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admin on July 18th, 2018

Beauty might be in the eye of the beholder (maybe not this beholder…) but many of us Homo sapiens do lean towards bright and bold colors. A relict adaptation to pick ripe fruits? A side effect of having better vision than sense of smell? Or, maybe, way back in the African early days of humans, we were just all meant to be birders…

Whatever the explanations, we tend to ooh and ahh over breeding plumaged wood-warblers, the shiny, multi-colored feathers of tanagers, and other shades of the rainbow shown by our avian friends. Yes, because how many birders keep watching a House Sparrow or a cowbird when a male Blackburnian or American Redstart are within bino range? I think it’s Ok to accept that brightly colored birds look cool and there’s nothing wrong with ignoring sparrows or Chiffchaffs if something with yellow, green, or blue pops into view.

Nothing wrong with staring at the Halloween colors of the American Redstart… 

But a birder doesn’t have to look far to find some eye catching, colorful avian beauty. Many a common bird happens to be beautiful; just check out the subtle blues of a Blue Jay and know that non-North American birders seriously want to lay eyes on a Cardinal. The same goes for non-European birders who have never seen a Blue Tit. Before I birded in Europe, I couldn’t wait to see one of those little blue and yellow birds. I had known them from old illustrations and other works of art and from a field guide that I brought to France in the early 90s. After I walked off that train near Arles, it wasn’t long before I was finally admiring and ticking the common, beautiful blue and yellow chickadee. There they were, working a nearby riparian zone, and they were the colors of spring and summer wild flowers, the hues of a sunny April day. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Granted, they were lifers but one that is also a common garden species in many places.

In Costa Rica, we have our own set of common beautiful birds, species that are hard to miss and kind of irresistible. Although it’s impossible to pick just a few from a list of more than 900 species, these are more than a dozen of the common beauties that come to mind:

Hummingbirds– With several being common and easy to see, I couldn’t resist mentioning more than one. Check out feeders, gardens, and forest in middle elevation habitats and you will probably see a Violet Sabrewing or two.

Yes, this big purple hummingbird is actually common!

Take a walk in rainforest or just hang out in the hotel gardens in or near forest and you will probably see Crowned Woodnymph. Although the female doesn’t do much to impress, the purple and green male is a flying jewel.

One of the more numerous hummingbirds of rainforest habitats in Costa Rica.

Meanwhile, if the birding is limited to the vicinity of the hotel, you can bet that the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird will make itself known.

The most common hummingbird in the country. 

Gartered Trogon– I have finally become so used to referring to this species by its “new” name, I almost forgot that it used to be called the “Violaceous Trogon”. This multi-colored bird is also one of the more common trogon species in Costa Rica and can even be seen near the Central Valley in the Peace University area. Its penchant for forest edge also makes it fairly easy to see.

It’s especially odd to see one of these beauties perch on a roadside wire.

Turquoise-browed Motmot– Anything with “turquoise” in its name is going to be good and this exotic looking bird is no exception. Even better, it’s downright common in dry forest settings from the Carara area north to Nicaragua. Although, like other motmots, this species can also be reclusive during the sun and heat of the day, it’s pretty easy to find in the early morning and late afternoon. If you happen to be driving in their habitat at this time of day, don’t be surprised to see a few perched on roadside wires.

Check out the exotic beauty of this bird.

Keel-billed Toucan– Although I suspect that this rainbow-billed bird isn’t as common as it used to be, it’s still fairly easy to find in many places, especially in sites south of Limon and around Rincon de la Vieja.

Fancy and common.

Hoffmann’s Woodpecker– With their bold black and white patterns highlighted by stickpins of yellow, red, and gold, woodpeckers are commonly admired for their handsome appearance. Several in Costa Rica fit that description, including one of the easiest ones to the see, the Hoffmann’s Woodpecker.

Watch for this beautiful bird in the Central Valley, on the Pacific slope north of Jaco, and around Arenal. It even lives in the middle of the city.  

Crimson-fronted Parakeet– Several members of this famous family of birds occur in Costa Rica, most are fairly common, and all are easy on the eyes. But, if I had to pick just one, I go with this parakeet because it has become adapted to urban settings, even nesting on buildings in San Jose and roosting in the parks. If you notice some long-tailed parakeets screeching and flying over the traffic, you would be looking at Crimson-fronted Parakeets.

Masked Tityra– Although we never see lots of this one, it is fairly common and widespread. I have even seen them at fruiting trees in the Central Valley, the striking combination of white, black, and pink puts the Masked Tityra on the list.

Mangrove Swallow– I have always loved the colors of swallows, it stems back to seeing some of my first pictures of birds and marveling over the metallic colors of Tree Swallows, of Barn Swallows. Common, how can they be so beautiful? The Mangrove is no exception. A common bird of lowland rivers and other wetlands, this jade-backed bird will stay with your boat on the Tarcoles, Sarapiqui, and Sierpe Rivers.

Yellow-throated Euphonia– Reminiscent of the beauty shown by swallows, this pretty little bird also has a metallic iridescence on its upper parts. Watch for it in gardens of the Central Valley and much of the Pacific slope.

Or, visit the feeders at the Fortuna Nature Trail.

Collared Redstart– Head to the high elevations and you are likely to run into this stunning bird.

Scarlet-rumped Tanager– Now that the lump has taken effect, we can refer to this one by its classic, more accurate name! Visit the humid lowlands and you will see this striking common bird.

Just beautiful!

Golden-hooded Tanager– Common in humid lowland areas, as a bonus, this multi-colored bird also comes to feeders.

Its local name is “Seven Colors”.

Green Honeycreeper– Feeling down? Had a bad day? Watch this living gem to make your troubles go away. The Green Honeycreeper comes to feeders and is a common species of gardens and other habitats in humid regions of Costa Rica.

I can never get enough of this one…

Blue-gray Tanager– Last but not least, we can’t forget this very common yet beautiful bird. Another one to just gaze at while enjoying a fantastic locally grown coffee. And isn’t that one of the beautiful things in life?

I could stare at any of these birds for hours. Sometimes I do that while guiding around Poas and other sites. Do you want to see and photograph these and dozens of other beautiful birds in Costa Rica? I would be happy to take you to them. Contact me at information@birdingcraft.com

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Birding in Costa Rica now? If so, lucky you! It’s a good time to be raising the binos in the land of quetzals, hummingbirds, and friendly folks. Don’t worry about not birding during the birding ides of March because although there isn’t as much rain, the dry times come at the expense of braving a solar beat-down. In Costa Rica, since the third month is when Helios is at all of its tropical strength and splendor, I don’t recommend any degree of tanning, most birds don’t really dig the near equatorial UV rays either. Visit now and it might rain more often but the cloud cover does help to lower the temps and, even better, there’s more avian activity.

Steely-vented Hummingbirds might come out to play.

There are lots of birds to look for and watch, including many common ones. Some, are, in fact, cool. Although the “cool” label is subjective and transient for human stuff like movies, music, clothing, eateries, and places to be, it’s less ephemeral for birds. Not that we can compare organic chocolate or Arthur Fonzarelli or parachute pants or The Last Drago movie with real life feathered awesome things but since they are far more permanent than the trivialities of human culture, when a bird gets the “cool” label, it stays.

The Green-crowned Brilliant can be one cool character.

