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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Costa Rica Birding News and Recommendations- June 27, 2022

It’s June in 2022. Looking to escape for a week or so? Birds in Costa Rica are pretty cool…

Speckled Tanagers are pretty cool.

If you expect to be birding in Costa Rica soon, the following information will help with your trip:

Route 32 is Temporarily Closed

This would be the main, busy and important highway that links the San Jose area to Guapiles and Limon. In birding terms, it’s the main road to such excellent sites as Cope’s Place, Nectar and Pollen, Centro Manu, and the Quebrada Gonzalez Ranger Station. Before you fret about not being able to go birding at those promising hotspots, fortunately, Route 32 isn’t the only way to get there.

Until the highway is fixed (it could easily be a week or more), you’ll have to take a more circuitous route. The birding upside is that one of those routes is the road that passes by Cinchona. This road, Route 126, is very birdy and scenic but if using it to reach the aforementioned sites, it would make for a very long day trip from the Central Valley. It will be much easier to visit those sites as a trip from lodging in or near the Sarapiqui area.

Red-headed Barbet and Silver-throated Tanagers are often seen at Cinchona.

This important route was closed a few days ago after heavy rains caused a small landslide. Steep slopes and wet weather converge to make such road problems a regular issue on Route 32. Unfortunately, on this occasion, continuous heavy rains resulted in a major landslide; maybe the biggest I have ever seen on Route 32.

It will eventually be fixed but could take a while. With that in mind, if you need to travel to Limon, you might want to consider Route 10 as an option.

Heavy Rains

Route 32 isn’t the only part of Costa Rica recently affected by heavy rains. There has been some localized flooding and a few other roads have also had problems. For the most part, most roads are open but since that could easily change, make sure to use Waze to stay updated about road closures and conditions during your time in Costa Rica.

The rains also present obvious challenges for birding but one advantage is higher bird activity during pauses in precipitation. Seriously, the birding can be fantastic in the mornings and when the rain stops.

Lovely Cotinga at Arenal Observatory Lodge

In June and July, some individuals of this species move to elevations lower than their upper middle elevation breeding grounds. A recent sighting of a female in the gardens of the Observatory Lodge was a reminder of this behavior. These days, birders should scan treetops in any foothill and middle elevation forest on the Caribbean slope for the turquoise blue of male Lovely Cotinga and the pale, dove-like aspect of the female. They aren’t exactly common but you could find one.

If you don’t have cotinga luck, you might sitll see a Green Thorntail.

Better for Rails and Masked Duck (aka Duck-billed Pseudo-Rail)

Now that the rains are here, rails and Masked Ducks are more accessible. Seeing them still requires a considerable amount of time and effort but they are much easier now than the dry season. Lately, local birders have been watching Paint-billed Crake and Spotted Rail in the Las Trancas rice fields, and Masked Duck has been seen at a private wetland site in Guanacaste. Paint-billed Crake has also been showing in its usual Coto 48 haunts and could also be found in other suitable wetlands. Rice fields on the Pacific slope are good places to look for this gallinulish crake but they can also appear in any number of marshy areas. Masked Duck could easily be lurking in those same spots.

A Pelagic Trip Might be Nice

As with pretty much everywhere, pelagic trips in Costa Rica are always exciting. At this time of year, it’s possible that rainy weather may bring more nutrients into coastal waters that in turn, attract more birds. I’m not sure if that is the case but I do know that I’ve seen more interesting pelagic species from the Puntarenas-Paquera ferry at this time of the year than in the dry season.

Head further from shore and you have a fair chance of seeing Tahiti Petrel and some chance of connecting with Christmas Shearwater in addition to regulars like Wedge-rumped, Black, amd Least Storm-Petrels, and Wedge-tailed and Galapagos Shearwaters. NOT TO MENTION, you could also have some serious powerball birding luck and see something like the country first Salvin’s Albatross that was spotted in late May!

Costa Rica is wet and rainy right now but the birding is still fantastic. Plan your birding trip to Costa Rica with rain in mind and stay updated on road conditions and you’ll do fine. I hope to see you here!

