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big year

Final Birds of the Year

This is it. December is here, with its snow and gulls and other birds from the north and the year is coming to a close. Except that in Costa Rica, we don’t have any dark cold days, nor do we offer much for the Larophile. We do have some birds from the north but they come in the form of Baltimore Orioles, Yellow Warblers, and other birds that come here to escape that northern annual freeze. Thanks to jet propulsion engines and planes, you can also migrate away from the cold. Come to Costa Rica and a birder can also add a few several dozen final year birds.

Did someone say Snowcap?

In my near future, I don’t foresee any serious chasing of the feathered kind but Mary and I are scheduled to participate in one more count. Maybe we will add a few more year birds, maybe even some after the count. Although we both have more than 600 species for 2019, incredibly, even more species can still find room on our lists, I wonder what they might be?

My latest year bird (numero 680) was a Rufous-winged Tanager seen while guiding near the Mistico Hanging Bridges area. During those days of guiding, I also saw birds like Great Curassow, Ocellated Antbird, Keel-billed Motmot, and Lattice-tailed Trogon but as nice as those species are, it wasn’t the first time I had seen them in 2019.

The Keel-billed Motmot.

In the next few days, with luck, we might even connect with Bare-necked Umbrellabird. I hope so, even if I already did see one this year, I rarely see this endangered species and it would be an excellent final bird of the year for Mary. Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo might be even better but even being in the right place doesn’t mean that you can hit the birding lottery with this mega. If we find an antswarm, though, we could be in luck, I will certainly be listening for this very challenging species.

Other, more likely final year birds may come in the form of species we have looked for and should have already seen. Although we have done well on owls, the Striped Owl has evaded our efforts thus far! There’s still a chance although I think it depends on whether or not we visit the Jaco area at night.

Another big empty spot on our year lists is next to the name of the American Kestrel. Although the “Sparrow Hawk” isn’t common in Costa Rica, we have looked for it in the right places. I really don’t know why we haven’t seen this beautiful little falcon yet but it’s about time we connected, maybe one will still show near the airport or some other open field.

We could also pick up a nice set of final birds for the year in the Ciudad Neily area but since that is kind of far to go, it’s not going to happen in 2019. Maybe in 2020, but not this year. Instead, though, if we head to the coast, we still may pick up Common Tern and other coastal species. At least no matter where we go birding in Costa Rica, some new year bird could appear. That’s how the birding goes in a place with a list of more than 920 species.

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season and Merry Christmas! Thank you for reading this blog in 2019, I am grateful.

Birding Costa Rica Christmas Counts

Highlights and Impressions from Annual Bird Counts at Cano Negro and Arenal, 2019

The past week has been marked by bird counts, at least for us and the other 80 plus people that helped count birds at Cano Negro and Arenal. Since many of the counters and count organizers are busy with tours later on in December, these counts don’t fit into the official count time frame for the Audubon Christmas Counts and are thus not tabulated therein. However, that doesn’t minimize their importance, we still try to hold them around the same dates for each year and with the same routes and effort.

Pretty typical for December, this year’s counts were marked by the arrival of a cold front. It brought the expected buckets of rain and filled the wetlands of Cano Negro to the brink. As one might imagine, the heavy rains also presented challenges to watching birds but we still managed (yay for us participants!).

Some of the highlights and other impressions from this year’s annual bird counts for Cano Negro and Arenal:

You can still bird in the rain but it’s better when it stops

When birding in the rain, there’s a fine balance between getting too much rain and having just enough to boost the avian activity. Fortunately, it didn’t rain the entire time for either count! Although we did experience some heavy, prolonged falling water, we also had enough downtime from precipitation to count the birds.

Odd birds from the ocean

The good thing about a cold front is the birds that it can bring to town. That cool weather from the north can come with some surprises. At Cano Negro, they came in the form of a few Laughing Gulls, a Sandwich Tern, and two Brown Pelicans. Although we weren’t too far from marine environments, this inland freshwater wetland and refuge is still far enough from the ocean to make sightings of coastal species very unusual. I also checked the lake at Arenal but didn’t find any errant shearwaters or other similar oddities.

The new tower at Finca Luna Nueva

This recent excellent addition to Luna Nueva merits its own post and will get one at some point. During the count, we got a hint of what the birding can be like, I can’t wait to check it out during a sunnier, warmer dawn. On count day, the misty, rainy, and cool weather kept activity to a minimum. At other times, I bet it can be really good.

Both counts deliver the goods

Despite the tough weather, thanks to a good number of enthusiastic participants, we recorded most expected species at both counts. Our best birds at Cano Negro may have been the uncommon Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, Bare-crowned Antbird, and Bronzy Hermit. At Arenal, these were probably Black-crested Coquette, Uniform Crake, Gray Catbird, Ovenbird, and a few other nice finds.

