Categories
bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica high elevations middle elevations

Fine Birding on the Slopes of Poas

In Costa Rica, Poas looms to the north of the airport. A big mound of a mountain, the roomy crater hidden in the clouds. It can be seen from the window of a plane, the turquoise, unwelcome water in the big hole briefly glistening in the sun. The rocky crater is framed in textured green, for folks on the plane, a distant, unreal broccoli carpet. There’s no indication of the true nature of that forest way down below, nor the other rivulets and waves of tropical forest that reach down the northern slopes of the volcano. The riot of life going on down there, Pumas and Ocelots doing their stealth dance beneath the wet canopy. Bright and sunny Collared Redstarts singing from the bamboo understory, bush-tanagers and Yellow-thighed Finches rummaging through the bushes and trees.

Bright and beautiful, one of many highland species endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama.

Quetzals are there too, whistling and cackling from the misty forests. But, as with any scene from a plane, it’s just a distant natural portrait, the only soundscape one of humming motors and occasional requests for coffee, the hiss of sugary carbonated drinks poured over ice in a plastic cup. We only truly experience the forest on Poas and anywhere else with boots on the ground, can only get lost in the quick variety of mixed flocks, fluttering of quetzals, and the air scything ability of swifts by walking with those trees.

On Poas, it’s easy to walk near the oaks and wild avocados. The road up there is a good, quick hour or 45 minute ride from the San Jose area and after the village of Poasito, the birding improves. The national park itself has also been good for birding but ever since eruptions put access on hiatus, I’m not sure if the same trails are accessible. It has just re-opened though, I hope to assess the birding situation at some point. In the meantime, I can attest to the quality of roadside birding on the road up to the national park as well as along Route 126 (the Via Endemica), a recent day of guiding was no exception. Some of the good stuff:

Resplendent Quetzal

The sacred bird is up there on Poas, according to locals, not as common as it used to be but it’s still there. I was surprised to see one after another flutter between trees until I had counted six including the male pictured above!

Fasciated Tiger-Heron

Not in the high parts of the mountain but present along a roadside stream much lower down. The heron of rocky Neotropical streams posed nicely for us as it blended into the dark gray river stones.

Hummingbirds

 

Brown Violetear

Talamanca Hummingbird

Purple-throated Mountain-gem

Coppery-headed Emerald

From Fiery-throated in the high parts to glittering Crowned Woodnymphs past Cinchona, hummingbirds are a welcome mainstay on Poas. Including a Steel-vented near Alajuela, we had fifteen species.

Northern Emerald Toucanet

Visit the Soda Mirador de Catarata (aka Cafe Colibri, aka the Hummingbird Cafe) to spend quality time with this exotic beauty.

Buffy Tuftedcheek

Not so common but this bromeliad bird us indeed present along the higher parts of the road. If you see a silhouette of one, this image shows what to expect.

Nightingale-thrushes

Not rare but skulky and always cool to see four or even five species in a day, most at different elevations. We had good looks at four and without too much trouble. This is a juvenile Slaty-backed N.-Thrush that was visiting the Cafe Colibri.

Black-thighed Grosbeak

A few were singing and showed nicely.

These were some of the one hundred plus species we saw on the slopes of Poas the other day, each stop adding more birds to the list. Many more were still possible and some calling birds remained unseen but any day spent birding is a good one. A day with more than a hundred species is even better especially when the birder can walk within reach of old, mossy trees frequented by quetzals, treerunners, and other cool birds with fantastic names.

Categories
Birding Costa Rica caribbean foothills middle elevations

Excellent Birding Off the Beaten Track at Albergue Socorro

Virgen del Socorro is one of Costa Rica’s classic birding sites. Whether staying in the San Jose area or the Sarapiqui lowlands, this forested canyon is an easy one to two hour trip with access to foothill and middle elevation habitats. It’ a good site for White Hawk, Collared Trogon, and several other species that frequent the transition between lowlands and highlands. One of the things birders also notice when visiting Virgen del Socorro are the forested hillsides, especially upstream from the main road through the canyon. If only we could get into those forests! Maybe we would find quail-doves, Red-fronted Parrotlet, and other rare species. The right situation for many high quality species is there, the only problem being that main recurring issue frequently faced by birders in tropical places- that of access.

