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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Rare Birds in Costa Rica- 12 of the Least Known Species

There’s a lot of birds in Costa Rica. More than 900 species on the official list of birds for Costa Rica. It’s a heck of a lot and I’m sure we’ll get a few more! In Costa Rica, as our great luck would have it, most of the resident birds are accessible. Factor in good infrastructure in a rather small area and Costa Rica becomes a wonderfully easy nation to see a huge number of bird species in a short amount of time.

However, as with birding locale, the birding isn’t always easy, not every species is as common as a Blue-gray Tanager. Many birds are rare, some naturally so, others because of habitat destruction, and others for reasons unknown. The following are a dozen of the least known birds in Costa Rica, rare species that can be a huge challenge (or nearly impossible) to see in this birdy country. It’s ok to have these species on your target list but you may need to curb your birding enthusiasm.

Masked Duck

Masked-Duck

Based on how little this bird enjoys being seen, the mask it wears is either one of shame or a reminder of its anti-social behavior. This duck might not be endangered and it is recorded on an annual basis but not as often as one would like. Visit seemingly nice habitat for the bird and it’s either hiding or just not there. We don’t know what it does and that’s the problem. Given its penchant for seasonal wetlands, Masked Duck in Costa Rica might be nomadic but if so, where does it go? Where does it host its off-season skulking parties?

Believe me, I wish we knew. I have some suspicions but no easy answers. What I do know is that the best spot for it is in wetlands near Ciudad Neily from August to November. The Cano Negro area is another good area to look for it as well as any shallow, marshy wetland.

Violaceous Quail-Dove

One of those wide-ranging, uncommon and spotty birds. Like the Masked Duck, this bird may also be somewhat nomadic, at least in the sense of moving around in search of some sort of suitable, not very obvious microhabitat. I suspect it uses some form of advanced or viney second growth within mature forest but who knows?

Although this dove is never common nor expected in Costa Rica, it does seem to be slightly easier to find around Rincon de la Vieja and in wetter forests of the Nicoya Peninsula.

Pheasant Cuckoo

One of the number one ghost birds of Costa Rica. Given the paucity of records, this cuckoo species surely has a very small population, especially compared to ther places. Too much competition with other species? Not enough nest hosts? Who knows what the reasons are but suffice to say, the ideal ecological situation for this species does not take place in Costa Rica. When birding Costa Rica, don’t expect to find it, even if you do look for it in the southern Nicoya and southern Costa Rica.

Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo

birding Costa Rica

Over the past few years, thanks to more birders looking for the ground-cuckoo, we know a bit more about where this bird lives and how to find it. It almost got left off this list. However, the cuckoo is still a decidedly rare, little known species. How many live in in a given area? What do they need? Do they still occur in lowland forest sites? Answers to these questions are lacking.

Oilbird

One of the most intriguing species on this list and not just because of its nocturnal habits. We don’t know where the Oilbirds in Costa Rica come from, we only know that they are most frequent during the wet season. There’s a fair chance some live in caves in southern Costa Rica. If so, hopefully those specual grottos can be located so the population can be assessed and safeguarded.

Crested Eagle

Oooh, one of the top prize birds in Costa Rica. A big rare and spectacular eagle. I have seen it a grand total of two times..in Tambopata, Peru. Is it still extant? We can only hope that some still occur in remote rainforests, especially in the Caribbean slope foothills, in or near Tortuguero, the Las Tablas area, and forests of the Osa and Golfo Dulce.

Harpy Eagle

Another elusive prize, this one probably the grand prize of Costa Rica birding. Unfortunately, we don’t know where it occurs, nor if it even still nests in Costa Rica. If so, the population is surely miniscule. I wouldn’t look for it on the Osa either, the last time one was documented in those forests was in 2006. Better chances are to be had in remote forests in northeastern Costa Rica, Tortuguero, and in the Caribbean slope of the Talamancas. The most recent documented sighting of a Harpy Eagle in Costa Rica was in 2017 in very little birded rainforests north of Rincon de la Vieja.

Perhaps be reintroduced to Corcovado National Park?

Solitary Eagle

This third of the largest eagles in Costa Rica is likewise missing in action. On account of frequent confusion with Great Black-Hawk, many past sightings are in doubt. If the species does still occur in Costa Rica, it probably lives in remote parts of the Talamancas, deep in Braulio Carrillo National Park, or in foresrs of the northern volcanoes.

Red-fronted Parrotlet

Unlike the big eagles, this species is recorded and on a regular basis. However, it seems sporadic, makes altitudinal migrations, and very little is known about its natural history. All of these factors make it a challenge to find. Look for the bird long enough in middle elevation and foothill forest and you may eventually find this unpredictable bird. I usually hear them in flight.

Speckled Mourner

This odd species hasn’t been recorded in Costa Rica for some time. Hopefully, it still occurs! If still extant, it must have a very small population. The best places to search for it may be flat areas along streams in the largest areas of mature lowland and foothill rainforest. My sole sighting for Costa Rica was in a large mixed flock near El Tapir in 2000.

Gray-headed Piprites

Luckily, we do know that this species is present and not overly rare in forests near Rancho Naturalista and El Copal. It should occur in other places too but where? It might be another of those bird species that requires some habitat mosaic of mature forest and older second growth, or perhaps such habitat combined with the presence of a healthy community of flocking understory species. Whatever the case, it’s not an easy bird to see.

Slaty Finch

Like the quail-dove, this is another bird infrequently seen in a large range. It may be tied to bamboo seeding events; at least that seems to be when it sings more often. In the meantime, what do they do, where do they go? The birds are out there somewhere, perhaps moving around in search of bamboo seeds.

Some of the other rare and little known resident species of Costa Rica include Rufous Nightjar, Lanceolated Monklet, Great Jacamar, Lovely Cotinga, and Botteri’s Sparrow. With some effort, they can be seen but only if you know how to look for them in the right places. The Costa Rica bird finding guide, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica has information for finding these and all bird species in Costa Rica. Get this 700 plus page ebook to support this blog and prepare for your trip. Costa Rica is closer than you think!

