Categories
Birding Costa Rica lowlands

Wonderful Birding in Costa Rica at Hotel de Campo, Cano Negro

Last weekend, I helped count birds at Cano Negro, a wildlife refuge in northern Costa Rica just south of Lake Nicaragua. It was a wonderful, birdy time that included sightings of more than 20 species of raptors, Nicaraguan Grackle, Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, and Yellow-breasted Crake among other highlights. Since the wetlands and forested areas of Cano Negro always make for excellent birding, constant encounters of the avian kind were pretty much expected but what we didn’t count on was sleeping in comfort during the weekend of the count. On many an occasion, bird counts in Costa Rica include a couple nights on a mattress or cot in a room shared with a bunch of other excited birders. That’s alright, especially if you are young and full of energy, but a bit later in life, a comfortable bed in quiet surroundings is pure gold. This is why Robert, Susan, and I were pleased indeed to be staying at the Hotel de Campo .

The entrance to the wildlife refuge is at the Cano Negro village, a small place with a few streets, some houses, one bar, two small supermarkets (where you can thankfully find ice!), and not much else. That “not much else” is a good thing because it’s partly why the area has so many birds but it also means that there are very few places in the village where you can get a bite to eat and stay for the night. The Hotel de Campo provides both and when you stay there, you also support reforestation while treating yourself to nice photo and birding opportunities along with some fine Italian food.

The owner, Mauro, told me that while they were building the hotel, they also planted several trees and basically reforested areas around the hotel. These same spots now provide homes for Cinnamon and Rufous-winged Woodpeckers along with other lowland forest species like this Slaty-tailed Trogon and even Uniform Crake (try their botanical garden across the street from the hotel)!

Thanks to multiple fruiting trees in the hotel gardens, dozens of birds are usually present including the likes of Gray-headed Chachalaca, trogons, Brown-hooded Parrot and other parrots and parakeets. The close looks make for great photos and the two regional specialties, Gray-headed Dove and Spot-breasted Wren are also present and easy to see.

One of the Gray-headed Doves at Hotel de Campo. This species is much, much easier to see in Cano Negro than other parts of the country.

When you tire of admiring beautiful Red-legged Honeycreepers and various other species on the hotel grounds, you can also walk down to the lagoon and see if any Jabirus are around. Those mega storks visit on occasion (mostly in the dry season) whereas species like Green Ibis, herons, Bat Falcon and many other birds are more regular. Not to mention, there is the nearby refuge itself that provides chances at Sungrebe, kingfishers, crakes, Snowy Cotinga, and an overall fine selection of birds to be seen from a small boat and from a new, tall, sturdy observation tower.

The view from the tower.

Hotel de Campo can arrange boat trips and fishing in the refuge and other activities. Enjoy a cold drink in their nice bar at the end of the day along with the air conditioned room (a welcome treat in hot humid Cano Negro) but don’t forget to head back out at night to see Pacific Screech Owl that lives in the garden and to look for Great Potoo, Common Potoo, Striped Owl, and Black-and-White Owl on roads near the village. All of these are possible and regular in the area!

Categories
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!

Categories
caribbean slope lowlands

Birding in Costa Rica at Hitoy Cerere

Costa Rica is like a mini continent. Seriously, head to the northwest and magpie-jays call from dry, dusty lanes. Drive a couple hours to the south and you hit humid forest right after the Tarcoles River and where Scarlet Macaws start to screech and thickets echo with the loud voices of endemic Riverside Wrens. Take a turn into the mountains and the weather cools down while the endemic factor heats up. Bird those cloud forests and you might see quetzals, Flame-throated Warblers, and lots of other local goodies. Keep going over that central geological spine and we descend onto the wet Caribbean slope, first through more cloud forest, then through mossy foothill rainforest, and finally into the Caribbean lowlands. That last lowland area harbors the highest diversity in the country. Fewer endemics, but the forests and wetlands make up for it with 400 something species including Great Green Macaw, Pied Puffbird, White-fronted Nunbird, Ocellated Nunbird, and several other classic neotropical birds.

The birding is always good but it’s always better when you can work the binos in quality forest. Sadly, since it’s all too easy to fell trees in flat, lowland areas, large areas of mature lowland rainforest can be hard to come by. Most visitors to Costa Rica get their fill at or near La Selva and the birding around there is wonderful, and perhaps it’s not right to compare it with other sites, but my favorite area for lowland birding lies much further south. Once you pass Siquirres, there’s more lowland forest in the house. Most of it is in hilly areas with little access, but a lot of it can be birded right from a hotel and roads south of Limon. Purple-throated Fruitcrows are common, there are lots of toucans and parrots, Snowy Cotinga isn’t too hard to come by, and protected areas have Great Curassow, and so on, and so on.

The curassow gets downright tame in many protected areas of Costa Rica.

Even so, the best areas are still the ones with the least accessible rainforest because there tends to be less impact and more connection to the major forests of the Amistad International Park. One of those “best areas” is the Hitoy Cerere Reserve. Located on the other side of the Valle de la Estrella, Hitoy backs up to the Amistad Park and is therefore connected to rainforests that stretch into Panama to the south and reach Pacuare in the north. There’s more than enough forest for all sorts of species that have become uncommon elsewhere and there’s a fair chance that Harpy Eagles still hunt in the remote corners. Although there weren’t any large eagles for us during a recent two day trip, quality birding was still the rule of birding law.

Hoping to see a cotinga or other canopy species, our inaugural stop was at a forested hillside a kilometer or two before the reserve. This ersthwile canopy tower was a nice place to start the morning and the birds came fast and furious. Blue Ground-Doves were especially common and called while various tanagers and flycatchers moved through the trees, and wrens and antbirds sang from the undergrowth. No cotingas, nor anything rare but we probably identified 60 species or more in half an hour.

At the reserve, the staff were friendly, let us in before the official opening time of of 8 am, and showed us the trails. Although I hadn’t been to Hitoy since 2001, the trails were pretty much the same; one loop through second growth and mature forest, and another, less maintained trail that penetrated wilder parts of the forest. We did both and the birding was pretty darn good.

After walking up the main trail and reaching good forest, it wasn’t long before we were stopped in our tracks by a wall of good birds. While listening for Black-crowned Antpitta, a Great Jacamar suddenly called right next to us. Almost before we could register the importance of the call, a flash of rufous and green materialized into one perched right in front of us!

Great Jacamar is pretty rare in Costa Rica because it needs lot of mature, lowland rainforest.

It called again and again and refused to leave until we walked away from it!

A major year bird and country tick for the others in our group. While the jacamar called like a raptor and a cat (seriously, this is what it does), a Scaly-breasted Wren sang very close and let us watch it. This was another quick tick for one in our group, and a species that is usually tough to see. While this was going on, Purple-throated Fruitcrows called from the canopy and oropendolas rushed through the trees. Somewhere in there, we were also watching a small flock of antwrens including the uncommon for Costa Rica, White-flanked.

