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Birding Costa Rica

Five Birding Ideas to Mark the Holiday Season in Costa Rica and Elsewhere

It’s the end of the year, a solstice just happened and a major holiday season is at its festive height. Celebrate with family, toast with friends, but most of all, go birding. Treat yourself to birds this holiday season and what better place to do so than the tropical birding paradise known as Costa Rica. For folks in North America, it’s closer than you think and there are literally hundreds of birds to see. Some ideas to bird your way from 2018 into 2019:

Try a short birding holiday– Costa Rica is an easy choice for a birding trip of a week or even just a few days of birding. Plan it right and three to four days of birding trips out of San Jose can yield 300 species including such birds as Resplendent Quetzal, various tanagers, the endemic Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow, motmots, and so much more. Stay a week or more and there are more options and more birds.

Take an excellent tour run operated by local experts– This is the best way to see hundreds of bird species including key birds like Sungrebe, Great Green Macaw, puffbirds, trogons, owls, and the list goes on. Although the tours take place after the holidays, you can always give yourself a birding gift today by signing up for one of the exciting Lifer Tours scheduled for January, February, or March. Contact me to learn about these and other birding tours operated by local experts.

Photograph quetzals and other highland species– A lot of people come to Costa Rica for wildlife photography and with good reason. It’s easy to reach sites with quetzals and many other mountain species including photogenic birds like Yellow-thighed Finch, silky-flycatchers, and lots more. More than one key site for highland birds and lots of hummingbirds are a drive of two to three hours at most from the airport.

Focus on endemics– With more than 900 species on the list, there are literally hundreds of birds to see in Costa Rica. However, of those many birds, the best ones to focus on are the species that you aren’t going to see elsewhere. Head to the mountains for endemics as well as Carara National Park, the Osa Peninsula, and sites around Dominical.

Get excellent birding apparel and support endangered birds in Africa-Last but far from least, buy Wunderbird birding apparel before the end of the year and you can also support vulture conservation in Africa. Wunderbird shirts and hoodies are some of the only quality apparel designed for birding and make excellent gifts. These comfortable, unique shirts enhance the birding experience and since 15% of all proceeds until the end of 2018 will be donated to support saving vultures in east Africa, there’s no better time than now to buy a hoodie, the Kestrel shirt or the long sleeved Peregrine shirt.

I hope to see you in Costa Rica for birding!



bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Counting Birds at Cangreja, Cano Negro, and Finca Luna Nueva

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of birding. Three annual counts and guiding took me to humid forests of the southern Pacific, cool air and hummingbirds of the mountains, and down the other side of the continental divide to the northern wetlands of Cano Negro.

At some point after the final bird count, I tried summing up all species I had identified by sound or sight and came up with 385 or so birds. A good deal of driving was involved but no owling, nor any attempt to bird binge the entire time. It just goes to show that if a birder stay’s out there and gets to a few different sites, in Costa Rica, the birds just keep on showing.

Some reflections from the past two weeks:

It’s all good on the road to Cano Negro

The sign to the reserve is not obvious but that’s par for the course in Costa Rica. It’s also why Waze is the unofficial driving copilot for every vehicle in Costa Rica. Once you get onto that long entrance road to Cano Negro, enjoy the ride because lately, the bumps and road craters have been minimal. It was a quick, easy drive but don’t go too fast, there are birds to see!

The best area is probably the San Emiliano wetlands area. This site can host many waterbirds including Jabiru, and also has Fork-tailed Flycatchers, Ruddy-breasted Seedeaters, and might even have roadside Yellow-breasted Crakes! Although we dipped on the crake, we enjoyed several other birds including the flycatchers, seedeaters, and Nicaraguan Seed Finches.

It can rain a heck of a lot in Cano Negro

We discovered this in true wet fashion during the count day by way of cold blowing rain! Luckily, it didn’t rain the entire time although it seemed to do so at night. The rain beat down on the roof for hour after hour and so much that I was worried that the entrance road might be flooded. But, fortunately, those wetlands can soak up large amounts of water because the way out hardly looked like it had rained at all.

Despite rain on the count day, we still managed lots of birds, a few of the best being Black-collared Hawk, Nicaraguan Grackles, and American Pygmy-kingfisher.

