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Which Bird Vocalizations to Study for Birding in Costa Rica?

Going birding in Costa Rica? I hope so. Since my first visit in 1992, experiencing the birds and biodiversity of this beautiful country is something I have wished for every birder. Costa Rica offers accessible tropical habitats, mixed flocks busy with colorful tanagers, toucans calling from treetops, and macaws dominating their surroundings by way of super sized plumage, appearance, and, most of all, screams.

Referring to those loud voices as vocalizations wouldn’t be wrong but we aren’t talking about some sweet rainforest melody. Macaws scream and they do it loud. It’s good, it makes sure you know where to look, where to watch the sky and wait for that avian royalty to fly into view. But I would be amiss if I said it was a song. That term seems better for the more musical voices of Bay Wrens and Clay-colored Thrushes.

birding Costa Rica

The friendly voice of the national bird may be more evocative than its modest appearance.

Just as Costa Rica has hundreds of birds to look at, this birding nation also has just as many birds to listen to. Yes, hundreds, as in several hundreds. If you feel daunted or that it would be silly to try and learn all of those bird songs, well, you might be right. I suppose it depends on how much time you feel like dedicating to the endeavor. However, as with visiting any place for birding, learning at least some of the more common and noticeable bird sounds will be worth your while.

The audible side of birding is just as important as the visual aspect of experiencing the avian. It might be even more important because most birds sing or vocalize and we hear them before we see them.. As with most forested habitats, in tropical forest, we hear many more birds than are seen, maybe even 20 species heard before laying eyes on just one. Knowing which birds make those whistles, chirps, and other calls is key to knowing what’s hiding in the forest, which species are waiting for us back there in the bromeliads and vines and mossy understory. That knowledge also helps locate target species and adds depth to a journey already made rich by time stopping viws of golden-beryl green quetzals, strutting curassows, and surreal wine-dipped Snowcaps.

It might seem daunting but it’s worth learning some of those calls, a few of those songs. With that in mind, these are a good 50 bird species to start with. They are frequently heard, have distinctive vocalizations, are very special birds you don’t want to miss, or a combination of those factors.

Great Tinamou– Listen for the mournful evocative whistles in lowland and foothills rainforests. It can sing any time of day or night.

great tinamou

Crested Guan– If you hear loud, odd sort of barking or honking calls coming from the forest canopy, this species is probably around.

Spotted Wood-Quail– Birding in the Dota Valley? Listen for this bird’s rollicking song in the cool montane airs of the early morning.

Gray-cowled Wood-Rail– This loud, drunken sounding bird calls from riparian zones in many parts of the country, urban green space included.

Green Ibis– Another bird that sounds like it may have had a few too many. It blends its prehistoric sounding calls with an equally prehistoric appearance.

White-throated Crake– Heard much more often than seen. If its sounds like eggs are sizzling in a marsh or tall wet grass, this species is the cook.

Ruddy Ground-Dove– The typical doveish calls of thsi common bird are good ones to learn.

Red-billed Pigeon– Ditto for Costa Rica’s most common pigeon.

Short-billed Pigeon– The Barred Owl isn’t the only bird that says, “Who cooks for you”? This plain colored rainforest pigeon asks the same question.

Squirrel Cuckoo– Some people claim this bird is being rude and saying, “Up Your’s!” I just think its living up to its cuckoo family antics.

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl– A common bird in many of the dry parts of the Pacific slope.

Mottled Owl– One of Costa Rica’s most frequently heard owls.

Common Pauraque– The standard nightjar in many parts of Costa Rica.

Gartered Trogon– A common bird, vocal, and a good one to know so you can admire its plumage of many colors.

Resplendent Quetzal– Not as common but one of the most spectacular birds on the planet. They are vocal and hearing them is one of the best ways to find them.

Lesson’s Motmot– Hear a dog or owl giving a double bark or hoot? You might be hearing a Lesson’s Motmot.

Broad-billed Motmot– This motmot makes a funny nasal sounding noise that is difficult to describe.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar– Vocal, locally common, and a good bird to know.

Collared Aracari– This aracari doesn’t sound anything like the larger toucans.

Yellow-throated Toucan– Loud and proud, the yelps of this big-beaked badboy are typical of the audio rainforest scene.

Lineated Woodpecker– It sort of laughs like a Pileated but still sounds quite different.

Collared Forest-Falcon– Learn its mournful calls to realize how common this relusive species is actually is.

Laughing Falcon– The laughter of this masked snake eater carry for some distance.

Scarlet Macaw– It is good to know what the screams of this magnificent bird sound like.

White-crowned Parrot– A common parrot in many parts of Costa Rica.

Barred Antshrike– Another common bird with a characteristic song.

Chestnut-backed Antbird– The friendly whistled notes of this understory species are synonymous with rainforest.

Cocoa Woodcreeper– One of the more common woodcreeper species in the humid lowlands.

Spotted Woodcreeper– A common bird of mixed flocks in foothill and cloud forest habitats.

Three-wattled Bellbird– The loud calls of this special bird are incredible.

Silvery-fronted Tapaculo– Another bird heard more often than seen, you will hear its loud staccato vocalizations in cloud forest and high elevation habitats.

Masked Tityra– It’s just nice to know that some birds sound like cartoon pigs.

Great Kiskadee– A bird that says its name and says it often.

