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Birding Costa Rica

Final Preparations for Global Big Day in Costa Rica

Just a few days left until a fair percentage of the birding public participates in Global Big Day. It’s easy enough to do, you just need to watch birds on May 5th for any amount of time, count those birds, and submit the information to eBird. In these days of instant social media, you can also post your successes, failures, or pictures of your favorite birding snacks in real time. Did you admire a Scarlet Tanager or two in breeding plumage? Hear the winnowing of a snipe in the cold of the dawn? Compare the virtues of high-quality organic chocolate to crumbly, sugar infused doughnuts? And, most of all, have any run-ins with interesting non-birders? Post it on Facebook to make the day that much more memorable!

A tree decorated with Scarlet Macaws would be memorable.

Here in C0sta Rica, we seriously got our birding game on. At least it seems that way at our Whatsapp group for GBD (that’s what we call it around here). Lots of people have signed on and we will have birders in most corners of the country, many of which will be focusing on key species. For example, a few Tico birders will be looking for the elusive Red-throated Carara in the Osa, others will be slinging the bins at El Copal and Tapanti in search of specialties of that birdy zone, and some of us will be hoping to add tough species like Blue Seedeater, and Unspotted Saw-whet Owl to the results. There’s lots of good vibes going on, it’s going to be interesting to see what we all find.

During these final last hours of preparation, although I’m not sure what others are doing, this is what I will be up to:

Checking eBird: One last check to see if and where certain target species have been seen. I also checked the bar charts today to see which migrants can be expected. Most warblers and viroes are gone, but flycatchers are still in the house as well as shorebirds.

Making the coffee: I really should mention that no one has to do GBD like a birding machine whereby you start at midnight and focus on birds for the next 24 hours. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. But, you might want to start earlier than usual, or at least be out right before dawn. Whether you go that midnight route or start the madness after the rise of the sun, just make sure to brew more than enough coffee the night before because the last thing you want is to be lacking on the caffeine when the birding gets fierce. Just in case I need an extra influx of natural stimulants, I’ll be rolling and ready with my coffee and chocolate covered coffee beans.

Making a pizza: Yeah, you read that right. I often make a pizza before a bird count because what can I say, I love good pizza and I love birding; it makes for a perfect combination! So, I plan on making one or two, I’m not quite sure about the toppings but it’s still gonna be good! Cold slices of course but when the pizza is fresh, the flavors are always fantastic. Hopefully, I will be enjoying a slice as I see a Solitary Eagle! Well, actually, no because then I would end up wasting the pizza slice after spitting it out in shock, or choking on it, or accidentally throwing the pizza on the windshield of the car in my race for the camera, or sauce up the camera lens or something. It would be tough for it not to be a bit of momentary birding pandemonium. Hopefully, the eagle will show at a more opportune time…

Not a Solitary Eagle but Hook-billed Kite would still be a great find for the day! Not enough to drop the pizza but still good.

Studying obscure bird sounds: To maximize results, we gotta be ready for the calls of flyover Upland Sandpipers, a super rare singing Black-whiskered Vireo, vocalizations of rare Black and white Becards, and whatever else might fly our way on GBD. The vireo probably won’t show but it’s all about being ready for anything, so now is the time for a last minute check of possibilities and making sure you know their respective calls.

Getting stuff ready on May 4th: Do this to avoid any nasty last minute surprises like no gas in the car, a lack of gourmet snacks, forgetting the sunblock (although to avoid wasting time, I suggest putting it on before you leave the house), charging whatever batteries are needed, or putting on the wrong shoes. Trust me, these and other SNAFUs can happen in the dark of the blurry-eyed night, especially when you got the focus on birds and are straining the ears for the faint bubbling call of an Upland Sandpiper.

Checking yourself before you wreck yourself: Um, what I mean by this in my personal birding terms is to curb the enthusiasm, and be honest with yourself. For example, don’t mark down an Upland Sandpiper if you may have actually heard some odd sounding, distant motorcyle (likely in Costa Rica). Are you sure that distant hawk-eagle was an Ornate and not a Black? Sorry, but if the doubt is there, just leave it off the list. I know, it hurts but we gotta keep things real on GBD! If Ice Cube were a birder (I would love if he were), I think he would be checking himself.

Black Hawk-Eagle silhouette.

Don’t forget the Jedi Zen state of being!: In other words, focus on seeing and hearing birds in the present, challenge yourself but do enjoy the experience (because, like, if you don’t enjoy something, why do it?). Stay focused and the birds will show! Don’t worry about the ones that refuse to play, try and refrain from referring to them as “asshats”, they got their own agendas and plenty other birds will be seen. Who knows,  maybe they’ll make an appearance later on, and you would have to take back that you called the previously absent Barred Hawk “eco figlio della puttana”, “sargeant major f$%kf#ce” or (gasp!) a glorified Black Vulture. Keep the peace with the birds and lots will show!  If it makes you feel better, keep in mind that thousands of other birders are also watching birds pretty much around the world as part of Global Big Day.

Ok, I think I’m ready, I’ll be rocking the birds in Costa Rica as part of Team Tyto! Based on our name, our main goal is putting Barn Owl on the list but we also hope to add a few others here and there as we bird through lowlands, highlands, and coastal habitats. Not sure if I can update from the field but if it doesn’t get in the way of my attempts to maintain a Zen-Jedi birding thing, you might see a post or two on Facebook, most definitely if we see a Solitary Eagle. Hope to see you out there with the birds! If I have any cold, left over pizza, I just might share a slice.

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Birding Costa Rica

Tips to Prepare for Global Big Day in Costa Rica, 2018

The golden birding month of May is just about here and I know of more than a few birders up north who must be giving a collective sigh of anticipated relief. April wanes and yet the snow keeps coming back, and as much as folks in upstate New York are accustomed to the cold white stuff, eventually, enough is enough. It might even snow up there in early May but birders know that by the 10th, the birds should be migrating through local patches throughout the eastern USA and southern Canada, accentuating the fresh green of new foliage with equally bright feathers and eager song.

In Costa Rica, we are also looking forward to May but not for migration. Some birds like Red-eyed Vireo and Eastern Kingbird will still be on the move but most will have already passed through the country by then. No, we are looking forward to one day in particular, that of May 5th, the official date when thousands of birders across the globe will be celebrating Global Big Day by counting birds and putting those data into eBird.

