Sunday 18 April 2021

Catching Up: March Birds and Bugs

My last post covered some of my mothing excursions from early this spring. I have been getting out during the day as well, and have taken my camera with me some of the time. Below are some of the diurnal spring highlights so far from the second half of March. 

Barred Owl - Amherst Island, Lennox and Addington County

Laura and I ran a very successful Amherst Island tour on March 18. Of course the owls were the show-stoppers, but we encountered many other species of birds. My eBird checklist for the day tallied nearly 50 species, including some first of year migrants such as Eastern Meadowlarks and Wilson's Snipes. A flyover Red Crossbill in Owl Woods was a rare sighting for the island. 

Snowy Owl - Amherst Island, Lennox and Addington County

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Monday 12 April 2021

Early Spring Mothing Adventures

 Early spring is one of my favourite times of the year to be a naturalist. Winter in Canada is far too long for my liking and naturalizing opportunities are few and far between. There is only so much winter birding I can do, and identifying frozen mosses or undertaking winter plant ID only holds my interest for so long.

As the snow recedes and the temperatures warm up, migrant birds appear - first waterfowl and Horned Larks, then waves of robins, blackbirds and Killdeers, and eventually the kinglets, creepers, and sparrows in early April. Observing each "first of year" species brings a smile to one's face, while also providing a reminder of the waves of migration still to come. Observing the phenomenon of bird migration really gets my blood pumping!

Brown Creeper - Port Weller East Pier, Niagara Region

The first reptiles of the year are found on warm, sunny March days, filling a void that had been absent since the autumn. Once the ice has receded from the ponds and the first warm rains of the spring fall, the voices of Spring Peepers, Western Chorus Frogs and Wood Frogs emanate from vernal wetlands while salamanders rush to the ponds to lay their eggs.

Northern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis saurita septentrionalis)

Meanwhile, the first ephemeral wildflowers - usually Hepatica in my experience - add a jolt of colour to the otherwise brown tones of a deciduous forest floor. Early beetles, bees, and moths appear, eager to get on with their lifecycles during these initial spring days.

Round-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica anemone)

It is the last group - the moths - that has captured my attention this spring. I only got hooked on mothing recently, during the summer of 2019. Last spring I was pre-occupied with other things and I did not set up my moth sheet for the first time until early June. Therefore, 2021 has been my first spring of mothing in Ontario. Almost everything has been new, which is always a lot of fun!

Citrine Sallow (Pyreferra citrombra) - St. John's CA, Niagara Region

I previously blogged about some of my finds from the first mothing session of the year during unseasonably warm temperatures on March 10. Since then, I have gone out on five other occasions, as documented below. 

Friday 2 April 2021

Final Post From Costa Rica - The Orosí Area


On the morning of March 22 we packed up at the Mountain House and drove to the Kilometre 76 Road leading to Providencia, a road which Laura and I had visited on our own, several weeks earlier. Starting at over 3000 m in elevation, this dirt road alongside the edge of Parque Nacional Los Quetzales cuts through beautiful montane forest and descends to 2000 m and beyond. We only had a few hours budgeted this time, but made the most of it. The highlight was a Resplendent Quetzal that showed well for my parents and Laura. I missed it, as I was walking back uphill to fetch the vehicle. I heard a singing Ochraceous Pewee during this time, but it refused to show itself despite my best efforts. This was one of the few Talamancan species I had not detected up to this point. 

After a thoroughly enjoyable hour and fourty-five minutes on the Kilometre 76 Road, we climbed back into the Rav4 and left Parque Nacional Los Quetzales behind. Our destination for the night was the Orosí Valley, a location only around 40 kilometres from San José that is famed for its beautiful scenery, lush countryside, coffee plantations and quaint towns. We had a flight to catch the next day - this would be our final night in Costa Rica. 

That afternoon, we relaxed in our excellent accommodations within the town of Orosí. I tallied close to 30 bird species from the front porch of our room; mostly common Costa Rica species, but nice to see regardless. A flyover White-tailed Kite was my first in Costa Rica. I tried to soak in the views of every species; who knows when I would have the chance to see them again? 

Scarlet-rumped Tanager - Orosí, Cartago, Costa Rica

That evening we visited a nearby restaurant that specializes in wood-fired pizzas. Laura and I had stopped here on our visit a few weeks earlier, and the pizzas were as delicious as we had remembered. 

