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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

What’s an Olivaceous Piculet?

I haven’t gone birding lately. Vehicle restrictions a la pandemic have kept me in place and far from the shorebirds of the coast, heavy biodiversity of humid forests, and other sites of rural birdiness. But hey, there’s still birds around here; the Grayish Saltator singing out back, the duet of Barred Antshrikes from the thick vine tangles, other neighborhood birds heard and glimpsed through the windows. Evidence of their presence reminds me that at least a few Yellow-green Vireos are still around and that the first migrant swallows are moving south.

I had a typically handsome Cliff Swallow on Sunday.

While gazing out the back window and wishing for Yellow-billed Cuckoos, I find myself thinking about other birds. The other day, between calls of hidden Cabanis’s Wrens and exclamations of Great Kiskadees, one of the birds that came to mind was the Olivaceous Piculet. It doesn’t live around the Central Valley and I wouldn’t expect it but it’s an interesting bird to ponder, least not, because of its sing-song name.

As with boubous, ioras, foliage-gleaners, and others with unfamiliar, confusing names, unless we already know what a piculet is, we have no idea what an Olivaceous Piculet looks like and might even pass it off as some artsy kitchen utensil. Fortunately, we have the Internet and field guides for Costa Rica to give us answers to all sorts of bird-related questions. In the case of the piculet, a search quickly shows that this is a name for any number of tiny woodpeckers, most of which occur in South America.

In Costa Rica, as with so many birds, thanks to the isthmus joining the North and South of America, one of those piculets lives here and its olivaceous. In normal language, that means that we have a small woodpecker-like bird with some olive in its plumage. Here’s some more information about the one and only piculet of Central America:

Like a Chickadee x Downy Woodpecker

As with other piculet species, the Olivaceous is a funny, miniscule bird that likes to hang off of twigs so it can peck at stems from odd angles. This Cirque du Soleli stuff is par for the course for piculets. Although they can also nearly perch upright, miniature acrobatic manouvers are their real thing.

In Pairs and Mixed Flocks

Olivaceous Piculets can be found on their own or they can join a group of birds. Either way, it’s impressive how adept they are at avoiding detection.

Easy to Overlook

On account of their small dimensions, unobtrusive, focused behavior, and high-pitched vocalizations, piculets can be very easy to overlook. For a while, surely because I didn’t know how to look for it, the Olivaceous was one of my Costa Rica bogey birds, I didn’t see one until my third trip to this birdy nation. I recall how easy it was to overlook another similar bird from Tambopata, Peru; the Fine-barred Piculet. Despite spending several birdy mornings in its river island habitat in the Peruvian Amazon, I didn’t notice that tiny woodpecker until I investigated a series of seriously high-pitched sounds emanating now and then from the dense second growth. That afterthought of a song turned out to be a pair of Fine-barred Piculets, a lifer easily hiding in plain sight. Another piculet species in that area, the Bar-breasted, lived in the canopy of the forest. Suffice to say, despite having spent more than a year birding in Tambopata and seeing everything from Harpy Eagle to Amazonian Parrotlet, I never laid eyes on it.

More Common Than You Think and Spreading

Since the Olivaceous Piculet is naturally evasive, it’s more common than a birder realizes. In fact, I think it’s way more common than we realize. Any time I go birding in edge or garden habitats from the Carara area and the Valle del General on south to Panama, I can usually find one or more pairs of Olivaceous Piculets. If I go birding up north in the Cano Negro area, I also find this species and nowadays, the same thing goes for birding in the Arena area. I have also had piculets at and near Finca Luna Nueva and if they use the same type of edge habitat with scattered trees elsewhere, then there must be thousands of those tiny woodpeckers and in more places than we expect. The key to finding them, to know how many are around, is knowing and listening for their high-pitched song.

It can be hard to pick out from the blend of wren calls, flycatcher sounds, and insect noise but once you do, you might start to hear them all the time.

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biodiversity bird finding in Costa Rica bird photography Birding Costa Rica

A Few Birds to Anticipate Watching in Costa Rica

More than 920 bird species have been recorded in Costa Rica. That would be a hefty list of possibilities for a country but when we are talking about a place roughly similar in size to West Virginia, Wales, or Denmark, yeah, that’s a heck of a lot of birds in a small area! Granted, a good number of those species are vagrants but at the end of the day, the size of the official bird list for Costa Rica hints at nothing less than fantastic birding.

That would be the type of birding where you see lifer after lifer after lifer, where the new birds keep popping up while enjoying more views of trogons, macaws, and toucans.

Black-throated Trogon

It’s birding that includes mega flocks of glittering tanagers, climbing woodcreepers, flitting flycatchers, and other species moving through your field of view.

Spangle-cheeked Tanager
Spotted Woodcreeper
Tufted Flycatcher

It’s watching an array of iridescent hummingbirds and testing the limits of photography as they zip back and forth.

White-bellied Mountain-gem

Thanks to protected areas in several major ecoregions, the birding opportunities in Costa Rica are both diverse and abundant. In terms of birds to look forward to, there are too many species to mention. Today, these cool birds came to mind:

Motmots

Broad-billed Motmot

Motmots are fair-sized birds that sort of look like rollers. Several have long tails with a racket-like shape and are plumaged in shades of green, blue, and rufous. Most love the shady side of life but since they also perch for long periods, they make great subjects for the lens. Six species occur in Costa Rica, visit the right places with a good guide and you can see all of them.

Turquoise-browed Motmot

Crowned Woodnymph

One of the 50 plus hummingbird species that have been recorded in Costa Rica, this sparkling bird is common in lowland and foothill rainforests! On a personal note, I can still recall the first time I saw this species. I was birding the parking area at Quebrada Gonzalez in Braulio Carrillo National Park at the end of 1992, looking at the second growth on the other side of the highway. In quick succession, I saw my lifer Buff-throated Saltator, Lineated Woodpecker, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, and Crimson-collared Tanager. Then, to top off the lifer cake, this glittering purple and green hummingbird, a male Crowned Woodnymph, zipped into my field of view. I have seen many more since then but that first woodnymph was the best.

Collared Redstart and other highland species

Collared Redstart

Costa Rica has wood-warblers, this ones entertains the eye in the highlands. Like several other birds of the mountains, it only lives in Costa Rica and western Panama.

Macaws and Toucans

Fantastic, large birds, thanks to protection and reintroductions, macaws and toucans are fairly common in various parts of Costa Rica.

