Categories
Birding Costa Rica preparing for your trip

Some March, 2016 Birding News for Costa Rica

Since this the big birding month is about to happen in Costa Rica, I figured that this would also be an appropriate time to write some birding news. That, and the fact that I did not get out into the Costa Rican wilds this past weekend. A Big Day was planned but sickness kept my fellow Big-Dayers from getting out of bed so we had to postpone. Frustrating indeed but since the weather was pretty iffy, better to cancel now and have another shot at it in April. I had to do a bunch of chores around the house anyways so it all worked out. As for the lack of birding, I will be making up for it pretty soon when a friend of mine comes down next week! In the past, we have traveled through Mexico, birded Ecuador, Peru, and also here once before so it will be fun to try and clean up on rare stuff he is missing, especially now that I know where to find birds in Costa Rica.

Keel-billed Motmot is one of those targets.

Stuff to expect-Quetzals

Not much of anything different comes to mind. Quetzals have been showing well in the Dota Valley and the other usual places. On some days, there have been veritable crowds of tourists waiting for quetzals on the main road in the Dota. Sounds like the perfect opportunity to hand out information about quetzals and conservation. It would also be a good opportunity to get donations for tree planting campaigns.

I have also seen a couple of quetzals on the road to Poas but it’s tough to discern if the population is smaller or the same. I haven’t seen any fruiting avocados yet.

Collared Trogon has also been calling up there lately.

Tanagers- Lots of tanagers in the usual spots but one of the best new sites for close looks at Emerald, Speckled, and more is the San Luis Canopy (aka San Luis Adventure Park). It’s not on the regular birding route but should be! Ahem, they also get umbrellabird on their trails.

Umbrellabird- Speaking of this megatinga, it keeps on getting harder to find. With the drier weather in the wet forests it requires, it had probably declined, hopefully not too much because it’s already endangered. I haven’t heard of many being seen in the Sarapiqui lowlands, and very few sightings overall. It makes me wonder if the most accessible site is the San Luis Canopy and the nearby Cocora Hummingbird Garden?

Ornate-Hawk-Eagle– Good news for this one, it just seems to be more and more common. I can’t help but wonder if that is at the detriment of Black Hawk-Eagle. Watch for the Ornate at all sorts of sites from the lowlands to pretty high up.

White-fronted Nunbird– This one might be doing better in some of the accessible spots. That, or just more coverage because it has been seen quite often at sites around Arenal.

Nunbirds at Finca Luna Nueva.

Great Curassow– Good news for this one too- keeps getting more common and tame at several sites.

Woodcreepers– Back to bad news. Most species seem much less common than they used to be. They can still be seen at various sites, but species like Spotted, Cocoa, Black-striped, etc. just don’t seem to be as common.

Lanceolated Monklet– Brave the traffic on the ever popular Fortuna waterfall trail for this one. It’s as unobtrusive as always but just keep looking, it’s there! Please do not use playback and scare this reliable bird away!

Scaled Antpitta– Always tough but if you are staying at Bosque de Paz, you are in luck! One has been showing at the outflow near or behind (?) the gatekeepers place early in the morning. It doesn’t show for long so get up early, keep quiet, and keep watching. If you aren’t staying there you are out of luck because , sadly, non-guests have no access to the site.

How dry I am…– Sure, I could always go for a cold, finely brewed beer but in this case, the entire Pacific slope is in need of liquid nourishment from the skies. It’s normal to be dry right now but the new dry is way more dry than the old one. If there is an up-side, it comes in the form of concentrating birds at a few sites.

Tropical dry forest and the Gulf of Nicoya.

Another update for the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide apps: A new update with more images and sounds should be available any day now. There is written information and range maps for all species on the Costa Rica list (over 900), images for over 800 of them, and sounds for more than 600. A basic version is also available that features 350 plus species.

That’s the birding news that comes to mind at the moment, I hope it helps your trip!

Categories
Birding Costa Rica dry forest Pacific slope

Some Species to Look for in the Southern Nicoya Peninsula

Look at a map of Costa Rica and you might notice this big peninsula up in the northwest. That protruding piece of land is the Nicoya Peninsula, and despite its prominence, does NOT usually make it onto the itineraries of visiting birders. It’s just a bit too far off track from itineraries with limited time, and doesn’t offer as many new species as one might hope. Not to mention, getting there requires some big detour, right?
Well, some of the above is true and some not so true. While the peninsula is off of the regular birding track for most tours, it’s not really that far from the regular routes, at least if you take the ferry. Head to Puntarenas and get on the ferry and you also have a chance at a few pelagics. As I have mentioned in other posts, you never know what might show up and you can’t chase birds, but you usually see something different. During a ferry trip last week, although we didn’t see too much out of the ordinary, we still managed looks at several Least Storm-Petrels, some nice feeding flocks of Black Terns, and some juvenile Peregrine hunting action as it dove on a hapless Black Tern.

