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biodiversity Birding Costa Rica birding lodges caribbean slope Introduction lowlands

Little Known, Promising Sites for Birding in Costa Rica : The El Zota Research Station

Costa Rica is a small country and has been a popular birding destination since sometime in the 80s but it still holds a surprising number of little known, little birded sites. Given that we are talking about a place with political boundaries roughly equivalent to those of West Virginia, how can this be? Why don’t we know about the birding possibilities in every nook and cranny of this Central American nation? The answer to that can be summed up with three main reasons. In no particular order, they are:

  1. Access: Although the road situation has greatly improved in the last five years, before that time, a lot of the better hinterland birding sites were perhaps best accessed by mule or a Land Rover. Nowadays, it’s not much different for some areas and the uplifted, naturally broken young lands in this part of the world also present challenges to getting around and into various birding sites. I suppose I should also mention that most of the national parks have few trails and since they are treated more as wildlife preserves, most areas in national parks are actually off limits.
  2. Number of birders: There are birders who live in Costa Rica but we don’t have nearly as many birding people with time and resources to scout various parts of the country throughout the year. Oh, how I wish we did because then I would have more opportunities to twitch crazy vagrants and the like. That way, someone could find that Rufous-crested Coquette, a Swallow Tanager, and a Brown-chested Martin not too far from my home and I could just go on over and see them. On second thought, since I have so little free time to chase birds, I would probably be in a near constant state of frustration so never mind, don’t find those rarities without me!
  3. Tour routes: Logistics determine where tours go perhaps more so than the birds themselves and few tours leave the main birding circuits. That leaves little room for additional knowledge of other birding sites and likely explains why so many visiting birders choose the Hotel Bougainvillea as their place to stay near San Jose, and the Sarapiqui area for all of their Caribbean lowland birding rather than venturing further afield to such excellent lowland areas as Laguna del Lagarto and Maquenque, or the Puerto Viejo de Talamanca/Manazanillo area (although Sarapiqui is much closer, sorry but the birding at La Selva is truly not what it used to be).

I suppose another factor is habitat destruction in so many areas that are accessible. Don’t be fooled by the marketing put out by the tourism institute, a lot of forest in Costa Rica has been cut down and we really need to reforest in many areas to maintain the country’s biodiversity, especially in places that should host incredible lowland rainforest instead of hot cattle pastures and pineapples fields where anis and TKs play but not much else.

Looking for birds in deforested areas on the way to El Zota.

Despite that unfortunate bit of info, there is hope for both better knowledge of additional birding sites in Costa Rica and people who want to restore ecosystems and live in a sustainable fashion. Actually, everyone except maybe sociopaths would prefer to live sustainably if they could see how unsustainable land diminishes quality of life, especially for their descendents and other future people. But, in the meantime, we do have those who not only care but work hard to make a difference. El Zota Research Station is one of those very special places and I can’t recommend going there enough.

A small wetland at El Zota.

Situated just outside of Barro Colorado Wildlife Refuge (which means that it’s kind of more protected than other places even though people live there),  El Zota used to be a cattle farm. In the 1980s, this was pretty much common practice in lowland rainforest areas of Costa Rica. People didn’t know what else to do with the land so the forest was cut down, some of the wood was used, and the rest was turned into cattle pasture with some cultivations. The owner of El Zota started out like that but somewhere along the way, he decided that he would rather preserve most of his property than leave it to the cows. That decision has resulted in many hectares of former pasture being converted back into forest. In fact, I could hardly believe that one area I visited used to be pasture.

This forest used to be pasture.
We had these Honduran White Bats in that reforested area.