Scarlet Macaw
Great Green Macaw
Keel-billed Toucan

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Another fancy tropical bird, jacamars sort of look like bee-eaters, a living carnaval dart or hummingbird on steroids. It’s pleasing to know that the Rufous-tailed Jacamar is common in many parts of Costa Rica and loves the lens.

With 900 other birds on the list, this is a small sampling of birds waiting in Costa Rica. It’s worth mentioning that Resplendent Quetzals are here too. Want to know where to go and get ready for that eventual trip? Please support this blog by purchasing How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica, hope to eventually celebrate birds with you in Costa Rica!

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope Costa Rica Beaches

A Weekend of Birding Cabinas Olguitas and the Gandoca-Manzanillo Area

I have mentioned from time to time how much I enjoy birding near Limon, Costa Rica. Also referred to as the Southern Caribbean zone, this part of the country still features a good deal of mature lowland rainforest, much of which is accessible. Not to mention, since the area is very much underbirded, there’s always a chance of finding something unexpected. Add forested streams, swamps, other wetlands and a migration corridor to the birding equation and we have an impressive bird list with nearly 400 species (see bird lists at the end of this post).

The only downside of the Southern Caribbean zone is that it is located around four to five hours by car from where I live. This prevents me from visiting more than once or twice a year, or staying for longer than a weekend. If the new road to Limon is ever finished (maybe in 4 years), it should be an easy, quick ride but until then, the long, slow haul keeps me from visiting more often. I sure wish I could though because the birding is always great and if a birder gets lucky with a good wave of migrants, the avian experience is fantastic.

This past weekend, I made my annual trip while guiding the local Birding Club of Costa Rica and, as with last year, we stayed at Olguita’s Place. Also known as Cabinas Olguita, this friendly spot offers tranquil accommodation in basic yet cozy and equipped cabins within easy walking distance of a beautiful beach and good birding habitat. If you don’t feel like cooking, dine at any of several good restaurants in the area and then look for Great Potoo and any of five owl species on the drive back.

The Black-and-white Owl sometimes occurs at Olguita’s.

Some other information from this recent trip:

Migration

On this trip, unfortunately, we more or less dipped on migration. We did have some Chimney Swifts and swallows flying over and some raptor migration on the way to Punta Uva but there were few other migrants. We may have done the trip a bit late or perhaps the good weather kept the birds on the wing long past Costa Rica but whatever the case, we had rather few migrant species and low numbers of the most common migrants; Red-eyed Vireo, Bay-breasted Warbler, and Swainson’s Thrush. There were quite a number of Eastern Wood-Pewees around as well as Alder/Willow Flycatchers but very few warblers and nothing rare. All of that said, we still saw some migrants and it was fun watching them.

If you feel like studying Eastern Wood-Pewees, visit Costa Rica in October.

Birding at Cabinas Olguita

The birding at Olguita’s was easy-going yet productive. Some Eastern Kingbirds flew into the surrounding trees, and we also saw other migrant species like Olive-sided Flycatcher, Empids (including a likely Least Flycatcher), Scarlet Tanager, and a few others. On good days, this place can see waves of migrants passing through the surrounding vegetation. As for resident species, the thick wet grass and hedgerows held Slaty Spinetail, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Canebrake Wren, and some other birds. The edge of the forest in back of the grassy area turned up White-necked Puffbird, Plain-colored Tanagers, and White-vented Euphonias among more common expected species.

Plain-colored Tanagers were common.

Paradise Road

One of a few roads that go up and over the nearby coastal hills, it provides access to the mature rainforests that occur there. Many species are possible even White-fronted Nunbird, interesting raptors and antbirds. We only had one afternoon to bird this road but we still did alright with looks at Pied Puffbird, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Tawny-crested Tanagers, Double-toothed Kite, and Central American Pygmy-Owl among other species. A lot more is possible, I would love to spend a few early mornings just counting everything that calls and makes itself otherwise known. Does Great Jacamar occur? How about cotingas or Red-fronted Parrotlet? It would be fun to try to answer those questions via dawn birding.

Recope Road

One of the other classic sites in the area, this flat road passes through beautiful, tall forest, much of it former shaded cacao farms. We got in some birding there as well as on the main road between Punta Uva and Manzanillo. The birding was great with fine looks at Purple-throated Fruitcrows, toucans, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Black-striped and other Woodcreepers, White-flanked and Checker-throated Antwrens, and other species. I also heard Semiplumbeous Hawk. This was actually where most of our migrants were, I can’t help but wonder how many other migrants were out there in the forest? What rarities were hiding back in the woods?

Checker-throated Antwren

Manzanillo

On Sunday morning, I figured we would visit the town of Manzanillo as a last chance for migrants. This hardly worked out although we still saw both Cinnamon and Chestnut-colored Woodpeckers, Gray-cowled Wood-Rails, and a few other birds. We also saw that the official entrance to the wildlife refuge now has a bridge over the creek that we used to wade across, and that they charge an entrance fee.

Cahuita

As a bonus, our car made a quick stop in Cahuita on the way back, mostly to check for Black-chested Jay. We stopped at the Puerto Vargas entrance for that but even though we dipped, some last minute birding still managed to give us close looks at a male Snowy Cotinga, Gray-headed Chachalacas crashing through bushes, and White-faced Capuchins eating coconuts. After that, we went on an unsuccessful ice cream quest in mid-day Cahuita. Several bars but no ice cream! On the drive out, the jays still managed to elude us but we did get lucky with one final bird and a key one at that- Yellow-billed Cuckoo!

While driving out of Cahuita, I noticed the quick, sleek shape of a cuckoo zip into a tall tree. It was brief but I was sure it was a cuckoo. I stopped and after scanning the tree, sure enough, there it was, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo! Eventually, the stealthy migrant positioned itself higher up for a better view. One last bird for the trip, I was happy to see it before the long drive back.

