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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope Costa Rica Beaches

A Weekend of Birding Cabinas Olguitas and the Gandoca-Manzanillo Area

I have mentioned from time to time how much I enjoy birding near Limon, Costa Rica. Also referred to as the Southern Caribbean zone, this part of the country still features a good deal of mature lowland rainforest, much of which is accessible. Not to mention, since the area is very much underbirded, there’s always a chance of finding something unexpected. Add forested streams, swamps, other wetlands and a migration corridor to the birding equation and we have an impressive bird list with nearly 400 species (see bird lists at the end of this post).

The only downside of the Southern Caribbean zone is that it is located around four to five hours by car from where I live. This prevents me from visiting more than once or twice a year, or staying for longer than a weekend. If the new road to Limon is ever finished (maybe in 4 years), it should be an easy, quick ride but until then, the long, slow haul keeps me from visiting more often. I sure wish I could though because the birding is always great and if a birder gets lucky with a good wave of migrants, the avian experience is fantastic.

This past weekend, I made my annual trip while guiding the local Birding Club of Costa Rica and, as with last year, we stayed at Olguita’s Place. Also known as Cabinas Olguita, this friendly spot offers tranquil accommodation in basic yet cozy and equipped cabins within easy walking distance of a beautiful beach and good birding habitat. If you don’t feel like cooking, dine at any of several good restaurants in the area and then look for Great Potoo and any of five owl species on the drive back.

The Black-and-white Owl sometimes occurs at Olguita’s.

Some other information from this recent trip:

Migration

On this trip, unfortunately, we more or less dipped on migration. We did have some Chimney Swifts and swallows flying over and some raptor migration on the way to Punta Uva but there were few other migrants. We may have done the trip a bit late or perhaps the good weather kept the birds on the wing long past Costa Rica but whatever the case, we had rather few migrant species and low numbers of the most common migrants; Red-eyed Vireo, Bay-breasted Warbler, and Swainson’s Thrush. There were quite a number of Eastern Wood-Pewees around as well as Alder/Willow Flycatchers but very few warblers and nothing rare. All of that said, we still saw some migrants and it was fun watching them.

If you feel like studying Eastern Wood-Pewees, visit Costa Rica in October.

Birding at Cabinas Olguita

The birding at Olguita’s was easy-going yet productive. Some Eastern Kingbirds flew into the surrounding trees, and we also saw other migrant species like Olive-sided Flycatcher, Empids (including a likely Least Flycatcher), Scarlet Tanager, and a few others. On good days, this place can see waves of migrants passing through the surrounding vegetation. As for resident species, the thick wet grass and hedgerows held Slaty Spinetail, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Canebrake Wren, and some other birds. The edge of the forest in back of the grassy area turned up White-necked Puffbird, Plain-colored Tanagers, and White-vented Euphonias among more common expected species.

Plain-colored Tanagers were common.

Paradise Road

One of a few roads that go up and over the nearby coastal hills, it provides access to the mature rainforests that occur there. Many species are possible even White-fronted Nunbird, interesting raptors and antbirds. We only had one afternoon to bird this road but we still did alright with looks at Pied Puffbird, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Tawny-crested Tanagers, Double-toothed Kite, and Central American Pygmy-Owl among other species. A lot more is possible, I would love to spend a few early mornings just counting everything that calls and makes itself otherwise known. Does Great Jacamar occur? How about cotingas or Red-fronted Parrotlet? It would be fun to try to answer those questions via dawn birding.

Recope Road

One of the other classic sites in the area, this flat road passes through beautiful, tall forest, much of it former shaded cacao farms. We got in some birding there as well as on the main road between Punta Uva and Manzanillo. The birding was great with fine looks at Purple-throated Fruitcrows, toucans, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Black-striped and other Woodcreepers, White-flanked and Checker-throated Antwrens, and other species. I also heard Semiplumbeous Hawk. This was actually where most of our migrants were, I can’t help but wonder how many other migrants were out there in the forest? What rarities were hiding back in the woods?

Checker-throated Antwren

Manzanillo

On Sunday morning, I figured we would visit the town of Manzanillo as a last chance for migrants. This hardly worked out although we still saw both Cinnamon and Chestnut-colored Woodpeckers, Gray-cowled Wood-Rails, and a few other birds. We also saw that the official entrance to the wildlife refuge now has a bridge over the creek that we used to wade across, and that they charge an entrance fee.

Cahuita

As a bonus, our car made a quick stop in Cahuita on the way back, mostly to check for Black-chested Jay. We stopped at the Puerto Vargas entrance for that but even though we dipped, some last minute birding still managed to give us close looks at a male Snowy Cotinga, Gray-headed Chachalacas crashing through bushes, and White-faced Capuchins eating coconuts. After that, we went on an unsuccessful ice cream quest in mid-day Cahuita. Several bars but no ice cream! On the drive out, the jays still managed to elude us but we did get lucky with one final bird and a key one at that- Yellow-billed Cuckoo!

While driving out of Cahuita, I noticed the quick, sleek shape of a cuckoo zip into a tall tree. It was brief but I was sure it was a cuckoo. I stopped and after scanning the tree, sure enough, there it was, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo! Eventually, the stealthy migrant positioned itself higher up for a better view. One last bird for the trip, I was happy to see it before the long drive back.

Birds from the vicinity of Cabinas Olguita including
the beach and both resident and migrant species.
240 species
 
