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Highlights from a Day of Birding in Costa Rica: Lowlands to the Highlands

Birding in Costa Rica can be a pretty hotel garden with easy-going saltators and chattering flocks of parakeets. It can also be focused birding in lowland rainforests as you search for dancing manakins and hidden woodcreepers.

Oh yeah, and birding in Costa Rica can certainly be watching mixed flocks and fluttering quetzals in cloud forest. Yes, fluttering quetzals. Fancy that!

The male avian deity messengers do their iridescent fluttering while cackling and displaying above the forest. If a big, shining emerald and red velvet bird fluttering and calling in plain sight sounds like too much to handle, it sort of is! The quetzal moves truly are one of your high level, mind-blowing birding experiences.

Recently, I had some of that deep Costa Rica bird flavor. A day of birding from the humid lowlands all the way into highland cloud forest promised an interesting selection of birds. It usually does and the other day was no exception.

This would be a day that went from low areas and up and over the mountains to San Jose. We didn’t have very much time for each birding stop but the activity was tops, we did quite well.

What to expect? Read on to check out some highlights and quips from that fine day of birding in Costa Rica.

Lowland Rainforest 1

The day began in the Caribbean lowlands, way down in the classic birding area known as “Sarapiqui”. Beginning at the edge of La Selva, lots of birds were calling, so much it was almost tough to know where to look first.

Among the guttural dino-sounds of a Green Ibis, yells of kiskakee-type flycatchers and whistling tinamous, I heard a set of soft, tooting whistles. Hello Central American Pygmy-Owl!

I whistled back to it, I hoped the mini-owl would fly in, but alas, it didn’t want to play. However, my calls did bring in Cinnamon Becards, honeycreepers, tanagers, White-ringed Flycatcher, and other small birds.

In the meantime, trogons and jacamars vocalized, Great Green Macaws sounded off, and swifts came flying in. “Good” swifts too. Cloudy mornings in the Sarapiqui area are often reliable for Spot-fronted Swifts. They were present along with small Gray-rumpeds and svelte Lesser Swallow-taileds.

After enjoying some of those cool, waterfall dwelling birds, distant scanning revealed a suspicious pale chook perched right at the top of a wide crown of a big bare tree. Yep, sure enough, female Snowy Cotinga!

She was far off but she was certain. As a reminder that familiar birds from the north have amazing bird encounters during the winter, a beautiful male Baltimore Oriole perched next to her for a moment. If only migrant birds could talk, what stories they could tell!

As a bonus, while leaving, we had nice looks at a Laughing Falcon.

Lowland Rainforest 2

Birding at the edge of La Selva was good but it was just a brief interlude. After picking up morning coffee at the local Musmani bakery, I figured we might as well bird another good spot. There was a lot more to see, might as well bird the area for another two hours and see what happens.

I drove back on the road behind Chilamate. Given that the bridge at the end of the road is still out, the one that leads you back to the main road near Tirimbina, it was surprising to see several cars. Where could they be going? Wasn’t this a birders only road? No, but it seems like it should be.

Back there in the forest, as I had hoped, we found a mixed flock of larger birds that I usually run into there. It typically consists of a bunch of Chestnut-headed Oropendolas, woodpeckers, Black-striped Woodcreeper, Rufous Mourner, and other species.

The best of those other species are White-fronted Nunbirds. We enjoyed excellent views of the coral-billed birds while watching the other regulars. A pair of Black-crowned Antshrike also showed, Slaty-breasted Tinamous gave its low call from the forest, and other birds sounded off.

The birding was good and complete with a sweet send off- a shrieking White Hawk soaring low and transluscent. Oh yeah, and as another daily bird bonus, we had two more Snowy Cotingas; distant, shining white spots high in the canopy.

Lunch Highlights

We could have stayed longer in the lowlands. Heck, the avian rich area merits days of birding. But we had places to be, one of those being Cinchona.

The good old Cafe Colibri was a perfect stop for an early lunch accompanied by birds. This classic site wasn’t as active as other days and the birds were very nervous. We didn’t see it but some raptor must have been recently stalking the area. The way the birds were acting, it probably caught something too!

Even so, we still saw most of the usual good stuff. Both barbets, toucanet, tanagers, Black-bellied Hummingbird, and Coppery-headed Emerald. It was still good but since we seemed to have seen everything, we only stayed for an hour.

Cloud Forest Highlights

The next stop for this birdy day was upper cloud forest habitats near Varablanca. Perhaps thanks to cloud cover and recent rain, bird activity was good there too.

Collared Redstart showed, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers perched up, and other cloud forest birds appeared. One of the best was one we didn’t see but heard loud and clear. Bellbird!

There’s a small population of Three-wattled Bellbirds in and near that area, likely a remnant of a much larger population from much more forested times. I hear about reports but, when birding Varablanca, I never seem to catch up with those extra special cotingas. It was nice to finally hear one there, I’m eager to return and see if it’s still around.

The bellbird was a bonus but the prize must go to the quetzals. I see Resplendent Quetzals in that area quite often. However, they move around and are kind of shy. I might find 6 one day and then none on the next visit!

Luckily, the other day, there were at least four quetzals, looked like two males and two females. The major birds were calling, gave some good looks, and the males did their fluttering flight displays a couple of times. Can’t ask for better than that!

That was our last stop and it wasn’t even 2 in the afternoon. The drive back was fog, some rain, and then traffic in the Central Valley. As a bonus, while waiting in a line of cars near the City Mall, we had a flyover Yellow-naped Parrot.

That critically endangered species was a nice end to another fine day of birding in Costa Rica. Check out the eBird trip report. To learn about the sites we visited, search this blog and get “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”, a 900 plus page ebook bird finding guide for Costa Rica and more. I hope you see some fluttering quetzals, and hope to see you here!

