Where to go birding? It’s a perennial question for those of us who want to lay eyes on some avian life forms. Do we just keep it simple and stare out the back window? Do we bundle up and head to the nearest reservoir, or a favorite park? Maybe a wildlife refuge or nature preserve? Or, do we make that bleary eyed trip to a place where we stand in various lines and pay for overpriced snacks so we can cover large distances in a matter of hours? All that waiting and annoyance so we can see a big new suite of birds?
Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan. Resplendent Quetzal. Blue-and-gold Tanager. Just a few birds with justifiable fancy names and unless you live in Ecuador, Colombia, or Central America, plane travel is more or less required to meet them in their feathered persons. In my opinion, oh it is definitely worth the long ride (!) but even after exiting the airport in a brand new birdy country, we still need to know where we need to go to see those and other species.
Even the female R. Quetzal looks snazzy.
Back in the days of fewer people and more habitat, finding birds was probably as easy as pie. Can you imagine going birding in the hardwood forests of the eastern United States or Canada or Britain oh say 300 years ago? As long as the local people allowed birding on their land, you wouldn’t need any information on where to find birds because they would have been everywhere. An abundance of shorebirds in the wetlands, multitudes of wood-warblers, vireos, and other songbirds doing their vocal thing from the woodland mosaic. Prairies and other naturally open habitats bubbling with longspurs, meadowlarks, and other species of the grass. By historical accounts and the much greater degree of intact habitat, we know there used to be a lot more birds, like millions and millions more.
The situation in Costa Rica would have been just as or even more birdy. A constant flow of avian activity ebbing through mature tropical forests from the hot and humid lowlands up into the cool, high mountains. The logistics would have been tougher than a triathalon but the birds would have been everywhere because there was intact habitat everywhere and therein lies the key to finding birds no matter where you bring the bins. Roads made things easier for birding but they also came with a hefty price.
Nice view but there should be dense cloud forest there.
The big Catch-22 of roads and other infrastructure is the nefarious trade that is typically made. Cut a road through forest and it becomes an avenue of invitation for logging, hunting, and turning bastions of biodiversity into hot cow pasture. Although protecting the lands along roads can prevent such destruction, roadside preserves are much more the objection to the common rule. As with most places on the planet, in Costa Rica, roads followed that typical plan of deforestation leading to pasture or ag. lands long before anyone gave a hoot about cutting down trees. Fortunately, before the entire place was shorn of centenarian trees, protections were put into place to preserve watersheds and biodiversity and this is why, in Costa Rica, we can still drive through cloud forest, take a road to mature lowland rainforest, and drive around and visit several distinct habitats with some fantastic roadside birding.
If you happen to be birding in Costa Rica this March and April, you will surely be benefiting from the protections afforded to roadside forest, and likely birding at several such sites. Regarding these spring months, there actually might not be as many stand out sites to bird as other months of the year but that’s only because the same sites hold pretty similar numbers and varieties of birds all year long. So, finding the best places to bird just depends on what you hope to see and where the highest quality habitats are located.
There’s an easy place for point blank looks at Prong-billed Barbet.
To see where such birding hotspots are located, it shouldn’t take more than a satellite view of Costa Rica to find them; the areas on the map with the largest, darkest green patches. Those bits of jade are where the forest is and that’s also where most of the birds live. Nevertheless, since most folks would prefer some sort of comfort after or during a long day of birding, the next step for finding birds involves locating suitable lodging in the bioregions you want to visit. For additional birding comfort, we can also ask some questions. Is the lodge close enough to those green patches? Maybe located right inside the forest? Do they have in house guides? A bird list? Or, would staying at one take you well away from the route you plan on covering? We also need to see where national parks and private trails are located and the logistics involved with visiting those places (that would mostly be opening and closing times and entrance fees).
Since there are so many good places to go birding, it really is hard to think of the must-visit sites, the places that host the most. However, if I had to settle on three of the best sites for each habitat and biogeographic region, this is what comes to mind:
Tapanti National Park
Cataratas del Toro
High elevation forest
Various sites on Cerro de la Muerte
Braulio Carrillo area
Caribbean lowland rainforest
Laguna del Lagarto
Various sites near and south of Limon
South Pacific lowland rainforest
Carara National Park- not as good for the south endemics as the other areas mentioned but an overall excellent mix of birds.
Santa Rosa National Park
Palo Verde National Park
Palo Verde National Park
Cano Negro area
These aren’t the only places to go birding but they do tend to hit on the best and most accessible placed with good habitat. It’s no surprise that birding tours tend to focus on these areas along with a few other sites. Whether you have a few days to work with or as much time as you like, a birder can’t go wrong by paying a visit to any of the aforementioned sites. I hope to see you there!
Support this blog and learn more about the birding at these and many other sites in Costa Rica by purchasing my 700 plus page e-book, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica“.