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This past May, a fair part of the birding world celebrated Global Big Day, Costa Rica included. Thanks to a winning blend of organization, coordination, and enthusiasm, we surpassed our goals. Of the species that were possible, that were feasible, more than 300 birders in Costa Rica identified nearly 90%. We had a such a collective great time, the enthusiasm carried over into the following post GBD calendar, many of us expressing interest in doing another one this same year.

Black-crowned Tityra is one of more than 680 species found in Costa Rica in Global Big Day, 2018. Widespread but uncommon, we could easily miss it.

We weren’t the only ones wanting more GBD action. Not long after, eBird announced another Global Big Day for later in 2018, October 6th to be exact and why not? The only requirement is convincing people to watch birds on the same date and eBird everything. Even better, in Costa Rica, a lot of the species that weren’t present in May are back and waiting to be counted! Maybe not the rare ducks or vagrant Cedar Waxwings but most of everything else. That said, I doubt we will identify as many species as we did in May because we just don’t have the same degree of participation. Although that could change between now and the end of this week, so far, it looks like we might lack coverage in more than a few parts of the country. There will be some last minute participation and all eBird data will count but will it be enough to identify 700 species?

There’s only one way to find out and I’ll be doing my part. Oddly enough, as enthused as I am about having an excuse to lose myself in birding for 24 hours, I’m still not exactly sure which route I will take, where I will be straining to hear call notes at night, and where I will practice some serious kung-fu birding (Eagle Claw style of course). But, I will be birding in Costa Rica somewhere and do plan on identifying as much as I can. Part of the problem is too many great places to choose from. Fortunately, I don’t have to do a lot of planning because I already have two possible routes arranged and know where most of the birds are likely to be. These are some other things I need to do to prepare myself for this next adventure in birding:

Review warbler call notes

Not that I will hear any flying through the night skies but one can never be over prepped for a Global Big Day! Actually, I don’t pretend to be able to identify tiny passerines by their nocturnal flight calls but I do plan on finding them via chip notes during the day. Kentucky, Hooded, the waterthrushes, Worm-eating…they all announce their presence with distinct vocalizations as do the rare ones that don’t usually make Costa Rica a winter destination. Those would be local mega bird finds like Black-throated Blue, Palm, and Prairie Warblers as well as other species with a winter preference for Caribbean isles. BUT, since the chances of finding them increase ever so slightly by knowing their calls, listening time this week will include the notes of those hidden wood-warblers.

It might be a good year for Cape-Mays and maybe Bay-breasteds too, I hope we see them on October 6th.

Remember to listen for snipe, cuckoos, and thrushes

Ah yes, listen carefully to the night sky and hopefully pick up more birds for GBD October. I have yet to hear a cuckoo call when they fly over Costa Rica but it must happen and I will be listening. I have heard all possible thrushes, snipe, and Upland Sandpiper in the past, I hope they vocalize overhead on October 6th, even more so, I hope it doesn’t rain! Sound daunting? Maybe not as much as one might think. Check out these study materials for nocturnal flight calls.

Remind myself to stick to Zen birding

In other words, take the day as it comes, roll with it, go with the flow. I hope I can follow the advice of slogans meant to keep one from succumbing to frustration and emitting a choice set of New York vocabulary at the truck blocking the road, or the rain slamming into the soil. There will be no frustration on GBD, only birds and feeling grateful for what we all hear and see. Amen. Keep it Zen, focus on the birds, and stick to the schedule. I hope so, but maybe I should bring some organic chocolate to help with the Zen…

Buy birding supplies

As in beverages that have caffeine. Treat yourself to a few favorite such energy drinks and stay alert (or simply awake!) to better celebrate this day of birding. Dream birds don’t count and if you fall asleep while driving, it won’t just be the end of your GBD. High quality chocolate is also important as are favorite snacks, fruit, charged batteries, and clean optics. Oh yeah, and remember to bring sunglasses and proper birdingwear (like count shirts, Wunderbird shirts, or whatever works best).

Scouting? Maybe

The more one scouts, the more birds will be seen. Now if I could just find time for scouting. Regular life takes up time and rightly so, you gotta be there for progeny. Furthermore, if you forsake the offspring for scouting, forget about them ever becoming birders (which is of course the main hope and goal of every serious birder, Zen or not)!  Fortunately, since I guide a fair bit on the routes I have in mind, I sort of scout them on a regular basis anyways. eBird also helps! I hope I do scout a bit though because knowing where fruiting trees are located and where wintering species have set up territories are of great help.

GBD October is nigh and although I need some supplies, could use more scouting, and need to figure out where my Team Tyto will bird, I’m still ready to rock, bird, and roll! As some world birders say, “Bring it”! As I say right now (and may indeed some day regret), “Kung-fu birding will be in the house on October 6th”!

Check out where some other teams will be birding in Costa Rica on October 6th!

