Cameras have come a long way from the days when we worried about our film being affected by x-rays at the airport. Nowadays, while we still call them cameras, the digital photographic devices of the 21st century are on such a different level that perhaps it would be better to refer to them as Digital Image Devices or DIDs if you will. Then you could say, “Yes, I did take those 300 images with my DID”, and “Don’t forget to charge your DID before capturing crushing images of that Crested Guan in Costa Rica”.
No matter what we call our digital cameras, they sure are a wonderful leap in technology, especially when you take pictures of birds. You see, getting really good shots of birds requires dozens and even hundreds of shots of every subject because many of our feathered friends are rather hyperactive by nature and have this fondness for hanging out in places with twigs, branches, leaves, and other shutter clutter. Nor do they like to come very close to people (a trait for which we cannot blame them given our overall treatment of our natural surroundings). In ye olde days of Kodak film, you had to be extra careful of every shot you took because you couldn’t afford to waste film and zooming in was the luxury of those who could afford to pay thousands of dollars for a super-sized lens. However, in 2013, as we are all well aware, those factors have sort of become null and void. With digital photography, you can press that shutter release button just to exercise your finger if you fancy and distance keeps getting closer with higher resolutions and better zoom capabilities.
Nevertheless, you still have to go to the right place to get lots of great photos of birds and the Nature Pavilion has become one of the top places, if not the number one site in Costa Rica for bird photography. David and Dave Lando, the father and son owners of the Nature Pavilion, have made bird photography a main focus (others being environmental education, reforestation, and conservation) of their place and yes, it’s a damn fine place for bird photography!
I was very pleased to bring a client there this past Sunday because I knew he would get plenty of great shots of a variety of Costa Rican birds, and I love to scan the rainforest canopy from their deck. During a three hour visit, a quick scoping of the treetops revealed such showy species as both large toucans, Red-lored Parrot, Olive-throated Parakeet, Montezuma Oropendola, and Pale-billed Woodpecker. Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher also called from a nearby perch and we could hear Rufous Motmot hooting from down in the woods.
As you can see, those birds were too far away for good pictures but the close ones more than made up for it. Despite May not being as ideal of a time for birds coming to fruit feeders as the months of December, January, February, and March, I would have to say that we did quite well in terms of bird photography.
White-necked Jacobin is the most abundant hummingbird.
Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer also showed up at the edge of the forest and there were a few Rufous-taileds and at least one Scaly-breasted around.
The fruit feeders were fairly quiet at first but eventually brought in everything from honeycreepers to Collared Aracari.
It was especially nice to get pictures of a Red-throated Ant-Tanager because these guys rarely come out into the open.
Given that all of these pictures were digiscoped, you can only imagine the pictures you get with a DSLR! It’s no wonder that lots of pro photographers are coming to the Nature Pavilion and as more of the habitat grows up, it’s only going to get better. ALSO, the Nature Pavilion rents out the spacious, beautiful house with the canopy deck for a price that rivals several of the local eco-lodges. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
North American birders who are in Costa Rica for a couple of weeks won’t be going to the Chomes shrimp ponds. The reasoning is straightforward: Why watch shorebirds that you can see at home when you have tropical forests replete with flocks of glittering tanagers, sneaky antbirds, woodcreepers, and dozens of interesting flycatchers at your disposal? However, birders who reside outside of the western hemisphere would be well advised to make a trip to Chomes. It’s the best shorebird hotspot in Costa Rica, access is free and rather easy (a boon in a country where national parks and reserves seem not to want to cater so much to birders-strange but true) and the drive in is great for dry forest species.
Although I’m originally from North America, I love going to Chomes because I don’t get too many other chances to see shorebirds, terns, and the like. In Costa Rica, sites for seeing big concentrations of waterbirds are rather few in number and/or hard to access, especially around the Gulf of Nicoya. A sea kayak would be the best way to survey those waders and web-footed birds that frequent the estuary of the Tempisque River but at least we have Chomes to watch them from solid ground.
Two or so weeks ago, Susan Blank and I went to Chomes to see if any shorebirds were around and the trip did not disappoint. Despite not arriving at optimal high tide time, we still managed views of several shorebirds, saw some terns, and also connected with a few mangrove specialties. As usual, it was tough not to stop on the way in to hear and see the healthy variety of dry forest species that occur.
Shorebirds were our goal but they were trumped by four, hefty Yellow-naped Parrots.
As usual, these smart birds watched us with curious, wary eyes while giving their distinctive calls.
Giving a pygmy-owl whistle also turned up White-lored Gnatcatcher,
and Brown-crested Flycatcher. We also heard at least one Nutting’s but Brown-cresteds were much more common and seem to outnumber Nutting’s in more open areas.
Moving on, we reached the village of Chomes in 10-15 minutes and drove on in to the shrimp pond area using the public access road at the southeast corner of the village. You can also go in through the front gate to the ponds if it is open but it’s easier to just use that access road. It doesn’t look like much but to take it, just head to the very southeast corner of the village and follow the dirt road towards the coast.
As soon as we reached the first pond, we were greeted by the songs of Red-winged Blackbird, and the sights and sounds of Black-bellied Plovers. Many of the plovers were in breeding plumage and were the most common shorebird seen on that day (we might have seen 150 or so)
Continuing on through the complex of shallow ponds, we saw Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, and other expected wading birds while being entertained by the constant songs of White-collared Seedeaters, and the chattering of White-fronted Parrots.
At the larger, back ponds, a fair number of shorebirds were present, including two of our better birds for the day; Pectoral Sandpiper and American Golden-Plover. Pecs are expected in Costa Rica if you visit the right habitat at the right time of the year but since you have to catch them during migration, they were a nice find. The plover passes through the country but is by no means a common, expected sight. In fact, these were my first for Costa Rica so it was pretty exciting to see them!
Other shorebirds included Willet, Whimbrel, Least Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitcher, Marbled Godwit, Semipalmated Plover (just one), and Wilson’s Plover. Many of these were already foraging on the extensive mudflats as the tide went out so I am sure that we missed some good birds. Scanning the flats revealed many a distant wader and an enticing group of terns and gulls whose identity was kept a secret by heat waves that roasted the area.
Locals searched for clams and we searched for shorebirds before cooling off in the air-conditioned car and driving down a mangrove lined track to see what else we could turn up. At one stop, we got more great looks at Brown-crested Flycatchers, saw a Streaked Flycatcher, and got wonderful, close looks at Northern Scrub Flycatcher, Mangrove Warblers, and Mangrove Vireo.
