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5 Insider Tips for High Season Birding in Costa Rica, 2023

It’s been a long, rainy season. In Costa Rica, the wet season is never short and always presents some challenges to birding but this year was especially torrential. Taking into account the extent of global warming induced flooding that took place in various places across the globe, perhaps Costa Rica having an extra wet rainy season isn’t the least bit surprising.

Some places in Costa Rica have also experienced flooding and tragically, a fair number of people lost houses, businesses have been affected, and the flowing water made its mark on several roadways. The good news is that the wet season seems to be nearly over. Lately in Heredia, I’m seeing more sunny days and much less rain. Things are looking up and by the time the high season kicks off, I would expect most roads to be in good shape (although with occasional heavy traffic on routes 32 and 27 and the usual congestion in the Central Valley).

Speaking of the high season for birding in Costa Rica, it’s just around the corner! Before we know it, dozens of birders will be bringing their binos to Costa Rica and I’m psyched; I wish every birder could come birding here, at least once in their lives. If you are visiting Costa Rica for birding soon, planning a birding trip to Costa Rica, or thinking about visiting in 2023, these insider tips may be of help:

Umbrellabirds are Back at Centro Manu

Centro Manu is one of the newer hotspots for birding in Costa Rica. Last year, local guide Kenneth found that it was a reliable place to see one of the most wanted species in Costa Rica; the Bare-necked Umbrellabird. This year, the birds are back! Although we don’t know how many of the big-headed, crow-black cotingas are present at Manu, based on the frequency of sightings, this spot seems to be a very important area for this endangered species.

The elevation, quality, and location of the lowland-foothill rainforests at Manu are ideal for umbrellabirds from June to February (when they migrate to lower elevations after breeding). Visit this easily accessible site in December and January and you have a fair chance of finding umbrellabird (and other great birds!), especially if you contract Kenneth for guiding. However, it’s best to make reservations first. Contact them at the Centro Manu Facebook page.

Reservations Needed: Cope, Nectar and Pollen

It’s worth mentioning that two other excellent hotspots near Manu also require reservations. To visit Cope in the high season, you will likely need to make reservations in advance; the bird oasis and rainforest experience offered by this highly talented local artist and naturalist are popular and world class.

Nectar and Pollen is also a wonderful place to visit. Expect exciting foothill birding replete with hummingbirds, tanagers, raptors, and more. However, since Miguel, the local guide responsible for creating this special place, doesn’t live there, you need to contact him in advance.

eBird Won’t Have All the Answers

eBird has revolutionized birding, it’s wonderful in many ways and I love using the app and encourage people to do the same. However, you really shouldn’t use it as the only resource for planning a trip to Costa Rica. Definitely check it out and look at recent sightings in Costa Rica but when making decisions, keep these factors in mind:

-Unequal coverage. Since most tours visit the same set of places, these sites have higher bird lists than other places. Don’t get me wrong,these are good sites to go birding but they aren’t the only sites to see a lot of birds. Several places are visited more often because they are more accessible and suitable for group tours.

-Errors. Many lists for hotspots include birds that were obviously seen elsewhere. There’s also a fair amount of misidentification. Both of these factors result in inflated and incorrect lists for various sites.

-Lists that only show what is identified leave out lots of other birds. That’s not the case for every observer but when we take into account the high number of first time birders in Costa Rica, yes, a good deal of species go unrecorded. This means that just because certain shy or ID challenging bird species don’t show on site lists doesn’t mean they aren’t present.

This also all means that us local eBird reviewers got a lot of work to do. In the meantime, while it is worth using eBird and checking data for sites and bird sightings, just remember that it’s not the final word on where to go birding in Costa Rica; habitat is always the most important factor.

Less Visited Sites Could be Better

Birds are where the habitat is. While you will see lots of cool birds at the most popular sites (and places such as Rancho Naturalista and Laguna Lagarto and others are truly fantastic), there are plenty of additional places with excellent birding. A side benefit of birding at such lesser known sites is having them to yourself.

You might get lucky and have a young Ornate Hawk-Eagle check you out.

New Entrance Fees for Bogarin Trail and Arenal Observatory Lodge

The Bogarin Trail has come a long way from the days when it was a hotspot only known to local birders in the Fortuna area. The trails are well maintained, some of the forest has grown, interesting species like Tiny Hawk and Ornate Hawk-Eagle have made appearances and Keel-billed Motmot occurs.

The birding is wonderful and the place has become a popular destination for tours that look for sloths and other rainforest wildlife. In concordance with its popularity, the Bogarin Trail now charges a $15 entrance fee and is open 7-4. In addition, from what I understand, birding tour groups have to make reservations in advance with a time slot for entrance and prepayment.

The Observatory Lodge has also realized the value of day visits to their trails and facilities. The entrance fee for this site has also increased, now costs $15 per person, and is open 7-9.