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Birding in Costa Rica at Ceiba de Orotina and Tarcoles- Highlights and Tips

This past Sunday, my partner and I did a quick morning trip to the Pacific lowlands. That would mean sites just to the west of the Central Valley, hot places down the continental slope. It’s a pretty easy trip and it’s always tempting because this route promises birds.

You should see this one.

To be honest, that’s par for the course in birdy Costa Rica. However, at Ceiba de Orotina, some of those birds might also be rare and unexpected species for Costa Rica.

Ever since I guided someone in the Ceiba de Orotina area and saw a bunch of Grasshopper Sparrows, I’ve been thinking about that place. We also saw Violet-green Swallows and I’d like to see those again too, see if I can parse out a Tree Swallow, maybe a Cave Swallow. Both are uncommon species for Costa Rica, putting them on your year list is always a sweet bonus.

I’ve wanted to see those sparrows again too. We don’t see a heck of a lot of those cool, flat-headed little birds. It’s nice to get reacquainted with them, bring me back to structured grass at roadside stops in Kansas. Being such a “good year” for feathered Grasshoppers, I’m betting some other sparrows are out there too. A few Larks, Savannahs, and maybe something rarer for Costa Rica.

I had those sparrows on the mind as I packed drinks and snacks for the following morning. Ideally, going to the site would mean getting there before dawn and listening for the raspy coughs of a Northern Potoo and other birds of the night.

However, since such a starting time translates to leaving home at 3 a.m., it tends to be a tough one to manage. Instead, we traded potoos for sleep and got there around 6:30. That was still good! There were still birds a plenty.

After birding the patches of dry forest and open fields for a bit, our next stop on the birding agenda was Tarcoles. The following are some highlights and tips from that morning of birding:

Ceiba de Orotina = Easy Birding and a Good Selection of Birds

This spot consists of a long road that passes through open fields, some agriculture, and a few patches of tropical dry forest. There’s also a seasonal marsh on the road that leads to Cascajal.

It’s all good, it’s all birdy, and you’ll see a lot. However, you want to be there early, well before the tropical sun is unleashed to bake the land. Our Sunday visit was typical. There were some Turquoise-browed Motmots on the wires, Gartered Trogons calling, and a few Double-striped Thick-Knees in the fields.

Thick-knees are odd, fun birds to see.

There were fair numbers of seed-eating birds but, oddly enough, we didn’t see any Grasshopper Sparrows! While scanning one field of tall dry grass, I did see a sparrow fly and disappear into the vegetation but, alas, it did not reappear. That was unfortunate because I thought it may have been a Savannah.

Oh well, we still saw lots of other cool birds. There were lots of Blue Grosbeaks, some tan and shining blue Indigo Buntings, and a few pleasant green female Painted Buntings. At one point, as I whistled like a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (which we also saw), at least a dozen Blue Grosbeaks decorated a small tree!

We also had several nice resident species including one White-necked Puffbird, a few Long-tailed Manakins, Striped Cuckoo, and various other birds.

It’s Always Good for Raptors

Ceiba de Orotina is also a good place for raptors. Pearl Kite can appear along with Crane Hawk and other uncommon species. Although we didn’t see those, we were pleased with Northern Harrier (a good year bird for Costa Rica), Harriss’s Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Merlin, American Kestrel, Gray Hawks, and both caracaras.

Expect the Unexpected

This site is also an excellent place for odd and unexpected species. It’s really worth checking because the site has played host to Aplomado Falcon, King Vulture, and even Burrowing Owl!

On our visit, our best birds may have been a couple of Mourning Doves and two Mangrove Cuckoos. I know, Mourning Doves? While yes, that is sort of laughable, in Costa Rica, they are pretty uncommon and local.

The cuckoos weren’t incredibly surprising (they can winter in open, dry forest habitats), but you can’t really expect them. They were pretty nice to see!

Tarcoles is Hot

After La Ceiba, we were off to Tarcoles, which, like other places in the Pacific lowlands, is ovenish. Get in your birding early because after 9, it’s all about the burn and searching out the ice cream.

Be prepared for 90 degree weather and bring the hydration.

Tarcoles Can Get Busy on the Weekends

On weekends, Tarcoles can get busy. By that, I mean temporary traffic jams on the crocodile bridge, lots of cars, and, most importantly, people frolicking in the Tarcoles creek.

That would be the small river that flows through the southern edge of town. The outlet can attract gulls and other odd birds but not during the prime frolicking times (such as Saturdays and Sundays).

It is a good place for Scarlet Macaws though…

The River Mouth is Pretty Far

Tarcoles is also where a fair-sized river empties into the ocean. It’s the same river that has the crocs and boat tours to see them (and lots of birds too!).

In the past, one could drive to Playa Azul and pretty easily see the river mouth in all of its birdy glory. Sadly, since then, the river mouth has shifted to the north and out of sight.

You can still see it but you really need to take one of those boat tours. If not, you could be death marching it along the beach for at least a kilometer and maybe more. This ain’t no easy beach stroll. I bet the early morning isn’t so bad but after then, it’s a long, way too hot walk with no guarantees on birds.

Want to see the river mouth? Go for the boat.

Drive Back to the Central Valley Before Noon

If you plan on driving back to San Jose and other parts of the Central Valley on Sunday, don’t wait until after lunch. Too many other people do that and when they start the drive back, they can clog up the roads from Jaco all the way to Atenas.

Instead, leave by 11 or noon at the latest. That’ll avoid spending an extra hour in really slow traffic.

Ceiba de Orotina is a good, easy place for a morning of birding. So is a Tarcoles boat ride, especially because you can check out the river mouth. Stay in that area for a few days and you’ll see lots more! Just make sure you get up really early, have plenty to drink, and stay out of the sun.

To learn more about this and hundreds of other birding sites in Costa Rica, support this blog by getting my 900 plus page Costa Rica bird finding guide. The birding in Costa Rica is pretty darn good, I hope to see you here!

