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June is already here! The older you get, the quicker time flies. Untested and unproven but nevertheless true. Just ask anyone who has surpassed 40 years on this planet. Suddenly, before you know it, the 50 year milestone stops creeping way off in the distance and gets up to begin a steady and unsettling trot, just waiting for that birthday moment when it can leap onto your neck and weigh you down with definite, clinging old age. But, you gotta accept it because the alternative is ceasing to age and since we haven’t figured out how to put a stop to that without also turning off the good old “cuore”, cessation is not the desired outcome (at least it shouldn’t be). In the meantime, give those creeping years the finger by getting out and watching more birds, being active, and keeping the inner flame going to make the world a better place (or at least to do whatever the hell you want as long as doing that doesn’t involve hurting other beings). That’s pretty much what my old neighbor Tony Palumbo from Augustus Place meant when he used to say, between puffs on some smelly cigar, “Pat, get educated and do what you want to do. Then you can tell those bastards to go to hell!” He never elucidated on who was exactly supposed to be sent off to the eternal oven but I am pretty sure it was anyone who would take try and take advantage of me or get me into an unwelcome bind.

So, in keeping with Tony’s advice, I try to see a certain number of bird species each year, always shooting for at least 600 species. In birdy Costa Rica, this is a very doable task. As long as you visit each major habitat in the country at various times of the year, you should find 600 species, and if you really work at it, you can hit 650 without too many problems. Reaching 700 requires a bit more work but the right planning and enough time can surely make that happen. That’s what I am trying for this year, and as the reader may have guessed from the title of this post, I just need 84 more species to reach this year’s birding goal.

I still need this one for the year.

With six months to work with, I can certainly do it but since most of the remaining species are somewhat of a challenge and or rare, I can’t just go out birding and find them. I now need to specifically go to the places where they occur and stick to looking for those special birds. No complaints there because the good thing about doing that is you always see other birds in the process. Even better, when I go looking for them, I will also have a solid chance at reaching 800 species for my country list. I hadn’t realized that I was so close but in looking at my Costa Rica list, I was pleasantly surprised to notice that I only needed nine more birds to hit 800! Based on my duo goals for 2017, these are the places that warrant more of my time from now until the nights grow longer:

The Ocean– If I went out to sea, I could easily pick up six or more year birds and maybe get a few country and life birds out of the salty mix (and even more if I went to Cocos Island). But, since I would also probably have a miserable sea-sick time, a pelagic isn’t one of my priorities. That could change if I could get a hold of the right medicine and boat but at the moment, I’m pleased with sticking to ferry birding (which can actually be an easy way to get several pelagic species without turning an unwelcome shade of green). I’m actually itching to take a ferry ride these days to see if the rain-swollen rivers flowing into the Gulf of Nicoya are bringing in the nutrients that attract storm-petrels, shearwaters, Bridled Tern, Brown Noddy, and maybe some mega or two. Also, based on the species missing from my year list, a few ferry trips will likely be needed to hit the 700 mark.

Birding from the Puntarenas-Paquera ferry is easy and often exciting.

The Highlands– I suspected that this region would host the majority of my missing birds but although it does harbor the easiest missing birds to get, the numbers of likely birds I could get with some effort are similar to the South Pacific, around 28 species. Several are expected and a few are always tough but since I have yet to visit the high Talamancas or Irazu, I feel good about finding most of my targets, even some of the tough ones. It will also be interesting to see if I can find some of the uncommon and rare cloud forest species on the San Rafael Varablanca road, a site not that far from my home.

The South Pacific-Since I sort of did a trip to that area when I went to San Vito in January, this was a bit of a surprise as well as a reminder of the excellent birding and high diversity way down there in the Osa, Golfo Dulce, and nearby. Preferably, I will do one or more trips to the Esquinas area or the Osa (I would love to get in a bit of expedition birding in the La Tarde area) to get the endemic ant-tanager and have a chance at Black and white Hawk-Eagle, Tiny Hawk, Turquoise Cotinga, and maybe even one of the mega large eagles. I need to go to sites near Ciudad Neily to pick up localized targets like Veraguan Mango, Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, Gray-lined Hawk, Savannah Hawk, and a fair chance at Upland and Buff-breasted Sandpipers along with other good birds, and at least one morning and evening near Buenos Aires for the O. Crake, rare nightjars, and a few other species.

Red-rumped Woodpecker is one of my targets.

The Caribbean and migrants– Thanks to the Global Big Day and other trips, I’m doing pretty good with this bunch of birds. But, since there are so many to choose from, I could still pick up 20 more resident species. Most of those are rare but I do have six months to work with. I also mention migrants for this area because the coast could still give me around a dozen species along with a chance at several rare vagrants.

The Northern volcanoes– That would be Rincon de la Vieja, Miravalles, Orosi, and Tenorio volcanoes. The high quality forests on those low mountains is excellent for a variety of high quality birds and would give me a good chance at Tody and Keel-billed Motmots, Bare-crowned Antbird, Lovely Cotinga, along with umbrellabird, Gray-throated Leaftosser, Black-eared Wood-Quail, and the list goes on. Recent mega sightings of Solitary Eagle and Harpy Eagle are additional reminders of why this is always a good area to bird! I also want to finally add the trio of uncommon Guanacaste resident sparrows to my country list- Grasshopper, Botteri’s, and Rusty. I have seen them elsewhere but never in Costa Rica and they are seriously overdue.

A glimpse at the uncommon Keel-billed Motmot.

I hope this basic outline of a birding plan might also give the reader some tips on seeing more of the species they want to find in Costa Rica. For lots more information, and to support this blog, purchase my 700 plus page e-book for finding birds in Costa Rica. I hope to see you in the field while working on this year’s goal!

