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5 Insider Tips for High Season Birding in Costa Rica, 2023

It’s been a long, rainy season. In Costa Rica, the wet season is never short and always presents some challenges to birding but this year was especially torrential. Taking into account the extent of global warming induced flooding that took place in various places across the globe, perhaps Costa Rica having an extra wet rainy season isn’t the least bit surprising.

Some places in Costa Rica have also experienced flooding and tragically, a fair number of people lost houses, businesses have been affected, and the flowing water made its mark on several roadways. The good news is that the wet season seems to be nearly over. Lately in Heredia, I’m seeing more sunny days and much less rain. Things are looking up and by the time the high season kicks off, I would expect most roads to be in good shape (although with occasional heavy traffic on routes 32 and 27 and the usual congestion in the Central Valley).

Speaking of the high season for birding in Costa Rica, it’s just around the corner! Before we know it, dozens of birders will be bringing their binos to Costa Rica and I’m psyched; I wish every birder could come birding here, at least once in their lives. If you are visiting Costa Rica for birding soon, planning a birding trip to Costa Rica, or thinking about visiting in 2023, these insider tips may be of help:

Umbrellabirds are Back at Centro Manu

Centro Manu is one of the newer hotspots for birding in Costa Rica. Last year, local guide Kenneth found that it was a reliable place to see one of the most wanted species in Costa Rica; the Bare-necked Umbrellabird. This year, the birds are back! Although we don’t know how many of the big-headed, crow-black cotingas are present at Manu, based on the frequency of sightings, this spot seems to be a very important area for this endangered species.

The elevation, quality, and location of the lowland-foothill rainforests at Manu are ideal for umbrellabirds from June to February (when they migrate to lower elevations after breeding). Visit this easily accessible site in December and January and you have a fair chance of finding umbrellabird (and other great birds!), especially if you contract Kenneth for guiding. However, it’s best to make reservations first. Contact them at the Centro Manu Facebook page.

Reservations Needed: Cope, Nectar and Pollen

It’s worth mentioning that two other excellent hotspots near Manu also require reservations. To visit Cope in the high season, you will likely need to make reservations in advance; the bird oasis and rainforest experience offered by this highly talented local artist and naturalist are popular and world class.

Nectar and Pollen is also a wonderful place to visit. Expect exciting foothill birding replete with hummingbirds, tanagers, raptors, and more. However, since Miguel, the local guide responsible for creating this special place, doesn’t live there, you need to contact him in advance.

eBird Won’t Have All the Answers

eBird has revolutionized birding, it’s wonderful in many ways and I love using the app and encourage people to do the same. However, you really shouldn’t use it as the only resource for planning a trip to Costa Rica. Definitely check it out and look at recent sightings in Costa Rica but when making decisions, keep these factors in mind:

-Unequal coverage. Since most tours visit the same set of places, these sites have higher bird lists than other places. Don’t get me wrong,these are good sites to go birding but they aren’t the only sites to see a lot of birds. Several places are visited more often because they are more accessible and suitable for group tours.

-Errors. Many lists for hotspots include birds that were obviously seen elsewhere. There’s also a fair amount of misidentification. Both of these factors result in inflated and incorrect lists for various sites.

-Lists that only show what is identified leave out lots of other birds. That’s not the case for every observer but when we take into account the high number of first time birders in Costa Rica, yes, a good deal of species go unrecorded. This means that just because certain shy or ID challenging bird species don’t show on site lists doesn’t mean they aren’t present.

This also all means that us local eBird reviewers got a lot of work to do. In the meantime, while it is worth using eBird and checking data for sites and bird sightings, just remember that it’s not the final word on where to go birding in Costa Rica; habitat is always the most important factor.

Less Visited Sites Could be Better

Birds are where the habitat is. While you will see lots of cool birds at the most popular sites (and places such as Rancho Naturalista and Laguna Lagarto and others are truly fantastic), there are plenty of additional places with excellent birding. A side benefit of birding at such lesser known sites is having them to yourself.

You might get lucky and have a young Ornate Hawk-Eagle check you out.

New Entrance Fees for Bogarin Trail and Arenal Observatory Lodge

The Bogarin Trail has come a long way from the days when it was a hotspot only known to local birders in the Fortuna area. The trails are well maintained, some of the forest has grown, interesting species like Tiny Hawk and Ornate Hawk-Eagle have made appearances and Keel-billed Motmot occurs.

The birding is wonderful and the place has become a popular destination for tours that look for sloths and other rainforest wildlife. In concordance with its popularity, the Bogarin Trail now charges a $15 entrance fee and is open 7-4. In addition, from what I understand, birding tour groups have to make reservations in advance with a time slot for entrance and prepayment.

The Observatory Lodge has also realized the value of day visits to their trails and facilities. The entrance fee for this site has also increased, now costs $15 per person, and is open 7-9.

As far as birding news goes, expect fantastic birding at classic sites, new places, and anywhere with good habitat. These days, with so much access to sites for more or less everything, it can hard to figure out where to spend your time! Rest assured, it’s gonna be good. I hope this information helps with your trip to Costa Rica. Learn more about where to go birding in Costa Rica including sample itineraries and lesser known sites with “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”-a 900 page ebook that covers everything from how to find tropical birds to identification tips, and a complete site guide to the places you’ve heard of lots more that you haven’t. As always, I hope to see you here in Costa Rica!

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Birding in Costa Rica on Paradise Road

The concept of paradise may be subjective but most would agree that it encompasses feelings of happiness in absolutely beautiful surroundings. Most would also equate those beautiful surroundings with natural beauty, often, tropical places with textured vegetation that appeases in a dozen shades of jade. However, peaceful green isn’t the only color on the paradise block. It’s a lovely garden au-naturelle highlighted with the purples, yellows, and deep reds of tropical flowers, and the plumages of “exotic” birds.

In Costa Rica, those birds include toucans, parrots, tanagers, and a few dozen hummingbirds, each adorned with their own set of refracted jewels.

Crowned Woodnymph is one of the more common rainforest hummingbirds in Costa Rica.

With so much tropical beauty beaing easily accessible, refering to birding in Costa Rica as a certain type of paradise becomes easy. Perhaps it’s no surprise that some places have “paradise” as part of their name. In celebration of October Global Big Day, 2022, my partner and I birded one such place in southeastern Costa Rica, a site known as “Paradise Road“.

Paradise Road is a rural gravel road that connects the coastal road near Punta Uva with another route that leads to Sixaola and the border with Panama. I’ve done some birding on it in the past but never at dawn and never enough for my liking. I guess I end up feeling that way about most sites that host extensive habitat, and especially when they see very little birding.

On this trip, I was pleased to finally bird this road at dawn. These were some highlights:

Owl Chorus

birding Costa Rica

Most lowland tropical forest sites are good for owls and other nocturnal birds. You can spend hours at night looking for and finding some but the best time to hear them call is just before dawn, say from 4 until 5, maybe most of all from 4:30 to 5:00.