I have been pleased to see that a lot of birders in Costa Rica are eager and ready to bird in most parts of the country. Many posted their routes more than a month ago and organizers are still working to get more birders on board to see if we can record every possible species, and hopefully a few more! Although I haven’t worked out an exact route, I do plan on participating and will once again see if I can break 300 for the day. While working out the logistics, I thought of a few suggestions and tips for Global Big Day in Costa Rica. These might also be applicable to GBD everywhere or when birding in Costa Rica any time of the year:

Don’t feel obligated to bird for 24 hours

You can if you want but you don’t have to because there won’t be any secret birding police knocking on your door if you don’t begin the count at the stroke of midnight. Just bird as much or as little as you want but please put the data into eBird. However, if you do want to go nuts and lose yourself with birds beyond normal hours, there are one or two tips below that might help.

Scout if you can!

If you have time to scout your route, do so and as often as possible. Although those Golden-bellied Flycatchers that were always present for the past year can certainly take a silent vacation on count day, you will see more key birds if you scout for them. It’s also best to scout as close to count day as possible to know where fruiting and flowering trees are attracting hummingbirds, tanagers, and other count day delights. Not to mention, there might be some hidden wetland, roosting owl, or other chance at more birds that would otherwise be overlooked.

I want to get a Great Potoo for the day.

Make a plan and stick to it

If you plan on doing a serious Big Day or to shoot for a certain number of species, you really do need to carefully plan out the mad endeavor in advance. Take things like traffic, different habitats, and expected species into account, but most of all, be careful with the timing at each site and for driving between stops, and stick to those times on count day. If you stay longer for even ten minutes at a few sites, you won’t get those thirty or more minutes back. Allocate the appropriate amount of time for each stop as a function of the likelihood of identifying numbers of new species for the day and keep to the schedule whether the birds show or not!

Don’t fret the monklet

The Lanceolated Monklet is not exactly reliable. Even if you see one the day before the count, don’t expect the anti-social featherball hermit to come out and play when you need it. Just stick to a well planned schedule, don’t worry, enough birds will show. Other birds not to fret because they are either few in number and/or are seriously unfriendly include various raptors, antpittas, Yellow-eared Toucanet, owls, and Great Jacamar. Give the unseen birds the one finger salute if it makes you feel better but don’t waiver from the schedule.

Will anyone identify a monklet in Costa Rica this May 5th, 2018?

Practice Tai Chi birding

This doesn’t mean that you need to practice the Chen Canon Fist form or get meditative with Yang 108  while also watching birds. Although that would make for quite the interesting video, and I would be seriously impressed to see someone carry out the “Teal Dragon Emerges from Water” movement while also calling out a vocalizing Scarlet Tanager, “Tai Chi birding” just means putting the focus on listening and watching for birds in as relaxed a manner as possible. Maintaining a high degree of concentration in a relaxed state during an exciting, bird filled day could indeed be a challenge but I guarantee that the birders who manage to do this will notice that hidden potoo, pick out the Barred Hawk conspiring to be a standard Black Vulture, and get more birds. If it makes you feel better, or cooler (as in Fonzi cool), you can also refer to this as “Jedi birding”.

Coffee, chocolate, and champagne

Yeah, pretty much in that order. Make enough coffee for the day and some. Coca-Cola can also work but I prefer the java because it can be made as strong as one likes, and, based on all those Coca-Cola dissolving videos, must be better for you. Also, use quality coffee because this is a special occasion! Speaking of very special times, this is also why we want to celebrate throughout the GBD with serious chocolate. This means spending some extra Colones for extra dark chocolate bars that put the percentage of cocoa right on the front of the package, and staying away from the cheap, sugary perversions of the holy Mayan bean. Get the good stuff! It might help you see a monklet! Oh, and of course, once the counting is done, get out the bubbly stuff! That or some fine craft beers or whatever floats your boat as a celebratory drink, snack, or dance.

Enjoy it!

Most of all, enjoy GBD. Do it however you want and whatever way makes you most happy. The part I like the most is knowing that I am sharing the collective experience with thousands of other birders. I fricking love that.

 

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Birding Costa Rica preparing for your trip Where to see birds in Costa Rica

Two Weeks of Costa Rica Birding Highlights

Regarding birding endeavors, the past two weeks have been good ones . I have added some really good year birds, visited the birding oasis known as Rancho Naturalista, and have shared birds with clients and friends while guiding at every elevation on the Caribbean slope. I also managed to add a surprise year bird to my 2017 list while checking the Pacific coast for storm driven vagrants. The following is a summary of those highlights:

Birding the Pacific coast yields a major surprise: There have been some major storms may out there in the Pacific. Although they didn’t roar on in to Costa Rica, the outlying waves from those storms did make it to our shores and they have surely brought some good birds with them. With that in mind, I decided to check a few coastal sites with friends on August 13th. It took a while but we did eventually find a mega Sooty Shearwater! Hours of scanning rough seas from Tarcoles, Caldera, and Puntarenas had yielded little more than a few Black Terns, a few Sulids, and brief looks at Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel when Johan suddenly exclaimed, “What’s this bird here?!” A dark bird floating on the surface moves right in front of us, all the while looking like some odd, lost duck. Except that the dark bird just offshore from the tip of Puntarenas isn’t a duck but a brown species of shearwater. We run to the end of the overlook near the Puntarenas lighthouse and manage some looks at a Sooty Shearwater before it floats too far into the gulf for easy looks. Although this species used to be seasonally common in pelagic waters off of Costa Rica, you would need some powerball luck to see even one during ten pelagic trips. With that in mind (and the fact that a Swallow-tailed Gull was seen in Seattle), I can’t help but wonder what other serious megas are lurking out there in Costa Rican waters.

Sooty Shearwater for the year list!

Guiding around Tirimbina: The birding is always going to be good in the Sarapiqui region. During a day of guiding at Tirimbina and nearby, our best birds were Snowy Cotinga, White-fronted Nunbird, Streak-crowned Antvireo, White-flanked Antwren, and perched Great Green Macaw just before the rain poured down.

Tirimbina is one of the last sites in Sarapiqui where the nunbird is reliable.

