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Birding Costa Rica

FAQs About 2017 Birding in Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, the beginning of a new year also marks the start of another high season. Although visits begin to pick up as we move through December, the real jump happens after the ball drops. As if on cue, the rains of the wet season are replaced by fresh new winds flying through sunny skies around San Jose and the Pacific slope. The dry season may or may not extend to the Caribbean slope but overall, there’s a lot less rain and for us birders, that translates to more birding time. Ironically, it also means less bird activity but as long as you can get up at the crack of dawn (and you should if you want to have a better chance at antpittas and more birdies in general), the birding is going to be “fabtastic”.

You might see a White Hawk or two.

With more birders on their way to Costa Rica these days, I also get more questions and inquiries. With the aim of answering most such questions in one fell swoop, I have put together some FAQs pertinent to birding in Costa Rica now and in the coming months:

What time do national parks open?: The parks in Costa Rica pretty much run on office hours. Unfortunately, as those of us with favorite binos know, birds don’t follow the same schedule. They do get up early and that’s when we need to look for them. This doesn’t jive too well with protected areas being open from 8 to 4 but sometimes, there are ways around that schedule. If you can, visit the national park the day before and ask if you can go in around 6 a.m. on the following day. This usually works for Tapanti, Braulio Carrillo, and various other sites. It won’t work for crowded Manuel Antonio. If you can’t get in before 8, just bird adjacent habitat until then.

Even if you go in after 8, you might still see an Ochre-breasted Antpitta.

How can I see toucans, owls, and tanagers?: Toucans and tanagers are pretty easy as long as you visit the right habitat and sites (this translates to quality forest within the respective ranges of various species). As for owls, that takes a bit more effort, usually at night. There aren’t as many known owl roosts but it’s always worth it to ask at any lodge. As far as where and how to look for and find these and other birds in Costa Rica, you will find over 700 pages of this information in my Costa Rica bird finding e-book (or just buy it to help support this blog!).

Speckled Tanager

Is Cerro Lodge close to San Jose? How about Carara National Park?: Cerro (a much recommended lodge for birding the Carara area) is about an hour and 20 minutes drive from the airport, and a ten minute drive to the park entrance. When staying there, make sure you also bird the grounds and road in front of the lodge.

Safety issues in Costa Rica?: It’s pretty much like most places- just use common sense and you will be alright. Don’t leave the vehicle where you can’t see it, especially if you have stuff inside, and don’t walk around with binos and cameras in urban areas.

Which field guide should I use?: As far as a paper guide with illustrations goes, nothing beats the latest version of “The Birds of Costa Rica, A Field Guide” by Garrigues and Dean. Compact, great illustrations, maps, it’s an essential. If you like images of birds, looking at them while listening to their sounds, making target lists, and doing so on a smart phone or tablet, the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app is another essential.

Should I rent a car, and if so, from where?: It’s of course much easier to get around with your own vehicle but what about the driving? How easy is it to rent a car? If you are familiar with city driving, you are ready for driving in Costa Rica. Just drive defensively, be ready for other drivers to not follow all the rules, and expect very few signs. Use a GPS navigator, avoid rush hour traffic in the Central Valley whenever possible, and only get a four wheel drive vehicle if you plan on visiting sites that require one. As far as where to rent the vehicle, I can’t help there, I’m not sure which place is best.

There goes most of the most common questions and concerns that get run by me, I hope my answers can help. If I could offer a last bit of advice, I would suggest not expecting species on a checklist for any given site to be immediately apparent and present during a quick visit. Yeah, most seasoned birders know that’s par for the course no matter where we go but it’s always worth mentioning because these tropical ecosystems are complex, and about the only thing predictable is their unpredictable nature. The best way to see more birds in a given amount of time anywhere in Costa Rica is by being patient and spending more time in high quality, rich habitats. Hope to see you birding in 2017!

Categories
Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope

Costa Rica Birding Expectations- Excellent Birding at Finca Luna Nueva

When planning a birding trip to Costa Rica, Alaska, or anywhere else, we look at trip reports, talk to friends who have been there, study itineraries on birding tour websites, and gaze at field guides with anticipation. What are we going to see? Which birds are common, which are rare, are there any roosting owls that we can get pictures of? What awaits us on that exciting first day in country?

As much as we investigate, dream, and anticipate, the real answers to those birding hopes only come in the form of the actual experience. That said, I can tell you that if you go birding in Costa Rica, yeah, you are going to have plenty of new birds to look at, and if you bring the binos to the places with the best habitat, you will probably see a lot more birds than expected. Keep in mind that those special places may or may not be hotspots listed in eBird or elsewhere, and that the best spots are probably the toughest ones to access. Fortunately, though, we don’t need to restrict the birding experience to munching on energy bars in areas with remote, muddy trails. There are other, more accessible and comfortable places with excellent birding right on site. Even better, some of those places also have good service and excellent food.

You probably won’t see one of the best of those places on tour itineraries but that doesn’t mean that we should exclude it from planning. After seeing the following information, you might want to make room for the Finca Luna Nueva Lodge on your next birding trip to Costa Rica:

luna-nueva-sign

Lots of birds: The first time bird guide Juan Diego Vargas told me about Luna Nueva in 2009, he mentioned that the place was really birdy, more birdy than most other sites. I was quick to agree shortly after my first morning of birding because the avian chorus and number of birds were notably greater than many other sites. It seems that the mix of organic orchards, regenerating habitats, and primary rainforest provide food and shelter for a large number of birds, and probably more than you would expect. To give an idea of the congruence of biomass and diversity encountered at Luna Nueva, on this year’s Christmas Count, we had more than 120 species before lunch and that doesn’t even include waterbirds.

birdy-orchards

Birdy orchards

Highlights included a morning din of flocking parrots and parakeets that was incredible, trees alive with the foraging of honeycreepers, thrushes, and other species, several hummingbirds, and more just around the lodging and orchard area. Inside the rainforest, you get a different set of birds and might even see Great Curassow and other forest species. Migrants were also common and included good numbers of expected species like Summer Tanagers, Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, and Tennessee and Chestnut-sided Warblers, and less common migrants like Ovenbird, and Kentucky and Hooded Warblers. We also had several Gray Catbirds, a decidedly uncommon wintering species in much of Costa Rica.

yellow-bellied-flycatcher

A Yellow-bellied Flycatcher from Luna Nueva

Uncommon birds too: Along with dozens of common, expected species like Crested Guan, toucans, aracaris, Red-lored Parrots, and Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, Luna Nueva is also a good site for uncommon birds like Black-crested Coquette, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Bicolored Hawk, Cinnamon Woodpecker, White-fronted Nunbird, antwrens, and even Uniform Crake. Ornate Hawk-Eagle is also regular and I expect that Lovely Cotinga and Bare-necked Umbrellabird visit on rare occasions (or perhaps more than we realize) from August to February.

cinnamon-woodpecker

A Cinnamon Woodpecker from Luna Nueva.

puma-track

A Puma track from the forest at Luna Nueva.

