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big year biodiversity Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica Introduction

My Best Bird from Birding Costa Rica in 2013

According to the “western calendar”, the end of the year is nigh. It’s time for us listers to count  up the birds we have identified over the course of 12 months, time to run out and see a few more for those doing a Big Year, and time to get ready to party if you want to celebrate the annual calendar change. Although I may have to attend just such a party, I would just as rather look for owls or stay home and sleep because the New Year doesn’t really mean anything to me. As for a Big Year, although I have been doing a sort of Big Year, it’s a relaxed one so by definition, I can’t really run out to get bird 660 today or tomorrow. However, I have counted up the bird species I have identified since January 1st of 2013 (659, my best year in CR yet) and will pick out a “best bird” from that list.

Yellow-naped Parrots are awesome but didn't make it onto this particular list because I see them quite often.

Since few birds really stand out as being the “best of the best”, I think I will talk about some highlights and then settle on a winner from that list. Before I start, I will say that this was a really good birding year for me in Costa Rica with several key lifers, lots of great birding, and many memorable days of guiding. I hope that this list of ten best birds encourages more people to come to Costa Rica for birding and get you psyched for your trip if you already have one planned for the near future! So, without further ado, here goes and in taxonomic order:

1. Red-billed Tropicbird: Not a lifer but a first for my CR list and a good bird to get for the country. Saw a juvenile on a Sierpe-Cano Island boat trip. Yee-haw!

2. Red-footed Booby: This is one of those bird species that had been busy burning a hole in my unchecked bird list for quite some time. I had hoped to glimpse one on the Sierpe-Cano Island boat trip and managed close looks at several! Black and Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrels from that trip get an honorable mention.

Where the Red-footeds hang out.

3. Pinnated Bittern: It’s hard to believe that it was nearly a year ago when I got my lifer big neotropical bittern at Cano Negro! Another list burner.

A Pinnated Bittern from a wetland near Cano Negro.

4. Crakes: I got 3 lifer crakes this year and if you have ever looked for those darn things, you know that a trio of them in a year is quite the achievement. They were a Yellow-breasted Crake from Cano Negro, an Ocellated Crake from the Buenos Aires, Costa Rica savannahs, and a Paint-billed Crake from a rice field near Rio Claro. If you cared to know, the Yellow-breasted was a typical small shy marsh bird, the Ocellated a fricking spotted mouse, and the Paint-billed a miniature gallinule.

5. Bridled Tern: A lifer always makes it onto a best bird of the year list!

6. Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo: Yes, it was a heard only on the Manuel Brenes road but even a heard one of these is pretty awesome.

7. Oilbird: Major, major target at the Monteverde Wildlife Refuge and although I have yet to finish the list, I  expect that this weirdo will come out on top.

My lifer Oilbird.

8. Lanceolated Monklet: I may have spoke too soon because this miniscule puffbird is another fantastic find for Costa Rica. I saw one and heard another at Lands in Love. I hope to go back and get some photos of this great little bird.

9. Bare-necked Umbrellabird: This endangered, amazing creature will always make it onto my best bird of the year list if I happen to see one. My only one for 2013 was a male near San Luis Canopy while guiding a lucky client in that area.

10. Blackpoll Warbler: I kind of hate to say it but this was one of the best because it’s a rare vagrant to Costa Rica. However, the bird seen on during the Bosque del Rio Tigre Christmas count really shouldn’t trump things like Yellow-billed, Snowy, and Turquoise Cotingas, Three-wattled Bellbird, Mangrove Hummingbird, Rufous-necked Wood Rail, Blue and Gold Tanager (and most tanagers), most quail doves, both macaws, and all owls save the Unspotted Saw-whet so I mention those because they all made it onto the year list too. In fact, I forgot about my lifer Sulphur-rumped Tanager from the Manzanillo area so that one at least ties with the Blackpoll.

A male Turquoise Cotinga from Rincona de Osa.
A male Yellow-billed Cotinga from Rincona de Osa.

Ok, so, after a moment of deliberation, I hereby crown my bestest bird of 2013……the Oilbird!

