Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kekoldi Bird Banding Update

We've gotten some neat birds in our nets at Kekoldi recently. Some of them haven't been caught here before, but some are just pretty (and some are both pretty and unusual). Here are a few of our favorites.

White-necked jacobin (male)
Green-breasted mango (male). New to Kekoldi.
Violet-crowned woodnymph (male; above and below)

Bronzy hermit (perching after a harrowing escape from
spider's web after we'd processed it)
 Biting Things: Saltators, Grosbeaks, and Caciques
Grayish saltator (new to Kekoldi)
Blue-black grosbeak (male)
Slate-colored grosbeak (new to Kekoldi)
Scarlet-rumped cacique (new to Kekoldi; above and below)

...and the Manakin
White-collared manakin (male). Males get special colored bands
so that we can re-sight them at their leks (mating dancefloors).

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Happy World Tapir Day

The tapir is our favorite animal. Each species of tapir is highly endangered due to poaching and habitat loss. We saw our first lowland tapir in Brazil several years ago, and after that, several Baird's tapirs here in Costa Rica. 

Baird's tapir on the beach.
Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica, 2009.
One group with a great online presence loves tapirs almost as much as we do and created World Tapir Day, whose facebook page is pretty great. Mike has one of their awesome shirts. World Tapir Day is April 27: today! 

What's the value of having tapirs around? They're an indication of a healthy ecosystem since they're a large mammal that can only survive with a substantial range of intact habitat (rainforest or savannah, depending on where you are as a tapir). If you're interested, learn more about them on World Tapir Day's website.

We've seen lots of posts on CNN and other sites from users asking "Why the heck should we save (whales, tigers, fill in the animal)? Just because they're cute?" (These posts often aren't spelled quite as precisely, and are sometimes profane for some reason.) We say no, not just because they're cute. The forests and savannahs as a whole need to be conserved for all of us: keeping our air clean and our water drinkable (a big problem for the Bribri here in Costa Rica--when squatters or companies come and cut down forests and graze cows or plant crops upstream, the water is no longer potable due to fertilizer and refuse). Having wildlife in the forests also promotes tourism, which is an important part of the economy in many of the countries where tapir and other neat creatures live, and is one of the most lucrative options for people seeking employment in these countries, which often have poor job markets. So we think there are plenty of reasons to care about the tapir and about wildlife in general.

On this trip, we haven't yet seen a tapir, but we're going to the Osa Peninsula after we're done here and hope to see one there. Maybe Brazil, too--we're still debating for those of you wondering.

So happy World Tapir Day, and we'll get back to writing about bird banding soon.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

La Ssssselva

For anyone who loves being around beautiful primary and secondary rainforest, abundant wildlife, and friendly researchers, we'd highly recommend La Selva Biological Station. We spent the past week there on our time off for Semana Santa (Easter Week, which is a big deal in Costa Rica).

The peccary herd spends a lot of time around the station, and we were able to observe lots of great social behavior: animals rubbing in greeting and grooming each other, which we hadn't known was a pig-thing.

We took an excellent guided walk our first day there. Ivan, our guide, is a graduate of a guide-training program the station began several years ago. On our walk, we found an agami heron (super-rare), eyelash palm viper, great green macaws flying overhead (also rare), and best of all, Ivan spotted a silky anteater, which is hardly ever seen. 

Silky anteater...terrible lighting conditions and heavily cropped.
About the size of a large, fuzzy grapefruit when curled up.

Ivan with flaming seed, locally referred to as a "kerosene seed"
because of its ability to catch fire
The reptiles of La Selva were very impressive. In addition to the eyelash palm viper, we found a parrot snake, bird-eating snake, boa constrictor, and not one, but two fer-de-lance (terciopelo: one of Costa Rica's deadliest snakes). One night, we'd left our headlamps in our room and were considering walking back after dinner without them. The paths to the rooms are broad and paved, and the moon had been bright recently. But as soon as we set out, we realized it was a very unsafe plan: no moon, and 1 km in the dark with so much wildlife is a bad idea. Our new friend Matt, whose blog is very cool (photography envy), was kind enough to walk his bike with us and light the way. As soon as we started walking again, a couple coming the other way told us to watch out for the fer-de-lance near the trail 700 meters along. Sure enough, the enormous snake was there (on the other side of the trail from where it had been originally spotted), and as we watched, it crossed over the trail.