Boat-billed Flycatcher– A kiskadee look-a-like. Maybe it complains about kiskadees getting more attention?

Yellow-bellied Elaenia– Common in gardens and second growth and very vocal.

Long-tailed Manakin– The intriguing calls of this beautiful bird are frequently heard.

White-collared Manakin– Another common manakin, this one calls and displays from second growth.

Lesser Greenlet– Easy to overlook but common and often heard. A good vocalization to learn.

Green Shrike-Vireo– No, that’s not a titmouse even if it does remind you of one.

Brown Jay– Hear some typically jayish calls? It’s probably this bird.

Gray-breasted Wood-Wren (and other wrens especially Rufous-and-white and Nightingale)- You will hear plenty of wrens, including the friendly song of this bird while birding in cloud forest.

Clay-colored Thrush– The song of this bird may remind you of the American Robin or Eurasian Blackbird.

Black-faced Solitaire– One of the best songs in the country!

Olive-backed Euphonia– You will probably hear quite a few of these in the lowland and foothill forests of the Caribbean slope.

Yellow-crowned Euphonia– Another commonly heard euphonia.

Rufous-collared Sparrow– This is one of the first species heard at first light in the Central Valley.

Costa Rica birding

Melodious Blackbird– The ringing calls of this common species have become a regular part of the audio backdrop in many places.

Great-tailed Grackle– Another loud and very common urban species.

Collared Redstart– The hurried song of this friendly species is typical of high elevation sites.

Black-thighed Grosbeak– A nice, beautiful song to learn.

Whether because they are common, heard often, or make fantastic sounds, these are the 50 species I recommend learning first. If 50 seems like too many birds to learn, go for 25 or even 20. You will probably hear several from the list when visiting Costa Rica, maybe even on that first exciting morning. If you can find time to learn more, that’s even better. If you can’t learn any, that’s alright too; what’s most important is making it to Costa Rica for birding and enjoying several days of fantastic Costa Rica birds.

There are additional birds not on this list that would also be good to learn, other birds you will certainly hear during a birding tour to Costa Rica. Some are bird species that may be familiar to folks who have birded Arizona or other places in the USA, species like Blue Grosbeak and Inca and White-winged Doves. Others include various hawks, hawk-eagles, warblers, and so many others. It’s always good to study those other species because make no doubt about it, many will be entering your personal birding audiosphere.

Whether you just want to learn a few, the 50 on this list, or listen to the whole shebang of 900 species, a complete birding app for Costa Rica can help. It works because you can:

  • See pictures of the birds while listening to them.
  • Use filters to show birds by family (if you feel like say focusing on antbird vocalizations), region (if you want to study the calls of birds that say only occur in the mountains), or other attributes.
  • Listen to the sounds of 900 species (its nice to have the songs of so many birds at your fingertips).

Not to mention, in a recent update, we also included:

  • 7 more species for a total of 1005 species and subspecies on the app. One of these was a recent addition to the Costa Rica bird list, the others are species that could eventually occur.
  • More images, including birds in flight.
  • Regional endemic search filter and updated list of regional endemics
  • Updated information about behavior and habitats of pelagic birds and other species.
  • Name changes that reflect AOS and eBird checklists
  • Improved range maps

Learn some bird songs to get ready for your birding trip to Costa Rica. The birds are waiting and the birding is always fantastic. I hope to see you here!

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Costa Rica birding app

Updating the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide App

While out birding or guiding, I usually have a camera on hand. Having
become part of the modern day birding kit, that would be expected. But, the funny thing is, I don’t take that many pictures of birds. I guess I would but I already have more than enough images of hundreds of species, especially the common, easy to shoot ones like flycatchers, toucans, and Short-tailed Hawks.

I still bring the camera, though, but more for shots of birds in flight, rarities, and just in case probability takes an unlikely right turn in my direction to bring me good shots of Tawny-faced Gnatwren or other deviously difficult birds to photograph. I don’t take such pictures to expand my portfolio, I release the shutter with the hope of adding more images to the birding apps I work on. They have to be quality images and since the Costa Rica Field Guides app now shows images for more than 900 species, there aren’t too many more that I can get pictures of anyways.

However, there’s always that chance that I will suddenly have that skulking gnatwren or Tawny-crowned Greenlet paused and in good light, or get good shots of some of the swifts. However unlikely those scenarios may be, as with winning a lottery, they are still possible and the more I encounter those birds, as per the laws of probability, the more likely such photographic chances will present themselves.

But, fortunately for the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, I am far from the only person contributing images. In addition to the hundreds of excellent photos contributed by Randall Ortega Chaves (one of the co-founders of the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app), several people have helped us with images of a host of other difficult species. Many of the images are actually birds common elsewhere but a challenge to find and photograph in Costa Rica, birds like Great Shearwater, White Tern, and Northern Pintail. Although a birder might not be looking for those species in Costa Rica, or be likely to see them, we include those and every species on the official list for the country because that’s what a complete field guide should do. With that in mind, contributed are greatly appreciated and is why contributors are listed on the app, the app website, and, if desired, promoted on the app Facebook page.

Since the creation of the app, we have also routinely provided free updates with more images, vocalizations, and other information. Recently, we did another one, these are some of the new images:

Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, many thanks to Pete Morris at Birdquest for being so generous with this and so many other excellent images including the Uniform Crake pictured below.

