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A Weekend of Birding Cabinas Olguitas and the Gandoca-Manzanillo Area

I have mentioned from time to time how much I enjoy birding near Limon, Costa Rica. Also referred to as the Southern Caribbean zone, this part of the country still features a good deal of mature lowland rainforest, much of which is accessible. Not to mention, since the area is very much underbirded, there’s always a chance of finding something unexpected. Add forested streams, swamps, other wetlands and a migration corridor to the birding equation and we have an impressive bird list with nearly 400 species (see bird lists at the end of this post).

The only downside of the Southern Caribbean zone is that it is located around four to five hours by car from where I live. This prevents me from visiting more than once or twice a year, or staying for longer than a weekend. If the new road to Limon is ever finished (maybe in 4 years), it should be an easy, quick ride but until then, the long, slow haul keeps me from visiting more often. I sure wish I could though because the birding is always great and if a birder gets lucky with a good wave of migrants, the avian experience is fantastic.

This past weekend, I made my annual trip while guiding the local Birding Club of Costa Rica and, as with last year, we stayed at Olguita’s Place. Also known as Cabinas Olguita, this friendly spot offers tranquil accommodation in basic yet cozy and equipped cabins within easy walking distance of a beautiful beach and good birding habitat. If you don’t feel like cooking, dine at any of several good restaurants in the area and then look for Great Potoo and any of five owl species on the drive back.

The Black-and-white Owl sometimes occurs at Olguita’s.

Some other information from this recent trip:

Migration

On this trip, unfortunately, we more or less dipped on migration. We did have some Chimney Swifts and swallows flying over and some raptor migration on the way to Punta Uva but there were few other migrants. We may have done the trip a bit late or perhaps the good weather kept the birds on the wing long past Costa Rica but whatever the case, we had rather few migrant species and low numbers of the most common migrants; Red-eyed Vireo, Bay-breasted Warbler, and Swainson’s Thrush. There were quite a number of Eastern Wood-Pewees around as well as Alder/Willow Flycatchers but very few warblers and nothing rare. All of that said, we still saw some migrants and it was fun watching them.

If you feel like studying Eastern Wood-Pewees, visit Costa Rica in October.

Birding at Cabinas Olguita

The birding at Olguita’s was easy-going yet productive. Some Eastern Kingbirds flew into the surrounding trees, and we also saw other migrant species like Olive-sided Flycatcher, Empids (including a likely Least Flycatcher), Scarlet Tanager, and a few others. On good days, this place can see waves of migrants passing through the surrounding vegetation. As for resident species, the thick wet grass and hedgerows held Slaty Spinetail, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Canebrake Wren, and some other birds. The edge of the forest in back of the grassy area turned up White-necked Puffbird, Plain-colored Tanagers, and White-vented Euphonias among more common expected species.

Plain-colored Tanagers were common.

Paradise Road

One of a few roads that go up and over the nearby coastal hills, it provides access to the mature rainforests that occur there. Many species are possible even White-fronted Nunbird, interesting raptors and antbirds. We only had one afternoon to bird this road but we still did alright with looks at Pied Puffbird, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Tawny-crested Tanagers, Double-toothed Kite, and Central American Pygmy-Owl among other species. A lot more is possible, I would love to spend a few early mornings just counting everything that calls and makes itself otherwise known. Does Great Jacamar occur? How about cotingas or Red-fronted Parrotlet? It would be fun to try to answer those questions via dawn birding.

Recope Road

One of the other classic sites in the area, this flat road passes through beautiful, tall forest, much of it former shaded cacao farms. We got in some birding there as well as on the main road between Punta Uva and Manzanillo. The birding was great with fine looks at Purple-throated Fruitcrows, toucans, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Black-striped and other Woodcreepers, White-flanked and Checker-throated Antwrens, and other species. I also heard Semiplumbeous Hawk. This was actually where most of our migrants were, I can’t help but wonder how many other migrants were out there in the forest? What rarities were hiding back in the woods?

