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How to See More Antpittas in Costa Rica Part 2- Low Elevations

Antpittas are most often affiliated with the cloud forests of the avian rich Andes. It makes sense, those fantastic habitats of bird aficionado dreams are where most people see their first antpitta. In the past, as wonderfully birdy as those places are, except for birders wielding a good deal of time, patience, and determination, many an antpitta stayed safely put in the “heard only” category.

That tantalizing dynamic was changed by feeding stations and similar situations. Once they hit the birding scene, Giant Antpittas, Yellow-breasted Antpitta, even the previously near mythical Moustached Antpitta started showing up on trip reports and bird lists that featured satisfied antpitta checks in the “seen!” column. Worm feeding stations in Ecuador and Colombia quickly became the easiest way to see antpittas and in the subsequent years since they became established, they have helped thousands of people test their close focus on antpittas.

These special feathered gnomes reach their greatest diversity in the Andes but they also live in other, hotter places. In the absence of feeding stations, antpittas of the lowland and foothill forests continue to be some of the more difficult birds to see. Like their montane cousins, most are readily heard but unlike some birds in the mountains, they haven’t adopted the way of the fed worm. Who knows, maybe lowland ntpittas would comply if more people tried to make that happen but until then, most situations for such species as the Thrushlike, Spotted, and Speckled-breasted Antpittas will require old fashioned antpitta viewing factors like stealth, determination, and good fortune.

Those and other attributes are needed to see the lowland antpittas that are two of many cherished birds in Costa Rica. Here are some ideas for laying eyes on these prize birds:

Streak-chested Antpitta

Fortunately, in Costa Rica, we have one or two reliable sites to connect with this cool little bird. Go to Carara National Park, especially as soon as the park opens, walk the Quebrada Bonita loop trail, and you should hear its sad whistled song. Invest the time in looking and waiting for the bird and you also have an excellent chance of seeing it. It’s worth keeping a careful eye on the trail as far ahead as you can see, I have noticed this stealthy little ball of feathers hop across and into view on more than one occasion.

streak-chested-antpitta

They can also show at the edges of antswarms but most birders find them by listening for their haunting whistled song. As with other shy forest birds, a key way to see one is by carefully scanning the forest floor and patiently waiting for one to reveal itself. That typically happens when one hops into view but they can also get noticed when they puff their chest feathers in and out. That body inflation isn’t the most obvious motion in the forest but is another reminder to check out any percieved movement, event the hint of one. I recall seeing more than one Streak-chested Antpitta as well as other birds being attuned to such forest hints.

For the Pacific race of this species, Carara is the most accessible spot but they also occur in other forested sites, especially flat areas with tall forest in the Osa Peninsula.

As for the Caribbean slope version of the Streak-chested Antpitta, listen and look for it in the same way at Quebada Gonzalez, deep in La Selva, and other sites with extensive primary forest. It doesn’t seem to readily occur at Arenal but with lowland species moving upslope, this might change. It’s also worth mentioning that ideally, a Costa Rica birding tour should try and see this bird on both sides of the mountain because there’s a fair chance two species are involved.

Streak-chested-Antpitta-intermedius-1
The Caribbean slope subspecies of this cool little bird.

Thicket Antpitta

This vocal skulker is Costa Rica’s other lowland antpitta. Since it might be more at home in the foothills and occurs in second growth, Foothill Antpitta or S and G Antpitta might be more appropriate but in any case, “Thicket” still works.

This secretive bird isn’t shy with its vocal chords. Over and over, it teases with its rising whistled song. A good thing too because otherwise, you would never see the thing. It absolutely loves wet and thick second growth and can occur anywhere in the Caribbean lowlands but may be most frequent in the Tilaran Mountains. That would mostly be the Arenal area. Go birding on the Peninsula Road or various other spots and you will probably hear it. To see it, find a spot near a singing bird where you can actually see the ground and play the patience game.

Other very good sites for this species include Tierras Enamoradas and Pocosol.

It’s worth mentioning that this bird could also end up being a species separate from the ones that live in South America. Maybe, maybe not but there’s nothing wrong with seeing more antpittas.

These are the lowland antpittas of Costa Rica. Birds worth seeing but birds that also require patience, stealth, and determination. A good guide and birding tour in Costa Rica can also make the difference. Speaking of that, I know of a tour available for an excellent price that has one spot open for a woman (sharing a room with another woman). The tour is scheduled in January, 2022 and because of a cancellation, that one spot to see Streak-chested Antpitta and hundreds of other species is available.

