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If you have tried to contact me during the past several days, I apologize. I wasn’t home. Nor did I have a chance to check emails because I was helping someone find target species like Ochre-breasted Antpitta, owls, Dusky Nightjar, and so on. We didn’t get all the targets but with less than five full days to work with, we knew that was always going to be the case. So, we dipped on some of the species that typically require more time, ones like Silvery-throated Jay, the pewee (that would be the Ochraceous one), Scaled Antpitta, and Maroon-chested Ground-Dove among a few other not so easy birds. It wasn’t for lack of trying though and given the rain, I think we did pretty well in compiling a list with checks next to these choice species:

Buff-crowned Wood-Partridge

Spotted Wood-Quail

Ornate Hawk-Eagle

Black and white Owl

Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl

Vermiculated Screech-Owl

Spectacled Owl

Snowcap

Lattice-tailed Trogon

Chestnut-colored Woodpecker

Tawny-throated Leaftosser

Peg-billed Finch

During the course of birding, I was also reminded of the following:

The Unspotted Saw-whet Owl responds to vocalizations of Stygian Owl: Whether because it has experience with that potential predator, or just doesn’t like how it sounds, we had one saw-whet respond in an agitated manner to the high-pitched call made by the Stygian. In fact, since the saw-whet responded with a similar squeaking high-pitched noise, I thought it might actually be a Stygian. However, much to my frustration, almost as soon as I caught the saw-whet in the light of the torch, off it went and my client didn’t see it. We did manage to relocate a calling bird but that one was inside a veritable shield of dead vines and we couldn’t see it before it flew off to call a few more times just as the dawn was breaking on Irazu.

Hotel Grandpa’s yes, Kiri Lodge maybe not: Hotel Grandpa’s acts as a good base (with a funny name) for exploring Irazu. Good service, comfortable rooms, and a nice restaurant (which we didn’t use because we had birds to see). The only down-side was sleeping near a cabin where the guests were having their own karaoke party in the middle of the night. Once again, a shame I didn’t have some firecrackers to light right at their front door before we disembarked on the saw-whet search at 2:00 a.m.

As for Kiri Lodge, I hate to say this because the owners are nice but the room was so small and basic, and the choices in the restaurant so limited (unless you like trout or fried chicken), I don’t see myself staying there again. I know they have wanted to sell the place, I wish I had the money to buy it so it could be converted into a wonderful birding lodge. We would have wood-quail parties, engagements with antpittas, constant hummingbird action, roosting owls, etc.

The Crimson-collared Tanager can be much less friendly than you think: When a bird that has been typically easy to see decides to hide and skulk and fly off as soon as you might see it, sorry but it’s not being very friendly. Well, at least not birder friendly. If there was such a thing as “Bird Advisor”, I would have given it one star.

Tapanti is great as always and birder friendly: Tapanti National Park, thank you very much! The day before we were scheduled to bird the park, I asked the guard if we could enter early. He said, “Sure, what time?” I hesitantly responded, “Er, 5:30?” “Sure, no problem.”

We got there at the scheduled time and yes, out he came to open the gate. After thanking him from the bottom of my heart, in we went and onto the Oropendola Trail. Despite our early arrival and careful scanning, no antpittas hopped into view. But, we did make up for it with an Ochre-breasted on the Arboles Caidos trail (!), a pair of Ornate Hawk-Eagles that almost flew too close for binoculars, and views of such targets as solitaires, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Sooty-faced Finch, and the two hummingbirds among several other non-target species. Mixed flocks were good and by 11:30, we had a healthy list.

Our Ochre-breasted Antpitta.

The guard at La Selva, not so much: If you bird the entrance road, God forbid that you scan with binoculars near the guard shack. Such common birding behavior caused the guard to abandon his post and tell us that we could bird along the road but not right there because that costed money to do so. Seriously. Scanning for a few seconds, looking in the direction of the reserve. He was clearly perturbed and then even more so when we left the road near there to see a Black-throated Wren even though we were clearly in sight, and obviously watching a bird for a very short time. I said, “I’m sorry, there was a bird there we really wanted to see, please don’t worry, we aren’t going to try and sneak into the grounds of La Selva.” He said something like, “There are houses here, you can’t leave the road.” I saw the houses, we weren’t near them. At all. Whether he was worried that administration would perhaps berate him or was just taking his job to new heights of security, when it comes down to it, this is yet another sign that La Selva could use some consulting regarding birders. If the OTS La Selva Biological Station would like to capitalize on birding and thus raise more funds for the station, for a fee, I would be more than happy to advise them on how that could be accomplished and of course in ways that would not affect the main objectives of the station. Contact me at information@birdingcraft.com

Now before we make excuses like “it’s a research station”, or that “the guard was just doing his job”, we would also need to ask ourselves if La Selva would actually like to earn more money from visiting birders, and if part of the guard’s job should involve efforts to try and stop people from watching birds in the vicinity of the guard shack (and thus convince them to perhaps not stay at a place that does not welcome birders and recommend other birders to do likewise).

El Gavilan can be a pretty good base for Sarapiqui birding: El Gavilan, one of the oldest choices for accommodation in the Sarapiqui area, continues to be a welcome, relaxing places to sit back and see which birds come on by. Although the habitat consists of various stages of second growth along with mature riparian forest, it is pretty darn birdy (check out the eBird list from late morning). After seriously searching for Snowy Cotinga at the edges of La Selva and other areas in the vicinity, we managed to see a female fly over the clearing at Gavilan. Sadly, she did not perch for scope views but the pale gray bird was still the only one we saw. Other species were Gray-chested and White-tipped Doves, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Red-throated Ant-Tanagers, flocks of migrating Miss. Kites and streams of swallows, Alder Flycatcher by the river, Rufous-winged, Smoky-brown, Black-cheeked, and Cinnamon Woodpeckers, and various other species of the Caribbean lowland edge and canopy. No deep forest birds but that can be resolved with walks at Tirimbina, El Tapir, or Quebrada Gonzalez. Not to mention, one of the friendly managers brought us to a roosting family of Spectacled Owls.