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admin on June 15th, 2017

Tyrant-flycatchers are a seriously successful family. In terms of life on Earth, that means there are a lot of species in a lot of place and for this family, “a lot” means hundreds of Tyrannidae evolved to occupy habitats from the cold, windy grasslands of Patagonia on through the steamy lowland rainforests in the heart of South America north through familiar places in Virginia, and the way up north in the conifers of Alaska. Anyone who has been birding for any amount of time also knows that this family has been good at generating species that are a pain to identify. For whatever reason, apparently, that pattern of dull olive and grayish plumage, two wings bars, and not much else is perfect for survival because we can’t seem to get away from it. Lots of birds from different families wear that uniform but in the western hemisphere, flycatchers just might love it the most.

We are taking over AND MANY OF US wear the same uniform!- anonymous Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in Costa Rica.

Numbers of Tyrannid species go up the closer you get to the equator and since Costa Rica is just 9 degrees north of that invisible line, yeah, we have a lot! But, before any possible seeds of anxiety are planted at the thought of identifying dozens of extremely similar flycatchers, you can sit back and breathe a sigh of relief. Identifying them in the field is pretty straightforward and easier than sorting through Empids back home, the confusion might be more of a product of trying to remember all of those names; flatbill, spadebill, flycatcher, tody-flycatcher, pygmy-tyrant, and so on! If you can learn them by genus, I actually find that to be an easier way to mentally categorize and remember them (if you feel like memorizing bird names instead of using Sudoku to devour time).  That doesn’t mean that there won’t be some challenges thrown your way (especially when trying to separate Brown-crested and Nutting’s Flycatchers), but, as long as you get a good look at the head and bill, it will be easier than many flycatchers back home (or “warblers” if you hail from the Palearctic).

One of those flycatchers that looks as if it might be a problem but really isn’t that difficult is the Northern Scrub Flycatcher. While this little guy does share that wonderfully adapted pattern of grayish head, pale yellow belly, pale wing bars , and some pattern on the head, take a closer look and you will be forced to admit that you have seen a Northern Scrub Flycatcher. You may wonder why on Earth it has to have such a darn long name, especially when you are seeing it in mangroves instead of scrub but just be thankful it doesn’t have as cumbersome a name as the Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Oleaginous Hemispingus, or White-cheeked Tody-Tyrant.

Like most tyrant-flycatchers in Costa Rica (and the majority of bird species), for the Northern Scrub, you need to focus in on the head, especially the bill. This bird has such a tiny bill, it may also occur to you that the species is hiding out in the mangroves because it feels woefully inadequate, even incomplete, when sharing a branch with the Great Kiskadee or pretty much any other tyrant-flycatcher in the country.

Yep, that’s it’s claim to fame, a small, dark bill.

Take a look at the wings and you might also notice that this flycatcher sort of has three wing bars. Maybe not all of the time but don’t be surprised if it looks that way.

Once you see the extra wing bar and the tiny bill, you can then relax and check out some other subtle features and impressions. You might notice that the gray head has a short crest and a bit of a dark line through some sort of broken eye rings, and that the gray also comes down onto the breast. You might also feel like the bird looks kind of like a mini Myiarchus (at least it does to me, sort of), or maybe a cross between a tyrannulet and an elaenia (if that helps). As for vocalizations, although the brief whistled note is diagnostic, it’s all too easy to over look. Or, you might just decide to look at something more colorful or eye-catching that happens to be coming in to the pygmy-owl call, and no one would blame you if you did so.

The smart looking Mangrove Yellow Warbler will probably be there.

Or, there might be a Turquoise-browed Motmot begging for attention.

In Costa Rica, look for the Northern Scrub Flycatcher in mangroves in the Gulf of Nicoya and the Gulfo Dulce. If you see one elsewhere, take a closer look at the bill, it’s probably a Greenish Elaenia or some other bird wearing that flycatcher uniform.

Like a lot of flycatchers, the Greenish Elaenia is…greenish.

 

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Lately, in Costa Rica, there have been a few noteworthy happenings. Although the birding is always exciting, the following news items stand out and make an upcoming July trip even more enticing:

Harpy Eagle– Yep, that’s right, the major rare giant king of Neotropical raptors was most definitely, recently seen in Costa Rica. According to the eBird list graciously reported by John Garrett in late May, an adult or near adult was seen and photographed at a site in the Orosi-Rincon de la Vieja corridor. This was such a shock to the local birding community, despite the presence of definitive photos and an excellent description given by an experienced birder/biologist, amazingly, several people still expressed doubts. Since the proof provided seems far more likely to be a representation of the truth than an elaborate hoax, I am not one of those doubters. Some people mentioned that they just couldn’t believe the sighting because the bird wasn’t inside primary forest. Nevertheless, the special site where that big mega eagle recently perched in full view is within a matrix of fair-sized patches of lowland and foothill rainforest loosely connected to larger, primary forest blocks. Fortunately, the bird was last seen flying towards those forests, hopefully, it will thrive and be seen again! It seems likely that it wandered in from known populations in the Indio-Maiz forests of southeastern Nicaragua (or maybe even adjacent Costa Rica) in search of a place to rule and eat almost whatever forest inhabitants it wants. Thank goodness, a few people were there to document its presence in an area rarely visited by birders. If you want to maybe see it, about all you can do is spend time birding in remote areas of the Orosi Volcano in Guanacaste National Park, or maybe in Rincon de la Vieja, and wish upon a star.

Forests at Rincon de la Vieja.

The Birding is Always Good at Tenorio– The fact that a lot of great birds are usually seen in the excellent forests near Bijagua is reason enough to make the trip. A few more reasons from recent birding in the area include a probable Solitary Eagle reported on eBird, and excellent looks at the rare Black-eared Wood-Quail by several people at the Celeste Mountain Lodge and on the trails at Heliconias.

