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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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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!

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How to See More Antpittas When Birding in Costa Rica- Part One

Antpittas aren’t your averge garden bird. At least not unless your backyard borders Andean cloud forest and other places haunted by these most special of plump birds. Many people (that means non-birders too) have heard of sparrows, pigeons, larks, and a host of additional avian groups but antpittas? Yeah…maybe not so much. Ask your average person about antpittas and you may find that such discourse is a good way to elicit looks of confusion, nervous laughter, or maybe even offending someone. Don’t be surprised, it’s what people do when presented with odd language that sounds completely bizarre.

We can’t blame them, after all, the word “antpitta” is likewise confusing to birders who have never seen pictures of antpittas. Ask your backyard birding Uncle Billy about them and he might respond that last time he checked, ants were insects. If he has been studying Birds of the World or scrolling Flcker for colorful bird pictures, is prone to mansplaining and has never birded outside of the confines of his garden, he might also add, “Oh, you mean pittas! Now that’s a beautiful bird. You need to see a pitta, they only live in…Singapore. Go there, there’s tours to see them, you should sign up for one. Oh, and bring your binoculars and a camera, you can’t go on a tour without those. You could learn a lot about birds, there’s a guide that will help you.”

In response, after calming the urge to punch him in the arm, you could mention that yes, you are aware of those jewels of the forest floor but that actually, no, you weren’t referring to them or insects. You had anther bird in mind, the one you had even mentioned..antpittas.

Ochre-breasted-Antpitta

If you still managed to harbor enough patience and good will to continue conversing with your uncle, you could then show him a page or two from a field guide, birding app, or search results that demonstrate some choice members of the Grallaria genus. Who knows? Such a kind gesture might open his eyes and mind to antpittas and if he reacts like many other birders do, his eyes will go wide, he may say things like, “Well I’ll be darned!”, “It’s a football with legs!”, or even “What the hell is that thing…what is it?!?” No matter what his exclamation at the discovery of the antpitta, he will then want to go and see them.

This is because once people who use binoculars learn about antpittas, most really, really want to experience them. One might assume that birders would prefer to ogle the iridescence of tanagers, fill their eyes with eagles, and enjoy the fairy moves of hummingbirds. Therein lies some truth but birding is so much more than the fancy side of avian life. Attraction is also found in unexpected appearances, in birds that hop right into your imagination.

In the case of antpittas, they jumpstart your sense of wonder by looking like forest gnomes wearing feathered capes, by mournfully whistling at you from the depths of the rainforest, and by rarely letting you see them. The taming of antpittas with worms has erased some of that antpitta fantasy but it hasn’t made a dent in their popularity. If anything, feeding them has brought these odd birds into the birding spotlight, has made more people aware that these weird and wonderful creatures exist.

In Costa Rica, we are blessed with 5 antpitta species and although you won’t find any antpitta feeding stations, there still are ways to see them. This post is numero one in a short series about antpittas. Let’s start with the megaist one of the bunch:

Black-crowned Antpitta

Actually in a related but separate bird family (the Conophagidae) and therefore more properly known as a “Gnatpitta“, this fancy bird is one heck of a mega. Unfortunately, one of the reasons why it’s a “mega” is because you don’t see them.

Black-crowned Antpitta digiscoped Costa Rica
A Black-crowned Antpitta I digiscoped some years ago in Costa Rica.

Despite being big enough to take on a chicken in a fair fight, this gangstapitta is also adept at avoiding birders. Sadly, it does it all the time and not by merit of its skulking prowess. It’s also honestly uncommon and seems to have declined in the few sites where used to chuckle at passing birders (seriously, listen to it chuckle). As with so many other birds and climate crisis life in general, this decline is likely associated with consistently drier conditions that have resulted in less things to eat.

With that extra bit of scarcity factor in mind, seeing this special bird in Costa Rica has become that much more difficult. Since this Pittasoma is also regular at sites in Panama, most save a date with it whle birding there. However, since the ones most often seen in Panama are another, distinct subspecies, connecting with it in Costa Rica is worth the effort.

If that’s the case, why isn’t it seen on birding tours in Costa Rica? As in any tours? The answer is basically “other birds” and “logistics”. While a tour could see Black-crowned Antpitta on one or more of the regular circuits, making that happen would take up time more easily dedicated to seeing many other birds much easier to see and photograph. It can take hours, even days to find (or majorly dip) one of these birds.