White Hawk

Much to our twitching frustration, the high quality forests visible from the canyon road don’t have any roads that go through them, they don’t have any trails. Well, they don’t if you stick to the road through the canyon. Stay at Albergue del Socorro, though, and access is granted. This small “lodge” is actually a small dairy farm that has opted in on ecotourism. The owners are serious about protecting the forests in and around their farm, offer a few shared cabins as accommodation, and serve excellent local country fare. Stay there and you will be supporting birder friendly people who are committed to protecting the forests of the Socorro area. Top that support off with excellent middle elevation birding, and a stay at Albergue del Socorro becomes an enticing addition to every birder’s Costa Rica itinerary. More information about this excellent site:

Trails through mature forest

The lodge has a few trails, one of which passes through excellent mature forest on its way to a waterfall. The other trails are shorter loops that pass through forest and a few open areas. No matter which trail you take, Jose, the owner, will be happy to accompany you. Although rain limited our time on the trails, based on what I saw, they should be good for quail-doves, mixed flocks, and could host several rare species.

Birding on the road is good too

If you feel like sticking to the road in front of the lodge, you will still be in luck because the birding is typically good and can result in White-crowned Manakin, many tanagers, euphonias, Spotted Barbtail, and Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner among many other less common species. In the past, I often had Lattice-tailed Trogon on the section of road just above the lodge. It should still be present although maybe now more regular on the Albergue trails.

Serious birding potential

The combination of high quality forest, connection to Braulio Carrillo National Park, and an elevation of around 1,000 meters is ideal for coming across a wide number of rare and uncommon species. Quail-doves, Lovely Cotinga, and all three hawk-eagles have been identified at or near Albergue in recent years, and I would be very surprised if goodies like Lanceolated Monklet, the ground-cuckoo, Scaled and Ochre-breasted Antpittas, Sharpbill, and many other megas were not present. It should also be a good place for Solitary Eagle to make an appearance. That massive black-hawk has been recorded around there in the past, and since the area does link up to Braulio, it seems like a good spot for it to be seen again. Even during the rain, we watched several Crested Guans, Russet-naped Wood-Rail, Swallow-tailed Kites, White Hawk, Bat Falcon, tanagers, and other species just outside the rooms.

Crested Guan

Ideal for small groups

Given the accommodation (limited but cozy and clean), this site is better for single travelers, couples, and small groups.

Three ways to get there

There are three different routes to take, all of which require four wheel drive just before reaching the lodge. You might make it to the lodge with a regular, small vehicle but then again, you might not! Keep in mind that since these three routes also have great birding, you might want to give yourself extra time for the trip. The most common route people take is the one that passes by the Waterfall Gardens, the Cinchona Cafe Colibri, and then goes through the Virgen del Socorro canyon. The one issue with this route is a bridge that looks like it’s on the verge of collapsing. To avoid that possibility, try one of the other two routes! If you feel like some adventurous birding on a somewhat rough road that passes next to some nice cloud forest, take the turn off for San Rafael de Varablanca and follow that main road all the way down to the lodge. This road also has lots of good birding potential. If you would rather do the easiest route, take the turn off at the San Miguel cemetery and follow that up to the lodge, enjoying good foothill birding on the way. If I had a four wheel drive vehicle, I would opt for driving one of those routes in and another on the way out. Do that with enough time for several hours birding each way and you could end up with a seriously good list.

I felt compelled to write this post after guiding a short trip to Albergue Socorro last weekend. Although we got rained out on Sunday morning, we still recorded more than 130 species while birding at and near the lodge. I look forward to going back, especially to do bird surveys on their trails just after dawn.

Categories
Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica middle elevations

Easy Raptor Watching Near San Jose

Costa Rica might have a lot of raptors on the country list but we don’t really see them very often. They are out there but populations are naturally low, and many require high quality forest. Well, lets just say that there are more in high quality forest because there’s just more food available.

Ironically, the problem with seeing lots of raptors in Costa Rica is related to the high levels of biodiversity. Basically, hawks of all sizes have to compete with other hawks, flycatchers, and other birds. The result is fewer hawks but the flip side of the birding coin is more species of hawks. Nevertheless, some places are better for seeing more raptors in a short amount of time than others, and one of the best ones near the Central Valley is the Cinchona-Virgen del Socorro area.

This spot is an excellent site to hang out and wait for raptors because the area is easily accessed by good roads (it takes about an hour and 15 to 20 minutes to drive there), and there are several spots that overlook a forested canyon. As a bonus, this area is also close enough to Braulio Carrillo to up the odds of having a few of the rarer species fly into view.

