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admin on April 12th, 2017

There’s more than one way to watch a bird. When I was a kid, I stared out the window of cars and buses, constantly scanning distant tree tops, fields, and other aspects of urban and rural landscapes that rushed on by. In the summer, the sweet smell of hay fields was accompanied by Eastern Kingbirds that perched on fence lines and sallied into the air , beautiful orange-bellied Barn Swallows coursing over fields, sudden bright yellow American Goldfinches and Yellow Warblers in flight, hawks on high perches or telephone poles, a Belted Kingfisher perched on a wire over a river, and other roadside avian sights. Since then, I have seen a few good birds from trains, even pulling lifers like Sharp-tailed Grouse and the one and only funky Lewis’s Woodpecker while traveling through western situations, but, as one might expect, the most productive birding is a consequence of your own two feet.

Being in control of our own mobility facilitates searching branches and other vegetation for the inconspicuous. We can listen for target birds and head in that direction, or just hang out and wait for stuff to show. It also makes it easier to access more sites but there are still a few habitats denied to those on the ground. Until someone invents some futuristic water walking device, even the closest of pelagic zones is a no go to the walker. The same goes for most wetlands, including rivers, lakes, and marshes. Sure, you could wear waders and hope that you don’t step into some bottomless quick sand while floundering through muck and mud but no bird is worth being eaten by the marsh. Those wetland situations are where boats come into play and you will need one when birding a few sites in Costa Rica.

Some fine boat birding at Tortuguero.

The two main ones that come to mind are Cano Negro and Tortuguero. Cano Negro is essentially a wetland area more associated with Lake Nicaragua than the Caribbean lowlands. You do get some species from that bio-zone but it’s also why you can see things like Nicaraguan Grackle, Limpkin, and Snail Kite. Tortuguero, on the other hand, is mostly composed of swampy coastal rainforest where the “roads” are canals and rivers. Both sites can be birded without a boat but you would be missing a lot if you stuck to dry land. Although they have their similarities, Cano Negro and Tortuguero also differ in some ways. Here are some thoughts that stem from comparing the two:

Sungrebe!

In this respect, both sites are similar. Spend two days birding from boat at either site and you have a very good chance of seeing the sole New World representative of the Finfoot family.

Great Potoo

The big-headed night bird is regular at both sites.

Great Green Macaw

Not at Cano Negro but doing quite well at Tortuguero with several birds recently feeding on Beach Almonds in the village!

Cano Negro has more kingfishers

Perhaps from fish being more concentrated and maybe being less affected by pesticides, one usually sees a lot more kingfishers at Cano Negro. All of the same can also be seen at Tortuguero but they are more common in Cano Negro.

Jabiru 

Although the king of New World storks has been seen at Tortuguero, it’s far more regular at Cano Negro, especially during the dry season.

Marsh birds

Cano Negro wins in this regard too but that’s because it actually has freshwater marshes whereas Tortuguero kind of doesn’t.

Thanks to help from Daryl Loth, owner of Casa Marbella, that didn’t stop us from seeing Least Bittern!

Access

Since Cano Negro can be accessed by car, whereas reaching Tortuguero requires a ride in a boat, I suppose Cano Negro is somewhat easier to get to. That said, It’s not difficult to reach Tortuguero, even with the public boat, and to see the best of Cano Negro, you have to hire a boat to access the heart of the refuge in any case.

Forest

There is some forest at Cano Negro but Tortuguero easily wins this  hand. Most of Tortuguero is tall rainforest, some of which can be accessed at Cerro Tortuguero and on a trail that parallels the beach. This offers a better chance at seeing Semiplumbeous Hawk, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Yellow-margined Flycatcher, and some other forest-based species.

Rarities

It’s a bit hard to judge which site comes out on top in this regard but Tortuguero seems to be ahead when it comes to rarities. The coastal location results in sightings of vagrant gulls and occasional pelagic species as well as a chance at many a rare migrant. I bet that all sorts of really rare species have passed through there unnoticed because we don’t have enough people looking. In that regard, I dare say that the same can be said about Cano Negro. Huge concentrations of birds occur as the lagoons shrink in size, including quite a few shorebirds. I could easily see something like a Ruff, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, or some vagrant stint pop in and out of those wetlands and never be seen.

This Reddish Egret was a rare, fine addition to my year list.

Cuisine

No contest here but then again Tortuguero has been playing host to far more tourists for much longer. Try the Buddha Cafe or Ms. Myriams. Both highly recommended! Very few options at Cano Negro but you will get by.

Good, easy birding 

Fortunately, this most important factor is shared by both sites. You can’t go wrong when birding Cano Negro or Tortuguero, just make sure to book one or more boat rides!

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admin on April 5th, 2017

In the northern places where winter chases some of the birds away from their breeding grounds, spring represents a dramatic, obvious, much anticipated change in the natural surroundings. Suddenly, the sun comes back to town, the snows melt, flying, honking skeins of geese come first, and when it gets warm enough, the green spaces play host to the songs and bright colors of breeding warblers, vireos, orioles, grosbeaks, and the other lovely birds of May. Depending on where you live, they come back in April too, and in Costa Rica, that’s also when most of them leave.

 

The migrants that is. Cool, crazy birds like the Great Potoo are here all year long.

