Most recent weekends and brought me to the birdy Carara area. Although the heat in that humid/dry lowland transition habitat can be a challenge (at least for me), it’s an incredible area for birding. Despite a temporary closure of most of the main HQ trail to make it more handicap accessible, birding in the national park has been exciting as always. Here are a few highlights from the Laguna Meandrica trail:
Orange-collared Manakin: An expected bird on the “River Trail” (actually called the “Laguna Meandrica” trail) but always nice to see. There are two to three leks along the trail and although they aren’t always active, you should run into some fine, Orange-collared Manakin action.
Orange-collared Manakins are a fairly common near endemic because they prefer second growth.
The males are avian eye candy at its best.
Royal Flycatcher: If you like IOC splits, this is the Northern Royal Flycatcher and they have been showing well on the Laguna Meandrica trail. A pair has built a nest once again over the first stream. Hang out there long enough and one or two will probably make an appearance. While you are waiting, other birds will show up too. This month, I have had Rufous Piha, Baird’s Trogon, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Gray-headed Kite, and others while awaiting the Royal Flycatchers.
Royal Flycatcher building its huge, hanging nest.
Common Potoo (!): What? Yes, Common Potoo has finally shown up in the park! They have surely been there all along but the local guides were saying that this is the first one they have seen in the national park. It’s easy to see and, if the marker is still there, watch for a straight trunk lying across the path of the Laguna Meandrica trail about 400 meters in from the parking lot (rough guess) and look to the left (north).
Common Potoo- This decidedly uncommon species in Costa Rica is a great bird to get for the year list.
Antswarms: You just have to be lucky to run into one of these but I have seen them on the Laguna Meandrica trail on most recent trips there. They can show up anywhere so the more time you spend on the trail, the more likely you will experience the fun of army ants in action. We didn’t see anything rare but it was still nice to get close looks at the usual suspects: Northern Barred Woodcreeper, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Bicolored Antbird, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Gray-headed Tanager, and Riverside Wren.
Outside the national park, the birding has also been great. I had my biggest surprise two weeks ago when we ran into a Tiny Hawk on the Cerro Lodge road! When we saw the bird, even though I had a good look at the tail, my mind kind of refused to believe that it was a Tiny Hawk and so I was calling it a Barred Forest Falcon (the head looked rounded and the mind plays tricks when it doesn’t want to accept something that “shouldn’t” be there). It was most definitely a Tiny hawk though and the first I have seen in the Carara area. I told Randall Chaves Ortega about it and this veteran, excellent birding guide said that he has seen them on three occasions during 12 or so years of guiding and birding at Carara, including one that showed up on the lower part of the Cerro Lodge road. Although the habitat is a bit dry, it does have the type of semi-open character that they like. Whether a rare resident or a species that wanders through that area from time to time, look for it on the lower part of the Cerro Lodge road! It’s also a reminder to think outside the box when birding at Carara since other mega species that aren’t “supposed” to be there have also shown up in the park (Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo) and Agami Heron (Tarcoles mangroves).
Other nice birds have been:
Yellow-naped Parrot: Pretty much expected but shows that the Cerro Lodge area and Tarcoles are good sites for this uncommon species.
These two birds were calling and hanging out just outside of Tarcoles.
Mangrove birds like Mangrove Vireo, Panama Flycatcher, and Northern Scrub Flycatcher are showing well in mangroves around Tarcoles.
The Panama Flycatcher is much more common in Panama but shows up in mangroves in Costa Rica.
The Guacimo Road has been pretty good for dry forest species including White-throated Magpie Jay, Banded Wren, Orange-fronted Parakeet, and White-fronted Parrot among other birds. Lesser Ground Cuckoo has been especially responsive and showing well at several areas along the road and a recently burned field with new grass shoots has been hosting at least 4 pairs of Double-striped Thick Knees.
Double-striped Thick Knee.
Down in the riparian zone, there are plenty of birds including Olive Sparrow, Turquoise-browed Motmot, and others. It was strange to not find Plain-breasted Ground Dove there two weeks ago and then see several a week later.
Plain-breasted Ground Dove.
Long, productive days of guiding around Carara have turned up day totals of 140 species seen and 160 plus birds heard on more than one of these recent occasions. Those memorable birding days have pushed my year list up to 450 species. Given that I have done very little highland birding and have yet to bird the Caribbean lowlands, I should edge past 500 in no time, especially since I plan on birding down at Manzanillo very soon.
Good birding and hope to see you somewhere in Costa Rica!
