More than 900 species have made it onto the bird list for Costa Rica, the very latest addition being a Peruvian Booby found by Jorge Zuniga found by Jorge Zuniga on the Puntarenas-Paquera ferry. That’s a lot of birds to look for and we can’t expect to see them all. In fact, no one has seen every species on the list for Costa Rica. Many species are vagrants unlikely to occur again (as in Eastern Phoebe and Hooded Merganser) and others are vagrants that are just a pain (hello Connecticut Warbler). Then there are the resident rare species. Those are in a tantalizing category of their own and include species like Harpy Eagle, Crested Eagle, Solitary Eagle, Gray-headed Piprites, Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, Tawny-faced Quail, and Black-crowned Antpitta.
These are species that you can never expect, no matter how much you look for them. That doesn’t mean that you can’t see them in Costa Rica because if you bird in the right places the right way, the chances of finding them do increase. But, at the end of the day, the odds are always against you in finding them. All you can do is increase your chances of seeing these and other rare ones by hiring a guide who knows how to find them, spend a lot of time at the most likely locations, focus the intent on searching for them, and not be surprised when they don’t turn up.
So if they are so unlikely, why bother even thinking about the super rare birds? Why spend any amount of time looking for them?
The main reason why it’s worth it to look for rare birds like the ones mentioned above is the best reason for birding. Basically, look for the top rarities, and you will see a heck of a lot of everything else. For example, you can only hope for a Harpy in Costa Rica in the Osa Peninsula, Tortuguero, the Laguna del Lagarto area, and maybe down around Hitoy Cerere and vicinity. Trust me, each of those sites is fantastic for lowland forest birding. If the Harpy is present, so is everything else including good numbers of many uncommon species.
Scaly-throated Leaftosser is a good bet along with other raptors, Black-striped Woodcreeper, antbirds, tinamous, and many other tropical lowland species.
While looking for that Harpy, you will also be in range for Crested Eagle, Tawny-faced Quail in some areas, and maybe the ground-cuckoo, antpitta, and piprites.
The Solitary Eagle is very rare in Costa Rica but there are more recent sightings for it than the other two large eagles mentioned. Recently, in checking some old notes, I noticed that I had written down the bird for Virgen del Socorro some years ago. I think I may have seen one at a distance but sadly, don’t recall the sighting that well and so haven’t included it on my country list! I had seen the species previously in South America at least a few times so may not have paid as much attention to the sighting in Costa Rica because it wasn’t a lifer. Silly me, now I have to keep looking for it. But, while checking for the lonely eagle at Pocosol, the Osa peninsula, and other remote, forested foothill sites, I know that I am going to find antbirds, Song Wren, will have a chance at many uncommon foothill species, will probably encounter amazing mixed flocks, and might even run into a ground-cuckoo. Plenty of other birds are in those same places because high quality habitat = lots of birds.
The same goes for the Gray-headed Piprites. Although it’s far from pretty, this green, eye-ringed oddity is much wanted because no one ever sees it. Well, hardly anyone ever sees it but when it is encountered, that seems to only happen at high quality foothill and lowland sites. In other words, El Copal, sites near Rancho Naturalista, and Laguna del Lagarto come to mind. There is almost nothing known about the bird and that’s why we have no idea why it’s so rare. Quite the enigma, and the best places to happen across it are in high quality habitat. Might as well look though, because, as with the eagles, you see just about everything else.