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bird finding in Costa Rica birding lodges caribbean foothills

Recent Impressions from Birding Costa Rica at Rancho Naturalista

Birding has been happening in Costa Rica for decades but very few lodges have been dedicated to the endeavor. One of the very first of those places was Rancho Naturalista, a small, nearly remote site in the foothills east of Cartago. The birding has always been good at Rancho; chachalacas, oropendolas, tanagers, and a wealth of other species visible from the balcony, antwrens and shy birds inside the forest, hummingbirds taking a dip in a quiet stream. Many a guide got started at Rancho and thousands of guests have enjoyed and learned about birds in a welcoming atmosphere punctuated by excellent cuisine.

A classic birding site at its best, Rancho Naturalista is always worth a visit, I was fortunate to bird there this past weekend. Thanks to the Birding Club of Costa Rica, I spent the past couple of day looking for Lanceolated Monklet, manakins, and many other birds at and near the lodge. These are some of the highlights and impressions from the past few days:

There’s still no quick way to get there– That’s one thing that hasn’t changed! It’s not Rancho’s fault and the drive isn’t that bad, the twists and turns of roads with traffic just make it seem longer than it actually takes. That said, at least half of the drive passes through some beautiful scenery and you could always stop for birds en route.

The birding starts upon arrival– The good thing about that drive to Rancho is that the birding begins as soon as you exit the vehicle. Park the car, check the Porterweed hedge and you might catch up with Snowcap right then and there. If not, wait a few minutes, it usually shows. Other hummingbirds will be there too and fruiting trees bring in tanagers, euphonias, and other birds to keep the binoculars busy.

The balcony is tough to leave– Feel like watching a troop of Gray-headed Chachalacas and other feeder birds come and go? How about being face to face with White-necked Jacobins, Green-breasted Mangos and other hummingbirds while enjoying some damn fine Costa Rican coffee? Oh yeah, sometimes, it feels like a dream come true, I hope every birder gets a chance to experience it.

The moth light still works– To avoid affecting the moth population, the moth light is only turned on once in a while. The number of birds attracted to it varies by season but it often results in close views of White-breasted Wood-Wren, Red-throated Ant-tanager, woodcreepers, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, and other birds of the forest.

Tawny-chested Flycatcher– One of Rancho’s star birds is still present and fairly common both near the lodge and deep inside the forest. Although this decidedly local species can also be seen elsewhere, it’s definitely easiest at Rancho.

White-crowned Manakin– Another star bird of Rancho, you might need to hike to the upper trails but local guides will know where it hangs out. We had great looks of two males up there in beautiful middle elevation rainforest. That walk also turned up Brown-billed Scythebill, White-throated Spadebill, and some other nice birdies.

The Rio Tuis– Several sites can be visited outside of yet near the lodge to look for various species that don’t occur on the trails. Birders head to the Rio Tuis to look for Sunbittern, tanagers, Lanceolated Monklet, and other species. We seriously tried for that monklet but a few morning hours just didn’t do the trick for this extremely elusive puffbird species. The Sunbittern gave a brief showing though, and we saw some tanagers including Black-and-yellow Tanager, Emerald, and Speckled.

One of the spots where monklet has been seen on other days.

Hummingbirds– Between feeders, flowering bushes and hummingbird bathing pools, one might guess that Rancho is especially good for hummingbirds. It sure is, we had 15 species! Snowcap just might have stolen the show although the rest were likewise awesome.

Close views of the beautiful Crowned Woodnymph are always a treat.

A home away from home– As usual, the cherry on the peak of the birding cake was the welcoming atmosphere at Rancho. A visit feels like going to a home away from home where the birds are always waiting to be seen and everyone is happy to see you. It’s a special place, I hope you visit!

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biodiversity Birding Costa Rica caribbean foothills caribbean slope Introduction

A Brief Trip Report from Guiding El Tapir and Quebrada Gonzalez One Day and the Poas Area the Next

This past weekend I had the privilege of guiding a client to foothill sites on Saturday and the Poas area the next. I hope to give you an idea of what that’s like in the following report:

Saturday

After a last minute check to make sure I am properly equipped with birding and guiding gear, I hit the road and happily drive through dark, empty streets. The lack of traffic is relaxing and an absolute contrast to most times of the day. I see a shape fly by somewhere between Heredia and Santo Domingo and figure that it was probably a Tropical Screech Owl. I get to the Hotel Bougainvillea just before 5, meet up with my client and off we go.

After slowly descending through the wonderful forests of Braulio Carrillo National Park, we pull in to El Tapir. As expected, a male Snowcap shows shortly thereafter. We see several of these dream-like bird along with such other hummingbird species as Violet-headed Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, White-necked Jacobin, and Crowned Woodnymph.

Male Snowcap

A female Crowned Woodnymph.

The nearby rainforest is pretty quiet but we still see a few Black-faced Grosbeaks, Emerald Tanager, flyby Mealy Parrots, scope a few Brown-hooded Parrots, see Cinnamon Becard, and a few other birds. It’s so quiet, though, that when the clock says “7”, I decide that we might as well check a few sites down the road. We drive 5 minutes to a small, birder-friendly diner (known as Chicharroneria Patona) and have a drink while scanning the forest canopy on both sides of the road. That turns up a juvenile Gray Hawk, Black-mandibled Toucan, Collared Aracari, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, and a few other birds including an unexpected flyby Peregrine Falcon. I also notice a flowering Inga and as hoped, a few hummingbirds are coming and going from this tree. Although coquette fails to show, we do see both male and female Green Thorntails. Since it’s quiet there too and knowing that this is my client’s only chance at Caribbean slope birds, I decide to drive down the hill and into the lowlands.

Although we can’t really access any good forest, we can and do scan rainforest canopy a few hundred yards away and bird the open areas. We pick up open country flycatchers like Gray-capped, Social, and Great Kiskadee, see a pair of flyby White-crowned parrots, hear but don’t see Orange-chinned Parakeets, and see some other edge species like Common Tody Flycatcher and Clay-colored Thrush. Just as we are beginning to drive off, serendipity strikes as I spot a trio of large birds flying towards us. A moment later, I realize my hunch was correct and we watch a pair of Great Green Macaws and their offspring fly overhead! They made nary a sound and seemed out of place as they flew over a busy bus station and roadside restaurants (or perhaps those, and not the macaws, were our of place).

We then head back up hill to the Patona Diner to check the flowering Inga once again along with the forest canopy. No such luck with Crimson-collared Tanager or other targets so we head on up to Quebrada Gonzalez Ranger Station now that it’s officially open. After paying the entrance fee, we see a student group head start walking the loop trail so we cross the highway and start walking the Ceiba trail instead. Overall, things are pretty quiet (not too much of a surprise since the most active time in the forest is from 6 to 8 in the morning) but we do see Dull-mantled Antbird, Broad-billed Motmot, and run into a bit of a mixed flock that mostly stays in the canopy. It has Black and Yellow Tanager, Tawny-capped Euphonia, and a few other good birds.