Some of the species to look for:

White Hawk

The Socorro area is one of the classic sites for this beautiful hawk. Look for it perched in the canyon or just flying around on sunny days.

Barred Hawk

This one is also best seen on sunny days as it soars, calls like a gull, and displays. Its shape is a heck of a lot like a Black Vulture.

Short-tailed Hawk

One of the more commonly seen raptor species in Costa Rica, including this area.

Swallow-tailed Kite

From February to August, this expression of avian elegance is commonly seen around Cinchona and Socorro.

Broad-winged Hawk

This common, wintering species often perches on roadside trees or is seen soaring overhead.

Gray Hawk

Another commonly seen species, this adaptable hawk is a good one to know because it can occur almost anywhere in the country.

Bat Falcon

A pair or two lives in the canyon. In the early morning, watch for them perched on snags, including the one near the Colibri Cafe. We also see this species soaring or in flight and looking a lot like a White-collared Swift in the process.

In addition to the two regular vultures, bonus birds can also show up including Ornate and Black and White Hawk-Eagles, and Great Black Hawk. On the San Miguel section of the road, you might also see Laughing Falcon, Double-toothed Kite, and King Vulture. In the past, Solitary Eagle was also regular in this area. Although it hasn’t been seen for several years, maybe it could turn up again?

For more information about finding and identifying birds in Costa Rica, see How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

Categories
Birding Costa Rica middle elevations

Suggestions for Birding in Costa Rica at San Vito

Last weekend I wasn’t watching any inauguration. I couldn’t have done so no matter who was being officially named the next president of the USA because I was too busy watching and showing people birds while guiding in the San Vito area. Whether you happen to be in Costa Rica during an inauguration, moon landing, or alien arrival, don’t worry about any news, you will see that stuff soon enough. What you won’t see at other times are the hundreds of birds that live in the vicinity of that nice little highland town in southern Costa Rica.

San Vito is so far off from the San Jose area, we kind of felt like we were in another country. Being so close to the border with Panama, we almost were and for us local birders, that makes for some exciting avian stuff. We don’t get as many chances at new species as Canadian and USA birders do in southern Texas or Arizona, but it’s exciting nonetheless. We need to go there to have a chance at the plain looking yet weird Ruddy Foliage-gleaner, the smart-looking yet shy Lance-tailed Manakin, and the incorrectly named Masked Yellowthroat (see why it needs another name below).

The beautiful Speckled Tanager is another, much more common species of the area.

Not to mention, there’s tons of other interesting birds in the area, the birding is easy like Sunday morning, there are a few other fantastic sites within reach, plenty of places to explore and maybe even find something new for the boundaries of Costa Rica, and you might even get a chance to go birding with the awesome San Vito Birding Club! I could go on and on about how wonderful those four days were but I’ll try to keep it brief with these suggestions:

Getting there- Which route to take?: There are two ways to go and I did both in the same trip. On the way there, Sara Clarke (of the Finca Dos Lados Reforestation Project) and I drove the coastal route to Ciudad Neily and then up the very curvy road to San Vito. This gave us a chance to look for birds en route at Tarcoles, Parrita, and a few other sites. The route is fairly quick and easy but that last curvy bit is indeed pretty curvy. To avoid the curviness, you can also take the coastal route to the turn off at Palmar and go from there.

On the way back, we took the other main route. This one is more direct but goes up and over Cerro de la Muerte and through San Isidro. Take this to look for high elevation species but be ready to sit behind slow moving trucks. You can also do this one to stop overnight in Buenos Aires and bird the Salitre savannas the next morning (to see the targets, you do need to do those early in the morning).

Join the San Vito Birding Club for a walk: We would have done this but with our logistics, it just didn’t work out. Nevertheless, we did meet up with them one evening and went birding with their president, Greg Homer. This was awesome, if you get the chance to go one of their bird walks, do it! Check their site for information about that.

Where to stay: While some birders lodge at Las Cruces, know that you don’t have to. It’s not that it’s a bad choice, just that there are other options in the area including two fantastic ones that treated us very well. These are the Casa Botania, and the Cascata del Bosco. Both have nice rooms, good views, great service, wonderful food (gourmet vegetarian at Botania!), and good birding right on the grounds. They are also within walking distance of Wilson Botanical Garden (aka Las Cruces). Both are seriously recommended.

