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La Gamba- My New Favorite Birding Site in Costa Rica

It’s no secret that Costa Rica has a healthy abundance of great birding just about everywhere one goes but but some places stand out for the avian attractions they offer. One such place is the general vicinity of La Gamba, a small village in southwestern Costa Rica. I have had some nice birding there on previous trips but after the most recent journey to La Gamba, I left the area convinced that it’s one of the best birding sites in the country. I don’t really think that there’s one best of the best when it comes to birding in Costa Rica but I would say with conviction that La Gamba ranks up there in the top five sites for Costa Rica. Here are the reasons why:

  • Serious biodiversity: Yeah, lots of places in Costa Rica are packed with a fine array of creatures but La Gamba still stands out. The rainforests in the area support a huge number of tree species and that high biodiversity is also shown by the birds. For example, after doing an eBird tally of species from one long day in the area that didn’t even include any degree of forest interior birding, my eyes briefly bugged out when I noticed a species total of 152! Yes, the biodiversity is serious and that means that you keep seeing new birds the longer you stay.

    I had this bathing Giant Cowbird just after leaving the Tropenstation.
  • Good array of habitats: More habitats means more birds and in the La Gamba area we have some fine old rainforest in Piedras Blancas National Park, birdy gardens at Esquinas and the Tropenstation, open fields and seasonal wetlands with their respective bunch of birds, flowering trees and bushes that bring in the hummingbirds, and one heck of a birdy riparian zone.
    The birdy habitat entrance at the Tropenstation.
    Birdy roadside habitat.
    The bridge at the junction to Esquinas and the Tropenstation is especially good. This is where we had the coquette, Red-rumped Woodpecker, and many other nice birds.

    We also had Streaked Saltator there.
  • Endemics: Since La Gamba is located in the southwestern Pacific endemic bird area, it provides a home for species like Charming Hummingbird, Spot-crowned Euphonia, Golden-naped Woodpecker, and the others. All seem to be more common there than at many other sites too. Not to mention, it’s also a good place for Black-cheeked Ant Tanager, one of Costa Rica’s only true endemics. I heard several singing their dawn song on this recent trip and am sure we would have seen them if we had done more forest birding.
    A Charming Hummingbird sings (they sing all day long).
    Male Spot-crowned Euphonia.

    Male Golden-naped Woodpecker.
  • Uncommon, local birds: The habitats at La Gamba are particularly good for a variety of uncommon species. So many “good” birds can be seen there that this could be the deciding factor for it being one of my major faves. For example, here’s a short list of uncommon species that are regular around La Gamba-

Great Curassow: They walk around the gardens of the two main lodges like happy turkeys. Wild, tame, and super easy to watch and that’s how we like them!

A typically close look at a female Great Curassow.

Uniform Crake: Seen regularly on the lagoon trail.

Blue-headed Parrot: We had several good looks at these.

Blue-headed Parrot.

Band-tailed Barbthroat: This uncommon hummingbird was fairly common in the gardens of the Tropenstation and along the road.

Veraguan Mango: Look for this fine target when the Erythrinas are in bloom. I had at least two of this lifer on the recent trip!

Red-rumped Woodpecker: Uncommon but regular and we had it right at the main bridge over the stream!

Olivaceous Piculet: Had nice looks at this one.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher: We had at least 4 of these sveldt birdies.

A classic Fork-tailed Flycatcher.
A short tailed Fork-tailed Fly.

Slate-colored Seedeater: Regular in lodge gardens and along streams.

Red-breasted Blackbird: Not uncommon in rice fields in several parts of Costa Rica but always a favorite.

There are lots of other good birds to see as well!

  • Hummingbirds: When the plants are in bloom, this area can be really good for hummingbirds. Heliconias in the gardens attract 4 species of hermits, Charmning Hummingbird is common, and a nice variety of species come to the flowering Erythinas. We had at least 13 species during our stay, including 2 to 3 White-crested Coquettes!

    White-crested Coquette!
  • Vagrants: This is a good areas for vagrant species from Panama. Although we didn’t see them, other trips in the past have turned up things like Wattled Jacana and other species could also show up (like maybe that first Yellowish Pipit for the country). On our trip, a couple of the participants had a Mangrove Cuckoo and are pretty sure they saw a vagrant Green Ibis!
  • Access: To be honest, the best birding is usually up there in forests that we can’t get to so it’s a major bonus when you can drive to a site with a small car. La Gamba is very easy to get to- just take the turn to Esquinas Lodge and Golfito from the highway and drive on in to the Troppenstation or Esquinas.

