As luck would have it, very few of the 2013 Costa Rican Christmas counts landed on dates that worked into my schedule. However, as luck would also have it, the one that did fit in was the Osa Christmas Count. This exciting day long survey of all things avian took place on December 20th and I was fortunate to be able to participate in one of the birdiest spots of the count circle, the Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge.
This small lodge is one of the best birding lodges in Costa Rica and earns that distinction by being surrounded by extensive areas of rainforest and birdy second growth, small lagoons on and near the property for the lodge, and more open areas en route that turn up other suites of species. Add the excellent guiding, local, in-depth avian knowledge, and quality hospitality to the mix and you end up with a truly fantastic place for birding.
It might be the only place where you can see Black-cheeked Ant Tanagers coming to a feeder, Golden-naped Woodepckers are fairly common, and raptors, many hummingbirds, and even cotingas are regularly seen from the lodge. Yes, it’s great birding at all times and the count was an exciting one.
We arrived on the afternoon of the 19th and would have shown up after dark if we hadn’t pulled ourselves away from the fine birding en route. Black-bellied Wrens, Great Antshrikes, toucans, and much more called from roadside habitats and we could have easily come across dozens of other species near the village of Dos Brazos.
At the lodge itself, after being greeted by Liz and Abraham and being shown to our rooms, we went over the details for the count and enjoyed a wonderful dinner by candlelight. Liz showed us a Turnip-tailed Gecko and then it was off to bed early to be ready for a big day of birding in the hot, humid conditions of the incredible rainforests of the Osa Peninsula. A comfortable bed and the soothing night sounds of the jungle resulted in a good night’s rest before the alarm went off at 4:30 am. The other count participants were just arriving and much to my pleasant surprise, almost everyone was right from the village! On most counts in Costa Rica, participants are students, birders, and biologists that travel to the count circle. At Bosque del Rio Tigre, it was just the opposite and a tangible demonstration of the work that Liz and Abraham have done with the local community. After enjoying a quick breakfast with our fellow counters, Susan, Liz, and I started tallying off birds that called from the tall rainforest just behind the lodge.
This included the dawn songs of Buff-throated Foliage-gleaners, Scaly-throated Leaftossers (a common bird there), Charming Hummingbird, Black-cheeked Ant Tanager, Blue-crowned Motmot, Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, and other species. As we walked up the trail that eventually leads to an open area on a ridge above the lodge, we tried our best to keep count of the Lesser Greenlets, Red-capped Manakins, Tawny-crowned Greenlets, Black-faced Antthrushes, and Chestnut-backed Antbirds. Up on the ridge itself, we enjoyed views of toucans, flyby Scarlet Macaws, Mealy, Red-lored, and White-crowned Parrots, and a host of other species that called from and appeared in the surrounding trees. Although cotingas and coquettes eluded us that morning, they are regularly seen from that vantage point. A couple of our better species were White-vented Euphonia and White-necked Puffbird.
Around 9 am, we descended down past birdy spots into equally birdy second growth habitats and continued to add species to the list in the form of Great Antshrike, Dusky Antbird, a few warblers, Slate-headed Tody-Tyrant, King Vulture, White Hawk, and others. The rarest species was arguably a male Blackpoll Warbler! This bird is a rare vagrant in Costa Rica and the one on the count was my first for the country. At first glance, I actually thought is was a Yellow-rumped because I caught a glimpse of it from the front and the markings on each side of the breast looked more that those of that species. Better looks a bit later on in the morning, though, revealed its identity (and as it turns out, local guides had already been seeing that same bird in the area).
By 10:30, it was pretty hot and we had covered our route quite well so we trudged back to the lodge and sat down to a very welcome cold drink and tasty lunch. Although one group ventured back out for a bit, most of us relaxed (or napped in my case) to wait out the hottest part of the day. By 3, birds were becoming more active so we headed back into the field. One group went to the village to look for Red-rumped Woodpecker and other edge species while another walked upriver to get White-crested Coquette and other birds. Susan and I had planned on going upriver as well but because the water would have flowed over and into our rubber boots, we opted for focusing on the river near the lodge. In retrospect. we should have donned river shoes provided by the lodge and got that coquette but at least the birding was great right where we stayed. Checking the treetops didn’t turn up any hoped for cotingas but we were rewarded with nice looks at Laughing Falcon, several tanagers including Blue Dacnis, Long-billed Starthroat among other hummingbird species, and other birds.
During the count that evening, we found that Susan, Liz, and I had tallied around 140 species with many more being added by the other counters. A few people searched for owls once the sun set but we crashed early to be ready for another morning of birding the following day. Since one of the counting groups had seen both cotingas from an overlook on the other side of the river, we opted for that route. Before we even started out, Susan spotted a Red-rumped Woodpecker right in front of the lodge! This was one of the best birds of the trip for me because it had been a much wanted bird for my country list for several years.
Shortly thereafter, as we sweated our way up the hill, we were treated to excellent birding punctuated by several Black-cheeked Ant Tanagers, two more White-collared Puffbirds, Black-bellied and Riverside Wrens, Baird’s Trogons, and much more. The top overlook would be a fantastic place to spend an entire day. It’s shaded by large trees and offers an excellent view of forested ridges. Scoping revealed lots of vultures as well as Double-toothed Kite and Great Black Hawk (a species that has declined in Costa Rica over the past 10 years). We dipped on cotingas but this is a good place to look for them. The top overlook also abuts beautiful primary rainforest that is connected to the national park. It’s a shame that we didn’t have time to properly bird it because it looked really good and turned up Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrant, Brown-billed Scythebill, and other species right from the overlook.
The walk downhill was of course a million times better than the auto-drenching stroll on the way up. Back at the lodge, we enjoyed a final delicious breakfast before packing up, checking out the Little Tinamou that came out to feed on rice grains near the kitchen, and driving back across the river. On the way out, we couldn’t help but stop for more birding near rice fields and thus got out trip Slate-colored Seedeater.
A stop at Rincon also finally gave us both cotingas! There were at least two Yellow-billed and one male Turquoise in a small fruiting fig but they flew off before I could get adequate shots.
It was also tempting to stop and bird at several sites on the way back but we both wanted to head back to our respective homes so we opted for identifying birds from the car as we high-tailed it back up to the Central Valley.