Comments on CATIE Christmas Bird Count, Turrialba

CATIE Laguna

The laguna at CATIE

Since I’m still here in California, I was unable to attend the CATIE Christmas Bird Count in Turrialba this year.  Fortunately, Alejandra Martinez sent me the results very promptly, and so here are a few comments regarding what was seen and what was not seen on this 5th CBC count on the CATIE campus.  I have made comparisons with the checklists from other parts of our area.

117 different species were recorded, 10 more than the highest previous total  in 2010.  The number of individual birds recorded was also a record, slightly higher than in 2010.  With CATIE’s checklist total standing provisionally at 480+ different species, we should be able to do even better in future years if we can increase the number of observers and distribute groups more evenly over all parts of the campus.

New species: 6 species were seen that were not on the official CATIE Bird Checklist, soon to be published:

1.   Bicolored hawk.  This beautiful raptor has appeared recently on several occasions in San Antonio on the volcano slope but has not, to our knowledge, been recorded before at CATIE, at about 600 m lower in elevation.  It is included on both the Juan Espino Blanco Reserve (Verbena) and Rancho Naturalista (Tuis) checklists.  The latter includes species recorded at CATIE, mostly species found at the laguna.


Bi-colored hawk in Costa Rica

2. Collared forest-falcon.  Probably the best addition to the list since forest-falcons are hard to find in our area.  I myself have never seen one, though of course I’m no expert.  The only species on local checklists is the Barred forest-falcon, so I’ll be interested to discover the details about this sighting.  The picture below is, I hope, this species, taken by Karel Straatman in Costa Rica.

Collared forest-falcon?

Collared forest-falcon?

3.  Mottled owl.  Reports of hearing this large owl close to the Botanical Garden at CATIE were rife when I first came to Turrialba.  I don’t yet know if this one is a sighting or was simply heard.  It is found in the Turrialba area but I have never found one at San Antonio despite rumours of its presence behind or in the church in the years before the restoration of the tower.

4.  Brown-crested flycatcher.  I did not add this species to the CATIE Checklist last year when we banded a large Myarchus on the CATIE campus.  Alejandra identified it as a Brown-crested and that should be good enough really.  My doubts are purely personal ones and come from my memory of the bird in the hand and from several excellent photos that we took that seem to match the Great-crested flycatcher description.  The Great-crested is the one to be expected in our area and the Brown-crested has been seen neither at Espino Blanco nor at Rancho Naturalista.  Does anybody want to chip in on this?  Here’s one of the photos from the banded bird.

Myarchus flycatcher CATIE Turrialba

Myarchus flycatcher, but which one?

5.  Silver-throated tanager.  This is a common highland species and it’s strange that it has been reported before neither at CATIE nor at Espino Blanco.  Rancho Naturalista reports it regularly at elevations not much higher than CATIE and certainly similar to Espino Blanco.  In San Antonio I will admit that it is rarely seen, but it is quite common at Santa Cruz just 200 m higher.


Silver-throated tanager, courtesy of Allan Beer

6.  Tawny-capped euphonia.  This beautiful little bird is not so hard to find in our area.  Even though it’s still missing at San Antonio, I have seen it not far away from my San Antonio home patch both at Torito (a bit higher up) and at San Diego (a bit lower down).  It appears on the other two checklists, with Rancho Naturalista reporting it as common.

Tawny-capped euphonia2

Male Tawny-capped euphonia, courtesy of Ian Hillery

13 species were seen that were missed on the 2011 CBC, most of which can be attributed to normal fluctuations in sightings.  However, one or two of them merit some special mention.

1.  Short-billed pigeon – not found at San Antonio but it is included on the Espino Blanco Checklist

2.  Common pauraque

3.  Violet sabrewing – the largest Costa Rican hummingbird and one of the most beautiful; it is usually found higher up but we did band one a year or two ago at CATIE.

4.  Amazon kingfisher – I have not seen this species in the Turrialba area though it appears as an erratic sighting in the Tuis River Valley on the Rancho Naturalista  Checklist.

5.  Plain xenops

6.  Spot-crowned woodcreeper – tough to distinguish this one from the Streak-crowned woodcreeper, which features on the Rancho Naturalista checklist and is usually the species found at this elevation.  However, we have previously banded both species at CATIE on the same day, so both species are definitely present.

7.  Western wood-pewee – another difficult identification problem so I’m assuming this one gave a recognisable call-note.

8.  Lesser greenlet

9.  Gray-breasted wood-wren – The CBC has reported no wood-wrens until this year, but one would expect the White-breasted wood-wren, a quite common bird, to have been seen or, more probably, heard each year.

10.  Plain-colored tanager – a really good one.  A flock of 5 (or perhaps several individuals) were reported for this, a species that does not appear on any area checklists except CATIE’s.  It seems to be one of those species included prior to the year 2000 for which we have no reliable details.  I hope to get the specifics about this new sighting later.  This is a bird that I have seen only at Bosque Tropical in the northern Caribbean lowlands.

11.  Rufous-collared sparrow – always present on campus but in very small numbers and hence hard to find at times; abundant as soon as you go just a little higher.

12.  Indigo bunting – Not easily found, though we banded a male and a female at CATIE in January 2011.

13.  Red-breasted blackbird – can sometimes be found in the open fields near the Cerca Viva banding location.

Other notable sightings this time were the Short-tailed hawk, 4 (!) Laughing falcons, the White-ringed flycatcher (a species I have never seen), and the Gray catbird.

Since the White-ringed flycatcher is so similar to the Social flycatcher, I think it has to be a very definite identification.  The internet is not at all helpful about this bird.  Most of the photos shown are probably Social flycatchers.  One or two are actually Great kiskadees.

And now a list of common species that should perhaps always be expected but which were absent this year:

1.   Black-crowned night-heron

2.   White-tipped dove

3.   White-collared swift (absent from ALL CBCs!)

4.   Blue-crowned motmot

5.   Masked tityra

6.   Blue-and-white swallow

7.   Olive-crowned yellowthroat

8.   Northern waterthrush

9.   Grayish saltator

10.  Black-striped sparrow

11.   Black-cowled oriole

The Grayish saltator is confirmed once again as the least reported of our three local saltators, so perhaps its continued absence is not so surprising.  This absence may, however, confirm a trend, though since we have had  CBCs at CATIE only since 2008 it’s still a little early to say.

General trends that seem to be appearing, some positive, some negative:

1.   No tinamous

2.   Diversity of hawk sightings

3.   Establishment here of caracaras; zone extension of Yellow-headed caracara

4.  White-fronted parrot seems to occur more regularly than distribution maps suggest

5.   No antbirds and the like except the Barred antshrike

6.   Warbler numbers nearly all improved; good news, but maybe it’s just that we have more observers in the field

7.  Worst of all, big increase in Great-tailed grackles

I will post this now and add photos as time permits.  Can’t wait to get back home to San Antonio and get into the field myself.

3 thoughts on “Comments on CATIE Christmas Bird Count, Turrialba

  1. it’s great to read your report, and your love for the birds comes through loud and clear! how odd that the motmots and tityras were bashful!

    there’s no circle around here, nor any expert, though i plan to spend one full day counting birds for my own personal pleasure… probably near year’s day!

    thanks for a great post!


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