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admin on April 16th, 2019

“Buenos Aires” means something along the lines of “good airs” or “good winds”, maybe even ” a place with a pleasant atmosphere”. Although the big city in Argentina is best known as Buenos Aires, that megalopolis isn’t the only place of “good airs” in Latin America. In Costa Rica, we also have a few “Buenos Aires”, one of which is situated in the lower parts of the General Valley. A landscape of pineapple fields and natural savannas, habitats near our Buenos Aires are good for a bunch of birds tough to see elsewhere.

Although you won’t see any Tango in this much smaller Buenos Aires, you might lay eyes on a few birds hard to see in other parts of the country. These be birdies like Ocellated Crake, Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Rufous Nightjar, and White-tailed Nightjar.

In Costa Rica, all of these species are local residents and there is no better place in the country to see all of them than places near Buenos Aires. That’s why the Birding Club of Costa Rica did a trip there this past weekend. Thankfully, I was able to guide the trip and even better, Mary was also able to go. The end result was a successful weekend that involved each of the species mentioned above, at least a few lifers for all (including two for myself!), and a major boost for the Team Tyto year list.

Some thoughts about birding around Buenos Aires, Costa Rica:

Early morning and late afternoon birding– Expect hot and sunny. The birds mark that uncomfortable middle of the day with a siesta. Stick to early morning and late afternoon birding to see the specialties and most of everything else.

Special birds!– Most are in the natural grasslands in the hills above town. Listen to the crake (see below), scan for the very uncommon grass-finch, check dense viney vegetation for the thrush-tanager, and wait until dark for the nightjars. Local species easier at this site than other places also include Scaled Pigeon, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Bare-crowned Antbird, and Lesser Elaenia.

Lesser Elaenias were very common.

The crake- Easy to hear, nearly impossible to see. Yes, I know, most crakes are difficult and it’s tough to see that White-throated but senor Ocellated takes things to lower, more insidious levels of skulk. The Ocellated Crake is a rodent wannabe that will not leave the safety of its dense grass habitat. Once in a blue moon but in my experience, it is easier to see Black Rail than this one.

There was a crake somewhere in there.

More than grass birds– But there are more species than just grass birds! Rainforests down in the valleys and higher up also harbor antbirds, Streak-chested Antpitta, Marbled Wood-Quail, Fiery-billed Aracari, raptors, and much more. Even uncommon species like Turquoise Cotinga, Spot-fronted Swift, and White-crested Coquette have been seen in the area.

Seasonal– Some birds only show up when the conditions are right, namely seed eating species like Plain-breasted Ground-Dove and seedeaters. The best time for those birds might be from June to October.

Plain-breasted Ground-Dove.

Four Wheel Drive– The savannas on the road to Durika require four-wheel drive. If not, expect a long, hot (yet interesting) walk.

The Ujarras road– This road follows the course of river and passes near forest, second growth, and occasional houses. It was fairly birdy and really needs some annual breeding bird surveys. We went a ways down this road to successfully see Rosy Thrush-Tanager.

Bring your own breakfast– I doubt there is a place in town where one can have an early breakfast. Bring your own including coffee!

Support local birding, get in touch with Oscar Ortiz– Oscar is from the area and knows where many of the birds are located. He wants to promote birding and would be great to get more local folks interested and/or aware of birds around Buenos Aires. To help, contact him at his Facebook page.

If you are looking for some very interesting, quality birding off the beaten track, give the Buenos Aires area a try. Just make sure you have a four-wheel drive and are stocked with your own coffee and snacks. Good birding!

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Would you want to see 150 bird species in a day? The immediate response tends to be a big fat “yes!” but if we pause, step back and contemplate what a birding blur of a day that might be like, we of course still say “YES!” and just as emphatically as the call of a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher.

