Scarlet-thighed dacnis on a sunny day

My latest life bird, the cute little Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant, photo by Karel Straatman

My latest life bird, the cute little Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant, photo by Karel Straatman

It could be a coincidence, I suppose.  Today was our first sunny day in ages, after a week of torrential rain during which one of my two giant higuerón trees fell.  Only today has the sodden ground had a real chance to dry out.  I took advantage of the dry spell to venture down to San Diego to do some bird watching and to give Chalo a hand with his fruit trees and vegetables.

The first stretch between don Melo’s and the rabo de gato hedge at Carlo Luis’s house is almost never productive, but today’s sunshine seems to have brought the songbirds back out.  These included a life bird for me and a new sighting for my home patch of San Antonio. Villa Spoonky is  the quirky name of a neighbour’s house at the top of the first hill.  It’s a quiet spot with a big forest patch on one side and a cypress grove a little further on, but I rarely see anything of interest there.  This time there was lots of movement on both sides of the path from a pretty little Tropical parula (Parula pitiayumi), a family of Tropical gnatcatchers (Polyoptila plumbea) and several Social flycatchers (Myiozetetes similis).  All of these are fairly easy to find throughout the year.

The parula is one of several resident warblers, but the first northern migrants do not normally show up until late September.  Theoretically, Yellow, Blackburnian, Prothonotary and Black-and-white warblers can arrive in August, so you do have to be on the look-out.  As usual, this parula showed no sign of the wing patch that appears in the illustrations in the guides, and none of the gnatcatchers had the black nape of the male.  I always assume that there are no White-lored flycatchers (Polyoptila albiloris) here, since it is a northwestern Pacific species and would be well out of place here.

Today’s gnatcatchers looked like this; photo by kind courtesy of David Cook and flickr’s Creative Commons

Oh what fun to see the little gnatcatchers zip around with their tails all cocked cheekily in the air.  A Masked tityra (Tityra semifasciata) then flew in, while a Black-striped sparrow (Arremonops conirostris) began its lengthy song from some hidden perch, starting with short, sweet notes and then winding up with ever-increasing pace to last around 15 seconds each time.  Best of all, however, was a pair of Scarlet-thighed dacnis (Dacnis venusta) flitting about on both sides of the path.  This is not a rare bird but I have not seen it before in San Antonio, even though we should be well within its range.  It’s really a small tanager, so it’s a fruit-eater. The male is quite stunning with his combination of  blue (electric blue, says Garrigues very aptly) and black, but the female shows more muted tones of green above and buff below.  The short bill rules out honeycreepers, which I have not, in any case, found in San Antonio yet.  The photo below is from friend Karel Straatman’s extensive collection.

The scarlet leggings are not always in view

The scarlet leggings are not always in view

After a good half-hour here peering at this lot, Chalo came by in his recently fixed car and we drove on to his cabin at San Diego.  The rabo de gato at Carlos Luis’s house again had a male Green thorntail (Discosura conversii), perhaps the same individual that I posted a little while back as a new species for me.  It was new to Chalo also.

The routine at Chalo’s begins with a walk along the forest edge below his cabin to do a bit of birding and to look for Napoleon the sloth. He wasn’t in sight this time but the trees were full of movement and calls that I couldn’t recognise.  Considerable craning of the neck allowed me to spot the handsome and resident Rufous-capped warbler (Basileuterus rufifrons) but also a small flycatcher that I have not identified before, the Scale-crested pygmy-tyrant (Lophotriccus pileatus).  Staring upwards I was not able to get a good look at the crest, which mostly seems to give a flat appearance to the head because it was not raised.  There were several individuals and the call note is quite strident.  Plain xenops (Xenops minutus) in the same tree was an added bonus, but I failed to get a good look at the breast, which, if striped, would be the Streaked xenops (Xenops rutilans) and another life-bird!  Ah well, that one lives, if that’s the right word,  for another day.

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