Here are a few updates on birding in Costa Rica that may be of help to birders visiting the country soon to see shimmering quetzals, a treasure trove of glittering hummingbirds, and (inadvertently) a whole mess of Chestnut-sided Warblers:

El Tapir: The massive Porterweed bushes that were herbicided at El Tapir have not grown back but the good news is that enough of those hummingbird magnets were not sprayed to still warrant a visit. There are fewer hummingbirds than before but you can still see some goodies. I had a male Snowcap there in early January and the following species during a rainy afternoon on February 5th:

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird– 1 to 2 birds. I know, big deal but I don’t discriminate against common bird species.

Violet-headed Hummingbird– 1 to 2 birds.

Violet-crowned Woodnymph– 3 birds.

Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer– 1 bird.

Green Thorntail– 1 female.

If the weather had been better and if we had stayed longer, I bet we would have gotten Snowcap and maybe even Black-crested Coquette. While birding from the shelter of the largest building at El Tapir, notable non-Trocholids seen were:

Gray-headed Kite, Mealy Parrot, and a mixed flock that held Blackburnian Warbler, various tanagers, and a pair of White-vented Euphonias (happy to get that for the year as it’s a rather tough bird to see when birding Costa Rica).

As for visiting El Tapir (along the San Jose-Limon highway a few Ks past Quebrada Gonzalez on the right) one of the guys who keeps an eye on the place told me that you can go in and watch the hummingbird garden and use the trails for $5. I don’t think the trails have been maintained but hopefully I can convince them to do so as they were excellent for foothill birding some years ago (all expected species, good raptors from the parking lot, fantastic antswarms, Sunbittern and Fasciated Tiger-Heron along the stream at the end of the trail, and Gray headed Piprites!). The only problem is that the two guys who watch the place aren’t always there to let you in. I hope to talk to them soon about this, however, to see if we can figure something out for visiting birders.

That same rainy day at La Selva (no doubt side affects of the mega snowstorm up north), we had 6 Great Green Macaws fly by the HQ, 2 or 3 American Pygmy Kingfishers looking beautiful along the Suampo Trail, Great Tinamou inside the forest, Crested Guans doing a Wild Turkey impression as they ran along the ground near the laboratory, Black-thighed Grosbeak at the car park (rare elevational migrant), dozens of Olive-throated Parakeets and oropendolas taking nectar from the bright orange flowers of a tall tree seen from the HQ, three Shiny Cowbirds (they have been present for two years and are parasitizing Band-backed Wrens, and a Black Hawk-Eagle that briefly perched near the HQ.

Also regarding La Selva, there is now a guard shack at the entrance to the famous entrance road. I was told by the guard that birders can still bird along the entrance road- let’s hope that this will always be the case. He may ask for identification, tell him that you are “Mirando aves”.

The following day, while guiding the same people, we saw a group of drunks and a much quieter and dignified Black and white Owl in the Orotina Plaza,  and had Double-striped Thick-knee along the road that passes by Cerro Lodge where it flattens out and passes through grassy fields (one or two ks past Cerro Lodge). The previous week, while guiding in that area, we had at least 4 thick-knees, more than a dozen Southern Lapwings, large numbers of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, and a flyby Pearl Kite.

On Sunday, possibly the most serendipitous bird for my 2011 list was a male Yellow-billed Cotinga that flew in front of the car as we drove back across the bridge over the Rio Tarcoles around 11:00 am. We wouldn’t have seen it had Gerald Duhon not suggested that we go back across the bridge to get a cold drink at the Crocodile Restaurant! Its snow white plumage and short tail were unmistakable as it flew less than 20 feet in front of us. What makes this an especially fortuitous event is that Yellow-billed Cotinga has become very rare around Carara. There could be 5 individuals or less that still occur in the area and sadly, I won’t be surprised if they disappear from Carara due to the lack of forested habitat connecting the mangroves to the national park.

On a brighter note, Paint-billed Crake was recently seen in cut over rice fields along the entrance road to Isla Damas near Quepos. I briefly checked this area out on Sunday and didn’t see any artistic crakes (surprise, surprise) but did have my first Wilson’s Snipe for Costa Rica, Blue-winged Teals, several Shorebirds, and a Merlin in roadside wetlands.

Good birding and leave a comment of notable bird sightings in Costa Rica!