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Birding Costa Rica dry forest

An Early Update for Birding Costa Rica around Chomes

For a while, I have been wanting to visit Catarata del Toro for a full day of birding. I have wanted to go there because it seems like the closest chance to get into middle elevation forest that hosts Black-breasted Wood-Quail, Azure-hooded Jay, Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, and chances at various other cloud forest goodies. The mentioned species are especially important because we need images of them for the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app and the Panama Birds Field Guide app. Those birds also live closer to home but in much less accessible areas of Braulio Carrillo, or on the other side of the urbanized Central Valley at Tapanti. Not to mention, there has been little birding on the trails at Catarata and I suspect that it could host some surprises. As I write, I have yet to reconnoiter the site because one cold front after another has postponed the trip. When a cold front happens in Costa Rica, it’s not exactly cold (although locals might feel different about the slightly cooler temperatures). Instead, we get an abundance of rain and wind, especially in the mountains and on the Caribbean slope- basically right where Catarata is situated.

At least you can still see Black-bellied Hummingbird and other hummingbird action in the rain.

This is why I did not go there this past weekend but opted for a drive down to Chomes instead. Although I need fewer images of birds from the Pacific coast, a visit to this hotspot is always worthwhile because you really never know what you are going to see. I was reminded of this yesterday when an image of a White Tern was posted on the AOCR Bird Alarm from the other side of the Nicoya peninsula. When I saw it, I nearly fell out of my seat because a sighting in Costa Rica of this fairy-like bird usually requires a long, pelagic trip to Cocos Island. Needless to say, to see one from land would be a serious avian lottery win. I didn’t have the lifer winning ticket at Chomes but really, that bird could have just as well appeared later the same day or have been visible from the ferry, and it’s probably not the only major rarity down that way either!

So, in addition to keeping an eye out for any unusual, mega vagrants, here is some information when visiting Chomes and nearby during birding season, 2016:

  • Stick to high tide: This really is a must. I checked out Punta Morales that same day during low tide and saw maybe three waterbirds. Compare that to hundreds of shorebirds and terns often there during high tide and you get the picture.
    If there during high tide at least you can still see Mangrove Yellow Warbler.

    Common Black Hawk is regular as well.
  • Punta Morales: Speaking of this site, this is always worth a visit when birding around Chomes. To check the salt ponds, take the road to Punta Morales from the highway shortly after the turn off for Chomes, drive on in for several kilometers, and watch for the bar-restaurant El Huevo on the left. Take the next left, just before a bus stop and head on in until you see the ponds.

    The scrubby vegetation also hosts White-lored Gnatcatcher and some other dry forest species.
  • Cave Swallows have been seen: I doubt these will be around in a month or two but they have been reported from Chomes and other nearby areas in recent weeks. I also had several around there last January.
  • Chomes might be dry: It’s hard to make any predictions about water levels as Chomes but last weekend, it was much drier than I expected. The dry conditions seem to keep the Mangrove Rails out of reach, and doesn’t provide as much habitat for shorebirds. The only pond that had any water was the last one, near the beach. This did have some birds and probably hosted a lot more during high tide. Although we can’t expect any rain for Chomes any time soon, I suppose that tidal surges could fill the ponds near the beach.

    This pond is usually filled with water.
  • Bird the beach: What I really mean to say is scan the gulf from the beach. This is where the birds go during low tide and although they aren’t as concentrated and are further away, I still managed to identify American Oystercatcher, Black Skimmer, Marbled Godwit, and some other cool year birds.
  • American Avocet and Long-billed Curlew: If these birds interest you, once again, at least one avocet is present and there are probably three curlews around.

As usual, bring plenty of water, slather on the sunscreen, and make sure that the vehicle is in good working order because you don’t want to be stranded in that outdoor oven!

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Birding Costa Rica preparing for your trip

This Week in Costa Rica Birding

Are you on your way to Costa Rica? Are you already here? If so, I hope these tidbits of birding news will be of use. In no necessary order:

It’s windy out there!: If you thought you had escaped the cold weather, well, I guess you did but you haven’t quite escaped the winter. Although the wicked and icy lash of the north falls far short of Costa Rica, it can still send cold fronts that batter us with wind and dump tons of rain in the mountains and on the Caribbean slope. Yesterday, the wind was out of control in the Central Valley. It rattled the roof tops and kept most birds out of sight. Although we didn’t get any rain in the valley, from my window, I could see it falling in the mountains from this massive block of moisture. Sure glad I wasn’t birding on the Caribbean slope! The weather looks much better today even though the system is supposed to stay with us until the weekend.

Short-tailed Hawks seem to enjoy the wind.

Road closures: Despite the wind and rain, I guess it wasn’t enough to cause landslides and other reasons for road closures. The only one listed on the government road closure site is that of the usual 10 pm to 5 am closure at Paso Ancho on the loop road south of San Jose.