When we finally decided to move forward, the call of a dove caught my attention. Another careful listen and yep, I was sure it was a Violaceous Quail-Dove! We crept up to the bird and searched the thick vegetation but much to our frustration, the bird was out of sight and never came closer. I guess you can’t see them all but it would have been nice to lay eyes on this widespread yet perpetually rare dove. I would have especially loved a picture of it since it is one of the last species missing from the field guide apps for Costa Rica and Panama that I work on.

Although we missed laying eyes on the dove, the next encounter made up for it in the form of a Black-crowned Antpitta. The gnatpitta chuckled from the undergrowth and finally gave great looks for all- major lifer for everyone but me but I was still more than happy to watch that tough species!

A blurry yet identifiable gnatpitta.

After the antpitta, we continued on the trail until I decided that the snake-hiding undergrowth just wasn’t worth the risk. Back on the small loop trail, it was mid-morning and quiet as expected but we still had fun with Spotted Antbird, and two woodcreeper species at a rather lackluster antswarm, calling Red-capped Manakin, and a few other understory birds. Back out in front of the station, we were amazed to hear another Great Jacamar and happy to see that the participants of a biology course taught by Oscar Ramirez were watching it.

This was followed by siesta time for us and the birds. Once we became reactivated, we enjoyed a few big kettles of Swainson’s Hawks and a quick flyover of a target male Snowy Cotinga.


Really happy to get this, one of us needed it as a lifer. The dove-live bird even stayed for scope views.

After the cotinga, we continued down the entrance road with the hopes of finding Sulphur-rumped Tanager. On the way, one stop produced an immediate response from and excellent looks at Central American Pygmy-Owl while small birds mobbed it.


This cool bird was right in our faces.

With the owl in the bag, I decided to stop at a promising looking patch of forest where Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant was calling. My idea was that if that species was present, maybe other forest birds were likewise possible. This proved to be correct when I heard the call of Sulphur-rumped Tanager! We glimpsed the bird as it flew just over the canopy and walked down the road, fingers crossed that it had stopped within view. Luck was still with us that day because it had stopped in a tree top just down the road and stayed long enough for scope views to be had by all. It’s not the brightest of tanagers but through the scope, we could see the white tuft at the shoulder, the black bill, and the distinctive shape. Eventually, it also flipped around enough for us to glimpse the pale yellow rump (not as obvious a field mark as you might think). I was also pleased that its call was recognizable because recordings of chip notes often sound different to me than the real thing. The recording I had listened to reminded me of a Black and Yellow Tanager, and sure enough, that is what I heard in the field.

That last main target rounded out an excellent day of birding. We probably had 130 or so species total, and none of those were waterbirds. The following morning, we came back with hopes for the quail-dove but no luck there, nor did we have the jacamar again. We did hear the antpitta though, and saw a few other birds before moving on.

Getting to Hitoy Cerere: In common with many sites nowadays, this turned out to be much easier than what I remembered. The lack of signs at key spots means that you still need to know where to turn but the road wasn’t that bad. Overall, it was similar to conditions on the road to the Arenal Observatory Lodge, and could be done with a two wheel drive. Keep in mind, that this could easily change with heavy rains but it should still be easy with four wheel drive.

So, if coming from Limon or Cahuita, follow the road to Pandora (this is at a prominent turn with a gas station on the corner).

At one point, you can go straight or take a right and cross a bridge over a small river. Just go straight.

Eventually, go through bananas, and watch for a sign to Hitoy. Take a left at the sign (it has an arrow pointing that way).

G to a T and take a right (another sign to Hitoy there).

Drive 4.8 kilometers to a fork and bear left (no sign there).

Drive 1.6 kilometers and take a left at the fork (still no sign).

Drive 3.6 kilometers on to the reserve (signs and buildings!).

The drive takes about one hour from Cahuita without birding en route and is around 36 kilometers (from the Cahuita area). There is a $8 entrance fee.

Categories
Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope lowlands

Good Birds at Tirimbina Biological Reserve, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is famous for keeping a high percentage of territory under protection as national parks and reserves. This is wonderful and absolutely laudible but what is often overlooked is the reason why Costa Rica put so much land under protection. Look at satellite imagery of Costa Rica on Google Earth and two things are immediately obvious: (1) a high percentage of the country is deforested, and (2) most of the remaining forest is in mountainous areas. As has so often been the case with protected land in many parts of the world, there wasn’t any push for preservation until alarming areas of the country were bereft of forest. Fortunately, enough people in power realized that the time for protecting biodiversity and watersheds were long overdue, and the national park system kicked into gear.

Fortunately, Costa Rica is also a very mountainous country because steep topography in areas with high precipitation often acts as a natural buffer to logging operations. This is why we still have lots of forest in the mountains, but also why rainforest is a rare commodity in flat, lowland areas. Sadly, such places usually harbor the biggest trees, and the combination of major lumber and ease of access makes them extremely susceptible to logging. This is probably also why Speckled Mourner is so very rare in Costa Rica, why Streak-chested Antpitta is very local, and why Great Potoo is decidely uncommon in the Golfo Dulce lowlands. It seems like all of these species require or prefer flat areas with tall forest, especially the mourner. This is also why it can be tough to gain access to quality, lowland rainforest on the Caribbean slope. Much of that remaining habitat occurs near the border with Nicaragua and at sites in the southeast with other areas of lowland rainforest situated in the Sarapiqui region. Although the best known lowland forests in Sarapiqui are at La Selva, there are other sites that also offer excellent bird and seem to be better for certain species. One of those places is the Tirimbina Biological Reserve, an excellent place to bird whether visiting La Selva or not.

Tirimbina is, in part, an old cacao plantation with a good degree of primary lowland rainforest. Most of the expected species are present except for the two very large eagles (Crested Eagle might still show up but the Harpy is almost certainly gone from Sarapiqui) and a few other species that seem to be susceptible to edge effects and thus require large areas of intact forest (Red-throated Caracara, Black-eared Wood-Quail, and Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo). That said, I wouldn’t be too surprised if a wandering caracara showed up on occasion, and perhaps the wood-quail and ground-cuckoo might still be present in very small numbers (or might even come back if we can establish a better corridor with Braulio Carrillo National Park).

Birding at Tirimbina begins right in the parking lot where toucans, chachalacas, Plain-colored Tanager, and other species visit fruiting trees. Those same species along with Rufous Motmot and edge birds can also be seen around the buildings, but the best birding is on the other side of the river. This is where the forest is located and this is the place to see tinamous, antbirds, Red-capped Manakin, and species of the tall forest. Getting there requires a walk across the river bridge (open from 7 to 5, even guests have to check in with reception), and if you are visiting for a day, stopping by the reception to purchase a day pass ($17). The lack of nocturnal access to the best forest is disappointing but that’s the way the birding ball bounces.