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admin on September 25th, 2018

On Friday, I traveled from my old home of Niagara Falls, New York south, way south back to my present home in Costa Rica. Family, cannoli from DiCamillo’s, serious pizza, and good friends in Niagara Falls will always be priceless but home is where the heart is and for me, that’s Costa Rica. Living there for eleven years surely also plays an important role with the “home” designation, and the birds aren’t that shabby either. My present Central American surroundings may be bereft of the cries of gulls against a backdrop of roaring water but I’m alright with a trade-off that includes 900 plus species of birds.

Turquoise-browed Motmot, a common species of tropical dry forest, is one of them.

With that in mind, of course I went birding the day after coming back from the Falls because birding is also part of being “home”. My birding companion and I spent Saturday looking for lowland birds and finding a few key species before the rains took over, and then worked the optics on Sunday in the much drier Pacific coastal lowlands. Without too much effort, as is usual for birding in Costa Rica, we had several choice species along with nice views of birds that are common and always fun to watch. Some of the highlights:

Gartered Trogon

Thanks to it preferring edge habitats, this beautiful mini trogon is common in humid lowland sites. I especially like when it perches on roadside wires because not only does that make it easier to see, but seeing a trogon out in the open, in a situation typically reserved for pigeons, doves, and other everyday birds is a succinct reminder that you are living a dream.

Cerulean Warbler!

I had hoped to find one of these mega wood-warblers but expected it in the foothill habitats of Virgen del Socorro, not in the Sarapiqui lowlands. Yet, there one was, quickly foraging with a mixed flock of small birds on the La Selva entrance road, and it was an adult male! Birders in other parts of the country also saw Ceruleans that day, maybe the last big push of the year for this regular yet uncommon migrant in Costa Rica.

Lattice-tailed Trogon

Costa Rica’s most challenging trogon made an appearance at a site for it near Virgen del Socorro. Since this species is a foothill purist and prefers mature forest, there are few reliable spots for it. Hopefully, the Lattice-taileds near Socorro will stay around so I can show them to visiting birders.

Lineated Woodpecker

Yeah, it’s common and widespread but who doesn’t like a big woodpecker? We enjoyed close views of one in the Central Valley while unsuccessfully searching for the endemic ground-sparrow. At one point, it was chased by a Lesson’s Motmot.

Pearl Kite!

As we made our way to sites for shorebirds, I figured that a stop in Puntarenas might be worth our while. Although most birds were a bit too far out on the water to see well, we hit the jackpot on the drive out of town with a Pearl Kite perched right next to the road. It even stayed long enough for pictures and for us to refer to it as a Raptor-Flycatcher on account of it perching on wires like a Tropical Kingbird. Actually, if anything, this falconet-like bird is more like a shrike than its raptor cousins.


We wanted to connect with the waders from the far north and eventually did so at Punta Morales. How do they cope living in the arctic and then in the steamy tropics? It’s always incredible to think about the places where those smart looking Black-bellied Plovers spent the summer, where the hundreds of Western Sandpipers built their nests. Although I have seen larger numbers of waders at Punta Morales on other occasions, it was still fantastic to see a few dozen Wilson’s Plovers, many Semipalmated Plovers, one Collared Plover, Marbled Godwits, many a Whimbrel and Willet, a small group of pigeon-like Surfbirds, and some other species.

I can only imagine what happens at Morales and other sites in the Gulf of Nicoya when no one is watching.

The weekend was birdy as always in Costa Rica. I don’t even know how many species we saw but there were the highlights above and other birds (and ice cream!). Hopefully, I will be searching for more migrants very soon, some species are passing through Costa Rica in large numbers, I want to silently greet them as they hurry their way south.

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admin on September 18th, 2018

I usually write about birding in Costa Rica; the wealth of biodiversity helps, it acts as a constant, swirling pool of ideas, stories, and images. This, week, though, I am back in Niagara Falls, New York, in the land of gulls for a short trip with my daughter to see family, visit DiCamillo’s bakery, feast on pizza from Goodfellas..you know, the important things. I’m also giving a presentation on the fantastic birding found in Costa Rica and have of course done a bit of birding in Niagara during my stay.

There aren’t as many birds in Niagara as in Costa Rica but it’s still great. I know someone from Costa Rica who would love to be here, love to see Ring-billed Gulls walk in parking lots, be thrilled by a phalanx of Double-crested Cormorants flying overhead, would be elated to see Blue Jays, cardinals, catbirds, and chickadees. Only one of the aforementioned makes it to Costa Rica and not in big numbers either. The rest would be lifers for her just as important as Bay-headed and Silver-throated and Emerald Tanagers would be for birders visiting Costa Rica.

