web analytics
Categories
bird finding in Costa Rica bird photography Birding Costa Rica

The Easy Beauty of Common Birds in Costa Rica

Beauty might be in the eye of the beholder (maybe not this beholder…) but many of us Homo sapiens do lean towards bright and bold colors. A relict adaptation to pick ripe fruits? A side effect of having better vision than sense of smell? Or, maybe, way back in the African early days of humans, we were just all meant to be birders…

Whatever the explanations, we tend to ooh and ahh over breeding plumaged wood-warblers, the shiny, multi-colored feathers of tanagers, and other shades of the rainbow shown by our avian friends. Yes, because how many birders keep watching a House Sparrow or a cowbird when a male Blackburnian or American Redstart are within bino range? I think it’s Ok to accept that brightly colored birds look cool and there’s nothing wrong with ignoring sparrows or Chiffchaffs if something with yellow, green, or blue pops into view.

Nothing wrong with staring at the Halloween colors of the American Redstart… 

But a birder doesn’t have to look far to find some eye catching, colorful avian beauty. Many a common bird happens to be beautiful; just check out the subtle blues of a Blue Jay and know that non-North American birders seriously want to lay eyes on a Cardinal. The same goes for non-European birders who have never seen a Blue Tit. Before I birded in Europe, I couldn’t wait to see one of those little blue and yellow birds. I had known them from old illustrations and other works of art and from a field guide that I brought to France in the early 90s. After I walked off that train near Arles, it wasn’t long before I was finally admiring and ticking the common, beautiful blue and yellow chickadee. There they were, working a nearby riparian zone, and they were the colors of spring and summer wild flowers, the hues of a sunny April day. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Granted, they were lifers but one that is also a common garden species in many places.

In Costa Rica, we have our own set of common beautiful birds, species that are hard to miss and kind of irresistible. Although it’s impossible to pick just a few from a list of more than 900 species, these are more than a dozen of the common beauties that come to mind:

Hummingbirds– With several being common and easy to see, I couldn’t resist mentioning more than one. Check out feeders, gardens, and forest in middle elevation habitats and you will probably see a Violet Sabrewing or two.

Yes, this big purple hummingbird is actually common!

Take a walk in rainforest or just hang out in the hotel gardens in or near forest and you will probably see Crowned Woodnymph. Although the female doesn’t do much to impress, the purple and green male is a flying jewel.

One of the more numerous hummingbirds of rainforest habitats in Costa Rica.

Meanwhile, if the birding is limited to the vicinity of the hotel, you can bet that the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird will make itself known.

The most common hummingbird in the country. 

Gartered Trogon– I have finally become so used to referring to this species by its “new” name, I almost forgot that it used to be called the “Violaceous Trogon”. This multi-colored bird is also one of the more common trogon species in Costa Rica and can even be seen near the Central Valley in the Peace University area. Its penchant for forest edge also makes it fairly easy to see.

It’s especially odd to see one of these beauties perch on a roadside wire.

Turquoise-browed Motmot– Anything with “turquoise” in its name is going to be good and this exotic looking bird is no exception. Even better, it’s downright common in dry forest settings from the Carara area north to Nicaragua. Although, like other motmots, this species can also be reclusive during the sun and heat of the day, it’s pretty easy to find in the early morning and late afternoon. If you happen to be driving in their habitat at this time of day, don’t be surprised to see a few perched on roadside wires.

Check out the exotic beauty of this bird.

Keel-billed Toucan– Although I suspect that this rainbow-billed bird isn’t as common as it used to be, it’s still fairly easy to find in many places, especially in sites south of Limon and around Rincon de la Vieja.

Fancy and common.

Hoffmann’s Woodpecker– With their bold black and white patterns highlighted by stickpins of yellow, red, and gold, woodpeckers are commonly admired for their handsome appearance. Several in Costa Rica fit that description, including one of the easiest ones to the see, the Hoffmann’s Woodpecker.

Watch for this beautiful bird in the Central Valley, on the Pacific slope north of Jaco, and around Arenal. It even lives in the middle of the city.  

Crimson-fronted Parakeet– Several members of this famous family of birds occur in Costa Rica, most are fairly common, and all are easy on the eyes. But, if I had to pick just one, I go with this parakeet because it has become adapted to urban settings, even nesting on buildings in San Jose and roosting in the parks. If you notice some long-tailed parakeets screeching and flying over the traffic, you would be looking at Crimson-fronted Parakeets.

Masked Tityra– Although we never see lots of this one, it is fairly common and widespread. I have even seen them at fruiting trees in the Central Valley, the striking combination of white, black, and pink puts the Masked Tityra on the list.

Mangrove Swallow– I have always loved the colors of swallows, it stems back to seeing some of my first pictures of birds and marveling over the metallic colors of Tree Swallows, of Barn Swallows. Common, how can they be so beautiful? The Mangrove is no exception. A common bird of lowland rivers and other wetlands, this jade-backed bird will stay with your boat on the Tarcoles, Sarapiqui, and Sierpe Rivers.

Yellow-throated Euphonia– Reminiscent of the beauty shown by swallows, this pretty little bird also has a metallic iridescence on its upper parts. Watch for it in gardens of the Central Valley and much of the Pacific slope.

Or, visit the feeders at the Fortuna Nature Trail.

Collared Redstart– Head to the high elevations and you are likely to run into this stunning bird.

Scarlet-rumped Tanager– Now that the lump has taken effect, we can refer to this one by its classic, more accurate name! Visit the humid lowlands and you will see this striking common bird.

Just beautiful!

Golden-hooded Tanager– Common in humid lowland areas, as a bonus, this multi-colored bird also comes to feeders.

Its local name is “Seven Colors”.

Green Honeycreeper– Feeling down? Had a bad day? Watch this living gem to make your troubles go away. The Green Honeycreeper comes to feeders and is a common species of gardens and other habitats in humid regions of Costa Rica.

I can never get enough of this one…

Blue-gray Tanager– Last but not least, we can’t forget this very common yet beautiful bird. Another one to just gaze at while enjoying a fantastic locally grown coffee. And isn’t that one of the beautiful things in life?

I could stare at any of these birds for hours. Sometimes I do that while guiding around Poas and other sites. Do you want to see and photograph these and dozens of other beautiful birds in Costa Rica? I would be happy to take you to them. Contact me at information@birdingcraft.com

Categories
bird finding in Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica

Birding in Costa Rica? Some of the Coolest Resident Birds

Birding in Costa Rica now? If so, lucky you! It’s a good time to be raising the binos in the land of quetzals, hummingbirds, and friendly folks. Don’t worry about not birding during the birding ides of March because although there isn’t as much rain, the dry times come at the expense of braving a solar beat-down. In Costa Rica, since the third month is when Helios is at all of its tropical strength and splendor, I don’t recommend any degree of tanning, most birds don’t really dig the near equatorial UV rays either. Visit now and it might rain more often but the cloud cover does help to lower the temps and, even better, there’s more avian activity.