Birds from the vicinity of Cabinas Olguita including
the beach and both resident and migrant species.
240 species
 
Little Tinamou
Blue-winged Teal
Gray-headed Chachalaca
Crested Guan
Pale-vented Pigeon
Short-billed Pigeon
Ruddy Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove
Squirrel Cuckoo
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Groove-billed Ani
Lesser Nighthawk
Common Nighthawk
Common Pauraque
Chuck-will’s-widow
Black Swift
White-collared Swift
Chimney Swift
Gray-rumped Swift
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift
Band-tailed Barbthroat
Long-billed Hermit
Stripe-throated Hermit
Blue-chested Hummingbird
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
White-throated Crake
Gray-cowled Wood-Rail
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Whimbrel
Ruddy Turnstone
Sanderling
Least Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper
Lesser Yellowlegs
Willet
Greater Yellowlegs
Laughing Gull
Brown Noddy
Royal Tern
Wood Stork
Magnificent Frigatebird
Brown Booby
Neotropic Cormorant
Anhinga
Brown Pelican
Bare-throated Tiger-Heron
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
White Ibis
Green Ibis
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
King Vulture
Osprey
Swallow-tailed Kite 
Double-toothed Kite
Tiny Hawk
Mississippi Kite
Plumbeous Kite
Common Black Hawk
Roadside Hawk
Gray Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Short-tailed Hawk
Swainson’s Hawk
Zone-tailed Hawk
Central American Pygmy-Owl
Mottled Owl
Black-and-white Owl
Slaty-tailed Trogon
Gartered Trogon
Ringed Kingfisher
Belted Kingfisher
Amazon Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
White-necked Puffbird
Pied Puffbird
Collared Aracari
Keel-billed Toucan
Yellow-throated Toucan
Black-cheeked Woodpecker
Cinnamon Woodpecker
Chestnut-colored Woodpecker
Lineated Woodpecker
Pale-billed Woodpecker
Laughing Falcon
American Kestrel
Merlin
Bat Falcon
Peregrine Falcon
Olive-throated Parakeet
Great Green Macaw 
Crimson-fronted Parakeet
Orange-chinned Parakeet
Brown-hooded Parrot
Blue-headed Parrot
White-crowned Parrot
Red-lored Parrot
Great Antshrike
Barred Antshrike
Black-crowned Antshrike
Dot-winged Antwren
Dusky Antbird
Chestnut-backed Antbird
Northern Barred-Woodcreeper
Cocoa Woodcreeper
Black-striped Woodcreeper
Streak-headed Woodcreeper
Plain Xenops
Slaty Spinetail
Snowy Cotinga
Masked Tityra
Black-crowned Tityra
Cinnamon Becard
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher
Common Tody-Flycatcher
Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher
Yellow-olive Flycatcher
Yellow Tyrannulet
Yellow-bellied Elaenia
Paltry Tyrannulet
Bright-rumped Attila
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Gray-capped Flycatcher
White-ringed Flycatcher
Streaked Flycatcher
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
Piratic Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Tropical Pewee
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Acadian Flycatcher
Alder Flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Long-tailed Tyrant
Lesser Greenlet
Yellow-throated Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Yellow-green Vireo
Purple Martin
Gray-breasted Martin
Mangrove Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Bank Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
House Wren
Black-throated Wren
Canebrake Wren
Bay Wren
Long-billed Gnatwren
Tropical Gnatcatcher
Veery
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson’s Thrush
Wood Thrush
Clay-colored Thrush
Gray Catbird
Yellow-crowned Euphonia
Olive-backed Euphonia
White-vented Euphonia
Orange-billed Sparrow
Black-striped Sparrow
Chestnut-headed Oropendola
Montezuma Oropendola
Scarlet-rumped Cacique
Black-cowled Oriole
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Shiny Cowbird
Bronzed Cowbird
Giant Cowbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Ovenbird
Worm-eating Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Golden-winged Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Kentucky Warbler
Olive-crowned Yellowthroat
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
American Redstart
Cerulean Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Buff-rumped Warbler
Canada Warbler
Dusky-faced Tanager
Summer Tanager
Scarlet Tanager
Red-throated Ant-Tanager
Black-faced Grosbeak
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Blue-black Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Painted Bunting
Dickcissel
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Plain-colored Tanager
Green Honeycreeper
Blue-black Grassquit
Tawny-crested Tanager
White-lined Tanager
Scarlet-rumped Tanager
Shining Honeycreeper
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Blue Dacnis
Bananaquit
Variable Seedeater
Morelet’s Seedeater
Black-headed Saltator
Buff-throated Saltator
Grayish Saltator
Additional bird species that occur in the forests of Gandoca-Manzanillo, some may also show up at Cabinas Olguita. This makes for 383 species recorded from the Gandoca-Manzanillo area.
143 additional species
 
Great Tinamou
Northern Shoveler
Muscovy Duck
Great Curassow
Black-eared Wood-Quail
Least Grebe
Scaled Pigeon
White-crowned Pigeon
Blue Ground-Dove
Ruddy Quail-Dove
Olive-backed Quail-Dove
Gray-chested Dove
Mangrove Cuckoo
Black-billed Cuckoo
Short-tailed Nighthawk
Rufous Nightjar
Great Potoo
Chestnut-collared Swift
White-necked Jacobin
Bronzy Hermit
Purple-crowned Fairy
Green-breasted Mango
Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer
Crowned Woodnymph
Uniform Crake
Purple Gallinule
Sungrebe
Black-necked Stilt
American Golden-Plover
Collared Plover
Northern Jacana
Baird’s Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Franklin’s Gull
Herring Gull
Black Tern
Common Tern
Sandwich Tern
Sunbittern
Least Bittern
Rufescent Tiger-Heron
Reddish Egret
Agami Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Boat-billed Heron
Roseate Spoonbill
White-tailed Kite
Hook-billed Kite
Gray-headed Kite
Black Hawk-Eagle
Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle
Ornate Hawk-Eagle
Black-collared Hawk
Crane Hawk
Snail Kite
White Hawk
Semiplumbeous Hawk
Middle-American Screech-Owl
Crested Owl
Spectacled Owl
Black-throated Trogon
Rufous Motmot
Broad-billed Motmot
Green-and-rufous Kingfisher
American Pygmy Kingfisher
White-whiskered Puffbird
White-fronted Nunbird
Rufous-tailed Jacamar
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Red-rumped Woodpecker
Rufous-winged Woodpecker
Barred Forest-Falcon
Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon
Collared Forest-Falcon
Red-fronted Parrotlet
Mealy Parrot
Fasciated Antshrike
Spot-crowned Antvireo
White-flanked Antwren
Checker-throated Antwren
Bare-crowned Antbird
Spotted Antbird
Bicolored Antbird
Ocellated Antbird
Black-crowned Antpitta
Black-faced Antthrush
Plain-brown Woodcreeper
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner
White-collared Manakin
Red-capped Manakin
Purple-throated Fruitcrow
Bare-necked Umbrellabird
White-winged Becard
Rose-throated Becard
Royal Flycatcher
Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher
Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher
Golden-crowned Spadebill
Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant
Northern Bentbill
Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher
Eye-ringed Flatbill
Yellow-margined Flycatcher
Brown-capped Tyrannulet
Rufous Mourner
Gray Kingbird
Green Shrike-Vireo
Tawny-crowned Greenlet
White-eyed Vireo
Black-whiskered Vireo
Brown Jay
Black-chested Jay
Scaly-breasted Wren
Band-backed Wren
Stripe-breasted Wren
White-breasted Wood-Wren
Song Wren
Tawny-faced Gnatwren
Yellow-billed Cacique
Yellow-tailed Oriole
Northern Parula
Black-throated Green Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler
Western Tanager
Carmiol’s Tanager
Rufous-winged Tanager
Sulphur-rumped Tanager
White-shouldered Tanager
Crimson-collared Tanager
Thick-billed Seed-Finch
Slate-colored Grosbeak
Other species that may occur or are very rare visitors in the area because they have been recorded nearby or because appropriate habitat is nearby.
66 species
 