Checker-throated Antwren

Manzanillo

On Sunday morning, I figured we would visit the town of Manzanillo as a last chance for migrants. This hardly worked out although we still saw both Cinnamon and Chestnut-colored Woodpeckers, Gray-cowled Wood-Rails, and a few other birds. We also saw that the official entrance to the wildlife refuge now has a bridge over the creek that we used to wade across, and that they charge an entrance fee.

Cahuita

As a bonus, our car made a quick stop in Cahuita on the way back, mostly to check for Black-chested Jay. We stopped at the Puerto Vargas entrance for that but even though we dipped, some last minute birding still managed to give us close looks at a male Snowy Cotinga, Gray-headed Chachalacas crashing through bushes, and White-faced Capuchins eating coconuts. After that, we went on an unsuccessful ice cream quest in mid-day Cahuita. Several bars but no ice cream! On the drive out, the jays still managed to elude us but we did get lucky with one final bird and a key one at that- Yellow-billed Cuckoo!

While driving out of Cahuita, I noticed the quick, sleek shape of a cuckoo zip into a tall tree. It was brief but I was sure it was a cuckoo. I stopped and after scanning the tree, sure enough, there it was, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo! Eventually, the stealthy migrant positioned itself higher up for a better view. One last bird for the trip, I was happy to see it before the long drive back.

Birds from the vicinity of Cabinas Olguita including
the beach and both resident and migrant species.
240 species
 
Little Tinamou
Blue-winged Teal
Gray-headed Chachalaca
Crested Guan
Pale-vented Pigeon
Short-billed Pigeon
Ruddy Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove
Squirrel Cuckoo
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Groove-billed Ani
Lesser Nighthawk
Common Nighthawk
Common Pauraque
Chuck-will’s-widow
Black Swift
White-collared Swift
Chimney Swift
Gray-rumped Swift
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift
Band-tailed Barbthroat
Long-billed Hermit
Stripe-throated Hermit
Blue-chested Hummingbird
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
White-throated Crake
Gray-cowled Wood-Rail
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Whimbrel
Ruddy Turnstone
Sanderling
Least Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper
Lesser Yellowlegs
Willet
Greater Yellowlegs
Laughing Gull
Brown Noddy
Royal Tern
Wood Stork
Magnificent Frigatebird
Brown Booby
Neotropic Cormorant
Anhinga
Brown Pelican
Bare-throated Tiger-Heron
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
White Ibis
Green Ibis
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
King Vulture
Osprey
Swallow-tailed Kite 
Double-toothed Kite
Tiny Hawk
Mississippi Kite
Plumbeous Kite
Common Black Hawk
Roadside Hawk
Gray Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Short-tailed Hawk
Swainson’s Hawk
Zone-tailed Hawk
Central American Pygmy-Owl
Mottled Owl
Black-and-white Owl
Slaty-tailed Trogon
Gartered Trogon
Ringed Kingfisher
Belted Kingfisher
Amazon Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
White-necked Puffbird
Pied Puffbird
Collared Aracari
Keel-billed Toucan
Yellow-throated Toucan
Black-cheeked Woodpecker
Cinnamon Woodpecker
Chestnut-colored Woodpecker
Lineated Woodpecker
Pale-billed Woodpecker
Laughing Falcon
American Kestrel
Merlin
Bat Falcon
Peregrine Falcon
Olive-throated Parakeet
Great Green Macaw 
Crimson-fronted Parakeet
Orange-chinned Parakeet
Brown-hooded Parrot
Blue-headed Parrot
White-crowned Parrot
Red-lored Parrot
Great Antshrike
Barred Antshrike
Black-crowned Antshrike
Dot-winged Antwren
Dusky Antbird
Chestnut-backed Antbird
Northern Barred-Woodcreeper
Cocoa Woodcreeper
Black-striped Woodcreeper
Streak-headed Woodcreeper
Plain Xenops
Slaty Spinetail
Snowy Cotinga
Masked Tityra
Black-crowned Tityra
Cinnamon Becard
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher
Common Tody-Flycatcher
Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher
Yellow-olive Flycatcher
Yellow Tyrannulet
Yellow-bellied Elaenia
Paltry Tyrannulet
Bright-rumped Attila
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Gray-capped Flycatcher
White-ringed Flycatcher
Streaked Flycatcher
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
Piratic Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Tropical Pewee
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Acadian Flycatcher
Alder Flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Long-tailed Tyrant
Lesser Greenlet
Yellow-throated Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Yellow-green Vireo
Purple Martin
Gray-breasted Martin
Mangrove Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Bank Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
House Wren
Black-throated Wren
Canebrake Wren
Bay Wren
Long-billed Gnatwren
Tropical Gnatcatcher
Veery
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson’s Thrush
Wood Thrush
Clay-colored Thrush
Gray Catbird
Yellow-crowned Euphonia
Olive-backed Euphonia
White-vented Euphonia
Orange-billed Sparrow
Black-striped Sparrow
Chestnut-headed Oropendola
Montezuma Oropendola
Scarlet-rumped Cacique
Black-cowled Oriole
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Shiny Cowbird
Bronzed Cowbird
Giant Cowbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Ovenbird
Worm-eating Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Kentucky Warbler
Olive-crowned Yellowthroat
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
American Redstart
Cerulean Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Buff-rumped Warbler
Canada Warbler
Dusky-faced Tanager
Summer Tanager
Scarlet Tanager
Red-throated Ant-Tanager
Black-faced Grosbeak
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Blue-black Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Painted Bunting
Dickcissel
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Plain-colored Tanager
Green Honeycreeper
Blue-black Grassquit
Tawny-crested Tanager
White-lined Tanager
Scarlet-rumped Tanager
Shining Honeycreeper
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Blue Dacnis
Bananaquit
Variable Seedeater
Morelet’s Seedeater
Black-headed Saltator
Buff-throated Saltator
Grayish Saltator
Additional bird species that occur in the forests of Gandoca-Manzanillo, some may also show up at Cabinas Olguita. This makes for 383 species recorded from the Gandoca-Manzanillo area.
143 additional species
 
