The official Costa Rica bird list stands at 932 species but soon, it’s going to hit 933. The bird species about to bump the list up a notch is the Dark-billed Cuckoo, an Austral migrant that was expected for Costa Rica but had never been documented until January 16. When the star bird appeared, a few people wondered if this was the same species I may had seen near Ciudad Neily two years ago. Although they are related, no, that bird was the Pearly-breasted Cuckoo, yet another Austral migrant that could also certainly occur.
That particular sighting was never confirmed to be the Pearly-breasted or the extremely similar Yellow-billed Cuckoo but at least the Dark-billed Cuckoo has been found and documented. Even better, the bird was photographed and subsequently seen by several local birders. If it sticks around, and you bird the rice fields south of the Ciudad Niely hospital, maybe you will see it too! I hope the bird also stays around long enough for me to see it but if not, at least a bunch of other local birders “got” it.
I figured it was a matter of time before a Dark-billed was found in Costa Rica because the species migrates within South America, is fairly common, and has already been documented from Panama, Nicaragua, Belize, and even Texas and Florida. As for it being found near Ciudad Neily, perhaps it’s not a coincidence that one (or maybe two) were seen there; this part of the country seems to routinely attract Coccyzus species cuckoos.
While birding around Ciudad Neily, I have personally seen several Mangrove Cuckoos, the possible Pearly-breasted (but more likely Yellow-billed), and other have also seen Yellow-billed. Perhaps the second growth and woodland edges adjacent to wetlands provide especially good habitat for larvae prey preferred by the cuckoos? Following that line of thought, it’s also interesting to note that, in winter, Mangrove Cuckoos utilize similar habitats at and near Cano Negro (speaking of that hotspot and megas for Costa Rica, Chambita found a Greater Ani there yesterday!).
Whatever the explanation may be, a new species for Costa Rica and other cuckoos are yet one more good reason to go birding around Ciudad Neily. The rice fields and associated wetlands are fun but there’s also other, forested habitats in the same area that harbor an excellent variety of species. To learn more about birding around this hotspot and where to watch birds in Costa Rica, get the second edition of “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”; a 900 plus page bird finding book for Costa Rica and overall birding companion for this birdy country. Go see some cuckoos, I hope to see you here!
Birding in Costa Rica is always exciting.; as far as birding news for Costa Rica goes, honestly, that about sums things up. Go outside, visit any bit of green space and you will certainly see some interesting birds, often, more than expected. Bring the binos to the best habitats and you’ll see a lot more.
You could see a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat.
Even so, there are always some birds of note, some places turning up interesting species, and other information relevant for the visiting birder. As of late, the following are some of the more interesting bits of birding news I have noticed.
Waved Albatross and Tahiti Petrel
Not many people have seen a Waved Albatross in Costa Rica. In this birdy nation, the highly endangered pelagic species from the Galapagos Islands is typically recorded by fishermen off of Cabo Blanco or other parts of the Pacific Coast. The most recent sighting happened a few weeks ago and is a reminder to watch for these and other birds when taking a fishing trip, and impetus to take a pelagic trip focused on birds.
If interested in taking a pelagic trip, contact me at [email protected] . Head offshore and you also have a fair chance at another pelagic species recently seen off of Cabo Blanco; Tahiti Petrel. As it turns out, this long-winged wave master is regular in pelagic waters of Costa Rica. There’s also lots more to see!
Roosting birds are being seen at several sites, at least Great and Common Potoos. As in past years, regular current sites for roosting Great Potoos include Donde Cope (Cope usually knows of a spot or two), Centro Manu, and the Cano Negro area.
There have also been some nice roosting spots for Common Potoo in Cano Negro, the Dominical area, and Sierpe.
As for Northern Potoo, although there aren’t any known and accessible roosting spots at the moment, you might find one in mangroves at Ensenada, Caldera, and Punta Morales as well as other mangrove sites north of Tarcoles. You might also hear or find one in Horizontes or any number of wooded sites in Guanacaste. The bird isn’t exactly rare, it just hides very well and occurs in low density populations.
