If you have emailed me lately and had to wait for a reply, I apologize. For the past two weeks, I have been spending a lot less time with the computer and a lot more time with the birds. On March 3rd, a friend of mine came on down for two weeks of the best kind of birding- nearly non-stop. During this two week marathon of birdiness, we visited the Arenal area, Medio Queso, Carara and Cerro Lodge, took the ferry, La Gamba, Talari, Cerro de Muerte, Catarata del Toro, Tirimbina, and Braulio Carrillo (El Tapir and Quebrada Gonzalez). The end result was more than 500 species identified, several 100 plus species days, and pretty much fantastic birding every day.
This trip was also a birding blast because Alec and I had already birded Costa Rica 20 years ago, using buses and seeing some great stuff in the process but also missing out on the Osa and some other out of the way sites. We made up for that this trip with point blank looks at the likes of Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, Mangrove Hummingbird, White-crested Coquette, etc, and so on. Alec also hardly recognized Costa Rica compared to his last visit but the birds still came fast and furious.
Some highlights and remarks:
39 species of Hummingbirds: We actually could have gotten a few more but spent very little time in the dry northwest (and thus missed out on Canivet’s Emerald and Plain-capped Starthroat), saw very little of hanging Heliconias for chance at sicklebill, didn’t have much flowering around La Gamba that might have given us Veraguan Mango and Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, and just plain out dipped on the lancebill and Blue-chested. However, with 39 other species, we weren’t complaining! White-crested Coquette showed nicely at Talari after a quick female at La Gamba.
Male White-crested Coquette.
Bosque de Tolomuco gave close looks at White-tailed Emerald, Scintillant Hummingbird, and Long-billed Starthroat among other species.
We also saw our first White-throated Mountain-gems.
Catarata del Toro also produced as expected with our only Black-bellied, and the final day of birding gave us 3 male Snowcaps at El Tapir and then one male Black-crested Coquette at close range.
Male Black-crested Coquette.
Puffbird sweep: We were really happy about this (how could you not be?)! The puffbird fest began with the rarest of the bunch, the good old Lanceolated Monklet. Looking like a stuffed animal, one showed at a reliable spot on the Fortuna Waterfall Trail. A major bonus right at the start of the trip.
The puffbird party continued with a White-necked at Cerro Lodge of all places. First time I have seen the species there and perhaps moving in as the reforestation process has moved forward.
White-necked Puffbird- we had fantastic looks at two right in the garden.
Next on the list was White-whiskered at Carara (we also had it on the Fortuna Waterfall Trail. Expected but never guaranteed, we had great looks at two or three on the HQ trail.
White-whiskered Puffbird in Carara.
The nunbird was next and since we missed it at Arenal, we had to wait until our final days at Tirimbina to see if we could connect. We did and enjoyed their rocking display on the Ceiba Trail. Try as we did for the last puffbird, we couldn’t find it around Tirimbina nor La Selva. On a whim inspired by hopes for a puffbird sweep, on our last morning, we paid a quick visit to a spot en route to El Tapir. The stop paid off when a Pied Puffbird showed at the top of a tall, bare tree!
30 raptors (including vultures, falcons, and the Osprey): We actually missed out on a few but given the scarce raptor rule in Costa Rica and two weeks to work with, our total was nevertheless respectable. Highlights were great looks at Ornate Hawk-Eagle on the Arenal Peninsula Road, hearing it at least two more times elsewhere, close flyby looks at Barred Hawk at the Fortuna Waterfall, Great Black-Hawk at two sites, Pearl Kite, and more.
Including this Barred Forest-Falcon on the last day.
Hanging out with tinamous: Weird, wonderful football-shaped birds with beautiful voices. How can you not like hanging out with tinamous? The problem is that most don’t feel like hanging with humans. That seemed to change at Tirimbina when a few Great Tinamous spent time with us at an antswarm. These birds were so tame, they refused to leave even when German tourists stopped and discussed the trail map on several occasions. One guy also pointed at the tinamou and loudly proclaimed his sighting of a chicken.The tinamou was unfazed and went after a piece of apple that I tossed to it (yes, it actually did eat a piece of apple and yes, that German guy really did yell “chicken” in German while pointing at the tinamou).
At Tirimbina, we also got crazy lucky with a close Slaty-breasted Tinamou (if Ron, Dollyann, and Dev read this, yes, we will be checking at that spot!).
Close and crazy Slaty-breasted Tinamou.
Great Curassows also played, especially at La Gamba. No, not a feathered football but still kind of crazy.
