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admin on November 12th, 2018

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”. Christmas! Navidad! The festive season makes those brief December days and long dark nights somehow easier to handle. Or, maybe it’s just that we aren’t two months into the winter season and really tired of looking at gray skies, dirty sidewalk snow, and birdless bare branches. But that stuff is for the northern realms, not for warm and tropical Costa Rica. Around here, in December, we only need worry about how many birds we can find during our annual Christmas Counts!

Yes, this really is the most wonderful time of the year for many of us local birders and it has everything to do with our “conteos de aves”. I know that the annual count is special for many a birder in many places but seriously, here in Costa Rica, we tend to kick it up a notch. Not just a day to get together and count birds, our counts tend to me more like events that bring dozens of birders together whether they are official registered Audubon counts or not.

The Arenal event is one such count. Although it’s not officially registered as an Audubon count circle, we carry out the count in similar fashion and use it to gather data and promote birding in the Arenal area. It actually starts well before the count date with the count organizers contacting hotels and agencies that might be interested in sponsoring the count, registering counters, seeing where various people can stay, and then seeing which person will lead which route along with assigning people to each route. Oh yeah and then there is the catering but I’ll get to that later.

The routes for the Arenal count cover everywhere from the La Fortuna surroundings to the Hanging Bridges, Sky Trek, the Observatory Lodge, Arenal Lake, and even a rafting count on the Penas Blancas River. Basically, fantastic birding everywhere and with every route recording well over 100 species. Sound enticing? It sure is and is why this count sees more than 70 people participating each year.

Participants from 2014.

The first year of the count, 2013, actually had the highest participation with 95 birders in the field. Last year, 71 people were counting birds, probably less than other years because of other counts taking place at the same time. However, even with less participants, we still had 338 species for the count circle, around average. That said, our highest total was 377 species in 2016 and with the right combination of weather and participation, we could certainly record even more.

Regarding species, this one is also exciting because it’s one of the few counts in Costa Rica that finds birds like Uniform Crake, Lanceolated Monklet, Song Wren, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, and Bare-crowned Antbird on the same day!

Last year, our group got the monklet although it can turn up on at least three or four routes.

Once everything is ready, people confirmed for the annual Arenal count get together in La Fortuna for a meeting held the night before the count. This has taken place at hotels, in a gymnasium, and even at the local market and is vital for socializing with other counters, going over the routes, and seeing a presentation that talks about the official count species and research being carried out in the Arenal count circle. This is accompanied by coffee and cookies as counters try on tee-shirts that show the official count species on the front and logos of count sponsors on the back. It’s always a cool, unique shirt and it ends up acting as valuable marketing for the hotels and travel agencies that support the bird count because believe me, those count shirts get around! I have worn more than one of mine on trips outside of Costa Rica as well as within the country and since the shirts are unique, people do notice and even ask about them.

Over the years, the Arenal count has gotten support from 6 public institutions and 30 private enterprises, I wonder who the lucky sponsors will be this year?

After the pre-count meeting, birders meet up with their respective count leaders to figure out if they should start counting in the middle of the night or wait until dawn. Personally, I prefer to start around 3:30 at beautiful Finca Luna Nueva, the route I usually do. Then, everyone heads off to their respective places for lodging to hopefully get some sleep before count day. On count day itself, the birding is often an exciting blend of fast and furious avian action between bouts of pouring rain.

Last year gave us a break with the weather and because of it, we managed several owls along with a wonderful sunny day of birding.

Counters usually finish up around 4 or 5 and then head to the count dinner. This is typically a catered affair where we are served that Costa Rican staple rice with chicken, refried beans, and some potato chips along with a bit of salad. It’s good birding food and seems to work perfectly after a long, fantastic deal in the field. Some count sponsors are also present and can have tables with optics, brochures, and works of art. Eventually, once it seems as if all are present, we go through the bird list, mentioning each species and each count group raising a hand if they identified the bird mentioned. Stories and locations for rare birds are shared, and another birding event in Costa Rica comes to an end.

These words could never portray the true excitement of this count, a day when we give ourselves over to birding in an excellent area for birding. However, if you can imagine seeing more than 150 species of birds, one species coming after another, trees of toucans, flocks of Red-billed Pigeons, antbirds whistling from the dark understory of rainforest, Red-lored Parrots filling the air with sound as three species of parakeets zip by in screeching flight, an Ornate Hawk-Eagle calling above a tall jade canopy, and sharing this and more with friends, loving partners, and like-minded people, if you can imagine that, this is what the Arenal count is like. It’s happening this year on December 8th, it’s gonna be good!

Some stats from previous Arenal counts:

2013: 342 species, 95 participants

2014: 332 species, 90 participants

2015: 322 species, 80 participants

2016: 377 species, 74 participants

2017: 338 species, 71 participants

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admin on November 7th, 2018

In Costa Rica, November is a low season for birding. So few birders visit, some might even call it a “non season” for birding. But the visiting birder deficit belies how good the birding can be. In November, us local birders thrive on sightings of cuckoos, thrushes, and other migrants including hundreds of shorebirds. Although it can rain, it’s not usually for the entire day and the cloudy weather keeps the birds moving. Although very few birders visit this birdy country during the month of lead gray skies; the ones who do take a chance on Tiquicia in November enjoy a welcome blend of elbow room and wonderful birding.

