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The Best Sites for Seeing Cotinga Species when Birding Costa Rica

Cotingas! An appropriately evocative sounding name for breathtaking birds that look like the results of someone’s wild imagination. They all seem to be odd or wacky because birders familiar with temperate zone families just don’t know what to make of them. Purple-throated Fruitcrow- hmmm, if it’s a crow then why does it have shiny purple throat? Three-wattled Bellbird- why does the male have long, black wormy things hanging off of its bill? Bare-necked Umbrellabird- what mad scientists combined a Magnificent Frigatebird with a long lost dwarf cousin of the king of rock and roll?

Before a birding trip to Costa Rica, we flip through the pages of Garrigues and Dean or Stiles and Skutch to feed our excitement and prep for our trip. As if those antbirds with blue around the eyes and delicate, fancy manakins weren’t enough to make you want to change the date of your flight for tomorrow, when the pages fall open to the cotingas, you almost question whether such fantastic looking birds can actually exist. In addition to the three mindblowers above, there are four other species that consistently grasp the attention of birders headed to Costa Rica. These are the two Carpodectes species (Snowy Cotinga and Yellow-billed Cotinga) and the two Cotinga species (Turquoise Cotinga and Lovely Cotinga).

We try to make sense out of their strange dovish shapes and brilliant white or glittering blue and purple plumages and can only come to the conclusion that we MUST see these birds! After ungluing our eyes from the page that showcases these avian treasures, this quartet of Costa Rican birds become major targets. Upon reading the text, however, our elation is given a serious blow by dreaded descriptions of status such as “uncommon” and “rare”. They don’t cease to be target birds but we now know that it’s going to take some serious effort to see them because they are pretty tough no matter how good your best birding aim might be.

Nevertheless, as with any challenging bird species, the probability of seeing them goes up if you know where and how to look for them. The following are my hints and educated guesses for ticking off all four of these major targets when birding Costa Rica.

All four species: Find fruiting trees that attract these hardcore frugivores. Since Costa Rica strangely lacks canopy towers (a major aid in seeing tree-top loving cotingas), this is the most guaranteed means of ticking off the cotinga quartet. Ficus and Lauraceae species trees in particular are goldmines for these birds but also watch for them at any fruiting trees within their ranges. If you notice a tree in fruit, scan those branches and hang out for a bit. Even if a cotinga doesn’t show up, other birds and monkeys might make an appearance.

Snowy Cotinga (Carpodectes nitidus): To make things easier, let’s start with this most frequently encountered member of our cotinga quartet. It lives in the Caribbean lowlands and despite the tragic, extensive destruction of lowland rainforests in its Costa Rican range, still hangs on and is regularly seen in a number of areas. It is often seen in riparian forest although this could also be a function of more forest being found along river corridors or that it’s easier to see into the canopy. It isn’t common but you have a fair chance of seeing it by looking for it at the sites below:

  • La Selva and Sarapiqui- Look for white or light gray (the female) birds where the canopy is visible along the Sarapiqui River, the La Selva entrance road, and around the La Selva buildings. I have also seen it at such lodges as Selva Verde and El Gavilan.
  • Tortuguero-  Snowy Cotingas are regularly seen in the forest canopy visible from the canals.
  • Hitoy Cerere- Good, quality lowland forest means nunbirds, Great Jacamar, and Snowy Cotingas! I saw small groups of this species at the HQ on several occasions during visits in 2000 and 2001.

Yellow-billed Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae): The other gleaming white cotinga in Costa Rica is much rarer than the Snowy. It isn’t overly difficult to see in appropriate habitat but therein lies the problem. The Yellow-billed Cotinga has evolved on the Pacific slope of southern Costa Rica  and western Panama to be a rather finicky species that requires lowland rainforest adjacent to mangroves. Take away one of these habitats or remove forest that connects the two and this fancy species gradually disappears. Because of limited habitat within a small range, this bird is in trouble. I bet strategic reforestation and planting native fruiting trees would help it though.

