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Birding Costa Rica caribbean foothills

What Happens with Birding in Costa Rica When the Rain Stops

Right now, in Costa Rica, the classic dry season has been evasive. As the sky clouds over just as it did during June, and the rains begin to fall, it almost feels like the whole usual dry season thing has been waived. Cold fronts continue to arrive and subsequently douse the country with Atlantic showers while a “Nina” effect over in the Pacific has only added to the wet situation. Despite the umbrella test, there are good things associated with this. High biodiversity is correlated with high rainfall and that makes for more birds. It’s one of the main reasons why so many species occur in Costa Rica.

It can be a challenge to find them under varying degrees of precipitation but what’s a birder gonna do? It’s part of the local birding scene and when the clouds take a lunch break, the birds suddenly come out to play. Get enough of those breaks and you can get into some stellar birding, especially when high rainfall earlier in the year encouraged the trees and bushes to grow lots of bird friendly fruit. Seriously, it’s a smorgasbord out there right now, the tanagers, manakins, thrushes, trogons, and toucans are going to feed whether it rains or not.

Need fruit.

When the sun eventually does come out, there seem to be certain birds that take advantage of the sudden bloom of warmth and UV rays. Yesterday morning at El Tapir, a client and myself bore witness to what can happen when the rain finally comes to a stop and the sun, unhindered by clouds, punctuates the sky. At first, there was little activity, as if the birds were still numbed by the constant falling of water, still in denial that the rain had stopped. A few wrens and some other birds vocalized, a pair of Mealy Parrots fluttered overhead but pretty quiet otherwise. However, while the birds of the forest slowly came back to life, the Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds were racing around the garden. Judging by their frantic behavior (even for hummingbirds), it seemed like they hadn’t eaten quite enough in days. Or maybe they just didn’t get their fill of nectar? Whatever the case, they were drinking from the Verbena flowers as if they were participants in some avian Bacchus festivities. Unfortunately, they didn’t invite any other hummingbirds to the party and took great efforts to bounce any potentially crashing woodnymph, Snowcap, or Violet-headed.

Dressed for the party, still denied entrance. Name’s not down, not coming in.

It took a while but the Rufous-taileds seemed to eventually get their fill (or became too inebriated) and as the sun took over the garden space, a couple other hummingbird species braved the post party scene. One of the most cooperative was a male Black-crested Coquette.


As is typical with coquettes, the male chose to perch on a bare twig for extended periods of time before carefully flying down to drink from the Verbena. Much to our satisfaction, this particular exquisite beauty preferred to feed on a bush right in front of us.

It was interesting to note that as the coquette fed, the Rufous-taileds seemed to be more concerned with chasing a female woodnymph and a Violet-headed Hummingbird. It was as if they didn’t notice the coquette as the smaller hummingbird slowly moved in and out of the flowering bushes, pumping its tail up and down the entire time.

As we enjoyed the coquette show, a few raptors eventually took advantage of thermals created by the sun to fly high over the garden.

The venue.

As it turned out, the Black-crested Coquette was just the headliner for the main act.

The first on stage was an adult Ornate Hawk-Eagle. It called so loudly, I expected to see it floating just over the canopy but no, it was already high above the forest, fooling the eyes into thinking they were seeing something as small as an Accipiter or a dainty kite. The eagle called over and over, it was as if it couldn’t help itself, singing because it could finally soar up and reach those heights again after a repressive bout of cool weather and constant rain. Alive again! Like there was nothing else in its world, it yelled into the skies above the forest, fluttered its wings and made shallow dives, displaying over a busy road for all who felt like peering into the high blue sky. Once, I swear it did a barrel roll, vocalizing the entire time.

As the eagle continued with its expression of exuberant defiance, next on the list were a pair of Barred Hawks. These broad-winged, short-tailed raptors gave their gull-like vocalizations as they soared into view. They continued to make circles up above the forest until they reached a point where they also began to display by soaring in tandem, calling the entire time.

One of the Barred Hawks, looks like it found some food that morning.

While this raptor fest was going on, a pair of King Vultures also soared into view, not as close as the hawks but still within eyeshot to appreciate their bold, black and white pattern. They seemed to be displaying as well, one bird almost flying into the other one and then close tandem flight, like the other raptors, taking advantage of a beautiful, new day.

It might rain a lot but it eventually stops. When it does, the sun’s coming out something good is going to happen, the time comes for action. Whether you be a Spizaetus or a birder, be ready to make your move and catch the lightbridge found in that window of respite.

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