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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Recent Rains, Tragedy, and Rare Birds in Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, we are in the midst of the wet season but a recent extreme event brought more rain than we needed. Too much rain. Enough to foster terrible flooding, landslides and additional havoc that have upended the lives of many. The rains started sometime on Wednesday, July 23rd and continued to pummel and drench the ground for the next couple of days. Although most of the country experienced a thorough soaking, the brunt of the wet wave from above blasted the Turrialba area and the adjacent southern Caribbean zone.

At home in the Central Valley, the rain was constant and reminiscent of a hurricane only with much less wind. Not being related to Aquaman, there was no way I was venturing outside. I can only imagine what it must have been like in Turrialba where the rains were much worse; nearly 100 square meters more rain fell in one day than typically falls in a month (and these places aren’t exactly dry to begin with!).

Additional parts of the country affected by this extreme rain event were Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, Boca Tapada (think the road to Laguna del Lagarto), Caño Negro, and other sites in the north. One of the most nightmarish accounts came from the village of Boca San Carlos. Situated at the confluence of the San Carlos and San Juan Rivers, the small settlement became completely inundated. Then, the rivers rose to became one and kept on rising until the massive amount of flowing waters reached the roof of the local school. Folks took refuge on top of their humble homes and killed snakes that tried to reach those same “dry” sanctuaries (several of the serpents were likely the Fer-de-Lance, a deadly viper). A woman who survived the ordeal mentioned an unknown hero who arrived with a small boat to ferry them to safety and thus save their lives. She talks about the life-threatening experience at this link to Costa Rica Hoy (in Spanish).

If there is any good news after the sudden loss of homes, possessions, and missing people (which thankfully appears to very few), it’s that the rains did stop, most people were evacuated to shelters in time and are receiving at least some assistance, and all of the roads were quickly repaired. However, as much as that is excellent, positive news, it would be negligent to not mention that given the current climate crisis (and yes, I would say that boreal forests burning, major droughts, life-threatening heat, etc. make it an absolute crisis), such extreme events like this one, floods in Germany, and elsewhere are likely the new norm. We need massive change everywhere and we need it now because if not, it’s only going to get worse.

On the bird side of things, the birding in Costa Rica is wonderful and exciting as ever. Various bird populations are also affected by climate change but it’s still great birding. Ironically, this year being a wet one will also likely help them, maybe give them a respite from prolonged drier than normal weather that has affected productivity which has thus likely, in turn, affected nesting success. This may explain why raptors, woodcreepers, hummingbirds, oropendolas, and various other species seem to occur in rather lower numbers than ten or more years ago.

That said, you can still have plenty of great, exciting birding. Last week, as I navigated rains and looked for weather forecasts, I had excellent birding while guiding on the Manuel Brenes Road, at Pocosol Research Station, El Copal, and other sites.

Birding on the Manuel Brenes Road

Light rain on the Manuel Brenes Road gave a constant boost to bird activity nearly to the point of there being too many birds to look at (and that’s how we want it!). Every time we stopped the vehicle, we had mixed flocks of tanagers and other species including close looks at uncommon Blue-and-Gold Tanagers, Black-and-Yellow Tanagers, and much more.

While the small birds rushed through the misty rainforest, a few Three-wattled Bellbirds called just out of sight, and we heard such coveted species as Lattice-tailed Trogon, Black-headed Antthrush, and Northern Schiffornis. In a few hours, we had more than 70 species. I wonder what an entire day there may have turned up?

Birding Irazu

In late July, the star bird species of the Noche Buena complex was present. Not just one or two calling males either but 12, maybe even 14 Maroon-chested Ground-Doves. Seeding bamboo? Nope! The small, colorful doves were foraging in fallow potato fields along with Mourning Doves, Rufous-collared Sparrows and a couple other common species. They were extremely timid but we still got good looks at them in flight and perched. Having a male Resplendent Quetzal fly over and land in a nearby tree while watching the doves made the day that much more memorable. Good looks at Wrenthrush and Timberline Wren were also a treat, as was hearing the unrepentant calls of an Unspotted Saw-whet Owl that remained hidden in the cold, dark night.

Maroon-chested Ground-Doves were feeding in this field.

Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow

I can’t call this bird rare but it’s pretty uncommon and skulky. We were pleased to have good looks at a pair in coffee farms north of Villa San Ignacio. I think it might be easier during the wet season (or less difficult).

Birding El Copal

El Copal has excellent foothill and middle elevation rainforest. It’s off the beaten track and it’s rustic but the people who run the place are really nice and the birding is wonderful. In addition to the constant tanager show (that included Emerald Tanager, Black-and-Yellow Tanager, and Ashy-throated Chlorospingus), we also connected with such stand-outs as Chiriqui Quail-Dove, White-crowned Manakin, Bicolored Hawk, and Barred Hawk.

No Lovely Cotinga for us on that day but a few lucky birders did see a blue and purple male at the Arenal Observatory Lodge a few days ago.

Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle

One of the least common raptors in Costa Rica, this species is usually seen by lucky birders who scan the skies at Braulio Carrillo, Selva Bananito, or other choice lowland foothill rainforest sites. Much to the local birding community surprise and glee, one or two were found and photographed at a site in the upper parts of the Central Valley! Discovered a couple days ago, and seen by several people today, (August 2), we can only hope for it to take a liking to that area and stay for a while.

I am pretty sure this rare species has never been seen in these parts before and I suspect that it came up there because it wasn’t finding enough food in the place it came from. It’s impossible to say where that may have been but I dare say that the lack of food is likely related to destruction of habitat for pineapple fields and/or fewer of the medium to large birds that this species preys on. There might be enough pigeons and guans for it to feed on in the highlands above Sarchi, though. I sure hope so as it would be wonderful to have a reliable Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle within easy striking distance from hotels in the Central Valley!

Until next time, as usual, good birding, I hope you see that Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle!