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A Day of Birding at Albergue Socorro

Usually I go birding in more places and more often than I have been doing. In the year of the pandemic, for a fair percentage of the global birding community, I am guessing that’s par for the course. Whereas I would normally be birding once a week and guiding trips here and there at least a few times a month, since March, my birding endeavors have been placed on hold. The big pause button was and is pressed down by an assemblage of closures, restrictions, and associated economical effects. The good news is that birds are everywhere, I can still connect with the avian side of nature by way of Blue-and-white Swallows perched just outside the window, and by waking up to the calls of bobwhites, the warbles of Blue Grosbeaks, and various songs of other neighborhood birds.

But there’s so much more out there to see (!), to personally discover. What biological madness is happening in those nearby cloud-covered mountains? Is there a weird and rare Sharpbill accentuating a mixed flock on the other, wetter side of the hills? Can Solitary Eagle still exist in Costa Rica? A good place to check would be the other side of those mountains out the back window, on the wild and Caribbean side of Braulio Carrillo National Park. Does the massive black-hawk persist over there or has it already succumbed to the effects of climate change (a victim of life cascades brought to deadly drought by warmer, drier weather)?

I haven’t had a chance to dedicate time to look for Solitary Eagle, Sharpbills, nor much of anything else but at least I can still make plans for the eventual search. Thanks to a local, resident world birder, recently, I did have a chance to look for some birds. We were after more than Sharpbills and Solitary Eagles and knew that our chances at finding our very rare targets were as slim as a Sharpie’s tarsi but you can’t have homemade-made cake unless you bake it, can’t reach the hidden peak unless you climb it.

With parrotlets, ground-cuckoos, and piprites on the mind, we spent a day and half searching for some bird cake at the Albergue Socorro. Encountering such rare and unreliable species in a short amount of time can’t be expected but the more you try the better your chances and given driving times to destination, the beautiful lower middle elevation rainforests of Socorro seemed like a good place to bring our bins.

In our brief window of birding, we did not find the super rare ones but I can’t say that it was for lack of trying. Following a strategy of covering as much ground as possible to increase chances of encountering an antswarm or hearing our targets, we walked on moist, bio-rich trails through beautiful forest, kept going on a road that bisects an excellent area of forest, and walked a bit more. Although the focus was on a search for rare birds, during those walks, we still saw and heard plenty of other things. Early morning on the Las Lomas trail saw us move beneath massive rainforest trees with crowns obscured by a an abundance of vegetation; the aerial “soil” of the canopy. We were accompanied by the upward, tripping songs of Tropical Parulas above and dry ticking of Golden-crowned Warblers below.

While keeping an eye on the trail for gnomish antpittas, we heard and saw a mouse-like Tawny-throated Leaftosser, had glimpses of candy-beaked Black-headed Nightingale-Thrushes, stood still and listened to the low frequency calls of a Purplish-backed Quail-Dove.

The chips and calls of Silver-throated and other tanagers were a constant and we had close encounters with less brightly-colored Plain Antvireos. Despite having to navigate the clutching branches of two fallen trees, we walked that trail back out to the open rocky road and kept searching. There were Crested Guans honking like mutant geese, Swallow-tailed Kites riding the currents overhead, and Tufted Flycatchers calling and quivering their tails at the side of the road.

The bird with a way too long name (Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant) was also present in fair numbers, we saw a few of them.

Calling White-throated Spadebills managed to stay hidden but a tail-pumping Zeledon’s Antbird was cool (as always),

and it was nice to see the warbler-like antics of Rufous-browed Tyrannulet.

Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner was one of the “better” (and expected) birds. A natural born acrobat, this smallish foliage-gleaner does above-ground skulkingas it forages in bromeliads and other aerial vegetation like a big chickadee (sort of).

Another good one was White-vented Euphonia, a bird that is sometimes very common in this area. Even in poor lighting, this little bird can reveal its identification by its tail wagging behavior.

On the raptor front, we enjoyed a view of a perched White Hawk against the green, Short-tailed Hawks above, and, maybe best of all, were treated to an adult Ornate Hawk-Eagle in flight.

The target birds might not have shown but we can’t say that we didn’t try and in doing so, we still enjoyed some much appreciated avian cake during the trying days of a pandemic. We also enjoyed the hospitality of Albergue Socorro, one of many exciting birding spots in Costa Rica that are already open and ready to safely accept guests. I hope I can visit again soon.

