Monday 20 April 2020

Costa Rica: 11th March 2020

I was out in the first rays of the Savegre morning to the sound of Rufous-collared Sparrows and Clay Coloured Thrushes singing in the new day.  As the light improved all the songs blended in to one and were joined by the zips and clicks of Hummingbirds, chittering of Swifts and ticks ticks of Warblers.

Two videos - one pre-dawn and one just after - volume up - close your eyes.

The gardens started to fill with birds and a pair of Yellow Winged Vireos got the day off to a great start as they poked around the Fucshias with Sooty-capped Bush-Tanagers and Slaty Flowerpiercers.

Yellow Winged Vireo

Yellow Winged Vireo

A Mountain Thrush showed nicely on the lawn and they are much greyer than the books suggest with an even darker bill and Northern Orioles and Flame-coloured Tanagers in a range of black, orange, red and yellow moved through.

Mountain Thrush

Flame-coloured Tanager

Flame-coloured Tanager - Steve Cullum

When I say ‘gardens’ it perhaps suggests something on the flowing scale of Arenal when in fact it was probably not much bigger than a tennis court but it was so packed with all the right flowering plants that it was a magnet.

The feisty White-throated Mountain Gems were trying to see off all comers including the bigger Talamancas and tiny Micro Hummers tried to sneak in undetected.  Only females were seen and this made separation of Volcano from the equally miniscule Scintillant quite tricky with the middle pair of tail feathers being the go to id feature which is quite tricky on a whizzing bird smaller than a Goldcrest.
Both species have rufous tails but the central two on Volcano are shiny green for the most part while the Scintillant is wholly rufous and has a narrower dark sub-terminal band and with patience this was visible to confirm that we did indeed have both species. 

White-throated Mountain Gem

White-throated Mountain Gem

Volcano Hummingbird

Volcano Hummingbird

Volcano Hummingbird

A Spot-crowned Woodcreeper showed at low level and Long-tailed Silky Flycatchers moved back and forth but seldom stayed long in one spot. 

Spot-crowned Woodcreeper

Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher

A quick look onto the forest path gave us large Chestnut-capped Brush-finch (like we saw at Cinchona) double foot scrabbling in the leaf litter like I have seen Song and White-throated Sparrows do, sending debris flying everywhere and making so much noise.
Two Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrushes hopped around in typical New World Thrush manner; these ones being particularly Veery-like in my eyes, before moving back into the undergrowth and up above a flock of Sulphur-winged Parakeets flew noisily across the valley with pale yellow underwings gleaming in the sun.

Chestnut-capped Brush-finch - it was really dark!

Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush

Yellow-thighed Finch

The ladies would want me to point out that they walked down to the river and saw a fine Rose-breasted Grosbeak which would turn out to be the only bird seen by some of the group and not by me – not that I was in anyway envious!

Ramon then drove back up the valley to the corner where we did not see the Quetzals yesterday evening. The mad morning rush had passed and we were the only birders there.  The stars did not really perform but a couple of females and a tailess male did come into the Avocado trees and a Black Guan flew noisily across the road.   

Quetzal - being awkward

There were small birds all around and you had to be on your toes to connect with them all.  Ruddy Treerunners and Sooty-capped Bush-Tanagers fed in mixed groups with Wilson’s Warblers. Black-billed Nightingale-Thrushes poked around the road verges and occasionally showed very well. 

Ruddy Treerunner

Ruddy Treerunner - Steve Cullum

Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush - Steve Cullum

Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush

Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush

Wilson's Warbler

A Swainson’s Thrush was found sat high in a tree that it shared with two Mountain Elaenias and an olive yellow Tufted Flycatcher quickly joined Black-capped Flycatchers as our first two new FCs of the day.  This country is just full of them!

Swainson’s Thrush

Black-capped Flycatcher

Black-capped Flycatcher - Steve Cullum

Grey-breasted Wood-Wrens sang up the slope and showed briefly and a pair of curious looking Barred Becards with more obvious spots on the wings than the fine bars below fed in the understorey where gaudy Collared Whitestarts bounded around flashing blue, white, yellow and chestnut.  Lesser Violetear Hummingbirds sang 'tick-tock' from high up but we managed to find one this time. It was another one of those full on forty minutes.

Breakfast beckoned and so we headed back to base and before too long we were back outside and waiting for our jeep ride up through the forest to give us an elevated starting point for our next walk. Spiny Lizards basked on the walls and a female Scintillant zipped in and out while we waited. 