The baby.

I’m sure there is more to say about these days but given our fast-paced, focused birding, at the moment, it’s all sort of blurring together. Suffice to say that, as always, when you put in the time and effort, Costa Rica provides the birds.

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admin on September 13th, 2017

In Costa Rica, thankfully, we have been spared the hurricanes that have wrecked their way through other parts of the world. Irma and Jose may have sent a few wayward birds our way but if not, no problem, we still have thousands of other more expected birds to watch. Fall migration has begun and in Costa Rica, it starts with swirling clouds of Plumbeous, Swallow-tailed, and then Mississippi Kites, handfuls of Cerulean Warblers, and thousands upon thousands of shorebirds. Each day that goes by sees flock after flock of waders moving through the country, especially on the Pacific slope. While more than a few no doubt zip right on over Costa Rica, many more take a break in the Gulf of Nicoya.

The large areas of nutrient rich mud flats are a perfect place to feed and take a much needed rest, and quite a few of those birds stay around for the winter. However, with so many birds on the move now, this is when the shorebird scene is at its most exciting. Who knows how many lost individuals from Asia pass through? Surely not many but I bet there are more than we realize. When you take into account the small number of accessible sites, the very few people who are watching, and the difficulty in picking that one winter plumaged Red-necked Stint out of distant Semipalmated Sandpipers, the struggle is real. However, those factors do leave the door open to the equally real possibility of stints from Siberia and other birds taking accidental vacations in and and through Costa Rica. Good luck finding them but since looking for such super rare birds is like going through a never ending box of avian chocolates, it’s all good!

That box of chocolates is why I have been itching to check out shorebird sites in the Gulf. Every day brings more birds, I wish I could be there to count them all but since I have other super important stuff to do (like making my daughter breakfast and then playing “eye spy” in the car while bringing her to school), I just gotta get down there when I can.

Thankfully, I had that golden chance this past Sunday. Although the mud holes at Chomes kept me from investigating the site with my small car, the bird rich lagoons at Cocorocas, Punta Morales were accessible and always act as an excellent second option.

Sometimes, there are more birds there than Chomes, I’m not sure if that was the case on Sunday but there were certainly a lot.

Both areas of salt ponds or lagoons were populated with hundreds of waders especially Semipalmated and Wilson’s Plovers. Other birds included dozens of Black-bellied Plovers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Willets, Marbled Godwits, Whimbrels, many Western Sandpipers, and a scattering of other species, my best being a small group of Surfbirds. Along with that year bird, I also added Common Tern for my Costa Rica year list, and had fun scanning through the skimmers and other birds at the site. Nothing rare and the variety was lower than I had hoped for but I can’t really complain about watching hundreds of shorebirds.

After two hours at Morales, birds began to fly back out to the Gulf as mud flats were exposed by the retreating tide. I took that cue to likewise move on to better birding grounds, and based on its proximity to Morales, took the turn off on the highway to Ensenada.

 

Ensenada is a private refuge that also has salt pans that can be great for shorebirds. Unfortunately, I never found out what was using them on Sunday because the gate was closed and locked. At least the road in was a nice, birdy drive. Despite a few pot holes here and there, the gravel way was good, nearly free of other vehicles, and passed through a matrix of fields, second growth, Teak farms, and older tropical dry forest in riparian zones. A few stops here and there turned up expected species like Long-tailed Manakin, different flycatchers, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Banded Wrens, Blue Grosbeak, and other common birds of the dry northwest.

A pair of requisite Double-striped Thick-Knees was also a treat.

Fly-over Hook-billed Kite was also cool.

 

I would love to bird that road at dawn to see what else is out there and check it at night to see if I can finally add Northern Potoo to my country list. That one is seriously overdue.

Since Ensenada was inaccessible, I eased on down the road towards yet another set of salt pans at a placed called, “Colorado”. That drive wasn’t as nice as the one in to Ensenada and the last bit in to Colorado was also made inaccessible by virtue of muddy conditions but from what I could see, there didn’t appear to be many birds there anyways. I did luck out though, with another hoped for year bird, the uncommon Spot-breasted Oriole. I had stopped in a place with several big trees and right on cue, a pair of the orioles were singing. They eventually came through the canopy overhead but ignored me and just kept on going, perhaps in search of flowering trees.

Although the orioles didn’t pause long enough for a good picture, this Yellow-naped Parrot was a good sport.

After the oriole incident, I had to choose between checking the estuary at Tarcoles or getting in a bit of sea watching at Puntarenas. A tough call but eventually I settled on the port. Although the sea was choppy and it looked good for finding some wayward sweet addition to the year list, I didn’t see much more than an Elegant Tern or two. That was alright because you never know what’s there unless you try and it was still a gift to see a few terns and catch glimpses of dolphins out in the Gulf as a cool breeze came off the water.

I wouldhave made one more stop but by that time, the rains had started up again, so I drove on home to enjoy a fresh cup of afternoon coffee while the cloud’s release soaked the backyard.

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admin on September 6th, 2017

The world of birding is s small one, especially in these days of constant digital connection. Make the right “friends” on Facebook and you can receive updates from birding tours in Thailand, the latest avian temptations from Saint Paul, Alaska, and learn who was successful with the Swallow-tailed Gull twitch in Washington state, all in a matter of seconds. In state-sized Costa Rica, the birding world is even smaller. Go birding and you run into many of the same local players, we read about other’s reports, and we sign up for the same Christmas counts- always taken to a new level in birdy Costa Rica!

One of the local birders whom I had often heard about but just never personally met is Jose Alberto Perez. An artist also known as “Cope”, he lives right where the Caribbean lowlands meet the foothills and, for the past few years, has been showing birders why this part of the country is always worth a visit. After hearing about roosting potoos, owls, and a tame Thicket Antpitta, last week, I was pleased to finally have the chance to meet Cope while guiding someone focused on bird photography. Whether you prefer to point a camera at birds or use the binos, I can say for sure that any amount of time with Cope is time well spent.

