Sunday, March 22, 2020

Costa Rica Part II: The Edges of La Selva


Well, well, well...it's just a whole new world out there, isn't it? Here in Santa Clara County, the Coronavirus Capitol of California, we have been under a shelter-in-place order for what seems like a little while now. This...this is some weird and bad shit.

But as Hunter said, "when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro". Get off Facebook, get outside. Now is not the time to chase esoteric county birds hundreds of miles away, now is the time to geri bird and give your 5MR the attention it deserves, while you still can. Now is the time to have some fun, because by the time April rolls around there probably won't be anyone having fun, anywhere. These are the last days of friendship, of love and life, so enjoy them before your lungs fill with covid-19 and...

Who said that? That sure is dark...but what did you expect? You knew what you were getting when you surfed over here. BB&B is not the type of place to just throw up a picture of some common bird, recite some well-known piece of trivia about it copied and pasted from allaboutbirds and wait for those sweet, sweet likes to roll on in. Anyhow, with each passing day I am all the more grateful to have fit this Costa Rica trip in last month.

As I mentioned in the last post, our first base was Hotel Gavilan again. There's decent birding to be had on the property (especially if it is your first time in the country), and it's pretty cheap and laid back. Unlike La Cinchona, seemingly little has changed since we were there in 2012. The food is fine though they don't give you many options...but if you like tipico, you can get tipico. Their credit card reader was down so I had to scrape a large amount of cash together to check out (not ideal), but they charged us less than they would have if I had paid by credit card (ideal). Anyhow, it's still a good though not extremely comfortable option, but it wasn't packed with tourists and there are Pale-billed Woodpeckers nesting next to their driveway (above). There are also VERY nice, VERY chatty Canadians to provide you company.


A VERY persistent puddle in the driveway attracted a number of birds, but mostly enchanting Dusky-faced Tanagers. Of all the birds in Costa Rica, is this simply the best one? Stilt would assure you it is. More from Gavilan in a later post.


For our first real morning of birding in Costa Rica, we headed over to the edges of the La Selva Preserve, which is conveniently just a few minutes from Gavilan. To bird the main part of La Selva you have to either be staying there or pay for a guided walk, and we decided to do neither and take our chances with doing some road birding. We first walked the road along the northern edge of the preserve that ends at the river (here is the eBird hotspot). Great Tinamou was one of the first birds I heard when we got out of the car - it would also be the last time we detected a tinamou of any kind for the trip! How embarrassing. At least we saw Short-billed Pigeons?


Cinnamon Woodpecker was a life bird and is a real looker...just an ace woodpecker in my book. Other life birds for me here were Blue-chested Hummingbird, some flyby Great Green Macaws, and White-ringed Flycatchers.


A pair of confiding Slaty-tailed Trogons were giving a potential nest site a gander next to the road. Don't you just love confiding trogons?


We then walked down the main access road for the preserve - you can walk all the way to the guard station. The walk in was pretty slow except for two SNOWY COTINGAS that flew over the road. Agonizingly brief looks but a great life bird for yours truly. No photos though so here is a Great Kiskadee building a nest instead (sorry).


There are hella Olive-backed Euphonias in Costa Rica. Here is one of them.


We didn't see a whole lot of becards on the trip - most of the ones we did see were Cinnamon Becards like this.


The way back to the car was much birdier than the way in...you know what they say, "Middle, most hottest part of day, is best time to make for greatest birding". A pair of fabulous Long-tailed Tyrants was hanging out near the road, and that too was a life bird.


After struggling in the heat of the day for a while we finally hit another decent mixed flock. Northern Barred-Woodcreeper is a cool bird itself, but is also often indicative of some other interesting birds nearby.


Red-throated Ant-Tanagers anchor many low and mid elevation flocks.


I was really stoked to get good looks at this Fasciated Antshrike. I was kind of confused at the time why it was being so obliging, and it wasn't until I looked at my photos that I saw it was because it was trying to deal with an enormous spiky caterpillar that has amazing camouflage - just look under the tip of the antshrike's bill.