Speaking of cool labels, I look forward to the day when we have birding tech that shows our own personal read-outs for the birds we are looking at. The cool ones will have something like an embossed silver script that appears above them on our visor or our special scope glasses . It will say, “officially cool” or, customized versions of “cool” because since “cool” will still be subjective in the future, it will be up to birders to choose their own coolest birds because let’s face the truth, we can’t expect Larophiles to slap the cool label onto something as non gullish as a Brown Creeper or titmouse. And, how we say “cool” will also differ by region and age group. For example some Bostonians might feel more comfortable saying “wicked cool” for a Blackburnian in breeding plumage. Other folks might just say “awesome”, while yet others might prefer to refer to a bird as “MEGA”, “Triple F” (“fave feathered friend” or “fabulous feathered friend” ), or, in the case of future youngsters, “jelly” or “mantis” or “nova” because kids in the future will probably say those words instead of “cool”.

In any case, these are some of the birds in Costa Rica that would get the “cool” read out on my future birding visor, at least in my opinion:

Chachalaca…not! Sorry, this bird is not cool.

Sorry, although you do look more like one of your dinosaur ancestors than a Yellow Warbler, you just aren’t that cool. Ever since I saw a young chachalaca walk straight over the open flame of a candle in Peru and then ignore a Black Hawk-Eagle trying to snatch it on another day, I just feel too tempted to use the word “fool” instead of “cool” for members of the Ortalis clan.

Now for the real cool birds, the ones that would wear sunglasses and be kung-fu experts if they were human….

All eagles– Like obviously. I mean these birds could easily get away with wearing shades. They could almost lead biker gangs and get away with it. In Costa Rica, we got goshawkish terrors known as hawk-eagles, the rare giant black-hawk that goes by the cool name of “Solitary Eagle”, and of course, our pair of ultra rare monster favorites, the Crested Eagle and the ultimate in Neotropical cool, the legendary Harpy Eagle. A real rainforest A-Lister, much to our dismay, the Harpy would rather avoid the limelight that deal with the paparazzi. Same goes for the Crested, and as for the Solitary, well, it also just feels too cool to come out and have its picture taken. Not that we can blame the monster Buteogallus though because after all, it’s not called “Solitary” for nothing.

At least the super cool Ornate Hawk-Eagle is doing well in Costa Rica. We see this beautiful raptor at many sites.

Tiny Hawk– On the other end of the raptor spectrum, we have this ferocious, thrush-sized terror. Like a flying shrew, it snatches hummingbirds, honeycreepers, and even tanagers. Very cool!

Jabiru– It’s massive, it’s weird, it’s super cool, the one and only Jabiru. Biggest stork on this side of the planet, I gotta call it cool.

Great Green Macaw– To be honest, I’m not sure if this large in charge spectacular parrot is more “majestic” than “cool”. But, when it casually flies over and rends the humid air with prehistoric shrieks, it’s just too easy to imagine it with sunglasses.

Plus, when you see a pair of these fantastic bad boys, it’s all too easy to whisper, state, or exclaim, “cool”.

Bat Falcon– A cool looking hobby-like falcon that perches on exposed snags and even pylons, and then zips around to snatch swallows, parakeets, and bats. Based on those factors, this Neo Falco is a strong contender for being the coolest species in Costa Rica.

Laughing Falcon– Really, all falcons are cool but if I had to limit the choices to one or two birds, it’s hard to leave the “Guaco” off the list. I mean, this masked feathered bandit chokes down snakes! And, it has a loud maniacal laughing call often heard at dawn and dusk. It’s also fairly common, especially for being a raptor.


Great Potoo– Owl? Giant Nightjar? A creature of the night? Oh yeah, if any bird is, it’s the Great Potoo. This big, bug-eyed fluffy monster has one of the coolest calls of the deep tropical night.

White-tipped Sicklebill– All hummingbirds are cool for various reason, but with its bizarrely curved bill, this bird is one of the coolest.

Lesser Ground-Cuckoo– I give the cool label to this one because it has a heiroglyphic face and likes to creep around thick ground cover and give cool vocalizations.

Bare-crowned Antbird– Since all antbirds are automatically cool, it’s hard to pick just one. But, since this guy looks like a bird that might have flown out of a Tim Burton movie, this bald headed skulker ranks among the coolest.

Manakins– Most dance, some have super sonic wing snaps, and one even has moves like the late King of Pop. Very cool little birds, check out some Long-tailed Manakin action if you don’t believe me.

Yes, this bird moonwalks.

Royal Flycatcher– This big-headed, miniature Hammerkoppish flycatcher can spread the beautiful feathers of its crown and move its head back and forth like a snake. Although the display is a very rare sight, seeing one is always cool. I had a couple last week at Carara National Park and yes, seeing them was cool.

Three-wattled Bellbird– Bizarre, over the top, but cool. What isn’t cool about a bird the size of a pigeon that has wormy things hanging from its beak and makes super loud bonking sounds?

Wrenthrush– Nothing like birds that make you wonder what the heck they really are to be cool. That’s partly why birds like the Yellow-breasted Chat and the Wryneck are cool and why this one is especially cool. Not a wren. Not a thrush. Now, not even a wood-warbler. It’s all on its own and its the Wrenthrush, a sneaky bird that looks like a Tesia and is endemic to highland forests of Costa Rica and western Panama.

White-throated Shrike-Tanager– Yet another one with a confusing yet intriguing name and appearance, it has a few different cool things about it. The bird is a tanager yet acts sort of like a flycatcher. It has a shrike-like beak. The male sort of has oriole-like colors. And, other birds think its cool! They follow it around because it gives alarm calls to warn them of predators. Little do they know that it also gives those same alarm calls to make them hide so it can snatch some choice insect prey.

Yellow-thighed Finch– It’s always cool to see this endemic, arboreal towhee-like bird. And, best of all, it sports these little yellow puff ball things on its thighs that look unreal. A cool bird to watch and one that’s also common in highland forests.

Lots more birds around here are also cool, come to Costa Rica to decide which ones should receive your “cool” label. Keep in mind that some birds are more cute or regal than cool and might be why they didn’t make this list. Or, it might also just be that I think most birds are pretty cool and I had to stop at some point. Get ready for your trip and identify all birds in Costa Rica with the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app. You can also support this blog by purchasing “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” – more than 700 pages of information to find and identify birds in Costa Rica. Hope to see you here!

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Recently, I had the chance to test one of the newest innovations in birding wear. I’m still testing it and not because it really needs more testing but because I’m trying to see how it doesn’t function in Costa Rica. So far, the shirts have worked well while guiding and birding in warm, humid rainforest, and much cooler, wet conditions in the highlands. And, these shirts have more than passed the test.

That’s me on the right wearing a Wunderbird shirt during the first Coronado Bird Count, I’ll be writing a post about that pretty soon.

The birding wear I am referring to are shirts offered by Wunderbird, a fairly new company dedicated to “the birdwatching experience and to birdwatchers׳ needs.” Three types of shirts are offered and each has a cool name. There is “The Kestrel”, a short sleeve shirt, “The Peregrine”, a long-sleeve shirt, and “The Gyrfalcon”, a birding hoodie. Recently, I was contacted by the owner of the company to test Wunderbird shirts and write an honest review. Since most of my birding is done in warm, humid climates, I agreed to test the Kestrel and Peregrine shirts, and soon, I will also publish a review written by someone who has been testing the woman’s Kestrel.

