Central America: Winter 2017–2018

Winter 2017–2018: 1 December–28 February

John van Dort

Oliver Komar

Recommended citation:

van Dort, J., and O. Komar. 2021. Winter 2017/2018: Central America. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-b9w> North American Birds.

Two vagrants, Great Black-backed Gull from the North and Russet-throated Puffbird from the South, were new for the region this winter. Meanwhile in Honduras, Black Catbird, a species practically restricted to the Yucatán Peninsula, reappeared after a 160+ year absence. There were only two other new country records this period: Western Gull in Honduras and White-crowned Sparrow in Costa Rica. Both are migratory vagrants that normally winter to the north in Mexico and the United States.

Sub-regional Compilers

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 Shorebirds

Green-winged Teal is rarely reported from Nicaragua; a male was first found on 18 Dec (ph. Jessica Stuebner) in the Sebaco wetlands of Matagalpa, providing a first record for that department, and was still present the following day (ph. Georges Duriaux, Liliana Chavarría-Duriaux, Stephen Páez). The iconic Horned Guan is one of the most threatened and important symbols of Mesoamerican ornithology, being restricted to cloud forests of Chiapas and Guatemala; a survey of Volcán Tolimán, Sololá Dpt., Guatemala on 17 Dec found the population there to be robust, with 20 adult birds observed (ph. and v. r., Daniel Aldana). Also encouraging were high counts of Ocellated Turkey, a near-threatened endemic of the Yucatán Peninsula, at sites in Belize and Guatemala. A remarkable 127 Ocellated Turkeys were at Gallon Jug, Orange Walk Dst., Belize on 1 Jan (Roni Martinez). A brief visit on 4 Jan to El Mirador archeological site in Petén Dpt., Guatemala (Ever Recinos) produced 60 Ocellated Turkeys. Patchily distributed throughout its wide range, the tiny and secretive Yellow-breasted Crake is rarely reported from El Salvador, so one photographed on 27 Jan at the Laguna El Jocotal in eastern El Salvador was noteworthy (ph. Mario Trejo, Cristian Eric Miranda).

A high count of 81 American Oystercatchers was noteworthy for Nicaragua; the group was found on the Pacific coast at the Delta Estero Real, Chinandega Dpt. on 21 Dec (ph. Orlando Jarquín, José Martín Vallecillo Méndez). Groups of wintering oystercatchers in the Gulf of Fonseca region are now expected, and they typically include several birds banded at breeding sites in the eastern U.S. Two Southern Lapwings found on 5 Feb along the western side of the Cerrón Grande reservoir in central El Salvador proved a first department record for Cuscatlán (ph. Julio Acosta, Guillermo Funes, Néstor Herrera). The same day, two different individuals were found on the eastern side of this large reservoir (Leticia Andino, Iselda Vega, Victoria Galán). Wattled Jaçana, widespread in South America, replaces Northern Jaçana in the southernmost part of Central America. There is a wide zone of overlap in southern Costa Rica and western Panama, where the two sometimes hybridize. One such hybrid was found in rice fields near Ciudad Neily in Puntarenas Prov., Costa Rica (ph. Juan D. Astorga).

Jaegers through Ibis

Seldom reported from the Caribbean Sea, two Pomarine Jaegers at the Cattle Landing waterfront in Toledo Dst. on 2 Dec were noteworthy for Belize (Raymond Reneau, ph. John Garrett, Jonathan Urbina, Jorge Eduardo Ruano, Victor Bonilla), and three birds were seen there the following day. Although the species had not been reported on eBird for Belize previously, it is considered an occasional visitor to Belize in literature for the country (e.g., Jones 2003). First found on 4 Jan and seen again on 19 Jan, an adult Western Gull at the mouth of the Choluteca River in Choluteca Dpt. provided a first record for Honduras and a third for Central America (ph. John van Dort). On 4 Jan, the bird appeared injured and seemed incapable of flight, but on 19 Jan, it seemed in better condition and was seen making short flights. New for Costa Rica and all of Central America was a first-cycle Great Black-backed Gull on 8 Jan at the mouth of the Río Tortuguero in Limón Prov. (ph. Steven Easley). 

An adult White-tailed Tropicbird on 16 Feb near Tobacco Caye, Stann Creek Dst. (Fidelio Montes Jr.) was only around 25 km from where an adult was seen about three months earlier (29 Nov) at Southwest Cayes on Glover Reef Atoll (Israel Manzanero Jr). The two sightings may represent the same bird, only the second (or third?) documented record for Belize, and the first reliably reported in nearly 42 years. A count of 557 Glossy Ibis at Las Pangas, Puntarenas Dpt. on 29 Dec (Ariel Fonseca, Rio Dante) was extraordinary for Costa Rica and for anywhere in Central America.

