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Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica Introduction preparing for your trip

What You Should Know Before Taking a Birding Trip to Costa Rica in July

Summer seems to be this ironic time of the year when birders don’t watch birds. Yes, to any non-birders out there, this is oddly true. Despite the warm, inviting weather, breeding birds, and lots more life than the dead of winter, this is when birders tend to sit back, sip a Mint Julep, or partake in other activities that don’t include binoculars. The birders out there know why a lot of us tend to get lazy in June and July but for those of you are wondering what the deal might be, it all comes down to seeing the same old stuff.

I admit that I get lacadaisical about the Silver-throated Tanager.

Yes, a lot of birders get lacadaisical about getting out and birding sites near home at this time of the year because they don’t expect to see anything new. They feel that they already know what’s out there (and getting up at dawn doesn’t help either). However, as much as we think we know about our natural surroundings, we usually know a lot less than we think. If we don’t turn off the TV and get out into the wild, we won’t see any changes that might be happening in bird populations (especially with climate change going on), and aren’t going to find a Brown-chested Martin, out of range hummingbird,  or some other wacko vagrant.

No, not an out of range hummingbird for Costa Rica but the Cinnamon Hummingbird is always cool to see.

In Costa Rica, we have less of a problem with avoiding the outdoors during the summer months because the high degree of biodiversity always guarantees chances at rare birds throughout the year. Although we aren’t going to see any Boreal migrants right now, there are more than 600 breeding birds to look for, and chances at a rare Austral migrant or two. Here are some other tidbits and things to look forward to if you happen to be headed to Costa Rica this July:

  • It might rain more than you expect: Ok, so that might not be what you hoped to read but one should always be prepared. Forecasters are saying that this year’s mini dry season in July will be wetter than normal so bring the rain gear and get ready for birding that may be just as challenging as it is exciting. However, to be honest, I hope it does rain more than normal in July because the rainy season started late anyways. Ecosystems in Costa Rica need the rain because the plants, birds, and so on are adapted to an environment at some sites that see 4 to 6 meters a year. Two meters just isn’t going to work.
  • Don’t be discouraged by the forecast: So, if you thought, “Crap! I should have gone to Costa Rica in March”, put the reins on fustration because it’s probably not going to rain the entire time and cloudy weather with some rain boosts bird activity in the (you guessed it) rainforest. Seriously, a cloudy day with occasional showers is always exciting for birding in Costa Rica.

    You might see more jacamars.
  • Expect birding similar to the dry season: Other than the lack of northern migrants, the birding is pretty similar to the dry season. In other words, this is a great time of year to bird Costa Rica and that means chances at heart-racing mixed flocks, fruiting trees full of tanagers, manakins, and maybe a cotinga or two, no shortage of hummingbirds, and the excitement goes on… The main difference might be the lower numbers of tourists compared to the high dry season months and that’s not so bad either.
  • Bare-necked Umbrellabird appears to have nested at Curi-Cancha: A female and young have been seen at this excellent reserve near Monteverde! Lots of other great birds to see there too.

    The umbrellabird is sort of unbelievable.
  • Keep an eye out for frugivores in odd places: After nesting, most of the frugivorous species in Costa Rica move around in search of food and many move to lower elevations. This is a time of year when Red-fronted Parrotlet can show up at fruiting figs in the Central Valley and other sites, and who knows what else might turn up?
  • Enjoy the bellbird serenade up in the mountains: Although the bellbird population that nests in the mountains above San Jose is very small and a tiny shadow of what it probably was when there was forest in the Central Valley, you might hear one or two around Poas, Barva, and other sites. To catch the best bellbird action, visit the Monteverde area, and sites near San Ramon, on the Pacific slope of the Talamancas, and the Rio Macho Reserve near Tapanti. Three-wattled Bellbird sound.
  • Keep an eye out for odd seabirds: Forecasters have also predicted a major El Nino effect and this could turn up some serious rarities in July. Reports of Inca Tern, and Blue-footed and Nazca Boobies could be indicators of more rarities to come! I know that I will be looking for them in July!
  • The latest update for the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app is available: There are now more than 620 species on the app and vocalizations for more than 360 of them (including Black-crowned Antpitta, Ocellated Antbird, and Keel-billed Motmot along with hundreds of more common species), lots of updated and improved images, and a quicker way to look for birds by group. If you already bought the app, get the update for free.

    The fancy Ocellated Antbird.

Enjoy your July trip to Costa Rica, hope to see you in the field! – I will be the short guy with a Swarovski ghetto scope and gray Adidas hat.

