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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.

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