The Oilbird gets the prize because it meets so many categories of awesomeness:

  • It’s a rare vagrant to Costa Rica- It probably shows up each year but just doesn’t get found in the dark of a steep cloud forest night and we have no idea where they breed.
  • It’s nocturnal-The Oilbird is also a Gothic bird because it lives in caves, makes guttural sounds, and look sort of like a feathered gargoyle. Maybe it will come in to playback of songs composed by Peter Murphy?
  • Rather like an avian nocturnal antithesis of the R. Quetzal, it roams through the tropical forest night in search of oily fruits.
  • A trio bird- Lifer, new for my CR list, and new for the year.

So, yes, the Oilbird is my personal Baby New Year. if you want to see it in Costa Rica, go on the night walk tour at the Monteverde Wildlife Refuge from July to September. Might not be there but this is when they have showed up and their night walk is fantastic in any case. Other highlights included a wonderful 140 plus species day around Carara while guiding some birders from Finland, enjoying the birds of the Manzanillo area with other clients and friends, releasing the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, and watching birds with Susan, Robert, Paul, Johan and Ineke, and other folks from the Birding Club of Costa Rica.  Hope to see you birding in Costa Rica in 2014!

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The Bosque del Rio Tigre 2013 Christmas Count

As luck would have it, very few of the 2013 Costa Rican Christmas counts landed on dates that worked into my schedule. However, as luck would also have it, the one that did fit in was the Osa Christmas Count. This exciting day long survey of all things avian took place on December 20th and I was fortunate to be able to participate in one of the birdiest spots of the count circle, the Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge.

A very birdy lodge.

This small lodge is one of the best birding lodges in Costa Rica and earns that distinction by being surrounded by extensive areas of rainforest and birdy second growth, small lagoons on and near the property for the lodge, and more open areas en route that turn up other suites of species. Add the excellent guiding, local, in-depth avian knowledge, and quality hospitality to the mix and you end up with a truly fantastic place for birding.

It might be the only place where you can see Black-cheeked Ant Tanagers coming to a feeder, Golden-naped Woodepckers are fairly common, and raptors, many hummingbirds, and even cotingas are regularly seen from the lodge. Yes, it’s great birding at all times  and the count was an exciting one.

One of the Black-cheeked Ant Tanagers that came to the feeders during our stay.
A Blue-crowned Motmot was another common feeder bird.

We arrived on the afternoon of the 19th and would have shown up after dark if we hadn’t pulled ourselves away from the fine birding en route. Black-bellied Wrens, Great Antshrikes, toucans, and much more called from roadside habitats and we could have easily come across dozens of other species near the village of Dos Brazos.

Black-mandibled Toucan- plenty of these were around.

At the lodge itself, after being greeted by Liz and Abraham and being shown to our rooms, we went over the details for the count and enjoyed a wonderful dinner by candlelight. Liz showed us a Turnip-tailed Gecko and then it was off to bed early to be ready for a big day of birding in the hot, humid conditions of the incredible rainforests of the Osa Peninsula. A comfortable bed and the soothing night sounds of the jungle resulted in a good night’s rest before the alarm went off at 4:30 am. The other count participants were just arriving and much to my pleasant surprise, almost everyone was right from the village! On most counts in Costa Rica, participants are students, birders, and biologists that travel to the count circle. At Bosque del Rio Tigre, it was just the opposite and a tangible demonstration of the work that Liz and Abraham have done with the local community. After enjoying a quick breakfast with our fellow counters, Susan, Liz, and I started tallying off birds that called from the tall rainforest just behind the lodge.

Rainforests at Bosque del Rio Tigre.

This included the dawn songs of Buff-throated Foliage-gleaners, Scaly-throated Leaftossers (a common bird there), Charming Hummingbird, Black-cheeked Ant Tanager, Blue-crowned Motmot, Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, and other species. As we walked up the trail that eventually leads to an open area on a ridge above the lodge, we tried our best to keep count of the Lesser Greenlets, Red-capped Manakins, Tawny-crowned Greenlets, Black-faced Antthrushes, and Chestnut-backed Antbirds. Up on the ridge itself, we enjoyed views of toucans, flyby Scarlet Macaws, Mealy, Red-lored, and White-crowned Parrots, and a host of other species that called from and appeared in the surrounding trees. Although cotingas and coquettes eluded us that morning, they are regularly seen from that vantage point. A couple of our better species were White-vented Euphonia and White-necked Puffbird.

White-necked Puffbird.
Another view of forest near the lodge.

