Birds, Volunteers and Visitors

Go Wild, Go Birding!

International Migratory Bird Day 2011

Just to set the scene… the following is a bit of what I wrote to you last October 2010 in recognition of a well known day that pays homage to migratory birds all throughout the Americas.

“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.

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 in April as migrants are starting their journey north.

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.  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.

Migratory Woodthrush. Photo by Frericks

Each year IMBD celebrates with a particular theme.  Last year we celebrated the Power of Partnerships and brought you some of the many partnerships Osa Conservation has related to bird science and conservation.  This year’s 2011 theme is Go Wild, Go Birding orVive Salvaje, Observe las Aves.”

The focus of Go Wild, Go Birding is to reach out to youth and adults to experience and learn about birds, bird watching and conservation.  Some of the many program and educational activities that folks are engaging in are:

*  IMBD Festivals

*  The International Conservation Walkathon,

*  The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) and

*  The CBD 4 kids which is a half day CBC, and

*  The Big Sit which is 24 hours of birding around the world.

Educators are also including birding activities in their classrooms such as

*  Workshops in helping birds at home

*  Go Birding Geocache

*  Making bird masks

*  Leading a bird walk

Truly the amount of bird activities one could dream up is countless!  We here at Osa Conservation conducted our first annual Osa Peninsula Christmas Bird Count last December which was a great success and are planning to continue our new tradition this year.  Many people got involved who now have a new interest in birds and birding. We also initiated our new avian monitoring program which will monitor, in part, abundance of both resident and migratory birds on the Osa.  We plan to expand our birding program and educational activities in the near future – so keep an eye out.

So we here at Osa Conservation say “Go Birding, Go Wild” and there truly is no better place to do so than here on the Osa Peninsula.  With well over 400 species of birds in this little corner of Costa Rica there is plenty to keep you busy for quite a long time

And remember that because there is more than one officially recognized date, everyday, including today, is International Migratory Bird Day.

For more information visit Environment for the Americas.  IMBD 2011 artwork was designed by John Muir Laws and Genevieve Margherio.

Environmental Education, Volunteers and Visitors

An Unforgettable Educational Adventure: Enamored with the Osa

By: Vickie Buisset

Volunteering with the FOO Sea Turtle Research Program was a wonderful experience.  My observations and field notes taken while on the Osa Peninsula were used to complete the final independent study project of my Master of Environmental Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).  The topic of my independent study project was Global Threats of Sea Turtles.  I graduated from VCU in December of 2010 and feel very lucky to have had this volunteer/research opportunity on the beautiful Osa Peninsula.  The personnel at the FOO Sea Turtle Research Center were very helpful in my data collection and field studies, even after I returned home to finish my independent study.  I couldn’t have asked for a more hospitable and professional research program.

Jesus Christ Lizard

Getting from San Jose to the research center was quite an adventure.  Visiting the Osa during the height of the rainy season made it a bit tricky, but it was well worth the effort.  I spent nine thrilling days and nights at the Osa Biodiversity Center from the end of October through early November of 2010.  I participated in four night beach patrols and two day beach patrols with the sea turtle research program.  Watching the sea turtles nest at night was a magical experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

With several FOO conservation projects underway, I had the opportunity to learn a lot about the local biodiversity of the peninsula.   I stayed busy, practiced Spanish a bit, received plenty of rest, and filled my belly with wonderful home-cooked meals served onsite at the research center.  The people of FOO were a lot of fun and I enjoyed working with them.   I’d do it all over again! Thanks for everything FOO. I’ll be forever grateful.

Sincerely,

Vickie Buisset Jones

Birds, Volunteers and Visitors

Osa Peninsula Christmas Bird Count

Red-lored Parrots

This year Friends of the Osa organized the first annual Costa Rica Osa Peninsula Christmas Bird Count, a more than century long Audubon Society tradition.  This year actually marks the 111th Audubon CBC and on December 17th 2010 Friends of the Osa along with Osa Peninsula lodges, the Osa Peninsula Birders Association, Osa bird experts and enthusiasts headed out at dawn and dusk to count as many birds that could be seen, heard or flushed out from under foot.

All throughout the Americas citizen scientist volunteers from Canada down through Argentina come out, in some parts of the world in frigid cold temperatures, to count birds on one single day between December 14th and January 5th as part of a long running tradition in avian conservation and science.  Those of us here in the tropics didn’t need to worry about freezing temperatures.  We were out instead in t-shirts, shorts and our signature black rubber boots with the same eagerness to document the birds of the Osa this year and for years to come.

