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admin on January 29th, 2019

Since a fair part of my life revolves around birding, I can’t help but apply the lifestyle to various aspects of this personal journey through time and space. For example, I sometimes wonder what things would be like if birders were in charge and birding was this highly important, sacred thing carried out by many more millions of people than it currently is. Like what if the folks in charge were all about birding and had like-minded support from the masses?

I daresay we would take much better care of this biosphere, that we would make much better efforts to live sustainably instead of doing a massive, full scale Russian roulette with life on our only home (that “life” would include good old Homo sapiens). Perhaps we would have large scale events that welcome the migrants back to town, maybe we would have all the owls staked but with very serious fines for those who dare disturb them. Once the birding religion was established, would there by a major schism between photographers and birders without cameras? Might folks get a bit too fanatic about listing or feeding birds? At the very least, we would have lots more birding news right on prime time TV. I sure would love that but in the meantime, before birders take over, I can at least provide some sort of birding news for Costa Rica right in this here post:

Good Bird Activity on Poas

Sometimes the birds on Poas can be slow. This wasn’t the case last week. Despite it being a sunny usually birdless mid-morning, we saw quite a few species including chlorophonias with nesting material, many Mountain Elaenias, Sooty Thrushes, and much more! On one of those days, we also had looks at a male quetzal. The following day, great looks were had at a Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl! Even better, we watched the small rare owl get mobbed by everything from Fiery-throated Hummingbirds to Flame-throated Warblers.

This is not just a Eurasian Blackbird with a pale eye.

Cinchona is Also Kicking Into Gear

The Colibri Cafe (aka Mirador Catarata San Fernando) is usually wonderful but lately, it has been especially good. During a recent mid-day visit, we were entertained by both barbets, toucanets, a Buff-fronted Quail-Dove, and other birds. The following morning had a Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush briefly show below the feeder. Not so many hummingbirds though…

The nightingale-thrush.

Hummingbirds?

Speaking of small aggressive surreal creatures, very few were at Cinchona and I just don’t see nearly as many as I used to pretty much everywhere. I fear that the consistently direr conditions have had a negative effect on hummingbird populations in Costa Rica (along with several other birds). There was a similar near dearth of hummingbirds at the Freddo Fresas garden although we did manage to see Magenta-throated Woodstar. Keep an eye out for feeders and any flowering trees and please eBird your results.

Cano Negro Just Gets Better

This hotspot is always good but as water levels continue to go down, it’s bound to be even better in February. Low waters concentrate the birds and makes it easier to see a bonanza of storks, ibis, Jabirus, and more. Go with Chambita and you also have a chance at other local specialties like Bare-crowned Antbird and crakes!

Thanks to Barnaby Romero (aka Chambita), I saw this Green and Rufous Kingfisher.

Fortuna Birding – Awesome as Ever

Although I have yet to bird this wonderful area in 2019, others have been seeing the usual good set of species including crakes at Bogarin, umbrellabird at the Observatory Lodge, and the monklet on the Fortuna waterfall trail. The birding is always good around Fortuna!

A Good Year for Cooper’s Hawks and Blue-headed Vireos?

While these birds might not garner much fanfare up north, only the lucky see them in Costa Rica. They are here each winter but are always scarce. Based on the number of recent sightings, I can’t help but wonder if more are actually present this winter or if there are just more birders out in the field? In any case, I hope that Mary and I can see these and other scarce migrants on our path to 700 species in 2019.

A Big Day with 280 Plus Species

No, not my birding team, but a recent birding binge carried out by guides Meche Alpizar, Johan Fernandez, Jason Hernandez, and author Noah Strycker. On January 20th, they recorded 281 species on a trip that took them from the cold heights of Irazu to the lowlands of La Selva, then back over the mountains at Poas before heading down to the Carara area. And yes, they saw some pretty good birds along the way including their first of the day, the mega Unspotted Saw-whet Owl!

Bellbirds are in Monteverde

There have been a few reports of bellbirds in Monteverde. It seems a bit early but perhaps because of weather conditions, at least a few are present, maybe more will show in February?

That’s about it for now, I hope these tidbits of information help with every birding trip to Costa Rica. For more detailed information on where and how to see birds in Costa Rica, support this blog by purchasing
How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica. You can also prepare for your trip with the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, a digital field guide with images for more than 900 species and sounds for more than 670. Hope to see you birding in Costa Rica!

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admin on January 17th, 2019

Like most countries, Costa Rica has more than one type of major habitat, more than one bio-region. Habitats such as the tropical dry forests in the northwest and the cloud forests of the highlands are clearly different in appearance, location, and elevation. Others, like the rainforests of the southern Pacific and the Caribbean lowlands, look similar at a glance but reveal differences upon closer inspection.

These ecological differences are why never see Charming Hummingbirds and Fiery-throated Hummingbirds fighting over the same food source, why more species are seen on birding trips that visit both sides of the mountains and different elevations, and why Cano Negro is one of the major key birding sites in Costa Rica.