The view from my window at Botania.

Cascata del Bosco

You might also get pictures of Green Honeycreeper.

Wilson Botanical Garden: Speaking of that place, it’s included on most birding tours to Costa Rica and with good reason. The facilities are impressive, the trails are maintained, there are lots of eBird reports, and the birding is nice and easy. Even better, you can also go in early most days and pay after peering on the trails for tinamous and wood-quail.

Check the San Joaquin marsh: This is a small yet important wetland near the airport. Yes, there is an airport although no planes fly there. At least I don’t think they do because the runway is used by cyclists, runners, and anyone else who feels like hanging out on a landing strip. As for the marsh, coming from San Vito, take the road towards Sabalito, go just past the airport, and watch for the sign on the left. Take a left at that point, drive in to the top of a short hill, and park. Ask at the house pictured below to use the trails, give the guy 500 colones or so and go on in. Since this guy basically lets people in to the marsh, he should get a birder friend award. He likes watching the birds too.

Although there’s not much access to view it, the marsh is still the best place to connect with the local variety of Masked Yellowthroat, and you will probably see some other stuff. Regarding the yellowthroat, you do want to see it because it isn’t really a Masked Yellowthroat. At least, that’s what DNA studies have shown. Those indicated that it is more closely related to Olive-crowned Yellowthroat than Masked which almost certainly makes it it’s own, valid species with a tiny range. I believe that the IOC already calls it Chiriqui Yellowthroat.

The house at the marsh.

Rio Negro: I didn’t see no river, but I did see a bunch of birds! Tee-shirts with this statement should be sold, the profits going to conservation efforts around San Vito. We went there to look for the Lance-tailed Manakin. We heard it, couldn’t frustratingly see it, but did run into some nice mixed flocks as well as montane migrant Black-thighed Grosbeaks. A really cool site with a wide, easy trail, I would love to bird there a lot more. Getting there isn’t so straightforward but is possible.

-From San Vito, go to Sabalito, take a left at the gas station.

-Follow this road to Union, and from the main fork, go about 4.5 kilometers.

-At a ranch-type house, take an immediate right just after this, also immediately driving past some small wooden houses.

-Follow this main, fairly rough road back until you reach the forest. Park there, don’t block in any farming equipment, you will see the trail at that point.

Crested Oropendola: They are around and can show up at the marsh or just driving along but the surefire way to check this common Panama and South American bird for your Costa Rica list is by visiting their nesting/roosting tree. This is on the first road on the right after the Las Cruces station, maybe 200 meters from the main road. Visit in the early morning or late afternoon to ensure success.

I guess that’s it for now. It’s a great, easy area for birding, have fun!

Categories
Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica middle elevations

Expectations and Changes at the Cinchona Colibri Cafe

Last week, as usual, I made a stop at the Colibri Cafe during a day of guiding. I usually spend an hour or so at the Cafe after a few early morning stops on the route between there and Alajuela. There have been a few recent changes at the Cafe but the birding expectations are just as good, if not better. If you plan on checking out the Cafe while traveling to or from Sarapiqui, or as a day trip from Sarapiqui or the San Jose area, here are some suggestions and expectations:

More Feeders, More Birds: The owners have steadily updated and improved the cafe ever since the original was destroyed by the 2009 earthquake. Now, instead of watching one set of feeders, there is another set of feeders lower down and accessible by concrete steps. Recently, they also put up a large bunch of bananas at eye level that might eventually pay off with large toucan species and parrots. Maybe, but at least that’s what goes on with a similar set up at Laguna del Lagarto Lodge. If you can do the stairs (there aren’t that many), make sure to check the feeders below because these are closer to forest vegetation and might end up attracting different species.

emerald-toucanet-1

This site continues to be an easy spot for Emerald (Blue-throated) Toucanet.

Both Barbets: The Prong-billed has always been regular but the Red-headed has been scarce ever since the earthquake. It has been showing up a bit more from time to time, though, and with luck, will become a regular visitor again especially with the vegetation growing back.

prong-billed-barbet

Prong-billed Barbet- we actually did not see this one at the Cafe on Saturday but did catch up with it up on Poas.

White-bellied Mountain-Gem and other hummingbirds: Expect a good hummingbird show with six to eight species. This varies depending on time of year and what’s flowering out there in the woods but is always worth a look. The bird to look for is White-bellied Mountain-Gem, a local species seen at very few sites. Other regulars include Violet Sabrewing, Green-crowned Brilliant, Coppery-headed Emerald, Green Thorntail, Green Hermit, and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird.

white-bellied-mountain-gem-1

The other day was good for the mountain-gems.

