Birding Costa Rica

Highlights from Global Big Day, Costa Rica, 2018

The big day has come and gone. The preparations were many, the anticipation higher than the heights of Mount Chirripo, and the camaraderie exemplary. And, best of all, it didn’t pour down rain the entire time. Much better than any wedding, I’m talking about Global Big Day, 2018. Known as “GBD” in these here parts, birders in Costa Rica got seriously on board with this worldwide birding event and ended up rocking the birding house. Through weeks of planning, organization, and focused birding, we collectively identified more than 680 species; a new record for Costa Rica!

Although stories are still coming in, these were some of the other highlights:

Tee-shirts– One or more teams actually had tee-shirts made for their team! I love this because I love birding tee-shirts. Next time, I’m getting a tee-shirt too, maybe one that shows a GBD trifecta of organic chocolate, pizza, and a Yellow-billed Cotinga. Well, on second thought, no, I’m pretty sure any other team mates would not really go for that, I’ll have to discuss the design with whomever does GBD 2019 with me.

Yellow-billed Cotinga, the ones we saw were white specks in the distance that eventually took flight.

The Whatsapp group The communication among birders via telephone messaging was vital for the organization and promotion of this wonderful day of birding. Honestly, without it, I don’t think we would have done nearly as well. Nor could people have shared images of their teams, birds, or sightings in real time. The only downside was having to turn down the notification thing on my phone so I could get in a few hours of necessary sleep before commencing GBD 2018.

Lots of rare birds– So many people in the field, all out there looking for certain birds, paid off with the likes of elusive species like Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, Lanceolated Monklet, Sharpbill, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, our Yellow-billed Cotinga, crakes, rails, Long-tailed Woodcreeper, and more! It shows what you can find when you have so many people out there looking for birds, all on the same day. Hopefully, next year, we can get even more people watching and improve the organization to see if we can even locate the likes of mega tough ones like Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, Speckled Mourner, and Tawny-faced Quail.

Carara and Cerro Lodge– After many calculations concerning logistics and birding possibilities, it seemed like starting in this area would result in the greatest number of species. I have come to that conclusion before and have started Big Days there in the past but I was never able to maximize the number of species by 11 or noon and thus never came out of there with as many birds as I had expected. This time, though, instead of beginning the birding at the edge of Carara, I opted to greet dawn on the Cerro Lodge road, continue around Tarcoles, enter the forests of the national park at 8, and follow that up with birding near the Pura Vida Gardens. This route gives access to a wicked birdy combination of habitats including dry forest, high quality lowland forest, a riparian zone, wetlands, coastal habitats, mangroves, and open areas. Most of all, it allows for quick coverage of dry forest species at an optimal time without sacrificing rainforest species. The strategy worked out because without actually going crazy in looking for every bird, and sans scouting, we still managed 187 species before noon. With scouting, better strategies, and better timing, we might have hit 200. That would probably be a given when winter birds are present.

Carara- the bird zone.

Constant bird song– This was of great help throughout the day. Perhaps also because of cloudy weather, birds were singing all day long and this of course greatly facilitated the count, especially inside the forests of Carara as species like Eye-ringed Flatbill, Rufous Piha, Streak-chested Antpitta, and other birds of the shaded woods vocalized one after another to make it onto our GBD list.

A tame Great Tinamou– It’s always nice to run into one of those ultra tame tinamous at Carara. This happened a couple of times during GBD, one of them almost refusing to walk off the trail!

It was hard to resist the urge to try and pet this one on its funny head.

Beautiful Baird’s Trogon– After doing most of the back trail, I wondered if we would miss this key species. Shortly after that thought, one began to call, and not longer after, we were admiring a pair at close range!


That Lesser Nighthawk that flew around in the morning– I like this memory because since we arrived after dawn, I thought we had missed this nightjar. Fortunately, while scanning for shorebirds at the beach, my team mate noticed a Lesser Nighthawk zipping around the dunes, and there it was, in perfect light, fluttering around in plain sight as waves crashed behind it, and much better looks than of the ones that fly into the dusky reaches of the evening sky.

It was GBD. It was good. It was an incredible bird-filled day because despite starting later than expected, and leaving out the bird-rich middle and foothill elevations of Socorro (after cold rains on Poas Volcano convinced us to end it earlier than expected), we still managed to identify 225 species. That’s without going crazy and more or less sleeping in until 3:30 a.m.! How was your GBD? Did you start at midnight? How much coffee did you drink? What was your favorite bird? Tell us in the comments.

3 replies on “Highlights from Global Big Day, Costa Rica, 2018”

My favorite bird of the GBD was Lanceolated monklet, thank YOU for the heads up my friend!

Really glad you guys got it, seems like La Marta is a good area for it!

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