Categories
biodiversity Birding Costa Rica Introduction preparing for your trip weather

10 Reasons to Visit Costa Rica for Birding in July and August

One of the great things about living in a place where the latitudes are closer to zero than a hundred is that temperatures are fairly stable. Where I live, I can already tell you what the thermometer is going to read tomorrow, next week, and next year (as long as the global climate doesn’t get too wacky before then). It’s going to range from 68 to about 88 degrees f. with fluctuations within those parameters being a function of time of day. Seasons are measured in rainfall here in Costa Rica so you don’t have to worry about shoveling snow in December. Nor do you need to worry about feeling the oven blast of a heat wave such as the one that is attempting to roast my friends and family up the northeastern USA. That’ s the first great reason for coming to Costa Rica now! Here are some other arguments for heading on down to quetzal-land during July and August:

  • It’s not blazing hot: Ok, so I already mentioned that but feel the need to reiterate because so many people conclude that Costa Rica is always hotter than home in the north because it’s so much further south. While the sun’s rays are definitely stronger and should be approached with caution, nope, it’s not hotter here than say New Jersey in the summer. The highest heat index occurs in places with about 90 or 91 with humidity on the central Pacific slope. Now that is surely hot but you won’t see crazy temps of 100 with humidity and you can always escape to the mountains where it’s a fair deal cooler.
Sooty Robins only live in the cool high elevation habitats of Costa Rica and Panama.
    • The Veranillo: “Veranillo” means “little summer” and refers to a week or two in July when it doesn’t rain as much as on the Pacific slope. We did have beautiful sunny days like that just last week but I think that was the extent of it. Nevertheless, it’s a little extra bonus for visiting around this time and this is reflected by the scheduling of several birding tours.
    • Wandering frugivores: It’s important to bird in the right habitat when looking for certain birds but it’s also nice when various seriously cool frugivores disperse in search of fruity food. This means that if you find a fruiting fig or Lauraceous tree, you might also find a wandering bellbird, Turquoise or Lovely Cotinga, Red-fronted Parrotlet, and who knows what else. Although you can’t expect to see those species, all of them seem to kind of wander a bit at this time of the year…
    A Turquoise Cotinga from Rincon de Osa.
      • Oilbirds: Yes, as in the big weirdo nocturnal things that are crazy about oily fruits! One or more were recently seen on a night hike in Monteverde and have been found pretty much on an annual basis there and have shown up at other spots between now and the next few months. Although this could also be placed in the “wandering frugivores” category, it merits its own special mention. Sure, they are easier to see in other places but wouldn’t it be cool to say that you found an Oilbird in Costa Rica?
      • No wintering species to deal with: Ok, so if you are not from North America, that would be something you would happily deal with but for those of us who have already had our fair share of Yellow Warblers, we tend to be more interested in the resident species. Shorebirds are showing up so you might see a few of them but that possibility can be avoided by hanging out in the rainforest and looking for (cursing at) antpittas.
      • Cloudy weather: I have said it before and will keep on preaching that cloudy weather is better for tropical birding! Although a sunny morning gives you better chances at seeing hawk-eagles and some other raptors, the forest is going to be pretty quiet for much of the day. Contrast that with cloudy or misty conditions and the tropical forest seems to be alive with birds! It’s alive, IT’S ALIVE!! My best days in tropical forest at any elevation have always been on cloudy days. For example, a few of my memorable misty mornings have included a light morph Crested Eagle that flew over a Peruvian Amazonian clay lick covered with hundreds of parrots and Chestnut-fronted Macaws. They flew into the air while a pair of Red and green Macaws flew above the eagle and screamed their heads off. Talk about overload. Twas another memorable misty morning on the entrance road to Mindo, Ecuador road when I saw something like 110 species including Andean Cock of the Rock and several White-throated Quail Doves walking right on the road. I have spent more than one fine cloudy day on the road to Manuel Brenes Reserve in Costa Rica when birds stayed active kind of all day long. We had to pull ourselves away from the birds to eat lunch. Not all cloudy days in Costa Rica are like that but the sunny ones sure aren’t. Oh, and it’s cloudy here just about every day in July and August.
      The road to Manuel Brenes on a misty day.
        • But what about the rain?: Yes, it does rain more right now but it won’t ruin a trip, there’s a higher degree of bird activity on account of cloudy weather, it’s cooler, and you can also get rained out on the Caribbean slope during the dry season months.
        • Fiery-throated and Volcano Hummingbirds: You will see them with the same frequency as other months and they will look just as cool!
        Fiery-throated Hummingbird from La Georgina restaurant.
        Volcano Hummingbird from La Georgina restaurant.
          • Scarlet Macaws will also be just as easy to see: These crazy, colorful birds are doing quite well in Costa Rica thanks to measures to protect and reintroduce them.
          Scarlet Macaws!
            • The trogons won’t be going anywhere either: Quetzals are actually here at all times of the year and not just during the dry season. Visit good habitat for these eye-stunning creatures and you have a good chance of seeing them, especially if you can find the fruiting trees they like. The gorgeous Gartered Trogon should be easy enough to see too.
            A beautiful male Gartered Trogon.
            Resplendent Quetzal with a tasty avocado fruit.

              That’s enough for now. It’s time for me to take advantage of this cloudy weather and go birding in Costa Rica.