The Costa Rica Pittasoma equation is further complicated by logistics. The sites where the bird is regular are off the regular tour track and most aren’t very suitable for group tours. Until we find accessible and reliable places for the antpitta in northern Costa Rica, tours will need to detour or focus on southern Costa Rica.

Given the excellent birding near and south of Limon, that’s not such a bad idea! The best option for a group tour would probably be Selva Bananito while more indepedent birders could stay in any number of places near Cahuita or Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and look for the antpitta at Kekoldi and other suitably forested sites. The best places seem to be streams and other wet and muddy areas in primary rainforest and adjacent old second growth. As with other antpittas, even then, the bird isn’t easy to find but your chances improve if you can quietly scan for it on forest trails at dawn and in the late afternoon, and listen for its distinctive vocalizations.

But wait, that’s not all! Luckily, in common with some other challenging understory species, this bird loves to follow Army Ants. If you find an ant swarm in good habitat for the gnatpitta, keep waiting and try to stay with the ants until the antpitta makes an appearance. The nice thing about this birding hat trick is if the antpitta doesn’t show, you will still a bunch of other cool birds, maybe even a darn R.V. G. Cuckoo.

Finding this special antpitta is never easy but you can’t go wrong looking in the right places; in the homes of antpittas, the birding trends towards the awesome end of the spectrum.

To be continued…

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Some of the Best Road Birding in Costa Rica: the Ceiba-Cascajal Road

Great spots for birding in Costa Rica aren’t limited to national parks and protected areas.

Don’t get me wrong, many of those special places are excellent and you can’t go wrong with a day of birding in Carara or Tapanti but they aren’t the only sites to enjoy quality birding time.

In Costa Rica, byways that pass through a mix of private lands with varying degrees of protected status can be replete with excellent “road birding”. One such hotspot is the Ceiba-Cascajal Road, a promising area
that has been consistent with generating a fine variety of rare, uncommon, and serious mega species. As with so many other good birding spots in Costa Rica, it also has an excellent sampling of more expected birds.

Situated west of the town of Orotina in the hot Pacific lowlands, the area is dotted with patches of tropical dry forest, riparian zones, pasture, sugarcane fields, and at least one seasonal wetland. The end result is
habitat for a large number of species and most can be encountered from a good gravel road. This country road links the town of Orotina to smaller settlements and the main coastal highway. Additional side roads probably offer up similar good birding but they might not be as maintained as the main route linking Orotina to Ceiba and Cascajal.

Head to Ceiba and you can keep on birding dry tropical forest and other habitats all the way to Bajamar and Guacalillo; classic areas for birding tours in search of dry forest species. Take the Cascajal route and although it might cover a smaller area, there’s still plenty enough habitat for a fine day of birding. From what I have seen, this road also accesses
more interesting habitat; a mosaic of promising wooded areas with big trees and an open area with a seasonal wetland.

Where to look for birds? While there are plenty of birds to see anywhere along on the roadside, this information should give some notion of expectations:

Dry Forest Birds

A good percentage of tropical dry forest species are present. Although you probably won’t find birds that require larger areas of more intact forest, notably Thicket Tinamou, Elegant Trogon, and Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, there are plenty of Long-tailed Manakins, Turquoise-browed Motmots, Black-headed Trogons, and Striped-headed Sparrows to look at. The more wooded spots and riparian zones will also be good places to look for possible Stub-tailed Spadebill, Royal Flycatcher, Nutting’s Flycatcher, and various other dry forest birds.

One of the many Turquoise-browed Motmots from this road.

Scrubby areas can have Striped and Lesser ground-Cuckoos, Crested Bobwhite, wintering Painted Bunting, and wintering Grasshopper Sparrow (an uncommon, much desired species for local birders), as well as other rare sparrows. Both wooded and scrubby areas occur on various parts of the road.

Wide Open Habitats

When you feel like taking a break from peering into vegetation, scan the open fields for Double-striped Thick-Knee, Southern Lapwing, raptors, swallows, and various other open country species. The thick-knees may be seasonal but even if you don’t see them, there will still be other interesting open country birds to look at including occasional Red-breasted Meadowlark. One such visit to a spot with open fields turned up Costa Rica’s best documented Burrowing Owl!
The sighting prompted Costa Rica’s subsequent biggest twitch which then sadly became Costa Rica’s biggest dip. Did the bird get scared off by too much photography harassment (a growing problem)? That’s always possible but we will never know.