As far as birding news goes, expect fantastic birding at classic sites, new places, and anywhere with good habitat. These days, with so much access to sites for more or less everything, it can hard to figure out where to spend your time! Rest assured, it’s gonna be good. I hope this information helps with your trip to Costa Rica. Learn more about where to go birding in Costa Rica including sample itineraries and lesser known sites with “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”-a 900 page ebook that covers everything from how to find tropical birds to identification tips, and a complete site guide to the places you’ve heard of lots more that you haven’t. As always, I hope to see you here in Costa Rica!

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First Night of a Birding Trip in Costa Rica! Where to Stay?

The plane descends through the cloud bank and the eyes take in a living mosaic of mountains, pastures, wind breaks, roads, urbanization, and wooded ravines. It’s surprising to see how close everything is; jade cloud forest on the volcanoes, city and towns in the valley, riparian zones making ribbons of green. You know its January but way down below, it looks like summer never ended. There are palm trees and a dozen shades of tropical green, the black circling specks are Black Vultures. Other, much more enticing birds await; congratulations on arriving in Costa Rica! You’ve made it to tropical latitudes where Tennesee Warblers share trees with Baltimore Orioles and Masked Tityras.

Not a Tennessee Warbler

It’s all birding gravy for the next several days, so many birds in Costa Rica, it hardly matters where you stay! It would be really nice if that was the case but no, as with everywhere, Planet Earth, lodging choices have a definite impact on birding success. They play a major role in seeing more birds, that also goes for the first night of a birding trip to Costa Rica.

Even if you are only staying at that first hotel for one night, even if you don’t plan on doing any birding there the following morning, it’s worth it to play it safe and sleep in the right place. No matter what you have planned, you might end up birding there anyways, there might be time to look for owls or other birds and since this may be your one and only trip to Costa Rica, there won’t be any time to waste.

The “right” place depends on your travel situation but whether you are a lone birder traveling on the cheap, birding with family, or arriving one day before a tour, the best place for the first night should be a place that has as much habitat as possible. That way, you might see an owl or two, you might connect with a surprising number of species, and, best of all, your first morning in Costa Rica will be accompanied by a wealth of birds. It will be the welcome you deserve, a proper greeting to one of the top birding destinations in the world.

You will probably see Crimson-fronted Parakeets.

Try the following suggestions to pick the right place for the first night of a birding trip to Costa Rica.

Arriving one Day Early for a Tour

A number of people arrive one or two days before the official start of their tours. Given the propensity for airlines to rechedule and rearrange and cancel flights, this is a really good idea. This will sound like a no brainer but…if taking a birding tour in Costa Rica, you might as well stay at the same hotel as the one where the tour starts.

It will make logistics much easier, the hotel will likely have good birding on the grounds, and even if your tour does plan on birding at the hotel, it will still be worth birding there on your own. You might see birds not found during the tour and getting in some personal birding time will also act as an easy-going introduction to the birds of Costa Rica.

If the hotel is full, please read on.

A Place with Habitat

I mentioned it above but its worth reiterating; habitat is everything. Pick a place with as much habitat as possible. Some good choices for birding hotels in Costa Rica include:

  • Villa San Ignacio- A lovely place where huge fruiting figs grow in the garden and a riparian zone has Long-tailed Manakin, wrens, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, and other birds. The featured image at the top of this post shows this lovely birding hotel.
  • Hotel Bougainvillea- A classic, nice hotel with extensive manicured gardens that often have a roosting owl or two and various common species.
  • Hotel Robledal- Another small but nice hotel with pretty gardens and a good number of birds.
  • Xandari- A boutique hotel with lots of green space and woodlands. The birding is great.
  • Other lodging options in the upper parts of the Central Valley- This includes various places situated in green zones away from the main urban areas of the Great San Jose area. Several such places are covered in the recently released second version of my Costa Rica bird finding guide, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.

Somewhere Close to the Airport

No matter where you travel, this is an important factor to take into consideration. After a long day of standing in line and waiting for a plane to land, its pretty nice to NOT have to drive through an hour or more of traffic. Fortunately, there are some good birding hotels in Costa Rica within easy striking distance of the airport.

A Place Familiar with Birders and Birding

Although this isn’t imperative, hotels that routinely work with birders will be more likely to know that they should tell you about roosting owls or other special birds. They may be able to give you an early breakfast and may have contacts with local guides.

When planning a birding trip to Costa Rica, don’t take that first night for granted. Every morning counts, stay at a place where your first bout of birding in Costa Rica will be replete with everything from ground-sparrows to Rufous-naped Wrens, and maybe a Fiery-billed Aracari or two. I hope to see you here!

To support this blog, learn more about where to watch birds in Costa Rica, and prepare for your birding trip or tour, get my Costa Rica bird finding guide, a 900 page ebook designed to enhance your birding time in Costa Rica.

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Birder Moving to Costa Rica?- Where to Live

The birding in Costa Rica isn’t just good, it’s downright fantastic. No matter where you go on this planet, there will be a bunch of cool birds to see. Even so, some places just have more birds than others.