Cano Negro is more than wetlands 

Although our route took in a few large lagoons, other routes also checked more forested sites with excellent results. One long route had all six kingfisher species, Sungrebe, Snowy Cotingas, two puffbird species, and many other birds. It was nice to be able to watch the two Cano Negro specialties, Gray-headed Dove and Spot-breasted Wren, right in the village. Many other forest species are also possible in and near the village including several woodpeckers, parrots and parakeets, even Bare-crowned Antbird.

We had close looks at Crimson-fronted Parakeets among other birds.

Cangreja is a long, dusty drive 

By nature, the trip to Cangreja is indeed a lengthy, dusty endeavor. Don’t do it at night! It might be foggy and it will be one of those special times when you think of better days as you wonder when the present challenging, worrisome times will end.

But the birding is good on that bumpy road!

Much of that road to Cangreja is good birding. Even the brushy areas not far from Puriscal can be good and further on, there are spots to look for Costa Rican Brush-Finch, and so many other species.

Need Sunbittern? Try rivers near Aguas Zarcas!

This key bird seems to be especially reliable on the river at the Cariblanca reforestation project. I’m sure it also occurs on the other rivers along with Fasciated Tiger-Heron.

Fun, easy birding on Poas

Guiding on Poas has been great as per usual with many regional endemics seen along the road to the national park. I have been hearing Barred Parakeets fly over, and have been seeing Black Guan at eye level, Buffy Tuftedcheek, silky-flycatchers, Wrenthrush, and much more.

The Arenal count was excellent

It always is and 2018 was no exception. Participants found several umbrellabirds in expected quality habitats, antbirds, a lingering Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and more than 360 other species. Our team found more than 160 species while birding Finca Luna Nueva and the Soltis Center. Although it was slow at times, we kept adding birds including Snowcap, Black-crested Coquette, King Vulture, Barred Hawk, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Uniform Crake, White-fronted Nunbirds, and much more.

The view from the Soltis Center- a great site for raptors among many other birds.

We also saw this Jumping Viper. Despite the worrisome name, this snake rarely moves unless you try to grab it.

Finca Luna Nueva– birdy as always

During the count, we kept on seeing and hearing more birds at this excellent organic farm/ecolodge. This site truly shows how we should be using the land in sustainable fashion and it shows with the numbers of birds that live there including many migrants. We added species right to the end of the count, our final ones being Uniform Crake and Russet-naped Wood-Rail.

Birding from the tower at Luna Nueva.

The year is quickly running to its end. During 2018’s final stretch, I have more guiding and birding in store. Although I haven’t been doing any sort of Big Year, I have still managed to tick 640 species for 2018 in Costa Rica. Hopefully I’ll add a few more because if I do, they would have to be rare or decidedly uncommon! I hope to see you birding in Costa Rica in 2019.

bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

News for Birding in Costa Rica, December, 2018

It’s December, in Costa Rica, the month of vacations, the beginning of the dry season, Christmas in the tropics. For us local birders, we wish for holiday gifts that take the form of glittering cotingas, a White-tipped Sicklebill, a lifer or two or three. This December, my potential lifers are far too separate from the realm of possibilities but I don’t mind, I have been blessed, I will be content to watch whatever flies my way during Christmas counts and other birding days.

Come to Costa Rica for a lifer Prong-billed Barbet.

I will see a lot of birds during the following final weeks of 2018, I hope all birders can do the same. In the meantime, these are some news items for birding in Costa Rica:

New Birds for the Costa Rica list

Some web sites still mention 860 or so bird species for Costa Rica. Don’t believe it, the number is much higher and the list continues to grow. At this time of writing, the official bird list for Costa Rica stands at 923 species and now that Couch’s Kingbird and Yellow-billed Tern have been seen (by Ernesto Carman and Chambito respectively), we can add two more! They still need officially confirmation but since one was documented with a diagnostic audio recording, and the other with an excellent photo, they should make it onto the official country list soon.

The tern was seen at Cano Negro, we are doing a bird count there tomorrow, I hope it makes another appearance!