From the bridge, scan the river for Fasciated Tiger-Heron and Sunbittern. Agami Heron is also seen now and then as it stalk smaller side channels. The bridge is also a good place to scan the canopy for perched raptors and Snowy Cotinga (not uncommon).

Snowy Cotinga

Once inside the forest, careful birding along any of the trails can result in Great Tinamou, and literally hundreds of possibilities.

We had three Great Tinamous at an antswarm. They were very tame!

Speaking of antswarms, we ran into one last month and had perfect looks at Ocellated Antbirds along with Bicolored and Spotted Antbirds, and Northern Barred Woodcreeper. Although we didn’t see anything else with the swarm, it could certainly attract many other species including motmots, forest-falcons, and who knows what else.

One of the Ocellated Antbirds.

The understory is also good for mixed flocks of insectivores. These birds tend to be quiet and unobtrusive. Listen for the sharp call of Checker-throated Antwren, and watch for White-flanked Antwren (pretty uncommon in Costa Rica), Streak-crowned Antvireo, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, and other species.

Female White-flanked Antwren.

You also need to watch for canopy flocks. These can host some exciting species, the star of the Tirimbina show being White-fronted Nunbird. This formerly common species has become rare in much of the Caribbean slope because so much of its required lowland primary rainforest habitat has been cut down. The canopy flock might also have Black-striped and Cocoa Woodcreepers, Green Shrike-Vireo, White-shouldered Tanagers, oropendolas, and maybe even Rufous and Broad-billed Motmots. From August to February, such flocks can also have Bare-necked Umbrellabird (!).

Nunbirds!

The canopy also hosts some lowland specialty flycatchers best seen from a hanging bridge that acts as an erstwhile canopy tower. Those target flycatchers are Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, Yellow-margined Flycatcher, and Brown-capped Tyrannulet. Continuing on, keep an eye out for fruiting trees that could attract other birds, and in creek beds and seeps with a thick understory, listen for the low, two-noted whistle of Slaty-breasted Tinamou. This tough species is much less common than the Great, and Tirimbina is one of a few reliable sites for it.

Slaty-breasted Tinamou!

As with any lowland rainforest site with good forest, of course many other species are also possible. Just keep checking the same trails because the more you look, the more you see. This site also works well in combination with an early morning birding tour at La Selva. Do that, and bird Tirimbina for four days to a week and you have a fair chance of getting most targets, and hitting 300 species (especially if you hire an experienced guide). Who knows, maybe you will even find that Speckled Mourner? I know two people who found one at Tirimbina a few years ago.

Categories
Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope lowlands Where to see birds in Costa Rica

Adventurous Birding at Yorkin, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is an easy place for fantastic, tropical birding. Whether the plane touches down in the Central Valley or the airport near Liberia, it doesn’t take long to get into excellent, protected tropical forests with things like curassows, antbirds, trogons, parrots, fancy wrens, and the list goes on. This is why hundreds of birders visit Costa Rica every year, and why I have more than 600 species on my year list (and it’s only August). It also helps to have megadiversity, easy access to good habitats, experienced guides, and birding information that ranges from excellent field guides and birding apps, to a new map with hotspots, and a comprehensive bird-finding guide for Costa Rica.

But, for folks who feel like getting away from easily accessible sites such as Carara National Park and the foothill rainforests around Arenal, Costa Rica plays host to several remote, little birded areas. These are the places that tend to have the most intact forests and could host populations of Crested Eagle, Red-throated Caracara, Gray-headed Piprites, and other decidedly uncommon birds. The only problem is that the reason why they host intact forested habitats coincides with the reasons why they are visited by very few birders. Why trudge through mud and rain for a chance at a few rarities around Rara Avis when you can still see lots of other birds around Sarapiqui? Why explore sites around Laguna del Lagarto when you can just spend your time in the Arenal area? Why take a boat ride up a river to reach an indigenous community when you can dine on wonderful Italian cuisine and relax in a pool near Puerto Viejo de Talamanca?

There's also a beach in Puerto Viejo.

When it comes down to it, if you don’t go, you don’t know what’s really there. However, if you check out Google Earth, you will have an idea of the amount of forest in those hidden corners of Costa Rica, and intact forest is key for 99% of those rare species you are probably missing. Yorkin is one such place. To have an idea of where it is located, check out Google Earth or a map of Costa Rica, and go to the far, eastern corner where Sixaola marks the border with Panama. From there, trace your way up that river past the town of BriBri, then take the first river to the east. This is the Yorkin River, it marks the border, and is where I went with the Birding Club of Costa Rica this past weekend. I hadn’t been there before but based on the location, and amount of forest, it looked like a place that could turn up any number of rarities and maybe a new bird or two for the Costa Rica list.

These are some observations and highlights from that trip:

  • Not as hard as you think: Well, at least getting there. It takes around four hours to drive to BriBri from the San Jose area, and another 15 to 20 minutes to reach the village of Bambu. In Bambu, you have to look for the boat drivers at the only store there (look for a fairly large thatched roof structure on the east side of the road). If you have a vehicle, they will show you where to leave the car. Then, when all is ready, you get on a motorized dugout canoe, and head up-stream for an hour. Upon arrival, your host from the Yorkin women’s ecotourism project will show you to your lodging, and so on. It takes a while but it’s fairly easy and reminded me of trips to ecolodges in the Amazon basin.

    Driving to Bribri
  • Be ready for the boat ride: Although the voyage is straightforward and thus fairly easy, you might want a small cushion for your seat on the boat, and will definitely want to bring something for the rain. It rains often and the boat doesn’t have a roof. That said, the drivers will put your stuff in plastic bags if you like. It’s pretty tough to bird from the boat but keep the binos at the ready because you motor through good forest for most of the ride and I would not be the least bit surprised if Harpy and Crested Eagles live in that area. In fact, I bet they do. They wouldn’t be exactly common but  you never know when one might be perched in view.

    Taking the boat upriver.
  • Bird before you get on the boat: Speaking of birding from the boat, actually, it’s worth it to bird around Bambu and from the departure point for the boats. Without too much effort and in very little time, we had a Snowy Cotinga, Lesser Nighthawks, Pearl Kite, White-lined Tanager, toucans, and several other species. Scanning the forest canopy with a scope from the edge of the river would also be worthwhile.
    Getting on the boat.

    One of several Snowy Cotingas we saw during the trip.
  • Bring rubber boots: After optics, this should be the most important item on your packing list. The trails are pretty muddy! Bring the boots, you will be wearing them most of the time.
  • Pack light, pack for hot, humid, wet conditions: There’s not a lot of room on the boat, so try to pack light. The weather is hot, humid, and rainy most of the time, so pack accordingly and use dry bags!
  • Not much electricity: Solar panels provide electricity, but it might not be enough to charge your devices. Maybe, but keep in mind that this really isn’t a place to hang out with “devices”. It’s more of a place to explore, hike muddy trails, look for rare birds, and learn about BriBri culture.