    The sign for the Tropenstation.
  • Lodging: Speaking of those two places, Esquinas Lodge is pricey but has great service, excellent food, and nice lodging. The Tropenstation research station is cheaper ($66 per person, includes 3 meals) and rooms have two bunk beds each but it’s clean, comfortable, and has good food. I would also go back for the feeder action! Esquinas is closer to better forest but trails into the rainforests of the national park can also be easily accessed from the Tropenstation.
    A typical feeder scene at the Tropenstation.
    The Troppenstation feeder is just outside the dining area.
    It also had Golden-hooded Tanagers,
    Golden-naped Woodpecker,
    Green Honeycreepers,
    including the technicolor male Green Honeycreeper,
    Red-crowned Woodpecker,
    Red-legged Honeycreeper,

    and Scarlet-rumped Cacique.
  • Proximity to other good birding sites: Didn’t see Yellow-billed or Turquoise Cotingas at La Gamba? No problem, there’s a good chance for both at Rincon de Osa or even along the road to Golfito. You could also drive an hour or so to the rice fields near Ciudad Neily to try for Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, crakes, and other good birds. Or, if you feel like going further afield, the middle elevation habitats around San Vito are also within striking distance.

So, to sum things up, La Gamba is easy to get to, it’s extremely birdy, easy to bird, and offers a chance at tons of good species! I can’t wait to get back to that area.

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Birding Costa Rica birding lodges birds to watch for in Costa Rica Introduction Osa Peninsula Pacific slope

The Bosque del Rio Tigre 2013 Christmas Count

As luck would have it, very few of the 2013 Costa Rican Christmas counts landed on dates that worked into my schedule. However, as luck would also have it, the one that did fit in was the Osa Christmas Count. This exciting day long survey of all things avian took place on December 20th and I was fortunate to be able to participate in one of the birdiest spots of the count circle, the Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge.

A very birdy lodge.

This small lodge is one of the best birding lodges in Costa Rica and earns that distinction by being surrounded by extensive areas of rainforest and birdy second growth, small lagoons on and near the property for the lodge, and more open areas en route that turn up other suites of species. Add the excellent guiding, local, in-depth avian knowledge, and quality hospitality to the mix and you end up with a truly fantastic place for birding.

It might be the only place where you can see Black-cheeked Ant Tanagers coming to a feeder, Golden-naped Woodepckers are fairly common, and raptors, many hummingbirds, and even cotingas are regularly seen from the lodge. Yes, it’s great birding at all times  and the count was an exciting one.

One of the Black-cheeked Ant Tanagers that came to the feeders during our stay.
A Blue-crowned Motmot was another common feeder bird.

We arrived on the afternoon of the 19th and would have shown up after dark if we hadn’t pulled ourselves away from the fine birding en route. Black-bellied Wrens, Great Antshrikes, toucans, and much more called from roadside habitats and we could have easily come across dozens of other species near the village of Dos Brazos.

Black-mandibled Toucan- plenty of these were around.

At the lodge itself, after being greeted by Liz and Abraham and being shown to our rooms, we went over the details for the count and enjoyed a wonderful dinner by candlelight. Liz showed us a Turnip-tailed Gecko and then it was off to bed early to be ready for a big day of birding in the hot, humid conditions of the incredible rainforests of the Osa Peninsula. A comfortable bed and the soothing night sounds of the jungle resulted in a good night’s rest before the alarm went off at 4:30 am. The other count participants were just arriving and much to my pleasant surprise, almost everyone was right from the village! On most counts in Costa Rica, participants are students, birders, and biologists that travel to the count circle. At Bosque del Rio Tigre, it was just the opposite and a tangible demonstration of the work that Liz and Abraham have done with the local community. After enjoying a quick breakfast with our fellow counters, Susan, Liz, and I started tallying off birds that called from the tall rainforest just behind the lodge.

Rainforests at Bosque del Rio Tigre.

This included the dawn songs of Buff-throated Foliage-gleaners, Scaly-throated Leaftossers (a common bird there), Charming Hummingbird, Black-cheeked Ant Tanager, Blue-crowned Motmot, Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, and other species. As we walked up the trail that eventually leads to an open area on a ridge above the lodge, we tried our best to keep count of the Lesser Greenlets, Red-capped Manakins, Tawny-crowned Greenlets, Black-faced Antthrushes, and Chestnut-backed Antbirds. Up on the ridge itself, we enjoyed views of toucans, flyby Scarlet Macaws, Mealy, Red-lored, and White-crowned Parrots, and a host of other species that called from and appeared in the surrounding trees. Although cotingas and coquettes eluded us that morning, they are regularly seen from that vantage point. A couple of our better species were White-vented Euphonia and White-necked Puffbird.

White-necked Puffbird.
Another view of forest near the lodge.

