The height of the “birding season” in Costa Rica happens during March. Really, the birding here is good year round but the majority of tours like to visit during the third month because, in Costa Rica, the month of wild winds and early spring coincides with migration, most wintering species still being present, a bit more bird song, and less rain. If you are about to visit this wonderful, birdy place, I hope that the following birding news tidbits will be of help:
American White Pelicans at Cano Negro: No, you don’t expect these big aquatic birds in Costa Rica. Far easier to see further north, this species is a very rare vagrant here. However, for the past couple of years, flocks have made appearances at Cano Negro. During past two weeks, many lucky birders in the Cano Negro area have added this one to their country list. I wish I was one of them but I haven’t had a chance to head up that way. With luck, they may stick around for another week or so. Keep an eye out for this one while looking for Jabiru, kingfishers, crakes, and other species in this wetland hotspot.
Medio Queso: I haven’t been there yet this year but it sounds like the guy who usually does the boat trip is even more difficult to contact because his phone number is no longer working. I expect that he still lives in the house at the end of the dike, one probably needs to go there a day before to ask about a boat ride the following morning.
A Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture does its harrier thing at Medio Queso.
El Tapir hummingbirds: During several trips to this site over the past month, Snowcap, Black-crested Coquette, and Green Thorntail have been present every day. It might take a bit for the Snowcap to show but it usually does. The coquette often perches on the dead sapling in the garden, sometimes sharing the tree with a thorntail and a male Snowcap! Other hummingbirds in the garden have mostly been Rufous-taileds, along with a few Violet-headeds and woodnymphs. Of course, these species and other hummingbirds are also easy at Rancho Naturalista.
A male Black-crested Coquette at El Tapir.
Other birds at El Tapir: The trail to the river isn’t maintained as well as some in the national parks but it’s always productive. As usual, it has been especially good for antwren flocks that move quietly through the forest understory. These are usually composed of Tawny-faced Gnatwren, White-flanked, Checker-throated, and Dot-winged Antwrens, Streak-crowned Antvireo, Stripe-breasted Wren, Ruddy-tailed and Sulphur-rumped Flycatchers, foliage-gleaners, and a woodcreeper or two along with chances at rarer species. Other interesting species on this trail as of late have included Olive-backed Quail-Dove, Lattice-tailed, Slaty-tailed, Gartered, and Black-throated Trogons, Northern Schiffornis, and good mixed flocks of tanagers (including Blue and gold) and other birds. My “best” species were Central American Pygmy-Owl and a pair of Yellow-eared Toucanets in the same day. From the parking lot, King Vulture often shows flying high overhead, and any of the hawk-eagles are rare but always possible.
The pygmy-owl from the other day. First time I have seen it at this site!
Not long after, a Yellow-eared Toucanet perched in the same tree.
Also, please remember to pay the caretaker the $10 entrance fee. Although there is no sign, this is what he expects.
Quetzals on Poas: They are always up there somewhere but finding them usually requires locating the fruiting trees they feed on. Recently, I had a pair in a fruiting avocado close to the Volcan Restaurant. As expected, this major target is much easier on Cerro de la Muerte, and at Monteverde.
Carara is dry but still productive: In keeping with current global warming trends, Carara looks much drier than it used to and although the birds are there, sadly, there aren’t as many as even five years ago. The humid forest species are easier to find further south but if you need them from Carara, they might be more regular on the HQ trails back at and past the stream. It’s still a good place to find Great Tinamou, Streak-chested Antpitta, Black-faced Antthrush, and many other species but it might take longer to find them.
It’s a good place for ridiculously close views of various birds. This Bicolored Antbird was perched near our feet.
Piratic Flycatchers and Yellow-green Vireos: It took a while for these to show in numbers but they are finally back and singing and calling in lots of places. These migrants take advantage of the wet season to breed in Costa Rica before migrating to the Amazon. The same goes for Swallow-tailed Kite and Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, both of which are also around, although in what seems to smaller numbers.
Park hours: Just a reminder about hours for the national parks. Carara opens at 7 (thank goodness) and closes at 4, all other parks are open from 8 to 4. To enter early, visit the park the day before and ask if you can go in early to watch birds. Say “Puedo entrar a las 6 para ver aves manana y pagar la entrada despues? (Can I enter at 6 to watch birds tomorrow and pay the fee after?)”.
Traffic: It’s as bad as ever and, impossibly, seems to only get worse. The upside is that bad traffic jams are mostly in the Central Valley area. Away from there, things are much better although you should still expect a fair degree of bad driving habits. Worst times are between 6 and 8:30 in the morning and between 3:30 and 6 in the evening. Driving at pre-dawn is wonderful but seriously watch out for potential drunk drivers!
