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Birding in Costa Rica at Mi Cafecito

I often drive Route 126, the winding road that connects the Central Valley to the highlands of Poas and the lowlands of Sarapiqui. From my place, it’s the quickest route over the mountains and as luck would have it, also acts as an easy portal to a host of birding opportunities. Having birded and guided along this road on many occasions, I’ve written about this birdy route before, this time I’m going to talk about one of the lesser known sites situated in the foothills.

Past Cinchona and Socorro, the warmer, more humid air and calls of Black-headed Saltators and other birds indicate a change in elevation. Eventually, the car passes an obvious sign for a coffee tour on the right. This is “Mi Cafecito” and whether a birder feels like just having a coffee and bite to eat or also searching for foothill species, it’s always worth a stop.

While most folks visit for the coffee tour, free trails are also available that lead to overlooks and access a bit of foothill forest. Although they aren’t all that long and don’t get down into the forested canyon, I suspect that they have good potential for birding. Well, actually, after my first guiding visits, I know they do! Although both occasions were just a couple of hours, I still had good birding both times with several nice species.

Some observations about birding at Mi Cafecito:

Opens at 7: Six would be better but seven is still good especially for a place that was designed more for coffee tours than birding.

Free access: The folks at Cafecito welcome visitors to use the trails. Please support them by buying something at their souvenir shop and dining in their restaurant. Good, country Costa Rican fare is served.

Cement trails but slippery: Unfortunately, some parts of the trails can be slippery. But the birding is still worth it especially because one can walk on the side of the trail.

Overlooks: Two of the trails lead to excellent overlooks that provide views of the canyon. White Hawk is regular and several other species are also possible including hawk-eagles, King Vulture, and Barred Hawk. Great Green Macaws are also present at times. Who knows, maybe Lovely Cotinga might also show at some point? Although very rare, the species does occur around there.

Waterfall: Not so much for seeing the cascade but for seeing Lanceolated Monklet. Although I haven’t heard or seen one there yet, the elusive mini puffbird does live close by and likely occurs in the canyon. I would not be surprised in the least if it shows at Mi Cafecito.

One of the views from the Waterfall Trail.

Tanagers: Both times, I had pretty good flocks of tanagers, on the trails and at the overlook. We had good looks at Emerald, Speckled, Black-and-Yellow, Golden-hooded, Hepatic (Tooth-billed), Silver-throated, and Carmiol’s Tanagers along with the uncommon White-vented Euphonia, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Black-faced Grosbeak, and some other birds moving together.

This funky looking little bird is a juvenile male White-vented Euphonia.

Signs of good forest: Large groups of Carmiol’s Tanagers seem to be an indicator of healthy mature forest, I also had White-ruffed Manakin, Pale-vented Thrush, Crested Guan, Nightingale Wren, and Ocellated Antbirds at an antswarm. I really wonder what else can show on the trails…

Sunbittern!: Seeing one of these odd, special birds forage at the edge of a pond was a nice surprise! Although the streams at Virgen del Socorro look good for it, the bird doesn’t seem to be present. Or, if it is, it must occur in very small numbers or maybe just doesn’t use the areas visible from the bridge and road (?). But, no matter because you can see it at Cafecito! At least we did, one was showing very well and since the ponds are permanent, it looks like the site might also be a reliable bet for Sunbittern.

Porterweed hedgerows: Plenty of this popular hummingbird bush is present. We didn’t see too much but it could attract Black-crested Coquette and maybe even Snowcap.

Want to look for the monklet and Sunbittern? Let me know, I plan on setting up a tour that visits the site that can be done from the San Jose area as well as the Sarapiqui lowlands. I hope to bird there with you.

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Costa Rica Birding News- 2018 at the Halfway Point

It’s finally sunny outside. Today being the first substantial break in rain in a few weeks explains why I haven’t done as much birding recently. Even so, as much as you don’t really go birding, when the birding senses are turned on, you can’t help but bird anyways. Since I can’t turn my birdy sense off, this morning, I noticed the calls of a Gray-cowled Wood-Rail from some hidden neighborhood ravine. I watch the deep wingbeats of fast flying Red-billed Pigeons zip above the morning traffic as I take my daughter to school. My mind’s eye can picture what the pigeon sees, a fast-moving view of houses, streets, and salvation in the form of occasional trees, wooded riparian zones, and other bits of green. The dark-tailed maroon birds see a hovering White-tailed Kite and instinctively veer away, fluttering their wings as they come to rest in a fruiting tree in the middle of a field planted with coffee.