Costa Rica is one of those places.

Despite being around the same size as Denmark or West Virginia, this beautiful, dynamic nation has a bird list of 930 species (and more species are expected!).

Yes, really that many. Literally hundreds of species on the Costa Rica bird list and most of them are possible in easily accessible sites. Not all of them are common and some are more difficult to see than others but when you go birding in Costa Rica, one thing’s for sure; you’re going to see a lot of birds.

Even birds like Red-headed Barbet.

A stable, friendly country in easy reach of the USA and Canada with literally hundreds of tropical birds awaiting- it’s no wonder so many people from North America move to Costa Rica, birders included. Most are retired (Costa Rica has a good retiree residency option) and some live here all year long but I also know a number of people who live in Costa Rica for a few months each year.

Many times, after witnessing the beauty and ease of Costa Rica, birders ask me what it’s like to live here, how feasible that is, and how much property costs. They also ask that if they were to buy property in Costa Rica, where would the best places be to live? The answer to that question depends on what sort of climate one prefers, breathing room, and other needs. From a birding perspective and having lived in Costa Rica since 2007, here’s some of what one could expect from the following regions:

The Central Valley

A good area for birders who like a warm climate that isn’t too hot, and who need to be near the many aspects of urban living.

Benefits

  • Central location with easy access to more hospitals and a wider variety of healthcare options.
  • Close to the airport.
  • Greater variety of restaurants.
  • Warm climate, cooler in the mountains, beautiful dry season from Dec-April.
  • Species like Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow, Chestnut-capped Warbler, Long-tailed Manakin, and other common birds.

Downsides

  • Bad traffic.
  • Crowded.
  • Not as many bird species as other regions.

This part of the country encompasses the busy greater metro. area of San Jose/Heredia/Alajuela, Cartago, and rural areas with small farms and tropical green space near Grecia, Atenas, and San Ramon. There are plenty of nice housing options in and near Escazu and other urban zones but birders in search of a place with ample green space would be happier in the Grecia area, Atenas, and the upper slopes of the Central Valley.

San Isidro del General

A good area for birders who like to be within striking distance of small town living but who also enjoy having a tropical garden and plenty of birding opportunities.

Benefits

  • Tropical climate with a pronounced dry season.
  • Wonderful tropical birding. Fancy birds like Fork-tailed Flycatcher and Turquoise Cotinga could be on the yard list.
  • Not as crowded as the Central Valley.

Downsides

  • If you need to visit the capital area, it’s a long drive over the mountains.

This part of the country is an intermontane valley and small city located on the other side of the mountains, southeast of San Jose. It’s a beautiful valley with a nice climate and I know more than one birder who moved to this area and absolutely loved it. There are lots of great birding opportunities (the godfather of Costa Rica birding, Alexander Skutch, lived there) including many lowland foothill tropical species in the valley and easy access to many cloud forest species in higher elevations.

There are also many properties available, I know of one, spacious two story house near lots of green space.

Monteverde

A good area for birders in search of a cooler climate, dynamic culture, tourism infrastructure, and access to trails in forest preserves.

Stella’s Bakery- center of baked yummy goodness in the Monteverde area. It’s also good for birds- we heard some bellbirds calling near there.

Benefits

  • Cool climate with a pronounced dry season.
  • Tourism hotspot with a variety of restaurants, wildlife reserves, and activities.
  • Excellent birding with many dry and cloud forest species including Resplendent Quetzal, Northern Emerald Toucanet, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, and many hummingbirds.

Downsides

  • Wind and rain at some times of the year.
  • Somewhat isolated.
  • Not as many healthcare options.
  • High demand for housing, expensive real estate.

One of the world’s first ecotourism hotspots, the Monteverde area continues to draw large numbers of visitors. This could be a drawback for some, a boon for others. Either way, housing can be found away from the main places frequented by tourists. One possible option for folks in search of extra elbow space is living at the edge of the Monteverde area.

Caribbean Foothills

A good area for birders who want their own piece of tropical rainforest paradise and an exciting yard list in quiet, rural surroundings. This is for birders who like to be somewhat self sufficient although a few areas are still pretty close to towns and cities.

Male Snowcap.

Benefits

  • Warm and humid climate.
  • Living off the beaten track.
  • Excellent birding with possible yard birds like Speckled and Crimson-collared Tanagers, toucans, and many other species.
  • Might find cheaper real estate.

Downsides

  • Lots of rain.
  • Somewhat isolated, may need to be somewhat self sufficient although many places are still within easy driving distance of towns and small cities.
  • Not as many healthcare options.

This region includes such places as the Arenal area, sites along the road between San Ramon and La Fortuna, sites near Cinchona (which is only a bit more than an hour’s drive from Sam Jose), and sites near Turrialba. The Caribbean foothills host some of the more exciting birding in Costa Rica and a yard planted for hummingbirds could attract everything from Snowcaps to Black-crested Coquettes and Brown Violetears.

