When it comes to birding in Costa Rica, the country is fairly well covered. Many a birding pilgrimage is made to this beautiful and biodiverse nation and with good reason. There are hundreds of bird species and a high percentage of sites are accessible. We also have a sizeable local birding community and, as with every place, it’s a vital factor in finding more birds.
At present, the official Costa Rica bird list includes 930 plus species, including the Black-bellied Hummingbird shown above. It’s hard to imagine more bird species showing in a place the size of West Virginia and yet, during the past month, we added two more.
How is that even possible? What can I say, on our planet, it seems that high biodiversity is the norm, especially in tropical regions. Not to mention, as a bus driver friend of mine likes to say, “Patrick, remember, anything is possible in Costa Rica.” Gerardo was mostly referring to the behavior of local drivers but we can also apply such sage advice to birding, at least with some caveats.
While wild vagrant Emus are definitely not possible in Costa Rica, some other, more likely species can and will occur. As with anywhere, the main question is if those birds will be found.
Rare vagrants happen because they flew the wrong way, wandered a bit too far, were Dorotheyd by rough weather, or were driven far from home in search of food.
The vagrant birds are out there, waiting to be discovered, and in most cases its local birders who find them.
Pacific Golden-Plover is one of those vagrants being found with more regularity.
Luckily, in Costa Rica, we’ve got a good number of people paying close attention to birds, and they take pictures. This is how Chamba found a Yellow-billed Tern some years ago. It is also why local guides made sure to document an odd-looking duck at Lago Angostura in April. That odd duck turned out to be an incredible Common Pochard.
These factors are also how a crazy Lesser Kiskadee was found in Costa Rica! Discovered on May Global Big Day, 2023, a pair of these unlikely birds have been confirmed near Ciudad Neily (I sure hope they stay long enough to see them…).
I have a list of likely new additions for Costa Rica. To help birders be ready for any possibility, I included them on birding apps for Costa Rica, Panama, and Belize. I figured, it’s digital space, the more information the better and I would like to have those possibilities at my fingertips so…why not? Even so, I had not included the pochard nor the kiskadee! Neither of those odd birds were on my birding radar.
I had placed by birding bets on other, what I believed to be, more likely new species. Two of those prime candidates are the Guanay Cormorant and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Both of these birds have been seen in Panama and I’m sure a lost and adventurous Sharp-tailed has occasionally probed the mud in Costa Rica. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before someone finds one.
Heck, Panama’s second record was seen this past Global Big Day! That of course means that the bird probably flew over and/or landed in Costa Rica. I guess we’ll have to keep on waiting and looking for that particular Siberian. As for the cormorant, I think there’s a pretty good chance one will appear in Costa Rica, sometime soon.
Sadly, I’m not expecting it for good reasons. It won’t be a lost and adventurous cormorant exploring new waters to the north. No, unfortunately, this bird of the cold Humboldt Current will appear because it can’t find food in its regular haunts. As I write, hundreds have apparently turned up in southern Ecuador. They are moving north because the waters where they usually occur are much warmer than normal. Hot really.
It’s the famed El Nino effect but this one is probably augmented by the oceans absorbing extra heat from the atmosphere. How long will it last? Who knows but it won’t be good for seabirds nor myriads of other creatures that rely on colder waters.
The effect could drive a Guanay Cormorant or two to Costa Rica along with birds like Inca Tern, Peruvian Booby, and maybe even Peruvian Pelican. Not to mention, we could see albatross species and other pelagic birds too!
I admit, seeing those birds in Costa Rica would be exciting but the event would also be bittersweet. Essentially, any Humboldt birds in Costa Rica are refugees searching for better conditions. I’m not sure if they will find them here but if they do show up, I hope they will survive and eventually make it back home.
Heck, such birds could be here right now! I’m guessing, though, that they are more likely to occur within the next couple months. An Inca Tern could appear, a penguin might even swim into view. Seeing them won’t be signs of anything good but I’ll still be watching for them, probably from Puntarenas. A pelagic trip would also be a good idea.
If you are headed to Costa Rica in July, maybe some of those El Nino birds will be around? Maybe not but there will still be a lot to look at. Hundreds of expected, resident species are here, my ebook, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” will help you find them.
As always, I hope to see you here, birding in Costa Rica.