Easy access: Good, paved roads bring you to the entrance road around two hours from the airport.

Close to other sites: Although Luna Nueva is off the main birding route, it’s still close enough to other places to use it as a suitable base. La Fortuna and the Arenal area are about thirty to forty minutes away, a drive up to the wetlands of Cano Negro would take around two hours, and there are good cloud forest sites about an hour, or an hour and a half up the road.

Delicious, healthy, organic food: As if constant, good birding wasn’t enough of a reason to visit Luna Nueva, the food is simply fantastic! Ingredients are organic and include many items from the farm, there are interesting dressings on the tables, and tasty recipes are served.

Support a plan for a sustainable future: It’s hard to believe that so many birds can be found on a working tropical farm but that’s because we are too accustomed to tropical farms being monocultures, doused with poisons, and places where cattle graze pastures that used to be shaded by massive trees were macaws nested. Luna Nueva demonstrates how tropical lands can be used to raise food and host a business without destroying most of the forest, the life found therein, and highly important organic soils that can help fight climate change. It’s a good plan for a sustainable, viable future.

sacred-seeds

Enjoy the birding at Finca Luna Nueva Lodge, I know you will! Please leave a link to your eBird list in the comments.

Categories
Birding Costa Rica

Post Hurricane Birding News for Costa Rica

Hurricane Otto stormed its way through northern Costa Rica last Friday. The good news is that despite the worries and concerns, most parts of the country were spared the heavy rains and winds that make up the destructive bread and butter of a hurricane-strength storm. In the Central Valley, the weather was weird, foggy, and punctuated with occasional drizzles but the main body of the storm clearly missed us. The same can be said about most other parts of the country, even in many of the emergency, red-zone areas such as Monteverde and San Carlos.

hurricane

Hurricane day from my window.

But now for the bad news. The northern border zone did indeed experience the heavy rains and high winds of a hurricane, especially in the Upala and Los Chiles areas. Liberia also saw some of the heaviest rains it has ever experienced, and electricity was out along most of the storm’s path. It sounds like Upala saw the worst of it because the river overflowed its banks, flooded the town, and destroyed many homes and businesses. A few people also perished from the flooding there and in the town of Bagaces. The bright note is that thousands of folks immediately pitched in from around the country to help and support the people of Upala and other affected areas. Hopefully, their homes and businesses can be rebuilt as soon as possible.

As far as access goes, roads and bridges are probably out or affected in areas near Upala and probably other places up north. If you plan on staying anywhere near Upala, Bijagua, or other sites near the northern border during December, it would definitely be wise to contact those places first to see if they are up and running and if they can be reached by road. Most probably can but it would be worth it to check first. In the rest of the country, it sounds like most roads are open, and far fewer were affected by landslides than was expected. The exception to that is the area around Ciudad Neily near the border with Panama. There has been a lot of flooding down that way and I doubt that the Coto wetland area is accessible.

On the birding front, so far, nothing crazy has turned up and I doubt that much will be found. The hurricane didn’t really pass through an avian rich zone, nor any major islands before reaching Costa Rica, and I assume that species like Gray Kingbird, White-crowned Pigeon, and the very local San Andres Vireo are adapted to hurricanes and thus less likely to leave cover when the storm comes through. Factor in lots of places for birds to hide along with little birding coverage and coming across any of those few rare vagrants will be like finding a microscopic needle in a haystack. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see if any unexpected species are found during this weekend’s bird count at Arenal.

On the waterbird front, it’s more likely that some of those were blown off course and maybe even right over to the Pacific. A pretty good sign that this has happened are reports of a few Sandwich and Elegant Terns from an inland reservoir. Once again, with several people actively birding the Arenal area, maybe a few interesting water birds will be found on Arenal Lake? Although I wasn’t able to head down and check the lake on Sunday, I did check the Tarcoles Estuary, Punta Morales, and Puntarenas. I would have also checked Chomes but the road to the ponds was too muddy for my little car. So, there might have been something really good in there, but even a Sooty Tern wouldn’t have been worth getting my car stuck in the salt pond oven known as Chomes. At least the road in to the village was in excellent condition. It was being graded and gave up views of 20 thick-knees, a usual, distant Harris’s Hawk, an equally distant wintering kestrel (pretty uncommon in Costa Rica), and a few other birds including my year Spot-breasted Oriole.

shorebirds-punta-morales

Punta Morales.

Over at Punta Morales, shorebirds were in good numbers but nothing unusual and rather low diversity. It was a similar scene over in Tarcoles, and the waters off of Puntarenas were fairly bird-less. I was hoping for a flyby storm-petrel (or flyby anything for that matter) but no luck there. Although I didn’t come across any crazy rarity, I’m still glad that I was out there looking for them, and a morning of bird song on the Bijagual road is always a good one in any case!

rufous-tailed-jacamar

This Rufous-tailed Jacamar was one of several species seen and heard during dawn on the Bijagual Road. My eBird list.