Uncommon Hummingbirds at El Tapir– On a recent trip to El Tapir, the hummingbirds were especially good. Yes, a few Snowcaps were present and we saw Green Thorntail and one Black-crested Coquette perched in the distance, but we also had close looks at a young White-crested Coquette, female Coppery-headed Emerald, and female Magenta-throated Woodstar. Suffice to say, I have never seen the latter three species at this site. The coquette from the Pacific slope has been spotted there on a couple of occasions and I bet the other two have also occurred but don’t expect any of them on a regular basis! Since hummingbirds and the flowers they feed on seem to be scarce in many areas of the country, I can’t help but wonder if the out of range birds showed up while searching for food. El Tapir and other sites with feeders and porterweed like Rancho Naturalista, Bosque Tolomuco, and El Copal should be carefully checked for unusual hummingbirds, especially ones with a bit of rufous on the face.

This is the one I’m talking about- it showed up last year after a century plus hiatus, maybe there’s a few in Costa Rica right now.

Bare-necked Umbrellabird at Curi-Cancha– It’s been there before but with this rare, endangered, spectacular species, it’s always worth mentioning where it has been seen. Although the bird with the Elvis feather cut is not common or expected anywhere, Curi-Cancha is as good as place as any to look for it (and see a bunch of other birds while doing so).

Unspotted Saw-whets on Irazu– They are always up there but recently, Ernesto Carman of Get Your Birds tours actually saw one on a day perch! Although they probably won’t reveal exactly where (to prevent photographers from disturbing it), they might be able to show you one or two of this fantastic, much wanted owlet at night.

More help for Golden-winged Warblers– We all know that Golden-winged Warblers are a species of conservation concern. If you have been to Costa Rica during the winter months, you may also know that they are easier to see in this country than many other areas. Costa Rica Bird Observatories is helping out Golden-winged Warblers through local education about the bird, payments to preserve habitat, and reforestation. Learn more about this awesome initiative at their site!

One of Costa Rica’s many wintering Golden-winged Warblers.

Heavy Rains– There has been a lot of precipitation lately and it’s a welcome sight. Yes, we are in the rainy season but for the past four or five years, thanks to human caused global warming, there just hasn’t been enough, especially on the Caribbean slope and in the highlands. Very likely because of that, a high percentage of bird species in the country seem to be in decline (I know that I detect noticeably fewer at most sites, especially in humid forests, and it has gotten worse year by year). As far as the birds go, we can only hope that the rain will be enough to boost productivity and result in a successful nesting season for many species.

A few of the things I would love to do– These days, I would love to get up to Tenorio (as always), hang out in the Rincon de la Vieja and Orosi area, do more surveys in the foothill zone so we can have more data on bird populations that appear to be in decline, get the final images needed for the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, and look for pelagic birds from the Puntarenas-Paquera ferry. Hope I can do some of that, if so, I’ll be writing about it!

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Virgen del Socorro is one of Costa Rica’s classic birding sites. Whether staying in the San Jose area or the Sarapiqui lowlands, this forested canyon is an easy one to two hour trip with access to foothill and middle elevation habitats. It’ a good site for White Hawk, Collared Trogon, and several other species that frequent the transition between lowlands and highlands. One of the things birders also notice when visiting Virgen del Socorro are the forested hillsides, especially upstream from the main road through the canyon. If only we could get into those forests! Maybe we would find quail-doves, Red-fronted Parrotlet, and other rare species. The right situation for many high quality species is there, the only problem being that main recurring issue frequently faced by birders in tropical places- that of access.

White Hawk

Much to our twitching frustration, the high quality forests visible from the canyon road don’t have any roads that go through them, they don’t have any trails. Well, they don’t if you stick to the road through the canyon. Stay at Albergue del Socorro, though, and access is granted. This small “lodge” is actually a small dairy farm that has opted in on ecotourism. The owners are serious about protecting the forests in and around their farm, offer a few shared cabins as accommodation, and serve excellent local country fare. Stay there and you will be supporting birder friendly people who are committed to protecting the forests of the Socorro area. Top that support off with excellent middle elevation birding, and a stay at Albergue del Socorro becomes an enticing addition to every birder’s Costa Rica itinerary. More information about this excellent site:

Trails through mature forest

The lodge has a few trails, one of which passes through excellent mature forest on its way to a waterfall. The other trails are shorter loops that pass through forest and a few open areas. No matter which trail you take, Jose, the owner, will be happy to accompany you. Although rain limited our time on the trails, based on what I saw, they should be good for quail-doves, mixed flocks, and could host several rare species.

Birding on the road is good too

If you feel like sticking to the road in front of the lodge, you will still be in luck because the birding is typically good and can result in White-crowned Manakin, many tanagers, euphonias, Spotted Barbtail, and Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner among many other less common species. In the past, I often had Lattice-tailed Trogon on the section of road just above the lodge. It should still be present although maybe now more regular on the Albergue trails.

Serious birding potential

The combination of high quality forest, connection to Braulio Carrillo National Park, and an elevation of around 1,000 meters is ideal for coming across a wide number of rare and uncommon species. Quail-doves, Lovely Cotinga, and all three hawk-eagles have been identified at or near Albergue in recent years, and I would be very surprised if goodies like Lanceolated Monklet, the ground-cuckoo, Scaled and Ochre-breasted Antpittas, Sharpbill, and many other megas were not present. It should also be a good place for Solitary Eagle to make an appearance. That massive black-hawk has been recorded around there in the past, and since the area does link up to Braulio, it seems like a good spot for it to be seen again. Even during the rain, we watched several Crested Guans, Russet-naped Wood-Rail, Swallow-tailed Kites, White Hawk, Bat Falcon, tanagers, and other species just outside the rooms.

Crested Guan

Ideal for small groups

Given the accommodation (limited but cozy and clean), this site is better for single travelers, couples, and small groups.