A close look at a Broad-billed Motmot.

Checking the streams doesn’t turn up anything more than Buff-rumped Warbler but as we move on, we get good looks at Streak-crowned Antvireo and Checker-throated Antwren.

A female Streak-crowned Antvireo.

The overlook appears to be promising as always and we actually spot a couple non vulture raptors far off above a ridge but they just don’t come close enough for identification. One of them was either a Short-tailed Hawk or a rare Black and White Hawk Eagle but it never came close enough to say for sure!

Continuing on, we head down the trail all the way to a stream crossing on the lower part. The trail is kind of rocky on the way down but if you hit a mixed flock here, you might get excellent looks at some canopy birds. We didn’t but did see Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, brief looks at Tawny-crested Tanager and a few other species. On the way out, we got looks at one of the many Pale-vented Thrushes in the forest but not much else. We then checked the sky for King Vulture sans success and saw a hawk-eagle species in the process but as soon as I glimpsed the hawk eagle, it went into a long stoop and out of sight! I’m pretty sure it was an Ornate Hawk Eagle but only saw it at a distance for a half of a second (yeah, frustrating).

It was then off to lunch at the Patona. The only downside to that small diner is the near constant sound of blasting air breaks on trucks that rumble on by. The birding can be good though, and they like watching birds so I like to support them. Lunch was good and filling and we may have seen a few other species there at that time but I don’t recall too much from the Patona at mid day. However, as usual, one of the owners told me about the birds he had seen that day. He is a birder sans binos and I need to get him some optics because he sees everything from umbrellabird to White Hawk, Sunbittern, and who knows what else.

After lunch, we headed back to Quebrada Gonzalez to do the loop trail around 1:30 in the afternoon. Yep, that’s a quiet time but we still got great looks at Black-headed Nightingale Thrush, White-bellied Wood Wren, and a few other birds including Tawny-faced Gnatwren. Mostly, we were hoping for mixed flocks and a ground bird or two but we got rained out before we could do much else. Just before the rain, hopes were raised when I heard Bicolored Antbird but it was too far off the trail to see and we didn’t see any ants. The army ants were probably far into the forest (and who knows what else was with them!). Just luck of the draw when it comes to army ants.

Fortunately, the rain didn’t last too long and we were awarded with another male Snowcap at flowering bushes and Speckled Tanager while waiting for it to stop. We ventured back into the forest a bit after three and bird activity was picking up (and got close looks at Carmiol’s Tanager and White-throated Shrike Tanager) but the calling Striped Woodhaunters just wouldn’t come close enough to see them before we had to leave to be out of the forest before closing time at 4! Yep, closed during prime birding hours thanks to bureaucracy typically trumping common sense and good service.

White-throated Shrike Tanager

After checking the stream near the highway once more and seeing nothing, I decided that it would be worthwhile to check the Patona diner again. This turned out to be a good choice because we were awarded with nice looks at Scarlet-rumped Cacique, oropendolas, Green Honeycreeper, Crimson-collared Tanager, and a few other birds. The drive back was uneventful, had little traffic, and we got back to the Bougainvillea around 5. Although we had originally planned on going to Irazu the following day, after talking about it, we figured that Poas would be more productive, so that’s where we went.

Crimson-collared Tanager

To be continued…

Here is our list from the day:

Species seen- 81 Species heard only- 17
Cattle Egret Orange-chinned Parakeet
Black Vulture Short-billed Pigeon
Turkey Vulture Black-throated Trogon
White-tailed Kite Keel-billed Toucan
Gray Hawk Striped Woodhunter
Peregrine Falcon Russet Antshrike
White-tipped Dove Bicolored Antbird
Brown-hooded Parrot Chestnut-backed Antbird
Mealy Parrot Slaty-capped Flycatcher
White-crowned Parrot Black-headed Tody Flycatcher
Great Green Macaw Lesser Greenlet
Groove-billed Ani Stripe-breasted Wren
White-collared Swift Bay Wren
Green Hermit Band-backed Wren
Stripe-throated Hermit Louisiana Waterthrush
Snowcap Silver-throated Tanager
Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer Olive-backed Euphonia
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
White-necked Jacobin
Violet-headed Hummingbird
Green Thorntail
Violet-crowned Woodnymph
Purple-crowned Fairy
Broad-billed Motmot
Collared Aracari
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
Black-cheeked Woodpecker
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
Streak-headed Woodcreeper
Streak-crowned Antvireo
Checker-throated Antwren
Dull-mantled Antbird
Common Tody-Flycatcher
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Rufous Mourner
Tropical Kingbird
Great Kiskadee
Social Flycatcher
Gray-capped Flycatcher
Cinnamon Becard
House Wren
White-breasted Wood-Wren
Pale-vented Robin
Clay-colored Robin
Black-headed Nightingale Thrush
Swainson’s Thrush
Wood Thrush
Tawny-faced Gnatwren
Bananaquit
Golden-winged Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Buff-rumped Warbler
Black-and-yellow Tanager
Speckled Tanager
Emerald Tanager
Plain-colored Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Olive (Carmiol’s) Tanager
White-throated Shrike-Tanager
White-shouldered Tanager
Tawny-crested Tanager
Passerini´s Tanager
Crimson-collared Tanager
Palm Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Green Honeycreeper
Shining Honeycreeper
Summer Tanager
Scarlet Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Variable Seedeater
Orange-billed Sparrow
Black-faced Grosbeak
Black-cowled Oriole
Montezuma Oropendola
Chestnut-headed Oropendola
Scarlet-rumped Cacique
Baltimore Oriole
Tawny-capped Euphonia
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Birding Costa Rica birding lodges caribbean foothills Introduction

A Weekend of Birding in Costa Rica at the Lands in Love Hotel (and why You Should Include it on Your Next Birding Trip to Costa Rica).

I am pretty sure that the Lands in Love Hotel has the potential for being one of the best places for birding the Caribbean slope foothills (if not the best). You probably haven’t heard of this place as a Costa Rican birding destination because it’s mostly been marketed for the average tourist, and isn’t situated on the main birding tour circuit. Well, as someone who has birded for years in most parts of Costa Rica, I have to say that birding tours and birders visiting Costa Rica might be very pleased indeed to include this place and nearby sites on their itineraries.

I first became aware of the potential at Lands in Love during a brief sort of non-birding visit about 4 years ago when a short walk in the forest produced sightings of a Great Curassow, and large numbers of common yet pleasing edge species (such as Crimson-collared Tanager and Gray-headed Chachalaca) were easily seen from the rooms. I was also impressed by the large amount of primary forest near the hotel and the ability to scan the canopy and skies above said forest. Although I have brought clients to the delicious LoveEats cafe for lunch and tanagers on many occasions, I had yet to go back and actually stay at the hotel until this past weekend. Well, now I can’t wait to go back because the birding was just as good as I had hoped. We would have seen much more if rain hadn’t put a stop to birding one afternoon and most of the following morning but here are some highlights and reasons why I recommend staying there for three to five nights:

Gray-headed Chachalacas move through the vegetation near the rooms.

