Last Life Bird of Costa Rica

Pearl Kite

All too soon Friday arrived, and I was finally able to sleep in until 5:00 am instead of waking up at 3:30 am. I was up and birding 45 minutes later, taking pictures of everything I would miss once we returned to Canada – our flight was scheduled to leave at 1:30 pm the following day, and this was our last full day in the country. We hadn’t made any plans or booked any excursions, so I was able to get in a few hours of birding before breakfast. As usual it was humid when I set out, but not too hot yet; I headed out to the spot beneath the red-flowering trees first, curious as to which birds I would find there early in the morning.

For the first time I noticed the sunrise – it appeared to be rising out of the north. In contrast, the photos from yesterday show the sun setting over the water at the south end of the bay. It’s interesting how the sun’s position in the sky appears so different at such a southern latitude.

Sunrise in Costa Rica

I noticed the Turquoise-browed Motmot in the trees overlooking the water again, and when it caught an insect and began eating it, I decided to shoot some video. In the background you can hear the White-winged Doves cooing, the Rufous-naped Wren singing its odd song, and, at the end, the call of a Hoffmann’s Woodpecker.

The tide was coming in, leaving the rocks below the cliff exposed. I saw two Brown Pelicans, a Magnificent Frigatebird, and an intriguing gull or seabird flying over the water. The haze made it difficult to discern any field marks, so I had to leave it unidentified.

At the red-flowering trees the Great Kiskadees were still hanging around the nest. I still had no luck finding any hummingbirds perching out in the open or the Squirrel Cuckoos in the vegetation along the slope.

From there I headed down to the beach, taking a few photos as I went.

Tide Coming in

There was no one on the beach, and these tracks on the sand intrigued me.

Raccoon Tracks?

After heading back up to the resort I heard the howler monkeys in the same grove of mango trees where I saw them for the first time a week ago. I headed over and found at least three howlers eating their breakfast.

Mantled Howler Monkey

Mantled Howler Monkey

I headed up the stairs to the resort entrance, passing a Groove-billed Ani in the trees by the swimming pool and the Tropical Kingbird on her nest. She was not quite camouflaged enough to prevent me from shooting a few pictures.

Tropical Kingbird

As I approached the top of the stairs I saw a pale bird fly low overhead, and when it landed in a tree I realized it was a hawk of some sort! I checked it through the binoculars and noticed its black-speckled white back before I turned my camera on to take a photo. Unfortunately it flew off just then, leaving me watching in frustration – I knew it was something I had never seen before, and I doubted I could identify it from the one brief glimpse of its back. I hoped it would land close by, but it appeared to vanish.

I checked the large pit just outside the gate and saw the Ringed Kingfisher again as well as four Turquoise-browed Motmots. One was sitting on a branch right inside the fence. It stayed there long enough for me to take a few pictures.

Turquoise-browed Motmot

Although common in Costa Rica, their bright colours and willingness to sit still made them one of my favourite birds of the trip.

Turquoise-browed Motmot

A White Ibis flew over, which was new for my trip list, and several Groove-billed Anis flew back and forth from the fence to the shrubs. I took this photo of two of them sitting on the fence together, and it amazed me once again just how easy it was to see these members of the cuckoo family, unlike the secretive Black- and Yellow-billed Cuckoos that breed in Canada.

Groove-billed Anis

I heard a Black-headed Trogon calling from somewhere down the road and followed the sound. I stopped when I saw a bird fly out of the trees, loop around and land on a branch; a moment later a second one flew in and brought food into its nest inside a broken-off tree limb. I wasn’t sure whether it was a Streaked or a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher; however when I got back to my room I checked my field guide and determined it was a Streaked Flycatcher based on the whitish belly, the thin malar stripe, the cream-coloured supercilium, and the pale base of the lower mandible. I watched the pair for a while as they flew in and out of the nest.

Streaked Flycatcher

Two Crested Caracaras were walking around the ground in the same area, and a Hoffman’s Woodpecker flew in. It found a grub in the bark of the tree, ate it, and flew down to a fallen tree where it started to peck tentatively. I could see the red crown of its head, indicating that this was a male.

Hoffmann’s Woodpecker

I was unable to locate the trogon so I headed back up to the resort, passing the Kiskadee nest along the way. One of the birds flew down to gather nesting material, and flew to the nest several times without depositing it. Each time it approached the nest, the bird inside began to vocalize. I suspect the bird didn’t want to enter the nest while I was watching it, so I hurried on my way.

Great Kiskadee

A Rufous-naped Wren weaving through the branches of a small plant caught my attention, and once again I was reminded of how these birds act more like nuthatches than wrens. They are a fun bird to watch; I would miss them when I returned to Ottawa.

Rufous-naped Wren

I realized I hadn’t taken very many photos of the Great-tailed Grackles on the resort, and I wanted to rectify this before we left. This male walking along the ground made it easy, showing off his beautiful blue-black plumage and long diamond-shaped tail.

Great-tailed Grackle

On my way back to our room I noticed a commotion in the trees near the pool. When I checked the birds there with my binoculars I noticed a Kiskadee and a Tropical Kingbird both dive-bombing a white bird roughly the same size. It was small and fairly cute, and I wondered if this was the mystery raptor I had seen earlier. I hurried down the stairs, grabbed a couple of shots, and grabbed a few more before the two flycatchers succeeded in chasing it off. The Pearl Kite is the smallest Neotropical raptor, with a population extending south from Costa Rica into the dry and arid regions of South America, and an isolated non-migratory population in Nicaragua.

