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bird finding in Costa Rica

Birding News for Costa Rica, Late April and May, 2019

In such famous birding locales as Central Park and Magee Marsh, May means warblers, grosbeaks, and other breeding birds dressed and singing to impress. The trees are in bloom, the weather is warm, after a long winter, it’s magic. In Costa Rica, we got a similar thing going on but with local, resident species. Although I wish I could fly north with those Chestnut-sideds and other birds of summer all the way to the cool woods of Western New York, there’s more than enough bird action in Costa Rica. Most habitats resound with birdsong, Yellow-green Vireos and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers are back in the neighborhood, and hundreds of other bird species are out there waiting to be seen.

Here is some of what’s been happening and to be expected in Costa Rica during the previous month and the next:

Eastern Kingbirds at the homestead – The past few days have been punctuated by a dozen Eastern Kingbirds feeding in a fruiting tree visible from the front of our place. Part of a hedgerow next to a farm, thanks to that green space, we can start every morning with the babbler-like songs of Rufous-naped Wrens, Red-billed Pigeon, Hoffmann’s Woodpeckers and other common species of the Central Valley. We also see Masked Tityras, Blue Grosbeak, an occasional Montezuma Oropendola and other birds. The kingbirds have been a treat because we don’t see them that often and because they remind me of beautiful Niagara and Pennylvania summers. While large numbers move through the Caribbean lowlands, Eastern Kingbirds are much less common around our place.

These long distance migrants have to watch out for raptors like this Short-tailed Hawk, another frequent visitor to our neighborhood.

Swallow-tailed Gull, Gray-hooded Gull, Shorebirds– Recently, an immature Swallow-tailed Gull was seen during a pelagic trip off the central Pacific coast (!). While this Galapagos endemic has been seen on trips to Cocos Island, it’s usually observed at night. A fantastic find by Rodolfo Dodero, he and passengers also saw Christmas Shearwater and other more regular species of the open ocean.

Gray-hooded Gull, another mega, was found by local ornithologist Ariel Fonseca during shorebird counts at Punta Morales. Although Marilen and I missed that bird by a few days, it’s always good to know what shows up! This and other sightings are yet more reminders to check those coastal spots and take a close look at every bird. Speaking of that, as expected, shorebirds have also been passing through. The most interesting sightings have been of White-rumped Sandpipers at Cano Negro, and Upland Sandpipers in Guanacaste.

Fires!– On a low note, the extra dry weather has resulted in a higher than normal number of forest fires. Devastation at its worst, important wetlands in Cano Negro and Sierpe have been affected as have been regenerating dry forests on the Cerro Lodge road, near Orotina, and elsewhere. As the climate becomes increasingly hotter and drier, more fires will probably happen.

Oxbow Lake hotspot near Carara– There’s an oxbow lake along the highway just north of the bridge at Tarcoles and it has acted as important wetland habitat for a number of species this past dry season. Recently, someone reported three Jabirus from there, I can’t help but wonder what else might occur. Maybe Glossy Ibis? Maybe even a Masked Duck? Hopefully those species, shorebirds and more and that I can see them on Global Big Day!

This would be a nice one for May 4th!

Costa Rica Prepares for Global Big Day 2019– It’s happening on May 4th and once again, the birding community in Costa Rica has been getting ready to count birds. Although there doesn’t seem to be as much enthusiasm as last year, we do have teams in most parts of the country. I will be counting birds, if all goes well, Marilen and I will see how many we can identify. Watch the results for Team Tyto!

Would you like to know where to find birds in Costa Rica? How to look for and find them while supporting this blog? Purchase my 700 plus page e-book “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. Hope to see you in the field!

bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica Pacific slope

Looking for Shorebirds and Yearbirds in Costa Rica

Last Friday, my partner Marilen and I had a golden chance to go birding. Non-birding daughters were being taken care of, we had a free day! Did we watch the latest “Avengers” movie? Go for lunch or out to dinner? “Claro que no”. Naturally, we decided to look for year birds. But, where to go? The cool highlands for Buffy Tuftedcheek and other species needed by Team Tyto? The Caribbean side to search for Canada Warbler and other migrants?

Roadside birding on Poas Volcano.

The smartest move may have been trying for Black-crowned Antpitta at Braulio Carrillo. I have been hearing one there for the past couple weeks and it would be a mega tick for Mary. But, since late April is prime time for shorebirds in Costa Rica, and the best longshot at Hudsonian Godwit, with visions of dowitchers, Pectoral Sandpipers, and other year birds in mind, we took a gamble on the coast. Although we probably should have left in the early morn, since high tide wasn’t going to happen until two something in the afternoon, we made a leisurely 10 a.m. exit from the house.

