Costa Rican rambles 6A – Los Cusingos

Finally, back to Costa Rica (in memory)! The past couple months were very busy and often stressful for me, so it is so very nice to again look back to the wonderful days we had looking for Central American birds (and other wildlife) in Costa Rica. On the fourth day of our 9-day trip, we moved to another hotel for a couple nights, stopping several times along the way to bird along roads. The photos from this day were not that great, but they do provide an impression of what we were seeing.

Before we left, we birded the grounds of the hotel where we had spent the night. There were some pretty flowers and a white-crested coquette hummingbird (Lophornis adorabilis), as well as a rather large long-horned borer beetle (perhaps Callipogon barbatus species, but that’s not certain).

We spent some time peering into a rather dark and dense brushy area, looking for uncommon wrens. I was able to photograph a rufous-breasted wren (Pheugopedius rutilus) with some difficulty. Then, just before boarding our bus, a yellow-headed caracara (Milvago chimachima) perched in a nearby tree, giving us some nice views.

  

Our first stop, however, was a park called Los Cusingos, which is a property formerly owned by US botanist Alexander Skutch. He lived there for 63 years until his death at the age of 99 years. While Skutch earned an income collecting plants for museums, his passion was birds and he wrote more than 40 books and 200 papers on ornithonology.

  

Now his former home is part of a bird sanctuary run by the Tropical Science Center and you can see a variety of birds, like this buff-throated saltator (Saltator maximus) and the yellow-olive flycatcher (Tolmomyias sulphurescens).

        

The staff had put out fruit on a feeding station to attract birds and this brought in several, including a female Cherrie’s tanager (Ramphocelus costaricensis) and a golden-hooded tanager (Tangara larvata).

     

The station was also very attractive to a red-tailed squirrel (Sciurus granatensis), who was not in the least perturbed by our presence nearby.

We set off onto the trails in search of new avian species but also had time to admire many types of trees and plants, which I still must identify. Some had very sharp spines.

The dense foliage with a little sun creating dappled views made photography a challenge for me. But I did get a couple photos of a little bird called the plain xenops (Xenops minutus).

As we hiked, a few beautiful butterflies appeared; the one with orange spots was, I believe, a crimson patch (Chlosyne janais) and the other was a zebra-striped hairstreak (Panthiades bathildis).

A chestnut-sided warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica), familiar to me from North Carolina, put in an appearance and a lovely little lesser greenlet (Hylophilus decurtatus) peered out from some large leaves.

A summer tanager (Piranga rubra), which I’ve been lucky to have in my own yard, was a pleasure to see, as was a spot-crowned euphonia (Euphonia imitans).

  

One of my favorite birds, of which I unfortunately had blurry photos, was the entertaining red-capped manakin (Ceratopipra mentalis). He stayed very high in the canopy and was sometimes behind leaves but, when he emerged, he did a great sideways moonwalk back and forth on the branch, which was part of his courtship behavior. What a very cool sighting!

   

Back near the entrance to the reserve, there were some lovely orchids and a brilliant green honeycreeper (Chlorophanes spiza) to see us off as we set off on the road – to be continued in the next blog!

  

Juneteenth, historic Stagville and wildlife at Horton Grove

volunteer IMG_3788© Maria de Bruyn resSeveral weeks ago, in honor of Juneteenth, the local Triangle Land Conservancy partnered with the Stagville Foundation to inform people about the remnants of a former plantation and its surrounding meadows and forest. I attended and was indeed educated and enlightened about the local history and excited by the local wildlife.

Juneteenth (June 19th) is the oldest celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. “Historic Stagville” was once the largest plantation in the state of North Carolina. The almost 30,000 acres were tended by some 900 slaves, most of whom lived in family groups as the plantation owner families tended not to sell the laborers they “owned”.

Stagville IMG_3824© Maria de Bruyn res Stagville IMG_3747© Maria de Bruyn res

Local volunteers were dressed in period costume and demonstrated Southern cooking as they prepared a one-pot (non-vegetarian) meal for visitors and a more sumptuous traditional dinner to be served to all the volunteers at the end of the festivities.