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Highlights from Birding Costa Rica, 2023

Birding in Costa Rica in 2023 was 12 months of tanagers, quetzals, puffbirds, and more. Always much more.

Living and birding in a nation jam-packed with biodiversity promises good birding, pretty much all the time. To define “good birding”, I would say it’s having a fair chance of watching a healthy variety of birds with little effort. If you are headed to Costa Rica soon, consider yourself lucky because when you are birding in Costa Rica, good birding is the norm.

For me, this past year was stamped with a number of birding highlights including the following. I hope they give you an idea of local birding delights, where to go birding in Costa Rica, and expectations for this special tropical place.

American Bittern

This rare winter for Costa Rica was a major highlight for local birders. In Costa Rica, we have two main bitterns and three pseudo-bitterns. The two main ones, Least and Pinnated are local and only regular in a few spots. The psuedo-bittern tiger-herons aren’t that tough but since they aren’t really bitterns, I guess we have to leave them in their own vicious heron category anyways.

A juvenile Fasciated Tiger-Heron from Quebrada Gonzalez.

The other bittern possible in Costa Rica is the American Bittern, that water pumping bird of northern marshes. With only a few documented sightings, it’s not exactly regular. This winter, one came on down and picked a small marsh right next to a public road.

Ideal!

Even better, the bird stayed long enough for most local birders to see it! It’s so nice when a twitchable bird stays twitchable for more than a month. A shame the avocet didn’t follow suit but an American Bittern is pretty good compensation for birding in Costa Rica.

Owls

No matter when or where, every owl is a birding highlight. This year, I saw all regular owls except the “Puntarenas Screech-Owl” and that tiny bird of cold mountain nights, the Unspotted Saw-whet Owl. That’s no surprise, I mean I’m not even sure if I even tried for it. Maybe just once. I might still go for it before the year ends although it is kind of cold and desolate up there on Irazu and the high Talamancas.

black-and-white-owl

The other owls were cool though! The last ones Marilen and I saw were a pair of roosting Black-and-white Owls at the Bogarin Trail. They should still be there, ask about them at the entrance.

All 6 Motmots

Motmots are such cool birds. Long weird tails, some jade green, splash of turquoise, these birds are exotic! In Costa Rica, we can also see four of them pretty easily. Those nice birds would be the Lesson’s, Turquoise-browed, Rufous, and Broad-billed.

The other two are a bit more on the tricky side of birding. However, if you know where they live, you can see the Tody Motmot and Keel-billed Motmot too. We got our year Keel-billed at the Bogarin trail just before we saw the owls.

Bare-necked Umbrellabirds

This year, I did alright with the big, rare, crow-like cotinga. I only saw two of them but even seeing one is special as sponge candy. The first was a female spotted by my friend Alec Humann right from the deck of the Arenal Observatory Lodge. The second was a young male that swooped into view on the road to Manuel Brenes.

Major birds! Right now, there should be a few at those sites, Centro Manu, and lowland rainforests like La Selva and Tirimbina.

Major Winter Birds

This year has been pretty exciting for winter birding in Costa Rica. In addition to the afore-mentioned American Bittern, local birders have also found a couple Lincoln’s Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows, American Avocet, American White Pelican, and some other rare species for Costa Rica. One of those choice birds was Costa Rica’s first documented Greater Scaup!

Rarest of all was a Short-eared Owl that showed up at a house in Cartago. As far as megas in Costa Rica go, this would be a triple threat mega, a Steller’s Sea Eagle level mega! Other than this adventurous bird, no Short-eared Owls have been documented in Costa Rica for like more than a century.

It also happened to fly away from that house, there’s a chance it’s wintering in some fields near there… The many pastures and sedge fields of Cartago would seem to be good habitat for it. Hopefully, this star owl has survived and is doing well (and will be found by local birders).

Interestingly enough, both the bittern and the owl can winter in similar habitats. Maybe a few other odd birds are out there. Would a Swamp Sparrow be too much to ask for?

Puntarenas Seabirding

I tell you, the birding is exciting at Puntarenas. At least for me, the seawatching is. Scan back and forth and something eventually flies into view, unexpected and pelagic birds that fly close enough to identify.

This past year, us and other local birders were treated to views of local mega Heerman’s Gull, and rare Herring and Ring-billed Gulls. One fine day, we also scoped a Sabine’s Gull beating the warm humid air with its patterned wings.

Other highlights included Pacific Golden-Plover (maybe the same bird as the previous year?), more than 200 Least Terns, and Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrels. Oh, there was also those mega Peruvian Boobies and Sooty Shearwater too! I wonder what’s on those waters right now?

New Birds for Costa Rica

Really, there’s too many highlights to mention. However, I have to note new birds documented for Costa Rica in 2023. These are Dark-billed Cuckoo and Lesser Kiskadee near Ciudad Neily, a crazy Common Pochard at Lago Angostura, and an anticipated Cattle Tyrant currently being seen at la Gamba!

The year is coming to an end but it’s not over yet! There’s always more birds to see and with the interesting migrants that have occurred, who knows what will show up next? Happy holidays, I hope to meet you while birding in Costa Rica in 2024!

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Costa Rica Birds- Endemic, Near Endemic, and Other Target Species

Costa Rica birds include everything from majestic macaws to surreal Snowcaps and Ornate Hawk-Eagles. These and hundreds of other bird species exist in the diverse habitats of Costa Rica but the ones you see the most will be the common species.

Common birds are fancy too- check out this Lesson’s Motmot!

By definition, common birds like Blue-gray Tanagers, saltators, and kiskadee-type flycatchers are the familiar ones. There’s nothing wrong with seeing those birds, watching them is good for the soul too and if it’s your first trip to the tropics, they’ll be in that precious lifer category.