On a morning drive over the mountains, I enjoy the songs of three species of nightingale-thrushes, Gray-breasted Wood-Wrens, bush-tanagers, Black-cheeked Warblers, and Streak-breasted Woodhunter calling from a stream. Further on, a silhouette of a vulture becomes a Barred Hawk. Incredibly, this Darth Vader of raptors is perched right next to the road but it nevertheless mocks by posing against the light, and, in a spot where the approaching rumble of a truck reminds me that I need to move on before I can adjust the camera.

Believe me, based on many a personal experience, this bird is a dark force user.

Other recent automatic birding experiences include perched Bat Falcon, flights of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and Red-lored and White-fronted Parrots, and some saltator puddle bathing. It’s all good for the birder even when you aren’t officially birding in Costa Rica. Nevertheless, since the noble autonomously driven pursuit is how we prefer to traverse this dimensional time frame, here is some insider information that might help:

Possible red tide in the Gulf of Nicoya– I guided a short jaunt on the Puntarenas-Paquera ferry on July 12 but instead of adding some cool year birds of the marine kind, we watched the boat plow through cloudy green water streaked with dark red. It might not be an official, murderous red tide yet but the large algae bloom was still enough to keep most of the birds away. Where the ferry eventually came in to healthier waters, we did see some Black Terns and a few other things but the more typically productive waters had been taken over by algae and were thus birdless.

It was still nice to out on the water, we also saw dolphins, sea turtles, and leaping rays!

Way too heavy rains– Although the pouring on the Caribbean slope and in the mountains has finally come to a stop, it was more than enough to cause landslides and flooding. The soils are still saturated on the northern side of the country, if another weather system moves in, it’s probably best to avoid driving on route 32.

Masked Duck in the Coto wetlands– My nefarious nemesis bird has made its annual appearance in the Coto wetlands. These would be some natural wetlands situated in areas south of Ciudad Neily, and they are always good for other local specialties as well. I won’t be making the trip because I just can’t in good conscience chase the skulking duck. It will show up eventually, such is the Zen of birding, or maybe I’m just being lazy and the nefarious attitude is just all in my birding mind.

Tahiti Petrel on a pelagic trip and a possible Bulwer’s– A Tahiti Petrel was seen and photographed well offshore of the Osa Peninsula. Although there aren’t so many records of this species for Costa Rica, that’s probably more a question of few birders getting out to sea far enough at this time of year than the birds not being present. As for the other thing, Jeff Tingle provided a pretty good description of what would be a new species for the Costa Rica list. I bet he did see a Bulwer’s Petrel and it’s not the first possible report for Costa Rica of this funny bird that looks like a blend of storm-petrel and shearwater. Hopefully, Jeff will see another one and get a picture so we add more more species to the Costa Rica list.

Crested Eagle!– Whoah! Yes, and documented with photos! A juvenile bird appeared on the side of a road in the Cano Negro area. Likely wandering in from Nicaragua (perhaps because of ongoing habitat destruction in one of Central America’s final wilderness frontiers?), we can only hope that it found a good place to survive within the borders of Costa Rica.

Photos of Paint-billed Crakes– This Rallid probably isn’t all that rare, just local and typically reclusive. Nevertheless, recently, several local birders have gotten nice shots of the species in roadside wetlands south of Ciudad Neily.

Sapphire-throated Hummingbird also lives there.

Oilbirds and Bare-necked Umbrellabird in the Monteverde area– An Oilbird was recently photographed in the Monteverde area and an umbrellabird or two has been showing at Curi-Cancha. Now those would be a pair of sweet year birds to score…

This is a Magnificent Frigatebird, the umbrellabird looks like this except that it’s much more chunky, has much shorter wings and tail, and a mini umbrella on its head.