On our morning, shortly after our 4:30 arrival, a Middle American Screech-Owl started trilling close by, a Crested Owl vocalized a couple of times, and the mournful whistles of a Common Potoo sounded off in the humid distance. Closer to dawn, as the decibals of Howler Monkeys filled the air, the screech-owl continued, a Short-tailed Nighthawk called, and we heard Spectacled Owls gruffing from the woods.

If we had arrived earlier and maybe checked a few more sites, I’m sure we would have also heard the two other common owl species of lowland sites in Costa Rica; Mottled and Black-and-White Owls. It was also surprising to not hear Great Potoo, a fairly common bird in that area. However, we couldn’t complain with hearing the voices of four nocturnal species with such little effort.

Constant Birds

As the light grew, as is typical for morning birding in lowland rainforest, things got busy with the calls of forest birds. Woodcreepers sounded off (we eventually got all 6 possible species), a few antbirds sang, and other species revealed themselves, one by one.

There were groups of Tawny-crested Tanagers, a few Dusky-faced Tanagers, various flycatchers, Swainson’s Thrushes hopping in the road, toucans in the treetops, and a Collared Forest-Falcon calling from its hidden foliaged lair.

Dusky-faced Tanager.

From dawn until 8, it was a morning of constant birds, and I’m sure more than we managed to identify.

Migration Happenings

Many of those birds were migrants, species arriving on wintering grounds or stopping to feed before moving to the Andes and the Amazon. As expected, the most common migrants were Red-eyed Vireos and Eastern Wood-Pewees, each flitting through trees and sallying from the tips of dead snags. There were also a few swallows flying ovehead, Broad-winged Hawks taking to the air, a few warblers here and there, Scarlet Tanagers, Great-crested Flycatchers, and a Peregrine Falcon watching and waiting to see what it could catch. My favorites were the Kentucky and Mourning Warblers that skulked in their wintering territories, and, by the grace of its “chip” call, an Alder Flycatcher that made it onto my year list.

Snowy Cotingas

Thanks to good areas of lowland rainforest, the southern Caribbean zone of Costa Rica is also a good place to see Snowy Cotinga. We had wonderful views of a surreal white-plumaged male that foraged in a tree with semi-cotinga tityras and other birds.

We didn’t have anything super rare but more than 120 species in four hours is nothing to complain about. With more effort, I bet we could find uncommon and rare species like Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon, Black-crowned Antpitta, and Spot-crowned Antvireo. Not to mention, birding this road and area also comes with the odd chance of adding a species to the Costa Rica bird list. I look forward to my next visit.

On this trip, we rented a cabin at Olguita’s Place, a friendly, locally owned spot close to the beach at Punta Uva. To learn more about where to watch birds in Costa Rica, including dozens of insider sites off the beaten path, get How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica. Support this blog by buying it in October, 2022 and I’ll also send you the updated version as soon as it becomes available (it’s almost ready).

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Better Birding in Costa Rica: Preparations for 2023

The end of the year and high season for birding in Costa Rica is still a few months away but I’m already getting ready for it. It’s raining a lot and there’s not a whole lot of birders here at the moment but in a way, the high season is already happening. Main birding hotels are filling up for dates from January through March and guides and transportation are getting booked too.

Cope’s Place books up in advance too. If you want to visit, let me know ASAP!

The following are recommendations and things I have been doing to prepare for the main birding season:

Updating a Birding Companion for Costa Rica- “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”

Editing and updating this resource has kept me pretty busy but it will be worth it. The new version will include updates for existing sites and information for many new places. With so many birding-focused sites popping up, I’m sure it won’t cover everything but it’s going to come close.

As always, the goal of this book is to help birders of all levels have a more fulfilling birding experience in Costa Rica.

The new version should be available by the end of October. If you buy the current version of this Costa Rica bird finding guide from now until the new version comes out, I’ll also send you the new version free of charge.

Updating the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide App

I have also been updating the most complete birding app for Costa Rica. Not that long ago, we updated it to include new additions like Spectacled Petrel and Lesser Black-backed Gull. However, recently, a couple of local birders discovered Buff-collared Nightjar in Costa Rica (!) and there were a few other edits to make. With that in mind, we decided to make another update, one that will hopefully be ready by the end of this month.

The new version will have:

  • Images for 941 species on the Costa Rica list.
  • Vocalizations for 870 species on the Costa Rica list.
  • Images, information, and sounds for 64 additional species that may eventually occur in Costa Rica.
Altamira-Oriole-Costa-Rica-birds-app
Altamira Oriole is one of those eventual birds for the Costa Rica list.

Birding in More Places

I have been trying to do more birding in out of the way places as well as easily accessible overlooked sites. Results have included Blue Seedeater, sites for Striped and other owls, and more. As with anywhere, the more you go birding, the more you find.

Make Reservations Now…

Just another reminder to not wait to make reservations. The most popular places are really filling up!

Plan Your Trip Around eBird?

If you still want to plan a trip, what about just planning it around eBird? While that wonderful birding platform can give you some good ideas, I wouldn’t use it as the sole resource to plan a birding route in Costa Rica. EBird is great but in Costa Rica, it’s also naturally biased towards the birding circuit and popular sites, and lists for such sites don’t have all of the birds mentioned (us reviewers are trying but there’s still a lot to do). These are the places birded the most often but other birding spots also exist, many with fantastic birding. Just remember that, as most everywhere, in Costa Rica, the best birding is where the best habitat is.

As always, I hope to see you here in Costa Rica. Hope you see a lot this October 8th on October Big Day!

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Costa Rica Birding News, September, 2022

September is here. It means we are that much closer to winter and the high season but most of all, birds up north are on the move. Soon, waves of the avian kind will be passing through Costa Rica, the heralds of the annual fall passage are already here.

As always, we’ve also been seeing some interesting bird species, some rarities among the many, more common and beautiful birds. Planning a trip or have a birding trip planned to Costa Rica? Hundreds of birds are waiting for you. Check out the latest news items for Costa Rica birding and get psyched for your trip:

Waved Albatross, Gray-bellied Hawk, Red-fronted Parrotlet, and Oilbird

In terms of rare birds and notable records, these ones come to mind. There wasn’t any photo for the albatross but when it comes to massive sea wandering birds in Costa Rica, there’s not a lot of room for confusion. This report comes from the Marino Ballena area and is a reminder that this rare mega from the Galapagos can turn up anywhere near the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, at any time.

The hawk was spotted by local guide Randy Gomez during some casual birding around Chilamate. This austral migrant and excellent Ornate Hawk-Eagle mimic seems to be a very rare yet annual visitor to Costa Rica. Although it may migrate south very soon, hopefully, this young bird will decide to stick around for the winter months. It’s a good reminder to take a closer look at any Ornate Hawk-Eagle.

Red-fronted Parrotlet is always here but it’s also always tough. These small and uncommon parrots are typically heard and, if you are lucky, quickly glimpsed in flight. It’s a rare day when they are seen foraging. That rare day recently happened in the Bajo de Paz area when local birders spotted this species feeding at a fruiting tree.