More birds in the morning and on cloudy days: As is typical of bird activity just about everywhere, expect to see more at the Cafe between 6 and 7, and on cloudy days.

Cool souvenirs: The Cafe also sells a fair variety of quality souvenirs. Check it out and know that anything purchased there supports this bird and birder friendly locale.

Good, local food: Want to sample some delicious, Tico country cuisine? This is the perfect place to do just that, the prices are fair, and once again, you will be supporting a business that has helped thousands of people see Violet Sabrewings,  barbets, and other species at close range. In essence, the owners have acted as unofficial bird and birding ambassadors.

Photography Fee: On my last visit, one of the owners explained to me that they are now charging a fee of $10 for people with professional looking cameras. This pretty much means anything beyond a simple point and shoot. They hadn’t put a sign up about that yet but hopefully will. I was actually going to suggest something like this because setting up the feeders and keeping them stocked has been and continues to be a substantial investment. Although they have a contribution box, that clearly isn’t working, and according to the owner, they haven’t been very pleased with the behavior of some photographers, saying that more than one had set up shop for a few hours without leaving a donation. Given the photo chances, especially now, $10 is a pretty good deal and they aren’t even charging by the hour. Who knows if that might change, though, so just be clear about the cost of using a DSLR at the Cafe Colibri upon arrival at the Cafe.

emerald-toucanet-2

Some shots will be worth it.

Raptors: The good view of a forested canyon has also always made this site a good one for raptors. It varies but species to look for include White Hawk, Barred Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, and Gray Hawk, along with such possibilities as Red-tailed Hawk, Great Black-Hawk, Bat Falcon, and even Ornate Hawk-Eagle. Keep in mind that Solitary Eagle, Black Hawk-Eagle, and Black and white Hawk-Eagle have also been seen near there in the past. Maybe they could turn up again, especially by scanning the other side of the canyon with a scope.

white-hawk-blob

This white blob is an over-exposed White Hawk that was soaring around a few days ago.

Enjoy the birds, good food, and view at this special place!

Categories
Birding Costa Rica middle elevations

A Morning at Tapanti National Park

Last weekend, I made my almost annual trip to Tapanti National Park. Like most places in Costa Rica, it’s not that far away, but like most places in Costa Rica, it’s also not the easiest of drives to make as a day visit. It is if you live around Cartago but if you happen to reside over near San Jose, there’s just no way to avoid the traffic, especially on the slow drive back. That’s the only thing that keeps me from visiting more often and I always wish I could because it’s one of the easiest places in the country for accessing high quality middle elevation forest.

road-through-tapanti

The road through Tapanti.

We see similar forest types on the drive through Braulio Carrillo National Park but the lack of trails and places to stop means that “thou can look, but ye cannot touch” those areas where Rufous-breasted Antthrushes call, and Ochre-breasted Antpittas hide. Since there’s some other species at that elevation that I would love to get for the year, rarely see or hear, and for which we also need images for the birding field guide apps I work on, I’m always wanting to walk in those mossy middle elevation forests.

Tapanti provides a chance at those species and more, and although birds like Rufous-rumped Antwren and Red-fronted Parrotlet are still rare, this national park is one of the better places to look for them. Since there was also a recent bamboo seeding event in the park, Susan and I decided to risk the traffic and do a day trip to Tapanti. On the way there, we made the usual brief stop in front of Lankester Gardens to see if we could come across Sedge Wren and White-throated Flycatcher. No luck on Sunday although we only made a brief check for them on the edge of the remnant, endangered sedge field. Here’s an eBird list from the brief stop: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S31425150

Next, we cruised over to Tapanti, stopping just before the entrance to the park (since it doesn’t open until 8). Luckily, you can still see quite a few cool birds in that first area of forest, including the Streaked Xenops that we got. No luck with the monklet or antpittas but it’s always worth it to try for them.

collared-trogon

We also had Collared Trogon.

Once the park opened, we waltzed on in and began with the birding. Our first species in the park were Ruddy Pigeons calling behind the HQ, expected Golden-bellied Flycatcher, and looks at Red-headed Barbet. Shortly after, we came across the first area of seeding bamboo and stopped to investigate. Seeds were still present but sadly, there wasn’t any sign of Slate-colored Seedeater, Blue Seedeater, nor Slaty Finch. However, intriguing glimpses of something moving in the bamboo resulted in scope views of Barred Parakeets!

barred-parakeet

This was the first time I have seen this species perched.