Although Chomes was the main destination, we decided to check out Punta Morales first. The drive to the salt ponds at Morales was the usual rocky and dusty jaunt but as always, each minute was heavy with anticipation. This is one of those place a bet birding places; a site where any number of rare birds can show or where there might be nothing at all. You have to drive on in to see what’s there, you just might hit the jackpot where winnings include thousands of shorebirds, terns, and who knows what else. Come to think of it, a remote camera would be ideal at Punta Morales. It could tell us when most of the birds are there and when the nearest birders should race there to twitch a jaeger or some mega like a Gray-hooded Gull (a local ornithologist recently documented one from this site!). A cam. would have been especially helpful on Friday because as it turned out, we were greeted by very few birds; just a small group of Willets, Whimbrels, and one Marbled Godwit.

No problem, you never know unless you look! And, we still had Chomes to look forward to. The drive in to Chomes tends to be rockier and dustier but is also more exciting. It’s a longer drive and can give a birder Spot-breasted Oriole, thick-kness, rare swallow species, and even Upland Sandpiper. Although we had none of those, we did find a surprise Black Swift! An excellent find and key year bird (aren’t they all?), it foraged low over the trees for perfect looks. Not so for the swallows but most seemed to be Barns in any case.

Other interesting species on the drive in included Shiny Cowbird, Orange-fronted Parakeets, and sleek Scissor-tailed Flycatchers but the best stuff was waiting at the end of the road (or so we thought). It’s back there near the beach where the shorebirds tend to be, and, fortunately, the road was good enough to make the drive. Unfortunately, though, few birds were present.

Given the prime date for spring migration, I was honestly surprised. There were some birds and we did manage a year Wilsons’s Phalarope but not nearly as many as expected. No terns either. The tide and timing were right, I can only wonder if the Holy Friday beachgoers had something to do with the lack of birds. There were lots of people there on the beach making lots of noise and racing back and forth with boats. Yeah, I guess if I was migrating from South America up to the Arctic, I would also hope for a bit more peace and quiet.

But, we did pick up that phalarope and swift and it’s always fun to bird there. However, on a somewhat alarming note, the construction of shacks continues apace at Chomes, if it keeps growing, this very important site could lose habitat, birds might be hunted, and it could end up being inaccessible to birders.

Not wanting to wait and see if more birds would brave the Holy Friday chaos on the beach, we made our departure from Chomes and drove towards Ensenada.

An overlook at Ensenada.

A private wildlife refuge and lodge, Ensenada protects excellent shorebird habitat as well as mangroves and dry forest habitats. The grounds of the refuge are good birding and a lot can also be seen along roads outside the lodge. On the Arizona Road, we picked up our first Thicket Tinamous of the year while listening to the songs of Banded Wrens, Long-tailed Manakins, and other dry forest species.

Once we reached Ensenada, we made a bee-line for the salt ponds and were greeted by a good number of shorebirds. Quite a few Ruddy Turnstones were there along with Black-bellied Plovers, Willets, three species of peeps, Wilson’s and Semipalmated Plovers, and a few other species. The best for us was our year Stilt Sandpiper. While watching the shorebirds, we also heard a year Spot-breasted Oriole and saw a flyby Hook-billed Kite. A quick view of Plumbeous Kite rounded out Team Tyto’s birds of 2019 before dusk took over and saw us on the long road to home.

Hook-billed Kite from another day.

It was a good, long day, we had 17 species of shorebirds, now we have to figure out when we can add that Pittasoma and catch a few other key year birds at the same time…

big year bird finding in Costa Rica

Special Birds in Buenos Aires

“Buenos Aires” means something along the lines of “good airs” or “good winds”, maybe even ” a place with a pleasant atmosphere”. Although the big city in Argentina is best known as Buenos Aires, that megalopolis isn’t the only place of “good airs” in Latin America. In Costa Rica, we also have a few “Buenos Aires”, one of which is situated in the lower parts of the General Valley. A landscape of pineapple fields and natural savannas, habitats near our Buenos Aires are good for a bunch of birds tough to see elsewhere.

Although you won’t see any Tango in this much smaller Buenos Aires, you might lay eyes on a few birds hard to see in other parts of the country. These be birdies like Ocellated Crake, Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Rufous Nightjar, and White-tailed Nightjar.

