Which species is the first migrant to arrive this year?

And the answer is: the Black-and-white warbler ((Mniotilta varia).  This species is a notoriously early starter, and so I was not too surprised that it was the first arrival from the north this year.  I was surprised, however, by the date, August 30.  Throughout September, migrants are few and far between here and this is the first migrant of any species that I have recorded in August.  It was a single bird in a solitary higuerón, less than 100 yards from the house.  The lovely photo below is from friend Karel Straatman‘s Costa Rican collection.

The Black-and-white warbler often prefers sturdier trunks and branches

The Black-and-white warbler often prefers sturdier trunks and branches

With its neat black and white stripes and its habit of creeping along branches rather than flitting around like other warblers, it’s an easy identification.  Theoretically the similarly plumaged Blackpoll warbler (Dendroica striata), also a northern migrant, is a possibility, but the latter is rated as very rare in Costa Rica and would not appear until mid-October in any case.

Among the migrant warblers that are easily found in our area, the next most likely candidates for arrival are Tennessee warbler, Chestnut-sided warbler, Wilson’s warbler and  Yellow warbler.  Others are, of course possible.  I have looked in vain for Barn swallows, which are sure to join the local Blue-and-white swallows soon, and the  Baltimore oriole should also soon be with us.

This week’s other highlights have been Violet-headed hummingbird (have I been overlooking this one?), Stripe-throated hermit, Green hermit,  Slaty spinetail and Squirrel cuckoo.  Hummingbirds continue to surprise. A scramble up a hillside to look down onto a stretch of bamboo yielded a great view of a perched female Violet-headed.  The crown is blue rather than violet, while the breast is grey and the bill slender and dark.  Only recently have I discovered this species in our area.  A Squirrel cuckoo in the same bamboo was an added delight.

The two hermits appear with reasonable frequency but they are really forest species, which means that I am always a little surprised to find them close to the house.  The Stripe-throated hermit, usually called Little hermit, contrasts with other hummers; its brown plumage and tiny size strike you immediately.  A closer look reveals the very decurved bill and the protruding white central tail feathers.  Yesterday’s bird was feeding from a common roadside plant with white flowers that I had previously discounted as an attraction for hummingbirds.  I’ll try to add a photo of the plant at a later date.

Finally, I am happy to report that the Slaty spinetail (again, only a very recent addition to my house list) seems to have taken up its abode in the tangle near the back balcony.  The Green hermit visited the exact same location on at least one occasion this week.

Here, to finish this post, is a great shot of a Squirrel cuckoo out in the open:

A full frontal of a Squirrel cuckoo, courtesy of Karel Straatma

A full frontal of a Squirrel cuckoo, courtesy of Karel Straatman


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