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bird finding in Costa Rica raptors

Braking for Bat Falcons at the Socorro Canyon

Several species of falcons are resident in Costa Rica but only one of them is a classic, fast-diving, Falco. This winged bullet is the Bat Falcon and like other members of that lethal genus, this bird was born to kill.

Plumaged sort of like a Eurasian Hobby (even more so like the Oriental Hobby), this smart-dressed mini predator is equipped with big feet to snatch from the air, swifts, parakeets, and any other small birds. Like the Merlin and other Falco species, the Bat Falcon may prefer to hunt next to rivers or other open areas where it can more easily catch potential prey that flies within range. We have seen them at any number of spots and even near San Jose but according to the account for this species at the Handbook of the Birds of the World site, the healthiest populations occur in areas of extensive tropical forest. It usually occurs in pairs and although I have seen this species hunting during the day, it hunts more often at dawn and dusk (when it also preys on bats). At the Cafe Colibri, some birders have even seen Bat Falcons catch hummingbirds (!).

Even hummingbirds like the Violet Sabrewing.

It seems that the falcons learned to perch somewhere in the canyon below the cafe and then fly up to catch unwary hummingbirds that venture too far from the safety of vegetation. These small aerial predators can hunt from a perch or fly high overhead to stoop down on their prey in flight. It no doubt uses its natural falcon radar to zero in on that swift or swallow that flies a bit slower than the rest of the flock and goes after it with typical Falco zeal.

Bat Falcon habitat.

Speaking of the Cinchona area, I often brake for a pair of Bat Falcons that hunt the canyon of the Sarapiqui River from around there to Virgen del Socorro. There might even be two pairs using that stretch of the forested canyon but whether one or two, a pair can often be found perched on any number of snags near the road. Yesterday, we had a couple of these beauties perched so nice and close, we just had to stop and admire them.

The larger female was the more obvious of the two and sat on the tip top of a snag.

Another individual was calling on occasion and with some inspection, we located it. It was a small male and might have been a young bird. It called over and over as if begging for food until eventually flying to a closer perch where it fed on the remains of an unidentified bird.

While enjoying the falcons, we also heard a pair of Laughing Falcons calling, scoped a distant White Hawk, and watched Swallow-tailed Kites wheel over distant forest. With roadside birding like that, not stopping pretty much amounts to birder blasphemy. We were happy to pay our respects, I look forward to going back to that area to do some raptor counts!

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

A Couple of Cool Hawks and Other Raptors During Recent Birding in Costa Rica

One of the most common observations (aka complaints) that birders new to Costa Rica make is related to the sad paucity of raptors. I am definitely sad to admit that this is a valid view because unlike the weedy fields and woodlots far to the north, we don’t see very many raptors on a regular basis. The lower number of raptors is related to higher diversity (and thus lower populations per species due to a higher degree of interspecific competition), and too much substandard forest habitat (edge effects not being conducive to the ecosystems needed to sustain large, healthy populations of forest-based raptors). You see, in Costa Rica, at least half or more of the raptors in the country are very much adapted to intact forest. They don’t do as well in places where there is just as much cow pasture and ag. Fields as rainforest because those habitats just don’t provide enough of the type of food needed for birds like Great Black Hawk, hawk-eagles, Semiplumbeous Hawk, White Hawk, Gray-headed Kite, and so on.

The Great Black Hawk has declined in Costa Rica.

This is probably why birds of prey and a higher diversity of raptors are seen when birding in places with large areas of healthy forest (such as the Osa Peninsula, Braulio Carrillo, Rincon de la Vieja, and so on).

Good forest for raptors at El Tapir and Braulio Carrillo National Park.

However, even if you happen to be hanging out with your binos in fantastic forest, not nearly as many raptors will appear if it rains. While that wet weather can result in views of hawks and falcons perched on an emergent tree, it doesn’t compare to the birds that take to the skies in sunny weather. In general, that aspect of raptor watching in Costa Rica is kind of similar to Europe and North America because this is when all sorts of species can take to the skies.