Little Tinamou
Blue-winged Teal
Gray-headed Chachalaca
Crested Guan
Pale-vented Pigeon
Short-billed Pigeon
Ruddy Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove
Squirrel Cuckoo
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Groove-billed Ani
Lesser Nighthawk
Common Nighthawk
Common Pauraque
Chuck-will’s-widow
Black Swift
White-collared Swift
Chimney Swift
Gray-rumped Swift
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift
Band-tailed Barbthroat
Long-billed Hermit
Stripe-throated Hermit
Blue-chested Hummingbird
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
White-throated Crake
Gray-cowled Wood-Rail
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Whimbrel
Ruddy Turnstone
Sanderling
Least Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper
Lesser Yellowlegs
Willet
Greater Yellowlegs
Laughing Gull
Brown Noddy
Royal Tern
Wood Stork
Magnificent Frigatebird
Brown Booby
Neotropic Cormorant
Anhinga
Brown Pelican
Bare-throated Tiger-Heron
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
White Ibis
Green Ibis
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
King Vulture
Osprey
Swallow-tailed Kite 
Double-toothed Kite
Tiny Hawk
Mississippi Kite
Plumbeous Kite
Common Black Hawk
Roadside Hawk
Gray Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Short-tailed Hawk
Swainson’s Hawk
Zone-tailed Hawk
Central American Pygmy-Owl
Mottled Owl
Black-and-white Owl
Slaty-tailed Trogon
Gartered Trogon
Ringed Kingfisher
Belted Kingfisher
Amazon Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
White-necked Puffbird
Pied Puffbird
Collared Aracari
Keel-billed Toucan
Yellow-throated Toucan
Black-cheeked Woodpecker
Cinnamon Woodpecker
Chestnut-colored Woodpecker
Lineated Woodpecker
Pale-billed Woodpecker
Laughing Falcon
American Kestrel
Merlin
Bat Falcon
Peregrine Falcon
Olive-throated Parakeet
Great Green Macaw 
Crimson-fronted Parakeet
Orange-chinned Parakeet
Brown-hooded Parrot
Blue-headed Parrot
White-crowned Parrot
Red-lored Parrot
Great Antshrike
Barred Antshrike
Black-crowned Antshrike
Dot-winged Antwren
Dusky Antbird
Chestnut-backed Antbird
Northern Barred-Woodcreeper
Cocoa Woodcreeper
Black-striped Woodcreeper
Streak-headed Woodcreeper
Plain Xenops
Slaty Spinetail
Snowy Cotinga
Masked Tityra
Black-crowned Tityra
Cinnamon Becard
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher
Common Tody-Flycatcher
Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher
Yellow-olive Flycatcher
Yellow Tyrannulet
Yellow-bellied Elaenia
Paltry Tyrannulet
Bright-rumped Attila
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Gray-capped Flycatcher
White-ringed Flycatcher
Streaked Flycatcher
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
Piratic Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Tropical Pewee
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Acadian Flycatcher
Alder Flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Long-tailed Tyrant
Lesser Greenlet
Yellow-throated Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Yellow-green Vireo
Purple Martin
Gray-breasted Martin
Mangrove Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Bank Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
House Wren
Black-throated Wren
Canebrake Wren
Bay Wren
Long-billed Gnatwren
Tropical Gnatcatcher
Veery
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson’s Thrush
Wood Thrush
Clay-colored Thrush
Gray Catbird
Yellow-crowned Euphonia
Olive-backed Euphonia
White-vented Euphonia
Orange-billed Sparrow
Black-striped Sparrow
Chestnut-headed Oropendola
Montezuma Oropendola
Scarlet-rumped Cacique
Black-cowled Oriole
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Shiny Cowbird
Bronzed Cowbird
Giant Cowbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Ovenbird
Worm-eating Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Kentucky Warbler
Olive-crowned Yellowthroat
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
American Redstart
Cerulean Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Buff-rumped Warbler
Canada Warbler
Dusky-faced Tanager
Summer Tanager
Scarlet Tanager
Red-throated Ant-Tanager
Black-faced Grosbeak
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Blue-black Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Painted Bunting
Dickcissel
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Plain-colored Tanager
Green Honeycreeper
Blue-black Grassquit
Tawny-crested Tanager
White-lined Tanager
Scarlet-rumped Tanager
Shining Honeycreeper
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Blue Dacnis
Bananaquit
Variable Seedeater
Morelet’s Seedeater
Black-headed Saltator
Buff-throated Saltator
Grayish Saltator
Additional bird species that occur in the forests of Gandoca-Manzanillo, some may also show up at Cabinas Olguita. This makes for 383 species recorded from the Gandoca-Manzanillo area.
143 additional species
 
Great Tinamou
Northern Shoveler
Muscovy Duck
Great Curassow
Black-eared Wood-Quail
Least Grebe
Scaled Pigeon
White-crowned Pigeon
Blue Ground-Dove
Ruddy Quail-Dove
Olive-backed Quail-Dove
Gray-chested Dove
Mangrove Cuckoo
Black-billed Cuckoo
Short-tailed Nighthawk
Rufous Nightjar
Great Potoo
Chestnut-collared Swift
White-necked Jacobin
Bronzy Hermit
Purple-crowned Fairy
Green-breasted Mango
Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer
Crowned Woodnymph
Uniform Crake
Purple Gallinule
Sungrebe
Black-necked Stilt
American Golden-Plover
Collared Plover
Northern Jacana
Baird’s Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Franklin’s Gull
Herring Gull
Black Tern
Common Tern
Sandwich Tern
Sunbittern
Least Bittern
Rufescent Tiger-Heron
Reddish Egret
Agami Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Boat-billed Heron
Roseate Spoonbill
White-tailed Kite
Hook-billed Kite
Gray-headed Kite
Black Hawk-Eagle
Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle
Ornate Hawk-Eagle
Black-collared Hawk
Crane Hawk
Snail Kite
White Hawk
Semiplumbeous Hawk
Middle-American Screech-Owl
Crested Owl
Spectacled Owl
Black-throated Trogon
Rufous Motmot
Broad-billed Motmot
Green-and-rufous Kingfisher
American Pygmy Kingfisher
White-whiskered Puffbird
White-fronted Nunbird
Rufous-tailed Jacamar
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Red-rumped Woodpecker
Rufous-winged Woodpecker
Barred Forest-Falcon
Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon
Collared Forest-Falcon
Red-fronted Parrotlet
Mealy Parrot
Fasciated Antshrike
Spot-crowned Antvireo
White-flanked Antwren
Checker-throated Antwren
Bare-crowned Antbird
Spotted Antbird
Bicolored Antbird
Ocellated Antbird
Black-crowned Antpitta
Black-faced Antthrush
Plain-brown Woodcreeper
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner
White-collared Manakin
Red-capped Manakin
Purple-throated Fruitcrow
Bare-necked Umbrellabird
White-winged Becard
Rose-throated Becard
Royal Flycatcher
Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher
Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher
Golden-crowned Spadebill
Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant
Northern Bentbill
Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher
Eye-ringed Flatbill
Yellow-margined Flycatcher
Brown-capped Tyrannulet
Rufous Mourner
Gray Kingbird
Green Shrike-Vireo
Tawny-crowned Greenlet
White-eyed Vireo
Black-whiskered Vireo
Brown Jay
Black-chested Jay
Scaly-breasted Wren
Band-backed Wren
Stripe-breasted Wren
White-breasted Wood-Wren
Song Wren
Tawny-faced Gnatwren
Yellow-billed Cacique
Yellow-tailed Oriole
Northern Parula
Black-throated Green Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler
Western Tanager
Carmiol’s Tanager
Rufous-winged Tanager
Sulphur-rumped Tanager
White-shouldered Tanager
Crimson-collared Tanager
Thick-billed Seed-Finch
Slate-colored Grosbeak
Other species that may occur or are very rare visitors in the area because they have been recorded nearby or because appropriate habitat is nearby.
66 species
 
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Lesser Scaup
Masked Duck
Pied-billed Grebe
Violaceous Quail-Dove
Striped Cuckoo
Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo 
Greater Ani
Common Potoo
White-chinned Swift
Rufous-crested Coquette
Gray-breasted Crake
Russet-naped Wood-Rail 
Sora
Yellow-breasted Crake
Paint-billed Crake 
Spotted Rail
Limpkin
Upland Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Solitary Sandpiper
Wilson’s Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope
Red Phalarope
Pomarine Jaeger
Parasitic Jaeger
Long-tailed Jaeger
Sooty Tern
Bridled Tern
Least Tern
Large-billed Tern
White-tailed Tropicbird
Red-billed Tropicbird
Masked Booby
Red-footed Booby 
Crested Eagle
Harpy Eagle
Barn-Owl
White-tailed Trogon
Great Jacamar
Red-throated Caracara
Streak-chested Antpitta
Scaly-throated Leaftosser
Blue-crowned Manakin
Lovely Cotinga
Blue Cotinga
Rufous Piha
Three-wattled Bellbird
Northern Schiffornis
Western Wood-Pewee
Cave Swallow 
Yellow-breasted Chat
Bobolink
Eastern Meadowlark
Red-winged Blackbird
Melodious Blackbird
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Scarlet-thighed Dacnis
Nicaraguan Seed-Finch
Whistling Heron
Categories
big year Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope

Birding Forest Fragments of the Caribbean Lowlands

In the not very distant past of Costa Rica, all of the other side of the mountains was cloaked in dense forest. The cloud forests of the highlands merged into eternally wet and mossy foothill forest and then became majestic lowland rainforest that swept across the rolling ground all the way to the coast. The lowlands might be flatter than the naturally broken highlands but it was never parking lot flat. The waterways still managed to break the ground and produce a mosaic of hills and low lying areas where rivers still run, streams flow, and swamps do their aquatic ruminating thing. These factors in turn produce a greater array of microhabitats where Northern Bentbills buzz from the vine-tangled gaps, where motmots make their burrow nests on steep slopes above the creeks, and where Agami Herons creep around the low, wet places.

