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Birding News, Costa Rica, September, 2020

It’s September. All of a sudden, here we are starting one of most beautiful months to visit Niagara Falls, the month when the weather is perfect, the salmon are running, and millions of birds are on the move. It seems like we got here so quickly, it also seems like it took forever. So goes the passage of time during the limbo dance of the 20202 pandemic. As always, time doesn’t stop even if our perceptions of it are affected and changed by our circumstances.

Each month has its advantages but for the birding people, September is one of those extra special times. In Costa Rica, it’s a major month of shorebirds and we mark it with annual counts and scoping through congregations of waders at such key sites as Chomes, Punta Morales, and Las Pangas. The first of the migrant passerines are also arriving (including Cerulean Warblers!) but the majority postpone the trip until October. Few if any birders will be visiting Costa Rica this September but you never know, the country is starting to reopen. I hope the following information can be of help:

Storm-Petrels from Puntarenas

Yesterday, September 1st, Marilen and I kicked off the month with a visit to the Pacific Coast. Seeing two Humpback Whales from an overlook just outside of Jaco was fantastic but even more newsworthy was the presence of several Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrels seen from shore at Puntarenas. A small but vital port city, Puntarenas is situated on a spit of land that pokes into the Gulf of Nicoya right where the inner and outer parts of the gulf meet. As a birder might expect, that position and convergence of aquatic systems can attract some interesting things. It’s the type of place that always merits a scan at any time of day and perhaps most of all during the rainy season when an abundance of nutrients are washed into the gulf.

There are storm-petrels out there...

Yesterday’s visit paid off with immediate, close views of several Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrels. At first, I figured the small birds flying around the water would be Black Terns but no, every single one was a storm-petrel! The presence of this species in the Gulf of Nicoya is regular but I have rarely seen them from shore and never in such numbers. Typically, with a few ferry rides and maybe 10 visits to Puntarenas over the course of a year, I see one to three Wedge-rumpeds. Yesterday, I counted 28 and I suspect more were present further out. It makes me wonder what else was out there (we did notice some large, tantalizing groups of birds too far away to identify)? Why were so many present? As with some of my other sightings of Black and Least storm-petrels from the point at Puntarenas, many of the birds were foraging where the waters of the inner gulf may converge with those of the outer. Once again, I am reminded of the importance of having some form of bird monitoring and studies for the Gulf of Nicoya to better assess numbers and species that visit the waters of the gulf at which time of year.


This is high time for shorebird migration in Costa Rica and it’s only going to improve over the next two or three weeks. The most exciting sighting was that of a Ruff (!) seen during the final days of August by Daniel Hernandez in the Las Pangas wetlands near Ciudad Neily. It’s fantastic to have this vagrant once again show in Costa Rica, I can’t help but wonder if it’s the same individual and hope it will stay for the winter.

At Las Pangas, Baird’s Sandpiper has also been seen, more of this species should be present at suitable sites during the next two months. We will be checking a Central Valley site where we had it last year.

Shorebird hotspot Punta Morales has also been good, yesterday, we had large numbers of Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Whimbrel, Willet, and Wilson’s Plovers among 11 other species including Surfbird, Marbled Godwit, Wilson’s Phalaropes, and a single Long-billed Curlew.

Cocos Island

Currently, Serge Arias of Costa Rica Birding and some other local birders are on a trip to Cocos Island. I can’t wait to see what they come back with! Will checking the photos turn up some new record for Costa Rica? That always is a possibility.

Nemesis seen

As with any nemesis, it took some time, but I eventually did catch up with the nefarious Masked Duck. We had close views, we saw both sexes, birds vocalized, we saw them doing their skulking thing, and the experience was shared in good company. I am grateful and couldn’t have asked for more! Hopefully, Mary and I will get the chance to visit that area soon and see those birds again.

Updates to Rules for Visiting Costa Rica

The same rules for visiting during the pandemic are still in place but now, folks from certain states in the USA can also visit and more are scheduled to be allowed entrance after September 15th. For more information, see the Costa Rica Tourism Board. One main issue for visiting is getting a pcr COVID-19 test done within 72 hours before travel. Hopefully, this issue will improve, at the moment, I have heard of at least one place in NYC that may do that. Maybe various other places for quick test results are also available?

‘NOTE that if you do get a COVID-19 test, it absolutely has to be a pcr test and not the serological test that checks for antibodies. Recently, two Spanish citizens were denied entrance to Costa Rica because they arrived with results the serological test.

