Last week, Costa Rica celebrated the country’s Independence Day with parades, speeches, and fireworks. As part of those festivities, my wife and daughter also had a few days off from school. We took advantage of that extra bit of free time with a trip to Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste, something that was more than OK with me because this area also acts as an excellent base for Guanacaste birding.
With rice fields that act as wetland habitats, dry forest, and scrubby fields all within easy reach, I had plenty of bird opportunities to keep me busy, especially because our trip coincided with major shorebird migration. Speaking of shorebirds, my first stop on the way there was the wader hotspot of Punta Morales.
This area of salt ponds next to mangroves is always a worthwhile place to scope at high tide and Thursday was no exception. Hundreds of the expected species were there and although I didn’t manage to eek any crazy stints or other rarities out of the mix, it’s always a fine day when you can pick up a year bird (Surfbird this time) while looking over Marbled Godwits, Whimbrels, Willets, Short-billed Dowitchers, Stilt Sandpipers, Wilson’s Phalaropes, yellowlegs, Western, Semipalmated, and Least Sandpipers, Spotted Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, and Black-bellied, Wilson’s, and Semipalmated Plovers.
Punta Morales at high tide.
A few dry forest species also made appearances before I got back into the car and drove off, as always, wondering if I had checked over each bird well enough, and if there was a Curlew Sandpiper or some other “great bird” sleeping out of sight on the other side of a muddy berm. What flew in after I left? What showed up later that day? It’s a real shame that we don’t have constant monitoring going on there and at the other main shorebird site, Chomes.
Further north I drove, and the driving became unexpectedly wonderful where the new highway began at Canas. That section of road from there up past Liberia is now a fine, concrete four-laned highway. Enjoy the ride!
Over at Playa Hermosa, I focused on the rice fields and woodlands on the stretch of road between there and the turn-off to Papagayo. In other words, this is the route to Hermosa that does not go near Playas del Coco. Since this area has turned up serious stuff like Aplomado Falcon and Upland and Baird’s Sandpipers in the past, and seems like a good place for other really good birds to show up, it’s always worth a close, thorough check. Try as I did to wish an A. Falcon or lost Vermilion Flycatcher into existence, no major luck there, but, I was pretty pleased to get looks at the pair of Jabirus that often frequent the site.
These birds come and go, it’s worth it to just keep checking.
Despite what appears to be heavy application of poison (aka pesticides), the rice fields also look like fine hiding places for Spotted Rails and other secretive marsh birds. I certainly played Spotted Rail calls here and there but got nothing in response. Well, I should say nothing definitive because I did hear an unknown rattling call that may have been a response. It never called again but since it sounded like a similar call I heard in the wetlands of Medio Queso under similar circumstances, I can’t help but wonder if that was THE BIRD. However, just like Medio Queso, this one never called again despite playing various calls of Spotted Rail (none of which match the sounds I heard by the way), and intently staring at marsh grass.
Other nice birdies included Limpkin, Harris’s Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Roseate Spoonbill, various herons and egrets, flyover Dickcissels, and close looks at Plain-breasted Ground-Doves.
This is a very reliable area in Costa Rica for this tiny dove species.
In the patchy forested areas near the entrance to Finca Trancas and on the way to Playa Hermosa, I had fun making early morning recordings of Thicket Tinamou, Yellow-naped Parrots, Banded Wrens, Long-billed Gnatwren, Olive Sparrow, Blue Grosbeaks, and other expected species. The tinamou stayed out of sight and was only in the forested riparian zone on the way to Playa Hermosa, and I only had a handful of the parrots. I had a few small groups of Orange-fronted Parakeets as well but, oddly, no White-fronted Parrots, usually the most common Psittacine in Guanacaste.
Always nice to see the threatened Yellow-naped Amazon.
A dawn chorus along that road:
Back over in the rice growing area, I was mostly looking for shorebird habitat. A few waders perched on the muddy berms out in the rice but the best spot was a muddy field and marshy area along a road on the southern end of the fields.
This harbored some Stilt and Solitary Sandpipers, dowitchers, and a few other shorebirds, best being an American Golden-Plover. Herons, egrets, and Blue-winged Teal were also out there as well as Ernesto Carman of Get Your Birds. We both wondered what else might be hiding out there in the big expanse of marshy grass. I was hoping for a Baird’s or early snipe but no luck this time.
Fine, muddy field habitat.
I also checked some fields over by Filadelfia and the catfish ponds but had few birds, couldn’t enter the ponds area, and the “ponds” looked pretty dry anyways. At the end of the trip, I was pleased to leave with 5 year birds, and some nice images and recordings. If you head up that way, enjoy the easy-going roadside birding and keep an eye out for anything unusual!
Some eBird lists from this trip:
Last weekend, I made my almost annual trip to Tapanti National Park. Like most places in Costa Rica, it’s not that far away, but like most places in Costa Rica, it’s also not the easiest of drives to make as a day visit. It is if you live around Cartago but if you happen to reside over near San Jose, there’s just no way to avoid the traffic, especially on the slow drive back. That’s the only thing that keeps me from visiting more often and I always wish I could because it’s one of the easiest places in the country for accessing high quality middle elevation forest.
The road through Tapanti.
We see similar forest types on the drive through Braulio Carrillo National Park but the lack of trails and places to stop means that “thou can look, but ye cannot touch” those areas where Rufous-breasted Antthrushes call, and Ochre-breasted Antpittas hide. Since there’s some other species at that elevation that I would love to get for the year, rarely see or hear, and for which we also need images for the birding field guide apps I work on, I’m always wanting to walk in those mossy middle elevation forests.
