Categories
Birding Costa Rica caribbean foothills caribbean slope Introduction preparing for your trip

Updates on birding at the Quebrada Gonzalez ranger station, Costa Rica

I had the fortune of birding Quebrada Gonzalez for two consecutive Saturdays after a three or four month hiatus.

birding Costa Rica

The entrance to Quebrada Gonzalez.

It was good to be back, especially so because it wasn’t pouring down monstrous sheets of rain. Yes, the area does get its fair share of precipitation. The heavy load of epiphytes and moss growing on everything from metal railings to understory leaves hints at the 6 or meters (18 feet) of rain that soaks the area on an annual basis. What’s even crazier is that locals claim that the northern Caribbean lowlands and foothills used to be deluged with even more falling water in the past.

Therefore, I always appreciate sunny weather at Quebrada Gonzalez despite the fact that it tends to make the forest quieter than the steps of a dormouse ninja.  While I relish the fact that my  umbrella (a poncho is too hot) can remain rolled up and tucked out of sight in my day pack, I wonder why the darn birds can’t also enjoy the absence of rain by becoming more active. Maybe they’re sun bathing up in the canopy? Whatever the antbirds, tanagers, toucans, and trogons are up to, they sure don’t shake the foliage and sing to their hearts content like they do on cloudy days.

So things were pretty quiet on Saturday but as with every visit to Quebrada Gonzalez, we still saw birds, including several species that are tough to see elsewhere in Costa Rica. One of our best sightings was Dull-mantled Antbird. This ravine-inhabiting, understory bird is regular at Quebrada (and at most Caribbean slope foothill sites) but it’s always a pleasure to watch them sing and show off the white patch on their backs.

Where we saw the Dull-mantled Antbirds.

Other bird species from the morning included a Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher flitting around the undergrowth, Emerald and Black and Yellow Tanagers feeding on berries in the subcanopy, and Buff-rumped Warblers hanging out on the trails.

Buff-rumped Warbler birding Costa Rica

A blurry, Buff-rumped Warbler that was foraging in the parking lot on different, rainy day.

With the hope that the sunny weather would encourage raptors such as Barred Hawk and hawk-eagles to show themselves, we made our way back to the parking lot by 10 am.

Where we watched the skies for raptors.

It took awhile for anything to show itself but eventually we were rewarded with 2 King Vultures. We also saw the other two commonly occurring vultures but no other raptors whatsoever! This was rather surprising to me because I usually see one or two other species of soaring raptor from the parking lot on every visit. Did they take to the air earlier than expected? Were they pretending to be antbirds? We will never know but I suspect it had more to do with the fact that one of our group was hoping to see his first hawk-eagle. No doubt, all three hawk-eagles showed up on Sunday or as soon as we left the area.

Still hoping for soaring raptors, we took the trail on the other side of the road to an overlook with a broad view of a forested ridge. We watched and watched and heard some Dusky-faced Tanagers in the nearby undergrowth and scoped a nearby Broad-billed Motmot but saw nary a vulture! Out on a river island, however, we noticed over 100 Band-tailed Pigeons hanging out in the crowns of a few trees!

birding Costa Rica

The gray things are distant Band-tailed Pigeons.

I have seen these elevational migrants on several occasions at Quebrada Gonzalez but never at this time of year and never in such large numbers. This sort of unpredictable occurrence is one of the reasons why I always love birding at this site- no matter how often I visit, I never really know what I am going to see. There are several species that I encounter on a regular basis but the vagaries of fruiting trees and other not so obvious factors that influence bird distribution in tropical forests always keeps me wondering what will turn up as I walk down the trail.

The trail of surprises.

The solitaires and White-crowned Manakins of the previous week had mostly returned upslope to their usual middle elevation haunts but we still managed to get looks at one female White-crowned Manakin. Hyperactivity on the manakin’s part conspired with vines and leaves to keep us from getting a clear look at her head (and thus identifying her) but perseverance eventually paid off with prolonged views of two diagnostic field marks- a mostly gray noggin and reddish eyes.

Around this time, the vocalizations of one or two Bicolored Antbirds had nearly convinced me that an antswarm was in the works but neither ants nor antbirds showed themselves. However, at least some of us got looks at a Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush and Pale-vented Thrush before we headed back to the parking area for lunch.

short billed pigeon birding costa rica

We watched the antics of these three Short-billed Pigeons during lunch.

In the afternoon, back into the forest we went and a mere ten minutes later I heard the telltale signs of a mixed flock as  a White-throated Shrike-Tanager called. We barely had time to prepare ourselves before we were overrun by a horde of small birds that flitted, crept, and hopped through the surrounding vegetation. As is typical of mixed flocks at Quebrada, Olive (now Carmiol’s) Tanagers were the most abundant member of the flock and their chunky, green forms manifested again and again in our binoculars. Other birds showed up too including Emerald Tanagers, Ashy-throated Bush-Tanager, Russet Antshrike, a sneaky Plain Xenops that refused to give an encore, Wedge-billed Woodcreepers, Streak-crowned Antvireo, Red-eyed Vireo, and the flock leader, a nice oriole-like White-throated Shrike-Tanager.

Aside from a beautiful, male White-ruffed Manakin that briefly displayed on a mossy log, that mixed flock was our last hurrah for birding on Saturday before the rains came back to push us out of the forest.

