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biodiversity bird finding in Costa Rica bird photography Birding Costa Rica

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red-crowned Woodpecker,

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

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

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

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

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biodiversity bird finding in Costa Rica bird photography Birding Costa Rica

A Few Birds to Anticipate Watching in Costa Rica

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

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

Black-throated Trogon

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

Spangle-cheeked Tanager
Spotted Woodcreeper
Tufted Flycatcher

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

White-bellied Mountain-gem

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

Motmots

Broad-billed Motmot

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

Turquoise-browed Motmot

Crowned Woodnymph

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

Collared Redstart and other highland species

Collared Redstart

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

Macaws and Toucans

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

Scarlet Macaw
Great Green Macaw
Keel-billed Toucan

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

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

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

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bird finding in Costa Rica bird photography Birding Costa Rica

When to Start Planning a Birding Trip to Costa Rica

We are in the midst of a pandemic and in some countries, the number of cases are growing apace. The threats posed by this novel illness make for worrisome times indeed but does it also mean that we can’t make plans for the future? Does it mean that we have to put birding and everything else on permanent hold? First and foremost, we should of course all be very careful and take precautions to avoid being infected with this virus, and do what it takes to avoid infecting others. However, being careful and concerned doesn’t mean that we should forget about taking birding trips.

A birder should look forward to laying eyes on the Northern Emerald Toucanet.

It might seem like this pandemic will never end but it eventually will and even before then, international travel will happen. Protocols to accept visitors are already being formulated in some places including Costa Rica and the government has even stated that the airports will open on August 1st. Yes, this means that the country will re-open (!) but before cracking open that champagne, keep in mind that it’s not a grand opening with a welcome sign visible from the peak of Chirripo Mountain. This is a limited opening for countries that have shown signs of containing the virus. For the moment, this means VIP status for such nations as New Zealand, Australia, and Iceland. By August, though, more countries might get that golden ticket for reentry and there’s a fair chance that more will make it onto the list by October and the end of the year.

As far as planning a birding trip to Costa Rica, this also means that birders should definitely start looking into a trip and if you happen to be from any of the three countries mentioned above, you could probably look into a trip for August. Birders from other countries can think about Costa Rica later in the year and especially for 2021. Since the best birding trips are planned far in advance, I would suggest starting to plan that trip now.

Plan on seeing Emerald Tanager among hundreds of other eye-catching species.

Start looking into where you would like to go, start thinking about the type of trip you would like to do, what you would like to see and when you would like to go. Keep in mind that there are many birds to see at any time of the year and Costa Rica will be ready and waiting. I would also love to help you plan your trip, contact me at information@birdingcraft.com

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bird photography Birding Costa Rica

How to Find the Best Bird Photography Tour in Costa Rica

It’s November and in Costa Rica, that translates to a transition between the wet and dry seasons. There is some wind and rain and fewer birding tours but visit the country now and you can still have fantastic birding. That’s just pretty much how it goes when birding Costa Rica because whether visiting in November, during the high season, or any other time of the year, with easy access to so many excellent sites, you just can’t help but see a lot.

Including serious beauties like the Red-headed Barbet.

The same goes for bird photography, visit the right sites and the birds will be there. Use the right guide and he or she will help you find and photograph those birds, even the tough ones. Speaking of birding and photography tours, November is also when the pre-tour season kicks into gear. For local birding guides, this means scouting sites both old and new, booking the last available rooms during the high season, and thinking of better ways to help birders and photographers surpass their expectations. This is at least what I do and if I were looking for a bird photography tour, these are the factors I would focus on:

A tour led by professionals with experience in guiding photographers

Not every guide has experience with photographers and even fewer guides have worked with bird photography. Look into reviews and information about past trips. Has the guide and/or company led bird photo tours in Costa Rica? How about other places and how many? If the company has done such tours for at least two or three years and keeps leading more, they are doing something right because they are working in a highly competitive field.

Green Honeycreeper- just one of many stunning birds waiting to be photographed in Costa Rica.