  • Quality habitat means quality birds: The road down to the lodge passes through young and older second growth, some of it connected to a large area of primary forest. Trails pass through some old second growth but mostly access beautiful foothill primary rainforest. Habitat is also growing up right around the rooms. This translates to excellent birding opportunities almost everywhere you look and a selection of species that includes edge birds like Tropical Pewee, second growth species such as Thicket Antpitta and Black-throated Wren, and old growth bird species such as Streak-crowned Antvireo, etc., etc. and so on. In being located at around 400 meters elevation, the lodge also has a nice mix of lowland and foothill birds.

    Black-throated Wrens are skulkers but common at Lands in Love.
  • Indications of a healthy forest ecosystem: During just a couple of walks on the forest trails, we ran into three or four understory mixed flocks, each with such indicator species of quality forest as White-flanked Antwren and Streak-crowned Antvireo. Both of these birds have become much less common in Costa Rica and seem susceptible to edge effects. We also saw two different canopy flocks of large birds, one of which had 10 or so Black-mandibled Toucans. The presence of canopy flocks of large birds is another indicator of a healthy forest.

    Rainforest with antwrens and all sorts of cool stuff.
  • Views into the canopy: There are several places where you can scope the canopy both near and far. We found White Hawk, parrots, and toucans this way but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to also see rarities like Lovely Cotinga, hawk-eagles, and who knows what else. We didn’t do so great on raptors but since the weather wasn’t exactly conducive for soaring birds, that wasn’t too surprising.

    A misty view into rainforest canopy at Lands in Love.
  • Quality service and organization: The hotel was organized at every point of our trip and provided wonderful service.
  • Excellent vegetarian food: I love the food at this place! Although I am not a vegetarian, I could be if I had the chance to eat food like the wonderful dishes they serve. Good variety and the continental breakfast is probably one of the better ones in the country.
  • Access: Lands in Love is also simple to access. Just take the main highway from San Ramon to La Fortuna and watch for signs on the right. It’s only a half hour or so from San Ramon and maybe an hour and a half from San Jose on good, paved roads.
  • Near other good sites: Several other good birding sites are a 30 minute drive from the hotel, including the road to Manuel Brenes Reserve, the Cocora hummingbird garden, and Finca Luna Nueva.

Ok, so now the real reason why birders should stay there for several nights. Here are our top ten species from a couple days of birding, and keep in mind that we got rained out for almost half the time:

1. Sunbittern: A pair foraging on the lawn near the reception on one morning! Staff mentioned that they seen Sunbittern most days at the hotel.

A Sunbittern foraging on the lawn at Lands in Love.

2. Black and white Owl: A quick owl search turned up nothing the first night but the second eventually resulted in hearing three Black and white Owls and seeing one right at the rooms.

3. White Hawk: Rather expected there but it’s still nice!

4. Crested Guan: Quite a few of these around, even at the rooms.

5. Snowcap: Yes, Snowcap and right at the rooms! We had at least four different birds.

Snowcap!

6. Short-tailed Nighthawk: One flying right around the rooms.

7. Antwrens and antvireos: A good place to see these.

8. Sepia-capped Flycatcher: We had at least two of this rare species for Costa Rica. New country bird for me!

9. Scarlet-thighed Dacnis: These are fairly common at many sites but always great to see.

10. Lanceolated Monklet: Yep, that’s right. Saving the best for last, we got this very rare bird! To give an idea of how tough it is to encounter this species, I have looked for and whistled like one at many sites in Costa Rica for more than ten years sans results. After noticing that the hanging bridge at Lands in Love looked perfect for this sneaky little puffbird, I decided that the group should go there shortly after dawn on Sunday morning. Not long after arrival, I heard one vocalize and tried calling it in. It took a while to find the bird but I eventually did and we got so-so looks in dark, misty weather before rains convinced us to head back to the hotel. The old growth forest at that spot also looked good for all sorts of things!

Speaking of other avian things, check out the quality on the bird list compiled for the place by Jim Zook (notice the ground-cuckoo and Keel-billed Motmot). We had four or five species not on the list and I suspect that several other species can show up, including Lovely Cotinga and Bare-necked Umbrellabird. I hope to talk to them soon to see about details on day trips to the hotel trails and hope to do some surveys.

To listen to a taste of the dawn chorus near the  rooms, check this out:

This one has Thicket Antpitta, Clay-colored Thrush, Bright-rumped Attila, Howler Monkey, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, and a distant Slaty Antshrike: Dawn 1 Lands in Love

The hotel doesn’t have feeders nor people checking for owls, fruiting trees, and antswarms yet but the birding is still great. Rooms are nice too although I think they could use air conditioning rather than fans. Showers just might be the best in the country!

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Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica caribbean foothills Hummingbirds Introduction

Where Can I See a Snowcap when Birding Costa Rica?

Most birders on their way to Costa Rica have a list of the species they want to see the most. These are the birds that we yearn to see, that we dream about, and that capitalize the “S” in satisfaction. Ok, so maybe that’s a bit too much but anyone who likes to keep a bird list and who has traveled to watch birds knows what I’m talking about. Although the birding purists may solemnly state that every bird is equal, I, um, beg to differ and counter that equating a Resplendent Quetzal or a Bare-necked Umbrellabird with a House Wren or (egads!) a House Sparrow is is simply bonkers. You see, that would kind of be like saying that Elvis Presley was equal to your average, bowling alley karaoke fanatic.

Bare-necked Umbrellabird- one of the Elvis Presleys of the avian world.

The House Wren has got a pleasant voice but it doesn't get Elvis status.

So, if you happen to be wondering what the heck mind blasting birds, the King of Rock and Roll, and karaoke have to do with Snowcaps, not to fret, I’m getting to that. You see, the Snowcap is rather like a pint-sized (maybe pin-sized) rep. for those extravagant birds that consistently make it onto lists of Costa Rica most wanted bird species. They might not come in the weird and wild shape of an umbrellabird or have glowing feathers that change color as the bird moves along with an over-long tail like a quetzal, but they make up for it with three main characteristics:

  1. The snow cap: Just like the name says, a male Snowcap has a snow white cap. But it’s really more than that. The white is so darn gleaming that one often sees this glowing white spot zipping around like some extra-dimensional creaturette rather than the bird itself. In fact, it just might be the closest thing to a real live Tinkerbell (except it’s a bird, can’t do magic, etc.).

