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Birding Costa Rica preparing for your trip

Some Tips for Visiting and Birding Costa Rica

The high season for tourism in Costa Rica is approaching as fast and steady as the flight of a White-collared Swift. Many hotels have already adjusted their rates and on the Pacific slope, better weather is on the way. After cloudy days and many rain-filled afternoons, the sun was shining in Santa Barbara de Heredia today. It still rained in some other parts of the Central Valley and the cloud banks hovering at the continental divide showed that the wetter season on the Caribbean slope is just kicking into gear. Nevertheless, drier days are on the way in much of the country and so are the tourists. If you are coming to Costa Rica for a good dose of wonderful neotropical birding, surfing, or adventure activities, here are a few tips from the perspective of someone who lives in the land of gallo pinto and Resplendent Quetzals:

Go see a R. Quetzal: Since I mentioned them I might as well emphasize that you should include this spectacular bird in your itinerary. If you are a birder, you probably already have but even so, it’s still worth reminding you to go and see some. Notice that I said, “some” and not “one”. This was deliberate because it reflects how accessible these amazing looking birds are in Costa Rica. They also occur in southern Mexico, are still revered in Guatemala, and frequent the cloud forests of other Central American countries but Costa Rica is arguably the easiest place to see them. Hire a guide at Monteverde, San Gerardo de Dota, Paraiso de Quetzales, or stay at El Toucanet and you are just about guaranteed to fill your binocular with the view of quetzals.birding Costa Rica

Don’t change money at the airport: I used to think this was a good place to change money. I was wrong. When you change money at the airport, they give a much lower rate than banks. Even with 3$ fee, you get a better rate when simply taking money out of ATMs. You can also do it at the bank but I don’t advise it unless you enjoy waiting in lines.

Hang out at some hummingbird feeders: Obviously on your itinerary if birding Costa Rica. If you aren’t so inclined to watch our feathered friends, spending some time at hummingbird feeders might convert you to our clan, obsession, hobby, or whatever else you would like to call watching birds at all possible moments. But seriously, check out the hummingbird gallery at Monteverde, the Hummingbird Garden along the San Ramon-La Tigra road, and the feeders at La Georgina. There’s also others here and there in the country and some charge a fair fee to experience them but keep in mind that you can usually see the same species for free at other feeders.

Sunscreen and a small umbrella: Come in the dry season and you are going to experience the sizzling rays of a much more direct and focused sun than northern climes. Don’t mess around with that bad boy; always slather on the high power sunscreen! Also, if you are traveling anywhere other than the dry northwest, expect some rain. Although a poncho works out at high elevations, I prefer a small umbrella in warmer climes.

Don’t expect to see many large mammals: Like many areas in the neotropics, megafauna doesn’t make up a big component of Costa Rican wildlife. While it is true that you could always get lucky and see a Jaguar, Puma, or Tapir, don’t count on it. However, you can expect to see monkeys, sloths, dinosaurish iguanas, Scarlet Macaws, trogons, Chestnut-backed Antbird, and lots of other cool birds!

Watch where you step and don’t leave the trail: While getting bit by a snake is highly unlikely, there’s no point in taking any chances. The Fer-de Lance is a big, common viper whose venom will digest your flesh. They are camouflaged sit and wait predators. This means that they are both hard to see and easy to step on if you can’t see the ground and always lose at poker. As unlikely as an encounter is with them and other snakes, don’t chance it. Never walk where you can’t see your feet and always watch where you step. Also, don’t grab any branches or other vegetation in humid areas because there are other camouflaged vipers that sit and wait there too. I guess you shouldn’t swing on vines in the forest and fall to the ground either. Some poor guy did that in Carara this past year and fell straight onto a large Fer-de-Lance. He was bit and died that same day (although he may have had heart problems that contributed to his demise).

