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A High Octane Birding Itinerary for Costa Rica

Birding itineraries can take many forms. They can range from easy-going, relaxed trips that put more emphasis on sampling local culinary delights to focused birding jaunts where sacrifices to see as many species as possible are the norm. Such sacrifices include proper food, proper sleep, maybe feeling the creeping fingers of hypothermia, you know, that sort of thing.

As one might expect, the latter type of trip makes for an exhausting, exciting, mind-numbing adventure. Given that such birding trips require propious energy and concentration, they are perhaps more suited to the younger crowd (or birding ninjas).

I have done such trips, have sweated by fair share of electrolytes and been bitten by ants, I’m not sure I would be so keen on doing them again. I enjoy all the wondrous facets of birding but I don’t feel the need to get too crazy to see birds. I don’t think you have to. Bird the right way, get in the Zen birding mode and you’ll do alright. Focus is important, working with local guides can help, and coffee is paramount (organic dark chocolate ispretty good too…).

With all of that in mind, I would like to present an idea for some high octane birding in Costa Rica. This itinerary can be done the crazy way or with more time on your hands. Either way, I carefully constructed it to see a solid number of uncommon or rare species that frequent highland habitats and the southern Pacific slope of Costa Rica. It’s chock full of endemic/near endemic birds, this is how it goes:

Start in the Central Valley

No, not the birdiest of places but do it to save travel time to and from the airport and have a chance to look for Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow the day of arrival and the next morning. While checking for this endemic towhee, you will also run into various other common birds. Keep an eye on the skies for swifts, even Spot-fronted and White-chinned are possible (although they are a challenge to identify when flying high and being silent).

Stay in the right place and you could also pick up various dry forest species.

Irazu

Head to the mountains! Actually, a big volcano with some nice birds on top. On the way, try for Grass Wren and then spend the afternoon on the Nochebuena trails to look for Maroon-chested Ground-Dove and other high elevation species. Additional specialties include wood-partridge, Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl, Rough-legged Tyrannulet, Peg-billed Finch, Slaty Finch, and maybe Blue Seedeater too. If you enter the national park or bird in nearby paramo, you can also try for the junco and Timberline Wren Stay until it gets dark and you could look for Unspotted Saw-whet Owl too. If so, dress for November weather!

Hotel Quelitales

After Irazu, head to this newish site; a real hotspot with chances at Scaled Antpitta, Crested Owl, and other nice middle elevation birds! Hummingbirds are fantastic and the food and lodging are pretty darn good too. This is also a good base for birding Tapanti National Park.

Rancho Naturalista

After Quelitales, go to Rancho, one of the classic birding lodges of Costa Rica. It’s still really good and is an excellent place for Tawny-chested Flycatcher, Bicolored Hawk, and many other birds including Sunbittern and Snowcap. The elusive and weird piprites may be present as well as Lovely Cotinga. If not, they could be at other nearby sites. Other possible places in the area fit for lower budgets (and comfort) but with excellent birding include El Copal and La Marta.

One of the coquettes from Rancho…

With this itinerary, Rancho will also be your main chance for Caribbean slope species. To see some marsh and low elevation birds, do day trips to the Angostura area and sites between Turrialba and the lowlands.

Cerro de la Muerte

It’s time to head back into the mountains! Go up to the Cerro de la Muerte area to check the birding in the high elevation rainforest. There are several places to do this and see birds like Resplendent Quetzal, Spotted Wood-Quail, and all the highland endemics. The toughest ones are the pygmy-owl, the pewee, and the jay. Peg-billed Finch can be tough too.

The General Valley

Descending Cerro de la Muerte, Bosque Tolomuco can offer up some fine middle elevation birding. Further down, differents sites in the valley can turn up Turquoise Cotinga, Rosy Thrush-Tanager and lots of other new birds for the trip. If you have enough time, you can also try for Ocellated Crake, Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, and a few other specialties of the savanna habitats near Buenos Aires.

San Vito and or Ciudad Neily

If you want birds for your Costa Rica list like Lance-tailed Manakin and Ruddy Foliage-gleaner, you will need to visit San Vito. That’s not a bad thing, the birding is exciting and excellent! If you have enough time, the trip is worth it. If not, a trip to Panama or northern Colombia will get you a few of those same specialties.

Whether going to San Vito or not, Ciudad Neily is worth a visit! Not necessarily the town but you should visit the nearby open wetlands. This newish hotspot can turn up any number of odd rarities, can provide a good chance at Masked Duck, Paint-billed Crake and other rails, and local birds for Costa Rica like Red-rumped Woodpecker, Savanna Hawk, and some other species.

Masked Duck
Masked Duck from Costa Rica

Golfo Dulce

Just up the road from Neily are sites in and around the Golfo Dulce including the Osa. Pick some good ones and you can harvest a bonanza of southern Pacific endemics along with many other species of forest and edge habitats. The owling can also be very good (and provides your best chance at the local variety of Choco Screech-Owl (likely a distinct undescribed species), and Common Potoo is present.

The Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager only occurs in and around the Osa peninsula.

During your visit, make sure to check Rincon de Osa for cotingas, raptors, and other species.

North-Central Pacific

It’s a long drive from the Osa but now that we have a good coastal highway, the trip is worth it. There are also several good stops for food. I personally love Pizzatime and Bageltime (?) in Uvita but that might just be me missing some good old NYC pizza and bagels. Other nice food options also exist especially in the Jaco area.

Aside from food, as you make your way north, once you cross the Tarcoles River, there are several opportunities for dry forest species. Shorebirds are also possible especially at Punta Morales or Chomes (where Mangrove Rail also awaits).

Monteverde

To cap off the trip, spend some time in the cloud forests of the Monteverde area. You will have seen some of those birds at Quelitales but not all of them! Spend a couple nights there to connect with Ruddy Woodcreeper, bellbird (in season), and lots of other birds. You could also hike to more rugged sites on the Caribbean side of Monteverde to try for umbrellabird, Sharpbill, and the monklet.

After Monteverde, head back to the airport zone and celebrate a fantastic, mega birding trip with appropriate drinks and meals. How many birds will you see? That all depends on how much time you have and if you go with an excellent local guide. If all goes well, 500 species are possible but even if you don’t reach that high water mark, the birding will still be fantastic. Get ready for your fantastic Costa Rica birding trip with the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app and How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.

Soon, I will be doing a trip somewhat like this, I’ll let you know how it goes!

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Costa Rica Birding News, January, 2022

I can’t believe it’s 2022 but here we are! Time for a new year list, time to make some annual birding plans, maybe time to sit back and enjoy bird and biodiversity no matter where you may bring your bins. Here in Costa Rica, these are a few of the latest birdingworthy items.