Categories
Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope

Birding in Costa Rica South of Limon at Casa Calateas

Once a month, I usually guide a weekend trip for the local Birding Club of Costa Rica. We get around to most corners of the country and in October the destination tends to be on the Caribbean. The 10th month is the best time of the year to visit sites near Limon because it’s high time for migration in the best part of the country for migration, and, as a bonus, it doesn’t usually rain as much in this part of the country. In the past, we have done trips to Manzanillo and Tortuguero on more than one occasion and have been treated to flocks of Eastern Kingbirds, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and Scarlet Tanagers along with other migrants while Gray-cowled Wood-rails prowled the ditches and lots of other rainforest species foraged in the trees.

scarlet-tanager

A molting male Scarlet Tanager- a common sight on the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica in October.

This year, I had hoped to try a different site, and one that was before rather than after Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. This way, we could avoid the crowded streets seen in the small tourist town at this time of year, and maybe have a better chance at the uncommon Black-chested Jay. I was also hoping to find a place where I might have a chance at getting pictures of Sulphur-rumped Tanager, an uncommon, rarely photographed species that I still need an image of for the birding apps I work on. The place I settled on was Casa Calateas, a small, rural tourism initiative situated in the forested hills near Cahuita. It turned out to be a good choice, and here’s why:

Easy to get to: It was easier than I expected. Good paved roads get you to Cahuita and the turn off for Casa Calateas, then you drive up a gravel road to the lodge. Most of it was good enough for two wheel drive although to be sure, it’s probably best to visit with a vehicle that has four wheel drive. Birding on that entrance road is also good for a variety of edge and forest species.

Low cost: I forget what we paid but it was pretty cheap. To learn more, message Luis at the Casa Calateas Facebook site. Whatever we paid, I know that it was a good deal that included very basic yet clean rooms with mosquito nets, great local food and friendly service, and fine birding. If you need a place with more comforts, a pool, and air conditioning, this isn’t the place for you. But, if you don’t mind staying in a rustic place with good birding that directly helps local families, you might want to give Casa Calateas a try.

Lowland Forest Species: Much to my happiness, the place is surrounded by forest. Although much of it is old second growth, there is some mature forest, and old-growth forest can be visited with a really long hike. I would love to go back and check out that older forest in this under-birded area but we still had plenty of good forest birds around the lodge itself. There are a few trails that access the forest but you can probably see just as much by birding the entrance road. We did quite well with several sightings of Red-capped Manakin, Purple-throated Fruitcrows, White-flanked, Dot-winged, and Checker-throated Antwrens, both motmots, Black-crowned Antshrike, and several other expected species. Although we didn’t see it, Luis mentioned that he often spots Sunbittern foraging on the lodge entrance road.

red-capped-manakin

Red-capped Manakins were pretty common and the males were doing their dancing thing.

red-capped-manakin-dance

“You should be dancing…”

black-crowned-antshrike

The calls of Black-crowned Antshrike were a constant sound in the background.

Night birds were also good with at least two Great Potoos that called all night long, Crested Owl close to the lodge, and Mottled Owl.

great-potoo

I was very happy to get recordings of Crested Owl, and very close looks at one of the Great Potoos was also nice!

Other indicators of nice forest habitat were Bicolored and Spotted Antbirds, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, and Slate-colored Grosbeak.

slate-colored-grosbeak

The grosbeak is actually a canopy saltator. I find it interesting that this orange-billed bird has a call that sounds like the sharp, chip note of another orange-billed bird, the Northern Cardinal, while the other saltator species in Costa Rica don’t.  

Semiplumbeous Hawk: This uncommon raptor is always a good bird. We had sightings of two or three from the canopy platform and inside the forest.

semiplumbeous-hawk

Not all plumbeous, just semi.

Raptor watching overlooks: Not just for raptors and I was psyched to check this out. It was indeed a bit like a canopy tower although most of the trees were pretty far off. Although we didn’t see any cotingas, we did scope White-necked Puffbird, parrots, toucans, Laughing Falcon, and some other species. We also enjoyed views of migrating raptors although those could also be seen right from the lodge and from another viewing spot. Because of the angle of the sun, the platform is best during the morning. Keep watching, you might see a hawk-eagle and lots of other possibilities. If you happen to get super lucky and spot a cotinga species that is not a Snowy, take pictures, you just might find Costa Rica’s first Blue Cotinga.

platform-view

View from the platform.

River of raptors: It goes right overhead during migration and as the name implies, yes, it is spectacular. We had flock after elegant flock of Mississippi Kites, and had plenty of practice separating those from the more bellicose Peregrine Falcons that often zipped overhead.

river-of-raptors

The river flies overhead.

kettle

Kettles like this are commonplace.

We also had thousands of Broad-winged Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and Swainson’s Hawks along with a few Ospreys. Since other species can also fly over, Casa Calateas is a pretty good spot to just hang out and watch the skies.

Other migrants: Not as many as I had hoped and I was surprised to see nary a single Eastern Kingbird. But, we still glassed many a Red-eyed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager, Summer Tanager, Swainson’s Thrush, lots of pewees, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. We also had several Bay-breasted Warblers, and saw some other migrant warblers as well including an uncommon for Costa Rica Magnolia Warbler. As with any site used by waves of migrants, every day can bring new things, I wonder what showed up after we left? The best find was probably my much appreciated year Chuck-will’s-Widow.

Since I know there’s good stuff down there around Casa Calateas, I wish I could head right back, right now. If you go, enjoy the rainforest birds, the sounds of frogs and monkeys, and please leave a link to your eBird list in the comments.

My eBird lists from this site:

At night.

October 15th.

The 16th.

Categories
Birding Costa Rica dry forest Pacific slope

A Taste of Guanacaste

Last week, Costa Rica celebrated the country’s Independence Day with parades, speeches, and fireworks. As part of those festivities, my wife and daughter also had a few days off from school. We took advantage of that extra bit of free time with a trip to Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste, something that was more than OK with me because this area also acts as an excellent base for Guanacaste birding.

With rice fields that act as wetland habitats, dry forest, and scrubby fields all within easy reach, I had plenty of bird opportunities to keep me busy, especially because our trip coincided with major shorebird migration. Speaking of shorebirds, my first stop on the way there was the wader hotspot of Punta Morales.