There’s probably more to say about birding in Costa Rica in September but that’s all I can think of for now. Wishing readers the best of birding days, hope to see you sometime soon!

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Species to See While Birding in Costa Rica: Golden-naped Woodpecker

There are many ways to watch birds. Do we just watch the birds seen through the back window? Maybe not even worry about how they have been named or classified? Do we make plans to learn where certain wood-warblers have been seen and then carry out miniature private expeditions to find them? Maybe some of us venture into the pre-dawn of the marsh to meet the rising of a sun flecked with the silhouettes and calls of whistling-ducks. Some of us might even go much further afield, taking boat trips straight into the open ocean to reach the deep waters, the places where pelagic birds might wander into view. We may also travel to other continents to see birds, take multi-day trips to witness as much of what the avian world can offer.

Birding is birding is birdwatching no matter how you do it but it’s OK to prioritize some species. To be honest, when traveling, it would be a shame not to make efforts to see birds not possible in other places. These are the endemics, the very near endemics, and the species that are just easier to see at one place than another. In Costa Rica, we have several such birds, one of them is a woodpecker.

The Golden-naped Woodpecker is as smartly dressed as its name sounds.

Although this species also lives in western Panama, it is quite nearly restricted to the humid forests of southern Costa Rica. Ranging from Carara National Park to the border, seeing it in Panama seems to typically require a rather difficult trip to the last sizeable patch of lowland rainforest in western Chiriqui.

In Costa Rica, although it is readily seen in many places, it also seems to be more or less restricted to areas of mature rainforest. It can range into second growth but in my experience, for the most part, the Red-crowned Woodpecker takes its place in such edge and open habitats.

Red-crowned Woodpecker,

As with many of the southern Pacific endemics, the Golden-naped Woodpecker seems to be most common in the forests of the Osa Peninsula and Golfo Dulce. It can be seen elsewhere but is certainly most frequent in places with the highest amounts of rainfall and is likely declining because of hotter, drier weather.

Although it takes the place of the Black-cheeked Woodpecker in the rainforests of the Pacific slope, the Golden-naped might even be more closely related to the Yellow-tufted Woodpecker of the Amazon. Or, more likely, it and the closely related Beautiful Woodpecker of Colombia are sort of “bridge” species between the Yellow-tufted and Black-cheeked. No matter what its evolutionary provenance may be, like the Black-cheeked, the Golden-naped Woodpecker does the photographer a favor by visiting fruit feeders as well as foraging in low fruiting trees.

Golden-naped Woodpecker,
Another image of a female Golden-naped Woodpecker from the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app.

Check this bird out on your next visit to Costa Rica, it’s definitely one that you don’t want to miss!

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A Few Birds to Anticipate Watching in Costa Rica

More than 920 bird species have been recorded in Costa Rica. That would be a hefty list of possibilities for a country but when we are talking about a place roughly similar in size to West Virginia, Wales, or Denmark, yeah, that’s a heck of a lot of birds in a small area! Granted, a good number of those species are vagrants but at the end of the day, the size of the official bird list for Costa Rica hints at nothing less than fantastic birding.

That would be the type of birding where you see lifer after lifer after lifer, where the new birds keep popping up while enjoying more views of trogons, macaws, and toucans.

Black-throated Trogon

It’s birding that includes mega flocks of glittering tanagers, climbing woodcreepers, flitting flycatchers, and other species moving through your field of view.

Spangle-cheeked Tanager
Spotted Woodcreeper
Tufted Flycatcher

It’s watching an array of iridescent hummingbirds and testing the limits of photography as they zip back and forth.

White-bellied Mountain-gem

Thanks to protected areas in several major ecoregions, the birding opportunities in Costa Rica are both diverse and abundant. In terms of birds to look forward to, there are too many species to mention. Today, these cool birds came to mind:


Broad-billed Motmot

Motmots are fair-sized birds that sort of look like rollers. Several have long tails with a racket-like shape and are plumaged in shades of green, blue, and rufous. Most love the shady side of life but since they also perch for long periods, they make great subjects for the lens. Six species occur in Costa Rica, visit the right places with a good guide and you can see all of them.

