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Birding Costa Rica central valley common birds Costa Rica living

New house = new yard list of Costa Rican birds

After hectic times in December and January that included bus trips to Panama for a wedding in the middle of nowhere, getting passports for Miranda, and flying to snowy Niagara Falls (with Miranda suffering from the stomach flu on the way home as a bonus), we FINALLY moved into our new house. It’s near Alajuela in sunny Santa Barbara and most importantly, is closer to green space.

With the house at the edge of town and thus closer to coffee farms and patchy forest, I expect to get a nice house list going (I can’t truly call it a yard list because I am going to count whatever I hear or see from the house). Since we have a a pretty broad vista of the surrounding countryside, I hope the neighbors won’t mind too much when they see me looking out the window with binoculars as I try to identify some distant raptor, or using a scope to check out an interesting looking silhouette perched atop a distant tree.

Of course I started keeping track of birds as soon as I stepped off of the moving truck. Although I can’t recall what the first species was, here’s the list as of today (which also represents common birds in Costa Rica that one can expect):

Cattle Egret- As in most places in Costa Rica where there is some open areas, at least a few flyby each morning and evening.

Black Vulture- I have seen very few of this common species.

Turkey Vulture- Haven’t seen too many of these either.

Black-shouldered Kite- One appears to have taken up residence in the neighborhood. I sometimes see it in flight (looks like a gull except when it hovers) or perched at the top of a nearby Porro tree (Erythina sp.) with brilliant orange flowers.

Short-tailed Hawk- A pair of this common raptor appear to use the ravine.

Crested Caracara- I was kind of surprised to see one fly over.

Gray-necked Wood Rail- Heard a pair the other morning calling from a ravine across the road.

Red-billed Pigeon- No Rock Pigeons around here! These fat looking birds call from telephone wires and tree tops.

White-winged Dove- Actually far fewer than I had expected.

Inca Dove- Not too many of these either.

Common Ground Dove- Seems to be a few of these around.

White-tipped Dove- I have been hearing them call from the nearby coffee farms.

Crimson-fronted Parakeet- Just a few flyovers each day.

Blue and White Swallow- One of the most common birds here. There always seems to be a few in view or heard giving their scratchy vocalizations overhead.

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird- I need to birdify the backyard to attract these and other hummingbirds.

Blue-crowned Motmot- I have heard one giving its double hoot from the ravine.

Hoffman’s Woodpecker- Very few around here.

Yellow-bellied Elaenia- I have heard a pair singing somewhere in the vicinity.

Great Kiskadee- A few of these personable flycatchers are around.

Boat-billed Flycatcher- A pair live in the ravine.

Social Flycatcher- I have heard a few.

Tropical Kingbird- Of course there are some of these guys around.

Brown Jay- A noisy flock moves through some nearby tall trees every morning and afternoon.

House Wren- Oh yeah, they live in Costa Rica and look and sound a lot like ones in North America.

Plain Wren- I hear these every day. Plain Wrens love coffee farms so much that they should be renamed the “Coffee Wren”.

Clay-colored Robin- Several of these around.

Tennessee Warbler- I have had a few.

Rufous-capped Warbler- Pretty common in the coffee farms.

Blue-gray Tanager- A few are around.

Flame-colored Tanager- I heard one calling yesterday from the ravine.

Montezuma Oropendola- There have been single flyovers and today I saw a veritable flock moving through the flowering Porro trees.

Great-tailed Grackle- Just a few (must be too far from the town plaza where they typically congregate).

Bronzed Cowbird- A few flybys. If you see some birds in flight that resemble winter finches, they are Bronzed Cowbirds.

Baltimore Oriole- A few are around.

Rufous-collared Sparrow- One of the most common bird species.

Birding Costa Rica feeders Introduction middle elevations south pacific slope

Birding at Talari Mountain Lodge, Costa Rica

A couple days after coming back to where summer reigns eternal, I did some guiding at the Talari Mountain Lodge in the Valle de el General area of Costa Rica. Not too far from where Alexander Skutch lived and carried out so many life history studies of Costa Rican birds, Talari is located about 10 minutes from San Isidro (Perez Zeledon) on the banks of the Rio General. Like much of the lower elevations of the valley, there is very little intact forest and the avifauna can’t compare to its former glory. HOWEVER, there are still a fair number of interesting, local species present at Talari which with the forest growing back, acts like an oasis for birds.