Great Green Macaws on the move– During the rainy season, this endangered mega seems to move around more on its search for food in the Caribbean lowlands and foothills. I had a pair fly over the Marina zoo on a soaking wet Saturday, and just today, a fantastic birder I know saw 14 near Muelle!

More bird counts– It doesn’t have to be Christmastime to count birds in Costa Rica! We get down with counting all things avian all year long! As further evidence that the birding community in Costa Rica has been growing, this summer, there have been official bird counts for Esquinas Lodge, the Locos por el Bosque Reserve in Coronado, and in a few days, at the fantastic site of El Copal! Although guiding will keep me from counting birds with fellow binocular people at one of the best sites in the country, I do hope to participate in other counts, including the one at Barra del Colorado in a few months.

Another important remnant wetland destroyed– It was a shock to hear that the wonderful birding oasis known as Zamora Estate has been sold and largely destroyed to make way for yet more housing. Yep, there’s money to be made and people need places to live. I wonder how much value we could have placed on one of the very last original wetlands in the Central Valley? A place where dozens maybe even hundreds of waterbirds roosted, many nested, and various other birds lived. A special, unique place now being converted to the same sort of buildings seen in so many parts of Costa Rica, and yet another reason to edit “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.

Sorry to end this on a sad note but even tragic news must be shared. On a happier note, considering that more people in Costa Rica have become interested in birds, heavy rains also mean healthy tropical forests, and that the birding in Costa Rica is always a blend of easy and fantastic, there are reasons to rejoice. I hope to see some of those cool birds with you.

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The Easy Beauty of Common Birds in Costa Rica

Beauty might be in the eye of the beholder (maybe not this beholder…) but many of us Homo sapiens do lean towards bright and bold colors. A relict adaptation to pick ripe fruits? A side effect of having better vision than sense of smell? Or, maybe, way back in the African early days of humans, we were just all meant to be birders…

Whatever the explanations, we tend to ooh and ahh over breeding plumaged wood-warblers, the shiny, multi-colored feathers of tanagers, and other shades of the rainbow shown by our avian friends. Yes, because how many birders keep watching a House Sparrow or a cowbird when a male Blackburnian or American Redstart are within bino range? I think it’s Ok to accept that brightly colored birds look cool and there’s nothing wrong with ignoring sparrows or Chiffchaffs if something with yellow, green, or blue pops into view.

Nothing wrong with staring at the Halloween colors of the American Redstart… 

But a birder doesn’t have to look far to find some eye catching, colorful avian beauty. Many a common bird happens to be beautiful; just check out the subtle blues of a Blue Jay and know that non-North American birders seriously want to lay eyes on a Cardinal. The same goes for non-European birders who have never seen a Blue Tit. Before I birded in Europe, I couldn’t wait to see one of those little blue and yellow birds. I had known them from old illustrations and other works of art and from a field guide that I brought to France in the early 90s. After I walked off that train near Arles, it wasn’t long before I was finally admiring and ticking the common, beautiful blue and yellow chickadee. There they were, working a nearby riparian zone, and they were the colors of spring and summer wild flowers, the hues of a sunny April day. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Granted, they were lifers but one that is also a common garden species in many places.

In Costa Rica, we have our own set of common beautiful birds, species that are hard to miss and kind of irresistible. Although it’s impossible to pick just a few from a list of more than 900 species, these are more than a dozen of the common beauties that come to mind:

Hummingbirds– With several being common and easy to see, I couldn’t resist mentioning more than one. Check out feeders, gardens, and forest in middle elevation habitats and you will probably see a Violet Sabrewing or two.

Yes, this big purple hummingbird is actually common!

Take a walk in rainforest or just hang out in the hotel gardens in or near forest and you will probably see Crowned Woodnymph. Although the female doesn’t do much to impress, the purple and green male is a flying jewel.

One of the more numerous hummingbirds of rainforest habitats in Costa Rica.

Meanwhile, if the birding is limited to the vicinity of the hotel, you can bet that the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird will make itself known.

The most common hummingbird in the country. 