Recent Pelagic in the Pacific Finds Band-rumped Storm-Petrel

A recent long range pelagic trip done by Wilfredo of Cabuya Birding didn’t find any new birds for Costa Rica but they did get close looks at an apparent Galapagos subspecies (or species) of Band-rumped Storm-Petrel. Although this species is expected and has been seen on some previous trips, it is rarely seen and little known in Costa Rican waters. What will they find next?

Recent Pelagic Trip in the Caribbean Finds Manx and Audubon’s Shearwaters

Another pelagic trip in late December found a rare Manx Shearwater in addition to more expected Audubon’s Shearwaters. Since the Audubon’s breeds on nearby islands in Bocas del Toro, they aren’t unexpected. The Manx Shearwater is another matter!

Results Published from Vital Study of Cabanis’s Ground Sparrow

The Cabanis’s Ground Sparrow is a Costa Rican endemic with much of its range in the heavily urbanized Central Valley. Given the seemingly uncommon nature of this bird with a very limited range where many areas of green space are under constant threat, natural history studies have been urgently needed. Now, thanks to years of efforts made by paper authors Roselvy Juárez, María de la Paz Angulo Irola, Ernesto M. Carman, and Luis Sandoval, crucial information needed to conserve this endemic towhee is available! See the paper here.

By following 21 pairs and carrying out various other studies and observations, they deduced territory size, what this bird requires, potential threats, and more. Hopefully, this important information can be used to create adequate plans to conserve this threatened species. Many thanks goes to the authors of this vital study.

Bare-necked Umbrellabird Still Being Seen at Centro Manu!

The umbrellabird that has been spending its non breeding time at centro Manu is still present. Hopefully it will still be there for the next month or so. To try and see it, contact Kenneth at Centro Manu.

Crested Owls with Cope

A day trip with local artist Cope has often been a good way to see roosting Crested Owl. However, because the owls move around, they are never guaranteed. Lately, participants on Cope’s tour have been lucky to see one or two of these roosting beauties. Let’s hope they keep using the same spot for the next two months!

Yellow-billed Cotingas and Tiny Hawk at Rincon de Osa

Yellow-billed and Turquoise Cotingas are still frequenting Rincon de Osa. They aren’t always present but you might find them if you keep scoping from the bridge. Another good spot to check is looking towards the hill next to the mangroves from the edge of the village. In late December, we noticed several males moving through this area.

Another bird to watch for is Tiny Hawk. On a visit in late December, we had two distant birds perched in and near mangroves visible from the bridge.

Crimson-backed Tanagers in Costa Rica

Lastly, an additional bird seems to have definitely made it onto the Costa Rica list. Although the Crimson-backed Tanager seen near Dominical was deemed to be a possible hybrid, views of a bird near Horquetas and another possible sighting elsewhere seem definitive. Based on these sightings, I would guess that this edge species from Panama is probably breeding in a few places somewhere in Costa Rica. How many more are in country? If you see one, please get a picture and eBird it!

More can always be said about birds in Costa Rica but that’s all for now. If you are visiting during the next month or so, I hope to see you in the field. Happy birding!

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2021 Birding in Costa Rica: Racing Past 700 Species

Today is December 31st, tomorrow is a brand new year. On the birding side of life, if you keep a year list, tonight is your final chance for new year birds. If you need owls and nightjars for 2021, you could make one final run, see if you can spotlight one last bird or two. If not, then you might as well celebrate one more trip around the sun, one more year of birding. I suggest a libation of your choice, high quality chocolate, and some excellent cheese (not necessarily in order and you can of course switch up those options for your preferred nibbling delights).

As the sun sets, I could still look for a few more birds. I know at least two species are within striking distance, maybe even 3 more species for 2021. But I’m not doing it. Having already set my year goals, unless I hear the call of a Barn Owl before midnight or catch an auditory wiff of a Tropical Screech-Owl at the last minute, those two won’t make it onto my year list. I’m totally fine with that because my birding strategies for a final push in December paid off; I am ending 2021 with 704 species for Costa Rica.

This Crested Owl tried to hide behind a fern but we still saw it! I heard more than a few of this choice bird in 2021.

Surpassing 700 species in a year of birding in Costa Rica isn’t easy, especially if you have other things you need to do, but if you know where to see birds in Costa Rica, have a good birding app for Costa Rica, and faithfully execute your birding plans, the goal is feasible. According to eBird, several other birders identified more than my 704 species! I guess I’m not surprised because I did miss several birds that I typically hear or see, often on more than one occasion over the coure of 12 months.

The fact that several birders saw or heard more than 700 species in a year shows how many birds are waiting in this incredible, birdy country. They also show the extent to which local birding knowledge has improved. EBird plays a big role but as with any place, the biggest thanks goes to local birders who spend the time in the field needed to broaden our understanding of bird distribution.

In November, thanks to the efforts of various local birders and folks whom I guided, my year list was close enough to 700 try and reach that goal in December. These are some of the places I visited to make that happen:

Cano Negro

The distinct birding aspects of Cano Negro paid off with 10 new year birds. These were species nearly impossible or tough to see elsewhere like Spot-breasted Wren, Nicaraguan Grackle, Yellow-bellied Tyarnnulet, Bare-crowned Antbird, and various others. I still missed some birds that I usually see in that rich mosaic of wetlands and rainforest but participating in the annual bird count still gave me a much needed push to reach 700.

A Few More Birds in Sarapiqui

There weren’t too many new birds waiting for me in the Caribbean lowlands but I still managed to add three year birds. These were a sweet Rufescent Tiger-Heron, a surprise Keel-billed Motmot, and overdue Hook-billed Kite.

Exploring the Poas Area

I end the year lacking a few key cloud forest birds but exploring the Poas area for future birding prospects was still worth it. My main reward was finding a rare for Costa Rica Black-and-White Becard. Seeing it while hearing the songs of a distant quetzal gives me hope that the same spot also harbors additional choice species.

Chasing Geese in Guanacaste

I ended up going to northern Costa Rica twice and I’m glad I did! I saw the mega Greater White-fronted Geese that edged up the official Costa Rica list by one more bird, the cooperative mega Lark Sparrow, and seven other year birds, These included a Spotted Rail giving its low pitched “drumming” calls, Soras flushing in a rice field as it was being harvested, strolling Limpkins that filled the marsh air with their odd vocalizations, their Snail Kite counterparts, and a bird I rarely get to see, Fulvous Whistling-Duck.

Southern Costa Rica

Most of all, a final trip to southern Costa Rica by way of Cerro de la Muerte gave me the birds needed to meet my goal. We took the mountain route so we could successfully stop for Grass Wren near Cartago, make a brief look for Silvery-throated Jays on the Providencia Road, stop in Bosque Tolomuco to pick up a hummingbird or two, and then check for Rosy Thrush-Tanager in the General Valley.