    The welcome sign.
  • Lodging is basic: In case you expected something else, don’t. The lodging is basic but clean and with mosquito nets. I saw a couple of scorpions in my room so shake out your stuff before putting it on! That said, scorpions can find they way into just about any ecolodge in the lowlands.
  • Bugs?: Not that bad when we were there. Very few mosquitoes, and a few biting flies here and there. Use repellent and you will be fine.
  • Food: Basic, home-cooked stuff and it’s great! Portions might seem small but they usually offer seconds if you need it, and you can always bring energy bars (essential adventure birding, eatable accessories in any case).
  • But what about the birds?: There is a fair sampling of edge species around the village but the best birding is a tough hike up to nearby ridges. Bird around the lodging and you will see common stuff but you might also find a Uniform Crake (I heard two of them), see some good birds on the trail near the river (like Yellow-eared Toucanet, who knows what else is possible?), and can look for soaring raptors that fly above the ridge.
    Lesser Greenlets are pretty common.

    Long-tailed Tyrants were also fairly common.
  • Ridge birding: Since most of our group did not want to climb up a steep, muddy, slippery hill, we barely touched the surface of the best habitat. Frustrating,but that’s the way the ball bounces. However, from what little I saw, if you can manage it, the hike is worth it. We had views into the canopy of the forest and distant fantastic forests of the Amistad International Park, and were just getting into good primary rainforest. We didn’t have enough time to properly bird it but our local guide, Myriam, recognized the calls of White-fronted Nunbird, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, and maybe even Great Jacamar. Others have seen Black-crowned Antpitta up there (and might be one of the best places for it in Costa Rica), and a local birding guide told me that he had seen Lovely Cotinga, toucanets, antbirds, and other forest species. I am pretty sure that piprites is possible as well as most other rare and uncommon forest species. Another indication of wild habitat was Myriam mentioning that Jaguar comes down near her house once every four months, according to her, when someone is pregnant.

    Birding on the ridge.
  • Cacao birding: Cacao is one of the most important crops for this area and is what grows around the entire village area. It’s not the best for birds but still hosts a fair variety of species, especially near the bridge and forest. Some of the stand-outs that we recorded were Yellow-eared Toucanet, Northern Barred Woodcreeper, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Black-crowned Antshrike, Checker-throated Antwren, and Olive-backed Quail-Dove.

    Birding the trail along the river.
  • School birding: One of our best sites was the vicinity of the school. It overlooks the river, is next to a stream, and affords views of two forested ridges. Since it’s also blessed by a breeze, this is a great area to hang out on a hot afternoon. We had White-whiskered Puffbird and other species by the stream, Snowy Cotingas and a few Crested Oropendolas across the river, and, best of all, good views at King Vulture (common here), Black Hawk-Eagle, flocks of migrating Swallow-tailed and Plumbeous Kites, Short-tailed Hawk, and, best of all, two sightings of Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle. I think many other species are possible on the forested ridges, maybe even Lovely and perhaps Blue Cotinga, and maybe a chance at the really big eagles and Red-throated Caracara.
    One of the views from the school.

    A Black-and-white Hawk Eagle flying high into the sky above the village.
  • Night birds?: I had high hopes for several nocturnal species but all we got was a Mottled Owl. However, we didn’t get in much night birding, especially in better habitats so I still think that most expected species should be present. Myriam was familiar with both potoos as well as all expected owl calls, and maybe even Rufous Nightjar.
  • Few large birds: Big birds like guans and Great Tinamou are around but much more rare than other sites in Costa Rica. Even toucans stayed away from the village, and we suspected that this was due to at least some sort of hunting pressure. Those birds are still present but frequent the forest, and are easier to see at other sites in any case.
  • The local people: Our hosts were welcoming, very friendly, and very nice. Interacting with them was a wonderful addition to the trip and something I hope to repeat on a future occasion. They are also very tough and accustomed to walking for kilometers through muddy, hot conditions. You can’t walk around on your own but that wasn’t a problem. I just told Myriam where we wanted to go and she took us. However, if you just want easy trails, make sure to tell her because she didn’t think twice about walking on steep and muddy trails (but always warned us of trail conditions).

If I visit Yorkin again (and I hope I do), I would spend at least two full days in the primary forests on the ridges, and probably spend the rest of my time scanning the canopy and skies for raptors and cotingas. I would also spend more time scanning from the river, and even seeing if the boat could stop along the river to scan the canopy from shore. If you go, please leave a comment about your trip!

Categories
Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope lowlands preparing for your trip

Good Reasons for Birding Cano Negro, Costa Rica

Although it’s a small country, Costa Rica is jam-packed with birding opps. It’s fully stocked with avian delights, and that’s why it’s hard to figure out where to go. If you happen to stay in Costa Rica for a year, there won’t be any problem figuring out where to go because that just might be enough time to visit every place in the country (if you go birding every day and have unlimited funds, time, and energy). But, since most of us have but a few weeks to spare for a birding trip to Costa Rica, we have to settle on the sites that will give us our target species and the best birding bang for our bucks.

One of those places in Cano Negro. Look on a map and it might seem to be way out there but it’s really not. The exact biogeographical definition for the area might also seem elusive (and it is) but that doesn’t matter either. Go and you will see a healthy variety of birds, including a bunch of rare and uncommon ones for Costa Rica. I was up that way last weekend and although the rare crakes did not come out to play, it was still a dang fine trip anyways. These are some of the good reasons for scheduling in a visit to Cano Negro garnered from that most recent trip:

  • Medio Queso: Yes, it literally translates to “half cheese” but when it comes to birds, it’s more like a rare gourmet gorgonzola. Need Pinnated Bittern, rails, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Nicaraguan Grackle, Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, and chances as Jabiru, Black-collared Hawk, and maybe even an Aplomado Falcon? Take the boat trip on the Medio Queso river. The road is just south of the airport in Los Chiles, the boat driver is at the end of the road, and his name is Rafael Palacios. He knows where to find the birds and if you do one boat trip in Costa Rica, do this one! Although high water made us a bit too late for the rails, people were getting close focus views of Spotted Rail, and Yellow-breasted and White-throated Crakes during late March and April when water levels were low. And, no, they didn’t even use playback. We didn’t see the falcon either, nor Jabiru (probably also because of high water) but we did see lots of Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, tons of Nicaraguan Grackles (almost no Great-taileds), and most other targets on our list including easy Pinnated Bittern and several Least Bitterns.

    Least Bittern trying to sort of hide.
  • Scaled Pigeon, Yellow-winged Tanager, and other uncommon birds around Los Chiles: We were happy to see Scaled Pigeons calling from trees right in the town of Los Chiles and although we missed the tanager, it can turn up in town, and is most likely at feeders with papaya. Or, if you really want to see that tanager, just go birding in most places north of Costa Rica up to eastern Mexico.

