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How to Go Birding in Costa Rica and Win $2,500

Any birding trip to Costa Rica is a win. Find your way to this mountainous, bio-rich country and you’ll see birds. Oh yes indeed. To give an idea of what’s in store, just this morning, without birding and in an urban zone, I was treated to several avian connections.

A Gray Hawk flap flap flap soars over a busy road. The voices of a Tropical Mockingbird, Great Kiskadees, and a Hoffmann’s Woodpecker bounce off concrete walls. Blue-and-white Swallows chattered above, a pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks floes overhead, and a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird zips between flowering bushes.

If I would have listened more, maybe gone for a morning walk, I would have probably identified 20 other birds.

In the many other, more birdy parts of Costa Rica, the day list moves with leaps and bounds. Toucans in rainforest, flocks of screeching parrots, dozens of hummingbirds, antbirds calling, and more, always more.

Always a win and yet, if you go birding in Costa Rica from now until September 30th at the Hotel Rivel, you could get paid for seeing those birds! There won’t be some wonderful birder benefactor with bottomless pockets. But, there will be a raffle, here’s how to play.

Go Birding at the Hotel Rivel up Until September 30th, 2024

The Hotel Rivel is an eco-retreat located in the Tuis River Valley, south of Turrialba. If you’ve visited Rancho Naturalista, there’s a fair chance you’ve gone birding along that river. It’s one of the commonly visited hotspots near Rancho and a good place to see Sunbittern and tanagers among many other birds.

Sunbittern

Lucky birders might connect with Red-fronted Parrotlets and Great Black Hawk. Mega lucky ones could even see a Lanceolated Monklet!

If you hadn’t guessed yet, it’s a wonderful area for birding. To participate in this birding challenge, you’ll have to bird the part of the valley at the Hotel Rivel. Make observations within 3 kilometers of the hotel and you can be in play.

Register for the Birding Challenge, eBird Your Sightings

Before you watch any birds in that area, make sure to sign up for the birding challenge. The hotel has a simple registration form at the bottom of the birding challenge page. They mention that you can also sign up via Whatsapp.

The next thing to do is go birding at the Hotel Rivel, and submit an eBird list from their property that also includes a photo of at least one bird.

More Birding at the Hotel Rivel = More Chances to Take Home the Grand Prize

To participate, you only have to submit one eBird list with a photo of a bird from the Hotel Rivel property. However, to boost your odds, go birding at the Hotel as much as possible.

Here’s how it works (from the birding challenge page):

  • Birds = Points = Number of Tickets: Every bird you identify and include in your ebird.org checklist earns you an entry into the final draw. The more birds you see, the more chances you have to win! If you don’t log them in ebirg.org – they won’t count.
  • Note that you can have multiple lists but a bird species is only counted once. In other words, three lists that only have Clay-colored Thrush are worth just one point. However, one list with ten species is worth 10 points. If another list is uploaded with those same ten species, it won’t be worth any extra points.
  • Photos Matter: Take a photo of each bird you identify. Photos are worth 5 points each, compared to 1 point without a photo. Submit your photos to ebird.org for them to be accepted. Photos must be taken within 3 ks of the Hotel Rivel.
  • Rare Bird Bonus: Spot 1 of the 60 rare birds on our list within 3km of Hotel Rivel, and with a photo, you get a whopping 50 points per bird! (3 birds with photos = 150 points = 150 draw tickets!). The rare birds are listed on the birding challenge page. Several would be pretty tough, a few not as much but you’ll still need to get pictures of them.

Grand Prize Drawing on October 5th, 2024 and other Important Information

On October 5th, we’ll find out who wins $2,500 to watch birds at the Hotel Rivel! It’s a beautiful area and although I have yet to visit the eco-retreat, the pictures sure look nice.

However, I can say that I have birded in the Tuis River Valley and look forward to birding there again. It’s a nice hotspot, especially for tanagers!

The Hotel Rivel has 120 acres of birdy habitats and 8 ks of hiking trails, mountain bikes for guests, good food, and excellent, locally grown coffee.
What birds occur there? The list for the Rio Tuis should give a fair idea, and there’s probably more possibilities.

