The official Costa Rica bird list stands at 932 species but soon, it’s going to hit 933. The bird species about to bump the list up a notch is the Dark-billed Cuckoo, an Austral migrant that was expected for Costa Rica but had never been documented until January 16. When the star bird appeared, a few people wondered if this was the same species I may had seen near Ciudad Neily two years ago. Although they are related, no, that bird was the Pearly-breasted Cuckoo, yet another Austral migrant that could also certainly occur.
That particular sighting was never confirmed to be the Pearly-breasted or the extremely similar Yellow-billed Cuckoo but at least the Dark-billed Cuckoo has been found and documented. Even better, the bird was photographed and subsequently seen by several local birders. If it sticks around, and you bird the rice fields south of the Ciudad Niely hospital, maybe you will see it too! I hope the bird also stays around long enough for me to see it but if not, at least a bunch of other local birders “got” it.
I figured it was a matter of time before a Dark-billed was found in Costa Rica because the species migrates within South America, is fairly common, and has already been documented from Panama, Nicaragua, Belize, and even Texas and Florida. As for it being found near Ciudad Neily, perhaps it’s not a coincidence that one (or maybe two) were seen there; this part of the country seems to routinely attract Coccyzus species cuckoos.
While birding around Ciudad Neily, I have personally seen several Mangrove Cuckoos, the possible Pearly-breasted (but more likely Yellow-billed), and other have also seen Yellow-billed. Perhaps the second growth and woodland edges adjacent to wetlands provide especially good habitat for larvae prey preferred by the cuckoos? Following that line of thought, it’s also interesting to note that, in winter, Mangrove Cuckoos utilize similar habitats at and near Cano Negro (speaking of that hotspot and megas for Costa Rica, Chambita found a Greater Ani there yesterday!).
Whatever the explanation may be, a new species for Costa Rica and other cuckoos are yet one more good reason to go birding around Ciudad Neily. The rice fields and associated wetlands are fun but there’s also other, forested habitats in the same area that harbor an excellent variety of species. To learn more about birding around this hotspot and where to watch birds in Costa Rica, get the second edition of “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”; a 900 plus page bird finding book for Costa Rica and overall birding companion for this birdy country. Go see some cuckoos, I hope to see you here!
Birding in Costa Rica is always exciting.; as far as birding news for Costa Rica goes, honestly, that about sums things up. Go outside, visit any bit of green space and you will certainly see some interesting birds, often, more than expected. Bring the binos to the best habitats and you’ll see a lot more.
You could see a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat.
Even so, there are always some birds of note, some places turning up interesting species, and other information relevant for the visiting birder. As of late, the following are some of the more interesting bits of birding news I have noticed.
Waved Albatross and Tahiti Petrel
Not many people have seen a Waved Albatross in Costa Rica. In this birdy nation, the highly endangered pelagic species from the Galapagos Islands is typically recorded by fishermen off of Cabo Blanco or other parts of the Pacific Coast. The most recent sighting happened a few weeks ago and is a reminder to watch for these and other birds when taking a fishing trip, and impetus to take a pelagic trip focused on birds.
If interested in taking a pelagic trip, contact me at [email protected] . Head offshore and you also have a fair chance at another pelagic species recently seen off of Cabo Blanco; Tahiti Petrel. As it turns out, this long-winged wave master is regular in pelagic waters of Costa Rica. There’s also lots more to see!
Roosting birds are being seen at several sites, at least Great and Common Potoos. As in past years, regular current sites for roosting Great Potoos include Donde Cope (Cope usually knows of a spot or two), Centro Manu, and the Cano Negro area.
There have also been some nice roosting spots for Common Potoo in Cano Negro, the Dominical area, and Sierpe.
As for Northern Potoo, although there aren’t any known and accessible roosting spots at the moment, you might find one in mangroves at Ensenada, Caldera, and Punta Morales as well as other mangrove sites north of Tarcoles. You might also hear or find one in Horizontes or any number of wooded sites in Guanacaste. The bird isn’t exactly rare, it just hides very well and occurs in low density populations.
Costa Rica’s trickiest parrot species is still as tricky as ever. Think of it like a crossbill or other wandering winter finch. Since they roam up and downslope in search of food, you might see (or hear) a few fly over at Cerro de la Muerte, and in any number of Caribbean foothill and middle elevation forest sites.
One reliable spot might be the entrance to the Santa Elena Reserve, as well as in the reserve itself. A few birds have been recorded there recently and while I was birding that site nearly one year ago, I also had a few birds fly over. Get there early, and learn their calls to connect with this mega in miniature.
Aplomado Falcon at Las Trancas
In late December, one of these cool falcons was seen at Las Trancas. This species is likely a rare annual visitor to Costa Rica and can occur at any number of spots, especially places with wide open and marshy habitats. If visiting sites like Las Trancas, farm fields near Filadelfia, or Medio Queso, keep an eye out for this special bird.
Individuals of this much wanted mega species have been recently seen at Centro Manu, La Selva, and, just today (!), on the Waterfall Trail at Arenal Observatory Lodge. Note that they can also occur at various other forested lowland and foothill sites on the Caribbean slope, especially in lowland rainforest at the base of the mountains.