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Birding Costa Rica

Get High Quality Bird Art = Support Conservation in Costa Rica

It’s always win-win situation when you can get something cool and support what you love at the same time. This is why so many of us coffee drinking birders love to buy bird-friendly shade grown coffee, and why we would rather purchase products that support habitat for birds. It’s especially nice when we can buy high quality bird art that supports research and conservation because what birder wouldn’t love to see portraits of their favorite species on the walls of their nest? Who wouldn’t love to have posters showing beautiful tropical species? Whether those paintings remind us of what we would rather be doing or just add the right sort of avian flavor to the personal nest, pictures of birds are an essential accent for the home of every birder.

In Costa Rica, thanks to a new, local endeavor that blends art with conservation, I can admire some high quality bird art and know that my purchase helps with important research for conservation. Started by my friend and colleague Diego Quesada, “CaraCara” is a local business that creates high quality products related to birding where part of the proceeds are for research and conservation. The name of the company was inspired by a bird that has become rare in Costa Rica and other parts of its range, the Red-throated Caracara. Unlike caracaras of open country habitats, the Red-throated needs large areas of tropical forest and bucks the usual caracara opportunistic trend by mostly foraging on wasp nests.

Red-throated Caracara and the name of the conservation project run by CaraCara.

Such picky specialization has undoubtedly led to the disappearance and diminishing of this species in many areas, Costa Rica included. To give an idea of the extent to which some birds can be affected by habitat loss, although the Red-throated Caracara was historically common in many parts of Costa Rica and Central America to southern Mexico, it has totally disappeared from much of that part of its range. It is still regular in large forested areas of the Amazon and the Darien but even there seems to only persist in areas with large blocks of unbroken forest. In Costa Rica, although we still need to learn more about where remaining populations might occur, the only ones known at the time of writing are in the heart of the forests of the Osa Peninsula and in northern Costa Rica.

Diego and other volunteers have been monitoring the very small population in the north since 2013 but for adequate eventual restoration and protection of this species, more information is needed. How large of a range do these birds have? How were they able to persist in the fragmented forests of the northern part of their range? Are there certain tree species that provide better habitat for their food source? Where else do they occur in Costa Rica?

To help populations of this species in Costa Rica and elsewhere, we need to find the answers to these and other questions as soon as possible. On the bright side of the caracara equation, now, we can help find those answers by purchasing bird posters from CaraCara.

This is one of three posters currently available.

Upon taking the poster out of the box, I was immediately impressed by the quality of the paper. Partly made from algae, the paper used for the posters is both durable and 100% sustainable.

The beautiful accurate illustrations are by Andrew Guttenberg and show fine details and colors I haven’t seen in some other posters. Unlike posters with glossy paper, these ones are more like prints of high quality paintings and therefore perfect for the wall of a den and places of business.

Classy and elegant, each poster also comes with a small sheet of information for the birds shown.

The other two posters currently available.

Several local birders and businesses have already purchased this quality bird art. Once tourism gets back into gear in Costa Rica, this elegant avian decor will also act as high quality souvenirs that double as funding for research and conservation of the Red-throated Caracara. However, to acquire these beautiful posters, hopefully, birders won’t need to wait to visit Costa Rica. Soon, they will also be available for purchase and shipping within the USA. Keep an eye on the CaraCara website for more information about that as well as other birding products being developed by this innovative, local company.

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Common Birds of the Cafetal

Coffee farms or “cafetales” aren’t one of the original natural habitats of Costa Rica but since they have been here for more than 100 years, a lot of birds have become adapted to this “modern” green space. Although biodiversity on coffee farms depends on how many trees are present and degree of pesticide use, they can harbor a good number of birds and other wildlife.

The types of plants and animals housed among rows of dark green bushes with occasional trees can’t compare to the ecological latticework of moist forests and wetlands that would naturally occur in the Central Valley. That said, any vegetation is better than no vegetation and in an increasingly urban environment, cafetales act as important verdant patches in a landscape dominated by concrete, glass, and asphalt.

Do you find yourself joining the family on a coffee tour when you would rather be watching Fiery-throated Hummingbirds and quetzals on Poas? Not to fret, bring those binos because there are birds in the coffee! Some cool birds live in those wonderful, special bean producing bushes. These are ten of them:

Crested Bobwhite

If you are familar with bobwhites and hear one calling in Costa Rica, look around because it’s more than likely not a birding flashback. The Crested (Spot-bellied) Bobwhite sounds pretty much like the ones up north. They prefer grassy, weedy fields but also occur in cafetales especially when they have a grassy understory and are adjacent to weedy fields.

Short-tailed Hawk

This small raptor is a common hawk in many parts of Costa Rica. It seems to do well in the mosaic of riparian zones, patches of forest, and agricultural lands of the Central Valley. Watch for both morphs soaring high overhead.