This area of salt ponds next to mangroves is always a worthwhile place to scope at high tide and Thursday was no exception. Hundreds of the expected species were there and although I didn’t manage to eek any crazy stints or other rarities out of the mix, it’s always a fine day when you can pick up a year bird (Surfbird this time) while looking over Marbled Godwits, Whimbrels, Willets, Short-billed Dowitchers, Stilt Sandpipers, Wilson’s Phalaropes, yellowlegs, Western, Semipalmated, and Least Sandpipers, Spotted Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, and Black-bellied, Wilson’s, and Semipalmated Plovers.

punta-morales

Punta Morales at high tide.

A few dry forest species also made appearances before I got back into the car and drove off, as always, wondering if I had checked over each bird well enough, and if there was a Curlew Sandpiper or some other “great bird” sleeping out of sight on the other side of a muddy berm. What flew in after I left? What showed up later that day? It’s a real shame that we don’t have constant monitoring going on there and at the other main shorebird site, Chomes.

Further north I drove, and the driving became unexpectedly wonderful where the new highway began at Canas. That section of road from there up past Liberia is now a fine, concrete four-laned highway. Enjoy the ride!

Over at Playa Hermosa, I focused on the rice fields and woodlands on the stretch of road between there and the turn-off to Papagayo. In other words, this is the route to Hermosa that does not go near Playas del Coco. Since this area has turned up serious stuff like Aplomado Falcon and Upland and Baird’s Sandpipers in the past, and seems like a good place for other really good birds to show up, it’s always worth a close, thorough check. Try as I did to wish an A. Falcon or lost Vermilion Flycatcher into existence, no major luck there, but, I was pretty pleased to get looks at the pair of Jabirus that often frequent the site.

jabiru

These birds come and go, it’s worth it to just keep checking.

Despite what appears to be heavy application of poison (aka pesticides), the rice fields also look like fine hiding places for Spotted Rails and other secretive marsh birds. I certainly played Spotted Rail calls here and there but got nothing in response. Well, I should say nothing definitive because I did hear an unknown rattling call that may have been a response. It never called again but since it sounded like a similar call I heard in the wetlands of Medio Queso under similar circumstances, I can’t help but wonder if that was THE BIRD. However, just like Medio Queso, this one never called again despite playing various calls of Spotted Rail (none of which match the sounds I heard by the way), and intently staring at marsh grass.

Other nice birdies included Limpkin, Harris’s Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Roseate Spoonbill, various herons and egrets, flyover Dickcissels, and close looks at Plain-breasted Ground-Doves.

plain-breasted-ground-dove

This is a very reliable area in Costa Rica for this tiny dove species.

In the patchy forested areas near the entrance to Finca Trancas and on the way to Playa Hermosa, I had fun making early morning recordings of Thicket Tinamou, Yellow-naped Parrots, Banded Wrens, Long-billed Gnatwren, Olive Sparrow, Blue Grosbeaks, and other expected species. The tinamou stayed out of sight and was only in the forested riparian zone on the way to Playa Hermosa, and I only had a handful of the parrots. I had a few small groups of Orange-fronted Parakeets as well but, oddly, no White-fronted Parrots, usually the most common Psittacine in Guanacaste.

yellow-naped-parrot

Always nice to see the threatened Yellow-naped Amazon.

A dawn chorus along that road:

Back over in the rice growing area, I was mostly looking for shorebird habitat. A few waders perched on the muddy berms out in the rice but the best spot was a muddy field and marshy area along a road on the southern end of the fields.

This harbored some Stilt and Solitary Sandpipers, dowitchers, and a few other shorebirds, best being an American Golden-Plover. Herons, egrets, and Blue-winged Teal were also out there as well as Ernesto Carman of Get Your Birds. We both wondered what else might be hiding out there in the big expanse of marshy grass. I was hoping for a Baird’s or early snipe but no luck this time.

muddy-field

Fine, muddy field habitat.

I also checked some fields over by Filadelfia and the catfish ponds but had few birds, couldn’t enter the ponds area, and the “ponds” looked pretty dry anyways. At the end of the trip, I was pleased to leave with 5 year birds, and some nice images and recordings. If you head up that way, enjoy the easy-going roadside birding and keep an eye out for anything unusual!

Some eBird lists from this trip:

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S31622656

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S31622609

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S31607058

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S31607132

Categories
Birding Costa Rica birding lodges Osa Peninsula Pacific slope

Highlights and Observations From the Trip to Luna Lodge

Last week, I did a trip to Luna Lodge, one of the more remote ecolodges in Costa Rica, and one of the only ones that provides access to the interior forests of the Osa Peninsula. As befits any lodge in the heart of quality rainforest, the birding at Luna is always exciting. Upon arrival, you wonder if an extra large eagle might appear in the spotting scope while patiently scanning the canopy of a forested hillside. You wonder if the calls of a rare Red-throated Caracara will be heard echoing through the humid jungles. I personally wonder if I will finally glimpse a Puma while hiking through the rainforest. With the lodge surrounded on all sides by forest that extends into the heart of one of Costa Rica’s wildest areas, it truly seems like anything is possible. Although there haven’t been any recently documented sightings of Harpy or Crested Eagles in the Osa, and Pumas are around but always expert at staying hidden, Luna Lodge and nearby areas would be one of the better places for sightings like these to happen. This is, after all, rough, rugged rainforest where monkeys are heard and seen throughout the day along with lots of birds.

jungles

Check out them jungles…

spider monkey baby

and monkeys.

While they are still fresh in my mind, I present some highlights and observations from the trip:

A long drive: Driving from the Central Valley to Luna Lodge is an all day event. It takes around 8 hours to get there from the San Jose area and that doesn’t take into account any birding stops. Include birding en route and it takes a whole while longer to get there. Since the birding en route is very much recommended, you are better off not driving straight from San Jose but stopping for a night on the way. That, or just take a short flight to Puerto Jimenez or Carate (even more recommended!) and go from there. Although paved roads have made the trip far easier than in the past, you still have around 40 kilometers of rough, pot-holed, un-paved roads to drive over along with a few river crossings thrown in for good measure. That said, that section of the road also has some of the more exciting birding opportunities, and it would be worth it to slowly bird it from Puerto Jimenez.

