One of the most interesting things about birding in tropical habitats is the unpredictable nature of the endeavor. It seems like the more biodiverse a place is, the less predictable the bird species encountered. When venturing into rainforest with binoculars at the ready, the end result of this bio-trick is eventually ticking off species after species with careful, patient birding. After wondering where the other bird species were, you go back out that same afternoon and find some, and then a bunch more the following day. Keep visiting and you keep seeing more wondering where the heck those birds were the first time around.
As with most rainforest sites, this is the status quo at El Tapir. You never know what will show at the edge of the forest, and never know what will pop into view beneath the trees, but you do know that just about anything seems possible. “Just about anything” is code for a bunch of rare bonus species like umbrellabird, Sharpbill, the ground-cuckoo, maybe a Strong-billed Woodcreeper, maybe even Black-eared Wood-Quail. Since those birds are rare, no, they hardly ever show at the site but they always can, and on any visit.
During two recent visits, I had hoped that the cards would fall into place and give us an umbrellabird. After all, the big endangered cotinga has been seen near there recently, it occurs at that elevation at this time of year, and I still need it as a year bird. Although those cards didn’t play out, we were still dealt a deck with various other nice species. With the caveat that nothing there is guaranteed on a one day trip, these are a few things to sort of expect when birding this foothill site:
Lattice-tailed Trogon: El Tapir is a good site for this uncommon, localized foothill trogon. I do see it on most visits and that makes El Tapir one of the best places for it anywhere in its small range. Bird any of the trails the whole day and there’s a fair chance it will show. You still need to know what it sounds like though, because the big trogon hides exceptionally well in its extra-vegetated habitat.
Snowcap: Sounds like candy. Looks like candy. This is avian eye candy! The Porterweed bushes usually harbor several of these wonderful little hummingbirds. If you don’t see it here, or want to see it in more comfy settings where fantastic meals are served, give it a shot at Rancho Naturalista.
Black-crested Coquette: These guys come and go but one often shows up. Last week, two eventually turned up, the male at one point sharing perching space on a bare sapling with a Green Thorntail and a Snowcap.
Mealy Parrots and toucans: They can also be seen in many other places but these usually show quite well at El Tapir.
King Vulture and other raptors: The site is still pretty good for this condor of the jungle. If it’s sunny, watch the skies from the parking area between 9 and 12. Other raptors often show too, including Ornate Hawk Eagle this past Sunday.
Antwrens and antvireos: The heavy forests at El Tapir are usually reliable for Streak-crowned Antvireo, and Checker-throated and White-flanked Antwrens. These uncommon little birdies are tough to see at many sites because they need lots of mature forest but are regular at El Tapir to the point of seeing them on most visits. You have to bird on the forest trails but they usually, eventually show up, and often have other small birds with them.
Tanagers: As with other quality foothill sites, this is a good one for tanagers. Numbers vary and a lot can be around if there are fruiting trees. Most possible tanagers can also be seen if you connect with a big mixed flock “led” by White-throated Shrike-Tanager.
Keep looking and don’t be shy about birding El Tapir for more than one day!
It’s November, and it’s not exactly the high season for birding in Costa Rica but since it’s always good birding around here, count yourself lucky to be in Costa Rica right now. Yeah, sure, it rains most afternoons but it hasn’t been that bad, and there are some nice birds to see!
The biggest news has been the cooperative Rufous-crested Coquette at Rancho Naturalista. No, we don’t normally see this species in Costa Rica, and the only records are a few specimens from more than a century ago. Needless to say, if Costa Rica ever had a mega twitch, this is it!
It showed just before Halloween and as far as I know, this major lifer and/or country tick is still being seen today. A few dozen local serious birders have visited Rancho so far (many thanks to Rancho for welcoming everyone to come and see it), and most have had soul satisfying looks at the lost hummingbird as it shares a flower hedge with Black-crested Coquette and Snowcap. I haven’t been able to go there yet but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it stays for a while. A risky move for any twitch but with other responsibilities taking precedence, what are you gonna do? I hope the birding ball bounces my way but if not, at least lots of other local birders were able to add this local mega to their lists.
Not a mega Rufous-crested but a female Black-crested Coquette is still nice to see.
Since the bird showed at Rancho, a spot where people are carefully watching for birds every day, I can’t help but wonder how many others are around? By the laws of probability, there should be a few but since we are talking about a tiny bird that doesn’t sing and makes a living by being sneaky, we can’t really expect to find any (although we can keep looking!).
On another hummingbird front, I noticed that Snowcaps were also showing well at El Tapir this past weekend. They are usually there but not always. On Saturday, we had juveniles as well as adult males and females. In the woods, the birding was alright with some mixed flock activity hosting Streak-crowned Antvireo, and Checker-throated and White-flanked Antwrens, various tanagers, and vocal Scarlet-rumped Caciques. No luck with umbrellabird but there are probably a few in those woods. Up in the sky, raptors just weren’t there although we did get pretty nice looks at King Vulture.
The Scarlet-rumped Cacique is a rainforest blackbird species.
Over on the La Selva entrance road, the birding was good as always with Great Green Macaw, more than one calling Pied Puffbird (also seen), Plain-colored Tanager, and some other expected species. With the forest growing up there nicely, hopefully, we can expect an increasing number of more forest based species on that birdy little stretch.
At the Cinchona Colibri Cafe, the owners continue to add on to the place, this time including cement steps that lead down to a new feeding and birding area! Although we saw very few birds last week, it’s eventually going to be very good and is an improvement. I suspect that we saw no birds coming to the feeders (a first) because everything seems to be fruiting in the surrounding forests. Keep that in mind when birding on the Caribbean slope and just keep watching those fruiting trees for manakins, tanagers, euphonias, and rare species that may eventually show.
The new set up at the bottom of the steps. I should be checking it out again soon.
On the Pacific slope, the only recent birding I did was a day trip on the Puntarenas-Paquera ferry in search of year birds. To make a long story short, I managed one small flock of Red-necked Phalaropes (a sweet one for my Costa Rica year list, already had it in 2016 in Israel), but no other year birds and almost nothing else. There were a few Franklin’s Gulls and some Royal Terns but no storm-petrels, nor shearwaters, Sabine’s, nor even a Brown Booby! I eventually ran into Black Terns closer to Paquera and there were hundreds of them but I didn’t see anything else with them. It’s looking like I won’t get Brown Noddy, Bridled Tern nor a few other pelagics for the year but I’m still glad to have taken the ferry because the more data the better and you won’t see anything new if you don’t get out there and look.
