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admin on January 27th, 2016

For a while, I have been wanting to visit Catarata del Toro for a full day of birding. I have wanted to go there because it seems like the closest chance to get into middle elevation forest that hosts Black-breasted Wood-Quail, Azure-hooded Jay, Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, and chances at various other cloud forest goodies. The mentioned species are especially important because we need images of them for the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app and the Panama Birds Field Guide app. Those birds also live closer to home but in much less accessible areas of Braulio Carrillo, or on the other side of the urbanized Central Valley at Tapanti. Not to mention, there has been little birding on the trails at Catarata and I suspect that it could host some surprises. As I write, I have yet to reconnoiter the site because one cold front after another has postponed the trip. When a cold front happens in Costa Rica, it’s not exactly cold (although locals might feel different about the slightly cooler temperatures). Instead, we get an abundance of rain and wind, especially in the mountains and on the Caribbean slope- basically right where Catarata is situated.

At least you can still see Black-bellied Hummingbird and other hummingbird action in the rain.

This is why I did not go there this past weekend but opted for a drive down to Chomes instead. Although I need fewer images of birds from the Pacific coast, a visit to this hotspot is always worthwhile because you really never know what you are going to see. I was reminded of this yesterday when an image of a White Tern was posted on the AOCR Bird Alarm from the other side of the Nicoya peninsula. When I saw it, I nearly fell out of my seat because a sighting in Costa Rica of this fairy-like bird usually requires a long, pelagic trip to Cocos Island. Needless to say, to see one from land would be a serious avian lottery win. I didn’t have the lifer winning ticket at Chomes but really, that bird could have just as well appeared later the same day or have been visible from the ferry, and it’s probably not the only major rarity down that way either!

So, in addition to keeping an eye out for any unusual, mega vagrants, here is some information when visiting Chomes and nearby during birding season, 2016:

  • Stick to high tide: This really is a must. I checked out Punta Morales that same day during low tide and saw maybe three waterbirds. Compare that to hundreds of shorebirds and terns often there during high tide and you get the picture.

    If there during high tide at least you can still see Mangrove Yellow Warbler.

    Common Black Hawk is regular as well.

  • Punta Morales: Speaking of this site, this is always worth a visit when birding around Chomes. To check the salt ponds, take the road to Punta Morales from the highway shortly after the turn off for Chomes, drive on in for several kilometers, and watch for the bar-restaurant El Huevo on the left. Take the next left, just before a bus stop and head on in until you see the ponds.

    The scrubby vegetation also hosts White-lored Gnatcatcher and some other dry forest species.

  • Cave Swallows have been seen: I doubt these will be around in a month or two but they have been reported from Chomes and other nearby areas in recent weeks. I also had several around there last January.
  • Chomes might be dry: It’s hard to make any predictions about water levels as Chomes but last weekend, it was much drier than I expected. The dry conditions seem to keep the Mangrove Rails out of reach, and doesn’t provide as much habitat for shorebirds. The only pond that had any water was the last one, near the beach. This did have some birds and probably hosted a lot more during high tide. Although we can’t expect any rain for Chomes any time soon, I suppose that tidal surges could fill the ponds near the beach.

    This pond is usually filled with water.

  • Bird the beach: What I really mean to say is scan the gulf from the beach. This is where the birds go during low tide and although they aren’t as concentrated and are further away, I still managed to identify American Oystercatcher, Black Skimmer, Marbled Godwit, and some other cool year birds.
  • American Avocet and Long-billed Curlew: If these birds interest you, once again, at least one avocet is present and there are probably three curlews around.

As usual, bring plenty of water, slather on the sunscreen, and make sure that the vehicle is in good working order because you don’t want to be stranded in that outdoor oven!

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admin on January 20th, 2016

Are you on your way to Costa Rica? Are you already here? If so, I hope these tidbits of birding news will be of use. In no necessary order:

It’s windy out there!: If you thought you had escaped the cold weather, well, I guess you did but you haven’t quite escaped the winter. Although the wicked and icy lash of the north falls far short of Costa Rica, it can still send cold fronts that batter us with wind and dump tons of rain in the mountains and on the Caribbean slope. Yesterday, the wind was out of control in the Central Valley. It rattled the roof tops and kept most birds out of sight. Although we didn’t get any rain in the valley, from my window, I could see it falling in the mountains from this massive block of moisture. Sure glad I wasn’t birding on the Caribbean slope! The weather looks much better today even though the system is supposed to stay with us until the weekend.