Although it’s easy to see this small parakeet calling and flying high overhead at various sites, it’s a real treat to see them perched. As we watched them, I understood why I have seen hundreds (probably thousands) of Barred Parakeets in Costa Rica, Mexico, and Ecuador without ever see the small green parakeet off the wing. This perched pair of very unobtrusive parakeets reminded me of owls the way they blended in with their surroundings. If we hadn’t seen them move, we would have just walked on past, oblivious to their presence. It was even hard to find them after knowing where they were.

barred-parakeets-hidden

There are Barred Parakeets somewhere in this image.

We enjoyed those Barred Parakeets for a while, hoping for other bamboo birds to show. They never did but it was still a treat to see the parakeets allopreen, and see one of them making what appeared to be soft calls that we couldn’t hear.

Further up the road, we ventured onto the steep Arboles Caidos trail but with the sunny weather and walking on it during the most non-birdy time of the day, we saw very little. There were some Spotted Barbtails, Lineated Foliage-gleaner, and some other expected species but we dipped on antpittas, the outside chance at the Central American form of the Black-banded Woodcreeper, and didn’t even hear Rufous-breasted Antthrush. It was still nice to get some exercise in beautiful forest though.

wedge-billed-woodcreeper

We also had several Wedge-billed Woodcreepers.

After exiting the trail at 11, a lot of Sunday visitors had arrived in the park, and some rain started to fall. We cruised the main road looking for mixed flocks and had a bit of luck but not with THE mixed flock I was hoping for (that would be the one with the rare birds). When the rain picked up and turned into a constant downpour, we decided to call it a day and make the drive back. The drive wasn’t all that bad although the pouring rain pounding the roadway wasn’t so fun.

If you plan on visiting Tapanti, try and speak with the rangers the day before to ask about an early entrance. If you can do that, head right over to the Oropendola trail and scan for Scaled Antpitta. It’s also better during mid-week. Bring your own food or have lunch at the small soda just outside the park- take the first right just after the forest and drive up to the small diner.

Happy birding!

Categories
Birding Costa Rica middle elevations Where to see birds in Costa Rica

Birding in Costa Rica at Bosque del Nino

Last Sunday, I got in a morning of birding at two sites in the Central Valley. To be honest, one site was actually a pseudo-chase, the bird in question a Grasshopper Sparrow that had been reported on eBird in March. Whether the birds were wintering there or just determined to skulk, I believe we found the spot but know that we did not find the birds. No insect-like song, no hint of a little brown thing with a quizzical look on its face, no nothing from the promising swales. Luckily, the other site, Bosque del Nino, was close enough to check and also not find the other bird we were hoping for, Blue Seedeater.

No matter, though, because birding can always be more than the chase, especially when there’s so much else to discover in tropical habitats. I knew the seedeater would be a gamble anyways because they seem to be a natural stringer. The modus operandi is found one day and gone the next, so you just have to get lucky. It fits their nomadic behavior, and along with the Slaty Finch, ground-dove, and some other picky species, those seedeaters are basically bamboo seeding gypsies. How they find the seeding bamboo and what they do at other times is a big fat mystery but there’s always other cool birds to see anyways.

On Sunday, during our drive up to the Bosque del Nino, we stopped en route and were treated to a fine morning chorus of Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, swooping swallows, and other birds, including a couple of choice flycatchers. A burned area held several Lesser Elaenias, and at least two Alder Flycatchers- year birds and always nice to study. Both are kind of local in Costa Rica, the Alder only passing through and perhaps mostly in the highlands, and the elaenia just locally distributed.

As if in defiance of its low key plumage, the elaenia was super confident and brash.



The Alder below was not so bold but still good about letting us study it.


Up on the trails at Bosque del Nino, we climbed up and up towards Poas and passed through pretty second growth forest steadily approaching maturity. Bamboo was much in evidence but none was seeding and no seedeater ever responded to its song. The woods,though, were still filled with a spring chorus and the middle elevation temperatures reminded us of June in Pennsylvania. The bird songs were of course more suited to Central America. While walking, we were constantly treated to the songs of Flame-colored Tanager, Slate-throated Redstart, Golden-crowned Warbler, and Brown-capped Vireo. Orange-bellied Trogon also joined in at one spot and we could hear the low notes of Band-tailed Pigeon and Ruddy Pigeon from time to time. It was a good hike and this little birded spot might also be good for Chiriqui Quail-Dove. We didn’t find any but the habitat looked right and probably improves higher up the trail. If you go, just remember that the area sees a lot of local visitors on weekends, and those trails are mostly uphill!

