Categories
biodiversity Birding Costa Rica

My Crazy Costa Rica Birding Bucket List

I don’t know if that term the “bucket list” was around before the movie of the same name or not but I have this strong impression that people started using it a lot more after Jack and Morgan were depicted jumping out of planes and doing other adrenaline-provoking endeavors. Although I don’t have any desire to go skydiving, I do have my own erstwhile bucket birding list. Since that list includes seeing birds just about everywhere, it will be a lot more succinct (and appropriate) to just talk about the Costa Rican part.

Here’s some kind of crazy birding-related things I would love to do here in Costa Rica:

  • Find Unspotted Saw-whet Owl on Irazu: This one isn’t all that crazy and a couple of weeks ago, Susan Blank and I actually gave it a shot. I guess it just seems a bit buckety because this involves hooting like an Unspotted Saw-whet Owl (or maybe squeeking like a mouse) in the dark of the night about 9,000 feet up on a slumbering volcano. We tried pre-dawn and let me tell you, if you happen to live in Costa Rica and need a realistic fix of temperate zone November weather, just hang outside the Noche Buena restaurant around 4 in the morning. It was cold and it was absolutely silent and we dipped on the spotless one but as dawn approached, we did hear and see Bare-shanked Screech-Owl, heard Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl, and witnessed dawn on the upper slopes of Irazu. Next time, I’m going to give it a shot right after sunset.

birding Costa Rica

Sooty Robins are commonly encountered on Irazu.

  • Listen for and record nocturnal migrants on Poas or some other high mountain: I already listen for nocturnal migrants in my backyard (where I have heard Dickcissel, Upland Sandpper, and Wilson’s Snipe among others) but suspect that there will be more in the mountain passes. It will also be easier to hear the birds due to the quiet surroundings and who knows, maybe I will get lucky and get an Unspotted Saw-whet Owl at the same time! This actually shouldn’t too tough to do so I will have to schedule that in.
  • Watch for seabirds from Cabo Blanco and Cabo Burica during storms: I am truly excited about doing this because it will give me an outside chance of seeing some cool pelagic stuff without going out on a boat! The winds will be strong and the rains will surely soak but the ground won’t move as much as a pitching boat. I picked both of those spots because they are two of the sites that are closest to deep water. The only problem with checking this endeavor off the list is having a storm coincide with a schedule that leaves few windows for birding in out of the way places. I might have to settle for mixing it with a family trip and looking out to sea in earnest on a sunny day.

birding Costa Rica

Galapagos (formerly Audubon’s) Shearwater from my only Costa Rican pelagic trip.

  • Bird the new border road: So, the Costa Rican government built this road that parallels the Rio San Juan and the Nicaraguan border.  They did it as a knee-jerk reaction to the Ortega government’s land claim on Calero Island (this might be akin to the United States of America putting troops on one of the Canadian Thousand Islands and claiming that it belonged to New York state, or vice versa). The road was hastily constructed and although it could have been worse, precious lowland rainforest was certainly destroyed and now there are infuriating reports that some of that downed wood was also sold. The bright side of the story is that environmental groups may pressure the government to protect the adjacent forests and reforest areas that were cut down. In any case, I want to bird that road! It cuts through some wild, fantastic habitat and huge areas of lowland forest are just across the river in Nicaragua. Underbirded and filled with potential, it would surely be exciting.

birding Costa Rica

Some awesome lowland forest near the border.

  • Find that first Altamira Oriole for the country up by the Nicaraguan border: This time, I would be on the much drier Pacific slope and would basically bird near the border until an Altamira showed up. Since they live very close to the border in Nicaragua, it’s just a matter of time before one is found.

birding Costa Rica

The much more common Streak-backed Oriole.

  • Count shorebirds in the Gulf of Nicoya: I’m not talking about hitting the shorebird hotspots of Chomes or the Colorado salt pans. I’m talking about heading out in a boat or kayak to reach the many otherwise inaccessible areas in the Golf of Nicoya that harbor lots of shorebirds. I know this to be the case because I have seen those huge flocks of shorebirds on inaccessible mud flats from the Puntarenas-Tambor ferry. There’s gotta be some good stuff out there, just have to figure out a way to get close enough to identify them…

I’m sure that other wild endeavors will come to mind but until then, happy birding wherever you may be on this last day of July, 2012.