Various key sites will be visited including Poas, Sarapiqui, Cope’s, Cano Negro, Arenal, and Carara. Last year, a similar tour saw more than 425 species during 10 days of fantastic birding. If interested or know someone who would love to experience a wealth of tropical birds and close looks at macaws, toucans, tanagers, hummingbirds, and many other birds in Costa Rica, please contact me today at information@birdingcraft.com

As always, I hope to see you birding in fantastic Costa Rica. It’s closer and easier than you think!

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How to See More Antpittas When Birding in Costa Rica- Part One

Antpittas aren’t your averge garden bird. At least not unless your backyard borders Andean cloud forest and other places haunted by these most special of plump birds. Many people (that means non-birders too) have heard of sparrows, pigeons, larks, and a host of additional avian groups but antpittas? Yeah…maybe not so much. Ask your average person about antpittas and you may find that such discourse is a good way to elicit looks of confusion, nervous laughter, or maybe even offending someone. Don’t be surprised, it’s what people do when presented with odd language that sounds completely bizarre.

We can’t blame them, after all, the word “antpitta” is likewise confusing to birders who have never seen pictures of antpittas. Ask your backyard birding Uncle Billy about them and he might respond that last time he checked, ants were insects. If he has been studying Birds of the World or scrolling Flcker for colorful bird pictures, is prone to mansplaining and has never birded outside of the confines of his garden, he might also add, “Oh, you mean pittas! Now that’s a beautiful bird. You need to see a pitta, they only live in…Singapore. Go there, there’s tours to see them, you should sign up for one. Oh, and bring your binoculars and a camera, you can’t go on a tour without those. You could learn a lot about birds, there’s a guide that will help you.”

In response, after calming the urge to punch him in the arm, you could mention that yes, you are aware of those jewels of the forest floor but that actually, no, you weren’t referring to them or insects. You had anther bird in mind, the one you had even mentioned..antpittas.

Ochre-breasted-Antpitta

If you still managed to harbor enough patience and good will to continue conversing with your uncle, you could then show him a page or two from a field guide, birding app, or search results that demonstrate some choice members of the Grallaria genus. Who knows? Such a kind gesture might open his eyes and mind to antpittas and if he reacts like many other birders do, his eyes will go wide, he may say things like, “Well I’ll be darned!”, “It’s a football with legs!”, or even “What the hell is that thing…what is it?!?” No matter what his exclamation at the discovery of the antpitta, he will then want to go and see them.

This is because once people who use binoculars learn about antpittas, most really, really want to experience them. One might assume that birders would prefer to ogle the iridescence of tanagers, fill their eyes with eagles, and enjoy the fairy moves of hummingbirds. Therein lies some truth but birding is so much more than the fancy side of avian life. Attraction is also found in unexpected appearances, in birds that hop right into your imagination.

In the case of antpittas, they jumpstart your sense of wonder by looking like forest gnomes wearing feathered capes, by mournfully whistling at you from the depths of the rainforest, and by rarely letting you see them. The taming of antpittas with worms has erased some of that antpitta fantasy but it hasn’t made a dent in their popularity. If anything, feeding them has brought these odd birds into the birding spotlight, has made more people aware that these weird and wonderful creatures exist.

In Costa Rica, we are blessed with 5 antpitta species and although you won’t find any antpitta feeding stations, there still are ways to see them. This post is numero one in a short series about antpittas. Let’s start with the megaist one of the bunch:

Black-crowned Antpitta

Actually in a related but separate bird family (the Conophagidae) and therefore more properly known as a “Gnatpitta“, this fancy bird is one heck of a mega. Unfortunately, one of the reasons why it’s a “mega” is because you don’t see them.

Black-crowned Antpitta digiscoped Costa Rica
A Black-crowned Antpitta I digiscoped some years ago in Costa Rica.

Despite being big enough to take on a chicken in a fair fight, this gangstapitta is also adept at avoiding birders. Sadly, it does it all the time and not by merit of its skulking prowess. It’s also honestly uncommon and seems to have declined in the few sites where used to chuckle at passing birders (seriously, listen to it chuckle). As with so many other birds and climate crisis life in general, this decline is likely associated with consistently drier conditions that have resulted in less things to eat.

