Going birding in Costa Rica soon? I hope so! As per usual, in Costa Rica, there are an impressive number of bird species jam-packed into a small area. For the birder, that means experiencing an avian cornucopia without needing to drive for hours on end, take internal flights, or making other massive travel arrangements.
No planes, trains and autocar shuffling around here! Best of all, it also means that Costa Rica is a basic birding wonderland. If you are headed to Costa Rica, soon, you’ll be enjoying this avian goodness. I hope these updates get you ready and excited about your trip:
Lately, there’s been a lot of windy weather in Costa Rica. As I write from an urban corner of Heredia, the wind is shaking roof panels and swishing through the palms.
It’s been like this for days, nights too, and in various parts of the country. That hasn’t been fun because as every birder knows, wind isn’t the best of birding conditions. The birds seek shelter, stay low, and don’t sing much. It’ll be tougher to see them but don’t worry, they are still out there!
To offset wind, make sure to get out there bright and early and focus on sheltered spots. On a side note, if you are in forest and the wind picks up, get out! Don’t hesitate, head out of that forest as quick as you can.
Most tropical forests in Costa Rica are not adapted to windy conditions. Branches break, trees can fall, and you don’t want to be there. It’s not like this is some big danger while birding in Costa Rica but why risk it? Locals don’t in Tambopata, Peru. While I was working and looking for macaw nests in the Peruvian Amazon, on one occasion, the wind picked up and some branches began to fall.
Never mind Jaguars or other animals, windy weather was one of just two times when I saw a local friend become worried. With furrowed brow, he watched the canopy sway back and forth and calmy stated, “yeah, we better get out of here”. We then rushed through the jungle and jumped in the boat to reach the safety of the open river.
The other time he was concerned (but seemed less worried) was when there were big red wasps near a macaw nest. He didn’t have to warn me about them! Those wasps weren’t exactly dainty. These were hefty red creatures that carefully flew in lazy circles near their nest. He said that if they started circling wider and come close, to run like hell.
Luckily, we didn’t have to make our escape but it goes without saying to be careful around wasps in Costa Rica too.
Route 32 to Limon- Mostly Finished!
It’s been a long time coming and it’s not done yet but, yes, most of Route 32 in Costa Rica is good to go! Route 32 is the main highway that connects San Jose to Limon.
The mountainous part is working although occasional accidents and landslides can still temporarily shut it down. At issue is the lower part of the road. For the past four or so years, there has been major road work to widen the two lane road and turn it into a pleasant four-lane highway.
During the process, driving through and sharing that bizarre maze of construction has been a challenge. At night, it was also a living nightmare replete with frightening drop-off verges, dangerous detours, and surprise car-breaking craters.
Thankfully, it seems that most of that stressful driving is behind us. On a recent trip using 32, we were pleased to find four lanes of quick, easy-going traffic for good portions of the road.
No more massive holes and it was much faster to reach Limon! That’s not to say that the road is finished and there still are some wacky, dangerous road situations (such as obstacles that suddenly close off the left lane) but it has certainly been improved.
For the visiting birder, this means quicker driving times to and from the Limon area. However, I still wouldn’t do it at night and there are still frightening detours that swing you from one side of the road to the other.
Supposedly, the whole thing will be done by the end of 2024. We’ve heard that before so we’ll see but I was definitely liking it a week ago.
Unexpected First Raptors of 2024
Raptors in Costa Rica are around but they are far from abundant. Go to the right places and yes, you can find hawk-eagles but not always! For example, an Ornate Hawk-Eagle or two live near Cinchona. One is occasionally seen flying around there but seeing it is a hit or miss situation.
Heck, you could easily go the whole year without seeing it at Cinchona. The more likely raptor candidates when birding in Costa Rica are birds like Gray Hawk, Roadside Hawk, wintering Broad-winged Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, and Common Black-Hawk on the coast.
At least you can expect to see several of those hawks. With that in mind, in addition to those common birds, I’m pleased that 2024 has already given me two hawk-eagles, Hook-billed Kite, and King Vulture.
We lucked out with a juvenile Ornate Hawk-Eagle at Quebrada Gonzalez. While we watched a mixed flock, the young eagle freaked the small birds out by loudly calling. It also got our attention! Thankfully, someone in our group spotted the bird, it stayed put, and we enjoyed scoped, talon clutching views.
Black Hawk-Eagle appeared as they usually do; a soaring bird that called and fluttered its wings high above rainforest. We saw that bird by chance during a brief stop near Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. We were on our way back from a trip to Bocas del Toro, something I can’t recommend right now, at least for visiting Isla Colon. On that island, there’s a massive construction project going on. It was a bunch of dust, noise, and heat.
The kite and King Vulture were also seen during a brief stop on our drive to the border, somewhat near Limon.
As a bonus, the only owl I’ve seen in 2024 is one of the more challenging owl species in Costa Rica. During a morning on Poas, we had great looks at a Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl! As the bird called, we were also treated to a host of hummingbirds, Black and yellow Silky-Flycatchers, chlorophonias, and other small birds that mobbed it.
A Crested Eagle was Seen…
This happened some weeks ago so it’s already old news. However, it’s worth mentioning because any sighting of this big, rare raptor is important birding news!
While birding in a forested area of Guacimo, uphill from Guapiles, a local birder lucked out with excellent views of an adult Crested Eagle. It even had prey; a partially consumed opossum species!
This sighting is momentous because it may point to a small population living in the Caribbean foothills. There have been occasional sightings of Crested Eagles from and near the Caribbean foothills for many years. Last year, one was also photographed near Pozo Azul!
However, we have no idea how many occur in Costa Rica, nor where they really live. Maybe some reside in the dense and inaccessible forests of Braulio Carrillo National Park? In any case, one was seen near Guacimo, a spot not that far from Centro Manu. Keep your birding fingers crossed!
Cinchona (aka the “Hummingbird Cafe” or the “Mirador de Catarata de San Fernando) is good as always. The usual birds have been visiting the feeders although there do seem to be fewer hummingbirds than in the past.
Recent highlights include Black Guan and Yellow-winged Tanager. Buff-fronted Quail-Dove is also still present. On a recent visit, one was even rescued from the kitchen!
The restaurant also seems to have improved administration and if you visit and don’t order something, they are charging $3. I think they should charge photographers an hourly fee whether they dine there or not but so far, it’s just $3 or a cup of coffee.
As always, I could mention more but these are the latest birdworthy items and notes that come to mind. Whether preparing for a birding trip to Costa Rica soon or at some later point, I hope this information helps. I also hope you have a birdy day and to see you here!