Spectacular Sunbittern


Quebrada La Loca in the rain


The heavy rains of the last two days caused death and misery in many parts of the country, while here in Turrialba we had our first day of solid rain in quite a long while.  The near-constant drizzle made for great birding however, and I took advantage, leaving the dreadful television images back inside the house.  I attach here today’s San Antonio bird list, a fairly typical one but this time notable for two items in particular.

 A short walk down to the river (Quebrada La Loca) brought a surprise in the form of two male Scarlet tanagers (Piranga olivacea), firsts for my San Antonio list.  This is only the second time I have seen this particular species, and, as before, they seemed to be males in non-breeding plumage.  Perhaps it’s only in Spring in Costa Rica when the stunning black-and-red male attire can be seen.

I had judged this to be a particularly good week after having banded a life-bird, a Yellow-margined flycatcher (Tolmomyias assimilis), at CATIE a few days ago, but today I was really fortunate.  On a whim, I strolled uphill in the afternoon and looked over at the upper bridge by a dairy on the Quebrada La Loca, at the location where the river had taken a detour in a heavy storm several years ago, carrying away the tarmacadam surface of the village’s main road.  There, sitting on a rock, up close and personal, was the garza del sol, the Sunbittern (Europyga helias), a bird I know to be resident here but which has so far always been elusive.  The sunburst yellow of the wings as it flew from rock to rock was truly spectacular.  After soaking in the rain for ten minutes, it occurred to me to dash home and grab the camera, returning in the truck post-haste.  Yes, it was still there, and now proceeded to roam around on the bank of the river too.  I had difficulty with the camera as usual, especially since now the bird wouldn’t stay still, and the following is the best shot I got.  Sorry!

Sunbittern, Quebrada La Loca


After a while, the local bus arrived and the young couple who live next to the dairy jumped off and greeted me with the information that a pair of Sunbitterns is always to be seen here!  Clearly, I need to spend a little more time up at the bridge and a little less here at home.

I’m a lucky man to be living in this beautiful place, but yesterday’s mudslide and flooding tragedies remind me how fleeting it all can be.  Here’s today’s list:

1.   Gray-headed chachalaca

2.   Cattle egret

3.   Sunbittern

4.   Black vulture

5.   Red-billed pigeon

6.   Groove-billed ani

7.   Rufous-tailed hummingbird

8.   Yellow-bellied elaenia

9.   Common tody-flycatcher

10. Tropical pewee

11. Black phoebe

12. Great kiskadee

13. Social flycatcher

16. Gray-capped flycatcher

17. Yellow-throated vireo

18. Red-eyed vireo

19. Brown jay

20. Band-backed wren

21. Plain wren

22. House wren

23. Swainson’s thrush

24. Clay-colored robin

25. Long-tailed silky-flycatcher

26. Tennessee warbler

27. Yellow warbler

28. Bananaquit

29. White-lined tanager

30. Summer tanager

31. Scarlet tanager

32. Passerini’s tanager

33. Golden-hooded tanager

34. Blue-gray tanager

35. Palm tanager

36. Variable seedeater

37. Yellow-faced grassquit

38. Rufous-collared sparrow

39. Grayish saltator

40. Black-headed saltator

41. Melodious blackbird

42. Great-tailed grackle

43. Baltimore oriole

44. Montezuma oropendola

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