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Birding Costa Rica birding lodges birds to watch for in Costa Rica

A Few Birds To Look For On The Cerro Lodge Road

Cerro Lodge is one of the main accommodation options for birders visiting the Carara area. It’s also one of the only real options but that doesn’t take away from its value in terms of proximity to the park, service, comfort, and (best of all), good, on-site birding. Given that reforestation efforts have resulted in more birds at the lodge itself, more fruit feeders, hummingbird bushes, and an overlook that can turn up everything from raptors, macaws, parrots, parakeets, Yellow-billed Cotinga (typically distant), trogons, and flyby Muscovy Duck, don’t be surprised if you feel completely satisfied with birding from the lodge restaurant. But, if you feel like stepping off the lodge property, get ready for more great birding on the road that runs in front of Cerro Lodge.

This road gets birdy by way of patches of roadside dry forest, second growth, mango orchards, fields, a small seasonal marsh, and a flat, floodplain area near the Tarcoles River. As one might expect, that mosaic of habitats has resulted in a fair bird list, and I suspect that several other species could show. In addition to a wide variety of common edge species, these are some other key birds to look for:

Crane Hawk

This raptor might be the star of the Cerro Lodge bird assemblage. Although not exactly abundant and never guaranteed, the lodge and the road are probably the most reliable sites in Costa Rica for this species. In this country, the raptor with the long, red legs prefers riparian zones with large trees in lowland areas, mostly on the Pacific slope. The proximity of the Tarcoles River to the road and the lodge apparently works well for this cool bird because it’s seen here quite often. If you don’t get it from the restaurant, a day of focused birding on the road should turn up one or more of this nice raptor. In addition to both caracaras, other raptors can also show up including Short-tailed, Zone-tailed, Common Black, and Gray Hawks, Gray-headed Kite, Plumbeous Kite, and Collared Forest-Falcon. Down in the floodplain, keep an eye out for Pearl Kite.

Muscovy Duck

It might not seem exciting but it’s still worth knowing that this area is a good one for wild Muscovy Ducks. One or more can fly over the lodge, road, or be visible from the lodge restaurant. The abundance of this species probably varies with water levels in the surrounding area. I usually see one or more flybys in the morning but there are times when I haven’t seen any, and I recall one morning when more than a dozen were seen from the restaurant.

Double Striped Thick-Knee

If you still need this weird one, watch for it in open fields anywhere on the road, but especially in the floodplain area just before dawn.

Striped Cuckoo and Lesser ground-Cuckoo

The Striped is regular from the lodge and along the road and the ground-cuckoo is probably increasing.


Although Black and White used to be a given at the lodge, unfortunately, it’s not as regular as in the past. It still occurs in the area though and does still visit the lodge on occasion. Other owl species that can show up include Barn, Spectacled, Mottled, and Pacific Screech. Striped is also heard and seen from time to time. The most common owl species is Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl.

Various dry forest species

Many dry forest species are common at the lodge and along the road including stunners like Turquoise-browed Motmot and Black-headed Trogon.

The motmot

The trogon

These two can occur at the lodge and anywhere on the road along with species like Stripe-headed Sparrow, Brown-crested and Nutting’s Flycatchers, and White-lored Gnatcatcher. Checking spots with dense vegetation and a more forested aspect can turn up Olive Sparrow, Banded Wren, Royal Flycatcher, and even Stub-tailed Spadebill. Beauties like Blue Grosbeak and Painted Bunting are also regular in scrubby habitats along the road.

Stripe-headed Sparrow

White-lored Gnatcatcher

White-necked Puffbird

This cool bird seems to be increasing at this site and is now regular along the road and even at the lodge itself.

Macaws, parrots and the like

Thankfully, Scarlet Macaws are doing very well in Costa Rica. While watching them fly past and perch in trees at and near Cerro, you can also watch for flyby Yellow-naped, White-fronted, and Red-lored Parrots, White-crowned Parrots, Orange-fronted and Orange-chinned Parakeets, and, when certain trees are seeding, hundreds of Crimson-fronted Parakeets. At times, Brown-hooded and Mealy Parrots can also occur for a fine Psittacine sweep.