Falcons rank pretty high up there on the “cool bird” scale. They get automatic “cool” points (aka “epic”, “sweet”, “boss”, or even “swell” depending on your formative years) for being raptors, fly super fast, and many sport an avian moustache. I mean, can you get any cooler than that? Well, as with many things avian, you sure can! Take the Peregrine Falcon for instance. Some populations of this record holding famous falcon species casually fly south from their rookeries on Baffin Island to…coastal Chile. The falcon is so fantastically endowed with amazing flight capabilities that it flies over open water on purpose (!) to pick off and feed upon migrants (sorry lost warblers, shorebirds, and other unlucky birds- falcons gotta eat to).
Peregrines are a regular sight as they fly through and winter in Costa Rica. During migration, it’s especially easy to see many a Peregrine on the Caribbean coast but they can show up just about anywhere. A couple weeks ago, while being entertained by a soaring Black Hawk Eagle at El Tapir, a Peregrine appeared out of the blue and drove it away! The eagle barely had a chance to call before it left the scene. I guess that particular Peregrine likes hanging out in a hilly rainforest.
Merlins and American Kestrels also show up in Costa Rica but they are outnumbered by that masked connoisseur of serpents, the Laughing Falcon.
The Laughing Falcon is crazy about snakes and eats nothing else.
So, if the Laughing Falcon is so sweet on serpents, why not call it the “Snake Falcon” or “Serpent Falcon”? Those names were rejected because this bird also loves to laugh. It’ local name in Costa Rica and many other places is “Guaco” and this is a fair description of the sound it makes when calling (or laughing). Pairs often call together and the result is a hysterical sounding bunch of mid-toned guffaws that echoes through the tropical forests they inhabit. Thankfully, this entertaining bird is pretty common in Costa Rica (and many places in the neotropics). For example, I saw and heard 4 or five this past weekend while guiding in and around Carara National Park.
The Bat Falcon is of course another amazingly cool bird. Here we have a Falco falcon species falcon is all of its hooded splendor, long pointed wings, and fast flight. It’s kind of colorful, and yes, it catches bats! If you want to see one of these speedy little raptors catch a bat for dinner, go on a boat tour at Laguna del Lagarto and ask to see a Bat Falcon catch a bat. Just do it and see what happens.
The Bat Falcon also catches small birds like parakeets, tanagers, and whatever else makes the mistake of flying across a river or pasture that it’s keeping an eye on. Overall, it uses pretty similar hunting techniques as the Merlin although it’s not as feisty.
In the neotropics, some falcons gave up their fast-flying ways to adapt to niches filled by Black Kites over on the other side of the Atlantic. The caracaras flap along on floppy wings and scream as they search for carrion and small creatures that look catchable. Both Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras patrol highways in lowland Costa Rica to look for roadkill much in the same way as Northern Ravens do in (where else but) the north. In fact, they also have vaguely similar dimensions.
Deforestation has made the Northern Crested Caracara a common sight when birding Costa Rica.
Ditto for the slightly smaller Yellow-headed Caracara.
And then there are the forest-falcons. Now these reclusive birds might even be cooler than the Falco species BUT they hate the limelight. These jungle dwellers rarely come out into the open, are most active in the half light of dawn and dusk, don’t soar, and love to sneak around dense tangles and the understory. Come to think of it, with those traits, they kind of seem like avian vampires. Like other dimensional wraiths, they are also tough to see but at least they frequently vocalize with haunting barks and laughing sounds (also like other-dimensional wraiths). Watch an antswarm long enough and one might show up (to mesmerize you with its captivating,stare of course…).
Collared Forest Falcon- the avian Nosferatu of the neotropics.
Costa Rica also has its set of rare falcons and I of course lack photos for them. Aplomado Falcon seems to show up once or twice a year; probably wandering migrant birds. The wacky Red-throated Caracara used to be common before too much forest got turned into pasture. Nowadays, it’s only regular in the heart of Corcovado National Park. Orange-breasted Falcon may have been a former rare resident in the country but it could still show up as a vagrant. This would most likely be near the Panamanian border in the southeast (where hardly anyone birds) because it occurs only 250 kilometers away in the Panamanian province of Veraguas.
Costa Rica also has an honorary falcon. However, given its small size, the Pearl Kite could also be an honorary swallow, shrike, or kingbird. It kind of looks like an amalgamation of all three when seen in flight.
The cool and cute Pearl Kite.
