Central America: Winter 2016–2017

Winter 2016–2017: 1 Dec–28 Feb

John van Dort

Oliver Komar
Recommended citation:

van Dort, J., and O. Komar. 2021. Winter 2016/2017: Central America. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-ald> North American Birds.

This winter period garnered new country records for Belize (Violet-headed Hummingbird, Cory’s Shearwater), El Salvador (Surf Scoter, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Yellow-headed Caracara, Vermillion Flycatcher), and Nicaragua (Burrowing Owl). These vagrants and others mentioned in this report are a mix of migration overshoots (the shearwater, scoter, flycatcher, and owl) and non-migratory dispersers (the hummingbird, collared-dove, and caracara).

Contributors (sub-regional compilers in boldface): Julio Acosta, George Angehr (Panama), Alfonso Auerbach, Philip Balderamos, Jes Christian Bech, Melvin Bonilla, John Cahill (Guatemala), Francis Canto Jr, Bob Chapman, Liliana Chavarría-Duriaux (Nicaragua), Enrique Choussy, Jan Cubilla (Panama), Natalia Decastro González, Ramón Fernández Francés, Carlos Funes, Jonathan Hernández, Ricardo Ibarra, Roselvy Juárez (El Salvador), Lee Jones (Belize), Nick Komar, Oliver Komar, Alex Lamoreaux, Isael Mai, Israel Manzanero Jr, Ivar Marchand, Roni Martinez, Cristian Eric Miranda, Alvaro Moisés, Darién Montañez (Panama), Fidelio Montes Jr, Chico Muñoz, Eddie Polanco, Pat O’Donnell (Costa Rica), Claudia Renderos, Eduardo Ruano, Mario Trejo, Jonathan Urbina, John van Dort (Honduras), Tiffany Young.

Ducks through Owls

Not annual in Panama, a male Northern Pintail was a good find on 3 Dec 2016 at Finca Bayano in Panamá Prov., Panama (ph. Euclides Campos). The same location also hosted two Green-winged Teal on 11 Dec 2016 (ph. Jan Cubilla); they were still present four days later (Jan Cubilla, Euclides Campos). A female Hooded Merganser at the Paradise Shrimp Farm in Stann Creek Dist. on 1 Dec 2016 (ph. Francis Canto, ph. Roni Martinez, Fidelio Montes, Jonathan Urbina) was Belize’s second and the first since 1991. Fewer than three weeks later (18 Dec 2016) two females or young males were observed at 4 Hands Shrimp Farm, Toledo Dist. (ph. Jes Christian Bech, Jonathan Urbina, Isael Mai). First documented for Belize in Jan 2012, Ruddy Duck has now been seen four out of the last five winters at two widely separated localities. The latest record was of two seen 26 Dec 2016 at Fresh Catch Fish Farm, Belize Dist. (Roni Martinez), site of the first and several subsequent records.

Quite unexpected, and new not only for El Salvador but for all of Central America, was a second-cycle male Surf Scoter at a freshwater lagoon about 10 km inland near the international airport in La Paz Dpt. It was found 13 Jan 2017 and remained for at least four days (ph. Melvin Bonilla, ph. Edwin Calderon, multiple observers). This is the southernmost report ever for Surf Scoter. A group of 10 Eared Grebes on Lake Ilopango, San Salvador Dpt. was an excellent find on 17 Feb 2017 (Ricardo Ibarra, Guillermo Funes, Néstor Herrera). The previous report of this species in El Salvador dates back to 1997, when a group of 17 was seen on the Laguna de Chanmico. Rather expected given the ongoing range expansion into Central America, a Eurasian Collared-Dove found on the Salvadoran side of the border with Honduras at El Amatillo, La Unión Dpt., on 30 Dec 2016 was a first for El Salvador (Nick Komar).

An adult male Ruby-topaz Hummingbird was seen close to Yaviza, Darién Prov. on 21 Jan 2017 (ph. Euclides Campos). The species is rare in Panama, apparently dispersing seasonally from South America. Glow-throated Hummingbird is a rare Panama endemic known mainly from the Serranía de Tabasará of central Veraguas and eastern Chiriquí. At least 5 individuals were seen between 1175–1266 m elevation in cloud forest in Cerro Hoya National Park in the southwestern Azuero Peninsula, Veraguas Prov. on 8 and 9 Feb 2017 (Kees Groenendijk, Howard Laidlaw, ph. Jaap Kalkman). The raspberry gorget of the male confirmed it as this species rather than the similar Scintillant Hummingbird. These are the first records from the area since the species was first reported there in 1994. A Violet-headed Hummingbird was a surprise find and indeed a first for well-birded Belize on 29 Dec 2016, when one was at the Moonracer Farm in Cayo Dist. (Bob Chapman, Lee Jones). No photos were obtained, but extensive field notes leave little doubt as to the identification. This record is about 150 km northwest of the species’s known range. Although not far from the border with Nicaragua, the second Blue-vented Hummingbird for Honduras was an interesting find on 8 Jan 2017, especially since it was in the Caribbean Moskitia, near the town of Rus Rus, Gracias a Dios Dpt. (John van Dort, ph. Jonathan Hernández). In the same area, near Rus Rus, six Black Rails at a single location was a high count for Honduras on 8 Jan 2017 (John van Dort, multiple observers); there seems to be a healthy local population in the marshes and wet savannas there. Belize’s fourth and fifth accepted records of Yellow-breasted Crake came one day apart on 14 and 15 Feb 2017; the first was at a small pond in the savanna near Lamanai Outpost Lodge, Orange Walk Dist. (ph. Eduardo Ruano), and the second was 7.5 km to the northeast at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize Dist. (Roni Martinez).