Great Tinamou
Northern Shoveler
Muscovy Duck
Great Curassow
Black-eared Wood-Quail
Least Grebe
Scaled Pigeon
White-crowned Pigeon
Blue Ground-Dove
Ruddy Quail-Dove
Olive-backed Quail-Dove
Gray-chested Dove
Mangrove Cuckoo
Black-billed Cuckoo
Short-tailed Nighthawk
Rufous Nightjar
Great Potoo
Chestnut-collared Swift
White-necked Jacobin
Bronzy Hermit
Purple-crowned Fairy
Green-breasted Mango
Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer
Crowned Woodnymph
Uniform Crake
Purple Gallinule
Sungrebe
Black-necked Stilt
American Golden-Plover
Collared Plover
Northern Jacana
Baird’s Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Franklin’s Gull
Herring Gull
Black Tern
Common Tern
Sandwich Tern
Sunbittern
Least Bittern
Rufescent Tiger-Heron
Reddish Egret
Agami Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Boat-billed Heron
Roseate Spoonbill
White-tailed Kite
Hook-billed Kite
Gray-headed Kite
Black Hawk-Eagle
Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle
Ornate Hawk-Eagle
Black-collared Hawk
Crane Hawk
Snail Kite
White Hawk
Semiplumbeous Hawk
Middle-American Screech-Owl
Crested Owl
Spectacled Owl
Black-throated Trogon
Rufous Motmot
Broad-billed Motmot
Green-and-rufous Kingfisher
American Pygmy Kingfisher
White-whiskered Puffbird
White-fronted Nunbird
Rufous-tailed Jacamar
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Red-rumped Woodpecker
Rufous-winged Woodpecker
Barred Forest-Falcon
Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon
Collared Forest-Falcon
Red-fronted Parrotlet
Mealy Parrot
Fasciated Antshrike
Spot-crowned Antvireo
White-flanked Antwren
Checker-throated Antwren
Bare-crowned Antbird
Spotted Antbird
Bicolored Antbird
Ocellated Antbird
Black-crowned Antpitta
Black-faced Antthrush
Plain-brown Woodcreeper
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner
White-collared Manakin
Red-capped Manakin
Purple-throated Fruitcrow
Bare-necked Umbrellabird
White-winged Becard
Rose-throated Becard
Royal Flycatcher
Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher
Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher
Golden-crowned Spadebill
Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant
Northern Bentbill
Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher
Eye-ringed Flatbill
Yellow-margined Flycatcher
Brown-capped Tyrannulet
Rufous Mourner
Gray Kingbird
Green Shrike-Vireo
Tawny-crowned Greenlet
White-eyed Vireo
Black-whiskered Vireo
Brown Jay
Black-chested Jay
Scaly-breasted Wren
Band-backed Wren
Stripe-breasted Wren
White-breasted Wood-Wren
Song Wren
Tawny-faced Gnatwren
Yellow-billed Cacique
Yellow-tailed Oriole
Northern Parula
Black-throated Green Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler
Western Tanager
Carmiol’s Tanager
Rufous-winged Tanager
Sulphur-rumped Tanager
White-shouldered Tanager
Crimson-collared Tanager
Thick-billed Seed-Finch
Slate-colored Grosbeak
Other species that may occur or are very rare visitors in the area because they have been recorded nearby or because appropriate habitat is nearby.
66 species
 