Actually, though, if all the birds are new, you might not want to have 150 species in one day. Although the generally accepted rule in birding is the more the merrier, if we see too much in one day, we can end up being confused about what we have seen, and might feel less appreciation for the birds we encounter. But hey, if a birder in Costa Rica doesn’t mind accepting the challenge, here are a couple of ideas to see 150 species in a day:

The Carara area– This is probably the easiest place to connect with that many birds in one day. It will be a long, likely hot, day of birding but you will be surprised at how many birds are on the list when the clock shows 5 p.m. Last week, I had just such an experience during an exciting day of guiding around Carara. To keep it brief, we began the birding on the Guacalillo Road, moved to the Cerro Lodge Road, then Carara National Park for the rest of the morning. Lunch at a seaside restaurant was followed by Tarcoles then the road to Pura Vida Gardens.

The end result was Pearl Kite, White-throated Magpie-Jay, various parrots, parakeets and Scarlet Macaw, Crane Hawk, point blank views of Streak-chested Antpitta, Red-capped Manakin, an excellent antswarm, and a bunch more to hit 143 species seen and 20 plus more heard. And that’s not running around like the proverbial headless jungle fowl either but just steady birding until 4:30 p.m. or so.

La Gamba– Way down south, the road to the Esquinas Lodge area and trails in the forest can yield 150 plus species. Several will likely be heard only but a full day of birding around there is typically fantastic on account of the winning combination of open wet fields, riparian zones, gardens, and mature lowland rainforest. If you still have energy to bird, the night birding in that area is also excellent!

Sarapiqui- This classic site can also turn up 150 or so species in a day. A birder would probably need to visit more than site in the area doing that can certainly result in a large number of species. Last month, I did just that while guiding and we got around 150 by birding on roads near Quinta de Sarapiqui, behind Selva Verde, and at the edge of La Selva.

Are you ready to see more than your share of tropical birds in one day? How about a few hundred or more during a week? Support this blog and check out my 700 plus page e-book “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. If I don’t transfer the book right away, it’s because I am out guiding and will get it to you within a few days.

Hope to see you in Costa Rica!

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admin on April 2nd, 2019

While out birding or guiding, I usually have a camera on hand. Having
become part of the modern day birding kit, that would be expected. But, the funny thing is, I don’t take that many pictures of birds. I guess I would but I already have more than enough images of hundreds of species, especially the common, easy to shoot ones like flycatchers, toucans, and Short-tailed Hawks.

I still bring the camera, though, but more for shots of birds in flight, rarities, and just in case probability takes an unlikely right turn in my direction to bring me good shots of Tawny-faced Gnatwren or other deviously difficult birds to photograph. I don’t take such pictures to expand my portfolio, I release the shutter with the hope of adding more images to the birding apps I work on. They have to be quality images and since the Costa Rica Field Guides app now shows images for more than 900 species, there aren’t too many more that I can get pictures of anyways.

However, there’s always that chance that I will suddenly have that skulking gnatwren or Tawny-crowned Greenlet paused and in good light, or get good shots of some of the swifts. However unlikely those scenarios may be, as with winning a lottery, they are still possible and the more I encounter those birds, as per the laws of probability, the more likely such photographic chances will present themselves.

But, fortunately for the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, I am far from the only person contributing images. In addition to the hundreds of excellent photos contributed by Randall Ortega Chaves (one of the co-founders of the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app), several people have helped us with images of a host of other difficult species. Many of the images are actually birds common elsewhere but a challenge to find and photograph in Costa Rica, birds like Great Shearwater, White Tern, and Northern Pintail. Although a birder might not be looking for those species in Costa Rica, or be likely to see them, we include those and every species on the official list for the country because that’s what a complete field guide should do. With that in mind, contributed are greatly appreciated and is why contributors are listed on the app, the app website, and, if desired, promoted on the app Facebook page.

Since the creation of the app, we have also routinely provided free updates with more images, vocalizations, and other information. Recently, we did another one, these are some of the new images:

Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, many thanks to Pete Morris at Birdquest for being so generous with this and so many other excellent images including the Uniform Crake pictured below.

Seth Beaudrault gave us a few very nice images of Barred Hawk and Scaled Antpitta, as with the birds above, both are species already shown on the app but there’s nothing like having more quality images of really cool birds.

