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Birding at Los Campesinos, Costa Rica

Last weekend, I guided a Birding Club of Costa Rica trip to the Los Campesinos Ecolodge. This site is one of several rural tourism initiatives in Costa Rica, and like most, provides somewhat basic yet good service and food in a setting surrounded by green space. The birding at these sites varies in terms of “quality” birds (“quality” being synonymous with large areas of mature forest) but it’s always nice (“nice” meaning that you will see a bunch of birds, and different ones every day).

Some information about  birding at Campesinos:

Nice views: With the cabins situated on a ridge between streams, you have a fair view of a couple of forested hillsides. The distant trees are the perfect opportunity to make use of that scope that you almost didn’t bring to Costa Rica. We saw Golden-naped Woodpeckers, a few raptor species, tityras, and other expected birds. Other species are of course also possible, maybe even Turquoise Cotinga. It does live in the area after all. The ridge-top location also allows views into much closer crowns of trees. Our hoped for mixed flocks at eye level never showed but could certainly happen, and we did have nice looks at Olivaceous Piculet (common there), Eye-ringed Flatbill, Blue Dacnis, Long-billed Starthroat, and other species.

This Eye-ringed Flatbill was very cooperative.

Secondary forest:Although there is some older growth along the stream, it seemed like most forest around the ecolodge was secondary in nature. There are still plenty of birds but that type of forest doesn’t usually have as many raptors and many species as older rainforest. That said, we had some nice species indicative of older forest anyways including a Striped Woodhaunter that entertained us with its ringing calls all day long, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, Red-capped Manakin, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, and Scaly-throated Leaftosser. These were all on the trails that went down to the streams.

The view from the cabins.

Mature forest on the road up: Although the birding is OK at the ecolodge, I suspect that it is much better on the drive up. Sadly, we didn’t get a chance to bird along the road but the habitat looked really good with lots of huge trees, and streams. I really want to survey that road and would expect such species as White-tipped Sicklebill, Blue-crowned Manakin, various woodcreepers, trogons, and various other forest-based species (I did hear White-throated Shrike-Tanager and Rufous Piha from the car…).

Swifts: As in this seems to be a good place to watch them. In addition to White-collared and Costa Rican Swifts, we also had Lesser Swallow-tailed, Chestnut-collared, and at least one likely Spot-fronted. It was a tail view of a silent bird but it wasn’t a Chaetura and flew different from White-collared and Chestnut-collared.

Trails:There are a couple, one going up a hill and the other going down to the base of a beautiful waterfall. The one going up the hill passes through nice forest along a stream for a bit before making a steep ascent. We didn’t do that ascent but had some nice species near the stream (the ones mentioned above). The other trail goes through thick, viney forest for a short ways. The rest of the birding we did was on the entrance road to the lodge. That was fine with several second growth species and some canopy birds including Rufous-breasted and Black-bellied Wrens (Riverside is everywhere), Cocoa Woodcreeper, Olivaceous Piculet, and others.

There is also a long, bridge to the waterfall.

The road there: The road to Londres is pretty good but once you get past there, you really need four wheel drive. During really heavy rains, I could see that road being impassible. The challenging part of the drive up also coincides with the best habitat.

Accommodating:The ecolodge was very accommodating and were willing to make us coffee at dawn. Since we didn’t want them to have to come all the way up there at dawn just to make us coffee (we didn’t schedule breakfast until 8:30), we asked them to make coffee the evening before and leave it in a thermos along with cups. They did just that, always served good, home-cooked food, and were always attentive to our needs. Rooms were also clean and were equipped with fans.

One of the cabins.

This site would be a good day visit from the Manuel Antonio area, especially the mature forest on the road up. I suspect that the views over forest are better in the Esquipulas area but it would be interesting to see what could be found on the road to Campesinos. Whether visiting either site, Johan Chaves would be one of the guides to go with from the Manuel Antonio area. See my eBird list from Saturday at Campesinos.

