With migration well under way and the prospect of the imminent arrival of northern warblers, vireos, orioles, etc., today’s highlight came as something of a surprise, the first time, to my knowledge, that a Long-billed Starthroat (Heliomaster longirostris) has been recorded in our village of San Antonio. This is a medium-sized hummingbird with an outsize bill, long and straight. It has a white malar stripe contrasting with its dark throat (red if seen in good light) and a small white spot behind the eye. Since the similarly long-billed Magnificent Hummingbird (Eugenes fulgens) has also shown up in San Antonio recently, I had to be careful to note the outlined throat patch on the Starthroat.
This species is considered rare both in the Caribbean and at the eastern end of the Central Valley. Turrialba is the switching point from the eastern Central Valley to the Caribbean, and until just recently I had seen this species just once in what I consider to be my local area. That was a sighting in August 2012 just 2 km away, but 300 metres lower, at the cabins of San Diego. On that occasion, as today, the bird was feeding on the red flowers of the poró tree.
The Starthroat is not easy to find around here, not even after a lengthy drive. There have been a few sightings in recent years at the prime location for visiting birders, Rancho Naturalista, near Tuis, just east of Turrialba and still well inside Cartago Province. This is to be expected just because of the sheer numbers of visitors led by experienced guides. Similarly, considerably west of Turrialba and not too far from the city of Cartago itself, is the birding hub that centers on Tapanti National Park, Ujarrás and the Orosi Valley. Again, this area benefits from the regular work of top-class bird guides. Nonetheless, most of the sightings there have been quite recent, and this year, 2016, there have been several sightings of Long-billed Starthroat at Ujarrás. From CATIE in Turrialba, but in addition from Santa Rosa and Aquiares, John and Milena Beer also report very recent sightings. John’s photo from Santa Rosa above also shows the sizeable white wing patch that seems often to be present but that is featured only marginally in the field guides.
In further news, as of this update the same individual Starthroat is still at the same location, guarding a poró tree. A different individual, without the conspicuous white wing patch, has now also appeared in the San Antonio churchyard directly opposite my house.
There is another similar species, the Plain-capped Starthroat (Heliomaster constantii), but its range is restricted mostly to the Pacific northwest and the very western end of the Central Valley. It is also found, though rarely, in the southern Pacific mountain valleys and is distinguished by its white post-ocular stripe.
In other news from San Antonio: the first Baltimore Orioles and Chestnut-sided Warblers, two of our most abundant northern migrants, are now here. The plumage of the warbler in the photo above is frequently seen here in Costa Rica, with some chestnut appearing on the flanks.
The first Mourning Warbler has joined the Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrushes and Slaty Spinetails in the low underbrush of the garden. Tropical Parulas continue to be the commonest resident warbler species, and Tropical Pewees are still to be found close to their nesting site in the nearby churchyard. Chestnut-headed Oropendolas have recently returned to mingle with the daily flock of Montezuma Oropendolas, and both the Yellow-crowned Euphonia and the Streak-headed Woodcreeper can be heard almost every day. This has not always been the case. Also appearing and making noise fairly regularly is the recently split and renamed Russet-naped Wood-Rail, while the Tropical Screech-Owl‘s bubbly call can be heard nightly.