Will you be birding Costa Rica soon? Need some recommendations? Here’s my take on birding Costa Rica in the final month of the year. These suggestions probably work for every December. In any case, I hope they help with your upcoming trip.
Expect Rain in the Mountains and on the Caribbean Slope
“It’s raining again…”
It’ll will be raining…but it won’t be that bad. Well, at least not on the Pacific slope! Yeah, in December, the dry season does kick into gear but not everywhere in Costa Rica. This country might be small but it sits at a major junction, one called the continental divide.
Put your pishing skills to the test at Walmart Woods and you’ll be urban birding on the Pacific slope. Go anywhere south of the mountains and it’s the same- all that water is headed to oceans where Nazca Boobies dive and Black Storm-Petrels nighthawk their way over the waves.
Bird the Pacific and the rains should be trailing off or stopping altogether.
Go to the other side of the mountains, anywhere north of the volcanoes and tectonic lift and you’ll be joining currents that flow to the Caribbean. The Atlantic Ocean that is, waters where Great Shearwaters shear and Black-capped Petrels arc and wheel. And oh how we hope to see those lost birds in Costa Rica!
Over on the Caribbean slope, it’s generally wetter and there is no historic, actual dry season. In fact, it usually rains more in December but don’t fret! If you are bringing binos to Arenal, La Selva, or any other site on Costa Rica’s Caribbean slope, the birding will still be good. In fact, when the rain stops, it can be downright fantastic.
What about the mountains? What about folks headed to Paraiso Quetzal, Savegre, and other montane birding sites in Costa Rica? Yeah, bring a rainjacket or poncho and/or waterproof stuff. It’s more hit or miss in December but once again, when the rain stops, the birds come out. They like it more than the hot, beating sun.
Don’t Rely on eBird Too Much- Birds are Where the Habitat Is
eBird is such a font of knowledge. Where would we be without it? It is very useful, and for those of us OG phone bird alert, pager, and listserv folks, I daresay the platform is still revolutionary.
However. In Costa Rica, it’s not really the final say on birding. That’s because:
- Most coverage occurs at the same sites and main birding circuits.
- Most lists do not show all the birds that were seen or heard (because a high percentage of people using eBird in Costa Rica don’t know all of the bird vocalizations).
- And most lists probably have errors that can be tough to filter out.
This doesn’t mean that eBird is useless. By no mean! In Costa Rica, it’s a great resource for birding. It just means that you should always remember that birds are not restricted to hotspots or sightings on eBird. They occur in their appropriate habitats.
Umbrellabirds at Centro Manu and Other Lowland Forest Sites
It’s that time of year again! Centro Manu continues to be one of the better sites for Bare-necked Umbrellabird. Even so, this endangered bird is not common there. You may need to walk the trails for some hours and really look for them. BUT, you’ll have a very good chance of seeing this mega, especially if you hire the on-site guide Kenneth. As a bonus, he might also know of roosting sites for owls and potoos.
As for other lowland forest sites, yes, umbrellabirds should be there too. The best places are Veragua, the Rainforest Aerial Tram, and Pocosol but they can also occur at Quebrada Gonzalez, the San Luis Canopy, the road to Manuel Brenes, Nectar and Pollen, La Selva, Tirimbina, Arenal, and any site where primary lowland and foothill forest is connected to highland forest.
Those weird big cotingas are just tough to chance upon.
Look for Rare Birds- You’ll See the Common Ones Too!
The best birding isn’t in hotel gardens. Ok, so that all depends on what one mean by “best birding” but in this case, I mean birding that gives you the best chances at the most bird species. As with all places on Earth, that means visiting the largest areas of intact habitat. In Costa Rica, that usually translates to mature, intact forest.
Naturally, such places also coincide with the best sites for rare birds. Focus on those rare species and you’ll see the common ones too. You’ll also see plenty of uncommon bird species. Just make sure to spend some time at the edge of the forest and scanning the canopy before walking beneath the trees.
Want to see leaftossers? I know, say what? But seriously, leaftossers, foliage-gleaners, more manakins, and many other birds. You’ll need to leave the tanagers in the garden and visit quality forest habitats.
Avoid Driving Rush Hour in the Central Valley
As a final note, I’ll just mention, no, urge you to avoid driving in the Central Valley during rush hour. The Central Valley is basically San Jose and all its urban connections. There are major traffic jams on a daily basis, perhaps exacerbated by roadwork, always by daily fender benders.
Drive in it and you’ll be missing out on hours of birding time (in addition to testing your stress levels). Avoid it by NOT driving Monday through Friday in the Central Valley at these times:
5:45 am-8:30 am
4:00 pm-6:30 pm
It can also get gridlocked on Saturdays! Sundays, though, Sundays are fun driving days except when ascending Route 27. On Sunday afternoons, the weekday rush hour traffic gets transferred there by the many folks coming back from the beaches.
If you must drive in and out of the Central Valley, leave early, even by 5, and stay out all day. Instead of wasting time in traffic, dine out and then go owling somewhere. That’ll be way more fun!
I’m sure I could day more but these suggestions will help for now. For more Costa Rica birding information, search this very blog and support it by purchasing “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. It’s also a great way to prepare for your birding trip- it has up to date information about most birding sites in Costa Rica along with tips for seeing and identifying everything.
I hope to see you here! Happy Thanksgiving and happy birding!