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Costa Rica Birding, January-February, 2019

Since a fair part of my life revolves around birding, I can’t help but apply the lifestyle to various aspects of this personal journey through time and space. For example, I sometimes wonder what things would be like if birders were in charge and birding was this highly important, sacred thing carried out by many more millions of people than it currently is. Like what if the folks in charge were all about birding and had like-minded support from the masses?

I daresay we would take much better care of this biosphere, that we would make much better efforts to live sustainably instead of doing a massive, full scale Russian roulette with life on our only home (that “life” would include good old Homo sapiens). Perhaps we would have large scale events that welcome the migrants back to town, maybe we would have all the owls staked but with very serious fines for those who dare disturb them. Once the birding religion was established, would there by a major schism between photographers and birders without cameras? Might folks get a bit too fanatic about listing or feeding birds? At the very least, we would have lots more birding news right on prime time TV. I sure would love that but in the meantime, before birders take over, I can at least provide some sort of birding news for Costa Rica right in this here post:

Good Bird Activity on Poas

Sometimes the birds on Poas can be slow. This wasn’t the case last week. Despite it being a sunny usually birdless mid-morning, we saw quite a few species including chlorophonias with nesting material, many Mountain Elaenias, Sooty Thrushes, and much more! On one of those days, we also had looks at a male quetzal. The following day, great looks were had at a Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl! Even better, we watched the small rare owl get mobbed by everything from Fiery-throated Hummingbirds to Flame-throated Warblers.

This is not just a Eurasian Blackbird with a pale eye.

Cinchona is Also Kicking Into Gear

The Colibri Cafe (aka Mirador Catarata San Fernando) is usually wonderful but lately, it has been especially good. During a recent mid-day visit, we were entertained by both barbets, toucanets, a Buff-fronted Quail-Dove, and other birds. The following morning had a Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush briefly show below the feeder. Not so many hummingbirds though…

The nightingale-thrush.


Speaking of small aggressive surreal creatures, very few were at Cinchona and I just don’t see nearly as many as I used to pretty much everywhere. I fear that the consistently direr conditions have had a negative effect on hummingbird populations in Costa Rica (along with several other birds). There was a similar near dearth of hummingbirds at the Freddo Fresas garden although we did manage to see Magenta-throated Woodstar. Keep an eye out for feeders and any flowering trees and please eBird your results.

Cano Negro Just Gets Better

This hotspot is always good but as water levels continue to go down, it’s bound to be even better in February. Low waters concentrate the birds and makes it easier to see a bonanza of storks, ibis, Jabirus, and more. Go with Chambita and you also have a chance at other local specialties like Bare-crowned Antbird and crakes!

Thanks to Barnaby Romero (aka Chambita), I saw this Green and Rufous Kingfisher.

Fortuna Birding – Awesome as Ever

Although I have yet to bird this wonderful area in 2019, others have been seeing the usual good set of species including crakes at Bogarin, umbrellabird at the Observatory Lodge, and the monklet on the Fortuna waterfall trail. The birding is always good around Fortuna!

A Good Year for Cooper’s Hawks and Blue-headed Vireos?

While these birds might not garner much fanfare up north, only the lucky see them in Costa Rica. They are here each winter but are always scarce. Based on the number of recent sightings, I can’t help but wonder if more are actually present this winter or if there are just more birders out in the field? In any case, I hope that Mary and I can see these and other scarce migrants on our path to 700 species in 2019.

A Big Day with 280 Plus Species

No, not my birding team, but a recent birding binge carried out by guides Meche Alpizar, Johan Fernandez, Jason Hernandez, and author Noah Strycker. On January 20th, they recorded 281 species on a trip that took them from the cold heights of Irazu to the lowlands of La Selva, then back over the mountains at Poas before heading down to the Carara area. And yes, they saw some pretty good birds along the way including their first of the day, the mega Unspotted Saw-whet Owl!

Bellbirds are in Monteverde

There have been a few reports of bellbirds in Monteverde. It seems a bit early but perhaps because of weather conditions, at least a few are present, maybe more will show in February?

That’s about it for now, I hope these tidbits of information help with every birding trip to Costa Rica. For more detailed information on where and how to see birds in Costa Rica, support this blog by purchasing
How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica. You can also prepare for your trip with the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, a digital field guide with images for more than 900 species and sounds for more than 670. Hope to see you birding in Costa Rica!

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Cano Negro Birding in Costa Rica Delivers the Goods

Like most countries, Costa Rica has more than one type of major habitat, more than one bio-region. Habitats such as the tropical dry forests in the northwest and the cloud forests of the highlands are clearly different in appearance, location, and elevation. Others, like the rainforests of the southern Pacific and the Caribbean lowlands, look similar at a glance but reveal differences upon closer inspection.

