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Easy Going Birding in Costa Rica = 14 Hummingbirds, Black Guan, and More

Some of the best birding in Costa Rica is easy-going, relaxed birding. Although a definition of “best birding” is subjective and related to (1) what a birder wants to see and (2) how they want to do their birding, when the results of an easy morning of birding include several hummingbirds and various regional endemics (including uncommon and threatened species), that’s pretty darn good.

When birding in Costa Rica, you really don’t need to take long jungle hikes to see lots of great birds. To see a fantastic variety of species, visiting remote areas isn’t vital, nor is testing the limits of a rental vehicle’s suspension. It does help to know where to go birding in Costa Rica, know the best places to visit, and how to see those birds but you won’t have to buy any trekking boots.

Don’t get me wrong, expedition birding has its advantages too and I love being immersed in remote forest birding but Costa Rica offers much easier options. One of the best is the Poas and Cinchona area. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again; roadside birding from the Central Valley to Poas and along Route 126 can turn up an astonishing number of birds (a quick tally of birds that have occurred resulted in 500 species!). More than 100 are rare, various elevations are involved, and 50 of those birds are only present during the winter but that still leaves lots of birds to look for on any visit, any time of year. On a recent morning of birding with very limited walking, some birding highlights included:

14 Hummingbird Species

All were seen from the vehicle or at the Mirador San Fernando (the Cinchona Hummingbird Cafe). They included such sweet birds as

Fiery-throated Hummingbird

Fiery-throated-Hummingbird

Scintillant Hummingbird

scintillant-hummingbird

and the uncommon Black-bellied Hummingbird.

Black-bellied Hummingbird
At least you can still see Black-bellied Hummingbird and other hummingbird action in the rain.

14 hummingbird species are a good total but amazingly, on the route we took, further effort can turn up at least 7 or more additonal species.

Large-footed Finch and Other Highland Endemics

In the high elevation areas of Poas Volcano, bird activity was somewhat hindered by cold rain. Even do, we still had excellent looks at regional endemics like Large-footed Finch, Sooty Thrush, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, and Flame-throated Warbler along with various other montane species.

Large-footed Finch doing its foraging thing in the leaf litter.

The Large-footed Finch is a towhee-like bird that needs cool, wet forest habitats. Like so many other bird species on Poas, it only lives in Costa Rica and western Panama.

Coffee with Black Guan, Buff-fronted Quail-Dove, and other Great Birds

We spent around two hours at Cinchona and had excellent birding. Most of the usual species came to the fruit feeders including “the Cinchona trio” of Northern Emerald Toucanet, Prong-billed Barbet, and Red-headed Barbet.

The hummingbirds were also very active and gave us multiple close views of species like Green Thorntail, Green Hermit, Violet Sabrewing and others.

As a bonus, a Barred Hawk soared into view, Black Guan showed at the feeder, and two juvenile Buff-fronted Quail-Doves occasionally appeared on the ground below the feeder.

There’s nothing like accompanying quality coffee with constant tropical birds at Cinchona!

Costa Rica is made for birding. Whether taking the easy birding route or exploring remote locations, fantastic birding is in the cards. See “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” to learn about the best sites for seeing more birds in Costa Ricaa nd prepare for your trip. I hope to see you here.

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Costa Rica Birding News and Recommendations- June 27, 2022

It’s June in 2022. Looking to escape for a week or so? Birds in Costa Rica are pretty cool…

Speckled Tanagers are pretty cool.

If you expect to be birding in Costa Rica soon, the following information will help with your trip:

Route 32 is Temporarily Closed

This would be the main, busy and important highway that links the San Jose area to Guapiles and Limon. In birding terms, it’s the main road to such excellent sites as Cope’s Place, Nectar and Pollen, Centro Manu, and the Quebrada Gonzalez Ranger Station. Before you fret about not being able to go birding at those promising hotspots, fortunately, Route 32 isn’t the only way to get there.

Until the highway is fixed (it could easily be a week or more), you’ll have to take a more circuitous route. The birding upside is that one of those routes is the road that passes by Cinchona. This road, Route 126, is very birdy and scenic but if using it to reach the aforementioned sites, it would make for a very long day trip from the Central Valley. It will be much easier to visit those sites as a trip from lodging in or near the Sarapiqui area.

Red-headed Barbet and Silver-throated Tanagers are often seen at Cinchona.

This important route was closed a few days ago after heavy rains caused a small landslide. Steep slopes and wet weather converge to make such road problems a regular issue on Route 32. Unfortunately, on this occasion, continuous heavy rains resulted in a major landslide; maybe the biggest I have ever seen on Route 32.

It will eventually be fixed but could take a while. With that in mind, if you need to travel to Limon, you might want to consider Route 10 as an option.