Pearl Kite

This was a bird I spent some time looking at in the field guide because it was within the right range, though I didn’t consider it likely because it didn’t even show up on my list of target birds for May (As a side note, that list was generated in February 2017 when we booked the trip. Pearl Kite now shows up on a list of targets at no. 419 on a second ebird account created for the purpose of generating target lists for places I’ve already submitted checklists. I didn’t create a separate list for June, but Pearl Kite appears to be slightly more common in June, at no. 324 on the list. Of course, that list now includes my sighting of this bird.). It was definitely one I was interested in seeing, as it resembled a small falcon. I suspected it was a Pearl Kite when I saw it, and was able to confirm its identity quickly when I returned to our room – the white underparts, dark cap and collar, and bright orange legs are fairly distinctive, and its size was easy to gauge its size with the unhappy flycatchers mobbing it. This was probably the best self-found lifer of the trip, and one I was really happy to get!

Doran was just getting up when I returned to our room at 7:30, so I headed to the red-flowering trees again while I waited for him to get ready for breakfast. My second trip there was much more productive than the first. I saw five Magnificent Frigatebirds and one Brown Pelican flying over the bay, a couple of Turkey Vultures and a Black Vulture soaring overhead, the pair of Great Kiskadees at the nest, a pair of White-throated Magpie Jays flying by, and the Plain-capped Starthroat in the red-flowering tree. The Streak-backed Oriole flew into the tree as well, and found a large, juicy moth or butterfly to feed on. A single Rufous-naped Wren was calling from somewhere nearby too, but decided to leave the oriole alone.

Streak-backed Oriole

I followed a Cinnamon Hummingbird around for a while, and was delighted when it perched on a branch out in the open! All week I’ve been watching them rest on branches about a foot beneath the canopy, the green shadows making it difficult to photograph them. He still wouldn’t descend to eye level, but it was great to finally see one out in the open!

Cinnamon Hummingbird

Thrilled with this find, I headed back to our room, stopping to photograph this Great-tailed Grackle walking on the roof with a bug in its mouth.

Great-tailed Grackle

A large green Black Spiny-tailed Iguana was sitting in the middle of the path, and I stopped to take its picture, too.

Black Spiny-tailed Iguana

Later that morning I was happy to photograph a species I hadn’t been able to photograph earlier in the trip. As we were finishing eating our breakfast I noticed a large bird soaring over the resort that was not a vulture. It was still there when we left the dining room, flying a little higher up, and I managed to get one photo of it before it climbed higher in the sky and vanished. It appears to be a Zone-tailed Hawk, a hawk that looks a lot like a Turkey Vulture, except for the striped tail – the underside of the wings are two-toned, with dark linings and paler flight feathers just like a Turkey Vulture, and it even soars with its wings held up in slight V-shape when soaring. The Zone-tailed Hawk often flies with Turkey Vultures, and it has been hypothesized that the hawk is a mimic of the vulture and uses this similarity in appearance to sneak up on prey that would not typically flee from vultures.

Zone-tailed Hawk

We enjoyed another swim in the ocean before lunch, where we spent some time talking the couple who accompanied us on our excursion to Miravalles the day before. Later I ran into one of the other women from the excursion, and talked to her about the birds on the resort for a few minutes.

On our way back from lunch I noticed that the Tropical Kingbird was finally sitting out in the open by its nest, and grabbed a few pictures. The Tropical Kingbird is among the most specialized of flycatchers, its food consisting of large flying insects which it captures almost exclusively by sallying out after them. This species has benefited by human activities, as their range has expanded with human-induced changes in the landscape.

Tropical Kingbird

A Variegated Squirrel eating a fallen mango caught my attention. These handsome squirrels seem much shyer than the squirrels back home, as every one that I saw ran away from me when I approached it with my camera. I kept my distance so I could watch this one as it ate.

Variegated Squirrel

I went out for one more walk later that afternoon when I heard the chattering of the parakeets in the trees behind our room. I stopped by various spots around the resort and tallied three Magnificent Frigatebirds, two Neotropic Cormorant, about 30 White-winged Doves, a Groove-billed Ani, two Cinnamon Hummingbirds, one Turquoise-browed Motmot, three Great Kiskadees, one Tropical Kingbird, three Gray-breasted Martins hanging out on an antenna attached to the main building, one Rufous-naped Wren and about 10 Great-tailed Grackles. I spotted this possible Variable Cracker on the beach when it flew up and landed on the trunk of a tree. This tentative ID is based on the noticeable red colour of the cell at the leading edge of the forewing, and the lack of red in the hindwing eyespots.

Possible Variable Cracker

I also saw four White-throated Magpie Jays during my walk, one of which sat out in the open for me.

White-throated Magpie Jay

The best part was seeing all of the parakeets flying in. I counted nine Orange-chinned Parakeets in the trees at the front of the resort, and about 80 Orange-fronted Parakeets in the middle of the resort grounds. Unfortunately the clouds had moved in, and none of the photos I took of the birds against the gray sky are worth posting. However, while watching the parakeets in the mango trees near our room I noticed two different birds among the flock – both White-fronted Parrots! They were hanging from branches out in the open, eating the fruit still on the trees. It was a treat to finally get a good close-up view of this parrot species.

White-fronted Parrot

I was sad when the sun began to set on our last full day in Costa Rica, but happy with the birds I had seen and the photos I had taken during our relaxing day on the resort. The Pearl Kite was my last life bird of the trip, and seeing both it and the White-fronted Parrots on the resort was terrific – it just goes to show in Costa Rica you never know what will turn up even on a resort in the dry Pacific, and that amazing birds really can be found outside of the rainforest.

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One thought on “Last Life Bird of Costa Rica

  1. I’ve been following your blog for a while, and I really admire the energy it takes to keep it up! Also, I very much enjoy the lovely photos. Which camera are you using now?

    I think I can identify the lovely red trees in Costa Rica. They’re most likely Delonix regia, variously known as malinche, royal poinciana, flame tree, flamboyant tree, etc.

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