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Birding Hacienda Jacana: Mar/Apr

Last week we returned to the ever peaceful, ever appealing Hacienda Jacana for another sojourn away from the hustle and bustle of city life, the uncivilized civilization. Nature is cultured and rich as always, even in the height of the tropical dry season. Rivers have withered away, and only the deepest ponds retain water. Nevertheless, greenery always ensures that the forest is at least a couple degrees cooler than the concrete jungle we’re accustomed to.

Getting there in the darkness of night, I was up before dawn to the fleeting faraway calls of Red-bellied Macaws and the soothing warbling of a family of House Wrens. Stumbling outside in the blue twilight, I made out the forms of a few small psittacines flying past – Blue-headed Parrots. Common Pauraques also called in the distance. As light gradually infiltrated the understory, I fired off my first image.

house wren-3






Also instrumental in the dawn chorus is the large-and-in-charge Crested Oropendola. It’s nesting season for many birds currently, and male oropendolas never let a moment (or a female) slip by without fluffing their feathers and crackling away.

crested oropendola-3










Voice is extremely important in identifying birds, what confuffles the brain further is the variations in vocalizations. Some birds have their regular calls that we’re all familiar with, and then at certain times of day (for example at dawn) it’s a completely different story. Intonation is key though, and what sounded kinda like a Golden-olive Woodpecker almost drove me up a wall – until I located the source of the call – yes, a Golden-olive Woodpecker.

golden olive woodpecker










The funny thing about woodpeckers is that oftentimes they don’t vocalize at all. A soft tap, tap, tap from a nearby tree was an instant indicator of another woodpecker. After a couple seconds of looking, a hurried flapping followed by the crashing of a dead branch to the ground gave away the location of a Lineated Woodpecker.

lineated woodpecker-2







We had better views this time of the uncommonly seen Grey-fronted Dove, albeit still in the shadow of the rising sun.

grey fronted dove-2







I decided to take a stroll down to the ponds as it was still early, as it was the best chance of getting a good view of the resident Grey-cowled Wood-rails. A Striated Heron hunted, gently lit by the first few rays of light. The stillness of this bird has always amazed me, but after downloading these images to the pc I have a new respect for them. Take a good look at those mosquitoes on its eyes – how steady would you be under those conditions?

striated heron-2







Noisy as always, the resident family of Wattled Jacanas took offense to any intruder – even another member of the same species.

wattled jacana-3










The folks at Hacienda regularly put fruit out at a feeder close to the forest edge, and the usually secretive rails venture out into the open, gobbling up any fallen morsels. It took many years before I was able to get a half-decent view of these gorgeous birds (that were formerly known as Grey-necked Wood-rails – split into Grey-cowled and Russet-naped) but Hacienda Jacana is undoubtedly the best place in the country to see them.

grey cowled wood rail-4







Before long, the unrelenting sun encouraged me to head back to the cabin for a drink of water, and I figured I’d record some hummingbird species while there. Surprisingly though, there wasn’t much activity at the feeders. A pair of White-chested Emeralds still maintained their “ownership” of the feeders, and immediately went to war with the occasional White-necked Jacobin that stopped by.

white chested emerald-4






Overall, however, there was no shortage of hummingbirds. Flowering trees and shrubs kept them very busy, which in turn kept me busy looking for them! Vervine bush is a good way to start, where I recorded Tufted Coquette, Blue-chinned Sapphire as well as this young male Black-throated Mango.

black throated mango-6






Perched high up in the canopy, a Long-billed Starthroat surveyed the goings-on at the cottage.

long billed starthroat-7







The grounds were rife with common birds, both Spectacled and Cocoa Thrushes along with various tanager species. Blue-grey, Silver-beaked, White-lined and Palm Tanagers were busy all day, providing lots of photographic opportunities.

palm tanager-2







Just after lunch, I went outside to stretch – and saw what looked like another White-lined Tanager, except something seemed a little odd. Before I could return with my camera, it flew off, accompanied by its mate. Her greyish-olive coloration could only mean one thing – a pair of White-shouldered Tanagers!

I must admit with the dried forest and brutal daylight hours, we didn’t expect much in terms of avian activity. But we were pleasantly surprised, even if the species present were all listed as “common”.