Oilbird is another annual visitor (or rare resident) typically seen during the wet season. Recently, a perched Oilbird treated lucky birders with great views at the Curi-Cancha Reserve.

Bird Migration in Costa Rica Kicking into Gear

Shorebirds and kites are making major movements but most other birds are just arriving to Costa Rica, and many aren’t here yet. This morning, I saw my first of hopefully many fall Red-eyed Vireos and my first fall American Redstart. Where did those birds spend the summer? The vireo will continue on but perhaps the redstart will stay. Hopefully, thousands more birds will be on their way and visiting these bio-rich habitats soon.

New Species for the Costa Rica List!

Yes, another bird makes it onto the country list! This latest special addition was the Lesson’s Seedeater, a small migrant from South America photographed by a local researcher in Tortuguero National Park in June. This smart little bird lives in northern South America and usually migrates to the Amazon. Indeed, the only time I have seen one was years ago while birding with Alec Humann in the incredibly fantastic forests of Yasuni National Park.

This species is one of several Austral migrants not unexpected for Costa Rica. A rare occurrence indeed but given the plain appearance of the female, one can’t help but wonder if one or two have been overlooked on past occasions.

New Update for the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide App

A recent update will be available for the IOS version of the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app (no Android version is available at this time). It will include Spectacled Petrel and Yellow-nosed Albatross (two other recent additions to Costa Rica), and some other updates to enhance every birding experience in Costa Rica.

After this update, this birding app for Costa Rica will feature

  • Images for 940 species on the Costa Rica list.
  • Vocalizations for 869 species on the Costa Rica list.
  • Images, information, and sounds for 65 additional species that may eventually occur in Costa Rica.

Updating My Bird Finding Book for Costa Rica

I’ve been busy updating “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. The new version will be edited and include more than 60 additional sites for birding in Costa Rica. It’s quite the task but it will be worth it for birders to have the most up to date, accurate, and comprehensive information for birding in Costa Rica. It should be ready before the start of the high season.

You’ll learn about the best places to see this and hundreds of other species.

In the meantime, the book can still be purchased to support this blog. If you do buy a copy from now until the end of October, when it becomes available, I will also send you the updated version.

The Urban Birder is in Costa Rica

David Lindo, the Urban Birder is currently doing a tour in Costa Rica. I first met David in Israel at the 2016 Champions of the Flyway and had hoped to eventually share birds with him in Costa Rica. It was nice to be able to do that with him and one of his tour participants before they started their tour. I was also fortunate to have him sign a copy of his children’s book for birds, “The Extraordinary World of Birds“.

This book is a veritable treasure, not just for young people interested in birds, but perhaps even more so for young people who don’t know a thing about birds. A fun encyclopedia of information about all things avian, it’s chock full of images and illustrations of birds from all over the world and is exciting to read. Hopefully, it will find its way into the hands of as many kids as possible and get just as many interested in birds and their natural surroundings.

On a personal note, it also reminds me of the books I used to gaze at in the Niagara Falls public library, books that opened my mind to birds and so much more. One big difference is that David’s book is so much better in every way; I suppose just what I would expect from someone who has an encyclopedic knowledge of birds and a passion to connect young people with nature. Want to help birds? Buy a copy of this book to donate to schools and the young people in your life.

As always, there’s lots more to say about birding in Costa Rica but there’s nothing like coming to this beautiful country to see them with your own eyes. I hope to see you here.

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Birding Trip to Costa Rica-5 Honest Expectations

Birding trips to Costa Rica are exciting, eye-opening birding events. The first trip dazzles with a colorful and fantastic barrage of species and most are lifers. Visit a different part of the country and the second trip will be just as exciting as the first. You should also catch up on some of those unseen species from the first trip, maybe a Royal Flycatcher,

maybe a tinamou or a White-bellied Mountain-gem.

White-bellied Mountain-Gem

Subsequent trips can be equally exciting, even when visiting some of the same bird rich sites. The complex nature of tropical birding promises novel experiences and is invariably accompanied by chances of seeing rare species and better views of uncommon birds. Whether stepping onto Costa Rican soil for the first time or the tenth birding trip to Costa Rica, the experience will also be accompanied by expectations, some more valid than others.

As with every birding destination, in Costa Rica, changes can happen to habitats and other aspects of the local birding scene. The following are five honest expectations from the perspective of an insider. I hope they help your birding trip.

Clay-colored Thrush is Abundant, Pale-vented Thrush..Not So Much

Yes, you can expect to see a lot of Clay-colored Thrushes. The national bird, the “Yiguirro” is numerous and present in most edge and garden habitats. It’s less expected in dry areas, inside the forest, and in the highest of elevations but it can show up in all sorts of places. Its ubiquitous nature makes it a good bird to know. See a brown, thrush-sized bird flit to a branch and move its tail after landing? You’ll see a lot of those, most will be Clay-colored Thrushes.

Does this mean the similar looking Pale-vented Thrush is just as common? No, it does not. That shy species only occurs in foothill and lower middle elevation rainforest and can be quite uncommon.

eBird Sightings for Costa Rica- Not the Final Word

In Costa Rica, eBird is a great tool. It can show where some rare birds have been seen and give some ideas on where to go birding. However, naturally, the handy app only shows data where people have submitted eBird lists.

This is good to keep in mind if you see quality habitat but aren’t sure if the site is worth birding because no one submitted any eBird lists. Always remember- appropriate habitats determine where birds occur, not where people have gone birding.

Speaking of birding in Costa Rica, it’s also worth mentioning that even when bird species are reported in eBird, that doesn’t mean you will see them. Yes, that sort of goes without saying but honestly, many species are naturally rare and/or refuse to play the birding game. It can take a good deal of time to see such anti-social birds, even when birding with an experienced guide. Not to mention, some of those sightings in eBird are errors and quite a number of species are left off of lists because the observer couldn’t identify their vocalizations or didn’t get an adequate view as dozens of birds flash-mobbed their way through the rainforest in mixed flock madness.

In brief, it is good to check out eBird for Costa Rica, but it’s not the final word on where to go and what’s been seen.

Raptors are Infrequent (But be Ready for Them!)

If you have read this blog on previous occasions, you are likely already familiar with the infrequent raptor concept. Same goes if you have already been birding in Costa Rica. We got this amazing raptor list and yet, we don’t see tons of raptors. That’s just the way it is but it doesn’t mean you won’t see them. I know, like, say what? In the classic words of Arnold Drummond, “What you talking about Willis?” (RIP Gary Coleman, one of the coolest 80s kids).

But yes, really, if you bird in the right places and keep looking, you will probably see a bunch of raptors in Costa Rica. It won’t be like birding at home, you’ll have to look for them in the right way or bird with a good guide but those hawk-eagles can happen. Don’t stop looking, you can easily miss them.