Flock of Black Terns while Birding from the ferry.
Last but far from least, some raptors are still flying through on their way to South America. It won’t be going on for much longer but a few days ago, we were treated to hundreds of Swainson’s Hawks and Turkey Vultures flying over Rancho Magallanes near Chilamate. Over on the river, we got both Bare-throated and Fasciated Tiger-Heron but no luck with Sunbittern.
Once a month, I usually guide a weekend trip for the local Birding Club of Costa Rica. We get around to most corners of the country and in October the destination tends to be on the Caribbean. The 10th month is the best time of the year to visit sites near Limon because it’s high time for migration in the best part of the country for migration, and, as a bonus, it doesn’t usually rain as much in this part of the country. In the past, we have done trips to Manzanillo and Tortuguero on more than one occasion and have been treated to flocks of Eastern Kingbirds, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and Scarlet Tanagers along with other migrants while Gray-cowled Wood-rails prowled the ditches and lots of other rainforest species foraged in the trees.
A molting male Scarlet Tanager- a common sight on the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica in October.
This year, I had hoped to try a different site, and one that was before rather than after Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. This way, we could avoid the crowded streets seen in the small tourist town at this time of year, and maybe have a better chance at the uncommon Black-chested Jay. I was also hoping to find a place where I might have a chance at getting pictures of Sulphur-rumped Tanager, an uncommon, rarely photographed species that I still need an image of for the birding apps I work on. The place I settled on was Casa Calateas, a small, rural tourism initiative situated in the forested hills near Cahuita. It turned out to be a good choice, and here’s why:
Easy to get to: It was easier than I expected. Good paved roads get you to Cahuita and the turn off for Casa Calateas, then you drive up a gravel road to the lodge. Most of it was good enough for two wheel drive although to be sure, it’s probably best to visit with a vehicle that has four wheel drive. Birding on that entrance road is also good for a variety of edge and forest species.
Low cost: I forget what we paid but it was pretty cheap. To learn more, message Luis at the Casa Calateas Facebook site. Whatever we paid, I know that it was a good deal that included very basic yet clean rooms with mosquito nets, great local food and friendly service, and fine birding. If you need a place with more comforts, a pool, and air conditioning, this isn’t the place for you. But, if you don’t mind staying in a rustic place with good birding that directly helps local families, you might want to give Casa Calateas a try.
Lowland Forest Species: Much to my happiness, the place is surrounded by forest. Although much of it is old second growth, there is some mature forest, and old-growth forest can be visited with a really long hike. I would love to go back and check out that older forest in this under-birded area but we still had plenty of good forest birds around the lodge itself. There are a few trails that access the forest but you can probably see just as much by birding the entrance road. We did quite well with several sightings of Red-capped Manakin, Purple-throated Fruitcrows, White-flanked, Dot-winged, and Checker-throated Antwrens, both motmots, Black-crowned Antshrike, and several other expected species. Although we didn’t see it, Luis mentioned that he often spots Sunbittern foraging on the lodge entrance road.
Red-capped Manakins were pretty common and the males were doing their dancing thing.
“You should be dancing…”
The calls of Black-crowned Antshrike were a constant sound in the background.
Night birds were also good with at least two Great Potoos that called all night long, Crested Owl close to the lodge, and Mottled Owl.
I was very happy to get recordings of Crested Owl, and very close looks at one of the Great Potoos was also nice!
Other indicators of nice forest habitat were Bicolored and Spotted Antbirds, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, and Slate-colored Grosbeak.
The grosbeak is actually a canopy saltator. I find it interesting that this orange-billed bird has a call that sounds like the sharp, chip note of another orange-billed bird, the Northern Cardinal, while the other saltator species in Costa Rica don’t.
Semiplumbeous Hawk: This uncommon raptor is always a good bird. We had sightings of two or three from the canopy platform and inside the forest.
Not all plumbeous, just semi.
Raptor watching overlooks: Not just for raptors and I was psyched to check this out. It was indeed a bit like a canopy tower although most of the trees were pretty far off. Although we didn’t see any cotingas, we did scope White-necked Puffbird, parrots, toucans, Laughing Falcon, and some other species. We also enjoyed views of migrating raptors although those could also be seen right from the lodge and from another viewing spot. Because of the angle of the sun, the platform is best during the morning. Keep watching, you might see a hawk-eagle and lots of other possibilities. If you happen to get super lucky and spot a cotinga species that is not a Snowy, take pictures, you just might find Costa Rica’s first Blue Cotinga.
View from the platform.
River of raptors: It goes right overhead during migration and as the name implies, yes, it is spectacular. We had flock after elegant flock of Mississippi Kites, and had plenty of practice separating those from the more bellicose Peregrine Falcons that often zipped overhead.
The river flies overhead.
Kettles like this are commonplace.
We also had thousands of Broad-winged Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and Swainson’s Hawks along with a few Ospreys. Since other species can also fly over, Casa Calateas is a pretty good spot to just hang out and watch the skies.
Other migrants: Not as many as I had hoped and I was surprised to see nary a single Eastern Kingbird. But, we still glassed many a Red-eyed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager, Summer Tanager, Swainson’s Thrush, lots of pewees, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. We also had several Bay-breasted Warblers, and saw some other migrant warblers as well including an uncommon for Costa Rica Magnolia Warbler. As with any site used by waves of migrants, every day can bring new things, I wonder what showed up after we left? The best find was probably my much appreciated year Chuck-will’s-Widow.
Since I know there’s good stuff down there around Casa Calateas, I wish I could head right back, right now. If you go, enjoy the rainforest birds, the sounds of frogs and monkeys, and please leave a link to your eBird list in the comments.
My eBird lists from this site:
For those who follow my blog on a regular basis, I apologize for not posting recently. It seems that lighting strikes have finally taken out the cables we use for Internet access at my house. I hope we can replace them ASAP. If you haven’t received any replies from emails sent to me, this is the reason why, I hope to respond some time this week.