In Costa Rica, all of these species are local residents and there is no better place in the country to see all of them than places near Buenos Aires. That’s why the Birding Club of Costa Rica did a trip there this past weekend. Thankfully, I was able to guide the trip and even better, Mary was also able to go. The end result was a successful weekend that involved each of the species mentioned above, at least a few lifers for all (including two for myself!), and a major boost for the Team Tyto year list.

Some thoughts about birding around Buenos Aires, Costa Rica:

Early morning and late afternoon birding– Expect hot and sunny. The birds mark that uncomfortable middle of the day with a siesta. Stick to early morning and late afternoon birding to see the specialties and most of everything else.

Special birds!– Most are in the natural grasslands in the hills above town. Listen to the crake (see below), scan for the very uncommon grass-finch, check dense viney vegetation for the thrush-tanager, and wait until dark for the nightjars. Local species easier at this site than other places also include Scaled Pigeon, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Bare-crowned Antbird, and Lesser Elaenia.

Lesser Elaenias were very common.

The crake- Easy to hear, nearly impossible to see. Yes, I know, most crakes are difficult and it’s tough to see that White-throated but senor Ocellated takes things to lower, more insidious levels of skulk. The Ocellated Crake is a rodent wannabe that will not leave the safety of its dense grass habitat. Once in a blue moon but in my experience, it is easier to see Black Rail than this one.

There was a crake somewhere in there.

More than grass birds– But there are more species than just grass birds! Rainforests down in the valleys and higher up also harbor antbirds, Streak-chested Antpitta, Marbled Wood-Quail, Fiery-billed Aracari, raptors, and much more. Even uncommon species like Turquoise Cotinga, Spot-fronted Swift, and White-crested Coquette have been seen in the area.

Seasonal– Some birds only show up when the conditions are right, namely seed eating species like Plain-breasted Ground-Dove and seedeaters. The best time for those birds might be from June to October.

Plain-breasted Ground-Dove.

Four Wheel Drive– The savannas on the road to Durika require four-wheel drive. If not, expect a long, hot (yet interesting) walk.

The Ujarras road– This road follows the course of river and passes near forest, second growth, and occasional houses. It was fairly birdy and really needs some annual breeding bird surveys. We went a ways down this road to successfully see Rosy Thrush-Tanager.

Bring your own breakfast– I doubt there is a place in town where one can have an early breakfast. Bring your own including coffee!

Support local birding, get in touch with Oscar Ortiz– Oscar is from the area and knows where many of the birds are located. He wants to promote birding and would be great to get more local folks interested and/or aware of birds around Buenos Aires. To help, contact him at his Facebook page.

If you are looking for some very interesting, quality birding off the beaten track, give the Buenos Aires area a try. Just make sure you have a four-wheel drive and are stocked with your own coffee and snacks. Good birding!

bird finding in Costa Rica

How to See 150 Bird Species in Costa Rica in One Day of Birding

Would you want to see 150 bird species in a day? The immediate response tends to be a big fat “yes!” but if we pause, step back and contemplate what a birding blur of a day that might be like, we of course still say “YES!” and just as emphatically as the call of a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher.

Actually, though, if all the birds are new, you might not want to have 150 species in one day. Although the generally accepted rule in birding is the more the merrier, if we see too much in one day, we can end up being confused about what we have seen, and might feel less appreciation for the birds we encounter. But hey, if a birder in Costa Rica doesn’t mind accepting the challenge, here are a couple of ideas to see 150 species in a day:

The Carara area– This is probably the easiest place to connect with that many birds in one day. It will be a long, likely hot, day of birding but you will be surprised at how many birds are on the list when the clock shows 5 p.m. Last week, I had just such an experience during an exciting day of guiding around Carara. To keep it brief, we began the birding on the Guacalillo Road, moved to the Cerro Lodge Road, then Carara National Park for the rest of the morning. Lunch at a seaside restaurant was followed by Tarcoles then the road to Pura Vida Gardens.

The end result was Pearl Kite, White-throated Magpie-Jay, various parrots, parakeets and Scarlet Macaw, Crane Hawk, point blank views of Streak-chested Antpitta, Red-capped Manakin, an excellent antswarm, and a bunch more to hit 143 species seen and 20 plus more heard. And that’s not running around like the proverbial headless jungle fowl either but just steady birding until 4:30 p.m. or so.