Quail-doves, Tinamous, Wood-Quails, Antpittas, and Leaftossers- Quiet and Patience Please

All of these birds look really cool, look like species from our collective birding dreams. Sadly, their shy nature can keep them in those special, imaginary places. They can come into your birding life but you have to look for them in the right places and in the right way. In general, that birding way is the way of patience, habitat knowledge, and quiet footsteps. Mosquitoes buzzing? Resist the temptation to massively slap and destroy them; quail-doves and their terrestrial skulking friends aren’t into loud sudden noises. Instead, let repellent do the work.

Feel the urge to tell a joke, talk about dinner plans or just can’t keep your mouth shut? Before you venture onto that shaded trail, before you move into the realms of the shy forest birds, remind yourself that these birds don’t go for small talk. These birds don’t want to hear a thing. This walk might be your only chance to glimpse a Purplish-backed Quail-dove. Move in silence, you’ll be surprised at what scurries across the path.

Purplish-backed Quail Dove on the trail at Pocosol.

As luck would have it, such ninja-inspired trail stalking goes hand in hand with another major tinamou watching factor- patience. For effective birding in tropical forest, patience is far more than a virture. To see more birds, especially the shy ones, staying patient is a necessity. While birding in rainforest, don’t worry if no birds seem to be present, don’t fret that you aren’t seeing birds. Oh you can bet some are nearby, be patient and don’t let down your guard. Keep looking and ye shall eventually find.

Poor Lighting, Birds in Flight, and Bits and Pieces

None of the above will be surprising for folks who have done plenty of birding. When you bird in Costa Rica, you’ll also see a good number of silhouettes, of small birds waaay up there in the canopy, others zipping in and out of views or only showing a tail, or other small bit revealed through a green mosaic of tropical vegetation.

To further challenge your birding skills, there will also be birds in flight, parrots not showing enough colors, unfamiliar raptors shapes teasing over a distant forested ridge. These are all part of the birding game, winning requires patience and persistence.

I could talk about other things to expect when birding in Costa Rica but will end this post by mentioning the most important expectation of all; that of seeing a heck of a lot of birds. Watch birds in Costa Rica and it’s going to happen. Three days of birding can yield 300 species. A week or ten days can have 400 plus species of birds. Go birding at a slower pace and you’ll still see a lot, still see toucans, parrots, macaws, and more. Make a target list from nearly 1000 species on the Costa Rica birding app and get ready for the trip. Costa Rica is a pretty birdy place.

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Thoughts and Tips to See Tiny Hawk When Birding Costa Rica

An impressive number of raptor species occur in Costa Rica. Check the official Costa Rica bird list, count the hawks, eagles, kites, Osprey, and falcons and we hit a respectable 57 species (that doesn’t even include our sharp taloned friends of the night, the owls!). Such a tantalizing total puts Costa Rica on the bucket list of many a raptophile but the high numbers come with a catch. In general, raptors aren’t so common, they aren’t as easy to see as some other places.

semiplumbeous-hawk
To see a Semiplumbeous Hawk, you might need to work a bit.

After a few days of birding, this apparent scarcity of raptors is noticed by most visiting birders. They wonder why, compared to the number of hawks seen in fields and wooded habitats back home, they see so few raptors? Drive through the countryside and there seem to be far fewer hawks than similar drives in France or Ontario. They start to wonder, with so many raptors on the list, where are they?

In Costa Rica, the truth of the matter is that all of those hawks and other raptors are present but high levels of competition among so many different types of animals only leave so much food for each raptor species. Most of the birds on the list have populations in Costa Rica but they occur in low density populations.

Even so, go birding long enough in green space of the Central Valley and you’ll probably see a Gray Hawk flapping its way from one riparian zone to the next. There will be a pair of Short-tailed Hawks soaring high overhead, perhaps a Zone-tailed Hawk rocking its way through the neighborhood, maybe one of those Bicolored Hawks that have learned to catch pigeons. The two common vultures are a given, Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras may fly into view, and you might find a White-tailed Kite hovering over a vacant field.

Bring the binos to lower, hotter places and more species become possible. However, to see those additional raptors, you’ll need to leave the open country and bird near sizeable areas of rainforest. Rainforests host the healthy variety of birds, reptiles, mammals, and amphibians needed to support populations of hawk-eagles and birds like White Hawk, Double-toothed Kite, and Gray-headed Kite. Look long enough in the right places and you’ll probably see these cool birds.

Double-toothed Kite

The Tiny Hawk lives there too but unlike so many other raptors in Costa Rica, you can’t expect to see this one. The simple truth about the Tiny Hawk is that it’s especially hard to find. It’s not rare but it’s definitely an odd raptorial bird, one that will give you a run for your birding money.

Around the size of an American Robin or Eurasian Blackbird (yes really!), this pint-sized raptor with long, sharp claws makes its living by ambushing small birds in humid forest from Central America south to northern Argentina. With such a large range, you would think it would be seen more often but nope! Many a veteran neotropical birder has only seen Tiny Hawk a few times or has never laid eyes on this challenging bird.

birding Costa Rica

Thinking of my own experiences with the bird, during decades of birding in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Peru, I have probably seen them around a dozen times in Costa Rica, once or twice in Ecuador (one from a ridiculously amazing canopy tower at Yasuni Research Station. Really, it was ridiculous.), and perhaps a few times in Tambopata, Peru. So what’s the deal? Why is it so hard to see? Isn’t it just a tiny Sharpie or Sparrowhawk? Is it just too small?

To answer the latter questions, yes, part of the problem is that the bird is very small. The other part of the problem is that no, the Tiny Hawk is definitely not a small version of a Sharpie or Sparrowhawk. In some ways yes, it does act like those familiar bird predators but in other ways, its got its own Tiny thing going on.

Similar to the small, well-known Accipiters of the north, the Tiny Hawk also hides in dense vegetation so it can dash out and ambush its avian prey. However, unlike the slightly larger Accipiters, it rarely if ever soars and that makes a huge difference. Just imagine if Sharpies never soared, if they didn’t migrate? Think of how often you would see them. Probably still more than a Tiny Hawk but not nearly as much as you normally do.

Those attributes make the Tiny Hawk a tough one to watch and a much more difficult bird to study. Based on scant observations of behavior and its small size, at first, the hawk was hypothezied to be a hummingbird specialist. However, as more Tiny Hawk observations have been made, as more birders have documented its behavior, the truth about this species has come to light; hummingbirds do not make up a large part of its diet.

In 2021, Alex J. Berryman and Guy M. Kirwan investigated this idea and determined that no, as one might expect from a small Accipiter, the Tiny Hawk does not limit its diet to hummingbirds. It will catch them when it can but it also catches a variety of passerines and other small birds. Interestingly enough, although I have only seen Tiny Hawk with prey on two occasions, both were of passerines; a Shining Honeycreeper and a Scarlet-rumped Tanager.

