Categories
bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Blue Grosbeaks and Birding News from Costa Rica, June, 2020

It was hard to think of anything to write today. At least, to write anything about birds in Costa Rica because that’s not what’s on the forefront of my mind but I’m going to try anyways. I wish that I could talk about waking up to the piercing, shameless calls of Southern Lapwings, the whistles of a Spot-bellied Bobwhite, the gurgling song of a Blue Grosbeak.

I wake up to those and am grateful, especially that grosbeak. Every time I hear or see one of those deep blue birds, I am grateful because while I was growing up birding in Niagara Falls, NY, it was one of those more southern birds that were just out of reach.

The range map in the Peterson guide edged up towards us but fell short somewhere in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I eventually got my lifer during a fall visit to Cape May, a female that looked more like a female Indigo Bunting but still a much appreciated lifer! Since then, I have seen lots; deep blue birds giving warbling gurgling songs in the green riparian zone of a canyon in southeastern Colorado, Blue Grosbeaks in weedy fields while surveying birds in southern Illinois, other places and finally here in Costa Rica where I see and hear them in many sites with brushy fields.

A pair have been recently making appearances in weedy lots across the street adjacent to heavy machinery building another residential area. A common, resident species in Costa Rica but every sighting still accompanied by that tinge of excitement from wanting, hoping to see one while looking at bird books in urban Niagara Falls, New York.

That’s where I grew up and that’s where, so far, protests have been peaceful. I am so proud and relieved that people from my hometown held a peaceful protest and I think they in part did so because the police from Niagara Falls, New York took a knee with them. Officials spoke with protesters and listened to them, and before the protest was over, they shook hands with police. Maybe being a small place had something to do with it, or maybe the local police department has made efforts to make better connections with the public and say, not use illegal holds that end up killing people. I am sure that listening and communicating with people and not taking an authoritarian response that involved spraying random people in their faces and shooting others with rubber bullets (like a journalist who lost one of her eyes) and unconstitutionally suppressing free speech by arresting journalists had something to do with it too.

But instead of talking about leaders and one in particular who encourages suppression of the media and free press, someone who would rather take violent, authoritarian approaches to situations that may have been reduced or prevented by (1) recognizing a very serious problem in the first place and (2) making any bit of effort to provide solutions to said problem, I will mention two other vastly more positive things:

BlackBirdersWeek– This is an initiative created by Black birders aimed at changing the narrative regarding Black people and their connections and experiences with the outdoors. The Audubon Society sums up this virtual initiative quite nicely. I love this because the outdoors and communication with nature is a basic cherished right for every person, no one should ever have to worry about feeling threatened or deterred from partaking in nature. The more people we support in learning about and communing with our natural world and science, the better this world will be. Those who have been denied the chance to connect with nature because they felt threatened, lacked role models, or didn’t have the means of reaching wild places are the people who merit the utmost in support and acknowledgement.

I will just also mention that the support of people who would like to appreciate nature is of serious importance, particular in these overpopulated, nature-deficit times because without increased connection with and understanding how to live in balance with nature and putting that knowledge to active use by society as a whole, civilization will eventually, certainly collapse.

A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean– Not exactly a field guide but a celebration of birds from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean by way of a ten track album. The songs feature vocalizations of birds and any purchase will help with bird conservation in the Caribbean.

Costa Rica setting protocols for tourism– The borders might still be closed but local tourism ventures are opening with strict health restrictions in place. Paraiso de Quetzales is one of those special places, recently, friends of mine had a great visit and reported on the protocols and experience in the Howler Magazine. I hope this and other local lodges and businesses can get enough visitors to keep going until borders reopen because at the moment, tourism in Costa Rica is near zero and as with so many other places, a heck of a lot of people have become recently unemployed.

Despite these challenging sad times, I will end by saying that it’s not too early to start planning for a trip to Costa Rica. Right now might be the best time to look into itineraries, tours, and other ideas for an eventual escape to a place that beckons with the promise of beauty and fantastic birding in a safe and welcome setting for all. You can start planning your trip of a lifetime and support this blog by getting my 700 plus page e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

Red-legged Honeycreepers will be waiting! This picture was taken by Eugene L. Pierce, a photographer from Buffalo, New York.
Categories
biodiversity bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Streak-chested Antpitta in Costa Rica- One or Two Species?

During these apprehensive times of self quarantine, social distancing and much of life on pause, I often do what millions of other Earthlings tend to be doing; visually engage with the screen of a computer, a tablet, or a phone. Since I can’t stand messaging by phone or using it as a mini computer (I guess because I’m still stuck with this antiquated idea that phones are (were) for talking with other people), I find myself moving between the tablet and the laptop. I even use both at the same time but still try to remember to be productive, still try to make use of this time to work towards goals, digitally step my way to any number of future finish lines.

