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bird finding in Costa Rica Hummingbirds

The Corso Lecheria Hummingbird Stop

Hummingbirds are an essential component of Costa Rica. At least one species is found at just about every birding stop and many times, more than one. In Costa Rica, these miniature jeweled pollinators range from the humid rainforests of the lowlands to the cold brushy paramos on the highest peaks, and occur everywhere in between, especially in cloud forest and other middle elevation habitats. Although most species are resident, many make short migrations or movements to track various plants in flower at lower and higher elevations or to other parts of the country. Where and when hummingbirds go in Costa Rica is not as well known as it could be, and any additional data will further our understanding of these special birds and therefore also help conserve them.

Documenting where and when they are seen is part of the hummingbird conservation equation in Costa Rica and gives us that much more reason to spend time with these feathered jewels. Fortunately, they are always fun to watch, one of the newer places to check them out being the Corso Lecheria. Rather new on the Costa Rica birding scene, this dairy farm features a healthy bunch of Porterweed hedgerows that provide food for a number of hummingbirds.

Located on the saddle road between Poas and Barva volcanoes, around 2 kilometers east of the junction at Poasito, Corso makes for an easy and typically productive stop. After entering the parking area, just watch for the hedgerows with purple flowers on the left and wait for the birds to show.

They eventually will, Volcano Hummingbird might be the first one you see. This tiny bird seems to be the most common species at this site although there are usually a few Scintillants around as well!

Female Volcano Hummingbird.
Male Scintillant Hummingbird.

Lesser Violetears are also usually present.

Other hummingbirds regular at Corso also include Stripe-tailed,

Magenta-throated Woodstar,

and Purple-throated Mountain-gem.

Since this is an important source of nectar, who knows what else might show? Since it looks like a prime site for such rarities as coquettes or other species, visiting birders should carefully document any hummingbird that looks different or goes unidentified. Since the hummingbird viewing is also free, it would also be good for visiting birders to frequent their ice cream store. That shouldn’t be too much trouble, I mean isn’t hummingbird viewing best followed by ice cream tasting?

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Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica Hummingbirds Where to see birds in Costa Rica

Finding Green-fronted Lancebill in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a fantastic place for close looks at hummingbirds. Feeders and gardens planted with the hummingbird delicacy known as Porterweed bring in most species for soul satisfying views, and hundreds of digital captures.

Coppery-headed Emerald is one of several species commonly seen at feeders.

However, although most birders end up with 30 plus species during a two or three week trip to Costa Rica, most also end up with the same set of missing species. Those blanks usually include White-crested Coquette, White-tipped Sicklebill, Garden Emerald, and a few other species. One of those usually missing birds is the Green-fronted Lancebill, a rather dull hummingbird with a long, needle-like, oh so slightly upturned bill.

A typical look at a Green-fronted Lancebill.

This one can be a pain because it happens to be genuinely uncommon, ignores feeders, and doesn’t even visit Porterweed. Look in those places and you will see lots of hummingbird action but won’t see any lancebills. The lancebill prefers more refined food and places, look there and you might find them. Here are a few tips on finding and seeing this choice Costa Rican hummingbird:

  • Cloud forest: Although it can show up in foothill forests, the lancebill is most at home in the cloud forest zone. These are the forests shrouded in mist and draped with moss and epiphytes, and the lancebill lives in them from the Monteverde area south to Panama, and on both slopes between 800 and 2,300 meters.

    Cloud forest.
  • Hanging flowers: This odd hummingbird doesn’t have that long bill for nothing. Its bill seems to be adapted to clumps of tubular, hanging red or pink flowers because this is where it often feeds. Like a miniature Sword-billed Hummingbird (a South American, surreal specialty), lancebills sneak underneath those hanging flowers and feed from each tube with delicate precision. If you see a bunch of these flowers in cloud forest, a lancebill will probably show up sooner or later.
  • Streams and waterfalls: This is the best tip for finding a lancebill because whether you run into those special flowers or not, these birds are almost always found along streams. Like a wannabe dipper or Black Phoebe, they will even perch on a rock in the middle of the rushing waterway. They seem to like small waterfalls even more and will perch near the base or plunge basin to fly and out and catch unseen bugs.

    Lancebill habitat.
  • A few good sites: Any forested stream with small rapids and waterfalls in cloud forest is a good place to watch and wait for Green-fronted Lancebill but some of the more reliable spots are streams in Tapanti National Park (especially the one at the entrance), Monteverde (try the waterfall trail), The San Luis Canopy and nearby, and the La Paz Waterfall Gardens (take the forest trail and watch around the base of any small waterfall).