This stunner is always around.

White-throated Magpie-Jay

Last but not least, watch for this spectacular jay on the road and at the lodge feeders.

Enjoy birding at Cerro and vicinity, I hope to see you out there! Please see an updated bird list below:

List of birds identified at Cerro Lodge and the road in front of the lodge, with abundance as of 2017
This list probably awaits more additions, especially from the more heavily wooded area on the northern part of the property.
c- common, u- uncommon, r – rare, vr- very rare and vagrants
Please send additions to the list or rare sightings to information@birdingcraft.com
Area covered includes the vicinity of Cerro Lodge and the road to Cerro Lodge from the highway to where it dead-ends on the river flood plain.
Keep in mind that the abundance of various species is likely changing due to the effects of climate change.
Great Tinamour
Little Tinamouu
Muscovy Ducku
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducku
Blue-winged Tealr
Masked Duckvr
Gray-headed Chachalacar
Least Greber
Magnificent Frigatebirdu
Wood Storkc
Neotropic Cormorantu
Bare-throated Tiger-Heronc
Great Blue Heronu
Great Egretc
Snowy Egretu
Little Blue Heronc
Tricolored Heronu
Cattle Egretc
Green Heronc
Boat-billed Heronr
Yellow-crowned Night-Heronr
White Ibisc
Roseate Spoonbillu
Black Vulturec
Turkey Vulturec
King Vulturer
Pearl Kiter
Hook-billed Kitevr
Gray-headed Kiter
Double-toothed Kiter
Plumbeous Kitec
Tiny Hawkvr
Crane Hawku
Gray Hawkc
Common Black-Hawkc
Broad-winged Hawkc
Short-tailed Hawkc
Zone-tailed Hawku
Swainson’s Hawkr
Red-tailed Hawkr
White-throated Crakevr
Purple Gallinulec
Gray-cowled Wood-Railu
Double-striped Thick-Kneeu
Southern Lapwingu
Northern Jacanac
Black-necked Stiltu
Solitary Sandpiperu
Spotted Sandpiperu
Lesser Yellowlegsr
Pale-vented Pigeonvr
Red-billed Pigeonc
White-winged Dovec
White-tipped Dovec
Inca Dovec
Common Ground-Dovec
Plain-breasted Ground-Dover
Ruddy Ground-Dovec
Blue Ground-Dover
Squirrel Cuckooc
Groove-billed Anic
Lesser Ground-Cuckoor
Mangrove Cuckoou
Barn Owlu
Spectacled Owlr
Mottled Owlu
Black and White Owlc
Pacific Screech Owlc
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owlc
Striped Owlr
Common Pauraquec
Lesser Nighthawkc
Northern Potoovr
White-collared Swiftc
Chestnut-collared Swiftu
Black swiftr
Spot-fronted Swiftr
Vaux’s Swiftu
Costa Rican Swiftu
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swiftu
Long-billed Hermitr
Stripe-throated Hermitu
Scaly-breasted Hummingbirdc
Canivet’s Emeraldu
Steely-vented Hummingbirdc
Blue-throated Goldentailc
Cinnamon Hummingbirdc
Rufous-tailed Hummingbirdc
Charming Hummingbirdr
Mangrove Hummingbirdvr
Ruby-throated Hummingbirdc
Plain-capped Starthroatu
Green-breasted Mangoc
Slaty-tailed Trogonr
Black-headed Trogonc
Gartered Trogonc
Lesson’s Motmotu
Turquoise-browed Motmotc
