Chestnut-headed Oropendola (Psarocolius wagleri)

There usually are not many opportunities to watch a nesting bird go about their job of bringing food for the hatchlings, but the Chestnut-headed Oropendola gave me an spectacle. During my second trip to Yatama Ecolodge, two birds were nesting on a palm tree close to the refuge. The palm tree was tall but it was grounded in a depression, so I was able to take photographs pretty much at eye level from the hillside and still secure a green background from the trees on the other side. I also got to observe pretty interesting behavior. For instance, the first time we arrived, the adult perched on a tree about 50 meters from the nest. Instead of diving for the nest, it stayed put for about 15 minutes, just watching us. I interpret that it decided not to give away the location of the nestlings, as though there were 8 nests, only 2 were being used. We then walked away a few meters, and then the adult plunged into the nest, fed the chick in about 10 seconds, and flew away from the nest to gather more food. This behavior repeated for the whole afternoon. I realized that the camera itself was not disturbing, so I set my camera and hid in a nearby tree. As soon as the bird came, I walked to the camera and snatched the pictures below.

White Hawk (Pseudastur albicollis)

We found the White Hawk one a day as we hiked through the entrance road at Yatama Ecolodge. We went down in search of the Bare-necked Umbrellabird, to no avail. As we were getting close to the lodge, we watched a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on a Cecropia tree, which I had seen a few times before. We spend about 10 minutes just watching the bird, and it suddenly went away, so we continued walking to the entrance, when a big white bird flew across the road, and perched on a branch where it started to vocalize. Our theory is that the Sapsucker flew away because she spotted the hawk as it was approaching the area, but we will never really know.

Red-capped Manakin (Ceratopipra mentalis)

This little pretty bird is sought after by many birders in Costa Rica, myself included. Like the White-collared Manakin, it is found in the Caribbean lowlands and foothills, but given that its preferred habitat is dense rain forest undergrowth, it is difficult to find and even more difficult to photograph. But then one can be lucky, and for me that means finding one male whose home habitat was very close to a fruiting tree, located right by the window of my room at Yatama Ecolodge; it actually came every single day to feed on the little purple fruits, sometimes having fights with a female Violet-headed Hummingbird which came to drink nectar from the tree’s white flowers. What’s even better, a female also visited a few times. We also heard other individuals as we hiked through the trails, although spotting them there is a lot more work.

Russet-naped Wood-Rail (Aramides albiventris)

The Russet-naped Wood-Rail was recently split from the Gray-cowled, with which it obviously has a lot of similarities. As its name indicates, the differentiating feature versus the Gray-cowled is the brownish patch on the back of the neck. The rest of the body is essentially the same, starting with the yellow bill, gray neck, rufous chest and back, deep red eyes and pink legs. These are noisy birds that are usually found in pairs, presumably male and female. A pair of these birds frequently arrived to forage close to our room at Yatama Ecolodge; most of the time they would make a weird low frequency sound, similar to the noise your throat makes when drinking water very fast.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

The Turkey Vulture is a common scavenger observed throughout Costa Rica. It soars using thermal air currents, and also perches in trees and fence posts. When perched, they commonly open their wings wide, presumably to warm up its wings with sunlight and get rid of parasites, although as seen below, I observed the same behavior during a light rain. The most helpful trait to identify it against the similar Black Vulture is the white flight feathers, as the red head is sometimes not easy to see when they soar. As most vultures, they are misunderstood creatures, given the really important role they play to recycle nutrients from dead animals. They also are key protagonists in the annual raptor migration from North to Central and South America, where close to a million individuals pass through the Kekoldi reserve at the South Caribbean coast.

Tennessee Warbler (Oreothlypis peregrina)

The Tennessee Warbler is a difficult bird to identify, given how many warblers have a yellowish plumage. The best tell-tale sign is the dark stripe through the eye and the bright supraciliary. A little more difficult to see is the white feathers on the underside of the tail. Unexpectedly, it arrived to the fruit feeder at my home in San Bernardino. At first I thought it was a female Red-legged Honeycreeper, because in lowlight the warbler looks greenish, but its behavior is different, and it would never vocalize, while the honeycreepers vocalize rather frequently, specially when having quarrels over pecking order.

Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias)

Photographing the Sunbittern has been one of my goals ever since I started birding. This is a majestic bird, with a intriguing pattern on the wings which it flashes when flying from one rock to another. I have seen it plenty of times already, particularly in a small rocky stream 2 kms from home in San Bernardino, where it forages. Other times I have only seen the footprints on a rock, where presumably an individual stood just a few minutes before I arrived. It is very wary of people, flying away to keep at a distance when spotting them or hearing noise.

Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna)

The Eastern Meadowlark is an inhabitant of grass plains in Central Valley and the Caribbean areas. I have seen this species at my home in San Rafael de Alajuela, at La Guacima, at the Santa Ana Windmills (that’s 1,600 meters above sea level!) and most recently in San Bernardino, near Guápiles. Sometimes they perch in fence posts, other times they just find a comfortable place in the grass where they forage. Their song is very high-pitched and far-carrying. Indeed, many times I have been able to spot them as I bike through by listening to their song. Their belly is bright yellow, while their back is streaked in cream and dark brown. A key characteristic is the plump body, more similar to the antpittas than to any yellow-bellied flycatcher. When startled, they fly away and land on another patch of grass where they feel safe, the continue foraging. The juvenile is somewhat duller and never strays too far from its parent.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar (Galbula ruficauda)

The Rufous-tailed Jacamar is an exotic bird found on both the Caribbean and South Pacific rainforests of Costa Rica. Its shape and bright colors make it resemble a very large hummingbird, but it does not fly like one. The long bill is useful to catch bigger insect and tossing them against a branch to kill them. Both the belly and underside of the tail is rufous, while the chest, back and head is blueish-green. The male has a white throat, while in the female the throat is buffy. It likes to perch in higher branches to deliver its song, a series of piercing notes that accelerate to the end.

Gartered Trogon (Trogon caligatus)

The Gartered Trogon is another relative of the Resplendent Quetzal, being part of this conspicuous family. To distinguish from other similar yellow-bellied trogon species occurring in the country (Black-throated and Black-headed), look for the yellow orbital skin in the male and fine barring on the wings in the female. The blue throat of the male can look deceivingly black inside the forest, and in juveniles might not be bright enough yet to be noticeable. Also the Black-headed is bigger to the Gartered, while the Black-throated is the same size. The pattern on the underside of the tail, likely to be seen as the birds perch relatively high, can also be a telltale sign, with the Black-headed lacking any barring on the undertail. A metallic green back completes the look of the male, while the female is duller, with gray head and back.