I recently realized that I was far more removed from popular global culture and fads than I had ever imagined. That realization took place during a Skype video call with my parents when they asked me if I had seen the “What Does the Fox Say” thing. I responded that no, I had no idea what they were talking about. They said that they weren’t sure what it was either but that everyone was talking about it. So, nearly a week later, I finally searched for this fox thing and lo and behold it’s a crazy viral video and more than 200 million people know all about it. I also like it and it’s just the type of hilarious silly thing that certain friends of mine and I would have created had we had the time to do so. I love the fact that the popularity of this Norwegian ditty has finally topped that of Norway’s other main claim to popular music fame, A-Ha’s “Take on Me” (which is overplayed on at least once Costa Rican radio station). The silliness of the song sort of reminds me of the satirical and equally awesome Troll Hunter movie (all fans of the fantasy genre must watch!) but is far removed from the excellent, emotive, and more serious music composed by the Kings of Convenience. Most of all, though, the crazy viral fox video has inspired me to write a post about the things said by Costa Rican Birds. No, it won’t be a video because I don’t have the time nor tech know-how to produce such a damn cool thing but I hope you enjoy this post anyways.
Unlike foxes in Norway, we know what most of those Costa Rican Bird say. The Black and yellow Silky Flycatcher looks as if it’s going to say, “Yoo hoo, guess what I am! An oriole? A Tanager? Wrong again humans! I’m some high elevation berry eating thing with fine, silky feathers”.
Actually, they say very little. Check out the sound of a Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher.
What about the Wrenthrush? This is another highland weirdo. It masquerades as an out of place, Asian Tesia and says, “Ha! Try to see me now! I’m as hyperactive as a Chihuahua on Mountain Dew! Take a picture…not!”
Now you know exactly what this bird is saying when you hear its high-pitched calls issuing from a dense patch of bamboo: Wrenthrush
How about another highland bird species? The Prong-billed Barbet has a crazy voice and it says exactly what it sounds like it’s saying, “Yodel, yodel,yodel,yodel,yodel…”.
Yes, this cloud forest oddity is a determined yodeler: Prong-billed Barbet Note Rufous-browed Peppershrike there as well.
Of course, not all Costa Rican birds are stranger than fiction. Some sing stirring, beautiful songs and they say, “Listen to me. Listen to these avian siren melodies that chase away the shadows of worry and compliment the subtle harmonies of water dripping from clumps of moss and the tips of orchids”. This is some of what the Black-faced Solitaire says. A good candidate for being the most solemn, serious singer on the block, it probably has the most pleasing song in the country although it has close contenders in the form of the Nightingale Wren and Slaty-backed Nightingale Thrush. Compare for yourself:
At lower elevations, the bird song chorus becomes nearly as busy as the din of a Manhattan sidewalk. Keel-billed Toucans croak away like lost, feathered frogs, parrots rend the air with screeching sounds, Long-billed Gnatwrens give their pixie-like laugh, wrens blast the vegetation with loud, ringing melodies (check out the Black-throated), woodcreepers whistle away from the gloom of the morning forest, and Great Tinamous say, “I am the true ghost of the woods. Find me if you can but know that my kind has been evading predators for more than 15 million years”. A Great Tinamou sings from the forest interior: Great Tinamou.
Common garden species also have plenty to say, especially the Clay-colored Thrush during the end of the dry season and beginning of the wet. Just so you know, it says, “No, I won’t shut up, I won’t shut up, I won’t shut up. Never shut up, have to find a mate, defend this territory, sing non-stop, no I won’t shut up…” . And no, it really doesn’t stop singing at that time of the year.
Clay-colored Thrush and such other birds as Tropical Screech Owl and Blue-crowned Motmot in this dawn chorus along with the requisite barking dog.
You will also hear the nagging sounds of the Boat-billed Flycatcher, “Naaaaag! Naaaag! What the hell are you looking at!”
Boat-billed Flycatcher That chip in the background is a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.
Yes, that big-billed kiskadee creature does have issues but let’s not forget that we are mere observers. Let them chase each other around and vent their mysterious anger.
Saving the best for last, we come back to the weird and wonderful with the Three-wattled Bellbird. Yes, non-birders, snicker if you like but dammit, it describes both the bird’s appearance and its song so the joke’s on you NOB!
It just says, “Creak, creak…BONK!”
Three-wattled Bellbird This is the much louder noise than the Long-tailed Manakin and cow that just had to compete for attention with a “moo”.
I have no idea what the bellbird is really saying there because I have yet to untangle the mysterious language of the cotingas.
There’s like nearly 900 other species to talk about too but in the absence of timewarp technology, I only have space to write about a handful of these Costa Rican birds. The best way to experience them is of course to come on down to Tiquicia (that’s the local vernacular for Costa Rica) and take a listen for yourself. You could also get ready for your trip by listening to my recordings of more than 350 species out of 560 plus species on the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, or if you don’t want to make a holiday gift of that digital field guide for yourself, you can still check out some sweet sights, sounds, and info of Costa Rican birds by downloading the free lite version.
Tags: Birding, birding app for Costa Rica, Birding Costa Rica, Costa Rica, Costa Rica bird app, Costa Rica bird sounds, Costa Rica birding, Costa Rica birds, Prong-billed Barbet, Three-wattled Bellbird
It’s November in Costa Rica and that’s typically a slow time for visiting birders but those of us who live here see it as a month to look for rare ducks and other vagrants, and for making Christmas count plans.
Well, I honestly don’t know if other birders in Costa Rica do that but it’s kind of how I spend the month. That and thinking about the Spotted Rail because this might be the best time to see one of those super cool birds in Costa Rica. It’s still super tough but seems to be encountered more often in November than other times of the year. Maybe more habitat in flooded rice fields? Perhaps because you are already out there in the wetlands looking for ducks and shorebirds?
Whatever the reason, this is a good time to look; just the other day, one was reported from the Concavas pond and wetlands near Cartago. If I can find out how to to access the spot, I will let you know!
Ok, so as far as the rest of November goes, no super rare ducks yet but that may change as birders check reservoirs and other wetlands this weekend. I won’t be going anywhere this weekend but hopefully I will make it to some body of water mid-week.
So, now for a few primers and random info to get ready for the high season:
- The El Tapir site may be under new management starting Decemeber 1st. I hae only heard rumors but either the main El Tapir site or one in that area will be run by a tour company. As long as it’s still easily accessible, this could be a very good thing. I will report on changes as I hear of them.
- Not much rain this November but hard to say how that may affect bird populations.
