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Reflections from a Quick Trip to Guanacaste

Last week, we had an official holiday in Costa Rica; the Annexation of Nicoya. Also known as Guanacaste Day, this holiday marks the date when Costa Rica obtained the northwestern part of the present territory. In common with the celebration of official holidays, this past Thursday, various businesses, government related stuff, and schools were closed. For us, the most important part of those closures was that part about the schools because that meant that we didn’t necessarily have to stay around the homestead for Thursday morning. We had the rare liberty to venture forth on Wednesday for at least one night away from home with options that ranged from a trip into the high mountains, a visit to the Caribbean coast, and beaches on the Pacific!

After looking out the front door and noting heavy, rainy clouds in the mountains, a cold trip to the highlands was quickly ruled out. The Caribbean was appealing, I love going there, Mary and her daughter have never been, and the birding is always exciting BUT recent heavy rains had resulted in more than one road closure en route. Not wanting to run the risk of landslides, we decided to visit the Caribbean another day.

The Pacific it would be but where to go, the humid beaches of he south? The dry forests to the north? As often happens in this beautiful country, it was a tough choice but we eventually settled on a trip to the very place that gave us this free day; Guanacaste. Beaches on the Nicoya seemed a bit too far for just one night so we settled on ones closer to Liberia. Here are some suggestions and reflections from that trip:

You can stay in Liberia- At first we only looked at hotels near the beaches. After noting the prices of those places, we started looking at accommodation around Liberia. We were only going to sleep in the hotel in any case so there was no need for a pool or other amenities. The place we settled on was “La Macha Cabinas” and although you never truly know what you are going to get, it turned out to be a good choice! Nothing extravagant but the place was clean, secure, had air conditioning, a fridge, tv, and so on for around $40 a night. It was also situated next to a bit of green space that had flocks of Orange-fronted Parakeets, Streak-backed Orioles, and some other expected birds. I didn’t hear any owls but it looked ideal for Pacific Screech and Barn Owls.

Lots of these were around.

Playa Panama– One of a few beaches near Liberia that are good for kids, Playa Panama is big, has clear water with a good number of fish (we saw quite a few), and even has a fake pirate ship in the bay. Not too much on the bird front although there was a Common Black Hawk nesting just behind the beach. This site is also a 30 minute drive from Liberia.

Stingrays– We saw at least one, right there in the sand so shuffle those feet when wading in the water!

Las Trancas– I was excited to check this hotspot. It’s right on route to Playa Panama and can host anything from Jabiru to White-tailed Hawk and Spotted Rail. On other visits, I have seen all of those and some. We never had time to look for the rail but I had hoped for more than we saw. Instead, we saw no wading birds, no raptors in flight, and that a fair bit of the place had been converted to sugarcane. That said, we only drove through the area but it was mostly dry and since we saw so few hints of birds, we just didn’t even stop. Rice is still cultivated in large parts of the farm, hopefully it will still turn up good birds during wetter weather in September and October.

Lots of green forest– Visit Costa Rica in the dry season and Guanacaste looks like a scene from Tanzania. Visit in July and it’s an abundance of green. More bugs then but good bird activity and beautifully green.

Guanacaste in July can be cool!– I was surprised at how cool it was. It was still pretty warm but compared to the really hot sunny weather in February, July was quite comfortable.

Santa Rose National Park or Rincon de la Vieja?– After a morning at the beach, we had time to visit at least one national park. There are two good options around 40 minutes from Liberia; Rincon de la Vieja and Santa Rosa. Both have great birding, especially Rincon with its chances at Tody Motmot, quail-doves, and even Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo. However, since Rincon is also frequently cloaked in misty, windy weather, we decided to do that park on another day and went to Santa Rosa.

Awesome forest at Rincon de la Vieja.

Although the afternoon rains caught up to us at Santa Rosa, we still saw some birds, heard a few year Elegant Trogons, saw monkeys, and had a chance to scout the place for future visits.

I especially liked the prospect of watching birds from one of the overlooks in the early morning.

Go birding early in the morning– I know, no kidding, but just a reminder that you will always see more and have better chances at seeing forest-falcons and some other shy birds if you get out there just after dawn.

Enjoy the views of Yellow-naped Parrot and lots of other dry forest species– Yellow-naped Parrots aren’t super common, in fact, they are endangered. But, pairs still occur at Santa Rosa and other nearby sites with forest. It’s always fun to watch these large, special parrots. Other expected dry forest species are also present, most of them also pretty easy to see.

