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biodiversity bird finding in Costa Rica bird photography Birding Costa Rica

Species to See While Birding in Costa Rica: Golden-naped Woodpecker

There are many ways to watch birds. Do we just watch the birds seen through the back window? Maybe not even worry about how they have been named or classified? Do we make plans to learn where certain wood-warblers have been seen and then carry out miniature private expeditions to find them? Maybe some of us venture into the pre-dawn of the marsh to meet the rising of a sun flecked with the silhouettes and calls of whistling-ducks. Some of us might even go much further afield, taking boat trips straight into the open ocean to reach the deep waters, the places where pelagic birds might wander into view. We may also travel to other continents to see birds, take multi-day trips to witness as much of what the avian world can offer.

Birding is birding is birdwatching no matter how you do it but it’s OK to prioritize some species. To be honest, when traveling, it would be a shame not to make efforts to see birds not possible in other places. These are the endemics, the very near endemics, and the species that are just easier to see at one place than another. In Costa Rica, we have several such birds, one of them is a woodpecker.

The Golden-naped Woodpecker is as smartly dressed as its name sounds.

Although this species also lives in western Panama, it is quite nearly restricted to the humid forests of southern Costa Rica. Ranging from Carara National Park to the border, seeing it in Panama seems to typically require a rather difficult trip to the last sizeable patch of lowland rainforest in western Chiriqui.

In Costa Rica, although it is readily seen in many places, it also seems to be more or less restricted to areas of mature rainforest. It can range into second growth but in my experience, for the most part, the Red-crowned Woodpecker takes its place in such edge and open habitats.

Red-crowned Woodpecker,

As with many of the southern Pacific endemics, the Golden-naped Woodpecker seems to be most common in the forests of the Osa Peninsula and Golfo Dulce. It can be seen elsewhere but is certainly most frequent in places with the highest amounts of rainfall and is likely declining because of hotter, drier weather.

Although it takes the place of the Black-cheeked Woodpecker in the rainforests of the Pacific slope, the Golden-naped might even be more closely related to the Yellow-tufted Woodpecker of the Amazon. Or, more likely, it and the closely related Beautiful Woodpecker of Colombia are sort of “bridge” species between the Yellow-tufted and Black-cheeked. No matter what its evolutionary provenance may be, like the Black-cheeked, the Golden-naped Woodpecker does the photographer a favor by visiting fruit feeders as well as foraging in low fruiting trees.

Golden-naped Woodpecker,
Another image of a female Golden-naped Woodpecker from the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app.

Check this bird out on your next visit to Costa Rica, it’s definitely one that you don’t want to miss!

Categories
birding lodges Christmas Counts Osa Peninsula Pacific slope

The 2010 Osa Christmas Count at the Bosque del Rio Tigre

I took a second class bus from the bowels of San Jose up and over Cerro de la Muerte (” mountain of death”) to the frontier-like southwestern lowlands of Costa Rica to get to my destination. It was ten hours on the bus, two of which involved slamming our way over a section of remote road that was seriously afflicted with potholes, but I finally reached my rendezvous with birding friend Dorothy MacKinnon just before nightfall. It was slightly too late to watch birds except for the Common Pauraques that flew off the road at our approach but still early enough to comfortably ford the river that runs just in front of our final waypoint, the Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge.

Inside the lodge.

birding Costa Rica

We were there to participate in the Bosque del Rio Tigre sector of the Osa CBC organized by Karen Leavelle of the Friends of the Osa. Our gracious hosts were Liz Jones and Abraham Gallo, owners of one of the best birding lodges in Costa Rica, the Bosque del Rio Tigre lodge. They were as welcoming as always and eager to discuss count logistics. With just 11 participants, it was going to be impossible to cover the count circle to the extent of other Costa Rican counts such as La Selva or Carara but we would do our best with two small teams covering major habitats as well as one person staying back at the house to maintain the yard and feeder count.

I had heard a lot about the excellent cuisine of Bosque del Rio Tigre and the tuna steaks and garlic potatoes for dinner on the evening before the count certainly surpassed my expectations. As I savored that perfect meal, I thought that if the birds didn’t cooperate, at least dinner was probably worth the long bus ride!

As with all nights before a CBC in the tropics, I went to bed before nine to essentially get up in the night. Sure, 4:30 a.m. is only thirty minutes or so before the light of dawn begins to faintly illuminate the surroundings but it’s still nighttime in my book. Because it is pitch black outside, I always have this strong notion that I should be sleeping as opposed to feeling disoriented as I fumble around with my flashlight. 

