Look at a map of Costa Rica and you might notice this big peninsula up in the northwest. That protruding piece of land is the Nicoya Peninsula, and despite its prominence, does NOT usually make it onto the itineraries of visiting birders. It’s just a bit too far off track from itineraries with limited time, and doesn’t offer as many new species as one might hope. Not to mention, getting there requires some big detour, right?
Well, some of the above is true and some not so true. While the peninsula is off of the regular birding track for most tours, it’s not really that far from the regular routes, at least if you take the ferry. Head to Puntarenas and get on the ferry and you also have a chance at a few pelagics. As I have mentioned in other posts, you never know what might show up and you can’t chase birds, but you usually see something different. During a ferry trip last week, although we didn’t see too much out of the ordinary, we still managed looks at several Least Storm-Petrels, some nice feeding flocks of Black Terns, and some juvenile Peregrine hunting action as it dove on a hapless Black Tern.
After an hour and a half of looking for birds from the boat, you can start birding the Nicoya Peninsula as soon as you you arrive. There’s a fair amount of dry forest habitat right near Paquera and further afield, much of which can be birded from the road. The only catch is the dust during the dry season (most of the time), and the very diminished activity between 9 and 3:30. At least the morning and late afternoon can be good, especially the morning. Some species are also more common in the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula than elsewhere including these:
Great Black-Hawk: I have to admit that I did not expect this one. We had an adult in mangroves in the Rio Gigantes area, and hopefully, it occurs in other parts of the southern Nicoya Peninsula because this species has become pretty rare in most parts of the country.
Double-striped Thick-Knee: If you need this one, you can probably expect it here. It seems to be pretty common in open fields.
Mangrove Cuckoo: Might only occur during the winter months but seems regular in both mangrove and dry forest habitats.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird: Ok, so most birders don’t have to go far for this one but I mention it because it was very common in the southern Nicoya. By far the most common hummingbird species.
Elegant Trogon: If you saw that one in Arizona, you might want to see this one too because its a fair possibility for a split. It seemed to be fairly common, even from the road.Gartered and Black-headed Trogons were also fairly common.
White-necked Puffbird: Last weekend, since we had five in one morning followed by another at the end of the day, it seems that the southern Nicoya is pretty darn good for this kookaburra looking thing. We had it in the canopy of the forest and they were pretty easy to see.
Yellow-naped Parrot: We had good looks at more than one, especially in the Rio Gigantes area.
Barred Antshrike: Yes, widespread, but seemed to be very common in this area.
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper: A big, uncommon woodcreeper in Costa Rica, it lives in more forested areas of the southern Nicoya.
Myiarchus flycatchers: These were especially common and we had four species, only missing Panama Flycatcher. Based on observations, the forests of the southern Nicoya seem to be important for Great-crested and Nutting’s Flycatchers. Both were among the more common bird species in the area of Rio Gigantes.
Royal Flycatcher: This one shows up in riparian zones (as expected).
White-throated Magpie-Jay: Last but far from least, this big fancy Corvid is the most obvious bird in the area. Possibly more common in Nicoya than anywhere else in Costa Rica.
Although we did not see Plain Chachalaca, nor Gray-headed Dove and Violaceous Quail-Dove, wetter parts of the southern peninsula could be good for them. We did much of our birding in the Rio Gigantes and I am sure, saw more bird species because of the efforts by Luis Daniel Gonzalez and his wife Alejandra to protect and conserve their land with organic, sustainable practices. Learn more about their sustainable project and vision at the site for the Rio Gigante Community.
Cerro Lodge is the place to stay when bathing in the mega-birding in and around Carara National Park. Other options include the oft-used Villa Lapas, the sometimes crowded Punta Leona, the new Macaw Lodge back in the hills on the other side of the park, and at least one hotel right in the middle of tiny Tarcoles. However, none of them share the blend of proximity, and diverse array of birds not found in the park possible around Cerro Lodge.
One of those birds is White-throated Magpie-Jay- we had these and others near Cerro.
Part of Cerro’s appeal comes from the birdy entrance road. This unassuming dirt road passes through open areas with scattered trees, second growth, and part of a river floodplain that results in a host of good birds. Whether staying at Cerro or not, this road is worth some serious binocular time. A couple of hours on that road that week reminded me of its worth as a site unto itself, here’s some advice on birding it :
- Make time for this site: If you have plans to enter the national park, check out the road from 6 until 7 (opening time for the park during the dry season), or until 8 (opening hour at other times of the year). Or, if you have an extra day of birding, spend a full day on this road. Like every high diversity site, the more you bird it, the more you find, especially since the habitats also seem to act as a corridor between mangroves, other forest, and the park itself.
