2nd Bird of Christmas: Black-headed Trogon

27 Dec

If you are just tuning in, I’m sharing a Costa Rican bird species for each day of Christmas, the days in between the holidays of Christmas and Epiphany (January 6). Visit the first day’s entry for more background.

When I traveled to Costa Rica for the first time in January of 2008, I purposely gave the birding section of the Lonely Planet only a cursory glance. For me it is more pleasurable – and more emulative of the thrill of childhood outdoor adventure – to discover wildlife for the first time in a naïve state. It’s easier to turn off thinking and be present when you don’t know what you are looking and listening for. There will be plenty of time for reading about the creatures after you’ve had a direct experience with them “in the now.”

The very first day I got to go out birding, I set out at the literal crack of dawn, because that is when all wildlife is most active in the tropics. Even just an hour after sunrise, activity diminishes by about 75 percent; as the day continues to heat up, it becomes practically nonexistent. I walked along a dusty gravel road in remote Playa Naranjo on the Nicoya Peninsula, listening and scanning for movement in the trees with binoculars. Rising to the surface of the general cacophony of industrious morning calls was a song comprised of an accelerated series of whistled clucks that descended progressively in pitch. “Po-po-po-po-po-po-po-po-po-po-po” would be answered by a slightly lower, less resonant but similar call. It was easy to pinpoint where the sound was coming from, and I quickly located a pair of yellow bellied birds with excellent posture, blue rings around their black eyes, and tails that hung way down below them on their perches, sporting neat rows of white tips. They sat in close proximity to one another on different branches of the same tree, calling back and forth.

I later read this description of Trogon melanocephalus by the quintessential Costa Rican naturalist Alexander Skutch: “Often heard, too, in the shrinking Guanacastecan woodlands is the accelerated rattle or roll of the Black-headed Trogon… in March, I found seven of [them] noisily engaged in the business of forming pairs… they pursued one another through the tall forest, pausing to call while perching close together. The females’ calls were lower and drier than the males’. Like the parakeets, these trogons often dig their nest chamber in the heart of a hard, black arboreal termitary.”

After a few months in the country, I learned to easily pick out the call of the “Trogoncita” and to be able to direct others new to Costa Rica to the places where they could view the Trogón Cabecinegro. When pairs would happen onto the hotel property I later called home further down the Pacific Coast, Tambor Tropical, several of us would inevitably pause in our work and find one another in the gardens, necks stretched back, chins and eyes lifted to the high branches, where we would view the precious golden visitors, who sometimes brought their fluffy young, teaching them to fly to our great amusement.

Click here to hear the trogons.

Here is a really great photo of the Black-headed trogon.

Photos for this entry by Frances Figart and Bruce Smith

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