We are now officially in what a fair portion of humans on the planet refer to as “2014″. Yep, 14 years after the milenium and if you haven’t been to Costa Rica yet for birding, what are you waiting for? The birding is great, the weather is great, and there’s a quetzal with your name on it!
So, whether you are on your way to Costa Rica or are itching to plan a trip, here are ten things to expect in 2014:
1. A smooth ride between Varablanca and Cinchona: Finally, the road is paved! Ever since 2009, this fine birding route was wacked up pretty bad by the Cinchona earthquake. It has been slowly paved ever since and the last stretch was finally completed a month ago. I’m looking forward to checking it out because I have had a lot of fine birding on this road and am sure that it holds a few hidden surprises here and there. It’s also kind of close to home and is on our Big Day route so that helps too.
2. Great bird photography at the Nature Pavilion along with a big sit done at that site: This rather new birding site in Sarapiqui continues to be one of the best places for bird photography in the country and keeps getting better as the owners plant more trees on their property. I plan on doing a big sit on their deck to see how many species show up. Not sure when I will do it but I can’t wait!
3. An Ochraceous Pewee: It’s about time for me to actually see this uncommon, high-elevation endemic. I have heard them a couple of times but have yet to see one! I keep putting it off because a day trip up to Cerro de la Muerte is kind of a long one for me. The bird is way overdue though so I need to start planning a trip now.
4. A major Big Day: For those whom I have guided, it’s no surprise that I plan on breaking the Big Day world record. A lot of factors need to fall into place but it can be done in Costa Rica and I hope this year is the one. Like Eric B and Rakim, I’m thinking of a master plan and with better preparations and scouting, it just might happen.
5. Lots of hummingbirds: You have to bird with your eyes closed to not see lots of hummingbirds when birding Costa Rica. Those little glittering sprites are pretty easy to see in many parts of the country, and especially so at a variety of sites with feeders and flowering bushes that are planted to attract them.
6. Want antbirds? Go to the right sites!: If you want to see more antbirds, bird more often in quality forest. The Pacific slope species are regular in places like Carara National Park and the Osa Peninsula, but the best sites for Caribbean slope species seem to be the Arenal- Monteverde forest complex (especially at sites around Arenal, at and near Pocosol Research Station, and Lands in Love), and the northern forests (Laguna del Lagarto and nearby).
7. More raptors: Who doesn’t want to see more raptors? I hear about the apparent scarcity of raptors from birders than any other bird related commentary and they are right, raptors are rather scarce in Costa Rica. It has to do with them being at the top of the food chain, competing with other raptor species, many needing large areas of quality forest, and way too much edge habitat. This is why one sees more Gray and Roadside Hawks, and caracaras than other species. However, look long enough and in the right places and things like hawk-eagles, Gray-headed Kite, and other rainforest raptors eventually show.
8. Lots of antswarms!: Ok, so this is every neotropical birder’s wish but that’s what I’m hoping for. Best chances are places with high quality forest (hmm, seems to be a theme there…). For those who are unaware, the beauty of a bunch of hungry Eciton burchellii ants is that they attract all sorts of birds. In addition to those cool little antbirds, you can also get woodcreepers, tinamous, forest-falcons, foliage-gleaners, antpittas, ground cuckoos, and who knows what else coming in to the swarm.
9. Using the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app: The newest version has more than 575 species and is now available for Android in addition to being available in the iTunes store. We should be able to push the number of species above 600 in 2014.
10. A book on birding in Costa Rica: I’m working on it…
Hope to see you in Costa Rica!
According to the “western calendar”, the end of the year is nigh. It’s time for us listers to count up the birds we have identified over the course of 12 months, time to run out and see a few more for those doing a Big Year, and time to get ready to party if you want to celebrate the annual calendar change. Although I may have to attend just such a party, I would just as rather look for owls or stay home and sleep because the New Year doesn’t really mean anything to me. As for a Big Year, although I have been doing a sort of Big Year, it’s a relaxed one so by definition, I can’t really run out to get bird 660 today or tomorrow. However, I have counted up the bird species I have identified since January 1st of 2013 (659, my best year in CR yet) and will pick out a “best bird” from that list.
Since few birds really stand out as being the “best of the best”, I think I will talk about some highlights and then settle on a winner from that list. Before I start, I will say that this was a really good birding year for me in Costa Rica with several key lifers, lots of great birding, and many memorable days of guiding. I hope that this list of ten best birds encourages more people to come to Costa Rica for birding and get you psyched for your trip if you already have one planned for the near future! So, without further ado, here goes and in taxonomic order:
1. Red-billed Tropicbird: Not a lifer but a first for my CR list and a good bird to get for the country. Saw a juvenile on a Sierpe-Cano Island boat trip. Yee-haw!
2. Red-footed Booby: This is one of those bird species that had been busy burning a hole in my unchecked bird list for quite some time. I had hoped to glimpse one on the Sierpe-Cano Island boat trip and managed close looks at several! Black and Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrels from that trip get an honorable mention.
3. Pinnated Bittern: It’s hard to believe that it was nearly a year ago when I got my lifer big neotropical bittern at Cano Negro! Another list burner.
4. Crakes: I got 3 lifer crakes this year and if you have ever looked for those darn things, you know that a trio of them in a year is quite the achievement. They were a Yellow-breasted Crake from Cano Negro, an Ocellated Crake from the Buenos Aires, Costa Rica savannahs, and a Paint-billed Crake from a rice field near Rio Claro. If you cared to know, the Yellow-breasted was a typical small shy marsh bird, the Ocellated a fricking spotted mouse, and the Paint-billed a miniature gallinule.
5. Bridled Tern: A lifer always makes it onto a best bird of the year list!
6. Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo: Yes, it was a heard only on the Manuel Brenes road but even a heard one of these is pretty awesome.