Dominical is this tiny beach village in southwestern Costa Rica that appears to be mostly populated by surfers, people with stylistic tattoos of the moon, and fishermen. Although Hacienda Baru welcomes a fair number of birders, Dominical rarely features in birding tours to Costa Rica. Local birding tours might do more birding in the area but in general, most birders visiting Costa Rica just drive on past Dominical.
It’s hard to pick sites to focus on when planning a two week birding trip to Costa Rica but don’t feel as if you have to leave Dominical out of the picture. The entire area has more much more birding potential than people realize and after having spent a weekend of guiding down that way, I really wish that I could have had more time to explore the general area. The hills above and near Dominical are mostly forested (and accessible by more than one public road), scrubby fields host interesting species, Hacienda Baru, Rancho Merced, and other nearby sites have trails that access fair habitat, there are beautiful beaches in with offshore rocks that host seabirds, and mangroves near Dominical have Mangrove Hummingbird.
That adds up to a lot of possible birds and our local birding club ended up identifying 150 or so of them in just 2 and a half days of rather casual birding. We stayed at the Villas Rio Mar and this hotel turned out to be a fantastic choice for lodging. There are a few different types of comfortable rooms (most of which have air conditioning), a truly excellent restaurant, great service, a tour desk, and gardens that host a fair variety of bird species including Fiery-billed Aracari, Blue Dacnis, and Thick-billed Euphonia.
The gardens can be good for bird photography. Thick-billed Euphonias such as this female, Bananaquits, Tennessee Warblers, Gray-capped Flycatchers, and other species were visiting the palms for flowers, fruit, and bugs.
On our first afternoon, we birded the road in front of the hotel. It parallels the river and goes past fields, riparian growth, and may eventually access better forest habitat. It also offers an excellent view of a nearby forested ridge where scoping may turn up a Turquoise Cotinga and raptors. Although we didn’t connect with the cotinga, we picked up King Vulture, Swallow-tailed Kite, Double-toothed Kite, Broad-winged Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, and Gray-lined Hawk in that area. We studied Gray-breasted Martins, Southern Rough-winged Swallows, and Blue and white Swallows that were perched on the wires, and saw a fair variety of common edge species.
That evening, a pair of Spectacled Owls and a juvenile called from forest next to the hotel. Although they didn’t show up after dinner, we did manage to see one of the Barn Owls that is presently nesting under the bridge just before the police checkpoint.
On Saturday, our group visited Rancho la Merced for a couple hours of birding on their trails. The birding was fairly slow and the trail my group took went through old second growth but I think they also have at least one trail that accesses primary forest. Best birds were White-necked Puffbird, Double-toothed and Gray-headed Kites, Rufous Piha, Blue-crowned Manakin, and Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher. We also had other common species like Riverside Wren and Black-hooded Antshrike but overall, the birding was much slower compared to the high quality forests at Carara. Nevertheless, I suspect that their trails and the road through the reserve have a fair amount of potential.
Juvenile Double-toothed Kite at Rancho la Merced.
After a wonderful buffet breakfast at the hotel, some of the group opted for cooling off in their huge swimming pool or visiting the village while the rest of us went birding at the mouth of the river. While watching from a shady spot, we saw a small sampling of common shorebirds, herons, and egrets, White Ibis, both Amazon and Green Kingfishers, Plain Wren, and a few other species. Best bird was a Pearl Kite!
We also had that miniature, tropical Tree Swallowish species known as the Mangrove Swallow.
That afternoon, some birded the road again while the rest of us checked out the short trail at the hotel. It doesn’t access very good habitat but the riparian growth and second growth can turn up a fair number of species and the stream hosts small birds that come to bathe in it in the late afternoon. We heard Great Antshrike and Little Tinamou, and saw Eye-ringed Flatbill and one of the best birds of the trip- Black-tailed Flycatcher! This flycatcher is pretty rare in Costa Rica and the one we saw was a long-awaited lifer for yours truly (yee haw!)! It’s remarkably similar to Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher but has paler, olive upperparts and paler underparts. Although the bird we saw did have a bit of color on the breast, it was much more subdued than the contrasting colors of the Sulphur-rumped.
Female Cherrie’s Tanagers have beautiful plumage- they showed their stuff while bathing in the stream.
Female Blue-crowned Manakins also visited the stream along with Riverside Wren, and a few migrant warblers.
The next morning saw us making a trip to the Guapil road and mangroves. This is the next road on the left after Hacienda Baru. I believe it’s signed and I’m glad that we checked it out. The scrubby fields at the beginning of the road had a small flock of Yellow-breasted Seedeaters, at least one Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, Smooth-billed Ani, Red-crowned Woodpecker, and other open country species. Although we didn’t get niceties like Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Scrub Greenlet, or Red-rumped Woodpecker, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were in that area.