This wetland area associated with Lake Nicaragua is where a birder has to go to see Nicaraguan Grackle. It’s where Spot-breasted Wren and Gray-fronted Dove can be easily added to a trip list, and where several other species are more readily encountered than in other parts of Costa Rica.

You won’t see this grackle slumming it up in some urban zone.

Thanks to increased diligent birding by a few guides who live in the Cano Negro area, most of those specialties are now much easier to find than in the past. These include birds like Yellow-breasted Crake, Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, Bare-crowned Antbird, Agami Heron, and even Green and Rufous Kingfisher!

Yellow-breasted Crake- essentially an aquatic, big-toed sparrow.

Thanks to boat and birding guide Barnaby “Chambita” Romero, Team Tyto (that would be Mary and I), and several other fortunate birders enjoyed a quick yet very productive day and a half of birding in the wetlands of the north. Even more impressive was the fact that we actually spent just an afternoon and a morning of birding and still managed to see most of our targets.

Beginning in Medio Queso, a late afternoon boat ride was punctuated by good look at Pinnated Bittern.

It wasn’t very close but this first of three or four Pinnateds gave us excellent looks.

We also scored with fine views of the smallest and most local heron species in Costa Rica, the Least Bittern. Other targets included a couple of Nicaraguan Grackles, Yellow-breasted Crake seen very well, a Sora (a regular yet challenging migrant and fantastic year bird!), and a few other bird species while we were entertained by the acrobatics of Fork-tailed Flycatchers.

The following morning saw us on a boat shortly after 6 a.m. in the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge.

With certain targets in mind, Chambita skillfully traversed the fallen logs of the Rio Frio to get us in touch with such fine birds as Snowy Cotinga, a fantastic Green and Rufous Kingfisher, Limpkins, and from the tower, a mega distant yet identifiable Jabiru in flight!

It was quite the successful trip and impossible to choose a best bird from so many candidates but given the amount of time and effort some had undertaken to unsuccessfully see Sungrebe in the past, and the fantastic looks we had at two of this awesome feathered weirdo, I think the odd duckish thing with the clown socks takes the prize.

In terms of Team Tyto’s Big Year, it was also an excellent start, I wonder what we will see next?

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admin on January 11th, 2019

Costa Rica isn’t just known for being one of the top birding destinations on the planet. This small mountainous country is also known for producing some of the best beans in the world. Although anyone who has breakfasted in Costa Rica is aware of the central gastronomic role played by black beans, the leguminous varieties aren’t the “beans” I’m talking about. The beans of note up in here are the dark roasted, coveted ones. The special seeds that give forth an enticing marvelous aroma. They are the ones with caffeine, the beans that are of course used to make coffee.

And coffee in Costa Rica is no small matter. The coffee in my adopted country is so damn good, I never corrupt it with milk or sugar. I prefer it black and the aroma is so delicious, even drink it cold. It’s a heck of a smooth cup and this is one of the reasons why coffee tours are so popular. One of the sites for those tours is also excellent for birding. Located on the lower reaches of the Via Endemica, the aptly named “El Cafecito” offers access to some quality foothill forest, an overlook into a forested canyon, and some aquatic habitats that can host Russet-naped Wood-Rail, Sunbittern, and a few other birds that require aquatic habitats.

A Sunbittern from another day.

Being a fan of quality coffee and nice tropical birding, I was pleased to do some recent guiding at and near this little visited foothill site.

On the way there, a stop at Cinchona gave us both barbets, Northern Emerald Toucanet, and some other birds that relish bananas and papaya. The hummingbird action wasn’t as good as other days but still offered close views of the endemic Coppery-headed Emerald and some other species.

On the road to Cafecito, fruiting figs offered up some fine birding action. Tanagers such as Bay-headed, Silver-throated, Blue-gray, Palm, Scarlet-rumped, and Crimson-collared were joined by Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Golden-browed Chlorophonias, and other more common species. The action was non-stop, I wonder when a cotinga will make an appearance? Hopefully on Monday when me and the other member of Team Tyto drive by that spot.

Raptors were also in evidence, our best species being Barred Hawk, Laughing Falcon, and a sweet male Merlin giving admirable views.

Down at Cafecito, the birding was actually kind of slow. Nevertheless, we were still greeted by Yellow Tyrannulet, calling Band-backed Wrens, Crimson-collared Tanagers, and two female Black-crested Coquettes. Better yet, the coquettes foraged at very close range in the Porterweed that borders the main path!

Further down that path, things were much slower than I had expected but we still managed wonderful close looks at a male White-collared Manakin and a few other birds feeding in a fruiting tree. On previous visits, that same tree and adjacent area has turned up various tanagers, toucans, chachalacas, Crested Guan, and other species.