Heavy Rains

Route 32 isn’t the only part of Costa Rica recently affected by heavy rains. There has been some localized flooding and a few other roads have also had problems. For the most part, most roads are open but since that could easily change, make sure to use Waze to stay updated about road closures and conditions during your time in Costa Rica.

The rains also present obvious challenges for birding but one advantage is higher bird activity during pauses in precipitation. Seriously, the birding can be fantastic in the mornings and when the rain stops.

Lovely Cotinga at Arenal Observatory Lodge

In June and July, some individuals of this species move to elevations lower than their upper middle elevation breeding grounds. A recent sighting of a female in the gardens of the Observatory Lodge was a reminder of this behavior. These days, birders should scan treetops in any foothill and middle elevation forest on the Caribbean slope for the turquoise blue of male Lovely Cotinga and the pale, dove-like aspect of the female. They aren’t exactly common but you could find one.

If you don’t have cotinga luck, you might sitll see a Green Thorntail.

Better for Rails and Masked Duck (aka Duck-billed Pseudo-Rail)

Now that the rains are here, rails and Masked Ducks are more accessible. Seeing them still requires a considerable amount of time and effort but they are much easier now than the dry season. Lately, local birders have been watching Paint-billed Crake and Spotted Rail in the Las Trancas rice fields, and Masked Duck has been seen at a private wetland site in Guanacaste. Paint-billed Crake has also been showing in its usual Coto 48 haunts and could also be found in other suitable wetlands. Rice fields on the Pacific slope are good places to look for this gallinulish crake but they can also appear in any number of marshy areas. Masked Duck could easily be lurking in those same spots.

A Pelagic Trip Might be Nice

As with pretty much everywhere, pelagic trips in Costa Rica are always exciting. At this time of year, it’s possible that rainy weather may bring more nutrients into coastal waters that in turn, attract more birds. I’m not sure if that is the case but I do know that I’ve seen more interesting pelagic species from the Puntarenas-Paquera ferry at this time of the year than in the dry season.

Head further from shore and you have a fair chance of seeing Tahiti Petrel and some chance of connecting with Christmas Shearwater in addition to regulars like Wedge-rumped, Black, amd Least Storm-Petrels, and Wedge-tailed and Galapagos Shearwaters. NOT TO MENTION, you could also have some serious powerball birding luck and see something like the country first Salvin’s Albatross that was spotted in late May!

Costa Rica is wet and rainy right now but the birding is still fantastic. Plan your birding trip to Costa Rica with rain in mind and stay updated on road conditions and you’ll do fine. I hope to see you here!

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Guided Birding or Birding Costa Rica on Your Own- What’s the Difference?

There are a lot of birds in Costa Rica. More than you think. Some information says 800 plus species and that’s a heck of a lot but the real total is more like 930. Yes! Around 930 species have been identified in a place the size of West Virginia. Those crazy numbers translate to a lot of birds waiting to be seen, always more birds to look for, even after several visits.

Red-headed Barbet male
The Red-headed Barbet is one of those birds.

I’m often asked how many bird species I have seen in Costa Rica, or which birds I’m missing. Other than some pelagic species, not much although I have seen a bunch of birds on the Costa Rica list elsewhere. That is, I still need various species for my country list, birds like Black-throated Blue-Warbler and Botteri’s Sparrow for example.

This makes my lifer possibilities pretty slim but I’m still excited every time I go birding in Costa Rica and how not- there’s always lots to see; dozens of birds to listen to while walking beneath huge rainforest trees draped with epiphytes, interesting seabirds to scan for from rough beaches on the Caribbean and the scenic tropical bays of the Pacific. There’s also high mountain birding punctuated by dawn quetzals and Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers undulating through October airs.

It’s always good!

On my first trip, even though I had studied the field guide for months in advance, the biodiversity still blew me away. I suppose it still does, the more you get into it, the more you discover. When I visited Costa Rica in 1992, I didn’t hire a guide but if I could go back in time, I probably would. Even so, it’s worth asking if you need a guide when birding in Costa Rica. It’s worth considering birding on your own. Trip funds play a basic role but answers about guiding also depend on additional factors:

How You Prefer to Experience Birds

If you don’t mind birding in a group, or even prefer that birding dynamic, a guided tour is a must. With dozens of companies to choose from, it can be hard to know which tour is best. Before signing up, think of your needs, what birds you would like to see, how you want to experience them, and go from there.

For example, if birding for you means some relaxed birding in the morning and taking it easy the rest of the day, you might want to avoid tours with descriptions like “constant birding”, “non-stop birding”, or “we don’t stop until we see the bird”. Such tours might still be able to accommodate a more relaxed birding style but you’re better off delving into the itinerary and speaking with a company well before sending a deposit.

If the group thing is not your slice of birding pie, touring with other birders isn’t going to work. You can still hire a guide though and you’ll have them all to yourself. That can be a very good thing, you’ll get personalized attention and see more birds, especially shy ones. However, without any shring of cost, you of course pay more for the personalized experience.

streak-chested antpitta Caribbean subspecies
Having the guide to yourself may give better chances at seeing shy birds like the Streak-chested Antpitta.