To make a story of a long day short, we saw the wren in all its pallid unobtrusive glory right away, saw quetzals and other birds but not the jay (and also met world birding couple Ross and Melissa Gallardy), spotted White-tailed Emerald at birdy, friendly Tolomuco, and had no sign of the thrush-tanager at one of its main sites (that’s not really a surprise).

Red-headed Barbet overlords tanagers at Tolomuco.

It was only two new birds in the mountains but when the year list comes down to the wire, every bird counts! Even so, it was more in the southern lowlands where most of my birding chances waited. It was in the rainforests and edge habitats where some common, expected species waited along with odd chances at various rare ones. Our birding began in Ciudad Neily where local birders had a key Savanna Hawk waiting for us in the scope!

We also had wonderful looks at most other specialty species from that site but since we had already seen them earlier in the year, our focus stayed on potential year birds like Red-rumped Woodpecker, Yellow-breasted Chat, Masked Duck, and a few others. The woodpecker showed very well on more than one occasion, the chat skulked but called and was briefly seen, and the duck just had too many places to hide.

We also had this Fork-tailed Flycatcher perch right next to the car- my kind of bird!

Over in and near Rincon de Osa, we did well with adding some of the common birds as well as getting distant looks at less common species like Tiny Hawk (!), Turquoise Cotinga (many thanks to Ross Gallardy for spotting a distant male and being generous with his scope), and Yellow-billed Cotinga. The expected Marbled Wood-Quails didn’t call nor did Baird’s Trogon or some other species but by December 28th, I got my 700th bird (which may have been one of the cotingas) and the next day, I added a few more.

The drive back was a long one but at least it gave us a chance to have lunch at PizzaTime in Uvita. Serious NYC style bagels and excellent pizza (and I kid you not, I appreciate good pizza so much, I usually make my own), it’s probably a good I don’t live closer to this tasty spot!

One more year down, another one starts tomorrow. I’ll keep a year list but I won’t try for 700. I’m not sure where my Costa Rica birding will take me but I hope you visit, I hope to see you here in this place of quetzals, mountain-gems, and more.

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Costa Rica Birding at Cinchona and Route 126: 3 Strategies

Birding as a kid in the 70s and 80s was about using cheap but precious binoculars to look at birds in the backyard, in nearby fields, and at state parks. It was about checking out and studying bird books in the public library and back at home, trying to see the differences among sparrows streaked with differents shades of brown, gazing at photos of Prairie Warbler, Indigo Bunting, and other birds (in books), and wondering how I could see them.

It was also about seeing how I could reach places outside of my backyard and joining local trips with an older birding crowd. I went on day trips with the Buffalo Ornithological Society and the Ranbow County Birders to local reserves to look for warblers in May, shorebirds in August, and migrating hawks in early spring. Living in Niagara, we had a fantastic gull trip and were fortunate to have Canadian friends that treated us to 9, even 10 owl species in a day in cold, snowy places. There were different levels of interest but the way we went birding was pretty much the same.

A trip usually started with a meeting time and place that tended to be a McDonald’s parking lot. That way, folks could use the restroom, get a coffee, and maybe a quick breakfast. Before GPS and associated modern digital wayfaring, the big golden arches came in handy as an easy and obvious point of reference. From our meeting spot, the trip leader would convoy us to our morning birding stops and we would watch birds, talk about how to identify them, and maybe look at some through scopes. We would check out field marks in field guides, maybe a Perterson or a Golden Guide. After the Nat. Geo. became available, that fantastic storehouse of updated birding knowledge took center stage. It was a huge help with identification, especially with gulls and shorebirds. We would bring our own lunches and at some later point, say our goodbyes and head back home.

This was how most birding trips were. It was birding without digital cameras, apps, nor any access to broader, collated information about sightings and advanced identification. In other words, birdwatching was just that; watching birds, and there was a big emphasis on field identification. There had to be. The birding community was still figuring out how to identify all sort of things and didn’t have any immediate picture taking devices to check the birds we had seen. Sometimes, people would bring print-outs of articles on identification. When Kenn Kaufman’s book on advanced bird identification was published, that fantastic resource also found a place in the car. Birding was often about getting good looks as fast as you could, knowing what to look for, taking notes and maybe making field sketches.

Since those pre Internet days, birding has evolved and expanded into a many-faceted hobby. The birding spectrum includes everything from watching birds to simply watch them and not worry much about their names, solely taking pictures of birds, and using every technolgical resource on hand to race and see as many species as possible. People also watch birds for other reasons but no matter how you go with the birding flow, in Costa Rica, everyone is welcome at the birding table.

Birds like the stunning Crimson-collared Tanager are waiting for you.

Costa Rica has enough birds and birding sites to please every aspect of the hobby. One of several choice areas to visit for any degree of birding or bird enjoyment or bird photography is Cinchona and Route 126. Situated around an hour or less from San Jose, this route provides access to several habitats, each of which have their fair share of birds. Cinchona is the name of a small settlement on that road where a small restaurant with a wealth of birds is located. It’s called the “Cafe Colibri” or “Mirador San Fernando“.

More than a dozen hummingbird species, tanagers, Black Guan, quetzal, Flame-throated Warbler and other highland endemics, Cinchona and Ruta 126 has enough birds and birding sites to please all aspects of birding. These are three strategies for a day of birding in this area, each tailored to a distinct manner of birding:

Focusing on Birds in Costa Rica and Not Much Else

I admit, this is the birding I have usually done, the birding I prefer to do because it pushes me to concentrate on my surroundings, to listen and look closer and become enveloped by natural surroundings. This type of full scale birding makes for some nature connection at its finest. If you bird like this on Ruta 126 and Cinchona, there are a couple of ways to start your long yet exciting day.

If you can’t sleep, at some pre-dawn hour, drive up the road towards Poas Volcano as far as you can go. Listen and look for Bare-shanked Screech-Owl and Dusky Nightjar. Keep an ear out for the less common tooting whistles of Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl and be aware that Unspotted Saw-whet might also occur up there (it has yet to be documented from Poas but you never know..).

Roosting Bare-shanked Screech-owls near Poas. This species is a common bird of highland habitats in Costa Rica.

From dawn to 9, get in roadside high elevation birding in that same area before making your way to Varablanca. Keep an eye out for Black Guan, quetzals, silky-flycatchers, and just about everything else. Make sure to stop at the Volcan Restaurant and enjoy a coffee and a snack while watching the hummingbird feeders. Still need Scintillant Hummingbird? Maybe Magenta-throated Woodstar? Check out the Porterweed bushes in the parking lot for the Corso farm.

When you reach Varablanca, make the turn towards Sarapiqui, drive downhill for a little bit and turn right on the San Rafael Road. Bird forest patches there and watch for Dark Pewee, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, and various other cloud forest species.

At some point, head back to Ruta 126 and keep driving downhill. You could make stops at the Peace Waterfall to look for American Dipper and and other species, and at one or more overlooks to watch for Ornate Hawk-Eagle and other soaring raptors.