Short-tailed Hawks seem to enjoy the wind.

Road closures: Despite the wind and rain, I guess it wasn’t enough to cause landslides and other reasons for road closures. The only one listed on the government road closure site is that of the usual 10 pm to 5 am closure at Paso Ancho on the loop road south of San Jose.

A White-eyed Vireo is hanging out in a local birder’s backyard: Paul Pickering of the Birds for Beer blog has let most of his property grow right back up and guess what? Birds have taken advantage of the green space including a vagrant Cape May Warbler last year, and a lost, wintering White-eyed Vireo this year. This skulky bird is a rare vagrant in Costa Rica and usually seen during migration on the Caribbean coast. Since it seems to have taken up residence at Paul’s place, we did a trip over that way on Saturday and made a sweet addition to the year list.

Here's looking at you sweet 2016 White-eyed Vireo!

Three-wattled Bellbirds are being seen at Curi-Cancha: Aren’t they usually there? No, not right now! Ironically, this news item is a bitter one because it’s probably a sign that the normal wintering areas for bellbirds are not producing the fruits they need (a likely hypothesis since those areas have been experiencing serious drought). Bellbirds typically use the Monteverde area for nesting (a key site for them in Costa Rica). If the forest is suitable for wintering, it might not be so suitable come nesting season. Let’s hope that isn’t the case or we are going to see a lot less bellbirds in a few years.

Good numbers of Yellow-billed Cotingas at Rincon: On a brighter cotingid note, according to eBird lists from a recent Field Guides tour, 15 of these endangered birds were seen by Jay VanderGaast, Tom Johnson, and the tour participants! Check out the eBird list to see Tom’s amazing image of one in flight!

Ornate Hawk-Eagle continues to be seen in a bunch of places: According to eBird, there have several sightings of this large, fancy raptor at several sites. This seems to be the new normal for this species and makes me wonder if it is outcompeting Black Hawk-Eagle and/or filling a niche left by the absence of Crested and Harpy Eagles. It also means that Costa Rica continues to be one of the most reliable countries to see this super cool bird.

An Ornate Hawk-Eagle from near Virgen del Socorro.

New species for the country!: Don’t get too excited because we aren’t talking about anything undescribed, it was seen on Cocos Island, and it’s a dove. Eared Dove was recently documented on the island and that makes one more species for the Costa Rica list. Other species are still possible, in my opinion, the most likely being Hammond’s Flycatcher, and Black-throated Gray Warbler. I actually dreamed the other night that we had found the country’s first Loggerhad Shrike but alas, that one probably won’t show.

The Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app is available in full and basic versions: A new update for the full version will have more than 800 species pictured (including tough birds like Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, cotingas, and much more), vocalizations for around 600 species, and field marks, range maps, and information for every species on the list. The basic version has the same set up, easy to use filter, and other features but only shows 360 of Costa Rica’s common and spectacular species.

Overall, the birding is good with most expected species at the usual places. Whether you experience the country on a tour or on your own, happy birding and hope to see you in the field!

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admin on January 13th, 2016

I started this year’s birding in Costa Rica six days late but only because the first days of 2016 were spent birding around Niagara Falls, New York. It was gray, it was cold, there were two owls, and looking at birds with old birding friends. It was a gift. But now I am back in Costa Rica and eager to see how this winter’s birding compares to Januaries of the past, to see if I can manage some good images and recordings of things like Tawny-faced Quail, Black-breasted Wood-Quail, and Azure-hooded Jay (among other toughies), and to get a healthy start on the year list.

I was pleased to see this ghost from the north.

Casual birding near the house and scanning the skies from the window has turned up the usuals on sunny, dry season days. Yesterday, a day of guiding at Cinchona and Poas was likewise clear and filled with a bright tropical sun. As expected, the birds were mostly taking a break but careful scanning still  resulted in several nice birds, and activity picked up after the clouds blanketed the peak of Poas in the afternoon.