Tarcoles: A small seaside settlement where the biggest attraction is a river with a high population of crocodiles might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is good for birding! We stopped there to check seasonal wetlands for whatever and the river mouth for shorebirds, terns, and other things with webbed feet. As usual the morning birding between Tarcoles and Playa Azul was nice and punctuated by Mangrove Vireo, Crane Hawk, Scarlet Macaws, and other species. Nothing unusual in the wetlands, nor on the beach, but always birdy. The best on the beach was probably Collared Plover.

wood stork pink feet

The pink feet of a Wood Stork were a close second.

Dominical: Once you reach Dominical, you have the temptation to stop and bird side roads that access good rainforest, or even look for stuff from a gas station. We did that with the hopes of seeing Spot-fronted Swift. As luck would have it, we did almost certainly see them but with the frustration of not seeing or hearing anything absolutely diagnostic because of uncooperative lighting and distance from the birds. This means that we did see a flock of swifts that, by shape and flight pattern, were not Costa Rican, Lesser Swallow-tailed, White-collared, or Chestnut-collared. Since Spot-fronted are seen here regularly, there was a 99% chance that this is what they were. BUT, since the very similar White-chinned Swift has been found near there, even though it is far less likely, that still leaves enough room to cast some doubt on the birds being Spot-fronted Swifts. If only they would have flown a bit lower!

Rice fields: These pseudo wetlands are en route and if they have water, can have some nice birds. Check enough of them and you might even find Spotted Rail, Paint-billed Crake, and Slate-colored Seedeater. We didn’t find those with the brief checks we allotted but we did see lots of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Southern Lapwing, and a small flock of Shiny Cowbirds. They are also always worth checking to see if you can find a lost Wattled Jacana for your Cosa Rican list.

Cuisine: The food at Luna Lodge is fantastic. So good. Creative, delicious, healthy dishes that use several ingredients right from their organic garden. Enjoy dining amidst the sounds of the rainforest.

Rooms: Comfortable, peaceful, and with views into treetops that can have Turquoise Cotinga.

Turquoise Cotinga: Speaking of this one, it is fairly common at Luna Lodge and hard to miss. We had excellent views of males and females from the birding platform, from the rooms, and from a site near Luna Lodge (the hip sounding “Shady Lane”).

turquoise cotinga

Good morning starshine, I mean shiny blue and purple bird!

Trogons, honeycreepers, and other cool tropical birds: Being situated in the middle of rainforest, one does tend to see quite a few birds, many of which are rather exotic in appearance. Bird the lodge grounds and the trails and you might see four trogon species, Shining and Green Honeycreepers, euphonias (think colorful little tropical goldfinches), Rufous Piha, Blue-crowned, Red-capped, and Orange-collared Manakins (all pretty common), and Golden-naped Woodpecker among other species. You can also try for the endemic Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, Marbled Wood-Quail, and other deep forest species on the trails but be ready for hiking some fairly steep slopes (at least on maintained trails).

Spot-crowned Euphonia

Spot-crowned Euphonia is a common endemic.

golden-naped woodpecker

Same goes for the beautiful Golden-naped Woodpecker. It’s kind of like a Three-toed Woodpecker that went to the beauty salon.

rufous piha

Rufous Piha was pretty common right at the lodge.

Raptors: Yeah, we dipped on all eagles, even the hawk ones. But, we still saw 18 species of raptors, some on the ride to the lodge, and some right at the lodge. On the way there, we had the aforementioned Crane Hawk, Turkey and Black Vultures, Yellow-headed and Crested Caracaras, Roadside Hawks aplenty, White-tailed Kite, Common Black Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, and Bat Falcon. At Luna Lodge, mostly during a morning of raptor watching from the yoga platform (don’t you know that yoga platforms are always conducive with good raptor watching?), we also had White Hawk- a common, beautiful species in the area, Short-tailed Hawk, Great Black Hawk- nice to see that rare one, King Vultures, and Swallow-tailed and Double-toothed Kites. Collared Forest-Falcon was a heard only, and our last raptor was Laughing Falcon on the drive out.

Shady Lane: I love birding a place with a name like that! It would also be cool to bird it while wearing a bowler hat and walking with a Victorian style cane in one hand and a cold mojito in the other. The only problem would be that unwelcome extra bit of heat generated by the hat in 90 degree humid air, and dropping the cane while juggling the drink as you grab your binos time after time in that birdy spot. Actually, it was a bit slow during our morning visit. We still managed three trogon species (including Baird’s), Bicolored Antbird, Tawny-winged, Cocoa, and Northern Barred Woodcreepers, Turquoise Cotinga, White Hawk, King Vulture, Red-capped and Blue-crowned Manakins, Golden-crowned Spadebill, and other species (including three heard only too shy Streak-chested Antpittas), but the spot can be even birdier than that! Try as we might nor did we find a super rare Speckled Mourner but it was still a fine morning at Shady Lane.

Climate change: Now for something not as happy but deserving of mention. We got rained out each afternoon and that was a good thing because the forests of the Osa have been experiencing much less rain than they are adapted to. Lower amounts of rainfall in the Osa are because of global warming and this is almost certainly why we did not detect as many individual birds or species compared to 16 years ago. The differences are noticeable every time I go birding anywhere in Costa Rica, and anyone who has been birding here for more than ten years probably sees these changes as well. There hasn’t been any deforestation around Luna Lodge, and if anything, more forest in growing but there has been less rain and no, it’s not some natural cycle.

Why do I say that? Because I believe everything I hear? No, I say it because thousands of peer-reviewed papers come to that conclusion. If you don’t believe in human-caused global warming, then I suggest that you please be objective and consider these two options: 1.Human caused global warming is real because scientists who fiercely compete with each other over grant money and funding, publish thousands of peer-reviewed papers that indicate this to be the case, or 2. Human caused global warming is false because this is claimed in non-peer reviewed information distributed by organizations paid to do so by the fossil fuel industry. Which seems more likely? If you choose “2”, then you might as well not trust anything any medical doctor says (because they rely on peer-reviewed scientific studies) or believe that the moon is real. Although this might seem tangential, when it comes to bird populations (as well as the future of human civilization and possibly existence), mentioning global warming is all too relevant. I wish it wasn’t, but diminishing bird populations say otherwise. Please plant a tree and work for sustainable, non-fossil fuel energy now!