After an hour and a half of looking for birds from the boat, you can start birding the Nicoya Peninsula as soon as you you arrive. There’s a fair amount of dry forest habitat right near Paquera and further afield, much of which can be birded from the road. The only catch is the dust during the dry season (most of the time), and the very diminished activity between 9 and 3:30. At least the morning and late afternoon can be good, especially the morning. Some species are also more common in the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula than elsewhere including these:

Great Black-Hawk: I have to admit that I did not expect this one. We had an adult in mangroves in the Rio Gigantes area, and hopefully, it occurs in other parts of the southern Nicoya Peninsula because this species has become pretty rare in most parts of the country.

Double-striped Thick-Knee: If you need this one, you can probably expect it here. It seems to be pretty common in open fields.

Mangrove Cuckoo: Might only occur during the winter months but seems regular in both mangrove and dry forest habitats.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird: Ok, so most birders don’t have to go far for this one but I mention it because it was very common in the southern Nicoya. By far the most common hummingbird species.

Elegant Trogon: If you saw that one in Arizona, you might want to see this one too because its a fair possibility for a split. It seemed to be fairly common, even from the road.Gartered and Black-headed Trogons were also fairly common.

White-necked Puffbird: Last weekend, since we had five in one morning followed by another at the end of the day, it seems that the southern Nicoya is pretty darn good for this kookaburra looking thing. We had it in the canopy of the forest and they were pretty easy to see.

Yellow-naped Parrot: We had good looks at more than one, especially in the Rio Gigantes area.

Barred Antshrike: Yes, widespread, but seemed to be very common in this area.

Ivory-billed Woodcreeper: A big, uncommon woodcreeper in Costa Rica, it lives in more forested areas of the southern Nicoya.

Myiarchus flycatchers: These were especially common and we had four species, only missing Panama Flycatcher. Based on observations, the forests of the southern Nicoya seem to be important for Great-crested and Nutting’s Flycatchers. Both were among the more common bird species in the area of Rio Gigantes.

Royal Flycatcher: This one shows up in riparian zones (as expected).

Long-tailed Manakin: This is a pretty common species in Nicoya, especially at fruiting trees.

White-throated Magpie-Jay: Last but far from least, this big fancy Corvid is the most obvious bird in the area. Possibly more common in Nicoya than anywhere else in Costa Rica.

Although we did not see Plain Chachalaca, nor Gray-headed Dove and Violaceous Quail-Dove, wetter parts of the southern peninsula could be good for them. We did much of our birding in the Rio Gigantes and I am sure, saw more bird species because of the efforts by Luis Daniel Gonzalez and his wife Alejandra to protect and conserve their land with organic, sustainable practices. Learn more about their sustainable project and vision at the site for the Rio Gigante Community.

Categories
Costa Rica bird finding guide Pacific slope

Advice for Birding the Cerro Lodge Entrance Road

Cerro Lodge is the place to stay when bathing in the mega-birding in and around Carara National Park. Other options include the oft-used Villa Lapas, the sometimes crowded Punta Leona, the new Macaw Lodge back in the hills on the other side of the park, and at least one hotel right in the middle of tiny Tarcoles. However, none of them share the blend of proximity, and diverse array of birds not found in the park possible around Cerro Lodge.

One of those birds is White-throated Magpie-Jay- we had these and others near Cerro.

Part of Cerro’s appeal comes from the birdy entrance road. This unassuming dirt road passes through open areas with scattered trees, second growth, and part of a river floodplain that results in a host of good birds. Whether staying at Cerro or not, this road is worth some serious binocular time. A couple of hours on that road that week reminded me of its worth as a site unto itself, here’s some advice on birding it :

  • Make time for this site: If you have plans to enter the national park, check out the road from 6 until 7 (opening time for the park during the dry season), or until 8 (opening hour at other times of the year). Or, if you have an extra day of birding, spend a full day on this road. Like every high diversity site, the more you bird it, the more you find, especially since the habitats also seem to act as a corridor between mangroves, other forest, and the park itself.

It’s also good for lots of common and edge species like this Lineated Woodpecker,

and Rose-throated (not) Becard.