The other birds show us spring with an abundance of song while the landscape becomes flush with new, green vegetation. Since a fair part of the country doesn’t really experience a dry season, the change from sleeping brown grasses to robust green fields takes place in the Central Valley and other parts of the northern Pacific slope. In addition to a more verdant landscape and the profuse singing of Clay-colored Thrushes, these are a few other aspects of birding Costa Rica during spring:

It rains more

Spring is really the change over from dry times to the official wet season, and in April, it is marked by heavy rains just about every afternoon. Don’t fret about the rains, though because the overcast weather results in better birding anyways.

Swifts

They were always present, just way up there too high to watch in a satisfactory manner. They do the same swift speck thing in spring but also come much lower just before a storm. When that happens, you might actually see the brown collar on a Chestnut-collared Swift, or markings on the faces of Spot-fronted and White-chinned Swifts. Knowing their vocalizations is still the best key to their identification but the best looks are had at the front of a storm.

Migration

It’s not as diverse or vocal as in the north, but we still bear witness to impressive numbers of birds throughout the month of April. Bird the Caribbean lowlands and coast (think La Selva, Tortuguero, and areas south of Limon) right now and there might be too many birds to look at. Literally millions of Chimney Swifts, Cliff Swallows, Purple Martins, and other birds move in a steady river towards the north along with kettles of Mississippi Kites, and groups of Broad-winged and Swainson’s Hawks. In the trees and bushes, Red-eyed Vireos race north along with some warblers, Eastern Kingbirds, pewees, and Scarlet Tanagers. Keep watching and you might pick out rarities for Costa Rica like Gray Kingbird, White-eyed Vireo, warblers that normally winter in the Caribbean islands, and Black-whiskered Vireo. Add shorebirds to the mix and there are a lot of birds waiting to be seen!

Cowbirds

Like the swifts, these birds are also here at other times of the year but seem to be more obvious during April. Unfortunately, it’s because, like their relatives up north, Bronzed Cowbirds also lay eggs in the nests of other birds. You will see them but I wish we would see less, especially because it seems that they like to parasitize the nests of the endemic Cabanis’s (Prevost’s) Ground-Sparrow.

These ones were courting in a site for the ground-sparrow.

If you happen to be in Costa Rica during April, enjoy the bird show and please enter sightings into eBird!

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admin on March 26th, 2017

Cerro Lodge is one of the main accommodation options for birders visiting the Carara area. It’s also one of the only real options but that doesn’t take away from its value in terms of proximity to the park, service, comfort, and (best of all), good, on-site birding. Given that reforestation efforts have resulted in more birds at the lodge itself, more fruit feeders, hummingbird bushes, and an overlook that can turn up everything from raptors, macaws, parrots, parakeets, Yellow-billed Cotinga (typically distant), trogons, and flyby Muscovy Duck, don’t be surprised if you feel completely satisfied with birding from the lodge restaurant. But, if you feel like stepping off the lodge property, get ready for more great birding on the road that runs in front of Cerro Lodge.

This road gets birdy by way of patches of roadside dry forest, second growth, mango orchards, fields, a small seasonal marsh, and a flat, floodplain area near the Tarcoles River. As one might expect, that mosaic of habitats has resulted in a fair bird list, and I suspect that several other species could show. In addition to a wide variety of common edge species, these are some other key birds to look for:

Crane Hawk

This raptor might be the star of the Cerro Lodge bird assemblage. Although not exactly abundant and never guaranteed, the lodge and the road are probably the most reliable sites in Costa Rica for this species. In this country, the raptor with the long, red legs prefers riparian zones with large trees in lowland areas, mostly on the Pacific slope. The proximity of the Tarcoles River to the road and the lodge apparently works well for this cool bird because it’s seen here quite often. If you don’t get it from the restaurant, a day of focused birding on the road should turn up one or more of this nice raptor. In addition to both caracaras, other raptors can also show up including Short-tailed, Zone-tailed, Common Black, and Gray Hawks, Gray-headed Kite, Plumbeous Kite, and Collared Forest-Falcon. Down in the floodplain, keep an eye out for Pearl Kite.

Muscovy Duck

It might not seem exciting but it’s still worth knowing that this area is a good one for wild Muscovy Ducks. One or more can fly over the lodge, road, or be visible from the lodge restaurant. The abundance of this species probably varies with water levels in the surrounding area. I usually see one or more flybys in the morning but there are times when I haven’t seen any, and I recall one morning when more than a dozen were seen from the restaurant.

Double Striped Thick-Knee

If you still need this weird one, watch for it in open fields anywhere on the road, but especially in the floodplain area just before dawn.

Striped Cuckoo and Lesser ground-Cuckoo

The Striped is regular from the lodge and along the road and the ground-cuckoo is probably increasing.

Owls

Although Black and White used to be a given at the lodge, unfortunately, it’s not as regular as in the past. It still occurs in the area though and does still visit the lodge on occasion. Other owl species that can show up include Barn, Spectacled, Mottled, and Pacific Screech. Striped is also heard and seen from time to time. The most common owl species is Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl.

Various dry forest species

Many dry forest species are common at the lodge and along the road including stunners like Turquoise-browed Motmot and Black-headed Trogon.

The motmot

The trogon

These two can occur at the lodge and anywhere on the road along with species like Stripe-headed Sparrow, Brown-crested and Nutting’s Flycatchers, and White-lored Gnatcatcher. Checking spots with dense vegetation and a more forested aspect can turn up Olive Sparrow, Banded Wren, Royal Flycatcher, and even Stub-tailed Spadebill. Beauties like Blue Grosbeak and Painted Bunting are also regular in scrubby habitats along the road.