Last weekend, I got the chance to compare birding during dry and rainy weather at El Tapir and Quebrada Gonzalez. It was sunny on Friday and rained for nearly all of Saturday and guess which day was better for raptors? Yes, Friday at Quebrada Gonzalez was good for birds of prey as well as for several other non-raptorial species including killer looks at Black-crowned Antpitta, Rufous-winged Woodpecker, Red-headed Barbet, antvireos, antwrens, Lattice-tailed Trogon, White-crowned Manakin, and several tanagers including more Blue and Golds than I have ever seen there in one day.

But, back to the raptors- on Friday, we started off the day with a Barred Hawk,

A rare, close look at a Barred Hawk from Cinchona.

saw one or two King Vultures through the trees, and got great looks at an adult Ornate Hawk Eagle in flight. We also saw a couple of Broad-winged Hawks but they are pretty much par for the course during the winter months in Costa Rica. In the afternoon, we also lucked out with totally satisfying views of a Semiplumbeous Hawk on the Ceiba trail. It was nice to finally connect with this uncommon species at Quebrada because I had heard of reports from the Ceiba and Botarrama trails. As with some other, more lowland inclined species, the Semiplumbeous doesn’t seem to be regular on the Las Palmas trail. So, that was sunny Friday and we weren’t even focused on looking for raptors.

A Semiplumbeous Hawk from the Ceibo trail in Braulio Carrillo.

Another look at that Semiplumbeous Hawk.

On rainy Saturday, although we connected with several busy tanager flocks at El Tapir, and saw a fine Ocellated Antbird, we didn’t see anything flying in the rain. However, we still managed nice perched looks at King Vulture and Double-toothed Kite.

A King Vulture in the morning rain.

The raptor happy sunny weather on Friday also reminded me of guiding a week before then at Cinchona and Poas. That was also a very sunny day that resulted in very close looks at Barred Hawks right from the Café Colibri (the name for the Cinchona hummingbird spot), White Hawk, Bat Falcon, Broad-winged Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, and a distant hawk eagle (probably Ornate but too far away to say).

One more look at the Barred Hawk from Cinchona.

In a couple days, I am headed to Palo Verde- a totally different, more open habitat that might give me some nice looks at open country raptors like Harris’ Hawk,  Swainson’s Hawk, White-tailed Hawk, and Snail Kite, and hopefully a lifer rail and duck. Wish me luck!

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biodiversity Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica raptors

Cool Falcons in Costa Rica

Falcons rank pretty high up there on the “cool bird” scale. They get automatic “cool” points (aka “epic”, “sweet”, “boss”, or even “swell” depending on your formative years) for being raptors, fly super fast, and many sport an avian moustache. I mean, can you get any cooler than that? Well, as with many things avian, you sure can! Take the Peregrine Falcon for instance. Some populations of this record holding famous falcon species casually fly south from their rookeries on Baffin Island to…coastal Chile. The falcon is so fantastically endowed with amazing flight capabilities that it flies over open water on purpose (!) to pick off and feed upon migrants (sorry lost warblers, shorebirds, and other unlucky birds- falcons gotta eat to).

Peregrines are a regular sight as they fly through and winter in Costa Rica. During migration, it’s especially easy to see many a Peregrine on the Caribbean coast but they can show up just about anywhere. A couple weeks ago, while being entertained by a soaring Black Hawk Eagle at El Tapir, a Peregrine appeared out of the blue and drove it away! The eagle barely had a chance to call before it left the scene. I guess that particular Peregrine likes hanging out in a hilly rainforest.

Merlins and American Kestrels also show up in Costa Rica but they are outnumbered by that masked connoisseur of serpents, the Laughing Falcon.

birding Costa Rica

The Laughing Falcon is crazy about snakes and eats nothing else.

