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Birding Hacienda Jacana: September/October

The most recent count that took place at Hacienda Jacana just slid in under the door as October drew to a close. With all the flooding that went on in October, we almost didn’t make it. But with a little faith and a lot of desire to be immersed in the forest, we made the journey into the heart of the island for yet another installment of this series.

The timing of our arrival couldn’t have been  more perfect. Once we unpacked our stuff, I followed my inner voice that was directing me to a copse of tall trees just beyond the cottages. Somehow I knew exactly where to look; my eyes fell very swiftly on a new bird for the year – a Giant Cowbird!

giant cowbird







That area is perfect for woodpeckers, woodcreepers and even the odd Xenops – dry branches house a complete buffet of grubs for any diner that is willing to search for a meal. Sure enough, within a few moments the typical tap, tap, tap of a woodpecker led me to this Lineated Woodpecker. This species is perhaps the most common species of woodpecker on the island, and its stereotypical woodpecker coloration makes it a favourite among many.

lineated woodpecker-2










Close by, a fruiting tree yielded some of the usual suspects: Spectacled and Cocoa Thrushes, Palm, Silver-beaked and White-lined Tanagers as well as a couple Golden-headed Manakins. As I was observing these, a small flock of Turquoise Tanagers flew in. I was lucky to be there at the right time, as these birds tend to be rather nomadic in their movements – they never feed on a single tree for too long. And as was expected, they departed just as frantically as they arrived.

turquoise tanager-3







A walk to the ponds on the property allowed me to add the hotel’s namesake to the list. Wattled Jacanas were in numbers as per norm, as well as Purple Gallinules and a single Striated Heron, sounding the alarm as I approached. Grey-necked Wood-Rails called to each other from the dim undergrowth and the ever-skittish Grey-fronted Dove rocketed into the forest.

The sun had already dipped below the treeline, and although the light wasn’t perfect, there was just enough to make the iridescence pop on the shoulder of this Southern Lapwing. These large, noisy birds have recently claimed their own patch of the garden and even if you don’t initially see them, they will definitely let you that they’re around. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

southern lapwing-3







Just as I got up from photographing the lapwing, the familiar sound of Lilac-tailed Parrotlets echoed between the trees. It was much louder than I was accustomed to – and for good reason – I looked up just in time to see a flock of about fifteen birds zooming between the trees, low down. Excited, I illogically attempted to locate them in the rapidly advancing darkness. Needless to say, I don’t have to explicitly state how that turned out.

Almost every night at Hacienda Jacana, we have recorded Common Parauques as the staple nightbird. Although I saw them in January, the birds were way too far away for any decent opportunities. This time, getting a safe shot of one of these birds was a definite priority. Fortunately, they habitually return to the same spots along the roadway each night – what’s even better is that they always gravitate to directly under a streetlight. The concept is basic: light brings insects, insects bring the Parauque. Locally called the “who-you” in reference to its call, it’s a gorgeous species of nightjar that is a definite must-see. A vehicle was used for off-camera lighting 🙂

common pauraque






While on the hunt for the Parauques, we recorded a nearby Tropical Screech-owl calling. No pygmies though. Still a good night!

The rains came shortly after, and continued into the following morning. The sound of water on leaves masked most birds’ calls, but if it’s one song that will cut through the din of falling water – it’s the call of the Channel-billed Toucan. In the bluish-grey light of the early morning, I managed to locate the culprit a fair distance away. Always a pleasant sight.

channel billed toucan-6







Across the waterway, I observed this female Green Kingfisher slowly give up on drying off. She eventually decided to fluff her feathers and enjoy the shower, it seemed.

green kingfisher-4






Very soon, everything was rather waterlogged. Even this Purple Gallinule seemed to be questioning the downpour.

purple gallinule-4










Returning to the cottage for a mid-morning cup of coffee reminded me why Hacienda Jacana is just perfect. Wooden cabins are extra cozy in rainy weather, and having a warm cup of brewed coffee without ever having to leave the forest can bring out the philosopher in anyone. As I sat there on the verandah, sipping coffee and pondering life’s mysteries, the rain stopped, the clouds parted and the sun shot his rays of white hot light everywhere. Before I had a chance to return to reality, a Squirrel Cuckoo materialized on the trema tree no more than fifteen feet away.