As always, I hope to see you in the field!
Recently, while guiding in the La Selva area, one of our many target species finally showed at the end of the day. Like other birds I was looking for, in Costa Rica, this one only occurs in lowland rainforest on the Caribbean slope and thus finds itself sharing a hitlist with the likes of Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Snowy Cotinga, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, and other choice species. Although those three birds failed to show, the White-ringed Flycatcher made an appearance as one of our last species of the day.
A distant White-ringed Flycatcher.
This flycatcher is one of several species that looks kind of like a Great Kiskadee or Social Flycatcher, but isn’t, and that’s why I’m going to talk about it. Based on the images of White-ringed Flycatcher that pop up during online searches, it looks like Social Flycatcher is the biggest contender in terms of mis-identification because 80% of the images that were tagged as White-ringed were actually Socials along with a few kiskadees and even Tropical Kingbird thrown in for good measure. That’s reasonable, I mean they look almost exactly the same, but this is also why you won’t learn much about identification of White-ringed Flycatcher from looking at images in Flckr.
Instead of doing that, check out these tips for an honest to goodness tick of White-ringed Flycatcher while birding in Costa Rica, Panama, or other parts of their range:
Habitat and Behavior: Yep, these factors are mentioned first because they provide the best clues. While other kiskadee type flycatchers can hang out on fences, and even zip down to the ground, the White-ringed has more refined tastes. This fly-catching aristocrat almost always keeps to the canopy, even perching on the very tops of tall trees like a pseudo-cotinga. Yes, it will come lower in some places but if you see a kiskadee-type bird sitting on a fence row, it’s probably not going to be a White-ringed. I am sure this is why so few images of this species are actually available. Unlike the other kiskadees, this one also prefers forest. Thankfully, it will come to the edge and sometimes to semi-open areas, but for the most part, this is a forest species that requires old second growth and/or mature lowland rainforest. Similar to other kiskadees, it sallies for bugs and fruit, and often occurs in groups of four to six birds.
The La Selva entrance road is a regular spot for this species.
Tertials: Instead of checking other parts of the bird in question, check out the back section of the wing. Although some Socials and other kiskadee types can show some pale edging to the tertials, this field mark seems to always stand out more in the wings of the White-ringed Flycatcher, even at a distance.
Hard to see in this image but this shows the pale tertial edging and white meeting on the nape.
White on the head: True to its name, it does have a white “ring” on its head. Actually a diadem, the white eyebrow is broader or wider than other kiskadees, and meets on the front and back of the head. In the Social and Boat-billed, the white on the head does not meet on the nape, but does so in the Great Kiskadee.
Eyelid: Ok, I don’t know if it’s the eyelid or some spot right above the eye, but with a good look, a small white crescent is visible right above the eye of the White-ringed. A far as I can tell, the other kiskadees lack this small but distinctive detail.
Check out the eyelid.
Beak: Not the most principle of field marks but one that does lend itself to the identification equation. Compared to Social Flycatcher, White-ringed has a slightly longer, straighter bill. See enough Socials and this is evident.
Song: As usual with Tyrannids, ear birders are in luck. This one calls frequently, and has a distinctive, even pitched, trilled vocalization nothing like the calls of Social Flycatcher or other kiskadee types.
Places to see it: This species is fairly common at any lowland rainforest site on the Caribbean slope, including the La Selva area and Sarapiqui, Laguna del Lagarto, anywhere near and south of Limon, and various other places. Interestingly, it also occurs on some parts of the Arenal Observatory entrance road.
For more tips about identification of birds in Costa Rica, as well as information about sites, get “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.
Costa Rica might have a lot of raptors on the country list but we don’t really see them very often. They are out there but populations are naturally low, and many require high quality forest. Well, lets just say that there are more in high quality forest because there’s just more food available.
Ironically, the problem with seeing lots of raptors in Costa Rica is related to the high levels of biodiversity. Basically, hawks of all sizes have to compete with other hawks, flycatchers, and other birds. The result is fewer hawks but the flip side of the birding coin is more species of hawks. Nevertheless, some places are better for seeing more raptors in a short amount of time than others, and one of the best ones near the Central Valley is the Cinchona-Virgen del Socorro area.
This spot is an excellent site to hang out and wait for raptors because the area is easily accessed by good roads (it takes about an hour and 15 to 20 minutes to drive there), and there are several spots that overlook a forested canyon. As a bonus, this area is also close enough to Braulio Carrillo to up the odds of having a few of the rarer species fly into view.