Many thanks also goes to Jean Bonilla, a guide in the Monteverde area who made it possible to finally show the Black-breasted Wood-Quail on the app. This is the excellent picture he took and contributed:

In going through my photos from the previous year, I also found some images to include. They aren’t pictures of birds in perfect views but that’s actually why I put them on the app. The birding days are grand when all the birds show themselves in perfect light. However, since such days are also as rare as sightings of the RVG Cuckoo, I think it’s important for a field guide to also picture birds as they are often seen; in substandard light and in odd positions.

Birds like this Nutting’s Flycatcher,

this view of Western Kingbird,

and this White-necked Puffbird.

The app also now shows more images of ducks and a few other birds in flight and additional images of Rough-legged Tyrannulet and other uncommon species. We are just a few short images away from picturing every species on the list, if you would like to help us out, please contact me at information@birdingcraft.com These are the final birds we are looking for!-

  • Mangrove Rail
  • Ocellated Crake
  • Paint-billed Crake
  • Violaceous Quail-Dove
  • Cocos Cuckoo
  • Cocos Flycatcher
  • Cocos Finch
  • Short-tailed Nighthawk
  • Great Swallow-tailed Swift
  • White-chinned Swift
  • Red-fronted Parrotlet
  • Black-headed Antthrush
  • Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner
  • Silvery-fronted Tapaculo
  • Tawny-crowned Greenlet
  • Tawny-faced Gnatwren
  • Lined Seedeater,
  • Sulphur-rumped Tanager

As always, I hope to see you birding somewhere in Costa Rica!

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admin on March 29th, 2019

The high season for birding in Costa Rica is just about over. Although birding in April is just as good, after March, few birders visit. That’s a shame because April is dry enough for lots of excellent birding and green space is filled with bird song. The lack of birders in April might have something to do with Spring migration kicking into gear up north but given the number of birds possible in Costa Rica, it might be better to save that migration focused birding for May.

If you find yourself headed to Costa Rica this April, you are in luck, because this is what might be happening in this neck of the woods!:

La Selva

Based on a recent morning of guiding and other reports, the avian action is all good. Purple-throated Fruitcrows are showing well on the STR Trail and I have even heard this vocal cotinga from the entrance road. Given the large number of trees sadly felled during a violent wind storm, I can’t help but wonder if the uptick in fruitcrow encounters is related to birds moving further afield is they search of food. Whatever the explanation may be, they should continue to be easier to see in April.
Other good stuff at La Selva includes Agami Heron seen on small, forested streams, lots of White-ringed Flycatchers, Scaled Pigeon, and easy looks at Great Green Macaws.

As with most sites in the Caribbean lowlands, Rufous-winged Woodpecker is also common there.


The magical, mega bird we all want to see is in the house anywhere in the Costa Rican highlands. Well anywhere with forest and fruiting wild avocado trees. Thanks to heavy rains during much of 2018, this year’s avocado crop is a good one, there are lots of trees with quetzal food. As a bonus, those same trees can also attract Black Guans and other species.


April is a fantastic time for spring migration in Costa Rica. You know all those Barn Swallows, Cliff Swallows, Eastern Kingbirds, and Chimney Swifts seen on their breeding grounds? A large percentage of them probably pass through Costa Rica, most in April. Watch thousands and thousands of these birds fly overhead in the Caribbean lowlands, and check trees, bushes, and forest for Scarlet Tanagers, Red-eyed Vireos, thrushes, and various warblers including Blackburnian, Canada, and even Ceruleans. Oh yeah, and try and count the thousands of Eastern Wood-Pewees too.

A few raptors will be around too..

Foothill forest birding

I was at Quebrada Gonzalez and El Tapir the other day. Let me tell you, both sites have lots of fruiting trees. Maybe even more than could be consumed by the number of birds present! Tons of food are available and the birding will be good, maybe even throughout the day. I had good numbers of tanagers including one or two Blue-and-Golds, “singing” Yellow-eared Toucanet, and a few other choice species revealing their presence through song. Go birding at these and other foothill sites, it’s gonna be serious!

