Friday, December 31, 2010


Once the terrace was completed, we realized there was one teeny addition that would have a huge impact on our quality of life. The railing across the balusters is a generous 9" wide, so we set drinks on it, peel bananas and slice oranges and refill feeders on it, stand on it, the birds sit and make messes on it, the squirrels (cussed little critters) run around on it, the Woolly Opossums traipse across it, the monkeys jump on it - it's a regular highway of activity and a work area to boot. The white paint that the crew applied remained white for about a day. The stains quickly became unsightly, the paint began peeling due to frequent precipitation, and I made it worse by spraying it with water in semi-successful attempts to clean things up.

So we contacted Oscar, who returned in mid-December (with an assistant) to tile the top surface of the railing. It looks fantastic! Marco commented this afternoon that it was the best thing about this whole place. Truly, it is a dream to simply aim the hose at whatever falls on the railing, give it a quick blast, and once again it looks like new. The birds struggle to get traction on it, but that doesn't stop them from continuing to consider it part of their world. Check Marco's video, shot on a rainy day when the birds were bedraggled, disheveled and focused on getting their share of the White Plate Special:

Thursday, December 30, 2010


We thought summer had arrived a couple of weeks ago, but it was just a tease. Around December 14th the daily rainfall decreased dramatically, and we even had a few sunny days. But many of them were heavily overcast and windy. The 26th, when we did our second Christmas Bird Count, it was another downpour. There was even more rainfall the next two days, along with continued chilly and windy conditions. Many parts of the country had disastrous flooding and mudslides, with some people losing their homes and unfortunately, a few lost their lives.
We are lucky that we have had no damage, and we can sit inside our house or on our covered terrace, safe and dry, and watch the storms rage. Marco shot some video of what it's like here during some of the downpours. It's impressive and exciting. We wonder how long it would take to fill a 1000-gallon rain barrel with what comes shooting out of just one downspout.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Woolly and the Bats

Central American Woolly Opossum
One night Marco left a terrace light on just outside the kitchen door when he came back inside. A few minutes later, we noticed that a lot of bats were careening up and down the length of the side terrace, back and forth, veering wildly and flitting every which way for insects. We have plenty of insects around here, and at night, we see a lot of moths outside the kitchen door. We had been leaving a bit of banana in a feeder out at night for the moths, but that night we forgot and left several bananas in several feeders. The bats were also feasting on the bananas left in the bird feeders. Some of the bats hang on the feeders, licking at the bananas for 3 or 4 seconds, while others perform touch-and-go maneuvers. Due to the rapid movements of the bats, combined with the low light levels, we do not have video of them.

But there was someone else interested in the bananas - a Central American Woolly Opossum (Caluromys derbianus). We thought we had one of these a few months back, but it turned out to be a Common Opossum. The faulty ID was made before we received the excellent and invaluable "A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and Southeast Mexico", written and beautifully illustrated by Fiona A. Reid. This Woolly is for real - long, woolly fur, large pinkish (and very expressive) ears, dark median line on forehead. The very long tail is thickly furred for half its length, the naked midsection has dark brown freckles and splotches, and the rest of the (also naked) tail is entirely bright white. The combination of parts and markings make it quite a cute little beast. Once I walked outside with the intention of shooing a Woolly away from one of the feeders that the bats were using. (The opossum had already emptied two other feeders that night.) I moved slowly toward it, expecting it to make an exit, but it held its ground. It did stop feeding and looked intently at me, waving its big ears back and forth. Then it resumed licking the bananas. I was about a foot away from it. The fur does look woolly and remarkably thick. I probably could have touched it, or even brushed it, but I resisted.

Marco shot some video of one of the Woollies. We now have a minimum of three who have visited the feeders. Two of them do not have a nick in their ears, as does the one in the video (named Nick.)

One night I saw a Woolly lunge at a bat who came in for a nibble at the feeder where it was feasting. We have not seen Nick lately, but there are still two regulars who compete for the bananas. Sometimes they tangle and a chase ensues, complete with nipping, squealing and squeaking. They sound a little like a Blue-gray Tanager.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rain, Rain, Go Away

The rain gauge has moved from inside storage to an open-air spot in the front by the truck port. Yeah, it works better outside.

Just in time, since we recently had a couple days of non-stop rain. November was a little dry even though it is supposed to be the rainiest month. One neighbor told us the 10+ inches we got early this month (in a 24-hour period) is double the amount for any day since they've lived here (3 years.)