Some of the species to look for:
The Socorro area is one of the classic sites for this beautiful hawk. Look for it perched in the canyon or just flying around on sunny days.
This one is also best seen on sunny days as it soars, calls like a gull, and displays. Its shape is a heck of a lot like a Black Vulture.
One of the more commonly seen raptor species in Costa Rica, including this area.
From February to August, this expression of avian elegance is commonly seen around Cinchona and Socorro.
This common, wintering species often perches on roadside trees or is seen soaring overhead.
Another commonly seen species, this adaptable hawk is a good one to know because it can occur almost anywhere in the country.
A pair or two lives in the canyon. In the early morning, watch for them perched on snags, including the one near the Colibri Cafe. We also see this species soaring or in flight and looking a lot like a White-collared Swift in the process.
In addition to the two regular vultures, bonus birds can also show up including Ornate and Black and White Hawk-Eagles, and Great Black Hawk. On the San Miguel section of the road, you might also see Laughing Falcon, Double-toothed Kite, and King Vulture. In the past, Solitary Eagle was also regular in this area. Although it hasn’t been seen for several years, maybe it could turn up again?
For more information about finding and identifying birds in Costa Rica, see How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.
I wish I could say that birding is always free. It would be if we still lived in a world with abundant habitat and biodiversity because there would be easier access to more birds. But, the modern realities of overpopulation and big money interests that view conservation as a hindrance to short term gain continue to result in fewer birds and even fewer places to see them. This varies by region and nation, but is why we have to pay entrance fees and guides to see birds like Philippine Eagle, wood-quails, and countless other species. Sure, we could try and see them on our own, but with more birds restricted to national parks and protected areas, paying to have better chances at more species has become a common necessity.
In Costa Rica, although there are public places that lack gates and require no entrance fee, the best and most accessible places for birding are in private and public reserves. I was at one such site last weekend and given the number of uncommon species we encountered, level of avian activity, and trail mileage, it was an excellent bargain. This place is “La Marta Refuge” and if you feel like seeing lots of birds for a bargain, I recommend it, absolutely. What to expect:
Tawny-crested Tanagers: Yes, they can be seen elsewhere but the high numbers at La Marta put them first in terms of expectations. This is probably the most common species at the site.
Always a fun bird to watch.
Other tanagers: Fruiting trees are also visited by Emerald, Speckled, Black and Yellow, Bay-headed, and other tanagers including the uncommon chlorospingus formerly known as the Ash-throated Bush-Tanager. Enjoy the show!
I was very pleased to finally get a shot of this uncommon probable endemic split.
Pretty easy access: La Marta is accessed by a road from the town of Pejibaye. Although there are time when the entrance road might require four wheel drive, for the most part, it is easy enough with a regular car. Contact them for updated road conditions.
Basic lodging and camping: If you want to stay there, the accommodation is cheap but very basic. Rooms are shared, mattresses are thin, there aren’t any mosquito nets, and the water is cold but it doesn’t cost much! Meals can also be arranged for a good deal, and camping is possible.
Lots of trails in good habitat: This is one of the few places I have seen in Costa Rica that have kilometers of trails. All of the trails go through forest, a fair bit of which is habitat that has grown back over a hundred years and includes many non-native Poro trees. I suspect this affects the avifauna somewhat but maybe not too much because it’s connected to large areas of mature, native forest, and the back trails access more of that habitat. Limited time kept us on trails much closer to the HQ, and those were good enough but I wouldn’t be surprised if the ones way back in the reserve hosted rarities like Black-banded Woodcreeper, Sharpbill, and many other uncommon species.
Uncommon species: Speaking of rare birds, these are some of the “good” ones we saw or heard among species already mentioned:
Dull-mantled and Ocellated Antbirds
Tawny-chested Flycatcher- fairly common on the road near the buildings!
Although we did not see Sunbittern, nor Tiny Hawk, both of these are regular at La Marta.
Lanceolated Monklet: Saving the best for last, um, yes, based on this past weekend, La Marta might be the best site for this species in Costa Rica. It’s a pain to see no matter where you go but since we had two different birds in one day, and the trails access lots of suitable habitat, seeing the monklet at La Marta is a fair bet than many other sites.
I would love to go back, although next time, I hope I can survey the more remote parts of the reserve to look for ground-cuckoo, Gray-headed Piprites, and various other rare species.