Now, it’s very different. Well, at least what grows on the land is vastly different from what was there for thousands of years. The form of the land is still pretty much the same but many of the trees (especially the big old ones) have been cut down and the flattest places now host sugar cane, pineapples, bananas, or cattle. The biodiversity is drastically less, who knows which plants and insects have gone extinct or are close to becoming effectively doomed because remnant trees can’t be pollinated or produce seedlings that grow enough to produce their own offspring. That said, the northern lowlands of Costa Rica aren’t entirely shorn of trees. There are still quite a few growing in pastures and along riparian zones, and there are a few patches of forest here and there. Things grow with a quickness in the wet tropics, there’s still hope for reforestation, to reconnect and grow at least some patches of forest.

I was birding in one of those remnant forested spots this past weekend during a visit to the San Carlos area of Costa Rica. At a small comunal reserve known as “Juanilama”, Marilen and I had a taste of what can still occur in forest fragments in Costa Rica. Some observations:

A good number of birds

During a brief two hour visit, we had more than 80 species including standouts like a pair of Great Green Macaws, Pied Puffbird, and Royal Flycatcher.

But not like the complex array of life that is a larger area of mature forest

Juanilama did have some nice big trees here and there but just not enough habitat to support more specialized frugivores like Snowy Cotinga and Purple-throated Fruitcrow. Nor was there enough habitat for most of the understory insectivores or raptors. Basically, this is because those birds are more adapted to larger areas of mature forest, they are acting players, working parts in the mature forest ecosystem. They just aren’t a part of, can’t play a role in other forest community games.

Some migrants

The main reason we birded Juanilama was twofold; the place is close to where Mary’s family lives, and it being migration season, I figured we had a chance at Veery and some other nice year birds. Although that wasn’t the case on Sunday morning, we still managed to see a couple warblers, Red-eyed Vireo, and Scarlet Tanager.

More birding outside the reserve

I found the surrounding countryside especially interesting in that more trees were present than I had expected. We didn’t see too much but still had a fair number of species including White-winged Becard, Laughing Falcon, and toucans. Although these were the expected species that can survive in some edge situations, we still had birds we could watch.

Some questions

While birding that morning, I wondered about a thing or two, things that could act as research projects. Like, how important is a forest patch like Juanilama for migrants? Are there more than in riparian zones and other nearby edge habitats? Is there more or less competition with resident species in edge habitats? Does Middle American Screech-owl occur? How about other owls and do those owls limit the occurrence of the screech-owl? Did Harpy Eagles prefer to nest on some of the hill tops near there? How about Orange-breasted Falcon (along with the eternal question of why populations of this Neotropic raptor are so limited and localized)? These are the sort of things that can run through your head when the bird activity drops and is replaced by the snoring of cicadas and buzzing of mosquitoes.

No Mississippi Kite nor other year birds on Sunday but at least we did connect with our 2019 Baird’s Sandpiper the previous morning. There were a few in a nearby temporary mudflat. They were feeding a bit like dowitchers, we had great looks, it was and is cool to contemplate the Arctic-Costa Rica-South American connections made by this amazing migrant. Still hoping for cuckoos near the homestead or an Upland to call at night. I wonder what will be next for the year list of TeamTyto?

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

Tips and Suggestions for Birding Lands in Love

This past Sunday, Mary and I had a chance to get in a morning of birding near Fortuna. Although we had the Observatory Lodge in mind, instead, we opted for another, lesser known site that we hadn’t visited for some time. Strategically located on a main route to the Central Valley from La Fortuna, Lands in Love makes for an easy stop with delicious vegan cuisine and great birding.

While birding the trails for a couple of hours, we identified 70 species, two of which were key year birds; Tawny-chested Flycatcher and Song Wren.

Lands in Love is a good site for these species as well as many others, the following are some tips and suggestions for birding this little known yet excellent site:

Bird from the Loveats Cafe

Lands in Love has a pleasant cafe on the main road. Drive the route between San Ramon and La Fortuna and occasional, interesting signs appear as the vehicle gets closer to great coffee, vegan Pad Thai and what is likely the best Shakshuka in Costa Rica. Even better, short fig trees next to the cafe attract honeycreepers and other small frugivorous species, and the vegetation out back is good for Black-throated Wren, wintering wood-warblers, and other birds. Sit at a table in the front, and the skies can host anything from Chestnut-collared Swifts to King Vulture and hawk-eagles. A birder might have to wait a while but the birds will eventually show. Cross the street and scan with a scope and White Hawk might be found along with other, much rarer species flying over or perched in the primary forest on a hill visible from the cafe.

Second Growth, then Primary Forest on the Trails

The trail system at Lands in Love includes several loops, most of which pass through primary rainforest that ranges between 600 and 400 meters elevation. Old second growth occurs at the beginning of most trails and offers up excellent birding including chances at actually seeing Thicket Antpitta, Black-crowned Antshrike, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, White-collared Manakin, and various other birds of the forest edge. It can be especially good for flycatchers including Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Northern Bentbill, Slate-headed Tody-Tyrant, and even the rare for Costa Rica, Sepia-capped Flycatcher. Pairs of the rare and near endemic Tawny-chested Flycatcher also occur here and there in areas of old second growth that have plenty of hanging vines.

Hummingbirds also feed on Heliconias including White-tipped Sicklebill, and Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, and various forest species can also show.

In the primary forest, keep an eye out for mixed flocks with Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, and Streak-crowned Antvireo, White-flanked and Checker-throated Antwrens. Various other species are also possible including Golden-crowned Spadebill, Scaly-throated Leaftosser, and Song Wren, Black-throated Trogon, and Rufous, Broad-billed and Keel-billed Motmots among others.

Antswarms

A birder would be fortunate indeed to run across an antswarm inside the forest at Lands in Love because this is the best way to connect with the rare Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo. This species occurs at Lands in Love along with more expected Ocellated, Bicolored, and Spotted Antbirds.

Fruiting Trees

The canopy is high but if you find a fruiting tree, stay with it for a while. In addition to the three expected species of toucans, Yellow-eared Toucanet can also show and even Bare-necked Umbrellabird is possible (perhaps only from June to January). Various tanagers can also occur and fallen fruits might attract quail-doves. Olive-backed is the most likely species although Purplish-backed and even Violaceous are possible.

Trails too Rough? Bird the Forest on the Loop Road

The only downside to the trails is that they haven’t been maintained that much. This means that one or more of the bridges over creeks need to be replaced and that the trails themselves aren’t really suited for folks who have trouble with balance or walking. The upside is that a good number of species can be seen right along the loop road through the property and as the forest adjacent to the road continues to grow, the birding will only get better. In addition to edge species, many forest birds can also occur including antbirds, Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, all three Cracids, and others. The loop road also has a few overlooks useful for checking the canopy and watching for raptors in flight. Not to mention, flowering bushes can also attract various hummingbirds, even Snowcap, Black-crested Coquette, Blue-chested Hummingbird, and Blue-throated Goldentail!