- Although the country first Lined Seedeater has yet to make an encore performance, the Playa del Rey wetlands are still excellent for birding and could turn up all sorts of rarities. Two guides from the Quepos area, Roy Orozco and Johan Chaves, visit on a regular basis. I hope they find more good stuff!
- On November 17th, Slate-colored Seedeaters were singing and present where rice fields meet rainforest on the road between Palmar Sur and Rio Claro.
- Roadwork is still happening on the Varablanca-Cinchona-San Miguel road. This closes it down for several hours a day (and keeps me from chasing a very rare Cape May warbler at Cinchona!) but if they can finish the work soon, we just might have a nice smooth road from Varablanca on down to the Peace Waterfall and beyond.
- I have heard rumors that Manuel Antonio and Tortuguero are charging $10 per ENTRANCE and not for a day pass into those national parks. I really hope that’s not the case because it would really be a big middle finger in the face of every tourist visiting those areas. If you do encounter such pricing, please complain because it’s simply wrong and will show that they probably care more about your money than providing any degree of service.
- Cerro Lodge is getting greener: Planted trees and vegetation are steadily growing in and should translate to more birds.
That’s about it for primers I can think of at the moment so lets move on to Christmas Counts. As usual, there’s a bunch happening in Costa Rica and most take place in December. As much as I would love to participate,it’s always tough for me to schedule them in but I might get the chance to do 2 or 3 of the following counts.
December 1: Count at Selva Verde Lodge. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
December 7: Arenal count. Contact: Diego Quesada 8865-6016 email@example.com
December 8: Cartago-Tapanti Count . Contact: Ernesto Carman firstname.lastname@example.org
December 14: La Selva. Contact: Orlando Vargas (email@example.com), Rodolfo Alvarado(firstname.lastname@example.org), Joel Alavarado(email@example.com),Enrique Castro (firstname.lastname@example.org)
December 16: CATIE Contact: Alejandra Martínez email@example.com
December 19: Rain Forest Aerial Tram Atlantic. Contact: Luis Diego Castillo firstname.lastname@example.org
December 21: Bosque Nuboso de Occidente. Contact: email@example.com
December 22: Pacific Rainforest Aerial Tram: Manuel Ramírez.firstname.lastname@example.org
December 28: Santa Rosa National Park. Contact: Frank Joyce email@example.com
December 30: Cacao sector of Rincon de la Vieja. Frank Joyce firstname.lastname@example.org
January 5: Maquenque. Contact: email@example.com
In the Osa, there are also two main counts:
Please contact Karen Leavelle if interested in helping out at
Sierpe is one of those out of the ways places that few birders visit when doing Costa Rica. It’s off the beaten track, isn’t exactly surrounded by large areas of protected forest, and is easily bypassed for such better known southwestern Costa Rican sites as the Osa Peninsula, Esquinas Rainforest Lodge, and Wilson Botanical Gardens near San Vito. However, if you have time to see Common Potoo, maybe get a roosting owl or two, watch Scarlet Macaws forage right in town, and see a few pelagics including more or less guaranteed Red-footed Booby, then make some time for Sierpe!
I just did four days of birding and guiding around Sierpe and we had all of the above and quite a bit more. Although the village itself isn’t exactly a bastion of high quality habitat, you can see a fair number of quality species in and near town, and it’s an excellent base for taking boat trips through a huge maze of mangroves, to Cano Island for a few pelagics, and to Corcovado National Park. On our recent trip, we did two of the boat tours mentioned above with pretty fine results.
On the afternoon of our arrival to Sierpe, we started with a three hour boat tour through some mangroves and along a channel that passed through oil palm plantations flanked by bamboo. While the oil palms aren’t exactly appealing for birds, we headed up that way because our guide wanted to show us roosting Common Potoo, an owl or two, and American Pygmy Kingfisher. Although the barn Owl under the bridge was a no show, the Crested Owl was on its roost, and we got the other two including our first potoo of the trip. The guides also mentioned that they sometimes see Agami Heron in that area. No luck for us with the sneakiest of Costa Rican herons but it was certainly a worthwhile trip. We also had several parakeets and parrots flying around, Fiery-billed Aracari, Black-mandibled Toucan, White-vented Euphonia, and several other bird species.
That night, a bit of nocturnal birding failed to turn up more owls but we did have Southern Lapwings on the football pitch (aka soccer field), and we found an either Rufous Nightjar or a Chuck wills Widow. The hefty nightjar was perched on a fence post near the tech school and let us watch it for a bit but failed to call. Nor could we see its rictal bristles or undertail pattern to get a solid identification but there was always another night to get a better view.
Our second day in town was our biggest and most memorable. From 8:30 in the morning to around 5 in the evening, we boated through a huge area of mangroves before making our way to Cano Island. This was followed by the boat swinging by islets with a bunch of birds, lunch at a secluded tropical beach at Isla Violenes and another ride back through the mangroves. On the way out, we didn’t see too many birds and surprisingly to me, dipped on Yellow-billed Cotinga (as that area is the stronghold for this endangered species), but managed a small group of Semipalmated Plovers among common heron species and a few others.
After hearing some pretty frightening stories about weaving through the waves at the river mouth, we were rightly concerned. Luckily, the trip out past the mouth wasn’t too bad but we had a choppy ride the rest of the way to the island (maybe 45 minutes?). I successfully countered the effects of those waves on my land lubber physiology with a rock solid stare at the horizon and a constant supply of crackers accompanied by sips of water. Sadly, we only saw two birds on the way to the island- a Brown Booby and a Magnificent Frigatebird along with very close looks at Spotted Dolphins. As usual, the wave action and lack of birds made me question why I was once again on an ocean going boat but those uneasy concerns were assuaged a bit once we reached the island and its beautiful tourmaline waters.
The island looked lush and my original hope was to hang out on the beach and scope the ocean but that plan was derailed by a recent decision to forbid any landings by tourists until a proper sanitation system is put into place. Although that was annoying, they are right to do so because we of course don’t want to ruin the island. The unfortunate part of this situation is that if it’s anything like most situations in Costa Rica, the solution will require so much needless bureaucracy that it may take years to put in even a port a potty.
Well, as it turned out, we saw almost no birds near the island in any case so it was better to leave it, and especially because the ride back was a complete contrast to the trip to the island. Instead of cloudy weather and choppy water, the sun was shining and we rode the swells like swimming on cloud nine. Oh, and we saw some birds too! Pelagic ones! Even a glimpse of a storm petrel from a bouncing boat is worth ten birds on land because you just can’t see them from land! A fine Wedge-rumped Storm Petrel was our first true seabird of the trip and as it bounded away, we got close looks at a duo of Red-necked Phalaropes! Shortly after that, we were treated to a few nighthawkish Black Storm Petrels and then we got our best pelagic of the trip- an immature Red-billed Tropicbird! The tropicbird was right in our path and as it raised up off of the water, it shook its entire body a couple of times before flying off and out of sight. Since all of these birds were seen in a time frame of around 35 minutes and were only seen because they were in the path of our boat, I bet you could see a bunch of nice birds by doing a proper pelagic in that area.