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biodiversity bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Relaxed Birding in Costa Rica = 177 Species on Global Big Day

Global Big Day, 2022 has come and gone. Once again, thousands of birders around the globe recorded their observations in eBird to collectively identify more than 7,500 species! In Costa Rica, we always play our part and this year’s Global Big Day (GBD) was no exception. The local birding community captured 5th place for number of checklists (more than 2,500 were sent to eBird) and had a grand total of 685 species. Not bad for a country as big as West Virginia!

If the count had taken place while wintering birds were here, we would have seen much more. Ditto if May 14th didn’t see Costa Rica doused with torrential rains. Don’t get me wrong, I have no complaints, just stating the facts is all. Knowing that any degree of Big Day record breaking would be severly hindered by heavy rains and a normal lack of wintering species, my partner Marilen and I opted for more relaxed birding. An easy-going GBD if you will.

Our birding wasn’t so relaxed that we stayed home to watch birds between intervals of home-made pizza and refreshments, but we didn’t start birding at midnight either. Instead, we figured we would head out early and just see what we could find in the patches of cloud forest and foothill rainforest on Route 126. Having recently heard Azure-hooded Jay on that birdy road, I was reminded of the many birds always possible on this route.

Violet-Sabrewing-male
It’s a good route to get bedazzled by the purples of Violet Sabrewing.

Our relaxed birding day went something a little bit like this:

An Early Start

Wait, wasn’t this relaxed birding in Costa Rica? Yes, but you can still bird easy even if you get up at 4 a.m. That 4 a.m. part was important to drive to a nearby field and see if any Barn or Striped Owls were around. They weren’t but I’m still glad I tried and other birds were singing anyways. These were species like the ubiquitous Clay-colored Thrush along with our only Tropical Mockingbird, Blue Grosbeak, and Rufous-naped Wren.

We hit the road by 5 and made a stop or two in remnant green space of the heavily urbanized Central Valley. The songs of saltators, doves, Rufous-collared Sparrows, and kiskadees and kiskadee-type birds filled the air. That avian sound wave is why you get up early, even in urban settings, you can just about have the birds all to yourself.

Productive Drive-By Birding in the Highlands

Driving slowly but surely upslope, up towards higher elevations, we noted birds as they called and sang. Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrushes and Chestnut-capped Warblers calling from ravines, Brown Jays screeching from the trees. Many a Red-billed Pigeon, Yellow-faced Grassquit, and even one barking Northern Emerald Toucanet, our only one for the day.

At the highest point, easy drive-by birding gave us some sweet endemics, birds like Black-cheeked Warbler, Black-thighed Grosbeak, and Yellow-winged Vireo.

Other typical montane birds called and made it onto our GBD list, birds like Mountain Thrush, Mountain Elaenia, and Hairy Woodpecker (yes, it lives here too but it won’t look like the ones you see back home).

Misty Weather Pushes us to Lower Elevations

We birded from the car and a good thing too, the montains were shrouded in fog and spattered with light rain. It wasn’t surprising, we knew the weather could present some challenges but given the low visibility, we opted not to bird areas near Varablanca. Instead, we moved move lower, heading downhill to see if we could watch birds without an umbrella.

At a spot overlooking the Peace Lodge, the light rain was still happening but the birds were calling, lots of them. We saw Spangle-cheeked Tanagers, a surprise Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, and heard various other species including one of our best for the day, a Highland Tinamou (!) calling from the green, wet depths of the cloud forest.

We kept descending the road, eventually reaching honest to goodness sunshine! Alas, it was brief but a bit of warm air did push a Short-tailed Hawk and a Swallow-tailed Kite into the sky.

Nice Foothill Rainforest Birding

Seeing that we had more than enough time to bird the road between San Miguel and Virgen del Socorro, we made our way to that hotspot and spent the next couple hours hearing and seeing 100 species.

birding Costa Rica Keel-billed Toucan

The cloudy weather upped the bird activity and gave us a mixed flock of Carmiol’s Tanagers, Russet Antshrike, three species of woodpeckers, Gartered Trogon, and other birds. Toucans moved through the trees, a jacamar called from below, and other species flew onto our day list. It was great easy going birding, almost all of it from one strategic spot. When the rains came, we decided to head upslope and enjoy a meal with birds at Cinchona.

Lunch at Cinchona

Watching birds accompanied by good food and drink is a gift and Cinchona is Christmas, all year long. Prong-billed Barbets and other birds visited the fruit feeders while Violet Sabrewings and many a Green-crowned Brilliant zipped by our table. Once in a while, I would get up and look over the railing, look to see there was a quail-dove or brushfinch below the feeders. No such luck on GBD but it was still all good.

Racing the Rain

With nothing but rain going on, we figured we might as well head back home, maybe see some birds around those urban parts. It poured for nearly the entire drive, only letting up when we got much closer to our place. We weren’t the only ones headed that way. A monstrous block of deep dark gray was moving in the same direction, I only hoped we could see a few more birds before it gave us a big wet slap.

A stop at one frequently productive spot produced a few swifts but most other birds were absent. They weren’t fools, they had no doubt flew and found shelter from the approaching storm. We followed suit, hightailing it out of there, driving the final ten minutes back to our place, arriving there just in time.

Last Chance Birding from the Homestead

The rains came down hard and heavy, typical for May afternoons in Costa Rica. However, they can also let up, maybe enough for some birds to come out. Hoping for a few more species, wondering what might show in steady but light rain, I watched from the back balcony. I scanned the trees in the distance, kept an eye on roadside wires and for courageous birds flying through the rain.

White-fronted Parro

I also listened for the birds that sometimes call from out back, the laughing Barred Antshrikes and Lineated Woodpeckers, the whistling Rufous-and-white Wren. They were quiet on the afternoon of May 14th but my vigil still paird off for a few other species. That pair of White-fronted Parrots I had been waiting for eventually flew into view, Yellow-throated Euphonias called, and I managed to add a couple other birds.

When the sun set, we finished our GBD with 177 species; not bad for an easy-going day of birding in Costa Rica!

The birding day on May 14th, 2022 was done and then I turned on the news. A mass shooting..at a supermarket..in Buffalo, NY. Any evil occurrence is horrible but when it happens in places you know, at a supermarket chain you grew up with, it’s hard not to feel the tragedy hit you like a hammer. I have lived far away from WNY for many years but it is the place where I learned to play baseball, the place where I made many friends, where I started birding, where I grew up, where I once worked at a Tops Supermarket, the original home. It’s where I have also spent so much time in Buffalo, NY.