We left after lunch but if we had stayed there for the afternoon, I’m sure we would have found many more species. The habitat is there and easily accessed by a few short trails. Wait long enough and the birds eventually show. Expect a good selection of foothill species, maybe even some rare ones. Since this is an underbirded site, don’t be surprised if you find something good! If you don’t, the birding will still likely be easy-going, productive, and if a birder doth wish, can also be accompanied by some damn fine coffee.

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admin on January 1st, 2019

According to calendars and widespread celebrations, the New Year just happened. In an instant, 2018 was gone, done, history. It was a good year for me, one with many changes, one with improvements and among the best of the best were the many birds; more than 640 on my annual Costa Rica list. Counting the birds I saw during two visits to Niagara Falls and one very memorable bucket trip to Guatemala, I also had a bunch more! I thank my friend Alec Humann in Buffalo, NY for taking me birding during those visits (and for the timbits and coffee!), for the Birding Club of Costa Rica for having me as a guide in Guatemala and elsewhere, and for many days of fantastic birding with my partner Mary. I am also grateful for my family, friends, and for the days to come during another year of birding in Costa Rica.

The beginning of a new year is also one more excellent reason to visit Costa Rica, these are some other ones for making it to this beautiful, birdy place in 2019:

World class birding

World class birding is more than being a place that hosts hundreds of bird species. It helps when many of those birds are accessible, fairly easy to see, and in places with quality accommodation and service. Costa Rica fits the bill in these ways and more. As an example, during the past week, during a morning of guiding of roadside birding in the Poas area, we saw a male Resplendent Quetzal, Flame-throated Warblers, and a few dozen other species, many of those being highland endemics. The following day saw me guiding in the Carara area, we finished with around 150 species. All of that was also roadside birding and included Scarlet Macaws, Turquoise-browed Motmot, White Hawk, several hummingbirds, manakins, and many other species.

To see what else is in store for a visiting birder, just browse this blog.

Easy birding

Not every bird is easy to see, and Costa Rica is no exception. But, thanks to long term protection, a heck of a lot of birds here are fairly easy to see, especially ones like Crested Guan and Great Curassow. Throw in access to good habitat in many parts of the country, and the birding just gets easier.

Good infrastructure

Costa Rica has a good set of roads, accommodation, and restaurants. The water is potable almost everywhere, and most people who work in the tourism industry speak at least some English, many of them very well.

Good birding apps for Costa Rica

I admit, I helped develop one of them but I stand by it. Thanks to various contributors and our efforts, the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app has become a great hand-held digital field guide that now shows:

-Field marks, range maps, and information for all species on Costa Rica bird list.
-Images for 905 birds (98% of species on list).
-Vocalizations for 671 birds (72% of species on app).
-Multiple images for most species, FREE updates with more additional images and sounds.
-Endemic and threatened species noted.

It can also be personalized with:
-Extensive search filters that can show birds by group, family, status, and more.
-Making lists of target species.
-Marking birds as seen, heard, not seen, and more.
-Making notes for each species.
-Marking birds as seen.
-Emailing lists in eBird format.

Accessible Quetzals, rails, and more!

Costa Rica has always been an excellent place to see one of the top bird species on the planet, the Resplendent Quetzal. That continues to be the case and nowadays more than ever. However, we don’t just see quetzals in Costa Rica, we have also developed good local gen. for many other species including tough ones like Yellow-breasted Crake and other rails, even Paint-billed Crake. Work with the right birding tour company and they should have options for everything from Unspotted Saw-whet Owl to Azure-hooded Jay and tanager photo opps.

Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow, Mangrove Hummingbird, Coppery-headed Emerald

Four of seven country endemics occur on the mainland along with around 100 regional endemics.

Our really cool endemic towhee. 

Turquoise-browed Motmot, tanagers, Keel-billed Toucan and other common, beautiful birds

To sum things up, the birding is excellent and easy in Costa Rica, and there are well trained guides for birders of all levels and skills. If you would like to learn more about finding birds in Costa Rica while supporting this blog, please purchase How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

I hope to see you in Costa Rica soon!

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It’s the end of the year, a solstice just happened and a major holiday season is at its festive height. Celebrate with family, toast with friends, but most of all, go birding. Treat yourself to birds this holiday season and what better place to do so than the tropical birding paradise known as Costa Rica. For folks in North America, it’s closer than you think and there are literally hundreds of birds to see. Some ideas to bird your way from 2018 into 2019:

Try a short birding holiday– Costa Rica is an easy choice for a birding trip of a week or even just a few days of birding. Plan it right and three to four days of birding trips out of San Jose can yield 300 species including such birds as Resplendent Quetzal, various tanagers, the endemic Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow, motmots, and so much more. Stay a week or more and there are more options and more birds.

Take an excellent tour run operated by local experts– This is the best way to see hundreds of bird species including key birds like Sungrebe, Great Green Macaw, puffbirds, trogons, owls, and the list goes on. Although the tours take place after the holidays, you can always give yourself a birding gift today by signing up for one of the exciting Lifer Tours scheduled for January, February, or March. Contact me to learn about these and other birding tours operated by local experts.

