Central America: Spring and Summer 2018
Spring and Summer 2018: 1 March–31 July
John van Dort
van Dort, J., and O. Komar. 2021. Spring and Summer 2018: Central America. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-bde> North American Birds.
The spring and summer of 2018 were noteworthy for discoveries of a new species for North America (Bare-faced Ibis) and three first records for Central America. Two Pacific coast migrants finally made it to Central America: a Red-throated Pipit in April and a Black Turnstone in May that remained through the summer. First country records included Great Shearwater and White-faced Ground-Sparrow in Belize; Buff-collared Nightjar, Crimson-fronted Parakeet, Tahiti Petrel, and Red-breasted Meadowlark in El Salvador; Tahiti Petrel, Pearl Kite, and Red-throated Pipit in Guatemala; a possible Sinaloa Martin in Honduras; and Bare-faced Ibis and Pinnated Bittern in Panama. Nicaragua had four new country records: Eared Grebe, Maroon-chested Ground-Dove, Black Rail, and Black Turnstone. With recently published country-level field guides, it seems Nicaragua is enjoying a surge in birding activity, and consequently, we can expect even more first records from the country in the future.
Of course, not all these new country records are mere vagrants. Tahiti Petrels off the Pacific coast are probably regular in spring and will be detected more frequently if pelagic birding activities continue. Pearl Kite continues to expand northwestward, and the species’s first breeding activity was documented in El Salvador this year. Crimson-fronted Parakeet is also expanding northward. Black Rail in eastern Nicaragua and Buff-collared Nightjar in El Salvador are probably overlooked residents, although time will tell if these populations persist. The Red-breasted Meadowlarks in El Salvador, despite appearing at first to be involved in a colonization event, were not reported again.
George Angehr (Panama), John Cahill (Guatemala), Liliana Chavarría-Duriaux (Nicaragua), Jan Cubilla (Panama), Roselvy Juárez (El Salvador), Lee Jones (Belize), Darién Montañez (Panama), Pat O’Donnell (Costa Rica), John van Dort (Honduras).
Ducks through Nightjars
A high count of 150 Ruddy Ducks on 11 Mar included seven downy chicks—proof that the species breeds at the Playitas-Moyua-Tecomapa Ramsar site in Matagalpa Dept., central Nicaragua (ph. Manfred Bienert). The northern Mesoamerican endemic Ocellated Quail, long considered a bit of an enigma, over the last decade has proven to be quite regular, sometimes even common, in the pine-oak highlands of northern Central America. In Nicaragua, records are based only on undocumented sightings along the Honduras border (and a 19th century specimen). An Ocellated Quail was reported vocalizing on 13 May in Mogotón, Nueva Segovia, close to the Honduran border (Liliana Chavarría-Duriaux, Georges Duriaux, Moises Siles, Wilmer Talavera), but digital media documentation has yet to be obtained. Eared Grebe is a rarity anywhere in Central America, and two found on 24 Mar at the Playitas-Moyua-Tecomapa Ramsar site provided a first record for Nicaragua (ph. Manfred Bienert).
We reported recently that Inca Dove had spread into central Panama with an occurrence in Coclé Prov in Sep 2017 that generated a substantial gap between the species’s range in southern Costa Rica and the new location. During the spring, a pair continued at Agua Fría, Coclé Prov. (many observers, ph. Jan Cubilla), and additional birds were found even further east and south on 12 May at Playa Las Comadres in Los Santos Prov. (Yennifer Alfaro, ph. Gumercindo Pimentel) and a full 80 km eastward at Punta Chame, Panamá Prov. on 12 Jul (ph. Domiciano Alveo, Jenn Sinasac). Over the summer, the range gap began to fill. Seven Inca Doves were documented in western Panama, near Playa Barqueta, Chiriquí Prov. on 8 Jun (ph. Terry van Niekerk). Rarely reported from Nicaragua, two Maroon-chested Ground-Doves heard singing on 12 May at the Mogotón banding site, located 2000 m above sea level in Nueva Segovia close to the Honduran border, evidently represented the first record for that country (Georges Duriaux, Liliana Chavarría-Duriaux, Wilmer Talavera).
In El Salvador, Buff-collared Nightjar populations were discovered in two disjunct areas of the country. The first record was 11 Mar in the Llano del Muerto area north of Perquín, Morazán Dept. (v. rec., Julio Acosta). Soon after, a population was discovered northwest of Metapán in the Santa Ana Dept. on 18 Apr (v. rec. Guillermo Funes). Both populations are located close to the northern border and have now been documented with multiple individuals and at multiple locations.
