A Charming Baby Elaenia

Juvenile Lesser Elaenia at Finca Cantaros

Lesser Elaenia (juvenile) at Finca Cantaros with light-colored wing patch formed by edgings of folded middle secondary feathers

The Scientific Committee of the Ornithological Association of Costa Rica (AOCR), responsible for the registry of birds and monitoring the status of rare species, updated this week its official list of Costa Rican birds: 909 species.  I am trying to learn to identify the almost 220 species that have, with the help of experienced birders and professional ornithologists keeping track, found their way onto our Finca Cantaros bird list. That seems like substantial diversity for a 7 ha (17 acre) property, but it is only about half the number of species at the Las Cruces Biological Station and Wilson Botanical Garden just 2.5 k down the road—there are over 400 bird species on that list due to its much larger forest area and richly varied habitat.

Trying not to get discouraged about how long it is taking me to recognize even some common LBJs (“Little Brown Jobs” as birders call mostly brown birds whose markings they cannot distinguish) and other less than colorful forest species on my own property, I find my memory is enhanced by taking photos whenever possible. I come home, download the photos, study the books, and occasionally find a good match. All too often however, I can’t identify the bird and must reach out for help. Fortunately, I have plenty of local birding friends who are quite brilliant at identifying birds from imperfect photos.

Juvenile Lesser Elaenia

Lesser Elaenia (juvenile)

I needed help today for the Lesser Elaenia, a small 5 ¼ inch member of the Tyrannidae: American or Tyrant Flycatchers. There was a small flock of these birds going from bush to bush eating ripe Miconia fruits. I suspected it was very young from the pale, slightly splotchy tones, and I guessed it was a Bran-colored Flycatcher. After sending him my photos, I was informed by Pepe Castiblanco, a nearby naturalist guide, that indeed it was a baby, but a Lesser Elaenia. “It is very similar to the Yellow Bellied Elaenia, but note pale wing patch. It’s exactly as it appears in the book.”

Juvenile Lesser Elaenia, Finca Cantaros

Lesser Elaenia, Finca Cantaros

Caramba! That detail told him everything he needed to know, while I hadn’t even noticed the patch.

The Foto Diarist, challenged as she is, captures on film all the beauty that luck allows her, and takes solace from William Wordsworth:

“Knowing that Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” *


Pepe Castiblanco, naturalist guide, can be contacted through the wonderful B&B that he owns with his wife Kathleen Ulenaers in Linda Vista, Coto Brus, halfway between the Wilson Botanical Garden and Finca Cantaros.

*Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey [1798, l. 122]

Range of Lesser Elaenia:  Costa Rica to NW Ecuador, C Bolivia, and SE Brazil from A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by F. Gary Stiles and Alexander Skutch. Comstock Publishing Associates, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 1989.

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