Monteverde zone

April kicks off with a concert where my friend Robert Dean is playing his new music. I really wish I was going! But, I can’t make it this weekend, hopefully I can during another one soon because bellbirds are calling and umbrellabird has been seen. Since the Monteverde area is also good for leaftossers, Azure-hooded Jay, and lots of other cool birds, consider yourself in luck if you are headed up to Monteverde in April.


Although waders could be placed under the migration category, such cool long distance species deserve their own slot. You might not visit Costa Rica for shorebirds, they might be the same ones seen up north, but for those who reside in Costa Rica, April is golden for the waders. Spring shorebirding in Costa Rica is fantastic, perhaps best in late April with constant movements of migrating birds and large numbers of everything from Semipalmated Sandpipers to Stilt Sandpipers and Wilson’s Phalaropes. It’s good, it’s exciting, and always worth birding sites like Punta Morales or Chomes or Ensenada, even if they are as hot as blazes. Hey, all the better reason to get an ice cream at a Pops in Liberia or especially that one on the highway between Chomes and Miramar.

April is going to be good, I hope you are on your way to Costa Rica! I can’t wait to see which migrants Mary and I find, I hope we kick up that year list endeavor as we scout and prepare ourselves for Global Big Day, 2019. If you are headed to Costa Rica, preparing for or planning a trip, or just feel like supporting this blog, please consider purchasing, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica, a 700 plus page e-book with information on where to see birds in Costa Rica, how to find them, and how to identify them.

Hope to see you in Costa Rica, it’s closer and easier than you think!

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admin on March 18th, 2019

I live in the Central Valley of Costa Rica. Along with a couple other million folks, we share remnant green space with remnant populations of the endemic Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow, Rufous-collared Sparrows singing in the streets, Blue-gray Tanagers, Great Kiskadees, and Gray and Short-tailed Hawks living the raptor life.

Other birds also live in the valley, including some that persist in the shade and steep banks of riparian green zones. These are birds like Gray-cowled Wood-Rail, Tropical Screech-Owl, and even Gray-headed Chachalaca. The additional flavor these and other species lend to the local birding scene is always welcome but does it compare to the avifauna of the Caribbean slope? Not quite. It’s much wetter over there on the other side of the central volcanic range and there’s more forest. Those two factors equate to a large and wonderfully diverse avifauna, a true birder’s delight.

This past weekend, Mary and I got in some of that delightful Caribbean slope birding. We also added a bunch of year birds, some of them uncommon species best seen now rather than later. We probably saw something like 150 species during a wet yet productive day of birding in the Arenal Obseratory Lodge area and a brief visit to Cope’s on the drive back home. These were a few of the highlights and observations:

Tiny Hawk– It might be small but that’s why this miniature raptor is so coveted (and tough to see). Seriously rapacious, this rainforest feathered weasel snatches hummingbirds and even species up to the size of Great-crested Flycatcher. Around the same size as a Turdus thrush, it can even look a bit like one in flight. That’s just what I saw while Mary and I birded one of the trails at the Observatory Lodge, a glimpse of a thrush or Myiarchus sized bird that flew and perched in the canopy. I knew that something wasn’t quite right about that bird, luckily, it stayed where we could see enough of it to discover that it was indeed a Tiny Hawk! Uncommon and always tough to see, this was an excellent find. It left before we could manage any pictures but not before we had it in the bag for 2019.

Great Black Hawk– It was a good day for raptors! We had close looks at this “forest black-hawk” from the Casona overlook at the Observatory Lodge. This site is a good area for this formerly more common species but it can still be easily missed. Other raptors seen by us that same rainy day were King Vulture (perched and in flight), White Hawk, and Harris’s Hawk en route.

The River of Raptors!– During a break in the rains on Sunday, we connected with this annual flow of birds heading north somewhere in the Caribbean lowlands. A brief stop had us marveling over hundreds of Broad-winged and Swainson’s Hawks that circled overhead, all flying north.

Guans and curassows– Thanks to long term protection, these large turkey like birds are easy to see at various sites in Costa Rica including the Observatory Lodge. As is usual for this site, we had several close views of Crested Guan and a couple of Great Curassows. Gray-headed Chachaalacas on the drive in rounded out the Cracid mix.