I don’t like to end that on an alarming note but as my friend Brad used to say, “That’s the way the ball bounces Little P”.

Ok, well, I will end it on a more positive note after all. Lana Wedmore, the owner of Luna Lodge told us that a sustainable public school will be built in Carate! Instead of kids having to travel several kilometers to school, they can learn right there at the start of Shady Lane. Also, she is selling really cool White Hawk shirts for what else but the White Hawk Foundation- http://www.whitehawkfoundation.org/. The goal of this foundation is to purchase forested lands between Corcovado Park and Luna Lodge to keep them protected. Please check out the link to see the White Hawk video, information, and how to purchase some of those shirts.

white hawk shirt

Lana shows the White Hawk shirt.

Categories
Birding Costa Rica

Birding Costa Rica News, August 2016

Growing up in western New York, August was a time of dusky, hazy weather. During those muggy, late summer days, I used to wonder if it was like that in tropical places with palm trees, white sand beaches, and turquoise water. I only knew those places well south of the border through travel brochures, National Geographic, and books in the Earl Bridges Public Library. At the time of teen years during the late 1980s, the closest I had come to anything tropical was the wave pool at “Niagara Splash”. It acted as my temporary tropical proxy, especially on beautiful summer days when white fluffy clouds floated through blue skies, but I surmised that it was nothing like the real thing. Some days, it was kind of too cold to go into the water (hence the eventual closure of the water park after a few years), and the avian scene was punctuated by crows and gulls instead of parrots and toucans.

gulls

Although Niagara gull watching in winter can be nice…

Little did I know that I would get a chance to experience the true essence of the tropics while birding in Costa Rica a few years later. While the hazy humidity was reminiscent of a northern august, the sun was ten times hotter, it got dark by six, and yes, there were indeed hundreds of new and excitingly unfamiliar birds including parrots, toucans, tinamous, and tanagers. Today, as I write this, August at my place in Costa Rica is cloudy, warm and fairly humid, and the skies are preparing for the afternoon rains. If I look outside, I might see a Tropical Kingbird perched on a wire, see vultures turning circles high above, and espy White-winged Doves and Red-billed Pigeons zipping by. Summer is eternal down here in the tropical latitudes but not all the beaches have snow-white sand or clear, turquoise waters. I felt a mild earthquake today but that comes with the scenery. The birding is always exciting, though, so if you are going to be here these days, enjoy the feathered show. Now for some birding news related to Costa Rica:

Some migrants are back in town: Up north, a lot of birds are moving but still have some time before they reach Costa Rica. Nevertheless, change is in the air and some migrants are leaving as other arrive. Shorebirds have been turning up in the usual haunts, I no longer hear or see Piratic Flycatchers, Swallow-tailed Kites are on the move to their winter Amazonian haunts, and I was surprised by a sighting of an American Redstart just the other day. Waterthrushes have also been seen as have wood-pewees. It will be interesting to see what other migrants I might find during the next four days of solid birding from here to the Osa peninsula. I’ll let you know!

To see what else has been reported from Costa Rica the past couple of weeks, search eBird for Costa Rica, bar charts, and set the dates for August, 2016. Sorry about non link, at the moment, there is some problem related to adding links to my posts.

Great Green Macaws are in the foothills: Although this endangered species is usually associated with the Caribbean lowlands, during the wet season, it is more often found at foothill sites. Lately, I have had a few in the early morning at Quebrada Gonzalez and El Tapir, and had a flock of 14 near Virgen del Socorro a few days ago. In the past, I have also had fairly large flocks of this species in the foothills between Virgen del Socorro, and Ciudad Quesada. The ones from the other day were seen from the road between San Miguel and Virgen del Socorro.

ornate hawk eagle

You might also see an Ornate Hawk-Eagle in flight. This one was flying high overhead in the same area as the macaws.

Oilbirds in Monteverde: This sweet target twitch for Costa Rica has been seen during night hikes at Curi Cancha and the Refugio (Monteverde Wildlife Refuge). I’m so dying to head up there and watch those weird birds, hope I can somehow find the time to do it. I just spoke with Robert Dean today about them and he said that there might just be a few, or there might by several, really no way to know. But, they are definitely showing, make sure to go on the night hike at either of those sites and ask to see the Oilbirds. Better yet, one of them has a transmitter on it! Hopefully, we can finally find out where these birds are coming from. Robert also mentioned that the wild avocados up that way are also full of fruit. With luck, that will keep the Oilbirds around for a while.

The Costa Rica Festival of Birds and Nature is coming up: Have you ever wanted to see a Cerulean Warbler in Costa Rica? How about seeing one while looking at lots of cool resident birds? That will happen during the third Festival de Aves y Naturaleza de Costa Rica. It all happens on September 3rd and 4th and will be an excellent weekend of birding, frogging, and helping with local conservation. On a side note, local top guide and field researcher Ernesto Carman also has a cool, new website and guiding endeavor. Check out http://www.getyourbirds.com/

olive-backed euphonia

Maybe one of the species you will see will be an Olive-backed Euphonia.

Costa Rica Birding Hotspots will be at BirdFair: If you are going to be at BirdFair 2016, check out Serge Arias’ presentation about the Endemic Birds of Costa Rica, Friday, 1:30 pm, Lecture Marqee 1. I wish I could be there! – http://www.birdfair.org.uk/events/the-endemic-birds-to-costa-rica/

The sad passing of a local birding guide: By far, the saddest news is the recent passing of Roy Orozco. Roy was a local, excellent birding guide, naturalist, and artist as well husband and father. I last saw Roy in late March while birding at Arenal Observatory Lodge. As usual, we exchanged sightings and I looked forward to birding with him without clients. Sadly, his last battle with cancer kept that day from arriving. Roy was a kind, generous, positive person who loved birding and the natural world, and made a positive impression on many people. In being a birder, he was also one of our “tribe”. Whether it’s because as a young person, I always wanted to meet other people like myself who yearned to experience birds at all times, and/or because I feel a sense of companionship with those who share this passion, I can’t help but view other birders as part of my tribe, my people, and Roy was one of them. At this time, probably because of bureaucracy, it appears that Roy’s widow and children are in need of help, and one of his good friends and fellow guides, Johan Chaves, is working hard to help them survive. Please consider helping the family of a fellow birder and guide who likewise helped hundreds of people experience and appreciate the beauty of the natural world by contacting Johan at: johanchaves@yahoo.com.mx

or, by phone: (506) 88504419

See his Facebook page at:

That’s all for now, keep your fingers crossed that I can post a picture of a big rainforest eagle some time next week!