Steely-vented Hummingbirds might come out to play.

There are lots of birds to look for and watch, including many common ones. Some, are, in fact, cool. Although the “cool” label is subjective and transient for human stuff like movies, music, clothing, eateries, and places to be, it’s less ephemeral for birds. Not that we can compare organic chocolate or Arthur Fonzarelli or parachute pants or The Last Drago movie with real life feathered awesome things but since they are far more permanent than the trivialities of human culture, when a bird gets the “cool” label, it stays.

The Green-crowned Brilliant can be one cool character.

Speaking of cool labels, I look forward to the day when we have birding tech that shows our own personal read-outs for the birds we are looking at. The cool ones will have something like an embossed silver script that appears above them on our visor or our special scope glasses . It will say, “officially cool” or, customized versions of “cool” because since “cool” will still be subjective in the future, it will be up to birders to choose their own coolest birds because let’s face the truth, we can’t expect Larophiles to slap the cool label onto something as non gullish as a Brown Creeper or titmouse. And, how we say “cool” will also differ by region and age group. For example some Bostonians might feel more comfortable saying “wicked cool” for a Blackburnian in breeding plumage. Other folks might just say “awesome”, while yet others might prefer to refer to a bird as “MEGA”, “Triple F” (“fave feathered friend” or “fabulous feathered friend” ), or, in the case of future youngsters, “jelly” or “mantis” or “nova” because kids in the future will probably say those words instead of “cool”.

In any case, these are some of the birds in Costa Rica that would get the “cool” read out on my future birding visor, at least in my opinion:

Chachalaca…not! Sorry, this bird is not cool.

Sorry, although you do look more like one of your dinosaur ancestors than a Yellow Warbler, you just aren’t that cool. Ever since I saw a young chachalaca walk straight over the open flame of a candle in Peru and then ignore a Black Hawk-Eagle trying to snatch it on another day, I just feel too tempted to use the word “fool” instead of “cool” for members of the Ortalis clan.

Now for the real cool birds, the ones that would wear sunglasses and be kung-fu experts if they were human….

All eagles– Like obviously. I mean these birds could easily get away with wearing shades. They could almost lead biker gangs and get away with it. In Costa Rica, we got goshawkish terrors known as hawk-eagles, the rare giant black-hawk that goes by the cool name of “Solitary Eagle”, and of course, our pair of ultra rare monster favorites, the Crested Eagle and the ultimate in Neotropical cool, the legendary Harpy Eagle. A real rainforest A-Lister, much to our dismay, the Harpy would rather avoid the limelight that deal with the paparazzi. Same goes for the Crested, and as for the Solitary, well, it also just feels too cool to come out and have its picture taken. Not that we can blame the monster Buteogallus though because after all, it’s not called “Solitary” for nothing.

At least the super cool Ornate Hawk-Eagle is doing well in Costa Rica. We see this beautiful raptor at many sites.

Tiny Hawk– On the other end of the raptor spectrum, we have this ferocious, thrush-sized terror. Like a flying shrew, it snatches hummingbirds, honeycreepers, and even tanagers. Very cool!

Jabiru– It’s massive, it’s weird, it’s super cool, the one and only Jabiru. Biggest stork on this side of the planet, I gotta call it cool.

Great Green Macaw– To be honest, I’m not sure if this large in charge spectacular parrot is more “majestic” than “cool”. But, when it casually flies over and rends the humid air with prehistoric shrieks, it’s just too easy to imagine it with sunglasses.

Plus, when you see a pair of these fantastic bad boys, it’s all too easy to whisper, state, or exclaim, “cool”.

Bat Falcon– A cool looking hobby-like falcon that perches on exposed snags and even pylons, and then zips around to snatch swallows, parakeets, and bats. Based on those factors, this Neo Falco is a strong contender for being the coolest species in Costa Rica.

Laughing Falcon– Really, all falcons are cool but if I had to limit the choices to one or two birds, it’s hard to leave the “Guaco” off the list. I mean, this masked feathered bandit chokes down snakes! And, it has a loud maniacal laughing call often heard at dawn and dusk. It’s also fairly common, especially for being a raptor.

 

Great Potoo– Owl? Giant Nightjar? A creature of the night? Oh yeah, if any bird is, it’s the Great Potoo. This big, bug-eyed fluffy monster has one of the coolest calls of the deep tropical night.

White-tipped Sicklebill– All hummingbirds are cool for various reason, but with its bizarrely curved bill, this bird is one of the coolest.

Lesser Ground-Cuckoo– I give the cool label to this one because it has a heiroglyphic face and likes to creep around thick ground cover and give cool vocalizations.

Bare-crowned Antbird– Since all antbirds are automatically cool, it’s hard to pick just one. But, since this guy looks like a bird that might have flown out of a Tim Burton movie, this bald headed skulker ranks among the coolest.

Manakins– Most dance, some have super sonic wing snaps, and one even has moves like the late King of Pop. Very cool little birds, check out some Long-tailed Manakin action if you don’t believe me.

Yes, this bird moonwalks.

Royal Flycatcher– This big-headed, miniature Hammerkoppish flycatcher can spread the beautiful feathers of its crown and move its head back and forth like a snake. Although the display is a very rare sight, seeing one is always cool. I had a couple last week at Carara National Park and yes, seeing them was cool.

Three-wattled Bellbird– Bizarre, over the top, but cool. What isn’t cool about a bird the size of a pigeon that has wormy things hanging from its beak and makes super loud bonking sounds?

Wrenthrush– Nothing like birds that make you wonder what the heck they really are to be cool. That’s partly why birds like the Yellow-breasted Chat and the Wryneck are cool and why this one is especially cool. Not a wren. Not a thrush. Now, not even a wood-warbler. It’s all on its own and its the Wrenthrush, a sneaky bird that looks like a Tesia and is endemic to highland forests of Costa Rica and western Panama.

White-throated Shrike-Tanager– Yet another one with a confusing yet intriguing name and appearance, it has a few different cool things about it. The bird is a tanager yet acts sort of like a flycatcher. It has a shrike-like beak. The male sort of has oriole-like colors. And, other birds think its cool! They follow it around because it gives alarm calls to warn them of predators. Little do they know that it also gives those same alarm calls to make them hide so it can snatch some choice insect prey.

Yellow-thighed Finch– It’s always cool to see this endemic, arboreal towhee-like bird. And, best of all, it sports these little yellow puff ball things on its thighs that look unreal. A cool bird to watch and one that’s also common in highland forests.

