An Afternoon Walk

Plain-capped Starthroat

After our swim Doran and I had time to go back to our room before lunch, then headed up to the dining room shortly after noon. As mentioned before, the days seem longer in Costa Rica – it was just lunch time and already I’d gone on a walk and had a swim in the ocean; it felt like a full day when it was barely even 12:00pm! Lunch was quite tasty, as were all our meals at the Occidental. The buffet menu was quite good, and varied every day so we didn’t get tired of eating the same thing. My only disappointment was that the pineapple mint and pineapple ginger juices at breakfast weren’t available every day, nor were they available at lunch. Once we were done eating we headed out a different way, passing by the tennis courts to see what the rest of the resort looked like – it was definitely too hot and humid to play beneath the sweltering tropical sun, and the courts were empty.

We passed some pretty flowering shrubs outside one of the guest buildings, and noticed that there were quite a few butterflies sipping their nectar. I saw what looked like a snake inside the shrub, but it just turned out to be the tail of a small lizard resting on a branch. This White Angled Sulphur was quite cooperative.

White Angled Sulphur (Anteos clorinde)

A Gulf Fritillary was also present, and I caught it resting on a leaf.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

We didn’t see anything else worth mentioning on our walk, but on our way back to our room we passed by the familiar mango grove and scared up a few butterflies feeding on the fallen fruit. Although the groundskeepers clean up the area several times a day, there are almost always mangos burst open on the ground attracting a fair number of insects. The Malachite butterflies in particular were drawn to their sweet juices.

Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)

Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)

Doran scared up an unusual-looking grayish-brown butterfly from the path. I followed it until it came to rest upside-down on a nearby tree. I was able to narrow down the identification to one of the crackers, which I thought was a strange name for a butterfly until I learned that the males make a cracking sound when they dart out at passing insects. This individual was likely not be a male as I never heard it make a sound. Crackers typically rest on tree trunks head downward with their wings spread open, so I was able to get a few photos. I believe that this is a Gray Cracker, because the hindwing eyespots have orange scales before the black crescents. For a butterfly lacking in colour, I thought the pattern was very beautiful.

Probable Gray Cracker (Hamadryas februa)

I went out for a quick walk later in the afternoon to look for birds on the cliff near the red-flowering trees. As I was walking along the path I noticed a dark bird flying above me; I recognized the orange bill and single white tail stripe of a Common Black Hawk! This was a bird that Larry had told me to look out for, as it is common along the coast, especially near mangroves where they hunt for crabs on low perches. At no. 45 on my list, it was one that I was reasonably certain I would see. I watched as it flew toward the large hill above the resort, followed by a second one. One of them perched on a tree on the slope, while the second one sailed out of sight. As I was watching a smaller bird flew out of a tree close to where the hawk was perching, and started harassing it! The smaller bird was a White-throated Magpie Jay, and it was successful in driving off the hawk. I guess the jays in Costa Rica don’t like hawks any better than the ones in Ontario!

Common Black Hawk

I checked the vegetation growing along the cliffs for Squirrel Cuckoos, dragonflies, and other creatures, but they were long gone. The view of the tide coming back in was lovely.

View of the beach (click to enlarge)

The Groove-billed Anis were hanging around the area, as usual, and perhaps they were becoming accustomed to me for they no longer darted into the shrubs whenever I took a step in their direction. I still kept my distance, so as not to spook them, and was happy with this photo that showed the blue highlights in its feathers.