  • Rincon de Osa- Extensive, tall mangroves next to primary rainforest make this the most accessible and reliable site to see Yellow-billed Cotinga when birding Costa Rica. You still may need to locate a fruiting tree but you have a pretty good chance of getting this rarity around here.
  • Bosque del Rio Tigre- Yellow-billed Cotinga is often seen near the lodge and if not, the owners offer day tours to see this species at other sites. They should know where it is because they have done studies to assess its status.
  • The Osa Peninsula in general- Yellow-billed Cotinga can show up along rivers just about anywhere in forested parts of the Osa.
  • The Sierpe River- Watching the mangroves from the village of Sierpe or taking a boat ride through them offers a very good chance at seeing more than one as mangroves along the Sierpe River are indeed the main stronghold for this species anywhere in its small range.
  • Ventanas de Osa- Traveling south from Dominical, one comes to a small plaza with a high end liquor store and souvenir shop. Across the street is rainforest that sometimes harbors Yellow-billed Cotinga.
  • Carara National Park- I wouldn’t list this among the best sites to see this rare species but include it to give you an idea of your chances for seeing it there. It still shows up at fruiting trees along both trails in the park, sometimes makes an appearance on the mangrove boat tour, and is occasionally viewed from the bridge over the Rio Tarcoles or from Cerro Lodge BUT don’t expect to see it. The population here probably can’t cope with the lack of forest between mangroves and the national park because it seems to have seriously declined over the years and might even become extirpated from around Carara at any time.

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birding Costa Rica

This Yellow-billed Cotinga was at Rincon de Osa.

Turquoise Cotinga (Cotinga ridgwayi): This gorgeous bird of birds is uncommon but seen with regularity at several sites. Once again, fruiting trees are the way to see it and it could turn up in any forested lowland or foothill area from Carara (where it is very rare) south to Panama. A few of the more reliable sites are listed below.

  • Wilson Botanical Garden- It might turn up, it might not but you have a fair chance of laying eyes on it here and resident birders might also be around to let you know where it has been seen.
  • Los Cusingos- This small reserve and former farm of Alexander Skutch could be the best site to get this species.
  • The Osa Peninsula- The Turquoise Cotinga seems to be most common in the lowland rainforests of the Osa Peninsula. A visit to any lodge here could turn up one or more and perched birds are often scoped from the front of the Bosque del Rio Tigre.
  • Talari Mountain Lodge- Although this site isn’t extensively forested, Turqoise Cotinga is seen quite often.

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A glowing male Turquoise Cotinga from Talari Mountain Lodge.

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This one was at Rincon de Osa. One often sees both Yellow-billed and Turquoise at this site.

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A backlit Turquoise Cotinga.

Lovely Cotinga (Cotinga amabilis): The most difficult of the quartet, this is somewhat of a mystery species in Costa Rica. I suspect that it has declined with deforestation in the Caribbean Lowlands because what little information we have of this bird in Costa Rica points to it being an elevational migrant. Skutch studied a pair that nested and visited a fruiting Lauraceae tree near Varablanca several decades ago and discovered that like several other frugivorous species on the Caribbean Slope of Costa Rica, it nests at middle elevations during the start of the wet season and likely descends to the lowlands at other times of the year in search of fruit. I scan the treetops every time I visit the Varablanca area but because so much forest has been cut since Skutch’s day and since I have never heard of anyone seeing it at the Waterfall Gardens or Virgen del Socorro, I wonder if it still occurs there. It seems to be espied more often in Honduras and southern Mexico but if you are headed to Costa Rica, you might get lucky by scanning the canopy and watching fruiting trees at the sites below.

  • Silent Mountain- This excellent middle elevation site near Rancho Naturalista is probably the most reliable site for Lovely Cotinga in Costa Rica. It’ a long walk uphill and is probably seasonal but even if you don’t see a cotinga, you might get other rare birds such as Sharpbill or Rufous-rumped Antwren. This is offered as a guided trip at Rancho Naturalista.
  • Arenal- The Observatory Lodge is just about the only place where this species is sighted with regularity in Costa Rica. It might also turn up at fruiting trees along the road into Arenal, around the lake, at the hanging bridges, or at the waterfall near La Fortuna.
  • Tenorio, Miravalles, and Rincon de la Vieja- It has occurred a few times at Las Heliconias lodge during April and should occur on the Caribbean slope of these volcanoes at other sites too.
  • El Copal– During the second week of August, more than one Lovely Cotinga has shown up at fruiting Melastomes right in front of this community owned lodge and reserve!

Since all of the cotinga quartet seems to be prone to wandering, they could show up at a number of other sites as well. Keep watching those fruiting trees, scan the canopy, and if you seen one or know of other sites for these species, please comment about it below!

