Birding Costa Rica

Pondering Swifts and Swallows during Quarantine Birding in Costa Rica

Costa Rica isn’t actually under quarantine but it sort of is. Although we could legally drive a few hours up to the cold heights of Cerro de la Muerte to look for Volcano Juncos and Peg-billed Finches, we don’t because everyone is strongly encouraged to stay at home, to not go out unless you really need to. Although it’s easy to say that well, yeah, we need to go up there, we need to be in the woods (and I do feel like we need that…), we can also wait for another, better time.

Not to mention, on certain days, driving restrictions keep us off the streets and then back inside during the night. So, as with many other birders, we watch birds from and quite close to home. In my case, this means doing most birding from the small balcony out back. The habitat along the stream could be much better but it’s something and birds do use it. The skies also feature birds, many in fact and today, I found myself focusing on the swallows and swifts that harvest the insect bounty over the neighborhood.

Now that the rains have begun, cloudy weather and a better supply of bugs have brought more of these aerialists to our neck of the Central Valley. Today, these are the sky birds I saw and some of the questions that came to mind:

White-collared Swift

Big, bold swifts, several flew low and screamed over the houses. Up north, there’s nothing like them, in Europe, think of slightly bigger Alpine Swifts that have a white collar on dark underparts instead of a dark breast band. These big swifts leisurely cover ground in a matter of seconds, I wonder how far they go, where they come from? They have to roost behind waterfalls, the ones that visit here likely flew from somewhere around the cloud forests of Poas or Braulio Carillo but who knows, they could have come from many more miles away. Are they the same ones that visit each day? Is this particular valley part of their aerial territories? Do they even have those?

Chestnut-collared Swift

A bit smaller than the White-collareds, a few of these dark, air-scything bids are present pretty much every morning. Today, they also flew low over the houses making it possible to clearly see the brown on their throats. They also seemed to be either partaking in courtship or were fighting over air space. The same questions come to mind as for their larger cousins.

Vaux’s Swift

Our local, everyday swift, these birds probably don’t come from that far away. These are neighborhood birds in every sense of the word and typically forage low over the houses, in doing so, keeping company with the ubiquitous Blue-and-white Swallows.

Blue-and-white Swallow

Our common swallow, they nest on houses and can line the roadside wires in the early morning. They can forage over just about any height but tend to zip and dive just over the houses and, especially, over tall trees where they undoubtedly feast on small, swarming insects. Like a Tree Swallow with a dark vent and flanks, and slightly longer forked tail.

Barn Swallow

Another common migrant and wintering species in Costa Rica, they don’t need barns around here. These beautiful, familiar birds often forage low over nearby fields but can also join the other swallows flying over the houses as they did today. Where will they go? To green fields in update New York? To the wide open vistas of Kansas and eastern Colorado? Anywhere is possible.

Cliff Swallow

A handsome bird, the dark throat is what stands out the most when it flies way up there in the blue. Although just one was around here today, during rain on the previous day, 20 to 30 were busy feasting amid the falling water. Millions migrate through Costa Rica although many fly high up there, way overhead. As with the Barns, I wonder where they will nest this summer.

Bank Swallow

I was pleased to see one of these small swallows this morning. A year bird (!) and hopefully the first of many that will fly through these skies. Millions of these also fly through Costa Rica and they can still zip through during May. Pale below and with a thin breast band, the slight appearance also helps it stand out from the Rough-wingeds. In a month, the Banks seen these days will be visiting holes in the sides of sandy river banks and other similar spots.

Eventually, the large swifts flew higher and higher until they hid in plain sight up there in the blue. The migrant swallows eventually disappeared, who knows where they will be spending the night. Could be anywhere from somewhere around here to habitat near Lake Nicaragua. I wonder what will be flying around here tomorrow?

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