The Buff-rumped Warbler is a small, loud bird of the Caribbean and Pacific lowlands, usually found in close proximity to water streams and rivers, much like the Torrent Tyrannulet does in higher elevations. The places it inhabits are dark, hence it is difficult to see; look for two essential clues: 1) An accelerating high pitched song that seems to come from a water source and 2) a small white patch that swings from one side to the other close to the ground, which is caused by the bird’s habit to swing its tail in such a fashion. It can also be spotted as it flies away rapidly when people approach them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Ornate Hawk-Eagle is one of the most sought-after birds in Costa Rica due to its elegant appearance and striking name. Juveniles are dull brown with white head and belly, while adults have a barred belly, black crest and chestnut sides of the face and throat. Its most flamboyant feature is the big crest that adults have. It also have feathered legs. Its preferred environment is the forest, where it catches a variety of prey, including big arboreal birds like the Great Currasow. It is most usually seen circling high on the sky, where it is difficult to identify in silhouette, however their vocalizations give them away easily.
The Common Ground-Dove is very similar to related species Ruddy and Plain-breasted Ground-Doves, however the Common is lighter in coloration, with a pink bill that is diagnostic; it also shows a scaled pattern in the throat and neck, which is missing from the other ground doves. Also similar to these species is the Inca Dove, which even behaves similarly as it forages most of the time on the ground, however the scaled appearance in the whole body should preclude any confusion. The male is ligher than the female, which looks grayish. All ground doves feature dark spots in the tips of primaries and secondaries, which look like a curved line when the wings are closed, although the Common’s should area spots are more numerous and do not form a line.
There are six species of Antshrikes that occur in Costa Rica, some more elusive than others, but all having a common theme: Their songs is heard more often than they are seen. All of them sing using a pattern of repeating notes that build more speed slowly, abruptly ending in a single note that usually is different from all others. The song of the Black-crowned Antshrike is very similar in pitch to the Barred Antshrike’s, so it is easy to confuse them. The Black-crowned is bigger and does not have the bold markings that the Barred has, only displaying small white dots and stripes on the wings, along a black crown which is difficult to see, given that they are usually perched higher than eye level inside the dark forest.
As a bird photographer, I strive for great image quality, but also value unique moments with rare or elusive species. This sighting of the Black-crowned Antshrike is one such encounter, a bird that can be easily identified by the song, but that can be difficult to see as they live in the dense, dark forest. To see them in the trail is priceless.
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.
Purple Gallinules are some of the most brightly colored birds that you can see walking in Costa Rica. Indeed while they can also fly, they more commonly wade in shallow waters and in dense grass plains, looking for prey. I have seen them in Palo Verde in big numbers, and spotted individuals in Rio Frio, where they join chickens and forage in the backyards of houses; indeed I was able to see two adults rearing four young hatchlings, which were still covered in black fluffy hairs, getting along with the chickens just fine. The underside and head is entirely purple with a metallic look, showing a small light blue patch on the forehead. The beak is mostly bright red, with a yellow tip. The upperparts show blue to olive green hues, particularly on the wings. The yellow legs are long, letting them to wade in shallow edges of lagoons without having to swim.