Lowland Jungle Areas

These are good places for birders who love hot and humid weather, lots of tropical birds, and who are willing to live in places with fewer amenities. That said, the Jaco area offers a great variety of excellent restaurants and other services.

Benefits

  • Hot and humid climate.
  • Chance to live off the beaten track.
  • Great tropical birding with possible yard birds like toucans, macaws, parrots, and much more.
  • Might find cheaper real estate in some areas.

Downsides

  • Heavy rains in some areas that can result in flooding (DO NOT LIVE IN RIVER VALLEYS OR OTHER PLACES WHERE FLOODING HAS OCCURRED IN THE PAST).
  • Hot and humid weather.
  • Many places can be isolated and you may need to be somewhat self sufficient (although some places are still within easy driving distance of towns and small cities).
  • Some parts of the Caribbean lowlands have problems with crime (places near Guacima, Siquirres, the city of Limon, and perhaps Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui).
  • Not as many healthcare options.

This region includes any of the lowland areas on both slopes except for the region north of Tarcoles on the Pacific slope. Move to the humid lowlands and you will be moving to areas with rainforest or sites with bananas, pineapples, oil palms, and cattle pasture that used to be forested.

The birding is always fun and includes lots of species including toucans, parrots, and more. Reforest the garden and you could create your own little wildlife sanctuary.

Guanacaste

A good region for birders in search of wide open spaces, a dry climate (for at least half the year), having a farm or a place with horses, and living in the country. You should be somewhat self sufficient although most areas are close enough to towns.

A Guanacaste view with Rincon de la Vieja in the background.

Benefits

  • Hot, dry climate.
  • Living off the beaten track.
  • Dry forest species like White-throated Magpie-Jay and Orange-fronted Parakeet, and being serenaded by thick-knees in the evening.
  • Perhaps the chance to put up nest boxes for the critically endangered Yellow-naped Parrot.
  • Living near beaches.

Downsides

  • Can be heavy rain during the wet season with some places prone to flooding.
  • Can be very isolated, may need to be somewhat self sufficient although many places are still within easy driving distance of towns.
  • Not as many healthcare options.
  • Water availability.

This region includes anywhere roughly north of Tarcoles on the Pacific slope. Many farms and properties are for sale, it pays to look around before buying. If you live near Liberia, various beautiful beaches are within easy striking distance as well as an international airport. Several famous actors, athletes, and musicians have properties in Guanacaste.

Cerro de la Muerte

A good region for birders in search of very cool weather in beautiful high mountain surroundings with rather few neighbors. This area can get lots of rain and nights can be cold but the birding is unique and you could have quetzal as a yard bird.

Fiery-throated-Hummingbird

Benefits

  • Very cool climate (some might call it cold).
  • Living away from urban centers.
  • High elevation species like quetzal, various hummingbirds, and Collared Redstart.
  • Good amount of forest habitat.

Downsides

  • Heavy rains during the wet season can cause landslides and road closures.
  • Not as many healthcare options.
  • Somewhat cold weather.

This region includes Cerro de la Muerte, a high mountain southeast of San Jose. Living up there is somewhat isolated and nights can be cold but the main road is a fairly quick drive to more heavily populated and warmer urban centers. The birding is wonderful and includes a high number of endemics.

These are most of the main regions where a birder can move to in Costa Rica. Although some places are more isolated than others, most areas are still within fairly easy driving distance to urban centers with stores, clinics, and so on. Although some areas have more healthcare options than others, even remote places have access to state run clinics and regional hospitals. It’s also worth mentioning that tropical fruits and other many veggies can be grown in most gardens all year long, and owning property in Costa Rica is an excellent way to help local and migrant birds through reforestation.

I live in the Central Valley for various reasons but if I could move anywhere I wanted, I would probably have a place in every bioregion in Costa Rica. It’s a tough choice but for the best of reasons; each region has its own set of unique birding opportunities in beautiful places. That said, I would probably opt for the Caribbean foothills, maybe near Cinchona. That way, I could watch an incredible number of birds, maybe have Snowcap in the yard, reforest to help the endangered umbrellabird and Lovely Cotinga, and still have the option of easy visits to the lowlands, highlands, and everything the Central Valley has to offer.

I might even choose this place. A friend of mine is the owner and although he loves this place and has spent most every weekend there for many years, he wants to sell so he can spend more time with family. It would be perfect for reforestation, is quiet, and has fantastic birding within easy reach of all amenities. If you would like to have your own little piece of tropical birding paradise in Costa Rica, send me an email to learn more. The birds are waiting!

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Costa Rica Birding News, October, 2023

October. It’s the threshold of winter, Halloween, and pumpkins (with all of their orange colored spice). By the cool breeze from the north and the slowing down of deciduous trees, the birds know the deal is up. They know it’s past time to have fattened up and made the journey south. Indeed, up north, most of the first migrants have already paid heed to instincts and fled to the tropics. Thrushes, warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and Scarlet Tanagers; most have gone, many have made it to Costa Rica.

