" A note from the field
By Richard Dobbins and Wendy James
Although most of our bird banding takes place in the UK we are always keen to learn more about banding in other countries. An internet search led us to the interesting work being done by Costa Rica Bird Observatory (CRBO). After exceptional experiences in Uganda and Canada, which we had thought would be hard to surpass, we immediately felt that this sounded perfect for our next adventure.
In early November 2012 we arrived in Costa Rica full of excitement at the prospect of putting our months of studying into practice. We had learnt some Spanish, immersed ourselves in photos and descriptions of the fascinating variety of birds that would be new to us, studied banding data for each site as well as read the very informative banding handbook backwards and forwards!
Our first location was in coastal lowland forest at Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast. CRBO have been conducting research there since 1994. The daily routine was quickly established, weather permitting. Six hours of banding with migration counts every two hours and area searches of all birds seen and heard filled our days with new birds. Although the main migration period was over, we were still counting reasonable numbers of Barn Swallows, Ring-necked Ducks and Turkey Vultures.
Every day we marvelled at the richness of the habitat in which we had the privilege to be working. Awesome is a much overused word but it perfectly fits our daily encounters with not just the birds, but the flora and fauna too.
ROYAL FLYCATCHER AND PALE-BILLED WOODPECKERThis Royal Flycatcher and a Pale–billed Woodpecker were amazing examples of some infrequently banded resident birds. Making detailed notes and taking pictures of these more unusual birds was an important part of our work to help fill in gaps in knowledge about these species. As well as residents we were catching North American migrants, particularly thrushes such as Swainson’s and Grey-cheeked and warblers including Prothonatory and Wilson’s. Our experience with migrants at Long Point Bird Observatory in Canada proved invaluable.
Our next base was at the Costa Rica Bird Observatories station at Madre Selva, 2,400metres up in the Talamanca mountains.
SLATE-THROATED REDSTARTStarting the day with a pre-dawn walk to the site accompanied by hundreds of glow worms and watching Common Paraques displaying before going off to roost as we opened the nets was very atmospheric.
By taking pictures showing various ageing features we were helping to build a reference for future research. As an example, this photo of a Black-faced Solitaire demonstrates a clear moult limit in the greater coverts.
BLACK-FACED SOLITAIREAs well as banding we endeavored to produce comprehensive bird lists at each site. Over the two months we recorded 249 species at the sites where we banded and surrounding area. The number of species we processed was 103 so there are many more species that we could potentially catch and study on subsequent visits.
Alongside the awe inspiring birds, people that we met helped to make our trip so memorable. The enthusiasm that everyone has for the work of CRBO to date and plans for the future is refreshing.
We hope to be part of that future with a return visit before long."