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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Where to Go Birding in Costa Rica March 2018

Where to go birding? It’s a perennial question for those of us who want to lay eyes on some avian life forms. Do we just keep it simple and stare out the back window? Do we bundle up and head to the nearest reservoir, or a favorite park? Maybe a wildlife refuge or nature preserve? Or, do we make that bleary eyed trip to a place where we stand in various lines and pay for overpriced snacks so we can cover large distances in a matter of hours? All that waiting and annoyance so we can see a big new suite of birds?

Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan. Resplendent Quetzal. Blue-and-gold Tanager. Just a few birds with justifiable fancy names and unless you live in Ecuador, Colombia, or Central America, plane travel is more or less required to meet them in their feathered persons. In my opinion, oh it is definitely worth the long ride (!) but even after exiting the airport in a brand new birdy country, we still need to know where we need to go to see those and other species.

Even the female R. Quetzal looks snazzy.

Back in the days of fewer people and more habitat, finding birds was probably as easy as pie. Can you imagine going birding in the hardwood forests of the eastern United States or Canada or Britain oh say 300 years ago? As long as the local people allowed birding on their land, you wouldn’t need any information on where to find birds because they would have been everywhere. An abundance of shorebirds in the wetlands, multitudes of wood-warblers, vireos, and other songbirds doing their vocal thing from the woodland mosaic. Prairies and other naturally open habitats bubbling with longspurs, meadowlarks, and other species of the grass. By historical accounts and the much greater degree of intact habitat, we know there used to be a lot more birds, like millions and millions more.

The situation in Costa Rica would have been just as or even more birdy. A constant flow of avian activity ebbing through mature tropical forests from the hot and humid lowlands up into the cool, high mountains. The logistics would have been tougher than a triathalon but the birds would have been everywhere because there was intact habitat everywhere and therein lies the key to finding birds no matter where you bring the bins. Roads made things easier for birding but they also came with a hefty price.

Nice view but there should be dense cloud forest there.

The big Catch-22 of roads and other infrastructure is the nefarious trade that is typically made. Cut a road through forest and it becomes an avenue of invitation for logging, hunting, and turning bastions of biodiversity into hot cow pasture. Although protecting the lands along roads can prevent such destruction, roadside preserves are much more the objection to the common rule. As with most places on the planet, in Costa Rica, roads followed that typical plan of deforestation leading to pasture or ag. lands long before anyone gave a hoot about cutting down trees. Fortunately, before the entire place was shorn of centenarian trees, protections were put into place to preserve watersheds and biodiversity and this is why, in Costa Rica, we can still drive through cloud forest, take a road to mature lowland rainforest, and drive around and visit several distinct habitats with some fantastic roadside birding.

If you happen to be birding in Costa Rica this March and April, you will surely be benefiting from the protections afforded to roadside forest, and likely birding at several such sites. Regarding these spring months, there actually might not be as many stand out sites to bird as other months of the year but that’s only because the same sites hold pretty similar numbers and varieties of birds all year long. So, finding the best places to bird just depends on what you hope to see and where the highest quality habitats are located.

There’s an easy place for point blank looks at Prong-billed Barbet.

To see where such birding hotspots are located, it shouldn’t take more than a satellite view of Costa Rica to find them; the areas on the map with the largest, darkest green patches. Those bits of jade are where the forest is and that’s also where most of the birds live. Nevertheless, since most folks would prefer some sort of comfort after or during a long day of birding, the next step for finding birds involves locating suitable lodging in the bioregions you want to visit. For additional birding comfort, we can also ask some questions. Is the lodge close enough to those green patches? Maybe located right inside the forest? Do they have in house guides? A bird list? Or, would staying at one take you well away from the route you plan on covering? We also need to see where national parks and private trails are located and the logistics involved with visiting those places (that would mostly be opening and closing times and entrance fees).

Since there are so many good places to go birding, it really is hard to think of the must-visit sites, the places that host the most. However, if I had to settle on three of the best sites for each habitat and biogeographic region, this is what comes to mind:

Cloud forest
Monteverde area
Tapanti National Park
Cataratas del Toro

High elevation forest
Various sites on Cerro de la Muerte
Irazu
Poas

Foothill forest
Arenal area
Tenorio area
Braulio Carrillo area

Caribbean lowland rainforest
Sarapiqui
Laguna del Lagarto
Various sites near and south of Limon

South Pacific lowland rainforest
La Gamba
Osa
Dominical area
Carara National Park- not as good for the south endemics as the other areas mentioned but an overall excellent mix of birds.