Fortunately, I am able to make it to the washroom without knocking anything over or walking into a wall and fully wake myself up with cold water splashed on the face. Since I wisely prepared my gear the night before, I am ready to rock and roll in five minutes and head downstairs for coffee and banana bread.  As others come to the table, Liz apologizes for the fact that we aren’t having a proper breakfast and points out a variety of healthy snacks to keep us going until an early lunch. As we finish coffee and get ready to head off to our respective territories, the first birds of the day start to call. Someone heard Black and white Owl the night before so that is technically bird numero uno but the first for me is a Collared Forest-Falcon vocalizing from somewhere on the other side of the river. Getting a forest falcon at that crepuscular hour is pretty typical as is hearing woodcreepers and shortly thereafter sure enough, our next birds are a couple of dawn yodeling Cocoa and Northern Barred Woodcreepers. Another of our first calling birds is regular at the lodge but a new year bird for me- the tiny Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet.

Starting the count. Check out our slick, green 2010 Osa CBC tee-shirts.

birding Costa Rica

Just as everything seems to be starting to wake up and the light of day steadily grows, Liz, Dorothy, and I head up into the primary forest on the hillside behind the lodge on our way to an open area that overlooks a mix of pasture and forest. We quickly tick off forest species such as Black-faced Antthrush, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Scaly-throated Leaftosser (regular at the lodge), Golden-crowned Spadebill, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, and White-throated Shrike-Tanager. Dot-winged Antwren, Red-capped Manakin and Blue-black Grosbeak also get counted and just as we reach the horse trail that will take us to the open area, Gray-headed Kite calls from the canopy. In addition to its typical vocalization of steady, repeated notes, it also gives a strange rising call that momentarily tricks us because of its similarity to the calls of a young Spectacled Owl.

On up into the open area, we keep hearing new birds and actually see a few too now that it’s light out. The day is thankfully overcast but not so much to pour down rain and so we thankfully avoid getting roasted under the blazing, lowland sun. As we scan the treetops, Liz remarks how heavier rains than usual appear to have resulted in less fruit being available in the forest and so a number of frugivorous birds seem to have moved to lower lying areas in search of arboreal vittles. She says that because of this it’s kind of slow even though we have recorded 70 species by this time.

birding Costa Rica

While scanning the forest canopy, I find one of our best birds of the day perched in a tall, bare emergent. It’s not very close but the light colored underparts and dark head tells me this is something good and when it turns its head to reveal a raptor profile, yep(!) it’s a Tiny Hawk! My first for 2010 and always a good bird, the thrush-sized little forest raptor lets us watch it for a few minutes before flying across of field of view. In flight it looks a lot like a small Sharp-shinned Hawk.

We leave the open area after that and count more forest birds as we make our way down to the Crake Trail and eventually to edge habitats near the river. The Crake Trails gets its name from the Uniform Crakes that are regular there. We look for them but despite neither seeing nor hearing any, keep moving because we just can’t dedicate the whole day to seeing that elusive denizen of wet thickets. It’s around this time that we also hear a strange bird calling. I know it’s a parakeet species but nothing I am familiar with and so guess that it could be a Brown-throated Parakeet. I can barely believe my eyes when I then briefly spot a long-tailed parakeet hanging out with a much shorter-tailed and expected Orange-chinned Parakeet perched at the top of a riverside tree. The only other long-tailed parakeet species in the area is Crimson-fronted Parakeet but this bird was most definitely NOT one of those! They fly off before I can get more than a one second look and it’s not enough to clinch an ID but amazingly, we hear it calling again and are thrilled to see it fly right into perfect light and perch in full view for 5 or so seconds. The pale eye ring accompanied by brown cheeks and throat show that yes it is most certainly a Brown-throated Parakeet and we can hardly believe our luck at getting this new species for the lodge on the same day as the CBC.

As the sun comes out, we get several more raptors- King Vulture, White Hawk, Gray Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Double-toothed Kite, American Swallow-tailed Kite, and Black Hawk Eagle. With 14 raptor species recorded for the day, I am pretty sure it’s my best day for raptors in Costa Rica! After sightings of Great Antshrike, two becard species, and picking up more key birds of the low, thick stuff such as our only Black-bellied Wren of the day and Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, we swing by a lagoon to get Neotropical Cormorant, Green Kingfisher, and Boat-billed and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons and get killer close looks at beautiful Marbled Wood-Quail before finally making it back to the lodge for lunch. After trudging around all morning in the uncomfortable yet requisite rubber boots, it’s a fantastic feeling to take that trying footwear off and sit down to yet another excellent meal. 

