Balalaica – new location with at least 3 species of trogon

Steven and Walter Aguilar of Pavones invited me to see a new birding location that bears the rather unexpected name of Balalaica, situated between the villages of Pavones and Pacayitas. How did a Russian musical instrument give its name to this place?

Part of the site has restricted access, permission for which must be obtained in advance from a local land-owner, but it is well worth the trouble because of the dense forest that covers some parts of the terrain. From the very start, and despite a light rain that was falling, many birds were in evidence, first and foremost three species of trogon. We did not carry cameras and so all photographs in this post are from file sources.

One easy way to approach identifying trogons is to divide them into yellow-bellied and red-bellied. There are fewer, just three, of the former in Costa Rica and in our region the Gartered Trogon (Trogon caligatus) (previously known as the Violaceous Trogon) is by far the commonest.

The male’s yellow eye-ring, matching the belly, is a good field mark not found on any other Costa Rican trogon:

Trogon, Gartered (male, CATIE) (6)

Male Gartered Trogon at CATIE, Turrialba, courtesy of John Beer

Of the two remaining yellow-bellied trogons only the Black-throated Trogon (Trogon rufus) is here locally because the Black-headed Trogon (Trogon melanocephalus) is resident mostly in the north-west in Guanacaste. The Black-throated Trogon’s Latin name may seem strange but seems to refer to the rufous central rectrices of the female. I don’t have an image of an adult male but the light-blue orbital ring and yellow bill on the immature male below are enough to separate it from the Gartered Trogon:


A juvenile male Black-throated Trogon, courtesy of Richard Garrigues

Our third trogon species for the day was the red-bellied Collared Trogon (Trogon collaris), which is generally found a little higher than the yellow-bellied species. The lack of orbital ring on the male, combined with yellow bill, helps to distinguish it from all other red-bellied trogons in Costa Rica:

Trogon, Collared, Bonilla Arriba

Male Collared Trogon at Bonilla Arriba, courtesy of John Beer

The trogons were merely our introduction to the forest walk at Balalaica. Highlights of the day were still to come. See my next posts.


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