Costa Rica is not a vast country. We don’t have endless landscapes that leap past the horizon and yet, there’s still much to discover. The humid tropical forests are packed with dense vegetation, looped with life. Hidden wetlands beckon and lurk from valleys, and even old overlooked fields could hide a Lesser Ground-Cuckoo.
What else shelters in “the weeds”?
As with every coast, seawatching is an open window to tantalizing opportunities. What will fly by today? What might wander in from distant marine realms, however small the possibility? Costa Rica’s dual shores provide two such chances at lottery birding redemption.
Even in the same old birding places, there’s always more to see. Bird some of the richer spots and you could get lifers on every one of a dozen visits (no kidding, you just gotta know where to go birding in Costa Rica). You could also stick to the popular birding circuit and connect with literally hundreds of species.
You can’t go wrong but, for the more adventurous, additional birding corners await exploration. These are places off the beaten track, too far from other sites to fit into tours or just too plain far. For a country the size of West Virginia, as one might surmise, such less visited sites tend to be close to Panama or Nicaragua.
Last weekend, we visited one of those far off places. It’s a spot I have wanted to check for some time but have always ended up birding similar sites that were just a little bit closer. That place is Gandoca and it’s pretty much right at the end of the road.
Gandoca is a tiny settlement just on the other side of the Gandoca-Manzanillo Reserve. Go there and you’re almost in Panama. Heck, on the way there, you can see forested hills in Panama that probably host Harpy Eagle. No such mega massive eagle welcomed us in Gandoca but we still had some fun and exciting birding. Check out the eBird trip report and some observations and suggestions based on this past trip:
The Road in to Gandoca is Bumpy and Not very Birdy
The highway is wonderful. Really. No holes, quick, easy-going, that’s not what you usually find in Costa Rica! However, once you turn off the highway, you’ll be in for several kilometers of classic, rocky road bumpiness.
It’s not too bad but just saying, it’s good to be prepared. The birding on the way in isn’t so great either. Yes, it’s Ok but at least half the road passes through banana farms, tree farms, and some pasture. We rode in at night with hopes of uncommon nightjars but nope, only Common Pauraques, at least on that night.
The Best Habitat is near Gandoca and the Colibri Ecolodge
The title says it all. The best habitats are the forests closer to Gandoca and the Colibri Ecolodge (Colibri Cabinas). Although they weren’t primary forest, they were still old enough to host a fair number of forest birds. I bet they could also host a surprise or two.
Rufescent Tiger-Heron! Uniform Crake! Hermits in Abundance!
I suppose these were our “best birds”. The tiger-heron was hanging out in a backyard ditch at the Colibri. Amazingly, we almost missed it! Luckily, we ran into Richard Garrigues (author of the Birds of Costa Rica) and some of his family. Richard told us about the tiger-heron and a few seconds later, we were all admiring this uncommon Costa Rica bird at close range.
The crake wasn’t surprising, this species is actually quite common in Costa Rica. However, you don’t get to see those mammal wannabes all that much. On our final morning, while admiring a caiman in a roadside pool, a juvenile Uniform Crake came scooting out of the forest and let us watch it pick at the edge of the water. We were pleased that the caiman didn’t turn around and try for a crake sandwich.
As for the hermits, they were just nice and common. It’s always nice to constantly hear and see Long-billed Hermits in action but the birding gets better when all four possible species appear.
We truly lucked out on Saturday. On Friday night, there must have been a huge wave of migration. In the morning, invisible, buzzing Dickcissels passed overhead while small flocks of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, and Swainson’s Thrushes foraged in the trees.
The foliage was also full of Bay-breasted Warblers, and wood-pewees and a few Empids sallied from the forest edge. An Olive-sided Flycatcher topped a snag, and Eastern Kingbirds flew into view.
No cuckoos seen nor other rare birds but it was still marvelous.
Not to mention, the migrants busied fruiting figs with trogons, Crested Guans, chachalacas, tanagers, and other local birds. Stuff was busy, it was deep chocolate goodness.
