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Birding Costa Rica around Ciudad Neily (aka part 2 of the Buenos Aires, Costa Rica birding experience)

See the first post of this birding adventure here.

After driving off from Buenos Aires, we took the route to San Vito in case we ended up having time to check a site for Lance-tailed Manakin and other specialties of the area. The route between Buenos Aires is a nice one due to the lack of traffic although once you start heading to San Vito, the road gets pretty curvy. Before the San Vito turn-off, there are several enticing looking savannah areas but with no obvious means of accessing the grasslands, we just drove on past. However, on the road to San Vito, we did make a quick stop for Pearl Kite, one of 18 raptors recorded over the course of this trip.

Pearl Kite

This bird was nice enough to stay put and let me snap off a bunch of digiscoped shots.

Once you get to San Vito, you sort of have to guess where to go but the place is small enough to diminish the chances of getting lost. Signs for Ciudad Neily only show up after you turn right and head uphill but that’s why every visiting birding should rent a GPS navigator when using a vehicle. We made a quick stop at Finca Cantaros to see if the Masked Ducks were around but didn’t stay when the owner told us that the zorro waterfowl had left and were only present during the dry season.

The entrance to Finca Cantaros.

Continuing on, we ticked Crested Oropendola from the car as we drove by the entrance to Wilson Botanical Gardens and then took the winding road on down into the lowlands. We made one stop at a small marsh hoping to get Chiriqui (Masked) Yellowthroat but no dice there. On the way down the slopes of the coastal cordillera, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much forest was still there. Lots of great habitat, the area would make a wonderful birding lodge.

It had started to rain once we reached Ciudad Neily so we lunched at one of two nearly identical Nuevo Mundo chinese restaurants and found a hotel. That choice for lodging was the Hotel Wilson and although our room smelled kind of musty, and the hot shower only sprayed out cold water, it was an Ok, secure place to stay. Cost for the room was $40 for a triple. It was interesting to note that herons and White Ibis used a couple trees behind the hotel as a rookery!

This rookery had one ibis species and 4 species of herons.

After checking in to the hotel, we ventured off in search of wetlands along a road about 8 kilometers south and east of Ciudad Neily. This road heads south from the highway and passes through oil palms, some nice, forested riparian areas, and scrubby fields. We didn’t find any wetlands but were nevertheless, pretty happy with flocks of Brown-throated Parakeets! We got great looks at this uncommon species as they perched in nearby trees and screeched overhead. Blue-headed and Red-lored Parrots were also around but the Brown-throateds were the most common.

Brown-throated Parakeets

Further on, we were told that a bridge was out so we opted for looking in a rice field near Rio Claro where a friend of ours had seen Paint-billed Crake last year. We checked a couple of small rice fields that may have been the site but they seemed kind of dry and didn’t really turn up anything so we headed back to Ciudad Neily to check a large rice field complex just south and east of town.

A big rice field near Cuidad Neily.

This turned out to be the hotspot for the area and a site that could certainly turn up rarities like Wattled Jacana and who knows what else. Although we didn’t hear any Paint-billed Crakes that day, we did catch the vocalizations of White-throated and Gray-breasted Crakes. Red-breasted Blackbirds were also present and a vegetated ditch out in the middle of the field to the west (accessible by a gravel road with a barbed wire gate) was filled with seedeaters. We got every possible species including one Slate-colored, Plain-breasted ground Dove, and several other birds.

A bad shot of Ruddy-breasted Seedeater.
A better shot of Pale-breasted Spinetail.
Bran-colored Flycatcher
Tricolored Munia was a nice surprise!

Heading back out to the main road that goes through the middle of the rice fields, we checked roadside ditches sans success but ended up being treated to a beautiful Barn Owl that quartered over the eastern rice field in fantastic light. The prolonged looks and lighting made us feel as if we were living a wildlife documentary experience. We saw the owl drop into the field several times and were more than ready to tick a struggling Paint-billed but we didn’t see it catch anything. Nevertheless, its failed attempts didn’t stop us from dubbing the owl the “Crake Hunter”.

That evening, we ended up eating a pizza in town before crashing for the night with dreams of Paint-billed Crakes in our heads.

The following morning started with coffee before quickly heading back to the nearby rice field. We enjoyed more looks at the owl before checking the main vegetated ditch once again. This time, calls on Susan’s device did elicit a response from one Paint-billed Crake! It called a few times and we may have glimpsed it but it didn’t hang around. That morning, there was more of the same along with groups of Blue-headed Parrots and Brown-throated Parakeets. The other main good bird was Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture. We saw at least two and got excellent looks as they quartered over the ground and perched. The best views, though, were of a vulture that perched on a post and let us watch it from nearly arm’s length!

The day is a good one when you can see through the nostrils of a Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture.

It was around 8 in the morning and we were ready to call it quits on the crake so we decided to not drive back through San Vito and instead, take the quicker coastal route. That turned out to be a very fateful decision. While driving towards Rio Claro, we noticed a big rice field on the right and realized that this was probably the site where Paint-billed Crake had been seen! It was larger and wetter than the other rice fields and no sooner had I walked over to the edge of the field and looked down a wet ditch when a dark crake ran into the rice! Situating ourselves, we played the call and got an immediate response from two birds. In they came through the dense rice plants making a grunting sound. Suddenly, one appeared at the edge and gave us a quick look before ducking back into the rice! We finally had our Paint-billed Crake, a lifer for all three of us, including Robert Dean, the artist who illustrated the Costa Rica field guide (and Panama, and other things). We got even better, prolonged views of this gallinulish bird before finally deciding to try for the Slate-colored Seedeater that had been singing from oil palms on the other side of the highway. That bird refused to show but after having seen the crake, we could have cared less!

Where we saw our Paint billed Crake.

Moving on, we decided to hit the hotspot birding road at La Gamba before making the long drive back home. This was another fortuitous decision that yielded brief looks at a Fork-tailed Flycatcher (a bird that seemed to be strangely absent from the savannahs), Scrub Greenlet, Gray-lined Hawk, and other species. At the turn off to Esquinas, we caught up with  a few Slate-colored Seedeaters (all young males), and got great looks at definite Rusty-margined Flycatchers. I had seen this species many times in South America but forgot how incredibly close they resemble Social Flycatchers. Even their song sounds kind of similar although their calls are very different.

The demure Scrub Greenlet loves to put leaves in front of its face.
The Rusty-margined Flycatcher held its wing open to eliminate any doubts about its identity. The rusty margins are tough to see but there were present in the scope!

The drive back home took us through Dominical (where we lunched at a beautiful seaside restaurant, ticked American Oystercatcher, and glimpsed some interesting species of Cetacean (too small for a Humpback, too big for a dolphin)), through Perez Zeledon, and up over Cerro de la Muerte where we made a stop for Volcano Junco and briefly tried for Ochraceous Pewee. That potential lifer didn’t show but oh well, you can’t expect everything in one trip! With 4 lifers under my belt, 7 or 8 new country birds, and 610 species for the year, I don’t mind at all saving the pewee for another day.

Bird around Buenos Aires, Costa Rica and you might get into a staring contest with a spinetail.

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