Yet another mass shooting, one that included callous murders of community leaders, of beautiful people for racist reasons. I’m not just saddened and horrified, in all honesty, I am really trying not to be pretty fricking angry. Evil atrocities such as this don’t happen for nothing. They are made easier by weapons designed and perfected for murder but they have their roots in the negative word streams of the great fomenters, the people who purposely extoll lies and sick ideas to large audiences. And why manipulate negative emotions? Because it works for making money, because it can work to help you get elected. What it doesn’t work for is anything good, not even in the slightest. May such misguided people be called out and exposed for who they really are; people making the world a worse place for personal gain.

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

First Birding Trip to Costa Rica- Where to Go?

Birding in Costa Rica has been on your mind since the early 90s. A visit to Costa Rica has been in the mental works and you figured that some fine day, you would take that trip. You almost did in 2003 but then you saw that amazing deal to visit Jamaica. Streamertails and island birds that inspired Bob Marley took precedence and you have no regrets (!) but, it wasn’t Costa Rica. On that other occasion, you went a bit further with trip planning but then your faithful birding friends convinced you to go to Arizona instead. Once again, no regrets! That was a fun trip highlighted by hummingbirds, desert blooms, and roadrunners but you aren’t getting any younger and there be hundreds of beautiful birds in the tropical forests of southern Central America…

speckled tanager
Eye candy birds like Speckled Tanager.

Spurred by photos of quetzals and toucans on Facebook, hearing the rest of the birding community rave about visiting Costa Rica, or just realizing that it’s now or never, the time has definitely arrived for that inagural Costa Rica birding experience. Now you just have to figure out where to go. Should be easy enough, the country is pretty small, the best places to go should be pretty straightforward, right?

Not exactly. Costa Rica might be a small nation but it’s big on a few things that complicate trip planning. These factors are biodiversity, mountains, and birding sites. Mega biodiversity gives Costa Rica a bird list of 900 plus species. Whoah! Yeah, that’s a lot to work with, even after taking vagrants and pelagic birds into account. You gotta take mountains into consideration too because driving up and over them, winding your way through the naturally broken and uplifted land plays a big role with driving times.

You might also want to visit mountains because that’s where quetzals are, that’s where the biggest percentage of endemic species occur. Then there are the birding sites in Costa Rica. As with any birding trip, we need know about the best sites, about where to go to see more birds, or photograph more birds, or see certain species, or if the site has a certain degree of comfort we are looking for, or if we don’t mind hiking on steep forest trails, or if we would rather spend more to soak in hot springs after a morning of easy-going birding.

So where do we go?

To effectively entertain that complex answer, you need to start with some questions of your own.

How Do I want to Experience Birds in Costa Rica?

There are many ways to bird. For some, birding is sitting back and taking pictures of whatever species happen to visit feeders or fruiting trees. Other people enjoy a blend of easy, casual birding, good food, good company, and a dance lesson or two. Some birders would rather focus on birds 24/7 and eBird their way to a big old satisfying list.

Ornate Hawk Eagle
A list with nice birds like Ornate Hawk-Eagle.

This may sound controverisal, but all of the above is birding. For this reason, the best places to go on a birding trip to Costa Rica depend on how you want to experience our friends of the feathered kind. There’s a lot of options with some more suited to photography, othes better for individuals or smaller groups, and others for more adventurous birders.

How Much Time do I Have?

Once you know how you want to watch birds in Costa Rica, you can move on to the question of time. If the trip is less than a week, I would visit two sites at the very most. Staying for a week? You could visit three or four sites, or even just stay at one place. Once again, it all depends on how you want to watch birds. Have two or more weeks to work with? That opens the door to many more birding possibilities.

No matter how much time you have, keep in mind that in general, very diverse sites like the Sarapiqui area, Rancho Naturalista, or the Carara area merit at least two to three nights. You could also, easily stay at such sites for a week and still see new birds every single day (seriously!).

Zeledon's Antbird
Skulky species like the Zeledon’s Antbird might require a bit more birding time.

In the highlands, although you could stay longer and still have lots of fun, two nights will probably suffice. The same goes for dry forest habitats in Guanacaste. If you just wanted to stay in the Central Valley and do day trips, that can also work for such places as the Carara area, San Ramon area, Braulio Carrillo and nearby (as in Cope’s and Centro Manu), Poas, Irazu, and more sites.

How Much do I Want to See?

Chestnut-colored Woodpecker
You might really want to see a Chestnut-colored Woodpecker.

Perhaps the most vital question of all because you can’t see certain birds unless you visit the places where they occur. That’s right, Costa Rica might have a huge list but that’s because some birds only live in the high elevations, others in middle elevations, some in the lowlands on one side of the mountains, others on the other side, and so on.

If you want to see as much as possible, then you have to spend at least two or more days in each main bio-region. If you are fine with seeing a bunch of cool birds and don’t really mind which ones you espy, then you could stay at one or two places just about anywhere, Costa Rica.

In general, I would suggest spending at least two nights in the highlands, three nights in the Caribbean lowlands, and at least two (maybe three) nights on the Pacific slope, probably in the Carara area. Do that and you will get a pretty good taste of Costa Rica birds, not to mention, it would be a shame to NOT see a Resplendent Quetzal, even more so if the birds in Costa Rica and Panama end up being split from the birds in northern Central America (there’s a fair chance that will happen!).

But where to go? Which places to stay? I have mentioned so few places because, without first knowing how you want to bird Costa Rica, nor your budget, there are honestly too many really good sites to choose from (and they aren’t all on eBird either). A thorough birding site guide for Costa Rica will provide the right answers. In the meantime, I might also have an idea for an itinerary or two. Contact me at information@birdingcraft.com

Until then, happy birding, I hope to see you here!

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Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica

Quality Backyard Bird Conjunction in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a meeting place for continents, a natural bridge where life has mingled, mixed, and evolved for more than 3 millon years. It’s why , when birding in Costa Rica, we witness the same Acorn Woodpecker laughter and flights of Band-tailed Pigeons as birders raising binos and wine glasses in California. It is why visiting birders from Ecuador might be reminded of tanagers and spinetails from their own Andean mossy forests. This bio-bridge is also why I see some of the same migrants as my birding friends from Buffalo, NY.