Without further ado, here’s my take on the Wunderbird Kestrel and Peregrine:

Comfort- Big thumbs up

After putting both of these shirts on, the first thing I noticed was how “easy” it felt to wear them. Despite the front pockets (more like pouches) and padded shoulders, these features didn’t add any extra weight or discomfort, they fit so well, I almost felt like I was wearing nothing. And yet, they weren’t too tight either, fortunately, I had picked the correct size despite never having tried them on. This was no doubt because of Wunderbird’s sizing chart.

The pockets/pouches- Another thumbs up

While birding in both rainforest and cloud forest, I tried the upper pocket to see if it really did support my un-harnessed Swarovskis. Unzipping the pocket, I put the rather hefty binos in the pouch and was pleased to see that I no longer felt like a rock was hanging from my neck, something that obviously made them easier to carry. But what about taking them in and out of that upper pouch? In tropical forest, a quick draw is essential for seeing more birds because many are shy and have an innate capability to hide as soon as they perceive something, anything out of place. You have to react right away and get that bird into focus or risk frustration at missing lifers. As I encountered mixed flocks of tanagers, espied a Black-throated Trogon through a hole in the dense tropical vegetation, and noticed a Barred Hawk flying into view, I was pleased to see that the pouch didn’t hinder my chances at getting binoculars on birds. I should mention that this is especially important while guiding since you have to be “on point” at all times, see the bird, and get clients on it before it makes its exit.

Binos in the Kestrel pouch.

You may need a quick draw for birds like the Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow.

The lower pouch is even bigger than the upper one and that also came in handy. Although it barely seems like the pouch is there, I found it useful for my bluetooth speaker. I could have also placed a laser pointer in there, phone, or a notebook, and in fact, did use it for my iPad mini while visiting a site on the Caminos de Costa Rica trail. That said, I wouldn’t want to put too many things in the lower pocket because you would eventually feel the weight and perhaps too many things could eventually tear it? In any case, it works well for one or two objects, at least that’s how I will be using it in conjunction with a small pack to carry water, first aid, organic chocolate, and other important items.

Shoulder pads- Thumbs up

I admit that after putting the shirt on for the first time, I felt a bit funny about the shoulder pads. I wasn’t used to wearing shirts with such a feature (it’s been a while since the 80s), and sort of felt like I had put on a uniform. But, you can’t expect a pro birding shirt to look like some other random shirt used for other purposes, and I got used to it quicker than I expected in any case. Plus, the shoulder pads aren’t there for show. They serve a welcome purpose I can relate to because I have spent many a day lugging a scope around balanced on and biting into my shoulder. Now, I barely feel the heavy Manfrotto tripod, the pads definitely work in that regard.

Climate control- Also thumbs up

This was actually my biggest concern because my birding in Costa Rica often involves walking in warm, humid places. I don’t know it it’s because I spent my youth in the cold winters of Niagara Falls, NY, but whatever the reason, I need to stay cool in hot tropical conditions. While many locals feel just fine, I have to be careful about overheating and is why I was very pleased at the advent of moisture wicking fabrics and other clothing options that cool you down. Therefore, I was very happy to see that along those lines, the Wunderbird shirts work like a charm. Just as advertised, the fabric is breathable and has ventilation to keep me comfortable during hot, tropical birding conditions. Because of that, I was surprised to see that I felt just as comfortable in cool, wet cloud forest! I don’t know how it’s possible, but I felt just as comfortable in cool conditions as I did in hot weather and that’s a serious bonus. Of course if it gets too cold, you can always put something on over a Wunderbird shirt, or try the Gyrfalcon hoodie (and who wouldn’t want to wear something named after one of the coolest birds on the planet?).

More testing of the Peregrine at another highland site.

I’m still trying to figure out how these shirts don’t work around here, and haven’t had any success with that yet. I’ll just have to keep going birding in them and that’s alright because it’s almost too comfortable to not wear them.

Learn more about the features of Wunderbird shirts here, and see what others are saying about these pro birding shirts in their review section.

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Recently, the North American birding community had some exciting news. No, not the appearance of an Ivory Gull or super rare owl in someone’s backyard that then posed for a suite of photos taken by each and every birder that showed up. No, because that sort of thing is typically relegated to the realm of the birding dream. Oddly enough, the news in question doesn’t have anything to do with bird sightings yet it still acts as on of the more important and anticipated pieces of information of the birding year. This coveted publication becomes available to birders on an annual basis, and oh how the serious (aka obsessed) among us look forward to the news. Those of us who keep lists and are extra concerned about bird identification can’t wait to see the publication, the big news of the year, because it tells us whether or not we will be upping the life list with armchair ticks or subtracting from it by ways of the dreaded lump.

The Northern Emerald Toucanet was one of those sweet armchair ticks from a previous supplement.

As any birder in the know must have surmised, I’m talking about the AOU supplement to the checklist for the birds of North America. Although the checklist is already established, thanks to occasional species additions to the list (by way of adventurous or mal-adapted birds that fly in from Asia, Europe, or South America), and studies that assess and elucidate the evolutionary histories of everything from tyrant-flycatchers to foliage-gleaners and Yellow-rumped Warblers, changes to the list are inevitable and happen each and every year.

In Costa Rica, since our local national list almost always tracks changes made to the AOU list, we likewise need to keep up on the proposals for name changes, splits, and lumps that have been accepted. In 2018, thanks to a double lump and one split, many of us are going to be subtracting one bird from our Costa Rica lists. Ouch. This will affect Big Days totals! And lead to revisions of all field guides! But, on the plus side, we have one more species on the list, that of a regional endemic and one that I have been stressing the importance of seeing for some time because I was fairly certain that it was a separate species.

That brand newly recognized bird species is the Chiriqui Foliage-gleaner, the former excertus subspecies of the Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner restricted to humid forest habitats in southern Costa Rica and western Panama. As with many other taxa that turn out to better known as species, this one was recognized as perhaps being one by the people who first described it based on morphological differences. While we can’t see many differences in the field, detailed studies of the bird in the hand is another story and who knows what else the birds perceive? However, we do know that they don’t recognize the songs of Buff-throated Foliage-gleaners on the other side of the mountains and vice versa. That lack of song recognition coupled with large differences in DNA (6%) were enough to convince the checklist board to recognize the split. The next thing that comes to mind is whether or not the new species is threatened. Although it does need humid forests, since it can also occur in second growth and seems to be fairly common from the lowlands to lower middle elevations, the “C. Gleaner” doesn’t seem to be in trouble.

A Chiriqui Foliage-gleaner from Luna Lodge.

Now for those sad, hard knocks results for the lister, the lumps (and as with any lump, they tend to be painful).

After years of wondering which tanager with the red rump was a Passerini’s and which was a Cherrie’s while also wondering why the name just had to be changed from the perfectly descriptive Scarlet-rumped Tanager, lo and behold, these two are back to being the same species! The Scarlet-rumped Tanager is back in business in Costa Rica because of little genetic differences and equal recognition of each other’s songs. Nope, not enough time for enough divergence, no more need for Big Day worries about finding those Cherrie’s Tanagers in Carara.

The good old Scarlet-rumped Tanager.