I was reminded of those benefits during recent guiding followed by an additional morning of easy-going birding. These were a few highlights of mine and other birders in Costa Rica from the past week:

Three Days, 300 Plus Bird Species 

It was actually three and a half days but the count was still well over 300. My client is accustomed to watching a lot of birds and also understands better than anyone how hard it can be to see them (Yve Nagy Morrell put in the time and effort needed to get the highest total of bird species in the ABA region during her Big Year in 2017- quite the accomplishment!). That said, we saw so many birds (including several seriously choice species!), the birdless moments were minimal.

There are too many highlights from those three days of avian excitement to mention, some that come to mind are good looks at Hook-billed Kite, Snowcap, Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow, Spectacled and Black-and-white Owls a la Cope, King Vulture, Turquoise-browed Motmot, White-whiskered Puffbird, and Lesser Ground-Cuckoo to name a few.

Scarlet Macaws in the village of Tarcoles were also nice. This was one of around 90 species found around Tarcoles during a couple of hours that same afternoon! 

Roosting Owls

Thanks to Cope, we had wonderful looks at Crested and Spectacled Owls. A couple days later, thanks to the Bogarin brothers at the Bogarin Nature Trail, I had fantastic looks at another Spectacled Owl!

Cope’s Crested Owl 

Spectacled Owl from Bogarin

Quail-dove bonanza

I admit that might be pushing the description a bit but three species of quail-doves on three days of birding in Costa Rica is seriously, unusually good. The Buff-fronted at Cinchona made an appearance, Olive-backed walked across the trail at Quebrada Gonzalez, and we also had a beautiful surprise Ruddy stroll into view at the same site.

Keel-billed Motmot at the Bogarin Nature Trail

After my birdy days with Yve, the Bogarin Trail had Mary and I looking at an extremely cooperative Keel-billed Motmot. Although few migrant species appeared in our fields of view, we heard one Uniform Crake and enjoyed point blank looks at species visiting the feeder.

The usual Russet-naped Wood-Rail was also in the house at Bogarin.

More data on Unspotted Saw-whet Owls

As if the birds above weren’t enough, Ernesto Carman and crew have been tracking Unspotted Saw-whets in the high mountains and gathering valuable data about this rare, little known species! Now I know why it can take a while to find one during a night of cold, high mountain birding.

Return of the Rufous-crested Coquette

A Rufous-crested Coquette has once again made an appearance at Rancho Naturalista. Attesting to the welcoming, gracious character of this excellent birding lodge, the owners have invited any and all local Costa Rican birders to visit and see the coquette. They just ask for a donation to help with buying materials for bird education and workshops. I hope the mega stays long enough to see it this year!

If the past few days are any indication, November is a good time to visit Costa Rica for birding. There will probably be some rain to contend with but when it stops, the birds can come fast and furious! Coming to Costa Rica? I know some excellent tours available for good prices, contact me at information@birdingcraft.com to learn more!

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admin on October 31st, 2018

I may have written a post with a similar title in the past but, when speaking of wonderful truths, reiteration is merited, maybe even necessary. It’s a fact that the birding is invariably exciting in Costa Rica, I am reminded of it even when I’m not exactly birding. These are a few examples from recent drives between the Central Valley and the Caribbean lowlands:

A flurry of Swainson’s Hawks

It’s River of Raptor season in Costa Rica. Find the flow of birds and thousands of TVs, Broad-wings, and Swainson’s Hawks can stream overhead. Lately, Swainson’s have been passing through in force, the other day, dozens flapped and soared just above the road during the late afternoon. Perfect, close views, a shame we couldn’t stop for pictures. There must have been a hundred and nearby cell towers were decked with TVs and hawks going to roost.

This picture is from another moment during the River of Raptors.

Bat Falcons

Widespread but uncommon, these beautiful little falcons always merit admiration. I have seen several in different sites, usually in pairs and perched on snags.

The male of the pair at Virgen del Socorro was eating what seemed to be a swift. 

Other raptors

Other than the River of Raptors, we don’t see a lot but the other day, a fair number did show while I was driving including Crested Caracara, Short-tailed and Gray Hawks, Zone-tailed Hawk, White-tailed Kite, and a Hook-billed Kite along with the usual TVs and BVs.

Great Green Macaws

As we drove near Dave and Dave’s in Sarapiqui, a pair of beautiful and endangered Great Green Macaws flew in front of us.

Odd birds perched on cables

If the weather and timing are right, interesting birds can appear during a drive. They perch on roadside wires, snags, and tree tops. During a recent cloudy afternoon, I had dozens of parakeets and parrots flying to roosting sites as the two large toucans perched in the tips of trees. A chachalaca flew over the road, the silhouette of a Crested Guan appeared in a tree, and I saw a couple of Gartered Trogons and one Collared Aracari perched on wires.

Beautiful Gartered Trogons sometimes perch on roadside wires in Costa Rica.

Hundreds of migrating swallows and swifts

This being migrant season, a birder can also run into huge flights of swallows and Chimney Swifts. They might not be as exciting as resident species but watching hundreds of small birds flying overhead in a constant, non-stop aerial stream is always a gift.

Easy feeder stops

Take Route 126 through the Poas and Varablanca area and a birder can have lunch or a drink or snack at more than one stop with hummingbird and fruit feeders. Birds can also be seen in adjacent habitat.

I plan on checking out this stop- it backs up to cloud forest and has hummingbird feeders. I hope to pay a visit within the next few days.