A birding photography tour that visits the right spots and stays at good hotels

Where will the tour go? Is there an accurate and honest description? Check out the hotels in the itinerary, if they resonate with other bird photographers, you will be headed to the right sites. If the birds mentioned don’t jive with what occurs in that area, think twice before booking the tour. If the people associated with and giving the tour stand out as experts in their field, the tour will be the right choice.

Although one could stay at the most luxurious hotels in Costa Rica, these aren’t the best places for bird photography. For the best tour, you want to stay at comfortable, quality hotels for sure but they should also provide excellent photo opportunities right there on the premises.

A Keel-billed Toucan from Laguna del Lagarto- one of the top bird photography sites not just in Costa Rica but in all of Central America.

A tour that spends enough time at the best spots

Quick tours are alright especially if you only have a few days to work with but the most productive photography tours strive spend at least a couple of nights at each spot. This is because since many tropical bird species are naturally rare, numbers and occurrence of various species can vary from one day to the next. Factor in variations in lighting and other aspects of bird photography and at least two days at each site greatly improves the chances of getting excellent shots of more birds.

A tour offered for a good price

Finally, you don’t want to pay too much for a tour (who does?). Fortunately, the best prices for photo tours tend to be offered by local companies because they have less overhead cost. Since very experienced local guides also know where to find key birds and can thus provide a better bird photography experience, going with a quality local company is the way to go.

The best bird photography tour in Costa Rica I know of will be happening this January. Running from January 15th to January 27th, this LiferTours itinerary has been carefully designed by a very experienced top local guide to access top bird photography sites for chances at a wide variety of hummingbirds including

Purple-throated Mountain-gem

Violet Sabrewing

and Volcano Hummingbird among other species.

Tanagers like

Bay-headed Tanager,

Crimson-collared Tanager among various others,

and such avian stars as Resplendent Quetzal

Black Guan

Brown-hooded Parrot

King Vulture and many other birds in beautiful natural surroundings. This tour visits such fantastic places as Chachagua Rainforest and the Arenal area, Bosque de Paz, Quetzal Paradise and Savegre, Laguna del Lagarto, and the beautiful Rio Perlas Hotel and will be guided by an excellent, very experienced bilingual local guide. To learn more about the best two weeks of bird photography to be had in Costa Rica during 2020, contact me today at information@birdingcraft.com to give yourself a fantastic start to 2020!

Note- I took these images with a bridge camera at sites visited on this tour, just imagine what kind of shots you can get with better equipment!

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The Birding Tower at Cerro Lodge

The Carara National Park area is one of the top sites for birding in Central America. The reason I say “area” rather than just talking about the national park itself is because there is so much more to birding Carara than just sticking to the protected zone. Don’t get me wrong, the forests of the national park are the main, well deserved attraction but you would be letting yourself down if you limited birding to the trails at Carara.

It seems odd to say that about a place where one can watch Streak-chested Antpitta, Baird’s Trogon, and many other species but yes, there is still more to see!

Nearby roads also provide access to slightly different habitats above the park, to mangroves, seasonal wetlands and coastal habitats around Tarcoles, and dry forests on the other side of the river. The end result is a mega tropical ecotone that has played host to literally hundreds of bird species. As one might guess, this means that you just can’t ever go wrong when birding the Carara area.

Given the fantastic birding in and around Carara, it seems odd that so few accommodations for birders area available. There are a couple of hotels and many more options around Jaco but fewer than expected so close to the national park. One of the best of those few places for birders is Cerro Lodge. A cozy place around ten minutes drive from the entrance to the national park, this excellent site is situated within a mosaic of tropical dry transition forest, open fields, and second growth just above the floodplain of the Rio Grande de Tarcoles. This combination of habitats give the place a healthy selection of birds, several of which are not found in the limits of the national park.

Such as White-lored Gnatcatcher.

Fruiting trees bring in Scarlet Macaws, Yellow-naped Parrots, Black-headed and Gartered Trogons and several other species, many of which can be seen right from the deck of the outdoor restaurant. Part of the reason some of these and other birds are present is a result of reforestation undertaken by Cerro Lodge, and, over the years, the owner has also made additional improvements to provide guests with a more comfortable, better birding experience. The most recent addition is one that I wish every birding site had, an observation tower!