However, we can also see widely distributed birds in other places, some of them even in southern Texas, many on hundreds of hotel grounds in a myriad of places. It’s not that such birds aren’t special (they are) but if you can only see certain birds in any given place, those are the ones to target.

Even if you say, “As long as I see birds, I don’t care which ones I see”, you really still should go after those target birds. Who knows, maybe at some future time, you’ll wish you would have seen that Coppery-headed Emerald in Costa Rica. Maybe you’ll wish you would have spent more time looking for Wrenthrush than focusing on yet another flitting flowerpiercer?

It’s sort of like visiting Rome without seeing the Trevi Fountain, going to New York without visiting the Bronx Zoo or eating a serious slice of pizza (the main reasons for visiting NYC of course). It should go without saying. when birding in Costa Rica, “make efforts to see those endemics”. After all, you can’t see them anywhere else.

However, I’ll take it one step further and say that not only should you focus on country and regional endemics, you should also watch for the future endemics.

Those would be the birds that might be split, the cryptic taxa with a good chance of “attaining” species level status. The “new” Howell and Dyer field guide does a fair job of bringing a lot of those cases to light. In the Costa Rica Field Guide app, I have also tried to bring attention to such birds (although I need to edit the text for several more), and lists of endemics and possible future splits are also included in “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” (although I have to edit that too!). Some of these taxa are also mentioned or hinted at in eBird but not all of them.

In any case, I figured it would be useful to have a list of country and regional endemics, as well as good candidate birds for those categories. I hope these lists help!

List of Bird Species Endemic to Costa Rica

8 country endemics, three of which are restricted to Cocos Island.

The Mangrove Hummingbird and Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager may have been recently seen in Panama, very close to the border. Also, Guanacaste Hummingbird is a mystery species awaiting rediscovery.

Cocos Cuckoo (Cocos Island)
Coppery-headed Emerald
Mangrove Hummingbird
Cocos Flycatcher (Cocos Island)
Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager
Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow
Cocos Finch (Cocos Island)
Guanacaste Hummingbird (also known as Alfaro’s Hummingbird and only known from one specimen)

List of Bird Species Only Found in Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama (as well as the border area of the Darien in Colombia).


These are 110 bird species and likely species that only occur in the countries listed above. Many are easier to see in Costa Rica because the habitats in which they occur tend to be more accessible.

Black Guan
Black-breasted Wood-Quail
Black-eared Wood-Quail
Chiriquí Quail-Dove
Purplish-backed Quail-Dove
Buff-fronted Quail-Dove
Middle American Screech-Owl (birds that live in northwestern Costa Rica)
Dusky Nightjar
Costa Rican Swift
Veraguan Mango
White-crested Coquette
Talamanca Hummingbird
Fiery-throated Hummingbird
White-bellied Mountain-gem
Purple-throated Mountain-gem
White-throated Mountain-gem
Magenta-throated Woodstar
Volcano Hummingbird (three distinct subspecies in Costa Rica, perhaps there are two or three species involved?)

birding Costa Rica

Scintillant Hummingbird
Garden Emerald
Snowcap
White-tailed Emerald
Black-bellied Hummingbird
Blue-vented Hummingbird
Blue-tailed Hummingbird
Charming Hummingbird
Snowy-bellied Hummingbird
Bare-shanked Screech-Owl
Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl
“Puntarenas” Screech-Owl- the undescribed Megascops that lives in southern Costa Rica and adjacent western Panama.


Baird’s Trogon
Collared Trogon (Orange-bellied Trogon)
Lattice-tailed Trogon
Northern Black-throated Trogon
Prong-billed Barbet
Fiery-billed Aracari
Golden-naped Woodpecker
Hoffmann’s Woodpecker
Rufous-winged Woodpecker
Sulfur-winged Parakeet
Crimson-fronted Parakeet
Red-fronted Parrotlet
Orange-collared Manakin
Velvety Manakin
Turquoise Cotinga
Yellow-billed Cotinga
Snowy Cotinga
Bare-necked Umbrellabird
Three-wattled Bellbird
Gray-headed Piprites
Olive-streaked Flycatcher
Tawny-chested Flycatcher
Dark Pewee
Ochraceous Pewee
Black-capped Flycatcher
Black-hooded Antshrike
Streak-crowned Antvireo
Dull-mantled Antbird
Streak-chested Antpitta (it is very likely that two species are involved- one from Honduras to the Carribean slope of Costa Rica and Panama, and another that ranges from southern Costa Rica to western Ecuador).

Thicket Antpitta (it is very likely that at least two species are involved- one in Costa Rica and western Panama, and another that ranges from the Darien to western Ecuador)


Black-headed Antthrush (it is very likely that at least two species are involved- one in Costa Rica and western Panama, and another that ranges from the Darien to western Ecuador)

Black-crowned Antpitta
Silvery-fronted Tapaculo
Spot-crowned Woodcreeper (it is very likely that the taxon in Costa Rica and Panama are a valid species)

Ruddy Treerunner
Buffy Tuftedcheek
Chiriqui Foliage-gleaner
Streak-breasted Treehunter
Yellow-winged Vireo
Silvery-throated Jay
Azure-hooded Jay (studies have shown it probably be split soon)
Black-and-yellow Silky-Flycatcher
Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher
Black-throated Wren
Riverside Wren
Stripe-breasted Wren
Ochraceous Wren
Timberline Wren
Isthmus Wren
Canebrake Wren
Black-faced Solitaire
Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush
Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush (studies have shown it probably be split soon)

Sooty Robin
Yellow-crowned Euphonia
Spot-crowned Euphonia
Golden-browed Chlorophonia
Tawny-capped Euphonia
Flame-throated Warbler
Sooty-capped Chlorospingus
Volcano Junco
Sooty-faced Finch
Yellow-thighed Brushfinch
Large-footed Finch
Costa Rican Brushfinch
Wrenthrush
Nicaraguan Grackle
Collared Redstart
Black-cheeked Warbler
Costa Rican Warbler
Black-thighed Grosbeak
Carmiol’s Tanager
Blue-and-gold Tanager
Black-and-yellow Tanager
White-throated Shrike-Tanager
Sulphur-rumped Tanager
Spangle-cheeked Tanager
Nicaraguan Seed-Finch
Peg-billed Finch
Slaty Flowerpiercer

Isolated Subspecies that Live in Costa Rica and Panama that may or may not be separate species

These are various bird species with isolated populations in Costa Rica and Panama. Studies could end up splitting some. Always good to see in any case!