Once we got near shore, the Islitas Violines beckoned. Also known as the “booby rocks”, we indeed saw several Sulids along with some other niceties. Brown Boobies and Red-footed Boobies were equal in abundance and both were nesting! The Red-footed was a much awaited lifer for myself and was also new for several people on the trip. While taking in the form of dark morph Red-footed Boobies, we also picked up two Wandering Tattlers along with Brown Pelicans and frigatebirds. Good stuff!
After that nice bunch of birds, we boated in to the beach at Isla Violines for a good picnic lunch. We also looked a bit for birds there but as it was the quiet time of the day, didn’t see much. It did look like a good area to see cotingas and lots of other birds though because the island is covered in forest. Before you go wandering around, though, keep in mind that the island also has a sort of abundant population of Fer-de Lance! That kept us from walking around much.
The ride back in to the river was easy going and the birding on the way back turned up Scaled Pigeon, flyby parrots, lots of Pale-vented Pigeons going to roost, a Peregrine, and another Common Potoo among some other bird species.
On the next day, half the group drove an hour or so to the la Gamba road in search of seedeaters aand other species of weedy fields and forest edge. Although we didn’t visit Esquinas Lodge, that birding hotspot is also a possibility. They charge some sort of entrance fee to use trails that access great forest that has Black-cheeked Ant Tanager and the general area around the lodge is also very good for many rainforest species. We also birded rice fields near Ciudad Neily a bit but there wasn’t too much around. It probably would have been better later in the afternoon.
That night, we tried for the nightjar again after looking for owls. No show on the owls but lots of pauraques, we heard a Barn Owl, had Southern Lapwings, and at 8:30, the nightjar made its appearance on the same fence post. Fortunately, I got a good look at the undertail as it flew. Buff on almost the entire length of the undertail feathers showed its identity to be a Chuck wills Widow and not a hoped for Rufous Nightjar but a Chuck is still a great bird to get in Costa Rica!
Our final morning was nothing more than a walk just outside of town but it still turned up several species, the best of which were Striped Cuckoo, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, and Mourning Warbler among Red-crowned Woodpecker, Red-lored Parrots, Orange-chinned Parakeets, and lots of common flycatchers, seedeaters, etc.
Upon doing the bird list, we found that we had identified around 150 species and that was without doing any serious rainforest birding! Add a morning trip to Esquinas and one might even get 200 species during 4 or 5 days in the area. Along with the birds, I also have to mention that the best part of the trip was staying at the Hotel Oleaje Sereno.
Forget about those old bad reviews on Trip Advisor because they pertain to another owner and different management. The new owner and management is nothing short of exemplary. Having visited many hotels in Costa Rica, they gave us some of the best service I have experienced anywhere. They were prompt, friendly, always available, and always went out of their way to help us. They also set up our tours and did an excellent job. Incredibly, the prices we paid for our stay at the Oleaje Sereno Hotel (basic but air conditioned and clean rooms), and Perla del Sur Tours were very low and might be the best value I have ever paid for accommodation and tours in Costa Rica. If you go to Sierpe and are on a budget, this place and their tours are a fantastic bargain. They also had nice birding from their dock (scope the trees on the other side of the river) and Scarlet Macaws foraging in short Beach Almonds next to the hotel.
On my next visit to the area, I would stay at the same hotel and do the same boat trips but I would do more owling on the road between Sierpe and the highway, and do a day trip to Esquinas. With enough time, I would also check sites closer to the border to see if I could add Yellowish Pipit to the Costa Rican list!
As it turned out, hitting sites from the Central Valley and the Poas area was a much better idea than birding on Irazu. Sure, we sacrificed sightings of the junco and wren and missed a few other species that we would have probably gotten at Irazu but also saw probably 50 more species than we would have ticked at the larger volcano. The day began once again at the Bougainvillea and after a quick breakfast stop at the 24 hour McDonald’s in Heredia, we drove on through the empty streets to an area near San Joaquin that has coffee bushes, brushy fields, and a good number of birds.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by flyby flocks of Red-billed Pigeons (in the Central Valley, more common than the good old feral Rock Pigeon), flocks of White-winged Doves, a flock or two of Crimson-fronted Parakeets, and a nice bunch of other birds. The best was actual looks at two toughies- Crested (Spot-bellied) Bobwhite, and after a fair bit of waiting and watching, a Prevost’s Ground Sparrow! As with any quail like bird, the bobwhite is typically tough to see while the ground sparrow is just all too uncommon and skulky. Those were our “best” birds but we also saw Rufous-capped Warbler, Grayish Saltator, White-tailed Kite, Boat-billed Flycatcher, and two surprise Orange-fronted Parakeets among other more common species.
The dawn drive through small town streets was pretty birdy and we eventually got hoped for looks at Blue-crowned Motmot perched on a roadside wire, a Hoffmann’s Woodpecker, and a surprise Black-headed Saltator (seems this Caribbean slope species has become established in various parts of the Central Valley). Those fine sightings were followed by the drive up the curvy road to Varablanca with a few stops en route to try for various highland species including the likes of Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush, Yellowish Flycatcher, and other species of the upper Central Valley zone. During one stop, spishing produced a bonanza of migrant warblers including a year bird- Townsend’s Warbler! The hoped for toucanet failed to show but we still had plenty of time to connect with that little green toucan. Happily, we hit a jackpot of birds at our next stop, a riparian zone that featured a fine mixed flock of highland birds. In a matter of minutes, we got both redstarts, Ruddy Treerunner, Red-faced Spinetail, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Yellow-thighed Finch, Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrush, Mountain Thrush, Volcano and Scintillant Hummingbirds, and others. It’s so nice when the birds show!
Further on, the other riparian zones were quiet but we were in for a bunch more birds for the day, the next ones being Yellow-winged Vireo, Slaty Flowerpiercer, and Gray-breasted Wood Wren behind the parking lot of a small shop in Varablanca. It’s always worth it to keep an eye open for birds at the Varablanca crossroads because I have seen everything from Prong-billed Barbet to Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Emerald Toucanet, and even Yellow-bellied Siskin in that area.