Wilson's Warbler
Birds like the cutesy Wilson’s Warbler.

I see migrant birds in many parts of the country but I watch more of them in the green space out back. It’s a small riparian zone but it’s so important. During these days of climate emergency, continued destructive disconnect, and declining bird populations, all (remaining) green space is vital. Even in the small area out back, a narrow corridor dotted with bushes, undergrowth and trees, birds are present, more than you would think.

Yesterday morning, in addition to the usual loud singing of Cabanis’s and Rufous-naped Wrens, the more forest-based Rufous-and-white Wren told us it was still hanging on by way of its beautiful whistled song. A motmot hooted and various flycatchers took advantage of insect hatches brought on by recent rains. Great Kiskadees exclaimed their name while other, smaller flycatchers called from less obvious perches. Blue-gray Tanagers also sallied into the air to take advantage of the abundant food source, in doing so, becoming part time flycatchers, Mountain Bluebird imitators.

The resident birds know when to eat from the early rain season buffet, they know that’s the best time to build a nest. The migrants follow that same instinct except they do the nesting thing thousands of miles to the north. One of those migrant birds was also present yesterday, sharing urban riparian space with the locals.

The Olive-sided Flycatcher had most likely spent the winter in the Andes, in some dramatically beautiful place where the birding is fantastic. Flying ants and other bugs in “my” riparian zone would help fuel its journey further north, all the way to pine forests in the Rockies, maybe boreal woods further north where the soundtrack includes wolf howls and the ancient yodeling of loons.

The same insects that fed a beer enthousiast flycatcher were also fueling the flight of a bird that lives behind waterfalls, the White-collared Swift. Because it uses the skies above the Central Valley, this large swift is resident and yet by spending every night in montane waterfall retreats, the bird is also a visitant. How far do these big masters of flight travel over the course of a day? For all we know, they might fly to Panama and back.

While the insectivores enjoyed the insect bounty, another, more colorful and seriously endangered bird species flew into the high branches of a nearby tree.

More interested in using its raucous voice than catching bug breakfast, this Yellow-naped Parrot called while its mate fed on seeds in a nearby tree. Although current field guides show this species ranging in the dry forests of Guanacaste and Puntarenas, updates should also include the Central Valley as part of its distribution. Some of the Yellow-napeds are probably escapes but I bet most have moved into the Central Valley in response to warmer, drier conditions.

I hope there is enough food for them. I dare say it will be easier for this endangered species to find food in the Central Valley than nesting sites. As with other large parrots, they need big, old trees with cavities; a rare combination in urbanized areas where large trees still get cut down to make room for a parking lot, small plaza, or housing complex. Maybe we could put up some nesting boxes? Maybe we could have a collective mindset that cherishes big old trees?

While looking out back, I hadn’t expected to see a bird that connects the lush forests of the Andes to the spruce bogs of the north. I hadn’t expected to see it next to an endangered parrot while a flock of waterfall living species scythed through the air over a vital thread of green in an urban zone. But then again, maybe I shouldn’t have been that surprised, Costa Rica still acts as a vital meeting place for biodiversity and life persists as long as it can.

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Recent Observations from Birding at Finca Luna Nueva

The birding is always good in Costa Rica. Go birding where at least some forest or other native habitat is present and there will be more than enough to look at. Even so, some birding sites in Costa Rica host more birds and higher biodiversity than others, some sites host birds not found in other places. Some such birding hotspots are on the regular birding tour route but many other birding sites occur well off the main beaten path.

As with any region in our one and only planet, find the best habitat and you find the highest numbers of birds. The site known as Finca Luna Nueva shows that some of the best birding can also happen on a farm. However, no mere property used for cultivation will do, because, as Luna Nueva demonstrates, the farm has to be sustainable, surrounded by mature rainforest and second growth, and, most of all, organic.

That organic part of the equation is key, of this I am sure. I might not be able to see the difference in numbers of insects between a farm that kills insect and fungal competition with poison and a farm that does not but I can see the difference in birds. The difference in birding at Finca Luna Nueva is obvious. Crested Guans and toucans are up there in the trees, parrots, parakeets, and even Scarlet Macaws (!) fly overhead, and wrens, ant-tanagers, and so much more are calling from the vegetation.

Black-throated-Wren
The Black-throated Wren is one of the morefrequently heard wren species at Finca Luna Nueva.

Recently, I once again had the fortune of birding there for a bit. These were some of the more interesting observations from my morning of birding.

Black-and-white Owl

black-and-white-owl

This big and beautiful owl might be regular at Luna Nueva but that never stops it from being a birding highlight. Weather permitting, do some pre-dawn birding and you will probably hear one. With some luck, you might also see one in the evening or just before dawn, even right by the lodge buildings. We had great views of one that continued to call well after dawn.

King Vulture Hide (!)

A new feature at Luna Nueva, the hide is easy to visit and is starting to attract a few of the local King Vultures that are often seen circiling high above the property. Sooner or later, pictures of this fancy scavenger taken from the hide will show up on Luna Nueva’s Facebook page.

Scarlet Macaws

The conservation success story for this fantastic bird in Costa Rica just keeps getting better. Over the past decade, populations of this spectacular parrot have become established in various parts of the Caribbean slope. A few years ago, some started showing up around Finca Luna Nueva and they have chosen a certain part of the property for roosting. Don’t be surprised if you see macaws on the drive in to Luna Nueva (as we did) as well as around the ecolodge. On a related note, Finca Luna Nueva seems to provide important habitat for Psittacids in general. In addition to the macaws, we had views of all 7 other expected species in just one morning of birding.

Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet

A tiny Tyrannid might not be as eye-catching as a big, red, yellow and blue parrot but this species isn’t nearly as easy to see as a macaw. It was also interesting to see this particular species at Finca Luna Nueva because the very similar Brown-capped Tyrannulet also occurs in this area. In fact, upon seeing the pair of tyrannulets near the bamboo tower, I assumed they would be Brown-cappeds. Luckily, excellent definitive views showed that they had gray crowns and were therefore, Yellow-bellied Tyrannulets.

