I had been looking forward to guiding this past Saturday. My client wanted to see as many birds as possible and a combined trip to Virgen del Socorro and Poas Volcano seemed like the perfect choice for a birdy day. I figured we would see quite a few birds and some good ones at that but I didn’t expect to identify as many species as a Christmas Bird count at Carara or La Selva!
Warning- this is a bird-filled post that reads a bit like a trip report.
From 5:30 am to 5:30 pm, good birding weather (cloudy skies) and a high degree of bird activity rolled the dice in our favor to give us 122 species seen and 29 that were heard only. What makes that even more impressive is that only four of those were waterbirds. The rest were forest species and we would have actually added 10 or more species to the list if we had run into better mixed flocks.
Starting out from the Xandari Hotel in Alajuela, common species like White-winged Dove, Clay-colored Robin, and Great-tailed Grackle were ticked as we drove up to the mountain pass of Varablanca. At that first stop, we tried in vain to see a singing Flame-colored Tanager in a distant tree while putting the scope on perched Long-tailed Silky Flycatchers. Mountain Elanias called and flitted in the nearby vegetation but the tanager never did reveal itself.
As we headed down through the middle elevations of the Caribbean slope, Red-billed Pigeons flew around and perched on treetops. We made stops for Yellow-bellied Elaenia, got great looks at a pair of Olive-crowned Yellowthroats, were tantalized by a calling White-throated Crake, and watched the antics of Great Kiskadees, Yellow-winged Vireo, Brown-capped Vireo, Piratic, Social, and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers near the Peace Lodge. Rufous-browed Peppershrike and Dark Pewee also showed well but calling Golden-bellied Flycatchers kept out of sight.
Red-billed Pigeons are common, handsome birds in Costa Rica.
Our first raptor species also made appearances somewhere near Cinchona. These were the two everpresent vultures Black Vulture (1) and Turkey Vulture (2), Black-shouldered Kite (3) (which I have never seen on that road), a migrant Red-tailed Hawk (4), and Broad-winged Hawks (5). Further down at our main point of avian focus for the morning, Swallow-tailed Kites (6) entertained as they soared through the canyon at Virgen del Socorro, and a pair of White Hawks (7) took to the air for some courtship action.
As the lightly-plumaged raptors looked beautiful against the greenery of the middle-elevation forests, smaller birds also sang from the woods. Slate-throated Redstarts, Tropical Parulas, and migrant warblers flitted through mossy trees and were joined by Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Lesser Greenlet, and Red-faced Spinetail. Down by the bridge, Tufted Flycatcher called and Torrent Tyrannulet was seen but things like Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch and another pair of Golden-bellied Flycatchers opted for hiding in the dense vegetation. Down at the river itself, no amount of searching would turn up a much hoped for Sunbittern or Fasciated Tiger-Heron but at least a pair of Smoky-brown Woodpeckers made an appearance.
A glimpse of the middle elevation forests at Virgen del Socorro, Costa Rica.
As we worked our way up the opposite, better forested side of the gorge, Barred Hawks (8) called from high above, a pale phase Short-tailed Hawk (9) was seen and a massive group of Swainson’s (10) and Broad-winged Hawks headed due north high overhead. Around the same time, a small mixed flock eventually showed well and gave us great looks at Plain Xenops, several Russet Antshrikes, Silver-throated Tanagers, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Tufted Flycatcher, and Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner. It was nice but it still wasn’t the type of big, active mixed flock that can turn up at Virgen del Socorro.
Moving higher up the road, patience paid off in the form of good looks at the miniscule Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher and brief looks at Rufous-browed Tyrannulet. Bay-headed Tanagers and Common Tody-Flycatcher also turned up but Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant refused to come out and play. However, with flowering trees in that area filled with hummingbirds, we weren’t complaining! Several Brown Violetears called from their perches and chased the numerous Violet-crowned Woodnymphs. A few Green Thorntails were also seen and Violet-headed Hummingbird was heard but the coquette was a no-show.
We waited around for the 11 am bird wave but it never turned up so we birded our way back through the canyon and got good looks at Slaty-capped Flycatcher, more Red-faced Spinetails, and Spotted Woodcreeper. Two other, really good species that vocalized but did not show themselves were Azure-hooded Jay and Brown-billed Sycthebill. By then, lunchtime had arrive so we headed on up to the Cinchona “Cafe de Colibries” for delicious, home-cooked meals. The feeders were unfortunately slow but we still managed to pick up Green-crowned Brilliant, Coppery-headed Emerald, and White-bellied Mountain-Gem, and got point blank looks at a male Green Thorntail.
The male Green Thorntail looks like a spiky-tailed bug.