Turquoise-browed Motmot

Crowned Woodnymph

One of the 50 plus hummingbird species that have been recorded in Costa Rica, this sparkling bird is common in lowland and foothill rainforests! On a personal note, I can still recall the first time I saw this species. I was birding the parking area at Quebrada Gonzalez in Braulio Carrillo National Park at the end of 1992, looking at the second growth on the other side of the highway. In quick succession, I saw my lifer Buff-throated Saltator, Lineated Woodpecker, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, and Crimson-collared Tanager. Then, to top off the lifer cake, this glittering purple and green hummingbird, a male Crowned Woodnymph, zipped into my field of view. I have seen many more since then but that first woodnymph was the best.

Collared Redstart and other highland species

Collared Redstart

Costa Rica has wood-warblers, this ones entertains the eye in the highlands. Like several other birds of the mountains, it only lives in Costa Rica and western Panama.

Macaws and Toucans

Fantastic, large birds, thanks to protection and reintroductions, macaws and toucans are fairly common in various parts of Costa Rica.

Scarlet Macaw
Great Green Macaw
Keel-billed Toucan

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Another fancy tropical bird, jacamars sort of look like bee-eaters, a living carnaval dart or hummingbird on steroids. It’s pleasing to know that the Rufous-tailed Jacamar is common in many parts of Costa Rica and loves the lens.

With 900 other birds on the list, this is a small sampling of birds waiting in Costa Rica. It’s worth mentioning that Resplendent Quetzals are here too. Want to know where to go and get ready for that eventual trip? Please support this blog by purchasing How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica, hope to eventually celebrate birds with you in Costa Rica!

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Streak-chested Antpitta in Costa Rica- One or Two Species?

During these apprehensive times of self quarantine, social distancing and much of life on pause, I often do what millions of other Earthlings tend to be doing; visually engage with the screen of a computer, a tablet, or a phone. Since I can’t stand messaging by phone or using it as a mini computer (I guess because I’m still stuck with this antiquated idea that phones are (were) for talking with other people), I find myself moving between the tablet and the laptop. I even use both at the same time but still try to remember to be productive, still try to make use of this time to work towards goals, digitally step my way to any number of future finish lines.

But it’s not all robot time, once in a while I do get up to look out the back balcony to see birds like this one.

While attempting to use time in a productive manner, I also find myself veering off the path, musing about things I would love to study but for which I shouldn’t really invest as many hours. Sometimes, the errant thoughts gain hold, pull me into an inviting whirlpool that promises knowledge. But, as with any species of maelstrom, it can be a challenge to find the exit door, to leave. We all have our personal Hotel Californias; some are merely time consuming, others can be dangerous. Fortunately, one of the mental realms that magnetizes my attention involves nothing more than learning about birds and last night, the rabbit hole took the form of antpitta vocalizations. Not just any antpittas either but Hylopezus species. In non-birding vernacular, that means a smallish, brownish feathered ball with legs that calls over and over unseen and teasing from dense vegetation.

This Thicket Antpitta from Lands in Love is one of them. Formerly known as the Fulvous-bellied Antpitta, I used to tell people that to avoid unwanted conversations on trains and planes, just start talking randomly about “Fulvous-bellied Antpittas”. I tried it once on a train route from Washington state to Buffalo, New York but it backfired, the guy actually became interested in what I was saying.

Having access to the Birds of the World doesn’t make it easy to extract myself from exploring the depths of avian information but then again, it’s a great place to mentally lounge. When one can explore birds by genus and family, it’s just too easy to roll with the avian taxonomy, look at their similarities, their subtle differences, and see where they occur. It’s fantastic to have the chance to look at images of those birds, even watch video footage, hear what they sound like. Having an inclination for the auditory side of existence, I find access to this latter aspect of bird knowledge particularly tempting.

I love to listen to what all of those birds sound like, my only complaint is that I can’t choose and listen to several at once for a direct, real time comparison (at least on the same device). Listening to some birds also sometimes reminds me of things I wanted to look into, one of those being the differences in songs shown by the Streak-chested Antpitta.

A Streak-chested Antpitta from Carara National Park, one of the best places to see this species.

In Costa Rica, the Streak-chested Antpitta is an uncommon species of interior lowland and foothill rainforest on both slopes. Since it seems to be absent from various areas of rainforest habitat, it is likely subject to edge effects and probably has a preference for certain microhabitats inside forest such as flat or level areas.

I have known about the differences shown between birds on the Carribean and Pacific slopes of Costa Rica for some time but have never tried any playback experiments nor do I have the capacity or time to adequately measure and study the vocal differences found within that species. But, I can mention it here with the hope that others will be able to carry out molecular and extensive vocal studies to determine whether or not two or more species are involved when talking about Hylopezus perspicillatus.