Rails through Gulls
Except for isolated areas of Belize and the Moskitia in eastern Honduras, Black Rail is practically unknown from Central America; an individual heard vocalizing from the Alamikamba section of the Río Láwira in eastern Nicaragua, more than 150 km south of the aforementioned Honduran sites, was an exciting first record for Nicaragua on 25 Mar (Liliana Chavarría-Duriaux, Georges Duriaux, Jessie Stuebner, Moisés Siles). A flock of 60 American Golden-Plover 80 km off the Pacific coast of Guatemala 25 Mar was a high count for the region (Fabrice Schmitt and others). These birds were seen migrating over the open ocean on the way from South America to North America, probably without making any stops in Central America. Another high count for Central America of an intercontinental migrant was provided by a flock of 30 Upland Sandpipers at Guayabo wetlands, Granada Dept., Nicaragua, 14 Mar (Jeffrey McCrary and Cristian Walker). A Hudsonian Godwit was present at Laguna de Tisma, Masaya Dpt. on 15 April, providing a second record—and the first documented record—for Nicaragua (ph. Salvadora Morales, Gabriela Espinosa Bolaños, Yoleydi Mejía). New for Nicaragua and indeed all of Central America was a Black Turnstone found during the third trinational shorebird count of the Gulf of Fonseca—an area shared between Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador—held on 12 May. It was picked out from a large group of Ruddy Turnstones in the shorebird mecca of Delta Estero Real along the eastern rim of the Gulf (ph. Orlando Jarquín). The bird was relocated 11 Jul (ph. Erika Reyes, Salvadora Morales) and 13 Jul (ph. José Martín Vallecillo Méndez). Although Buff-breasted Sandpiper has been reported sporadically in spring in most countries within the region, in the last few years small groups have been annual at the Indian Creek Rice Fields of Orange Walk Dist.; of special note on 7 May was a group of 44 (Christian Ramirez), by far the high count for Belize. An adult Kelp Gull on 9 Apr at Punta Morales, Puntarenas Prov. is just the third for Costa Rica (ph. Leo Garrigues).
Petrels through Ibises
Off northern Central America the edge of the continental shelf is a bit further out than in southern Central America and perhaps out of reach for most Central American observers. Tahiti Petrel had not been previously reported for the region but was nonetheless found to be common about 100 km off the coast of El Salvador and Guatemala; it was reported on multiple eBird transects during a pelagic cruise there on 25 Mar (ph. Fabrice Schmitt and others). The species was new for both countries. Two Parkinson’s Petrels off Piñas, Darién Prov. 5 May (ph. Jan Cubilla) were a first provincial record and possibly just the third Panamanian record. Photos show that at least one was molting, suggesting that they may use the area regularly at this season rather than just passing through. Great Shearwater is rarely reported from Central America; one seen about 25 km off Belize City 21 Jul was new for Belize (video Brett Bowen).
The Jabiru population in northwest Costa Rica seems to be doing well. A new Costa Rican high count of 73 was at the Reserva de Vida Silvestre Mata Redonda, Guanacaste Prov. on 18 Apr (Dennis Palma). Also encouraging were three active Jabiru nests near Alamikamba, Atlántico Norte Autonomous Region, Nicaragua on 25 Mar (Lilliana Chavarría, ph. Georges Duriaux, Jessie Stuebner). Far offshore El Salvador, 2 Masked Boobies on 25 Mar (many observers, ph. Fabrice Schmitt) represent just the second documented record for that country, although the species is assumed to be regular offshore. A regular—though local—heron in Central America, Pinnated Bittern was finally documented for Panama when one was found on 27 Jul in wetlands near Rambala, Bocas del Toro Prov. (Ernesto Carman). A Bare-faced Ibis, found on 13 April near Arretí in northern Darién Prov., Panama (ph. Pepe Castiblanco, Erasmo De León) was a spectacular new species for the region—and for all of North America. It was relocated several km to the east on 5 May (Erasmo De León). This South American species is common just 200 km to the southeast in Colombia.
Kites through Swallows
The northward expansion of Pearl Kite from Nicaragua into the dry Pacific slope lowlands has been well documented in these reports, and it continues in this one. Breeding was documented in El Salvador this spring on 8 Mar in La Paz dept. (ph. Néstor Herrera). The species has now reached Guatemala, where one was seen briefly but well near Siquinala in Escuintla Dept. on 30 May (John van Dort). When will it reach Mexico? Slender-billed Kite, widespread in northern South America, was rediscovered in in 2013 in eastern Panama after a 60-year absence of reports. An individual documented 5 May near Yaviza, Darién Prov. (ph. Hayro Cunampio) was just the third recent record. Then, a remarkable 10 Slender-billed Kites were found later the same month; all were along a two-mile stretch of the Río Paya, Darién Prov. 24 May (ph. Isaac Pizarro). This site is close to the Colombian border in lowland rain forest. Gray-bellied Hawk is a widespread South American Accipiter that is only occasionally reported in southern Central America. One at Rancho Frío, Darién Prov., on 7 Mar was just the third recorded in Panama (ph. Timo Mitzen, Lindsay Purifoy). A congregation of 19 White-tailed Hawks sitting on the ground at Castile Fields, Cayo Dist., on 27 May (Gary Reimer) was an uncommon spectacle, and a high count for Belize and for all Central America.
