Tropical gnatcatcher makes 120!

Female Tropical gnatcatcher (Polioptila plumbea)

What a week, and all I did was hang around the house and take one brief trip half a mile up the hill.  My house list for San Antonio was stuck for the longest time, but suddenly new species are appearing everywhere in a month that is generally very slow.  Last week’s  Green-breasted mango (Anthracothorax prevostii) and Green hermit (Phaethornis guy) were both confirmed here at the house this week.  The male Green hermit in particular gave me a spectacular view right next to my nose as it hovered at one of the bananos.

Better yet, my neighbour Victor took me up the hill on a short ride to a house with a spectacular view down towards Turrialba.  On the way, and only a few hundred yards up the hill, a fledgling chirrascuá ducked out of the road and into thick brush next to the river (Quebrada La Loca).  This bird is known to many of the village residents by its onomatopoeic name, but it is very rarely seen.  Provisionally I have to take Victor’s word that this chocolate brown fledgling was indeed the Buffy-crowned wood-partridge (Dendrortyx leucophrys) whose tell-tale call is frequently heard by the rivers in this area.  It was just a glimpse, and I won’t be able to walk back up there to check until my damn leg heals.

Rolando Arias, now retired from the ICE, Costa Rica’s all-powerful electricity monopoly, lives just above the trout restaurant Las Truchas and the bar La Piapia (yes, the loudest local bar named for the loudest local bird, the Brown jay).  His house enjoys a really wonderful view down to Turrialba and across to the Caribbean, where the lights of ships can be clearly distinguished on a clear night.  He is preparing to install solar panels and has most of the equipment already in place.  No sooner had I stopped gulping enviously at the view when Victor found a dead bird lying on the ground next to the horses.  Astonishingly, it was a Brown-billed scythebill (Campylorhamphus pusillus), a little bit mangled up by the dog that had reportedly killed it.

I can find no photograph of this species on the internet and unfortunately was not carrying my camera, but the long decurved bill of this woodcreeper makes it impossible to misidentify.  Stiles and Skutch say there is no record of its nest having been found but that fledglings appear from May to July.  I cannot remember the characteristics of this dead bird well enough to vouch for its being adult or juvenile.  Sexes look alike in woodcreepers.  Ale considers it to be a little out of its range at that height, while the guides allow it up to 1500 m, which is a little higher than Rolando’s place.  Furthermore, we were still in dairy country, with no very extensive woodland nearby.  At all events it is an uncommon bird, it seems.  Rolando treated me to a fine glass of whiskey accompanied by home-made pancito and I rolled on down home glowingly happy that I had probably seen two more likely additions to the San Antonio list.  I will be sure to look for both the Buffy-crowned wood-partridge and the scythebill in the coming weeks and months.  Actually, our local Streak-headed woodcreeper (Lepidocolaptes souleyetti) has been absent now for at least three months.

To cap a wonderful week, a pair of Tropical gnatcatchers (Polioptila plumbea) came mewing to the guayabos the next sunny morning.  It’s a common enough species, but a pretty sight, flashing the white in the tail feathers like some kind of warbler,  and a first for the house.  I had previously seen this species no nearer than Verbena Sur, well down the slope towards Santa Rosa and Turrialba.  The picture above is not from CATIE but from a bird-banding programme (I presume) at Sabalito, Coto Brus.

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