The tenth month of the year isn’t exactly the choice time to visit Costa Rica. In the late 90s, I visited Costa Rica in October and was greeted by massive amounts of rain. I still saw a lot of cool birds but it was one heck of a wet endeavor. That’s normal although in fall, the Caribbean slope tends to see less precipitation than other parts of the country (unless a hurricane hits Honduras and throws blankets of rain our way). This is one of the reasons why March and other dry season months are high time for birding in Costa Rica. However, for us local birders, October is one of the more exciting times of the year. We learn how to bird under an umbrella, enjoy beaucoup mixed flock action under gray skies, and become adept at evading flooded roads. Seriously, though, it is an exciting time for local birding because the bulk of migrants have come back to town.
The thousands of Baltimore Orioles that spend the winter in Costa Rica don’t come back until October.
As with any big movement of birds, rarities are out there in the mix of common birds. They are feathered needles in a tropical vegetation haystack (and thus pretty tough to find) but they are out there. Birding becomes more exciting with the prospect of vagrant wood-warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and the small chance of something new for the country. This year, although no one has found our first Hammond’s Flycatcher or Black-throated Gray Warbler yet, the country first Roseate Tern did make an appearance! This was actually back in late September but the news wasn’t released until the observers realized what they had seen and put the sighting on the local rare bird alert (AOCR Bird Alarm). What makes this observation even more interesting is that it showed up on the Pacific coast and not on the Caribbean where it was more expected. In fact, this could be the first documented sighting for the eastern Pacific.
We always see lots of other nice birds when hoping for a super rarity. This is a Red-faced Spinetail.
Speaking of terns, several Arctics have also been sighted and photographed. As expected for this species, it’s usually seen far offshore. These ones were seen on beaches and in the Gulf of Nicoya, and this could be another sign of poor foraging conditions out in the pelagic zone.
There have also been sightings of various expected shorebirds from Chomes and the Punta Morales area along with an American Avocet that has been hanging out since last year. I hope it stays for good and survives so we can always see it!
Semipalmated Plover-one of the usual shorebirds.
Saving the best for last, we have a new Big Day record for Costa Rica! On October 15th, Ernesto Carman (birder, guide, and field biologist working on Unspotted Saw-whet Owls) and Jairo Jimenez birded from the dry habitats and coastal zone north of Puntarenas south to Carara, then up to the slopes of Irazu Volcano, down the road through Braulio Carrillo National Park, and then over to the Las Brisas Reserve near Siquirres. Apparently, the route worked out very well because they got more than 350 species, thus soundly breaking the previous records of 308 and 310 species! I was surprised that they were able to cover so much territory because of traffic problems that typically plague the San Jose area. However, in retrospect, if coming up from Carara, you can sort of skirt southern San Jose on something of a ring road, scoot up to Irazu before reaching downtown Cartago, and get to the Braulio highway by going around the northern edge of the urbanization. Weather also worked out and of course, Ernesto and Jairo know the birds of Costa Rica very well. Check out Ernesto’s account of the Big Day.
Great Green Macaw is one of the standout species among the 300 plus birds they found.
Of course, I am still hoping to break some records with a Big Day. Although the new records of 351 for Costa Rica (third highest in the world), and 425 for Ecuador make that less likely, it will still be fun to try!