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Birding Costa Rica

News and Information for Birding Costa Rica in May and June, 2016

Not many people come to Costa Rica for birding in May and June, and I can’t blame them. They are enjoying the colors and songs of breeding birds back home, the weather is nice and warm, and the trees are flush with fresh vegetation. It’s summertime and the living is nice and easy so why leave home? However, if you do happen to be someone who would rather look at hundreds of species of birds than hang out with the usual ones near the house, I hope the following tidbits help:

Bamboo is seeding near the La Paz Waterfall Gardens: I don’t know if that elusive ground-dove or Peg-billed Finches are breeding but any bamboo with seeds is certainly worth checking. During the Global Big Day on May 14th, I gave the bamboo a brief look and didn’t hear or see anything but will be back for a more thorough examination. This bamboo is on the main road that goes by the Waterfall Gardens and is just downhill from the parking area, on the other side of the road (the eastern side). There are very few places to pull a vehicle off the road and it might be easier to park in the Waterfall Gardens lot and walk downhill. If perched Barred Parakeets are there, the trudge back uphill will be worth the effort.

Look for Bridled Terns and Brown Noddies: Both should be back by now from their mysterious non-breeding haunts. The most reliable place to see the Bridleds is in Manuel Antonio National Park. Take the trail to where you can see offshore rocks and watch for them. The noddy can also turn up there but if you want it for your Costa Rica country list, the easiest place for that one is from the Puntarenas-Paquera ferry. With the rainy season kicking into gear, I suspect that this brings more nutrients into the gulf and that brings in the birds. You never know what else might show so keep scanning the horizon!

Enjoy the bird song: More birds are singing now, especially because the rains came a bit late. That includes everything from trogons to owls. We all know that not only does this make for a more pleasant walk in the rainforest, it also makes it easier to find those birdies. Become familiar with bird vocalizations in Costa Rica with the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app (songs of around 610 species, images of more than 850).

Umbrellabirds are tough: Sadly, this stellar mega has become more rare in recent years. Since it was already rare in past years, this is pretty bad news. Since they sit at the top of a big bug, lizard, and fruit eating food chain, I fear that they have been hard hit by the erosion of such food items from their forest ecosystems. How? Because global warming has made it hotter and drier, and seems to be killing several humid forest ecosystems in Costa Rica right from the base of the food pyramid. With that in mind, I’m not sure where you can go to see this species right now but the easiest places to check are the reserves in the Monteverde area, and the San Luis Adventure Park. The Tenorio area might also be a good place to check although in all likelihood, the birds are higher up in less accessible spots.

Even if you don’t see umbrellabirds at San Luis, you will probably get close looks at tanagers like this Emerald.

Expect a lot of birds and avian activity: With cloudier weather, more birds singing, and parents busy finding food for the kids, there seems to be more bird activity now than other times of the year. If it rains, just bird from shelter and get ready for the burst in activity when the rain stops.

This is also when we do our breeding bird surveys. I wish I had time to do bird counts all over the country but know that I will at least be doing counts on Poas, Quebrada Gonzalez, and near home. Happy birding in Costa Rica!

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Tips for Green Season Birding in Costa Rica

Coinciding with the start of the rains, the green season has arrived, quite literally. Brown, windswept dry season vegetation has come back to life, the birds are singing, building nests, and there is a Clay-colored Thrush going after its reflection in the window that faces the backyard. It doesn’t matter how many times I open the curtain to scare it off, the relentless urge of testosterone keeps it coming back for more of the same window pecking nonsense. You think it would eventually realize that something was amiss but that hasn’t happened yet.

This juvenile is already eager to attack something, on this occasion a banana.

As Costa Rica’s national bird attacks itself in the window, and the Yellow-green Vireos sing, I am reminded of the irony of the green season. You see, the countryside has gone from looking like the dry, dusty surroundings of a semi-desert to a summer-time place of lush foliage and scented air. Life abounds in more places than the dry season and no, it doesn’t rain too much either. Yet, this is when fewer people come to Costa Rica. There’s a rumor that it rains too much and that the best time to bird is in March. Um, what can I say but no, you don’t have to visit in March and will see just as many resident species during the green season. In fact, it might be easier to see several of those resident species. If you are planning on or thinking about visiting during the green season, try these tips:

Enjoy the savings: The discounts aren’t astronomical but they are there. Expect to pay less for most rooms and don’t be afraid to bargain. Most places take dollars but they might give 500 colones rather than the official 535 colones. To get that rate, exchange cash at banks or at the “Servi Mas” counter at Wal Mart. Don’t change money at the airport unless you really absolutely need to because they give the worst rate of all.

More room to play: Fewer tourists means more room for you. This works especially well at popular national parks like Manuel Antonio and Rincon de la Vieja. It never gets that crowded for birding in Costa Rica but it’s always nice to have a bit more elbow room.