Speaking of animals that hunt other animals, don’t let the name fool you. Like weasels and other pint-sized predators, for its size, the Tiny Hawk packs a ferocious punch. It’s every bit as voracious as a Sharpie, as tough as a Sparrowhawk, and has been seen taking birds nearly as large as itself, notably, Great Kiskadee and Golden-green Woodpecker (!). In a sense, perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, we see similar feats of depredation from another group of birds that act a lot like a Tiny Hawk, the pygmy-owls. As with many raptors, they will catch whatever they can get away with catching.

The Tiny Hawk acts more or less like a Sharpie that never soars, like a pygmy-owl or small cat that uses its small size to stay hidden until it sees its chance. However, it’s still an odd bird. In fact, as it turns out, it’s not actually an Accipiter. What? But it has Accipiter as part of its name! Perhaps, but not for long, there are recommendations to give this bird and the related Semicollared Hawk their very own genus. Molecular and skeletal studies have revealed that these mini raptors are not closely related to other small Accipiters. They form a group related to but separate from them, a group that also includes the Lizard Buzzard of Africa.

Yes. As testament to the old lineages shown by many a raptor, somewhere, way back when, the ancestor of the Tiny and Semicollated Hawks separated from the ancestor of the Lizzard Buzzard! And, before then, the ancestor of those birds separated from the ancestor of the Harpagus “kites” (that would be the Double-toothed and the Rufous-thighed). Perhaps that explains why the Lizard Buzzard has a dark mark on the throat and why it sort of looks sort of like something between a Doubke-toothed Kite and a Tiny Hawk? Those data likely also partly explain why the Tiny Hawk looks different from the Accipiters. It has a slightly different shape, one not shown in many field guides.

The illustrators were probably basing their drawings on the Accipiters they were familiar with and we can’t blame them, the Tiny Hawk is not an easy bird to see and when many field guides were illustrated, few images of Tiny Hawk were available. The real shape of this fun little raptor is more along the lines of a pint-sized raptor with a short tail and almost “Passerinish” look. It’s notable that the Tiny Hawks shown in “The Birds of Costa Rica” by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean, and in “Birds of Central America: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama” by Andrew C. Vallely and Dale Dyer are accurate depictions of this bird.

Getting back to the Lizard Buzzard, this cool bird is plumaged rather like an adult Gray Hawk although those features are surely convergent adaptations for the tropical semi-open habitats preferred by these and other species with similar gray-barred plumage. The plumage of the adult Tiny Hawk also shows fine gray barring and is likely an adaptation that helps camouflage the bird in dense vegetation. As for the young birds, unlike various other, larger raptor species, their plumage does not mimic the adult plumages of large raptor species (such as juvenile Bicolored Hawk and juvenile Hook-billed Kite resembling adult Collared Forest-Falcon among other examples).

Instead, curiously enough, juvenile Tiny Hawks have a rufous plumage. Did this trait evolve to resemble a thrush or other non-predatory bird and thus help them surprise the small birds they prey on? When you see a young Tiny Hawk perched high in a tree, that’s sort of what it looks like. But if so, why don’t the adults have rufous plumage too? Perhaps the adult plumage works better at catching prey in more situations. Who knows but it’s interesting to note that various pygmy-owls, a bird that, once again, hunts very much like a Tiny Hawk, also have morphs with similar rufous coloration.

All of this is interesting from an evolutionary perspective but what about seeing a Tiny Hawk in Costa Rica? What about watching one go after an unwary Bananaquit? As previously eluded to, laying eyes on this special little bird isn’t the easiest of tasks but as with so many other aspects of tropical birding, there are tricks to up your birding odds. Try these tips to see Tiny Hawk while birding in Costa Rica:

Bird in the Right Places for Tiny Hawk

Yes, you could check eBird sightings and that will help but when birding Costa Rica, always remember that first and foremost, birds live in the right habitat, they aren’t restricted to places where people have eBirded. The right place for a Tiny Hawk in Costa Rica is any area of lowland or foothill rainforest on the Caribbean slope and, on the Pacific slope, humid forest from around Carara south to Golfo Dulce area. Yes, even around Carara. It’s not as regular there but small numbers probably occur from time to time around Macaw Lodge, Cangreja, and other, more humid sites in the area.

Tiny Hawk habitat.

Some years ago, I thought there were some spots that were better for this bird in Costa Rica than others. Nowadays, I’m not so sure. As long as rainforest or foothill forest is present, it seems like the Tiny Hawk can turn up in any number of places with similar degrees of frequency.

Scan the Treetops in the Early Morning and Late Afternoon

Get out there early and check the treetops, check them well. Do the same in the late afternoon. These are the times when Tiny Hawk is more likely to perch in the open, usually on a high branch. If you see a funny looking “thrush”, look twice, use the scope, it might be a Tiny Hawk.

As an aside, if small birds are making a ruckus at any time of day, take a close look, they might be upset about a Tiny Hawk. I saw that happen once in Manzanillo, the small size of the hawk made it easy to overlook, helped it blend in with the small birds that were mobbing it (at a healthy distance!).

Peripheral Birding around Mixed Flocks

Tiny Hawks may follow and catch unwary birds in mixed flocks. When encountering a mixed flock, keep an eye out for any lurking birds at the edge of the flock, especially if the lurker suddenly flies into the flock. Likewise, if you hear the birds give an alarm call, keep looking, keep watching to see if you can get lucky with a Tiny Hawk sighting.

Forest Clearings and Edges with Fruiting Trees and Hummingbird Activity

Whether because it’s easier to see birds or because Tiny Hawks prefer such situations, small clearings or places with scattered trees adjacent to forest seem to be good places to see this challenging bird (Nectar and Pollen is an ideal situation for this bird). Get a good vantage point and keep watching, check any thrush-like bird that suddenly comes into view. If small birds are active around fruiting and flowering trees or some other food source, there could easily be a Tiny Hawk lurking nearby. Keep watching and be ready for any sudden movement followed by alarm calls.

A good situation for Tiny Hawk.

Follow these tips and yo might find a Tiny Hawk. It’s a challenging bird, I won’t promise anything but if you do look for Tiny Hawk in Costa Rica, rest assured, you’ll still see lots of other birds.

To learn more about the best sites for birding in Costa Rica, support this blog and get “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica“. I hope to see you here!

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Guided Birding or Birding Costa Rica on Your Own- What’s the Difference?

There are a lot of birds in Costa Rica. More than you think. Some information says 800 plus species and that’s a heck of a lot but the real total is more like 930. Yes! Around 930 species have been identified in a place the size of West Virginia. Those crazy numbers translate to a lot of birds waiting to be seen, always more birds to look for, even after several visits.

Red-headed Barbet male
The Red-headed Barbet is one of those birds.

I’m often asked how many bird species I have seen in Costa Rica, or which birds I’m missing. Other than some pelagic species, not much although I have seen a bunch of birds on the Costa Rica list elsewhere. That is, I still need various species for my country list, birds like Black-throated Blue-Warbler and Botteri’s Sparrow for example.