The Cope birding garden set up.

We started by watching the birds that came to his small but very productive pond and feeder set up. Although it was rather quiet during our visit, he can get a lot of birds in December (similar to high activity at that time of year at other feeders) including various tanagers, toucans, and so on. Nevertheless, it was still nice to have close looks at Pale-vented Pigeon, hermits, a Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer that dominated the feeders, and a few other hummingbirds while we sat in the shade and enjoyed the green surroundings. The vocalizations of Slate-colored Grosbeak and Striped Cuckoo from somewhere in the neighborhood reminded us of the high avian potential in the area as did Cope’s tales of American Pygmy Kingfisher, Russet-naped Wood-Rail, and the other birds that had visited his small garden. He also told us about our chances at seeing some roosting owls a short drive from his home. Since those chances sounded pretty good, off we went to see if we could connect with a Crested Owl.

He took us to a nearby road that had a surprising amount of good habitat. While most of the surrounding lowlands are deforested, rivulets of primary forest apparently persist along rivers and streams and there are also areas of birdy second growth. The trees were very tall in the place we visited and they did indeed harbor many birds. While Cope checked a couple of spots for Crested Owls, I heard White-ringed Flycatcher and a few other lowland forest species, and we had flyby Brown-hooded Parrots. Since he has had all three hawk-eagle species in that area as well as Agami Heron, Semiplumbeous Hawk, and Purple-throated Fruitcrows further down the road, I can’t help but wonder what else might live around there. Hope I can do a dawn survey some day.

What also became apparent was Cope’s keen understanding of the avifauna in his patch. He explained where two pairs of Crested Owls often roosted and where he usually finds Spectacled Owls. Uniform Crake was further back in the woods, a bit too far for us, and the friendly Thicket Antpitta hadn’t been singing for a while, but he did have a nest of Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, and there was one more Crested Owl roost to check. After he checked the nest, he also came back and told us that yes, the Crested Owl was on its roost. After a short walk into the forest, there indeed was the nest of the tyrant, and the Crested Owl!

As is typical for this species, it was roosting fairly low in a spot with hanging dead leaves.

After plenty of satisfying views of this striking owl species, we went back to the tyrant nest and listened to its insect-like call while waiting for it to descend. The call was fitting for a bird the size of a large beetle and because of those miniscule proportions, our only chance at a photo was waiting for it come on down out of the canopy. The only problem with that strategy was Cope’s ability to find roosting birds. Before the tyrant flew down, he waved us over saying that he had found a roosting Spectacled Owl. Since owls tend to trump every other bird, especially ones as small as an insect, we followed him to the viewing spot, and there indeed was our second species of owl in 30 minutes!

Spectacled Owls are fairly common but still never as easy as Great Horneds up north.

Sure enough when we came back to the tyrant stake out, the tiny thing had already come and gone but an owl is always a good excuse and with limited time, you can’t see everything (although that never stops me from trying or wishing that we could!).

At other times, Cope can have roosting Great Potoo, White-tipped Sicklebill in the garden, and might even know of an area for Red-fronted Parrotlet. He can also usually show you Honduran White Bats, is very much connected with his patch, and will do what it takes to help you see birds, frogs, and whatever else he might have up his sleeve. In these times of disconnection from nature, it’s always nice to spend time with other people who still have that connection. Cope is one of those people, I look forward to my next visit.

Cope can be contacted for guided visits via his website, and Facebook page.

 

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admin on August 31st, 2017

Regarding birding endeavors, the past two weeks have been good ones . I have added some really good year birds, visited the birding oasis known as Rancho Naturalista, and have shared birds with clients and friends while guiding at every elevation on the Caribbean slope. I also managed to add a surprise year bird to my 2017 list while checking the Pacific coast for storm driven vagrants. The following is a summary of those highlights:

Birding the Pacific coast yields a major surprise: There have been some major storms may out there in the Pacific. Although they didn’t roar on in to Costa Rica, the outlying waves from those storms did make it to our shores and they have surely brought some good birds with them. With that in mind, I decided to check a few coastal sites with friends on August 13th. It took a while but we did eventually find a mega Sooty Shearwater! Hours of scanning rough seas from Tarcoles, Caldera, and Puntarenas had yielded little more than a few Black Terns, a few Sulids, and brief looks at Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel when Johan suddenly exclaimed, “What’s this bird here?!” A dark bird floating on the surface moves right in front of us, all the while looking like some odd, lost duck. Except that the dark bird just offshore from the tip of Puntarenas isn’t a duck but a brown species of shearwater. We run to the end of the overlook near the Puntarenas lighthouse and manage some looks at a Sooty Shearwater before it floats too far into the gulf for easy looks. Although this species used to be seasonally common in pelagic waters off of Costa Rica, you would need some powerball luck to see even one during ten pelagic trips. With that in mind (and the fact that a Swallow-tailed Gull was seen in Seattle), I can’t help but wonder what other serious megas are lurking out there in Costa Rican waters.

Sooty Shearwater for the year list!

Guiding around Tirimbina: The birding is always going to be good in the Sarapiqui region. During a day of guiding at Tirimbina and nearby, our best birds were Snowy Cotinga, White-fronted Nunbird, Streak-crowned Antvireo, White-flanked Antwren, and perched Great Green Macaw just before the rain poured down.

Tirimbina is one of the last sites in Sarapiqui where the nunbird is reliable.

Hummingbirds at Cinchona and the Volcan Restaurant: Both of these sites have feeders that attract a bevy of sugar-pumped beauties. Since both are also just 35 minutes to an hour from the airport, you might want to consider a stop at these avian oases to treat yourself to good photo opps of several hummingbirds and supporting local businesses that have always supported birds and birders.