    When I auto-ajusted the colors, the computer opted for a super white cap. The bird actually looks just like this in certain lighting.
  2. The purple body: Wait, is it purple? Mauve? Burgunday? Just what the heck is that color! Whatever it is, it’s a rare hue for anything avian and makes the male look like some extraordinary sculpture. How can it be that color? Why is it that color? Whether the female sees something that evades our vision abilities or not, it makes the male Snowcap one heck of a cool bird to watch!

    Note the bronze and white tail with blackish subterminal band.

    This is one hummingbird that can even be identified in blur mode.
  3. It’s a hummingbird: Hummingbirds are cool by default. Some of them look quite a bit like ornate feathered insects, they buzz around like teeny helicopters, and fight with other glittering hummingbirds over flowers patches. With such characteristics, I don’t know how anyone could not like hummingbirds.

A classic male Snowcap.

Now that should give a fair idea of why the foothill dynamo known as the Snowcap is a must for many people on birding trips to Costa Rica. Unfortunately, though, there aren’t many accessible places to see them. Unlike hummingbirds that occur in middle elevation sites with many a feeder, the Snowcap is a dainty denizen of the Caribbean foothill zone. It won’t go higher than 800 meters and rarely makes it down to anywhere lower than 300 meters. Basically, this rich, limited habitat is right at the base of the mountains and perhaps due to its proximity to the flat lowlands, has been tragically razed in far too many places.

If you drive down past Cinchona and Virgen del Socorro, you reach the foothill zone but what used to fantastic, wet rainforest has been converted to weedy cattle pastures. Go down most roads on the Caribbean slope and you will see the same, Snowcap-less pattern. Luckily, there are a few exceptions and these are the easiest, most accessible places to see this fantastic little bird in Costa Rica (and I dare say, elsewhere in its range):

  • El Tapir: Located smack in the middle of excellent foothill forest at just the right elevation, this is by far, the easiest. most accessible spot for seeing the Snowcap. Go there and you have a good chance of seeing a few males, a few females, and maybe an immature or two. Not only is this site in the right place and is surrounded by a lot of habitat, it also has a garden overflowing with Porterweed (a bush loved by the Snowcap and many other hummingbird species), and is easily accessible along the main highway between San Jose and Limon. There’s no sign, though, so watch for the first little clearing with a couple of small buildings on the right (east side of the road) about 2 kilometers past Quebrada Gonzalez. The caretaker charges $5. Snowcaps also occur at Quebrada Gonzalez but they are harder to see as they feed on flowers way up there in the canopy.

Porterweed at El Tapir.

El Tapir in the rain.

  • Rancho Naturalista: This classic Costa Rican birding lodge is a reliable spot for the Snowcap. The guides will know which Porterweed bushes the birds have been visiting so you should see them here if you visit.

A female Snowcap.

  • El Copal: This community owned, basic eco-lodge is located between Rancho and Tapanti. The showers may be cold but the birding is excellent and Snowcaps are usually present at their (can you guess) Porterweed bushes!

You might see a purple spotted immature male Snowcap.

  • The road to Rio Celeste in Tenorio National Park: This is a fairly new road, it passes near excellent foothill forest, and I recently heard abut Snowcaps being seen there. If you don’t see any Porterweed, watch for a tiny hummingbird with white in the tail at any small flowers.

That’s about it! I’m sure there are some other sites for the Snowcap in Costa Rica but the four places listed above are the most accessible.

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Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica Hummingbirds identification issues Introduction

Identification Tips When Birding Costa Rica: Small, Plain Hummingbirds Species

Hummingbirds are known for their glittering, jewel-like plumage, ad feisty, sprite-like behavior. I’m not sure if they had anything to do with being part of the inspiration for Disney’s Tinkerbell character but she sure acts like one of the Trochilidae. On a near constant sugar high, more than 50 species of hummingbirds zip around Costa Rica in search of that next nectar fix. Given the high hummingbird diversity, their restless behavior, and their minute size, hummingbirds also come with their own set of identification issues. Get a good look and you can identify most without too much of a problem but there are a few that cause ID headaches and be harbingers of frustration.

Birders familiar with the hummingbird ID challenge in western North America have first-hand knowledge of the difficulties that hummingbirds can bring to the ID table and may even be cringing at the thought of 50 plus species to sort through. Ironically, though, despite the greater variety of hummingbird species in Costa Rica compared to northern hotspots like Arizona and New Mexico, it’s a lot more difficult to identify hummingbirds in those places than Tiquicia. Nevertheless, there are still a few species that can throw monkey wrenches into the works and four that have a tendency to confuse are females of Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Volcano Hummingbird, and Scintillant Hummingbird. In my opinion, even those aren’t as tough as the likes of the Calliope/Anna’s/Costa’s, etc conundrum but it’s still nice to have some help in identifying them so without further ado, here are some tips:

Ruby-throated Hummingbird: With their dark, forked tails, white spot behind the eye, and dark red gorget, males are pretty straightforward. Duller plumaged females, though, are always throwing visiting birders for a loop until they realize that Ruby-throateds are a common wintering species in many areas of the Pacific slope and that there is almost nothing else in the country that looks like them. The closest things are the much larger Scaly-breasted Hummingbird (also has a more decurved bill, is duller, and has larger white spots in the tail), female Canivet’s Emerald (white stripe behind the eye and more white in tail), and the female Mangrove Hummingbird (plainer, lacks white spot behind the eye).  Although it’s worth it to check every, small hummingbird on the Pacific slope with whitish underparts, most are going to be female Ruby-throated Hummmingbirds.

birding Costa Rica

birding Costa Rica

Note the white spot behind the eye, whitish underparts, slightly decurved bill, a hint of a “semi-collar”, and a bit of white in the tail.

Magenta-throated Woodstar: While the male is pretty easy to identify with his longish tail and white spots on the lower back, the female can be a source of confusion for visiting birders. Like the male, she hangs out at flowerbeds and flowering trees in middle elevations in many parts of the country but tends to be uncommon. The best places to study this species are at feeders in the Monteverde area and at El Toucanet Lodge in the Talamancas. Like the male, the female Magenta-throated Woodstar also cocks up the tail when feeding but the best way to identify this species is by noting the two white spot on the flanks/lower back and the orangish belly.

birding Costa Rica

birding Costa Rica

Female Magenta-throated Woodstars

birding Costa Rica

Note the long tail on this young male Magenta-throated Woodstar.