Fasciated Tiger-Heron– We had a close look at one at a classic site for this stream specialist- at the stream just before the entrance to the Observatory Lodge. No Sunbittern yet but there’s still plenty of time in 2019 to see that odd, intriguing bird.

White-tipped Sicklebill– I’m happy to report that the bird at Cope’s is still present! As often happens at this special site, we had close looks at one that perched and fed while being entertained by various other species visiting the feeder.

Keel-billed Motmot, Bare-crowned Antbird, Thicket Antpitta– What might these birds have in common? All are regular in the Arenal area and we got all three in quick succession. A fourth, the White-fronted Nunbird, failed to show but we’ll probably see it on another visit.

Although our three main target birds didn’t appear (Great Potoo, sapsucker, and Cape May Warbler), others made up for it. As with any area of good habitat on the Caribbean slope, the birding at the Observatory Lodge was fantastic. Many more species are possible, I wonder what we will see the next time Team Tyto birds on the other side of the mountains?

Do you want to see these and other birds in Costa Rica? Contact me at information@birdingcraft.com to set up your birding trip in Costa Rica.

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admin on March 12th, 2019

The number of bird species that occur in Costa Rica is kind of off the charts. Yes, Colombia has the most and Mexico even has a bigger list than Tiquicia but in terms of avian diversity per square meter, Costa Rica is hard to beat. Tired of seeing lifers in the bird-rich Caribbean lowlands? An additional suite of tanagers, antbirds, and others are a short drive away. Want more hummingbird? Head higher into the mountains and all the hummingbirds are new along with a healthy set of near endemics.

Near endemics like that bird with the bulldog look, Prong-billed Barbet.

Go to the other side of the mountains and more birds are possible. Suffice to say, in Costa Rica, a bonanza of birding awaits and good roads make it easy! I was thinking about just that while guiding a small group of friends two weeks ago. As we visited such sites as Tolomuco, the Dota Valley, and the Caribbean lowlands, the birds added up, and many were high quality, much desired species. During that time frame, more than 300 species were identified, and more than a few were added on the final days of the trip with another guide. Not only did we see around 300 species of birds during the first 6 days, but we also had many birds that were uncommon and/or difficult.

Birds like Great Potoo.

These are some of the highlights:

Resplendent Quetzal

One of the most spectacular bird species in the world can’t help but be a perpetual highlight. We had especially good looks at a roadside male in the Dota Valley. Lately, quetzals have also been showing on the road to Poas, it should get even better as the avocado fruit crop ripens in the next few weeks.

Other key highland species: Silvery-throated Jay

Although most of the high elevation birds are fairly easy to see, a few others can be a real challenge to find. One of those key rare species is the Silvery-throated Jay. Unlike some other Corvids, this small dark blue jay needs high quality primary forest and even then it’s not that common. With that in mind, finding two in the primary forests on Savegre’s Robles Trail was an excellent way to end a great day of birding.

31 species of Hummingbirds

And that’s not counting the Band-tailed Barbthroats that were heard nor the guide only Bronzy Hermit seen at Quinta de Sarapiqui! Thanks to feeders and flowering bushes, we had a fine haul of hummingbirds including White-tipped Sicklebill. Tolomuco was especially good and gave us sightings of Volcano, Scintillant, and Snowy-bellied Hummingbirds, White-tailed and Garden Emeralds, and other species.

Scintillant Hummingbird

White-throated Mountain-gem was also nice.

Great Green Macaws, Vermiculated Screech-Owl, and White-fronted Nunbirds in the Sarapiqui Lowlands

Birding in the Sarapiqui lowlands paid off with more than 150 bird species identified in one action packed day along with views of White-fronted Nunbirds, Pied Puffbird (plus White-necked heard), Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, White-ringed Flycatcher, and many more. Great Green Macaws were seen feeding at close range, and we finished the day with close views of Vermiculated Screech-Owl. All of our birding took place on the La Selva entrance road, another excellent birding road that loops behind the Selva Verde property, and roads near Quinta de Sarapiqui.