Double-striped Thick-Knee

Seasonal Wetlands

These can occur in a few different parts of the road; one is a low, wet spot in the area with large open fields on both sides of the road, and the other is on the road to Cascajal. This second wetland is particularly interesting as it has some freshwater marsh vegetation and low scrubby growth in wet fields. Although I didn’t see any on a recent visit, the site looks perfect for Wilson’s Snipe and may host uncommon or vagrant wetland species from time to time. I’m eager to give it a good check!

Night Birding

The nocturnal birding on this road can be very productive. Although it may take some time to find the birds, Barn and Striped Owls occur, Pacific Screech-Owl is common in wooded areas with large trees, Mottled Owl is also fairly common in those same spots, Black-and-white Owl sometimes occurs, and Spectacled Owl can show up in the more wooded riparian zones. And those aren’t the only night birds lurking in the dark!

Although uncommon, both Northern and Common Potoo have been found, Lesser Nighthawks are commonly seen in the evening skies,
and Common Pauraques will flush from the track at night. Given the open habitat, it wouldn’t be out of the question to find a rare White-tailed Nightjar and Chuck-will’s Widdow may be found in the winter months.

It’s also a good idea to pay careful attention to any nightjar seen on or perched near the road just in case you find a rare wintering Whip-poor-will or document Spot-tailed Nightjar for Costa Rica. Although not on the official list, some years ago, one may have been seen by Robert Dean and Eduardo Amengual in dry habitat on the road to Monteverde.

Given this possible sighting and its migratory nature, I included it as one of several species to look for on the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app.
The wet, open fields along the Ceiba-Cascajal Road look like a very good place for this mega to occur.

I should also mention if you do go night birding on this road, keep an eye out for snakes. Please watch for any of these shy and over persecuted creatures on the road and be careful to not injure them!

Raptors

The mosaic of tropical habitats and large dove and rodent population make this road an excellent area for raptors. Keep an eye on soaring birds and check the electric pylons and big trees for perched birds.

Here’s the raptor deal on some of what to look for:

Pearl Kite– Uncommon but regular.
Vultures– Among common Black and Turkey Vultures, keep an eye out for the occasional King and rare Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture in open wet fields.
Osprey- There must be more water in this area than I think because I have often see an Osprey or two flapping overhead!
Hook-billed Kite– Uncommon but present.
Gray-headed Kite– Rare but could occur from time to time in more wooded areas.
Plumbeous Kite– An uncommon summer visitor, more common in the Guacimo-Guacalillo part of the road.
Crane Hawk– Rare but does occur in this area.
Bicolored Hawk– Rare but has been recorded.
Cooper’s Hawk– This is a good area for this uncommon wintering species.
Sharp-shinned Hawk– Another uncommon wintering species in Costa Rica.
Northern Harrier– A rare wintering species in Costa Rica, this is a fair spot for it.
Harriss’ Hawk– This road is one of the easier sites for this species in Costa Rica.
Broad-winged Hawk– A common migrant and wintering species.
Short-tailed Hawk– As with many areas in Costa Rica, one of the more commonly seen raptors.
Gray Hawk– One of the most frequent raptor species in Costa Rica.

Roadside Hawk- Another common raptor in Costa Rica, especially in the lowlands.

Roadside-Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawk- Uncommon but regular.
Red-tailed Hawk– In the lowlands, occasional wintering individuals occur. This is a good site for migrants from the north.
Swainson’s Hawk– Although most migrate through Costa Rica, some winter in open areas of the Pacific lowlands.
White-tailed Hawk– An occasional visitor to this area.
Collared Forest-Falcon– As with many sites, fairly common but secretive. Easiest to detect when it calls in the early morning and evening.
Laughing Falcon– Fairly common.
American Kestrel, Merlin, and Peregrine– The open fields of this road are good sites for these wintering species.
Bat Falcon– A pair or two seem to be present and can be seen anywhere along the road.
Aplomado Falcon– Yes! Not expected but this vagrant migrant to Costa Rica has been seen at this site and given the open habitat could occur from time to time.
Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras– fairly common.

Parrots

It’s always fun to see parrots! The three most common species in this area are White-fronted Parrot, Orange-fronted Parakeet, and Orange-chinned Parakeet.

Yellow-naped Parrot, Red-lored Parrot, White-crowned Parrot and Crimson-fronted Parakeet are also regular and even Scarlet Macaw can be seen.