Categories
Birding Costa Rica caribbean foothills

Short Report from a Recent Day of Birding at El Tapir and Quebrada Gonzalez

The easiest place to experience quality rainforest birding when staying in the San Jose area is El Tapir and Quebrada Gonzalez. Or, maybe I should say the quickest, most accessible place because the birding there is never actually easy. Instead, it’s a mysterious challenge that always comes with a temptation of birding gold. But, even if you are just getting started with birds, it’s still worth a visit, especially if you have a free day around San Jose.

A lot of people ask me about the birding in San Jose and my reply is always the same. I tell them that birding in the city isn’t really worth the effort, especially when you can do an easy day trip for foothill species at El Tapir and Quebrada Gonzalez, or highland birds up in the Poas area. Both areas are a close hour’s drive, and always offer quality birding. Compare that to looking for common species in public parks or gardens while worrying about someone trying to steal your binoculars and there’s really no comparison. Maybe if you want to safely look for the endemic ground-sparrow and hang with common birds while staying at places like the Bougainvillea, Xandari, or Zamora Estates, but, in general, if you want to see more, then you need to head over to the mountains. In the case of the foothill sites, that would actually be up and over the mountains.

I did that for a recent day of guiding, and I hope this short report gives an idea of what you might run into over that way. As might these eBird checklists:

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S30965280

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S30965322

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S30965263

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S30965222

If you haven’t previously talked with the guards at Quebrada Gonzalez about leaving the gate open before eight (the usual opening time), go past the ranger station for a couple kilometers and watch for the entrance to El Tapir on the right. Don’t expect a sign but know that it’s the first entrance for a car on the right. If the gate is closed, open it and head on in. Hopefully, the Snowcaps will be active along with lots of other hummingbirds. They were when we were there, including 5 or 6 Snowcaps of all ages and genders, and several other species including Brown Violetear.

brown violetear

Brown Violetear.

Not a whole lot else was going on and the surrounding tree tops were nearly absent of birds, but that can change from one day to the next with various species of raptors showing up, toucans and parrots perching in view, and even Great Green Macaw making an appearance. That large, endangered parrot did indeed show for us even if it was a quick flyby. That happened while we were trying to get good looks at Russet Antshrike, Spotted Antbird, and Slate-colored Grosbeak, all of which were singing (and hiding) at the same time. The antbird didn’t play ball very well, but the other two eventually showed. We also got onto some of our first tanagers as they moved through in a quick flock with several Black-faced grosbeaks.

Deeper into the forest, my hopes and excitement kicked up a notch upon hearing Ocellated and Bicolored Antbirds but eventually went back down to birding standby as those ant followers moved off. They never showed and just kept going so I assume they were wandering in search of Army Ants. I played calls of mega R.V. G. Cuckoo and the gnatpitta anyways but got nothing in response. On we went and saw that recent heavy rains had dropped too many branches to go much further. Unfortunately, it was the same situation on the trail down to the river, so we couldn’t explore much of that part of the forest, an area where I suspected that we had more of a chance at Lattice-tailed Trogon or even umbrellabird. However, we still saw found one understory insectivore flock with hoped for Streak-crowned Antvireo, and White-flanked and Checker-throated Antwrens.

Back out in the hummingbird garden, we looked some more before heading over to Quebrada Gonzalez for the rest of the day. Sunny weather kept things pretty quiet but we still managed a few mixed flocks with target White-throated Shrike-Tanager, several other tanagers, a few more Streak-crowned Antvireos, Pale-vented Thrush, and some other birds. No ground birds seen, nor even singing Nightingale Wrens nor Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush (usually a given on those trails). But, we did see a King Vulture in flight, heard the Caribbean slope subspecies of Streak-chested Antpitta, saw Striped Woodhaunter, and eventual nice looks at Speckled and Emerald Tanagers.

emerald tanager

A good site for the easy on the eyes Emerald Tanager,

speckled tanager

and the Speckled Tanager.

The only break we took was for lunch just down the road at Chicharronera Patona. It’s small and there’s not a lot on the menu but the food is home-cooked, plentiful, fair-priced, and the owners like birds. It also offers a look into some tall trees and a hillside of forest. You never know what might show at that site. When we were there, we had close looks at Black-cheeked and Rufous-winged Woodpeckers, Band-backed Wren, and some other species. The spot also features some awful road noise but since the owner once saw either Crested or Harpy Eagle perched on that hillside, yeah, it’s worth a stop!

At the end of the day, we had a fairly modest list but we still got a fair percentage of the targets, including several species tough to see elsewhere. For someone with a free day or morning, it’s always a good bet.

Categories
Birding Costa Rica

No Summer Birding Doldrums in Costa Rica

Ironically, the summer is quiet time for a lot of birders up north. Although it would seem that the warm weather makes it easier to get outside and see what’s going on in terms of nature, a fair percentage of birders take a break during the three months of summer. The mid-year lull seems to be mostly followed by birders who have been looking through their binoculars for five years or more. This is because they think that they already know what’s around, and don’t expect anything new, so, aren’t as eager to explore than during seasons when unexpected migrants and vagrants can occur.