For more information and stories about Costa Rican birds, check Costa Rica Living and Birding at htt://birdingcraft/wordpress.com

Categories
Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica Hummingbirds identification issues Introduction

Identification Tips When Birding Costa Rica: Small, Plain Hummingbirds Species

Hummingbirds are known for their glittering, jewel-like plumage, ad feisty, sprite-like behavior. I’m not sure if they had anything to do with being part of the inspiration for Disney’s Tinkerbell character but she sure acts like one of the Trochilidae. On a near constant sugar high, more than 50 species of hummingbirds zip around Costa Rica in search of that next nectar fix. Given the high hummingbird diversity, their restless behavior, and their minute size, hummingbirds also come with their own set of identification issues. Get a good look and you can identify most without too much of a problem but there are a few that cause ID headaches and be harbingers of frustration.

Birders familiar with the hummingbird ID challenge in western North America have first-hand knowledge of the difficulties that hummingbirds can bring to the ID table and may even be cringing at the thought of 50 plus species to sort through. Ironically, though, despite the greater variety of hummingbird species in Costa Rica compared to northern hotspots like Arizona and New Mexico, it’s a lot more difficult to identify hummingbirds in those places than Tiquicia. Nevertheless, there are still a few species that can throw monkey wrenches into the works and four that have a tendency to confuse are females of Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Volcano Hummingbird, and Scintillant Hummingbird. In my opinion, even those aren’t as tough as the likes of the Calliope/Anna’s/Costa’s, etc conundrum but it’s still nice to have some help in identifying them so without further ado, here are some tips:

Ruby-throated Hummingbird: With their dark, forked tails, white spot behind the eye, and dark red gorget, males are pretty straightforward. Duller plumaged females, though, are always throwing visiting birders for a loop until they realize that Ruby-throateds are a common wintering species in many areas of the Pacific slope and that there is almost nothing else in the country that looks like them. The closest things are the much larger Scaly-breasted Hummingbird (also has a more decurved bill, is duller, and has larger white spots in the tail), female Canivet’s Emerald (white stripe behind the eye and more white in tail), and the female Mangrove Hummingbird (plainer, lacks white spot behind the eye).  Although it’s worth it to check every, small hummingbird on the Pacific slope with whitish underparts, most are going to be female Ruby-throated Hummmingbirds.

birding Costa Rica

birding Costa Rica

Note the white spot behind the eye, whitish underparts, slightly decurved bill, a hint of a “semi-collar”, and a bit of white in the tail.

Magenta-throated Woodstar: While the male is pretty easy to identify with his longish tail and white spots on the lower back, the female can be a source of confusion for visiting birders. Like the male, she hangs out at flowerbeds and flowering trees in middle elevations in many parts of the country but tends to be uncommon. The best places to study this species are at feeders in the Monteverde area and at El Toucanet Lodge in the Talamancas. Like the male, the female Magenta-throated Woodstar also cocks up the tail when feeding but the best way to identify this species is by noting the two white spot on the flanks/lower back and the orangish belly.

birding Costa Rica

birding Costa Rica

Female Magenta-throated Woodstars

birding Costa Rica

Note the long tail on this young male Magenta-throated Woodstar.

Volcano and Scintillant Hummingbirds: Keeping with the Selasphorous tradition, this and the following species probably present the most consistent challenge to hummingbird identification in the country. Tiny and very similar, you have to get a good look at the tail to be sure of their identification. They actually tend not to be found together but can certainly overlap at sites with an elevation of 2,000 meters. The Volcano isn’t restricted to volcanoes but since so many mountains in Costa Rica are actually sleeping, fiery-breathing geological giants, the name kind of rings true at many sites. The Scintillant isn’t any more shiny than most of its Trochilid brethren but what the heck, it’s a cool sounding name anyways! The orangeish gorget of male Scintillants separates them from Volcanoes in most areas (although male Volcano Hummingbirds on Poas have slightly similar pinkish gorgets) but a close look at the tail is the best way to identify females. Volcano Hummingbirds have green central rectrices while those of Scintillants are rufous. Both species also have dark subterminal bands but this characteristic is broader in Volcanoes. Volcano hummingbirds also have less rufous on the underparts and tend to show a thin, rufous eyebrow that extends to the chin (although that field mark may vary by subspecies). Get a good look at the tail, though, and the bird’s identification will be obvious.

birding Costa Rica

The green on the tail is evident in this Volcano Hummingbird even at a distance.

birding Costa Rica

Here’s a closer look at a Volcano- note the rather greenish flanks and green on the tail.

birding Costa Rica

And here’s a female Volcano Hummingbird that was nice enough to spread its tail and show that prominent subterminal band.

birding Costa Ricabirding Costa Rica

Note the rufous on the flanks of this female Scintillant Hummingbird from El Toucant Lodge and the mostly rufous tail with a small subterminal band.

Snowcap: The male is a stunning little piece of work but the female is about as colorless as they come. Whitish below and greenish above, female Snowcaps are pretty darn basic. However, since almost nothing else fist that description in their foothill distribution, if you see a small hummingbird with white underparts in a place like Quebrada Gonzalez, you will have to admit that you latched your eyes onto a female Snowcap. About the only other hummingbird species that she could be confused with in her range might be a female Coppery-headed Emerald that decided to wander downslope (not unheard of at the upper limits of Snowcap distribution). Both have white in the tail but the Snowcap still shows a straight bill (decurved in the case of the emerald) and none of the green on the sides of the upper breast that female emeralds exhibit.

birding Costa Rica

Female Snowcap

birding Costa Rica

Female Coppery-headed Emerald

To sum things up, identification of some of the small hummingbirds in Costa Rica isn’t as difficult as one might think but you might want to hire a guide anyways because finding them could be another story.

Check the Costa Rica Living and Birding Blog on a regular basis For more information about birds and birding in Costa Rica.

Categories
biodiversity Birding Costa Rica preparing for your trip

Green Costa Rican Birds

Green with envy? Green with Hulk-like anger? Green like a rookie? No, just the plain old-fashioned baby of a blue and yellow combination. With all of those leaves and epiphytes out there in the Costa Rican countryside, one might expect three-fourths or a respectable half of Costa Rican bird species to have predominantly green plumage. Since that’s far from the case, being green doesn’t apparently work quite as well as one might think in keeping birds from being eaten. Given the absolute paucity of green raptors, it’s even worse at helping those taloned, fierce-eyed birds catch prey items.

The various shades of brown are far more common in Costa Rica’s avian realm and it makes me feel vindicated for paying attention to the names of Crayola Crayons at a young age. Finally, I can put that locked away knowledge to practice and notice when a bird happens to have umber or sepia highlights in its plumage! Russet and rufous seem to be the most common faces of brown that are shown by Costa Rican birds but I digress because this post is supposed to be all about green.

Although the choices for green birds in Costa Rica are rather limited, one family in particular stands out for their constantly green wardrobe. That family is the Psittacidae and even though the Scarlet Macaw likes to be a rebel with its crazy red, yellow, and blue colors, the rest are as green as the foliage of an elm in June.

birding Costa Rica

Scarlet Macaws are the odd ball of their family in Costa Rica.

The norm is better represented by species like the Mealy Parrot

birding in Costa Rica

the White-fronted Parrot or

Birding in Costa Rica

the Crimson-fronted Parakeet.

Birding in Costa Rica

For parrots, green works very well at keeping them hidden and anyone who has seen a flock of parrots or parakeets fly into the foliage of a tree can attest to this. As they flutter into the tree, those noisy birds seem to pull a vanishing act right before your very eyes like feathered Houdinis.

Common and widespread, the Green Honeycreeper has also done well with its beautiful green plumage, the female being a more subtle green than the glistening, bluish-green male.

Birding in Costa Rica

Female Green Honeycreeper

Birding in Costa Rica

Male Green Honeycreeper

Female euphonias tend to be yellowish-green while most males are blue-black and yellow. The exception is the olive-colored male Olive-backed Euphonia and the emerald-like Golden-browed Chlorophonia. Despite their bright colors, chlorophonias are typically tough to see in the crowns of cloud forest trees.

Olive-backed Euphonias are common on the Caribbean slope.

Birding in Costa Rica

Golden-browned Chlorophonias are common in the highlands.

Birding in Costa Rica

Female manakins are another bunch of green birds but since they flit around the dark recesses of understory vegetation, I don’t have any photos of them. Nor do I have images of the canopy loving, titmouse-sounding Green Shrike Vireo because it’s hard enough to just see that thing through binoculars.

However, some of the other green Costa Rican birds that I do have images of are the

Emerald Tanager– not the best photo but there it is!

Birding in Costa Rica

Emerald Toucanet– Yes, it helps when they come to feeders.

Birding in Costa Rica

Green Kingfisher– This most common kingfisher in Costa Rica sports such a lovely jade hue.

Birding in Costa Rica

Then there are the hummingbirds, many of which come in varying degrees of glittering green plumage. It’s hard to pick out the greenest of the bunch but I’ll settle on the aptly named Green Thorntail for now.

Birding in Costa Rica

Green Thorntail.

There are also a bunch of other species that have olive on the back or have some shade of green in their plumage but the above represent many of the greenest birds to be encountered when birding Costa Rica.

Check the Costa Rica Living and Birding Blog on a regular basis for more information about birds and birding in Costa Rica. http://birdingcraft.com/wordpress

Categories
Birding Costa Rica birding lodges Pacific slope

The Birding is Always Good at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge

This past weekend, I guided the Birding Club of Costa Rica’s trip to Esquinas Rainforest Lodge and surroundings. I’ve been there once before and as with that first experience, I am just dying to get back there! The birding is pretty much first rate, the herps are pretty darn good too, the service is excellent, they have trained, bilingual guides, the service is good, and the food is excellent. It’s no wonder that guidebooks have raved about the place and called it one of the top eco-lodges in the country. After the recent trip, I have to say that I agree with those accolades.

birding Costa Rica

Watching birds at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge.

I won’t bore with too many details about the lodge because there’s too much to say about the birds. The road from the highway to the lodge passes through fields and edge habitats that turn up rather local species in Costa Rica such as Pale-breasted Spinetail, Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, Red-breasted Blackbird, Scrub Greenlet, and others. Even though we started birding that road at the hot lowland hour of 11:30 A.M., we picked up several of the targets in less than an hour. The spinetail came to the edge of the road and as several birds bathed in puddles, we got great looks at the seedeater as it perched in a roadside tree.

birding Costa Rica

Ruddy-breasted Seedeater.

birding Costa Rica

Those bathing birds.

birding Costa Rica

Smooth-billed Anis also put on a long-tailed, arch-billed show.

Other interesting species could certainly occur in the marshy ditches that run along part of the road but we didn’t have time to adequately investigate them (nor good access).

Rice fields near the lodge have unfortunately been converted into pasture but they still held Southern Lapwing, Red-breasted Blackbird, and Striped Cuckoo among other species. At Esquinas itself, the gardens around the lodge were busy with birds more or less all day long and provided easy looks at a good variety of edge and forest species. Just after dawn, I saw more than one Black-faced Antthrush doing its rail-walk through the gardens and even near the rooms. Gray-chested Doves were also easily seen at that hour while Orange-billed Sparrows hopped around in plain view throughout the day.

We got repeated, great looks at nice birds like Green Honeycreeper, Golden-naped Woodpecker, Spot-crowned Euphonia,  Cherrie’s Tanager, Bananaquit, Riverside Wren, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Black-hooded Antshrike, Yellow Tyrannulet, and brief views of less common species such as Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, White-vented Euphonia, and Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager. Gray-necked Wood-Rails were common and easy to see every day of the trip and on the last morning, we got killer looks at Great Curassows feeding in the garden (!). After my recent experience at Esquinas, I think this lodge tops La Selva for curassow encounters.

birding Costa Rica

When I showed my daughter this photo she said it was a peacock.

birding Costa Rica

We also saw Gray-headed Tanagers on several occasions.

birding Costa Rica

A Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher was nesting over the stream and thus allowed prolonged studies of this smart little rainforest flycatcher.

