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Birding Costa Rica pandemic birding

Birds Seen and Heard from Home in Costa Rica

These days, most of us are birding from home. Some, yes, are heading into the outdoors but many of the world’s birders either by following official quarantine orders or by doing the stay at home thing on their own, are restricted to the realm of the yard list. In Costa Rica, as with any other place, the better the habitat, the more ample the list and up in tropical here, birding from home can get downright biodiverse.

I see these fly by and even do their elaborate display from time to time.

At our present place of residence, we at Team Tyto have the chance to watch two different hedgerows bordering a small farm, a few distant taller trees, and to listen for birds calling from a riparian zone around 200 meters away. Throw big views of sky into the mix and we have plenty of birds to see and listen to right from the front door.

Looking out the front door.

During much of the past week, windy weather and sunny days have kept the bird activity to a minimum but now that the wind has died down and the days have approached the breeding season, more birds are making themselves known. These are some of what I have been seeing the past few days:

Pigeons and Doves

Familiar but many are as beautiful and exotic as a bird can get. Perhaps not the good old Rock Pigeons nor the usual urban doves but even those ones can be appreciated. In the Central Valley of Costa Rica, Red-billed Pigeons rule and perhaps because they are a choice sighting for the ABA region, I do enjoy watching them. In my neighborhood, this bird species feeds on fruits in trees and bushes and gives its “whoeeew…whip, wup wup whooo” calls from those same vantage points. I also see it in flight where it’s dark and bulky appearance separates it from the even more common White-winged Dove. The dove scene is rounded out by the soft gentle calls of Inca Doves perched on roadside cables.

Obligatory sing to listen to while watching White-winged Doves. Maybe she can compose a follow-up where a near senior is associated with Red-billed Pigeons..

Swifts

It really is worth it to follow the suggestions of David Lindo, the Urban Birder. His catchphrase is “Look up!” and he’s right. No matter where a birder may be, keep eyes to the sky and you will see things, you will see birds that surprise you because we share more space with the avian than most people realize. As with many places on Earth, around here, we share sky space with swifts. Big White-collared Swifts slice the air with long sharp wings flying in groups high overhead and then zipping lower, even just above the house, during cloudy weather. The common small species is the Vaux’s Swift, I usually see these flying with larger groups of Blue-and-white Swallows and in the morning, a few Chestnut-collared Swifts also forage in the aerial vicinity. On stormy days, the skies can also reveal much less common Spot-fronted Swifts and even a few Black Swifts. Where do they come from? How far do the larger swifts fly to during a day of foraging? Nobody knows, I would love to find out!

Raptors

Big, bold and in the skies, these are some of the birds easiest to see during yard birding. Where I live, Black Vulture and Turkey Vulture are typically up there and a pair of neighborhood Yellow-headed Caracaras can also be found. Looking skyward can also yield views of everything from Short-tailed Hawk and Gray Hawk to an occasional Zone-tailed Hawk and groups of migrating Broad-winged and Swainson’s Hawks.

Other Usual Birds

The common garden birds of my yard list include this list of species that are seen or heard most days in the hedgerows and other patches of green space near here. These are the species that awake me in the morning, that accompany me during exercises to begin the day:

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Hoffmann’s Woodpecker,

Lineated Woodpecker, Lesson’s Motmot, Crimson-fronted Parakeet, Tropical Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Yellow-green Vireo, Brown Jay, House Wren, Rufous-naped Wren,

Clay-colored Thrush, Baltimore Oriole, Great-tailed Grackle, Melodious Blackbird, Yellow Warbler, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Blue-black Grassquit, and Grayish Saltator.

The Odd Ones

These are some of the birds that occasionally show up to feed on fruit or flowers or just fly through the airspace of the yard. More are possible especially during migration.

White-tipped Dove, Striped and Squirrel Cuckoos,

Ringed Kingfisher, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Blue-vented Hummingbird, Crested Caracara, White-crowned and White-fronted Parrots, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Masked Tityra,

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn, Cliff, and Bank Swallows, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Montezuma Oropendola, Giant and Bronzed Cowbirds, Orchard Oriole, Rufous-capped Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, and Buff-throated Saltator.

Birds Heard but not Seen

These are the species whose vocal capabilities bring them into my sphere of identification yet I never see them because their required habitats just don’t make it onto my street. They include the rollicking calls of Gray-cowled Wood-Rail, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl,

occasional Common Pauraque, Mottled Owl and Rufous-and-white Wren, and very rarely, Tropical Screech-Owl.

Birding efforts will continue to be home bound in the coming days but with migration just around the corner, it’s only going to get better. I hope you are all staying healthy, keeping busy, and watching the birds in your respective yards. Eventually, we will be back out in the field, I hope to see you there.

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Birding Costa Rica

The Birding Situation in Costa Rica During the First Part of the Covid-19 Era

Too many people were eating pangolins and other wild animals for ridiculous reasons and here we are with a global pandemic. As with almost everywhere, Covid-19 and the subsequent repercussions have reached Costa Rica, these are some ways in which the situation is affecting us birding and otherwise:

Borders closed to non-residents

This happened sooner than I had expected. Only two weeks before, although some part of the population seemed to be concerned about the virus, things were still fairly normal. However, that changed in a matter of days as a few cases were confirmed, more began to suddenly appear in various parts of Costa Rica, and a whole bunch of people just went to the beach. Given the juxtaposition of a growing infectious threat and too many people making contact instead of avoiding others, events were cancelled and bars were closed. But cancelling of flights? I didn’t expect that so happen so soon. Tourism plays a major role in the local economy, limiting it could hit Costa Rica like a fa-jin blody blow from a Tai Chi master. With that in mind, I had hoped that travel restrictions wouldn’t happen for another month.