Highland Tinamou
Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge
Marbled Wood-Quail
Spotted Wood-Quail
Band-tailed Pigeon
Middle American Screech-Owl (birds that live in northwestern Costa Rica)
Hairy Woodpecker
Resplendent Quetzal
Northern Emerald Toucanet
White-crowned Manakin
Sharpbill
Mountain Elaenia (birds in Central America sound different from birds in South America)
Nutting’s Flycatcher
Black-crowned Antpitta (the subspecies that occurs in Costa Rica and western Panama looks and sounds a bit different from birds in central-west Panama)
Ochre-breasted Antpitta


Gray-throated Leaftosser
Black-banded Woodcreeper
Strong-billed Woodcreeper
Streaked Xenops
Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner
Brown-throated Parakeet
Rosy Thrush-Tanager
White-eared Ground-Sparrow
Green Shrike-Vireo (different subspecies on each side of the mountains)
Scaly-breasted Wren
Black-bellied Wren
Bay Wren
White-breasted Wood-Wren
Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush (the taxon from southern Costa Rica and western Panama)
Olive-crowned (Chiriqui) Yellowthroat
Ashy-throated Chlorospingus
Orange-billed Sparrow (subspecies on each side of the mountains sing quite differently)
Cherries´s (Scarlet-rumped) Tanager
Variable Seedeater

To make the birding in Costa Rica even more exciting, some species in the cloud forests of northern Costa Rica are distinct subspecies that may end up warranting species status too!

Those include subspecies of Silvery-throated Tapaculo, Fiery-throated Hummingbird*, Black-and-Yellow Silky-Flycatcher, and other birds. It seems like the more we look, the more biodiverse our planet is.

So, there’s a nice list of birds to think about when you go birding in Costa Rica! Seem overwhelming? You won’t be alone. With well over 900 species to keep in mind, birdwatching in Costa Rica is naturally mindboggling.

Even so, it’s always good to know about endemics, and birds to look for. While looking for these, you’ll also see lots more. Happy birding, I hope to see you here!

Learn about the best places to see these birds in my bird finding guide for Costa Rica. To learn about itineraries that can target these birds, contact me at [email protected].

*Thanks to local birder Tyler Wenzel for reminding me about that.

Here’s a downloadable PDF version of these lists:

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Highlights from Two Days of Birding in Costa Rica

What can you see in two days of birding in Costa Rica? Like anywhere, experience is a function of location. In the birding way of things, we also need to factor in weather, time, and local birding knowledge. Beyond that, what we see depends on how those birds want to roll.

In Costa Rica, how the birds roll is where a mixed flock happens to move (will it cross your path?), if birds feed within your field of view, and if the skulkers opt to come out and play.

During the past seven days, I was birding in the Poas and Cinchona area one day and at sites near San Ramon the next. There was some overlap but we saw a good bunch of birds. No surprise there, it happens when you visit quality habitats in Costa Rica.

In addition to sharing birds with a wonderful bunch of people, these were some of the other highlights.

Wrenthrush

Wren what? Thrush? Wren? What’s going on with that funny little bird! Wrenthrush is certainly unique but personally, I prefer using the one and only name for its genus, “Zeledonia”.

Wrenthrush.

It’s a snappy sounding name, a one of a kind word for a one of a kind bird. It really is one of a kind too, I mean, has its own familia and everything. Yeah, what used to be an aberrant warbler is the only member of a bird family endemic to the highlands of Costa Rica and Panama.

And we had perfect looks at one on the road to Poas.

the bird’s not rare, I often hear them along that road and many other suitable spots but whether they let you see them or not, yeah, that’s another birding story.

Luckily, we had wonderful close looks at the orange-crowned, stub-tailed bird known as the Wrenthrush. I look forward to subsequent trips to wet highland forest where I can experience more of this special little bird.

Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow near San Ramon

The skulky ways and scattered populations of the endemic ground-sparrow can present challenges to seeing one. You’ll do best if you look for them early, like 6 a.m. In common with all local birds, you also need to look for them in the right places.

One such place is a site just outside of San Ramon. In my Costa Rica bird finding book, this site is known as 4.1 a UCR Campus San Ramon. In looking at what I wrote, I think I need to edit it and say that you can see a surprising number of bird species on the dirt road along the southern edge of the campus.

This dirt road is also a great spot to find the ground-sparrow but in testament to its skills at hiding, we only saw one and it took some effort to see it. We eventually got great looks but it wasn’t easy!

This spot was also bouncing with other birds. Long-tailed Manakin, several wren species, various wintering warblers, a couple woodcreepers, and more, the birds kept us busy!

White Hawk at Close Range

After our successful date with the ground-sparrow, we checked some roadside cloud forest along the road that passes through the Reserva Valle de Los Quetzales. I was hoping we would see a quetzal but nope, instead, the birding was fairly subdued.

We still managed excellent close views of a White Hawk and saw some middle elevation species like Collared Trogon, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, and Scarlet-thighed Dacnis.

Coppery-headed Emerald, Black-bellied Hummingbird, and a Bunch of Other Mini Dazzlers

Between birding around Poas and sites near San Ramon, we had a good bunch of hummingbirds, 17 species in total. This included wonderful, detailed views of Coppery-headed Emerald, a svelte male Black-bellied Hummingbird, and miniscule Scintillant Hummingbirds among other species.