Whether birding is “great” or not only really refers to how we want to play the game, what we want to see and how important those sightings are. Although the land bridge and corridor between Lakes Erie and Ontario is awaiting the next wave of migrants, it’s still great to be birding here, these are some of the reasons why:

Goat Island– My favorite site in these here parts, where I first watched birds, riding my bike there during May and hearing the old woods resound with dozens of wood-warblers, vireos, you name it. Even if I wasn’t birding on the island between the cataracts, it would still be a special place. The sound of the rapids and crashing water is a constant as are gulls flying above the river and sitting on the rocks. Yesterday, even outside of the November gull season, I still had three species, one of which was a Lesser Black-backed. We are still waiting for that one to make it onto the country list in Costa Rica.

Semipalmated Plover– On the Third Sister Island, on a small wet rock that inched its way into a fierce roaring river, we saw a young Semipalmated Plover. I told my daughter, “That bird is from the Arctic!” She didn’t say much, was too busy looking for ancient pre-dino time fossils in the rocks. I hope it joins thousands of its kind that are already in Costa Rica right now, feeding on tropical mud flats, watching the skies for deadly falcons.

Waxwings– It’s always nice to see waxwings, especially when they are such rare choice migrants in Costa Rica. In Niagara, I see them every time I venture outside to look for birds. There they are, many are juveniles, whispering from the tops of trees before flying off in search of berries.

Cooper’s Hawk– Another common bird in Niagara but one that is always a challenge for the Costa Rica year list. I point them out to my daughter. She says, “Cool!” I say that they eat pigeons and squirrels, she says, “Aww, poor squirrels” but she doesn’t feel too bad, she knows that the hawks have to eat too. We have some that make it all the way south every winter but there can’t be a lot. I wonder how many are in Costa Rica every winter season? Maybe less than ten?

Eastern Screech Owl– We went to a campground with cousins, there was a fire, smores, we even carved jack-o-lanterns and I also saw a few birds. A few I also only heard including the screech-owls giving their “winny” call in the otherwise quiet dead of the night. I think I also heard bobolinks as they migrated overhead.

No kiskadees, no flocks of colorful birds, no vultures, no screeching parakeets– Such regular aspects of birding Costa Rica are absent in these here parts right now but I’ll be back to experience them again soon enough. In the meantime, I relish the waxwings, gulls, nuthatches, and even the starlings before returning to a small country with more than 920 species on the official list.

Crowned Woodnymph- yet another common, colorful bird in Costa Rica.

Want to learn about the best sites for finding birds in Costa Rica and how to identify them? Support this blog by purchasing my 700 plus page e-book, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica. I hope to see you in Costa Rica!

admin on September 10th, 2018

It’s not a colorful bird and it’s not one that has some exotic, amazing appearance. But, it’s high on the list of local birders and should be even higher on the target lists of birders who visit Costa Rica because you won’t find it anywhere else. That bird is the Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow.

Formerly known as Prevost’s Ground-Sparrow, studies have shown that the birds in Costa Rica should be considered a separate species. Therefore, now, we have another endemic bird! The only problem is that the bird seems to be genuinely scarce and difficult to see. But, it can be seen, a birder just has to know where and how to look for it. We can start by looking at the bird for what it is; a towhee. As in a Canyon Towhee or Abert’s Towhee but one that prefers dense, scrubby vegetation and tends to be camera shy. It likes to forage on or near the ground, usually in pairs.

Here are some ideas on where and how to see it:

  • The right elevation: Not too high nor too low, this pretty little sparrow prefers the middle elevations, like right around 1,200 meters. Higher than that and we tend to find more White-eared Ground-Sparrows. Lower and it’s just too low for the “cabanisi”.
  • Coffee fields with cover: Although the endemic bird does live in open coffee farms, I have seen it more often in coffee that also has brushy edges or trees, or some understory vegetation.

  • Brushy riparian zones: Sites like these might be even better. Given the higher degree of natural vegetation and, presumably, more food, riparian zones could play very important roles for this threatened species.
  • The Central Valley and the Orosi Valley: Check Google Earth or one of those same satellite maps in eBird that shows the Central Valley, look for brushy fields and coffee farms and check those sites. But, know that the bird may or may not be present and even if it is, it still might be hard to find probably because it has a small population. That said, this is where it lives, this is a good place to look. The same goes for the Orosi Valley, especially around Ujarras and coffee farms near there. Higher up on the way to Tapanti, it doesn’t seem to be present (or is very rare) perhaps because of competition with the White-eared.
  • Check eBird: Even better, do what modern birders do for most unfamiliar bird species and check the latest sightings on eBird. Keep in mind, though, that the bird can still be hard to find, the next tips may help.
  • Know the call: The Cabanisi makes a distinctive, sharp tick note that differs from chip calls given by small birds that share its habitat such as the Rufous-collared Sparrow, Rufous-capped Warbler, and the Blue-black Grassquit. Knowing the song also helps but it doesn’t seem to sing very often.
  • Go early!: As with most birds, this one is also more active early in the morning. Listen and watch for it at the edges of hedgerows and brushy habitats but do that before 8 or even before 7.

