Brown-billed Scythebill at Los Bajos del Volcán

Brown-billed Scythebill (Campilorhampus pusillus): Trepador pico de hoz; Brauner Sensenschnabel; Grimpar à bec brun

A big surprise to me was the recent appearance of the Brown-billed Scythebill on the Bajos del Volcán road. The road starts out at about 1500 m from Santa Cruz de Turrialba and then winds slowly up the Turrialba Volcano slope through Las Abras to more than 2300 m near La Lorena before plunging downhill very steeply to the tiny dairy community at Los Bajos.

Los Bajos road before La Lorena

Why such a surprise? This particular scythebill species – resident only in Costa Rica and western Panama – is not a particularly rare one near Turrialba. Many regular reports are received both from the Tuis area and from further south-west towards Tapantí – yet it is a species that has constantly eluded me throughout my years in Costa Rica.

Brown-billed Scythebill at Los Bajos del Volcán Turrialba; photo by John Beer

I did once find a dead bird in my village of San Antonio in a very sparsely forested area but I have always regarded that encounter as a fluke. The Brown-billed Scythebill is a woodcreeper but, if seen well, its long and extremely decurved, pinkish bill readily distinguishes it from the rest of the many woodcreepers found throughout the country. Check the silhouette of the bill in the next photo.

Brown-billed Scythebill works its way up a moss-bedecked trunk in the cloud forest; photo by John Beer

It’s really hard to sort out at one woodcreeper from another at lower elevations, but in the case of the individual at Los Bajos the high elevation also helps with the identification. The only other woodcreeper likely to occur on the Turrialba Volcano is the Spot-crowned Woodcreeper (Lepidocolaptes affinis), a resident of montane forest from Mexico to Panama. John and Steven again found this species on this recent trip, along with other really hard-to-find mountain species such as Peg-billed Finch, Barred Parakeet and Silvery-fronted Tapaculo. The following shot of a Spot-crowned Woodcreeper is from September 2016 but was also taken at Los Bajos.

Spot-crowned Woodcreeper at Bajos del Volcán; photo by John Beer

The two species are similar in size but the Scythebill is set apart immediately because of the outrageous shape of its bill.

3 thoughts on “Brown-billed Scythebill at Los Bajos del Volcán

  1. I well remember when I first saw the Red-billed Scythebill here in Manabi Province. I thought it was a Streak-billed Woodcreeper but took the photo for documentation and to backup my list for the day. Only when working on photos did I see the bill – wow! Months later a Red-billed stopped by the house and provided really good photo ops… They are magnificent birds, and I’m glad that you have them there as well!


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