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Birding Costa Rica Introduction

Upland Sandpiper Makes Species 607 for the Year

Lately, it’s been raining so much that most of my birding has been severely curtailed. I wanted to go to Quebrada Gonzalez the other day but fortunately, I didn’t leave the house or I might have been one of the more than 1,000 people who were trapped between multiple landslides! Thankfully, no one was hurt and the slides were cleared but given the seriously heavy downpours today, it looks like more landslides are part of the forecast. I’m not complaining. That’s just how it is and we really do need the rain! I hope some of that water is reaching Guanacaste because farmers up that way have been suffering through a horrible drought.

One of the last good birds I saw was this Fasciated Tiger-Heron in the rain near Lands in Love.

Although I haven’t gone birding, I’m itching to get out into the green spaces because the migrants are coming through. By all accounts, wood-warblers, vireos, thrushes, and the like have been late in coming to town. While we usually get Yellow Warblers in August, it seems like most of them have just arrived. I hope they are just late because seriously declining bird populations would be the other main explanation.

Despite my lack of bino usage, I still managed to add a couple of species to my year list. I’m not doing a Big Year but I still keep track of the bird species I see or hear and always hope to hit 600. That number is always achievable and makes me feel like I have accomplished something or personal importance. Last night, one of the birds I added to the list was Upland Sandpiper. That funny grasspiper passes through the country every fall but they are hardly ever seen. This probably stems from a couple of factors:

1. Why stop in Costa Rica when you can just keep on flying?– Costa Rica is a pretty small place, especially as the Upland Sandpiper flies. If one passes over at night, there’s a fair chance that it could just keep on going and since Costa Rica was historically covered in dense forest from head to toe, I doubt that Uplands and other grasspipers evolved to make definite stops in this land. That behavior is certainly plastic to a fair degree but I wonder if the birds prefer greener pastures (or shorter ones) in Panama. Or, perhaps they focus their stops in the paramos and llanos of Colombia? Critical stop over sites during migration in Central and South America have yet to be determined but it doesn’t seem like one of those stops is in Costa Rica.

2. The needle in the haystack thing– Finding one of those few Uplands that does happen to swoop down and make a landing in Costa Rica is like winning the lottery. There’s just too much pasture to choose from, especially in Guanacaste, and there are just a handful of birders looking for them. Some of us do check the airport from time to time but typically come up with nothing more than meadowlarks and Barn Swallows zipping over the small turf farm. Overall, there’s just not enough coverage.

Although I have checked the airport a few times, this wasn’t how Upland Sand made it onto my year list. To quell my bird migration anxieties, I have been listening for nocturnal migrants for a few minutes each night. I hadn’t heard anything until last night when I finally got lucky! I wasn’t out the back door for more than a minute when I heard the distinctive flight call of an Upland Sandpiper! I ran inside to get my recording equipment but it was too late. That bird was already on its way to Colombia and the only thing picked up by the microphone was a blend of distant dog barks and rumbling cars. Hopefully, I will get out this weekend and find some vagrant warbler (a Black-throated Blue would be nice) but I would be happy with seeing common warblers as well.

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