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Unpredictable Birding in Costa Rica at Quebrada Gonzalez

Costa Rica is in the tropics and every time I go birding I am reminded of this fact. Sure the rays of the sun are more intense than in western New York, winter just doesn’t exist (yay!), and there are a heck of a lot of bird species flitting around this place but that’s not what I am referring to. I know I am birding in the tropics because it’s just so darn unpredictable and this is especially the case for birding in complex habitats such as the foothill forests at Quebrada Gonzalez.

You can go birding in the primary forests of this site one day, come back the next and see a whole different set of bird species. It can be a bit frustrating if you only have one day to work with and want to see a Yellow-eared Toucanet, Sharpill, and Lattice-tailed Trogon but it ensures that when you go birding at Quebrada Gonzalez, you are bound to see something good. And if you go to the place two or three days in a row, you can bet that you will be in for some seriously exciting birding. For example, if you miss Emerald Tanager or only see some small green thing way up in the canopy on the first day, there is a pretty good chance that it will be inspecting the underside of mossy twigs at eye level height the following day.  Or if the rains keep the hawk-eagles from flying on Sunday, they might show with sunny weather on Monday.

The fact that you just never know what’s going to show up at Quebrada Gonzalez was emphasized once again this past weekend. To give you an idea of how different things can be from one day to the next, here are some similarities and contrasts between a full day of guiding with rain in the afternoon on Sunday and a sunny Monday morning of birding with Michael Retter, a friend of mine who just finished guiding a couple of excellent tours in Costa Rica for Tropical Birding:

Short-tailed Hawk– It didn’t show on rainy Sunday but made a brief appearance on sunny Monday.

Ornate Hawk-Eagle– It just couldn’t resist that sunny weather on Monday to soar high above the forest and give its distinctive call. A good bird for 2011!

Barred Forest-Falcon- While watching birds at a fruiting tree on the ridge part of the Las Palmas trail on Monday, a juvenile of this secretive species suddenly appeared and departed just as quickly. Although it didn’t catch anything, the small birds in the fruiting tree were pretty freaked out and gave alarm calls for the next ten minutes. An even greater bird for 2011!

Brown-hooded Parrots – I record this species in flight on every visit. On Monday, it was the usual flyovers but on Sunday, we started off the day by getting nice views of this rainforest species as they perched in the tops of some dead branches just behind the ranger station.

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This Brown-hooded Parrot was at Laguna del Lagarto but they look the same at Quebrada Gonzalez.

Trogons- Lattice-tailed Trogon was calling on both days but we only saw it on Monday. We also heard Black-throated and saw Slaty-tailed on Sunday.

Motmots- Broad-billed called and showed well on Sunday but was “replaced” on Sunday by a Rufous!

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Broad-billed Motmots sometimes let you get pretty close.

Woodpeckers- Rufous-winged called on Sunday but was hidden by the dense canopy foliage. On Monday, the same thing happened with a Cinnamon. On a side note, any use of the word “Cinnamon” on this website could refer to a becard or woodpecker but will have no connection whatsoever to rolls or pastries.

Striped (Western) Woodhaunter– Heard but not seen on both days. Laughing at us birders from the shadows of the forest?

Woodcreepers– The most common woodcreepers at this site, Spotted and Wedge-billed, were seen on both days while Northern Barred made an appearance on Sunday and Brown-billed Scythebill was heard but not seen on Monday.

Russet Antshrike– Seen on both days. If you find a mixed flock, this common species is more or less guaranteed at Quebrada.

Streak-crowned Antvireo– Briefly seen on both days but they were as quiet as an art gallery at 2 in the morning.

Dull-mantled Antbird– Not seen on either day but frequently encountered on other occasions.

Black and white Becard– A first record for me on Monday of this uncommon species at Quebrada Gonzalez! One female was hanging out with a motley crew of tanagers and Baltimore Orioles in the canopy. Super good year bird!

White-ruffed Manakin– Dapper males seen on both days.

Eye-ringed Flatbill–  Bespectacled and wide-billed, this is one of the nerdier looking flycatchers. I usually don’t see it at this site so it was interesting to get it on both days.

Nightingale Wren– Several serenaded us on Sunday but they must have taken the day off from singing on Monday.

Brown-capped Vireo– My first record for this cloud forest species at Quebrada Gonzalez on Sunday. Maybe it went back upslope on Monday because it hates sunny weather.

Tropical Parula– A few heard on both days. I don’t get this species very often at Quebrada as it seems to prefer forests at slightly higher elevations.