The second lump concerns a wood-warbler and one that lives in a very limited area. Some years ago, DNA studies revealed the Masked Yellowthroat subspecies around San Vito to actually not be a Masked Yellowthroat after all. But, it stayed that way on the list because of the lack of additional studies to show what it really was. Now, after combining DNA studies and playback experiments, the special yellowthroat with the super small range in southern Costa Rica and adjacent Panama is listed as a subspecies of the Olive-crowned Yellowthroat. Since they sound and look quite similar and have very little genetic differences, even the most reluctant and die-hard of listers would have to admit that the birds are really the same biological species.

There was also one common name change. White-collared Seedeater is no more! Thanks to the elevation of West-Mexican birds to species rank (and with the cool name of Cinnamon-rumped Seedeater), the ones in Costa Rica are now known as Morelet’s Seedeater (Sporophila morelleti). If you have seen this bird north of Oaxaca, at least you can enjoy an armchair tick that sort of equalizes the removal of one of those lumped tanagers.

There were some other changes to scientific names and the splitting of the storm-petrels into two different families but I won’t talk more about that here. For more details, check out a summary of the supplement at the ABA blog, and the proposals for splitting and lumping the birds mentioned above. Now to get to work on updating birding apps for Costa Rica, Panama, and Belize.

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admin on June 21st, 2018

Planning a birding trip requires a suite of considerations. They take the form of questions like, ” Where do I spend most of my precious birding time? Where do I stay? Who do I go birding with? Do I bring the non-birding family? The non-birding partner, and if so, how can I get in those essential moments of birding AND make them count (!) and will I secretly hate myself or resent my partner because we didn’t bring the car to a screeching halt when that probable lifer Ferruginous Hawk flew over the highway in Colorado, when I didn’t spend more time peering into that bush to see what was making that unfamiliar song in the garrigue of southern France, when I neglected to scream “Stop the car!” when we cruised right on past a flock of lifer Marbled Godwits in Florida?” Obviously, to avoid such mental strain, you just need to take birding vacations with your own fine self or at least with other birders.

I have followed that birding rubric on most occasions and as so, have largely avoided the painful stress of missing birds that could be easily glassed far from home (except the godwits, that actually did happen, I was eighteen, I still remember it, and even though I have seen hundreds since then, it continues to be an uncomfortable memory. One of those semi-painful little regrets because it was damn important to stop for godwits and spoonbills and who knows what else was with them! Ouchness).

I see you now but it doesn’t change the fact that I wanted to see you back then near Fort Meyers, Florida. Will you ever forgive me, oh long-billed shorebird of the northern prairies? Can I forgive myself?

That said, other common concerns may include things like “Do I hire a guide? Do I bring the scope? Do I purchase a full-fledged birding app for Costa Rica or give it a go with Merlin? Will the lodges have coffee in the morning and if not, how do I get some? Maybe I should bring emergency dark chocolate…maybe caffeine bars..”

Extra cacao please, I do believe this helps with the birding…

Of the concerns, one of the most important is where to stay for the first night because this determines where you have that incipient, fantastic, eye-opening lifer introduction. For example, in Costa Rica, you might not want to stay in the middle of San Jose because if you do that, you will subject yourself to unnecessary bird deprivation. The flocks of Crimson-fronted Parakeets will be nice and the Clay-coloreds will be sort of exciting at first but why go that route when you can stay closer to the airport and put the bins on technicolor, crazy Lesson’s Motmot for goodness sake! Or a Steely-vented Hummingbird, or a Rufous-breasted Wren, even a Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, and a real chance at that smart new endemic ground-sparrow thing?

Crazy beautiful bird and it lives in gardens in the Central Valley. My lifer was years ago perched on a picnic table. That was sort of mind-blowing and kind of Alice in Wonderlandish. Like, is that exotic blue and green bird with the red eye and long pendulum tail actually sitting on a picnic table? Pinch pinch, yes it is!

But where does such an intriguing place with motmots and the rest occur? Well guess what? Just outside of Alajuela and that means super close to the aiport! Check out Villa San Ignacio. Formerly known as the Hotel Orquideas, the new Villa offers up the same benefits of proximity to the airport, good service, and birdy habitat along with the additional advantages of new spacious rooms, refurbished grounds, and a downright delicious menu. I was there last weekend for our annual Birding Club of Costa Rica meeting and man was I impressed! The place was so green, replete with big trees, and inviting, I just felt like mindlessly wandering around the gardens for a couple of hours while listening to the ringing songs of Rufous-breasted Wrens, rattles of Hoffmann’s Woodpeckers, and the hoots of motmots. How could you not want that experience?

The Hoffamann’s is one of those snazzy zebra-backed Melanerpes. 

Some Villa gardens.

All of those singing birds were there and some. Since the place backs up to a forested riparian zone and patchwork of fields and woodlots, I dare say many other birds are also possible, at least for the Central Valley. AND, since this site is a bit lower in elevation, you can also see dry forest species like the Olive Sparrow, Streaked Flycatcher, and one of those flycatchers with an uncomfortably long name, the Northern Beardless Tyrannulet.  Speaking of said incognito, does it shave or is it just permanently baby-faced? Might as well change its name to Northern Baby-faced Tyrannulet, or Baby-faced Tyrannulet of the North, or, “Nibit” as that would encapsulate both small size and seemingly insignificant nature of the flycatcher that pretends to be a vireo that got Frankensteined with an Owl World Warbler.

Frankensteins come in many forms.

Whether you feel like pondering over the dull appearance of the Nibit or not, Villa San Ignacio is a very good contender for being the ideal place to start and stop a birding trip to Costa Rica. I plan on using it for tours and yes, it does indeed have the endemic ground-sparrow thingy! Want to stay there? Send me an email at information@birdingcraft.com  Want some guiding from there to explore highland birding a short drive up the mountain?- information@birdingcraft.com

The ground-sparrow thingy- reminiscent of a clown except not scary.

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Many a road in Costa Rica leads to great destinations for birding. Given this country’s small size and abundance and variety of avian life, that’s pretty much inevitable. Nevertheless, if you don’t have a whole lot of time to work with, or, most likely, just don’t feel like messing around with seeing museums, golfing, or lounging around the hotel when there are multiple lifers to be had, a birder can’t help but want to see those birds and like, well, now!

Much to the fortune of every type of birder, there is one easy and relatively quick route that can be taken straight to the heart of local endemism in Costa Rica. Of the two principle avian endemic regions in this nation of birds and smiles, the highlands are within sight and easy reach from the Central Valley. That valley would be the one with all the houses, buildings, and vehicles, the one that you fly in to, and the one that every birder would rather exit as soon after arrival as possible. Although you could zip on down to the coast and see Scarlet Macaws and several regional endemics among myriads of other birds, I’ll be writing about that other endemic bird area in another post. For now, likely inspired by a fine day of guiding in the nearby highlands yesterday, I’ll be talking about the route that goes from the populated Central Valley to the highlands of Poas and on over to the wetter forests of the Caribbean slope.

The road in question is route 126, a name that will actually make no sense whatsoever due to the general lack of road signs in Costa Rica but that is the official name. If I were going to give it a name, I guess I might call it, “Endemic Bird Way Numero Uno”, or maybe, “Via Endemica”. Yeah, I like the sound of that latter one. “Via Endemica” it shall be as that gives a fair description of what can be found along the curves and dips of this birdy way. There are a few main means to access it, but as long as you eventually find yourself in Varablanca, you will be on the right birding track. Personally, I prefer the route that passes through Los Cartagos because this is closer to my house but if I were coming from the airport, I would take the route through Fraijanes. However, before letting Waze guide you up the flanks of the volcano, I suggest making another, very important stop first, one to look for Costa Rica’s latest endemic bird.