Seth Beaudrault gave us a few very nice images of Barred Hawk and Scaled Antpitta, as with the birds above, both are species already shown on the app but there’s nothing like having more quality images of really cool birds.

Many thanks also goes to Jean Bonilla, a guide in the Monteverde area who made it possible to finally show the Black-breasted Wood-Quail on the app. This is the excellent picture he took and contributed:

In going through my photos from the previous year, I also found some images to include. They aren’t pictures of birds in perfect views but that’s actually why I put them on the app. The birding days are grand when all the birds show themselves in perfect light. However, since such days are also as rare as sightings of the RVG Cuckoo, I think it’s important for a field guide to also picture birds as they are often seen; in substandard light and in odd positions.

Birds like this Nutting’s Flycatcher,

this view of Western Kingbird,

and this White-necked Puffbird.

The app also now shows more images of ducks and a few other birds in flight and additional images of Rough-legged Tyrannulet and other uncommon species. We are just a few short images away from picturing every species on the list, if you would like to help us out, please contact me at information@birdingcraft.com These are the final birds we are looking for!-

  • Mangrove Rail
  • Ocellated Crake
  • Paint-billed Crake
  • Violaceous Quail-Dove
  • Cocos Cuckoo
  • Cocos Flycatcher
  • Cocos Finch
  • Short-tailed Nighthawk
  • Great Swallow-tailed Swift
  • White-chinned Swift
  • Red-fronted Parrotlet
  • Black-headed Antthrush
  • Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner
  • Silvery-fronted Tapaculo
  • Tawny-crowned Greenlet
  • Tawny-faced Gnatwren
  • Lined Seedeater,
  • Sulphur-rumped Tanager

As always, I hope to see you birding somewhere in Costa Rica!

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Birding Costa Rica Costa Rica bird finding guide Costa Rica birding app preparing for your trip Where to see birds in Costa Rica

Why It’s Important to Study Before a Birding Trip to Costa Rica

Study for birding? What? Didn’t we spend enough of our lives studying during high school and university? To pass our tests for a driver’s license? To compete on Jeopardy? Whether you dislike studying or not, it’s the right thing to do before a birding trip to Costa Rica. Make that any birding trip anywhere. This is why it’s especially important to study before testing your bino skills in Costa Rica:

Unfamiliar birds, unfamiliar bird families: Just like Dorothy, you can kiss Kansas goodbye! Not only are the birds unfamiliar, but so are many of the families. Have you ever seen a Blue-gray tanager at the home patch? That common bird is pretty easy but what about a Dull-mantled Antbird or dozens of other skulking species with poetic names? But at least House Wren is on the list right? Well, yes, it is and it pretty much looks like the ones back home but it’s not going to sound like them. But what about folks who have already birded in Costa Rica or other areas in the Neotropical region? See the next point to answer that question.

Ocellated Antbird

Almost too many birds: Almost because there can never be enough. But seriously, though, there are so many possible birds, it’s always worth studying before the trip no matter how many times you have birded Costa Rica. Study to brush up on field marks of foliage-gleaners, to know which species are possible in given areas (get the targets set), and to always be ready- see the next point.

Black-bellied Hummingbird is one of 50 plus hummingbird species that live in Costa Rica.

You only get one look: Maybe, maybe not, but serious biodiversity comes at a price- almost everything is is rare by nature. Not so much the second growth and edge species (most of which can also be seen from Mexico south to the bird continent), but most of the forest-based birds and raptors. Combine small populations with major skulking and hiding skills and we have a recipe for challenging birding that can afford very few sightings. The up-side is that you can go birding at the same quality forest site day after day and see more species every time. Since we might only get a few looks at various species during a one or two week trip, we need to be ready to focus on the field marks. A good birding guide will be a major help but it still pays to know what to look for.

What’s an antbird?: Back to unfamiliar families. Try and become more familiar with things like puffbirds, forest-falcons, motmots, and antbirds. These things don’t occur at home. They don’t act like most birds at home. This makes you want to see them more of course, so study them in the field guide and read about their behavior (this blog is a good place to start).

Keel-billed Motmot

Check out the vocalizations: Yeah, it’s a lot to study and not everyone’ s cup of tea but knowing at least a few of those sounds before the trip is going to be a huge help. To give an idea of how important knowledge of bird vocalizations is when birding in the Neotropics, when we do point counts, we hardly use our binoculars at all. The majority of birds at dawn and in the forest you can’t really seem at that hour anyways. But, you can hear them and you can hear a lot, like dozens, even one hundred species in some spots. With a list that tops 900 species, no one can be expected to know every single chip and song, but even knowing what certain bird families sound like can really help.

Study common birds, study the birds you want to see the most: If you don’t have the time and memory for hundreds of species, stick to the common ones along with your favorite targets. The more you study, the more you will see (even with a guide), and you will be seeing birds that are already sort of know instead of random, totally unfamiliar species.

Some stuff to study:

Field guides: First and foremost, this the first tool to get. Although the best way to learn any new bird or family is to see it in person, studying before a trip will help. Some people prefer illustrations and others prefer photos. Both will help but an advantage of photos is that they can capture subtleties and other aspects of birds that can be hard to show with an illustration. They also tend to show how the birds look in the field. We won’t know anything about the birds in Costa Rica if we don’t have a study guide and although there are a few others, these are the best ones to get:

-The Birds of Costa Rica a Field Guide by Carrigues and Dean: Compact, complete, good illustrations and maps, the book to get.

Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app by BirdingFieldGuides: On a mobile device, photos for 850 plus species, vocalizations for more than 600 species, and information and maps for all species on the list (over 900). Also, ability to take and email notes in eBird format, variety of search functions, similar species function,no Internet needed for app to work.

Reference books: The best book to get is Birds of Costa Rica by Stiles and Skutch. It might be a bit out of date, kind of big for the field, and the illustrations are ok, but it has the best set of information about the ecology of birds in Costa Rica. This is an excellent book to study to learn about the behavior of the Costa Rican avifauna. Other good choices include:

– Any other books by Alexander Skutch.

– Birds of Tropical America by Steven Hilty is an excellent treatise on the behavior and ecology of neotropical birds.A fun, informative read before and after the trip.

-The Wildlife of Costa Rica: A Field Guide by Reid, Leenders, and Zook also works as a field guide and has information about other animals in addition to birds.

– Travellers Wildlife Guides Costa Rica by Les Beletsky is another field guide with lots of cool information about birds and other wildlife.

eBird: What modern day birder doesn’t use eBird as a study tool? If you don’t check it out but be aware that it can be a serious eater of time. Most of all, it’s good for knowing where birds have been seen. Pay it back by sending in your own lists.

Bird finding guides: There are a few old ones that still have some valid information but as with any country, bird finding information changes over time. the most recent bird finding guides are:

– A Bird Finding Guide to Costa Rica by Barrett Lawson has a lot of good bird finding information for various places, especially well known sites. Available in print.

How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica by Pat O’Donnell (yep, that’s me) is like two or three books in one with the most up to date bird finding information for most of the country, including several little known sites, as well as information about behavior, ecology, and identification of Costa Rican birds. Available in e-book format and for Kindle devices.

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preparing for your trip Where to see birds in Costa Rica

Looking for Tinamous?

If you are a birder in Costa Rica, of course you want to see a tinamou or two or three! Tinamous are the weird Neotropical equivalent of a cross between a grouse, quail, and football. Most have whistled vocalizations that tend to be a blend of haunting and beautiful. However, those sounds can also be a musical font of frustration because we hear tinamous so much more often than seeing them. Although Amazonia is pretty much tinamou central, we do have our fair share in Costa Rica. Five species occur in the country, and access to protected forests makes it easier to see these weird birds here than many other places.

Here are a few tips on the best places to see each tinamou species in Costa Rica:

Great Tinamou: This one is fairly common but very shy where there is even a hint of hunting. Yeah, licensed hunting is illegal in Costa Rica but as far as I can tell, hunting for food in non-protected areas is not so you can forget about seeing tinamous and curassows in most non-protected areas. Fortunately, there is enough easy access to forests with Great Tinamou to give good chances at actually laying eyes on this bird. Carara National Park is probably the best place because the birds are tame and always somewhere out on the Quebrada Bonita trail. La Selva comes in at a close second for the same reasons. Other forests in Sarapiqui are also suitable (Selva Verde and Tirimbina), as are any well protected sites in other parts of its range.

Needless to say, Carara is a good place to get pictures of this normally shy species.

Highland Tinamou: Costa Rica is very likely the easiest place to see this cloud forest tinamou anywhere in its range. Although it can turn up at Tapanti, and I have heard it on Poas, the most reliable sites are the Santa Elena and Monteverde reserves. Quietly walk the trails and you might see a Highland Tinamou.

A Highland Tinamou scurries away. This rare image was taken by Birdquest guide Dani Lopez and is on the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app.

Thicket Tinamou: This dry forest species can be heard at several sites but the most reliable sites that come to mind are these national parks: Santa Rosa, Rincon de la Vieja, and Palo Verde. The last one on this list is especially good for this species.

Slaty-breasted Tinamou: This species seems to be decidedly more rare in Costa Rica than sites further north. However, if you want to see it, your best bet is the Sarapiqui area. Carefully bird Tirimbina, Selva Verde, or La Selva and you have a fair chance at this one. I have also had it at Quebrada Gonzalez, El Tapir, El Zota, and a few other sites but it seems more rare at these places than Sarapiqui.

Little Tinamou: Pretty common but a real pain! This small, shy tinamou prefers thick second growth and rarely comes into the open. It occurs in lots of places, the best way to see one is by tracking down a calling bird, finding a spot where you can see into the understory, and waiting for it to walk into view. Or, you could also visit Bosque del Rio Tigre and watch one visit the garden!

Good luck with the tinamous in Costa Rica. A side benefit of watching and waiting for them to show is seeing other shy birds that also make an appearance.

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Birding Costa Rica preparing for your trip

Some March, 2016 Birding News for Costa Rica

Since this the big birding month is about to happen in Costa Rica, I figured that this would also be an appropriate time to write some birding news. That, and the fact that I did not get out into the Costa Rican wilds this past weekend. A Big Day was planned but sickness kept my fellow Big-Dayers from getting out of bed so we had to postpone. Frustrating indeed but since the weather was pretty iffy, better to cancel now and have another shot at it in April. I had to do a bunch of chores around the house anyways so it all worked out. As for the lack of birding, I will be making up for it pretty soon when a friend of mine comes down next week! In the past, we have traveled through Mexico, birded Ecuador, Peru, and also here once before so it will be fun to try and clean up on rare stuff he is missing, especially now that I know where to find birds in Costa Rica.