Birding Costa Rica planning birding trip Costa Rica preparing for your trip

Guided Birding or Birding Costa Rica on Your Own- What’s the Difference?

There are a lot of birds in Costa Rica. More than you think. Some information says 800 plus species and that’s a heck of a lot but the real total is more like 930. Yes! Around 930 species have been identified in a place the size of West Virginia. Those crazy numbers translate to a lot of birds waiting to be seen, always more birds to look for, even after several visits.

Red-headed Barbet male
The Red-headed Barbet is one of those birds.

I’m often asked how many bird species I have seen in Costa Rica, or which birds I’m missing. Other than some pelagic species, not much although I have seen a bunch of birds on the Costa Rica list elsewhere. That is, I still need various species for my country list, birds like Black-throated Blue-Warbler and Botteri’s Sparrow for example.

This makes my lifer possibilities pretty slim but I’m still excited every time I go birding in Costa Rica and how not- there’s always lots to see; dozens of birds to listen to while walking beneath huge rainforest trees draped with epiphytes, interesting seabirds to scan for from rough beaches on the Caribbean and the scenic tropical bays of the Pacific. There’s also high mountain birding punctuated by dawn quetzals and Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers undulating through October airs.

It’s always good!

On my first trip, even though I had studied the field guide for months in advance, the biodiversity still blew me away. I suppose it still does, the more you get into it, the more you discover. When I visited Costa Rica in 1992, I didn’t hire a guide but if I could go back in time, I probably would. Even so, it’s worth asking if you need a guide when birding in Costa Rica. It’s worth considering birding on your own. Trip funds play a basic role but answers about guiding also depend on additional factors:

How You Prefer to Experience Birds

If you don’t mind birding in a group, or even prefer that birding dynamic, a guided tour is a must. With dozens of companies to choose from, it can be hard to know which tour is best. Before signing up, think of your needs, what birds you would like to see, how you want to experience them, and go from there.

For example, if birding for you means some relaxed birding in the morning and taking it easy the rest of the day, you might want to avoid tours with descriptions like “constant birding”, “non-stop birding”, or “we don’t stop until we see the bird”. Such tours might still be able to accommodate a more relaxed birding style but you’re better off delving into the itinerary and speaking with a company well before sending a deposit.

If the group thing is not your slice of birding pie, touring with other birders isn’t going to work. You can still hire a guide though and you’ll have them all to yourself. That can be a very good thing, you’ll get personalized attention and see more birds, especially shy ones. However, without any shring of cost, you of course pay more for the personalized experience.

streak-chested antpitta Caribbean subspecies
Having the guide to yourself may give better chances at seeing shy birds like the Streak-chested Antpitta.

If cost is a factor, one solution is doing a few day tours during the trip instead of having a guide the entire time. Of course, the other main option is doing birding on your own. If you do go your own way, though, do it knowing that you’ll likely miss some species as well as possibly missing out one some little known hotspots. Contraringly, birding on your own does open the door to exploration. Get off the beaten track and you might find your own birding hotspots, might find a rare bird or two.

How Much You Want to See

This is probably the biggest difference between guided birding and birding on your own. Studying before a trip will help in finding more birds and also enhances the experience but no amount of studying can compare to being guided by a highly knowledgeable, local birding guide. The best guides don’t just know principal vocalizations for their local complement of species, they also know many lesser known calls and songs, behaviors, habitats, and sites. These factors along with knowing the lay of the land adds up to more bird species including better chances at rare and little known birds.

With all of that in mind, if you want to see as much as possible, and/or see certain rare species, hiring the right guide is an essential part of the trip. Sure you could still chance it and might do alright but a top local guide will boost your birding opportunities.

How Much Time You Have

This third factor is just as important and is tied into the number of birds you want to see. If you have all the time in the world, you have plenty of time to find and identify a good number of birds in Costa Rica. If you only have a day or a week of birding at different sites, a good guide makes a huge difference. That doesn’t just go for Costa Rica either but anywhere in the world.