But it’s not all robot time, once in a while I do get up to look out the back balcony to see birds like this one.

While attempting to use time in a productive manner, I also find myself veering off the path, musing about things I would love to study but for which I shouldn’t really invest as many hours. Sometimes, the errant thoughts gain hold, pull me into an inviting whirlpool that promises knowledge. But, as with any species of maelstrom, it can be a challenge to find the exit door, to leave. We all have our personal Hotel Californias; some are merely time consuming, others can be dangerous. Fortunately, one of the mental realms that magnetizes my attention involves nothing more than learning about birds and last night, the rabbit hole took the form of antpitta vocalizations. Not just any antpittas either but Hylopezus species. In non-birding vernacular, that means a smallish, brownish feathered ball with legs that calls over and over unseen and teasing from dense vegetation.

This Thicket Antpitta from Lands in Love is one of them. Formerly known as the Fulvous-bellied Antpitta, I used to tell people that to avoid unwanted conversations on trains and planes, just start talking randomly about “Fulvous-bellied Antpittas”. I tried it once on a train route from Washington state to Buffalo, New York but it backfired, the guy actually became interested in what I was saying.

Having access to the Birds of the World doesn’t make it easy to extract myself from exploring the depths of avian information but then again, it’s a great place to mentally lounge. When one can explore birds by genus and family, it’s just too easy to roll with the avian taxonomy, look at their similarities, their subtle differences, and see where they occur. It’s fantastic to have the chance to look at images of those birds, even watch video footage, hear what they sound like. Having an inclination for the auditory side of existence, I find access to this latter aspect of bird knowledge particularly tempting.

I love to listen to what all of those birds sound like, my only complaint is that I can’t choose and listen to several at once for a direct, real time comparison (at least on the same device). Listening to some birds also sometimes reminds me of things I wanted to look into, one of those being the differences in songs shown by the Streak-chested Antpitta.

A Streak-chested Antpitta from Carara National Park, one of the best places to see this species.

In Costa Rica, the Streak-chested Antpitta is an uncommon species of interior lowland and foothill rainforest on both slopes. Since it seems to be absent from various areas of rainforest habitat, it is likely subject to edge effects and probably has a preference for certain microhabitats inside forest such as flat or level areas.

I have known about the differences shown between birds on the Carribean and Pacific slopes of Costa Rica for some time but have never tried any playback experiments nor do I have the capacity or time to adequately measure and study the vocal differences found within that species. But, I can mention it here with the hope that others will be able to carry out molecular and extensive vocal studies to determine whether or not two or more species are involved when talking about Hylopezus perspicillatus.

Last night, my interest in this bird was renewed after listening to differences in vocalizations shown by two recently described species in the Spotted Antpitta complex from South America. Formerly lumped with Spotted Antpitta, both Alta Florest Antpitta and Snethlage’s Antpitta were split from that species based on a combination of morphological, molecular, and vocal differences. Most of the emphasis for splitting was placed on the differences in loudsongs between those taxa and since they still sounded fairly close, I figured I would take another look at Streak-chested Antpitta. Could I see differences between Streak-chested Antpitta songs using the same or similar parameters? Would that be even possible by comparing sonograms and would there be enough differences to argue for the occurrence of two species?

In brief, after reviewing recordings of this species from Honduras to Ecuador on Xeno-Canto and eBird, two main songs are evident; one pertaining to birds that occur from Honduras to western Panama on the Caribbean slope (the intermedius subspecies), and another to all other subspecies ranging from southern Costa Rica on the Pacific slope and the Canal Zone of Panama to Colombia and western Ecuador.

In looking at photos, the higher degree of rufous on the flanks described for this subspecies is evident (although it’s hard to see in this photo).

Although I didn’t measure vocal differences between both vocal groups, a cursory look at sonograms and listening to each type of song from several individuals appears to point at differences in frequency and structure or pattern of the song. There may also be differences in note structure, especially between the first note but off hand, note structure looks quite similar overall.

For example, in intermedius, the song seems to be mostly above 2 kilohertz in frequency and starts with a distinctive highest pitched note of the song, goes lower for the second note, goes up a bit in frequency for the third note and stays at that frequency for the next two notes before descending in frequency for the last three or four notes. In other words, the song starts high, goes low, then up and level before descending.

In the other subspecies, including birds from southern Costa Rica, the song seems to be mostly below 2 kilohertz and starts on a lower note, slightly ascends in frequency for two or three notes and then descends in frequency with the final note possibly at the same frequency as the starting note. In other words, the song goes slightly up and then back down.

