A few days ago, I was quietly walking on trails through mature rainforest, places where the trees are giants that reach way up there into the sky. They capture a good portion of tropical sunlight hurled from above, in doing so, shading most that grows below. That combination of height, shade, and abundant vegetation makes it challenging to bird such habitats but these are also places that harbor the uncommon and the rare. The chance at something rare, at an uncommon surprise makes the challenge more than worth it because after all, even if you don’t find a ground-cuckoo or Bushmaster, you will see tanagers, listen to antbirds, and breathe in clean, O-rich air that clears the lungs and mind alike.
While guiding at Quebrada Gonzalez and Lands in Love, these were some of the rare highlights:
Quail-doves at Quebrada– The Olive-backed Quail-Dove isn’t actually rare but because it lives in a dark, heavily vegetated understory, it might as well be. Typically, a birder has to be lucky and settle on a glimpse of one waltzing across the path and away into the dim. On Friday, we saw three scoot away in the usual quail-dove way but then got onto two more that bucked the trend and foraged at close range. Having the chance to notice the subtle iridescence on the backs and necks of those shy rainforest birds was a gift.
Parrotlets at Quebrada!- Most parrot species in Costa Rica are straightforward about being seen because they have loud calls and boldly fly into view. Most except for the Red-fronted Parrotlet. Like a shy, nomadic finch wannabe, this small parrot roams from middle elevation forests to the foothills and lowlands and even right over the highlands. It’s hard enough to see in flight much less perched in dense vegetation. If I hadn’t heard them call, they would have remained invisible and uncounted. Even though they did call, I guess they were still sort of invisible because we never actually saw them! But, there they were, likely two birds calling from near a fruiting Melastome I assume they had been feeding on. No wonder so little is known about this near ghost.
Nice mixed flocks at Quebrada– This wonderful site often features busy flocks of tanagers and other birds. Happily for us, we had two or three flocks that gave good looks at White-throated Shrike-Tanager, Emerald and other tanager species, Striped Woodhaunter, and some other birds. I had a glimpse of one Blue-and-Gold, and we both had nice looks at the uncommon and probable future split Ashy-throated Chlorospingus.
White Hawk at both sites– It’s always nice to see a raptor, especially this bold white beauty with black highlights. The one at Quebrada was seen perched against green forest from the overlook on the lower trail. The one at Lands in Love glimpsed as it flew screaming through the canopy.
Quail-doves at Lands in Love– It was a good couple of days for quail-doves! Deep in the forest at Lands in Love, we heard and saw quite well at least two Ruddy Quail-Doves. Then, not much further down the trail, I heard what I am sure was a rare Violaceous Quail-Dove, maybe even two. Unfortunately, it snuck off before we could see it. On an interesting side note, I had the impression that the structure of the primary forest was similar to Rincon de la Vieja, another site where this species is regular.
Some usual good birds at Lands in Love– As per usual, we also had several other “good birds”. These included views of Thicket Antpitta, Tawny-chested Flycatcher, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, hearing several Golden-crowned Spadebill and Nightingale Wren (we had seen one at Quebrada the day before), a glimpse of Ocellated and Bicolored Antbirds, Spotted Antbird seen well, Song Wren, Streak-crowned Antvireo, and Tawny-faced Gnatwren.
Scaly-throated Leaftosser at Lands in Love– This uncommon species was one of our best, we even got the chance to watch it in leaf tossing mode.
Although we did not connect with the formerly regular Pittsoma at Quebrada, nor more typically vocal Keel-billed Motmots at Lands in Love (and not, I can assure, for lack of trying!), we still connected with other uncommon and rare species; this, the typical birding experience associated with careful observation in mature rainforest.