Aquiares is hitting the birding headlines at home in Costa Rica with a stunning combination of unexpected migrant warbler sightings, all of them at or near the laguna. Here we take a look at just 4 of them, in order of their supposed scarcity, while also remembering that the Yellow-breasted Chat is now no longer considered, by some authorities at least, to be a warbler.
Northern Parula (Setophaga americana): Parula norteña; Paruline à collier; Meisenwaldsänger
Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivorum): Reinita gusanera; Paruline vermivore; Haldenwaldsänger
Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens): Reinita grande; Ictérie polyglotte; Gelbbrust-Waldsänger
Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla); Reinita hornera; Paruline couronnée; Pieperwaldsänger
As the time of writing, the Northern Parula is still to be found at the same location at Aquiares. While common in the United States this pretty little migrant warbler is decidedly uncommon Costa Rica and has been recorded in the Turrialba area on only a handful of occasions. Our resident Tropical Parula (Parula pitiayumi) is fairly common on the Caribbean side of the country and a pair is currently nesting in my garden. It can be easily distinguished from its northern cousin because it has just one wing bar, though often not easy to see, and a dark eye with no eye ring.
Surprise warbler number 2, at the very same location, was another northern migrant, a Worm-eating Warbler. In the Turrialba area there have been only four reports so far this year, and guide Steven Aguilar was present for three of them! The bird’s name is a bit of a misnomer since vermivorum rarely, if ever, eats earthworms. The species chows down mostly on caterpillars and forages close to the ground, which is where, in North America, it also nests.
The Worm-eating Warbler is a species that I have seen only once before, when banding at CATIE. It caused quite a sensation on that day too. Briefly held prisoner, however, it was considerably easier to photograph than Steven and John’s bird!
The close-up shot below of the same individual shows that the Worm-eating Warbler lacks the dark ear-patch of the somewhat similar Costa Rican Warbler (Basileuterus melanotis):
The third unexpected sighting at Aquiares this week was of a Yellow-breasted Chat, a species rated as very uncommon in Costa Rica. Identification was well verified and I believe the bird is likely to stay in the area, but in the meantime here’s a clear image of another chat that showed up, also in Aquiares, in mid-March 2018. One suspects that it might even be the same individual!
It is also perhaps notable that I documented on this blog my own first experience with a Yellow-breasted Chat in October 2014. This bird arrived in my garden in San Antonio that month but was never photographed. It stayed faithful to the underbrush, mostly near the back door, until April 2015!!
The fourth warbler of considerable note, the Ovenbird, is actually a rather common migrant in Costa Rica in most years. Only very recently, however, have reports from the Turrialba area begun to exceed very low numbers. Much of the credit for this goes, I believe, to the remarkable and fairly recent increase in the number of qualified home-grown Costa Rican observers. The first two images below show the latest sighting of this ground-loving species in Aquiares. First impression is often of a small thrush, but the final image – from the United States – shows more clearly the key field marks that will definitively identify this warbler.
The information above by no means exhausts local reports of unusual, even rare, migrant warblers – Cape May, Yellow-throated, MacGillivray’s and Cerulean come immediately to mind. The Cape May Warbler (Setophaga tigrina), in particular, is now being reported annually from Turrialba and from the Province of Cartago in general. This was formerly considered a very rare species in Costa Rica, and thus a final image taken earlier this month, also at the Aquiares laguna, is entirely appropriate: