It’s birding season in Costa Rica! Ok, well it almost is and since you are going to see lots of birds any time of the year in this biodiverse place, an actual birding season is kind of debatable. But, hey, this is a blog and I since I am the sole editor, I can be as creative as I want. Nevertheless, there is some truth to the birding season thing.
You see, the majority of birders and organized tours come to Costa Rica from January to April. They think this is the best time to visit for birding because it’s drier, that’s when most people go, and more birds might be singing. In other words, vacations are sort of planned on hearsay. Well, hearsay is alright as long as it’s accurate and in the case of birding in Costa Rica, I would assess the accuracy of the dry season being the best time to visit at around 70%.
While it does tend to rain less during the first four months of the year, the lower degree of precipitation does not generally include the Caribbean slope. In fact, if I head over to the other side of the volcanic ranges visible from my window between January and March, I could easily be birding in fierce downpours for hours on end while everything gets the moisture sucked out of it by sun and wind back over on the Pacific slope. For this reason, I prefer to do my Caribbean slope birding in September and October because while those represent two of the wetter months on the Pacific, they are usually the driest on the Caribbean.
I took this picture of a Slaty-tailed Trogon during a nice, less wet September on the Caribbean slope.
Speaking of rain, dry doesn’t necessarily mean good when it comes to birding. I get tired of the rain but as just about anyone whom I have guided knows, I long for a nice, cloudy day. Those cloudy days with intermittent rain are the best times to go birding in any habitat in the country because the most beautiful of sunny days are also the most birdless. Who knows why this is the case but it definitely is. Therefore, when birding this upcoming dry season, make sure you get up before dawn and focus on all things avian until about 8:30 AM when the hot sun shoots down with ultraviolet fury to put a damper on activity.
Some other tips with those small black circles we call “bullets” for quick reference:
- Don’t expect high numbers of raptors: Vultures are excluded from this statement because you will see more than enough of those (except Yellow-headed and King- you can get those at the right places but not in huge numbers). High forest raptor diversity and too much edge habitat means fewer sightings of raptors. You should see singles of several species over a two week trip but don’t expect anything like the raptor experience of the African savannahs (or so I have heard).
You might see a gorgeous White Hawk or two.
And a dramatic Bat Falcon.
- Good birds are found at more sites than places visited on tours: It’s fine to stick to the usual tour circuit but there are other excellent sites found in other places. Good forest habitat is key so if you have that, you will see lots of birds.
- Check out some new sites like the Costa Rica Eco-Observatory: Located in Sarapiqui and easy to get to, this is the perfect place to visit for bird photography. The deck also offers looks into the canopy of lowland forest and can be good for scoped views of parrots, Snowy Cotinga, raptors, and who knows what else.
View of the canopy- would love to do an all day count there!
- Get a GPS unit for the rental car: Still not many signs and finding your way through and around the Central Valley can be a challenge (or a nightmare). Fewer traffic cops and narrow roads means that a fair number of people drive with little consideration and little brains. More people drive with compassion and intelligence but there are enough of the former to warrant a very careful attitude for driving when hitting Costa Rican roads.
- Don’t forget the field guide, don’t forget your binocular: Just a reminder…
- To see more birds, hire an experienced guide: No matter how well you get ready for the trip, an experience birding guide should know more vocalizations and where to find many of the rarities.
You might even see a Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo
Lovely Cotinga, or Lattice-tailed Trogon like some of my luckier clients did this year
although Snowcap is a lot more likely.
Hope to see you out in the field this upcoming birding season in Costa Rica!