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Lesser Scaup
Masked Duck
Pied-billed Grebe
Violaceous Quail-Dove
Striped Cuckoo
Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo 
Greater Ani
Common Potoo
White-chinned Swift
Rufous-crested Coquette
Gray-breasted Crake
Russet-naped Wood-Rail 
Sora
Yellow-breasted Crake
Paint-billed Crake 
Spotted Rail
Limpkin
Upland Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Solitary Sandpiper
Wilson’s Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope
Red Phalarope
Pomarine Jaeger
Parasitic Jaeger
Long-tailed Jaeger
Sooty Tern
Bridled Tern
Least Tern
Large-billed Tern
White-tailed Tropicbird
Red-billed Tropicbird
Masked Booby
Red-footed Booby 
Crested Eagle
Harpy Eagle
Barn-Owl
White-tailed Trogon
Great Jacamar
Red-throated Caracara
Streak-chested Antpitta
Scaly-throated Leaftosser
Blue-crowned Manakin
Lovely Cotinga
Blue Cotinga
Rufous Piha
Three-wattled Bellbird
Northern Schiffornis
Western Wood-Pewee
Cave Swallow 
Yellow-breasted Chat
Bobolink
Eastern Meadowlark
Red-winged Blackbird
Melodious Blackbird
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Scarlet-thighed Dacnis
Nicaraguan Seed-Finch
Whistling Heron
Categories
bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

It’s 2019! Go Birding in Costa Rica

According to calendars and widespread celebrations, the New Year just happened. In an instant, 2018 was gone, done, history. It was a good year for me, one with many changes, one with improvements and among the best of the best were the many birds; more than 640 on my annual Costa Rica list. Counting the birds I saw during two visits to Niagara Falls and one very memorable bucket trip to Guatemala, I also had a bunch more! I thank my friend Alec Humann in Buffalo, NY for taking me birding during those visits (and for the timbits and coffee!), for the Birding Club of Costa Rica for having me as a guide in Guatemala and elsewhere, and for many days of fantastic birding with my partner Mary. I am also grateful for my family, friends, and for the days to come during another year of birding in Costa Rica.

The beginning of a new year is also one more excellent reason to visit Costa Rica, these are some other ones for making it to this beautiful, birdy place in 2019:

World class birding

World class birding is more than being a place that hosts hundreds of bird species. It helps when many of those birds are accessible, fairly easy to see, and in places with quality accommodation and service. Costa Rica fits the bill in these ways and more. As an example, during the past week, during a morning of guiding of roadside birding in the Poas area, we saw a male Resplendent Quetzal, Flame-throated Warblers, and a few dozen other species, many of those being highland endemics. The following day saw me guiding in the Carara area, we finished with around 150 species. All of that was also roadside birding and included Scarlet Macaws, Turquoise-browed Motmot, White Hawk, several hummingbirds, manakins, and many other species.

To see what else is in store for a visiting birder, just browse this blog.

Easy birding

Not every bird is easy to see, and Costa Rica is no exception. But, thanks to long term protection, a heck of a lot of birds here are fairly easy to see, especially ones like Crested Guan and Great Curassow. Throw in access to good habitat in many parts of the country, and the birding just gets easier.

Good infrastructure

Costa Rica has a good set of roads, accommodation, and restaurants. The water is potable almost everywhere, and most people who work in the tourism industry speak at least some English, many of them very well.

Good birding apps for Costa Rica

I admit, I helped develop one of them but I stand by it. Thanks to various contributors and our efforts, the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app has become a great hand-held digital field guide that now shows:

-Field marks, range maps, and information for all species on Costa Rica bird list.
-Images for 905 birds (98% of species on list).
-Vocalizations for 671 birds (72% of species on app).
-Multiple images for most species, FREE updates with more additional images and sounds.
-Endemic and threatened species noted.

It can also be personalized with:
-Extensive search filters that can show birds by group, family, status, and more.
-Making lists of target species.
-Marking birds as seen, heard, not seen, and more.
-Making notes for each species.
-Marking birds as seen.
-Emailing lists in eBird format.

Accessible Quetzals, rails, and more!

Costa Rica has always been an excellent place to see one of the top bird species on the planet, the Resplendent Quetzal. That continues to be the case and nowadays more than ever. However, we don’t just see quetzals in Costa Rica, we have also developed good local gen. for many other species including tough ones like Yellow-breasted Crake and other rails, even Paint-billed Crake. Work with the right birding tour company and they should have options for everything from Unspotted Saw-whet Owl to Azure-hooded Jay and tanager photo opps.

Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow, Mangrove Hummingbird, Coppery-headed Emerald

Four of seven country endemics occur on the mainland along with around 100 regional endemics.

Our really cool endemic towhee. 

Turquoise-browed Motmot, tanagers, Keel-billed Toucan and other common, beautiful birds

To sum things up, the birding is excellent and easy in Costa Rica, and there are well trained guides for birders of all levels and skills. If you would like to learn more about finding birds in Costa Rica while supporting this blog, please purchase How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

I hope to see you in Costa Rica soon!