Keel-billed Motmot is one of those targets.

Stuff to expect-Quetzals

Not much of anything different comes to mind. Quetzals have been showing well in the Dota Valley and the other usual places. On some days, there have been veritable crowds of tourists waiting for quetzals on the main road in the Dota. Sounds like the perfect opportunity to hand out information about quetzals and conservation. It would also be a good opportunity to get donations for tree planting campaigns.

I have also seen a couple of quetzals on the road to Poas but it’s tough to discern if the population is smaller or the same. I haven’t seen any fruiting avocados yet.

Collared Trogon has also been calling up there lately.

Tanagers- Lots of tanagers in the usual spots but one of the best new sites for close looks at Emerald, Speckled, and more is the San Luis Canopy (aka San Luis Adventure Park). It’s not on the regular birding route but should be! Ahem, they also get umbrellabird on their trails.

Umbrellabird- Speaking of this megatinga, it keeps on getting harder to find. With the drier weather in the wet forests it requires, it had probably declined, hopefully not too much because it’s already endangered. I haven’t heard of many being seen in the Sarapiqui lowlands, and very few sightings overall. It makes me wonder if the most accessible site is the San Luis Canopy and the nearby Cocora Hummingbird Garden?

Ornate-Hawk-Eagle– Good news for this one, it just seems to be more and more common. I can’t help but wonder if that is at the detriment of Black Hawk-Eagle. Watch for the Ornate at all sorts of sites from the lowlands to pretty high up.

White-fronted Nunbird– This one might be doing better in some of the accessible spots. That, or just more coverage because it has been seen quite often at sites around Arenal.

Nunbirds at Finca Luna Nueva.

Great Curassow– Good news for this one too- keeps getting more common and tame at several sites.

Woodcreepers– Back to bad news. Most species seem much less common than they used to be. They can still be seen at various sites, but species like Spotted, Cocoa, Black-striped, etc. just don’t seem to be as common.

Lanceolated Monklet– Brave the traffic on the ever popular Fortuna waterfall trail for this one. It’s as unobtrusive as always but just keep looking, it’s there! Please do not use playback and scare this reliable bird away!

Scaled Antpitta– Always tough but if you are staying at Bosque de Paz, you are in luck! One has been showing at the outflow near or behind (?) the gatekeepers place early in the morning. It doesn’t show for long so get up early, keep quiet, and keep watching. If you aren’t staying there you are out of luck because , sadly, non-guests have no access to the site.

How dry I am…– Sure, I could always go for a cold, finely brewed beer but in this case, the entire Pacific slope is in need of liquid nourishment from the skies. It’s normal to be dry right now but the new dry is way more dry than the old one. If there is an up-side, it comes in the form of concentrating birds at a few sites.

Tropical dry forest and the Gulf of Nicoya.

Another update for the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide apps: A new update with more images and sounds should be available any day now. There is written information and range maps for all species on the Costa Rica list (over 900), images for over 800 of them, and sounds for more than 600. A basic version is also available that features 350 plus species.

That’s the birding news that comes to mind at the moment, I hope it helps your trip!

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Birding Costa Rica preparing for your trip

This Week in Costa Rica Birding

Are you on your way to Costa Rica? Are you already here? If so, I hope these tidbits of birding news will be of use. In no necessary order:

It’s windy out there!: If you thought you had escaped the cold weather, well, I guess you did but you haven’t quite escaped the winter. Although the wicked and icy lash of the north falls far short of Costa Rica, it can still send cold fronts that batter us with wind and dump tons of rain in the mountains and on the Caribbean slope. Yesterday, the wind was out of control in the Central Valley. It rattled the roof tops and kept most birds out of sight. Although we didn’t get any rain in the valley, from my window, I could see it falling in the mountains from this massive block of moisture. Sure glad I wasn’t birding on the Caribbean slope! The weather looks much better today even though the system is supposed to stay with us until the weekend.

Short-tailed Hawks seem to enjoy the wind.

Road closures: Despite the wind and rain, I guess it wasn’t enough to cause landslides and other reasons for road closures. The only one listed on the government road closure site is that of the usual 10 pm to 5 am closure at Paso Ancho on the loop road south of San Jose.

A White-eyed Vireo is hanging out in a local birder’s backyard: Paul Pickering of the Birds for Beer blog has let most of his property grow right back up and guess what? Birds have taken advantage of the green space including a vagrant Cape May Warbler last year, and a lost, wintering White-eyed Vireo this year. This skulky bird is a rare vagrant in Costa Rica and usually seen during migration on the Caribbean coast. Since it seems to have taken up residence at Paul’s place, we did a trip over that way on Saturday and made a sweet addition to the year list.

Here's looking at you sweet 2016 White-eyed Vireo!

Three-wattled Bellbirds are being seen at Curi-Cancha: Aren’t they usually there? No, not right now! Ironically, this news item is a bitter one because it’s probably a sign that the normal wintering areas for bellbirds are not producing the fruits they need (a likely hypothesis since those areas have been experiencing serious drought). Bellbirds typically use the Monteverde area for nesting (a key site for them in Costa Rica). If the forest is suitable for wintering, it might not be so suitable come nesting season. Let’s hope that isn’t the case or we are going to see a lot less bellbirds in a few years.