These are some of the birds I have recently seen while not really birding. You see a heck of a lot more while actually stopping and walking around with binoculars at the ready. I would love to help plan your trip, contact me at information@birdingcraft.com. Spaces are still open on itineraries in 2019 with fantastic birding guided and organized by local experts for very good prices!

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Each year, I hope to accomplish certain birding trips in Costa Rica. No matter where or when, up in here, although the birding is always worth it, certain situations are still an annual “must”. Even though urban birding can include binocular time with Rufous-capped Warblers, Lesson’s Motmot and the rare Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow, as long as the habitat isn’t destroyed to make way for housing, said experience is still available all year long. Parrots, parakeets, raptors and dozens of other tropical species do the morning flyby at Cerro Lodge but that’s also pretty much every month of the calendar. The same goes for mixed flocks of tanagers, antbird action, and so many other target experiences with resident birds.

A birder might even share breakfast time with toucans.

However, as with birding in the northern latitudes, we also have times and places that merit optic attention, one of the main venues being the Caribbean Coast during October. Anywhere on the coast and even in much of the adjacent lowlands is good but one of the best areas seems to be the southern corner of Costa Rica. Visit sites south of Limon during October and you place yourself in the path of literally millions of birds.

No exaggeration. It’s as simple as that because a fair percentage of the Chimney Swifts, Barn Swallows, Bank Swallows, and Cliff Swallows that breed up north fly through in October along with large numbers of Red-eyed Vireos, Scarlet Tanagers, Eastern Kingbirds, eastern Wood-Pewees, and so on. Add a River of Raptors to the mix and lesser numbers of passerines, shorebirds, and herons and there’s never a dull moment. Thus, I yearn to bird places like Punta Uva and Manzanillo in October and am grateful that once again, I was able to guide for a few days down that way this fall migration season.

A kingbird on vacation.

I wish I was still there now because I know the birding will be fantastic for at least another week. Every day, thousands of birds. But, at least I got the opportunity to experience some of that and, as mentioned, I am grateful. These were some of the happenings:

Flycatchers

When I think of the past few days, visions of flycatchers come to mind. Lots of dun colored birds sallying from posts, most of them Eastern Wood-Pewees. They might not be splashed with the rainbow but seeing dozens of pewees foraging in tropical locales is always impressive. I also get a kick out of hearing them say their name. It generates a juxtaposition of memories; some with a backdrop of lowland rainforest, others with the breeze swishing the foliage of June Oaks and Maples on Goat Island.

Other flycatchers were also in evidence. A few Olive-sideds, fair numbers of Traill’s nearly skulking in tall, wet grass. Eastern Kingbirds flying in to perch in the canopy and plenty of local flycatchers too. Birders up north might be surprised to hear that one of our best birds was Least Flycatcher because although it might be de-facto in the northeast, most winter in Mexico. Only a few make it to Costa Rica, the southern Caribbean being one of the best areas to add it to a Costa Rica year or country list. I was very pleased to see one!

Gray-capped Flycatcher was one of many local flycatcher species, at least a dozen other resident flycatchers were also heard or seen. 

A couple of choice seabirds!

Offshore storms were churning up the ocean during our entire stay and were likely responsible for two excellent finds, Brown Noddy and Herring Gull. A cursory check of the water turned up the noddy foraging quite close to shore near Manzanillo. I have heard of others seeing this species in the area now and then, I guess my time had finally come. Although it was a bit far off, scope views showed the graceful antics of the chocolate brown, long-tailed tern.

As for the gull, a mundane bird elsewhere is not necessarily common in Costa Rica. A Herring is a rare visitor this far south, an excellent find! Wheeling over a storm born wave, it popped into view at an estuary during our drive back home. The adventurous first year bird quickly moved further south and was also seen by other birders shortly after in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Barely record shots of the gull. I like the waves.

Rained out

Although October can be sunny on the southern Caribbean slope, it can also be wet as a sponge. We had a bit of both and were pretty much rained on from Saturday afternoon into Sunday morning. As one might imagine, this minimized bird activity quite a bit, even vociferous residents were taking a time out. That said, we still managed to see some birds fly over, others here and there.

We spent quality time with Olive-crowned Yellowthroat and

Canebrake Wren

Sunday excitement

The final morning of the trip was rained out but the after breakfast birding sort of made up for it. A stop at the Puerto Vargas entrance to Cahuita National Park finally turned up the migrants as a few dozen birds feasted on small fruits. Most were Red-eyed Vireos along with several Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, a few Bay-breasted and Chestnut-sided Warblers, and a few other birds. The best came when one of the new club members asked about/mentioned the different bird on the wire. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the bird in question turned out to be a Yellow-billed Cuckoo perched on a roadside cable! After it flew off, another Yellow-billed swooped past it.

With the elation of migrants under our belts, we continued north, stopping at the estuary where we saw the aforementioned gull. But that wasn’t the only thing espied. During that short hour, we watched a constant stream of swallows and Chimney Swifts fly overhead, got bins onto ten or so migrating Peregrines, and tried to focus on five or so boreal bullets (Merlins!). On the shore, we were also treated to several waders and even a couple of Blue-winged Teal. Our eBird list from that fine hour of birding.

Excellent eats

Thanks to this being a popular area for tourism and, apparently, chefs, there are several options for delicious dining. For honest focaccia, pizza rossa, and other Italian pastry bread and delights, check out the DiGustibus bakery.