This male called from a roadside tree.
Owls: Six species seen and one more heard was a fine total. La Gamba treated us the best with great looks at Striped and Tropical Screech one night, and Spectacled and Vermiculated Screech the next night.
This “Vermiculated Screech” was giving a short call over and over.
A thick-knee and a few crakes: Several thick-knees showed far and then super close on the lower part of the Cerro Lodge road. We didn’t do amazing with crakes but still managed looks at Uniform at the famous Bogarin trail, White-throated seen in the Arenal area, and Sora seen (finally got that one for Costa Rica!) at Medio Queso. Of course we also had plenty of looks at Gray-necked Wood-Rail.
Senor thick-knee (or fat-ankles if you wish).
Trogons, motmots, and almost all of the woodpeckers: We saw trogons quite often including several Baird’s. Dipped on lattice-tailed and were never in range for Elegant but saw all of the rest including singing quetzal and other birds super close. Motmots treated us well too with Keel-billed at Arenal and all others except for Tody. We got all of the woodpeckers and good looks at them too except for the sapsucker and somehow never even heard a Pale-billed! That Pale-billed miss was the biggest bird surprise of the entire two weeks.
We also had several Olivaceous Piculets.
Antbird happiness: Our first day at Arenal was one of our best, especially because we got onto a roadside antswarm early in the morning. Close looks at Spotted, Bicolored, and even Bare-crowned Antbirds is always a damn good way to start a day of birding.
Bare-crowned Antbird! (aka “Ye Olde Skeletor”)
We also had Ocellated there, later that day, and then amazingly close birds at Tirimbina.
This Ocellated was as friendly as the tinamou.
Streak-chested Antpitta: Nope, not at Carara but at Quebrada Gonzalez and it was a super friendly one!
A super friendly Streak-chested Antpitta.
A whole mess of oscine passerines: While they are indeed the most speciose bunch of birds, we still saw more then expected. Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, Nicaraguan Grackle, the junco, Timberline Wren, lots of Golden-winged Warblers, Townsend’s Warblers, and other were all highlights as were the close looks at various tanagers at the San Luis Adventure Park.
Blue and gold was nice.
The close looks at Emeralds were priceless.
It was a whole mess of birds in just two weeks and my year list is now up to a healthy 581 species for Costa Rica. Our totals also hint at the incredible biodiversity found in Costa Rica. Come on down, bird a lot with a good guide, and you will see a lot!
If you are a birder in Costa Rica, of course you want to see a tinamou or two or three! Tinamous are the weird Neotropical equivalent of a cross between a grouse, quail, and football. Most have whistled vocalizations that tend to be a blend of haunting and beautiful. However, those sounds can also be a musical font of frustration because we hear tinamous so much more often than seeing them. Although Amazonia is pretty much tinamou central, we do have our fair share in Costa Rica. Five species occur in the country, and access to protected forests makes it easier to see these weird birds here than many other places.
Here are a few tips on the best places to see each tinamou species in Costa Rica:
Great Tinamou: This one is fairly common but very shy where there is even a hint of hunting. Yeah, licensed hunting is illegal in Costa Rica but as far as I can tell, hunting for food in non-protected areas is not so you can forget about seeing tinamous and curassows in most non-protected areas. Fortunately, there is enough easy access to forests with Great Tinamou to give good chances at actually laying eyes on this bird. Carara National Park is probably the best place because the birds are tame and always somewhere out on the Quebrada Bonita trail. La Selva comes in at a close second for the same reasons. Other forests in Sarapiqui are also suitable (Selva Verde and Tirimbina), as are any well protected sites in other parts of its range.
Needless to say, Carara is a good place to get pictures of this normally shy species.
Highland Tinamou: Costa Rica is very likely the easiest place to see this cloud forest tinamou anywhere in its range. Although it can turn up at Tapanti, and I have heard it on Poas, the most reliable sites are the Santa Elena and Monteverde reserves. Quietly walk the trails and you might see a Highland Tinamou.
A Highland Tinamou scurries away. This rare image was taken by Birdquest guide Dani Lopez and is on the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app.
Thicket Tinamou: This dry forest species can be heard at several sites but the most reliable sites that come to mind are these national parks: Santa Rosa, Rincon de la Vieja, and Palo Verde. The last one on this list is especially good for this species.
