Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna)

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.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar (Galbula ruficauda)

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.

Gartered Trogon (Trogon caligatus)

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.

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.

Olive-throated Parakeet (Eupsittula nana)

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.

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.

Side-striped Palm-Pitviper (Bothriechis lateralis)

The Side-striped Palm-Pitviper is a venomous snake, sharing its genus with the Eyelash Palm-Pitviper. The Side-striped is green, which helps to camouflage them in the rain forest, as it mainly has arboreal habits. It has a prehensile tail, which means that it can be coiled around branches that work as an anchor to keep its balance. It is moderate in size, less than 1 meter in length, typically between 60 and 70 centimeters. It has a light-blue postocular stripe. Juveniles are rather drab, having a brown skin.