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Relaxed Birding in Costa Rica = 177 Species on Global Big Day

Global Big Day, 2022 has come and gone. Once again, thousands of birders around the globe recorded their observations in eBird to collectively identify more than 7,500 species! In Costa Rica, we always play our part and this year’s Global Big Day (GBD) was no exception. The local birding community captured 5th place for number of checklists (more than 2,500 were sent to eBird) and had a grand total of 685 species. Not bad for a country as big as West Virginia!

If the count had taken place while wintering birds were here, we would have seen much more. Ditto if May 14th didn’t see Costa Rica doused with torrential rains. Don’t get me wrong, I have no complaints, just stating the facts is all. Knowing that any degree of Big Day record breaking would be severly hindered by heavy rains and a normal lack of wintering species, my partner Marilen and I opted for more relaxed birding. An easy-going GBD if you will.

Our birding wasn’t so relaxed that we stayed home to watch birds between intervals of home-made pizza and refreshments, but we didn’t start birding at midnight either. Instead, we figured we would head out early and just see what we could find in the patches of cloud forest and foothill rainforest on Route 126. Having recently heard Azure-hooded Jay on that birdy road, I was reminded of the many birds always possible on this route.

Violet-Sabrewing-male
It’s a good route to get bedazzled by the purples of Violet Sabrewing.

Our relaxed birding day went something a little bit like this:

An Early Start

Wait, wasn’t this relaxed birding in Costa Rica? Yes, but you can still bird easy even if you get up at 4 a.m. That 4 a.m. part was important to drive to a nearby field and see if any Barn or Striped Owls were around. They weren’t but I’m still glad I tried and other birds were singing anyways. These were species like the ubiquitous Clay-colored Thrush along with our only Tropical Mockingbird, Blue Grosbeak, and Rufous-naped Wren.

We hit the road by 5 and made a stop or two in remnant green space of the heavily urbanized Central Valley. The songs of saltators, doves, Rufous-collared Sparrows, and kiskadees and kiskadee-type birds filled the air. That avian sound wave is why you get up early, even in urban settings, you can just about have the birds all to yourself.

Productive Drive-By Birding in the Highlands

Driving slowly but surely upslope, up towards higher elevations, we noted birds as they called and sang. Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrushes and Chestnut-capped Warblers calling from ravines, Brown Jays screeching from the trees. Many a Red-billed Pigeon, Yellow-faced Grassquit, and even one barking Northern Emerald Toucanet, our only one for the day.

At the highest point, easy drive-by birding gave us some sweet endemics, birds like Black-cheeked Warbler, Black-thighed Grosbeak, and Yellow-winged Vireo.

Other typical montane birds called and made it onto our GBD list, birds like Mountain Thrush, Mountain Elaenia, and Hairy Woodpecker (yes, it lives here too but it won’t look like the ones you see back home).

Misty Weather Pushes us to Lower Elevations

We birded from the car and a good thing too, the montains were shrouded in fog and spattered with light rain. It wasn’t surprising, we knew the weather could present some challenges but given the low visibility, we opted not to bird areas near Varablanca. Instead, we moved move lower, heading downhill to see if we could watch birds without an umbrella.

At a spot overlooking the Peace Lodge, the light rain was still happening but the birds were calling, lots of them. We saw Spangle-cheeked Tanagers, a surprise Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, and heard various other species including one of our best for the day, a Highland Tinamou (!) calling from the green, wet depths of the cloud forest.

We kept descending the road, eventually reaching honest to goodness sunshine! Alas, it was brief but a bit of warm air did push a Short-tailed Hawk and a Swallow-tailed Kite into the sky.

Nice Foothill Rainforest Birding

Seeing that we had more than enough time to bird the road between San Miguel and Virgen del Socorro, we made our way to that hotspot and spent the next couple hours hearing and seeing 100 species.

birding Costa Rica Keel-billed Toucan

The cloudy weather upped the bird activity and gave us a mixed flock of Carmiol’s Tanagers, Russet Antshrike, three species of woodpeckers, Gartered Trogon, and other birds. Toucans moved through the trees, a jacamar called from below, and other species flew onto our day list. It was great easy going birding, almost all of it from one strategic spot. When the rains came, we decided to head upslope and enjoy a meal with birds at Cinchona.

Lunch at Cinchona

Watching birds accompanied by good food and drink is a gift and Cinchona is Christmas, all year long. Prong-billed Barbets and other birds visited the fruit feeders while Violet Sabrewings and many a Green-crowned Brilliant zipped by our table. Once in a while, I would get up and look over the railing, look to see there was a quail-dove or brushfinch below the feeders. No such luck on GBD but it was still all good.

Racing the Rain

With nothing but rain going on, we figured we might as well head back home, maybe see some birds around those urban parts. It poured for nearly the entire drive, only letting up when we got much closer to our place. We weren’t the only ones headed that way. A monstrous block of deep dark gray was moving in the same direction, I only hoped we could see a few more birds before it gave us a big wet slap.

A stop at one frequently productive spot produced a few swifts but most other birds were absent. They weren’t fools, they had no doubt flew and found shelter from the approaching storm. We followed suit, hightailing it out of there, driving the final ten minutes back to our place, arriving there just in time.

Last Chance Birding from the Homestead

The rains came down hard and heavy, typical for May afternoons in Costa Rica. However, they can also let up, maybe enough for some birds to come out. Hoping for a few more species, wondering what might show in steady but light rain, I watched from the back balcony. I scanned the trees in the distance, kept an eye on roadside wires and for courageous birds flying through the rain.

White-fronted Parro

I also listened for the birds that sometimes call from out back, the laughing Barred Antshrikes and Lineated Woodpeckers, the whistling Rufous-and-white Wren. They were quiet on the afternoon of May 14th but my vigil still paird off for a few other species. That pair of White-fronted Parrots I had been waiting for eventually flew into view, Yellow-throated Euphonias called, and I managed to add a couple other birds.

When the sun set, we finished our GBD with 177 species; not bad for an easy-going day of birding in Costa Rica!

The birding day on May 14th, 2022 was done and then I turned on the news. A mass shooting..at a supermarket..in Buffalo, NY. Any evil occurrence is horrible but when it happens in places you know, at a supermarket chain you grew up with, it’s hard not to feel the tragedy hit you like a hammer. I have lived far away from WNY for many years but it is the place where I learned to play baseball, the place where I made many friends, where I started birding, where I grew up, where I once worked at a Tops Supermarket, the original home. It’s where I have also spent so much time in Buffalo, NY.

Yet another mass shooting, one that included callous murders of community leaders, of beautiful people for racist reasons. I’m not just saddened and horrified, in all honesty, I am really trying not to be pretty fricking angry. Evil atrocities such as this don’t happen for nothing. They are made easier by weapons designed and perfected for murder but they have their roots in the negative word streams of the great fomenters, the people who purposely extoll lies and sick ideas to large audiences. And why manipulate negative emotions? Because it works for making money, because it can work to help you get elected. What it doesn’t work for is anything good, not even in the slightest. May such misguided people be called out and exposed for who they really are; people making the world a worse place for personal gain.

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