Dry forest
Santa Rosa National Park
Palo Verde National Park

Wetlands
Palo Verde National Park
Cano Negro area

These aren’t the only places to go birding but they do tend to hit on the best and most accessible placed with good habitat. It’s no surprise that birding tours tend to focus on these areas along with a few other sites. Whether you have a few days to work with or as much time as you like, a birder can’t go wrong by paying a visit to any of the aforementioned sites. I hope to see you there!

Support this blog and learn more about the birding at these and many other sites in Costa Rica by purchasing my 700 plus page e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica“. 

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Five Tips for Better Birding in Costa Rica, December, 2017

Another end of the year is nigh. Although the keeping of time is a subjective endeavor, putting a name to the end of another solar cycle is still a good excuse to get in more birding. I know, like any of us birders require a reason to put the focus on birds. We do it anyways, most of the time, so why try and get more busy with digging nature now? Although we don’t really need to watch more birds now than say June, with Christmas counts on the near horizon and year lists coming to an end, I guess we just better get out there and put the binos to an end of year, smash bang kung-fu birding test!

Test them on a Double-toothed Kite.

If you happen to be in Costa Rica these days, there are few better excuses to carry on with some non-stop birding. Literally hundreds of species await including more than a few with some seriously fancy looks. Here are five tips to see more of those cool birds in Costa Rica right now:

The Arenal Christmas Count– Ok, so you need to see this blog tonight or tomorrow to make it happen but if you are in Costa Rica on November 30th and want to participate in an awesome count in a super birdy area this weekend, contact the count organizers now at conteoavesarenal@gmail.com I’m going and I can’t wait to see what we find. Hopefully a rare migrant warbler or two (although I guess I would trade them for a Crested Eagle).

Visit Cope– Some time with Cope is especially well spent if you are into photography. If not, roosting owls, fine feeder displays, and a chance to purchase excellent bird art might also float your boat. Since he is in the lowlands, and the lowlands have lots of trees in fruit right now, there’s always the chance that Cope also has some good frugivores staked out.

Scarlet-rumped Cacique at Cope’s.

Hire a guide for a day trip– If you don’t have a guide for the entire time, consider hiring one for a day or two. If he or she is experienced, you will see more birds than on your own and a better chance at more of your target species.

Don’t shy away from “new” sites– There are a lot of good birding sites in Costa Rica, “hotspots” if you will, and some are on par with or even better than more established birding locales. Keep in mind that although eBird gives an indication of what can be found at a site, places that have been eBirded much more also tend to have more species on their lists. This doesn’t mean that those sites shouldn’t be visited or anything like that, but just to keep in mind that some of those species might have been more common in the past. The more birding that takes place in an area, the more species also eventually make it onto the list. I guess the only thing I’m really trying to say with this ramble is to not be afraid to check out spots off the regular birding circuit. If the habitat is there (lots of primary forest), that’s where the best birding is. Some sites that come to mind are Albergue del Socorro, the Finca Luna Nueva area, Volcan Tenorio, and Laguna del Lagarto.

Hit different elevations– When birding in Costa Rica, it’s well worth it to include sites or visits to the lowlands, foothills, middle elevations, and high elevations. Each elevational section has different habitats and forests with different birds. Leave one of those elevations out of the birding picture and you eliminate chances of seeing whole suites of bird species.

Purple-throated Mountain-gem awaits in middle elevations.

I hope those five tips help your birding trip to Costa Rica, especially if you can go to the count on Saturday! If I don’t see you there, I hope to see you somewhere else in the field. To learn more about birding sites throughout Costa Rica as well as how to see more birds, see my 700 plus page e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

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Birding Costa Rica Where to see birds in Costa Rica

Halfway Point During a Year of Birding in Costa Rica- 616 Down, 84 More To Go

June is already here! The older you get, the quicker time flies. Untested and unproven but nevertheless true. Just ask anyone who has surpassed 40 years on this planet. Suddenly, before you know it, the 50 year milestone stops creeping way off in the distance and gets up to begin a steady and unsettling trot, just waiting for that birthday moment when it can leap onto your neck and weigh you down with definite, clinging old age. But, you gotta accept it because the alternative is ceasing to age and since we haven’t figured out how to put a stop to that without also turning off the good old “cuore”, cessation is not the desired outcome (at least it shouldn’t be). In the meantime, give those creeping years the finger by getting out and watching more birds, being active, and keeping the inner flame going to make the world a better place (or at least to do whatever the hell you want as long as doing that doesn’t involve hurting other beings). That’s pretty much what my old neighbor Tony Palumbo from Augustus Place meant when he used to say, between puffs on some smelly cigar, “Pat, get educated and do what you want to do. Then you can tell those bastards to go to hell!” He never elucidated on who was exactly supposed to be sent off to the eternal oven but I am pretty sure it was anyone who would take try and take advantage of me or get me into an unwelcome bind.