Ornate Hawk Eagle is uncommon but regular in this area.

Arrive at Cinchona just before noon. If you visit on a weekend, the cafe could be crowded. From January to March, it might also be crowded with birders. Find a table, order some food and enjoy the avian show.

While keeping an eye out for both barbets, Black-bellied Hummingbird, and White-bellied Mountain-gem, don’t forget to check the undergrowth and nearby vegetation for surprise birds like a quail-dove or two, Middle American Leaftosser, Black-faced Solitaire, and other species. Make sure to support this important, birder friendly place with a donation.

Post Cafe Colibri, watch for perched Bat Falcon and soaring raptors as you continue driving downhill. For the rest of the afternoon, you can’t go wrong with birding Virgen del Socorro (four wheel drive), Mi Cafecito, and lower foothill birding on the San Miguel-Socorro Road. Checking streams could yield Faciated Tiger-Heron and other nice birdies.

Finish off the day by relaxing at Albergue del Socorro or further on in the Sarapiqui lowlands with a cold beer, or dinner, or counting the 100 plus species you have seen.

Bird Photography in Costa Rica

You still want an early start but unless you want to take a stab at capturing images of night birds, pre-dawn birding won’t be necessary. You might even want to stop for breakfast at Freddo Fresas. That way, you can also set up in their gardens just across the road.

birding Costa Rica

Although you can do bird photography on the road up to Poas, if you can, I suggest saving high elevation photography for places like Batsu or other spots in the Dota Valley. Whether you stop at Freddo Fresas or not, you may want to check out the hummingbird bushes in the parking area of the Corso farm and ice creamery. Further on, make your way down Ruta 126 towards Sarapiqui and on to Cinchona and spend a good few hours there. Make sure to buy lunch and also give them a donation of at least $10 per person. They may also charge a small photography fee. Whatever you do, please do what you can to support this important, fantastic, locally owned place. They have suffered tragedies, worked very hard to rebuild after being destroyed by an earthquake in 2009, and have supported birding and bird photography for many years.

Post Cinchona, keep an eye out for perched and soaring raptors on the drive downhill. The next best stop for photography would probably be Mi Cafecito. Although photo options vary, the area of the canyon overlook can have toucans, guans, tanagers, and other species at fruiting trees. Be careful on that cement trail, it can be very slippery!

After Mi Cafecito, head to your hotel in the Sarapiqui lowlands. To maximize photo opps, you may also want to skip Mi Cafecito altogether and visit Dave and Daves, or just shoot at your hotel.

Dave and Daves

Easy-Going Birding in Costa Rica

If you just feel like seeing whatever you can see, you should still get up early but you won’t need to rush out the door. If you are staying at a place like Villa San Ignacio, enjoy some nice easy birding in their gardens before and during a tasty breakfast. After that, drive up towards Poas and stop at Freddo Fresas to visit their gardens and perhaps buy some strawberry bread for an afternoon snack.

After checking out the gardens, continue on towards Varablanca and start driving downhill towards Sarapiqui on Ruta 126. Stop at one or two overlooks (with small parking areas), scan for flying raptors, and enjoy the scenery. Further on, if you feel like seeing various rescued wildlife in a somewhat zoo-like setting in beautiful surroundings and nice trails, visit the La Paz Waterfall Gardens (there is an entrance fee). If not, continue on, make an optional stop at the Peace Waterfall and then visit the Cafe Colibri at Cinchona.

The Cafe Colibri is a fantastic, reliable place for getting good shots of Silver-throated Tanager.

Pick a table, order some food and drinks, and enjoy the birds. Take your time and keep watching, see how many species you can find! You might also want to browse their souvenirs and pick out some quality organic chocolate before easing on down the road. Please give a donation to help support this special place.

Further downhill, if you feel like walking a short trail in foothill rainforest, visit Mi Cafecito and walk to the overlook (be careful of slippery trail conditions). This place is also an excellent spot to take a coffee tour. After Mi Cafecito, continue on or head back to your hotel.

No matter how you watch birds, in Costa Rica, there’s a heck of a lot to see. For example, on the route mentioned above, over the years, I have seen more than 330 species. You won’t see all of them there in one day, but you can expect to see a lot and if you visit the Cafe Colibri at Cinchona, the norm has been close, prolonged views of fantastic tropical bird species.

To learn more about birding routes in Costa Rica, sites, and how to find and identify more birds, prepare for your trip with How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica. I hope to see you here!

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Costa Rica Birding News December, 2021

December birding in Costa Rica is a blend of sun, wind, rain, and hundreds of bird species. A host of migrants add flavor to a speciose sampling of resident birds. The birding is fun, the birding is exciting, and its snowless. It will get cool in the highlands , especially when looking for Unspotted Saw-whet Owls, but you won’t see any of that frozen white stuff in a Costa Rica Christmas.

Instead, you can see tanagers, catch up with the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Baltimore Orioles that left the summer gardens up north.

Go birding and you can and will see a lot. Here’s some of what’s been happening in Costa Rica on the birding front, some of our December birding news:

Greater White-fronted Goose

This small group of adventurous waterfowl are still frequenting a rice field in Guanacaste. Many a local birder has enjoyed this early, unexpected Christmas gift. I hope they stick around much longer, most of all, long enough for us to see them too!

Lark Sparrow

This is what happens when one rare bird attracts a bunch of birders. More eyes in the field help find additional rare birds. This time, it was a Lark Sparrow seen right on the main road to Palo Verde National Park! There are very few records of this handsome little bunting-like species for Costa Rica and this seems to be the first twitchable individual. Once again, I hope it stays for a while, long enough for us to see it.

Manx Shearwater in the Pacific

I wasn’t expecting this one! In restrospect, I probably should have because there are several records from the Pacific, including from Panama. This choice species was seen during a pelagic trip from Cabuya and was well documented by several visiting and local birders. They also saw three White Terns along with several other more expected pelagic species. The pelagic birding trips in Costa Rica are kicking it! Who will document our first Bulwer’s Petrel? Our first Juan Fernandez Petrel or other deep sea Pterodroma? Those possibilities are why I included them on the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app. Several local birders are on a pelagic trip out today, what will they find?

A Day Total of 171 Species in Cano Negro, 176 in Sarapiqui

I’m not so sure if this qualifies as a newsworthy item but it’s still good to be reminded of how incredibly birdy Costa Rica can be. During the Cano Negro Bird Count on December 4th, during 12 hours of birding, our small team identified 171 species while birding from boat and just a little bit on foot. This is without doing any night birding, without running around to try for more birds, getting some rain, and without visiting a key lagoon that would have given us a few more species.