Slaty-breasted Tinamou: This species seems to be decidedly more rare in Costa Rica than sites further north. However, if you want to see it, your best bet is the Sarapiqui area. Carefully bird Tirimbina, Selva Verde, or La Selva and you have a fair chance at this one. I have also had it at Quebrada Gonzalez, El Tapir, El Zota, and a few other sites but it seems more rare at these places than Sarapiqui.
Little Tinamou: Pretty common but a real pain! This small, shy tinamou prefers thick second growth and rarely comes into the open. It occurs in lots of places, the best way to see one is by tracking down a calling bird, finding a spot where you can see into the understory, and waiting for it to walk into view. Or, you could also visit Bosque del Rio Tigre and watch one visit the garden!
Good luck with the tinamous in Costa Rica. A side benefit of watching and waiting for them to show is seeing other shy birds that also make an appearance.
Since this the big birding month is about to happen in Costa Rica, I figured that this would also be an appropriate time to write some birding news. That, and the fact that I did not get out into the Costa Rican wilds this past weekend. A Big Day was planned but sickness kept my fellow Big-Dayers from getting out of bed so we had to postpone. Frustrating indeed but since the weather was pretty iffy, better to cancel now and have another shot at it in April. I had to do a bunch of chores around the house anyways so it all worked out. As for the lack of birding, I will be making up for it pretty soon when a friend of mine comes down next week! In the past, we have traveled through Mexico, birded Ecuador, Peru, and also here once before so it will be fun to try and clean up on rare stuff he is missing, especially now that I know where to find birds in Costa Rica.
Keel-billed Motmot is one of those targets.
Stuff to expect-Quetzals
Not much of anything different comes to mind. Quetzals have been showing well in the Dota Valley and the other usual places. On some days, there have been veritable crowds of tourists waiting for quetzals on the main road in the Dota. Sounds like the perfect opportunity to hand out information about quetzals and conservation. It would also be a good opportunity to get donations for tree planting campaigns.
I have also seen a couple of quetzals on the road to Poas but it’s tough to discern if the population is smaller or the same. I haven’t seen any fruiting avocados yet.
Collared Trogon has also been calling up there lately.
Tanagers- Lots of tanagers in the usual spots but one of the best new sites for close looks at Emerald, Speckled, and more is the San Luis Canopy (aka San Luis Adventure Park). It’s not on the regular birding route but should be! Ahem, they also get umbrellabird on their trails.
Umbrellabird- Speaking of this megatinga, it keeps on getting harder to find. With the drier weather in the wet forests it requires, it had probably declined, hopefully not too much because it’s already endangered. I haven’t heard of many being seen in the Sarapiqui lowlands, and very few sightings overall. It makes me wonder if the most accessible site is the San Luis Canopy and the nearby Cocora Hummingbird Garden?
Ornate-Hawk-Eagle- Good news for this one, it just seems to be more and more common. I can’t help but wonder if that is at the detriment of Black Hawk-Eagle. Watch for the Ornate at all sorts of sites from the lowlands to pretty high up.
White-fronted Nunbird- This one might be doing better in some of the accessible spots. That, or just more coverage because it has been seen quite often at sites around Arenal.
Nunbirds at Finca Luna Nueva.
Great Curassow- Good news for this one too- keeps getting more common and tame at several sites.
Woodcreepers- Back to bad news. Most species seem much less common than they used to be. They can still be seen at various sites, but species like Spotted, Cocoa, Black-striped, etc. just don’t seem to be as common.
Lanceolated Monklet- Brave the traffic on the ever popular Fortuna waterfall trail for this one. It’s as unobtrusive as always but just keep looking, it’s there! Please do not use playback and scare this reliable bird away!
Scaled Antpitta- Always tough but if you are staying at Bosque de Paz, you are in luck! One has been showing at the outflow near or behind (?) the gatekeepers place early in the morning. It doesn’t show for long so get up early, keep quiet, and keep watching. If you aren’t staying there you are out of luck because , sadly, non-guests have no access to the site.
How dry I am…- Sure, I could always go for a cold, finely brewed beer but in this case, the entire Pacific slope is in need of liquid nourishment from the skies. It’s normal to be dry right now but the new dry is way more dry than the old one. If there is an up-side, it comes in the form of concentrating birds at a few sites.
Tropical dry forest and the Gulf of Nicoya.
Another update for the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide apps: A new update with more images and sounds should be available any day now. There is written information and range maps for all species on the Costa Rica list (over 900), images for over 800 of them, and sounds for more than 600. A basic version is also available that features 350 plus species.
That’s the birding news that comes to mind at the moment, I hope it helps your trip!