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Lesser Scaup
Masked Duck
Pied-billed Grebe
Violaceous Quail-Dove
Striped Cuckoo
Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo 
Greater Ani
Common Potoo
White-chinned Swift
Rufous-crested Coquette
Gray-breasted Crake
Russet-naped Wood-Rail 
Sora
Yellow-breasted Crake
Paint-billed Crake 
Spotted Rail
Limpkin
Upland Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Solitary Sandpiper
Wilson’s Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope
Red Phalarope
Pomarine Jaeger
Parasitic Jaeger
Long-tailed Jaeger
Sooty Tern
Bridled Tern
Least Tern
Large-billed Tern
White-tailed Tropicbird
Red-billed Tropicbird
Masked Booby
Red-footed Booby 
Crested Eagle
Harpy Eagle
Barn-Owl
White-tailed Trogon
Great Jacamar
Red-throated Caracara
Streak-chested Antpitta
Scaly-throated Leaftosser
Blue-crowned Manakin
Lovely Cotinga
Blue Cotinga
Rufous Piha
Three-wattled Bellbird
Northern Schiffornis
Western Wood-Pewee
Cave Swallow 
Yellow-breasted Chat
Bobolink
Eastern Meadowlark
Red-winged Blackbird
Melodious Blackbird
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Scarlet-thighed Dacnis
Nicaraguan Seed-Finch
Whistling Heron
Categories
bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

October Global Big Day, Costa Rica, 2019

This past Saturday, thousands of birders around the globe took part in October Big Day. While early May takes center stage as the main GBD, the one in October is just as exciting, especially in Costa Rica. There might be more vocalizations happening in the fifth month but in October, there are definitely more species and therefore more opportunities for a higher total.

One of many wintering species much more common in late October than May.

Overall, despite fewer people participating, we still had enough people getting into the GBD spirit to give Costa Rica the nation’s highest total yet. 716 species were reported and even if a few of those might be attributed to misidentification, we still ended with a fantastic number of birds. Some of the rarer species included Tawny-faced Quail at a site somewhat near Cinco Ceibas heard by Juan Diego and Maria of Lifer Tours, several sweet pelagic species thanks to observers on a trip from the Nicoya Peninsula and on Cocos Island, White-rumped and Baird’s Sandpipers at a couple of spots, and many other species.