  • Quality birds: If someone ever tells you that all birds are “quality” or that every bird is the same, they are either masquerading as a birder, or don’t know the difference between “common” and “rare”. Quality birds are the ones we don’t see that often, can’t really be seen elsewhere, or happen to be major targets because they look so cool. In other words, endangered and rare species, endemics, and stuff like Double-striped Thick-Knee. In the case of the Cerro Lodge road, it hosts a bunch of those quality species including the cool and crazy thick-knee.

Its cool, its crazy, its got thick knees and hypnotic golden eyes.

  • Double-striped Thick-knee: This target seems to be more frequent on the entrance road than in the past. Check for it in one of the first open pastures, and in the pastures in the floodplain. We saw 6 last week.
  • Crane Hawk: The road is one of the better places in Costa Rica to see this odd raptor. Watch for it flopping its way through the trees in the canopy or near the ground anywhere along the road. It also soars on occasion. We had rather distant looks at two different Crane Hawks.
  • Other raptors: Hang out on this road long enough and you have a chance at a pretty good variety of raptors. The long sight lines and birdy habitats offer chances at such other species as Gray-headed, Hook-billed, and Plumbeous Kites, occasional Harris’s Hawk and Pearl Kite (in the floodplain), Short-tailed, Broad-winged, Gray, Roadside, Zone-tailed, and Common Black Hawks, Laughing Falcon, Collared Forest-Falcon, and both caracaras. Even Tiny Hawk has nested on the road in the past!

Short-tailed Hawk is one of the most frequently seen raptor species in Costa Rica.

  • Owls: Cerro is known as a site for Black and white Owl and this species can also show on the road along with Mottled, Striped, Barn, and Pacific Screech Owls. Not to mention, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl is common during the day.
  • Swifts: Spot-fronted and Black Swifts are sometimes seen from the road in the morning along with more common White-collared and Chestnut-collared Swifts.
  • Psittacids: This can be a great area for parrots, parakeets, and their kin as they visit fruiting trees and move to and from roosting and foraging sites. The numbers and species vary throughout the year but lucky birders might see every possible species in one morning, mostly as flyovers. If not, it’s still pretty normal to see Scarlet Macaw, Red-lored, Yellow-naped, and White-fronted Parrots, and Orange-fronted and Orange-chinned Parakeets.
  • Good variety of dry forest species: Expect several dry forest species, including Black-headed  Trogon, Turquoise-browed Motmot, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Nutting’s and Brown-crested Flycatchers, occasional Stub-tailed Spadebill, Banded and Plain Wrens, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Stripe-headed and Olive Sparrows, Painted Bunting, and so on.

This is a good site for Nutting’s Flycatcher-  it looks almost exactly like the local variety of the Brown-crested but check out the small bill.

  • Keep an eye out for the cotinga: Last but not least, Yellow-billed Cotinga moves through this area, maybe even once or twice a day. The size of this population is very small (and, sadly, will likely disappear from the Carara area within ten years) but the few remaining birds are seen now and then near Cerro Lodge and in trees near the floodplain.
  • Bring a scope: It comes in handy when checking out distant crowns of trees and open areas.
  • Check the small marsh at the edge of the floodplain: It’s been so dry, this small wetland might not even be around when you visit. But, if so, check it for Bare-throated Tiger-Heron and other expected wetland species, possible American Pygmy-Kingfisher, and rarities like Masked Duck and maybe even a rail or two.

How to get there: From the turn off to Jaco on the Caldera highway, drive five minutes and watch for the turn off to Guacalillo on the right. Go a bit further and watch for the Cabinas Vasija on the left. The road will start going down a hill and shortly after comes to the entrance road to Cerro Lodge (the next road on the right). Be careful, it’s easy to miss!

For more information about how and where to see birds in Costa Rica, buy “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”, the most comprehensive bird-finding guide for the country.

Categories
Birding Costa Rica middle elevations

Tanager Fest at the San Luis Canopy

If there’s one area in Costa Rica not on the regular birding route that should be, it’s the road between San Ramon and La Fortuna. If you are wondering why I don’t just give the name of the route, it’s because that rarely means anything in Costa Rica. Yes, the roads have numbers associated with them on a map but on the ground, you won’t see any signs showing a prominent number for the road. Instead, locals just say the road to so and so, or the one that goes by the beer factory, etc. Also, I can’t remember the route numbers except maybe for one or two roads. So, since there is just one road between San Ramon and La Fortuna, that will work.

This route gets left off most birding trips because it’s tough to fit into routes that visit Sarapiqui, Carara, Arenal, and Monteverde. BUT, if you plan on traveling between the Arenal area and the Central Valley, take this road, you will like it. There is much less traffic compared to the other routes over the mountains, more accessible habitat, a few nice cafes, and, now, there’s also a tanager fest.