Further on, the road goes next to a small creek and eventually goes along the beach. It ends at the mouth of a river and a nice area of mangrove forest. Upon arrival, we checked the estuary first and got nice looks at several common shorebirds, egrets, Pale-vented Pigeons, and Bare-throated Tiger Heron.
Black-bellied Plover minus the black belly.
When we went to check the mangroves, a short fruiting fig was busy with common bird species, Blue Dacnis, and Thick-billed Euphonia. While watching that tree, Panama Flycatcher also made an appearance and two Mangrove Hummingbirds suddenly showed up and let us watch them for several minutes! They may use dead twigs there for a regular perch because we didn’t see them feeding on any flowers. This elusive, endangered endemic was arguably the bird of the trip. Unfortunately, it didn’t stay long enough for me to get a photo…
On the way back to the hotel, we picked up our 16th diurnal raptor species for the trip in the form of a Laughing Falcon and watched a distant shrimp trawler covered in Brown Pelicans, Brown Boobies, and Mag. Frigatebirds. I probably won’t get the chance to bird Dominical again any time soon but the next time I do, I plan on exploring the forest along roads that go up into the foothills!
This gorgeous butterfly was right at the entrance to the hotel. Please let me know what this is if you happen to know!
The end of the first month of 2013 is nigh and I feel good about this year’s bird list. I am up to 389 species identified, have several that I missed in 2012, and have visited very few places. The birding has been good and even though I majorly dipped on Costa Rica’s first Clay-colored Sparrow (a bird seen at CATIE), I’m off to a good start.
Here are some of my recent highlights from birding the road to Manuel Brenes Reserve, El Tapir, Quebrada Gonzalez, Tapanti, and the Carara area:
- El Tapir hummingbirds: A morning visit turned up 9 species of hummingbirds in about 5 minutes. Four or so Snowcaps were buzzing around along with a couple of Black-crested Coquettes, Green Thorntail, Brown Violetear, and others. Tanagers moving through the canopy of the forest edge also added to the excitement.
- The El Tapir loop trail: Although the forest was looking drier than normal, the morning birding was fast and furious with a huge mixed flock that included everything from White-throated Shrike Tanager to White-flanked Antwren and Streak-crowned Antvireo. We also heard Slaty-breasted Tinamou, Lattice-tailed Trogon, and Spotted and Bicolored Antbirds. The sound of bill clacks was enticing until I realized that it was not a ground-cuckoo but a Black-billed Toucan that was making them.
- Black Hawk Eagle: This isn’t a rare species in Costa Rica but it isn’t all that common either so it’s always a pleasure to see it. We had wonderful views of one flying near the El Tapir parking lot until it got chased away by an unexpected adult Peregrine Falcon! We also had another one fly high overhead at Kiri Lodge.
- Prevost’s Ground Sparrow at CATIE: Although I can’t call it consolation for missing the Clay-colored Sparrow, it was still nice to see this uncommon bird species.
It was also cool to see several Black-bellied Hummingbirds at Tapanti.
- Olive-backed Quail Dove at Quebrada Gonzalez: We were very pleasantly surprised to see two of these shy birds foraging on the forest floor. Getting a chance to watch them for 5 minutes will probably be one of the year’s highlights.
- Royal Flycatchers on the Laguna Meandrica Trail (the “River Trail”): This trail is reliable for this species but it was still nice to watch a pair near the stream crossing. It looks like they might build a nest there again.
- Nutting’s Flycatcher and other dry forest species on the Cerro Lodge road: Just one hour on that road yesterday turned up a nice bunch of dry forest birds including Yellow-naped Parrot, Orange-fronted Parakeet, White-lored Gnatcatcher, the afore-mentioned flycatcher, Scrub Euphonia, Turquoise-browed Motmot, and Black-headed Trogon.
Many of the birds were coming in to a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl.
Soon, I head down to the Dominical area where I hope to pick up a few more birds for the year. Guiding in February will mostly bring me to Carara but I should also get a chance to bird Manzanillo and might get to El Tapir again. The birding is going to be great no matter where I go so I’m looking forward to it!
There seems to be an an app for just about everything in these digital times including an addictive game where seriously upset birds are launched through the air at nefarious pigs. However, there was no app that focused on birding in Costa Rica. Well, none until January 22nd when the first birding app for Costa Rica was released.