7. Oilbird: Major, major target at the Monteverde Wildlife Refuge and although I have yet to finish the list, I expect that this weirdo will come out on top.
8. Lanceolated Monklet: I may have spoke too soon because this miniscule puffbird is another fantastic find for Costa Rica. I saw one and heard another at Lands in Love. I hope to go back and get some photos of this great little bird.
9. Bare-necked Umbrellabird: This endangered, amazing creature will always make it onto my best bird of the year list if I happen to see one. My only one for 2013 was a male near San Luis Canopy while guiding a lucky client in that area.
10. Blackpoll Warbler: I kind of hate to say it but this was one of the best because it’s a rare vagrant to Costa Rica. However, the bird seen on during the Bosque del Rio Tigre Christmas count really shouldn’t trump things like Yellow-billed, Snowy, and Turquoise Cotingas, Three-wattled Bellbird, Mangrove Hummingbird, Rufous-necked Wood Rail, Blue and Gold Tanager (and most tanagers), most quail doves, both macaws, and all owls save the Unspotted Saw-whet so I mention those because they all made it onto the year list too. In fact, I forgot about my lifer Sulphur-rumped Tanager from the Manzanillo area so that one at least ties with the Blackpoll.
Ok, so, after a moment of deliberation, I hereby crown my bestest bird of 2013……the Oilbird!
The Oilbird gets the prize because it meets so many categories of awesomeness:
- It’s a rare vagrant to Costa Rica- It probably shows up each year but just doesn’t get found in the dark of a steep cloud forest night and we have no idea where they breed.
- It’s nocturnal-The Oilbird is also a Gothic bird because it lives in caves, makes guttural sounds, and look sort of like a feathered gargoyle. Maybe it will come in to playback of songs composed by Peter Murphy?
- Rather like an avian nocturnal antithesis of the R. Quetzal, it roams through the tropical forest night in search of oily fruits.
- A trio bird- Lifer, new for my CR list, and new for the year.
So, yes, the Oilbird is my personal Baby New Year. if you want to see it in Costa Rica, go on the night walk tour at the Monteverde Wildlife Refuge from July to September. Might not be there but this is when they have showed up and their night walk is fantastic in any case. Other highlights included a wonderful 140 plus species day around Carara while guiding some birders from Finland, enjoying the birds of the Manzanillo area with other clients and friends, releasing the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, and watching birds with Susan, Robert, Paul, Johan and Ineke, and other folks from the Birding Club of Costa Rica. Hope to see you birding in Costa Rica in 2014!
As luck would have it, very few of the 2013 Costa Rican Christmas counts landed on dates that worked into my schedule. However, as luck would also have it, the one that did fit in was the Osa Christmas Count. This exciting day long survey of all things avian took place on December 20th and I was fortunate to be able to participate in one of the birdiest spots of the count circle, the Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge.
This small lodge is one of the best birding lodges in Costa Rica and earns that distinction by being surrounded by extensive areas of rainforest and birdy second growth, small lagoons on and near the property for the lodge, and more open areas en route that turn up other suites of species. Add the excellent guiding, local, in-depth avian knowledge, and quality hospitality to the mix and you end up with a truly fantastic place for birding.
It might be the only place where you can see Black-cheeked Ant Tanagers coming to a feeder, Golden-naped Woodepckers are fairly common, and raptors, many hummingbirds, and even cotingas are regularly seen from the lodge. Yes, it’s great birding at all times and the count was an exciting one.
We arrived on the afternoon of the 19th and would have shown up after dark if we hadn’t pulled ourselves away from the fine birding en route. Black-bellied Wrens, Great Antshrikes, toucans, and much more called from roadside habitats and we could have easily come across dozens of other species near the village of Dos Brazos.
At the lodge itself, after being greeted by Liz and Abraham and being shown to our rooms, we went over the details for the count and enjoyed a wonderful dinner by candlelight. Liz showed us a Turnip-tailed Gecko and then it was off to bed early to be ready for a big day of birding in the hot, humid conditions of the incredible rainforests of the Osa Peninsula. A comfortable bed and the soothing night sounds of the jungle resulted in a good night’s rest before the alarm went off at 4:30 am. The other count participants were just arriving and much to my pleasant surprise, almost everyone was right from the village! On most counts in Costa Rica, participants are students, birders, and biologists that travel to the count circle. At Bosque del Rio Tigre, it was just the opposite and a tangible demonstration of the work that Liz and Abraham have done with the local community. After enjoying a quick breakfast with our fellow counters, Susan, Liz, and I started tallying off birds that called from the tall rainforest just behind the lodge.
This included the dawn songs of Buff-throated Foliage-gleaners, Scaly-throated Leaftossers (a common bird there), Charming Hummingbird, Black-cheeked Ant Tanager, Blue-crowned Motmot, Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, and other species. As we walked up the trail that eventually leads to an open area on a ridge above the lodge, we tried our best to keep count of the Lesser Greenlets, Red-capped Manakins, Tawny-crowned Greenlets, Black-faced Antthrushes, and Chestnut-backed Antbirds. Up on the ridge itself, we enjoyed views of toucans, flyby Scarlet Macaws, Mealy, Red-lored, and White-crowned Parrots, and a host of other species that called from and appeared in the surrounding trees. Although cotingas and coquettes eluded us that morning, they are regularly seen from that vantage point. A couple of our better species were White-vented Euphonia and White-necked Puffbird.
Around 9 am, we descended down past birdy spots into equally birdy second growth habitats and continued to add species to the list in the form of Great Antshrike, Dusky Antbird, a few warblers, Slate-headed Tody-Tyrant, King Vulture, White Hawk, and others. The rarest species was arguably a male Blackpoll Warbler! This bird is a rare vagrant in Costa Rica and the one on the count was my first for the country. At first glance, I actually thought is was a Yellow-rumped because I caught a glimpse of it from the front and the markings on each side of the breast looked more that those of that species. Better looks a bit later on in the morning, though, revealed its identity (and as it turns out, local guides had already been seeing that same bird in the area).