Stagville IMG_3813© Maria de Bruyn res Stagville IMG_3810© Maria de Bruyn res

Stagville DK7A4791© Maria de Bruyn resThey cooked over open fires and explained which local vegetables they were using to prepare the dishes.

Meanwhile, other volunteers gave us some history about Stagville as we visited the Great Barn, one of the multifamily houses built for slaves and another home constructed by freed slaves who became sharecroppers after the US Civil War ended. The structures were produced by the slaves, who included a number of skilled craftsmen.

great barn IMG_3759© Maria de Bruyn resThe 3-story Great Barn was the largest structure of its kind when it was built in the space of five months in 1860, housing some farming tools and equipment but primarily serving as an enclosure for 75 mules.

 

 

Great barn IMG_3721© Maria de Bruyn resGreat barn IMG_3728© Maria de Bruyn res Great barn  IMG_3720© Maria de Bruyn res

slave house IMG_3791© Maria de Bruyn resThe houses for the slave families were well built with wooden floors and fireplaces. This was not benevolence on the part of the plantation owners but done from an economic perspective – it would cost less to have the workers housed a bit decently rather than to have to pay medical bills to keep them healthy enough for labor.

Slave house IMG_3750© Maria de Bruyn res sharecropper house IMG_3752© Maria de Bruyn res

A couple slaves were freed before emancipation and a very few escaped. In North Carolina, some slaves were taught to read and write and letters written by two individuals who left Stagville provide some written history about the conditions there. Today, some descendants of freed Stagville slaves still live in this area.

slave house IMG_3771© Maria de Bruyn res quilt IMG_3779© Maria de Bruyn resquilt IMG_3780© Maria de  res

deer skull IMG_3770© Maria de Bruyn resAfter the tour of the remaining buildings and seeing two quilts on display in the sharecropper home open to the public, I joined a few others for a walk through the surrounding forest. We came across the skull of a white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) with an odd shape – the Conservancy tour guide explained that the top of the deer’s head had been sawed off so a hunter could take home its antlers.

Indigo bunting DK7A4816© Maria de BruynAfter the walk, I went on to the Horton Grove Nature Preserve, up the road from Stagville. The walking and hiking trails are all named after slave families that lived on the plantation.  For example, the Justice trail commemorates a family that included a man who was interviewed for a slave narrative project in 1937. I saw some indigo buntings (Passerina cyanea), who sang loudly, a couple red-eyed vireos (Vireo olivaceus) who were collecting nest materials, and a male common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) who was having a meal.

red-eyed vireo DK7A4922© Maria de BruynCommon yellowthroat DK7A5611© Maria de Bruyn

Some great spangled fritillary butterflies (Speyeria cybele) were very busy feeding in a part of the meadow that was crowded with common milkweed flowers (Asclepias syriaca) in full bloom.

great spangled fritillary DK7A5377© Maria de Bruyn res great spangled fritillary DK7A5350© Maria de Bruyn res

 

great spangled fritillary DK7A5011© Maria de Bruyn resGreat spangled fritillary DK7A5052© Maria de Bruyn res

The dogbane beetles (Chrysochus auratus) were numerous and looking for mates as they trundled around on the dogbane plants (Apoynum cannabinum).

dogbane beetle DK7A5209© Maria de Bruyn resdogbane beetle DK7A5441© Maria de Bruyn

summer tanager DK7A5572© Maria de Bruyn

 

The morning ended with a brief glimpse of a male summer tanager (Piranga rubra) in the distance, a bright note to end the outing.

 

volunteer IMG_3782© Maria de Bruyn resUnfortunately, recent events in Charleston have emphasized once again that the racism underlying the system that created Stagville still exists and still leads to violence against non-Caucasian people. This blog does not intend to imply that the Stagville plantation and its heritage contribute to making my world more beautiful – what IS beautiful is the way in which the Stagville Foundation volunteers work to inform and educate others about the history that affects our current society.