Common Ground Dove

Be wary of expensive tourist traps– Tourist trap might be going a bit too far but that’s what comes to mind when a place charges high prices for normal stuff or fare. If you really want to see what I mean, check out the few restaurants on the road near the Liberia airport. I guess when it comes down to it, it will be worth it to check out reviews for places to eat and stay.

Stop for dinosaurs– It’s important to make stops for likenesses of prehistoric creatures and essential when traveling with kids. It helps when the T-Rex, Sabre-toothed feline, and other creatures are accompanied by ice cream and other goodies at the Monteverde restaurant. If that ice cream doesn’t fit the bill, check out the POPS just down the road on the way to San Jose. This spot also has birds, on one occasion, I got nice shots of a female Scrub Euphonia.

If I had one last reflection or suggestion it would be to fit Guanacaste into your birding trip. The birding is good and easy, pay a visit to Santa Rosa, Las Trancas, and other sites. You will see a lot.

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Target Birding in Costa Rica? Expect Fantastic Birding

Birding can be practiced in more ways than one might think. A lot of people just watch the birds that come to the backyard feeder and take a casual interest with identification. They are happy with the relaxed avian scene at home and leave it at that. Others try to identify whatever they come across but aren’t over concerned with finding new birds, lifers if you will. We also have people in the birding tribe who have goals of seeing many certain species and even take very necessary trips to outlying places like New Caledonia because crazy cool birds like Cloven-feathered Doves and the one and only Kagu don’t live anywhere else.

In Costa Rica, we see the closest relative of the Kagu on a regular basis.

Birders who visit Costa Rica fall into every category of birding. I have guided folks who just enjoy seeing whatever crosses their path be it a common Blue-gray Tanager or a less common Red-headed Barbet.

Both are nice to look at.

There have been people who would rather get stunner photos of Squirrel Cuckoos and Groove-billed Anis than feed the mosquitoes while waiting for an Agami Heron no show. I have also guided people with specific target lists, folks who have seen thousands of bird species. However, no matter how someone wants to watch birds, most of all, the majority of birders want to see lots of birds. I think most folks realize that there is little control over what occurs, what one can see during a day or two of birding, especially when many of the species are naturally rare or may seem to be part of the anti-birder conspiracy (such as Barred Hawk was and still seems to be with my partner).

This raptor is more nefarious than one might think.

Fortunately, no matter how adept a bird may be at avoiding birders, we always see a lot and this is because Costa Rica is fantastic for birding. Biased? Maybe but I would say the same about many other countries. Honestly, there are literally hundreds of bird species within easy striking distance and the logistics available to reach just about all of them. It’s easy to see a lot of birds here and even if I do focus on target species, mega specialties like Black-crowned Antpitta just don’t get in the way of seeing lots of other birds. This is because most target birds require quality habitats that also support many other species. For this reason, when I was guiding in the Arenal area a few days ago, while we did see target White-fronted Nunbird and Bare-crowned Antbird, we also had the joy of watching a pair of bullish Great Antshrikes at close range,

admired the shining beauty of a male Gartered Trogon,

the odd exotic appearance of Rufous-tailed Jacamar,

beautiful Black-cheeked, Hoffmann’s, Golden-olive, and Rufous-winged Woodpeckers,

and the babblerish behavior of Black-throated Wrens.

There were no Keel-billed Motmots on that day (we could always blame it on the overly wet conditions), but we did watch several Broad-billed Motmots and finished a century species morning with Yellow-throated Toucans perched in the fine light of the post rain.

It does help to know where and how to find every target species but in Costa Rica, even if the rare birds don’t show, you can always expect a lot of many other things. Hope to see you here!

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Tips and News for Birding in Costa Rica- July, 2019

Birding in Costa Rica soon? Already looking at Snowcaps

and Speckled Tanagers?

Want to look at these and hundreds of other birds? If you nodded or thought “yes” for any of the questions above, this blog post is for you. Check out these tips and news items for birding Costa Rica in July, 2019.

Rain?

Expect at least some. Although a short dry season often occurs during July, we may have already experienced those sunny days in late June. It’s going to rain and maybe even a lot but that won’t ruin any birding trip to Costa Rica in July. Quite the contrary, occasional rain and cloudy weather are better for prolonged bird activity than the hot, sunny, cicada days of the dry season.

If it does pour down a deluge for hours, don’t ford any streams and be careful with flooding. A few of the areas more prone to excess water are Upala, Parrita, some sites near Ciudad Neily, and other flat areas adjacent to rivers (aka floodplains…). During lashing bouts of very heavy rains, it’s also a good idea to avoid driving route 32; landslides are typical on this mountain road.

