A Breathtaking Birding Experience

Blogpost written by Patrick Newcombe, Conservation Visitor 

When I first arrived in the Osa for my birding experience, the tremendous diversity of birds astounded me. I seemed to spot a new species each time I walk into the forest around Osa Conservation’s biological station.  Even at the station itself, I saw such birds as the Fiery-billed Aracari, an endemic species in both Panama and Costa Rica. The species diversity stems, in large part, from the selective pressure insectivorous birds put on their prey. This causes insects to adapt in order to evade their avian predators. In turn, the bird predators must specialize alongside their prey to catch the insects.



Fiery- billed Aracari / Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Fiery- billed Aracari / Photo by Manuel Sanchez

The Black-cheeked Ant Tanager is one of these insectivorous birds and is only found in the Osa Peninsula! Its population numbers fewer than 15,000 individuals. I found Black-cheeked Ant Tanagers at four different locations in the area and spent hours noting their presence in mixed species flocks and observing their fascinating behavior.


Photo by Patrick Newcombe

Black-Cheeked Ant Tanager / Photo by Patrick Newcombe



I also studied Manakin distribution around Osa Conservation by birding the surrounding trails and recording their presence in a GPS. I was thrilled to find 21 unique locations and view at least 5 leks. A lek is when birds perform elaborate mating displays. Red-capped Manakins tended to be concentrated in primary forest either near the border of secondary forest or in a clearing from tree falls, which create patches of secondary growth.


Red- Capped Manakin / Photo by Manuel Sanchez

Red- Capped Manakin / Photo by Manuel Sanchez


Another highlight from my time here was helping to conduct point counts of birds in areas that will be reforested with different concentrations of the fast-growing balsa tree, an experiment that tests the efficacy of this idea for reforestation. Learning the methodology for conducting point counts, as well as understanding the reason for using them in grasslands, fascinated me. These counts reflected the Osa’s enormous avian diversity, and I am glad that I contributed to such an important project that could help the birds that I am so passionate about.

Birding in the Osa was a unique experience that allowed me to learn about and contribute to avian diversity.

Birds, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration

Protecting an Iconic Species: Community involvement in Scarlet Macaw conservation

The Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) is a species in danger of extinction. In Costa Rica, there are only two healthy populations of scarlet macaws, the largest of which is located on the Osa Peninsula. This population is estimated to be between 800 and 1200 individuals (Dear et al 2010). This population was almost completely eliminated due to the illegal removal of trees for timber and agriculture, hunting for food, and illegal trade of Macaws as pets. During the last two decades, commercial logging and hunting of birds has decreased significantly, and the population of Macaws of the Osa Peninsula has increased rapidly. However, the loss of natural cavities in the trees used as nests for these animals has greatly limited the recovery of their populations. A study in recent years recommended long-term conservation that combines environmental education in local schools, community involvement, and stricter penalties for hunters and the Lapa Roja habitat destroyers (Guittar et al 2008).

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Birds, Land Conservation and Forest Restoration

Reviving a Rainforest Helps Keep Migratory Birds’ Winter Home Wild

By Carolina Herrera, NRDC

Wondering where that brightly colored songbird that visited your yard during the summer disappeared to when the temperature dropped? Many songbirds and other migratory birds spend the cooler months in Latin America’s tropical rainforests, so preserving their winter habitat is essential to their survival. That’s one reason why NRDC partnered with the group Osa Conservation to help Revive a Rainforest on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. With the support of our members we’ve been helping to restore 50 acres of degraded tropical rainforest by planting carefully selected native tree species.

Six hundred and fifty species of birds make North America their home and breeding ground. While some of these birds are permanent residents many are migratory, with migration paths varying from short, medium to long. Approximately 350 species breed in the US and Canada and then winter all the way in Latin America and the Caribbean where they need to find sufficient food and safe nesting locations. The Yellow Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, and the Canada Warbler are just three of the many species that journey long distances during their seasonal migrations to Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.

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Jungle Callings: The Elusive Potoo

Photo by Manuel Sanchez Mendoza

If you’ve ever spent the night in the rainforest you know how deceptive sound can be. Unlike the intriguing daytime peeps, flaps, buzzes and calls that inspire one to explore deeper into holes, hollows, and underbrush, the haunting sounds that pierce the blackness of night cause the uninitiated like me to wholeheartedly question their disbelief of ghosts, goblins and spell-casting forest witches. Nighttime at Piro has a way of transforming torrential downpour into slowly approaching footsteps, guttural howler calls into sinister forest cries. Especially haunting is one sound that I really would have sworn was a ‘bruja’ laughing slowly and eerily into a wooden whistle repeatedly throughout the night.

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Birds, Environmental Education

Conserving the Scarlet Macaw

As part of conservation efforts for the Scarlet Macaw, artificial nests have been installed in two colleges and five schools. In each school, trees with easy visibility were chosen for students based on  characteristics of diameter and height for the installation of the nests.

Students of these schools attended a workshop on ecology, life cycles and the importance of conservation of the species Ara macao. Students from the 5th, 6th, and 9th grades are in charge of monitoring macaw activities and noting events such as flights and perching near the nests and when a macaw investigates the inside of a nest. They also monitor the activity of other species near the nest.