Last night, my interest in this bird was renewed after listening to differences in vocalizations shown by two recently described species in the Spotted Antpitta complex from South America. Formerly lumped with Spotted Antpitta, both Alta Florest Antpitta and Snethlage’s Antpitta were split from that species based on a combination of morphological, molecular, and vocal differences. Most of the emphasis for splitting was placed on the differences in loudsongs between those taxa and since they still sounded fairly close, I figured I would take another look at Streak-chested Antpitta. Could I see differences between Streak-chested Antpitta songs using the same or similar parameters? Would that be even possible by comparing sonograms and would there be enough differences to argue for the occurrence of two species?

In brief, after reviewing recordings of this species from Honduras to Ecuador on Xeno-Canto and eBird, two main songs are evident; one pertaining to birds that occur from Honduras to western Panama on the Caribbean slope (the intermedius subspecies), and another to all other subspecies ranging from southern Costa Rica on the Pacific slope and the Canal Zone of Panama to Colombia and western Ecuador.

In looking at photos, the higher degree of rufous on the flanks described for this subspecies is evident (although it’s hard to see in this photo).

Although I didn’t measure vocal differences between both vocal groups, a cursory look at sonograms and listening to each type of song from several individuals appears to point at differences in frequency and structure or pattern of the song. There may also be differences in note structure, especially between the first note but off hand, note structure looks quite similar overall.

For example, in intermedius, the song seems to be mostly above 2 kilohertz in frequency and starts with a distinctive highest pitched note of the song, goes lower for the second note, goes up a bit in frequency for the third note and stays at that frequency for the next two notes before descending in frequency for the last three or four notes. In other words, the song starts high, goes low, then up and level before descending.

In the other subspecies, including birds from southern Costa Rica, the song seems to be mostly below 2 kilohertz and starts on a lower note, slightly ascends in frequency for two or three notes and then descends in frequency with the final note possibly at the same frequency as the starting note. In other words, the song goes slightly up and then back down.

Both types of songs seem to slow down in pace at the end and may also have the same number of notes. Although they may or may not significantly differ in pace, they do seem to differ in other ways. Would these differences be enough to argue for species status? To answer that question, we probably need a measured and adequate statistical analyses of these two song types backed by playback experiments. The results of that study alone might even be enough to make an argument for splitting this species but studies that also use morphological and molecular characters would be even better. If any grad student out there is looking for a project, this might be a good one…

On that note, the same can be said about the Thicket Antpitta (Hylopezus dives). While checking out vocalizations of the Streak-chested Antpitta, I was reminded that the Thicket also has disjunct populations from Central and South America and guess what? Their songs also differ.

This is a song of a bird from Costa Rica that is typical of populations from western Panama north to Honduras:

This is a song of a bird from Colombia typical for birds from the Darien and South America (although there might be some differences between birds from the Choco and eastern Colombia):

The differences are notable for pace, number of notes, and what seems to be note structure. With that in mind, it seems that these two main groups of Thicket Antpitta also merit further study. I wonder when I can start with playback experiments?

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Birding Costa Rica May, 2020- a Time for Discoveries

May is the golden birding month, the magic time when any visit to green space comes with an exciting promise of possibility. Birds are on the move, millions of birds and the uncommon ones, even the outrageously rare ones can be anywhere. A seriously lost Fork-tailed Flycatcher is more likely to appear where weather and geography move and funnel other birds but there’s always a small chance of it gracing the local patch.

Locally common in Costa Rica.

Happily, the only way to find out, to see what has flown in during the night is by going birding and in May, there will be birds. At least up north there will be birds and they will represent with bright plumage and constant song. It’s a wonderful time to walk in woods made fragrant by fresh leaves, new blossoms and the chestnut beauty of Bay-breasted Warblers high above, flashy Magnolia Warblers below.