Since we seemed close enough to the Colorado salt ponds and the Amistad bridge, we decided to give those sites a shot. As it turned out, although those places would be a quick ten minute flight for a Least Sandpiper, they end up being an hour’s drive if you attempt to go the shortest route. Despite the scenery along the way, you will save a lot of time by heading back out to the highway and making a turn-off to reach Colorado rather than taking rough roads that pass through a few villages. Once you get to Colorado, don’t expect signs for anything. Just take the main road west through the village and watch for the school on the left. Immediately after that school, follow the main road and take a left (south), a right, and then another left to head in to the salt pond area (sounds obscure but once you are there, it will hopefully make sense).
As with other visits to this shorebird site, I didn’t see very many birds but did pick up a couple of good ones. Birds also come and go so it pays to keep scanning the ponds. This was reflected by our latest experience because after driving back in and seeing very little, we ran into a nice flock of shorebirds on the way out that consisted of more than a dozen Lesser Yellowlegs, two Pectoral Sandpipers, and one beautiful, breeding plumaged female Wilson’s Phalarope. Since that needle-billed bird was a second new addition to my Costa Rican list, our birding day was turning out to be a productive, memorable day indeed. Our luck stopped there, however, because there were almost no birds at mud flats below the Amistad Bridge, and we couldn’t find a way to access the mangroves in search of Clapper Rail.
As always, I wish I could bird Chomes more often because you can bet that rare birds show up there on a regular basis, there’s just not enough people checking the place to find them.
Antbirds just might win the prize for being the most popular family of birds with the least amount of colors. It seems like just about anyone who birds in the neotropics ends up feeling a certain degree of fondness for antbirds. Even before I came to Costa Rica for the first time, I was fascinated by these odd-looking little birds, especially the ones with blue skin around their eyes. I wanted to see an Immaculate Antbird because I had never seen anything even close to it in the temperate-zoned north and ditto magnified a 100 times for wacky looking things like the Black-crowned Antpitta.
I suppose that it’s lack of experience with anything close to antbirds that makes us want to see them, see what they are all about. I mean, just what the heck are those things? It’s kind of an odd fascination when you consider that they only come in shades of black, brown, and gray but that’s the way we birders roll and we make no excuses (at least I don’t). So, after having studied the illustrations of Costa Rican antbirds on hundreds of occasions, I was more than ready and sure that I was going to see a good number of weird and wild antbirds on that first sojourn to Costa Rica.
Needless to say, and to make a long story short, I came home from Costa Rica in early 1993 with less than a handful of antbirds on my list and wondering why I hadn’t see those intriguing birds despite birding where they were supposed to occur. On consecutive trips, I realized that the birds were there, it’s just that most of them are veteran skulkers, and many seemed to be naturally rare or uncommon. They require specific habitats, most of those being forested in some way or another. It helps to know their songs and calls and you will see more if you stalk them with sharp eyes and ears buoyed up by a solid foundation of eternal patience.
In other words, they are kind of a royal pain to see.
That said, some places are better than others for antbirds and in Costa Rica, one of the better places to see members of this auspiciously dull-colored family is Carara National Park. On a recent day of guiding on the main loop trail, I was reminded that the quality, primary rainforest at Carara is ideal habitat for antbird species. We had many looks at such birds as Dot-winged Antwren and Black-hooded Antshrike, and indeed these are two of the more commonly seen species in the park.
Like a typical small insectivore, the antwren is hyperactive, and always searching the foliage for some tasty arthropod.
The antshrike sort of does the same but isn’t nearly as active and this makes it easier to watch at length.
On the forest floor, Black-faced Antthrushes are often seen as they waltz through the leaf litter like an out of place crake and many a lucky birder has gotten their lifer Streak-chested Antpitta at Carara. They also occur elsewhere but seem to be easier to see at Carara because the understory is more open than many other sites. We had amazing looks at two of those plump antpittas as they foraged at the edge of an antswarm!
They opened and closed their wings and one even briefly jumped on the back of the other.
Bicolored Antbirds were also at the swarm and we had great looks at Chestnut-backed Antbird too (commonly seen at Carara).
Other antbird species seen that day included Slaty Antwren and Dusky Antbird in second growth at the edge of the park on Bijagual Road. Although we dipped on Barred Antshrike, I usually see it on Bijagual Road, the Meandrica Trail, or any other number of edge and second growth sites. Great Antshrike skulks in second growth but isn’t nearly as common as at other more humid sites. The same goes for Russet Antshrike and Plain Antvireo although they occur inside the forest.
It’s kind of interesting that the forests at Carara and the southwestern Pacific slope are similar to the rainforests of the Amazon in several ways, one of these being the prominent role that antbirds play in avian communities. Although Carara still can’t compare with Amazonian sites that host the 30 and 40 antbird species, the birding is always good when you can watch Streak-chested Antpittas hop around and Black-hooded Antshrikes beat their tails in time to the notes of their song.
The dry season on the Pacific slope is quickly coming to an end and that’s very welcome news because we could use the rain! This year’s dry season seemed to be especially bereft of agua as the sun hammered the fields into a brown landscape with relentless UV rays. Nevertheless, since the birds that live there are adapted to dealing with a pronounced dry season, I doubt they will be very much affected by it.
With the end of the dry season comes the start of the low season for tourism. Most birding tours come here between January and April because this is the ideal time to visit if you want to see more migrants and experience less rain on the Pacific slope. However, if you don’t mind missing out on bunches of Chestnut-sided Warblers and seeing Summer Tanagers, the birding still happens to be great from now until the second half of October (from then until December the rain can be a problem). The cloudy weather makes for higher levels of bird activity and cooler weather, so if you headed to Costa Rica for birding in the near future, consider yourself lucky because you could end up seeing more resident species than during the dry season.
In addition to that little tidbit, here are a few other updates and perspectives about birding in Costa Rica in 2013:
Bamboo on Poas: Last year was a bonanza for bamboo on the flanks of Poas. Trips to that area and Varablanca turned up multiple Peg-billed Finches, Barred Parakeets, and even several Slaty Finches (!). On recent trips to Poas, I noticed that the bamboo is starting to seed again (!), this time in the bamboo just above the area that had seeded last year. Since it seems that most of the forest understory from the entrance gate to the payment booths will be filled with seeding bamboo, this should be a good area to check for Maroon-chested Ground Dove (I will be watching for it!).