Hummingbirds at Cinchona and the Volcan Restaurant: Both of these sites have feeders that attract a bevy of sugar-pumped beauties. Since both are also just 35 minutes to an hour from the airport, you might want to consider a stop at these avian oases to treat yourself to good photo opps of several hummingbirds and supporting local businesses that have always supported birds and birders.

The local White-bellied Mountain-Gem was showing well at Cinchona.

The former Magnificent (now Talamancan) Hummingbird and Purple-throated Mountain-Gem also showed well at the Volcan Restaurant. This is on the main road to Poas. Watch for it on the left about 300 meters after the police station.

Rancho Naturalista: It’s hard to emphasize how nice it is to stay at Costa Rica’s first birding lodge. The birding is non-stop and includes relaxed birding from the balcony, checking the forest trails for manakins and so on, watching shy forest species come in to the moth light, visiting the hummingbird pools, and having several options for birding further afield. Throw in friendly, wonderful accommodating service, excellent on-site guides, and delicious cuisine and this place is hard to beat.

Bicolored Hawk is one of several shy species regular at Rancho.

Ask to visit Rancho Bajo to see coquettes. We had looks at male and female Black-crested and the much less expected White-crested Coquette!

Cope and El Tapir: “Cope” is the nick-name of a local artist who also loves to show people roosting owls and other birds, and he does this very well. Along with some other birds, we saw both Crested and Spectacled Owls after a couple hours at El Tapir that had turned up point blank views at Snowcap and a distant Tiny Hawk. Yeah, that was a morning with some serious quality birds!

Crested Owl.

San Luis Canopy: Most people pay a visit to San Luis to zip-line their way through the forest canopy. However, with glittering tanagers rummaging in fruiting trees and hopping around a fruit feeder, yeah, I’ll pass on the zip line for excitement! Yesterday, we enjoyed close looks at Black and Yellow, Emerald, Silver-throated, and Bay-headed Tanagers along with a perched White Hawk and a few euphonia species. Although we dipped on the Speckled Tanager (usually easy at this site), we did connect with Dusky Antbird, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, and Black-throated and Stripe-breasted Wrens at the start of the Manuel Brenes road.

The lovely Emerald Tanager.

The skulky antbirdish/babblerish Black-throated Wren even posed for shots!

I hope the information above can help you with  your own birding endeavors in Costa Rica. Come on down, this birding paradise is closer than you think. Get ready for your trip with my 700 page e-book “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”!

 

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Birding Costa Rica

Some Tips for Birding Costa Rica in August

Here comes August, that late summer month with its hazy dog days, stores full of school supplies, and time to rush and complete whatever summer tasks you had planned on doing. For us birders, it’s also time to check the sewage treatment ponds, wildlife refuges, and any other would be wetlands that play host to migrating shorebirds. At least that’s what’s going on up north. Down here in permanent summer land, August is just another month when the rains fall and give local rivers a big wet boost. Amazingly, a few shorebirds have already flown here but most won’t arrive for another month. Most importantly, though, the local resident birding is as good as ever. If you are headed to Costa Rica for birding during the following weeks, I hope these tips help:

Be ready for rain, be ready for a lot of birds

Yeah, rain is in the house but so are the birds including lots of juveniles. While the rains do limit birding, on and off rain is always better than a prolonged sunny day. Bird activity is high between the bouts of precipitation and the falling water is also nice because it can cool things off.

It was coming down the other day but barbets and toucanets were still coming to the Colibri Cafe at Cinchona.

Fruiting trees in the foothills

Thanks to heavy rain, stuff is fruiting in the foothills and the birds will be there for the natural buffet. Keep an eye out for any fruiting trees, especially ones that have small, oval, green fruits, usually with a red base. These ones are delicacies for guans, toucans, and cotingas so keep watching and waiting if you see such a tree! Berries and other small fruits are better for trees full of tanagers, manakins, thrushes, and other cool birds.

Hello Bay-headed Tanager.

Road closure

I know of one main road that is closed for much of the day. If you plan on using the Varablanca-Cinchona-San Miguel road to travel to and from Sarapiqui, know that this road is closed in the San Miguel area in the morning between 7:30 and 12:00, and then again from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. The upside to this is that if you are coming from San Jose, this doesn’t affect visits to the Waterfall Gardens, Cinchona, or Virgen del Socorro because the closure is between Socorro and San Miguel. Another upside could be better roadside birding during times of closure because there should be much less traffic. Yet another bonus comes in the form of being able to skirt the closure all together by detouring through Virgen del Socorro, thus forcing you to move through this birdy site. I’m not sure how long these closures will last but I hope it ends before October just in case I do another Big Day at that time!

Keep an eye out for “odd” hummingbirds

Last year, a Rufous-crested Coquette made s star appearance at Rancho Naturalista in August. Maybe they wander into Costa Rica at this time of year? Maybe there are more out there, especially down around Limon? This is a reminder that hummingbirds wander, and they might do more now so take pictures of any that look “off”. If you find an “off” one, please post it on your eBird list and/or share it to Facebook.

Feeder madness

Unfortunately, not in a good way. Thanks to a misinterpretation of a hunting law that outlaws the baiting of animals, some misinformed folks in Costa Rica have urged people to take down hummingbird feeders stating that the feeders keep hummingbirds from pollinating plants. Yes, that’s right, and some municipalities have pressured a restaurant or two to remove their feeders despite a lack of data showing that feeders are harmful. Meanwhile, in keeping with the typical sort of tragic irony that often happens when misinformed people make decisions, unfortunately, just when feeders are taken down, thanks to climate change, hummingbirds seem to have taken a hit in Costa Rica and could really use that extra food. I’m not sure how the whole feeder thing will play out but, hopefully, the local birding community can join forces with the tourism industry to make authorities and local people realize that efforts would be much better spent on limiting pesticides and deforestation than removing bird feeders. I wish I was making that up but I assure you I am not. I will be writing more about this.

Compared to what I used to see, I have been seeing far fewer hummingbirds this year just about everywhere I go. This Black-bellied was enjoying the feeders at Catarata del Toro.

Enjoy the elbow room

Not as if there are crowds of birders anyways but there are certainly less around during August! You will see just as many resident birds and maybe even more because of more bird activity. It will be just you and the birds!