Yeah, I would say that’s pretty birdy! It not only shows how fun the birding can be in Costa Rica, but also how exciting the Cano Negro area is. You just keep seeing more and more birds, including highlights such as Snowy Cotinga, Sungrebe (we had 4 or 5), Yellow-tailed Oriole, a few good migrant warbler, Nicaraguan Grackles, and the list goes on…

snowy-cotinga
A Snowy Cotinga from another day at Cano Negro.

Not to be outdone, while birding in Sarapiqui a couple days later, we had 176 species! It was a full 12 hour day but once again, we didn’t do any serious running around to chase birds, had a good stop for lunch, and still missed some expected species.

The Costa Rica Birding Extravaganza

During the first week of December, several international birders were guided by Diego Quesada of Birding Experiences on a promotional trip that touched on birding in various spots. Highlights were many and included Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, Yellow-breasted Crake, Jabiru, Snowcap, and 400 plus other species. Us local birders are hoping that they will spread the news about the exciting and easy birding in Costa Rica.

Classic and New Sites Open for Business

Just a reminder that classic sites like Cinchona, national parks, Rancho Naturalista, Laguna del Lagarto, and other places are open and waiting for birders, and new sites like Nectar and Pollen are doing the same. The new sites are also a personal reminder that I need to update How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica. There’s nothing like getting close looks at beautiful tropical birds!

Health Protocols in Place and Followed

Also, just another reminder that in Costa Rica, health protocols of hand washing and mask wearing are widely followed and enforced (as in if you don’t wear a mask when entering a mall or other similar place, they won’t let you in). Vaccination is also pretty good with more than 63% of the population having had two doses and more than 70% with at least one dose. You can check out the shot progress here

If you are headd to Costa Rica soon, remember to study for your trip, bring an extra data card, and get ready for some fantastic birding. I hope to see you here!

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A Cold Front Brings a New Bird to Costa Rica

Winter in Costa Rica doesn’t arrive with snow squalls, white winged gulls and early nights. Located in tropical latitudes, I’m not even sure if I can call it winter. Ticos don’t. To them, it’s “summer” because, for much of the country, December marks the beginning of a pleasant, sunny dry season. The “winter” is from April on through November; when we get all of that rain.

Yorkin-rainforest-2
The forests need all of that rain.

To be honest, we still get plenty during other months of the year, especially on the Caribbean slope. It’s why heavy rains are a frequent accompaniment to Christmas Counts at Arenal and La Selva, why a small umbrella is essential gear for a birding trip to Costa Rica no matter when you travel. I won’t knock the rain though, it’s a main reason why we also have such an abundance of biodiversity and birds.

Speaking of all things avian and getting back to winter, since these are the winter months of the northern hemisphere, Costa Rica does see some cooler weather in December and January. It’s mostly in the mountains, it happens with cold fronts and it can also bring birds. No winter finches this far south but we do get other species, the ones us local birders we hope to see are ducks, sparrows, and waxwings, maybe a Yellow-rumped Warbler, maybe something super rare.

Based on some recent sightings, if the trend continues, it looks like this winter could end up being one of the best seasons for rare birds we have ever had. Well, at least for local birders. If you will be taking a birding tour to Costa Rica or visiting to bird Costa Rica on your own, our “rare birds” probably won’t float your boat but no worries, the resident species will be waiting for you!

Hepefully, you will get a chance to check out the Easter colors of a White-bellied Mountain-gem.

We like those fancy resident birds too but the species we run to see, that we twitch, are analogous to species local birders twitch in other places. They are birds that visit Costa Rica once in a blue moon or are even new for the country list. One such species is the latest star of the local birding show. It’s a goose and I was not expecting it! Even though I included more than 60 potential species for Costa Rica on the latest version of the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, the Greater White-fronted Goose was not one of them.

Yep, you read that right. A Greater White-fronted Goose. In Costa Rica. A bird that brings me back to cold March mornings in western New York when we would scan the large flocks of Canada Geese for one or two White-fronteds. A bird of other places than Costa Rica.

Since there is at least one record for Belize, maybe I should have had the Arctic migrant in mind as a potential addition for the Costa Rica bird list. I thought other new additions would happen first but the Greater White-fronted Goose beat them to it. It’s not officially accepted for the Costa Rica bird list yet but the five birds found at the Las Trancas rice fields on November 29th are sure acting like wild ones. Five together whose appearance may have coincided with the arrival of a northern cold front, and with no signs of anyone keeping them in these here parts, I think there’s a very good chance these are the real, non-domestic deal.

Fortunately, several local birders have already seen them. Unfortunately, we have not and since work has begun in the fields where they are being seen, it doesn’t seem likely they will stick around until we get up that way. If they do leave that spot, hopefully, they won’t go too far and we can also witness a seriously out of place species for Costa Rica.

The other main vagrant will be even less exciting for birders from the north but around here, this species is one heck of a rarity. Costa Rica’s first twitchable Chipping Sparrow is hanging out at an organic farm in the Talamancas. Several local birders can now claim it for their country lists and with luck, it will stay long enough for many others to see it too.

I’m not sure if I’m going to chase that one but then again, it never hurts go birding is in the mountains of Costa Rica. Beautiful scenery, wonderful birding, and fantastic coffee. Life can be good!

Another reason to always go birding, to always pay close attention to every bird is because other super rare species are waiting to be found, perhaps more so this year. They are out there, some vagrant sparrow could easily be skulking in some fallow, unbirded field. Today, birders in Panama added Red-breasted Merganser to the country list! Since two rare for Costa Rica Herring Gulls were also seen today in Tortuguero, I bet the recent cold front has brought some other lost or adventurous birds to this birdy nation.

Since we have more local birders in Costa Rica now than ever before, let’s hope that more of the rare ones turn up and stay long enough for local birders to find and see them. I wonder what else is out there waiting to be found?

Many thanks goes to Ruzby Guzamn Linares for discovering the mega goose and sharing the information.

Many thanks goes to Adrian Alvarado Rivera for the Chipping Sparrow.

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Which Bird Vocalizations to Study for Birding in Costa Rica?

Going birding in Costa Rica? I hope so. Since my first visit in 1992, experiencing the birds and biodiversity of this beautiful country is something I have wished for every birder. Costa Rica offers accessible tropical habitats, mixed flocks busy with colorful tanagers, toucans calling from treetops, and macaws dominating their surroundings by way of super sized plumage, appearance, and, most of all, screams.

Referring to those loud voices as vocalizations wouldn’t be wrong but we aren’t talking about some sweet rainforest melody. Macaws scream and they do it loud. It’s good, it makes sure you know where to look, where to watch the sky and wait for that avian royalty to fly into view. But I would be amiss if I said it was a song. That term seems better for the more musical voices of Bay Wrens and Clay-colored Thrushes.

birding Costa Rica

The friendly voice of the national bird may be more evocative than its modest appearance.

