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A Fine Morning of Birding in Costa Rica- the Road to Manuel Brenes

The best places for birding in Costa Rica don’t have to be the most visited places, they just need to be the places with the best habitat. Then again, “best places” are subjective, they depend on the birder doing the talking, what someone prefers to see, or how a person prefers to go birding.

“Best birding” for birders who would much rather scan for shorebirds might not include a walk in rainforest. There are birders who would rather watch migrating raptors than study the subtleties of flycatcher plumages, and many people prefer the nice looks that come from easy-going edge birding rather than catching glimpses of occasional rare birds in places shaded by towering trees.

For me, I suppose the best places for birding depend on what I want to see, the number of birds present, and the variety of birds available. Based on those factors, I tend to lean towards sites with extensive forested habitats. Such places host the highest avian diversity and even though dense vegetation, tall trees, and low light conditions present challenges, patient watching still yields results. However, I would be remiss if I did not mention that forest also lends itself to earbirding; something I do just as much or even more than sight birding.

Although I find all natural habitats interesting, I have also, always been partial to forest. As a young person, that’s where I took the wild things to be. In my pre-teen mind, the forests of the Southern Tier of New York state, Pennsylvania, and Algonquin were where the birds lived. I would gaze at maps and look for the wild places, the areas with the most amount of forest and imagine what lived therein and how much more area used to be covered with extensive stands of massive, ancient trees.

These days, we can look at satellite maps, see where the remaining forests occur, note where to focus reforestation efforts, and where we might find the best sites for birding, at least for birding in rainforest. In Costa Rica, one of those better, little birded sites is the road that leads to the Manuel Brenes Reserve. Like other country roads, it’s not paved and a combination of mud and rocks doesn’t make it very suitable for a small vehicle with two wheel drive. However, it is flanked by good-sized areas of intact foothill rainforest and that’s why the birding is simply excellent.

Yesterday, my partner and I paid a visit to that site, one that was long overdue. During a morning of birding, we identified 90 species, these were some highlights:

Three-wattled Bellbirds

Male Three-wattled Bellbird.

Quite often, birding at this site is accompanied by the loud calls of bellbirds. Start birding near the entrance and you might hear one or two of these cool cotingas calling from somewhere in your auditory surroundings. Venture further on the road and you get much closer. With luck, you might see one perched high above but just as often, they are in trees just out of sight, just out of reach.

Mixed Flocks with Tanagers and More

This particular site can have fantastic mixed flocks. Some of the best I have ever seen in Costa Rica have happened on this road; dizzying flocks with too many birds to look at. Yesterday morning, compared to past visits, mixed flock activity was a bit subdued but we still managed to come across a few that yielded close looks at Emerald, Speckled, and Black-and-yellow Tanagers along with less colorful birds like Russet Antshrike and Eye-ringed Flatbill.

Russet Antshrike from another day and place.

Northern Schiffornis

This plain brown bird doesn’t look like much and can be tough to see in its dim understory home but what it may lack in looks, it makes up for with its intriguing whistled song. We heard at last two of these special rainforest birds and also enjoyed listening to other songs of the foothill rainforest; the complex song of the Nightingale Wren and the simple phrases of Black-headed Nightingale-Thrushes.

Quality Species Heard

Other uncommon species we heard included Lattice-tailed Trogon (at least 5!), Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, Bicolored and Ocellated Antbirds, and Streak-crowned Antvireo.

birding Costa Rica

The road to Manuel Brenes isn’t regularly visited on tours and its not in the best of shape but the birding is always good. I would love to spend a few days exploring that road and also visiting at night. Including the small marsh at the beginning of the road, it already has a 400 plus species list, I wonder what else uses those beautiful, mossy forests?

To learn more about where to watch birds in Costa Rica, support this blog and buy “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.

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Costa Rica Birding News, September, 2022

September is here. It means we are that much closer to winter and the high season but most of all, birds up north are on the move. Soon, waves of the avian kind will be passing through Costa Rica, the heralds of the annual fall passage are already here.

As always, we’ve also been seeing some interesting bird species, some rarities among the many, more common and beautiful birds. Planning a trip or have a birding trip planned to Costa Rica? Hundreds of birds are waiting for you. Check out the latest news items for Costa Rica birding and get psyched for your trip:

Waved Albatross, Gray-bellied Hawk, Red-fronted Parrotlet, and Oilbird

In terms of rare birds and notable records, these ones come to mind. There wasn’t any photo for the albatross but when it comes to massive sea wandering birds in Costa Rica, there’s not a lot of room for confusion. This report comes from the Marino Ballena area and is a reminder that this rare mega from the Galapagos can turn up anywhere near the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, at any time.