              Categories
              Birding Costa Rica Costa Rica living Introduction

              A day of birding Costa Rica at Irazu volcano

              With Costa Rica being such a great place for birding and retirement, it’s no wonder that there is an English speaking birding club. The appropriately named “Birding club of Costa Rica” gets together every month for a field trip; some of which I get to guide! We have very few meetings because when you can get together for awesome tropical birding, the need for metings in a boring hall somewhere is pretty much naught. The club has been all over the country and has also done international trips. A few weeks ago, we stayed domestic though and visited Irazu volcano. We had a beautiful day high above the central valley, I actually picked up a lifer and the September rains waited until we were done birding.


              We started at a bridge overlooking a forested ravine. The jade foliage below glinted in the morning sun that also lit up nearby hedgerows and onion fields The sweet scent of hay and crisp mountain air reminded me of June mornings in Pennsylvania where I saw so many of my first bird species; Eastern Bluebirds, Orchard Oriole, Yellow-throated Vireo, stately Great Blue Herons, etc. Some of the birds on Irazu reminded me of Pennsylvania too; Red-tailed Hawks soaring overhead, Hairy Woodpeckers calling from the trees, an Eastern Meadowlark singing the same lazy song from a nearby field. Most of the birds though, ensured us that we were in the high mountains of Costa Rica; mountains with forests of immense oaks draped in bromeliads and moss, dark forests hiding Quetzals, Flame-colored Tanagers, Black-billed Nightingale Thrushes, Collared Redstarts and much more. Hummingbirds are especially common up there; at the bridge we got our first looks at the smallest species; Volcano Hummingbird.

              Here on Irazu, they have a purplish gorget.

              We also had our first of many Acorn Woodpeckers; here at the southern limit of their range in the high montain forests dominated by Oak species.

              and Flame-colored Tanager. This is a female.

              And lots of Long-tailed Silkies.

              After the bridge, we headed further uphill accompanied by fantastic mountain scenery,

              and lots of Sooty Robins. Once you see these, you know you have reached the temperate zone. They remind me of Eurasian Blackbirds.

              Our next stop was the best and with good reason; it’s the only place along the roadside with fairly intact forest. I don’t know what the name of the stop here is but you can’t miss it; aside from the only spot with good forest, there are signs advertising a volcano museum and the Nochebuena restaurant. Although things were pretty quiet at the stream, on past trips I have seen birds like:

              Black and Yellow Silky. Once they find a berry-filled bush, they sit there and fatten up!- a lot like their cousins the Waxwings.

              Black-billed Nightingale Thrush is another common, tame species. The tail is usually longer than that of this young bird.

              Since it was quiet at the stream, we walked back uphill near some good forest. We didn’t have to go far before we saw the best bird of the day. Upon checking out some angry hummingbirds, I saw a rufous colored lump on a tree and immediately knew we had an excellent bird and for myself a lifer I have waited 16 years to get; Costa Rican Pygmy Owl!! Although I have heard these guys a few times, I have never been lucky enough to see one until the BCCR trip up Irazu. Luckily, it was cooperative enough for everyone to get great looks through the scope at this beautiful little owl. The color of this creature was amazing; a mix of reddish clay so saturated with rufous that it had purplish hues.

              Here it is being annoyed by a Fiery-throated Hummingbird.

              And here it is looking at us.

              And here are some BCCR members showing their best Costa Rican Pygmy Owl faces.

              Amazingly, just after the owl, we actually had the avian star of the Costa Rican highlands; a male Resplendent Quetzal! A few of us caught of glimpse of this odd, shining bird in flight and sure enough there it was!- a Quetzal deep within the foliage of the tree whose fruit Quetzals prefer; the aquacatillo or wild avocado. It didn’t stay long enough though to get a picture so you will have to take my word for it. Actually, Quetzals aren’t that rare in Costa Rica. They aren’t exactly dripping off the trees, but if you bird the high mountain forests, you will probably see one.

              After the Quetzal, we got more nice looks at Hummingbirds and close looks at another highland endemic and one of the easiest Empidonax Flycatchers to identify; Black-capped Flycatcher.

              We eventually made our way up to the national park entrance, some of us deciding to venture in, others continuing with the birding along a road off to the right just before the entrance. This road passes through paramo, thick stunted forest and eventually reaches taller forest further downhill. Would love to explore it for a day as it looked very promising. We had a few Volcano Juncos here, Flame-throated Warblers, many Slaty Flowerpiercers and a few other species. Despite our attempts to coax a Timberline Wren out into the open, we had to settle for just hearing them sing from the dense undergrowth.

              On a scouting trip, we opted to visit the crater.

              Be very careful with valuables in the parking lot here. I have heard of people getting their car cleaned of all their stuff during a short 20 minute visit!

              Coatis are up here too always looking for handouts. Their claws remind me of Bears up north.

              We lunched back down at the Nochebuena restaurant. This is a cozy place with fireplace and something far more rare than a quetzal; real pecan pie! You can also sit outside and be entertained by the hummingbird feeders. Fiery-throateds were the most common species.

              This was a good place to study the difference between those and Magnificent Hummingbirds. The Magnificent has a stronger, all dark bill, the female more markings on the face.

              Here is a nice look at Volcano Hummingbird showing the dark central tail feathers; a main field mark in separating it from the very similar Scintillant Hummingbird.

              After lunch, it was time to head back down hill to the urbanization and traffic of the central valley. Fortunately for us in Costa Rica, it’s pretty easy to escape for a day to peaceful high mountain forests.