As for myself, I was finishing up six days of guiding, our final day taking place in the Carara area. Since my two clients were up for getting in a final major day of birding, we began GBD at Cerro Lodge around 3:45 a.m. These are some highlights from our October GBD:

Tropical Screech-Owl

Our final owl species of the trip rounded out an excellent total of 7 owl species seen and one that was heard only (Middle American Screech-Owl). The Tropical Screech was in the Jaco area and was, surprisingly, the only owl we heard in a spot that has generated several species in the past. We also had one flyover owl but I couldn’t discern whether it was a Striped or a Barn.

Raptors

While birding around the Jaco area, we had a fair raptor round up of 16 species, our best probably being Harriss’s Hawk, King Vulture, and Peregrine Falcon. The highlight was probably a pair of Zone-tailed Hawks on a ridge way above Jaco that called and nearly locked talons, at close range and in good light. Collared Forest-Falcon, Crane Hawk, and Mississippi Kites seen the previous day made for a good couple days of raptor sightings even if we did just miss a very rare Savannah Hawk.

The Birdy Teleferico Road

Although we didn’t hear as many species as on my previous visits with Mary, the road that passes in front of the Pacific Rainforest Aerial Tram still delivered over a hundred species in a matter of hours. Plain-breasted Ground-Doves, Scrub Greenlet and other birds of open habitats were on the first section of the road. Several Slate-colored Seedeaters sang and other species were seen where the forest meets rice fields and stream, and more humid habitats on upper parts of the road gave us some nice species like Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Blue-crowned Manakin, and Golden-naped Woodpecker.

We also had Riverside Wrens.

The Jaco Wetlands

Wetlands around Jaco? Oh yes and they are birdy. The flat areas just outside of Jaco form natural wetlands that are mostly used to grow rice and that also attract a good bunch of birds. The best as of late has been a super rare for Costa Rica Striated Heron. Although we did not see the heron (despite really trying for it, one of us even walking out into the muddy fields under the blazing tropical sun), we did add several species to our GBD list. These were birds like Solitary Sandpiper, various herons, our Peregrine, Harriss’s Hawk, and some other birds.

After the wetlands, we drove back up to the Central Valley in the afternoon, the heavy rains starting at the same time. That rain kept us from adding maybe one or two other birds during the drive but we still ended our GBD with a wealth of species; more than 140. It was a memorable final day of a 6 day tour that yielded more than 350 species, and a great way to celebrate Global Big Day.

Categories
bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Where to Go Birding in Costa Rica in October

Costa Rica in October? Isn’t there like, a lot of rain? Don’t people go to Costa Rica in January, February or March? The answer to all three of those questions is “yes” but I could also say that October is just as a good a time to come to Costa Rica as other months, that there is rain but not everywhere nor all of the time, and although the high season is mostly so folks can get a respite from the northern winter, you might actually see more birds in October.

Even Oilbird is apparently possible. some were recently found at a private site near San Vito!

Wait a second, more birds in October? Yes, a birder could easily see more or the same number of species in October because the cloudy weather boosts the bird activity, there are more migrants moving through and arriving for the winter, and the same cool resident species seen during the high season aren’t going anywhere. The birding is going to be exciting no matter what time of the year you visit including October. As a telling side note, Serge Arias of Costa Rica Birding Hotspots has said that October might actually be his favorite month to bird in Costa Rica.

Bay-headed Tanagers will be in the right places.

Along the same train of thought, there aren’t many birding sites better or worse in October than other times of the year. Bird in good habitat and you will see a lot no matter when you visit Costa Rica. Nevertheless, if I had to choose a few sites for October birding, I might lean towards these spots or regions:

The South Caribbean

This would be any of the sites south of Limon. The infrastructure at Cahuita National Park has improved and includes a boardwalk, the birding is typically great right around most lodging choices and along roads near Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, and the Manzanillo-Gandoca area is also worth a visit. The birding is always good in and near these sites but in October, you also have the chance to see active, fantastic bird migration. Most of the species are common birds from North America but what’s not to like about seeing dozens of Eastern Wood-Pewees, Bay-breasted Warblers, and flocks of Scarlet Tanagers as groups of Eastern Kingbirds fly overhead? Yeah, it’s pretty cool and there’s lots more along with chances at seeing Purple-throated Fruitcrows, Great Potoo, and a couple hundred other species.