Drive defensively: If driving, you will quickly discover that a lot of people don’t operate their vehicles in a very safe manner, that the conditions of some roads require a fair amount of swerving to avoid pot holes, motorcycles do whatever they want at any time, and that slow-going boxy trucks are a royal pain in the “?$%. Just be extra careful and know that just because a turn signal is on doesn’t mean that the person is going to turn and vice-versa. To be fair, there are also a lot of good drivers who make their intentions known and are courteous about letting other cars turn or join their lane of constant traffic. They do this by flashing their lights.

Don’t speed: Be careful and follow speed limits even when other drivers don’t. The police love to use radar guns at speed traps and this is usually where the limit goes from 80kph down to 60kph. There may or may not be a sign but it will be painted on the road itself.

Never, ever park the car in an unguarded situation: Do this and someone is sure to break in and steal something. Luckily, there are lots of guarded parking lots. Personally, I like to park the car where I can always see it.

Be patient with the birds: Birding in areas of high biodiversity comes at a price. There might be lots of bird species but many require specialized habitats, most have large territories, and quite a few are naturally shy. You can walk into excellent forest one day and see 30 species, then see 40 more species the following day in the same area.  Be patient, check every little movement and sound, and the cool denizens of the rainforest will show up.

    Hire a guide: If you want to see more when birding Costa Rica, hire a guide who knows how to identify birds by sight and sound, and where to find them. Although the complexities of neotropical birding make it an endeavor that brims with surprises on a daily basis and is subject to a fair degree of probability, going with a guide will up the odds of seeing more birds when watching them in Costa Rica.

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    Birding Costa Rica

    Costa Rica Christmas Count Dates for 2011

    The Asociacion Ornitologica de Costa Rica has recently published information about Christmas counts at their website. For those interested in participating, contact information is given for organizers. Keep in mind that some counts may have run out of space or are by invitation only. These are a great way to meet Tico birders and guides. Some, such as the Carara and La Selva counts, also tend to be well organized and have 70 or so participants. Although the Veragua count is by invitation only, I will look into that and see if they would like someone to blog about the place. I probably won’t do any others because I have to guide on most of the count dates.

    Although all of the counts are a fun time,  if I had to recommend just one, it would be the Maquenque Count on January 8th. This actually pertains to annual counts held at a number of Costa Rica Birding Route sites. You may get a discount at certain site hotels for doing the count and will be providing valuable data needed for the underbirded northern Caribbean lowlands. While La Selva is heavily visited by birders, areas north of there receive much less attention despite a fair amount of forest that could support a number of rare species due to their connection to the huge forest block in southeastern Nicaragua.

    If you do one of the counts, please tell us about your experience in the comments.

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    Birding Costa Rica Introduction Pacific slope

    A Brief Guide to Birding around Montezuma, Costa Rica

    Montezuma always makes me think of Mexico but there is another one much closer to home (at least for me). This is the seaside village of Montezuma located on the southern part of the Nicoya peninsula. If any birders make it there, it’s usually by accident or with a non-birding tour group set on checking out this “smoky” backpacker haven. There are good reasons for Montezuma not making it onto the regular circuit when birding Costa Rica. If you don’t bounce and four wheel drive your way from more established towns to the north, you have to take a ferry across the gulf of Nicoya. Although this can actually be quite interesting for birds, it eats up valuable time like a starving Wood Stork in a fish pond.

    Although, like many areas of Costa Rica, Montezuma and surroundings can be nice for birding, most people who visit the country have just two or three weeks to work with and feel that their time is better spent in places like Tortuguero, the Osa peninsula, and Cerro de la Muerte. I would have to agree so there’s a fair chance that you won’t make it over to Montezuma. However, if non-birding family or chance brings you to this surf/backpacker touristy village, read on to see what awaits in terms of getting there and birds.