Yes, it’s at the iTunes store and although we realized a moment too late that the image of Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher was missing (maybe it migrated south with the actual, feathered ones), there should be a quick fix for that in a jiffy. It would happen sooner but our programmer is sailing to Patagonia (yeah, talk about the mother of all pelagic trips!) so is not available on a 24/7 basis at this moment.
A quick rundown of some of the app’s features:
- 400 plus species, including most of the more common birds and quite a few uncommon species (Peg-billed Finch, Ochre-breasted Antpitta, and Ornate Hawk Eagle).
Peg-billed Finch- an uncommon, regional endemic.
- Multiple images of many species.
- Vocalizations for more than 200 species. No, we don’t have all of them but the birds we do have are many of the common sounds heard while birding in Costa Rica. We thought those were more important for this first version that finding sounds for birds like Great Egret, Anhinga, and Blue-winged Teal.
Check out the bright colors of a male Flame-colored Tanager while listening to its burry song.
- Range maps for each species.
- Text that gives diagnostic field marks, habitat, and more.
- A search filter to help find those unknown birds seen while birding Carara National Park, Sarapiqui, or the high mountains.
Figure out the identification of that funky-looking owl.
- An area to note your sightings and email them to yourself.
In case you were wondering if the app was suitable for basic or advanced birding in Costa Rica, the answer is “yes” and “yes”. Whether you are new to birding, just curious about what you might see in Costa Rica, or simply want to know about the birds that visit feeders in hotel gardens, this Costa Rica birding app will be very useful. Practiced birders new to Costa Rica should get plenty of use out of it while planning their trip and out in the field. Even advanced birders who have birded Quebrada Gonzalez on a dozen occasions should also find this app to be a useful birding accessory.
At the moment, it’s only available for version 4.3 or above iPod Touch, iPhones, and iPads but we hope to also eventually make it available for other devices.
I’m already using the Costa Rica Bird Field Guide app when I go birding in Costa Rica, I hope you do too!
Birding Field Guides releases first birdwatching app for Costa Rica
For Immediate Release: January 25, 2012
First birding app for Costa Rica is a digital field guide replete with photos, sounds, text, and range maps
San Jose, Costa Rica – The Costa Rica Birds-Field Guide app became available in the iTunes Store on January 22. This is the first app and digital field guide that is completely focused on birds that occur in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica has been a top destination for ecotourists and birdwatchers since the early 1990s. Birders flock to this Central American country to take in the sights and sounds of hundreds of bird species, including more than 50 glittering hummingbirds, 6 toucans, and the breathtaking Resplendent Quetzal.
Michael Mullin, head of programming for Birding Field Guides, expects this app to make it easier for ecotourists and birders of all levels of experience to identify and learn about Costa Rican birds with images, range maps, and text for over 400 species. Vocalizations of over 200 bird species are also included along with a search filter and other features.
He said, “This digital field guide helps the user to quickly find images and hear sounds of birds they encounter while vacationing in Costa Rica. It’s also a valuable learning tool and represents a next step in the evolution of nature field guides”.
The app is currently available for version 4.3 or higher iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad devices.
About Birding Field Guides
Birding Field Guides was started in 2012 and develops birding and nature-related apps and products for digital devices. For more information, please visit http://birdingfieldguides.com.
To learn more about this product, please contact
Patrick O’Donnell, Media Relations
I apologize to the folks who keep checking this blog for a new post. Guiding, writing, and finishing an app. for birding in Costa Rica have occupied most of my time and explain my virtual absence. As you can probably imagine, the birding in Costa Rica has been wonderful and I might be close to 300 species for the year after just three or four trips afield.
So, here are a few recent highlights and updates on the Costa Rica birding front to whet your appetite:
- Carara is a great place to start the year: Last week, I visited Carara a couple of times for regular birding and guiding. The biodiversity of that area never ceases to amaze and at the end of the day, you always seem to end up with well over a hundred bird species identified. The only problem is that it’s as hot as blazes! Stay out of the sun, bring more than enough hydration supplies, and get ready for lots of birds. That’s what I try to do and it routinely pays off with crazy sightings of Great Tinamou, Rufous Piha, Thrush-like Schiffornis (or Brown or whatever the one in Costa Rica is called nowadays), woodcreepers galore, Green Shrike Vireo at the exit to the far set of HQ trails, and lots of other forest species. The first day, I recorded something like 140 species by sight and sound, and around 120 on the second day.
A couple of Mealy Parrots were feeding in an understory shrub and gave unusually good photo opps.
This male Turquoise Cotinga was seen at Rincon de Osa, a reliable spot for them but the ones at Carara looked like this only much higher up.