Around 9 am, we descended down past birdy spots into equally birdy second growth habitats and continued to add species to the list in the form of Great Antshrike, Dusky Antbird, a few warblers, Slate-headed Tody-Tyrant, King Vulture, White Hawk, and others. The rarest species was arguably a male Blackpoll Warbler! This bird is a rare vagrant in Costa Rica and the one on the count was my first for the country. At first glance, I actually thought is was a Yellow-rumped because I caught a glimpse of it from the front and the markings on each side of the breast looked more that those of that species. Better looks a bit later on in the morning, though, revealed its identity (and as it turns out, local guides had already been seeing that same bird in the area).

By 10:30, it was pretty hot and we had covered our route quite well so we trudged back to the lodge and sat down to a very welcome cold drink and tasty lunch. Although one group ventured back out for a bit, most of us relaxed (or napped in my case) to wait out the hottest part of the day. By 3, birds were becoming more active so we headed back into the field. One group went to the village to look for Red-rumped Woodpecker and other edge species while another walked upriver to get White-crested Coquette and other birds. Susan and I had planned on going upriver as well but because the water would have flowed over and into our rubber boots, we opted for focusing on the river near the lodge. In retrospect. we should have donned river shoes provided by the lodge and got that coquette but at least the birding was great right where we stayed. Checking the treetops didn’t turn up any hoped for cotingas but we were rewarded with nice looks at Laughing Falcon, several tanagers including Blue Dacnis, Long-billed Starthroat among other hummingbird species, and other birds.

Fording the river in front of the lodge.
The Laughing Falcon at the edge of the river.

During the count that evening, we found that Susan, Liz, and I had tallied around 140 species with many more being added by the other counters. A few people searched for owls once the sun set but we crashed early to be ready for another morning of birding the following day. Since one of the counting groups had seen both cotingas from an overlook on the other side of the river, we opted for that route. Before we even started out, Susan spotted a Red-rumped Woodpecker right in front of the lodge! This was one of the best birds of the trip for me because it had been a much wanted bird for my country list for several years.

The view from the front of the lodge.

Shortly thereafter, as we sweated our way up the hill, we were treated to excellent birding punctuated by several Black-cheeked Ant Tanagers, two more White-collared Puffbirds, Black-bellied and Riverside Wrens, Baird’s Trogons, and much more. The top overlook would be a fantastic place to spend an entire day. It’s shaded by large trees and offers an excellent view of forested ridges. Scoping revealed lots of vultures as well as Double-toothed Kite and Great Black Hawk (a species that has declined in Costa Rica over the past 10 years). We dipped on cotingas but this is a good place to look for them. The top overlook also abuts beautiful primary rainforest that is connected to the national park. It’s a shame that we didn’t have time to properly bird it because it looked really good and turned up Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrant, Brown-billed Scythebill, and other species right from the overlook.

The view from the overlook.
A record shot of the Brown-billed Scythebill.

The walk downhill was of course a million times better than the auto-drenching stroll on the way up. Back at the lodge, we enjoyed a final delicious breakfast before packing up, checking out the Little Tinamou that came out to feed on rice grains near the kitchen, and driving back across the river. On the way out, we couldn’t help but stop for more birding near rice fields and thus got out trip Slate-colored Seedeater.

One of the Little Tinamous that show up on a daily basis. Yes, it looks like a rock!
Gray-chested Dove also shows up and sometimes on the feeder!
It's also a good place to see Spiny rats- a rainforest rodent more related to agoutis than rats.

A stop at Rincon also finally gave us both cotingas! There were at least two Yellow-billed and one male Turquoise in a small fruiting fig but they flew off before I could get adequate shots.

Can you find the cotinga?

It was also tempting to stop and bird at several sites on the way back but we both wanted to head back to our respective homes so we opted for identifying birds from the car as we high-tailed it back up to the Central Valley.

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biodiversity Birding Costa Rica birding lodges Christmas Counts Introduction preparing for your trip

Christmas Counts and other News for Birding in Costa Rica

As in other countries where the holiday tradition takes place, Christmas Counts are happening in Costa Rica. La Selva, Cartago, and Arenal have all had counts this year and as chance would have it, I have missed them all. Nevertheless, I was happy to hear that 70 plus birders participated in the Arenal count and I am sure similar numbers were watching and tallying birds in the other counts. I will do at least one, though, and that always yields serious quality when it comes to birds and biodiversity.

The very birdy garden at the Bosque del Rio Tigre.

On Friday, I will be listening and watching for everything at the Bosque del Rio Tigre as part of their Christmas Count. Other counts will also be happening in the Osa at that time so it will be interesting to see what turns up in that biodiversity hotspot. I’m hoping to get a few more year birds, record the sounds of several species, get lucky with digiscoping in the rainforest (need lottery winning luck for that), and probably do some birding on the drive to the Osa for one heck of a three day birding extravaganza. My previous experience with the Bosque del Rio Tigre count reconfirmed my belief that it’s the best birding lodge in Costa Rica so I wonder how Friday’s count will match up to a day that included raptors like Tiny Hawk, White Hawk, Black Hawk Eagle, Roadside Hawk, Laughing Falcon, and Gray-headed Kite (probably a few other raptors too), White-tipped Sicklebill, Black-cheeked Ant Tanager, and lots of other quality birds.

