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bird photography Birding Costa Rica caribbean foothills

A Short Trip to El Tapir

Last week, I paid a visit to El Tapir for a morning of birding with my friend Susan. The weather looked good (no forecast of constant rain), and the foothill rainforest is always worth a visit, and not just for the hummingbirds. Other species live in that mossy forest too, including rare ones like Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, and Gray -headed Piprites. It was one last hoorah of birding to see if I could add a few more species to my year list. I did add one, an Ashy-throated Chlorospingus, not a very rare species but one more for the year nonetheless. Upon arrival, we had our rarest species of the day, a Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle that flew out of the forest and directly overhead. I had already seen it for the year but any sighting of this rare raptor is always welcome!

The view at El Tapir.

The flowering bushes were kind of slow for hummingbirds (and we did not see Snowcap), but we still had fine views of a male Black-crested Coquette, Green Thorntails, and a few other species.

Black-crested Coquette

Green Thorntail and a coquette share a branch.

Inside the forest, we walked both trails, one that leads to an overlook, and another that leads to a beautiful stream.

We scoped the overlook for a fair bit but only turned up a few toucans.

The beautiful stream.

The forest was kind of quiet but we still managed some good ones, including White-crowned Manakin, Black and yellow Tanager, Spotted Antbird, and

Lattice-tailed Trogon.

No Sunbitterns on the stream but it was nice to hang out and see if the small fish eat bits of crackers (they did). Back in the forest, although we failed to find our cotingas or antswwarm, we still had a few flocks with Checker-throated Antwren, White-flanked Antwren (pretty uncommon in Costa Rica, at least in the places that most birders frequent).

Inside the forest.

So, nothing major but still picked up one year bird and always a special place to visit. To reach El Tapir, head down route 32 from San Jose towards Limon, pass through Braulio Carrillo national Park, and watch for the Quebrada Gonzalez ranger station on the right. From there, El Tapir is around one kilometer further down the road, on the right. Although you probably won’t see a sign, it’s the first place on the right just after the ranger station. Open the gate, go on in, and pay the caretaker $12 when he comes out.

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Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica high elevations middle elevations

Costa Rica Birding Fun On Poas

I have written about it before and am happy to do so again. The Poas area is an easy, fun way to see a bunch of nice birds, and the photo opps aren’t that bad either. Last Friday, I was reminded of that while guiding around Cinchona and Poas. It would be a lucky break to see something like Black-breasted Wood-Quail and other species of the forest floor because most of the birding is done from the road, but that doesn’t leave out a lot. We actually heard the wood-quail near Cinchona and had excellent looks at 100 or so species. These included such birds as:

Emerald Toucanet

Prong-billed Barbet

Red-headed Barbet!

White-ruffed Manakin

Coppery-headed Emerald,

White-bellied Mountain-gem, and several other hummingbirds.

Black and Yellow Silky-Flycatcher

Golden-browed Chlorophonia

Three-striped Warbler

Ochraceous Wren

There were lots of other species that I didn’t get pictures of. Buffy Tuftedcheek, Streak-breasted Treehunter, and several other Furnarids showed well, as did Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, and various other birds.

Saving one of the best for last, we finished off the day with roosting Bare-shanked Screech-Owl!

Can you find the Bare-shanked Screech-Owls?

For more detailed information about birding sites throughout Costa Rica, get How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

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Christmas Counts

The 2015 Arenal Christmas Count Experience

“Tis Christmas count season and all through the woods, birders were counting every bird that was stirring, tweeting, and flying as much as they could”. As with every properly done Christmas count, that can act as a brief summary for what we did on Saturday, December 5th. The following is a more detailed one about the event:

  • Finca Luna Nueva: This wonderful organic farm and ecolodge was our team’s base for the count and count route. This place might not be on the regular birding route but it should be. The rooms are comfortable and clean, there are trails through productive bird

    Finca Luna Nueva

  • Rain (but not too much): Unfortunately for counts on the Caribbean slope, December coincides with buckets of rain and it can happen at any time of the day. None of that classic tropical sunny morning/rainy afternoon stuff. More like heavy rain followed by light rain transitioning back to a downpour followed by fog. That’s how every team started their count on the 5th but at least the rain only lasted until mid-morning. The rest of the day was cloudy and ended with another bout of precip. but when it wasn’t raining, a good number of birds came out to play.
    This Broad-billed Motmot was seen on a drier day before the count. We had one count day and heard a few others that could have also been Keel-billed Motmots (they sound the same).

    This wet Collared Aracari was a typical scene during the morning of the count.
  • A lot of birds: The birding and counting were productive. We added new birds all day long and were constantly counting. With the sound of rain clouding my memory, I forget which birds were first and last on the list. However, I do know that our team  identified 140 plus species, none of which were aquatic birds! The total for all teams was more than 320 species. As expected, the most frequent were common species, especially Baltimore Oriole, and large flocks of Crimson-fronted Parakeets and White-crowned Parrots.

    Luna Nueva's organic farm and primary rainforest are excellent for birding.
  • Lack of night birds: They were out there but constant rain isn’t conducive to nightbirding.  Most owls were missed (and we didn’t have any), but one team still managed a Spectacled Owl and a Tropical Screech-Owl, and another got Great Potoo (maybe the roosting bird near the dam).
  • Tower birding: Finca Luna Nueva has the distinction of being one of the only places in Costa Rica with a tower, and we made use of it during the pre-breakfast mist and rain. It’s not very tall, and it doesn’t overlook primary forest but it still provides eye level views of several species. We saw parrots in flight, a pair of White-winged Becards, a few migrant wood-warblers, our only Long-tailed Tyrant of the day, and a male Green Thorntail feeding on the flower of an “Almendra” planted as part of the finca’s reforestation efforts among other sightings.

