A Great Blue Heron Eating a Big Fish – Plus What I Saw and Learned this Past Week – 3/22/15

Not in any particular order, some things I saw or learned this past week. Sources listed as noted.

1. Many of you witnessed this. Or have seen it in video.  Or maybe on another blog. But until you see it, you don’t realize how big of fish a Great Blue Heron can swallow.

I pulled up to a local retaining pond, got out of the car, and heard a noise on the bank below.  A Great Blue had a fish in its mouth.  The fish looked rather large from my angle.  I had grabbed my camera and was fighting to turn it on and focus.  The Great Blue flew directly across the pond and stood in the shallow water with the fish.  I figured it couldn’t fly very far without losing the large fish.  It then proceeded to swallow it whole. Amazing.

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Needless to say, or maybe not considering what it just ate, it didn’t fly away the remaining time I was there.

2. An article in the ABA’s Birding Magazine March 2014 issue entitled A Review of World Birding Strategies by Jason Leifester got me thinking. All of the following numbers are probably off by a few but will serve to get the idea across.

There are 238 bird families in the world of which 88 (37%) are listed in the birds of North America.  I figure if you bird the entire US outside of Alaska you could probably see 77 of the 88 families (87%) without too much trouble. In other words no chasing. There are 2225 bird genera in the world which 319 (14%)  are listed on the ABA list. There are 10000 bird species in the world.  There are 650 (6.5%) birds listed as a 1 or 2 on the ABA list.

At the end of my birding days I would like to say I saw 2500 (25%) of the bird species. Not going to happen. Cost prohibitive.

So maybe I see 1200 genera (50%).  Maybe. But still probably cost prohibitive.

Or lets say I could tell my grand-kids I saw 180 families (75%).  Could happen.

Something to think about when planning trips…

3.  The Black-Crested Titmouse was a separate species until 1982 when it was grouped as a subspecies of the Tufted Titmouse.  Twenty years later in 2002 it was split off again as a separate species. ( Pete Dunne on Bird Watching, page 279) I can’t wait until 2022 to see what happens.

4. I don’t remember in years past seeing Horned Grebes in breeding plumage in the spring.  Then again I didn’t see very many in the area we lived in Illinois.

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Horned Grebe – Greenwood Retaining Pond – 03/22/15

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Different bird – Horned Grebe – Greenwood Retaining Pond – 03/22/15

5. Grebes sleep with their bills facing forward, nestled in the side of their neck. (The Sibley Guide to Birds, page 26)

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Horned Grebe – Greenwood Retaining Pond – 03/22/15

And a few more pictures from the week.

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Eastern Meadowlark – Johnson County Park – 03/21/15

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I guess I didn’t realize that the tail of the Eastern Towhees was this long. Atterbury FWA – 03/21/15

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Blue Jay – Atterbury FWA – 03/21/15

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Peaceful – Atterbury FWA – 03/21/15

 

 

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Four Things I learned this Past Weekend 3/14/15

1. An American Woodcock has decided to call the woods behind our condo home.  Maybe he does every year but this is our first spring here.  I heard him “penting” both Saturday and Sunday. Along with 2 Great Horned Owls.  But I already knew they were there.

2. Why it’s called a Ring-necked Duck. You think after birding for several years now I would know that answer.  But I guess I never gave it a thought. I spent an hour sketching a male and female Ring-necked Saturday afternoon.  When I get home I always check my Sibley’s and National Geo to see what I missed.  The faint spur on the female was the only thing I hadn’t notice.  And the following in NG’s description of the male – “narrow cinnamon collar is often hard to see in the field.”  What cinnamon collar?  I’ve never noticed one.

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The cinnamon collar should be at the base of the neck. Not here. Meijer’s Pond, Marion County 3/14/15

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OK, I can see a faint hint of cinnamon on the front of the neck. Barely. I’ll keep looking.

3. If you live in the Midwest, you need to find yourself either a cornfield by a river that floods or better yet, a cornfield that never drains.  I can’t tell you how many times I have found waterfowl or shorebirds in a field that retains its water.  My local one contained Canada Geese, Mallards, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, American Wigeon, Lesser Scaup, and American Coots.  I looked for shorebirds but only Killdeer.  The only problem with a flooded field is that the waterfowl is usually on the side away from you and the shim makes it hard to see.