Come to Costa Rica and you can see this endemic and literally hundreds of other species of birds. Support this blog and learn more about where to find birds with my 700 plus page e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

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admin on September 3rd, 2018

The latter part of August saw me guiding on the other side of the mountains. Although there are some birds in the Central Valley, and I often start a day of guiding by looking for some of them, more occur where the wet forests are. That would be on the upper parts and other sides of the mountains that are visible to the north. Fortunately, those cloud forests and tropical rain forests are close enough for day trips and with more than 400 bird species possible, you can bet that we see a lot.

Some of the choice bird species seen lately while guiding day trips from the Central Valley:

Lattice-tailed Trogon

This uncommon and localized regional endemic was seen during a morning of birding at Quebrada Gonzalez. Fortunately, a male was calling and didn’t stop until we saw it. Fortunately because at first, the bird wasn’t visible. The problem with Lattice-taileds is that they are often high up in trees blanketed with bromeliads. Imagine warbler necking it up into a bunch of bushes silhouetted against a blank, cloudy sky and that pretty much describes the situation. If the bird chooses a perch behind aerial hedges at every angle, seeing it is hopeless. Well, at least until it moves.

After it moved. We got much better looks than this image. 

Thankfully, the male trogon kept on calling until it flew to a branch that was clearly visible along with the yellow bill and pale eye of the trogon (two of the diagnostic field marks to separate it from the Slaty-tailed Trogon).

Streak-chested Antpitta

While we were looking for the trogon, a Streak-chested Antpitta beckoned with haunting whistles. Much to our great fortune, this bird too, eventually showed and gave us fantastic looks!

A fairly recent addition to the foothill rainforests of Quebrada Gonzalez, it’s nice to have a somewhat reliable site for the Caribbean slope form of this bird. Most folks see it at Carara National Park but given the different song that could indicate an eventual split, it’s worth seeing this little puffball on both sides of the mountains.

Resplendent Quetzals

Quetzals live on the slopes of Poas but they aren’t as frequent as sites with more extensive areas of forest. The owner of the Volcan Restaurant told me that he used to see more of these fantastic dream birds up to around ten years ago. The species is still present but seeing one is always a hit or miss endeavor. Last week, we hit the jackpot when six were present at a fruiting tree! Most were juvenile males or females although one adult male was also present, and another one was calling further up the road.

Seeing this mega always makes for a spectacular day of birding in Costa Rica.

A female R. Quetzal in the mist. 

Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow

Connecting with this uncommon and possibly endangered skulker can be another hit or miss birding situation. That said, I have been seeing this handsome pseudo-sparrow species on every outing. The views can be brief but we do get definitive looks at the small endemic towhee.

Coppery-headed Emerald and 15 other hummingbird species

Coppery-headed Emerald

It’s always a treat to watch various hummingbirds do their sped up thing.

Green-crowned Brilliant

Green Thorntail

Buff-fronted Quail-Dove

One of the most appreciated sightings was that of a juvenile Buff-fronted Quail-Dove that has been hanging out at the Cinchona hummingbird cafe for some months now. Also known as the Soda Mirador Catarata San Fernando, this classic Costa Rica birding site is a wonderful spot to sit back and be surrounded by birds while enjoying a coffee and tasty rural fare. Last week, the juvenile quail-dove bucked typical skulking behavior to jump up onto the feeder for walk away views and a memorable end to an already memorable day of birding.

These were some of the choice species seen but not the only ones. Bat Falcon, Hook-billed Kite, King Vulture, tanagers, toucans, and many other species were also nice and all around an hour’s drive from the San Jose area. See information on where and how to find these and other birds with the 700 plus page e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica“.

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admin on August 27th, 2018

In Costa Rica, Poas looms to the north of the airport. A big mound of a mountain, the roomy crater hidden in the clouds. It can be seen from the window of a plane, the turquoise, unwelcome water in the big hole briefly glistening in the sun. The rocky crater is framed in textured green, for folks on the plane, a distant, unreal broccoli carpet. There’s no indication of the true nature of that forest way down below, nor the other rivulets and waves of tropical forest that reach down the northern slopes of the volcano. The riot of life going on down there, Pumas and Ocelots doing their stealth dance beneath the wet canopy. Bright and sunny Collared Redstarts singing from the bamboo understory, bush-tanagers and Yellow-thighed Finches rummaging through the bushes and trees.

Bright and beautiful, one of many highland species endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama.

Quetzals are there too, whistling and cackling from the misty forests. But, as with any scene from a plane, it’s just a distant natural portrait, the only soundscape one of humming motors and occasional requests for coffee, the hiss of sugary carbonated drinks poured over ice in a plastic cup. We only truly experience the forest on Poas and anywhere else with boots on the ground, can only get lost in the quick variety of mixed flocks, fluttering of quetzals, and the air scything ability of swifts by walking with those trees.