These ecological differences are why never see Charming Hummingbirds and Fiery-throated Hummingbirds fighting over the same food source, why more species are seen on birding trips that visit both sides of the mountains and different elevations, and why Cano Negro is one of the major key birding sites in Costa Rica.

This wetland area associated with Lake Nicaragua is where a birder has to go to see Nicaraguan Grackle. It’s where Spot-breasted Wren and Gray-fronted Dove can be easily added to a trip list, and where several other species are more readily encountered than in other parts of Costa Rica.

You won’t see this grackle slumming it up in some urban zone.

Thanks to increased diligent birding by a few guides who live in the Cano Negro area, most of those specialties are now much easier to find than in the past. These include birds like Yellow-breasted Crake, Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, Bare-crowned Antbird, Agami Heron, and even Green and Rufous Kingfisher!

Yellow-breasted Crake- essentially an aquatic, big-toed sparrow.

Thanks to boat and birding guide Barnaby “Chambita” Romero, Team Tyto (that would be Mary and I), and several other fortunate birders enjoyed a quick yet very productive day and a half of birding in the wetlands of the north. Even more impressive was the fact that we actually spent just an afternoon and a morning of birding and still managed to see most of our targets.

Beginning in Medio Queso, a late afternoon boat ride was punctuated by good look at Pinnated Bittern.

It wasn’t very close but this first of three or four Pinnateds gave us excellent looks.

We also scored with fine views of the smallest and most local heron species in Costa Rica, the Least Bittern. Other targets included a couple of Nicaraguan Grackles, Yellow-breasted Crake seen very well, a Sora (a regular yet challenging migrant and fantastic year bird!), and a few other bird species while we were entertained by the acrobatics of Fork-tailed Flycatchers.

The following morning saw us on a boat shortly after 6 a.m. in the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge.

With certain targets in mind, Chambita skillfully traversed the fallen logs of the Rio Frio to get us in touch with such fine birds as Snowy Cotinga, a fantastic Green and Rufous Kingfisher, Limpkins, and from the tower, a mega distant yet identifiable Jabiru in flight!

It was quite the successful trip and impossible to choose a best bird from so many candidates but given the amount of time and effort some had undertaken to unsuccessfully see Sungrebe in the past, and the fantastic looks we had at two of this awesome feathered weirdo, I think the odd duckish thing with the clown socks takes the prize.

In terms of Team Tyto’s Big Year, it was also an excellent start, I wonder what we will see next?

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Nice Foothill Birding at El Cafecito

Costa Rica isn’t just known for being one of the top birding destinations on the planet. This small mountainous country is also known for producing some of the best beans in the world. Although anyone who has breakfasted in Costa Rica is aware of the central gastronomic role played by black beans, the leguminous varieties aren’t the “beans” I’m talking about. The beans of note up in here are the dark roasted, coveted ones. The special seeds that give forth an enticing marvelous aroma. They are the ones with caffeine, the beans that are of course used to make coffee.

And coffee in Costa Rica is no small matter. The coffee in my adopted country is so damn good, I never corrupt it with milk or sugar. I prefer it black and the aroma is so delicious, even drink it cold. It’s a heck of a smooth cup and this is one of the reasons why coffee tours are so popular. One of the sites for those tours is also excellent for birding. Located on the lower reaches of the Via Endemica, the aptly named “El Cafecito” offers access to some quality foothill forest, an overlook into a forested canyon, and some aquatic habitats that can host Russet-naped Wood-Rail, Sunbittern, and a few other birds that require aquatic habitats.

A Sunbittern from another day.

Being a fan of quality coffee and nice tropical birding, I was pleased to do some recent guiding at and near this little visited foothill site.

On the way there, a stop at Cinchona gave us both barbets, Northern Emerald Toucanet, and some other birds that relish bananas and papaya. The hummingbird action wasn’t as good as other days but still offered close views of the endemic Coppery-headed Emerald and some other species.

On the road to Cafecito, fruiting figs offered up some fine birding action. Tanagers such as Bay-headed, Silver-throated, Blue-gray, Palm, Scarlet-rumped, and Crimson-collared were joined by Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Golden-browed Chlorophonias, and other more common species. The action was non-stop, I wonder when a cotinga will make an appearance? Hopefully on Monday when me and the other member of Team Tyto drive by that spot.

Raptors were also in evidence, our best species being Barred Hawk, Laughing Falcon, and a sweet male Merlin giving admirable views.