Stripe-headed Sparrow

White-lored Gnatcatcher

White-necked Puffbird

This cool bird seems to be increasing at this site and is now regular along the road and even at the lodge itself.

Macaws, parrots and the like

Thankfully, Scarlet Macaws are doing very well in Costa Rica. While watching them fly past and perch in trees at and near Cerro, you can also watch for flyby Yellow-naped, White-fronted, and Red-lored Parrots, White-crowned Parrots, Orange-fronted and Orange-chinned Parakeets, and, when certain trees are seeding, hundreds of Crimson-fronted Parakeets. At times, Brown-hooded and Mealy Parrots can also occur for a fine Psittacine sweep.

This stunner is always around.

White-throated Magpie-Jay

Last but not least, watch for this spectacular jay on the road and at the lodge feeders.

Enjoy birding at Cerro and vicinity, I hope to see you out there! Please see an updated bird list below:

List of birds identified at Cerro Lodge and the road in front of the lodge, with abundance as of 2017
This list probably awaits more additions, especially from the more heavily wooded area on the northern part of the property.
c- common, u- uncommon, r – rare, vr- very rare and vagrants
Please send additions to the list or rare sightings to information@birdingcraft.com
Area covered includes the vicinity of Cerro Lodge and the road to Cerro Lodge from the highway to where it dead-ends on the river flood plain.
Keep in mind that the abundance of various species is likely changing due to the effects of climate change.
Great Tinamou r
Little Tinamou u
Muscovy Duck u
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck u
Blue-winged Teal r
Masked Duck vr
Gray-headed Chachalaca r
Least Grebe r
Magnificent Frigatebird u
Wood Stork c
Anhinga u
Neotropic Cormorant u
Bare-throated Tiger-Heron c
Great Blue Heron u
Great Egret c
Snowy Egret u
Little Blue Heron c
Tricolored Heron u
Cattle Egret c
Green Heron c
Boat-billed Heron r
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron r
White Ibis c
Roseate Spoonbill u
Black Vulture c
Turkey Vulture c
King Vulture r
Osprey c
Pearl Kite r
Hook-billed Kite vr
Gray-headed Kite r
Double-toothed Kite r
Plumbeous Kite c
Tiny Hawk vr
Crane Hawk u
Gray Hawk c
Common Black-Hawk c
Broad-winged Hawk c
Short-tailed Hawk c
Zone-tailed Hawk u
Swainson’s Hawk r
Red-tailed Hawk r
White-throated Crake vr
Purple Gallinule c
Gray-cowled Wood-Rail u
Double-striped Thick-Knee u
Southern Lapwing u
Killdeer u
Northern Jacana c
Black-necked Stilt u
Solitary Sandpiper u
Spotted Sandpiper u
Lesser Yellowlegs r
Pale-vented Pigeon vr
Red-billed Pigeon c
White-winged Dove c
White-tipped Dove c
Inca Dove c
Common Ground-Dove c
Plain-breasted Ground-Dove r
Ruddy Ground-Dove c
Blue Ground-Dove r
Squirrel Cuckoo c
Groove-billed Ani c
Lesser Ground-Cuckoo r
Mangrove Cuckoo u
Barn Owl u
Spectacled Owl r
Mottled Owl u
Black and White Owl c
Pacific Screech Owl c
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl c
Striped Owl r
Common Pauraque c
Lesser Nighthawk c
Northern Potoo vr
White-collared Swift c
Chestnut-collared Swift u
Black swift r
Spot-fronted Swift r
Vaux’s Swift u
Costa Rican Swift u
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift u
Long-billed Hermit r
Stripe-throated Hermit u
Scaly-breasted Hummingbird c
Canivet’s Emerald u
Steely-vented Hummingbird c
Blue-throated Goldentail c
Cinnamon Hummingbird c
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird c
Charming Hummingbird r
Mangrove Hummingbird vr
Ruby-throated Hummingbird c
Plain-capped Starthroat u
Green-breasted Mango c
Slaty-tailed Trogon r
Black-headed Trogon c
Gartered Trogon c
Lesson’s Motmot u
Turquoise-browed Motmot c
Ringed Kingfisher u
Belted Kingfisher r
Green Kingfisher u
Amazon Kingfisher r
American Pygmy-Kingfisher r
White-necked Puffbird c
Yellow-throated Toucan r
Keel-billed Toucan vr
Fiery-billed Aracari r
Olivaceous Piculet r
Hoffman’s Woodpecker c
Lineated Woodpecker c
Pale-billed Woodpecker u
Bat Falcon r
Merlin r
Peregrine Falcon u
Collared Forest-Falcon u
Crested Caracara c
Yellow-headed Caracara c
Laughing Falcon c
Crimson-fronted Parakeet c
Orange-fronted Parakeet c
Orange-chinned Parakeet c
White-crowned Parrot c
Brown-hooded Parrot u
White-fronted Parrot c
Red-lored Parrot c
Mealy Parrot r
Yellow-naped Parrot c
Scarlet Macaw c
Barred Antshrike c
Olivaceous Woodcreeper u
Streak-headed Woodcreeper c
Cocoa Woodcreeper u
Northern Barred Woodcreeper r
Northern Beardless Tyrannulet c
Southern Beardless Tyrannulet r
Paltry Tyrannulet u
Northern Bentbill r
Stub-tailed Spadebill r
Royal Flycatcher r
Yellow-bellied Elaenia u
Yellow-olive Flycatcher c
Greenish Elaenia c
Common Tody-Flycatcher c
Bright-rumped Atilla c
Tropical Pewee u
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher c
Willow Flycatcher c
Alder Flycatcher u
Panama Flycatcher r
Great-crested Flycatcher c
Brown-crested Flycatcher c
Nutting’s Flycatcher c
Dusky-capped Flycatcher c
Boat-billed Flycatcher c
Great Kiskadee c
Social Flycatcher c
Streaked Flycatcher c
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher c
Piratic Flycatcher c
Tropical Kingbird c
Western Kingbird r
Eastern Kingbird u
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher u
Yellow-billed Cotinga r
Three-wattled Bellbird vr
Long-tailed Manakin u
Rose-throated Becard c
Masked Tityra c
Black-crowned Tityra c
Scrub Greenlet vr
Lesser Greenlet u
Yellow-throated Vireo c
Philadelphia Vireo c
Yellow-green Vireo c
Red-eyed Vireo r
White-throated Magpie-Jay u
Brown Jay c
Cliff Swallow c
Southern Rough-winged Swallow c
Northern Rough-winged Swallow c
Barn Swallow c
Bank Swallow c
Mangrove Swallow u
Gray-breasted Martin c
White-lored Gnatcatcher c
Tropical Gnatcatcher c
Long-billed Gnatwren u
Rufous-naped Wren c
Rufous-breasted Wren u
Banded Wren u
Rufous and white Wren u
Cabanis’s Wren c
House Wren c
Clay-colored Robin c
Swainson’s Thrush c
Wood Thrush u
Tennessee Warbler c
Yellow Warbler c
Hooded Warbler r
American Redstart r
Prothonotary Warbler u
Rufous-capped Warbler c
Chestnut-sided Warbler c
Black and White Warbler c
Northern Waterthrush c
Gray-crowned Yellowthroat c
Summer Tanager c
Western Tanager u
Blue-gray Tanager c
Palm Tanager u
Cherrie’s Tanager r
Gray-headed Tanager u
Red-legged Honeycreeper c
Stripe-headed Sparrow c
Buff-throated Saltator c
Grayish Saltator u
Bananaquit u
Blue-black Grassquit c
White-collared Seedeater c
Variable Seedeater c
Rose-breasted Grosbeak c
Blue Grosbeak c
Indigo Bunting u
Painted Bunting u
Dickcissel u
Eastern Meadowlark c
Red-winged Blackbird u
Melodious Blackbird c
Great-tailed Grackle c
Baltimore Oriole c
Orchard Oriole u
Bronzed Cowbird c
Montezuma Oropendola u
Yellow-crowned Euphonia u
Scrub Euphonia c
Yellow-throated Euphonia c