It’s also good for lots of common and edge species like this Lineated Woodpecker,
and Rose-throated (not) Becard.
- Quality birds: If someone ever tells you that all birds are “quality” or that every bird is the same, they are either masquerading as a birder, or don’t know the difference between “common” and “rare”. Quality birds are the ones we don’t see that often, can’t really be seen elsewhere, or happen to be major targets because they look so cool. In other words, endangered and rare species, endemics, and stuff like Double-striped Thick-Knee. In the case of the Cerro Lodge road, it hosts a bunch of those quality species including the cool and crazy thick-knee.
Its cool, its crazy, its got thick knees and hypnotic golden eyes.
- Double-striped Thick-knee: This target seems to be more frequent on the entrance road than in the past. Check for it in one of the first open pastures, and in the pastures in the floodplain. We saw 6 last week.
- Crane Hawk: The road is one of the better places in Costa Rica to see this odd raptor. Watch for it flopping its way through the trees in the canopy or near the ground anywhere along the road. It also soars on occasion. We had rather distant looks at two different Crane Hawks.
- Other raptors: Hang out on this road long enough and you have a chance at a pretty good variety of raptors. The long sight lines and birdy habitats offer chances at such other species as Gray-headed, Hook-billed, and Plumbeous Kites, occasional Harris’s Hawk and Pearl Kite (in the floodplain), Short-tailed, Broad-winged, Gray, Roadside, Zone-tailed, and Common Black Hawks, Laughing Falcon, Collared Forest-Falcon, and both caracaras. Even Tiny Hawk has nested on the road in the past!
Short-tailed Hawk is one of the most frequently seen raptor species in Costa Rica.
- Owls: Cerro is known as a site for Black and white Owl and this species can also show on the road along with Mottled, Striped, Barn, and Pacific Screech Owls. Not to mention, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl is common during the day.
- Swifts: Spot-fronted and Black Swifts are sometimes seen from the road in the morning along with more common White-collared and Chestnut-collared Swifts.
- Psittacids: This can be a great area for parrots, parakeets, and their kin as they visit fruiting trees and move to and from roosting and foraging sites. The numbers and species vary throughout the year but lucky birders might see every possible species in one morning, mostly as flyovers. If not, it’s still pretty normal to see Scarlet Macaw, Red-lored, Yellow-naped, and White-fronted Parrots, and Orange-fronted and Orange-chinned Parakeets.
- Good variety of dry forest species: Expect several dry forest species, including Black-headed Trogon, Turquoise-browed Motmot, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Nutting’s and Brown-crested Flycatchers, occasional Stub-tailed Spadebill, Banded and Plain Wrens, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Stripe-headed and Olive Sparrows, Painted Bunting, and so on.
This is a good site for Nutting’s Flycatcher- it looks almost exactly like the local variety of the Brown-crested but check out the small bill.
- Keep an eye out for the cotinga: Last but not least, Yellow-billed Cotinga moves through this area, maybe even once or twice a day. The size of this population is very small (and, sadly, will likely disappear from the Carara area within ten years) but the few remaining birds are seen now and then near Cerro Lodge and in trees near the floodplain.
- Bring a scope: It comes in handy when checking out distant crowns of trees and open areas.
- Check the small marsh at the edge of the floodplain: It’s been so dry, this small wetland might not even be around when you visit. But, if so, check it for Bare-throated Tiger-Heron and other expected wetland species, possible American Pygmy-Kingfisher, and rarities like Masked Duck and maybe even a rail or two.
How to get there: From the turn off to Jaco on the Caldera highway, drive five minutes and watch for the turn off to Guacalillo on the right. Go a bit further and watch for the Cabinas Vasija on the left. The road will start going down a hill and shortly after comes to the entrance road to Cerro Lodge (the next road on the right). Be careful, it’s easy to miss!
For more information about how and where to see birds in Costa Rica, buy “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”, the most comprehensive bird-finding guide for the country.
If there’s one area in Costa Rica not on the regular birding route that should be, it’s the road between San Ramon and La Fortuna. If you are wondering why I don’t just give the name of the route, it’s because that rarely means anything in Costa Rica. Yes, the roads have numbers associated with them on a map but on the ground, you won’t see any signs showing a prominent number for the road. Instead, locals just say the road to so and so, or the one that goes by the beer factory, etc. Also, I can’t remember the route numbers except maybe for one or two roads. So, since there is just one road between San Ramon and La Fortuna, that will work.