Unfamiliar Birds

white-whiskered puffbird

This is another main factor that comes into play when birding with or without a guide, especially on a first birding trip to the Neotropical Region. Most of the birds will be more than species you have never seen. They will be completely different and nothing like the birds from home (unless your local park has trogons, puffbirds, and antthrushes). Most birds won’t be remotely familiar and this will be fun but if you go birding on your own, it can also be confusing. You might find yourself wondering where certain birds are and how to see them.

Peace of Mind

Another advantage of birding with a local guide is simply peace of mind. Bird with a guide and common worries associated with language, cultural differences, where to eat, stay, and visit are neatly wooshed away. The same goes for worrying about bird identification, finding certain species, and so on.

Should you hire a birding guide in Costa Rica? Although what I have written above seems to make a case for that, I’m just being honest about the benefits of hiring a guide. You can still bird without a guide and see a lot of birds but whether birding in Costa Rica or elsewhere, birding with a good, local guide does make the trip easier.

If visiting Costa Rica for birding, whether taking a tour to Costa Rica or birding on your own in Costa Rica, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” will enhance your trip. Get it to see identification tips, where to go birding, prepare for your trip, and to support this blog. As always, I hope to see you here in Birdlandia!

bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

A Fine Morning of Caribbean Lowland Birding in Costa Rica

The first guide for the birds of Costa Rica was a book written by Alexander Skutch and Gary Stiles, and illustrated by Dana Gardner. Published in the late 80s, this tome helped kick off birding tourism in Costa Rica and although its use in the field has been largely replaced by The Birds of Costa Rica by Garrigues and Dean, and the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, it still contains a wealth of information.

More suited for reference than use in the field, in Stiles and Skutch, in addition to detailed species accounts, we also learn about different regions and habitats. One of those regions is known as the “Caribbean Lowlands”, a part of the country that actually has very little in common with islands like Cuba or Puerto Rico. However, since this eastern section of Costa Rica does border those beautiful waters, the name has stuck, at least for birding.

It would be equally justified to refer to this part of Costa Rica as the “Eastern Lowlands”, the “Eastern Lowland Rainforest”, or, in the birding realm of things, “Green Macawlandia”. “Rainforest Wonderland Birding” would also work- that pretty much sums up the general birding experience in these warm and humid lowlands. They are lots of birds to look for, including exotic species like toucans, antbirds, puffbirds, and potoos. Bring binocs to the right places and you could see well over 100 species in a day.

Yesterday morning, I was reminded of the fine birding to be had in the Caribbean Lowlands during a couple hours around Chilamate. These were some highlights:

Both Macaws and Other Parrots Too

Seeing flyby Scarlet Macaws is always a gift. Such views have become commonplace on the Pacific slope of Costa Rica, and are regular in some parts of the Caribbean Lowlands. They only get better when you see a pair of perched Critically Endangered Great Green Macaws shortly after. Witnessing the raucous calls and flights of Mealy, Red-lored, White-crowned, and Brown-hooded Parrots was also pretty nice. Throw in views of Crimson-fronted, Olive-throated, and Orange-chinned Parakeets and the morning becomes a fine birding experience indeed.

Semiplumbeous Hawk

As the name says, the bird is not entirely plumbeous. It’s not all that common either so it was sweet to scan the treeline and find one of these small rainforest raptors. Even better, the views were accompanied by the sights and sounds of 3 toucan species, tityras, Long-tailed Tyrant, and other rainforest species Bird early in the Caribbean Lowlands and there’s almost too much to look at (just how we like it)!

Semiplumbeous Hawk


Early morning in the Caribbean Lowlands is often accompanied by the hooting of Rufous Motmots and the hoarse calls of Broad-billed Motmots. Seeing these shade-loving birds can be another matter but we eventually managed.

Green Ibis

What’s not to like about a noisy bird with prehistoric flavor? We started the day with a bird stalking the lagoons at Quinta de Sarapiqui and wrapped up our early morning birding with another one or two filling the air with their crazy calls.

Green Ibis


The tall forests of the Caribbean Lowlands can be great for woodpeckers. In addition to the expected Black-cheeked Woodpecker, we also had Rufous-winged, a high flying Cinnamon, and a pair of Pale-billed Woodpeckers that foraged on roadside posts! We didn’t look for the beautiful Chestnut-colored Woodpecker because we had already seen it the day before.