Cinchona, Guarumo, and Cope

Stops at various sites with fruit feeders rounded out the trip. Both barbets, Northern Emerald Toucanet, Buff-fronted Quail-Dove, and even Black Guan (!) showed at Cinchona. Guarumo, a rather new site near Cope’s places, had point blank views of both large toucans and various other lowland species, and Cope’s gave us the sicklebill and American Pygmy Kingfisher as soon as we arrived!

As far as the birding goes, it was pretty fantastic every day of the trip but as always, the biggest highlight was guiding people who truly relish the experience. Hope you have a good birding trip to Costa Rica!

A couple of final reminders-

If you are looking for a tour or need arrangements for your trip, I can help, contact me at information@birdingcraft.com

Get the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app to study for the trip, make checklists of target species and bird with your own digital field guide.

Get my e-book How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica for 700 plus pages of information on where to find birds in Costa Rica and how to see them. Your purchase is much appreciated and supports this blog!

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admin on March 5th, 2019

March marks the final month of the high season for birding in Costa Rica. Although any time is a good time for birdwatching in this mega diverse country, most tours and birders pay a visit between January and April. Based on the number of birders I have recently seen at Carara, the Dota Valley, and other hotspots, a lot have opted for trips in February, 2019. We can expect a lot more birders in the next four weeks, if you are one of those lucky people, the following information might be of help:

Cope, Excellent as Always! But Make a Reservation…

A recent trip to Cope’s place turned up the usual assortment of quality bird species. Upon arrival, we were immediately greeted by some of the folks from Rancho Naturalista (Lisa, Harry, and two guests) who got us on to perched White-tipped Sicklebill and American Pygmy Kingfisher. Chestnut-headed Oropendola and a few other nice feeder birds quickly followed.

A bit further afield, he brought us to a roosting Spectacled Owl and a Great Potoo. Nothing like quality birds one after another in one or two short hours! I really wished we could have stayed longer, I would have loved to but we had to move on for more birding and our lodging for the night. The Cope experience is a must but before you decide to go, make a reservation. Otherwise, he might not be able to accommodate you and you could be turned away. To make a reservation, contact me at information@birdingcraft.com

Early Spring Migrants are Late

March migrants elsewhere might take the form of geese, huge flocks of blackbirds, or groups of thrushes moving from tree to fruiting tree. In Costa Rica, our early birds are Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Piratic Flycatcher, and Yellow-green Vireo. Since this country tends to have such a wet and productive rainy season, these tropical species come to Costa Rica to take advantage of it. Some usually arrive in January and most are gone by August or September. This year, they are definitely coming back later rather than earlier. While Harry Barnard, one of Rancho Naturalista’s excellent guides, was telling me that he has seen very few of these migrants so far this year, I realized that I hadn’t even had a Sulphur-bellied in 2019 and only one or two Yellow-green Vireos. At some point, they should arrive in force but at the moment, seem to be rather thin on the ground. Well, except for Piratic Flycatchers. More seem to be calling day by day.

Another Site for Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow Bites the Dust

Or maybe I should say, “goes up in flames”?

Historically, Costa Rica’s newest endemic lived in a mosaic of brushy, semi-wooded habitats in the Central Valley. When coffee farms replaced much of those original habitats, it had to adapt to the new neighborhood. However, the species couldn’t help but draw a line with the latest changes to its already limited world. The nouveau habitat of asphalt, concrete, and housing might work for grackles and Rufous-collared Sparrows, but it just doesn’t do it for the local, endemic “towhee”. While this handsome sparrow does seem to persist in remnant bits of green space and riparian zones, it never seems to be common and is likely Near Threatened or even one step closer to being officially Endangered.

With that in mind, every bit of green space counts, especially when it’s a fairly large area of brushy habitat. Unfortunately, half of one such area is no more, a site where I have regularly seen and showed this species to people. Half of it was recently burned and on Monday, the blackened bits of field and vegetation were being eliminated with a tractor. This vegetation was also used by several migrants from the north. The other half of the site still retains a mix of coffee and brush but who knows for how long? To support conservation of this endemic species, please contact the folks at the Cabanis’s Project.