- Cotingas: I never see Turquoise Cotinga in Carara. Well, almost never because our group had two males in a huge fruiting fig! I also picked up two male Yellow-billed Cotingas that same day- the usual extremely distant one from Cerro Lodge and then another on the lower part of the Cerro Lodge road in the afternoon. It appeared to be just passing through and shows why we need to establish a better corridor between the mangroves and the rainforests of the national park. It was great to get these for the year on the first day out, especially since I missed the Turquoise in 2012!
A surreal image of the male Yellow-billed Cotinga from the other day.
- El Toucanet birding: On the weekend, I was up at El Toucant. This was a much welcome, cool respite from the heat down on the coast. The feeders weren’t as active but we still got lots of wonderful looks at Scintillant Hummingbird. This is one darn tiny bird! We picked up lots of nice birds near the lodge and higher up in the oak forests including Yellow-bellied Siskin, Barred and Sulphur-winged Parakeets, Dark Pewee, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, White-throated Mountain-Gem, Golden-winged Warbler, and lots more. No quetzals but Gary, one of the owner’s of El Tocuanet, expects more to show up in a month or two when the local avocados are in fruit.
The miniscule Scintillant Hummingbird.
- Franklin’s Gull: This was a highlight because I missed the prairie seagull the previous year! Luckily, I was birding with Seagull Steve because he noticed one that I had passed one off as a Laughing Gull!
I used to be excited to see vagrant Franklin’s Gulls on the Niagara River. There are like thousands of them in Lima, Peru right now.
I still need to head to the Caribbean slope but that should be remedied tomorrow when I am scheduled to guide for the morning on the road to Manuel Brenes. The client wants to catch the dawn chorus- sounds good to me!!
Hope to see you birding in Costa Rica soon!
Here comes another new year along with the tradition/obligation to try and improve oneself by thinking about the things you would like to change. However, if you are already totally satisfied with whom you are, you can just resolve to do more of the things you like to do. It seems like both of those resolution strategies make sense so I propose picking out at least one thing that you would like to drop or be better at, followed by choosing one or more things that you would like to do more often.
Would such a mixing of resolutions cancel each out or would such a Yin-Yang strategy make you feel more balanced as a person? Well, as for myself, instead of conundrumming myself with such questions, I think I will just do a lot more birding. Speaking of birding, here are some resolutions that I may or may not try and fulfill:
- Do more birding: Ok, so that should be easy enough but I have to find solutions to earning money while not birding (since I have a family to support) and time spent on family duties. Since I can’t clone myself, I hope to bring the family on more trips where I can watch birds.
More time spent birding means seeing more cool looking species like the Streak-chested Antpitta.
- See an Ochraceous Pewee: I heard a few in 2012 but just could not find the time to head back up to the mountains and actually see this oddly uncommon Contopus. I am going to take care of this O. Pewee business in 2013, though, by going to where I have heard them and hanging out until they show up. It could be hours but I’m sure I will see some other eye-opening diversity at the same time.
Where the O. Pewee dwells.
- Make a more concerted effort at a Big Year: Enough of this casual Big Year stuff. Just the sound of that makes it seem as if I lounge around some “deck” in loafers while casually cupping an ear in one hand and taking a sip from a Martini in the other. While it would be hilarious to do just that while saying in my best Mister Howell voice, “Lovee, I’ve just picked up Spot-fronted Swift for the year. Just smashing.”, that’s just not how I roll. I’m more along the lines of jumping onto a horse, yelling “Hoka Hey!” and chasing down the vagrant birds that happen to stray within the Costa Rican border.
Seeing beautiful Magnificent Hummingbirds shouldn’t be a problem.
- See more vagrants: Speaking of vagrant species, according to eBird and the AOCR Bird Alarm Facebook page, some crazy birds have recently been seen in Costa Rica! Clapper Rail at Chomes! Aplomado Falcon in Tarcoles! Rusty Sparrow just ten minutes from my house! I need to go and see them!
- Bird the Buenos Aires savannahs: To try for such specialties as Ocellated Crake, White-tailed Nightjar, Wedge-tailed Grass Finch, and others of course. All of those have been recently seen there!
- Record more bird species: I already have a fair-sized library of Costa Rican bird sounds but I plan on augmenting it and making much of that available in a birding related product.
- Ignore a Masked Duck when I see it: I would have stated that I planned on not looking for Masked Duck but since I already made that resolution 2 months ago, I’ll just have to ignore that nefarious nemesis of a “pato”!