I hope you get a chance to participate in this birding challenge. I hope we do too! The general area near the Hotel Rivel (especially Rancho Naturalista) is fantastic for birding. If Rancho happens to be out of your price range, the Rivel and Vista Aves (another spot with excellent birding) might be good alternatives. It will be interesting to see what people find during this birding challenge!

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A Morning of Dry Forest Birding, June 8, 2024

Dry forest is one of Costa Rica’s major ecosystems. Occurring on the Pacific slope from Nicaragua to the river at Tarcoles (the Rio Grande), this tropical forest provides habitat for a bunch of birds.

Fancy birds too. Black-headed Trogons, White-throated Magpie-Jays, Yellow-naped Parrots, Orange-fronted Parakeets, Lesser Ground-Cuckoos and some!

Lesser Ground-Cuckoo poses form the camera.

Lucky for the birds and us people who watch them, most of the dry forest birds in Costa Rica are rather tolerant of habitat loss. Given the near absence of extant old growth tropical dry forest on much of the Pacific slope, that’s a darn good thing!

The birds persist in forest patches, living fig hedgerows, vital riparian zones, and pastures dotted with big trees. They are also increasing in various areas of second growth; some of that famous reforestation going on in Costa Rica.

Not pseudo reforestation of Teak and other commercial trees either but honest to goodness forest doing its best to make a natural comeback. The growing areas don’t have it easy. They lack the full suite of original pollinators, seed spreaders, and who knows what else but a forest’s gonna keep on trying, keep on growing. There’s some damn ignorant burning too but if we can get a handle on it, we might give those dry forests a chance.

The biggest and oldest areas of dry forest in Costa Rica are in and near Santa Rosa National Park. Go there to see the real, long-term deal. However, if you can’t make it up to Liberia way, you can still see lots of birds in other places.

Some of the closest tropical dry forest habitats near San Jose’s concrete and cars are sites between Orotina and Tarcoles. I was there the other day. It was just for a morning but the birding was worthwhile as always.

Not So Dry

Bird those dry spots in the winter months and you’ll be dealing with dusty winds. The grass is brown, trees have dropped their leaves and it’s one sunny day after another.

June is another story. Lush green grass, trees heavy with foliage, and storm clouds rolling in. Life is rejoicing with the rains, growing and breeding and naturally living it up.

Singing Birds

Some of that joy is expressed with bird song. Drive or bike or walk by fresh green dry forest trees and vireos will be singing. They sound sort of like Red-eyeds but their phrasing is shorter. Get a look and you’ll see a heftier beak for bigger caterpillars and more yellowish underparts for their basic name- Yellow-green Vireo.

There’s lots of them vireos in Costa Rica but almost only in the wet season, and mostly on the Pacific slope. They sing from the trees, Banded Wrens belt out bird tunes from the thick below, and Yellow-olive Flycatchers (Flatbills) give hearing tests for high-frequency sounds.

Black-headed Trogons make staccato beats, Gartered Trogons also call, and Rufous-naped Wrens make you think of babblers on the other side of the world (at least they do that for me).

Some Nice Spots with Regenerating Forest

Out on those low and hot country roads, I was happy to see some places where forest was rallying for its natural and leisurely relentless comeback. I saw reason to cheer the trees on and wish them well, especially on the Guacimo Road.

This is a road that leaves the coastal highway and makes its way towards the sea. It goes for a ways and you can make a nice birding loop that reaches mangroves and the beach itself at Guacalillo. There’s also a riparian zone replete with towering cashew trees; a perfect haunt for Spectacled Owls.

It’s one of the many sites covered in my bird finding ebook for Costa Rica, a good place to play hide and seek with Mangrove Cuckoos, call for Crested Bobwhites, and watch for soaring raptors.

A Morning for Kites

Speaking of raptors, this birding route is typically good for em! You never know what will show but there’s lots of possibilities. The birding chances include species like Collared Forest-Falcon, Laughing Falcon, Crane Hawk, and others, even the occasional King Vulture.

I had those birds in mind the other morning but they failed to report to the outdoor office. Didn’t see Short-tailed Hawk either! However, at least they were substituted by some other taloned birds.