A fair number are here on winter territory, searching for insects in tropical trees and avoiding the eyes of Bat Falcons and creeping Vine Snakes. Others are just stopping off to fuel up and continue to the incredible forests of the Amazon, or to find a sweet wintering spot in mossy rainforest of the Andes.

Rainforests at Bosque del Rio Tigre-excellent wintering habitat.

In a few months, a number of birders will also make a temporary migration to Costa Rica. They will visit to delve into tropical birding, watch toucan antics while delighting in the coffee fruits of volcanic soils, and photograph Purple-throated Mountain-gems (like the multicolored bird featured above). The birds are awaiting, I can promise you that! Here’s some other news items from October, 2022, Costa Rica.

Very Heavy Rains=Tragic Flooding and Road Closures

October in Costa Rica is bird migration but it can also be a month of rains. The rains from this past October have gone from being exceptional to extreme. Sadly, in the Central Pacific region, more rain fell in a day or two than typically falls over the course of the entire month. We’re talking about a country where it normally rains every afternoon of every day in October, we’re talking about a horrible deluge.

During the past week, so much rain came slamming down in the central and southern Pacific regions, parts of the town of Jaco flooded. Flooding also occured near Parrita and in some other areas, and landslides affected several roads. Although people weren’t swept away like the terrible climate crisis induced floods in Nigeria, Pakistan, and other places, in Costa Rica, a number of people have lost everything, businesses have been terribly affected, and many roads have been damaged.

Those roads will likely be fixed well before the high season but if visiting Costa Rica over the news few weeks, you will need to pay close attention to information about road closures. Keep an eye on whatever driving app you may use, especially if traveling anywhere on Cerro de la Muerte, Route 32, and other mountain roads, and anywhere from Tarcoles south to Panama.

Arctic Terns near Shore, Fewer Migrants?

Arctic Tern from a few years back.

On the bird migration scene, one of the more interesting sightings has been that of Arctic Terns on the central Pacific Coast. At least a few (and maybe more) were documented by local birders in the Playa Hermosa area, foraging close to shore. Typically, in Cosa Rica, this species is a bird of pelagic waters although perhaps they occur closer to shore more often than expected? Were they overlooked in the less birded past? Who knows but in any case, this us always an uncommon species for Costa Rica.

As far as other migrants go, some local birders have wondered if we are seeing fewer numbers. Although various factors cloud accurate assessment of abundance during migration, given the effects of climate disruption, insect decline, and other nasty factors on breeding grounds and migration routes, yeah, I bet we are seeing fewer birds. That would match the latest State of the Birds Assessment that shows continued declines in many species.

Off hand, I have had a strong impression of far fewer Cliff Swallows than other years and can’t help but wonder if this is related to so much of their western breeding areas being impacted by climate-change induced drought and heat waves. I have seen quite a few vireos and pewees but perhaps less than in previous years, and although there have been many Swainson’s Thrushes, there still doesn’t seem to be as many as in other years.

Hopefully, there will be good numbers of wintering birds; we do have a good amount of habitat for them.

Southern Nicoya Peninsula= Probable Migrant Hotspot

Once again, the southern Nicoya yields a rare for Costa Rica migrant. On October Global Big Day, Wilfreddo Villalobos found a small group of Bobolinks! The smart looking hay meadow birds might be regular up north but in Costa Rica, you would be lucky to add it to your country list. In common with other migrant hotspots, the southern Nicoya Peninsula is bordered on each side by water and thus could possibly act act as a “funnel” for migrants, or at least attract lost birds flying over the Pacific Ocean.

Any migrant effect isn’t as pronounced as that of the famed hotspots but the place certainly does attract rare migrants every year. I wonder what else is hiding in the tropical forests of that fun, underbirded area? What would a birder see while seawatching from the coast near Cabuya? Go and see what you find!

Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo and Other Rare Resident Birds

The ground-cuckoo has been seen again at antswarms at the Pocosol Station. Honestly, this is no surprise, nor would it be surprising to find them at swarms in other suitable areas but given how generally difficult it is to see this species, it’s always good to know where and when they are being seen.

Another rare resident species seeen recently was a Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle at Nectar and Pollen (!). Lucky local birders had excellent looks at one that took to the air right in front of them! This site and other nearby sites are good places to look for this species but you still need a lot of luck to see one.

Newly Updated, Second Edition of Costa Rica Bird Finding Guide Now Available!

On a personal note, it took a while but the second edition of “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” is finally edited, updated, and available. Since the previous edition was more than 700 pages, one might not expect much more could be said about birding sites in Costa Rica. One could easily be wrong.