At the Colibri Cafe, a lot of birds came for breakfast, the best being a male Red-headed Barbet as soon as we arrived, along with close looks at Prong-billed Barbet, Emerald Toucanet, Silver-throated Tanager, and several other species.

This is the more regular barbet species.

Emerald Toucanets in the sun.

This Hoffmann's Woodpecker was a surprise and a reminder that things are a bit too warm and dry in Costa Rica.

Hummingbirding was also quality with close inspection and flybys of massive purple Violet Sabrewings,  feisty Coppery-headed Emeralds, a male Green Thorntail, and others including near constant company of two or three White-bellied Mountain-Gems.

Close looks at White-bellied Mountain-gem are always a gift.

After breakfast, clear skies meant that we were in for some slow birding but the scenery was nice, and as expected, some raptors came out to play. Those taloned birds included a distant Double-toothed Kite, White-tailed Kite on the drive up, expected TVs and BVs, Red-tailed Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, three Barred Hawks, and a beautiful pair of White Hawks down in the canyon at Virgen del Socorro. A little way into the canyon, watching a fruiting tree also turned up a few tanagers.

The birding was better back up on Poas but only because clouds took the brunt off the high elevation sun.

Spot-crowned Woodcreeper was one of many high elevation species we saw.

If you find yourself at Cinchona on a sunny day, get to the Colibri Cafe early (opens around 6), and enjoy much of the morning there. If you have a four wheel drive vehicle, head down to Virgen del Socorro and hang out by the bridge until it clouds over again. Bring a lunch, watch for birds, and when it gets cloudy, get ready for a lot more birds on the rest of the road.

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admin on December 23rd, 2015

Last week, I paid a visit to El Tapir for a morning of birding with my friend Susan. The weather looked good (no forecast of constant rain), and the foothill rainforest is always worth a visit, and not just for the hummingbirds. Other species live in that mossy forest too, including rare ones like Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, and Gray -headed Piprites. It was one last hoorah of birding to see if I could add a few more species to my year list. I did add one, an Ashy-throated Chlorospingus, not a very rare species but one more for the year nonetheless. Upon arrival, we had our rarest species of the day, a Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle that flew out of the forest and directly overhead. I had already seen it for the year but any sighting of this rare raptor is always welcome!

The view at El Tapir.

The flowering bushes were kind of slow for hummingbirds (and we did not see Snowcap), but we still had fine views of a male Black-crested Coquette, Green Thorntails, and a few other species.

Black-crested Coquette

Green Thorntail and a coquette share a branch.

Inside the forest, we walked both trails, one that leads to an overlook, and another that leads to a beautiful stream.

We scoped the overlook for a fair bit but only turned up a few toucans.

The beautiful stream.

The forest was kind of quiet but we still managed some good ones, including White-crowned Manakin, Black and yellow Tanager, Spotted Antbird, and

Lattice-tailed Trogon.

No Sunbitterns on the stream but it was nice to hang out and see if the small fish eat bits of crackers (they did). Back in the forest, although we failed to find our cotingas or antswwarm, we still had a few flocks with Checker-throated Antwren, White-flanked Antwren (pretty uncommon in Costa Rica, at least in the places that most birders frequent).

Inside the forest.

So, nothing major but still picked up one year bird and always a special place to visit. To reach El Tapir, head down route 32 from San Jose towards Limon, pass through Braulio Carrillo national Park, and watch for the Quebrada Gonzalez ranger station on the right. From there, El Tapir is around one kilometer further down the road, on the right. Although you probably won’t see a sign, it’s the first place on the right just after the ranger station. Open the gate, go on in, and pay the caretaker $12 when he comes out.

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admin on December 14th, 2015

I have written about it before and am happy to do so again. The Poas area is an easy, fun way to see a bunch of nice birds, and the photo opps aren’t that bad either. Last Friday, I was reminded of that while guiding around Cinchona and Poas. It would be a lucky break to see something like Black-breasted Wood-Quail and other species of the forest floor because most of the birding is done from the road, but that doesn’t leave out a lot. We actually heard the wood-quail near Cinchona and had excellent looks at 100 or so species. These included such birds as:

Emerald Toucanet

Prong-billed Barbet

Red-headed Barbet!