Part of the loop road.

Other Species to Watch For

Lands in Love has a lot of potential for birding, including chances at many rare and uncommon species. Some of the birds to look for:

Cracids– Frequent at many sites in Costa Rica, Great Curassow, Crested Guan, and Gray-headed Chachalaca are present and often seen at Lands.

Raptors– Most of the rainforest raptors have been seen at Lands, the most frequent being King Vulture, White Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Gray Hawk, and Double-toothed Kite. Semiplumbeous Hawk is also regular and both Black and Ornate Hawk-Eagles also make regular appearances. I suspect that Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle could also show from time to time and I have also seen Gray-headed and Hook-billed Kites. Perhaps scanning with a scope from the Loveats Cafe will eventually yield sightings of a distant Crested Eagle or Solitary Eagle? Lots of luck needed for those megas BUT both have occurred in the forest complex visible from the cafe. I can’t help but wonder if Crested Eagle might also pay a visit to the mostly inaccessible primary forests below the lodge.

On the falcon front, Laughing and Bat are regular, Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon has been recorded in the forest and both Collared and Barred also occur.

Tawny-faced Quail– I don’t know if this rarity is present but I think there is a fair chance that it does live in the lower, mostly inaccessible forests. There may be a trail that reaches this most exciting part of the property.

Sunbittern and Green Ibis– Both of these choice birds can occur on the small bodies of water on the hotel grounds, the Sunbittern also along the river.

Owls and other Night Birds– Crested and Black-and-white have been seen near the restaurant and rooms, Mottled and Spectacled also probably occur somewhere on the property, and Middle American Screech-Owl likely occurs in the forest. As for other nocturnal species, Short-tailed Nighthawk can be seen at dusk and perhaps Great Potoo also occurs?

Motmots, puffbirds, and jacamars– This is an interesting site for motmots. Lesson’s has been recorded along the loop road, Broad-billed and Rufous are regular in the forest, and Keel-billed has also been seen perhaps more in the areas of second growth. The best puffbird on site is Lanceolated Monklet. Although it seems to not be as regular as in the past, it likely still occurs in and near the forested canyon. White-fronted Nunbird might also be present inside some parts of the primary forest, it would also be worth looking for the very rare Great Jacamar (Rufous-tailed is fairly common).

Black-crowned Antpitta– No sightings or sign of this mega that I know of (I have tried for it several times) but based on the elevation and habitat, it might be present perhaps in the lower more remote part of the forest.

Lovely Cotinga– Another one that could make an appearance, it will be most likely seen from the Loveats overlook. It seems that this rare species could also visit the forests around the hotel. If any cotingas are still present in the area, I would expect sightings from June to January when they are more likely to move to lower elevations.

Wrens– As with other foothill sites that have a blend of primary and secondary forest, Lands is a great place to see several species of wrens including White-breasted Wood-Wren, Bay, Black-throated, Stripe-breasted, Band-backed, Nightingale, and Song Wrens (along with House for the trip list).

Wood-Warblers and other migrants– Although migrant species can show up in all sorts of places, most really prefer quality forest habitats. This is probably the main reason why Lands seems to be such a good site for wintering wood-warblers including Kentucky, Hooded, Worm-eating, Golden-winged, and other species. I have also seen rare for Costa Rica Blue-headed Vireo there and it would be worth checking for Cerulean, thrushes, and other species during migration.

Stay the Night

If I had one final recommendation, it would be to stay the night at Lands in Love because the birding is good enough to merit more than just a morning. To learn more about stays and birding at Lands in Love, contact me at information@birdingcraft.com .

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica birding lodges caribbean slope high elevations

What Can a Birder in Costa Rica See in Four Days of Birding?

If you only had four days to go birding in Costa Rica, where would you go? What would you do? For most visiting birders, such circumstances are a non-issue, most people visit Costa Rica for a week or more. However, for those of us with such limitations as jobs, family, and other responsibilities, trips of four or five days might be the only means of checking out the avian scene. Is a four or five day trip worth the flight? I dare say that it was for two serious birders from Ohio during recent guiding.

The tour was focused on maximizing time in the field and seeing as many species as possible along with looking for a few choice targets. Since we only had a few days to work with, we couldn’t really bird in more than one or two regions. Therefore, we concentrated on the area with the most chances at lifers and a nice, fat speciose list; the Caribbean slope.

White-fronted Nunbird- one of the birds we were looking for.

Since we also had to drive through the highlands and stay one morning in the Central Valley, this also gave a chance for a different suite of species on Poas, and a bonus morning of birding at Villa San Ignacio. Given the significant number of bird species that these sites added to the overall experience, birding on Poas and at Villa was a good choice.

The following gives an idea of how things went while birding in Costa Rica from June 14 to June 18:

Poas and Cinchona

After meeting at the airport and picking up the Suzuki Vitara from Vamos Rent-a-Car, we drove to the high elevations of Poas. The birding was rather brief and quetzals refused to play but we did see flyby Barred Parakeets, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, both silky-flycatchers, nightingale-thrushes, Sooty Thrush, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, and several other highland endemics.

Black Guan and a couple dozen other cool highland species in an hour is a fine way to start any birding trip to Costa Rica!

For whatever reason, Cinchona was not nearly as productive. Most of the hummingbirds were there and the cafe provided much appreciated, delicious, home-cooked cuisine but the barbets and toucanets had taken an afternoon break from the fruit feeders. On the rest of the drive to the lowlands, we also saw Bat Falcon and White Hawk among a few other nice birds and were greeted by a flyover Green Ibis at our hotel in the Caribbean lowlands.

We still had nice looks at Violet Sabrewing and several other hummingbird species. We ended with 25 hummingbird species by the end of the trip!

The Sarapiqui Lowlands

Quinta de Sarapiqui was our base for the next three nights, a good choice for birding the lowlands and doing a morning trip to mid-elevation sites at Virgen del Socorro. The hotel accommodated with early morning coffee and if we had wanted, would have also arranged early breakfasts. Given their feeder photo action, it’s a shame we couldn’t spend more time at the hotel but we had too many other birds to see further afield.

During one full day and an afternoon in the Sarapiqui area, we did well with 150 or more species. The first morning at the edges of the La Selva reserve gave us several key species including fantastic Purple-throated Fruitcrow, White-fronted Nunbirds, Cinnamon, Chestnut-colored, Pale-billed, and Rufous–winged Woodpeckers, woodcreepers, antshrikes, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, White-necked, Pied, and White-whisked Puffbirds, and more!

We stopped for a tasty lunch at the riverside restaurant, Rancho Magallanes and birded onward, taking a road near Quinta that accesses a wetland and lowland rainforest.

The lunch.
The rainforest.

The wetland was rather quiet as was the birding in sunny conditions for the rest of the afternoon BUT fantastic close looks at Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle made up for the low activity! One of the rarer raptors in Costa Rica, this hawk-eagle is very difficult to find, we had one soaring with vultures and watched it for as much as we wanted. We also picked up a few other lowland species and had brief looks at Scarlet Macaws but came up short with target Great Green Macaw and Snowy Cotinga.

