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Birding Costa Rica

A Birding Commute in Costa Rica

Most days, my commute to work is more like an anti-commute. Instead of leaving the house to go elsewhere to factor my energy into time, I actually have to come back to the house to get things done. I know that sounds like a riddle but it basically means that I do most of my work at home. I still need to leave the house in the morning to drop my daughter off at her pre-school but come straight back to the starting point to hit the computer. It’s mostly writing that I do as a trade and so my commute typically goes from the house, out to the pre-school with the grazing horse in the shaded lot on the other side of the road (we usually greet it with a “horsey! horsey” but it rarely blinks at us), and then back the same way to home, commute over, work starting.

However, I also guide once in a while and those commutes vary from being birdy rides serenaded by breaking dawn songsters to avoiding trucks and horrible drivers as I head down to the hot lowlands (usually to Cerro Lodge). Occasionally, I see a Keel-billed Toucan or perched Bat Falcon on the drive to the coast but mostly, it’s bird free until I start the last part of the drive in to Cerro Lodge. At that point, a step outside the car usually results in the sounds of Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Turquoise-browed Motmot, White-tipped and White-winged Doves, Striped-headed and Olive Sparrows, Rufous-naped Wren, Black-headed Trogon, and other dry forest denizens.

birding Costa Rica
White-winged Doves are one of the easiest birds to see in dry and moist forested areas in Costa Rica.
birding Costa Rica
Black-headed Trogon

But I digress. The typical pre-school commute has its birds too. Not many, but it has some. These are the birds of a Central Valley town and they include the likes of Blue and white Swallows, Blue-gray Tanagers, Great-tailed Grackles, Rufous-collared Sparrows, Inca Doves, White-winged Doves, TKs, Great Kiskadees, and other common birds. I suppose my best birds on this commute have been Hook-billed Kite on a few occasions and a migrant Western Wood Pewee calling from a riparian zone.

birding Costa Rica
Blue-gray Tanagers are one of the prettiest of common bird species.
birding Costa Rica
It's hard to miss seeing Great Kiskadees whether driving or walking.

If I have to go to Quebrada Gonzalez, the commute starts out with a drive that does its best to exit the urbanized Central Valley as soon as is safely possible. Few birds during the pre-dawn hours so I listen to the radio. I have listened with the window down on several occasions but either get nothing or a few Clay-colored Thrushes. No owls, no nothing of note. When I start driving up and over the mountain pass, this is when the commute becomes a lot more interesting. As long as the motor cannon air breaks of trucks aren’t blasting the much finer and quieter sounds that are made by living things, I hear quite a bit from the open window. I should because the drive passes through a wet green speciose party of life known as Braulio Carrillo National Park. It’s hard to miss the loud, happy warbling of Gray-breasted Wood Wrens, and the sputtering chips of true to their name Common Bush Tanagers. I also usually hear Slate-throated Redstarts, Mountain Thrushes, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, get an occasional Black Guan flying past, and catch the notes of various tanagers once we descend into the foothills. At the streams, I sometimes hear Buff-rumped Warblers and even Dull-mantled Antbird. Lots more possible too but the cacophony from too many trucks doesn’t make this a Sunday drive.

birding Costa Rica
Buff-rumped Warblers are common stream-side birds in Costa Rica.

My best commute for birds is the trip from my place to the Poas area. Light traffic and little urbanization turns into a windows down drive with the sounds of birds coming out of the coffee plantations, more naturally vegetated riparian zones, brushy second growth, and remnants of cloud forest once I get up there above the valley. I usually see a Blue-crowned Motmot or two perched on roadside wires at dawn, hear and see Brown Jays, and hear lots of the common bird species of the Central Valley. Rufous-capped Warblers, Plain Wrens, and Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrushes also sing from the coffee bushes.

birding Costa Rica
You might not see too many of these Carolina Wrenish birds but you might hear like a 100. They rule the coffee plantations and second growth in many areas.
birding Costa Rica
I sometimes get the striking Flame-colored Tanager from the house.

Once the air cools off with rise in elevation, Common Bush Tanagers call, I hear more Flame-colored Tanagers, and the bromeliad studded trees can yield calling Emerald Toucanet, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, Streak-breasted Treehunter, Mountain Thrush, and even Dark Pewee at one spot. I have even had Resplendent Quetzal a couple of times (a driveby quetzal is a shimmering, velvet green and red thing that can seems to flow through the air).

birding Costa Rica
The high-pitched song of the Chestnut-capped Brush Finch is a common feature of the Costa Rican highlands.
birding Costa Rica
Emerald Toucanets are around in the highlands but easy to miss.

Of course the best part of the commute is when I can stop the car and put all of my attention on birds instead of noticing birds while driving.

2 replies on “A Birding Commute in Costa Rica”

Wow, Patrick, what a great blog! I can’t believe I’m the first to comment. I know I’m not the first visitor.

I see that you’re rated high by Fat Birds. That’s quite a compliment.

Keep up the good work,

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