As usual, on Poas, the Fiery-throated Hummingbirds entertained while Volcano Hummingbirds did their bee-like thing. Crowned Woodnymphs also dazzled at the Cocora, and we took in the bright beauty of a Purple-crowned Fairy near Varablanca.

Cinchona

Speaking of hummingbirds, this classic spot delivered several species including Violet Sabrewing, the aforementioned Black-bellied, Coppery-headed Emeralds, and some other species.

Black-bellied Hummingbird

It was also good for the other usual suspects along with a hungry Black Guan and occasional looks at Buff-fronted Quail-Dove down below. Northern Emerald Toucanet ghosted but maybe it will be there next time? Consolation happened with both barbet species, Crimson-collared Tanager, and other sweet birds in beautiful surroundings.

Despite poor weather on Poas and Cinchona, and windy, sunny weather near San Ramon, we still identified 150 species. Check out the eBird trip report. Two days birding is always good in Costa Rica, just about anywhere you bring the binos. Headed to Costa Rica soon? Practice using those bins and get ready for some major bird action!

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5 Things Learned from Chasing American Avocets in Costa Rica

Recently, there have a few twitchworthy birds in Costa Rica. Lesser Black-backed Gull in Tarcoles- second country record, first chasable bird! American Avocet at Ensenada- a very rare vagrant scything the brine for several days! White-eyed Vireo also at Ensenada- rare vagrant, good bird to see in Costa Rica!

All present for more than one day, tempting for the Costa Rica birder, and all very twitchworthy. This past Thursday, temptation had its way and we found ourselves driving to Ensenada Wildlife Refuge. The plan was to see the avocet, maybe even visit the shorebird hotspot at Punta Morales, and keep tabs on the Tarcoles gull situation.

Ensenada is also a good spot for Spot-breasted Oriole.

At least that was the plan, here’s what happened, here’s what I learned. Even if you don’t chase vagrant migrants in Costa Rica, the following just might help your regular birding in Costa Rica too.

“Twitchworthiness” Doesn’t Guarantee Anything

When you start following the birding way, it doesn’t take long to learn some hard truths. Among those many birding facts of life, we quickly find that birders like to make a weird hissing noise referred to as “pishing”, that warblers look a lot nicer in spring, and that owls verge on being invisible.

It’s pretty nice when they become visible.

We also learn that just because we think we’ll see a particular bird species, noy an ounce of your confidence and faith will make that bird materialize. Beyond field skills, birding is sort of a game of chance. You can use weather, time of day, and other factors to nudge the odds in your direction but nothing’s guaranteed.

But hey, there are upsides to birding chance! You might find something rare! You might see the unexpected and if you pay attention, you’ll always learn a thing or two.

On our avocet chase, I was reminded that even if the bird was seen one day before, it doesn’t have to be there. Twittering flocks of Western Sandpipers were present. Wilson’s Plovers, yellowlegs, stilts, and other expected shorebirds rested and picked in the mud of Ensenada’s brine pools but nope, no neat bird with the extra fine, upturned beak.

We ran into other birding friends, notable our friends from Birding Experiences but even with more eyes looking and checking every pond, the avocet was no more. Well, we thought, at least we can check for the vireo a la white eyes! We knew just where another guide friend had found it, right where to pish and make pygmy-owl sounds. That little thicket dweller was destined for the birding bag.

But, no, the vireo didn’t want to come out either. I can’t blame it, if two-legged beings were making funny noises at me while the tropical sun baked the land, yeah, I would ignore them too.

Noon isn’t the Best Time for Birding on the Pacific Coast

Yeah, a better time to look for those White-eyed Vireos would have been much earlier in the day. You know, when birds are active and calling because it’s a lot more comfortable when it’s not a stifling, windless 90 plus degrees.

So right, why would we go birding in a natural oven at high noon? Our decision was based on upping the birding odds in our favor. On Thursday, noon was high tide and that there is prime time for shorebirds in Costa Rica. At low tide, most of the sandpipers and plovers forage way out on the mud flats in the Gulf of Nicoya. They spread out too and many are just too far away to watch.

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Distant mud flats at Chomes.

You gotta visit the shorebird spot at high tide, check the salt pools and other places where they congregate. In keeping with the no-guarantee rule for birding, they might not be at the pools you happen to be checking but hey, what are you gonna do? Stay home and not watch birds instead of being lasered by the long vertical hands of Helios?

Not necessarily! However, you could forget that noon birding stuff and stick to pleasant and productive birding efforts in the morning and late afternoon. You don’t have to stay home either. Like, you could find an ice cream shop or enjoy cold drinks in some shaded place until 3 in the afternoon. I mean, that’s sort of what the birds do anyways…

Slow Ride, Take it Easy…

Another benefit of leaving extra early is avoiding the traffic. You won’t be exempt from bumbling trucks and slow blocky vehicles and other oddities but there won’t be as many. It’ll still be better than driving at other times.

I can’t emphasize enough, on roads in Costa Rica, drive real early or give yourself some extra time! It really is slow going, especially on the highway between Puntarenas and somewhere around Limonal. I suppose at least when you drive slow, you have a better chance of spotting some perched raptor or maybe even finding a Northern Potoo. But please remember to leave that bird searching to the passengers. The driver has to constantly watch for pot holes, bad drivers, and other weird stuff.

Late Afternoon Dining in Puntarenas- a Big Yes!

We did not see the twitchworthy birds, and our extra side trip to the Colorado salt pans added on quite a bit of unexpected driving time but at least we visited Puntarenas!

We got there just in time for a late afternoon meal at the Isla Cocos Bar and Grill. Let me tell you, 4 p.m. could be the best time to visit this small seaside city. From our outdoor seating, we had a beautiful view of the gulf of Nicoya, Franklin’s Gulls picked at the shoreline, and other birds flew by.