Since this hummingbird probably has linear territories along streams, you usually have to wait for it to show up. Like other birds, it’s easiest in the early morning when it calls, is more active, and sometimes gets in chasing fights with other lancebills. No matter what time of day you look, once you find a suitable spot, be patient and keep scanning the rocks, twigs, and flowers until one shows up. You will probably see a few other good birds in the meantime.

If you see one, don't expect bright colors!

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Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica caribbean foothills Hummingbirds Introduction

Yesterday’s Highlights from Birding in Costa Rica at El Tapir

It’s the day after guiding at El Tapir and it’s hard to believe that less than 24 hours ago, I was looking at White-ruffed Manakins and listening to the whistles of hidden wood-wrens. Such is the big old contrast between a computer desk and the humid, dim interior of rainforest. There weren’t any crazy highlights but we had some nice birds nonetheless. The antithesis of a highlight was the odd absence of the Snowcap. Odd, because I have never not seen that fantastic hummingbird at El Tapir. I hope they come back soon and have not returned to the dream dimension to which they obviously belong.

Yes, this bird is from a dream dimension.

No Snowcaps, but we did see some other nice birds, one of which is easy to hear but is a menace to try and see. That toughy was a Nightingale Wren and oh how nice it was to come in and hang out a few short meters from our feet.

What a Nightingale Wren usualy looks like.

Now you know why the Nightingale Wren prefers to stay out of sight- it looks kind of like a piece of dirt.

Another look at this ridiculously reclusive rainforest soprano.

If you hear someone whistling out of tune in foothill rainforest, you are listening to a Nightingale Wren and not a short, bearded fellow with a pointed red hat (although some claim to have seen those beings in the forest as well).

No elves but we did have a nice view from an overlook. It was not so easy to get to this spot.

Other “good” birds we saw inside the rainforest were Spotted Antbird, Pale-vented Thrush, Lattice-tailed Trogon, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Tawny-crested Tanager, and a bunch of White-ruffed Manakins.

Male White-ruffed Manakin.

The manakins were feeding on fruiting Melastomes. Several other birds paid visits to those important trees too but no hoped for cotingas or random Sharpbill.

Back out in the hummingbird garden, we were treated to one of the other top candidates for bird of the day, a male Black-crested Coquette. We got to watch that fine little bird as much as we wanted along with a couple of Green Thorntails, Crowned Woodnymph, and Violet-headed Hummingbirds among the over-abundant Rufous-taileds.

We often saw it through the flower stems.

Then it would fly into view.

Or put its head into the flowers.

Scoped views on a perch were also nice!

I will be at El Tapir again within a week for another Snowcap vigil. I hope they come back from their vacation from parts unknown.

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bird photography Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope Hummingbirds middle elevations

Some Good Reasons for Visiting the Catarata del Toro

The Catarata del Toro is a massive, scenic waterfall at the edge of Juan Castro Blanco National Park. if you are wondering where that is, think central Costa Rica, the mountains between Poas and La Fortuna. If it helps, it’s also near Bosque de Paz. If you aren’t headed to Bosque de Paz, it’s a bit of a detour off the route between Arenal and Sarapiqui but here are some reasons why the detour is worth it:

  • A couple of loop trails through good cloud forest: Although I have only birded on them twice, I think there is a lot of birding potential. The elevation is around 1,200 meters, the forest has a lot of big trees (indicators of quality habitat), and the forest is connected to the national park. On my limited time on those trails, I have had Highland Tinamou, Emerald Toucanet, Prong-billed Barbet, Pale-vented Thrush, and various common middle elevation species. I bet a lot more could occur.
  • Hummingbird feeders:  This is the main reason for paying a visit. Sometimes, they can be slow but during rainy weather and, when hummingbirds are hungry, the Colibridae action is out of sight.

Some of that sweet hummingbird action.

The feeders are also scenic.

Lots of fantastic Violet Sabrewings to look at.

  • Crazy, close shots of hummingbirds:

Juvenile Green-crowned Brilliant.

Adult Green-crowned Brilliant.

Adult male Green-crowned Brilliant with photo-bombing White-bellied Mountain-Gem.

White-bellied Mounatin-Gem

Green Hermit

  • Black-bellied Hummingbird: Not a whole lot of accessible sites for this one.

Black-bellied Hummingbird

Black-bellied Hummingbird showing its flat crown.

  • Coppery-headed Emerald: Common, near endemic (one population was found in Nicaragua).

    Coppery-headed Emerald shaking off the rain.