Volcano and Scintillant Hummingbirds: Keeping with the Selasphorous tradition, this and the following species probably present the most consistent challenge to hummingbird identification in the country. Tiny and very similar, you have to get a good look at the tail to be sure of their identification. They actually tend not to be found together but can certainly overlap at sites with an elevation of 2,000 meters. The Volcano isn’t restricted to volcanoes but since so many mountains in Costa Rica are actually sleeping, fiery-breathing geological giants, the name kind of rings true at many sites. The Scintillant isn’t any more shiny than most of its Trochilid brethren but what the heck, it’s a cool sounding name anyways! The orangeish gorget of male Scintillants separates them from Volcanoes in most areas (although male Volcano Hummingbirds on Poas have slightly similar pinkish gorgets) but a close look at the tail is the best way to identify females. Volcano Hummingbirds have green central rectrices while those of Scintillants are rufous. Both species also have dark subterminal bands but this characteristic is broader in Volcanoes. Volcano hummingbirds also have less rufous on the underparts and tend to show a thin, rufous eyebrow that extends to the chin (although that field mark may vary by subspecies). Get a good look at the tail, though, and the bird’s identification will be obvious.

birding Costa Rica

The green on the tail is evident in this Volcano Hummingbird even at a distance.

birding Costa Rica

Here’s a closer look at a Volcano- note the rather greenish flanks and green on the tail.

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And here’s a female Volcano Hummingbird that was nice enough to spread its tail and show that prominent subterminal band.

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Note the rufous on the flanks of this female Scintillant Hummingbird from El Toucant Lodge and the mostly rufous tail with a small subterminal band.

Snowcap: The male is a stunning little piece of work but the female is about as colorless as they come. Whitish below and greenish above, female Snowcaps are pretty darn basic. However, since almost nothing else fist that description in their foothill distribution, if you see a small hummingbird with white underparts in a place like Quebrada Gonzalez, you will have to admit that you latched your eyes onto a female Snowcap. About the only other hummingbird species that she could be confused with in her range might be a female Coppery-headed Emerald that decided to wander downslope (not unheard of at the upper limits of Snowcap distribution). Both have white in the tail but the Snowcap still shows a straight bill (decurved in the case of the emerald) and none of the green on the sides of the upper breast that female emeralds exhibit.

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Female Snowcap

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Female Coppery-headed Emerald

To sum things up, identification of some of the small hummingbirds in Costa Rica isn’t as difficult as one might think but you might want to hire a guide anyways because finding them could be another story.

Check the Costa Rica Living and Birding Blog on a regular basis For more information about birds and birding in Costa Rica.

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Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica caribbean foothills caribbean slope Hummingbirds

Black-crested Coquette at El Tapir

El Tapir is a defunct butterfly garden (how many sites have that claim to fame?) a couple kilometers past Quebrada Gonzalez on the right side of the highway as you head towards Limon. During the latter 90s it received a fair number of visitors and cabins were being built to provide accommodation for excited, happy birders. I don’t know if that was actually the goal for the cabins but excited, happy birders would have certainly been the outcome. The place is easily accessible, has the full complement of foothill specialties, good populations of other birds that require primary forest, acts as a good lookout for raptors, and has a bunch of Porterweed bushes that are one of the few reliable sites in the country Snowcap.

However, to visiting birders great misfortune, the cabins were never finished and El Tapir was let to its own devices. The buildings are falling down, you would never know that a beautiful little, enclosed butterfly garden used to grace the entrance to the place, and there aren’t any more souvenirs for sale. Nevertheless, despite it’s defunct appearance, El Tapir can still be visited, there are a few trails through the forest, and hummingbirds still show up at the Porterweed bushes. Many of those magic flowering hedges have been cleared from the garden for unknown reasons and this has diminished the numbers of hummingbirds that show up but the place still sees visits by most of the expected species.

This past Sunday, while guiding at El Tapir, we were entertained by one of the more uncommon hummingbird species to visit the garden, an exquisite male Black-crested Coquette. It came to one of the flowering Porterweed bushes near the caretaker’s house and he let us know every time it made an appearance. It buzzed in low like a bumblebee for fantastic, close looks…

Black-crested Coquette is so small that it can just about hide behind a Porterweed stem!


It slowly moved into view and showed off its fine-plumed crest.

Neither common, nor rare, like so many other tropical bird species with low density populations, the Black-crested Coquette is perhaps best described as “uncommon”. This means that they are probably in the neighborhood when visiting their habitat but could easily escape detection if you don’t find the right type of flowering trees. Other factors that make it that much more difficult to locate this species are their tendency to move up and down slope in search of food and their naturally inconspicuous behavior that aids them in poaching nectar from flowers in the territories of other, larger, nastier hummingbirds.

I don’t see this species that often at El Tapir so don’t be surprised if you go birding there and miss it. However, even if you miss the coquette, consolation prizes often come in the form of Snowcap, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Green Thorntail, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Violet-headed Hummingbird, and Violet-crowned Woodnymph. You might also run into some good mixed flocks, pick up foothill birds in the forest, see King Vulture, and even run into a tapir! On Sunday, we had all of the hummingbirds listed above along with White-necked Jacobin and Purple-crowned Fairy. A sunny day made for pretty quiet birding inside the forest but we still managed to see Spotted Antbird (also heard Bicolored and Ocellated), Streak-crowned Antvireo, White-flanked Antwren, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Speckled Tanager, and King Vulture.

If you do visit El Tapir, just ask the caretaker if you can enter and pay him $5 per person. On a side note, the forest looked much drier than normal this past week and that could be why we picked up a few ticks so put on the sulfur powder and wear rubber boots!

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Birding Costa Rica birding lodges caribbean foothills Hummingbirds middle elevations

Birding El Copal Biological Reserve, Costa Rica in August

El Copal is this rather remote, community owned and run reserve situated between Tapanti National Park and Amistad International Park. Biogeographically speaking, it is located on the Caribbean slope of the Talamancan Mountains in the foothill/middle elevation zone. Birdingly speaking, this means that you are always in for one heck of an avian ride when visiting El Copal.

I guided a recent Birding Club of Costa Rica trip to El Copal this past weekend and although the ever elusive Lovely Cotinga failed to show, we still had some pretty awesome birding. Yes, our goal was actually Lovely Cotinga as mid-August is when a few have historically showed up at El Copal to feed on fruiting Melastomes in front of the lodge. I suspect that diligent birding could turn them up at other times of the year as well but despite scanning the forest canopy several times a day, we didn’t see any cotingas.  Since this species appears to be genuinely rare in Costa Rica (and should be considered locally endangered in my opinion) , that was no big surprise.

We were, however, intrigued by the shortage of hummingbird species. Quality was there in the form of ever present Snowcaps and Violet-headed Hummingbirds, but where were the other 10 species that buzzed the Porterweed in May, 2010? At that time, Green Thorntail was the most common hummingbird. On this trip, it didn’t even make the list.  The dearth of hummingbirds was testament to the fact that many hummingbird species in Costa Rica (and elsewhere) make lots of movements or short migrations in search of their favorite  flowers.

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Male Snowcap (now that’s some serious quality).

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Male Violet-headed Hummingbird (it gets a quality sticker too).

While the cotingas didn’t show up to feast on Melastome fruits, the tanagers sure did. Among the 18 species that highlighted the trees in front of the lodge with their glittering plumage were such highlights as Blue and Gold, Emerald, Black and Yellow, and Speckled Tanagers. Scarlet-thighed Dacnis were pretty common and I have never been any place in Costa Rica where it was so easy to see White-vented Euphonia. We must have had six of this uncommon species hanging out right at the lodge.

