Slaty spinetail at the back porch

Slaty spinetail, courtesy of Richard Garrigues

Slaty spinetail, courtesy of Richard Garrigues

I’m still waiting for the first migrants of the year to arrive from North America.  Happily, however, there is still plenty of interesting activity, and Costa Rica can spring a surprise at any time. Yet another addition to my house list showed up this morning.  I really must pay closer attention to birding by ear.  In this modern age,  it’s relatively easy to take recordings into the field with you, or even to make your own recordings, for comparison purposes.  This is especially useful here in the tropics, where the thick vegetation means that you hear much more than you see.

Sitting on the back porch sipping coffee I heard what I thought was the churring sound of a wren from a thick tangle that used to be mostly a passion-flower vine.  I’ve heard it before on a few occasions, but this time I got a fairly good look at the culprit, the Slaty spinetail (Synallaxis brachyura): mostly dark grey and, yes, spiny tail.  I saw just a single bird, though this species is said to be paired throughout the year.

In April 2010 I helped to band one down at CATIE, but my photo of that moment is just too fuzzy to use. Instead, I must again thank Richard Garrigues for the use of his stock photo.  Richard’s photos,, are a great boon, and of course his field guide The Birds of Costa Rica (Garrigues & Dean) remains indispensable for bird watching in Costa Rica.  In this image, the slatiness is very apparent though unfortunately the woodcreeper-like tail is obscured.

This is the first Slaty spinetail I have seen up here in San Antonio, but neighbour and nature guide Jorge Fernandez has seen it here on several occasions.  It adds to the Red-faced spinetails that I saw fairly recently a little higher up on the outskirts of the village.  The behaviour of the Slaty spinetail is very different.  While the Red-faced flutters and scrambles acrobatically from limb to limb, allowing good views, the Slaty prefers to skulk in dark places.  I’m sure I’ll see it here again, now that I can safely identify its call.

The third Costa Rican spinetail, the Pale-breasted spinetail (Synallaxis albescens) still eludes me, but I will have to go to the central or southern Pacific coast to find it in its much more restricted range.

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