Carara National Park is a special place and not just because it’s one of the top spots for birding in Central America. It also scores points on account of the park being the northern boundary for many rainforest species on the Pacific slope of Costa Rica, including several endemics that barely cross the border into Panama. Not to mention, contrary to what everyone else was doing in that part of Costa Rica during the 20th century, the owner decided to let the forest stand rather than trade biodiversity for hot, chiggery cow pasture. It was eventually turned into an official protected area and national park, in large part because it acted as a refuge for a remnant population of Scarlet Macaws, a species that once roamed tropical forests from eastern Mexico to Panama. Since macaws don’t usually do well around people who are intent on subjugating their natural surroundings by means of deforestation and have a constant open hunting season on whatever they feel like killing and/or eating, the macaws quickly disappeared from most parts of their Central American range by the 1960s and 70s. They held on in the hilly rainforests of Carara, and at present, their story is far better than so many other birds, animals, and plants that have the misfortune to live during the anthropomorphic extinction event currently taking place. Visit Carara and many areas of Costa Rica’s Pacific slope nowadays and views of spectacular Scarlet Macaws are a given. A lot of other birds are also expected although for many species, you have to bird the humid forest.
A pair of Scarlet Macaws just outside the national park.
Most of that area does have a high humidity index with damn hot results, but rainforest species need more than water saturated air. Most species also require intact ecosystems with lots of big, mature trees, vines, palms, understory plants, forested streams, and other microhabitats that provide the right combination of humidity, rain, shade, and a myriad of other factors for such a high degree of biodiversity to coexist. In Carara, this is why you also need to bird inside the forest to have a chance at a the full complement of species that occur in and around the national park. Yes, birders should also check out dry forest on the other side of the river, pay a visit to mangroves, and check the estuary, open fields, second growth, the riparian forests on the floodplain trail (aka Laguna Miandrica Trail), and overlooks on the Bijagual Road, but make sure to also bird the trails that leave from the park headquarters.
Although several of these species can also be seen on the laguna trail, the following tend to be more common and easier on the HQ forest trails, and if you visit during the wet season, the floodplain trail might be flooded and closed anyways:
Marbled Wood-Quail (still pretty tough to see there)
Great Curassow (pretty rare but more likely here than on the other trail)
Charming Hummingbird (also on the other trail but seems easier in the forest)
Of course, there’s a 100 or so other species you could run into on the HQ forest trails but since they can also be seen on the floodplain laguna trail just as easily (and some more easily), they didn’t make it onto the list above.
Tips for birding inside the rainforests of Carara:
Keep on looking: Unlike the laguna trail, the forest is more dense and it can be more difficult to see the birds. BUT, you will still see a lot, especially if you take it slow and keep on looking all around. That means always checking the forest floor, then the understory, and then the canopy for any movement or perched birds. The birds are there, and since they are used to people, they might just let you walk on past rather than take alarm.
Try to get back as far as you can: The humid forest species seem to be most common on the other side of the stream. Spend as much time as you can on that back loop and you will have a better chance at Great Tinamou, Streak-chested Antpitta, Black-faced Antthrush, and most of the birds on the list.
Baird’s Trogon is more likely near the stream and on the back loop. As with several humid forest endemics, it doesn’t seem to be as common on the Carara trails as it used to be, probably because of consistent, drier weather affecting the forest. It, Golden-naped Woodpecker, Fiery-billed Aracari, and some other species are probably more common in higher, inaccessible areas of Carara.
Have a driver? Tell the chauffeur to meet you at the south entrance: This is really the best strategy for birding the forest trails because you can enter at the HQ and not have to backtrack it to the parking lot. Also, you won’t have to hurry back to make it out of the park by 4 when they close and lock the gate. This also makes it easier to bird the trails near the south entrance. This “entrance” isn’t really an official one but you can at least exit the forest there. When driving past the HQ entrance towards Jaco, it’s the spot where there is a metal gate with pictures of animals.
Hang out at the bridge: This is always a good spot to just hang out and see what shows up. Sadly, the massive fig tree there has died and will thus no longer attract tons of great birds when fruiting. The plus side is that seeing those birds was always a neck-breaking activity for distant anyways. The plus side is that, now, there is a better view of the sky in case a King Vulture or other cool raptor makes a pas overhead. Other stuff can show up along the stream and if you hear a mixed flock moving through the forest, you can always get off the bridge to chase it.
Mixed flocks: Keep looking for bird activity (as if you wouldn’t be doing thatanyways) to find mixed flocks with woodcreepers, Plain Xenops, and lots of other species. This is your best chance at finding a rare Long-tailed Woodcreeper (a definite future split from Amazonian Long-taileds).
Patience: This is always a virtue for birding and especially so inside any rainforest. The birds are there, just keep carefully listening and looking and you will see more. An experienced guide helps too of course.
With patience, you might find a low fruiting vine attended by Blue Dacnis and other tanager species.
Watch your step, don’t leave the trail: Just a final reminder to always watch where you step because Fer-de-Lances are out there and this venomous species isn’t all that rare. Although one might be on the trail, thay would be pretty unusual because the high degree of foot traffic probably keeps them off the path. This is also why you should stay on the path and not walk into the forest. Off the trail, it’s harder to see where you step, easier for a snake to hide, and you aren’t supposed to leave the trail anyways.
Hope to see you in the forest!
Last week, Costa Rica celebrated the country’s Independence Day with parades, speeches, and fireworks. As part of those festivities, my wife and daughter also had a few days off from school. We took advantage of that extra bit of free time with a trip to Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste, something that was more than OK with me because this area also acts as an excellent base for Guanacaste birding.
With rice fields that act as wetland habitats, dry forest, and scrubby fields all within easy reach, I had plenty of bird opportunities to keep me busy, especially because our trip coincided with major shorebird migration. Speaking of shorebirds, my first stop on the way there was the wader hotspot of Punta Morales.