The local White-bellied Mountain-Gem was showing well at Cinchona.

The former Magnificent (now Talamancan) Hummingbird and Purple-throated Mountain-Gem also showed well at the Volcan Restaurant. This is on the main road to Poas. Watch for it on the left about 300 meters after the police station.

Rancho Naturalista: It’s hard to emphasize how nice it is to stay at Costa Rica’s first birding lodge. The birding is non-stop and includes relaxed birding from the balcony, checking the forest trails for manakins and so on, watching shy forest species come in to the moth light, visiting the hummingbird pools, and having several options for birding further afield. Throw in friendly, wonderful accommodating service, excellent on-site guides, and delicious cuisine and this place is hard to beat.

Bicolored Hawk is one of several shy species regular at Rancho.

Ask to visit Rancho Bajo to see coquettes. We had looks at male and female Black-crested and the much less expected White-crested Coquette!

Cope and El Tapir: “Cope” is the nick-name of a local artist who also loves to show people roosting owls and other birds, and he does this very well. Along with some other birds, we saw both Crested and Spectacled Owls after a couple hours at El Tapir that had turned up point blank views at Snowcap and a distant Tiny Hawk. Yeah, that was a morning with some serious quality birds!

Crested Owl.

San Luis Canopy: Most people pay a visit to San Luis to zip-line their way through the forest canopy. However, with glittering tanagers rummaging in fruiting trees and hopping around a fruit feeder, yeah, I’ll pass on the zip line for excitement! Yesterday, we enjoyed close looks at Black and Yellow, Emerald, Silver-throated, and Bay-headed Tanagers along with a perched White Hawk and a few euphonia species. Although we dipped on the Speckled Tanager (usually easy at this site), we did connect with Dusky Antbird, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, and Black-throated and Stripe-breasted Wrens at the start of the Manuel Brenes road.

The lovely Emerald Tanager.

The skulky antbirdish/babblerish Black-throated Wren even posed for shots!

I hope the information above can help you with  your own birding endeavors in Costa Rica. Come on down, this birding paradise is closer than you think. Get ready for your trip with my 700 page e-book “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”!

 

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Summer is still happening up north but not for long. The cooler nights of autumn are just around the corner, and for most birds, the big seasonal insect boom is over. For species like Cerulean Warbler, Hooded Warbler, and Louisiana Waterthrush, the chicks have been fledged and the time has come to once again take the long trip south. In Costa Rica, we are already seeing this trio of wood-warblers and we hope to see many more in a month or two. Yes, the exquisite Cerulean Warbler passes through Costa Rica in as good numbers as its threatened population allows and right now is the time to see them. They mostly occur on the Caribbean slope, especially so in foothill and middle elevation forests and can be encountered for much of September in small numbers although the best place in Costa Rica to see this choice warbler of the deciduous canopy seems to be at the Las Brisas Reserve.

This private protected area in the foothills above the town of Siquirres seems to be especially good for migrants as well as nice resident species like Royal Flycatcher, White-tipped Sicklebill, and other birds. Since it’s an excellent place to count Ceruleans while looking for other migrants, local birding guide and ornithologist Ernesto Carman has organized an annual Cerulean Warbler count at this site for the past several years. Past counts have turned up several Ceruleans along with flocks of migrating kites and many other birds shared in good company. This year’s count promises to be just as good and also includes a bird walk at the EARTH University, an excellent site for species of the lowland rainforest. To participate in the count on September 2-3, contact Ernesto at getyourbirds@gmail.com

Le Royal Flycatcher

When not counting Cerulean Warblers, here are some suggestions for birding in Costa Rica during the final week of August and the first week of September:

Visit Albergue del Socorro– Off the beaten track, but not too far off for an easy visit, this small lodge is run by a friendly local family who care deeply for the excellent middle elevation forests and biodiversity in their neighborhood. Needless to say, the birding is excellent and I can’t wait to go back. This is a site to look for Lovely Cotinga and Bare-necked Umbrellabird among many other species.

Check out wetlands in Guanacaste– The waterbirds are more spread out but with more wetlands to access, it seems like it’s easier to find major targets like Jabiru and Spotted Rail. Don’t overlook the rice fields, especially if they are being harvested. Sit back and see if you can identify the rails that are flushed by the tractor!

The Jabiru is more or less king of the Western Hemisphere wading birds.

Look for the Aplomado Falcon in Coris– There has been a juvenile Aplomado in Coris, Cartago terrorizing the local blackbirds and doves for more than a month now. Park across the road from the entrance to the Kimberly-Clark factory and watch for the Falco fun from there!

Expect flooded conditions near Golfito– It’s been raining Jaguars and Maned Wolves in southern Costa Rica. As has often happened when massive amounts of water come to that part of the country, fields and other areas have become flooded. Be careful when driving any side roads from the La Gamba area to the border.

Keep an eye and ear out for Saw-whets and Oilbirds in the highlands– This is a good time of year to at least hear the little known Unspotted Saw-whet Owl up on Irazu and Cerro de la Muerte. It’s also a good time to look for Oilbirds. Although there have only been a few sightings this year, there are probably more of those weird nocturnal birds up in the mountains.

Enjoy the great birding in Costa Rica, as always, I hope to see you in the field!

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A fine morning of birding doesn’t have to include a lifer but when it does, it becomes a fine morning indeed. Like one that includes a high cup of smooth, award winning coffee accompanied by pan du chocolate and the chocolate just happens to have a 75% or higher cocoa component. When the lifer is unexpected, it’s like enjoying that same luxurious little repast accompanied by a winning lottery ticket. Last week, I hit that birding jackpot accompanied by chocolate headed Blue-footed Boobies, deep, dark, coffee-colored storm-petrels, and a sweet set of dry forest birds.

