Like most birders from the eastern USA, I became familiar with the Gray Catbird shortly after receiving my first binoculars. They were 7 x 32 Jason-Empires from Sears and had a fast focus lever. Although I can’t recall the moment, I must have used that focusing lever to get a close look at many a catbird during my first days of summer birding. It’s a common bird up that way, a species of sumac thickets and sweet scented vegetation of June mornings. They were easy to hear too, those sleek dark gray birds with their mewing calls.
On my last summer visit up north, I was surprised at how abundant they were in the thickets along the Niagara Gorge. Catbirds were probably always just as common, but since they are decidedly uncommon in Costa Rica, I had a new found appreciation for them. Those cool Mimids migrate south but most just don’t go quite as far as southern Central America. This is why it can be a tough one to add to a Costa Rican year list, one that many local birders still need, and a bird that you can’t just take for granted. With that in mind, Mary and I targeted Gray Catbird and a few other choice species during a recent morning of birding in the Sarapiqui lowlands.
A classic birding zone, Sarapiqui lays claim to such famous hotspots as the La Selva Biological Station, Selva Verde lodge, Dave and Daves, and other places that will give your binoculars a work out. Thanks to inspiration from Chris Fischer’s wonderful blog, , we tried for the catbird along with Yellow-breasted Chat and various resident lowland birds required for our year list.
Starting at the Comandancia Road, we found suitable chat habitat that must have been the same spot where one had been seen in January. Although the chat failed to come out and play, Mary was successful in calling in a catbird! True to its name (and the sacrificial birder effect), when I went to fetch the car, she heard its mewing cat-like calls. Luckily, it stayed long enough for me to also see it. An excellent year bird, it was also a long awaited lifer for Mary. In fact, she had waited so long to see one, she could hardly believe it was a catbird when looking at it. She told me, “But it looks like a thrush, it looks dark, I have waited so long to see one, it just doesn’t seem possible.”
But it indeed was and our year Gray Catbird joined a very productive list that also included two species of macaws, brief looks at a Snowy Cotinga, and many other year birds including Slaty-breasted Tinamou, Semiplumbeous Hawk, Scaled Pigeon, Plain-colored Tanager, White-ringed Flycatcher, and other key species. We even heard Purple-throated Fruitcrows (!) a species I have never encountered at the edge of La Selva Biological Station.
With Gray Catbird in the bag, hopefully we can continue the trend of seeing species common up north but kind of rare in Costa Rica. Those would be birds like Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, other warblers, a Sharpie and a Coop. At least if we don’t see them now, we can still look from them in November. In the meantime, we also have more than enough cool resident species to search for, species like nunbirds, antbirds, and a small owl that lacks spots.