One of several overlooked birding destinations in Costa Rica, in large part, we can thank some local birders for bringing attention to the avian richness and potential of this site, especially Beto Guido, Mckoy Umaña, and others.

I look forward to my next visit, hopefully, one that begins before dawn. To learn more about where to see birds in Costa Rica along with insider tips to look for them, check out “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica“. Happy birding, I hope to see you here!

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Birding Manzanillo, Costa Rica on October Global Big Day, 2021

October is migration season in Costa Rica. It can also be heavy afternoon rain season or even rain all day season but the massive influx of birds is fair compensation. This is the month when us local birders do well by watching green space and inspecting the many Red-eyed Vireos for birds with black whiskers. I’ve put in a fair amount of vireo checking time and although I’m still whiskerless, I’ll keep on looking.

Looking at every gray-capped, pale white and olive bird is worth it and not just because one might have black whiskers. I enjoy each and every one because they have flown from the leafy green summer woods of Ohio, New York, and Ontario. I owe it to them; these are the birds that survived the window gauntlets of the north. I admire their soft, unobtrusive ways and knowing that Costa Rica is just one stop on the flyway train to Amazonia makes these foliage-colored birds sort of unbelievable.

During October Global Big, 2021, I had expected to pass the time checking vireos and other less mobile species right around the home. On account of local driving restrictions, we weren’t allowed to use the car on October 9th, I had become resigned to the idea of local exploration. Not to mention, I had things to do on the day after Global Big Day so why go anywhere? It was birding from home or no birding at all. That was alright, there’s always stuff to see, especially during migration times.

At least that was the idea until my Sunday plans were changed to a later date. Suddenly, the door of possibilities opened to going somewhere for the big eBird count on October 9th! We would have to leave on Friday in order to stay overnight in a place where we could bird on foot or bicycle on Saturday (because of those driving restrictions). Since we would have to wait until Sunday to drive home, well, we would just have to watch birds on that morning too.

It took some quick planning and very few places had availability but before we knew it, our later afternoon and evening plans for Friday included a long drive to Costa Rica’s promised land for migration; the southern Caribbean zone.

The South Caribbean region of Costa Rica includes any of the lands south of Limon. I always love visiting this underbirded part of the country because there is a good amount of nice forest habitat, beaches and estuaries that turn up interesting seabirds, cool resident species, interesting Caribbean culture, and fantastic bird migration.

Stay just about anywhere south of Limon and you will see a lot. Partly because of room availability, we ended up in Manzanillo. I’m not complaining. This little town near the end of the line around 15 kilometers past Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is surrounded by the rainforests of the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, an excellent underbirded area that host a healthy variety of lowland species along with a big helping of migrants. Since the village of Manzanillo acts as a clearing in that forest, it can attract some interesting open country species as well as be a great place to see birds in flight as they make their way south.

Some suggestions and highlights from our trip:

Guapiles-Limon Highway- Night Driving is a No No

This principal highway has been under construction for some years now. It will still be some years before it’s finished. When it is finished, the driving should be fantastic, day and maybe night too. Until then, I highly advise only driving that road during the day. On Friday, we found ourselves doing some night driving and…it was like participating in a road trip from another dimension, one where nightmares are the norm. No illumination, no painted road lanes, the only reflectors being some small posts that marked the edge of the road (which happened to be a small cliff that dropped a meter or more). There were also big trucks, a few confusing lane changes, and a few random criminally negligent road craters.

If you do find yourself driving that particular byway during the dark hours, if you make it to Limon and its any consolation, the driving after that point is sweet and easy-going. Time your trip accordingly.

Birding in Manzanillo Village- Check the Streams

In the early morning of October 9th, I walked a block or two up the road to a small stream that passes next to an empty weedy lot and heads straight into wetlands with Raffia palms. As soon as I got there I heard a splash followed by soft ticking calls. I knew it had to be one of the small kingfishers and as I had suspected, yes (!), it was the smallest one.

That American Pygmy-Kingfisher flew downstream but right after its departure, I heard more ticking calls, this time from the part of the stream next to the vacant lot. A quick scan and I couldn’t believe my luck, it was the rarest of the small kingfishers, a Green-and-Rufous! Next thing I knew, it was zipping my way, seemingly pursued by a Clay-colored Thrush. The jade and burnt orange kingfisher flew about a meter next to me as it jetted past.