Raptors through Thrushes

Extending the species’s known range further north was a Tiny Hawk at Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge, Atlántida Dpt. on 6 Jan (ph. Elmer Escoto). This represents only the third record for Honduras, and all are from the last three years. New for Central America and North America, a Russet-throated Puffbird was an exceptional find on 30 Dec near Tortí, Panamá Prov. in eastern Panama (Eliecer Rodríguez, John Coon, ph. Jan Cubilla, ph. Rolando Jordan). The bird was still present the following day (Darien Montañez) but not seen after. This species is resident just about 150 km to the southeast across the Colombian border. This border region is rarely visited by birders but has much potential for new species, as well as for additional reports of Russet-throated Puffbird. Closely following Belize’s third record on 26 Oct, yet another Violet-green Swallow was closely observed 4 Dec (Roni Martinez, Jonathan Urbina, Alson Obando, Raymond Reneau). All four records have come from Cattle Landing, Toledo Dst. since 2014, and all have turned up in Oct, Nov, and (now) Dec.

After the type specimen of Black Catbird was collected in 1855 or 1856 near Omoa in northwestern Honduras, this Yucatán endemic was not seen again in the country. Until 28 Jan 2018, that is, when more than 160 years later two were seen on the island of Roatán (ph. Joel Amaya); the birds could not be relocated despite several searches. An American Robin was a one-day wonder 1 Jan on the Salt Creek Estate Road in Belize Dst., Belize; it was the first of its species found in Central America since March 2000 (per Lee Jones, 2003, Birds of Belize) (ph. Francis Canto Jr, Sophie Hebert).

Sparrows through Tanagers

Although reported now nearly annually, Clay-colored Sparrows are always noteworthy in Central America. One was at Las Trancas farm in Guanacaste Prov., Costa Rica 17 Feb (ph. Ariel Fonseca). An immature White-crowned Sparrow of the eastern leucophrys ssp. was an exciting find near Rancho Quemado on the Osa Peninsula on 29 Nov (ph. Karen Leavelle, and later Pilar Bernal on 7 Dec). The bird stayed at least until 27 Jan, by which time it had finished its prealternate molt (ph. Jim Zook), and provided a first record for the species in Costa Rica. Five Savanna Sparrows observed 5 Feb on the shores of the Cerrón Grande reservoir in El Salvador provided a first department record for Cuscatlán (ph. Julio Acosta, Guillermo Funes, Néstor Herrera). A concentration of 30 Lincoln’s Sparrows 5 km east of La Esperanza, Intibuca Dpt. 19 Jan (ph. Roger Medina, Venus Medina, Moisés Castaneda) was a high count for Honduras. Further south, three Lincoln’s Sparrows at Las Trancas farm, Guanacaste Prov., on 20 Jan was also a high count for Costa Rica (ph. Esteban Méndez, ph. David Rodríguez Arias, Estefany Villalobos B.). 

Northern Parula is a scarce winter visitor to El Salvador, especially away from the coastal mangroves. An adult male on 5 Feb at an inland site near Cerrón Grande in Cuscatlán Dpt. was thus noteworthy (ph. Julio Acosta, Guillermo Funes, ph. Néstor Herrera). Cape May Warblers made an impressive showing this winter. Six at Turneffe Island on 1 Jan was a high count for Belize (Eddie Polanco). An overwintering Cape May Warbler on 8 Feb in an urban garden of Santa Ana, Santa Ana Dpt. was only the third reported from El Salvador and was the first since 1976 (ph. Edwin Calderón). The bird stayed until at least 17 Mar. Cape May Warbler is also unusual on the Pacific slope of Nicaragua, was female or immature was at Peninsula de Chiltepe on Lake Managua 15 Feb (Heydi Herrera, Oswaldo Saballos). A female hybrid Townsend’s x Black-throated Green Warbler was near San Gerardo de Dota, San José Prov., Costa Rica 11 Jan (David Sibley). A few days later, the same observer found a male of this hybrid combination nearby. Another male was seen 28 Feb near Cerro Punta, Chiriquí Prov. in Panama (ph. John Garrett). There is a small hybrid zone in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta and British Columbia, whence these individuals likely originated.

A female Flame-rumped Tanager, first found in Costa Rica in Oct 2017, was still present in Puntarenas Prov. near the Panama border on 17 Dec (Henry Sandi Amador). A full-day survey of the Finca San Jerónimo Miramar, Suchitepequez Dpt., Guatemala reported a healthy count of 35 Azure-rumped Tanagers on 20 Dec (Evaristo Chocoy). This species is one of the Guatemalan/Chiapas endemics considered globally endangered.

Report processed by Michael L. P. Retter, 28 Jul 2021.

Photos–Central America: Winter 2017–2018

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