Me looking serious (probably dazed by the humidity) and Dorothy enjoying an apple.

birding Costa Rica

During lunch and some post lunch relaxation, the parakeet shows up again, this time with a brown-throated friend, and they amazingly perch in full view on a distant tree. As we watch those, it’s hard to decide where to look as a much prettier Turquoise Cotinga makes an appearance in the same tree and Little Tinamou and Blue Ground-Doves show up near the kitchen to eat rice thrown to the ground. Fruit feeders also attract quality bird species such as…

 the Costa Rican endemic, Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager,

birding Costa Rica

the mostly Costa Rican endemic Fiery-billed Aracari (they barely reach Panama),

birding Costa Rica

and two other mostly Costa Rican endemics, the Spot-crowned Euphonia, and

birding Costa Rica

birding Costa Rica

Golden-naped Woodpecker!

Although I kind of feel like just birding from a hammock for the rest of the day, as it would be blasphemous to shirk responsibilities on a CBC, I join the group in fording the river to walk through the village and hike up the Pizote River to make sure we don’t miss White-tipped Sicklebill. Birding is good (surprise, surprise) along the way and we record a bunch of usual edge and second growth suspects as well as Green Heron, Northern Jacana, Purple Gallinule, and White-throated Crake in roadside marshy spots.

The river walk is made challenging because we can’t see wear to put our feet in water made murky by the activities of gold miners (illegal) upriver. The sound of the rushing stream cancels out any and all bird calls which makes this segment of the CBC the least productive. There was gold at the end of the muddy rainbow however, as Abraham led us to roosting White-tipped Sicklebills! Another new one for the year, I hadn’t seen one of these crazy looking hummingbirds since I don’t know when so I guess the fear of slipping and drowning my camera in the brown stream was worth it!

birding Costa Rica

White-tipped Sicklebill thanks to Abraham Gallo of Bosque del Rio Tigre lodge.

A fitting way to end a fantastic day of birding, we counted up results before yet another perfect dinner and came up with 205 bird species! Our team alone wracked up 144 for the day and still saw a dozen or more species the following morning. It will be interesting to see how many I get on the Carara count two weeks from now.

We couldn’t count wooden birds but we got the real ones anyways (Turquoise Cotinga, Barird’s Trogon, and Orange-collared Manakin).

birding Costa Rica

Our team list for the day:

Little Tinamou
Neotropical Cormorant
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Boat-billed Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
King Vulture
White Hawk
Roadside Hawk
Collared Forest-Falcon
Yellow-headed Caracara
Gray -headed Kite
Tiny Hawk
Black Hawk-Eagle
Gray Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Double-toothed Kite
American Swallow-tailed Kite
Marbled Wood-Quail
White-throated Crake
Purple Gallinule
Gray-necked Wood-Rail
Northern Jacana
Pale-vented Pigeon
Short-billed Pigeon
Blue Ground Dove
Ruddy Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove
Gray-chested Dove
Crimson-fronted Parakeet
Brown-throated Parakeet
Orange-chinned Parakeet
Brown-hooded Parrot
White-crowned Parrot
Mealy Parrot
Red-lored Parrot
Scarlet Macaw
Squirrel Cuckoo
White-collared Swift
Costa-Rican Swift
Bronzy Hermit
Long-billed Hermit
Stripe-throated Hermit
White-tipped Sicklebill
White-necked Jacobin
Blue-throated Goldentail
Charming Hummingbird
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Baird’s Trogon
Violaceous Trogon
Black-throated Trogon
Blue-crowned Motmot
Green Kingfisher
White-necked Puffbird
Rufous-tailed Jacamar
Fiery-billed Aracari
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
Olivaceous Piculet
Red-crowned Woodpecker
Golden-naped Woodpecker
Lineated Woodpecker
Slaty Spinetail
Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner
Plain Xenops
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
Cocoa Woodcreeper
Black-striped Woodcreeper
Northern Barred Woodcreeper
Long-tailed Woodcreeper
Scaly-throated Leaftosser
Black-hooded Antshrike
Great Antshrike
Chestnut-backed Antbird
Dot-winged Antwren
Black-faced Antthrush
Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet
Southern Beardless Tyrannulet
Yellow Tyrannulet
Yellow-bellied Elaenia
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher
Paltry Tyrannulet
Northern Bentbill
Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher
Common Tody-Flycatcher
Yellow-olive Flycatcher
Golden-crowned Spadebill
Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher
Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher
Wood pewee sp.
Tropical Pewee
Great Kiskadee
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Gray-capped Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Bright-rumped Attila
Rufous Piha
Rose-throated Becard
White-winged Becard
Masked Tityra
Black-crowned Tityra
Orange-collared Manakin
Red-capped Mankin
Turquoise Cotinga
Yellow-throated Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo
Tawny-crowned Greenlet
Lesser Greenlet
Gray-breasted Martin
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Mangrove Swallow
Black-bellied Wren
Riverside Wren
House Wren
Scaly-breasted Wren
Long-billed Gnatwren
Tropical Gnatcatcher
Clay-colored Robin
Tennessee Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Mourning Warbler
Bananaquit
Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager
Cherries´s Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
White-throated Shrike-Tanager
Blue Dacnis
Blue-black Grasquit
Variable Seedeater
Thick-billed Seed-Finch
Orange-billed Sparrow
Black-striped Sparrow
Buff-throated Saltator
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Baltimore Oriole
Scarlet-rumped Cacique
Yellow-billed Cacique
Categories
biodiversity Birding Costa Rica identification issues Introduction