    1. Puntarenas: The town of Puntarenas is built on a sandspit so it has a naturally elongated shape. If driving there, be aware that the signs indicating the entrance to Puntarenas can be 100% misleading. Use your GPS and/or common sense and you will eventually arrive but be very wary of the signs or you could start driving back towards San Jose. I speak from recent experience and kid you not! As tempting as it is to speed into town, don’t do it or you will be rewarded with a nasty ticket (and rightly so because there’s a lot of bikes and pedestrians on the streets). As for the birds, you might find a spot or two to check out mudflats and mangroves to the north of town.

    2. The Ferry: There’s more ferrys nowadays so if you are driving, you probably won’t have to wait for hours in line like you used to. If using the most mundane of transportation, walk on over to the Musmanni bakery to buy your boarding tickets (less than $2 this past weekend), head to the top of the boat, claim a shady spot,and start scanning the water. Not many people bird this area on a regular basis so who knows what will show up? Although most birds will be expected species don’t discount the possibility of some rare waterbird making an appearance! I have seen some good stuff on each of the few trips I have done from Puntarenas to Paquera (the dock on the other side). Parasitic Jaeger, Least Storm Petrel, and Sooty Shearwater have all made appearances. On the most recent trip, an uncommon young Blue-footed Booby flew into view. We also had Franklin’s Gulls, Royal, Common, Black, and Sandwich Terns, Brown Booby, a sea turtle, and lots of jumping fish. On the way back to Puntarenas, the sea was so calm that it was downright surreal. Scanning with binos revealed patches of jumping fish far out on the water and scattered flocks of Black Terns as far as we could see!

    birding Costa Rica

    There’s birds out there in them there waters (yee haw!).

    birding Costa Rica

    Docking at Paquera.

    3. Paquera to Tambor: After leaving Paquera, you drive past some promising looking riparian zones with big, old trees. I didn’t have time to bird there but it would be worth a stop. The edges of mangroves would also be worth checking.

    4. Tambor: This tiny place is better known for the big Barcelo hotel that destroyed a bunch of mangroves far more valuable than the town itself.  To be fair, though, Barcelo has funded Scarlet Macaw recovery efforts in the area and planted a bunch of trees. The best birding is in the fields and mangroves just east of the village. From a mini-plaza at the east end of the village, walk in along old roads meant for a development that never happened until you reach trails that go near the mangroves. Spish and toot like a pygmy owl and you might see Northern Scrub Flycatcher, Mangrove Cuckoo, and even Mangrove Hummingbird (!). Lots of other cool birds in there too.

    5. Curu National Wildlife Refuge: Somewhere along the way, watch for signs that lead to this birding site. Double-striped Thick Knee occurs in fields on the entrance road, there are semi-wild Spider Monkeys that may attack your car (I’m not exaggerating!), and trails that access mangroves and dry forest.

    6. Tambor-Montezuma: After Tambor, you will drive into a larger town called, “Cabuya” (I think that’s its name). From there on to Montezuma, the road is dirt and adorned with pot holes. At one point, you will see signs for Montezuma that want you to go to the right. This will take you there but it’s closer and quicker to just go straight ahead. However, no matter which route you take into the village, go to the right, go past the cemetery and start birding. We did that on Saturday and were immediately rewarded with Plain-breasted Ground-Dove! For me, this was quite the serendipitous find because it was new for both the year and my Costa Rica list!  We also had American Kestrel there (uncommon in Costa Rica), and thick-knees called from the field at night. I bet other uncommon stuff could show up. Further on, the road passes by fields, riparian zones, and eventually descends to Montezuma. You might also get Plain Chachalaca in this area and Three-wattled Bellbirds from December to April.

    birding Costa Rica

    Plain-breasted Ground Dove!