With that extra bit of scarcity factor in mind, seeing this special bird in Costa Rica has become that much more difficult. Since this Pittasoma is also regular at sites in Panama, most save a date with it whle birding there. However, since the ones most often seen in Panama are another, distinct subspecies, connecting with it in Costa Rica is worth the effort.

If that’s the case, why isn’t it seen on birding tours in Costa Rica? As in any tours? The answer is basically “other birds” and “logistics”. While a tour could see Black-crowned Antpitta on one or more of the regular circuits, making that happen would take up time more easily dedicated to seeing many other birds much easier to see and photograph. It can take hours, even days to find (or majorly dip) one of these birds.

The Costa Rica Pittasoma equation is further complicated by logistics. The sites where the bird is regular are off the regular tour track and most aren’t very suitable for group tours. Until we find accessible and reliable places for the antpitta in northern Costa Rica, tours will need to detour or focus on southern Costa Rica.

Given the excellent birding near and south of Limon, that’s not such a bad idea! The best option for a group tour would probably be Selva Bananito while more indepedent birders could stay in any number of places near Cahuita or Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and look for the antpitta at Kekoldi and other suitably forested sites. The best places seem to be streams and other wet and muddy areas in primary rainforest and adjacent old second growth. As with other antpittas, even then, the bird isn’t easy to find but your chances improve if you can quietly scan for it on forest trails at dawn and in the late afternoon, and listen for its distinctive vocalizations.

But wait, that’s not all! Luckily, in common with some other challenging understory species, this bird loves to follow Army Ants. If you find an ant swarm in good habitat for the gnatpitta, keep waiting and try to stay with the ants until the antpitta makes an appearance. The nice thing about this birding hat trick is if the antpitta doesn’t show, you will still a bunch of other cool birds, maybe even a darn R.V. G. Cuckoo.

Finding this special antpitta is never easy but you can’t go wrong looking in the right places; in the homes of antpittas, the birding trends towards the awesome end of the spectrum.

To be continued…

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Some of the Best Road Birding in Costa Rica: the Ceiba-Cascajal Road

Great spots for birding in Costa Rica aren’t limited to national parks and protected areas.

Don’t get me wrong, many of those special places are excellent and you can’t go wrong with a day of birding in Carara or Tapanti but they aren’t the only sites to enjoy quality birding time.

In Costa Rica, byways that pass through a mix of private lands with varying degrees of protected status can be replete with excellent “road birding”. One such hotspot is the Ceiba-Cascajal Road, a promising area
that has been consistent with generating a fine variety of rare, uncommon, and serious mega species. As with so many other good birding spots in Costa Rica, it also has an excellent sampling of more expected birds.

Situated west of the town of Orotina in the hot Pacific lowlands, the area is dotted with patches of tropical dry forest, riparian zones, pasture, sugarcane fields, and at least one seasonal wetland. The end result is
habitat for a large number of species and most can be encountered from a good gravel road. This country road links the town of Orotina to smaller settlements and the main coastal highway. Additional side roads probably offer up similar good birding but they might not be as maintained as the main route linking Orotina to Ceiba and Cascajal.

Head to Ceiba and you can keep on birding dry tropical forest and other habitats all the way to Bajamar and Guacalillo; classic areas for birding tours in search of dry forest species. Take the Cascajal route and although it might cover a smaller area, there’s still plenty enough habitat for a fine day of birding. From what I have seen, this road also accesses
more interesting habitat; a mosaic of promising wooded areas with big trees and an open area with a seasonal wetland.

Where to look for birds? While there are plenty of birds to see anywhere along on the roadside, this information should give some notion of expectations:

Dry Forest Birds

A good percentage of tropical dry forest species are present. Although you probably won’t find birds that require larger areas of more intact forest, notably Thicket Tinamou, Elegant Trogon, and Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, there are plenty of Long-tailed Manakins, Turquoise-browed Motmots, Black-headed Trogons, and Striped-headed Sparrows to look at. The more wooded spots and riparian zones will also be good places to look for possible Stub-tailed Spadebill, Royal Flycatcher, Nutting’s Flycatcher, and various other dry forest birds.

One of the many Turquoise-browed Motmots from this road.

Scrubby areas can have Striped and Lesser ground-Cuckoos, Crested Bobwhite, wintering Painted Bunting, and wintering Grasshopper Sparrow (an uncommon, much desired species for local birders), as well as other rare sparrows. Both wooded and scrubby areas occur on various parts of the road.