Head to the Nature Pavilion for bird photography: The Nature Pavilion is fast becoming a must stop for anyone interested in taking pictures of birds. Ok, so you don’t absolutely need to go there for birding but if you do, you have a much better chance of getting many pictures of tanagers, honeycreepers, toucans, and a litany of other colorful birds that come to their feeders. The owners are always working to improve the already quality experience and the deck is also good for watching canopy species (and the river a good place to check for Sunbittern and Fasciated Tiger Heron).
Don’t expect to enter Quebrada Gonzalez and pay later: Since the national park officially opens at 8, unfortunately, birders aren’t supposed to enter before then (which happens to be during ideal birding times). Friends of mine were sort of berated recently for doing this by the park guard manager. He mentioned, though, that people can enter early but need to contact him in advance. Unfortunately, there isn’t any easy way of contacting him! However, blame him less than the general bureaucracy that plagues so much of Costa Rica. One of my dreams is to convince or help the people in the Costa Rican national park system to better manage the parks for tourism. Not managed for tourists? What? Yes, that is exactly the case. A couple of parks are better managed for visitors but the majority really aren’t. Solutions could include marketing of the parks for visitors and investing in them for this purpose. For example, in Braulio Carillo, convert part of the ranger station into a souvenir shop and small cafe with proceeds going towards the budget for the station. Put in a small canopy tower somewhere in the park and charge $5 or $10 extra to use it. Make the loop trail longer. Hold scheduled night walks and other educational walks for the public. Most of all, open the park at 6 and close it at 5 instead of 8 to 4. The same goes for every other national park in the country. More money would be generated for the parks, tourists would have a more satisfying experience, and more people would visit the parks thus generating more funding, etc.
Visit El Tapir instead: Although you can’t enter Quebrada at the earliest hour, there is an easy solution to this dawn chorus dilemma. It’s called El Tapir and it’s just down the road from Quebrada. El Tapir doesn’t have a sign so watch for the first place with a couple of small buildings on the right after passing Quebrada Gonzalez and continuing on towards Guapiles and Limon (maybe 2 ks past the station). Head in through the barbed wire gate as early as you want and pay the caretaker $5 (2,500 colones) when he shows up. The forest is excellent, has many of the same species as Quebrada, and they usually maintain two trails. This site has tons of potential so be ready for anything when birding back towards the stream (think Slaty-backed Forest Falcon, Ground Cuckoo, Sharpbill, and Gray-headed Pripites as possbilities). The main downside is the high number of ticks that occur on the trails so be prepared! There isn’t any restroom either but consolation is that you have a chance at seeing any number of rare foothill forest species. Of course the flowering Porterweed is also excellent for Snowcap, Black-crested Coquette, and many other hummingbirds while hawk-eagles and other raptors can show up in the sky.
Want to support bird habitat? Don’t eat Costa Rican pineapple.: It’s as simple as that. Although some pineapple has been certified as sustainable, I really don’t see how that is possible given the high amount of pesticides that are used even on those supposedly green farms. I think the green label was earned because attempts are made to protect some forest corridors (which probably aren’t actually large enough to support species that are susceptible to edge effects). Vast monocultures of pineapple have become the number one problem for biodiversity in Costa Rica because huge areas are drained and cleared, planted with pineapple, and then drowned with chemicals. This is clearly not sustainable but it’s important for the economy in the short term so little has been done to improve the situation. On a personal note, I love pineapple and would be happy to eat it and support farms that grow it but only if it’s grown in a way that doesn’t eliminate biodiversity, pollute water, increase sedimentation of waterways, harm people with chemicals, and decrease the value of land and quality of life in a long term manner. Is that too much to ask?
Want to see more birds? Visit the most intact forests: A lot of birders visiting Costa Rica mention how they saw more in the gardens of their hotels or at the forest edge than in the rainforest itself. Veteran birders, though, make efforts to spend more time inside and near large areas of tropical forest because they know that this is the only way to see most of the uncommon and rare species in the field guide that they missed on previous trips. Those birds were probably missed by merit of their naturally rare status, and because more time was spent watching birds at the forest edge than in the shady depths of primary rainforest. The fact of the matter is that although you can see more individual birds in gardens and the edge of the forest, you will see more species if you combine that with birding inside extensive primary forest to see things like wood-quail, tinamous, antbirds, certain flycatchers and wrens, and dozens of other uncommon species. While birding in old growth forest is far from easy, it represents high quality habitat for the majority of bird species that occur in Costa Rica simply because it’s the type of habitat that they became adapted to using for the past million (or more) years.
It’s no surprise that the sites with the largest areas of high quality forest also offer your best chances at seeing uncommon species like forest raptors, cotingas, antbirds, Song Wren, leaftossers, etc. Some examples of such sites are Bosque del Rio Tigre and Luna Lodge in the Osa Peninsula, Pocosol Biological Station, Hitoy Cerere, El Copal, Rincon de la Vieja, and the Monteverde cloud forests.
Don’t expect to bird the La Selva entrance road unless you stay there or take a tour: The entrance road has definitely become off limits to anyone not staying at the station or taking a scheduled tour. It’s a shame but the station probably did it to make it more difficult for poachers and potential thieves from entering the La Selva property. Regarding staying at La Selva, pay the high price for mediochre lodging and food if you want to support research of tropical forests. If you would rather stay somewhere that is more comfortable and geared towards tourism, pick one of the many hotels in the area and visit La Selva on the early birding tour. Keep in mind that La Selva is first and foremost a biological station and ecotourism is not their highest priority. This is why you won’t be allowed to go up the canopy tower (yes, there is one or more but only for researchers), some trails may be off limits, and unless you stay there, access is only provided to people on one of their tours (which are usually interesting and educational). Also, many understory species at La Selva have become rare (probably due to overgrazing by an overabundance of Collared Peccaries) so don’t expect to see various antwrens, antbirds, White-fronted Nunbird, Carmiol’s Tanager, understory flycatchers, and many other formerly common species still on the list. Most of those can still show up and will hopefully some day recover but they are far more rare than they used to be. I don’t mention this to make La Selva look bad, and it’s still a great place for birding and bird photography, I write this so you know what to expect.