    7.Montezuma: While the village isn’t ideal for birding, the coast has lots of rocky outcroppings, tidal pools, and a chance at Wandering Tattler. Although I only saw Ruddy Turnstones, Whimbrel, and Spotted Sandpipers, it does look ideal for the tattler and Surfbirds. Scanning the ocean here might also turn up some wayward pelagic- you never know! Watch for the magpie jays that look for handouts on the streets.

    birding Costa Rica

    The Ruddy Turnstone looks down at the crab in disdain…

    8. Cabo Blanco: I have never gone there so everything I write for this little section is hearsay but I bet it’s pretty good for birding. There is a good amount of forest, it is protected, and it’s pretty darn hot. You can’t really drive there so expect a long, hot trudge to bird Cabo Blanco.

    Birds in the areas mentioned: Ok, so now for the most interesting part! While much of the area is deforested, there are patches of habitat, places that are growing back into forest, and riparian zones that support quite a few species. Any remnant wetlands and lagoons should be checked for things like Pinnated Bittern, Masked Duck, and other uncommon species. Not that I have seen those there but there’s a fair chance they occur if you find the right habitat. This part of the Nicoya peninsula is more humid than areas further north and demonstrates it with species such as Collared Aracari and Red-lored Parrot.

    We actually did most of our birding around the Finca los Caballos Hotel and this is probably representative of      much of the surrounding area. Long-tailed Manakins were especially common.

    birding Costa Rica

    Long-tailed Manakin- Costa Rica’s faux Bird of Paradise.

    We had 8 species of hummingbirds sans feeders!

    birding Costa Rica

    Green-breasted Mango is the most common hummingbird species near Montezuma.

    birding Costa Rica

    Long-billed Starthroat isn’t supposed to be there according to the range maps.

    birding Costa Rica

    This psycho looking White-fronted Parrot landed right next to the hotel deck.

    Brown-crested Flycatcher and Yellow-bellied Elaenia perked up when I called like a pygmy owl.

    birding Costa Rica

    The Elaenia.

    birding Costa Rica

    The Myiarchus.

    Some other interesting species included Orange-fronted and Orange-chinned Parakeets, Northern barred and Olivaceous Woodcreepers, Peregrine Falcon, Barred Antshrike, Plain Wren, American Coot (sorry, but it’s uncommon in Costa Rica!), Olive Sparrow, Stripe-headed Sparrow, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Blue-throated Goldentail, and Greenish Elaenia. Although many of the species are common and widespread, the open nature of the habitat made for great looks at most and excellent bird photography opportunities. Check out the newly formed birding club Picasa album for more pics! Many thanks to Dewald Reiner for taking great photos and setting that up.

    Bird pics:
    https://picasaweb.google.com/115692792711557520864/MontezumaNov18202011TheBirds?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCKSX6M2j6_qD1QE&feat=directlink
    Montezuma pics:
    https://picasaweb.google.com/115692792711557520864/MontezumaGeneral?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCK7WhauAgprxNQ&feat=directlink

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    biodiversity Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope

    A Brief bit of Birding in Costa Rica around Rio Frio

    Costa Rica has more than one Rio Frio. Even though “Rio Frio” means “cold river”, oddly enough, I have only visited sites known by this descriptive name in the Caribbean lowlands. This region’s tropical humid climate ensures that none of the rivers are particularly cold so I feel perplexed every time I end up being bathed in sweat when birding a place called, “Rio Frio”.  I’m sure there are locals who do think their Rio Frio is actually cold but just as I didn’t grow up in a place with a greenhouse-like atmosphere and toucans in the backyard, they haven’t felt the nerve-numbing, life-force stealing grip of the Niagara River during the winter. Now that’s one heck of a rio frio! Of course I haven’t gone swimming in the Niagara River during the winter (otherwise I would have been immediately frozen) but I have felt the deathly chill coming off of the water when scanning gull flocks in December and have been touched by the river’s icy tendrils when fishing for Steelhead in November.