Both types of songs seem to slow down in pace at the end and may also have the same number of notes. Although they may or may not significantly differ in pace, they do seem to differ in other ways. Would these differences be enough to argue for species status? To answer that question, we probably need a measured and adequate statistical analyses of these two song types backed by playback experiments. The results of that study alone might even be enough to make an argument for splitting this species but studies that also use morphological and molecular characters would be even better. If any grad student out there is looking for a project, this might be a good one…

On that note, the same can be said about the Thicket Antpitta (Hylopezus dives). While checking out vocalizations of the Streak-chested Antpitta, I was reminded that the Thicket also has disjunct populations from Central and South America and guess what? Their songs also differ.

This is a song of a bird from Costa Rica that is typical of populations from western Panama north to Honduras:

This is a song of a bird from Colombia typical for birds from the Darien and South America (although there might be some differences between birds from the Choco and eastern Colombia):

The differences are notable for pace, number of notes, and what seems to be note structure. With that in mind, it seems that these two main groups of Thicket Antpitta also merit further study. I wonder when I can start with playback experiments?

Categories
birds to watch for in Costa Rica

The Situation with Yellow-Green Vireos and Related Species in Costa Rica

Vireos are, more or less, these small warblerish, deliberate birds with miniature shrike-like bills. The Vireonidae family also includes the tiny, active greenlets of Central and South America, the small chattering vireos of scrubby habitats (such as the White-eyed and Bell’s Vireos), and the big and hefty shrike-vireos with equally impressive hooked beaks. Lest we leave them out of the Vireo picture, this family also has some colorful representatives in montane zones of southern Asia; the aptly named “shrike-babblers“.

However, the vireos that seem to capture the heart and soul of this avian family are the ones that take it easy, that take their sweet time to forage in the foliage of trees and bushes, constantly singing as they do so. On account of that repeated carefree song, these are the vireos that tend to engender familiarity among birders of all stripes, the leader of the bunch probably being the Red-eyed Vireo.

When spring gets truly warm up north, go birding, take a walk, or just listen in a park in almost any wooded area from eastern Texas and Florida north to the Great Slave Lake and you will probably hear Red-eyed Vireos. Be as patient as the bird you are looking for, watch for the slightest movement in the leafy scene above and you will eventually espy one, a bird with white underparts, olive above, and a white eyebrow separated from a svelte gray crown by a fine line of black. That’s the Red-eyed Vireo, a plain yet clean-cut bird with a sweet June song. Always one of the first migrants I would come across as I rode my bike to experience May migration on Goat Island, I would hear them throughout the day for for the next two months.

In Costa Rica, although thousands, more likely millions, of Red-eyed Vireos that migrate through this part of Central America on a biannual basis, “our” most familiar of the Red-eyed bunch is actually the Yellow-green Vireo. The Red-eyeds don’t sing around here, they barely even act like the summer birds of the north. In Costa Rica, they don’t have any time for that happy, lazy attitude because they have a vital appointment arranged by the imperative of instinct. The destination isn’t exactly just around the corner. To reach the leafy woods of western New York, the forests of Ontario, at just the right time, these small birds have to fuel up fast and in Costa Rica, this is why we see flocks of them busily picking bugs and larvae from the leaves, eating small berries to bulk up so they can take that personal bird express to the north.

They are only here for the eating business, just passing on through until they can get back to regular vireo business, that of casually foraging while singing all day long. In Costa Rica, that vireo job, living “la dolce vireo vita” is held by the Yellow-greens.

Although they also migrate through, large numbers fly in from habitats in the Amazon to stay and breed. As with their Red-eyed cousins of the north, Yellow-green Vireos likewise come to breeding grounds to take advantage of a sudden wealth of invertebrates, in their case, brought on by the onset of the wet season. Like the Red-eyeds, their constant singing is an essential part of the summer birding scene in the Central Valley and the dry forests of the Pacific slope. Unlike the Red-eyeds, they share their breeding surroundings with the likes of Masked Tityras and Clay-colored Thrushes and have to avoid the nest depredation antics of toucans.

They act and look quite similar but with a good view, these two vireo species are pretty easy to identify. Some of the ways in which they differ:

Red-eyed Vireo

-Daintier grayer bill.

-Mostly white underparts.

-Hint of pale brown on face.

Yellow-green Vireo

-Can have somewhat diffuse face pattern.

-Largish, mostly pale bill.

-Lots of yellow below, mostly on vent and flanks.

Although these are two of the most common Vireo genus species in Costa Rica, they aren’t the only similar Red-eyed type vireos to keep in mind. Granted, the following two are very rare and one has yet to be documented for Costa Rica but they are possible. The Black-whiskered occurs as a rare vagrant and is likely overlooked among the large numbers of very similar Red-eyed and Yellow-green Vireos. Although a birder still needs a close, definitive look at the head, a Black-whiskered can also reveal its true identify when it sings its distinctive, double-noted phrases. These can be reminiscent of a House Sparrow, the only problem is that it probably keeps quiet in Costa Rica.

