Its February, 2023 and in Costa Rica, there’s a whole lot of birding going on. This current high season, I have seen several birding groups in various places and many an eBird list, perhaps even more than in previous pre-Covid years. It’s wonderful to see such a large number of folks enjoying the exciting avian delights found in this birdy nation. If you will be visiting Costa Rica soon, I hope these current tips and highlights will help with your trip.
The Medio Queso wetland
The name might translate to “half cheese” but when it comes to birding, this wetland is the full monty. Always good, lately, boat trips with Chambita have been even better. While enjoying the avian scenery on just such a tour last week, we were dazzled by flights of Fork-tailed Flycatchers, point blank looks at the pseudo sparrow Yellow-breasted Crake, Pinnated Bitterns, very local Nicaraguan Grackles, and more. Other recent trips have also had Jabirus in flight and other uncommon species. To sign up, contact me at [email protected]. I’ll put you in touch with Chambita.
Bare-necked Umbrellabird and Good Stuff at and Near Arenal Observatory Lodge
Sites at and near the Arenal Observatory Lodge are always good for birding. Recently, our group had a female mega umbrellabird right from the feeder deck. As this major bird tends to do, it snuck in with nary a sound to perch on a nearby branch for a few minutes before continuing on its merry way. If my friend Alec Humann had not been looking for birds away from the feeder, we could have easily missed it!
If you find yourself on the deck at Observatory Lodge, remember to keep looking around, keep checking trees for other birds, there might be an umbrellabird nearby. On that note, if you can walk up and down stairs, I suspect that the river trail below the feeder area could be good for it. Note that a male has also been recently seen on the Waterfall Trail.
Other extra nice bird species in that area have included Great Black Hawk seen on the road to the lodge, Fasciated Tiger-Heron frequenting the river just before the main entrance to the lodge, Black-crested Coquette at the Casona, Black-and-White Owls near lights at the reception (check trees near the lights), and White-throated Shrike-Tanager on the Waterfall Trail among many other species.
Crested and Spectacled Owls and Other Delights at Cope’s
Birding with Cope was wonderful as always and the main feeder watching area now features a concrete floor. We had wonderful feeder action there, King Vulture and Double-toothed Kite in flight from the road in front of Cope’s, and both Crested and Spectacled Owls in the forest.
Speaking of much desired birds, although we did not see Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle, other birders have! Cope was telling me he suspects that one may be using the forest he brings birders to with some regularity and he has also seen it fly over his house (talk about a good yard bird!).
Cedar Waxwings are in the House
2023 is the year for Cedar Waxwings in Costa Rica. Yes, if you come from North America, big deal, you see waxwings all the time. However, if you are visiting Costa Rica from elsewhere, you just might be interested in seeing this bonus bird. I’m not sure if there has ever been a year when so many have been seen in Costa Rica; there have been flocks of a couple dozen to well over 100 birds.
They have mostly been spotted in the highlands and parts of the Central Valley and seem to be attracted to fruiting figs. Since they do move around quite a bit, the best way to find them is to check eBird for recent sightings and listen for their distinctive, high-pitched whispering calls, especially when birding the high elevations, sites around the Central Valley, and on the Pacific slope.
Cocora Butterfly Garden
The butterflies are lovely but this garden has a much more. For example, a few weeks ago, they had an umbrellabird and one or more could still be around, we had an Ornate Hawk-Eagle fly right over us, sicklebill has been visiting Heliconias there, and there’s lots of hummingbirds to see. In addition, they have a trail that accesses excellent middle elevation forest and serve absolutely fantastic coffee (it truly is fantastic). The trail is only for the physically fit but if you can do it, you could see any number of uncommon species. When I get a chance, I hope to do a dawn survey on that trail. I’ll let you know what I find!
Saving one of the best places for last, this is a new place in the Arenal area that I can’t recommend enough. Located just outside of Fortuna, Papa’s Place is actually the home of Gerald and Priscilla, a local, friendly birding couple who offer up a unique blend of Costa Rican hospitality and excellent birds.
After a warm welcome, we sat down to watch the wooded riparian zone out back. The birding was nonstop and we were treated to an avian show that featured Golden-olive, Rufous-winged, Black-cheeked, and Cinnamon Woodpeckers, Olivaceous Piculet, Double-toothed Kite, and various other species. Ironically, one of our best birds was a rare wintering juvenile female Cerulean Warbler! We also had looks at several tanagers including Plain-colored and the rare Rufous-winged Tanager, as well as other birds.
Although we did not see them, White-fronted Nunbird can also show and they have also seen Yellow-eared Toucanet and various raptors. The birding was great but to top off the experience, we had a delicious lunch that featured authentic country Tico cuisine. Cooked with care, this food was a step far and above from the food we had been eating at hotels (which wasn’t bad by any means!), and some of our group also had fun learning how to make tortillas. Authentic, great birds in friendly surroundings, and supporting fellow birders, really, I can’t recommend the experience enough. I look forward to my next visit.
I could mention a lot more; when it comes to birding in Costa Rica, there’s always more to say. Suffice to say that when you go birding here, you will see a lot, especially when you visit the right places. To learn how to see more birds in every corner of Costa Rica, support this blog by purchasing my 900 page ebook, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. I hope to share birds in Costra Rica with you soon!