Changes at Heliconias Lodge and two other excellent, little known sites up that way: I have heard rumors that the community that owns (or owned) Heliconias Lodge has franchised it out. I haven’t been up there since then but I have been told that one of the excellent bird guides who used to work there is no longer there and there could be other changes in store. Their website is still the same though so hopefully it won’t be all that different and owls will still be staked out because this is one of the best birding sites in the country. I have also heard about two other small lodges on the Caribbean slope of the northern volcanoes. One is Cataratas Bijagua Lodge, and the other is Albergue Ecologico Las Bromelias. Cataratas Bijagua looks like a cozy, moderately-priced place that probably has some great birding right on the grounds and on the trails. Could also act as a good base for visiting other sites in the areas as well as Cano Negro. Las Bromelias is a bit harder to get to but friends who have been there tell me that it was very much worth the effort. It’s also moderately priced and is very good birding (they told tales of 17 species of hummingbirds, both Keel-billed and Tody Motmots, Bare-crowned Antbird, and an antswarm!).
Hope to see you in some Costa Rican rainforest during the low season!
Ok, so we come to the final segment of Pat and Susan’s Big Day, 2013 in Costa Rica. At the end of part dos, we finished up in the Caribbean lowlands and were about to move up in elevation for a different suite of birds.
We departed the Caribbean lowlands and headed to the middle elevation forests of Virgen del Socorro, our next major stop. On the way, we picked up singing Black-headed Saltator, Grayish Saltator, hoped for House Sparrow at a gas station (hey, every bird counts), and a drive-by singing Nightingale Wren at the same spot where we got it last year!
Virgen del Socorro is one of Costa Rica’s classic birding sites. The habitat in some parts of the gorge isnt as good as it was before the 2009 earthquake and the road is kind of bad but the place can still turn up a great variety if birds. Last year, we did very good at Virgen del Socorro, scoring birds like White Hawk, Barred Hawk, Blue and gold Tanager, and a bunch more. Unfortunately, lady luck was somewhere else this year because we picked up rather few birds and got more or less chased away by rain. Of the measly 20 species we picked up, best were probably Swallow-tailed Kite, Double-toothed Kite, Brown Violetear, Crimson-collared Tanager, and Coppery-headed Emerald. Oddly enough, the emerald was absent at Cinchona so it was a good thing that one or two were singing at Virgen del Socorro!
Since we needed to get at least 50 new species at Virgen and since most that we did pick up could also be recorded near Cinchona (and were), at this point in the day, I realized that it would be nearly impossible to break any records. Nevertheless, we powered on and stayed with the plan to identify as much as we could on the rest of our route.
A couple stops near Cinchona gave us our only Emerald Toucanet at a fruiting tree, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, and a few other species while the hummingbird feeders treated us well with all of our targets (White-bellied Mountain-Gem and Green Thorntail included). Another quick stop at the La Paz waterfall gave us our target Torrent Tyrannulet but there were few other species added as we headed up to higher elevation forests at Varablanca and Poas.
Ten minutes at the Volcan Restaurant gave us ten new species including several hummingbirds, Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher, Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrush.
A quick drive up to high elevation forests at 2,500 meters turned turned up ten more species that happily called or showed themselves in rapid succession. Among those ten were Sooty Robin, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush (our fourth nightingale-thrush of the day), Acorn Woodpecker, Slaty Flowerpiercer, Silvery-throated Tapaculo, and Golden-browed Chlorophonia.
After the Chlorophonia called, a glance at the watch showed that it was 12:30 and time for us to roll down to the Pacific coast. We hoped to pick up a bird or two on the way and although the Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrushes in the coffee plantations were strangely silent, we at least managed to hear the distinctive clinky chip note of a Rufous-capped Warbler, and saw Hoffmann’s Woodpecker and White-winged Doves. Other birds were absent but how could I blame them; sunny late noon weather is about the most inactive birding weather you will ever find.
As we headed to our highway entrance, it suddenly dawned upon us that our quick route to the coast might actually by closed! I had somehow overlooked the obvious possibility that the highway would only be opened to go uphill so as to accommodate the hordes of post-Easter traffic that were returning back to the Central Valley after a few days at the beach. We raced to the entrance anyways but yes, our fears were confirmed and we had to race straight on back to the old, slower route down to the coast! This was going to cut at least 30 more minutes off of our schedule but what choice did we have?
At least that alternative route passed by a small reservoir and it delivered with 4 new species! After ticking off Least Grebe, Blue-winged Teal, Anhinga, and Vaux’s Swift, we continued onwards down to the hot, dry coastal plain. Odd detours through Orotina also slowed things down but we eventually made it onto the Guacimo Road and picked up White-throated Magpie-Jay shortly thereafter. A quick stop gave us Plain-breasted and Common Ground-Doves as other birds came in to a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl call, including the owl itself. Dry forest targets like Stripe-headed Sparrow, Olive Sparrow, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Nutting’s Flycatcher, and other birds quickly showed themselves.
At a good riparian spot, we got other targets like Turquoise-browed Motmot, Long-tailed Manakin, and Little Tinamou. Lesser Ground Cuckoo refused to announce itself but time was running out and we had other key sites to hit! One was the lagoon at Bajamar but as it turns out, the normally wide lagoon was almost bone dry! There was a bit of water but most of our hoped for waterbirds were foraging elsewhere because we only picked up a few Black-necked Stilts and Least Sandpiper.
Heading over to the coast, more pygmy-owl calling managed to add Streak-backed Oriole, Brown-crested Flycatcher, and Blue Grosbeak to the list while looking out to see turned up Royal Tern and Brown Pelican. Magnificent Frigatebirds also flew overhead but the fishing boats were just too far out to help us add gulls, Brown Booby, and maybe something else to the list.
No time to check the Guacalillo lagoons for shorebirds (which sometimes have them and at other times have nothing at all), becauseit was time to head over to Carara. While cruising through more dry forest, we picked up our three target parrots- Orange-fronted Parakeet, Yellow-naped Parrot, and White-fronted Parrot, saw a bunch of Turquoise-browed Motmots, heard our only Rose-throated Becard of the day (which is very odd but I suspect they have declined), and picked up four or five waterbirds as drivebys near and at the Crocodile Bridge!
With late afternoon rapidly approaching, we raced over to Bijagual Road, jumped out of the car and picked up most of our remaining species for the day. This is usually a good, birdy area and we got 16 new species in less than an hour, including our only Laughing Falcon of the day, Scarlet Macaw, Barred and Black-hooded Antshrikes, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Rufous and white and Rufous-breasted Wrens, Gray-headed Tanager, Northern Bentbill, and Black-hooded Antshrike.
