The first time I ever saw a hummingbird, I think my jaw dropped in amazement. This was in Dallas, Texas, sometime near the end of the seventies, when soul music lost its soul to disco. Seems like an eternity ago, but it opened a new era for me as my long-time interest in birds was re-awakened, leading me to a much-enhanced appreciation of natural beauty. Dallas had only two species of hummingbird, the Ruby-throated (Archilochus colubris) and, much less frequently, the Black-chinned (Archilochus alexandri), a western species that doesn’t occur in Costa Rica at all.
Yesterday I saw a Ruby-throated hummingbird for the first time in Costa Rica. The distribution map in Garrigues and Dean makes it look like it’s to be found everywhere, but in fact it seems to be only a winter resident in this country, common only in the northwestern Pacific. It features on none of our local bird lists here in the Turrialba area, and so I believe that the male I found is quite uncommon around here. Stiles & Skutch terms it a rare vagrant on the Caribbean side.
Neighbour Toby called to take us for a spin up to El Sapito, a tourist restaurant next to the Paraíso de Volcanes adventure park on the Pacayas road at around 1500 m. We wanted to see their beautiful gardens, set in a wide-open valley below the Turrialba Volcano, with their trout and koi ponds. I can recommend El Sapito for its lovely location as well as for its excellent food, but it has tourist prices to pay for its manicured condition. Friend Chalo also recommends the adjacent adventure park, though I am not particularly a fan of canopies and zip lines.
The hummer lay dead on the floor at the back entrance to the restaurant. Its little body was still warm with no sign of damage, but I was astonished to see that, despite the red throat (not glistening in this shot), it was not the Volcano hummingbird (Selasphorus flammula) found regularly at higher elevations here. The dark and heavily forked tail left no room for doubt.
I awoke this morning to the sound of toucans. A pair of these real beauties, Keel-billed toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus), was busy at the top of the higuerón on the bottom fence engaged in some not very beautiful behaviour: destroying a Kiskadee nest and a Social flycatcher nest in order to eat the eggs and/or chicks. I couldn’t get a clear view of the havoc they wreaked but they were being dive-bombed by at least five different flycatchers. They were unconcerned, of course.
Our resident flock of Gray-headed chachalacas (Ortalis cinereiceps) now have chicks that they have been feeding beak-to-beak down on the ground all this week.
Another garden regular at the moment is the Squirrel cuckoo (Piaya cayana) that seems to shuttle between the big guayabo and the thick vegetation along neighbour Juan’s fence-line. This beautiful bird is fairly common in Costa Rica at all but the very highest elevations.
The banana feeders have their usual patrons but a pair of White-lined tanagers (Tachyphonus rufus), the male all black and the female a charming light tan in colour, are now very regular visitors.
At night, the cries of the Common pauraque (Nyctidromus albicollis) and the endemic Bare-shanked screech-owl (Megascops clarkii) have now given way to the call of the Tropical screech-owl (Megascops choliba), but quite often all three can be heard at the same time.
March and April will bring now all kinds of possibilities as spring migration sets in. I hope to be able to get out into the field with a little more regularity. I am again indebted to Karel Straatman for his photographs, all taken in Costa Rica.