There are too many good restaurants to mention so I will just talk about the pair where our group enjoyed dinner. Bamboocha had very good service and nice Italian and Caribbean dishes for good prices, whereas Lydia’s in Puerto Viejo served up tasty authentic Caribbean meals with friendly, good and efficient service.

We also had nice, filling breakfasts at the Casita Azul, enjoying birds in the garden and beach scenery at the same time.

Warm hospitality at Olguita’s Place

We stayed at Olguita’s Place, a small set of locally owned cabinas. The friendly owners took care of our needs, are interested in birds and may have a birding trail set up when you visit. Cabins aren’t luxurious but are available for a great price, are fine, and our’s was actually outfitted with fans, a fridge, and a gas stove. Birding on the grounds is good for various edge species, plenty of good forest birding is situated within walking distance, and a beach with good snorkeling is just up the driveway. I enjoyed staying at this peaceful friendly spot and look forward to another visit.

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admin on October 16th, 2018

I haven’t spent much time birding lately. Now is when the guiding season reaches a low point, and by chance, now is also when I have been working on other projects. I am still grateful though, and I still see birds. I step through the front door and swifts pattern the skies every morning. Chestnut-collareds forage over a mango tree and nearby coffee farms along with three or four species of swallows, Vaux’s Swift, White-collared Swift, and one of those non-vocalizing Cypseloides. That’s what we call Spot-fronted and White-chinned Swifts most of the time, or, at least when they don’t vocalize and fly too high up there to see the pattern on their faces.

One of those friendly neighborhood Chestnut-collared Swifts. 

Right out the front door they are along with a Lesson’s Motmot or two, Brown Jays, a flock of Crimson-fronted Parakeets, handsome Hoffmann’s Woodpeckers (aren’t most woodpeckers handsome?) and other birds. This morning, Baltimore Orioles chattered from brushy trees. New arrivals and now here for the winter duration. May they thrive and fly all the way back to breed. The same goes for Yellow, Tennessee, and Chestnut-sided Warblers all here now and just outside the door. At times, I hear the calls of a Short-tailed Hawk from high overhead, that’s one of our common hawks. Other times, I detect the audible presence of one of the other common raptors, the Gray Hawk. And at night, I hear the occasional shriek of a Barn Owl canvassing the neighborhood, keeping the rat numbers down.

These, just outside, and I’m not even birding and that’s partly why Costa Rica is easy fantastic birding (EFB if you will). There’s a lot of green space, there are beautiful tropical forests, and because this country is not one of the bigger nations of our world, it’s all within arms reach. A few arguments for Costa Rica being synonymous wth EFB:

Easy to visit– Folks who live in southern Canada or much of the eastern USA can get here on one or two flights, usually six hours flight time at most. Yeah, that’s all! Before you know it, you are here and the list is 920 plus species. There are plenty of choices for accommodation and good infrastructure for tourism. As testament to this, I know many birders who visit Costa Rica over and over. They saw how easy it was to visit, the great birding is impossible to ignore and so they just keep coming back.

Because Northern Emerald Toucanet. 

Easy to access habitat– Every major habitat in the country and I guess even minor ones can be visited by vehicle. Easily. Want to try and see an Unspotted Saw-whet Owl? Um, yeah! It’s cold up there but it’s a drive into the mountains on good roads. How about ye good olde mind blowing quetzal? Ditto, although not nearly as cold. And, a couple dozen birds only found in Costa Rica and Panama live up there too…

Like the fancy Purple-throated Mountain-Gem 

Wetlands, lowland rainforest, foothill rainforest, cloud forest, tropical dry forest. Each have their own suite of species and all are accessible. Imagine driving from Florida to Colorado but in a couple hours and then to California a couple hours later, and then swinging down to sweet Arizona but in another hour. Except that the habitats have more birds, like hundreds of them. I’m not sure if that paints the best picture of birding in Costa Rica but I hope it hints at how amazing this place is for birding.

Easy to see birds…no..a lot of birds!– Like the ones out my front door. Or just up the road in the mountains. At other sites, the birds just keep on coming. Like the Carara area. Holy smokes, can you imagine identifying 100 species in a couple hours? And then adding birds all day long? That’s Carara for you, a major meeting point of different habitats with hundreds of bird species. Or, lowland rainforest on the other side of the mountains, likewise, lots of birds, lots of species, and they just keep coming. Or, the good birding in the highlands, or just innocently driving along. For example, the other day, while driving from the Caribbean lowlands to the highlands, minding my own business and without trying, six or more toucans couldn’t help but be noticed along with groups of oropendolas, four or five species of parrots and parakeets, the usual Bat Falcon on its perch, a couple other raptor species, Amazon Kingfisher, and I also heard the voices of several other species, some of which were missed by my Team Tyto during birding on Global Big Day in the same area! It’s almost like you can’t not see birds.

Hard to not see.

Fantastic birding– All this adds up to fantastic birding. I suppose that’s birding where additional species keep on popping into view. Where the action is good for much of the day. Where migrants mingle with coveted residents. Where mixed flocks of tanagers, woodpeckers, and whatever else make your head spin as they hurriedly forage their way through lush forest. I guess it’s a situation where the birding never seems to stop. There’s always more and it’s always exciting! It’s also fantastic when you bird with the right person or people,  and that’s why Costa Rica is also perfect for sharing with a birding partner and friends. As a bonus, heck, a birder doesn’t even have to take a trip with other birders to still connect with hundreds of species. Thanks to the abundant tourist offerings in Costa Rica, a birder can stay at key places with the family and sneak in early morning birding time during the trip with nary a critique from the non-birding ones.