Blue-vented Hummingbird

This hummingbird can feed from the flowers on coffee bushes and trees that grow at the edges of and in coffee farms. It’s pretty common, listen for its distinctive double-noted, short whistled call. The Rufous-tailed Hummingbird is the other most common hummingbird in coffee farms.

Yellow-bellied Elaenia

One of various flycatchers that occur on coffee farms, this species often reveals itself with a vocalization that sounds kind of like a scream. Watch for it feeding on berries and other small fruits.

Clay-colored Thrush

No coffee farm in Costa Rica is complete without a healthy selection of Clay-colored Thrushes. One of the most common species in the country, expect to see lots of Costa Rica’s national bird when birding coffee farm habitats.

Blue-gray Tanager

A common, beautiful bird, watching this species in coffee farms is a peaceful pleasure.

Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow

Endemic and likely made rare by a combination of reduced habitat, feral cats, pesticides, and cowbird parasitism, this colorful little towheee persists on and near coffee farms. It is a skulker though, watch for it in the early morning.

Grayish Saltator

One of the most common species of the Central Valley, this seemingly cardinal relative does very well in garden and edge habitats. Its cheerful song is a core component of the Central Valley’s auditory soundscape.

Yellow-green Vireo

Another common species of the valley but only during the wet season. Like the Red-eyed Vireo, it sings a real lot. It also occurs in just about any set of trees including ones in and near coffee.

Rufous-capped Warbler

A snappy, chat-like bird, the Rufous-capped Warbler lives in the understory of dry and moist forest, in second growth, and in coffee fields. This is one of the more common, typical species of coffee farms.

These are some of the species to watch for and expect when birding any green space in the Central Valley. Want to learn much more about about where to find birds in Costa Rica and support this blog at the same time? Purchase my 700 plus page e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica. Plan for out trip with the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, customize it and use it identify everything from motmots to flycatchers while birding in Costa Rica. I hope to see you here!

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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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Mega Birding in Costa Rica at Laguna del Lagarto

As is common with subcultural behavior, us birders have also come up with our own set of phrases and terminology, many of those words coming from that bastion of serious birding, The United Kingdom. Thanks to the creativity and ingenuity of British birders, we say things like, “I tried to twitch the Pittasoma but dipped. I suspect that I was the victim of stringing.”

Most readers of this blog probably know what that means but if not, it translates to, “I tried to go and see that Black-crowned Antpitta but failed. I suspect that someone lied about the bird being present at that site.”

Other birding terminology includes such words as “bins”, “pishing”, “lifer”, and “mega”, these last two ranking among the most important and exciting. They are also, by nature, often intertwined. When a bird is a lifer, it’s a species that a birder has never seen before. It’s a lifer because it makes it onto your “life list” but it’s also a lifer because seeing it is a new life event. Pictures of it were probably seen in the field guide, maybe viewed online, but you have yet to see it in life, in person (in bird?). It’s one more goal attained, one more connection made with the incredible proliferation of life on Earth and when the bird also happens to be a mega, the lifer experience takes on even highest levels of birding importance.

A mega is a bird that is exceptionally rare or at least very difficult to encounter. These are the birds that are encountered so infrequently, it seems that they must be ghosts, just don’t seem to exist, because we bird so often in places where they occur and just never, ever see them. Some have referred to such species as “avian unicorns” but birds like the Maroon-chested Ground-Dove, the Speckled Mourner, and the Harpy Eagle are indeed real. They are out there, you just have to know the right places to see them, how to see them, and have the time and determination to find them.

My best picture of the ground-dove, some other pictures show a tangle of vegetation which is also realistic when seeing this mega.

One of the mega birds in Costa Rica (and elsewhere really), is the Tawny-faced Quail. Despite the disdain some birders have for grouse and other birds reminiscent of the good old chicken, many pheasant species, ground-loving quails and grouse-like birds are megas because they are just so hard to see, this species included. The grouse are worth the patience, though, and not just because every bird counts but also because most of them have beautiful, intricately patterned plumages. With its combination of rufous, gray, and buff hues, the Tawny-faced Quail is no exception, a shame it’s not easier to find!

The Tawny-faced Quail is a unicorn birding challenge for reasons shared with other members of the mega club:

Shy and unobtrusive– By all accounts, this bird doesn’t exactly enjoy the “Limelight”. Unlike some other ground birds, this little quail is almost never, ever seen as it forages on the forest floor. A birder could do a Zen staring contest on and to the sides of trails in beautiful forest for hours and still come up empty because this quail does not like to play. Although the dapple of leaves, shades of green and network of rainforest vegetation are pleasant to contemplate, this bird is unobtrusive to an extreme and doesn’t even like to vocalize. It does so occasionally but may call for less then a minute and then briefly calls again several minutes later.