On Poas, it’s easy to walk near the oaks and wild avocados. The road up there is a good, quick hour or 45 minute ride from the San Jose area and after the village of Poasito, the birding improves. The national park itself has also been good for birding but ever since eruptions put access on hiatus, I’m not sure if the same trails are accessible. It has just re-opened though, I hope to assess the birding situation at some point. In the meantime, I can attest to the quality of roadside birding on the road up to the national park as well as along Route 126 (the Via Endemica), a recent day of guiding was no exception. Some of the good stuff:

Resplendent Quetzal

The sacred bird is up there on Poas, according to locals, not as common as it used to be but it’s still there. I was surprised to see one after another flutter between trees until I had counted six including the male pictured above!

Fasciated Tiger-Heron

Not in the high parts of the mountain but present along a roadside stream much lower down. The heron of rocky Neotropical streams posed nicely for us as it blended into the dark gray river stones.



Brown Violetear

Talamanca Hummingbird

Purple-throated Mountain-gem

Coppery-headed Emerald

From Fiery-throated in the high parts to glittering Crowned Woodnymphs past Cinchona, hummingbirds are a welcome mainstay on Poas. Including a Steel-vented near Alajuela, we had fifteen species.

Northern Emerald Toucanet

Visit the Soda Mirador de Catarata (aka Cafe Colibri, aka the Hummingbird Cafe) to spend quality time with this exotic beauty.

Buffy Tuftedcheek

Not so common but this bromeliad bird us indeed present along the higher parts of the road. If you see a silhouette of one, this image shows what to expect.


Not rare but skulky and always cool to see four or even five species in a day, most at different elevations. We had good looks at four and without too much trouble. This is a juvenile Slaty-backed N.-Thrush that was visiting the Cafe Colibri.

Black-thighed Grosbeak

A few were singing and showed nicely.

These were some of the one hundred plus species we saw on the slopes of Poas the other day, each stop adding more birds to the list. Many more were still possible and some calling birds remained unseen but any day spent birding is a good one. A day with more than a hundred species is even better especially when the birder can walk within reach of old, mossy trees frequented by quetzals, treerunners, and other cool birds with fantastic names.

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It’s almost September. Birders know it by the sudden absence of earlier migrants at the local patch and the appearance of other species moving through woodlands, wetlands, and gardens. They are racing south ahead of the change in the weather and birders can’t lose by doing the same. Not only will they meet up with many of those summer migrant species from back home, they will also see hundreds of resident species, a bonanza of lifers if you will.

The following are some suggestions for birders coming to Costa Rica in September:

Bird the Foothills

That would be sites like Quebrada Gonzalez, Arenal Observatory Lodge, and near El Cafecito. Although birding time in the foothill zone is well spent on any trip to Costa Rica, these days might be even better. Thanks to altitudinal migration, choice species like Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Yellow-eared Toucanet, and Lovely Cotinga venture down to the foothill habitats at this time of year. Many tanagers and other frugivores join them to feast on the bounty of fruiting trees and with this year having a very wet rainy season, it looks like a lot of food could be available.

The beautiful Bay-headed Tanager is a common foothill species.

Enjoy the Migration

Migration doesn’t need to be relegated to birding back home. It also happens in Costa Rica and it can be fantastic, especially on the Caribbean coast. Birders visiting Tortuguero or sites south of Limon will be smack in the path of thousands of migrating swallows, Purple Martins, Chimney Swifts, wood-warblers, Eastern Kingbirds, and other species. The River of Raptors will also be happening on the coast as well as inland.

River of raptor action.

Do Some Shorebirding and eBird It

While visiting birders might not want to spend any extra time looking at sandpipers that can also be seen back home, we could always use more data on birds that migrate through and winter in Costa Rica. Not to mention, since shorebirding in Costa Rica can be easily combined with looking for Mangrove Rail and lots of dry forest birds, please consider shorebirding during the trip and eBirding the results.

Cerulean Warblers

Speaking of migrants, this choice wood-warbler moves through Costa Rica during August and September, and birders wielding binoculars in the Caribbean foothills have a fair chance of finding one. I actually had two the other day around the Socorro area. Watch for these rare beauties and please eBird where and when they are seen.

Ciudad Neily/Coto Wetlands

Lately, the wetlands located south of Ciudad Neily have been making the local birding news, I wish I had time to go there today! Photos are being posted of Wattled Jacana, hundreds of egrets and other waterbirds, my nemesis the Masked Duck, and even stellar shots of Paint-billed Crake! Lots of other local good birds are also present and it will be a prime spot to find rare migrants like Buff-breasted and Upland Sandpipers, and maybe a super rare vagrant or two.