The day started in the middle of the night when we departed the Central Valley at 2:30 am. We needed to reach Puntarenas by 4:30 and since we arrived by 4:00, next time, I’ll be leaving at the almost just as crazily late/early hour of 3:00 am. And given the consistently nice birding surprises from the ferry, I hope to make that next trip within the next two months. Hopefully by then, the ferry dock will be fixed (it suffered some damage yesterday, thankfully after we did our trip), and I will see Sabine’s Gull, phalaropes, and other targets. But, back to the other day when we got that personal birding lottery ticket.

After parking at Frank’s Cabins (which the owners graciously opened at 4:00 am as soon as we called), Susan and I got our 800 colon tickets (that’s less than two bucks), boarded the boat, and walked up to the top deck, right in front. Aside from a flyby Back-crowned Night-Heron, we didn’t see anything else in the pre-dawn darkness but we knew that would change as the day broke over the calm estuarine waters of the Gulf of Nicoya.

The first birds were expected species like Brown Pelicans, flocks of White Ibis moving from roosting sites to mud flats near Puntarenas, frigatebirds, and a smattering of Royal, Sandwich, and Black Terns. When we reached one of the first drift lines, we got onto our first target or “good” bird. As with other occasions when I have seen Galapagos Shearwater, the fluttering, pot-bellied look of this one was revealed after constant scanning of the horizon. A check through the scope assured that it was indeed a Galapagos and not the much more rare Black-vented. We also saw a second bird ten minutes after the first.

An excellent year bird, especially when it can be seen from a quick and easy ferry ride!

As we moved forward on our hour and a half boat trip, we continued to scan the horizon as much as the few swells allowed. No storm-petrels yet nor many other birds but we did see several Blue-footed Boobies, all of which were juveniles.

The summer months are probably the best time to see Blue-footed Boobies in Costa Rica. I wonder where they come from? Cocos Island? Maybe even the Galapagos?

After the ferry docked, we had around two hours to kill before returning on the 9 am boat. Let’s see, not much to do in tiny Paquera and two hours to kill. Yeah, I think I’ll go birding! Fortunately, there is plenty of dry forest habitat around Paquera, most of it in various stages of second growth but still quite a few big trees and on Thursday, August 10, the green, rainy season vegetation overflowed with bird song. As we walked up the road, we heard and saw a good selection of species, the most common of which was Banded Wren.

As with other sites in the southern Nicoya Peninsula, we noticed that White-necked Puffbird was easier to see than many other sites (we saw three over the course of an hour and a half).

We were also entertained by the bright colors of Black-headed Trogons and Turquoise-browed Motmots, and the antics of various other dry forest species. Although we didn’t luck out with any super rare and enigmatic Pheasant Cuckoos, nor any year birds, the activity still made for a refreshing bird-filled break between ferry rides.

Around 8:00, we headed back to the boat, got our tickets, and boarded with a good number of tourists on their way back to the mainland, including one local guide who showed us pictures of Ornate Hawk-Eagle from his garden in La Gamba. Back on the ferry, we scanned with the scope hoping to find groups of feeding birds. No luck there but as the boat got underway, we eventually found birds flying back and forth. Most of these were Black Terns and a few Blue-footed Boobies but eventually, once again, constant scanning turned up different species. This time, they came in the form of a few Least Storm-Petrels doing their bat-like flight in the same area as some foraging Black Terns. Once again, the scope also came in handy to make a positive ID. Not long after, more scanning revealed what I first took to be a Black Storm-Petrel flying in from the south. However, its flight didn’t seem quite right for that species, and sure enough, the scope revealed an extensive white rump. Yes, Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel, another excellent year bird, and along with the bat-like Least, year bird number three!

Further on, maybe 30 minutes away from Puntarenas, we got our final and best bird of the day. While scanning to the south, we both noticed a larger, darker tern that was foraging with a small group of Black Terns. I figured it would probably be a Brown Noddy but the shape didn’t seem right for that species. The head looked more angular, and while checking through the scope, my jaw dropped when I noticed a distinctive, definite forked tail. Nope, not a Brown Noddy! Off hand,the only other species that came to mind was a juvenile Sooty Tern, a potential lifer!

The bird moved in the same direction as the boat and eventually flew across the bow as it moved towards the inner part of the gulf. Although it was pretty far off, occasional looks through the scope revealed a white flash on the wing linings. Based on illustrations of juvenile Sooty Tern, I had expected more white on the belly but once I got back home and checked images online, I breathed a sigh of successful relief after seeing several images of juvenile Sooty Terns that showed very little white on the belly and matched our bird exactly. Lifer achieved and a not very expected one either! In Costa Rica, this species mostly (or perhaps entirely) breeds on Cocos Island and is very rarely seen as close to shore as we saw it. But, that’s kind of how the ferry is- you never know what you are going to encounter and even when you expect Brown Noddy and Bridled Tern, you might end up seeing a Sooty Tern instead! I’ll take that lifer and hope to get out there again in a month or two because who knows what else is out there? Maybe I will find that Peruvian Booby that was reported the day after we took the ferry!

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admin on August 2nd, 2017

I am sometimes asked about the number of bird species I have seen in Costa Rica, or if I am still missing some. Although I have seen a good number of the birds on the Costa Rica list and am approaching 800 birds seen or heard in country, since the list includes more than 900 species, I could add a lot more including several lifers. Granted, most of the gaps on my checklist are very rare vagrants and pelagic species but a choice few are indeed residents like the White-tailed Nightjar and Rufous Nightjar, two species that I should really make more of an effort to see. Another bird that I really, really need to see even though it happens to already be ticked off my country list is a mottled black and white chicken-like marsh bird known as the Spotted Rail. It’s on my country list because I have heard it a few times but since “heard only” species don’t make the grade for my official life list, the elusive Spotted Rail is a major target.

Russet-naped Wood-Rail- Another chicken-like marsh bird that is much more common and much easier to see.

