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Costa Rica revisited

I know, this is not Vancouver Island, but I just couldn’t resist. I spent 23 days in Costa Rica back in 2008. At that time my camera was a point-and-shoot Canon Powershot S5 IS. I also had a Canon 430EX flash that was used on many of my shots. My main purpose of the trip was the photography and for this reason I did not go with a group, but rather on my own. I also only visited three lodges, Selva Verde in the lowlands for 6 days, Rancho Naturalista at middle elevation for 9 days and Savegre Mountain Lodge at high elevation for 8 days.

After getting back home I processed the images to the best of my, and the software’s ability and posted them on my site on Pbase. In 2011 I switched to Smugmug and ended up reworking some of the images at that time. Just recently I was looking at my images on Smugmug and I realized that there were some that I knew I could improve. The software (I use Photoshop Elements) has improved greatly, and so has my ability. Ultimately most of the images were reworked at least a little, and some quite dramatically. In fact a few of my favorite images are ones that I had totally rejected at first and this go around I was able to make them look much better.

I had intended to keep the images to 10, but when I had narrowed it down to 14 I was really struggling to eliminate any more, so I decided to keep them all. So here they are with some notes. Hope you enjoy and if you want to see more of my Costa Rica images look at my slideshow gallery here: https://terrythormin.smugmug.com/CostaRica/Costa-Rican-Slideshow/The-Best-of-Costa-Rica/ .

Central Valley 4aThis is a view from the highway between San Jose and Selva Verde, my first stop. It is the Central Highlands looking down into the Sarapiqui River Valley. The orange trees are Mountain Immortelle Trees, Erythrina poeppigiana, and are a favorite of hummingbirds and tanagers.

Emerald Toucanet 7b - ChinThis Emerald Toucanet was photographed at Chinchona, a small town in the Central Highlands about half way between San Jose and Selva Verde. An enterprising local set up a platform and bird feeders that attract a good variety of birds and this has become a regular stop for birders and photographers.

Green Basilisk Lizard baby 5b - SVThis is a young Green Basalisk Lizard, also know as the Jesus Christos Lizard for it’s ability to run across water. Check out the very long toes on the hind feet. This was a very common lizard at Selva Verde, especially along the shores of the Sarapiqui River.

Long-nosed Bats 4c - SVI took a couple of boat trips along the Sarapiqui River and saw a good variety of wildlife. One of the highlights for me though was these little Long-nosed Bats. They roost during the day in vertical rows on tree truncks overhanging the river. Most of the time they are so well camouflaged against the bark of the tree they are almost impossible to see. This was the one time they stuck out like a sore thumb.

Red Potato Beetle - Leptinotarsa rubiginosa 1b - SVThis is a Red Potato Beetle,  Leptinotarsa rubiginosa. I spent a fair bit of time looking for interesting insects at all three lodges. At Selva verde, because many of the trails were elevated, and covered boardwalks. it was easy to go out looking even in the rain or at night.

Mantled Howler Monkey 14b - SVAlthough Mantled Howler Monkeys were quite common at Selva Verde, they managed to hide very well in the tree tops, and I heard them far more often than I saw them. On this one occasion a small troop of them came out to the trees right beside the main road that runs past the lodge and I managed to get a series of photos including this shot.

Snowcap in flight 1e - RNOne of the highlights among the hummingbirds was the Snowcap. This pretty little hummer is endemic to southern Nicaragua, Costa Rica and western Panama. Here it is feeding at Porterweed, a native plant that is commonly used as hedges and is closely related to verbena. The best place for this species is Rancho Naturalista

Crimson-collared Tanager 4c - RNWhen I was planning the trip, the one place I was adamant I was going to visit was Rancho Naturalista. That’s because I had heard of the bird feeder setup there and had seen many photos taken of birds at the feeders. This is a Crimson-collared Tanager, a regular visitor to the feeders.

Black-cheeked Woodpecker 6b

Another frequent visitor to the Rancho Naturalista bird feeders was the Black-cheeked Woodpecker. This photo was originally a total reject until I looked at it recently and realized that I could easily clean up the messy background.

Collared Aracari 7b - RNI love the toucans, with their large colourful bills. This is a Collared Aracari, a smaller member of the toucan family and a regular at the feeders at Rancho Naturalista.