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The local flooded field.

I also had Canvasback, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, and Hooded Mergansers at the local retaining ponds.

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Lesser Scaup

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Hooded Mergansers

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Sleeping Redheads

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Confused American Coots. Not sure which way to go.

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Canvasback

4. Sandhill Cranes like to stop and regroup. A lot.  I had 4 flocks totaling 600 birds fly over and only one group kept to the V pattern and kept moving.  The other three looped several times before making a rough V and flying on.

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Circling and circling.

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Starting to make a V.

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Finally half of the flock broke off and made a V. I mean a A.

And a few other photos.

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Mourning Dove

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Nice Day Sunday to be out in the sun.

 

 

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Lowes Parking Lot – McAllen, TX 6/24/14

I still have a few photos from our Texas trip in June 2014.  In particular I thought I would share a few photos from an evening outing to a Lowes parking lot.

If you follow this blog you know I’m not into chasing.  But we were already staying in McAllen and one of the few reliable spots to see a Green Parakeet in the U.S. is on the north side of McAllen. So I thought I had better go take a look. Even though it felt like chasing.

The time of day to see them is at dusk when they come to roost.  In fact, here is how the location is located on an eBird map –

McAllen- Parakeet roost (10th Str. b/w Violet & Dove)

So after dinner one evening my wife, daughter, and I headed to north McAllen.  We found out that 10th Str. b/w Violet & Dove is close to a Lowes parking lot. So we parked and waited.  It wasn’t long before they came.

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As you can tell it is dusk. The parakeets came flying in groups of 5 – 10. McAllen, TX 6/24/14

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Hard to get good photos with the setting sun and the birds on high wires. McAllen, TX 6/24/14

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A couple of Parakeets kept checking us out to see what we were up to. I figured city birds would be used to people by now. McAllen, TX 6/24/14

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The Lowes was in a shopping plaza that had a couple of fountains. The parakeets enjoyed the chance for a drink since the area was in the midst of a long dry spell. McAllen, TX 6/24/14

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I lightened the next two photos to show how green the Green Parakeets really are. McAllen, TX 6/24/14

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One other point – these are not small birds. They were bigger than what I expected.

While watching the parakeets a couple of local people stopped by and talked about them. They said we should be there in the winter when there were many more. One lady pointed at all the telephone wires and said they would be full.  She said the noise from the chatter was unbelievable.  That would explain the reported 800 reported at this location on eBird. (We saw 50) It would also explain her saying she liked the parakeets but wished they would move elsewhere!

 

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30000 Geese. I Think.

On January 18  I posted about the large number of geese Mike and I saw at  Universal Mines.  I posted on eBird that we saw 20,000 Canada Geese and 500 White-fronted Geese.  Of course those were estimates.

The point of the following post is to clear up in my mind that we didn’t see 10,000 or  100,000 but somewhere in between.  And that the next time I come across this situation I know what type of photos and angles to shoot to get a better count.

I used the few photos I took to refine my guess.  And I am confident to say we saw 30,000 geese.  I think.

Here is my methodology.  I arbitrarily made a box – the one with a red X – and counted the geese.  I counted approximately 150.  I then made other squares I thought looked like they had the same density.  There were 16 of these boxes in this photo or approximately 2500 geese.

CANG-Count-South I then expanded the idea over the whole southern half of the lake and came up with 5 boxes of 1200 or 6000 geese. More or less.

CANG Count South 2I then tried the same concept on the north side but didn’t have as good of photos since all the geese were in flight.

CANG NorthThe north photo shows 16 boxes of 100 – 120 each or somewhere around 1800.  Let’s call it 2000. And this was probably 1/3 of the geese in flight. So another 6000.

CANG North 2And this photo of geese just taking off is also the only photo of geese on the water on the north side.  The 3 boxes have around 400 geese each or 1200 geese on the west side of the lake.  The photo doesn’t show it but the geese go on to the north end of the lake.  I figure we aren’t seeing the east side or the north 60% of the lake.  Or another  15000 = 1200*6 *2. (Total on west side x rest of lake x the east side)

I learned from this exercise that I need to take the correct photos.  Because if I had taken a photo showing the complete north side of the lake I would have a better approximation and wouldn’t have any doubts.