Photograph quetzals and other highland species– A lot of people come to Costa Rica for wildlife photography and with good reason. It’s easy to reach sites with quetzals and many other mountain species including photogenic birds like Yellow-thighed Finch, silky-flycatchers, and lots more. More than one key site for highland birds and lots of hummingbirds are a drive of two to three hours at most from the airport.

Focus on endemics– With more than 900 species on the list, there are literally hundreds of birds to see in Costa Rica. However, of those many birds, the best ones to focus on are the species that you aren’t going to see elsewhere. Head to the mountains for endemics as well as Carara National Park, the Osa Peninsula, and sites around Dominical.

Get excellent birding apparel and support endangered birds in Africa-Last but far from least, buy Wunderbird birding apparel before the end of the year and you can also support vulture conservation in Africa. Wunderbird shirts and hoodies are some of the only quality apparel designed for birding and make excellent gifts. These comfortable, unique shirts enhance the birding experience and since 15% of all proceeds until the end of 2018 will be donated to support saving vultures in east Africa, there’s no better time than now to buy a hoodie, the Kestrel shirt or the long sleeved Peregrine shirt.

I hope to see you in Costa Rica for birding!

 

 

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The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of birding. Three annual counts and guiding took me to humid forests of the southern Pacific, cool air and hummingbirds of the mountains, and down the other side of the continental divide to the northern wetlands of Cano Negro.

At some point after the final bird count, I tried summing up all species I had identified by sound or sight and came up with 385 or so birds. A good deal of driving was involved but no owling, nor any attempt to bird binge the entire time. It just goes to show that if a birder stay’s out there and gets to a few different sites, in Costa Rica, the birds just keep on showing.

Some reflections from the past two weeks:

It’s all good on the road to Cano Negro

The sign to the reserve is not obvious but that’s par for the course in Costa Rica. It’s also why Waze is the unofficial driving copilot for every vehicle in Costa Rica. Once you get onto that long entrance road to Cano Negro, enjoy the ride because lately, the bumps and road craters have been minimal. It was a quick, easy drive but don’t go too fast, there are birds to see!

The best area is probably the San Emiliano wetlands area. This site can host many waterbirds including Jabiru, and also has Fork-tailed Flycatchers, Ruddy-breasted Seedeaters, and might even have roadside Yellow-breasted Crakes! Although we dipped on the crake, we enjoyed several other birds including the flycatchers, seedeaters, and Nicaraguan Seed Finches.

It can rain a heck of a lot in Cano Negro

We discovered this in true wet fashion during the count day by way of cold blowing rain! Luckily, it didn’t rain the entire time although it seemed to do so at night. The rain beat down on the roof for hour after hour and so much that I was worried that the entrance road might be flooded. But, fortunately, those wetlands can soak up large amounts of water because the way out hardly looked like it had rained at all.

Despite rain on the count day, we still managed lots of birds, a few of the best being Black-collared Hawk, Nicaraguan Grackles, and American Pygmy-kingfisher.

Cano Negro is more than wetlands 

Although our route took in a few large lagoons, other routes also checked more forested sites with excellent results. One long route had all six kingfisher species, Sungrebe, Snowy Cotingas, two puffbird species, and many other birds. It was nice to be able to watch the two Cano Negro specialties, Gray-headed Dove and Spot-breasted Wren, right in the village. Many other forest species are also possible in and near the village including several woodpeckers, parrots and parakeets, even Bare-crowned Antbird.

We had close looks at Crimson-fronted Parakeets among other birds.

Cangreja is a long, dusty drive 

By nature, the trip to Cangreja is indeed a lengthy, dusty endeavor. Don’t do it at night! It might be foggy and it will be one of those special times when you think of better days as you wonder when the present challenging, worrisome times will end.

But the birding is good on that bumpy road!

Much of that road to Cangreja is good birding. Even the brushy areas not far from Puriscal can be good and further on, there are spots to look for Costa Rican Brush-Finch, and so many other species.

Need Sunbittern? Try rivers near Aguas Zarcas!

This key bird seems to be especially reliable on the river at the Cariblanca reforestation project. I’m sure it also occurs on the other rivers along with Fasciated Tiger-Heron.

Fun, easy birding on Poas

Guiding on Poas has been great as per usual with many regional endemics seen along the road to the national park. I have been hearing Barred Parakeets fly over, and have been seeing Black Guan at eye level, Buffy Tuftedcheek, silky-flycatchers, Wrenthrush, and much more.

The Arenal count was excellent

It always is and 2018 was no exception. Participants found several umbrellabirds in expected quality habitats, antbirds, a lingering Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and more than 360 other species. Our team found more than 160 species while birding Finca Luna Nueva and the Soltis Center. Although it was slow at times, we kept adding birds including Snowcap, Black-crested Coquette, King Vulture, Barred Hawk, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Uniform Crake, White-fronted Nunbirds, and much more.