Lots more birds around here are also cool, come to Costa Rica to decide which ones should receive your “cool” label. Keep in mind that some birds are more cute or regal than cool and might be why they didn’t make this list. Or, it might also just be that I think most birds are pretty cool and I had to stop at some point. Get ready for your trip and identify all birds in Costa Rica with the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app. You can also support this blog by purchasing “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” – more than 700 pages of information to find and identify birds in Costa Rica. Hope to see you here!

Categories
bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Where to Go Birding in Costa Rica Upon Arrival?

Planning a birding trip requires a suite of considerations. They take the form of questions like, ” Where do I spend most of my precious birding time? Where do I stay? Who do I go birding with? Do I bring the non-birding family? The non-birding partner, and if so, how can I get in those essential moments of birding AND make them count (!) and will I secretly hate myself or resent my partner because we didn’t bring the car to a screeching halt when that probable lifer Ferruginous Hawk flew over the highway in Colorado, when I didn’t spend more time peering into that bush to see what was making that unfamiliar song in the garrigue of southern France, when I neglected to scream “Stop the car!” when we cruised right on past a flock of lifer Marbled Godwits in Florida?” Obviously, to avoid such mental strain, you just need to take birding vacations with your own fine self or at least with other birders.

I have followed that birding rubric on most occasions and as so, have largely avoided the painful stress of missing birds that could be easily glassed far from home (except the godwits, that actually did happen, I was eighteen, I still remember it, and even though I have seen hundreds since then, it continues to be an uncomfortable memory. One of those semi-painful little regrets because it was damn important to stop for godwits and spoonbills and who knows what else was with them! Ouchness).

I see you now but it doesn’t change the fact that I wanted to see you back then near Fort Meyers, Florida. Will you ever forgive me, oh long-billed shorebird of the northern prairies? Can I forgive myself?

That said, other common concerns may include things like “Do I hire a guide? Do I bring the scope? Do I purchase a full-fledged birding app for Costa Rica or give it a go with Merlin? Will the lodges have coffee in the morning and if not, how do I get some? Maybe I should bring emergency dark chocolate…maybe caffeine bars..”

Extra cacao please, I do believe this helps with the birding…

Of the concerns, one of the most important is where to stay for the first night because this determines where you have that incipient, fantastic, eye-opening lifer introduction. For example, in Costa Rica, you might not want to stay in the middle of San Jose because if you do that, you will subject yourself to unnecessary bird deprivation. The flocks of Crimson-fronted Parakeets will be nice and the Clay-coloreds will be sort of exciting at first but why go that route when you can stay closer to the airport and put the bins on technicolor, crazy Lesson’s Motmot for goodness sake! Or a Steely-vented Hummingbird, or a Rufous-breasted Wren, even a Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, and a real chance at that smart new endemic ground-sparrow thing?

Crazy beautiful bird and it lives in gardens in the Central Valley. My lifer was years ago perched on a picnic table. That was sort of mind-blowing and kind of Alice in Wonderlandish. Like, is that exotic blue and green bird with the red eye and long pendulum tail actually sitting on a picnic table? Pinch pinch, yes it is!

But where does such an intriguing place with motmots and the rest occur? Well guess what? Just outside of Alajuela and that means super close to the aiport! Check out Villa San Ignacio. Formerly known as the Hotel Orquideas, the new Villa offers up the same benefits of proximity to the airport, good service, and birdy habitat along with the additional advantages of new spacious rooms, refurbished grounds, and a downright delicious menu. I was there last weekend for our annual Birding Club of Costa Rica meeting and man was I impressed! The place was so green, replete with big trees, and inviting, I just felt like mindlessly wandering around the gardens for a couple of hours while listening to the ringing songs of Rufous-breasted Wrens, rattles of Hoffmann’s Woodpeckers, and the hoots of motmots. How could you not want that experience?

The Hoffamann’s is one of those snazzy zebra-backed Melanerpes. 

Some Villa gardens.

All of those singing birds were there and some. Since the place backs up to a forested riparian zone and patchwork of fields and woodlots, I dare say many other birds are also possible, at least for the Central Valley. AND, since this site is a bit lower in elevation, you can also see dry forest species like the Olive Sparrow, Streaked Flycatcher, and one of those flycatchers with an uncomfortably long name, the Northern Beardless Tyrannulet.  Speaking of said incognito, does it shave or is it just permanently baby-faced? Might as well change its name to Northern Baby-faced Tyrannulet, or Baby-faced Tyrannulet of the North, or, “Nibit” as that would encapsulate both small size and seemingly insignificant nature of the flycatcher that pretends to be a vireo that got Frankensteined with an Owl World Warbler.

Frankensteins come in many forms.

Whether you feel like pondering over the dull appearance of the Nibit or not, Villa San Ignacio is a very good contender for being the ideal place to start and stop a birding trip to Costa Rica. I plan on using it for tours and yes, it does indeed have the endemic ground-sparrow thingy! Want to stay there? Send me an email at information@birdingcraft.com  Want some guiding from there to explore highland birding a short drive up the mountain?- information@birdingcraft.com

The ground-sparrow thingy- reminiscent of a clown except not scary.

Categories
bird finding in Costa Rica bird photography Birding Costa Rica

The Easiest, Quickest Endemic Bird Route in Costa Rica

Many a road in Costa Rica leads to great destinations for birding. Given this country’s small size and abundance and variety of avian life, that’s pretty much inevitable. Nevertheless, if you don’t have a whole lot of time to work with, or, most likely, just don’t feel like messing around with seeing museums, golfing, or lounging around the hotel when there are multiple lifers to be had, a birder can’t help but want to see those birds and like, well, now!

Much to the fortune of every type of birder, there is one easy and relatively quick route that can be taken straight to the heart of local endemism in Costa Rica. Of the two principle avian endemic regions in this nation of birds and smiles, the highlands are within sight and easy reach from the Central Valley. That valley would be the one with all the houses, buildings, and vehicles, the one that you fly in to, and the one that every birder would rather exit as soon after arrival as possible. Although you could zip on down to the coast and see Scarlet Macaws and several regional endemics among myriads of other birds, I’ll be writing about that other endemic bird area in another post. For now, likely inspired by a fine day of guiding in the nearby highlands yesterday, I’ll be talking about the route that goes from the populated Central Valley to the highlands of Poas and on over to the wetter forests of the Caribbean slope.

The road in question is route 126, a name that will actually make no sense whatsoever due to the general lack of road signs in Costa Rica but that is the official name. If I were going to give it a name, I guess I might call it, “Endemic Bird Way Numero Uno”, or maybe, “Via Endemica”. Yeah, I like the sound of that latter one. “Via Endemica” it shall be as that gives a fair description of what can be found along the curves and dips of this birdy way. There are a few main means to access it, but as long as you eventually find yourself in Varablanca, you will be on the right birding track. Personally, I prefer the route that passes through Los Cartagos because this is closer to my house but if I were coming from the airport, I would take the route through Fraijanes. However, before letting Waze guide you up the flanks of the volcano, I suggest making another, very important stop first, one to look for Costa Rica’s latest endemic bird.