Three ways to get there

There are three different routes to take, all of which require four wheel drive just before reaching the lodge. You might make it to the lodge with a regular, small vehicle but then again, you might not! Keep in mind that since these three routes also have great birding, you might want to give yourself extra time for the trip. The most common route people take is the one that passes by the Waterfall Gardens, the Cinchona Cafe Colibri, and then goes through the Virgen del Socorro canyon. The one issue with this route is a bridge that looks like it’s on the verge of collapsing. To avoid that possibility, try one of the other two routes! If you feel like some adventurous birding on a somewhat rough road that passes next to some nice cloud forest, take the turn off for San Rafael de Varablanca and follow that main road all the way down to the lodge. This road also has lots of good birding potential. If you would rather do the easiest route, take the turn off at the San Miguel cemetery and follow that up to the lodge, enjoying good foothill birding on the way. If I had a four wheel drive vehicle, I would opt for driving one of those routes in and another on the way out. Do that with enough time for several hours birding each way and you could end up with a seriously good list.

I felt compelled to write this post after guiding a short trip to Albergue Socorro last weekend. Although we got rained out on Sunday morning, we still recorded more than 130 species while birding at and near the lodge. I look forward to going back, especially to do bird surveys on their trails just after dawn.

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More mature forest means more birds. The copious number of individual birds, a good number of species, and near constant avian action in second growth can trick us into viewing edge habitats as the best places to bird. While the thick, successional growth at the edge of rainforest does host a number of species, including several canopy birds, mature forest still hosts more. Yes, bird the edge, but don’t neglect those long quiet walks inside the forest because that’s where you need to go for the biggest mixed flocks, most of the uncommon, rare, and spectacular species, and a host of peculiar understory birds.

Many understory species are especially dependent on healthy, mature forest probably because they have become adapted to living in a dim, shaded environment that hosts a complex, structured matrix of vines, small palms, and other understory plants. Since they share that dark maze of bushes, heliconias, and shade plants with various snakes, frogs, bugs, and other life forms that compete with, flee from, and try to eat each other, most of the understory birds are also naturally rare. We could also just as well say that they live at natural, very low densities and this is why we can walk on a trail for some time and find very few birds. The other reasons why we find so few birds in the forest interior is because they need to keep their presence on a serious down-low to avoid being noticed by predators, and because several prefer to forage in mixed flocks (another, additional means of avoiding depredation). At least that means that if you find the mixed flock, you also find a bunch of those shy understory birds.

I was reminded of these factors during recent birding/guiding at Quebrada Gonzalez in Braulio Carrillo National Park, and in the buffer zone at El Tapir. As is typical for these sites, we did find a few Checker-throated Antwrens and some other understory species that were foraging with them while walking on the trails. The antwrens give themselves away with a sharp alarm call or by giving their song; a short series of high-pitched, easy to ignore notes. While they forage in dead leaves, other birds also give quiet calls or reveal their presence by shaking a leaf or two. The whole thing is always a quiet, seriously inconspicuous endeavor and because of that, you can bet there are more birds out there, just staying out of sight. While watching the antwrens, we also heard Streak-crowned Antvireo, and saw Wedge-billed and Spotted Woodcreepers. In such flocks, other typical species include White-flanked Antwren, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, and Ruddy-tailed and Sulphur-rumped Flycatchers.

The hyper Tawny-faced Gntawren is usually also present, foraging near the ground, all the while looking very much like some out of place Asian tailorbird species.

Since other, rarer species are also possible, it’s worth it to stick with that flock as long as you can. But don’t leave the trail because there are other things lying in wait on the forest floor.

This nice sized Fer-de-Lance was a reminder of that possibility. Since it was next to the trail, it was easy to see and even easier to avoid. If this venomous snake sits in the leaf litter, you probably won’t see it. Although the chances of stepping on one after leaving the trail are slim, I would rather eliminate even that small chance by keeping to the trail.

Other cool understory species include antbirds, leaftossers, and grail birds of the understory like Black-crowned Antpitta and the R.V. Ground-Cuckoo. Although we did find a random Bicolored Antbird, try as we did, the gnatpitta and ground-cuckoo were both elusive along with the antswarms that act as the most likely situations to find such megas. However, before getting rained out in the afternoon, we did manage to connect with close views of a cool Northern Schiffornis.

After this odd brown bird came in, it opened and closed its mouth and sort of swayed back and forth.

Maybe the ground-cuckoo will show next time. You never know when it will happen and this is why a careful, quiet walk in mature forest is essential when birding in Costa Rica.

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admin on May 18th, 2017

Last Saturday, May 13, more than 20,000 birders went birding and put their results into eBird. It was the third Global Big Day and the biggest one yet. If the day would have been a competition (and some countries did sort treat the day as such) Colombia took first place with more than 1,400 species identified, Peru came in second, and Ecuador was third. Surprisingly, the highest list came from northern Argentina (and thus highlighting the biodiversity in this less birded area), and Costa Rica had the highest total for Central America. Thanks to some last minute organizing and a good number of local birders getting on board, this small country finished the day with more than 640 species.

Birding in Costa Rica during Global Big Day, 2017.

Since most of the migrants had already left, the local birding community was very pleased at topping 600. Consider that all of these species were found in an area roughly equal to that of West Virginia and it’s quite the impressive total. We are already thinking about next year to see if we can hit 700. As for me, I birded a 60 kilometer route from the Central Valley, up and over the mountains, north to the Sarapiqui Caribbean lowlands, and then back up the mountain to hit highland forests before heading back down into the valley for some dry forest and wetland species. As usual, I did this route with my faithful Big Day birding companion and friend, Susan. Although we ran out of time twarads the end of the day and thus missed out on dry forest species, we were seriously lucky with good weather, especially because a lot of other birders in Costa Rica got rained out during the critical morning hours.