Beginning birders still do a lot of birding in summer probably because a new bird or two are still easy to come by, even near home, and they are still close enough to the exciting start of the learning curve to easily find new knowledge in most things they see. Once experienced birders realize that there is always more to learn and master about the avian side of life, they can find themselves back at the beginning of another, new learning experience and can get just as excited about summer birding as spring or fall (well, maybe not May but that’s in a special category of its own). Not to mention, vagrants can and do turn up in summer no matter where a birder lives, so it does pay to get out there and pay attention. I was reminded of that just after coming back from a recent family trip to Niagara Falls.

falls

As usual, we were too busy doing family stuff to do any visiting, but I did manage to go birding a few times. Down at Goat Island, my favorite local birding patch right above the Falls, it was a treasure to be re-acquainted with species like Tufted Titmouse, gulls, and other common species. A singing Indigo Bunting was a nice surprise, as were hundreds of swallows and Chimney Swifts feeding over the river and islands. On another day, I had a fine day of birding with Alec out at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. We saw a pair of Cerulean Warblers feeding a juvenile. Will those birds come to Costa Rica next month? I picked up other year birds including Bobolinks and American Bittern. Both of those are on the Costa Rica list but very rare vagrants. I always wonder why we don’t get more records of Bobolinks, but I never hear their tinking calls so often heard by birders up north who listen for the faint calls of nocturnal migrants, and the species is almost never seen in CR except for Cocos Island. Although Alec and I didn’t find any vagrants, I did see that a vagrant White Ibis was found in WNY just after coming back to Costa Rica; a species that would have been missed if someone hadn’t gone birding during the “boring” summer months.

Speaking of this volcanic, byodynamic country, the summer birding doldrums are much less of a fantasy here than in the north even for myself or others who have spent countless hours in every habitat. Although we won’t see any wintering species, the plethora of resident species always makes things exciting, especially when so many of them are rare. I could still pick up some lifers (although they may require more time and effort than I typically have- Tawny-faced Quail comes to mind), and any trip to tropical forest can result in views of species and behaviors we just don’t see that often. Maybe I will finally get that picture and recording of the oddly rare Gray-headed Piprites so we can finally update the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app with images and sounds of that species. Maybe I can do the same for Black-banded Woodcreeper, and the local variety of Ashy-throated Chlorospingus (both are likely splits).

Red-headed Barbet

You might see a fancy male Red-headed Barbet.

If you are in Costa Rica right now, don’t worry about being here at the wrong time. There are no summer birding doldrums in Costa Rica because the birding is always exciting. Those rare birds are out there but even if you don’t see them, you will still see a lot when birding in the right places.

lesser violetear

Or, close looks at a Lesser Violetear.

Look for them in the right way and you might see those rarities anyways (get my 700 plus page e-book to learn about the best places to look and how to find the birds you want to see). Always remember that you will see lots of birds no matter when you go birding in Costa Rica.

Categories
caribbean foothills

The 2016 Resident Bird Count at Quebrada Gonzalez

We are wrapping up the breeding bird count season in Costa Rica. If I could do a few counts a week, I would but I only do three because I haven’t had time to do more. Hopefully, that will change by next year and I can participate in counts on the Osa (where a cool count workshop took place this year), on the Manuel Brenes Road, and other birdy spots. In the meantime, I enjoy my three counts; one near the house, another on Poas, and the third one at Quebrada Gonzalez, the first place that acted as my inaugural birding experience in rainforest.

Since that day in late 1992, some of the bird populations at the site have changed somewhat and not for the better. The habitat is there but the amount of rainfall that resulted in massive mixed flocks, hawk-eagles, tons of wrens, and various foothill specialties has diminished. Most species still seem present but several have declined bit by bit in conjunction with less rainfall, and a few species might be gone from the site. They might still show up from time to time but have most likely taken a hike to higher, wetter, and cooler elevations.

But this post is about the most recent count, not laments over human-caused climate change that is pushing so much life towards extinction, so I will get on with the report. Fortunately, Susan was able to join me for the count, and we started at 6 am as usual. The gate is usually closed until 8 but, thankfully, I was able to speak with the rangers and arrange an earlier visit. Our first point was busy straight away and ended up being the best of the day because we connected with a mixed flock that held White-throated Shrike-Tanager, several Carmiol’s and Dusky-faced Tanagers, and other birds.

The excitement almost stopped there because most of the following counts were pretty slow. We had just a couple Black-headed Nightingale-Thrushes, one or two Dull-mantled Antbirds, one White-ruffed Manakin, and low numbers overall. The Lattice-tailed Trogons weren’t calling, nor were the Chestnut-backed Antbirds, but we did have several wood-wrens and Stripe-breasted Wrens, one Band-backed Wren, and a fair number of other species.

Although it was a bit slow, that can always happen at that site with one or a few rare birds thrown in for good measure. This happened during the count as we got our best bird up on the ridge at one of our points. As Susan looked up, she noticed a bit of movement and said, “There’s a raptor” followed by, “wait, is that a raptor”? I got on the bird and yes, it sure was and a good one. For a moment, she wasn’t entirely sure about it being a raptor because it was so small. That could only mean one thing, Tiny Hawk!

We watched it for several minutes in the subcanopy as it plucked the feathers from and ate some small green bird. This was a fantastic sighting because although I have always known that the species was present (perfect habitat and other reports), this was the first time I had actually seen it at the site. This mini hawk escapes detection because it is probably naturally rare, is the size of a thrush, happens to be a sneaky ambush predator that hides in the dense vegetation of the canopy, and doesn’t vocalize that often. In other words, good luck seeing it!

After the Tiny Hawk, we also flushed a juvenile Olive-backed Quail-Dove. This species seems to be getting more common at Quebrada and might be out-competing the formerly common Purplish-backed Quail-Dove.

On the other side of the road, things were pretty quiet with almost no birds visible from the overlook. It wasn’t really until after the count that we started getting more species. A Chestnut-backed Antbird finally sang, we heard a Dot-winged Antwren, two Streak-chested Antpittas, and had a juvenile Great Black Hawk fly right into our field of view.

Kind of a quiet morning, but at least one flock during a point count, a bigger one between points, and a few other forest species that are tough to see. Not bad for a morning of birding and pretty much par for the course at Quebrada. Stay longer, just hang out in the forest, and you might be surprised at what shows up.