So, if the Laughing Falcon is so sweet on serpents, why not call it the “Snake Falcon” or “Serpent Falcon”? Those names were rejected because this bird also loves to laugh. It’ local name in Costa Rica and many other places is “Guaco” and this is a fair description of the sound it makes when calling (or laughing). Pairs often call together and the result is a hysterical sounding bunch of mid-toned guffaws that echoes through the tropical forests they inhabit. Thankfully, this entertaining bird is pretty common in Costa Rica (and many places in the neotropics). For example, I saw and heard 4 or five this past weekend while guiding in and around Carara National Park.

The Bat Falcon is of course another amazingly cool bird. Here we have a Falco falcon species falcon is all of its hooded splendor, long pointed wings, and fast flight. It’s kind of colorful, and yes, it catches bats! If you want to see one of these speedy little raptors catch a bat for dinner, go on a boat tour at Laguna del Lagarto and ask to see a Bat Falcon catch a bat. Just do it and see what happens.

birding Costa Rica

The Bat Falcon also catches small birds like parakeets, tanagers, and whatever else makes the mistake of flying across a river or pasture that it’s keeping an eye on. Overall, it uses pretty similar hunting techniques as the Merlin although it’s not as feisty.

In the neotropics, some falcons gave up their fast-flying ways to adapt to niches filled by Black Kites over on the other side of the Atlantic. The caracaras flap along on floppy wings and scream as they search for carrion and small creatures that look catchable. Both Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras patrol highways in lowland Costa Rica to look for roadkill much in the same way as Northern Ravens do in (where else but) the north. In fact, they also have vaguely similar dimensions.

birding Costa Rica

Deforestation has made the Northern Crested Caracara a common sight when birding Costa Rica.

birding Costa Rica

Ditto for the slightly smaller Yellow-headed Caracara.

And then there are the forest-falcons. Now these reclusive birds might even be cooler than the Falco species BUT they hate the limelight. These jungle dwellers rarely come out into the open, are most active in the half light of dawn and dusk, don’t soar, and love to sneak around dense tangles and the understory. Come to think of it, with those traits, they kind of seem like avian vampires. Like other dimensional wraiths, they are also tough to see but at least they frequently vocalize with haunting barks and laughing sounds (also like other-dimensional wraiths). Watch an antswarm long enough and one might show up (to mesmerize you with its captivating,stare of course…).

birding Costa Rica

Collared Forest Falcon– the avian Nosferatu of the neotropics.

Costa Rica also has its set of rare falcons and I of course lack photos for them. Aplomado Falcon seems to show up once or twice a year; probably wandering migrant birds. The wacky Red-throated Caracara used to be common before too much forest got turned into pasture. Nowadays, it’s only regular in the heart of Corcovado National Park. Orange-breasted Falcon may have been a former rare resident in the country but it could still show up as a vagrant. This would most likely be near the Panamanian border in the southeast (where hardly anyone birds) because it occurs only 250 kilometers away in the Panamanian province of Veraguas.

Costa Rica also has an honorary falcon. However, given its small size, the Pearl Kite could also be an honorary swallow, shrike, or kingbird. It kind of looks like an amalgamation of all three when seen in flight.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FhFMkd4u_U

The cool and cute Pearl Kite.

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biodiversity Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica preparing for your trip raptors

Where are the raptors when birding Costa Rica?

The perceived scarcity of raptors (non-owl raptors) when birding Costa Rica is a recurring topic of conversation between  birders whom I guide and myself. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the following questions and observations:

“We haven’t seen many raptors other than Black and Turkey Vultures”.

“We have seen motmots, lots of hummingbirds, some tanagers, and a bunch of flycatchers. We haven’t seen any of those antpittas or antbirds though (another common theme), and very few raptors”.

“Where the heck are all of the hawks”?