Grays Hawks were present as they usually are, we saw both caracaras, and had distant views of Harriss’s Hawks. It was also a good morning for kites. As the vultures took to the skies, sure enough, a non-vulture was thermaling with them, a bird with rufous patches on pointed wings.

That was the only Plumbeous Kite we saw but it was a nice look in good light. A dark Hook-billed Kite was also soaring around and showing its distinctive paddle-winged shape.

Those were good but if I had to pick a prize, I would have given it to another birds that hunts lizards in those open fields; the svelte little Pearl Kite. I was pleased because this species can be a real challenge. In Costa Rica, they seem to occur in low numbers at low density populations. Factor in their small size and Pearl Kites are all too easy to overlook.

A closer Pearl Kite from another day.

One perched on a cable high over open fields was one of the morning’s top treasures.

I’ve birded that area many times but I would love to explore it more, especially at night. There’s always more to see, especially when birding in Costa Rica.

Check out an eBird trip report from that fine morning of birding-

June 8, 2024 dry forest near Tarcoles – eBird Trip Report

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Costa Rica Birding = A Whole lot of Wrens Going On

The Wren is a plain yet spunky little bird. By chance, it also has the distinction of being the bird after which all other members of its family were named. Well, at least officially named in the English language.

If we think about the many vocal and equally personable members of its family that grace tangles, cacti, rocks, and other places replete with nooks and crannies, I’m sure hundreds of local cultures in the Americas also had plenty of names for wrens.

I wonder how many names referred to their loud, vociferous nature? How many had names synonymous with gnomes and tiny forest elves? Were some named after their habitat? Others for their behavior?

Here in Costa Rica, wrens can be known as “cucaracheros” (cockroachers) and the Rufous-naped Wren is the “chico-piojo’ or “louse kid”. I know, sounds odd but not when you hear Rufous-naped Wrens sing. With a bit of imagination, their vocalizations do sort of sound like they are exclaiming funky name. As far as cockroaches go, that makes sense, I bet the hardy bugs also feature in many a wren’s diet.

In Costa Rica, there have surely been many names for the local reps of the Troglodytidae. More than a few wrens creep, sing, and shuffle foliage in these lands. More like two dozen species!

Yeah, if we lump Isthmian back with Cabanis’s, there would be 23 but that’s still a heck of a lot of wrens going on. It’s much more than the number of wrens in the entire USA and about the same as Ecuador. Our couple dozen wren species don’t quite match the wren diversity in Mexico or Colombia (30 plus species in each country!) but imagine 24 wren species packed into West Virginia and you get the picture.

How Can so Many Wrens live in Costa Rica?

Our local abundance of wrens is probably explained by some of the same reasons why so many other bird species live in this birdy land. Some wrens like the lowlands, other are in the highlands, some prefer dry or moist forest, and other wrens are into humid conditions.

Then there are wrens that evolved to live on one side of the mountains and vice-versa.

I suspect the bug factor plays another role. Heavy rain and humidity mean lots of bugs hiding in dead leaf clusters, abounding in leaf litter, and generally inhabiting the many hiding places afforded by crazy amounts of tropical vegetation.

In other words, Costa Rica is a perfect place for wrens, several of which are adapted to different types of second growth.

Wren Hotspots

Do wren hotspots actually exist? Does anyone actually care to visit a wren hotspot? These are valid questions, at least for the serious wren-chasing birder.

Being an aficionado of biodiversity and all things avian, I, for one, enjoy visiting any and all birding hotspots. If I can see more wrens, I’m all for it! I want to see those creeping feathered characters but perhaps even more so, I want to hear them.

Wrens are natural masters of the vocal trade and I love to enter their realms and soak up the music. You’ll hear a wren or two no matter where you go birding in Costa Rica but to experience the real wren orchestra, you gotta greet the dawn at wren hotspots.

Around Carara, Rufous-naped Wrens and Cabanis’s Wrens chortle from dry, open and brushy areas. Don’t forget about House Wrens and if it’s dry enough, Banded Wrens will sing from the woods too. In riparian zones and the viny forest edge, Rufous-breasted Wrens and Rufous-and-white Wrens vie for center stage.

A Banded Wren.