Moth C2b - RNI have never been able to put a name to this beautiful little moth. Another reason Ranch Naturalist appealed to me is their black light setup for attracting insects at night. Not only does it bring in some great insects like this moth, but it also attracts a number of species of birds that feed on the insects and don’t go to the regular feeders.

Green Violetear 4d - SavI really enjoyed trying to photograph the hummingbirds, and in the end I got photos of 23 species. This is the Violet-green Hummingbird, I high elevation species in Costa Rica that I photographed at Savegre Mountain Lodge. This species has wandered as far north as southern Canada.

Walking Stick B1c - SavWhen I first saw this walking stick, I thought “Wow, this is bizarre”, and I still think the same. It really looked like it was covered in moss, and I am not at all convinced that this is natural. I would really love to hear from an expert as to what is going on here. Again photographed at Savegre Mountain Lodge.

Collared Redstart 1c - SavMy last photo is a Collared Redstart, a species of tropical warbler. One of my favorite trip birds, it was oblivious to my presence, and several times I found myself backpeddling because it was too close for the camera to focus. This is another high altitude species found at Savegre Mountain Lodge.

Along the Gorge Waterway – Annie Pang

There is nothing quite as therapeutic as a lovely walk along the Gorge Waterway in the sunshine.  For those of you who do not live here however, I should mention that Victoria weather at best is very unpredictable and, usually at this time of year, very gloomy and damp.  The low light can make it rather camera unfriendly but I always take the camera along just in case.

In late January and early February, I was fortunate enough to get out and make the best of a few sunny days and see what was new, what was old, and what was expected or unexpected, all the while hoping to get a few good shots to record as much as I could.   Some days I lucked out and of the many shots I took usually a few were usable, sometimes more if the lighting was right and my reflexes weren’t too tardy.

On a particularly lovely day I managed to capture some rare images of ducks that I have found very hard to photograph, one being the female Bufflehead and the other, the Common Goldeneye.  In the case of the Common Goldeneye male, it usually swims too far out for my camera to be able to get a decent image but this one time it was just close enough.  It was also challenging because it was diving for fish and spent very little time above water.  The image I got when it surfaced was very dark but as I knew I had captured the eye (very hard for me) I managed to lighten it up sufficiently to get a sharp enough image, the first I have ever been able to get of this species of duck.  I was exhilarated that I had managed to get a shot that was not extremely blurry for a change!!

P1190054 Golden Eye Gorge Jan 2013 HPcrp edit DI

Common Goldeneye

Along the waterway, especially on the weekends, there are always people walking their dogs, jogging, pushing babies in carriages, boaters out in kayaks or, far more irritating, motor boats zipping by causing all the ducks I am trying to photograph to flock off in all directions.  This is a very frustrating experience especially when the perfect shot may present itself.  People like to stop and socialize, compare dog breeds and generally just enjoy the lovely scenery of the waterway.  And on these sunny days when I am out, the green grass and blue sky make it feel more like March than January or early February.  But I have to wonder how many of the passersby know anything about the various ducks on the waterway or just take them for granted as part of the scenery.

P1190082 Along the Gorge Waterway crpd DI

Gorge Waterway

During the time this blog covers we took our two little dogs walking with us but as soon as an opportunity presented itself for a photograph I would quickly passed my dog leash to my partner and clicked away as fast as this slow camera allowed.  Over several days I was able to get a variety of species.  In my previous blog I included a photograph of a male Bufflehead, and in this one I offer a fairly decent pic of a female.   The trick in getting a photograph of her while she was fishing was to follow the bubbles as she was underwater and which gave me a fair idea where she would surface.  It worked well this time!

P1190089 female bufflehead HPcrpDI with verse

Female Bufflehead

We have two species of Mergansers here on the waterway as well, one being the Hooded Merganser.  I got this image of three males in one shot, perhaps not as clear as I would like but the winter ducks are usually a fair ways out as I’ve mentioned.  I have observed only one female so far, and was unable to get a shot of her.  Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to have such odds for us human gals.  We’d certainly be much more “sought after” because of our scarceness.   I certainly wouldn’t mind having three males vying for MY attention.  But I digress.  Here is the picture of the three males.