With a field guide (that new classic, “the Garrigues and Dean”) that illustrates 53 (!) species of vultures, hawks, kites, eagles, and falcons, it’s no wonder this is a recurring topic of conversation.

I can’t recall if I wondered the same thing during my first trip to Costa Rica but I know that my raptor list had more holes than a Swiss cheese festival when I boarded the plane back to New York.

The raptor list for Costa Rica is certainly robust so where is the thrush-sized Tiny Hawk, the pint-sized Barred Forest-Falcon, the hefty Ornate Hawk-Eagles, and that king of the rain forest canopy, the monstrous Harpy Eagle when taking a birding tour in Costa Rica?

Well, all I can say is that they are out there, but there are some  factors that explain why we don’t see raptors as often as we do north of the Tropic of Cancer. In no particular order, the reasons for the perceived paucity of raptors when birding Costa Rica is:

1. High diversity=natural rarity. Instead of the raptor scene being dominated by a pair of Buteo species, two Accipiters, a couple of falcons, and a scavenger or two, Costa Rica has a much larger variety of raptors that occupy more specific niches. This means that most species occur at population densities that are lower than birds of temperate zones and are therefore naturally rare. This is demonstrated by raptor lists after two weeks of birding in Costa Rica. A fairly typical count after a two week visit to 4 main sites during the high and dry season might be:

Turkey Vulture- lots

Black Vulture-even more

King Vulture-1 (yay!)

Roadside Hawk (2)

Roadside Hawk birding Costa Rica

Gray Hawk (4)

Gray Hawk birding Costa Rica

Broad-winged Hawk (4)

Osprey (3)

Double-toothed Kite (1)

Double-toothed Kite birding Costa Rica

White-tailed Kite (1)

Plumbeous Kite (2-they went to Cerro Lodge)

Crane Hawk (1-Cerro Lodge again)

White Hawk (1)

Barred Hawk (1)

Common Black-Hawk (4)

Red-tailed Hawk (2)

Crested Caracara (4)

Yellow-headed Caracara (6)

Laughing Falcon (1)

As you can see, the species number is fairly high (18) but few individuals. I should add that this is a pretty conservative count and if one goes to certain sites, uses a guide, and specifically looks for raptors, several more species should be seen.

2. Most Costa Rican raptors are forest species. Not only does this mean that they are harder to see in appropriate habitat (because all of those trees and epiphytes are in the way), but it also means that unless you bird areas with fairly large tracts of primary forest then you won’t have a chance at watching cool stuff like Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Black and white Hawk-Eagle, Solitary Eagle, Great Black Hawk, Barred Hawk, or Semiplumbeous Hawk among others.

3. Not all raptors soar. The Red-tailed Hawks, buzzards, falcons, and kites of the north spoil us into thinking that all one needs to do to see a raptor is look up into the sky…..and there they are (!) beautifully soaring and calling up in the blue saying, “Here I am in all my raptorial glory! Watch as much as you like and study my subtle shape to master raptor identification!”

If only the raptors in Costa Rica (and elsewhere in the neotropics) were so extrovert and unashamed! Other than vultures, soaring raptors in Costa Rica are far and few between and the ones that do regularly soar either don’t do it that often or spread their wings as part of their hunting strategy and therefore “hide in plain sight”. Among regularly soaring raptors that are often seen with vultures that kettle up into the hot mid-morning sky are Gray Hawk, Roadside Hawk, and Short-tailed Hawk. The first two are seen just as often in their preferred edge habitats while the Short-tailed is one of the birds that attempts to “hide in plain sight” by flying so high that it becomes a speck way up there in the clouds.

Of course there are also the massive migrating flocks of Swainson’s and Broad-winged Hawks that pass through but they don’t linger to show off. A good number of Broad-winged Hawks stay for the winter but they don’t seem to get kicks out of soaring around to show off their splayed primaries. What? You aren’t of the opinion that raptors get their kicks, their cheap thrills, demonstrate their joie de vie from soaring around on widely splayed wings? You might change your mind after watching American Swallow-tailed Kites for a few hours.

