Slaty Spinetail (Synallaxis brachyura)

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.

Grayish Saltator (Saltator coerulescens)

The Grayish Saltator belongs to the same family as the Black-headed Saltator, which at my parent’s home in Río Frío is much more common. As it name implies, its upperparts are gray, but the underparts are brownish, particularly close to the vent. The throat has a central white stripe, bordered by two black strips. It also shows a white supercilliary which ends right after the eye. The beak is strong as other Saltators. They sometimes come to fruit feeders, but are more wary that most other birds.

Gray-crowned Yellowthroat (Geothlypis poliocephala)

The Gray-crowned Yellowthroat is a member of the Warbler family. Its body is generally yellow, with a small black mask and gray crown in the male, features which are much smaller in the female. They have a longer tail and thicker bill than the other Yellowthroat species that occur in the country. The Gray-crowned Yellowthroat is resident and occurs throughout most of the country, while the Masked Yellowthroat is confined to a very small territory in San Vito, and the Olive-crowned Yellowthroat is only found on the caribbean lowlands and mid elevations. The Common Yellowthroat, on the other hand, is a passage migrant, seen from mid October to early April, with some individuals spending the whole winter in the country.

Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus)

The Western Wood-Pewee is part of the Contopus family, a very difficult family to identify to species level in the field. It is very similar to the Tropical Pewee and the Eastern Wood-Pewee. The best field mark is the bill, were only the base of the lower mandible is orange. This species, unlike the Tropical Pewee, is a passage migrant and will only stay in the country from mid-August to November, and from mid-March to May. In similar fashion to the Eastern Wood-Pewee (and further differentiating from the Tropical), this bird will return to the same perch after a sally, so observing the behavior can help with identification.

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.

Mesoamerican Boa Constrictor (Boa imperator)

Boas are not venomous snakes, instead they are constrictors as their name implies, which means that they use their powerful muscles to wrap itself around their prey and asphyxiate them. It combines gray skin with big red blobs and yellow-black lines that form a distinctive pattern; its skin is somewhat iridescent though, showing some blue and green hues sometimes. Since the red blobs are bigger towards the tail, it is sometimes called “Red-tailed Boa”. The eye is black, with the typical vertical pupils of most snakes. They inhabit rain forests, due to their preference to stay in warm, wet places with plenty of potential prey, which includes mice, birds and amphibians. Their preferred hunting technique is the ambush, waiting for prey to get close enough before launching an attack.

As for the images taken during sunset, there is a back story. The guide at Mirador El Pizote told me that he envisioned a picture with a Boa and San Carlos river. Initially, I did not think it was a good idea. During the afternoon, I was just sitting on a bench, when I saw the raging sunset colors over the river, and then the idea made a lot of sense. It was a humbling experience to see how other people’s ideas about photography can be really wonderful and I learned not to dismiss any ideas without at least trying.

Cabanis’s Wren (Cantorchilus modestus)

A recent split from the Plain Wren, all three species held this name because of the lack of most field marks when compared with most other wrens. Along the Cabanis’s which can be found in the northwest region of Costa Rica, the Canebrake Wren occupies the Eastern portion (Caribbean), and the Isthmian Wren is found in southern region of the country. These small birds have a brown eye with white supercilliary, brown upperparts with the tail showing black stripes. The underparts are grayish to white. Like most wrens, the Cabanis’s is an avid songbird. Its song is complex, consisting of a variety of high notes and chirps that give away their presence. Even so, they are difficult to locate as their main habitat is dense forest edges, where they jump from branch to branch, camouflaged by the leafs and branches of bushes and trees.

Tropical Pewee (Contopus cinereus)

The Tropical Pewee is very similar to the Wood-Pewees (Eastern and Western), however the Wood-Pewees are migratory birds, found in Costa Rica only during two periods, August to November when they pass through in their journey to South America, and March to May when they return to the Northern hemisphere. They are difficult to differentiate, as their appeareance is very similar, however the Tropical is slighly smaller and has a yellowish belly, while the Wood-Pewees have a gray to white belly. Both Eastern Wood-Pewee and Tropical Pewee have a yellow lower mandible with dark tip, while the Western Wood-Pewee only has a small portion of the lower mandible being yellow. The Tropical Pewee has a darker crest than the Wood-Pewees as well.

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.

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.