The hawk was spotted by local guide Randy Gomez during some casual birding around Chilamate. This austral migrant and excellent Ornate Hawk-Eagle mimic seems to be a very rare yet annual visitor to Costa Rica. Although it may migrate south very soon, hopefully, this young bird will decide to stick around for the winter months. It’s a good reminder to take a closer look at any Ornate Hawk-Eagle.

Red-fronted Parrotlet is always here but it’s also always tough. These small and uncommon parrots are typically heard and, if you are lucky, quickly glimpsed in flight. It’s a rare day when they are seen foraging. That rare day recently happened in the Bajo de Paz area when local birders spotted this species feeding at a fruiting tree.

Oilbird is another annual visitor (or rare resident) typically seen during the wet season. Recently, a perched Oilbird treated lucky birders with great views at the Curi-Cancha Reserve.

Bird Migration in Costa Rica Kicking into Gear

Shorebirds and kites are making major movements but most other birds are just arriving to Costa Rica, and many aren’t here yet. This morning, I saw my first of hopefully many fall Red-eyed Vireos and my first fall American Redstart. Where did those birds spend the summer? The vireo will continue on but perhaps the redstart will stay. Hopefully, thousands more birds will be on their way and visiting these bio-rich habitats soon.

New Species for the Costa Rica List!

Yes, another bird makes it onto the country list! This latest special addition was the Lesson’s Seedeater, a small migrant from South America photographed by a local researcher in Tortuguero National Park in June. This smart little bird lives in northern South America and usually migrates to the Amazon. Indeed, the only time I have seen one was years ago while birding with Alec Humann in the incredibly fantastic forests of Yasuni National Park.

This species is one of several Austral migrants not unexpected for Costa Rica. A rare occurrence indeed but given the plain appearance of the female, one can’t help but wonder if one or two have been overlooked on past occasions.

New Update for the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide App

A recent update will be available for the IOS version of the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app (no Android version is available at this time). It will include Spectacled Petrel and Yellow-nosed Albatross (two other recent additions to Costa Rica), and some other updates to enhance every birding experience in Costa Rica.

After this update, this birding app for Costa Rica will feature

  • Images for 940 species on the Costa Rica list.
  • Vocalizations for 869 species on the Costa Rica list.
  • Images, information, and sounds for 65 additional species that may eventually occur in Costa Rica.

Updating My Bird Finding Book for Costa Rica

I’ve been busy updating “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. The new version will be edited and include more than 60 additional sites for birding in Costa Rica. It’s quite the task but it will be worth it for birders to have the most up to date, accurate, and comprehensive information for birding in Costa Rica. It should be ready before the start of the high season.

You’ll learn about the best places to see this and hundreds of other species.

In the meantime, the book can still be purchased to support this blog. If you do buy a copy from now until the end of October, when it becomes available, I will also send you the updated version.

The Urban Birder is in Costa Rica

David Lindo, the Urban Birder is currently doing a tour in Costa Rica. I first met David in Israel at the 2016 Champions of the Flyway and had hoped to eventually share birds with him in Costa Rica. It was nice to be able to do that with him and one of his tour participants before they started their tour. I was also fortunate to have him sign a copy of his children’s book for birds, “The Extraordinary World of Birds“.

This book is a veritable treasure, not just for young people interested in birds, but perhaps even more so for young people who don’t know a thing about birds. A fun encyclopedia of information about all things avian, it’s chock full of images and illustrations of birds from all over the world and is exciting to read. Hopefully, it will find its way into the hands of as many kids as possible and get just as many interested in birds and their natural surroundings.

On a personal note, it also reminds me of the books I used to gaze at in the Niagara Falls public library, books that opened my mind to birds and so much more. One big difference is that David’s book is so much better in every way; I suppose just what I would expect from someone who has an encyclopedic knowledge of birds and a passion to connect young people with nature. Want to help birds? Buy a copy of this book to donate to schools and the young people in your life.

As always, there’s lots more to say about birding in Costa Rica but there’s nothing like coming to this beautiful country to see them with your own eyes. I hope to see you here.