4. Many Costa Rican raptors hunt with surprise and ambush tactics. The problem for birders is that this effective strategy only works when your prey can’t see you which means that the forest-falcons and other forest raptors are naturally inconspicuous. Very short birders who do sloth imitations in the Osa Peninsula might get lucky (or very UNlucky) and attract a Harpy Eagle but in general, one has to be as attentive and disciplined as a fire-walking Shaolin monk and/or just get lucky in catching a glimpse of raptors inside the forest.

You can and do see raptors when birding Costa Rica but no, don’t expect to see them soaring all over the place. Hire a birding guide who knows how to find them and go to the right places, however, and you will fill in a bunch of those gaps in the raptor list.

In general, areas with extensive forest are your best bets. Some of the better places in Costa Rica for seeing a good variety of diurnal raptors in no particular order are:

  • Carara National Park and vicinity. The variety of forested and open habitats make the area around Carara a consistently good place for raptors. Cerro Lodge and vicinity is good for Plumbeous and Gray-headed Kites, Crane Hawk, Common Black Hawk, Gray Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Osprey, and both Caracaras. The nearby national park also has these and Double-toothed Kite, White Hawk, Black Hawk Eagle, King Vulture, and Collared Forest Falcon are regularly seen.
  • The Osa Peninsula. The extensive forests of the Osa and Corcovado National Park offer the remote chance of glimpsing Harpy and Crested Eagles, a fair chance at all three hawk-eagles and Tiny Hawk, and a good chance at seeing White Hawk, Common and Great Black Hawks, Laughing Falcon, Bat Falcon, and several other species.
  • Cano Negro. Cano Negro is a waterlogged, protected area with low rain forests and open country. This adds up to lots of raptors including species that are uncommon in Costa Rica such as Black-collared Hawk, Snail Kite, and Harris’s Hawk.
  • Braulio Carrillo National Park. Spend the mid-morning hours in the parking lot at Quebrada Gonzalez and you have a good chance of seeing King Vulture, American Swallow-tailed Kite, Short-tailed Hawk, Barred Hawk, and a fair chance at White Hawk, Double-toothed Kite and all three hawk-eagles. You might also see Bat Falcon and Tiny Hawk.
  • El Copal. The vantage point from the balcony of the lodge is perfect for raptors in that it provides an ample view of a forested ridge. Barred Hawk, Black Hawk-Eagle, American Swallow-tailed Kite, and Short-tailed Hawk are regular while other species such as Solitary Eagle, Great Black Hawk, and Ornate Hawk Eagle could also make an appearance.
  • El Ceibo ranger station, Braulio Carrillo National Park. I haven’t been to this site located well off of the beaten path on the western side of the national park since 1994 but it looked pretty darn good for raptors at that time! White Hawk was easily viewed as it hunted for toads at the forest edge, Bat Falcon was in the area, I got my lifer Barred Forest-Falcon in the forest (pure chance though and could happen at any number of sites), and the view from the ranger station overlooked a large area of forest.
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biodiversity Birding Costa Rica Introduction raptors

How to see forest falcons when birding Costa Rica

Birders from up north who associate falcons with aerodynamically shaped, fast-flying awesome birds of regal appearance and open areas come to the neotropics and wonder, “What exactly is a forest falcon? I mean they don’t have the falcon shape and look more like accipiters (according to their illustrations because they are either extinct or don’t live in open habitats). When I listen to them on Xeno Canto, they sound more like a dog or weird yelping thing than a bird. Just what are those mysterious members of the Micrastur genus!”

