Migrating Cliff Swallows and a Woodcreeper Nest

The Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) is a passage migrant in Costa Rica, which means that it normally can be seen here only in migration. Until this week I had not been able to identify the species here in my local area, and I suppose I am still not 100% certain even now, since the birds, hundreds of them, were flying quite high. I’m hoping that the square tail excludes most other likely species.

I took a quick trip up to El Alto de Adán (aka El Alto de los Castillos) yesterday afternoon. The idea was to see the Emerald Toucanets that are so common up there. A brief chat with friends and neighbours confirmed that they are still being frequently seen and I climbed the hill to Alfonso’s cabin, where I once stayed for a few weeks, confident that the currés would be there. After all, it was approaching the magical hour of 4:00 pm.

What a beauty!

What a beauty!


No luck at all, so here’s a great pic from Karel Straatman’s collection of Costa Rican bird photographs.  A good 40 minutes of patience at El Alto yielded only a single bird, a House Wren. I trudged back downslope and finally found a Paltry Tyrannulet and a migrant, a Yellow-throated Vireo, at a spot on the hill where I had previously found Red-headed Barbets and Red-faced Spinetails.

Fortunately, before calling it a day I decided to stop at the very end of the afternoon at Jan and Yaneth’s cabin property alongside Quebrada La Loca about a ten-minute walk above our house. The stream runs parallel to the house and is very narrow, though confined (except in storms) to a deep ravine. The place looks ideal in many respects, and it is true that the Sunbittern is often to be found there. On most days, however, a find very few birds there. This day was different.

First up was a Stripe-throated Hermit, visiting flowers on ravine bank. As soon as he disappeared, up popped a Streak-headed Woodcreeper and came so close that I could actually distinguish the stripes on the head, thus discounting the almost identical Spot-crowned Woodcreeper. The bird then disappeared into a hole in a eucalyptus trunk, about 18 feet off the ground. Yes, it’s nesting there. This is our resident species in San Antonio but, unless you get a really close view, you have to hear the call to be sure that it’s the Streak-headed.

I watched the bird leave and return several times until I happened to glance upwards and saw a huge stream of swallows passing overhead, seemingly heading for the Caribbean Coast. I have discussed our local swallows in an earlier post, and these migrants were not any of our local species. It took a long while for all the birds to pass (there must have been in excess of 500) and, although none flew low, I was able to be reasonably sure that they were Cliff Swallows. No big deal, I suppose, since this is a very common, even abundant species in many places. Here, however, they were not yet on my local list. As far as I could tell, no other species were present, though I have noted several migrant Barn Swallows recently. These are relatively easy to identify, even in silhouette, because of the very forked tail. They also tend to fly low, even in migration.

After the swallows disappeared, it was surely tea time, but I was still in for a treat at the little entrance bridge to the property, where a beautiful Bay Wren sang and scolded for a full fifteen minutes just ten paces from me.

Photos to be added.

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