Migration brings new species to San Antonio

September 1 marks a new start in more than one way.  It marks the first migrant of the season here in San Antonio and also marks a new beginning for me after a harrowing couple of months of illness.

What joy yesterday to see a flash of yellow by the small pond and find a male Prothonotary warbler (Protonotaria citrea) flitting through the nearest guayabo.  Since my return home from hospital in mid-August, I had been on the look-out for the first migrant of the season and fully expected a Yellow warbler to be the first arrival.  What a lovely surprise to find this stunning male Prothonotary, a species I had so far not seen here in San Antonio.  Garrigues and Dean’s field guide indicates that it can arrive by mid-August and is found up to 1500 m, but it is more usual in the lowlands and close to water.  Its golden head, relatively long (for a warbler) pointed bill and the darker wings identify it fairly easily.  It puts my San Antonio house list at a respectable 139 species, and for a change we beat CATIE to the punch because they haven’t banded or seen a migrant yet this season.

Male Prothonotary captured and banded at CATIE, photo courtesy of Allan Beer

I suppose I was lucky that the months I missed through illness were July (all of it) and August (first part), because these are the most unproductive months for birdwatching here in Costa Rica.  Here’s a summary of what I notice after my absence:

1.  Young fledged birds of several common species are quite conspicuous, in particular Yellow-bellied elaenia, Passerini’s tanager and Palm tanager.   

2.  A pair of White-lined tanagers  (Tachyphonus rufus) is feeding two young Bronzed cowbirds (Molothrus aeneus), both larger than their ‘parents’.  I do not see cowbirds with much frequency here at home, and I briefly considered whether these might be the Shiny cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis) that is making incursions in the southern Caribbean.  The dark eye and lack of conspicuous ruff may also, however, be features of juvenile aeneus, I understand.

Male White-lined tanager at CATIE

3.  The fruit of the guayabo trees is falling everywhere, making natural food readily available and causing general scorn for the bananas on my feeders.  It also brings large numbers of butterflies, including the famously beautiful blue morpho.  Neighbour Marta Zúñiga made me a delicious jalea prepared from the guayaba fruit.

4.  Several common species are noticeably scarce: Cattle egret, Buff-throated saltator, Montezuma oropendola.  Is this a consequence of post-nesting or of the relative absence of heavy rain?  The Turrialba volcano is in full view and spouting steam for many hours each day.

5.  Neighbour, Wiet, just a couple of kilometers away in San Rafael now regularly has White-necked jacobin (Florisuga mellivora) and Green-breasted mango (Anthracothorax prevostii) at her hummingbird feeder, and this week she also reported a female Scarlet-thighed dacnis (Dacnis venusta)  that got into her house.  The latter species would be new here in San Antonio, despite the indications in the bird guides that I should get it regularly.

6.  Finally, Jorge Fernandez, experienced naturalist, guide and San Antonio resident, still has Slaty spinetails (Synallaxis brachyura) at his house just down the hill.  This would be another species for my San Antonio list if only it would stop hiding from me.


10 thoughts on “Migration brings new species to San Antonio

  1. Like you, I was watching a tiny little chipping sparrow feeding a monstrous, by comparison, cowbird juvie that was perfectly capable of feeding itself, especially since it was standing in the seed on table feeder.

    Hope you have recovered from your illness with no lingering symptoms.



    • Hi Wilma,

      Both cowbirds and tanagers now seem to have disappeared. I’m still looking for a Giant cowbird being fed by a Montezuma oropendola. In this case, the oropendola is bigger than the cowbird, no matter how Giant it may be! I had one last year, but no luck this year.

      Thank you for your comment,

      Best wishes,



  2. My name is Skeeter and I am looking for information on owls of San Antonio. A week ago my husband observed a large bird leave our 50 year old Pecan Tree in the back yard. He thought it was an owl but only got a brief look as it flew away. Today my husband and adult son were in the same tree when an owl with a wing span of 5 – 6 feet left our tree again. I’m trying to find information on species and diet because we have three small dogs weighing 6 to 15 pounds and would like to know if they are in danger. I thought the owl was brown speckled and my son thought it was gray speckled.

    Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thank you, Skeeter


    • Hi Skeeter!

      I don’t know how you found my blog, but I’m in San Antonio de Santa Cruz de Turrialba in Costa Rica! I think you’re referring to San Antonio, Texas, which I used to know quite well. The owl you’re talking about can only be a Great horned owl. It’s the only owl large enough for your description in your area. Your dogs should be quite safe, however!


  3. Hi Paul!
    I was looking for pictures of flying birds, of the species that are in my garden, came accidental over a picture where I recognized Alexandra and so I found your blog!
    Every morning between 5 and 7 a group of cattle egrets fly over my cabin but seem not to make it to San Antonio then.
    I love your blog and am glad to have found it.
    PS Did you say the black and white warbler I had in my hand the same day as I saw the dacnis, is a migrant? Where does it come from?


    • Hi Wiet,

      Yes, the Black-and-white warbler is a migrant from North America, mostly the eastern US but also up far north into central Canada. Migration is still slow here, but I now have Yellow warbler and Blackburnian warbler here in San Antonio. Keep your eyes peeled!



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