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Spring Bird Migration in Costa Rica is Happening- 5 Reasons to Keep Looking Up!

“Look up!” David Lindo, the Urban Birder, often uses that phrase and its perfect. It reminds us that whether someone realizes it or not, birds are a part of our lives. No matter how urban the situation, they share our space and as is often the case, it takes but a quick look to the skies to see something fly overhead, something with feathers.

In Costa Rica, you might even see a King Vulture.

The same goes for Costa Rica and with bird migration happening, there’s more reason than ever to keep looking up, keep watching for birds flying overhead. No doubt, many of the shorebirds and a healthy number of swallows fly too high up there to notice. Somewhere among the wisps of clouds or so high as to be a part of the pale blue ceiling, hundreds even thousands of birds are moving through the skies of Costa Rica.

Even so, enough birds venture out of the blue, come down from the night skies to keep a sharp eye on trees, bushes, anything that can shelter a migrant. These are 5 reminders and reasons to keep looking up in Costa Rica, to watch every bird:

A Brief Stop in Sarapiqui Turns Up 3 Annual Targets

Last week, while driving from the Caribbean lowlands to home in the Central Valley, we made a brief yet productive stop at the entrance to Pozo Azul in Sarapiqui. Based on past experiences of kingbird flocks and other migrants, I figured at least a brief stop might be worth our while and indeed it was. Expected and common edge species were calling and flying back and forth and, as expected, among them were a few key migrants.

The first was a striking male Scarlet Tanager! Dressed in its best Pennsylvania finery, it was literally the first bird I put bins on. Not long after, it was joined by another bird that had spent the winter in the Amazon (if that’s not incredible, what is!), an Eastern Kingbird. Both fed on small fruits along with local tanagers, a few oropendolas and other species.

An Eastern Kingbird from last year.

It was nice to connect with those two target migrants but even better was another bird on the move, a Black Swift! The swift was foraging just over the treetops with several other resident species (including a few likely Spot-fronted Swifts but they didn’t vocalize or show enough of their faces to say for sure). Unlike the tanager and kingbird, the swift was headed to western areas of North America, places with stunning scenery and waterfalls.

An Odd Martin Sp. in Brooklyn

I know, what does Brooklyn have to do with Costa Rica? Other than some of the same birds migrating through and from here to that NYC borough, a recent sighting and excellent documentation of an interesting martin species is yet another reminder for birders in Costa Rica to also be on the watch for martins that seem out of place.

Since the separation of female Progne martins is murky and in need of clarification, a name has yet to be placed on the mystery celebrity bird in New York (and might be lacking for some time to come). Even so, not knowing what it is is even better reason to try and figure that out, maybe this and other mystery martins from the north will spur studies that produce a better picture of female martin identification.

Lots of martins pass through Costa Rica, nearly all are of the expected Purple variety but how many are western Purple Martins? How many vagrant Gray-breasted Martins of the Austral subspecies find their way to Costa Rica? Most of all, do any Sinaloa Martins migrate through the country (there is at least one very possible sighting and another possible sighting from Nicaragua)? The only way to begin to answer these questions is by taking close, careful looks, and documenting whatever we can.

In Costa Rica, Hawks Can Fly Anywhere

I suppose one could say the same for just about anywhere but if we said that “thousands of hawks are flying”, we could only be talking about a handful of major raptor migration sites, Costa Rica being one of them. As the swarms of Broad-wingeds, Swainson’s, and Mississippi Kites pass through, as the endless lines of Turkey Vultures fly over Costa Rica, those migrating raptors can appear in a moment’s notice.

Although the majority fly over the Caribbean lowlands, some also pass through the Central Valley and the Pacific. There were a few Broad-wings out back this very morning, and since other birds can pass over at any time, I keep looking up.

Thousands of Birds are On The Move

I reiterate because although it might not seem like it, these days, there really are thousands of birds migrating through Costa Rica. A current cold front might be holding some birds up but once it passes, there will be a massive influx of Eastern Kingbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, Eastern Wood-Pewees, and other birds on the Amazonian avian express.

Cerulean Warblers, Canada Warblers, and Maybe a Connecticut?

If one ever got tired of common birds, there are of course these other choice birds to float your birding boat. Ceruleans pass through Costa Rica in fair numbers, lots of Canadas will be on their way, and other, rarer species undoubtedly migrate through. The only issue is having the luck, time, and determination to find serious needle in the haystack species like a non-vocal Connecticut Warbler and other birds that typically take other routes north.

It goes without saying but no matter what birds one is looking for, you won’t see a thing unless you get outside and look for them. If you want to know where to go birding in Costa Rica, where the best birding sites are in Costa Rica, I’ll be glad to help. Contact me  and until then, happy birding!   

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