I have written about Carara National Park on more than one occasion. One of the better birding sites in an already very birdy country, this important protected area merits more coverage because it always delivers. Although I have mentioned tips for better birding at this site in other posts, it doesn’t hurt to provide updates and more suggestions for making the most out of Carara. Try these tips to see more in and around Carara National Park:
Do both trails: There are two main trails at Carara. The “Laguna Meandrica” is the famous “River Trail” and leaves from a small, hidden parking area nearly a kilometer from the HQ heading towards San Jose. Carefully watch for the entrance to this trail on the right. The other trail leaves from the HQ and has a few loops. Both can overlap quite a bit in terms of species but also have their differences. In general, expect more edge and second growth species on the Laguna trail and more deep forest birds on the HQ trails although both are always good. On the Laguna trail, the oxbow lake is much smaller than it used to be and not nearly as productive. Given the high temperatures on Laguna, if you want to do both in a day, do that one in the morning and the forest trail after lunch.
Rufous-tailed Jacamar can be seen on both trails.
Check the large rocks: On the HQ trail, pay close attention to any large rocks on the forest floor. One or more might be a Great Tinamou!
Do the back loop of the Quebrada Bonita trail: It seems like more of the deep forest species are more regular on the back loop of this trail. These are birds like Baird’s Trogon, Marbled Wood-Quail (pretty rare), mixed flocks with Russet Antshrike, Rufous-winged Woodpecker and other species, Northern Schiffornis, Streak-chested Antpitta, Rufous Piha, Golden-naped Woodpecker, and Black-striped, Long-tailed, and Tawny-winged Woodcreepers. These can also turn up on other trails but seem most common on the back loop. This is the part of the trail on the other side of the bridge over the creek.
The White-shouldered Tanager is commonly seen on both trails as well.
Bird the Bijagual Road: This is an easy area to bird when looking for raptors and when you have an hour or two before the park opens (seven until April, eight at most times of the year). Great birding on the Cerro Lodge road can also make good use of that time but the Bijagual Road is also worth it. The other day, we did especially good in front of the Pura Vida gardens with looks at Fiery-billed Aracari, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Western Tanager, and several other species. There is overlap with the national park but since some species are more regular on this road, it’s a good area to include in your birding mix.
The view from the Bijagual Road during the wet season.
Check the crocodile bridge: As with just about all birding, this area is best at dawn and late afternoon, especially for flybys of various species coming to and from roosting sites. But, if you have to check it in the middle of the day, that could still be worth it because you never know when a quick walk to the middle of the bridge might turn up a Pearl Kite, Harriss’s Hawk, waterbirds, Yellow-billed Cotinga, or other additions.
Although drier conditions mean that there aren’t as many birds as there used to be, you can still see a lot, especially with a lot of time and patience. As with any tropical forest, it pays to be patient and walking with an experienced guide is the best way to see more birds.
The second month of the year has begun and anyone working on their year list should be well underway with that endeavor. Time is a wasting, go get them birds! Since the start of the year, I have followed that policy as well as I can and it’s paid off with a good selection of key species from few trips afield. But that’s not really why I am writing this post. This one is going to deal with the latest in birding-related news for Costa Rica, I hope it’s of help!
This Tawny-throated Leaftosser at Virgen del Socorro was a welcome find, and even more so because it perched for photos! Looking forward to finally putting images of this tough species on field guide apps for Costa Rica and Panama.
The current dry season and cold fronts: It’s dry and windy in the Central Valley and the Pacific northwest. That’s normal for this time of year although the cold fronts hitting the Caribbean are reminiscent of weather in December. That translates to lots of cloud cover and rain, and that’s a good thing for those wet forests.
Lots of trees have fruit: At least, that’s the way it looked a few days ago around Virgen del Socorro. Most trees were covered in fruit and we had a good number of tanagers. I suspect the same thing is going on in much of the Caribbean foothills and lowlands. Check it out, that’s where a lot of birds are going to be, especially elevational migrants like Black-thighed Grosbeak, Black-faced Solitaire, cotingas, and who knows what else?
An order for a plan to protect Corcovado National Park: Excellent news! Hopefully, this will come to pass because for the past five years or so, the park has been pretty much besieged by illegal gold miners who also hunt within the park. I just hope and pray that they haven’t managed to kill any of the last remaining Harpy Eagles that may occur in the Osa, nor that such a travesty happens before effective protection takes place. Since challenging logistics and regulations keep most birders out of the park boundaries, most don’t actually visit the park itself. But, quite a few do bird in lodges just outside of the national park and effective protection will result in healthier bird populations for those areas as well. It goes without saying that most of us birders are all about protection of special places with lots of birds whether we visit them or not.
Lots of good birding in the usual places: From eBird reports, it looks like most of the expected species are being seen in commonly visited sites. In other words, the birding is good, expect to see a lot!