Wide Open Habitats

When you feel like taking a break from peering into vegetation, scan the open fields for Double-striped Thick-Knee, Southern Lapwing, raptors, swallows, and various other open country species. The thick-knees may be seasonal but even if you don’t see them, there will still be other interesting open country birds to look at including occasional Red-breasted Meadowlark. One such visit to a spot with open fields turned up Costa Rica’s best documented Burrowing Owl!
The sighting prompted Costa Rica’s subsequent biggest twitch which then sadly became Costa Rica’s biggest dip. Did the bird get scared off by too much photography harassment (a growing problem)? That’s always possible but we will never know.

Double-striped Thick-Knee

Seasonal Wetlands

These can occur in a few different parts of the road; one is a low, wet spot in the area with large open fields on both sides of the road, and the other is on the road to Cascajal. This second wetland is particularly interesting as it has some freshwater marsh vegetation and low scrubby growth in wet fields. Although I didn’t see any on a recent visit, the site looks perfect for Wilson’s Snipe and may host uncommon or vagrant wetland species from time to time. I’m eager to give it a good check!

Night Birding

The nocturnal birding on this road can be very productive. Although it may take some time to find the birds, Barn and Striped Owls occur, Pacific Screech-Owl is common in wooded areas with large trees, Mottled Owl is also fairly common in those same spots, Black-and-white Owl sometimes occurs, and Spectacled Owl can show up in the more wooded riparian zones. And those aren’t the only night birds lurking in the dark!

Although uncommon, both Northern and Common Potoo have been found, Lesser Nighthawks are commonly seen in the evening skies,
and Common Pauraques will flush from the track at night. Given the open habitat, it wouldn’t be out of the question to find a rare White-tailed Nightjar and Chuck-will’s Widdow may be found in the winter months.

It’s also a good idea to pay careful attention to any nightjar seen on or perched near the road just in case you find a rare wintering Whip-poor-will or document Spot-tailed Nightjar for Costa Rica. Although not on the official list, some years ago, one may have been seen by Robert Dean and Eduardo Amengual in dry habitat on the road to Monteverde.

Given this possible sighting and its migratory nature, I included it as one of several species to look for on the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app.
The wet, open fields along the Ceiba-Cascajal Road look like a very good place for this mega to occur.

I should also mention if you do go night birding on this road, keep an eye out for snakes. Please watch for any of these shy and over persecuted creatures on the road and be careful to not injure them!

Raptors

The mosaic of tropical habitats and large dove and rodent population make this road an excellent area for raptors. Keep an eye on soaring birds and check the electric pylons and big trees for perched birds.

Here’s the raptor deal on some of what to look for:

Pearl Kite– Uncommon but regular.
Vultures– Among common Black and Turkey Vultures, keep an eye out for the occasional King and rare Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture in open wet fields.
Osprey- There must be more water in this area than I think because I have often see an Osprey or two flapping overhead!
Hook-billed Kite– Uncommon but present.
Gray-headed Kite– Rare but could occur from time to time in more wooded areas.
Plumbeous Kite– An uncommon summer visitor, more common in the Guacimo-Guacalillo part of the road.
Crane Hawk– Rare but does occur in this area.
Bicolored Hawk– Rare but has been recorded.
Cooper’s Hawk– This is a good area for this uncommon wintering species.
Sharp-shinned Hawk– Another uncommon wintering species in Costa Rica.
Northern Harrier– A rare wintering species in Costa Rica, this is a fair spot for it.
Harriss’ Hawk– This road is one of the easier sites for this species in Costa Rica.
Broad-winged Hawk– A common migrant and wintering species.
Short-tailed Hawk– As with many areas in Costa Rica, one of the more commonly seen raptors.
Gray Hawk– One of the most frequent raptor species in Costa Rica.

Roadside Hawk- Another common raptor in Costa Rica, especially in the lowlands.

Roadside-Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawk- Uncommon but regular.
Red-tailed Hawk– In the lowlands, occasional wintering individuals occur. This is a good site for migrants from the north.
Swainson’s Hawk– Although most migrate through Costa Rica, some winter in open areas of the Pacific lowlands.
White-tailed Hawk– An occasional visitor to this area.
Collared Forest-Falcon– As with many sites, fairly common but secretive. Easiest to detect when it calls in the early morning and evening.
Laughing Falcon– Fairly common.
American Kestrel, Merlin, and Peregrine– The open fields of this road are good sites for these wintering species.
Bat Falcon– A pair or two seem to be present and can be seen anywhere along the road.
Aplomado Falcon– Yes! Not expected but this vagrant migrant to Costa Rica has been seen at this site and given the open habitat could occur from time to time.
Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras– fairly common.