Common Tody-Flycatcher

We covered an area the size of a 15 mile diameter circle that included Puerto Jimenez, Playa Sandalo, Dos Brazos, Matapalo, the National Wildlife Refuge and Carate just south of Corcovado National Park.  Each participant walked routes and trails through lush tropical rainforest, palm and almond tree lined beaches, lagoons, creeks and rivers that run through one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet; the Osa Peninsula.

The Christmas Bird Count helps protect bird species and their habitats.  Data collected from volunteers is used by biologists and other interested parties to study the long-term health and status of bird populations throughout the Americas and to see how populations have changed over time and space over the last 111 years.  Scientists have used CBC data to detect birds in decline from fragmentation and/or loss of habitat and effects on populations from climate change as well.  We will now be able to include Osa birds in Audubon’s database to help protect and conserve them for years to come.

We would like to thank Luna Lodge, Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge, Iguana Lodge, Lapa Rios, Bosque del Cabo, El Remanso, the Osa Peninsula Birding Association, and many individuals that participated in the count.  Lets do it again next year!

For more information and history on the Audubon Christmas Bird Count visit http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count

Also visit our website at http://www.osaconservation.org

Science and Research, Sea Turtles

Double Your Donation to Osa Sea Turtle Conservation

Today SEE Turtles launched its effort to raise money for Friends of the Osa’s annual Sea Turtle Festival.  SEE Turtles is a project of the Ocean Foundation that promotes conservation tourism by acting as a resource for travelers to connect with volunteer programs or to donate to organizations protecting sea turtles and educating communities.  Through the matching fund launched today, you can donate to support FOO’s Sea Turtle Festival in 2011.

Kids present a performance on sea turtle life cycle

Children perform the life cycle of sea turtles at the Second Annual Osa Sea Turtle Festival

This past September, Friends of the Osa’s Second Annual Sea Turtle Festival was successful in attracting children and their families to the Osa Peninsula’s Carate Beach to learn about sea turtle species, like Olive Ridleys, Green Turtles, Hawksbills and Leatherbacks.  This annual sea turtle festival has been an effective way to develop community interaction and create local understanding about the issue of sea turtle egg poaching.  Through activities, presentations, and contests for children, Friends of the Osa not only spreads awareness of our work but we also take preventative action by ensuring people don’t participate in sea turtle disturbance and habitat destruction.

SEE Turtles covers administrative costs so that 100% of your donation goes towards our 2011 sea turtle festival that educates the community about sea turtle conservation.  The goal of this matching fund is to raise $2,000.  Because sea turtle conservation is an important aspect of FOO’s mission to protect the globally significant biodiversity of the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica, we encourage you to check out the SEE Turtles website to learn more about SEE Turtles and sea turtle conservation beyond the Osa Peninsula.

Volunteers working with sea turtles on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Volunteers working with sea turtles on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Remember that Friends of the Osa also operates a sea turtle conservation program that is open to volunteers from July to December every year.  Volunteer to help save the Osa’s endangered sea turtles!

Birds

Featured Bird: White-crested Coquette

Male White-crested Coquette

Of all the hummingbird species, the coquette males that are most highly adorned with ornate feathers that are there to likely help in territorial defense and enhance species recognition.  The White-crested Coquette (Lophornis adorabilis) is the only coquette found here on the Osa Peninsula and is regionally endemic to south western Costa Rica and Western Panama.

The male of this species, which is also sometimes called Adorable Coquette, is known for its white crest and long green cheek tufts and may be arguably one of the most sought after birds to see when one visits this region.  They wander through forests high in the canopy and low along forest edges feeding on the nectar of flowering Inga, Vochysia, Stachytarpheta and Lonchocarpus plants and will also take small spiders and insects.  They hover with their tales cocked upward while feeding.

Male White-crested Coquette showing cheek tufts.

While courting a female the male will make short arcs side to side not much more than about a foot in either direction in front of the female.  He uses his colorful good looks to defend his flowers within his territory and the female takes on all nest duties with no help from the male.  The small lichen covered nest holding two minute white eggs is placed on the fork of a branch along the forest edge or a clearing and is not very well concealed.