The birding in Costa Rica really is easy and fantastic, as always, I hope every birder gets a chance to bird Costa Rica at least once in their lives. Need guiding and/or help to set up your trip? I would love to help. I know some excellent birding tours offered for great prices and can also set up custom trips. Contact me at information@birdingraft.com

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admin on October 8th, 2018

October weather in Costa Rica is tricky. Although hurricanes don’t plow their way through the country, the long humid fingers of such weather systems can give Costa Rica a very wet and lasting caress. Last week, we were touched by the heralds of a tropical system churning its way through part of the Caribbean, and as expected, the wet winds brought more than enough rain. Unlike “typical” tropical storms that take pace in the afternoon, rain generated by unstable systems in the Caribbean and Pacific can belt Costa Rica with constant sheets of falling water at all hours. This past week, the water fell for three straight days, most of it soaking the grounds and rushing the rivers of the Pacific Slope.

Given that rain and counting birds is a no-win combination, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one anxious about dawn chorus for GBD, October 6th. The forecast was a gamble even up to the last minute and when I drove over the mountains the evening of the 5th, the situation was far from promising. Wind and rain danced a vicious jig on the high slopes of Barva Volcano and landslides seemed likely. Since a fair chance of rain was also forecast for the Pacific slope the morning of the global collective bird count, at the last moment, I opted for dawn chorus on the Caribbean side. Dawn chorus refers to the vocalizations of birds during the early morning, it can consist of a few species or many and is an absolute make it or break it situation on a Big Day. Do it right and you can add dozens of species, maybe even a hundred in an hour. Start in the wrong place or with rain and the Big Day totals will take a fatal hit.

This is a picture of the Peace Waterfall overflowing with muddy flood waters from the afternoon of October 5th.

This past Saturday, thinking that the habitat at La Selva would be just as or even more productive than another site I had chosen as a starting point, I made a last minute change to greet the dawn on the entrance road to this classic birding site. Some of the situations and highlights from a day given over to the birds:

The dawn

Early morning is always a beautiful, promising part of the day, on October 6th, we were greeted by the calls of motmots, Green Ibis, and a few other birds. But…not a whole lot else. Our dawn chorus was a bit quiet and I couldn’t help but wonder if time of year had something to do with it because various birds I have seen and heard on numerous other occasions at spots we visited didn’t make themselves known on October 6th. We still heard and saw several species, though, including one of our key, best birds of the day, Snowy Cotinga!

Expected Great Green Macaws were also very nice.

Tigre Fields deliver some birds

I wasn’t sure how well this site would work since much of it has been drained and it’s nothing like it used to be. Nevertheless, wet puddles on open ground worked to give us Southern Lapwing, both yellowlegs, Blue-winged Teal and a few other species we did not see in other spots.

Dave n Daves and raptors

This stop was made to pick up a few hummingbirds (we did) and hopefully get Gray-headed Chachalaca and a few other species (we did not). However, stopping there still worked out and not only because we saw those hummingbirds. We also saw raptors as they road the first thermals up into the blue. The best of those was a striking adult Ornate Hawk-Eagle right in front of Dave and Dave’s, the second best probably a Zone-tailed Hawk deftly spotted soaring above a kettle of vultures.

The birding and bird photography at this special site are always great. Lately, both oropendolas and three toucan species have been showing up! 

All is quiet at Virgen del Socorro

Good baseball playing weather is good for dawn birding but by 8:30, our avian friends take a sudden, multi-species break. And so it was for us in the Socorro area. At least the scenery was nice and we still picked up some, but we also failed to luck out with a big mixed flock. At least Blackburnian Warblers were in abundance and we did add some other birds. On a side note, I also discovered that the road in Virgen del Socorro had been “fixed” by dumping loose gravel along the length of it. This did not work out well for my small car, for the time being, it looks like visiting this site might only be possible with a four wheel drive vehicle.

Common birds on strike?

Not all of them but a higher number of common species than expected. The two that take the prize for unexplained absence would have to be House Sparrow and Red-billed Pigeon. I mean normally, I can’t go without seeing these two even when I’m not birding. Somehow, someway, I managed to not see them on October 6. But, we did see a cotinga! And that should really count for ten birds.

Behind schedule!

Waiting for a few more birds and visiting the Tigre Fields put us a bit behind schedule. Fortunately, shaving time off sunny sites at Socorro got us back on board with the original birding times. We even had time for a near unprecedented stop in Alajuela for a bathroom and coffee/Red Bull break (or the other way around)!

Cloud forest

Higher up, a stop in the San Rafael area gave up several species, our best probably being Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher that called on one gracious occasion. Nearby hummingbird feeders gave us expected species plus a sweet female Magenta-throated Woodstar.

We also saw Red-faced Spinetail.

The Dry Pacific

Back on schedule, I figured we had time to check for dry forest species on Cerro Lodge road. This worked out with some additional species being added like Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Turquoise-browed Motmot, a couple hummingbirds, and a few other birds.