A Black-cheeked Ant Tanager at the lodge feeder.
Roadside Hawk.

As far as the other counts go, I was sad indeed to miss the Arenal gig. The area has a lot of intact habitat and therefore lots of great birds. This year’s count even turned up a Great Jacamar! It was heard only but the calls of this rarity for Costa Rica are unmistakable so I am sure they had one. Since it was found it in the forests of Arenal Observatory Lodge, it seems as if the species was overlooked for that site. Despite a lot of birding done around there, I am actually not too surprised because the area probably hosts a very small population, and few Tico birders have any experience with this species and thus many would probably overlook its vocalization. Of course there are local birders who would recognize the sounds a Great Jacamar makes but they are probably few in number and would have to be at Arenal Oversvatory Lodge exactly when one of the 2 or 4 Great Jacamars that live around there decided to call. Who knows, maybe it also prefers a microhabitat in Costa Rica that we are unaware of? What I do know is that since we also recorded this species in the nearby Penas Blancas Valley earlier this year, there is certainly a small population of Great Jacamars that live in foothills forests of the Monteverde-Arenal Conservation area.

Speaking of Great Jacamar, I am also hoping to find it at Lands in Love. That glittering green and rufous bird might not even be there but since there is quite a bit of primary forest that also happens to be connected to those rainforests mentioned above, I have hopes for it. I was guiding at Lands in Love over the weekend but we got sort of clobbered with rain on our main day. The constant cold front-associated rain kept us from seeing many birds but we still managed goodies like Black-crested Coquette, Scaly-throated Leaftosser, Broad-billed Motmot, and Golden-crowned Spadebill. One of the best was a perched Crested Owl just a few steps from the reception!

The rainy weather was good for herps including this Eyelash Viper.

That cold front is still happening so if you are headed to the Caribbean slope these days, it’s going to be wet. At the same time, it’s also going to drive a bunch of species into the lowlands so look for everything from Black-faced Solitaire to White-ruffed Manakin, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, and out of place tanagers around Sarapiqui. The good news is that the Varablanca-Cinchona-Sarapiqui road is finally fixed and paved! It’s probably still narrow in places but there shouldn’t be any more pot holes, ruts, or other rough road madness.

On a final birding news note, we have released version 2.1 of the Costa Rica Bird Field Guide app! That means:

  • More species (images, info, and range maps for 578 species, and vocalizations for 346).
  • It’s now optimized for the iPad.
  • Free update for those who have already purchased this Costa Rica birding app.
  • On sale for half the regular price for those who still need to buy it!

Hope to see you birding in Costa Rica!

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The 2010 Osa Christmas Count at the Bosque del Rio Tigre

I took a second class bus from the bowels of San Jose up and over Cerro de la Muerte (” mountain of death”) to the frontier-like southwestern lowlands of Costa Rica to get to my destination. It was ten hours on the bus, two of which involved slamming our way over a section of remote road that was seriously afflicted with potholes, but I finally reached my rendezvous with birding friend Dorothy MacKinnon just before nightfall. It was slightly too late to watch birds except for the Common Pauraques that flew off the road at our approach but still early enough to comfortably ford the river that runs just in front of our final waypoint, the Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge.

Inside the lodge.

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We were there to participate in the Bosque del Rio Tigre sector of the Osa CBC organized by Karen Leavelle of the Friends of the Osa. Our gracious hosts were Liz Jones and Abraham Gallo, owners of one of the best birding lodges in Costa Rica, the Bosque del Rio Tigre lodge. They were as welcoming as always and eager to discuss count logistics. With just 11 participants, it was going to be impossible to cover the count circle to the extent of other Costa Rican counts such as La Selva or Carara but we would do our best with two small teams covering major habitats as well as one person staying back at the house to maintain the yard and feeder count.

I had heard a lot about the excellent cuisine of Bosque del Rio Tigre and the tuna steaks and garlic potatoes for dinner on the evening before the count certainly surpassed my expectations. As I savored that perfect meal, I thought that if the birds didn’t cooperate, at least dinner was probably worth the long bus ride!

As with all nights before a CBC in the tropics, I went to bed before nine to essentially get up in the night. Sure, 4:30 a.m. is only thirty minutes or so before the light of dawn begins to faintly illuminate the surroundings but it’s still nighttime in my book. Because it is pitch black outside, I always have this strong notion that I should be sleeping as opposed to feeling disoriented as I fumble around with my flashlight. 