Good numbers of Yellow-billed Cotingas at Rincon: On a brighter cotingid note, according to eBird lists from a recent Field Guides tour, 15 of these endangered birds were seen by Jay VanderGaast, Tom Johnson, and the tour participants! Check out the eBird list to see Tom’s amazing image of one in flight!

Ornate Hawk-Eagle continues to be seen in a bunch of places: According to eBird, there have several sightings of this large, fancy raptor at several sites. This seems to be the new normal for this species and makes me wonder if it is outcompeting Black Hawk-Eagle and/or filling a niche left by the absence of Crested and Harpy Eagles. It also means that Costa Rica continues to be one of the most reliable countries to see this super cool bird.

An Ornate Hawk-Eagle from near Virgen del Socorro.

New species for the country!: Don’t get too excited because we aren’t talking about anything undescribed, it was seen on Cocos Island, and it’s a dove. Eared Dove was recently documented on the island and that makes one more species for the Costa Rica list. Other species are still possible, in my opinion, the most likely being Hammond’s Flycatcher, and Black-throated Gray Warbler. I actually dreamed the other night that we had found the country’s first Loggerhad Shrike but alas, that one probably won’t show.

The Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app is available in full and basic versions: A new update for the full version will have more than 800 species pictured (including tough birds like Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, cotingas, and much more), vocalizations for around 600 species, and field marks, range maps, and information for every species on the list. The basic version has the same set up, easy to use filter, and other features but only shows 360 of Costa Rica’s common and spectacular species.

Overall, the birding is good with most expected species at the usual places. Whether you experience the country on a tour or on your own, happy birding and hope to see you in the field!

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Birding Costa Rica

Things to do in Costa Rica during the Low Season

In Costa Rica, the dry season is over and so is the high season. We still see quite a few people visiting Costa Rica for a vacation but not nearly as many as the winter months. The cold, stark reasons for choosing February over May or June for a trip to Costa Rica are as obvious as a Scarlet Macaw but there are still plenty of things to do on a Costa Rican trip during the coming months. Here are some of the birding ideas:

  • Watch swifts: No, not Taylor, I mean those fast-flying aerialists that challenge our reaction times. Their fast schemes also make them a royal pain for identification, especially when they fly at speck height. During the wet season, they forage at storm fronts and much closer to home. It’s the best time to get good looks at swifts and come to grips with those challenging birds. Just a few days ago, I had Black and Chestnut-collared along with more regular White-collared and Vaux’s zipping over the house.

    This was one of the Chestnut-collared Swifts.

    Want to take a stab at identifying this one? I wondered if it might be a Black but the wings seem a bit short. It might even be a White-chinned but I can't say for sure- no field notes, just snapped off shots at anything in the sky.
  • Test out the umbrella: Yes, it does rain at this time of year but without the water, we wouldn’t have such high levels of biodiversity. In general, it’s also sunny in the morning and raining in the afternoon and that’s not so bad for birding. Actually, cloudier weather results in more bird activity in any case.
  • Enjoy resident species: Unlike the winter months, you don’t have to worry about glassing yet another Chestnut-sided Warbler when you want to see an antwren. There’s nothing wrong with looking at Chestnut-sidedes but that’s not usually why a birder goes to Costa Rica.

    You can watch Yellow-naped Parrots in action.
  • Study bird vocalizations: More species tend to vocalize, at least during May and June. It’s always better to hear more bird song and that makes it easier to find more bird species.Pocosol dawn3
  • Pay less for accommodation: You probably won’t get a huge discount, but yes, most lodging costs less during the green season.
  • Enjoy places with fewer tourists: I have never felt like this was an issue but if you want to see less people in national parks, come on down from May to November.

    I love birding an empty road...
  • Explore less visited sites: Sure, this can be done any time of the year but it’s always a good excuse to collect eBird data for little known sites. If inclined, try birding around Barbilla National Park, Hitoy Cerere, Yorkin, Las Tablas, Crucitas, Rincon de la Vieja, Barra Colorado, and sea-watching from Cabo Blanco and south of Golfito.
  • Get lots of lifers: You still have pretty much the same chances at resident species as during the high, dry season, and it might even be easier to see several species.

    You should see a Gartered Trogon or two.
  • Participate in the Global Big Day on May 9th: The Cornell Lab- based Sapsucker Team is doing a Big Day in Panama and are encouraging birders of all nations to get out there and do the same, or at least watch birds and submit the results to eBird. I plan on doing a Big Day with some friends on May 9th as well. Most of the winter birds will be gone but we should still see a lot!

I hope to do all of the above (although I would have to travel outside of Costa Rica to get a lot of lifers). Are you coming to Costa Rica during the low season? Get ready for the trip with my Costa Rica bird finding guide/companion, and the Costa Rica Birds field guide app.

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Birding Costa Rica

Press Release for Version 3.0 of the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app

Birding Field Guides Releases New Version of Birdwatching App for Costa Rica

For Immediate Release: December 15, 2014

The first birding app for Costa Rica is a digital field guide that includes photos, sounds, text, and range maps for more than 700 species of birds.

