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Sunbittern Soliloquy

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Don Alvaro has macaws living at liberty on and around his farm, and they are the heart and soul of the place. I'll get to them soon. But there is so much more living there!

He walked down to show us where to look for the sunbittern.

On the way, a common tody-flycatcher with its outsized bill and staring yellow eye!
This bird is tiny, smaller than a kinglet. 

A squirrel cuckoo sat in plain sight. I began to wonder if the animals and birds here were all enchanted.

 The sunbittern is kind of a Grail of Costa Rican birds. Not a rail, not a crane, not a duck and not a  bittern, it's a grail.  :) It makes its living along fast-flowing rivers, hopping from boulder to boulder, catching small fish and searching for aquatic insects and crustaceans in little pools.

The sunbittern is about the size of a green heron, but it's not a heron--it's in its own family, the Eurypygidae. It's the only member of the genus Eurypyga. Monotypic genus in a one-species family: rara avis. I was astounded to learn it shows genetic and morphological similarities to the famous kagu of New Caledonia! They are each other's closest living relatives...a long, long way apart. This indicates a "gondwanic origin," according to Wikipedia, which I'm thinking refers to an ancient shared lineage dating back to Gondwanaland, that big ol' blob of continents that later split apart. Holy cow. 

But the sunbittern has a secret. 

One that it keeps hidden until it flies, preens or stretches...

Its wings look like those of a giant butterfly! Patterned with two enormous eyespots that, when presented frontally as the bird bows, ought to bedazzle either prospective mate or predator alike.

We huddled down on the riverbank, cameras, scopes and binoculars at the ready, and saw this beautiful bird through four different leisurely bouts of preening and stretching, just aching to catch a glimpse or get a photo of those incredible wings.

The bird was like a fan dancer. It was as if it knew it was tantalizing us, and enjoying it. Perhaps it could hear our gasps over the roar of the river, each time it half-opened a wing. For there is nothing, nothing like the colors on a sunbittern's wing.

We attracted the attention of a couple of adorable boys
who joined us and looked in our scope to see this miraculous bird.

Stretch, and stretch again...

show us your best, here on this tumbling river

in this place where animals have nothing to fear.


Oh, my! It's like a bird and a butterfly had managed to produce a love-child! I wonder if this bird hatches from an egg or pupates...?

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