P1190041 Hooded Mergansers Hp DIa

Hooded mergansers

The other species of merganser we get here is the Common Merganser.  I managed some far off shots of both a male and a female merganser.  They are quite unique in appearance.

P1190049 Common Merganser HPcrpDI

Male Common Merganser

P1190072 Common Merganser female HP DI

Female Common Merganser

I would say that the most common and easy to photograph winter ducks we get along here are American Wigeons.  Like Mallards, these are not diving ducks as are the others I have or will be showing in this blog, but are “dunking” ducks.  Now in past years, I have often found one pair of Eurasian Wigeons in a raft (a group of ducks is referred to as a “raft” as opposed to a “flock”), but not this year.  Since I didn’t get any exceptional shots of Wigeons so far this year I have included a couple of shots from a previous year that do include the Eurasian Wigeon and its mate.  As you will see, the Eurasian has a beautiful red head and even its mate, though not very colourful, differs in appearance to the female American Wigeon in that she has darker, almost chestnut feathers around the head and body.  They do make a handsome pair.  I am fond of Wigeons as they have such friendly and pretty faces and the males have what looks to be green mascara running down the back of the eyes and neck.  Lovely!

Eurasion Wigeon male and female in wigeon raft 012 DI

Mixed flock of American and Eurasian Wigeons

Eurasion Wigeon male and female wigeon Feb 5 09 Gorge WW 010 DI

Male and female Eurasian Wigeons

These shots are rare for me, but I wanted to share them with you as I observed the number of birds become fewer and fewer.   So far I have seen no other species, but if I do, I will keep you updated.

The swans were far off on the far side of the waterway, sunning or foraging and the Great Blue Heron has not been seen since that day in January when it magically flew up and landed for some fishing.  I miss the numbers of birds I am accustomed to seeing but am grateful I have at least been able to share some with you.

Back at home, I have had a rare and sweet visitor for many weeks now.  A Ruby-crowned Kinglet has become a regular at my suet feeder, although the little mite is so quick and never still, I can’t tell you how many tries it took before I finally managed to get this shot.  I wanted to end this blog with a poem (yes, another sonnet) and one last picture of this sweet little bird who comforts me when I am unable to get out and enjoy my walks along the lovely Gorge Waterway.  I still feel so fortunate to be living so close to such a lovely marriage of man and wildlife (although I do wish that dogs were not allowed to chase the ducks on the beach by the old schoolhouse!).   The last poetograph is one more of the waterway and follows this sonnet and picture of the Kinglet.  Thank you for joining me on this little part of my life with Nature and people.

 

Come little Kinglet

 

Come little Kinglet, come and visit me

and lift my spirits with a lovely view,

pretending I’m not here that you don’t see

the shots I try in vain to take of you.

The outside world awaits me but for now

the sight of you sustains me for a while,

so like a hummingbird in flight somehow

your antics to grab suet make me smile.

Though when the sunshine calls I’m off and gone

to see what ducks are on the waterway,

when I come back it’s you I’m counting on

to give the time at home a sunny ray.

Along the Gorge I walk to find a duck,

then I return to you, my prayer for luck…

P1190081 Ruby Crowned Kinglet home Feb 2, 2013 HPcrp DI

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

P1190083 Gorge Waterway crpd DI with verse end

Gorge Waterway

 

© Annie Pang February 7, 2013.

A January First Big Day – Terry Thormin

I have been birding for more than 55 years now, and right from the beginning I have kept lists, life lists, country lists, provincial lists and year lists. For some reason the most important list for me has always been my year list for the province that I am residing in at that time. I always have a goal for the number of species I would like to get, and it usually involves a minimum number and a higher number to strive for. Since moving from Alberta to Vancouver Island three years ago I have revised my minimum number downward partly because I find it difficult to get off the island to do any birding and partly because I tend not to chase birds as much as I used to because I am far more involved in my photography. None-the-less there is still that minimum goal and for here I figure that if I am birding regularly throughout the year I should be able to get to 190 species without too much difficulty. Last year I aimed for 200 species and just managed to get there.