While watching for vireos with a black line on the lower part of the face, we can also challenge ourselves (or drive ourselves crazy) by looking for the Chivi Vireo. Although its name might make you wonder if I’m joking, save the laughs for when you see how ridiculous it would be to find one of these pseudo Red-eyed Vireos, a species that would also be a first for Costa Rica. The Chivi Vireo breeds in South America and because it looks so similar to the Red-eyed, was formerly considered to be that species. Some are resident in northern South America, others migrate from places like Brazil and Argentina to the Amazon and ever since genetic studies showed that they are more closely related to Black-whiskered Vireo than the Red-eyed, Chivi Vireos have been recognized as a distinct species.

BUT, since they look just like Red-eyed Vireos, how on Earth would we even recognize one that just happened to overfly its usual destination? In all likelihood, we wouldn’t, but given the right circumstances, finding one in Costa Rica is possible, this is what we would need:

Look for a Red-eyed Vireo from June to August, this is when a Chivi would mostly likely occur.

Take a close look at the undertail coverts. If it looks like too much yellow for a Red-eyed Vireo, the bird might be a Chivi.

Take a close look at the color of the eye– if it looks pretty dark and without the slightest hint of red, it might be a Chivi.

If it sings, record that song! Both main groups of Chivi Vireos sound different from the Red-eyed Vireo. To my ears, the migrant ones we are most likely to get have a sort of warbled or trilled note.

To sum things up, if you see a bird in Costa Rica between June and August that sort of looks like a hybrid between a Red-eyed Vireo and a Yellow-green Vireo and happens to be a singing a song with a trilled phrase, there’s a fair chance it’s a seriously lost bird new for the Costa Rica list. In the meantime, if birding up north, enjoy the cheerful summer phrasing of the Red-eyed Vireos. Birding in Costa Rica? Be happy with the rainy season songs of Yellow-green Vireos but keep listening and watching for something different, you never know what you might find even when birding from home.

Categories
bird finding in Costa Rica Hummingbirds

The Corso Lecheria Hummingbird Stop

Hummingbirds are an essential component of Costa Rica. At least one species is found at just about every birding stop and many times, more than one. In Costa Rica, these miniature jeweled pollinators range from the humid rainforests of the lowlands to the cold brushy paramos on the highest peaks, and occur everywhere in between, especially in cloud forest and other middle elevation habitats. Although most species are resident, many make short migrations or movements to track various plants in flower at lower and higher elevations or to other parts of the country. Where and when hummingbirds go in Costa Rica is not as well known as it could be, and any additional data will further our understanding of these special birds and therefore also help conserve them.

Documenting where and when they are seen is part of the hummingbird conservation equation in Costa Rica and gives us that much more reason to spend time with these feathered jewels. Fortunately, they are always fun to watch, one of the newer places to check them out being the Corso Lecheria. Rather new on the Costa Rica birding scene, this dairy farm features a healthy bunch of Porterweed hedgerows that provide food for a number of hummingbirds.

Located on the saddle road between Poas and Barva volcanoes, around 2 kilometers east of the junction at Poasito, Corso makes for an easy and typically productive stop. After entering the parking area, just watch for the hedgerows with purple flowers on the left and wait for the birds to show.

They eventually will, Volcano Hummingbird might be the first one you see. This tiny bird seems to be the most common species at this site although there are usually a few Scintillants around as well!

Female Volcano Hummingbird.
Male Scintillant Hummingbird.

Lesser Violetears are also usually present.

Other hummingbirds regular at Corso also include Stripe-tailed,

Magenta-throated Woodstar,

and Purple-throated Mountain-gem.

Since this is an important source of nectar, who knows what else might show? Since it looks like a prime site for such rarities as coquettes or other species, visiting birders should carefully document any hummingbird that looks different or goes unidentified. Since the hummingbird viewing is also free, it would also be good for visiting birders to frequent their ice cream store. That shouldn’t be too much trouble, I mean isn’t hummingbird viewing best followed by ice cream tasting?

Categories
bird finding in Costa Rica Pacific slope

More Birds in Guanacaste

Mary and I began the birding year in the dry and moist forests of the southern Nicoya Peninsula, many of the birds coming from the Tambor bird count and beautiful Raptor Ridge. That hot, dry birding was so nice, we followed it up with a quick two day birding jaunt to the Pacific coast. Since we didn’t have much time to bird the Cerro Lodge and Jaco area, (we were visiting for other reasons, I know, incredible but true), it was more like one day of birding but the trip was still worth the drive to those sun-smashed windy lowlands. That said, thanks to Jose’s Crocodile Tours, we were still able to see some birds on the Tarcoles River during a fun, two hour tour.