Once the evening cicadas began to call, the birds quieted down and we could only hope that a Collared Forest Falcon might sound off or that the owls would comply once it got dark. No forest falcon was heard but higher up along the road, at least a Mottled Owl made it onto the list. No other owls were calling around Bijagual so we headed over to Playa Azul to give Pacific Screech Owl a shot. Sure enough, that faithful bird showed up in our spotlight and although we still had time to try for Double-striped Thick-Knee, and a few more owls, we decided to call it quits and went home with 246 species for the day. Given challenges like destroyed wetlands, dried out lagoons, closed roads, and rain, we were pretty satisfied with that number!
I still think the world Big Day record can be broken in Costa Rica but it’s still going to require a lot more luck with the weather and better sites for shorebirds. I think that we will do better by doing it earlier in the year (since we pick up almost no spring migrants anyways), and will definitely need to do a lot more scouting.
When the calendar reached Saturday morning, March 30th, it was time to saddle up, think about thousands of bird calls, and head on over the mountains to Tirimbina! That day being the day before Easter and one of Costa Rica’s major holiday weekends, we saw droves of vehicles at the Waterfall Gardens and a major gathering of humans at the Peace Waterfall.
As we drove down towards the lowlands, we wondered if this would dampen our chances at Torrent Tyrannulet, and even more importantly, cause time devouring traffic jams on our route! In a last attempt at scouting Varablanca and Cinchona, we road with the windows down and listened for birds. Since it was mid-afternoon and sunny, this was kind of pointless but no one can say that we didn’t give it an all-star, Shaolin try. Despite few birds being heard, we did notice that a few trees were fruiting near Cinchona and that was indeed an important find.
A good spot near Cinchona.
Down at Tirimbina, we checked in and after being told that we had to tell reception when we entered and left the forest, headed out onto our main scouting road. I suspect that the guy at reception thought it strange that we weren’t going into the forest but we had places to scout, a Big Day ahead of us and not time to explain. Since we couldn’t stay at the field station as hoped (only opens for large groups), the big question was where to be at the break of dawn. It was a toss-up between the forest proper and the road back by the field station but despite the road looking promising on Google Earth, we had yet to recon it.
We crossed the Pozo Azul bridge and started back on the road behind Tirimbina. It was a bumpy ride and the section up to the field station looked OK but not good enough for a forest dawn chorus. However, there was a fair deal more of forest back by the field station and further on so we continued forward. A brief stop by a lowland pond turned up a valuable species right away- Sungrebe!
A poor image of a Sungrebe but still identifiable.
As we pleaded with the Sungrebe to be there the next day, we scoured the wetland for Agami Heron and other goodies to no avail. Forest looked good there though so we would have to hit it in the morning. Further up the road, a tell-tale bump high on a tree turned out to be another much wanted species for the day- Great Potoo!
My camera refused to focus on the tell-tale bump but I can at least show what the site looked like.
Yippee! Hopefully the Potoo would stay, the Sungrebe would show, and every bird would sing because we decided to be near the Potoo at dawn. Continuing on, we also had good looks over forested hills, saw a perched King Vulture, were entertained by lots of Mealy and Red-lored Parrots flying to roosts, and saw a small marsh. Yep, this was the road to take for the morning.
Back on the highway, we enjoyed an early dinner at the Rancho Magallanes restaurant and headed back to Tirimbina to try and sleep by some crazy early hour like 7:30 or 8 PM.
When the clock struck midnight, the counting time began! Too bad nothing was calling… and I slept on until wake up call at 3.
Unfortunately, there was a light but steady rain and that erased any chances of hearing nocturnal migrants, owls, or nightjars. Nevertheless, we stuck to the plan and drove through the night to a rice field and wetlands located in banana fields well north of La Selva. As we arrived, something about the field looked strange and then it slowly dawned upon us that the rice was no longer there. Not only that, but the wetlands were no longer there either. One of the only large accessible wetland sites in that area and it had been drained. We were so shocked we could hardly talk. Back in December, we had briefly visited the place and found dozens of Purple Gallinules and great habitat for rails and other aquatic species. Although it was hard to determine in the dark of the night, we could see the drainage ditches and saw that palms had been planted- either Oil or Heart of Palm. Goodbye wetland. So long Purple Gallinules, Paint-billed Crakes, and who knows what else. Although much of it was farmland, some wasn’t so I suspect they broke some laws there.
With heavy hearts, we decided to try for Barn Owl and Striped Owl anyways but no luck there, just the forlorn calls of a few Common Pauraques to echo our sentiments and mark their eminent place as the first bird of the day.
With the rain coming down, we drove back to our scouting road and picked up our next two species at the bridge over the Sarapiqui- Bare-throated Tiger Heron and Boat-billed Heron doing some night fishing in the river! Good ones to get and somewhere around then, we heard givens like Clay-colored Thrush and Tropical Kingbird.
Boat-billed Heron- the neotropical gargoyle.
Checking the small marsh turned up White-throated Crake but no other rails so we continued on to the Great Potoo stakeout. Dawn was arriving and yes (!), the potoo was on its spot. We quickly picked up a bunch of species as they sounded off from nearby patches of forest and fields. These were birds like Cocoa, Black-striped, Northern Barred, and Streak-headed Woodcreepers, White-whiskered Puffbird, Broad-billed and Rufous Motmots, Bright-rumped Attila, Rufous Mourner, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Buff-rumped Warbler, and much more. Luckily, the rain had given us a break at that time or we would have been sunk into the depths of a very low list for the day.
Susan scoping out our Potoo.
We slowly moved up the road, picking up several targets on the way, many of which were fairly common species like Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, Shining Honeycreeper, toucans, Rufous-winged Woodpecker, and various parrots and parakeets (but no Great Green Macaws!). At the Sungrebe spot, despite some very careful checking below overhanging vegetation, the weird little rail duck didn’t show. As consolation, we saw 4 Green Ibis though.
It was interesting to be reminded of how common Dusky-capped Flycatchers are. We heard them at just about every humid forest spot throughout the day.
The rain picked up again and as the road turned very slick in a bad way, we crawled along and dearly hoped to make it to the field station. Despite some very tense minutes, we made it to the rocky road at the station and got out of the car to stretch and hopefully pick up some deep forest birds. However, by this time, our luck was kind of running out as the rain picked up and drowned out most bird activity. We still managed Violet-headed Hummingbird, Great Tinamou, Wood Thrush, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, and a few other species but results were dampened by the rain and much lower than hoped.
Yeah for the Violet-headed Hummingbird!