Although it’s been here much longer than Homo sapiens, we didn’t recognize the Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow for being the full species that it is until Tico ornithologist Luis Sandoval did the work to show that this distant relative of the Canyon Towhee does indeed only belong to Costa Rica. This means that you really don’t want to go home without seeing one, especially because it’s a fancy little bird!

I’m so fancy!

Like a sparrow that decided to go clown, it shows its colors in the coffee fields and whatever remaining habitats it can find in the Central Valley. Since it’s probably endangered, yeah, you might want to see it even more. Look for it in coffee fields at various sites, or just hire me to show this and a hundred other birds during a day on the Via Endemica.

Like Prong-billed Barbet…

After hopefully laying eyes on this beautiful little skulker, ascending the Via Endemica leads to an increasingly higher percentage of near endemics (“near” because the only other place where they occur is western Panama). Since they actually live in an area smaller than New Jersey, I think I’ll just refer to these special birds as “endemic”. Although you could run into Scintillant Hummingbird and a couple other endemics on the drive up, most are birds of the cloud forests. Bird any forest in the Poas area and you have a chance at seeing everything from the lovely little Flame-throated Warbler to the one and only blue-faced bird with the ruby eyes, the Black Guan. Throw the mega Resplendent Quetzal into the mix and we are talking about some seriously satisfying birding.

Heading over to Varablanca, you might catch more highland endemics while buying a coffee or snacks in one of the stores at the crossroads to the lowlands. That would be the spot where the gas (petrol) station is situated. Seriously, keep an eye out, I have seen a lot of nice birds right there including Yellow-bellied Siskin, silky-flycatchers, and Golden-browed Chlorophonia among others. There might not be as many now that some of the habitat has been cleared (destroyed) but incidental singing Collared Redstart and Flame-colored Tanager from the parking lot last week was a reminder that some are still around.

The redstart is one pretty little bird.

As we descend to lower elevations, we reach more territories of Dark Pewee, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, and other endemics including Sooty-faced Finch at the waterfall. Keep going and we eventually reach the middle elevations and foothill zone of Cinchona and Virgen del Socorro. Although the percentage of endemic birds decreases by this point, the birding can still produce a fine mix of subtropical species along with major endemic goodies like Blue-and-gold Tanager, Lattice-tailed Trogon, and maybe even Black-breasted Wood-Quail or Red-fronted Parrotlet.

And if you just want to hang with some hummingbird action, this is also found on the Via Endemica at the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, the Cafe Colibri (now known as the Mirador Catarata San Fernando), and maybe one or two other sites. Yesterday, the endemic Coppery-headed Emerald was the most frequent hummingbird at feeders also frequented by the tiny Green Thorntail, the hulking amethyst and white Violet Sabrewing, and the Easter candy colored White-bellied Mountain-gem.

As usual, Green-crowned Brilliants were also present. This one flashed its headlights at just the right moment.

It reminds me of Easter, maybe it’s the jelly beans.

Although the Via Endemica offers all of these species and more, a birder still has to know where and how to look for them. Need some help in birding the Via Endemica? Send me an email at information@birdingcraft.com.

List of 52 endemic and near endemic birds possible on this route (including the road to Poas and side roads from Route 126), I see the ones with an “x” on a regular basis, the ones with an “r” are rare and/or tricky to see but I have had all of these species at one time or another on the Via Endemica:

Black Guan x

Black-breasted Wood-Quail r

Chiriqui Quail-Dove r

Buff-fronted Quail-Dove r

Purplish-backed Quail-Dove r

Bare-shanked Screech-Owl x

Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl r

Dusky Nightjar r

Purple-throated Mountain-gem

White-bellied Mountain-gem

Fiery-throated Hummingbird

Talamanca Hummingbird

Coppery-headed Emerald

Steely-vented Hummingbird

Magenta-throated Woodstar

Scintillant Hummingbird

Volcano Hummingbird

Lattice-tailed Trogon r

Prong-billed Barbet

Northern Emerald Toucanet (Blue-throated subspecies often considered a separate species)

Red-fronted Parrotlet r

Ruddy Treerunner

Streak-breasted Treehunter

Buffy Tuftedcheek

Silvery-fronted Tapaculo

Black-capped Flycatcher

Golden-bellied Flycatcher

Dark Pewee

Yellow-winged Vireo

Ochraceous Wren

Black-faced Solitaire

Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush

Sooty Thrush

Black-and-yellow Silky-Flycatcher

Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher

Golden-browed Chlorophonia

Tawny-capped Euphonia

Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow r

Large-footed Finch

Yellow-thighed Finch

Sooty-capped Chlorospingus

Sooty-faced Finch

Wrenthrush

Collared Redstart

Black-cheeked Warbler

Flame-throated Warbler

Costa Rican Warbler

Olive-crowned Yellowthroat

Black-thighed Grosbeak

Black-and-yellow Tanager

Blue-and-gold Tanager

Slaty Flowerpiercer

Categories
bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica

Elusive Birds of Costa Rica- The Mountains

Not all birds are common. It’s not long after opening our first field guide that we discover this punch in the gut fact (Ivory-billed Woodpecker! Wow, what a…bird…that I can’t see.) In North America, the elevator/bipolar feelings of up and down can also occur after become aware of the majestic Whooping Crane, or maybe the way too range restricted Kirtland’s Warbler, or that smart beauty of the Texas hill country, the Golden-cheeked Warbler. In Europe, it depends on where you plan on birding but the feelings of discovery and angst tend to happen after reading about the Aquatic Warbler, or maybe gazing at illustrations of the White-backed Woodpecker. Be prepared to scream and/or cry after reading about the Slender-billed Curlew though. Or, just smashing something, you might opt for killing your television.

In Costa Rica, we also have our share of rare birds. I guess that would be a given for any country with a list of over 900 species. Some just gotta be rare, I mean, there’s only so much room for so many birds, right? Yeah, that is part of the equation and with drier conditions resulting in decreased productivity in forest ecosystems where everything seems to compete with everything else for food, sadly, many a bird seems to be even rarer than just ten years ago. Time to smash yet another appliance or instrument or whatever in frustration.