Any suggestions on how to count high numbers of birds such as these would be appreciated.

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When You Least Expect It…

I wasn’t sure where to bird this past Saturday.  Sunday was definitely out with 4-6″ of snow planned.  And Saturday was going to be cold, so cold that the Indiana Audubon called off a field trip to Goose Pond.  But Landon Nuemann had found a Red-throated Loon in Logansport so who knew what could be found in open water.  So with that I headed out in search of open water and anything that might be hanging around the water.

After several stops I finally made it to the reliable Franklin Lowes/Walmart pond.  There was a nice assortment of waterfowl including Canada Geese, Mallards, American Black Ducks, Redhead, Canvasback, Lesser Scaup, Gadwall, and American Coots. But I got there a lot later in the day then I planned.

Because I had spent the first 2-1/2 hours on one hawk.

Not any hawk, but a DARK BROWN HAWK. And I don’t mean brown in the usual Red-tailed brown.

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Here is a Red-tailed Hawk that was in the same area Saturday Morning. As you can see the brown is lighter and mixed with white. Johnson County – 02/28/15

I mean brown like in a Harris’s Hawk, which was the first thing that popped in my head.  I hopefully know status and distribution well enough to rule out a Harris’s Hawk but you never know where anything will turn up.

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A Harris’s Hawk in the morning light. This hawk is a little to chocolate brown colored for the bird I saw Saturday. Cameron County, TX June 2014

I initially saw The Hawk from about 350 meters. My initial thought was a dark-phase Rough-legged Hawk since it was sitting on the top branch of a tree.  As I have stated before your initial thought is usually the correct thought.  Like the time in 1999 when I came within one question of being on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”.  It was the last round of phone questions before going on the show and I second guessed myself.  Should have stayed with the original answer.  But that is a story for another day.  But I should have stayed with my first thought on The Hawk.

So I tried to get closer but The Hawk didn’t like that and moved. So I moved again and The Hawk flew off. I still didn’t have a photo in the early morning light. But when it flew off I finally got a look at its underside – a dark body and dark underwing coverts. I had recently seen a photo of a Harlan’s Hawk on Indiana Advanced Birding Facebook page posted by Allan Claybon. And The Hawk’s underside seemed to be a good match. But so is a dark-phase Rough-legged Hawk and this bird seemed to have a little wider wing span then a Red-tailed.

Since I wasn’t sure, I either mark down a Buteo species or keep looking. I kept looking.

Thirty minutes later I pick up the bird on the north side of County Line Road in Marion County – 400 meters away. It once again was sitting on the top limb of a tree. So whatever it turned out to be it will be a two county bird – Johnson and Marion. County Line Road is a busy road but I go over and pull way over. I get out of the car and we start the cat and mouse again. It flies back east to another tree. I can’t go east since there is median. But I’m going to get a picture. It flies low and away to the east. No picture. I am still not sure of the species since I am not familiar with dark-phase hawks. So at this point it is still a Buteo species.

I search a while longer, can’t find The Hawk, and decide to go get gas. I come back for one last look, and it is now back where I first discovered it. I drive as close I dare, get out the camera, and start shooting photos against the overcast day. The Hawk once again flies behind a group of trees. I search for another half hour without any success. I now have about 2-1/2 hours in on The Hawk and finally decide to head south to southern Johnson County as originally planned.

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I only manage a few pictures of The Hawk on a distant snag. Johnson County, 02/2/15

But before I head south I make the 5 minute drive home to consult the references. Over the course of the morning I have wavered back and forth on the species.  But I have been leaning towards Harlan’s because Sibley’s shows the Harlan’s with a white tail.  And that is what I was seeing in the field. Otherwise the two suspects look similar to me in the field guide.

Getting home I don’t change my opinion.  The tail color seems right for a Harlan’s.

Sunday morning I get up and post a picture on Indiana Advanced Birding Facebook page. As I stated I don’t have a lot of experience with dark-phase hawks but think it is a Harlan’s.  Luckily two birders with much more experience than myself respond.

