Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Sea Biscuits


Fossilized and Modern Sea Biscuits, Santa Teresa, Costa Rica November 2019

My daily beach wanders usually turn up an interesting find or two. I stumbled across a fossilized Sea Biscuit (Clypeaster sp.) early on during my stay and the partial, contemporary one just recently.

I’m having difficulty pinning down an exact age for the fossil but they first enter the record during the Eocene (around 37mya). I suppose once your form has been perfected there is little reason to change it.

Note: The fossil is underside up, the other is top up. Also, I must content myself with just the photo, as Costa Rica prohibits the removal of any nature items from the country.



Yard Bird 8

This White-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta formosa) was surprisingly reticent to have its photo taken. Sadly, I was not able to capture the resplendent, long tail that makes this bird so distinctive (I suggest looking it up, it really is worth it). The male sports a much longer one than the female. I believe this to be a female, based on the complete neck ring and additional black above the eye.

As with the rest of the jay family, it is a noisy character with a large repertoire of sounds. I just never know what I’m going to find in my yard!

Yard Bird 7

This juvenile, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum) likes my neighbor’s roof. It flies up there in the evenings after spending the day hunting for typical heron food (fish, amphibians, insects, and small rodents) along the creek that runs behind their house. The name refers to the distinctive feather-free, yellow skin under the bill. The adult version of this bird is quite dapper with a vibrant rufous waistcoat (or in proper birder parlance, flanks).

Interestingly, the only U.S. record of this species was found in Hidalgo County, Texas on the western Gulf Coast, near the border with Mexico. Not too surprising since the Brownsville area is a well-known birding hotspot. I would be interested to learn when that was but can’t seem to suss it out.

Arboreal Termitaria

While researching Black-headed Trogons I learned that they are unusual in their family, as they take the easy way out when building a home. Instead of carving holes in trees they just utilize arboreal termite nests. There are certainly plenty of them to choose from down here!

Tortuga Trouble

Things aren’t always perfect in paradise. As you might imagine, I was horrified when I recently stumbled across this pillaged sea turtle nest. After spending time this past summer attending sea turtle hatchling releases and raising money for a sea turtle rescue organization in Texas, this was heartbreaking. Six of the seven sea turtle species in the world are either threatened or endangered.

My local friend explained that Ticos* collect the eggs to sell them. Apparently, they bring a good price since some believe that the eggs improve virility. It is a sad state of affairs. Though, culturally, native peoples in Latin America have been harvesting turtles and turtle eggs for centuries so it requires a huge shift. Thankfully, there are some beaches in Costa Rica where the nests are protected from poaching.

*Native Costa Ricans.

Yard Birds 4, 5 & 6

While each of these species is deserving of an individual posting, I’m lumping my tyrant flycatcher trio together for the purpose of comparison. Though agile insect catchers, they are not the least bit limited in their diets. Interestingly enough, they all enjoy feeding on the little chili peppers growing in my yard. In descending order by size:

The Boat-billed Flycatcher (Megarynchus pitangua) measures in at a solid 9 inches but the most distinguishing characteristic is its stout bill. Hence the first part of the binomial, which is Latin for big nose. Large and powerful, this bird yanks peppers off the plant in mid-flight, returning to a nearby perch before quickly gulping it whole.

I first became an admirer of the noisy and gregarious Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus) during a visit to Port Isabel, Texas a dozen years ago. So I was happy to see (and hear) these characters down here. A bit smaller and less powerful, this bird lands in the plant, tugs the bright red pepper loose, and ingests it.

Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis)

The Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis) is the smallest of my three species, measuring in at just under 7 inches. As the name implies, they usually appear in my yard in groups of 3-5. I know when they’ve arrived by their noisy chatter. Their pepper picking strategy takes considerably more effort, requiring multiple attempts for each chili, wiggling the fruit back and forth until it comes free.

I believe I owe these birds thanks for the proliferation of pepper plants in my yard, as their bright red, seed-filled scat dots the ground. In case you’re wondering, I haven’t been eating the little peppers, preferring instead to save them for my colorful and entertaining avian friends.

Monkey Business

On the mornings when the rooster sleeps in, the Mantled Howler Monkeys (Alouatta palliata) step up to the plate. Though they aren’t visible in this video you can clearly hear them (but trust me, this recording is a poor substitute for the live effect).

Howler Monkeys are the loudest animals in the Americas, registering in at 140 decibels. To put that in perspective; a typical conversation is about 60db, a lawnmower about 90db, and a rock concert about 120db. Keep in mind that anything above 85db can damage your hearing.

The troop napped most of the day high up in the canopy but I was able to get a few shots when some came down lower for afternoon foraging. After snapping an underside photo of the alpha male, I think I might know one reason why they howl. Ouch!


Important tip: when photographing monkeys, do not stand under other members of the troop. Monkey sh*t happens. I’ll be filing this one under: Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me!


Yard Birds 3

Though colorful and rather large for an arboreal bird (measuring in at 16 inches, which is actually small for the toucan family) I almost missed these toucans as they were rather quiet and still. This amazing sight greeted me the other morning when I stepped outside. I dashed back into the house to grab my camera and was pleasantly rewarded.

The Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus) is a frugivore, which explains why all the papayas in my yard are disappearing! I watched these three fuss about the papayas for 15 minutes before they flew off into the forest, followed by another eight birds (which I had overlooked in the canopy)! Makes me wonder about all the other things I’m not seeing…


This group of Pacific Hermit Crabs (Coenobita compressus) chasing each other along the beach caught my attention. They are known to gang up on each other in order to try to steal a larger shell. Plus, Frank’s shell (yes, I named him), is a fetching light tan with hints of pink. Who wouldn’t want to live in that?

Did you see the tiny hermit crab in the white shell at the beginning? It reminded me of the little brother that tags along, “Hey, hey guys. Wait for me. Can I play? Guys?” And to allay your fears, Frank scampered away safely a few seconds later. Or in other words, he took his shell and went home!