As predicted for birding in Costa Rica, it has indeed been a good year for Violet-green Swallows. Since winter began back in November, there have been several sightings of this rare species for Costa Rica. Some sightings of these overshooting vagrants have come from the coast, others from further afield, all ahve inspired me to scan distant skies as part of my morning birding “ritual”. So far, that hasn’t panned out but as with all birding, the binocular viewing never leaves me empty handed. One day, I picked up a rare for Costa Rica Cooper’s Hawk, most days see a couple flyby Giant Cowbirds, and there are is the usual flock or two of screeching Crimson-fronted Parakeets.
I also hear White-eared Ground-Sparrows calling from down below.
I watch from the back balcony but since many of the more recent sightings were from upper parts of the Central Valley, I realized that I probably needed to expand my search horizon. After hearing about a group of 10 birds (!) being seen in those nearby hills, this past sunny Saturday afternoon, Marilen and I decided to roll the biding dice for a quick trip to the Bosque del Nino area.
An area of highland forest adjacent to patches of woodlands and farms, this site is close enough for a fairly quick drive, seems to be better for migrants than other places, and was decidedly close to several recent reports of Violet-green Swallows. As is usual for Costa Rica on a Saturday afternoon, the drive there was slow and occasionally bumpy but blessed with beautiful scenery.
We made it to the access road to Bosque del Nino by 4:30, stepped out of the car and I kid you not, the first bird I saw was a dang Violet-green Swallow! It zipped over quick in typical swallow fashion but the light was in our favor and showed a small swallow with white underparts (including a white vent) that reached to the center of a short forked tail, too short to be a Tree Swallow.
With a quick look like that, you can’t see violet and you can’t see green but unlike this bird, the expected and common Blue-and-white Swallows have black vents. Further viewing revealed a few more Violet-greens foraging over trees and an adjacent field; on these birds, it was easier to see their white faces and white on the sides of the rump. We watched them forage with the more common resident swallows and made our way further up the road.
Upon seeing a large group of swallows forage over an open field, we stopped to scan them and it didn’t take long to realize that umm, yes, this winter is especially good for Violet-green Swallows in Costa Rica. There might have been 70 swallows in the field, probably more, and it seemed like every other one I got one into focus, there was the white on the side of the rump, there were the field marks of birds much further south than they usually winter, smart looking swallows that hail from glades among Ponderosa Pines and other places shared with the wacky Lewis’s Woodpecker, with sublime Mountain Bluebirds.
At least 15 Violet-greens zipped among several more Blue-and-whites and a handful of Northern Rough-wings as a Keel-billed Toucan gave its croaking call, Brown Jays worked a hedgerow, and other birds called from the woods. The roll of the dice on that beautiful late afternoon couldn’t have been more in our favor, I wonder how long those Violet-greens will stay?