Yellow-bellied seedeater, a life bird

What a surprise!  I'm none of the others

I like the Caribbean but only near Turrialba

Wednesday, August 4th, brought my second visit in a long time to the CATIE banding station, and it also brought its usual surprise.  This time we were at Cerca viva, the live fence area, and lots of visitors were present.  I was accompanied by Arne and Berbe (sp.?), son and daughter-in-law respectively of Wiet, a Dutch neighbour of ours who lives in San Rafael.  They were bubbling with contagious excitement and managed to enjoy themselves thoroughly despite the scarcity of birds in the nets.  August is notoriously the slowest month and it was a hot morning to boot.

Another group of visitors were from the University of Idaho, having for the most part their first taste of Costa Rica and planning to have extended stays as part of their environmental education programs.  I hope I have that information correct.

Fabrice and Ale gave excellent detailed explanations to the visitors, while I helped a little with the nets.  Volunteer and CATIE student, Ivan, was here and did a lot of the leg work.  I am grateful to Ivan for the loan of a CD of Costa Rican bird calls.  This will help me immensely.  Actually, it already has, because I was able to use it to locate a Lesser greenlet (Hylophilus decurtatus) in the front garden just two days ago.  I need lots of practice with greenlets, tyrannulets etc., as you’ll see from some later comments in this post. 

The banding was very slow, with mostly the local seedeaters and grassquits being captured, although we did also have a nice Black-striped sparrow (Arremonops conirostris) and a Buff-throated saltator (Saltator maximus).  A pair of White-tailed kites (Elanus leucurus) perched nearby and there were plenty of the usual fly-bys of White-crowned parrots (Pionus senilis) and Crimson-fronted parakeets (Aratinga finschi).

Surprise of the day, right near the end, was a juvenile male Yellow-bellied seedeater (Sporophila nigricollis) that Fabrice processed for a while before I realised that it wasn’t one of the locals.  Life bird!  This neat little bird is found mostly in the southern Pacific area, which I have very rarely visited, but there are two small pockets of population at Arenal and near Cartago.  I had not considered it likely to be found near here, but evidently it is present in fair numbers in certain areas.

Arne and Berbe enjoyed a trip to CATIE’s big pond/small lake, where they were able to get nice photographs of several species.  Arne had contacted me by e-mail with a photo he had taken of a possible Coquette in San Rafael.  Here it is!

Moth posing as a hummingbird

As you can see, it’s not even a bird, but is one of the hummingbird moths.  If anyone can specifically identify it, please drop me a line.   

I did have another life bird recently, the Wednesday before last, when I went up to Torito to the finca of neighbor Asdrúbal, located next to a thickly forested area at about 1500 m.  A large group of White-faced monkeys has been seen there regularly in the last few weeks.  I was able to stay for only the morning, and, although I enjoyed the beautiful quiet of the forest for several hours, I had little luck with either animals or birds.  On a previous occasion, I had heard the Black-faced solitaire here, but this time I was unable to recognise any of the many bird calls in the forest.  Several birds came very near, but the trees were so thick that I failed to get a good look at anything at all. 

Later, resting at the edge of the forest and munching my lunch, I saw my life bird low in the first line of trees of the forest.  I knew immediately it was a lifer, but the glimpse gave me only what seemed to be a small tyrannulet or flycatcher with a brown face and a dark eye and two very indistinct wing bars.  It seemed yellowish below, but with a decent look at the head I was sure it would jump out at me from the pages of the Garrigues guide.  No such luck.  I can find no suitable candidate anywhere in the book!  Aagh!  This happens with maddening frequency. 

Maybe it wasn’t a tyrannulet at all and I was associating it with a Paltry tyrannulet (Zimmerius vilissimus) that had appeared in the same place a few minutes earlier.  I can now identify these little fellows quite readily but still don’t understand what is vilissimus about them.   My frustration was compounded by the appearance of a medium-sized hummingbird with a white post-ocular blob and straight bill; he too stayed only a few seconds and left me scratching my head.


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