I have pictures of the antshrike flinging/coughing/sneezing caterpillar juice on more than one occasion, so perhaps the caterpillar ultimately survived the encounter by being nasty...or succumbed to its antshrike wounds.


"Soul-satisfying views" has admittedly become a bit of a cliche, but those words are still apt and highly relatable. The soul was satisfied in its absolute entirety after walking up to this totally tame Black-throated Trogon.


I'm not a raptor fetishist but it is a rare and special occasion to see a new species of hawk, and Semiplumbeous Hawk was yet another lifer that morning. Unlike some of the others this one was very obliging and hung out on an open perch next to the road. Semiplumbeous Hawks reside and abide in lowland tropical rainforest and was one of the (admittedly many) target birds that morning.


It is indeed Semiplumbeous, in fact it is the only bird named "Semiplumbeous" in existence. That's fine, we don't need more of them. I very much appreciated this lifer brazenly loitering on the same branch until we decided to walk away, lifering often doesn't end up that way.


Motmots. Who doesn't love motmots? No one, it is impossible. Somebody struck gold when they decided that some birds should be named "motmots", and it goes without saying that the birds have great looks and great vocalizations to match their fantastic names. We saw many Broad-billed Motmots on this trip.


I am nothing if not honest though, and now I must show you the truth. This motmot had an absolutely pathetic tail. Utter bullshit. It looked like it landed in a fire and had almost the whole thing burned off. Most unfortunate, but at least the rest of the bird was not equally haggard.

Go ahead, cropshame me if you must, I can take it. More CR to come soon, until then I recommend feverish yardbirding.....though perhaps "feverish" is not the most sensitive choice of words....well you know what I mean.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Costa Rica 2020 Part I: La Cinchona


Wow, we made it back just in time! Greetings from San Jose, California, which is now deep in the shadow of coronavirus. While things are increasingly tense here - and just now my daughter is screaming about a squirrel in the living room, which for some reason there actually is - I can at least say that the Costa Rica 2020 tour is in the bag, and it was brilliant. Joining me this time was the controversial Jacob Durrent, attention-seeking Flycatcher Jen, and the surprisingly dry-eyed but armadillo-adverse Stilt. I planned our route to visit some of the best inland areas north of San Jose (Costa Rica), and although we did not have time to get to all of them by any means it was GREAT SUCCESS. It's kind of daunting to think I have a duty to blog all of it but I can try!

We flew in to San Jose and immediately experienced our first logistical obstacle of the trip (the first actual obstacle was large and dumb pile of Envision Festival goers doing unnecessary yoga at our feet in LAX), which was getting our rental car from Hertz. The 4x4 I had reserved was not available and they tried to give me a sedan, which I napesed. After much waiting we were informed a 4x4 SUV was available and would be ready soon...then we were informed that it kept slipping into neutral by itself while in gear so that one was off the table. Finally we accepted an SUV that did not have 4x4 as I figured we would at least have good clearance to deal with shitty roads...this did work out fine, though it would not have if we had met with real rainy season weather. It was also a surprise to get in the car and find out it was a manual transmission, which I had not driven in about seven years. Luckily Jacob helped out with a lot of the driving and all the stalling I did when I drove was just funny for everybody (how embarrassing) instead of being catastrophic. The car was weak and grossly underpowered BUT our little Chery (that's right, not Chevy) did succeed in getting us everywhere we wanted to go.

Why did I tell you this rambling story of inconvenience that you almost surely don't care about? Because that is Geri's way, and we did our share of GERI BIRDING. In fact, almost this entire post is about Geri Birding!