Gartered Trogon– I have finally become so used to referring to this species by its “new” name, I almost forgot that it used to be called the “Violaceous Trogon”. This multi-colored bird is also one of the more common trogon species in Costa Rica and can even be seen near the Central Valley in the Peace University area. Its penchant for forest edge also makes it fairly easy to see.

It’s especially odd to see one of these beauties perch on a roadside wire.

Turquoise-browed Motmot– Anything with “turquoise” in its name is going to be good and this exotic looking bird is no exception. Even better, it’s downright common in dry forest settings from the Carara area north to Nicaragua. Although, like other motmots, this species can also be reclusive during the sun and heat of the day, it’s pretty easy to find in the early morning and late afternoon. If you happen to be driving in their habitat at this time of day, don’t be surprised to see a few perched on roadside wires.

Check out the exotic beauty of this bird.

Keel-billed Toucan– Although I suspect that this rainbow-billed bird isn’t as common as it used to be, it’s still fairly easy to find in many places, especially in sites south of Limon and around Rincon de la Vieja.

Fancy and common.

Hoffmann’s Woodpecker– With their bold black and white patterns highlighted by stickpins of yellow, red, and gold, woodpeckers are commonly admired for their handsome appearance. Several in Costa Rica fit that description, including one of the easiest ones to the see, the Hoffmann’s Woodpecker.

Watch for this beautiful bird in the Central Valley, on the Pacific slope north of Jaco, and around Arenal. It even lives in the middle of the city.  

Crimson-fronted Parakeet– Several members of this famous family of birds occur in Costa Rica, most are fairly common, and all are easy on the eyes. But, if I had to pick just one, I go with this parakeet because it has become adapted to urban settings, even nesting on buildings in San Jose and roosting in the parks. If you notice some long-tailed parakeets screeching and flying over the traffic, you would be looking at Crimson-fronted Parakeets.

Masked Tityra– Although we never see lots of this one, it is fairly common and widespread. I have even seen them at fruiting trees in the Central Valley, the striking combination of white, black, and pink puts the Masked Tityra on the list.

Mangrove Swallow– I have always loved the colors of swallows, it stems back to seeing some of my first pictures of birds and marveling over the metallic colors of Tree Swallows, of Barn Swallows. Common, how can they be so beautiful? The Mangrove is no exception. A common bird of lowland rivers and other wetlands, this jade-backed bird will stay with your boat on the Tarcoles, Sarapiqui, and Sierpe Rivers.

Yellow-throated Euphonia– Reminiscent of the beauty shown by swallows, this pretty little bird also has a metallic iridescence on its upper parts. Watch for it in gardens of the Central Valley and much of the Pacific slope.

Or, visit the feeders at the Fortuna Nature Trail.

Collared Redstart– Head to the high elevations and you are likely to run into this stunning bird.

Scarlet-rumped Tanager– Now that the lump has taken effect, we can refer to this one by its classic, more accurate name! Visit the humid lowlands and you will see this striking common bird.

Just beautiful!

Golden-hooded Tanager– Common in humid lowland areas, as a bonus, this multi-colored bird also comes to feeders.

Its local name is “Seven Colors”.

Green Honeycreeper– Feeling down? Had a bad day? Watch this living gem to make your troubles go away. The Green Honeycreeper comes to feeders and is a common species of gardens and other habitats in humid regions of Costa Rica.

I can never get enough of this one…

Blue-gray Tanager– Last but not least, we can’t forget this very common yet beautiful bird. Another one to just gaze at while enjoying a fantastic locally grown coffee. And isn’t that one of the beautiful things in life?

I could stare at any of these birds for hours. Sometimes I do that while guiding around Poas and other sites. Do you want to see and photograph these and dozens of other beautiful birds in Costa Rica? I would be happy to take you to them. Contact me at information@birdingcraft.com

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Birding in Costa Rica? Some of the Coolest Resident Birds

Birding in Costa Rica now? If so, lucky you! It’s a good time to be raising the binos in the land of quetzals, hummingbirds, and friendly folks. Don’t worry about not birding during the birding ides of March because although there isn’t as much rain, the dry times come at the expense of braving a solar beat-down. In Costa Rica, since the third month is when Helios is at all of its tropical strength and splendor, I don’t recommend any degree of tanning, most birds don’t really dig the near equatorial UV rays either. Visit now and it might rain more often but the cloud cover does help to lower the temps and, even better, there’s more avian activity.