This area of salt ponds next to mangroves is always a worthwhile place to scope at high tide and Thursday was no exception. Hundreds of the expected species were there and although I didn’t manage to eek any crazy stints or other rarities out of the mix, it’s always a fine day when you can pick up a year bird (Surfbird this time) while looking over Marbled Godwits, Whimbrels, Willets, Short-billed Dowitchers, Stilt Sandpipers, Wilson’s Phalaropes, yellowlegs, Western, Semipalmated, and Least Sandpipers, Spotted Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, and Black-bellied, Wilson’s, and Semipalmated Plovers.
Punta Morales at high tide.
A few dry forest species also made appearances before I got back into the car and drove off, as always, wondering if I had checked over each bird well enough, and if there was a Curlew Sandpiper or some other “great bird” sleeping out of sight on the other side of a muddy berm. What flew in after I left? What showed up later that day? It’s a real shame that we don’t have constant monitoring going on there and at the other main shorebird site, Chomes.
Further north I drove, and the driving became unexpectedly wonderful where the new highway began at Canas. That section of road from there up past Liberia is now a fine, concrete four-laned highway. Enjoy the ride!
Over at Playa Hermosa, I focused on the rice fields and woodlands on the stretch of road between there and the turn-off to Papagayo. In other words, this is the route to Hermosa that does not go near Playas del Coco. Since this area has turned up serious stuff like Aplomado Falcon and Upland and Baird’s Sandpipers in the past, and seems like a good place for other really good birds to show up, it’s always worth a close, thorough check. Try as I did to wish an A. Falcon or lost Vermilion Flycatcher into existence, no major luck there, but, I was pretty pleased to get looks at the pair of Jabirus that often frequent the site.
These birds come and go, it’s worth it to just keep checking.
Despite what appears to be heavy application of poison (aka pesticides), the rice fields also look like fine hiding places for Spotted Rails and other secretive marsh birds. I certainly played Spotted Rail calls here and there but got nothing in response. Well, I should say nothing definitive because I did hear an unknown rattling call that may have been a response. It never called again but since it sounded like a similar call I heard in the wetlands of Medio Queso under similar circumstances, I can’t help but wonder if that was THE BIRD. However, just like Medio Queso, this one never called again despite playing various calls of Spotted Rail (none of which match the sounds I heard by the way), and intently staring at marsh grass.
Other nice birdies included Limpkin, Harris’s Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Roseate Spoonbill, various herons and egrets, flyover Dickcissels, and close looks at Plain-breasted Ground-Doves.
This is a very reliable area in Costa Rica for this tiny dove species.
In the patchy forested areas near the entrance to Finca Trancas and on the way to Playa Hermosa, I had fun making early morning recordings of Thicket Tinamou, Yellow-naped Parrots, Banded Wrens, Long-billed Gnatwren, Olive Sparrow, Blue Grosbeaks, and other expected species. The tinamou stayed out of sight and was only in the forested riparian zone on the way to Playa Hermosa, and I only had a handful of the parrots. I had a few small groups of Orange-fronted Parakeets as well but, oddly, no White-fronted Parrots, usually the most common Psittacine in Guanacaste.
Always nice to see the threatened Yellow-naped Amazon.
A dawn chorus along that road:
Back over in the rice growing area, I was mostly looking for shorebird habitat. A few waders perched on the muddy berms out in the rice but the best spot was a muddy field and marshy area along a road on the southern end of the fields.
This harbored some Stilt and Solitary Sandpipers, dowitchers, and a few other shorebirds, best being an American Golden-Plover. Herons, egrets, and Blue-winged Teal were also out there as well as Ernesto Carman of Get Your Birds. We both wondered what else might be hiding out there in the big expanse of marshy grass. I was hoping for a Baird’s or early snipe but no luck this time.
Fine, muddy field habitat.
I also checked some fields over by Filadelfia and the catfish ponds but had few birds, couldn’t enter the ponds area, and the “ponds” looked pretty dry anyways. At the end of the trip, I was pleased to leave with 5 year birds, and some nice images and recordings. If you head up that way, enjoy the easy-going roadside birding and keep an eye out for anything unusual!
Some eBird lists from this trip:
Last weekend, I made my almost annual trip to Tapanti National Park. Like most places in Costa Rica, it’s not that far away, but like most places in Costa Rica, it’s also not the easiest of drives to make as a day visit. It is if you live around Cartago but if you happen to reside over near San Jose, there’s just no way to avoid the traffic, especially on the slow drive back. That’s the only thing that keeps me from visiting more often and I always wish I could because it’s one of the easiest places in the country for accessing high quality middle elevation forest.
The road through Tapanti.
We see similar forest types on the drive through Braulio Carrillo National Park but the lack of trails and places to stop means that “thou can look, but ye cannot touch” those areas where Rufous-breasted Antthrushes call, and Ochre-breasted Antpittas hide. Since there’s some other species at that elevation that I would love to get for the year, rarely see or hear, and for which we also need images for the birding field guide apps I work on, I’m always wanting to walk in those mossy middle elevation forests.
Tapanti provides a chance at those species and more, and although birds like Rufous-rumped Antwren and Red-fronted Parrotlet are still rare, this national park is one of the better places to look for them. Since there was also a recent bamboo seeding event in the park, Susan and I decided to risk the traffic and do a day trip to Tapanti. On the way there, we made the usual brief stop in front of Lankester Gardens to see if we could come across Sedge Wren and White-throated Flycatcher. No luck on Sunday although we only made a brief check for them on the edge of the remnant, endangered sedge field. Here’s an eBird list from the brief stop: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S31425150
Next, we cruised over to Tapanti, stopping just before the entrance to the park (since it doesn’t open until 8). Luckily, you can still see quite a few cool birds in that first area of forest, including the Streaked Xenops that we got. No luck with the monklet or antpittas but it’s always worth it to try for them.
We also had Collared Trogon.
Once the park opened, we waltzed on in and began with the birding. Our first species in the park were Ruddy Pigeons calling behind the HQ, expected Golden-bellied Flycatcher, and looks at Red-headed Barbet. Shortly after, we came across the first area of seeding bamboo and stopped to investigate. Seeds were still present but sadly, there wasn’t any sign of Slate-colored Seedeater, Blue Seedeater, nor Slaty Finch. However, intriguing glimpses of something moving in the bamboo resulted in scope views of Barred Parakeets!