Although I knew that road work was being done on the road that leads to the La Paz waterfall, I still hoped we could hit a few spots on the way down. That didn’t work out due to heavy vehicles parking in the spots where I usually stop so I decided that we should bird a bit along the turn off to San Rafael. This turned out to be a good choice because it yielded our two target regional flycatchers- Golden-bellied and Dark Pewee, finally glimpsed Chestnut-capped Brush Finch, saw Brown-capped Vireo, and saw at least two Emerald Toucanets! We heard but did not see Tufted Flycatcher and got a few other highland species.
After that stop, we drove back uphill and went to the Volcan Restaurant to check the quality riparian habitat and hummingbird feeders before lunch. As usual, the guy who watches the cars there told me about seeing quetzal that morning. Since he is there most of every day, he sees one or two as they move through the riparian corridor and sometimes sees Black Guan as well. It was way more quiet than normal while we were there but the feeders complied with Violet Sabrewing, Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, and five other species of hummingbirds.
Lunch was delicious as always and eating early gave us more time to look for birds in the higher elevations (and hopefully see them before the afternoon rains). Although it turned out to be the busiest day for traffic I have ever seen on Poas, we still saw most of our targets. The big ones like the guan and quetzal evaded us but I’m not sure if there were that many around because I didn’t see any of the fruits that they usually feed on. However, we did get fine looks at Black-cheeked Warbler, more Collared Redstarts, Yellow-thighed Finches, and Slaty Flowerpiercers, Black and yellow Silky Flycatchers, Flame-colored Tanager, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, and Flame-throated Warbler. We also picked up a new hummingbird for the day in the form of several Fiery-throated Hummingbirds, glimpsed a Wrenthrush, saw our third nightingale thrush for the day (Black-billed), and finally got our Large-footed Finch.
By the time we saw the finch, it started to rain too much to keep watching birds so we began to drive downhill with the hope that we could evade the falling water. As luck would have it, as we drove away from Poas and towards Barva, the rains came to a brief stop and we picked up a few more choice bird species. Scanning the canopy of distant trees from an overlook turned up scoped views of Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher but our best and most unexpected species was a Bicolored Hawk! Although it stayed long enough to scope it, it didn’t stick around long enough to digiscope it, otherwise I would show you its contrasting dark cap and Cooper’s Hawkish shape.
After the hawk, the rains picked up again so we didn’t get in any more birding for the day but by that point, it was 4:30 and we had seen 88 species (4 heard onlys) for a long, satisfying day of birding the Central Valley and Poas area
This past weekend I had the privilege of guiding a client to foothill sites on Saturday and the Poas area the next. I hope to give you an idea of what that’s like in the following report:
After a last minute check to make sure I am properly equipped with birding and guiding gear, I hit the road and happily drive through dark, empty streets. The lack of traffic is relaxing and an absolute contrast to most times of the day. I see a shape fly by somewhere between Heredia and Santo Domingo and figure that it was probably a Tropical Screech Owl. I get to the Hotel Bougainvillea just before 5, meet up with my client and off we go.
After slowly descending through the wonderful forests of Braulio Carrillo National Park, we pull in to El Tapir. As expected, a male Snowcap shows shortly thereafter. We see several of these dream-like bird along with such other hummingbird species as Violet-headed Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, White-necked Jacobin, and Crowned Woodnymph.
The nearby rainforest is pretty quiet but we still see a few Black-faced Grosbeaks, Emerald Tanager, flyby Mealy Parrots, scope a few Brown-hooded Parrots, see Cinnamon Becard, and a few other birds. It’s so quiet, though, that when the clock says “7″, I decide that we might as well check a few sites down the road. We drive 5 minutes to a small, birder-friendly diner (known as Chicharroneria Patona) and have a drink while scanning the forest canopy on both sides of the road. That turns up a juvenile Gray Hawk, Black-mandibled Toucan, Collared Aracari, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, and a few other birds including an unexpected flyby Peregrine Falcon. I also notice a flowering Inga and as hoped, a few hummingbirds are coming and going from this tree. Although coquette fails to show, we do see both male and female Green Thorntails. Since it’s quiet there too and knowing that this is my client’s only chance at Caribbean slope birds, I decide to drive down the hill and into the lowlands.
Although we can’t really access any good forest, we can and do scan rainforest canopy a few hundred yards away and bird the open areas. We pick up open country flycatchers like Gray-capped, Social, and Great Kiskadee, see a pair of flyby White-crowned parrots, hear but don’t see Orange-chinned Parakeets, and see some other edge species like Common Tody Flycatcher and Clay-colored Thrush. Just as we are beginning to drive off, serendipity strikes as I spot a trio of large birds flying towards us. A moment later, I realize my hunch was correct and we watch a pair of Great Green Macaws and their offspring fly overhead! They made nary a sound and seemed out of place as they flew over a busy bus station and roadside restaurants (or perhaps those, and not the macaws, were our of place).
We then head back up hill to the Patona Diner to check the flowering Inga once again along with the forest canopy. No such luck with Crimson-collared Tanager or other targets so we head on up to Quebrada Gonzalez Ranger Station now that it’s officially open. After paying the entrance fee, we see a student group head start walking the loop trail so we cross the highway and start walking the Ceiba trail instead. Overall, things are pretty quiet (not too much of a surprise since the most active time in the forest is from 6 to 8 in the morning) but we do see Dull-mantled Antbird, Broad-billed Motmot, and run into a bit of a mixed flock that mostly stays in the canopy. It has Black and Yellow Tanager, Tawny-capped Euphonia, and a few other good birds.
Checking the streams doesn’t turn up anything more than Buff-rumped Warbler but as we move on, we get good looks at Streak-crowned Antvireo and Checker-throated Antwren.
The overlook appears to be promising as always and we actually spot a couple non vulture raptors far off above a ridge but they just don’t come close enough for identification. One of them was either a Short-tailed Hawk or a rare Black and White Hawk Eagle but it never came close enough to say for sure!
Continuing on, we head down the trail all the way to a stream crossing on the lower part. The trail is kind of rocky on the way down but if you hit a mixed flock here, you might get excellent looks at some canopy birds. We didn’t but did see Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, brief looks at Tawny-crested Tanager and a few other species. On the way out, we got looks at one of the many Pale-vented Thrushes in the forest but not much else. We then checked the sky for King Vulture sans success and saw a hawk-eagle species in the process but as soon as I glimpsed the hawk eagle, it went into a long stoop and out of sight! I’m pretty sure it was an Ornate Hawk Eagle but only saw it at a distance for a half of a second (yeah, frustrating).
It was then off to lunch at the Patona. The only downside to that small diner is the near constant sound of blasting air breaks on trucks that rumble on by. The birding can be good though, and they like watching birds so I like to support them. Lunch was good and filling and we may have seen a few other species there at that time but I don’t recall too much from the Patona at mid day. However, as usual, one of the owners told me about the birds he had seen that day. He is a birder sans binos and I need to get him some optics because he sees everything from umbrellabird to White Hawk, Sunbittern, and who knows what else.