Steely-vented Hummingbirds might come out to play.

There are lots of birds to look for and watch, including many common ones. Some, are, in fact, cool. Although the “cool” label is subjective and transient for human stuff like movies, music, clothing, eateries, and places to be, it’s less ephemeral for birds. Not that we can compare organic chocolate or Arthur Fonzarelli or parachute pants or The Last Drago movie with real life feathered awesome things but since they are far more permanent than the trivialities of human culture, when a bird gets the “cool” label, it stays.

The Green-crowned Brilliant can be one cool character.

Speaking of cool labels, I look forward to the day when we have birding tech that shows our own personal read-outs for the birds we are looking at. The cool ones will have something like an embossed silver script that appears above them on our visor or our special scope glasses . It will say, “officially cool” or, customized versions of “cool” because since “cool” will still be subjective in the future, it will be up to birders to choose their own coolest birds because let’s face the truth, we can’t expect Larophiles to slap the cool label onto something as non gullish as a Brown Creeper or titmouse. And, how we say “cool” will also differ by region and age group. For example some Bostonians might feel more comfortable saying “wicked cool” for a Blackburnian in breeding plumage. Other folks might just say “awesome”, while yet others might prefer to refer to a bird as “MEGA”, “Triple F” (“fave feathered friend” or “fabulous feathered friend” ), or, in the case of future youngsters, “jelly” or “mantis” or “nova” because kids in the future will probably say those words instead of “cool”.

In any case, these are some of the birds in Costa Rica that would get the “cool” read out on my future birding visor, at least in my opinion:

Chachalaca…not! Sorry, this bird is not cool.

Sorry, although you do look more like one of your dinosaur ancestors than a Yellow Warbler, you just aren’t that cool. Ever since I saw a young chachalaca walk straight over the open flame of a candle in Peru and then ignore a Black Hawk-Eagle trying to snatch it on another day, I just feel too tempted to use the word “fool” instead of “cool” for members of the Ortalis clan.

Now for the real cool birds, the ones that would wear sunglasses and be kung-fu experts if they were human….

All eagles– Like obviously. I mean these birds could easily get away with wearing shades. They could almost lead biker gangs and get away with it. In Costa Rica, we got goshawkish terrors known as hawk-eagles, the rare giant black-hawk that goes by the cool name of “Solitary Eagle”, and of course, our pair of ultra rare monster favorites, the Crested Eagle and the ultimate in Neotropical cool, the legendary Harpy Eagle. A real rainforest A-Lister, much to our dismay, the Harpy would rather avoid the limelight that deal with the paparazzi. Same goes for the Crested, and as for the Solitary, well, it also just feels too cool to come out and have its picture taken. Not that we can blame the monster Buteogallus though because after all, it’s not called “Solitary” for nothing.

At least the super cool Ornate Hawk-Eagle is doing well in Costa Rica. We see this beautiful raptor at many sites.

Tiny Hawk– On the other end of the raptor spectrum, we have this ferocious, thrush-sized terror. Like a flying shrew, it snatches hummingbirds, honeycreepers, and even tanagers. Very cool!

Jabiru– It’s massive, it’s weird, it’s super cool, the one and only Jabiru. Biggest stork on this side of the planet, I gotta call it cool.

Great Green Macaw– To be honest, I’m not sure if this large in charge spectacular parrot is more “majestic” than “cool”. But, when it casually flies over and rends the humid air with prehistoric shrieks, it’s just too easy to imagine it with sunglasses.

Plus, when you see a pair of these fantastic bad boys, it’s all too easy to whisper, state, or exclaim, “cool”.

Bat Falcon– A cool looking hobby-like falcon that perches on exposed snags and even pylons, and then zips around to snatch swallows, parakeets, and bats. Based on those factors, this Neo Falco is a strong contender for being the coolest species in Costa Rica.

