The Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias) remains high on the list of wanted species for most birders visiting Costa Rica. Although it can be found on almost any of the rocky highland streams in our area, this bird is an expert in camouflage and is not at all easy to find. I have seen it even in the very centre of Turrialba, yet you can never guarantee a sighting.
The most regular spot close to my home is less than 10 minutes’ walk away, but for many months now I have failed to locate it there, at don Martin’s lot on Quebrada La Loca. I tried again yesterday, when don Martin gave me his usual cheerful greeting and again said, no, neither the Sunbittern nor the Fasciated Tiger-heron had reappeared in recent weeks or months.
The small forest patch above the stream is now much less dense after the heavy rains caused so many trees to fall, while the river itself is wider and even more scenic than before. To my surprise, an adult Fasciated Tiger-heron, very wary of my presence, flew off from the first stretch of the river to hide in the wooded bend where the Sunbitterns often hang out. The grainy photograph below is from December, 2014, taken at the same spot. It probably shows the same individual bird, although a juvenile was also present last year.
The Sunbitterns appeared just as don Martin arrived to join me. They gradually approached each other and engaged in what looked like courtship behaviour, with much opening of the bills and mournful whistles, displaying the orange mouth linings. It seems I’ll need to start visiting that location with more regularity again. Many thanks to Karel Straatman for his beautiful photo of this species, taken here in Costa Rica.