White-ruffed Manakin

Coppery-headed Emerald,

White-bellied Mountain-gem, and several other hummingbirds.

Black and Yellow Silky-Flycatcher

Golden-browed Chlorophonia

Three-striped Warbler

Ochraceous Wren

There were lots of other species that I didn’t get pictures of. Buffy Tuftedcheek, Streak-breasted Treehunter, and several other Furnarids showed well, as did Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, and various other birds.

Saving one of the best for last, we finished off the day with roosting Bare-shanked Screech-Owl!

Can you find the Bare-shanked Screech-Owls?

For more detailed information about birding sites throughout Costa Rica, get How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

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admin on December 8th, 2015

“Tis Christmas count season and all through the woods, birders were counting every bird that was stirring, tweeting, and flying as much as they could”. As with every properly done Christmas count, that can act as a brief summary for what we did on Saturday, December 5th. The following is a more detailed one about the event:

  • Finca Luna Nueva: This wonderful organic farm and ecolodge was our team’s base for the count and count route. This place might not be on the regular birding route but it should be. The rooms are comfortable and clean, there are trails through productive bird

    Finca Luna Nueva

  • Rain (but not too much): Unfortunately for counts on the Caribbean slope, December coincides with buckets of rain and it can happen at any time of the day. None of that classic tropical sunny morning/rainy afternoon stuff. More like heavy rain followed by light rain transitioning back to a downpour followed by fog. That’s how every team started their count on the 5th but at least the rain only lasted until mid-morning. The rest of the day was cloudy and ended with another bout of precip. but when it wasn’t raining, a good number of birds came out to play.

    This Broad-billed Motmot was seen on a drier day before the count. We had one count day and heard a few others that could have also been Keel-billed Motmots (they sound the same).

    This wet Collared Aracari was a typical scene during the morning of the count.

  • A lot of birds: The birding and counting were productive. We added new birds all day long and were constantly counting. With the sound of rain clouding my memory, I forget which birds were first and last on the list. However, I do know that our team  identified 140 plus species, none of which were aquatic birds! The total for all teams was more than 320 species. As expected, the most frequent were common species, especially Baltimore Oriole, and large flocks of Crimson-fronted Parakeets and White-crowned Parrots.

    Luna Nueva's organic farm and primary rainforest are excellent for birding.

  • Lack of night birds: They were out there but constant rain isn’t conducive to nightbirding.  Most owls were missed (and we didn’t have any), but one team still managed a Spectacled Owl and a Tropical Screech-Owl, and another got Great Potoo (maybe the roosting bird near the dam).
  • Tower birding: Finca Luna Nueva has the distinction of being one of the only places in Costa Rica with a tower, and we made use of it during the pre-breakfast mist and rain. It’s not very tall, and it doesn’t overlook primary forest but it still provides eye level views of several species. We saw parrots in flight, a pair of White-winged Becards, a few migrant wood-warblers, our only Long-tailed Tyrant of the day, and a male Green Thorntail feeding on the flower of an “Almendra” planted as part of the finca’s reforestation efforts among other sightings.

    Counting from the tower.

  • A bit of exploration: After counting more than 100 species at Luna Nueva (and that’s with getting rained out for the best part of the morning), we spent the afternoon covering the road to the Soltis Texas A and M Research Station. We also had a chance to do some counting on the trails of the station. Although we didn’t pick up any megas, the quality rainforest at this site still looks like a good place to check for the ground-cuckoo, Tawny-faced Quail, or other rarity. We did pick up several more birds, including Ocellated and Spotted Antbirds, some tanagers, and various other species. On the way back to Luna Nueva, lots of birds were flying to roost and perching in the tree tops. It was a final birdy ride punctuated with calling toucans, trees decorated with orioles and Red-billed Pigeons, and a choice Bicolored Hawk, the only one on the count. We also checked out Soltis the next morning after experiencing similar morning rain. This resulted in a dozen species not recorded by our team during the count including a perched Black Hawk-Eagle at eye level, and another Bicolored Hawk!