He also established trails through the habitats on his farm, has let many areas regenerate, and has a nice tract of primary rainforest. Oh, and he also keeps people from hunting on his property and tries to work with neighbors to hopefully convince them to regenerate forests and conserve biodiversity. The place is mostly used by student groups but birders are more than welcome and if you go there, get ready for some exciting birding, herping, and possible encounters with some choice wildlife. I base that statement on a short weekend trip to the place that I did withe the local birding club. As with any biodiverse place, one leaves feeling that he or she had barely scratched the surface. I feel that way when birding Laguna del LagartoLands in Love, or other excellent sites and El Zota was no exception. As my friend Robert Dean put it, “the place has lots of potential”. I couldn’t agree more, especially since Tapirs are fairly common there (we didn’t see one but saw lots of tracks), all cats are present including Jaguar (we found scat), and the station features habitats as varied as a big lagoon to primary rainforest and various stages of second growth. It’s the type of place that might even turn up a Harpy Eagle or other very rare lowland bird species and it’s that sort of exciting possibility that urges me to return.

Some of the Birding Club of Costa Rica birding at El Zota

So, after all of that talk, here is some truly useful information and other impressions:

Birds and wildlife

  • Lots of monkeys: We were seeing monkeys more often than most other places in Costa Rica, especially Spider Monkeys. It’s a sign of good habitat, little or no hunting, and tells you that many birds are also possible.
  • Red-throated Caracara: Ok, I couldn’t keep this one in. Although I missed this very rare bird species, other people on the trip heard at least two not too far from the lodge. Despite doing a lot of looking and listening in the same spot at other times, we did not get them again but the fact that they were recorded is still pretty big news for birding in Costa Rica.
  • Very birdy second growth: We had quite a few birds while walking along the road through the farm on our first afternoon and on our last morning. These were expected Caribbean lowland species like Black-faced Grosbeaks,
    A Back-faced Grosbeak at El Zota.

    Chestnut-colored, Cinnamon, Pale-billed, Rufous-winged, and Black-cheeked Woodpeckers,

    A Cinnamon Woodpecker.
    A Pale-billed Woodpecker.

    various flycatchers, Blue Dacnis, Plain-colored Tanager,

    We saw several Plain-colored Tanagers.

    Pied Puffbird, trogons, Collared Aracari, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, both motmots, heard Slaty-breasted Tinamou, and so on. It seemed like lots of other stuff could show up.

    There were a few Pied Puffbirds around.
  • Black and white Owl at the lodge and other night birds: We almost had to not look at a pair that called both nights right at the lodge cabins. Israel, the resident guide (he knows a fair number of birds but is more into herps) said he was surprised that we didn’t get the Great Potoo because it’s often present right at the lodge.
  • Quiet primary forest: The primary forest was maybe 6 kilometers from the lodge so we were brought there by truck in the early morning.
    Getting on the truck.
    Inside the forest.

    There were amazingly few birds overall but I still think the forest has serious potential because a couple of hours in primary rainforest never gives a fair idea of the birds that actually occur. We still managed to hear Great Green Macaw, White-necked Puffbird, and Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant, and see both motmots, trogons, Black-crowned Antshrike (the new name for Western Slaty Antshrike),

    Black-crowned Antshrike

    Tawny-crested and White-shouldered Tanagers, Red-capped Manakin, both motmots, and others. This was also where we had the Jaguar scat.

  • A nice big lagoon: More like a lake, they usually have a canoe so you can check it out and find things like Sungrebe and small kingfishers. Although we didn’t see those, they surely occur. We did have one or two Green Ibis for consolation.

    Nice big lagoon.
  • Raptor migration: We saw some raptors migrating through the area.
  • Frogs: Although we didn’t go look for them, I was hearing frogs all of the time so I bet it’s a good area for them!

    Not a frog but a small Fer-de-Lance. See if you can find it!
  • Enticing bird list: The bird list has such very good species as all three hawk eagles, Speckled Mourner, and Gray-headed Piprites.

    This shy Semiplumbeous Hawk is one of many resident raptors on the list.
  • Not sure about antbirds: On a low note, several antbird species are not on the bird list and we didn’t get them either. That’s not to say that they aren’t there but El Zota might not be good for Ocellated Antbird and other forest based antbird species.

Some lodge info

  • Good food: We enjoyed nice, country Tico fare and were treated to a delicious barbecue on our last night.
  • Basic but good rooms: Rooms are basic but this a research station and the place is meant to be enjoyed outdoors.