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Birding Costa Rica

Five Birding Ideas to Mark the Holiday Season in Costa Rica and Elsewhere

It’s the end of the year, a solstice just happened and a major holiday season is at its festive height. Celebrate with family, toast with friends, but most of all, go birding. Treat yourself to birds this holiday season and what better place to do so than the tropical birding paradise known as Costa Rica. For folks in North America, it’s closer than you think and there are literally hundreds of birds to see. Some ideas to bird your way from 2018 into 2019:

Try a short birding holiday– Costa Rica is an easy choice for a birding trip of a week or even just a few days of birding. Plan it right and three to four days of birding trips out of San Jose can yield 300 species including such birds as Resplendent Quetzal, various tanagers, the endemic Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow, motmots, and so much more. Stay a week or more and there are more options and more birds.

Take an excellent tour run operated by local experts– This is the best way to see hundreds of bird species including key birds like Sungrebe, Great Green Macaw, puffbirds, trogons, owls, and the list goes on. Although the tours take place after the holidays, you can always give yourself a birding gift today by signing up for one of the exciting Lifer Tours scheduled for January, February, or March. Contact me to learn about these and other birding tours operated by local experts.

Photograph quetzals and other highland species– A lot of people come to Costa Rica for wildlife photography and with good reason. It’s easy to reach sites with quetzals and many other mountain species including photogenic birds like Yellow-thighed Finch, silky-flycatchers, and lots more. More than one key site for highland birds and lots of hummingbirds are a drive of two to three hours at most from the airport.

Focus on endemics– With more than 900 species on the list, there are literally hundreds of birds to see in Costa Rica. However, of those many birds, the best ones to focus on are the species that you aren’t going to see elsewhere. Head to the mountains for endemics as well as Carara National Park, the Osa Peninsula, and sites around Dominical.

Get excellent birding apparel and support endangered birds in Africa-Last but far from least, buy Wunderbird birding apparel before the end of the year and you can also support vulture conservation in Africa. Wunderbird shirts and hoodies are some of the only quality apparel designed for birding and make excellent gifts. These comfortable, unique shirts enhance the birding experience and since 15% of all proceeds until the end of 2018 will be donated to support saving vultures in east Africa, there’s no better time than now to buy a hoodie, the Kestrel shirt or the long sleeved Peregrine shirt.

I hope to see you in Costa Rica for birding!

 

 

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Counting Birds at Cangreja, Cano Negro, and Finca Luna Nueva

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of birding. Three annual counts and guiding took me to humid forests of the southern Pacific, cool air and hummingbirds of the mountains, and down the other side of the continental divide to the northern wetlands of Cano Negro.

At some point after the final bird count, I tried summing up all species I had identified by sound or sight and came up with 385 or so birds. A good deal of driving was involved but no owling, nor any attempt to bird binge the entire time. It just goes to show that if a birder stay’s out there and gets to a few different sites, in Costa Rica, the birds just keep on showing.

Some reflections from the past two weeks:

It’s all good on the road to Cano Negro

The sign to the reserve is not obvious but that’s par for the course in Costa Rica. It’s also why Waze is the unofficial driving copilot for every vehicle in Costa Rica. Once you get onto that long entrance road to Cano Negro, enjoy the ride because lately, the bumps and road craters have been minimal. It was a quick, easy drive but don’t go too fast, there are birds to see!

The best area is probably the San Emiliano wetlands area. This site can host many waterbirds including Jabiru, and also has Fork-tailed Flycatchers, Ruddy-breasted Seedeaters, and might even have roadside Yellow-breasted Crakes! Although we dipped on the crake, we enjoyed several other birds including the flycatchers, seedeaters, and Nicaraguan Seed Finches.

It can rain a heck of a lot in Cano Negro

We discovered this in true wet fashion during the count day by way of cold blowing rain! Luckily, it didn’t rain the entire time although it seemed to do so at night. The rain beat down on the roof for hour after hour and so much that I was worried that the entrance road might be flooded. But, fortunately, those wetlands can soak up large amounts of water because the way out hardly looked like it had rained at all.

Despite rain on the count day, we still managed lots of birds, a few of the best being Black-collared Hawk, Nicaraguan Grackles, and American Pygmy-kingfisher.

Cano Negro is more than wetlands 

Although our route took in a few large lagoons, other routes also checked more forested sites with excellent results. One long route had all six kingfisher species, Sungrebe, Snowy Cotingas, two puffbird species, and many other birds. It was nice to be able to watch the two Cano Negro specialties, Gray-headed Dove and Spot-breasted Wren, right in the village. Many other forest species are also possible in and near the village including several woodpeckers, parrots and parakeets, even Bare-crowned Antbird.

We had close looks at Crimson-fronted Parakeets among other birds.

Cangreja is a long, dusty drive 

By nature, the trip to Cangreja is indeed a lengthy, dusty endeavor. Don’t do it at night! It might be foggy and it will be one of those special times when you think of better days as you wonder when the present challenging, worrisome times will end.

But the birding is good on that bumpy road!

Much of that road to Cangreja is good birding. Even the brushy areas not far from Puriscal can be good and further on, there are spots to look for Costa Rican Brush-Finch, and so many other species.

Need Sunbittern? Try rivers near Aguas Zarcas!

This key bird seems to be especially reliable on the river at the Cariblanca reforestation project. I’m sure it also occurs on the other rivers along with Fasciated Tiger-Heron.

Fun, easy birding on Poas

Guiding on Poas has been great as per usual with many regional endemics seen along the road to the national park. I have been hearing Barred Parakeets fly over, and have been seeing Black Guan at eye level, Buffy Tuftedcheek, silky-flycatchers, Wrenthrush, and much more.

The Arenal count was excellent

It always is and 2018 was no exception. Participants found several umbrellabirds in expected quality habitats, antbirds, a lingering Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and more than 360 other species. Our team found more than 160 species while birding Finca Luna Nueva and the Soltis Center. Although it was slow at times, we kept adding birds including Snowcap, Black-crested Coquette, King Vulture, Barred Hawk, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Uniform Crake, White-fronted Nunbirds, and much more.

The view from the Soltis Center- a great site for raptors among many other birds.

We also saw this Jumping Viper. Despite the worrisome name, this snake rarely moves unless you try to grab it.

Finca Luna Nueva– birdy as always

During the count, we kept on seeing and hearing more birds at this excellent organic farm/ecolodge. This site truly shows how we should be using the land in sustainable fashion and it shows with the numbers of birds that live there including many migrants. We added species right to the end of the count, our final ones being Uniform Crake and Russet-naped Wood-Rail.

Birding from the tower at Luna Nueva.