Naturally rare– Rarity can be a hard call to make when a species is already naturally tough to find but based on years of looking and what others have said, I feel confident in saying that this species is rare. This doesn’t mean that it’s about to go extinct, just that it probably has low populations even in appropriate habitat. Although this is normal for many rainforest species, it doesn’t facilitate seeing them.

Access to habitat– As with any bird, you can’t have any chance of seeing it unless you can bird where it lives. As for the Tawny-faced Quails of Costa Rica, they have this curious distribution centered on the northern part of the country. This species also only lives in mature rainforest, perhaps more so in hilly areas, from the border of Nicaragua to the slopes of the northern mountain ranges. Oddly it doesn’t seem to live in the Sarapiqui area, nor south of there.

With those factors in mind, a satellite map of forest cover in Costa Rica shows why we have so few chances of finding Tawny-faced Quail in the country. Most of its habitat is gone and the few places where it may still occur are mostly out of reach. Even if you birded the borders of those forests, that’s probably not going to do the trick for this shy bird. You have to venture into the forest and even then, probably won’t see it.

BUT, many many thanks to Juan Diego Vargas, the mega Tawny-faced Quail has become far easier (or less difficult) to actually see. A local expert birding guide who also re-found Ocellated Poorwill, while birding at Laguna del Lagarto on Global Big Day, 2019, Juan Diego heard a Tawny-faced Quail vocalize at dusk and close to the lodge. Despite searching for it at night with Laguna guide Didier, they did not find it. Showing that determination is often needed to connect with a mega, Juan Diego returned to Laguna another evening and after doing another night search for a bird that sang a few times around 6 p.m., they found it!

As an example of how tough this species can be, Juan Diego had looked for this bird at this same site on various occasions over the years. It has been seen there by others on the trails but on very few occasions. Perhaps it only calls during a certain season or in certain conditions? Maybe he was listening at the wrong time of day? In any case, we now know that one or more of this species could be regular right near the lodge. How do we know that? Not only because Juan Diego found it, but also because our group from the Birding Club of Costa Rica heard and saw one this past weekend.

While guiding in the same area where Juan Diego had the bird and at the right time of 6 p.m., I had hoped I might hear one vocalize. Sure enough, the quail called, only for around 15 seconds, but there it was and with that it made it onto my country list. We went back for dinner and I told Didier we had heard it. He went immediately out to look for the bird and despite knowing where it had called, it took him around an hour to find it. But, find it he did and thanks to that, we were able to lays eyes on this mega lifer on its night roost.

Many thanks to Birding Club of Costa Rica member and world birder Pirjo Laakso for sharing this image of my lifer Tawny-faced Quail.

Seeing such a rare species just sitting there on a vine at night was nothing short of surreal. We counted it and it’s no different that seeing a wild bird foraging in the forest or scuttling across a path but it’s hard not to feel that it was almost too easy. Since it took serious effort to find the quail, that’s actually not the case but it was still a surreal way to get a mega lifer.

It remains to be seen if the Tawny-faced Quail will continue to so readily show itself to birders at Laguna del Lagarto, especially if/when a parade of photographers arrive. Hopefully, photographing the bird can be managed correctly and every birder visiting Laguna del Lagarto can lays eyes on this mega for years to come. In the meantime, the birding is always exciting at Laguna, we had Pied Puffbirds, Ocellated Antbirds, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrants and more. Contact me to learn about trips to this excellent site.

Want to learn about the best places and ways to find all the mega species in Costa Rica? Support this blog by purchasing my 700 page e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

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Team Tyto + Global Big Day (+ Caffeine) = 300 Plus Species

It’s the Monday after Global Big Day. I write this as the Grayish Saltators call and a breeze threatens to bring rains and almost find it hard to believe that we birded from midnight until dawn and on through to the next night, from one side of the mountains to the other. From the hot low coastal region up to more than a cool 2,000 meters. A non-stop birdathon, a day dedicated to celebrating birds collectively shared with thousands of birders across the globe and to think that we almost didn’t partake in Global Big Day, 2019. We wanted to, I had a route planned, but Mary’s daughter had exams, she had to study, needed help studying and we also needed someone to watch her.

Nevertheless, thanks to being able to study during the week and family members who were happy to watch her, it all worked out. With enough refreshments, snacks, sandwiches and caffeine drinks on hand to last us through a night and day, Mary and I (aka Team Tyto) were ready to dedicate ourselves to finding as many birds as we could in Costa Rica, on May 4th. Luckily, I even had a chance to sleep during the day before the clock struck midnight. That happened for us somewhere on the road to the Pacific Coast and there was no quick first bird. Only highway and occasional street lights, no luck with roosting birds, nor a serendipitous flyby Barn Owl.