However, some species have always been on the uncommon side of the birding coin even in the best of habitats. Whether because they are too picky, require equally rare ecological circumstances, or are no longer privy to the types of habitat they require, those choice, less adapted species are far and few between. Each bioregion in this small country has its short list of rare birds, it’s no coincidence that they tend to be the ones that get missed during short visits to Costa Rica. Although most highland species are fairly common, there are a handful of cool birds that can be a true, honest pain to see. These come to mind:

Maroon-chested Ground-Dove

Also known as “the ground-dove” because it’s the one that so many world birders always hope to see and never do. Also one of the closest things we have in Costa Rica to a bleeding-heart (if you don’t know, just search for “bleeding heart dove” but be aware that you may need some self restraint so as not to buy plane tickets to the Philippines). It might not actually be as fancy as one of those amazing bleeding heart doves but our’s is special nonetheless. In fact, so special and tough to see that it might be the official antithesis to the Rock Pigeon. The birds are up there, somewhere in the mountains, but they don’t seem to be common and may prefer hiding in dense cover most of the time. The best way to see this widely distributed mega is to watch for it at bamboo seeding events (I got my lifer this way on Chirripo Mountain, and saw a bunch!), or, better yet, learn the vocalization and listen and watch for it at the edges of forest and riparian zones above 2,000 meters on the way up to Irazu Volcano.

Man were we pleased to see this one!

Unspotted Saw-whet Owl

Thanks to the efforts of Ernesto Carman, we know much more about the habits of this elusive bird of the night but seeing it continues to be a perennial challenge. Unlike its northern cousin, this equally adorable owl doesn’t migrate and thus can’t be found with painstaking searches in coconut palms. Pairs occur here and there at high elevations but you have to venture into the cold dark night to maybe, just maybe find one. Like so many other owls, this small species is likewise unreliable. In other words, just because it is calling and easy to see one night doesn’t translate to a repeat performance the following eight o’clock dark. All you can do is try but at least the more time you spend listening and looking, the better your chances. Because of that test of patience and ability to withstand the cold, if you really need to see this one, you might want to dedicate an entire night to looking for it. Bring the flashlights/torches, warm clothing, and spirits to sites above 2,200 meters on Irazu, Turrialba (when it’s not erupting), and the high elevations of the Talamancas. It’s up to you if you want to enjoy your drink before or after seeing this minute mega. Don’t feel bad about opting for before, it might stave off the cold and make up for hours of not hearing a peep.

Look in places like this.

Ochraceous Pewee

This flycatcher is sort of enigmatic because unlike so many other regional endemics, it’s not common and is a real royal pain to lay eyes on. It masquerades as a hefty Tufted Flycatcher and since they can be seen in the same areas, you have to be careful with identification. It really likes the high spots, like 2,500 meters of higher, and can show up in many a high elevation forested site, it’s just rare! It might not vocalize so much either, maybe because it’s always hunched down and feeling cold, who knows. Watch for it at sites like Paraiso de Quetzales and the upper Dota Valley.

Silvery-throated Jay

Ooh, as senor Mars might say, “A straight up masterpiece”…well, of a jay that is. Smallish, dressed in the dark shades of a deep night, and preferring gnarled, mature oak forests that eat the light of the sun, this choice bird is nothing but Gothic. Tropical Gothic I suppose. As in Sisters of Mercy Gothic…maybe. The pale throat and eyebrow are its mother of pearl and silver jewelry, the feathers a dark, deep midnight blue cloak. Watch for it in large tracts of mature high elevation forest in the Talamancas. Like the Roble Trail at Savegre, or the trails at Georgina, or roads that lead to Providencia. But, don’t be surprised if you don’t find them during a day of birding. They seem to be genuinely scarce and may require several days of searching, or maybe reading some Edgar Allen Poe or the Dark Tower series on a misty day while seated under a massive old growth oak. If that strategy doesn’t happen to bring in the jays, the day is always magic when a good read is accompanied by the beautiful natural flutes of Black-faced Solitaires, nightingale-thrushes, and ancient oaks caressed by cold mist. Rare magic, especially when those jays finally do appear.

Tropical Gothic Corvid Magic. 

Slaty Finch

Not all finches are created equal. In the case of the Slaty Finch, it sits down there on the lower end of the dull spectrum. But, instead of looking like a techinicolor Gouldian Finch, it garners appeal by just being plain rare. Or not, I mean let’s face it, the bird sort of looks like an extra dull junco. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t want to be seen? Well, you might be better off not wanting to see it because, unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you can do to find it other than listening for its seriously high-pitched song at bamboo seeding events. Whether around bamboo or not, keep an eye out for any dull plumaged birds foraging on the ground. They might be this one. Hope to get lucky with this finch at any high elevation site. If not, just smile at the beauty of Flame-throated Warblers and Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers.

This, believe it or not, is a Slaty Finch.

This, is a Flame-throated Warbler. Take your pick.

Blue Seedeater

Vying with the Slaty for the “dullest rare finch in Costa Rica” prize, the Blue Seedeater is another bird more frequently seen at seeding bamboo and hardly ever encountered otherwise. Usually in pairs, listen for its Passerina bunting-like vocalizations (as in the Indigo variety) in cloud forest, even riparian zones on the upper slopes of the Central Valley. Lately, one reliable spot has been sites with bamboo up above Coronado.

But what about quail-doves, Highland Tinamou, some of the other birds less frequently encountered? Although those choice gems also present frequent challenges to being found in your focused field of view, they still aren’t as tough as the aforementioned species. To learn about the best places to see birds and Costa Rica along with 700 pages of tips for finding and identifying them, support this blog by purchasing my e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

Categories
bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica birding lodges

Key Accommodation for Birding Costa Rica-Cerro Lodge

Costa Rica might be small in size but it’s big on biodiversity. Like jam-packed with life, actually. Leave the perimeter of the airport in the Central Valley and it doesn’t take more than an hour’s drive to reach cloud forest, or rainforest, or dry forest, or a combination of habitats with literally hundreds of bird species therein. The best junction of life-zones in this birdy country is directly south of San Jose, on the other side of the mountains, and offers everything from Great Tinamou to Roseate Spoonbill, five species of trogons, and more. Situated where rainforest meets dry forests that are divided by a river and adjacent seasonal wetlands, Carara National Park and vicinity is a goldmine for birds. Honestly one of the best sites for birding in Central America, this hotspot is a must for any birding or natural history visit to Costa Rica, a first time visitor will be in for some seriously mind-blowing birding (unless you don’t really care for a hundred of more lifers in a day), and there is no better place to base oneself than Cerro Lodge.

Scarlet Macaws frequently perch in trees at Cerro Lodge.

Located just west of the Tarcoles River and around seven kilometers from the national park entrance, Cerro is close enough to the park for quick access yet far enough to also offer a different suite of birds. Whereas much of the national park protects humid rainforest that provides a home for such key species as Black-hooded Antshrike, Baird’s Trogon, Red-capped Manakin, Riverside Wren, Scarlet Macaws, and much more, the lands around Cerro Lodge are a mix of tropical dry forest, pastures, second growth, and seasonal wetlands. Combine these two sites and the bird list grows to more than 400 species.