The year is quickly running to its end. During 2018’s final stretch, I have more guiding and birding in store. Although I haven’t been doing any sort of Big Year, I have still managed to tick 640 species for 2018 in Costa Rica. Hopefully I’ll add a few more because if I do, they would have to be rare or decidedly uncommon! I hope to see you birding in Costa Rica in 2019.

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

News for Birding in Costa Rica, December, 2018

It’s December, in Costa Rica, the month of vacations, the beginning of the dry season, Christmas in the tropics. For us local birders, we wish for holiday gifts that take the form of glittering cotingas, a White-tipped Sicklebill, a lifer or two or three. This December, my potential lifers are far too separate from the realm of possibilities but I don’t mind, I have been blessed, I will be content to watch whatever flies my way during Christmas counts and other birding days.

Come to Costa Rica for a lifer Prong-billed Barbet.

I will see a lot of birds during the following final weeks of 2018, I hope all birders can do the same. In the meantime, these are some news items for birding in Costa Rica:

New Birds for the Costa Rica list

Some web sites still mention 860 or so bird species for Costa Rica. Don’t believe it, the number is much higher and the list continues to grow. At this time of writing, the official bird list for Costa Rica stands at 923 species and now that Couch’s Kingbird and Yellow-billed Tern have been seen (by Ernesto Carman and Chambito respectively), we can add two more! They still need officially confirmation but since one was documented with a diagnostic audio recording, and the other with an excellent photo, they should make it onto the official country list soon.

The tern was seen at Cano Negro, we are doing a bird count there tomorrow, I hope it makes another appearance!

Birding sites that have closed

I may or may not have mentioned it elsewhere but in any case, Kiri Lodge near Tapanti was sold and may or may not reopen under new ownership. Much worse was the selling of Zamora Estate to “developers”. Although some of the natural aspects of the land might be preserved, I suspect that most will be or already has been destroyed to make way for housing. Not just important green space but some of the final bits of remnant wetlands in the Central Valley. I hope the owners are haunted by the ghosts of herons, especially the cackling of gargoyelish Boat-billeds.

Christmas counts!

As previously mentioned, there be Christmas counts happening these days. Special events in many places, in Costa Rica, we tend to take them to higher levels of birding. This count season has more counts than ever before, so many in fact that a birder can’t do all of them. I participated in my first Cangreja Christmas Count a few days ago, and will be doing the Cano Negro and Arenal counts shortly for a week of fantastic birding times. I wonder how many species I will have identified by next week? I bet I surpass 300.

The cool shirt from the Cangreja Count, my team found more than 130 species, the sole waterbird being Sunbittern.

Night driving in Puriscal- just no 

For the Cangreja count, we had to drive through Puriscal to reach Mastatal, the village at the edge of Cangreja National Park. It’s a long, winding road, several kilometers of it sort of rocky and dotted with occasional pot holes. But, that wasn’t the problem.The nightmare came in the form of pea soup fog, at night, on a road with minimal to zero lighting and very few road markers. Needless to say, this means that one should never, not ever, ever ever drive that road at night. Never mind the fact that some cars zoomed past us, it should in fact be closed during conditions such as the ones experienced by us. During the day, it’s fine, even beautiful and the birding is nice but time your trip well or you might spend a couple hours creeping along with the desperate hope that you will make it through alive as your navigator risks her literal head by sticking it out the window to make sure you don’t drive off a cliff.

Avoid certain supposedly edible snacks….

Oh, and there’s more advice garnered from that gem of a drive. Whatever you do, do not buy any of those packaged empanadas or other would be baked snacks from small supermarkets between Puriscal and Mastatal. That might also hold true in other parts of the country although you won’t find me testing that hypothesis. Whether just confused by fog or thinking that we were in need of emergency rations, we happily shopped for packages of pudding bread, empanadas, and some other sugary thing. Upon opening them, however, it only took one bite to send our contented feelings of accomplishment straight to ashen pools of despair. One lives and learns and makes discoveries. On that day of learning, we found that “budin” can smell and taste like actual garbage, and that styrofoam and/or plastic might be secret ingredients for packaged empanadas and “costillas”. Honestly, just stay away and thank the stars for feeling hungry because that’s better than dining on plastic and savage bits of fermented flour.

Green Guanacaste

This year was a good wet one for Costa Rica, including the tropical dry forest region. Things have been very green and this should help local and wintering bird populations in Guanacaste. With more habitat for waterbirds, perhaps we will have more of those as well. And fewer forest fires would be nice too!

Tis the season for umbrellabirds

Although I wish this meant that they would be common and a given at many a site, alas, the bird is truly endangered. But, it still is the season for this serious mega with the Elvis coiffure. One was recently seen on trails near La Fortuna, others should be at similar elevations where the foothills meet the lowlands on the Caribbean slope. Watch for them wherever forest is found in such situations and rejoice with your choice of organic chocolate and local brews (or coffee, or whatever, just not packaged baked snacks. Only eat those when you feel like punishing yourself).

The Bogarin Trail

Last not not least, The Bogarin Nature Trail on the outskirts of Fortuna will be rocking. Geovanni recently reminded me that December is the best time for birding that oasis. Many birds are at the feeders, there is good birding on the trails, and flowering trees can have Black-crested Coquette, Blue-throated Goldentail, and who knows what other hummingbird species? The entrance fee is $10, whether using camera or sticking to binos, it’s well worth it. There might be a roosting owl. There might even be a Keel-billed Motmot! There will be birds and it will be good.

The least common motmot in Costa Rica from a recent visit to Bogarin.

Coming to Costa Rica? Spaces are still open on excellent guided trips with Lifer Tours. The birding will be fantastic, contact me at information@birdingcraft.com   I hope to see you birding in Costa Rica!

 

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica Pacific slope

Horizontes- Good Birding in Guanacaste

Known for sun, beaches, and wide open vistas, Guanacaste is a popular tourist destination that encompasses the northwestern region of Costa Rica. Acting as the southern terminus for the tropical dry forest ecosystems of the Middle American Pacific slope,the lay of the land offers an appeasing blend of windswept fields dotted with octopi-like acacias, evergreen riparian zones that act as avian oases, patches of remnant dry forest, and rich wetlands.

The blend of easy birding and good tourism infrastructure makes northwestern Costa Rica an ideal part of the country to mix birding with a family visit. Those factors also make Guanacaste a good choice for local birders and even more so because the region offers high potential in Costa Rica for finding rare migrants. American Pipit has occurred as well as vagrant sparrows, wood-warblers, Aplomado Falcon, and even Gray Kingbird.