Common in grasslands, uncommon in the forest, a male Blue-black Grassquit showed us how he got his name.

blue black grassquit







The ever-familiar Great Kiskadee was busy at its nest (in background).

great kiskadee-3










Most reliably separated by its call, the very similar Boat-billed Flycatcher repeatedly dove in the water – initially I thought it was hunting, but it could easily be just a means of cooling off!

boat billed flycatcher










Southern Rough-winged Swallows gathered in their numbers to also make repeated dives in the pond.

southern rough winged swallow-2










The resident Green Kingfisher was notably absent, however she was seen on one occasion – just flying through as if to keep an eye on her pond. Before long, it was nighttime again, and a pair of Ferruginous Pygmy-owls called from either side of my vantage point. I was on the lookout for a particular species of owl – and was not to be disappointed. Although it never came close, hearing the distinctive wailing of a Mottled Owl always sends chills down my spine.

The following morning, I was up from an hour before dawn, with a third owl species in my sights. After a half hour walking in the darkness, I finally heard a single Tropical Screech-owl.

By the time the sun popped into the sky, I had located a tree that was already buzzing with activity. Easily distracted as always, I couldn’t resist this Plain-brown Woodcreeper in the golden light.

plain brown woodcreeper










Returning quickly to the hub of activity, it was exciting to observe the various frugivores gorging. We had entire families of Golden-headed Manakins, Green and Purple Honeycreepers, Streaked and Piratic Flycatchers, Blue Dacnis, Channel-billed Toucans, as well as the hordes of thrushes and tanagers all feeding on this one tree. Here are some of the culprits, all photographed in the same tree:

golden headed manakin







streaked flycatcher











blue dacnis










Perhaps the highlight of the morning was having five (or six) Channel-billed Toucans calling from all around me, they had me completely surrounded! I didn’t know what to do, but I figured I should try to photograph them. They are absolutely beautiful birds, their raucous calls travelling for miles across the canopy.

channel billed toucan-3







Also calling incessantly for almost all the daylight hours was a Grey-lined Hawk. It was exciting being able to finally see this small raptor, although I’m not too sure if it was just as thrilled to see me.

grey lined hawk







Care must be taken when identifying birds by their vocalizations, especially when known mimics are present. Violaceous Euphonias were everywhere, and they sometimes (very frustratingly) imitate the calls of the similar and extremely uncommon Trinidad Euphonia. We only recorded the latter species when a number of birds flew in and started calling – and it wasn’t just one mischievous Violaceous Euphonia. To get a visual was even better, although they stayed in the canopy.

trinidad euphonia







Back at the cottage, another uncommonly seen bird presented itself. Streak-headed Woodcreepers are miniature versions of the more common Cocoa Woodcreepers, but there is a definite delicate beauty about them.

streak headed woodcreeper







Just as the woodcreeper hunted insects along the branches, a pair of Black-tailed Tityras passed through, doing the exact same thing.

black tailed tityra-3










As we sat in our porch, collating the list, a movement caught my eye. Although it was on the list already, having a pair of Purple Honeycreepers look at you while you sip your coffee is a quick-fire way to spill your drink. Interestingly enough, these birds were also carefully scouring each branch for any sort of morsel (I assume – could also be spiderweb for nesting material)

purple honeycreeper-3







The frenetic twittering of a small group of Turquoise Tanagers alerted me to a couple of these jewels following the path of the Purple Honeycreepers, also hopping along with eagle eyes.

turquoise tanager










Surprisingly rich for the dry, harsh time of year, our final tally stood at 95 species.

