Birding at it’s most basic is just watching birds, paying attention to the life forms that have feathers, most of them also capable of flight. Look out the window at the sparrows, doves, and dare I say grackles and whether you want to admit it or not, you are doing a bit of birding. Take planes to Malaysia to search the forests of Taman Negara for peacock-pheasants and other out of this world species and you are also birding. There’s more effort involved (along with leaches, mud, and profuse sweating) but it’s still birding. I like birding either way; casually keeping track of vocalizations as I take a morning walk sans optics, or while searching out target species with intense focus.
Either way, as long as I am birding, it’s all good in the birdy hood. This past week, I was sort of partaking in the latter type of birding, the one where the focus is on target species. It was good, I got the chance to spend some birding days with Carlos Sanchez of Miami birding fame and guide for Naturalist Journeys as we searched for some species of the Caribbean slope. The endeavor reminded me that even when you know where you have the best chances of finding certain birds, some will be found and others will keep to the realm of lost birds. It’s a question of probability where less available time limits your chances, especially when looking to connect with low density forest skulkers. That’s why we failed to hear or see Ocellated Antbird and weather more akin to a Scottish highland November kept us from connecting with the night birds on Irazu. Maybe they were temporarily frozen? I know I was feeling that slow, steady crystalline creep of hypothermia.
But enough of talk about misses because we connected with a fair percentage of the targets, most of which were also fairly challenging species. These are some of the birds that went into the “found” category:
Pinnated Bittern– Birding in late afternoon at Medio Queso gave us a couple of these. One of the more reliable spots for the Neotropical Botaurus, the best times to look are early morning and late afternoon. On the drive in we also got another target, Nicaraguan Seed-Finch.
This used to be known as Pink-billed Seed-Finch until someone must have pointed out that actually, the bill doesn’t really look all that pink…
We were up in Medio Queso because we were staying in Los Chiles for the night at the low priced yet comfortable enough and very friendly Cabinas Felicia. Felicia is indeed the owner and is super nice. The only drawback was the lack of hot water coming out of the hot water shower. I bet she would have fixed it but we were just there for one night. Oh, and we were also up there in Los Chiles to do a boat trip the following morning in Cano Negro.
This turned out to be an excellent way to find several lost birds. Thanks to local knowledge from boat guide Chambito, we got all of our main targets. These included the tiny, straw colored bird with the big toes, the one and only Yellow-breasted Crake,
and the skulky antbird with the semi bald head known as the Bare-crowned Antbird. Briefest of looks at that one but we made up for it with better bino views at Arenal. As a compromise, we had perfect looks at the likewise skulky Canebrake Wren.
Further on, Chambito took us straight to the only spot at that moment for Nicaraguan Grackle. Instead of city streets, these picky birds prefer to hang with ungulates in marshes.
Snowy Cotinga was also one of our targets. In Sarapiqui, it had been frequenting that elusive place where lost birds fly but Cano Negro gave us one more chance and thanks to Chambito, yes, it joined the growing group of found birds! We saw three or four individuals including one female. As is typical for this surreal species, the males butterfly swooped between some tree tops and perched up high so we could marvel over their weird, fruit-dove like shape and brilliant white plumage. I have seen them on several occasions but some birds you never ever get tired of seeing. For some birds, each sighting is like that exciting first time. That’s how it is with Snowy Cotinga, see that amazing, pseudo dove of peace in flight and you cannot deny the ultimate wonder of it. It’s like everything else just stops, that or you feel mesmerized by this brilliant white short tailed bird flapping its way through a blue tropical sky.
Senor and Senora surreal.
Those were the main targets at Cano Negro but as a bonus, Chambito even hooked us up with a roosting Pacific Screech-Owl at the end of the tour!
Back in Sarapiqui and Virgen del Socorro, although the cotinga was lost, we did find some other targets including the super tiny Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant and Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher. These flycatchers aren’t that rare, they just get lost because they masquerade as bugs. Speaking of pretending to be something that you aren’t, we also got the very warblerish Rufous-browed Tyrannulet.
Not the best of photos but look close and you might see a rufous brow. Basically, if you see a possible warbler that really isn’t one at Virgen del Socorro, you will have probably found this local Phylloscartes.
Other found target birds included a seen Slaty-breasted Tinamou that whistled from thick underground in the heart of Tirimbina Reserve, Great Green Macaws and Blue-chested Hummingbird near La Selva, Plain-colored Tanager, Streak-chested Antvireo, and, right at the cafe Colibri feeders, Buff-fronted Quail-Dove! We also stayed in Sarapiqui to try for other lost birds at El Tapir and Quebrada Gonzalez.
The best find was a prize Lattice-tailed Trogon at El Tapir although it was equally nice to be welcomed by Black-crested Coquette and Snowcap shortly after our arrival, and to get views of Emerald Tanager shortly after that. Quebrada was very quiet with no real mixed flocks but we did have one truly amazing sighting. Although it wasn’t a bird, seeing my first Bushmaster was a memorable moment indeed. We had both caught some movement ahead on the trail and after glassing it, realized that the thing we were seeing wasn’t a quail-dove or ground-cuckoo but a snake. I assumed it was going to be a Boa but nearly jumped out of my boots when I realized I was looking at one of the more elusive top predators of the Neotropical rainforests. The heavy, meter plus snake (small for a Bushmaster) gave us a show as it slowly, carefully left the trail. It seemed to be on the trail of something and didn’t take long to blend in with the forest litter.
Don’t get too close to this one!
In the Arenal area, at Bogarin, the Uniform Crake called but preferred its lost status. Not so for a beautiful Striped Owl that made an appearance on a roadside wire just north of town. The next morning, we focused our search at the Arenal Observatory Lodge and still failed to connect with the antbird that looks more like some laughingthrush from the Himalaya. But, we did see another Black-crested Coquette, had a nice mixed flock, close looks at Dull-mantled Antbird, and some other birdies, two of which were not targets but genuinely lost. Well, that, or they were just doing some adventurous scouting for the rest of their kind. Those two exciting species for Costa Rica were Cape May Warbler and Cedar Waxwing. Both were at the feeders and became choice additions to my Costa Rica year list. Interestingly enough, we saw another Cedar Waxwing at Lands in Love later that day.
Speaking of Lands in Love, we made a successful stop there for Tawny-chested Flycatcher before heading back to the Central Valley and our cold pre-dawn on Irazu. Shortly after that, a few other lost birds showed for a friend of mine, the best of which was a bird that seemed to be determined to not show itself to her. As if playing some part in an avian conspiracy, the Barred Hawks had apparently decided to give her a cold shoulder and shunned her or schemed with rain to stay out of sight. Eventually, perseverance paid off when one became diplomatic and broke with its conspiratorial ranks to soar right overhead, calling the entire time near the Fortuna Waterfall. No longer lost, the Barred Hawk will now surely display for her every time she birds where they occur because as we all know, that’s just what former bogey birds like to do. Speaking of bogey birds, perhaps this will be the year I make my peace with the Masked Duck. That said, I’m not sure if I can promise that I won’t give the lost duck the finger. We will see.
Barred Hawks sort of look like Black Vultures.