Ringed Kingfisheru
Belted Kingfisherr
Green Kingfisheru
Amazon Kingfisherr
American Pygmy-Kingfisherr
White-necked Puffbirdc
Yellow-throated Toucanr
Keel-billed Toucanvr
Fiery-billed Aracarir
Olivaceous Piculetr
Hoffman’s Woodpeckerc
Lineated Woodpeckerc
Pale-billed Woodpeckeru
Bat Falconr
Peregrine Falconu
Collared Forest-Falconu
Crested Caracarac
Yellow-headed Caracarac
Laughing Falconc
Crimson-fronted Parakeetc
Orange-fronted Parakeetc
Orange-chinned Parakeetc
White-crowned Parrotc
Brown-hooded Parrotu
White-fronted Parrotc
Red-lored Parrotc
Mealy Parrotr
Yellow-naped Parrotc
Scarlet Macawc
Barred Antshrikec
Olivaceous Woodcreeperu
Streak-headed Woodcreeperc
Cocoa Woodcreeperu
Northern Barred Woodcreeperr
Northern Beardless Tyrannuletc
Southern Beardless Tyrannuletr
Paltry Tyrannuletu
Northern Bentbillr
Stub-tailed Spadebillr
Royal Flycatcherr
Yellow-bellied Elaeniau
Yellow-olive Flycatcherc
Greenish Elaeniac
Common Tody-Flycatcherc
Bright-rumped Atillac
Tropical Peweeu
Yellow-bellied Flycatcherc
Willow Flycatcherc
Alder Flycatcheru
Panama Flycatcherr
Great-crested Flycatcherc
Brown-crested Flycatcherc
Nutting’s Flycatcherc
Dusky-capped Flycatcherc
Boat-billed Flycatcherc
Great Kiskadeec
Social Flycatcherc
Streaked Flycatcherc
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcherc
Piratic Flycatcherc
Tropical Kingbirdc
Western Kingbirdr
Eastern Kingbirdu
Scissor-tailed Flycatcheru
Yellow-billed Cotingar
Three-wattled Bellbirdvr
Long-tailed Manakinu
Rose-throated Becardc
Masked Tityrac
Black-crowned Tityrac
Scrub Greenletvr
Lesser Greenletu
Yellow-throated Vireoc
Philadelphia Vireoc
Yellow-green Vireoc
Red-eyed Vireor
White-throated Magpie-Jayu
Brown Jayc
Cliff Swallowc
Southern Rough-winged Swallowc
Northern Rough-winged Swallowc
Barn Swallowc
Bank Swallowc
Mangrove Swallowu
Gray-breasted Martinc
White-lored Gnatcatcherc
Tropical Gnatcatcherc
Long-billed Gnatwrenu
Rufous-naped Wrenc
Rufous-breasted Wrenu
Banded Wrenu
Rufous and white Wrenu
Cabanis’s Wrenc
House Wrenc
Clay-colored Robinc
Swainson’s Thrushc
Wood Thrushu
Tennessee Warblerc
Yellow Warblerc
Hooded Warblerr
American Redstartr
Prothonotary Warbleru
Rufous-capped Warblerc
Chestnut-sided Warblerc
Black and White Warblerc
Northern Waterthrushc
Gray-crowned Yellowthroatc
Summer Tanagerc
Western Tanageru
Blue-gray Tanagerc
Palm Tanageru
Cherrie’s Tanagerr
Gray-headed Tanageru
Red-legged Honeycreeperc
Stripe-headed Sparrowc
Buff-throated Saltatorc
Grayish Saltatoru
Blue-black Grassquitc
White-collared Seedeaterc
Variable Seedeaterc
Rose-breasted Grosbeakc
Blue Grosbeakc
Indigo Buntingu
Painted Buntingu
Eastern Meadowlarkc
Red-winged Blackbirdu
Melodious Blackbirdc
Great-tailed Gracklec
Baltimore Oriolec
Orchard Orioleu
Bronzed Cowbirdc
Montezuma Oropendolau
Yellow-crowned Euphoniau
Scrub Euphoniac
Yellow-throated Euphoniac
Birding Costa Rica