Cinchona Colibri Cafe charges for photo sessions: If you visit the Cafe Colibri with a DSLR, expect to pay $10, and they may eventually charge an hourly fee. Since they have a new feeder set-up down below, both barbets are regular, and Buff-fronted Quail-Dove has been showing up, the fee is a pretty good value.
A Red-headed Barbet from the Cafe Colibri.
San Luis Canopy Tanagers?: I heard a rumor that they are no longer feeding tanagers at this site between La Fortuna and San Ramon. Whether this is true or not, the site still merits a visit because fruiting trees attract the same set of tanager species and other birds.
Cano Negro is jamming: The recent (and perhaps on-going) wet weather have flooded fields on the road in to Cano Negro. Those have been good for Jabiru and lots of other target wetland species. I wish I were there!
The Chomes situation: I haven’t been there recently but what little I have heard doesn’t sound so good. Another rumor but given the appearance of the place and settlers moving in to the pond area, it might be true that the site is no longer being managed for shrimp and salt production. If this is true, the ponds at this classic site probably won’t be as suitable for shorebirds as in the past. If so, hopefully those same birds can find enough refuge in the gulf itself. As for us birders, it might be harder to find Mangrove Rail, and shorebirding will be even more limited, the best spot being the Punta Morales ponds at Cocorocas.
A scene from Cocorocas.
I hope this news helps, and hope to see you enjoying the birds and nature of Costa Rica!
Different major habitats are one of the main reasons why we have so many bird species in Costa Rica, especially the rainy places. More water translates to higher numbers and varieties of life forms, birds included. But, if you tire of humid, energy sucking and optic challenging conditions, you can always retreat to the hot, dry northwest. Although the Central Valley also sort of falls into the Pacific dry forest bio-region, the habitat is much better down in the lowlands.
The beautiful Blue Grosbeak is fairly common.
In Costa Rica, the dry forest region is on the Pacific slope and extends from around Tarcoles north to Nicaragua. Much of it has been converted to farms with open areas for cattle, and crops, rice and melons predominating in the flood plains. However, despite natural forest being limited to riparian zones and protected areas, there are still plenty of interesting birds to see in lots of places. If you find yourself birding anywhere in the dry zone, try these tips to see more stuff:
Early does it: Yeah, that pretty much goes for seeing more birds in most places but getting out bright and early is doctrine in places with tropical dry forest. The difference between activity in the early morning and a few hours later is like a disappearing magic act. The motmots, flycatchers, and everything else were all there and singing, and now they aren’t. Where did they go? What are they doing? Good questions but suffice to say, after 8:30, they don’t feel like being seen. Take a siesta or relax by the pool (or in it) when our feathered targets are probably doing the same.
Water: Speaking of pools, as with other xeric situations, water tends to be a magnet. Focus on the riparian zones and even small bits of shaded water to see more birds. The good thing about such green spots is they can concentrate the birds, especially during the dry season (also when most birders visit). Check for Crane Hawk, Collared Forest-Falcon, Royal Flycatcher, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Painted Bunting, Banded Wren, and lots of other dry forest species.
Streaked Flycatcher will probably also show up.
Wetlands: Ironically, the dry forest zone also has some great wetland habitats. The best are in the flood plains of the Tempisque and Bebedero Rivers and include such sites as Palo Verde, Rancho Humo, and other places with marshy areas. Flooded rice fields can also work out, especially the ones on the road to Playa Hermosa and on the way in to Palo Verde. They don’t have as many birds as more natural and less chemically affected habitats but they are still always worth a look. Among the widespread aquatic species, you might also find wintering shorebirds, and, with luck, various rail species. These are also good places to look for seedeaters, Tricolored Munia, Snail Kite, and interesting wintering species.
Places like this are good ones to check.
What about the wind?: It’s often windy out there in the northwest. Just as the birds do, find sheltered spots for birding. Fortunately, this tends to coincide with riparian zones and that’s where more birds are anyways.
Tennessee Warblers: Expect to see a lot of these little boreal Phylloscop wannabes on survival vacation. Yesterday, I saw a bunch of birds fly up from a road in dry forest. I figured they would be Indigo Buntings but nope, they were a bunch of masquerading Tennessees! Pish to see how many come in but keep checking to see if you can tease out a rare vagrant like a Northern Parula, Nashville, or Orange-crowned Warbler. I know, not so exciting for birders from Ontario or Ohio but since these are megas down this way, please do report any you find (I know I want them for my year list)!
