Costa Rica Birding 2021 Part 4 – Savegre Valley

The Savegre area was the place that had the highest elevation of any on our trip, and because of that, it had very different birds.  This was immediately apparent upon our arrival, as even the birds in the garden of the Savegre Hotel (where we stayed) were very different from what we’d been seeing the rest of our trip.  Talamanca, fiery throated and volcano hummingbirds, as well as white-throated mountain-gem (also a hummingbird) were common and relatively tame.  Yellow-bellied siskins, flame-colored tanagers, and slaty flowerpiercers were also abundant.  Long-tailed silky flycatchers, an absurdly elegant bird that looks like it might be finely sculpted from wax, were rarely out of earshot our entire stay.

white-throated mountain-gem

Our first night we went on the night tour offered by the lodge, because it was advertised as providing a good chance at finding several different species of owls.  Apparently, however, there was some miscommunication between the guide and the lodge, because we spent nearly the entire time trying to call in one species, the bare-shanked screech-owl.  After a truly disturbing amount of playback from our guide, we did eventually manage to spotlight the owl, which was a special experience.  Despite that, though, I regret not insisting sooner that enough playback was enough, and it was ok if we just heard the owl.  I suppose I can hope that particular night tour isn’t very popular. 

The unfortunate bare-shanked screech-owl.

One of the most unique habitats we visited on our entire trip was the high elevation páramo that covers the very tops of the mountains in that region.  The páramo is a stunningly gorgeous grassland that only grows above 11,000 feet or so.  When we went many of the forbs and shrubs were blooming, coloring the mountain peaks bright shades of yellow and white as they faded into the distance.  Tiny crystal-clear streams filtered through the vegetation, in one of which my brother found a bright green salamander.  Unsurprisingly, the birds of the páramo are also unique — many of them are restricted to that habitat.  We spent four hours at one páramo site (Cerro Buenavista communication towers in Los Quetzales National Park) and only saw 17 species.  However, almost half of those were lifers.  Volcano juncos were everywhere, hopping about on the ground and in the short vegetation.  Large-footed finches were also easy to find, usually sitting still in the bases of bushes.  Timberline wrens usually stuck to the dense tangles of bamboo, although my brother did manage to photograph one in a small shrub amidst tangles of reindeer lichen.  Yellow-winged vireo, black-capped flycatcher, mountain elaenia, black-billed nightingale-thrush, and sooty thrush were also all abundant. 

volcano junco

On our final day, we took a long hike around our lodge.  The trail led through a forest of old and gigantic oaks, their trunks absurdly tall and straight, and their distant branches covered in lichens and epiphytes.  The birding was slow, but pleasant, and we slowly racked up an interesting list of species.  At one point, a family of spotted wood-quail quickly ran across the path in front of us.  At another, a flock of sulphur-winged parakeets descended noisily from the sky.  Perhaps the most exciting bird of the hike was a wrenthrush Theo and I encountered deep up the valley of a small mountain stream.  Wet vegetation pressed all around us as we huddled on a little beach, our binoculars trained on the brilliant red crest of the small bird agitatedly singing on the bank opposite us.  We also saw flame-throated warblers, silver-throated tanagers, yellow-winged vireos, a buffy tuftedcheek, a spot-crowned woodcreeper and my 1000th life bird, an ochraceous pewee.  The pewee ended up being my last life bird of the trip, as when the hike was over we sadly said goodbye to the beautiful Savegre Valley and began the long and grueling drive back to San José for our flight home. 

silver-throated tanager

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