    One of our many Ruddy-breasted Seedeaters at Medio Queso- just outside of Los Chiles.
  • Waterbirds: As in Green Ibis, Sungrebe, kingfishers, Agami Heron, Jabiru, and so on. You might see them all or you might miss some of the rare ones but either way, you will see a lot!

    One of our many Nicaraguan Grackles at Medio Queso. They can also been seen at Cano Negro but aren't as common.
  • Raptors: A trip to Cano Negro typically reveals a nice selection of raptors. Although rainy weather was not ideal for raptors last weekend, we still saw Black-collared Hawk (best site in Costa Rica for this one), Snail Kite, Plumbeous Kite, White-tailed Kite, Roadside Hawk, Bat Falcon, and three vulture species. Several other raptors species can also show.
  • Woodpeckers: With ten species possible, it looks like Cano Negro is the woodpecker capital of Costa Rica. The only one I missed over the weekend was Pale-billed. I saw or heard: Lineated, Cinnamon, Chestnut-colored, Black-cheeked, Hoffmann’s, Rufous-winged, Golden-olive, Smoky-brown, and Olivaceous Piculet!

    Rufous-winged Woodpecker
  • Kingfisher Lodge: We stayed at this well-priced place and were treated very well. Rooms are basic but fine and clean, and have fans or air conditioning. The grounds were very birdy and had a great mix of Caribbean slope forest and edge species as well as Gray-headed Dove, Spot-breasted Wren, Pied Puffbird, Bare-crowned Antbird (heard only but at least we know it is there), Gray-headed Tanager, Royal Flycatcher, Greenish Elaenia, parrots and parakeets, Green Ibis, woodpeckers, and so on. I would go back in a second. If you want fancier digs, there is also the birdy Hotel del Campo and Cano Negro Natural Lodge.
  • Night birding: This endeavor can be exciting in the Cano Negro area. Although we dipped on Ocellated Poorwill, that’s no big surprise given that others have spent many hours and more than one night looking for it. However, we did see Pacific Screech Owl around the main plaza, heard Mottled Owl, and had Common Potoo right at Kingfisher Lodge during about 30 minutes of night birding. Oddly, we did not see the usually reliable Great Potoo at the San Emiliano bridge.
  • It’s also easy to get to: Well, actually, Los Chiles is easy to get to and is about 4 hours from San Jose. The road to Cano Negro is rocky and slow going but can still be done with a small car.

It might seem out of the way, but Cano Negro is a fun place to bird, and easy to combine with Arenal. March to early May are best but it’s always worth a visit!

Categories
Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope Introduction lowlands

Great Mid-day Birding on the La Selva Entrance Road

“La Selva” is the term that birders and biologists use for the O.T.S. La Selva Biological Station. Although there are lots of places to watch a lot of birds in Costa Rica, La Selva is one of the better known sites on the block. Biologists, birders, and people who happen to be particularly enthused about  neotropical biodiversity have been going to this haven for decades. The first visitors had to arrive by boat to a station surrounded by large areas of primary forest. Oooh, that sounds nice and what an amazing place it must have been!

Check out Slud’s notes on surveying birds at La Selva during the 50s to get an idea of what the avifauna was like when the surrounding area was mostly forested. I’m not sure if he mentions it, but others have told me that Great Jacamar was regular, Golden-crowned Spadebill and Black-faced Antthrush were very common, and even Harpy Eagle was present. Since those glory days for birds and healthy rainforest ecosystems, deforestation just outside of La Selva has taken its toll on the species that live within the boundaries of the station. Although the forests in the reserve are intact, larger areas of contiguous forest are probably needed to sustain healthy populations of various animals that live there. Throw other edge effects into the mix, including an overabundance of Collared Peccaries that have a detrimental impact on the forest understory (by devouring everything), and the place doesn’t exactly mirror Slud’s experiences (nor others who worked there during the 70s and 80s).

Can we please cull and eat some of these?

Most understory species have become very rare, and various other bird species have declined but there is hope. Yes, there is hope and you can see it when you bird the entrance road. Not too long ago, this part of La Selva was young second growth but bird it nowadays and you can see a lot of forest species. Those regenerating areas do indeed provide habitat for a lot  of birds and one sees a lot more forest species compared to 15 or even 10 years ago. It also shows that if we let enough forest come back in other areas next to La Selva, in time, it may once again support similar numbers of species and individuals. It will take a while, but the sooner we can get started, the better. Since that would also involve reforesting of private land used for farming Teak and other cash crops, the solution is far from straightforward but there are solutions, they are just harder to find.

Ok, so now for some birds. While guiding the other day, after a morning at El Tapir, I decided to check out the La Selva entrance road to see if we could find some of the lowland targets needed by my client. Despite it being the true blue middle of the day, it was pretty darn good!

We had nice looks at Squirrel Cuckoos.
This Stripe-breasted Wren was also hanging out in the thick stuff.
Always nice to see a jacamar.

We saw most of our birds just hanging out near the stream as bird species eventually vocalized and/or passed through their territories.

Including Chestnut-colored Woodpeckers that performed at eye level!
The male liked the camera too.
We also saw White-ringed Flycatchers way up in the canopy as usual.

To see a list of the birds that were identified, here is a link to the eBird list for that birdy pause during the day. I would love to survey that are at dawn to see what shows up!

Categories
Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope Introduction lowlands

Birding Highlights from Early October at Manzanillo, Costa Rica

Last weekend, I finally got out to look for migrants. I went with Paul Murgatroyd in search of new species for our Costa Rica lists and we went to the right place but we also went a bit too early. Or, you could say that the birds were a bit too late but either way, we did not find the hordes of migrating wood-warblers that we were hoping for. Heck, we didn’t even see common wintering species like Chestnut-sided and Tennessee warblers. To be fair, we did see one or two Chestnut-sideds, one Tennessee, one Magnolia, one Prothonotary, and some Northern Waterthrushes but that was about it for wood-warblers on the coast. That’s pretty non-warblerish for three days of fall migration BUT we did see some other stuff.

Paul got two much awaited lifers, I picked up one new species for my country list, and got a bunch of year birds. Our trip actually started near Cartago to check an area that sometimes has shorebirds followed by a check for migrants at Ujarras. To make that part of the story short, conditions were wrong for shorebirds so we saw none, and there were very few migrants at Ujarras, nor birds for that matter. It looked like the owners of one formerly productive chayote cultivation decided to take the easy route and poison the undergrowth with herbicide. Nope, no birds there nor the Cabanis’ Ground-Sparrows that have often been seen foraging under the chayote. At least we still heard a couple of that probable endangered species in the adjacent shade coffee.

It looked like the undergrowth was sprayed with herbicide.

