Two hours at Guayabo National Monument

Guayabo National Monument is the principal pre-Columbian site in Costa Rica.  It’s located in a forest remnant of considerable size at an elevation of about 1000 m, and if a bird checklist were to be maintained, it would surely include close to 300 species.  However,  if you just want to see birds, it’s not really necessary to pay the hefty fee to go into Guayabo National Monument itself because the access road itself offers interesting birding.  The road forms a steep uphill climb between Guayabo Abajo, which is the entry point if you’re coming directly from Turrialba, and Guayabo Arriba, which is already at an elevation of 1300 m.  Both villages, confusingly, go simply by the name of Guayabo. 

Guayabo landscape with giant cedro

Now that I’m mostly house-bound, it was a delight to escape to the Monument road for a couple of hours.  The landscape above the Monument is open pastureland with thin patches of forest.  The volcano slopes, thickly wooded, are high above, and, as you walk downhill, the steep cleft of the Rio Guayabo, hiding a series of cataracts and then the huge La Muralla waterfall, is over to the right.  

Rio Guayabo below La Muralla

There is no access to La Muralla from this side, but, to my surprise, a local dairy farmer explained to me that the cataracts above the waterfall are easily accessible from his property, over mostly level land moreover.  On another occasion, I hope to accept his offer to let me walk through and get my first view of the cataracts.

First bird of the morning (late morning) that I don’t often see at home was a Black-cheeked woodpecker (Melanerpes pucherani). 

Male black-cheeked woodpecker

Our area seems to have no truly dominant woodpecker species.  They appear only on occasions in San Antonio.  I suppose  Hoffmann’s woodpecker (Melanerpes hoffmannii) is the one I see most often.  It’s at the extreme eastern end of its Costa Rican range here, while the Black-cheeked is a Caribbean species that is found mostly in the lowlands.  A woodpecker that enjoys a similar range (but also on the Pacific side) is the Rufous-winged woodpecker (Piculus simplex), and this species and the very similar Golden-olive woodpecker (Piculus rubiginosus) make up the remainder of the species that I have seen in our immediate area.  On one occasion, I did receive a visit in the garden from the migratory Yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) so familar to North American birders. 

Another bird that caught my interest was the Plain xenops (Xenops minutus) that sat very close by and allowed close inspection.  It’s in the woodcreeper family but it doesn’t creep but picks at the bark and branches instead.  First impression might be that it’s a little flycatcher.  Anyway, any bird whose name begins with an x surely must rate attention, and I’m still anxious to see this little fellow on my home turf.  So far I have seen it twice here at the Monument and once down at CATIE during banding.  It is found as high as 1500 m and so I’ll continue to look for it in San Antonio.

Plain xenops – plain beautiful

As you approach the Monument, heavy forest begins to appear on the left in a ravine cut by a mountain stream that joins the Rio Guayabo further down, and then finally the pastures on the right give way to more patches of secondary forest.  A seemingly large buteo with a barred tail, perhaps a Broad-winged hawk (Buteo platypterus) flew away from me upslope, but I had virtually no bird activity until I got to the first sign announcing the Monument.

At this point, everything suddenly came alive and I actually never reached the Monument before it was time to catch a ride back home for lunch.  A close-up and sustained view of a male White-collared manakin (Manacus candei) was enough to make my day. 

Male White-collared manakin – a real beauty

This little guys zip around so rapidly that it’s often very hard to get a good look.  I could hear the wing-popping of the males, but often I’m unsure whether it’s really them or else perhaps some insect.  I have not seen any manakin species at home, although several species seem likely on the basis of the distribution maps in Garrigues & Dean .

Three separate Contupus flycatchers refused to give a call note that might permit identification; just one of them had the yellowish belly that would indicate the resident Tropical pewee (Contupus cinereus). 

Big-eyed Swainson’s thrush

My first Swainson’s thrush (Cathartus ustulatus) of the year was followed a few minutes later by a Mountain robin (Turdus plebejus) that had found its way down to below its normal elevation.  It looks exactly like the omnipresent Clay-coloured robin, Costa Rica’s national bird, but it’s grey instead of brown and has a dark bill.   I have yet to see the Pale-vented thrush (Turdus obsoletus), which supposedly should be in the area.  Investigate all robins! 

.Warblers were plentiful and I had lots of fun picking them out, even though no unusual species appeared.  Chestnut-sided warblers (Dendroica pensylvanica) outnumbered the others.  This little bird is quite easy to identify, even though most of them don’t have the chestnut flanks, because it keeps its tail cocked high as it flits around. 

Chestnut-sided warbler with intermediate plumage

The other species I found today were the beautiful resident Tropical parula (Parula pitiayumi), the Tennessee warbler and the Black-and-white warbler.  The parula’s wing-bar, so prominent in the guides, is either absent or hard to see, and my first impression is always of a bi-coloured bird, solid dark blue above and orangish yellow below.

Three vireos were common: Red-eyed vireo, Yellow-throated vireo and Lesser greenlet (Hylophilus decurtatus). 

Lesser greenlet finally stands still, photo courtesy of Larry H. Thompson

I rarely see the latter species and so was very happy to get good looks at a small group of these gregarious little acrobats.  I don’t think they’ll present an identification problem any more.  The white throat and breast and, in particular, the prominent eye-ring exclude other candidates.  I think you’ll almost always see several birds together at a time.

Male Bay-headed tanager

My happy day was completed by nice looks at several Silver-throated tanagers (Tangara icterocephala) and a very cooperative female or immature Bay-headed tanager (Tangara gyrola).  The former, strikingly beautiful when the throat glistens in the sun, is quite common in the area, but I have yet to see the Bay-headed tanager actually in San Antonio.  It never seems to enter the count circle.  Grrr!  Do I really have a count circle?

Well, it was two hours very well spent, and I include here only the highlights.

2 thoughts on “Two hours at Guayabo National Monument

    • Hi Wilma, thank you for your comment. Some of these birds are gradually getting closer to my patch. I picked up another couple of species this week. I wish, however, that I could take photos like the ones you have on your South Englishtown blog. I really enjoyed the bird photos, of course, and yes, it is a female Indigo bunting in non-breeding plumage with the fine streaks on the breast. I finally saw Indigo buntings here in Costa Rica over at San Ramon last spring, but they have yet to appear here in San Antonio.


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