A few of the top sites for shorebirds are also in Guanacaste and since the region sees so little coverage for large areas of good habitat, who knows what else might be lurking along a dry creek bed or near some hidden pond? Maybe Costa Rica’s first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher? Sharp-tailed Sandpiper? Maybe even a Burrowing Owl? Long shots for sure but they might honestly be out there and the best thing about looking for them is seeing hundreds of other bird species in the process.

This past weekend, while guiding the Birding Club of Costa Rica, I visited Horizontes, one of many sites in Guanacaste that sees little birding coverage. Although we didn’t find any crazy megas, both Robert Dean and I agreed that the site would be perfect for finding rarities during the height of the dry season as wetlands shrink and thus act as oases for birds. Even though we didn’t manage to add Lark Sparrow to our Costa Rica lists (a real mega around here), we were still very pleased with the overall birding at Horizontes and plan on making a return visit.

Horizontes is a large habitat restoration project just south of Santa Rosa National Park and based on the numbers of birds we saw, it seems to be working. These are some suggestions and remarks from birding there:

Several Key dry forest species are present, check out my eBird lists from my visit.
Although much of the forest is in varying degrees of second growth, there are some larger, older trees in a riparian zone and we had a very good assortment of dry forest species including uncommon species. Some of the highlights included-
Thicket Tinamou– common! Although in keeping with tinamou decorum, still tricky to see.
Double-striped Thick-Knee– we had a few.
Plain Chachalaca– we heard a few of this very uncommon species for Costa Rica.
Elegant Trogon– we heard a few.
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper– we had a couple.
Northern Potoo– we did not see one but they are regular at this site, with a bit more time to work with I am sure we would have found one.
Western Tanager, White-lored Gnatcatcher and many other regular Guanacaste species were very common.

Spot-bellied (Crested) Bobwhite– we saw a covey near the main buildings.
Yellow-naped Parrot– we had regular sightings of this endangered species.
Myiarchus flycatchers– these were especially common, in fact, along with the gnatcatcher, some of the most common birds heard and seen throughout the day. Great-crested were very common and an example of the important role reforestation projects can play to provide habitat for this and other boreal migrants.
Brown-crested and Nutting’s were also seen quite often.

Brown-crested

Nutting’s

Mangrove Cuckoo– we had beautiful looks at a couple of these cool birds.

Western Kingbird– an uncommon wintering species in Costa Rica.

Bird the main roads
Although birding a trail or two is worth the effort, we had our best birding right along the main tracks through the reserve.

A White-necked Puffbird was nice as were close looks at a female Hook-billed Kite.

Check the lagoon especially during the dry season
We had fewer birds than hoped but still managed nice looks at Painted Bunting and an uncommon for Costa Rica Magnolia Warbler. Once the surrounding area dries out, this site would be a good one to check for much rarer species.

Stay there to save money or just visit as a day trip
The accommodations at Horizontes are basic but fine and clean and include rooms with bunk beds and fans (standard for a field station). The food was local fare and it was delicious!
However, it’s also just as easy to visit as a day trip from Liberia, Playa Hermosa, or other nearby beaches. The road in was also driveable even with a regular car (albeit with careful driving).

Keep an eye out for rare birds
Since few people bird at Horizontes and the site has potential for turning up rare species, it’s good to keep this in mind and be ready to take pictures of any unusual birds. We were told about a strange bird that has occurred there that sounded like it might be some owl species and maybe even a Great Horned (a real mega for Costa Rica).
However, despite visiting the site where it has showed both during the day and at night, we didn’t find anything different. I want to check again though…

Check other nearby sites for more species
Given the proximity of rice fields and other wetlands to Horizontes, it’s worth venturing outside the station to bird other sites. On an afternoon visit to the rice fields at Las Trancas, we did very well with excellent looks at Spotted Rails, Harriss’s Hawks, Northern Harrier, and many Scissor-tailed Flycatchers.

Hello rail!

Horizontes is easily visited as a day trip, all a birder has to do is drive in and pay the national park entrance fee. Meals and overnight stays would need to be arranged in advance but that should be easily done by contacting the station manager.

The best time to visit is during the dry season, note that some of the roads may be impassable during the wet season. Although Santa Rosa has better forest habitat, what we liked about Horizontes was the feeling that we were birding in an area with little coverage and high potential. If visiting Horizontes, please post your results to eBird and mention them in the comments for this post. Good birding in Costa Rica!

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Recent Highlights from Birding in Costa Rica along the Via Endemica

Road maps for Costa Rica refer to it as Route 126 but that’s only on paper or in pixels. As with most byways in Costa Rica, the signs that tell you which route is which are as scarce as cotingas. This is why us locals refer to Route 126 as “the road between Varablanca and San Miguel”, “the road that goes by the Peace Waterfall”, or similar descriptors. Confusing! Well hell yes! BUT, nowadays, we got Waze! That, Google Maps and other navigational apps help keep all of us birding drivers on track in Costa Rica.

Although you won’t find any apps referring to Route 126 as the “Via Endemica“, they really should. I mean where else in Costa Rica can one so readily find so many regional and actual endemic bird species (and isn’t that one of the big important things in life)?

Last week, I was on that good birding road again while guiding restoration ecologist and local birder Jeff Tingle. As one might expect from birding the Via Endemica, whether good photos and/or good sightings, we had several highlights:

Zeledon’s Antbird

This shady species is fairly common in the Socorro area but it can go unheard and unseen all too often. On that day, we heard a few and had one very cooperative friendly male. Thankfully, this cool bird with the blue eye shadow just said no to skulking and went all in with the birding program.

Becards and foliage-gleaners

What do these two types of birds have in common? Not much aside from being Neotropical avian standards but the other day we did well with a pair each of uncommon becard and foliage-gleaner species. On the becard side of the coin, the cute little Barred Becard treated us well at a couple of stops, both male and female showing very well. Then, much to my surprise, we saw a rare for Costa Rica Black-and-white Becard next to the road near Cinchona! I have never seen the bird there before, I hope it’s a sign of the forest coming back and habitat improving.

Regarding foliage-gleaners, we did well with two uncommon species. The Scaly-throated showed in the same flock as the rare becard and then again in a more usual spot for it, the forest above the Albergue Socorro. The other Furnarid was a Streak-breasted Treehunter that, like birding magic, appeared right in front of us near Varablanca.