The winter months are the best time of the year to visit sites from Tarcoles to Nicaragua, especially for local birders because this is when we might find rare migrants from the north like American Wigeon and other ducks, Violet-green Swallow, various wood-warblers, sparrows, and who knows what else. Being rare, they are naturally difficult to find but because every bit of birding counts, we took advantage of the chance to drive north and see what we could find.

Luckily, the drive coincided with a high tide visit to shorebird hotspot Punta Morales. There could have been more terns and other birds but we still did well with seeing the Long-billed Curlew that has been using that site along with various other expected shorebird species. No ducks but we still had more chances further up the road.

Not knowing where to stay in Liberia, we opted for spending the night at a budget priced hotel in Canas and then making the early hour drive in the morning to our main destination, the Lakeside Catfish Farms. These farms might now be used more for cattle but in any case, they still have ponds that act as a hotspot for waterbirds and other species. Since this is a private farm, you should call this number to make arrangements to enter- 2667 0022. Keep in mind that the person you will talk with probably won’t speak English and they charge $6 entrance fee that can be paid to them if/when they arrive to open the gate. This would be the first yellow gate on the way to Playas del Coco.

We arrived around 7 in the morning and started seeing birds right away. Orchard Orioles, Morelet’s Seedeaters, and other bird species were flying from roosting sites in the reeds, small groups of Dickcissels were calling and flitting from bush to bush, a Blue Grosbeak perched on a bush next to an Indigo Bunting for a perfect comparison, and other species of the dry forest called from the surrounding trees.

A tree with Dickcissels.

We had to search a bit to find the ducks, all of which were flighty and a reminder that they are hunted at various spots during migration and probably right at the Catfish Farms from time to time. We had to move around a bit to find the best vantage point but eventually had good looks at at a few hundred Blue-winged Teals, some American Coots, and one Northern Shoveler. No wigeon nor Masked Duck for us, we just didn’t have enough time to continue looking for those or other birds. Nor did Spotted Rail respond to playback, I wish we could have had more time and access for a thorough survey of that site because various choice birds are indeed hiding out there in the reeds and other scrubby vegetation around the ponds. Hopefully on another day!

Next on the list was a stop at Playa Panama, a scenic beach with calm waters where a Brown Booby fished close to shore. One Short-tailed Hawk and a Common Black-Hawk also flew over at some point but we didn’t see too much else. After that, we passed through Las Trancas but because the fields were so dry, we just kept going. Instead, we stopped for lunch at the small Italian bakery of Amadulce in the Papagayo Plaza. Good pizza, pastries, macaroons- recommended!

After enjoying quality pizza, we made our way back to Canas to check the Sandillal Reservoir.

This spot is one of Costa Rica’s best duck hotspots. During the winter months, it acts as a very important site for Blue-winged Teal and other species in search of water as the surrounding countryside dries up. During our visit, there were at least 3,000 teal, probably more like 4,000. We also found several Lesser Scaup but despite as much scanning as possible, just couldn’t find anything else. I still can’t help but feel that a few rarities were out there somewhere hiding among the hordes of teal. It was also a challenge to see most of them well so I left the site wondering what else may have been present. It will be interesting if someone else finds a rarity or two at Sandillal during the next few weeks.

With a long drive ahead of us on roads shared with slow going trucks, that ended up being our final stop for the trip. Although I always want to do more birding, you just gotta make do with what you can. The trip was still a good one in any case and with several nice year birds. I wonder which birds I will see next?

Categories
big year

Final Birds of the Year

This is it. December is here, with its snow and gulls and other birds from the north and the year is coming to a close. Except that in Costa Rica, we don’t have any dark cold days, nor do we offer much for the Larophile. We do have some birds from the north but they come in the form of Baltimore Orioles, Yellow Warblers, and other birds that come here to escape that northern annual freeze. Thanks to jet propulsion engines and planes, you can also migrate away from the cold. Come to Costa Rica and a birder can also add a few several dozen final year birds.

Did someone say Snowcap?

In my near future, I don’t foresee any serious chasing of the feathered kind but Mary and I are scheduled to participate in one more count. Maybe we will add a few more year birds, maybe even some after the count. Although we both have more than 600 species for 2019, incredibly, even more species can still find room on our lists, I wonder what they might be?

My latest year bird (numero 680) was a Rufous-winged Tanager seen while guiding near the Mistico Hanging Bridges area. During those days of guiding, I also saw birds like Great Curassow, Ocellated Antbird, Keel-billed Motmot, and Lattice-tailed Trogon but as nice as those species are, it wasn’t the first time I had seen them in 2019.

The Keel-billed Motmot.

In the next few days, with luck, we might even connect with Bare-necked Umbrellabird. I hope so, even if I already did see one this year, I rarely see this endangered species and it would be an excellent final bird of the year for Mary. Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo might be even better but even being in the right place doesn’t mean that you can hit the birding lottery with this mega. If we find an antswarm, though, we could be in luck, I will certainly be listening for this very challenging species.

