Costa Rica probably hasn’t experienced a good snowfall since the last ice age and even then it was surely limited to the highest peaks. Treeline habitats probably experience frost once in a while but most of the country is consistently warm. The chance of even the tiniest bit of snow further diminishes when global warming is taken into account. Heck, with the winter of 2012 shaping up to be the year without cold white precipitation in most of the northern tier states and southern Ontario, you might wonder how or why I would even mention “snow” in reference to Costa Rica. Well, the “snow” that I’m talking about isn’t the associated with the realm of jolly Saint Nick and Ivory Gulls.
It’s snow of the avian kind and anyone headed to Costa Rica for birding hopes to experience a flurry or two because it’s kind of hard to find this feathered weather elsewhere. Not that it can’t be encountered in Honduras, Nicaragua, or western Panama, it’s just that this most wanted avian snow is more accessible in Costa Rica. I had a welcome bit of avian snowfall yesterday while birding around Chilamate, Sarapiqui and hope that it’s a harbinger of more snowy days to come when birding Costa Rica in 2012.
Costa Rica’s snowfall comes in the form of the peaceful looking Snowy Cotinga. Is it a mutant dove? An overexposed, albino tityra? Nope, the Snowy Cotinga is an unmistakably, brilliant, December-white bird that swoops around the canopy of lowland rainforest in its search for delectable fruiting trees. In extensively forested areas you can sometimes encounter 6 or 8 of these magic birds as they forage together although such flurries are the exception. Typically, you have to be content with seeing just one or two but if you bird the right places, you have a good chance of snow.
You usually see Snowy Cotingas like this, sitting high up in some emergent tree.
You get better looks if there is a fruiting tree in the vicinity.
Even if they try to hide, Snowy Cotingas are still unmistakable.
Snowy Cotingas can show up at any forested site in the Caribbean lowlands. Scan the treetops and watch fruiting trees for them in the Sarapiqui area, southeastern Costa Rica, Tortuguero, and the area around Laguna del Lagarto. Wishing you snowy days in Costa Rica in 2012!