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A bad picture of two White-vented Euphonias. Find them if you can!

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A back view of a male Scarlet-thighed Dacnis.

Accompanying the tanagers were Scarlet-rumped Caciques, Black-faced Grosbeaks, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Spotted Woodcreeper, several Tropical Parulas and Bananaquits, and Band-backed Wrens. The forest edge near the lodge was also good for Golden-olive Woodpecker, both oropendolas, Keel-billed Toucan and Collared Aracari, and held a pair of Spectacled Owls at night. Beto, one of the gracious owners of the lodge, also told us about the Mottled Owls that make regular appearances at the lodge.

The birds mentioned above made for some fantastic, busy birding from the balcony. It was also a great place to watch the huge flocks of White-collared Swifts the flew over in the evening and to watch for raptors. Regarding hawks and other sharply clawed birds, we were surprised to see so few raptors when so many showed up on our previous trip to this site. The only raptors we had other than vultures were one Short-tailed Hawk, a few Swallow-tailed Kites, a couple of heard only Barred Forest-Falcons, Bat Falcon, and one distant, immature Ornate Hawk-Eagle.

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The balcony at El Copal.

Inside the forest, the cloudy, partly rainy weather boosted the bird activity to new heights. Saturday had a good number of mixed flocks, Immaculate and Dull-mantled Antbirds, and calling Tawny-chested Flycatcher, but Sunday was downright amazing. We took the upper trail and the bird activity was just about non-stop from 6 to 8am. Big mixed flocks accompanied us along the trail that were dominated by Carmiol’s Tanagers and held rarities such as Rufous-browed Tyrannulets, Black and White Becard, and even one Sharpbill (seen by just one person in the group). We also got onto a few Ashy-throated Bush-Tanagers, Slaty-capped and Olive-striped Flycatchers, Russet Antshrike, White-winged Tanager, and Plain Xenops in addition to most of the tanager species seen at the lodge. I suppose our other best forest birds were singing Black-headed Antthrush and one flushed Chiriqui Quail-Dove.

Not counting the Torrent Tyrannulet, Tawny-crested Tanagers, and Sunbittern and dozen or so open country species seen on the way to and from the lodge, we got 125 species in total. This was a pretty good total considering that most were forest birds. Making arrangements to stay at El Copal was a bit confusing at times, and the directions to the place posted at the ACTUAR site should be more specific but the rest of the trip went  as smooth as chocolate silk pie. Our hosts from the community were friendly, gracious, and very accommodating (5 am coffee). The lodge is still quite rustic with basic beds and cold showers (yikes!) but they may have solar water heaters for our next visit. The community is looking for and open to accepting funds to put in a solar water heater (all electricity there is solar in nature) and could also use other things like extra binoculars, field guides, and a green laser pointer (works wonders for pointing out birds in the forest). If interested in making a donation to El Copal, please contact me at information@birdingcraft.com to put you in touch with the owners.

Also, here are more specific directions to the place:

When you get to Paraiso, stay on the main road past the park and go straight rather than following signs to Turrialba. You will descend through coffee plantations down to Cachi dam. From there, follow signs to Tuccurrique and Pejibaye. In Pejibaye, go around the soccer field (football pitch) and head to the right. Stay on that road and watch for a sign to El Copal that tells you to make a sharp left over a bridge that crosses a small river. Follow that road and stay to the left where the road forks. Keep following it (fair birding along the way) and watch for a sign that shows the entrance to El Copal on the left.

Keep in mind that you can’t just show up to go birding because the place isn’t always open. Also, make reservations through Actuar to stay overnight because day trips seem to only be possible by taking a super expensive birding tour. Even if you don’t go to El Copal, though, you could still see a lot of good birds in forest patches along the road (rocky but doable even without four-wheel drive until just past El Copal).

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More Updates on Birding Costa Rica: Irazu and Quebrada Gonzalez

Once again, this post will be an imageless one as I am still awaiting a replacement part for my tripod (I need it for digiscoping). Nevertheless, I hope that readers will still find this fresh out of the field information of use. Since my last post, I have done a few trips to Irazu and Quebrada Gonzalez. Windy and misty weather has made the birding challenging but good stuff was still espied through our trusty binoculars.

Some Irazu National Park birding updates: This continues to be a reliable site for Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge. On Friday, we had one right on the dusty road between Rancho Redondo and LLano Grande. Looking like an exotic, lost chicken, upon our approach, it leaped off the road and into the underbrush. Using the car as a hide, we pulled up and quietly watched it fidget around the ground beneath a roadside hedge for several minutes. We were even close enough to see the red skin around its light colored eye! More were heard on the way up to the park and even calling from the paramo near the crater. The following day, birds were heard at close quarters on the road up to the national park but remained unseen.

A pleasant surprise along the road up to the park not long after Llano Grande were two Tropical Mockingbirds that gave us flyby looks. I was under the inpression that we could only find this recent invader at golf courses so was happy to get this for my year list (already well past 400 species).

Long-tailed Silkies and Black and Yellow Silky Flycatchers seem to be uncommon at the moment. Just a few were heard and seen over the course of two days.

Resplendent Quetzal is present a the stream just south of the Volcano Museum. There are a few wild avocado trees there and at least one has fruit. Although we waited for at least an hour in vain at those trees on Friday, four or five birds were seen at the exact same time and spot on Saturday!

Scintillant Hummingbird was present in flowering hedges between Rancho Redondo and Llano Grande on Friday.

It almost goes without saying but Volcano Juncos are still easy to see up around the crater.

There are also some local guides who can be hired for early morning birding and hiking in the paramo. They give short tours of the crater and can be contracted for this at the information booth near the crater but need to be contacted in advance for early morning birding. Here is their website.

Quebrada Gonzalez updates:  As we left the Central Valley on Sunday, misty weather in the mountains made me wonder if we would have to cancel due to constant, birdless rain. Luckilly, though, the sun was shining in the foothills and it was a fantastic morning. The rain did catch up with us by 10 a.m. but until then, the birding was VERY GOOD. After watching a sloth in the parking lot, it wasnt long before we were watching a group of busy Tawny-crested and Carmiols Tanagers as they foraged in the undergrowth. A dozen of so Emerald Tanagers quickly followed and provided us with excellent looks just as activity started to pick up. Tawny-capped Euphonia, Wedge-billed Wodcreepers, Buff-throated Foliage-Gleaner, and Black-faced Grosbeaks were seen but a nice sounding mixed flock led by White-throated Shrike-Tanager was just a bit too far off into the forest to see wel. 