Pale-billed Woodpecker is in the house.

There were other birds too; toucans, tanagers, White-ringed Flycatchers, and more. Even better, none required any muddy rainforest hikes, nor hardly any walking at all. We had all of this wonderful lowland rainforest while birding from easy roads, hardly even leaving the car. I can’t wait to get back and explore more site around Sarapiqui. To learn more about the best birding sites in Costa Rica and enhance your birding in Costa Rica, get “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. I hope to see you here.

bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Wet Season Birding in Costa Rica: 5 Top Sites

Here comes the rain again, falling and drenching the forests and fields, filling the rivers of Costa Rica. It’s wet as the ocean but it’s all good, it’s what’s supposed to happen. At this time of year, every ecosystem in Costa Rica expects water, needs it to lubricate the wheels and cogs of life and keep them running. Everything needs this humid abundance; orchids decorating cloud forest, massive trees with butressed roots, foliage that feeds bugs that then feed pigeons and guans preyed upon by hawk-eagles.

Sunny skies please the tourist but it’s not the best weather for birding. In Costa Rica, better birding happens on cloudy days, days like now. Go birding in Costa Rica in June and you’ll miss out on northern migrants but you might have a better chance at seeing resident species. At least they can be more active, might even sing more. Right now, the birding is good in all of Costa Rica’s tropical corners. Even so, I wonder, are some sites better during the wet season? Maybe not, but you couldn’t go wrong with birding in these 5 places:

The Poas Area

The upper slopes of this active volcano are always worth a visit. Good highland forest habitats are a quick 45 to 60 minute drive from the airport. Even better, those rich habitats are easily birded, right from the road. When birding Poas, Resplendent Quetzal is possible any time of year but it might be easier in the wet season. Once, I had 6 of the iridescent birds, right next to the road. It was birdingly ridiculous. While looking for one of the top world megas, mixed flocks can also be checked for highland endemics like Flame-throated Warbler, Buffy Tuftedcheek, and Ruddy Treerunner.

Ruddy Treerunner.

As a bonus, Golden-browed Chlorophonias can be pretty common, Black Guan is regular, and many other choice species are also possible.

Rincon de la Vieja

June is when local birders vtrek to the quality habitats of this excellent national park. Their main targets are Rusty and Botteri’s Sparrows, two local species more easily seen at this time of year than during the windswept dry season. They sparrow search in natural grasslands located on the back part of the Catarata Escondido trail. It’s a long walk but at least a birder passes through excellent forest. On the way, they might see fun species like Elegant Trogon (a subspecies that might be split from the trogons of Arizona), Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Tody Motmot and Thicket Tinamou. With luck, an antswarm could host a Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo.

This national park is always good, maybe a bit better during the wet season.

Guanacaste Rice Field and other Wetlands

As the rains fill rice fields and more natural wetlands, they attract birds, lots of birds. In addition to flocks of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, watch for Jabiru, various raptors, and Masked Duck. Most of all, listen and look for Spotted Rail. Rice fields during the wet season are the best time to find this local species in Costa Rica.

The dry forest birding won’t let you down either!


The rainforests of Carara National Park are wet and buggy in June but the birding is excellent. Use repellent and check the trails for Streak-chested Antpitta, Black-faced Antthrush, mixed flocks, and more. Cloudy weather also boosts bird activity and keeps things somewhat cooler than the heat of the dry season.

birding Costa Rica

Bring an umbrella for rain and binos for some great birding.

Bellbirds in San Ramon Quetzal Valley and Monteverde

At this time of year, both of these sites are good for Three-Wattled bellbird. Monteverde is better known and has more tourism infrastructure but Quetzal Valley also makes for an excellent day trip. A couple of great guides work in that area and know where to find everything from bellbirds to quetzals and Ornate Hawk-eagle. Email me at information@birdingcraft.com to put you in touch.