  1. Little Tinamou
  2. Magnificent Frigatebird
  3. Striated Heron
  4. Turkey Vulture
  5. Black Vulture
  6. Grey-headed Kite
  7. Plumbeous Kite
  8. Grey-lined Hawk
  9. Short-tailed Hawk
  10. Zone-tailed Hawk
  11. Grey-cowled Wood-rail
  12. Purple Gallinule
  13. Wattled Jacana
  14. Rock Pigeon
  15. White-tipped Dove
  16. Grey-fronted Dove
  17. Ruddy Ground Dove
  18. Smooth-billed Ani
  19. Squirrel Cuckoo
  20. Tropical Screech-Owl
  21. Mottled Owl
  22. Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
  23. Common Pauraque
  24. Grey-rumped Swift
  25. Short-tailed Swift
  26. White-necked Jacobin
  27. Rufous-breasted Hermit
  28. Little Hermit
  29. Ruby-topaz Hummingbird
  30. Black-throated Mango
  31. Tufted Coquette
  32. Long-billed Starthroat
  33. Blue-chinned Sapphire
  34. White-chested Emerald
  35. Copper-rumped Hummingbird
  36. Green-backed Trogon
  37. Guianan Trogon
  38. Green Kingfisher
  39. Rufous-tailed Jacamar
  40. Channel-billed Toucan
  41. Golden-olive Woodpecker
  42. Lineated Woodpecker
  43. Blue-headed Parrot
  44. Orange-winged Parrot
  45. Green-rumped Parrotlet
  46. Red-bellied Macaw
  47. Black-crested Antshrike
  48. Barred Antshrike
  49. Plain-brown Woodcreeper
  50. Cocoa Woodcreeper
  51. Streak-headed Woodcreeper
  52. Pale-breasted Spinetail
  53. Forest Elaenia
  54. Yellow-bellied Elaenia
  55. Yellow-breasted Flycatcher
  56. Tropical Pewee
  57. Piratic Flycatcher
  58. Great Kiskadee
  59. Streaked Flycatcher
  60. Boat-billed Flycatcher
  61. Tropical Kingbird
  62. Dusky-capped Flycatcher
  63. White-bearded Manakin
  64. Golden-headed Manakin
  65. Black-tailed Tityra
  66. Rufous-browed Peppershrike
  67. Golden-fronted Greenlet
  68. Southern Rough-winged Swallow
  69. Grey-breasted Martin
  70. White-winged Swallow
  71. House Wren
  72. Rufous-breasted Wren
  73. Long-billed Gnatwren
  74. Cocoa Thrush
  75. Spectacled Thrush
  76. Tropical Mockingbird
  77. White-shouldered Tanager
  78. White-lined Tanager
  79. Silver-beaked Tanager
  80. Blue-grey Tanager
  81. Palm Tanager
  82. Turquoise Tanager
  83. Blue Dacnis
  84. Purple Honeycreeper
  85. Green Honeycreeper
  86. Greyish Saltator
  87. Blue-black Grassquit
  88. Bananaquit
  89. Northern Waterthrush
  90. Crested Oropendola
  91. Yellow-rumped Cacique
  92. Yellow Oriole
  93. Shiny Cowbird
  94. Trinidad Euphonia
  95. Violaceous Euphonia

See the report and list for January/February here.

9 thoughts on “Birding Hacienda Jacana: Mar/Apr

  1. Devan Mulchansingh says:

    Lovely shots man! Just excellent, I can just imagine being there! And that’s a pretty impressive list too! Good going! 😀

  2. David Quesnel says:

    Amazing photos and such a wonderfully written account of your stay at Hacienda Jacana. I would love to see my home anew, through your eyes. I have lived here my entire life and seen many of the birds you have photographed and described above; it has become so normal to me. Only in reading your blog have I realised that I need to make a greater effort to slow down and appreciate the beauty of the natural world around me.
    This is fantastic work you have done here. Keep it up!

    1. Dear David, thank you kindly for your warm words – your home is a truly beautiful place and I must say I can’t enjoy it enough! The natural world is truly filled with wondrous creatures and happenings, and it’s a real privilege to be able to share it with your very precious family. Cheers!

  3. Jerome Foster says:

    Nice aticle Faraaz – I still recall the 2 nights I spent and my kids loved the wading pool. Will definitely be back sometime! The first time I went I actually saw the green kingfisher eating a fish by the far bridge, but she was quite a ways over the other side of the pond to get anything more than a record shot.

    1. Thanks Jerome. When we were there in February we had pretty good views of the female Green Kingfisher. Surprisingly this time, she only showed herself twice, once flying past and once in the very early morning, perched on the near bridge. The Kiskadees were monopolizing her perch.

  4. Aliya Hosein says:

    Can’t believe you saw the Blue-headed Parrots! I can never distinguish parrots based on their silhouettes, I leave that to the professional guacamayeros. I rely on their calls which are so squeaky-it’s like someone please give these birds a can of WD-40.

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