Great Green Macaws Feeding on the La Selva Entrance Road

It must be that time of year. Fruiting palms on the entrance road into La Selva are attracting macaws for fantastic close looks! They aren’t there all day but hang by those palms in the morning and you might get close looks of this spectacular mega.

Jabiru Show at Cano Negro

Low water levels have been concentrating the birds at Cano Negro. I’m not sure how long it will last but if your boat driver can bring you to one of those last remaining pools, you will likely be treated to several Jabirus among a few hundred other wading birds. When you take your eyes off the huge storks, take a careful look at the other birds, there might be something even rarer in there.

In addition to the species mentioned above, visiting birders can expect calling quetzals, birds building nests, fairly dry conditions, and the usual exciting birding found in Costa Rica. Have a great trip!

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admin on February 21st, 2019

Like most birders from the eastern USA, I became familiar with the Gray Catbird shortly after receiving my first binoculars. They were 7 x 32 Jason-Empires from Sears and had a fast focus lever. Although I can’t recall the moment, I must have used that focusing lever to get a close look at many a catbird during my first days of summer birding. It’s a common bird up that way, a species of sumac thickets and sweet scented vegetation of June mornings. They were easy to hear too, those sleek dark gray birds with their mewing calls.

On my last summer visit up north, I was surprised at how abundant they were in the thickets along the Niagara Gorge. Catbirds were probably always just as common, but since they are decidedly uncommon in Costa Rica, I had a new found appreciation for them. Those cool Mimids migrate south but most just don’t go quite as far as southern Central America. This is why it can be a tough one to add to a Costa Rican year list, one that many local birders still need, and a bird that you can’t just take for granted. With that in mind, Mary and I targeted Gray Catbird and a few other choice species during a recent morning of birding in the Sarapiqui lowlands.

You won’t see Luscious Green Honeycreepers in the Niagara Gorge…

A classic birding zone, Sarapiqui lays claim to such famous hotspots as the La Selva Biological Station, Selva Verde lodge, Dave and Daves, and other places that will give your binoculars a work out. Thanks to inspiration from Chris Fischer’s wonderful blog, , we tried for the catbird along with Yellow-breasted Chat and various resident lowland birds required for our year list.

We found our hoped for Rufous Motmot.

Starting at the Comandancia Road, we found suitable chat habitat that must have been the same spot where one had been seen in January. Although the chat failed to come out and play, Mary was successful in calling in a catbird! True to its name (and the sacrificial birder effect), when I went to fetch the car, she heard its mewing cat-like calls. Luckily, it stayed long enough for me to also see it. An excellent year bird, it was also a long awaited lifer for Mary. In fact, she had waited so long to see one, she could hardly believe it was a catbird when looking at it. She told me, “But it looks like a thrush, it looks dark, I have waited so long to see one, it just doesn’t seem possible.”

But it indeed was and our year Gray Catbird joined a very productive list that also included two species of macaws, brief looks at a Snowy Cotinga, and many other year birds including Slaty-breasted Tinamou, Semiplumbeous Hawk, Scaled Pigeon, Plain-colored Tanager, White-ringed Flycatcher, and other key species. We even heard Purple-throated Fruitcrows (!) a species I have never encountered at the edge of La Selva Biological Station.

With Gray Catbird in the bag, hopefully we can continue the trend of seeing species common up north but kind of rare in Costa Rica. Those would be birds like Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, other warblers, a Sharpie and a Coop. At least if we don’t see them now, we can still look from them in November. In the meantime, we also have more than enough cool resident species to search for, species like nunbirds, antbirds, and a small owl that lacks spots.


admin on February 13th, 2019

The second month of the year is one of the more popular times for visiting Costa Rica, especially for birders. The combination of dry season and a warm, sunny escape rightfully appeals. For birders from Europe, the deal gets sweetened by Prothonotary Warbler and other wintering birds from the north. It is good time to wear binos in the land of quetzals although it’s not the only time to visit.