San Jose, Costa Rica – A new version of the Birding Field Guides app for Costa Rica became available in the iTunes Store on December 12, 2014. This is the only digital field guide app in the iTunes Store that is completely focused on the bird species of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica has been a pioneer for ecotourism since the early 1990s and continues to be a major destination for birders and people in search of outdoor adventure. As birding has increased in popularity as a hobby, many have paid a visit to Costa Rica in search of the near-mythical Resplendent Quetzal, dozens of glittering hummingbirds, exotic toucans, macaws, parrots, and literally hundreds of other bird species. This small Central American country appeals to birdwatchers and other tourists on account of its stable, democratic government, stunning scenery, and protected areas that host a wide array of wildlife.

This recent version of the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app has been updated with new images, information, and range maps for more than 700 species, and vocalizations for more than 500 species. Along with a suite of new species, sounds, and improved images, version 3.0 also has a search by name function along with other easy to use search functions.

Michael Mullin, head of programming for Birding Field Guides, expects that the new images, species accounts, vocalizations, and search functions will make it easier to study before the trip, and identify birds while watching them in the rainforests of Costa Rica.

He said, “I’m excited about this new version because we have improved the search functions, images, vocalizations, and now have more than 700 species on the app.  We listened to what our customers had to say and made changes to improve their experience. I am looking forward to hearing how this new version enhances time in Costa Rica for beginning birders, experts, and birding guides.”

This app is currently available for version 4.3 or higher iPod Touch, iPad, and iPhone devices, and will be updated for 2.3.3 and higher Android devices in early 2015.

About Birding Field Guides

Birding Field Guides was started in 2012 and develops birding and nature-related apps and products for digital devices. For more information, please visit http://birdingfieldguides.com.

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Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica Introduction preparing for your trip

What You Should Know Before Taking a Birding Trip to Costa Rica in July

Summer seems to be this ironic time of the year when birders don’t watch birds. Yes, to any non-birders out there, this is oddly true. Despite the warm, inviting weather, breeding birds, and lots more life than the dead of winter, this is when birders tend to sit back, sip a Mint Julep, or partake in other activities that don’t include binoculars. The birders out there know why a lot of us tend to get lazy in June and July but for those of you are wondering what the deal might be, it all comes down to seeing the same old stuff.

I admit that I get lacadaisical about the Silver-throated Tanager.

Yes, a lot of birders get lacadaisical about getting out and birding sites near home at this time of the year because they don’t expect to see anything new. They feel that they already know what’s out there (and getting up at dawn doesn’t help either). However, as much as we think we know about our natural surroundings, we usually know a lot less than we think. If we don’t turn off the TV and get out into the wild, we won’t see any changes that might be happening in bird populations (especially with climate change going on), and aren’t going to find a Brown-chested Martin, out of range hummingbird,  or some other wacko vagrant.

No, not an out of range hummingbird for Costa Rica but the Cinnamon Hummingbird is always cool to see.

In Costa Rica, we have less of a problem with avoiding the outdoors during the summer months because the high degree of biodiversity always guarantees chances at rare birds throughout the year. Although we aren’t going to see any Boreal migrants right now, there are more than 600 breeding birds to look for, and chances at a rare Austral migrant or two. Here are some other tidbits and things to look forward to if you happen to be headed to Costa Rica this July:

  • It might rain more than you expect: Ok, so that might not be what you hoped to read but one should always be prepared. Forecasters are saying that this year’s mini dry season in July will be wetter than normal so bring the rain gear and get ready for birding that may be just as challenging as it is exciting. However, to be honest, I hope it does rain more than normal in July because the rainy season started late anyways. Ecosystems in Costa Rica need the rain because the plants, birds, and so on are adapted to an environment at some sites that see 4 to 6 meters a year. Two meters just isn’t going to work.
  • Don’t be discouraged by the forecast: So, if you thought, “Crap! I should have gone to Costa Rica in March”, put the reins on fustration because it’s probably not going to rain the entire time and cloudy weather with some rain boosts bird activity in the (you guessed it) rainforest. Seriously, a cloudy day with occasional showers is always exciting for birding in Costa Rica.

    You might see more jacamars.
  • Expect birding similar to the dry season: Other than the lack of northern migrants, the birding is pretty similar to the dry season. In other words, this is a great time of year to bird Costa Rica and that means chances at heart-racing mixed flocks, fruiting trees full of tanagers, manakins, and maybe a cotinga or two, no shortage of hummingbirds, and the excitement goes on… The main difference might be the lower numbers of tourists compared to the high dry season months and that’s not so bad either.
  • Bare-necked Umbrellabird appears to have nested at Curi-Cancha: A female and young have been seen at this excellent reserve near Monteverde! Lots of other great birds to see there too.