A Striped Owl from another day.

The first of many happened at our first stop, a dusty road in the Pacific lowlands. Common Pauraques took that distinguished title as they called and leaped from the road. No Pacific Screech-Owl though, no other night birds, no faint calls of migrants up there in the dark sky. There was a light rain and that probably kept things extra quiet but we pushed on, eventually picking up shorebirds that roost at salt ponds. As we arrived, the “terlee!” of Black-bellied Plovers echoed over the dark still waters and Black-necked Stilt gave their sharp barking calls. Eventually, by way of brief looks and vocalizations, we picked up several other shorebird species and even Wood Stork before flying through the night to the next stop, the mangroves at Caldera.

A brief stop there was just as quiet but spotlighting paid off with close, perfect looks at a target Northern Potoo! With that excellent addition to our GBD, we continued on towards more humid lands south of Carara National Park, spotlighting roadside wires en route. Despite our efforts, Striped Owl failed to show and Barn Owl never called but we did pick up the faint notes of a Pacific Screech-Owl just before needing to move on to our main birding venue for the day, the Jaco area.

Pacific Screech-Owl is one of the more common owl species in Costa Rica.

Although it was tempting to start the morning at Cerro Lodge (and that plan might be just as good or better), the combination of forest, edge, and open country birds near Jaco seemed to promise bigger returns. Not mention, our starting point is also very good for owls. At least it was in February and much to our pleasure, it was just as good on May 4th! Tropical Screech-Owls called from the second growth, thick-knees vocalized, and then we heard Mottled, Black-and-white, and Crested Owls calling from the hills. At one point, a flying shape materialized right over our heads and quick work with the flashlight got onto our only Barn Owl of the day!

We had 7 owl species under our belts and the first light of day was quickly approaching; just how you want a Big Day dawn to happen! It came with a cavalcade of bird songs that issued forth from a good combination of habitats. We must have had 50 species by sound alone before actually seeing anything and that included several key species like Great Currasow, Crested Guan, Marbled Wood-Quail, tinamous, woodcreepers, two motmots, Slate-colored Seedeater and others. As the light of day grew, we started picking up more species by sight including a surprise Shiny Cowbird, Giant Cowbird, both tityras and others. At the same time, more birds vocalized giving us five species of trogons among many others!

The Near Threatened Baird’s Trogon was one of our better dawn birds.

Whether because of the cloudy weather, time of year, Zen attitude birding or a combination of the above, The Big Day birding was good and it kept getting better.

Just before leaving the Jaco area, a last minute attempt brought in such key species as Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Scrub Greenlet, and Red-breasted Meadowlark. No luck with Upland Sandpiper but well over a 100 species by 7 a.m. was nothing to complain about! Onward we went to Tarcoles before entering Carara National Park at 8 a.m. We added most key waterbirds at Tarcoles and then, just as last year at this time, the park treated us very well with vocalizations from a high percentage of possible species. Green Shrike-Vireo! Streak-chested Antpitta! Dot-winged Antwren and a few dozen others. Ruddy Quail-Dove scooting off the trail! We didn’t get everything and hummingbirds were disturbingly absent but at times, it almost seemed too easy! And that’s just how we want a Big Day because although I welcome challenges in birding, I absolutely treasure and am very grateful for a day when all the birds are calling and making themselves available.

After Carara (where we ran into other teams of GBDers, including the guys who got a mega Gray-hooded Gull!), we went back to Tarcoles, checked a roadside wetland, and made a stop in dry forest. Although the beach was more sand and water than birds, we still picked up a few expected species, got onto Solitary Sandpiper and a couple other shorebirds at the wetland, and connected with several dry forest birds before beginning the two hour drive to highland habitats on Poas.

Thankfully, the driving was also quick, and we even picked up Vaux’s Swift and a few other birds before birding the road to Poas. Thanks to lots of vocalizations and knowing the area quite well, we managed a high percentage of key species in a short amount of time, best of the bunch being Resplendent Quetzal, Wrenthrush, and Yellow-bellied Siskin. As both silky-flycatchers also showed along with several other birds, I mentioned to Mary how good that afternoon would have been for guiding. With more time, I think we would have found 90% of the species that live up there. But, we had run out of time, we had other places to be and so we drove down to Varablanca and Cinchona.

En route, we picked up several more species by call and got some birds at Cinchona. At a stop between Cinchona and Virgen del Socorro, we also found our best bird of the day, a Yellow-winged Tanager! The only one for GBD in Costa Rica, we lucked upon it on the side of the road while also adding Black-throated Wren, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, and some other species.

Prong-billed Barbet did us a favor at Cinchona.

