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Highlights from birding and guiding Costa Rica in 2010

The biggest news in 2010 for birding in Costa Rica was arguably the sightings of Harpy Eagle carrying nesting material in Tortuguero National Park. If those monstrous raptors did succeed in building one of their many-stick homes, either the nest was never found or the information was kept more secret than U.S. government embassy cables. I guided a trip there in April with the remote hope of ticking this mega bird for my Costa Rica list but left the Tortuguero area empty-handed on the Harpy front. This is the usual outcome when birding any lowland rainforests that hold Harpy Eagles because since their territories are so large, away from a nest, you just have to be extremely lucky to see one. We did, however, see another rarity albeit one that is laughably inconsequential compared to Harpy Eagle. Even though Sungrebe, Great Green Macaw, Green Ibis, Great Potoo, and other heavy hitters were seen on that trip, in terms of rarity, they were trumped by nothing less than a second year Herring Gull. I know, that sounds about as ridiculous as a Wallcreeper climbing up the Empire State Building but what can I say, a vagrant is a vagrant even if the bird is common as dirt where it is expected.

Other good birds for 2010 (and seen or heard by me) were:

The five pelagic lifers I got off the coast from Jaco along with a bunch of other open ocean birds that were new for my Costa Rican list such as Sabine’s Gull, Red-necked Phalarope, and Pomarine Jaeger.

Lesser Scaup– A bird found by Paul Murgatroyd who thankfully convinced us to make efforts to see it. I know, some highlight but as with the Herring Gull, this isn’t Kansas that we are talking about.

Fasciated Tiger-Heron– They aren’t rare and if you spend enough time watching stony rivers around Sarapiqui, you usually see one but because I didn’t do that, it was a bonus to get fantastic, prolonged, close looks at one of these sneaky river herons just outside of Arenal Observatory Lodge on December 22nd.

King Vulture– I saw quite a few at several sites but it’s always special to see a white-plumaged vulture so it makes it onto the highlight list.

Hook-billed Kite and Black-collared Hawk- Both are pretty uncommon in Costa Rica so it was nice to get them on the way into Tortuguero (where they are also pretty darn rare).

Tiny Hawk– One at Bosque del Rio Tigre perched and flew right in front of us during the Christmas Count! I also had one along the road to Nepenthes near Arenal Observatory Lodge and another that was hanging out near the entrance to Quebrada Gonzalez was seen by many other birders during February and April.

Bicolored Hawk– Seen the same day as the tiger-heron, this was a major highlight as I have encountered this species on just three occasions ever!

Harris’ Hawk– Another uncommon raptor in Costa Rica, one that showed up on the Carara CBC was a pleasant surprise.

Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge, Black-breasted Wood-Quail, and Marbled Wood-Quail– Wild and cool chicken-like birds are always tough to see! The wood-partridge was seen on the slopes of Poas above Grecia in second growth and heard up on Irazu and near Orosi, the Black-breasted Wood-Quail heard near Varablanca and seen in the Santa Elena Reserve, and the Marbled Wood-Quail was perfectly seen at Bosque del Rio Tigre.

Southern Lapwing– Birds near Esquinas Lodge were new for my Costa Rican list.

Great Green Macaw at Tortuguero and Sarapiqui– Expected but always a highlight!

White-tipped Sicklebill- Two roosting birds seen after marching up a stream near Bosque del Rio Tigre. I hope to refind this at Quebrada Gonzalez. They used to be regular there at a Heliconia patch just after entering the Las Palmas trail but I haven’t seen them there since those flowers were replaced with a small structure used for educational purposes (yes, thanks for destroying bird habitat to educate people about the rainforest).

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Tody Motmot– Wonderful close views of this toy-like creature at Las Heliconias Lodge near Bijagua.

Ocellated Antbird– A few with an antswarm at Las Heliconias make onto the highlights for 2010 because these fancy antbirds always look incredible.

Bare-crowned Antbird– One heard along the road to Arenal Observatory Lodge was a pleasant surprise and my last new bird for 2010.

Rufous-browed Tyrannulet– I had several of this warbler-like flycatcher at El Copal, Tapanti, and forests near San Ramon (where they are especially common).

Tawny-chested Flycatcher- Little known, hard to find, and near-threatened, it was exciting to hear and see several at El Copal.

Gray-headed Piprites– Although I didn’t see it, I was pretty happy to hear one of these rare and little known birds singing at El Copal.

Turquoise, Yellow-billed, and Snowy Cotingas (but no Lovely)– Cotingas are some of the stars of the bird world so they always rank high on the highlight list. I had Turquoise at Carara (very rare there), Talari Lodge, Bosque del Rio Tigre and Rincon de Osa,

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Turquoise Cotinga, a fantastic bird restricted to the south Pacific slope of Costa Rica and westernmost Panama.

Yellow-billed Cotinga on several occasions at Cerro Lodge ( male is sometimes seen displaying waaaaay off in the distance), along the river trail in Carara (one female on two occasions), at Rincon de Osa, and Ventanas de Osa,

birding Costa Rica

Yellow-billed Cotingas are highly endangered because they need the rare combination of mangroves growing adjacent to lowland rainforest.

and Snowy Cotinga in a patch of lowland forest near La Pavona on the way to Tortuguero, and at El Gavilan. The Lovely remained elusive.

Blue-crowned Manakin– A male displaying on a log in the forest at Carara on a recent guiding trip there was a site to behold!

White-eyed Vireo– At least two of this vagrant during Spring migration in Tortuguero.

Blue and Gold Tanager– Another given but a beautiful bird happily seen on several occasions at Quebrada Gonzalez and near San Ramon.

Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager– It’s an endemic with a salmon colored throat. How could that not be a highlight!

birding Costa Rica

Slate-colored Seedeater– I was surprised to get a few in rice fields near Tortuguero and then on the other side of the mountains in similar habitat near Esquinas Lodge.

Prevost’s Ground-Sparrow– You just don’t see these so often so it was nice to get perfect looks at them on more than one occasion near my house.

No shorebirds are highlights because I hardy saw any. If I had spent more time looking for migrant waders then I probably would have reached 600 species for the year. I came close though and won’t complain with 588 species for 2010. Heck, I wouldn’t even complain if I only saw 300 as long as I was able to bird at least once a week. I doubt I will be able to make the concerted effort required to hit 600 in 2011 but might have a chance if I can pull that time tested trick of doing family vacations in strategic sites. “Yes dear, we need to take Miranda to the Panamanian border near the Caribbean as well as the Pacific- don’t you want her to see a Lance-tailed Mana..ahh I mean experience cultural diversity from a young age?

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