- Get the highest Big Day total ever: Ok, I said it and we tried it last year but I’m telling you, this year, I have got a much better plan! The weather would still have to cooperate but I’m already getting prepared for it.
And here are a few wishes for the New Year!:
- See a Harpy Eagle in Costa Rica: I will also settle for a Crested!
The Ornate Hawk Eagle is much easier to see than a Harpy Eagle in Costa Rica. Speaking from personal experience, a Harpy is kind of like a massive, mutant Ornate Hawk-Eagle on avian steroids.
- Meet more birdwatchers from Costa Rica and elsewhere: I love meeting birders. If you see a guy with a kind of weird bino harness, say hello, it might be me!
- Get the chance to bird Hitoy Cerere: I haven’t been there since 2001, it was the best Caribbean lowland birding I have experienced in Costa Rica, it’s the type of place where anything can show up, and another visit is long overdue!
- Find time to help organize a Costa Rican Birding Festival: If we can start now, maybe we can set up an even better birding festival than last year.
Collared Trogon was one of the many species seen at the 2012 festival.
Hope to see you while birding in Costa Rica in 2013!
I wish I could recount some exciting Costa Rican birding experience that involved dancing my way across a column of army ants while expertly digiscoping a face-off between Black-crowned Antpittas and R.V. Ground-cuckoos as Ocellated Antbirds watched from the Heliconia sidelines. Such Jedi-style adventures will have to wait until 2013, though, because I am currently in the land of gulls.
Niagara Falls is also known as the Honeymoon Capital of the world but the real attraction in my home town are the gulls. Blizzards of them rise and fall above the rapids that rush to the edge of the cataracts. Below the falls, a few thousand other Larids grace the lower river with pale elegant flight, and stirring cries.
It’s downright magical and although I have been here for a week, I still need to get in some quality gull-watching time. I’m not so eager to expose myself to the bone-jarring cold of a Niagara winter but doesn’t magic always come with a price? I also need to study the rafts of scaup on the river to brush up on Greaters just in case I come across one in Costa Rica (which would be a major rarity since there is just one fully documented record for the country).
Glittering hummingbirds are more common than ducks when birding in Costa Rica.
Until then, I hope not to bore readers of this blog by recounting some of my big misses from my birdiest year yet in Costa Rica. I got 17 species more than my year goal of 600 and a few of those happened to be choice lifers. However, I also missed some birds and the following are the ones that stand out:
- Slaty-breasted Tinamou: It seems like I should have at least heard the low-pitched tune of that wily, reddish-legged dumpling of a bird while birdwatching in Sarapiqui and Laguna del Lagarto.
- Fasciated Tiger-Heron: I usually get this one during the course of the year but despite much checking of rocky rivers and streams in places where I have seen them in the past, no dice on the thick-billed Tigrisoma!
A Fasciated Tiger-Heron at Chilamate, Costa Ricam from 2011.
- Sunbittern: While we are talking about rocky rivers, I might as well mention that I also missed Sunbittern! I probably would have seen one if I had waited by a suitable spot for a few hours but I didn’t feel like doing that in 2012. I might in 2013 though because I’m thinking of doing a sort of more serious Big Year.
- Wattled Jacana: This species is a rare vagrant in Costa Rica but I mention it because I am pretty sure I glimpsed one at a marsh near Cerro Lodge. It was just a moment and at a fair distance but I am 99% sure that I saw red on the bill and that the bird looked blackish. However, it didn’t come back out of that distant marsh so I don’t feel right about counting it.
- Buff-breasted Sandpiper: They were at the airport again and I looked for them on several occasions. Hopefully next year.
It’s much easier to see Collared Plovers than Buff-breasteds.
- Franklin’s Gull: I’ll put this one on the list because it’s a common migrant in the right places. I just didn’t go to those right places at the right time of year.
- Hooded Merganser: This lost little duckie showed up at Pocosol but I could never find time to go and see it! Will it show up again? Well, I could also win the lottery but I don’t count on it.
- Great Potoo: I figured that I would have at least heard a ”BAAWK!!” from one of these huge nocturnal creatures.
Yes, Great Potoos usually resemble a big, bunch of feathers when espied during the day.
- Magenta-throated Woodstar and Scintillant Hummingbird: I just didn’t look long enough at the right elevations for these two tiny species. Will probably get both of them on a trip to El Toucant in January, 2013.
- Lanceolated Monklet: No surprise there but I still missed it for the year. I know a spot near La Fortuna though and plan on hitting it in 2013…
- Black-headed Antthrush: Since I usually at least hear this rain loving antbird in foothill forests near San Ramon, I kind of wonder if I did identify one but forgot to mark it down.