Sightings of this species have also occurred near Arenal. It seems that, similar to the Olivaceous Piculet, forest fragmentation also also helped this species to expand south from the Cano Negro area. How will competition play out with the Brown-capped Tyrannulet? Only time and more focused birding will tell.

Hummingbirds

It was of interest to note that hummingbirds were commonly heard and seen throughout the morning. It seemed like we were constantly seeing one or more hummingbirds chasing each other around. Yes, there are lots of hummingbirds in Costa Rica but in many places, they don’t seem to be as common as they used to be. Without focusing all that much on hummingbirds, we still had Long-billed Starthroat, hermits, White-necked Jacobin, Blue-throated Goldentail, and several Rufous-taileds. I bet more species were present, I can’t help but wonder if organic farming is especially beneficial for these high energy mini-birds.

Blue-throated goldentail
Quality optics helped me appreciate the colors of this goldentail.

Healthy and Delicious Cuisine

If you enjoy quality cuisine made with fresh local ingredients, you will love dining at Finca Luna Nueva. I know I do! The food and smoothies are fantastic and locally brewed craft beer is also available. Even better, dining might also be accompanied by views of a sloth, wood-rails, toucans, and other birds.

Luna Nueva is the perfect place to blend tropical birding with delicious organic dining as well as visiting Costa Rica with family who might not watch birds as much as you do. As always, I look forward to my next visit to this special place. Happy spring birding!

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bird finding in Costa Rica birding lodges Pacific slope

Puntarenas, Costa Rica- A Hotspot that Merits a Bird Observatory

From time to time, I have been asked if there are any vagrant traps in Costa Rica. In birding lingo, this translates to wondering if there are any particular sites that concentrate lost migrant birds. I usually respond that yes, as one might expect from a lone island in the vast waters of the Pacific, Cocos Island acts as a vagrant trap (Eastern Phoebe has occurred along with annual records of various other vagrants). I then mention that the Caribbean Coast can be good for occasional species that are rare for Costa Rica, and that the southern area of the Nicoya Peninsula may have some tendency to attract rare warblers.

However, since the rare vagrants for Costa Rica tend not to be birds that visiting birders would prefer to see, unless a birder wants to add Northern Parula or White-eyed Vireo to their Costa Rica country lists, they don’t prioritize visits to such places.

Even so, birding on the Caribbean coast and southern Nicoya Peninsula is always fun, migration season or not!

Other than Cocos Island, we might not have a Cape May, Scilley Isles, or Eilat, but we do have Puntarenas.

This old port settlement doesn’t bear witness to the massive numbers and types of migrant species like the aforementioned legendary sites, but it does seem to bring in enough to merit more serious bird observation than has occurred. As with other good sites for bird migration and vagrant species, Puntarenas is an area of land near or surrounded by water. Places like this can be excellent for migration because they tend to attract waterbirds that use coastal habitats, small birds that get concentrated in coastal areas because they would rather not risk flying over water, and seabirds that can be pushed toards shore by weather systems.

Puntarenas is essentially a sandspit that juts into the sea. The area just to the north hosts mangroves, the area to the south is the outer Gulf of Nicoya, and the tip of Puntarenas points directly into the junction of the inner and outer parts of the Gulf. Although it doesn’t seem to be situated on a major flyway for passerines, it does attract an interesting number and variety of seabirds (and maybe more passerines than we think).

There is enough avian action happening at Puntarenas to merit much more focused birding than the site sees and it would be a wonderful spot to establish a bird observatory. Here’s why:

A Meeting of Currents

Puntarenas marks a point where currents from the inner and outer Gulf of Nicoya meet and mingle. This mixing of waters is evident while watching from the area of the lighthouse and may be why this same site can turn up everything from storm-petrels to jaegers, various terns and gulls, Brown Noddy, and many other birds. They aren’t there all the time but enough to merit seawatching from this spot.

As with so much other birding, mornings seem to be best and the birds that occur vary by season but scoping from this spot is always worth it. Even if nothing seems to be happening, wait long enough and some interesting bird will appear or fly past. At least this has been my experience while seawatching from the tip on every single occasion. For example, while my partner Marilen and watched from the point for an hour yesterday afternoon, we had a couple Brown Boobies along with a flyby of two migrating Franklin’s Gulls. Various Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns were also moving through and lounging on the choppy water. I’m sure other birds were out there but probably weren’t visible as they floated among the whitecaps.

On other occasions, I have seen three species of storm-petrels, Galapagos Shearwater, Red-billed Tropicbird, and various other species.

Vagrant Seabirds

Perhaps because of that meeting of currents, this site can also turn up vagrant seabirds, I am sure more than get reported. For the past few years, a Western Gull found its way to Puntarenas and has apparently decided to stay for good. At least, it hasn’t migrated yet and why would it with such a regular and easy food source at the small fish processing plants in town?

Recently, while birding with a friend to look for that very gull, we ended up stumbling upon a very rare for Costa Rica Pacific Golden-Plover (!). Luckily, it stayed long enough for many other local birders to see it too.

Watching the plover in Puntarenas.

The most unusual bird know of that has appeared at the point was a Christmas Shearwater seen by Johan Kuilder Ineke van Leeuwen, and Adela Rufatti and myself in june, some years ago. This bird seemed to appear out of nowhere as it literally floated right in front of us at the point. Given the dynamic nature of this site, no doubt, other unusual seabirds occur from time to time along with more expected species including Least Tern, Sabine’s Gull, and jaegers, and so on.

Christmas shearwater

It’s worth mentioning that many of these and other pelagic species are more easily seen from the Puntarenas-Paquera ferry. Two of the most noteworthy birds seen from the ferry have been Costa Rica’s first and only Peruvian Booby, and Inca Tern.

Much Potential, Heavily Visited, yet Underbirded

Given its location and the birds that have been known to occur, this site deserves a lot more attention. No, there isn’t a whole lot of habitat other than marine and coastal birding but extensive mangroves also occur and it is close to some wooded areas. Perhaps most importantly, Puntarenas being a popular destination for locals also makes it an ideal place to promote birding and bird awareness. This factor along with it being a good place to record data on migrant species as well as the endemic and endangered Mangrove Hummingbird make Puntarenas a good candidate for hosting a bird observatory.