At the Cafetal Casona restaurant, we also picked up a pretty good bird with brief looks at a Veery. That was my first for Costa Rica but as it turned out, not my last for the trip. We ended up seeing 4 or 5 more Veery around Manzanillo as well as a few Gray-cheeked Thrushes among Swainson’s Thrushes. All were very furtive and only gave good looks at a fruiting tree on our final morning. But, back to the first day. We arrived at the Colibri Bed and Breakfast by two p.m. and started birding the grounds straight away.

The gardens looked good for migrants, too bad they weren’t there! With the tall trees and thick, wet, bug-filled undergrowth, I can only imagine how good that place must be when major bird waves hit the area. Although we didn’t get any Connecticuts for our country lists (almost no one does), we did see nesting Tawny-crested Tanager, had monkeys feeding in a huge fig, and had a bunch of other nice lowland species including our first Purple-throated Fruitcrows for the trip.

A fruitcrow seen from below.

Not seeing any migrants at the hotel, we decided to check out Manzanillo village and the RECOPE road. Before we reached the RECOPE road, we had one of our best migrant encounters for the trip. Fruiting trees along the main road to Manzanillo were busy with 50 or so Eastern Kingbirds and lots of Red-eyed Vireos. White-collared Manakin showed up, a few Scarlet Tanagers appeared, and we got one Prothonotary. In the deep shade of the tree, I spotted another Veery along with a couple of Swainson’s but our best species was Rufous-winged Tanager. One or two of those uncommon birds was feeding on the figs and for a second, I probably also had a brief look at a Sulphur-rumped Tanager in flight but much to my annoyance, it never reappeared.

Once the fruiting trees quieted down, we did check out RECOPE and Manzanillo but there wasn’t much around. In Manzanillo, more flocks of Eastern Kingbirds and Cliff, Barn, and Bank Swallows flew overhead and we did get lucky with one rare migrant. This was a Least Flycatcher (rare for Costa Rica) seen in the same spot as my first for the country two years before.

In Manzanillo, Gray-necked Wood Rails seem to be as common as chickens.
We also got our first good looks at Black-striped Woodcreeper, maybe the most common woodcreeper around Mazanillo.

That night, we checked for owls around the hotel sans success. In fact, we didn’t hear a single nocturnal owl call at any time during our trip. We did hear Great Potoos though, at least three near the hotel, and one in trees right in front of the Colibri. Although we didn’t see it perch, we did get to see it glide overhead like a weird, massive, owl-like creature.

On our second day, after listening to the potoo calling just before dawn, we headed over to the RECOPE road. It was pretty good with at least one calling Central American Pygmy-Owl, and Cinnamon, Chestnut-colored, Pale-billed, and Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, Northern Barred, Wedge-billed, Cocoa, Streak-headed, and Black-striped Woodcreepers, Bat Falcon, Yellow-margined Flycatcher, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, and other lowland birds. One of our targets was Paul’s main nemesis, the Dusky-faced Tanager. We got brief looks and then much better looks later that day and the following morning.

Cinnamon Woodpecker was fairly common, we also had good looks at Chestnut-colored.
We had a couple Gartered Trogons.

We also had more fruitcrows, and various other expected species but very few migrants. Our migrant search continued after breakfast at the Isla Botanical Garden just outside of Puerto Viejo. En route, we stopped to check out a mixed flocks and hit gold with Sulphur-rumped Tanager being one of our first birds! It didn’t hang around long but at least long enough for Paul to get his second important lifer of the trip. I was pleased to hear that its call is distinctive (sounds a bit like a Black and Yellow Tanager), and to get that tough one for the year. Shame that it was too high up for a photo. At the gardens, we had to accept that there weren’t many migrants around but we did get nice looks at Checker-throated and White-flanked Antwrens. I dipped once again on the Spot-crowned Antvireo but bought some of their home-made, supreme, high cocoa content chocolate! You can buy it at the garden or in the Puerto Viejo market.

We also had good looks at Stripe-breasted Wren.

After lunch, we decided to drive back up the coast to see if we could locate the river of raptors. The poor weather was holding the birds up because we saw nary a migrating Turkey Vulture nor Broad-wing in places where thousands have turned up on other trips. Although we didn’t see the migrating hawks that day, our gamble still paid off with good looks at one Mississippi Kite, a new country bird for Paul.

Owling that night was once again bad for calling owls (none) but we heard Great Potoo again and majorly lucked out by seeing a Vermiculated Screech-Owl fly up from the RECOPE road! It didn’t come back but we got good enough looks to count this major target. We figured that it must have just caught something on the ground.

On our final morning, there were a few more migrants around but no cuckoos nor wood-warblers. We still had great birding around Manzanillo with highlights being more flocks of Eastern Kingbirds, a small flock of Dickcissels, lots of Red-eyed Vireos, and our best looks at the thrushes in a fruiting tree. We also saw Bay and Black-throated Wrens, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Dusky Antbird, Fasciated and Black-crowned Antshrikes, and other expected resident species.

Dusky Antbird showing its white patch on the back.
It was nice to get good looks at Dusky-faced Tanager.

On the drive back, we finally ran into migrating raptors north of Limon when kettle after kettle of Broad-wingeds and Mississippi Kites flew overhead. A good way to end the trip! Tomorrow, I am off to Tortuguero. It will be interesting to see how this weekend compares with Manzanillo.

Raptors!
Categories
biodiversity Birding Costa Rica birding lodges caribbean slope Introduction lowlands

Little Known, Promising Sites for Birding in Costa Rica : The El Zota Research Station

Costa Rica is a small country and has been a popular birding destination since sometime in the 80s but it still holds a surprising number of little known, little birded sites. Given that we are talking about a place with political boundaries roughly equivalent to those of West Virginia, how can this be? Why don’t we know about the birding possibilities in every nook and cranny of this Central American nation? The answer to that can be summed up with three main reasons. In no particular order, they are:

  1. Access: Although the road situation has greatly improved in the last five years, before that time, a lot of the better hinterland birding sites were perhaps best accessed by mule or a Land Rover. Nowadays, it’s not much different for some areas and the uplifted, naturally broken young lands in this part of the world also present challenges to getting around and into various birding sites. I suppose I should also mention that most of the national parks have few trails and since they are treated more as wildlife preserves, most areas in national parks are actually off limits.
  2. Number of birders: There are birders who live in Costa Rica but we don’t have nearly as many birding people with time and resources to scout various parts of the country throughout the year. Oh, how I wish we did because then I would have more opportunities to twitch crazy vagrants and the like. That way, someone could find that Rufous-crested Coquette, a Swallow Tanager, and a Brown-chested Martin not too far from my home and I could just go on over and see them. On second thought, since I have so little free time to chase birds, I would probably be in a near constant state of frustration so never mind, don’t find those rarities without me!
  3. Tour routes: Logistics determine where tours go perhaps more so than the birds themselves and few tours leave the main birding circuits. That leaves little room for additional knowledge of other birding sites and likely explains why so many visiting birders choose the Hotel Bougainvillea as their place to stay near San Jose, and the Sarapiqui area for all of their Caribbean lowland birding rather than venturing further afield to such excellent lowland areas as Laguna del Lagarto and Maquenque, or the Puerto Viejo de Talamanca/Manazanillo area (although Sarapiqui is much closer, sorry but the birding at La Selva is truly not what it used to be).

