Last weekend, I finally got out to look for migrants. I went with Paul Murgatroyd in search of new species for our Costa Rica lists and we went to the right place but we also went a bit too early. Or, you could say that the birds were a bit too late but either way, we did not find the hordes of migrating wood-warblers that we were hoping for. Heck, we didn’t even see common wintering species like Chestnut-sided and Tennessee warblers. To be fair, we did see one or two Chestnut-sideds, one Tennessee, one Magnolia, one Prothonotary, and some Northern Waterthrushes but that was about it for wood-warblers on the coast. That’s pretty non-warblerish for three days of fall migration BUT we did see some other stuff.
Paul got two much awaited lifers, I picked up one new species for my country list, and got a bunch of year birds. Our trip actually started near Cartago to check an area that sometimes has shorebirds followed by a check for migrants at Ujarras. To make that part of the story short, conditions were wrong for shorebirds so we saw none, and there were very few migrants at Ujarras, nor birds for that matter. It looked like the owners of one formerly productive chayote cultivation decided to take the easy route and poison the undergrowth with herbicide. Nope, no birds there nor the Cabanis’ Ground-Sparrows that have often been seen foraging under the chayote. At least we still heard a couple of that probable endangered species in the adjacent shade coffee.
At the Cafetal Casona restaurant, we also picked up a pretty good bird with brief looks at a Veery. That was my first for Costa Rica but as it turned out, not my last for the trip. We ended up seeing 4 or 5 more Veery around Manzanillo as well as a few Gray-cheeked Thrushes among Swainson’s Thrushes. All were very furtive and only gave good looks at a fruiting tree on our final morning. But, back to the first day. We arrived at the Colibri Bed and Breakfast by two p.m. and started birding the grounds straight away.
The gardens looked good for migrants, too bad they weren’t there! With the tall trees and thick, wet, bug-filled undergrowth, I can only imagine how good that place must be when major bird waves hit the area. Although we didn’t get any Connecticuts for our country lists (almost no one does), we did see nesting Tawny-crested Tanager, had monkeys feeding in a huge fig, and had a bunch of other nice lowland species including our first Purple-throated Fruitcrows for the trip.
Not seeing any migrants at the hotel, we decided to check out Manzanillo village and the RECOPE road. Before we reached the RECOPE road, we had one of our best migrant encounters for the trip. Fruiting trees along the main road to Manzanillo were busy with 50 or so Eastern Kingbirds and lots of Red-eyed Vireos. White-collared Manakin showed up, a few Scarlet Tanagers appeared, and we got one Prothonotary. In the deep shade of the tree, I spotted another Veery along with a couple of Swainson’s but our best species was Rufous-winged Tanager. One or two of those uncommon birds was feeding on the figs and for a second, I probably also had a brief look at a Sulphur-rumped Tanager in flight but much to my annoyance, it never reappeared.
Once the fruiting trees quieted down, we did check out RECOPE and Manzanillo but there wasn’t much around. In Manzanillo, more flocks of Eastern Kingbirds and Cliff, Barn, and Bank Swallows flew overhead and we did get lucky with one rare migrant. This was a Least Flycatcher (rare for Costa Rica) seen in the same spot as my first for the country two years before.
That night, we checked for owls around the hotel sans success. In fact, we didn’t hear a single nocturnal owl call at any time during our trip. We did hear Great Potoos though, at least three near the hotel, and one in trees right in front of the Colibri. Although we didn’t see it perch, we did get to see it glide overhead like a weird, massive, owl-like creature.
On our second day, after listening to the potoo calling just before dawn, we headed over to the RECOPE road. It was pretty good with at least one calling Central American Pygmy-Owl, and Cinnamon, Chestnut-colored, Pale-billed, and Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, Northern Barred, Wedge-billed, Cocoa, Streak-headed, and Black-striped Woodcreepers, Bat Falcon, Yellow-margined Flycatcher, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, and other lowland birds. One of our targets was Paul’s main nemesis, the Dusky-faced Tanager. We got brief looks and then much better looks later that day and the following morning.
We also had more fruitcrows, and various other expected species but very few migrants. Our migrant search continued after breakfast at the Isla Botanical Garden just outside of Puerto Viejo. En route, we stopped to check out a mixed flocks and hit gold with Sulphur-rumped Tanager being one of our first birds! It didn’t hang around long but at least long enough for Paul to get his second important lifer of the trip. I was pleased to hear that its call is distinctive (sounds a bit like a Black and Yellow Tanager), and to get that tough one for the year. Shame that it was too high up for a photo. At the gardens, we had to accept that there weren’t many migrants around but we did get nice looks at Checker-throated and White-flanked Antwrens. I dipped once again on the Spot-crowned Antvireo but bought some of their home-made, supreme, high cocoa content chocolate! You can buy it at the garden or in the Puerto Viejo market.
After lunch, we decided to drive back up the coast to see if we could locate the river of raptors. The poor weather was holding the birds up because we saw nary a migrating Turkey Vulture nor Broad-wing in places where thousands have turned up on other trips. Although we didn’t see the migrating hawks that day, our gamble still paid off with good looks at one Mississippi Kite, a new country bird for Paul.
Owling that night was once again bad for calling owls (none) but we heard Great Potoo again and majorly lucked out by seeing a Vermiculated Screech-Owl fly up from the RECOPE road! It didn’t come back but we got good enough looks to count this major target. We figured that it must have just caught something on the ground.
On our final morning, there were a few more migrants around but no cuckoos nor wood-warblers. We still had great birding around Manzanillo with highlights being more flocks of Eastern Kingbirds, a small flock of Dickcissels, lots of Red-eyed Vireos, and our best looks at the thrushes in a fruiting tree. We also saw Bay and Black-throated Wrens, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Dusky Antbird, Fasciated and Black-crowned Antshrikes, and other expected resident species.
On the drive back, we finally ran into migrating raptors north of Limon when kettle after kettle of Broad-wingeds and Mississippi Kites flew overhead. A good way to end the trip! Tomorrow, I am off to Tortuguero. It will be interesting to see how this weekend compares with Manzanillo.