Check the swallows: Fast flying aerialists are easy to overlook when we got motmots and parrots in the neighborhood but keep checking and you might turn up rare species for Costa Rica like Violet-green, Tree, and Cave Swallows. All of these tend to occur more often in the dry northwest and are good finds for Costa Rica! For example, I was very pleased to see a Tree Swallow yesterday at Punta Morales. For a moment, I thought I was also going to tick Cave Swallow for the year but it turned out to be a Southern Rough-winged in bright lighting. Even if you don’t turn up a rarity, it’s always good practice to scan through hundreds of Barn Swallows.
Expect a lot of Barn Swallows.
Get into some good dry forest: Although a lot of birds can be seen outside of protected areas, if you also want to see Thicket Tinamou, Stub-tailed Spadebill, woodcreepers, and more birds overall, you need to spend some time in real dry forest and not pasture punctuated with trees. Some of the best dry forest sites are Santa Rosa, Palo Verde, and Guanacaste National Parks, Lomas Barbudal, and quite a few forested areas on the Nicoya Peninsula.
For a lot more information on finding birds in Costa Rica as well as how to look for and identify them, help out this blog by purchasing my 700 plus page e-book.
After payment is made, I will transfer it to you.
Good birding, hope to see you in Costa Rica!
Last weekend I wasn’t watching any inauguration. I couldn’t have done so no matter who was being officially named the next president of the USA because I was too busy watching and showing people birds while guiding in the San Vito area. Whether you happen to be in Costa Rica during an inauguration, moon landing, or alien arrival, don’t worry about any news, you will see that stuff soon enough. What you won’t see at other times are the hundreds of birds that live in the vicinity of that nice little highland town in southern Costa Rica.
San Vito is so far off from the San Jose area, we kind of felt like we were in another country. Being so close to the border with Panama, we almost were and for us local birders, that makes for some exciting avian stuff. We don’t get as many chances at new species as Canadian and USA birders do in southern Texas or Arizona, but it’s exciting nonetheless. We need to go there to have a chance at the plain looking yet weird Ruddy Foliage-gleaner, the smart-looking yet shy Lance-tailed Manakin, and the incorrectly named Masked Yellowthroat (see why it needs another name below).
The beautiful Speckled Tanager is another, much more common species of the area.
Not to mention, there’s tons of other interesting birds in the area, the birding is easy like Sunday morning, there are a few other fantastic sites within reach, plenty of places to explore and maybe even find something new for the boundaries of Costa Rica, and you might even get a chance to go birding with the awesome San Vito Birding Club! I could go on and on about how wonderful those four days were but I’ll try to keep it brief with these suggestions:
Getting there- Which route to take?: There are two ways to go and I did both in the same trip. On the way there, Sara Clarke (of the Finca Dos Lados Reforestation Project) and I drove the coastal route to Ciudad Neily and then up the very curvy road to San Vito. This gave us a chance to look for birds en route at Tarcoles, Parrita, and a few other sites. The route is fairly quick and easy but that last curvy bit is indeed pretty curvy. To avoid the curviness, you can also take the coastal route to the turn off at Palmar and go from there.
On the way back, we took the other main route. This one is more direct but goes up and over Cerro de la Muerte and through San Isidro. Take this to look for high elevation species but be ready to sit behind slow moving trucks. You can also do this one to stop overnight in Buenos Aires and bird the Salitre savannas the next morning (to see the targets, you do need to do those early in the morning).
Join the San Vito Birding Club for a walk: We would have done this but with our logistics, it just didn’t work out. Nevertheless, we did meet up with them one evening and went birding with their president, Greg Homer. This was awesome, if you get the chance to go one of their bird walks, do it! Check their site for information about that.
Where to stay: While some birders lodge at Las Cruces, know that you don’t have to. It’s not that it’s a bad choice, just that there are other options in the area including two fantastic ones that treated us very well. These are the Casa Botania, and the Cascata del Bosco. Both have nice rooms, good views, great service, wonderful food (gourmet vegetarian at Botania!), and good birding right on the grounds. They are also within walking distance of Wilson Botanical Garden (aka Las Cruces). Both are seriously recommended.
The view from my window at Botania.
Cascata del Bosco
You might also get pictures of Green Honeycreeper.
Wilson Botanical Garden: Speaking of that place, it’s included on most birding tours to Costa Rica and with good reason. The facilities are impressive, the trails are maintained, there are lots of eBird reports, and the birding is nice and easy. Even better, you can also go in early most days and pay after peering on the trails for tinamous and wood-quail.