Shorebird bust

After Cerro Lodge, we headed to Tarcoles. Mangroves didn’t give up as many species as I would have liked (and don’t seem to be as productive compared to a few years ago or more) but it’s always nice to be surrounded by Prothonotary warblers. We then enthusiastically drove to the beach and quickly saw that no, we wouldn’t get as many birds there as we had hoped either! The recent rains had changed the river mouth, unfortunately NOT placing it in easy view. We still managed to add some birds but not nearly as many as we had hoped, likely because most of the sand bars at the mouth of the river were not visible.

Carara

Despite a dearth of coastal species, the Carara area still provided a good chance of augmenting out list with birds missed during the morning as well as regional endemics. Since the park was already closed (it’s only open during the non-birdiest part of the day anyways), we birded the road to the Pura Vida gardens. Although it was quieter than usual, we still did well and got several regional endemics along with a good bunch of other birds right up to five p.m. Some of those final daylight species were Costa Rican Swift, Bat Falcon, Crested Guan, and a White-whiskered Puffbird that perched over the road. I thanked each of those birds!

Carara is a good site for the muppet-like puffbird.

Night and the final tally

A gas station visit was warranted and since we could combine that with a night visit to rice fields outside of Jaco, off we went, driving 20 minutes to get there. Serendipity struck en route when a Short-tailed Nighthawk drifted over the road at sunset. After the gas station stop, the rice fields then gave us thick-knee and Boat-billed Heron but no owls. We could have found some by staying longer but we were tired and decided to end the GBD. The final tally turned up 236 species, the second highest for Costa Rica and probably one of the highest in the world. Next time, we’ll see more but this October Global Big Day was still fantastic.

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This past May, a fair part of the birding world celebrated Global Big Day, Costa Rica included. Thanks to a winning blend of organization, coordination, and enthusiasm, we surpassed our goals. Of the species that were possible, that were feasible, more than 300 birders in Costa Rica identified nearly 90%. We had a such a collective great time, the enthusiasm carried over into the following post GBD calendar, many of us expressing interest in doing another one this same year.

Black-crowned Tityra is one of more than 680 species found in Costa Rica in Global Big Day, 2018. Widespread but uncommon, we could easily miss it.

We weren’t the only ones wanting more GBD action. Not long after, eBird announced another Global Big Day for later in 2018, October 6th to be exact and why not? The only requirement is convincing people to watch birds on the same date and eBird everything. Even better, in Costa Rica, a lot of the species that weren’t present in May are back and waiting to be counted! Maybe not the rare ducks or vagrant Cedar Waxwings but most of everything else. That said, I doubt we will identify as many species as we did in May because we just don’t have the same degree of participation. Although that could change between now and the end of this week, so far, it looks like we might lack coverage in more than a few parts of the country. There will be some last minute participation and all eBird data will count but will it be enough to identify 700 species?

There’s only one way to find out and I’ll be doing my part. Oddly enough, as enthused as I am about having an excuse to lose myself in birding for 24 hours, I’m still not exactly sure which route I will take, where I will be straining to hear call notes at night, and where I will practice some serious kung-fu birding (Eagle Claw style of course). But, I will be birding in Costa Rica somewhere and do plan on identifying as much as I can. Part of the problem is too many great places to choose from. Fortunately, I don’t have to do a lot of planning because I already have two possible routes arranged and know where most of the birds are likely to be. These are some other things I need to do to prepare myself for this next adventure in birding:

Review warbler call notes

Not that I will hear any flying through the night skies but one can never be over prepped for a Global Big Day! Actually, I don’t pretend to be able to identify tiny passerines by their nocturnal flight calls but I do plan on finding them via chip notes during the day. Kentucky, Hooded, the waterthrushes, Worm-eating…they all announce their presence with distinct vocalizations as do the rare ones that don’t usually make Costa Rica a winter destination. Those would be local mega bird finds like Black-throated Blue, Palm, and Prairie Warblers as well as other species with a winter preference for Caribbean isles. BUT, since the chances of finding them increase ever so slightly by knowing their calls, listening time this week will include the notes of those hidden wood-warblers.

It might be a good year for Cape-Mays and maybe Bay-breasteds too, I hope we see them on October 6th.

Remember to listen for snipe, cuckoos, and thrushes

Ah yes, listen carefully to the night sky and hopefully pick up more birds for GBD October. I have yet to hear a cuckoo call when they fly over Costa Rica but it must happen and I will be listening. I have heard all possible thrushes, snipe, and Upland Sandpiper in the past, I hope they vocalize overhead on October 6th, even more so, I hope it doesn’t rain! Sound daunting? Maybe not as much as one might think. Check out these study materials for nocturnal flight calls.

Remind myself to stick to Zen birding

In other words, take the day as it comes, roll with it, go with the flow. I hope I can follow the advice of slogans meant to keep one from succumbing to frustration and emitting a choice set of New York vocabulary at the truck blocking the road, or the rain slamming into the soil. There will be no frustration on GBD, only birds and feeling grateful for what we all hear and see. Amen. Keep it Zen, focus on the birds, and stick to the schedule. I hope so, but maybe I should bring some organic chocolate to help with the Zen…

Buy birding supplies

As in beverages that have caffeine. Treat yourself to a few favorite such energy drinks and stay alert (or simply awake!) to better celebrate this day of birding. Dream birds don’t count and if you fall asleep while driving, it won’t just be the end of your GBD. High quality chocolate is also important as are favorite snacks, fruit, charged batteries, and clean optics. Oh yeah, and remember to bring sunglasses and proper birdingwear (like count shirts, Wunderbird shirts, or whatever works best).