I was pleased to have had the chance to bird that exciting area last year.

Make a Stop at the Colibri Cafe

If the Cafe was rocking like it was the other day, visiting birders will be in for some serious hummingbird action. A stop at this roadside local cafe in Cinchona is always sublime but two days ago, there were so many hummingbirds, it was tough to focus on the delicious, home-cooked food. Coppery-headed Emeralds were in abundance, and there were more Brown Violetears than I had seen on any previous visit. At least seven other hummingbird species also made an appearance while barbets and toucanets visited the fruit feeders.

I hope to show you birds in Costa Rica this September. To support this blog and learn more about where and how to see birds in this beautiful country, see my e-book, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.

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admin on August 15th, 2018

People, us, our species, have made huge impacts to the biosphere. Get enough of us and give us a chance and we don’t just alter things a little bit, we can up-end, dishevel, and pretty much destroy ecosystems, AND, we can make such travesties come true without even realizing it! Fortunately for life on Earth, Us included, we also have the capacity to understand how we are affecting this Home. To be frank, given present day knowledge, Wikipedia, and technology, the days of blaming ignorance for messing up the biggest neighborhood are over. That never negates the need for scientific studies to predict, assess, and solve our impacts but given accumulated knowledge, nowadays, we should really know better.

As luck would have it, at some point during the past forty years, there were enough people in Costa Rica who had the mindset to be aware, listen, and act to preserve biodiversity that managed to survive the massive onslaught of chainsaws and tractors that had shaved so much of this country clean. A fair percentage of Costa Rica ended up being protected and laws were made to try and protect the country’s ecosystems but by that time, a lot of the previously forested landscape, especially in the lowlands, was no more. It doesn’t take more than a glimpse at Google Earth to surmise why most highland species are still easy to find while eBird records of Crested Eagle, White-fronted Nunbird, and Great Jacamar are absent from large areas of their expected former ranges.

The nunbird.

Nevertheless, on a bright note, forest in Costa Rica is growing back in various sites, and there is far more consciousness about the importance of protecting biodiversity than in the past. There are stories of hope; at Selva Bananito where the owners opted to protect their remaining forests instead of logging them, and at Yatama Ecolodge where reforestation has turned this gem of a site into a haven for uncommon Herps and many birds.

This Semiplumbeous Hawk entertained at this year’s Yatama count.   

There are also smaller areas of reforested lands like the Fortuna Nature Trail where, thanks to years of concerted effort by Giovanni Bogarin, we have a bit more habitat for everything from Uniform Crakes and Rufous-tailed Jacamars to Golden-winged, Hooded, and Worm-eating Warblers. Although the long road to comfortable levels of sustainability requires a lot more hiking and will always bring challenges, these and other sites that restore habitat are working to increase bird populations and diversity. Instead of a few seedeaters singing from the cow pastures, reforested sites give us more motmots, antbirds, jacamars, and so many other species that require more complex, biodiverse ecosystems.

Red-eyed Tree Frogs have also benefited from vegetation growing back at the Fortuna Nature Trail. 

As forests have waned and grown back, and wetlands have been drained, some birds have increased, others have declined. Here are some of the bird species for which populations in Costa Rica have grown:

Green Ibis: For some not very obvious reason, this species has become a lot more common in Costa Rica. I really have no idea why but nowadays, its yodeling calls are an expected aspect of the evening bird chorus, and perched “vultures” need to be checked to see if the bird is actually an ibis. The ancient looking creature has also been showing up at sites outside of its historic range such as on the Pacific slope (like at Macaw Lodge), in the Central Valley (where I had one in a coffee farm), and even on the high slopes of Irazu Volcano!

Green Ibis on vacation in a coffee farm.

Ornate Hawk-Eagle: Yes!  Compared to the 90s, there are more of this ultra cool eagle in Costa Rica, regular sightings taking place at Monteverde, Savegre, Tapanti, and most other humid forested sites at lower elevations. At the same time, since there are fewer Black Hawk-Eagles, one can’t help but assume that they are being displaced by the Ornate, perhaps due to an increase in forest cover.

Scarlet Macaw: Everyone loves a success story, visit Costa Rica and you will experience the fruits of one where Scarlet Macaws are the winners. After years of effective protection, it seems that the stronghold populations of the Pacific lowlands have increased to the point of re-populating various other parts of the country, especially the Caribbean lowlands. These are likely also augmented by released birds. Recently, I have seen small groups of this spectacular species in the Sarapiqui region and even near Muelle. Don’t be surprised if some fly their way to Arenal.

Cowbirds: Not all is good in the land of birds. Honestly, I don’t know if Bronzed Cowbirds have increased as of late, but I can say that Shiny Cowbird has become a regular species in various parts of the country. Since they act like cuckoos and therefore have to be affecting the nesting success of various resident species, I think we could do with a lot less cowbirds. Regarding the Bronzed, although they have been established for some time, I don’t see how they would have been a common historical bird, or were even present when Costa Rica was cloaked in cow-free forest.