Since that area can also be good for night birds, we stayed until dark. As dusk grew, a Great Potoo called and we saw Short-tailed Nighthawk fly overhead. I then found the potoo and we watched as it sallied from a high snag before flying overhead on long, silent, owlish wings. Next on the list was a Vermiculated Screech-Owl that showed well followed by a Mottled Owl that came in and also gave great looks! Four nocturnal species in less than 40 minutes. This was outstanding and can’t be expected on every visit but does show how good this site can be for night birds. No luck with Black-and-White Owl on the drive back to the hotel but I bet we could have found one if we would have stayed out for another hour or two (not what we wanted after birding from dawn to dusk).

Virgen del Socorro

Realizing that we could see a lot more species by visiting Socorro, we spent a morning up that way. Highlights included views of Dull-mantled and Zeledon’s Antbirds, Nightingale Wren, Central American Pygmy-Owl, Emerald Tanager, White-vented Euphonia, and some 120 other species.

Senor Zeledon.

I had hoped for lunch at Mi Cafecito but since this site was busy with some folkloric activity that included loud music, we drove back into the lowlands. At a new restaurant in La Virgen that also mentioned trails and views of the river, we checked out birdy gardens and the river. It looked ideal for birds like Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Snowy Cotinga, and the macaws but a birder doesn’t see much during the sunny 2 p.m. doldrums, at least we didn’t.

El Tapir

Our last full day in the Caribbean lowlands began at the hummingbird hotspot of El Tapir. The main target, Snowcap, did indeed make an appearance and showed very well as did a few other hummingbird species. No luck with the coquette but the birds we saw in the forest may have made up for not seeing that exquisite little hummingbird. On the first trail, some foliage in movement revealed a serious mega, Bare-necked Umbrellabird! It wasn’t that close to the trail but it was big enough to get some clear looks at the oddly shaped head and red skin on the neck. It appeared to be a young male. Over on the other trail, Ocellated Antbirds took center stage as we checked out an antswarm! For a moment, I thought, “If a ground-cuckoo shows up, this could be the best visit I have ever had to El Tapir, ever”, but the ants weren’t that active and we didn’t see much else.

Ocellated Antbird.

The Cope Experience

After a couple of hours at El Tapir, our fortune continued when we made the short drive to Cope’s place and were immediately greeted by another choice species, White-tipped Sicklebill! We had arrived at just the right time because the bird flew in, fed for about one minute, and then left for good. The feeders weren’t all that active but as usual, the birding was replete with close, satisfying looks at Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Russet-naped Wood-Rail, and various other species.

Over in the woods, the fine birding continued with scope views of Spectacled Owl and nice looks at Honduran White Bats roosting under a Heliconia leaf. We searched the forest for Crested Owl to no avail but did have excellent views of a perched Black Hawk-Eagle! Semiplumbeous Hawk also vocalized but wouldn’t come close, probably to avoid the hawk-eagle.

Before moving on, Cope said, “Let’s go check the old spot for Crested owl. I haven’t seen it there for some time but it’s worth a look.” We waited in the air-conditioned vehicle as Cope looked for the owl. After a few minutes, he returned and motioned us to follow him- a good sign! Sure enough, there they were, and not just one Crested Owl, but a pair with a juvenile!

To finish off the experience, we swung by a Great Potoo nest to digiscope a juvenile.

Although we could have seen more, by 2 p.m., it was time to drive back to the Central valley. As luck would have it, I noticed something perched on a snag as we drove the main road through the rainforests of Braulio Carrillo National Park. No, it couldn’t be..but it was! An adult Ornate hawk-Eagle! Our third and final hawk-eagle in Costa Rica and in just three full days of birding.

Villa San Ignacio

On the last morning of the tour,we birded the grounds of Villa San Ignacio. The habitat at the hotel lived up to expectations with more than 50 species recorded from 6 until 8. Although endemic Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow was a no show, we did see White-eared Ground-Sparrow, Lesson’s Motmot, Plain-capped Starthroat, White-fronted Parrots, Rufous-breasted and Rufous-and-white Wrens, Fiery-billed Aracari, and various other additions for the trip.

After that final sweet morning of birding, we dropped off the car and said our goodbyes. The final count was nearly 300 bird species identified. Although some of those were inevitably heard only, three hawk-eagles, antbirds, and an umbrellabird sort of made up for it!

Good birds make for happy birders!

The birding was focused and we didn’t stop for any siestas but even if you wanted a more relaxed trip, three days in Costa Rica could still turn up a heck of a lot of species. Interested in a quick trip to Costa Rica? Want to see quetzals and more? Stay at hotels ideal for birding? I can help, please contact me at information@birdingcraft.com .

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big year bird finding in Costa Rica caribbean slope

Cano Negro Birding in Costa Rica Delivers the Goods

Like most countries, Costa Rica has more than one type of major habitat, more than one bio-region. Habitats such as the tropical dry forests in the northwest and the cloud forests of the highlands are clearly different in appearance, location, and elevation. Others, like the rainforests of the southern Pacific and the Caribbean lowlands, look similar at a glance but reveal differences upon closer inspection.

These ecological differences are why never see Charming Hummingbirds and Fiery-throated Hummingbirds fighting over the same food source, why more species are seen on birding trips that visit both sides of the mountains and different elevations, and why Cano Negro is one of the major key birding sites in Costa Rica.

This wetland area associated with Lake Nicaragua is where a birder has to go to see Nicaraguan Grackle. It’s where Spot-breasted Wren and Gray-fronted Dove can be easily added to a trip list, and where several other species are more readily encountered than in other parts of Costa Rica.

You won’t see this grackle slumming it up in some urban zone.

Thanks to increased diligent birding by a few guides who live in the Cano Negro area, most of those specialties are now much easier to find than in the past. These include birds like Yellow-breasted Crake, Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, Bare-crowned Antbird, Agami Heron, and even Green and Rufous Kingfisher!

Yellow-breasted Crake- essentially an aquatic, big-toed sparrow.

Thanks to boat and birding guide Barnaby “Chambita” Romero, Team Tyto (that would be Mary and I), and several other fortunate birders enjoyed a quick yet very productive day and a half of birding in the wetlands of the north. Even more impressive was the fact that we actually spent just an afternoon and a morning of birding and still managed to see most of our targets.

Beginning in Medio Queso, a late afternoon boat ride was punctuated by good look at Pinnated Bittern.

It wasn’t very close but this first of three or four Pinnateds gave us excellent looks.

We also scored with fine views of the smallest and most local heron species in Costa Rica, the Least Bittern. Other targets included a couple of Nicaraguan Grackles, Yellow-breasted Crake seen very well, a Sora (a regular yet challenging migrant and fantastic year bird!), and a few other bird species while we were entertained by the acrobatics of Fork-tailed Flycatchers.

The following morning saw us on a boat shortly after 6 a.m. in the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge.

With certain targets in mind, Chambita skillfully traversed the fallen logs of the Rio Frio to get us in touch with such fine birds as Snowy Cotinga, a fantastic Green and Rufous Kingfisher, Limpkins, and from the tower, a mega distant yet identifiable Jabiru in flight!

It was quite the successful trip and impossible to choose a best bird from so many candidates but given the amount of time and effort some had undertaken to unsuccessfully see Sungrebe in the past, and the fantastic looks we had at two of this awesome feathered weirdo, I think the odd duckish thing with the clown socks takes the prize.

In terms of Team Tyto’s Big Year, it was also an excellent start, I wonder what we will see next?