Tapanti provides a chance at those species and more, and although birds like Rufous-rumped Antwren and Red-fronted Parrotlet are still rare, this national park is one of the better places to look for them. Since there was also a recent bamboo seeding event in the park, Susan and I decided to risk the traffic and do a day trip to Tapanti. On the way there, we made the usual brief stop in front of Lankester Gardens to see if we could come across Sedge Wren and White-throated Flycatcher. No luck on Sunday although we only made a brief check for them on the edge of the remnant, endangered sedge field. Here’s an eBird list from the brief stop: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S31425150
Next, we cruised over to Tapanti, stopping just before the entrance to the park (since it doesn’t open until 8). Luckily, you can still see quite a few cool birds in that first area of forest, including the Streaked Xenops that we got. No luck with the monklet or antpittas but it’s always worth it to try for them.
We also had Collared Trogon.
Once the park opened, we waltzed on in and began with the birding. Our first species in the park were Ruddy Pigeons calling behind the HQ, expected Golden-bellied Flycatcher, and looks at Red-headed Barbet. Shortly after, we came across the first area of seeding bamboo and stopped to investigate. Seeds were still present but sadly, there wasn’t any sign of Slate-colored Seedeater, Blue Seedeater, nor Slaty Finch. However, intriguing glimpses of something moving in the bamboo resulted in scope views of Barred Parakeets!
This was the first time I have seen this species perched.
Although it’s easy to see this small parakeet calling and flying high overhead at various sites, it’s a real treat to see them perched. As we watched them, I understood why I have seen hundreds (probably thousands) of Barred Parakeets in Costa Rica, Mexico, and Ecuador without ever see the small green parakeet off the wing. This perched pair of very unobtrusive parakeets reminded me of owls the way they blended in with their surroundings. If we hadn’t seen them move, we would have just walked on past, oblivious to their presence. It was even hard to find them after knowing where they were.
There are Barred Parakeets somewhere in this image.
We enjoyed those Barred Parakeets for a while, hoping for other bamboo birds to show. They never did but it was still a treat to see the parakeets allopreen, and see one of them making what appeared to be soft calls that we couldn’t hear.
Further up the road, we ventured onto the steep Arboles Caidos trail but with the sunny weather and walking on it during the most non-birdy time of the day, we saw very little. There were some Spotted Barbtails, Lineated Foliage-gleaner, and some other expected species but we dipped on antpittas, the outside chance at the Central American form of the Black-banded Woodcreeper, and didn’t even hear Rufous-breasted Antthrush. It was still nice to get some exercise in beautiful forest though.
We also had several Wedge-billed Woodcreepers.
After exiting the trail at 11, a lot of Sunday visitors had arrived in the park, and some rain started to fall. We cruised the main road looking for mixed flocks and had a bit of luck but not with THE mixed flock I was hoping for (that would be the one with the rare birds). When the rain picked up and turned into a constant downpour, we decided to call it a day and make the drive back. The drive wasn’t all that bad although the pouring rain pounding the roadway wasn’t so fun.
If you plan on visiting Tapanti, try and speak with the rangers the day before to ask about an early entrance. If you can do that, head right over to the Oropendola trail and scan for Scaled Antpitta. It’s also better during mid-week. Bring your own food or have lunch at the small soda just outside the park- take the first right just after the forest and drive up to the small diner.
Last week, I did a trip to Luna Lodge, one of the more remote ecolodges in Costa Rica, and one of the only ones that provides access to the interior forests of the Osa Peninsula. As befits any lodge in the heart of quality rainforest, the birding at Luna is always exciting. Upon arrival, you wonder if an extra large eagle might appear in the spotting scope while patiently scanning the canopy of a forested hillside. You wonder if the calls of a rare Red-throated Caracara will be heard echoing through the humid jungles. I personally wonder if I will finally glimpse a Puma while hiking through the rainforest. With the lodge surrounded on all sides by forest that extends into the heart of one of Costa Rica’s wildest areas, it truly seems like anything is possible. Although there haven’t been any recently documented sightings of Harpy or Crested Eagles in the Osa, and Pumas are around but always expert at staying hidden, Luna Lodge and nearby areas would be one of the better places for sightings like these to happen. This is, after all, rough, rugged rainforest where monkeys are heard and seen throughout the day along with lots of birds.
Check out them jungles…
While they are still fresh in my mind, I present some highlights and observations from the trip:
A long drive: Driving from the Central Valley to Luna Lodge is an all day event. It takes around 8 hours to get there from the San Jose area and that doesn’t take into account any birding stops. Include birding en route and it takes a whole while longer to get there. Since the birding en route is very much recommended, you are better off not driving straight from San Jose but stopping for a night on the way. That, or just take a short flight to Puerto Jimenez or Carate (even more recommended!) and go from there. Although paved roads have made the trip far easier than in the past, you still have around 40 kilometers of rough, pot-holed, un-paved roads to drive over along with a few river crossings thrown in for good measure. That said, that section of the road also has some of the more exciting birding opportunities, and it would be worth it to slowly bird it from Puerto Jimenez.
Tarcoles: A small seaside settlement where the biggest attraction is a river with a high population of crocodiles might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is good for birding! We stopped there to check seasonal wetlands for whatever and the river mouth for shorebirds, terns, and other things with webbed feet. As usual the morning birding between Tarcoles and Playa Azul was nice and punctuated by Mangrove Vireo, Crane Hawk, Scarlet Macaws, and other species. Nothing unusual in the wetlands, nor on the beach, but always birdy. The best on the beach was probably Collared Plover.
The pink feet of a Wood Stork were a close second.
