Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Costa Rica: Day 1

I'm going to recap my trip to CR by using one entry for each different location we stayed in. On day 1, I arrived safely and on-time thanks to American Airlines. After standing in an immensely long line for "inmigracion", my passport was stamped and we were on our way. The three of us traveling from NJ met the rest of the gang coming from Virginia. We hopped in our little van and were on our way to a one night stay at the nearby Las Orquideas hotel.

My binoculars were out of my bag in seconds. I began scanning for birds but didn't see much in this urban environment. We arrived at the hotel where the yard was full of blooming vervain and many large trees. A much larger property with manicured gardens and other wild areas could be seen behind the hotel.

After dropping our luggage in our rooms, we gathered for some afternoon birding. My first bird was a Plain-capped Starthroat that Mike (our leader) had found on nest in a tree the day before. Nice bird! I had actually seen one in AZ in 2003, but it was still great to see. We added Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Tropical Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, and a ton of Black Vultures. My first lifer of the trip was a Steely-vented Hummingbird patrolling a patch of vervain - a real beauty. He was too quick for my camera though.

A huge, fruiting tree held Blue-crowned Motmots, Blue-gray Tanagers, and lots of Clay-colored Robins. A walk down towards a creek yielded a singing Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, Baltimore Orioles, Tennessee Warblers, and more Kiskadees. Darkness was approaching, so we closed out the evening in front of the big fruiting tree.

Darkness approached, but we had a plan. We had a great tip on a roosting spot for Mottled Owls - a large bamboo stand near the parking lot. Mike handed me the spotlight and we went looking. Mike did his best Mottled Owl impression while I scanned the bamboo stand with the light. No luck. I decided to move down the path a bit next to a parked car. I hit the spotlight... jackpot! I took the pic below.

After some drinks in their odd, Marilyn Monroe-themed bar and a nice Costa Rican dinner, we hit the hay. We awoke early to do some pre-breakfast birding. We saw most of the same birds we had seen the previous day. We added Blue-black Grassquit (lifer), House Wren, Blue-and-White Swallow, and several other birds to our trip list. Breakfast was great and included a troop of Rufous-naped Wrens playing around on the buffet. I also had the privelege of meeting Kevin Easley of Costa Rica Gateway, a well-known birder and tour guide. His maps were very helpful to our trip. On the way back from breakfast, I found the butterfly in the pic below on a window. At first I thought it was a dead leaf stuck to the window, then I noticed the legs and antennae. I believe it's one of the Leafwing butterflies. Please let me know if you have the true ID of this butterfly.

We packed up and headed off to the Arenal Volcano. Stop by later in the week for lots more pics and stories.

Costa Rica Top 10 Recap

Before I left for Costa Rica, I posted a lofty list of my 10 most wanted birds. Here's the outcome:

1. Rufous Motmot - Missed it again, but I did see Broad-billed Motmot and Turquoise-browed Motmot which is a wonderful consolation prize.
2. Great Curassow - If I had not come home early, I surely would have seen this.
3. Ornate Hawk-Eagle - It's a tough bird to see and we didn't see one.
4. Golden-browed Chlorophonia - Apparently, this bird is now called Blue-crowned Clorophonia. I was one of two people in my group who saw one fly past us. I got a nice look at it in flight. It's neon!
5. Scarlet Macaw - I'll never forget my first sighting of a pair of Scarlet Macaws flying in the distance. They were everywhere in the Punta Leona area. We saw some nesting as well.
6. King Vulture - Missed it again...
7. Yellow-billed Cotinga - We had an incredibly lucky sighting of one flying over the Rio Tarcoles bridge. Our amazing driver, Vernon, spotted it. Great scope views for all!
8. Mangrove Hummingbird - We took a boat tour of the mangroves and were lucky to see this endemic.
9. Giant Cowbird - It has evaded me once more...
10. White-tipped Sicklebill - My biggest regret is not seeing this bird due to not participating in the second leg of the trip.