    Coppery-headed Emerald showing its colors.
  • Black-breasted Wood-Quail: They used to come into the garden but one of the owners told me that she thought their recent absence might be related to Coatis showing up now and then. She is probably right but the wood-quail should still be in the forest. I wonder if Ochre-breasted and Scaled Antpittas are also around.

Not to mention, the owners also provide good service, can provide meals, and also offer 3 simple rooms. Sounds like a good place for a lone birder or small group to stay and check out. If you do, please send me a report to publish on the blog.

There's also that waterfall to look at. Probably harbors some good swifts.

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Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica Hummingbirds Introduction

Finding Rare Birds on Irazu

Irazu is an 11,000 plus foot high volcano just outside of San Jose. I can see it looming large just outside my back window and can even discern the cell towers right up on top. Heck, if I had a 10,000 zoom scope, I would just point it at the mountain and scan for Silvery-throated Jay, quetzals, and Maroon-chested Ground-Dove. As long as we are in the realm of imagination, I might as well mention that teleporting up there would be way better than a telescope. That would be so much easier than creeping through traffic to reach Cartago followed by a subsequent drive on up to the upper reaches of the volcano. But don’t assume that the fun stops once you make it to the volcano. To see some of those rarities, there’s a fair chance that you will still need to scuff your way up some steep slopes or freeze the feet in cold, wet grass.

During the day, the view is pretty nice from high up on the volcano.

At least if such sacrifices are made, you can be rewarded with some hefty nice birds. For example….

Maroon-chested Ground-Dove.

Yes, this ground-dove that pretends to be a quail-dove was very nice to Robert, Susan, and I this past Sunday. It called almost non-stop and even gave us time to trudge up slope and get into a position where we could inspect it in detail. To start things off, a female briefly showed before the male made an appearance. We got brief looks at both before they fluttered off and we were indeed pleased but the rare ground-dove experience wasn’t over yet. Much to our joy, the male started calling again and did so from a spot where we could watch it for 15 minutes (since almost no one ever sees this bird, those were some 15 precious minutes).

Maroon-chested Ground-Dove with eyes closed.

Maroon-chested Ground-Dove from the side.

Eventually, it tired of our stares and fluttered off to another, more secluded bush.

The look of success.

The ground-dove is probably the rarest regularly occurring species on Irazu. It is, no doubt, always present but if it isn’t calling as it forages in thick vegetation, you would never know it was there. As far as rarity on Irazu goes, it’s only superseded by the Oilbird. Now for that one, we just don’t even have any idea if it shows up on a regular basis or if it’s a vagrant. Assessment evades because the bird is nocturnal and doesn’t call as nearly as much as an owl. In other words, how the heck would you know if it was around, especially when you would have to chance upon one in the cold, often rainy night?

Speaking of night, Irazu is also a good spot for the Unspotted Saw-whet Owl. If you thought saw-whets from the north were tough, its more southerly cousin takes the owl-spotting challenge to a new level (and you thought that “Unspotted” referred to its plumage…). I don’t think anyone has ever seen a roosting one in Costa Rica and maybe not anywhere else either. To see it, you have to head out into the cold night and listen for a calling bird during calm weather. With luck, you will be able to track down the calling nocturnal creature, find it, and prove to youirself that yes, it does look like a plush toy. After that, you can go back to the car and try to unfreeze your toes after pouring yourself a celebratory drink, spiked coffee seems appropriate.

Irazu can also be good for Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl.

While the owl is present on Irazu, it still isn’t common. Like the ground-dove, it’s a naturally rare bird that always requires more than casual birding to find it. The same goes for some other species that make their home up there on the volcano. For example, Peg-billed Finch and Slaty Finch also occur but nope, sorry, not common. Downright rare and they require lots of looking. The Peg-billed is certainly less difficult than the Slaty because after glassing 30 or so Slaty Flowerpiercers in the paramo, you eventually find one. Not so for the Slaty Finch. For that pseudo-junco weirdo, seeding bamboo is key but guess what? You can still have seeding bamboo and neither hear nor see it! That’s what happened after we looked for the ground-dove. After birding a very nice area of seeding bamboo, we were surprised to neither see nor hear Peg-billed Finch, Slaty Finch, or other bamboo birds, especially because Ernesto Carman and Pablo Siles head them the previous week.

Peg-billed Finches chowing down on bamboo seeds.

