Birds

Featured Bird: Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Female Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Some might say that the Rufous-tailed Jacamar (Galbula ruficacauda) is reminiscent of a Green-and-Rufous Kingfisher for its similar color patterns and heavy bill whereas others might see this bird and think of it as an oversized hummingbird.   Whatever side you fall on it’s a species that you can’t seem to get enough of and is hard to turn away from for its brilliant colors and sassy attitude.

There are 15 species of jacamar in Tropical America which belong in their own family Galbulidae situated between the puffbirds and toucans.  All belong to the order Piciformes along with woodpeckers and honeyguides.  There are two species found here in Costa Rica, the Great Jacamar (Jacamerops aurea) found on the Caribbean slope and the Rufous-tailed Jacamar found at low elevations on both Caribbean and Pacific slopes.  They are fairly common here on the Osa Peninsula mainly found along forest edges, streams and the open understory of tall second growth forests.  It is also known to frequent cocoa plantations.  We recently saw one perched along a road near one of our avian monitoring points on Friends of the Osa property in an area that we know as Arbolito.  It is not as abundant as some species and so it is a special moment to come across one.

Male Rufous-tailed Jacamar

They measure in at about 9 inches (23 cm) long and weight approximately 27 g.  Those long bills are used for capturing insects.  They perch on horizontal branches swaying their bill back and forth in search of flying insects.  They are known to capture bees and beetles as well as large brilliantly colored butterflies such as Morpho and swallowtails.  Their long beak allows them to grab hold of butterfly bodies while keeping flapping wings as well as bee stings at bay.

Rufous-tailed Jacamars dig long burrows (11-20”) in a bank, the root mass of an upturned tree or a termitary in which to put their nest.  Parents feed their 2 – 4 young during a 3 week nestling period by regurgitating insect parts.  By the time the nestlings are ready to fledge the nest can look like a tomb of glittery insect wings and chitinous body parts.

Birds

Featured Bird: Red-legged Honeycreeper

Red-legged Honeycreeper

The Red-legged Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes cyaneus) can be found here on the Osa Peninsula and can often be seen wandering through humid forest canopies and open areas with its other Honeycreeper relatives the Green Honeycreeper (Chlorophanes spiza), the Shining Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes lucidus) and the Blue Dacnis (Dacnis cayana).  For those novice birders trying to get their bird bearings here in the tropics, one can at first glance mistake the Blue Dacnis or the Shining Honeycreeper for a Red-legged Honeycreeper.  At least I did the first few weeks, but all you have to do is look for the distinctive red legs or the long decurved bill if you’re not yet Dacnis proficient.  Also, one surprise that the Red-legged Honeycreeper has for any onlooker is the bright yellow color of the underneath portion of the wing.

Honeycreepers used to be classified in a separate family with the Bananaquit and flowerpiercers, but are now part of the Tanager family which may seem a bit odd considering their nectar feeding habits and bill morphology.  Any commentaries on why they were lumped with tanagers are welcome here by the way.  But whether you’re a lumper or a splitter, tanagers display more colors and color patterns than any other tropical American bird and Honeycreepers definitely fit the bill.  If you’re not sure what I mean find images of Golden-hooded Tanagers and Bay-headed Tanagers and you will see what I’m saying!

Female Red-legged Honeycreeper

Red-legged Honeycreepers extract nectar from the flowers of Inga, Calliandra and other legume plants.  They also eat small insects, arillate seeds and many other fruits in fairly open edgy areas.  We have seen them moving in mixed-species flocks high up in primary and secondary closed canopy forests as well as right in the gardens of the Osa Biodiversity Center at Friends of the Osa during our early morning avian monitoring point counts.

This species is an open cup nester building a nest of fine rootlets and grass raising two young between February and June.  Pairs are monogamous and both take care of incubation and nesting duties.  Oh, and in case you’re curious Red-legged Honeycreepers weigh about 13.5 grams, about half the size of a House Sparrow.

Visit Photographs by Bob Levy for more beautiful birds of Costa Rica.

Science and Research, Sea Turtles

Let´s have a bad joke!

By Phoebe Edge, Research Field Assistant (RFA) , Sea Turtle Conservation Program.

What turtle has the best eye sight?

A SEE TURTLE!

And that´s why it´s so important that we make sure on night patrols that we spot the ladies before they spot us…the last thing we want to do is scare them back to the sea. A good turtle detective just doesn´t do that. An Olive Ridley could have swum thousands of miles to get to this specific beach  which is why here at Friends of the Osa we do what we can to ensure we have minimal impact on beach patrols- especially at night. Females can be deterred from nesting and the hatchlings’ important journey to the sea can be disrupted just by the presence of white lights. For this reason, we only use red light on the beach. Sea turtles, like many other reptiles, don´t actually have the color red within their visual spectrum so it means we can work safe in the knowledge that they don´t feel like a criminal fleeing from the scene of a crime!