Laughing Falcon– Really, all falcons are cool but if I had to limit the choices to one or two birds, it’s hard to leave the “Guaco” off the list. I mean, this masked feathered bandit chokes down snakes! And, it has a loud maniacal laughing call often heard at dawn and dusk. It’s also fairly common, especially for being a raptor.

 

Great Potoo– Owl? Giant Nightjar? A creature of the night? Oh yeah, if any bird is, it’s the Great Potoo. This big, bug-eyed fluffy monster has one of the coolest calls of the deep tropical night.

White-tipped Sicklebill– All hummingbirds are cool for various reason, but with its bizarrely curved bill, this bird is one of the coolest.

Lesser Ground-Cuckoo– I give the cool label to this one because it has a heiroglyphic face and likes to creep around thick ground cover and give cool vocalizations.

Bare-crowned Antbird– Since all antbirds are automatically cool, it’s hard to pick just one. But, since this guy looks like a bird that might have flown out of a Tim Burton movie, this bald headed skulker ranks among the coolest.

Manakins– Most dance, some have super sonic wing snaps, and one even has moves like the late King of Pop. Very cool little birds, check out some Long-tailed Manakin action if you don’t believe me.

Yes, this bird moonwalks.

Royal Flycatcher– This big-headed, miniature Hammerkoppish flycatcher can spread the beautiful feathers of its crown and move its head back and forth like a snake. Although the display is a very rare sight, seeing one is always cool. I had a couple last week at Carara National Park and yes, seeing them was cool.

Three-wattled Bellbird– Bizarre, over the top, but cool. What isn’t cool about a bird the size of a pigeon that has wormy things hanging from its beak and makes super loud bonking sounds?

Wrenthrush– Nothing like birds that make you wonder what the heck they really are to be cool. That’s partly why birds like the Yellow-breasted Chat and the Wryneck are cool and why this one is especially cool. Not a wren. Not a thrush. Now, not even a wood-warbler. It’s all on its own and its the Wrenthrush, a sneaky bird that looks like a Tesia and is endemic to highland forests of Costa Rica and western Panama.

White-throated Shrike-Tanager– Yet another one with a confusing yet intriguing name and appearance, it has a few different cool things about it. The bird is a tanager yet acts sort of like a flycatcher. It has a shrike-like beak. The male sort of has oriole-like colors. And, other birds think its cool! They follow it around because it gives alarm calls to warn them of predators. Little do they know that it also gives those same alarm calls to make them hide so it can snatch some choice insect prey.

Yellow-thighed Finch– It’s always cool to see this endemic, arboreal towhee-like bird. And, best of all, it sports these little yellow puff ball things on its thighs that look unreal. A cool bird to watch and one that’s also common in highland forests.

Lots more birds around here are also cool, come to Costa Rica to decide which ones should receive your “cool” label. Keep in mind that some birds are more cute or regal than cool and might be why they didn’t make this list. Or, it might also just be that I think most birds are pretty cool and I had to stop at some point. Get ready for your trip and identify all birds in Costa Rica with the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app. You can also support this blog by purchasing “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” – more than 700 pages of information to find and identify birds in Costa Rica. Hope to see you here!

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birding reviews

The Beauty of Birding in Costa Rica with a WunderBird Shirt

Recently, I had the chance to test one of the newest innovations in birding wear. I’m still testing it and not because it really needs more testing but because I’m trying to see how it doesn’t function in Costa Rica. So far, the shirts have worked well while guiding and birding in warm, humid rainforest, and much cooler, wet conditions in the highlands. And, these shirts have more than passed the test.

That’s me on the right wearing a Wunderbird shirt during the first Coronado Bird Count, I’ll be writing a post about that pretty soon.

The birding wear I am referring to are shirts offered by Wunderbird, a fairly new company dedicated to “the birdwatching experience and to birdwatchers׳ needs.” Three types of shirts are offered and each has a cool name. There is “The Kestrel”, a short sleeve shirt, “The Peregrine”, a long-sleeve shirt, and “The Gyrfalcon”, a birding hoodie. Recently, I was contacted by the owner of the company to test Wunderbird shirts and write an honest review. Since most of my birding is done in warm, humid climates, I agreed to test the Kestrel and Peregrine shirts, and soon, I will also publish a review written by someone who has been testing the woman’s Kestrel.

