Lanceolated Monklet at Refugio de Vida Silvestre La Marta

Lanceolated Monklet (Micromonacha lanceolata): Monjito rayado; Barbacou lancéolé; Streifenfaulvogel

The Lanceolated Monklet enjoys almost legendary status in Costa Rica, where it is found only rarely and then almost exclusively in the humid forest of the Caribbean foothills. It is a member of the Bucconidae family, the puffbirds, so named for their fluffy, round appearance. I also like the German name for puffbirds, literally ‘lazy birds’, which neatly describes their sit-and-wait approach to finding their food.

Earlier this month friend and guide Steven Aguilar Montenegro was again invaluable in locating this, the rarest of Costa Rica’s 5 puffbird species, at the Refugio de Vida Silvestre La Marta, near Pejibaye, where its presence was first reported some two years ago. Steven has referred to the monklet, the sole representative of the genus Micromenacha, as un fantasma del bosque, a forest ghost, because locating it is so notoriously difficult. Once found, puffbirds are in general faithful to their particular area, yet they can be maddeningly elusive. For example, the Rio Tuis near Turrialba has long been known to hold a small population of Lanceolated Monklets but the vast majority of searches are fruitless. Fortunately, the birds at La Marta have been able to be relocated recently in several different areas within the Refuge, both along the river, at the aqueduct ruins, and even at the general picnic area.

River view, La Marta; photo by John Beer

Here’s the first of John’s excellent series of photographs showing the key field marks of this smallest (5″) of our puffbirds, rotund, short-tailed and big-eyed:

Lanceolated Monklet at La Marta; photo by John Beer

Gulp! Here we see the tail of a small lizard still protruding from one side of the Monklet’s bill:

The spear-shaped breast streaks give the Lanceolated Monklet its name; photo by John Beer

No other Costa Rican puffbird combines brown upperparts with such heavily streaked white underparts. However, I suppose the female White-whiskered Puffbird (Malacoptila panamensis) – see below – might conceivably be confused, but that red-eyed species measures 8″ in length and lacks the strongly contrasting black streaks that characterise the Lanceolated Monklet. It is fairly common on both the Caribbean and Pacific slopes, although like many puffbirds it can be maddeningly hard to find. For comparison purposes, here’s the female from a pair that I reported on in July 2017 from Paso Marcos in Cabécar indigenous territory on the Rio Pacuare:

Female White-whiskered Puffbird at Paso Marcos on the Rio Pacuare – rather unlikely to be confused with the Lanceolated Monklet

Here’s another good look at the Monklet:

The much sought-after Lanceolated Monklet, front view; photo by John Beer

The La Marta reserve has both riverside and humid forest habitat and offers an impressive bird checklist of some 367 species. In addition, it is home to monkeys – here a White-faced Capuchin:

White-faced Capuchin, La Marta; photo by John Beer

…..and to many other interesting creatures. Superb natural camouflage renders the outline of the following amphibian not immediately obvious. If you can identify the species, please do let me know.

Inspecting the forest floor closely can often reveal the unexpected: Unknown frog at La Marta; photo by John Beer

I leave you with a final look at the forest environment, here at the aqueduct ruins where the Monklet appeared:

Acueductos, La Marta

…. and John’s final pic of the near legendary Lanceolated Monklet, a species still missing from the life list of most of our local birders, and, most unfortunately, from mine!

Lanceolated Monklet sits serenely on its perch at the Refugio de Vida Silvestre La Marta; photo by John Beer

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