web analytics
Christmas Counts

The 2015 Arenal Christmas Count Experience

“Tis Christmas count season and all through the woods, birders were counting every bird that was stirring, tweeting, and flying as much as they could”. As with every properly done Christmas count, that can act as a brief summary for what we did on Saturday, December 5th. The following is a more detailed one about the event:

  • Finca Luna Nueva: This wonderful organic farm and ecolodge was our team’s base for the count and count route. This place might not be on the regular birding route but it should be. The rooms are comfortable and clean, there are trails through productive bird

    Finca Luna Nueva

  • Rain (but not too much): Unfortunately for counts on the Caribbean slope, December coincides with buckets of rain and it can happen at any time of the day. None of that classic tropical sunny morning/rainy afternoon stuff. More like heavy rain followed by light rain transitioning back to a downpour followed by fog. That’s how every team started their count on the 5th but at least the rain only lasted until mid-morning. The rest of the day was cloudy and ended with another bout of precip. but when it wasn’t raining, a good number of birds came out to play.
    This Broad-billed Motmot was seen on a drier day before the count. We had one count day and heard a few others that could have also been Keel-billed Motmots (they sound the same).

    This wet Collared Aracari was a typical scene during the morning of the count.
  • A lot of birds: The birding and counting were productive. We added new birds all day long and were constantly counting. With the sound of rain clouding my memory, I forget which birds were first and last on the list. However, I do know that our team  identified 140 plus species, none of which were aquatic birds! The total for all teams was more than 320 species. As expected, the most frequent were common species, especially Baltimore Oriole, and large flocks of Crimson-fronted Parakeets and White-crowned Parrots.

    Luna Nueva's organic farm and primary rainforest are excellent for birding.
  • Lack of night birds: They were out there but constant rain isn’t conducive to nightbirding.  Most owls were missed (and we didn’t have any), but one team still managed a Spectacled Owl and a Tropical Screech-Owl, and another got Great Potoo (maybe the roosting bird near the dam).
  • Tower birding: Finca Luna Nueva has the distinction of being one of the only places in Costa Rica with a tower, and we made use of it during the pre-breakfast mist and rain. It’s not very tall, and it doesn’t overlook primary forest but it still provides eye level views of several species. We saw parrots in flight, a pair of White-winged Becards, a few migrant wood-warblers, our only Long-tailed Tyrant of the day, and a male Green Thorntail feeding on the flower of an “Almendra” planted as part of the finca’s reforestation efforts among other sightings.

    Counting from the tower.
  • A bit of exploration: After counting more than 100 species at Luna Nueva (and that’s with getting rained out for the best part of the morning), we spent the afternoon covering the road to the Soltis Texas A and M Research Station. We also had a chance to do some counting on the trails of the station. Although we didn’t pick up any megas, the quality rainforest at this site still looks like a good place to check for the ground-cuckoo, Tawny-faced Quail, or other rarity. We did pick up several more birds, including Ocellated and Spotted Antbirds, some tanagers, and various other species. On the way back to Luna Nueva, lots of birds were flying to roost and perching in the tree tops. It was a final birdy ride punctuated with calling toucans, trees decorated with orioles and Red-billed Pigeons, and a choice Bicolored Hawk, the only one on the count. We also checked out Soltis the next morning after experiencing similar morning rain. This resulted in a dozen species not recorded by our team during the count including a perched Black Hawk-Eagle at eye level, and another Bicolored Hawk!
    This Nightingale Wren was seen after the day of the count.

    As was this Black Hawk-Eagle!
  • The stand-outs: In addition to the raptor stand-outs mentioned above, other birds of notice were the calling White-fronted Nunbirds at Luna Nueva, a heard only Uniform Crake, Great Curassow, Blue-throated Goldentail, 3 trogon species, 5 woodpecker species, Checker-throated Antwren and several other antbirds, Kentucky Warbler, and White-throated Shrike-Tanager. The most unexpected species was a glimpse of a Long-tailed Manakin, a species that normally occurs on the Pacific slope and hasn’t been recorded in this area. One other was also seen by another team.

    Our nunbirds.
  • A well-organized event: In keeping with the previous two counts, this year’s count was an organized event that featured video footage of a nesting Thicket Antpitta, explanation of each count route, lodging for several counters, a rep from Swarovski, some bird-related arts and crafts, and a delicious plate of “arroz con pollo” accompanied b y refried beans at the end of the count day.
    One of the count routes.

    Hearing about Thicket Antpittas.

Many thanks goes out to Diego Quesada (Diego Birding and Nature Tours), Juan Diego Vargas, and Jheudy Carnallo for organizing this year’s count, and Finca Luna Nueva for hosting us!

2 replies on “The 2015 Arenal Christmas Count Experience”

What happens with the data collected, given that this count isn’t an official Audubon count (and can’t become one, either, unless they push the date back)?

@Frank- I’m not entirely sure other than knowing that the organizers are collecting the data and sharing it with the national parks (one of them works for the national parks at Arenal).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.