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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Rainy Day in Costa Rica? Go to the Colibri Cafe at Cinchona!

Rain? In Costa Rica? Isn’t it the sunny, wonderful dry season? Yes, yes, and another affirmative but that dry part is mostly on the Pacific side of the country. Head to the ubiquitous mountains or to the Caribbean slope and a birder is easily greeted by mist, rain, and other forms of precipitation.

Mary, her daughter, Alec Humann, and I had that experience just the other day when we visited the Poas area. Although sun and wind reigned at our starting and ending points, they sandwiched a hefty dose of mist and rain on Poas and Cinchona.

Such weather might be challenging for cameras and staying dry but in the mountains of Costa Rica, it typically makes for excellent birding. We exchanged walking in the rain for enjoying the feeder action at Cinchona and were not disappointed. We were treated to a non-stop display of bird activity from 8 until 11 and had close looks at everything from Violet Sabrewing to Black-bellied Hummingbird and two Buff-fronted Quail-Doves.

The owners of the Colibri Cafe have mentioned more than once that rainy days at Cinchona are the best days for birds, after Sunday, I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. These were some of the birds we took pictures of:

Northern Emerald Toucanet- a few were present.

Crimson-collared Tanager- not always at Cinchona, nice to see this beauty.

Grayish Saltator- one of three saltator species present.

Green-crowned Brilliant.

Summer Tanager- a common, beautiful wintering species in Costa Rica.

Buff-fronted Quail-Dove- fantastic to see this shy bird walk into the open! Rainy days are good for this one.

Black Guan- A few have been using the feeders for the past few months. I hope they continue at Cinchona.

If visiting the Colibri Cafe (AKA Mirador Catarata San Fernando), please leave a donation for the birds in addition to enjoying coffee and lunch. Keep an eye on the ground as well as the feeders and scan the forest on the other side of the canyon. If you see bright blue bird sitting out there, please eBird it and mention it in the comments!

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bird finding in Costa Rica high elevations

Windy Birding Days on Poas, Costa Rica

Poas is indeed a place but since it’s also a volcano, instead of saying “at” Poas, I can’t help but say “on” Poas. Where exactly the volcano begins in the Central Valley is subjective because the slopes gradually grade into the Alajuela area. But, once a birder begins to ascend the mountain, and especially at the higher elevations closer to the active crater, you are indeed up there on the volcano.

Team Tyto was up there the other day scouting for an upcoming trip. As it often is on Poas, the weather was a combination of wind, sun, and mist. The mist might be a barrier for sharp photos but for birds, it’s always better than sun and wind. During conditions like so, our feathered subjects of interest mostly play hide and seek with an emphasis on “hide”. Upon arrival, because of all that hiding, it’s easy to wonder where the birds are, conclude that none are around and that you are better off just enjoying the scenery.

The mountain scenery is indeed impressive but make no mistake, the birds haven’t disappeared, they just don’t feel like battling the blustery skies. They don’t call as much either because there might not be much use in vocalizing when few other birds can hear you and you also run the risk of attracting the attention of a predator whose sounds are likewise masked by the rushing sound of wind through the trees.

We had plenty of wind the other day but we still had some birds. No quetzals but given the abundance of fruit, there had to be some of those long-tailed megas in the area, they were probably taking shelter in ravines. The birds we did see included Sooty Thrush, Sooty-capped Chlorospingus, Fiery-throated and Volcano Hummingbirds, Black and Yellow Silky-Flycatcher, Flame-throated Warbler, and a few others. Not bad, not bad at all for a bit of casual birding on a windy day at 8:30 in the morning.

With more time and focus on the understory, I am sure we would have seen more even on such a windy day because no matter what the weather is on Poas, most of the birds are still there even if it doesn’t at first seem like it.

As an aside, if a birder tires of the wind, you can always check out the avian scene at the following nearby sites. We did and added several more species to the day list:

Freddo Fresas– The garden and ravine is good for more hummingbirds, Flame-colored Tanager, Red-faced Spinetail, White-eared Ground-Sparrow and other upper mid-elevation species.

Corso– A dairy farm that offers milking tours and has an ice cream shop, Corso also has a parking area with Porterweed. Check it out for Volcano and Scintillant Hummingbirds, and a few other species.

Varablanca– Various sites and side roads near this mountain saddle crossroads are good for quite a few montane species even Flame-throated Warbler, Yellow-winged Vireo, Wrenthrush, and various others.

A windy day doesn’t have to be a bad birding day. Be patient, keep looking, and when the weather changes, be ready for a welcome burst of bird activity! Good luck birding Costa Rica!

