The usual morning walk was superseded by a VERY early bus trip (Dago was not terribly pleased) to try one last time for the quetzals. Since Z & I had seen them so well, we decided on a leisurely morning of enjoying the hummingbirds. As the bus drove up for breakfast, we scoured the faces of the folks who tumbled off. “Did you see one?” A resounding “YES!!” came from the group. Whew! We might have chalked up more species for our trip list if we hadn’t spent so much time along the river. But it sure felt good to know that the rest of the group had finally gotten to see this marvelous, iconic bird.
After breakfast, we boarded the bus and climbed out of the valley back up to the Inter-American Highway. (To refresh your memory of the area, you can check the map here.) We traveled a bit higher, to the Cerro de la Muerte radio towers road at Km 89. (The photos on the left and below right are just 2 of the lovely views from the road.) Just 2 target birds here: Timberline Wren and Volcano Junco. At the first stop, Roger could hear the wren not far off the road. The wren was extraordinarily skulky and flitty. Just as Roger would spot it and start to give directions, it’d dash off somewhere else. I lucked into a decent glimpse when it moved briefly to a small branchless area in a bush. It was a very quick look, but one that was good enough for identification purposes. Roger continued persistently to direct people to the bird as it skittered around the low bushes in the area. Eventually, either everyone had gotten a look or had given up.
We wandered a bit further up the road, enjoying the views and catching a good look at a Volcano Hummingbird. They had been at Savegre too, but I hadn’t gotten a clear view—and wasn’t sure I could differentiate one from the similar Scintillant Hummingbird. But on Cerro de la Muerte, the Volcano Hummingbird was the only choice. An endemic species found only on the volcanoes of the Central Plateau and south through the Talamanca Mountains and on into western Panama, this bird displays different colors in different regions. (Here in the Talamancas, the male sports a rosy gorget) The female has white breast and speckled throat. The photo above right is most likely of a male; the light doesn’t illuminate the gorget, but it is relatively dark. (Click on any photo to see a larger view.) The photo above left is a female; you can see the speckled throat and white breast. Unlike most other hummingbirds, it often feeds through holes at the bases of flowers that have been pierced by Slaty Flowerpiercers.
All of a sudden, Roger zeroed in on a Volcano Junco, low in the bushes alongside the road. Not a very remarkable-looking bird—it looked a lot like our local Dark-eyed Juncos. One of Costa Rica’s most highly sought endemic birds, it resides only from Volcán Turrialba to Panama. Its habitat is at or above treeline (about 10,000 feet) in shrubby páramo. Like the U.S.’s Dark-eyed Junco, it has a similarly chunky body, pink bill, and flesh-colored legs. Unlike Dark-eyed Juncos, though, it has yellow eyes surrounded by a black mask. (You can’t see any of these field marks in the 2 far-from-stellar photos below. Thank goodness we weren’t submitting them to a Rare Birds Committee for documentation. But hey—we got photos!) A hard-to-find bird, so that was fun.
We continued to climb along the Inter-American Highway and stopped at La Georgina—a restaurant/truck stop that featured lots of hummingbird feeders. There, we were lucky enough to spot a Fiery-throated Hummingbird feeding along the bushes below the restaurant. (“Flaming” species #3!) What an amazingly beautiful bird! (This lovely photo isn’t ours. You can find a larger version of it (photographer—auf) at the Internet Bird Collection Web site; click here.) Truly one of the most stunning hummingbirds in Costa Rica’s forested highlands. Along with a dark green, a blue tail, and a deep blue crown, its throat is an intense iridescent red in the central portion surrounded by iridescent orange. Unusual among hummingbirds, the sexes are identical. Like the Volcano Hummingbird, it may use holes at the base of flowers with long corollas made by bumblebees or Slaty Flowerpiercers; at times, it may pierce the flower bases itself.
We also spotted a Large-footed Finch at the base of these bushes, spottable because of its green back. Endemic in montane and páramo habitats from central Costa Rica to western Panama, it features a dark gray or black back, a chunky body, and a yellowish-olive belly. (Photo on the right thanks to Wikimedia; photographer, Mike Baird. Check out those eponymous super-feet!) It’s easiest to spot by its feeding technique: It forages on the ground in the manner of a towhee, using double-footed forward and backward jumps to move leaf litter and other ground cover aside to find seeds and insects.
And those would be our last new species for the trip. Time to head back to San José for our final evening of the trip.