It was a birding trip in Costa Rica. Our guide directed everyone to lean well over in the van so that we could see the stream running in the valley below. “There’s been a rare bird here throughout the summer, “He said. “I haven’t had any recent reports, but maybe we’ll be lucky.” Those of us on the riverside of the van made room for our van-mates on the opposite side as we peered into the valley. Suddenly, “There it is!” he shouted—“the Marvelous Plunger-bird.” I was one of those fortunate enough to have already seen the familiar bathroom plunger stuck between two rocks where it had washed down from above. We played along, “Great sighting!” “A real lifer.” But one lady hadn’t seen it. Thinking we were serious, she yelled, “Where? I can’t find it.” She was new to tropical birding and already beleaguered trying to keep up with unfamiliar and real names such as chlorospingus, tapaculo and jacamar. That led to some good-natured teasing.
(Jacamars are relatively common in tropical Americal.)
After that incident, you would think everyone would have learned, but no. The next day we were up much higher in the mountains looking into a smoky valley. Someone mentioned the fires, and our guide said, “Yep, and over there you can see a Phoenix flying from the ashes.” Some laughed, but once again, a couple of people ran over, “Where? I don’t see it.”
The end of March can be a bit slow for birding in our area. Spring migration is only starting and some of our winter raptors and waterfowl have begun to move out. Maybe that’s what led to my perusing a new field guide a friend gave me. The guide has an intriguing name: A Field Guide to Little-Known and Seldom-Seen Birds of North America.
True to its name, I hadn’t seen any of the birds depicted. Despite having lived in Arizona for quite a few years and visiting often, I’d never seen the Blunt-billed Woodpecker. Then I noted that the guide said it was only found in the Petrified Forest—a location I’ve only visited a couple of times. I just hadn’t had the good luck to spy the woodpecker.
Another bird I’ve missed is the Small Flycatcher. I related in a previous blog (http://www.gjsentinel.com/blogs/birds_and_more/entry/an-inordinate-fondness-for-beetles-or-flycatchers) how difficult it is to distinguish flycatchers of the genus empidonax. The Small Flycatcher (empidonax smallii) has no field marks. Indeed, they are so nearly alike to other members of the genus that, according to the field guide, sometimes even they cannot determine if another bird is the same species or whether it is male or female. These problems drastically reduce mating opportunities and account for the bird’s tiny population.
The field guide also introduced me to some shorebirds I’ve apparently overlooked. Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs are both regular migrants to Western Colorado, but the book introduced me to the slightly larger Greatest Yellowlegs, as well as the slightly-smaller Slightly-Lesser Yellowlegs. In between, is the Middle Yellowlegs. All of these are similar to the two familiar birds but with different sizes. The book suggests pushing rulers on-end all over mudflats so that birders can differentiate the various yellowlegs species by evaluating their relative height.
(Here is a Greater Yellowlegs. httpswww.allaboutbirds.orgguideGreater_Yellowlegsid)
(A Field Guide to Little-Known and Seldom-Seen Birds of North America does exist. It is available from Peachtree Publishers Limited, Atlanta, GA.)
This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to email@example.com. To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see our website at audubongv.org and “like” us on Facebook!]