Categories
bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica Pacific slope

Looking for Shorebirds and Yearbirds in Costa Rica

Last Friday, my partner Marilen and I had a golden chance to go birding. Non-birding daughters were being taken care of, we had a free day! Did we watch the latest “Avengers” movie? Go for lunch or out to dinner? “Claro que no”. Naturally, we decided to look for year birds. But, where to go? The cool highlands for Buffy Tuftedcheek and other species needed by Team Tyto? The Caribbean side to search for Canada Warbler and other migrants?

Roadside birding on Poas Volcano.

The smartest move may have been trying for Black-crowned Antpitta at Braulio Carrillo. I have been hearing one there for the past couple weeks and it would be a mega tick for Mary. But, since late April is prime time for shorebirds in Costa Rica, and the best longshot at Hudsonian Godwit, with visions of dowitchers, Pectoral Sandpipers, and other year birds in mind, we took a gamble on the coast. Although we probably should have left in the early morn, since high tide wasn’t going to happen until two something in the afternoon, we made a leisurely 10 a.m. exit from the house.

Although Chomes was the main destination, we decided to check out Punta Morales first. The drive to the salt ponds at Morales was the usual rocky and dusty jaunt but as always, each minute was heavy with anticipation. This is one of those place a bet birding places; a site where any number of rare birds can show or where there might be nothing at all. You have to drive on in to see what’s there, you just might hit the jackpot where winnings include thousands of shorebirds, terns, and who knows what else. Come to think of it, a remote camera would be ideal at Punta Morales. It could tell us when most of the birds are there and when the nearest birders should race there to twitch a jaeger or some mega like a Gray-hooded Gull (a local ornithologist recently documented one from this site!). A cam. would have been especially helpful on Friday because as it turned out, we were greeted by very few birds; just a small group of Willets, Whimbrels, and one Marbled Godwit.

No problem, you never know unless you look! And, we still had Chomes to look forward to. The drive in to Chomes tends to be rockier and dustier but is also more exciting. It’s a longer drive and can give a birder Spot-breasted Oriole, thick-kness, rare swallow species, and even Upland Sandpiper. Although we had none of those, we did find a surprise Black Swift! An excellent find and key year bird (aren’t they all?), it foraged low over the trees for perfect looks. Not so for the swallows but most seemed to be Barns in any case.

Other interesting species on the drive in included Shiny Cowbird, Orange-fronted Parakeets, and sleek Scissor-tailed Flycatchers but the best stuff was waiting at the end of the road (or so we thought). It’s back there near the beach where the shorebirds tend to be, and, fortunately, the road was good enough to make the drive. Unfortunately, though, few birds were present.

Given the prime date for spring migration, I was honestly surprised. There were some birds and we did manage a year Wilsons’s Phalarope but not nearly as many as expected. No terns either. The tide and timing were right, I can only wonder if the Holy Friday beachgoers had something to do with the lack of birds. There were lots of people there on the beach making lots of noise and racing back and forth with boats. Yeah, I guess if I was migrating from South America up to the Arctic, I would also hope for a bit more peace and quiet.

But, we did pick up that phalarope and swift and it’s always fun to bird there. However, on a somewhat alarming note, the construction of shacks continues apace at Chomes, if it keeps growing, this very important site could lose habitat, birds might be hunted, and it could end up being inaccessible to birders.

Not wanting to wait and see if more birds would brave the Holy Friday chaos on the beach, we made our departure from Chomes and drove towards Ensenada.

An overlook at Ensenada.

A private wildlife refuge and lodge, Ensenada protects excellent shorebird habitat as well as mangroves and dry forest habitats. The grounds of the refuge are good birding and a lot can also be seen along roads outside the lodge. On the Arizona Road, we picked up our first Thicket Tinamous of the year while listening to the songs of Banded Wrens, Long-tailed Manakins, and other dry forest species.

Once we reached Ensenada, we made a bee-line for the salt ponds and were greeted by a good number of shorebirds. Quite a few Ruddy Turnstones were there along with Black-bellied Plovers, Willets, three species of peeps, Wilson’s and Semipalmated Plovers, and a few other species. The best for us was our year Stilt Sandpiper. While watching the shorebirds, we also heard a year Spot-breasted Oriole and saw a flyby Hook-billed Kite. A quick view of Plumbeous Kite rounded out Team Tyto’s birds of 2019 before dusk took over and saw us on the long road to home.

Hook-billed Kite from another day.

It was a good, long day, we had 17 species of shorebirds, now we have to figure out when we can add that Pittasoma and catch a few other key year birds at the same time…

Categories
big year Birding Costa Rica central valley

Hook-billed Kite Makes Bird 533 for 2011!

August is already here and I am pretty sure I heard the call note of a Yellow Warbler this morning. Oh yes, bring on the migrants and have them fly over Santa Barbara, Costa Rica. We have some quality habitat right next door at the Finca Rosa Blanca Boutique Hotel and in remnant moist forest near the Hotel Catalina. After getting in some R and R in those places, they can head on over to Braulio Carrillo National Park and the rainforests of the Talamanca Mountains. I just hope that any rare migrants will let me see or hear them so they can make it onto my illustrious 2011 list. A bunch of migrants and concerted efforts to get “seeable” species missing from this year’s list should help me reach 600 species by December 31st.

I got one of those seeable, unpredictable species today in the form of a Hook-billed Kite. Bird number 533 happened to be soaring above the road as I was driving home from my daughter’s daycare (she calls it, “escuela de Miranda”). Noticing that the soaring bird wasn’t a vulture or Short-tailed Hawk (the expected soaring raptors around here), I kept an eye on it until it banked and confirmed my suspicions with its longish barred tail, smallish head, and broad, “paddle-shaped” wings. I really don’t know if that’s the best description of their wings but I guess it works. You might also say that their primaries look “rounded” or “hand-like”. Whatever. Suffice to say that the shape is so distinct that it can’t be confused with anything else in range.

As testament to the unpredictable nature and uncommon status of Hook-billed Kites in Costa Rica, this was my first in that area despite having driven along the road between San Joaquin and Santa Barbara dozens of times. However, it doesn’t surprise me that I hadn’t seen it before, nor do I find it all that surprising that one showed up where it did. I admit that sounds like some ditty from Alice in Wonderland but before you accuse me of drinking tea with Mad Hatters, allow me to explain:

  • Tropical habitats are so rife with species occurring at naturally low densities that predicting where and when they will show up becomes a rather unpredictable guessing game. When the habitat looks perfect for so and so species, there’s a good chance it’s somewhere out there but that doesn’t mean you are going to see it within an hour’s time or even that same day. It might be on the other side of its territory or just staying out of sight. Even if you know where and how to look for the bird, you might have to rely on probability eventually playing out in your favor by hanging out in one spot until it shows up. So, I’m not surprised that I hadn’t seen Hook-billed Kite where I did because I only spend a fraction of time there each day as I drive past.
  • The habitat looked good for Hook-billed Kite. I wasn’t overly surprised that one of these snail-eating raptors did show up because of where I saw it. In Costa Rica, Hook-billed Kites seem to be most common in middle elevation moist forests on the Pacific Slope (such as near Santa Elena of Monteverde fame, riparian areas in Guanacaste, and forests in the Central Valley), and bird number 533 for 2011 was soaring near a sizeable patch of such forest that also happens to be connected to a riparian corridor.

I wasn’t so sure about getting that one for the year so I’m pretty happy that it decided to take to the air on morning thermals. I wonder which species will be next?