The view along the entrance road of the Tarcoles River and the rainforests of Carara National Park in the background. This is a good spot to see Scarlet Macaws and parrots in flight.

To give an idea of the major sort of birding involved around Cerro Lodge and Carara, during a typical day of guiding that starts at Cerro, follows with a a visit to the national park, and takes in a few other nearby sites, we often finish with 140 to 150 species. Sometimes more, and that includes a leisurely stop for lunch where we scan for a few seabirds!

Starting the birding at Cerro is a good way to enjoy breakfast while enjoying flybys of various parrots, parakeets, and Scarlet Macaws, occasional raptors that may include Crane Hawk and Gray-headed Kite, distant (sometimes closer) looks at the mega Yellow-billed Cotinga, Striped Cuckoo, Gartered and Black-headed Trogons, and many other birds. Bird your way up the entrance road and a good variety of edge and dry forest species make it onto the list. Once you reach the national park, dozens of humid forest species are in store for the rest of the morning, and the more you bird the patches of forest, second growth, mangroves, and wetlands around Tarcoles and nearby, the more birds make it into your field of view. Although there are too many to mention, some of the choice species can include Olivaceous Piculet, mangrove birds, King Vulture, White Hawk, Yellow-naped Parrot, Fiery-billed Aracari, and Charming Hummingbird. It’s one of those areas where the more you bird, the more you really see because such a large number of species are possible.

Gartered Trogon

Even better, with reforestation efforts, the birding is also good enough right at Cerro Lodge to see a very good variety of species on the grounds and on the road in front of the lodge. Spend a day there and don’t be surprised to see Collared Forest-Falcon, White-necked Puffbird, Turquoise-browed Motmot, and Blue-throated Goldentail just outside your room.

Turquoise-browed Motmot

White-throated Magpie-Jay at the feeder. Feeder action varies throughout the year but sometimes sees visits by this species and Fiery-billed Aracari.

In addition to fine birding and photo opportunities at the lodge, other benefits of staying at this excellent birding lodge include:

  • Great service– Staff listens to guests and strives to meet their needs. Need breakfast early? Want to know when the owls are showing? ASk the staff.
  • Great meals– More than plenty of good food.
  • Air-conditioned rooms– Needed as Cerro Lodge is situated in one of the hotter parts of Costa Rica. 
  • Tour arrangements– The desk can arrange boat tours and other activities.
  • Pool– Nice to have when visiting with non-birding family or partners. This also shows the birding view from the restaurant.
  • Owls on site– Sometimes, Black-and-white Owls forage around the restaurant and near the cabins. They typically come out after eight p.m. Pacific Screech-Owl is also resident and Spectacled, Mottled, and Striped Owls also live nearby.

Having seen what Cerro has become since it opened, as with many a successful tourism venture, I can honestly say that the owner has taken the time to listen to the wants and needs of guests and has made substantial investments in changes accordingly. So far, the result has been a win for both the comfort of guests and the health of the ecosystem at the lodge.

Want to go birding at Cerro Lodge? Have any questions about target species and photo opportunities? Send me an email at information@birdingcraft.com, or leave a comment. I can answer your questions and set up your trip.

 

Categories
bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica birding lodges caribbean foothills

Fun Birding in Costa Rica at Arenal Lodge

Arenal is the name of a volcano in northern Costa Rica that exploded some decades ago. After that initial fiery, geological shout-out, the inner furnaces of the mountain kept right on burning, and, in doing so, the resultant natural incandescence has acted as a beacon for tourism ever since. Add numerous hot springs, waterfalls, and other natural beauty to the local mix and La Fortuna has become quite the bustling place where people from various countries show off the latest in khaki shorts and sandals as they waltz down the limited thoroughfares of the town. A wide variety of accommodation is available there and nearby, and many have names that pay homage to the conical mountain that punctuates the view.

One such place is also one of the first to have offered rooms to folks looking for volcanic fun. A former Macadamia farm, the Arenal Lodge offers a perfect view of the volcano, nice rooms, and a cozy reception and dining area with beautiful wooden floors. But…birds? No, I have not forgotten that this is a birding blog, there are birds too! In fact, more than enough for this welcoming hotel to act as an excellent base to work from, or just stay at, while birding in Costa Rica around Arenal.

I had heard about some of the birds at the Arenal Lodge from friends who had done Christmas Counts there. The most interesting one was a possible Great Jacamar, in Costa Rica, a very rare bird of the Caribbean lowlands and foothills. Since this iridescent beast of a bird also requires plenty of high quality habitat, its presence is a sign that lots of other feathered ones are also there (an umbrella species if you will). Although I didn’t hear or see one during a recent morning of guiding at the Arenal Lodge, we still had fun birding and I left the area feeling that it certainly has birding potential. That means that it’s worth visiting to look for the jacamar as well as lots of other uncommon and rare species. Many are likely present, these are some of my highlights and impressions:

Fine roadside birding– Upon entering the lodge grounds, guests then make their way up a lengthy road until they finally reach the rooms and reception. That road goes through old second growth, forested riparian zones, and open areas, all of which have lots of birds. We had more than 100 species during the morning, just along the road.

It was nice to see Olive-crowned Yellowthroat.

The road to Arenal Lodge.

Mixed flocks– As with many a site in Costa Rica, this one has some nice mixed flocks. Although I bet larger assemblages of birds occur on a regular basis, we were still pleased with bird groups that showed the likes of Russet Antshrike, Spotted Woodcreeper, honeycreepers, and tanagers, the best being the uncommon Rufous-winged Tanager.

Quality birdies– That is, birds that maybe aren’t seen as often or just look cool. Some of these were Zone-tailed Hawk, a heard Great Curassow, Crested Guans, Gray-headed Chachalacas, Black-crested Coquette, Spotted Antbird, Song Wren (and other members of the wren family), Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, toucans, and so on.

A good base for birding the Arenal area– If you feel like birding away from the lodge, the Peninsula Road and its Bare-crowned Antbirds and nunbirds are nearby, Fortuna is a short 15-20 minute drive, and other sites are within easy striking distance.

Although the Bare-crowned was too skulky for a shot, Great Antshrikes performed for the camera at a Peninsula Road antswarm.

Given the good birding, scenery, and beauty for a fair price, I would stay there while visiting Arenal. I hope to bird there again some time soon, hopefully to do some bird counts on the grounds and see if we can locate that Great Jacamar.

Support this blog and learn about the best sites are for watching birds in Costa Rica by purchasing the 700 plus page e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

 

Categories
bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica birding lodges Pacific slope

Birding off the Beaten Track at Saladero Lodge, Costa Rica

When visiting another country, most of us stick to the same itineraries followed by tour companies and birders doing it on their own. Why not? That way, we already know the logistics, and more or less what to expect. It is the easiest route to take so why not stick to the road well traveled?

