Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Great Potoo & More at Refugio Bartola

Managua-based birder Jessie Mentzer Stuebner and her husband Cal visited Refugio Bartola on the Rio San Juan from June 18-20, 2014, and submitted the following account of their trip:

     My husband and I recently took a most beautiful three-day trip to Refugio Bartola on the Rio San Juan. On the first day, we were amazed at the number of birds we saw even just during the two boat rides out to the refuge – ducks, herons, hawks, kingfishers, jacanas... Upon arriving at the refuge, the gentle swaying reeds full of Passerini's Tanagers, and the garden full of other small, colorful birds created an instant atmosphere of birding tranquility. There were seedeaters, anis, flycatchers, yellowthroats, doves, hummingbirds, saltators, orioles, and more. A pair of Common Tody-flycatchers had a small nest in a bush next to the patio; and there was also a Yellow-throated Euphonia couple with a nest in a nearby bromeliad. In the distance, you could hear the melancholy cries of a Great Tinamou, periodically drowned out by the sound of a White-throated Crake; and kingfishers, swallows, parrots, and oropendolas made regular trips back and forth across the river. Our eBird list for the afternoon included 26 different species that we were able to identify. After a most delicious lunch, we made plans to head out on a night tour in the nearby woods, part of the Indio-Maize Biological Reserve. Our guide, Jonathan, was expertly gifted at making the sounds of a wide variety of birds. With his help, we conversed with a Great Tinamou for several minutes, lured a Black-faced Antthrush out onto the trail for a peak, and started a group of Rufous Motmots calling back and forth. As darkness fell, the excitement of the walk increased! Jonathan got a Crested Owl to converse with him, and soon, several others joined in; but the highlight was a Great Potoo. We called back and forth with the potoo for several minutes, getting closer and closer, until it was right above our heads! It was amazing! Sometimes I couldn't tell whether I was hearing Jonathan or the potoo! And even he was excited about being so close to a bird so amazing. We all returned to the refuge talking excitedly about all we'd seen and heard, 28 species in total, most of which were coming in to roost for the evening at the beginning of the walk.

     The next day, after a fabulous breakfast, we headed out with Jonathan on a boat tour of the river. Despite the fact that it rained heavily half the time, it was a beautiful adventure! It began with a pair of Great Green Macaws flying just over our heads, and with the sounds of several Chestnut-mandibled Toucans all around. As we continued on, we encountered a group of five Keel-billed Toucans picking fruit from a tree on the riverbank; they were the first of 11 Keel-billed Toucans we saw on that ride! Among the 48 species we identified on our boat tour were Long-tailed Tyrants, Bat Falcons, Green Ibises, Collared Aracaris, and an American Pygmy Kingfisher. One highlight for me was the crystal clear sounds of a Thicket Antpitta. I'd heard numerous recordings of the wonderful sound, and it was so amazing to hear it for real! Cal's favorites were the different parrots and the Black-cheeked Woodpeckers; and Jonathan was excited about hearing the duet of a pair of Melodious Blackbirds, which he said are not very common there. After the boat tour, we spent the rest of the day on the refuge patio because of the off-and-on rain showers. There were still numerous small birds all around, and as evening approached, the sights and sounds of roosting birds increased, including a group of nearly twenty Yellow-billed Caciques that came to a nearby tree to spend the night.

Keel-billed Toucan

     On our last day at the refuge, we took one more short trek with Jonathan through the woods. It was pretty muddy from the previous day's rain, but we plodded along in our rubber boots while Jonathan, as always, made a number of bird calls and songs to see who would respond. After passing a group of small birds that included antwrens, honeycreepers, and Black-faced Grosbeaks, we heard a hawk. Jonathan knew exactly what it was, and as he called back and forth with it, we got closer and closer until we could see it perched on a branch less than 20 feet above our heads! It was a Semiplumbeous Hawk, and another one could be heard in the distance. We stayed for a while and admired its beauty before continuing along. We saw nineteen different species on that short walk, including a pair of Black-throated Trogons, a Long-billed Gnatwren, a father-and-son pair of Red-capped Manakins, a beautiful male Bare-crowned Antbird, and a Crowned Woodnymph.

Black-throated Trogon
     Being that it was the month of June, many of the birds that we saw throughout the trip had nests or young, or were playfully flirting with each other or putting on a number of other displays. I know that June is a rainy time along the river, but it was more than worth it! Altogether, we saw 116 different species, 44 of which I had never seen before. As is often the case, the trip felt far too short, and returning to the day-to-day life and tasks of Managua was difficult. Maybe someday we will make it back to the beautiful little refuge on the river. And if it doesn't rain as much, we can hopefully see, and even photograph, so much more!