Costa Rica welcomes this Baja birder with open…
Well, you can see what I mean. These Caiman (an American Crocodilian species) lined the slough banks with mouths open cooling themselves in the very humid, warm weather of the Costa Rican low-lands. My guide, Carlos Urena email@example.com and I were searching for Jabiru, my main target bird for this trip. I’ll say that Carlos is a fantastic birding guide, birds by ear, speaks english, knows what he is doing and I am already booked for next year.
I’ll blog about the Jabiru in my next post but today I’m gonna focus on the owls and other night birds we successfully hunted. I’ve never liked using flash photography to shoot birds at night because of the red-eye effect and the possibility of injuring the bird. After doing a lot of on-line research, I purchased a five star rated light that does a wonderful job of “painting” owls and nightjars without bothering the birds. Fenix TK35UE is the name and I’m pleased as pie with it. Check out this Bare-shanked Screech Owl I photographed at about 30 feet at night under a forest canopy, dark as can be.
I’ve been to Costa Rica before but, with the expertise Carlos possessed, I was able to to add about one hundred fifty new birds to my camera’s list. The nights were full of the sounds of cicadas and and all sorts of animals but Carlos recognised the call of this owl. The Bare-shanked Screech-Owl is found from Costa Rica to extreme northwest Colombia, although it is largely absent from most of Panama, except the far west and the extreme east of the country. It is generally found at altitudes of 900 to 3300 m, and the species is strongly dependent on dense montane forest. Compared to other Megascops in the same range, it can be separated, given reasonable views, by its tawny facial discs, which lack any obvious rimmed effect, and its whitish-spotted underparts. It is also a relatively large screech-owl, with a proportionately large head, but small ear-tufts. However, like other Megascops, the Bare-shanked Screech-Owl is most likely to be located by its deep-whistled song, hu-hu, HOO-HOO hoo.
Another owl I was able to get a shot of was the Black and White Owl. This bird seemed very shy and kept it’s distance, maybe fifty feet. Still lit up fairly well.
It’s an eairy(sp) thing to do to hunt owls at night in the forest in a strange country. Black and White Owls are only active at night. Both sexes are similar, but female is larger than male and has longer wings.
Adult has sooty-brown to blackish upperparts. The tail shows four narrow white bars. The legs are feathered white with dark bars.
Underparts are white, all narrowly barred dark brown to blackish.
This black-and-white pattern extends to the neck sides, the nape and the upper back.The head is rounded, with black facial disk. Eyebrows are speckled white. Crown is blackish.
Eyes are dark brown. Bill and feet are orange-yellow.Juvenile has whitish face, white barred dark brown upperparts and buffy-white barred dark underparts.
Carlos and I were slowly driving down a dirt road out in the boonies one night and he heard a call. “Pacific Screech Owl” and out of the car we go. Using my light, which is a tiny thing, but has 3200 lumens, we spot the critter. Just then a guy drives by us, stops and backs up and gets out of his car. Obviously drunk as a skunk he tries to ask us in a threatening tone, what we are doing. I stayed where I was, about 30 feet away and Carlos goes to face him. He’s ready to blast the guy in the face with the high-intensity strobe my light has if he gets aggressive. The guy just utters something and leaves, whatever.
So, back to the owl. He’s still there in the tree and Carlos lights it up and I fire away. The Pacific Screech-Owl can only be found right along the pacific coast from Oaxaca to Costa Rica (maybe only as far north as Chiapas). It is extremely similar to the Oaxaca Screech-Owl that inhabits the northern extents of its range in Oaxaca. It has also been compared to the Vermiculated and Western Screech-Owls but, of course, has a distinct call, different markings, and range.
We hear another owl calling down the road a bit. Driving slowly, the bird’s call becomes faint. Patients pays off as we stop the car and wait and now the owl is closer. Pretty far away for night-time photography but Carlos lights up the bird and I try for a shot. This is a beautiful Striped Owl.
The striped owl (Pseudoscops clamator) is a medium-sized owl with large ear tufts and a brownish-white facial disk rimmed with black. Its beak is black, and it has cinnamon-colored eyes. It has shorter, rounder wings than most of its close relatives. The upperparts are cinnamon with fine black vermiculation and heavy stripes. The underparts are pale tawny with dusky streaks. It is native to South America, and parts of Central America.
I hear a bird’s night-time call and ask Carlos what this is. Dusky Nightjar he says. Not an owl at all but a bird I want to shoot. We drive around the curve in the road and find a place to pull over. Out of the car we go and Carlos starts calling the nightjar. I don’t know what it is about nightjars but they always want to land on my hat and this one tried to as well. It settles on the ground nearby returning the call and my camera does it’s job.
Also sometimes called the Dusky Whip-poor-will, on account of it being perhaps more closely related to the other whip-poor-wills than to other New World Antrostomus, this nightjar is restricted to a relatively small range in southern Central America. It occurs from central Costa Rica to westernmost Panama, where it is found in montane forests and woodland between 1500 and 3100 m. This is a mid-sized brownish nightjar characterized by its buff throat band and lack of white wing markings; males have white tips to the outermost rectrices, but these tips are buffish in females. Although Dusky Nighthjar is locally common, very little appears to have been published concerning its ecology or behavior.
The last bird I’m posting about today is the weirdest. There were two of these things sitting on posts by a river in the dark. Carlos swatted at a large bug by his head and when it flew away from him both Great Potoos attacked it, in total silence. Spooky birds!
With its characteristic drawn-out moaning growl, the vocalizations of the Great Potoo are among the most exciting and perhaps most unsettling nocturnal sounds in the Neotropics. Apart from its vocalizations, the Great Potoo is an intriguing species. Great Potoos are nocturnal and feed on large flying insects, and occasionally bats, which they capture in sallies from a high perch. During the day, they remain motionless in mimic of broken tree branches. The Great Potoo is distributed throughout humid and semihumid forested habitats in Central and South America. Across this vast region, there is little geographic variation in size or in plumage; two subspecies sometimes are recognized, but these do not differ greatly from each other. Despite the lack of conspicuous geographic variation, populations on either side of the Andes have been found to be very distinct genetically. This level of divergence is similar to the genetic divergence found between other species of potoo, pointing the possibility for ‘cryptic’ species within the Great Potoo lineage.
Carlos and I hunted birds from high mountains to lowlands. The people of Costa Rica were some of the friendliest anywhere. I’m going back for more but this time I’ll be ready for the ticks and chiggers, the worst part of my trip. After every day I had ticks embedded in my legs and chigger bites there as well. ’till next time, Happy Birding from firstname.lastname@example.org