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Tiny Tropical Parulas get dwarfed by large tropical leaves.

Tanagers– Pretty good mixed flocks on both days although most birds were way up in the canopy. White-throated Shrike, Emerald, Black and yellow, and Speckled all showed well but the Silver-throateds seem to have moved back upslope. Blue and gold only appeared on Monday but Ashy-throated Bush, Common Bush, and Bay-headed only turned up on Sunday.

Black-faced Grosbeak– Lots of these livened up the forest on both days!

In conclusion, if you are headed to Quebrada Gonzalez, it’s kind of hard to say what you will run into. I have tried to make sense of this forest for years but have found that there are just too many variables involved to make many predictions about what you are going to see. I suppose the most accurate birding forecast I could give for the place is just that no matter what time of year you go, you are bound to see something good!

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More Updates on Birding Costa Rica: Irazu and Quebrada Gonzalez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Some updates on birding in Costa Rica

Here are a few updates on birding in Costa Rica that may be of help to birders visiting the country soon to see shimmering quetzals, a treasure trove of glittering hummingbirds, and (inadvertently) a whole mess of Chestnut-sided Warblers:

El Tapir: The massive Porterweed bushes that were herbicided at El Tapir have not grown back but the good news is that enough of those hummingbird magnets were not sprayed to still warrant a visit. There are fewer hummingbirds than before but you can still see some goodies. I had a male Snowcap there in early January and the following species during a rainy afternoon on February 5th:

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird– 1 to 2 birds. I know, big deal but I don’t discriminate against common bird species.

Violet-headed Hummingbird– 1 to 2 birds.

Violet-crowned Woodnymph– 3 birds.

Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer– 1 bird.

Green Thorntail– 1 female.

If the weather had been better and if we had stayed longer, I bet we would have gotten Snowcap and maybe even Black-crested Coquette. While birding from the shelter of the largest building at El Tapir, notable non-Trocholids seen were:

Gray-headed Kite, Mealy Parrot, and a mixed flock that held Blackburnian Warbler, various tanagers, and a pair of White-vented Euphonias (happy to get that for the year as it’s a rather tough bird to see when birding Costa Rica).

As for visiting El Tapir (along the San Jose-Limon highway a few Ks past Quebrada Gonzalez on the right) one of the guys who keeps an eye on the place told me that you can go in and watch the hummingbird garden and use the trails for $5. I don’t think the trails have been maintained but hopefully I can convince them to do so as they were excellent for foothill birding some years ago (all expected species, good raptors from the parking lot, fantastic antswarms, Sunbittern and Fasciated Tiger-Heron along the stream at the end of the trail, and Gray headed Piprites!). The only problem is that the two guys who watch the place aren’t always there to let you in. I hope to talk to them soon about this, however, to see if we can figure something out for visiting birders.

That same rainy day at La Selva (no doubt side affects of the mega snowstorm up north), we had 6 Great Green Macaws fly by the HQ, 2 or 3 American Pygmy Kingfishers looking beautiful along the Suampo Trail, Great Tinamou inside the forest, Crested Guans doing a Wild Turkey impression as they ran along the ground near the laboratory, Black-thighed Grosbeak at the car park (rare elevational migrant), dozens of Olive-throated Parakeets and oropendolas taking nectar from the bright orange flowers of a tall tree seen from the HQ, three Shiny Cowbirds (they have been present for two years and are parasitizing Band-backed Wrens, and a Black Hawk-Eagle that briefly perched near the HQ.

Also regarding La Selva, there is now a guard shack at the entrance to the famous entrance road. I was told by the guard that birders can still bird along the entrance road- let’s hope that this will always be the case. He may ask for identification, tell him that you are “Mirando aves”.

The following day, while guiding the same people, we saw a group of drunks and a much quieter and dignified Black and white Owl in the Orotina Plaza,  and had Double-striped Thick-knee along the road that passes by Cerro Lodge where it flattens out and passes through grassy fields (one or two ks past Cerro Lodge). The previous week, while guiding in that area, we had at least 4 thick-knees, more than a dozen Southern Lapwings, large numbers of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, and a flyby Pearl Kite.