As time ran out and the light but steady rain continued, we moved on towards the highway, picking up Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Yellow Tyrannulet, and some other goodies. It was 8:30 and the time had come to head up to Virgen del Socorro despite still missing 20-30 hoped for species out of around 120 species so far. How would those higher elevations and the Pacific slope treat us? Stay tuned for part tres!
Who says you can’t go extreme when it comes to birding? Those of us familiar with the ins and outs of our avian-focused hobby (or lifestyle) know that birdwatching is nothing like the old-fashioned stereotype of some clumsy, eye-glass wearing person stumbling around the woods with binos around the neck, wide-brimmed hat on the head, butterfly net in one hand, and an invisible sign in the other that clearly reads, “Make Way for Monsenor Non-Cool”!
Personally, I would love to meet someone like that while out in the woods but have yet to see anyone like that anywhere. Instead, we watch birds while sporting clothes that are engineered for the field. We use high quality optics with finesse, know how to survive in the desert (well, some of us do), trudge up mountains to look for rosy-finches and ptarmigans, and help monitor and protect the avian realm. Sometimes, we also do Big Days and it doesn’t get much more extreme than that.
When modern birders can’t find the place where they want to go birding, they just stop off at a bar to check the map. Note that although there is a wide-brimmed hat in this image, it says, “Titleist” and not “Tilly”.
As March rolled to an end, time was running out for another Big Day in Costa Rica. Ever since my last attempt in March 2012, I had thought about the best plans for breaking both the country record and the world record. My best idea was to start on the Pacific slope in the afternoon and finish up on the Caribbean slope the next morning. It was going to be ideal for counting the feathered wealth of Carara, and ticking off Caribbean slope species from the steamy lowlands on up to the Oak forests at 2,300 meters on Poas, all while getting a fair night’s sleep. However, like many things that seem too good to be true, my plan did not fit into the ABA Big Day rules because it would have spanned two calendar days instead of one.
Flame-throated Warbler was one of our high-elevation targets. I think we missed it during our stop at Poas last year.
Back to the drawing board I went and choosing the route and schedule was engineered around probabilities. While you can count on most breeding birds to be in their territory in temperate zone habitats, rainforests are another story. Scout as much as you like but that Masked Tityra might be in one area on Sunday and nowhere to be seen on Monday. There are tons of birds to see in rainforest but all of that diversity comes with a hitch; most species have large territories and are more or less naturally rare. Many birds also seem to wander around in search of fruiting or flowering trees and they don’t always sing either. These and other factors add so much unpredictability to the mix that spending a certain amount of time in the right habitat becomes more important than trying to make stops for each species.
For example, while you could spend a few minutes looking and listening for a Chestnut-backed Antbird in a patch of forest where you have heard them in the past, you are better off skipping that patch for a larger area of forest that you haven’t checked because the bigger area of forest will probably hold Chestnut-backed Antbirds while giving a better chance at a greater number of species.
Spending more time in a larger area of rainforest than a forested ravine might give us some uncommon species like a Purple-throated Fruitcrow.
Since so many of these tropical birds also happen to be binocular shy, catching the dawn chorus for maximum effect is also imperative for a high count. Time spent in each habitat also needs to be more or less correlated with the number of species in each habitat, wetlands must be visited, and every possible angle visited. One such angle involves migrants. Hearing nocturnal migrants and seeing them during the day could add 20 birds to the list. Although that depends on whether or not a wave of migrants happens to be passing through, it’ s still an important factor to take into consideration. On the non-bird front, driving times are a critical factor as are such factors beyond our control as rain and wind.
With all of those factors in mind, I opted for the following route:
1. Stay overnight at Tirimbina and be there for the dawn chorus at the edge of a good block of lowland forest and open habitats for a double whammy of forest and edge species.
2. Before the dawn chorus, check a wetland near El Gavilan.
3. Mid-morning stop at Virgen del Socorro and Cinchona for middle elevation species.
4. Hopefully get some birds from the car while heading up to Varablanca.
5. A stop in high elevation habitats on Poas around noon.
6. Drive down to the coast, maybe picking up a few species on the way, but this is mostly driving time of around 2 hours.
7. Afternoon in dry forest habitats on the Guacimo Road.
8. Swing by a coastal lagoon at Bajamar for waterbirds.
9. Drive to the Bijagual Road for humid forest species in late afternoon and dusk.
10. Keep looking for nightbirds until we decide to give up (assuming that we weren’t going to keep going until midnight).
So, that was the route and I think it’s a good one. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to check every part of the route in the days before the count and that turned out to be a critical error but I just didn’t have time to do it. Starting at Tirimbina was good because it’s that much closer to Virgen del Socorro. We didn’t start at La Selva for that reason, it would have been too expensive to do that, and birds would be similar in any case (and maybe even better at Tirimbina).
Of course, the other important part of the picture is the team. I had hoped to have the same team as last year but March is the busiest time of the year for guiding so we would be bereft of Juan Diego’s impressive birding eyes and ears. I had hoped that Robert Dean could join us but he couldn’t make it either so this year’s team turned out to include the lightning eyes and driving reflexes of Susan Blank and the determination and birding experience of your’s truly.
I will save readers the suspense by saying that we did not break any records but I hope you tune in to parts dos and tres in any case!
One of the innumerable cool things about watching birds compared to say, mammals, is that many tend to be colorful, decorative, and downright ornate. Not that there aren’t ornate mammals too but let’s face it, the general color scheme for mammal species happens to be brown. Some bird species have even managed to get “ornate” included in their common English name. Ornate Antwren is one of them and although its plumage isn’t exactly decked out with fancy plumes, compared to other dead leaf inspecting Myrmotherula, it’s a brightly colored bird.
With its striking plumage and fancy feathered spike on top of its head, the Ornate Hawk Eagle earns its name with flair. However, there are many more ornate looking birds that don’t get that adjective included in their names than the birds that do. I saw two such ornate bird species during recent guiding in the Caribbean slope foothill forests of El Tapir.
One was right out in the open among the flowering Porterweed (Stachytarpheta sp.).
This male Black-crested Coquette entertained on two recent mornings at El Tapir. If you haven’t seen one of these gems in person, it’s like a feathered flying bug that has been decorated for a fancy little nectar party. The wispy crest makes this and other coquette species about as delicate and elegant as a bird can be.
They like to perch on bare twigs to show off those crazy plumes.
“Behold my plumes!”, says the coquette (which only hummingbirds and bats can hear because it has such a high-pitched tinkly voice).