After lunch, we headed back to Quebrada Gonzalez to do the loop trail around 1:30 in the afternoon. Yep, that’s a quiet time but we still got great looks at Black-headed Nightingale Thrush, White-bellied Wood Wren, and a few other birds including Tawny-faced Gnatwren. Mostly, we were hoping for mixed flocks and a ground bird or two but we got rained out before we could do much else. Just before the rain, hopes were raised when I heard Bicolored Antbird but it was too far off the trail to see and we didn’t see any ants. The army ants were probably far into the forest (and who knows what else was with them!). Just luck of the draw when it comes to army ants.
Fortunately, the rain didn’t last too long and we were awarded with another male Snowcap at flowering bushes and Speckled Tanager while waiting for it to stop. We ventured back into the forest a bit after three and bird activity was picking up (and got close looks at Carmiol’s Tanager and White-throated Shrike Tanager) but the calling Striped Woodhaunters just wouldn’t come close enough to see them before we had to leave to be out of the forest before closing time at 4! Yep, closed during prime birding hours thanks to bureaucracy typically trumping common sense and good service.
After checking the stream near the highway once more and seeing nothing, I decided that it would be worthwhile to check the Patona diner again. This turned out to be a good choice because we were awarded with nice looks at Scarlet-rumped Cacique, oropendolas, Green Honeycreeper, Crimson-collared Tanager, and a few other birds. The drive back was uneventful, had little traffic, and we got back to the Bougainvillea around 5. Although we had originally planned on going to Irazu the following day, after talking about it, we figured that Poas would be more productive, so that’s where we went.
To be continued…
Here is our list from the day:
|Species seen- 81||Species heard only- 17|
|Cattle Egret||Orange-chinned Parakeet|
|Black Vulture||Short-billed Pigeon|
|Turkey Vulture||Black-throated Trogon|
|White-tailed Kite||Keel-billed Toucan|
|Gray Hawk||Striped Woodhunter|
|Peregrine Falcon||Russet Antshrike|
|White-tipped Dove||Bicolored Antbird|
|Brown-hooded Parrot||Chestnut-backed Antbird|
|Mealy Parrot||Slaty-capped Flycatcher|
|White-crowned Parrot||Black-headed Tody Flycatcher|
|Great Green Macaw||Lesser Greenlet|
|Groove-billed Ani||Stripe-breasted Wren|
|White-collared Swift||Bay Wren|
|Green Hermit||Band-backed Wren|
|Stripe-throated Hermit||Louisiana Waterthrush|
|Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer||Olive-backed Euphonia|
|Black-headed Nightingale Thrush|
|Olive (Carmiol’s) Tanager|
Costa Rica is a small country and has been a popular birding destination since sometime in the 80s but it still holds a surprising number of little known, little birded sites. Given that we are talking about a place with political boundaries roughly equivalent to those of West Virginia, how can this be? Why don’t we know about the birding possibilities in every nook and cranny of this Central American nation? The answer to that can be summed up with three main reasons. In no particular order, they are:
- Access: Although the road situation has greatly improved in the last five years, before that time, a lot of the better hinterland birding sites were perhaps best accessed by mule or a Land Rover. Nowadays, it’s not much different for some areas and the uplifted, naturally broken young lands in this part of the world also present challenges to getting around and into various birding sites. I suppose I should also mention that most of the national parks have few trails and since they are treated more as wildlife preserves, most areas in national parks are actually off limits.
- Number of birders: There are birders who live in Costa Rica but we don’t have nearly as many birding people with time and resources to scout various parts of the country throughout the year. Oh, how I wish we did because then I would have more opportunities to twitch crazy vagrants and the like. That way, someone could find that Rufous-crested Coquette, a Swallow Tanager, and a Brown-chested Martin not too far from my home and I could just go on over and see them. On second thought, since I have so little free time to chase birds, I would probably be in a near constant state of frustration so never mind, don’t find those rarities without me!
- Tour routes: Logistics determine where tours go perhaps more so than the birds themselves and few tours leave the main birding circuits. That leaves little room for additional knowledge of other birding sites and likely explains why so many visiting birders choose the Hotel Bougainvillea as their place to stay near San Jose, and the Sarapiqui area for all of their Caribbean lowland birding rather than venturing further afield to such excellent lowland areas as Laguna del Lagarto and Maquenque, or the Puerto Viejo de Talamanca/Manazanillo area (although Sarapiqui is much closer, sorry but the birding at La Selva is truly not what it used to be).
I suppose another factor is habitat destruction in so many areas that are accessible. Don’t be fooled by the marketing put out by the tourism institute, a lot of forest in Costa Rica has been cut down and we really need to reforest in many areas to maintain the country’s biodiversity, especially in places that should host incredible lowland rainforest instead of hot cattle pastures and pineapples fields where anis and TKs play but not much else.
Despite that unfortunate bit of info, there is hope for both better knowledge of additional birding sites in Costa Rica and people who want to restore ecosystems and live in a sustainable fashion. Actually, everyone except maybe sociopaths would prefer to live sustainably if they could see how unsustainable land diminishes quality of life, especially for their descendents and other future people. But, in the meantime, we do have those who not only care but work hard to make a difference. El Zota Research Station is one of those very special places and I can’t recommend going there enough.
Situated just outside of Barro Colorado Wildlife Refuge (which means that it’s kind of more protected than other places even though people live there), El Zota used to be a cattle farm. In the 1980s, this was pretty much common practice in lowland rainforest areas of Costa Rica. People didn’t know what else to do with the land so the forest was cut down, some of the wood was used, and the rest was turned into cattle pasture with some cultivations. The owner of El Zota started out like that but somewhere along the way, he decided that he would rather preserve most of his property than leave it to the cows. That decision has resulted in many hectares of former pasture being converted back into forest. In fact, I could hardly believe that one area I visited used to be pasture.
He also established trails through the habitats on his farm, has let many areas regenerate, and has a nice tract of primary rainforest. Oh, and he also keeps people from hunting on his property and tries to work with neighbors to hopefully convince them to regenerate forests and conserve biodiversity. The place is mostly used by student groups but birders are more than welcome and if you go there, get ready for some exciting birding, herping, and possible encounters with some choice wildlife. I base that statement on a short weekend trip to the place that I did withe the local birding club. As with any biodiverse place, one leaves feeling that he or she had barely scratched the surface. I feel that way when birding Laguna del Lagarto, Lands in Love, or other excellent sites and El Zota was no exception. As my friend Robert Dean put it, “the place has lots of potential”. I couldn’t agree more, especially since Tapirs are fairly common there (we didn’t see one but saw lots of tracks), all cats are present including Jaguar (we found scat), and the station features habitats as varied as a big lagoon to primary rainforest and various stages of second growth. It’s the type of place that might even turn up a Harpy Eagle or other very rare lowland bird species and it’s that sort of exciting possibility that urges me to return.
