Ok, so we come to the final segment of Pat and Susan’s Big Day, 2013 in Costa Rica. At the end of part dos, we finished up in the Caribbean lowlands and were about to move up in elevation for a different suite of birds.
We departed the Caribbean lowlands and headed to the middle elevation forests of Virgen del Socorro, our next major stop. On the way, we picked up singing Black-headed Saltator, Grayish Saltator, hoped for House Sparrow at a gas station (hey, every bird counts), and a drive-by singing Nightingale Wren at the same spot where we got it last year!
Virgen del Socorro is one of Costa Rica’s classic birding sites. The habitat in some parts of the gorge isnt as good as it was before the 2009 earthquake and the road is kind of bad but the place can still turn up a great variety if birds. Last year, we did very good at Virgen del Socorro, scoring birds like White Hawk, Barred Hawk, Blue and gold Tanager, and a bunch more. Unfortunately, lady luck was somewhere else this year because we picked up rather few birds and got more or less chased away by rain. Of the measly 20 species we picked up, best were probably Swallow-tailed Kite, Double-toothed Kite, Brown Violetear, Crimson-collared Tanager, and Coppery-headed Emerald. Oddly enough, the emerald was absent at Cinchona so it was a good thing that one or two were singing at Virgen del Socorro!
Since we needed to get at least 50 new species at Virgen and since most that we did pick up could also be recorded near Cinchona (and were), at this point in the day, I realized that it would be nearly impossible to break any records. Nevertheless, we powered on and stayed with the plan to identify as much as we could on the rest of our route.
A couple stops near Cinchona gave us our only Emerald Toucanet at a fruiting tree, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, and a few other species while the hummingbird feeders treated us well with all of our targets (White-bellied Mountain-Gem and Green Thorntail included). Another quick stop at the La Paz waterfall gave us our target Torrent Tyrannulet but there were few other species added as we headed up to higher elevation forests at Varablanca and Poas.
Ten minutes at the Volcan Restaurant gave us ten new species including several hummingbirds, Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher, Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrush.
A quick drive up to high elevation forests at 2,500 meters turned turned up ten more species that happily called or showed themselves in rapid succession. Among those ten were Sooty Robin, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush (our fourth nightingale-thrush of the day), Acorn Woodpecker, Slaty Flowerpiercer, Silvery-throated Tapaculo, and Golden-browed Chlorophonia.
After the Chlorophonia called, a glance at the watch showed that it was 12:30 and time for us to roll down to the Pacific coast. We hoped to pick up a bird or two on the way and although the Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrushes in the coffee plantations were strangely silent, we at least managed to hear the distinctive clinky chip note of a Rufous-capped Warbler, and saw Hoffmann’s Woodpecker and White-winged Doves. Other birds were absent but how could I blame them; sunny late noon weather is about the most inactive birding weather you will ever find.
As we headed to our highway entrance, it suddenly dawned upon us that our quick route to the coast might actually by closed! I had somehow overlooked the obvious possibility that the highway would only be opened to go uphill so as to accommodate the hordes of post-Easter traffic that were returning back to the Central Valley after a few days at the beach. We raced to the entrance anyways but yes, our fears were confirmed and we had to race straight on back to the old, slower route down to the coast! This was going to cut at least 30 more minutes off of our schedule but what choice did we have?
At least that alternative route passed by a small reservoir and it delivered with 4 new species! After ticking off Least Grebe, Blue-winged Teal, Anhinga, and Vaux’s Swift, we continued onwards down to the hot, dry coastal plain. Odd detours through Orotina also slowed things down but we eventually made it onto the Guacimo Road and picked up White-throated Magpie-Jay shortly thereafter. A quick stop gave us Plain-breasted and Common Ground-Doves as other birds came in to a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl call, including the owl itself. Dry forest targets like Stripe-headed Sparrow, Olive Sparrow, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Nutting’s Flycatcher, and other birds quickly showed themselves.
At a good riparian spot, we got other targets like Turquoise-browed Motmot, Long-tailed Manakin, and Little Tinamou. Lesser Ground Cuckoo refused to announce itself but time was running out and we had other key sites to hit! One was the lagoon at Bajamar but as it turns out, the normally wide lagoon was almost bone dry! There was a bit of water but most of our hoped for waterbirds were foraging elsewhere because we only picked up a few Black-necked Stilts and Least Sandpiper.
Heading over to the coast, more pygmy-owl calling managed to add Streak-backed Oriole, Brown-crested Flycatcher, and Blue Grosbeak to the list while looking out to see turned up Royal Tern and Brown Pelican. Magnificent Frigatebirds also flew overhead but the fishing boats were just too far out to help us add gulls, Brown Booby, and maybe something else to the list.
No time to check the Guacalillo lagoons for shorebirds (which sometimes have them and at other times have nothing at all), becauseit was time to head over to Carara. While cruising through more dry forest, we picked up our three target parrots- Orange-fronted Parakeet, Yellow-naped Parrot, and White-fronted Parrot, saw a bunch of Turquoise-browed Motmots, heard our only Rose-throated Becard of the day (which is very odd but I suspect they have declined), and picked up four or five waterbirds as drivebys near and at the Crocodile Bridge!
With late afternoon rapidly approaching, we raced over to Bijagual Road, jumped out of the car and picked up most of our remaining species for the day. This is usually a good, birdy area and we got 16 new species in less than an hour, including our only Laughing Falcon of the day, Scarlet Macaw, Barred and Black-hooded Antshrikes, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Rufous and white and Rufous-breasted Wrens, Gray-headed Tanager, Northern Bentbill, and Black-hooded Antshrike.
Once the evening cicadas began to call, the birds quieted down and we could only hope that a Collared Forest Falcon might sound off or that the owls would comply once it got dark. No forest falcon was heard but higher up along the road, at least a Mottled Owl made it onto the list. No other owls were calling around Bijagual so we headed over to Playa Azul to give Pacific Screech Owl a shot. Sure enough, that faithful bird showed up in our spotlight and although we still had time to try for Double-striped Thick-Knee, and a few more owls, we decided to call it quits and went home with 246 species for the day. Given challenges like destroyed wetlands, dried out lagoons, closed roads, and rain, we were pretty satisfied with that number!
I still think the world Big Day record can be broken in Costa Rica but it’s still going to require a lot more luck with the weather and better sites for shorebirds. I think that we will do better by doing it earlier in the year (since we pick up almost no spring migrants anyways), and will definitely need to do a lot more scouting.