The view from the tower.

It’s not a big one but then again, thanks to it being placed on a hill, it doesn’t have to be. The new tower at Cerro provides an excellent view of distant mangroves and adjacent forest. I have only been there once but these were some of my impressions and expectations:

Crane Hawk

The Cerro Lodge area has always been good for this uncommon, odd, long legged raptor but the tower really ups the ante for seeing it. Basically, it just provides more area to search for it and since a couple pairs live in around Cerro, there’ s a really good chance you will see it. It might be far off or it might be close but keep looking and you have a really good chance of finding it (yes, we did see one).

Other raptors

The tower also seems ideal for finding other raptor species because it has everything a raptor counter likes; a wide open view over good habitat for better observation of perched raptors and birds in flight. In addition to the Crane Hawk, we also had both caracaras, Bat Falcon, Short-tailed Hawk, Gray Hawk, and vultures. It should also be good for Plumbeous Kite, Zone-tailed Hawk, Common Black-Hawk, Hook-billed Kite, Gray-headed Kite, and perhaps a surprise or two.

Flyby parrots and other species

The tower is pretty much superb for flybys of macaws and parrots. We had close views of Scarlet Macaw and Yellow-naped Parrot among five other species. Yes, that does make for good photo opps!

Given Cerro’s location near a river and mangroves, many other birds also fly past, some flying to and from wetlands, others flying out of their roosts in the mangroves. This area can also be good for swifts. I can’t wait to check out the tower in the winter months and during migration!

White-necked Puffbird and other perched birds

As with any tower near good habitat, the one at Cerro makes it easier to see White-necked Puffbird, trogons, and other species of the canopy. Just keep scanning to see what you can find. We had wonderful constant, comfortable views of the puffbird, Gartered and Black-headed Trogons, Streak-backed Oriole, and other species.

Yellow-billed Cotinga

On account of it being endangered and looking so different, this star bird deserves its own bit of information. The tower at Cerro will be the ideal place to look for this bird. That’s great but it’s also bittersweet because I honestly wonder how long we will be able to see this rare species in the Carara area.

Its small population has been slowly but surely declining for several years and in all likelihood, it will unfortunately go locally extinct around Carara. I sure hope not but to be honest, that is what will likely happen because the bird has a very small population, there have been no signs of an increase or it even holding steady, and habitat at Carara is getting drier and thus not as good as it used to be for a species that likely requires a variety of fruiting trees in rainforest all year long.

Even worse, there has been no reforestation of the large cattle farms between the mangroves and the forests of Carara. This barrier can’t do any good for the cotinga and is probably the main factor contributing to its long term demise at this site. Once the bird is gone from the mangroves near Cerro, it won’t be back because the nearest population is too far away. So, in the meantime, we may see a few birds from the tower but I wonder for how long.

Access, comfort, and use

The tower is open to guests of Cerro Lodge but you do have to walk down from the hotel and then up to the tower. It’s not far and they do seem to maintain the trail though so most people should be fine. The tower itself is also only one and a half stories high so there shouldn’t be too much trouble there either. As for the tower itself, it can hold around 8 people or so and has a roof for much needed protection from sun and rain. There are also a couple of places to sit down.

Overall, it looks like a great place to bring a cold drink and some snacks and just relax with the birds. Bring a scope to scan all the way to the mangroves and just keep looking! On a final note, I bet the tower is also good for night birding, I hope to try that out on October Global Big Day, 2019.

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biodiversity bird finding in Costa Rica bird photography

Quality Birds at Cope’s

Every once in a while, I pay a visit to Cope’s place. When passing through his lowland rainforest neighborhood, I stop in to say hello, exchange stories, and see what’s around. I also visit when guiding clients, usually starting the day at El Tapir. That way, we can begin with Snowcap and end the morning with a potoo or roosting owl (par for the birding course with the Cope experience).

One of those roosting owls.

This past Saturday, while guiding some friends from the Birding Club of Costa Rica, the El Tapir/Cope experience combination paid off with some quality birds. These are the species that a birder either doesn’t see that often or are only at specific sites. Although the universal rules of birding state somewhere up in the clouds that every bird is worth just as much as the next, the unwritten rules on the other side of the sky state that some species are worth ten or more Blue-gray Tanagers, or like twenty or more Rock Pigeons. Not on a Big Day mind you but during a regular, average day of birding, maybe yes.

