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How Many Hummingbird Species Can you see in Costa Rica in Just One Day?- a Plan of Attack

Costa Rica is a great place for seeing a bunch of hummingbirds. As with most places frequented by those fairy-like, feathered dynamos, a high percentage of species are fairly easy to see as long as you know where feeders and the right types of flowering plants can be found. The range of habitats accessible in a pretty small area also makes it possible to see several species in one day. By “several”, I don’t mean 5 or 6 but something along the lines of 15 to 20. Although I haven’t tried this yet, I bet you could even see even more during a day of birding in Costa Rica. Although the numbers are still going to be less than such a sugar-high endeavor in hummingbird crazy Ecuador or Colombia, it would still be fun to try.

With the focus on hummingbirds, here is one possible route for some serious hummingbird madness in Costa Rica:

Start out at the El Tapir. This defunct butterfly and hummingbird garden pulls in 7 to 8 species on a regular basis and is the most accessible spot in the country for the eye numbing Snowcap.

Male Snowcap

While the female isn’t going to cause any birding related seizures, the male just might when the sun lights up his amazing burgundy plumage offset by a brilliant white crown. In addition to the Snowcap (1), this site would also have a good chance of turning up the following species:

2. Black-crested Coquette
3. Green Thorntail
4. Brown Violetear
5. Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer
6. Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
7. Violet-headed Hummingbird
8. Violet-crowned Woodnymph
9. Long-billed Hermit
10. Green Hermit

We would probably also get a flyby (11.) Stripe-throated Hermit before heading over to the Sarapiqui area to check Heliconia patches and flowering bushes for:

12. Blue-chested Hummingbird
13. Bronzy Hermit
14. Band-tailed Barbthroat

That would be our main chance for those species although the hermits could also be had at Carara.

After getting those three key targets, we make a stop at the Nature Pavilion for another chance at the plumeleteer, woodnymph, hermits, and

15. White Necked Jacobin- guaranteed at this site.

It would also give us a good shot at

(16.) Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, a vocal species we would just as likely pick up by ear.
We might also get (17.)Green-breasted Mango.

Continuing uphill, we would make a stop at Virgen del Socorro if we still needed the coquette, Brown Violetear, and Violet-headed Hummingbird. If not, we would probably skip that to stop at the Cafe Colibri in Cinchona. The stocked feeders there should be good for:

18. Coppery-headed Emerald
19. Violet Sabrewing
20. Green-crowned Brilliant
21. Green Violetear
22. White-bellied Mountain-gem

We would also have another chance at Brown Violetear and Green Thorntail.

Further up the road, we would make stops for:

23. Black-bellied Hummingbird
24. Magenta-throated Woodstar

It would probably also be a good idea to pay the steep entrance fee to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens to ensure Black-bellied Hummingbird and in case the feeders and flowering bushes are harboring some rarity.

The next main stop on this day of the hummingbird would be the feeders at the Restaurant Volcan. They should add:

25. Volcano Hummingbird
26. Magnificent Hummingbird
27. Purple-throated Mountain-gem
28. Stripe-tailed Hummingbird

Then, we make a short drive to higher elevations on Poas for

(29.) Fiery-throated Hummingbird.
Hopefully, the Fiery-throated Hummingbird will show us how it got its name.

Somewhere along that route, we will hopefully get lucky with a Green-fronted Lancebill before reaching Poas. Then, we head over to the feeders at the Freddo Fresas restaurant to see if we can turn up a Scintillant Hummingbird for species number 30.

With a good chance at having 30 in the bag, we would head down the Pacific slope and check flowering trees in coffee farms for:

31. Steely-vented Hummingbird
32. Long-billed Starthroat

We might also get lucky with Canivet’s Emerald although we would have a chance for that bird making number 33 at our next main stop, the Guacimo Road, or some other dry forest site near Carara. That same area should also give us:

34. Cinnamon Hummingbird
35. Plain-capped Starthroat

We would also have another chance at Green-breasted Mango and Scaly-breasted Hummingbird around there before hitting the mangroves to try for one of the toughest birds of the day, (36.) Mangrove Hummingbird. Although this Costa Rican endemic lives in the mangroves near Tarcoles and Bajamar, it’s pretty uncommon.