If cost is a factor, one solution is doing a few day tours during the trip instead of having a guide the entire time. Of course, the other main option is doing birding on your own. If you do go your own way, though, do it knowing that you’ll likely miss some species as well as possibly missing out one some little known hotspots. Contraringly, birding on your own does open the door to exploration. Get off the beaten track and you might find your own birding hotspots, might find a rare bird or two.

How Much You Want to See

This is probably the biggest difference between guided birding and birding on your own. Studying before a trip will help in finding more birds and also enhances the experience but no amount of studying can compare to being guided by a highly knowledgeable, local birding guide. The best guides don’t just know principal vocalizations for their local complement of species, they also know many lesser known calls and songs, behaviors, habitats, and sites. These factors along with knowing the lay of the land adds up to more bird species including better chances at rare and little known birds.

With all of that in mind, if you want to see as much as possible, and/or see certain rare species, hiring the right guide is an essential part of the trip. Sure you could still chance it and might do alright but a top local guide will boost your birding opportunities.

How Much Time You Have

This third factor is just as important and is tied into the number of birds you want to see. If you have all the time in the world, you have plenty of time to find and identify a good number of birds in Costa Rica. If you only have a day or a week of birding at different sites, a good guide makes a huge difference. That doesn’t just go for Costa Rica either but anywhere in the world.

Unfamiliar Birds

white-whiskered puffbird

This is another main factor that comes into play when birding with or without a guide, especially on a first birding trip to the Neotropical Region. Most of the birds will be more than species you have never seen. They will be completely different and nothing like the birds from home (unless your local park has trogons, puffbirds, and antthrushes). Most birds won’t be remotely familiar and this will be fun but if you go birding on your own, it can also be confusing. You might find yourself wondering where certain birds are and how to see them.

Peace of Mind

Another advantage of birding with a local guide is simply peace of mind. Bird with a guide and common worries associated with language, cultural differences, where to eat, stay, and visit are neatly wooshed away. The same goes for worrying about bird identification, finding certain species, and so on.

Should you hire a birding guide in Costa Rica? Although what I have written above seems to make a case for that, I’m just being honest about the benefits of hiring a guide. You can still bird without a guide and see a lot of birds but whether birding in Costa Rica or elsewhere, birding with a good, local guide does make the trip easier.

If visiting Costa Rica for birding, whether taking a tour to Costa Rica or birding on your own in Costa Rica, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” will enhance your trip. Get it to see identification tips, where to go birding, prepare for your trip, and to support this blog. As always, I hope to see you here in Birdlandia!

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A Fine Morning of Caribbean Lowland Birding in Costa Rica

The first guide for the birds of Costa Rica was a book written by Alexander Skutch and Gary Stiles, and illustrated by Dana Gardner. Published in the late 80s, this tome helped kick off birding tourism in Costa Rica and although its use in the field has been largely replaced by The Birds of Costa Rica by Garrigues and Dean, and the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, it still contains a wealth of information.

More suited for reference than use in the field, in Stiles and Skutch, in addition to detailed species accounts, we also learn about different regions and habitats. One of those regions is known as the “Caribbean Lowlands”, a part of the country that actually has very little in common with islands like Cuba or Puerto Rico. However, since this eastern section of Costa Rica does border those beautiful waters, the name has stuck, at least for birding.

It would be equally justified to refer to this part of Costa Rica as the “Eastern Lowlands”, the “Eastern Lowland Rainforest”, or, in the birding realm of things, “Green Macawlandia”. “Rainforest Wonderland Birding” would also work- that pretty much sums up the general birding experience in these warm and humid lowlands. They are lots of birds to look for, including exotic species like toucans, antbirds, puffbirds, and potoos. Bring binocs to the right places and you could see well over 100 species in a day.

Yesterday morning, I was reminded of the fine birding to be had in the Caribbean Lowlands during a couple hours around Chilamate. These were some highlights:

Both Macaws and Other Parrots Too

Seeing flyby Scarlet Macaws is always a gift. Such views have become commonplace on the Pacific slope of Costa Rica, and are regular in some parts of the Caribbean Lowlands. They only get better when you see a pair of perched Critically Endangered Great Green Macaws shortly after. Witnessing the raucous calls and flights of Mealy, Red-lored, White-crowned, and Brown-hooded Parrots was also pretty nice. Throw in views of Crimson-fronted, Olive-throated, and Orange-chinned Parakeets and the morning becomes a fine birding experience indeed.

Semiplumbeous Hawk

As the name says, the bird is not entirely plumbeous. It’s not all that common either so it was sweet to scan the treeline and find one of these small rainforest raptors. Even better, the views were accompanied by the sights and sounds of 3 toucan species, tityras, Long-tailed Tyrant, and other rainforest species Bird early in the Caribbean Lowlands and there’s almost too much to look at (just how we like it)!