Birding sites that have closed

I may or may not have mentioned it elsewhere but in any case, Kiri Lodge near Tapanti was sold and may or may not reopen under new ownership. Much worse was the selling of Zamora Estate to “developers”. Although some of the natural aspects of the land might be preserved, I suspect that most will be or already has been destroyed to make way for housing. Not just important green space but some of the final bits of remnant wetlands in the Central Valley. I hope the owners are haunted by the ghosts of herons, especially the cackling of gargoyelish Boat-billeds.

Christmas counts!

As previously mentioned, there be Christmas counts happening these days. Special events in many places, in Costa Rica, we tend to take them to higher levels of birding. This count season has more counts than ever before, so many in fact that a birder can’t do all of them. I participated in my first Cangreja Christmas Count a few days ago, and will be doing the Cano Negro and Arenal counts shortly for a week of fantastic birding times. I wonder how many species I will have identified by next week? I bet I surpass 300.

The cool shirt from the Cangreja Count, my team found more than 130 species, the sole waterbird being Sunbittern.

Night driving in Puriscal- just no 

For the Cangreja count, we had to drive through Puriscal to reach Mastatal, the village at the edge of Cangreja National Park. It’s a long, winding road, several kilometers of it sort of rocky and dotted with occasional pot holes. But, that wasn’t the problem.The nightmare came in the form of pea soup fog, at night, on a road with minimal to zero lighting and very few road markers. Needless to say, this means that one should never, not ever, ever ever drive that road at night. Never mind the fact that some cars zoomed past us, it should in fact be closed during conditions such as the ones experienced by us. During the day, it’s fine, even beautiful and the birding is nice but time your trip well or you might spend a couple hours creeping along with the desperate hope that you will make it through alive as your navigator risks her literal head by sticking it out the window to make sure you don’t drive off a cliff.

Avoid certain supposedly edible snacks….

Oh, and there’s more advice garnered from that gem of a drive. Whatever you do, do not buy any of those packaged empanadas or other would be baked snacks from small supermarkets between Puriscal and Mastatal. That might also hold true in other parts of the country although you won’t find me testing that hypothesis. Whether just confused by fog or thinking that we were in need of emergency rations, we happily shopped for packages of pudding bread, empanadas, and some other sugary thing. Upon opening them, however, it only took one bite to send our contented feelings of accomplishment straight to ashen pools of despair. One lives and learns and makes discoveries. On that day of learning, we found that “budin” can smell and taste like actual garbage, and that styrofoam and/or plastic might be secret ingredients for packaged empanadas and “costillas”. Honestly, just stay away and thank the stars for feeling hungry because that’s better than dining on plastic and savage bits of fermented flour.

Green Guanacaste

This year was a good wet one for Costa Rica, including the tropical dry forest region. Things have been very green and this should help local and wintering bird populations in Guanacaste. With more habitat for waterbirds, perhaps we will have more of those as well. And fewer forest fires would be nice too!

Tis the season for umbrellabirds

Although I wish this meant that they would be common and a given at many a site, alas, the bird is truly endangered. But, it still is the season for this serious mega with the Elvis coiffure. One was recently seen on trails near La Fortuna, others should be at similar elevations where the foothills meet the lowlands on the Caribbean slope. Watch for them wherever forest is found in such situations and rejoice with your choice of organic chocolate and local brews (or coffee, or whatever, just not packaged baked snacks. Only eat those when you feel like punishing yourself).

The Bogarin Trail

Last not not least, The Bogarin Nature Trail on the outskirts of Fortuna will be rocking. Geovanni recently reminded me that December is the best time for birding that oasis. Many birds are at the feeders, there is good birding on the trails, and flowering trees can have Black-crested Coquette, Blue-throated Goldentail, and who knows what other hummingbird species? The entrance fee is $10, whether using camera or sticking to binos, it’s well worth it. There might be a roosting owl. There might even be a Keel-billed Motmot! There will be birds and it will be good.

The least common motmot in Costa Rica from a recent visit to Bogarin.

Coming to Costa Rica? Spaces are still open on excellent guided trips with Lifer Tours. The birding will be fantastic, contact me at information@birdingcraft.com   I hope to see you birding in Costa Rica!