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Recent Birding at El Tapir Costa Rica

According to the calendars on my computer, iPad and around the house, another year has started. On December 31st, I was also made aware of this fact by way of a flurry of small, controlled explosions that went off just around midnight. I wasn’t up on purpose, I was attempting to sleep or at least get enough rest to guide the following morning. The good thing is that whether because I had gotten enough rest or because of exhilaration at starting a new year list, fortunately, I did not feel exhausted on January first, 2018. I birded/guided all day long and lists at the end of the day included a bunch of quality species.

We started at El Tapir, right at dawn. No bat-like silhouettes of Short-tailed Nighthawks appeared but we made up for that with these and other highlights:

First birds were small hummingbirds: But wait, aren’t all hummingbirds on the smaller end of things? Well, yes, but if we were the same size as a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Violet Sabrewings might look as big as a Clydesdale, whereas Snowcaps would be sort of like Hobbits. I know, given the unkempt, hairy feet, and hole-dwelling behaviors, probably not the fairest of comparisons. But, when you consider the need for a second or third breakfast, maybe not so far from the mark…

Black-crested Coquette was one of the very first species we saw.

This was quickly followed up by views of Green Thorntail and Snowcap.

Ant swarm in the garden: Bicolored Antbirds called from the edge of the forest and the open areas played host to a few Wood Thrushes, Buff-rumped Warblers, and even Passerini’s Tanagers intently peering at the ground. A closer look revealed a partially hidden carpet of ravenous ants. Yes! Most people  might balk or reach for the Raid when hearing “ants” “swarm” and “garden” in the same sentence. Not us birders and especially not in Costa Rica because an antswarm in the garden means serious bird activity and photo opps. Although the true antbirds stayed in the shade of forest or a hedgerow, we did get looks at Bicolored and one stellar Ocellated Antbird.

Always stunning!

The small toucan with yellow ears: The other toucans in Costa Rica have normal ears. This one’s are yellow and it’s the one that we all want to see. Unlike its boisterous relatives, the Yellow-eared Toucanet is a much more stealthy creature. Usually seen in pairs, it creeps through the canopy of foothill and middle elevation rainforest as it searches for fruiting trees and small animals. Sort of like a ninja. Come to think of it, its mostly black plumage also makes it look a bit like an avian ninja. Well, then again, maybe not it’s still a champ at avoiding detection. That’s why watching one at El Tapir on the first day of the year was a major win in the realm of autonomous challenges.

White-throated Shrike-Tanager: Is it a shrike? How about a tanager? It’s actually sort of both- a tanager that has a shrike-like bill but also acts like a flycatcher. I know, like what on Earth is going on here? To top off the weirdness, shrike-tanagers also make lots of noise. Like the toucanet, this bird is another mature forest snob. You gotta venture into the old woods to see the White-throated Shrike-Tanager. It was very nice to encounter three or four at El Tapir.

Other tanagers: In Costa Rica, foothill rainforests are also where the other tanagers roam. Hard to think of a better way to start the year than watching a colorful display that included Emerald, Speckled, Black and yellow, Tawny-crested, and Silver-throated tanagers among other species.

If you see an Emerald Tanager in good light, please feel free to gasp.

It was a great first day of the year, especially when we ended it with an afternoon of Great Green Macaws, Rufous-winged Woodpeckers, trogons, and Broad-billed Motmot in the Sarapiqui area. Are you birding in Costa Rica? Wishing you a Snowy Cotinga and lots of other birds in 2018!

6 replies on “Recent Birding at El Tapir Costa Rica”

Hello! Greetings from New York :). Your blog definitely caught my attention, especially because of all your beautiful photos. While the occasional ruby-throated hummingbird is surely an exciting find for me here in NY, its definitely interesting to learn of other hummingbirds much further south.

I’m actually traveling to Costa Rica for the first time later this month. With that being said, this blog is DEFINITELY helping me get even more excited for the wildlife tour I will be taking. Anyways great blog, feel free to check out mine and follow back if you are interested!


Ian Hardy.

January 30th 2018 19.38 pm.

Hi Patrick,

My wife and I arrive in CR on the 1st of March for12 days we are staying in five different lodges which we are really looking forward to. I have just read today that you are experiencing a lot of rain at the moment, do you think it will still be raining in March?

I look forward to your reply.



Great Report as usual and very nice pictures.
I have one question about El Tapir, can you actually always enter the reserve at dawn? or, do I need to contact someone beforehand to visit the garden at that time.
Thanks in advance,


@Luis- Unfortunately, at the moment, there is no access at this site. I hope to find out soon if and when it can be visited.

Thanks for you info. I’ll be driving along the road in a few weeks. Maybe it will be open by then.
Fingers crossed

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