If we still need Bronzy Hermit and Band-tailed Barbthroat, we could try the Heliconias along the Laguna Meandrica trail in Carara National Park. Other than those species, our other main targets would be:

37. Charming Hummingbird- only likely if there are enough trees and bushes with flowers. If it's around, we would have a fair chance of getting it by voice.
38. Blue-throated Goldentail- good chance of at least hearing this one in Carara.

We should pick up (39.) Purple-crowned Fairy at any of the humid lowland and foothill sites,

A Purple-crowned Fairy dive bombing a ginger.

but to hit 40, we would need some luck in getting the Mangrove Hummingbird and Canivet’s Emerald plus at least one of such rarities as White-crested Coquette or White-tipped Sicklebill. However, if we do this day during the winter, I just realized that I had left out one more species that is just about guaranteed, Ruby-throated Hummingbird. With that in mind, I guess 40 is possible if enough flowering plants are scouted out!

biodiversity bird photography Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope high elevations Introduction

A Dozen Birds from Poas to Sarapiqui

Always lots of birds to see in Costa Rica. The more you look, the  more you see, especially when you spend time in birdy habitats. This past week, a couple of days guiding along the Poas-Cinchona-Sarapiqui turned up an expected fine variety of avian species. Since the focus was on getting video footage of birds, we had plenty of photo opportunities including the twelve birds seen below.

In the high elevation habitats on Poas, we had a fair selection of temperate zone species including Buffy Tuftedcheek, brief looks at an over shy male Resplendent Quetzal, Black Guan, and several Fiery-throated Hummingbirds among other species including…

A male Black and yellow Silky Flycatcher spent the entire day in a few fruiting bushes.
Hairy Woodpeckers- not so exciting but an interesting endemic subspecies that is fun to watch.

The Volcan Restaurant is a short drive downslope from the temperate zone and an excellent place for watching hummingbirds (we had 7 species). The forest along the riparian zone at that spot can also be good although we saw little when we were there.

Purple-throated Mountain Gems are one of the most common hummingbird species at that site and elevation.
Stunning Violet Sabrewings are also present.

On Wednesday, we started the day out at the Cafe Colibri in Cinchona. This site continues to be an excellent place for seeing several hummingbirds (we had 8 species) and is great for taking pictures of other birds as well. The day we were there, the cloudy weather was perfect for bird photography.

Happily, Emerald Toucanets showed up to eat papaya and entertain with stunning colors at close range.
The other stars of the show were a pair of Prong-billed Barbets.

After enjoying the hummingbird extravaganza (8 species) and getting close looks at Silver-throated and Common Bush Tanagers, we headed down to the Nature Pavilion, one of the best sites for bird photography in Costa Rica. The lighting was excellent, there was a good amount of activity at and near the feeders, a Rufous-winged Woodpecker called and foraged in the trees behind us, and other lowland species called and flew overhead. It was a memorable morning indeed with constant photography opportunities.

Golden-hooded Tanagers are one of the stunning birds that visit the feeders at the Nature Pavilion.
Green Honeycreepers come in now and then. The male showed up too but didn't stay long enough for me to get a photo.
Red-throated Ant Tanagers come to the feeders too for rare photo opps of this understory species!

The owners make sure that the feeders are filled with papaya and bananas.

Dave Lando, one of the owners of the Nature Pavilion, puts out more papaya for the birds.
Grayish Saltators are one of three saltator species that come to the feeders.

After the Nature Pavilion, we made a quick stop near La Selva and got looks at a busy flock of around a dozen species including (Chestnut-colored Woodpecker) but the birds were too quick to photograph (not to mention rain and dense vegetation also posing challenges to photography). So, we headed back upslope and escaped the rain for a bit. At a roadside lagoon near San Miguel, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat came in for good photos.

Gray-crowned Yellowthroats are pretty common in brushy fields.