By 10:30, it was pretty hot and we had covered our route quite well so we trudged back to the lodge and sat down to a very welcome cold drink and tasty lunch. Although one group ventured back out for a bit, most of us relaxed (or napped in my case) to wait out the hottest part of the day. By 3, birds were becoming more active so we headed back into the field. One group went to the village to look for Red-rumped Woodpecker and other edge species while another walked upriver to get White-crested Coquette and other birds. Susan and I had planned on going upriver as well but because the water would have flowed over and into our rubber boots, we opted for focusing on the river near the lodge. In retrospect. we should have donned river shoes provided by the lodge and got that coquette but at least the birding was great right where we stayed. Checking the treetops didn’t turn up any hoped for cotingas but we were rewarded with nice looks at Laughing Falcon, several tanagers including Blue Dacnis, Long-billed Starthroat among other hummingbird species, and other birds.
During the count that evening, we found that Susan, Liz, and I had tallied around 140 species with many more being added by the other counters. A few people searched for owls once the sun set but we crashed early to be ready for another morning of birding the following day. Since one of the counting groups had seen both cotingas from an overlook on the other side of the river, we opted for that route. Before we even started out, Susan spotted a Red-rumped Woodpecker right in front of the lodge! This was one of the best birds of the trip for me because it had been a much wanted bird for my country list for several years.
Shortly thereafter, as we sweated our way up the hill, we were treated to excellent birding punctuated by several Black-cheeked Ant Tanagers, two more White-collared Puffbirds, Black-bellied and Riverside Wrens, Baird’s Trogons, and much more. The top overlook would be a fantastic place to spend an entire day. It’s shaded by large trees and offers an excellent view of forested ridges. Scoping revealed lots of vultures as well as Double-toothed Kite and Great Black Hawk (a species that has declined in Costa Rica over the past 10 years). We dipped on cotingas but this is a good place to look for them. The top overlook also abuts beautiful primary rainforest that is connected to the national park. It’s a shame that we didn’t have time to properly bird it because it looked really good and turned up Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrant, Brown-billed Scythebill, and other species right from the overlook.
The walk downhill was of course a million times better than the auto-drenching stroll on the way up. Back at the lodge, we enjoyed a final delicious breakfast before packing up, checking out the Little Tinamou that came out to feed on rice grains near the kitchen, and driving back across the river. On the way out, we couldn’t help but stop for more birding near rice fields and thus got out trip Slate-colored Seedeater.
A stop at Rincon also finally gave us both cotingas! There were at least two Yellow-billed and one male Turquoise in a small fruiting fig but they flew off before I could get adequate shots.
It was also tempting to stop and bird at several sites on the way back but we both wanted to head back to our respective homes so we opted for identifying birds from the car as we high-tailed it back up to the Central Valley.
As in other countries where the holiday tradition takes place, Christmas Counts are happening in Costa Rica. La Selva, Cartago, and Arenal have all had counts this year and as chance would have it, I have missed them all. Nevertheless, I was happy to hear that 70 plus birders participated in the Arenal count and I am sure similar numbers were watching and tallying birds in the other counts. I will do at least one, though, and that always yields serious quality when it comes to birds and biodiversity.
On Friday, I will be listening and watching for everything at the Bosque del Rio Tigre as part of their Christmas Count. Other counts will also be happening in the Osa at that time so it will be interesting to see what turns up in that biodiversity hotspot. I’m hoping to get a few more year birds, record the sounds of several species, get lucky with digiscoping in the rainforest (need lottery winning luck for that), and probably do some birding on the drive to the Osa for one heck of a three day birding extravaganza. My previous experience with the Bosque del Rio Tigre count reconfirmed my belief that it’s the best birding lodge in Costa Rica so I wonder how Friday’s count will match up to a day that included raptors like Tiny Hawk, White Hawk, Black Hawk Eagle, Roadside Hawk, Laughing Falcon, and Gray-headed Kite (probably a few other raptors too), White-tipped Sicklebill, Black-cheeked Ant Tanager, and lots of other quality birds.
As far as the other counts go, I was sad indeed to miss the Arenal gig. The area has a lot of intact habitat and therefore lots of great birds. This year’s count even turned up a Great Jacamar! It was heard only but the calls of this rarity for Costa Rica are unmistakable so I am sure they had one. Since it was found it in the forests of Arenal Observatory Lodge, it seems as if the species was overlooked for that site. Despite a lot of birding done around there, I am actually not too surprised because the area probably hosts a very small population, and few Tico birders have any experience with this species and thus many would probably overlook its vocalization. Of course there are local birders who would recognize the sounds a Great Jacamar makes but they are probably few in number and would have to be at Arenal Oversvatory Lodge exactly when one of the 2 or 4 Great Jacamars that live around there decided to call. Who knows, maybe it also prefers a microhabitat in Costa Rica that we are unaware of? What I do know is that since we also recorded this species in the nearby Penas Blancas Valley earlier this year, there is certainly a small population of Great Jacamars that live in foothills forests of the Monteverde-Arenal Conservation area.
Speaking of Great Jacamar, I am also hoping to find it at Lands in Love. That glittering green and rufous bird might not even be there but since there is quite a bit of primary forest that also happens to be connected to those rainforests mentioned above, I have hopes for it. I was guiding at Lands in Love over the weekend but we got sort of clobbered with rain on our main day. The constant cold front-associated rain kept us from seeing many birds but we still managed goodies like Black-crested Coquette, Scaly-throated Leaftosser, Broad-billed Motmot, and Golden-crowned Spadebill. One of the best was a perched Crested Owl just a few steps from the reception!