Please enter eBird data, especially for migrants

As with everywhere, the more data the better! Participate in science and share your trip.

That’s about it for now, I hope to see you at some cool birding locale in Costa Rica!

 

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Birding Costa Rica preparing for your trip Where to see birds in Costa Rica

Intact, Mature Forest Equals More Understory Species

More mature forest means more birds. The copious number of individual birds, a good number of species, and near constant avian action in second growth can trick us into viewing edge habitats as the best places to bird. While the thick, successional growth at the edge of rainforest does host a number of species, including several canopy birds, mature forest still hosts more. Yes, bird the edge, but don’t neglect those long quiet walks inside the forest because that’s where you need to go for the biggest mixed flocks, most of the uncommon, rare, and spectacular species, and a host of peculiar understory birds.

Many understory species are especially dependent on healthy, mature forest probably because they have become adapted to living in a dim, shaded environment that hosts a complex, structured matrix of vines, small palms, and other understory plants. Since they share that dark maze of bushes, heliconias, and shade plants with various snakes, frogs, bugs, and other life forms that compete with, flee from, and try to eat each other, most of the understory birds are also naturally rare. We could also just as well say that they live at natural, very low densities and this is why we can walk on a trail for some time and find very few birds. The other reasons why we find so few birds in the forest interior is because they need to keep their presence on a serious down-low to avoid being noticed by predators, and because several prefer to forage in mixed flocks (another, additional means of avoiding depredation). At least that means that if you find the mixed flock, you also find a bunch of those shy understory birds.

I was reminded of these factors during recent birding/guiding at Quebrada Gonzalez in Braulio Carrillo National Park, and in the buffer zone at El Tapir. As is typical for these sites, we did find a few Checker-throated Antwrens and some other understory species that were foraging with them while walking on the trails. The antwrens give themselves away with a sharp alarm call or by giving their song; a short series of high-pitched, easy to ignore notes. While they forage in dead leaves, other birds also give quiet calls or reveal their presence by shaking a leaf or two. The whole thing is always a quiet, seriously inconspicuous endeavor and because of that, you can bet there are more birds out there, just staying out of sight. While watching the antwrens, we also heard Streak-crowned Antvireo, and saw Wedge-billed and Spotted Woodcreepers. In such flocks, other typical species include White-flanked Antwren, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, and Ruddy-tailed and Sulphur-rumped Flycatchers.

The hyper Tawny-faced Gntawren is usually also present, foraging near the ground, all the while looking very much like some out of place Asian tailorbird species.

Since other, rarer species are also possible, it’s worth it to stick with that flock as long as you can. But don’t leave the trail because there are other things lying in wait on the forest floor.

This nice sized Fer-de-Lance was a reminder of that possibility. Since it was next to the trail, it was easy to see and even easier to avoid. If this venomous snake sits in the leaf litter, you probably won’t see it. Although the chances of stepping on one after leaving the trail are slim, I would rather eliminate even that small chance by keeping to the trail.

Other cool understory species include antbirds, leaftossers, and grail birds of the understory like Black-crowned Antpitta and the R.V. Ground-Cuckoo. Although we did find a random Bicolored Antbird, try as we did, the gnatpitta and ground-cuckoo were both elusive along with the antswarms that act as the most likely situations to find such megas. However, before getting rained out in the afternoon, we did manage to connect with close views of a cool Northern Schiffornis.

After this odd brown bird came in, it opened and closed its mouth and sort of swayed back and forth.

Maybe the ground-cuckoo will show next time. You never know when it will happen and this is why a careful, quiet walk in mature forest is essential when birding in Costa Rica.

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Comparing Cano Negro and Tortuguero

There’s more than one way to watch a bird. When I was a kid, I stared out the window of cars and buses, constantly scanning distant tree tops, fields, and other aspects of urban and rural landscapes that rushed on by. In the summer, the sweet smell of hay fields was accompanied by Eastern Kingbirds that perched on fence lines and sallied into the air , beautiful orange-bellied Barn Swallows coursing over fields, sudden bright yellow American Goldfinches and Yellow Warblers in flight, hawks on high perches or telephone poles, a Belted Kingfisher perched on a wire over a river, and other roadside avian sights. Since then, I have seen a few good birds from trains, even pulling lifers like Sharp-tailed Grouse and the one and only funky Lewis’s Woodpecker while traveling through western situations, but, as one might expect, the most productive birding is a consequence of your own two feet.

Being in control of our own mobility facilitates searching branches and other vegetation for the inconspicuous. We can listen for target birds and head in that direction, or just hang out and wait for stuff to show. It also makes it easier to access more sites but there are still a few habitats denied to those on the ground. Until someone invents some futuristic water walking device, even the closest of pelagic zones is a no go to the walker. The same goes for most wetlands, including rivers, lakes, and marshes. Sure, you could wear waders and hope that you don’t step into some bottomless quick sand while floundering through muck and mud but no bird is worth being eaten by the marsh. Those wetland situations are where boats come into play and you will need one when birding a few sites in Costa Rica.

Some fine boat birding at Tortuguero.

The two main ones that come to mind are Cano Negro and Tortuguero. Cano Negro is essentially a wetland area more associated with Lake Nicaragua than the Caribbean lowlands. You do get some species from that bio-zone but it’s also why you can see things like Nicaraguan Grackle, Limpkin, and Snail Kite. Tortuguero, on the other hand, is mostly composed of swampy coastal rainforest where the “roads” are canals and rivers. Both sites can be birded without a boat but you would be missing a lot if you stuck to dry land. Although they have their similarities, Cano Negro and Tortuguero also differ in some ways. Here are some thoughts that stem from comparing the two:

Sungrebe!

In this respect, both sites are similar. Spend two days birding from boat at either site and you have a very good chance of seeing the sole New World representative of the Finfoot family.

Great Potoo

The big-headed night bird is regular at both sites.

Great Green Macaw

Not at Cano Negro but doing quite well at Tortuguero with several birds recently feeding on Beach Almonds in the village!

Cano Negro has more kingfishers

Perhaps from fish being more concentrated and maybe being less affected by pesticides, one usually sees a lot more kingfishers at Cano Negro. All of the same can also be seen at Tortuguero but they are more common in Cano Negro.

