White-eared ground-sparrow

Cuatro Ojos - Four Eyes!

It’s been a good week for birdies despite the almost constant rain, and a couple of days ago my constant roaming through the garden was rewarded by a good view of a White-eared ground-sparrow (Melozone leucotis).  It’s a first for my San Antonio house list and has not been recorded, so far as I know, down at CATIE.  Its Costa Rican range is quite restricted, and Turrialba is at the extreme eastern end of that range, so I count myself lucky to find it here in my garden. When you get a good look, you can understand how it got its most common Spanish name – Cuatro Ojos – Four Eyes!  Stiles & Skutch say that the White-eared ground-sparrow  is paired all year but I only spotted one bird, and so far it hasn’t reappeared.  It was hiding out in thick foliage right by our entrance gate, but I wouldn’t have found it if it hadn’t been for the constant buzzing of one of our resident Plain wrens (Thryothorus modestus) , who clearly didn’t like the intrusion into his territory.

Our not-so Plain wren

Four Eyes seemed alarmed by the wren’s ruckus and hopped frequently into view in thick tangles about a foot above the ground, constantly turning his head sharply to left and right. Since this ground-sparrow is a fairly common species within its range, I have seen it before (chiefly in San Ramón), but an addition to the house list is just as good as a life bird to me.  My recent illness has stopped me going very far afield, but I’ve enjoyed getting regular looks at my residents and at the now steady flow of migrants.  Late October is decidedly better than late September and has brought repeated visits from some resident birds that I rarely see here, such as Streak-headed woodcreeper (Lepidocolaptes souleyetii) and the Green hermit (Phaethornis guy).  Of course, I could easily be wrong about the woodcreeper, since the Spot-crowned (Lepidocolaptes affinis) is so similar and is a distinct possibility here.  In my first two years here, I used to see this bird (or perhaps these birds!) much more regularly, but more than a dozen very tall and dying cypresses were then cut down. The Green hermit, on the other hand, is showing up more and more frequently.  Here’s one peeking out of a nest in a nice shot, courtesy again of Karel Straatman.

Green hermit on its nest

This week’s Green hermits, a pair of males having a confrontation in the shade of our higuerón, were easy to identify with their long decurved bills and white central tail feathers.  I think that the increased vegetation in my garden has begun to attract them more, since they are basically a forest species.    Current migrants are all pretty common: Red-eyed vireo, Chestnut-sided warbler, Wilson’s warbler (many individuals), Yellow warbler, Black-and-white warbler and Tennessee warbler.  Large numbers of Red-billed pigeons are conspicuous, with one flock today of more than 25 birds.  Cattle egrets have now returned in numbers, after a couple of months of almost complete absence, but I still look in vain at large white birds hoping for the White-tailed kite that I saw up at Santa Cruz.  It would be species 142 for San Antonio!  Keel-billed toucans are here now every day, and for a full week a small flock of Crimson-fronted parakeets has hung around the tops of the eucalyptuses. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

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