Gray-headed Chachalaca (Ortalis cinereiceps)

The Gray-headed Chachalaca is a relatively big arboreal bird with mostly a brown body and gray head. Their diet consists mainly of fruits. At my parents´ home, up to ten arrive at the feeders where my parents place the papaya. Due to their size, they throw the papaya to the ground while eating, which does not help the toucans when they arrive. They are very loud, particularly when spooked by predators or humans, although not as loud as Brown Jays. They can be seen gliding from tall trees, one after another in rapid succession, relying on the uplift from air currents to avoid expending energy on batting their wings.

Ornate Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus ornatus)

The Ornate Hawk-Eagle is one of the most sought-after birds in Costa Rica due to its elegant appearance and striking name. Juveniles are dull brown with white head and belly, while adults have a barred belly, black crest and chestnut sides of the face and throat. Its most flamboyant feature is the big crest that adults have. It also have feathered legs. Its preferred environment is the forest, where it catches a variety of prey, including big arboreal birds like the Great Currasow. It is most usually seen circling high on the sky, where it is difficult to identify in silhouette, however their vocalizations give them away easily.

Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina)

The Common Ground-Dove is very similar to related species Ruddy and Plain-breasted Ground-Doves, however the Common is lighter in coloration, with a pink bill that is diagnostic; it also shows a scaled pattern in the throat and neck, which is missing from the other ground doves. Also similar to these species is the Inca Dove, which even behaves similarly as it forages most of the time on the ground, however the scaled appearance in the whole body should preclude any confusion. The male is ligher than the female, which looks grayish. All ground doves feature dark spots in the tips of primaries and secondaries, which look like a curved line when the wings are closed, although the Common’s should area spots are more numerous and do not form a line.

A male Common Ground-Dove stands on a metal rod, with trees in the background becoming a dark green blotch of color.

Black-crowned Antshrike (Thamnophilus atrinucha)

There are six species of Antshrikes that occur in Costa Rica, some more elusive than others, but all having a common theme: Their songs is heard more often than they are seen. All of them sing using a pattern of repeating notes that build more speed slowly, abruptly ending in a single note that usually is different from all others. The song of the Black-crowned Antshrike is very similar in pitch to the Barred Antshrike’s, so it is easy to confuse them. The Black-crowned is bigger and does not have the bold markings that the Barred has, only displaying small white dots and stripes on the wings, along a black crown which is difficult to see, given that they are usually perched higher than eye level inside the dark forest.

As a bird photographer, I strive for great image quality, but also value unique moments with rare or elusive species. This sighting of the Black-crowned Antshrike is one such encounter, a bird that can be easily identified by the song, but that can be difficult to see as they live in the dense, dark forest. To see them in the trail is priceless.

Long-billed Starthroat (Heliomaster longirostris)

The Heliomaster genus contains four species, two of which occur in Costa Rica, including the Long-billed Starthroat that can be spotted in the Caribbean and northern lowlands, as well as in the south Pacific. It also includes the Plain-capped Starthroat, which is mostly seen in the north Pacific, central valley and some valleys in the south Pacific.

Both Starthroats have longer than average bills which are straight, although both species have similar bills. The main difference between the Long-billed and Plain-capped is that the former displays a colorful blue-green forecrown, while the latter lacks that crown. To aid in identification, it can be noted that the Long-billed has a postocular spot, while the Plain-capped has a postocular strip. Other than those two specific traits, the two species are very similar, with olive upperparts and gray to white underparts, and a magenta throat that is iridescent. The tips of the tail feathers are white, which can be seen the most dramatically during flight.

Sometimes I feel like I am not close enough, but I still take the shot. This is one such scene. While not the close up portrait that I strive for, it has a beauty of its own, by including a little bit of the environment this hummingbird is in. This individual always returned to perch to the same leaf, for reasons that I could not determine. Most probably it was his / her territory.

Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinicus)

Purple Gallinules are some of the most brightly colored birds that you can see walking in Costa Rica. Indeed while they can also fly, they more commonly wade in shallow waters and in dense grass plains, looking for prey. I have seen them in Palo Verde in big numbers, and spotted individuals in Rio Frio, where they join chickens and forage in the backyards of houses; indeed I was able to see two adults rearing four young hatchlings, which were still covered in black fluffy hairs, getting along with the chickens just fine. The underside and head is entirely purple with a metallic look, showing a small light blue patch on the forehead. The beak is mostly bright red, with a yellow tip. The upperparts show blue to olive green hues, particularly on the wings. The yellow legs are long, letting them to wade in shallow edges of lagoons without having to swim.

This Gallinule is so accustomed to human visitors in Maquenque, that it let me take this picture with a 50mm lens. This implies I was crouching about half a meter away from the bird. Normally birds like this are very wary of people, so I would have struggled to get a similar portrait with a 600mm lens (think 12 times more zoom than the 50mm).
The same individual crouched as it waded into the shallow waters. The lagoon in which it was hunting was dry back on May, but in August due to the heavy rainfalls now covers a large extent of terrain.
Purple Gallinules are commonly seen foraging on the edge of rivers and small lagoons, where their long legs and feet let them stand on water lilies and similar broad-leaf aquatic plants.

Agami Heron (Agamia agami)

The Agami Heron is simply the most beautiful heron species to be seen in Costa Rica. It is also one of the most secretive heron species in Costa Rica, rarely seen in its territory. Luckily, a colony of up to 100 pairs are nesting each year in the Pacuare Reserve, Limon, which is dedicated to marine turtle conservation and research. The nesting spot is located in a small terrain surrounded by a lagoon that is full of crocodiles, which prevents other natural predators from eating their eggs or chicks, and the eggs are laid up in the trees, out of reach for crocs.

The throat is red with small light blue feathers that cover it forming a pattern. The head is blue with a light blue cap, which looks ike hair styled to the back. The bill is very long, with the upper mandible being black and the lower yellow. The upper parts are blue, with a few light blue feathers, while the feathers on the body are chestnut. The Juvenile is almost entirely brown.

Colombian Chachalaca – Ortalis columbiana

Most Guans and Chachalacas are big arboreal birds, and can show great agility when jumping from branch to branch on the top of the canopy some 20 or 30 meters above the ground. They perch to eat fruits and also to roost in the night. Most species avoid the ground but come down sometimes in search of fruits and seeds. The Colombian Chahcalaca is found in the Andes Region, having brown coloration but with an scaled look thanks to gray tips of the feathers’ barbs. Their head and beak is gray, and it has a bright red dewlap that is folded and inconspicuous, although it can hang freely and thus be seen clearly when the bird is high in the trees. The legs are also red. While shy of people, this species will come to fruit feeders and stay there undisturbed unless you get too close.

White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)

The White Ibis is, well… entirely white in plumage. When spotted from a distance it can resemble a Great Egret, Cattle Egret or Snowy Egret, however the pink legs and face, along with the long, skinny downcurved bill is diagnostic. The tips of the wings are black, although that is only visible during flight. The juvenile has brown upperparts, and the neck is striped in brown and white, with gray legs and a darker bill. It is found in ponds and marshes in Guanacaste and the northern area of the country; also along the pacific coast of Costa Rica. Given its habitat, they usually wade in the shallow waters and mudflats, where pick small crustaceans and fish, just like Egrets do.

Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)

The Semipalmated Plover is a small migratory bird that can be spotted in early September at the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. The upperparts are gray-brown, with a white collar around the neck, white forehead, black mask on the face and small bill with orange basal half and black tip. The underparts are mostly white, except for a black breast band. The delicate legs are orange. It looks very similar to the bigger Killdeer. They wade in beaches and shallow mud flats where they can grab crabs and small insects.