Some Costa Rica Birding News for March, 2017

The height of the “birding season” in Costa Rica happens during March. Really, the birding here is good year round but the majority of tours like to visit during the third month because, in Costa Rica, the month of wild winds and early spring coincides with migration, most wintering species still being present, a bit more bird song, and less rain. If you are about to visit this wonderful, birdy place, I hope that the following birding news tidbits will be of help:

American White Pelicans at Cano Negro: No, you don’t expect these big aquatic birds in Costa Rica. Far easier to see further north, this species is a very rare vagrant here. However, for the past couple of years, flocks have made appearances at Cano Negro. During past two weeks, many lucky birders in the Cano Negro area have added this one to their country list. I wish I was one of them but I haven’t had a chance to head up that way. With luck, they may stick around for another week or so. Keep an eye out for this one while looking for Jabiru, kingfishers, crakes, and other species in this wetland hotspot.

Medio Queso: I haven’t been there yet this year but it sounds like the guy who usually does the boat trip is even more difficult to contact because his phone number is no longer working. I expect that he still lives in the house at the end of the dike, one probably needs to go there a day before to ask about a boat ride the following morning.

A Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture does its harrier thing at Medio Queso.

El Tapir hummingbirds: During several trips to this site over the past month, Snowcap, Black-crested Coquette, and Green Thorntail have been present every day. It might take a bit for the Snowcap to show but it usually does. The coquette often perches on the dead sapling in the garden, sometimes sharing the tree with a thorntail and a male Snowcap! Other hummingbirds in the garden have mostly been Rufous-taileds, along with a few Violet-headeds and woodnymphs. Of course, these species and other hummingbirds are also easy at Rancho Naturalista.

A male Black-crested Coquette at El Tapir.

Other birds at El Tapir: The trail to the river isn’t maintained as well as some in the national parks but it’s always productive. As usual, it has been especially good for antwren flocks that move quietly through the forest understory. These are usually composed of Tawny-faced Gnatwren, White-flanked, Checker-throated, and Dot-winged Antwrens, Streak-crowned Antvireo, Stripe-breasted Wren, Ruddy-tailed and Sulphur-rumped Flycatchers, foliage-gleaners, and a woodcreeper or two along with chances at rarer species. Other interesting species on this trail as of late have included Olive-backed Quail-Dove, Lattice-tailed, Slaty-tailed, Gartered, and Black-throated Trogons, Northern Schiffornis, and good mixed flocks of tanagers (including Blue and gold) and other birds. My “best” species were Central American Pygmy-Owl and a pair of Yellow-eared Toucanets in the same day. From the parking lot, King Vulture often shows flying high overhead, and any of the hawk-eagles are rare but always possible.

The pygmy-owl from the other day. First time I have seen it at this site!

Not long after, a Yellow-eared Toucanet perched in the same tree.

Also, please remember to pay the caretaker the $10 entrance fee. Although there is no sign, this is what he expects.

Quetzals on Poas: They are always up there somewhere but finding them usually requires locating the fruiting trees they feed on. Recently, I had a pair in a fruiting avocado close to the Volcan Restaurant. As expected, this major target is much easier on Cerro de la Muerte, and at Monteverde.

Carara is dry but still productive: In keeping with current global warming trends, Carara looks much drier than it used to and although the birds are there, sadly, there aren’t as many as even five years ago. The humid forest species are easier to find further south but if you need them from Carara, they might be more regular on the HQ trails back at and past the stream. It’s still a good place to find Great Tinamou, Streak-chested Antpitta, Black-faced Antthrush, and many other species but it might take longer to find them.

It’s a good place for ridiculously close views of various birds. This Bicolored Antbird was perched near our feet.

Piratic Flycatchers and Yellow-green Vireos: It took a while for these to show in numbers but they are finally back and singing and calling in lots of places. These migrants take advantage of the wet season to breed in Costa Rica before migrating to the Amazon. The same goes for Swallow-tailed Kite and Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, both of which are also around, although in what seems to smaller numbers.

Park hours: Just a reminder about hours for the national parks. Carara opens at 7 (thank goodness) and closes at 4, all other parks are open from 8 to 4. To enter early, visit the park the day before and ask if you can go in early to watch birds. Say “Puedo entrar a las 6 para ver aves manana y pagar la entrada despues? (Can I enter at 6 to watch birds tomorrow and pay the fee after?)”.