A White-eyed Vireo is hanging out in a local birder’s backyard: Paul Pickering of the Birds for Beer blog has let most of his property grow right back up and guess what? Birds have taken advantage of the green space including a vagrant Cape May Warbler last year, and a lost, wintering White-eyed Vireo this year. This skulky bird is a rare vagrant in Costa Rica and usually seen during migration on the Caribbean coast. Since it seems to have taken up residence at Paul’s place, we did a trip over that way on Saturday and made a sweet addition to the year list.

Here's looking at you sweet 2016 White-eyed Vireo!

Three-wattled Bellbirds are being seen at Curi-Cancha: Aren’t they usually there? No, not right now! Ironically, this news item is a bitter one because it’s probably a sign that the normal wintering areas for bellbirds are not producing the fruits they need (a likely hypothesis since those areas have been experiencing serious drought). Bellbirds typically use the Monteverde area for nesting (a key site for them in Costa Rica). If the forest is suitable for wintering, it might not be so suitable come nesting season. Let’s hope that isn’t the case or we are going to see a lot less bellbirds in a few years.

Good numbers of Yellow-billed Cotingas at Rincon: On a brighter cotingid note, according to eBird lists from a recent Field Guides tour, 15 of these endangered birds were seen by Jay VanderGaast, Tom Johnson, and the tour participants! Check out the eBird list to see Tom’s amazing image of one in flight!

Ornate Hawk-Eagle continues to be seen in a bunch of places: According to eBird, there have several sightings of this large, fancy raptor at several sites. This seems to be the new normal for this species and makes me wonder if it is outcompeting Black Hawk-Eagle and/or filling a niche left by the absence of Crested and Harpy Eagles. It also means that Costa Rica continues to be one of the most reliable countries to see this super cool bird.

An Ornate Hawk-Eagle from near Virgen del Socorro.

New species for the country!: Don’t get too excited because we aren’t talking about anything undescribed, it was seen on Cocos Island, and it’s a dove. Eared Dove was recently documented on the island and that makes one more species for the Costa Rica list. Other species are still possible, in my opinion, the most likely being Hammond’s Flycatcher, and Black-throated Gray Warbler. I actually dreamed the other night that we had found the country’s first Loggerhad Shrike but alas, that one probably won’t show.

The Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app is available in full and basic versions: A new update for the full version will have more than 800 species pictured (including tough birds like Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, cotingas, and much more), vocalizations for around 600 species, and field marks, range maps, and information for every species on the list. The basic version has the same set up, easy to use filter, and other features but only shows 360 of Costa Rica’s common and spectacular species.

Overall, the birding is good with most expected species at the usual places. Whether you experience the country on a tour or on your own, happy birding and hope to see you in the field!

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Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope middle elevations

Birding on a Sunny Day at Cinchona, Costa Rica

I started this year’s birding in Costa Rica six days late but only because the first days of 2016 were spent birding around Niagara Falls, New York. It was gray, it was cold, there were two owls, and looking at birds with old birding friends. It was a gift. But now I am back in Costa Rica and eager to see how this winter’s birding compares to Januaries of the past, to see if I can manage some good images and recordings of things like Tawny-faced Quail, Black-breasted Wood-Quail, and Azure-hooded Jay (among other toughies), and to get a healthy start on the year list.

I was pleased to see this ghost from the north.

Casual birding near the house and scanning the skies from the window has turned up the usuals on sunny, dry season days. Yesterday, a day of guiding at Cinchona and Poas was likewise clear and filled with a bright tropical sun. As expected, the birds were mostly taking a break but careful scanning still  resulted in several nice birds, and activity picked up after the clouds blanketed the peak of Poas in the afternoon.

At the Colibri Cafe, a lot of birds came for breakfast, the best being a male Red-headed Barbet as soon as we arrived, along with close looks at Prong-billed Barbet, Emerald Toucanet, Silver-throated Tanager, and several other species.

This is the more regular barbet species.
Emerald Toucanets in the sun.
This Hoffmann's Woodpecker was a surprise and a reminder that things are a bit too warm and dry in Costa Rica.

Hummingbirding was also quality with close inspection and flybys of massive purple Violet Sabrewings,  feisty Coppery-headed Emeralds, a male Green Thorntail, and others including near constant company of two or three White-bellied Mountain-Gems.

Close looks at White-bellied Mountain-gem are always a gift.

After breakfast, clear skies meant that we were in for some slow birding but the scenery was nice, and as expected, some raptors came out to play. Those taloned birds included a distant Double-toothed Kite, White-tailed Kite on the drive up, expected TVs and BVs, Red-tailed Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, three Barred Hawks, and a beautiful pair of White Hawks down in the canyon at Virgen del Socorro. A little way into the canyon, watching a fruiting tree also turned up a few tanagers.

The birding was better back up on Poas but only because clouds took the brunt off the high elevation sun.

Spot-crowned Woodcreeper was one of many high elevation species we saw.

If you find yourself at Cinchona on a sunny day, get to the Colibri Cafe early (opens around 6), and enjoy much of the morning there. If you have a four wheel drive vehicle, head down to Virgen del Socorro and hang out by the bridge until it clouds over again. Bring a lunch, watch for birds, and when it gets cloudy, get ready for a lot more birds on the rest of the road.