So, after all of that talk, here is some truly useful information and other impressions:
Birds and wildlife
- Lots of monkeys: We were seeing monkeys more often than most other places in Costa Rica, especially Spider Monkeys. It’s a sign of good habitat, little or no hunting, and tells you that many birds are also possible.
- Red-throated Caracara: Ok, I couldn’t keep this one in. Although I missed this very rare bird species, other people on the trip heard at least two not too far from the lodge. Despite doing a lot of looking and listening in the same spot at other times, we did not get them again but the fact that they were recorded is still pretty big news for birding in Costa Rica.
- Very birdy second growth: We had quite a few birds while walking along the road through the farm on our first afternoon and on our last morning. These were expected Caribbean lowland species like Black-faced Grosbeaks,
Chestnut-colored, Cinnamon, Pale-billed, Rufous-winged, and Black-cheeked Woodpeckers,
various flycatchers, Blue Dacnis, Plain-colored Tanager,
Pied Puffbird, trogons, Collared Aracari, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, both motmots, heard Slaty-breasted Tinamou, and so on. It seemed like lots of other stuff could show up.
- Black and white Owl at the lodge and other night birds: We almost had to not look at a pair that called both nights right at the lodge cabins. Israel, the resident guide (he knows a fair number of birds but is more into herps) said he was surprised that we didn’t get the Great Potoo because it’s often present right at the lodge.
- Quiet primary forest: The primary forest was maybe 6 kilometers from the lodge so we were brought there by truck in the early morning.
There were amazingly few birds overall but I still think the forest has serious potential because a couple of hours in primary rainforest never gives a fair idea of the birds that actually occur. We still managed to hear Great Green Macaw, White-necked Puffbird, and Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant, and see both motmots, trogons, Black-crowned Antshrike (the new name for Western Slaty Antshrike),
Tawny-crested and White-shouldered Tanagers, Red-capped Manakin, both motmots, and others. This was also where we had the Jaguar scat.
- A nice big lagoon: More like a lake, they usually have a canoe so you can check it out and find things like Sungrebe and small kingfishers. Although we didn’t see those, they surely occur. We did have one or two Green Ibis for consolation.
- Raptor migration: We saw some raptors migrating through the area.
- Frogs: Although we didn’t go look for them, I was hearing frogs all of the time so I bet it’s a good area for them!
- Enticing bird list: The bird list has such very good species as all three hawk eagles, Speckled Mourner, and Gray-headed Piprites.
- Not sure about antbirds: On a low note, several antbird species are not on the bird list and we didn’t get them either. That’s not to say that they aren’t there but El Zota might not be good for Ocellated Antbird and other forest based antbird species.
Some lodge info
- Good food: We enjoyed nice, country Tico fare and were treated to a delicious barbecue on our last night.
- Basic but good rooms: Rooms are basic but this a research station and the place is meant to be enjoyed outdoors.
- Low cost: The rooms might be basic but the beds are comfortable and guess how much you pay to stay there? How does $40 per person per night sound for lodging with 3 meals and access to excellent birding? Sounds like a bargain to me!
- Four to five hours from the San Jose area: It takes around four or five hours to get there without doing any birding on the way. Four wheel drive is needed for the final 6 kilometers of road but the station can help with transportation.
- Proximity to Barro del Colorado: Before heading home on Sunday, we checked out some of the road into Barro del Colorado. The road was good and the habitat looked even better with nice primary forest and some interesting wetlands. I sure would love to bird there early in the morning! El Zota can also arrange boat tours in the refuge. Since it’s basically a pristine wilderness area that is almost certainly visited by both large eagles, yeah, I want to do that some day.
I wonder when I will get back to El Zota. Hopefully soon but if any readers of this post happen to go, please leave a comment with a link to a trip report and or/summary of highlights so the world can know what you saw!
Historically, Costa Rica was almost entirely covered in forest. If you thought the country was birdy now, try and imagine it being ten times as birdy just a hundred or two hundred years ago. The same can easily be said of North America and Europe (although we may need to go back further in time). Back in those old growth days, second growth must have been rather scarce compared to the abundance of edge habitats that paint so much of the modern Costa Rican landscape. The Central Valley in particular has been severely modified. The plantalicious organic soils and moderate temperatures made (and still make) this part of the country an appealing place to live and like other intermontane valleys in Latin America, its popularity has sort of been its natural downfall.
I of course mean that the original wetlands, associated shrublands, and moist forest ecosystems were mostly eradicated to make room for housing and agriculture. Remnants and replacements exist although nowadays, even coffee farms are all too often converted to tree-less subdivisions. While the biodiversity that occurs in a coffee farm can’t compare to the wild and crazy number of insects, animals, and plants that make up a tropical moist forest ecosystem, quite a few things still reside in the coffee/hedgerow/forested riparian zone/brushy field landscapes of the Central Valley. There would be a lot more if the coffee farms were shaded but sadly, the majority are still sun grown (hopefully that will change as studies continue to demonstrate the benefits of shade coffee).
Even though Rufous-capped Warblers and a few other birds might be calling from a hot and sunny bunch of coffee, those same species and much more will be haunting shade coffee, riparian zones, and second growth so it’s best to put the focus on more natural (and thus more complex) areas. Those second growth thickets in particular can be surprisingly birdy and are worth a stop or two. Since they are under-birded, I bet more than a few rarities are hiding out in those areas of dense highland growth. Oh, these wouldn’t be rarities along the lines of spectacular tropical bird species or big old magnificent raptors so if you hoping for those, stick to Corcovado, Hitoy Cerere, or the forests up around Laguna del Lagarto. The birds that might show up in the thickets are duller, browner birds that naturally avoid the spotlight. White-throated Flycatcher, Lesser Elaenia, MacGillivray’s Warbler, and dare I say Pheasant Cuckoo come to mind. No, I have not seen that crazy shy cuckoo but a friend of mine has and he had his lucky day in a generic brushy field near Alajuela. As for the first three, I have seen all of them on more than one occasion in a highland thicket, two of which I even happened to see today during a very short bit of birding near the Bosque del Nino above Grecia.