Without further ado, here’s my take on the Wunderbird Kestrel and Peregrine:

Comfort- Big thumbs up

After putting both of these shirts on, the first thing I noticed was how “easy” it felt to wear them. Despite the front pockets (more like pouches) and padded shoulders, these features didn’t add any extra weight or discomfort, they fit so well, I almost felt like I was wearing nothing. And yet, they weren’t too tight either, fortunately, I had picked the correct size despite never having tried them on. This was no doubt because of Wunderbird’s sizing chart.

The pockets/pouches- Another thumbs up

While birding in both rainforest and cloud forest, I tried the upper pocket to see if it really did support my un-harnessed Swarovskis. Unzipping the pocket, I put the rather hefty binos in the pouch and was pleased to see that I no longer felt like a rock was hanging from my neck, something that obviously made them easier to carry. But what about taking them in and out of that upper pouch? In tropical forest, a quick draw is essential for seeing more birds because many are shy and have an innate capability to hide as soon as they perceive something, anything out of place. You have to react right away and get that bird into focus or risk frustration at missing lifers. As I encountered mixed flocks of tanagers, espied a Black-throated Trogon through a hole in the dense tropical vegetation, and noticed a Barred Hawk flying into view, I was pleased to see that the pouch didn’t hinder my chances at getting binoculars on birds. I should mention that this is especially important while guiding since you have to be “on point” at all times, see the bird, and get clients on it before it makes its exit.

Binos in the Kestrel pouch.

You may need a quick draw for birds like the Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow.

The lower pouch is even bigger than the upper one and that also came in handy. Although it barely seems like the pouch is there, I found it useful for my bluetooth speaker. I could have also placed a laser pointer in there, phone, or a notebook, and in fact, did use it for my iPad mini while visiting a site on the Caminos de Costa Rica trail. That said, I wouldn’t want to put too many things in the lower pocket because you would eventually feel the weight and perhaps too many things could eventually tear it? In any case, it works well for one or two objects, at least that’s how I will be using it in conjunction with a small pack to carry water, first aid, organic chocolate, and other important items.

Shoulder pads- Thumbs up

I admit that after putting the shirt on for the first time, I felt a bit funny about the shoulder pads. I wasn’t used to wearing shirts with such a feature (it’s been a while since the 80s), and sort of felt like I had put on a uniform. But, you can’t expect a pro birding shirt to look like some other random shirt used for other purposes, and I got used to it quicker than I expected in any case. Plus, the shoulder pads aren’t there for show. They serve a welcome purpose I can relate to because I have spent many a day lugging a scope around balanced on and biting into my shoulder. Now, I barely feel the heavy Manfrotto tripod, the pads definitely work in that regard.

Climate control- Also thumbs up

This was actually my biggest concern because my birding in Costa Rica often involves walking in warm, humid places. I don’t know it it’s because I spent my youth in the cold winters of Niagara Falls, NY, but whatever the reason, I need to stay cool in hot tropical conditions. While many locals feel just fine, I have to be careful about overheating and is why I was very pleased at the advent of moisture wicking fabrics and other clothing options that cool you down. Therefore, I was very happy to see that along those lines, the Wunderbird shirts work like a charm. Just as advertised, the fabric is breathable and has ventilation to keep me comfortable during hot, tropical birding conditions. Because of that, I was surprised to see that I felt just as comfortable in cool, wet cloud forest! I don’t know how it’s possible, but I felt just as comfortable in cool conditions as I did in hot weather and that’s a serious bonus. Of course if it gets too cold, you can always put something on over a Wunderbird shirt, or try the Gyrfalcon hoodie (and who wouldn’t want to wear something named after one of the coolest birds on the planet?).

More testing of the Peregrine at another highland site.

I’m still trying to figure out how these shirts don’t work around here, and haven’t had any success with that yet. I’ll just have to keep going birding in them and that’s alright because it’s almost too comfortable to not wear them.

Learn more about the features of Wunderbird shirts here, and see what others are saying about these pro birding shirts in their review section.