On down the road we went, scoping and adding a Roadside Hawk, American Dipper and some other species before reaching our final main stop, the San Miguel-Socorro road. Thinking that we wouldn’t reach the lowlands in time and knowing that this area harbors a high number of bird species, we focused our final efforts at this site. Broad-billed Motmot, Red-throated Ant-tanager, Cinnamon Becard, Carmiol’s Tanager, and other birds of the Caribbean slope came out to play. Although I have had many more species on other days at this site, we still added a good number of birds especially when a Central American Pygmy-Owl (!) appeared.

A last ditch attempt to reach lower elevations was mostly futile except for a roadside Rufous Motmot ticked from the moving car. Nor did any more owls or other nightbirds call but by 7:45 p.m., I was ready to call it a day. In a small hotel in Puerto Viejo, I submitted our final lists and we tallied the results. We checked it once, we checked it twice, and we were pleased indeed to see that we had surpassed 300 species, 305 species to be exact! Although Mary almost talked me in to heading back out to see if we could find a Green Ibis or that missing Spectacled Owl, no amount of caffeine energy drink could have moved me back into birding action.

But we had more than 300 species (!) and although the guys who had found the gull got the highest bird list for Costa Rica (with 335 species!!), we still ended up with the fourth highest list in the world for Global Big Day, 2019! Although eBird shows us in 14th place, that’s because several of the lists with more species are actually group lists and should therefore be shown in another category.

It was satisfying indeed to finally break 300 species in a day in Costa Rica. Now if I look into that route a bit more, I wonder how much better we could do…

Team Tyto with a Post GBD coffee at Mi Cafecito, Costa Rica.

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Birding News, Costa Rica, Late March, 2019

The high season for birding in Costa Rica is just about over. Although birding in April is just as good, after March, few birders visit. That’s a shame because April is dry enough for lots of excellent birding and green space is filled with bird song. The lack of birders in April might have something to do with Spring migration kicking into gear up north but given the number of birds possible in Costa Rica, it might be better to save that migration focused birding for May.

If you find yourself headed to Costa Rica this April, you are in luck, because this is what might be happening in this neck of the woods!:

La Selva

Based on a recent morning of guiding and other reports, the avian action is all good. Purple-throated Fruitcrows are showing well on the STR Trail and I have even heard this vocal cotinga from the entrance road. Given the large number of trees sadly felled during a violent wind storm, I can’t help but wonder if the uptick in fruitcrow encounters is related to birds moving further afield is they search of food. Whatever the explanation may be, they should continue to be easier to see in April.
Other good stuff at La Selva includes Agami Heron seen on small, forested streams, lots of White-ringed Flycatchers, Scaled Pigeon, and easy looks at Great Green Macaws.

As with most sites in the Caribbean lowlands, Rufous-winged Woodpecker is also common there.

Quetzals

The magical, mega bird we all want to see is in the house anywhere in the Costa Rican highlands. Well anywhere with forest and fruiting wild avocado trees. Thanks to heavy rains during much of 2018, this year’s avocado crop is a good one, there are lots of trees with quetzal food. As a bonus, those same trees can also attract Black Guans and other species.

Migration

April is a fantastic time for spring migration in Costa Rica. You know all those Barn Swallows, Cliff Swallows, Eastern Kingbirds, and Chimney Swifts seen on their breeding grounds? A large percentage of them probably pass through Costa Rica, most in April. Watch thousands and thousands of these birds fly overhead in the Caribbean lowlands, and check trees, bushes, and forest for Scarlet Tanagers, Red-eyed Vireos, thrushes, and various warblers including Blackburnian, Canada, and even Ceruleans. Oh yeah, and try and count the thousands of Eastern Wood-Pewees too.

A few raptors will be around too..

Foothill forest birding

I was at Quebrada Gonzalez and El Tapir the other day. Let me tell you, both sites have lots of fruiting trees. Maybe even more than could be consumed by the number of birds present! Tons of food are available and the birding will be good, maybe even throughout the day. I had good numbers of tanagers including one or two Blue-and-Golds, “singing” Yellow-eared Toucanet, and a few other choice species revealing their presence through song. Go birding at these and other foothill sites, it’s gonna be serious!

Monteverde zone

April kicks off with a concert where my friend Robert Dean is playing his new music. I really wish I was going! But, I can’t make it this weekend, hopefully I can during another one soon because bellbirds are calling and umbrellabird has been seen. Since the Monteverde area is also good for leaftossers, Azure-hooded Jay, and lots of other cool birds, consider yourself in luck if you are headed up to Monteverde in April.

