Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Birding Costa Rica 2016: Travel Day 4

Birding Costa Rica 2016: Travel Day 4

PART IV: Rick’s and Iain’s excellent adventure!

Day 4 is a travel day and we are kind of winging it.  It is about a 4-hour drive to our lodge in the Caribbean highlands south of Turrialba so we didn’t expect too much on the birding front; boy were we wrong!  The day before, Luis told us about a birding spot along the route, run by a friend of his called Cope, so he arranged for us to make a quick stop there and gave us a number to call to arrange a time and get directions.  This was a last minute arrangement and our only hope for birds.

So we are up just after 6, late, ate breakfast and headed to the Tirimbina forest for one last 2 hour walk before our driver arrives.  We saw what we thought were 2 ‘lifers’, Streak Crowned Antvireo and Plain Xenops.  Later Rick’s pictures when blown up revealed the Xenops to be a Wedge-billed Woodcreeper which we already have.  It was not the last time Rick’s pictures aided our identifications.

Wedge Billed Woodcreeper

Wedge Billed Woodcreeper   photo Rick Muise



Slaty Antwren photo Rick Muise

Slaty Antwren   photo Rick Muise

Darwin our driver arrived and off we went. The telephone number I was given for the bird stop on the way did not seem to work.  So we told Darwin about the arrangement and I showed him a picture of Luis who had set up the stop.  Small world as he knew Luis so he called him and got the location and time sorted.  On the way we stopped for fabulous coffee, food and sweet cakes at a set of roadside stores.  Seems Darwin, a 26-year-old single guy, knew all the best coffee shops in southern Costa Rica.   On arrival at a small town called La Union we found Cope’s place. He is an artist who has replaced his art income with birding tours, as they are much more lucrative.  He is busy with a tour from England so William one of his guys takes us on a fast tour.  First stop is a road side view of a Great Potoo with its baby.  This gets many high 5’s.  Now, there are two species of Potoos on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica,  Great and Common.  The Great imitates a slanted tree branch and the Common imitates a vertical branch/trunk.  Next a walk through a local forest provides great looks at a Spectacled Owl, and a Black Throated Trogon on the nest.  We could see the babies under her.  Finally, a quick stop at his house turns up a Gray-necked Wood-Rail and hummer feeders.  This all made for an excellent day!


Great Potoo and baby. photo Rick Muise

Great Potoo and baby    photo Rick Muise



Spectacled Owl photo Rick Muise

Spectacled Owl   photo Rick Muise



Grey Necked Woodrail photo Rick Muise

Grey Necked Woodrail   photo Rick Muise


We continued on to Rancho Naturalista which we chose because it is mostly geared to birders.   It has access to many local trails up and down the hills and it is near several local hot spots.  As well, the facilities are first rate with gourmet meals served family style.  A real treat after Tirimbina.  Our drive ended after passing the last village on lots of slow winding roads and then up a steep and rocky 1/2 km gravelly track which made the tires spin.  You definitely need a 4-wheel vehicle.  We finally arrived and are greeted by Harry (Englishman) the resident guide and the local German Shepard.  We are quickly in our rooms (nice, no flat screens or phones) and then onto the balcony where we try to identify all 12 species of hummers.  Beautiful Coquettes, Plumeteers, and Hermits fighting for a place at one of the many feeders.  We thought we had died and entered nirvana.


Rancho Naturalista photo Rick Muise

Rancho Naturalista   photo Rick Muise



Green Crowned Brilliant. photo Rick Muise

Green Crowned Brilliant   photo Rick Muise


Plan is to relax and then take a short walk to look for birds but then we meet Jackie and Tom on their way to the Pools to watch hummers.  Hmm, sounds interesting so off we go.  The Pools are really three or four very small puddles fed by a trickle of water which runs thru the middle of a forest gorge a few 100 meters from the lodge.  You stand maybe 10 or 15 meters above them on a wood platform and watch species come for their end of the day baths as the light slowly fades.  Woodnymphs, Snowcaps and Hermits dipping in to the water very much like dancers.  Then Silver-throated and Emerald Tanagers bathe for a while.  Foliage-gleaners and Leaftossers arrive and a Manakin races by.  This is an end of each day event.  Harry the guide just stands there naming birds, describing them and their calls.  His knowledge is impressive.  Eventually the light is so bad we head back to our rooms.