Around 9 am, we descended down past birdy spots into equally birdy second growth habitats and continued to add species to the list in the form of Great Antshrike, Dusky Antbird, a few warblers, Slate-headed Tody-Tyrant, King Vulture, White Hawk, and others. The rarest species was arguably a male Blackpoll Warbler! This bird is a rare vagrant in Costa Rica and the one on the count was my first for the country. At first glance, I actually thought is was a Yellow-rumped because I caught a glimpse of it from the front and the markings on each side of the breast looked more that those of that species. Better looks a bit later on in the morning, though, revealed its identity (and as it turns out, local guides had already been seeing that same bird in the area).

By 10:30, it was pretty hot and we had covered our route quite well so we trudged back to the lodge and sat down to a very welcome cold drink and tasty lunch. Although one group ventured back out for a bit, most of us relaxed (or napped in my case) to wait out the hottest part of the day. By 3, birds were becoming more active so we headed back into the field. One group went to the village to look for Red-rumped Woodpecker and other edge species while another walked upriver to get White-crested Coquette and other birds. Susan and I had planned on going upriver as well but because the water would have flowed over and into our rubber boots, we opted for focusing on the river near the lodge. In retrospect. we should have donned river shoes provided by the lodge and got that coquette but at least the birding was great right where we stayed. Checking the treetops didn’t turn up any hoped for cotingas but we were rewarded with nice looks at Laughing Falcon, several tanagers including Blue Dacnis, Long-billed Starthroat among other hummingbird species, and other birds.

Fording the river in front of the lodge.
The Laughing Falcon at the edge of the river.

During the count that evening, we found that Susan, Liz, and I had tallied around 140 species with many more being added by the other counters. A few people searched for owls once the sun set but we crashed early to be ready for another morning of birding the following day. Since one of the counting groups had seen both cotingas from an overlook on the other side of the river, we opted for that route. Before we even started out, Susan spotted a Red-rumped Woodpecker right in front of the lodge! This was one of the best birds of the trip for me because it had been a much wanted bird for my country list for several years.

The view from the front of the lodge.

Shortly thereafter, as we sweated our way up the hill, we were treated to excellent birding punctuated by several Black-cheeked Ant Tanagers, two more White-collared Puffbirds, Black-bellied and Riverside Wrens, Baird’s Trogons, and much more. The top overlook would be a fantastic place to spend an entire day. It’s shaded by large trees and offers an excellent view of forested ridges. Scoping revealed lots of vultures as well as Double-toothed Kite and Great Black Hawk (a species that has declined in Costa Rica over the past 10 years). We dipped on cotingas but this is a good place to look for them. The top overlook also abuts beautiful primary rainforest that is connected to the national park. It’s a shame that we didn’t have time to properly bird it because it looked really good and turned up Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrant, Brown-billed Scythebill, and other species right from the overlook.

The view from the overlook.
A record shot of the Brown-billed Scythebill.

The walk downhill was of course a million times better than the auto-drenching stroll on the way up. Back at the lodge, we enjoyed a final delicious breakfast before packing up, checking out the Little Tinamou that came out to feed on rice grains near the kitchen, and driving back across the river. On the way out, we couldn’t help but stop for more birding near rice fields and thus got out trip Slate-colored Seedeater.

One of the Little Tinamous that show up on a daily basis. Yes, it looks like a rock!
Gray-chested Dove also shows up and sometimes on the feeder!
It's also a good place to see Spiny rats- a rainforest rodent more related to agoutis than rats.

A stop at Rincon also finally gave us both cotingas! There were at least two Yellow-billed and one male Turquoise in a small fruiting fig but they flew off before I could get adequate shots.

Can you find the cotinga?

It was also tempting to stop and bird at several sites on the way back but we both wanted to head back to our respective homes so we opted for identifying birds from the car as we high-tailed it back up to the Central Valley.

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Christmas Counts and other News for Birding in Costa Rica

As in other countries where the holiday tradition takes place, Christmas Counts are happening in Costa Rica. La Selva, Cartago, and Arenal have all had counts this year and as chance would have it, I have missed them all. Nevertheless, I was happy to hear that 70 plus birders participated in the Arenal count and I am sure similar numbers were watching and tallying birds in the other counts. I will do at least one, though, and that always yields serious quality when it comes to birds and biodiversity.

