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

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

It looked like the undergrowth was sprayed with herbicide.

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

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

A fruitcrow seen from below.

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

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

In Manzanillo, Gray-necked Wood Rails seem to be as common as chickens.

We also got our first good looks at Black-striped Woodcreeper, maybe the most common woodcreeper around Mazanillo.

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

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

Cinnamon Woodpecker was fairly common, we also had good looks at Chestnut-colored.

We had a couple Gartered Trogons.

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

We also had good looks at Stripe-breasted Wren.

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

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

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

Dusky Antbird showing its white patch on the back.

It was nice to get good looks at Dusky-faced Tanager.

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

Raptors!

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admin on October 1st, 2014

The change of the seasons in Costa Rica isn’t exactly obvious. When it comes down it, there’s only two seasons, that of the wet, and when it doesn’t rain as much. We also have spring and fall but you won’t see any tulips springing up out of the ground or any leaves changing color. Nor is there much of a change in daylight and temperature. However, if you pay close attention to your surroundings, there are subtle changes going on. The most obvious sign of autumn are fall migrants, and although we don’t get as much variety as eastern North America, there are literally millions of birds that move through Costa Rica. Some stay for the winter and other stream over and through the vegetation of the Caribbean coast en masse. Here are a few updates from fall migration so far:

  • Not many warblers yet: Yep, it seems like birds migrate later in the fall and earlier in the spring. Why leave home when there’s still plenty of food around? Some warblers and Red-eyed Vireos have been coming through Costa Rica but based on migrant reports from the north, it sounds like the bulk of migration has yet to pass through the country. It might be happening now  and I hope so because I will be looking for migrants over the next few days.

    Black and white Warbler is one of the more common fall migrants right now.

  • Buff-breasted Sandpipers: This much wanted turfbird has been seen at a few locations as of late. Although I checked the airport a few times, I didn’t see any. However, some were seen there on another day, and others have been scoped in rice fields near Quepos and near the border with Panama. I hope more show up because this species is right at the top of a few of my friend’s target lists and I still need it for the country.
  • Lots of raptors, swifts, and swallows: These birds have been much easier to see and have been streaming through in numbers. I neglected to mention Chimney Swifts. The majority of this species probably flies through Costa Rica and it sure looks like it when you bird on the Caribbean coast during spring and fall. The stream of Chimney Swifts flows south all day long, day after day. Watch close and you might see a few Black Swifts with them. There are also millions of Barn Swallows, Bank Swallows, and Cliff Swallows. Given the abundance of migrants, it seems likely that a few Cave and Violet Greens are up there in the mix too, and maybe a rare, new for the country Sinaloa Martin. The problem is picking out those rarities as they quickly fly past with hordes of the regular species. The river of raptors has also been passing through in full swing and has had the usual crazy numbers of Turkey Vultures, Broad-winged Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks, and Plumbeous, and Mississippi Kites.

    Sometimes, you can also see kettles of Swallow-tailed Kites.

  • Lots of rain: I mentioned it in another post but have to say again that it’s been raining. A lot! That’s a good thing because ecosystems here are adapted to getting that major soaking for more than half of the year. It’s one of the main reason why Costa Rica has so many birds and biodiversity, so I am happy for those massive amounts of falling water. I wonder how migrants cope with it?

Finally off for some serious birding over the next few days, wish me luck!

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admin on September 25th, 2014

Lately, it’s been raining so much that most of my birding has been severely curtailed. I wanted to go to Quebrada Gonzalez the other day but fortunately, I didn’t leave the house or I might have been one of the more than 1,000 people who were trapped between multiple landslides! Thankfully, no one was hurt and the slides were cleared but given the seriously heavy downpours today, it looks like more landslides are part of the forecast. I’m not complaining. That’s just how it is and we really do need the rain! I hope some of that water is reaching Guanacaste because farmers up that way have been suffering through a horrible drought.