Check for New Birds for Costa Rica
One other thing I highly recommend while visiting Gandoca is looking for new birds for Costa Rica. I’m ashamed to admit I did not carry out this honorable task as much as I should have. However, in the future, I would suggest seriously looking for Pacific Antwren, White-tailed Trogon, Blue Cotinga, Cocoi Heron, Cattle Tyrant, Carib Grackle, and Rufous-breasted Hermit.
I daresay any of these birds are possible in that area (perhaps more along the main highway) and is why I included them on the Costa Rica Birding App as “not seen” birds. The hermit in particular could be easily overlooked. I mean it looks extremely similar to a Bronzy Hermit, you’ll need photos that show the undertail coverts and the face.
Bird Other, Nearby, Little Birded Sites
Bird Gandoca for sure but if you can, it’s also worth dedicating time to birding other sites in the area. Those would be places like the Paradise Road, sites near Bribri, Manzanillo, and the RECOPE road to name a few.
Visit Gandoca and you gotta be ready to drive for a good ways. Make sure your car is charged and don’t expect many stores in the area but you will find peace. You’ll also see a lot of birds, maybe something mega.
October 14, 2023 was a random day for the non-birding part of humanity. For the rest of us, this date was one of the big ones; a special time when birding takes center stage. Thanks to eBird, October 14th was the perfect excuse to put birds at the forefront, lend them more importance than traffic jams and mall walks or milking cows.
That doesn’t mean you had to ignore such pleasantries or duties or otherwise. It just means that while you bumped along in that oil-infused taxi, while you worked or carried out the farm chores, you could still pay attention to birds and participate. Give them avians their due by remembering what you identified and uploading to eBird.
Of course there were other, more appropriate ways to celebrate October Big Day, the main one being all out birding. No chores, nothing else on the table, just you and the birds along with thousands of other like-minded people doing the same bird-focused thing.
During our collective watching of birds, what did we manifest? Alas, no Eskimo Curlew or other extinct species but us birders all around the world still managed to identify thousands of bird species. In Costa Rica, we played our part and tallied 718.
Thanks to better knowledge about finding birds in Costa Rica, our October GBD results included all the quail-doves, all the wood-quails, and some. I was surprised not to see any pelagics on the list but oh well, I guess no one made it offshore. Perhaps the waves were too high? In any case, 718 birds sans pelagics is a grand total, one worthy of self congratulation accompanied with fine cold beer.
As I had mentioned in a previous post, Marilen and I also participated. Things didn’t go as planned as I had hoped but it was still good, we still saw a good number of birds. This is some of what I learned from October 14th, 2023.
Keep owl silhouettes on your mind
My outrageous Big Day strategy needed an early start. Well, I’m not sure if midnight is early but since that’s when you can start counting birds, I suppose we can refer to it as such. That early hour found us driving through the open areas of Ceiba de Orotina.
I stopped and listened every so often. No night migrants, no nothing but eventually a Common Pauraque. On Big Days, that road bird of the night is usually our species numero uno.
Moving along, I tried to keep an eye on the surroundings, hoped to spot an owl or something out of place. That idea worked when I noticed a distinct shadowy little shape standing on a post. Oh a Burrowing Owl would have been amazing but we were still happy with point blank views of a Pacific Screech-Owl.
That looking for owl silhouettes also came through with Striped Owl near Jaco. In classic Striped Owl fashion, it was perched on a roadside cable and gave us fantastic views.
Reconsider night driving
Our passage through the dark of quiet Orotina was fleeting. More time would have brought us several other birds but we had another, more vital place to be. Our destination required an hour and a half drive but it would be worth it. The site was our big shorebird break, our tern hattrick destined to reward us with waterbirds.
Getting there was not for the faint of heart. Nor for folks with cataracts or anything less than nerves of steel. Taking the Zen approach, I’m proud to say I managed to move us along without giving myself early arthritis. That would have been generated by gripping the steering wheel with hydraulic prowess.
You see, the road to Guanacaste is being worked on. At the moment, one big section is a rather narrow two lane road that looks more like a forgotten alley to limbo. At least during the dark of the night. And with very little to no illumination, oh yeah, it’s necessary night lights dark!