While scanning the gulf from my seat, I even saw a distant storm-petrel sp.! Wish I would have had more time to scan for seabirds but we were hungry, we needed a real meal. Along those gastronomic lines, the Isla Cocos Bar and Grill delivered. I very much recommend it and not just because they support sustainable fishing. The food was good and the owner also offers boat trips into the Gulf!

Don’t Do Ensenada as a Day Trip

I used to visit Ensenada and Punta Morales as a day trip from the Central Valley. And yeah, you still could but it’ll just be a longer day than it used to be. Birding time has been reduced by traffic and the roadwork situation to the point where it’s hardly worth it to drive back and forth from that area.

I guess you still could if you left the Central Valley at 4 a.m. but even then, it’ll be a lot more fun and relaxing to bird the coast early and stay somewhere in that area for a night or two, maybe even in Puntarenas or at Ensenada Lodge. That way, you can have plenty of time to check shorebird spot, dry forest, and do seawatching and even boat trips from Puntarenas. There will also be plenty of time for mid-day siestas, cool drinks, and breezy tropical ocean views.

Ensenada, Punta Morales, and other shorebird sites also work well as birding stops as you make your way north to Guanacaste.

On Thursday, we dipped on the avocet and vireo, and we didn’t even try for the gull (which has also gone AWOL). However, we of course still saw other birds (a foraging Gull-billed Tern was a highlight), enjoyed a nice seaside meal, and learned a thing or two. It was also nice to end the birding portion of the day by listening to the rumbling gruff voices of duetting Spectacled Owls near Orotina.

There will always be more birds to chase and as I write, there’s certainly many more birds to find. Time to go look for them! Just not at noon…

To learn more about the birding sites mentioned and prepare for your fantastic birding trip to Costa Rica, get “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”, a 900 page site guide ebook for Costa Rica with accurate bird lists, tips for identification, finding birds, and more. I hope to see you here!

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Recommendations for Birding Costa Rica- December, 2023

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

Tawny-faced Quails are very difficult birds to see. In Costa Rica, they occur in hilly lowland and adjacent foothill rainforest in the northern part of the country.

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:

  1. Most coverage occurs at the same sites and main birding circuits.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.

He sometimes has Crested Owl on the premises.

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!

While looking for White-fronted Nunbirds, you should also find plenty of other nice bird species.

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!

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American Bittern Twitch in Costa Rica

Last week I wrote about some of the latest in Costa Rica birding news. As happens, shortly after mentioning avocets, warblers, and chances at Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoos, another major birdworthy sighting cam to light.

As it turns out, on October 22, local birder and photographer Christian Bonilla found a mega of mega birds for Costa Rica. The American Bittern is not a colorful bird, nor is it endangered or a species difficult to see in its usual cold marsh range. But it most definitely is a major bird for Costa Rica!

You see, we just don’t see American Bitterns in Costa Rica. We see other hefty herons, especially the Bare-throated Tiger-Herons like the bird pictured above. But not American Bitterns.

Sort of like the White-faced Whistling-Duck and Short-eared Owl, the American Bittern is on the official Costa Rica bird list but it’s more of an historic species. It’s a bird from times when the Central Valley was a mosaic of wetlands, moist woodlands, and farmlands.

It’s also important habitat for the Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow.

That was some 100 years ago. Since then, the wetlands have been mostly drained and whatever birds wintered in such places have likewise left for other, more suitable places. Given the destruction of wetlands in the Central Valley, I figured that the bittern was one of those species very unlikely to appear in these lands.

I mean, much of its former wintering sites in Costa Rica were destroyed long ago, and the species can just happily winter in other sites much closer to its breeding grounds. Why would any of these hefty herons bother flying all the way to Costa Rica?

At least that’s what I thought. It’s why I merely wrote “Hope to chance upon one in marsh habitat.” in the “How to see this bird” section of its description in the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app. I suppose that advice for seeing an American Bittern in Costa Ricas still holds true but I would also add, “Watch for this rare wintering species in seasonal freshwater marshes, especially in the highlands.”

Not that birders visit Costa Rica to see American Bitterns but hey, you never know.

However, in 2023, one did fly all the way here. Actually, since there have been a couple other likely sightings during the past 20 years, other adventurous American Bitterns have probably also made the trip. Those birds just weren’t documented like this one was.

This sighting makes me wonder if a bittern or two has always wintered in Costa Rica. I mean, they aren’t exactly obvious, many wetland sites in Costa Rica aren’t very accessible, and we don’t have birders combing every corner of the country.

Although it was found in late October, local birders kept the sighting on the downlow because they were concerned that photographers could drive the bittern away. Fortunately, last week, they changed their minds, the American Bittern location was released and the twitch was on!

On Sunday morning, hoping to avoid any crowds and to have a better chance at seeing the bird, we visited the site bright and early. The spot is a small, seasonal marsh just outside of Paraiso de Cartago, right next to a puddled, dirt road that sees runners, cyclists, and plenty of other passersby.

As we discovered, it’s also a beautiful area of habitat. The small marsh is bordered by scrubby habitat that bounced with Morelet’s Seedeaters, Gray-crowned Yellowthroats, and beautiful little black-backed Lesser Goldfinches.

Gray-crowned Yellowthroats are pretty common in brushy fields.

Scanning in the back, I saw a thrush-sized black bird with white shoulders flit through my field of view. White-lined Tanager! Off to the left, a suspicious dirt clump morphed into a hunched over Green Heron. White-throated Crakes sizzled from the grass, saltators, and other Northern Jacanas also chattered.

I tell you, it was one heck of a beautiful morning in that fresh Cartago air.

There were also nearby woodlands we did not explore. They could have held some rare warbler, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did but we had another bird to look for. There was that bittern somewhere out there, somehow hiding.

