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.
The Violet-tailed Sylph is part of the Aglaiocercus genus, containing two more species, one of them being the Long-tailed Sylph which we also saw in Colombia during our trip. It has a long tail that glows in purple from the back. Other than that, the bird is mostly green, with flashes of orange on the belly and blue hues on the back. Their bill is relatively short when compared with other hummingbird species on its range. When the outer tail feathers are molted, individuals can be seen with shorter tails, like in the pictures below, since those feathers are precisely the ones that grow very long.
The Torrent Duck is very special and one of the highlights of our trip to Colombia. They are only found living in the high courses of rapid flowing streams, with lots of rocks that serve as anchorage and resting places for them; most other ducks prefer calm waters and lakes to spend their time. This duck chooses a spot downstream for resting during the night, and at the morning it swims upstream against the strong current, until it finds a preferred feeding area. It then begins a cycle: Either the male or female mount guard from a comfortable rock, while the other feeds in a small pool or river region that has light current. When the food is gone, they both jump to the current and get dragged downstream until they reach the next feeding area, where again one of them mounts guard while the other one feeds. This is very unique behavior, one we could observe from very close at Yarumo Blanco SFF.
The Long-tailed Sylph is member of a genus with long tails, with the Violet-tailed Sylph being the other species that can be readily found in Colombia. The Long-tailed is overall very green, with a glittering emerald patch on the front of the head. The wings are very long and extend far beyond the base of the tail. However its most definitive feature is its long tail, which can measure up to 12 centimeters in length and account for around two thirds of the overall length of the bird; this is a huge burden for the bird as it flies around from flower to flower in search of nectar. The female has a fairly short tail instead, a characteristic known as dymorphism, which is very common in bird species.
The King Vulture is a really magnificent bird. The other three species are black in general, with different color of head and neck. The Black Vulture is commonly seen soaring around the country, but the King Vulture is not seen that often. However, when you see it, you are amazed. The juvenile is mostly black, with white underparts, while the adult is mostly white, with black wing secondaries and orange to red neck. Both have white irises, which contrasts nicely with the head colors. Immature adults retain some of the black feathers from the juvenile stage, showing an intermediate color pattern. The pink maw protrudes from the chest´s feather and is a very conspicuous feature, specially when the individual is full of eating meat. I am supposing that during hot days it helps to cool off by having it outside of the feathers.
The Great Green Macaw is a pretty uncommon sight in Costa Rica. It is a huge bird, their calls are very loud. I had the opportunity to observe the birds very close in Rio Cuarto. Our wildlife photography guide explained that Green and Scarlet Macaws do not hybridize in the wild, however in this refuge, a pair of Macaws have been interbreeding in the last few years, resulting in hybrids being born. In Rio Frio, where my parents live, it is common to see a pair of these birds flying overhead most of the times I am there. Either they are more common in the area, or a single pair of birds has taken residence. They are easy to identify, as their harsh call is heard from very far away and no other parrot has such a characteristic call, other than the Scarlet Macaw. They like to feed on almond and are likely to be seen perching relatively high in those trees.
The Northern Jacana is a waterbird that inhabits swamps and marshes, where the water is not too deep. The bird walks in the shallows, looking for small fish and crustaceans. It can even walk over some water plants whose leafs are big enough to sustain this delicate bird, thanks to very long toes that help to distribute the weight across a greater extent of water surface. Another unique behavior is its polyandrous nature, meaning that females will mate with many males, and it is the males that prepare the nest and care for the eggs and chicks. It is brown overall with black throat and head, with a yellow shield on the front (Wattled Jacana’s and Common Gallinules have a red shield). The juvenile has white underparts and lacks the shield seen in the adult.