It’s December, in Costa Rica, the month of vacations, the beginning of the dry season, Christmas in the tropics. For us local birders, we wish for holiday gifts that take the form of glittering cotingas, a White-tipped Sicklebill, a lifer or two or three. This December, my potential lifers are far too separate from the realm of possibilities but I don’t mind, I have been blessed, I will be content to watch whatever flies my way during Christmas counts and other birding days.
Come to Costa Rica for a lifer Prong-billed Barbet.
I will see a lot of birds during the following final weeks of 2018, I hope all birders can do the same. In the meantime, these are some news items for birding in Costa Rica:
New Birds for the Costa Rica list
Some web sites still mention 860 or so bird species for Costa Rica. Don’t believe it, the number is much higher and the list continues to grow. At this time of writing, the official bird list for Costa Rica stands at 923 species and now that Couch’s Kingbird and Yellow-billed Tern have been seen (by Ernesto Carman and Chambito respectively), we can add two more! They still need officially confirmation but since one was documented with a diagnostic audio recording, and the other with an excellent photo, they should make it onto the official country list soon.
The tern was seen at Cano Negro, we are doing a bird count there tomorrow, I hope it makes another appearance!
Birding sites that have closed
I may or may not have mentioned it elsewhere but in any case, Kiri Lodge near Tapanti was sold and may or may not reopen under new ownership. Much worse was the selling of Zamora Estate to “developers”. Although some of the natural aspects of the land might be preserved, I suspect that most will be or already has been destroyed to make way for housing. Not just important green space but some of the final bits of remnant wetlands in the Central Valley. I hope the owners are haunted by the ghosts of herons, especially the cackling of gargoyelish Boat-billeds.
As previously mentioned, there be Christmas counts happening these days. Special events in many places, in Costa Rica, we tend to take them to higher levels of birding. This count season has more counts than ever before, so many in fact that a birder can’t do all of them. I participated in my first Cangreja Christmas Count a few days ago, and will be doing the Cano Negro and Arenal counts shortly for a week of fantastic birding times. I wonder how many species I will have identified by next week? I bet I surpass 300.
The cool shirt from the Cangreja Count, my team found more than 130 species, the sole waterbird being Sunbittern.
Night driving in Puriscal- just no
For the Cangreja count, we had to drive through Puriscal to reach Mastatal, the village at the edge of Cangreja National Park. It’s a long, winding road, several kilometers of it sort of rocky and dotted with occasional pot holes. But, that wasn’t the problem.The nightmare came in the form of pea soup fog, at night, on a road with minimal to zero lighting and very few road markers. Needless to say, this means that one should never, not ever, ever ever drive that road at night. Never mind the fact that some cars zoomed past us, it should in fact be closed during conditions such as the ones experienced by us. During the day, it’s fine, even beautiful and the birding is nice but time your trip well or you might spend a couple hours creeping along with the desperate hope that you will make it through alive as your navigator risks her literal head by sticking it out the window to make sure you don’t drive off a cliff.
Avoid certain supposedly edible snacks….
Oh, and there’s more advice garnered from that gem of a drive. Whatever you do, do not buy any of those packaged empanadas or other would be baked snacks from small supermarkets between Puriscal and Mastatal. That might also hold true in other parts of the country although you won’t find me testing that hypothesis. Whether just confused by fog or thinking that we were in need of emergency rations, we happily shopped for packages of pudding bread, empanadas, and some other sugary thing. Upon opening them, however, it only took one bite to send our contented feelings of accomplishment straight to ashen pools of despair. One lives and learns and makes discoveries. On that day of learning, we found that “budin” can smell and taste like actual garbage, and that styrofoam and/or plastic might be secret ingredients for packaged empanadas and “costillas”. Honestly, just stay away and thank the stars for feeling hungry because that’s better than dining on plastic and savage bits of fermented flour.
This year was a good wet one for Costa Rica, including the tropical dry forest region. Things have been very green and this should help local and wintering bird populations in Guanacaste. With more habitat for waterbirds, perhaps we will have more of those as well. And fewer forest fires would be nice too!
Tis the season for umbrellabirds
Although I wish this meant that they would be common and a given at many a site, alas, the bird is truly endangered. But, it still is the season for this serious mega with the Elvis coiffure. One was recently seen on trails near La Fortuna, others should be at similar elevations where the foothills meet the lowlands on the Caribbean slope. Watch for them wherever forest is found in such situations and rejoice with your choice of organic chocolate and local brews (or coffee, or whatever, just not packaged baked snacks. Only eat those when you feel like punishing yourself).
The Bogarin Trail
Last not not least, The Bogarin Nature Trail on the outskirts of Fortuna will be rocking. Geovanni recently reminded me that December is the best time for birding that oasis. Many birds are at the feeders, there is good birding on the trails, and flowering trees can have Black-crested Coquette, Blue-throated Goldentail, and who knows what other hummingbird species? The entrance fee is $10, whether using camera or sticking to binos, it’s well worth it. There might be a roosting owl. There might even be a Keel-billed Motmot! There will be birds and it will be good.
The least common motmot in Costa Rica from a recent visit to Bogarin.
Coming to Costa Rica? Spaces are still open on excellent guided trips with Lifer Tours. The birding will be fantastic, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org I hope to see you birding in Costa Rica!