Semiplumbeous Hawk

Motmots

Early morning in the Caribbean Lowlands is often accompanied by the hooting of Rufous Motmots and the hoarse calls of Broad-billed Motmots. Seeing these shade-loving birds can be another matter but we eventually managed.

Green Ibis

What’s not to like about a noisy bird with prehistoric flavor? We started the day with a bird stalking the lagoons at Quinta de Sarapiqui and wrapped up our early morning birding with another one or two filling the air with their crazy calls.

Green Ibis

Woodpeckers

The tall forests of the Caribbean Lowlands can be great for woodpeckers. In addition to the expected Black-cheeked Woodpecker, we also had Rufous-winged, a high flying Cinnamon, and a pair of Pale-billed Woodpeckers that foraged on roadside posts! We didn’t look for the beautiful Chestnut-colored Woodpecker because we had already seen it the day before.

Pale-billed Woodpecker is in the house.

There were other birds too; toucans, tanagers, White-ringed Flycatchers, and more. Even better, none required any muddy rainforest hikes, nor hardly any walking at all. We had all of this wonderful lowland rainforest while birding from easy roads, hardly even leaving the car. I can’t wait to get back and explore more site around Sarapiqui. To learn more about the best birding sites in Costa Rica and enhance your birding in Costa Rica, get “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. I hope to see you here.

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Wet Season Birding in Costa Rica: 5 Top Sites

Here comes the rain again, falling and drenching the forests and fields, filling the rivers of Costa Rica. It’s wet as the ocean but it’s all good, it’s what’s supposed to happen. At this time of year, every ecosystem in Costa Rica expects water, needs it to lubricate the wheels and cogs of life and keep them running. Everything needs this humid abundance; orchids decorating cloud forest, massive trees with butressed roots, foliage that feeds bugs that then feed pigeons and guans preyed upon by hawk-eagles.

Sunny skies please the tourist but it’s not the best weather for birding. In Costa Rica, better birding happens on cloudy days, days like now. Go birding in Costa Rica in June and you’ll miss out on northern migrants but you might have a better chance at seeing resident species. At least they can be more active, might even sing more. Right now, the birding is good in all of Costa Rica’s tropical corners. Even so, I wonder, are some sites better during the wet season? Maybe not, but you couldn’t go wrong with birding in these 5 places:

The Poas Area

The upper slopes of this active volcano are always worth a visit. Good highland forest habitats are a quick 45 to 60 minute drive from the airport. Even better, those rich habitats are easily birded, right from the road. When birding Poas, Resplendent Quetzal is possible any time of year but it might be easier in the wet season. Once, I had 6 of the iridescent birds, right next to the road. It was birdingly ridiculous. While looking for one of the top world megas, mixed flocks can also be checked for highland endemics like Flame-throated Warbler, Buffy Tuftedcheek, and Ruddy Treerunner.

Ruddy Treerunner.

As a bonus, Golden-browed Chlorophonias can be pretty common, Black Guan is regular, and many other choice species are also possible.

Rincon de la Vieja

June is when local birders vtrek to the quality habitats of this excellent national park. Their main targets are Rusty and Botteri’s Sparrows, two local species more easily seen at this time of year than during the windswept dry season. They sparrow search in natural grasslands located on the back part of the Catarata Escondido trail. It’s a long walk but at least a birder passes through excellent forest. On the way, they might see fun species like Elegant Trogon (a subspecies that might be split from the trogons of Arizona), Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Tody Motmot and Thicket Tinamou. With luck, an antswarm could host a Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo.

This national park is always good, maybe a bit better during the wet season.

Guanacaste Rice Field and other Wetlands

As the rains fill rice fields and more natural wetlands, they attract birds, lots of birds. In addition to flocks of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, watch for Jabiru, various raptors, and Masked Duck. Most of all, listen and look for Spotted Rail. Rice fields during the wet season are the best time to find this local species in Costa Rica.

The dry forest birding won’t let you down either!

Carara

The rainforests of Carara National Park are wet and buggy in June but the birding is excellent. Use repellent and check the trails for Streak-chested Antpitta, Black-faced Antthrush, mixed flocks, and more. Cloudy weather also boosts bird activity and keeps things somewhat cooler than the heat of the dry season.

birding Costa Rica

Bring an umbrella for rain and binos for some great birding.

Bellbirds in San Ramon Quetzal Valley and Monteverde

At this time of year, both of these sites are good for Three-Wattled bellbird. Monteverde is better known and has more tourism infrastructure but Quetzal Valley also makes for an excellent day trip. A couple of great guides work in that area and know where to find everything from bellbirds to quetzals and Ornate Hawk-eagle. Email me at information@birdingcraft.com to put you in touch.