This is a Green-and-rufous Kingfisher from Cano Negro.

Birding that same spot also gave us nice looks at Prothonotary Warbler, Canebrake Wren, and some other birds, the most interesting being a surprise Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, a bird much more normally encountered on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific slope.

Pay an Early Visit to the Trails in Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

We ended up visiting the official trails of the refuge after in the later par of the morning. We hadn’t planned it that way, in fact, we hadn’t planned on doing that at all. But since we were walking over that way, we ended up entering and walking the trails for a short ways.

We saw several Tawny-crested Tanagers (very common in this area) and some other birds but if I could do it again (and I would like to), I would enter the trails right at the opening time of 6:30. That would result in much more bird activity coupled with less people activity. On our weekend visit, the place was crowded like Disney.

I should mention that visiting the trails (of which there are a few, most follow the beach) was as easy as writing down your name and some other information, having your bag briefly checked for alcohol beverages (leave the wine back at the hotel!), and visiting a hand washing station (commonplace in Costa Rica since the start of the pandemic).

Check Out the Soccer Field (Football Pitch)

As with settlements of all sizes in Costa Rica and most parts of the world away from Canada and the USA, Manzanillo had a soccer field (football pitch). This is always a good place to check, especially during migration. It’s where Costa Rica’s sole record of Whistling Heron was made and where other occasional vagrants have appeared.

On our visit, the field hosted a bunch of Eastern Kingbirds, Dickcissels, and a few resident species. The kingbirds were perched on the ground either resting and/or fluttering after bugs. I have never seen anything like it! As a major bonus, one of the only kingbirds perched in a tree next to the pitch just happened to be a long overdue country bird; a Gray Kingbird!

The pale Caribbean version of a TK gave us fantastic looks in perfect light. At some point, we had to stop watching it, a shame we didn’t bring the camera!

Bird the RECOPE Road or the Road Towards Puerto Viejo for Great Forest Birding, or Bird Both

Both of these options are just outside of the village and both are excellent for a number of Caribbean lowland species. We didn’t see anything crazy but the birding early Sunday morning was nevertheless excellent. I heard fruitcrows and Central American Pygmy-Owls, had fun watching Northern Barred and Black-striped Woodcreepers, and was challenged by trying to watch dozens and dozens of small birds way up there in the canopy. Most were Red-eyed Vireos but other bird were with them too, it was the fun type of busy.

Central American Pygmy Owl

Don’t Forget About the Village Birding

Manzanillo itself also makes for some nice birding. We enjoyed flocks of Eastern Kingbirds and streams of migrating swallows. Common Nighthawks in the evening and plenty of parrots, tanagers, flycatchers, and other birds during the day. There were also the two aforementioned kingfishers, a calling Great Potoo at night, the Yellow-crowned Tyarnnulet, and other species. It’ the type of place where every bird should be checked and where a Tiny Hawk can suddenly appear at the tip top of a tree.

Our October Global Big Day turned out to be a pleasant 127 species surprise. Not bad for doing all of our birding on foot, taking a short afternoon nap, and meeting with friends for drinks on the beach. I can’t wait for my next birding trip to the southern Caribbean zone of Costa Rica.

To learn more about this and other birding sites in Costa Rica, check out “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica“; a 700 plus page birding companion for Costa Rica.

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Costa Rica Birding News October, 2021

October in Costa Rica is a month of migration. It’s our May, the time of year for local birders to perk up their ears, check those recent sightings in eBird and get themselves into the birding zone. Knowing that thousands of birds are passing through Costa Rican territory night and day, it’s a challenge to not wander outside and connect with that migration flow.

However, if there were a birding bible, it would likely say, “One cannot live on watching birds alone, there are other important things in life too.” With that in mind, I am grateful to be able to get in an hour of birding on most mornings and I also venture further afield now and then. Thanks to eBird and Facebook pages, I’m also kept informed of some sweet sightings made by Costa Rica’s strong (and growing) local birding community. Check out some of the latest notable birding news from Costa Rica:

White-cheeked Pintail at Punta Morales

Local birder Mckoy Umana has found more than one rarity. Thanks to his skills of observation and dedication, Mary and I saw a beautiful mega Gray-hooded Gull last year at Punta Morales. A few days ago, he did it again by finding a mega White-cheeked Pintail at the same site! Several other birders have gone to see this vagrant duck, I hope it stays long enough for us to lay eyes on it too. One can’t help but wonder if it’s the same individual that was seen near Ciudad Neily earlier this year. It also makes me wonder what other cool vagrant waterfowl are waiting in present and future birding wings.