Keep in mind that you can see just as many resident species and perhaps more easily at other times of the year. Hotels stays will also be cheaper and there won’t be any trouble finding rooms or experienced guides. But, it’s February now and these are a few things to expect:

More owl vocalizations

Well, I don’t know, maybe not because owls are so notoriously unreliable. But, I do feel like they call more right now, that was certainly the case when Mary and I heard several calling Mottled, Black-and-White, Crested, Spectacled, and a Tropical Screech Owl near Jaco in less than an hour before down! A sweet set of year birds, many more to come in 2019.

Sunny, windy weather

High pressure systems bring windy, sunny conditions to much of Costa Rica and especially in February. It makes for pleasant scenery but takes a bite out of birding. It can also get out of hand in Guanacaste with high wind speeds. If birding up that way, I would look for birds in sheltered spots and around water sources. Speaking of that…

Maybe an interesting migrant or two?

Admittedly of more interest to local birders than folks from up north, now is when we have a better chance of finding a Cedar Waxwing, Northern Parula, or some other rare visitor to Costa Rica. A good way to find rare warblers and other vagrants in Costa Rica during February is to search for them at any water sources in windy Guanacaste. I wish Mary and I were up there now actually waiting by some windswept remnant bit of water. Well, maybe only if something rare shows but I bet something would.

Lots of other typical, great birding

As usual, we can expect this on any visit to Costa Rica. The birding is fantastic, there is always a lot to see and identify with a birding app for Costa Rica. I hope you have a great trip!

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admin on February 7th, 2019

Year birding isn’t the same as every day birding. It can be but in general, if you want to maximize your year list, you have to think long term and use your time wisely. If a rarity appears, you might need to chase it. If you get a chance, a window of birding time to look for winter ducks, this might be your golden opportunity. Pass up the chances and you are less likely to reach your goal because that day scheduled for a bobwhite, booby, or Black-throated Blue Warbler might be too windy or rained out. You might suffer some accident between now and then or there might be a family emergency that pushes birding right out of the picture.

Bird any chance you get but work on the birds that are here now rather than later, go for the tough species and the other ones will fall into place. That’s sort of what Team Tyto (Mary and I) have been doing since January 1st. We go birding when we can and will hopefully, eventually, get to enough places to surpass 700 before the end of 2019. Recently, we added a few nice ones here and there during sojourns to Jaco, Poas, and in the Central Valley…

Northern Potoo

Picking the best one first, we were very pleased to get this species for the year! It’s not easy and would have required a trip to Guanacaste likely accompanied by frustrating times as we listened for it in vain. Luckily, our year tick (and lifer for Mary!) happened while looking for shorebirds at night around Punta Morales (don’t ask). After having pretty much given up on the potoo responding to playback, a chance drive down a dike road to look for Boat-billed Herons brought us straight to the nocturnal prize. It was perched up on a lone post, looking all the while like some sculpture of a weird bird. This year bird gift was right in front of us and gave us walk away views. No Boat-billed Heron on that night but we’ll take Northern Potoo for 2019!

Resplendent Quetzal

What year in Costa Rica could ever be right without adding this star bird during the first few months? We got a pair up on Poas and hope to see more at other high elevation sites over the next several months.

Slate-colored Seedeater

It was good to likewise add this rare bird early in the game. I know a good site for it but who knows how long they will be there? Point blank looks at several of this local seedeater were some of the highlights during a long, fine day of birding. The Jaco area also yielded Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Baird’s Trogon, and a bunch of other cool birds.


Although we only saw one of these nocturnal predators, we still heard and counted several Crested, Mottled, Black-and-White, Spectacled, Tropical Screech, and Pacific Screech-Owls during some pre-dawn owling near Jaco!


Closer to home, it was satisfying to get both ground-sparrows at the same time. Although we will likely see them again in 2019, the endemic and endangered Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow is always a treat. The White-eared doesn’t look too shabby either.

Some good year birds for Team Tyto! We hope to find a lot more, now I just need to convince Mary to brave the freezing cold on Irazu to get that Unspotted Saw-whet Owl…

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