    This Nightingale Wren was seen after the day of the count.

    As was this Black Hawk-Eagle!

  • The stand-outs: In addition to the raptor stand-outs mentioned above, other birds of notice were the calling White-fronted Nunbirds at Luna Nueva, a heard only Uniform Crake, Great Curassow, Blue-throated Goldentail, 3 trogon species, 5 woodpecker species, Checker-throated Antwren and several other antbirds, Kentucky Warbler, and White-throated Shrike-Tanager. The most unexpected species was a glimpse of a Long-tailed Manakin, a species that normally occurs on the Pacific slope and hasn’t been recorded in this area. One other was also seen by another team.

    Our nunbirds.

  • A well-organized event: In keeping with the previous two counts, this year’s count was an organized event that featured video footage of a nesting Thicket Antpitta, explanation of each count route, lodging for several counters, a rep from Swarovski, some bird-related arts and crafts, and a delicious plate of “arroz con pollo” accompanied b y refried beans at the end of the count day.

    One of the count routes.

    Hearing about Thicket Antpittas.

Many thanks goes out to Diego Quesada (Diego Birding and Nature Tours), Juan Diego Vargas, and Jheudy Carnallo for organizing this year’s count, and Finca Luna Nueva for hosting us!

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admin on December 2nd, 2015

December has kicked off with am imaginary “bang!” and Christmas count season is nigh in Costa Rica. Most counts take place two weeks from now, but one key, counting bonanza happens in a few days and I will indeed partake in the challenge. Since the count season overlaps with the family events season, this will probably be the only count I can do. Having been stuck indoors for too many days, I am more than ready to merge back into the tropical forest and focus on the bio-surroundings. I’m still not entirely sure where I will stay for the count (counts in Costa Rica are usually a multi-day event), but one of the coordinators is doing his best to help me and a couple friends figure that out. In the meantime, these are some suggested preparations for keeping things on the ball during count day:

  • Meditate: Meditation results in more birds. It does! Work to clear the mind and there is less mental clutter to keeps one from noticing birds. You see, a lot of these tropical birds are highly evolved to escape detection. The more concentrated on seeing and hearing birds one is, the more you find. Oh, and meditation doesn’t necessarily mean sitting on the floor with your eyes closed. It can also take the form of Tai Chi, Yoga, watching birds on your own, trying to focus on and discern distant flying specks, tight-rope walking or other endeavors that help to calm the mind. If you deal feel like repeating one or a few words over and over, I suggest, “Rufous…vented….Ground….Cuckoo…”.
  • Learning to use hand signals to shush people in silence: After visualizing ground-cuckoos, this idea came to mind. Serious business requires serious silence. I wish we had those throat microphones used by special forces soldiers in movies (a night scope would also be nice) but we don’t, so hand signals will have to suffice. We will have to establish talking rules before the count, as well as which hand signals mean “Bird ahead”, “Did you hear that?”, or “Ground-cuckoo ahead!”. That latter signal could also be substituted for “Shut the ….. up!!” Heck, if we develop those gesticulations further, we’ll be just like a gender neutral Bene Gesserit of birding!

    Birds like to hide in this stuff..

    ...birds like Keel-billed Motmot.

  • Gearing up: A gear check is needed before any major birding endeavor because we can’t afford to have something go wrong, especially when we have to note every bird that chirps, flies, or scampers into our collective field of view. Not to mention, it’s cool to check out optics, mobile devices with bird calls, and an espresso machine any time of day. Ok, so, we aren’t bringing the espresso machine, but only because it’s too much of a pain to carry through the jungle.
  • Rain: There is only one day for the count and that day is not weather dependent. If it rains,(and it often does), the count goes on! As many past bird counts in Costa Rica have demonstrated, you still find a surprising number of birds. This is because it doesn’t usually rain the whole time,, and wherever you have a bunch of birders counting, them birds are found. So, we get ready for the rain by bringing a functioning umbrella, other rain gear, like 2o Ziplock bags, and a mindset that expects precipitation.
  • Snacks, coffee, and the like: We will probably get a bag lunch (most counts in Costa Rica do this) but a count is always better when you can reward yourself with quality chocolate, brownies, and/or other goodies. This also helps us celebrate the count. The coffee is of course necessary (or tea, or some other caffeinated stuff).