Although it’s been here much longer than Homo sapiens, we didn’t recognize the Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow for being the full species that it is until Tico ornithologist Luis Sandoval did the work to show that this distant relative of the Canyon Towhee does indeed only belong to Costa Rica. This means that you really don’t want to go home without seeing one, especially because it’s a fancy little bird!

I’m so fancy!

Like a sparrow that decided to go clown, it shows its colors in the coffee fields and whatever remaining habitats it can find in the Central Valley. Since it’s probably endangered, yeah, you might want to see it even more. Look for it in coffee fields at various sites, or just hire me to show this and a hundred other birds during a day on the Via Endemica.

Like Prong-billed Barbet…

After hopefully laying eyes on this beautiful little skulker, ascending the Via Endemica leads to an increasingly higher percentage of near endemics (“near” because the only other place where they occur is western Panama). Since they actually live in an area smaller than New Jersey, I think I’ll just refer to these special birds as “endemic”. Although you could run into Scintillant Hummingbird and a couple other endemics on the drive up, most are birds of the cloud forests. Bird any forest in the Poas area and you have a chance at seeing everything from the lovely little Flame-throated Warbler to the one and only blue-faced bird with the ruby eyes, the Black Guan. Throw the mega Resplendent Quetzal into the mix and we are talking about some seriously satisfying birding.

Heading over to Varablanca, you might catch more highland endemics while buying a coffee or snacks in one of the stores at the crossroads to the lowlands. That would be the spot where the gas (petrol) station is situated. Seriously, keep an eye out, I have seen a lot of nice birds right there including Yellow-bellied Siskin, silky-flycatchers, and Golden-browed Chlorophonia among others. There might not be as many now that some of the habitat has been cleared (destroyed) but incidental singing Collared Redstart and Flame-colored Tanager from the parking lot last week was a reminder that some are still around.

The redstart is one pretty little bird.

As we descend to lower elevations, we reach more territories of Dark Pewee, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, and other endemics including Sooty-faced Finch at the waterfall. Keep going and we eventually reach the middle elevations and foothill zone of Cinchona and Virgen del Socorro. Although the percentage of endemic birds decreases by this point, the birding can still produce a fine mix of subtropical species along with major endemic goodies like Blue-and-gold Tanager, Lattice-tailed Trogon, and maybe even Black-breasted Wood-Quail or Red-fronted Parrotlet.

And if you just want to hang with some hummingbird action, this is also found on the Via Endemica at the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, the Cafe Colibri (now known as the Mirador Catarata San Fernando), and maybe one or two other sites. Yesterday, the endemic Coppery-headed Emerald was the most frequent hummingbird at feeders also frequented by the tiny Green Thorntail, the hulking amethyst and white Violet Sabrewing, and the Easter candy colored White-bellied Mountain-gem.

As usual, Green-crowned Brilliants were also present. This one flashed its headlights at just the right moment.

It reminds me of Easter, maybe it’s the jelly beans.

Although the Via Endemica offers all of these species and more, a birder still has to know where and how to look for them. Need some help in birding the Via Endemica? Send me an email at information@birdingcraft.com.

List of 52 endemic and near endemic birds possible on this route (including the road to Poas and side roads from Route 126), I see the ones with an “x” on a regular basis, the ones with an “r” are rare and/or tricky to see but I have had all of these species at one time or another on the Via Endemica:

Black Guan x

Black-breasted Wood-Quail r

Chiriqui Quail-Dove r

Buff-fronted Quail-Dove r

Purplish-backed Quail-Dove r

Bare-shanked Screech-Owl x

Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl r

Dusky Nightjar r

Purple-throated Mountain-gem

White-bellied Mountain-gem

Fiery-throated Hummingbird

Talamanca Hummingbird

Coppery-headed Emerald

Steely-vented Hummingbird

Magenta-throated Woodstar

Scintillant Hummingbird

Volcano Hummingbird

Lattice-tailed Trogon r

Prong-billed Barbet

Northern Emerald Toucanet (Blue-throated subspecies often considered a separate species)

Red-fronted Parrotlet r

Ruddy Treerunner

Streak-breasted Treehunter

Buffy Tuftedcheek

Silvery-fronted Tapaculo

Black-capped Flycatcher

Golden-bellied Flycatcher

Dark Pewee

Yellow-winged Vireo

Ochraceous Wren

Black-faced Solitaire

Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush

Sooty Thrush

Black-and-yellow Silky-Flycatcher

Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher

Golden-browed Chlorophonia

Tawny-capped Euphonia

Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow r

Large-footed Finch

Yellow-thighed Finch

Sooty-capped Chlorospingus

Sooty-faced Finch


Collared Redstart

Black-cheeked Warbler

Flame-throated Warbler

Costa Rican Warbler

Olive-crowned Yellowthroat

Black-thighed Grosbeak

Black-and-yellow Tanager

Blue-and-gold Tanager

Slaty Flowerpiercer

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Travel to any new place is a step into the unknown. No matter how many images, videos, or blog posts we read, we really don’t know what the full experience will entail until we arrive and even then, not until we exit the airport because the waiting places for plane travel are pretty much in their own, separate universe; one replete with lines, over-priced meals, and fair deals on booze. Walk through those exit doors, though, and you begin to get the real country deal. I still recall the first time I walked onto Costa Rican soil, my first “real deal” of Tiquica. It was the early 90s, and tourism was just getting started. The airport was older, hotter, and felt like a trip back into the 70s, back in the days when rough carpets ruled. When we walked to the exit doors, the dozens of waiting relatives with faces against the glass made us feel uncomfortably famous, a sudden unwanted fame that was quickly ratcheted up a notch when we were met by a milling and stewing of porters and taxi drivers, all chattering at us in Spanish, all at once.

“This is different” I thought, while then also realizing that the air was much more humid and smelled different than home. Not bad, just different scents, tropical ones that hinted at a greater abundance of life. Upon leaving the airport in one of those taxis, the new sights and sounds continued by way of what seemed to be madhouse driving, yellowish street lamps, semi-suicidal motorcycles, and a great desire to get off the road and to our destination ASAP! Since it was night, the birds would have to wait but only until the following morning, and when that sun came up, it was indeed glorious! Common backyard birds were all lifers and included Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, screeching flocks of Crimson-fronted Parakeets, Great Kiskadees, Grayish Saltator, Rufous-collared Sparrow, and more!

Crimson-fronted Parakeets are urban birds in many parts of Costa Rica.