After coming back forest-falconless from Costa Rica in 1993, I had some of these same questions and felt more determined than ever to find out the truth about forest-falcons. Over the subsequent years, during birding adventures in tropical forests from Mexico to Bolivia, in addition to discovering that you can find re-runs of The Simpsons just about everywhere (I once watched an episode of this epic animated series in a tiny village in eastern Oaxaca that had only seen two, previous non-Mexican visitors), I have discovered a few things about these mysterious birds.

Here is what I have found out so far:

Don’t expect to see them. I’m sorry if that feels like a low blow to the birding psyche but I just don’t want anyone to get their hopes up about forest-falcons. These sneaky raptors often have a strong aversion to being seen. Whether they are extremely shy or just can’t stand binoculars, they would much rather taunt you with ventriloquial calls from dense cover than guffaw right out in the open like the much more reliable Laughing Falcon.

Laughing Falcon, Costa Rica birding

Laughing Falcon- a fairly common, reliable raptor in Costa Rica.

Forest falcons are creatures of the twilight. No, I’m not saying they are vampires, but that these forest raptors  are adapted to and most active during the crepuscular hours. Guide books usually mention this so I can’t claim that it was my discovery. The birding literature is are right though because  forest-falcons vocalize the most at dawn and dusk.

Forest-falcons are by no means extinct, are fairly common, and just do not like open spaces. Although you hardly ever see them, Micrastur species are quite vocal and you can certainly hear them in most forested areas of Costa Rica. Their vocalizations give you a much better idea of their numbers in addition to making you feel cheated because they so rarely allow you to see them.

They are stealthy, cat-like hunters. Although it’s easy to label forest-falcons as cowardly or unfriendly, their adaptations for hunting are the true reason why they are so hard to see. Like cats, they can’t allow anything to see them because they hunt by surprise. They probably don’t care whether birders watch them or not but they cannot afford to let their prey espy them or they would starve. So, they automatically stick to dense vegetation, keep quiet when moving around, and refuse to soar.

They often hunt in the undergrowth. I have seen very few forest-falcons actively hunting but others have mentioned this in field guides and books on raptors. They also sometimes show up at army ant swarms, and once I observed a Barred Forest-falcon actively hunting in the undergrowth at Luna Lodge in the Osa Peninsula. I was sitting on a  log in the forest and was casually watching a family of Chestnut-backed Antbirds go about their business. They hopped around, called, and before I realized it, suddenly disappeared! Maybe ten seconds later, a Barred Forest-falcon showed up. It had quietly flown in and perched on a low branch near the ground. The Micrastur looked this way and that before moving on to another perch near the ground and kept doing so until it vanished into the rainforest. Eventually, the antbirds starting calling again and when back to their terrestrial ways after coming out of hiding.

They do respond to tape or imitations of their calls. Not always, but I have had the most success with this strategy at dawn and dusk during the dry season (maybe they nest then?). Needless to say, if you do use tape, please don’t overdo it. By “overdoing it” I am referring to playing recordings of their songs over and over to get a distant bird to come in and/or then continuing to play its vocalization for several minutes despite having already seen the bird.

Based on these experiences with Forest-Falcons, talking with other birders, and reading about them, here are some suggestions about the best ways and places to see them in Costa Rica arranged by species:

Collared Forest-Falcon: The largest forest-falcon, it’s also the most common and widespread Micrastur when birding Costa Rica (and many other places). About the size of a Cooper’s Hawk, they occur in open woodlands in regions with dry forest as well as in dense tropical rainforest. They sometimes range up into the cloud forest but in Costa Rica seem to be most frequent in dry and moist forests of the Pacific Slope. The most reliable way to seem them when birding Costa Rica is to locate a calling bird during the pre-dawn or dusk, and call them in. Watching for them along the river trail at Carara National Park or in gallery forest of the northwest also yields more frequent sightings than elsewhere in Costa Rica.

Collared Forest Falcon birding Costa Rica

A Collared Forest-Falcon photographed in dim, morning light on the river trail at Carara National Park, Costa Rica.