    On the way to Arenal, we will probably stop at the Loveats cafe for Cookies.

  • Flexibility to chase birds: So, this could mean literal flexibility if we have to climb a muddy slope and leap across some chasm to see the Great Jacamar or ground-cuckoo calling on the other side of the mountain, or being flexible with time the following day to chase the rare birds found and reported by others during the count.

I may or may not be following my own suggestions but I know that if I do, I will see more birds. Happy counting!

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Unfortunately, not as much as we used to. Last week, I had the chance to spend some quality time around Rincon de la Vieja while guiding a trip for the Birding Club of Costa Rica. We stayed at Rinconcito Lodge, birded around there, and spent one morning at the Las Pailas sector of the park. Rain and other factors, some natural, at least one not, tied our birding hands more than we expected. Based on last weekend’s trip, this is what birders might expect from the Rincon de la Vieja area in 2016:

  • Not as many birds: I hope I’m wrong but if the observations from last weekend were any indication, I’m afraid that the birding outlook doesn’t look promising. I hope things are different in the primary forest and more humid areas of the national park because something really doesn’t seem right in old second growth and other sites on the way to Rincon de la Vieja. Although time of year could be a factor, three days of dawn chorus were more like whispers in the dark. No woodcreepers, no becards, very few wrens, few wintering warblers, and few tyrant-flycatchers. In other words, something is going on with the insectivores and it’s not exactly rosy. That’s my impression and I hope I’m wrong but based on years of experience with bird surveys and the Costa Rican avifauna, I do believe that I should have recorded more birds. Who knows but I suspect that the lack of birds in second growth and dry forest areas is related to much less rain than normal over the past few years.
  • Keel-billed Toucans, oropendolas, and jays: You might see lots of these. I know we did. The number of Keel-billeds was pretty impressive and we saw dozens of Montezuma Oropendolas, and Brown and White-throated Magpie-Jays. We wondered how small birds could survive with such a large number of nest predators in the neighborhood. Fair numbers of Red-billed and Band-tailed Pigeons were also around along with lots of Orange-fronted Parakeets.

    A tree full of toucans.

  • Sunbittern!: I wasn’t aware of this but Sunbittern is fairly common on forested streams and rivers in and near the park. The Ficus Trail at the Rinconcito Lodge appears to be quite reliable for it.
  • Tody Motmot!: This target species is still regular in the area. We had one on the Ficus trail at Rinconcito and it should still be regular in the national park. It might prefer areas of old second growth or spots with vine tangles.

    Grainy Tody Motmot, near dark conditions.

  • Great Curassow: Rincon de la Vieja is yet another good site for this species. If you don’t see one in the national park, you can see some at very close range at Rinconcito Lodge.

    One of three Great Curassows that roamed the grounds.

  • Hard work for the sparrows: Since Botteri’s, Grasshopper, and Rusty Sparrows are much easier to see elsewhere, this might only be of interest to local birders. We did quite a bit of looking in suitable areas near the park, including a good site on Miravalles, with nary a peep. I am sure they are around but they sure aren’t common.

    Sparrow habitat.

  • Closed trails: Back to bad news. The main trail to the crater is closed and probably won’t open any time soon. Disappointing to be sure but the reason is a good one. It seems that although the activity at Arenal has slowed down, Rincon de la Vieja has picked up the pace and has even spit out a boulder or two.
  • The Las Pailas travesty: This certainly deserves an article of its own but I might as well sum it up here. Although the trail is open for business, it’s also open for construction, literally. We weren’t sure what they were exactly doing but the tractor-like equipment and power saws weren’t about to attract any ground-cuckoos or other good birds. The place was more or less a mess, and the loop trail was closed off at one point. This closing off required us to an about face and walk back through the same stretch of rainy, birdless mud. In retrospect, it would have been nice if the person at the park information desk would have mentioned the construction and the partial trail closure. Since the work is supposed to fall under the category of trail improvements, it’s logical to assume that it will be done at some point, perhaps before your trip. BUT, sadly, that might not be the only construction going on. Geothermal wells have also been built near the trail, forest was cleared in the process, and muddy access trails seemed to lead to those wells. Luckily, there are other trails in the park.