Fortunately, I am able to make it to the washroom without knocking anything over or walking into a wall and fully wake myself up with cold water splashed on the face. Since I wisely prepared my gear the night before, I am ready to rock and roll in five minutes and head downstairs for coffee and banana bread.  As others come to the table, Liz apologizes for the fact that we aren’t having a proper breakfast and points out a variety of healthy snacks to keep us going until an early lunch. As we finish coffee and get ready to head off to our respective territories, the first birds of the day start to call. Someone heard Black and white Owl the night before so that is technically bird numero uno but the first for me is a Collared Forest-Falcon vocalizing from somewhere on the other side of the river. Getting a forest falcon at that crepuscular hour is pretty typical as is hearing woodcreepers and shortly thereafter sure enough, our next birds are a couple of dawn yodeling Cocoa and Northern Barred Woodcreepers. Another of our first calling birds is regular at the lodge but a new year bird for me- the tiny Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet.

Starting the count. Check out our slick, green 2010 Osa CBC tee-shirts.

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Just as everything seems to be starting to wake up and the light of day steadily grows, Liz, Dorothy, and I head up into the primary forest on the hillside behind the lodge on our way to an open area that overlooks a mix of pasture and forest. We quickly tick off forest species such as Black-faced Antthrush, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Scaly-throated Leaftosser (regular at the lodge), Golden-crowned Spadebill, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, and White-throated Shrike-Tanager. Dot-winged Antwren, Red-capped Manakin and Blue-black Grosbeak also get counted and just as we reach the horse trail that will take us to the open area, Gray-headed Kite calls from the canopy. In addition to its typical vocalization of steady, repeated notes, it also gives a strange rising call that momentarily tricks us because of its similarity to the calls of a young Spectacled Owl.

On up into the open area, we keep hearing new birds and actually see a few too now that it’s light out. The day is thankfully overcast but not so much to pour down rain and so we thankfully avoid getting roasted under the blazing, lowland sun. As we scan the treetops, Liz remarks how heavier rains than usual appear to have resulted in less fruit being available in the forest and so a number of frugivorous birds seem to have moved to lower lying areas in search of arboreal vittles. She says that because of this it’s kind of slow even though we have recorded 70 species by this time.

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While scanning the forest canopy, I find one of our best birds of the day perched in a tall, bare emergent. It’s not very close but the light colored underparts and dark head tells me this is something good and when it turns its head to reveal a raptor profile, yep(!) it’s a Tiny Hawk! My first for 2010 and always a good bird, the thrush-sized little forest raptor lets us watch it for a few minutes before flying across of field of view. In flight it looks a lot like a small Sharp-shinned Hawk.

We leave the open area after that and count more forest birds as we make our way down to the Crake Trail and eventually to edge habitats near the river. The Crake Trails gets its name from the Uniform Crakes that are regular there. We look for them but despite neither seeing nor hearing any, keep moving because we just can’t dedicate the whole day to seeing that elusive denizen of wet thickets. It’s around this time that we also hear a strange bird calling. I know it’s a parakeet species but nothing I am familiar with and so guess that it could be a Brown-throated Parakeet. I can barely believe my eyes when I then briefly spot a long-tailed parakeet hanging out with a much shorter-tailed and expected Orange-chinned Parakeet perched at the top of a riverside tree. The only other long-tailed parakeet species in the area is Crimson-fronted Parakeet but this bird was most definitely NOT one of those! They fly off before I can get more than a one second look and it’s not enough to clinch an ID but amazingly, we hear it calling again and are thrilled to see it fly right into perfect light and perch in full view for 5 or so seconds. The pale eye ring accompanied by brown cheeks and throat show that yes it is most certainly a Brown-throated Parakeet and we can hardly believe our luck at getting this new species for the lodge on the same day as the CBC.

As the sun comes out, we get several more raptors- King Vulture, White Hawk, Gray Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Double-toothed Kite, American Swallow-tailed Kite, and Black Hawk Eagle. With 14 raptor species recorded for the day, I am pretty sure it’s my best day for raptors in Costa Rica! After sightings of Great Antshrike, two becard species, and picking up more key birds of the low, thick stuff such as our only Black-bellied Wren of the day and Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, we swing by a lagoon to get Neotropical Cormorant, Green Kingfisher, and Boat-billed and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons and get killer close looks at beautiful Marbled Wood-Quail before finally making it back to the lodge for lunch. After trudging around all morning in the uncomfortable yet requisite rubber boots, it’s a fantastic feeling to take that trying footwear off and sit down to yet another excellent meal. 

Me looking serious (probably dazed by the humidity) and Dorothy enjoying an apple.

