Long-tailed silky-flycatchers show up early


Long-tailed silky-flycatchers in the sun

My neighbor, Fabio Orlando, had been telling me for days that these highland flycatchers were in the area, but it was only this week that I managed to find them here at the house.  I had seen the second member of the family, the Black-and-yellow silky-flycatcher up at the volcano recently but the Long-tailed (Ptilogonys caudatus) had not appeared that day.  I keep a regular watch at a tree called fruta de paloma because the only times I have seen them here they have fed at that tree, only in December and January however, in the previous two years.  This time I can hear their short little staccato notes, something like a wooden xylophone, from the guïtite trees, which are now fruiting.  At dusk, they take off back up the mountain in a loose flock of about 12 birds.  They usually like to stay fairly high and are a beautiful sight in the sunshine with the yellow of the head and crest contrasting with the blue-grey edged with black of most of the rest of the upper body.  The long tail, which gives the bird a length of some 8″, often looks a little ragged.  I had remembered it as a larger bird, but now it seems about the size of the other medium-sized flycatchers in the garden.  It is reckoned a common highland species, but it is endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama and found at these lower altitudes only outside breeding season.  This year it has arrived two full months earlier than before.

Migrants are now arriving in numbers, and it´s exciting to see the quick movements of the warblers and try to pin them down for identification.  So far, I’ve only been able to be sure of Yellow warblers (Dendroica petechia), never adult males it seems, and Blackburnian warblers (Dendroica fusca), which have a lovely yellow-turning-to-orange on the throat fading to white below.

I’m happy to report that the Green hermit (Phaethornis guy) is now a regular visitor, both males and females.  They like the lobster-claw heliconia that is so beloved of the Violet sabrewing (Campylopterus hemileucurus), but they are also disputing with the local gurriones (Rufous-tailed hummingbird, Amazilia tzacatl) the big round blue granadilla flowers that have reappeared on the back fence.

At 6.00 pm yesterday, with no light left, I again heard the piercing six-note call of what I originally thought must be an owl species of some kind.  The call is never repeated, but I have heard it on several occasions and it is quite different to the calls of our local nocturnal species.   A visiting Puerto Rican bird expert down at CATIE suggested I consider some other family entirely if the call is mostly heard at dusk or dawn, even if it’s completely dark.  I have listened to many bird recordings to try and pin this one down, but no luck so far.  One day!

2 thoughts on “Long-tailed silky-flycatchers show up early

  1. Hi Paul,

    Interesting to see that those migrate downslope! I didnt know that. With all of the rain we are getting, we might see a fair number of high elevation birds moving to lower elevations. I wonder what that nocturnal vocalization might be- is there any way for you to record it?
    We gotta go birding sometime!


    • Hi Pat,

      Yes, I can usually get that bird at almost any time of year higher up past Santa Cruz, but never down here. They’ve now been here for a full week. I won’t be able to tape the nocturnal screecher because it only calls once and then shuts up. It’s not every night either. I haven’t had any other highland species but we’re expecting heavy rain in October and November, so who knows? If you want to bird anywhere around here, just let me know and you can use our place as a base.



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