    Construction at the entrance to Las Pailas.

  • The other trails: For birding sake, skip Las Pailas and take the Catarata Escondida trail. I wish we would have! I don’t think there is construction on that one and it’s quite long, either leading to a waterfall, or heading up to a grassy area where Rock Wren, and Rusty and Botteri’s Sparrows have been seen. We didn’t make it up there but it was raining anyways. That trail probably provides the same chances at quail-doves, ground-cuckoos, and other goodies as Las Pailas used to and the closed Crater Trail still does.
  • Santa Maria Sector: Our original plan was to bird this part of the park in lieu of Las Pailas anyways. But, scouting showed that even the best of high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles would have trouble on the last 500 meters of the road. So, with great disappointment, we didn’t make it to that part of the park. The situation will probably improve with drier weather and the birding is pretty good.
  • Entrance fees and hours: The Hacienda Guachipelin charges 700 colones per person at one part of the road (they have done this for many years), and the main fee for non-residents is $15 per day. Hours are a non-birder friendly 8 to 3.

To learn more about birding sites in Costa Rica, get “How To See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”, the most complete bird finding companion for this birdy country. Now also available for Kindle.

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admin on November 18th, 2015

Some birds have short names, some names are kind of long. The name for the wild chicken of the Costa Rican highlands falls into the latter category. To be accurate, it’s not really the chicken of the Costa Rican highlands because it doesn’t scratch the forest floor in as many highland spots as say the Spotted Wood-Quail (another wild chicken-bird). In Costa Rica, it has a pretty small range that encompasses the upper slopes of the Central Valley, and some areas of the Dota range in the Talamancas. I have also had it in the highest spots of Irazu volcano but it doesn’t seem to occur in the treeline habitats on Cerro de la Muerte. Since it doesn’t occur in Monteverde either, this is one restricted chicken.

I am of course talking about the Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge.

Despite the very small range, fortunately, the wood-partridge seems to be adapted to living in disturbed habitats. In fact, this is no bird of the primary forest but a species that seems to rely on thick second growth and hedgerows. You can also see it in moist forest but it really does seem to be most common in a mix of second growth, forest edge, and agriculture. This is what the scene is like on the drive up to Irazu and that’s probably also the best area to encounter it in Costa Rica.

Habitat on Irazu for the wood-partridge.

Given the shy nature of this and other wild chickens, don’t expect to see the Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge prancing around the potato fields, especially in the middle of the day. These plump birds exist because they are expert skulkers and feed on a bunch of different morsels. To counter its skulking ways, head up to the Irazu area just after the cold dawn and drive back roads, keeping an eye and ear out for the wood-partridge. Or, you could park near areas with thick second growth and listen for calling birds. Once they are located, keep scanning the edge of the hedge or vegetation from where they are calling until they show themselves.

Pre-coffee, they might look like this.

Post-coffee views.

Lately, some people have also been seeing this toughie at Myriam’s Cabins in the San Gerardo de Dota Valley. Like literally, right at her cabins! That has never happened to me but I guess it has for some other lucky birders. If you stay there, watch the semi-open area near the lower cabins and the farming area below the restaurant (another semi-open spot that looks good for this cool bird).

Yet another means of seeing this species is by looking for them in the upper reaches of the Central Valley. Some of the best spots seem to be situated above Grecia, watch and listen for them along the roads to the Bosque del Nino. It won’t be easy but perseverance could pay off.

The results of perseverance.

The much needed chicken might even hop up on a stump and pose for the camera.

If the birds don’t show, at least the views are still nice from the slopes above Grecia (where the birds above live).

Nice views.

On another exciting note, birders in Costa Rica during December might like to participate in the Osa Christmas count. The Osa is a fantastic, birdy area, and a lot of species are always seen on the counts. Check out Osa Birds to learn about this conservation work and to contact them for the count!

