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biodiversity Birding Costa Rica Butterflies and moths of Costa Rica Introduction Pacific slope

Nice August Birding (and Butterflies) on the Bijagual Road

Carara National Park is such a fantastic area for birds. Beautiful old growth rainforest harbors healthy populations of various antbirds, wrens, a fantastic bunch of flycatchers, manakins, trogons, and so on, etc, and lots more. If the park has any drawbacks (other than the fracking hot weather), those would be the opening time of 7 or 8 AM, and no trails that head up into the never birded. hilly areas of the park.

However, despite the dearth of trails that head up into them thar hills, some of that habitat is still accessible on the road that leads to Bijagual. This is the dirt road that goes past the entrance to Villa Lapas, accesses the trailhead to the Bijagual waterfall, and goes by the entrance to the Pura Vida gardens. In addition to those sites, it also passes through habitats ranging from second growth to humid ravines, and the edge of humid rainforest. In other words, it’s a darn birdy byway and that’s why my birding friend Susan and I went there shortly after dawn on Sunday morning. You see, I have had this notion that it might be a good starting point for a Big Day so I have wanted to do some trial runs. Although this isn’t the best time of the year for vocalizations, any morning in such birdy habitat is going to be a good one so we mosied on down the Caldera highway, went over the crocodile bridge, and didn’t stop until we got to the entrance to the Bijagual waterfall.

Looking down at the canopy on a misty morning.

I see this area as having promise for a Big Day because it looks down into the canopy of forest on both sides and offers an equally good view of distant forested hills. The idea is that we can scope the treetops for various canopy birds while also knocking off species as they call from the forest below. Our Sunday results weren’t as promising as I had hoped but I think it will still be worth it to see how it performs during the dry season when more birds are singing in that area. Nevertheless, we still had a great morning of birding while checking out sites further up the road.

Once you get past the Pura Vida gardens, the landscape becomes much more deforested and doesn’t look nearly as humid as the forests in Carara.

Yellow-faced Grassquita were fairly common up there.

Back in the humid areas, we had some nice activity, including such species as Slaty-tailed and Gartered Trogons, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, tityras, woodcreepers, Black-hooded Antshrike, Dusky Antbird, and a good number of other expected species.

Male Slaty-tailed Trogon.
My first fall Olive-sided Flycatcher.
The distinct and beautiful song of the Rufous and white Wren was a common sound on the road.

Our best spot, though, was a tree with small, dull red fruits. It looked ideal for cotingas so we parked ourselves near that avian hotspot and watched birds come and go for an hour and a half. Four or so Black-mandibled Toucans were sort of dominating the tree but it also ended up being a manakin magnet.

Black-mandibled Toucans are a common sight on the Bijagual Road.

As Ochre-bellied Flycatchers zipped back and forth and feasted on fruits in the dim recesses of the tree, we also got looks at a couple of male and female Red-capped Manakins, one or two Long-tailed Manakins, a few Blue-crowned Manakins, and at least one male White-ruffed Manakin. Oddly enough, we didn’t see any Orange-collared Manakins coming to the tree (but did see a few along the road for a sweet five manakin species day).

Can you see the Ochre-bellied Flycatcher?

When we weren’t watching the birds coming to the fruiting tree, we were being simply amazed by the hundreds of insects that were taking advantage of an adjacent flowering tree. This tree was just filled with buzzing bees, various other insects, and at least 15 species of butterflies and moths (probably more).

Uraniid moths were the most common species and dotted the tree with emerald and shining bluish-green on velvet black.

A couple of Uraniid moths fighting over nectar.
A better look at a Uraniid moth.
This was a typical, colorful view in that magical tree.
There were several of these black and red beauties in the tree.
There were a few of these.
Several Heliconid species butterflies were in attendance.
I had never seen this one before! Don't know what it's name is though.
This was just one of the other cool looking bugs in that amazing tree.

I hope to get out this weekend. Don’t know where but just about everywhere is good when birding in Costa Rica!

biodiversity Butterflies and moths of Costa Rica Introduction non avian organisms

The Uraniidae moths are invading Costa Rica!

When birding Costa Rica and many other exciting, birdy neotropical countries with rain forest, one can’t help but notice a striking black and green moth that looks like a butterfly. It doesn’t look anything like the usual, amazing, hairy little beasts that show up at night lights and resemble miniature lost aliens. This beautiful creature doesn’t goes against the moth standard because the lepidopterists say that it’s mimicking swallowtail butterflies. I won’t deny that they resemble swallowtail butterflies in shape but its green and black coloration sure seems one of a kind. I mean it really does look more like some refrigerator magnet or sticker that shows a butterfly dreamed up by the design team of the Fukien All Purpose Happy Factory in China.

“Leung Chu, we have an order of 50,000 butterfly magnets for our biggest customer- the Dollar Store. Quick, design a pretty butterfly!”

“Sure Mr. Wong! That’s easy to do because all butterflies are pretty- how about this?” He shows a sketch of a black and green butterfly.

“Yes, that will be perfect!”

These Uraniidae moths look incredible but I have to admit that I have become habituated to feeling a bit let down when I see one because I think, “Now that’s one heck of a butterfly! Oh wait that’s right, it’s just a moth…”  I realize this a very discriminatory thing to do and I can’t justify it but all I can say in my defense is that the Urania moth tricks me. It throws me for a loop into thinking that I am watching some super cool, psychadelic butterfly instead of a mere masquerading moth. I really shouldn’t put it that way because I love seeing moths, especially the bizarre and beautiful creatures that make their appearance in the dark of the night, so I will attempt to overcome my feelings of betrayal and enjoy their presence.

That’s a pretty easy thing to do these days because the Urania moths are currently invading Costa Rica. I think the scouts showed up two weeks ago before the main drive on September 18th. On that day, while birding at Quebrada Gonzalez, a constant broad wave of Urania moths were flying in a general west to east direction over the canopy of the forest. The skyscape was littered with butterly-like moths and none were observed stopping to alight on the vegetation. The message must have also gotten out long ago about their bad taste because they were completely ignored by birds (of which we saw few due to the hot, sunny weather). I have also seen them up here in the Central Valley as they bravely (more dramatic sounding than the truth- hopelessly driven by blind instincts) flutter among the concrete and cinder block structures of Costa Rica’s urbanized sector.

Urania fulgens moths apparently undertake massive migrations like the one we witnessed once every eight years or so and might make it all the way to Colombia. In looking for information about their movements, I didn’t find as much as I had expected but did come across a paper written by Neal Griffith Smith who studied a migration of these awesome looking insects in Panama in 1969. He estimated that several million moths flew over the canal zone during Autumn of that year and hypothesized that they might migrate to take advantage of greater resources available to larvae during the wet season. Whatever the reasons are for the massive movements they make, judging by the small number of papers I found that investigate this moth, I don’t get the impression that the migrations of Urania fulgens have been studied very much.

If so few studies have been carried out on such a lovely, day-flying moth as Urania fulgens, just imagine how incredibly little is known about the majority of the fuzzy-antennaed creatures that flutter in the night and get eaten by owls (had to throw that last bit in- this is a birding blog after all).

Image of Urania fulgens at top is from Mike Quinn’s Texas Entomology website.