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During lunch and some post lunch relaxation, the parakeet shows up again, this time with a brown-throated friend, and they amazingly perch in full view on a distant tree. As we watch those, it’s hard to decide where to look as a much prettier Turquoise Cotinga makes an appearance in the same tree and Little Tinamou and Blue Ground-Doves show up near the kitchen to eat rice thrown to the ground. Fruit feeders also attract quality bird species such as…

 the Costa Rican endemic, Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager,

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the mostly Costa Rican endemic Fiery-billed Aracari (they barely reach Panama),

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and two other mostly Costa Rican endemics, the Spot-crowned Euphonia, and

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Golden-naped Woodpecker!

Although I kind of feel like just birding from a hammock for the rest of the day, as it would be blasphemous to shirk responsibilities on a CBC, I join the group in fording the river to walk through the village and hike up the Pizote River to make sure we don’t miss White-tipped Sicklebill. Birding is good (surprise, surprise) along the way and we record a bunch of usual edge and second growth suspects as well as Green Heron, Northern Jacana, Purple Gallinule, and White-throated Crake in roadside marshy spots.

The river walk is made challenging because we can’t see wear to put our feet in water made murky by the activities of gold miners (illegal) upriver. The sound of the rushing stream cancels out any and all bird calls which makes this segment of the CBC the least productive. There was gold at the end of the muddy rainbow however, as Abraham led us to roosting White-tipped Sicklebills! Another new one for the year, I hadn’t seen one of these crazy looking hummingbirds since I don’t know when so I guess the fear of slipping and drowning my camera in the brown stream was worth it!

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White-tipped Sicklebill thanks to Abraham Gallo of Bosque del Rio Tigre lodge.

A fitting way to end a fantastic day of birding, we counted up results before yet another perfect dinner and came up with 205 bird species! Our team alone wracked up 144 for the day and still saw a dozen or more species the following morning. It will be interesting to see how many I get on the Carara count two weeks from now.

We couldn’t count wooden birds but we got the real ones anyways (Turquoise Cotinga, Barird’s Trogon, and Orange-collared Manakin).

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Our team list for the day:

Little Tinamou
Neotropical Cormorant
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Boat-billed Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
King Vulture
White Hawk
Roadside Hawk
Collared Forest-Falcon
Yellow-headed Caracara
Gray -headed Kite
Tiny Hawk
Black Hawk-Eagle
Gray Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Double-toothed Kite
American Swallow-tailed Kite
Marbled Wood-Quail
White-throated Crake
Purple Gallinule
Gray-necked Wood-Rail
Northern Jacana
Pale-vented Pigeon
Short-billed Pigeon
Blue Ground Dove
Ruddy Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove
Gray-chested Dove
Crimson-fronted Parakeet
Brown-throated Parakeet
Orange-chinned Parakeet
Brown-hooded Parrot
White-crowned Parrot
Mealy Parrot
Red-lored Parrot
Scarlet Macaw
Squirrel Cuckoo
White-collared Swift
Costa-Rican Swift
Bronzy Hermit
Long-billed Hermit
Stripe-throated Hermit
White-tipped Sicklebill
White-necked Jacobin
Blue-throated Goldentail
Charming Hummingbird
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Baird’s Trogon
Violaceous Trogon
Black-throated Trogon
Blue-crowned Motmot
Green Kingfisher
White-necked Puffbird
Rufous-tailed Jacamar
Fiery-billed Aracari
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
Olivaceous Piculet
Red-crowned Woodpecker
Golden-naped Woodpecker
Lineated Woodpecker
Slaty Spinetail
Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner
Plain Xenops
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
Cocoa Woodcreeper
Black-striped Woodcreeper
Northern Barred Woodcreeper
Long-tailed Woodcreeper
Scaly-throated Leaftosser
Black-hooded Antshrike
Great Antshrike
Chestnut-backed Antbird
Dot-winged Antwren
Black-faced Antthrush
Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet
Southern Beardless Tyrannulet
Yellow Tyrannulet
Yellow-bellied Elaenia
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher
Paltry Tyrannulet
Northern Bentbill
Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher
Common Tody-Flycatcher
Yellow-olive Flycatcher
Golden-crowned Spadebill
Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher
Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher
Wood pewee sp.
Tropical Pewee
Great Kiskadee
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Gray-capped Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Bright-rumped Attila
Rufous Piha
Rose-throated Becard
White-winged Becard
Masked Tityra
Black-crowned Tityra
Orange-collared Manakin
Red-capped Mankin
Turquoise Cotinga
Yellow-throated Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo
Tawny-crowned Greenlet
Lesser Greenlet
Gray-breasted Martin
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Mangrove Swallow
Black-bellied Wren
Riverside Wren
House Wren
Scaly-breasted Wren
Long-billed Gnatwren
Tropical Gnatcatcher
Clay-colored Robin
Tennessee Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Mourning Warbler
Bananaquit
Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager
Cherries´s Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
White-throated Shrike-Tanager
Blue Dacnis
Blue-black Grasquit
Variable Seedeater
Thick-billed Seed-Finch
Orange-billed Sparrow
Black-striped Sparrow
Buff-throated Saltator
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Baltimore Oriole
Scarlet-rumped Cacique
Yellow-billed Cacique
Categories
Birding Costa Rica birding lodges south pacific slope

Costa Rica Birding at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge

This past weekend, I did some guiding and birding down at the Esquinas Rainforest Lodge in Costa Rica near the Osa Peninsula. It was the first time I got the chance to go birding in the area and I would go back in a second. I wouldn’t go back there because the birding was spectacular (it was good but not good enough to make me want to call it amazing). No, but I would love to visit Esquinas Lodge again because it might be the only place with easy access to Piedras Blancas National Park.