It was all new. It was fantastic. Although I had studied that Stiles and Skutch book like one of life’s required manuals, the real experience was of course much broader and overwhelming. Until we work with custom generated, virtual reality hallucinations, it always will be, and even then, I bet it would take a while before the simulation matched the real thing (Will we experience holodeck birding someday? Do we even want to?). Even if or when holodeck travel is available, those of us in the travel and tourism thing will surely continue to write about and share media associated with our favorite destinations. We want others to know what it’s like because we loved the experience, we want our friends and like-minded people to have those same feelings of excitement, happiness, and fulfillment. Nor do we want people to get into any unexpected, awful situations. Travel writers hope that visitors to Costa Rica, Bali, or the modern version of Nikaia will weed out the misconceptions and that’s pretty much why I am writing this particular blog. These are some of the misconceptions about Costa Rica applicable to a birding trip:

You can’t bird during the low season

Ha! As every enlightened birder knows, we can damn well bird wherever and whenever we please! Although I imagine a barbarian birder from ancient Gaul saying something along those lines, it’s something that every modern day birder should also take to heart. Walking through a big city? As the Urban Birder says, “Look up!” Watching a baseball game? Yes, you indeed can watch those gulls fly overhead. Inauguration? Wedding? Funeral? Who says you can’t mentally note the mechanical trill of a Chipping Sparrow or imagine flying up there with the nighthawks?

Sometimes, when you look up in Costa Rica, that “Black Vulture” turns into a Barred Hawk.

The same goes for birding in Costa Rica during the green season. Yeah, it’s more green and the birds love it, you will too! I am reminded of this daily when the Piratic Flycatchers and Yellow-green Vireos compete with each other over who can sing the most. When a Short-tailed Hawk calls high overhead as I walk into the backyard, when a mixed flock of tanagers, woodcreepers, and other birdies blast through the rainforest. You can indeed bird in Costa Rica during the low season and you will love it. I know I do.

It rains all the time

Um, no it does not. Despite now being the official rainy season, it didn’t today. It was cloudy and it rained in some places at different times but since that’s just the type of weather that brings out the birds, yeah, now might be when you want to be here!

There are too many bugs

Once again, nope! While there are some mosquitoes here and there and more in wetlands, it is not even close to the summer mosquito madness up north. Nothing like it, don’t worry, just use some repellent. There are more of other types of insects though and since they make it possible to see more birds and also look cool, that is a good thing.

The Helicopter Damselfly is one of those cool bugs.

Woodcreepers are impossible to identify

If they were, we would just have one of them and it would be called, “The Woodcreeper”. But, since we have a bunch that can all be readily identified, and we don’t live in Great Britain, we have several woodcreeper species, each with its own rightful name. And, yes you can identify them as long as you get a good look at the head and bill. In some parts of the Amazon, well, then you can pull your hair out, but in Costa Rica, with a bit of study and practice, or of course your own experienced birding guide, all of them can be identified.

Bird lists show which species will be seen

Well….yes and no. The problem with some bird lists is when they show species that used to occur, have mistakes, or don’t mention that the Crested Eagle on the list won’t be likely to make an appearance. Some lists are much more accurate but even then, you have to realize that some of those birds might be seasonal, they might be elsewhere at the moment, might only occur in one or two parts of the reserve, and that many are naturally rare species and thus easily missed during a few hours or even two days of intense birding. Yet another good reason for hiring an experienced local guide.

There is a good chance that you will see the beautiful Violet-headed Hummingbird.

You will see every bird

Experienced birders know that this is very rarely the case but no matter how long one has been peering at birds, it’s still a good thing to keep in mind. While Costa Rica does host a huge number of bird species, the price we pay for that biodiversity is lower numbers of individuals per species. In other words, a fair percentage of birds occur at naturally low densities and to make things that much more tricky, most are not uniformly distributed. Add lack of habitat resulting in even lower numbers of some species to the mix along with a dash of limited time and you have to take what you can get. But, that doesn’t mean you won’t see lots of new birds. Quite contrary! Focus on birding with a guide and you will see a lot, just probably not every single species.

You might see a Prong-billed Barbet.

eBird Hotspots

Always remember that there are no real criteria for naming eBird hotspots in Costa Rica. Since almost the whole country is sort of a birding hotspot, it kind of doesn’t matter but I have to mention it so you don’t think that you have to limit birding to so-called hotspots. Any site with quality habitat is going to be good, the more mature forest, the better.

Short Distances=Quick Travel

I have seen several people plan trips in Costa Rica that include far too much driving. The distances beguile. We look at an online map and think, “Hey, that’s pretty close, I can do that!” The only problem is that while crossing the mountains would be super close and fast if we could just soar right on over there in a straight line like a frigatebird, cars don’t have that capability. Instead, you will always be in for slow, curvy roads shared with even slower boxy trucks that can easily drive you mad and almost make you wish you had a disintegration ray. Oh yeah and then there are the Central Valley traffic jams during the dreaded hours of 6 to 9 and again from around 3 to 6. Keep that in mind when making plans for a birding trip in Costa Rica!

The whole country is a paradise for birds

Not exactly. There are a lot of fantastic birding sites within a small area but those open fields with ruminating cows, rows of bananas, and poisoned lands covered in pineapples….not so much. Find the forest, though, and that’s where most will be.

Are you coming to Costa Rica? I hope so, the birding really is wonderful, it’s easy to do even on your own, and the place is much closer and accessible to Canada and much of the USA than a lot of folks realize. Contact me at information@birdingcraft.com to help plan you trip. I hope to see you here!

Support this blog and give yourself a wealth of birding information for Costa Rica by purchasing my 700 plus page e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica. 

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admin on May 30th, 2018

The high season for birding in Costa Rica has definitely come to its end. As with every year, it’s as if the birds track the people who come to see them when they fly back north to breed in the same woodlands and wild areas where those same people go birding. Bird a stream in the eastern USA and that Louisiana Waterthrush may have shared waters with an American Dipper during winter in the Dota Valley. Hear the “sweet, sweet, sweet” song of the golden swamp warbler and that Prothonotary may have been watched by birders peering into mangroves on the Tarcoles River.

For the most part, the multitudes of Baltimore Orioles, Golden-winged Warblers (not a glitch, a lot winter in Costa Rica), Black-throated Greens, and other birds that nest far to the north head back to the breeding grounds in April. No doubt, some of those beauties photographed on the Texas coast and then on the southern shores of Lake Erie were wintering it up in Tiquicia. But they have gone back now and so have most birders. It’s because of the rains but to be honest, it’s not that bad and really, if you visit now, it might be easier to see the cool resident species you come here for because they are singing more and more active in the frequently cloudy weather. Since it’s the off season, you also have a good chance of finding good deals on hotels and more. Have some free time? Want to get busy with views of Red-headed Barbets, a couple dozen hummingbirds, macaws, and more? It’s a great time to visit Costa Rica! Email me at information@birdingcraft.com, I’ll set up the perfect trip.

With that in mind, until more birders can be convinced to come on down for awesome birding in Costa Rica these months, I will have a lot more time to do other things, especially writing. I am thinking of updating my bird finding e-book (if I do and you bought the first version, email me at information@birdingcraft.com, I will sell you the updated version at half price), and will be writing more about birds and travel in Costa Rica and elsewhere.

But now, how about some birding news for May and June:

Tadoussac– It’s a place in Quebec and if you are a birder, you likely already know about this news bite! If not, well, let’s just say that some very lucky birders had what just might be the best birding day that anyone could imagine.

Seriously, this one is going down in birding history.