Another neighbor keeps an online tally of daily rainfall. We have just begun keeping our records and have patterned them after his. My spreadsheet will be online for anyone to take a look at. It's a bit spotty on coverage to start. The electronic device blew several gaskets along the way. Then the latest (low-tech) model was waiting for construction to be completed. Starting in December, our records should be more consistent and provide some interesting comparisons with those of our neighbors.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Overcast, Drizzly & Shining

Shining Honeycreeper
We have had (endured, at times) days and days of cold, wet weather this month. Wet is no problem, but we're having more trouble with the cold. The "dry" season has definitely not begun, although it usually does so in early to mid-December. But since most of November was much dryer than normal, I'm happy that my new plantings are beneficiaries of this month's continuing rain.

One day last week we woke up to yet another dark day. But late in the morning, we had a special visitor - a Shining Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes lucidus). For months we have been hoping this species would visit our yard, so we are quite pleased. This makes 3 species of honeycreepers at the feeders so far. It has returned to sip sugar water 5 or 6 times that we have noticed, though we were not watching the feeders most of the time. Marco shot some footage:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Brown Violet-ear

Brown Violet-ear
As noted by Jan Axel on his blog, the rare (in Panama) Brown Violet-ear (Colibri delphinae) has been a regular at Toucan Villa (aka/Rachelle and Smitty's place) for a few days this December. We drove up to give it a try and were graciously invited by Smitty to watch for it from their comfortable, covered terrace. Smitty works hard (as do many of us) at keeping the wildlife on his lot happy, and he enjoys remarkable success attracting hummingbirds and others in spectacular numbers. While we watched for the target hummer, it was impossible not to be distracted by the dozens of other hummers, the tanagers, honeycreepers, thrushes, seedeaters, grassquits, the motmot, and more.

Ridgely ungenerously describes the Brown Violet-ear as being a "drab" hummingbird, but we'd like to give the species a little more credit. Although the day was (yet again) dark and rainy, Marco got footage that shows the pertinent field marks and the subtle beauty of this hummingbird, with its warm brown and beige tones, accented by splashes of iridescence on the gorget, and those flashy violet ears.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Finding Clarity

When we first began, we had mixed results in our attempts to attract hordes of hummingbirds to the yard. We had a few Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, nothing more. The numbers of this species built a little, and we had an occasional Stripe-throated Hermit try to sneak in for a few sips. One Rufous-tailed was quite a bully, and he managed to intimidate the little guy and most of the other Rufous-taileds as well. We also had a Snowy-bellied, a Blue-chested once in a while, a couple of infrequent and irregular Long-billed Starthroats. And yet a friend who lives only about one-quarter of a kilometer as the hummer flies was getting swarms of hummingbirds, including at least 7 White-necked Jacobins. What was he doing that we were not? All his feeders were larger - could that be it? He was using the same proportions of sugar to water as we were - we confirmed that.

One day, I ran out of sugar and we bought some turbinado sugar from a little shop not far down the hill. Our hummer traffic plummeted - even the Rufous-taileds lost interest. The sugar we had started with (I just grabbed the first 5-pound bag of sugar I saw in the supermarket) produced sugar-water that was not quite clear; it had a slight beige hue. The turbinado mix was a notably darker tan. And apparently not very tasty. So the next sugar I bought, completely by accident, was a different brand than my original. It dissolved to make very clear sugar-water, and the hummingbirds voted with their tongues - they gave a five-star rating to Santa Rosa white. They drank toasts to us, fought with each other over it, glugged it down by the bucket-load, attempted to defend as many feeders as they could from all other hummers, and in every way, they have voiced their approval. The yard is alive with a chittering, chattering, squeaking, whirring, buzzing, quarreling mass of tiny feathered warriors.

If Marco leaves a feeder on the floor so the juice can warm up (he doesn't want to traumatize their tummies with ice-cold juice directly from the refrigerator), they will go down to the ground to get a sip. They dive into the outdoor sinks to make sure there's not a stray feeder in there. They detour a few feet into the kitchen to investigate the counter and sink area for any red items. We're now getting several White-necked Jacobins, an occasional Long-billed Starthroat, two Blue-chested Hummingbirds, a Violet-capped Hummingbird, two Snowy-bellied Hummingbirds, and the regular mob of Rufous-taileds. (For a few weeks, we had a White-vented Plumeleteer. Then the Boa ate it.)

This is a mob of Rufous-taileds in the video. There are only 4 flowers on the feeder. Sometimes the fifth bird has to take a number. Extra points if you can find anything but a Rufous-tailed. We can't.

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