Fork-tailed Flycatchers and Smooth-billed Anis

Ciudad Neily is the last town of any size before you reach the Panamanian border at Paso Canoas.  If you leave the Pan-american Highway at Ciudad Neily and head due south towards the Pacific coast and Finca Estrella, the typical habitat is actually open agricultural land with lots of flatland and some low rolling hills. The forest has mostly been cleared for rice fields, oil palm groves and pasture land.

This is ideal habitat for the resident Fork-tailed Flycatcher (Tyranus savana), whose Latin name says it all. I first encountered this species in a similar environment in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico but I hadn’t seen it here in Costa Rica until our trip to Finca Estrella.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Fork-tailed Flycatcher, courtesy of Larry Waddell

The long tail more than doubles the length of this bird’s body and makes identification a simple affair. In the southern Pacific, only the migrant Scissor-tailed Flycatcher has a similarly long tail, but that species’ head is white. Here’s a Fork-tailed Flycatcher in typical pose:

Flycatcher, Fork-tailed, Ciudad Neily (2)

Fork-tailed Flycatcher near Ciudad Neily, courtesy of John Beer.

We found it very easy to locate several Fork-tailed Flycatchers since they often perch low and in exposed locations. Several other species occupy the same habitat. One of these is the Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani), an all-black bird that is a member of the cuckoo family.

Ani, Smooth-billed, Ciudad Neily (1)

A pair of Smooth-billed Anis  near Ciudad Neily. Photo by John Beer.

Its counterpart in the northern half of the country, and therefore also in my home area of Turrialba, is the tijo, the Groove-billed Ani (Crotophaga sulcirostris), but when I first encountered the Smooth-billed Ani it immediately seemed to me to be a larger bird. It also has a very different call note. It is gradually expanding its range northward up the Pacific coast.

Another species that shares the living space of the two species above is the Red-breasted Meadowlark (Sturnella militaris), which we immediately found in the first abandoned rice field that we visited:

Red-Breasted Blackbird ( Meadowlark)

Male Red-breasted Meadowlark at Coto 47, courtesy of Larry Waddell.

The southern Pacific lowlands are criss-crossed by numerous rivers and streams, which are always a source of interesting bird species, both aquatic and riparian. See what we discovered on this trip in that particular habitat on my next post.



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