What’s Up? – Rain and Suet Cakes

H.J. Ruiz - Avian101

Rain and Suet Cakes


After so many days without rain, we finally had the rain that so much for…and more! We’ve had rain for four days in a row and if you see the  weather  forecast is calling for some more rainy days ahead. The temperature is always over 80º F , during the day.

Suet cakes

I’ve  been trying a new brand of mix seeds for birds  from Sam’s Club. They gave me 50 lbs. for trial. The birds eat them but are picking only what they like and attracts too many blackbirds. These, are destroying  the peace and tranquility of my backyard, and making a mess everyday!  Once I finish the new mix I’m testing, I’ll return to feeding my birds with the previous mix.

I’ve made a change on the feeding department. Instead of buying the suet from the store…

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Bird’s ID – Great Grebe

H.J. Ruiz - Avian101

Great Grebe


The Great Grebe (Podiceps major) is the largest species of grebe in the world. A disjunct population exists in northwestern Peru, while the main distribution is from extreme southeastern Brazil to Patagonia and central Chile.

This is a very large grebe, with proportions more like a goose or a cormorant then a typical grebe. They range in length from 67–80 cm (26-32 inches) and usually weigh about 1600 grams (3.5 lb), but can scale to at least 2 kg (4.4 lb). They are buffy-rufous on the neck and chest, blackish on the back and have a whitish belly. The head is sooty gray with a reddish-brown eye. Due to its size and unique coloration, the great grebe is unlikely to be confused with any other bird, including other grebes.

The great grebe lives on a diet mostly of fish, sometimes over 11 cm (4.3 inches) long, but usually smaller. Prey competition can occasionally occur…

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Bird’s ID – Black Vulture

H.J. Ruiz - Avian101

Black Vulture


The Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus), also known as the American black vulture, is a bird in the New World vulture family whose range extends from the southeastern United States to Central Chile and Uruguay in South America. Although a common and widespread species, it has a somewhat more restricted distribution than its compatriot, the turkey vulture, which breeds well into Canada and south to Tierra del Fuego. It is the only extant member of the genus Coragyps, which is in the family Cathartidae. Despite the similar name and appearance, this species is unrelated to the Eurasian black vulture, an Old World vulture in the family Accipitridae (which includes eagles, hawks, kites, and harriers). It inhabits relatively open areas which provide scattered forests or shrublands. With a wingspan of 1.5 m (4.9 ft), the black vulture is a large bird though relatively small for a vulture…

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Another unusual sighting: Cinnamon Becard at 1300 m in San Antonio de Santa Cruz

Birds for Beer

After the excitement of finding two species new to my house list this week, yet another appeared yesterday. The Cinnamon Becard (Pachyramphus cinnamomeus) is a common bird in the Caribbean lowlands but my garden, where a pair appeared yesterday morning, is at 1288 m elevation in San Antonio de Santa Cruz, Turrialba, well above this bird’s normal range. I have seen it quite frequently at nearby San Diego, close to 1000 m, but even there the elevation is considered too high for this species. Naturally I am delighted to record yet another new species here but clearly something is different. Is this merely range expansion or is it climate change?

Cinnamon Becard peeps out of its hiding place at the CATIE canal, Turrialba; photo by Larry Waddell

There are 5 species of becards in Costa Rica but the Cinnamon Becard is the only one in which males and…

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New species in my garden

Birds for Beer

After a too lengthy absence from Turrialba I returned this week to note two species that I have previously not found here. Actually it’s no great shock since neither species is rare, but the first, early in the morning, was a Barred Antshrike (Thamnophilus doliatus), a species that is not often found at these elevations.

Male Barred Antshrike with crest lowered; photo courtesy of John Beer

All 22 species of antbird found in Costa Rica tend to hide out in thick undergrowth. The Barred Antshrike is perhaps the easiest antbird for a visiting birder to find and identify. The male can be confused only with the male Fasciated Antshrike (Cymbilaimus lineatus), a slightly larger and less common species that is restricted to the Caribbean slope. The female Barred Antshrike, shown here below, looks very different in its cinnamon plumage, and if you see the head clearly…

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Elaenias around Turrialba

Birds for Beer

Elaenias are medium-sized flycatchers found only in the Americas, and then only from Mexico southwards. The name means ‘of olive oil’ and refers to the general colour of their plumage. Identification of many of the 21 species can be difficult, but in the Turrialba area only two of the four species that occur in Costa Rica are really common, the Yellow-bellied Elaenia (Elaenia flavogaster) and, at higher elevations, the Mountain Elaenia (Elaenia frantzii).

The latter descends to lower altitudes only seasonally, whileflavogaster, a very common and noisy garden bird, is rarely found above 1500 m in our area. I do have two isolated sightings from as high as 2200 m at Llano Grande, between the Turrialba and Irazú volcanoes. These two elaenias are additionally readily distinguished because of flavogaster‘s ‘bad haircut’ crest, which is generally held conspicuously aloft:

Yellow-bellied Elaenia at Santa Rosa…

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