But what about the road lines? If they had been present, yes, they would have been a wonderful help. But in Costa Rica, such lane paint and reflective little things that keep you from sailing into a ditch are often absent. Especially on roads being worked on.
We traveled at a steady pace. Some other less concerned fools passed several cars at once or blinded everyone with bright lights. At least it didn’t rain. That came several hours after we had left the area. Thank goodness too because part of the “highway” became a lake, and another section suffered a landslide.
Suffice to say, if you can avoid driving in Costa Rica at night, by all means, avoid it!
Flooded roosting areas for shorebirds means no shorebirds
Night driving from Puntarenas to Punta Morales was not the dreamiest of trips but it had to be done. I wanted those roosting birds! Except that after we had bumped down that rocky little road to sandpiper salvation, all was quiet.
Oh snap! It couldn’t be! But nope, my ears weren’t fibbing. Instead of being greeted by calling Black-bellied Plovers, Willets, and Western Sandpipers, I heard a single flyover Royal Tern. Yes, that was a bird too and we took it but it wasn’t quite what we had hoped.
Upon checking the salt pans, we saw that yes indeed, they were as full as monsoon swimming pools. Not a single shorebird in one of the best shorebird spots in Costa Rica. I couldn’t blame them, little webbed footers and mud probers would have drowned.
As consolation, we picked up both night-herons and a bunch of Wood Storks but we left there ASAP. It was back to the night road to the other side of limbo; that would be Caldera and then on to Jaco.
Owls don’t always call when and where they did on other days
We made it to the much better lit road next to the Caldera mangroves and gave them a quick check. I was hoping to relive finding a Northern Potoo. We spotlighted some and stared at suitable branches but nope, “only” a couple more Pacific Screech Owls.
We got to Jaco around 3:45. That would be just in time to listen for more night birds, things like Double-striped Thick-Knees, whistling-ducks, and maybe a few other birds.
The thick-knee did indeed comply, one Purple Gallinule called to connect us with success, and yes, whistling-ducks flew over! Heading in on the Teleferico Road, we also quickly heard Tropical Screech-Owls and saw that aforementioned Striped Owl.
Things were going to plan but then….they weren’t. The other owls we usually heard at that site just weren’t calling. I did my best to coax them; barked like a Mottled Owl, wailed in true Black and white Owl fashion, even played calls of impossible to imitate Crested and Spectacled Owls.
Nope. They didn’t want to call on October 14th. That’s alright, we could still get them on the other side of the mountains, way over there at the exhausted end of the day.
Dawn chorus in October?
With dawn approaching, we drove up the Teleferico Road to some intact-looking areas of forest. With luck, maybe an owl would still call? After all, on other occasions, I have heard all of our wanted owl species during the dawn’s early light.
However, the main reason I went up there was to start the dawn chorus. The plan was to begin there and slowly bird/listen our way out to open areas, ticking everything en route!
That would have worked if the birds had called. Some did, birds like Riverside Wren and Gray-headed Tanager, but most did not. We needed more forest birds, the woodcreepers and so many others that can easily make it onto your list with their early morning calls.
Except they didn’t. Maybe October is a bad time for them to vocalize? Maybe some of those birds just aren’t there anymore? Sadly, between rare forest habitat being degraded by climate change and destroyed for development (especially along that road), fewer birds is a real possibility.
Nor hearing enough, I headed to the more open areas. But nope, even there, almost nothing sang. Not even Black-hooded Antshrike and other species I know are present. We did eventually hear and see several other species but to approach any sort of record, we still needed more.
But hey, maybe we would get them in Carara?
BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN BUYING TICKETS FOR CARARA NATIONAL PARK
Except that we didn’t go in Carara.
Yeah, sadly, the national park system has succeeded in raising their levels of bureaucracy to even higher levels of ridiculousness. Not long ago, one could go to Carara, purchase a ticket at the gate, and go in to the park. You know, like how you normally do in most places?
Then, during Covid, entrance tickets could only by bought with a card. Nope, you only have cash? Sorry, you can’t walk these trails! However, you could still buy tickets right then and there, no problem.
Recently, for some unknown yet surely amazing reason, the national park system included Carara in the parks that require buying tickets online, in advance.
