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My “Best” Costa Rica Birds of 2022

Are there any “best birds”? How about “better” birds? In the spirit of showing equal appreciation for all things avian, the short answer to both of these questions would be “no”. However, in the spirit of wanting to see some bird species more than others because they are either rare, more appealing to the senses, or hard to see, it would seem that yes, some birds are better than other ones, if only temporarily so.

I enjoy watching any bird but there are times when I would rather see some bird species than others. Even while birding in Costa Rica, a country with such fancy and elegant species as Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Resplendent Quetzal, toucans, and hawk-eagles, I hope to see the less common birds. I still appreciate all the rest but I suppose preferring to see birds I don’t see so often is commonplace among birders everywhere.

Over the past 12 months, I was fortunate to see a healthy variety of birds, as of December 30th, 691 species (I still got one more day to add a few..). That’s a lot of birds alright and I am pleased and grateful. I am also lucky to live in a country where it is feasible to see so many birds in a year without a huge deal of effort. Our 930 or so species bird list helps as does access to a variety of habitats, showing people birds in many such habitats, and knowing how and where to find birds in Costa Rica.

Since I routinely see a lot of birds that visiting birders would love to see, oddly enough, my best of the year doesn’t include much wanted species like Snowcap, Wrenthrush, or even Yellow-billed Cotinga. I realize that sounds just wrong on more than one level but my favorite or “best” sightings from 2022 include birds I don’t see as often, and/or sightings that come with a story. These are my personal top ten.

Hudsonian Godwit

One of these mega shorebirds stopped off in Costa Rica this past spring. Based on better coverage in the Pacific lowlands, I suspect one or a few birds make a rest stop in Costa Rica every year. This past year, myself, partner, and various other local birders were treated to an individual that chose to hang around Punta Morales for several weeks.

In addition to be being a rare bird for Costa Rica, when one contemplates how far this species travels (nearly from one pole to the other), it’s always cool to lay eyes on a Hudwit.

Pacific Golden-Plover

This one was probably my best bird of the year. Self found, new for my country list, rare and little known in Costa Rica, and very accessible, this bird has all the stuff to merit being my top bird for 2022. This Costa Rica Pacific Golden-Plover sighting took place at Puntarenas in April.

Gray-hooded Gull

Another mega for Costa Rica, all sightings from the past few years may be of the same individual. Impossible to say but what matters most is local birders seeing it. We had wonderful studies of this beautiful gull earlier in the year at its favorite hotspot, Punta Morales.

“Choco” Screech-Owl

"Choco" Screech-Owl

Hearing and briefly seeing this bird ranks as a major event because it’s not really a Choco Screech-Owl but an undescribed species endemic to or nearly endemic to Costa Rica. My 2022 bird happened while helping guide a wonderful group from the Buffalo Ornithological Society.

Tiny Hawk

I’m lucky if I get to see one of these miniscule raptors in a year. I usually see one or two but it can really come down to the line. Last year, my Tiny Hawk happened during the final days of December. This year, I was extremely lucky to see a juvenile in early December at the Cinchona hummingbird cafe.

Violaceous Quail-Dove

None of the quail-doves in Costa Rica (and most places) are particularly easy to see. This one is especially challenging. If I get one for the year, it’s usually a heard bird but not this time! The excellent looks at this infrequently seen bird shared with my partner and friends was priceless.

Bare-necked Umbrellabird

Oh yes, nothing like seeing one of the top birds in Costa Rica during some last minute year birding. As with so many sightings of this endangered species, Marilen and I saw saw it Centro Manu. Thanks to local guide Kevin, we knew where to look and lucked out with excellent prolonged views of a female. A bit later, we saw this same individual with another female or juvenile male. That sighting also gave me a clean sweep of the cotingas that live in Costa Rica.

Black-chested Jay

This isn’t a rare species in most of its range but it’s pretty uncommon in Costa Rica. For me, it was also looong overdue for my country list. I finally got my Costa Rica Black-chested Jay when I caught a bit of movement and scoped a distant bird near Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Violet-green Swallow

One of the lovelier of the swallows and a rare visitor to Costa Rica, it was nice to start off the year with views of several Violet-greens during a boat tour on the Tarcoles River (Jose’s Crocodile Tour, a tour and company I wholeheartedly recommend).

Yellow-rumped Warbler

I know, I know, how can I choose the original and common “butterbutt” over coquettes and cotingas?! Like I was saying, it’s all about birds rarely seen and the circumstances in which we see them. In the case of this species, most spend the winter much further north than Costa Rica. We’re lucky if we see one every other year. Based on the number of recent sightings, this past winter looks to be a good one for them in Costa Rica; Marilen and I have seen them at three different spots. It was surreal to watch a small flock of these beautifully patterned migrants sallying from a fencerow in Costa Rica.

I suppose I would choose the above bird sightings as my favorites for 2022 but I still appreciate the rest, too many to mention. Consolation prizes might go to watching a Common Potoo “sing” near Jaco, seeing stealthy Yellow-eared Toucanets, sharing the sighting of a male Lovely Cotinga at Rancho Naturalista with friends and clients, the list goes on… In Costa Rica, there’s a lot of birds to watch, I hope you can come visit and likewise experience the avian wealth of this birding nation.

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