Check the San Joaquin marsh: This is a small yet important wetland near the airport. Yes, there is an airport although no planes fly there. At least I don’t think they do because the runway is used by cyclists, runners, and anyone else who feels like hanging out on a landing strip. As for the marsh, coming from San Vito, take the road towards Sabalito, go just past the airport, and watch for the sign on the left. Take a left at that point, drive in to the top of a short hill, and park. Ask at the house pictured below to use the trails, give the guy 500 colones or so and go on in. Since this guy basically lets people in to the marsh, he should get a birder friend award. He likes watching the birds too.
Although there’s not much access to view it, the marsh is still the best place to connect with the local variety of Masked Yellowthroat, and you will probably see some other stuff. Regarding the yellowthroat, you do want to see it because it isn’t really a Masked Yellowthroat. At least, that’s what DNA studies have shown. Those indicated that it is more closely related to Olive-crowned Yellowthroat than Masked which almost certainly makes it it’s own, valid species with a tiny range. I believe that the IOC already calls it Chiriqui Yellowthroat.
The house at the marsh.
Rio Negro: I didn’t see no river, but I did see a bunch of birds! Tee-shirts with this statement should be sold, the profits going to conservation efforts around San Vito. We went there to look for the Lance-tailed Manakin. We heard it, couldn’t frustratingly see it, but did run into some nice mixed flocks as well as montane migrant Black-thighed Grosbeaks. A really cool site with a wide, easy trail, I would love to bird there a lot more. Getting there isn’t so straightforward but is possible.
-From San Vito, go to Sabalito, take a left at the gas station.
-Follow this road to Union, and from the main fork, go about 4.5 kilometers.
-At a ranch-type house, take an immediate right just after this, also immediately driving past some small wooden houses.
-Follow this main, fairly rough road back until you reach the forest. Park there, don’t block in any farming equipment, you will see the trail at that point.
Crested Oropendola: They are around and can show up at the marsh or just driving along but the surefire way to check this common Panama and South American bird for your Costa Rica list is by visiting their nesting/roosting tree. This is on the first road on the right after the Las Cruces station, maybe 200 meters from the main road. Visit in the early morning or late afternoon to ensure success.
I guess that’s it for now. It’s a great, easy area for birding, have fun!
Mountains are one of the main reasons why so many bird species live in Costa Rica. They act as barriers that promote speciation, catch moisture that creates cloud forest and other tropical forest habitats, and make it possible for distinct ecosystems to evolve at different elevations. But, on the downside, the steep slopes, ravines, and other forms of broken terrain don’t exactly facilitate access. Considering that there are people who would rather cut down the forest to make room for cows, that’s a good thing. But, not so good for birders who wouldn’t mind some easy-going searching for middle elevation species.
But, thanks to a certain few roads, we don’t need to torture ourselves by slip sliding up and down muddy slopes to catch a glimpse of a spinetail or two. In Costa Rica, we can head on over to Virgen del Socorro to hang out with Tufted Flycatchers and be entertained by the warbler-like antics of Rufous-browed Tyrannulets (if we really feel like calling that entertainment). Despite losing some forest during the 2009 earthquake, Virgen del Socorro is up and running for birding. Here are some tips for visiting this classic site:
Check out the “new” road!: This would be the road that accesses the canyon and although it’s not really new, the conditions are so much better, it’s pretty much as good as new. Or, it’s at least the best it will probably ever be. Instead of bouncing along roads and ruts, thanks to some recent grading, it’s a smooth ride down to the bridge and up to the entrance to the hydro plant on the other side of the river. Who knows how long it will last but you can probably enjoy this two wheel drive trip for the next few months.
Sunny days aren’t the best of days but they are good for raptors: Pretty much that. If you can get there before 8, it’s all good. After then, expect some really slow birding interspersed with raptor thermals. Commonly seen raptors at this site are Bat Falcon, White Hawk (maybe the most reliable, easily accessible spot in the country), Barred Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, and Gray Hawk. Keep watching and you might also get lucky with Ornate Hawk-Eagle. In the past, Great Black Hawk, Black and white Hawk-Eagle, and even Solitary Eagle were regular at this site, maybe they could show up again?
One of the White Hawks from this site.
Time is better spent at the bridge and the other side: The habitat is better down by the river, and across the bridge. Birds can also be seen on the way to the bridge but where there is more forest, there tend to be more birds and more species. Watching from the bridge might also turn up an American Dipper and other river species (although Sunbittern seems to be oddly absent).
Don’t worry, no one uses the old bridge any more.
Keep watching for mixed flocks: As if we wouldn’t be doing this anyways? What I mean by this is to keep looking and waiting for multi-species action, and then trying to stay with those birds as long as you can. This is where most of the birds will be including chances at various foothill and middle elevation species, and uncommon and rare stuff like Brown-billed Scythebill, tyrannulets, Blue and gold Tanager, vagrant wood-warblers for us local birders, and who knows what else?
