.m., and toured the grounds. Warner is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic birding veteran, armed with a well-stocked birdsong ipod that he used to engage a few of the shier birds. I was particularly happy to hear the song of the black-faced solitaire, rivaling the hermit thrush's in its otherworldliness.

Even my non-birding wife got into the act, capturing this charming image of a blue-and-white swallow on the church.

Most of the photos this day, though, were like the one below. It is a cloud forest. While the birds were active and singing, there was rarely enough light to take good photos. Take this silver-throated tanager. Kind of washed-out, no?

I did muster a few half-decent images, though. Here is a bananaquit feeding on an ornamental banana tree.

Here's a glimpse at one of Costa Rica's few truly endemic species--the coppery-headed emerald.

Here's a yellowish flycatcher.

And here is the favorite bird of many Costa Rican birders: the crimson-collared tanager. Stunning, no?

Walking around later that morning, we encountered a pair of relatively tame large birds. I think they were gray-headed chachalaca, though I'm not entirely confident in the ID. (See video below).

But perhaps the finest birding location was just staying put on the porch. Bird after bird, from brown jay to golden-olive woodpecker

to Montezuma oropendola

would fly up, perch in a tree branch, and then move on. The Montezuma oropendola, by the way, has the coolest vocalizations--not exactly musical. More like radio static followed by computer blips. Montezuma Oropendola sound

Below is a video compiling a view from our porch, a very blurry glimpse at what I took to be a black guan, a somewhat clearer view of the so-called chachalaca, and a look at the king of the hummingbird feeder, a ornery green-crowned brilliant. He wouldn't let the other hummingbirds come close to the feeder area. I've slowed the video down to give you a better look at his awesome colors.

Here's a total list of all birds I encountered on this property, on a rainy and cool January 7.

Gray-headed Chachalaca, black guan, black vulture, turkey vulture, white-winged dove, white-tipped dove, brown-hooded parakeet, squirrel cuckoo, green-crowned brilliant, rufous-tailed hummingbird, coppery-headed emerald, golden-olive woodpecker, spotted woodcreeper, white-throated spadebill, yellowish flycatcher, dusky-capped flycatcher, tropical kingbird, brown jay, blue-and-white swallow, plain wren, house wren, white-breasted woodwren, wood thrush, black-faced solitaire, clay-colored robin, yellow warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, black-and-white warbler, olive-crowned yellowthroat, bananaquit, common bush-tanager, Passerini's Tanager, Crimson-collared tanager, silver-throated tanager, variable seedeater, yellow-faced grassquit, black-striped sparrow, rufous-collared sparrow, melodious blackbird, great-tailed grackle, baltimore oriole, Montezuma oropendola, tawny-capped euphonia.

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