This was the first time I have seen this species perched.
Although it’s easy to see this small parakeet calling and flying high overhead at various sites, it’s a real treat to see them perched. As we watched them, I understood why I have seen hundreds (probably thousands) of Barred Parakeets in Costa Rica, Mexico, and Ecuador without ever see the small green parakeet off the wing. This perched pair of very unobtrusive parakeets reminded me of owls the way they blended in with their surroundings. If we hadn’t seen them move, we would have just walked on past, oblivious to their presence. It was even hard to find them after knowing where they were.
There are Barred Parakeets somewhere in this image.
We enjoyed those Barred Parakeets for a while, hoping for other bamboo birds to show. They never did but it was still a treat to see the parakeets allopreen, and see one of them making what appeared to be soft calls that we couldn’t hear.
Further up the road, we ventured onto the steep Arboles Caidos trail but with the sunny weather and walking on it during the most non-birdy time of the day, we saw very little. There were some Spotted Barbtails, Lineated Foliage-gleaner, and some other expected species but we dipped on antpittas, the outside chance at the Central American form of the Black-banded Woodcreeper, and didn’t even hear Rufous-breasted Antthrush. It was still nice to get some exercise in beautiful forest though.
We also had several Wedge-billed Woodcreepers.
After exiting the trail at 11, a lot of Sunday visitors had arrived in the park, and some rain started to fall. We cruised the main road looking for mixed flocks and had a bit of luck but not with THE mixed flock I was hoping for (that would be the one with the rare birds). When the rain picked up and turned into a constant downpour, we decided to call it a day and make the drive back. The drive wasn’t all that bad although the pouring rain pounding the roadway wasn’t so fun.
If you plan on visiting Tapanti, try and speak with the rangers the day before to ask about an early entrance. If you can do that, head right over to the Oropendola trail and scan for Scaled Antpitta. It’s also better during mid-week. Bring your own food or have lunch at the small soda just outside the park- take the first right just after the forest and drive up to the small diner.
Last week, I did a trip to Luna Lodge, one of the more remote ecolodges in Costa Rica, and one of the only ones that provides access to the interior forests of the Osa Peninsula. As befits any lodge in the heart of quality rainforest, the birding at Luna is always exciting. Upon arrival, you wonder if an extra large eagle might appear in the spotting scope while patiently scanning the canopy of a forested hillside. You wonder if the calls of a rare Red-throated Caracara will be heard echoing through the humid jungles. I personally wonder if I will finally glimpse a Puma while hiking through the rainforest. With the lodge surrounded on all sides by forest that extends into the heart of one of Costa Rica’s wildest areas, it truly seems like anything is possible. Although there haven’t been any recently documented sightings of Harpy or Crested Eagles in the Osa, and Pumas are around but always expert at staying hidden, Luna Lodge and nearby areas would be one of the better places for sightings like these to happen. This is, after all, rough, rugged rainforest where monkeys are heard and seen throughout the day along with lots of birds.
Check out them jungles…
While they are still fresh in my mind, I present some highlights and observations from the trip:
A long drive: Driving from the Central Valley to Luna Lodge is an all day event. It takes around 8 hours to get there from the San Jose area and that doesn’t take into account any birding stops. Include birding en route and it takes a whole while longer to get there. Since the birding en route is very much recommended, you are better off not driving straight from San Jose but stopping for a night on the way. That, or just take a short flight to Puerto Jimenez or Carate (even more recommended!) and go from there. Although paved roads have made the trip far easier than in the past, you still have around 40 kilometers of rough, pot-holed, un-paved roads to drive over along with a few river crossings thrown in for good measure. That said, that section of the road also has some of the more exciting birding opportunities, and it would be worth it to slowly bird it from Puerto Jimenez.
Tarcoles: A small seaside settlement where the biggest attraction is a river with a high population of crocodiles might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is good for birding! We stopped there to check seasonal wetlands for whatever and the river mouth for shorebirds, terns, and other things with webbed feet. As usual the morning birding between Tarcoles and Playa Azul was nice and punctuated by Mangrove Vireo, Crane Hawk, Scarlet Macaws, and other species. Nothing unusual in the wetlands, nor on the beach, but always birdy. The best on the beach was probably Collared Plover.
The pink feet of a Wood Stork were a close second.
Dominical: Once you reach Dominical, you have the temptation to stop and bird side roads that access good rainforest, or even look for stuff from a gas station. We did that with the hopes of seeing Spot-fronted Swift. As luck would have it, we did almost certainly see them but with the frustration of not seeing or hearing anything absolutely diagnostic because of uncooperative lighting and distance from the birds. This means that we did see a flock of swifts that, by shape and flight pattern, were not Costa Rican, Lesser Swallow-tailed, White-collared, or Chestnut-collared. Since Spot-fronted are seen here regularly, there was a 99% chance that this is what they were. BUT, since the very similar White-chinned Swift has been found near there, even though it is far less likely, that still leaves enough room to cast some doubt on the birds being Spot-fronted Swifts. If only they would have flown a bit lower!
Rice fields: These pseudo wetlands are en route and if they have water, can have some nice birds. Check enough of them and you might even find Spotted Rail, Paint-billed Crake, and Slate-colored Seedeater. We didn’t find those with the brief checks we allotted but we did see lots of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Southern Lapwing, and a small flock of Shiny Cowbirds. They are also always worth checking to see if you can find a lost Wattled Jacana for your Cosa Rican list.
Cuisine: The food at Luna Lodge is fantastic. So good. Creative, delicious, healthy dishes that use several ingredients right from their organic garden. Enjoy dining amidst the sounds of the rainforest.
Rooms: Comfortable, peaceful, and with views into treetops that can have Turquoise Cotinga.
Turquoise Cotinga: Speaking of this one, it is fairly common at Luna Lodge and hard to miss. We had excellent views of males and females from the birding platform, from the rooms, and from a site near Luna Lodge (the hip sounding “Shady Lane”).
Good morning starshine, I mean shiny blue and purple bird!