Unless someone documents the continued existence of Ivory-billed Woodpecker and Bachman’s Warbler in the same day, seeing more than 700,000 warblers flying overhead, behind, and right past the noses in a single day is a tough one to beat. Yeah, that’s right, that many. Really. A few thousand would still be amazing but 700,000? I’m not sure what to call that except absolute pandemonium cerebral birding overload. I mean holy bird count Batman! That’s waaaay out of control!!! The connection to Costa Rica with this one is that some of those birds probably wintered or at least migrated through these parts. Then, they went north and somehow ended up joining thousands of other warblers for a crazy warbler convoy/fest in Tadoussac. Check out the list, the numbers are real and the comments are inspiration for the best of birding dreams.

Thousands of Cape-mays were seen. We are lucky to get a few in Costa Rica each winter. I was happy to see this one at the Arenal Observatory Lodge.

The petrel– Just to add a little more improbability to the mix, around the same date, one of Brian Patteson’s famed pelagic trips out of North Carolina found and photographed what appears to be a Tahiti Petrel. Not only new for that area, how about new for the whole damn Atlantic Ocean!!! I still need this cool wave wanderer. If I took a pelagic far off shore in Costa Rica, I might see one. Friends of mine have and during the month of May too.

But how about some news a bit more local in nature?

Bare-necked Umbrellabird and Oilbird around Monteverde– A male was seen displaying at Curi-Cancha recently. Will it stay? Hopefully, and hopefully with more of its wonderful, endangered kin. As for the Oilbird, it’s early for one to show but that’s alright, we will take it! Hopefully, this is a sign that more Oilbirds will be coming to the montane forests of Costa Rica the next couple of months.

Unspotted Saw-whet Owl tracked, seen, and videoed– Thanks to the good, hard-working folks of Get Your Birds!, not only are they heading up a project to assess the endemic Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow and doing 300 species plus big days. They are also running around with Unspotted Saw-whets at night! These guys are hard core. I mean, it’s cold up there in the middle of the high elevation night, and they have managed to put a locator on one of these much wanted cute montane owls and have been following it. And, for all of our entertainment, a video was also made by birding guide Jose Pablo Castillo of one eating a small rodent. Enjoy!:

More bird counts– It’s really cool to see more local bird counts taking place. Not only are these events a fun way to share birds with other like-minded binocular wielding folks, but they also provide valuable data about local bird populations. This weekend, one will be taking place at Esquinas Lodge. I was going to attend but much to my dismay, had to drop out at the last moment because of sudden changes in my work situation that couldn’t be altered. I felt terrible to email that notification to the organizer and can only hope to make it up to him some day.

In June, a count at an excellent site in Coronado known as “Locos por el Bosque” will be taking place. I plan on attending and sure hope so because it coincides with my birthday. No better way to celebrate it than watching birds, especially with the best of people.

Will we see a quetzal? I hope one like this.

Bogarin Trail is Rocking– This home grown site is always good but lately, it’s been rocking the birding house. One day, someone posted a video of a Uniform Crake right out in the open. You know, just waltzing around like a mini wood-rail. Um, that’s insane. As many who have tried can attest, this is one of those “special” little birds that are easy to hear but mostly invisible. If you get lucky with the crake, you might also get lucky with roosting Black-and-white Owl, and these days, watch an Agami Heron that has been hanging there! Yes, one of the world’s original skulking herons has been joining the bird gang at Bogarin’s. Thank you Geovanni for making this avian oasis happen!!!

Birds at the Fortuna Nature Trail.

Updates to the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app– Back on the home front, new images have been included in a recent update to this digital field guide. One of the apps I work on, this update includes images of tough birds like Blue Seedeater, Ruddy Foliage-gleaner, and the elusive Silvery-throated Jay among other additions. There are also additional images from one of the country’s top bird photographers, Randall Ortega Chaves.

That’s it for now, I hope to see you in Costa Rica!

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admin on May 22nd, 2018

Not all birds are common. It’s not long after opening our first field guide that we discover this punch in the gut fact (Ivory-billed Woodpecker! Wow, what a…bird…that I can’t see.) In North America, the elevator/bipolar feelings of up and down can also occur after become aware of the majestic Whooping Crane, or maybe the way too range restricted Kirtland’s Warbler, or that smart beauty of the Texas hill country, the Golden-cheeked Warbler. In Europe, it depends on where you plan on birding but the feelings of discovery and angst tend to happen after reading about the Aquatic Warbler, or maybe gazing at illustrations of the White-backed Woodpecker. Be prepared to scream and/or cry after reading about the Slender-billed Curlew though. Or, just smashing something, you might opt for killing your television.

In Costa Rica, we also have our share of rare birds. I guess that would be a given for any country with a list of over 900 species. Some just gotta be rare, I mean, there’s only so much room for so many birds, right? Yeah, that is part of the equation and with drier conditions resulting in decreased productivity in forest ecosystems where everything seems to compete with everything else for food, sadly, many a bird seems to be even rarer than just ten years ago. Time to smash yet another appliance or instrument or whatever in frustration.

However, some species have always been on the uncommon side of the birding coin even in the best of habitats. Whether because they are too picky, require equally rare ecological circumstances, or are no longer privy to the types of habitat they require, those choice, less adapted species are far and few between. Each bioregion in this small country has its short list of rare birds, it’s no coincidence that they tend to be the ones that get missed during short visits to Costa Rica. Although most highland species are fairly common, there are a handful of cool birds that can be a true, honest pain to see. These come to mind:

Maroon-chested Ground-Dove

Also known as “the ground-dove” because it’s the one that so many world birders always hope to see and never do. Also one of the closest things we have in Costa Rica to a bleeding-heart (if you don’t know, just search for “bleeding heart dove” but be aware that you may need some self restraint so as not to buy plane tickets to the Philippines). It might not actually be as fancy as one of those amazing bleeding heart doves but our’s is special nonetheless. In fact, so special and tough to see that it might be the official antithesis to the Rock Pigeon. The birds are up there, somewhere in the mountains, but they don’t seem to be common and may prefer hiding in dense cover most of the time. The best way to see this widely distributed mega is to watch for it at bamboo seeding events (I got my lifer this way on Chirripo Mountain, and saw a bunch!), or, better yet, learn the vocalization and listen and watch for it at the edges of forest and riparian zones above 2,000 meters on the way up to Irazu Volcano.

Man were we pleased to see this one!

Unspotted Saw-whet Owl

Thanks to the efforts of Ernesto Carman, we know much more about the habits of this elusive bird of the night but seeing it continues to be a perennial challenge. Unlike its northern cousin, this equally adorable owl doesn’t migrate and thus can’t be found with painstaking searches in coconut palms. Pairs occur here and there at high elevations but you have to venture into the cold dark night to maybe, just maybe find one. Like so many other owls, this small species is likewise unreliable. In other words, just because it is calling and easy to see one night doesn’t translate to a repeat performance the following eight o’clock dark. All you can do is try but at least the more time you spend listening and looking, the better your chances. Because of that test of patience and ability to withstand the cold, if you really need to see this one, you might want to dedicate an entire night to looking for it. Bring the flashlights/torches, warm clothing, and spirits to sites above 2,200 meters on Irazu, Turrialba (when it’s not erupting), and the high elevations of the Talamancas. It’s up to you if you want to enjoy your drink before or after seeing this minute mega. Don’t feel bad about opting for before, it might stave off the cold and make up for hours of not hearing a peep.

Look in places like this.