Oilbird Tracked with Transmitter!

Thanks to another talented local birder and guide, an Oilbird in Costa Rica has finally been tracked with a transmitter! Given that we don’t know where these nocturnal birds are coming from, this is probably the most important Costa Rica bird news of the year. Thanks to persistence and hard work carried out by David Rodriguez, for the first time, data are finally available showing movements of an Oilbird in Costa Rica.

Oilbird in Costa Rica
The Oilbird is some weird, nocturnal, mega whatnot. This was my lifer from 2013.

Although the transmitter stopped recording before it entered any caves (as far as is known), it did show that the bird traveled more than 200 kilometers while visiting sites near the Pacific Coast.

Cerulean Warblers Tracked with Transmitters!

Odd nocturnal birds weren’t the only species tracked in Costa Rica. Thanks to MOTUS towers that were recently erected, Cerulean Warblers fitted with transmitters have been tracked in Costa Rica and in Panama. This work was accomplished by Ernesto Carman, Paz Irola, and other folks associated with the Cerulean Project.

A Good Year for Buff-breasted Sandpipers (or Just Better Detection?)

This fall migration seems to have been especially good for Buff-breasted Sandpipers. This long distance Arctic migrant was seen by several local birders at sites in Guanacaste and at the Juan Santamaria Airport (my partner and I were pleased to have seen one a few days ago). Each year, “Buffies” migrate through Costa Rica but since they don’t have a huge population and can just fly right on over Costa Rica in a jiffy, they can be easily missed.

For the past few years, though, Buff-breasteds have been seen in Costa Rica at several sites on an annual basis. Unfortunately, I doubt the additional sightings are from an unknown yet very welcome increase in their numbers. Don’t we all wish that were the case! Such a hopeful situation would be wonderful and I would love to be proved wrong but more Buffies being seen in Costa Rica is almost certainly a result of there being higher numbers of skilled local birders looking for them. The more people looking the better, now who’s going to find us a Red-necked Stint? If not one of those Sibs, a Curlew Sandpiper will do…

Pacific Golden-Plover Seen at Cocos Island

Speaking of lost shorebirds, in September, a Pacific Golden-Plover was reported from Cocos Island. Given that one was also seen there last year, a few other records from mainland Costa Rica have also come to light, and because we are talking about a bird all too easily passed off an an American Golden-Plover, I can’t help but wonder if the bird from Alaska occurs as an annual vagrant. Yet another situation for observant local birders to be aware of.

Bare-necked Umbrellabirds at Centro Manu

Yes, finally, some news about a resident species every birder headed to Costa Rica would love to see! This rare mega is a choice species equally hoped for by local birders. It can turn up at any number of sites but because they are so few in number, chances at seeing them always seem frustratingly dismal. Not at the moment!

Although far from guaranteed, lately, several of this endangered species have been seen at Centro Manu. This species moves around so it’s hard to say how long they will be there but recently, one or more have been seen on a daily basis. Might they stay until January? The answer probably depends in part on how much food is available.

Fortunately, we may have some good gen about the big cotinga’s daily occurrence thanks to local birder Kenneth Guttierez. His family owns the place and he checks the trails just about every day. Let’s hope the birds stay into February. I should also add that their presence highlights the importance of forest reserves in the transition zone between foothills and lowlands. This ecotone is what umbrellabirds (and various other birds) need, it should be a priority for reforestation efforts.

That’s about all for Costa Rica birding news for today. I could also mention that hundreds of resident species are waiting to be seen but that’s actually not news because in Costa Rica, fantastic birding is expected. Hope to see you here!

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A Good Day of Birding in Costa Rica’s Central Valley

What’s a good day of birding in Costa Rica? For that matter, what’s a good day of birding anywhere? A common answer is “a good day of birding is any day when you go birding”. I can’t deny a certain degree of veracity to those words but let’s face it, no day of birding is the same, sometimes you get better views, others are highlighted with rare species, and the best of days exceed all expectations.

In trying to keep with the Zen birding way, before I look for birds, I try to erase the expectations. I am aware of the possibilities, that’s always important, but don’t actually expect anything. This way, the birding experience is more realistic because after all, the appearance and occurrence of birds are beyond our control. All we can do is up the odds in our favor by planting trees or taking other actions to protect bird habitat, learn how to look for and identify birds, and then carefully look for them in the right places.

