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Birding News, Costa Rica, Late March, 2019

The high season for birding in Costa Rica is just about over. Although birding in April is just as good, after March, few birders visit. That’s a shame because April is dry enough for lots of excellent birding and green space is filled with bird song. The lack of birders in April might have something to do with Spring migration kicking into gear up north but given the number of birds possible in Costa Rica, it might be better to save that migration focused birding for May.

If you find yourself headed to Costa Rica this April, you are in luck, because this is what might be happening in this neck of the woods!:

La Selva

Based on a recent morning of guiding and other reports, the avian action is all good. Purple-throated Fruitcrows are showing well on the STR Trail and I have even heard this vocal cotinga from the entrance road. Given the large number of trees sadly felled during a violent wind storm, I can’t help but wonder if the uptick in fruitcrow encounters is related to birds moving further afield is they search of food. Whatever the explanation may be, they should continue to be easier to see in April.
Other good stuff at La Selva includes Agami Heron seen on small, forested streams, lots of White-ringed Flycatchers, Scaled Pigeon, and easy looks at Great Green Macaws.

As with most sites in the Caribbean lowlands, Rufous-winged Woodpecker is also common there.


The magical, mega bird we all want to see is in the house anywhere in the Costa Rican highlands. Well anywhere with forest and fruiting wild avocado trees. Thanks to heavy rains during much of 2018, this year’s avocado crop is a good one, there are lots of trees with quetzal food. As a bonus, those same trees can also attract Black Guans and other species.


April is a fantastic time for spring migration in Costa Rica. You know all those Barn Swallows, Cliff Swallows, Eastern Kingbirds, and Chimney Swifts seen on their breeding grounds? A large percentage of them probably pass through Costa Rica, most in April. Watch thousands and thousands of these birds fly overhead in the Caribbean lowlands, and check trees, bushes, and forest for Scarlet Tanagers, Red-eyed Vireos, thrushes, and various warblers including Blackburnian, Canada, and even Ceruleans. Oh yeah, and try and count the thousands of Eastern Wood-Pewees too.

A few raptors will be around too..

Foothill forest birding

I was at Quebrada Gonzalez and El Tapir the other day. Let me tell you, both sites have lots of fruiting trees. Maybe even more than could be consumed by the number of birds present! Tons of food are available and the birding will be good, maybe even throughout the day. I had good numbers of tanagers including one or two Blue-and-Golds, “singing” Yellow-eared Toucanet, and a few other choice species revealing their presence through song. Go birding at these and other foothill sites, it’s gonna be serious!

Monteverde zone

April kicks off with a concert where my friend Robert Dean is playing his new music. I really wish I was going! But, I can’t make it this weekend, hopefully I can during another one soon because bellbirds are calling and umbrellabird has been seen. Since the Monteverde area is also good for leaftossers, Azure-hooded Jay, and lots of other cool birds, consider yourself in luck if you are headed up to Monteverde in April.


Although waders could be placed under the migration category, such cool long distance species deserve their own slot. You might not visit Costa Rica for shorebirds, they might be the same ones seen up north, but for those who reside in Costa Rica, April is golden for the waders. Spring shorebirding in Costa Rica is fantastic, perhaps best in late April with constant movements of migrating birds and large numbers of everything from Semipalmated Sandpipers to Stilt Sandpipers and Wilson’s Phalaropes. It’s good, it’s exciting, and always worth birding sites like Punta Morales or Chomes or Ensenada, even if they are as hot as blazes. Hey, all the better reason to get an ice cream at a Pops in Liberia or especially that one on the highway between Chomes and Miramar.

April is going to be good, I hope you are on your way to Costa Rica! I can’t wait to see which migrants Mary and I find, I hope we kick up that year list endeavor as we scout and prepare ourselves for Global Big Day, 2019. If you are headed to Costa Rica, preparing for or planning a trip, or just feel like supporting this blog, please consider purchasing, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica, a 700 plus page e-book with information on where to see birds in Costa Rica, how to find them, and how to identify them.