During our long day and night of birding, some of our nicest finds were:

Striped Owl– This was a big one on my radar because a Striped Owl had been calling just about every night for the past two months right near my house. Thankfully, good old “Stripey” decided to participate in the Global Big Day by giving its shrill vocalization as soon as we stopped to listen for it. I can’t say the same for other owls in the valley and mountains but at least the Striped Owl piped up right on cue!

A surprise wetland– Deciding where to greet the dawn on a Big Day is of vital importance because it’s when we have the best chance at the most birds. If it rains, there goes a sizeable chunk of the daily total. If you pick the wrong spot, you probably miss the species that would have put you over your end goal. With all that in mind, we started where the most species were possible; in the Caribbean Lowlands. The site had to be close enough to the rest of our route to save time but also in or next to an extensive area of forest. After scouting and checking Google Earth, I decided on an area just north of Tirimbina where a road cuts through a corner of a large forest block and then passes near a wetland mentioned in eBird. As it turned out, the forest block wasn’t as birdy as expected, nor did the lagoon from eBird have much, but we did luck out with a fine marsh just outside the forest. This was a surprise because I had seen the satellite view of the open area but had assumed that it was pasture. Although some of it did turn out to be grass for cows, most of it was a shallow river bordered by marsh vegetation! Since such habitat is difficult to find and access in Costa Rica, and offers a chance at various additions to the day list, this was a fantastic Big Day surprise.

Our best bird there was Rufescent Tiger-Heron, a rare species in Costa Rica and thus not exactly expected. We also picked up Purple Gallinule and some other water birds as well as various edge species and some forest birds.

Our tiger-heron and one of all three species we found during the day!

Birds before dawn– You never know what will call at night from one day to the next. Next to the march and adjacent forest, luckily, we had a calling Black and white Owl, Central American Pygmy-Owl, one Uniform Crake (maybe the only one for Costa Rica), and one Great Potoo. No response from Short-tailed Nighthawk or other owls but some good night birds nonetheless.

White-ringed Flycatcher and other lowland specialties–  I had hoped to get the flycatcher but it was particularly sweet to get our only one right from the car, and rather low down. In Tirimbina, we picked up several other nice lowland targets including Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, antwrens, the hoped for White-fronted Nunbirds that live there, Black-striped Woodcreeper, and some others. We also missed several but it was still fun trying for them!

White-ringed Flycatcher

Tanagers in Socorro– These were expected but still nice to get them and weren’t as common as we had hoped. Black and yellow, Bay-headed, Silver-throated, Speckled, and a few other showed, including Blue and Gold and the exquisite Scarlet-thighed Dacnis.

Blue and gold Tanager

A quetzal in the cloud forest– We always knew it was possible but with limited time to work with, the chances of bumping into one are never really good. As if to make up for the many highland species that were hiding or just keeping silent, a male Resplendent Quetzal fluttered and then flew right across our field of view in an area of cloud forest that is now quite accessible from the San Jose area. Thanks to road work and new bridges, the route that goes from San Rafael de Varablanca towards Socorro and San Miguel is easy going right up to this area of forest. Beyond that, the road requires four wheel drive but you might not need to go much further for some really good birding because this area of forest is connected to Braulio Carrillo National Park. Since it’s not that far from the homestead, I hope to check it out from time to time.

Although I always want more birds, I was pleased with our total of around 230 species. I wonder how many more we could get on that route with additional scouting and when there are migrants in the area.

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For the past few weeks, most of my birding has taken the form of scouting for the Global Big Day on May 13th. Since I plan on starting shortly after midnight, I will actually be celebrating this modern birding holiday in a matter of hours. Hopefully, all of that scouting and planning will pay off with a Lovely Cotinga, hawk-eagles, and enough singing birds to push our total over the 300 species mark. The good thing is that if that doesn’t come to pass because of rain (very likely chance of precipitation) or other factors, it’s still going to be a great day of birding pretty close to the home base.

A view of Poas Volcano- not erupting on this morning.

Since much of that scouting involved the Poas area, I figured that it would be pertinent to give an update on the birding situation around there. Aside from scouting Varablanca, Poas, and Sarapiqui, since I also got in a nice day of guiding at Carara, I figured I would talk about that too.

The Poas situation: If you hadn’t heard, the park is closed because the volcano started erupting a month ago. Although activity has calmed down somewhat, the park is still off limits and probably won’t be opened for several months or even years. That said, don’t write off birding up in those mountains yet because you can still see quite a few good highland birds on the way to Poas and around Varablanca.

The barrier on the road up to Poas just after the Poas Lodge.

At the moment, the road is closed around three to four kilometers from the edge of the national park. This means that although the best highland forests are now off limits, you can still see most species in patches of forest from the village of Poasito up to that barrier, AND, with very little traffic. Unfortunately, Sooty Thrush, Highland Tinamou, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, and most Peg-billed Finches are now beyond that barrier and therefore inaccessible but you can still see both silky-flycatchers, Prong-billed Barbet, Large-footed Finch at a few sites, and most of everything else including chances at Resplendent Quetzal. Fortunately, the Volcan Restaurant is still open as is Freddo Fresas; two sites with hummingbird feeders and riparian zones.

Try Varablanca: The area of Varablanca is very much open and accessible and because it’s around 45 minutes from the airport, continues to be a good site for a first or last night on a Costa Rica birding trip. Accommodation options include Poas Volcano Lodge, Poas Lodge, The Peace Lodge, and a few other spots. A fair number of highland species can be seen around accommodation, in riparian zones on the route towards Barva, and in the area between there and Socorro.