Snowcap photo Rick Muise

Snowcap   photo Rick Muise



Silver Throated Tanger photo Rick Muise

Silver Throated Tanger photo Rick Muise


After showering I hear the dinner bell and arrive at the table.  We are joined by the two Aussies (Jackie and Tom), as well as Harry the guide and Rene, a Brazilian birder who was asked to come to Costa Rica to do Macaw research and is now enjoying just birding and guiding at the lodge.  Food quality is terrific followed by coffee and scotch.  While eating we listen to the calls of a Mottled Owl.   Species count 151.



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Early Morning Spring Birds Tally: 2009-2015

Here is a tally of bird species seen or heard from 2009-2015 during MVFN Early Morning Bird Walks. Typically these early morning walks take place between 6 and 8 am on four Wednesdays in April,  in various locations in and around Mississippi Mills and other areas in Lanark County, Ontario. Watch the MVFN website in early Spring for dates and locations of the next Early Morning Bird Walk!

The information was compiled May 18, 2015 by Neil Carleton.


IMG_6383 Gray Catbird Robinson

Gray Catbird: This photo was taken in the spring and is one of the species seen on an Early Morning Bird Walk in 2011; but this particular Gray Catbird was seen during MVFN’s 4-day trip to Point Pelee National Park, May 2015 and was photographed by Howard Robinson. What a fantastic picture!



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A Lanark Big Year – January 23 – Winter Birding

“A Lanark Big Year – January 23 – Winter Birding”

Well it is near the end of January and it has been a tough month for birding. Between the snowsqualls, cold, and wind, many birds are hunkered down, requiring a lot of effort for each sighting. I spent time birding on 19 days so far in January, mostly by car and I have seen 35 species. I think this is a good time to introduce the concept of a nemesis bird. During a lifetime of birding there is always, at least for me, been a species that alludes you for months or maybe years before you see it. These nemesis species are often not even particularly uncommon but for some reason you just keep missing them, while your friends seem to have no problem locating them. Well this year is no different! So far, no matter how many trails I walk and how many trees I scan the trunks of, I have still failed to see a Brown Creeper or Golden-crowned Kinglet. Oh well that is birding; so let us get started with some highlights and pictures of the first 20 days of 2014.

Looking for Brown Creepers

Rarest bird by far is the Varied Thrush which has been at a feeder north of the Mill of Kintail since December. After standing 20 feet from the feeder for 30 minutes, freezing my hands and feet as it was -27C that morning, the thrush flew into the cedar next to the feeder but would not show itself. Despite this I could pick out the bold supercilium and the orange and black colours. After a small victory dance, I moved into a back roads drive west using roads north of Hwy 7, and discovered the village of Harper and the Campbell Cemetery on Drummond Concession 7. It sits on high ground across open farmer’s fields mixed into a set of trees. There is also a small Baptist church north of the village dated 1886. A little Googling turns up some interesting families and history in this part of Lanark. After that I called Ken Allison to see if the Great Horned Owls were active. I arrived at his place around 4:30 PM and hiked down to the pond. It was bitterly cold and there were no hoots. As my fingers began to go numb I pulled out my cell and played the call, which soon resulted in two Great Horned Owls calling back. It was magical to listen to them through the cold still air while looking across the pond at the last light in the western sky.