This region is a very good place to connect with Great Potoo, this one was at Casa Calateas.

As a bonus, my friend Robert Dean, co-author/artist of the Field Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica and other publications, told me about a recent visit to a promising hotspot in the Gandoca area known as Cabinas Colibri. Over the course of a weekend, he and some local birders had excellent birding in that area including Red-fronted Parrotlet, Great Potoo, Rufous Nightjar, Short-tailed Nighthawk, and a vagrant Gray Kingbird among other species. I really need to check that spot out!

Irazu and Cerro de la Muerte

Heading from the hot humid lowlands up into the cold temperate zone, October is a good time to visit the high mountains. The resident day birding is pretty similar all year long but the main reason to visit Irazu National Park now is because Unspotted Saw-whet Owls seem to vocalize more often from September to perhaps December. They can still be heard any time of the year but a birder might have a better chance at seeing one right now. Laying eyes on one of these mega mini owls would still require owl-time in the cold night but isn’t that why we have jackets, gloves, and other cool weather gear?

The Pacific Coast and waters offshore

This is a good time to hit coastal habitats because tons of shorebirds are there, both moving through and already set for the winter. Bird Chomes, Punta Morales, and other sites and you can also see quite a few dry forest species and with luck, Mangrove Rail and Rufous-necked Wood-Rail. Take the ferry, visit Isla del Cano, or arrange a pelagic trip and you could see migrating Sabine’s Gulls and phalaropes along with Bridled Tern, Brown Noddy, storm-petrels, Galapagos Shearwater, and other cool birds of the offshore waters.

Galapagos Shearwaters from the ferry.

These are just a few suggestions but I wouldn’t worry too much about where to go birding in Costa Rica during October. Hire a guide to bird the best habitats and you will always have better chances at seeing more no matter when you visit. Want to know more about places to bird in Costa Rica along with target lists and how to look for and identify them? Support this blog by purchasing the 700 plus page e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica. Have a great trip, hope to see you in Costa Rica!

Categories
big year Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope

Birding Forest Fragments of the Caribbean Lowlands

In the not very distant past of Costa Rica, all of the other side of the mountains was cloaked in dense forest. The cloud forests of the highlands merged into eternally wet and mossy foothill forest and then became majestic lowland rainforest that swept across the rolling ground all the way to the coast. The lowlands might be flatter than the naturally broken highlands but it was never parking lot flat. The waterways still managed to break the ground and produce a mosaic of hills and low lying areas where rivers still run, streams flow, and swamps do their aquatic ruminating thing. These factors in turn produce a greater array of microhabitats where Northern Bentbills buzz from the vine-tangled gaps, where motmots make their burrow nests on steep slopes above the creeks, and where Agami Herons creep around the low, wet places.

Now, it’s very different. Well, at least what grows on the land is vastly different from what was there for thousands of years. The form of the land is still pretty much the same but many of the trees (especially the big old ones) have been cut down and the flattest places now host sugar cane, pineapples, bananas, or cattle. The biodiversity is drastically less, who knows which plants and insects have gone extinct or are close to becoming effectively doomed because remnant trees can’t be pollinated or produce seedlings that grow enough to produce their own offspring. That said, the northern lowlands of Costa Rica aren’t entirely shorn of trees. There are still quite a few growing in pastures and along riparian zones, and there are a few patches of forest here and there. Things grow with a quickness in the wet tropics, there’s still hope for reforestation, to reconnect and grow at least some patches of forest.

I was birding in one of those remnant forested spots this past weekend during a visit to the San Carlos area of Costa Rica. At a small comunal reserve known as “Juanilama”, Marilen and I had a taste of what can still occur in forest fragments in Costa Rica. Some observations:

A good number of birds

During a brief two hour visit, we had more than 80 species including standouts like a pair of Great Green Macaws, Pied Puffbird, and Royal Flycatcher.