But, that’s how it is with rare birds. There are so few of them that it’s just naturally tough to locate them. As with any needle in the haystack experience, chances at success are correlated with number of observers. Go up there with a bunch of people, spread out, and have everyone looking and you might find the rare ones. In the mean time, when birding on Irazu, at least you can also be entertained by the calls of Buffy-crowned Wood-Patridge (might see one too), and views of Flame-throated Warbler, Wrenthrush, silky-flycatchers, and Resplendent Quetzal

Black and yellow silky Flycatcher

A big thanks goes out to Ernesto Carman and Pablo Siles- they found the ground-dove and other rare birds the week before and were gracious with the gen.

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Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica caribbean slope high elevations Hummingbirds Introduction

Hanging Out with Hummingbirds from Poas to Sarapiqui

Yesterday, I guided a couple on the Poas-Cinchona-Nature Pavilion route. This always makes for a fun, easy-going tour because it puts the focus on feeders and photography with such extra possibilities as mixed flocks, and target birds like Black Guan, Resplendent Quetzal, Prong-billed Barbet, toucans, and high elevation endemics. Although the unusual hot, dry weather on the Caribbean slope has put a damper on bird activity (and can’t be doing anything good for birds, plants, insects, or anything other life forms adapted to rain on a daily basis), we still connected with the guan, quetzal, barbet, and an overall nice variety of birds.

A Prong-billed Barbet from another day at Cinchona. We saw one at the Volcan Restaurant.

Hummingbird feeder activity was especially good and was the main focus on our attention. At our first main stop, the Cinchona Cafe, we were treated to near constant hummingbird activity. One of the most common species was the big, bold, and beautiful Violet Sabrewing.

Male Violet Sabrewing.

At least 6 males were present and one female eventually showed as well.

The sabrewing was outnumbered, however, by Green-crowned Brilliants. At times, one feeder would play host to 6 or 7 brilliants, including juvenile males.

A male Green-crowned Brilliant .

A frontal view of a male brilliant.

The next most common hummingbird species was the tiny Coppery-headed Emerald, a white-tailed, middle elevation sprite with a slightly decurved bill.

A close, front view of a female Coppery-headed Emerald.

Green Hermits were also visiting the feeders more than they usually do (I wonder if the Heliconias they feed on are suffering from lack of rain), a few White-bellied Mountain Gems also made an appearance, and a couple of Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds were around.

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird.

One Green Violetear was present but fed on flowering bushes instead of sugar water at the feeders. Rounding out the Cinchona hummingbird show were a few male and female Green Thorntails. Sometimes, the thorntails and other hummingbirds would perch within arm’s length.

A male Green Thorntail at Cinchona.

After enjoying a delicious country breakfast accompanied by hummingbirds, we moved on down slope to the Nature Pavilion. Being situated in the Caribbean lowlands, this site has a totally different set of hummingbirds (except for the near ubiquitous Rufous-tailed). White-necked Jacobin is the regular species at this site although hermits can also zip by, woodnymphs usually show up (although not yesterday), and Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer makes an appearance or two (we did have this one).

A male White-necked Jacobin.

Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer- note the red feet!

In addition to hummingbirds, we also did alright with other bird species even during the heat of the mid-morning. Two pairs of Rufous Motmots showed well down by the river along with Bay Wren, Collared Aracari, and a brief Keel-billed Toucan. A Black-mandibled also called but wouldn’t reveal itself.

A female Gartered Trogon from the Nature Pavilion.

Vivid Red-legged Honeycreepers were feeding in a flowering tree when not feeding on fruit.

A Striped Basilisk also showed well at the Nature Pavilion.

When the clock got close to noon, we headed back upslope, and drove on up to the Volcan Restaurant. This hotspot is situated at a much cooler 2,000 meters and shows it with birds like Magnificent Hummingbird, and Purple-throated Mountain Gem.

Magnificent Hummingbird.

We also enjoyed the antics of several Volcano Hummingbirds (all females but didn’t pick out any Scintillants), Green Violetear, a couple more Violet Sabrewings, Green-crowned Brilliants, one female Magenta-throated Woodstar, and a female Stripe-tailed Hummingbird.

A Volcano Hummingbird at the feeder.

A female Magenta-throated Woodstar.

A female Stripe-tailed Hummingbird.

The forested riparian zone at the restaurant also dished out some non hummingbird birdies, including Prong-billed Barbet, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher, Slate-throated Redstart, and a few other species, one of which was a female quetzal! A small Lauraceous tree next to the stream had some fruits and the female was actively feeding on them.