Jabiru 

Although the king of New World storks has been seen at Tortuguero, it’s far more regular at Cano Negro, especially during the dry season.

Marsh birds

Cano Negro wins in this regard too but that’s because it actually has freshwater marshes whereas Tortuguero kind of doesn’t.

Thanks to help from Daryl Loth, owner of Casa Marbella, that didn’t stop us from seeing Least Bittern!

Access

Since Cano Negro can be accessed by car, whereas reaching Tortuguero requires a ride in a boat, I suppose Cano Negro is somewhat easier to get to. That said, It’s not difficult to reach Tortuguero, even with the public boat, and to see the best of Cano Negro, you have to hire a boat to access the heart of the refuge in any case.

Forest

There is some forest at Cano Negro but Tortuguero easily wins this  hand. Most of Tortuguero is tall rainforest, some of which can be accessed at Cerro Tortuguero and on a trail that parallels the beach. This offers a better chance at seeing Semiplumbeous Hawk, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Yellow-margined Flycatcher, and some other forest-based species.

Rarities

It’s a bit hard to judge which site comes out on top in this regard but Tortuguero seems to be ahead when it comes to rarities. The coastal location results in sightings of vagrant gulls and occasional pelagic species as well as a chance at many a rare migrant. I bet that all sorts of really rare species have passed through there unnoticed because we don’t have enough people looking. In that regard, I dare say that the same can be said about Cano Negro. Huge concentrations of birds occur as the lagoons shrink in size, including quite a few shorebirds. I could easily see something like a Ruff, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, or some vagrant stint pop in and out of those wetlands and never be seen.

This Reddish Egret was a rare, fine addition to my year list.

Cuisine

No contest here but then again Tortuguero has been playing host to far more tourists for much longer. Try the Buddha Cafe or Ms. Myriams. Both highly recommended! Very few options at Cano Negro but you will get by.

Good, easy birding 

Fortunately, this most important factor is shared by both sites. You can’t go wrong when birding Cano Negro or Tortuguero, just make sure to book one or more boat rides!

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Birding Costa Rica preparing for your trip

Spring Birding in Costa Rica

In the northern places where winter chases some of the birds away from their breeding grounds, spring represents a dramatic, obvious, much anticipated change in the natural surroundings. Suddenly, the sun comes back to town, the snows melt, flying, honking skeins of geese come first, and when it gets warm enough, the green spaces play host to the songs and bright colors of breeding warblers, vireos, orioles, grosbeaks, and the other lovely birds of May. Depending on where you live, they come back in April too, and in Costa Rica, that’s also when most of them leave.

 

The migrants that is. Cool, crazy birds like the Great Potoo are here all year long.

The other birds show us spring with an abundance of song while the landscape becomes flush with new, green vegetation. Since a fair part of the country doesn’t really experience a dry season, the change from sleeping brown grasses to robust green fields takes place in the Central Valley and other parts of the northern Pacific slope. In addition to a more verdant landscape and the profuse singing of Clay-colored Thrushes, these are a few other aspects of birding Costa Rica during spring:

It rains more

Spring is really the change over from dry times to the official wet season, and in April, it is marked by heavy rains just about every afternoon. Don’t fret about the rains, though because the overcast weather results in better birding anyways.

Swifts

They were always present, just way up there too high to watch in a satisfactory manner. They do the same swift speck thing in spring but also come much lower just before a storm. When that happens, you might actually see the brown collar on a Chestnut-collared Swift, or markings on the faces of Spot-fronted and White-chinned Swifts. Knowing their vocalizations is still the best key to their identification but the best looks are had at the front of a storm.

Migration

It’s not as diverse or vocal as in the north, but we still bear witness to impressive numbers of birds throughout the month of April. Bird the Caribbean lowlands and coast (think La Selva, Tortuguero, and areas south of Limon) right now and there might be too many birds to look at. Literally millions of Chimney Swifts, Cliff Swallows, Purple Martins, and other birds move in a steady river towards the north along with kettles of Mississippi Kites, and groups of Broad-winged and Swainson’s Hawks. In the trees and bushes, Red-eyed Vireos race north along with some warblers, Eastern Kingbirds, pewees, and Scarlet Tanagers. Keep watching and you might pick out rarities for Costa Rica like Gray Kingbird, White-eyed Vireo, warblers that normally winter in the Caribbean islands, and Black-whiskered Vireo. Add shorebirds to the mix and there are a lot of birds waiting to be seen!

Cowbirds

Like the swifts, these birds are also here at other times of the year but seem to be more obvious during April. Unfortunately, it’s because, like their relatives up north, Bronzed Cowbirds also lay eggs in the nests of other birds. You will see them but I wish we would see less, especially because it seems that they like to parasitize the nests of the endemic Cabanis’s (Prevost’s) Ground-Sparrow.

These ones were courting in a site for the ground-sparrow.

If you happen to be in Costa Rica during April, enjoy the bird show and please enter sightings into eBird!

Categories
Birding Costa Rica birding lodges birds to watch for in Costa Rica

A Few Birds To Look For On The Cerro Lodge Road

Cerro Lodge is one of the main accommodation options for birders visiting the Carara area. It’s also one of the only real options but that doesn’t take away from its value in terms of proximity to the park, service, comfort, and (best of all), good, on-site birding. Given that reforestation efforts have resulted in more birds at the lodge itself, more fruit feeders, hummingbird bushes, and an overlook that can turn up everything from raptors, macaws, parrots, parakeets, Yellow-billed Cotinga (typically distant), trogons, and flyby Muscovy Duck, don’t be surprised if you feel completely satisfied with birding from the lodge restaurant. But, if you feel like stepping off the lodge property, get ready for more great birding on the road that runs in front of Cerro Lodge.

This road gets birdy by way of patches of roadside dry forest, second growth, mango orchards, fields, a small seasonal marsh, and a flat, floodplain area near the Tarcoles River. As one might expect, that mosaic of habitats has resulted in a fair bird list, and I suspect that several other species could show. In addition to a wide variety of common edge species, these are some other key birds to look for:

Crane Hawk

This raptor might be the star of the Cerro Lodge bird assemblage. Although not exactly abundant and never guaranteed, the lodge and the road are probably the most reliable sites in Costa Rica for this species. In this country, the raptor with the long, red legs prefers riparian zones with large trees in lowland areas, mostly on the Pacific slope. The proximity of the Tarcoles River to the road and the lodge apparently works well for this cool bird because it’s seen here quite often. If you don’t get it from the restaurant, a day of focused birding on the road should turn up one or more of this nice raptor. In addition to both caracaras, other raptors can also show up including Short-tailed, Zone-tailed, Common Black, and Gray Hawks, Gray-headed Kite, Plumbeous Kite, and Collared Forest-Falcon. Down in the floodplain, keep an eye out for Pearl Kite.