As one might imagine, like so many other chicken like marsh birds, this one is typically a pain. Unfortunately, in Costa Rica, this bird is nothing like the secretive yet much more reliable Viginia Rail up north. Search for it and you don’t find it. Search again and you still don’t find it. Maybe you get a brief staccato one time response to playback. Or, maybe just a peaceful swishing of a breeze in the marsh grass that must be hiding a bevy of sulking, skulking rails. Whatever they are doing, they are oh so reluctant to come out and play. With various raptors and demented herons to deal with, I can’t blame them but I sure wish I could catch a break with this bird!

In June, several people did catch a break with Spotted Rails and right in one of the areas where I have briefly heard and tried to see them sans success. Pictures were posted, including images of sooty, fuzzy youngsters! The birds came out onto the sunny track, the observers made jubilant exclamations about hearing them call over and over! It was a veritable bonanza of Spotted Railness, but I wasn’t there to partake in the party. I was out of country at the time but did hope to give it a try after coming back to Costa Rica.

Where the rails were seen.

Try I did with a few friends, leaving the Central Valley at 3 am so we could hopefully reach the rice fields west of Liberia by 6:30 or 7. Although this is of course the dead of the night, believe me, it’s the best time to drive in Costa Rica! As long as you can avoid any racing or inebriated drivers, you can enjoy mostly vehicle-free roads and make excellent time to your destination. We were on track for doing just that but as dawn broke over the lush rainy-season fields of Guanacaste, a wrench (aka spanner) was thrown into the birding works. While talking about some bird related subject or another just south of Canas, the car suddenly coughed and subsequently died. We were able to partially pull off the road (not many shoulders in Costa Rica, even on the Pan-American highway) and quickly set up road triangles in the hopes of keeping speeding trucks from smashing us into oblivion.

During the ordeal, we still remembered to watch birds. Some dry forest species were flying around, especially good numbers of Orange-fronted Parakeets, and Stripe-headed Sparrows were singing as we called the two truck. Fortunately, while doing that, a friendly mechanic stopped and helped us out on Sunday morning, a time when most places are closed. Unfortunately, there was no way that car was starting again and eventually, we towed it to his shop around 6 kilometers up the highway. He figured it was probably the fuel pump and brought us to the bus stop. Luckily, a nearly empty bus came by, we got on, and Spotted Rail quest numero uno was converted into a sleepy bus ride back to the San Jose area.

The car gets ready for its very own ambulance ride.

Always nice to watch the common yet ever handsome Stripe-headed Sparrow.

Over coffee, we discussed how these sort of things happen and how we could maybe try again if the car could be repaired soon. A few days later, I found out that yes, the car was good! The internal fan belt had broke, it had been fixed, and the car sounded wonderful. When I was once again picked up at 3 am a week after our first attempt, it did indeed sound better than before. In fact, the orange Chevrolet sort of purred. We drove back down through the dark of the night to the Pacific lowlands and once again watched the heat lightning play in the distant sky as dawn broke over green fields punctuated by scattered, umbrella-shaped trees. We drove past Canas, feeling grateful for the mechanic who lived there and talked how we would recommend him to other birders. We zoomed along the lovely new, spacious highway to make up for lost time during road work and just as we approached Liberia, my heart dropped as I heard an odd coughing noise. As much as I wished it was the sound of a large truck two vehicles back, no, sadly, it was the sound of our very own, sick car. We pulled over in a gas station and turned the car off.

“Oh, look, there is some loose piece of plastic under the car, it must be that!”

But it wasn’t. The car wouldn’t start and we stood there in shock as we tried to comprehend how this had happened. As the same dry forest species as the week before called and flew over, and called our mechanic, we couldn’t help but feel as if we were living some Groundhog Day moment. The Spotted Rail was just out of reach, if only we could have broke down next to a marsh! At least much to our good fortune, once again, our mechanic came through and was able to reach a friend with a tow truck, all during the non-working time of Sunday morning. We rode the tow back several kilometers to Canas where Kendall the friendly mechanic was waiting. He was just as surprised as we were, especially when he opened the side of the motor to see that the new internal belt was loose. It should be fixed by now but after two failed attempts to even reach the home of the rail, and on precious birding days at that, I can’t help but feel really reluctant to do another birding trip in that same car. At least we now know a good, friendly, helpful mechanic who lives and works in Canas. I you need one in that area of Costa Rica, I recommend him- his name is Kendall and his number is 89772749. He only speaks Spanish, who knows, maybe he will become a birder- he heard enough about birds in Costa Rica from us!

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admin on July 27th, 2017

Here comes August, that late summer month with its hazy dog days, stores full of school supplies, and time to rush and complete whatever summer tasks you had planned on doing. For us birders, it’s also time to check the sewage treatment ponds, wildlife refuges, and any other would be wetlands that play host to migrating shorebirds. At least that’s what’s going on up north. Down here in permanent summer land, August is just another month when the rains fall and give local rivers a big wet boost. Amazingly, a few shorebirds have already flown here but most won’t arrive for another month. Most importantly, though, the local resident birding is as good as ever. If you are headed to Costa Rica for birding during the following weeks, I hope these tips help:

Be ready for rain, be ready for a lot of birds

Yeah, rain is in the house but so are the birds including lots of juveniles. While the rains do limit birding, on and off rain is always better than a prolonged sunny day. Bird activity is high between the bouts of precipitation and the falling water is also nice because it can cool things off.

It was coming down the other day but barbets and toucanets were still coming to the Colibri Cafe at Cinchona.

Fruiting trees in the foothills

Thanks to heavy rain, stuff is fruiting in the foothills and the birds will be there for the natural buffet. Keep an eye out for any fruiting trees, especially ones that have small, oval, green fruits, usually with a red base. These ones are delicacies for guans, toucans, and cotingas so keep watching and waiting if you see such a tree! Berries and other small fruits are better for trees full of tanagers, manakins, thrushes, and other cool birds.

Hello Bay-headed Tanager.