Trogons, honeycreepers, and other cool tropical birds: Being situated in the middle of rainforest, one does tend to see quite a few birds, many of which are rather exotic in appearance. Bird the lodge grounds and the trails and you might see four trogon species, Shining and Green Honeycreepers, euphonias (think colorful little tropical goldfinches), Rufous Piha, Blue-crowned, Red-capped, and Orange-collared Manakins (all pretty common), and Golden-naped Woodpecker among other species. You can also try for the endemic Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, Marbled Wood-Quail, and other deep forest species on the trails but be ready for hiking some fairly steep slopes (at least on maintained trails).
Spot-crowned Euphonia is a common endemic.
Same goes for the beautiful Golden-naped Woodpecker. It’s kind of like a Three-toed Woodpecker that went to the beauty salon.
Rufous Piha was pretty common right at the lodge.
Raptors: Yeah, we dipped on all eagles, even the hawk ones. But, we still saw 18 species of raptors, some on the ride to the lodge, and some right at the lodge. On the way there, we had the aforementioned Crane Hawk, Turkey and Black Vultures, Yellow-headed and Crested Caracaras, Roadside Hawks aplenty, White-tailed Kite, Common Black Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, and Bat Falcon. At Luna Lodge, mostly during a morning of raptor watching from the yoga platform (don’t you know that yoga platforms are always conducive with good raptor watching?), we also had White Hawk- a common, beautiful species in the area, Short-tailed Hawk, Great Black Hawk- nice to see that rare one, King Vultures, and Swallow-tailed and Double-toothed Kites. Collared Forest-Falcon was a heard only, and our last raptor was Laughing Falcon on the drive out.
Shady Lane: I love birding a place with a name like that! It would also be cool to bird it while wearing a bowler hat and walking with a Victorian style cane in one hand and a cold mojito in the other. The only problem would be that unwelcome extra bit of heat generated by the hat in 90 degree humid air, and dropping the cane while juggling the drink as you grab your binos time after time in that birdy spot. Actually, it was a bit slow during our morning visit. We still managed three trogon species (including Baird’s), Bicolored Antbird, Tawny-winged, Cocoa, and Northern Barred Woodcreepers, Turquoise Cotinga, White Hawk, King Vulture, Red-capped and Blue-crowned Manakins, Golden-crowned Spadebill, and other species (including three heard only too shy Streak-chested Antpittas), but the spot can be even birdier than that! Try as we might nor did we find a super rare Speckled Mourner but it was still a fine morning at Shady Lane.
Climate change: Now for something not as happy but deserving of mention. We got rained out each afternoon and that was a good thing because the forests of the Osa have been experiencing much less rain than they are adapted to. Lower amounts of rainfall in the Osa are because of global warming and this is almost certainly why we did not detect as many individual birds or species compared to 16 years ago. The differences are noticeable every time I go birding anywhere in Costa Rica, and anyone who has been birding here for more than ten years probably sees these changes as well. There hasn’t been any deforestation around Luna Lodge, and if anything, more forest in growing but there has been less rain and no, it’s not some natural cycle.
Why do I say that? Because I believe everything I hear? No, I say it because thousands of peer-reviewed papers come to that conclusion. If you don’t believe in human-caused global warming, then I suggest that you please be objective and consider these two options: 1.Human caused global warming is real because scientists who fiercely compete with each other over grant money and funding, publish thousands of peer-reviewed papers that indicate this to be the case, or 2. Human caused global warming is false because this is claimed in non-peer reviewed information distributed by organizations paid to do so by the fossil fuel industry. Which seems more likely? If you choose “2”, then you might as well not trust anything any medical doctor says (because they rely on peer-reviewed scientific studies) or believe that the moon is real. Although this might seem tangential, when it comes to bird populations (as well as the future of human civilization and possibly existence), mentioning global warming is all too relevant. I wish it wasn’t, but diminishing bird populations say otherwise. Please plant a tree and work for sustainable, non-fossil fuel energy now!
I don’t like to end that on an alarming note but as my friend Brad used to say, “That’s the way the ball bounces Little P”.
Ok, well, I will end it on a more positive note after all. Lana Wedmore, the owner of Luna Lodge told us that a sustainable public school will be built in Carate! Instead of kids having to travel several kilometers to school, they can learn right there at the start of Shady Lane. Also, she is selling really cool White Hawk shirts for what else but the White Hawk Foundation- http://www.whitehawkfoundation.org/. The goal of this foundation is to purchase forested lands between Corcovado Park and Luna Lodge to keep them protected. Please check out the link to see the White Hawk video, information, and how to purchase some of those shirts.
Lana shows the White Hawk shirt.
Growing up in western New York, August was a time of dusky, hazy weather. During those muggy, late summer days, I used to wonder if it was like that in tropical places with palm trees, white sand beaches, and turquoise water. I only knew those places well south of the border through travel brochures, National Geographic, and books in the Earl Bridges Public Library. At the time of teen years during the late 1980s, the closest I had come to anything tropical was the wave pool at “Niagara Splash”. It acted as my temporary tropical proxy, especially on beautiful summer days when white fluffy clouds floated through blue skies, but I surmised that it was nothing like the real thing. Some days, it was kind of too cold to go into the water (hence the eventual closure of the water park after a few years), and the avian scene was punctuated by crows and gulls instead of parrots and toucans.
Although Niagara gull watching in winter can be nice…
Little did I know that I would get a chance to experience the true essence of the tropics while birding in Costa Rica a few years later. While the hazy humidity was reminiscent of a northern august, the sun was ten times hotter, it got dark by six, and yes, there were indeed hundreds of new and excitingly unfamiliar birds including parrots, toucans, tinamous, and tanagers. Today, as I write this, August at my place in Costa Rica is cloudy, warm and fairly humid, and the skies are preparing for the afternoon rains. If I look outside, I might see a Tropical Kingbird perched on a wire, see vultures turning circles high above, and espy White-winged Doves and Red-billed Pigeons zipping by. Summer is eternal down here in the tropical latitudes but not all the beaches have snow-white sand or clear, turquoise waters. I felt a mild earthquake today but that comes with the scenery. The birding is always exciting, though, so if you are going to be here these days, enjoy the feathered show. Now for some birding news related to Costa Rica:
Some migrants are back in town: Up north, a lot of birds are moving but still have some time before they reach Costa Rica. Nevertheless, change is in the air and some migrants are leaving as other arrive. Shorebirds have been turning up in the usual haunts, I no longer hear or see Piratic Flycatchers, Swallow-tailed Kites are on the move to their winter Amazonian haunts, and I was surprised by a sighting of an American Redstart just the other day. Waterthrushes have also been seen as have wood-pewees. It will be interesting to see what other migrants I might find during the next four days of solid birding from here to the Osa peninsula. I’ll let you know!