That cold front is still happening so if you are headed to the Caribbean slope these days, it’s going to be wet. At the same time, it’s also going to drive a bunch of species into the lowlands so look for everything from Black-faced Solitaire to White-ruffed Manakin, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, and out of place tanagers around Sarapiqui. The good news is that the Varablanca-Cinchona-Sarapiqui road is finally fixed and paved! It’s probably still narrow in places but there shouldn’t be any more pot holes, ruts, or other rough road madness.
On a final birding news note, we have released version 2.1 of the Costa Rica Bird Field Guide app! That means:
- More species (images, info, and range maps for 578 species, and vocalizations for 346).
- It’s now optimized for the iPad.
- Free update for those who have already purchased this Costa Rica birding app.
- On sale for half the regular price for those who still need to buy it!
Hope to see you birding in Costa Rica!
We all love woodpeckers. Even non-birders get a kick out of the seemingly crazy antics of a bird that bangs its head against trees and other objects as fast as it possibly can. They are the original classic head-bangers and just like rock stars, many of them sport “wacky hairdos”.
Maniacal, laughing vocalizations and forgetting to flap the wings until they about to fall out of the sky also seem to point to birds living way out there on the edge. Yes, wacky, wonderful, and always much appreciated. Although southeast Asia comes out on top in terms of woodpecker diversity, Costa Rica also has its fair share of avian head-bangers. We have 16 of those funtastic species and most are regular in the right habitat (with the exception of the Red-rumped Woodpecker- much easier in South America). Instead, we have the standard Central American Veniliornis, the good old Smoky-brown and this dull woodpecker is a common resident of second growth and rainforest edge in the lowlands and foothills of the Caribbean slope. It’s shaped a bit like a Downy and seems to likewise be adapted to pecking on vines and thin branches.
Speaking of the Caribbean slope, the northern lowlands seem to be the best region in Costa Rica for seeing a bunch of woodpeckers. I see more species of woodpeckers in the Sarapiqui region, Laguna del Lagarto, and other sites in northern Costa Rica than other parts of the country. I was reminded of that high woodpecker diversity a few months ago on a trip to the El Zota Research Station when on our way to the station, we found a mixed flock sort of dominated by woodpeckers. While teasing bird identifications out of the rustling leaves, vines, and big old tropical vegetation of a forested riparian zone, we had a few Black-cheeked Woodpeckers (the standard Caribbean slope Melanerpes),
a couple of Rufous-wingeds (a common canopy loving bird of the Caribbean lowlands),
had at least one Chestnut-colored (regular in edge and canopy of lowland rainforest),
its other cool tropical rufousy woodpecker relative, the Cinnamon (which posed incredibly for us as it foraged in bromeliads),
a Lineated Woodpecker (the neotropical Pileated),
and our “ivorybill”, the wonderful Pale-billed.
I can’t recall if we had a Smoky-brown in that flock too but we may have and also had wintering Yellow-bellied Sapsucker near there for a fine few day woodpecker total of 8 species. Other good sites for woodpeckers are Carara National Park, Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge, and other forested sites on the Osa Peninsula but they seem to be most common and speciose in the remnant forests of northeastern Costa Rica.
Don’t forget to also watch for the near endemic Hoffmann’s Woodpecker in and around San Jose!
See and listen to these woodpeckers and more than 570 other species featured on the next version of a Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app. I helped develop.
I posted about birding at Lands in Love a few months ago and just have to do it again. It’s hard not to post about this overlooked birding destination because I am pretty sure that it’s one of the best sites in Costa Rica for birding. A short morning of recent birding there keeps me convinced that it has a lot to offer for both beginning birders, people who have been birding for decades, and even in country guides. I went there the other morning for the most part to record bird sounds, get a picture of a Lanceolated Monklet, and just scout the trails.
I knew that the monklet is there because our group found one in September and on that trip, the high quality of the habitat was also evident. In addition to lots of foothill primary rainforest, Lands in Love is also a great site for birding simply because it’s easy to get there. You don’t have to hike along some slippery trail or bounce along a horrible rough road. All it takes is a drive along the scenic paved road between San Ramon and La Fortuna to get to Lands in Love, tell them you would like to bird on the trails, pay an entrance fee ($5 was the most recent fee), and start birding. Of course you can also stay there and that’s even better because the habitat has grown up around the rooms and attracts a wide variety of edge species along with several forest birds and such wanted species as Snowcap, Crested Guan, and Crimson-collared Tanager.
When I arrived the other day, I first stopped along the road that goes from the highway to the lodge. This road passes through various stages of second growth with older forest in gullies. Although I haven’t birded that area very much (in part because there are very few areas to park- would be much better to walk although you either go uphill or down), it has a lot of promise because the area was filled with birdsong the other morning. Among the several species that were heard were Thicket Antpittas, Black-throated Wren, Bicolored Antbird, Yellow-billed Cacique, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, and several other birds. It’s very birdy and who knows what else might turn up?
Down at the lodge itself, Crested Guans were feeding in trees next to the reception, lots of other birds were active, including a Smoky-brown Woodpecker. However, I wanted to spend most of my time in the forest so quickly made my way to the Ceiba trail to see what I could find.
Once inside the forest, things quieted down but that’s par for the course in primary forest. The birds are there but they quiet down shortly after dawn, are way up there in the canopy, or keeping a low profile in the understory. I did see and hear some nice species but even if I hadn’t seen birds, it was a treasure to walk on trails through beautiful primary rainforest with clear streams and biodiversity all around.
One of the birds I had hoped to assess and find was Keel-billed Motmot. To do so, I used playback just to see if a bird would respond. Birds did respond but every time, it was one or two Broad-billed Motmots, a closely related species with an extremely similar call (I have yet to learn how to separate them). The Broad-billeds were pretty common but I do know that Keel-billed has been recorded there so I wonder if it’s using some slightly different habitat?
