Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher (Phainoptila melanoxantha)

The Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher is one of the four species in a unique family around the world, with the Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher being the only other species to be seen in Costa Rica. The male shows a combination of yellow rump, chest and undersides, with gray belly and vent; its throat and head it black, as well as it tail and wings. The Female has a gray throat with a black cap, olive chest, wings and tail. Their shape is similar to other Costa Rica thrushes, as they look rather plump when compared with the Long-tailed. Although Flycatchers by name, they prefer to eat fruits, specializing in berries that are abundant in the highlands; indeed their range is restricted to Guanacaste, Tilaran, Central and Talamanca Cordilleras. They are endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama, thanks to the fact that the Talamanca Cordillera stretches out into Panama.

Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)

The Hairy Woodpecker is a common inhabitant in Costa Rica’s highlands. It is the same size as the Black-cheeked Woodpecker (which only inhabits the Caribbean lowlands), and hence smaller than the Acorn Woodpecker (which does occur on the highlands). It resembles both species by having black wings, but the face patterns is very different to them, with black and white stripes and just a small reddish patch on the nape. They also lack the barring and streaking that the Black-cheeked and Acorn show on their underparts. Normally woodpeckers are seen, well… pecking at wood, but we saw this individual pecking at the ground, which seemed pretty unusual. It was also totally unconcerned with our presence; a whole group of 15 people could get to within two meters and it would still not fly away. That’s when I decided to follow it around, trying to get a close up portrait, and this was the result.

Torrent Tyrannulet (Serpophaga cinerea)

The Torrent Tyrannulet is a very small flycatcher; few other flycatchers are smaller like the Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher. The Torrent Tyrannulet inhabits river and torrents in the highlands of Costa Rica, which commonly feature rocks in and alongside the stream. It is rather dull, with overall white to gray body but black wings, tail and face. They catch insects in the air using acrobatic motions. They usually perch on rocks instead of branches, which means they are found close to ground or water level. While spooked easily by an approaching person, standing or sitting motionless for a while allows them to become used to a person’s presence, resulting in natural and even curious behavior. One such time, a bird perched on branch at a distance where my lens would not even focus (less than 2.2 meters away), and would look at me, like it was trying to decipher what I was.

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)

The Acorn Woodpecker is one of Costa Rica’s largest species, only topped in length by the Lineated and Pale-billed Woodpeckers. The funny-looking pattern on its face earns it the local name “little clown”, with a conspicuous red crown, and a black and yellowish-white mask that cover the face and throat. The iris is almost white, and the bill is black. While the back and wings are entirely black, the chest has black and white streaking, and the belly is white. The female can be identified by a small black patch on the front of the crown, whereas the male’s crown is entirely red. Their inhabit the highlands, particularly Cerro de la Muerte (Buenavista) and Cordillera de Talamanca, where they are very common. Their call display is also very showy when compared with other Costa Rica woodpeckers, swinging their body from one side to the other while giving their calls away.

Large-footed Finch (Pezopetes capitalis)

The Large-footed Finch is large in comparison with most other species in the finch family. They prefer to stay on the ground, and at first might resemble small chickens due to their common behavior of scratching the leaf litter for food with their legs. Their overall color is olive, with a gray head and black face; also note the black strips running from the face to the back of the neck. Their main habitat is the highlands at Central (Volcan Barva, Cerro Buenavista) and Talamanca cordilleras. It delivers a song at intervals, composed of high-pitched whistles.

Scintillant Hummingbird (Selasphorus scintilla)

The Scintillant Humminbird is, together with the Snowcap, the smallest hummingbird species that can be spotted in Costa Rica. It is not the smallest bird in the world though, that record belongs to the Bee Hummingbird. The male has an iridescent orange gorget, while the female has buffy throat with speckles, mostly green ones. It can be seen in the highlands, particularly around Cinchona and Cerro de la Muerte.

White-browed Spinetail (Hellmayrea gularis)

The White-browed Spinetail was the only species of Spinetails we ever saw in Colombia. It inhabits the paramo at Nevado del Ruiz, at an altitude of 4,200 meters above sea level. Its body coloration is composed of brown back and head, gray belly, chest and throat, and a gray supercilliary on top of the black eye. With this colors, it might look very dull and uninteresting, however it is an amazing fact for this little bird to withstand the lack of oxygen and low temperatures of this elevation, specially during the night.

Velvet-purple Coronet (Boissonneaua jardini)

The Velvet-purple Coronet was one of the most impressing hummingbirds we saw in Colombia. Its plumage is strongly iridescent all around the body, showing marvelous different hues with each movement. At one time it would look almost entirely black, then it flashed green and olive tones on the upper wing and shoulder, along with brown feather tips on the back and head. The head, throat and belly would look almost entirely black, until it turned the head towards me and flashed deep blue and purple colors, with turquoise flanks. White feathers cover the legs and the tail underside. So much change is almost unbelievable until you see it with your own eyes or camera lens, whichever is faster. To top if off, after perching it would hold the wings open for a brief moment, showing a chestnut coloration on the underside of the wings.

Shining Sunbeam (Aglaeactis cupripennis)

The Shining Sunbeam is a weird species that shows a dull cinnamon belly, throat and face, with a dark olive back and wings, which do have strong iridescence that can be hard to spot, but that is very peculiar with a purple to gold smooth transition. From all the hummingbirds observed at Termales del Ruiz, which is situated at 3,000 meters above sea level, this one was the smallest, but it was also relatively numerous; it is bigger than woodstars though. The bill is relatively shot and thin, being black for the most part. The vent is covered in white plumage.

Plumbeous Sierra-Finch (Phrygilus unicolor)

Sierra-Finch is an appropriate name for this species, as they are specialized to live from 3,000 meters above sea level at higher. They are mostly seed eaters and take advantage of plants of the subparamo and paramo region. The male is gray in coloration, but sometimes looks blueish on overcast lighting. The female on the other side is streaked in a combination of brown, black and gray. While being a shy species, getting them at eye level is fairly easy, as the vegetation at such altitudes does not grow very tall, and due to the low oxygen content, they stay perched for long periods of time, presumably to conserve precious energy.