Hope to see you in Costa Rica, it’s closer and easier than you think!

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More Costa Rica Birding Fun on the Caribbean Slope

I live in the Central Valley of Costa Rica. Along with a couple other million folks, we share remnant green space with remnant populations of the endemic Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow, Rufous-collared Sparrows singing in the streets, Blue-gray Tanagers, Great Kiskadees, and Gray and Short-tailed Hawks living the raptor life.

Other birds also live in the valley, including some that persist in the shade and steep banks of riparian green zones. These are birds like Gray-cowled Wood-Rail, Tropical Screech-Owl, and even Gray-headed Chachalaca. The additional flavor these and other species lend to the local birding scene is always welcome but does it compare to the avifauna of the Caribbean slope? Not quite. It’s much wetter over there on the other side of the central volcanic range and there’s more forest. Those two factors equate to a large and wonderfully diverse avifauna, a true birder’s delight.

This past weekend, Mary and I got in some of that delightful Caribbean slope birding. We also added a bunch of year birds, some of them uncommon species best seen now rather than later. We probably saw something like 150 species during a wet yet productive day of birding in the Arenal Obseratory Lodge area and a brief visit to Cope’s on the drive back home. These were a few of the highlights and observations:

Tiny Hawk– It might be small but that’s why this miniature raptor is so coveted (and tough to see). Seriously rapacious, this rainforest feathered weasel snatches hummingbirds and even species up to the size of Great-crested Flycatcher. Around the same size as a Turdus thrush, it can even look a bit like one in flight. That’s just what I saw while Mary and I birded one of the trails at the Observatory Lodge, a glimpse of a thrush or Myiarchus sized bird that flew and perched in the canopy. I knew that something wasn’t quite right about that bird, luckily, it stayed where we could see enough of it to discover that it was indeed a Tiny Hawk! Uncommon and always tough to see, this was an excellent find. It left before we could manage any pictures but not before we had it in the bag for 2019.

Great Black Hawk– It was a good day for raptors! We had close looks at this “forest black-hawk” from the Casona overlook at the Observatory Lodge. This site is a good area for this formerly more common species but it can still be easily missed. Other raptors seen by us that same rainy day were King Vulture (perched and in flight), White Hawk, and Harris’s Hawk en route.

The River of Raptors!– During a break in the rains on Sunday, we connected with this annual flow of birds heading north somewhere in the Caribbean lowlands. A brief stop had us marveling over hundreds of Broad-winged and Swainson’s Hawks that circled overhead, all flying north.

Guans and curassows– Thanks to long term protection, these large turkey like birds are easy to see at various sites in Costa Rica including the Observatory Lodge. As is usual for this site, we had several close views of Crested Guan and a couple of Great Curassows. Gray-headed Chachaalacas on the drive in rounded out the Cracid mix.

Fasciated Tiger-Heron– We had a close look at one at a classic site for this stream specialist- at the stream just before the entrance to the Observatory Lodge. No Sunbittern yet but there’s still plenty of time in 2019 to see that odd, intriguing bird.

White-tipped Sicklebill– I’m happy to report that the bird at Cope’s is still present! As often happens at this special site, we had close looks at one that perched and fed while being entertained by various other species visiting the feeder.

Keel-billed Motmot, Bare-crowned Antbird, Thicket Antpitta– What might these birds have in common? All are regular in the Arenal area and we got all three in quick succession. A fourth, the White-fronted Nunbird, failed to show but we’ll probably see it on another visit.

Although our three main target birds didn’t appear (Great Potoo, sapsucker, and Cape May Warbler), others made up for it. As with any area of good habitat on the Caribbean slope, the birding at the Observatory Lodge was fantastic. Many more species are possible, I wonder what we will see the next time Team Tyto birds on the other side of the mountains?

Do you want to see these and other birds in Costa Rica? Contact me at informa[email protected] to set up your birding trip in Costa Rica.