Look at a map of Costa Rica and you might notice this big peninsula up in the northwest. That protruding piece of land is the Nicoya Peninsula, and despite its prominence, does NOT usually make it onto the itineraries of visiting birders. It’s just a bit too far off track from itineraries with limited time, and doesn’t offer as many new species as one might hope. Not to mention, getting there requires some big detour, right?
Well, some of the above is true and some not so true. While the peninsula is off of the regular birding track for most tours, it’s not really that far from the regular routes, at least if you take the ferry. Head to Puntarenas and get on the ferry and you also have a chance at a few pelagics. As I have mentioned in other posts, you never know what might show up and you can’t chase birds, but you usually see something different. During a ferry trip last week, although we didn’t see too much out of the ordinary, we still managed looks at several Least Storm-Petrels, some nice feeding flocks of Black Terns, and some juvenile Peregrine hunting action as it dove on a hapless Black Tern.
After an hour and a half of looking for birds from the boat, you can start birding the Nicoya Peninsula as soon as you you arrive. There’s a fair amount of dry forest habitat right near Paquera and further afield, much of which can be birded from the road. The only catch is the dust during the dry season (most of the time), and the very diminished activity between 9 and 3:30. At least the morning and late afternoon can be good, especially the morning. Some species are also more common in the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula than elsewhere including these:
Great Black-Hawk: I have to admit that I did not expect this one. We had an adult in mangroves in the Rio Gigantes area, and hopefully, it occurs in other parts of the southern Nicoya Peninsula because this species has become pretty rare in most parts of the country.
Double-striped Thick-Knee: If you need this one, you can probably expect it here. It seems to be pretty common in open fields.
Mangrove Cuckoo: Might only occur during the winter months but seems regular in both mangrove and dry forest habitats.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird: Ok, so most birders don’t have to go far for this one but I mention it because it was very common in the southern Nicoya. By far the most common hummingbird species.
Elegant Trogon: If you saw that one in Arizona, you might want to see this one too because its a fair possibility for a split. It seemed to be fairly common, even from the road.Gartered and Black-headed Trogons were also fairly common.
White-necked Puffbird: Last weekend, since we had five in one morning followed by another at the end of the day, it seems that the southern Nicoya is pretty darn good for this kookaburra looking thing. We had it in the canopy of the forest and they were pretty easy to see.
Yellow-naped Parrot: We had good looks at more than one, especially in the Rio Gigantes area.
Barred Antshrike: Yes, widespread, but seemed to be very common in this area.
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper: A big, uncommon woodcreeper in Costa Rica, it lives in more forested areas of the southern Nicoya.
Myiarchus flycatchers: These were especially common and we had four species, only missing Panama Flycatcher. Based on observations, the forests of the southern Nicoya seem to be important for Great-crested and Nutting’s Flycatchers. Both were among the more common bird species in the area of Rio Gigantes.
Royal Flycatcher: This one shows up in riparian zones (as expected).
White-throated Magpie-Jay: Last but far from least, this big fancy Corvid is the most obvious bird in the area. Possibly more common in Nicoya than anywhere else in Costa Rica.
Although we did not see Plain Chachalaca, nor Gray-headed Dove and Violaceous Quail-Dove, wetter parts of the southern peninsula could be good for them. We did much of our birding in the Rio Gigantes and I am sure, saw more bird species because of the efforts by Luis Daniel Gonzalez and his wife Alejandra to protect and conserve their land with organic, sustainable practices. Learn more about their sustainable project and vision at the site for the Rio Gigante Community.
Cerro Lodge is the place to stay when bathing in the mega-birding in and around Carara National Park. Other options include the oft-used Villa Lapas, the sometimes crowded Punta Leona, the new Macaw Lodge back in the hills on the other side of the park, and at least one hotel right in the middle of tiny Tarcoles. However, none of them share the blend of proximity, and diverse array of birds not found in the park possible around Cerro Lodge.
One of those birds is White-throated Magpie-Jay- we had these and others near Cerro.
Part of Cerro’s appeal comes from the birdy entrance road. This unassuming dirt road passes through open areas with scattered trees, second growth, and part of a river floodplain that results in a host of good birds. Whether staying at Cerro or not, this road is worth some serious binocular time. A couple of hours on that road that week reminded me of its worth as a site unto itself, here’s some advice on birding it :
- Make time for this site: If you have plans to enter the national park, check out the road from 6 until 7 (opening time for the park during the dry season), or until 8 (opening hour at other times of the year). Or, if you have an extra day of birding, spend a full day on this road. Like every high diversity site, the more you bird it, the more you find, especially since the habitats also seem to act as a corridor between mangroves, other forest, and the park itself.
