Birding by the sounds around us
|Liz and husband Abraham Gallo own and operate Bosque del Rio Tigre, a lodge in Dos Brazos that specializes in birding. You may reach her at email@example.com|
It is always a great pleasure to return to the Osa after a couple months in the USA. Once again the forest is seen with fresh eyes, as it was the first time, almost 24 years ago. All that green, so many textures and shades– it is simply dazzling. The earthy smells are a real treat, nothing like anywhere else I have ever been. But the best part is the avian cacophony arising from the forest throughout the day.
After being away, we always face the challenge of re-familiarizing ourselves with the bird activity around us. As we are re-opening the lodge and gearing up for the high season, there is not much time to go hiking or birding, but even without that time we can still enjoy the surrounding birds. If one has been birding in an area for many years, almost every vocalization brings to mind a mental picture of the bird. And living in this somewhat natural environment, surrounded by forest, makes it easy to observe the birds while doing other less pleasant chores. Right outside my second story office there is a female Baird’s Trogon perched, slowly checking out the area for a tasty morsel. Birds develop behavior patterns (which are important to learn if your job involves guiding) and she’s been using that perch every morning since I returned. At the corner of the lodge there is constant activity of all the manakins, Blue-crowned, Orange-Collared and Red-capped, Spot-crowned Euphonia, Golden-hooded and Cherries Tanager. They are enjoying the various fruiting trees we have planted for them. At the end of the rainy season, there is often a mild famine of sorts and all the birds are particularly hungry. Even the toucans come to the feeders, which never happens here in the dry season.
There is much to learn from the bird’s calls and knowing the local bird vocalizations is an invaluable tool to any birder. As the forest is waking up, the morning chorus gives us a chance to inventory the local species. It varies quite a bit from month to month and year to year. This week we were pleasantly surprised to hear the rarely-seen Striped Woodhaunter calling almost every morning outside our window. We are also hearing, once again, the Brown-billed Scythebill which was foraging near the main lodge last August. Both of these understory species are hard to see and have extremely low populations on the Osa. If one did not know their call, they would be easily overlooked. Actually, many species are easily overlooked if the call is not known. Others, that fist come to mind, are a few small flycatchers, the Northern Bentbill, Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet and the Golden-crowned Spadebill. The bentbill and spadebill manage to fly from one perch to another invisibly, right in front of you. The tyrannulet stays extremely high in the canopy flitting around quickly and is difficult to get a good look at. Try finding a White-throated Crake, or any crake for that matter, without knowing the call. It is almost impossible.
Most species have at least a couple different vocalizations. There are alarm calls, contact calls, morning song to announce territory and songs used to attract mates. Some of these calls are only heard during that particular bird’s breeding season, which in the tropics varies greatly from species to species and year to year.
One can also get to know when there are nearby young by listening to calls. Some birds learn the calls, while others know them instinctually. The ones that have to learn can be heard “practicing”. In some species, such as the Gray-necked Wood-Rail, there are special vocalizations that seem to be used only between the young and the adults, or are at least only heard when they have young. Some fledglings make an annoying, persistent sound when begging for food. For me, the Bananaquit young are the worst.
A heavy, multi-species chatter coming from one area, or tree, usually indicates there is an eminent threat, such as a snake. Most of the neighborhood’s birds gather to “mob” the snake. There are lots of vocalizations, wing flapping, and brave attempts to peck at the curled reptile. I have seen similar behavior when there is a toucan or aracari trying to raid a nest in a dead tree.
How does one learn these bird calls? Just get out there and listen and observe. Use your phone to record the ones you cannot figure out or remember easily. Have your binoculars handy while sipping coffee on the porch or just sitting in the office with a window nearby. Some people are able to listen to calls on CDs or on the computer and remember them in the field. There are many websites with published vocalizations. Although I am unable to remember new calls easily, I do use these sites for difficult identifications.
Birding with more experienced birders is a great learning opportunity. In mid-December, the birders of the Osa gather to conduct the Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Many birders, both experienced and novice, will be out counting the Osa’s avian species. We count both visually and by ear. It is a fun, social activity and a great time for new birders to learn identification skills and bird calls.
At Bosque del Rio Tigre we will have three teams of local birders including many school-aged children. We gather at 5 am for coffee, snacks and team organization. Each team will have a recorder, someone who keeps track of the species and individuals that are seen and heard. At first light the teams head out in different directions. Around midday we gather once more to discuss our finds and enjoy a hearty meal. By the end of the day we usually tally between 180-220 species.
Please join us along with nearly 20 participating organizations and over 100 counters for the 7th annual Audubon CBC organized by Osa Birds: Research and Conservation. The Corcovado count is on December 14th and the Osa Count will be December 17th. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or Jessica.email@example.com for the count in Corcovado National Park.
If you would like to join the count in Dos Brazos please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy birding and we want to wish all Osa visitors and residents a great vacation and/or holiday season.