    Counting from the tower.
  • A bit of exploration: After counting more than 100 species at Luna Nueva (and that’s with getting rained out for the best part of the morning), we spent the afternoon covering the road to the Soltis Texas A and M Research Station. We also had a chance to do some counting on the trails of the station. Although we didn’t pick up any megas, the quality rainforest at this site still looks like a good place to check for the ground-cuckoo, Tawny-faced Quail, or other rarity. We did pick up several more birds, including Ocellated and Spotted Antbirds, some tanagers, and various other species. On the way back to Luna Nueva, lots of birds were flying to roost and perching in the tree tops. It was a final birdy ride punctuated with calling toucans, trees decorated with orioles and Red-billed Pigeons, and a choice Bicolored Hawk, the only one on the count. We also checked out Soltis the next morning after experiencing similar morning rain. This resulted in a dozen species not recorded by our team during the count including a perched Black Hawk-Eagle at eye level, and another Bicolored Hawk!
    This Nightingale Wren was seen after the day of the count.

    As was this Black Hawk-Eagle!
  • The stand-outs: In addition to the raptor stand-outs mentioned above, other birds of notice were the calling White-fronted Nunbirds at Luna Nueva, a heard only Uniform Crake, Great Curassow, Blue-throated Goldentail, 3 trogon species, 5 woodpecker species, Checker-throated Antwren and several other antbirds, Kentucky Warbler, and White-throated Shrike-Tanager. The most unexpected species was a glimpse of a Long-tailed Manakin, a species that normally occurs on the Pacific slope and hasn’t been recorded in this area. One other was also seen by another team.

    Our nunbirds.
  • A well-organized event: In keeping with the previous two counts, this year’s count was an organized event that featured video footage of a nesting Thicket Antpitta, explanation of each count route, lodging for several counters, a rep from Swarovski, some bird-related arts and crafts, and a delicious plate of “arroz con pollo” accompanied b y refried beans at the end of the count day.
    One of the count routes.

    Hearing about Thicket Antpittas.

Many thanks goes out to Diego Quesada (Diego Birding and Nature Tours), Juan Diego Vargas, and Jheudy Carnallo for organizing this year’s count, and Finca Luna Nueva for hosting us!

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Birding Costa Rica caribbean foothills preparing for your trip

Preparations for the 2015 Arenal Christmas Count

December has kicked off with am imaginary “bang!” and Christmas count season is nigh in Costa Rica. Most counts take place two weeks from now, but one key, counting bonanza happens in a few days and I will indeed partake in the challenge. Since the count season overlaps with the family events season, this will probably be the only count I can do. Having been stuck indoors for too many days, I am more than ready to merge back into the tropical forest and focus on the bio-surroundings. I’m still not entirely sure where I will stay for the count (counts in Costa Rica are usually a multi-day event), but one of the coordinators is doing his best to help me and a couple friends figure that out. In the meantime, these are some suggested preparations for keeping things on the ball during count day:

  • Meditate: Meditation results in more birds. It does! Work to clear the mind and there is less mental clutter to keeps one from noticing birds. You see, a lot of these tropical birds are highly evolved to escape detection. The more concentrated on seeing and hearing birds one is, the more you find. Oh, and meditation doesn’t necessarily mean sitting on the floor with your eyes closed. It can also take the form of Tai Chi, Yoga, watching birds on your own, trying to focus on and discern distant flying specks, tight-rope walking or other endeavors that help to calm the mind. If you deal feel like repeating one or a few words over and over, I suggest, “Rufous…vented….Ground….Cuckoo…”.
  • Learning to use hand signals to shush people in silence: After visualizing ground-cuckoos, this idea came to mind. Serious business requires serious silence. I wish we had those throat microphones used by special forces soldiers in movies (a night scope would also be nice) but we don’t, so hand signals will have to suffice. We will have to establish talking rules before the count, as well as which hand signals mean “Bird ahead”, “Did you hear that?”, or “Ground-cuckoo ahead!”. That latter signal could also be substituted for “Shut the ….. up!!” Heck, if we develop those gesticulations further, we’ll be just like a gender neutral Bene Gesserit of birding!
    Birds like to hide in this stuff..

    ...birds like Keel-billed Motmot.
  • Gearing up: A gear check is needed before any major birding endeavor because we can’t afford to have something go wrong, especially when we have to note every bird that chirps, flies, or scampers into our collective field of view. Not to mention, it’s cool to check out optics, mobile devices with bird calls, and an espresso machine any time of day. Ok, so, we aren’t bringing the espresso machine, but only because it’s too much of a pain to carry through the jungle.
  • Rain: There is only one day for the count and that day is not weather dependent. If it rains,(and it often does), the count goes on! As many past bird counts in Costa Rica have demonstrated, you still find a surprising number of birds. This is because it doesn’t usually rain the whole time,, and wherever you have a bunch of birders counting, them birds are found. So, we get ready for the rain by bringing a functioning umbrella, other rain gear, like 2o Ziplock bags, and a mindset that expects precipitation.
  • Snacks, coffee, and the like: We will probably get a bag lunch (most counts in Costa Rica do this) but a count is always better when you can reward yourself with quality chocolate, brownies, and/or other goodies. This also helps us celebrate the count. The coffee is of course necessary (or tea, or some other caffeinated stuff).

    On the way to Arenal, we will probably stop at the Loveats cafe for Cookies.
  • Flexibility to chase birds: So, this could mean literal flexibility if we have to climb a muddy slope and leap across some chasm to see the Great Jacamar or ground-cuckoo calling on the other side of the mountain, or being flexible with time the following day to chase the rare birds found and reported by others during the count.

I may or may not be following my own suggestions but I know that if I do, I will see more birds. Happy counting!