Two Southern Lapwings observed at the El Jocotal lagoon, San Miguel Dpt. in eastern El Salvador on 16 Jan 2017 (Enrique Choussy, ph. Alvaro Moises) provided the second record of this species for that country. While the two American jaçana species occasionally wander into each other’s ranges in Panama, hybrids are rarely reported. A hybrid Northern x Wattled Jaçana observed on 30 Jan 2017 in the Chiriquí Grande area in Bocas del Toro was thus noteworthy (ph. Ramón Fernández Francés, Natalia Decastro González). Following Belize’s fourth record of Dunlin last fall, three were seen 13 Feb 2017 at Gra Gra Lagoon in Dangriga, Stann Creek Dist. (ph. Isael Mai, Philip Balderamos, Ivar Marchand, Eddie Polanco, Tiffany Young). California Gull, until recently exceedingly rare anywhere in the region, is now practically annual on the Pacific coast of Central America. One was present at Punta Ratón in the Honduran department of Choluteca on 7 Jan 2017 (Alfonso Auerbach, ph. Roselvy Juárez). Forster’s Tern is rare in Panama; one was seen at the mouth of the Changuinola River, Bocas del Toro Prov., on 3 Feb 2017 (Natalia Decastro González, Glenn Crawford, ph. Brooke Miller). An adult Black Noddy in the Gulf of Montijo on 4 Dec 2016 (ph. Jan Cubilla, Kees Groenendijk, Alfred Raab, Howard Laidlaw, Mikko Oivukka, Rolando Jordan) was the first confirmed record of the species for Panama. A count of 2,559 Black Skimmers at a high tide roost at the mouth of the Choluteca River in Choluteca Dept.,Honduras was noteworthy on 10 Feb 2017 (John van Dort, Roselvy Juárez); it represents one of the largest concentrations of this species reported in Central America. Two Cory’s Shearwaters were observed Christmas Day 2016 on Half Moon Caye off the coast of Belize; one died from exhaustion and frigatebird attacks later in the day (Israel Manzanero Jr). The species had been expected again in the region since it was found on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica in March 2003. A first for Nicaragua, a Burrowing Owl was found on the access road to the Miraflor reserve in Estelí Dpt. on 16 Dec 2016 (Chico Muñoz). Nicaragua was the last country in the region to add this rare winter visitor to its bird list.

Falcons through Warblers

Deforestation has provided opportunities for northward range expansion of various South American species through Central America; these include Southern Lapwing and Pearl Kite. Concurrent expansion of cattle-grazing and human population centers is also likely driving the increased occurrence of Yellow-headed Caracara in northern Central America. An adult was photographed on the Costa del Sol, La Paz Dpt. on 31 Dec 2016 (ph. Enrique Choussy, Alvaro Moisés) and represented a first record for El Salvador. A Rufous-breasted Spinetail was an unexpected find during an expedition to the Honduran White City archaeological site in the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, Gracias a Dios Dpt. on 18 Feb 2017 (John van Dort). Two days later it was voice-recorded in the same general area (v. r. Carlos Funes). This extends the species’s known range about 200 km eastward. Yellow Tyrannulet was new for Honduras as recently as 2014; noteworthy was a report of six in Rus Rus in the Honduran Moskitia, Gracias a Dios Dpt., on 7 Jan 2017 (Alex Lamoreaux, multiple observers). An adult male Vermillion Flycatcher was a first for El Salvador on 12 Feb 2017 near Laguna del Jocotal in San Miguel Dpt. (Julio Acosta, Claudia Renderos, Cristian Eric Miranda, Mario Trejo). Two large roosting flocks of Cave Swallows comprising approximately 250 individuals total were noteworthy on 1 Feb 2017 near Punta Ratón in Choluteca, Honduras (John van Dort, Roselvy Juárez).

Black-throated Wren reaches the northern limit of its distribution in the Honduran Moskitia, where it is rare and local. The aforementioned expedition to the mythical White City archaeological site in the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve found this species to be locally common along the edges of a tributary river of the Río Plátano, Gracias a Dios Dpt., where it was observed on most days between 16–24 Feb 2017 (ph. Carlos Funes, v.r. John van Dort). A Hermit Thrush, Belize’s third, was closely observed 18 Jan 2017 at Hidden Valley Inn in the Mountain Pine Ridge, Cayo Dist. (Roni Martinez). A Lark Sparrow at the Zamorano University horse farm, Francisco Morazán Dpt., on 6 Feb 2017 was only the third record for Honduras of this very rare winter visitor (ph. Oliver Komar). Hermit Warbler is a rare migrant to western Panama; an adult male was seen above Boquete, Chiriquí Prov. on 4 Jan 2017 (Dave Klauber). Also in Panama, an adult Prairie Warbler was a great find at the former Ft. Davis, Colón Prov., on 2 Jan 2017 (Rosabel Miró, Karl Kaufmann).

Report processed by Michael Retter, 28 Mar 2021.

Photos–Central America: Winter 2016–2017

Click image to view fullscreen with caption.