Last Saturday, May 13, more than 20,000 birders went birding and put their results into eBird. It was the third Global Big Day and the biggest one yet. If the day would have been a competition (and some countries did sort treat the day as such) Colombia took first place with more than 1,400 species identified, Peru came in second, and Ecuador was third. Surprisingly, the highest list came from northern Argentina (and thus highlighting the biodiversity in this less birded area), and Costa Rica had the highest total for Central America. Thanks to some last minute organizing and a good number of local birders getting on board, this small country finished the day with more than 640 species.
Birding in Costa Rica during Global Big Day, 2017.
Since most of the migrants had already left, the local birding community was very pleased at topping 600. Consider that all of these species were found in an area roughly equal to that of West Virginia and it’s quite the impressive total. We are already thinking about next year to see if we can hit 700. As for me, I birded a 60 kilometer route from the Central Valley, up and over the mountains, north to the Sarapiqui Caribbean lowlands, and then back up the mountain to hit highland forests before heading back down into the valley for some dry forest and wetland species. As usual, I did this route with my faithful Big Day birding companion and friend, Susan. Although we ran out of time twarads the end of the day and thus missed out on dry forest species, we were seriously lucky with good weather, especially because a lot of other birders in Costa Rica got rained out during the critical morning hours.
During our long day and night of birding, some of our nicest finds were:
Striped Owl– This was a big one on my radar because a Striped Owl had been calling just about every night for the past two months right near my house. Thankfully, good old “Stripey” decided to participate in the Global Big Day by giving its shrill vocalization as soon as we stopped to listen for it. I can’t say the same for other owls in the valley and mountains but at least the Striped Owl piped up right on cue!
A surprise wetland– Deciding where to greet the dawn on a Big Day is of vital importance because it’s when we have the best chance at the most birds. If it rains, there goes a sizeable chunk of the daily total. If you pick the wrong spot, you probably miss the species that would have put you over your end goal. With all that in mind, we started where the most species were possible; in the Caribbean Lowlands. The site had to be close enough to the rest of our route to save time but also in or next to an extensive area of forest. After scouting and checking Google Earth, I decided on an area just north of Tirimbina where a road cuts through a corner of a large forest block and then passes near a wetland mentioned in eBird. As it turned out, the forest block wasn’t as birdy as expected, nor did the lagoon from eBird have much, but we did luck out with a fine marsh just outside the forest. This was a surprise because I had seen the satellite view of the open area but had assumed that it was pasture. Although some of it did turn out to be grass for cows, most of it was a shallow river bordered by marsh vegetation! Since such habitat is difficult to find and access in Costa Rica, and offers a chance at various additions to the day list, this was a fantastic Big Day surprise.
Our best bird there was Rufescent Tiger-Heron, a rare species in Costa Rica and thus not exactly expected. We also picked up Purple Gallinule and some other water birds as well as various edge species and some forest birds.
Our tiger-heron and one of all three species we found during the day!
Birds before dawn– You never know what will call at night from one day to the next. Next to the march and adjacent forest, luckily, we had a calling Black and white Owl, Central American Pygmy-Owl, one Uniform Crake (maybe the only one for Costa Rica), and one Great Potoo. No response from Short-tailed Nighthawk or other owls but some good night birds nonetheless.
White-ringed Flycatcher and other lowland specialties– I had hoped to get the flycatcher but it was particularly sweet to get our only one right from the car, and rather low down. In Tirimbina, we picked up several other nice lowland targets including Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, antwrens, the hoped for White-fronted Nunbirds that live there, Black-striped Woodcreeper, and some others. We also missed several but it was still fun trying for them!
Tanagers in Socorro– These were expected but still nice to get them and weren’t as common as we had hoped. Black and yellow, Bay-headed, Silver-throated, Speckled, and a few other showed, including Blue and Gold and the exquisite Scarlet-thighed Dacnis.
Blue and gold Tanager
A quetzal in the cloud forest– We always knew it was possible but with limited time to work with, the chances of bumping into one are never really good. As if to make up for the many highland species that were hiding or just keeping silent, a male Resplendent Quetzal fluttered and then flew right across our field of view in an area of cloud forest that is now quite accessible from the San Jose area. Thanks to road work and new bridges, the route that goes from San Rafael de Varablanca towards Socorro and San Miguel is easy going right up to this area of forest. Beyond that, the road requires four wheel drive but you might not need to go much further for some really good birding because this area of forest is connected to Braulio Carrillo National Park. Since it’s not that far from the homestead, I hope to check it out from time to time.
Although I always want more birds, I was pleased with our total of around 230 species. I wonder how many more we could get on that route with additional scouting and when there are migrants in the area.