While there is nothing wrong with birding in the same places as thousands of other folks with binoculars have done, there are a few good reasons to leave the trodden path for birding in Costa Rica. Some excellent sites are actually not visited by tours and not because they don’t come with suitable accommodation. Such sites are usually left off the itinerary because the distances and travel times just don’t work with the rest of the tour, or the agency doesn’t even know about those places where you can watch birds in primary rainforest, enjoy excellent organic meals, and where the non-birding spouse can do some fish watching while snorkeling.

I visited just such a place last weekend when I guided our local birding club at Saladero Lodge. Situated on the forested shores of the Golfo Dulce, Saladero is run by an American-British couple who always make guests feel at home and strive to give them an unforgettable trip. At least that’s how I felt after two nights at Saladero. The food was excellent as was the service, and the scenery wasn’t so bad either…

But what about the birding? Well, that was pretty nice too…

The best species was Yellow-billed Cotinga, a highly endangered bird that requires lowland rainforest near tall mangroves. That uncommon combination combined with a small range of just southern Costa Rica and Panama makes it a rare bird indeed. But, since Saladero meets those requirements, the cotinga can be seen most mornings as it moves through the area. Thanks to local guide Stacey Hollis, we saw four. Check out Stacie’s well written blog!

Other benefits of birding right from the area around the cabinas were sightings of various tanagers, Baird’s Trogon, Golden-naped Woodpecker, woodcreepers, Black-bellied and Riverside Wrens, White Hawk, and other rainforest species. A tame Great Tinamou was a good sign of a protected forest sans hunting pressure as were the presence of calling Great Curassows and Marbled Wood-Quail in the nearby forest.

Band-tailed Barbthroat was also common near the lodge.

Speaking of the forest, it looked fantastic; immense, old trees were the norm. I would have liked to have birded more inside that beautiful part of Piedras Blancas National Park but will hopefully do so on my next trip there. The little interior forest birding that was done yielded Golden-crowned Spadebill, Black-faced Anthrush, Scaly-throated Leaftosser, trogons, and some other birds. I’m sure there is also a lot more to be had, especially considering that a Crested Eagle was photographed in this area just two years ago!

Add in the good birding in open and edge habitats en route to Golfito and a trip to Saladero can result in a large number of species including an excellent selection of quality species (including birds like Red-rumped Woodpecker and Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, both of which were seen en route).

Last but not least, I should also mention that the night birding is pretty good. Crested Owls were heard each night and appear to be fairly common there, Mottled was also heard and Black and white is sometimes also present. Tropical Screech-Owl can also be found, and we heard the local variety of Vermiculated Screech-Owl. If we would have done some night birding inside the forest, I dare say we would have probably seen that and more.

The South Pacific form of Vermiculated Screech-Owl, a likely split. This one was from Esquinas Lodge.

Other benefits of staying at Saladero include supporting a sustainable venture that is closely involved with local conservation efforts, watching sea turtles and other occasional aquatic wildlife of the gulf, fishing in pristine waters for your own dinner (we dined on a fantastic Snook!), snorkeling in clear tropical waters with lots of fish, and staying at one of the more remote and wild spots in Costa Rica. If that sounds interesting, let me know, we can plan a trip!

Until next time!

Categories
bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Where to Go Birding in Costa Rica March 2018

Where to go birding? It’s a perennial question for those of us who want to lay eyes on some avian life forms. Do we just keep it simple and stare out the back window? Do we bundle up and head to the nearest reservoir, or a favorite park? Maybe a wildlife refuge or nature preserve? Or, do we make that bleary eyed trip to a place where we stand in various lines and pay for overpriced snacks so we can cover large distances in a matter of hours? All that waiting and annoyance so we can see a big new suite of birds?

Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan. Resplendent Quetzal. Blue-and-gold Tanager. Just a few birds with justifiable fancy names and unless you live in Ecuador, Colombia, or Central America, plane travel is more or less required to meet them in their feathered persons. In my opinion, oh it is definitely worth the long ride (!) but even after exiting the airport in a brand new birdy country, we still need to know where we need to go to see those and other species.

Even the female R. Quetzal looks snazzy.

Back in the days of fewer people and more habitat, finding birds was probably as easy as pie. Can you imagine going birding in the hardwood forests of the eastern United States or Canada or Britain oh say 300 years ago? As long as the local people allowed birding on their land, you wouldn’t need any information on where to find birds because they would have been everywhere. An abundance of shorebirds in the wetlands, multitudes of wood-warblers, vireos, and other songbirds doing their vocal thing from the woodland mosaic. Prairies and other naturally open habitats bubbling with longspurs, meadowlarks, and other species of the grass. By historical accounts and the much greater degree of intact habitat, we know there used to be a lot more birds, like millions and millions more.

The situation in Costa Rica would have been just as or even more birdy. A constant flow of avian activity ebbing through mature tropical forests from the hot and humid lowlands up into the cool, high mountains. The logistics would have been tougher than a triathalon but the birds would have been everywhere because there was intact habitat everywhere and therein lies the key to finding birds no matter where you bring the bins. Roads made things easier for birding but they also came with a hefty price.

Nice view but there should be dense cloud forest there.

The big Catch-22 of roads and other infrastructure is the nefarious trade that is typically made. Cut a road through forest and it becomes an avenue of invitation for logging, hunting, and turning bastions of biodiversity into hot cow pasture. Although protecting the lands along roads can prevent such destruction, roadside preserves are much more the objection to the common rule. As with most places on the planet, in Costa Rica, roads followed that typical plan of deforestation leading to pasture or ag. lands long before anyone gave a hoot about cutting down trees. Fortunately, before the entire place was shorn of centenarian trees, protections were put into place to preserve watersheds and biodiversity and this is why, in Costa Rica, we can still drive through cloud forest, take a road to mature lowland rainforest, and drive around and visit several distinct habitats with some fantastic roadside birding.

If you happen to be birding in Costa Rica this March and April, you will surely be benefiting from the protections afforded to roadside forest, and likely birding at several such sites. Regarding these spring months, there actually might not be as many stand out sites to bird as other months of the year but that’s only because the same sites hold pretty similar numbers and varieties of birds all year long. So, finding the best places to bird just depends on what you hope to see and where the highest quality habitats are located.

There’s an easy place for point blank looks at Prong-billed Barbet.