Great-tailed Grackles: Another one that increased some time ago, populations of this native beach bum went to town when they became adapted to living off the refuse of people. Like cowbirds, they also seem to do better when cattle are present.

White-eared Ground-Sparrow: Given the description in Stiles and Skutch, it seems like this fancy little towhee has greatly increased. Unlike what is said about it in the first field guide for Costa Rica, it is actually common and easy to see on many coffee farms and other habitats of the Central Valley, perhaps because it has been outcompeting the endemic Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow.

Not as many of this one, it is likely affected by cowbirds.

Edge Species: Par for the course in the era of deforestation but a few still merit a mention. Southern Lapwing naturally invaded from the south and some time ago. Presently, it can be seen in wet pastures and along rivers in many parts of Costa Rica. Keep an eye out for it as the plane taxis to the gate, you might get it as one of your first birds of the trip. Striped Owl also increased because of deforestation and even lives in the Central Valley. Tropical Mockingbird has likewise increased and these days, I hear the loud, jerky vocalizations of Black-headed Saltators in various parts of the Central Valley, a region it has recently invaded.

Dry forest species: Locally, some dry forest birds have increased from moving upslope and into the Central Valley. Not that the populous intermontane valley offers a lot of green space but what is present seems to be increasingly used by such Guanacaste standards as Rufous-naped Wren, Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, and White-fronted Parrot. Who knows what other dry forest birds might be living around Alajuela?

Watch for White-fronted Parrots in the Central Valley, especially near Alajuela.

Although many more birds have declined, the species above and some others have certainly increased either since historic, more forested times, or during the past ten years. Keep an eye out for any out of range birds, and please report them on eBird (but please also include a photo!).

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admin on August 7th, 2018

The rains have calmed down the past week or so. That doesn’t mean that the roaring precipitation has stopped and by no means should the sky tap actually be turned off. Water means life and the more the better! Well, maybe not to the degree of causing floods and landslides but yes, a steady series of downpours will work out fine. I see that rain coming down to smack the leaves and as always, I can’t help but wonder, how do birds deal? What do they do when it rains for hours? Do they get out and forage or do the tanagers and Russet Antshrikes hunker down to conserve energy and wait for their window of respite?

The Russet Antshrike is a common member of mixed flocks at many humid forest sites in Costa Rica, If you see a foliage-gleaner looking bird checking dead leaves in the canopy, it’s probably this species. 

I’m not sure what they do and it must vary by species but in general, it seems that most birds of forest and field get active when the heavy rains turn to mist; they seem to take advantage of that window when the pounding rain won’t drive them to the ground. As for raptors, it seems like they also take advantage of the almost dry window to use an exposed perch. Indeed, in such situations, I see Bicolored Hawk more often. Other birds can also perch in the open, some of them even doing so under the curtain of heavy tropical rains. It’s a good time to look for cotingas and not necessarily because you will find them, but because when it rains, there’s not a whole lot of other birding you can do. If it does pour, at least you can scope and scan the canopy from under a roof.

Bicolored Hawk perched in the rain.

This is basically what it takes to see some of the more esteemed and wanted members of this fantastic bird family. Although I would have to put the endangered and amazing Bare-necked Umbrellabird at the top of the awesome cotinga list for Costa Rica, the four classic cotingas are still very much desired and not just by those who travel to Costa Rica for birding. Those of us who live in Tiquicia want to see Snowy, Yellow-billed, Lovely, and Turquoise Cotingas just as badly and many a local birder has yet to lay eyes on any of these fab four. And even if you have admired the four classic canopy dwellers, they still get priority because you just can’t get enough of those cool birds. They look too weird and wonderful to not get excited about the prospect of seeing them, and, we just don’t see them that often.

Such a cotinga situation keeps me looking for them, keeps my eyes on the highest points of trees, keeps me looking for trees with cotinga food. And, especially when I’m birding with special people who have yet to see these local beauties. Recently, I have kept an eye out for cotingas on the Caribbean slope, rain or shine (I guess mostly rain). Whereas most birders in Costa Rica get a good visual taste of cotingas at the Rincon bridge, the duo on the Caribbean side of the country are much more evasive. Head south of Limon and the Snowy becomes much less of an issue but the Lovely is always rare, no matter where you bring the binos. Given its eye-catching appearance, I guess the shining blue and purple thing should be rare. Yes. Shiny and blue as Cheyenne turquoise, ornamented with amethyst. I have only seen it twice, I’d like to see it again! Most of all, I’d like to admire the bird with someone who likewise feels that cotingas are fantastic.