Talari Mountain Lodge, Costa Rica

Despite its name, Talari is not really located high up in the mountains although it is situated just off the road up to the village from which hikers depart to ascend Costa Rica’s highest mountain. The birding was alright at Talari for a variety of common species, a few rarities, and wonderful, close looks at a number of colorful species that visited their fruit feeders. Overall, I think it would be an especially good place for beginning tropical birders, or to use as a base for visiting various sites in the General Valley.

Buff-throated Saltator- a common Costa Rican bird that is a bit more reclusive than say a

Clay-colored Robin.

I was impressed with how quiet and peaceful Talari was. Nights were cool, the sound of the river was soothing, and music in the restaurant was played at a low volume. The restaurant was pretty basic, expensive (although breakfast is included in the price), and guests have to give advance notice about taking meals there, but the action at the feeders just outside the restaurant is priceless.

There aren’t too many places where you can watch Speckled Tanagers at feeders.

Cherrie’s Tanagers are also very common,

The feeders were visited by stunning Green Honeycreepers. The male is the one with the black on the head.

Unfortunately, I missed a visit by Fiery-billed Aracaris and wasn’t quick enough to capture a Streaked Saltator that was also visiting the feeders. Red-crowned Woodpeckers, Baltimore Orioles, Red-legged Honeycreepers, and Tennessee Warblers were some of the other species that also enjoyed the bananas.

Away from the feeders, birding was very nice in the morning at two large Inga species that were laden with small fruits. As soon as it became light, the crowns of these important trees quivered with Clay-colored Robins, Great Kiskadees, TKs, Social, Gray-capped, and Boat-billed Flycatchers, Palm, Blue-gray, and Golden-hooded Tanagers, and a Rose-throated Becard, while Gray-headed Chachalacas clambered around the thick branches of the sub-canopy.

We had a great view of these trees from the cabins and spent much of two mornings scanning and scoping their crowns and the tops of adjacent trees. This kept us pretty busy and happy to find our main target species on both mornings- Turquoise Cotinga. No dove-looking scaly feathered female either but two vivid (as if Cotinga species be anything but vivid) males that shone like Navajo jewelry in the morning light. This regional endemic is more adaptable and thus more easily seen than the endangered Yellow-billed Cotinga but is never guaranteed because they move around in search of fruiting trees and are nearly silent.

Here is one of the males- a great way to start my 2010 list.

and here is another hanging out with a Masked Tityra.

Other interesting or local Costa Rican birds we had were:

Pearl Kite- two birds doing aerial displays and calling. They looked more like kingbirds than raptors!

Tropical Screech Owl- a common owl but owls are always noteworthy.

Charming Hummingbird- a few a these regional endemics around.

Long-billed Starthroat- a beautiful hummingbird that perched above the restaurant.

Snowy-bellied Hummingbird- a few of this General Valley specialty were around.

Olivaceous Piculet- a few around the lodge doing the typical inconspicuous piculet thing.

Pale-breasted Spinetail- if you think you hear a Willow Flycatcher, it’s one of these guys!

Orange-collared Manakin- several tough to see individuals frequented the forest patches.

Rufous-browed Peppershrike- a widespread neotropical species that often gets overlooked in Costa Rica.

Rufous-breasted Wren- I wish I had a photo of this handsome species.

Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush- the gray-headed taxon was common in shady undergrowth.

Scrub Greenlet- another easily overlooked bird.

I think two days was enough to bird Talari itself but as I mentioned above, it would be a nice place to use as a base for birding a number of other sites, including Skutch’s Farm, “Los Cusingos”. The lodge costs $75 per night for a double (taxes and breakfast included) and is owned by a friendly, accommodating Tico couple who are making efforts to operate as green as possible.

Here is a view of the river and high mountains from the lodge property,

and this is their “green” jacuzzi that should be in operation by the time you visit.

Birding Costa Rica

Birding Costa Rica – Target Birds for 2010

While I write, I am in one of the gull capitals of North America- Niagara Falls. Ironically, for the three weeks I have been here, I haven’t done any birding. In fact, I didn’t even bring binoculars because I figured there wouldn’t be time to watch gulls or search for owls and I was right.