Hunting trees!

Mixed flocks

Also known as “bird waves”, “multi-species flocks”, and in some birding circles, “bird pandemonium”, this is when a bunch of birds suddenly appear, often foraging like mad and leaving shortly thereafter. It’s the bird version of dine and dash, a real feathered ambush of the senses, and the larger the flock the more likely a birder is to lose all sense of decorum. We didn’t have anything that curassow crazy on the Via Endemica, but we did do well with consistent mixed flocks and life was good. Ruddy Treerunners, Collared Redstarts, Flame-throated Warblers, Yellow-winged Vireos and other species at high elevations, and a mostly different set of birds at lower elevations.

Black-cheeked Warbler was one of the high elevation mixed flock participants. 

The endemic ground-sparrow (s)

The icing on the cake of the Via Endemica is the presence of the Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow. I think we should actually  it the C G Sparrow (or maybe even Calvin Gucci?) as a reflection of its cool demeanor. As with any famous character, it’s not common by any means nor easy to see but if a birder checks the right cafetales and sites, he or she may connect and even get paparazzi with this fancy towhee. The bird has been treating me well at the Villas San Ignacio. It’s sort of impossible to pinpoint where it can be seen at the hotel but it is present. We had good views of a couple of this fine G Sparrow last week. The same goes for the other snazzy G Sparrow in Cost Rica- ye olde White-eared. We also had a couple at Villas San Ignacio.

I’m sure there are more highlights I could tell but the best are the ones a birders makes for him or herself. Check out the Via Endemica in Costa Rica and tell us what you see in the comments.

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Birding Costa Rica Where to see birds in Costa Rica

Arenal Christmas Bird Count- An Exciting Birding Event

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”. Christmas! Navidad! The festive season makes those brief December days and long dark nights somehow easier to handle. Or, maybe it’s just that we aren’t two months into the winter season and really tired of looking at gray skies, dirty sidewalk snow, and birdless bare branches. But that stuff is for the northern realms, not for warm and tropical Costa Rica. Around here, in December, we only need worry about how many birds we can find during our annual Christmas Counts!

Yes, this really is the most wonderful time of the year for many of us local birders and it has everything to do with our “conteos de aves”. I know that the annual count is special for many a birder in many places but seriously, here in Costa Rica, we tend to kick it up a notch. Not just a day to get together and count birds, our counts tend to me more like events that bring dozens of birders together whether they are official registered Audubon counts or not.

The Arenal event is one such count. Although it’s not officially registered as an Audubon count circle, we carry out the count in similar fashion and use it to gather data and promote birding in the Arenal area. It actually starts well before the count date with the count organizers contacting hotels and agencies that might be interested in sponsoring the count, registering counters, seeing where various people can stay, and then seeing which person will lead which route along with assigning people to each route. Oh yeah and then there is the catering but I’ll get to that later.

The routes for the Arenal count cover everywhere from the La Fortuna surroundings to the Hanging Bridges, Sky Trek, the Observatory Lodge, Arenal Lake, and even a rafting count on the Penas Blancas River. Basically, fantastic birding everywhere and with every route recording well over 100 species. Sound enticing? It sure is and is why this count sees more than 70 people participating each year.

Participants from 2014.

The first year of the count, 2013, actually had the highest participation with 95 birders in the field. Last year, 71 people were counting birds, probably less than other years because of other counts taking place at the same time. However, even with less participants, we still had 338 species for the count circle, around average. That said, our highest total was 377 species in 2016 and with the right combination of weather and participation, we could certainly record even more.

Regarding species, this one is also exciting because it’s one of the few counts in Costa Rica that finds birds like Uniform Crake, Lanceolated Monklet, Song Wren, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, and Bare-crowned Antbird on the same day!

Last year, our group got the monklet although it can turn up on at least three or four routes.

Once everything is ready, people confirmed for the annual Arenal count get together in La Fortuna for a meeting held the night before the count. This has taken place at hotels, in a gymnasium, and even at the local market and is vital for socializing with other counters, going over the routes, and seeing a presentation that talks about the official count species and research being carried out in the Arenal count circle. This is accompanied by coffee and cookies as counters try on tee-shirts that show the official count species on the front and logos of count sponsors on the back. It’s always a cool, unique shirt and it ends up acting as valuable marketing for the hotels and travel agencies that support the bird count because believe me, those count shirts get around! I have worn more than one of mine on trips outside of Costa Rica as well as within the country and since the shirts are unique, people do notice and even ask about them.

Over the years, the Arenal count has gotten support from 6 public institutions and 30 private enterprises, I wonder who the lucky sponsors will be this year?

After the pre-count meeting, birders meet up with their respective count leaders to figure out if they should start counting in the middle of the night or wait until dawn. Personally, I prefer to start around 3:30 at beautiful Finca Luna Nueva, the route I usually do. Then, everyone heads off to their respective places for lodging to hopefully get some sleep before count day. On count day itself, the birding is often an exciting blend of fast and furious avian action between bouts of pouring rain.

Last year gave us a break with the weather and because of it, we managed several owls along with a wonderful sunny day of birding.

Counters usually finish up around 4 or 5 and then head to the count dinner. This is typically a catered affair where we are served that Costa Rican staple rice with chicken, refried beans, and some potato chips along with a bit of salad. It’s good birding food and seems to work perfectly after a long, fantastic deal in the field. Some count sponsors are also present and can have tables with optics, brochures, and works of art. Eventually, once it seems as if all are present, we go through the bird list, mentioning each species and each count group raising a hand if they identified the bird mentioned. Stories and locations for rare birds are shared, and another birding event in Costa Rica comes to an end.

These words could never portray the true excitement of this count, a day when we give ourselves over to birding in an excellent area for birding. However, if you can imagine seeing more than 150 species of birds, one species coming after another, trees of toucans, flocks of Red-billed Pigeons, antbirds whistling from the dark understory of rainforest, Red-lored Parrots filling the air with sound as three species of parakeets zip by in screeching flight, an Ornate Hawk-Eagle calling above a tall jade canopy, and sharing this and more with friends, loving partners, and like-minded people, if you can imagine that, this is what the Arenal count is like. It’s happening this year on December 8th, it’s gonna be good!

Some stats from previous Arenal counts:

2013: 342 species, 95 participants

2014: 332 species, 90 participants

2015: 322 species, 80 participants

2016: 377 species, 74 participants

2017: 338 species, 71 participants