The view from the Soltis Center- a great site for raptors among many other birds.

We also saw this Jumping Viper. Despite the worrisome name, this snake rarely moves unless you try to grab it.

Finca Luna Nueva– birdy as always

During the count, we kept on seeing and hearing more birds at this excellent organic farm/ecolodge. This site truly shows how we should be using the land in sustainable fashion and it shows with the numbers of birds that live there including many migrants. We added species right to the end of the count, our final ones being Uniform Crake and Russet-naped Wood-Rail.

Birding from the tower at Luna Nueva.

The year is quickly running to its end. During 2018’s final stretch, I have more guiding and birding in store. Although I haven’t been doing any sort of Big Year, I have still managed to tick 640 species for 2018 in Costa Rica. Hopefully I’ll add a few more because if I do, they would have to be rare or decidedly uncommon! I hope to see you birding in Costa Rica in 2019.

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admin on December 4th, 2018

It’s December, in Costa Rica, the month of vacations, the beginning of the dry season, Christmas in the tropics. For us local birders, we wish for holiday gifts that take the form of glittering cotingas, a White-tipped Sicklebill, a lifer or two or three. This December, my potential lifers are far too separate from the realm of possibilities but I don’t mind, I have been blessed, I will be content to watch whatever flies my way during Christmas counts and other birding days.

Come to Costa Rica for a lifer Prong-billed Barbet.

I will see a lot of birds during the following final weeks of 2018, I hope all birders can do the same. In the meantime, these are some news items for birding in Costa Rica:

New Birds for the Costa Rica list

Some web sites still mention 860 or so bird species for Costa Rica. Don’t believe it, the number is much higher and the list continues to grow. At this time of writing, the official bird list for Costa Rica stands at 923 species and now that Couch’s Kingbird and Yellow-billed Tern have been seen (by Ernesto Carman and Chambito respectively), we can add two more! They still need officially confirmation but since one was documented with a diagnostic audio recording, and the other with an excellent photo, they should make it onto the official country list soon.

The tern was seen at Cano Negro, we are doing a bird count there tomorrow, I hope it makes another appearance!

Birding sites that have closed

I may or may not have mentioned it elsewhere but in any case, Kiri Lodge near Tapanti was sold and may or may not reopen under new ownership. Much worse was the selling of Zamora Estate to “developers”. Although some of the natural aspects of the land might be preserved, I suspect that most will be or already has been destroyed to make way for housing. Not just important green space but some of the final bits of remnant wetlands in the Central Valley. I hope the owners are haunted by the ghosts of herons, especially the cackling of gargoyelish Boat-billeds.

Christmas counts!

As previously mentioned, there be Christmas counts happening these days. Special events in many places, in Costa Rica, we tend to take them to higher levels of birding. This count season has more counts than ever before, so many in fact that a birder can’t do all of them. I participated in my first Cangreja Christmas Count a few days ago, and will be doing the Cano Negro and Arenal counts shortly for a week of fantastic birding times. I wonder how many species I will have identified by next week? I bet I surpass 300.

The cool shirt from the Cangreja Count, my team found more than 130 species, the sole waterbird being Sunbittern.

Night driving in Puriscal- just no 

For the Cangreja count, we had to drive through Puriscal to reach Mastatal, the village at the edge of Cangreja National Park. It’s a long, winding road, several kilometers of it sort of rocky and dotted with occasional pot holes. But, that wasn’t the problem.The nightmare came in the form of pea soup fog, at night, on a road with minimal to zero lighting and very few road markers. Needless to say, this means that one should never, not ever, ever ever drive that road at night. Never mind the fact that some cars zoomed past us, it should in fact be closed during conditions such as the ones experienced by us. During the day, it’s fine, even beautiful and the birding is nice but time your trip well or you might spend a couple hours creeping along with the desperate hope that you will make it through alive as your navigator risks her literal head by sticking it out the window to make sure you don’t drive off a cliff.

Avoid certain supposedly edible snacks….

Oh, and there’s more advice garnered from that gem of a drive. Whatever you do, do not buy any of those packaged empanadas or other would be baked snacks from small supermarkets between Puriscal and Mastatal. That might also hold true in other parts of the country although you won’t find me testing that hypothesis. Whether just confused by fog or thinking that we were in need of emergency rations, we happily shopped for packages of pudding bread, empanadas, and some other sugary thing. Upon opening them, however, it only took one bite to send our contented feelings of accomplishment straight to ashen pools of despair. One lives and learns and makes discoveries. On that day of learning, we found that “budin” can smell and taste like actual garbage, and that styrofoam and/or plastic might be secret ingredients for packaged empanadas and “costillas”. Honestly, just stay away and thank the stars for feeling hungry because that’s better than dining on plastic and savage bits of fermented flour.

Green Guanacaste

This year was a good wet one for Costa Rica, including the tropical dry forest region. Things have been very green and this should help local and wintering bird populations in Guanacaste. With more habitat for waterbirds, perhaps we will have more of those as well. And fewer forest fires would be nice too!