Traffic: It’s as bad as ever and, impossibly, seems to only get worse. The upside is that bad traffic jams are mostly in the Central Valley area. Away from there, things are much better although you should still expect a fair degree of bad driving habits. Worst times are between 6 and 8:30 in the morning and between 3:30 and 6 in the evening. Driving at pre-dawn is wonderful but seriously watch out for potential drunk drivers!

As always, I hope to see you in the field!

caribbean slope identification issues

Identification Tips for White-ringed Flycatcher

Recently, while guiding in the La Selva area, one of our many target species finally showed at the end of the day. Like other birds I was looking for, in Costa Rica, this one only occurs in lowland rainforest on the Caribbean slope and thus finds itself sharing a hitlist with the likes of Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Snowy Cotinga, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, and other choice species. Although those three birds failed to show, the White-ringed Flycatcher made an appearance as one of our last species of the day.

A distant White-ringed Flycatcher.

This flycatcher is one of several species that looks kind of like a Great Kiskadee or Social Flycatcher, but isn’t, and that’s why I’m going to talk about it. Based on the images of White-ringed Flycatcher that pop up during online searches, it looks like Social Flycatcher is the biggest contender in terms of mis-identification because 80% of the images that were tagged as White-ringed were actually Socials along with a few kiskadees and even Tropical Kingbird thrown in for good measure. That’s reasonable, I mean they look almost exactly the same, but this is also why you won’t learn much about identification of White-ringed Flycatcher from looking at images in Flckr.

Instead of doing that, check out these tips for an honest to goodness tick of White-ringed Flycatcher while birding in Costa Rica, Panama, or other parts of their range:

Habitat and Behavior: Yep, these factors are mentioned first because they provide the best clues. While other kiskadee type flycatchers can hang out on fences, and even zip down to the ground, the White-ringed has more refined tastes. This fly-catching aristocrat almost always keeps to the canopy, even perching on the very tops of tall trees like a pseudo-cotinga. Yes, it will come lower in some places but if you see a kiskadee-type bird sitting on a fence row, it’s probably not going to be a White-ringed. I am sure this is why so few images of this species are actually available. Unlike the other kiskadees, this one also prefers forest. Thankfully, it will come to the edge and sometimes to semi-open areas, but for the most part, this is a forest species that requires old second growth and/or mature lowland rainforest. Similar to other kiskadees, it sallies for bugs and fruit, and often occurs in groups of four to six birds.

The La Selva entrance road is a regular spot for this species.

Tertials: Instead of checking other parts of the bird in question, check out the back section of the wing. Although some Socials and other kiskadee types can show some pale edging to the tertials, this field mark seems to always stand out more in the wings of the White-ringed Flycatcher, even at a distance.

Hard to see in this image but this shows the pale tertial edging and white meeting on the nape.

White on the head: True to its name, it does have a white “ring” on its head. Actually a diadem, the white eyebrow is broader or wider than other kiskadees, and meets on the front and back of the head. In the Social and Boat-billed, the white on the head does not meet on the nape, but does so in the Great Kiskadee.

Eyelid: Ok, I don’t know if it’s the eyelid or some spot right above the eye, but with a good look, a small white crescent is visible right above the eye of the White-ringed. A far as I can tell, the other kiskadees lack this small but distinctive detail.

Check out the eyelid.

Beak: Not the most principle of field marks but one that does lend itself to the identification equation. Compared to Social Flycatcher, White-ringed has a slightly longer, straighter bill. See enough Socials and this is evident.

Song: As usual with Tyrannids, ear birders are in luck. This one calls frequently, and has a distinctive, even pitched, trilled vocalization nothing like the calls of Social Flycatcher or other kiskadee types.

Places to see it: This species is fairly common at any lowland rainforest site on the Caribbean slope, including the La Selva area and Sarapiqui, Laguna del Lagarto, anywhere near and south of Limon, and various other places. Interestingly, it also occurs on some parts of the Arenal Observatory entrance road.

For more tips about identification of birds in Costa Rica, as well as information about sites, get “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.