Dominical: Once you reach Dominical, you have the temptation to stop and bird side roads that access good rainforest, or even look for stuff from a gas station. We did that with the hopes of seeing Spot-fronted Swift. As luck would have it, we did almost certainly see them but with the frustration of not seeing or hearing anything absolutely diagnostic because of uncooperative lighting and distance from the birds. This means that we did see a flock of swifts that, by shape and flight pattern, were not Costa Rican, Lesser Swallow-tailed, White-collared, or Chestnut-collared. Since Spot-fronted are seen here regularly, there was a 99% chance that this is what they were. BUT, since the very similar White-chinned Swift has been found near there, even though it is far less likely, that still leaves enough room to cast some doubt on the birds being Spot-fronted Swifts. If only they would have flown a bit lower!
Rice fields: These pseudo wetlands are en route and if they have water, can have some nice birds. Check enough of them and you might even find Spotted Rail, Paint-billed Crake, and Slate-colored Seedeater. We didn’t find those with the brief checks we allotted but we did see lots of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Southern Lapwing, and a small flock of Shiny Cowbirds. They are also always worth checking to see if you can find a lost Wattled Jacana for your Cosa Rican list.
Cuisine: The food at Luna Lodge is fantastic. So good. Creative, delicious, healthy dishes that use several ingredients right from their organic garden. Enjoy dining amidst the sounds of the rainforest.
Rooms: Comfortable, peaceful, and with views into treetops that can have Turquoise Cotinga.
Turquoise Cotinga: Speaking of this one, it is fairly common at Luna Lodge and hard to miss. We had excellent views of males and females from the birding platform, from the rooms, and from a site near Luna Lodge (the hip sounding “Shady Lane”).
Good morning starshine, I mean shiny blue and purple bird!
Trogons, honeycreepers, and other cool tropical birds: Being situated in the middle of rainforest, one does tend to see quite a few birds, many of which are rather exotic in appearance. Bird the lodge grounds and the trails and you might see four trogon species, Shining and Green Honeycreepers, euphonias (think colorful little tropical goldfinches), Rufous Piha, Blue-crowned, Red-capped, and Orange-collared Manakins (all pretty common), and Golden-naped Woodpecker among other species. You can also try for the endemic Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, Marbled Wood-Quail, and other deep forest species on the trails but be ready for hiking some fairly steep slopes (at least on maintained trails).
Spot-crowned Euphonia is a common endemic.
Same goes for the beautiful Golden-naped Woodpecker. It’s kind of like a Three-toed Woodpecker that went to the beauty salon.
Rufous Piha was pretty common right at the lodge.
Raptors: Yeah, we dipped on all eagles, even the hawk ones. But, we still saw 18 species of raptors, some on the ride to the lodge, and some right at the lodge. On the way there, we had the aforementioned Crane Hawk, Turkey and Black Vultures, Yellow-headed and Crested Caracaras, Roadside Hawks aplenty, White-tailed Kite, Common Black Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, and Bat Falcon. At Luna Lodge, mostly during a morning of raptor watching from the yoga platform (don’t you know that yoga platforms are always conducive with good raptor watching?), we also had White Hawk- a common, beautiful species in the area, Short-tailed Hawk, Great Black Hawk- nice to see that rare one, King Vultures, and Swallow-tailed and Double-toothed Kites. Collared Forest-Falcon was a heard only, and our last raptor was Laughing Falcon on the drive out.
Shady Lane: I love birding a place with a name like that! It would also be cool to bird it while wearing a bowler hat and walking with a Victorian style cane in one hand and a cold mojito in the other. The only problem would be that unwelcome extra bit of heat generated by the hat in 90 degree humid air, and dropping the cane while juggling the drink as you grab your binos time after time in that birdy spot. Actually, it was a bit slow during our morning visit. We still managed three trogon species (including Baird’s), Bicolored Antbird, Tawny-winged, Cocoa, and Northern Barred Woodcreepers, Turquoise Cotinga, White Hawk, King Vulture, Red-capped and Blue-crowned Manakins, Golden-crowned Spadebill, and other species (including three heard only too shy Streak-chested Antpittas), but the spot can be even birdier than that! Try as we might nor did we find a super rare Speckled Mourner but it was still a fine morning at Shady Lane.
Climate change: Now for something not as happy but deserving of mention. We got rained out each afternoon and that was a good thing because the forests of the Osa have been experiencing much less rain than they are adapted to. Lower amounts of rainfall in the Osa are because of global warming and this is almost certainly why we did not detect as many individual birds or species compared to 16 years ago. The differences are noticeable every time I go birding anywhere in Costa Rica, and anyone who has been birding here for more than ten years probably sees these changes as well. There hasn’t been any deforestation around Luna Lodge, and if anything, more forest in growing but there has been less rain and no, it’s not some natural cycle.
Why do I say that? Because I believe everything I hear? No, I say it because thousands of peer-reviewed papers come to that conclusion. If you don’t believe in human-caused global warming, then I suggest that you please be objective and consider these two options: 1.Human caused global warming is real because scientists who fiercely compete with each other over grant money and funding, publish thousands of peer-reviewed papers that indicate this to be the case, or 2. Human caused global warming is false because this is claimed in non-peer reviewed information distributed by organizations paid to do so by the fossil fuel industry. Which seems more likely? If you choose “2”, then you might as well not trust anything any medical doctor says (because they rely on peer-reviewed scientific studies) or believe that the moon is real. Although this might seem tangential, when it comes to bird populations (as well as the future of human civilization and possibly existence), mentioning global warming is all too relevant. I wish it wasn’t, but diminishing bird populations say otherwise. Please plant a tree and work for sustainable, non-fossil fuel energy now!
I don’t like to end that on an alarming note but as my friend Brad used to say, “That’s the way the ball bounces Little P”.
