Blue-headed Parrots near Barbilla

Barbilla National Park (Parque Nacional Barbilla) is located in our province of Cartago, but the main access to the almost pristine and very beautiful site is via a 16-kilometer dirt road off the San José-Limón highway, traversed best in a 4-wheel drive vehicle. John Beer and I drove there early morning with high hopes of finding some interesting bird species in addition to enjoying the park’s splendid isolation. As it turned out, most of the interesting birds appeared on the road to the park while we were still in Limón Province. All photos are courtesy of John Beer.


View from the road to Barbilla at around 750 m elevation

We had driven uphill from the town of Siquirres, which is located at just 72 metres above sea level before we found the first species of interest, a Band-tailed Pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata) rather low down for its range:


White neck band and yellow bill distinguish the Band-tailed Pigeon, a bird of higher elevations

A fine drizzle was still falling when the flock of 9 Blue-headed Parrots (Pionus menstruus) appeared, perched in some bare trees at the roadside. One of them investigated and entered a hole in one of the trees, perhaps as preparation for nesting. According to Stiles / Skutch (A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica), this small parrot probably invaded the country from Panama in the 19th century and has since expanded its range.


Blue-headed Parrot, courtesy of John Beer

This was my first sighting of the Blue-headed Parrot in Costa Rica, and upon researching eBird’s recorded sightings I find that there is only one dubious record (from March, 2010, near Aquiares) for the Turrialba area and the province of Cartago. We were still short of the province border when we found this small flock, and on the return journey several hours later, and with lighting conditions still not ideal, just one individual was present:


Lone individual Blue-headed Parrot near Barbilla

This early-morning flock was accompanied by perhaps our best bird of the day, the only migrant woodpecker in Costa Rica, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), considered very uncommon by Garrigues & Dean (The Birds of Costa Rica). Rather unusually for Costa Rica, this was a male bird in almost full breeding plumage. The bird was up very high on the tree trunk and practically in the mist, and it was with great difficulty that John managed to get a recognisable photo:


Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on the way to Barbilla


Before reaching the national park, there is a small, mostly indigenous (Cabécar) community at Las Brisas de Pacuarito, with the indigenous Reserva Chirripó close by. Individual houses here have a large, thatched roof. The park headquarters, 2 kilometers further on and downhill, seems to receive few visitors, but the setting, with its large stretches of unbroken forest, is quite spectacular.


One view from park headquarters at Barbilla

This was my second visit here and the only path from the headquarters down to the Río Dantas was overgrown, with lots of secondary growth appearing where previously it had seemed to be pasture. The descent to the river was muddy and steep, through thick but mostly bird-less vegetation. The river bank, when reached, is truly beautiful, and we enjoyed a good rest and a snack after our exertions. From this point onward, a guide is necessary for those who wish to explore the immense forest.


The Río Dantas must be crossed to enter the Barbilla National Park proper

The only bird of real note here was a lone King Vulture high overhead, although this is a species that is not too hard to find in the Costa Rican lowlands on both coasts:



When in the lowlands, look up for the King Vulture

The climb back up to the park headquarters was more arduous than I remembered and I was soaked in sweat by the time we got there. I later wished I had bathed in the cool waters of the river. John took some nice shots of common species both on the way up and down.

Here’s one of the Bay Wrens (Cantorchilus nigricapillus) that scolded us along the path:


The powerful song of the Bay Wren is frequently heard. The white cheek patch and chestnut body help to identify it.

With no-one present at the headquarters, we made our way slowly back to Siquirres (see my most recent post). On the way were some final highlights. Here’s a very nice shot of the Southern Rough-winged Swallow (Steligdopteryx ruficollis),  a common species that ranges as far north as Nicaragua and Honduras:


Southern Rough-winged Swallow with clear view of its reddish throat

A final moment of excitement came courtesy of a perched White Hawk (Pseudastur albicollis), a large and impressive raptor that is actually fairly common in the Caribbean and Pacific lowlands.


White Hawk, on the road back from Barbilla to Siquirres

For the full list of species for the day, see the following links:

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