Cinchona is usually reliable for the local White-bellied Mountain-Gem.
After lunch, it was off to higher elevations and a new set of birds. At the Restaurante Volcan, the seeding bamboo on the other side of the road finally turned up great looks at a rare Slaty Finch. Two were singing and one showed us its dull yet rarely seen self. Yellowish Flycatchers also played around the stream, Long-tailed Silky Flycatchers called from overhead, Spangle-cheeked Tanagers were seen, and a funky pair of Prong-billed Barbets yodeled from the top of a nearby tree. The yodel.
The feeders and nearby habitat always make this a great spot for hummingbirds and Saturday was no exception with sightings of Violet Sabrewing, Purple-throated Mountain-Gem, Volcano Hummingbird, Green Violetear, Magnificent Hummingbird, and Green-crowned Brilliant. Yellow-thighed Finches were also spotted just before heading further up the volcano.
We drove right up to the gate for the national park and started hearing birds as soon as we exited the car. Black-billed Nightingale-Thrushes and Gray-breasted Wood-Wrens sang but the only birds we saw were two Fiery-throated Hummingbirds (always nice to see that one though!). We slowly made our way back down to where the bamboo was seeding and picked up Black and Yellow Silky Flycatcher in the process. At the bamboo, Peg-filled Finches were singing and one was found, admired, and given “junco status” on account of its appearance. Yellow-thighed Finches, Large-footed Finch, and a beautiful Black-thighed Grosbeak were seen. As two Resplendent Quetzals sang, we also got killer looks at a Black Guan and picked up the much wanted Sooty Robin. If you aren’t familiar with the Sooty Robin, it’s basically a Eurasian Blackbird that got teleported to the high mountains of Costa Rica and western Panama at some distant, ancient time (well, how else could it look so similar? Why settle on convergence when the teleportation theory is so much more exciting!).
The junco-like Peg-billed Finch.
Barred Parakeets also made an appearance but by then, the mist had become so thick that we could barely see the rufous on a Rufous-collared Sparrow so they flew through the fog heard but unseen. Back down below the foggy weather, another quick stop didn’t turn up anything of note so we continued to the lower elevations at Xandari. But wait! The birding wasn’t over yet! On the way down, a road closure (some truck took out a power line post) detoured us through birdy coffee plantations that held our last raptor and hummingbird for the day: Gray Hawk (11) and Steely-vented Hummingbird. It also led us to an artificial pond that held 4 Least Grebes, 2 Blue-winged Teal, and 1 female Ring-necked Duck (a good bird in Costa Rica!).
We got back down to Xandari by dusk and after I got home, I was pleasantly shocked to discover that we had amassed the following total:
|Species seen||Species heard only|
|Black Guan||White-throated Crake|
|Cattle Egret||Short-billed Pigeon|
|Black Vulture||Barred Parakeet|
|Turkey Vulture||Squirrel Cuckoo|
|Black-shouldered Kite||Green Hermit|
|Swallow-tailed Kite||Violet-headed Hummingbird|
|Red-tailed Hawk||Resplendent Quetzal|
|Short-tailed Hawk||Keel-billed Toucan|
|Broad-winged Hawk||Chestnut-mandibled Toucan|
|Swainson’s Hawk||Spotted Barbtail|
|Barred Hawk||Brown-billed Scythebill|
|White Hawk||Immaculate Antbird|
|Gray Hawk||Silvery-fronted Tapaculo|
|Blue-winged Teal||Golden-bellied Flycatcher|
|Ring-necked Duck||Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrant|
|Least Grebe||Bright-rumped Attila|
|Spotted Sandpiper||Lesser Greenlet|
|Red-billed Pigeon||Gray-breasted Wood Wren|
|Band-tailed Pigeon||Ochraceous Wren|
|White-winged Dove||Bay Wren|
|White-crowned Parrot||Nightingale Wren|
|Crimson-fronted Parakeet||Black-faced Solitaire|
|Vaux’s Swift||Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush|
|White-collared Swift||Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrush|
|Spot-fronted Swift- nice one!||Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush|
|Brown Violetear||Azure-hooded Jay|
|Green Violetear||Flame-colored Tanager|
|Green Thorntail||Chestnut-capped Brush Finch|
|Wood Pewee species|
|Blue and white Swallow|
|Roughwing Swallow species|
|Black and Yellow Silky Flycatcher|
|Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher|
|Black-throated Green Warbler|
|Common Bush Tanager|
Needless to say, you can see a heck of a lot of birds in one day in Costa Rica! As nice as Saturday’s total was, though, just wait and see how many birds are produced by the Big Day I will probably do next weekend or shortly thereafter!