The other sort of ornate species we saw is much larger than a coquette and hangs out on forested streams and rivers. It’s a nemesis bird for many but eventually turns up if you take enough boat rides on the Sarapiqui or check enough rocky rivers.
The pristine stream at the end of the main trail at El Tapir is a good spot for Sunbittern. It’s also a good trail for many other things but be prepared for ticks!
This fancy blend of heron, rail, and crane was pretty shy but eventually let us take pictures once it ventured out to the middle of the stream. It slowly swayed back and forth as we admired everything from its reddish eyes to the white spots on its wings and sunburst pattern in the primaries as it took flight
My, what orange legs you have!
Sunbittern, the neotropical Kagu.
The main species that people hope to see at El Tapir was also present. In fact, there were at least four Snowcaps buzzing around the flowers. I wouldn’t refer to these snowy-crowned gems as being ornate but I would venture to say that the males look like surreal birds only seen in dreams.
Crazy purple and glaring white. What’s up with that!
The female brings you back to reality with much more homely hummingbird plumage.
Nevertheless, she still strikes a coy pose now and then.
Cano Negro is a small village, a place to fish for monster Tarpon (yes, they are monsters), and an access point for one of the two major wetland sites in Costa Rica (the other one being Palo Verde). Since it’s a five hour drive from the Central Valley, I don’t make it up that way very often. Well, to be honest, I haven’t gone there since 2001 so, I was pretty excited to make a much needed trip to Cano Negro with the local birding club this past weekend.
To sum things up, I got 27 year birds, I think 6 new birds for my Costa Rica list, and three damn delightful lifers! One of those was more or less expected, and the other two were straw-colored marsh birds that I hoped to see but knew that I could easily be going back to the Central Valley without them.
So, here’s some highlights and general impressions from the trip:
Cano Negro is easy to get to: It’s a fairly quick, five hour drive where you may be entertained by drive-by sightings of toucans, parrots, parakeets, and other cool tropical birds. Bird along the way on the right route and you could even tick things like Fasciated Tiger Heron, Sunbittern, Torrent Tyrannulet, and so on. The road in to Cano Negro is rocky but can still be done with a two wheel drive car at least during the dry season.
The Loveats Cafe is en route: If you are coming from the Central Valley, screw that route through Zarcero. Take the San Ramon-San Lorenzo route and onward to Muelle. This passes by excellent birding opps such as the Hummingbird Garden, the San Luis canopy, the road to Manuel Brenes Reserve, and most of all, the Loveats Cafe! Stop there for excellent vegetarian food, including authentic Middle Eastern hummus, good coffee, and baked goods.
How can you not stop at a place with a giant “cookies” sign? And yes, they are very good cookies!
The birding and photography is good right in the village: The village is pretty rural so there are lots of fruiting trees and gardens that are filled with birds like Red-lored Parrot, Collared Aracari, and chances to
witness sad attempts by Gray-headed Chachalacas to be Peafowl,
check out many a Pale-vented Pigeon lounging on power lines,
get into staring contests with Olive-throated Parakeets, and
marvel over the blues of a male Red-legged Honeycreeper.
Some hotels have feeders: At least ours did (the Hotel de Campo) but I think others in the area might do the same or be convinced to put out a banana or two. Although no Yellow-winged Tanagers showed up, it was still nice to watch the usual parade of common bird species like
Blue-gray Tanager. Dang, that’s a beautiful bird. Almost like a neotropical Mountain Bluebird.
Red-legged Honeycreeper. You gotta love it when you can soak up the views of a blue and turquoise bird with hints of purple, classy patches of black, and red legs.
Yellow-throated Euphonia. It’s really cool when birds perch on the fruit they eat. Euphonias are basically goldfinches that evolved into colorful mistletoe eaters. This male shows the classic euphonia blend of steely blackish-blue and bright yellow.
This female Yellow-throated Euphonia shows the much drabber olives and dull colors that make them a pain to identify.
Oh and there is great wetland birding too: Wetlands on the road in can host any number of waterbirds but the best waterbirding is near the village of Cano Negro. A lagoon behind our hotel had the usual assortment of common waterbirds along with occasional Green Ibis, flyby Merlin, and the owner said a Jabiru was there a few days before.
The lagoon behind the Hotel de Campo.
A boat trip is the best way to experience marsh and river birding though and our Saturday morning boat trip was basically a big fat success!
Amazon Kingfishers were constant companions and the trip to marshy lagoons was highlighted by American Pygmy Kingfisher, Green Ibis, a bevy of Mangrove Cuckoos (yes there were at least 6), and two surreal Sungrebes! The lagoons had the best stuff though.
These people were looking at…
Pinnated Bittern! Finally, after years of wondering how similar this neotropical bittern was to immature tiger-herons, I can personally say that it looks quite different. Sure it has some of that barring but it’s much paler and has those bittern streaks in front among other differences. It’s almost like a massive, mutant Least Bittern that hybridized with a tiger-heron. The very bird pictured here was lifer number one of the trip.
When seen head on, this neotropical marsh monster does sort of look Frankensteinish.
Yellow-breasted Crake!- No picture but lifer number two and a top shelf one at that. As luck would have it, as soon as we saw the Pinnated Bittern, a small straw-colored bird popped up out of the vegetation in front of me and transformed into a Yellow-breasted Crake. Other people in the group saw one or two more while watching the bittern.
What the marsh looked like.
We also saw a few Lesser yellow-headed Vultures at this site. I digiscoped this harrier-like vulture through my binoculars.
An ocean of raptors: After leaving the place on Sunday, sunny weather turned the skies into a ridiculous raptor migration bonanza. It was the biggest I have ever seen in Costa Rica and there were kettles and lines of vultures, Swainson’s Hawks, and Broad-winged Hawks pretty much in every direction. It was simply downright silly crazy.
A bad representation of the thousands of raptors that were migrating over our heads.
A visit to El Roble wetlands: Although local ornithologists seem to refer to this place as the Humedal Medio Queso (literally half cheese wetlands), locals call it El Roble. They go there to fish on weekends. We went there to see birds for an hour and it was pretty darn awesome. We saw more Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, a distant Northern Harrier (good bird in Costa Rica), and two more Pinnated Bitterns! To get there, take the road past the Los Chiles that heads to the east but once you get to the wetlands, don’t drive into the Medio Queso river! The road simply ends and starts up again on the other side of the river because they have yet to put in a bridge.
Another super sweet Pinnated Bittern!
