The height of the “birding season” in Costa Rica happens during March. Really, the birding here is good year round but the majority of tours like to visit during the third month because, in Costa Rica, the month of wild winds and early spring coincides with migration, most wintering species still being present, a bit more bird song, and less rain. If you are about to visit this wonderful, birdy place, I hope that the following birding news tidbits will be of help:
American White Pelicans at Cano Negro: No, you don’t expect these big aquatic birds in Costa Rica. Far easier to see further north, this species is a very rare vagrant here. However, for the past couple of years, flocks have made appearances at Cano Negro. During past two weeks, many lucky birders in the Cano Negro area have added this one to their country list. I wish I was one of them but I haven’t had a chance to head up that way. With luck, they may stick around for another week or so. Keep an eye out for this one while looking for Jabiru, kingfishers, crakes, and other species in this wetland hotspot.
Medio Queso: I haven’t been there yet this year but it sounds like the guy who usually does the boat trip is even more difficult to contact because his phone number is no longer working. I expect that he still lives in the house at the end of the dike, one probably needs to go there a day before to ask about a boat ride the following morning.
A Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture does its harrier thing at Medio Queso.
El Tapir hummingbirds: During several trips to this site over the past month, Snowcap, Black-crested Coquette, and Green Thorntail have been present every day. It might take a bit for the Snowcap to show but it usually does. The coquette often perches on the dead sapling in the garden, sometimes sharing the tree with a thorntail and a male Snowcap! Other hummingbirds in the garden have mostly been Rufous-taileds, along with a few Violet-headeds and woodnymphs. Of course, these species and other hummingbirds are also easy at Rancho Naturalista.
Other birds at El Tapir: The trail to the river isn’t maintained as well as some in the national parks but it’s always productive. As usual, it has been especially good for antwren flocks that move quietly through the forest understory. These are usually composed of Tawny-faced Gnatwren, White-flanked, Checker-throated, and Dot-winged Antwrens, Streak-crowned Antvireo, Stripe-breasted Wren, Ruddy-tailed and Sulphur-rumped Flycatchers, foliage-gleaners, and a woodcreeper or two along with chances at rarer species. Other interesting species on this trail as of late have included Olive-backed Quail-Dove, Lattice-tailed, Slaty-tailed, Gartered, and Black-throated Trogons, Northern Schiffornis, and good mixed flocks of tanagers (including Blue and gold) and other birds. My “best” species were Central American Pygmy-Owl and a pair of Yellow-eared Toucanets in the same day. From the parking lot, King Vulture often shows flying high overhead, and any of the hawk-eagles are rare but always possible.
The pygmy-owl from the other day. First time I have seen it at this site!
Not long after, a Yellow-eared Toucanet perched in the same tree.
Also, please remember to pay the caretaker the $10 entrance fee. Although there is no sign, this is what he expects.
Quetzals on Poas: They are always up there somewhere but finding them usually requires locating the fruiting trees they feed on. Recently, I had a pair in a fruiting avocado close to the Volcan Restaurant. As expected, this major target is much easier on Cerro de la Muerte, and at Monteverde.
Carara is dry but still productive: In keeping with current global warming trends, Carara looks much drier than it used to and although the birds are there, sadly, there aren’t as many as even five years ago. The humid forest species are easier to find further south but if you need them from Carara, they might be more regular on the HQ trails back at and past the stream. It’s still a good place to find Great Tinamou, Streak-chested Antpitta, Black-faced Antthrush, and many other species but it might take longer to find them.
It’s a good place for ridiculously close views of various birds. This Bicolored Antbird was perched near our feet.
Piratic Flycatchers and Yellow-green Vireos: It took a while for these to show in numbers but they are finally back and singing and calling in lots of places. These migrants take advantage of the wet season to breed in Costa Rica before migrating to the Amazon. The same goes for Swallow-tailed Kite and Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, both of which are also around, although in what seems to smaller numbers.
Park hours: Just a reminder about hours for the national parks. Carara opens at 7 (thank goodness) and closes at 4, all other parks are open from 8 to 4. To enter early, visit the park the day before and ask if you can go in early to watch birds. Say “Puedo entrar a las 6 para ver aves manana y pagar la entrada despues? (Can I enter at 6 to watch birds tomorrow and pay the fee after?)”.
Traffic: It’s as bad as ever and, impossibly, seems to only get worse. The upside is that bad traffic jams are mostly in the Central Valley area. Away from there, things are much better although you should still expect a fair degree of bad driving habits. Worst times are between 6 and 8:30 in the morning and between 3:30 and 6 in the evening. Driving at pre-dawn is wonderful but seriously watch out for potential drunk drivers!
As always, I hope to see you in the field!