All-in-all, not such a bad turnout for a very demanding list.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Back from CR (a bit early)

I'm back from Costa Rica a bit early. Here's me standing in front of the Arenal volcano. We could see the top when we first got there, but for the most part, it was clouded over. The locals hadn't seen the top for 11 days until the day we arrived.

The trip was awesome and Tico Tours did another excellent job planning it. Their local contacts really help make you feel like you're in good hands. Not counting "heard only" species, I saw 265 species including 85 lifers. I'll write more later with pictures. Unfortunately, my camera broke on day 4. Yuck.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Off to Costa Rica until Feb. 3!

I'm off to Costa Rica until February 3. I will be back with many pictures and stories. Please check back then.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Cool Picture

Does the entire population of the UK go birding? Here's what happened when a Long-billed Murrelet showed up there in November.

Rare birds

Why do all the rare birds show up while I'm trying to get ready for my vacation? A Band-tailed Pigeon has been hanging out at a feeder in Cape May the last few days. I can't fit in a 5 hour round trip before I leave! Also, a Black Guillemot (that is being entertained as a possible Pigeon Guillemot) just showed up at Sandy Hook. If I didn't have a meeting this afternoon, I know where I'd be! If that meeting ends early, my work day might end early too!

UPDATE: Holy rarity Batman! The guillemot is now "officially" a Long-billed Murrelet. Wow. I'm going to make an attempt to see it tomorrow morning. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

New feeder visitor!

I was sitting in my car this morning getting ready to drive to work. I looked towards our house and saw something perched on our suet feeder. From 100 feet away, it didn't look like the usual Downy Woodpeckers we get. I got out of the car and approached it to see a female Red-bellied Woodpecker! Cool! I've never seen nor heard one in our neighborhood, so this was a nice surprise. I tried to get a quick picture but it came out blurry. The bird left the feeder and then spent some time exploring the oak trees. Since I couldn't get a pic, I present these pictures of a male taken by a member of the Feathered Friends forum whose name I misplaced (Sorry!). The second pic shows the very interesting light-blue coloring in the underwings.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

2 things meme time!

I took this from Julie, who got it from Laura:

two names you go by: Patrick and Pat
two parts of your heritage: Italian and Irish
two things that scare you: heights and death
two everyday essentials: speaking to a loved one and seeing at least one non-human
two things you are wearing right now: Underwear and contacts
two of your favorite current bands/artists: Oh man, I'm out of touch... Jet and Modest Mouse
two things you want in a relationship (other than love): humor and companionship
two favorite hobbies: birding/nature stuff and cooking (is that a hobby?)
two things you have to do this week: pack for my CR trip and finish a project at work
two stores you shop at: Amazon and Target
two favorite sports: Hockey (Let's go Rangers) and.... baseball sometimes
two shows you like to watch: The Office and Medium
two things you’d buy if money were no object: What's left of NJ open land and The Phillipines (too many cool birds in jeopardy there)
two wishes for 2007: health and happiness to all my loved ones

What exactly is a mangrove?

One of the highlights of my upcoming Costa Rica trip is a boat tour through the Pacific mangrove swamp. Here we will hope to see many of the birds that call the mangroves home such as Mangrove Hummingbird (a Costa Rican endemic), Mangrove Warbler (a subspecies of Yellow Warbler), Mangrove Cuckoo, and Mangrove Black-hawk. Thinking about this trip got me thinking about mangroves. I have a mental image of a mangrove swamp, but I don't think I've ever actually visited one. What exactly is a mangrove?

Mangrove swamps are found along tropical seacoasts on both sides of the equator. They are named for the Mangrove trees that grow there. Mangrove swamps, to most people, look like muddy, swampy places filled with mosquitoes, snakes and other critters. In fact, they provide vital habitat for nesting and migratory birds, as well as many species of mammal, reptile, and amphibian.

Mangrove trees stand in mud on roots that look like stilts above the water. These roots provide support against the ocean's strong waves and tides. Small rootlets grow up out from the main root and feed on the rich soil just below the mud's surface. A third set of roots collects oxygen for the plant.