As dawn broke on March 23, the persistent vocalizations of Tropical Kingbirds, Great-tailed Grackles and White-winged Doves provided the soundtrack. A flock of Crimson-fronted Parakeets screeched overhead. 

White-winged Dove - Orosí, Cartago, Costa Rica

Tropical Kingbird - Orosí, Cartago, Costa Rica

We enjoyed an excellent breakfast at a local cafe before making the short drive towards the entrance to Parque Nacional Tapantí. 

To reach Tapantí, one crosses over the Río Orosí. The immediate environs at the bridge can be quite productive for birding; it has even been afforded eBird hotspot status. We stopped here and spent quite a bit of time birding the woodland beside the river and the scrubby fields along the roadside beyond the bridge. 

 Puente Purisil, Cartago, Costa Rica

Along the roadside just before the bridge, a covey of Black-breasted Wood-Quail ducked off the road. In the immediate vicinity of the bridge we saw our first Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush and Rufous-capped Warblers in Costa Rica, a solid diversity of tanagers, warblers and flycatchers, and even a Green Basilisk that was resting a few meters from the water's edge. 

Green Basilisk - Puente Purisil, Cartago, Costa Rica

Our species list drastically climbed as we explored some of the pastures along the roadside. Disturbed, open habitats are often productive birding locations, even if the majority of the species you find are widespread birds that easily colonize areas that humans have opened up. It is a superficial kind of diversity, as it can seem way birdier than a pristine tract of rainforest during one short visit. But given enough time, the undisturbed forest will produce a much higher list, including many specialized birds.  

Roadside birding - Puente Purisil, Cartago, Costa Rica

Photography is easy in these habitats. As it was approaching mid-day, the swirling clouds above us muted the harsh light from time to time. 

Bronzed Cowbird - Puente Purisil, Cartago, Costa Rica

Yellow-bellied Elaenia - Puente Purisil, Cartago, Costa Rica

Common Tody-Flycatcher - Puente Purisil, Cartago, Costa Rica

Some of my favourite finds from along the roadside included Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Lesser Elaenia, two species that I have only seen before on a handful of occasions. 

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher - Puente Purisil, Cartago, Costa Rica

Ruddy Ground Dove - Puente Purisil, Cartago, Costa Rica

The clouds were looking more menacing by the minute. We drove towards the entrance gate to the park, but decided against forking out the cash for a few hours in the park. As the first few raindrops fell we enjoyed the sights and sounds of the forest flanking the entrance road. 

Cyanopepla scintillans - P.N. Tapantí Area, Cartago, Costa Rica

The birds were active in the overcast conditions. We chanced upon a few small mixed flocks and enjoyed species like Emerald Tanager, Golden-browed Chlorophonia and Spotted Woodcreeper. Others remained hidden in the wall of green and were only appreciated by ear - Yellow-throated Toucan, Black-faced Solitaire, Buff-rumped Warbler. A Stripe-throated Hermit buzzed us, and a flock of White-collared Swifts chattered away high in the sky. I guess they are used to swirling gray clouds and erratic rain. As we left the forest behind and walked into the pasture, a Black Phoebe hunted from the fence line, unperturbed by the drizzly conditions. 

Black Phoebe - P.N, Tapantí Area, Cartago, Costa Rica

We finished our walk, hopped back in the car and began driving towards to San José. With a little time left to kill, one final stop near Ujarrás was on the agenda. Laura and I had visited this area briefly on our earlier pass through the area, searching unsuccessfully for Cabanis's Ground-Sparrow. This time, we ventured down a narrow dirt track towards an overlook of Lago Cachí. This lake was created in the 1970s with the construction of the Represa de Cachí (Cachí dam), and it was chock full of vegetation from our vantage point. 

Birding Lago Cachí, Cartago, Costa Rica

We noted many wetland species including heard-only White-throated Crakes and a single Gray-breasted Crake, a typical selection of herons, and a distant Muscovy Duck. We also enjoyed stellar views of a Barred Antshrike and Tropical Gnatcatcher. As we left Ujarrás a group of roadside Collared Aracaris demanded one more brief diversion. And with that, we completed the rest of the drive and made our flight with plenty of time. 


As I write this, more than a full year has passed since our flight departed Costa Rica and touched down in Toronto. It has been a challenging year for many people to say the least. With vaccine programs ramping up in some parts of the world, there is now hope on the horizon. Laura and I still very much have plans to return to Central and South America as soon as reasonably possible, perhaps as soon as this autumn (however, I generally have an optimistic, and not realistic, outlook).  There are still many unfinished chapters to write.