They are said to be found from 300 meters up to 1220 meters but we have seen them here at the Piro Research Center which is near sea level as well as up along the Greg Gund Conservation Center’s northern border at Cerro Osa which sits at about 300 meters all within the last month.  At the moment they are engaged in reproductive behavior which takes place during the rainy season from December to February with courtship seen as early as October.   The male will lose his ornate regalia when the breeding season is over.

Sea Turtles, Volunteers and Visitors

Sea Turtle Conservation Program: October Update

We’ve completed another month of the sea turtle conservation program on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica and we’re getting close to the end of the nesting season. After 4 months of tireless work by our field coordinators, field assistants and volunteers, we have registered a total of 1233 sea turtle nests, between Piro and Carate (Fig. 1). As I mentioned earlier, for logistical reasons, we cannot gather daily information from all beaches and visits to Rio Oro beach have been very limited, so this number of sea turtle nests should be considered a minimum; i.e., the actual number of sea turtle nests on these beaches is higher than reported here.

Figure 1. Total nests registered, according to month, beach and species. CM: Chelonia mydas agassizii, DC: Demochelys coriacea, EL: Eretmochelys imbricata, LO: Lepidochelys olivacea

Of these 1233 recorded nests, we know that at least 242 (20%) were predated. Of predated nests, 43% were by humans, while the remaining 57% were predated by dogs, pigs, crabs and other animals. We can reasonably estimate that approximately 10,600 eggs have been illegally removed between Piro and Carate for human consumption (assuming that each nest had 100 eggs and they were all taken).

If we focus on the Olive Ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea), the most common sea turtle species on the Osa Peninsula, not taking into account the Rio Oro data, as the data that we have doesn’t appear to be representative of the real situation, we can see that during the 2010 season, Carate beach is where we find the greatest amount of illegal harvesting of eggs (Fig 2). Throughout the season, more than 50% of reported predation is caused by humans, a situation that hasn’t occurred on Piro and Pejeperro beaches.

Figure 2. Percentage of Olive Ridley sea turtle nests predated by humans and other animals according to month and beach.

Remember that you can help us save sea turtles that visit the southern part of the Osa Peninsula in several ways: 1) tell others about our project and the importance of protecting sea turtles, 2) by volunteering with sea turtles or 3) by making a donation to support our sea turtle program or the other conservation work that Friends of the Osa does on the Osa Peninsula.

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.

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.

Science and Research, Sea Turtles

The Continued Threats

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

Sea Turtle Conservation in Protected Areas

Park guards and lodge employees on the beach for the sea turtle workshop

On all of the morning and night patrols we collect quantitative data from the turtles we encounter, as well as from their tracks and nests. This year we have also begun taking a more active approach protecting as many nests as possible from both natural and unnatural predators. Metal mesh nets are used to cover each nest we find on Piro beach- so far this method has proved extremely beneficial, as all of the covered nests have shown a high rate of success. All of the protected nests have been left unharmed by predators in the area, giving us at FOO a real incentive to extend this method to surrounding nesting areas.

While we are learning more effective ways to curb natural predators of sea turtle eggs, human poaching continues. Having a larger presence on the beach day and night is yet another battle we are looking to conquer. Last week we invited workers from local lodges and 9 members of MINAET, the government body for environmental matters in Costa Rica, for a 2-day course all about our ancient shelled friends. Organized by our environmental education coordinator, Pilar Bernal, the information was focused on sea turtle behavior, current issues regarding their well-being, and what we are doing here at FOO to ensure the longevity of these species… As well as being an extremely informative time, I think we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves too!

Sea turtle research field assistant

Ashleigh and Tomas at the Piro Research Center

Four members of MINAET stayed at the Piro Research Center for four days after the course to night patrol with us to look for signs of recent poaching and possible culprits. We even learned a little ourselves, like how to crack open coconuts on the beach and enjoy a refreshing beverage compliments of mother nature!

We have just welcomed on board Ashleigh from California who will be staying with us at the Piro Research Center until mid-December as an RFA. She recently graduated from California Polytechnic State University and is quite excited to be able to put all of those hours spent in the books to good use. The Olive Ridleys obviously knew about this as just on her second night patrol we managed to collect data from 21 turtles! It was a perfect night for a patrol, with only a little rain and a full moon´s light to guide us.  Let´s hope it´s the first of many for our newby!

A big thank you to Eliécer Villalta Martínez and Geinor Barquero of MINAET for taking the time to help us here at FOO.  Your time and efforts are genuinely appreciated!