This edition includes:

  • Updated information on strategies to find and see tropical birds in Costa Rica, including the best ways to see uncommon and rare species.
  • Updated lists of birds to expect, birds to not expect, birds that could be splits, and more.
  • Updated information for dozens of sites to watch birds in Costa Rica.
  • Several new sites throughout the country.
  • Several updated sample itineraries.
  • Local insider, accurate information about finding birds in Costa Rica.

At more than 900 pages, this book is a tome of birding information meant to enhance every birding trip and birding tour to Costa Rica. One of the benefits of this book is that since it is digital, it doesn’t weigh anything and any subject matter can be easily searched from the table of contents or within the text of the book.

This Costa Rica birding site guide e-book is perfect for birders and bird photographers of all levels planning a birding trip to Costa Rica, wanting to learn more about the birds of Costa Rica, and hoping to see more birds in Costa Rica. Not to mention, every purchase helps keep this blog going. As always, I hope to see you here!

If you purchased the first version in 2022, let me know and I’ll send you the updated version for free. If you bought the book before 2022, this updated, second version is available for $9.00.

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Birding in Costa Rica on Paradise Road

The concept of paradise may be subjective but most would agree that it encompasses feelings of happiness in absolutely beautiful surroundings. Most would also equate those beautiful surroundings with natural beauty, often, tropical places with textured vegetation that appeases in a dozen shades of jade. However, peaceful green isn’t the only color on the paradise block. It’s a lovely garden au-naturelle highlighted with the purples, yellows, and deep reds of tropical flowers, and the plumages of “exotic” birds.

In Costa Rica, those birds include toucans, parrots, tanagers, and a few dozen hummingbirds, each adorned with their own set of refracted jewels.

Crowned Woodnymph is one of the more common rainforest hummingbirds in Costa Rica.

With so much tropical beauty beaing easily accessible, refering to birding in Costa Rica as a certain type of paradise becomes easy. Perhaps it’s no surprise that some places have “paradise” as part of their name. In celebration of October Global Big Day, 2022, my partner and I birded one such place in southeastern Costa Rica, a site known as “Paradise Road“.

Paradise Road is a rural gravel road that connects the coastal road near Punta Uva with another route that leads to Sixaola and the border with Panama. I’ve done some birding on it in the past but never at dawn and never enough for my liking. I guess I end up feeling that way about most sites that host extensive habitat, and especially when they see very little birding.

On this trip, I was pleased to finally bird this road at dawn. These were some highlights:

Owl Chorus

birding Costa Rica

Most lowland tropical forest sites are good for owls and other nocturnal birds. You can spend hours at night looking for and finding some but the best time to hear them call is just before dawn, say from 4 until 5, maybe most of all from 4:30 to 5:00.

On our morning, shortly after our 4:30 arrival, a Middle American Screech-Owl started trilling close by, a Crested Owl vocalized a couple of times, and the mournful whistles of a Common Potoo sounded off in the humid distance. Closer to dawn, as the decibals of Howler Monkeys filled the air, the screech-owl continued, a Short-tailed Nighthawk called, and we heard Spectacled Owls gruffing from the woods.

If we had arrived earlier and maybe checked a few more sites, I’m sure we would have also heard the two other common owl species of lowland sites in Costa Rica; Mottled and Black-and-White Owls. It was also surprising to not hear Great Potoo, a fairly common bird in that area. However, we couldn’t complain with hearing the voices of four nocturnal species with such little effort.

Constant Birds

As the light grew, as is typical for morning birding in lowland rainforest, things got busy with the calls of forest birds. Woodcreepers sounded off (we eventually got all 6 possible species), a few antbirds sang, and other species revealed themselves, one by one.

There were groups of Tawny-crested Tanagers, a few Dusky-faced Tanagers, various flycatchers, Swainson’s Thrushes hopping in the road, toucans in the treetops, and a Collared Forest-Falcon calling from its hidden foliaged lair.

Dusky-faced Tanager.

From dawn until 8, it was a morning of constant birds, and I’m sure more than we managed to identify.

Migration Happenings

Many of those birds were migrants, species arriving on wintering grounds or stopping to feed before moving to the Andes and the Amazon. As expected, the most common migrants were Red-eyed Vireos and Eastern Wood-Pewees, each flitting through trees and sallying from the tips of dead snags. There were also a few swallows flying ovehead, Broad-winged Hawks taking to the air, a few warblers here and there, Scarlet Tanagers, Great-crested Flycatchers, and a Peregrine Falcon watching and waiting to see what it could catch. My favorites were the Kentucky and Mourning Warblers that skulked in their wintering territories, and, by the grace of its “chip” call, an Alder Flycatcher that made it onto my year list.

Snowy Cotingas

Thanks to good areas of lowland rainforest, the southern Caribbean zone of Costa Rica is also a good place to see Snowy Cotinga. We had wonderful views of a surreal white-plumaged male that foraged in a tree with semi-cotinga tityras and other birds.

