19 Highlights of 2019

The year 2019 was yet another year chocked full of action-packed adventures and amazing experiences. I spent half the year in the incredibly beautiful and diverse country of Colombia guiding at Parque Nacional Natural Tatamá (Montezuma Rainforest) and continuing my explorations of other regions. As well, a few weeks were spent in Panama where I had the privilege of visiting two of the country’s premier eco-lodges, Mount Totumas Cloud Forest in the highlands and Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge in the Caribbean. As a second-year limited-residency student at Prescott College, I also had the opportunity to participate in amazing and rewarding field classes, Community-Based Conservation in Costa Rica, and a suite of Marine Studies courses at the Prescott College Kino Bay Center in the Gulf of California, Mexico. Though my time at home in Colorado was very limited this year, I had the honor of assisting with American Birding Associations’ Camp Colorado for young birders, guiding for Colorado Birding Adventures, and birding around my hometown of Lyons. Thanks to everyone who helped make 2019 unforgettable!

A Golden-fronted Redstart forages for insects on Montezuma Road in Parque Nacional Natural Tatamá, Risaralda, Colombia. Twelve-kilometers long, Montezuma Road climbs in elevation through one of the best-protected forests in the world. Over 500 species of birds can be found along this legendary road and one never knows what surprise may lie around the next corner.
Flitting through an elfin forest laced with colorful moss, a Blue-backed Conebill briefly pauses before disappearing into the dense vegetation. This vibrant bird was moving in a large mixed flock of several high Andean songbird species in Parque Nacional Natural Chingaza above Bogotá, Colombia’s capital city
Just below treeline on Nevado del Ruiz, an active volcano in Colombia’s Central Andes, a Golden-breasted Puffleg perches on a grass stem.
After making a food delivery to its young, an American Dipper perches on driftwood in the middle of a mountain stream near Lyons, Colorado.
In the largest alpine-tundra ecosystem in the world, Páramo de Sumapaz, a Bronze-tailed Thornbill flashes its striking iridescent gorget feathers. This special hummingbird’s distribution is restricted to páramo habitats in Colombia’s Central Andes, barely extending into Venezuela.
“Wave Rider” – An American White Pelican endures an early spring windstorm in a small pond on Colorado’s Front Range.
A pair of Spectacled Parrotlets blend in with their environment at Laguna de Sonso, the last intact wetland system in the Valle del Cauca of Colombia.
An immature Red-tailed Hawk takes flight from a ponderosa pine to ambush a small rodent below. – Boulder County, Colorado.
A Russet-throated Puffbird silently perches in the dry thorn-forest of Santuario de Flora y Fauna Los Flamencos in La Guajira Desert of Northern Colombia.
Separated from their mother, two recently hatched Common Merganser ducklings seek shelter on the edge of a swift mountain stream near Lyons, Colorado.
A Green-crowned Brilliant strikes a gorgeous pose in the spectacular hummingbird gardens of Mount Totumas Cloud Forest Reserve in the highlands of Panama.
After a spectacular sunrise, the sun peeks through the clouds illuminating a feeding frenzy of Brown Pelicans and Black Terns. This moment was captured while kayaking in the pristine waters of Tranquilo Bay in the Caribbean of Panama.
One of my all-time favorite experiences of 2019 was watching Red-billed Tropicbirds circle Swan Cay, a tiny, pristine, and magical island in the Caribbean of Panama. While circumnavigating the island, it felt as though I had time traveled to an unblemished, prehistoric world.
After a long migration from North America, a Northern Waterthrush skulks in the mangrove swamps of a Carribean island in Panama. – Tranquilo Bay, Bocas del Toro, Panama.
A mother three-toed sloth cradles her sleepy baby, the most precious moment I had the privilege of capturing in 2019. – Tranquilo Bay, Bocas del Toro, Panama.
Western Sandpipers forage in a hurricane-flooded field in Bahía de Kino, Sonora, Mexico. Like these shorebirds, I too migrated down to the Gulf of California this past fall. Though these birds migrate to escape the harsh winters of the northlands, I arrived to study the fascinating marine and desert environment of the region.
Off the shores of Isla San Pedro Mártir, an isolated island in the middle of the Gulf of California, a pod of ~600 bottlenose dolphins hunt federally protected waters.
A big personality of the Sonoran Desert, a Cactus Wren perches atop an organ pipe cactus. – Bahía de Kino, Sonora, Mexico.
During a flaming sunrise, Brown Pelicans stream across Bahía de Kino, a magical place in the Gulf of California.