One of the last good birds I saw was this Fasciated Tiger-Heron in the rain near Lands in Love.

Although I haven’t gone birding, I’m itching to get out into the green spaces because the migrants are coming through. By all accounts, wood-warblers, vireos, thrushes, and the like have been late in coming to town. While we usually get Yellow Warblers in August, it seems like most of them have just arrived. I hope they are just late because seriously declining bird populations would be the other main explanation.

Despite my lack of bino usage, I still managed to add a couple of species to my year list. I’m not doing a Big Year but I still keep track of the bird species I see or hear and always hope to hit 600. That number is always achievable and makes me feel like I have accomplished something or personal importance. Last night, one of the birds I added to the list was Upland Sandpiper. That funny grasspiper passes through the country every fall but they are hardly ever seen. This probably stems from a couple of factors:

1. Why stop in Costa Rica when you can just keep on flying?- Costa Rica is a pretty small place, especially as the Upland Sandpiper flies. If one passes over at night, there’s a fair chance that it could just keep on going and since Costa Rica was historically covered in dense forest from head to toe, I doubt that Uplands and other grasspipers evolved to make definite stops in this land. That behavior is certainly plastic to a fair degree but I wonder if the birds prefer greener pastures (or shorter ones) in Panama. Or, perhaps they focus their stops in the paramos and llanos of Colombia? Critical stop over sites during migration in Central and South America have yet to be determined but it doesn’t seem like one of those stops is in Costa Rica.

2. The needle in the haystack thing- Finding one of those few Uplands that does happen to swoop down and make a landing in Costa Rica is like winning the lottery. There’s just too much pasture to choose from, especially in Guanacaste, and there are just a handful of birders looking for them. Some of us do check the airport from time to time but typically come up with nothing more than meadowlarks and Barn Swallows zipping over the small turf farm. Overall, there’s just not enough coverage.

Although I have checked the airport a few times, this wasn’t how Upland Sand made it onto my year list. To quell my bird migration anxieties, I have been listening for nocturnal migrants for a few minutes each night. I hadn’t heard anything until last night when I finally got lucky! I wasn’t out the back door for more than a minute when I heard the distinctive flight call of an Upland Sandpiper! I ran inside to get my recording equipment but it was too late. That bird was already on its way to Colombia and the only thing picked up by the microphone was a blend of distant dog barks and rumbling cars. Hopefully, I will get out this weekend and find some vagrant warbler (a Black-throated Blue would be nice) but I would be happy with seeing common warblers as well.

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admin on September 19th, 2014

Arenal is one of Costa Rica’s major tourism hotspots. An active volcano and hot springs are a double set of magnets that bring in locals and just about every visitor to Costa Rica. The area also attracts those of us who put the focus on birds and biodiversity. Easy access to quality habitat, a fine collection of uncommon birds, and near overload of tourism infrastructure make Arenal and surroundings a fantastic destination for birders. Whether you bird the place on a budget, watch birds in luxury, or somewhere in between, you are going to see a lot.

Since there’s really too much to say about Arenal birding in one little post, I decided to just talk about three, easy sites that, together, could turn up well over 200 species. A guide and several days of concentrated birding would be needed to make that happen but heck, if it was done in winter, I don’t even think that 300 species is out of the question. Here is some information about those three places:

The Roca Dura Reserve (aka Geovani’s Reserve or Fortuna Trails): This is where local birders go when they feel like looking for migrants around La Fortuna, getting in some easy-going birding, or ticking Uniform Crake. The reserve is the result of years of work carried out by guide Geovani Bogarin to reforest a spot just outside of the town of La Fortuna. It’s also an example of the bird life and animals that can come back when the grazing is put to a stop in deforested pasturelands. The habitat might not be ideal but you can still see a very good variety of second growth species and quite a few forest birds. Not to mention, there’s also the star of Geovani’s show, the Uniform Crake.