Just as Costa Rica has hundreds of birds to look at, this birding nation also has just as many birds to listen to. Yes, hundreds, as in several hundreds. If you feel daunted or that it would be silly to try and learn all of those bird songs, well, you might be right. I suppose it depends on how much time you feel like dedicating to the endeavor. However, as with visiting any place for birding, learning at least some of the more common and noticeable bird sounds will be worth your while.

The audible side of birding is just as important as the visual aspect of experiencing the avian. It might be even more important because most birds sing or vocalize and we hear them before we see them.. As with most forested habitats, in tropical forest, we hear many more birds than are seen, maybe even 20 species heard before laying eyes on just one. Knowing which birds make those whistles, chirps, and other calls is key to knowing what’s hiding in the forest, which species are waiting for us back there in the bromeliads and vines and mossy understory. That knowledge also helps locate target species and adds depth to a journey already made rich by time stopping viws of golden-beryl green quetzals, strutting curassows, and surreal wine-dipped Snowcaps.

It might seem daunting but it’s worth learning some of those calls, a few of those songs. With that in mind, these are a good 50 bird species to start with. They are frequently heard, have distinctive vocalizations, are very special birds you don’t want to miss, or a combination of those factors.

Great Tinamou– Listen for the mournful evocative whistles in lowland and foothills rainforests. It can sing any time of day or night.

great tinamou

Crested Guan– If you hear loud, odd sort of barking or honking calls coming from the forest canopy, this species is probably around.

Spotted Wood-Quail– Birding in the Dota Valley? Listen for this bird’s rollicking song in the cool montane airs of the early morning.

Gray-cowled Wood-Rail– This loud, drunken sounding bird calls from riparian zones in many parts of the country, urban green space included.

Green Ibis– Another bird that sounds like it may have had a few too many. It blends its prehistoric sounding calls with an equally prehistoric appearance.

White-throated Crake– Heard much more often than seen. If its sounds like eggs are sizzling in a marsh or tall wet grass, this species is the cook.

Ruddy Ground-Dove– The typical doveish calls of thsi common bird are good ones to learn.

Red-billed Pigeon– Ditto for Costa Rica’s most common pigeon.

Short-billed Pigeon– The Barred Owl isn’t the only bird that says, “Who cooks for you”? This plain colored rainforest pigeon asks the same question.

Squirrel Cuckoo– Some people claim this bird is being rude and saying, “Up Your’s!” I just think its living up to its cuckoo family antics.

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl– A common bird in many of the dry parts of the Pacific slope.

Mottled Owl– One of Costa Rica’s most frequently heard owls.

Common Pauraque– The standard nightjar in many parts of Costa Rica.

Gartered Trogon– A common bird, vocal, and a good one to know so you can admire its plumage of many colors.

Resplendent Quetzal– Not as common but one of the most spectacular birds on the planet. They are vocal and hearing them is one of the best ways to find them.

Lesson’s Motmot– Hear a dog or owl giving a double bark or hoot? You might be hearing a Lesson’s Motmot.

Broad-billed Motmot– This motmot makes a funny nasal sounding noise that is difficult to describe.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar– Vocal, locally common, and a good bird to know.

Collared Aracari– This aracari doesn’t sound anything like the larger toucans.

Yellow-throated Toucan– Loud and proud, the yelps of this big-beaked badboy are typical of the audio rainforest scene.

Lineated Woodpecker– It sort of laughs like a Pileated but still sounds quite different.

Collared Forest-Falcon– Learn its mournful calls to realize how common this relusive species is actually is.

Laughing Falcon– The laughter of this masked snake eater carry for some distance.

Scarlet Macaw– It is good to know what the screams of this magnificent bird sound like.

White-crowned Parrot– A common parrot in many parts of Costa Rica.

Barred Antshrike– Another common bird with a characteristic song.

Chestnut-backed Antbird– The friendly whistled notes of this understory species are synonymous with rainforest.

Cocoa Woodcreeper– One of the more common woodcreeper species in the humid lowlands.

Spotted Woodcreeper– A common bird of mixed flocks in foothill and cloud forest habitats.

Three-wattled Bellbird– The loud calls of this special bird are incredible.

Silvery-fronted Tapaculo– Another bird heard more often than seen, you will hear its loud staccato vocalizations in cloud forest and high elevation habitats.

Masked Tityra– It’s just nice to know that some birds sound like cartoon pigs.

Great Kiskadee– A bird that says its name and says it often.

Boat-billed Flycatcher– A kiskadee look-a-like. Maybe it complains about kiskadees getting more attention?

Yellow-bellied Elaenia– Common in gardens and second growth and very vocal.

Long-tailed Manakin– The intriguing calls of this beautiful bird are frequently heard.

White-collared Manakin– Another common manakin, this one calls and displays from second growth.

Lesser Greenlet– Easy to overlook but common and often heard. A good vocalization to learn.

Green Shrike-Vireo– No, that’s not a titmouse even if it does remind you of one.

Brown Jay– Hear some typically jayish calls? It’s probably this bird.

Gray-breasted Wood-Wren (and other wrens especially Rufous-and-white and Nightingale)- You will hear plenty of wrens, including the friendly song of this bird while birding in cloud forest.

Clay-colored Thrush– The song of this bird may remind you of the American Robin or Eurasian Blackbird.

Black-faced Solitaire– One of the best songs in the country!

Olive-backed Euphonia– You will probably hear quite a few of these in the lowland and foothill forests of the Caribbean slope.

Yellow-crowned Euphonia– Another commonly heard euphonia.

Rufous-collared Sparrow– This is one of the first species heard at first light in the Central Valley.

Costa Rica birding

Melodious Blackbird– The ringing calls of this common species have become a regular part of the audio backdrop in many places.

Great-tailed Grackle– Another loud and very common urban species.

Collared Redstart– The hurried song of this friendly species is typical of high elevation sites.

Black-thighed Grosbeak– A nice, beautiful song to learn.

Whether because they are common, heard often, or make fantastic sounds, these are the 50 species I recommend learning first. If 50 seems like too many birds to learn, go for 25 or even 20. You will probably hear several from the list when visiting Costa Rica, maybe even on that first exciting morning. If you can find time to learn more, that’s even better. If you can’t learn any, that’s alright too; what’s most important is making it to Costa Rica for birding and enjoying several days of fantastic Costa Rica birds.

There are additional birds not on this list that would also be good to learn, other birds you will certainly hear during a birding tour to Costa Rica. Some are bird species that may be familiar to folks who have birded Arizona or other places in the USA, species like Blue Grosbeak and Inca and White-winged Doves. Others include various hawks, hawk-eagles, warblers, and so many others. It’s always good to study those other species because make no doubt about it, many will be entering your personal birding audiosphere.