Don Gorney responded that it is a Rough-legged Hawk – here is his response. “Based on overall structure and the width of the dark tail band, it is a Rough-legged Hawk. Despite recent reports in the last five years, Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk is extremely rare for Indiana. I think the bird might be an adult female.

And Michael Retter also responded with these comments, “In addition to what Don mentioned, a dark Harlan’s almost always has white streaking on the breast. The bill also seems on the small side to me, which is more of a Rough-leg thing.

I would like to thank them for their comments and clarifying the identity of The Hawk.

So, when you least expect it, and you think it is going to be a slow day, go birding.  You might just pick up a County Lifer.  Or make that two.

 

 

 

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Wondering About Horned Larks

This is short post to on a couple of things.

1. Even when the weather stinks, the snow is deep, and I can’t do birding by foot without a lot of hassle, there are still birds to be found.  In this case Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, and Snow Buntings along the roads of Johnson County.  Actually hundreds of Horned Larks, a few Lapland Longspurs, and only one Snow Bunting.

The photos aren’t the best since the day was pretty dreary.

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A few of the hundreds of Horned Larks I saw on the day. This group flew over to a field and waited for cars to pass. Johnson County 02/22/14

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I posted this picture to show that it really isn’t so hard to pick out Lapland Longspurs at a glance. I used to have problems picking them out of a flock of Horned Larks but once I got used to the color difference, not so difficult. Horned Lark center, Lapland Longspur right. Johnson County 02/22/14

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An out of focus picture but still one that shows the differences in color patterns of a Lapland Longspur and Horned Lark. Johnson County 02/22/14

Plus some sparrows and friends along the plowed roads of Johnson County Park.

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American Tree Sparrow – Note the bi-colored bill. Johnson County Park 02/22/14

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White-crowned Sparrow. Compare head pattern with the next photo. Johnson County Park 02/22/14

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White-throated Sparrow – compare head pattern to previous White-crowned Sparrow. Johnson County Park 02/22/14

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Dark-eyed Junco – Johnson County Park 02/22/14

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A Fox Sparrow got in on the action. Johnson County Park 02/22/14

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OK, Mr. Robin, I will post a picture of you. He wouldn’t move to let me see the Fox Sparrow. He wanted all the attention. Johnson County Park 02/22/14

2. And I have wondered about the following for some time.

I’m not the guy that tracks up the most hours in the field, especially the past year. But I’ve put my share of hours in the field.  So where are Horned Larks in the summer? Sunday I must have seen 5 or 6 flocks of 150-200 Horned Larks along the road.  In the summer I  hear a few but might go weeks without seeing one. I know they are in the fields but besides one gravel road in Illinois that always had 10-20 I never see many in the summer. Just wondering?

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This Horned Lark posed nicely for a for photo. Where will it be hiding in July? Johnson County 02/22/14

 

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A Few More Pictures from Costa Rica

Since it snowed 6 inches Friday night which wrecked another Saturday of birding, I thought I would get together a few more pictures from Costa Rica, December 2014.

Remember to click on photo for enlarged view.

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Let’s start with the photo that made me the maddest from the trip, a Crimson-collared Tanager that I couldn’t get a good shot. I tried all sorts of angles but none were clear. And then it flew away and I didn’t see another one the trip. La Fortuna area – Dec. 2014

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The photo from one of the best times on the trip. You can’t really tell but there are both Turkey and Black Vultures, Magnificent Frigatebirds, and Brown Pelicans soaring together. It was really something to watch. La Flamingo area – Dec. 2014

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A closer look at a Magnificent Frigatebird. La Flamingo area – Dec. 2014

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Sorry for only catching him/her on a power line, but it  kept running back and forth outside our balcony. A Variegated Squirrel, I think. Nothing beats a squirrel with a racing strip down it’s back. La Flamingo area – Dec. 2014

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Sorry, another power line shot. This was the only time I didn’t see a Stripe-headed Sparrow peeking out from the bushes. La Flamingo area – Dec. 2014

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The most numerous parrot of the trip was the Orange-chinned Parakeet. They enjoyed the bananas at the lodge where we stayed. And in typical parrot fashion were quite vocal about it. La Fortuna area – Dec 2014

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We saw numerous Three-toed Sloths on the trip, but this was the only one that gave a half way decent picture. OK, maybe a quarter decent picture. La Fortuna area – Dec. 2014

