After the excitement of the recently banded Blue-chested hummingbird (Amazilia amabilis), another unusual hummer fell into the nets at CATIE last week, the Blue-throated goldentail (Hylocharis eliciae). Unlike the amabilis, this species is already on the CATIE checklist but its last report was, it seems, many years ago. I missed out on seeing both these personally because I can no longer get down to the banding station early mornings. Luckily, Alejandra Martinez, in charge of CATIE’s monitoring programme, keeps me informed.
Identification is relatively simple in the case of the male, although Garrigues warns that first looks may cause you to dismiss it as yet another Rufous-tailed hummingbird. The Goldentail reaches 900 m on the Caribbean side and is perhaps unlikely up here in San Antonio, while the Blue-chested would be quite out of range, its upper limit being only 500 m (CATIE is at 600 m).
These recent appearances down at CATIE, plus the beautiful sighting of the Violet-crowned woodnymph mentioned in my last post, prompt me to insert here some notes on the hummingbirds that can be expected here on the Turrialba Volcano slope. All the fine photographs are by Karel Straatman, a great lover of Costa Rica and of birds.
In three years, I have positively identified only 6 species of hummingbird here in the village, but I have seen and identified with some certainty another 9 species in the Turrialba area. It seems to me then that at least some of these 9 might appear here, plus there are still many other hummingbird species that, according to the literature, could occur here in San Antonio. Garrigues & Dean’s authoritative fieldguide lists a total of 52 species for Costa Rica!
Here, in order of frequency, are the 6 that I am sure of:
1. Rufous-tailed hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl); as the commonest hummer in the country, this one needs little introduction. Almost every hummer I see here at home is this species. You just look for the rufous tail and it’s a pretty safe bet.
2. Violet sabrewing (Campylopterus hemileucurus); the locals call it, without much justification perhaps, the colibrí de montaña (mountain hummingbird). There is no larger hummingbird in Costa Rica, and its dark colour and the white in the corners of the tail make it instantly recognisable, even if you don’t get the downcurved bill. It appears here fairly frequently, often pursued by Rufous-taileds. It’s a middle-elevation bird (1,000-2,400 m) but we have also banded it at CATIE occasionally.
3. Stripe-throated hermit (Phaethornis striigularis) shows up from time to time. Perhaps best-called Little hermit, because the Costa Rican race doesn’t have any stripes on the throat. Its small size, buffy colour and the typical tail and bill make it fairly easy to distinguish if you get a good look. The hermits seem to prefer forest and there’s just not enough of it around San Antonio to make this a common bird.
4. Green hermit (Phaethornis guy); this one, also a forest species, has shown up just a very few times, but today I found a lek with several males in a forest patch up above Las Truchas. Obviously, they are a nesting species here, at this altitude. The long central tail-feathers and large size mean that the main difficulty for me is confusion with the Long-billed hermit (Phaethornis longirostris) that is so common down at CATIE. When you see plenty of green, you can be pretty sure it’s the Green hermit, and in actual fact I have still not seen longirostris here. Both these species are as large as the Violet sabrewing.
5. Green-breasted mango (Anthracothorax prevostii); I have just a couple of sightings of this species, reported “rarely above 1000 m”, according to Garrigues; in addition, we are at the extreme eastern end of its reported range. The stripe down the throat makes identification fairly simple.
6. The final species is the White-necked jacobin (Florisuga mellivora), which I have seen here just twice, even though it is to be expected quite regularly up to 1000 m.
How about the other 9 species that I have seen in the Turrialba region? Well, six of them are mountain hummingbird species that can usually be seen on the Turrialba Volcano road, which, incidentally, is to be reopened on July 22nd 2011. These are: Fiery-throated hummingbird, Magnificent hummingbird, Green violet-ear, Purple-throated mountain-gem, Scintillant hummingbird and Volcano hummingbird. I have great difficulty separating Scintillant from Volcano because I never seem to get a good look at a male. A couple of these have also appeared with some regularity at a long rabo de gato hedge just up the hill in Santa Cruz.
The remaining three are the aforementioned Long-billed hermit and Violet-crowned woodnymph (already present at nearby San Rafael), plus the stunning Snowcap, the signature bird of the Rancho Naturalista over by Tuis. Stiles & Skutch claim that this latter species may wander up as high as 1400 m, so I live in hope.
Incredibly, if you check your Garrigues & Dean field guide, you’ll see that I ought to be able to expect at least another 19 species here in my area! And they aren’t even rarities. Where do they all hide?