But not like the complex array of life that is a larger area of mature forest

Juanilama did have some nice big trees here and there but just not enough habitat to support more specialized frugivores like Snowy Cotinga and Purple-throated Fruitcrow. Nor was there enough habitat for most of the understory insectivores or raptors. Basically, this is because those birds are more adapted to larger areas of mature forest, they are acting players, working parts in the mature forest ecosystem. They just aren’t a part of, can’t play a role in other forest community games.

Some migrants

The main reason we birded Juanilama was twofold; the place is close to where Mary’s family lives, and it being migration season, I figured we had a chance at Veery and some other nice year birds. Although that wasn’t the case on Sunday morning, we still managed to see a couple warblers, Red-eyed Vireo, and Scarlet Tanager.

More birding outside the reserve

I found the surrounding countryside especially interesting in that more trees were present than I had expected. We didn’t see too much but still had a fair number of species including White-winged Becard, Laughing Falcon, and toucans. Although these were the expected species that can survive in some edge situations, we still had birds we could watch.

Some questions

While birding that morning, I wondered about a thing or two, things that could act as research projects. Like, how important is a forest patch like Juanilama for migrants? Are there more than in riparian zones and other nearby edge habitats? Is there more or less competition with resident species in edge habitats? Does Middle American Screech-owl occur? How about other owls and do those owls limit the occurrence of the screech-owl? Did Harpy Eagles prefer to nest on some of the hill tops near there? How about Orange-breasted Falcon (along with the eternal question of why populations of this Neotropic raptor are so limited and localized)? These are the sort of things that can run through your head when the bird activity drops and is replaced by the snoring of cicadas and buzzing of mosquitoes.

No Mississippi Kite nor other year birds on Sunday but at least we did connect with our 2019 Baird’s Sandpiper the previous morning. There were a few in a nearby temporary mudflat. They were feeding a bit like dowitchers, we had great looks, it was and is cool to contemplate the Arctic-Costa Rica-South American connections made by this amazing migrant. Still hoping for cuckoos near the homestead or an Upland to call at night. I wonder what will be next for the year list of TeamTyto?

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica migration

Some October Birding News for Costa Rica, 2019

I have always loved the month of October. In Niagara, deep red and gold foliage in the gorge meant that big changes were coming and real soon. Most of the warblers had passed through except for the late ones; the Yellow-Rumps and some Palms joined by sparrows chased out of the boreal zone by the temp-dropping touch of winter’s early winds. Down in the deep green Niagara River, it was still too early for most waterbirds, the rafts of hundreds of ducks and blizzards of gulls, but we still knew that the end of fall was nigh and not only by the crisp clear nights. The King Salmon in the river were another sign; non-native, introduced, yet a modern part of Niagara, the big fish from October had turned a dark golden brown. They had lost most of their speed and fresh breeding colors, were literally slowly but surely dying as they leaped from the water. Like aquatic zombies, the old wasted salmon ambled through the shallows oblivious to all lures. Part of their natural life-span, they were destined to become food for the gulls.

A Ring-billed Gull looking forward to salmon (or French Fries..)

October in Costa Rica has none of that seasonal game-changing atmosphere, no pumpkins on the porches. It’s rainy but still warm. If anything, the biggest changes come in the form of migrant birds. The wood-warblers and flycatchers began to show up in September but the main waves of birds pass through in October. Some news for this 10th, spooky cool month of the year:

High Season for Migration

Early October is when we might see a Veery. Sometimes several of the rich russet-backed thrush can be seen at fruiting trees where they are flighty and forage with a few Gray-cheekeds and Swainson’s (the bulk of which come through in mid-October). During migration, Swainson’s Thrushes are a dime a dozen in Costa Rica but the other two migrant thrushes require a bit more effort. I hope to hear some in that tropical night sky soon.

A Gray-cheeked Thrush migrating through Costa Rica from a couple years ago.