Spiny Lizard

Spiny Lizard

Scintillant Hummingbird

Fledgling Clay Coloured Thrush

We were dropped in a clearing surrounded by enormously tall straight trees with foliage that began really high up. They were decked out in Mistletoe.  Band-tailed Pigeons flew over in gangs and Ruddy Pigeons were singing but out of view while around the clearing we found Yellow-winged and Brown-capped Vireos, Long-tailed Silkies and dashing Collared Whitestarts. And we had not walked a step.

Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher
Dad took great pleasure in pointing out that this is wrong... 1.7 km is 1.06 miles
but that this one is correct...
The path we took headed upwards and we took it easy as we were at about 9000 feet again. Black-faced Solitaires and Grey-breasted Wood Wrens were singing but it was actually pretty quiet bar the addition of more invisible Ruddy Pigeons.

Terira Dancer - Argia terira
male Spiny Lizard
We got to a point where a huge tree spanned the path and Steve decided to turn around and head back to the clearing and chance our luck in the other direction.

Back at the clearing there were some additional species now on offer with Acorn Woodpeckers, Ruddy Treerunners, our first Black-throated Green Warbler and another new FC in the shape of a Yellowish Flycatcher which looked a bit like the Tufted Flycatcher but with little a white spot behind the eye.  A call uncannily like the ‘plu-ip’ of a Ringed Plover was heard at several spots but we could not find it.

Sulphur-winged Parakeets were noisily calling overhead and we got lucky and found a pair investigating a tree where they actually showed rather well. 

Sulphur-winged Parakeet

Our new path immediately gave us a family party of Ochraceous Wrens – possibly the most European Wren-like of all the species we had encountered and we also had a good couple of views of the more skulking Grey-breasted Wood Wrens at last. We descended into a small ravine with a stream running through it and moved cautiously in the hope of coming across foraging flocks of birds. It was hard work and Ruddy Treerunners and Sooty-capped Bush-Tanagers were seen often and usually together but with them we saw Blue Grey Tanagers and our first encounter with Spangle Cheeked Tanager (a bit like a variant on Golden Hooded). Brown Capped Vireos showed low down and Steve then stopped us as he had heard the plaintive song of what used to be known as Wren Thrush and now occupies its own monotypic family and goes by the fabulous name of Zeledonia.

We heard two by the path side but neither were responsive and although we did not see one it was still a magical experience to be that close to something so special. Perhaps we would get another chance?  The same has to also be said for the even more elusive songster that was on the opposite side of the stream. A male Silvery-fronted Tapaculo was not even playing hard to get – he was just invisible and all the staring for tiny mouse-like birds poking out of root holes was to no avail.

Ruddy Treerunner

Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager

Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager - juv

Super Sexy Skipper - well it should be called that

Black-faced Solitaires were still singing and three Black-cheeked Warblers moved through low to the ground flashing a huge white superc and chestnut crown.
More foraging flocks were found on the way back to the main track but the only new bird was a rufous furnariid that was eventually identified as a young Lineated Foliage Gleaner.  A pair of Ruddy Pigeons were eventually seen in the canopy and Ochraceous Wrens and Hooded Redstarts were encountered as we dropped back down.

Collared Whitestart
Collared Whitestart
Once back on the main path the group yomped off for lunch but I took my time on the track and started with a singing Rufous-browed Pepper-Shrike and great views of the White-collared Swifts as they sped along the hillside. The weird ‘plu-ip’ was heard again several times and I saw a flycatcher briefly but still had no idea what it was.

White-collared Swift

White-collared Swift

White-collared Swifts

I caught up with Jules and Angie and we found a showy group of Spangle-cheeked Tanagers and two of them came down to a bank to collect clay presumably for the salts and Yellow-thighed Finches, Collared Whitestarts and Flame-throated Warblers all fed in the adjacent trees.  A Spot Crowned Woodcreeper gave us a fine performance as it despatched a large hairy caterpillar much in the manner that a Cuckoo would.

Spangle-cheeked Tanagers

Spangle-cheeked Tanager

Collared Whitestart
Collared Whitestart

Spot Crowned Woodcreeper

As we entered the final section, the forest thinned and we found ourselves walking through a young orchard. Yellow-faced Grassquits, Tennessee and Wilson’s Warblers were foraging pathside and a stunning male Yellow-bellied Siskin decked out in blue-black and yellows was eating grass seeds.  A small party flew up into the trees and some of the yellowy females had larger white wing patches on the closed wing.