Personally, I think it’s hard to beat the quick hollow whistled songs of the Rufous-and-white but the Rufous-breasted never stops trying. Get into rainforest and you’ll hear the loud, quick songs of Riverside Wrens. Listen carefully and you might also hear high-pitched descending notes floating out of a ravine. It’ll be tough to see it but at least you’ll know there’s a Scaly-breasted Wren nearby.

That’s eight wrens for the band but there’s still room for one more! From dense, humid thickets, the snazzy Black-bellied Wren lends its voice for a total of 9 wren species bird rocking the habitats around Carara!

The Carara ecotone is pretty good for wrens but it’s not the only wren hotspot in Costa Rica.

Travel to the other side of the mountains and we also find some pretty wreny spots. In particular, foothill rainforest stands out. Go birding around Arenal or Nectar and Pollen or other similar spots and you’ll hear Bay Wrens chattering at the edge, cool Black-throated Wrens singing from older, dark tangles, and the confusing songs of White-breasted Wood Wrens and Stripe-breasted Wrens in the forest.

Black-throated-Wren

High in the trees, Band-backed Wrens join mixed flocks, investigate bromeliads, and make weird, raspy calls. Down low, a Nightingale Wren sings like a happy go lucky person lost in the woods. If you are lucky, you might also hear the cool, musical notes of the gnomish Song Wren.

Exit the forest and you might be greeted by the voices of House and Canebrake Wrens. That makes for 9 wren species too! Not to mention, it doesn’t take much to go upslope a little bit and add two more wrens to the total.

Bay Wren

Go north and you’ll reach the third wren hotspot in Costa Rica- Cano Negro. In the forest, woodlands, and scrub of Canno Negro, wren diversity also reaches an impressive 9 species. The roster includes the same birds as foothill rainforest but switches out the Nightingale Wren for Spot-breasted Wren.

Rare Wrens in Costa Rica

Although some are naturally tough to see, most wrens in Costa Rica are pretty common. With some patience and occasional waving away of tiny flying insects, you’ll eventually lays eyes on the wren prize.

However, there are a few species that are especially tough to see or are just plain rare. In a family of renowned skulkers, the Nightingale and Scaly-breasted Wrens excel. These two birds are pretty easy to hear but notoriously difficult to see!

Yeah, you’d think they would be doing the usual wren thing of hustling for bugs between bouts of chattering but not so. This pair of wwird little birds are either too refined for such mundane behavior, way too shy, prefer not to be seen, or have cloaking devices we are unaware of.

Nightingale Wren uncloaked.

Whatever the reason, these solitary birds are very difficult to see. It can be done but you’ve got to call them in or track down singing birds and test your patience. Since it’s technically illegal to use playback in official protected areas, you’ll need to go the ultra-patient route there.

Song Wrens are also tricky. Bird in the right places for them and they aren’t too bad but despite their beautiful voices, the little birds aren’t really fans of the limelight. They do like Army Ants though! Find those wonderful, voracious predators where Song Wrens live and you’ll see the birds.

Now those wrens mentioned above can be tricky to see but they aren’t actually rare. Timberline Wren? Not rare either but yeah, you do need to go way up to the tops of mountains and they can get skulky too.

The rare label goes to the Grass Wren and, most of all, the Rock Wren. In Costa Rica, Grass Wrens are very local and probably endangered. Although us birders have found them in more places than expected, any of their sedge and wet, grassy field habitats are few in number and under constant threat.

As for the Rock Wren, although adventuring to see it would be admirable, you are better off looking for the bird elsewhere. At least that would be a far easier endeavor. In Costa Rica, all we can do is assume that some live in a few rocky places in northern Guanacaste.

Assuming is necessary because no one has reported a Rock Wren in Costa Rica for a number of years, even experienced guides that watch birds pretty close to where Rock Wrens are supposed to be. I figure they are still out there but maybe in very few spots and/or remote areas far from roads.

Want to see wrens in Costa Rica? We’ve got a lot and these aren’t your The Wren or Winter or Pacific Wrens either! More like babblerish birds with cool plumage patterns and serious chords. Use the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app to learn their songs and get ready for your birding trip to Costa Rica. Find birds in Costa Rica and support this blog with “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.

I hope to see you birding here, most of all, I hope you hear the local wren orchestra.