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6 Days in Costa Rica, 300 Bird Species

The number of bird species that occur in Costa Rica is kind of off the charts. Yes, Colombia has the most and Mexico even has a bigger list than Tiquicia but in terms of avian diversity per square meter, Costa Rica is hard to beat. Tired of seeing lifers in the bird-rich Caribbean lowlands? An additional suite of tanagers, antbirds, and others are a short drive away. Want more hummingbird? Head higher into the mountains and all the hummingbirds are new along with a healthy set of near endemics.

Near endemics like that bird with the bulldog look, Prong-billed Barbet.

Go to the other side of the mountains and more birds are possible. Suffice to say, in Costa Rica, a bonanza of birding awaits and good roads make it easy! I was thinking about just that while guiding a small group of friends two weeks ago. As we visited such sites as Tolomuco, the Dota Valley, and the Caribbean lowlands, the birds added up, and many were high quality, much desired species. During that time frame, more than 300 species were identified, and more than a few were added on the final days of the trip with another guide. Not only did we see around 300 species of birds during the first 6 days, but we also had many birds that were uncommon and/or difficult.

Birds like Great Potoo.

These are some of the highlights:

Resplendent Quetzal

One of the most spectacular bird species in the world can’t help but be a perpetual highlight. We had especially good looks at a roadside male in the Dota Valley. Lately, quetzals have also been showing on the road to Poas, it should get even better as the avocado fruit crop ripens in the next few weeks.

Other key highland species: Silvery-throated Jay

Although most of the high elevation birds are fairly easy to see, a few others can be a real challenge to find. One of those key rare species is the Silvery-throated Jay. Unlike some other Corvids, this small dark blue jay needs high quality primary forest and even then it’s not that common. With that in mind, finding two in the primary forests on Savegre’s Robles Trail was an excellent way to end a great day of birding.

31 species of Hummingbirds

And that’s not counting the Band-tailed Barbthroats that were heard nor the guide only Bronzy Hermit seen at Quinta de Sarapiqui! Thanks to feeders and flowering bushes, we had a fine haul of hummingbirds including White-tipped Sicklebill. Tolomuco was especially good and gave us sightings of Volcano, Scintillant, and Snowy-bellied Hummingbirds, White-tailed and Garden Emeralds, and other species.

Scintillant Hummingbird

White-throated Mountain-gem was also nice.

Great Green Macaws, Vermiculated Screech-Owl, and White-fronted Nunbirds in the Sarapiqui Lowlands

Birding in the Sarapiqui lowlands paid off with more than 150 bird species identified in one action packed day along with views of White-fronted Nunbirds, Pied Puffbird (plus White-necked heard), Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, White-ringed Flycatcher, and many more. Great Green Macaws were seen feeding at close range, and we finished the day with close views of Vermiculated Screech-Owl. All of our birding took place on the La Selva entrance road, another excellent birding road that loops behind the Selva Verde property, and roads near Quinta de Sarapiqui.

Cinchona, Guarumo, and Cope

Stops at various sites with fruit feeders rounded out the trip. Both barbets, Northern Emerald Toucanet, Buff-fronted Quail-Dove, and even Black Guan (!) showed at Cinchona. Guarumo, a rather new site near Cope’s places, had point blank views of both large toucans and various other lowland species, and Cope’s gave us the sicklebill and American Pygmy Kingfisher as soon as we arrived!

As far as the birding goes, it was pretty fantastic every day of the trip but as always, the biggest highlight was guiding people who truly relish the experience. Hope you have a good birding trip to Costa Rica!

A couple of final reminders-

If you are looking for a tour or need arrangements for your trip, I can help, contact me at [email protected]

Get the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app to study for the trip, make checklists of target species and bird with your own digital field guide.

Get my e-book How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica for 700 plus pages of information on where to find birds in Costa Rica and how to see them. Your purchase is much appreciated and supports this blog!