We didn’t have anything super rare but more than 120 species in four hours is nothing to complain about. With more effort, I bet we could find uncommon and rare species like Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon, Black-crowned Antpitta, and Spot-crowned Antvireo. Not to mention, birding this road and area also comes with the odd chance of adding a species to the Costa Rica bird list. I look forward to my next visit.

On this trip, we rented a cabin at Olguita’s Place, a friendly, locally owned spot close to the beach at Punta Uva. To learn more about where to watch birds in Costa Rica, including dozens of insider sites off the beaten path, get How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica. Support this blog by buying it in October, 2022 and I’ll also send you the updated version as soon as it becomes available (it’s almost ready).

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Better Birding in Costa Rica: Preparations for 2023

The end of the year and high season for birding in Costa Rica is still a few months away but I’m already getting ready for it. It’s raining a lot and there’s not a whole lot of birders here at the moment but in a way, the high season is already happening. Main birding hotels are filling up for dates from January through March and guides and transportation are getting booked too.

Cope’s Place books up in advance too. If you want to visit, let me know ASAP!

The following are recommendations and things I have been doing to prepare for the main birding season:

Updating a Birding Companion for Costa Rica- “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”

Editing and updating this resource has kept me pretty busy but it will be worth it. The new version will include updates for existing sites and information for many new places. With so many birding-focused sites popping up, I’m sure it won’t cover everything but it’s going to come close.

As always, the goal of this book is to help birders of all levels have a more fulfilling birding experience in Costa Rica.

The new version should be available by the end of October. If you buy the current version of this Costa Rica bird finding guide from now until the new version comes out, I’ll also send you the new version free of charge.

Updating the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide App

I have also been updating the most complete birding app for Costa Rica. Not that long ago, we updated it to include new additions like Spectacled Petrel and Lesser Black-backed Gull. However, recently, a couple of local birders discovered Buff-collared Nightjar in Costa Rica (!) and there were a few other edits to make. With that in mind, we decided to make another update, one that will hopefully be ready by the end of this month.

The new version will have:

  • Images for 941 species on the Costa Rica list.
  • Vocalizations for 870 species on the Costa Rica list.
  • Images, information, and sounds for 64 additional species that may eventually occur in Costa Rica.
Altamira-Oriole-Costa-Rica-birds-app
Altamira Oriole is one of those eventual birds for the Costa Rica list.

Birding in More Places

I have been trying to do more birding in out of the way places as well as easily accessible overlooked sites. Results have included Blue Seedeater, sites for Striped and other owls, and more. As with anywhere, the more you go birding, the more you find.

Make Reservations Now…

Just another reminder to not wait to make reservations. The most popular places are really filling up!

Plan Your Trip Around eBird?

If you still want to plan a trip, what about just planning it around eBird? While that wonderful birding platform can give you some good ideas, I wouldn’t use it as the sole resource to plan a birding route in Costa Rica. EBird is great but in Costa Rica, it’s also naturally biased towards the birding circuit and popular sites, and lists for such sites don’t have all of the birds mentioned (us reviewers are trying but there’s still a lot to do). These are the places birded the most often but other birding spots also exist, many with fantastic birding. Just remember that, as most everywhere, in Costa Rica, the best birding is where the best habitat is.

As always, I hope to see you here in Costa Rica. Hope you see a lot this October 8th on October Big Day!

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A Fine Morning of Excellent, Accessible Birding in Costa Rica

The birding in Costa Rica is always good but some places are better, some birding mornings are more memorable than others. Recently, I had one such morning while birding a place I have visited much more than other sites. Easy, accessible, and good forest, I have made the 40 minute drive for birding at Poas on many an occasion. It’s always all good when I bring the binos to those high elevations but September 27th was one of the better visits, one that just might take the cake. Here’s why:

First Stop Has Most of the Birds

Upon reaching the high elevations, I stopped the car and said, “Let’s see what we find”. We barely exited the vehicle when a mixed flock found us. Yellow-thighed Brushfinches and other birds trooped into view and then stayed to feast on berries and I suppose to entertain us. I’m not sure how else to explain the close, constant, and easy views of so many Sooty-capped Chlorospingus, Fiery-throated Hummingbirds, Black-and-Yellow Silky-Flycatchers (we got tired of looking at them), Flame-throated Warblers, and more.

I didn’t think we would top that fantastic avian introduction but the highlights kept on coming.

Quetzal Perched in the Open

Next on the plate of birding happiness was a quetzal on a bare branch, backdrop of blue sky. It happened just after mentioning that we would search for quetzal but that we would still have to be lucky to find one. I pull up to the spot, look up to my left, and unbelievably, there goes a male Resplendent Quetzal, right in the open. It didn’t stay long but we got excellent, close looks. This was quickly followed by views of a Black Guan and a couple of Northern Emerald Toucanets. They must have been feeding from the same fruiting tree.

A Bunch of Chlorophonias

This was also a good morning for the miniature quetzal, the Golden-browed Chlorophonia. We had great looks at more than one male and were hearing their quaint calls at every stop.

