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Costa Rica Bird Photography with Benefits- Tawny-faced Quail at Laguna del Lagarto

Bird photography in Costa Rica is fantastic. Sure, we could say the same about dozens of destinations and there might be excellent bird photography right in your own backyard but what you might not have birds like

yellow-throated-toucan

Yellow-throated Toucan

and Orange-chinned Parekeet.

You may not have access to a site that offers more than typical feeder species. In Costa Rica, one such top choice for bird photography is Laguna del Lagarto. It’s a place I have blogged about on more than one occasion and with good reason; this classic Costa Rica eco-lodge offers world class bird photography benefits that can be tough to beat, one of those being a chance to capture images of Tawny-faced Quail.

This image was taken at Laguna del Lagarto by local birder, Luis Ricardo Rojas.

Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of this beautiful little ground birds, if you haven’t seen many pictures. On account of its shy behavior and dense, dark rainforest habitat, this small quail is one of the most infrequently seen bird species in Costa Rica. However, thanks to the efforts of local birding guide Juan Diego Vargas and Laguna del Lagarto, chances to see Tawny-faced Quail have greatly improved. Even better, not only can you see it, you have a fair chance of getting pictures too!

The problem with seeing Tawny-faced Quail is that this species doesn’t like to be seen. This isn’t one of those birds that will walk into the open, it’s not a bird that takes many chances. In general, small groups carefully move over the forest floor and then freeze at the slightest hint of danger. Since their plumage acts as perfect camouflage in the dark forest interior, you could easily walk right past them and have no idea the bird was sitting still, just a few meters away.

Most birds that live in the understory of the rainforest are tough to see, most are experts at staying hidden. However, most also give whistled songs and calls that reveal their presence. Most do that but much to a birder’s chagrin, the Tawny-faced Quail bucks the trend. This little quail rarely sings and instead of using its voice in the morning, it often waits until dusk and even them, it calls just a few times.

The timing and manner of its song makes this bird incredibly easy to overlook. Even worse, in Costa Rica, this quail seems to sing more often during just two months; May and June. The bird can also be found and heard at other times of the year but based on the experience at Laguna del Lagarto, the most reliable time to see them is definitely during May and June. This is when they call the most and this is when Laguna offers your best chance to see them.

We all know that no bird is guaranteed, anything can happen while birding but I also know that May and June is when most of the local guides have visited Laguna to see and photograph this quail. I know that Laguna has found roosting sites for this bird and have followed careful protocols to make sure every visiting birder sees them. During the past two years, when a roosting quail at Laguna is known, the success rate of visiting birders for seeing this bird has been very high.

Perhaps roosting birds will also be found at other times of the year? Hopefully, but at the moment, May and June are the best months to book a trip to Laguna del Lagarto and photograph this bird. It’s one of several excellent side benefits when visiting Costa Rica for bird photography. Laguna being one of the better places for bird photography in Costa Rica, some of those other benefits include close photo opps for toucans, tanagers, tityras, puffbirds, and a host of additional rainforest species like the stunning Green Honeycreeper shown below. I know I’m looking forward to the next time I visit this special place!

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bird photography Birding Costa Rica

How to Find the Best Bird Photography Tour in Costa Rica

It’s November and in Costa Rica, that translates to a transition between the wet and dry seasons. There is some wind and rain and fewer birding tours but visit the country now and you can still have fantastic birding. That’s just pretty much how it goes when birding Costa Rica because whether visiting in November, during the high season, or any other time of the year, with easy access to so many excellent sites, you just can’t help but see a lot.

Including serious beauties like the Red-headed Barbet.

The same goes for bird photography, visit the right sites and the birds will be there. Use the right guide and he or she will help you find and photograph those birds, even the tough ones. Speaking of birding and photography tours, November is also when the pre-tour season kicks into gear. For local birding guides, this means scouting sites both old and new, booking the last available rooms during the high season, and thinking of better ways to help birders and photographers surpass their expectations. This is at least what I do and if I were looking for a bird photography tour, these are the factors I would focus on:

A tour led by professionals with experience in guiding photographers

Not every guide has experience with photographers and even fewer guides have worked with bird photography. Look into reviews and information about past trips. Has the guide and/or company led bird photo tours in Costa Rica? How about other places and how many? If the company has done such tours for at least two or three years and keeps leading more, they are doing something right because they are working in a highly competitive field.

Green Honeycreeper- just one of many stunning birds waiting to be photographed in Costa Rica.

A birding photography tour that visits the right spots and stays at good hotels

Where will the tour go? Is there an accurate and honest description? Check out the hotels in the itinerary, if they resonate with other bird photographers, you will be headed to the right sites. If the birds mentioned don’t jive with what occurs in that area, think twice before booking the tour. If the people associated with and giving the tour stand out as experts in their field, the tour will be the right choice.

Although one could stay at the most luxurious hotels in Costa Rica, these aren’t the best places for bird photography. For the best tour, you want to stay at comfortable, quality hotels for sure but they should also provide excellent photo opportunities right there on the premises.

A Keel-billed Toucan from Laguna del Lagarto- one of the top bird photography sites not just in Costa Rica but in all of Central America.

A tour that spends enough time at the best spots

Quick tours are alright especially if you only have a few days to work with but the most productive photography tours strive spend at least a couple of nights at each spot. This is because since many tropical bird species are naturally rare, numbers and occurrence of various species can vary from one day to the next. Factor in variations in lighting and other aspects of bird photography and at least two days at each site greatly improves the chances of getting excellent shots of more birds.

A tour offered for a good price

Finally, you don’t want to pay too much for a tour (who does?). Fortunately, the best prices for photo tours tend to be offered by local companies because they have less overhead cost. Since very experienced local guides also know where to find key birds and can thus provide a better bird photography experience, going with a quality local company is the way to go.

The best bird photography tour in Costa Rica I know of will be happening this January. Running from January 15th to January 27th, this LiferTours itinerary has been carefully designed by a very experienced top local guide to access top bird photography sites for chances at a wide variety of hummingbirds including

Purple-throated Mountain-gem

Violet Sabrewing

and Volcano Hummingbird among other species.

Tanagers like

Bay-headed Tanager,

Crimson-collared Tanager among various others,

and such avian stars as Resplendent Quetzal

Black Guan

Brown-hooded Parrot

King Vulture and many other birds in beautiful natural surroundings. This tour visits such fantastic places as Chachagua Rainforest and the Arenal area, Bosque de Paz, Quetzal Paradise and Savegre, Laguna del Lagarto, and the beautiful Rio Perlas Hotel and will be guided by an excellent, very experienced bilingual local guide. To learn more about the best two weeks of bird photography to be had in Costa Rica during 2020, contact me today at information@birdingcraft.com to give yourself a fantastic start to 2020!

Note- I took these images with a bridge camera at sites visited on this tour, just imagine what kind of shots you can get with better equipment!