Parrots

It’s always fun to see parrots! The three most common species in this area are White-fronted Parrot, Orange-fronted Parakeet, and Orange-chinned Parakeet.

Yellow-naped Parrot, Red-lored Parrot, White-crowned Parrot and Crimson-fronted Parakeet are also regular and even Scarlet Macaw can be seen.

One of several overlooked birding destinations in Costa Rica, in large part, we can thank some local birders for bringing attention to the avian richness and potential of this site, especially Beto Guido, Mckoy Umaña, and others.

I look forward to my next visit, hopefully, one that begins before dawn. To learn more about where to see birds in Costa Rica along with insider tips to look for them, check out “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica“. Happy birding, I hope to see you here!

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Birding Manzanillo, Costa Rica on October Global Big Day, 2021

October is migration season in Costa Rica. It can also be heavy afternoon rain season or even rain all day season but the massive influx of birds is fair compensation. This is the month when us local birders do well by watching green space and inspecting the many Red-eyed Vireos for birds with black whiskers. I’ve put in a fair amount of vireo checking time and although I’m still whiskerless, I’ll keep on looking.

Looking at every gray-capped, pale white and olive bird is worth it and not just because one might have black whiskers. I enjoy each and every one because they have flown from the leafy green summer woods of Ohio, New York, and Ontario. I owe it to them; these are the birds that survived the window gauntlets of the north. I admire their soft, unobtrusive ways and knowing that Costa Rica is just one stop on the flyway train to Amazonia makes these foliage-colored birds sort of unbelievable.

During October Global Big, 2021, I had expected to pass the time checking vireos and other less mobile species right around the home. On account of local driving restrictions, we weren’t allowed to use the car on October 9th, I had become resigned to the idea of local exploration. Not to mention, I had things to do on the day after Global Big Day so why go anywhere? It was birding from home or no birding at all. That was alright, there’s always stuff to see, especially during migration times.

At least that was the idea until my Sunday plans were changed to a later date. Suddenly, the door of possibilities opened to going somewhere for the big eBird count on October 9th! We would have to leave on Friday in order to stay overnight in a place where we could bird on foot or bicycle on Saturday (because of those driving restrictions). Since we would have to wait until Sunday to drive home, well, we would just have to watch birds on that morning too.

It took some quick planning and very few places had availability but before we knew it, our later afternoon and evening plans for Friday included a long drive to Costa Rica’s promised land for migration; the southern Caribbean zone.

The South Caribbean region of Costa Rica includes any of the lands south of Limon. I always love visiting this underbirded part of the country because there is a good amount of nice forest habitat, beaches and estuaries that turn up interesting seabirds, cool resident species, interesting Caribbean culture, and fantastic bird migration.

Stay just about anywhere south of Limon and you will see a lot. Partly because of room availability, we ended up in Manzanillo. I’m not complaining. This little town near the end of the line around 15 kilometers past Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is surrounded by the rainforests of the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, an excellent underbirded area that host a healthy variety of lowland species along with a big helping of migrants. Since the village of Manzanillo acts as a clearing in that forest, it can attract some interesting open country species as well as be a great place to see birds in flight as they make their way south.

Some suggestions and highlights from our trip:

Guapiles-Limon Highway- Night Driving is a No No

This principal highway has been under construction for some years now. It will still be some years before it’s finished. When it is finished, the driving should be fantastic, day and maybe night too. Until then, I highly advise only driving that road during the day. On Friday, we found ourselves doing some night driving and…it was like participating in a road trip from another dimension, one where nightmares are the norm. No illumination, no painted road lanes, the only reflectors being some small posts that marked the edge of the road (which happened to be a small cliff that dropped a meter or more). There were also big trucks, a few confusing lane changes, and a few random criminally negligent road craters.

If you do find yourself driving that particular byway during the dark hours, if you make it to Limon and its any consolation, the driving after that point is sweet and easy-going. Time your trip accordingly.