Shorebirds

Although waders could be placed under the migration category, such cool long distance species deserve their own slot. You might not visit Costa Rica for shorebirds, they might be the same ones seen up north, but for those who reside in Costa Rica, April is golden for the waders. Spring shorebirding in Costa Rica is fantastic, perhaps best in late April with constant movements of migrating birds and large numbers of everything from Semipalmated Sandpipers to Stilt Sandpipers and Wilson’s Phalaropes. It’s good, it’s exciting, and always worth birding sites like Punta Morales or Chomes or Ensenada, even if they are as hot as blazes. Hey, all the better reason to get an ice cream at a Pops in Liberia or especially that one on the highway between Chomes and Miramar.

April is going to be good, I hope you are on your way to Costa Rica! I can’t wait to see which migrants Mary and I find, I hope we kick up that year list endeavor as we scout and prepare ourselves for Global Big Day, 2019. If you are headed to Costa Rica, preparing for or planning a trip, or just feel like supporting this blog, please consider purchasing, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica, a 700 plus page e-book with information on where to see birds in Costa Rica, how to find them, and how to identify them.

Hope to see you in Costa Rica, it’s closer and easier than you think!

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

More Costa Rica Birding Fun on the Caribbean Slope

I live in the Central Valley of Costa Rica. Along with a couple other million folks, we share remnant green space with remnant populations of the endemic Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow, Rufous-collared Sparrows singing in the streets, Blue-gray Tanagers, Great Kiskadees, and Gray and Short-tailed Hawks living the raptor life.

Other birds also live in the valley, including some that persist in the shade and steep banks of riparian green zones. These are birds like Gray-cowled Wood-Rail, Tropical Screech-Owl, and even Gray-headed Chachalaca. The additional flavor these and other species lend to the local birding scene is always welcome but does it compare to the avifauna of the Caribbean slope? Not quite. It’s much wetter over there on the other side of the central volcanic range and there’s more forest. Those two factors equate to a large and wonderfully diverse avifauna, a true birder’s delight.

This past weekend, Mary and I got in some of that delightful Caribbean slope birding. We also added a bunch of year birds, some of them uncommon species best seen now rather than later. We probably saw something like 150 species during a wet yet productive day of birding in the Arenal Obseratory Lodge area and a brief visit to Cope’s on the drive back home. These were a few of the highlights and observations:

Tiny Hawk– It might be small but that’s why this miniature raptor is so coveted (and tough to see). Seriously rapacious, this rainforest feathered weasel snatches hummingbirds and even species up to the size of Great-crested Flycatcher. Around the same size as a Turdus thrush, it can even look a bit like one in flight. That’s just what I saw while Mary and I birded one of the trails at the Observatory Lodge, a glimpse of a thrush or Myiarchus sized bird that flew and perched in the canopy. I knew that something wasn’t quite right about that bird, luckily, it stayed where we could see enough of it to discover that it was indeed a Tiny Hawk! Uncommon and always tough to see, this was an excellent find. It left before we could manage any pictures but not before we had it in the bag for 2019.

Great Black Hawk– It was a good day for raptors! We had close looks at this “forest black-hawk” from the Casona overlook at the Observatory Lodge. This site is a good area for this formerly more common species but it can still be easily missed. Other raptors seen by us that same rainy day were King Vulture (perched and in flight), White Hawk, and Harris’s Hawk en route.

The River of Raptors!– During a break in the rains on Sunday, we connected with this annual flow of birds heading north somewhere in the Caribbean lowlands. A brief stop had us marveling over hundreds of Broad-winged and Swainson’s Hawks that circled overhead, all flying north.

Guans and curassows– Thanks to long term protection, these large turkey like birds are easy to see at various sites in Costa Rica including the Observatory Lodge. As is usual for this site, we had several close views of Crested Guan and a couple of Great Curassows. Gray-headed Chachaalacas on the drive in rounded out the Cracid mix.

Fasciated Tiger-Heron– We had a close look at one at a classic site for this stream specialist- at the stream just before the entrance to the Observatory Lodge. No Sunbittern yet but there’s still plenty of time in 2019 to see that odd, intriguing bird.

White-tipped Sicklebill– I’m happy to report that the bird at Cope’s is still present! As often happens at this special site, we had close looks at one that perched and fed while being entertained by various other species visiting the feeder.

Keel-billed Motmot, Bare-crowned Antbird, Thicket Antpitta– What might these birds have in common? All are regular in the Arenal area and we got all three in quick succession. A fourth, the White-fronted Nunbird, failed to show but we’ll probably see it on another visit.

Although our three main target birds didn’t appear (Great Potoo, sapsucker, and Cape May Warbler), others made up for it. As with any area of good habitat on the Caribbean slope, the birding at the Observatory Lodge was fantastic. Many more species are possible, I wonder what we will see the next time Team Tyto birds on the other side of the mountains?