    One of the lodge cabins.
  • Low cost: The rooms might be basic but the beds are comfortable and guess how much you pay to stay there? How does $40 per person per night sound for lodging with 3 meals and access to excellent birding? Sounds like a bargain to me!
  • Four to five hours from the San Jose area: It takes around four or five hours to get there without doing any birding on the way. Four wheel drive is needed for the final 6 kilometers of road but the station can help with transportation.
  • Proximity to Barro del Colorado: Before heading home on Sunday, we checked out some of the road into Barro del Colorado. The road was good and the habitat looked even better with nice primary forest and some interesting wetlands. I sure would love to bird there early in the morning! El Zota can also arrange boat tours in the refuge. Since it’s basically a pristine wilderness area that is almost certainly visited by both large eagles, yeah, I want to do that some day.

    Good habitat on the road through Barro del Colorado.

I wonder when I will get back to El Zota. Hopefully soon but if any readers of this post happen to go, please leave a comment with a link to a trip report and or/summary of highlights so the world can know what you saw!

biodiversity Birding Costa Rica Introduction

What’s Hiding in those Highland Thickets?

Historically, Costa Rica was almost entirely covered in forest. If you thought the country was birdy now, try and imagine it being ten times as birdy just a hundred or two hundred years ago. The same can easily be said of North America and Europe (although we may need to go back further in time). Back in those old growth days, second growth must have been rather scarce compared to the abundance of edge habitats that paint so much of the modern Costa Rican landscape. The Central Valley in particular has been severely modified. The plantalicious organic soils and moderate temperatures made (and still make) this part of the country an appealing place to live and like other intermontane valleys in Latin America, its popularity has sort of been its natural downfall.

I of course mean that the original wetlands, associated shrublands, and moist forest ecosystems were mostly eradicated to make room for housing and agriculture. Remnants and replacements exist although nowadays, even coffee farms are all too often converted to tree-less subdivisions. While the biodiversity that occurs in a coffee farm can’t compare to the wild and crazy number of insects, animals, and plants that make up a tropical moist forest ecosystem, quite a few things still reside in the coffee/hedgerow/forested riparian zone/brushy field landscapes of the Central Valley. There would be a lot more if the coffee farms were shaded but sadly, the majority are still sun grown (hopefully that will change as studies continue to demonstrate the benefits of shade coffee).

A Western Wood Pewee seen in shade coffee in Santa Barbara de Heredia.
Looking into the canopy of a riparian zone.

Even though Rufous-capped Warblers and a few other birds might be calling from a hot and sunny bunch of coffee, those same species and much more will be haunting shade coffee, riparian zones, and second growth so it’s best to put the focus on more natural (and thus more complex) areas. Those second growth thickets in particular can be surprisingly birdy and are worth a stop or two. Since they are under-birded, I bet more than a few rarities are hiding out in those areas of dense highland growth. Oh, these wouldn’t be rarities along the lines of spectacular tropical bird species or big old magnificent raptors so if you hoping for those, stick to Corcovado, Hitoy Cerere, or the forests up around Laguna del Lagarto. The birds that might show up in the thickets are duller, browner birds that naturally avoid the spotlight. White-throated Flycatcher, Lesser Elaenia, MacGillivray’s Warbler, and dare I say Pheasant Cuckoo come to mind. No, I have not seen that crazy shy cuckoo but a friend of mine has and he had his lucky day in a generic brushy field near Alajuela. As for the first three, I have seen all of them on more than one occasion in a highland thicket, two of which I even happened to see today during a very short bit of birding near the Bosque del Nino above Grecia.

The plumage of the Lesser Elaenia doesn't exactly shout for attention but is a good bird to see in Costa Rica (and is very likely not the same species as Lesser Elaenias south of the Amazon).