Best birds from 270 plus species at Cano Negro

It’s hard to decide which birds were the best finds for all routes combined but good contenders come in the form of Tiny Hawk, Northern Harrier, crakes, Pinnated Bittern, Snowy Cotinga, and a few others.

Best Birds from 350 plus species at Arenal

One of our best and most memorable birds was a displaying Sunbittern. Thanks to Beto Palma for sharing this picture.

Another tough call, but some of the rarer species recorded included Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Sharpbill, the super tough Lanceolated Monklet, Tody Motmot, two hawk-eagle species, and Ring-necked Duck among others.

Good birding in good company and bird education

As always, the top highlights from both counts come in the form of sharing these special days with fellow birders. Some of us are veterans of bird counts, others were watching and counting birds for the first time. Promotion of birding also happened this year by way of birding workshops that took place in local communities before each count. Our count fees also helped fund those endeavors.

Beto Palma took this picture of the count shirt.

The count shirt is pretty cool too! Many thanks goes to Diego Quesada, Jheudy Carballo, Anthony Arce, Luis Enrique of Bird Songs Bijagua, and other members of the count committee for making these important bird counts happen.

biodiversity Birding Costa Rica

The 2019 Christmas Bird Count Season in Costa Rica

December is here and in the Central Valley of Costa Rica, we know it by the quick change from rainy days to sunnier, more windy weather. As with the USA and Canada, this final month of the year is also synonymous with Christmas music, the hoods of cars adorned with red reindeer noses, and vehicles topped with tied down, freshly cut conifers as they bring home “the tree” (in Costa Rica, a small Guatemalan Cypress). Us local birders also know that December has arrived by the announcements and preparations being made for our annual Christmas Counts!

In Costa Rica, these annual counts aren’t just times when birders organize to count the birds within a given radius. Many counts in Costa Rica have evolved into mini birding events that promote local enterprise, community, and conservation. Although some of the counts occur outside of the official National Audubon Christmas Count time frame, we do them anyways because, well, any time of the year is a good time to celebrate birds! One such count was recently held at Cangreja National Park, a little visited area in central Costa Rica where Sunbitterns lurk in the shade of forested waterways and Blue-crowned Manakins twitter from the understory.

A picture of Cangreja from last year’s count.

Thanks to support from the Asociacion de Ornitologia de Costa Rica and others, several people from the community near the national park took part in a birding course and helped count birds on the day of the count. I wish we could have made it to that one but work and other responsibilities took precedence. Nor can we do all of the counts taking place this month but we will at least focus on birds at a few.

Similar to past counts, the schedule will probably involve a pre-counting meeting where the organizers go over the routes, provide a talk, and have everyone introduce themselves while we eat a meal together. During the night, some will likely run out there at midnight to look and listen for nocturnal species while we try to get some sleep. On count day, we will be up somewhere around 4 to try for some night birds before getting into counting mode on our respective routes. This will last for much of the day with a break for a boxed lunch before everyone meets in the evening to go over the results. The following day, many of the counters will get in another fun morning of birding, maybe even chasing rarities discovered on count day.

I could go for a nice close look at an Ochre-breasted Antpitta.

I hope we pick up some year birds, I know we will see and hear a lot, and it will be fun to hang out with and share the birding life with other local birders.

If you are in Costa Rica now or will be here in December and want to participate in any of the counts, this is a list of the counts taking place with contact information. Since several of these counts fill up, contact the organizers sooner rather than later! Wishing you lots of birds no matter where you end up counting them this December, 2019!

R.N.V.S. Caño Negro
December 5, 2019
[email protected]

Arenal National Park
December 7, 2019
[email protected]

La Selva Biological Station
December 14, 2019
[email protected]

XXVI Monteverde Count
December 14, 2019

Pacífico Central Carara
December 16, 2019

Cloud Forests of San Ramón
20 and 21 of December, 2019
[email protected]

Osa Península and Corcovado
December 21, 2019

The Rainforest Aerial Tram Bird Count
December 21, 2019
Alan Rodríguez [email protected]  or Luis Diego Castillo [email protected]

Santa Rosa National Park Bird Count
December 28, 2019
Frank Joyce [email protected] and María M. Chavarria Diaz [email protected]

Volcán Cacao Bird Count
December 30, 2019
Frank Joyce [email protected] and María M. Chavarria Diaz [email protected]

Nicoya Peninsula
January 12, 2020
[email protected], [email protected]

Chirripó National Park
January 30, February 1 and 2, 2020
Enzo Vargas Salazar [email protected]

​Tortuguero National Park
February 1 and 2, 2020

La Amistad International Park
March 6, 7 and 8, 2020

[email protected]