Melanerpes genus woodpeckers of Costa Rica

If you are a birder from North America coming to Costa Rica for birding,  you are probably familiar with at least one of the Melanerpes species. Don’t worry, this isn’t some fun, new disease, it’s the name of the woodpecker genus that includes species such as the Red-bellied, Red-headed, and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers.

Medium-sized woodpeckers with fairly long bills, members of the Melanerpes clan enliven neighborhoods with their drumming, rattling calls, and flopping flight (especially the Lewis’s Woodpecker) in much of southern Canada and the United States. They also occur further south, including on several Caribbean Islands, and of course in Costa Rica.

When birding Costa Rica, there are five Melanerpes species that occur, each more or less occupying a different region or habitat. If you are used to seeing Red-bellied or Golden-fronted Woodpeckers at your feeder or in your backyard, two of Costa Rica’s Melanerpes species are going to look and sound very familiar. These are the Hoffman’s and Red-crowned Woodpeckers.

Hoffman’s Woodpecker only occurs from Honduras to Costa Rica. Within its small range, this is generally the most common woodpecker species and the one you are most likely to see when birding Costa Rica around San Jose and in Guanacaste. Although it is a bird of the central valley and northern Pacific slope, don’t be surprised if you run into the Hoffman’s Woodpecker on the Caribbean slope. It’s still pretty uncommon there and outnumbered by the Black-cheeked Woodpecker, but deforestation has definitely left the door wide open for this edge species.

Hoffman's Woodpeckers are seen quite often when birding Costa Rica

Hoffman's Woodpecker, Costa Rica

No, I am not a Golden-fronted Woodpecker.

These are very common birds but it’s always fun to watch woodpeckers. This Hoffman’s was feeding down low at Tambor, on the Nicoya Peninsula.

Replacing the Hoffman’s Woodpeckers to the south is the Red-crowned Woodpecker. When birding Costa Rica, watch for it on the Pacific slope from around Dominical south to Panama. Also watch for orange-crowned hybrids from Carara to Quepos (If you see them, I suppose you could put a half-check next to Hoffmans’ and another half check next to Red-crowned on your list).

It acts a lot like the Hoffman’s and also sounds very similar. They are such common, backyard birds on the Pacific slope of Panama that they should have called it the Panamanian Woodpecker. I mean whoever thought of calling them “red-crowned” must not have noticed that most of the 225 or so woodpecker species have red on their crowns.

This Red-crowned Woodpecker was hanging out at Hacienda Baru,

and this one was roaming the shaded streets of David, Panama near the Purple House hostel (yes, everything there is purple).

If you venture into the forests of the south Pacific slope (and you obviously should when birding Costa Rica), you will hopefully run into the Golden-naped Woodpecker. It ranges from the river trail at Carara south to extreme western Panama (where it is very rare because they exchanged most of the forests there for cattle farms). This beautiful woodpecker is more difficult to see than its zebra-backed cousins because it stays within the forest but you could run into it at a number of places within its range.

Check out my golden nape!

This one was along the river trail at Carara National Park. With the white on its back and yellow on its head, it kind of reminds me of Northern Three-toed Woodpecker (a non-Melanerpes but just as cool).

Over on the Caribbean slope, the Black-cheeked Woodpecker replaces the Golden-naped. It’s more common and easier to see than the Golden-naped when birding Costa Rica because it shows less of an aversion to deforestation. You will almost certainly get your fill of this beautiful woodpecker in lowland and foothill forests as well as second growth and edge habitats anywhere on the Caribbean slope.

This Black-cheeked Woodpecker was being conspicuous near Ciudad Quesada.

Our fifth and final Costa Rican Melanerpes species hoards acorns from western North America all the way south to northern Colombia. In Costa Rica, it is a common resident of the high mountain forests and can be seen at a number of sites. These are the avian clowns of the high elevation rain forests (Prong- billed Barbet gets this distinction at middle elevations, and wood rails laugh it up in the lowlands).

This Acorn Woodpeckers was living large at San Gerardo de Dota.