Crested Guans hung out and called from the canopy in the morning and we got scope views of Mealy and Blue-headed Parrots and Orange-chinned Parakeets while four other Psittacid species were flyovers. A pair of Spectacled Owls also called from the vicinity of the lodge and the place looks very promising for owls in general. On our one owl search, although we didn’t hear any (probably wrong time of the year), we got fantastic looks at a Striped Owl in the fields just before reaching the lodge. On another night, some of the group did a fantastic frog tour with the excellent local guide, Mario while my friend Susan and I searched for frogs and snakes on our own. In a matter of minutes, we saw several frogs and this Blunt-headed Snake with an anole in its jaws!

The gardens were also excellent for hummingbirds and we recorded a total of 11 species during our stay. Charming Hummingbird was the most common species.

birding Costa Rica

Here you can see why the Charming Hummingbird was formerly known as Beryl-crowned Hummingbird.

birding Costa Rica

Nesting Bronzy Hermit constantly posed for photos!

Although the lodge has trails through primary and secondary forest, we spent little on them because several are steep and slippery. Our one foray onto parts of the Bird Trail turned up very few species but we spent little time on it and it looked promising. A few of us did a bit of birding on the Laguna Trail and we got great looks at Black-bellied Wren, Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Orange-collared Manakin, and other species of old second growth.

I was a bit surprised by the dearth of trogons (heard 3 species, only saw one) and raptors seem scarce but overall, the birding was great and we recorded more than 160 species. Several of those were uncommon, I was impressed with the excellent looks that we got at most of them, and the photo opps for birds were likewise excellent. For example, on our final morning, I was amazed to get this shot…

birding Costa Rica

Little Tinamou !- although common, this second growth skulker is typically shy and tough to see. This individual came right to the edge of the road and looked at us! Yes, Esquinas is pretty darn good. It’s expensive but you truly get what you pay for and some at this first class eco-lodge.

Check the Costa Rica Living and Birding Blog on a regular basis For more information about birds and birding in Costa Rica.

Categories
Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica preparing for your trip

Go Birding in Costa Rica to Escape the Heat

I may have written a post like this in the past but given the crazy elevated temperatures and subsequent tragic results up there in the temperate latitudes, I must reiterate: Come on down to Costa Rica to get away from the heat. No, you won’t be jumping out of the flames and into the heart of the fire. It will be more like tip-toeing out the door of a sweatlodge and walking into the refreshing air of much more reasonable temperatures. Basically, it will be like heading to a place with “normal” summer temperatures.

As I write this, I’m not sweating nor blasting my energy bill to the sky with delightful yet luxurious air-conditioning. I don’t need it because it’s a pleasant 80 degrees around here. It might actually be a couple degrees hotter than that but in glancing out the window, I see cloudy skies and that usually equates to slightly cooler days in Costa Rica. Don’t get me wrong, it does get hot in Costa Rica but it’s nothing compared to the heat waves that are ravaging much of the USA. In fact, it’s usually a bit cooler at this time of the year than during the months when Costa Rica is most commonly visited by birders (January-April).

In July, mornings are often sunny and then the rains fall to cool things off in the afternoon. Oh yeah, and there are also plenty of birds to see too. Although you won’t encounter migrants from the north, you have just as good a chance at seeing resident species as during the dry season. In fact, I think the cloudy weather makes it a bit easier to see more resident species because that tends to boost bird activity. At least it was like that a few weeks ago when I had near non-stop birding on the road to Manuel Brenes. Seriously, it was so good that I have been yearning to get back there ever since.

birding Costa Rica

Can’t wait to go back to this spot.

It’s still hot and humid in the Caribbean and south Pacific lowlands but it probably won’t get hotter than 90 degrees and things like weirdo tinamous, macaws, a cavalcade of parrots, gorgeous trogons, crafty antbirds, and other awesome tropical birds are pretty good compensation in any case.

Of course, if you wanted to avoid perspiration entirely, you could also just opt for birding in the highlands. It will be cool enough for a light jacket and while you relish the Autumn-like temperatures, you will also see fantastic near endemics like  Black and yellow Silky-Flycatcher

birding Costa Rica

Ruddy Treerunner

birding Costa Rica

Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush

birding Costa Rica

Black Guan

birding Costa Rica

Peg-billed Finch

birding Costa Rica

and Flame-throated Warbler

birding Costa Rica

Of course, you also have a very good chance at seeing Quetzalcoatl’s messenger.

birding Costa Rica