Birding Costa Rica birding lodges feeders high elevations Introduction

Some Bird Images from Miriam’s Cafe, San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica

Any birder who has been to Costa Rica knows what “San Gerardo de Dota” means. This montane location translates to “Resplendent Quetzal” and/or “Savegre Lodge” for most birders but for me, it also means “Miriam’s Cafe”. The birding is definitely great in this Talamancan Valley, especially at Savegre, but there are other options for accommodations. The budget birder will enjoy a stay at Miriam’s Quetzals (the teasing official name) and not just because a clean, cozy cabin goes for around $40 bucks a night. There really is a Miriam and this super nice senora is also super accommodating and makes delicious, local food. I’m not kidding. I have been to a bunch of small hotels and the like in Costa Rica and elsewhere and Miriam is at the upper levels of niceness. She also bakes/grills the best cornbread I have had in Costa Rica and the birds think so too!

I think this juvenile Flame-colored Tanager is eating cornbread.

Miriam has a feeder just out back and it gets some really cool birds. You can watch this feeder while eating, and when I was there, she also left Enya’s Watermark playing with every meal. Since I dig the ethereal, elfie sounds of Enya, that was cool with me.

Feeder and ghetto scope accompanied by Enya.
The feeder was sort of dominated by Acorn Woodpeckers and Flame-colored Tanagers.
A female Flame-colored Tanager looks content after munching on cornbread. That's just how I felt.
This Yellowhammerish looking creature is a young Flame-colored Tanager.
Yellow-thighed Finches also showed up.
This Yellow-thighed Finch was caught with its mouth full.
Even Large-footed Finches hopped up onto the feeder.
What one of the cabins looks like.

Lots of other birds show up in the area too, including Yellow-bellied Siskins, Yellow-winged Vireos, quetzals from October to January, and even Unspotted Saw-whet Owl on one of their trails (seriously!).

Black-capped Flycatcher is also common.
Sooty Thrush is common too.

I look forward to my next visit to Miriam’s. Maybe next time, I will get pictures of the wood-partridge, the spotless little owl, and other cool mountain birds.

biodiversity Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica Introduction preparing for your trip

Where to see Motmots when Birding Costa Rica

There a bunch of super cool birds to see once you head south of the border. Since you are reading this blog, you are probably well aware of that statement but if you have yet to raise the bins below the Tropic of Cancer, let’s just say that yes, you are in for a heckuva treat! Biodiversity goes crazy south of the border and among all of those flycatchers, wrens, and other familiar families are several unfamiliar bunches of birds. One of those new avian groups is the Momotidae family. These are the motmots and they are just as exotic as their family name implies!

The Blue-crowned Motmot is a spectacular feeder bird.

Yep, these are must-see birds for sure so that is why I am writing this post. I want every birder to see motmots in Costa Rica (along with casual birders and the non-birding crowd). For the birder, these racket-tailed crazies are sweet as a coconut creme pie. For those who use tiny 10 x 20 binocs and people who say “seagull”, motmots have a fair chance at being a serious starter bird. I think they would work very well as birding starter ambassadors because they are sort of big, have beautiful colors, weird tails, a cool, black mask that gives them even more character, and usually sit still long enough for a photo or two. In other words, motmots are hard to ignore when you see them and they can even get noticed by non-birders. The best news for the brider, however, is that motmots are common!

Sure, two species in Costa Rica are tough but even those are regular in the right places. So, here is where you can see those two tough motmots ones along with the common ones:

  • Gardens and coffee farms in the Central Valley: Yes! Ok, so only the Blue-crowned is present but it is still a motmot and a fantastic looking one. Go birding in moist forest or any coffee farm in the morning or evening and you have a really good chance of seeing this cool backyard bird. I often espy them on roadside wires near the house just after dawn.

    Blue-crowned Motmots are pretty common on the Pacific slope.
  • Dry forest, even scrubby areas: This is where you see Turquoise-browed Motmot and once again, amazingly, this stunner is a common species. Cerro Lodge is a great place to watch this beautiful bird at your leisure but they are also common in most lowland Pacific Slope habitats from Tarcoles north to the border.

    The Turquoise-browed Motmot might be the most colorful resident species of dry forest habitats in Costa Rica.
  • Lowland and foothill rainforest: Bird the Caribbean slope in these habitats and you have a fair chance of seeing Broad-billed and Rufous Motmots. Both are fairly common wherever there is forest (even tall second growth) and embankments where they can nest. Sarapiqui, Laguna del Lagarto, and any lowland or foothill site with some forest usually has these beauties.
    Here is a Broad-billed Motmot in forest at Quebrada Gonzalez.
    A Broad-billed Motmot from La Selva.

