Spangle-cheeked Tanager – beautiful highland endemic species

Spangle-cheeked Tanager (Tangara dowii): Tangara vientricastaña; Calliste pailleté; Glanzfleckentangare

A short trip up the volcano slope from our house brings me to a spot above the hamlet of Calle Vargas at around 1,600 m where I can often find a small family group of this beautiful tanager. Its Spanish name (literally, ‘chestnut-bellied tanager’) indicates a key feature not shared by other tanagers here. The range of this endemic species is restricted to only the higher elevations of Costa Rica and western Panama. Good lighting, patience and some luck are usually needed to highlight its stunning plumage:

Spangle-cheeked Tanager feasting on papaya at Casa Tangara Dowii; photo by John Beer

John’s photo was taken at the cloud-forest reserve Casa Tangara Dowii, which is located just off the spectacular mountain road from Costa Rica’s former capital of Cartago that leads south over Cerro de la Muerte to San Isidro in the southern Pacific region.

Here also is a file photo that I first posted back in 2014:

Spangle-cheeked Tanager, a highland fruit-eater; file photo courtesy of Richard Garrigues

There is a change in altitude of only some 250 metres between San Antonio and the location above Calle Vargas, but I have never seen a Spangle-cheeked Tanager in our village. It’s a non-migratory species and I suspect that our forest remnants are now too scarce to attract even post-nesting wanderers. Casa Tangara Dowii’s location at around 2,000 metres attracts a host of mountain species, some of which are not easy to find on our Turrialba Volcano slope. The visit there of our ‘team’ at the beginning of this month brought several excellent photo opportunities with Costa Rican resident species. I will take the opportunity to cover some of these in the next few posts.

Birdwatchers from Europe and the Old World should now note that April tends to be the last really good month of the season before most of our North American migrants head north for their nesting grounds. Don’t forget, however, that with such a huge variety of resident species Costa Rica – and specifically Turrialba – continues to offer exciting birdwatching experiences all year round.

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