This route gets left off most birding trips because it’s tough to fit into routes that visit Sarapiqui, Carara, Arenal, and Monteverde. BUT, if you plan on traveling between the Arenal area and the Central Valley, take this road, you will like it. There is much less traffic compared to the other routes over the mountains, more accessible habitat, a few nice cafes, and, now, there’s also a tanager fest.
The San Luis Canopy was always a good place to stop and check the fruiting trees for tanagers and other species but now that fruit is offered on sticks behind the restaurant, the situation is crazy good. The other day, I stopped there while guiding, noticed some non-birding people looking at something on the ground and taking pictures, and checked out what they were doing. Instead of an expected Coati, there were tanagers…some on the ground, hopping around like House Sparrows.
Yes, these are Bay-headed, Silver-throated, and Speckled Tanagers on the ground.
Yes, an Emerald Tanager and a Speckled Tanager! I have never, ever seen Emerald Tanager on the ground.
They also visited the fruits on sticks.
Even this Tawny-capped Euphonia joined the fun. Other species present included Passerini’s, Blue-gray, and Crimson-collared Tanagers, Clay-colored Thrush, and Buff-throated Saltator.
I’m not sure how long this will be going on but if you feel like doing their hanging bridges trail ($35), that’s pretty good too with chances at various middle elevation species including Blue and Gold Tanager, Black and Yellow Tanager, more close looks at other tanagers, White and Barred Hawks, chance at hawk-eagles, and, the best of the bunch, Bare-necked Umbrellabird. This mega cotinga is not exactly common but it is seen from that trail on a regular basis pretty much all year long. If you don’t do the hanging bridges, at least frequent the restaurant to support this bird and birder accommodating place.
How to get there:
From San Ramon, take the main road north through town to a “T”.
Take a left, then a quick right, following signs to Arenal.
Keep following signs to Arenal and watch for the San Luis Canopy on the right about 20 minutes from San Ramon.
You might also see some good birds on the way (and there is the very good Cocora Hummingbird Garden as well), although there are few places where you can pull the vehicle off the road.
Finally, the cold front lifted its soggy head off of the mountains and the atmospheric coast looked clear enough to visit Catarata del Toro. I have wanted to look for a few good birds at this middle elevatiion site since October. But, every time I had a chance to go, the weather forecast predicted wind and rain,- far from ideal conditions for birding or taking pictures of wood-quail and the other scarce species I want to find. On Tuesday, fair weather and free time finally coincided for a trip to the Catarata.
The site is more or less just over the mountains in a diagonal straight. This translates to a two hour ride of twists and turns. Although I avoided the temptation of stopping at Cinchona to arrive by opening time, I ended up stopping for 30 minutes after hearing Gray-breasted Crakes calling at the main turn off to Catarata del Toro. I recorded a few and still failed to see this feathered mouse but at least I know where a bunch can be found.
Up at the Catarata, the place was still closed at 7:30. Hoping that it would eventually open, I birded along the road, playing the song of Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner to no avail. Before going with a Plan B that included birding at higher elevations, I checked the entrance one more time and lo and behold, the gate was open. First on the trails and hopefully, that would result in photos of Black-breasted Wood-Quail. To make a long story short, it didn’t but it was still nice to check the trails out with slow and silent birding. This involved much staring into the vegetation and the understory, and occasional playback of Tawny-throated Leaftosser. No response there nor my other targets (which are probably present from time to time) but I did see some other birds.
Despite the target no shows, a walk in cloud forest with massive, mossy trees is always a gift. By 10:30, the mist had coalesced and conditions became so challenging for photo opps, I tried out Plan B. This involved a short drive up the main road and over to the Bosque de Paz area. Luckily, this also resulted in going above the cloud and getting back into good birding weather. Roadside birding produced some expected birds like Brown-capped Vireo, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, and some other species. Near Bosque, intent peering into the understory failed to produce Scaled Antpitta but no surprise there, that’s not exactly an easy bird to see.
After the misty weather caught up to me, I figured it was time to drive back home. Here’s an eBird list from the morning at Catarata del Toro: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27270604
Although I didn’t connect with my main targets, I still think the site has potential for a lot of birds. If it’s raining, at least the hummingbird show won’t disappoint.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
White-bellied Mountain-gem, and several other hummingbirds.
Black and Yellow Silky-Flycatcher
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!
For more detailed information about birding sites throughout Costa Rica, get How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.
“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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.