This makes my lifer possibilities pretty slim but I’m still excited every time I go birding in Costa Rica and how not- there’s always lots to see; dozens of birds to listen to while walking beneath huge rainforest trees draped with epiphytes, interesting seabirds to scan for from rough beaches on the Caribbean and the scenic tropical bays of the Pacific. There’s also high mountain birding punctuated by dawn quetzals and Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers undulating through October airs.

It’s always good!

On my first trip, even though I had studied the field guide for months in advance, the biodiversity still blew me away. I suppose it still does, the more you get into it, the more you discover. When I visited Costa Rica in 1992, I didn’t hire a guide but if I could go back in time, I probably would. Even so, it’s worth asking if you need a guide when birding in Costa Rica. It’s worth considering birding on your own. Trip funds play a basic role but answers about guiding also depend on additional factors:

How You Prefer to Experience Birds

If you don’t mind birding in a group, or even prefer that birding dynamic, a guided tour is a must. With dozens of companies to choose from, it can be hard to know which tour is best. Before signing up, think of your needs, what birds you would like to see, how you want to experience them, and go from there.

For example, if birding for you means some relaxed birding in the morning and taking it easy the rest of the day, you might want to avoid tours with descriptions like “constant birding”, “non-stop birding”, or “we don’t stop until we see the bird”. Such tours might still be able to accommodate a more relaxed birding style but you’re better off delving into the itinerary and speaking with a company well before sending a deposit.

If the group thing is not your slice of birding pie, touring with other birders isn’t going to work. You can still hire a guide though and you’ll have them all to yourself. That can be a very good thing, you’ll get personalized attention and see more birds, especially shy ones. However, without any shring of cost, you of course pay more for the personalized experience.

streak-chested antpitta Caribbean subspecies
Having the guide to yourself may give better chances at seeing shy birds like the Streak-chested Antpitta.

If cost is a factor, one solution is doing a few day tours during the trip instead of having a guide the entire time. Of course, the other main option is doing birding on your own. If you do go your own way, though, do it knowing that you’ll likely miss some species as well as possibly missing out one some little known hotspots. Contraringly, birding on your own does open the door to exploration. Get off the beaten track and you might find your own birding hotspots, might find a rare bird or two.

How Much You Want to See

This is probably the biggest difference between guided birding and birding on your own. Studying before a trip will help in finding more birds and also enhances the experience but no amount of studying can compare to being guided by a highly knowledgeable, local birding guide. The best guides don’t just know principal vocalizations for their local complement of species, they also know many lesser known calls and songs, behaviors, habitats, and sites. These factors along with knowing the lay of the land adds up to more bird species including better chances at rare and little known birds.

With all of that in mind, if you want to see as much as possible, and/or see certain rare species, hiring the right guide is an essential part of the trip. Sure you could still chance it and might do alright but a top local guide will boost your birding opportunities.

How Much Time You Have

This third factor is just as important and is tied into the number of birds you want to see. If you have all the time in the world, you have plenty of time to find and identify a good number of birds in Costa Rica. If you only have a day or a week of birding at different sites, a good guide makes a huge difference. That doesn’t just go for Costa Rica either but anywhere in the world.

Unfamiliar Birds

white-whiskered puffbird

This is another main factor that comes into play when birding with or without a guide, especially on a first birding trip to the Neotropical Region. Most of the birds will be more than species you have never seen. They will be completely different and nothing like the birds from home (unless your local park has trogons, puffbirds, and antthrushes). Most birds won’t be remotely familiar and this will be fun but if you go birding on your own, it can also be confusing. You might find yourself wondering where certain birds are and how to see them.

Peace of Mind

Another advantage of birding with a local guide is simply peace of mind. Bird with a guide and common worries associated with language, cultural differences, where to eat, stay, and visit are neatly wooshed away. The same goes for worrying about bird identification, finding certain species, and so on.

Should you hire a birding guide in Costa Rica? Although what I have written above seems to make a case for that, I’m just being honest about the benefits of hiring a guide. You can still bird without a guide and see a lot of birds but whether birding in Costa Rica or elsewhere, birding with a good, local guide does make the trip easier.

If visiting Costa Rica for birding, whether taking a tour to Costa Rica or birding on your own in Costa Rica, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” will enhance your trip. Get it to see identification tips, where to go birding, prepare for your trip, and to support this blog. As always, I hope to see you here in Birdlandia!

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Some Costa Rica Birding News, March 2022

As March comes to an end, so does another high season for birding in Costa Rica. Quite a few trips happen in April and birders will still be visiting in the coming months but most folks are here from January until the end of March. With that in mind, whether headed to Costa Rica soon or at a later date, here’s a bit of birding news to help with your trip.

Turquoise Cotinga at Jaco

Topping this latest bit of Costa Rica birding news is the occurrence of a male Turquoise Cotinga near Jaco. Although this fantastic near endemic does naturally occur in that area, it is much more easily seen in the Osa Peninsula and other sites in southern Costa Rica. The bird has been frequenting a fruiting tree in the rice fields on the road to the Rainforest Aerial Tram (the Teleferico). It’s impossible to say how long it will stick around but who knows, with some birding luck, it will be joined by another male or female. If you go for it but don’t see this feathered beauty, consolation could come in the form of the good birding typically found at that site.

If you aren’t visiting the Jaco area and want to see Turquoise Cotinga (and of course you do) not to worry, there are other, more reliable sites for this mega. A couple of the best are around San Isidro del General, forest in the Osa Peninsula, and, for more adventurous birders, forest in the northern side of Carara near Macaw Lodge.

Other Cotinga News

The equally turquoise, purple, and coveted Lovely Cotinga is still being seen at or near Rancho Naturalista. Other good sites for it include the Tenorio-Bijagua area, El Copal, and other sizeable areas of middle elevation forest on the Caribbean slope. Forest at around 1,000 to 1,400 meters elevation seems to be especially good for this choice species.

Snowy and Yellow-billed Cotingas are also being seen in their usual haunts. If birding the Carara area, the best way to see the few remnant members of the local Yellow-billed Cotinga population is by watching for them from 7 to 8:30 in the morning from the tower at Cerro Lodge, along the Cerro Lodge Road, or from the Crocodile Bridge. Likewise, you may see them in those same areas between 3 and 4:30 p.m. These are the times when this endangered species moves between the Tarcoles mangroves and the rainforests of the national park.

Bare-necked Umbrellabird has been showing at Curi-Cancha, I wonder if a few additional birds might be frequenting the beautiful cloud forests of the Santa Elena Reserve?

Thanks to its frequent seriously loud voice, the Three-wattled Bellbird is much easier to locate and see than the other cotingas. This is also a good time of year to marvel over the male’s bizarre, worm-like wattles. Watch for it in the Monteverde area and sites near San Ramon (contact Ignacio at Nacho Tours!).

How to See More Hawk-Eagles

Hawk-eagles are like big, hefty goshawks with cool plumage patterns and a penchant to give distinctive whistled calls while soaring high above tghe tropical forest. That seems to make sense because if I could fly, I mean, I think I would do the same thing. Can you imagine the view?!?. Knowing about that behavior is one way to see more of them. The other big factor is knowing where they occur. In general, both Black and Ornate Hawk-Eagles live in large areas of rainforest and cloud forest. The Black also occurs in patchy forest and may even prefer this type of habitat.