I suppose another factor is habitat destruction in so many areas that are accessible. Don’t be fooled by the marketing put out by the tourism institute, a lot of forest in Costa Rica has been cut down and we really need to reforest in many areas to maintain the country’s biodiversity, especially in places that should host incredible lowland rainforest instead of hot cattle pastures and pineapples fields where anis and TKs play but not much else.

Looking for birds in deforested areas on the way to El Zota.

Despite that unfortunate bit of info, there is hope for both better knowledge of additional birding sites in Costa Rica and people who want to restore ecosystems and live in a sustainable fashion. Actually, everyone except maybe sociopaths would prefer to live sustainably if they could see how unsustainable land diminishes quality of life, especially for their descendents and other future people. But, in the meantime, we do have those who not only care but work hard to make a difference. El Zota Research Station is one of those very special places and I can’t recommend going there enough.

A small wetland at El Zota.

Situated just outside of Barro Colorado Wildlife Refuge (which means that it’s kind of more protected than other places even though people live there),  El Zota used to be a cattle farm. In the 1980s, this was pretty much common practice in lowland rainforest areas of Costa Rica. People didn’t know what else to do with the land so the forest was cut down, some of the wood was used, and the rest was turned into cattle pasture with some cultivations. The owner of El Zota started out like that but somewhere along the way, he decided that he would rather preserve most of his property than leave it to the cows. That decision has resulted in many hectares of former pasture being converted back into forest. In fact, I could hardly believe that one area I visited used to be pasture.

This forest used to be pasture.
We had these Honduran White Bats in that reforested area.

He also established trails through the habitats on his farm, has let many areas regenerate, and has a nice tract of primary rainforest. Oh, and he also keeps people from hunting on his property and tries to work with neighbors to hopefully convince them to regenerate forests and conserve biodiversity. The place is mostly used by student groups but birders are more than welcome and if you go there, get ready for some exciting birding, herping, and possible encounters with some choice wildlife. I base that statement on a short weekend trip to the place that I did withe the local birding club. As with any biodiverse place, one leaves feeling that he or she had barely scratched the surface. I feel that way when birding Laguna del LagartoLands in Love, or other excellent sites and El Zota was no exception. As my friend Robert Dean put it, “the place has lots of potential”. I couldn’t agree more, especially since Tapirs are fairly common there (we didn’t see one but saw lots of tracks), all cats are present including Jaguar (we found scat), and the station features habitats as varied as a big lagoon to primary rainforest and various stages of second growth. It’s the type of place that might even turn up a Harpy Eagle or other very rare lowland bird species and it’s that sort of exciting possibility that urges me to return.

Some of the Birding Club of Costa Rica birding at El Zota

So, after all of that talk, here is some truly useful information and other impressions:

Birds and wildlife

  • Lots of monkeys: We were seeing monkeys more often than most other places in Costa Rica, especially Spider Monkeys. It’s a sign of good habitat, little or no hunting, and tells you that many birds are also possible.
  • Red-throated Caracara: Ok, I couldn’t keep this one in. Although I missed this very rare bird species, other people on the trip heard at least two not too far from the lodge. Despite doing a lot of looking and listening in the same spot at other times, we did not get them again but the fact that they were recorded is still pretty big news for birding in Costa Rica.
  • Very birdy second growth: We had quite a few birds while walking along the road through the farm on our first afternoon and on our last morning. These were expected Caribbean lowland species like Black-faced Grosbeaks,
    A Back-faced Grosbeak at El Zota.

    Chestnut-colored, Cinnamon, Pale-billed, Rufous-winged, and Black-cheeked Woodpeckers,

    A Cinnamon Woodpecker.
    A Pale-billed Woodpecker.

    various flycatchers, Blue Dacnis, Plain-colored Tanager,

    We saw several Plain-colored Tanagers.

    Pied Puffbird, trogons, Collared Aracari, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, both motmots, heard Slaty-breasted Tinamou, and so on. It seemed like lots of other stuff could show up.

    There were a few Pied Puffbirds around.
  • Black and white Owl at the lodge and other night birds: We almost had to not look at a pair that called both nights right at the lodge cabins. Israel, the resident guide (he knows a fair number of birds but is more into herps) said he was surprised that we didn’t get the Great Potoo because it’s often present right at the lodge.
  • Quiet primary forest: The primary forest was maybe 6 kilometers from the lodge so we were brought there by truck in the early morning.
    Getting on the truck.
    Inside the forest.

    There were amazingly few birds overall but I still think the forest has serious potential because a couple of hours in primary rainforest never gives a fair idea of the birds that actually occur. We still managed to hear Great Green Macaw, White-necked Puffbird, and Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant, and see both motmots, trogons, Black-crowned Antshrike (the new name for Western Slaty Antshrike),

    Black-crowned Antshrike

    Tawny-crested and White-shouldered Tanagers, Red-capped Manakin, both motmots, and others. This was also where we had the Jaguar scat.

  • A nice big lagoon: More like a lake, they usually have a canoe so you can check it out and find things like Sungrebe and small kingfishers. Although we didn’t see those, they surely occur. We did have one or two Green Ibis for consolation.

    Nice big lagoon.
  • Raptor migration: We saw some raptors migrating through the area.
  • Frogs: Although we didn’t go look for them, I was hearing frogs all of the time so I bet it’s a good area for them!


    Not a frog but a small Fer-de-Lance. See if you can find it!
  • Enticing bird list: The bird list has such very good species as all three hawk eagles, Speckled Mourner, and Gray-headed Piprites.

    This shy Semiplumbeous Hawk is one of many resident raptors on the list.
  • Not sure about antbirds: On a low note, several antbird species are not on the bird list and we didn’t get them either. That’s not to say that they aren’t there but El Zota might not be good for Ocellated Antbird and other forest based antbird species.

Some lodge info

  • Good food: We enjoyed nice, country Tico fare and were treated to a delicious barbecue on our last night.
  • Basic but good rooms: Rooms are basic but this a research station and the place is meant to be enjoyed outdoors.

    One of the lodge cabins.
  • Low cost: The rooms might be basic but the beds are comfortable and guess how much you pay to stay there? How does $40 per person per night sound for lodging with 3 meals and access to excellent birding? Sounds like a bargain to me!
  • Four to five hours from the San Jose area: It takes around four or five hours to get there without doing any birding on the way. Four wheel drive is needed for the final 6 kilometers of road but the station can help with transportation.
  • Proximity to Barro del Colorado: Before heading home on Sunday, we checked out some of the road into Barro del Colorado. The road was good and the habitat looked even better with nice primary forest and some interesting wetlands. I sure would love to bird there early in the morning! El Zota can also arrange boat tours in the refuge. Since it’s basically a pristine wilderness area that is almost certainly visited by both large eagles, yeah, I want to do that some day.