A fine old tree.

Native bamboo.

White-eared Ground-Sparrow was common as well.

Bosque del Nino makes for an easy day trip with one’s own, four wheel drive vehicle but it’s kind of hard to describe how to get there. That said, check the map from this eBird checklist, follow the few signs, use a navigator and you will get there.

For more information about this and birding sites throughout Costa Rica, try  my 700 plus page ebook, How to See Find and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

Categories
Birding Costa Rica middle elevations

Tanager Fest at the San Luis Canopy

If there’s one area in Costa Rica not on the regular birding route that should be, it’s the road between San Ramon and La Fortuna. If you are wondering why I don’t just give the name of the route, it’s because that rarely means anything in Costa Rica. Yes, the roads have numbers associated with them on a map but on the ground, you won’t see any signs showing a prominent number for the road. Instead, locals just say the road to so and so, or the one that goes by the beer factory, etc. Also, I can’t remember the route numbers except maybe for one or two roads. So, since there is just one road between San Ramon and La Fortuna, that will work.

This route gets left off most birding trips because it’s tough to fit into routes that visit Sarapiqui, Carara, Arenal, and Monteverde. BUT, if you plan on traveling between the Arenal area and the Central Valley, take this road, you will like it. There is much less traffic compared to the other routes over the mountains, more accessible habitat, a few nice cafes, and, now, there’s also a tanager fest.

The San Luis Canopy was always a good place to stop and check the fruiting trees for tanagers and other species but now that fruit is offered on sticks behind the restaurant, the situation is crazy good. The other day, I stopped there while guiding, noticed some non-birding people looking at something on the ground and taking pictures, and checked out what they were doing. Instead of an expected Coati, there were tanagers…some on the ground, hopping around like House Sparrows.

Like this

Yes, these are Bay-headed, Silver-throated, and Speckled Tanagers on the ground.

Yes, an Emerald Tanager and a Speckled Tanager! I have never, ever seen Emerald Tanager on the ground.

They also visited the fruits on sticks.

Even this Tawny-capped Euphonia joined the fun. Other species present included Passerini’s, Blue-gray, and Crimson-collared Tanagers, Clay-colored Thrush, and Buff-throated Saltator.

I’m not sure how long this will be going on but if you feel like doing their hanging bridges trail ($35), that’s pretty good too with chances at various middle elevation species including Blue and Gold Tanager, Black and Yellow Tanager, more close looks at other tanagers, White and Barred Hawks, chance at hawk-eagles, and, the best of the bunch, Bare-necked Umbrellabird. This mega cotinga is not exactly common but it is seen from that trail on a regular basis pretty much all year long. If you don’t do the hanging bridges, at least frequent the restaurant to support this bird and birder accommodating place.

How to get there:

From San Ramon, take the main road north through town to a “T”.

Take a left, then a quick right, following signs to Arenal.

Keep following signs to Arenal and watch for the San Luis Canopy on the right about 20 minutes from San Ramon.

You might also see some good birds on the way (and there is the very good Cocora Hummingbird Garden as well), although there are few places where you can pull the vehicle off the road.

Categories
Birding Costa Rica middle elevations

A Morning of Birding at Catarata del Toro

Finally, the cold front lifted its soggy head off of the mountains and the atmospheric coast looked clear enough to visit Catarata del Toro. I have wanted to look for a few good birds at this middle elevatiion site since October. But, every time I had a chance to go, the weather forecast predicted wind and rain,- far from ideal conditions for birding or taking pictures of wood-quail and the other scarce species I want to find. On Tuesday, fair weather and free time finally coincided for a trip to the Catarata.

One of the overlooks at Catarata del Toro.

The site is more or less just over the mountains in a diagonal straight. This translates to a two hour ride of twists and turns. Although I avoided the temptation of stopping at Cinchona to arrive by opening time, I ended up stopping for 30 minutes after hearing Gray-breasted Crakes calling at the main turn off to Catarata del Toro. I recorded a few and still failed to see this feathered mouse but at least I know where a bunch can be found.