Ok, well, I will end it on a more positive note after all. Lana Wedmore, the owner of Luna Lodge told us that a sustainable public school will be built in Carate! Instead of kids having to travel several kilometers to school, they can learn right there at the start of Shady Lane. Also, she is selling really cool White Hawk shirts for what else but the White Hawk Foundation- http://www.whitehawkfoundation.org/. The goal of this foundation is to purchase forested lands between Corcovado Park and Luna Lodge to keep them protected. Please check out the link to see the White Hawk video, information, and how to purchase some of those shirts.
Lana shows the White Hawk shirt.
Growing up in western New York, August was a time of dusky, hazy weather. During those muggy, late summer days, I used to wonder if it was like that in tropical places with palm trees, white sand beaches, and turquoise water. I only knew those places well south of the border through travel brochures, National Geographic, and books in the Earl Bridges Public Library. At the time of teen years during the late 1980s, the closest I had come to anything tropical was the wave pool at “Niagara Splash”. It acted as my temporary tropical proxy, especially on beautiful summer days when white fluffy clouds floated through blue skies, but I surmised that it was nothing like the real thing. Some days, it was kind of too cold to go into the water (hence the eventual closure of the water park after a few years), and the avian scene was punctuated by crows and gulls instead of parrots and toucans.
Although Niagara gull watching in winter can be nice…
Little did I know that I would get a chance to experience the true essence of the tropics while birding in Costa Rica a few years later. While the hazy humidity was reminiscent of a northern august, the sun was ten times hotter, it got dark by six, and yes, there were indeed hundreds of new and excitingly unfamiliar birds including parrots, toucans, tinamous, and tanagers. Today, as I write this, August at my place in Costa Rica is cloudy, warm and fairly humid, and the skies are preparing for the afternoon rains. If I look outside, I might see a Tropical Kingbird perched on a wire, see vultures turning circles high above, and espy White-winged Doves and Red-billed Pigeons zipping by. Summer is eternal down here in the tropical latitudes but not all the beaches have snow-white sand or clear, turquoise waters. I felt a mild earthquake today but that comes with the scenery. The birding is always exciting, though, so if you are going to be here these days, enjoy the feathered show. Now for some birding news related to Costa Rica:
Some migrants are back in town: Up north, a lot of birds are moving but still have some time before they reach Costa Rica. Nevertheless, change is in the air and some migrants are leaving as other arrive. Shorebirds have been turning up in the usual haunts, I no longer hear or see Piratic Flycatchers, Swallow-tailed Kites are on the move to their winter Amazonian haunts, and I was surprised by a sighting of an American Redstart just the other day. Waterthrushes have also been seen as have wood-pewees. It will be interesting to see what other migrants I might find during the next four days of solid birding from here to the Osa peninsula. I’ll let you know!
To see what else has been reported from Costa Rica the past couple of weeks, search eBird for Costa Rica, bar charts, and set the dates for August, 2016. Sorry about non link, at the moment, there is some problem related to adding links to my posts.
Great Green Macaws are in the foothills: Although this endangered species is usually associated with the Caribbean lowlands, during the wet season, it is more often found at foothill sites. Lately, I have had a few in the early morning at Quebrada Gonzalez and El Tapir, and had a flock of 14 near Virgen del Socorro a few days ago. In the past, I have also had fairly large flocks of this species in the foothills between Virgen del Socorro, and Ciudad Quesada. The ones from the other day were seen from the road between San Miguel and Virgen del Socorro.
You might also see an Ornate Hawk-Eagle in flight. This one was flying high overhead in the same area as the macaws.
Oilbirds in Monteverde: This sweet target twitch for Costa Rica has been seen during night hikes at Curi Cancha and the Refugio (Monteverde Wildlife Refuge). I’m so dying to head up there and watch those weird birds, hope I can somehow find the time to do it. I just spoke with Robert Dean today about them and he said that there might just be a few, or there might by several, really no way to know. But, they are definitely showing, make sure to go on the night hike at either of those sites and ask to see the Oilbirds. Better yet, one of them has a transmitter on it! Hopefully, we can finally find out where these birds are coming from. Robert also mentioned that the wild avocados up that way are also full of fruit. With luck, that will keep the Oilbirds around for a while.
The Costa Rica Festival of Birds and Nature is coming up: Have you ever wanted to see a Cerulean Warbler in Costa Rica? How about seeing one while looking at lots of cool resident birds? That will happen during the third Festival de Aves y Naturaleza de Costa Rica. It all happens on September 3rd and 4th and will be an excellent weekend of birding, frogging, and helping with local conservation. On a side note, local top guide and field researcher Ernesto Carman also has a cool, new website and guiding endeavor. Check out http://www.getyourbirds.com/
Maybe one of the species you will see will be an Olive-backed Euphonia.
Costa Rica Birding Hotspots will be at BirdFair: If you are going to be at BirdFair 2016, check out Serge Arias’ presentation about the Endemic Birds of Costa Rica, Friday, 1:30 pm, Lecture Marqee 1. I wish I could be there! – http://www.birdfair.org.uk/events/the-endemic-birds-to-costa-rica/
The sad passing of a local birding guide: By far, the saddest news is the recent passing of Roy Orozco. Roy was a local, excellent birding guide, naturalist, and artist as well husband and father. I last saw Roy in late March while birding at Arenal Observatory Lodge. As usual, we exchanged sightings and I looked forward to birding with him without clients. Sadly, his last battle with cancer kept that day from arriving. Roy was a kind, generous, positive person who loved birding and the natural world, and made a positive impression on many people. In being a birder, he was also one of our “tribe”. Whether it’s because as a young person, I always wanted to meet other people like myself who yearned to experience birds at all times, and/or because I feel a sense of companionship with those who share this passion, I can’t help but view other birders as part of my tribe, my people, and Roy was one of them. At this time, probably because of bureaucracy, it appears that Roy’s widow and children are in need of help, and one of his good friends and fellow guides, Johan Chaves, is working hard to help them survive. Please consider helping the family of a fellow birder and guide who likewise helped hundreds of people experience and appreciate the beauty of the natural world by contacting Johan at: email@example.com
or, by phone: (506) 88504419
See his Facebook page at:
That’s all for now, keep your fingers crossed that I can post a picture of a big rainforest eagle some time next week!