    Good habitat on the road through Barro del Colorado.

I wonder when I will get back to El Zota. Hopefully soon but if any readers of this post happen to go, please leave a comment with a link to a trip report and or/summary of highlights so the world can know what you saw!

Categories
Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica dry forest Introduction lowlands mangroves Pacific slope

Don’t Disregard Chomes when Birding Costa Rica

On Sunday, I took a trip to Chomes and the Colorado salt pans with a friend of mine to look for shorebirds, to look for the Maguari Stork that showed up on September 16th, and get recordings and digiscoped shots of various feathered creatures. Although every trip to that area has been good, this one leaves me convinced that the Chomes area is a true birding hotspot. While the shrimp ponds, mangroves, and mud flats always turn up a fair variety of waders, the road in to Chomes also deserves just as much attention.

We were sort of in a hurry to reach the shrimp ponds on Sunday morning to catch as much of the high tide as possible but couldn’t help but make a few stops on the way in. The road is always productive because it goes through several kilometers of fields dotted with a good number of tall trees, a couple of nice riparian zones, and wide open areas that sometimes have mud flats. The variety of habitats makes it good for just about every dry forest species and on past trips we have seen such goodies as Yellow-naped Parrots, Crane Hawk, White-lored Gnatcatcher, and many other birds. On this trip, the few stops we made turned up great looks at Spot-breasted Oriole, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Gartered Trogon, Orange-fronted Parakeet, White-fronted Parrot, and several other bird species seen without even trying.

We saw a couple of Ferruginous Pygmy Owls without even trying for them.
A couple of Gartered Trogons called from the tree tops. We also had Black-headed Trogons in the same area.

The best sightings along the road in were a field with 15 or so Double-striped Thick-Knees and prolonged, wonderful looks at Lesser Ground-Cuckoo.

Check out the ducky Double-striped Thick-Knee.

Although the Lesser Ground-Cuckoo is a common bird, its love of skulking in dense brushy habitat presents obvious challenges to seeing it so it was very nice to be able to hang out and admire the yellow and blue colors of its eyering combined with the pumpkin orange underparts.

A fine Lesser Ground Cuckoo in Costa Rica.

It vocalized too and started out with its distinctive song.

Lesser Ground Cuckoo song.

Then, it gave its soft whistled call over and over as Boat-billed Flys decided to go nuts with their own vocalizations.

Lesser Ground Cuckoo call.

It then showed how nice it was by fluttering up to a tree and creeping along a branch with raised tail.

A Lesser Ground Cuckoo up in a tree.

Although I will be missing a crisp and spooky North American Halloween, the colors of a Lesser Ground-Cuckoo are a fine substitute. Now all I need to do is buy some candy corn and corn syrup creation pumpkin candies and munch on them while visually absorbing a Lesser Ground Cuckoo on October 31st…all while dressed like a vampire, a politician bought by big money who allows the government to shut down while still taking a paycheck, or some other frightening creature.

A Lesser Ground Cuckoo gives all of those incompetent, self-serving politicians a wicked "malocchio" (the good old evil eye).

Keep in mind that we barely birded the entrance road and still had several choice avian experiences. Now back at the shrimp ponds, the birding was also pretty good. A handful of flint-headed Wood Storks was all we got in terms of Cicconidae but we couldn’t help but be impressed by the constant bird action. Small groups of chattering (or ratatatting) White-fronted Parrots flew overhead, flocks of seedeaters flushed from the undergrowth, the metallic calls of a Blue Grosbeak contrasted with the buzzy notes of a few Dickcissels, and so on. A group of seedeaters suddenly revealed themselves to be Tricolored Munias (most being hen colored or perhaps juvenile birds), and one of our target birds called from the short Black Mangroves. Clapper Rail! Scan as we might, we couldn’t find the rails and they only called twice but since I count heard only birds for my country list, on it they went!

Clapper Rail from Costa Rica.

Shorebirds were also around but heavy rains had drowned the erstwhile mud flat habitat in the ponds and so most of our sandpipers and plovers were scattered far and wide over the honest to goodness mud flats of the Golf of Nicoya. Nevertheless, in the ponds, we still got good looks at several herons, White Ibis, and common shorebirds like Least Sands, Wilson’s  and Semipalmated Plovers, Black-necked Stilt, Willet, and Whimbrel, and one uncommon American Golden Plover.

Good numbers of Semi Plovs were in attendance.
Of course Least Sandpipers were also around.

Out by the shore, there was also a good sized flock of Black Skimmers, some Black-bellied Plovers, Marbled Godwits, a couple of American Oystercatchers, a distant flock of terns (Royals, some Elegants, a few Sandwich, and one Common), and a few Short-billed Dowitchers.

We then braved the rising heat (Chomes is blazing- come prepared!) to head down the track that parallels the beach and ends at a nice patch of mangroves. Pygmy-owl calls turned up Streak-backed Oriole, Northern Scrub Flycatchers, American Redstart, and several other species.

The usual Brown-crested Flycatchers showed up.
Yellow Warblers have come back to town.
As have their lovely Prothonotary cousins.
A female Mangrove Hummingbird also turned up! It's always good to see this endangered endemic.

Vying with the Mangrove Hummingbird for best bird in that area was a Rufous-necked Wood Rail! The bird was heard (and happily recorded!), and it even allowed itself to be seen very well as it hopped up and walked on a branch! I wish I could show that I was quick on the digiscoping draw for that photo opp but I wasn’t. Photo bomb it wasn’t but still a fine view of a Rufous-necked Wood Rail nonetheless. With that bird, I am just two rails away from getting a full run of Costa Rican rail species this year! Granted, some are heard only but I still count them for the year list. If I manage Spotted and Sora (both are feasible), 2013 will be my one and only official year of the rail.

After nearly melting at a mid-day Chomes we grabbed a quick lunch somewhere along the highway and headed over to the Colorado salt pans to see what was up. It was fairly birdy but no hoped for Long-billed Curlew nor any other new species for the year. After once again ignoring any possible Masked Ducks (snicker all you want you feathered, skulking, web-footed zorros…your time will come!), we headed back up into the rain, cooler elevations, and over population of the Central Valley.

It was nice to get close looks at Lesser Yellowlegs at Colorado.
We also had close looks at Western Sandpipers.
and Semipalmated Sandpipers.

So, if there’s going to be any point to this story, it’s that the Chomes area is really good for birding. Get there early and bird that road in. Although I have yet to fully explore the area and riparian zones on the way in, I wouldn’t be surprised if they even turned up things like Thicket Tinamou, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, and so on.