Costa Rica: The Whirlwind Tour

3-11 February 2018

After completing three months of intensive avian fieldwork in the Talamanca Highlands and Caribbean Coast, I have a little over a week to burn before leaving the country and am eager to see new landscapes and their associated birds. Below are some photo highlights from this nine-day circuit, which covered the southern foothills, the Pacific coastline including the the Osa and Nicoya Peninsulas, and lastly, the Volcán Arenal.

Note: The bird in the banner photo is a Silver-throated Tanager (Tangara icterocephala).

Broad-billed Motmot (Electron platyrhynchum)
Yellow-throated Toucan (Ramphastos ambiguus)
Buff-rumped Warbler (Myiothlypis fulvicauda)
Cherrie’s Tanager (Ramphocelus costaricensis)
Central American Squirrel Monkey (Saimiri oerstedii)
Cocoa Woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus susurrans)
Speckled Tanager (Ixothraupis guttata)
Chestnut-sided Warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica)
Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) from the Nicoya Peninsula ferry.
Double-striped Thick-knee (Burhinus bistriatus)
Golden-hooded Tanager (Tangara larvata)



Life in the Costa Rica Highlands

Note: After a computer failure while away from the US, I am now back in Colorado and resuming posts that will cover my remaining time in Costa Rica, as well as Colombia.

2 February 2018

For the past three months, Steve Dougill and I have primarily been stationed at Madre Selva where we band birds for Costa Rica Bird Observatories (CRBO). While I have posted three other blogs for our time banding in Costa Rica (Back to the Tropics: Banding in Costa Rica, The Land of Turtles, and Ringing in the New Year), I present you with a final post for the Costa Rica Highlands.

In this cloud forest landscape rich with regional endemics, Steve and I unfurl nets at first light and work well into the afternoon on a near daily basis. On the rare day off, we go birding and sometimes venture off on short excursions. One morning, we make it to the páramo, 25 kilometers up the highway. Here, we see our first Volcano Juncos and Timberline Wrens, both species only found in this unique sub-alpine habitat of Costa Rica and western Panama.

Volcano Junco (Junco vulcani), endemic to the Talamanca Páramo. As CRBO has done research here in the past, a few of the juncos are banded.
The habitat of the regional endemic Volcano Junco and Timberline Wren.

From our house and headquarters at Madre Selva, I often explore the surrounding forests. While the process of banding birds naturally allows for the up-close and detailed study of individual birds, observing them in their natural habitat is incredibly rewarding and valuable in itself.

Black-capped Flycatcher (Empidonax atriceps), a regional endemic.
Collared Trogon (Trogon collaris)
Talamanca Hummingbird (Eugenes spectabilis), a regional endemic.
Lesser Violetear (Colibri cyanotus)
Fiery-throated Hummingbird (Panterpe insignis), a regional endemic.
A favorite hike leads to a few scenic waterfalls.

Below are a few last images of banding at Madre Selva . . .

Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher (Ptiliogonys caudatus), a regional endemic.
Scaled Antpitta (Grallaria guatimalensis)
Yellow-winged Vireo (Vireo carmioli), a regional endemic.
Large-footed Finch (Pezopetes capitalis), a regional endemic.
The eye of Costa Rica’s national bird, Clay-colored Thrush (Turdus grayi).