Each year, I hope to accomplish certain birding trips in Costa Rica. No matter where or when, up in here, although the birding is always worth it, certain situations are still an annual “must”. Even though urban birding can include binocular time with Rufous-capped Warblers, Lesson’s Motmot and the rare Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow, as long as the habitat isn’t destroyed to make way for housing, said experience is still available all year long. Parrots, parakeets, raptors and dozens of other tropical species do the morning flyby at Cerro Lodge but that’s also pretty much every month of the calendar. The same goes for mixed flocks of tanagers, antbird action, and so many other target experiences with resident birds.
A birder might even share breakfast time with toucans.
However, as with birding in the northern latitudes, we also have times and places that merit optic attention, one of the main venues being the Caribbean Coast during October. Anywhere on the coast and even in much of the adjacent lowlands is good but one of the best areas seems to be the southern corner of Costa Rica. Visit sites south of Limon during October and you place yourself in the path of literally millions of birds.
No exaggeration. It’s as simple as that because a fair percentage of the Chimney Swifts, Barn Swallows, Bank Swallows, and Cliff Swallows that breed up north fly through in October along with large numbers of Red-eyed Vireos, Scarlet Tanagers, Eastern Kingbirds, eastern Wood-Pewees, and so on. Add a River of Raptors to the mix and lesser numbers of passerines, shorebirds, and herons and there’s never a dull moment. Thus, I yearn to bird places like Punta Uva and Manzanillo in October and am grateful that once again, I was able to guide for a few days down that way this fall migration season.
A kingbird on vacation.
I wish I was still there now because I know the birding will be fantastic for at least another week. Every day, thousands of birds. But, at least I got the opportunity to experience some of that and, as mentioned, I am grateful. These were some of the happenings:
When I think of the past few days, visions of flycatchers come to mind. Lots of dun colored birds sallying from posts, most of them Eastern Wood-Pewees. They might not be splashed with the rainbow but seeing dozens of pewees foraging in tropical locales is always impressive. I also get a kick out of hearing them say their name. It generates a juxtaposition of memories; some with a backdrop of lowland rainforest, others with the breeze swishing the foliage of June Oaks and Maples on Goat Island.
Other flycatchers were also in evidence. A few Olive-sideds, fair numbers of Traill’s nearly skulking in tall, wet grass. Eastern Kingbirds flying in to perch in the canopy and plenty of local flycatchers too. Birders up north might be surprised to hear that one of our best birds was Least Flycatcher because although it might be de-facto in the northeast, most winter in Mexico. Only a few make it to Costa Rica, the southern Caribbean being one of the best areas to add it to a Costa Rica year or country list. I was very pleased to see one!
Gray-capped Flycatcher was one of many local flycatcher species, at least a dozen other resident flycatchers were also heard or seen.
A couple of choice seabirds!
Offshore storms were churning up the ocean during our entire stay and were likely responsible for two excellent finds, Brown Noddy and Herring Gull. A cursory check of the water turned up the noddy foraging quite close to shore near Manzanillo. I have heard of others seeing this species in the area now and then, I guess my time had finally come. Although it was a bit far off, scope views showed the graceful antics of the chocolate brown, long-tailed tern.
As for the gull, a mundane bird elsewhere is not necessarily common in Costa Rica. A Herring is a rare visitor this far south, an excellent find! Wheeling over a storm born wave, it popped into view at an estuary during our drive back home. The adventurous first year bird quickly moved further south and was also seen by other birders shortly after in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
Barely record shots of the gull. I like the waves.
Although October can be sunny on the southern Caribbean slope, it can also be wet as a sponge. We had a bit of both and were pretty much rained on from Saturday afternoon into Sunday morning. As one might imagine, this minimized bird activity quite a bit, even vociferous residents were taking a time out. That said, we still managed to see some birds fly over, others here and there.
We spent quality time with Olive-crowned Yellowthroat and
The final morning of the trip was rained out but the after breakfast birding sort of made up for it. A stop at the Puerto Vargas entrance to Cahuita National Park finally turned up the migrants as a few dozen birds feasted on small fruits. Most were Red-eyed Vireos along with several Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, a few Bay-breasted and Chestnut-sided Warblers, and a few other birds. The best came when one of the new club members asked about/mentioned the different bird on the wire. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the bird in question turned out to be a Yellow-billed Cuckoo perched on a roadside cable! After it flew off, another Yellow-billed swooped past it.
With the elation of migrants under our belts, we continued north, stopping at the estuary where we saw the aforementioned gull. But that wasn’t the only thing espied. During that short hour, we watched a constant stream of swallows and Chimney Swifts fly overhead, got bins onto ten or so migrating Peregrines, and tried to focus on five or so boreal bullets (Merlins!). On the shore, we were also treated to several waders and even a couple of Blue-winged Teal. Our eBird list from that fine hour of birding.
Thanks to this being a popular area for tourism and, apparently, chefs, there are several options for delicious dining. For honest focaccia, pizza rossa, and other Italian pastry bread and delights, check out the DiGustibus bakery.
There are too many good restaurants to mention so I will just talk about the pair where our group enjoyed dinner. Bamboocha had very good service and nice Italian and Caribbean dishes for good prices, whereas Lydia’s in Puerto Viejo served up tasty authentic Caribbean meals with friendly, good and efficient service.
We also had nice, filling breakfasts at the Casita Azul, enjoying birds in the garden and beach scenery at the same time.
Warm hospitality at Olguita’s Place
We stayed at Olguita’s Place, a small set of locally owned cabinas. The friendly owners took care of our needs, are interested in birds and may have a birding trail set up when you visit. Cabins aren’t luxurious but are available for a great price, are fine, and our’s was actually outfitted with fans, a fridge, and a gas stove. Birding on the grounds is good for various edge species, plenty of good forest birding is situated within walking distance, and a beach with good snorkeling is just up the driveway. I enjoyed staying at this peaceful friendly spot and look forward to another visit.