The easiest place to experience quality rainforest birding when staying in the San Jose area is El Tapir and Quebrada Gonzalez. Or, maybe I should say the quickest, most accessible place because the birding there is never actually easy. Instead, it’s a mysterious challenge that always comes with a temptation of birding gold. But, even if you are just getting started with birds, it’s still worth a visit, especially if you have a free day around San Jose.
A lot of people ask me about the birding in San Jose and my reply is always the same. I tell them that birding in the city isn’t really worth the effort, especially when you can do an easy day trip for foothill species at El Tapir and Quebrada Gonzalez, or highland birds up in the Poas area. Both areas are a close hour’s drive, and always offer quality birding. Compare that to looking for common species in public parks or gardens while worrying about someone trying to steal your binoculars and there’s really no comparison. Maybe if you want to safely look for the endemic ground-sparrow and hang with common birds while staying at places like the Bougainvillea, Xandari, or Zamora Estates, but, in general, if you want to see more, then you need to head over to the mountains. In the case of the foothill sites, that would actually be up and over the mountains.
I did that for a recent day of guiding, and I hope this short report gives an idea of what you might run into over that way. As might these eBird checklists:
If you haven’t previously talked with the guards at Quebrada Gonzalez about leaving the gate open before eight (the usual opening time), go past the ranger station for a couple kilometers and watch for the entrance to El Tapir on the right. Don’t expect a sign but know that it’s the first entrance for a car on the right. If the gate is closed, open it and head on in. Hopefully, the Snowcaps will be active along with lots of other hummingbirds. They were when we were there, including 5 or 6 Snowcaps of all ages and genders, and several other species including Brown Violetear.
Not a whole lot else was going on and the surrounding tree tops were nearly absent of birds, but that can change from one day to the next with various species of raptors showing up, toucans and parrots perching in view, and even Great Green Macaw making an appearance. That large, endangered parrot did indeed show for us even if it was a quick flyby. That happened while we were trying to get good looks at Russet Antshrike, Spotted Antbird, and Slate-colored Grosbeak, all of which were singing (and hiding) at the same time. The antbird didn’t play ball very well, but the other two eventually showed. We also got onto some of our first tanagers as they moved through in a quick flock with several Black-faced grosbeaks.
Deeper into the forest, my hopes and excitement kicked up a notch upon hearing Ocellated and Bicolored Antbirds but eventually went back down to birding standby as those ant followers moved off. They never showed and just kept going so I assume they were wandering in search of Army Ants. I played calls of mega R.V. G. Cuckoo and the gnatpitta anyways but got nothing in response. On we went and saw that recent heavy rains had dropped too many branches to go much further. Unfortunately, it was the same situation on the trail down to the river, so we couldn’t explore much of that part of the forest, an area where I suspected that we had more of a chance at Lattice-tailed Trogon or even umbrellabird. However, we still saw found one understory insectivore flock with hoped for Streak-crowned Antvireo, and White-flanked and Checker-throated Antwrens.
Back out in the hummingbird garden, we looked some more before heading over to Quebrada Gonzalez for the rest of the day. Sunny weather kept things pretty quiet but we still managed a few mixed flocks with target White-throated Shrike-Tanager, several other tanagers, a few more Streak-crowned Antvireos, Pale-vented Thrush, and some other birds. No ground birds seen, nor even singing Nightingale Wrens nor Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush (usually a given on those trails). But, we did see a King Vulture in flight, heard the Caribbean slope subspecies of Streak-chested Antpitta, saw Striped Woodhaunter, and eventual nice looks at Speckled and Emerald Tanagers.
A good site for the easy on the eyes Emerald Tanager,
and the Speckled Tanager.
The only break we took was for lunch just down the road at Chicharronera Patona. It’s small and there’s not a lot on the menu but the food is home-cooked, plentiful, fair-priced, and the owners like birds. It also offers a look into some tall trees and a hillside of forest. You never know what might show at that site. When we were there, we had close looks at Black-cheeked and Rufous-winged Woodpeckers, Band-backed Wren, and some other species. The spot also features some awful road noise but since the owner once saw either Crested or Harpy Eagle perched on that hillside, yeah, it’s worth a stop!
At the end of the day, we had a fairly modest list but we still got a fair percentage of the targets, including several species tough to see elsewhere. For someone with a free day or morning, it’s always a good bet.
As befits a country where tourism plays a big role in the economy and lives of a few million people, Costa Rica offers a long list of accommodation options. There are bed and breakfasts, hostels for the young and/or super thrifty, large, all-inclusive hotels, small, family owned operations, and lodges geared towards those who visit Costa Rica to experience and appreciate an abundance of tropical nature. Falling within that latter category are a few hotels that focus on birding, or at least have a local guide or two who are avid birders, keep track of the avifauna at and around the hotel, and are always happy to share those birds to guests. Since most of the birding hotels in Costa Rica are used by bird tour companies, anyone who reads trip reports or who looks for information about birding in Costa Rica will be pretty familiar with those lodges.