Other, more likely final year birds may come in the form of species we have looked for and should have already seen. Although we have done well on owls, the Striped Owl has evaded our efforts thus far! There’s still a chance although I think it depends on whether or not we visit the Jaco area at night.

Another big empty spot on our year lists is next to the name of the American Kestrel. Although the “Sparrow Hawk” isn’t common in Costa Rica, we have looked for it in the right places. I really don’t know why we haven’t seen this beautiful little falcon yet but it’s about time we connected, maybe one will still show near the airport or some other open field.

We could also pick up a nice set of final birds for the year in the Ciudad Neily area but since that is kind of far to go, it’s not going to happen in 2019. Maybe in 2020, but not this year. Instead, though, if we head to the coast, we still may pick up Common Tern and other coastal species. At least no matter where we go birding in Costa Rica, some new year bird could appear. That’s how the birding goes in a place with a list of more than 920 species.

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season and Merry Christmas! Thank you for reading this blog in 2019, I am grateful.

Categories
Birding Costa Rica Christmas Counts

Highlights and Impressions from Annual Bird Counts at Cano Negro and Arenal, 2019

The past week has been marked by bird counts, at least for us and the other 80 plus people that helped count birds at Cano Negro and Arenal. Since many of the counters and count organizers are busy with tours later on in December, these counts don’t fit into the official count time frame for the Audubon Christmas Counts and are thus not tabulated therein. However, that doesn’t minimize their importance, we still try to hold them around the same dates for each year and with the same routes and effort.

Pretty typical for December, this year’s counts were marked by the arrival of a cold front. It brought the expected buckets of rain and filled the wetlands of Cano Negro to the brink. As one might imagine, the heavy rains also presented challenges to watching birds but we still managed (yay for us participants!).

Some of the highlights and other impressions from this year’s annual bird counts for Cano Negro and Arenal:

You can still bird in the rain but it’s better when it stops

When birding in the rain, there’s a fine balance between getting too much rain and having just enough to boost the avian activity. Fortunately, it didn’t rain the entire time for either count! Although we did experience some heavy, prolonged falling water, we also had enough downtime from precipitation to count the birds.

Odd birds from the ocean

The good thing about a cold front is the birds that it can bring to town. That cool weather from the north can come with some surprises. At Cano Negro, they came in the form of a few Laughing Gulls, a Sandwich Tern, and two Brown Pelicans. Although we weren’t too far from marine environments, this inland freshwater wetland and refuge is still far enough from the ocean to make sightings of coastal species very unusual. I also checked the lake at Arenal but didn’t find any errant shearwaters or other similar oddities.

The new tower at Finca Luna Nueva

This recent excellent addition to Luna Nueva merits its own post and will get one at some point. During the count, we got a hint of what the birding can be like, I can’t wait to check it out during a sunnier, warmer dawn. On count day, the misty, rainy, and cool weather kept activity to a minimum. At other times, I bet it can be really good.

Both counts deliver the goods

Despite the tough weather, thanks to a good number of enthusiastic participants, we recorded most expected species at both counts. Our best birds at Cano Negro may have been the uncommon Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, Bare-crowned Antbird, and Bronzy Hermit. At Arenal, these were probably Black-crested Coquette, Uniform Crake, Gray Catbird, Ovenbird, and a few other nice finds.

Best birds from 270 plus species at Cano Negro

It’s hard to decide which birds were the best finds for all routes combined but good contenders come in the form of Tiny Hawk, Northern Harrier, crakes, Pinnated Bittern, Snowy Cotinga, and a few others.

Best Birds from 350 plus species at Arenal

One of our best and most memorable birds was a displaying Sunbittern. Thanks to Beto Palma for sharing this picture.

Another tough call, but some of the rarer species recorded included Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Sharpbill, the super tough Lanceolated Monklet, Tody Motmot, two hawk-eagle species, and Ring-necked Duck among others.

Good birding in good company and bird education

As always, the top highlights from both counts come in the form of sharing these special days with fellow birders. Some of us are veterans of bird counts, others were watching and counting birds for the first time. Promotion of birding also happened this year by way of birding workshops that took place in local communities before each count. Our count fees also helped fund those endeavors.

Beto Palma took this picture of the count shirt.

The count shirt is pretty cool too! Many thanks goes to Diego Quesada, Jheudy Carballo, Anthony Arce, Luis Enrique of Bird Songs Bijagua, and other members of the count committee for making these important bird counts happen.

Categories
bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Where to Go Birding in Costa Rica in October

Costa Rica in October? Isn’t there like, a lot of rain? Don’t people go to Costa Rica in January, February or March? The answer to all three of those questions is “yes” but I could also say that October is just as a good a time to come to Costa Rica as other months, that there is rain but not everywhere nor all of the time, and although the high season is mostly so folks can get a respite from the northern winter, you might actually see more birds in October.

