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biodiversity bird finding in Costa Rica migration

Costa Rica Birding News Flash- Early September, 2021

Fall is happening in Costa Rica. There won’t be any foliage color changes nor any cool, crisp weather but autumn still happens. Much to the enjoyment of birders, in tropical Costa Rica, the signs of September change take an avian form. It’s not exactly like temperate zone migration (don’t expect skeins of geese, nor massive movements of grackles and blackbirds) but then again, we don’t live in a place with annual freezing conditions.

In Costa Rica, the signs of fall are flocks of shorebirds, some of the them staying for the duration, others moving much further south. Fall in Costa Rica is flocks of Red-eyed Vireos hiding in the foliage; more intent on imitating leaves than testing their vocal chords. It’s thousands, millions of swallows and Chimney Swifts flowing south. Keep looking up and you also see the river of raptors; Mississippi Kites, Swainson’s Hawks, and Turkey Vultures.

These are some signs of our autumn, ones that arrives in force but on quiet wings. Some of the newsworthy birding items from Costa Rica for early September, 2021:

First Passerine Migrant Push

The first songbird migrants have arrived on the scene. Both wood-pewee species have started moving through the country along with good numbers of Willow/Alder Flycatchers, Red-eyed Vireos, and the first wood-warblers. Those would be American Redstart, Yellow Warblers, and a few others including the cherry on the birding cake; the coveted Cerulean Warbler. A few of these special canopy birds have been spotted here and there, especially in expected middle elevation habitats on the Caribbean slope. I’m still waiting to get lucky with one out back any day now.

Upland Sandpiper (!)

Not many have been recorded but it’s likely that dozens of the classic grasspiper are passing through the night skies. Most probably don’t stop, others perhaps settle down in wide open, underbirded fields in Guanacaste. A few, though, pause in open habitats of the Central Valley, especially at sites around the airport. On September 3rd, thanks to a message from Diego Quesada of Birding Experiences, and the Garrigues brothers for finding and reporting the bird, Marilen and I saw our annual Upland Sandpiper.

While we watched it, I was reminded how well this prairie species can blend in with its surroundings, it was more or less impossible to see without binoculars.

Tahiti Petrel and Other Pelagic Species

Local birders on a recent pelagic trip off of Malpais were treated to wonderful looks at a Tahiti Petrel along with Sabine’s Gull and other sweet species of the deep marine zone. The numerous trips arranged by Wilfredo Villalobos have had a wonderful double impact on local birding; increased knowledge of pelagic birds in Costa Rican waters while helping local birders connect with cool lifers.

Thanks to these and other trips, we now know that Tahiti Petrel is quite regular in Costa Rica (although perhaps related to warmer waters caused by climate change?) and great pelagic birding is possible just 30 minutes from the coast.

Yellow-green Vireos in Costa Rica- Still Singing

In some ways, the Yellow-green Vireo is analogous to the Red-eyed Vireo of temperate North America. Like the Red-eyed, it migrates to breeding areas and then returns to South America for the winter. On the breeding grounds, it also sings for hours on end and looks a bit like the Red-eyed Vireo. Unlike the Red-eyed, though, it can occur in more fragmented habitat, has a larger bill, and more yellow in its plumage (among other field marks).

The past few days, it has been interesting to hear snatches of song from a Yellow-green Vireo. Maybe this common wet season resident of Costa Rica’s Central Valley couldn’t help itself but I wonder if the vocal behavior was associated with an especially rainy wet season. Did it think that maybe it should try for one more nesting attempt? Since the songs weren’t all that emphatic, its instincts to move south probably got the better of it.

Bare-necked Umbrellabirds at La Selva

La Selva guide Ademar Hurtado has been making local birders smile by way of Bare-necked Umbrellabirds. After breeding in cloud forests, this endangered mega migrates to lower elevations, including la Selva biological station; a classic post-breeding site for the species. Hopefully, those individuals and additional umbrellabirds will linger at La Selva until they move back upslope in February.

Birding Influencers and Guides in Costa Rica on Proimagen Futuropa Promotional Trip

This past week, several birding influences and guides from several nations have been visiting sites in Costa Rica on a promotional trip known as “Birdingbliss 2021”. Arranged by Proimagen and Futuropa and with help from I.C.T (the Costa Rica tourism institution), Costa Rica Birding, and various hotels, the participants have been getting a taste of Costa Rica birds at Tortuguero, the Dota Valley, the Sierpe Mangroves, Quepos, and other birdy places.

Hopefully, as they experience and showcase the avian side of Costa Rica, they will see plenty of target species and eventually return with guests of their own.

In Costa Rica, with the main part of fall migration just getting started, I better go outside and see what’s around. Happy birding, I hope to see you here!

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Birding Costa Rica migration

Fall Migration is On in Costa Rica

Autumn, it’s happening up north where the changes in Niagara bring salmon jumping in the river, leaves just beginning to turn gold and red, and wood-warblers chipping in the oaks. September birding for me in the north was flocks of infamous fall warblers calling and flitting in the trees of Goat Island. The migration back then could be intense, on one fall out morning I recall birds in every bush and tree. Vireos come with the wood-warblers and other migrants that fly far to the south, one bunch of species to the Caribbean, another bunch to Middle America and on into the Amazon.

In Costa Rica, we get that latter bunch of birds. This is why species like the deep beauty Black-throated Blue and the tail flicking Prairie Warbler are local megas. I would love to find one or two of those or a Palm Warbler would also be nice but us birders in Costa Rica can’t complain. How so with so much to see? Birds are everywhere but it’s a bonus to watch Golden-winged Warblers and even catch Ceruleans in migration. Both are regular in Costa Rica, the seriously uncommon Golden-winged even more so than the Cerulean.

Just as around Niagara, there are a lot of migrant Tennessee Warblers.

Ceruleans come through first and some are in country as I write. I hope we can see at least one before they fly further south, to do so will require birding time in the middle elevations and foothills on the other side of the mountains. I hope we get a chance to do that. With extreme luck we could even get one in front of the homestead, after all, some also pass through the Central Valley. So far, we have had other birds, the very first migrants showing in the hedge out front.

A female American Redstart has been foraging and chipping from a fig, it was nice to become reacquainted with the call and note that it is drier than the sweet chip of a Yellow. Speaking of that very common bird, we also had our first Yellow Warbler last week. A couple of quiet Red-eyed Vireos have been sharing the hedgerow with the redstart and other migrants have come in the form of a name saying Eastern Wood-Pewee and a chipping Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (our most common Empid.).

Many more wood-pewees will be moving through the Caribbean lowlands.

Even if the hedgerow birds hadn’t been present, we would still know it’s fall by the Cliff Swallows up above. The first groups have been foraging up there with the resident Blue-and-white Swallows and swifts , there are many more in the lowlands. Soon, there could well be hundreds of swallows passing overhead as the bulk of their population moves south.

A great many Barn Swallows will also be passing through.

I hope we can venture further afield to find more birds of the fall but there’s still plenty to see right out front. The more we watch, the more likely we will find a rare Black-billed Cuckoo or other choice year bird and the more we check the coast, the more shorebirds we will see (lots of those are passing through in full force right now!). At this time of the year, the birds are out there, maybe even next door (!), you just gotta keep watching no matter where you may find yourself.