Uniform Crake

In fact, I dare say that this little reserve is a good candidate for being the easiest, most reliable place to see Uniform Crake anywhere in the world. According to Geovani, during certain times of the year, more than one can be seen hanging out right on the edge of the path. During two, mid-morning hours on the trail, we heard at least 4 crakes and saw one very well with the help of Geovani (he snuck through the low vegetation to “push” it towards us). In addition to the U Crake, we aso got wonderful looks at White-throated Crake and :

Golden-olive Woodpecker,

Laughing Falcon,

Rufous-tailed Jacamar,

Olive-throated Parakeets, and Long-billed Gnatwren, Black-throated Wren, and a bunch of other second growth species. A Tropical Mockingbird at the entrance to the reserve was another bonus.

To visit this special place, head out of La Fortuna on the main road to Arenal and take a right just after the Backpackers Hostel. Geovani might be in the little shack at the entrance. If not, call him at 8626 9348 or email him at info@geovanitours.com. He can take you into the reserve. Please be generous with the donations, this reserve doesn’t receive any other sort of funding.

The la Fortuna Waterfall: This community owned site is a major, local attraction. It sees a stream of tourists on a daily basis but guess what? The birding is still excellent! As sandal-clad people march up and down the stairs of the well-maintained trail, you might see big mixed flocks led by White-throated Shrike-Tanager, antbirds, and even Lanceolated Monklet! It costs $10 to access the trail but if you just felt like birding the road, that works out too. Bird around the parking lot and on the road to and just above the waterfall and you might see everything from Crested Guan and Mealy Parrots to Bare-necked Umbrellabird and Lovely Cotinga. The latter two targets are rare indeed but they do show from time. We didn’t get them on a recent trip but did see Cinnamon, Pale-billed, Rufous-winged, and 3 other species of woodpeckers, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, three toucan species, and other birds right from the parking lot.

Pale-billed Woodpecker

The Peninsula Road: This is the stretch of gravel road between the main road to Arenal Observatory Lodge and the dam. To give an idea of potential, this site has turned up 140 plus species during a full day of birding. The high diversity stems from a combination of Guava orchards, varying stages of second growth, and foothill rainforest. It’s always a birdy area and is regular for such uncommon, quality species as Great Curassow, Crested Guan, Plumbeous Kite, Semiplumbeous Hawk, parrots and parakeets, occasional Great Potoo, Black-crested Coquette, trogons, Broad-billed and Keel-billed Motmots, White-fronted Nunbird, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, toucans, Rufous-winged Woodpecker, Olivaceous Piculet, Great Antshrike, Bare-crowned Antbird, Thicket Antpitta, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, northern Bentbill, Bay and Black-throated Wrens, and Rufous-winged and other tanagers.

A poor image of Sepia-capped Flycatcher- just not enough light for the camera!

Keel-billed Motmot

These are three of the easiest places to see lots of birds around Arenal. To add more forest species to the list, visit the trails at the Observatory Lodge, the Hanging Bridges, and Skytrek, and hike up to Cerro Chato. I can’t wait to get back to the Arenal area, especially for this year’s Christmas Count.

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admin on September 11th, 2014

Barva Volcano is the top of Braulio Carrillo National Park and the nearest, quality highland habitat to my place of residence. I can see the ruffled jade top of the mountain from the window and the lighter green pastures that creep up the slopes. There is a narrow road that reaches 2,200 meters before turning into a horribly rough and rocky track. That roughness goes 3 kilometers more to the gate of the national park but I rarely use it because I don’t bird from the back of a four wheeler. Nor do I have a birding mule. Cardio workout aside, I feel don’t feel like hiking uphill from that point either. Instead, I stick to birding along the side of the road, especially in riparian zones near the highland settlements of Sacramento and Porrosati.

Scenery on the road to Barva. No migrants there.

Rufous-capped Warbler- not a migrant but always nice to see. A common species in coffee and habitats on much of the road.