Baptist Church near Harper Campbell Cemetery

January 8th, Zaza and I headed for the western edge of the county. Taking Hwy 7, then Ferguson Falls road where we came across 50 Snow Buntings at a feeder. This was one of two large groups we found, the other at a house on the edge of the village of Lanark. Further along the road we found 30 Cedar Waxwings in front of a house. From Lanark we drove to Fallbrook and then onto Bennett Lake Road and headed toward the end of the county. We saw numerous Blue Jays which seem to have taken over every feeder in sight. Near the end of the road Zaza spotted a Red-tailed Hawk by a small marsh, first of the year. Going north on the Elphin Maberly Road there were half a dozen Turkeys eating in the Sumac. After passing the end of Dalhousie Lake where the Mississippi winds beside the road we spotted two River Otters. They were in and out of the water regularly arriving back on the ice with food. They are more active during the daytime in winter than in the summer. Across the road was another Red-tail which immediately leaned forward and defecated when it noticed us. I have seen this behavior many times and I have heard the explanation that they want to be as light as possible if flight is necessary. Not sure we know what is in the mind of a Red-tail! A quick drive into Purdon CA turned up 10 Purple Finches. Then we stopped along the side of Watson Corner Road and ate lunch to the sounds of logging trucks passing by. In the distance, bird #25, an adult Bald Eagle, soared in the sky probably over the Heron Mills area. We decided to head home at this point and just north of Carleton Place at Ramsay 7 and Rae Road there were 200 Snow Buntings in the corn stubble. During the day we saw deer many times, but only 1 or 2 at a time.



During an afternoon walk along the Mississippi River trail from the Carleton Place arena to the McNeely bridge I saw a flock of 20 Common Goldeneye plus one Bald Eagle cruising the river at maybe 100 feet off the deck going east.

A Coopers Hawk has taken up residence in Carleton Place starting late last year and is still worrying the feeders across town. Arnie Simpson spotted it in the area close to the hospital and Mike Jaques saw it near his home in the south section of town. It reappeared around our place on Jan 12th and has been seen on and off since then.

Thanks to Mike, I got the Rough-legged Hawk on Glen Isle that has been in that area at least since the Christmas Bird Count.

I decided to visit Pakenham, which has some great feeders, especially up the hill just off Waba Road. I found a flock of over 20 House Sparrows merrily calling while bouncing around a backyard feeder. The males always look cocky to me. Large groups of Jays, Goldfinches, Starlings and a few Downys accompanied them. From Pakenham I crossed the five span bridge where two Goldeneye were diving. Up the hill and south onto County Road 17 where there is a house that must be the best bird diner around. I stood at the roadside and watched Jays from all around fly in, while a dozen or so Tree Sparrows shared the feeders with the Jays, Mourning Doves and Hairy Woodpeckers. In the distance on a tree top sat a Northern Shrike likely eyeing up his candidate lunch. Down the east county line there are many open fields with exposed water in the low areas. A possible Horned Lark flew up in front of the car but eluded my binoculars. By rambling around this area I discovered Mountainview Road between Panmure Road and Needham Side Road. This must be a great drive in the summer because even in the winter your view west is of fields going down to the Mississippi which, combined with the twisty turning, up and down road, is charming. The roadsides are dotted with apple trees still hanging with fruit, dried, frozen and a deep burnt ombre colour. Zaza and I have seen these trees all over the eastern half of the county and here they just seem to fit. Halfway along there is a grove of very tall pines, filled with Woodpecker holes. I shall return here when the weather is better.

Zaza and I did another day trip on the January 18th and the route involved a drive to Pakenham, west on Waba Road to Campbell Road and then along to Bellamy Road. White Lake was alive with the buzz of planes going in and out, presumably to deliver fisherman to the many ice fishing huts. Bellamy road produced my first Red-breasted Nuthatch of the year, sitting atop a pine, bobbing its tail, otherwise there were few birds out. The next day I visited the Mill of Kintail and walked the outside blue trail in the hope of rustling up a nemesis bird without luck. It was still a very pleasant walk with a cold front passing through so the wind was up and the snow was flying. A beautiful Pileated flew over in the hardwoods calling loudly. One tree, roughly half-way around the trail, had a significant hole around 15 feet up, which definitely had an occupant. I was unable to climb high enough on nearby trees to make a positive identification. It looked like the top half of the head of a Screech Owl, but that may just be wishful thinking, so I can’t really count it.














I have included my list so far Lanark Birds 2014-1 Tracking and I want to thank everyone who has provided assistance so far. Keep those emails and texts a coming.





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