In Costa Rica, the May warbler parade passes us by but this month can still be an exciting time for birding. This truth was recently made known by several exciting finds, discoveries that would have never been made, would have never been imagined, if local birders hadn’t gone into the field to look. Check these out!:

Hooded Merganser at Lake Arenal

This would be like seeing a Smew in Buffalo, NY, or finding some other, very rare vagrant, lost duck in the Netherlands. Even though some years ago, a female of this species also made an appearance in Costa Rica, this second country record was still very much unexpected. A bird that normally winters only as far south as northern Mexico isn’t really on the rarity radar for Costa Rica and especially not in May. But, on May 16th, that did indeed happen when a female Hooded Merganser was found by Ever Villegas near Nuevo Arenal. On that day, local birder Dennis Palma also helped other local birders tick this serious mega for Costa Rica. I’m not sure if it is still there, I hope so and that it stays for a while!

Hudsonian Godwit at Paquera

Having found the second documented record of Hudsonian Godwit for Costa Rica in 2014, this rare long distance migrant is on my mind every spring migration. Although most fly over Costa Rica, I believe that a few must also stop off in this country each April or May. The increase in local birding has indeed resulted in a few more sightings of this species but finding one is still akin to winning the lottery. As luck would have it, one was seen on May 16th, the same day that the merganser showed near Arenal! The Godwit turned up at the shrimp ponds of Paquera, a town on the shores of the Gulf of Nicoya. Even better, the bird has stayed around long enough for some local birders to tick this excellent addition to their country and life lists. Maybe it will stay a bit longer?

Oilbird on Global Big Day

This intriguing sighting deserves a mention because it was not made at Monteverde during the height of the wet season. Each year, some of these odd nocturnal birds make it to Monteverde and other highland areas but their origin is still a mystery. The fact that the birds on Global Big Day were found near San Vito in May and that they have also been found in that area on previous occasions, supports the idea that the birds may be nesting somewhere near there or in adjacent Panama.

White-chinned Swifts Nesting near Grecia

Thanks to local birder Luis Barrantes, a few of these rare Cypseloides species swifts were found nesting behind a small waterfall above the town of Grecia. Due to near constant difficulties identifying this species, it’s hard to know how many live in Costa Rica and where they actually occur. The fact that some were found nesting in mountains within sight of where I live is a reminder to pay even closer attention to the swifts seen in the skies above the neighborhood.

My best definite image of a White-chinned Swift, kind of how you see them in the field.

As for Team Tyto, we haven’t found anything amazing where we live but we have managed to add a couple of year birds during the past week. One was a Tropical Screech-Owl calling from a nearby coffee farm, the other was Black Swift when several foraged quite low and vocalized just over the apartment. More new birds are still possible, I could for for a Black-billed Cuckoo just out back…


Global Big Day, 2020, Costa Rica

Global Big Day 2020 was scheduled for May 9th. Despite the birding being limited by variations on a lockdown theme, not only did GBD still take place, but more than 118,000 checklists were submitted to eBird and 6,469 species were identified! It goes to show that even during a global pandemic, birding doesn’t just persist, given the right circumstances, this fantastic nature-connecting hobby can thrive and grow.

Apparently, with so much time available (perhaps combined with a yearning to leave the house) more folks are experiencing the outdoors by watching the closest bit of the wild, that of the backyard. They are looking out their windows and of course, they are seeing birds. Many are no doubt noticing, realizing, that more birds than they ever dreamed of visited their backyards, some hitching up or down tree trunks, others flitting to the feeder or rummaging in the fallen leaves.

Hoffamann’s Woodpecker is a tree hitching backyard bird in Costa Rica.

Just as every birder had a first bird or feathered spark of interest that led them on the road to bird festivals, buying field guides, and comparing optics, some of the people watching birds because of the 2020 quarantines will be following that same route. In Costa Rica, I don’t know how many new birders we will have because of a novel virus but the more the better!

I know that we did have excellent participation for GBD, 2020. Despite restrictions on freedom of movement in Costa Rica (our vehicle wasn’t allowed on the road on May 9th), we had a healthy showing of birders counting in and near their homes, and a few small groups stayed out for most of the day. Some people even managed to look for birds at night and this put most possible nocturnal species onto Costa Rica’s list for GBD, 2020.

Bare-shanked Screech-Owl made it onto the list.

We didn’t have any coast to coast Big Day bird racing nor individual lists that topped 300 species but one collective of birders, Team Northwest, recorded nearly 400 species and Team Turrialba found more than 300. Not bad, not bad at all given closures of national parks and beaches and driving restrictions! High totals by individual birders topped out at 184 for Fernando Barrantes, 181 for Gabriel Rojas, and 181 for David Mora Vargas. All of these high totals are testament to the huge number of bird species that can be encountered in small areas of Costa Rica.