Oilbirds

This enigmatic, odd bird of a bird visits Costa Rica every year during the wet season and at least one was recently seen in the Monteverde area. Difficulties in detection make it impossible to give an accurate estimate of the number of Oilbirds that come to Costa Rica but good places to look are the cloud forests of Monteverde (the best place- take guided night hikes in the Monteverde Refuge), and high elevation forests in the Talamancas. They have also been seen on Irazu.

Bare-necked Umbrellabird

This mega, crow-sized cotinga is always rare and difficult to see but it might be slightly easier in July. I saw one in June and others have been seen in the Pocosol area of the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, and at Arenal Observatory Lodge. These sightings are probably of birds moving into foothill forests after breeding at higher elevations. Bird the foothill zone and keep umbrellabirds in mind at fruiting trees and when encountering groups of toucans and other large birds.

Ferry Birding

I think birding from the ferry is always worth the ride and especially so during the rainy season. It’s easy to do and despite the constant barrage of silly dance music on the boat back to Puntarenas, birdwise, it’s always interesting. Don’t expect a lot but keep watching, you might see storm-petrels, some odd rarity, or a Brown Noddy (as Mary and I did a couple of weeks ago).

Where to go birding in Costa Rica

It’s hard to say which sites are best right now because the birding is great all year long wherever good habitat occurs. However, a birder can’t go wrong with these suggestions:

Dry forest sites– Visit sites from Carara to Guanacaste in July and you might wonder about the “dry” in tropical dry forest. Everything is wet and green and the birds are singing and this is why it’s such a fun time for visiting this important habitat. Although there is more vegetation to hide the birds, frequent song can still make them easier to find and the birding can be good all day long. Another bonus of dry forest birding right now is that most species can also be found along any number of roads that pass through a patchwork of forest and farms. Those would be birds like Crested Bobwhite, Turquoise-browed Motmot, White-necked Puffbird, Yellow-naped Parrot, White-throated Magpie-Jay, and many others.

The best sites are places like Santa Rosa National Park, Horizontes, and any number of roads that pass through patches of dry forest.

Rincon de la Vieja– An excellent site at any time, July might be the best month to visit this wonderful park. There isn’t as much wind, uncommon Rusty and Botteri’s Sparrows are easier to find, and the same bunch of excellent bird species are just as present now as other months.

Foothill rainforest sites– See Bare-necked Umbrellabird… Along with that species, now can also be a great time to find Yellow-eared Toucanet, White-crowned Manakin, more tanagers, and lots of other species hanging in the foothill zone.

It depends on how you want to bird– As with any place, what you see depends on how you want to watch birds, what you want to see. For example, birders who would rather relax with tanagers and toucans at a lodge can do just that at any number of places. Birders who want to see as many birds as possible and don’t mind hiking in rainforest can do that at Tirimbina, Curi-Cancha, and various other parks and reserves. No matter how you want to bird or what you would like to see, the information in How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica can help. Purchase this book to get the most comprehensive information about finding birds in Costa Rica while also supporting this blog.

Forget the mid-summer birding doldrums, July birding in Costa Rica is great! I hope to see you here.

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July Birding in Niagara, July Birding in Costa Rica

July in the birding world is when many birders take a break from binoculars. The weather is hot, it’s green out there in the middle of the summer but go birding and you may feel like you are walking through a set of terrestrial doldrums. Few birds sing and many seem to be just as lethargic about the hot humid days as crowds at the beach, as the auto-fanning auntie sipping cold drinks on the porch. The breeze in the trees seems tired, taking a rest after a busy first part of summer. It’s a good match for kids on swing sets, going to the pool, having a family reunion. Not so much for major avian action.

Although you might run into a Red-headed Woodpecker pecking at a lost sandwich.

But the birds are still there, they just have other priorities in mind. Not as obvious and showy as the breeding times of May and June, birds in July might be finishing or starting a second brood. They might be molting, laying low as they change their natural dress before moving back south. Some, the first shorebirds to leave the breeding grounds of the Arctic, have already started their long distance movements towards the tropics. Birding in Niagara, in western New York and southern Ontario, was waiting for those migrants, checking the wetlands at the wildlife refuges and the Lake Erie shore to see if some were around. At the same time, we watched the post-breeding movements of Yellow Warblers, might find a rare Henslow’s Sparrow singing in the summer night, maybe find a Sedge Wren. We kept an eye out for other birds too, especially the vagrants, the adventurous birds that moved far north of regular haunts. One summer, one of those lost individuals was my lifer Tricolored Heron.