Scouting? Maybe

The more one scouts, the more birds will be seen. Now if I could just find time for scouting. Regular life takes up time and rightly so, you gotta be there for progeny. Furthermore, if you forsake the offspring for scouting, forget about them ever becoming birders (which is of course the main hope and goal of every serious birder, Zen or not)!  Fortunately, since I guide a fair bit on the routes I have in mind, I sort of scout them on a regular basis anyways. eBird also helps! I hope I do scout a bit though because knowing where fruiting trees are located and where wintering species have set up territories are of great help.

GBD October is nigh and although I need some supplies, could use more scouting, and need to figure out where my Team Tyto will bird, I’m still ready to rock, bird, and roll! As some world birders say, “Bring it”! As I say right now (and may indeed some day regret), “Kung-fu birding will be in the house on October 6th”!

Check out where some other teams will be birding in Costa Rica on October 6th!

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admin on September 25th, 2018

On Friday, I traveled from my old home of Niagara Falls, New York south, way south back to my present home in Costa Rica. Family, cannoli from DiCamillo’s, serious pizza, and good friends in Niagara Falls will always be priceless but home is where the heart is and for me, that’s Costa Rica. Living there for eleven years surely also plays an important role with the “home” designation, and the birds aren’t that shabby either. My present Central American surroundings may be bereft of the cries of gulls against a backdrop of roaring water but I’m alright with a trade-off that includes 900 plus species of birds.

Turquoise-browed Motmot, a common species of tropical dry forest, is one of them.

With that in mind, of course I went birding the day after coming back from the Falls because birding is also part of being “home”. My birding companion and I spent Saturday looking for lowland birds and finding a few key species before the rains took over, and then worked the optics on Sunday in the much drier Pacific coastal lowlands. Without too much effort, as is usual for birding in Costa Rica, we had several choice species along with nice views of birds that are common and always fun to watch. Some of the highlights:

Gartered Trogon

Thanks to it preferring edge habitats, this beautiful mini trogon is common in humid lowland sites. I especially like when it perches on roadside wires because not only does that make it easier to see, but seeing a trogon out in the open, in a situation typically reserved for pigeons, doves, and other everyday birds is a succinct reminder that you are living a dream.

Cerulean Warbler!

I had hoped to find one of these mega wood-warblers but expected it in the foothill habitats of Virgen del Socorro, not in the Sarapiqui lowlands. Yet, there one was, quickly foraging with a mixed flock of small birds on the La Selva entrance road, and it was an adult male! Birders in other parts of the country also saw Ceruleans that day, maybe the last big push of the year for this regular yet uncommon migrant in Costa Rica.

Lattice-tailed Trogon

Costa Rica’s most challenging trogon made an appearance at a site for it near Virgen del Socorro. Since this species is a foothill purist and prefers mature forest, there are few reliable spots for it. Hopefully, the Lattice-taileds near Socorro will stay around so I can show them to visiting birders.

Lineated Woodpecker

Yeah, it’s common and widespread but who doesn’t like a big woodpecker? We enjoyed close views of one in the Central Valley while unsuccessfully searching for the endemic ground-sparrow. At one point, it was chased by a Lesson’s Motmot.

Pearl Kite!

As we made our way to sites for shorebirds, I figured that a stop in Puntarenas might be worth our while. Although most birds were a bit too far out on the water to see well, we hit the jackpot on the drive out of town with a Pearl Kite perched right next to the road. It even stayed long enough for pictures and for us to refer to it as a Raptor-Flycatcher on account of it perching on wires like a Tropical Kingbird. Actually, if anything, this falconet-like bird is more like a shrike than its raptor cousins.

Shorebirds

We wanted to connect with the waders from the far north and eventually did so at Punta Morales. How do they cope living in the arctic and then in the steamy tropics? It’s always incredible to think about the places where those smart looking Black-bellied Plovers spent the summer, where the hundreds of Western Sandpipers built their nests. Although I have seen larger numbers of waders at Punta Morales on other occasions, it was still fantastic to see a few dozen Wilson’s Plovers, many Semipalmated Plovers, one Collared Plover, Marbled Godwits, many a Whimbrel and Willet, a small group of pigeon-like Surfbirds, and some other species.

I can only imagine what happens at Morales and other sites in the Gulf of Nicoya when no one is watching.

The weekend was birdy as always in Costa Rica. I don’t even know how many species we saw but there were the highlights above and other birds (and ice cream!). Hopefully, I will be searching for more migrants very soon, some species are passing through Costa Rica in large numbers, I want to silently greet them as they hurry their way south.

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admin on September 18th, 2018

I usually write about birding in Costa Rica; the wealth of biodiversity helps, it acts as a constant, swirling pool of ideas, stories, and images. This, week, though, I am back in Niagara Falls, New York, in the land of gulls for a short trip with my daughter to see family, visit DiCamillo’s bakery, feast on pizza from Goodfellas..you know, the important things. I’m also giving a presentation on the fantastic birding found in Costa Rica and have of course done a bit of birding in Niagara during my stay.

There aren’t as many birds in Niagara as in Costa Rica but it’s still great. I know someone from Costa Rica who would love to be here, love to see Ring-billed Gulls walk in parking lots, be thrilled by a phalanx of Double-crested Cormorants flying overhead, would be elated to see Blue Jays, cardinals, catbirds, and chickadees. Only one of the aforementioned makes it to Costa Rica and not in big numbers either. The rest would be lifers for her just as important as Bay-headed and Silver-throated and Emerald Tanagers would be for birders visiting Costa Rica.

