Violet-crowned woodnymph at San Rafael

Green on blue: beautiful male Violet-crowned Woodnymph

At an elevation of 1200 m, San Rafael is a good bit higher than the usual limit for the Violet-crowned woodnymph (Thalurania colombica).  My good friend Toby has a house with a sweeping view of the Turrialba Volcano to the left, Rio Guayabo and the National Monument in the centre, and the Rio Reventazon valley and the Caribbean lowlands to the right.

The house backs directly onto the Juan Espino Blanco Reserve and so is wonderfully situated as a starting point for rambles along the forest edge.  Our visits there are usually social calls and so any birdwatching that I do is at best cursory.  The best plan is to take your beer and wander down from the house to the mirador for a great view out over thick woodland down towards the Caribbean lowlands.  Then you can do a circuit all the way around the property, passing along the fenceline of the Juan Espino Blanco Reserve and returning just in time for another beer.

Last Sunday, with its birthday celebrations, brought two birdie surprises, in addition to the usual fine food and drink.  The guarumu tree at the side of the platform is rather sparse, but the guarumu is a tree that many birds and animals find attractive.  I always check them out for sloths, which hold them in high esteem.  This time, in flew a male Green honeycreeper (Chlorophanes spiza).  No big deal in most places, since it’s a fairly common bird on both the Caribbean and the Pacific slope.  However, it’s the first honeycreeper that I’ve seen up here in three years and it almost made me forget my second beer.

Male Green honeycreeper shows his yellow bill

From looking at the distribution of the three Costa Rican species in the bird guides, you would perhaps expect, in our region, either this one or the Shining honeycreeper (Cyanerpes lucidus) with its yellow legs.  In fact, I have found the Red-legged honeycreeper (Cyanerpes cyaneus) to appear more frequently down at CATIE on the other side of Turrialba.  Garrigues has the Green honeycreeper extending its range to slightly higher elevations than the other two, so I’m going to keep on the look-out to try and add this one to my home list.  I can’t count San Rafael, unfortunately, as it’s 2 km away.

Remembering the second beer, I stumbled back up to the house, grinning from ear to ear.  Seizing the second beer on the veranda, I plumped myself down for some self-congratulation but noticed to my shock that the hummingbird on the rabo de gato didn’t have a rufous tail.  I’m jealous of Toby for many reasons, but mostly for the size of his rabo de gato.  I should explain that this is a very pretty bush with red or purple flowers on the end of long stems, highly favoured by many species of hummers.  Toby’s plants always do better than mine.

This was not, however, our common resident hummer, the Rufous-tailed.  Unfortunately, it was a female (they always seem to outnumber us) but it was up close and gave me ample opportunity to check all the field marks.  I was pretty much stumped, as usual, but I decided, by process of elimination, that it was a female Violet-crowned woodnymph (Thalurania colombica), a species that I have seen only rarely because for the most part it’s found in the lowlands. Nagging doubt was gnawing at me.

The third beer was a triumph, however, for no sooner did I have it in my grasp than a stunning male Violet-crowned woodnymph alighted on the rabo de gato and treated us all to a close-up view of its contrasting shining green and violet.  Ha ha!  How happy I am, not only to have seen such a beauty, but also to have finally made a correct identification of a female hummingbird.

A fourth beer was not necessary.

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