The other day, I ended up doing a bit of birding along that road to Barva Volcano. I hoped to find migrants and maybe take a few pictures of whatever birds I found. While I did come across a few warblers and one Red-eyed Vireo, there were very few migrants around. Either they haven’t come through in numbers, or their numbers are lower than they should be. Given the long northern breeding season, I suspect it’s a case of late migration. At least that’s my hope. Of the migrants I saw, Black and White Warblers were the most common.

Black and white Warbler using whatever habitat it finds.

On an interesting note, I heard more than one Black and white give sort of weak versions of their squeeky wheel song. It makes me wonder. Do some of these birds sing to delineate territories on their wintering grounds?

At one birdy riparian zone, I had great looks at Gray-breasted Wood-Wrens. It was nice to watch a pair of this common cloud forest singer forage in the open because they can be tough to see.

Face to face with a Gray-breasted Wood-Wren.

Gray-breasted Wood-Wren.

Spotted Barbtail also gave its sharp call note ( a bit like that of a leaftosser) but didn’t really cooperate for the camera.

This was the best I could do for the Spotted Barbtail.

A few Flame-throated Warblers were also in the house. Always nice to watch this smart-looking regional endemic.

Flame-throated Warbler.

As per usual, there were a few Mountain Elaenias around. Get to know this bird if you are coming to Costa Rica for birding because it’s really common in semi-open, highland habitats.

Mountain Elaenia- yep, one of those not so obvious flycatchers.

A pair of Brown-capped Vireos were also present. They sound a lot like a Warbling Vireo but look better.

Brown-capped Vireo

Of course, Common Bush Tanagers were also around. Oh, excuse me, “Common Chlorospinguses”.

Common Bush Tanager

Nary a Blue Seedeater replied to playback (I have had them there a couple of times in the past) but it was still nice to see some common highland species just 20 minutes by car from the house. This weekend, I hope to be in for some exciting birding in the Arenal area. To add to the excitement, the other day, a mega Crested Eagle was seen and photographed by the main birding guide at SkyTrek. I will be there for a day so hopefully, we will get lucky! If not, we will still have a chance at lots of other uncommon birds.

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admin on September 4th, 2014

Like pretty much everyone who has lived in western New York, autumn is a special time of the year. The muggy days of summer are replaced by perfect weather, changing foliage, good fishing, and bird migration. Go out to the front porch at night and put your ear to the sky, and you catch the faint tinks of migrating Bobolinks, occasional calls of a yellowlegs flying overhead, and warbler chip notes. Whether you want to go birding, watch football, or both, it’s an exciting time!

Fall migration is great at Niagara.

Living in Costa Rica, I certainly miss the fall weather of the north and the birds that come with it. Hailing from Niagara Falls, I also miss the Peach Festival, crisp apples, and seeing salmon jump in the river but you can always find a festival in Costa Rica, there are Spotted Eagle Rays that jump in the ocean (I was sort of mind-blasted by such an occurrence just offshore at Chomes), and there are birds. Sure, there are lots of super cool resident species but like any birder during migration days, I am psyched to get out into the field and see what might be passing through the rainforest. Heck, I’m just as psyched about seeing the birds in shade coffee near the house because during migration, anything is possible.

Black-mandibled Toucan is one of those super cool residents.

Is there a Connecticut Warbler hanging out in some shady gulley? A Black-billed Cuckoo haunting some shade trees? There probably is, there’s just not enough people constantly out looking for them. If a Connecticut shows up for a day and no one is there to see it, then that’s that. Heck, even if a Connecticut is nearby for a day, you probably still won’t see it even if you are looking. In addition to hoping for a Connecticut, I also hope for such species as Yellow-breasted Chat, Hermit Warbler, and the Caribbean wintering warblers that are vagrants to Costa Rica (Yellow-throated, Palm, Prairie, Black-throated Blue, and Cape May). I haven’t seen any of those yet but they show up every year.

I have a better chance at Yellow-billed Cuckoo- still need that one for the year.