The very birdy garden at the Bosque del Rio Tigre.

On Friday, I will be listening and watching for everything at the Bosque del Rio Tigre as part of their Christmas Count. Other counts will also be happening in the Osa at that time so it will be interesting to see what turns up in that biodiversity hotspot. I’m hoping to get a few more year birds, record the sounds of several species, get lucky with digiscoping in the rainforest (need lottery winning luck for that), and probably do some birding on the drive to the Osa for one heck of a three day birding extravaganza. My previous experience with the Bosque del Rio Tigre count reconfirmed my belief that it’s the best birding lodge in Costa Rica so I wonder how Friday’s count will match up to a day that included raptors like Tiny Hawk, White Hawk, Black Hawk Eagle, Roadside Hawk, Laughing Falcon, and Gray-headed Kite (probably a few other raptors too), White-tipped Sicklebill, Black-cheeked Ant Tanager, and lots of other quality birds.

A Black-cheeked Ant Tanager at the lodge feeder.
Roadside Hawk.

As far as the other counts go, I was sad indeed to miss the Arenal gig. The area has a lot of intact habitat and therefore lots of great birds. This year’s count even turned up a Great Jacamar! It was heard only but the calls of this rarity for Costa Rica are unmistakable so I am sure they had one. Since it was found it in the forests of Arenal Observatory Lodge, it seems as if the species was overlooked for that site. Despite a lot of birding done around there, I am actually not too surprised because the area probably hosts a very small population, and few Tico birders have any experience with this species and thus many would probably overlook its vocalization. Of course there are local birders who would recognize the sounds a Great Jacamar makes but they are probably few in number and would have to be at Arenal Oversvatory Lodge exactly when one of the 2 or 4 Great Jacamars that live around there decided to call. Who knows, maybe it also prefers a microhabitat in Costa Rica that we are unaware of? What I do know is that since we also recorded this species in the nearby Penas Blancas Valley earlier this year, there is certainly a small population of Great Jacamars that live in foothills forests of the Monteverde-Arenal Conservation area.

Speaking of Great Jacamar, I am also hoping to find it at Lands in Love. That glittering green and rufous bird might not even be there but since there is quite a bit of primary forest that also happens to be connected to those rainforests mentioned above, I have hopes for it. I was guiding at Lands in Love over the weekend but we got sort of clobbered with rain on our main day. The constant cold front-associated rain kept us from seeing many birds but we still managed goodies like Black-crested Coquette, Scaly-throated Leaftosser, Broad-billed Motmot, and Golden-crowned Spadebill. One of the best was a perched Crested Owl just a few steps from the reception!

The rainy weather was good for herps including this Eyelash Viper.

That cold front is still happening so if you are headed to the Caribbean slope these days, it’s going to be wet. At the same time, it’s also going to drive a bunch of species into the lowlands so look for everything from Black-faced Solitaire to White-ruffed Manakin, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, and out of place tanagers around Sarapiqui. The good news is that the Varablanca-Cinchona-Sarapiqui road is finally fixed and paved! It’s probably still narrow in places but there shouldn’t be any more pot holes, ruts, or other rough road madness.

On a final birding news note, we have released version 2.1 of the Costa Rica Bird Field Guide app! That means:

  • More species (images, info, and range maps for 578 species, and vocalizations for 346).
  • It’s now optimized for the iPad.
  • Free update for those who have already purchased this Costa Rica birding app.
  • On sale for half the regular price for those who still need to buy it!

Hope to see you birding in Costa Rica!

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The Best Places to see Woodpeckers in Costa Rica

We all love woodpeckers. Even non-birders get a kick out of the seemingly crazy antics of a bird that bangs its head against trees and other objects as fast as it possibly can. They are the original classic head-bangers and just like rock stars, many of them sport “wacky hairdos”.

A fuzzy haired troll? Nope, just a Limeated Woodpecker showing off its crazy wig.

Maniacal, laughing vocalizations and forgetting to flap the wings until they about to fall out of the sky also seem to point to birds living way out there on the edge. Yes, wacky, wonderful, and always much appreciated. Although southeast Asia comes out on top in terms of woodpecker diversity, Costa Rica also has its fair share of avian head-bangers. We have 16 of those funtastic species and most are regular in the right habitat (with the exception of the Red-rumped Woodpecker- much easier in South America). Instead, we have the standard Central American Veniliornis, the good old Smoky-brown and this dull woodpecker is a common resident of second growth and rainforest edge in the lowlands and foothills of the Caribbean slope. It’s shaped a bit like a Downy and seems to likewise be adapted to pecking on vines and thin branches.