It’s also good for lots of common and edge species like this Lineated Woodpecker,
and Rose-throated (not) Becard.
- Quality birds: If someone ever tells you that all birds are “quality” or that every bird is the same, they are either masquerading as a birder, or don’t know the difference between “common” and “rare”. Quality birds are the ones we don’t see that often, can’t really be seen elsewhere, or happen to be major targets because they look so cool. In other words, endangered and rare species, endemics, and stuff like Double-striped Thick-Knee. In the case of the Cerro Lodge road, it hosts a bunch of those quality species including the cool and crazy thick-knee.
Its cool, its crazy, its got thick knees and hypnotic golden eyes.
- Double-striped Thick-knee: This target seems to be more frequent on the entrance road than in the past. Check for it in one of the first open pastures, and in the pastures in the floodplain. We saw 6 last week.
- Crane Hawk: The road is one of the better places in Costa Rica to see this odd raptor. Watch for it flopping its way through the trees in the canopy or near the ground anywhere along the road. It also soars on occasion. We had rather distant looks at two different Crane Hawks.
- Other raptors: Hang out on this road long enough and you have a chance at a pretty good variety of raptors. The long sight lines and birdy habitats offer chances at such other species as Gray-headed, Hook-billed, and Plumbeous Kites, occasional Harris’s Hawk and Pearl Kite (in the floodplain), Short-tailed, Broad-winged, Gray, Roadside, Zone-tailed, and Common Black Hawks, Laughing Falcon, Collared Forest-Falcon, and both caracaras. Even Tiny Hawk has nested on the road in the past!
Short-tailed Hawk is one of the most frequently seen raptor species in Costa Rica.
- Owls: Cerro is known as a site for Black and white Owl and this species can also show on the road along with Mottled, Striped, Barn, and Pacific Screech Owls. Not to mention, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl is common during the day.
- Swifts: Spot-fronted and Black Swifts are sometimes seen from the road in the morning along with more common White-collared and Chestnut-collared Swifts.
- Psittacids: This can be a great area for parrots, parakeets, and their kin as they visit fruiting trees and move to and from roosting and foraging sites. The numbers and species vary throughout the year but lucky birders might see every possible species in one morning, mostly as flyovers. If not, it’s still pretty normal to see Scarlet Macaw, Red-lored, Yellow-naped, and White-fronted Parrots, and Orange-fronted and Orange-chinned Parakeets.
- Good variety of dry forest species: Expect several dry forest species, including Black-headed Trogon, Turquoise-browed Motmot, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Nutting’s and Brown-crested Flycatchers, occasional Stub-tailed Spadebill, Banded and Plain Wrens, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Stripe-headed and Olive Sparrows, Painted Bunting, and so on.
This is a good site for Nutting’s Flycatcher- it looks almost exactly like the local variety of the Brown-crested but check out the small bill.
- Keep an eye out for the cotinga: Last but not least, Yellow-billed Cotinga moves through this area, maybe even once or twice a day. The size of this population is very small (and, sadly, will likely disappear from the Carara area within ten years) but the few remaining birds are seen now and then near Cerro Lodge and in trees near the floodplain.
- Bring a scope: It comes in handy when checking out distant crowns of trees and open areas.
- Check the small marsh at the edge of the floodplain: It’s been so dry, this small wetland might not even be around when you visit. But, if so, check it for Bare-throated Tiger-Heron and other expected wetland species, possible American Pygmy-Kingfisher, and rarities like Masked Duck and maybe even a rail or two.
How to get there: From the turn off to Jaco on the Caldera highway, drive five minutes and watch for the turn off to Guacalillo on the right. Go a bit further and watch for the Cabinas Vasija on the left. The road will start going down a hill and shortly after comes to the entrance road to Cerro Lodge (the next road on the right). Be careful, it’s easy to miss!
For more information about how and where to see birds in Costa Rica, buy “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”, the most comprehensive bird-finding guide for the country.
If there’s one area in Costa Rica not on the regular birding route that should be, it’s the road between San Ramon and La Fortuna. If you are wondering why I don’t just give the name of the route, it’s because that rarely means anything in Costa Rica. Yes, the roads have numbers associated with them on a map but on the ground, you won’t see any signs showing a prominent number for the road. Instead, locals just say the road to so and so, or the one that goes by the beer factory, etc. Also, I can’t remember the route numbers except maybe for one or two roads. So, since there is just one road between San Ramon and La Fortuna, that will work.