As always, in birdy Costa Rica, it’s tough to pick any “top sites”. No matter where you look for birds in Costa Rica, visit good habitat and the birding will entice you. Visit now and although you will witness the rain, you will also see tons of birds. Not to mention, it won’t be as hot and there will be fewer fellow tourists. Enhance your trip with a good Costa Rica bird finding guide. As always, I hope to see you here!

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6 Months of Birding in Costa Rica, 635 Species

Half a year has come and gone. In Costa Rica, the hot and sunny weather of the high season is a distant memory. April brought the rains and since then, they have been dutiful in humidifying and soaking this birdy nation. It’s expected and needed even if we could do without the landslides and local flooding. I should mention that the landslides haven’t been major but small ones do affect roads now and then, even closing the main highway between San Jose and Limon for a few days.

Such closures are an annual occurrence, all one can hope for is not having to use that important road when they do happen. One good way to avoid any such road issues is by avoiding that highway during days and nights of heavy rain. Luckily, I haven’t had to drive there this past week. Eventually, I will need to take Route 32 and as long as my driving happens during better weather, I look forward to it. I hope I can stop at an overlook on that highway to listen for uncommon birds and scan for rare raptors.

Some of those birds could be new for my year list. Not that I’m trying for anything in particular but needless to say, I’ve got a pretty good running total. Since January 1st, I’ve identified 635 species in Costa Rica, almost all of them seen while guiding or watching birds for fun.

Ironically, I’m not striving for any Big Year goal. Those 600 plus species are more of a hint at the incredible variety of birds that occur in Costa Rica, and the high number of species one can see after birding in key spots. Some of those 2022 birds include Red-fronted Parrotlets heard and briefly glimpsed flying over the entrance to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, hearing and seeing both Black and Ornate Hawk-Eagles flying high overhead at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge, the male Lovely Cotinga at Rancho Naturalista, other cotingas, migrant Cerulean Warblers gleaning rainforest leaves, 70 flycatcher species, Scaled Antpitta at Bajos del Toro, Black-chested Jay, and so much more.

Whether because of their rare status or memorable birding situations, the following highlights stand out:

Hudsonian Godwit

After missing it our first time around, Marilen and I were very pleased to see this choice mega migrant upon arrival at Punta Morales. With more birders in the field, more regular yet uber rare migrants are being found. The Hudwit is one of them.

Pacific Golden-Plover

Pacific-Golden-Plover-Puntarenas-Costa-Ric

Like the godwit of Churchill, Manitoba fame, this species might also visit Costa Rica on a regular basis. However, since “regular” could mean one or two birds per year, you gotta be pretty lucky to connect. Fortune was with me while birding in Puntarenas this past April.

Gray-hooded Gull

For the past few years, one of the nicer looking gulls has been showing its elegant self in Costa Rica. I assume it’s the same bird but it’s not here all of the time. It may pass through in spring and fall, or might be wandering around Central America. All we really know is that a birder has to be seriously lucky to chance upon it. As luck would have it, while dipping on the first appearance of the godwit, this gull flew in to make it onto the year lists of Marilen, myself, and other local birders.

Maroon-chested Ground-Dove

Views of this fantastic and uncommon species are always a treat but especially when you can share it with other birders. I was pleased to hear and see it at a reliable spot, the Museo Nochebuena on the high slopes of Irazu Volcano.

Bare-shanked Screech-Owl

bare-shanked-screech-owls
Bare-shankeds from another day and place- we had much better views.

On one of those same Maroon-chested mornings, a client and I had fantastic looks at a Bare-shanked Screech-Owl. Sooty Thrushes were calling, other high elevation birds were singing and yet based on past experience, I wondered if this owl might also decide to call back, even during the light of day. After an imitation, sure enough, one of these beautiful owls responded and gave us perfect views, no flashlight required.

Mangrove Cuckoo

Cuckoos are always cool. I was happy to have seen this neat species around Ciudad Neily in southern Costa Rica, near Tarcoles, and a fantastic bird sunning itself in Tortuguero.

Chuck-will’s-widow

Watching one of these uncommon wintering species on a humid night near Esquinas Lodge was a treat.

48 Hummingbird Species

white-bellied mountain-gem
I’m partial to the White-bellied Mountain-Gem.

That means all of the regular ones except for the Garden Emerald, a bird I should come across at some point in 2022.

What else will 2022 bring? The only way to find out is by going birding. I’m eager to watch some mixed flocks and explore out of the way places. It can be drier in July, I hope you get a chance to bird Costa Rica soon!

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Rare Birds in Costa Rica- 12 of the Least Known Species

There’s a lot of birds in Costa Rica. More than 900 species on the official list of birds for Costa Rica. It’s a heck of a lot and I’m sure we’ll get a few more! In Costa Rica, as our great luck would have it, most of the resident birds are accessible. Factor in good infrastructure in a rather small area and Costa Rica becomes a wonderfully easy nation to see a huge number of bird species in a short amount of time.