While looking for the motmot, I saw several Kentucky Warblers, ran into a few understory flocks with Streak-crowned Antvireos, Checker-throated Antwren, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, and Tawny-faced Gnatwren. Understory flocks like this are a sign of healthy forest and have unfortunately disappeared from much of the forests at the La Selva station. Another species that seemed to be moving with one or two of those flocks was the Song Wren.
In fact, the forest turned out to be very good for this uncommon species as I had at least 3 different groups. Three other quality rainforest species I encountered were Golden-crowned Spadebill (had 3 or 4), Spotted Antbird, and Scaly-throated Leaftosser (2 or 4 birds total). No canopy flocks but I’m sure they occur. As far as canopy birds go, I did see a tree full of quietly feeding toucans and heard Green Shrike Vireo. Oh yeah, and I did find a monklet! It was in a different place than the one from the birding club trip so may have been a different individual altogether. Try as I might, I could not find the thing though! The song was quite ventriloqual and the bird may have been singing from high overhead.
Once the monklet stopped singing, I gave up on seeing it and walked back out of the forest hoping for army ants. I actually found some near the cabins but there weren’t any birds with them! After this, I birded a bit more along the road on the way back up to the highway with nice activity of various edge and some forest species, and ate a pita with falafel and hummus at the great Loveats Cafe.
In that short morning, I had over 100 species. Go there, you will see a lot!
I recently realized that I was far more removed from popular global culture and fads than I had ever imagined. That realization took place during a Skype video call with my parents when they asked me if I had seen the “What Does the Fox Say” thing. I responded that no, I had no idea what they were talking about. They said that they weren’t sure what it was either but that everyone was talking about it. So, nearly a week later, I finally searched for this fox thing and lo and behold it’s a crazy viral video and more than 200 million people know all about it. I also like it and it’s just the type of hilarious silly thing that certain friends of mine and I would have created had we had the time to do so. I love the fact that the popularity of this Norwegian ditty has finally topped that of Norway’s other main claim to popular music fame, A-Ha’s “Take on Me” (which is overplayed on at least once Costa Rican radio station). The silliness of the song sort of reminds me of the satirical and equally awesome Troll Hunter movie (all fans of the fantasy genre must watch!) but is far removed from the excellent, emotive, and more serious music composed by the Kings of Convenience. Most of all, though, the crazy viral fox video has inspired me to write a post about the things said by Costa Rican Birds. No, it won’t be a video because I don’t have the time nor tech know-how to produce such a damn cool thing but I hope you enjoy this post anyways.
Unlike foxes in Norway, we know what most of those Costa Rican Bird say. The Black and yellow Silky Flycatcher looks as if it’s going to say, “Yoo hoo, guess what I am! An oriole? A Tanager? Wrong again humans! I’m some high elevation berry eating thing with fine, silky feathers”.
Actually, they say very little. Check out the sound of a Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher.
What about the Wrenthrush? This is another highland weirdo. It masquerades as an out of place, Asian Tesia and says, “Ha! Try to see me now! I’m as hyperactive as a Chihuahua on Mountain Dew! Take a picture…not!”
Now you know exactly what this bird is saying when you hear its high-pitched calls issuing from a dense patch of bamboo: Wrenthrush
How about another highland bird species? The Prong-billed Barbet has a crazy voice and it says exactly what it sounds like it’s saying, “Yodel, yodel,yodel,yodel,yodel…”.
Yes, this cloud forest oddity is a determined yodeler: Prong-billed Barbet Note Rufous-browed Peppershrike there as well.
Of course, not all Costa Rican birds are stranger than fiction. Some sing stirring, beautiful songs and they say, “Listen to me. Listen to these avian siren melodies that chase away the shadows of worry and compliment the subtle harmonies of water dripping from clumps of moss and the tips of orchids”. This is some of what the Black-faced Solitaire says. A good candidate for being the most solemn, serious singer on the block, it probably has the most pleasing song in the country although it has close contenders in the form of the Nightingale Wren and Slaty-backed Nightingale Thrush. Compare for yourself:
At lower elevations, the bird song chorus becomes nearly as busy as the din of a Manhattan sidewalk. Keel-billed Toucans croak away like lost, feathered frogs, parrots rend the air with screeching sounds, Long-billed Gnatwrens give their pixie-like laugh, wrens blast the vegetation with loud, ringing melodies (check out the Black-throated), woodcreepers whistle away from the gloom of the morning forest, and Great Tinamous say, “I am the true ghost of the woods. Find me if you can but know that my kind has been evading predators for more than 15 million years”. A Great Tinamou sings from the forest interior: Great Tinamou.
Common garden species also have plenty to say, especially the Clay-colored Thrush during the end of the dry season and beginning of the wet. Just so you know, it says, “No, I won’t shut up, I won’t shut up, I won’t shut up. Never shut up, have to find a mate, defend this territory, sing non-stop, no I won’t shut up…” . And no, it really doesn’t stop singing at that time of the year.
Clay-colored Thrush and such other birds as Tropical Screech Owl and Blue-crowned Motmot in this dawn chorus along with the requisite barking dog.
You will also hear the nagging sounds of the Boat-billed Flycatcher, “Naaaaag! Naaaag! What the hell are you looking at!”
Boat-billed Flycatcher That chip in the background is a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.
Yes, that big-billed kiskadee creature does have issues but let’s not forget that we are mere observers. Let them chase each other around and vent their mysterious anger.
Saving the best for last, we come back to the weird and wonderful with the Three-wattled Bellbird. Yes, non-birders, snicker if you like but dammit, it describes both the bird’s appearance and its song so the joke’s on you NOB!
It just says, “Creak, creak…BONK!”
Three-wattled Bellbird This is the much louder noise than the Long-tailed Manakin and cow that just had to compete for attention with a “moo”.
I have no idea what the bellbird is really saying there because I have yet to untangle the mysterious language of the cotingas.