    That is my definition of a cold river but that doesn’t mean that the Tico Rio Frios are named in error.  I think the Rio Frios in Costa Rica earn their cool titles by merit of their oasis-like nature. Refreshing waterways in a warm, highly humid climate, they flow with a much more friendly connotation than the cold, powerful river of my homeland. While the Niagara provides important foraging sites for a number of birds, the diversity is still many times lower than the Rio Frios of Costa Rica. The Rio Frio that I visited this past weekend is the one located in the birding-famous region of Sarapiqui. This area is so well known among birders visiting Costa Rica because it hosts the La Selva biological station.

    While the station is arguably the best site for birding in Sarapiqui, there are several lesser known sites that are pretty birdy all on their own. Even though too much of Sarapiqui outside of La Selva has been deforested, a good number of species persist in riparian groves, second growth, and patchy forest. I was reminded of this during some casual, family birding around Rio Frio. Ecotourists don’t generally make it over to Rio Frio, Sarapiqui because much of the area is dedicated to the production of bananas. Most of the rainforest was cut down decades ago to make room for groves of big-leaved banana plants but I found out that some birds still persist in remnant patches of habitat.

    Visiting with the family and rain during my one morning put a severe limit on my birding but I still saw some stuff. A fair number of Olive-throated Parakeets foraged in a riparian area near our friend’s house, and a few Red-lored Parrots flew over along with a dozen or so White-crowned Parrots.

    birding Costa Rica

    Olive-throated Parakeets are fairly common in the Caribbean lowlands of Costa Rica.

    Montezuma Oropendolas moved through a riparian zone and I was surprised to see a pair of forest-loving Scarlet-rumped Caciques show up. Olive-backed and Yellow-crowned Euphonias called from the treetops while Passerini’s Tanagers, Buff-throated Saltators and Black-headed Saltators foraged in second growth. Yellow Tyrannulets called from the same area and a couple of Summer Tanagers showed up in the backyard. Collared Aracaris and Keel-billed Toucans also made an appearance as did Ruddy Ground-Doves, White-tipped Doves, Golden-hooded Tanagers, Chestnut-sided and Tennessee Warblers, Bananaquits, and several Variable Seedeaters.

    birding Costa Rica

    A female Variable Seedeater– the only bird species that poised for a good shot!

    A drive around the neighborhood also turned up a calling Gray-chested Dove, Gray Hawk, Gray-necked Wood Rail, Purple Gallinules and Northern Jacanas in marshy pasture, and Bronzy Hermit. I also got some nice woodpeckers in the form of Lineated, Pale-billed, and an awesome Chestnut-colored.

    While the habitat was far from ideal, and my birding time very brief indeed, it was nice to be reminded that several bird species have persisted in the forest fragments and patchy habitats of  the Caribbean lowlands. The region requires a lot of reforestation, more biological corridors, and more sustainable land use but there is hope for a more biodiverse future.

    Future custodians of Costa Rica’s natural heritage: Dana, Sofia, and my daughter Miranda (the one wearing the “Live, Love, Laugh!” tee-shirt).

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    Birding Costa Rica Introduction preparing for your trip

    Tips on Woodcreeper Identification when Birding Costa Rica

    Before heading down to Costa Rica for a healthy dose of bird biodiversity, studying that field guide is imperative for knowing what you are looking at. Even if you plan on hiring a birding guide (always a good idea), it’s still important to gaze at illustrations, try to learn field marks, and read about the behavior of the birds you want to see. Getting to know the birds before you actually see them will make your birding trip that much more satisfying. It primes you for self confirmation that yes, that freaky looking Three-wattled Bellbird does actually exist, Red-capped Manakins do look like toys, and White-throated Magpie Jays just might be Blue Jays that dined on a few too many steroid-laced suet cakes.

    However, not all is easy and wonderful when birding in Costa Rica. Just as with every destination (including your backyard), there are groups of birds that consistently evoke sighs of dismay when we are confronted with their identification. Feel free to admire (or drool) over plates of hawk-eagles and cotingas, but get ready to be challenged (and shocked) when looking at illustrations of the woodcreepers. No, it’s not a practical joke. They really do look that similar and are more or less the Empids (or Phylloscops for Palearctic birders) of the neotropics. There are plenty of other hard to identify groups of birds that lurk in the American tropics, but few others intimidate birders as much as the woodcreepers.