To see what else has been reported from Costa Rica the past couple of weeks, search eBird for Costa Rica, bar charts, and set the dates for August, 2016. Sorry about non link, at the moment, there is some problem related to adding links to my posts.
Great Green Macaws are in the foothills: Although this endangered species is usually associated with the Caribbean lowlands, during the wet season, it is more often found at foothill sites. Lately, I have had a few in the early morning at Quebrada Gonzalez and El Tapir, and had a flock of 14 near Virgen del Socorro a few days ago. In the past, I have also had fairly large flocks of this species in the foothills between Virgen del Socorro, and Ciudad Quesada. The ones from the other day were seen from the road between San Miguel and Virgen del Socorro.
You might also see an Ornate Hawk-Eagle in flight. This one was flying high overhead in the same area as the macaws.
Oilbirds in Monteverde: This sweet target twitch for Costa Rica has been seen during night hikes at Curi Cancha and the Refugio (Monteverde Wildlife Refuge). I’m so dying to head up there and watch those weird birds, hope I can somehow find the time to do it. I just spoke with Robert Dean today about them and he said that there might just be a few, or there might by several, really no way to know. But, they are definitely showing, make sure to go on the night hike at either of those sites and ask to see the Oilbirds. Better yet, one of them has a transmitter on it! Hopefully, we can finally find out where these birds are coming from. Robert also mentioned that the wild avocados up that way are also full of fruit. With luck, that will keep the Oilbirds around for a while.
The Costa Rica Festival of Birds and Nature is coming up: Have you ever wanted to see a Cerulean Warbler in Costa Rica? How about seeing one while looking at lots of cool resident birds? That will happen during the third Festival de Aves y Naturaleza de Costa Rica. It all happens on September 3rd and 4th and will be an excellent weekend of birding, frogging, and helping with local conservation. On a side note, local top guide and field researcher Ernesto Carman also has a cool, new website and guiding endeavor. Check out http://www.getyourbirds.com/
Maybe one of the species you will see will be an Olive-backed Euphonia.
Costa Rica Birding Hotspots will be at BirdFair: If you are going to be at BirdFair 2016, check out Serge Arias’ presentation about the Endemic Birds of Costa Rica, Friday, 1:30 pm, Lecture Marqee 1. I wish I could be there! – http://www.birdfair.org.uk/events/the-endemic-birds-to-costa-rica/
The sad passing of a local birding guide: By far, the saddest news is the recent passing of Roy Orozco. Roy was a local, excellent birding guide, naturalist, and artist as well husband and father. I last saw Roy in late March while birding at Arenal Observatory Lodge. As usual, we exchanged sightings and I looked forward to birding with him without clients. Sadly, his last battle with cancer kept that day from arriving. Roy was a kind, generous, positive person who loved birding and the natural world, and made a positive impression on many people. In being a birder, he was also one of our “tribe”. Whether it’s because as a young person, I always wanted to meet other people like myself who yearned to experience birds at all times, and/or because I feel a sense of companionship with those who share this passion, I can’t help but view other birders as part of my tribe, my people, and Roy was one of them. At this time, probably because of bureaucracy, it appears that Roy’s widow and children are in need of help, and one of his good friends and fellow guides, Johan Chaves, is working hard to help them survive. Please consider helping the family of a fellow birder and guide who likewise helped hundreds of people experience and appreciate the beauty of the natural world by contacting Johan at: firstname.lastname@example.org
or, by phone: (506) 88504419
See his Facebook page at:
That’s all for now, keep your fingers crossed that I can post a picture of a big rainforest eagle some time next week!
The easiest place to experience quality rainforest birding when staying in the San Jose area is El Tapir and Quebrada Gonzalez. Or, maybe I should say the quickest, most accessible place because the birding there is never actually easy. Instead, it’s a mysterious challenge that always comes with a temptation of birding gold. But, even if you are just getting started with birds, it’s still worth a visit, especially if you have a free day around San Jose.
A lot of people ask me about the birding in San Jose and my reply is always the same. I tell them that birding in the city isn’t really worth the effort, especially when you can do an easy day trip for foothill species at El Tapir and Quebrada Gonzalez, or highland birds up in the Poas area. Both areas are a close hour’s drive, and always offer quality birding. Compare that to looking for common species in public parks or gardens while worrying about someone trying to steal your binoculars and there’s really no comparison. Maybe if you want to safely look for the endemic ground-sparrow and hang with common birds while staying at places like the Bougainvillea, Xandari, or Zamora Estates, but, in general, if you want to see more, then you need to head over to the mountains. In the case of the foothill sites, that would actually be up and over the mountains.
I did that for a recent day of guiding, and I hope this short report gives an idea of what you might run into over that way. As might these eBird checklists:
If you haven’t previously talked with the guards at Quebrada Gonzalez about leaving the gate open before eight (the usual opening time), go past the ranger station for a couple kilometers and watch for the entrance to El Tapir on the right. Don’t expect a sign but know that it’s the first entrance for a car on the right. If the gate is closed, open it and head on in. Hopefully, the Snowcaps will be active along with lots of other hummingbirds. They were when we were there, including 5 or 6 Snowcaps of all ages and genders, and several other species including Brown Violetear.
Not a whole lot else was going on and the surrounding tree tops were nearly absent of birds, but that can change from one day to the next with various species of raptors showing up, toucans and parrots perching in view, and even Great Green Macaw making an appearance. That large, endangered parrot did indeed show for us even if it was a quick flyby. That happened while we were trying to get good looks at Russet Antshrike, Spotted Antbird, and Slate-colored Grosbeak, all of which were singing (and hiding) at the same time. The antbird didn’t play ball very well, but the other two eventually showed. We also got onto some of our first tanagers as they moved through in a quick flock with several Black-faced grosbeaks.