Tis the season for umbrellabirds

Although I wish this meant that they would be common and a given at many a site, alas, the bird is truly endangered. But, it still is the season for this serious mega with the Elvis coiffure. One was recently seen on trails near La Fortuna, others should be at similar elevations where the foothills meet the lowlands on the Caribbean slope. Watch for them wherever forest is found in such situations and rejoice with your choice of organic chocolate and local brews (or coffee, or whatever, just not packaged baked snacks. Only eat those when you feel like punishing yourself).

The Bogarin Trail

Last not not least, The Bogarin Nature Trail on the outskirts of Fortuna will be rocking. Geovanni recently reminded me that December is the best time for birding that oasis. Many birds are at the feeders, there is good birding on the trails, and flowering trees can have Black-crested Coquette, Blue-throated Goldentail, and who knows what other hummingbird species? The entrance fee is $10, whether using camera or sticking to binos, it’s well worth it. There might be a roosting owl. There might even be a Keel-billed Motmot! There will be birds and it will be good.

The least common motmot in Costa Rica from a recent visit to Bogarin.

Coming to Costa Rica? Spaces are still open on excellent guided trips with Lifer Tours. The birding will be fantastic, contact me at information@birdingcraft.com   I hope to see you birding in Costa Rica!

 

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admin on November 26th, 2018

Known for sun, beaches, and wide open vistas, Guanacaste is a popular tourist destination that encompasses the northwestern region of Costa Rica. Acting as the southern terminus for the tropical dry forest ecosystems of the Middle American Pacific slope,the lay of the land offers an appeasing blend of windswept fields dotted with octopi-like acacias, evergreen riparian zones that act as avian oases, patches of remnant dry forest, and rich wetlands.

The blend of easy birding and good tourism infrastructure makes northwestern Costa Rica an ideal part of the country to mix birding with a family visit. Those factors also make Guanacaste a good choice for local birders and even more so because the region offers high potential in Costa Rica for finding rare migrants. American Pipit has occurred as well as vagrant sparrows, wood-warblers, Aplomado Falcon, and even Gray Kingbird.

A few of the top sites for shorebirds are also in Guanacaste and since the region sees so little coverage for large areas of good habitat, who knows what else might be lurking along a dry creek bed or near some hidden pond? Maybe Costa Rica’s first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher? Sharp-tailed Sandpiper? Maybe even a Burrowing Owl? Long shots for sure but they might honestly be out there and the best thing about looking for them is seeing hundreds of other bird species in the process.

This past weekend, while guiding the Birding Club of Costa Rica, I visited Horizontes, one of many sites in Guanacaste that sees little birding coverage. Although we didn’t find any crazy megas, both Robert Dean and I agreed that the site would be perfect for finding rarities during the height of the dry season as wetlands shrink and thus act as oases for birds. Even though we didn’t manage to add Lark Sparrow to our Costa Rica lists (a real mega around here), we were still very pleased with the overall birding at Horizontes and plan on making a return visit.

Horizontes is a large habitat restoration project just south of Santa Rosa National Park and based on the numbers of birds we saw, it seems to be working. These are some suggestions and remarks from birding there:

Several Key dry forest species are present, check out my eBird lists from my visit.
Although much of the forest is in varying degrees of second growth, there are some larger, older trees in a riparian zone and we had a very good assortment of dry forest species including uncommon species. Some of the highlights included-
Thicket Tinamou– common! Although in keeping with tinamou decorum, still tricky to see.
Double-striped Thick-Knee– we had a few.
Plain Chachalaca– we heard a few of this very uncommon species for Costa Rica.
Elegant Trogon– we heard a few.
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper– we had a couple.
Northern Potoo– we did not see one but they are regular at this site, with a bit more time to work with I am sure we would have found one.
Western Tanager, White-lored Gnatcatcher and many other regular Guanacaste species were very common.

Spot-bellied (Crested) Bobwhite– we saw a covey near the main buildings.
Yellow-naped Parrot– we had regular sightings of this endangered species.
Myiarchus flycatchers– these were especially common, in fact, along with the gnatcatcher, some of the most common birds heard and seen throughout the day. Great-crested were very common and an example of the important role reforestation projects can play to provide habitat for this and other boreal migrants.
Brown-crested and Nutting’s were also seen quite often.

Brown-crested

Nutting’s

Mangrove Cuckoo– we had beautiful looks at a couple of these cool birds.

Western Kingbird– an uncommon wintering species in Costa Rica.

Bird the main roads
Although birding a trail or two is worth the effort, we had our best birding right along the main tracks through the reserve.

A White-necked Puffbird was nice as were close looks at a female Hook-billed Kite.

Check the lagoon especially during the dry season
We had fewer birds than hoped but still managed nice looks at Painted Bunting and an uncommon for Costa Rica Magnolia Warbler. Once the surrounding area dries out, this site would be a good one to check for much rarer species.