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica caribbean foothills caribbean slope

Cold Front Birding in Costa Rica at Arenal Observatory Lodge

Polar vortices don’t reach as far south as Costa Rica but that doesn’t negate their effect. The icy fingers of the latest freeze up north have touched enough air masses to push some of the cold stuff down this way. It’s way too far south for any substantial amount of snow or ice but we do get cool temperatures and, most of all, sort of ridiculous amounts of rain. These aren’t the typical reliable tropical thunderstorms where one can bird all morning and take a nap accompanied by the soothing sound of falling rains in the afternoon. Nope, more like a near constant barrage of falling water that goes from light to heavy to mist in wave after trying wave.

Yeah, like how do you watch birds with conditions like that? What happened to the dry season? Patience and perseverance are key to birding success in such wet times as these, as for the dry season, in January that has always been more of a Pacific slope thing anyways. The funny thing about the dry season in Costa Rica is that it’s not really the dry season for the entire country. While the rains don’t happen on part of the Pacific slope, it has always been another story for the Caribbean and during cold fronts, the rains soak the waterways of the mountains and lowlands that flow to the Atlantic basin.

The water that falls on Arenal Volcano heads to the Caribbean and during a cold front, its slopes catch a lot of that moisture. Recently, while guiding four fellow birders from New York state, I was witness to the effects of a cold front. Despite the frightening prospect of near constant rain, we actually had more good birding news than bad. It did not end up raining the entire time and we still connected with several nice targets during birding at the Observatory Lodge and the Peninsula Road. Some hits, misses, and observations:

Take advantage of the buffet breakfast– Yes, seriously, and this worked in our favor because we could start birding at dawn, take a break at 8:20 to stock up on gallo pinto, cheese rolls, and other food, and then continue right on through lunch.

Antbirds played well– Continuing the birding on through lunch is especially important when it might rain for the rest of the afternoon, and many of the target species require an investment of birding time. We would not have seen our target antbirds if we had not stayed out there on the Hormiga and Saino Trails post breakfast. We got looks at Dull-mantled, Dusky, Spotted, Bicolored, and Ocellated at an antswarm. It started raining shortly thereafter just as we were about to see a Thicket Antpitta. Over on the Peninsula Road the following morning, we heard several Bare-crowned and had brief looks at one or two.

A Spotted Antbird from another trip to the Arenal area.

The White Hawk Villa really does have White Hawks– If you want lots of space, stay at the villa! Although we didn’t take advantage of all that extra floor space to throw a White Hawk dance party, we did have excellent looks at the signature raptor species.

Cotinga dip– No, we did not make finger foods out of shiny birds. Birders will know that we barely missed seeing a cotinga in the morning, missed again that afternoon, and then did not see it the following morning. Ouch. Serious ouch to see pictures of the male Lovely Cotinga from the day before and then the day after we left. No senor Cotinga, you were not supposed to take a day off from that fruiting fig.

Cracids, tanagers, and toucanets still come out in the rain– Or, at least in cloudy conditions. Great Curassows walked the grounds, Crested Guans posed and made weird honking noises (the local version of a goose?), chachalacas appeared, several tanagers showed including Emerald, and we couldn’t help but see another Yellow-eared Toucanet!

Female Yellow-eared Toucanet at the Casona. The fourth for the trip, you would think these were reliable!

The Black and White Owl is still there– One of these beauties frequently feeds at a light at the entrance to the Casona at the Observatory Lodge. Much to our delight, it was there during our visit as well.

A few other dips but a few other good birds too– We couldn’t escape the rain entirely and it likely resulted in us missing seeing that antpitta, and finding Song Wren, Nightingale Wren, and a few other birds. But, we did see a distant soaring Great Black Hawk, saw a roosting Great Potoo, got our Keel-billed Motmot, and at the last second of guiding, White-fronted Nunbird!

I went back there later that day with a friend and the nunbirds were still there, this time doing imitations of kingbirds.

We also had more views of the star motmot.

Unfortunately, more cold fronts in Costa Rica are expected due to a cold water Nina effect in the Pacific. Be ready for rain but if you are also ready to persevere, you can still see a lot.

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caribbean slope lowlands

Tips for Birding in Costa Rica at Selva Bananito

Last weekend, I finally made it to a place I have heard about for many years. Although I have birded most corners of Costa Rica on more than one occasion, I still need to get to a few places. The high quality forests of Las Alturas near San Vito are at the top of my Costa Rica bucket list along with Isla Chira in the Gulf of Nicoya, Pacuare Lodge, and a couple other choice sites. One such site recently removed from my bucket list as of this past weekend is Selva Bananito. Although this lodge can be literally translated as, “little banana jungle”, the only bananas are on part of the drive in, and the place is anything but small.

The small pond at Selva Bananito

Selva Bananito is a working farm and property that protects a huge area of forest, some of which includes the watershed that provides the city of Limon with potable water. Many thanks to the current owners, that primary forest still stands because they convinced their father to leave it instead of cutting it down. Since then, they have also reforested part of the property and strive to work in a sustainable manner. If that wasn’t enough reason to stay there for a few nights, these birding tips might do the trick:

Enjoy the Snowy Cotingas: Once you get south of the Siquirres area, Snowy Cotinga seems easier. Watch a forested hillside in the afternoon and you might find six of more of these snow-white birds perched in the canopy. At Selva Bananito, it’s actually hard not to see this dove-like wonder bird. We had sightings every day, right from the lodge and elsewhere, maybe eight in total.

A male cotinga hiding in a tree.

Check out the colors on the Great Jacamar: This beautiful bird is much easier in Amazonia but it never hurts to admire the iridescence in Costa Rica! When rainforest covered the Caribbean lowlands, this species was certainly more widespread. In the current times of disconnect and deforestation, in Costa Rica, the Great Jacamar is much more of a challenge. Although you can find it at a few sites here and there, the most reliable is Selva Bananito. It’s not common there either but it does seem to occur in larger numbers at Bananito than elsewhere. We had very good looks at one on our first morning.

The colors were kind of like a combination of a motmot and quetzal!

Keep an eye on the skies: In Costa Rica, lots of forest can equal a variety of raptors. Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle is regular (although we missed it), we heard a Black Hawk-Eagle, saw Short-tailed Hawks, King Vulture, heard a Semiplumbeous on the road in, and marveled over incredible kettles of migrating Swainson’s and Broad-winged Hawks.

Stay overnight deep in the forest: There are trails that go way back into the forest. To make it easier for guests to access those remote areas of the property, there are two platforms where you can spend the night. This sort of adventure thing that provides immersion in high quality bird habitat is right up my alley, I cannot wait to do this on my next visit to see if I can find Black-eared Wood-Quail, Scaly-throated Leaftosser, Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon, and other species of the deep forest. Who knows what else might be back there?

Do some night-birding: Before dawn on the first morning, I heard Mottled Owl, Crested Owl, Spectacled Owl, Central American Pygmy-Owl, and Great Potoo within an hour, right from my comfortable cabin. Common Potoo is also present, I would bet that Vermiculated Screech-Owl is common, and Black and White should also be around.

Bird the road to the lodge: On the drive out, I realized that we should have spent some time on that road. Part of the track passes through old cocoa cultivations with big trees and there are a few streams. In other words, it looks excellent for a wide variety of lowland species and could be easily birded with a group, including at night. I hope to do just that both while guiding groups, and during bird surveys.

Most of all, enjoy your time at Bananito. The owners were very accommodating and friendly, if you don’t want to hike the trails, you can see a lot of good birds from from the lodge, and the knowledgeable, friendly local guides can bring you to sites to look for the jacamar and maybe even Red-fronted Parrotlet. Check out my eBird list from Saturday.