Deeper into the forest, my hopes and excitement kicked up a notch upon hearing Ocellated and Bicolored Antbirds but eventually went back down to birding standby as those ant followers moved off. They never showed and just kept going so I assume they were wandering in search of Army Ants. I played calls of mega R.V. G. Cuckoo and the gnatpitta anyways but got nothing in response. On we went and saw that recent heavy rains had dropped too many branches to go much further. Unfortunately, it was the same situation on the trail down to the river, so we couldn’t explore much of that part of the forest, an area where I suspected that we had more of a chance at Lattice-tailed Trogon or even umbrellabird. However, we still saw found one understory insectivore flock with hoped for Streak-crowned Antvireo, and White-flanked and Checker-throated Antwrens.
Back out in the hummingbird garden, we looked some more before heading over to Quebrada Gonzalez for the rest of the day. Sunny weather kept things pretty quiet but we still managed a few mixed flocks with target White-throated Shrike-Tanager, several other tanagers, a few more Streak-crowned Antvireos, Pale-vented Thrush, and some other birds. No ground birds seen, nor even singing Nightingale Wrens nor Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush (usually a given on those trails). But, we did see a King Vulture in flight, heard the Caribbean slope subspecies of Streak-chested Antpitta, saw Striped Woodhaunter, and eventual nice looks at Speckled and Emerald Tanagers.
A good site for the easy on the eyes Emerald Tanager,
and the Speckled Tanager.
The only break we took was for lunch just down the road at Chicharronera Patona. It’s small and there’s not a lot on the menu but the food is home-cooked, plentiful, fair-priced, and the owners like birds. It also offers a look into some tall trees and a hillside of forest. You never know what might show at that site. When we were there, we had close looks at Black-cheeked and Rufous-winged Woodpeckers, Band-backed Wren, and some other species. The spot also features some awful road noise but since the owner once saw either Crested or Harpy Eagle perched on that hillside, yeah, it’s worth a stop!
At the end of the day, we had a fairly modest list but we still got a fair percentage of the targets, including several species tough to see elsewhere. For someone with a free day or morning, it’s always a good bet.
As befits a country where tourism plays a big role in the economy and lives of a few million people, Costa Rica offers a long list of accommodation options. There are bed and breakfasts, hostels for the young and/or super thrifty, large, all-inclusive hotels, small, family owned operations, and lodges geared towards those who visit Costa Rica to experience and appreciate an abundance of tropical nature. Falling within that latter category are a few hotels that focus on birding, or at least have a local guide or two who are avid birders, keep track of the avifauna at and around the hotel, and are always happy to share those birds to guests. Since most of the birding hotels in Costa Rica are used by bird tour companies, anyone who reads trip reports or who looks for information about birding in Costa Rica will be pretty familiar with those lodges.
However, such hotels aren’t the only places that cater to birders. Other, lesser known lodges with resident birding guides don’t make it onto trip reports because they are way off the usual beaten birding track. One of those locales is Luna Lodge- http://lunalodge.com/. Ironically, the main reason why fewer birders get there is also why it is one of the best sites for birding in the country. As with most high quality sites anywhere, habitat is key to birding success and Luna Lodge has it. It comes in the form of the primary lowland rainforests of the Osa Peninsula and not at the edge either, but pretty close to the heart of the forest. Combine high quality rainforest with a nearby coastal lagoon, and flat lowland sites with second growth and riparian zones where Speckled Mourner has been seen (one of the rarest resident species in Costa Rica), and you know that you are in for some fantastic birding.
On the deck at Luna Lodge.
I know this because I helped start the first bird list for Luna Lodge several years ago. It was during the time of the millenium (I actually spent New Year’s eve there in 1999/2000), and the place was just getting started. Although I didn’t get lucky with a Harpy or Crested Eagles, both species were seen at the lodge not long after my stay (gripped!). However, I did see things like:
-Daily sightings of several King Vultures.
-Flocks of Scarlet Macaws every day.
-All three hawk-eagles, usually at least one of them every day.
-White-tipped Sicklebill, White-crested Coquette, lots of Charming Hummingbirds, and other expected species.
-Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager pretty much every day- a species endemic to the Osa peninsula and adjacent rainforests.
-Turquoise Cotinga- one of the only accessible sites where it is common.
-Great Curassow and Crested Guan daily.
-Large mixed flocks with tanagers, flycatchers, woodcreepers (including the elusive Long-tailed), and many other species.
Rufous-winged Woodpecker is often in those big flocks.
-Lots of monkeys and other animals.
It was simply fantastic birding in beautiful rainforest. The food was also good but it’s hard to compare the lodge then to what it’s like after years of success. Nowadays, there is a yoga platform with a distant view of the ocean where Scarlet Macaws fly against a rainforest backdrop. Yeah, that sounds like a commercial or documentary but I’m not going to lie, that is what the view looks like. There are also several trails, and overlooks to scan the canopy for raptors and other birds. The food is also fantastic as is the service, attention, and Gary, the local birding guide knows his stuff very well.
Another view at Luna Lodge.
I’m writing about Luna Lodge not because I have been there recently, but because I will be there in a few weeks. From August 18th to August 21st, I will be guiding a trip to Luna for the local Birding Club of Costa Rica. Although I don’t usually post such announcements on my blog, I am doing so this time because we still have a few spots open for the trip, and it’s an excellent opportunity to experience the birding at Luna Lodge for a fantastic low price. If you are going to be in Costa Rica during these dates and want to go on this trip with us, this is what you can expect:
-Several looks at Turquoise Cotinga as well as the other stuff I mention above.
-High quality lowland rainforest birding in one of the most biodynamic places in Central America. Including birding en route, we will probably identify around 170 species including many uncommon species and regional endemics including…
Black-hooded Antshrike and
-Good birding en route that could turn up Pearl Kite, Savanna Hawk, and a variety of other edge and open country species. You could also stop at the Rincon bridge to look for Yellow-billed Cotinga…
-Three nights lodging and excellent meals for $255. The guide fee depends on the number of participants but might be around $75 to $100.
If you are interested in this excellent birding deal, please email me at email@example.com before August 8th. I hope to help you experience the fantastic birding in the Osa peninsula at Luna Lodge!