Stay there to save money or just visit as a day trip
The accommodations at Horizontes are basic but fine and clean and include rooms with bunk beds and fans (standard for a field station). The food was local fare and it was delicious!
However, it’s also just as easy to visit as a day trip from Liberia, Playa Hermosa, or other nearby beaches. The road in was also driveable even with a regular car (albeit with careful driving).

Keep an eye out for rare birds
Since few people bird at Horizontes and the site has potential for turning up rare species, it’s good to keep this in mind and be ready to take pictures of any unusual birds. We were told about a strange bird that has occurred there that sounded like it might be some owl species and maybe even a Great Horned (a real mega for Costa Rica).
However, despite visiting the site where it has showed both during the day and at night, we didn’t find anything different. I want to check again though…

Check other nearby sites for more species
Given the proximity of rice fields and other wetlands to Horizontes, it’s worth venturing outside the station to bird other sites. On an afternoon visit to the rice fields at Las Trancas, we did very well with excellent looks at Spotted Rails, Harriss’s Hawks, Northern Harrier, and many Scissor-tailed Flycatchers.

Hello rail!

Horizontes is easily visited as a day trip, all a birder has to do is drive in and pay the national park entrance fee. Meals and overnight stays would need to be arranged in advance but that should be easily done by contacting the station manager.

The best time to visit is during the dry season, note that some of the roads may be impassable during the wet season. Although Santa Rosa has better forest habitat, what we liked about Horizontes was the feeling that we were birding in an area with little coverage and high potential. If visiting Horizontes, please post your results to eBird and mention them in the comments for this post. Good birding in Costa Rica!

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Road maps for Costa Rica refer to it as Route 126 but that’s only on paper or in pixels. As with most byways in Costa Rica, the signs that tell you which route is which are as scarce as cotingas. This is why us locals refer to Route 126 as “the road between Varablanca and San Miguel”, “the road that goes by the Peace Waterfall”, or similar descriptors. Confusing! Well hell yes! BUT, nowadays, we got Waze! That, Google Maps and other navigational apps help keep all of us birding drivers on track in Costa Rica.

Although you won’t find any apps referring to Route 126 as the “Via Endemica“, they really should. I mean where else in Costa Rica can one so readily find so many regional and actual endemic bird species (and isn’t that one of the big important things in life)?

Last week, I was on that good birding road again while guiding restoration ecologist and local birder Jeff Tingle. As one might expect from birding the Via Endemica, whether good photos and/or good sightings, we had several highlights:

Zeledon’s Antbird

This shady species is fairly common in the Socorro area but it can go unheard and unseen all too often. On that day, we heard a few and had one very cooperative friendly male. Thankfully, this cool bird with the blue eye shadow just said no to skulking and went all in with the birding program.

Becards and foliage-gleaners

What do these two types of birds have in common? Not much aside from being Neotropical avian standards but the other day we did well with a pair each of uncommon becard and foliage-gleaner species. On the becard side of the coin, the cute little Barred Becard treated us well at a couple of stops, both male and female showing very well. Then, much to my surprise, we saw a rare for Costa Rica Black-and-white Becard next to the road near Cinchona! I have never seen the bird there before, I hope it’s a sign of the forest coming back and habitat improving.

Regarding foliage-gleaners, we did well with two uncommon species. The Scaly-throated showed in the same flock as the rare becard and then again in a more usual spot for it, the forest above the Albergue Socorro. The other Furnarid was a Streak-breasted Treehunter that, like birding magic, appeared right in front of us near Varablanca.

Hunting trees!

Mixed flocks

Also known as “bird waves”, “multi-species flocks”, and in some birding circles, “bird pandemonium”, this is when a bunch of birds suddenly appear, often foraging like mad and leaving shortly thereafter. It’s the bird version of dine and dash, a real feathered ambush of the senses, and the larger the flock the more likely a birder is to lose all sense of decorum. We didn’t have anything that curassow crazy on the Via Endemica, but we did do well with consistent mixed flocks and life was good. Ruddy Treerunners, Collared Redstarts, Flame-throated Warblers, Yellow-winged Vireos and other species at high elevations, and a mostly different set of birds at lower elevations.

Black-cheeked Warbler was one of the high elevation mixed flock participants. 

The endemic ground-sparrow (s)

The icing on the cake of the Via Endemica is the presence of the Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow. I think we should actually  it the C G Sparrow (or maybe even Calvin Gucci?) as a reflection of its cool demeanor. As with any famous character, it’s not common by any means nor easy to see but if a birder checks the right cafetales and sites, he or she may connect and even get paparazzi with this fancy towhee. The bird has been treating me well at the Villas San Ignacio. It’s sort of impossible to pinpoint where it can be seen at the hotel but it is present. We had good views of a couple of this fine G Sparrow last week. The same goes for the other snazzy G Sparrow in Cost Rica- ye olde White-eared. We also had a couple at Villas San Ignacio.