With such a small area, several birders looking for it, and no one seeing it, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were one day too late. Was it going to be like the failed pochard twitch? Could the bird have left? It certainly could have. I mean, it’s a migrant that doesn’t need to stick around, a bird that could just up and leave whenever the heck it wants.

And therein lies the multi-pronged challenge of the twitch. Not only do you need to find the bird, you also have to accept that you just might not see it. You gotta quell the roots of anxiety, go Zen and accept that your Ross’s Gull may have been eaten by a Great Horned Owl (that happened to me once). You don’t have to remove the anxiety but since living stress-free is healthier living, taking that Zen route really is best.

Going Zen birding might also help you see the bird. Forget that no one is seeing it. Instead, think about why no one is seeing the bittern. Let’s see, it hides extremely well, even in bits of habitat, and doesn’t need to move. Think about that as I scan the reeds again, carefully look and hope to see some bit of a bird, some brown piece that doesn’t quite fit.

I scanned and still no dice, not even after double and triple scanning. Hmm, maybe from another angle. For some reason, I walked up an embankment and scanned from a different angle. And there the bird was, obvious as can be!

At least as obvious as a bittern head partially obscured by reeds can be. But seriously, there it was, very much visible way back in that small marsh, at just one angle. Move a few steps to the right and there was only reeds and singing seedeaters. Check from the left and there wasn’t any bittern, a complete forget about it.

Fortunately, though, our American Bittern had not given up on Paraiso de Cartago. We could all see it from that one spot! It wasn’t a full, on stage view of a bird begging for attention but we could focus in on it. There was its pale eye, the coffee brown colors in its plumage, stretching its neck up to look way back at us. Photographers would have preferred different views but seeing it through the reeds somehow seemed more realistic, more in line with the classic bittern experience.

It reminded me of the bitterns I had seen pretending to be cattails in upstate New York, of chunky northern herons that shared space with calling Virginia Rails, Soras, and witchety yellowthroats. This one was sharing space with another yellowthroat species, was stalking frogs in a very different locale but there it was. An American Bittern in Costa Rica. Heerman’s Gull, American Bittern, Lesser Kiskadee, what’s will be next on the twitching list?

Thankfully, lots of local birders have been seeing the bittern these past few days. A good thing too because with its little marsh steadily trying out, who knows how long it will stay? This might be the only American Bittern they see, I hope it does us a favor and stays long enough for everyone to take in that bittern experience.

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Costa Rica Birding News- November, 2023

November is that transition between fall and winter, the time of lead-gray skies, gull flocks and hints of snow. In Niagara, scan the cold waves chopping the lake and you could spot a big white owl flying in from the north. Keep watching the hundreds of ducks on the move, you could see an eider, will likely test the numb level limit of your hands. But the freeze test might be worth it, you could see something truly crazy (like an unbelievable Short-tailed Shearwater apparently!).

The August migrants are long gone from the north but I can tell you where they went. I know where the Baltimore Orioles are living it up, where the Wilson’s Warblers are chipping and the Prothonotary’s are holding sway. We’re seeing plenty in Costa Rica, here’s some other news for November, maybe even for the upcoming high season too:

American Avocet

The avocet has landed! We don’t get very many of these extra elegant birds, not in Costa Rica. One turns up every so often but the event ain’t annual. As with most past sightings, 2023’s avocet appeared on the Pacific Coast. Local birders have been twitching it at one of the better spots for shorebirds; Ensenada Refuge.

I hope it stays long enough for us to see it too. Heck, I hope it stays all winter. If you see one, even if it doesn’t seem all that exciting, please eBird it, local birders will be sending gratitude.

Lost Warblers

Other birds that Costa Rica isn’t known for are Palm Warbler, Prairie Warbler, and Black-throated Blue Warbler. Recently, all three species have been seen, hopefully they’ stick around too. We don’t get too many of this trio of Caribbean wintering birds, it would be nice to catch up.

In all likelihood, there’s surely more of these and other rare wintering warblers in Costa Rica. The problem is they could be anywhere, a “place” where we just don’t have people birding. One can only pish so much. How to find those birds? All you can do is get out birding, keep birding, be fast on the bino draw, and go with the birding flow.

Corso has Been Good

I’ve had the pleasure of stopping at the Corso Farm on several recent occasions. Each visit has been pretty productive, has yielded several hummingbirds. The best have been Scintillant Hummingbird and Magenta-throated Woodstar. The woodstar comes and goes but the Scintillants are usually present.

Their minute dimensions might keep them hiding from the other hummingbirds but keep watching, they’ll eventually come out.

Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo at Pocosol…

This mega is always at that site but will you see it? Of course that is the constant and most important birding question. Recently, one was seen with a youngster, right next to the station! I think that’s a pretty good sign they’ll be around.

If you visit, give yourself enough time to find those ants. They’ll be lots of other birds to look at too! Check out my birding site guide for Costa Rica to learn more about this fantastic site and hundreds of other key places to go birding in Costa Rica.

Lots of Rain this Month- Be Prepared

Last but not least, there’s been a lot of rain going on. That’s expected for November but it’s still worth mentioning. You see, these rains can cause landslides and they always generate local flooding.

They’ll probably be gone in a month but if birding Costa Rica in the meantime, keep an eye on weather conditions, limit time on Route 32, and be extra careful around Parrita, Ciudad Neily, and most areas on the Pacific Coast.

I suppose that’s about it for now. I could also mention that there’s awesome tanager flocks, calling antbirds, soaring Ornate Hawk-Eagles, and more but as newsworthy as they sound, when birding in Costa Rica, those and hundreds of other birds are wonderfully regular. Get ready for your trip with the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, I hope to see you here!

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Lessons Learned on October Global Big Day, Costa Rica, 2023

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.

buff-fronted-quail-do
Buff-fronted Quail-Dove- one of the quail-doves seen.

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.

What Punta Morales should look like.

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.

birding Costa Rica
We only heard Gray-headed Tanager but that was enough to count it.

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!