Do you want to see these and other birds in Costa Rica? Contact me at information@birdingcraft.com to set up your birding trip in Costa Rica.

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bird finding in Costa Rica

February in Costa Rica

The second month of the year is one of the more popular times for visiting Costa Rica, especially for birders. The combination of dry season and a warm, sunny escape rightfully appeals. For birders from Europe, the deal gets sweetened by Prothonotary Warbler and other wintering birds from the north. It is good time to wear binos in the land of quetzals although it’s not the only time to visit.

Keep in mind that you can see just as many resident species and perhaps more easily at other times of the year. Hotels stays will also be cheaper and there won’t be any trouble finding rooms or experienced guides. But, it’s February now and these are a few things to expect:

More owl vocalizations

Well, I don’t know, maybe not because owls are so notoriously unreliable. But, I do feel like they call more right now, that was certainly the case when Mary and I heard several calling Mottled, Black-and-White, Crested, Spectacled, and a Tropical Screech Owl near Jaco in less than an hour before down! A sweet set of year birds, many more to come in 2019.

Sunny, windy weather

High pressure systems bring windy, sunny conditions to much of Costa Rica and especially in February. It makes for pleasant scenery but takes a bite out of birding. It can also get out of hand in Guanacaste with high wind speeds. If birding up that way, I would look for birds in sheltered spots and around water sources. Speaking of that…

Maybe an interesting migrant or two?

Admittedly of more interest to local birders than folks from up north, now is when we have a better chance of finding a Cedar Waxwing, Northern Parula, or some other rare visitor to Costa Rica. A good way to find rare warblers and other vagrants in Costa Rica during February is to search for them at any water sources in windy Guanacaste. I wish Mary and I were up there now actually waiting by some windswept remnant bit of water. Well, maybe only if something rare shows but I bet something would.

Lots of other typical, great birding

As usual, we can expect this on any visit to Costa Rica. The birding is fantastic, there is always a lot to see and identify with a birding app for Costa Rica. I hope you have a great trip!

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big year Birding Costa Rica

A Few Nice Year Birds for Team Tyto

Year birding isn’t the same as every day birding. It can be but in general, if you want to maximize your year list, you have to think long term and use your time wisely. If a rarity appears, you might need to chase it. If you get a chance, a window of birding time to look for winter ducks, this might be your golden opportunity. Pass up the chances and you are less likely to reach your goal because that day scheduled for a bobwhite, booby, or Black-throated Blue Warbler might be too windy or rained out. You might suffer some accident between now and then or there might be a family emergency that pushes birding right out of the picture.

Bird any chance you get but work on the birds that are here now rather than later, go for the tough species and the other ones will fall into place. That’s sort of what Team Tyto (Mary and I) have been doing since January 1st. We go birding when we can and will hopefully, eventually, get to enough places to surpass 700 before the end of 2019. Recently, we added a few nice ones here and there during sojourns to Jaco, Poas, and in the Central Valley…

Northern Potoo

Picking the best one first, we were very pleased to get this species for the year! It’s not easy and would have required a trip to Guanacaste likely accompanied by frustrating times as we listened for it in vain. Luckily, our year tick (and lifer for Mary!) happened while looking for shorebirds at night around Punta Morales (don’t ask). After having pretty much given up on the potoo responding to playback, a chance drive down a dike road to look for Boat-billed Herons brought us straight to the nocturnal prize. It was perched up on a lone post, looking all the while like some sculpture of a weird bird. This year bird gift was right in front of us and gave us walk away views. No Boat-billed Heron on that night but we’ll take Northern Potoo for 2019!

Resplendent Quetzal

What year in Costa Rica could ever be right without adding this star bird during the first few months? We got a pair up on Poas and hope to see more at other high elevation sites over the next several months.

Slate-colored Seedeater

It was good to likewise add this rare bird early in the game. I know a good site for it but who knows how long they will be there? Point blank looks at several of this local seedeater were some of the highlights during a long, fine day of birding. The Jaco area also yielded Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Baird’s Trogon, and a bunch of other cool birds.

Owls

Although we only saw one of these nocturnal predators, we still heard and counted several Crested, Mottled, Black-and-White, Spectacled, Tropical Screech, and Pacific Screech-Owls during some pre-dawn owling near Jaco!

Ground-Sparrows

Closer to home, it was satisfying to get both ground-sparrows at the same time. Although we will likely see them again in 2019, the endemic and endangered Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow is always a treat. The White-eared doesn’t look too shabby either.

Some good year birds for Team Tyto! We hope to find a lot more, now I just need to convince Mary to brave the freezing cold on Irazu to get that Unspotted Saw-whet Owl…