I’m sure there are more highlights I could tell but the best are the ones a birders makes for him or herself. Check out the Via Endemica in Costa Rica and tell us what you see in the comments.

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admin on November 12th, 2018

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”. Christmas! Navidad! The festive season makes those brief December days and long dark nights somehow easier to handle. Or, maybe it’s just that we aren’t two months into the winter season and really tired of looking at gray skies, dirty sidewalk snow, and birdless bare branches. But that stuff is for the northern realms, not for warm and tropical Costa Rica. Around here, in December, we only need worry about how many birds we can find during our annual Christmas Counts!

Yes, this really is the most wonderful time of the year for many of us local birders and it has everything to do with our “conteos de aves”. I know that the annual count is special for many a birder in many places but seriously, here in Costa Rica, we tend to kick it up a notch. Not just a day to get together and count birds, our counts tend to me more like events that bring dozens of birders together whether they are official registered Audubon counts or not.

The Arenal event is one such count. Although it’s not officially registered as an Audubon count circle, we carry out the count in similar fashion and use it to gather data and promote birding in the Arenal area. It actually starts well before the count date with the count organizers contacting hotels and agencies that might be interested in sponsoring the count, registering counters, seeing where various people can stay, and then seeing which person will lead which route along with assigning people to each route. Oh yeah and then there is the catering but I’ll get to that later.

The routes for the Arenal count cover everywhere from the La Fortuna surroundings to the Hanging Bridges, Sky Trek, the Observatory Lodge, Arenal Lake, and even a rafting count on the Penas Blancas River. Basically, fantastic birding everywhere and with every route recording well over 100 species. Sound enticing? It sure is and is why this count sees more than 70 people participating each year.

Participants from 2014.

The first year of the count, 2013, actually had the highest participation with 95 birders in the field. Last year, 71 people were counting birds, probably less than other years because of other counts taking place at the same time. However, even with less participants, we still had 338 species for the count circle, around average. That said, our highest total was 377 species in 2016 and with the right combination of weather and participation, we could certainly record even more.

Regarding species, this one is also exciting because it’s one of the few counts in Costa Rica that finds birds like Uniform Crake, Lanceolated Monklet, Song Wren, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, and Bare-crowned Antbird on the same day!

Last year, our group got the monklet although it can turn up on at least three or four routes.

Once everything is ready, people confirmed for the annual Arenal count get together in La Fortuna for a meeting held the night before the count. This has taken place at hotels, in a gymnasium, and even at the local market and is vital for socializing with other counters, going over the routes, and seeing a presentation that talks about the official count species and research being carried out in the Arenal count circle. This is accompanied by coffee and cookies as counters try on tee-shirts that show the official count species on the front and logos of count sponsors on the back. It’s always a cool, unique shirt and it ends up acting as valuable marketing for the hotels and travel agencies that support the bird count because believe me, those count shirts get around! I have worn more than one of mine on trips outside of Costa Rica as well as within the country and since the shirts are unique, people do notice and even ask about them.

Over the years, the Arenal count has gotten support from 6 public institutions and 30 private enterprises, I wonder who the lucky sponsors will be this year?

After the pre-count meeting, birders meet up with their respective count leaders to figure out if they should start counting in the middle of the night or wait until dawn. Personally, I prefer to start around 3:30 at beautiful Finca Luna Nueva, the route I usually do. Then, everyone heads off to their respective places for lodging to hopefully get some sleep before count day. On count day itself, the birding is often an exciting blend of fast and furious avian action between bouts of pouring rain.

Last year gave us a break with the weather and because of it, we managed several owls along with a wonderful sunny day of birding.

Counters usually finish up around 4 or 5 and then head to the count dinner. This is typically a catered affair where we are served that Costa Rican staple rice with chicken, refried beans, and some potato chips along with a bit of salad. It’s good birding food and seems to work perfectly after a long, fantastic deal in the field. Some count sponsors are also present and can have tables with optics, brochures, and works of art. Eventually, once it seems as if all are present, we go through the bird list, mentioning each species and each count group raising a hand if they identified the bird mentioned. Stories and locations for rare birds are shared, and another birding event in Costa Rica comes to an end.

These words could never portray the true excitement of this count, a day when we give ourselves over to birding in an excellent area for birding. However, if you can imagine seeing more than 150 species of birds, one species coming after another, trees of toucans, flocks of Red-billed Pigeons, antbirds whistling from the dark understory of rainforest, Red-lored Parrots filling the air with sound as three species of parakeets zip by in screeching flight, an Ornate Hawk-Eagle calling above a tall jade canopy, and sharing this and more with friends, loving partners, and like-minded people, if you can imagine that, this is what the Arenal count is like. It’s happening this year on December 8th, it’s gonna be good!

Some stats from previous Arenal counts:

2013: 342 species, 95 participants

2014: 332 species, 90 participants

2015: 322 species, 80 participants

2016: 377 species, 74 participants

2017: 338 species, 71 participants

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