So, in keeping with Tony’s advice, I try to see a certain number of bird species each year, always shooting for at least 600 species. In birdy Costa Rica, this is a very doable task. As long as you visit each major habitat in the country at various times of the year, you should find 600 species, and if you really work at it, you can hit 650 without too many problems. Reaching 700 requires a bit more work but the right planning and enough time can surely make that happen. That’s what I am trying for this year, and as the reader may have guessed from the title of this post, I just need 84 more species to reach this year’s birding goal.

I still need this one for the year.

With six months to work with, I can certainly do it but since most of the remaining species are somewhat of a challenge and or rare, I can’t just go out birding and find them. I now need to specifically go to the places where they occur and stick to looking for those special birds. No complaints there because the good thing about doing that is you always see other birds in the process. Even better, when I go looking for them, I will also have a solid chance at reaching 800 species for my country list. I hadn’t realized that I was so close but in looking at my Costa Rica list, I was pleasantly surprised to notice that I only needed nine more birds to hit 800! Based on my duo goals for 2017, these are the places that warrant more of my time from now until the nights grow longer:

The Ocean– If I went out to sea, I could easily pick up six or more year birds and maybe get a few country and life birds out of the salty mix (and even more if I went to Cocos Island). But, since I would also probably have a miserable sea-sick time, a pelagic isn’t one of my priorities. That could change if I could get a hold of the right medicine and boat but at the moment, I’m pleased with sticking to ferry birding (which can actually be an easy way to get several pelagic species without turning an unwelcome shade of green). I’m actually itching to take a ferry ride these days to see if the rain-swollen rivers flowing into the Gulf of Nicoya are bringing in the nutrients that attract storm-petrels, shearwaters, Bridled Tern, Brown Noddy, and maybe some mega or two. Also, based on the species missing from my year list, a few ferry trips will likely be needed to hit the 700 mark.

Birding from the Puntarenas-Paquera ferry is easy and often exciting.

The Highlands– I suspected that this region would host the majority of my missing birds but although it does harbor the easiest missing birds to get, the numbers of likely birds I could get with some effort are similar to the South Pacific, around 28 species. Several are expected and a few are always tough but since I have yet to visit the high Talamancas or Irazu, I feel good about finding most of my targets, even some of the tough ones. It will also be interesting to see if I can find some of the uncommon and rare cloud forest species on the San Rafael Varablanca road, a site not that far from my home.

The South Pacific-Since I sort of did a trip to that area when I went to San Vito in January, this was a bit of a surprise as well as a reminder of the excellent birding and high diversity way down there in the Osa, Golfo Dulce, and nearby. Preferably, I will do one or more trips to the Esquinas area or the Osa (I would love to get in a bit of expedition birding in the La Tarde area) to get the endemic ant-tanager and have a chance at Black and white Hawk-Eagle, Tiny Hawk, Turquoise Cotinga, and maybe even one of the mega large eagles. I need to go to sites near Ciudad Neily to pick up localized targets like Veraguan Mango, Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, Gray-lined Hawk, Savannah Hawk, and a fair chance at Upland and Buff-breasted Sandpipers along with other good birds, and at least one morning and evening near Buenos Aires for the O. Crake, rare nightjars, and a few other species.

Red-rumped Woodpecker is one of my targets.

The Caribbean and migrants– Thanks to the Global Big Day and other trips, I’m doing pretty good with this bunch of birds. But, since there are so many to choose from, I could still pick up 20 more resident species. Most of those are rare but I do have six months to work with. I also mention migrants for this area because the coast could still give me around a dozen species along with a chance at several rare vagrants.

The Northern volcanoes– That would be Rincon de la Vieja, Miravalles, Orosi, and Tenorio volcanoes. The high quality forests on those low mountains is excellent for a variety of high quality birds and would give me a good chance at Tody and Keel-billed Motmots, Bare-crowned Antbird, Lovely Cotinga, along with umbrellabird, Gray-throated Leaftosser, Black-eared Wood-Quail, and the list goes on. Recent mega sightings of Solitary Eagle and Harpy Eagle are additional reminders of why this is always a good area to bird! I also want to finally add the trio of uncommon Guanacaste resident sparrows to my country list- Grasshopper, Botteri’s, and Rusty. I have seen them elsewhere but never in Costa Rica and they are seriously overdue.

A glimpse at the uncommon Keel-billed Motmot.

I hope this basic outline of a birding plan might also give the reader some tips on seeing more of the species they want to find in Costa Rica. For lots more information, and to support this blog, purchase my 700 plus page e-book for finding birds in Costa Rica. I hope to see you in the field while working on this year’s goal!