Road closure

I know of one main road that is closed for much of the day. If you plan on using the Varablanca-Cinchona-San Miguel road to travel to and from Sarapiqui, know that this road is closed in the San Miguel area in the morning between 7:30 and 12:00, and then again from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. The upside to this is that if you are coming from San Jose, this doesn’t affect visits to the Waterfall Gardens, Cinchona, or Virgen del Socorro because the closure is between Socorro and San Miguel. Another upside could be better roadside birding during times of closure because there should be much less traffic. Yet another bonus comes in the form of being able to skirt the closure all together by detouring through Virgen del Socorro, thus forcing you to move through this birdy site. I’m not sure how long these closures will last but I hope it ends before October just in case I do another Big Day at that time!

Keep an eye out for “odd” hummingbirds

Last year, a Rufous-crested Coquette made s star appearance at Rancho Naturalista in August. Maybe they wander into Costa Rica at this time of year? Maybe there are more out there, especially down around Limon? This is a reminder that hummingbirds wander, and they might do more now so take pictures of any that look “off”. If you find an “off” one, please post it on your eBird list and/or share it to Facebook.

Feeder madness

Unfortunately, not in a good way. Thanks to a misinterpretation of a hunting law that outlaws the baiting of animals, some misinformed folks in Costa Rica have urged people to take down hummingbird feeders stating that the feeders keep hummingbirds from pollinating plants. Yes, that’s right, and some municipalities have pressured a restaurant or two to remove their feeders despite a lack of data showing that feeders are harmful. Meanwhile, in keeping with the typical sort of tragic irony that often happens when misinformed people make decisions, unfortunately, just when feeders are taken down, thanks to climate change, hummingbirds seem to have taken a hit in Costa Rica and could really use that extra food. I’m not sure how the whole feeder thing will play out but, hopefully, the local birding community can join forces with the tourism industry to make authorities and local people realize that efforts would be much better spent on limiting pesticides and deforestation than removing bird feeders. I wish I was making that up but I assure you I am not. I will be writing more about this.

Compared to what I used to see, I have been seeing far fewer hummingbirds this year just about everywhere I go. This Black-bellied was enjoying the feeders at Catarata del Toro.

Enjoy the elbow room

Not as if there are crowds of birders anyways but there are certainly less around during August! You will see just as many resident birds and maybe even more because of more bird activity. It will be just you and the birds!

Please enter eBird data, especially for migrants

As with everywhere, the more data the better! Participate in science and share your trip.

That’s about it for now, I hope to see you at some cool birding locale in Costa Rica!

 

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I hope you are reading this today because by “now”, I mean July 20th, 2017 or shortly thereafter. If you are seeing this post some other month or some other year, the Quebrada Gonzalez sector of Braulio Carrillo National Park will still be worth a visit because, after all, the dense foothill/lowland rainforest at this site always offers chances at connecting with a variety of uncommon and rare species. If you happen to be headed there over the next few days, though, the odds are in your favor for finding some mega birds.

Based on guiding there yesterday and recent eBird sightings, these are some reasons why now would be a great time to visit:

Fruiting trees

Quebrada has been getting a lot of rain. I say that with a sincere sense of relief and hope because much to the detriment of a forest in need of near constant moisture, the site has suffered from warmer and drier than normal weather over the past five or so years. Since most bird species at the site seem to have declined, hopefully, this year’s precipitation will result in a healthier forest ecosystem along with subsequent improved nesting success and more food for altitudinal migrants. Based on the number of fruiting trees seen yesterday, it looks like the forest is reacting well to the much needed precipitation and humidity. Several Melastomes were fruiting as were some understory Lauraceous species (think small avocado type fruits), and other trees.

Mixed flocks!

The wet foothill and middle elevation rainforests of Costa Rica are sort of infamous for their mixed flocks. After periods of quiet birding, large groups of birds suddenly rush through the forest to tantalize, frustrate, amaze, and entertain the unwary birder, and Quebrada is no exception. It’s an excellent site to connect with fantastic mixed flock activity but, you can also visit and run into very few or no flocks. I’m happy to say that yesterday, the mixed flock activity was reminiscent of better birding days. We ran into several groups of birds, and although some were pretty hard to watch as they silhouetted their way through the canopy, we still had plenty to look at and fewer slow periods than any visit this year. Flocks had most of the expected tanagers, we had one Sharpbill, Red-headed Barbet, more than one shrike-tanager, Striped Woodhaunter, and I am sure there were other species missed because of less than ideal viewing conditions.

Emerald Tanager is one of the expected species here, we had several.

Better chances at choice large frugivores

More fruit also means better chances at running into fine targets like Yellow-eared Toucanet and Bare-necked Umbrellabird. These were both recently reported from the site on eBird and although we didn’t find them, now might be the best time to look. Since those species are around, the same can also probably be said of another choice frugivore, its royal blue and purpleness, the Lovely Cotinga. More fruit on the forest floor also means better chances at seeing quail-doves; we actually had great looks at four Olive-backed Quail-Doves over a full day of birding.

Cloudy weather

Although it also makes for a chance of rain and silhouette canopy views, the overcast skies sort of make up for it with more bird activity. Since that coincides with higher chances of seeing more birds, yes, you want to be there on a cloudy day. Ideally, some sun will also happen as it did yesterday with subsequent views of King Vulture and Great Black Hawk from the overlook on the Ceiba Trail.

The view from the overlook.

Lots of juvenile birds

They might look dull and confusing but the more juveniles the better and not only because they represent new generations of tanagers. Although that is part of the happy equation, more juvenile birds around also means that more predators like Tiny Hawk and Barred Forest-Falcon are active. Who knows, maybe Black and white Hawk-Eagle or other rare choice raptors could also be around?