Carara: The Carara area is always good for birds no matter when you visit. Now is especially nice because the wet weather has resulted in lots of singing birds, good activity, and temperatures a bit more comfortable than the blazing Carara furnace from February to April. On my recent trip, we had Crane Hawk and good looks at Collared Forest Falcon on the Cerro Lodge road, several singing Northern Bentbills on the national park forest trail, excellent looks at Golden-crowned Spadebill at the bridge,

This is what a Golden-crowned Spadebill looks like.

good looks at vocalizing Long-tailed Woodcreeper (future split), trogons, excellent point blank views of Streak-chested Antpitta, Red-capped Manakin, and other expected species. What we didn’t have were many hummingbirds, nor many parrots. We still had plenty of macaws but very few other members of that esteemed family.

One of the close Streak-chested Antpittas, hopefully these will be recorded during the Global Big Day.

Hope to see you in the field. To learn about more sites for birding in Costa Rica as well as how to find and identify birds in this biodiverse country, see my e-book “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. It can be purchased through Kindle as well as PayPal, just follow the link. I will transfer the book within 24 hours of confirmation of purchase.

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admin on May 4th, 2017

Costa Rica boasts several types of forest habitats and we birders rejoice in this multi-ecosystem situation. The nation-wide mosaic of rainforest, cloud forest, temperate forest, dry forest, and other microhabitats is partly why we have such a plethora of bird species in such a small area. Walk a trail through dripping cloud forests at Monteverde one day and you can catch up with highland endemics like the Purple-throated Mountain-Gem, Ruddy Treerunner, and Prong-billed Barbet. Drive down to the Pacific lowlands the next day and those species are replaced by Plain-capped Starthroat, Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, and other avian reps of the tropical dry forest.

The Plain-capped Starthroat is indeed quite plain.

The Pacific dry forests of Middle America have been chopped, changed, and over-grazed for centuries. Since it’s easier for people to transform such areas into semi-open habitats typically preferred by the savannah-evolved Homo sapiens, large areas of intact dry forests are rare throughout the globe. As for the forests that naturally occur from western Mexico south to Costa Rica (and at least one area of Panama), birding intact, mature, tropical dry forest has become an anomaly. On the bright side of the bio coin, it seems that most of the birds and many other animals of this biome persist and adapt to fragmented habitats. That said, I can’t help but wonder how well the plants are faring, and if we lost some insects and other species (maybe even birds) long before they could be catalogued.

To see the birds that still frequent the seasonally dry habitats of Costa Rica (there are quite a few), you can get a good sampling of them in patchy habitats from around the Tarcoles area north to Nicaragua. However, if you want to get the whole birding shebang of dry forest species, your best bets occur in the largest areas of dry forest (who would have guessed?). These can be found in parts of the Nicoya Peninsula, and in the Palo Verde, Guanacaste, and Santa Rosa National Parks. As serendipity has it, the easiest one to access is Santa Rosa, and this park is probably also the best site in Costa Rica for dry forest bird species.

The Casona at Santa Rosa National Park.

Located around 30 kilometers north of Liberia, the park has a good, paved 10 kilometer road that connects the highway with the park HQ at the Casona monument and museum. Although it doesn’t officially open until 8 in the morning (typical for most national parks), since the main office is at the Casona, I suspect that one could bird the entrance road much earlier. Although my most recent visit was a short, family oriented one, I still had really good birding even during the middle of the day. See my eBird list from the Casona. Some thoughts and ideas:

Good for ground birds

Forested, protected areas in Costa Rica are often good for terrestrial birds and Santa Rosa is no exception. Unlike many other parts of their Costa Rican range, Thicket Tinamous are not as shy and much easier to see. Patience in the face of mosquitoes is still very much required but if you can hang in there, you stand a good chance of seeing a tinamou with red legs. Two other choice ground species, Great Curassow and Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, are also fairly common.

There is a Thicket Tinamou in this picture albeit a much more shy one from the Playa Hermosa area.

Watch from the Casona overlook

I admit, I was hesitant to walk up the steps in the hot lowland climate but the reward was definitely worth it. But, based on my brief, avian rich experience, the next time I visit, I might run up the stairs like Rocky. I hope to go back some day and watch from the overlook for a few hours in the morning, and then again in the later afternoon because the birding there rocks! The hill overlooks a large area of the national park and is one of the closest things I have seen to a canopy tower in Costa Rica. During my recent short watch, I heard one or two Elegant Trogons and an Ivory-billed Woodcreeper among various other expected species, saw a Mangrove Cuckoo creeping through a nearby tree, magpie-jays, and other species. Although I didn’t notice any raptors, it should surely be good for that too!

Bird the universal trail

Although the birding is likely similar on the few roads through the park, this trail is accessed from the Casona area, and makes an easy loop on a cement walkway through nice dry forest. Expect Banded Wrens, Elegant and Black-headed Trogons, maybe a Thicket Tinamou, and several other species. The “good” lighting will also be welcomed by birders who have been trying to snap pictures in the much less sensor-friendly rainforest understory.

Focus on the evergreen forest remnant

Located about halfway in on the entrance road, this area is an evergreen spot with tall trees and is marked by a sign that refers to it as a rare remnant of mature tropical dry forest. It definitely looks older and more complex than the surrounding forest, and since it’s a riparian zone, it also hosts more birds. During a five minute stop, although I didn’t hear or see any hoped for camera friendly Thicket Tinamous, it was a treat to listen to the songs of Long-tailed Manakins, Banded Wrens, and Cabanis’s Wrens, see a Royal Flycatcher, and espy a migrating Eastern Kingbird perched in the canopy. Although there are more mosquitoes, there are also more birds, and it’s worth it to spend a good amount of time at this site.

Royal Flycatchers are always nice to see.

The sign.

Since Santa Rosa is connected to evergreen forests at higher elevations, it can also attract some unexpected species. Some years ago, at least one ornithologist may have seen a Crested Eagle! He suspected that the bird may have migrated there from the rainforests in the Guanacaste mountains to take advantage of monkeys and other prey items. It’s worth it to fit Santa Rosa into your itinerary, you are going to like it!