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Featured Bird: Band-tailed Barbthroat

Band-tailed Barbthroat by Gianfranco Gomez

The Band-tailed Barbthroat (Threnetes ruckeri) is a medium sized hermit in the hummingbird family.  They are a common resident of wet lowland forest on the Caribbean and Pacific slopes and range from Guatemala on down to Western Venezuela and Ecuador.  They are often found along edges and the understory of old second growth feeding on mainly Heliconia, Calathea and banana flowers with their specially shaped decurved bill.  This and other hermit species can be found here at Friends of the Osa’s Osa Biodiversity Center

So what’s the difference between a Hermit and a Hummingbird?  Hermits are hummingbirds but they do have some characteristic differences between them.  Hermit feathers are typically brown, rufous, green, and gray in color and do not have the iridescent plumage that hummingbirds do.  There is often little difference in appearance between the sexes normally seen in most hummingbirds.  The Band-tailed Barbthroat is known for its round tail which is banded in black and white with two green center tail feathers which extend farther out looking as if they were dipped in white paint.

Interestingly, this hermit forms breeding leks.  Males gather in courtship groups also known as leks which is the traditional display ground where females come to choose their mate.  They are less aggressively territorial than hummingbirds which tend to defend particular flowers as their territories, hence the brighter iridescent feathers against their chosen flowers.  Nests are small cups attached to the underside of Heliconia or banana leaves up to 4 meters high; using the leaf as a bit of cover allowing for much needed respite during heavy rains.

We would like to thank Gianfranco Gomez from the Drake Bay Rainforest Chalet and Photographs by Bob Levy for their stunning photographs and allowing us to showcase them.  You can find them just up the coast from us in Drake Bay, Costa Rica.


The Osa Recording Project

Recording a Stream Soundscape: Jeff Woodman, Luis Vargas & Leo Garrigues

By Karen Leavelle & Jeff Woodman

The Osa Peninsula is known for its high level of biodiversity and is one of the most “biologically intense” places on earth according to National Geographic. The Osa has over half of all species found in Costa Rica. This is evident in the over 400 bird species found here. That’s quite a few birds for such a small area. Well, its time then to make them heard; to record their songs, calls, mews, ooo’s, churrs, drumming and scolding notes and make them available for all to listen to.

That’s exactly what Jeff Woodman, board member of American Bird Conservancy and Amazon Conservation Association, Luis Vargas, ornithology student at the University of Costa Rica, and Tim Burr, recordist for more than three decades thought when they met at a recording workshop held by Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology last summer. Partnering with Friends of the Osa, The Osa Recording Project began in December 2009 when Jeff, Luis, and Tim joined Al Houghton, Bob Levy, and Bob Schallmann on the Osa Peninsula. There they met up with Liz Jones and Abraham Gallo from Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge and Kory Kramer, Guido Saborio, and Manuel Sanchez from Friends of the Osa to begin the somewhat daunting task of recording as many bird, mammal, amphibian, and insect sounds as they could. The first trip was highly successful

Jeff Woodman, Tim Burr, Luis Vargas and Bob Schallmann recording birds on the road from the Osa Biodiversity Center to Puerto Jimenez

prompting the group to once again descend upon the Osa for round two in mid April. The expertise of the group expanded significantly with the addition of Costa Rican birding experts Leo Garrigues, Gary Feliz and Oscar Herrera, and with Karen Leavelle with Friends of the Osa. Now Gary, Oscar, and Karen who reside on the Osa can simply walk outside and record when they wake up in the morning!

This recording group has travelled from Luna Lodge at Carate to Friends of the Osa’s Osa Biodiversity Center, out to Cabo Matapalo and Puerto Jimenez, Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge and everywhere in between. This group has even gone all the way over to the Rincon mangroves on the Golfo Dulce side where one can find the endangered Yellow-billed Cotinga and the Mangrove Hummingbird.

So why record all this wildlife?  Education, Education, Education. One intention is to create one or more CDs that could facilitate the training of aspiring local naturalists. Also, birders who come to the Osa can learn some songs before being inundated by the local avifauna when they get off the plane at Puerto Jimenez. Researchers and students will also benefit as well as local guides who work in this amazing environment. We also hope to have songs linked to the Friends of the Osa website along with a bit of natural history and images to allow folks to make visual connections with Osa wildlife.

Oscar Herrera, Lana Wedmore, Leo Garrigues, Tim Burr, Jeff Woodman, Gary Feliz & Luis Vargas at the end of a long recording trip.

We will of course keep you updated on this amazing project and gigantic undertaking as we progress.  Look out for more blog posts showcasing a particular bird species, its ecology and the bird’s song or call in its partially edited version. Final edits will be made by recording specialist Al Houghton out of New York.


Featured Bird: Charming Hummingbird (Amazilia decora)

Also known as the Beryl-crowned Hummingbird the Charming Hummingbird (Amazilia decora) is regionally endemic to the Southern Pacific lowlands and coastal areas of Costa Rica north to Carara and Panama.  It is sometimes considered conspecific with the Blue-chested Hummingbird found on the Caribbean slope as they are nearly identical.  You will often see them in coffee plantations, gardens, forest edges and along streams and open clearings feeding on Inga, Hamelia, Satryia and Heliconia.  Like many tropical species Charming Hummingbirds form courtship assemblies or “leks” of up to 12 males where males gather to advertise their courtship display and land themselves a female breeding partner.  Interestingly, males and females that defend territories at flowers such as the Charming Hummingbird are those hummingbird species that are brightly colored to show off their iridescent costumes in contrast to the flowers.  Hermits do not hold territories in the same way and are not generally very colorful in comparison.  More on hermits though another week.  Charming Hummingbirds will breed throughout most of the year expect for the height of the dry season.

Listen to the Charming Hummingbird call :

We would like to thank Gianfranco Gomez from the Drake Bay Rainforest Chalet or for their stunning photographs and allowing us to showcase them.  You can find them just up the Pacific coast from us in Drake Bay, Costa Rica.

We also want to thank the Osa Recording Project headed by Jeff Woodman which enables us to bring you these sounds.  We will keep you posted on the progress of this tremendous undertaking and when our CD will be available.

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