Finally underway, we got to our first stop, the soda/mirador at La Cinchona. We had a great time here back in 2012 and it has only gotten better! Oh, I don't want that Silver-throated Tanager photo up at the top of this post to fool you...that photo was made possible by fruit. La Cinchona is all about GERI BIRDING (though the human food ain't bad either), and the geri was indeed top notch. Here is a Prong-billed Barbet/Black-headed Saltator combo.


Prong-billed Barbet is a weird bird. When you are the object of the barbet's smile, you aren't quite sure what to do with yourself.


Buff-throated Saltator, old friend. Trusty BTSA turned out to be the most common saltator of the trip.


And Scarlet-rumped Tanager was by far the most abundant tanager of the trip. Better post an obligatory photo now!



This bird, on the other hand, was gripping. My first lifer of the trip was this plump little crippler, Buff-fronted Quail-Dove. They have become very reliable at La Cinchona and did not disappoint during our visit. They weren't exactly confiding but we got some great looks. I needed some more quail-doves in my life and now I should be set for a while. As expected, these were the only ones of the trip and (sadly) the only quail-doves of any species we actually laid eyes on. Much unfinished quail-dove business have I.



Another crucial target bird here was the facemelting/ridiculous Red-headed Barbet, which we also did not see anywhere else. This is the first male I have ever seen and it was absolutely stunning. The Geri Gods smiled upon us that afternoon.


I think the first time I saw Violet Sabrewings was here in 2012. As it was back then, having these giant glowing hummingbirds whiz by inches away is great but not exactly comforting.


Black-bellied Hummingbird was lifer #2 for yours truly. These are only really reliable at a handful of sites so it was a pleasant surprise to have this single bird at our very first stop. Neither drab nor flamboyantly crippling, it's just a very nice hummingbird. Pura vida.



Both the bane and the bedrock of many cloud forest mixed flocks, Common Chlorospingus dropped in for some of the delicious Geri action.



The Northern Emerald Toucanets here are probably some of the most photographed birds south of the Rio Grande. Why? Because they get their geri on within a few feet of you and they are crushable by cell phone, if that's what one wished to do. They also happen to be terrific.


Crimson-collared Tanager is an arresting bird.


And the same case could be made for Blue-gray Tanager, but they are so freaking common it can be difficult to give them the credit they deserve.


Like the Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanagers struggle to be looked at. Whenever a Palm Tanager is in sight, there is invariably something more interesting to look at as well. Such is life for the Palm Tanager.


As expected in February, we also had a pleasant mix of neotropic migrants mixing in with the resident locals. Summer Tanager wishes it could participate in more geri birding on its migration routes.


This gluttonous Baltimore Oriole is acting like its never had a banana before. It's practically mantling the poor defenseless fruit.


I call this portrait "Tennessee Warbler With Banana".


Yes, I will even post a photo of the dreaded Clay-colored Thrush. They are brown. And very common. But not only is this a picture of a Clay-colored Thrush, it is a picture of a banana. This one is titled "Banana with Clay-colored Thrush".



Foreboding Black Guans were getting in on the feeder action too. You would think that such a large bird would not be attempting to feed on the same thing as a diminutive Tennessee Warbler, but you would be wrong.


Some other roadside stops on the way to Hotel Gavilan produced birds like Bat Falcon (above), Double-toothed Kite and Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift.

That will do it for the first post! Much more to come. And if you are wondering, no, the squirrel is not still in the house.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Bound For Tranquilo


Seven years. It's been seven years since I have had my face melted off by Resplendent Quetzal, seven years since being crippled by an appropriately large and diverse rainbow of tanagers. Seven years since my bones have felt the BONK of a Three-wattled Bellbird. Seven years since I experienced pura vida.

Going so long without pura vida is excruciating. I have been withering, on the inside and out. Luckily, MAX REBO BIRDING TOURS has seen fit to send me back to Costa Rica in a few days, with a focus on Caribbean slope birds. The itinerary is mainly composed of sites we did not get to previously, though some sites are too good and too conveniently located to pass up again.