The Smoky-brown Woodpecker is pretty darn dull.

Speaking of the Caribbean slope, the northern lowlands seem to be the best region in Costa Rica for seeing a bunch of woodpeckers. I see more species of woodpeckers in the Sarapiqui region, Laguna del Lagarto, and other sites in northern Costa Rica than other parts of the country. I was reminded of that high woodpecker diversity a few months ago on a trip to the El Zota Research Station when on our way to the station, we found a mixed flock sort of dominated by woodpeckers. While teasing bird identifications out of the rustling leaves, vines, and big old tropical vegetation of a forested riparian zone, we had a few Black-cheeked Woodpeckers (the standard Caribbean slope Melanerpes),

A male Black-cheeked Woodpecker showing off a wing.
Another Black-cheeked Woodpecker.

a couple of Rufous-wingeds (a common canopy loving bird of the Caribbean lowlands),

Rufous-winged Woodpeckers are tough to digiscope!

had at least one Chestnut-colored (regular in edge and canopy of lowland rainforest),

Chestnut-colored Woodpecker.

its other cool tropical rufousy woodpecker relative, the Cinnamon (which posed incredibly for us as it foraged in bromeliads),

A rare, close view of a Cinnamon Woodepcker. They are usually seen way up in the canopy.

A Cinnamon Woodpecker sticking its tongue into a hole in a bromeliad.

a Lineated Woodpecker (the neotropical Pileated),

Lineated Woodpecker.

and our “ivorybill”, the wonderful Pale-billed.

One of the Pale-billed Woodpeckers from that flock.

I can’t recall if we had a Smoky-brown in that flock too but we may have and also had wintering Yellow-bellied Sapsucker near there for a fine few day woodpecker total of 8 species. Other good sites for woodpeckers are Carara National Park, Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge, and other forested sites on the Osa Peninsula but they seem to be most common and speciose in the remnant forests of northeastern Costa Rica.

Carara is pretty good for the Pale-billed Woodpecker.
The Golden-naped Woodpecker always reminds me of a Three-toed.

Don’t forget to also watch for the near endemic Hoffmann’s Woodpecker in and around San Jose!

A young Hoffmann's Woodpecker from Zamora Estates, one of the best birding sites near San Jose.

See and listen to these woodpeckers and more than 570 other species featured on the next version of a Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app. I helped develop.

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Bird Lands in Love for Some Seriously Good Birding in Costa Rica

I posted about birding at Lands in Love a few months ago and just have to do it again. It’s hard not to post about this overlooked birding destination because I am pretty sure that it’s one of the best sites in Costa Rica for birding. A short morning of recent birding there keeps me convinced that it has a lot to offer for both beginning birders, people who have been birding for decades, and even in country guides. I went there the other morning for the most part to record bird sounds, get a picture of a Lanceolated Monklet, and just scout the trails.

I knew that the monklet is there because our group found one in September and on that trip, the high quality of the habitat was also evident. In addition to lots of foothill primary rainforest, Lands in Love is also a great site for birding simply because it’s easy to get there. You don’t have to hike along some slippery trail or bounce along a horrible rough road. All it takes is a drive along the scenic paved road between San Ramon and La Fortuna to get to Lands in Love, tell them you would like to bird on the trails, pay an entrance fee ($5 was the most recent fee), and start birding. Of course you can also stay there and that’s even better because the habitat has grown up around the rooms and attracts a wide variety of edge species along with several forest birds and such wanted species as Snowcap, Crested Guan, and Crimson-collared Tanager.

Who doesn't want to see a Snowcap?
Or a Crimson-collared Tanager?

When I arrived the other day, I first stopped along the road that goes from the highway to the lodge. This road passes through various stages of second growth with older forest in gullies. Although I haven’t birded that area very much (in part because there are very few areas to park- would be much better to walk although you either go uphill or down), it has a lot of promise because the area was filled with birdsong the other morning. Among the several species that were heard were Thicket Antpittas, Black-throated Wren, Bicolored Antbird, Yellow-billed Cacique, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, and several other birds. It’s very birdy and who knows what else might turn up?