However, as with birding locale, the birding isn’t always easy, not every species is as common as a Blue-gray Tanager. Many birds are rare, some naturally so, others because of habitat destruction, and others for reasons unknown. The following are a dozen of the least known birds in Costa Rica, rare species that can be a huge challenge (or nearly impossible) to see in this birdy country. It’s ok to have these species on your target list but you may need to curb your birding enthusiasm.

Masked Duck

Masked-Duck

Based on how little this bird enjoys being seen, the mask it wears is either one of shame or a reminder of its anti-social behavior. This duck might not be endangered and it is recorded on an annual basis but not as often as one would like. Visit seemingly nice habitat for the bird and it’s either hiding or just not there. We don’t know what it does and that’s the problem. Given its penchant for seasonal wetlands, Masked Duck in Costa Rica might be nomadic but if so, where does it go? Where does it host its off-season skulking parties?

Believe me, I wish we knew. I have some suspicions but no easy answers. What I do know is that the best spot for it is in wetlands near Ciudad Neily from August to November. The Cano Negro area is another good area to look for it as well as any shallow, marshy wetland.

Violaceous Quail-Dove

One of those wide-ranging, uncommon and spotty birds. Like the Masked Duck, this bird may also be somewhat nomadic, at least in the sense of moving around in search of some sort of suitable, not very obvious microhabitat. I suspect it uses some form of advanced or viney second growth within mature forest but who knows?

Although this dove is never common nor expected in Costa Rica, it does seem to be slightly easier to find around Rincon de la Vieja and in wetter forests of the Nicoya Peninsula.

Pheasant Cuckoo

One of the number one ghost birds of Costa Rica. Given the paucity of records, this cuckoo species surely has a very small population, especially compared to ther places. Too much competition with other species? Not enough nest hosts? Who knows what the reasons are but suffice to say, the ideal ecological situation for this species does not take place in Costa Rica. When birding Costa Rica, don’t expect to find it, even if you do look for it in the southern Nicoya and southern Costa Rica.

Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo

birding Costa Rica

Over the past few years, thanks to more birders looking for the ground-cuckoo, we know a bit more about where this bird lives and how to find it. It almost got left off this list. However, the cuckoo is still a decidedly rare, little known species. How many live in in a given area? What do they need? Do they still occur in lowland forest sites? Answers to these questions are lacking.

Oilbird

One of the most intriguing species on this list and not just because of its nocturnal habits. We don’t know where the Oilbirds in Costa Rica come from, we only know that they are most frequent during the wet season. There’s a fair chance some live in caves in southern Costa Rica. If so, hopefully those specual grottos can be located so the population can be assessed and safeguarded.

Crested Eagle

Oooh, one of the top prize birds in Costa Rica. A big rare and spectacular eagle. I have seen it a grand total of two times..in Tambopata, Peru. Is it still extant? We can only hope that some still occur in remote rainforests, especially in the Caribbean slope foothills, in or near Tortuguero, the Las Tablas area, and forests of the Osa and Golfo Dulce.

Harpy Eagle

Another elusive prize, this one probably the grand prize of Costa Rica birding. Unfortunately, we don’t know where it occurs, nor if it even still nests in Costa Rica. If so, the population is surely miniscule. I wouldn’t look for it on the Osa either, the last time one was documented in those forests was in 2006. Better chances are to be had in remote forests in northeastern Costa Rica, Tortuguero, and in the Caribbean slope of the Talamancas. The most recent documented sighting of a Harpy Eagle in Costa Rica was in 2017 in very little birded rainforests north of Rincon de la Vieja.

Perhaps be reintroduced to Corcovado National Park?

Solitary Eagle

This third of the largest eagles in Costa Rica is likewise missing in action. On account of frequent confusion with Great Black-Hawk, many past sightings are in doubt. If the species does still occur in Costa Rica, it probably lives in remote parts of the Talamancas, deep in Braulio Carrillo National Park, or in foresrs of the northern volcanoes.

Red-fronted Parrotlet

Unlike the big eagles, this species is recorded and on a regular basis. However, it seems sporadic, makes altitudinal migrations, and very little is known about its natural history. All of these factors make it a challenge to find. Look for the bird long enough in middle elevation and foothill forest and you may eventually find this unpredictable bird. I usually hear them in flight.

Speckled Mourner

This odd species hasn’t been recorded in Costa Rica for some time. Hopefully, it still occurs! If still extant, it must have a very small population. The best places to search for it may be flat areas along streams in the largest areas of mature lowland and foothill rainforest. My sole sighting for Costa Rica was in a large mixed flock near El Tapir in 2000.