As for the Black-and-white, based on the decrease in sightings of this species in Costa Rica over the past twenty years, it has certainly declined and disappeared from various areas. Since this species doesn’t seem to vocalize as much as the other hawk-eagles, and tends to hide in plain sight by soaring high overhead, it being somewhat overlooked can’t be entirely discounted. Even so, this large bird and reptile specialist does seem to have declined. Amazingly, it might even be gone from the Osa Peninsula. Given fairly recent declines in populations of medium and large birds that it requires as a food source, populations of this hawk-eagle in Costa Rica aren’t likely to bounce back any time soon.

A Black-and-white Hawk Eagle flying high into the sky.

At present, the best sites to look for it in Costa Rica are in the forests of the Amistad National Park north and west of San Vito, and Veragua and other forested sites near Limon. Other areas to check include the forests of Sarapiqui, northern Costa Rica, and around Braulio Carrillo National Park. As a bonus, there is one bird that has been frequenting the Bosque del Nino area north of Grecia (!). Keep an eye out for it when birding Poas!

Want Hummingbirds? Check Flowering Trees

Brown Violetear

Hummingbirds don’t always visit feeders. Lately, there haven’t been as many hummingbirds at Cinchona but there have been more flowering Ingas and other trees that our favorite little nectivores are probably feeding on. Yesterday, while birding near Albergue del Socorro, the chipping calls of lekking Brown Violetears were a constant, common sound and I heard a few other hummingbird species that have been absent from the feeders at Cinchona. Look for flowering trees and work on your hummingbird identification skills. Keep an eye out for the likes of coquettes, thorntails, goldentails, and other species.

To know where cotingas and other birds have been seen, eBird is a good go to source. Even so, keep in mind that in Costa Rica, there’s a lot of excellent habitat that sees few if any eBird visits. The birds are there too, go there and you will see some of them, maybe a lot of them. However, even then, it helps to know how to look for uncommon birds like cotingas and hawk-eagles. Get ready for your birding trip to Costa Rica and support this blog by purchasing How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica, a 700 plus page ebook with tips and site information to find every species in Costa Rica. I hope to see you here!

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Mixed Flock Birding Tips for Costa Rica

Mixed flock…bird wave…sudden bird bonanza. Three terms for the same wonderful situation but be forewarned; this birding experience may leave you speechless, it might leave you stunned and when birding in Costa Rica, you can expect it.

Personally, I prefer the term “mixed flock”. I don’t know why, I must have read it somewhere, it’s just what I have always called it. To be clear, this esteemed birding situation is when several species are seen flocking and foraging together. Contraringly, a mixed flock is NOT when birds come in to a pygmy-owl call and not when you see a few different heron species in the same part of the Tarcoles River. It IS when a bunch of tanagers convene on a fruiting tree and ESPECIALLY when those same tanagers are seemingly accompanied by a few woodcreepers, antwrens, flycatchers, and other birds.

A Back-faced Grosbeak at El Zota. One of several species commonly seen in mixed flocks when birding Costa Rica.

After many a quiet minute stalking though the rainforest, a mixed flock is a welcome burst of birding excitement, your chance to see one new bird after another in quick succession. If it happens during your only visit to a particular habitat or site, that mixed flock can also act as your one big break, your main chance at seeing a satisfying bunch of birds. The birding challenge is real but don’t panic! Keep calm, be quick with the binos and try these tips:

Mixed Flocks can Happen Anywhere but the Mega Flocks are in Mature Humid Forest

Some may dispute this statement but I stand by it. Yes, mature second growth can also entertain with groups of flocking birds and I have seen forest edge in the Caribbean lowlands doing the avian bounce but then again, that particular edge was the border of a large area of mature rainforest. I doubt there would have been as much variety in a smaller patch of woods.

When it comes down to it, remember that while birding tropical forest habitats, although you may find a mixed flock in second growth, you’ll find a lot more birds in large areas of mature forest. The higher degree of complexity generated by massive trees, vines tangles and profuse vegetation translates to a higher variety of specie and when they flock together, the result can make for some life goal birding madness.

The mega mixed flocks of Costa Rica can’t compare with those of the Amazon but I’ve seen a few that come close; notably in foothill rainforests birding on the Manuel Brenes Road, in the Osa Peninsula, and a couple other places. The mega mixed flock is a good thing to keep in mind while walking through quiet mature forest. Be ready for it because, at some point, the birding will pick up and things could get giddy.

Follow the Flock

A mixed flock doesn’t just move through and that’s all she wrote. They can and do move fast but at some point, the birds will slow down and work that forest, work it to the bone.

Like a classic house track, mixed flocks don’t stop moving. You gotta keep up, find the mixed flock groove, and you will eventually catch that Sharpbill, see most of the birds. Listen for the flock, try to find it and then stay with the birds as long as you can. But don’t leave the trail, potential hidden vipers and getting lost aren’t worth it.

Know the Flock Leaders Before You Go Birding

Even birds have leaders, choice birds followed for survivalist reasons. Anthropomorphisms aside, there are certain vocal species that act as nucleous species of a flock. Know what they sound like and you will find the flock. It also pays to know what they look like but since hearing birds is everything in the tropical forest, it pays to learn their calls.

In Costa Rica, the erstwhile mixed flock leader of foothill rainforest (and lowland rainforest of the Pacific slope) is the White-throated Shrike-Tanager. This stand out oriole-looking, flycatcher-like tanager is so associated with big mixed flocks, it deserves an invisible crown. Find it in mature forest and you will find birds. But be prepared, on some lucky days, there could be a mind-blowing bonanza of avian life being led by this bird wave king/queen combination.

White-throated Shrike-Tanager
The mixed flock king is in the house.

In Caribbean lowland rainforest, I’m not sure if there is similar royalty but there are noisy species that often occur with other birds. A couple of the stand outs are Black-faced Grosbeak and White-shouldered Tanager.

Up in the middle elevation cloud forest, mixed flocks are fairly common and can come in many sizes. Keep checking the Common Chlorospingus and listen and look for mixed flock standards like Lineated Foliage-gleaner and Spotted Woodcreeper.

In the high elevations, check the groups of Sooty-capped Chlorospingus and listen for the likes of Yellow-thighed Brushfinch and Buffy Tuftedcheek.

Take Notes and Look at Field Guides After Watching the Flock

If I was limited to mentioning just one tip, it would be this one. No matter how well or little you know the birds creeping up branches and flitting in the foliage, whatever you do, do not stop watching them to look in a field guide. The same goes for taking written notes. I know, the temptation is real but so are the consequences and those would be missed birds.