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admin on March 15th, 2017

The height of the “birding season” in Costa Rica happens during March. Really, the birding here is good year round but the majority of tours like to visit during the third month because, in Costa Rica, the month of wild winds and early spring coincides with migration, most wintering species still being present, a bit more bird song, and less rain. If you are about to visit this wonderful, birdy place, I hope that the following birding news tidbits will be of help:

American White Pelicans at Cano Negro: No, you don’t expect these big aquatic birds in Costa Rica. Far easier to see further north, this species is a very rare vagrant here. However, for the past couple of years, flocks have made appearances at Cano Negro. During past two weeks, many lucky birders in the Cano Negro area have added this one to their country list. I wish I was one of them but I haven’t had a chance to head up that way. With luck, they may stick around for another week or so. Keep an eye out for this one while looking for Jabiru, kingfishers, crakes, and other species in this wetland hotspot.

Medio Queso: I haven’t been there yet this year but it sounds like the guy who usually does the boat trip is even more difficult to contact because his phone number is no longer working. I expect that he still lives in the house at the end of the dike, one probably needs to go there a day before to ask about a boat ride the following morning.

A Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture does its harrier thing at Medio Queso.

El Tapir hummingbirds: During several trips to this site over the past month, Snowcap, Black-crested Coquette, and Green Thorntail have been present every day. It might take a bit for the Snowcap to show but it usually does. The coquette often perches on the dead sapling in the garden, sometimes sharing the tree with a thorntail and a male Snowcap! Other hummingbirds in the garden have mostly been Rufous-taileds, along with a few Violet-headeds and woodnymphs. Of course, these species and other hummingbirds are also easy at Rancho Naturalista.

A male Black-crested Coquette at El Tapir.

Other birds at El Tapir: The trail to the river isn’t maintained as well as some in the national parks but it’s always productive. As usual, it has been especially good for antwren flocks that move quietly through the forest understory. These are usually composed of Tawny-faced Gnatwren, White-flanked, Checker-throated, and Dot-winged Antwrens, Streak-crowned Antvireo, Stripe-breasted Wren, Ruddy-tailed and Sulphur-rumped Flycatchers, foliage-gleaners, and a woodcreeper or two along with chances at rarer species. Other interesting species on this trail as of late have included Olive-backed Quail-Dove, Lattice-tailed, Slaty-tailed, Gartered, and Black-throated Trogons, Northern Schiffornis, and good mixed flocks of tanagers (including Blue and gold) and other birds. My “best” species were Central American Pygmy-Owl and a pair of Yellow-eared Toucanets in the same day. From the parking lot, King Vulture often shows flying high overhead, and any of the hawk-eagles are rare but always possible.

The pygmy-owl from the other day. First time I have seen it at this site!