Target birds will be many and varied for our group. Speaking for myself, I have plucked most of the low-hanging fruit already, but the number of potential realistic lifers that await is well above 100. Bare-necked Umbrellabird and Yellow-eared Toucanet are certainly too rare to expect (but expected enough to look for), so other than those Sunbittern, Agami Heron, Snowy Cotinga and Ocellated Antbird definitely come to mind as top targets that could induce facemelt/cripple/seizures/spontaneous combustion/final birdgasm if seen. But who am I kidding, there is a good chance less-hyped species like Uniformed Crake, nunbird and Song Wren could leave me in a state of catatonic wonder.

And then there is the Collared Plover, my Neotropical nemesis. If you ask me, we have a better chance of finding 27 Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoos than a single Collared Plover, which are documented to be 50,000,000,000 times more common and easier to see for any other birder. It's embarrassing and shameful to admit, but at the same time the only birder without a nemesis is a dead one.

Sorry, I can't help but get a touch dark when Collared Plover comes up. A number of other living legends like This Machine, Coolidge (who is a person, not just a Descendents song), and BB&B's own Cassidy have recently just stumbled out of the steamy jungles of Costa Rica or are still there, sweating and lurching and having chunks of superheated face slough off their heads from constant exposure to great birds. It's the place to be this winter.


The owl highlight of the previous Costa Rica Trip was this Black-and-white Owl, which remains the only one I've ever seen. It was shown to us by Moncho, a security guard at Cerro Lodge. This time we have an owling trip lined up at Cano Negro with the near-mythical Chambita, so fingers are extra crossed for Striped Owl and other night lurkers.


Love geri birding? So does Max Rebo Birding Tours! I think on this trip I'm going to try to take photos of birds that are obviously on feeders instead of attempting shots of birds that don't have feeders or fruit in the frame. La Cinchona has excellent geri birding that features Emerald Toucanets, and we will be checking in on them soon.


Geri birding can often reward one with excellent looks at Green Honeycreepers, a bird that needs to be seen up close, and let me tell you I am ready to sit on my ass and watch a Green Honeycreeper eat a goddamned banana. This one was attending a geri station at Talari Mountain Lodge.


I actually don't expect to see Flame-colored Tanagers on this trip, but I do expect to see other fantastic birds doing unexpected stuff like hopping around in parking lot rubble with the wariness of a Safeway Brewer's Blackbird.

BB&B will be back in March. Until then, take care, and be wary of stringers.

Monday, February 3, 2020

South Bay Winter Slumber


While Santa Clara is not known as one of the premiere gulling counties in the state, that is not because there are a lack of gulls. There are many thousands of Herring Gulls (like the one above) in the county right now, and where there are Herring Gulls there are rare gulls...sometimes anyway. I have at least managed a Santa Clara Glaucous Gull already this year and a 5MR Western Gull, which I didn't see in the radius until November last year. Photographed at Don Edwards NWR.

Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh it's February. I don't know how I feel about that. It sure got here quickly, and as I say in BB&B pretty much every year I'm leery of March birding around these parts. Things have been pretty slow this winter here in Santa Clara, especially if you opt to not attempt feverish county year birding and rechase all the rarities you already chased a month or two ago, or the previous winter. But! But. BUT...the middle of winter is generally a great time to be birding around these parts. If you really need to see a rarity or a year bird or whatever every time you go birding, then just give up birding and be honest with yourself and everyone else...you are not a birder. You are a chaser. You don't enjoy the activity of birdwatching, you like birdchasing.

I think the quasi-elitist and increasingly obsolete notion that listing is something to scoff at now borders on being something to scoff at itself. Let's face it, most of us have bird lists that we care about. Listing is not the problem here, heck chasing isn't even the problem. I happily chase stuff on the reg and recommend it highly. The problem is when you get so locked into certain lists that they dictate that you run after other people's birds every time you go out. Going out with the hopes of finding something interesting yourself, once standard practice when one went out birding, is becoming increasingly uncommon and comparatively bold.