This route gets left off most birding trips because it’s tough to fit into routes that visit Sarapiqui, Carara, Arenal, and Monteverde. BUT, if you plan on traveling between the Arenal area and the Central Valley, take this road, you will like it. There is much less traffic compared to the other routes over the mountains, more accessible habitat, a few nice cafes, and, now, there’s also a tanager fest.
The San Luis Canopy was always a good place to stop and check the fruiting trees for tanagers and other species but now that fruit is offered on sticks behind the restaurant, the situation is crazy good. The other day, I stopped there while guiding, noticed some non-birding people looking at something on the ground and taking pictures, and checked out what they were doing. Instead of an expected Coati, there were tanagers…some on the ground, hopping around like House Sparrows.
Yes, these are Bay-headed, Silver-throated, and Speckled Tanagers on the ground.
Yes, an Emerald Tanager and a Speckled Tanager! I have never, ever seen Emerald Tanager on the ground.
They also visited the fruits on sticks.
Even this Tawny-capped Euphonia joined the fun. Other species present included Passerini’s, Blue-gray, and Crimson-collared Tanagers, Clay-colored Thrush, and Buff-throated Saltator.
I’m not sure how long this will be going on but if you feel like doing their hanging bridges trail ($35), that’s pretty good too with chances at various middle elevation species including Blue and Gold Tanager, Black and Yellow Tanager, more close looks at other tanagers, White and Barred Hawks, chance at hawk-eagles, and, the best of the bunch, Bare-necked Umbrellabird. This mega cotinga is not exactly common but it is seen from that trail on a regular basis pretty much all year long. If you don’t do the hanging bridges, at least frequent the restaurant to support this bird and birder accommodating place.
How to get there:
From San Ramon, take the main road north through town to a “T”.
Take a left, then a quick right, following signs to Arenal.
Keep following signs to Arenal and watch for the San Luis Canopy on the right about 20 minutes from San Ramon.
You might also see some good birds on the way (and there is the very good Cocora Hummingbird Garden as well), although there are few places where you can pull the vehicle off the road.
Finally, the cold front lifted its soggy head off of the mountains and the atmospheric coast looked clear enough to visit Catarata del Toro. I have wanted to look for a few good birds at this middle elevatiion site since October. But, every time I had a chance to go, the weather forecast predicted wind and rain,- far from ideal conditions for birding or taking pictures of wood-quail and the other scarce species I want to find. On Tuesday, fair weather and free time finally coincided for a trip to the Catarata.
The site is more or less just over the mountains in a diagonal straight. This translates to a two hour ride of twists and turns. Although I avoided the temptation of stopping at Cinchona to arrive by opening time, I ended up stopping for 30 minutes after hearing Gray-breasted Crakes calling at the main turn off to Catarata del Toro. I recorded a few and still failed to see this feathered mouse but at least I know where a bunch can be found.
Up at the Catarata, the place was still closed at 7:30. Hoping that it would eventually open, I birded along the road, playing the song of Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner to no avail. Before going with a Plan B that included birding at higher elevations, I checked the entrance one more time and lo and behold, the gate was open. First on the trails and hopefully, that would result in photos of Black-breasted Wood-Quail. To make a long story short, it didn’t but it was still nice to check the trails out with slow and silent birding. This involved much staring into the vegetation and the understory, and occasional playback of Tawny-throated Leaftosser. No response there nor my other targets (which are probably present from time to time) but I did see some other birds.
Despite the target no shows, a walk in cloud forest with massive, mossy trees is always a gift. By 10:30, the mist had coalesced and conditions became so challenging for photo opps, I tried out Plan B. This involved a short drive up the main road and over to the Bosque de Paz area. Luckily, this also resulted in going above the cloud and getting back into good birding weather. Roadside birding produced some expected birds like Brown-capped Vireo, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, and some other species. Near Bosque, intent peering into the understory failed to produce Scaled Antpitta but no surprise there, that’s not exactly an easy bird to see.
After the misty weather caught up to me, I figured it was time to drive back home. Here’s an eBird list from the morning at Catarata del Toro: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27270604
Although I didn’t connect with my main targets, I still think the site has potential for a lot of birds. If it’s raining, at least the hummingbird show won’t disappoint.