However, such hotels aren’t the only places that cater to birders. Other, lesser known lodges with resident birding guides don’t make it onto trip reports because they are way off the usual beaten birding track. One of those locales is Luna Lodge- http://lunalodge.com/. Ironically, the main reason why fewer birders get there is also why it is one of the best sites for birding in the country. As with most high quality sites anywhere, habitat is key to birding success and Luna Lodge has it. It comes in the form of the primary lowland rainforests of the Osa Peninsula and not at the edge either, but pretty close to the heart of the forest. Combine high quality rainforest with a nearby coastal lagoon, and flat lowland sites with second growth and riparian zones where Speckled Mourner has been seen (one of the rarest resident species in Costa Rica), and you know that you are in for some fantastic birding.
On the deck at Luna Lodge.
I know this because I helped start the first bird list for Luna Lodge several years ago. It was during the time of the millenium (I actually spent New Year’s eve there in 1999/2000), and the place was just getting started. Although I didn’t get lucky with a Harpy or Crested Eagles, both species were seen at the lodge not long after my stay (gripped!). However, I did see things like:
-Daily sightings of several King Vultures.
-Flocks of Scarlet Macaws every day.
-All three hawk-eagles, usually at least one of them every day.
-White-tipped Sicklebill, White-crested Coquette, lots of Charming Hummingbirds, and other expected species.
-Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager pretty much every day- a species endemic to the Osa peninsula and adjacent rainforests.
-Turquoise Cotinga- one of the only accessible sites where it is common.
-Great Curassow and Crested Guan daily.
-Large mixed flocks with tanagers, flycatchers, woodcreepers (including the elusive Long-tailed), and many other species.
Rufous-winged Woodpecker is often in those big flocks.
-Lots of monkeys and other animals.
It was simply fantastic birding in beautiful rainforest. The food was also good but it’s hard to compare the lodge then to what it’s like after years of success. Nowadays, there is a yoga platform with a distant view of the ocean where Scarlet Macaws fly against a rainforest backdrop. Yeah, that sounds like a commercial or documentary but I’m not going to lie, that is what the view looks like. There are also several trails, and overlooks to scan the canopy for raptors and other birds. The food is also fantastic as is the service, attention, and Gary, the local birding guide knows his stuff very well.
Another view at Luna Lodge.
I’m writing about Luna Lodge not because I have been there recently, but because I will be there in a few weeks. From August 18th to August 21st, I will be guiding a trip to Luna for the local Birding Club of Costa Rica. Although I don’t usually post such announcements on my blog, I am doing so this time because we still have a few spots open for the trip, and it’s an excellent opportunity to experience the birding at Luna Lodge for a fantastic low price. If you are going to be in Costa Rica during these dates and want to go on this trip with us, this is what you can expect:
-Several looks at Turquoise Cotinga as well as the other stuff I mention above.
-High quality lowland rainforest birding in one of the most biodynamic places in Central America. Including birding en route, we will probably identify around 170 species including many uncommon species and regional endemics including…
Black-hooded Antshrike and
-Good birding en route that could turn up Pearl Kite, Savanna Hawk, and a variety of other edge and open country species. You could also stop at the Rincon bridge to look for Yellow-billed Cotinga…
-Three nights lodging and excellent meals for $255. The guide fee depends on the number of participants but might be around $75 to $100.
If you are interested in this excellent birding deal, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org before August 8th. I hope to help you experience the fantastic birding in the Osa peninsula at Luna Lodge!
Ironically, the summer is quiet time for a lot of birders up north. Although it would seem that the warm weather makes it easier to get outside and see what’s going on in terms of nature, a fair percentage of birders take a break during the three months of summer. The mid-year lull seems to be mostly followed by birders who have been looking through their binoculars for five years or more. This is because they think that they already know what’s around, and don’t expect anything new, so, aren’t as eager to explore than during seasons when unexpected migrants and vagrants can occur.
Beginning birders still do a lot of birding in summer probably because a new bird or two are still easy to come by, even near home, and they are still close enough to the exciting start of the learning curve to easily find new knowledge in most things they see. Once experienced birders realize that there is always more to learn and master about the avian side of life, they can find themselves back at the beginning of another, new learning experience and can get just as excited about summer birding as spring or fall (well, maybe not May but that’s in a special category of its own). Not to mention, vagrants can and do turn up in summer no matter where a birder lives, so it does pay to get out there and pay attention. I was reminded of that just after coming back from a recent family trip to Niagara Falls.
As usual, we were too busy doing family stuff to do any visiting, but I did manage to go birding a few times. Down at Goat Island, my favorite local birding patch right above the Falls, it was a treasure to be re-acquainted with species like Tufted Titmouse, gulls, and other common species. A singing Indigo Bunting was a nice surprise, as were hundreds of swallows and Chimney Swifts feeding over the river and islands. On another day, I had a fine day of birding with Alec out at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. We saw a pair of Cerulean Warblers feeding a juvenile. Will those birds come to Costa Rica next month? I picked up other year birds including Bobolinks and American Bittern. Both of those are on the Costa Rica list but very rare vagrants. I always wonder why we don’t get more records of Bobolinks, but I never hear their tinking calls so often heard by birders up north who listen for the faint calls of nocturnal migrants, and the species is almost never seen in CR except for Cocos Island. Although Alec and I didn’t find any vagrants, I did see that a vagrant White Ibis was found in WNY just after coming back to Costa Rica; a species that would have been missed if someone hadn’t gone birding during the “boring” summer months.