If you get tired of looking at lowland forest birds, Jurgen, one of the owners, also offers rides high above the lodge in a  gyrocopter!

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Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica caribbean slope

Things I was Reminded Of and Learned During Several Days of Intense Guiding in Costa Rica

If you have tried to contact me during the past several days, I apologize. I wasn’t home. Nor did I have a chance to check emails because I was helping someone find target species like Ochre-breasted Antpitta, owls, Dusky Nightjar, and so on. We didn’t get all the targets but with less than five full days to work with, we knew that was always going to be the case. So, we dipped on some of the species that typically require more time, ones like Silvery-throated Jay, the pewee (that would be the Ochraceous one), Scaled Antpitta, and Maroon-chested Ground-Dove among a few other not so easy birds. It wasn’t for lack of trying though and given the rain, I think we did pretty well in compiling a list with checks next to these choice species:

Buff-crowned Wood-Partridge

Spotted Wood-Quail

Ornate Hawk-Eagle

Black and white Owl

Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl

Vermiculated Screech-Owl

Spectacled Owl

Snowcap

Lattice-tailed Trogon

Chestnut-colored Woodpecker

Tawny-throated Leaftosser

Peg-billed Finch

During the course of birding, I was also reminded of the following:

The Unspotted Saw-whet Owl responds to vocalizations of Stygian Owl: Whether because it has experience with that potential predator, or just doesn’t like how it sounds, we had one saw-whet respond in an agitated manner to the high-pitched call made by the Stygian. In fact, since the saw-whet responded with a similar squeaking high-pitched noise, I thought it might actually be a Stygian. However, much to my frustration, almost as soon as I caught the saw-whet in the light of the torch, off it went and my client didn’t see it. We did manage to relocate a calling bird but that one was inside a veritable shield of dead vines and we couldn’t see it before it flew off to call a few more times just as the dawn was breaking on Irazu.

Hotel Grandpa’s yes, Kiri Lodge maybe not: Hotel Grandpa’s acts as a good base (with a funny name) for exploring Irazu. Good service, comfortable rooms, and a nice restaurant (which we didn’t use because we had birds to see). The only down-side was sleeping near a cabin where the guests were having their own karaoke party in the middle of the night. Once again, a shame I didn’t have some firecrackers to light right at their front door before we disembarked on the saw-whet search at 2:00 a.m.

As for Kiri Lodge, I hate to say this because the owners are nice but the room was so small and basic, and the choices in the restaurant so limited (unless you like trout or fried chicken), I don’t see myself staying there again. I know they have wanted to sell the place, I wish I had the money to buy it so it could be converted into a wonderful birding lodge. We would have wood-quail parties, engagements with antpittas, constant hummingbird action, roosting owls, etc.

The Crimson-collared Tanager can be much less friendly than you think: When a bird that has been typically easy to see decides to hide and skulk and fly off as soon as you might see it, sorry but it’s not being very friendly. Well, at least not birder friendly. If there was such a thing as “Bird Advisor”, I would have given it one star.

Tapanti is great as always and birder friendly: Tapanti National Park, thank you very much! The day before we were scheduled to bird the park, I asked the guard if we could enter early. He said, “Sure, what time?” I hesitantly responded, “Er, 5:30?” “Sure, no problem.”

We got there at the scheduled time and yes, out he came to open the gate. After thanking him from the bottom of my heart, in we went and onto the Oropendola Trail. Despite our early arrival and careful scanning, no antpittas hopped into view. But, we did make up for it with an Ochre-breasted on the Arboles Caidos trail (!), a pair of Ornate Hawk-Eagles that almost flew too close for binoculars, and views of such targets as solitaires, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Sooty-faced Finch, and the two hummingbirds among several other non-target species. Mixed flocks were good and by 11:30, we had a healthy list.

Our Ochre-breasted Antpitta.

The guard at La Selva, not so much: If you bird the entrance road, God forbid that you scan with binoculars near the guard shack. Such common birding behavior caused the guard to abandon his post and tell us that we could bird along the road but not right there because that costed money to do so. Seriously. Scanning for a few seconds, looking in the direction of the reserve. He was clearly perturbed and then even more so when we left the road near there to see a Black-throated Wren even though we were clearly in sight, and obviously watching a bird for a very short time. I said, “I’m sorry, there was a bird there we really wanted to see, please don’t worry, we aren’t going to try and sneak into the grounds of La Selva.” He said something like, “There are houses here, you can’t leave the road.” I saw the houses, we weren’t near them. At all. Whether he was worried that administration would perhaps berate him or was just taking his job to new heights of security, when it comes down to it, this is yet another sign that La Selva could use some consulting regarding birders. If the OTS La Selva Biological Station would like to capitalize on birding and thus raise more funds for the station, for a fee, I would be more than happy to advise them on how that could be accomplished and of course in ways that would not affect the main objectives of the station. Contact me at information@birdingcraft.com

Now before we make excuses like “it’s a research station”, or that “the guard was just doing his job”, we would also need to ask ourselves if La Selva would actually like to earn more money from visiting birders, and if part of the guard’s job should involve efforts to try and stop people from watching birds in the vicinity of the guard shack (and thus convince them to perhaps not stay at a place that does not welcome birders and recommend other birders to do likewise).

El Gavilan can be a pretty good base for Sarapiqui birding: El Gavilan, one of the oldest choices for accommodation in the Sarapiqui area, continues to be a welcome, relaxing places to sit back and see which birds come on by. Although the habitat consists of various stages of second growth along with mature riparian forest, it is pretty darn birdy (check out the eBird list from late morning). After seriously searching for Snowy Cotinga at the edges of La Selva and other areas in the vicinity, we managed to see a female fly over the clearing at Gavilan. Sadly, she did not perch for scope views but the pale gray bird was still the only one we saw. Other species were Gray-chested and White-tipped Doves, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Red-throated Ant-Tanagers, flocks of migrating Miss. Kites and streams of swallows, Alder Flycatcher by the river, Rufous-winged, Smoky-brown, Black-cheeked, and Cinnamon Woodpeckers, and various other species of the Caribbean lowland edge and canopy. No deep forest birds but that can be resolved with walks at Tirimbina, El Tapir, or Quebrada Gonzalez. Not to mention, one of the friendly managers brought us to a roosting family of Spectacled Owls.

The baby.

I’m sure there is more to say about these days but given our fast-paced, focused birding, at the moment, it’s all sort of blurring together. Suffice to say that, as always, when you put in the time and effort, Costa Rica provides the birds.

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Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope preparing for your trip

Comparing Cano Negro and Tortuguero

There’s more than one way to watch a bird. When I was a kid, I stared out the window of cars and buses, constantly scanning distant tree tops, fields, and other aspects of urban and rural landscapes that rushed on by. In the summer, the sweet smell of hay fields was accompanied by Eastern Kingbirds that perched on fence lines and sallied into the air , beautiful orange-bellied Barn Swallows coursing over fields, sudden bright yellow American Goldfinches and Yellow Warblers in flight, hawks on high perches or telephone poles, a Belted Kingfisher perched on a wire over a river, and other roadside avian sights. Since then, I have seen a few good birds from trains, even pulling lifers like Sharp-tailed Grouse and the one and only funky Lewis’s Woodpecker while traveling through western situations, but, as one might expect, the most productive birding is a consequence of your own two feet.