Not long after, a Yellow-eared Toucanet perched in the same tree.

Also, please remember to pay the caretaker the $10 entrance fee. Although there is no sign, this is what he expects.

Quetzals on Poas: They are always up there somewhere but finding them usually requires locating the fruiting trees they feed on. Recently, I had a pair in a fruiting avocado close to the Volcan Restaurant. As expected, this major target is much easier on Cerro de la Muerte, and at Monteverde.

Carara is dry but still productive: In keeping with current global warming trends, Carara looks much drier than it used to and although the birds are there, sadly, there aren’t as many as even five years ago. The humid forest species are easier to find further south but if you need them from Carara, they might be more regular on the HQ trails back at and past the stream. It’s still a good place to find Great Tinamou, Streak-chested Antpitta, Black-faced Antthrush, and many other species but it might take longer to find them.

It’s a good place for ridiculously close views of various birds. This Bicolored Antbird was perched near our feet.

Piratic Flycatchers and Yellow-green Vireos: It took a while for these to show in numbers but they are finally back and singing and calling in lots of places. These migrants take advantage of the wet season to breed in Costa Rica before migrating to the Amazon. The same goes for Swallow-tailed Kite and Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, both of which are also around, although in what seems to smaller numbers.

Park hours: Just a reminder about hours for the national parks. Carara opens at 7 (thank goodness) and closes at 4, all other parks are open from 8 to 4. To enter early, visit the park the day before and ask if you can go in early to watch birds. Say “Puedo entrar a las 6 para ver aves manana y pagar la entrada despues? (Can I enter at 6 to watch birds tomorrow and pay the fee after?)”.

Traffic: It’s as bad as ever and, impossibly, seems to only get worse. The upside is that bad traffic jams are mostly in the Central Valley area. Away from there, things are much better although you should still expect a fair degree of bad driving habits. Worst times are between 6 and 8:30 in the morning and between 3:30 and 6 in the evening. Driving at pre-dawn is wonderful but seriously watch out for potential drunk drivers!

As always, I hope to see you in the field!

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admin on March 8th, 2017

Recently, while guiding in the La Selva area, one of our many target species finally showed at the end of the day. Like other birds I was looking for, in Costa Rica, this one only occurs in lowland rainforest on the Caribbean slope and thus finds itself sharing a hitlist with the likes of Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Snowy Cotinga, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, and other choice species. Although those three birds failed to show, the White-ringed Flycatcher made an appearance as one of our last species of the day.

A distant White-ringed Flycatcher.

This flycatcher is one of several species that looks kind of like a Great Kiskadee or Social Flycatcher, but isn’t, and that’s why I’m going to talk about it. Based on the images of White-ringed Flycatcher that pop up during online searches, it looks like Social Flycatcher is the biggest contender in terms of mis-identification because 80% of the images that were tagged as White-ringed were actually Socials along with a few kiskadees and even Tropical Kingbird thrown in for good measure. That’s reasonable, I mean they look almost exactly the same, but this is also why you won’t learn much about identification of White-ringed Flycatcher from looking at images in Flckr.

Instead of doing that, check out these tips for an honest to goodness tick of White-ringed Flycatcher while birding in Costa Rica, Panama, or other parts of their range:

Habitat and Behavior: Yep, these factors are mentioned first because they provide the best clues. While other kiskadee type flycatchers can hang out on fences, and even zip down to the ground, the White-ringed has more refined tastes. This fly-catching aristocrat almost always keeps to the canopy, even perching on the very tops of tall trees like a pseudo-cotinga. Yes, it will come lower in some places but if you see a kiskadee-type bird sitting on a fence row, it’s probably not going to be a White-ringed. I am sure this is why so few images of this species are actually available. Unlike the other kiskadees, this one also prefers forest. Thankfully, it will come to the edge and sometimes to semi-open areas, but for the most part, this is a forest species that requires old second growth and/or mature lowland rainforest. Similar to other kiskadees, it sallies for bugs and fruit, and often occurs in groups of four to six birds.

The La Selva entrance road is a regular spot for this species.

Tertials: Instead of checking other parts of the bird in question, check out the back section of the wing. Although some Socials and other kiskadee types can show some pale edging to the tertials, this field mark seems to always stand out more in the wings of the White-ringed Flycatcher, even at a distance.

Hard to see in this image but this shows the pale tertial edging and white meeting on the nape.

White on the head: True to its name, it does have a white “ring” on its head. Actually a diadem, the white eyebrow is broader or wider than other kiskadees, and meets on the front and back of the head. In the Social and Boat-billed, the white on the head does not meet on the nape, but does so in the Great Kiskadee.

Eyelid: Ok, I don’t know if it’s the eyelid or some spot right above the eye, but with a good look, a small white crescent is visible right above the eye of the White-ringed. A far as I can tell, the other kiskadees lack this small but distinctive detail.

Check out the eyelid.

Beak: Not the most principle of field marks but one that does lend itself to the identification equation. Compared to Social Flycatcher, White-ringed has a slightly longer, straighter bill. See enough Socials and this is evident.

Song: As usual with Tyrannids, ear birders are in luck. This one calls frequently, and has a distinctive, even pitched, trilled vocalization nothing like the calls of Social Flycatcher or other kiskadee types.

Places to see it: This species is fairly common at any lowland rainforest site on the Caribbean slope, including the La Selva area and Sarapiqui, Laguna del Lagarto, anywhere near and south of Limon, and various other places. Interestingly, it also occurs on some parts of the Arenal Observatory entrance road.