Since Puntarenas has also been underbirded, who knows, maybe higher numbers of regular and rare migrant songbirds also occur more than we expect? Hopefully we can set up some form of scheduled and coordinated seawatching at this important and underbirded site.

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The Best Places to See Toucans in Costa Rica are Also Great Places for Birding

There are 6 species of toucans in Costa Rica and birders visiting Costa Rica will be pleased to learn that most of them are fairly common! Colorful, big, and bold, these fancy birds are larger than life. On account of their fantastic appearance, these big-beaked birds have acted as inspiration for characters on everything from cereal boxes to marketing for a number of tropical destinations (Costa Rica included).

In Costa Rica, these surreal and wonderful birds occur in nearly every type of forested habitat. Three species live in the lowland tropical rainforests on the Caribbean slope. They include the bird with the rainbow-colored bill, the Keel-billed Toucan,

birding Costa Rica Keel-billed Toucan

the Yellow-throated Toucan (formerly known as the Chestnut-mandibled Toucan and the Black-mandibled Toucan),

and the Collared Aracari.

This Collared Aracari was at Dave and Dave’s.

Just above the lowlands, the elusive Yellow-eared Toucanet lurks in the foothill and lower middle elevation forests of the Caribbean slope.

Not nearly as common as the other toucan species, pairs of this special bird prefer to forage inside the forest and rarely come into the open. Some of the better spots for them are forests in the Arenal area, Volcan Tenorio, and the foothills of Braulio Carrillo National Park.

Higher still, we have a chance at seeing the beautiful Northern Emerald Toucanet. Smaller than other members of its family, this pint-sized green toucan is a common denizen of highland forests. Listen for its barking call and you might see one.

Birding in Costa Rica

It helps that they also visit fruit feeders!

On the Pacific slope, Collared Aracaris also occur in forests of the Nicoya Peninsula and in some parts of Guanacaste. They share some space with Keel-billed Toucans in areas of moist forest, including sites in the Central Valley.

In the Central Valley and southern Pacific slope, Collared Aracaris are replaced by the flashy Fiery-billed Aracari. This near endemic is especially common in areas with humid forest. It shares such places on the south-Pacific slope with the Yellow-throated Toucan.

birding Costa Rica

Although these toucan species occur at many sites, the places where they are most common are areas with extensive tropical forests replete with large trees used for nesting and as food sources. Since toucans are also omnivorous, their populations fare much better in high quality habitats that can provide them with plenty of fruit and small creatures. In Costa Rica, that would mean larger areas of mature tropical forest.

This is why we tend to find more toucans in Costa Rica in places like the Osa Peninsula, lowland and foothill rainforests in the Sarapiqui region, near Boca Tapada, Rincon de la Vieja, Monteverde, and forests in Limon province. More toucans usually means more of other wildlife because good numbers of these real life cartoony birds are indicative of healthy tropical forest that likewise provides habitat for hundreds of other birds, plants, and animals.

Such sites can be good places to look for manakins, cotingas, tinamous, and many other species that require healthy forest, including two species that prey on toucans; Ornate and Black-and-white Hawk-Eagles.

To find more toucans and the best places to see birds in Costa Rica, use this Costa Rica bird finding guide. I hope you have a wonderful birding trip to Costa Rica and hope to see you here!

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Some Costa Rica Birding News, March 2022

As March comes to an end, so does another high season for birding in Costa Rica. Quite a few trips happen in April and birders will still be visiting in the coming months but most folks are here from January until the end of March. With that in mind, whether headed to Costa Rica soon or at a later date, here’s a bit of birding news to help with your trip.

Turquoise Cotinga at Jaco

Topping this latest bit of Costa Rica birding news is the occurrence of a male Turquoise Cotinga near Jaco. Although this fantastic near endemic does naturally occur in that area, it is much more easily seen in the Osa Peninsula and other sites in southern Costa Rica. The bird has been frequenting a fruiting tree in the rice fields on the road to the Rainforest Aerial Tram (the Teleferico). It’s impossible to say how long it will stick around but who knows, with some birding luck, it will be joined by another male or female. If you go for it but don’t see this feathered beauty, consolation could come in the form of the good birding typically found at that site.

If you aren’t visiting the Jaco area and want to see Turquoise Cotinga (and of course you do) not to worry, there are other, more reliable sites for this mega. A couple of the best are around San Isidro del General, forest in the Osa Peninsula, and, for more adventurous birders, forest in the northern side of Carara near Macaw Lodge.

Other Cotinga News

The equally turquoise, purple, and coveted Lovely Cotinga is still being seen at or near Rancho Naturalista. Other good sites for it include the Tenorio-Bijagua area, El Copal, and other sizeable areas of middle elevation forest on the Caribbean slope. Forest at around 1,000 to 1,400 meters elevation seems to be especially good for this choice species.

Snowy and Yellow-billed Cotingas are also being seen in their usual haunts. If birding the Carara area, the best way to see the few remnant members of the local Yellow-billed Cotinga population is by watching for them from 7 to 8:30 in the morning from the tower at Cerro Lodge, along the Cerro Lodge Road, or from the Crocodile Bridge. Likewise, you may see them in those same areas between 3 and 4:30 p.m. These are the times when this endangered species moves between the Tarcoles mangroves and the rainforests of the national park.

Bare-necked Umbrellabird has been showing at Curi-Cancha, I wonder if a few additional birds might be frequenting the beautiful cloud forests of the Santa Elena Reserve?

Thanks to its frequent seriously loud voice, the Three-wattled Bellbird is much easier to locate and see than the other cotingas. This is also a good time of year to marvel over the male’s bizarre, worm-like wattles. Watch for it in the Monteverde area and sites near San Ramon (contact Ignacio at Nacho Tours!).

How to See More Hawk-Eagles

Hawk-eagles are like big, hefty goshawks with cool plumage patterns and a penchant to give distinctive whistled calls while soaring high above tghe tropical forest. That seems to make sense because if I could fly, I mean, I think I would do the same thing. Can you imagine the view?!?. Knowing about that behavior is one way to see more of them. The other big factor is knowing where they occur. In general, both Black and Ornate Hawk-Eagles live in large areas of rainforest and cloud forest. The Black also occurs in patchy forest and may even prefer this type of habitat.