The San Luis Canopy was always a good place to stop and check the fruiting trees for tanagers and other species but now that fruit is offered on sticks behind the restaurant, the situation is crazy good. The other day, I stopped there while guiding, noticed some non-birding people looking at something on the ground and taking pictures, and checked out what they were doing. Instead of an expected Coati, there were tanagers…some on the ground, hopping around like House Sparrows.

Like this

Yes, these are Bay-headed, Silver-throated, and Speckled Tanagers on the ground.

Yes, an Emerald Tanager and a Speckled Tanager! I have never, ever seen Emerald Tanager on the ground.

They also visited the fruits on sticks.

Even this Tawny-capped Euphonia joined the fun. Other species present included Passerini’s, Blue-gray, and Crimson-collared Tanagers, Clay-colored Thrush, and Buff-throated Saltator.

I’m not sure how long this will be going on but if you feel like doing their hanging bridges trail ($35), that’s pretty good too with chances at various middle elevation species including Blue and Gold Tanager, Black and Yellow Tanager, more close looks at other tanagers, White and Barred Hawks, chance at hawk-eagles, and, the best of the bunch, Bare-necked Umbrellabird. This mega cotinga is not exactly common but it is seen from that trail on a regular basis pretty much all year long. If you don’t do the hanging bridges, at least frequent the restaurant to support this bird and birder accommodating place.

How to get there:

From San Ramon, take the main road north through town to a “T”.

Take a left, then a quick right, following signs to Arenal.

Keep following signs to Arenal and watch for the San Luis Canopy on the right about 20 minutes from San Ramon.

You might also see some good birds on the way (and there is the very good Cocora Hummingbird Garden as well), although there are few places where you can pull the vehicle off the road.

Categories
Birding Costa Rica middle elevations

A Morning of Birding at Catarata del Toro

Finally, the cold front lifted its soggy head off of the mountains and the atmospheric coast looked clear enough to visit Catarata del Toro. I have wanted to look for a few good birds at this middle elevatiion site since October. But, every time I had a chance to go, the weather forecast predicted wind and rain,- far from ideal conditions for birding or taking pictures of wood-quail and the other scarce species I want to find. On Tuesday, fair weather and free time finally coincided for a trip to the Catarata.

One of the overlooks at Catarata del Toro.

The site is more or less just over the mountains in a diagonal straight. This translates to a two hour ride of twists and turns. Although I avoided the temptation of stopping at Cinchona to arrive by opening time, I ended up stopping for 30 minutes after hearing Gray-breasted Crakes calling at the main turn off to Catarata del Toro. I recorded a few and still failed to see this feathered mouse but at least I know where a bunch can be found.

Gray-breasted Crakes were in this ditch.

Up at the Catarata, the place was still closed at 7:30. Hoping that it would eventually open, I birded along the road, playing the song of Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner to no avail. Before going with a Plan B that included birding at higher elevations, I checked the entrance one more time and lo and behold, the gate was open. First on the trails and hopefully, that would result in photos of Black-breasted Wood-Quail. To make a long story short, it didn’t but it was still nice to check the trails out with slow and silent birding. This involved much staring into the vegetation and the understory, and occasional playback of Tawny-throated Leaftosser. No response there nor my other targets (which are probably present from time to time) but I did see some other birds.

One of my first birds was a Bicolored Hawk hunting the understory.
This Brown-billed Scythebill just refused to come out in the open.
This Purple-throated Mountain-gem was one of many hummingbirds in the garden.
Several Black-bellied Hummingbirds were also present.

Despite the target no shows, a walk in cloud forest with massive, mossy trees is always a gift. By 10:30, the mist had coalesced and conditions became so challenging for photo opps, I tried out Plan B. This involved a short drive up the main road and over to the Bosque de Paz area. Luckily, this also resulted in going above the cloud and getting back into good birding weather. Roadside birding produced some expected birds like Brown-capped Vireo, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, and some other species. Near Bosque, intent peering into the understory failed to produce Scaled Antpitta but no surprise there, that’s not exactly an easy bird to see.

I also saw several Yellowish Flycatchers.

After the misty weather caught up to me, I figured it was time to drive back home. Here’s an eBird list from the morning at Catarata del Toro:  http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27270604

Although I didn’t connect with my main targets, I still think the site has potential for a lot of birds. If it’s raining, at least the hummingbird show won’t disappoint.

http://www.catarata-del-toro.com/