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Both sexes of Passerini’s Tanagers feeding on the local bananas. I was glad to see the females were a duller color like they are here in the temperate zones. I was beginning to think all birds were really colorful. La Fortuna area – Dec. 2014

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Another numerous species like the Passerini’s was the Blue-gray Tanager. To me they seemed to keep to cover more than the Passerini’s. La Fortuna area – Dec 2014

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I did not get a good photo of a Streaked-backed Oriole but I like this one since it shows off the streaked-back. Like most orioles he wasn’t happy with me getting close. La Flamingo area – Dec. 2014

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I had never noticed how many contrasting colors a White-winged Dove has until I studied this one. In other words I had never taken the time to look. La Flamingo Area – Dec. 2014

We were at a hot springs when my brother-in-law noticed a large bird in a tree. Immediately after I took this photo the Osprey flew down to the river and got it’s fish. La Fortuna area – Dec. 2014

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A good way to start the day – a flock of White Ibis roosting. I took this picture before sunrise at the one-lane bridge in the previous blog. La Flamingo area – Dec. 2014

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And what is a set of pictures without at least one Great-tailed Grackle? I have decided I must include one from every trip. Or at least a cousin of one. La Flamingo area – Dec. 2014

 

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10 Things We Heard About Costa Rica Before Going – True or False?

Here is a list of non-birding related items that we had read or heard before our trip to Costa Rica in December 2014. In our experience some are correct, some aren’t, and a few fall in the gray middle area.

The points aren’t in any particular order.

1. We had heard most Costa Ricans spoke some English so you really don’t need to know Spanish.  Mostly False.  Only at the major locations – the airport for example – or at the lodges.  Otherwise very spotty.  We could have used knowing basic Spanish.

2. We had read not to exchange money at the airport because of the exchange rate and fees.  False – Do it.  We would have been better off to pay the higher fees and got some colóns at the airport.  We ended up wasting money because we hadn’t broken any U.S. $20’s at the airport and then later going to an ATM.

3. We had heard mixed reports about renting a car. We didn’t rent one and I am glad we didn’t.  We hired drivers to get from place to place, which I think is the way to go for the first time traveler.  Next time I will do a hybrid system .  I would hire a driver for the 3-4 hour journey from the airport to our destination and then rent a car at the location for a few days. I spoke to a gentleman from Saskatchewan who drove and it was “OK” with the most recent GPS software. But I talked to a couple from the U.K. with just maps and they had to stop 20 times asking for directions from the airport.  There are very, very few directional road signs. And they are small.

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Even the main roads have one lane bridges that slow traffic. This photo is on a nice day but we had to cross several on a very rainy day. La Flamingo – Dec. 2014

 

4. Don’t forget your exit tax at the airport – $29 per person.  True.  We talked to several people who knew nothing about it.

5. It is called the Rain Forest for a reason. True.  We were in the rain forest area for 4 days.  It rained 3 of them. In fact the first day we were there it was clear and the locals said it was the first day in 3 weeks it hadn’t rained.

Arenal VolcanoArenal Volcano Cloudy

On the left the view of Arenal Volcano on our first day in the area. This would be the only day the volcano was seen most of the day. On the right is a more typical view (or lack of ) of the volcano.

6. I read you should download a copy of “What to pack for Costa Rica” and then follow it.  True. We used the 2 small flashlights we had every night.  The lodges aren’t very well-lit.  And my wife lost her glasses. But we had packed a second pair as the list recommended. The one we used is located here.

7. We had neither read or heard about the waves at La Flamingo.  We were expecting the types of waves we experienced in different parts of the U.S.  If I’m describing it correctly, the waves “break” all at once, knocking you down if you’re standing in them. Not what we were expecting.  (See losing wife’s glasses in 6 above)

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Typical waves at La Flamingo. They “break” all at once knocking you down and push you around. Dec. 2014

 

8. Allow time at customs/immigration on the flights if you have to make a connecting flight.  True and False.  Coming back into the U.S it’s true, not so much going out. We saw and have heard of several people missing connecting flights because of the long lines coming back into the U.S. Luckily we had a 3 hour layover in Houston because it took an hour and 20 minutes to get through the long line.  But maybe it was because of the holidays?

