Monday, January 20, 2014

Pajaro Campana

After one of our last banding days at Cabo Blanco, our group stopped in Montezuma to buy groceries before returning to the Finca.  Two sounds drifted over the noise of cars, shouting, talking, and waves crashing against the adjacent Playa Montezuma.  First a loud, metallic BONK! followed by a piercing high-pitched squeak, both which of could be produced by a rusty gate being forced open; we knew this to be the sound of the enigmatic and renowned Three-wattled Bellbird, and it was singing from just up the hill from where we stood.

We ran up the road, pausing periodically for the bird to sing so we could locate its position.  The bird appeared to be singing from the treetops within the grounds of a hotel called the Luna Llena Lodge.  We followed a network of concrete pathways onto the hotel property, situated on a steep hillside overlooking the Pacific.  Finding a window through the vegetation that offered a view of the bird was very challenging; we spread out among the network of pathways, intruding on more than a couple of private cabins.  Eventually we found a spot where we could see, at the top of an Ylang-Ylang tree, a brown-and-white bird about the size of a pigeon.

Two of us had our cameras, but not our telephoto lenses, and so ran back down the switchback paths, down the road, jumped into the car, started it, stalled it, cursed ourselves for not choosing a car with an automatic transmission, started it again, raced to the house, jumped the gate, grabbed the lenses, jumped back into the car, stalled it, cursed, started it again, and sped back to Montezuma, all in under 15 minutes (which, believe us, is very good time).

A singing male Three-wattled Bellbird
Three-wattled Bellbirds have one of the most complex seasonal migration patterns of Costa Rican birds.  As birds that eat almost exclusively fruit, their migration is dictated by regional and seasonal patterns of fruit ripening.  One study conducted in Costa Rica which contributed greatly to the knowledge of their seasonal movements involved capturing Bellbirds during the breeding season, radio-tagging them, and periodically relocating each individual via aircraft.  They found that by October the Bellbirds that bred near Monteverde had migrated to the Carribean lowlands, then to the Pacific lowlands by November, and were back in the Monteverde region by March to initiate the breeding season.  One of the birds that was banded near Monteverde during the wet season was relocated during the dry season at Reserva Cabo Blanco, where we operate one of our bird banding stations!

Their complex and widespread migration pattern poses challenges to the conservation of the Three-wattled Bellbird; not only must their breeding habitat be protected, but also the habitats in which they migrate and spend the non-breeding season.  Several worthy initiatives, including the Corredor Biologico del Pajaro Campana, are attempting to surmount these challenges, and are attempting to preserve biological corridors between the breeding and non-breeding regions.
 We are very fortunate to work in an area that has a high number of Bellbirds during the non-breeding season; it seems that they arrive on the Nicoya Peninsula shortly after we do, giving us the opportunity to see them each year.  One time we even saw one in our yard at Finca Pura Vida, feeding on fruits of an Ylang-Ylang (which seems to be a popular tree among Bellbirds; we have since planted more).  They arrived later this year than last, but early enough where we managed to observe one before our time in Costa Rica came to an end.
Dairo Vinasco with his photos of the Three-wattled Bellbird

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