A first year bird, it flew north instead of south. Heck, at that time of year, it didn’t need to fly anywhere but then again what did we know about its situation? It must have needed to move to find food. The wetlands it had come from may have dried up, may have been drained, or there might not have been enough room for it. Whatever the reason, it made its way to the junction between two of the Great Lakes and I got the chance to see it.

It’s also a good area and time of year to see Caspian Tern.

In Costa Rica, the birding situation in July is not nearly as quiet. Birds are still singing, many are moving with juveniles in mixed flocks. There are always a lot of birds to see, I guess one of the biggest differences is the absence of the winter species. The Summer Tanagers, Baltimore Orioles and wood-warblers are still on breeding grounds in the USA and Canada, they won’t be in Costa Rica for a while. But, the birds that are present are the resident tropical species that most visiting birders would rather see anyways. Birds like the Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush I saw yesterday while driving through the Cinchona-Varablanca area.

Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush

Near endemic Birds like Costa Rican Warbler, Prong-billed Barbet, Ruddy Treerunner, Black-faced Solitaire, and other species that I also saw and heard yesterday. We were just passing through, if we had stayed longer, we would have seen a lot more. A brief stop in Cinchona produced Coppery-headed Emeralds and Brown Violetears, lower down, a Bat Falcon flew alongside, vying with the speed of the car. A few toucans called and flew from the tops of trees, and other birds made it into our trip list.

Coppery-headed Emerald
Prong-billed Barbet

There’s more to see than a birder might expect during July birding up north. In Costa Rica, there’s a lot more to see no matter which month you go birding, even in July.

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Tips and Suggestions for Birding Lands in Love

This past Sunday, Mary and I had a chance to get in a morning of birding near Fortuna. Although we had the Observatory Lodge in mind, instead, we opted for another, lesser known site that we hadn’t visited for some time. Strategically located on a main route to the Central Valley from La Fortuna, Lands in Love makes for an easy stop with delicious vegan cuisine and great birding.

While birding the trails for a couple of hours, we identified 70 species, two of which were key year birds; Tawny-chested Flycatcher and Song Wren.

Lands in Love is a good site for these species as well as many others, the following are some tips and suggestions for birding this little known yet excellent site:

Bird from the Loveats Cafe

Lands in Love has a pleasant cafe on the main road. Drive the route between San Ramon and La Fortuna and occasional, interesting signs appear as the vehicle gets closer to great coffee, vegan Pad Thai and what is likely the best Shakshuka in Costa Rica. Even better, short fig trees next to the cafe attract honeycreepers and other small frugivorous species, and the vegetation out back is good for Black-throated Wren, wintering wood-warblers, and other birds. Sit at a table in the front, and the skies can host anything from Chestnut-collared Swifts to King Vulture and hawk-eagles. A birder might have to wait a while but the birds will eventually show. Cross the street and scan with a scope and White Hawk might be found along with other, much rarer species flying over or perched in the primary forest on a hill visible from the cafe.

Second Growth, then Primary Forest on the Trails

The trail system at Lands in Love includes several loops, most of which pass through primary rainforest that ranges between 600 and 400 meters elevation. Old second growth occurs at the beginning of most trails and offers up excellent birding including chances at actually seeing Thicket Antpitta, Black-crowned Antshrike, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, White-collared Manakin, and various other birds of the forest edge. It can be especially good for flycatchers including Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Northern Bentbill, Slate-headed Tody-Tyrant, and even the rare for Costa Rica, Sepia-capped Flycatcher. Pairs of the rare and near endemic Tawny-chested Flycatcher also occur here and there in areas of old second growth that have plenty of hanging vines.

Hummingbirds also feed on Heliconias including White-tipped Sicklebill, and Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, and various forest species can also show.

In the primary forest, keep an eye out for mixed flocks with Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, and Streak-crowned Antvireo, White-flanked and Checker-throated Antwrens. Various other species are also possible including Golden-crowned Spadebill, Scaly-throated Leaftosser, and Song Wren, Black-throated Trogon, and Rufous, Broad-billed and Keel-billed Motmots among others.

Antswarms

A birder would be fortunate indeed to run across an antswarm inside the forest at Lands in Love because this is the best way to connect with the rare Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo. This species occurs at Lands in Love along with more expected Ocellated, Bicolored, and Spotted Antbirds.