Birding in Manzanillo Village- Check the Streams

In the early morning of October 9th, I walked a block or two up the road to a small stream that passes next to an empty weedy lot and heads straight into wetlands with Raffia palms. As soon as I got there I heard a splash followed by soft ticking calls. I knew it had to be one of the small kingfishers and as I had suspected, yes (!), it was the smallest one.

That American Pygmy-Kingfisher flew downstream but right after its departure, I heard more ticking calls, this time from the part of the stream next to the vacant lot. A quick scan and I couldn’t believe my luck, it was the rarest of the small kingfishers, a Green-and-Rufous! Next thing I knew, it was zipping my way, seemingly pursued by a Clay-colored Thrush. The jade and burnt orange kingfisher flew about a meter next to me as it jetted past.

This is a Green-and-rufous Kingfisher from Cano Negro.

Birding that same spot also gave us nice looks at Prothonotary Warbler, Canebrake Wren, and some other birds, the most interesting being a surprise Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, a bird much more normally encountered on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific slope.

Pay an Early Visit to the Trails in Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

We ended up visiting the official trails of the refuge after in the later par of the morning. We hadn’t planned it that way, in fact, we hadn’t planned on doing that at all. But since we were walking over that way, we ended up entering and walking the trails for a short ways.

We saw several Tawny-crested Tanagers (very common in this area) and some other birds but if I could do it again (and I would like to), I would enter the trails right at the opening time of 6:30. That would result in much more bird activity coupled with less people activity. On our weekend visit, the place was crowded like Disney.

I should mention that visiting the trails (of which there are a few, most follow the beach) was as easy as writing down your name and some other information, having your bag briefly checked for alcohol beverages (leave the wine back at the hotel!), and visiting a hand washing station (commonplace in Costa Rica since the start of the pandemic).

Check Out the Soccer Field (Football Pitch)

As with settlements of all sizes in Costa Rica and most parts of the world away from Canada and the USA, Manzanillo had a soccer field (football pitch). This is always a good place to check, especially during migration. It’s where Costa Rica’s sole record of Whistling Heron was made and where other occasional vagrants have appeared.

On our visit, the field hosted a bunch of Eastern Kingbirds, Dickcissels, and a few resident species. The kingbirds were perched on the ground either resting and/or fluttering after bugs. I have never seen anything like it! As a major bonus, one of the only kingbirds perched in a tree next to the pitch just happened to be a long overdue country bird; a Gray Kingbird!

The pale Caribbean version of a TK gave us fantastic looks in perfect light. At some point, we had to stop watching it, a shame we didn’t bring the camera!

Bird the RECOPE Road or the Road Towards Puerto Viejo for Great Forest Birding, or Bird Both

Both of these options are just outside of the village and both are excellent for a number of Caribbean lowland species. We didn’t see anything crazy but the birding early Sunday morning was nevertheless excellent. I heard fruitcrows and Central American Pygmy-Owls, had fun watching Northern Barred and Black-striped Woodcreepers, and was challenged by trying to watch dozens and dozens of small birds way up there in the canopy. Most were Red-eyed Vireos but other bird were with them too, it was the fun type of busy.

Central American Pygmy Owl

Don’t Forget About the Village Birding

Manzanillo itself also makes for some nice birding. We enjoyed flocks of Eastern Kingbirds and streams of migrating swallows. Common Nighthawks in the evening and plenty of parrots, tanagers, flycatchers, and other birds during the day. There were also the two aforementioned kingfishers, a calling Great Potoo at night, the Yellow-crowned Tyarnnulet, and other species. It’ the type of place where every bird should be checked and where a Tiny Hawk can suddenly appear at the tip top of a tree.

Our October Global Big Day turned out to be a pleasant 127 species surprise. Not bad for doing all of our birding on foot, taking a short afternoon nap, and meeting with friends for drinks on the beach. I can’t wait for my next birding trip to the southern Caribbean zone of Costa Rica.

To learn more about this and other birding sites in Costa Rica, check out “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica“; a 700 plus page birding companion for Costa Rica.

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Costa Rica Birding News October, 2021

October in Costa Rica is a month of migration. It’s our May, the time of year for local birders to perk up their ears, check those recent sightings in eBird and get themselves into the birding zone. Knowing that thousands of birds are passing through Costa Rican territory night and day, it’s a challenge to not wander outside and connect with that migration flow.