After getting our fill of a good lunch, lots of hummingbirds, and the birds in the riparian zone, we checked out the higher elevation forests near the entrance to the national park. They had already seen lots of Fiery-throated Hummingbirds at Paraiso de Quetzales but that didn’t stop us from looking at a few that were feeding on flowering bromeliads. Other birds included a quick Black Guan, Sooty, Mountain, and Black-billed Nightingale Thrushes, Yellow-thighed Finch, Slaty Flowerpiercer, some very nice looks at several Golden-browed Chlorophonias, Black and yellow Silky Fkycatcher, and both Common and Sooty-capped Bush Tanagers.

A fun day overall, it makes me want to go back up there and just hike off into the highland forests on Poas.

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bird photography Birding Costa Rica caribbean foothills Hummingbirds Introduction

Why I Like to Patronize the Cinchona Hummingbird Cafe

I like birding in Costa Rica just about every place I visit but I prefer to patronize some places over others. I like it when a place of business protects habitat, makes attempts to work in a manner that is sustainable with their surroundings, and of course offers the opportunity to see a variety of birds. It’s even better when you can get close looks and photos of uncommon species without having to pay a high admission fee. To me, such places are birder friendly because they make it easy for everyone to experience birds and not just the people who pay to take a tour or an entrance fee. One such place is the Cafe Colibri at Cinchona.

The Cafe Colibri is a fantastic, reliable place for getting good shots of Silver-throated Tanager.

A Green Hermit visiting one of the feeders.

This male Green Thorntail perched just off the balcony.

This gem of a site has been a classic hotspot for years and continues to act as a place where visiting birders can have a coffee and sample delicious country Tico fare while being entertained by the antics of Coppery-headed Emeralds, Violet Sabrewings, Emerald Toucanet, Prong-billed Barbet, and other choice species.

Emerald Toucanet striking a photogenic pose.

Common Bush Tanager and Prong-billed Barbets are regular visitors.

A Buff-throated Saltator at the feeder.Another look at the saltator.

What makes this place even more special is that the original cafe was destroyed in the 2009 Cinchona earthquake.

They have photos posted from Cinchona before and after the quake.

The family rebuilt on the same spot as the two story structure that used to play host to Crimson-collared Tanagers and Red-headed Barbets. Although the habitat isn’t as good as it used to be, the forest that was knocked down by the quake is growing back, is bringing in more birds, and should continue to improve with time. One of the owners told me that he has been seeing Red-headed Barbet more often and on recent visits, the feeders were buzzing with activity.

One of the feeders as seen from the balcony at the cafe.

One of the owners stocking the feeders. This guy loves to watch the birds that come in.

The main hummingbird feeders.

The cafe doesn’t charge for watching birds but do accept contributions. If you visit, please leave a hefty donation for the feeders and this bird loving family. It makes for a perfect lunch stop when driving the newly paved Varablanca- San Miguel road and plenty of other non-feeder birds can also show up. On recent visits, in addition to fine looking feeder birds, I also had Sooty-faced Finch, Chestnut-capped Brush Finch, Black-faced Solitaire, Keel-billed Toucan, White-crowned Parrot and other species.

A White-crowned Parrot eating a guava in the rain.

Other spots just down the road can turn up some nice mixed flocks, raptors, and who knows what else. The next time I visit, I hope I can bring them some material to help promote birding at the cafe. If anyone in the family has a mobile device, I will also give them a copy of the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app.

I saw this Bicolored Hawk down the road from Cinchona.

Poro trees have been in bloom near Cinchona and have been attracting lots of birds!

To visit the Cafe Colibri, watch for it on the east side of the main road between Varablanca and San Miguel (the road that goes by the La Paz Waterfall gardens). It is situated between the waterfall and Virgen del Socorro.

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Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica caribbean foothills Hummingbirds Introduction

Where Can I See a Snowcap when Birding Costa Rica?

Most birders on their way to Costa Rica have a list of the species they want to see the most. These are the birds that we yearn to see, that we dream about, and that capitalize the “S” in satisfaction. Ok, so maybe that’s a bit too much but anyone who likes to keep a bird list and who has traveled to watch birds knows what I’m talking about. Although the birding purists may solemnly state that every bird is equal, I, um, beg to differ and counter that equating a Resplendent Quetzal or a Bare-necked Umbrellabird with a House Wren or (egads!) a House Sparrow is is simply bonkers. You see, that would kind of be like saying that Elvis Presley was equal to your average, bowling alley karaoke fanatic.

Bare-necked Umbrellabird- one of the Elvis Presleys of the avian world.

The House Wren has got a pleasant voice but it doesn't get Elvis status.