A mixed flock in tropical forest won’t behave like birds back home (unless your birds come in quick moving groups of a dozen or more species that can move on past in nearly every level of a dense forest with a tall canopy). When a flock appears, if you don’t stay focused and try to see as much as possible, if you take eyes off the bird action to look up one or two birds in a field guide, the other 20 will likely move right on out of view. Try to see as much as you can, keep looking, and take mential notes. After the birds have moved out of reach and the forest has gone back to being humid and seemingly unreasonably quiet, that is the time to jot down notes and check out your field guides to the birds of Costa Rica.

Mixed flock action is waiting in Costa Rica. To learn more about birding mixed flocks, the best places to experience them, where to go birding in Costa Rica and more, support this blog by getting How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica, a 700 plus page companion for birding this beautiful country. As always, I hope to see you here!

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A High Octane Birding Itinerary for Costa Rica

Birding itineraries can take many forms. They can range from easy-going, relaxed trips that put more emphasis on sampling local culinary delights to focused birding jaunts where sacrifices to see as many species as possible are the norm. Such sacrifices include proper food, proper sleep, maybe feeling the creeping fingers of hypothermia, you know, that sort of thing.

As one might expect, the latter type of trip makes for an exhausting, exciting, mind-numbing adventure. Given that such birding trips require propious energy and concentration, they are perhaps more suited to the younger crowd (or birding ninjas).

I have done such trips, have sweated by fair share of electrolytes and been bitten by ants, I’m not sure I would be so keen on doing them again. I enjoy all the wondrous facets of birding but I don’t feel the need to get too crazy to see birds. I don’t think you have to. Bird the right way, get in the Zen birding mode and you’ll do alright. Focus is important, working with local guides can help, and coffee is paramount (organic dark chocolate ispretty good too…).

With all of that in mind, I would like to present an idea for some high octane birding in Costa Rica. This itinerary can be done the crazy way or with more time on your hands. Either way, I carefully constructed it to see a solid number of uncommon or rare species that frequent highland habitats and the southern Pacific slope of Costa Rica. It’s chock full of endemic/near endemic birds, this is how it goes:

Start in the Central Valley

No, not the birdiest of places but do it to save travel time to and from the airport and have a chance to look for Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow the day of arrival and the next morning. While checking for this endemic towhee, you will also run into various other common birds. Keep an eye on the skies for swifts, even Spot-fronted and White-chinned are possible (although they are a challenge to identify when flying high and being silent).

Stay in the right place and you could also pick up various dry forest species.

Irazu

Head to the mountains! Actually, a big volcano with some nice birds on top. On the way, try for Grass Wren and then spend the afternoon on the Nochebuena trails to look for Maroon-chested Ground-Dove and other high elevation species. Additional specialties include wood-partridge, Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl, Rough-legged Tyrannulet, Peg-billed Finch, Slaty Finch, and maybe Blue Seedeater too. If you enter the national park or bird in nearby paramo, you can also try for the junco and Timberline Wren Stay until it gets dark and you could look for Unspotted Saw-whet Owl too. If so, dress for November weather!

Hotel Quelitales

After Irazu, head to this newish site; a real hotspot with chances at Scaled Antpitta, Crested Owl, and other nice middle elevation birds! Hummingbirds are fantastic and the food and lodging are pretty darn good too. This is also a good base for birding Tapanti National Park.

Rancho Naturalista

After Quelitales, go to Rancho, one of the classic birding lodges of Costa Rica. It’s still really good and is an excellent place for Tawny-chested Flycatcher, Bicolored Hawk, and many other birds including Sunbittern and Snowcap. The elusive and weird piprites may be present as well as Lovely Cotinga. If not, they could be at other nearby sites. Other possible places in the area fit for lower budgets (and comfort) but with excellent birding include El Copal and La Marta.

One of the coquettes from Rancho…

With this itinerary, Rancho will also be your main chance for Caribbean slope species. To see some marsh and low elevation birds, do day trips to the Angostura area and sites between Turrialba and the lowlands.

Cerro de la Muerte

It’s time to head back into the mountains! Go up to the Cerro de la Muerte area to check the birding in the high elevation rainforest. There are several places to do this and see birds like Resplendent Quetzal, Spotted Wood-Quail, and all the highland endemics. The toughest ones are the pygmy-owl, the pewee, and the jay. Peg-billed Finch can be tough too.

The General Valley

Descending Cerro de la Muerte, Bosque Tolomuco can offer up some fine middle elevation birding. Further down, differents sites in the valley can turn up Turquoise Cotinga, Rosy Thrush-Tanager and lots of other new birds for the trip. If you have enough time, you can also try for Ocellated Crake, Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, and a few other specialties of the savanna habitats near Buenos Aires.

San Vito and or Ciudad Neily

If you want birds for your Costa Rica list like Lance-tailed Manakin and Ruddy Foliage-gleaner, you will need to visit San Vito. That’s not a bad thing, the birding is exciting and excellent! If you have enough time, the trip is worth it. If not, a trip to Panama or northern Colombia will get you a few of those same specialties.

Whether going to San Vito or not, Ciudad Neily is worth a visit! Not necessarily the town but you should visit the nearby open wetlands. This newish hotspot can turn up any number of odd rarities, can provide a good chance at Masked Duck, Paint-billed Crake and other rails, and local birds for Costa Rica like Red-rumped Woodpecker, Savanna Hawk, and some other species.

Masked Duck
Masked Duck from Costa Rica

Golfo Dulce

Just up the road from Neily are sites in and around the Golfo Dulce including the Osa. Pick some good ones and you can harvest a bonanza of southern Pacific endemics along with many other species of forest and edge habitats. The owling can also be very good (and provides your best chance at the local variety of Choco Screech-Owl (likely a distinct undescribed species), and Common Potoo is present.

The Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager only occurs in and around the Osa peninsula.

During your visit, make sure to check Rincon de Osa for cotingas, raptors, and other species.

North-Central Pacific

It’s a long drive from the Osa but now that we have a good coastal highway, the trip is worth it. There are also several good stops for food. I personally love Pizzatime and Bageltime (?) in Uvita but that might just be me missing some good old NYC pizza and bagels. Other nice food options also exist especially in the Jaco area.

Aside from food, as you make your way north, once you cross the Tarcoles River, there are several opportunities for dry forest species. Shorebirds are also possible especially at Punta Morales or Chomes (where Mangrove Rail also awaits).

Monteverde

To cap off the trip, spend some time in the cloud forests of the Monteverde area. You will have seen some of those birds at Quelitales but not all of them! Spend a couple nights there to connect with Ruddy Woodcreeper, bellbird (in season), and lots of other birds. You could also hike to more rugged sites on the Caribbean side of Monteverde to try for umbrellabird, Sharpbill, and the monklet.

After Monteverde, head back to the airport zone and celebrate a fantastic, mega birding trip with appropriate drinks and meals. How many birds will you see? That all depends on how much time you have and if you go with an excellent local guide. If all goes well, 500 species are possible but even if you don’t reach that high water mark, the birding will still be fantastic. Get ready for your fantastic Costa Rica birding trip with the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app and How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.

Soon, I will be doing a trip somewhat like this, I’ll let you know how it goes!