However, if there were a birding bible, it would likely say, “One cannot live on watching birds alone, there are other important things in life too.” With that in mind, I am grateful to be able to get in an hour of birding on most mornings and I also venture further afield now and then. Thanks to eBird and Facebook pages, I’m also kept informed of some sweet sightings made by Costa Rica’s strong (and growing) local birding community. Check out some of the latest notable birding news from Costa Rica:

White-cheeked Pintail at Punta Morales

Local birder Mckoy Umana has found more than one rarity. Thanks to his skills of observation and dedication, Mary and I saw a beautiful mega Gray-hooded Gull last year at Punta Morales. A few days ago, he did it again by finding a mega White-cheeked Pintail at the same site! Several other birders have gone to see this vagrant duck, I hope it stays long enough for us to lay eyes on it too. One can’t help but wonder if it’s the same individual that was seen near Ciudad Neily earlier this year. It also makes me wonder what other cool vagrant waterfowl are waiting in present and future birding wings.

Oilbird Tracked with Transmitter!

Thanks to another talented local birder and guide, an Oilbird in Costa Rica has finally been tracked with a transmitter! Given that we don’t know where these nocturnal birds are coming from, this is probably the most important Costa Rica bird news of the year. Thanks to persistence and hard work carried out by David Rodriguez, for the first time, data are finally available showing movements of an Oilbird in Costa Rica.

Oilbird in Costa Rica
The Oilbird is some weird, nocturnal, mega whatnot. This was my lifer from 2013.

Although the transmitter stopped recording before it entered any caves (as far as is known), it did show that the bird traveled more than 200 kilometers while visiting sites near the Pacific Coast.

Cerulean Warblers Tracked with Transmitters!

Odd nocturnal birds weren’t the only species tracked in Costa Rica. Thanks to MOTUS towers that were recently erected, Cerulean Warblers fitted with transmitters have been tracked in Costa Rica and in Panama. This work was accomplished by Ernesto Carman, Paz Irola, and other folks associated with the Cerulean Project.

A Good Year for Buff-breasted Sandpipers (or Just Better Detection?)

This fall migration seems to have been especially good for Buff-breasted Sandpipers. This long distance Arctic migrant was seen by several local birders at sites in Guanacaste and at the Juan Santamaria Airport (my partner and I were pleased to have seen one a few days ago). Each year, “Buffies” migrate through Costa Rica but since they don’t have a huge population and can just fly right on over Costa Rica in a jiffy, they can be easily missed.

For the past few years, though, Buff-breasteds have been seen in Costa Rica at several sites on an annual basis. Unfortunately, I doubt the additional sightings are from an unknown yet very welcome increase in their numbers. Don’t we all wish that were the case! Such a hopeful situation would be wonderful and I would love to be proved wrong but more Buffies being seen in Costa Rica is almost certainly a result of there being higher numbers of skilled local birders looking for them. The more people looking the better, now who’s going to find us a Red-necked Stint? If not one of those Sibs, a Curlew Sandpiper will do…

Pacific Golden-Plover Seen at Cocos Island

Speaking of lost shorebirds, in September, a Pacific Golden-Plover was reported from Cocos Island. Given that one was also seen there last year, a few other records from mainland Costa Rica have also come to light, and because we are talking about a bird all too easily passed off an an American Golden-Plover, I can’t help but wonder if the bird from Alaska occurs as an annual vagrant. Yet another situation for observant local birders to be aware of.

Bare-necked Umbrellabirds at Centro Manu

Yes, finally, some news about a resident species every birder headed to Costa Rica would love to see! This rare mega is a choice species equally hoped for by local birders. It can turn up at any number of sites but because they are so few in number, chances at seeing them always seem frustratingly dismal. Not at the moment!

Although far from guaranteed, lately, several of this endangered species have been seen at Centro Manu. This species moves around so it’s hard to say how long they will be there but recently, one or more have been seen on a daily basis. Might they stay until January? The answer probably depends in part on how much food is available.

Fortunately, we may have some good gen about the big cotinga’s daily occurrence thanks to local birder Kenneth Guttierez. His family owns the place and he checks the trails just about every day. Let’s hope the birds stay into February. I should also add that their presence highlights the importance of forest reserves in the transition zone between foothills and lowlands. This ecotone is what umbrellabirds (and various other birds) need, it should be a priority for reforestation efforts.

That’s about all for Costa Rica birding news for today. I could also mention that hundreds of resident species are waiting to be seen but that’s actually not news because in Costa Rica, fantastic birding is expected. Hope to see you here!