An afternoon jaunt up the Turrialba Volcano road failed to produce any Resplendent Quetzals, but I spent three wonderful hours in the high country right on the edge of the cloud forest of the Turrialba Volcano National Park. You don’t find huge numbers of birds and species here, but whatever you do find tends to be very special. Such was the case today when I found one of the most imaginatively named birds in Costa Rica at Monte Calas, the Buffy Tuftedcheek (Pseudocolaptes lawrencii).
Its Spanish name hits the nail right on the head: el Trepamusgo Cachetón, the Fat-cheeked Moss-creeper! Actually, the cheeks are more puffy than buffy and stand out, the colour of cream, in the gloom of its habitat, where it rummages among bromeliads. You can detect its presence easily from the racket it makes while it throws out leaves and debris from the epiphytes. It seems to prefer drier and perhaps dying plants, so that it makes constant scratching noises. Two major threats were dismissed as I drove up the Volcano Road. First, it turns out that the road is actually open again, and second, despite fog and rain below, it was clear with good visibility above.
First nice birds were a family of Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatchers (Phainoptila melanoxantha) Two youngsters sat patiently while the parents brought them food at a low perch at the roadside, just after the La Fuente turn-off. Shortly before Monte Calas a lone Yellow-thighed Finch (Pselliophorus tibialis) hopped right up next to me with his yellow underpants in full view. Karel Straatman’s photo from an earlier year gives you exactly the right idea.
There were many hummingbirds. Most seemed to be Fiery-throated, but I did find at least one female Volcano Hummingbird at this location, two kilometers from the crater. The commonest bird in this area seems always to be the Sooty Thrush, replacing the national bird, the Clay-colored Thrush, which is less numerous at higher elevations.
Here are the 13 species that I found:
- Band-tailed pigeon
- Fiery-throated hummingbird
- Volcano hummingbird
- Tufted buffycheek
- Black-billed nightingale-thrush
- Sooty thrush
- Clay-colored thrush
- Black-and-yellow silky-flycatcher
- Slate-throated redstart
- Slaty flowerpiercer
- Yellow-thighed finch
- Rufous-collared sparrow
- Sooty-capped chlorospingus
A further discovery I made, after consulting local farmers, is that the dirt road from La Fuente communicates with Las Virtudes and then with Santa Cruz. This will make an excellent walk that can be easily completed in half a day since it is mostly downhill. It is not clear whether a 2-wheel drive vehicle would make it. Maybe I should give it a try.