Muscovy Duck

It might not seem exciting but it’s still worth knowing that this area is a good one for wild Muscovy Ducks. One or more can fly over the lodge, road, or be visible from the lodge restaurant. The abundance of this species probably varies with water levels in the surrounding area. I usually see one or more flybys in the morning but there are times when I haven’t seen any, and I recall one morning when more than a dozen were seen from the restaurant.

Double Striped Thick-Knee

If you still need this weird one, watch for it in open fields anywhere on the road, but especially in the floodplain area just before dawn.

Striped Cuckoo and Lesser ground-Cuckoo

The Striped is regular from the lodge and along the road and the ground-cuckoo is probably increasing.

Owls

Although Black and White used to be a given at the lodge, unfortunately, it’s not as regular as in the past. It still occurs in the area though and does still visit the lodge on occasion. Other owl species that can show up include Barn, Spectacled, Mottled, and Pacific Screech. Striped is also heard and seen from time to time. The most common owl species is Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl.

Various dry forest species

Many dry forest species are common at the lodge and along the road including stunners like Turquoise-browed Motmot and Black-headed Trogon.

The motmot

The trogon

These two can occur at the lodge and anywhere on the road along with species like Stripe-headed Sparrow, Brown-crested and Nutting’s Flycatchers, and White-lored Gnatcatcher. Checking spots with dense vegetation and a more forested aspect can turn up Olive Sparrow, Banded Wren, Royal Flycatcher, and even Stub-tailed Spadebill. Beauties like Blue Grosbeak and Painted Bunting are also regular in scrubby habitats along the road.

Stripe-headed Sparrow

White-lored Gnatcatcher

White-necked Puffbird

This cool bird seems to be increasing at this site and is now regular along the road and even at the lodge itself.

Macaws, parrots and the like

Thankfully, Scarlet Macaws are doing very well in Costa Rica. While watching them fly past and perch in trees at and near Cerro, you can also watch for flyby Yellow-naped, White-fronted, and Red-lored Parrots, White-crowned Parrots, Orange-fronted and Orange-chinned Parakeets, and, when certain trees are seeding, hundreds of Crimson-fronted Parakeets. At times, Brown-hooded and Mealy Parrots can also occur for a fine Psittacine sweep.

This stunner is always around.

White-throated Magpie-Jay

Last but not least, watch for this spectacular jay on the road and at the lodge feeders.

Enjoy birding at Cerro and vicinity, I hope to see you out there! Please see an updated bird list below:

List of birds identified at Cerro Lodge and the road in front of the lodge, with abundance as of 2017
This list probably awaits more additions, especially from the more heavily wooded area on the northern part of the property.
c- common, u- uncommon, r – rare, vr- very rare and vagrants
Please send additions to the list or rare sightings to information@birdingcraft.com
Area covered includes the vicinity of Cerro Lodge and the road to Cerro Lodge from the highway to where it dead-ends on the river flood plain.
Keep in mind that the abundance of various species is likely changing due to the effects of climate change.
Great Tinamou r
Little Tinamou u
Muscovy Duck u
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck u
Blue-winged Teal r
Masked Duck vr
Gray-headed Chachalaca r
Least Grebe r
Magnificent Frigatebird u
Wood Stork c
Anhinga u
Neotropic Cormorant u
Bare-throated Tiger-Heron c
Great Blue Heron u
Great Egret c
Snowy Egret u
Little Blue Heron c
Tricolored Heron u
Cattle Egret c
Green Heron c
Boat-billed Heron r
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron r
White Ibis c
Roseate Spoonbill u
Black Vulture c
Turkey Vulture c
King Vulture r
Osprey c
Pearl Kite r
Hook-billed Kite vr
Gray-headed Kite r
Double-toothed Kite r
Plumbeous Kite c
Tiny Hawk vr
Crane Hawk u
Gray Hawk c
Common Black-Hawk c
Broad-winged Hawk c
Short-tailed Hawk c
Zone-tailed Hawk u
Swainson’s Hawk r
Red-tailed Hawk r
White-throated Crake vr
Purple Gallinule c
Gray-cowled Wood-Rail u
Double-striped Thick-Knee u
Southern Lapwing u
Killdeer u
Northern Jacana c
Black-necked Stilt u
Solitary Sandpiper u
Spotted Sandpiper u
Lesser Yellowlegs r
Pale-vented Pigeon vr
Red-billed Pigeon c
White-winged Dove c
White-tipped Dove c
Inca Dove c
Common Ground-Dove c
Plain-breasted Ground-Dove r
Ruddy Ground-Dove c
Blue Ground-Dove r
Squirrel Cuckoo c
Groove-billed Ani c
Lesser Ground-Cuckoo r
Mangrove Cuckoo u
Barn Owl u
Spectacled Owl r
Mottled Owl u
Black and White Owl c
Pacific Screech Owl c
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl c
Striped Owl r
Common Pauraque c
Lesser Nighthawk c
Northern Potoo vr
White-collared Swift c
Chestnut-collared Swift u
Black swift r
Spot-fronted Swift r
Vaux’s Swift u
Costa Rican Swift u
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift u
Long-billed Hermit r
Stripe-throated Hermit u
Scaly-breasted Hummingbird c
Canivet’s Emerald u
Steely-vented Hummingbird c
Blue-throated Goldentail c
Cinnamon Hummingbird c
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird c
Charming Hummingbird r
Mangrove Hummingbird vr
Ruby-throated Hummingbird c
Plain-capped Starthroat u
Green-breasted Mango c
Slaty-tailed Trogon r
Black-headed Trogon c
Gartered Trogon c
Lesson’s Motmot u
Turquoise-browed Motmot c
Ringed Kingfisher u
Belted Kingfisher r
Green Kingfisher u
Amazon Kingfisher r
American Pygmy-Kingfisher r
White-necked Puffbird c
Yellow-throated Toucan r
Keel-billed Toucan vr
Fiery-billed Aracari r
Olivaceous Piculet r
Hoffman’s Woodpecker c
Lineated Woodpecker c
Pale-billed Woodpecker u
Bat Falcon r
Merlin r
Peregrine Falcon u
Collared Forest-Falcon u
Crested Caracara c
Yellow-headed Caracara c
Laughing Falcon c
Crimson-fronted Parakeet c
Orange-fronted Parakeet c
Orange-chinned Parakeet c
White-crowned Parrot c
Brown-hooded Parrot u
White-fronted Parrot c
Red-lored Parrot c
Mealy Parrot r
Yellow-naped Parrot c
Scarlet Macaw c
Barred Antshrike c
Olivaceous Woodcreeper u
Streak-headed Woodcreeper c
Cocoa Woodcreeper u
Northern Barred Woodcreeper r
Northern Beardless Tyrannulet c
Southern Beardless Tyrannulet r
Paltry Tyrannulet u
Northern Bentbill r
Stub-tailed Spadebill r
Royal Flycatcher r
Yellow-bellied Elaenia u
Yellow-olive Flycatcher c
Greenish Elaenia c
Common Tody-Flycatcher c
Bright-rumped Atilla c
Tropical Pewee u
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher c
Willow Flycatcher c
Alder Flycatcher u
Panama Flycatcher r
Great-crested Flycatcher c
Brown-crested Flycatcher c
Nutting’s Flycatcher c
Dusky-capped Flycatcher c
Boat-billed Flycatcher c
Great Kiskadee c
Social Flycatcher c
Streaked Flycatcher c
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher c
Piratic Flycatcher c
Tropical Kingbird c
Western Kingbird r
Eastern Kingbird u
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher u
Yellow-billed Cotinga r
Three-wattled Bellbird vr
Long-tailed Manakin u
Rose-throated Becard c
Masked Tityra c
Black-crowned Tityra c
Scrub Greenlet vr
Lesser Greenlet u
Yellow-throated Vireo c
Philadelphia Vireo c
Yellow-green Vireo c
Red-eyed Vireo r
White-throated Magpie-Jay u
Brown Jay c
Cliff Swallow c
Southern Rough-winged Swallow c
Northern Rough-winged Swallow c
Barn Swallow c
Bank Swallow c
Mangrove Swallow u
Gray-breasted Martin c
White-lored Gnatcatcher c
Tropical Gnatcatcher c
Long-billed Gnatwren u
Rufous-naped Wren c
Rufous-breasted Wren u
Banded Wren u
Rufous and white Wren u
Cabanis’s Wren c
House Wren c
Clay-colored Robin c
Swainson’s Thrush c
Wood Thrush u
Tennessee Warbler c
Yellow Warbler c
Hooded Warbler r
American Redstart r
Prothonotary Warbler u
Rufous-capped Warbler c
Chestnut-sided Warbler c
Black and White Warbler c
Northern Waterthrush c
Gray-crowned Yellowthroat c
Summer Tanager c
Western Tanager u
Blue-gray Tanager c
Palm Tanager u
Cherrie’s Tanager r
Gray-headed Tanager u
Red-legged Honeycreeper c
Stripe-headed Sparrow c
Buff-throated Saltator c
Grayish Saltator u
Bananaquit u
Blue-black Grassquit c
White-collared Seedeater c
Variable Seedeater c
Rose-breasted Grosbeak c
Blue Grosbeak c
Indigo Bunting u
Painted Bunting u
Dickcissel u
Eastern Meadowlark c
Red-winged Blackbird u
Melodious Blackbird c
Great-tailed Grackle c
Baltimore Oriole c
Orchard Oriole u
Bronzed Cowbird c
Montezuma Oropendola u
Yellow-crowned Euphonia u
Scrub Euphonia c
Yellow-throated Euphonia c
Categories
dry forest Pacific slope

A Few Tips for Dry Forest Birding in Costa Rica

Different major habitats are one of the main reasons why we have so many bird species in Costa Rica, especially the rainy places. More water translates to higher numbers and varieties of life forms, birds included. But, if you tire of humid, energy sucking and optic challenging conditions, you can always retreat to the hot, dry northwest. Although the Central Valley also sort of falls into the Pacific dry forest bio-region, the habitat is much better down in the lowlands.

The beautiful Blue Grosbeak is fairly common.

In Costa Rica, the dry forest region is on the Pacific slope and extends from around Tarcoles north to Nicaragua. Much of it has been converted to farms with open areas for cattle, and crops, rice and melons predominating in the flood plains. However, despite natural forest being limited to riparian zones and protected areas, there are still plenty of interesting birds to see in lots of places. If you find yourself birding anywhere in the dry zone, try these tips to see more stuff:

Early does it: Yeah, that pretty much goes for seeing more birds in most places but getting out bright and early is doctrine in places with tropical dry forest. The difference between activity in the early morning and a few hours later is like a disappearing magic act. The motmots, flycatchers, and everything else were all there and singing, and now they aren’t. Where did they go? What are they doing? Good questions but suffice to say, after 8:30, they don’t feel like being seen. Take a siesta or relax by the pool (or in it) when our feathered targets are probably doing the same.

Water: Speaking of pools, as with other xeric situations, water tends to be a magnet. Focus on the riparian zones and even small bits of shaded water to see more birds. The good thing about such green spots is they can concentrate the birds, especially during the dry season (also when most birders visit). Check for Crane Hawk, Collared Forest-Falcon, Royal Flycatcher, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Painted Bunting, Banded Wren, and lots of other dry forest species.

Streaked Flycatcher will probably also show up.

Wetlands: Ironically, the dry forest zone also has some great wetland habitats. The best are in the flood plains of the Tempisque and Bebedero Rivers and include such sites as Palo Verde, Rancho Humo, and other places with marshy areas. Flooded rice fields can also work out, especially the ones on the road to Playa Hermosa and on the way in to Palo Verde. They don’t have as many birds as more natural and less chemically affected habitats but they are still always worth a look. Among the widespread aquatic species, you might also find wintering shorebirds, and, with luck, various rail species. These are also good places to look for seedeaters, Tricolored Munia, Snail Kite, and interesting wintering species.

