Tis the high season for birding in Costa Rica. Higher numbers of optic-associated folks began to arrive in December, more arrived in January, and by February, birders have become a common occurrence at hotels, in national parks, and on quiet country roads. Yeah, make no doubt about it, right now is high time for birding in Costa Rica. You can be entertained by birds in Costa Rica at any time of the year but it’s hard to beat escaping some of the winter’s cold frozen fingers while watching the long tail coverts of a quetzal stream behind it in crazy, colorful flight.
The influx of birders will continue right on through March. If you happen to be one of those lucky bino wearing people, these recent Costa Rica birding highlights will get you psyched for your trip. Some are from recent birding I was involved with, others stem for other reports. I hope all of them help with your birding time in Costa Rica:
Bright colors, loud voices, and odd shapes, who doesn’t yearn to see cotingas? In Costa Rica, they aren’t easy but if you go to the right places, you can get lucky. If you are headed to Rancho Naturalista, you will be in the right place for one of the toughest cotinga in Costa Rica, the Lovely one. Recently, a male Lovely Cotinga has been showing at Rancho just about every day. This is likely the same bird that visited this classic birding lodge on several occasions over the past couple of years. Up your cotinga odds by hiring one of Ranch’s excellent local guides.
The lovely cousin of the Lovely, the Turquoise Cotinga, has also been showing in patches of rainforest around Perez Zeledon as well as its stronghold in the Osa Peninsula. It can also be seen at Rincon de Osa but recently, the birds around Perez have been more reliable. Check eBird to do a cotinga stakeout or hire a good local guide.
As for the white cotingas, the Snowy is frequenting its usual Caribbean lowland strongholds while the endangered Yellow-billed is most easily seen at Rincon de Osa, in the Sierpe mangroves, and from the tower at Cerro Lodge right around 7:30 to 8:15 in the morning.
Resplendent Quetzals are waiting for you at most cloud forest sites. They aren’t common but if you go to the right place and know how to find them, you have a very good chance of seeing this mega spectacular bird. Recently, I have seen them calling and displaying at a site near Varablanca, on the Providencia Road (one of the bext spots), and in the Dota Valley.
Megas at the San Luis Canopy
The San Luis Canopy (or the Parque de Aventura de San Luis) might be off the main birding routes but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the better birding hotspots in Costa Rica. Seriously. How else to describe a place that has been good for Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, and Ochre-breasted Antpitta along with tanagers, hawk-eagles, hummingbirds, and more? You have to descend and ascend steps and cross canopy bridges but there are some serious birding prizes at the end of this cloud forest rainbow.
Owls and Potoos Oh My!
Owls and potoos are always present, the main issue is where and how to find them? Here’s a rundown of some good recent spots for these crafty nocturnal creatures:
- Great Potoo- As per usual, fairly common in the Caribbean lowlands. Recently, I had great looks at roosting birds in the Cano Negro area; both at the Caiman restaurant and in the Las Cubas area (hire Chambita to guide you!).
- Common Potoo- These birds aren’t all that common in Costa Rica but do occur in many open and edge habitats. I have had recent, fantastic views of birds near Jaco and around La Gamba. Cano Negro is another of several great spots.
- Spectacled Owl- This large owl occurs in many lowland foothill sites, especially (and perhaps appropriately) at ecolodges. I have had good recent looks at Quinta de Sarapiqui, while taking Cope’s tour, and at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge. They also occur in many additional spots.
- Black-and-white Owl- One has been roosting on the Bogarin Trail, the birds at the Arenal Observatory Lodge are also still being seen, and one often visits the restaurant at Laguna del Lagarto.
- Crested Owl- A couple have been showing very well on Cope’s tour and I also had them calling at Hotel Quelitales, Rancho Naturalista, and at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge.
- Mottled Owl- There has been a roosting, extremely well hidden bird at Curi-Cancha and others are commonly heard and seen at many other sites.
- Striped Owl- This uncommon species can show up at any number of open, wet habitats and is usually seen perched on a power line.
- Screech-owls- Although not rare, all of the Megascops species in Costa Rica can be elusive unless they vocalize. Some of the better spots for Tropical have been at Talari Mountain Lodge, and around La Gamba. Pacific occurs in Cano Negro and most dry areas where large trees are present. Middle American has been showing on trails at Arenal Observatory Lodge as well as other lowland Caribbean sites. There is a supposed roost of Bare-shanked at Curi-Cancha and it continues to be common at most highland sites. The “Choco” has also been vocal at and near Esquinas Ranforest Lodge but its propensity to call from dense vegetation makes it tougher to see than the other Megascops.
- Pygmy-owls- Ferruginous is common and easy in edge and open areas of the northern and Pacific lowlands and foothills, Central American has been showing well at Laguna del Lagarto, and Costa Rican has been ocassionally showing in its usual best haunts.
- Unspotted Saw-whet Owl- This most challenging of owls continues to be a challenge but some have seen it around Paraiso Quetzal and the upper part of the Dota Valley.
I have already mentioned this birding hotspot and with good reason; the birding is simply fantastic. Having an owner who is also a birder makes all the difference. This is why we had great looks at Green-fronted Lancebill, close Sooty-faced Finch, and saw various cloud forest species on the trails. On our one morning there, I also heard both Crested and Mottled Owls near the cabins and although they failed to appear during our brief visit, Scaled Antpitta and Black-breasted Wood-Quail have become regular from the blind on the birding platform. We topped off our morning with views of Barred Hawk and Hook-billed Kite. I can’t wait to go back!
This excellent birding oasis has become a new classic hotspot. Roosting Black-and-white Owl, Uniform Crake on the trail (which we saw!), White-throated Crakes, Russet-naped Wood-Rail, and American Pygmy Kingfisher around the trail entrance…that’s some quality birding! Not to mention motmots, jacamars, and occasional visits by a juvenile Ornate Hawk-Eagle, this place is easy birding that rocks.
Alma del Arbol in the Dota Valley, Stella’s Bakery in Monteverde, and Casa Tangara dowii on the road up Cerro de la Muerte.
All of these spots combine great food and drink with great birding. Alma del Arbol is a small restaurant/cafe/bistro in San Gerardo de Dota. Located across the street from Savegre at Batsu, one of the best bird photography hotspots in Costa Rica, this well run gem of a spot has a delicious, fusion menu and some desserts to die for.
Stella’s is a landmark bakery and cafe in Monteverde that serves excellent, creative cuisine and some of the best desserts in Costa Rica. Given the euphoric delicousness generated by the brownies, it’s probably good that I don’t live near this special place.
Casa Tangara dowii is a wonderful spot to have lunch accompanied by locally brewed beers and cloud forest birds. Designed with birders in mind, owner Serge Arias (who also runs Costa Rica Birding Hotspots) will make you feel very welcome. Our group sure did, another place I can’t wait to go back to!
I could mention more birding highlights but isn’t that always the case? Visit the right places for birding in Costa Rica and it’s going to be more than good. Use the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app and How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica to get ready for your trip. To get connected with the best local guides, contact me at [email protected]. I hope to see you in Costa Rica!