As always, in birdy Costa Rica, it’s tough to pick any “top sites”. No matter where you look for birds in Costa Rica, visit good habitat and the birding will entice you. Visit now and although you will witness the rain, you will also see tons of birds. Not to mention, it won’t be as hot and there will be fewer fellow tourists. Enhance your trip with a good Costa Rica bird finding guide. As always, I hope to see you here!

biodiversity Birding Costa Rica

6 Months of Birding in Costa Rica, 635 Species

Half a year has come and gone. In Costa Rica, the hot and sunny weather of the high season is a distant memory. April brought the rains and since then, they have been dutiful in humidifying and soaking this birdy nation. It’s expected and needed even if we could do without the landslides and local flooding. I should mention that the landslides haven’t been major but small ones do affect roads now and then, even closing the main highway between San Jose and Limon for a few days.

Such closures are an annual occurrence, all one can hope for is not having to use that important road when they do happen. One good way to avoid any such road issues is by avoiding that highway during days and nights of heavy rain. Luckily, I haven’t had to drive there this past week. Eventually, I will need to take Route 32 and as long as my driving happens during better weather, I look forward to it. I hope I can stop at an overlook on that highway to listen for uncommon birds and scan for rare raptors.

Some of those birds could be new for my year list. Not that I’m trying for anything in particular but needless to say, I’ve got a pretty good running total. Since January 1st, I’ve identified 635 species in Costa Rica, almost all of them seen while guiding or watching birds for fun.

Ironically, I’m not striving for any Big Year goal. Those 600 plus species are more of a hint at the incredible variety of birds that occur in Costa Rica, and the high number of species one can see after birding in key spots. Some of those 2022 birds include Red-fronted Parrotlets heard and briefly glimpsed flying over the entrance to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, hearing and seeing both Black and Ornate Hawk-Eagles flying high overhead at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge, the male Lovely Cotinga at Rancho Naturalista, other cotingas, migrant Cerulean Warblers gleaning rainforest leaves, 70 flycatcher species, Scaled Antpitta at Bajos del Toro, Black-chested Jay, and so much more.

Whether because of their rare status or memorable birding situations, the following highlights stand out:

Hudsonian Godwit

After missing it our first time around, Marilen and I were very pleased to see this choice mega migrant upon arrival at Punta Morales. With more birders in the field, more regular yet uber rare migrants are being found. The Hudwit is one of them.

Pacific Golden-Plover


Like the godwit of Churchill, Manitoba fame, this species might also visit Costa Rica on a regular basis. However, since “regular” could mean one or two birds per year, you gotta be pretty lucky to connect. Fortune was with me while birding in Puntarenas this past April.

Gray-hooded Gull

For the past few years, one of the nicer looking gulls has been showing its elegant self in Costa Rica. I assume it’s the same bird but it’s not here all of the time. It may pass through in spring and fall, or might be wandering around Central America. All we really know is that a birder has to be seriously lucky to chance upon it. As luck would have it, while dipping on the first appearance of the godwit, this gull flew in to make it onto the year lists of Marilen, myself, and other local birders.

Maroon-chested Ground-Dove

Views of this fantastic and uncommon species are always a treat but especially when you can share it with other birders. I was pleased to hear and see it at a reliable spot, the Museo Nochebuena on the high slopes of Irazu Volcano.

Bare-shanked Screech-Owl

Bare-shankeds from another day and place- we had much better views.

On one of those same Maroon-chested mornings, a client and I had fantastic looks at a Bare-shanked Screech-Owl. Sooty Thrushes were calling, other high elevation birds were singing and yet based on past experience, I wondered if this owl might also decide to call back, even during the light of day. After an imitation, sure enough, one of these beautiful owls responded and gave us perfect views, no flashlight required.

Mangrove Cuckoo

Cuckoos are always cool. I was happy to have seen this neat species around Ciudad Neily in southern Costa Rica, near Tarcoles, and a fantastic bird sunning itself in Tortuguero.


Watching one of these uncommon wintering species on a humid night near Esquinas Lodge was a treat.

48 Hummingbird Species

white-bellied mountain-gem
I’m partial to the White-bellied Mountain-Gem.

That means all of the regular ones except for the Garden Emerald, a bird I should come across at some point in 2022.

What else will 2022 bring? The only way to find out is by going birding. I’m eager to watch some mixed flocks and explore out of the way places. It can be drier in July, I hope you get a chance to bird Costa Rica soon!