Even Oilbird is apparently possible. some were recently found at a private site near San Vito!

Wait a second, more birds in October? Yes, a birder could easily see more or the same number of species in October because the cloudy weather boosts the bird activity, there are more migrants moving through and arriving for the winter, and the same cool resident species seen during the high season aren’t going anywhere. The birding is going to be exciting no matter what time of the year you visit including October. As a telling side note, Serge Arias of Costa Rica Birding Hotspots has said that October might actually be his favorite month to bird in Costa Rica.

Bay-headed Tanagers will be in the right places.

Along the same train of thought, there aren’t many birding sites better or worse in October than other times of the year. Bird in good habitat and you will see a lot no matter when you visit Costa Rica. Nevertheless, if I had to choose a few sites for October birding, I might lean towards these spots or regions:

The South Caribbean

This would be any of the sites south of Limon. The infrastructure at Cahuita National Park has improved and includes a boardwalk, the birding is typically great right around most lodging choices and along roads near Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, and the Manzanillo-Gandoca area is also worth a visit. The birding is always good in and near these sites but in October, you also have the chance to see active, fantastic bird migration. Most of the species are common birds from North America but what’s not to like about seeing dozens of Eastern Wood-Pewees, Bay-breasted Warblers, and flocks of Scarlet Tanagers as groups of Eastern Kingbirds fly overhead? Yeah, it’s pretty cool and there’s lots more along with chances at seeing Purple-throated Fruitcrows, Great Potoo, and a couple hundred other species.

This region is a very good place to connect with Great Potoo, this one was at Casa Calateas.

As a bonus, my friend Robert Dean, co-author/artist of the Field Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica and other publications, told me about a recent visit to a promising hotspot in the Gandoca area known as Cabinas Colibri. Over the course of a weekend, he and some local birders had excellent birding in that area including Red-fronted Parrotlet, Great Potoo, Rufous Nightjar, Short-tailed Nighthawk, and a vagrant Gray Kingbird among other species. I really need to check that spot out!

Irazu and Cerro de la Muerte

Heading from the hot humid lowlands up into the cold temperate zone, October is a good time to visit the high mountains. The resident day birding is pretty similar all year long but the main reason to visit Irazu National Park now is because Unspotted Saw-whet Owls seem to vocalize more often from September to perhaps December. They can still be heard any time of the year but a birder might have a better chance at seeing one right now. Laying eyes on one of these mega mini owls would still require owl-time in the cold night but isn’t that why we have jackets, gloves, and other cool weather gear?

The Pacific Coast and waters offshore

This is a good time to hit coastal habitats because tons of shorebirds are there, both moving through and already set for the winter. Bird Chomes, Punta Morales, and other sites and you can also see quite a few dry forest species and with luck, Mangrove Rail and Rufous-necked Wood-Rail. Take the ferry, visit Isla del Cano, or arrange a pelagic trip and you could see migrating Sabine’s Gulls and phalaropes along with Bridled Tern, Brown Noddy, storm-petrels, Galapagos Shearwater, and other cool birds of the offshore waters.

Galapagos Shearwaters from the ferry.

These are just a few suggestions but I wouldn’t worry too much about where to go birding in Costa Rica during October. Hire a guide to bird the best habitats and you will always have better chances at seeing more no matter when you visit. Want to know more about places to bird in Costa Rica along with target lists and how to look for and identify them? Support this blog by purchasing the 700 plus page e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica. Have a great trip, hope to see you in Costa Rica!

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica migration

Some October Birding News for Costa Rica, 2019

I have always loved the month of October. In Niagara, deep red and gold foliage in the gorge meant that big changes were coming and real soon. Most of the warblers had passed through except for the late ones; the Yellow-Rumps and some Palms joined by sparrows chased out of the boreal zone by the temp-dropping touch of winter’s early winds. Down in the deep green Niagara River, it was still too early for most waterbirds, the rafts of hundreds of ducks and blizzards of gulls, but we still knew that the end of fall was nigh and not only by the crisp clear nights. The King Salmon in the river were another sign; non-native, introduced, yet a modern part of Niagara, the big fish from October had turned a dark golden brown. They had lost most of their speed and fresh breeding colors, were literally slowly but surely dying as they leaped from the water. Like aquatic zombies, the old wasted salmon ambled through the shallows oblivious to all lures. Part of their natural life-span, they were destined to become food for the gulls.

A Ring-billed Gull looking forward to salmon (or French Fries..)