Slaty-backed Forest Falcon: This is a tough bird to see no matter what country you visit! I heard them once in awhile in the Peruvian Amazon but saw them on very few occasions. They often vocalized during the pre-dawn hours and the best strategy to see them is to locate a calling bird at this time of the day and call it in.  The one bird I have seen in Costa Rica was a wonderful, vocalizing individual that called from the understory and let me watch him for several minutes at La Selva during the Christmas count of 1995. They probably still occur at La Selva but I haven’t heard of any being recorded there for a while so one can’t expect to see them at this famous Costa Rican birding site. Other, more likely locations to get this species when birding Costa Rica are at sites with extensive, lowland Caribbean slope rainforest such as Laguna del Lagarto, Hitoy Cerere (where I have heard them), and near Gandoca-Manzanillo.

Barred Forest-Falcon: This small forest-falcon is fairly common in humid forest in Costa Rica from the lowlands up into the cloud forest. They seem to be more common in hilly areas but are always tough to see. Like the other two Costa Rican forest-falcons, locating a vocalizing individual in the pre-dawn darkness or during the morning and calling it in is probably the most reliable way to see one when birding Costa Rica. They also show up at antswarms and attack hummingbird leks (I witnessed an unsuccessful attempt on a lek of Brown Vieoletears once in Braulio Carrillo National Park) so if you come across either of these in Costa Rica, just sit back and quietly hang out for a while- you may see a Barred Forest-Falcon. I don’t think there is any best site for this species when birding Costa Rica but searching for them in any humid forested, hilly site during the pre-dawn hours will increase your chances of seeing one. By humid-forested, hilly areas, I mean places like Braulio Carrillo National Park, Monteverde, Tapanti National Park, the Osa Peninsula, Pocosol, Las Heliconias, and El Copal.

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Birding Costa Rica raptors

Incredible new species for the Costa Rica list; Gray-bellied Goshawk!

While checking the Pajareros bird forum, where rare bird sightings in Costa Rica get posted, I was blown away by the latest post (December 16, 2008). In that post are digiscoped images of Gray-bellied Goshawk (Accipiter poliogaster) from La Selva. Although Costa Rica could still get some new species for the country list, this was one I never expected! This is a little-known South American species rarely seen even in its known range. Amongst neotropical ornithophiles and raptor lovers, it is most well known for exhibiting juvenile plumage that mimics adult Ornate Hawk Eagle. Check out the Pajareros post to see how incredibally similar it resembles Ornate Hawk Eagle. The main differences to separate it from the Hawk Eagle aside from size (the Hawk is smaller) are:

1. Structure- lack of pointed crest,

2. Black malar goes up to black crown behind the eye instead of going through the eye. I realize this sounds confusing- post mentions this and is apparent when comparing images of both species.

3. More spotted affect below rather than barred.

4. White edging to feathers on upperparts.

5. Bare thighs- often hard to see.

6. Juveniles often give a high-pitched call over and over.

Most of these marks are shown by the bird in the image which also resembles the only Gray-bellied Goshawk I have seen. That was a juvie. in Tambopata, Peru (Posada Amazonas) around the same time of year, 2004. This was a new species for that area as well. I especially recall the more spotted appearance of the underparts, white edging on the upperparts, black stripe on the face behind the eye and (like other juv. raptors) very easy to see. It sat all day at the top of the same tree ( conveniently near a canopy tower) and called over and over a short high-pitched descending call.

Gray-bellied Goshawk species is known to be a partial austral migrant; this juv. must have gotten lost somewhere between here and Argentina. Hard to say where it came from exactly; especially because this species is probably wider ranging than thought since neotropical forest Accipiters are very infrequently seen. It is interesting to note that the poster at the forum mentions that he saw one in the Darien, Panama. Who knows- it might even occur there or in the Choco (western Columbia and NW Ecuador) on a regular basis.

Hopefully this bird will stick around for the La Selva Christmas Count on Saturday!