Since Nightingale Wrens were singing nearby, I decided to make an attempt at an imitation and lo and behold, one of those extra drab, tiny-tailed birds popped up on a low branch and let us watch him from ten feet away for about ten minutes! Definitely the best looks I have ever had at this major forest skulker. As it sang, it quivered its little tail a mile a minute (a video of that performance might have been a contendor for some obscure film prize)!

Not long after the performance of the Nightingale Wren, I heard an exciting sound: the song of Northern Barred Woodcreeper and calls of Bicolored Antbirds. This could only mean one thing: ANTSWARM! We couldnt see the birds from the trail so we crept about 12 feet into the forest to where they were shaking the vegetation and our patience was rewarded with beautiful views of Bicolored, Spotted, and Ocellated Antbirds, several Plain-brown Woodcreepers, and…Black-crowned Antpitta! Despite its larger size, the antpitta was remarkably inconspicuous and only gave us a few good, prolonged looks. The ground-cuckoo didnt show while we watched but I wouldnt be surprised if one made an appearance at some future antswarm occasion. Strangly enough, although we heard Northern Barred Woodcreeper, this antswarm lover remained unseen.

Of course, while we were watching the answarm, all the other birds in the forest seemed to become active as well. Lattice-tailed Trogon, Streak-chested Antpitta, and Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush sang nearby and a huge canopy flock moved through the crowns of the trees. At one point, I decided that we should leave the swarm to try for the canopy flock but they turned out to be too high up in the trees to see well so we watched more 0f the antswarm until raindrops started to fall. A break in the rain gave us beautiful looks at White-ruffed Manakin but then it poured for the rest of the day. Well, I assume it rained the rest of the time because after leaving to eat lunch at a nearby restaurant in the lowlands, we decided to take advantage of the drier weather and had good birding in the Rio Blanco area. Oddly enough, best bird there was a toss-up between Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (rare winter resident) and Fasciated Tiger-Heron.

A short stop at El Tapir on the way back turned up Green Thorntail, Violet-headed Hummingbirds, and brief looks at a male Snowcap to give us around 120 species identified for a darn good day of birding in Costa Rica.

I am headed back to Quebrada Gonzalez on Sunday. I hope the rains stay away and that the birds cooperate!

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Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope Hummingbirds preparing for your trip

The El Tapir Hummingbird Hotspot has Been Destroyed

Update about El Tapir- Since I wrote this post, happily, the Porterweed bushes have grown back and the place is still great for Snowcap and other hummingbird species. When I wrote this. it didn’t seem likely because every bit of green in the garden looked herbicided, brown, and dead. Current entrance fee is $12 and also includes use of the trails. The forest is excellent foothill birding but be careful about the high number of small ticks on the trails.

El Tapir was this fantastic birding site in Costa Rica that mysteriously became defunct about ten years ago. Situated a few kilometers after Quebrada Gonzalez along the highway that connects San Jose and Limon, it provided access to foothill forests that buffer Braulio Carrillo National Park. There were a couple of trails into this beautiful, mossy habitat, one of which led to a stream where you could see Sunbittern and Fasciated Tiger-Heron.

On the way to the stream, there were amazing mixed flocks, Dull-mantled Antbird, and all the other foothill specialties. I also saw my best antswarm in Costa Rica along that trail- although the ground-cuckoo and Black-crowned Antpittas had apparently taken the day off or were competing with each other in a skulking contest,  everything else was there. By everything, I mean Barred Forest-Falcon, Rufous Motmot, Striped Woodhaunter, Song Wren, Northern Barred and Plain-brown Woodcreepers, and those stars of the show: Bicolored Antbird, Spotted Antbird, Ocellated Antbird, and the fastidiously clean Immaculate Antbird. At one time, this latter species was known as Zeledon’s Antbird. That’s the name I learned in the decades old Irby Davis field guide for Central America and I kind of wish that name would come back because it has such a ring to it- rather like the name of a rapper or a a foe of Conan the Barbarian.

“Who’s that imposing, musclebound, hooded guy with the blue paint around his eyes?” asks one of Conan’s temporary sidekicks.

To which Conan replied, “Crom! That be my foe ZELEDON! The prophets say that one day a feathered one that follows army ants will be named after him.”

“Huh?!” (it was some centuries or ages before the idea of birding for fun was invented)

“Oh never mind. The prophets are always spouting nonsense anyways- saying things like one day people will watch birds through magic eye pieces. If I weren’t a barbarian, I would laugh in a hearty, good-natured manner at such a silly idea instead of doing my usual hoarse, hacking guffaws heavy with the effects of mead. Enough! Time to challenge ZELEDON!….”

Anyways, El Tapir was one of the best birding sites in Costa Rica and it probably still is but the nets of the butterfly garden have fallen into mold-patched disarray, the buildings are empty and probably home to hordes of scorpions, and the trails probably aren’t trails anymore. Cabins were also being built but were never completed. If they would have been finished, I tell you this would have ranked among the best accommodations for birding in Costa Rica. I have no idea what happened but suspect that it had something to do with that evil and insane affliction of governments called bureaucracy or that the money ran out.

So the El Tapir began to resemble some haunted place in the tropics that had started out as a bastion of hope and sunshine until the decay of the jungle slowly worked its natural, nefarious magic via the vectors of disease, itchy fungus, and eventual madness until the survivors ran for their lives…BUT the bold and courageous hummingbirds carried on (well, they were always there but someone has to play the hero in this story and because barbarians aren’t allowed to be heroes, hummingbirds are the chosen ones)!

Formerly trimmed patches of Porterweed exploded with flowers and took over the abandoned gardens and grounds. For hummingbirds, this was nothing short of trick or treating in rich neighborhoods while Halloween just repeats itself day after day after day.

Green Thorntail birding Costa Rica

Green Thorntails buzzed around like a swarm of bees.

Snowcap birding Costa Rica

Snowcaps set up shop.

Violet-headed Hummingbird birding Costa Rica

Violet-headed Hummingbirds moved into the neighborhood.

The place became a veritable supermarket for the Colibridae, a metropolis for small nectar feeding creatures, and a jackpot for hundreds of birders who have popped in to get their lifer Snowcap or take photos.

HOWEVER, all of that changed sometime during the past two weeks.

During a day of birding Quebrada Gonzalez with Michael Retter and Alan Knue (they were down in Costa Rica for two weeks of scouting out bird sites for tours and getting Talamancan lifers), we scooted over to El Tapir to get more looks at Snowcaps (you can never get enough of that bird) and maybe glimpse a Black-crested Coquette when we came upon a strange sight.

The overgrown hummingbird hotspot looked oddly clear and upon closer examination, all of the Porterweed bushes appeared to be dying! Aside from a Green Hermit that happily zipped around from heliconia to heliconia, there were no other hummingbirds! It was a good thing that Michael and Alan had seen loads of Snowcaps two weeks before because on Saturday, there was almost nothing. Nary a Snowcap. Not even a Rufous-tailed. None. Nada. Zilch.