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Some Costa Rica Birding News for March, 2019

March marks the final month of the high season for birding in Costa Rica. Although any time is a good time for birdwatching in this mega diverse country, most tours and birders pay a visit between January and April. Based on the number of birders I have recently seen at Carara, the Dota Valley, and other hotspots, a lot have opted for trips in February, 2019. We can expect a lot more birders in the next four weeks, if you are one of those lucky people, the following information might be of help:

Cope, Excellent as Always! But Make a Reservation…

A recent trip to Cope’s place turned up the usual assortment of quality bird species. Upon arrival, we were immediately greeted by some of the folks from Rancho Naturalista (Lisa, Harry, and two guests) who got us on to perched White-tipped Sicklebill and American Pygmy Kingfisher. Chestnut-headed Oropendola and a few other nice feeder birds quickly followed.

A bit further afield, he brought us to a roosting Spectacled Owl and a Great Potoo. Nothing like quality birds one after another in one or two short hours! I really wished we could have stayed longer, I would have loved to but we had to move on for more birding and our lodging for the night. The Cope experience is a must but before you decide to go, make a reservation. Otherwise, he might not be able to accommodate you and you could be turned away. To make a reservation, contact me at [email protected]

Early Spring Migrants are Late

March migrants elsewhere might take the form of geese, huge flocks of blackbirds, or groups of thrushes moving from tree to fruiting tree. In Costa Rica, our early birds are Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Piratic Flycatcher, and Yellow-green Vireo. Since this country tends to have such a wet and productive rainy season, these tropical species come to Costa Rica to take advantage of it. Some usually arrive in January and most are gone by August or September. This year, they are definitely coming back later rather than earlier. While Harry Barnard, one of Rancho Naturalista’s excellent guides, was telling me that he has seen very few of these migrants so far this year, I realized that I hadn’t even had a Sulphur-bellied in 2019 and only one or two Yellow-green Vireos. At some point, they should arrive in force but at the moment, seem to be rather thin on the ground. Well, except for Piratic Flycatchers. More seem to be calling day by day.

Another Site for Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow Bites the Dust

Or maybe I should say, “goes up in flames”?

Historically, Costa Rica’s newest endemic lived in a mosaic of brushy, semi-wooded habitats in the Central Valley. When coffee farms replaced much of those original habitats, it had to adapt to the new neighborhood. However, the species couldn’t help but draw a line with the latest changes to its already limited world. The nouveau habitat of asphalt, concrete, and housing might work for grackles and Rufous-collared Sparrows, but it just doesn’t do it for the local, endemic “towhee”. While this handsome sparrow does seem to persist in remnant bits of green space and riparian zones, it never seems to be common and is likely Near Threatened or even one step closer to being officially Endangered.

With that in mind, every bit of green space counts, especially when it’s a fairly large area of brushy habitat. Unfortunately, half of one such area is no more, a site where I have regularly seen and showed this species to people. Half of it was recently burned and on Monday, the blackened bits of field and vegetation were being eliminated with a tractor. This vegetation was also used by several migrants from the north. The other half of the site still retains a mix of coffee and brush but who knows for how long? To support conservation of this endemic species, please contact the folks at the Cabanis’s Project.

Great Green Macaws Feeding on the La Selva Entrance Road

It must be that time of year. Fruiting palms on the entrance road into La Selva are attracting macaws for fantastic close looks! They aren’t there all day but hang by those palms in the morning and you might get close looks of this spectacular mega.

Jabiru Show at Cano Negro

Low water levels have been concentrating the birds at Cano Negro. I’m not sure how long it will last but if your boat driver can bring you to one of those last remaining pools, you will likely be treated to several Jabirus among a few hundred other wading birds. When you take your eyes off the huge storks, take a careful look at the other birds, there might be something even rarer in there.

In addition to the species mentioned above, visiting birders can expect calling quetzals, birds building nests, fairly dry conditions, and the usual exciting birding found in Costa Rica. Have a great trip!