For more tips about identification of birds in Costa Rica, as well as information about sites, get “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.

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admin on February 28th, 2017

Costa Rica might have a lot of raptors on the country list but we don’t really see them very often. They are out there but populations are naturally low, and many require high quality forest. Well, lets just say that there are more in high quality forest because there’s just more food available.

Ironically, the problem with seeing lots of raptors in Costa Rica is related to the high levels of biodiversity. Basically, hawks of all sizes have to compete with other hawks, flycatchers, and other birds. The result is fewer hawks but the flip side of the birding coin is more species of hawks. Nevertheless, some places are better for seeing more raptors in a short amount of time than others, and one of the best ones near the Central Valley is the Cinchona-Virgen del Socorro area.

This spot is an excellent site to hang out and wait for raptors because the area is easily accessed by good roads (it takes about an hour and 15 to 20 minutes to drive there), and there are several spots that overlook a forested canyon. As a bonus, this area is also close enough to Braulio Carrillo to up the odds of having a few of the rarer species fly into view.

Some of the species to look for:

White Hawk

The Socorro area is one of the classic sites for this beautiful hawk. Look for it perched in the canyon or just flying around on sunny days.

Barred Hawk

This one is also best seen on sunny days as it soars, calls like a gull, and displays. Its shape is a heck of a lot like a Black Vulture.

Short-tailed Hawk

One of the more commonly seen raptor species in Costa Rica, including this area.

Swallow-tailed Kite

From February to August, this expression of avian elegance is commonly seen around Cinchona and Socorro.

Broad-winged Hawk

This common, wintering species often perches on roadside trees or is seen soaring overhead.

Gray Hawk

Another commonly seen species, this adaptable hawk is a good one to know because it can occur almost anywhere in the country.

Bat Falcon

A pair or two lives in the canyon. In the early morning, watch for them perched on snags, including the one near the Colibri Cafe. We also see this species soaring or in flight and looking a lot like a White-collared Swift in the process.

In addition to the two regular vultures, bonus birds can also show up including Ornate and Black and White Hawk-Eagles, and Great Black Hawk. On the San Miguel section of the road, you might also see Laughing Falcon, Double-toothed Kite, and King Vulture. In the past, Solitary Eagle was also regular in this area. Although it hasn’t been seen for several years, maybe it could turn up again?

For more information about finding and identifying birds in Costa Rica, see How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

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admin on February 21st, 2017

I wish I could say that birding is always free. It would be if we still lived in a world with abundant habitat and biodiversity because there would be easier access to more birds. But, the modern realities of overpopulation and big money interests that view conservation as a hindrance to short term gain continue to result in fewer birds and even fewer places to see them. This varies by region and nation, but is why we have to pay entrance fees and guides to see birds like Philippine Eagle, wood-quails, and countless other species. Sure, we could try and see them on our own, but with more birds restricted to national parks and protected areas, paying to have better chances at more species has become a common necessity.

In Costa Rica, although there are public places that lack gates and require no entrance fee, the best and most accessible places for birding are in private and public reserves. I was at one such site last weekend and given the number of uncommon species we encountered, level of avian activity, and trail mileage, it was an excellent bargain. This place is “La Marta Refuge” and if you feel like seeing lots of birds for a bargain, I recommend it, absolutely. What to expect:

Tawny-crested Tanagers: Yes, they can be seen elsewhere but the high numbers at La Marta put them first in terms of expectations. This is probably the most common species at the site.

Always a fun bird to watch.

Other tanagers: Fruiting trees are also visited by Emerald, Speckled, Black and Yellow, Bay-headed, and other tanagers including the uncommon chlorospingus formerly known as the Ash-throated Bush-Tanager. Enjoy the show!

I was very pleased to finally get a shot of this uncommon probable endemic split.

Pretty easy access: La Marta is accessed by a road from the town of Pejibaye. Although there are time when the entrance road might require four wheel drive, for the most part, it is easy enough with a regular car. Contact them for updated road conditions.

Basic lodging and camping: If you want to stay there, the accommodation is cheap but very basic. Rooms are shared, mattresses are thin, there aren’t any mosquito nets, and the water is cold but it doesn’t cost much! Meals can also be arranged for a good deal, and camping is possible.

Lots of trails in good habitat: This is one of the few places I have seen in Costa Rica that have kilometers of trails. All of the trails go through forest, a fair bit of which is habitat that has grown back over a hundred years and includes many non-native Poro trees. I suspect this affects the avifauna somewhat but maybe not too much because it’s connected to large areas of mature, native forest, and the back trails access more of that habitat. Limited time kept us on trails much closer to the HQ, and those were good enough but I wouldn’t be surprised if the ones way back in the reserve hosted rarities like Black-banded Woodcreeper, Sharpbill, and many other uncommon species.

Uncommon species: Speaking of rare birds, these are some of the “good” ones we saw or heard among species already mentioned:

Ornate Hawk-Eagle

Barred Hawk

Bicolored Hawk

Crested Owl

Short-tailed Nighthawk

Snowcap

Brown Violetear

Dull-mantled and Ocellated Antbirds

Tawny-chested Flycatcher- fairly common on the road near the buildings!

Although we did not see Sunbittern, nor Tiny Hawk, both of these are regular at La Marta.

Lanceolated Monklet: Saving the best for last, um, yes, based on this past weekend, La Marta might be the best site for this species in Costa Rica. It’s a pain to see no matter where you go but since we had two different birds in one day, and the trails access lots of suitable habitat, seeing the monklet at La Marta is a fair bet than many other sites.