This national park was originally a sector of Corcovado National Park but was named a separate national park for management purposes. Piedras Blancas protects a large area of lowland rainforest that marches up and down rugged, steeply sloped hills. The rough terrain has kept the  forests of this little known park intact but also make it very difficult to visit.

The trails at Esquinas are probably the easiest (and only) ones in the park and are still fairly rough. During the short time we spent on them, we sweat buckets as we climbed up steep steps and sweat some more as we tried not to slip down the hill while descending. One of us also got stung by a stinging caterpillar after barely brushing up against a tree, and we had to climb over at least three fallen trees that were blocking the trail.

No, Piedras Blancas is not for the faint of heart but I would love to get back to those wild, unexplored forests to get a better idea of what lives in them.

The lodge is nice and appeared to be under good management. It’s also surrounded by good forest and very birdy gardens. Species such as Riverside Wren, Orange-billed and Black-striped Sparrows, Buff-rumped Warbler, Orange-collared Manakin, and many more are easily seen around the cabins. From the dining area, we also saw Gray-chested Doves and got amazing looks at a Black-faced Antthrush as it foraged along the edge of the forest.

The lodge and surroundings were especially good for hummingbirds. All four species of hermits were seen visiting the numerous heliconias planted in the gardens and although we didn’t see White-tipped Sicklebill, I would be surprised if this fancy hummingbird species was not present. Other hummingbird species encountered around the lodge (and several were seen as we dined) were: Charming and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, White-necked Jacobin, Purple-crowned Fairy, Garden Emerald, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, and Scaly-breasted Hummingbird.

Scaly-breasted Hummingbirds are seen quite often when birding Costa Rica on the Pacific Slope.

As luck would have it, we did not see our target species; Veraguan Mango and Sapphire-throated Hummingbird. We hoped for these recent invaders from Panama along the road to Esquinas Lodge (the La Gamba road) but saw very few plants that were flowering, so May could be the wrong time of year to look for these rare hummingbirds in Costa Rica.

Another target bird we missed along the La Gamba road was Brown-throated Parakeet. Another recent invader from Panama that has moved into Costa Rica following the deforestation that has occurred near the border, this parakeet has been seen with regularity near the town of La Gamba. I seriously doubt it was present during our stay though, because we spent a fair amount of time intently looking and listening for it. Although we saw many Blue-headed and Red-lored Parrots as they flew to their evening roosts, there was no sign of Brown-throated Parakeet. Once again, May could be the wrong time of year for this species at la Gamba.

It’s the right time for a few other good things however. Our best birds were:

Crested Oropendola– a new one for Costa Rica for the both of us! We had at least three along the highway between La Gamba and Rio Claro.

Slate-colored Seedeater– I heard at least 5 or 6 near the rice fields between the town and the lodge.

Ruddy-breasted Seedeater– just one, nice looking male.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher– what an elegant, beautiful bird!

Eastern Kingbird– seems to be getting a bit late for these guys. We saw 6.

Southern Lapwing- it’s getting more common in Costa Rica but is always nice to see.

Red-breasted Blackbird– nice looking bird way out in the rice fields.

Unidentified rail– some unknown rail or rails responded with atypical vocalizations from wet rice fields after playback of both Spotted Rail and Paint-billed Crake. I suspect that at least one was a Spotted Rail because it gave a Rallus-sounding call.

Here’s the full list of bird species we saw or heard along the La Gamba road and near Rio Claro:

Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Cattle Egret
Little Blue Heron
Green-backed Heron
White Ibis
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Muscovy Duck
White-tailed Kite
Roadside Hawk
Crested Caracara
Yellow-headed Caracara
White-throated Crake
possible Spotted and/or Paint-billed Crakes- responded to tape of both species.
Southern Lapwing
Lesser Yellowlegs
Northern Jacana
Pale-vented Pigeon
Short-billed Pigeon
Ruddy Ground-Dove
Blue Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove
Orange-chinned Parakeet
Blue-headed Parrot
Red-lored Parrot
Striped Cuckoo
Squirrel Cuckoo
Smooth-billed Ani
Common Pauraque
Costa Rican Swift
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Scaly-breasted Hummingbird
Green Kingfisher
Fiery-billed Aracari
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
Olivaceous Piculet
Red-crowned Woodpecker
Lineated Woodpecker
Pale-breasted Spinetail
Streak-headed Woodcreeper
Yellow Tyranulet
Paltry Tyrannulet
Yellow-bellied Elaenia
Common Tody-flycatcher
Slate-headed Tody-flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Gray-capped Flycatcher
Piratic Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Fork-tailed Flycatcher
Masked Tityra
Lesser Greenlet
Scrub Greenlet
Gray-breasted Martin
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Plain Wren
House Wren
Clay-colored Robin
Palm Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Thick-billed Euphonia
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Blue-black Grasquit
Variable Seedeater
Ruddy-breasted Seedeater
Slate-colored Seedeater
White-collared Seedeater
Black-striped Sparrow
Buff-throated Saltator
Red-winged Blackbird
Red-breasted Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird
Giant Cowbird
Crested Oropendola

Back at the lodge and on the trails, our highlights were:

Collared Forest-Falcon– we got alright looks at one hunting along the forest edge.

White Hawk– this beautiful raptor was perched near the lodge.

Laughing Falcon– we also saw this smart looking bird perched near the lodge.

Laughing Falcons are fairly common when birding Costa Rica.

Baird’s Trogon– this regional endemic appears to be fairly common at Esquinas.

Rufous-winged Woodpecker– we got very close looks at this beautiful woodpecker.

Black-striped Woodcreeper– this handsome woodcreeper was especially common at Esquinas.

Bicolored Antbird– we got brief looks at a few that were foraging at a rather inactive antswarm.

Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet– heard once and the briefest of looks at this small, rare flycatcher.

Rufous Piha– fairly common in the forest.

Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager– Esquinas is a great place for this Costa Rican endemic. They were easy to see right at the lodge and in the forest.

Here is a full list of birds that we recorded around Esquinas Lodge and in the nearby forests of Piedras Blancas National Park:

Great Tinamou
Little Tinamou
Magnificent Frigatebird
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
King Vulture
White Hawk
Roadside Hawk
Laughing Falcon
Collared Forest-Falcon
Yellow-headed Caracara
Crested Guan
Gray-necked Wood-Rail
Pale-vented Pigeon
Short-billed Pigeon
White-tipped Dove
Gray-chested Dove
Ruddy Ground-Dove
Orange-chinned Parakeet
Crimson-fronted Parakeet
Red-lored Parrot
Blue-headed Parrot
Squirrel Cuckoo
Common Pauraque
Costa Rican Swift
Bronzy Hermit
Band-tailed Barbthroat
Stripe-throated Hermit
Long-billed Hermit
Garden Emerald
Violet-crowned Woodnymph
White-necked Jacobin
Purple-crowned Fairy
Scaly-breasted Hummingbird
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Charming Hummingbird
Violaceous Trogon
Black-throated Trogon
Baird’s Trogon
Slaty-tailed Trogon
Rufous-tailed Jacamar
Blue-crowned Motmot
Green Kingfisher
Fiery-billed Aracari
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
Olivaceous Piculet
Red-crowned Woodpecker
Golden-naped Woodpecker
Pale-billed Woodpecker
Rufous-winged Woodpecker
Striped Woodhaunter
Plain Xenops
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
Cocoa Woodcreeper
Black-striped Woodcreeper
Northern Barred Woodcreeper
Tawny-winged Woodcreeper
Streak-headed Woodcreeper
Black-hooded Antshrike
Russet Antshrike
Dusky Antbird
Chestnut-backed Antbird
Bicolored Antbird
Black-faced Antthrush
Dot-winged Antwren
Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet
Yellow Tyrannulet
Yellow-bellied Elaenia
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher
Paltry Tyrannulet
Northern Bentbill
Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher
Commn Tody-Flycatcher
Eye-ringed Flatbill
Yellow-olive Flycatcher
Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher
Bright-rumped Attila
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Gray-capped Flycatcher
Piratic Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird
Fork-tailed Flycatcher
Rufous Piha
White-winged Becard
Masked Tityra
Black-crowned Tityra
Orange-collared Manakin
Blue-crowned Manakin
Red-capped Manakin
Tawny-crowned Greenlet
Lesser Greenlet
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-bellied Wren
Riverside Wren
Plain Wren
House Wren
Scaly-breasted Wren
Tropical Gnatcather
Clay-colored Robin
Buff-rumped Warbler
Bananaquit
Gray-headed Tanager
White-shouldered Tanager
Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager
Cherries´s Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Thick-billed Euphonia
Spot-crowned Euphonia
Bay-headed Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Green Honeycreeper
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Slate-colored Seedeater
Variable Seedeater
Orange-billed Sparrow
Black-striped Sparrow
Buff-throated Saltator
Scarlet-rumped Cacique