We could only surmise that whomever was taking care of the place had finally decided to eliminate the flowering bushes that were so delectable to dozens of hummingbirds. The hummingbirds will hopefully find food elsewhere but birders hoping for a quick and easy Snowcap at El Tapir will from now on be out of luck.

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A Dozen Birds to watch for when Birding Costa Rica part one

Michigan “has” the Kirtland’s Warbler, we thought that Arkansas had the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (who knows-maybe it still does), and Texas is the easiest place to see endangered Whooping Cranes.

So what does Costa Rica “have”? Which birds are easier to see in its rainforests, cloud forests, montane oak forests, mangroves, and edge habitats than elsewhere?

Birders use range maps to get an idea of which birds they might encounter but experienced birders also read trip reports and information about the natural history of their target species because they know how misleading those maps can be!  These visual aids can make it seem like a bird species is evenly distributed within that splotch of color when in reality, the bird in question has a more spotty distribution determined by patchy microhabitats.

Good field guides try to avoid the fomentation of false birding expectations by providing text that details aspects of habitat, behavior, and rarity but it’s still easier to just look at the range map and expect to see the bird.

Although tempting, this methodology for planning a birding trip to the tropics could result in a lot of frustration because for many birds the situation is much more complicated.

For example, a range map for Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet might show this broad swath of color that blankets southeastern Mexico and colors its way down through Central America to Costa Rica. Likewise, the Lovely Cotinga is represented by a blanket of color that enshrouds southeastern Mexico, and the Caribbean slope of Central America south to Costa Rica.

Oh, these two species do occur in Costa Rica, but don’t expect to see them! Here in Costa Rica, both the tyrannulet and the cotinga are pretty rare and local (who knows why?). They are, however, more common and easier to see up in Mexico or Honduras.

Costa Rica is at the southern limit of their ranges, so that might have something to do with it, but for some other bird species, possible reasons for their absence aren’t so forthcoming.

For example, Wing-banded Antbird is known to occur in the lowland rainforests of Nicaragua found to the north of Costa Rica and in some lowland rainforest areas of Panama to the south of Costa Rica. So why can’t you see this strange antbird when birding Costa Rica? Nobody knows although the answer is probably related to any number of factors such as habitat differences, competition, and biogeography. One a side note, the main birding guide at Rara Avis swears that he saw this species in the foothill rainforests of this site on two occasions.

Likewise, don’t expect to see Orange-breasted Falcon in Costa Rica despite the presence of seemingly good habitat. Although this beautiful, tropical falcon is on the Costa Rican list, it may have never occurred in the country despite residing in forests to the north and to the south.

Instead of focusing on bird species that are rare or that don’t occur in Costa Rica, though, let’s focus on the bird species that you are more likely to seen when birding Costa Rica (excluding Cocos Island) than elsewhere in their range.

In systematic order…

1. Great Curassow. This neotropical turkey-looking thing with a curly crest has a large range that extends from eastern Mexico to northwestern Ecuador. However, since it probably tastes as good as a turkey but lays far fewer eggs,  it has become extirpated by over-hunting in most accessible areas. Although the Great Curassow has declined in Costa Rica too, they aren’t too difficult to see in the larger national parks and protected areas such as Santa Rosa National Park, Tortuguero National Park, Corcovado National Park, Rincon de la Vieja National Park, and most of all, at La Selva. With wild, tame individuals strolling the grounds of La Selva, this has got to be the most reliable and accessible place in the world to see the magnificent Great Curassow.

2. Black Guan. Almost by default, Costa Rica is the place to see this neat looking guan of the highlands because of its limited range.  Only found in Costa Rica and western Panama, although I don’t think it’s too difficult to see on the slopes of Volcan Baru, Panama, it’s pretty easy to see at several sites in Costa Rica. The Black Guan is pretty common in any of the protected highland forests of Costa Rica like Monteverde, Tapanti, and Cerro de la Muerte.

3. Black-breasted Wood-Quail. Like the Black Guan, this wood-quail is only found in the highland forests of Costa Rica and western Panama. It is definitely easier to see in Costa Rica, especially so in forests of the Monteverde area.

4. Ornate Hawk-Eagle. The large range of this raptor makes its placement on this list somewhat debatable but from personal experience, I still think it’s easier to see in Costa Rica than many other places. You can find it at any number of areas with extensive rainforest when birding Costa Rica. Corcovado and Braulio Carrillo are especially good sites. I watch this awesome eagle on 70% of visits to Quebrada Gonzalez (!).

5. Chiriqui and Buff-fronted Quail-Doves. These can also be seen in western Panama, but there are more sites for them in the mountains of Costa Rica. Like all quail-doves, they aren’t exactly easy to see, but you have a pretty good chance of running into the Chiriqui at the Finca Ecologica or Bajo del Tigre trail in Monteverde, and the Buff-fronted in the Monteverde cloud forests or on Cerro de la Muerte.

6. Black-and-white Owl. These are more common than birders think and can be seen in many places, but the easiest ones are in the Orotina plaza. Expect more stake-outs of other owl species in Costa Rica later this year…

7. Fiery-throated and Volcano Hummingbirds. Also found in western Panama, the fancy Fiery-throated and tiny Volcano Hummingbirds are found at more accessible sites and feeders in the highlands of Costa Rica.

Fiery-throateds at La Georgina

female Volcano Hummingbird, Volcan Barva

8. Mangrove Hummingbird and Coppery-headed Emerald. Well, they aren’t found anywhere else so you have got to see them here! The emerald is pretty easy at feeders in Monteverde, La Paz Waterfall Gardens, and San Luis, but the Mangrove is tough. Check for it in any flowering mangroves on the Pacific Slope.

male Coppery-headed Emerald, Cinchona

9. Black-bellied Hummingbird. It also occurs on Panama but is pretty easy and accessible at Tapanti.

Black-bellied Hummingbird, El Silencio

10. All three mountain gems. These also occur in the highland forests of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama but are easier to see at various, more easily accessible sites in Costa Rica. The Purple-throated is one of the most common highland hummingbirds, the White-bellied is easily seen at Tapanti, and the White-throated is common in the oak forests of Cerro de la Muerte.

male White-bellied Mountain-Gem, Cinchona

male Purple-throated Mountain-Gem Varablanca

male White-throated Mountain-Gem El Copal

11. White-crested Coquette. This fantastic little bird also occurs in western Panama but it’s more widespread and easier in Costa Rica. It’s not exactly common but not too difficult to see if you find flowering trees with the small flowers it prefers (although I have also seen it take nectar from massive Balsa flowers!).

12. Snowcap. It ranges from Honduras to Panama, but is easiest to see in Costa Rica at several, easily accessible sites such as Braulio Carrillo, Arenal, Rancho Naturalista, and El Copal.

male Snowcap El Copal

Stay tuned for the next dozen or so bird species easier to see when birding Costa Rica than elsewhere!