La Gamba– Way down south, the road to the Esquinas Lodge area and trails in the forest can yield 150 plus species. Several will likely be heard only but a full day of birding around there is typically fantastic on account of the winning combination of open wet fields, riparian zones, gardens, and mature lowland rainforest. If you still have energy to bird, the night birding in that area is also excellent!

Sarapiqui- This classic site can also turn up 150 or so species in a day. A birder would probably need to visit more than site in the area doing that can certainly result in a large number of species. Last month, I did just that while guiding and we got around 150 by birding on roads near Quinta de Sarapiqui, behind Selva Verde, and at the edge of La Selva.

Are you ready to see more than your share of tropical birds in one day? How about a few hundred or more during a week? Support this blog and check out my 700 plus page e-book “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. If I don’t transfer the book right away, it’s because I am out guiding and will get it to you within a few days.

Hope to see you in Costa Rica!

Costa Rica birding app

Updating the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide App

While out birding or guiding, I usually have a camera on hand. Having
become part of the modern day birding kit, that would be expected. But, the funny thing is, I don’t take that many pictures of birds. I guess I would but I already have more than enough images of hundreds of species, especially the common, easy to shoot ones like flycatchers, toucans, and Short-tailed Hawks.

I still bring the camera, though, but more for shots of birds in flight, rarities, and just in case probability takes an unlikely right turn in my direction to bring me good shots of Tawny-faced Gnatwren or other deviously difficult birds to photograph. I don’t take such pictures to expand my portfolio, I release the shutter with the hope of adding more images to the birding apps I work on. They have to be quality images and since the Costa Rica Field Guides app now shows images for more than 900 species, there aren’t too many more that I can get pictures of anyways.

However, there’s always that chance that I will suddenly have that skulking gnatwren or Tawny-crowned Greenlet paused and in good light, or get good shots of some of the swifts. However unlikely those scenarios may be, as with winning a lottery, they are still possible and the more I encounter those birds, as per the laws of probability, the more likely such photographic chances will present themselves.

But, fortunately for the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, I am far from the only person contributing images. In addition to the hundreds of excellent photos contributed by Randall Ortega Chaves (one of the co-founders of the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app), several people have helped us with images of a host of other difficult species. Many of the images are actually birds common elsewhere but a challenge to find and photograph in Costa Rica, birds like Great Shearwater, White Tern, and Northern Pintail. Although a birder might not be looking for those species in Costa Rica, or be likely to see them, we include those and every species on the official list for the country because that’s what a complete field guide should do. With that in mind, contributed are greatly appreciated and is why contributors are listed on the app, the app website, and, if desired, promoted on the app Facebook page.

Since the creation of the app, we have also routinely provided free updates with more images, vocalizations, and other information. Recently, we did another one, these are some of the new images:

Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, many thanks to Pete Morris at Birdquest for being so generous with this and so many other excellent images including the Uniform Crake pictured below.

Seth Beaudrault gave us a few very nice images of Barred Hawk and Scaled Antpitta, as with the birds above, both are species already shown on the app but there’s nothing like having more quality images of really cool birds.

Many thanks also goes to Jean Bonilla, a guide in the Monteverde area who made it possible to finally show the Black-breasted Wood-Quail on the app. This is the excellent picture he took and contributed:

In going through my photos from the previous year, I also found some images to include. They aren’t pictures of birds in perfect views but that’s actually why I put them on the app. The birding days are grand when all the birds show themselves in perfect light. However, since such days are also as rare as sightings of the RVG Cuckoo, I think it’s important for a field guide to also picture birds as they are often seen; in substandard light and in odd positions.

Birds like this Nutting’s Flycatcher,

this view of Western Kingbird,

and this White-necked Puffbird.

The app also now shows more images of ducks and a few other birds in flight and additional images of Rough-legged Tyrannulet and other uncommon species. We are just a few short images away from picturing every species on the list, if you would like to help us out, please contact me at [email protected] These are the final birds we are looking for!-

  • Mangrove Rail
  • Ocellated Crake
  • Paint-billed Crake
  • Violaceous Quail-Dove
  • Cocos Cuckoo
  • Cocos Flycatcher
  • Cocos Finch
  • Short-tailed Nighthawk
  • Great Swallow-tailed Swift
  • White-chinned Swift
  • Red-fronted Parrotlet
  • Black-headed Antthrush
  • Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner
  • Silvery-fronted Tapaculo
  • Tawny-crowned Greenlet
  • Tawny-faced Gnatwren
  • Lined Seedeater,
  • Sulphur-rumped Tanager

As always, I hope to see you birding somewhere in Costa Rica!