I have looked lately but not quite enough. Checking the treetops in the Sarapiqui area has so far failed to turn up any bright white birds. I drive through the rain and steal glances at the tops of every tree in range. I’ve seen a few other things; parrots, oropendolas, sloths, and caracaras, but no Snowy Cotinga. In the Socorro area, I have made a few concerted attempts to find a Lovely. The extensive canopy views are right and so is the elevation and timing but the birds are rare and I haven’t put in the many hours likely necessary to connect.

A good place to look for Lovely Cotingas.

But, there’s hope in cotingaland! Although the Snowy has certainly declined in Sarapiqui, it’s still around, if we keep looking, we will find it perched high in the rain, hopefully drying in the sun. As for the Lovely, I did notice fig trees beginning to fruit around Socorro including one massive tree that might even be hosting a living doveish jewel as I write this. I hope to check it tomorrow. I won’t be able to spend hours watching and waiting for the cotinga but the blue and purple bird has to be visiting that tree at some point, maybe even calling it its new temporary home. I’ll be there to check it, at least for a bit. If I see it, I’ll share the gen. on Facebook, Whatsapp, and Twitter because everyone should have a chance to see a cotinga, especially one of the lovely kind.

Want to learn more about finding cotingas and the best places to see them in Costa Rica? Support this blog by purchasing the 700 page plus e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

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admin on July 31st, 2018

I often drive Route 126, the winding road that connects the Central Valley to the highlands of Poas and the lowlands of Sarapiqui. From my place, it’s the quickest route over the mountains and as luck would have it, also acts as an easy portal to a host of birding opportunities. Having birded and guided along this road on many occasions, I’ve written about this birdy route before, this time I’m going to talk about one of the lesser known sites situated in the foothills.

Past Cinchona and Socorro, the warmer, more humid air and calls of Black-headed Saltators and other birds indicate a change in elevation. Eventually, the car passes an obvious sign for a coffee tour on the right. This is “Mi Cafecito” and whether a birder feels like just having a coffee and bite to eat or also searching for foothill species, it’s always worth a stop.

While most folks visit for the coffee tour, free trails are also available that lead to overlooks and access a bit of foothill forest. Although they aren’t all that long and don’t get down into the forested canyon, I suspect that they have good potential for birding. Well, actually, after my first guiding visits, I know they do! Although both occasions were just a couple of hours, I still had good birding both times with several nice species.

Some observations about birding at Mi Cafecito:

Opens at 7: Six would be better but seven is still good especially for a place that was designed more for coffee tours than birding.

Free access: The folks at Cafecito welcome visitors to use the trails. Please support them by buying something at their souvenir shop and dining in their restaurant. Good, country Costa Rican fare is served.

Cement trails but slippery: Unfortunately, some parts of the trails can be slippery. But the birding is still worth it especially because one can walk on the side of the trail.

Overlooks: Two of the trails lead to excellent overlooks that provide views of the canyon. White Hawk is regular and several other species are also possible including hawk-eagles, King Vulture, and Barred Hawk. Great Green Macaws are also present at times. Who knows, maybe Lovely Cotinga might also show at some point? Although very rare, the species does occur around there.

Waterfall: Not so much for seeing the cascade but for seeing Lanceolated Monklet. Although I haven’t heard or seen one there yet, the elusive mini puffbird does live close by and likely occurs in the canyon. I would not be surprised in the least if it shows at Mi Cafecito.

One of the views from the Waterfall Trail.

Tanagers: Both times, I had pretty good flocks of tanagers, on the trails and at the overlook. We had good looks at Emerald, Speckled, Black-and-Yellow, Golden-hooded, Hepatic (Tooth-billed), Silver-throated, and Carmiol’s Tanagers along with the uncommon White-vented Euphonia, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Black-faced Grosbeak, and some other birds moving together.

This funky looking little bird is a juvenile male White-vented Euphonia.

Signs of good forest: Large groups of Carmiol’s Tanagers seem to be an indicator of healthy mature forest, I also had White-ruffed Manakin, Pale-vented Thrush, Crested Guan, Nightingale Wren, and Ocellated Antbirds at an antswarm. I really wonder what else can show on the trails…

Sunbittern!: Seeing one of these odd, special birds forage at the edge of a pond was a nice surprise! Although the streams at Virgen del Socorro look good for it, the bird doesn’t seem to be present. Or, if it is, it must occur in very small numbers or maybe just doesn’t use the areas visible from the bridge and road (?). But, no matter because you can see it at Cafecito! At least we did, one was showing very well and since the ponds are permanent, it looks like the site might also be a reliable bet for Sunbittern.

Porterweed hedgerows: Plenty of this popular hummingbird bush is present. We didn’t see too much but it could attract Black-crested Coquette and maybe even Snowcap.

Want to look for the monklet and Sunbittern? Let me know, I plan on setting up a tour that visits the site that can be done from the San Jose area as well as the Sarapiqui lowlands. I hope to bird there with you.

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