As for the Black-and-white, based on the decrease in sightings of this species in Costa Rica over the past twenty years, it has certainly declined and disappeared from various areas. Since this species doesn’t seem to vocalize as much as the other hawk-eagles, and tends to hide in plain sight by soaring high overhead, it being somewhat overlooked can’t be entirely discounted. Even so, this large bird and reptile specialist does seem to have declined. Amazingly, it might even be gone from the Osa Peninsula. Given fairly recent declines in populations of medium and large birds that it requires as a food source, populations of this hawk-eagle in Costa Rica aren’t likely to bounce back any time soon.

A Black-and-white Hawk Eagle flying high into the sky.

At present, the best sites to look for it in Costa Rica are in the forests of the Amistad National Park north and west of San Vito, and Veragua and other forested sites near Limon. Other areas to check include the forests of Sarapiqui, northern Costa Rica, and around Braulio Carrillo National Park. As a bonus, there is one bird that has been frequenting the Bosque del Nino area north of Grecia (!). Keep an eye out for it when birding Poas!

Want Hummingbirds? Check Flowering Trees

Brown Violetear

Hummingbirds don’t always visit feeders. Lately, there haven’t been as many hummingbirds at Cinchona but there have been more flowering Ingas and other trees that our favorite little nectivores are probably feeding on. Yesterday, while birding near Albergue del Socorro, the chipping calls of lekking Brown Violetears were a constant, common sound and I heard a few other hummingbird species that have been absent from the feeders at Cinchona. Look for flowering trees and work on your hummingbird identification skills. Keep an eye out for the likes of coquettes, thorntails, goldentails, and other species.

To know where cotingas and other birds have been seen, eBird is a good go to source. Even so, keep in mind that in Costa Rica, there’s a lot of excellent habitat that sees few if any eBird visits. The birds are there too, go there and you will see some of them, maybe a lot of them. However, even then, it helps to know how to look for uncommon birds like cotingas and hawk-eagles. Get ready for your birding trip to Costa Rica and support this blog by purchasing How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica, a 700 plus page ebook with tips and site information to find every species in Costa Rica. I hope to see you here!

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San Luis Adventure Park- Birding In Costa Rica At Its Best

Where’s the best birding in Costa Rica? The answer can be elusive; it depends on the observer, what you want to see and how you want to experience Costa Rica birds.

Sunbittern
Birds like the Sunbittern for example.

Even so, by merit of outstanding habitat or propensity to facilitate seeing lots of cool birds (aren’t they all?), some places stand out . One such place has been making the local birding news for the past few months. It isn’t new and the birds I am about to mention have always been there but because the site is not on the regular birding circuit, it has been very much overlooked.

That place is the San Luis Adventure Park and if you can fit it into your birding trip to Costa Rica, by all means do it. San Luis was started some 15 years ago by four local guys who wanted to start a tourism business in beautiful surroundings. They picked a site with cloud forests located between the city of San Ramon and the tourism hotspot of Fortuna. To make a long story short, this ended up being the perfect choice both for their business venture and for local wildlife. Their business has been successful, and on account of being aware of the importance of protecting biodiveristy and fostering a conservation mindset, the birding in the cloud forests of San Luis is as accessible as it is fantastic.

Some reasons why you might want to include the San Luis Adventure Park on your next trip to Costa Rica:

High Quality Middle Elevation Forest

The better the forest, the better the birding. Another way of saying that is that the more mature and extensive the forest, the more diverse and healthy it is. Mature tropical forest composed of massive trees provides the array of microhabitats and food sources necessary to sustain the full complement of bird species that have evolved to live in such habitats. For the birder visiting San Luis Canopy, this translates to chances at seeing large and speciose mixed flocks, Collared Trogon, Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, Dull-mantled Antbird, and many others (including Sunbittern along the river).

Collared Trogon

Access

San Luis isn’t the only site with high quality forest but it’s one of the few places where such habitat is easily accessible. Located on the main route that links San Ramon to Fortuna, it only takes a bit more than an hour to drive there from the airport, or an hour and 30 or 40 minutes from Fortuna. This also makes it easily accessible by public bus.

Some birding is possible from the parking area but the best birding is along the trail. This is a well maintained trail with some areas of steps and several bridges that allow views into the forest canopy. It starts at a deck that often has tanagers coming in to fruit and shortly after, accesses a hummingbird viewing area. Folks with mobility issues won’t be able to do the trail but they can still see quite a few tanagers and other birds from the viewing deck and even from the parking area.

Photos of Tanagers

Speaking of tanagers, this is one of the best sites to get close looks and shots of Emerald, Bay-headed, and Speckled Tanagers.

Speckled Tanager

Tawny-capped Euphonia is also regular and when nearby trees have fruit, the viewing deck can also be good for Black-and-Yellow and Blue-and-Gold Tanagers! Both of these special species are also regular on the forest trail.

Hummingbirds

The hummingbird viewing area can host Brown Violetear, Green-crowned Brilliant, Violet Sabrewing , Crowned Woodnymph, and other species. Once in a while, Snowcap occurs and Green Hermit, Green Thorntail, White-bellied Mountain-Gem, and Coppery-headed Emerald are regular.

Coppery-headed Emerald
Coppery-headed Emerald is one of several species commonly seen at feeders.

Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo

Whoah! Yes, one of the mega of mega tough birds to see can be encountered at San Luis Canopy! Not every day but often enough to be worth mentioning. Recently, two were seen by many visiting birders as they foraged at an antswarm. Although they didn’t show for Mary and I yesterday (no antswarms were present), I’m sure they will be seen again.

The chances of seeing a ground-cuckoo at San Luis are boosted by local guides who keep an eye out for them on the trails and relay that information back to the front desk. In fact, before we entered the trail, one of the co-owners, Nelson, was very helpful in providing us with information about the latest sightings and told us that if we wanted, we could also wait at the tanager viewing area until their guides could tell us if they were seeing the cuckoos.

Bare-necked Umbrellabird

Whoah! Yes, another major mega occurs at San Luis! Although one or two might be present year round, this very special bird seems to be much more likely and quite reliable from November to January. It can occasionally show near the parking area but is far more likely on the trail. Once again, the local guides let the front desk know where they have been seeing them.