    The similar but larger Rufous Motmot from the Nature Pavilion.
  • The northern volcanoes, Arenal Hanging  Bridges, and the Arenal Peninsula Road: Places like Heliconias Lodge, Celeste Mountain Lodge, Las Bromelias, and other forested sites on Rincon de la Vieja and Volcan Tenorio will put you in reach of Keel-billed Motmot. It never seems to be as common as Broad-billed and who knows how they partition habitat but these areas are the best place to find it. Except for around Arenal, these sites are also the place to find Tody Motmot, especially in moist forests on Rincon de la Vieja. It’s actually kind of common there! Listen and look for the Tody in the understory.

    I was very lucky to get super close looks and pictures of Keel-billed Motmot at Heliconias Lodge. Not so lucky with shots of Tody Motmot.
  • Riparian zones: All motmots seem to like riparian zones. Whether due to embankments that work well for nesting (they nest in tunnels), because there are bigger bugs in those places, or a combination of those factors, forested ravines and streams are often good places to find motmots.

I suppose the other key for seeing motmots in Costa Rica is looking for them right after dawn and at dusk, and knowing their songs. Motmots might show themselves in more open habitats at dawn and dusk but usually hide out in dark ravines at other times of the day.

Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica caribbean foothills caribbean slope Introduction preparing for your trip

Birding in Costa Rica? You Have a Good Chance at Seeing Ocellated Antbird!

When we go on birding trips, I am pretty sure that we spend more time preparing for the trip than actually watching the birds when we get there. Seriously, how many of us birders study a new field guide for countless hours before we offically start the trip? How many hours do we spend planning the trip and salivating over sites? How often do we browse through photos and vocalizations on a birding app for Costa Rica? We look at those birds to learn their field marks, and read the text so often that we start seeing those feathered targets in our dreams.

“Whoah, there goes three giant umbrellabirds flying with vultures? Oh shoot, they don’t soar around with vultures…”, and when a bespectacled, bino sporting, smiling werewolf in tweed walks on past, darn (!), definitely just a dream! No matter how cool or crazy our pre-trip birding dreams may dare to be, they of course never compare to the real thing.

This Green Peafowl from Thailand could be a bird from a dream.

One of several birds that looks as if it comes from the land of birding dreams is the Ocellated Antbird. No small brown thing this one. It’s sort of like pumpkin orange with black and buff scale-patterned plumage, has a black face and throat, a tawny crown, and (get ready for this), a big blue face. Yep, not just an eyering but a whole, big blue face.

Oh yeah, Ocellated Antbird! I wasn't kidding about that blue face!

Despite its incredible appearance, this super cool Central American king of the antbirds is not too difficult to see when birding in Costa Rica. You go to the right places and can run into this gem on several occasions. You have to go to the right place of course, but bird enough at any lowland or foothill site on the Caribbean slope with good forest and you have a very good chance of focusing in on that exotic blue face. I was reminded of that while birding with Josh Beck and Kathi Borgmann the other day. If you haven’t heard, these birding heros are birding their way from California down to Costa Rica and beyond and are seeing like almost everything! Check out the adventures at their Birds of Passage blog.

Birding Virgen del Socorro with Josh and Kathi.
We saw this female Orange-bellied Trogon along with several Blue and Gold Tanagers and other nice rainforest birds.

While birding near Albergue Socorro, a foothill site near Virgen del Socorro, we ran into a small antswarm with a couple Zeledon’s Antbirds, Spotted Barbtail, and a few other birds along with a few of our star species for the day, the Ocellated Antbird. We got lots of perfect looks, saw lots of vegetation moving instead of seeing them, and did not see or hear any much wanted Black-banded Woodcreepers. Josh and Kathi were mentioning that they had seen Ocellateds on several occasions in Costa Rica to the point of it being just about expected. I think this is because they have focused a lot of time and effort in quality rainforest but nevertheless, it shows that this fancy antbird is not all that tough to see if you go to the right places.

How an Ocellated Antbird is usually seen.
But watch long enough and they pop into view, sometimes with a weird bug in the bill.
They can also do some cool antswarm acrobatics.
Or attempt to hypnotize you with that funny face.

Those are places with lots of nice, intact Caribbean slope rainforest like Pocosol, El Tapir, Quebrada Gonzalez on occasion, Arenal, San Gerardo, and so on. I have had several so far this year but the ones near Virgen del Socorro were especially nice because one let me take its picture. Thanks, dreambird!