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admin on November 12th, 2015

I can’t believe that it’s November. It was easier to accept that part of the calendar while living in Niagara Falls, New York. After Halloween, the surroundings abruptly changed from a russet Autumn brown with golden highlights, to a gray, half-lit world with cold lead waiting in the atmosphere. Taking an hour of the afternoon daylight out of the picture was a contributing factor to that gray scene but really, everything seemed to be dipped in some brand of liquid gray. The oaks and other deciduous trees had gone to their annual sleep, and the bird scene was dominated by large numbers of ducks and gulls fleeing from the winter that had already grasped the north.

Those cold winds, and rafts of Canvasbacks on the river also signaled another point on the calendar, that of the Christmas Count season. Do you think we birders really look forward to hearing Bing Crosby at every corner and discussions over unlabeled coffee cups? At least I don’t. While I do look forward to seeing family and friends, savoring home-baked Christmas cookies, and watching my daughter get really excited about Christmas, I also anticipate the annual counts. I’m not sure why we get so crazy about them in the north.I mean, you can see a lot more birds in much more pleasant green surroundings at other times of the year. But, even if we only saw ten birds up north, it would still be a key birding day of the year. Do we want to see if we can best last year’s count? Do we want to test ourselves? Enjoy a special bird-holiday with good birder friends? End it with egg-nog or maybe a fine, micro-brewed beer? Yes to all of the above and in Costa Rica, it’s even better because this is when we can actually see more birds!

Summer Tanager is one of many wintering birds we can see.

Christmas Counts in Costa Rica are a celebration, sponsored events, and of course we look forward to them with gusto. We get a chance to see friends that we never run into the rest of the year, to see how many hundreds of birds can be recorded in the count circle, and to push the “limits of machine and man” (maybe not but that partial quote from “Red Barchetta” by Rush is nevertheless inspirational). Well, if you would like to participate in any counts in Costa Rica this year, here are a few tips:

  • Sign up now: Like a concert, the counts are very popular, and some might have limited number of participants. Sign up today and say that you would love to help out. The AOCR publishes a list of the counts, and count contacts every year.
  • Don’t try to do all of them: Since some are on the same date, this will be impossible anyways. Or, try to do as many as you want but keep in mind that each one is almost like an adventurous Big Day. Just tell yourself to keep going and break out the chocolate.
  • Be ready for rain: But isn’t this the dry season? On the pacific slope, yes. On the Caribbean slope, welcome to the wet. Instead of snow, we get generous amounts of rain. Like a Christmas present for the forest ecosystems, the precipitation soaks the mountains and Caribbean slope (La Selva, the Aerial Tram, and several other places). Just be prepared and go with the flow, 300 plus bird species are usually recorded anyways, and you can go after rarities found during the count on the following day.

    Sometimes, you see even more birds during rainy weather. This Cinnamon Woodpecker was seen on a rainy day during the Arenal 2014 count.

  • Consider not staying in national park barracks: Some counts offer the possibility of lodging . If you don’t mind sleeping in an open, noisy dormitory warmed by tropical heat, then you might like it. But, if you would rather go for a good night’s sleep, look for other accommodation.
  • Cliff bars and Gatorade: Many counts provide participants with a lunch. But, just in case you don’t like it, Cliff bars can help save the day. Since the counts also take place during the good olde  Yule tide, rewarding oneself with chocolate and/or brownies is also in order (this is a celebration after all). Gatorade also helps during a long, hot, humid day of non-stop birding.
  • Get the shirt!: Because who doesn’t like a birding event shirt? It helps us recognize fellow members of the tribe when we aren’t carrying binos (like at a coffee shop, the DMV, funeral, etc), and makes for a nice souvenir. Most counts give you a cool shirt, get one!
  • Buy “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”: It will help you get ready for any degree or level of birding in Costa Rica, and it’s now available on Kindle!

This year, sadly, my counting in Costa Rica might be restricted to just one event. So it goes with odd timing, travel, and obligations. If you do any counts, have fun, I hope to see you at the one I do!

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