El Alto de Adán – Emerald toucanets galore

Don Alfonso's cabin at El Alto

Don Alfonso’s cabin at El Alto

El Alto de Adán is a high spot looking down over the San Antonio valley.  There is just one house, plus don Alfonso’s cabin, where I’m staying.  It’s still considered part of San Antonio, rather than Guayabo Arriba, and so sightings here make my San Antonio List!  My stay in the cabin here, complete with cooking on a wood-burning stove, is extremely pleasant, with warm, sunny days and cool, quiet nights.

Emerald toucanet CR (17)Web

The Emerald toucanet seems to be everywhere here.

Signature bird here seems to be the Emerald toucanet (Aulacorhyncus prasinus), and there are many blackberry bushes, which seem to be one of its favorite food sources.  In six years in San Antonio, I have seen this species only a handful of times, so it is quite a surprise to find so many here so close to home.  Flocks of Crimson-fronted parakeets and White-crowned parrots stop by regularly, at the moment particularly in a large fruiting níspero.  At home, they are usually just fly-bys.  Three species of hummingbird have appeared so far: Violet sabrewing (Campylopterus hemileucurus), Green hermit (Phaethornis guy) and Rufous-tailed hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl), but the latter is nowhere near as common here as at home.  

Violet sabrewing, the largest Costa Rican hummingbird

Violet sabrewing, the largest Costa Rican hummingbird

The Green hermit is of similar size because of the central tail feathers

The Green hermit is of similar size because of the central tail feathers

The Rufous-tailed is the most likely species if you have just arrived in Costa Rica

The Rufous-tailed is the most likely species if you have just arrived in Costa Rica


On the path to the highest point above the cabin, there is a Turkey vulture nest at the root of a guarumu tree.  Locals report seeing white fluffy chicks last year, but so far this year only the adult birds are to be seen, presumably still incubating.

The first real surprise at El Alto was a pair of Red-headed barbets (Eubucco bourcierii), flitting inconspicuously among fairly thick vegetation.  The male is strikingly handsome and impossible to confuse with anything else.  By coincidence, I found another male a few days ago at Torito, a little higher up.  The photo is courtesy of Richard Garrigues and includes the Silver-throated tanager (Tangara icterocephala) , which is hard to miss at El Alto.

Male Red-headed barbet with accompanying Silver-throated tanagers

Male Red-headed barbet with accompanying Silver-throated tanagers

I had seen this bird only once before.

The Red-faced spinetail (Cranioleuca erythrops) was quite a surprise, yet another life bird in San Antonio!  The rufous on face, tail and shoulders make this a very handsome bird, though its acrobatic movement makes it hard to get in focus for any length of time.

Red-faced spinetail

Red-faced spinetail

I am trying to reach Jorge Chinchilla to obtain use of this excellent photo of this species, taken in Costa Rica at Lands of Love, near San Ramón.  I will withdraw the photo if I have no luck in the next few days.

Comparing with my home lower down (1288 m, as opposed to 1400 at El Alto), the following species are much more common here:

Bright-rumped attila, Dusky flycatcher, Emerald toucanet, Gray-crowned yellowthroat, Silver-throated tanager, Common bush-tanager.

On the other hand, I had difficulty finding any saltator other than the Buff-throated, and I have not yet seen  Great-tailed grackle, Yellow-bellied elaenia, Social flycatcher, Gray-capped flycatcher or Palm tanager!

Here is the full list, after a week of sporadic bird-watching:

  1. Gray-headed chachalaca
  2. Cattle egret
  3. Black vulture
  4. Turkey vulture (with nest)
  5. Roadside hawk
  6. Red-billed pigeon
  7. White-tipped dove
  8. Crimson-fronted parakeet
  9. White-crowned parrot
  10. Bare-shanked screech-owl
  11. Common pauraque
  12. White-collared swift
  13. Green hermit
  14. Violet sabrewing
  15. Rufous-tailed hummingbird
  16. Blue-crowned motmot
  17. Red-headed barbet
  18. Emerald toucanet
  19. Keel-billed toucan
  20. Hoffmann’s woodpecker
  21. Golden-olive woodpecker
  22. Red-faced spinetail
  23. Streak-headed woodcreeper
  24. Piratic flycatcher
  25. Common tody-flycatcher
  26. Bright-rumped attila
  27. Dusky flycatcher
  28. Great kiskadee
  29. Tropical kingbird
  30. Masked tityra
  31. Brown jay
  32. Blue-and-white swallow
  33. Plain wren
  34. House wren
  35. White-breasted wood-wren
  36. Clay-colored robin
  37. Tennessee warbler
  38. Tropical parula
  39. Chestnut-sided warbler
  40. Black-throated green warbler
  41. Wilson’s warbler
  42. Gray-crowned yellowthroat
  43. Common bush-tanager
  44. Summer tanager
  45. Passerini’s tanager
  46. Golden-hooded tanager
  47. Silver-throated tanager
  48. Blue-gray tanager
  49. Variable seedeater
  50. Yellow-faced grassquit
  51. Black-striped sparrow
  52. Rufous-collared sparrow
  53. Buff-throated saltator
  54. Black-headed saltator
  55. Melodious blackbird
  56. Montezuma oropendola

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