Costa Rica is kind of a birding wonderland. I know, is such hyperbole necessary? It is when the statement is accurate. I mean how else can you describe a place where you can drive for less than an hour and see a quetzal and then smile over near endemics like Flame-throated Warbler and Golden-browed Chlorophonia?
Head downslope and you start to see barbets, tanagers, and keep on adding to the hummingbird list. Not much further and you reach lowland rainforests replete with parrots, macaws, and toucans. And that’s just one small part of this birdy nation.
Other corners of Costa Rica also have their own special birds, one of them being the wetland-forest mosaic of Caño Negro. Situated in northern Costa Rica, this wildlife refuge harbors a fantastic variety of birds including many species difficult or nearly impossible to see elsewhere while birding in Costa Rica. Sort of like a smaller yet more diverse Everglades, the rivers and lagoons at Caño Negro are the easiest places in Costa Rica to see Sungrebe and Nicaraguan Grackle, and also offer chances at dozens of other wetland and rainforest species.
You’ll have to excuse me for going on about the great birding at Caño Negro. A few days ago, myself, my partner Marilen, and more than 40 other local birders had the fortune of participating in the annual count and I’m still feeling that birding afterglow. Based on our recent visit, here are some expectations and suggestions for birding at Caño Negro this upcoming high season.
Water Levels are Everything
Whether high or low water, the birding at Caño Negro is still going to be fantastic. Even so, less water is probably easier for birding that high water because more flooded areas means more places for Agami Heron and small kingfishers to hide, and more places for Jabiru to forage. When the water levels drop, it’s just easier to find these and some other birds. Contrareingly, lower water levels can make it difficult to connect with Yellow-breasted Crake and Pinnated Bittern as well as access more parts of the refuge but that’s why you should also take a boat trip at Medio Queso.
Yellow-tailed Oriole, Nicaraguan Grackle, Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, and More
On a bright note, Yellow-tailed Oriole seems to be increasing in numbers. This large and beautiful Icterid is being seen at more sites in Caño Negro, even on the road to the refuge and village. Your boat driver should know a good site or two to see them along with the other specialties. Speaking of specialties, we did well with seeing the grackle and seed-finch. Both were on the road in as well as in the refuge itself.
Rainforest Species Too…
It’s always good to remember that Caño Negro is much more than wetland birds. Remnant forest also harbors an excellent variety of species including top birds like Snowy Cotinga, possible Gray-headed Kite, occasional Tiny Hawk, woodcreepers, several woodpeckers, Royal Flycatcher, and more.
Still Good for Night Birds
Caño Negro is one of the better spots for nocturnal species. The road in often has a Striped Owl or two, Pacific Screech-Owls live in town and are usually seen on boat rides, and Mottled, Black-and-White, and Spectacled Owls occur in wooded areas even right around the village. It’s also an excellent area for both Great and Common Potoos, and with luck, you might even find the rare Ocellated Poorwill.
Road In- a Bit Rough but Still Possible with Two-Wheel Drive
Despite attempts to put some paving down on the road in to Caño Negro, heavy rains and flooding have given it a bunch of holes and ruts. It’s still possible with two-wheel drive but you’ll have to take it slow and easy. At least you can watch birds on the way in!
Book a Medio Queso Boat Ride for Crake Insurance
If water levels are too low to look for Pinnated Bittern and Yellow-breasted Crake (and they likely will be by February), you can still see those birds and lots more at Medio Queso. Most local providers can set up a boat trip to this excellent site; the best area in Costa Rica for Pinnated Bittern.
If you are headed to Caño Negro, I hope this information helps. If not, think about going, the birding is worth the trip! To learn more about the ins and outs of birding in Costa Rica at Caño Negro and elsewhere, get “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” to help with trip planning and supporting this blog. Happy birding, I hope to see you here!