For a while, I have been wanting to visit Catarata del Toro for a full day of birding. I have wanted to go there because it seems like the closest chance to get into middle elevation forest that hosts Black-breasted Wood-Quail, Azure-hooded Jay, Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, and chances at various other cloud forest goodies. The mentioned species are especially important because we need images of them for the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app and the Panama Birds Field Guide app. Those birds also live closer to home but in much less accessible areas of Braulio Carrillo, or on the other side of the urbanized Central Valley at Tapanti. Not to mention, there has been little birding on the trails at Catarata and I suspect that it could host some surprises. As I write, I have yet to reconnoiter the site because one cold front after another has postponed the trip. When a cold front happens in Costa Rica, it’s not exactly cold (although locals might feel different about the slightly cooler temperatures). Instead, we get an abundance of rain and wind, especially in the mountains and on the Caribbean slope- basically right where Catarata is situated.
This is why I did not go there this past weekend but opted for a drive down to Chomes instead. Although I need fewer images of birds from the Pacific coast, a visit to this hotspot is always worthwhile because you really never know what you are going to see. I was reminded of this yesterday when an image of a White Tern was posted on the AOCR Bird Alarm from the other side of the Nicoya peninsula. When I saw it, I nearly fell out of my seat because a sighting in Costa Rica of this fairy-like bird usually requires a long, pelagic trip to Cocos Island. Needless to say, to see one from land would be a serious avian lottery win. I didn’t have the lifer winning ticket at Chomes but really, that bird could have just as well appeared later the same day or have been visible from the ferry, and it’s probably not the only major rarity down that way either!
So, in addition to keeping an eye out for any unusual, mega vagrants, here is some information when visiting Chomes and nearby during birding season, 2016:
- Stick to high tide: This really is a must. I checked out Punta Morales that same day during low tide and saw maybe three waterbirds. Compare that to hundreds of shorebirds and terns often there during high tide and you get the picture.
- Punta Morales: Speaking of this site, this is always worth a visit when birding around Chomes. To check the salt ponds, take the road to Punta Morales from the highway shortly after the turn off for Chomes, drive on in for several kilometers, and watch for the bar-restaurant El Huevo on the left. Take the next left, just before a bus stop and head on in until you see the ponds.
- Cave Swallows have been seen: I doubt these will be around in a month or two but they have been reported from Chomes and other nearby areas in recent weeks. I also had several around there last January.
- Chomes might be dry: It’s hard to make any predictions about water levels as Chomes but last weekend, it was much drier than I expected. The dry conditions seem to keep the Mangrove Rails out of reach, and doesn’t provide as much habitat for shorebirds. The only pond that had any water was the last one, near the beach. This did have some birds and probably hosted a lot more during high tide. Although we can’t expect any rain for Chomes any time soon, I suppose that tidal surges could fill the ponds near the beach.
- Bird the beach: What I really mean to say is scan the gulf from the beach. This is where the birds go during low tide and although they aren’t as concentrated and are further away, I still managed to identify American Oystercatcher, Black Skimmer, Marbled Godwit, and some other cool year birds.
- American Avocet and Long-billed Curlew: If these birds interest you, once again, at least one avocet is present and there are probably three curlews around.
As usual, bring plenty of water, slather on the sunscreen, and make sure that the vehicle is in good working order because you don’t want to be stranded in that outdoor oven!
Are you on your way to Costa Rica? Are you already here? If so, I hope these tidbits of birding news will be of use. In no necessary order:
It’s windy out there!: If you thought you had escaped the cold weather, well, I guess you did but you haven’t quite escaped the winter. Although the wicked and icy lash of the north falls far short of Costa Rica, it can still send cold fronts that batter us with wind and dump tons of rain in the mountains and on the Caribbean slope. Yesterday, the wind was out of control in the Central Valley. It rattled the roof tops and kept most birds out of sight. Although we didn’t get any rain in the valley, from my window, I could see it falling in the mountains from this massive block of moisture. Sure glad I wasn’t birding on the Caribbean slope! The weather looks much better today even though the system is supposed to stay with us until the weekend.
Road closures: Despite the wind and rain, I guess it wasn’t enough to cause landslides and other reasons for road closures. The only one listed on the government road closure site is that of the usual 10 pm to 5 am closure at Paso Ancho on the loop road south of San Jose.