On Sunday, possibly the most serendipitous bird for my 2011 list was a male Yellow-billed Cotinga that flew in front of the car as we drove back across the bridge over the Rio Tarcoles around 11:00 am. We wouldn’t have seen it had Gerald Duhon not suggested that we go back across the bridge to get a cold drink at the Crocodile Restaurant! Its snow white plumage and short tail were unmistakable as it flew less than 20 feet in front of us. What makes this an especially fortuitous event is that Yellow-billed Cotinga has become very rare around Carara. There could be 5 individuals or less that still occur in the area and sadly, I won’t be surprised if they disappear from Carara due to the lack of forested habitat connecting the mangroves to the national park.

On a brighter note, Paint-billed Crake was recently seen in cut over rice fields along the entrance road to Isla Damas near Quepos. I briefly checked this area out on Sunday and didn’t see any artistic crakes (surprise, surprise) but did have my first Wilson’s Snipe for Costa Rica, Blue-winged Teals, several Shorebirds, and a Merlin in roadside wetlands.

Good birding and leave a comment of notable bird sightings in Costa Rica!

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Carara National Park is good for ground birds

Carara National Park is one of the better sites in Costa Rica for seeing ground birds of the forest interior. These are the terrestrial bird species that opt for shade over sun, that relish quiet, careful walks through the leafy texture of the forest floor, that haunt the dark understory with ventriloquial voices. You wont get warbler neck gazing at any of these birds but good luck in just getting a glimpse! The leaf litter may be rife with tasty arthropods but its always a haven for bird hungry predators so to stay alive, ground birds of the forest interior need to keep alert at all times and feign invisibility. The only problem with this strategy is that it also works on birders. You might see one tinamou and antthrush for every 6 heard, a quail-dove if your lucky, and where the heck are the antpittas and leaftossers?

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Great Tinamou

Its always frustrating to walk through beautiful rainforest without seeing such strange and cool birds when you know that they must be somewhere in the vicinity. In most places, the birds hear you coming down the trail and fade away into the recesses of the forest because they decide that its better not to take any chances on whether or not the two legged thing with binoculars will kill and eat them. If they learn that Homo sapiens doesnt pose a threat, however, then the shy, feathered denizens of the forest floor can lower their guard enough to let you watch them at your leisure. You still have to play by their rules and thus walk and watch in a quiet, unobtrusive manner but at least you get to watch them go about their business.

In Costa Rica, there might be no better place for doing this than Carara National Park. La Selva is also a good site for seeing tinamous and antthrushes in this manner but unfortunately, along with many other understory species, they have become much less common. I was reminded of just how good Carara is for seeing ground birds during guiding there this past weekend. During two mornings of birding along the trails that leave from the park headquarters, we had good looks at most of the ground birds that occur in the park. Our main misses were Great Curassow and Marbled Wood-Quail although these species are pretty rare in that part of the forest in any case. As for the more expected species, we had:

Great Tinamou: At least six were heard but only one was seen as it quietly foraged at a small antswarm. It allowed us watch it for at least ten minutes as we hoped and waited for other birds to show (only Northern Barred Woodcreeper made an appearance).

Ruddy Quail-Dove: A female sitting right on the cement pathway of the Universal Access Trail was a bonus. As she slowly made her way into the forest, we watched her for at least ten minutes while being entertained by very tame Chestnut-backed Antbirds.

Gray-chested Dove: This is one of the easier of the ground birds that occur at Carara. Three to four birds total gave us good views.

Streak-chested Antpitta: One of the star birds of Carara, a calling bird revealed itself by hopping near the trail and puffing its breast feathers in and out. We marvelled at the similarities between its plumage and that of other understory species such as thrushes and Ovenbird.

Black-faced Antthrush: None were vocalizing but we still mananged excellent looks at three birds. Each was noticed by the leaves that were being tossed about as it foraged.

Scaly-throated Leaftosser: Speaking of leaves being tossed, this was also how we got prolonged, close looks at the juvenile of this shy species. It was nice for me to get this uncommon species out of the way so early in the year!

Some of the other ground loving species we got that usually arent so difficult to see were Chestnut-backed Antbird, Wood Thrush, Swainsons Thrush, Ovenbird, Kentucky Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, and Orange-billed Sparrow.

Another reason why Carara is so conducive to seeing ground bird species well is simply because the forest understory is rather open. Although it helps to know their vocalizations, patiently spending an entire day of peering into the understory while carefully and quietly walking along the trails should yield looks at all of the species listed above and maybe some that we didn’t get such as the curassow, wood-quail,  Gray-headed Tanager, and Bicolored Antbird.