As for Mary and I, we got in some early morning birding at and near our place, took it easy back at the apartment and kept track of whatever other birds we happened to hear or see from the house. I ended up scanning the skies quite a bit to enjoy the show of swifts and Hirundines. One distant Northern Rough-wing Swallow got me wishing that I was seeing a rare for Costa Rica Tree Swallow until it flew closer and swept my hopes away by showing its true dull colors. It was an addition to our GBD list nonetheless and shared aerial space with several Blue-and-white, Cliff, Barn, and Bank Swallows. Looking and listening above also gave us our best bird of the day, a year Spot-fronted Swift that graciously gave up its identity by calling as it flew overhead. The other fortunately calling year bird was an Alder Flycatcher, a species migrating through Costa Rica these days.

Alder Flycatchers may migrate more through the highlands than their Willow counterparts.

Various other regular birds also made it onto our GBD list, birds such as the fancy White-eared Ground-Sparrow, Great Kiskadee, Red-billed Pigeons, a calling Crested Bobwhite, and more species.

In keeping with true GBD fashion, other “regular” birds took the day off and waited until May 10th to call just out the back door. No mention of real names but I will say that the conspirators were a carpintero with lineations and a shrike-like bird that imitates a zebra.

This bird has lineations.
Grant’s or Grevy’s?

May 9th, 2020 wasn’t the most typical of Global Big Days but it still encouraged nearly 50,000 people to count the birds they identified, many of them just outside their respective homes. As for Costa Rica, we still managed a fantastic total, hopefully, we will be able to watch birds from one side of the mountains to the other in October.

biodiversity birds to watch for in Costa Rica preparing for your trip

The Backyard Hummingbird in Costa Rica

Backyards and hummingbirds? Ha! Not while growing up just off Pine Avenue in Niagara Falls, New York. Seeing a hummingbird, even the only one remotely likely in my area, seemed like a pipe dream, something that could never happen. How could they occur in our tiny backyard? Northern Cardinals, occasional Blue Jays and a once in a while Downy Woodpecker yes but a backyard hummingbird? No way. And yet, on one rare day on a rainy May morning, I did see a hummingbird on our street and it was NOT a Ruby-throated!

All these years later, I can’t say whether it was a Rufous or an Allen’s but it was most certainly one of those western vagrants. An extreme rarity for western New York and yet there it was checking out some potted flowers just across the street from our house in what must have been 1983. I know it must have been that year of parachute pants, Culture Club and Gorf because I spent much of that summer hanging out with Henry and Robbie and it was Henry who noticed the bird. We were on Rob’s porch when non-birding Henry suddenly exclaimed, “Hey, what’s that?”. The subject of interest was a rufous-colored hummingbird inspecting some flowers and then it was gone. I didn’t run to my house for binos, I had no idea how rare and unusual that sighting actually was but I did see it very well and yet I couldn’t do anything about it. There was no social media, I wasn’t connected to any possible rare bird alert and am not even sure if I had met another birder at that point.

Oddly enough, that Selasphorus was the only hummingbird I have ever seen on Augustus Place. Ruby-throateds ended up being regular just outside of town but when I was 11, almost all of my birding was restricted to backyards, a nearby series of grassy vacant lots, and the Niagara State Park. Since then, my sphere of birding has expanded to include many places with a common, garden hummingbird species. Some places have several birds buzzing the flowers and feeders out back, Costa Rica included. However, if we had to name one classic backyard hummingbird for Costa Rica, it would have to be the good old Rufous-tailed.

This edge species is the most frequent hummingbird in many parts of Costa Rica and the de-facto nectivore around San Jose. A common bird of open and edge habitats, the Rufous-tailed is a good one to learn well so you can recognize other hummingbird species that dare to venture into the garden as well as birds that live in more forested habitats. Basically, if the hummingbird has a reddish tail, greenish throat, and mostly red bill, it’s a Rufous-tailed. Different types of lighting can make things tricky but if the bird has those afore-mentioned characters, it is a Rufous-tailed.

BUT, it’s not the only backyard hummingbird in Costa Rica and for folks who live in the highlands or dry areas, it might not even be present. Up in the mountains, many more species are likely, the Lesser Violetear being one of the most frequent.

Like the Rufous-tailed, the violetear is an edge and semi-open species. However, you can still expect to see it with several other species, even beauties like Purple-throated Mountain-gem,

and even Violet Sabrewing.