The system is cumbersome and doesn’t always work. I suppose yes, then, they know who exactly walks on those short trails and they already have their entrance fees. But what if the system doesn’t work? Well, then you are out of luck.
We tried to buy tickets the night before. However, each time I tried to get tickets, their system said something about there being an error. I tried a few more times, same thing.
I figured well, what are you gonna do, maybe we would try tomorrow? And then I noticed the email from my bank indicating that yes, my transactions actually did go through and that it was for Carara National Park.
So, on October Big Day, 2023, we arrived to Carara and went to the entrance booth. We explained what had happened, we showed them the receipt indicating that we had bought tickets not once but more than once and that SINAC had accepted the transaction.
But nope, they said, “I don’t know what to tell you but the system doesn’t have problems, it should have sent you one of these reservation codes.” I will mention that they did their best to find us in their system but no, even though they could literally see that SINAC had taken our money for entrance fees to enter that specific park, no, they just didn’t know what to tell us. There couldn’t be any problem with their system, we should have gotten that code. The fact that they could see the receipt to enter that park on that day didn’t compute. There was no way, we had to have the code.
Otherwise, you just can’t walk in on those trails. God forbid. Now we could have gone and bought tickets again but after they had basically forced me to give them a donation, I wasn’t too eager to do that again. I mean, if it didn’t work another time, even if I had made the purchase right in front of their faces and did not receive a code, I would have made another donation and they still wouldn’t have let us in.
I’m not sure if I ever will try again because sadly, if their system can take your money like that, what other problems might it have? It’s a sad situation but if you plan on going to any national park in Costa Rica that requires advance purchase of tickets, be very careful!
If you go through the cumbersome process and buy the ticket but don’t get a reservation confirmation, DO NOT TRY AGAIN. Accept that they have stolen your money and make other plans. The thing is if you try to buy it again, they will probably take your money every time you purchase tickets and you still won’t be able to enter the park.
Another option is doing a tour with a local company. That way, they take the risk. In all honesty, it probably doesn’t happen all that often but then again, one of the local guides did tell me that he had heard of that happening more than once.
It’s a shame but there are other options than visiting Carara. I’m going to see if I can set something up for a site or two near there that have the same birds along with actual common sense.
Be flexible but know when to quit
After not being able to enter Carara for ridiculousness, we decided to head up the road that goes to Bijagual. There’s always the chance that we could get many of the same birds from Carara.
We did see a White Hawk, Double-toothed Kite, and some other birds but no, it was very quiet. Far too quiet to approach the goal required for hitting a Big Day record. Who know’s maybe Carara would have been quiet too?
With that in mind, we aborted the full Big Day attempt. On the bright side, the pressure was off and we wouldn’t have to worry about time. We casually made our way over to Tarcoles, watched some shorebirds, and made the drive back uphill and home.
Lots of people birding is a recipe for rarity finding
Whenever more birders are in the field, more rarities are found! October 14th in Costa Rica was no exception. Thanks to other local birders, we have the option of trying to twitch rare migrant Palm Warbler, and two Prairie Warblers.
I’m sure there’s other stuff to look for too, I’ll have to check and see.
Inspiration to check the dawn chorus in other areas
This past October Big Day experience also encourages me to visit a few sites for the dawn chorus. Instead of Jaco and Carara, what can I find on the roads from the Macaw Lodge area to Tarcoles? There’s a lot of possibilities, I’m looking forward to finding out!
What about the dawn chorus at key sites in the Caribbean lowlands? I’m curious about that too. Will I find a Great Jacamar, Tawny-faced Quail? Only one way to find out.
This past October Big Day might not have gone as well as I had hoped but we still saw a lot of birds. Any morning with 150 species is a good one!
The Big Day is happening soon. We’ll dress for the occasion, strive for a Zen birding mindset, and brew an ample supply of coffee. On a deeper level, some of us have already been studying up on nocturnal flight calls, pondering over the brief modulated calls of Wood Thrushes and the slightly clearer and upward inflected whispers of Scarlet Tanagers.