Barred Parakeets Seen

I often hear the soft calls of Barred Parakeets when birding on Poas but rarely see the pint-sized parakeets. In needing to move around in search of feeding areas and doing so in flocks, this species reminds me of a crossbill. After hearing the birds, lo and behold, our luck continued when we saw a small group buzz overhead.

Barred Parakeets in flight.

Blue Seedeater (!)

This was arguable the rarest bird of the morning. Although it has been seen near the main road to Poas, I had never previously seen one at this site. If I recall correctly, the small dark finchy bird was responding to pishing. I heard its chip note and at first thought we may have found another uncommon bird for Costa Rica, a MacGillivray’s Warbler.

Even so, it didn’t sound quite right and with good reason because the bird that took form in my binoculars was a male Blue Seedeater. As is typical for this special species, it was calling from a patch of old bamboo.

Black Hawk-Eagle Displaying

Yes, Black Hawk-Eagle. Earlier this year, I was surprised to see one of these large raptors in the highest part of Poas. The other day, we had a pair and one was calling as it quivered its wings like a giant deadly butterfly.

The Poas area is always good but the other day was one for the books; we had all of these birds and some before 8 in the morning. It makes me wonder what else is lurking in the forests that overlook the cars and winding roads of the Central Valley?

To learn more about Poas, other birding sites, and how to identify hawk-eagles, promote the birding resources at this blog by purchasing “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. I hope to see you here!

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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.

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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.

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Watching Shorebirds in Costa Rica- 5 Benefits

Most birders don’t visit Costa Rica to look at shorebirds. Their rung on the birding priority ladder is outpaced by endemics and hundreds of other species not possible at the home patch. Even so, sandpipers and plovers are always fun to watch and if you get a chance to do some shorebirding in Costa Rica, you’ll reap the following benefits:

Lots of Birds

Bird in Costa Rica in the right places and you might hit a wader jackpot. Thousands of shorebirds migrate through and winter in Costa Rica, much more than we manage to document. As I write, I’m sure that fantastic flocks of sandpipers and plovers are moving along both coasts. Some birds stop, many fly on and pass through Costa Rica’s bit of air space in less than a day. Among those migrating groups of birds, among the birds that stop to rest and others that continue on, a rarity or two could certainly be present.

Marbled Godwits, Surfbirds, and Wilson’s Plovers

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Birders who aren’t from this side of the globe will get their fill of Western Hemisphere waders. Yellowlegs, Willets, “Hudsonian” Whimbrels, Western, Semipalmated, Least, and Stilt Sandpipers, and more. Among some of the more interesting and wanted shorebirds are Marbled Godwit, Surfbird, and Wilson’s Plover, lot’s of Wilson’s Plovers!

Chomes is a good site for Wilson’s Plover.

Find a Siberian Vagrant

As with other places that concentrate shorebirds, Costa Rica can also host vagrants from Siberia. So far, such lost shorebirds have taken the form of Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, and Pacific Golden-Plover but given Costa Rica’s position on the Pacific Coast flyway, more are certainly possible. I’m sure a few of those species have been here but passed through unseen or unnoticed. Four species of stints are possible, the most likely ones maybe being Red-throated and Little Stints, the others being Little, Temminck’s, and Long-toed Stints. Sharp-tailed Sandpiper is also likely (one was seen in Panama), and Lesser Sand Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit could also make a surprise appearance.

Yeah, real long shots but all are long distance migrants that migrate through or too similar latitudes in southern Asia and all have occurred in Washington state or California. Some have probably made it to Costa Rica at some point, hopefully a few will make it here again. It doesn’t hurt to be ready to recognize them (and is why these and other possible vagrants are included on the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app). Unfortunately, separating winter-plumaged Red-necked and Little Stints from Semipalmated Sandpipers is an incredible challenge. If you see any funny looking Semis in Costa Rica, take a closer look and take a lot of pictures.

Much More than Shorebirds

A befits the bird-heavy nation of Costa Rica, one of the other benefits of watching shorebirds is seeing lots of other birds too. As one might expect, various other waterbirds will also be present, often, birds like Roseate Spoonbill and White Ibis. On the Pacific Coast, there will also be a fair selection of dry forest species and mangrove birds including chances at uncommon species like Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, Mangrove Rail, and Mangrove Hummingbird.

This Mangrove Hummingbird was seen at Mata de Limon.

Provide Important Data on Wintering and Migrant Species

As with all birds, keeping them around depends on knowing how many occur and where they make a living. Taking a day or two to focus on shorebirds, making careful counts and then uploading the data to eBird is an easy way to help.

It’s always worth it to watch shorebirds. In addition to helping with eBird data, in Costa Rica, a scopeful of elegant migrants from the far north can act as a relaxing break from the challenges of forest birding. Learn about the best spots to see shorebirds in my Costa Rica bird finding guide. I hope you see a lot!