- Tawny-chested Flycatcher: It’s a rare one alright! Now if you shell out the bucks for Rancho Naturalista, you are almost certain to see it. I did little birding out that way in 2012, though, so no oddly rare flycatcher for me.
- Sharpbill: I usually get this weirdo at Quebrada Gonzalez. I guess it just wasn’t giving its high-pitched crazy descending call while I was birding those foothill forests.
- Ashy-throated Bush Tanager: Another bird that I usually get at Quebrada…I wonder if I saw it and forgot to make a mental note. It’s not exactly a flashy bird so that could be the case.
Since the Costa Rica list is around 900 species, I also technically missed well over 250 birds. With that in mind, I better go birding as soon as I get back to Costa Rica! In the meantime, I’ll watch some gulls and hope for crossbills in Western New York.
According to the calendar followed by myself and many folks in the world, the end of yet another year is nigh. Those December days can be exciting ones for a birder. Christmas counts abound, the tension to squeeze a few more species out of the remaining days of 2012 becomes paramount for people doing a Big Year, and we can look back and revel in the personal birding high points that took place since January first.
Snowy Cotinga was one of the first great birds I saw in 2012.
For me, those high points included a bamboo seeding event on Poas and Barva volcanoes that attracted a host of species that specialize on the seeds of said grass. Peg-billed Finches were finally common. Rare, juncoish Slaty Finches made an appearance, and Barred Parakeets were often glimpsed as they zipped overhead. I missed the ground-dove with the burgundy-stained chest but I bet there were hidden away in some inaccessible, bamboo choked ravine.
Quetzals are the greenest of greens.
Poas in 2012 was also good for the ever spectacular Resplendent Quetzal and I saw many a Black Guan but one of the most amazing, dream-like birding experiences I have ever bore witness to happened much further downslope in the town of Santa Barbara de Heredia in late June. I awoke to a bird making an odd chattering sound near my backyard just after dawn and since it was a parrot that I didn’t recognize, you could say that I was rather intrigued. As I rushed to get my binos, a neighbor’s pet seemed to be the most logical explanation because the other possibility just seemed…well…unbelievable.
Much to my pleasant surprise, I saw that the mystery psittacine was not behind bars but was perched on a cable and its shape fit that second very unlikely hypothesis! Amazingly, yes, it looked like it was probably a Red-fronted Parrotlet but the look was 100% silhouette so I ran for my scope. After racing to get the scope out of a Pelican case and praying that the bird was still there, I rushed into my bedroom, wedged the tripod-less scope against the window and zoomed in on the bird. Sure enough, there was the red crown, short tail, light colored bill, and red on the face that assured me that yes, this was most certainly the toughest parrot species to see in Costa Rica!
Where I saw the parrotlet- a bird that wanders across a range of elevations, but usually in much more forested habitats.
Certainly one of the best sightings I have ever had given the rarity of the species, the fact that it was a definite lifer, and the unusual circumstances, but it got beat out for bird of the year by another even more mystical species. That was none other that the almost legendary Unspotted Saw-whet Owl. Like its Northern cousin, it’s about as close as one can get to having a live, flesh and blood, toy stuffed animal. Unlike the other saw-whet, though, you can’t expect to see it just about ever. I mean you can brave its cold, high elevation habitats in the dark of the night and try for it again and again and again, but you would still be lucky to see it. I don’t make that statement lightly either but base it on the fact that very few people have laid eyes on this cutest of owls in Costa Rica, and I have tried for it on several occasions.
Ernesto Carman also tried for it on many an occasion and it took him about five years to finally find the bird. That fifth year was 2012 and this excellent birding guide was gracious enough to show myself and a few other friends one of the birds during the month of October. We got it in park-like habitats at about 2,300 meters on Volcan Turrialba on a clear, star-filled night. We heard it give its pygmy-owl like calls, saw it flutter out to snatch an unlucky arthropod, and watched it for about 15 minutes as it sat in the high branches of a tree in a cold, wet pasture. Basically, the experience was as soul satisfying as we could imagine.
This was my best bird of the year and although I couldn’t commemorate the event with photos, I cherish memories of that special night made vivid by the importance of both the bird and the people who shared the occasion: Robert Dean, Susan Blank, Johan Kuilder, Ineke van Leeuwen, and Ernesto and his wife.
The owl even beat out my long anticipated and awaited meeting with a Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo.
What will 2013 bring for birding in Costa Rica? The only way to find out is to get out and do a bunch of birding. Luckily, I plan on doing just that.