Habitat along the entrance road.
I saw a few Slaty-capped Flycatchers.

Down at the lodge itself, Crested Guans were feeding in trees next to the reception, lots of other birds were active, including a Smoky-brown Woodpecker. However, I wanted to spend most of my time in the forest so quickly made my way to the Ceiba trail to see what I could find.

The birdy reception at Lands in Love.
On another trip, I hope to spend a morning just watching from one of the overlooks to see which raptors and canopy birds turn up!

Once inside the forest, things quieted down but that’s par for the course in primary forest. The birds are there but they quiet down shortly after dawn, are way up there in the canopy, or keeping a low profile in the understory. I did see and hear some nice species but even if I hadn’t seen birds, it was a treasure to walk on trails through beautiful primary rainforest with clear streams and biodiversity all around.

One of the birds I had hoped to assess and find was Keel-billed Motmot. To do so, I used playback just to see if a bird would respond. Birds did respond but every time, it was one or two Broad-billed Motmots, a closely related species with an extremely similar call (I have yet to learn how to separate them). The Broad-billeds were pretty common but I do know that Keel-billed has been recorded there so I wonder if it’s using some slightly different habitat?

Saw probably six of these.

While looking for the motmot, I saw several Kentucky Warblers, ran into a few understory flocks with Streak-crowned Antvireos, Checker-throated Antwren, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, and Tawny-faced Gnatwren. Understory flocks like this are a sign of healthy forest and have unfortunately disappeared from much of the forests at the La Selva station. Another species that seemed to be moving with one or two of those flocks was the Song Wren.

In fact, the forest turned out to be very good for this uncommon species as I had at least 3 different groups. Three other quality rainforest species I encountered were Golden-crowned Spadebill (had 3 or 4), Spotted Antbird, and Scaly-throated Leaftosser (2 or 4 birds total). No canopy flocks but I’m sure they occur. As far as canopy birds go, I did see a tree full of quietly feeding toucans and heard Green Shrike Vireo. Oh yeah, and I did find a monklet! It was in a different place than the one from the birding club trip so may have been a different individual altogether. Try as I might, I could not find the thing though! The song was quite ventriloqual and the bird may have been singing from high overhead.

Once the monklet stopped singing, I gave up on seeing it and walked back out of the forest hoping for army ants. I actually found some near the cabins but there weren’t any birds with them! After this, I birded a bit more along the road on the way back up to the highway with nice activity of various edge and some forest species, and ate a pita with falafel and hummus at the great Loveats Cafe.

Had nice looks at a pair of Barred Antshrikes. Always nice to see this common species.
Spishing brought in this Common Tody Flycatcher.
Expect lots of these in humid forest areas.

In that short morning, I had over 100 species. Go there, you will see a lot!

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What do Those Costa Rican Birds Say?

I recently realized that I was far more removed from popular global culture and fads than I had ever imagined. That realization took place during a Skype video call with my parents when they asked me if I had seen the “What Does the Fox Say” thing. I responded that no, I had no idea what they were talking about. They said that they weren’t sure what it was either but that everyone was talking about it. So, nearly a week later, I finally searched for this fox thing and lo and behold it’s a crazy viral video and more than 200 million people know all about it. I also like it and it’s just the type of hilarious silly thing that certain friends of mine and I would have created had we had the time to do so. I love the fact that the popularity of this Norwegian ditty has finally topped that of Norway’s other main claim to popular music fame, A-Ha’s “Take on Me” (which is overplayed on at least once Costa Rican radio station). The silliness of the song sort of reminds me of the satirical and equally awesome Troll Hunter movie (all fans of the fantasy genre must watch!) but is far removed from the excellent, emotive, and more serious music composed by the Kings of Convenience. Most of all, though, the crazy viral fox video has inspired me to write a post about the things said by Costa Rican Birds. No, it won’t be a video because I don’t have the time nor tech know-how to produce such a damn cool thing but I hope you enjoy this post anyways.

Unlike foxes in Norway, we know what most of those Costa Rican Bird say. The Black and yellow Silky Flycatcher looks as if it’s going to say, “Yoo hoo, guess what I am! An oriole? A Tanager? Wrong again humans! I’m some high elevation berry eating thing with fine, silky feathers”.