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admin on April 28th, 2017

When most birders think of Costa Rica, shorebirds don’t usually come to mind. Although thousands of waders do winter and migrate through the country, let’s face it, people with serious bins usually visit Costa Rica for a pleasantly high number of regional endemics, a few dozen hummingbirds, glittering tanagers, quetzals, and the list goes on but it doesn’t typically include Whimbrels, Willets, or even godwits.

Marbled Godwits are common in Costa Rica during the winter months.

For birders from North America, most of those shorebirds are especially unexciting because they can be seen back home, or at least on shorter trips closer to the home base. However, for birders from other parts of the globe, getting in some shorebirding is a quick way to tick and study a bunch of New World waders. To fill in the shorebird pages of your guide or checklist, bring a scope and try these following spots and strategies:

Estuaries, especially Tarcoles

Any of the estuaries on both coasts are good for shorebirds. As with many places on the planet, river deltas in Costa Rica are a good way to connect with species like Collared Plover, Semi. and Wilson’s Plovers, Black-bellied (Grey) Plover, Least, Western, and Semipalmated Sandpipers (the three standard peeps in Costa Rica), and a few other waders. Other, rarer shorebirds can of course also show, and the most productive estuary might be the one at the Rio Grande de Tarcoles. For this spot, I’m not sure which end of the tides is best (maybe low?), but it’s always worth checking. This can be done on one of the birding mangrove boat tours or by visiting the Playa Azul area.

This estuary is a rarity magnet and thus always worth checking.

Chomes

This most classic of shorebird sites has long been the best place to look for waders in Costa Rica. That dynamic could be changing because of different management practices and the presence of squatters but, so far, it still seems worthwhile to check. During the dry season, much of the place can dry out but the lagoons close to the beach are often the best ones. The road through the ponds often requires four wheel drive and also provides access to mangrove birds. High tide is the best time to visit this site because this kicks the birds out of the Gulf of Nicoya and sends them in the ponds. However, if you do visit during low tide, you can still check out some of the birds on the mud flats of the Gulf. Since this site has little shade and is rather extensive, walking it could be a good way to die from heat stroke. Therefore, a vehicle is definitely required and it’s needed to reach every corner of the salt ponds in any case. You may have to search a fair bit to find the birds. Keep in mind that the drive in is also good for dry forest and open country species.

Visiting Classic Chomes last autumn paid off big time with a major flock of Buff-breasted Sandpipers. They were in this lagoon near the beach. This and an adjacent lagoon are two of the more productive ones for birds.

Punta Morales, Ensenada, and other sites on the Gulf of Nicoya

Located near Chomes, Punta Morales has become a new classic for shorebirds. As with Chomes, the birds come in to the salt ponds during high tide. At times, thousands of shorebirds and terns can be seen on the dikes and feeding in the pools. This site is also easier to reach and likewise provides access to mangroves and some dry forest habitats.

Ensenada has similar ponds used by shorebirds during high tide but doesn’t usually host as many species or individuals. Nevertheless, since this wildlife refuge also offers lodging, it’s a good spot to combine an overnight stay with shorebirding and dry forest birding.

There are also other intriguing salt and shrimp pond sites on the Gulf of Nicoya, the best known being the ponds near Colorado. Interesting birds can occur at any such ponds, a normally pelagic White Tern was seen at one such area on the other side of the Gulf a couple years ago!

Shorebirds at Cocorocas, Punta Morales.

Mud flats in the Gulf of Nicoya during low tide.

Rice Fields

These pseudo wetlands vary when it comes to birding in Costa Rica but can be worth a look, especially if there are muddy wet fields present. As one might expect, these are the places to look for American Golden-Plovers, Pectoral Sandpipers, Upland Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, and Long-billed Dowitcher. Other shorebirds can also occur and there can be large concentrations of them in the Tempisque basin. Although some of the best rice fields in this area are inaccessible, some good ones can still be birded on the road in to Palo Verde. Mega for Costa Rica Curlew Sandpiper has been found in this area and who knows what else might show?

Other good rice fields to check are the ones on the road to Playas Coco and Hermosa, rice fields near Jaco and Quepos, and, especially, the ones in the wetland area known as Coto 47. This latter site in particular holds a lot of promise and has been reliable for Upland Sandpiper and Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

Rice fields on the way to Playa Hermosa- lots of good stuff have occurred here including Baird’s and Upland Sands, and Aplomado Falcon.

Other Wetlands

Some other wetland sites can also be good for shorebirds, notably Cano Negro, the El Silencio wetland on the road to the VillaBlanca cloud forest, any number of wet pastures and fields, remnant wetland areas in the Coris-Bermejo area near Cartago (mostly inaccessible), and exposed mud flats at the Cachi reservoir (mostly visible from Ujarras).

Wet puddles and the edges of lakes and ponds in paramo and highland areas can also be good for Baird’s Sandpiper.

The El Silencio wetlands.

Some Special Birds to Look For

These are a few of the more interesting shorebirds and megas that could show.

Surfbird– Uncommon during migration, any sites in the Gulf of Nicoya are good for it and they can also show on exposed rocky areas anywhere on the Pacific coast.

Wandering Tattler– Rare but winters and migrates through the Pacific coast, only on exposed rocks washed by waves. Check enough such sites and you will eventually find one.

Long-billed Curlew– Rare in Costa Rica but regular in winter at Punta Morales, the Colorado area, and Chomes. Numbers vary but there are probably three to ten birds present each year.

I was happy to get my year bird in January.

Hudsonian Godwit– A sweet one to add to your country list but a long shot because studies have shown that most probably skip over Costa Rica when flying from stop over sites in Colombia and Mexico. Nevertheless, there must be a few that touch down each April and May, you just have to be in the right place at the right time. Josh Beck, Kathi Borgmann, Susan Blank, and I saw our bird at Chomes on April 24th, 2014.