9. I had read and heard that WiFi is spotty. True.  Several places you had to be within 50′ of the service to get your phone, laptop, etc. to work.  I didn’t use either but my wife and daughter had some troubles with their phones.

10. You can drink the water. True.  None of us had any problems.

I would like to know if you have any points to add or disagree with my points. Just  leave a comment below.

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A Few Photos from December 2014 Costa Rica Trip

I started to call this my 10 favorite photos but I couldn’t narrow it down.  So I’ll go with a title of just a few photos.

Let me start by stating up front this was a family vacation with birding added. Though if you ask my family they would say it was a birding trip for me. The trip was my first out of the country in years so I was also using the trip to see how I like traveling aboard.

I am not going to write about the trip in a travelogue format. I will present a brief description of the trip and in my next post discuss some things we had heard or read about Costa Rica before we went and if they were true or not.

A brief description of the trip. On December 13 we flew from Indianapolis to Houston to San Jose. No problems. We had hired a driver to take us to La Fortuna, the town nearest Arenal Volcano.  My sister-in-law’s family came in the next day. The lodges we stayed at in La Fortuna had great grounds for birding, so I did most of it there.  The day I was to go with a guide to Arenal got all messed up so I didn’t make it.  But I did hire a guide one morning that took us around the grounds of a local preserve. After four days in the area we then moved on to the NW resort area – La Flamingo. All the birding there was within walking distance of the hotel. We stayed 3 days and flew home out of Liberia.  No problems there either.  Got home at 12:30 AM and did the Johnson County CBC the next day. That’s the trip in a nutshell.  If you want more details leave a comment and I will reply.

Here are a few of my favorite birds-photos from the trip. I’m sure I’ll post more at a later date.

Remember to click the photos for a better view – especially the Broad-billed Motmot’s.

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Probably the best photo of the trip, this Tropical Kingbird was perched outside our balcony. La Flamingo – Dec 2014

 

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This Yellow-bellied Elaenia was actively feeding in the grounds at our lodge at La Fortuna. Dec 2014

 

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This Social Flycatcher was checking out a couple of dogs running by the tree. La Fortuna – Dec. 2014

 

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A Palm Tanager was hanging around, literally, eating bananas outside our lodge. La Fortuna Dec. 2014

 

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I saw numerous Scaly-breasted Hummingbirds on the trip. La Fortuna – Dec. 2014

 

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After seeing numerous Great Kiskadees in Texas and Costa Rica, one of the few birds I was actually hoping to see so I could compare them was a  Boat-billed Flycatcher. I was initially a little tentative on the ID until it called. La Flamingo – Dec. 2014

 

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Not the best of photos but it was taken under a tree in the rain. I was waiting for the rest of the group to come back when I saw some movement under a tree – a Broad-billed Motmot. I almost missed the tail at first (Click to enlarge and look close). Like myself, it sat for a long time just avoiding the rain. La Fortuna – Dec. 2014

 

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Out walking one morning I came across this Ringed Kingfisher hunting by one of the numerous one-lane bridges. La Flamingo – Dec. 2014

 

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I watched this Rufous-naped Wren for quite a while coming and going but never did figure out where the nest was being built. Seeing a wren this size was cool! La Flamingo Dec. 2014

 

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And lastly, there is something eerie about a Black Vulture beachcombing. La Flamingo – Dec. 2014

 

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One White, One Dark

As I noted back in early December the company I work for changed computer systems and I was transitioning to a new position.  As with most things both took longer then planned and  culminated the last couple of weeks.  Heck, for the first time in as long as I can remember I worked both weekend days and didn’t bird at all. Nor have I had time to blog.

So it was good to walk out of work yesterday and see some uncommon birds. At least  uncommon for the Shelby County area.

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Two Snow Geese mixed in with hundreds of Canada Geese. Shelbyville Retaining Pond 02/10/15

A white and dark Snow Goose. Not anything like the thousands reported lately at Goose Pond but still good to see.

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021Not the first Snow Geese I have seen in the area having seen two down the road in December. But I can add the Snow Geese along to the Red-necked Grebe I saw last year at the work pond.

And I should be over the hump and back to birding and blogging this weekend.

 

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