In dry areas, the Rufous-tailed is replaced by the Cinnamon. Another Amazilia, this bird is pretty much the Rufous-tailed of the dry forest areas of Guanacaste and also occurs in parts of the Central Valley.

While watching one of those feisty Cinnamons, you might also see a Canivet’s Emerald.

Blue-vented Hummingbird is also regular both in dry forests and many parts of the Central Valley.

In humid zones, although the Rufous-tailed is still one of the most common species in gardens and open areas, it shares space with several other species including hermits, Crowned Woodnymph,

Blue-chested Hummingbird on the Caribbean slope,

and Charming Hummingbird on the Pacific slope.

As testament to Costa Rica’s amazing biodiversity, folks who live in or near forest can also expect several other species, some tours see 30 or even 40 species (!). One we get past this pandemic, they will be waiting, maybe even one of Cope’s best backyard species, the White-tipped Sicklebill.

In the meantime, be careful, stay safe, jeep watching birds and study for that eventual trip to Costa Rica.

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New Place in Costa Rica, New Yard List

We recently moved to a new place in Costa Rica. In birding terms, that translates to a new yard list! Fortunately, as with the old place, the birding will be boosted by us being situated right next to green space in a riparian corridor. As is typical for much of the urbanized Central Valley, such areas act as veins of life, trains of biodiversity that keep chugging along, patiently and stubbornly waiting for their chance to grow beyond the banks and borders of the urban frontier. Not that far from the old place, I expected the bird scene to be somewhat similar but given the more natural, untamed look of the green corridor out back, I hope for more.

After a few days, the bird list has been similar but with more observations the list should grow and include more migrants. At least that’s what I hope, my birding hopes and dreams already envision migrant cuckoos coming into view and the calls of Veery and Gray-cheeked Thrush filtering up through the dense vegetation. A few uncommon migrant wood-warblers would also be nice! Wishful thinking but there’s nothing wrong with that. Without the hope of looking, working to find birds, we wouldn’t see anything. You gotta put in the time to convert that which is possible into reality, if I keep looking out back every morning, one of these days, something unusual will come out of the woodwork. In the meantime, there’s lots of other more regular birds to see, some of which include these ones:

So far, we have noticed Tropical Mockingbirds in the area, a few sing from the roadside wires every morning.

Rufous-naped and Cabanis’s Wrens sing from the dense growth, yesterday, I also heard a Rufous-and-white Wren.

The birds that have surprised us have been Barred Antshrike, White-eared Ground-Sparrow, and Giant Cowbird. Although the presence of such species is far from shocking, we didn’t expect there to be enough habitat to support the antshrike and sparrow. As for the cowbird, there are apparently enough oropendolas around to bring them to the birding table as well as a small farm with cows that also attracts them.

The flyby scene has been perhaps the most interesting with such species as Short-tailed, Gray, and Broad-wingeds Hawks, cowbirds, migrant Cliff Swallows, and swifts (White-collared, Vaux’s, Chestnut-collared, and probable Spot-fronted).

Migrants such as Baltimore Oriole, Yellow Warbler, and Yellow-throated Vireo were still here a few days ago but they may have already left. I wonder where they will go, where will they spend the summer? What will they see and experience on the long flight north?

There are also classic garden birds like Red-billed Pigeons, Rufous-tailed and Blue-vented Hummingbirds, Great Kiskadee, Blue-gray Tanager, Great-tailed Grackle, Melodious Blackbird, and others.

Feel like following our yard list during these trying homebound times? Check out our garden eBird list Villa Flores Tyto. Watch our list to know common species are waiting in Costa Rica shortly after exiting the airport. No trips right now but eventually things will be back to normal and these and hundreds of other birds will be waiting!

biodiversity bird finding in Costa Rica

New Page for the Unspotted Saw-whet Owl Project

No matter which country or region, in any field guide, there are some bird species that we look at, think, “Oh I would love to see that one” but then quickly discard that thought after reading that the bird is “very rare”, rarely seen, or other similar discouraging statements. In Costa Rica, the Unspotted Saw-whet Owl tops that list of much wanted birds tossed into the sad, “not likely to be seen” bin.

For most of Costa Rica’s birding history, this little owl was a veritable mystery. It was assumed to live high up in the mountains and in Oak forest but beyond that, had been encountered by very few people. In 1994, while camping in primary high elevation rainforest on a hike up Chirripo Mountain, I was pretty sure I heard one in the middle of the night. I didn’t see it but the bird made the same tooting notes as its saw-what brethren up north. At the time, I couldn’t be entirely sure that it wasn’t a Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl but in retrospect, am quite positive that I had heard one of these special mini owls.