To see where such birding hotspots are located, it shouldn’t take more than a satellite view of Costa Rica to find them; the areas on the map with the largest, darkest green patches. Those bits of jade are where the forest is and that’s also where most of the birds live. Nevertheless, since most folks would prefer some sort of comfort after or during a long day of birding, the next step for finding birds involves locating suitable lodging in the bioregions you want to visit. For additional birding comfort, we can also ask some questions. Is the lodge close enough to those green patches? Maybe located right inside the forest? Do they have in house guides? A bird list? Or, would staying at one take you well away from the route you plan on covering? We also need to see where national parks and private trails are located and the logistics involved with visiting those places (that would mostly be opening and closing times and entrance fees).

Since there are so many good places to go birding, it really is hard to think of the must-visit sites, the places that host the most. However, if I had to settle on three of the best sites for each habitat and biogeographic region, this is what comes to mind:

Cloud forest
Monteverde area
Tapanti National Park
Cataratas del Toro

High elevation forest
Various sites on Cerro de la Muerte
Irazu
Poas

Foothill forest
Arenal area
Tenorio area
Braulio Carrillo area

Caribbean lowland rainforest
Sarapiqui
Laguna del Lagarto
Various sites near and south of Limon

South Pacific lowland rainforest
La Gamba
Osa
Dominical area
Carara National Park- not as good for the south endemics as the other areas mentioned but an overall excellent mix of birds.

Dry forest
Santa Rosa National Park
Palo Verde National Park

Wetlands
Palo Verde National Park
Cano Negro area

These aren’t the only places to go birding but they do tend to hit on the best and most accessible placed with good habitat. It’s no surprise that birding tours tend to focus on these areas along with a few other sites. Whether you have a few days to work with or as much time as you like, a birder can’t go wrong by paying a visit to any of the aforementioned sites. I hope to see you there!

Support this blog and learn more about the birding at these and many other sites in Costa Rica by purchasing my 700 plus page e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica“. 

Categories
bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Costa Rica Birding Update, January, 2018

Wind may shake the branches and rain may soak the ground but it won’t keep me from doing that birding stuff all day long. These days, in Costa Rica, that’s a fair motto to follow. Well, it’s not all that bad actually, just seems that way when you have this vacillation between heavy and light rain for several days. Stick with it, adapt to it, make use of plastic. The birds are still there, they still have to feed, and you will still see a lot.

Speaking of that, here is a brief summary of the latest trends and news in Costa Rica birding:

Sparrows So, the small brown birds with conical bills might not find themselves at the upper echelons of birding excitement up north, but here in Costa Rica, yeah, we get psyched about most sparrows. No, not the Rufous-collared, but other, much more difficult ones to add to our local lists. You know those common ones up in the temperate zone? You know, as in that trilling bird of open pine stands in state parks, or that other triller of the marshlands, or various other sparrows? Or, that one that breeds in boreal and highland bogs and is commonly seen in migration? Yeah, in Costa Rica, all are megas, this year, several folks have seen the latter bog bird at a site in Guanacaste. Much to my chagrin, it happens to be the same exact site where I was hoping to pish up a sparrow or two after finally making the lifer connection with the good old Spotted Rail in December. Either the Lincon’s Sparrows hadn’t arrived yet or they didn’t dig my pishing. No matter, they are there right now. Not that any visiting birder would want to see them but, in Costa Rica, a Lincoln’s Sparrow always makes birding news.

Not a sparrow, not even close, but I haven’t seen them so I’m posting a picture of a totally unrelated White-flanked Antwren instead.

Before I get off the sparrow topic, I should also mention that another lost little brown bird has also made it to our shores. In this case, a country first White-crowned Sparrow wintering in the Osa Peninsula. How a bird that breeds in the treeline tundra manages to survive in one of the more humid parts of Central America is both a mystery and serious testament to adaptability. So far so good, I hope it makes it back to northern Manitoba because it will have one hell of a story to tell! This Indiana Jones of sparrows would likely relate tales of surviving on bananas, seriously hot weather, the danger posed by various snakes, and that the number of mosquitoes was of course nothing compared to a high northern June.

Other odd winter birds– Speaking of lost sparrows, another bird that maybe went too far south also comes to mind. In fact, they might have even hailed from the same wolf and wind howling tundra as the sparrow, might have taken that same lost train way south. American Pipits, as common as they are in winter much to the north, are rare as heck in Costa Rica. One was seen earlier in the year on Cerro de la Muerte, now at least two have appeared in Guanacaste. So, it makes me wonder, are such birds of cold climes here because of the deep freezes that hit the north? Are they here every year? I suspect it’s a bit of both- birds like American Pipit and sparrows come to Costa Rica every year but we don’t find them because they are so few in number (and because most folks in their right mind don’t want to scour brushy, chigger crazy fields). Probability dictates that there are probably more out there. Please keep your eyes and mind open to sparrows and other birds that seem out of place, and report them ASAP to eBird so we can chase them.

Crested Guan- In Costa Rica, not in the last bit odd, even if it feeds in a palm, out in the open.

Cotingas at Arenal– Since you always have a chance of seeing esteemed members of this family at Arenal, it’s almost silly to mention this BUT since we all have a soft spot in our birding hearts for cotingas (that really means we need to very desperately see them), I also can’t help but mention that the umbrellabird and Lovely Cotinga have been recently seen on the grounds of the Observatory Lodge. It’s not every day that this happens but it is a somewhat regular occurrence and always good to know. By the way, just to mention, did you know that the Bare-necked Umbrellabird is Endangered? Like not, you know, just hard to see but officially, seriously under mofo threat of going extinct? Yeah, just a filthy reminder about what “Endangered” means. According to Birdlife International, it’s even more likely to go extinct than the Vulnerable and crazier looking Long-wattled Umbrellabird. If we can reforest enough of the lowland areas that meet the foothills, we might be able to do our collective home a favor and remove the “Endangered” status from descriptions of this special bird.

Bold Sunbittern at Lands in Love– Last but far from least, recently, there was an especially bold Sunbittern at the Lands in Love hotel. That or it was seriously wishing that it could have been an egret. No skulking at the shady water’s edge for this one. Nope, it was standing out there in a large, muddy puddle catching tadpoles. Eventually, it did the right Sunbittern thing and moved to the edge. Then, it hung out there for an eternity, absolutely refusing to show its sunburst patterned wings no matter how close it was approached, nor how many photos were taken.

I wasn’t making this up.

Cope’s Place– The bird haven of artist/naturalist Jose Perez just keeps getting better. In addition to the usual roosting Spectacled and Crested Owls, a damn Rufous-winged Tanager was coming to the feeder a few weeks ago, someone took a fricking amazing picture of a perched Black Hawk-Eagle, and he also knows (once again), a spot for a roosting Great Potoo.

Many other things could be said about birds in Costa Rica but it’s mostly what you might expect- lots of great birding just about everywhere you go, awesome feeder action, dozens of hummingbirds, quetzals, you probably get the picture. If not, come on down and get the experience.