Down on the coast, flocks of Eastern Kingbirds are powering through while the skies above them feature flocks of Mississippi Kites and the first groups of Broad-wingeds. On the warbler front, Blackburnians are coming through in numbers and all other regular warbler species are here or arriving with each new day. Recently, in Parque del Este, Marylen and I had some good mid-day birding on a rare, beautiful October day. No cuckoos nor Ceruleans but we did connect with a group of 20 or warblers, most of which were Blackburnians, but there was also a Canada or two, one Brewster’s, and a Worm-eating along with Kentucky, Chestnut-sided, Yellow, Black-and-white, and a couple of American Redstarts. We also saw Olive-sided Flycatcher, both pewees (yes, they did vocalize), Red-eyed Vireos, and a few other migrants. Uncommon migrant species that other birders have recently seen in Costa Rica include Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos, Yellow-breasted Chat and Gray Kingbird.

Costa Rica’s first MOTUS station

In keeping with the main month of migration, a key means of tracking small migrant birds was recently installed at the Brisas Reserve in the Caribbean foothills of Costa Rica. Motus stations are used to detect small radio transmitters placed on birds; devices that are the best way to show exactly where birds are coming from, where they are going, and where they are stopping to refuel. This first such station in Costa Rica will help reveal more information about threatened Cerulean Warblers and other species that migrate through and winter in the country. This big key jump in research of bird migration in Costa Rica was made possible by the efforts of SELVA and the Cerulean Warbler Project as part of the Neotropical Flyways Project.

A Good Time to Bird the Caribbean Lowlands

Migration is at its best near the Caribbean coast but even if a birder wasn’t into seeing some of the same avian kind as in West Virginia, Florida, or Pennsylvania, he or she would still do well do bird places like Tortuguero, Cahuita, and other sites south of Limon. The resident birding is likewise excellent with most lowland species possible and the weather is more likely to cooperate in October than during the high season for birding in Costa Rica. Visit Costa Rica for birding in October, you won’t be disappointed!

You might see a White-vented Euphonia.

The First South Caribbean Bird Count!

I so wish I was participating in this. It’s something I have always wanted to do or at least see happen. Although other responsibilities were just too much to help out with the count this year, at least it is taking place and it looks to be a good one. Well organized and with several routes, I just know they are going to find some tough species and maybe some rare migrants on October 5th.

Striated Heron near Jaco!

A remnant wetland right at the fringes of Jaco is turning up some good stuff including Least Bittern and Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture. However, the local star of the birding show has been a vagrant Striated Heron. We didn’t head down there because we already got our year bird at Medio Queso. Many thanks go to local guide Beto Guido for keeping track of the bird and giving daily updates to help many a local birder connect with this mega for Costa Rica.

Buff-breasted Sandpipers at the airport!

Richard Garrigues (the main author of the Field Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica) and his talented birding sons have been visiting the country’s main airport to look for grasspipers. Those efforts worked because they found two Buff-breasted Sandpipers! One of the trickiest of the regular migrants to pass through Costa Rica, I suspect that hundreds just fly right on over and if some birds do stop, they end up in non-birded pasturelands. However, once in a while, some Buffies end up in the extensive areas of short grass at the airport. This year, two did just that around a week ago and Mary and I were some of the lucky birders that managed to see them. Many thanks to Richard and the Garrigues family for finding these excellent migrants.

Removal of Hummingbird Feeders

On a strange note, due to a strict interpretation of the local wildlife law, Costa Rican authorities responsible for enforcement of regulations that affect the environment have began to make some restaurants and other places take down their hummingbird feeders. This, because the law prohibits feeding wild animals. Since there is scant evidence that hummingbird feeders definitely affect hummingbirds and ecological communities in a negative manner, and because said feeders help promote local tourism (and thus an important segment of the economy), a quickly growing group of local guides, tour operators, hotel owners, biologists, and other folks have been organizing to seek a solution (stay tuned for more about this issue).

If you do go birding in Costa Rica this October, please mention your favorite bird in the comments and don’t forget to prepare for your trip with the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app and my 700 plus page e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica. Hope to see you in Costa Rica!