Mangrove swamps produce tons of rich organic detritus each day, off of which bacteria, molds, tiny crustaceans, and larval shrimps and fishes feed. A single acre of red mangrove sheds more than three tons of leaves each year. It is crucial to the swamp's survival that the daily flushing and replenishment of the tides occur. (Source)

Mangrove swamps offer a great benefit to the environment. They protect the coastline by acting as wave breaks. They stabilize coastlines and serve as natural barriers against torrential storms. In this way, they preserve the coastline and prevent shoreline erosion. They also trap debris, sediments, excess nutrients and toxicants through their natural filtering processes. This improves the water quality of tidal rivers that drain through mangroves. Finally, they act as wind breaks which reduce the force of winds that may destroy and damage property.

I'm looking forward to visiting the mangrove swamps of Costa Rica and seeing the mangrove trees. I also look forward to the birds and other creatures that live ther.

Friday, January 12, 2007

NABA Butterfly Park

Today's NY Times has a great article on the Rio Grande Valley's NABA Butterfly Park. It's a place I'd love to visit someday. The butterflies in the Rio Grande Valley are the most diverse and numerous of anywhere in the US.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I & The Bird #40

For some amazing bird-related blog posts from around the world, check out Peregrine Craig's version of I & The Bird #40.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Costa Rica Most Wanted List

On January 20, I head off to Costa Rica for 2 weeks of birding. I saw over 200 life birds there in November 2005 and I hope for 200 more! In reality, I'll probably see about 100 more and get better looks at some of the 200 I saw before. I'll also have chances at some life mammals like Sloth and Jaguar! Who knows what other critters I'll find as well! Since I'm in a list making mood, here's a list of my 10 most wanted birds for this trip. Keep in mind that I saw some of Costa Rica's most sought after species my first time there like Resplendent Quetzal, Zeledonia, and Snowcap.

1. Rufous Motmot - It's got a unique call and an awesome tail.
2. Great Curassow - A really cool member of the cracids.
3. Ornate Hawk-Eagle - We had a close encounter with these birds in 2005. They were calling in a dense rainforest, but we never saw them.
4. Golden-browed Chlorophonia - A cool name and a superbly beautiful bird.
5. Scarlet Macaw - This spectacular bird should be easy to find at the Punta Leona Reserve.
6. King Vulture - A huge member of the vulture family.
7. Yellow-billed Cotinga - A beautiful snow-white bird.
8. Mangrove Hummingbird - a Costa Rican endemic found in... wait for it... mangroves.
9. Giant Cowbird - It's a cowbird... and it's GIANT!
10. White-tipped Sicklebill - A hummingbird with a wacky, sickle-shaped bill.

Well that's my list... it'd be amazing if I could find all of these, but I'd be thrilled to see any of them. Ten days and counting!

2007 Most Wanted Bird List

I'm taking a queue from some other bloggers and posting a list of my most wanted birds for 2007. I've restricted the list to NJ, since who knows where I will be traveling this year.

1. Cape May Warbler - My nemesis bird. I will make my best effort once again.
2. Roseate Tern - Somehow this regular visitor to NJ has eluded me. I will try again.
3. Arctic Tern - This bird does not visit regularly, but can be seen periodically in NJ. If I do a late summer pelagic, I have a chance at this and #2.
4. Dovekie - *drool*
5. Hudsonian Godwit - Again, a regular visitor to NJ, but very sporadic. Who knows when one will turn up?
6. Ross's Goose - A rare, but annual, visitor to NJ.
7. Cackling Goose - This bird should be easy. I just need to get off of my butt and find one.
8. Henslow's Sparrow - Seemingly annual visitor to NJ nowadays. I'd love to see this skulker after trying several times in the past.
9. Barn Owl - There here in NJ. I just need to keep searching.
10. Black Rail - They're out there somewhere...