There’s like nearly 900 other species to talk about too but in the absence of timewarp technology, I only have space to write about a handful of these Costa Rican birds. The best way to experience them is of course to come on down to Tiquicia (that’s the local vernacular for Costa Rica) and take a listen for yourself. You could also get ready for your trip by listening to my recordings of more than 350 species out of 560 plus species on the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, or if you don’t want to make a holiday gift of that digital field guide for yourself, you can still check out some sweet sights, sounds, and info of Costa Rican birds by downloading the free lite version.
Tags: Birding, birding app for Costa Rica, Birding Costa Rica, Costa Rica, Costa Rica bird app, Costa Rica bird sounds, Costa Rica birding, Costa Rica birds, Prong-billed Barbet, Three-wattled Bellbird
It’s November in Costa Rica and that’s typically a slow time for visiting birders but those of us who live here see it as a month to look for rare ducks and other vagrants, and for making Christmas count plans.
Well, I honestly don’t know if other birders in Costa Rica do that but it’s kind of how I spend the month. That and thinking about the Spotted Rail because this might be the best time to see one of those super cool birds in Costa Rica. It’s still super tough but seems to be encountered more often in November than other times of the year. Maybe more habitat in flooded rice fields? Perhaps because you are already out there in the wetlands looking for ducks and shorebirds?
Whatever the reason, this is a good time to look; just the other day, one was reported from the Concavas pond and wetlands near Cartago. If I can find out how to to access the spot, I will let you know!
Ok, so as far as the rest of November goes, no super rare ducks yet but that may change as birders check reservoirs and other wetlands this weekend. I won’t be going anywhere this weekend but hopefully I will make it to some body of water mid-week.
So, now for a few primers and random info to get ready for the high season:
- The El Tapir site may be under new management starting Decemeber 1st. I hae only heard rumors but either the main El Tapir site or one in that area will be run by a tour company. As long as it’s still easily accessible, this could be a very good thing. I will report on changes as I hear of them.
- Not much rain this November but hard to say how that may affect bird populations.
- Although the country first Lined Seedeater has yet to make an encore performance, the Playa del Rey wetlands are still excellent for birding and could turn up all sorts of rarities. Two guides from the Quepos area, Roy Orozco and Johan Chaves, visit on a regular basis. I hope they find more good stuff!
- On November 17th, Slate-colored Seedeaters were singing and present where rice fields meet rainforest on the road between Palmar Sur and Rio Claro.
- Roadwork is still happening on the Varablanca-Cinchona-San Miguel road. This closes it down for several hours a day (and keeps me from chasing a very rare Cape May warbler at Cinchona!) but if they can finish the work soon, we just might have a nice smooth road from Varablanca on down to the Peace Waterfall and beyond.
- I have heard rumors that Manuel Antonio and Tortuguero are charging $10 per ENTRANCE and not for a day pass into those national parks. I really hope that’s not the case because it would really be a big middle finger in the face of every tourist visiting those areas. If you do encounter such pricing, please complain because it’s simply wrong and will show that they probably care more about your money than providing any degree of service.
- Cerro Lodge is getting greener: Planted trees and vegetation are steadily growing in and should translate to more birds.
That’s about it for primers I can think of at the moment so lets move on to Christmas Counts. As usual, there’s a bunch happening in Costa Rica and most take place in December. As much as I would love to participate,it’s always tough for me to schedule them in but I might get the chance to do 2 or 3 of the following counts.
December 1: Count at Selva Verde Lodge. Contact: email@example.com
December 7: Arenal count. Contact: Diego Quesada 8865-6016 firstname.lastname@example.org
December 8: Cartago-Tapanti Count . Contact: Ernesto Carman email@example.com
December 14: La Selva. Contact: Orlando Vargas (firstname.lastname@example.org), Rodolfo Alvarado(email@example.com), Joel Alavarado(firstname.lastname@example.org),Enrique Castro (email@example.com)
December 16: CATIE Contact: Alejandra Martínez firstname.lastname@example.org
December 19: Rain Forest Aerial Tram Atlantic. Contact: Luis Diego Castillo email@example.com
December 21: Bosque Nuboso de Occidente. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
December 22: Pacific Rainforest Aerial Tram: Manuel Ramírez.email@example.com
December 28: Santa Rosa National Park. Contact: Frank Joyce firstname.lastname@example.org
December 30: Cacao sector of Rincon de la Vieja. Frank Joyce email@example.com
January 5: Maquenque. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the Osa, there are also two main counts:
Please contact Karen Leavelle if interested in helping out at
Sierpe is one of those out of the ways places that few birders visit when doing Costa Rica. It’s off the beaten track, isn’t exactly surrounded by large areas of protected forest, and is easily bypassed for such better known southwestern Costa Rican sites as the Osa Peninsula, Esquinas Rainforest Lodge, and Wilson Botanical Gardens near San Vito. However, if you have time to see Common Potoo, maybe get a roosting owl or two, watch Scarlet Macaws forage right in town, and see a few pelagics including more or less guaranteed Red-footed Booby, then make some time for Sierpe!
I just did four days of birding and guiding around Sierpe and we had all of the above and quite a bit more. Although the village itself isn’t exactly a bastion of high quality habitat, you can see a fair number of quality species in and near town, and it’s an excellent base for taking boat trips through a huge maze of mangroves, to Cano Island for a few pelagics, and to Corcovado National Park. On our recent trip, we did two of the boat tours mentioned above with pretty fine results.
On the afternoon of our arrival to Sierpe, we started with a three hour boat tour through some mangroves and along a channel that passed through oil palm plantations flanked by bamboo. While the oil palms aren’t exactly appealing for birds, we headed up that way because our guide wanted to show us roosting Common Potoo, an owl or two, and American Pygmy Kingfisher. Although the barn Owl under the bridge was a no show, the Crested Owl was on its roost, and we got the other two including our first potoo of the trip. The guides also mentioned that they sometimes see Agami Heron in that area. No luck for us with the sneakiest of Costa Rican herons but it was certainly a worthwhile trip. We also had several parakeets and parrots flying around, Fiery-billed Aracari, Black-mandibled Toucan, White-vented Euphonia, and several other bird species.
