Turrialba Volcano slope – first visit of 2018

I’m back home in Costa Rica after three weeks in Denver, Colorado. From Denver’s mix of snow and sunshine we returned to find heavy rain and wind in Turrialba. My first birding duty was to scout the garden to see what is around in January 2018. Most of the usual species were present, but Collared Araçari (Pteroglossus torquatus) …

Collared Aracari San Antonio

Collared Araçari looks heavenwards from my guayabo tree; photo courtesy of Larry Waddell

…and Black-cheeked Woodpecker (Melanerpes pucherani)…

Black-cheeked Woodpecker

Male Black-cheeked Woodpecker at my home in San Antonio on another occasion; photo by Larry Waddell

…were rather unexpected, as were a Philadelphia Vireo (Vireo philadelphicus) and an immature or female Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus). The latter two species are North American migrants. Another resident species that is not always to be found in the garden is the Green Hermit (Phaethornis guy), a large and beautiful hummingbird with a strongly decurved bill and white central tail feathers that extend even further than the already prodigiously long tail:


File photo of a male Green Hermit, courtesy of Richard Garrigues

A mid-afternoon visit to the Calle Vargas/Las Virtudes intersection brought some very nice views of species that are mostly typical of higher elevations. The Purple-throated Mountain-gem (Lampornis calolaemus) is a local hummingbird species that I have never found at home (1300 m) but which appears quite regularly as soon as you reach 1500 m or so on the Turrialba Volcano slope:

Purple-throated Mountain Gem

Male Purple-throated Mountain-gem at Calle Vargas, Santa Cruz de Turrialba; photo courtesy of Larry Waddell

At this elevation, when you see the white post-ocular stripe you are sure to be looking at one of Costa Rica’s three mountain-gems. You will find them on pages 154-155 of the standard Costa Rican field guide (The Birds of Costa Rica, Garrigues & Dean). It would seem from the distribution maps that all three are possible near Turrialba, but I myself have recorded only calolaemus (Purple’throated) at the Turrialba Volcano. The White-throated Mountain-gem (Lampornis castaneoventris) gets its Latin name from the colour of the belly of the female but be careful because the female calolaemus is virtually indistinguishable from castaneoventris. Instead, rely on the males for identification. In poor light the Purple-throated looks all dark, but on this occasion one of Larry’s photos captured the male with full display of the gorget:

Purple-throated Mountain Gem

No doubt about which Mountain-gem this is!

I am not familiar with the White-throated species, but the third Lampornis, the White-bellied Mountain-gem (Lampornis hemileucus) is fairly easily found at Tapantí National Park near Orosi, not too far from us.

I end this post with two more of Larry’s photos from this day. Here first is a bird you simply can’t miss on the volcano slope, the Common Chlorospingus (Chlorospingus flavopectus):

Common Chlorospingus Calle Vargas

Common Chlorospingus: The white spot behind the eye is the best field mark for identifying this very common species; photo by Larry Waddell

Almost as common at these elevations, but much more difficult to observe, is the Gray-breasted Wood-Wren (Henicorhina leucophrys). On this occasion, Larry had a stroke of good fortune with the following bird, one of a pair that sat up nicely within close range:

Gray-breasted Wren

Compare the Gray-breasted Wood-Wren in your bird guide with its lowland counterpart the White-breasted Wood-Wren (Henicorhina leucosticta). The ranges can overlap but next to my house in San Antonio (1300 m) we have only the latter species.

For a listing of the 18 species that we found in two hours at the Calle Vargas location see:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s