Volunteering with sea turtles on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

We´ve just said goodbye to the lovely Brandy and Nick who were volunteering  with us for 2 weeks, staying at Finca Exotica in Carate. Their second day it was unnecessary to use ANY  artificial light to spot a turtle as on an afternoon stroll to the lagoon at around 3:30pm, we  discovered a solitary uptrack and on the top…an Olive Ridley covering a nest! It was a beautiful day anyway so this just completely topped it off. Most sea turtles come up during the night to lay their eggs as they feel it´s safer but this individual obviously had other ideas! It was a real treat to see her in natural light.

Of course, night patrols aren´t always a walk in the park.  We are in the peak of the rainy season, and it’s not uncommon for there to be times when the rain has penetrated every ounce of clothing, sand has made its way into every crevice you never thought possible and throughout the patrol, one can´t help but feel like you’re on the losing side in World War III against the elusive sand flea. But the second you catch a glimpse of a turtle, watching each egg drop into the nest she created ever so carefully, we are reminded of how much energy has been invested in this process and just how vital our efforts are to protect nesting sea turtles. Our efforts here on the Osa seem so small- but nest by nest, day by day, the data we gather can be interpreted and contributed to the global effort for sea turtle conservation, and together we can make a difference.  Besides, who wouldn´t care to swap the office for this?

Birds

Featured Bird: Turquoise Cotinga

Male Turquoise Cotinga. Photo by Ulises Quintero

This week as promised I am bringing you the Turquoise Cotinga (Cotinga ridgwayi).  This is definitely one of those species of bird that makes you go “WOW” when you see it.  This is also one of Costa Rica’s most sensitive species to loss of forest habitat.  BirdLife International has this Cotinga species listed as Vulnerable which puts it one step away from be considered Endangered.  It is a regional endemic only found on the Pacific slope of central and southern Costa Rica and western Panama.  Its population is estimated to be between 2,500 – 10,000 birds and declining.

So why the decline?  As with many species, the Turquoise Cotinga is faced with deforestation and severe habitat fragmentation.  This coupled with an already naturally small range makes it difficult for the Cotinga population to remain stable.  This is also true for its closest relative the Yellow-billed Cotinga also found here on the Osa Peninsula whose population is estimated to be much smaller between 250 – 1,000 birds (more on this species in the weeks to come!).

Because of the Turquoise Cotinga’s conservation concern and its rarity, it is a special occasion when we see one.  Now you must know there are certain areas on the Osa Peninsula where this bird is quite common such as Carate and Corcovado National Park and folks flock to these areas to see them.  Since we at Friends of the Osa are in the middle of our seasonal avian monitoring we have had the distinct pleasure to have encountered several Turquoise Cotingas in the last two weeks within our monitoring points and just up the road from the Greg Gund Conservation Center on Cerro Osa.  It is possible that Turquoise Cotingas are more common than once thought on Friends of the Osa property especially outside of the breeding season when they are seasonally migrating in search of food resources.

This passerine species is found mainly in the canopy of humid rainforest and secondary growth and can also be seen along forest edges and in tall trees within shade grown coffee plantations.  They will wander throughout the canopy of wet forests and are known to rest on high exposed perches.  They consume the fruits of fig trees, Cecropia and parasitic mistletoe Psittacanthus and will go down low to gather pokeweed berries Phytolacca in clearings on occasion.  In case you were wondering it weighs in at about 50 grams, just under the size of a Red-winged Blackbird.

The males and females apparently do not form pair bonds.  The males gather in group display leks to attract females.  The female then builds the nest and rears the two young all on her own.  Nesting takes place between January and May.

Conservation measures are to investigate current distribution and discourage the conversion of shade coffee to full sun grown coffee.  Unfortunately very little information is available on the behavioral ecology of this species so the more we learn the more we will bring to you.

Community Outreach, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration

Second annual Puerto Jimenez mangrove and beach cleanup

On September 26th, Friends of the Osa participated in the second annual Puerto Jiménez mangrove and beach cleanup. This activity is part of a global Ocean Conservancy initiative, with  Terra Nostra as the Costa Rican organizer and the Puerto Jiménez Environmental Coalition as the local organizer.

We had around 60 participants, including students, girl scouts, Frontier volunteers, community members, hotel staff from Lapa Rios, Bosque del Cabo, El Remanso and other local organizations such as ASCONA.  In total, we cleaned 1.5km of beach and 0.5km of mangrove.

Looking at the results presented below, it’s clear that there is a need to reduce the amount of waste.  While we already focus on education and community awareness about the responsible management of waste and recycling, it is apparent that more action needs to be taken particularly along the edge of the mangrove.  The Environmental Coalition, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and MINAET (Costa Rica’s environmental ministry), will be working on a way to address this issue.

Results from the Puerto Jimenez mangrove and beach clean up 2010

Summary of the waste collected. 190 kg is recyclable while 2.3 TONS is not.

Birds

Birder's Challenge Response

Riverside Wren Nest. Photo by Jim Tamarack and Cheryl Chip

A few weeks ago I posted a birder’s challenge question where I asked you to tell me how the Riverside Wren (Thryothorus semibadius) was positioned in its nest (go to the archived story here).  Here is the recap and your responses.

