Blue Seedeater – another new bird close to home

Blue Seedeater (Amaurospiza concolor): Semillero azulado; Indigopfäffchen; Évêque bleu

I’ve said it before many times: For birders one of the great things about Costa Rica is that a life bird can appear at any time – even close to home in areas with which you are already very familiar.

This happened to me last week on my first excursion to the higher areas of the volcano slope since returning to Costa Rica after exiting compulsory quarantine. John and I were looking forward to finding Resplendent Quetzal and some of the other species that can only be expected in our area above 1500 m. We took one of our favourite local roads out of Santa Cruz, the road to Los Bajos del Volcán:

A view from the Los Bajos road

Despite excellent weather and the usual stunning mountain environment we had difficulty finding many birds this time, but we were nonetheless simply elated to be able to enjoy the cloud forest and the breathtaking views across to Cerro de la Muerte and the Talamanca mountain range. All scenic photos are by John Beer, though not all from this particular trip:

Looking behind us

The unexpected glimpse, and unfortunately that’s all it was, was of a Blue Seedeater. This is a mountain finch found only rarely, usually close to mountain bamboo. I can trace only one other sighting from the Turrialba area. Here’s a very nice pic of a handsome male, by kind courtesy of Richard Garrigues, co-author of the standard Costa Rican field guide The Birds of Costa Rica (Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean, Second Edition 2014).

Male Blue Seedeater captured in good light by Richard Garrigues

In bright light it seems that it actually does look dark blue. I wouldn’t really know, and for two good reasons: Firstly, because my bird was flitting nervously in thick vegetation behind and next to a curtain of chusquea, the highland bamboo.

Typical cloud-forest vegetation

And secondly, my bird was a female, which isn’t even remotely blue! As in the case of the similarly attired Thick-billed Seed-Finch (not a highland bird, see earlier posts), the Blue Seedeater is a sexually dimorphic species, the female of which is tawny brown in colour. On this occasion, poor John didn’t even get a real glimpse of this little bird and never got the chance to raise his camera lens. I therefore appeal for help from our Tico birding fraternity to allow me to use a good photo of a female Blue Seedeater. Ayúdenme, amigos! Quién tiene buena foto de una hembra del Semillero azulado?

Here’s another cloud forest view that gives a good idea of the conditions on parts of the Los Bajos road:

It’s a wonderful environment though not always ideal for photography

Not all is gloom by any means, however. Here’s a beautiful section of the road in sunlight:

A typical open section of the road and still Quetzal territory

On this trip John had to be content with some nice shots of, among other mountain species, a female Talamanca Hummingbird (Eugenes spectabilis). This is a rather large hummer formerly known as Magnificent Hummingbird:

Female Talamanca Hummingbird on the Los Bajos road. Photo by John Beer

and later, lower down the volcano slope at Calle Vargas, the resident Dark Pewee (Contopus lugubris), found only in Costa Rica and the western Panamanian highlands:

This Dark Pewee called constantly but kept turning his head away at the wrong moments. Photo by John Beer

……and another highland resident, also endemic to highland Costa Rica and Panama, the Flame-throated Warbler (Oreothrypis gutturalis):

As you can see, Flame-throated Warblers on the Turrialba Volcano usually do NOT have the flame-red throat depicted in the field guides. Photo by John Beer

Despite my rather unsatisfactory glimpse of the female Blue Seedeater, I added a life bird to my Costa Rican list, which after many years in the country still has not reached two thirds of the species it is possible to see here. I’m very happy about that. Every day brings new and exciting possibilities and the Los Bajos road is close by with its chusquea bamboo, in which the Blue Seedeater may still be hiding!

Visitors to Costa Rica should note that all of the birds featured today are highland species very unlikely to be found at lower elevations.

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