Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Almost Paradise: Tortuguero

By Lukas Musher
American Pygmy Kingfisher, Tortuga Lodge, Tortuguero, Costa Rica
This morning while checking nets at one of our sights in primary forest in Tortuguero, it hit me, this is pretty much as close to paradise as you can get.  It began to rain lightly, and the duetting roars of both thunder and howler monkeys echoed around me.  The nets were mostly empty except for an American Pygmy Kingfisher and a White-breasted Wood-Wren.  While extracting the kingfisher, I tried not to flinch as the tiny pricks of mosquitoes drawing blood plagued my hands and face.  As they gorged and I fiddled with the bird trying to figure out the secret to its removal, my mind went blank as I finally couldn't take the agitation any longer, letting go of the bird with one hand to slap the mosquitoes from my cheeks and neck.  My hand returned to the bird, now with bright red stains and minuscule black lines that once were legs.
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Tortuga Lodge, Tortuguero, Costa Rica
No, it wasn't perfect, or comfortable, or luxurious by any means, but there is something about this crazy place that has held a particularly special place in my heart (and in my brain; I find the tropics fascinating) since I first visited the tropical rainforest as a young teenager.  Droplets of sweat, like condensation on a cold bottle of water, littered my forehead and upper lip.  I breathed slowly, trying to block out the dizziness and slight headache from dehydration.  I know it sounds horrible, but it truly is an amazing place.

Purple-throated Fruitcrows began calling above me.  The female flew over and paused to stare with nesting material in her mouth – a life bird.  Somewhere not too far away a Laughing Falcon began calling, guaco guaco guaco, over and over.  Tiny poison dart frogs, bright red with blue hind legs (called bluejeans frogs) jolted spasmodically over the leaf-covered forest floor.  Finally the bird was out.  I put it in one of our cloth bags and tied the draw string, then returned to the banding station.
Female Purple-crowned Woodnymph, Tortuguero National Park, Tortuguero, Costa Rica (iPhone photo)
Since I got to Tortuguero 5 days ago I've seen and done a lot.  Although it rains a lot, and I haven't been able to get too many photos, we've caught all kinds of interesting species, and seen some cool birds.  Gartered and Slaty-tailed Trogons, Keel-billed and Black-mandabled Toucans, Mealy and Red-lored Parrots, Black-cowled Oriole, and lots of other species have been seen regularly.  On the boat ride here we saw an adult and juvenal King Vulture.
Grayish Saltator with an interesting molt limit in the remiges (flight feathers of the wing).  Notice primaries 1-3 and secondaries 1-3 are retained.  This bird is a member of the family, Cardinalidae, related to grosbeaks and cardinals.  Not sure why it would show eccentric molt like this.  The other wing showed molt in primaries 1-3 and secondaries 2-4.  The tropics are crazy.
Banding has been slow, and we've had some trouble opening nets due to rain, but the birds we catch are quite special and interesting.  Hummingbird captures have included Blue-throated Goldentail, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Bronzy, Stripe-throated, and Long-billed Hermits.  White-capped Manakins are our most common species and well-studied by CRBO biologists.  Other cool captures here have included Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Great Kiskadee, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Grayish Saltator, among others.
Juvenal Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Caribbean Conservation Corporation, Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Pale-vented Pigeon, Caribbean Conservation Corporation, Tortuguero, Costa Rica

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