The original plan involved spending more time than just an hour up that way but slow going traffic and winding roads chomped at least an hour off of the planned for birding time. Although that translated to fewer birds, it also taught me that a trip to the Bosque del Nino and surroundings is better done as a full day trip and not as some quick jaunt because most of that jaunt will be spent on the road. Anyways, the reason I went up there was not actually to check out the thickets along the way, but to spish up a storm in the groves of evergreens. You see, I have this recurring wish of finding uncommon migrants and maybe even something new for the country in non-native groves of Guatemalan Cypress and Caribbean Pine. I figure that if a Hammond’s Flycatcher, Hermit Warbler, or some other great avian find decides to go on a crazy vacation to Costa Rica, they are probably going to end up in some stand of evergreens. That wish hasn’t panned out yet but I still don’t feel as if I have tested it enough. Today, I tested it out a bit with few results (and no rarities) but actually ended up seeing most of my birds in the thick second growth along the road to the reserve.

There were a bunch of common species such as Rufous-collared Sparrow, a few Blue-gray Tanagers, Yellow-faced Grassquits, TKs, Wilson’s Warblers, and the requisite Plain Wrens along with less common species like Lesser Elaenia and three or four MacGillivray’s Warblers.

One of very many Wilson's Warblers in Costa Rica.
MacGillivray's Warbler doing the usual hiding thing.
MacGillivray's Warbler doing the skulker two step.
The bird finally shows its eye crescent-decorated head.

Orange-billed Nightingale Thrushes and White-naped Brush Finches also called but failed to show themselves. Since I only checked a couple of roadside thickets, I can’t help but wonder what else is out there along other roads, way off in fields that can’t be accessed, and the many parts of the Central Valley that never see a birder. That sizeable measure of the unknown leaves plenty of room for possibilities and makes birding in Costa Rica that much more exciting even when I bird not so glamorous habitats like second growth and brushy fields. I hope to head back up that way and find that Hammond’s Fly but next time, I’m leaving earlier in the day and staying longer!

biodiversity Birding Costa Rica Introduction preparing for your trip

How to Avoid Traffic when Birding in Costa Rica

Costa Rica= 100% Natural! Costa Rica, land of endless forests! Costa Rica, a natural paradise! Anyone who has planned a trip to Costa Rica has probably seen these and other slogans designed to market the country to visitors from abroad. Once you get here, if you keep an open mind, you will note that while those marketing banners do have a fair grain of truth, they also omit a good degree of reality.

Beautiful scenery but pastures aren't a natural part of the Costa Rican landscape. Just about every pasture in Costa Rica used to host far more diverse tropical forests.
Pocosol is a good place to experience nearly "endless" forests (and high quality birding).

Just as with nearly every other country on this planet, Costa Rica has seen its fair share of human-made changes, many of them not being very conducive to the continued existence of biodiverse ecosystems. Yes, the country has preserved quite a bit of its already limited territory and laws are on the books to try and protect biodiversity but the forests are far from endless, wetlands have been drained, and too many crops are doused with chemicals (challenges to sustainable living commonly shared by many countries on Earth in this over-populated, naturally disconnected segment of human history). Another sign of the times is traffic.

Waiting in a long line of cars during road work in Guanacaste.

Unfortunately, Costa Rica has reached the point where the number of cars, buses, trucks, and motorcycles overwhelm the roads of some parts of the country on a daily basis. Long gone are the days of the pleasant morning drive to work. As with other densely populated places, the norm nowadays involves sharing the byways with a massive train of vehicles that clogs the arteries in both directions like amalgamations of steel, plastic, and vulcanized rubber cholesterol. Throw in a fender bender, a washed-out bridge, or a small landslide now and then and you go from gridlock to gridsuper-glued. Ok, so before you cancel that car rental, don’t panic! There are ways to avoid the traffic on a birdwatching trip to Costa Rica and here are some suggestions:

  • Leave early (as in pre-dawn early): Even if you happen to be staying in the heart of San Jose (which is of course also the center of car chaos), you will be out of town in a jiffy if you leave the hotel by 5 or 5:30 AM. Depart before then and it’s even nicer but wait until 6 and it will take a while to get out of town.

    Leaving early will also help you see more birds like this Prevost's Ground Sparrow.
  • Come back late: If you are coming back to the San Jose area, you might want to consider doing a bit of owling and having dinner outside of the city. That way, in addition to hopefully seeing an owl or two, you can head back to the hotel around 8 without having to deal with the afternoon rush hour.