Gray-headed Piprites

Luckily, we do know that this species is present and not overly rare in forests near Rancho Naturalista and El Copal. It should occur in other places too but where? It might be another of those bird species that requires some habitat mosaic of mature forest and older second growth, or perhaps such habitat combined with the presence of a healthy community of flocking understory species. Whatever the case, it’s not an easy bird to see.

Slaty Finch

Like the quail-dove, this is another bird infrequently seen in a large range. It may be tied to bamboo seeding events; at least that seems to be when it sings more often. In the meantime, what do they do, where do they go? The birds are out there somewhere, perhaps moving around in search of bamboo seeds.

Some of the other rare and little known resident species of Costa Rica include Rufous Nightjar, Lanceolated Monklet, Great Jacamar, Lovely Cotinga, and Botteri’s Sparrow. With some effort, they can be seen but only if you know how to look for them in the right places. The Costa Rica bird finding guide, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica has information for finding these and all bird species in Costa Rica. Get this 700 plus page ebook to support this blog and prepare for your trip. Costa Rica is closer than you think!

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biodiversity bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

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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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

First Birding Trip to Costa Rica- Where to Go?

Birding in Costa Rica has been on your mind since the early 90s. A visit to Costa Rica has been in the mental works and you figured that some fine day, you would take that trip. You almost did in 2003 but then you saw that amazing deal to visit Jamaica. Streamertails and island birds that inspired Bob Marley took precedence and you have no regrets (!) but, it wasn’t Costa Rica. On that other occasion, you went a bit further with trip planning but then your faithful birding friends convinced you to go to Arizona instead. Once again, no regrets! That was a fun trip highlighted by hummingbirds, desert blooms, and roadrunners but you aren’t getting any younger and there be hundreds of beautiful birds in the tropical forests of southern Central America…

speckled tanager
Eye candy birds like Speckled Tanager.

Spurred by photos of quetzals and toucans on Facebook, hearing the rest of the birding community rave about visiting Costa Rica, or just realizing that it’s now or never, the time has definitely arrived for that inagural Costa Rica birding experience. Now you just have to figure out where to go. Should be easy enough, the country is pretty small, the best places to go should be pretty straightforward, right?

Not exactly. Costa Rica might be a small nation but it’s big on a few things that complicate trip planning. These factors are biodiversity, mountains, and birding sites. Mega biodiversity gives Costa Rica a bird list of 900 plus species. Whoah! Yeah, that’s a lot to work with, even after taking vagrants and pelagic birds into account. You gotta take mountains into consideration too because driving up and over them, winding your way through the naturally broken and uplifted land plays a big role with driving times.

You might also want to visit mountains because that’s where quetzals are, that’s where the biggest percentage of endemic species occur. Then there are the birding sites in Costa Rica. As with any birding trip, we need know about the best sites, about where to go to see more birds, or photograph more birds, or see certain species, or if the site has a certain degree of comfort we are looking for, or if we don’t mind hiking on steep forest trails, or if we would rather spend more to soak in hot springs after a morning of easy-going birding.

So where do we go?

To effectively entertain that complex answer, you need to start with some questions of your own.

How Do I want to Experience Birds in Costa Rica?

There are many ways to bird. For some, birding is sitting back and taking pictures of whatever species happen to visit feeders or fruiting trees. Other people enjoy a blend of easy, casual birding, good food, good company, and a dance lesson or two. Some birders would rather focus on birds 24/7 and eBird their way to a big old satisfying list.

Ornate Hawk Eagle
A list with nice birds like Ornate Hawk-Eagle.

This may sound controverisal, but all of the above is birding. For this reason, the best places to go on a birding trip to Costa Rica depend on how you want to experience our friends of the feathered kind. There’s a lot of options with some more suited to photography, othes better for individuals or smaller groups, and others for more adventurous birders.

How Much Time do I Have?

Once you know how you want to watch birds in Costa Rica, you can move on to the question of time. If the trip is less than a week, I would visit two sites at the very most. Staying for a week? You could visit three or four sites, or even just stay at one place. Once again, it all depends on how you want to watch birds. Have two or more weeks to work with? That opens the door to many more birding possibilities.

No matter how much time you have, keep in mind that in general, very diverse sites like the Sarapiqui area, Rancho Naturalista, or the Carara area merit at least two to three nights. You could also, easily stay at such sites for a week and still see new birds every single day (seriously!).

Zeledon's Antbird
Skulky species like the Zeledon’s Antbird might require a bit more birding time.

In the highlands, although you could stay longer and still have lots of fun, two nights will probably suffice. The same goes for dry forest habitats in Guanacaste. If you just wanted to stay in the Central Valley and do day trips, that can also work for such places as the Carara area, San Ramon area, Braulio Carrillo and nearby (as in Cope’s and Centro Manu), Poas, Irazu, and more sites.

How Much do I Want to See?

Chestnut-colored Woodpecker
You might really want to see a Chestnut-colored Woodpecker.