That night, a bit of nocturnal birding failed to turn up more owls but we did have Southern Lapwings on the football pitch (aka soccer field), and we found an either Rufous Nightjar or a Chuck wills Widow. The hefty nightjar was perched on a fence post near the tech school and let us watch it for a bit but failed to call. Nor could we see its rictal bristles or undertail pattern to get a solid identification but there was always another night to get a better view.
Our second day in town was our biggest and most memorable. From 8:30 in the morning to around 5 in the evening, we boated through a huge area of mangroves before making our way to Cano Island. This was followed by the boat swinging by islets with a bunch of birds, lunch at a secluded tropical beach at Isla Violenes and another ride back through the mangroves. On the way out, we didn’t see too many birds and surprisingly to me, dipped on Yellow-billed Cotinga (as that area is the stronghold for this endangered species), but managed a small group of Semipalmated Plovers among common heron species and a few others.
After hearing some pretty frightening stories about weaving through the waves at the river mouth, we were rightly concerned. Luckily, the trip out past the mouth wasn’t too bad but we had a choppy ride the rest of the way to the island (maybe 45 minutes?). I successfully countered the effects of those waves on my land lubber physiology with a rock solid stare at the horizon and a constant supply of crackers accompanied by sips of water. Sadly, we only saw two birds on the way to the island- a Brown Booby and a Magnificent Frigatebird along with very close looks at Spotted Dolphins. As usual, the wave action and lack of birds made me question why I was once again on an ocean going boat but those uneasy concerns were assuaged a bit once we reached the island and its beautiful tourmaline waters.
The island looked lush and my original hope was to hang out on the beach and scope the ocean but that plan was derailed by a recent decision to forbid any landings by tourists until a proper sanitation system is put into place. Although that was annoying, they are right to do so because we of course don’t want to ruin the island. The unfortunate part of this situation is that if it’s anything like most situations in Costa Rica, the solution will require so much needless bureaucracy that it may take years to put in even a port a potty.
Well, as it turned out, we saw almost no birds near the island in any case so it was better to leave it, and especially because the ride back was a complete contrast to the trip to the island. Instead of cloudy weather and choppy water, the sun was shining and we rode the swells like swimming on cloud nine. Oh, and we saw some birds too! Pelagic ones! Even a glimpse of a storm petrel from a bouncing boat is worth ten birds on land because you just can’t see them from land! A fine Wedge-rumped Storm Petrel was our first true seabird of the trip and as it bounded away, we got close looks at a duo of Red-necked Phalaropes! Shortly after that, we were treated to a few nighthawkish Black Storm Petrels and then we got our best pelagic of the trip- an immature Red-billed Tropicbird! The tropicbird was right in our path and as it raised up off of the water, it shook its entire body a couple of times before flying off and out of sight. Since all of these birds were seen in a time frame of around 35 minutes and were only seen because they were in the path of our boat, I bet you could see a bunch of nice birds by doing a proper pelagic in that area.
Once we got near shore, the Islitas Violines beckoned. Also known as the “booby rocks”, we indeed saw several Sulids along with some other niceties. Brown Boobies and Red-footed Boobies were equal in abundance and both were nesting! The Red-footed was a much awaited lifer for myself and was also new for several people on the trip. While taking in the form of dark morph Red-footed Boobies, we also picked up two Wandering Tattlers along with Brown Pelicans and frigatebirds. Good stuff!
After that nice bunch of birds, we boated in to the beach at Isla Violines for a good picnic lunch. We also looked a bit for birds there but as it was the quiet time of the day, didn’t see much. It did look like a good area to see cotingas and lots of other birds though because the island is covered in forest. Before you go wandering around, though, keep in mind that the island also has a sort of abundant population of Fer-de Lance! That kept us from walking around much.
The ride back in to the river was easy going and the birding on the way back turned up Scaled Pigeon, flyby parrots, lots of Pale-vented Pigeons going to roost, a Peregrine, and another Common Potoo among some other bird species.
On the next day, half the group drove an hour or so to the la Gamba road in search of seedeaters aand other species of weedy fields and forest edge. Although we didn’t visit Esquinas Lodge, that birding hotspot is also a possibility. They charge some sort of entrance fee to use trails that access great forest that has Black-cheeked Ant Tanager and the general area around the lodge is also very good for many rainforest species. We also birded rice fields near Ciudad Neily a bit but there wasn’t too much around. It probably would have been better later in the afternoon.
That night, we tried for the nightjar again after looking for owls. No show on the owls but lots of pauraques, we heard a Barn Owl, had Southern Lapwings, and at 8:30, the nightjar made its appearance on the same fence post. Fortunately, I got a good look at the undertail as it flew. Buff on almost the entire length of the undertail feathers showed its identity to be a Chuck wills Widow and not a hoped for Rufous Nightjar but a Chuck is still a great bird to get in Costa Rica!
Our final morning was nothing more than a walk just outside of town but it still turned up several species, the best of which were Striped Cuckoo, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, and Mourning Warbler among Red-crowned Woodpecker, Red-lored Parrots, Orange-chinned Parakeets, and lots of common flycatchers, seedeaters, etc.
Upon doing the bird list, we found that we had identified around 150 species and that was without doing any serious rainforest birding! Add a morning trip to Esquinas and one might even get 200 species during 4 or 5 days in the area. Along with the birds, I also have to mention that the best part of the trip was staying at the Hotel Oleaje Sereno.