A White-eyed Vireo is hanging out in a local birder’s backyard: Paul Pickering of the Birds for Beer blog has let most of his property grow right back up and guess what? Birds have taken advantage of the green space including a vagrant Cape May Warbler last year, and a lost, wintering White-eyed Vireo this year. This skulky bird is a rare vagrant in Costa Rica and usually seen during migration on the Caribbean coast. Since it seems to have taken up residence at Paul’s place, we did a trip over that way on Saturday and made a sweet addition to the year list.
Three-wattled Bellbirds are being seen at Curi-Cancha: Aren’t they usually there? No, not right now! Ironically, this news item is a bitter one because it’s probably a sign that the normal wintering areas for bellbirds are not producing the fruits they need (a likely hypothesis since those areas have been experiencing serious drought). Bellbirds typically use the Monteverde area for nesting (a key site for them in Costa Rica). If the forest is suitable for wintering, it might not be so suitable come nesting season. Let’s hope that isn’t the case or we are going to see a lot less bellbirds in a few years.
Good numbers of Yellow-billed Cotingas at Rincon: On a brighter cotingid note, according to eBird lists from a recent Field Guides tour, 15 of these endangered birds were seen by Jay VanderGaast, Tom Johnson, and the tour participants! Check out the eBird list to see Tom’s amazing image of one in flight!
Ornate Hawk-Eagle continues to be seen in a bunch of places: According to eBird, there have several sightings of this large, fancy raptor at several sites. This seems to be the new normal for this species and makes me wonder if it is outcompeting Black Hawk-Eagle and/or filling a niche left by the absence of Crested and Harpy Eagles. It also means that Costa Rica continues to be one of the most reliable countries to see this super cool bird.
New species for the country!: Don’t get too excited because we aren’t talking about anything undescribed, it was seen on Cocos Island, and it’s a dove. Eared Dove was recently documented on the island and that makes one more species for the Costa Rica list. Other species are still possible, in my opinion, the most likely being Hammond’s Flycatcher, and Black-throated Gray Warbler. I actually dreamed the other night that we had found the country’s first Loggerhad Shrike but alas, that one probably won’t show.
The Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app is available in full and basic versions: A new update for the full version will have more than 800 species pictured (including tough birds like Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, cotingas, and much more), vocalizations for around 600 species, and field marks, range maps, and information for every species on the list. The basic version has the same set up, easy to use filter, and other features but only shows 360 of Costa Rica’s common and spectacular species.
Overall, the birding is good with most expected species at the usual places. Whether you experience the country on a tour or on your own, happy birding and hope to see you in the field!
I started this year’s birding in Costa Rica six days late but only because the first days of 2016 were spent birding around Niagara Falls, New York. It was gray, it was cold, there were two owls, and looking at birds with old birding friends. It was a gift. But now I am back in Costa Rica and eager to see how this winter’s birding compares to Januaries of the past, to see if I can manage some good images and recordings of things like Tawny-faced Quail, Black-breasted Wood-Quail, and Azure-hooded Jay (among other toughies), and to get a healthy start on the year list.
Casual birding near the house and scanning the skies from the window has turned up the usuals on sunny, dry season days. Yesterday, a day of guiding at Cinchona and Poas was likewise clear and filled with a bright tropical sun. As expected, the birds were mostly taking a break but careful scanning still resulted in several nice birds, and activity picked up after the clouds blanketed the peak of Poas in the afternoon.
At the Colibri Cafe, a lot of birds came for breakfast, the best being a male Red-headed Barbet as soon as we arrived, along with close looks at Prong-billed Barbet, Emerald Toucanet, Silver-throated Tanager, and several other species.
Hummingbirding was also quality with close inspection and flybys of massive purple Violet Sabrewings, feisty Coppery-headed Emeralds, a male Green Thorntail, and others including near constant company of two or three White-bellied Mountain-Gems.
After breakfast, clear skies meant that we were in for some slow birding but the scenery was nice, and as expected, some raptors came out to play. Those taloned birds included a distant Double-toothed Kite, White-tailed Kite on the drive up, expected TVs and BVs, Red-tailed Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, three Barred Hawks, and a beautiful pair of White Hawks down in the canyon at Virgen del Socorro. A little way into the canyon, watching a fruiting tree also turned up a few tanagers.
The birding was better back up on Poas but only because clouds took the brunt off the high elevation sun.
If you find yourself at Cinchona on a sunny day, get to the Colibri Cafe early (opens around 6), and enjoy much of the morning there. If you have a four wheel drive vehicle, head down to Virgen del Socorro and hang out by the bridge until it clouds over again. Bring a lunch, watch for birds, and when it gets cloudy, get ready for a lot more birds on the rest of the road.