We must all continue to address the aberrations of hatred and discrimination based on race (and other culturally assigned characteristics such as gender and ethnicity) and work to educate ourselves, our fellow adults and young people on the need to simply treat everyone as we personally wish to be treated — we are all part of the human race and no other “races” (should) matter.

 

A fruity buffet for the birds!

summer tanager profile IMG_4040©Maria de BruynIn front of a dog park in the small town of Carrboro, NC, there stands a small serviceberry tree, also known as a shadbush or sarvisberry (Amelanchier). This particular specimen has several trunks and was heavily laden with pretty white flowers in the early spring. These turned into bright red berries in late spring, forming a very bountiful buffet for the resident birds and some other wildlife, too!

The variety of species visiting this tree was delightful and led me to go back on several mornings and evenings to observe.

cedar waxwing IMG_1675©Maria de Bruyn2 rescedar waxwing IMG_2159©Maria de Bruyn res

The cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) were there in pairs and groups, some of them sweetly feeding one another!

Northern cardinal IMG_4073©Maria de Bruyn2 resNorthern cardinal IMG_2078©Maria de Bruyn2 res

The male and female Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) were also huge fans of this tree, returning over and over to have their fill.

Eastern bluebird IMG_4543©Maria de Bruyn reschipping sparrow IMG_2268©Maria de Bruyn2 res

A couple birds seemed only to alight in the tree, not really partaking, like the Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) and chipping sparrows (Spizella passerina). However, those sparrows, like the American robin (Turdus migratorius), might have been just checking out the wares before they dropped to the ground under the tree to enjoy a few berries. That surprised me – especially, the robins whom I have considered to be mainly insectivores and worm-eaters.

chipping sparrow IMG_1626©Maria de Bruyn2 res American robin IMG_4531©Maria de Bruyn res

One day, a trio of Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) arrived. I thought for sure that they would be stripping the branches clean but they hopped around the tree, sampling here and there. During several visits to the serviceberry, that was the only time I saw them climb into the tree for a snack.

Eastern gray squirrel IMG_2191©Maria de Bruyn2 resEastern gray squirrel IMG_2116©Maria de Bruyn2 res

Other birds seemed to visit only briefly, like the Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) and the tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor).

Northern mockingbird IMG_4164©Maria de Bruyn2 res tufted titnouse IMG_2122©Maria de Bruyn res

red-bellied woodpecker IMG_1633©Maria de Bruyn2 resThe red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus), on the other hand, was a very frequent visitor – coloring oh so nicely with the host tree! This bird seemed to be also storing some berries for later consumption in the bark of a tree?

red-bellied woodpecker IMG_2094©Maria de Bruyn2 res

red-bellied woodpecker IMG_2007©Maria de Bruyn2 res

Serviceberries are promoted for gardens as a source of delicious fruit for human beings. They are said to be wonderful in jam, pies, ice cream, syrup for pancakes and or in alcoholic drinks. Raw, they taste a little like blueberries with a nice sweet tang.

 

They were obviously a great hit with a pair of summer tanagers (Piranga rubra). The male colored nicely with the fruit he was eating; he is an example of the only bird in North America that is entirely red!

Summer tanager IMG_1643©Maria de Bruyn res summer tanager IMG_4112©Maria de Bruyn res

The yellow female stood out as she ate berry after berry.

Summer tanager IMG_1955©Maria de Bruyn res summer tanager IMG_4041©Maria de Bruyn res

 

Cedar apple rust IMG_9380© Maria de BruynAfter watching this spectacle, I have now decided to find one of these shrubs for my own yard. They are unfortunately susceptible to cedar apple rust (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae) which I have in neighboring cedar trees; it doesn’t seem to hurt the cedars but may account for the fact that the apples in my apple tree stay very small even if I haven’t seen signs of the rust on the apple tree leaves. Hopefully, it won’t be a problem as it would be really nice to see the birds at a serviceberry buffet here at home in years to come!