Of note was an adult Crimson-fronted Parakeet at the enormous parakeet roost at Universidad Centroamericana, San Salvador Dept., El Salvador, on 5 May (ph. Mónica Pacas, Ricardo Ibarra, Raúl Molina Fuentes). While finding escaped exotic parrots and parakeets in urban areas is par for the course, this observation may be noteworthy, in part because the species is not normally observed in El Salvador metropolitan areas, and in part because it has experienced a notable northward range expansion from Costa Rica and Nicaragua in recent years. New populations have been noted in northern Nicaragua and eastern Honduras. Also, the San Salvador roost of approximately five thousand parakeets of several species attracts native birds that forage far from the metropolitan area. The Crimson-fronted Parakeet may well be a disperser from its growing population and perhaps also a harbinger of future range expansion in northern Central America.
The non-breeding grounds of the rare west-Mexican-breeding-endemic Sinaloa Martin remain unknown but are presumed to be somewhere in South America. One of the persisting conundrums in Central American ornithology is why this species is so rarely seen on migration. There are a March 1920 specimen record from Guatemala and a handful of sight records from Belize and Nicaragua. A possible male of this species was seen and described well on 12 May at Punta Ratón in Choluteca Dept., Honduras (Jafeth Zablah, Irene Anduray), well after its known spring migration period. Caribbean Martin is nearly identical to Sinaloa Martin, and the two are not currently thought to be separable in the field; however, this bird’s presence on the Pacific slope may suggest Sinaloa over Caribbean.
Mockingbirds through Warblers
In northern Central America, where the only expected mockingbird is Tropical, mockingbirds with prominent white wing patches are sometimes reported as Northern Mockingbird or as Northern x Tropical Mockingbird hybrids. One such individual with clear white wing patches and a black tail tip was reported this season in Nicaragua, this time in Managua on 22 Mar (John Thomton). Some regions such as Choluteca Dept., Honduras, have generated several reports, such as one reported 12 May (Ricardo Aguilar, Angel Fong, ph. John van Dort). It is unclear whether the traits shown by some of these individuals fall within the range of phenotypic variation in Tropical Mockingbird or are evidence of introgression with Northern Mockingbird. We urge anyone spotting such birds to attempt detailed photographs.
In keeping with a major influx of Cedar Waxwings to the region in winter 2017–2018, a high count for Honduras was noted when 90 waxwings flew past Laguna Villa Royal, Francisco Morazán Dept. on 26 Mar (ph. John van Dort, Roselvy Juárez). Red-throated Pipit is a Palearctic breeder, from northern Scandinavia to northwestern Alaska, and winters in the Old World tropics. Birds breeding in northern Europe are known to winter in sub-Saharan Africa, and those breeding in northeast Asia are known to winter in southeast Asia. Birds wintering along the coast of California into Baja California, Mexico may be from breeding populations in Alaska and/or northeast Asia. Occasionally, Red-throated Pipits make it further south, as 2008 records from Oaxaca and Ecuador proved, so one appearing in Central America was perhaps not entirely unexpected. And indeed, a Red-throated Pipit was photographed on 15 Apr in the highlands of Huehuetenango, Guatemala (ph. Esteban Matías), providing first record for Guatemala and Central America.
A White-faced Ground-Sparrow provided a first country record for Belize at BFREE in Toledo Dist. 5 May (ph. Jes Christian Bech, Joshua Richards, Nellie Cadle). Natural dispersal seems the most likely explanation for how this bird, a non-migratory resident in the highlands of southeastern Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, arrived in central Belize. A remarkable report of 12 Red-breasted Meadowlarks at El Salvador International Airport, La Paz Dept. on 24 May (Oscar Humberto Marín-Gómez), suggested there could be a new satellite population at the site. Although possible territorial behavior of adults was described, the species was nonetheless not reported again. Perhaps the birds have found an appropriate site elsewhere and are waiting to be rediscovered.
A flock of seven Brown-headed Cowbirds on 13 Mar at Finca Tamashan, Retalhuleu Dept. (Daniel Aldana, Peter Burke, Eduardo Orozco Diaz, Moisés Rodríguez, ph. Oliver Komar) was a high count for Central America. It is also just the second record for Guatemala and the first since a flock of four was found in western Huehuetenango Dept. in 2014. A Nashville Warbler in Chiriquí Prov. was just the third recorded for Panama. It was documented at Finca 3Y on 11 Mar (ph. Yasmin Cerrud Henríquez). The species is regular in the region only in Guatemala and is considered noteworthy anywhere else in the region.