Is it time for a great schism in birding? Is it time for the strict chasers to separate themselves from the rest of us? There is already a large and still growing subset of photogs who seem to chase every rarity but never find anything rare themselves. Something to ponder on a cool February day.

But now that I've begun to peel back the lid on that can of worms, I'm going to put it back on the proverbial shelf for another post. That was not a road I intended to go down! Shifting gears (but probably still instilling some butthurt anyway), I've really been enjoying my new CANON gear after kicking Nikon to the curb. With the assistance of CANON, here is a sampling of our winter birds from along the edge of the South Bay.


Iceland Gulls can be be quite common at certain sites right now. Here is a particularly eye-catching bird with a big dark hood. Photographed at Don Edwards NWR.


Here is a more typical looking Iceland (darker eye, whiter face) photographed from the same spot. Photographed at Don Edwards NWR.


While Herring x Glaucous-winged are often the most common hybrid in Santa Clara gull flocks, along the bay Western x Glaucous-winged like this one can be more abundant. The Olympic Gull is a particularly unpleasant creature and I have nothing more to say about them. Photographed at Don Edwards NWR.


Mew Gulls, with their small size and delicate build, are absolutely delightful in comparison. They should have named Daymaker Gulls. Photographed at Don Edwards NWR.


I thought this COMBO was worthy of posting, a ring-billed Mew Gull and a ring-billed Ring-billed Gull. Photographed at Don Edwards NWR.


The occasional close pass by a Northern Harrier is always appreciated. Photographed at Don Edwards NWR.


Familiarity breeds contempt, but as common as they are Turkey Vultures are still cool to see close up. Photographed at Don Edwards NWR.



Santa Clara is not a very goosey county, but we get a light smattering of non-Canadas every fall and winter. Here is part of a family group of Snow Geese that have been wintering next to Shoreline Lake near Mountain View. Photographed at the Shoreline Park kite flying area.



A group of Greater White-fronted Geese is also wintering in the same area and are similarly acclimated to people, no doubt due in large part to the large flocks of JUDAS GEESE (nonnative/tame Canada Geese) here. I like the lawn-mowing lineup.



Sometimes, I think about grebes. Luminous beings are grebes. I am a fan of Horned Grebes, but it is one of those species that makes me wonder why, know what I mean? Like if someone could do a brain scan while I looked at a Horned Grebe vs a Western, there would probably be more HOGR-related brain activity even though WEGRs sound way cooler and have a legendary courtship display. Maybe it all goes back to when I first started birding, where HOGRs are harder to come by. I'm sure a great many of my feelings and opinions about certain birds, and birding in general, are heavily colored by those early years more than I realize. Photographed at Shoreline Lake.



EARED GREBE/HORNED GREBE COMBO!!!!!!! The HOGR is showing off its flatter crown, thicker bill, and more contrasting face/neck/flank pattern.




While I think of it, I wanted to mention another aspect of my new Canon gear that I forgot to bring up in my previous post about it. For all previous combos and iterations of Nikon bodies and lenses I've used (which are numerous), one flaw that all of them had was that when the subject was on a flat surface (i.e. sitting on or flying low over water, on mudflats, in short grass) and not close up, the camera invariably have a very difficult time focusing on the intended subject. I could shoot 50 similar frames and sometimes less than 10 would have the subject acceptably sharp with good light and good settings and a near-stationary bird, which is a really shitty ratio. I have no such problem now with the Canon 90D/100-400mm II and couldn't be happier. Photographed at Shoreline Lake.


These Western Sandpipers just had to probe the same exact spot. Must be awkward to bump bills under the mud. Photographed at Charleston Slough.



Let's wrap things up with some avocets, photographed at Charleston Slough. Avocets simultaneously look gangly and awkward in flight, but somehow also striking and graceful. There are a shitload of avocets in the South Bay and I'm pretty happy about it.