The upshot of this is that I like to start the year off with as many species on New Year’s Day as possible, a tradition that many keen listers participate in. So binoculars and spotting scope in hand I set forth on January 1st at the crack of dawn (well, slightly after) to see how well I could do. Just as with the year’s list I set a minimum for a single day, and for January first, provided that the weather does not end up being terrible which can destroy an hope, my minimum goal for the Comox Valley area is 60 species. Last year I made it to 67 species and I really think that 70+ species is quite possible, and who knows, maybe, on a really good day, 80 species.

I actually had five species from my backyard before I left the house, three at the feeder and two, Trumpeter Swan and Glaucous-winged Gull, flying overhead and calling. First stop, the lawn next to the Courtenay River Estuary behind Portuguese Joe’s, the only place in the valley that I know of where there is a good Western Gull. A very high percentage of the gulls in our area are hybrids between Glaucous-winged and Western Gulls, but finding a pure Western can be quite difficult. Sure enough the bird was there so this was my first good tick for the day.

Western Gull 1b

Next stop the field where the Citrine Wagtail has been hiding out. As it turned out I was not the first person there as two other birders were already looking for the bird without success. While we were looking though a group of four Tundra Swans flew over. At this time of year Trumpeter Swans are thick in the valley, with a population that is generally over 3,000 birds, but Tundra’s are mostly long gone. But this year it seems that a few more Tundras than normal have decided to winter here, so another good tick.

While we were looking for the wagtail another birder came along and informed us that it had been relocated in another field a short distance away, so off we went. Sure enough when we got there a number of other birders were watching the bird as it foraged some distance away in the field. My third good tick.

Citrine Wagtail 7b

Of course during this time I was adding other more common species to my day’s list, and by now I was up to 23 species. I now headed to Courtenay to do part of the estuary from the other side. By now I was concentrating more on the harder to get species in the valley, figuring that the easier ones would just fall in place. One species that can pose a bit of a problem is the Northern Pintail, and when I did not get this bird at the estuary in Courtenay, I decided to go on to Royston further down island. Here I managed to get the Pintail and a number of other species that I was still missing.

On the way back into Courtenay, just before I got into town I went into a residential area where I know that there was an active feeder. Here I added a few more feeder birds but also got another goodie. Across the road from the feeder was a large, leafless deciduous tree, probably a Big Leaf Maple, and in it were 19 Evening Grosbeaks. It is easy to go for a whole year without seeing a single one of these birds in the valley, so to get 19 of them on January 1st was decidedly good and my last good tick for the day.

Evening Grosbeak male 5b

I now went back into Courtenay and did a quick walk in part of the Airpark just to make sure a got a Green-winged Teal which had surprisingly eluded me up until then. Next I went to Goose Spit in Comox. By now I had most of the ducks and the spit did not produce anything new for me, but in the residential areas at the base of the spit I managed to get my first Robin and Steller’s Jay.

After doing some more residential areas without getting anything new I went to Lazo Marsh where I did a short walk in the woodlands surrounding the marsh. This is an area that is usually hopping with birds in the winter because some of the local residents feed the birds here. This day, although there was lots of activity, I only managed one new species, the Downy Woodpecker.

Next stop was Point Holmes where I hoped to get Harlequin Duck, Black Scoter and perhaps a Pigeon Guillemot or Marbled Murrelet. Fortunately both the ducks were there, but I could not find either the Guillemot or Murrelet.

Harlequin Duck 14b

By now it was almost two o’clock and I was only at 58 species with some rather conspicuous species missing. Well there was one more stop on my itinerary that had the potential of adding two more species, that was Little River Pond and the species were Ring-necked Duck and Red Crossbill. Once again the pond came through for me and I managed to get both birds putting me up to 60 species. By now I realized that my hoped for 70 species was not going to happen this day, but I sure did not want to be sitting at my minimum goal of 60 species.

Ring-necked Duck 6b

Next stop was Airforce Beach in the hope of getting one of those elusive alcids (the guillemot and murrelet). After about 20 minutes of scanning the ocean I concluded that these birds just were not here this day. In actual fact I have seen practically no alcids in the Comox area this winter so far, and this is decidedly unusual. Fortunately, as I was leaving the beach area a Cooper’s hawk flew across the road right in front of me and landed in a tree right beside the road. At least I was past the 60 mark.