Today being in the heart of fall migration, I can’t honestly say I didn’t have expectations but I still went birding without expecting to see certain species. I knew various species were out there, suspected that rare ones were present too but also walked out the door knowing that I can’t know if or when we would cross paths with them. All one can do is the things one can control; put in the birding time, observe, and be quick with the binos.

With or without expectations, today, September 26, 2021 was a good day of birding in the Central Valley of Costa Rica (perhaps my best). These are some of the reason why:

Major Migration

Each morning, lately, I have started the day looking out back, checking to see which birds have arrived from the north. Most mornings, a few birds are there, some days more than others. There have been a few good mornings but nothing like today, a day that featured an observable morning flight. Multiple warblers and vireos shot out of the vegetation, as per usual, flying upstream. A few stopped but most kept going and I couldn’t try and follow, there were other birds to look at. At times, a few too many.

A bird flying into a Cecropia turned into a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher. Eastern Kingbirds materialized in a treetop to my right. Something else zipped in and landed…this fall’s first Summer Tanager! Scanning the background revealed a small flock of Bronzed cowbirds, a larger flock of Crimson-fronted Parakeet and a constant movement of Bank Swallows. I had 50 species in maybe 30 minutes and we were about to head out the door to look for more.

A Summer Tanager in Costa Rica from another day- many of this species winter in Costa Rica.

Nonstop Birding

Hundreds of arrivals from the north and cloudy conditions made for excellent bird activity. At our first main stop, a small area of shade coffee, Red-eyed Vireos and Yellow and Blackburnian Warblers flitted in the trees, four Orchard Orioles chattered from an empty lot thick with grass, and swallows kept streaming overhead. More Bank Swallows moved through along with dark-throated Cliffs, elegant Banks, and a random massive Purple Martin. Before we left that spot, we also heard our first fall migration Swainson’s Thrush and had close looks at the following key species.

Cabanis’s Ground Sparrow

While searching for hidden cuckoos, I heard the tick ticking calls of one of Costa Rica’s major target birds, the Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow. I see this species at this site from time to time but it’s never guaranteed. Like other skulking ones, this southernmost towhee is a fickle bird that inherently calls its own shots. This morning, three of them gave us a break and allowed us to appreciate their clownish face pattern.

Upland Sandpiper

Next on the list of sites to visit was a place with large expanses of short grass, a busy place that breeds noise but our only close option for grasspipers. Our main target was Buff-breasted Sandpiper and although scanning the runways did not turn up that Arctic visitor, we couldn’t find fault with an Upland Sandpiper. Our second of the year, this special grassland bird was busy foraging near Eastern Meadowlarks and a Killdeer. Perhaps it was reminded of its summer home.

Sunbittern

After the airport, we checked the San Miguel reservoir. This small body of water can be a magnet for waterbirds, when dry, it can also be good for Baird’s Sandpiper. Today, no mud flats meant no Baird’s and with the place being covered with Water Hyacinth, we only saw Northern Jacanas, Muscovy Ducks, herons, Purple Gallinules, and a few other birds. With so much vegetation present, thoughts of Masked Duck came to mind (it could easily be there) and we scanned for it but didn’t see one today.

Instead, we saw a Sunbittern! Not on the reservoir itself but just downhill, along the main road where a bridge crosses a forested creek. I had stopped there hoping to find migrants in the woods when I heard the whistle of the Sunbittern. Thank goodness it was vocalizing. If not, I doubt I would have noticed it. We saw one of these Gondwana birds from the bridge and heard another. A fine random sighting for the Central Valley and a reminder of how prevalent this shy species is in Costa Rica.

A Snippet of a Cuckoo

Our final sweet sighting for the day was as brief as a gust of wind but it’ll still do. While watching Alder Flycatcher share space with Olive Sparrow, Scrub Euphonia, Nutting’s Flycatcher, and other birds, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo fast-trained it out of nowhere and flew deep into a fruiting fig. We looked, I tried to remind it of other places by whistling like an Eastern Screech-Owl but it must have been in a vacation state of mind, we never saw it again.

As I write, the day’s not over yet. I just counted 90 species from four hours of birding in the morning and 30 minutes more during the afternoon. With a more concerted effort, we could have easily found more than ten additional species but today was already a fantastic day of birding, I hope yours’ was too.