Gray-breasted Crakes were in this ditch.

Up at the Catarata, the place was still closed at 7:30. Hoping that it would eventually open, I birded along the road, playing the song of Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner to no avail. Before going with a Plan B that included birding at higher elevations, I checked the entrance one more time and lo and behold, the gate was open. First on the trails and hopefully, that would result in photos of Black-breasted Wood-Quail. To make a long story short, it didn’t but it was still nice to check the trails out with slow and silent birding. This involved much staring into the vegetation and the understory, and occasional playback of Tawny-throated Leaftosser. No response there nor my other targets (which are probably present from time to time) but I did see some other birds.

One of my first birds was a Bicolored Hawk hunting the understory.
This Brown-billed Scythebill just refused to come out in the open.
This Purple-throated Mountain-gem was one of many hummingbirds in the garden.
Several Black-bellied Hummingbirds were also present.

Despite the target no shows, a walk in cloud forest with massive, mossy trees is always a gift. By 10:30, the mist had coalesced and conditions became so challenging for photo opps, I tried out Plan B. This involved a short drive up the main road and over to the Bosque de Paz area. Luckily, this also resulted in going above the cloud and getting back into good birding weather. Roadside birding produced some expected birds like Brown-capped Vireo, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, and some other species. Near Bosque, intent peering into the understory failed to produce Scaled Antpitta but no surprise there, that’s not exactly an easy bird to see.

I also saw several Yellowish Flycatchers.

After the misty weather caught up to me, I figured it was time to drive back home. Here’s an eBird list from the morning at Catarata del Toro:  http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27270604

Although I didn’t connect with my main targets, I still think the site has potential for a lot of birds. If it’s raining, at least the hummingbird show won’t disappoint.

http://www.catarata-del-toro.com/
Categories
Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope middle elevations

Birding on a Sunny Day at Cinchona, Costa Rica

I started this year’s birding in Costa Rica six days late but only because the first days of 2016 were spent birding around Niagara Falls, New York. It was gray, it was cold, there were two owls, and looking at birds with old birding friends. It was a gift. But now I am back in Costa Rica and eager to see how this winter’s birding compares to Januaries of the past, to see if I can manage some good images and recordings of things like Tawny-faced Quail, Black-breasted Wood-Quail, and Azure-hooded Jay (among other toughies), and to get a healthy start on the year list.

I was pleased to see this ghost from the north.

Casual birding near the house and scanning the skies from the window has turned up the usuals on sunny, dry season days. Yesterday, a day of guiding at Cinchona and Poas was likewise clear and filled with a bright tropical sun. As expected, the birds were mostly taking a break but careful scanning still  resulted in several nice birds, and activity picked up after the clouds blanketed the peak of Poas in the afternoon.

At the Colibri Cafe, a lot of birds came for breakfast, the best being a male Red-headed Barbet as soon as we arrived, along with close looks at Prong-billed Barbet, Emerald Toucanet, Silver-throated Tanager, and several other species.

This is the more regular barbet species.
Emerald Toucanets in the sun.
This Hoffmann's Woodpecker was a surprise and a reminder that things are a bit too warm and dry in Costa Rica.

Hummingbirding was also quality with close inspection and flybys of massive purple Violet Sabrewings,  feisty Coppery-headed Emeralds, a male Green Thorntail, and others including near constant company of two or three White-bellied Mountain-Gems.

Close looks at White-bellied Mountain-gem are always a gift.

After breakfast, clear skies meant that we were in for some slow birding but the scenery was nice, and as expected, some raptors came out to play. Those taloned birds included a distant Double-toothed Kite, White-tailed Kite on the drive up, expected TVs and BVs, Red-tailed Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, three Barred Hawks, and a beautiful pair of White Hawks down in the canyon at Virgen del Socorro. A little way into the canyon, watching a fruiting tree also turned up a few tanagers.

The birding was better back up on Poas but only because clouds took the brunt off the high elevation sun.

Spot-crowned Woodcreeper was one of many high elevation species we saw.

If you find yourself at Cinchona on a sunny day, get to the Colibri Cafe early (opens around 6), and enjoy much of the morning there. If you have a four wheel drive vehicle, head down to Virgen del Socorro and hang out by the bridge until it clouds over again. Bring a lunch, watch for birds, and when it gets cloudy, get ready for a lot more birds on the rest of the road.