You know, just in case they happen to call in the pre-dawn while we’re cupping our ears to the night sky because on Saturday, the detection of each and every bird is coveted, warranted, and necessary. Soon, more than any other day, every bird identification will count and the quicker you “get” them the sooner you “got” them.
No, October 14th isn’t some anniversary or other noted event. Well, at least not for the non-birding world. It’s something much more monumental. On Saturday, we collectively mark and celebrate eBird’s 2023 October Big Day and check it out, up here in Costa Rica, we are ready to rock the birding house.
This is some of what birders in Costa Rica have been up to.
Local Birding Teams
In Guanacaste, Team Northwest will be scouring windswept fields, and checking rice fields for Spotted Rails and Paint-billed Crakes. They’ll be birding forests in Rincon de al Vieja and other sites, finding rare migrants, and checking off the dry forest birds.
Chambita and others will be counting birds in the Cano Negro area, and other teams yet to be announced are surely getting ready to show what they can find.
If past Big Days are any indication, the owner and guides of birding lodge Hotel Quelitales will do their best to show how incredibly diverse their corner of Costa Rica is.
The many women birders that make up the Jacanas Team will also be birding in various parts of the country, and hundreds of other local birders will participate too.
This local team will also be in the field. Comprised of moi and my partner Marilen Palacios, all I can say is that we will be counting birds somewhere in Costa Rica. This is one of the few October Big Days when I won’t be working and I plan on taking full advantage of it! We have a rough plan but we’ll see how it goes, see what we find. It’s gonna be good, it always is when you let yourself get carried away with the birding flow in Costa Rica.
eBird Sightings and Whatsapp Groups
In preparation for October 14th, we have been checking the local sightings, seeing who should target which species. However, even more so, local birders are in constant touch with Whatsapp groups. This instant access to bird gen is light years ahead of how it used to be!
I mean, even if I can’t go chase a Black-throated Blue Warbler or Chipping Sparrow (I know but this is Costa Rica), at least I know where they were found.
Due to lack of high coverage and misidentifications, eBird in Costa Rica isn’t perfect but it can still provide some good ideas for your Big Day plan. I know I’ve been checking it out and making plans!
Food and Drink Shopping
Yes, this is part of the Big Day birding equation, a very important part of it. October Big Day isn’t just about seeing birds, about focusing on birds and listening for the quiet sputter of a high-flying Upland Sandpiper. This day is also a celebration, a time to mark the collective enjoyment of bird observation.
Yeah, that’s what it is but not quite either. The deal is more like “bird merging”, feathered nature connection, or maybe exploring the sacred link between us, each other, and the marvelous beauty of life and ecosystems on Earth.
A day like this merits more than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Make or get your favorite food! When you check out the chocolate aisle, do yourself a favor and get the good stuff. Buy appropriate beverages to accompany this day of focused birding, get enough of everything you like to keep you in the field, to maintain your focus on the birds.
Don’t forget to buy celebratory drinks too, or at least schedule a visit to the best spot to end your October Big Day.
As in studying. Yeah, it all depends on how you want to watch birds but I believe that the more you prepare yourself for birding, the better it will be. Whether you just check out some pictures of raptors in flight or attempt to tune the senses to nocturnal flight calls, studying birds will help you celebrate October Big Day.
And, if your Big Day goal is going above and beyond with bird identification, you better do some last-minute studying. Recheck those jaeger field marks (as subtle and confusing as they may be), think about odd possibilities like Common Ringed Plover, and look into little known flight calls. Keep it in mind, you just might need that extra bit of neural stuff!
Yes, October 14th is almost here and yet, with horrible and heart-wrenching situations happening in so many places, it’s easy to wonder how we can possibly celebrate anything?
Especially when the worst of situations affect people we know and care about along with so many others whom we would love to know. Bird celebration suddenly seems trivial. However, birding can still act as a mental refuge, and what better way to focus on peace and communion that birding together in so many places, all at the same time.
As I listen for Gray-cheeked Thrushes in the night sky (just one will work!), call for quetzals on Poas, and scan rainforest canopy for cotingas, I’ll be thinking about all the birders who won’t be able enjoy birds as much on October 14th. I’ll be thinking of birding friends, acquaintances, and their families, and striving for calmer, better days when we can meet again and enjoy birds together.
