After Palo Verde

Black Spiny-tailed Iguana

After coming back from our Palo Verde birding trip with Olivier Esquivel I rested for a while, then went up to the red-flowering trees to look for the hummingbirds and Squirrel Cuckoos later in the afternoon. I didn’t see the cuckoos, and while I saw a few hummingbirds darting in the canopy, none perched out in the open long enough to get a good look at them.

The usual pair of kiskadees was hanging out in the clearing. I didn’t get a great photo of the one in the tree, though it does show some helpful field marks that separate it from the similar-looking Social Flycatcher and Boat-billed Flycatcher: (1) The rufous wings and tail; and (2) A bill intermediate in size between the dainty bill of the Social Flycatcher and the thick bill of the Boat-billed Flycatcher. Kiskadees are also very vocal birds, and often say their name or give a single, drawn-out “deeee”. It was a sound I was quickly growing used to!

Great Kiskadee

I was happy to see the Groove-billed Anis in their usual spot in the hedge that separates the lawn from the paved path below. One flew down to the grass and caught something; in the photo it looks like some sort of wasp.

Groove-billed Anis

Whilee Groove-billed Anis may live in groups of up to five breeding pairs, I only ever saw two together in this area. It would have been neat to see a couple of pairs sharing a territory, as these birds lay their eggs in one communal nest and all group members not only incubate the eggs, but also care for the young.

Groove-billed Ani

Although anis and other cuckoos may resemble passerines (also called songbirds) in structure, the toe arrangement is different enough to warrant their own Order, Cuculiformes. While songbirds, which belong to the Order Passeriformes, have three unwebbed toes in the front and one strong, flexible toe pointing backward, cuckoos are “zygodactyls” – two of their toes point forward, while the other two face backward. Cuckoos are not the only birds with this toe arrangement; parrots, owls, osprey, some swifts, and most woodpeckers also share this foot structure. This toe structure also explains why some non-singing “songbirds” – such as crows and swallows – are found in Order Passeriformes.

Groove-billed Ani – note the toe arrangement on this perching bird

The Rufous-naped Wren came along just then, moving through the branches of the hedge like an over-sized nuthatch. Though I’ve come to understand that these very vocal birds are more likely to be heard than seen, it was nice to know that they don’t deliberately seek concealment; they just prefer foraging in trees and shrubs with lots of leaves, and do often come out into the open.

Rufous-naped Wren

One of the anis dropped to the ground, and I thought the sight of this jet-black bird sitting among the red petals made for a lovely image.

Groove-billed Ani

Clouds had been rolling in all afternoon, and when I checked the sky I noticed it was dark enough that rain appeared imminent. I gave up on finding any hummingbirds out in the open to photograph and started heading back to my room.

Storm Clouds

On the way I saw this pale Spiny-tailed Iguana sitting on the grass. I believe it is a Spiny-tailed Iguana due to the lack of the spiny crest going down the tail. I also noticed that of the two species pointed out by Ollie on the bank of the Rio Tempisque, the Green Iguana seems to have a much larger tympanum (ear-drum) above a large circular structure called a sub-tympanic shield (ear shield). I am not sure whether this is diagnostic or not, though my general field guide also shows these differences.

Black Spiny-tailed Iguana

I got back to our room before the rain started – barely. At about 3:15 the clouds opened and the rain started coming down in torrents. I decided to sit out on the veranda for a while in order to watch it, and took this photo of the red-flowering trees where I had just been birding. The line of droplets down the left-hand side of the frame is from the rainwater spilling out of the gutter on the roof.


I was amazed to see some wildlife out and about despite the heavy rainfall. First a small Hermit Crab walked by on the path just beyond the veranda; it kept dry by staying beneath the overhang.

Hermit Crab

Ten minutes later a small lizard came out and sat out on the walkway, too! I had seen a couple of small lizards around the resort now, including what was likely a gecko on the wall near the dining room after dark, and several dark ones on the walkways that would dart into the grass or the hedges as soon as a person walked by. The Rose-bellied Lizard is called the Brown Spiny Lizard in my wildlife guide and is described as having a robust body, a short-snouted head and spine-tipped scales. The belly and other parts of the underside are whitish with a red hue; males have a red throat and, during the breeding season, a pair of red and blue patches on the belly.

Rose-bellied Lizard (Sceloporus variabilis)

The lizard ambled along and disappeared; I went inside not too long after.

I wasn’t able to do any more photography that day because of the rain, though I did see something worth photographing come back from dinner after dark: a pair of raccoons on the path near the mango trees! These were likely Northern Raccoons (Procyon lotor), the same species we have in Canada, though a bit smaller. One disappeared around the snack bar while the other stood up on its hindlegs on the lawn and merely looked at us. The Crab-eating Raccoon (Procyon cancrivorus) is found further south along the Pacific coast and looks similar to the Northern Raccoon, although it has black legs and feet (instead of white) and a smaller mask. We saw raccoons three of the nights while going to or coming from dinner, though they kept themselves well-hidden during the day. Seeing these two was a great way to end our second day, though I wished I had gotten some photos!


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