Places like this are good ones to check.

What about the wind?: It’s often windy out there in the northwest. Just as the birds do, find sheltered spots for birding. Fortunately, this tends to coincide with riparian zones and that’s where more birds are anyways.

Tennessee Warblers: Expect to see a lot of these little boreal Phylloscop wannabes on survival vacation. Yesterday, I saw a bunch of birds fly up from a road in dry forest. I figured they would be Indigo Buntings but nope, they were a bunch of masquerading Tennessees! Pish to see how many come in but keep checking to see if you can tease out a rare vagrant like a Northern Parula, Nashville, or Orange-crowned Warbler. I know, not so exciting for birders from Ontario or Ohio but since these are megas down this way, please do report any you find (I know I want them for my year list)!

Check the swallows: Fast flying aerialists are easy to overlook when we got motmots and parrots in the neighborhood but keep checking and you might turn up rare species for Costa Rica like Violet-green, Tree, and Cave Swallows. All of these tend to occur more often in the dry northwest and are good finds for Costa Rica! For example, I was very pleased to see a Tree Swallow yesterday at Punta Morales. For a moment, I thought I was also going to tick Cave Swallow for the year but it turned out to be a Southern Rough-winged in bright lighting. Even if you don’t turn up a rarity, it’s always good practice to scan through hundreds of Barn Swallows.

Expect a lot of Barn Swallows.

Get into some good dry forest: Although a lot of birds can be seen outside of protected areas, if you also want to see Thicket Tinamou, Stub-tailed Spadebill, woodcreepers, and more birds overall, you need to spend some time in real dry forest and not pasture punctuated with trees. Some of the best dry forest sites are Santa Rosa, Palo Verde, and Guanacaste National Parks, Lomas Barbudal, and quite a few forested areas on the Nicoya Peninsula.

For a lot more information on finding birds in Costa Rica as well as how to look for and identify them, help out this blog by purchasing my 700 plus page e-book.

After payment is made, I will transfer it to you.

Good birding, hope to see you in Costa Rica!

Categories
Birding Costa Rica caribbean foothills

Tips for Birding in Costa Rica at Virgen del Socorro

Mountains are one of the main reasons why so many bird species live in Costa Rica. They act as barriers that promote speciation, catch moisture that creates cloud forest and other tropical forest habitats, and make it possible for distinct ecosystems to evolve at different elevations. But, on the downside, the steep slopes, ravines, and other forms of broken terrain don’t exactly facilitate access. Considering that there are people who would rather cut down the forest to make room for cows, that’s a good thing. But, not so good for birders who wouldn’t mind some easy-going searching for middle elevation species.

But, thanks to a certain few roads, we don’t need to torture ourselves by slip sliding up and down muddy slopes to catch a glimpse of a spinetail or two. In Costa Rica, we can head on over to Virgen del Socorro to hang out with Tufted Flycatchers and be entertained by the warbler-like antics of Rufous-browed Tyrannulets (if we really feel like calling that entertainment). Despite losing some forest during the 2009 earthquake, Virgen del Socorro is up and running for birding. Here are some tips for visiting this classic site:

Check out the “new” road!: This would be the road that accesses the canyon and although it’s not really new, the conditions are so much better, it’s pretty much as good as new. Or, it’s at least the best it will probably ever be. Instead of bouncing along roads and ruts, thanks to some recent grading, it’s a smooth ride down to the bridge and up to the entrance to the hydro plant on the other side of the river. Who knows how long it will last but you can probably enjoy this two wheel drive trip for the next few months.

Sunny days aren’t the best of days but they are good for raptors: Pretty much that. If you can get there before 8, it’s all good. After then, expect some really slow birding interspersed with raptor thermals. Commonly seen raptors at this site are Bat FalconWhite Hawk (maybe the most reliable, easily accessible spot in the country), Barred Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, and Gray Hawk. Keep watching and you might also get lucky with Ornate Hawk-Eagle. In the past, Great Black Hawk, Black and white Hawk-Eagle, and even Solitary Eagle were regular at this site, maybe they could show up again?

One of the White Hawks from this site.

Time is better spent at the bridge and the other side: The habitat is better down by the river, and across the bridge. Birds can also be seen on the way to the bridge but where there is more forest, there tend to be more birds and more species. Watching from the bridge might also turn up an American Dipper and other river species (although Sunbittern seems to be oddly absent).

Don’t worry, no one uses the old bridge any more.

Keep watching for mixed flocks: As if we wouldn’t be doing this anyways? What I mean by this is to keep looking and waiting for multi-species action, and then trying to stay with those birds as long as you can. This is where most of the birds will be including chances at various foothill and middle elevation species, and uncommon and rare stuff like Brown-billed Scythebill, tyrannulets, Blue and gold Tanager, vagrant wood-warblers for us local birders, and who knows what else?

Red-headed Barbet can show up. You can also watch for it at the Colibri Cafe.

Hummingbirds: It depends on what’s in flower but know that this is a good site for “le Black-crested Coquette”, Brown Violetear, Green Thorntail, Crowned Woodnymph, White-bellied Mountain-gem, Violet-headed Hummingbird, and Purple-crowned Fairy among others.

Female White-bellied Mountain-Gem

When to visit: Any time of the year is good. This is a great place to bird as a day trip when staying in the Sarapiqui area (takes about 40 minutes to drive there). It also works well when staying in the Varablanca/Poas area, and can be done as a day trip from the San Jose area but it will take an hour and a half or maybe even two hours to get there. If taking the bus, the San Jose-Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui-Varablanca bus route can drop you at the entrance road.

It’s also a good site for Slate-colored Grosbeak.

Do the San Miguel loop: This means taking the road towards San Miguel on the way back. This is also good for birding and can yield more foothill species.

How to get there: The entrance road into the canyon is not signed. It is located off of route 126 (the road that goes by the Waterfall Gardens) on the east side of the road, just south of the largest river on this road, and doesn’t look like much. There is a also white roadside cross just above the entrance road. This is also between San Miguel and Cinchona. Another way to find it is by checking out the map for the Virgen del Socorro hotspot in eBird- in general, this is an excellent way to find various birding sites in Costa Rica and most countries.

Hope you see some good stuff!