Take care, watch birds on October 14th, and make to treat yourself to the good chocolate.
Birding in Costa Rica is always good. No, it’s more than good, more like some birding wonderland. 24/7. All the time. Even so, you always hear that the best time to go birding in Costa Rica is January to March.
Yeah, that is the dry season on the Pacific and that’s always good. You can also skip out on some of those northern winter blues but honestly, it doesn’t really matter which month you want to see Costa Rica birds.
Head to Costa Rica in January and it’ll be awesome. Bring those binos to Tiquicia (local name for Costa Rica) in June and it’ll still be awesome. Come to this lovely land of hummingbirds, trogons, and tanagers any other month and you’ll still see a lot.
Yeah, in some places it rains more than other places but that’s always the case, even in the dry season. To see those birds, you just work with the precipitation any which way you can.
Now if you ask local Costa Rica birders about the best month for birding, you’ll probably get a bunch of different responses. The winter months could be a common answer, it’s when we can see wintering birds. The raptophiles among us might mention March or April but if you ask me, I’ll say that the best birding month in Costa Rica is any month.
However, if I had to pick the most exciting month, well, for me, that would be October. Halloween month is sort of like our May. It’s when migration hits full swing, it’s when we welcome birds back to these tropical shores.
There’s the common and expected birds like Baltimore Orioles, various warblers, Western Sandpipers, and other common species. I saw some of those this very morning, right here in the neighborhood.
Those birds are good, watching a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher in the same fig tree as Baltimores, Yellow Warblers, and a bunch of local birds was a sweet gift. However, some birds are more exciting simply because we don’t see them so often. October might be our best month for those choice birds.
As with all places where birds are funneled into the local viewing frame, on any given day in October, we might find one of those mega, unexpected species. These are the birds that result in white knuckle driving, leaning forward with anxiety, hoping to reach the mega in time.
October in Costa Rica is major birding, everywhere and at all times. It’s just getting started and yet we’ve already had some tantalizing sightings, some sweet birding experiences. Some of those birds were from late September but maybe they’ll be signs of things to come. Check it out:
It’s either a good year for migrants or we just got more birders in the field. Either way, the twitchworthy birds are turning up. You’ll laugh if you live in Pennsylvania but a bunch of us dropped everything and ran to see a Chipping Sparrow. Even better, this ultra rare bird for Costa Rica was sighted at Calle Viquez- a hotspot pretty close to home!
Marilen and I checked it out a day after the bird was found but so far, no dice. The small sparrow of northern pine-dotted parks was either a one day wonder or has yet to be refound. Hopefully, we’ll find it again.
Other, similarly local megas were Lark Sparrows in Sarapiqui and the Osa, and a Yellow-headed Blackbird near Cartago! These two didn’t stay around all that long but at least a bunch of birders got to see the Lark Sparrow.
It makes you wonder what else is out there? Some adventurous Clay-colored Sparrow down the road? Maybe a Nashville Warbler? A hidden Connecticut? Only way to know is to get out there and look!
Wonderful Warblers, Thousands of Swallows, and More
In more expected birding news, I have been enjoying daily movement of migrating swallows. Every morning, dozens of Cliffs, Banks, and Barns fly just over the roofs. If I could watch all day, I’m sure I’d see hundreds, maybe even thousands more.
They might seem like normal birds, and they are, but when you think of where they came from and where they are going, each and every swallow is a living sign of the incredible.
Warblers are also back in town. Not all of them yet but a good number of those much loved little birds. On Sunday morning, we figured we’d try out luck at the Rio Loro Park. This small park near Cartago can be good for migrants, and it’s also a nice place to walk. No luck with cuckoos or a Veery but we did alright with the Parulids.
While enjoying views of BOPish Long-tailed Manakins, had our first Golden-wingeds of the season along with small numbers of Wilson’s, Chestnut-sided, Blackburnian, Black-and-white, Mourning, Canada, and Tennessee Warblers. We also had Northern Waterthrushes and close, appreciated views of at least two Worm-eating Warblers.