Groove-billed Ani

While I was standing near the fence at the edge of the cliff I realized something was calling in the trees above me. I looked up in time to see a small bird with a long tail, white belly, and inky black cap foraging in the bare branches above me. I only got a clear view of it once, but it was enough to identify it as a male White-lored Gnatcatcher – a lifer for me! I wasn’t able to get any photos as it was quite active, but I was satisfied with the views. The White-lored Gnatcatcher is ranked as no. 27 on my target list at 11.8%. This is slightly better than the Tropical Gnatcatcher I had seen at Palo Verde, which is ranked at no. 42 at 8.8%. Unlike the Tropical Gnatcatcher seen with Ollie, it had no white supercilium whatsoever, indicating a breeding male…Tropical Gnatcatchers have a broad supercilium, and non-breeding White-lored Gnatcatchers have a narrow white supercilium. Their ranges overlap in Guanacaste, which is the only part of Costa Rica the White-lored Gnatcatcher is found in; the Tropical Gnatcatcher is found throughout. It didn’t stay long and quickly disappeared into the denser trees nearby.

I took some time to watch the hummingbirds and saw a Cinnamon Hummingbird flitting from flower to flower. I also found a Plain-capped Starthroat perching in the bare tree right next to the tree where I’d just seen the White-lored Gnatcatcher – it was great to see it out in the open. It sat with its back to me for a few moments before flying across the lawn into another tree.

Plain-capped Starthroat

Unlike the Cinnamon Hummingbirds which liked to perch in the red-flowering tree just beneath the canopy, this little bird liked to perch out in the open. I was able to get some great views of it as it preened and stretched its wings.

Plain-capped Starthroat

Here it is perching in a classic hummingbird position. You can see a hint of the white stripe down its back, as well as the diagnostic red throat, greenish cap, and long white post-ocular stripe behind the eye. The Plain-capped Starthroat is considered to be one of the larger hummingbird at 5 inches long. Its close relative, the Long-billed Starthroat, has a blue-green cap extending to the bill and a white spot (not a stripe) behind the eye. Of these two species only the Plain-capped Starthroat is found in the Pacific northwest.

Plain-capped Starthroat

A Streak-backed Oriole flew into the area just then, and I spent some time following it around. It’s interesting that I never more than one oriole in an area, even though nesting season was clearly underway.

Streak-backed Oriole

The Streak-backed Oriole is found throughout the western half of Central America, all the way up to the Mexican-US border – the birds of Guanacaste are at the southern-most part of this species’ range. One interesting fact about this species is that the males and females in the southern part of their range look almost identical, whereas the sexes appear much different in the northern part of their range. While both males and females in Costa Rica are both a bright, vibrant yellow, the males in Mexico are bright while the females are quite dull. In addition, the streaked back of this species is unusual in orioles – other species have either black backs or orange to yellow backs.

Streak-backed Oriole

I followed the oriole to the edge of the red-flowering trees where it then ran afoul of one of the Rufous-naped Wrens – the wren squawked and chased it out of the area completely. Once the oriole was gone I started pishing to catch the wren’s attention. Many wrens, warblers, and small songbirds respond to pishing by flying out from the deep foliage to a branch out in the open, sometimes right in front of your face, and this one was no exception!

Rufous-naped Wren

Happy with the birds I had seen and my photographs of the Plain-capped Starthroat, I headed back toward our room. Along the way I saw this Green Iguana which, except for the colour, looks almost exactly the one one on the National Geographic page. The spines running down its throat and along the back of the head and back make it look like something in an old dinosaur movie.

Green Iguana

I stopped by the mango grove to see if anything was around, but had no luck. Several grackles were walking on the ground, so I stopped to take a few pictures. This juvenile was much larger than the slimmer females, so I am guessing it is a male Great-tailed Grackle.

Juvenile Great-tailed Grackle

Here is an adult male Great-tailed Grackle in all his blue-black splendour. Despite being common I find them fascinating with all their different calls and screeches and whistles. There was at least one family group on the lawn with many juveniles following their parents around and begging in the trees.

Great-tailed Grackle

I was happy with my afternoon walk, especially after seeing so many butterflies and being able to photograph so many birds. If it weren’t so darn hot and humid I would spend much more time outside, but after an hour or so I needed the break inside our air-conditioned room and a nice cold beverage to cool down with. The resort was great at restocking our fridge with water, beer and sodas – including Fresca! – which was a terrific way to relax at the end of an outing.


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