The original plan involved spending more time than just an hour up that way but slow going traffic and winding roads chomped at least an hour off of the planned for birding time. Although that translated to fewer birds, it also taught me that a trip to the Bosque del Nino and surroundings is better done as a full day trip and not as some quick jaunt because most of that jaunt will be spent on the road. Anyways, the reason I went up there was not actually to check out the thickets along the way, but to spish up a storm in the groves of evergreens. You see, I have this recurring wish of finding uncommon migrants and maybe even something new for the country in non-native groves of Guatemalan Cypress and Caribbean Pine. I figure that if a Hammond’s Flycatcher, Hermit Warbler, or some other great avian find decides to go on a crazy vacation to Costa Rica, they are probably going to end up in some stand of evergreens. That wish hasn’t panned out yet but I still don’t feel as if I have tested it enough. Today, I tested it out a bit with few results (and no rarities) but actually ended up seeing most of my birds in the thick second growth along the road to the reserve.
There were a bunch of common species such as Rufous-collared Sparrow, a few Blue-gray Tanagers, Yellow-faced Grassquits, TKs, Wilson’s Warblers, and the requisite Plain Wrens along with less common species like Lesser Elaenia and three or four MacGillivray’s Warblers.
Orange-billed Nightingale Thrushes and White-naped Brush Finches also called but failed to show themselves. Since I only checked a couple of roadside thickets, I can’t help but wonder what else is out there along other roads, way off in fields that can’t be accessed, and the many parts of the Central Valley that never see a birder. That sizeable measure of the unknown leaves plenty of room for possibilities and makes birding in Costa Rica that much more exciting even when I bird not so glamorous habitats like second growth and brushy fields. I hope to head back up that way and find that Hammond’s Fly but next time, I’m leaving earlier in the day and staying longer!
Costa Rica= 100% Natural! Costa Rica, land of endless forests! Costa Rica, a natural paradise! Anyone who has planned a trip to Costa Rica has probably seen these and other slogans designed to market the country to visitors from abroad. Once you get here, if you keep an open mind, you will note that while those marketing banners do have a fair grain of truth, they also omit a good degree of reality.
Just as with nearly every other country on this planet, Costa Rica has seen its fair share of human-made changes, many of them not being very conducive to the continued existence of biodiverse ecosystems. Yes, the country has preserved quite a bit of its already limited territory and laws are on the books to try and protect biodiversity but the forests are far from endless, wetlands have been drained, and too many crops are doused with chemicals (challenges to sustainable living commonly shared by many countries on Earth in this over-populated, naturally disconnected segment of human history). Another sign of the times is traffic.
Unfortunately, Costa Rica has reached the point where the number of cars, buses, trucks, and motorcycles overwhelm the roads of some parts of the country on a daily basis. Long gone are the days of the pleasant morning drive to work. As with other densely populated places, the norm nowadays involves sharing the byways with a massive train of vehicles that clogs the arteries in both directions like amalgamations of steel, plastic, and vulcanized rubber cholesterol. Throw in a fender bender, a washed-out bridge, or a small landslide now and then and you go from gridlock to gridsuper-glued. Ok, so before you cancel that car rental, don’t panic! There are ways to avoid the traffic on a birdwatching trip to Costa Rica and here are some suggestions:
- Leave early (as in pre-dawn early): Even if you happen to be staying in the heart of San Jose (which is of course also the center of car chaos), you will be out of town in a jiffy if you leave the hotel by 5 or 5:30 AM. Depart before then and it’s even nicer but wait until 6 and it will take a while to get out of town.
- Come back late: If you are coming back to the San Jose area, you might want to consider doing a bit of owling and having dinner outside of the city. That way, in addition to hopefully seeing an owl or two, you can head back to the hotel around 8 without having to deal with the afternoon rush hour.
- Rush hour: Of course, knowing when most people are migrating to and from home is key to avoiding traffic. The morning rush hour goes from around 6 to 8 and the worst of the afternoon madness happens between 4 and 6.
- Routes and places to avoid: Fortunately, daily problems with traffic are mostly restricted to the Central Valley. You can expect unpleasant issues if driving during rush hour anywhere from San Ramon on east to Cartago. Other routes that have their fair share of slow-going vehicles and traffic are the highway between San Jose and Limon (at least you can watch for birds as you Sunday drive through Braulio Carrillo National Park), the Pan-American highway between Puntarenas and Liberia (due to road work and when collisions shut down the road), and the new Caldera-San Jose highway on Sundays (on Sundays, take the old road up to San Ramon instead).
- Bird areas with little traffic: Since more birds live where there are less people, most good birding sites are naturally bereft of bottlenecks and heavy traffic. One of several wonderful birding routes that comes to mind is the road between San Ramon and La Fortuna. The low level of traffic and fantastic birding at places like Lands in Love, the Manuel Brenes Road, Finca Luna Nueva, the Cocora Hummingbird Garden, and the San Luis Canopy make this area one of my favorite places to bird in the country.
Follow these suggestions to save time and sanity when birding in Costa Rica!
You might also want to check out some driving tips for Costa Rica.
On Sunday, I took a trip to Chomes and the Colorado salt pans with a friend of mine to look for shorebirds, to look for the Maguari Stork that showed up on September 16th, and get recordings and digiscoped shots of various feathered creatures. Although every trip to that area has been good, this one leaves me convinced that the Chomes area is a true birding hotspot. While the shrimp ponds, mangroves, and mud flats always turn up a fair variety of waders, the road in to Chomes also deserves just as much attention.
We were sort of in a hurry to reach the shrimp ponds on Sunday morning to catch as much of the high tide as possible but couldn’t help but make a few stops on the way in. The road is always productive because it goes through several kilometers of fields dotted with a good number of tall trees, a couple of nice riparian zones, and wide open areas that sometimes have mud flats. The variety of habitats makes it good for just about every dry forest species and on past trips we have seen such goodies as Yellow-naped Parrots, Crane Hawk, White-lored Gnatcatcher, and many other birds. On this trip, the few stops we made turned up great looks at Spot-breasted Oriole, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Gartered Trogon, Orange-fronted Parakeet, White-fronted Parrot, and several other bird species seen without even trying.
The best sightings along the road in were a field with 15 or so Double-striped Thick-Knees and prolonged, wonderful looks at Lesser Ground-Cuckoo.
Although the Lesser Ground-Cuckoo is a common bird, its love of skulking in dense brushy habitat presents obvious challenges to seeing it so it was very nice to be able to hang out and admire the yellow and blue colors of its eyering combined with the pumpkin orange underparts.
It vocalized too and started out with its distinctive song.
Then, it gave its soft whistled call over and over as Boat-billed Flys decided to go nuts with their own vocalizations.
It then showed how nice it was by fluttering up to a tree and creeping along a branch with raised tail.
