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Dog and Bird Spotting at Hacienda Solimar, Costa Rica

Thursday, March 10, 2016

I am happy to report that, after 8 days away, my laptop has been returned by the excellent gentlemen of Elan Technologies, fitted with a new top case, keyboard, trackpad, and battery. No more will its swollen and aging battery impede progress on all fronts. Back in the blogging saddle! I took this time to write thank-you notes, 27 of them, to people who helped me with Baby Birds. It was like doing Christmas cards, and hand-writing a different letter to each recipient. Being that nice for five days was exhausting. :) I want to thank you all for the vote of confidence on old-fashioned prose posts, though; my photo-free post "Becalmed" has done better than most of my glitzier photo posts. Huh.

On Day 4 of our Costa Rica expedition, we made a lunchtime stop at Hacienda Solimar, a working cattle ranch of epic propotions in the Guanacaste region of the northwest Pacific coast. On this enormous ranch, beautiful Brahma cattle are bred and raised, mostly for breeding stock.
They are definitely a cut above the usual, even to my untrained eye.  I'm guessing the red X's on these cows indicate they've been bred.

On this day, the cowboys were separating calves from moms, and there was a lot of bellering going on, and dust rising in the air.

They use horses for much of the cattle cutting, but there were also some fancy four-wheelers in the garage. I spotted a very cute doggie resting in the shade. She had the nicest smile!

And then, feeling a little self-conscious, she yawned, and displayed perhaps the longest tongue I've ever seen on a dog.  

Just down the road, a classic yaller dog trotted home, curled tail held high over his back.  A good yaller dog is not too far from a dingo, if you ask me. Survival instincts keen and sharp; a coat that blends into dry grass, a yaller dog is a hunter, vigilant and crafty. Perhaps the ancestral dog.

  Much as I love cattle and dogs, I had to admit we were here for birds, and Hacienda Solimar did not disappoint. A pair of rufous-naped wrens drinks from a coconut shell. Oh sweet scene, there in the dappled light.

And just down the driveway, a Pacific screech-owl pretends to nap. It's a real good bet that an owl who looks like he's sleeping is glaring at you from behind those heavy lids. And wishing hard that you'd bug off.

Good as the land birding is, the marshes of Solimar are stupendous. We were gobsmacked by throngs of black-bellied whistling ducks. Struggling to comprehend why there were so many, I kept asking Mario and Solimar guide Demetrio if they were  massing for migration, enjoying  a post-breeding break or what? No, they replied; they're always here in numbers. Well, that just didn't make sense to me.

The more I thought about it, the more it bugged me. The black-bellied whistling duck is a cavity nester. It's a big duck, almost goose-sized. That's a whopping cavity! And every one of these ducks was born in a cavity.

Where do they find all those huge cavities for their nests?? And what are they all doing here? How can there be enough food in these sloughs for all those ducks? Sometimes nature just befuddles me. 

And wading around with the whistling ducks and an amazed great blue heron was an enormous jabiru, nearly five feet tall. 

These endangered storks nest at Solimar, and we were privileged to see a nest, with three young, at a great distance, so as not to bother them. What a tree, what a nest, what amazing storks they are.

In flight, with those pure-white primaries beating, they're magnificent. I expected their wings to be trimmed in black.  Melanin strengthens feathers for the inevitable wear flight brings. That's why most white birds like terns, gulls, gannets, wood storks and snow geese have black-tipped primaries at least. Not the jabiru. Does it not make long-distance flights? How come no black? Always scratching my head. Especially in the Neotropics. 

This is a fun shot. If you click on it to embiggen it, you'll find that three of these things are not like the others. Three of these things are not the same. Can you name all the birds in the photo?
** Answer at the bottom of the post. **

I'm just going to say right now that for some reason my photos in this post, viewed at normal size, look like crap. And when you click on them and see the larger version, you see that they are largely not crap. This is something I've been noticing about Blogger lately. If you like a photo, by all means click on it and see it how it's supposed to look. For instance, you can vaguely tell that the large birds in the photo above are some kind of craney storkey thing. Click on the photo and boom! Wood storks!

We watched the flocks for signs of danger, for the high whistled calls of the ducks and sudden explosions and rises. For there were peregrines about!

And why not? Wherever there are huge flocks of shorebirds and waterfowl, the wandering peregrine will attend them.  These two sparred playfully, thrilling us to bits.

Look at that leg extension! Wow!!

It always gets me when birds fly upside down. It never gets old.

By now you're probably figuring out that birding in Costa Rica is just fun, fun, fun. Especially with the Science Chimp jumping around scratching her head and asking questions. Right, Mario? Heh.

**The flock consists of 19 wood storks, and from left a black vulture, a tiny high-soaring anhinga, and an osprey, heading the other way. 


Hi Julie: I enjoy your blog and have been a regular follower for years. I am wondering if you would put my blog on your 'Blog Roll' so I can get more followers. I am from the North and my blog is about nature, mostly birds. Check it out at:

Love those fancy wrens! I learn so much from your blog, including that even the experts (you!) still have lots of questions. :-)

I guess the jabiru is head strong (ha ha); it does have a big black head that breaks trail for the rest of its body....and that is a scary bill- as if it could break a wrist. Pretty amazing that an osprey can hide in that picture. Glad your images were all OK when your machine was rehabbed.

Excellent post. Getting envious. Maybe those ducks nest away but come to the march to feed. Hope you'll get it figured out and tell us.

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