Sunday 30 December 2012

Ant....birds and this pale bill....

                                                    (photo Ilse Leemans)
A great day's weather and a morning's banding in the forest at our current base of Cano Palma
A female Checker-throated Antwren the early highlight, followed by 2 Chestnut-backed Antbirds, one an adult male the second an imm. male. Nicely followed by an imm. male Western Slaty-Antshrike.
After a couple of migrants, a Wood Thrush and Northern Waterthrush, a handful of Clay-colored Robins,....

Then this stunning female Pale-billed Woodpecker grabbed the attention.
Thanks to Ilse for the photo, my hands were occupied....
(Photos of the other birds when I return)
Tomorrow we venture to Tortuga Lodge to band, the highlight of banding at this site so far - Pale-vented Thrush.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

The trip ends in the city....but ideas to bring home

Costa Rica Bird Observatories have a research station at INBioparque in the capital, San Jose. The suburban setting means a different range of birds to band from those in the tropical rainforest and mountain cloud forest, such as this  Blue-crowned Motmot.
INBio(The National Biodiversity Institute of Costa Rica) is a private research and biodiversity management centre. The station was originally created as a tool for bird banding training and has proved valuable in providing data on how migrant species use a suburban site as a stopover and winter habitat as well as the importance of suburban forest for resident species.
 The park has excellent representations of the different habitats in Costa Rica including examples of residents (at a safe distance when it comes to snakes and tarantulas!)

 The night before I was due to leave I helped put up nets ready for the morning. We were in for a bit of a surprise in one net lane.........
A display of dinosaurs had been set up since the previous banding there so one net less for a while!
So the end of the trip for me but for Richard another 4 weeks ringing at the three different stations. More stories to tell of the trip in January when he returns.
For the rest of the TRG they will be be hearing plenty of ......."in CR we did it this way". Like any time spent with other ringers, a good exchange of ideas was had.
One technique we are definitely going to try is their method for storing nets.
First, spin the bottom four shelves into the top shelf to furl the net.
Thread one handle of a carrier bag up through the loops on the pole then put your hand through the handle grasp the loops and slide the pole out.

Work your way towards the other pole folding the net into the bag as you go.
Run the free bag handle up the loops on the second pole and remove the pole.
Then tie the bag handles together.
Because the loops are held in the correct order, putting the nets up is speedy as you should be able to slide the poles up through the loops on the bag handles without checking they are in the right order. Also if the net is ready furled which saves time if it isnt being used straight away.
(picture courtesy of Tortuguero Integrated Bird Monitoring program manual)
Tying a mist net pole seems to be taught this way across America - see this useful video from Long Point Bird Observatory.
On to looking after poles, this might be useful if the rain continues in West Wales - store poles upside down or they will sprout roots as soon as you turn your backs!
Finally, the banding form- all in Spanish which we won't be copying but good practice to have to record codes for why a bird was aged and sexed. Also on the back was space for extensive notes on less common birds like eye and bill colour, moult formula, percentage striations on humming bird bills etc.
With many thanks to Pablo Elizondo, Executive Director Costa Rica Bird Observatories
and Dr C. John Ralph, Scientific advisor to CRBO, US Forest Service  for their help in making this trip possible and so worthwhile.

Monday 17 December 2012

Banding Hummingbirds

Banding hummingbirds needs a steady hand and special training. Some weigh as little as 2.5g.
The tiny bands are cut with nail scissors from the sheet shown below, according to the size of the bird, and shaped and filed by hand.
 The help of some magnification is needed to read the bands of retraps.
 Some species caught at Madre Selva included White-throated Mountain Gem
 Green Violet ear
  Purple-throated Mountain Gem
and Fiery-throated Hummingbird
 Difficult to catch the stunning colours of the fiery gorget on camera 
The bills of young hummingbirds show striations ( growth marks)along the edge of the upper mandible. As the hummingbird gets older, the bill gets harder and smoother, and these bill striations disappear. So the percentage of striations on the bill is recorded and used to help age the bird.
Rufous feather edging on the head and upper parts is  another clue in separating  hatch year hummingbirds from adults in many species.

Thursday 13 December 2012

Endemics and migrants in the cloud forest

The next two weeks of our trip were in  highland cloud forest at 2,400m. The air certainly felt rather thin on the first day running round putting up 18 nets scattered on the hillside.
We were staying at the recently renovated Costa Rica Bird Observatory house at Madre Selva in the Talamanca range, an area of high biodiversity richness and home to many endemic birds.
Three different ringing sites are operated from the base each with slightly different species being caught. This is the ringing table at CRBO ready for action.
Some birds we caught there included several Yellow-thighed Finches
 Nice legs!
 a Black-faced Solitaire which has a wonderful flutey song which unfortunately makes them targets for capture for the caged bird trade.
These were nice to age, hatch year birds having clear contrast in the Greater Coverts
Black-cheeked warblers 
 Ruddy Treerunner
 Sooty -capped Bush Tanager
 and a rather smart Collared Trogon
 As well as residents we were catching some migrants too like this Black and White warbler
 and a Louisiana Waterthrush
Residents and Migrants have different record sheets and rings which kept us on our toes
 At the "Lake" site the nets are in forest around a lake with a sheltered ringing base in a summer house
 We cleared some old net lanes with a machete  to increase the number of nets.
Our star birds here were a Common Paroque which we had seen displaying around the lake at dawn on previous days
 this Flame-throated Warbler
 a Streak-breasted Treehunter which lives in a 2 foot burrow!
Black and Yellow Silky-Flycatcher, a highland endemic
 and a Brown-capped Vireo.
 Collared Redstarts were fairly common
but nice to catch a Slate-throated Redstart too
Of the migrants caught, Wilson's Warblers were the commonest
with a few Black-throated Green Warblers

and quite unusual, a juvenile Ovenbird
and a Summer Tanager
The third site is more open woodland and farmland
but sometimes the cows took rather too much interest in the nets!
 Spotted-crowned Woodcreepers spent the day squabbling in the trees overhead and several were caught here.

This Hairy Woodpecker was nice
 and several Grey-breasted Wood-Wrens too
Two beautiful  Resplendent Quetzels sat in a tree above but not in a net one day.
Hummingbirds were frequent captures at Madre Selva - more about those in the next blog.....