Since then, I have seen it a few times on Irazu and Turrialba Volcanoes and have heard it in the upper reaches of the Dota Valley. Those few times have seen it were thanks to Ernesto Carman, a local ornithologist and guide who spent many hours looking for the owl. It actually took him years to find it until he looked in the right places, in the right conditions, and during the right months. Once he found the birds, it wasn’t long before he and a few other people began to study the owls. The long, cold nights at high elevations have paid off with excellent, much needed information about these birds and Ernesto and his companions at Get Your Birds aren’t done yet!

Recently, they published an excellent website that details the work that get Your Birds has done for the Unspotted Saw-whet Owl Project. Note that on this website, there is also that very intriguing part about going to see the owls…

If you are looking to support a worthwhile birding project in Costa Rica, this would be a good one! Hopefully, I will get a chance to personally see how the project is coming along some time this month.

biodiversity Birding Costa Rica

The 2019 Christmas Bird Count Season in Costa Rica

December is here and in the Central Valley of Costa Rica, we know it by the quick change from rainy days to sunnier, more windy weather. As with the USA and Canada, this final month of the year is also synonymous with Christmas music, the hoods of cars adorned with red reindeer noses, and vehicles topped with tied down, freshly cut conifers as they bring home “the tree” (in Costa Rica, a small Guatemalan Cypress). Us local birders also know that December has arrived by the announcements and preparations being made for our annual Christmas Counts!

In Costa Rica, these annual counts aren’t just times when birders organize to count the birds within a given radius. Many counts in Costa Rica have evolved into mini birding events that promote local enterprise, community, and conservation. Although some of the counts occur outside of the official National Audubon Christmas Count time frame, we do them anyways because, well, any time of the year is a good time to celebrate birds! One such count was recently held at Cangreja National Park, a little visited area in central Costa Rica where Sunbitterns lurk in the shade of forested waterways and Blue-crowned Manakins twitter from the understory.

A picture of Cangreja from last year’s count.

Thanks to support from the Asociacion de Ornitologia de Costa Rica and others, several people from the community near the national park took part in a birding course and helped count birds on the day of the count. I wish we could have made it to that one but work and other responsibilities took precedence. Nor can we do all of the counts taking place this month but we will at least focus on birds at a few.

Similar to past counts, the schedule will probably involve a pre-counting meeting where the organizers go over the routes, provide a talk, and have everyone introduce themselves while we eat a meal together. During the night, some will likely run out there at midnight to look and listen for nocturnal species while we try to get some sleep. On count day, we will be up somewhere around 4 to try for some night birds before getting into counting mode on our respective routes. This will last for much of the day with a break for a boxed lunch before everyone meets in the evening to go over the results. The following day, many of the counters will get in another fun morning of birding, maybe even chasing rarities discovered on count day.

I could go for a nice close look at an Ochre-breasted Antpitta.

I hope we pick up some year birds, I know we will see and hear a lot, and it will be fun to hang out with and share the birding life with other local birders.

If you are in Costa Rica now or will be here in December and want to participate in any of the counts, this is a list of the counts taking place with contact information. Since several of these counts fill up, contact the organizers sooner rather than later! Wishing you lots of birds no matter where you end up counting them this December, 2019!

R.N.V.S. Caño Negro
December 5, 2019

Arenal National Park
December 7, 2019

La Selva Biological Station
December 14, 2019

XXVI Monteverde Count
December 14, 2019

Pacífico Central Carara
December 16, 2019

Cloud Forests of San Ramón
20 and 21 of December, 2019

Osa Península and Corcovado
December 21, 2019

The Rainforest Aerial Tram Bird Count
December 21, 2019
Alan Rodríguez  or Luis Diego Castillo

Santa Rosa National Park Bird Count
December 28, 2019
Frank Joyce and María M. Chavarria Diaz

Volcán Cacao Bird Count
December 30, 2019
Frank Joyce and María M. Chavarria Diaz

Nicoya Peninsula
January 12, 2020,

Chirripó National Park
January 30, February 1 and 2, 2020
Enzo Vargas Salazar​

​Tortuguero National Park
February 1 and 2, 2020

La Amistad International Park
March 6, 7 and 8, 2020