I am on the American side of the falls, visiting my family, and I came here with my wife, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, and daughter. The double shot of family, briefly visiting the Book Corner, and spending as much time as possible at DiCamillo’s bakery has been great but I am the sole birder so a plethora of shopping excursions (groan), visits to the falls, seeing friends, and staying warm have taken precedence over meditatively staring into the Niagara Gorge at flocks of graceful gulls. Well, I wasn’t going to get any lifers there anyways and I don’t mind because I haven’t been “home” in more than 2 years.

I noticed some birds up here in this frozen realm (a pair of Northern Cardinals made me smile and it was cool to pick out a probable first year Glaucous Gull hanging out below the American Falls), but as always, my gaze is focused on lands where bird species outnumber snowflakes.  We will be heading back to the birdy country of Costa Rica on Tuesday and I should be out in the field by Thursday to bird and guide in the moss heavy forests of the Talamancas. Since this will be another BIG YEAR (hopefully not as casual as the last), I hope to pick up a few target birds next week. If I can get as lucky as a Ruby-throated Hummingbird wintering in a patch of Verbenia, maybe I will tick one or two of the following off of my list of ten most wanted Costa Rican bird species in 2010:

1. MASKED DUCK. My neotropical nemesis gets the number one spot on my list. I have been birding in the neotropical region since my first visit to Costa Rica in 1992 and have yet to see one of these skulking, nocturnal ducks. They might look a bit like a Ruddy Duck but they sure don’t act like one! I may have briefly seen one in the Dominican Republic as we sped by a roadside pond but despite spinning around and zooming back to where we had both espied a silhouette of a semi-submerged bird, our quarry had already disappeared. I must get to CATIE to finally tick this bird!!

2. Unspotted Saw-whet Owl. No one sees this guy. Well, no one until Jay Vandergast got a glimpse of this small owl species in flight in 2009 in the Savegre area. Unlike their northern kin, this owl sans spots does not migrate and so cannot be found by painstakingly searching through conifer groves along the shores of the Great Lakes. Hopefully I will get the chance to stay at La Georgina sometime to try for this little known species.

3. Ochraceous Pewee. The third on my list because it occupies a glaring hole on my bird list. I am almost ashamed to say that I still need this uncommon but fairly often seen species. I am pretty sure I will finally get this one.

4. Pinnated Bittern. Another nemesis of mine and one that I hope will finally turn up this year although I really don’t want to have to walk through the La Tigra marshes to make it happen.

5. Harpy Eagle. Heck, why not. They exist in the Osa and have recently been seen in Tortuguero. Although I have seen this monster in Peru, I would love to have it honor my Costa Rica list!

6. Tawny-faced Quail. It occurs in Costa Rica and I need it. Why do I keep forgetting about this bird! I need to get up to some of the protected forests in the San Carlos area and stare into the undergrowth until a covey appears!

7. Ocellated Crake. This probably won’t happen because seeing one requires finding this rare species in remnant savannah somewhere near Buenos Aires. Since that would almost certainly be more time consuming than I could manage, it probably won’t happen. BUT, I don’t believe in losing hope for lifers so its on the list.

8. Red-fronted Parrotlet. I wonder if I will finally get this one in 2010? I have probably seen it twice but couldn’t get my bins on the birds fast enough for lifer views. It really is about time to tick this one and I have hopes that I will get the parrotlet in 2010.

9. Pheasant Cuckoo. Ohhh that would be nice. Another bird that is just never seen in Costa Rica and one that I have heard in Peru but have never laid eyes on. It would be great to find it to not only get a lifer but also to try and figure out what sort of habitat it uses in Costa Rica.

10. Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo. Ok, another nemesis. I am pretty sure I saw this species once at Quebrada Gonzalez but since I only glimpsed the tail of a bird that ran off into the undergrowth, I really do need a better look. Yes, they are seen more easily in Panama but I live in Costa Rica so please ground-cuckoo, attend an antswarm at Quebrada Gonzalez!

11. White-tailed Nightjar. I need it for a lifer and they shouldn’t be all that rare so I have high hopes for this nocturnal species.

12. Keel-billed Motmot. I really thought I was going to get this one in 2009. Hopefully this year!