Snowcap is one of those quality birds. It’s not your average, everyday hummingbird and not just because the male looks like some exotic piece of flying candy. Not only is this hummingbird accessible at few sites, this fantastic creature also looks like it belongs in the Harry Potter universe. Exaggeration? Wait until you see one flying around! We had a male and one or two females at El Tapir. As a bonus, Tapir was also rocking with several other hummingbirds including such standouts as Brown Violetear and Blue-throated Goldentail.

Over at Cope’s, the feeders were predictably quiet. Cope explained that it’s usually quiet at this time of year because birds are out nesting and taking care of their young, they don’t have time to feast on fruit. Nevertheless, we still had the pleasure of being investigated at close range by several White-necked Jacobins and had good, close looks at Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Orange-chinned Parakeet, and Crimson-collared Tanager.

After some feeder action, we paid a visit to another quality bird, a Great Potoo. And, it was with a baby!! A baby potoo is about as precious as precious gets. Forget your puppies, never mind that big (bug?)-eyed Pug, a baby Great Potoo looks like something from the planet of weird, ultra cute fuzzballs. Come to think of it, the adults sort of look like that too but the baby really is something else.

It can sort of be seen in this phonescope image.

After our fill of potoo cuteness, off we went to the nearby rainforest where Cope often has owls and other species staked out. It was actually pretty quiet but we still had scoped views of Spectacled Owl.

The views of the Honduran White Bats were also priceless. These little living plushies are so amazing they should be allowed on bird lists.

However, despite the quite nature of the forest, chance was in our favor because we saw an Agami Heron! One of the prize species of the Neotropical region, the Agami is widespread yet typically difficult to see. Unlike so many other waders, this exquisite heron species skulks along forested streams. On Saturday, we lucked out big time when one in beautiful breeding plumage flushed from the side of the trail and perched where it could be admired for several minutes! It was only the fourth time Cope had ever seen it at that site. A fantastic year bird for Mary and I, lifer for others, and much appreciated by all.

We finished the day at Guarumo, a nearby bird photography and lunch site owned by a local birder. Things were quiet although we still managed to add our 12th hummingbird species for the day when a Blue-chested Hummingbird came to the Porterweed.

Guarumo also had cool birding and nature tee-shirts– check these out…

Snowcap, Great Potoo, Spectacled Owl, and Agami Heron in one morning of easy-going birding. We might not have been at the Biggest Week in Birding, but we still enjoyed some quality birds!

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Choice Birds in Costa Rica from Late August

The latter part of August saw me guiding on the other side of the mountains. Although there are some birds in the Central Valley, and I often start a day of guiding by looking for some of them, more occur where the wet forests are. That would be on the upper parts and other sides of the mountains that are visible to the north. Fortunately, those cloud forests and tropical rain forests are close enough for day trips and with more than 400 bird species possible, you can bet that we see a lot.

Some of the choice bird species seen lately while guiding day trips from the Central Valley:

Lattice-tailed Trogon

This uncommon and localized regional endemic was seen during a morning of birding at Quebrada Gonzalez. Fortunately, a male was calling and didn’t stop until we saw it. Fortunately because at first, the bird wasn’t visible. The problem with Lattice-taileds is that they are often high up in trees blanketed with bromeliads. Imagine warbler necking it up into a bunch of bushes silhouetted against a blank, cloudy sky and that pretty much describes the situation. If the bird chooses a perch behind aerial hedges at every angle, seeing it is hopeless. Well, at least until it moves.

After it moved. We got much better looks than this image. 

Thankfully, the male trogon kept on calling until it flew to a branch that was clearly visible along with the yellow bill and pale eye of the trogon (two of the diagnostic field marks to separate it from the Slaty-tailed Trogon).

Streak-chested Antpitta

While we were looking for the trogon, a Streak-chested Antpitta beckoned with haunting whistles. Much to our great fortune, this bird too, eventually showed and gave us fantastic looks!