Wilson’s Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Yellow-bellied Siskin

Almost back but not before coming across a Blue-throated Toucanet dismantling a recently fledged Clay-coloured Thrush while the parents went absolutely potty.  It was not going to give up its prize and basically stared us out until we moved on to our own lunch!

Blue-throated Toucanet

Blue-throated Toucanet

Blue-throated Toucanet - Steve Cullum

I pondered those finches over lunch and both Gina and Steve had seen Lesser Goldfinch at that spot and not Yellow-bellied Siskin and so, after a quick look at the book, I headed back up there afterwards and sure enough found both species feeding in the orchard and confirmed why I thought some of the females looked different!

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch

umm - Red-tailed Hawk

Volcano Hummingbird

Volcano Hummingbird

White-throated Mountain Gem

Long Way Off Silky Flycatcher

Lunch done, finches ticked and back out again for an afternoon walk down river from the hotel to look for American Dipper amongst other things. We started off in the woods which were now typically quiet and the pre-breakfast birds here were nowhere to be seen.

The river - Peter Vaughan

A Dark Pewee showed nicely around one of the lower lodges and a Red-tailed Hawk snuck over once again.  Down on the river there were no Dippers to be seen but we did find a family of delightful ash-grey, black and white Torrent Tyrannulets with both parents collecting insects from water covered boulders and cascades much as a Dipper would but without the fully aquatic element. It was difficult to see but I think that they have a white central crown stripe which I imagine is flared in display. 

Dark Pewee

Dark Pewee

Dark Pewee

Torrent Tyrannulet

Torrent Tyrannulet

Torrent Tyrannulet

Torrent Tyrannulet - Steve Cullum
The big bank of Cannas on the roadside held Talamanca, Scintillant and two rather flashy Stripe-tailed Hummers who dazzled with their striking white tail sides and little ginger inner wing panel.
Upslope - Peter Vaughan

Stripe-tailed Hummingbird - utilising a Flowerpiercer hole

Stripe-tailed Hummingbird

Stripe-tailed Hummingbird

Stripe-tailed Hummingbird - perching to use a Flowerpiercer hole!

Stripe-tailed Hummingbird - Steve Cullum

Down at the next bridge a Solitaire gave us a great display and the now usual mixed flocks of Bush-Tanagers and Treerunners moved through the trees.  There were still no Dippers or other hoped for specialities but it was a nice peaceful stretch of river.  Steve saw a Paltry Tyrannulet and played the call to entice it back... 'Plu-ip' Mystery solved...!

Black-faced Solitaire

Saturniidae caterpillar quite possibly Leucanella hosmera - thanks Annie!

Wild Impatiens
The walk back up gave more Tyrannulet views and an Acorn Woodpecker popped out of a nest hole. A Black Phoebe was unusually not by the river and a large spiral of Black Vultures circled up high with a few Swifts intermingled.  Rufous Collared Sparrows were all around. 

Acorn Woodpecker - Steve Cullum

Rufous Collared Sparrow - Steve Cullum
Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush - this one looks very Veery like!

Black Vultures

Back in the gardens there was still time for some more Hummingbird and Flowerpiercer action and we were treated to the spectacle of hundreds of White-collared Swifts swirling in a screaming mass in the last golden light high over the valley with two large Starling balls of Sulphur-winged Parakeets twisting and jerking as they headed off to roost.

White-throated Mountain Gem - Steve Cullum

White-collared Swifts

All too soon it was time to eat, yet again, but the day was not done as we had a night drive lined up.  Back up the valley we went to a few bends above Miriam’s Cafe I reckon. Steve and I got out and walked silently back down the road; the idea being that we would try and find either of the two scarce owls and then get everyone to come in for a listen so that we did not have a big group of people strung out across the road in the pitch black.

The sky was amazing...

All was quiet but then suddenly an Unspotted Saw-whet Owl responded and came closer while another sung down in the valley.  The troops were hastily assembled and some heard the ‘poo-poo’ song before it went silent.

We had more luck a little lower down where Dusky Nightjars were easily heard but were a bugger to pick out and we had to be content with two ghostly shapes circling the trees and the song echoing off the hillsides. I just wish I had recorded them.

Ramon pulled over and pointed to the east where a curious glow was creeping over the mountain tops.  None of us were entirely sure what we were looking at to start with until the Moon began to rise ‘through’ the thin layer of cloud settled there.

It was the perfect way to end our last full day.

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