Cooper's Hawk juvenile 9c

By now almost everything I was missing were species that you just happen upon by searching residential areas of driving roads. With time running short I opted for the driving and managed to add one more species, the Eurasian Collared Dove. With the light starting to fade I was back home by 3:45 and reasonably satisfied with my day’s effort. Now my goal for the whole year is 200 again, well, let’s say at least 201 so that I can say I bettered last years list.

One final note just so you know, none of these photos were taken on January first. I was way too busy birding to do any photography.

 

The Tale of the Citrine Wagtail – Terry Thormin

On November 14th a local couple found a wagtail in a farmer’s field in Courtenay. The bird was first reported as a possible first winter Yellow Wagtail, but then, based on a second observation two days later, it was reported as a possible first winter White Wagtail. Any wagtail in this area would be a very good bird and either Yellow or White would likely bring birders in from the Victoria and Vancouver and perhaps from even farther afield.

There was a problem though, the bird was on private property. The local birding community scrambled to get permission, but the farm road where the bird was seen went right between two different farmer’s fields and we did not know which one owned the road. Fortunately one of the most active birders in the area was able to track down the correct farmer and gain permission for birders to go down the road. However, the bird was frequenting the wet fields on the other farmer’s property, and we did not have permission to go on his property. So very quickly the word was put out that anyone who wanted to go looking for the bird must stay on the road.

It was a good thing that this step was taken because of what transpired next. The same day that permission was obtained from the farmer, two birders from Victoria went in to see the bird and managed to get photographs. Based on the photographs the bird was now identified as Citrine Wagtail.

Citrine Wagtail is much rarer than either Yellow or White Wagtail. In fact this is only the second record for this species in North America and the first for Canada. The previous record is of a bird that turned up in Starkville Mississippi for two days in 1992. And now here we had a bird that had already been around at least three days and was looking like it would stay even longer.

Citrine Wagtail’s normal breeding range is in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and it migrates to India and east to Burma in the winter. To get to North America it had to cross much of northern Asia just to get to the Bering sea, and then cross the Bering Sea and go down the west coast through Alaska to British Columbia.

Now the rush was on, and birders began coming from farther afield. By now, eight days later, hundreds of birders have come in from as far away as Alberta, and perhaps further and with the first weekend since the bird was positively identified coming up I would expect that things are going to get really crazy. So far everyone has been very respectful and has stayed on the road. The bird has also been very cooperative and I doubt that anyone has missed the bird. There are times when it is quite far away, but with spotting scopes the birders are still getting good looks. At other times it disappears behind the taller grass and cannot be seen for a few minutes, but eventually it comes out again.

The bird appears to be picking insects off the surface of the water. At times it will also fly up into the air and then drop down again, apparently hawking for insects. It will also from time to time fly into the nearby bushes and stay for a while before flying down again to feed.

For the serious photographers the bird can be more frustrating as most of the time the bird is just too far away to get good photos. It takes a lot of time and patience if you are going to get decent photos of the bird, and so far everyone has taken that approach. Every once in a while the bird will come in closer, feeding in shallow water fairly close to the road. A big lens and a good DSLR helps a lot, although I have also seen photos taken by digiscoping that were quite good. For those who do not know this is a technique where a compact digital camera is used with a spotting scope to take photos.

I have heard some real horror stories about the behavior of birders who were bent on getting a look at a rare bird and breaking all the rules to do so, thus spoiling it for everyone else. There are even stories of fights breaking out to prevent the fanatical birder from doing these things. So far in this case everyone has been very respectful, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the future as more birders come from further afield.

The local birding community is now sitting on pins and needles as the behavior of the visiting birders could have a serious impact on our access to private property in the future. We can only hope that it is a positive impact as this will not only determine how welcome we will be on private property in the valley, but also how likely we are to advertise rarities in the future.

Since first writing this post I have been able to get much better photos and so I have removed the originals and replaced them with four new photos. As well birders have started arriving from across the continent. California is well represented and I have talked with people who have flown in from as far away as Texas. The bird is still doing well although there is a local Merlin and a Northern Shrike that are both harrasing the bird.