Speaking of this volcanic, byodynamic country, the summer birding doldrums are much less of a fantasy here than in the north even for myself or others who have spent countless hours in every habitat. Although we won’t see any wintering species, the plethora of resident species always makes things exciting, especially when so many of them are rare. I could still pick up some lifers (although they may require more time and effort than I typically have- Tawny-faced Quail comes to mind), and any trip to tropical forest can result in views of species and behaviors we just don’t see that often. Maybe I will finally get that picture and recording of the oddly rare Gray-headed Piprites so we can finally update the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app with images and sounds of that species. Maybe I can do the same for Black-banded Woodcreeper, and the local variety of Ashy-throated Chlorospingus (both are likely splits).
You might see a fancy male Red-headed Barbet.
If you are in Costa Rica right now, don’t worry about being here at the wrong time. There are no summer birding doldrums in Costa Rica because the birding is always exciting. Those rare birds are out there but even if you don’t see them, you will still see a lot when birding in the right places.
Or, close looks at a Lesser Violetear.
Look for them in the right way and you might see those rarities anyways (get my 700 plus page e-book to learn about the best places to look and how to find the birds you want to see). Always remember that you will see lots of birds no matter when you go birding in Costa Rica.
They might not be there yet, but will be as soon as the official bird list for Costa Rica is updated with the recent changes made to the AOU North America list. Every supplement to the AOU list comes with some changes but they usually pertain to Latin names or placement of species and genera on the overall list. This time, though, there are several changes for Costa Rica, including new names and armchair ticks (!). It means that The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide will need to be eventually updated, and that I will have to see when we can add the new changes to the Panama and Costa Rica Birds Field Guide apps.
None of the birds are new to the country but the way we view them in a species context is. These are the changes in species and names and where to see them:
Gray-necked Wood-Rail: This common, raucous species has been neatly split into three species, with two of them in Costa Rica. Although we still have to figure out exactly where they replace each other, or occur together, there seems to be one on the north Caribbean slope, and another everywhere else. Those two new birds are the Russet-naped Wood-Rail, and the Gray-cowled Wood-Rail. They mostly differ by the amount of rufous on the nape and by vocalizations. In the meantime, though, if you see a wood-rail at say La Selva or other sites on the north Caribbean slope, it is probably a Russet-naped. If seen anywhere else, it is a Gray-cowled. So, if you have seen Gray-necked Wood-Rail on both slopes, give yourself one armchair tick.
These Russet-naped Wood-Rails were seen at Lands in Love. They often hang out by the duck pond. The bird below is a Gray-cowled Wood-Rail. Yep, they look pretty similar.
Green Violetear: Not anymore. Now, these common green, highland hummingbirds are known as Lesser Violetear! These are the same species as the former Green Violetears in South America, and were split from birds that range from Nicaragua north to Mexico. Those ones are now known as “Mexican Violetear” and it is this species that has shown up in the USA (as far as I know). If you have seen Green Violetears in Mexico and Costa Rica, give yourself another armchair tick.
Lesser Violetears are easy to see at many highland sites in Costa Rica including Monteverde, Poas, and the Talamancas. They visit feeders and flowering plants, and call with such broken record regularity, you may feel compelled to plug your ears or chase the hummingbird away (that won’t work, it just comes back and calls again, and again, and again, and…)
Lesson’s Motmot: The former Blue-crowned Motmot has a snazzy new name. These birds are the ones we see in Costa Rica and are quite common in middle elevations and on the Pacific slope. Watch for it in hotel gardens in the Central Valley, in riparian zones in the Pacific lowlands, and in the Monteverde area. If you have seen this motmot in Costa Rica and Mexico, once again, enjoy another tick!
Plain Wren: Finally, we have the Canebrake Wren being officially recognized as a full species. Watch for it in lowland second growth anywhere in the Caribbean lowlands. You might have to watch for a while until it reveals itself because it’s a skulking pain, though. Less expected was a split of the Plain Wrens on the Pacific slope. Although we probably still need to figure out where they replace each other, it looks like birds from Quepos to Panama are now known as Isthmian Wren, and those north of there are Cabanis’s Wren. They look pretty much the same and have similar yet different vocalizations, so your best bet is to make sure that you actually see Plain Wren anywhere north of Quepos and anywhere south of Quepos. Both are common in coffee farms and second growth. If you have seen Plain Wrens in the Caribbean lowlands, in the Central Valley or Monteverde, and around La Gamba, pat yourself on the birding back with two armchair ticks!
This is a Cabanis’s Wren, the Isthmian looks pretty much the same.
Costa Rica Warbler: This was part of a three-way split from the Three-striped Warbler. The original Three-stripeds live in the Andes, while the Costa Rican is yet another highland endemic of Costa Rica and western Panama. The third member of the Three-striped taxo club is the Tacarcuna Warbler, a species only found in highland sites in eastern Panama. Look for the Costa Rican Warbler at any cloud forest site including the La Paz gardens, Monteverde, and many other sites. It’s fairly common and if you have seen this bird in Costa Rica and South America, help yourself to one more armchair tick.
Thanks to the AOU, it looks like I just added 6 species to my lifelist! I hope you did too.
We are wrapping up the breeding bird count season in Costa Rica. If I could do a few counts a week, I would but I only do three because I haven’t had time to do more. Hopefully, that will change by next year and I can participate in counts on the Osa (where a cool count workshop took place this year), on the Manuel Brenes Road, and other birdy spots. In the meantime, I enjoy my three counts; one near the house, another on Poas, and the third one at Quebrada Gonzalez, the first place that acted as my inaugural birding experience in rainforest.
Since that day in late 1992, some of the bird populations at the site have changed somewhat and not for the better. The habitat is there but the amount of rainfall that resulted in massive mixed flocks, hawk-eagles, tons of wrens, and various foothill specialties has diminished. Most species still seem present but several have declined bit by bit in conjunction with less rainfall, and a few species might be gone from the site. They might still show up from time to time but have most likely taken a hike to higher, wetter, and cooler elevations.