This cool cotinga also carries out altitudinal migrations and is, for the most part, currently in lowland and foothill zones. On the Pacific slope, watch for it in any lowland forest including remnant rainforest in the General Valley (especially near Peje). Interestingly enough, there have also been recent sightings from the Monteverde area; a place where bellbirds usually occur from late February to August.
Cape May and Yellow-Rumped Warblers
Although these species aren’t on the target lists of visiting birders from North America, local birders always hope to see them! If you see any of these or other wintering warblers, please do us a favor and make sure to eBird them (most visiting eBirding birders do and we appreciate it!).
There seem to be several Cape-Mays around, most are usually seen hanging with groups of Tennessee warblers at Bottle Brush and other flowering trees. It’s also a good year for Yellow-rumpeds, don’t be surprised if you run into one here and there (or even a flock at highland sites!).
Rancho is doing well and is birdy as ever. The male Lovely Cotinga is still being seen on a regular basis and Snowcap occurs along with other typical species of this wonderful hotspot. The picture of the Black-crested Coquette in the feature image was taken at Rancho Naturalista.
As always, a lot more could be said about the birds of Costa Rica. Fancy trogons and motmots, colorful tanager flocks, hawk-eagles and more than 40 hummingbird species…they are all here and waiting to be seen! To learn more about the sites mentioned in this post and the best places to see all of the birds in Costa Rica, support this blog by purchasing my Costa Rica bird finding guide, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. I hope to see you here!
In Costa Rica, the dry and high season is most definitely here. I’m seeing beautiful sunny skies, dry conditions, and a lot more tourists than the times of the rain. Oh, it still rains, especially in the mountains and on the Caribbean slope but nothing like the deluges witnessed in 2022. With so many folks headed to Costa Rica any time now, I figured another post with some tips would be relevant.
Although this highland endemic has never been rare, as with other quail-doves, it can be tough to espy one inside the forest. Thankfully, in recent times, this pretty bird has become much easier to see. When visiting the Cafe Colibri at Cinchona, keep a close eye for quail-doves on the ground below the feeders. They are sneaky and easy to miss but if you keep watching for them, you have a fair chance of connecting. The usual species is Buff-fronted Quail-Dove, sometimes two individuals but, just in case, we should also watch for possible Purplish-backed Quail-Dove (it has a more pale gray front and smaller patch of purple on the back), and Chiriqui Quail-Dove. Both of these beauties also occur in the area.
If you won’t be visiting Cinchona, pay a visit to the birding oasis of Casa Tangara dowii. Buff-fronted and occasional Chiriqui Quail-Doves are regular at this special site.
Clay-colored Thrushes are Very Common
This plain brown thrush isn’t our national bird for nothing. They can be very common in many areas, especially in the Central Valley and garden habitats. Keep that in mind when you see numerous brown, thrush-like birds flying past or in fruiting trees. On most occasions, that bird will be a Clay-colored.
So Are Winter-Plumaged Chestnut-sided Warblers
Another bird worth knowing is the winter plumaged Chestnut-sided Warbler. In humid and semi-humid habitats, this warbler species is pretty darn common. See a small gray bird with an eye ring that reminded you of a gnatcatcher? That was a Chestnut-sided. Some still have chestnut sides, many do not, you should see a lot of them.
White-ringed Flycatchers Only Live in the Caribbean Lowlands
Remember that if you become tempted to believe you are seeing White-ringeds in the Central Valley and Pacific slope.
Those aren’t White-ringeds. See a couple kiskadee-type flycatchers at the top of a tree in the Caribbean lowlands? Does the bird have a broad white eyebrow? Thin bill, bit of white below the eye, and a bit of white edging to the tertials? A sort of trilling call? Those are White-ringed Flycatchers.
Go Exploring in Guanacaste
The northwestern region of Costa Rica is spacious, birdy, and underbirded; perfect for exploration! Local birders do what they can but it’s a huge area with plenty of habitat. With that in mind, if you are wondering where to go birding in Guanacaste, you can see a heck of a lot with roadside birding. Check forested riparian zones, open habitats (a lot of that going on), and any wetlands.
To bird forest trails, you’ll have to visit national parks and protected areas like Santa Rosa, Palo Verde, Horizontes, and other places. To learn more about birding opportunities in Guanacaste and elsewhere, check out my 900 page bird finding guide for Costa Rica, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.
Consider Private Reserves or Roadside Birding Instead of National Parks
That might sound bonkers but it all comes down to access and entrance and exit times. While national parks protect critical habitat and do have great birding, sadly, most just aren’t open during the prime birding times of 6 to 8 in the morning and 3 to 5 in the afternoon. Trust me, in the dry season, you really have to be out birding by 6. If not, you’ll miss a lot!
For more productive birding, one idea is hitting the edge of national parks or nearby roads until opening time. Another is opting for private reserves or lodge grounds when the opportunity presents itself.
I’m sure I could think of some additional tips but that’s all for now. Remember to study before your birding trip to Costa Rica and be ready to get bird-dazzled.