A male Black and Yellow Silky Flycatcher ready to explode after eating maybe a thousand berries.

Actually, they say very little. Check out the sound of a Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher.

What about the Wrenthrush? This is another highland weirdo. It masquerades as an out of place, Asian Tesia and says, “Ha! Try to see me now! I’m as hyperactive as a Chihuahua on Mountain Dew! Take a picture…not!”

A Wrenthrush risks it all and comes out into the open.

Now you know exactly what this bird is saying when you hear its high-pitched calls issuing from a dense patch of bamboo: Wrenthrush

How about another highland bird species? The Prong-billed Barbet has a crazy voice and it says exactly what it sounds like it’s saying, “Yodel, yodel,yodel,yodel,yodel…”.

Shall we yodel again?

Yes, this cloud forest oddity is a determined yodeler: Prong-billed Barbet Note Rufous-browed Peppershrike there as well.

Of course, not all Costa Rican birds are stranger than fiction. Some sing stirring, beautiful songs and they say, “Listen to me. Listen to these avian siren melodies that chase away the shadows of worry and compliment the subtle harmonies of water dripping from clumps of moss and the tips of orchids”.  This is some of what the Black-faced Solitaire says. A good candidate for being the most solemn, serious singer on the block, it probably has the most pleasing song in the country although it has close contenders in the form of the Nightingale Wren and Slaty-backed Nightingale Thrush. Compare for yourself:

Black-faced Solitaire

Nightingale Wren song

Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush

At lower elevations, the bird song chorus becomes nearly as busy as the din of a Manhattan sidewalk. Keel-billed Toucans croak away like lost, feathered frogs, parrots rend the air with screeching sounds, Long-billed Gnatwrens give their pixie-like laugh, wrens blast the vegetation with loud, ringing melodies (check out the Black-throated), woodcreepers whistle away from the gloom of the morning forest, and Great Tinamous say, “I am the true ghost of the woods. Find me if you can but know that my kind has been evading predators for more than 15 million years”. A Great Tinamou sings from the forest interior: Great Tinamou.

A Keel-billed Toucan is kind of...well...colorful.

Keel-billed Toucan

A Black-throated Wren attempts to hide behind a branch.

Black-throated Wren

Common garden species also have plenty to say, especially the Clay-colored Thrush during the end of the dry season and beginning of the wet. Just so you know, it says, “No, I won’t shut up, I won’t shut up, I won’t shut up. Never shut up, have to find a mate, defend this territory, sing non-stop, no I won’t shut up…” . And no, it really doesn’t stop singing at that time of the year.

This funky immature Clay-colored Thrush just cannot wait to fill its surroundings with song.

Clay-colored Thrush and such other birds as Tropical Screech Owl and Blue-crowned Motmot in this dawn chorus along with the requisite barking dog.

You will also hear the nagging sounds of the Boat-billed Flycatcher, “Naaaaag! Naaaag! What the hell are you looking at!”

Boat-billed Flycatcher That chip in the background is a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.

Another interpretation of a Boat-billed Flycatcher's "song": "Great Kiskadee, shmreite kiskadee. Who's got the bigger bill in the house? Yeah, thought so"!

Yes, that big-billed kiskadee creature does have issues but let’s not forget that we are mere observers. Let them chase each other around and vent their mysterious anger.

Saving the best for last, we come back to the weird and wonderful with the Three-wattled Bellbird. Yes, non-birders, snicker if you like but dammit, it describes both the bird’s appearance and its song so the joke’s on you NOB!

A male Three-wattled Bellbird.

It just says, “Creak, creak…BONK!”

Three-wattled Bellbird This is the much louder noise than the Long-tailed Manakin and cow that just had to compete for attention with a “moo”.

I have no idea what the bellbird is really saying there because I have yet to untangle the mysterious language of the cotingas.

There’s like nearly 900 other species to talk about too but in the absence of timewarp technology, I only have space to write about a handful of these Costa Rican birds. The best way to experience them is of course to come on down to Tiquicia (that’s the local vernacular for Costa Rica) and take a listen for yourself. You could also get ready for your trip by listening to my recordings of more than 350 species out of 560 plus species on the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, or if you don’t want to make a holiday gift of that digital field guide for yourself, you can still check out some sweet sights, sounds, and info of Costa Rican birds by downloading the free lite version.