Visit some out of the way places: Sure, you can stick to the regular circuit but remember that there are other places that have just as many or more birds. The accommodations might not be as deluxe but the birding can be stellar. The San Luis Adventure Park and Cocora Hummingbird Garden are easy trips from the San Jose area and could turn up umbrellabird in addition to close looks at tanagers and several cloud forest species. For Caribbean lowland species, consider a trip south of Limon- lots of tourist infrastructure and lots of great rainforest birding including chances at Sulphur-rumped Tanager, several uncommon species at Hitoy Cerere, and a real chance at a mega surprise or two. The same goes for pelagic birding in the Gulf of Nicoya. With rains raising river levels that bring more nutrients into the gulf, we might see more storm-petrels and lost seabirds. Learn about those out of the way places in my Costa Rica bird finding book.

Laguna del Lagarto is another, excellent, out of the way place to visit.

Bring an umbrella: Yes, expect some rain but the same goes for the dry season. I would actually hope for more rain since the forests need it and it kicks-starts bird activity.

Resident bird activity: As in more. The rains result in more breeding and more activity overall. Not to mention, every bird you look at will be a resident species and not another Chestnut-sided Warbler. Mixed flocks can be really good.

Blue-throated Toucanets will be around.

Learn about Yellow-green Vireos: Bird around the Central Valley and the Pacific slope and you will have plenty of chances to study them, their constant singing, and their alarm calls. I always enjoy seeing these fun, local versions of the Red-eyed Vireo.

The aptly named Yellow-green Vireo.

Don’t forget to get the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app to study before the trip and use in the field. The latest update shows images of more than 850 species and vocalizations for more than 610 along with information and range maps for every species on the list.

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Birding in Costa Rica at Bosque del Nino

Last Sunday, I got in a morning of birding at two sites in the Central Valley. To be honest, one site was actually a pseudo-chase, the bird in question a Grasshopper Sparrow that had been reported on eBird in March. Whether the birds were wintering there or just determined to skulk, I believe we found the spot but know that we did not find the birds. No insect-like song, no hint of a little brown thing with a quizzical look on its face, no nothing from the promising swales. Luckily, the other site, Bosque del Nino, was close enough to check and also not find the other bird we were hoping for, Blue Seedeater.

No matter, though, because birding can always be more than the chase, especially when there’s so much else to discover in tropical habitats. I knew the seedeater would be a gamble anyways because they seem to be a natural stringer. The modus operandi is found one day and gone the next, so you just have to get lucky. It fits their nomadic behavior, and along with the Slaty Finch, ground-dove, and some other picky species, those seedeaters are basically bamboo seeding gypsies. How they find the seeding bamboo and what they do at other times is a big fat mystery but there’s always other cool birds to see anyways.

On Sunday, during our drive up to the Bosque del Nino, we stopped en route and were treated to a fine morning chorus of Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, swooping swallows, and other birds, including a couple of choice flycatchers. A burned area held several Lesser Elaenias, and at least two Alder Flycatchers- year birds and always nice to study. Both are kind of local in Costa Rica, the Alder only passing through and perhaps mostly in the highlands, and the elaenia just locally distributed.

As if in defiance of its low key plumage, the elaenia was super confident and brash.



The Alder below was not so bold but still good about letting us study it.


Up on the trails at Bosque del Nino, we climbed up and up towards Poas and passed through pretty second growth forest steadily approaching maturity. Bamboo was much in evidence but none was seeding and no seedeater ever responded to its song. The woods,though, were still filled with a spring chorus and the middle elevation temperatures reminded us of June in Pennsylvania. The bird songs were of course more suited to Central America. While walking, we were constantly treated to the songs of Flame-colored Tanager, Slate-throated Redstart, Golden-crowned Warbler, and Brown-capped Vireo. Orange-bellied Trogon also joined in at one spot and we could hear the low notes of Band-tailed Pigeon and Ruddy Pigeon from time to time. It was a good hike and this little birded spot might also be good for Chiriqui Quail-Dove. We didn’t find any but the habitat looked right and probably improves higher up the trail. If you go, just remember that the area sees a lot of local visitors on weekends, and those trails are mostly uphill!

A fine old tree.

Native bamboo.

White-eared Ground-Sparrow was common as well.

Bosque del Nino makes for an easy day trip with one’s own, four wheel drive vehicle but it’s kind of hard to describe how to get there. That said, check the map from this eBird checklist, follow the few signs, use a navigator and you will get there.

For more information about this and birding sites throughout Costa Rica, try  my 700 plus page ebook, How to See Find and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.