So, if you happen to be wondering what the heck mind blasting birds, the King of Rock and Roll, and karaoke have to do with Snowcaps, not to fret, I’m getting to that. You see, the Snowcap is rather like a pint-sized (maybe pin-sized) rep. for those extravagant birds that consistently make it onto lists of Costa Rica most wanted bird species. They might not come in the weird and wild shape of an umbrellabird or have glowing feathers that change color as the bird moves along with an over-long tail like a quetzal, but they make up for it with three main characteristics:

  1. The snow cap: Just like the name says, a male Snowcap has a snow white cap. But it’s really more than that. The white is so darn gleaming that one often sees this glowing white spot zipping around like some extra-dimensional creaturette rather than the bird itself. In fact, it just might be the closest thing to a real live Tinkerbell (except it’s a bird, can’t do magic, etc.).

    When I auto-ajusted the colors, the computer opted for a super white cap. The bird actually looks just like this in certain lighting.
  2. The purple body: Wait, is it purple? Mauve? Burgunday? Just what the heck is that color! Whatever it is, it’s a rare hue for anything avian and makes the male look like some extraordinary sculpture. How can it be that color? Why is it that color? Whether the female sees something that evades our vision abilities or not, it makes the male Snowcap one heck of a cool bird to watch!

    Note the bronze and white tail with blackish subterminal band.

    This is one hummingbird that can even be identified in blur mode.
  3. It’s a hummingbird: Hummingbirds are cool by default. Some of them look quite a bit like ornate feathered insects, they buzz around like teeny helicopters, and fight with other glittering hummingbirds over flowers patches. With such characteristics, I don’t know how anyone could not like hummingbirds.

A classic male Snowcap.

Now that should give a fair idea of why the foothill dynamo known as the Snowcap is a must for many people on birding trips to Costa Rica. Unfortunately, though, there aren’t many accessible places to see them. Unlike hummingbirds that occur in middle elevation sites with many a feeder, the Snowcap is a dainty denizen of the Caribbean foothill zone. It won’t go higher than 800 meters and rarely makes it down to anywhere lower than 300 meters. Basically, this rich, limited habitat is right at the base of the mountains and perhaps due to its proximity to the flat lowlands, has been tragically razed in far too many places.

If you drive down past Cinchona and Virgen del Socorro, you reach the foothill zone but what used to fantastic, wet rainforest has been converted to weedy cattle pastures. Go down most roads on the Caribbean slope and you will see the same, Snowcap-less pattern. Luckily, there are a few exceptions and these are the easiest, most accessible places to see this fantastic little bird in Costa Rica (and I dare say, elsewhere in its range):

  • El Tapir: Located smack in the middle of excellent foothill forest at just the right elevation, this is by far, the easiest. most accessible spot for seeing the Snowcap. Go there and you have a good chance of seeing a few males, a few females, and maybe an immature or two. Not only is this site in the right place and is surrounded by a lot of habitat, it also has a garden overflowing with Porterweed (a bush loved by the Snowcap and many other hummingbird species), and is easily accessible along the main highway between San Jose and Limon. There’s no sign, though, so watch for the first little clearing with a couple of small buildings on the right (east side of the road) about 2 kilometers past Quebrada Gonzalez. The caretaker charges $5. Snowcaps also occur at Quebrada Gonzalez but they are harder to see as they feed on flowers way up there in the canopy.

Porterweed at El Tapir.

El Tapir in the rain.

  • Rancho Naturalista: This classic Costa Rican birding lodge is a reliable spot for the Snowcap. The guides will know which Porterweed bushes the birds have been visiting so you should see them here if you visit.

A female Snowcap.

  • El Copal: This community owned, basic eco-lodge is located between Rancho and Tapanti. The showers may be cold but the birding is excellent and Snowcaps are usually present at their (can you guess) Porterweed bushes!

You might see a purple spotted immature male Snowcap.

  • The road to Rio Celeste in Tenorio National Park: This is a fairly new road, it passes near excellent foothill forest, and I recently heard abut Snowcaps being seen there. If you don’t see any Porterweed, watch for a tiny hummingbird with white in the tail at any small flowers.

That’s about it! I’m sure there are some other sites for the Snowcap in Costa Rica but the four places listed above are the most accessible.

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bird photography Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica Costa Rica birding app Hummingbirds Introduction preparing for your trip

How Many Hummingbird Species Can you see in Costa Rica in Just One Day?- a Plan of Attack

Costa Rica is a great place for seeing a bunch of hummingbirds. As with most places frequented by those fairy-like, feathered dynamos, a high percentage of species are fairly easy to see as long as you know where feeders and the right types of flowering plants can be found. The range of habitats accessible in a pretty small area also makes it possible to see several species in one day. By “several”, I don’t mean 5 or 6 but something along the lines of 15 to 20. Although I haven’t tried this yet, I bet you could even see even more during a day of birding in Costa Rica. Although the numbers are still going to be less than such a sugar-high endeavor in hummingbird crazy Ecuador or Colombia, it would still be fun to try.