I also hope to find Black-throated Gray, Hammond’s Flycatcher, and Thick-billed Kingbird. Long shots for those would be firsts for the country but I think they are possible, just need to get out there and keep looking.

As far as more common birds go, there’s a lot of migration going on. Watch the skies and you might see thousands of Cliff, Barn, and Bank Swallows flying south. We don’t hear Bobolinks but listen at night and you might hear a few Dickcissels, lots of Swainson’s Thrushes, and maybe even an Upland Sandpiper (I have heard a couple during the pre-dawn hours). The river of raptors is flowing through the Caribbean lowlands, thousands of shorebirds are stopping off in the Gulf of Nicoya (and some are staying), flocks of Eastern Kingbirds and Scarlet Tanagers pass through, and we still get a fair number of warblers, including good chances at that migrant jewel, the Cerulean warbler.

Some of the raptor river in the spring.

Birds should be passing through now, I need to get outside.

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admin on August 28th, 2014

It’s the day after guiding and this time, it was a day trip to Lands in Love. We were going to look for birds in Braulio Carrillo but given the time, effort, and guts needed for the drive back through rush hour traffic (and  a chance at a landslide shutting the road), I deemed that a day trip to Lands in Love might be a better option. Many of the bird species are the same as Braulio and some. Yesterday, that “and some” resulted in the following goodies:

  • Great Curassow: We surprised a pair on the main trail to the waterfall.
  • Green Ibis: As we drove past the ponds in the afternoon, I thought I heard the call of a Green Ibis. After a quick check, yes, there they were! Two Green  Ibis!

    Green Ibis

  • Semiplumbeous Hawk: Seems like Lands is a fair site for this choice raptor.

    Semiplumbeous Hawk

  • Broad-billed Motmot: It’s always nice to see a motmot and 4 species have been found at Lands in Love.

    Broad-billed Motmot

  • White-flanked Antwren: We got great looks at more than one of this uncommon species. They were moving around with Streak-crowned Antvireo, Slaty Antwren, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, and other small birds.

    White-flanked Antwren

  • Spotted Antbird: We also heard a Bicolored Antbird but didn’t see any ants.

    Spotted Antbird

  • Thicket Antpitta: Seen once again instead of a heard only. I think Lands is one of two best sites in the world to see this bird, the other being Arenal Observatory Lodge.
  • Tawny-chested Flycatcher: Perfect looks at one on the main trail to the waterfall. I was sort of expecting Sepia-capped and not this one because I have never had this rarity at Lands in Love.

    Tawny-chested Flycatcher

  • Song and Nightingale Wrens: Usually, I see Black-throated and Bay Wrens. This time, those big wrens were heard only but instead, saw two of the most difficult birds.

These were just a few of the 100 plus species we identified during a day of birding at and near Lands in Love and we were still missing a bunch of commonly seen birds. Always great stuff to see there, can’t wait to go back!

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admin on August 20th, 2014

We all have our bogey birds, those troublesome species that play a permanent game of avian hide and seek. The only problem with the game is that bogey birds are on a winning streak that can last for years. Some of the most unrepentent players of this frustrating means of play are species like Masked Duck (my personal nemesis), Boreal Owl, and Conn. Warbler . Those birds just love to bend space and time to avoid you, and you know that you are dealing with a bogey when you experience too many dialogues like so:

“Hello?”

“Guess what I am looking at!”

“I don’t know, an Ivory Gull?”

“How did you know! YES! I’m, feeding it dog food, took 400 pictures, and it’s not going anywhere! I know you need it so come and tick it!”

“Ok, I’m on my way!”

Half an hour later, you step out of the car with high spirits and binoculars at the ready. However, as you approach your faithful birding friend, the victory spring in your steps turns to an uneasy, stuttering stroll when you see the apologetic look on his or her face. You know what that means because it’s not the first time this has happened to you. You don’t even need to ask if your long awaited mega tick Ivory lifer Gull is around because the face says it all.