    You might see a Bare-shanked Screech Owl- a fairly common regional endemic.
  • Rush hour: Of course, knowing when most people are migrating to and from home is key to avoiding traffic. The morning rush hour goes from around 6 to 8 and the worst of the afternoon madness happens between 4 and 6.
  • Routes and places to avoid: Fortunately, daily problems with traffic are mostly restricted to the Central Valley. You can expect unpleasant issues if driving during rush hour anywhere from San Ramon on east to Cartago. Other routes that have their fair share of slow-going vehicles and traffic are the highway between San Jose and Limon (at least you can watch for birds as you Sunday drive through Braulio Carrillo National Park), the Pan-American highway between Puntarenas and Liberia (due to road work and when collisions shut down the road), and the new Caldera-San Jose highway on Sundays (on Sundays, take the old road up to San Ramon instead).
  • Bird areas with little traffic: Since more birds live where there are less people, most good birding sites are naturally bereft of bottlenecks and heavy traffic. One of several wonderful birding routes that comes to mind is the road between San Ramon and La Fortuna. The low level of traffic and fantastic birding at places like Lands in Love, the Manuel Brenes Road, Finca Luna Nueva, the Cocora Hummingbird Garden, and the San Luis Canopy make this area one of my favorite places to bird in the country.

    You might see a Three-wattled Bellbird around there.

Follow these suggestions to save time and sanity when birding in Costa Rica!

You might also want to check out some driving tips for Costa Rica.

Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica dry forest Introduction lowlands mangroves Pacific slope

Don’t Disregard Chomes when Birding Costa Rica

On Sunday, I took a trip to Chomes and the Colorado salt pans with a friend of mine to look for shorebirds, to look for the Maguari Stork that showed up on September 16th, and get recordings and digiscoped shots of various feathered creatures. Although every trip to that area has been good, this one leaves me convinced that the Chomes area is a true birding hotspot. While the shrimp ponds, mangroves, and mud flats always turn up a fair variety of waders, the road in to Chomes also deserves just as much attention.

We were sort of in a hurry to reach the shrimp ponds on Sunday morning to catch as much of the high tide as possible but couldn’t help but make a few stops on the way in. The road is always productive because it goes through several kilometers of fields dotted with a good number of tall trees, a couple of nice riparian zones, and wide open areas that sometimes have mud flats. The variety of habitats makes it good for just about every dry forest species and on past trips we have seen such goodies as Yellow-naped Parrots, Crane Hawk, White-lored Gnatcatcher, and many other birds. On this trip, the few stops we made turned up great looks at Spot-breasted Oriole, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Gartered Trogon, Orange-fronted Parakeet, White-fronted Parrot, and several other bird species seen without even trying.

We saw a couple of Ferruginous Pygmy Owls without even trying for them.
A couple of Gartered Trogons called from the tree tops. We also had Black-headed Trogons in the same area.

The best sightings along the road in were a field with 15 or so Double-striped Thick-Knees and prolonged, wonderful looks at Lesser Ground-Cuckoo.

Check out the ducky Double-striped Thick-Knee.

Although the Lesser Ground-Cuckoo is a common bird, its love of skulking in dense brushy habitat presents obvious challenges to seeing it so it was very nice to be able to hang out and admire the yellow and blue colors of its eyering combined with the pumpkin orange underparts.

A fine Lesser Ground Cuckoo in Costa Rica.

It vocalized too and started out with its distinctive song.

Lesser Ground Cuckoo song.

Then, it gave its soft whistled call over and over as Boat-billed Flys decided to go nuts with their own vocalizations.

Lesser Ground Cuckoo call.

It then showed how nice it was by fluttering up to a tree and creeping along a branch with raised tail.

A Lesser Ground Cuckoo up in a tree.

