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 [email protected] to set up your birding trip in Costa Rica.