A fairly recent addition to the foothill rainforests of Quebrada Gonzalez, it’s nice to have a somewhat reliable site for the Caribbean slope form of this bird. Most folks see it at Carara National Park but given the different song that could indicate an eventual split, it’s worth seeing this little puffball on both sides of the mountains.

Resplendent Quetzals

Quetzals live on the slopes of Poas but they aren’t as frequent as sites with more extensive areas of forest. The owner of the Volcan Restaurant told me that he used to see more of these fantastic dream birds up to around ten years ago. The species is still present but seeing one is always a hit or miss endeavor. Last week, we hit the jackpot when six were present at a fruiting tree! Most were juvenile males or females although one adult male was also present, and another one was calling further up the road.

Seeing this mega always makes for a spectacular day of birding in Costa Rica.

A female R. Quetzal in the mist. 

Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow

Connecting with this uncommon and possibly endangered skulker can be another hit or miss birding situation. That said, I have been seeing this handsome pseudo-sparrow species on every outing. The views can be brief but we do get definitive looks at the small endemic towhee.

Coppery-headed Emerald and 15 other hummingbird species

Coppery-headed Emerald

It’s always a treat to watch various hummingbirds do their sped up thing.

Green-crowned Brilliant

Green Thorntail

Buff-fronted Quail-Dove

One of the most appreciated sightings was that of a juvenile Buff-fronted Quail-Dove that has been hanging out at the Cinchona hummingbird cafe for some months now. Also known as the Soda Mirador Catarata San Fernando, this classic Costa Rica birding site is a wonderful spot to sit back and be surrounded by birds while enjoying a coffee and tasty rural fare. Last week, the juvenile quail-dove bucked typical skulking behavior to jump up onto the feeder for walk away views and a memorable end to an already memorable day of birding.

These were some of the choice species seen but not the only ones. Bat Falcon, Hook-billed Kite, King Vulture, tanagers, toucans, and many other species were also nice and all around an hour’s drive from the San Jose area. See information on where and how to find these and other birds with the 700 plus page e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica“.

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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 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 photography Birding Costa Rica caribbean foothills

A Short Trip to El Tapir

Last week, I paid a visit to El Tapir for a morning of birding with my friend Susan. The weather looked good (no forecast of constant rain), and the foothill rainforest is always worth a visit, and not just for the hummingbirds. Other species live in that mossy forest too, including rare ones like Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, and Gray -headed Piprites. It was one last hoorah of birding to see if I could add a few more species to my year list. I did add one, an Ashy-throated Chlorospingus, not a very rare species but one more for the year nonetheless. Upon arrival, we had our rarest species of the day, a Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle that flew out of the forest and directly overhead. I had already seen it for the year but any sighting of this rare raptor is always welcome!

The view at El Tapir.

The flowering bushes were kind of slow for hummingbirds (and we did not see Snowcap), but we still had fine views of a male Black-crested Coquette, Green Thorntails, and a few other species.

Black-crested Coquette

Green Thorntail and a coquette share a branch.

Inside the forest, we walked both trails, one that leads to an overlook, and another that leads to a beautiful stream.

We scoped the overlook for a fair bit but only turned up a few toucans.

The beautiful stream.

The forest was kind of quiet but we still managed some good ones, including White-crowned Manakin, Black and yellow Tanager, Spotted Antbird, and

Lattice-tailed Trogon.

No Sunbitterns on the stream but it was nice to hang out and see if the small fish eat bits of crackers (they did). Back in the forest, although we failed to find our cotingas or antswwarm, we still had a few flocks with Checker-throated Antwren, White-flanked Antwren (pretty uncommon in Costa Rica, at least in the places that most birders frequent).

Inside the forest.

So, nothing major but still picked up one year bird and always a special place to visit. To reach El Tapir, head down route 32 from San Jose towards Limon, pass through Braulio Carrillo national Park, and watch for the Quebrada Gonzalez ranger station on the right. From there, El Tapir is around one kilometer further down the road, on the right. Although you probably won’t see a sign, it’s the first place on the right just after the ranger station. Open the gate, go on in, and pay the caretaker $12 when he comes out.