June has special meaning for those of us from the temperate north. It’s when summer truly kicks into gear with baseball, the hum of lawnmowers, beautiful sunny days, the rattle and song of meadowlarks calling from the fields, and another school year finally over. Celebration all around and the woods are filled with bird song. In Costa Rica, though, June is barely noticed because summer is a year-round event only marked by absence or major presence of rain.
Right now, there’s a whole lot of rain going on and it’s a relief because this is how it’s supposed to be. April and May were pretty dry and that’s not how it’s supposed to be. In many parts of the country, birds nest in April and May to take advantage of the rains. If the rains aren’t there, the birds are probably going to lose the gamble for offspring. This year, I hope enough birds in the Central Valley and the Pacific lowlands postponed nesting for a month because right now is when the food is abundant. Well, at least for the valley because Guanacaste is still going through a drought. As climate continues to warm, unfortunately, the tropical dry forest in that part of the country will probably phase into an even more xeric ecosystem.
The rain story follows another path in the mountains and Caribbean. There has been more rain than usual and although it hinders birding, those wet ecosystems do need the water. The rain can be rough to contend with but it does spur bird activity. Like a northern summer, more birds sing, and it’s easier to see more species than drier, winter months. If you are from the north, go birding in Costa Rica now and every bird seen will be a tropical resident. It’s a good time of the year to become acquainted with antbirds, watch trogons in action, and get crazy with mixed flocks.
The low clouds also make June an excellent time of the year to watch swifts. Most days, as the storms approach, I see White-collareds, Chestnut-collareds, and Vaux’s right from the house. If I look long enough, I also hear or see Black and/or Spot-fronted. The other day, I picked up a Spot-fronted when it called as soon as I walked into the backyard. I couldn’t find it way up there in the monotone gray but was happy to at least hear its distinctive vocalization.
It sounds like this:
The need to breed also reveals species that can be very hard to find. After Jim Zook reported a pair of Blue Seedeaters near Naranjo, Susan and I went looking for them a few days later. There was no sight or sound of that rare and little known species but it will still nice to hear the sounds of June in moist woodlands and coffee farms of the Central Valley. Those sounds and sightings come in the form of Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrushes, Rufous-breasted and Plain Wrens, Barred Antshrike, Red-billed Pigeon, Masked Tityra, Yellow-throated Euphonia, and lots of Yellow-green Vireos among other species.
After dipping on the seedeater, we continued on to the loop that goes past Bosque la Paz, goes up through Alto Paloma, and comes back through Sarchi. We met back up with the rain near Bosque de Paz but still saw a fair number of birds before the mist turned into a downpour. From the cloud forest, we heard Prong-billed Barbets, Slaty-backed and Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrushes, Black-faced Solitaire, and other expected species. We also saw most of them including Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Golden-crowned and Three-striped Warblers, Lineated Foliage-gleaner, Yellowish Flycatcher, and others.
Higher up, tapaculos called but failed to show (no surprise there), and there was no sign of Costa Rican Pygmy-owl, but we did see and hear Golden-bellied Flycatcher, both silky-flycatchers, Collared Redstart, Ruddy and Band-tailed Pigeons, and several Black-thighed Grosbeaks to top off a birdy June morning with 60 or so species.
Want to learn more about birding at Alto Paloma, other sites mentioned on this blog, and how to identify swifts? Get How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.