Sheepishly, your friend says, “Ahh, it left 5 minutes ago. Maybe it will come back”.

You know the score, though, so you sigh and say, “I’ll wait but what can you expect from a bogey bird”.

Of course, it fails to show after a couple of cold hours so you head back to home, work, or some other non-birding endeavor. Sure enough, it either shows up right after you depart, or the next day, or some other time when you can’t see it. Such is the curse of the bogey bird and it won’t be broken until some angelic individual Ivory Gull, Black Rail, or Northern Goshawk jumps into view and says, “Yes, my kind does exist! Lifer hereby granted!” With the curse broken, you then of course see flocks and multiple individuals of the much wanted species because they know that the game is over. They don’t want to play it any more with you so they settle their mischievous sights on the next needing birder.

I finally broke one of those curses this past Sunday on a trip to Chomes. We were actually looking for other birds (and that might be the key to ending the accursed game) but I was glad to FINALLY get Long-billed Curlew for Costa Rica. Yes, I have seen the tawny senor Pinocchio on wintering grounds in Mexico and watched its antics on the short grass prairies of Colorado but I still needed it for my Costa Rican country list. Others have espied it many a time in Costa Rica and one friend has seen the species on just about every visit he has made to Chomes. He was with us on Sunday so this is probably why the curse was broken but I’m not complaining, I will break that bogey bird curse any way I can!

This Long-billed Curlew was one of the first birds we saw.

Look at the outrageous bill!

The curlew wasn't the only bird there. We also had hundreds of dowitchers, plovers, Western sandpipers, and other species.

As for the Masked Duck, I’m done playing with that skulking, web-footed zorro of the marshy underworld. If it shows, I will look sans elation. If I don’t see it, it’s dead to me anyways! You hear that, you bunch of no fair playing, poor excuses for a relative of a Ruddy Duck? When I see you, I won’t even raise the voice! There won’t be any excitement or birding dance at your appearance. No, I’m going to be as casual with you as mentioning the presence of a Blue-gray Tanager. In fact, I might not even tick you off the list! Ha! Still want to play hide and seek?

(If anyone reading this seems to be a magnet for Masked Ducks, let me know! Just keep it on the down low…)

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admin on August 14th, 2014

Getting ready for a birding trip to Costa Rica? Hope to come to this birdy land at some happy, future time? If so, start learning about the Costa Rican avifauna now because we aren’t talking about 300 birds to look at but a country list of 900 plus birds. Some of those species are familiar, others are from your best birding dreams, and then there are the birds that supposedly belong to the same families as the ones at home, but look like the feathered variety of the X-Men.

The super White-throated Magpie-Jay.

Don’t believe me? Just raise your bins in Costa Rica and check out those big, bold wrens. While we also have the small and plain Troglodytes, I’m talking about the big, babbleresque birds thatd defy your definition of “wren”. Unlike their smaller cousins, these guys actually do have appearances that compete with their sonorous songs:

Rufous-naped Wren: Fun to watch, easy to see, and always singing. You can’t miss this one on a trip to Costa Rica.

Rufous-naped Wren

Band-backed Wren: Also arboreal but a bird of humid forest on the Caribbean slope. More common in the past, they can still be seen in lowland and foothill rainforest. It’s cool to watch these patterned wrens forage with a mixed flock.

Band-backed Wren.

Rufous-breasted Wren: Smart looking bird! It likes to skulk in vine tangles in Carara National Park.

The Rufous-breasted Wren is not as big as the others but too beautiful to leave off of the list.

Spot-breasted Wren: This one is much more a bird of Nicaragua north to Mexico but you can see also see them in Costa Rica around Cano Negro. Song of Spot-breasted Wren.

Stripe-breasted Wren: Learn one of the main songs given by this bird to know that you aren’t hearing a pygmy-owl. This one can be tough to see because it loves to hang out in the dense vegetation of wet rainforest. Listen to a Stripe-breasted Wren.

