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Birding Costa Rica caribbean foothills caribbean slope Christmas Counts Introduction

The 2014 Arenal Christmas Count

The first thing that comes to mind when I reminisce about the recent Arenal Christmas Count is rain. At this time of the year, cold fronts often come on down to Costa Rica. Unlike other visitors from the north, cold fronts aren’t so welcome because they bring constant rain. While the forests on the Caribbean slope do need tons of falling water (they really do), if you don’t happen to be an amphibian, constant rain is kind of annoying. It’s pretty self explanatory but to give an idea of what it’s like, imagine light rain followed by heavier rain followed by light rain and repeat that process for several days and nights.

Getting ready for the count!
Note the umbrella on the ground- a break in the weather.

Such very wet weather is par for the course in the Arenal area in December so we couldn’t have expected less. However, despite the precipitation, we still managed quite a few bird species on our Finca Luna Nueva route, mostly during times of light rain and breaks in the weather. Such breaks lifted our hearts and gave birth to sighs of relief until the pressure dropped and the rain fell again (along with our drowned, soggy hopes). Ok, enough complaints, now for some highlights!:

  • Birding with the guys from 10,000 Birds, Tomohide Cho, Ismael Torres, and Johan Weintz: Mike Bergin and Corey Finger a la 10,000 Birds were visiting Costa Rica and we did the Arenal count together. Lots of fun before, during, and after the count with these guys in our search for lifers and shelter from the rain. Tomohide takes lots of great pictures of birds, Ismael is the resident guide at Luna Nueva and Johan is a guide.birder from Cartago. This was our team and I am grateful for spending the day with them.

    Mike and Corey wading through yet another stream.
  • Cinnamon Woodpecker: First, we had one so close that it seemed like it wanted to help out with the count. Three or so more during the day showed that Luna Nueva is a good spot for this beautiful species.

    I want to count birds!
  • Great Curassow: Regular around Arenal and at Luna Nueva but always a highlight. Although we didn’t get the barred morph and honorary count bird at Luna Nueva, we did see one of those semi-psychadelic creatures at Arenal Observatory Lodge on the following day.
    This was the count mascot.

    This was the one we saw.
  • White-fronted Nunbird: Mike Bergin gets the prize for spotting this target! The quality forests around Arenal are good for this formerly common species but it’s still easy to miss.
  • Hooded Warbler: Uncommon in Costa Rica and a year bird so it was a highlight for me. We did not re-find the much rarer Nashville that Mike, Corey, and Ismael had seen the day before the count!
  • Keel-billed Motmot: We got one from the tower just before lunch! Great looks but too far for a good shot with my camera.

    View from the canopy tower.
  • Magnificent Frigatebird: Weird stuff goes on during cold fronts and this was one of them. Nope, not even near the coast and no other team happened to see this juvenile fly past during the count!
  • Song Wren: Another good one, we got looks up on the trails at the Texas A and M Soltis Center. We did super good for wrens before and after the count too, with 10 species seen and Plain Wren the only heard only (yes, great looks at the almost invisible Nightingale Wren at Arenal Observatory Lodge).

Big misses included Chestnut-backed Antbird, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, owls, and other birds that probably didn’t call because they were sick of the rain. I forget how many species we got but I think it was around 130 and that’s not bad, not bad at all for a day of birding!

6 replies on “The 2014 Arenal Christmas Count”

It was such a great count despite the amazingly bad weather. I still can’t believe the number of species we saw despite being drenched for most of the day. Those Great Currasows were a total highlight and the Song Wren was such a skulky bastard that it felt great to finally see it.

And I want to state for the record that you are far too modest in your post. At least 30 or so species would not have been recorded if not for your ears!

Hi Patrick, where did you see the Nashville warbler? I’m pretty sure I saw one the day after the count in a trip to Mundo Aventura park

@Corey- I was also surprised by the number of species with that weather, along with what we saw on the following days with the same near-constant rain.

Yes, totally recommended. We went there in a party of up to eight birders (Diego Quesada among them) and had such an unbelievable luck that we saw Ornate hawk-eagle (adult and juvenile), yellow-ear toucanet (both male and female), a roosting chuck-will’s widow, blue-and-gold tanager, and some white-fronted nunbird just to mention the most remarkable highlights. I was left behind the party by the time I watched the Nashville warbler in a mixed flock with lesser greenlets and tawny-capped euphonias among others.

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