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Exciting Results from Veragua Christmas Count 2012

Christmas counts are happening in Costa Rica but scheduling conflicts and a trip to Niagara Falls are keeping me out of the count loop this year. I might make it to the Aerial Tram count but am sadly missing everything else. One count I would have loved to have participated in is the ever exciting Veragua Christmas Count. I did it the previous year and despite missing Sulphur-rumped Tanager by a birding inch, it was still a fantastic experience replete with Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Gray-headed Kite, White-fronted Nunbird, and lots of other sweet rainforest birds.

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Gray-headed Kite from last year’s count.

Although I missed out on the Veragua birding fun this year, I was happy to learn that tons of great birds were seen by the 67 participate. Count organizer Daniel Torres was nice enough to send me the count results and here are some highlights and interesting observations:

  • 417 species: This was the grand total and hints at the fantastic diversity in southeastern Costa Rica. Of those 417 species, 18 were new for the count!
  • Rarities: Some of the rarest species found were Paint-billed Crake, Solitary Eagle, Black-banded and Strong-billed Woodcreepers, Speckled Mourner, and Lovely Cotinga. The crake is probably more common than is realized but it’s still a great bird to see in Costa Rica. The eagle is very rare in the country, on the Costa Rican endangered list, and very few are positively identified. The woodcreepers mentioned are pretty rare in the country and also very infrequently seen, same goes for Lovely Cotinga. The Speckled Mourner is also one of the rarer of Costa Rica’s avifauna. Despite that extensive range shown in the field guide, it is almost never seen anywhere and even guides who spend most of their time in the field have either never seen it or have seen just one Speckled Mourner ever in Costa Rica (I fall into that latter category-just one bird in a mixed flock at El Tapir more than 10 years ago).
  • Good numbers of Caribbean slope forest-based species: The numbers of forest-based species found that have become rare at any other sites show that Veragua and surroundings harbor some great forested habitats. Such species that made it onto the list were 7 Black-eared Wood-Quail, 5 Semiplumbeous Hawks, 6 Slaty-backed Forest-Falcons, 7 Olive-backed Quail-Doves,  7 Central American Pygmy-Owls, 4 White-tipped Sicklebills, 7 Lattice-tailed Trogons, 19 White-fronted Nunbirds, 12 Spot-crowned Antvireos, 37 Ocellated Antbirds, 89 Purple-throated Fruitcrows, 30 Sulphur-rumped Tanagers, and 56 White-vented Euphonias!

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This pygmy-owl was from last year’s count.

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Nice to bird in a place where massively orange-billed nunbirds are still fairly common.

  • Low numbers of certain species: I was surprised to see that just 8 Stripe-breasted Wrens were found since that species is typically very common in forested habitats of the Caribbean slope. The low count could stem from a lower occurrence of song at this time of the year. More alarming was that just one Golden-winged Warbler and one Bare-necked Umbrellabird made it onto the count list. While Golden-wings have become less common in Costa Rica, I would have still expected more than one bird during the count. As for the umbrellabird, they should be frequenting the low elevations covered in the count circle at this time of the year and the fact that just one was found despite so much coverage in good habitat hints at how rare this species is. It seems that large areas of high quality forest from the lowlands up to about 1,400 meters are required to host a healthy population of Bare-necked Umbrellabirds. To prevent this species from declining further and becoming endangered with extinction (it’s already listed as vulnerable), we probably need to expand corridors and maybe reforest more lowland sites with key fruiting trees in various parts of Costa Rica.

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A Bare-necked Umbrellabird from Tirimbina Reserve, another good site for this spectacular, wacky cotinga.

For the best in lowland Caribbean slope birding in Costa Rica, bird Veragua and other sites in the southeastern part of the country. There is a good amount of forest and who knows what you might see at those underbirded sites. To bird at Veragua, you may need to take a tour. If interested in visiting for birding, contact them and ask for Daniel Torres.

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