But this post is about the most recent count, not laments over human-caused climate change that is pushing so much life towards extinction, so I will get on with the report. Fortunately, Susan was able to join me for the count, and we started at 6 am as usual. The gate is usually closed until 8 but, thankfully, I was able to speak with the rangers and arrange an earlier visit. Our first point was busy straight away and ended up being the best of the day because we connected with a mixed flock that held White-throated Shrike-Tanager, several Carmiol’s and Dusky-faced Tanagers, and other birds.
The excitement almost stopped there because most of the following counts were pretty slow. We had just a couple Black-headed Nightingale-Thrushes, one or two Dull-mantled Antbirds, one White-ruffed Manakin, and low numbers overall. The Lattice-tailed Trogons weren’t calling, nor were the Chestnut-backed Antbirds, but we did have several wood-wrens and Stripe-breasted Wrens, one Band-backed Wren, and a fair number of other species.
Although it was a bit slow, that can always happen at that site with one or a few rare birds thrown in for good measure. This happened during the count as we got our best bird up on the ridge at one of our points. As Susan looked up, she noticed a bit of movement and said, “There’s a raptor” followed by, “wait, is that a raptor”? I got on the bird and yes, it sure was and a good one. For a moment, she wasn’t entirely sure about it being a raptor because it was so small. That could only mean one thing, Tiny Hawk!
We watched it for several minutes in the subcanopy as it plucked the feathers from and ate some small green bird. This was a fantastic sighting because although I have always known that the species was present (perfect habitat and other reports), this was the first time I had actually seen it at the site. This mini hawk escapes detection because it is probably naturally rare, is the size of a thrush, happens to be a sneaky ambush predator that hides in the dense vegetation of the canopy, and doesn’t vocalize that often. In other words, good luck seeing it!
After the Tiny Hawk, we also flushed a juvenile Olive-backed Quail-Dove. This species seems to be getting more common at Quebrada and might be out-competing the formerly common Purplish-backed Quail-Dove.
On the other side of the road, things were pretty quiet with almost no birds visible from the overlook. It wasn’t really until after the count that we started getting more species. A Chestnut-backed Antbird finally sang, we heard a Dot-winged Antwren, two Streak-chested Antpittas, and had a juvenile Great Black Hawk fly right into our field of view.
Kind of a quiet morning, but at least one flock during a point count, a bigger one between points, and a few other forest species that are tough to see. Not bad for a morning of birding and pretty much par for the course at Quebrada. Stay longer, just hang out in the forest, and you might be surprised at what shows up.
We are half way through the year and that means six months to go before making a final tally of bird species identified during 2016. Time is relative, calendars are subjective inventions, and some people who have binoculars banter back and forth about keeping lists. So what? At the end of the day, we should all be reminded that life is usually shorter than we would prefer, it is unpredictable, and we should therefore have as much fun as we can (in addition to learning and doing good, etc, but those aspects are for another blog). Part of that fun can be keeping a year list because it gives us something to work towards, something to look forward to, and, most of all, encourages you to get out there and look for more birds, do more birding.
If you go to the mall, play too many games of bingo, or watch some useless reality show instead of going outside, you ain’t never gonna see a Black and Yellow Silky-Flycatcher. Actually, if you don’t visit Costa Rica or Panama, you won’t see one either.
I haven’t spent so much time in the field lately and it’s not because I was doing any of the above. I guess it’s because it rains a fair deal now, it’s always hard for me to get out mid-week during the early good birding hours, and the low season translates to less guiding. It’s also bird breeding season and just as with birders up north, the lack of migrants sometimes makes us feel lazy about looking for birds. This is clearly a silly concept because rarities can still show up in June and there is always more to learn about towhees, brush-finches, toucans, or other birds no matter which ones we are looking at.
Always nice to look at one of these…
I might also be acting a bit lazy about birding because I already have a healthy year list. Each year, I hope to at least see or hear 600 bird species in Costa Rica, and thanks to some intense guiding during March and April, surpassed that mark a while ago. I’m now at 634 species, my latest addition being a surprise Slate-colored Seedeater that was singing at a bamboo seeding event near Cinchona this very morning. From now on, several additions are likely to happen like that seedeater, unexpected but based on statistics, nevertheless probable. What I am trying to say is that the more time we spend in the field with focused intent on birds, the more species we see, including the rare ones. Speaking of “rare ones”, there are a lot in Costa Rica. This is typical for neotropical birding, and even more so when most accessible forests are quite fragmented.
However, I still have a bunch of other candidate species for the year list that aren’t so rare. They just live in places and habitats where I have spent little time in 2016. One of those areas is San Vito and down there by the border with Panama. If I can make it down that way, I will have a fair chance at adding Crested Oropendola, Bran-colored Flycatcher, and several other species that lack the annual tick mark. Since a few would also be new for my country list, I should really make an effort to go and see them. I hope I can make that happen so I can finally check off Lance-tailed Manakin, Ruddy Foliage-gleaner, and Mouse-colored Tyrannulet for my Costa Rica list. Not to mention, there’s a lot of other cool birds down that way too.
Other gaps come in the form of seabirds but for a seasick prone person like myself, that’s always the case. With some judicious ferry trips, I should add some of those and will always have a chance at picking up something truly rare from the top deck of the boat. Hitting 650 or even 700 will also be more likely if I can connect with several migrants. Hopefully, if we go for another Big Day in fall, scouting will turn up some of those needed species along with various rarities. Whether I hit the 700 mark or not by 2017, trying for it will be all good because that will make me do a lot of birding anyways and that’s the best part of it. Are you keeping track of year birds? Whether in Costa Rica or elsewhere, tell everyone about it in the comments.