Red-headed Barbet can show up. You can also watch for it at the Colibri Cafe.
Hummingbirds: It depends on what’s in flower but know that this is a good site for “le Black-crested Coquette”, Brown Violetear, Green Thorntail, Crowned Woodnymph, White-bellied Mountain-gem, Violet-headed Hummingbird, and Purple-crowned Fairy among others.
Female White-bellied Mountain-Gem
When to visit: Any time of the year is good. This is a great place to bird as a day trip when staying in the Sarapiqui area (takes about 40 minutes to drive there). It also works well when staying in the Varablanca/Poas area, and can be done as a day trip from the San Jose area but it will take an hour and a half or maybe even two hours to get there. If taking the bus, the San Jose-Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui-Varablanca bus route can drop you at the entrance road.
It’s also a good site for Slate-colored Grosbeak.
Do the San Miguel loop: This means taking the road towards San Miguel on the way back. This is also good for birding and can yield more foothill species.
How to get there: The entrance road into the canyon is not signed. It is located off of route 126 (the road that goes by the Waterfall Gardens) on the east side of the road, just south of the largest river on this road, and doesn’t look like much. There is a also white roadside cross just above the entrance road. This is also between San Miguel and Cinchona. Another way to find it is by checking out the map for the Virgen del Socorro hotspot in eBird- in general, this is an excellent way to find various birding sites in Costa Rica and most countries.
Hope you see some good stuff!
According to the way we keep track of time in “Western” culture, a new year has begun. This gives us a chance to make promises to ourselves and is a great excuse for a fresh, brand new start for anything we want. In the realm of birding, we can start counting birds again for the next 365 days, make target lists for the year, and plan trips for lifers. I don’t have a burgeoning number of expectations for 2017 but this blog post does give me a chance to list some ideas to shoot for from now until next December. Here goes…
Surveys in remote areas of Costa Rica: This is what I want to do the most. I want to see what’s out there in those little birded places with intact habitat like the swamp surrounded forest block in Cano Negro, primary forest in the Fila Carbon near Casa Calateas, remote lowland forest sites up near the border with Nicaragua, the La Tarde lodge in the Osa, The Soltis Center, grassland sites in the north, and the Las Alturas area. I’m sure there are more spots but these are the ones that come most readily to mind.
The view from Casa Calateas.
Visit a bunch of hotspots: By doing this in conjunction with the remote sites, I hope to fill in the gaps and connect with a heck of a lot of birds. These sites would be well known places like the La Selva entrance road, Carara National Park, the La Gamba area, Cerro de la Muerte (think Paraiso de Quetzales), Palo Verde, Medio Queso, and other places that make it onto many a Costa Rica birding itinerary.
The birding is awesome around La Gamba. This is a Charming Hummingbird.
See a Tawny-faced Quail: As soon as I wrote that, I was tempted to backtrack and just press the delete/back space key. I mean, I always want to see this bird but it’s such a pain, where’s the hope? I would need to get to out of the way spots in the north and look and look and maybe not see it anyways. But, if you don’t look, you won’t even see a catbird so as long as I can spend time where it lives, I will still have a slim chance. If I can make my first hopes come true, my chances at finally laying eyes on this little ground bird will climb the ladder of probability.
eBird everything: Yeah, a lot of birders do this and I try my best but I always end up leaving some lists out of the equation. This year, I want all my observations to be documented up there in the digital cloud.
Identify 700 species in Costa Rica: Bird enough in the right places and it can be done. Heck, do a proper Big Year and I bet you could get 750 or even 770 but since I can’t afford to allocate time and resources to nothing but bird chases, that ain’t gonna happen for moi. No matter because I will be very pleased to do enough birding to break 700. In 2016, two guys I know did just that in Costa Rica!
I already saw this one for the year list.
Hope I can get this one again…
Meet more birders: I always like meeting more birders. Birding is what I do, what I have always done and these are the people of my erstwhile tribe (although I also appreciate meeting any sort of biophile along with people who like to hang out in old growth forests). Hope to see some birds with you in Costa Rica soon!
On a final note, I also hope to become more involved in local conservation efforts. Despite the obvious fact that living on Earth means that we also coexist with other life forms, the current extinction event and widespread, self-detrimental ecosystem destruction indicates that too many humans have ignored the obvious for far too long. Planting trees, environmental education, or just helping people to reconnect with nature, I hope I can do something along those lines.