CATIE Turrialba Christmas Bird Count 2009

As a compulsive lister, I really like doing Bird Counts.  My first experiences with them were in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas.  I have wonderful memories of Bob Coggeshall and the big red Cadillac that he drove.  Bob was a fantastic mentor for me, an ex-airline pilot who was proficient in many fields but who amazed me most because of his encyclopaedic knowledge of the 26 (or was it 27?) different sparrow species found in Texas.  Of course, Bob knew lots more besides.  He was most un-Texan in his quiet manner, his almost English understatement, and his total lack of braggadocio.  When he took a shotgun to domestic mallards that encroached on his lake-shore feeder at his home on Lake Worth, he was perhaps revealing his Texan heritage.  I loved the way he ran the tally after the count at Denny’s, or some such place, each year, Christmas and Spring.  After each group had announced its species and numbers from the official Fort Worth Christmas Count List, he would call for any announcements of species from the list of accidentals for Texas.  Immediately following this, he would say:  “And now from the improbable we move to the downright unbelievable”, and he would call for the announcement of any further species.  One year the President of the Fort Worth Audubon Society, a famous enhancer of the truth despite his elevated status, announced his sighting of a Golden-crowned sparrow, a California species.  Scenes of great mirth and merriment ensued, Bob leading the howls yet somehow still allowing the President to maintain his dignity.  “Bird observed, bird noted”, said the President.  Bob chuckled and referred the sighting of the impossible bird to the Count Committee.  Bob Coggeshall has been dead now these many years  but he will always remain an inspiration to me.

My first Costa Rican Christmas Bird Count took me back in time and was a really enjoyable event for many reasons.  It will have to be the only Christmas count that I can attend this year, but for that very reason it will be all the more memorable.   I drove down the mountain to the Botanical Garden at the CATIE, arriving right on time at 6.00 am.  The assembled group was surprisingly large for what was, I believe, only the second CATIE Christmas Bird CountAlejandra Martínez and Fabrice De Clerck were in charge but they were ably assisted by several very knowledgeable birders, including Pablo Elizondo from Heredia.  I was able to learn a great deal just from listening to them and asking occasional questions.

We did not do any owling as it was a little too late, but the birding was good in several areas of the CATIE grounds, which are a delight to visit because of the beautiful trees and plants.  We capped a long morning with a fine meal from the grill back at the cafeteria area.  Alejandra´s list will be definitive for the count; mine includes only the species that I saw and safely identified, but it has the advantage of several hours of extra birding that I did after the others left, right up until dusk.  I still didn’t get the Spectacled owl, however, that is supposed to be near the entrance to the Botanical Garden.

Highlights, for me, were the Ochre-bellied flycatcher, a life-bird despite its ‘common’ status, the Barred antshrike, which I rarely see,  Yellow-headed caracara, because it was out of range, and a great close-up look at a male Violaceous trogon.  As for the Yellow-headed caracara, I immediately began to doubt it afterwards, because of its status.  I saw two birds, one close up as it harassed the cattle egret colony on the lake.  Half an hour later, two birds flew off calling a high-pitched scream.  I’m hoping that scream eliminates the Laughing falcon, which has a very different call.

Many very common birds are missing, inexplicably, from the list.  How can you miss Passerini’s tanager, for example?  The fact is, however, I didn’t see a single one all day.

Here’s the list.

1.   Least grebe

2.   Gray-headed chachalaca

3.   Anhinga

4.   Little blue heron

5.   Cattle egret

6.   Snowy egret

7.   Boat-billed heron

8.   Yellow-crowned night-heron

9.   Green ibis

10. Black vulture

11. Turkey vulture

12. Roadside hawk

13. Crested caracara

14. Yellow-headed caracara

15. Purple gallinule

16. American coot

17. Northern jaçana

18. Red-billed pigeon

19. Ruddy ground-dove

20. Crimson-fronted parakeet

21. White-crowned parrot

22. Vaux’s swift

23. Rufous-tailed hummingbird

24. Violaceous trogon

25. Green kingfisher

26. Ringed kingfisher

27. Keel-billed toucan

28. Hoffmann’s woodpecker

29. Streak-headed woodcreeper

30. Barred antshrike

31. Yellow-olive flycatcher

32. Common tody-flycatcher

33. Ochre-bellied flycatcher

34. Tropical pewee

35. Great kiskadee

36. Social flycatcher

37. Gray-capped flycatcher

38. Tropical kingbird

39. Masked tityra

40. Yellow-throated vireo

41.  Brown jay

42. Blue-and-white swallow

43. Northern rough-winged swallow

44. Southern rough-winged swallow

45. Tropical gnatcatcher

46. Band-backed wren

47. Plain wren

48. House wren

49. Clay-colored robin

50. Tennessee warbler

51. Golden-winged warbler

52. Yellow warbler

53. Chestnut-sided warbler

54. Mourning warbler

55. Summer tanager

56. Golden-hooded tanager

57. Blue-gray tanager

58. Palm tanager

59. Variable seedeater

60. Yellow-faced grassquit

61. Buff-throated saltator

62. Melodious blackbird

63. Great-tailed grackle

64. Baltimore oriole

65. Montezuma oropendola

66. Yellow-throated euphonia

3 thoughts on “CATIE Turrialba Christmas Bird Count 2009

  1. Paul G Pickering,

    I googled birds Turrialba and your blog pop up. Is the X-mas bird count on this year? Please let me know.

    I am new at CATIE and my hometown in Monteverde. I am interested in birding any time (this is almost all the time). Best, Carlos M.


    • Hello Carlos,

      It’s always nice to hear from birders who are living here in Costa Rica. I’m sure that there will be a bird count at CATIE again this year but the date won’t be fixed for quite a while yet. I’ll be sure to let you know as soon as they decide. If you’re in the Turrialba area, please stop by. I live straight opposite the church in San Antonio de Santa Cruz. My telephone number is 2 538 64 57.


      Paul Pickering


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