Male Yellow-bellied sapsucker at Quebrada La Loca


Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker


The Yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) is the only migrant woodpecker in Costa Rica and moreover is rated by the literature as very uncommon. In addition, sightings of the adult male are very rare. So it is with glee that I claim January 30th’s sighting of a male, possibly accompanied by another bird, just above the quebrada. I will definitely file this under Rare Birds.  It was a great day with lots of activity after the heavy rains, and I spent a happy hour (no beer, however) sitting under don Martín’s manzana de agua tree without even having to move around.

To add to a possible confusion among all the birds, a calling Black-cheeked woodpecker (Melanerpes pucherani) was also present, but the sapsucker is not to be mistaken, with its white wing-patch. The sapsucker was a beauty with its red crown and throat and yellowish white below the black on the breast. I think this is my third sighting in almost 8 years, with the previous ones being immatures or females. Many thanks to Patrick Coin for the use of his fine photo of a male, taken in North Carolina. I can find no photograph of a male in Costa Rica.

The commonest woodpecker in this area is actually the Golden-olive, since the Black-cheeked generally prefers lower elevations. However, there were recently as many as five individuals of the latter species feeding on the banana piles that neighbour Carlos maintains for his cows. I don’t think I have ever seen so many woodpeckers all at once.

This visit to the quebrada was also notable because our two Fasciated tiger-herons (Tigrisoma fasciatum), one adult and one sub-adult, were both fishing on the river. The adult was very wary, and despite my very discreet approach it spotted me as I tried to hide behind a tree and flew off downstream. It was only minutes later when I literally bumped into the immature. Instead of flying away, he (or she) decided to sit quietly and give me a 5-minute close-up observation.

Possible confusion with other species was not really possible, because the adult was so very dark in comparison with the Bare-throated tiger-heron, and the sub-adult was already so heavily barred as to preclude confusion with the immature Rufescent tiger-heron. The sub-adult allowed such close scrutiny that I was able to see all the details of plumage noted in the field guides, including the white feathers going right up to the base of the bill. It eventually flew off upstream but seemed not particularly alarmed.

These are without doubt the same two individuals that have appeared in my earlier posts. The species seems to be extending its range into higher elevations, since Garrigues and Dean still list its upper limit at 900 m and the quebrada here is at around 1250 m.

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