Riverside Wren: Yeah, they do like riparian zones but the name fails to hint at their exotic plumage. Watch for this one along forested creeks and streams from Carara on south. Riverside Wren song.

Bay Wren: This one is a real beauty and looks more like some babbler from the Sundaic bioregion. You will be happy to know that it’s also a common resident of second growth on the Caribbean slope.

Bay Wren

Rufous and white Wren: The name says it all when it comes to its appearance but the song is magic. Listen and watch for this wren in riparian zones and moist forest on the Pacific slope. Rufous and white Wren song.

Rufous and white Wren

Banded Wren: This common, dry forest species is another one to listen to. Banded Wren song.

Banded Wren

Plain Wren: Definitely the plainest of the bunch and a lot like a Carolina, you will hear it sing and call from coffee farms and second growth. Plain Wren song.

Plain Wren

Black-throated Wren: This wren likes to pretend that it’s an antbird but is all wren when it sings. Black-throated Wren song.

Black-throated Wren

Black-bellied Wren: Possibly the finest of the bunch, it’s nevertheless a pain to see. Learn the beautiful song to know what’s hiding in that dense second growth. With enough patience, you might see one at places like Rancho Mastatal, the Golfo Dulce lowlands, and other humid forest sites on the southern Pacific slope.

Black-bellied Wren

Black-bellied Wren song.

These aren’t the only wrens in Costa Rica but they are the bold and beautiful. If I can ever manage photos of Nightingale and Scaly-breasted Wrens, I will write about those gnomish wrens with amazing songs.

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admin on August 7th, 2014

Do you find yourself in Costa Rica these days? Do you wish you were in Costa Rica? Check out the following news items for insights, action, and intrigue about birds and birding in Costa Rica!:

  • Shorebirds are in town: Well, it’s their city of mudflats and shorelines and not bumpy roads where Rufous-collared Sparrows hop but if you are a birder, you get the picture. Sightings of shorebird species are coming in from Guacalillo and flooded fields in Guanacaste. Could someone please brave the heat waves of Chomes to see who happens to be probing the mud for worms and other invert delicacies?

    Least Sandpipers are coming to town.

  • Familiarize yourself with Peruvian Boobies and Inca Terns: No Peruvian Booby yet for Costa Rica but they really could be out there! According to Xenornis, several have now shown up at Amador, Panama and maybe there’s an Inca Tern to be found as well. If you see a booby with a white head, take a picture and send it to the AOCR.
  • Check out the 2014 Birding and Nature Festival in Costa Rica: It’s happening on September 19th to September 21st, includes guided walks at the EARTH campus and the Las Brisas Reserve, and cool bird talks. Very good chance of seeing Cerulean Warbler and other migrants in Costa Rica, and lots of cool residents, plus owls on the night walks.

    You might see a Sunbittern.

  • National Park Fee Hike: $10 per day apparently wasn’t quite enough to help fund the government (no, it doesn’t seem that those funds go back into the parks), so the fee for tourists has been raised to $12. Keeping with bureaucratic traditon, the birding unfriendly opening hours of 8 to 4 have not changed. Where to complain? I’m not sure but if I find out, will publish that on this blog.
  • Very cool video by someone else: Speaking of videos, I didn’t do this one but recommend watching it. Done by a young Canadian birder about his time in Costa Rica with his dad. Lots of nice shots, and enthusiastic commentary.
  • Almost at 600 species for the year: No, not major news really, but good news for me! I am just a few species shy of 600 for the year. Does that mean I will stop at 600? Of course not, the constant pseudo Big Year will march on like penguins in search of destiny, adventure, and fish!
  • Writing for 10,000 Birds: I will finish off with another tidbit of news about myself. I just became one of the beat writers for 10,000 Birds (a super cool birding blog).  Look for my posts every other Saturday, first one on the 9th.

Have any Costa Rican bird news you want to share? Send me a comment and it will probably make it onto this blog.

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