If you are looking for more information on where to find birds in Costa Rica and how to identify them, support this blog by purchasing How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” .

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biodiversity bird finding in Costa Rica

New Page for the Unspotted Saw-whet Owl Project

No matter which country or region, in any field guide, there are some bird species that we look at, think, “Oh I would love to see that one” but then quickly discard that thought after reading that the bird is “very rare”, rarely seen, or other similar discouraging statements. In Costa Rica, the Unspotted Saw-whet Owl tops that list of much wanted birds tossed into the sad, “not likely to be seen” bin.

For most of Costa Rica’s birding history, this little owl was a veritable mystery. It was assumed to live high up in the mountains and in Oak forest but beyond that, had been encountered by very few people. In 1994, while camping in primary high elevation rainforest on a hike up Chirripo Mountain, I was pretty sure I heard one in the middle of the night. I didn’t see it but the bird made the same tooting notes as its saw-what brethren up north. At the time, I couldn’t be entirely sure that it wasn’t a Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl but in retrospect, am quite positive that I had heard one of these special mini owls.

Since then, I have seen it a few times on Irazu and Turrialba Volcanoes and have heard it in the upper reaches of the Dota Valley. Those few times have seen it were thanks to Ernesto Carman, a local ornithologist and guide who spent many hours looking for the owl. It actually took him years to find it until he looked in the right places, in the right conditions, and during the right months. Once he found the birds, it wasn’t long before he and a few other people began to study the owls. The long, cold nights at high elevations have paid off with excellent, much needed information about these birds and Ernesto and his companions at Get Your Birds aren’t done yet!

Recently, they published an excellent website that details the work that get Your Birds has done for the Unspotted Saw-whet Owl Project. Note that on this website, there is also that very intriguing part about going to see the owls…

If you are looking to support a worthwhile birding project in Costa Rica, this would be a good one! Hopefully, I will get a chance to personally see how the project is coming along some time this month.

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

High Season Tips and Suggestions for Birding in Costa Rica, 2020

The high season for birding in Costa Rica is here. If you are already in country or scheduled to be here soon, these suggestions and tips may help:

Support the Cinchona Cafe Colibri, Freddo Fresas, and other local bird friendly places

I hope you get a chance to visit the Cafe Colibri (aka Mirador Catarata San Fernando), it’s a beautiful birding oasis accompanied by tasty home-cooked cuisine. Black Guan has been showing lately along with both barbets and other birds, even the occasional visit from Buff-fronted Quail-Dove (!). If you do visit, please leave a nice donation in addition to ordering something from the menu and if you are looking for souvenirs, buy them at this spot. The owners have been supporting birds and birding for years, they deserve all the support we can give.

And there are a few good close birds too...

The same goes for other birder friendly locales, one of which is Freddo Fresas. During a recent conversation with the owners, I found that instead of rebuilding a house destroyed by the 2009 earthquake, they decided to reforest that same piece of land to expand and improve the biological corridor in the Poas area. Despite requiring a lot of work to make that happen, the site is free and open to the public, it’s the garden across the street from the restaurant.

Recent updates to the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app

More updates have been made to the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app in the form of more information, more images, and recent taxonomic changes. This digital field guide with more than 900 species is a great way to study for a trip to Costa Rica and can be personalized for your trip by marking target birds, taking notes, and more.

Recent addition to the Costa Rica list, the Choco Screech-Owl is also now on the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app.

Rush hour in the Central Valley

The Central Valley means anywhere from Grecia to San Jose and Cartago. If you can, avoid driving there between 6 and 9 a.m. and then again between 3 and 6 p.m.

Night driving

While talking about driving, if you can, try to avoid driving at night. It’s not overly bad and depends on where you go but it’s no fun sharing narrow roads with other vehicles, bicycles and so on especially with poor visibility.

Be very careful with unattended vehicles

Just a reminder that goes for anywhere one travels. Don’t leave bags and optics in an unattended vehicle, especially at the Tarcoles Crocodile Bridge and even in national parks. Never ever leave that passport or money in the car and if you do have to leave something in the car, just make sure you keep the vehicle in sight or that someone is there to watch it.

Enjoy the birds!

Most of all, enjoy the birds! There’s lots to see even if you walk the same trail twice and always more to see no matter how much you look. That’s how the birding goes in the tropics and while you will see more with a qualified guide. If you want to have more than enough information about finding and identifying birds in Costa Rica, you can also support this blog by purchasing my 700 page e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.