    When confronted with a woodcreeper, the typical response by birders new to the neotropics tends to range from that of frustration to discrimination and downright avoidance.

    “It was some woodcreeper. I don’t know which, they all look the same anyways!”

    “Well, the guide said it was a Streak-headed so I’m happy with that.”

    “I don’t even look at them. All I ever see are reddish colored tails while they creep out of sight. I’ll stick with my tanagers thank you very much.”

    “Woodcreeper, shmoodcreeper. Look! There’s a Blue-gray Tanager!”

    “But we’ve seen lots of those…”

    “So what! they look nice and we know what they are.”

    These cop-out attitudes need to change! Although woodcreepers can be tough, they are by no means impossible to identify in Costa Rica. However, one thing that is very true about woodcreepers is that they are very difficult to photograph. For that reason, you won’t see many amazing, multi-angled shots of dendrocolaptids from Costa Rica in this post. Nevertheless, you will find information on how to identify them. Here are a few tips:

    1. The number one rule for identifying woodcreepers in Costa Rica and probably everywhere is focusing on their heads and bills. That’s right. Don’t be led stray by  the rusty-colored tail and wings. Just about every species shows these characteristics so admire them if you wish but don’t expect to identify the bird. Get a nice look at that noggin and beak though and you should be able to “call” the bird in question.
    2. Know where each species is “supposed” to occur. Would you find a Black-streaked Woodcreeper in high elevation forests? Would a Spot-crowned Woodcreeper be investigating tree trunks around Tarcoles? Would you see a Tawny-winged Woodcreeper on the Caribbean slope? That’s a big “nay” for those three questions and knowing just such basics about habitat and elevational ranges of woodcreepers will make their identification that much easier.
    3. Know their calls. You can always identify them with a good look at the head and bill but it never hurts to know their vocalizations.
    4. Learn them by genus. The shape of Woodcreepers bills is generally associated with their genus. Learning to recognize woodcreepers by their genus goes a long way for their identification.

    The above tips should help you ID every woodcreeper in Costa Rica but it’s also nice to have information about each species:

    Black-banded Woodcreeper: This is a very rare species in Costa Rica that appears to only occur in old growth middle-elevation forest. The two sites where it is seen the most appear to be Tapanti National Park and the Bosque de Paz area. Watch for the strong, straight, blackish bill and the combination of streaks on the upperparts and banding on the belly. Can show up at antswarms and prefers the understory.

    Northern Barred Woodcreeper: Fairly common in low and foothill-elevation forests on both slopes, it also occurs in riparian habitats in Guanacaste. The banding might not be as obvious as expected but is noticeable with a close look. A large, black-billed, unstreaked woodcreeper. Often at antswarms and usually in the understory.

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    Plain-brown Woodcreeper: Rather uncommon in the understory of lowland and foothill forests of the Caribbean slope, the easiest way to see it is at army antswarms (which it frequently attends). A rather plain, unstreaked woodcreeper with a straight black bill and two dark lines on the face.

    birding Costa Rica

    Ruddy Woodcreeper: Yet another uncommon species in Costa Rica, it is most frequently encountered in the understory of moist and dry forests on the northern Pacific slope. The overall plain, unstreaked, rufous coloration makes it easy to identify. Look for it at antswarms in any dry forest area and sites such as Rincon de la Vieja and the Bajo del Tigre trail near Monteverde.

    Tawny-winged Woodcreeper: This is a fairly common forest understory species on the south Pacific slope and often shows up at antswarms. Look for the contrasting rufous wings, pale throat, and pale eyebrow on this mostly unstreaked species. Carara National Park, the Osa Peninsula, and most lowland and foothill forested sites on the south Pacific slope are good for this species.

