Tag Archives: Nicoya Peninsula

5th Bird of Christmas: Bare-throated Tiger Heron

30 Dec

As we continue exploring bird species found in Costa Rica, it’s time to look to the estuaries, lagoons and other waterways for our next two days’ subjects.

Sometimes late at night on the Nicoya Peninsula, I heard a howl that didn’t sound like a howler monkey. It sounded more like a wild cat – and I envisioned the unlikely jaguar or puma nearby.

If I hiked very early in the morning on the Finca de Monos trail that wound along a tiny creek in Curú Wildlife Refuge, I could tread very lightly up a little hill on the trail, not making a sound, and upon cresting the rise, peek down over the steep bank of a the little waterway, and thus sneak up on a solitary long-legged fishing bird, waiting motionless for a fish, frog or crab to come within reach of its long bill. The strangely cat-like cry I had sometimes heard in the night belonged to this estuary ecosystem dweller, the Bare-throated Tiger Heron.

Tigrisoma mexicanum is a wading bird of the heron family Ardeidae, found from Mexico to South America; it is said there was an accidental who appeared in Hidalgo County, Texas once. At times I would come upon this shy bird while paddling along the Rio Panica, or when visiting a remote watering hole in a mountain stream with a waterfall. Since flying isn’t this heavy bird’s strong suit, it’s not too hard to photograph; it usually remains perched yet wary rather than expend the energy to retreat.

My favorite color is yellow and my name rhymes with “tiger.” So of all the herons, this bird is my favorite for its lovely tiger stripes and beautiful yellow neck, which it magically extends whist offering up its hoarse “howk-howk-howk,” making itself look unnaturally elongated. When the male emits his creature-from-the-black-lagoon night call, the beak opens wide and, if you were there watching, you’d be able to see his saffron throat actually vibrate with the sound. At other times it shrinks its neck down into its shoulders to appear very short.

And speaking of short, click here to hear a brief NPR article about some guys who heard a Tiger Heron while sitting around their campfire in Guatemala – the bird’s call is included on the tape.

Photos for this entry are by Bruce Smith and Frances Figart (rhymes with Tiger).


3rd Bird of Christmas: Turquoise-browed Motmot

28 Dec

If you are a new reader to this blog series, I’m sharing a bird species that I’ve seen in Costa Rica for each of the 12 days of Christmas (the days starting December 26 and ending Jan. 6, Epiphany). Please see the first day’s entry for more background.

Just after I learned the trogon’s call, I quickly became enamored of the nasal croak of the Turquoise-browed Motmot. Although it is hard to play favorites with birds, this one ranks right up there and will always remain very close to my heart, partly because of its fabulous color scheme, and partly because it reminds me not to be so concerned with time. The motmot wags its tail in a pendulous motion, both to warn predators they’ve been seen and, in the male, as a sexual display. Despite this pendulum effect and its metaphorical connection to clocks, whenever I am in the motmot’s presence, I completely forget myself and am fully in the moment.

Known in Costa Rica as Momoto Cejiceleste, Pajaro Reloj (clock bird) or colloquially, the Bobo, Eumomota superciliosa is actually the national bird of both Nicaragua and El Salvador, which brings up a fact that has always dismayed me. Not to slight any avian species in the least, but of all the exotic and amazing birds that are endemic or indigenous to Costa Rica, it’s always struck me as anticlimactic that the Costa Rican national bird is…. the Clay-colored Robin!

On solitary hikes in Costa Rica, I liked nothing more than to listen for the dry monotone “wonk” of the motmot, locate it and attempt to entice it into a photo shoot. Finding it isn’t usually too much of a challenge, as it has a habit of perching on a branch in the open, or on a wire or fence, and basically showing off. Once when I took two visitors, Priscilla and Brian from New York City, for a hike in Curú Wildlife Refuge, I was able not only to find it for them, but when I made reference to its famous pendulum-like tail, the subject actually changed positions on its perch to face away from us and began to switch its tail as if on cue. The photo shown above this paragraph was taken at that moment by Brian Hoffman. Most of the photos in this entry I took early on the morning of Valentine’s Day 2010, on a high ridge near the village of Panica, where I was privileged to spend the weekend alone at the home of dear friends Juan Carlos and Yorleny.

Although it is often said that motmots pluck the barbs off their tail to create the racketed shape, this is not true; the barbs are weakly attached and fall off due to abrasion with substrates and with routine preening. Folklore has it that other birds plucked the feathers off of the motmot’s tail because they were jealous of its beauty. Those who follow The Colbert Report may recall that on February 1, 2007, the Turquoise-browed Motmot was named by Stephen Colbert as the fifth most poetic bird. I couldn’t agree more.

Listen to the motmot’s call.

More great pictures of the motmot.

Photos for this entry are by Frances Figart, except where noted.

1st Bird of Christmas: Scarlet Macaw

26 Dec

The 12 Birds of Christmas

Unless you’ve grown up in Andalasia, you know that “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is an English Christmas carol that enumerates a series of increasingly grand (and in some cases improbable and quite unwieldy) gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas. The dozen days in the song are the twelve days starting, in some traditions, the day after Christmas and leading up to the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6).

While I’m enjoying (forces smile) a prolifically snowy and more-often-than-not-below-effing-freezing Christmas holiday in the states, tropical climes are, as you can imagine, not far from my mind. Having spent a great deal of the winter time in Costa Rica the past few years, I have many favorite bird species there. I decided to share here 12 of them, some of which I have actually sighted and photographed – and a few who continue to elude me – offering up a let’s-pass-some-time-doing-something-productive-and-educational blog series: The 12 Birds of Christmas!

Dec. 26: The First Bird of Christmas is the Scarlet Macaw

Jogging along in the sand as the tide goes out along Playa Tambor, I’m distracted by what sounds like a raucous argument between two domestic partners. I follow the animated chatter away from the Pacific and up towards the estuary that flanks the tiny air strip next to a popular Vegas-like resort that is all some know about the sleepy fishing village of Tambor. As I get closer, I recognize the combatants’ voices. They belong to Scarlet Macaws, who make roaring vocalizations whilst flying from their roost to a feeding site, and then wax relatively quiet when munching on a perch, which they’ve just found.

At one time, the beautiful large, bright red-blue-and-yellow Ara macao was close to extinction due to the pet trade and the destruction of habitats that include their main source of food, Tropical Almond (Terminalia catappa) trees, on which this pair is feeding somewhat noisily. Our area on the Nicoya Peninsula is one the places where conservation efforts – including nest protection, artificial nest creation, captive breeding-and-release and reintroduction programs such as the one at Curú Wildlife Refuge – have contributed to the successful comeback of the Lapa, as it is known to Ticos (Costa Ricans).

The illegal exotic pet trade is an industry that disturbs me greatly; sometimes while hiking in Costa Rica I have seen youngsters with nets attempting to capture birds. Parrots, iguanas and wild cats are the animals most often exploited. Now, on the rare occasions that I enter a pet store in the states where I see some of the parrots and macaws that I have adoringly followed in their natural habitats, I am sickened and outraged that this torturous practice continues to flourish. At some point in my future, perhaps there awaits a project to raise more awareness about this issue. If you have been involved in a good program to combat the pet trade, I’d love to hear about your experience.

One bird down, and 11 to go.

Listen to a clip of the Scarlet Macaw.

Photos for this entry by Frances Figart