Whether you just want to learn a few, the 50 on this list, or listen to the whole shebang of 900 species, a complete birding app for Costa Rica can help. It works because you can:

  • See pictures of the birds while listening to them.
  • Use filters to show birds by family (if you feel like say focusing on antbird vocalizations), region (if you want to study the calls of birds that say only occur in the mountains), or other attributes.
  • Listen to the sounds of 900 species (its nice to have the songs of so many birds at your fingertips).

Not to mention, in a recent update, we also included:

  • 7 more species for a total of 1005 species and subspecies on the app. One of these was a recent addition to the Costa Rica bird list, the others are species that could eventually occur.
  • More images, including birds in flight.
  • Regional endemic search filter and updated list of regional endemics
  • Updated information about behavior and habitats of pelagic birds and other species.
  • Name changes that reflect AOS and eBird checklists
  • Improved range maps

Learn some bird songs to get ready for your birding trip to Costa Rica. The birds are waiting and the birding is always fantastic. I hope to see you here!

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10 Full Days of Fantastic Birding in Costa Rica January-Feb., 2022 – One Spot Left!

The Costa Rica birding season will be here soon. For some lucky folks, it’s already happening. Those fortunate birders have been enjoying the benefits of birding in Costa Rica with views of everything from shy Yellow-breasted Crakes to mega Bare-necked Umbrellabird and hawk-eagles. The usual magnificent mix of glittering hummingbirds and tanagers are also being seen along with

Resplendent Quetzal– a true world mega.

Would you like to start your year of birding with ten days full of fantastic birds in Costa Rica?

How about seeing Costa Rica hummingbirds like the Purple-throated Mountain-gem,

Fiery-throated Hummingbird,

Violet Sabrewing and chances at more than 30 other species.

Scarlet and Great Green Macaws

along with several other parrots and parakeets including

the endangered Yellow-naped Parrot.

While birding rainforests entertained by the haunting whistled songs of tinamous, antbirds, and woodcreepers, there will be chances to see such stunning tropical birds as

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Broad-billed Motmot

Broad-billed Motmot

Chesnut-colored Woodpecker

Chestnut-colored Woodpecker

Gartered Trogons and much more.

In cloud forest, Spangle-cheeked Tanagers await

along with cute Collared Redstarts

and Yellow-thighed Brushfinches.

Yellow-thighed Brushfinch

Boat rides in bird rich wetlands can have crakes,

the unique Sungrebe,

and the near endemic Nicaraguan Grackle.

Tropical dry forest offers another fantastic suite of birds to watch including stunners like the Turquoise-browed Motmot

Black-headed Trogon,

and Long-tailed Manakin.

On the tanager front, Costa Rica is blessed with beauties like the Crimson-collared Tanager,

Scarlet-rumped Tanager,

Emerald Tanager

Emerald Tanager

Speckled Tanager

Speckled Tanager

Red-legged Honeycreeper and more.

Toucans? Oh, there will be toucans too…

Keel-billed Toucan Laguna Lagarto

Hundreds of birds are waiting including the beauties shown above. Many will be seen (maybe 400 of them) on a fantastic birding tour in CostaRica scheduled for 10 days in January and February, 2022. Carefully designed by local experts to maximize bird variety at key sites, lucky participants will visit such hotspots as the Sarapiqui rainforests,

Cinchona,

Cinchona is a good site for the White-bellied Mountain-gem, a local regional endemic.

high elevation cloud forest,

the incredible wetlands of Cano Negro,

birding Costa Rica

the fantastic rainforests of Arenal,

and the Carara area.

The new Universal Trail at Carara.

If you are or know of a woman birder who would love to experience the fantastic birding of Costa Rica and be willing to share a room with another woman birder on this trip, send an email today to information@birdingraft.com

Fantastic tropical birding is waiting in Costa Rica, I hope to see you here!

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Which Migrant Species Are Encountered Most Often While Birding in Costa Rica?

Migrant species are birds too! Well of course they are but when they can also be seen back home, even the best of them tend to receive less attention. Eye-catching Baltimore Orioles, cool Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, inquisitive Yellow Warblers and other birds that flew all the way to Costa Rica. Not looked at. Incredible but then again, when a birder has the choice of focusing on familiar birds or seeing once in a lifetime lifers, the best course of binocular action becomes obvious.

I can’t fault visiting birders for paying less atttention to Baltimore Orioles. If I could look at those or a host of new birds, I wouldn’t spend much time focusing on those pretty blackbirds either. Always cool to look at (and do enjoy looking at them in Costa Rica) but they aren’t really the main reason to visit Costa Rica for birding.

Even so, if you make a personal oath to avoid looking at birds seen on many a previous occasion, it’s still worth knowing about the possibilities. No matter where you go birding, the more prepared you are for the trip, the better it will be. Study in advance and you don’t just identify more birds, you also have better knowledge of what to expect, where to find various species, and have a more fulfilling trip. These are some of the more common migrant species you can expect to see while birding in Costa Rica.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted-Sandpiper

Bird nearly any waterway in the country and you can expect running into some of these common teetering waterbirds. They may look plain but in Costa Rica, they share space with the likes of Sunbittern and tiger-herons.

Broad-winged Hawk

If you thought that perched raptor really looked like a Broad-wing, it probably was. During the winter months, this hawk is one of the most commonly seen raptors. However, taking a closer look doesn’t hurt; juvenile Gray, Gray-lined, and Roadside Hawks can look similar.

Great-crested Flycatcher

Hear that classic “wheep!” call? No other local birds makes that sound and Great-cresteds frequently give that call in Costa Rica during the winter. They can be seen in many habitats but are probably most common in tropical dry forest (which they share with other similar-looking Myiarchus species).

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Yellow-bellied-Flycatcher

It’s not the only Empid in Costa Rica during the winter but it is the most common one. To make things a bit more confusing, it often gives a single call note easily confused with call notes given by Acadian Flycatchers.

Philadelphia Vireo

Coming from some of the same breeding areas as the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Philadelphias also winter in many of the same places as the small flycatcher. Costa Rica is an excellent place to study this bird because in this country, the Philly Vireo rules as the common wintering vireo (Warblerings are very rare).

Barn Swallow

Hordes of Bank and Cliff Swallows migrate on through but many Barns stay in Costa Rica. Expect lots of this common, beautiful bird in open habitats in the lowlands.

Baltimore Oriole

As mentioned above, many of this beautiful bird winter in Costa Rica. They often give short versions of their whistled song, come to feeders, visit fruiting and flowering trees, and occur in flocks. Enjoy them!

Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager

That “chicky tuck tuck” call is a familiar sound in many parts of Costa Rica. Whether looking for birds in hot and humid lowland rainforest or wearing a light jacket in the mountains, you will probably see more than a few of these red beauties.

Wood-warblers

As befits this fun group of special little birds, they really deserve their onw category. Several species winter in Costa Rica, these are the ones seen the most:

Wilson’s Warbler– One of the more common species of montane habitats, its a good idea to learn its call before the trip.