With the focus on hummingbirds, here is one possible route for some serious hummingbird madness in Costa Rica:

Start out at the El Tapir. This defunct butterfly and hummingbird garden pulls in 7 to 8 species on a regular basis and is the most accessible spot in the country for the eye numbing Snowcap.

Male Snowcap

While the female isn’t going to cause any birding related seizures, the male just might when the sun lights up his amazing burgundy plumage offset by a brilliant white crown. In addition to the Snowcap (1), this site would also have a good chance of turning up the following species:

2. Black-crested Coquette

3. Green Thorntail

4. Brown Violetear

5. Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer

6. Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

7. Violet-headed Hummingbird

8. Violet-crowned Woodnymph

9. Long-billed Hermit

10. Green Hermit

We would probably also get a flyby (11.) Stripe-throated Hermit before heading over to the Sarapiqui area to check Heliconia patches and flowering bushes for:

12. Blue-chested Hummingbird

13. Bronzy Hermit

14. Band-tailed Barbthroat

That would be our main chance for those species although the hermits could also be had at Carara.

After getting those three key targets, we make a stop at the Nature Pavilion for another chance at the plumeleteer, woodnymph, hermits, and

15. White Necked Jacobin- guaranteed at this site.

It would also give us a good shot at

(16.) Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, a vocal species we would just as likely pick up by ear.

We might also get (17.)Green-breasted Mango.

Continuing uphill, we would make a stop at Virgen del Socorro if we still needed the coquette, Brown Violetear, and Violet-headed Hummingbird. If not, we would probably skip that to stop at the Cafe Colibri in Cinchona. The stocked feeders there should be good for:

18. Coppery-headed Emerald

19. Violet Sabrewing

20. Green-crowned Brilliant

21. Green Violetear

22. White-bellied Mountain-gem

We would also have another chance at Brown Violetear and Green Thorntail.

Further up the road, we would make stops for:

23. Black-bellied Hummingbird

24. Magenta-throated Woodstar

It would probably also be a good idea to pay the steep entrance fee to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens to ensure Black-bellied Hummingbird and in case the feeders and flowering bushes are harboring some rarity.

The next main stop on this day of the hummingbird would be the feeders at the Restaurant Volcan. They should add:

25. Volcano Hummingbird

26. Magnificent Hummingbird

27. Purple-throated Mountain-gem

28. Stripe-tailed Hummingbird

Then, we make a short drive to higher elevations on Poas for

(29.) Fiery-throated Hummingbird.

Hopefully, the Fiery-throated Hummingbird will show us how it got its name.

Somewhere along that route, we will hopefully get lucky with a Green-fronted Lancebill before reaching Poas. Then, we head over to the feeders at the Freddo Fresas restaurant to see if we can turn up a Scintillant Hummingbird for species number 30.

With a good chance at having 30 in the bag, we would head down the Pacific slope and check flowering trees in coffee farms for:

31. Steely-vented Hummingbird

32. Long-billed Starthroat

We might also get lucky with Canivet’s Emerald although we would have a chance for that bird making number 33 at our next main stop, the Guacimo Road, or some other dry forest site near Carara. That same area should also give us:

34. Cinnamon Hummingbird

35. Plain-capped Starthroat

We would also have another chance at Green-breasted Mango and Scaly-breasted Hummingbird around there before hitting the mangroves to try for one of the toughest birds of the day, (36.) Mangrove Hummingbird. Although this Costa Rican endemic lives in the mangroves near Tarcoles and Bajamar, it’s pretty uncommon.

If we still need Bronzy Hermit and Band-tailed Barbthroat, we could try the Heliconias along the Laguna Meandrica trail in Carara National Park. Other than those species, our other main targets would be:

37. Charming Hummingbird- only likely if there are enough trees and bushes with flowers. If it's around, we would have a fair chance of getting it by voice.

38. Blue-throated Goldentail- good chance of at least hearing this one in Carara.

We should pick up (39.) Purple-crowned Fairy at any of the humid lowland and foothill sites,

A Purple-crowned Fairy dive bombing a ginger.

but to hit 40, we would need some luck in getting the Mangrove Hummingbird and Canivet’s Emerald plus at least one of such rarities as White-crested Coquette or White-tipped Sicklebill. However, if we do this day during the winter, I just realized that I had left out one more species that is just about guaranteed, Ruby-throated Hummingbird. With that in mind, I guess 40 is possible if enough flowering plants are scouted out!