Whether birding is “great” or not only really refers to how we want to play the game, what we want to see and how important those sightings are. Although the land bridge and corridor between Lakes Erie and Ontario is awaiting the next wave of migrants, it’s still great to be birding here, these are some of the reasons why:

Goat Island– My favorite site in these here parts, where I first watched birds, riding my bike there during May and hearing the old woods resound with dozens of wood-warblers, vireos, you name it. Even if I wasn’t birding on the island between the cataracts, it would still be a special place. The sound of the rapids and crashing water is a constant as are gulls flying above the river and sitting on the rocks. Yesterday, even outside of the November gull season, I still had three species, one of which was a Lesser Black-backed. We are still waiting for that one to make it onto the country list in Costa Rica.

Semipalmated Plover– On the Third Sister Island, on a small wet rock that inched its way into a fierce roaring river, we saw a young Semipalmated Plover. I told my daughter, “That bird is from the Arctic!” She didn’t say much, was too busy looking for ancient pre-dino time fossils in the rocks. I hope it joins thousands of its kind that are already in Costa Rica right now, feeding on tropical mud flats, watching the skies for deadly falcons.

Waxwings– It’s always nice to see waxwings, especially when they are such rare choice migrants in Costa Rica. In Niagara, I see them every time I venture outside to look for birds. There they are, many are juveniles, whispering from the tops of trees before flying off in search of berries.

Cooper’s Hawk– Another common bird in Niagara but one that is always a challenge for the Costa Rica year list. I point them out to my daughter. She says, “Cool!” I say that they eat pigeons and squirrels, she says, “Aww, poor squirrels” but she doesn’t feel too bad, she knows that the hawks have to eat too. We have some that make it all the way south every winter but there can’t be a lot. I wonder how many are in Costa Rica every winter season? Maybe less than ten?

Eastern Screech Owl– We went to a campground with cousins, there was a fire, smores, we even carved jack-o-lanterns and I also saw a few birds. A few I also only heard including the screech-owls giving their “winny” call in the otherwise quiet dead of the night. I think I also heard bobolinks as they migrated overhead.

No kiskadees, no flocks of colorful birds, no vultures, no screeching parakeets– Such regular aspects of birding Costa Rica are absent in these here parts right now but I’ll be back to experience them again soon enough. In the meantime, I relish the waxwings, gulls, nuthatches, and even the starlings before returning to a small country with more than 920 species on the official list.

Crowned Woodnymph- yet another common, colorful bird in Costa Rica.

Want to learn about the best sites for finding birds in Costa Rica and how to identify them? Support this blog by purchasing my 700 plus page e-book, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica. I hope to see you in Costa Rica!

admin on September 10th, 2018

It’s not a colorful bird and it’s not one that has some exotic, amazing appearance. But, it’s high on the list of local birders and should be even higher on the target lists of birders who visit Costa Rica because you won’t find it anywhere else. That bird is the Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow.

Formerly known as Prevost’s Ground-Sparrow, studies have shown that the birds in Costa Rica should be considered a separate species. Therefore, now, we have another endemic bird! The only problem is that the bird seems to be genuinely scarce and difficult to see. But, it can be seen, a birder just has to know where and how to look for it. We can start by looking at the bird for what it is; a towhee. As in a Canyon Towhee or Abert’s Towhee but one that prefers dense, scrubby vegetation and tends to be camera shy. It likes to forage on or near the ground, usually in pairs.

Here are some ideas on where and how to see it:

  • The right elevation: Not too high nor too low, this pretty little sparrow prefers the middle elevations, like right around 1,200 meters. Higher than that and we tend to find more White-eared Ground-Sparrows. Lower and it’s just too low for the “cabanisi”.
  • Coffee fields with cover: Although the endemic bird does live in open coffee farms, I have seen it more often in coffee that also has brushy edges or trees, or some understory vegetation.

  • Brushy riparian zones: Sites like these might be even better. Given the higher degree of natural vegetation and, presumably, more food, riparian zones could play very important roles for this threatened species.
  • The Central Valley and the Orosi Valley: Check Google Earth or one of those same satellite maps in eBird that shows the Central Valley, look for brushy fields and coffee farms and check those sites. But, know that the bird may or may not be present and even if it is, it still might be hard to find probably because it has a small population. That said, this is where it lives, this is a good place to look. The same goes for the Orosi Valley, especially around Ujarras and coffee farms near there. Higher up on the way to Tapanti, it doesn’t seem to be present (or is very rare) perhaps because of competition with the White-eared.
  • Check eBird: Even better, do what modern birders do for most unfamiliar bird species and check the latest sightings on eBird. Keep in mind, though, that the bird can still be hard to find, the next tips may help.
  • Know the call: The Cabanisi makes a distinctive, sharp tick note that differs from chip calls given by small birds that share its habitat such as the Rufous-collared Sparrow, Rufous-capped Warbler, and the Blue-black Grassquit. Knowing the song also helps but it doesn’t seem to sing very often.
  • Go early!: As with most birds, this one is also more active early in the morning. Listen and watch for it at the edges of hedgerows and brushy habitats but do that before 8 or even before 7.

Come to Costa Rica and you can see this endemic and literally hundreds of other species of birds. Support this blog and learn more about where to find birds with my 700 plus page e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

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