Turrialba Volcano birds

Slaty flowerpiercer at Irazú Volcano

On the afternoon of Saturday September 11th, I managed a quick, improvised trip up the road from La Pastora to the Turrialba Volcano.  This is only my fourth jaunt up there, despite living so close by, but it’s a rewarding drive both in terms of the beauty of the landscape and the beauty of the mountain birds, so different from the species lower down in San Antonio.

It was a rainy and mist-clouded day in Santa Cruz, and my first intention was simply to pick up gravel up past La Pastora and check for a kingfisher in the meadow there that I thought I might have misidentified last time.  Was it the Ringed or the Amazon?  I took the volcano road at La Pastora on a whim and had little luck stopping at likely spots over the first few kilometers.  A little higher up, however, the neblina suddenly cleared and bright sunshine revealed the beautiful landscape.  The road has been much improved after La Central and it looked as if I was going to be able to make it all the way to the top without getting stuck.  I still don’t have a four-wheel drive vehicle.  I was stopped, however, by the park guard (who lives next door to me in San Antonio) just before the barrier that has been in place since the recent volcanic activity.  Access both by vehicle and on foot is still restricted, although a reopening of the park is being seriously considered at the moment.

A mass of flowering vines was the first place with any bird activity at all, and it took all my attention for about two hours.  Four species of hummingbird, none of which have so far appeared lower down in San Antonio, were in constant attendance: Fiery-throated (Panterpe insignis), Magnificent (Eugenes fulgens), Volcano hummingbird  (Selasphorus flammula), and Green violet-ear (Colibri thalassinus).  The latter are of a noticeably light green colour when seen in good light, and the ear-patches are quite distinctive.  The Volcano hummingbirds all seemed to be females with grey-striped throats.  The Turrialba Volcano male is supposedly red to purple in colour, but I haven’t seen one yet.  I was able to exclude the Scintillant hummingbird (Selasphorus scintilla), which I have seen down at Santa Cruz and possibly even at home in San Antonio, because of the lack of noticeable rufous in the tail feathers.   The Fiery-throated was the most numerous species, but during a good two hours of observation I rarely was able to see the throat colours displayed.  The blue on the rump and blue-black on the tail are quite distinctive, and I got frequent good looks at the blue crown.  The crown on the Magnificent hummingbirds was also in good evidence, and of course this species is quite large in comparison with the others.  Both males and females of this species were present.

Wow! Golden-browed chlorophonia – a really neat little bird

More spectacular even than any of these hummers was the pair of Golden-browed chlorophonias (Chlorophonia callophrys), locally called Rualdo or sometimes Dualdo.  The locals all seem to be able to imitate its single-note whistle.  I was unprepared for the beauty of this pair, in particular of course the male with its combination of bright green, yellow and blue, and I spent at least half an hour just gaping at the pair of them.  Alas, I had no camera, though photos would have been easy to take.  Fortunately, my good friend Karel took the above photo in more or less the same area at a different date.

The same location had several of the common highland species: Peg-billed finch (Acanthidops bairdii), Slaty flowerpiercer (Diglossa plumbea) (the photo introducing this post is the best I could do on my own), Common (Chlorospingus ophthalmicus) and Sooty-capped bush-tanagers (Chlorospingus pileatus), Slate-throated redstart (Myioborus miniatus), Black-billed nightingale-thrush (Catharus gracilirostris) and Black-and-yellow silky-flycatcher (Phainoptila melanoxantha).  Sooty robins (Turdus nigrescens), reminding me again of the European Blackbird, were common all along the road.  The local name for this bird is escarchado, reflecting no doubt its preference for high altitude and the accompanying weather.

Overhead, a pair of Red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) circled, screaming.  The call seems different to that of the same species in Texas, where the scream sounds longer and less hoarse, but the red tails on this pair were an easy mark.  The only migrants I caught a glimpse of were a female Blackburnian warbler (Dendroica fusca) and then another that might easily have been the Cerulean (Dendroica cerulea) that was a recent census subject here in Costa Rica, since it was dark bluish above.  It moved so rapidly however that I never got a clear enough look to make a definitive identification.  The same was true for another drab grey-brown warbler (or possibly flycatcher, I suppose), that was in the same tree and moved with equally disappointing speed.

These small disappointments in identification were insignificant, however, compared with a few hours well spent up by our still steaming volcano.  I’ll be back soon.

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