Olive-crowned Yellowthroat also responded to its song but wouldn’t come close enough for a photo. However, we did manage to get looks at a much less common species.

The White-throated Flycatcher is a very local species in Costa Rica.

After our stop at the lagoon, we made another quick stop near Cinchona and got looks at Silver-throated Tanagers, Speckled Tanagers, Tropical Parulas, and some other birds before the rains begen to fall in earnest. Always a lot of nice birds to watch in Costa Rica!

bird photography Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope

Want to Take Pictures of Birds in Costa Rica? Visit the Nature Pavilion!

Cameras have come a long way from the days when we worried about our film being affected by x-rays at the airport. Nowadays, while we still call them cameras, the digital photographic devices of the 21st century are on such a different level that perhaps it would be better to refer to them as Digital Image Devices or DIDs if you will. Then you could say, “Yes, I did take those 300 images with my DID”, and “Don’t forget to charge your DID before capturing crushing images of that Crested Guan in Costa Rica”.

Birding Costa Rica
A crushed Crested Guan in Costa Rica.

No matter what we call our digital cameras, they sure are a wonderful leap in technology, especially when you take pictures of birds. You see, getting really good shots of birds requires dozens and even hundreds of shots of every subject because many of our feathered friends are rather hyperactive by nature and have this fondness for hanging out in places with twigs, branches, leaves, and other shutter clutter. Nor do they like to come very close to people (a trait for which we cannot blame them given our overall treatment of our natural surroundings). In ye olde days of Kodak film, you had to be extra careful of every shot you took because you couldn’t afford to waste film and zooming in was the luxury of those who could afford to pay thousands of dollars for a super-sized lens. However, in 2013,  as we are all well aware, those factors have sort of become null and void. With digital photography, you can press that shutter release button just to exercise your finger if you fancy and distance keeps getting closer with higher resolutions and better zoom capabilities.

Nevertheless, you still have to go to the right place to get lots of great photos of birds and the Nature Pavilion has become one of the top places, if not the number one site in Costa Rica for bird photography. David and Dave Lando, the father and son owners of the Nature Pavilion, have made bird photography a main focus (others being environmental education, reforestation, and conservation) of their place and yes, it’s a damn fine place for bird photography!

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The view from the deck of the Nature Pavilion.

I was very pleased to bring a client there this past Sunday because I knew he would get plenty of great shots of a variety of Costa Rican birds, and I love to scan the rainforest canopy from their deck. During a three hour visit, a quick scoping of the treetops revealed such showy species as both large toucans, Red-lored Parrot, Olive-throated Parakeet, Montezuma Oropendola, and Pale-billed Woodpecker. Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher also called from a nearby perch and we could hear Rufous Motmot hooting from down in the woods.

Birding Costa Rica
Distant tree with oropendolas and a toucan at the top.

As you can see, those birds were too far away for good pictures but the close ones more than made up for it. Despite May not being as ideal of a time for birds coming to fruit feeders as the months of December, January, February, and March, I would have to say that we did quite well in terms of bird photography.

White-necked Jacobin is the most abundant hummingbird.

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Male White-necked Jacobin.
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This one was in better light.

Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer also showed up at the edge of the forest and there were a few Rufous-taileds and at least one Scaly-breasted around.

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Check out the pink feet on this rainforest hummingbird.

The fruit feeders were fairly quiet at first but eventually brought in everything from honeycreepers to Collared Aracari.

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Male Red-legged Honeycreepers were common visitors.
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They are kind of unbelievably beautiful birds.
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Female Red-legged Honeycreepers show up too.
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As do Golden-hooded Tanagers.

It was especially nice to get pictures of a Red-throated Ant-Tanager because these guys rarely come out into the open.

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Male Red-throated Ant-Tanager

Given that all of these pictures were digiscoped, you can only imagine the pictures you get with a DSLR! It’s no wonder that lots of pro photographers are coming to the Nature Pavilion and as more of the habitat grows up, it’s only going to get better. ALSO, the Nature Pavilion rents out the spacious, beautiful house with the canopy deck for a price that rivals several of the local eco-lodges. Contact me at [email protected] for details.