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.
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.
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.
The Drab Streamside Tree Frog, also known as Veraguan Cross-banded Tree Frog, is a relatively unmarked species, usually colored in grayish tones. It is common throughout the country, except on the Pacific Northwest. As indicated by its name, these frogs’ preferred habitat is water streams, where they breed. Curiously, I met this frog when one individual appeared on our kitchen at midnight in San Bernardino. We let it stay and in the morning it had disappeared, until my mother found it below the fret drainer where it was cool and moist. We placed it in a “Giant bird’s nest” plant (locally known as Tabacón), and there it remained for the entire day. By the evening, I went out and found it in the same place, and snapped the few pictures below.
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.
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.
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.
The Slaty Spinetail is a commonly heard bird near abandoned lots, where grass and bushes had time to grow. They are more difficult to spot than to hear, in part because they choose to stay low inside the vegetation. The adults are dark gray overall, with orange-brown wing feathers and a head cap of the same color. Their tail is relatively long when compared with other birds that share their habitat, and as the name implies, looks rather untidy, like an old broom that has been used to its life span. The juvenile has similar colors with less saturation and lacks the defined head cap.
The Olive-throated Parakeet is a resident species of the northern and Caribbean regions of Costa Rica. Like most other parrot species in Costa Rica, its plumage is green overall, with blue flight feathers that are barely noticeable when the wings are folded. The upper side of the tail feathers look brownish, and the throat has a somewhat dark olive color as the name suggests. A member of the Aratinga family, it only shares its habitat with Crimson-fronted Parakeet, which is larger and has conspicuous red patches on the should section of the wings, visible both in flight and with folded wings. They are usually seen in groups, cracking fruits with their beaks, producing a characteristic sound.
The Stripe-headed Sparrow is a small bird resident of the northwestern region of the country, but also found in the western portion of the Central Valley. They have a gray to white belly, with orangish to brown feathers on the back and wings. As the name suggests, the head pattern consists of a series of stripes, with a white throat, followed by a broad black stripe covering the black eyes, then one white stripe and another black stripe, each narrower than the previous one. The look is finished with a central white stripe. They are most likely found foraging in groups of at least three around an area. They perch at a lower level in many places, including fences, but also get down to the ground sometimes.