Ochraceous Pewee

This flycatcher is sort of enigmatic because unlike so many other regional endemics, it’s not common and is a real royal pain to lay eyes on. It masquerades as a hefty Tufted Flycatcher and since they can be seen in the same areas, you have to be careful with identification. It really likes the high spots, like 2,500 meters of higher, and can show up in many a high elevation forested site, it’s just rare! It might not vocalize so much either, maybe because it’s always hunched down and feeling cold, who knows. Watch for it at sites like Paraiso de Quetzales and the upper Dota Valley.

Silvery-throated Jay

Ooh, as senor Mars might say, “A straight up masterpiece”…well, of a jay that is. Smallish, dressed in the dark shades of a deep night, and preferring gnarled, mature oak forests that eat the light of the sun, this choice bird is nothing but Gothic. Tropical Gothic I suppose. As in Sisters of Mercy Gothic…maybe. The pale throat and eyebrow are its mother of pearl and silver jewelry, the feathers a dark, deep midnight blue cloak. Watch for it in large tracts of mature high elevation forest in the Talamancas. Like the Roble Trail at Savegre, or the trails at Georgina, or roads that lead to Providencia. But, don’t be surprised if you don’t find them during a day of birding. They seem to be genuinely scarce and may require several days of searching, or maybe reading some Edgar Allen Poe or the Dark Tower series on a misty day while seated under a massive old growth oak. If that strategy doesn’t happen to bring in the jays, the day is always magic when a good read is accompanied by the beautiful natural flutes of Black-faced Solitaires, nightingale-thrushes, and ancient oaks caressed by cold mist. Rare magic, especially when those jays finally do appear.

Tropical Gothic Corvid Magic. 

Slaty Finch

Not all finches are created equal. In the case of the Slaty Finch, it sits down there on the lower end of the dull spectrum. But, instead of looking like a techinicolor Gouldian Finch, it garners appeal by just being plain rare. Or not, I mean let’s face it, the bird sort of looks like an extra dull junco. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t want to be seen? Well, you might be better off not wanting to see it because, unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you can do to find it other than listening for its seriously high-pitched song at bamboo seeding events. Whether around bamboo or not, keep an eye out for any dull plumaged birds foraging on the ground. They might be this one. Hope to get lucky with this finch at any high elevation site. If not, just smile at the beauty of Flame-throated Warblers and Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers.

This, believe it or not, is a Slaty Finch.

This, is a Flame-throated Warbler. Take your pick.

Blue Seedeater

Vying with the Slaty for the “dullest rare finch in Costa Rica” prize, the Blue Seedeater is another bird more frequently seen at seeding bamboo and hardly ever encountered otherwise. Usually in pairs, listen for its Passerina bunting-like vocalizations (as in the Indigo variety) in cloud forest, even riparian zones on the upper slopes of the Central Valley. Lately, one reliable spot has been sites with bamboo up above Coronado.

But what about quail-doves, Highland Tinamou, some of the other birds less frequently encountered? Although those choice gems also present frequent challenges to being found in your focused field of view, they still aren’t as tough as the aforementioned species. To learn about the best places to see birds and Costa Rica along with 700 pages of tips for finding and identifying them, support this blog by purchasing my e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

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The big day has come and gone. The preparations were many, the anticipation higher than the heights of Mount Chirripo, and the camaraderie exemplary. And, best of all, it didn’t pour down rain the entire time. Much better than any wedding, I’m talking about Global Big Day, 2018. Known as “GBD” in these here parts, birders in Costa Rica got seriously on board with this worldwide birding event and ended up rocking the birding house. Through weeks of planning, organization, and focused birding, we collectively identified more than 680 species; a new record for Costa Rica!

Although stories are still coming in, these were some of the other highlights:

Tee-shirts– One or more teams actually had tee-shirts made for their team! I love this because I love birding tee-shirts. Next time, I’m getting a tee-shirt too, maybe one that shows a GBD trifecta of organic chocolate, pizza, and a Yellow-billed Cotinga. Well, on second thought, no, I’m pretty sure any other team mates would not really go for that, I’ll have to discuss the design with whomever does GBD 2019 with me.

Yellow-billed Cotinga, the ones we saw were white specks in the distance that eventually took flight.

The Whatsapp group The communication among birders via telephone messaging was vital for the organization and promotion of this wonderful day of birding. Honestly, without it, I don’t think we would have done nearly as well. Nor could people have shared images of their teams, birds, or sightings in real time. The only downside was having to turn down the notification thing on my phone so I could get in a few hours of necessary sleep before commencing GBD 2018.

Lots of rare birds– So many people in the field, all out there looking for certain birds, paid off with the likes of elusive species like Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, Lanceolated Monklet, Sharpbill, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, our Yellow-billed Cotinga, crakes, rails, Long-tailed Woodcreeper, and more! It shows what you can find when you have so many people out there looking for birds, all on the same day. Hopefully, next year, we can get even more people watching and improve the organization to see if we can even locate the likes of mega tough ones like Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, Speckled Mourner, and Tawny-faced Quail.

Carara and Cerro Lodge– After many calculations concerning logistics and birding possibilities, it seemed like starting in this area would result in the greatest number of species. I have come to that conclusion before and have started Big Days there in the past but I was never able to maximize the number of species by 11 or noon and thus never came out of there with as many birds as I had expected. This time, though, instead of beginning the birding at the edge of Carara, I opted to greet dawn on the Cerro Lodge road, continue around Tarcoles, enter the forests of the national park at 8, and follow that up with birding near the Pura Vida Gardens. This route gives access to a wicked birdy combination of habitats including dry forest, high quality lowland forest, a riparian zone, wetlands, coastal habitats, mangroves, and open areas. Most of all, it allows for quick coverage of dry forest species at an optimal time without sacrificing rainforest species. The strategy worked out because without actually going crazy in looking for every bird, and sans scouting, we still managed 187 species before noon. With scouting, better strategies, and better timing, we might have hit 200. That would probably be a given when winter birds are present.

Carara- the bird zone.

Constant bird song– This was of great help throughout the day. Perhaps also because of cloudy weather, birds were singing all day long and this of course greatly facilitated the count, especially inside the forests of Carara as species like Eye-ringed Flatbill, Rufous Piha, Streak-chested Antpitta, and other birds of the shaded woods vocalized one after another to make it onto our GBD list.

A tame Great Tinamou– It’s always nice to run into one of those ultra tame tinamous at Carara. This happened a couple of times during GBD, one of them almost refusing to walk off the trail!

It was hard to resist the urge to try and pet this one on its funny head.

Beautiful Baird’s Trogon– After doing most of the back trail, I wondered if we would miss this key species. Shortly after that thought, one began to call, and not longer after, we were admiring a pair at close range!


That Lesser Nighthawk that flew around in the morning– I like this memory because since we arrived after dawn, I thought we had missed this nightjar. Fortunately, while scanning for shorebirds at the beach, my team mate noticed a Lesser Nighthawk zipping around the dunes, and there it was, in perfect light, fluttering around in plain sight as waves crashed behind it, and much better looks than of the ones that fly into the dusky reaches of the evening sky.

It was GBD. It was good. It was an incredible bird-filled day because despite starting later than expected, and leaving out the bird-rich middle and foothill elevations of Socorro (after cold rains on Poas Volcano convinced us to end it earlier than expected), we still managed to identify 225 species. That’s without going crazy and more or less sleeping in until 3:30 a.m.! How was your GBD? Did you start at midnight? How much coffee did you drink? What was your favorite bird? Tell us in the comments.

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