These were taken with a telephoto zoom lens and further cropped;
don't worry, we didn't get close to the deadly snake.
It showed no signs of aggression; just wanted to do its hunting. Our other interesting fer-de-lance encounter came a few days later when we were hiking in a remote area of the reserve and came to a streambed. We're always on the lookout for these guys in their favorite habitat, but we've never found one on our own before. Do you see it?

We didn't until we were almost on top of it.

Other reptiles:

Eyelash palm pit viper: deadly but highly sedentary and non-aggressive.
Also extremely tiny.
Parrot snake on a bridge (non-venomous)
Basilisk, also known as the Jesus Christ lizard
for its ability to walk on water. How Easter-appropriate.
Green iguana...Duaro from our banding group tells us it's a subspecies
because of the neat double horns on the nose.
It's the breeding season right now, and we were lucky to see plenty of young animals and bird nests. Also lots of adults gorging on the fruit trees and cicada boom.

Female great currasow. This tree was super-popular: her mate,
toucans, oropendula, crested guan, and peccaries were all foraging here.
Rufous-tailed jacamar bringing a tasty butterfly to his chicks.
Clay-colored thrush nest on our balcony. These eggs appeared over several days.
Among the neat researchers we met were a group of Canadians banding migratory birds whose field station we visited for part of a morning, hummingbird researchers, several grad students studying ants, one studying chestnut-backed antbirds (we went out with a few of her assistants to look at a nest), and two German bat researchers.

Color-banded bats, sleeping.
One of the only downsides we encountered came in the form of the beautiful but evil common pauraque. Very common, in fact. They're nocturnal, they like to hang out outside the rooms, and they whoop and holler all night at frequent intervals. We had to chase them off at ungodly hours, but they came back almost immediately.

Evil. So evil.
We leave you with some scenery. This is the area in which we found the second fer-de-lance. Next entry, back to bird banding. Today was fantastic for new-to-Kekoldi birds.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Parque Nacional Cahuita

We've just spent a highly enjoyable two days in Cahuita, hiking in the national park and relaxing. Highlights included:

Boat-billed heron feeding chick

Juvenile yellow-crowned night many herons around!
Laughing gull, royal terns, and sandwich terns seen on our hike
Crab-eating raccoon cub
View from our hotel, Hotel National Park, right next to the national park
as the name implies
And here we are, a little post-hike grubby, but happy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Photo Tour: Birding, Banding, and...

Aaron, Duaro, and Mike examining dusky-capped flycatcher
The last two weeks have been full of bird banding. We've stuffed our heads full of plenty of new species and are trying to remember the six-letter codes for each to speed up our data entry (example: long-billed hermit, a hummingbird, has Latin name Phaethornis longirostris, which becomes PHALON in our data sheet). There are also plenty of different criteria for determining the age and sex of birds, varying by species.

Red-capped manakin: fully adult males look like this,
but younger males and females look alike and are olive-colored
Some of our birds are ultra-tiny hummingbirds, but occasionally, too large to band, like this broad-winged hawk. Getting it out of the net was a two-person effort.

Our prettiest birds to date have included this green honeycreeper and golden-hooded tanager:

Our teenage Tico banders are awesome. How many US teens can rattle off dozens of Latin bird names? These guys also have a great sense of humor.

Keswar drinking scalding hot coffee
from a carefully folded leaf cup
What kind of book has these four teenage guys so engrossed?
Hummingbirds of Costa Rica, of course!
Sometimes, we find cool things like this caterpillar
when we're out working
When we're resting, we're often reading at the station and staking out the birds that visit the fruiting and flowering trees. Still trying to get a great shot of the keel-billed toucan, which, in spite of its size, is very shy. All the ones we've seen take off once they realize they're being watched.

Instead of the nesting woodpeckers we were hoping to photograph,
this lizard was kind enough to pose
Every week to week and a half, we get a little time off. On our last free weekend, we went to Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo. Very beautiful, but we felt like the trails stayed much too close to the main highway; we could hear traffic as we were walking.

Right now, we're in Parque Nacional Cahuita, and spent an enjoyable morning hiking...more on that to follow.