Although I will be missing a crisp and spooky North American Halloween, the colors of a Lesser Ground-Cuckoo are a fine substitute. Now all I need to do is buy some candy corn and corn syrup creation pumpkin candies and munch on them while visually absorbing a Lesser Ground Cuckoo on October 31st…all while dressed like a vampire, a politician bought by big money who allows the government to shut down while still taking a paycheck, or some other frightening creature.
Keep in mind that we barely birded the entrance road and still had several choice avian experiences. Now back at the shrimp ponds, the birding was also pretty good. A handful of flint-headed Wood Storks was all we got in terms of Cicconidae but we couldn’t help but be impressed by the constant bird action. Small groups of chattering (or ratatatting) White-fronted Parrots flew overhead, flocks of seedeaters flushed from the undergrowth, the metallic calls of a Blue Grosbeak contrasted with the buzzy notes of a few Dickcissels, and so on. A group of seedeaters suddenly revealed themselves to be Tricolored Munias (most being hen colored or perhaps juvenile birds), and one of our target birds called from the short Black Mangroves. Clapper Rail! Scan as we might, we couldn’t find the rails and they only called twice but since I count heard only birds for my country list, on it they went!
Shorebirds were also around but heavy rains had drowned the erstwhile mud flat habitat in the ponds and so most of our sandpipers and plovers were scattered far and wide over the honest to goodness mud flats of the Golf of Nicoya. Nevertheless, in the ponds, we still got good looks at several herons, White Ibis, and common shorebirds like Least Sands, Wilson’s and Semipalmated Plovers, Black-necked Stilt, Willet, and Whimbrel, and one uncommon American Golden Plover.
Out by the shore, there was also a good sized flock of Black Skimmers, some Black-bellied Plovers, Marbled Godwits, a couple of American Oystercatchers, a distant flock of terns (Royals, some Elegants, a few Sandwich, and one Common), and a few Short-billed Dowitchers.
We then braved the rising heat (Chomes is blazing- come prepared!) to head down the track that parallels the beach and ends at a nice patch of mangroves. Pygmy-owl calls turned up Streak-backed Oriole, Northern Scrub Flycatchers, American Redstart, and several other species.
Vying with the Mangrove Hummingbird for best bird in that area was a Rufous-necked Wood Rail! The bird was heard (and happily recorded!), and it even allowed itself to be seen very well as it hopped up and walked on a branch! I wish I could show that I was quick on the digiscoping draw for that photo opp but I wasn’t. Photo bomb it wasn’t but still a fine view of a Rufous-necked Wood Rail nonetheless. With that bird, I am just two rails away from getting a full run of Costa Rican rail species this year! Granted, some are heard only but I still count them for the year list. If I manage Spotted and Sora (both are feasible), 2013 will be my one and only official year of the rail.
After nearly melting at a mid-day Chomes we grabbed a quick lunch somewhere along the highway and headed over to the Colorado salt pans to see what was up. It was fairly birdy but no hoped for Long-billed Curlew nor any other new species for the year. After once again ignoring any possible Masked Ducks (snicker all you want you feathered, skulking, web-footed zorros…your time will come!), we headed back up into the rain, cooler elevations, and over population of the Central Valley.
So, if there’s going to be any point to this story, it’s that the Chomes area is really good for birding. Get there early and bird that road in. Although I have yet to fully explore the area and riparian zones on the way in, I wouldn’t be surprised if they even turned up things like Thicket Tinamou, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, and so on.
Green space is where the birds are and that’s why I drive 45 minutes up to Poas Volcano. That’s one of the closest places with intact forest habitat and the birding is always good. Between the house and Poas, there are riparian zones that snake through coffee plantations but that habitat is rather inaccessible compared to the highland forests on Poas. This past Tuesday, after dropping off Miranda at pre-K, I decided to do the trip to Poas in search of migrants, photos of various species ,and maybe a recording or two. Most birds are vocalizing much less now compared to the months of February, March, and April but I still managed a recording a the resident Red-tailed Hawk subspecies and will be including that on the next update of our Costa Rica birding app (coming soon and with a bunch of new species and vocalizations).
On the way up to the volcano, I made a few stops at groves of Guatemalan Cypress. Although these introduced species don’t harbor as many birds as native vegetation I always check them in the hope of finding Hermit, Townsend’s, or even Golden-cheeked Warblers and other rare vagrants. Although the fact that these are rare birds indeed is reflected by never finding any of those species in those introduced evergreens, that doesn’t stop me from looking and I bet there are some uber rarities out there somewhere. Just gotta keep checking and pishing.
Speaking of pishing, the bird that invariably shows up in high elevation habitats of Costa Rica is the cheeky Wilson’s Warbler. This blocky headed wood warbler just might be the most common species in the highlands during the winter months. While pishing in one spot on Tuesday, I brought up a veritable parade of around 30 of them along with just one Black and white and one Blackburnian.
In addition to looking for migrant warblers, I also saw a bunch of nice resident species including several flocks of Sooty-capped Bush Tanagers.
I also saw some Commons and they do seem to be creeping upward in elevation bit by bit. The bush-tanagers were super busy with feeding on small fruits and were occasionally joined by Black and yellow Silky Flycatchers and a few other birds (although no Spangle-cheeks- a bird I was hoping for). One of those birds was Golden-browed Chlorophonia. I usually hear several of this gorgeous little thing while birding on Poas but they can be hard to see well. Fortunately, a couple of these technicolor goldfinches were busy feeding on berries in a short bush and stayed still long enough for proper digiscoping.
Those same bushes were also flowering and filled with hummingbirds. A conservative estimate was 6 Fiery-throateds, 4 Magnificents, 6 Purple-throated Mountain-gems, and 4 Volcano Hummingbirds. Of course, several Slaty Flowerpiercers were also taking advantage of the nectar bonanza.
Up near the entrance to the park, a pair of Large-footed Finches hopped right out and foraged along the side of the road. I swear, you just never know when these over-sized ground sparrows are going to come out into the open. When guiding birders up that way, we usually get the Large-footed Finch but it can take a while and they rarely forage on the curb.
The entrance to the park can also be good for mixed flocks and Tuesday delivered with a flock that held Buffy Tuftedcheek, Collared Redstart, bush tanagers, and other species.
Oddly enough, although the bamboo in the understory of that area is totally seeding, I haven’t heard a single Peg-billed Finch or other bamboo bird there despite checking several times. Maybe I need to focus on the area a bit more to see if I can rustle up a Maroon-chested Ground-Dove (a rarity I have only seen once ever during a bamboo seeding event on Chirripo in 1994). Only species I did hear in the bamboo was a Wrenthrush. Hopefully, the next post about Poas will report Slaty Finch and other choice bamboo birds!