Remarkable week for new species at San Antonio

Big surprise: A male White-crested coquette

Mid-August is hardly notorious for bird sightings here in Costa Rica, but this week saw the surprise appearance locally of four species, including one life bird for me.  Local tour guide Jorge Fernández invited me to his house lower down on the Río Guayabito at the bottom of the village.  Jorge has made a very attractive oasis for wildlife of many kinds at his small, but wonderfully traditional Tico house, modelled, as he told me, on the chacra first established by Spanish colonialists.  With more than a hundred different species of plants in a very small area backing on to the river, Jorge’s house offers a haven for local bird species that enjoy the natural corridor that he has created.

Jorge is a most knowledgeable person in all things Tico, but particularly as regards the natural world, its plants, birds and animals.  A very brief excursion to La Ermita,  a Catholic sanctuary located just a few hundred metres uphill from the house, produced a species that even Jorge, with his many years of residence here, had never before heard or seen in San Antonio, the White-breasted wood-wren (Henicorhina leucosticta). 

This one fell into the nets down at CATIE

He knows the species well from other localities and identified it immediately from its song.  I had seen a possible wood-wren at my house in January 2011, but had tentatively identified it as the Gray-breasted wood-wren (Henicorhina leucophrys), the highland equivalent of the White-breasted, but I must now have second thoughts since Jorge has never found it here.

The sanctuary is just that, in both the religious and the natural sense, being a small patch of cool and shady forest environment with a madonna statue enshrined next to a trickling water source.  I had never suspected its existence, even after four years of living here.  The White-eared Ground-sparrow, called cuatro ojos (four eyes) by the locals, also seems to be at home there.  I have only seen this pretty sparrow once at my house.  We stayed only briefly, so La Ermita remains to be explored much further.

Surprise number two was a White-tailed kite (Elanus leucurus) soaring overhead as we left the grove.  I have long expected this species here but this was my first record in the village.

Back home the very next day, a tiny hummer appeared in the top of the big guayabo behind my back porch.  I have seen tiny hummers with rufous in the tail here before but never managed to get a good look.  The white band across the lower back immediately narrowed the field, but the touch of white on the head made it very surely a White-crested coquette (Lophornis adorabilis).  I really hope that there is no mistake here, because I have never seen a coquette of any species before in my life.  My view was not much more than a glimpse but other species would seem to be impossible.  I claim a life bird on my own home patch!

The surprises here are endless.  Neighbour Wiet called later the same day from San Rafael to invite me to eat with visitor Bill Fontana from Colorado.  Wiet has a lovely little house with a tremendous view down towards Turrialba and a row of hummingbird feeders that have attracted as many as ten White-necked jacobins at a time.  Our late afternoon meal, beautifully prepared by Wiet herself, was topped off by the appearance at one of the feeders of a very large, long- and straight-billed, all- dark hummer that I must call a Magnificent hummingbird (Eugenes fulgens).  Bill almost got a photo.  This bird is common up high on the volcano slope but is surely a rarity here.  I have to exclude all other large hummers, which have curved bills, with the possible exception of the Green-crowned brilliant (Heliodoxa jacula), with which I am quite unfamiliar.  Light conditions at that hour made it impossible to distinguish plumage colour, even at close range, except for the post-ocular spot.  This was not a stripe and thus makes the bird a male, if it is in fact a Magnificent hummingbird and not the Green-crowned brilliant.  The altitude distribution worries me because the Magnificent is rarely found so low, but…. birds have wings.

The Magnificent hummingbird is called Rivoli’s hummingbird further north

So I get two new hummers in one day, from different ends of the size scale.  Happily, there still remain many other hummingbird species that can wandeer into my garden any day.

Two footnotes on recent sightings here:  a Squirrel cuckoo also appeared in my garden today, not a common visitor, while Wiet reported from San Rafael, just below her house, the Gray-necked wood-rail, a species that ought to be not too hard to find in San Antonio but which I have not been able to find so far.  I strongly suspect that the very loud cackling call I hear with some frequency and always at night is this species.  Here are a couple of nice shots of both these relatively common species.

What’s more beautiful than a squirrel? Answer: A Squirrel cuckoo

Gray-necked wood-rail, actually two of them!

Final note for this week is Jorge’s report of a possible Zone-tailed hawk (Buteo albonotatus) over the village.

Here’s what one would look like, doing what it usually does:

Zone-tailed hawk covering his zone

What a week!

Many thanks again to Karel for his invaluable photos, but also to Richard Garrigues for the fine photo of the White-crested coquette.

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