    Long-tailed Woodcreeper: Uncommon but regular in the understory and middle levels of forest on the south Pacific slope. It’s also a very rare resident in Caribbean-slope foothill forest. This is a tricky one and is best identified by its straight, rather thin and somewhat delicate bill. The bird itself also looks a bit more slender than other woodcreepers. The pale spectacles stand out more compared to Cocoa and Streak-headed Woodcreepers and it has less streaking on the head than those species. I see it quite often in Carara. The forests of the Osa peninsula are also good for it. On a side note, there’s a very good chance that more than one species is involved with the Long-tailed Woodcreeper complex. There are at least two vocal groups (and maybe more) with the birds in Costa Rica separate from Amazonian Long-tailed Woodcreepers.

    Wedge-billed Woodcreeper: Ons of the most commonly seen woodcreepers, it’s also easy to identify. Note the small size and short, slightly upturned bill. Find it in the understory of most lowland and foothill rainforest sites.

    birding Costa Rica

    Olivaceous Woodcreeper: Fairly common at all levels of moist foothill forests and cloud forests. Also uncommon in dry forests. This small woodcreeper is easy to identify in being the only Costa Rican Woodcreeper with a plain, gray head and breast.

    Streak-headed Woodcreeper: In many areas, this is the most common woodcreeper species and therefore a good one to learn. Although most frequent in edge habitats of the lowlands and middle elevations, it sometimes turns up inside the forest too (as at Carara). It forages from near the ground to high up in the trees. Look for that thin, slightly downcurved bill.

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    Spot-crowned Woodcreeper: The most common woodcreeper in high elevation forests, look for the thin, slightly downcurved bill and spots on the head. It forages at all levels of the forest.

    birding Costa Rica

    Spotted Woodcreeper: Fairly common in humid foothill and cloud forests, the Spotted Woodcreeper usually looks like a rather plain-colored woodcreeper with buff eye rings and diffuse buff spotting. Most often in middle levels and the canopy of the forest.

    birding Costa Rica

    Cocoa Woodcreeper: Fairly common in forested sites of the humid lowlands. More of a forest species than Streak-headed Woodcreeper but will also turn up at the forest edge. A rather large woodcreeper with a strong, straight bill. Look for this characteristic in conjunction with the buff throat and buff streaks. It forages at all levels of the forest.

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    Black-striped Woodcreeper: This largish woodcreeper is fairly common in forested areas of the humid lowlands and mostly occurs in the canopy. They also occur in foothill forests but seem to be much less common there than in the lowlands. Watch for the bold, blackish and white scaled appearance. Some good sites for this species are the Laguna del Lagarto area, Carara, the Osa Peninsula, and around Manzanillo.

    Ivory-billed Woodcreeper: This largish woodcreeper is much more common north of Costa Rica. In Costa Rica, it’s restricted to dry forests and riparian areas of the Pacific northwest. Look for the strong, straight, pale bill and paler head compared to Cocoa Woodcreeper. Mostly seen high above the ground.

    Strong-billed Woodcreeper: Rare in Costa Rica, you could run into it at any heavily forested foothill or middle elevation site. It’s large size and slightly downcurved, massive bill make it pretty much unmistakable. as an example of this species’ rarity in Costa Rica, I saw one on my second visit to Quebrada Gonzalez in 1992 but haven’t seen it there since. I know it still occurs there, though, because friends of mine saw one in the same place just one month ago! Forages from the understory to the subcanopy.

    Brown-billed Scythebill: Uncommon but regular in humid middle elevation forests, the downcurved bill makes it unmistakable. It can show up at a number of sites. I regularly hear or see it at Tapanti, Quebrada Gonzalez, and in the Manuel Brenes forests near San Ramon. Forages at any height in the forest.

    Don’t be afraid of woodcreepers! Don’t let their field-guide similarity scare you off! Get a good look at their beaks and head and you should be able to identify them. Let me know what you see in the comments.