    The umbrellabird is sort of unbelievable.
  • Keep an eye out for frugivores in odd places: After nesting, most of the frugivorous species in Costa Rica move around in search of food and many move to lower elevations. This is a time of year when Red-fronted Parrotlet can show up at fruiting figs in the Central Valley and other sites, and who knows what else might turn up?
  • Enjoy the bellbird serenade up in the mountains: Although the bellbird population that nests in the mountains above San Jose is very small and a tiny shadow of what it probably was when there was forest in the Central Valley, you might hear one or two around Poas, Barva, and other sites. To catch the best bellbird action, visit the Monteverde area, and sites near San Ramon, on the Pacific slope of the Talamancas, and the Rio Macho Reserve near Tapanti. Three-wattled Bellbird sound.
  • Keep an eye out for odd seabirds: Forecasters have also predicted a major El Nino effect and this could turn up some serious rarities in July. Reports of Inca Tern, and Blue-footed and Nazca Boobies could be indicators of more rarities to come! I know that I will be looking for them in July!
  • The latest update for the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app is available: There are now more than 620 species on the app and vocalizations for more than 360 of them (including Black-crowned Antpitta, Ocellated Antbird, and Keel-billed Motmot along with hundreds of more common species), lots of updated and improved images, and a quicker way to look for birds by group. If you already bought the app, get the update for free.

    The fancy Ocellated Antbird.

Enjoy your July trip to Costa Rica, hope to see you in the field! – I will be the short guy with a Swarovski ghetto scope and gray Adidas hat.

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Birding Costa Rica Introduction preparing for your trip

Some Tips on what To Pack for Birding in Costa Rica

Since moving to Costa Rica, I have had to think more about where to go birding in Costa Rica than what to pack for visiting the land of hummingbirds, quetzals, and amazing numbers of Clay-colored Thrush. However, I used to do quite a bit of birding travel and exploration and will now combine those experiences with living here to suggest some things to bring. In addition to the obvious quality waterproof binos, toothbrush, and other usual travel items, here is what I would stick into the baggage:

  • A hat: Ok, so I would wear this up there on top and not actually pack it but whatever. Ss with birding trips just about everywhere, a hat is part of the uniform. Unless you stick to night birding, a hat makes it easier to search the skies for specks that could be birds (although see the next suggestion), offers some protection from the monster tropical sun, and can be used to swat that rare biting fly or mosquito. Most of all, it makes you look like an official birder, especially if you wear a wide-brimmed hat (I need to get one of those). Dude, you gotta promote birding, so don’t be shy about showing your birding colors!
    This is a picture of a friend of mine who has successfully transformed a golfing hat into a birding hat
  • Blue blocking, UV blocking sun glasses: Steve Pike, a birding, fantastic bird photographer friend of mine who has traveled to some major far off places opened my eyes to the importance of sunglasses. They can’t be any old shades but ones that block off some of those rays and make it much easier to look up into a bright sky or out over oceanic waters.

    I think my sunglasses helped me look for this King Vulture.
  • Quick dry, lightweight clothes: Get some of those futuristic lightweight, quick dry shirts and trousers to spend more time outdoors in comfort.
  • A notebook: No, not the electronic kind but a good, old fashioned field book if you will. Get a waterproof one if possible in case you need to sketch a bird in the rain or feel like getting poetic about your experience in the rainforest.
  • Protection for devices: As we move forward on our frightening journey to official robothood, we love to bring more electronic devices while traveling far from home. They do come in handy but remember that Costa Rica is a place splashed with a bit of rain (as in several feet a year of splash in some places) so be prepared and come to town with lots of drying packets in ziplock bags, put the cameras in a Pelican case, and don’t be shy about bringing a dry bag.

    This is a White-crowned Parrot is shaking off the rain.
  • The field guide: There were two (and the Garrigues and Dean is a true field guide in terms of size and use), and now that the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app is available on Apple and Android platforms, there is another!

    The Spot-crowned Euphonia is one of the 575 plus species on this birding app for Costa Rica.
  • The knowledge that road signs are a rarity: Whether driving or not, don’t expect to know where you actually happen to be. Costa Rica is a small country anyways, so just go with the flow, be guided by your birding sense, and use a GPS navigator thing.
  • Bug repellent: Biting insects aren’t too much of a problem in Costa Rica but it’s always good to be prepared.
  • Sunblock: Bring the powerful stuff to avoid melting under the rays of the tropical ball of fire up there in the heavens.
  • A high tech head lamp: Take advantage of modern technology and bring a powerful, lightweight headlamp to find the night birds and see weird nocturnal bugs and whatnot.

    The Oilbird is some weird, nocturnal, mega whatnot.

And as a caveat…. What not to bring:

  • Rubber boots: You can if you want and I know they are classic jungle fashion but most eco-lodges will lend you a pair where needed.
  • A bad attitude: Never good for any situation…

    Hummingbirds have bad attitudes by default. This Green crowned Brilliant is looking for trouble (as always).
  • Too many expectations: This means expecting to see every species. It just doesn’t work that way in the tropics but don’t worry, you will see a lot of cool stuff and will see more species, the more time you spend in quality habitat. It also helps to hire the services of a local birding guide.
  • Small, travel binoculars: Avoid these to avoid major frustration, especially when other birders are using their solid optics to marvel over the colors of that Red-legged Honeycreeper or appreciating the glittering plumages of crazy, pugnacious hummingbirds.

    Quality optics helped me appreciate the colors of this goldentail.
  • A machete: It’s cool, rural locals have them, and somewhat resembles a Chinese short sword (which is why I want to carry one around) but you don’t really need it. Leave it home if you bought one on that latest trip to Oaxaca or Puerto Maldonado, Peru.

I hope this list helps you have a fantastic trip and hope to see you while birding in Costa Rica!

My daughter modeling the sunglasses we should be wearing and another must- the faithful stuffed animal.