What a trip! The third lifer was Nicaraguan Grackle- not as common and easy as you might expect but we saw a few here and there, especially on the boat trip.
Not much more to say than to expect lots of cool birds when you go to Cano Negro! I feel that I should also mention that mosquitoes weren’t bad at all during our trip although the area was much drier than normal.
The Manzanillo-Puerto Viejo area doesn’t make it onto the birding radar of most first time birders to Costa Rica. It’s too much of detour to take, especially when you can see many of the same birds around the Sarapiqui area. Nevertheless, Manzanillo and many parts of southeastern Costa Rica are more forested than most of the more commonly visited sites and guess what? That part of the country has better Caribbean lowland forest birding.
There, I said it and I stand by that statement. Things may even out when you take travel time and accommodations into consideration but there is simply more forested habitat in southeastern Costa Rica. The best forest is probably at Hitoy Cerere and other less accessible sites (and even Hitoy isn’t all that simple to reach) but even the forests from Cahuita south to Manzanillo can offer up excellent lowland birding. Much of the most accessible forests are old cacao plantations that left most of the big canopy trees and this seems to work out just fine for most of the canopy birds. A lot of understory species also seem to do quite well although certain species probably need a more diverse understory to survive (studying the effects of those old cacao plantations on avian ecology and species dynamics would be a great project!).
A typical Manzanillo birding scene.
Every time I bird that area between Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo, I always drive home feeling like I barely scratched the surface. I never feel as if I have spent enough time birding in that seriously underbirded area and this past Sunday was no different. How I wish that I could have stayed for another few days or an entire week or even a month doing surveys to compare old cacao plantations and old growth forest. A weekend wasn’t enough but it sure made for some wonderful birding.
While visiting a few friends and past clients that are having fun with the birds and biodiversity around Manzanillo, we ran into a things like…
Kettles of Swallow-tailed Kites! None of us had seen 100 plus Swallow-tailed Kites circling in the sky together. I have seen fair sized flocks in Amazonia but none that were like this! They looked like a bunch of a giant, super fancy hirundines. Plumbeous Kites were also winging on past from time to time as were the first kettles of Turkey Vultures.
Great views of perched parrots and parakeets. Birding was excellent right around the small rented house where we were staying and included flyover and perched Mealy, Red-lored, Brown-hooded, White-crowned, and Blue-headed Parrots. We were hearing and seeing Mealys for much of the time and it was a pleasure getting close looks at the Blue-headeds.
Blue-headed Parrot- local in Costa Rica, very common from Panama on south.
Sort of a bad image of a feeding Brown-hooded Parrot and
a bad image of a White-crowned Parrot.
There were a fair number of hummingbirds around with Blue-chested being one of the most common. They were chip-chipping as they lekked in a bunch of places. Band-tailed Barbthroat was another one that we saw now and then and Liz found a nest!
We had good looks at Cinnamon and Chestnut-colored Woodpeckers (including one in town while eating lunch), saw one Rufous-winged, had many a Black-cheeked, and heard several Pale-billeds. Woodcreepers included Black-striped and Cocoa (both fairly common), and Wedge-billed, Northern Barred, and Streak-headed.
I think we would have seen more raptors with more time but in addition to the kites and two common vultures, we still logged King Vulture, Bat Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Double-toothed Kite, Broad-winged, Common Black, and Roadside Hawks, and heard a Collared Forest Falcon. Our best raptor came in the form of a young Semiplumbeous Hawk.
This Semiplumbeous Hawk was near the top of a 40 meter tree.
Even though it was calling, it was still really tough to find just because it was perched so high up! It was easy to see how its white underparts act as camouflage when perched up in a tall tree.
Toucans were pretty common and seen quite often, Pied Puffbird was espied, and we had several flycatchers including Yellow-olive and Yellow-margined, one Brown-capped Tyrannulet heard and two other choice feathered morsels from the Caribbean lowlands:
Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant and
Black-headed Tody Flycatcher.
The pygmy-tyrant is basically a feathered bug and the tody-flycatcher is actually a miniature yellow, white, and black mechanical cyber toy that lives in the canopy (still countable though). This makes seeing them a challenge but since they are such common species around Manzanillo, we eventually got fantastic looks at both of these little weirdies. It’s a good thing they like to call or they would still be (1) undiscovered or (2) mis-labeled as insects.
Another look at the smallest Passerine in the world (a title shared with the sister Short-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant of the Amazon).
We did a bit of night-birding on two occasions and saw nothing. We did, however, hear on the second night, Vermiculated Screech Owl, Crested Owl, Mottled Owl, Common Pauraque (which is kind of like the neotropical trash night bird), and Great Potoo in the span of half an hour! Spectacled Owl and Central American Pygmy-Owl were also heard on other nights. I’m sure Black and white Owl is there too, probably comes to street lights now and then.
Tanagers were pretty nice too with Tawny-crested being fairly common, Red-throated Ant tanagers calling from the forest, and some other common species seen near the house. Oh yeah, and we also saw a few Sulphur-rumped Tanagers near the house too. Ahem, I mean SULPHUR-RUMPED TANAGER (yee haw!). That was a long-awaited lifer for yours-truly and of course the most exciting bird of the trip. Very little is known about this bird other than the fact that it is a gray songbird with a yellow lower back and rump. Well, it also has white tufts on the upper flanks and that was its most obvious feature. I missed a very nice shot by a couple of seconds but the following photo still shows the field marks even though it’s not going to make it into any nature magazines.
Voila, my lifer Sulphur-rumped Tanager. This is a truly horrendous photo but it might help with identifying one of these uncommon birds if you get a bad look.
I almost forgot about trogons, wrens, and fruitcrows. None of these have anything in common, I just forgot about them. The three expected trogon species were fairly common (Gartered, Black-throated, and Slaty-tailed) and fun to watch, we heard (and mostly saw) 6 species of wrens, and had several Purple-throated Fruitcrows.
A female fruitcrow trying to pass as a Corvid.
On the non-bird front, the place was also great for frogs (we saw many litter frogs, poison dart frogs, and heard several other species), and we saw many Howler Monkeys and even had a few Spider Monkeys.
An arboreal Costa Rican Bigfoot? Spider Monkey? Or something else!
A golden Eyelash Viper- this is why you don’t put your hands on the vegetation (or cement posts).
Overall, the birding was just entertaining with near non-stop action. Like I always say, I wish I could bird there more often, especially during migration when it’s even crazier!