Back out in the parking lot, I met the new manager of the station, Rodolfo Tenorio. Jovial, upbeat, and friendly, Rodolfo seemed eager to support birding at the site. We will probably set up a sightings log so visiting birders will know where Bare-necked Umbrellabirds have been seen, where antswarms have terrorized communities of arthropods, or where the Tiny Hawk has been perching. He also wanted me to get the word out about rules for visiting the place before 8am:

Although the station doesn’t officially open until 8am, birders can enter as early as they want as long as they let him know in advance. He asks to be contacted at rtenorio45@hotmail.com or and can also be reached at 8823-7678.

Since he can’t check his email on a daily basis, make sure to email him at least a week before your visit to tell Rodolfo the date and time of your visit.

This is excellent news because it leaves open the possibility of looking for owls at the station-something I will certainly be doing sometime soon!

Categories
Introduction middle elevations

Finca Dos Lados Reforestation Project, Costa Rica

For the past two years, every time I have seen Sara Clark on a Birding Club of Costa Rica field trip, she has asked me when I was going to come up and visit her farm/reforestation project in the mountains above Grecia. Last week, I finally got the chance to accept her invite, walk the hilly trails of her land, and survey the local avifauna. Because Sara was so wonderfully kind to give us a ride up to her place, I was also able to bring  my wife and daughter.

The trip up to Finca Dos Lados was a typical one for rural areas of the Central Valley. On paved roads that formerly felt the heavy wheels of painted, wooden ox-carts, we twisted and turned our way up and down hills and over small bridges on our way to our destination. The scenery was typical for the western central valley; fields of sugar cane, rows of coffee bushes (some shaded by a few trees, others blazed by the tropical sun), lush, wooded ravines, small towns, and “development”.

Just about the only forest left in the central valley are riparian remnants because of the tremendous pressures that a growing population has placed on the land and past government incentives to “improve” the land by actively deforesting it. The fruits of this sad “improvement” were all too apparent as we ascended a ridge to Sara’s place from Sarchi and passed near eroded cattle pastures with few cows and even fewer trees. Forests used to cover those slopes. Moist tropical forests with Three-wattled Bellbirds, trogons, Long-tailed Manakins, monkeys, and more. Now the barren slopes hosted non-native, domesticated ungulates, their parasites, and not much else because landowners in the area didn’t know of any other way to use the land.

On a bright note, the days of encouragement to “tame” the land in Costa Rica by turning it into an unwholesome pseudo-savanna are a thing of the past. Nowadays, the incentives are for reforestation and maintaining the forest already growing on your land. The government doesn’t pay out a huge amount for doing this but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Finca Dos Lados is in this program and has planted hundreds (maybe thousands?) of trees including several wild avocados (the preferred food of Resplendent Quetzals). Because Sara’s land is mostly growing back from bare pasture, there isn’t a huge number of bird species present. There are more than when non-native grass was one of the only plants around though, and there will be a lot more in the future since her land acts as one of the biological corridors between the forests of Volcan Poas and Juan Castro Blanco National Park.

Note the difference between Finca Dos Lados on the right(where reforestation is occurring), and neighboring land on the left (overgrazed by cows).

Here we are arriving at the entrance to Finca Dos Lados.

On the way in, we stopped at this shrine surrounded by vegetation that has grown up in just seven years. This was a birdy spot with Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrushes, Gray-breasted Wood-Wrens, Slate-throated Redstarts, Acorn Woodpeckers, and of course the true to its name, Common Bush Tanager.

One of the many Common Bush Tanagers at Finca Dos Lados.

I don’t think the tanagers were the most common bird species though. That distinction, goes to the Mountain Elaenia.

Mountain Elaenias rule at Finca Dos Lados, Costa Rica. These small Empid-looking flycatchers were truly living large in the young second growth. I would say that around 70% of the birds I saw or heard were this species.

Other common birds were Red-billed and Band-tailed Pigeons.

Always nice to see a tree of Band-tailed Pigeons. As a kid, for me, this was one of those “western” birds that lived too far away in the coniferous forests of the west to even dream of seeing.

A closer look.

Near the pigeons, I was lucky to have this stunning Black-thighed Grosbeak pose for pictures.

Finca Dos Lados is set up nicely for researchers and volunteers who would like to help out, or carry out studies related to cloud forest regeneration or migration between the Pacific and Atlantic slopes. There are several bunk beds, a big kitchen, and several trails that access the continental divide and cloud forest on the Caribbean Slope. There are areas of primary forest although it takes a few hours of hiking to access it. I hope to survey those forests some day.

Standing on the continental divide.

Looking onto the Caribbean slope from the divide. I could hear either a Collared or Orange-bellied Trogon calling from the forest below. We also got glimpses of Zeledonia in this area.

Sooty-capped Bush-Tanagers (such as the one above) were common here along with Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Flame-colored Tanager, Black-billed and Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrushes, Sooty Robin, Yellow-thighed finch, Black and Yellow Silky, and Slaty Flowerpiercer.

Despite intently looking and listening, and being entertained by the duetting of Prong-billed Barbets that echoed throughout the valley during my stay, there weren’t any signs of bellbirds. With the number of fruiting trees that have been planted, though, future visitors to Finca dos Lados will probably get the chance to hear their loud, clanging calls.

Hopefully, Miranda will be one of them.