Forget about those old bad reviews on Trip Advisor because they pertain to another owner and different management. The new owner and management is nothing short of exemplary. Having visited many hotels in Costa Rica, they gave us some of the best service I have experienced anywhere. They were prompt, friendly, always available, and always went out of their way to help us. They also set up our tours and did an excellent job. Incredibly, the prices we paid for our stay at the Oleaje Sereno Hotel (basic but air conditioned and clean rooms), and Perla del Sur Tours were very low and might be the best value I have ever paid for accommodation and tours in Costa Rica. If you go to Sierpe and are on a budget, this place and their tours are a fantastic bargain. They also had nice birding from their dock (scope the trees on the other side of the river) and Scarlet Macaws foraging in short Beach Almonds next to the hotel.
On my next visit to the area, I would stay at the same hotel and do the same boat trips but I would do more owling on the road between Sierpe and the highway, and do a day trip to Esquinas. With enough time, I would also check sites closer to the border to see if I could add Yellowish Pipit to the Costa Rican list!
As it turned out, hitting sites from the Central Valley and the Poas area was a much better idea than birding on Irazu. Sure, we sacrificed sightings of the junco and wren and missed a few other species that we would have probably gotten at Irazu but also saw probably 50 more species than we would have ticked at the larger volcano. The day began once again at the Bougainvillea and after a quick breakfast stop at the 24 hour McDonald’s in Heredia, we drove on through the empty streets to an area near San Joaquin that has coffee bushes, brushy fields, and a good number of birds.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by flyby flocks of Red-billed Pigeons (in the Central Valley, more common than the good old feral Rock Pigeon), flocks of White-winged Doves, a flock or two of Crimson-fronted Parakeets, and a nice bunch of other birds. The best was actual looks at two toughies- Crested (Spot-bellied) Bobwhite, and after a fair bit of waiting and watching, a Prevost’s Ground Sparrow! As with any quail like bird, the bobwhite is typically tough to see while the ground sparrow is just all too uncommon and skulky. Those were our “best” birds but we also saw Rufous-capped Warbler, Grayish Saltator, White-tailed Kite, Boat-billed Flycatcher, and two surprise Orange-fronted Parakeets among other more common species.
The dawn drive through small town streets was pretty birdy and we eventually got hoped for looks at Blue-crowned Motmot perched on a roadside wire, a Hoffmann’s Woodpecker, and a surprise Black-headed Saltator (seems this Caribbean slope species has become established in various parts of the Central Valley). Those fine sightings were followed by the drive up the curvy road to Varablanca with a few stops en route to try for various highland species including the likes of Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush, Yellowish Flycatcher, and other species of the upper Central Valley zone. During one stop, spishing produced a bonanza of migrant warblers including a year bird- Townsend’s Warbler! The hoped for toucanet failed to show but we still had plenty of time to connect with that little green toucan. Happily, we hit a jackpot of birds at our next stop, a riparian zone that featured a fine mixed flock of highland birds. In a matter of minutes, we got both redstarts, Ruddy Treerunner, Red-faced Spinetail, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Yellow-thighed Finch, Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrush, Mountain Thrush, Volcano and Scintillant Hummingbirds, and others. It’s so nice when the birds show!
Further on, the other riparian zones were quiet but we were in for a bunch more birds for the day, the next ones being Yellow-winged Vireo, Slaty Flowerpiercer, and Gray-breasted Wood Wren behind the parking lot of a small shop in Varablanca. It’s always worth it to keep an eye open for birds at the Varablanca crossroads because I have seen everything from Prong-billed Barbet to Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Emerald Toucanet, and even Yellow-bellied Siskin in that area.
Although I knew that road work was being done on the road that leads to the La Paz waterfall, I still hoped we could hit a few spots on the way down. That didn’t work out due to heavy vehicles parking in the spots where I usually stop so I decided that we should bird a bit along the turn off to San Rafael. This turned out to be a good choice because it yielded our two target regional flycatchers- Golden-bellied and Dark Pewee, finally glimpsed Chestnut-capped Brush Finch, saw Brown-capped Vireo, and saw at least two Emerald Toucanets! We heard but did not see Tufted Flycatcher and got a few other highland species.
After that stop, we drove back uphill and went to the Volcan Restaurant to check the quality riparian habitat and hummingbird feeders before lunch. As usual, the guy who watches the cars there told me about seeing quetzal that morning. Since he is there most of every day, he sees one or two as they move through the riparian corridor and sometimes sees Black Guan as well. It was way more quiet than normal while we were there but the feeders complied with Violet Sabrewing, Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, and five other species of hummingbirds.
Lunch was delicious as always and eating early gave us more time to look for birds in the higher elevations (and hopefully see them before the afternoon rains). Although it turned out to be the busiest day for traffic I have ever seen on Poas, we still saw most of our targets. The big ones like the guan and quetzal evaded us but I’m not sure if there were that many around because I didn’t see any of the fruits that they usually feed on. However, we did get fine looks at Black-cheeked Warbler, more Collared Redstarts, Yellow-thighed Finches, and Slaty Flowerpiercers, Black and yellow Silky Flycatchers, Flame-colored Tanager, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, and Flame-throated Warbler. We also picked up a new hummingbird for the day in the form of several Fiery-throated Hummingbirds, glimpsed a Wrenthrush, saw our third nightingale thrush for the day (Black-billed), and finally got our Large-footed Finch.
By the time we saw the finch, it started to rain too much to keep watching birds so we began to drive downhill with the hope that we could evade the falling water. As luck would have it, as we drove away from Poas and towards Barva, the rains came to a brief stop and we picked up a few more choice bird species. Scanning the canopy of distant trees from an overlook turned up scoped views of Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher but our best and most unexpected species was a Bicolored Hawk! Although it stayed long enough to scope it, it didn’t stick around long enough to digiscope it, otherwise I would show you its contrasting dark cap and Cooper’s Hawkish shape.
After the hawk, the rains picked up again so we didn’t get in any more birding for the day but by that point, it was 4:30 and we had seen 88 species (4 heard onlys) for a long, satisfying day of birding the Central Valley and Poas area