Perhaps the most vital question of all because you can’t see certain birds unless you visit the places where they occur. That’s right, Costa Rica might have a huge list but that’s because some birds only live in the high elevations, others in middle elevations, some in the lowlands on one side of the mountains, others on the other side, and so on.

If you want to see as much as possible, then you have to spend at least two or more days in each main bio-region. If you are fine with seeing a bunch of cool birds and don’t really mind which ones you espy, then you could stay at one or two places just about anywhere, Costa Rica.

In general, I would suggest spending at least two nights in the highlands, three nights in the Caribbean lowlands, and at least two (maybe three) nights on the Pacific slope, probably in the Carara area. Do that and you will get a pretty good taste of Costa Rica birds, not to mention, it would be a shame to NOT see a Resplendent Quetzal, even more so if the birds in Costa Rica and Panama end up being split from the birds in northern Central America (there’s a fair chance that will happen!).

But where to go? Which places to stay? I have mentioned so few places because, without first knowing how you want to bird Costa Rica, nor your budget, there are honestly too many really good sites to choose from (and they aren’t all on eBird either). A thorough birding site guide for Costa Rica will provide the right answers. In the meantime, I might also have an idea for an itinerary or two. Contact me at information@birdingcraft.com

Until then, happy birding, I hope to see you here!

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Quality Backyard Bird Conjunction in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a meeting place for continents, a natural bridge where life has mingled, mixed, and evolved for more than 3 millon years. It’s why , when birding in Costa Rica, we witness the same Acorn Woodpecker laughter and flights of Band-tailed Pigeons as birders raising binos and wine glasses in California. It is why visiting birders from Ecuador might be reminded of tanagers and spinetails from their own Andean mossy forests. This bio-bridge is also why I see some of the same migrants as my birding friends from Buffalo, NY.

Wilson's Warbler
Birds like the cutesy Wilson’s Warbler.

I see migrant birds in many parts of the country but I watch more of them in the green space out back. It’s a small riparian zone but it’s so important. During these days of climate emergency, continued destructive disconnect, and declining bird populations, all (remaining) green space is vital. Even in the small area out back, a narrow corridor dotted with bushes, undergrowth and trees, birds are present, more than you would think.

Yesterday morning, in addition to the usual loud singing of Cabanis’s and Rufous-naped Wrens, the more forest-based Rufous-and-white Wren told us it was still hanging on by way of its beautiful whistled song. A motmot hooted and various flycatchers took advantage of insect hatches brought on by recent rains. Great Kiskadees exclaimed their name while other, smaller flycatchers called from less obvious perches. Blue-gray Tanagers also sallied into the air to take advantage of the abundant food source, in doing so, becoming part time flycatchers, Mountain Bluebird imitators.

The resident birds know when to eat from the early rain season buffet, they know that’s the best time to build a nest. The migrants follow that same instinct except they do the nesting thing thousands of miles to the north. One of those migrant birds was also present yesterday, sharing urban riparian space with the locals.

The Olive-sided Flycatcher had most likely spent the winter in the Andes, in some dramatically beautiful place where the birding is fantastic. Flying ants and other bugs in “my” riparian zone would help fuel its journey further north, all the way to pine forests in the Rockies, maybe boreal woods further north where the soundtrack includes wolf howls and the ancient yodeling of loons.

The same insects that fed a beer enthousiast flycatcher were also fueling the flight of a bird that lives behind waterfalls, the White-collared Swift. Because it uses the skies above the Central Valley, this large swift is resident and yet by spending every night in montane waterfall retreats, the bird is also a visitant. How far do these big masters of flight travel over the course of a day? For all we know, they might fly to Panama and back.

While the insectivores enjoyed the insect bounty, another, more colorful and seriously endangered bird species flew into the high branches of a nearby tree.

More interested in using its raucous voice than catching bug breakfast, this Yellow-naped Parrot called while its mate fed on seeds in a nearby tree. Although current field guides show this species ranging in the dry forests of Guanacaste and Puntarenas, updates should also include the Central Valley as part of its distribution. Some of the Yellow-napeds are probably escapes but I bet most have moved into the Central Valley in response to warmer, drier conditions.

I hope there is enough food for them. I dare say it will be easier for this endangered species to find food in the Central Valley than nesting sites. As with other large parrots, they need big, old trees with cavities; a rare combination in urbanized areas where large trees still get cut down to make room for a parking lot, small plaza, or housing complex. Maybe we could put up some nesting boxes? Maybe we could have a collective mindset that cherishes big old trees?

While looking out back, I hadn’t expected to see a bird that connects the lush forests of the Andes to the spruce bogs of the north. I hadn’t expected to see it next to an endangered parrot while a flock of waterfall living species scythed through the air over a vital thread of green in an urban zone. But then again, maybe I shouldn’t have been that surprised, Costa Rica still acts as a vital meeting place for biodiversity and life persists as long as it can.