Down at Cafecito, the birding was actually kind of slow. Nevertheless, we were still greeted by Yellow Tyrannulet, calling Band-backed Wrens, Crimson-collared Tanagers, and two female Black-crested Coquettes. Better yet, the coquettes foraged at very close range in the Porterweed that borders the main path!

Further down that path, things were much slower than I had expected but we still managed wonderful close looks at a male White-collared Manakin and a few other birds feeding in a fruiting tree. On previous visits, that same tree and adjacent area has turned up various tanagers, toucans, chachalacas, Crested Guan, and other species.

We left after lunch but if we had stayed there for the afternoon, I’m sure we would have found many more species. The habitat is there and easily accessed by a few short trails. Wait long enough and the birds eventually show. Expect a good selection of foothill species, maybe even some rare ones. Since this is an underbirded site, don’t be surprised if you find something good! If you don’t, the birding will still likely be easy-going, productive, and if a birder doth wish, can also be accompanied by some damn fine coffee.

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It’s 2019! Go Birding in Costa Rica

According to calendars and widespread celebrations, the New Year just happened. In an instant, 2018 was gone, done, history. It was a good year for me, one with many changes, one with improvements and among the best of the best were the many birds; more than 640 on my annual Costa Rica list. Counting the birds I saw during two visits to Niagara Falls and one very memorable bucket trip to Guatemala, I also had a bunch more! I thank my friend Alec Humann in Buffalo, NY for taking me birding during those visits (and for the timbits and coffee!), for the Birding Club of Costa Rica for having me as a guide in Guatemala and elsewhere, and for many days of fantastic birding with my partner Mary. I am also grateful for my family, friends, and for the days to come during another year of birding in Costa Rica.

The beginning of a new year is also one more excellent reason to visit Costa Rica, these are some other ones for making it to this beautiful, birdy place in 2019:

World class birding

World class birding is more than being a place that hosts hundreds of bird species. It helps when many of those birds are accessible, fairly easy to see, and in places with quality accommodation and service. Costa Rica fits the bill in these ways and more. As an example, during the past week, during a morning of guiding of roadside birding in the Poas area, we saw a male Resplendent Quetzal, Flame-throated Warblers, and a few dozen other species, many of those being highland endemics. The following day saw me guiding in the Carara area, we finished with around 150 species. All of that was also roadside birding and included Scarlet Macaws, Turquoise-browed Motmot, White Hawk, several hummingbirds, manakins, and many other species.

To see what else is in store for a visiting birder, just browse this blog.

Easy birding

Not every bird is easy to see, and Costa Rica is no exception. But, thanks to long term protection, a heck of a lot of birds here are fairly easy to see, especially ones like Crested Guan and Great Curassow. Throw in access to good habitat in many parts of the country, and the birding just gets easier.

Good infrastructure

Costa Rica has a good set of roads, accommodation, and restaurants. The water is potable almost everywhere, and most people who work in the tourism industry speak at least some English, many of them very well.

Good birding apps for Costa Rica

I admit, I helped develop one of them but I stand by it. Thanks to various contributors and our efforts, the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app has become a great hand-held digital field guide that now shows:

-Field marks, range maps, and information for all species on Costa Rica bird list.
-Images for 905 birds (98% of species on list).
-Vocalizations for 671 birds (72% of species on app).
-Multiple images for most species, FREE updates with more additional images and sounds.
-Endemic and threatened species noted.

It can also be personalized with:
-Extensive search filters that can show birds by group, family, status, and more.
-Making lists of target species.
-Marking birds as seen, heard, not seen, and more.
-Making notes for each species.
-Marking birds as seen.
-Emailing lists in eBird format.

Accessible Quetzals, rails, and more!

Costa Rica has always been an excellent place to see one of the top bird species on the planet, the Resplendent Quetzal. That continues to be the case and nowadays more than ever. However, we don’t just see quetzals in Costa Rica, we have also developed good local gen. for many other species including tough ones like Yellow-breasted Crake and other rails, even Paint-billed Crake. Work with the right birding tour company and they should have options for everything from Unspotted Saw-whet Owl to Azure-hooded Jay and tanager photo opps.

Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow, Mangrove Hummingbird, Coppery-headed Emerald

Four of seven country endemics occur on the mainland along with around 100 regional endemics.

Our really cool endemic towhee. 

Turquoise-browed Motmot, tanagers, Keel-billed Toucan and other common, beautiful birds

To sum things up, the birding is excellent and easy in Costa Rica, and there are well trained guides for birders of all levels and skills. If you would like to learn more about finding birds in Costa Rica while supporting this blog, please purchase How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

I hope to see you in Costa Rica soon!