Having grown up just out of reach of “Wormers”, I always love seeing them. Pretty uncommon but regular wintering birds in Costa Rica, the ones from Sunday were my year birds.
Possible Highest Ever Count of Least Terns in Costa Rica
On Sunday, we began the month with some warblers at Rio Loro. However, on Saturday., we ended September with morning birding at Puntarenas. It’s a good time to be at that birding hotspot and Saturday morning certainly delivered.
On the way there, we picked up year Surfbirds at Caldera. At Puntarenas itself, we scored with another bird, in far larger numbers than I had ever imagined.
Least Terns usually pass through Costa Rica in late August and September, mostly on the Pacific coast. If you don’t see them then, you might have to wait until the following year. As luck would have it, as soon as we arrived at the lighthouse in Puntarenas, there went a small group of Least Terns zipping by.
I figured they might be the only ones we would see. Maybe a few more but not that many. I mean, that’s how it usually goes with that tiny tern in Costa Rica. But then I start seeing more flying way out there in the Gulf of Nicoya; tiny, fast wing beating terns, all with a smart black patch in their wings.
I get to scanning the birds on a distant sand bar and there’s a good scattering of egrets and shorebirds. Too far away to identify most of them, I envy the clam diggers and fishermen who are nearly within arm’s reach of those birds.
I keep scanning and notice a big group of terns on a sand bar. Really big group. Maybe a clam digger gets too close and suddenly, they take flight. And I can hardly believe my eyes. Every last one of them was a Least Tern! They were far but at 40 X, were still close enough to note that they were the same size as Least Terns foraging near them. They bank, I can see the black primaries, and I figure I better start counting.
To make sure, I had to count them twice. It just didn’t seem possible but yeah, 250 was the total number of Least Terns flying past and on the sand bar. Since that didn’t take the previous groups of Least Terns into account, I bet there at least 300 of them out there.
It was unheard of number for Costa Rica but that’s how many there were. For whatever reason, some big number of Least Terns were gathered in the Gulf of Nicoya on Saturday morning, September 30th. By 9 a.m., all of them had left. I wonder where they went, if they would cross over to the Caribbean in Panama? Or, maybe winter in the deltas of northwestern Colombia?
To top off the excitement at Puntarenas, we scored with a distant Sabine’s Gull, and saw a small group of Common Terns. It would have been a good day to take the ferry!
Snowy Plover and Bobolink in Tarcoles
That same day, we also visited Jaco and swung by Tarcoles. The tide was high and we didn’t see anything but oh we sure missed some good birds! That same day, a mega Snowy Plover was found! Granted, the only way we could have seen it was if we had hiked out to the river mouth but that bird was present when we visited, just beyond the scrubby mangroves, just out of sight.
A bunch of local birders saw it the following day and today, and one of them also found a Bobolink! This cool blackbird is a rare one in Costa Rica. I’m sure we get more than we realize but still in low numbers, likely scattered in several places.
Ruff in Guanacaste
Topping off the recent rare birds was a Ruff seen near Filadelfia in Guanacaste. It was seen near Buff-breasted Sandpipers and some other nice birds. It’s a good reminder that rare birds are out there, you keep looking and you’ll find them.
October birding in Costa Rica is indeed exciting. There’s lots more to come too including large numbers of thrushes, Bay-breasted Warblers, raptors, and so much more!
I suppose I’ll end by noting that several Upland Sandpipers have been seen in Guanacaste and at the airport. What will be next? Is a pipit or wagtail too much to ask for? Ha ha, probably but on a rare October birding day in Costa Rica, it seems like anything is possible.
When is the best time to go birding in Costa Rica?
The best time to go birding in Costa Rica is any time of the year. However, most people prefer the drier months of January to March.
Can you still see a lot while birding Costa Rica on your own?
You can always still see a lot while birding Costa Rica on your own. However, as with any destination, you’ll always see more with an experienced local guide. My bird finding guide for Costa Rica will also help.
Which Costa Rica Birds can I see?
With a country list of 930 plus species, you can see so many Costa Rica birds, there are too many to mention. 400 plus species on a serious two week trip is likely. Toucans, macaws, parrots, tanagers, several hummingbirds, and more are even possible on shorter trips.