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Searching for a Barn Owl

NJ does not have a huge population of Barn Owls. There are some found in old churches in cities and others found in the farms that still remain in rural parts of NJ. There's no sure-fire place to see one though. Despite several efforts, I've never seen one. So, when I recently got word of a Barn Owl found about 10 miles from my house, I was pretty excited. I didn't have an exact location. I just knew that it had been seen in an abandoned building in a field where they used to "blow up lots of bombs". The area is located near a large industrial area and I had a pretty good idea of where it was. I looked up the area on Google Maps and noticed that there were a LOT of "abandoned-looking" buildings in this area. My dad and I decided to go check it out yesterday.

We explored some backroads looking for ways to enter the area. We found many dead ends, an impassable set of train tracks up on a hill, and several "No Trespassing" signs. We decided to enter one of the restricted areas that was restricted to model airplane license holders and no one else. We spoke with some of the model airplane pilots and they pointed us to a nearby road. At the end of the road, we found a dead end with walking access to several roads.

We hopped out of the car and started exploring. The one thing I knew was that the building had a big front door and no windows. We saw two buildings that fit this description right near where we were. Unfortunately, they were surrounded by a few hundred feet of 8-foot tall phragmites.

A possible Barn Owl hiding spot...

I tried to get through the phragmites, but I encountered my two least favorite things - muck and mire. Dad and I tried to find other access points, but all of them proved fruitless.

After a second try into the marsh...

I decided to go back today with some rubber boots on. Even with the rubber boots, I couldn't get close enough to these buildings. Large ponds and rivulets snaked all around. Upon further inspection on Google Maps, I noticed there may be another access road through a local college campus. I think I'll try that next week.

My boots didn't help...

The model airplane club was out in full force. Check out this jet! How cool!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

My Birding Year 2006

2006 was a great year of birding including some wonderful experiences, special lifers, rarities and several trips. I was lucky enough to go to San Francisco, Georgia, Colorado, Florida, and Belgium. I got lifers in all of those places except Florida. Here's a synopsis:

Overall Year List: 312
ABA Year List: 301
NJ Year List: 230

# of lifers: 50
# of ABA lifers: 40

First lifer of 2006: Western Gull
Last lifer: Manx Shearwater

Favorite sighting: Swallow-tailed Kites in Savannah NWR in Georgia

Rarest bird: Fork-tailed Flycatcher in PA

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

This bug stinks!

If you live in the mid-Atlantic area, keep your eye out for this bug:

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

At our annual "Safety & Environmental Fair" at my work back in June, a member of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension handed me a magnet with a picture of this insect that was mocked up like a "wanted" poster. The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug was introduced to the Allentown, PA from Asia in 1996. It's established itself in several counties in NJ and PA and has become a nuisance because it feeds on crop plants. Also, the adult spends the winter indoors and emits a foul odor which can't make homeowners too thrilled.

The reason I'm writing about this bugger is because a co-worker approached me this morning with one perched on his very expensive pen (which I happily squashed). Another co-worker also had one at her desk a few weeks ago. I guess they like my office. I also have a guilty conscience because I think I released one from my house a month or so ago, not realizing what it was. If you see one, please report it to the Rutgers Cooperative Extension.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all! Sorry for the lack of posts. It's been a busy few days. Beth and I spent a pretty low-key New Year's Eve playing games with her 6-year old niece, my sister, and her fiance. I highly recommend the board game Cranium for everyone. It is awesome for people of all ages. In fact, all of the games that I've played by the Cranium company are great.

Earlier in the day on New Year's Eve my sister's fiance took me to his hunting club's property where he frequently sees Pileated Woodpeckers. We tried to find them, but a distant call was all we were able to get. This place was woodpecker central though. In the area where the Pileateds had been seen, we saw Downy, Hairy, Red-Bellied, and Northern Flicker. We also saw White-breasted Nuthatches, a screaming Red-tailed Hawk, American Tree Sparrow, and a tree full of bluebirds.

Now it's time to go celebrate the coming of the 4th Indiana Jones movie! Let's hope George Lucas doesn't screw this up like he did Star Wars!