Since Riverside Wrens are known at times for roosting inside their nests during all seasons of the year with sometimes two or three individuals at a time we wondered about this particular wren when our neighbors Jim Tamarack and Cheryl Chip showed us this photo.  It was taken at night during the month of December.  Its position wasn’t immediately obvious so I thought I would pose the question to you.  What is this bird doing and how is it positioned in the nest?

Everyone agreed that the black-and-white striped feathers are the breast feathers and that the rufous part at the top is the head facing back and to the side while keeping an eye on, well…Jim and Cheryl’s camera for starters.  It was also the general consensus that, due to the photo session taking place, this posture was a likely a defensive one as well as a protective camouflage while in the vulnerable place it was in inside the nest.  One person commented that they could actually see the feet perching on the branch and that the bird is standing up (sort of) with its belly facing the door.  If you zoom in you can see the feet.

Riverside Wren. Photo by Gianfranco Gomez

On a lighter note someone suggested that it was either a defensive posture or the bird practicing some yoga.  For many people who visit the Osa Peninsula on vacation this wouldn’t be out of the question, but Riverside Wrens…?

I think that everybody had it right but it also begs the question; how many species build roosting nests or use old breeding nests to roost in later?  It is not uncommon for cavity nesting birds to also roost in the cavity during the non-breeding part of the year. For birds that build covered nests here in the tropics it could actually be a good way to shelter from the often times torrential downpours we have here in the winter rainy season.  It is an interesting question and one to look into a bit further.

Keep an eye out next week for a little bit about the Turquoise Cotinga.

Birds

International Migratory Bird Day & The Power of Partnerships

Have you ever sat and marveled at the wonder of bird migration; the journey that birds undertake between their winter and summer homes?  Well if so, you’re not alone, and it is a cause for celebration!  Each year hundreds of thousands of people gather to celebrate International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) in support of migratory bird conservation.

You may be asking yourself, why a post on a day normally held in May.  Aha, that all depends on where you are in the hemisphere.  Because there is more than one officially recognized date, everyday, including today, is Migratory Bird Day.  Read on as I explain…

International Migratory Bird Day is officially recognized on the second Saturday in May in the US and Canada in celebration of migrants coming home to breed, while in Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean IMBD is celebrated on the second Saturday in October when migrants are returning home for the winter.   Here in Costa Rica IMBD is actually celebrated on the second Saturday in April.  But because migratory birds have been arriving on the Osa for the past several weeks we thought it important to pay homage now as well!

There are almost 350 species of birds that migrate between their nesting grounds in the north to their wintering grounds in more favorable climates somewhere south.  Of course not all birds make such dramatic journeys.  Many species migrate locally, regionally and elevationally such as many do here in the tropics, and so this day is for them as well.

Wood Thrush.  Photo by DH Freriks 2009

Migratory birds are important to us in many ways.  Many of them are the songsters that fill our northern forests and backyards with their melodious song every spring marking the change of the new season and the new life that it brings.  Migrants are important ecologically as they are the consumers of insects, many of which are pests, and they are also important to the tourism industry of many economies both temperate and tropical.  Here in their tropical wintering grounds, places like the Osa Peninsula provide an important home during the non breeding months of the year.

Unfortunately many migrant bird species are declining facing many threats on their wintering and breeding grounds as well as on their migratory routes.  International Migratory Bird Day was thus created as not only a day to celebrate migrant birds but as a call to action in their conservation through partnerships.

American Redstart. Photo by Karen Leavelle 2004

Since 1993 the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, Partners in Flight, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the US Fish and Wildlife Service amongst many others have come together in science and conservation for the protection of migratory birds.  Each year hundreds of organizations hold activities and celebrations all focused around a particular theme.  This year’s theme is The Power of Partnerships giving attention to the fact that avian conservation can only happen through strong partnerships across the globe.   Twenty species are highlighted this year to include the Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), the Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) and the American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla), all species in decline found here on the Osa and shown here as well thanks to the artwork of Bob Petty.  Visit BirdDay.org for a list of each species and more information on each species’ conservation status and the partnerships formed to help protect them.

We here at Friends of the Osa are celebrating now in our own way by conducting an avian monitoring program set up specifically to follow US Fish and Wildlife Service protocols in order to monitor the population status of both resident and migratory birds and to make our data available to all organizations interested in targeting conservation measures for specific birds in decline.   We are also working with Partners in Flight in data analysis and dissemination of results to the bird community.

The three species shown here are only a few of those suffering from population declines but it is our hope that through a strong monitoring program and strong partnerships we can protect those species that count on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula for their safe winter harbor.

Orioles and Ocelots: Wisconsin’s Costa Rica Connection, authored by Craig Thompson who organizes conservation birding trips to the Osa Peninsula, provides a great explanation of how these north-south partnerships are strengthening bird conservation.

Stay tuned April 9th 2011 for official Costa Rican International Migratory Bird Day science and educational activities.  IMBD is coordinated by Environment for the Americas.  More information can be found at BirdDay.org.