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Forecast for Birding Costa Rica in 2012

The new year is so well underway that it has essentially ceased to be “new”. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to make some sort of birding forecast for Costa Rica in 2012. Don’t worry, there won’t be any predictions about the end of the world based on the Mayan calendar, just some ideas about birds and birding and since even those are subjective and stem from my opinion, it might not be wise to give them too much weight. So, without further ado, here’s my take on the 2012 Costa Rican birding almanac!:

Don’t count on birding the La Selva entrance road (unless you are a guest of the station): The entrance road to La Selva has been one of the most productive birding areas in the Caribbean lowlands. While there are other sites that also combine a healthy mosaic of habitats that can be birded from a road in the Caribbean lowlands, the OTS La Selva entrance road is one of the closest to San Jose. HOWEVER, a guard post has been put into place right at the start of the entrance road and you won’t be allowed to bird the road without permission. Given that one of the guards couldn’t tell me if birders would be allowed to bird there or not and that he would have to ask management about it, don’t count on being able to bird it unless you are staying at La Selva. The guards may very well let you in to bird the road but don’t be surprised if they turn you away. Such control over access to the entrance road has been in the works for some time and you can’t blame them in their attempt to provide more security for the station. Don’t fret about not birding the entrance road though- there are several other options in the Sarapiqui area that can turn up the same suite of species. These include the grounds of various hotels, private reserves, and even some public roads.

This public road near Chilamate has excellent lowland forest birding.

Exciting birding around the northern volcanoes: This has always been the case but I just bring it up because this underbirded area deserves more attention. By northern volcanoes, I mean Rincon de la Vieja, Tenorio, Miravalles, and Cacao. There are many sites up there in the north that offer up fantastic birding and the junction of dry and wet forests makes them biodoversity hotspots. In fact, I am convinced that the Bijagua area is one of the most biodiverse birding sites in Costa Rica and other sites around the northern volcanoes are probably similar. For example, all 6 motmot species, at least 10 owl species, all 5 tinamous, and much, much more have been recorded within a 15 minute drive of Bijagua. With that in mind, maybe I should ask my wife if we can live there? Anyways, go birding up in that area and you won’t regret it!

I think this is Volcan Tenorio beckoning from a distance.

Carara gets a bit drier: I just mention this because that seems to be the case with the lowland areas of the park. Bird species that didn’t occur in the park ten years ago such as Montezuma Oropendola and Keel-billed Toucan are now regularly seen along the River Trail and wet forest species such as Baird’s Trogon, Red-capped Manakin, and Golden-naped Woodpecker don’t seem to be as common as they were during the 90s. All of the wet forest species still occur in Carara but some do seem to be a bit more rare and might be more frequent on the road to Bijagua.

Rufous-crested Coquette and Western White-tailed Trogon are found in the southeast: Ok, so this is a prediction and is dependent upon more birders visiting the area south of Limon but I stand by my claim. If more knowledgeable birders head down that way throughout the year, both of these species should get recorded. Both have been found just 20 or 30 miles away in Panama, the coquette can easily escape detection because it looks and acts like an insect, and I have already heard two believable reports of the trogon (someone saw a “Black-headed Trogon” and the other accurately described the Western White-tailed).

Harpy Eagle will be seen at Tortuguero and around Laguna del Lagarto: Wishful thinking on my part but certainly possible. Harpy was seen at Tortuguero in 2010 and could definitely turn up in the forests around Laguna del Lagarto and Maquenque.

Underbirded lowland forest near Laguna del Lagarto.

Long-tailed Silky Flycatchers continue to be difficult to see during the dry season: Last year was the year without Long-tailed Silkies. At least it seemed that way for many birders visiting the country during February and looking for them at high elevations. They were actually still around but searching for food at lower elevations. It’s looking like this year may be similar since recent visits to Cerro de la Muerte failed to turn up Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers at high elevations although I did hear them around 1,800 meters while driving up the mountain.

A young Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher from Irazu.

Rare hummingbirds show up at Cerro Lodge: The massive Porterweed bushes were teeming with hummingbirds in late December and seem to be destined to turn up a Blue-tailed Hummingbird, White-crested Coquette, or even White-bellied Hummingbird.

One of the massive Porterweed bushes at Cerro Lodge.

Bosque del Rio Tigre continues to be one of the best birding lodges in Costa Rica: In fact, you could easily make a good argument for this place being THE BEST birding lodge in the country although Rancho Naturalista comes in at a close second. It’s hard to beat excellent, comfortable lodging, fantastic food, wonderful service, top-notch guiding, and birds like Turquoise and Yellow-billed Cotingas, many raptors, Marbled Wood-Quail, and feeders with Black-cheeked Ant-Tanagers, Fiery-billed Aracaris, and Spot-crowned Euphonias.

It’s hard to beat Black-cheeked Ant-Tanagers as a feeder bird…

Lovely Cotinga turns up on the San Rafael-Virgen del Socorro Road: I would need luck but the road goes through perfect habitat at the right elevation so careful searches during the breeding season could connect with this rarity!

I finally see a damn Masked Duck: That is my own personal forecast and I am going to make it happen because seeing the “Zorro” of waterfowl is loooooong overdue!

Hope to show you birds in Costa Rica in 2012!

5 replies on “Forecast for Birding Costa Rica in 2012”

I moved to Atenas 5 months ago and I’m just know learning about the birds here… Any suggestions about being sucessful in this area…. Thank you Stephen

@Stephen- If you can, start birding in your backyard. Put out a hummingbird feeder and a fruit feeder and all sorts of stuff will show up. The Atenas areas has a fair bit of habitat. From there, you can also head down to the Pacific coast in an hour or less and watch birds around Carara.

You mentioned alternative sites to the La Selva road,can you be more specific? Where are good quiet roads in the area? Will be spending two weeks in CR next month. Thank you Neil.

@Neil: Yes, just north of Selva Verde, there is a road that leaves the highway heading towards the east. This road gets a bit of traffic but not much and passes through some nice riparian areas and good forest. It crosses the Sarapiqui river on an old bridge and does a loop around the back part of Selva Verde, eventually reaching the Tirimbina area. Only problem is that it requires 4 wheel drive in some parts. Another possibility is birding along a road that skirts the northern edge of La Selva (just stay on road instead of entering the station-it’s not long but is productive). There are also other places to explore but keep in mind that most of the side roads require 4 wheel drive in some parts and some roads are simply not passable by vehicles. For example, NEVER drive up past Ara Ambigua. The road to the lodge is fine but is a muddy trap for vehicles past the cell towers.

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