Raptors

As is typical of sites with extensive, quality forest, San Luis can also be very good for rainforest raptors. Over the years, I have seen such species as Barred Forest-Falcon, Bicolored Hawk, White Hawk, Double-toothed Kite, Barred Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, and Black and Ornate Hawk-Eagles. This can be an especially good site for the latter fancy raptor, mostly on sunny days when it calls during soaring flight.

ornate hawk eagle
What an Ornate Hawk-Eagle looks like in high soaring flight.

Given its easy access, the San Luis Adventure Park makes for an excellent day trip from the Central Valley, or as a great way to start or end a birding trip to Costa Rica, especially for birders traveling to and from Fortuna. As a bonus, this excellent site is also near other very good areas for birding including Finca Luna Nueva, the Pocosol Station, cloud forests near San Ramon, and Lands in Love. I hope you visit this special place someday, until then, happy birding from Costa Rica.

To support this blog and prepare for your birding trip to Costa Rica, get “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” – a 700 plus page ebook that acts as a site guide and birding companion for Costa Rica.

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Mixed Flock Birding Tips for Costa Rica

Mixed flock…bird wave…sudden bird bonanza. Three terms for the same wonderful situation but be forewarned; this birding experience may leave you speechless, it might leave you stunned and when birding in Costa Rica, you can expect it.

Personally, I prefer the term “mixed flock”. I don’t know why, I must have read it somewhere, it’s just what I have always called it. To be clear, this esteemed birding situation is when several species are seen flocking and foraging together. Contraringly, a mixed flock is NOT when birds come in to a pygmy-owl call and not when you see a few different heron species in the same part of the Tarcoles River. It IS when a bunch of tanagers convene on a fruiting tree and ESPECIALLY when those same tanagers are seemingly accompanied by a few woodcreepers, antwrens, flycatchers, and other birds.

A Back-faced Grosbeak at El Zota. One of several species commonly seen in mixed flocks when birding Costa Rica.

After many a quiet minute stalking though the rainforest, a mixed flock is a welcome burst of birding excitement, your chance to see one new bird after another in quick succession. If it happens during your only visit to a particular habitat or site, that mixed flock can also act as your one big break, your main chance at seeing a satisfying bunch of birds. The birding challenge is real but don’t panic! Keep calm, be quick with the binos and try these tips:

Mixed Flocks can Happen Anywhere but the Mega Flocks are in Mature Humid Forest

Some may dispute this statement but I stand by it. Yes, mature second growth can also entertain with groups of flocking birds and I have seen forest edge in the Caribbean lowlands doing the avian bounce but then again, that particular edge was the border of a large area of mature rainforest. I doubt there would have been as much variety in a smaller patch of woods.

When it comes down to it, remember that while birding tropical forest habitats, although you may find a mixed flock in second growth, you’ll find a lot more birds in large areas of mature forest. The higher degree of complexity generated by massive trees, vines tangles and profuse vegetation translates to a higher variety of specie and when they flock together, the result can make for some life goal birding madness.

The mega mixed flocks of Costa Rica can’t compare with those of the Amazon but I’ve seen a few that come close; notably in foothill rainforests birding on the Manuel Brenes Road, in the Osa Peninsula, and a couple other places. The mega mixed flock is a good thing to keep in mind while walking through quiet mature forest. Be ready for it because, at some point, the birding will pick up and things could get giddy.

Follow the Flock

A mixed flock doesn’t just move through and that’s all she wrote. They can and do move fast but at some point, the birds will slow down and work that forest, work it to the bone.

Like a classic house track, mixed flocks don’t stop moving. You gotta keep up, find the mixed flock groove, and you will eventually catch that Sharpbill, see most of the birds. Listen for the flock, try to find it and then stay with the birds as long as you can. But don’t leave the trail, potential hidden vipers and getting lost aren’t worth it.

Know the Flock Leaders Before You Go Birding

Even birds have leaders, choice birds followed for survivalist reasons. Anthropomorphisms aside, there are certain vocal species that act as nucleous species of a flock. Know what they sound like and you will find the flock. It also pays to know what they look like but since hearing birds is everything in the tropical forest, it pays to learn their calls.

In Costa Rica, the erstwhile mixed flock leader of foothill rainforest (and lowland rainforest of the Pacific slope) is the White-throated Shrike-Tanager. This stand out oriole-looking, flycatcher-like tanager is so associated with big mixed flocks, it deserves an invisible crown. Find it in mature forest and you will find birds. But be prepared, on some lucky days, there could be a mind-blowing bonanza of avian life being led by this bird wave king/queen combination.

White-throated Shrike-Tanager
The mixed flock king is in the house.

In Caribbean lowland rainforest, I’m not sure if there is similar royalty but there are noisy species that often occur with other birds. A couple of the stand outs are Black-faced Grosbeak and White-shouldered Tanager.

Up in the middle elevation cloud forest, mixed flocks are fairly common and can come in many sizes. Keep checking the Common Chlorospingus and listen and look for mixed flock standards like Lineated Foliage-gleaner and Spotted Woodcreeper.

In the high elevations, check the groups of Sooty-capped Chlorospingus and listen for the likes of Yellow-thighed Brushfinch and Buffy Tuftedcheek.

Take Notes and Look at Field Guides After Watching the Flock

If I was limited to mentioning just one tip, it would be this one. No matter how well or little you know the birds creeping up branches and flitting in the foliage, whatever you do, do not stop watching them to look in a field guide. The same goes for taking written notes. I know, the temptation is real but so are the consequences and those would be missed birds.

A mixed flock in tropical forest won’t behave like birds back home (unless your birds come in quick moving groups of a dozen or more species that can move on past in nearly every level of a dense forest with a tall canopy). When a flock appears, if you don’t stay focused and try to see as much as possible, if you take eyes off the bird action to look up one or two birds in a field guide, the other 20 will likely move right on out of view. Try to see as much as you can, keep looking, and take mential notes. After the birds have moved out of reach and the forest has gone back to being humid and seemingly unreasonably quiet, that is the time to jot down notes and check out your field guides to the birds of Costa Rica.

Mixed flock action is waiting in Costa Rica. To learn more about birding mixed flocks, the best places to experience them, where to go birding in Costa Rica and more, support this blog by getting How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica, a 700 plus page companion for birding this beautiful country. As always, I hope to see you here!