Being in control of our own mobility facilitates searching branches and other vegetation for the inconspicuous. We can listen for target birds and head in that direction, or just hang out and wait for stuff to show. It also makes it easier to access more sites but there are still a few habitats denied to those on the ground. Until someone invents some futuristic water walking device, even the closest of pelagic zones is a no go to the walker. The same goes for most wetlands, including rivers, lakes, and marshes. Sure, you could wear waders and hope that you don’t step into some bottomless quick sand while floundering through muck and mud but no bird is worth being eaten by the marsh. Those wetland situations are where boats come into play and you will need one when birding a few sites in Costa Rica.

Some fine boat birding at Tortuguero.

The two main ones that come to mind are Cano Negro and Tortuguero. Cano Negro is essentially a wetland area more associated with Lake Nicaragua than the Caribbean lowlands. You do get some species from that bio-zone but it’s also why you can see things like Nicaraguan Grackle, Limpkin, and Snail Kite. Tortuguero, on the other hand, is mostly composed of swampy coastal rainforest where the “roads” are canals and rivers. Both sites can be birded without a boat but you would be missing a lot if you stuck to dry land. Although they have their similarities, Cano Negro and Tortuguero also differ in some ways. Here are some thoughts that stem from comparing the two:

Sungrebe!

In this respect, both sites are similar. Spend two days birding from boat at either site and you have a very good chance of seeing the sole New World representative of the Finfoot family.

Great Potoo

The big-headed night bird is regular at both sites.

Great Green Macaw

Not at Cano Negro but doing quite well at Tortuguero with several birds recently feeding on Beach Almonds in the village!

Cano Negro has more kingfishers

Perhaps from fish being more concentrated and maybe being less affected by pesticides, one usually sees a lot more kingfishers at Cano Negro. All of the same can also be seen at Tortuguero but they are more common in Cano Negro.

Jabiru 

Although the king of New World storks has been seen at Tortuguero, it’s far more regular at Cano Negro, especially during the dry season.

Marsh birds

Cano Negro wins in this regard too but that’s because it actually has freshwater marshes whereas Tortuguero kind of doesn’t.

Thanks to help from Daryl Loth, owner of Casa Marbella, that didn’t stop us from seeing Least Bittern!

Access

Since Cano Negro can be accessed by car, whereas reaching Tortuguero requires a ride in a boat, I suppose Cano Negro is somewhat easier to get to. That said, It’s not difficult to reach Tortuguero, even with the public boat, and to see the best of Cano Negro, you have to hire a boat to access the heart of the refuge in any case.

Forest

There is some forest at Cano Negro but Tortuguero easily wins this  hand. Most of Tortuguero is tall rainforest, some of which can be accessed at Cerro Tortuguero and on a trail that parallels the beach. This offers a better chance at seeing Semiplumbeous Hawk, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Yellow-margined Flycatcher, and some other forest-based species.

Rarities

It’s a bit hard to judge which site comes out on top in this regard but Tortuguero seems to be ahead when it comes to rarities. The coastal location results in sightings of vagrant gulls and occasional pelagic species as well as a chance at many a rare migrant. I bet that all sorts of really rare species have passed through there unnoticed because we don’t have enough people looking. In that regard, I dare say that the same can be said about Cano Negro. Huge concentrations of birds occur as the lagoons shrink in size, including quite a few shorebirds. I could easily see something like a Ruff, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, or some vagrant stint pop in and out of those wetlands and never be seen.

This Reddish Egret was a rare, fine addition to my year list.

Cuisine

No contest here but then again Tortuguero has been playing host to far more tourists for much longer. Try the Buddha Cafe or Ms. Myriams. Both highly recommended! Very few options at Cano Negro but you will get by.

Good, easy birding 

Fortunately, this most important factor is shared by both sites. You can’t go wrong when birding Cano Negro or Tortuguero, just make sure to book one or more boat rides!

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caribbean slope identification issues

Identification Tips for White-ringed Flycatcher

Recently, while guiding in the La Selva area, one of our many target species finally showed at the end of the day. Like other birds I was looking for, in Costa Rica, this one only occurs in lowland rainforest on the Caribbean slope and thus finds itself sharing a hitlist with the likes of Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Snowy Cotinga, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, and other choice species. Although those three birds failed to show, the White-ringed Flycatcher made an appearance as one of our last species of the day.

A distant White-ringed Flycatcher.

This flycatcher is one of several species that looks kind of like a Great Kiskadee or Social Flycatcher, but isn’t, and that’s why I’m going to talk about it. Based on the images of White-ringed Flycatcher that pop up during online searches, it looks like Social Flycatcher is the biggest contender in terms of mis-identification because 80% of the images that were tagged as White-ringed were actually Socials along with a few kiskadees and even Tropical Kingbird thrown in for good measure. That’s reasonable, I mean they look almost exactly the same, but this is also why you won’t learn much about identification of White-ringed Flycatcher from looking at images in Flckr.

Instead of doing that, check out these tips for an honest to goodness tick of White-ringed Flycatcher while birding in Costa Rica, Panama, or other parts of their range:

Habitat and Behavior: Yep, these factors are mentioned first because they provide the best clues. While other kiskadee type flycatchers can hang out on fences, and even zip down to the ground, the White-ringed has more refined tastes. This fly-catching aristocrat almost always keeps to the canopy, even perching on the very tops of tall trees like a pseudo-cotinga. Yes, it will come lower in some places but if you see a kiskadee-type bird sitting on a fence row, it’s probably not going to be a White-ringed. I am sure this is why so few images of this species are actually available. Unlike the other kiskadees, this one also prefers forest. Thankfully, it will come to the edge and sometimes to semi-open areas, but for the most part, this is a forest species that requires old second growth and/or mature lowland rainforest. Similar to other kiskadees, it sallies for bugs and fruit, and often occurs in groups of four to six birds.

The La Selva entrance road is a regular spot for this species.

Tertials: Instead of checking other parts of the bird in question, check out the back section of the wing. Although some Socials and other kiskadee types can show some pale edging to the tertials, this field mark seems to always stand out more in the wings of the White-ringed Flycatcher, even at a distance.

Hard to see in this image but this shows the pale tertial edging and white meeting on the nape.

White on the head: True to its name, it does have a white “ring” on its head. Actually a diadem, the white eyebrow is broader or wider than other kiskadees, and meets on the front and back of the head. In the Social and Boat-billed, the white on the head does not meet on the nape, but does so in the Great Kiskadee.

Eyelid: Ok, I don’t know if it’s the eyelid or some spot right above the eye, but with a good look, a small white crescent is visible right above the eye of the White-ringed. A far as I can tell, the other kiskadees lack this small but distinctive detail.

Check out the eyelid.

Beak: Not the most principle of field marks but one that does lend itself to the identification equation. Compared to Social Flycatcher, White-ringed has a slightly longer, straighter bill. See enough Socials and this is evident.

Song: As usual with Tyrannids, ear birders are in luck. This one calls frequently, and has a distinctive, even pitched, trilled vocalization nothing like the calls of Social Flycatcher or other kiskadee types.

Places to see it: This species is fairly common at any lowland rainforest site on the Caribbean slope, including the La Selva area and Sarapiqui, Laguna del Lagarto, anywhere near and south of Limon, and various other places. Interestingly, it also occurs on some parts of the Arenal Observatory entrance road.

For more tips about identification of birds in Costa Rica, as well as information about sites, get “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.