I would love to go back, although next time, I hope I can survey the more remote parts of the reserve to look for ground-cuckoo, Gray-headed Piprites, and various other rare species.

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I have written about Carara National Park on more than one occasion. One of the better birding sites in an already very birdy country, this important protected area merits more coverage because it always delivers. Although I have mentioned tips for better birding at this site in other posts, it doesn’t hurt to provide updates and more suggestions for making the most out of Carara. Try these tips to see more in and around Carara National Park:

Do both trails: There are two main trails at Carara. The “Laguna Meandrica” is the famous “River Trail” and leaves from a small, hidden parking area nearly a kilometer from the HQ heading towards San Jose. Carefully watch for the entrance to this trail on the right. The other trail leaves from the HQ and has a few loops. Both can overlap quite a bit in terms of species but also have their differences. In general, expect more edge and second growth species on the Laguna trail and more deep forest birds on the HQ trails although both are always good. On the Laguna trail, the oxbow lake is much smaller than it used to be and not nearly as productive. Given the high temperatures on Laguna, if you want to do both in a day, do that one in the morning and the forest trail after lunch.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar can be seen on both trails.

Check the large rocks: On the HQ trail, pay close attention to any large rocks on the forest floor. One or more might be a Great Tinamou!

Do the back loop of the Quebrada Bonita trail: It seems like more of the deep forest species are more regular on the back loop of this trail. These are birds like Baird’s Trogon, Marbled Wood-Quail (pretty rare), mixed flocks with Russet Antshrike, Rufous-winged Woodpecker and other species, Northern Schiffornis, Streak-chested Antpitta, Rufous Piha, Golden-naped Woodpecker, and Black-striped, Long-tailed, and Tawny-winged Woodcreepers. These can also turn up on other trails but seem most common on the back loop. This is the part of the trail on the other side of the bridge over the creek.

The White-shouldered Tanager is commonly seen on both trails as well.

Bird the Bijagual Road: This is an easy area to bird when looking for raptors and when you have an hour or two before the park opens (seven until April, eight at most times of the year). Great birding on the Cerro Lodge road can also make good use of that time but the Bijagual Road is also worth it. The other day, we did especially good in front of the Pura Vida gardens with looks at Fiery-billed Aracari, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Western Tanager, and several other species. There is overlap with the national park but since some species are more regular on this road, it’s a good area to include in your birding mix.

The view from the Bijagual Road during the wet season.

Check the crocodile bridge: As with just about all birding, this area is best at dawn and late afternoon, especially for flybys of various species coming to and from roosting sites. But, if you have to check it in the middle of the day, that could still be worth it because you never know when a quick walk to the middle of the bridge might turn up a Pearl Kite, Harriss’s Hawk, waterbirds, Yellow-billed Cotinga, or other additions.

Although drier conditions mean that there aren’t as many birds as there used to be, you can still see a lot, especially with a lot of time and patience. As with any tropical forest, it pays to be patient and walking with an experienced guide is the best way to see more birds.

admin on February 8th, 2017

The second month of the year has begun and anyone working on their year list should be well underway with that endeavor. Time is a wasting, go get them birds! Since the start of the year, I have followed that policy as well as I can and it’s paid off with a good selection of key species from few trips afield. But that’s not really why I am writing this post. This one is going to deal with the latest in birding-related news for Costa Rica, I hope it’s of help!

This Tawny-throated Leaftosser at Virgen del Socorro was a welcome find, and even more so because it perched for photos! Looking forward to finally putting images of this tough species on field guide apps for Costa Rica and Panama.

The current dry season and cold fronts: It’s dry and windy in the Central Valley and the Pacific northwest. That’s normal for this time of year although the cold fronts hitting the Caribbean are reminiscent of weather in December. That translates to lots of cloud cover and rain, and that’s a good thing for those wet forests.

Lots of trees have fruit: At least, that’s the way it looked a few days ago around Virgen del Socorro. Most trees were covered in fruit and we had a good number of tanagers. I suspect the same thing is going on in much of the Caribbean foothills and lowlands. Check it out, that’s where a lot of birds are going to be, especially elevational migrants like Black-thighed Grosbeak, Black-faced Solitaire, cotingas, and who knows what else?

Black-thighed Grosbeak

An order for a plan to protect Corcovado National Park: Excellent news! Hopefully, this will come to pass because for the past five years or so, the park has been pretty much besieged by illegal gold miners who also hunt within the park. I just hope and pray that they haven’t managed to kill any of the last remaining Harpy Eagles that may occur in the Osa, nor that such a travesty happens before effective protection takes place. Since challenging logistics and regulations keep most birders out of the park boundaries, most don’t actually visit the park itself. But, quite a few do bird in lodges just outside of the national park and effective protection will result in healthier bird populations for those areas as well. It goes without saying that most of us birders are all about protection of special places with lots of birds whether we visit them or not.

Lots of good birding in the usual places: From eBird reports, it looks like most of the expected species are being seen in commonly visited sites. In other words, the birding is good, expect to see a lot!

Cinchona Colibri Cafe charges for photo sessions: If you visit the Cafe Colibri with a DSLR, expect to pay $10, and they may eventually charge an hourly fee. Since they have a new feeder set-up down below, both barbets are regular, and Buff-fronted Quail-Dove has been showing up, the fee is a pretty good value.