October in Costa Rica has none of that seasonal game-changing atmosphere, no pumpkins on the porches. It’s rainy but still warm. If anything, the biggest changes come in the form of migrant birds. The wood-warblers and flycatchers began to show up in September but the main waves of birds pass through in October. Some news for this 10th, spooky cool month of the year:

High Season for Migration

Early October is when we might see a Veery. Sometimes several of the rich russet-backed thrush can be seen at fruiting trees where they are flighty and forage with a few Gray-cheekeds and Swainson’s (the bulk of which come through in mid-October). During migration, Swainson’s Thrushes are a dime a dozen in Costa Rica but the other two migrant thrushes require a bit more effort. I hope to hear some in that tropical night sky soon.

A Gray-cheeked Thrush migrating through Costa Rica from a couple years ago.

Down on the coast, flocks of Eastern Kingbirds are powering through while the skies above them feature flocks of Mississippi Kites and the first groups of Broad-wingeds. On the warbler front, Blackburnians are coming through in numbers and all other regular warbler species are here or arriving with each new day. Recently, in Parque del Este, Marylen and I had some good mid-day birding on a rare, beautiful October day. No cuckoos nor Ceruleans but we did connect with a group of 20 or warblers, most of which were Blackburnians, but there was also a Canada or two, one Brewster’s, and a Worm-eating along with Kentucky, Chestnut-sided, Yellow, Black-and-white, and a couple of American Redstarts. We also saw Olive-sided Flycatcher, both pewees (yes, they did vocalize), Red-eyed Vireos, and a few other migrants. Uncommon migrant species that other birders have recently seen in Costa Rica include Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos, Yellow-breasted Chat and Gray Kingbird.

Costa Rica’s first MOTUS station

In keeping with the main month of migration, a key means of tracking small migrant birds was recently installed at the Brisas Reserve in the Caribbean foothills of Costa Rica. Motus stations are used to detect small radio transmitters placed on birds; devices that are the best way to show exactly where birds are coming from, where they are going, and where they are stopping to refuel. This first such station in Costa Rica will help reveal more information about threatened Cerulean Warblers and other species that migrate through and winter in the country. This big key jump in research of bird migration in Costa Rica was made possible by the efforts of SELVA and the Cerulean Warbler Project as part of the Neotropical Flyways Project.

A Good Time to Bird the Caribbean Lowlands

Migration is at its best near the Caribbean coast but even if a birder wasn’t into seeing some of the same avian kind as in West Virginia, Florida, or Pennsylvania, he or she would still do well do bird places like Tortuguero, Cahuita, and other sites south of Limon. The resident birding is likewise excellent with most lowland species possible and the weather is more likely to cooperate in October than during the high season for birding in Costa Rica. Visit Costa Rica for birding in October, you won’t be disappointed!

You might see a White-vented Euphonia.

The First South Caribbean Bird Count!

I so wish I was participating in this. It’s something I have always wanted to do or at least see happen. Although other responsibilities were just too much to help out with the count this year, at least it is taking place and it looks to be a good one. Well organized and with several routes, I just know they are going to find some tough species and maybe some rare migrants on October 5th.

Striated Heron near Jaco!

A remnant wetland right at the fringes of Jaco is turning up some good stuff including Least Bittern and Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture. However, the local star of the birding show has been a vagrant Striated Heron. We didn’t head down there because we already got our year bird at Medio Queso. Many thanks go to local guide Beto Guido for keeping track of the bird and giving daily updates to help many a local birder connect with this mega for Costa Rica.

Buff-breasted Sandpipers at the airport!

Richard Garrigues (the main author of the Field Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica) and his talented birding sons have been visiting the country’s main airport to look for grasspipers. Those efforts worked because they found two Buff-breasted Sandpipers! One of the trickiest of the regular migrants to pass through Costa Rica, I suspect that hundreds just fly right on over and if some birds do stop, they end up in non-birded pasturelands. However, once in a while, some Buffies end up in the extensive areas of short grass at the airport. This year, two did just that around a week ago and Mary and I were some of the lucky birders that managed to see them. Many thanks to Richard and the Garrigues family for finding these excellent migrants.

Removal of Hummingbird Feeders

On a strange note, due to a strict interpretation of the local wildlife law, Costa Rican authorities responsible for enforcement of regulations that affect the environment have began to make some restaurants and other places take down their hummingbird feeders. This, because the law prohibits feeding wild animals. Since there is scant evidence that hummingbird feeders definitely affect hummingbirds and ecological communities in a negative manner, and because said feeders help promote local tourism (and thus an important segment of the economy), a quickly growing group of local guides, tour operators, hotel owners, biologists, and other folks have been organizing to seek a solution (stay tuned for more about this issue).

If you do go birding in Costa Rica this October, please mention your favorite bird in the comments and don’t forget to prepare for your trip with the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app and my 700 plus page e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica. Hope to see you in Costa Rica!

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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.