Although I will be missing a crisp and spooky North American Halloween, the colors of a Lesser Ground-Cuckoo are a fine substitute. Now all I need to do is buy some candy corn and corn syrup creation pumpkin candies and munch on them while visually absorbing a Lesser Ground Cuckoo on October 31st…all while dressed like a vampire, a politician bought by big money who allows the government to shut down while still taking a paycheck, or some other frightening creature.

A Lesser Ground Cuckoo gives all of those incompetent, self-serving politicians a wicked "malocchio" (the good old evil eye).

Keep in mind that we barely birded the entrance road and still had several choice avian experiences. Now back at the shrimp ponds, the birding was also pretty good. A handful of flint-headed Wood Storks was all we got in terms of Cicconidae but we couldn’t help but be impressed by the constant bird action. Small groups of chattering (or ratatatting) White-fronted Parrots flew overhead, flocks of seedeaters flushed from the undergrowth, the metallic calls of a Blue Grosbeak contrasted with the buzzy notes of a few Dickcissels, and so on. A group of seedeaters suddenly revealed themselves to be Tricolored Munias (most being hen colored or perhaps juvenile birds), and one of our target birds called from the short Black Mangroves. Clapper Rail! Scan as we might, we couldn’t find the rails and they only called twice but since I count heard only birds for my country list, on it they went!

Clapper Rail from Costa Rica.

Shorebirds were also around but heavy rains had drowned the erstwhile mud flat habitat in the ponds and so most of our sandpipers and plovers were scattered far and wide over the honest to goodness mud flats of the Golf of Nicoya. Nevertheless, in the ponds, we still got good looks at several herons, White Ibis, and common shorebirds like Least Sands, Wilson’s  and Semipalmated Plovers, Black-necked Stilt, Willet, and Whimbrel, and one uncommon American Golden Plover.

Good numbers of Semi Plovs were in attendance.
Of course Least Sandpipers were also around.

Out by the shore, there was also a good sized flock of Black Skimmers, some Black-bellied Plovers, Marbled Godwits, a couple of American Oystercatchers, a distant flock of terns (Royals, some Elegants, a few Sandwich, and one Common), and a few Short-billed Dowitchers.

We then braved the rising heat (Chomes is blazing- come prepared!) to head down the track that parallels the beach and ends at a nice patch of mangroves. Pygmy-owl calls turned up Streak-backed Oriole, Northern Scrub Flycatchers, American Redstart, and several other species.

The usual Brown-crested Flycatchers showed up.
Yellow Warblers have come back to town.
As have their lovely Prothonotary cousins.
A female Mangrove Hummingbird also turned up! It's always good to see this endangered endemic.

Vying with the Mangrove Hummingbird for best bird in that area was a Rufous-necked Wood Rail! The bird was heard (and happily recorded!), and it even allowed itself to be seen very well as it hopped up and walked on a branch! I wish I could show that I was quick on the digiscoping draw for that photo opp but I wasn’t. Photo bomb it wasn’t but still a fine view of a Rufous-necked Wood Rail nonetheless. With that bird, I am just two rails away from getting a full run of Costa Rican rail species this year! Granted, some are heard only but I still count them for the year list. If I manage Spotted and Sora (both are feasible), 2013 will be my one and only official year of the rail.

After nearly melting at a mid-day Chomes we grabbed a quick lunch somewhere along the highway and headed over to the Colorado salt pans to see what was up. It was fairly birdy but no hoped for Long-billed Curlew nor any other new species for the year. After once again ignoring any possible Masked Ducks (snicker all you want you feathered, skulking, web-footed zorros…your time will come!), we headed back up into the rain, cooler elevations, and over population of the Central Valley.

It was nice to get close looks at Lesser Yellowlegs at Colorado.
We also had close looks at Western Sandpipers.
and Semipalmated Sandpipers.