A Red-headed Barbet from the Cafe Colibri.

San Luis Canopy Tanagers?: I heard a rumor that they are no longer feeding tanagers at this site between La Fortuna and San Ramon. Whether this is true or not, the site still merits a visit because fruiting trees attract the same set of tanager species and other birds.

Cano Negro is jamming: The recent (and perhaps on-going) wet weather have flooded fields on the road in to Cano Negro. Those have been good for Jabiru and lots of other target wetland species. I wish I were there!

The Chomes situation: I haven’t been there recently but what little I have heard doesn’t sound so good. Another rumor but given the appearance of the place and settlers moving in to the pond area, it might be true that the site is no longer being managed for shrimp and salt production. If this is true, the ponds at this classic site probably won’t be as suitable for shorebirds as in the past. If so, hopefully those same birds can find enough refuge in the gulf itself. As for us birders, it might be harder to find Mangrove Rail, and shorebirding will be even more limited, the best spot being the Punta Morales ponds at Cocorocas.

A scene from Cocorocas.

I hope this news helps, and hope to see you enjoying the birds and nature of Costa Rica!

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admin on February 1st, 2017

Different major habitats are one of the main reasons why we have so many bird species in Costa Rica, especially the rainy places. More water translates to higher numbers and varieties of life forms, birds included. But, if you tire of humid, energy sucking and optic challenging conditions, you can always retreat to the hot, dry northwest. Although the Central Valley also sort of falls into the Pacific dry forest bio-region, the habitat is much better down in the lowlands.

The beautiful Blue Grosbeak is fairly common.

In Costa Rica, the dry forest region is on the Pacific slope and extends from around Tarcoles north to Nicaragua. Much of it has been converted to farms with open areas for cattle, and crops, rice and melons predominating in the flood plains. However, despite natural forest being limited to riparian zones and protected areas, there are still plenty of interesting birds to see in lots of places. If you find yourself birding anywhere in the dry zone, try these tips to see more stuff:

Early does it: Yeah, that pretty much goes for seeing more birds in most places but getting out bright and early is doctrine in places with tropical dry forest. The difference between activity in the early morning and a few hours later is like a disappearing magic act. The motmots, flycatchers, and everything else were all there and singing, and now they aren’t. Where did they go? What are they doing? Good questions but suffice to say, after 8:30, they don’t feel like being seen. Take a siesta or relax by the pool (or in it) when our feathered targets are probably doing the same.

Water: Speaking of pools, as with other xeric situations, water tends to be a magnet. Focus on the riparian zones and even small bits of shaded water to see more birds. The good thing about such green spots is they can concentrate the birds, especially during the dry season (also when most birders visit). Check for Crane Hawk, Collared Forest-Falcon, Royal Flycatcher, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Painted Bunting, Banded Wren, and lots of other dry forest species.

Streaked Flycatcher will probably also show up.

Wetlands: Ironically, the dry forest zone also has some great wetland habitats. The best are in the flood plains of the Tempisque and Bebedero Rivers and include such sites as Palo Verde, Rancho Humo, and other places with marshy areas. Flooded rice fields can also work out, especially the ones on the road to Playa Hermosa and on the way in to Palo Verde. They don’t have as many birds as more natural and less chemically affected habitats but they are still always worth a look. Among the widespread aquatic species, you might also find wintering shorebirds, and, with luck, various rail species. These are also good places to look for seedeaters, Tricolored Munia, Snail Kite, and interesting wintering species.

Places like this are good ones to check.

What about the wind?: It’s often windy out there in the northwest. Just as the birds do, find sheltered spots for birding. Fortunately, this tends to coincide with riparian zones and that’s where more birds are anyways.

Tennessee Warblers: Expect to see a lot of these little boreal Phylloscop wannabes on survival vacation. Yesterday, I saw a bunch of birds fly up from a road in dry forest. I figured they would be Indigo Buntings but nope, they were a bunch of masquerading Tennessees! Pish to see how many come in but keep checking to see if you can tease out a rare vagrant like a Northern Parula, Nashville, or Orange-crowned Warbler. I know, not so exciting for birders from Ontario or Ohio but since these are megas down this way, please do report any you find (I know I want them for my year list)!

Check the swallows: Fast flying aerialists are easy to overlook when we got motmots and parrots in the neighborhood but keep checking and you might turn up rare species for Costa Rica like Violet-green, Tree, and Cave Swallows. All of these tend to occur more often in the dry northwest and are good finds for Costa Rica! For example, I was very pleased to see a Tree Swallow yesterday at Punta Morales. For a moment, I thought I was also going to tick Cave Swallow for the year but it turned out to be a Southern Rough-winged in bright lighting. Even if you don’t turn up a rarity, it’s always good practice to scan through hundreds of Barn Swallows.

Expect a lot of Barn Swallows.

Get into some good dry forest: Although a lot of birds can be seen outside of protected areas, if you also want to see Thicket Tinamou, Stub-tailed Spadebill, woodcreepers, and more birds overall, you need to spend some time in real dry forest and not pasture punctuated with trees. Some of the best dry forest sites are Santa Rosa, Palo Verde, and Guanacaste National Parks, Lomas Barbudal, and quite a few forested areas on the Nicoya Peninsula.

For a lot more information on finding birds in Costa Rica as well as how to look for and identify them, help out this blog by purchasing my 700 plus page e-book.

After payment is made, I will transfer it to you.

Good birding, hope to see you in Costa Rica!

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