However, the virus had other plans and as cases jumped in Europe and the USA, on March 16th, Costa Rica took the very difficult step of closing the border until April 12 to everyone except legal residents. Those residents who do return in this time face two weeks quarantine. For the moment, tourists in country can also still travel around and leave. There is freedom of movement but there is also a strong push for social distancing, if things get worse, I would not be surprised if restrictions to movement are imposed on the public.

Birding tours cancelled, huge losses for the tourism industry

I’m not sure when the first cancellations were made but I do know that by the first week of March, pretty much every tour and probably every hotel stay was cancelled. Even if they had waited, the subsequent border closure would have made the decision for them. This being part of the high season, it goes without saying that the hundreds of cancellations are a major blow to our tourism industry. All we can hope is that the virus can be contained, vaccinated, and defeated as quick as possible and that folks who had cancelled trips will still want to come to Costa Rica. I hope so because the birds and beauty of this friendly country will still be here!

Plump Prong-billed Barbet- still gonna be here…

National Parks closed

Even if you could go birding in Costa Rica right now, you wouldn’t be able to use the binos in a national park. Just as much to protect the park guards as to promote social distancing, all parks were closed yesterday. That said, this doesn’t affect local birding all that much since excellent birding in Costa Rica also happens outside of the national parks.

A run on some items

Stores ran out of hand sanitizer and Lysol much quicker than expected although come to think of it, I never saw huge amounts of it in stores anyways. We bought an extra gallon of bleach and some other staples a couple weeks ago (including the biggest item of 2020- several rolls of TP) so hopefully we will be set for some time. Some other products have nearly sold out but it doesn’t seem to be as crazy as in the USA. Except for maybe PriceMart. This local version of Sam’s Club or Aldi’s or other big warehouse full of stuff being sold in bulk saw huge lines of people buying up the store. I just hope that none of them were carrying the virus because ironically, in preparing for quarantine to avoid the virus, they put themselves in a perfectly contagious situation to catch it.

Liquor production turns to hand sanitizer

The local liquor factory had gone from producing alcohol for drinks to alcohol for killing viruses. As much as I appreciate a delicious mojito from the excellent Pandora restaurant at Villa San Ignacio, I appreciate even more, there being more than enough hand sanitizer available to the general public.

Backyard birding

As with other places, in Costa Rica, a lot of backyard birding is taking place. Folks from the Birding Club of Costa Rica are even holding a competition to see who can identify the most birds from their respective homesteads. On account of windy weather I haven’t seen all that much around here but that could change. The more you look, the more you find, especially in birdy Costa Rica. Since migration is also happening, there are probably lots of things waiting to be found!

Sometimes, we see this bird just outside.

Still good birding in the field

Since we can still move around for the moment, these days of social distancing are a fine time to go birding. Although I would stay away from places with other people, it’s easy enough to keep a safe distance from others almost anywhere in the outdoors. We did just that on Sunday when we visited the San Ramon area to look for Three-wattled Bellbirds. On the road known as Calle Quetzal, we did indeed find and enjoy scope views of one adult male that called from excellent cloud forest! Although we did not see the Ornate Hawk-Eagle that a couple of other local birders saw, we did hear Black-breasted Wood-Quail, saw a female kestrel, chlorophonias, and some other sweet species of the middle elevations.

To sum things up, for the moment, Costa Rica is off limits to any visitors but it won’t be forever and as soon as this place is ready to safely receive tourists, we will be back up and running with tanagers, hummingbirds, and quetzals waiting to be seen. As for Mary and I, there’s a local mega Western Gull being seen in Puntarenas. We just might go for it.

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bird finding in Costa Rica Hummingbirds

The Corso Lecheria Hummingbird Stop

Hummingbirds are an essential component of Costa Rica. At least one species is found at just about every birding stop and many times, more than one. In Costa Rica, these miniature jeweled pollinators range from the humid rainforests of the lowlands to the cold brushy paramos on the highest peaks, and occur everywhere in between, especially in cloud forest and other middle elevation habitats. Although most species are resident, many make short migrations or movements to track various plants in flower at lower and higher elevations or to other parts of the country. Where and when hummingbirds go in Costa Rica is not as well known as it could be, and any additional data will further our understanding of these special birds and therefore also help conserve them.

Documenting where and when they are seen is part of the hummingbird conservation equation in Costa Rica and gives us that much more reason to spend time with these feathered jewels. Fortunately, they are always fun to watch, one of the newer places to check them out being the Corso Lecheria. Rather new on the Costa Rica birding scene, this dairy farm features a healthy bunch of Porterweed hedgerows that provide food for a number of hummingbirds.

Located on the saddle road between Poas and Barva volcanoes, around 2 kilometers east of the junction at Poasito, Corso makes for an easy and typically productive stop. After entering the parking area, just watch for the hedgerows with purple flowers on the left and wait for the birds to show.

They eventually will, Volcano Hummingbird might be the first one you see. This tiny bird seems to be the most common species at this site although there are usually a few Scintillants around as well!

Female Volcano Hummingbird.
Male Scintillant Hummingbird.

Lesser Violetears are also usually present.

Other hummingbirds regular at Corso also include Stripe-tailed,

Magenta-throated Woodstar,

and Purple-throated Mountain-gem.

Since this is an important source of nectar, who knows what else might show? Since it looks like a prime site for such rarities as coquettes or other species, visiting birders should carefully document any hummingbird that looks different or goes unidentified. Since the hummingbird viewing is also free, it would also be good for visiting birders to frequent their ice cream store. That shouldn’t be too much trouble, I mean isn’t hummingbird viewing best followed by ice cream tasting?