So, if there’s going to be any point to this story, it’s that the Chomes area is really good for birding. Get there early and bird that road in. Although I have yet to fully explore the area and riparian zones on the way in, I wouldn’t be surprised if they even turned up things like Thicket Tinamou, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, and so on.

biodiversity bird photography Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica high elevations Introduction

A Couple Hours of Birding on Poas is Always Good

Green space is where the birds are and that’s why I drive 45 minutes up to Poas Volcano. That’s one of the closest places with intact forest habitat and the birding is always good. Between the house and Poas, there are riparian zones that snake through coffee plantations but that habitat is rather inaccessible compared to the highland forests on Poas. This past Tuesday, after dropping off Miranda at pre-K, I decided to do the trip to Poas in search of migrants, photos of various species ,and maybe a recording or two. Most birds are vocalizing much less now compared to the months of February, March, and April but I still managed a recording a the resident Red-tailed Hawk subspecies and will be including that on the next update of our Costa Rica birding app (coming soon and with a bunch of new species and vocalizations).

On the way up to the volcano, I made a few stops at groves of Guatemalan Cypress. Although these introduced species don’t harbor as many birds as native vegetation I always check them in the hope of finding Hermit, Townsend’s, or even Golden-cheeked Warblers and other rare vagrants. Although the fact that these are rare birds indeed is reflected by never finding any of those species in those introduced evergreens, that doesn’t stop me from looking and I bet there are some uber rarities out there somewhere. Just gotta keep checking and pishing.

Speaking of pishing, the bird that invariably shows up in high elevation habitats of Costa Rica is the cheeky Wilson’s Warbler. This blocky headed wood warbler just might be the most common species in the highlands during the winter months. While pishing in one spot on Tuesday, I brought up a veritable parade of around 30 of them along with just one Black and white and one Blackburnian.

Wilsons Warbler- the most common highland bird in Costa Rica from October to March.
A closer look at a Wilson's Warbler.

In addition to looking for migrant warblers, I also saw a bunch of nice resident species including several flocks of Sooty-capped Bush Tanagers.

Sooty-capped Bush Tanagers are common high elevation endemics in Costa Rica and western Panama.
A Sooty-capped Bush Tanager feeding on fruit.

I also saw some Commons and they do seem to be creeping upward in elevation bit by bit. The bush-tanagers were super busy with feeding on small fruits and were occasionally joined  by Black and yellow Silky Flycatchers and a few other birds (although no Spangle-cheeks- a bird I was hoping for). One of those birds was Golden-browed Chlorophonia. I usually hear several of this gorgeous little thing while birding on Poas but they can be hard to see well. Fortunately, a couple of these technicolor goldfinches were busy feeding on berries in a short bush and stayed still long enough for proper digiscoping.

A male Golden-browed Chlorophonia from the side.
Golden-browed Chlorophonia from the front.
A closer look at the crown and bill of Golden-browed Chlorophonia.

Those same bushes were also flowering and filled with hummingbirds. A conservative estimate was 6 Fiery-throateds, 4 Magnificents, 6 Purple-throated Mountain-gems, and 4 Volcano Hummingbirds. Of course, several Slaty Flowerpiercers were also taking advantage of the nectar bonanza.

Female Slaty Flowerpiercer.

Up near the entrance to the park, a pair of Large-footed Finches hopped right out and foraged along the side of the road. I swear, you just never know when these over-sized ground sparrows are going to come out into the open. When guiding birders up that way, we usually get the Large-footed Finch but it can take a while and they rarely forage on the curb.

Large-footed Finch standing on the curb.
Large-footed Finch doing its foraging thing in the leaf litter.

The entrance to the park can also be good for mixed flocks and Tuesday delivered with a flock that held Buffy Tuftedcheek, Collared Redstart, bush tanagers, and other species.

The Yellow-thighed Finch looks a lot like a blackbird if you don't see the yellow thighs.
A poor shot of a Ruddy Treerunner from that flock.
Flame-throated Warblers were in the flock too.

Oddly enough, although the bamboo in the understory of that area is totally seeding, I haven’t heard a single Peg-billed Finch or other bamboo bird there despite checking several times. Maybe I need to focus on the area a bit more to see if I can rustle up a Maroon-chested Ground-Dove (a rarity I have only seen once ever during a bamboo seeding event on Chirripo in 1994). Only species I did hear in the bamboo was a Wrenthrush. Hopefully, the next post about Poas will report Slaty Finch and other choice bamboo birds!