American Golden-Plover– Several pass through but rather few stop. Watch for it at any shorebird sites during migration.

Pacific Golden-Plover– Very rare but this one might actually be slightly more regular than expected. The reason I say this is because this past February, one was documented out of a group of six (there were only photos of the one so we can’t say for sure if the others were also Pacifics but based on the date and the observer’s comments, it seems likely). They were in rice fields of the Tempisque basin; some of the least visited yet most productive shorebird areas in the country. The other reason why this species may be more regular is because few birders in Costa Rica are aware that this species is even possible and thus haven’t had it on their RADAR. When the photos of the recent Pacific Golden Plover were circulated, most people said it was an American Golden Plover (not as if it’s an easy identification to start with).

Curlew Sandpiper– Only a few records but given the lack of monitoring, I bet one or even a few pass through each year.

Ruff– See Curlew Sandpiper.

This one is pretty easy to identify.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper– Not on the list yet but at least one flew through here because this species was identified in Panama last year! Lots of Pectorals pass through, I wonder how many Sharp-taileds also migrate through the country? If you see a funny looking Pectoral, take pictures!

Red-necked Stint– Not on the list either and in winter plumage not likely to be noticed. If there is a vagrant one in Costa Rica, hopefully it will have the decency to sport some breeding plumage. Along similar lines, I suppose it’s not out of the question to also mention Common Ringed Plover as a very rare possibility.

A Red-necked Stint I saw in Thailand- note the very unassuming plumage in this old, digiscoped shot.

Bristle-thighed Curlew– Um, isn’t this blog supposed to be about Costa Rica? No, not on the list yet but like the Pacific Golden-Plover, it winters on Pacific islands. It might turn up some day on Cocos Island and who knows, perhaps on the mainland coast?

American Pipit– Not exactly shorebird material but since it would be a great find, has already occurred a few times, and is likely to show in the same habitats as sandpipers and plovers. The same goes for Red-throated Pipit and wagtails- serious long shots for sure but hey, they are possible!

To learn more about sites for shorebirds and other birds in Costa Rica, as well as how to find and identify them (and to support this blog), get my 700 plus page e-book, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.

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It’s April and most of the migrants have left Costa Rica. Not all of them, I saw a Hooded Warbler yesterday along with a few Chestnut-sideds, Yellows, and Philadelphia Vireos but the majority have gone back north. In the meantime, it’s been raining more often and the local birds are out and singing. Stay in the Central Valley right now and you will be made aware of that with a chorus of 4 a.m. Clay-colored Thrushes. Visit now and you also have a better chance of connecting with calling Three-wattled Bellbirds up around Monteverde and in the remote and enticing Las Tablas area near Panama.

You might also benefit from knowing the following information:

Pollo Vaquero restaurant

It takes more than bird finding information for a satisfying stay in Costa Rica. If you happen to find yourself hungry and on the road between Ciudad Quesada and San Miguel (you will be on this route if travelling between the Arenal area and Sarapiqui), the roadside Pollo Vaquero restaurant could be your best bet. Somewhere west of Rio Cuarto, eat at this local diner to experience the type of service, good food, and value that used to be commonplace at most “sodas” in Costa Rica. Nowadays, it’s all too common to come across restaurants that charge too much for too little quantities of average fare. Not so for this nice little place. I recommend it very much!

Casona Cafetal restaurant

Sticking to the restaurant theme, this one in the Orosi Valley might be one to avoid if you don’t want to pay more for average food. It’s not bad, the surroundings are pretty nice, and there are Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrows in the surrounding coffee fields but if you do eat here, know that the cuisine is far from incredible despite being available for gourmet prices.

Poas Volcano National Park closed!

Back to much more pertinent news. Yep, sadly, one of the volcanos visible from my house and from much of the Central Valley became much more active on April 14th. Although the volcano has shown small signs of activity now and then, that was nothing compared to the eruptions of recent days. Since that first day of volcanic action, Poas shot a cloud of ash and gas three kilometers into the sky along with some rocks, and the park has been closed. Very unfortunately for birders and a few businesses up that way, the police also blocked off the access road well before the park entrance. I have heard that they moved the barrier up the road since then, and for the sake of the Volcan Restaurant, I sure hope that’s the case. To sum things up, unfortunately, this means that the most accessible high elevation habitat near the airport is off limits for an indefinite period of time.

You can still visit the Colibri Cafe though.

El Tigre marshes no more

Often mentioned in trip reports, the wet fields at this site in Sarapiqui used to be good for various marsh birds including Nicaraguan Seed-Finch. However, a few years ago, they began to dry out, the owners put in cattle, and also appear to be actively draining what the few remaining wet areas. In all likelihood, it will be converted into a pineapple field doused with poison. So, it’s probably not worth it to include this site in an itinerary because it’s basically finished.

Dave and Dave’s Nature Park

On a much brighter note, the site formerly known as the Nature Pavilion just keeps getting better. The father and son team continue to give natural history and tree planting tours, and have recently set up a feeder situation that brings in toucans and other large frugivores. Macaws (both Great Green and Scarlet) also visit from time to time to feed on seeding and fruiting trees. Although there are fewer birds at the feeders at the moment (typical for April and May), they do have an accessible nest of a Royal Flycatcher, and there’s always a chance at Sunbittern on the river. Hopefully, we will hear about available roosting owls in the near future, they told me they were actively looking for them!

White-necked Jacobin- a typical shot from Dave and Dave’s

Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo at Finca Steller

Finca Steller acts as the field headquarters for the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, is accessible from the village of El Tigre, and sounds like it offers some excellent birding opportunities. Open from 8 to 4, there are trails, and a recent video was taken there of a Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo! Given that this low density high quality indicator species is present, I would expect a lot more from this “new” site.

That’s all for now, as always, lots of birds to see, places to explore, and plenty of easily accessible, excellent birding. Hope to see you here!

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