Antswarm

Saving the best for last, this is the main reason why you should go birding at Quebrada now. Yesterday, there was a diffuse antswarm working its way through the northern side of the Las Palmas trail. It looked like it was spread through a fair sized area of forest and this could mean that it will be working that area for a few days. Maybe, maybe not, but it looked a lot like the one I saw some years ago that brought in a R.V. G. Cuckoo and Black-crowned Antpitta almost in the same area. On that occasion, the same swarm worked over the same area for at least four days. Although we didn’t see either of those megas yesterday, it looked like ideal conditions for them to make an appearance. Since most of yesterday’s swarm was back in the woods, away from the trail, they might have actually been nearby and just not foraging where we could see them.

One or two Ocellated Antbirds were at yesterday’s swarm but they wouldn’t come in for a close, prolonged view like this one from Tirimbina. 

I’m not sure if I can get back this weekend but I might give it a try. If you go, leave a comment about your sightings!

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admin on July 6th, 2017

Most folks don’t consider any degree of pelagic birding when visiting Costa Rica but if you have an extra day or two, and enjoy birding from a boat, it will be worth your while. Get into the pelagic zone and at least three species of storm-petrel, two shearwaters, and a few other birds are likely along with a real chance at rarities like Tahiti Petrel, Parkinson’s Petrel, Galapagos Petrel, Christmas Shearwater, and so on. We still need to get a better handle on which species show up when and where but as long as you head into the pelagic zone, you will be in for some exciting birds. The main problem with that has been finding boats to take folks to the places where the shore is out of sight but, hopefully, it will be easier to arrange such trips soon.6

In the meantime, if you want an easy, quick “pelagic”, you can always take the Puntarenas-Paquera ferry. Although you can never expect too much in terms of blue water birds, there’s always a chance at storm-petrels, Brown and Blue-footed Boobies, Brown Noddy, Bridled Tern, and who knows what else? Uncommon species and Costa Rican rarities of every spectrum have been seen including Sabine’s Gull, Red-billed Tropicbird, and even Peruvian Booby. At the same time, you can also take the ferry and have your most exciting birding be limited to Black, Royal, and Sandwich Terns but since the trip is so easy to do, and something different usually shows up anyways, I believe that doing a bit of ferry birding is always worth the effort. If you are up for it, here’s some stuff to keep in mind when ferry birding in Costa Rica:

The ferry won’t stop for birds– Yes, that is a “Captain Obvious” statement but just a reminder that ferry birding won’t be as birder friendly as a true chumming, bird chasing, pelagic trip. You won’t see as many birds but I still think that the ferry kind of makes up for it with the low cost, easy logistics, and birding opportunities especially when you can’t arrange a true birding trip to the pelagic zone.

Get in line early to find space on the upper deck– You want to get a coveted spot on the upper deck because you will see more birds. The ferry is usually stable enough to use a scope, and it’s also short enough (about an hour and a half) to make sea sickness an extremely rare event. Getting there about an hour before departure time should work. If you arrive in Puntarenas before then, park near the lighthouse and scope from there. I have seen pelagic species from this spot on more than one occasion (by that I mean three species of storm-petrels, Brown Noddy, and Galapagos Shearwater).

 

Day trip? Much cheaper to park the car in Puntarenas– When I do the ferry (as I did with friends yesterday), I park at Frank’s Cabinas for the day and pay around $1.50 for a ferry passenger ticket (yep, that adds up to around $3 round trip). Frank’s Cabinas is half a block north of the ferry dock and has a prominent sign. It tends to fill up on the weekend and he charges around $10 to park there for a day. If you do take a vehicle across, it is around $45 each way.

Consider the 5 a.m. ferry– Since the next ferry doesn’t leave until 9, you will probably see more birds by taking that first ferry at dawn. Although I have seen quite a few birds at other times of the day, I plan on embarking on the five a.m. ferry on my next trip. I would have already done so but have always felt pretty reluctant to leave the house by 2:30 or 3:00 a.m. Although this means that you could mix owling and potooing with an early ferry ride, you can also just stay at Frank’s Cabinas the night before. He charges around $50 for a room that includes the most important factor for steamy Puntarenas; air conditioning.

Bring the car and make a day or more of it– Likewise, you can also take the ferry across with a vehicle like so many other non-birders on the boat. This is worth it if you will be spending one or more nights in the southern Nicoya Peninsula or if you just feel like combining birding on the ferry with a day of birding near Paquera and in the southern Nicoya. Do that and you might end up with a day list that includes Galapagos Shearwater, Blue-footed Booby, Elegant Trogon, and Ivory-billed Woodcreeper.

Be ready for anything– Most of all, when birding from the ferry, just be ready for anything. When we take into account that the ferry crosses part of a nutrient rich gulf that has seen rather little birding coverage, you have to be open to the possibility of rare and unexpected species showing up. By definition, this means that species like Inca Tern and Nazca Booby are far from regular, but they just might show up when you take that boat. The highly pelagic White Tern has been seen in the gulf, who knows what else might fly into view? I know that every time I have taken the ferry, one or more interesting species have occurred. On the trip yesterday, although I had hoped and sort of expected to see Brown Noddy, Bridled Tern, and at least one storm-petrel species, instead, we were surprised with a Parasitic Jaeger, and then a Pomarine Jaeger not long before the boat reached Puntarenas on the trip back! Both of these were excellent year birds and tough birds to see in Costa Rica even when they are expected. With that in mind, I should mention that Parasitic Jaeger has been seen during the summer months in Puntarenas in the past.

The dark juvenile Pomarine Jaeger that sadly flew away as soon as we saw it. 

Yesterday, I picked up three year birds and although there wasn’t as much avian activity as on other occasions, I can’t help but wonder what showed up earlier on or later in the afternoon. Which species flew across the path of the ferry today? You never know unless you go and since it’s an easy trip to do, keep it in mind when birding in Costa Rica. Ideally, I hope I can bird from the ferry at least twice more this year. To learn more about where and how to bird in Costa Rica, support this blog by purchasing my 700 page e-book, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. I hope to see you on the ferry or elsewhere in the field!

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