Tennessee Warbler– Expect lots of these little birds at flowering trees, especially on the Pacific slope.

Black-throated Green Warbler– Go birding in montane forest and you should run into some of these. Keep an eye out for uncommon Twonsend’s and rare Hermit Warblers (and the ultra rare Golden-cheeked!).

Chestnut-sided Warbler– A bird so common in winter Costa Rica, some visiting birders just call it “ubi” (short for ubiquitous, here’s looking at you Mike, Pat, and Shai!). Don’t be fooled by its gnatcatcher looks, if you thought you saw a Chestnut-sided in wintering plumage, you sure did, and again, and again. The eye-ringed bird with the lime green back is especially common in humid habitats. I have to wonder, since this species was historically much more rare, upon becoming abundant, has it had any sort of impact on the habitats in frequents in the winter?

Waterthrushes– Both are commonly seen, Louisiana in its expected favored rocky river and stream habitats, and Northern in any number of lowland wetland sites.

Prothonotary Warbler– This beautiful bird occupies some of the same space as the Northern Waterthrush. It’s especially common in mangroves.

Prothonotary Warbler as seen on the Costa Ria BIrds Field Guide app.

Yellow Warbler– This familiar country bird will be just as familiar in Costa Rica.

These aren’t the only species that winter in these birdy lands. They are common and you will likely see numbers of them but you will also see various additional species. For North American birders, watching these “birds from home” do their stuff on wintering grounds will generate deeper understanding and better apreciation of their avian lives. For birders from other places, they will act as fun lifers to look at and experience. Either way, they are always fun birds to watch.

Study them with the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, a digital field and reference guide with all of the species on the Costa Rica bird list and several more that could occur (to show nearly 1,000 species). If you already have the app, the next update will show the latest name changes and include 5 additional species that may eventually be found in Costa Rica. Get ready for birding in Costa Rica- it’s closer than you think!

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How to See More Antpittas in Costa Rica Part 2- Low Elevations

Antpittas are most often affiliated with the cloud forests of the avian rich Andes. It makes sense, those fantastic habitats of bird aficionado dreams are where most people see their first antpitta. In the past, as wonderfully birdy as those places are, except for birders wielding a good deal of time, patience, and determination, many an antpitta stayed safely put in the “heard only” category.

That tantalizing dynamic was changed by feeding stations and similar situations. Once they hit the birding scene, Giant Antpittas, Yellow-breasted Antpitta, even the previously near mythical Moustached Antpitta started showing up on trip reports and bird lists that featured satisfied antpitta checks in the “seen!” column. Worm feeding stations in Ecuador and Colombia quickly became the easiest way to see antpittas and in the subsequent years since they became established, they have helped thousands of people test their close focus on antpittas.

These special feathered gnomes reach their greatest diversity in the Andes but they also live in other, hotter places. In the absence of feeding stations, antpittas of the lowland and foothill forests continue to be some of the more difficult birds to see. Like their montane cousins, most are readily heard but unlike some birds in the mountains, they haven’t adopted the way of the fed worm. Who knows, maybe lowland ntpittas would comply if more people tried to make that happen but until then, most situations for such species as the Thrushlike, Spotted, and Speckled-breasted Antpittas will require old fashioned antpitta viewing factors like stealth, determination, and good fortune.

Those and other attributes are needed to see the lowland antpittas that are two of many cherished birds in Costa Rica. Here are some ideas for laying eyes on these prize birds:

Streak-chested Antpitta

Fortunately, in Costa Rica, we have one or two reliable sites to connect with this cool little bird. Go to Carara National Park, especially as soon as the park opens, walk the Quebrada Bonita loop trail, and you should hear its sad whistled song. Invest the time in looking and waiting for the bird and you also have an excellent chance of seeing it. It’s worth keeping a careful eye on the trail as far ahead as you can see, I have noticed this stealthy little ball of feathers hop across and into view on more than one occasion.

streak-chested-antpitta

They can also show at the edges of antswarms but most birders find them by listening for their haunting whistled song. As with other shy forest birds, a key way to see one is by carefully scanning the forest floor and patiently waiting for one to reveal itself. That typically happens when one hops into view but they can also get noticed when they puff their chest feathers in and out. That body inflation isn’t the most obvious motion in the forest but is another reminder to check out any percieved movement, event the hint of one. I recall seeing more than one Streak-chested Antpitta as well as other birds being attuned to such forest hints.

For the Pacific race of this species, Carara is the most accessible spot but they also occur in other forested sites, especially flat areas with tall forest in the Osa Peninsula.

As for the Caribbean slope version of the Streak-chested Antpitta, listen and look for it in the same way at Quebada Gonzalez, deep in La Selva, and other sites with extensive primary forest. It doesn’t seem to readily occur at Arenal but with lowland species moving upslope, this might change. It’s also worth mentioning that ideally, a Costa Rica birding tour should try and see this bird on both sides of the mountain because there’s a fair chance two species are involved.

Streak-chested-Antpitta-intermedius-1
The Caribbean slope subspecies of this cool little bird.

Thicket Antpitta

This vocal skulker is Costa Rica’s other lowland antpitta. Since it might be more at home in the foothills and occurs in second growth, Foothill Antpitta or S and G Antpitta might be more appropriate but in any case, “Thicket” still works.

This secretive bird isn’t shy with its vocal chords. Over and over, it teases with its rising whistled song. A good thing too because otherwise, you would never see the thing. It absolutely loves wet and thick second growth and can occur anywhere in the Caribbean lowlands but may be most frequent in the Tilaran Mountains. That would mostly be the Arenal area. Go birding on the Peninsula Road or various other spots and you will probably hear it. To see it, find a spot near a singing bird where you can actually see the ground and play the patience game.

Other very good sites for this species include Tierras Enamoradas and Pocosol.

It’s worth mentioning that this bird could also end up being a species separate from the ones that live in South America. Maybe, maybe not but there’s nothing wrong with seeing more antpittas.

These are the lowland antpittas of Costa Rica. Birds worth seeing but birds that also require patience, stealth, and determination. A good guide and birding tour in Costa Rica can also make the difference. Speaking of that, I know of a tour available for an excellent price that has one spot open for a woman (sharing a room with another woman). The tour is scheduled in January, 2022 and because of a cancellation, that one spot to see Streak-chested Antpitta and hundreds of other species is available.

Various key sites will be visited including Poas, Sarapiqui, Cope’s, Cano Negro, Arenal, and Carara. Last year, a similar tour saw more than 425 species during 10 days of fantastic birding. If interested or know someone who would love to experience a wealth of tropical birds and close looks at macaws, toucans, tanagers, hummingbirds, and many other birds in Costa Rica, please contact me today at information@birdingcraft.com

As always, I hope to see you birding in fantastic Costa Rica. It’s closer and easier than you think!