Categories
biodiversity Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica high elevations Hummingbirds

A Bird Count on Poas

Poas is the name of the volcano that I can see off to the northwest of my home. It’s an obvious stand-alone mountain that is usually topped by clouds. On sunny days, though, close scrutiny of its upper reaches reveals a distinct, flat appearance. That flat part is the edge of the crater and marks the place where most people go when they visit the volcano. As for myself, I rarely go up that high but instead focus on the road up to around the gate of the national park because high elevation birds are more exciting to watch than the crater (since I am a birder and not a crater watcher or vulcanologist- a much more dangerous pastime). Since I can get up to Poas and vicinity quicker than other areas with good habitat, I bird and guide around there with some regularity. I also do an annual breeding bird count and this is nice because it forces me to head up there by 5 in the morning.

Although the afternoon birding on Poas tends to be great, that early hour does give a good idea of what’s flying around those high elevation habitats. In this case, that would be pastures with scattered, epiphyte drenched oaks, temperate zone forest, moist subtropical forest fragments mixed with non-native Guatemalan Cypress, and nice remnant cloud forest in riparian zones that are connected to larger blocks of forest. I start the count at the Volcan Restaurant, end it up near the main gates to the park and hear lots of birds in between. I also see some here and there but as with the majority of bird counts, almost everything is found by sound.

One of the most common birds is the Mountain Elaenia. I think I got more of these birds than any other species at every point.

An inquisitive Mountain Elaenia.

As you can see, this is a typically nondescript flycatcher. It will remind you of an Empid but looks even less distinctive than the resident Black-capped Flycatcher. I suppose White-throated Flycatcher could also show up around Poas but I haven’t seen it there yet.

The first few stops yielded several yodeling Prong-billed Barbets and hummingbirds were coming and going from the feeders at the Volcan Restaurant. While guiding there yesterday, just after saying that I had never seen a Scintillant Hummingbird at the restaurant but that they could occur, up pops a rufous-flanked, excellent candidate. After closely inspecting the bird, I called it as a young male Scintillant on account of the mostly rufous tail with narrow subterminal band, rufous flanks sans green, lack of a thin rufous line that goes from the eye to the bill, and a couple of coppery orange feathers on the gorget (which is why I called it a young male although who knows, maybe it’s a female).

Scintillant Hummingbird in Costa Rica at the Volcan Restaurant.

One hummingbird species missed during the count but seen while guiding was a Stripe-tailed. Since this is the least common of the 7 regularly occurring species at their feeders, I was quite pleased to see it.

Female Stripe-tailed Hummingbird.

Other uncommon species that were recorded during the count were:

  • Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl- Pretty rare in the area but occurs.
  • Resplendent Quetzal- Had one female. They are around but tough to find unless you can locate some fruiting, wild avocados.
  • Buff-fronted Quail-Dove- There were a few calling from the more intact forest on the higher part of the road.
  • Elegant Euphonia- Nice surprise as it seems to be pretty rare around there.
  • Yellow-bellied Siskin- As mundane as a goldfinch might seem to be, this was the rarest bird species from the count. Trapping this bird for cages has eliminated it from many parts of the mountains above the Central Valley.

Species found at nearly every stop included Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher (Poas is a great area for this sleek bird), Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Common Bush Tanager, Band-tailed Pigeon (because they seem to always be flying overhead), and Slate-throated Redstart. Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush is also very common in the Poas area. I saw lots as they came out to feed on the road at dawn.

Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush

Here is one pretending to be some kind of Old World bush-robin.

Mountain Thrushes were also coming out onto the road and flying all over the place. No pics of them because they suffer from FNS (flighty nervous syndrome). Sooty Robins don’t though, and once I got up into the temperate zone, they were taking center stage all along the road.

They were perched on fence posts.

Showing off their staring white eyes.

And trying to stare me down!

After losing the staring contest with this Blackbirdish (the Palearctic one) looking thrush, I saw a bunch of other high elevation birds. Bright orange mistletoe was being visited by Green Violetears, Fiery-throated Hummingbirds, and Purple-throated Mountain-Gems.

This beautiful mistletoe species is a common sight in high elevation forests of Costa Rica.

I also saw a few Flame-throated Warblers.

And found a Fiery-throated Hummingbird nest.

No bamboo birds this year and not as many quetzals are around but the birding is still always nice and easy around Poas.