Too close to fit its entire body into the frame, with a view that was mostly obscured by branches, I almost didn’t take a single shot. I knew I had to forego autofocus given the environment – my time using solely manual focus has served me well, it seems.

squirrel cuckoo close-2










Common but difficult to properly render on a camera, a male Silver-beaked Tanager decided to sit in the open for a while.

silver beaked tanager-7







One of the benefits of being out after a shower of rain is that many birds tend to spend some time in the open like this, drying their feathers before resuming their regular schedule. This Smooth-billed Ani is more or less dry – but still remained soaking up some sunlight.

smooth billed ani-4










Down at the ponds we had another new bird for the year – a ridiculously tame White-headed Marsh Tyrant. I sat observing this bird for some time, and I was able to witness him divebomb this dragonfly and quickly consume it. Not too long after I made this image, he flew toward me and perched about ten feet away. We shared a moment as a flash of bright green whizzed past – a male Green Honeycreeper – and startled both of us.

white headed marsh tyrant-6






Hummingbirds were there in their usual number, Copper-rumped Hummingbirds were busy chasing all other species away from the feeders as is typical of these tiny bullies. But looking further revealed a regal looking White-necked Jacobin calling from a high branch.

white necked jacobin-3







Lily flowers along the waterway heading into the forest proved to be a preferred meal for a Little Hermit, who returned again and again to the same patch.

little hermit










Kept at bay for the most part of the day by the Copper-rumped Hummingbirds, a few White-chested Emeralds stole a drink now and then.

white chested emerald-2







Following my ears, I came upon a banana tree with a ton of ripe fruit. Bananaquits, tanagers and Violaceous Euphonias were darting in and out, but nothing new. A movement above me distracted me soon enough, it turned out to be a pair of Streak-headed Woodcreepers. I’ve always known this species to be uncommon – however they are residents at Hacienda Jacana and can be regularly and easily seen. This one deftly picked out a tiny spider from the bark.

streak headed woodcreeper with prey







Checking another trema tree on the other side of the compound gave me a surprise. Apart from the usual Green-rumped Parrotlets that I have photographed in this very tree earlier this year, I saw a Turquoise Tanager fly in together with a female Blue Dacnis. Interestingly enough, they flew off together as well. Not sure if this is just mixed flock feeding, but Blue Dacnis is a species that tends to move in pairs, while Turquoise Tanagers tend to move in small groups. On another occasion, I’ve noticed a male Blue Dacnis with a female Green Honeycreeper. Of course, no evidence – but the latter pair have been known to hybridize in the past. Something to investigate, that’s for sure.

blue dacnis f-2










Before long, it was getting dark again. On the walk back to the cottage, it was pleasing to record a returning migrant from the north – a charismatic, tail-bobbing Northern Waterthrush.

northern waterthrush







Back on the verandah of our cottage, a single female and two male Blue-chinned Sapphires took turns at the feeder. As the sun set, it lit an overhead cloud and washed the entire scene with a beautiful salmon colour.

blue chinned sapphire-3










After dinner, I took another walk to listen out for any other nightbirds. Standing in the complete darkness, I had something fly very close, but it was most likely a bat. For the second night in a row, I didn’t hear a single Pygmy-owl. Time passed, and I decided to stroll back inside to get some rest – although the silent darkness of the forest was begging me to stay. Just as I was walking off, I heard a lone Mottled Owl call in the distance. I smiled, and returned to the cottage feeling accomplished.

The following morning we had a real treat that came in the form of a perched Common Black Hawk. Any perched raptor is a favourable situation!

common black hawk-3







Even though we were in the middle of the island, Magnificent Frigatebirds are seen on occasion. On this visit, we had a single bird pass by, then a small group of about six individuals wheeled across the sky. Something told me to look up just in time to snare a record shot, in the event that a report of a seabird inland is too unbelievable.

magnificent frigatebird-4







Eventually I made my way back to the area where I had seen the Green Honeycreeper on the previous day. Sure enough, birds are creatures of habit, and I was not disappointed.

green hoeycreeper










It, along with numerous other tanagers and thrushes was busy feeding from a tree that was bearing fruit close to one of the ponds. Another migrant was spotted here, a Yellow Warbler flitted among the branches. What caught my eye was much bigger than any warbler though – also much more colourful – a Guianan Trogon.

guianan trogon-2







All the while I lay flat on the ground with binoculars in the trees, I was hearing a Black-crested Antshrike calling louder and louder. After much encouragement from this antbird, I gave in to the pressure and went searching for it in an adjacent tree.

black crested antshrike-2







The highlight of the trip was, undoubtedly, securing excellent views of both male and female Tufted Coquette – albeit on different sides of the property. They don’t seem to share too well! The female fed consistently on a patch of vervine (porterweed) next to the pond.

tufted coquette-2








The resplendent male was seen briefly feeding on the vervine at the entrance to the property. I saw him for about a minute, then he darted off – supposedly to return again. I waited for a bit for him to return, but regrettably it was time to wrap up the count and head out. As this species was already on the list, the sighting was purely aesthetic.

tufted coquette







While packing up, that inner voice that led me to the Giant Cowbird two days prior instructed me to go outside and take a look around. Some rainy weather was coming in, and the winds had begun to gust. Almost as if on cue, a large raptor loomed behind the trees. I only got a clear view for at most two seconds – but that was all it took to recognize the distinctive hulk and plumage of a White Hawk. What a way to end the count!

The list:

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

Previous counts can be accessed if so desired, of course.






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