Fruiting Trees

The canopy is high but if you find a fruiting tree, stay with it for a while. In addition to the three expected species of toucans, Yellow-eared Toucanet can also show and even Bare-necked Umbrellabird is possible (perhaps only from June to January). Various tanagers can also occur and fallen fruits might attract quail-doves. Olive-backed is the most likely species although Purplish-backed and even Violaceous are possible.

Trails too Rough? Bird the Forest on the Loop Road

The only downside to the trails is that they haven’t been maintained that much. This means that one or more of the bridges over creeks need to be replaced and that the trails themselves aren’t really suited for folks who have trouble with balance or walking. The upside is that a good number of species can be seen right along the loop road through the property and as the forest adjacent to the road continues to grow, the birding will only get better. In addition to edge species, many forest birds can also occur including antbirds, Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, all three Cracids, and others. The loop road also has a few overlooks useful for checking the canopy and watching for raptors in flight. Not to mention, flowering bushes can also attract various hummingbirds, even Snowcap, Black-crested Coquette, Blue-chested Hummingbird, and Blue-throated Goldentail!

Part of the loop road.

Other Species to Watch For

Lands in Love has a lot of potential for birding, including chances at many rare and uncommon species. Some of the birds to look for:

Cracids– Frequent at many sites in Costa Rica, Great Curassow, Crested Guan, and Gray-headed Chachalaca are present and often seen at Lands.

Raptors– Most of the rainforest raptors have been seen at Lands, the most frequent being King Vulture, White Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Gray Hawk, and Double-toothed Kite. Semiplumbeous Hawk is also regular and both Black and Ornate Hawk-Eagles also make regular appearances. I suspect that Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle could also show from time to time and I have also seen Gray-headed and Hook-billed Kites. Perhaps scanning with a scope from the Loveats Cafe will eventually yield sightings of a distant Crested Eagle or Solitary Eagle? Lots of luck needed for those megas BUT both have occurred in the forest complex visible from the cafe. I can’t help but wonder if Crested Eagle might also pay a visit to the mostly inaccessible primary forests below the lodge.

On the falcon front, Laughing and Bat are regular, Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon has been recorded in the forest and both Collared and Barred also occur.

Tawny-faced Quail– I don’t know if this rarity is present but I think there is a fair chance that it does live in the lower, mostly inaccessible forests. There may be a trail that reaches this most exciting part of the property.

Sunbittern and Green Ibis– Both of these choice birds can occur on the small bodies of water on the hotel grounds, the Sunbittern also along the river.

Owls and other Night Birds– Crested and Black-and-white have been seen near the restaurant and rooms, Mottled and Spectacled also probably occur somewhere on the property, and Middle American Screech-Owl likely occurs in the forest. As for other nocturnal species, Short-tailed Nighthawk can be seen at dusk and perhaps Great Potoo also occurs?

Motmots, puffbirds, and jacamars– This is an interesting site for motmots. Lesson’s has been recorded along the loop road, Broad-billed and Rufous are regular in the forest, and Keel-billed has also been seen perhaps more in the areas of second growth. The best puffbird on site is Lanceolated Monklet. Although it seems to not be as regular as in the past, it likely still occurs in and near the forested canyon. White-fronted Nunbird might also be present inside some parts of the primary forest, it would also be worth looking for the very rare Great Jacamar (Rufous-tailed is fairly common).

Black-crowned Antpitta– No sightings or sign of this mega that I know of (I have tried for it several times) but based on the elevation and habitat, it might be present perhaps in the lower more remote part of the forest.

Lovely Cotinga– Another one that could make an appearance, it will be most likely seen from the Loveats overlook. It seems that this rare species could also visit the forests around the hotel. If any cotingas are still present in the area, I would expect sightings from June to January when they are more likely to move to lower elevations.

Wrens– As with other foothill sites that have a blend of primary and secondary forest, Lands is a great place to see several species of wrens including White-breasted Wood-Wren, Bay, Black-throated, Stripe-breasted, Band-backed, Nightingale, and Song Wrens (along with House for the trip list).

Wood-Warblers and other migrants– Although migrant species can show up in all sorts of places, most really prefer quality forest habitats. This is probably the main reason why Lands seems to be such a good site for wintering wood-warblers including Kentucky, Hooded, Worm-eating, Golden-winged, and other species. I have also seen rare for Costa Rica Blue-headed Vireo there and it would be worth checking for Cerulean, thrushes, and other species during migration.

Stay the Night

If I had one final recommendation, it would be to stay the night at Lands in Love because the birding is good enough to merit more than just a morning. To learn more about stays and birding at Lands in Love, contact me at information@birdingcraft.com .