Costa Rica’s trickiest parrot species is still as tricky as ever. Think of it like a crossbill or other wandering winter finch. Since they roam up and downslope in search of food, you might see (or hear) a few fly over at Cerro de la Muerte, and in any number of Caribbean foothill and middle elevation forest sites.
One reliable spot might be the entrance to the Santa Elena Reserve, as well as in the reserve itself. A few birds have been recorded there recently and while I was birding that site nearly one year ago, I also had a few birds fly over. Get there early, and learn their calls to connect with this mega in miniature.
Aplomado Falcon at Las Trancas
In late December, one of these cool falcons was seen at Las Trancas. This species is likely a rare annual visitor to Costa Rica and can occur at any number of spots, especially places with wide open and marshy habitats. If visiting sites like Las Trancas, farm fields near Filadelfia, or Medio Queso, keep an eye out for this special bird.
Individuals of this much wanted mega species have been recently seen at Centro Manu, La Selva, and, just today (!), on the Waterfall Trail at Arenal Observatory Lodge. Note that they can also occur at various other forested lowland and foothill sites on the Caribbean slope, especially in lowland rainforest at the base of the mountains.
This cool cotinga also carries out altitudinal migrations and is, for the most part, currently in lowland and foothill zones. On the Pacific slope, watch for it in any lowland forest including remnant rainforest in the General Valley (especially near Peje). Interestingly enough, there have also been recent sightings from the Monteverde area; a place where bellbirds usually occur from late February to August.
Cape May and Yellow-Rumped Warblers
Although these species aren’t on the target lists of visiting birders from North America, local birders always hope to see them! If you see any of these or other wintering warblers, please do us a favor and make sure to eBird them (most visiting eBirding birders do and we appreciate it!).
There seem to be several Cape-Mays around, most are usually seen hanging with groups of Tennessee warblers at Bottle Brush and other flowering trees. It’s also a good year for Yellow-rumpeds, don’t be surprised if you run into one here and there (or even a flock at highland sites!).
Rancho is doing well and is birdy as ever. The male Lovely Cotinga is still being seen on a regular basis and Snowcap occurs along with other typical species of this wonderful hotspot. The picture of the Black-crested Coquette in the feature image was taken at Rancho Naturalista.
As always, a lot more could be said about the birds of Costa Rica. Fancy trogons and motmots, colorful tanager flocks, hawk-eagles and more than 40 hummingbird species…they are all here and waiting to be seen! To learn more about the sites mentioned in this post and the best places to see all of the birds in Costa Rica, support this blog by purchasing my Costa Rica bird finding guide, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. I hope to see you here!
In Costa Rica, the dry and high season is most definitely here. I’m seeing beautiful sunny skies, dry conditions, and a lot more tourists than the times of the rain. Oh, it still rains, especially in the mountains and on the Caribbean slope but nothing like the deluges witnessed in 2022. With so many folks headed to Costa Rica any time now, I figured another post with some tips would be relevant.
Although this highland endemic has never been rare, as with other quail-doves, it can be tough to espy one inside the forest. Thankfully, in recent times, this pretty bird has become much easier to see. When visiting the Cafe Colibri at Cinchona, keep a close eye for quail-doves on the ground below the feeders. They are sneaky and easy to miss but if you keep watching for them, you have a fair chance of connecting. The usual species is Buff-fronted Quail-Dove, sometimes two individuals but, just in case, we should also watch for possible Purplish-backed Quail-Dove (it has a more pale gray front and smaller patch of purple on the back), and Chiriqui Quail-Dove. Both of these beauties also occur in the area.
If you won’t be visiting Cinchona, pay a visit to the birding oasis of Casa Tangara dowii. Buff-fronted and occasional Chiriqui Quail-Doves are regular at this special site.
Clay-colored Thrushes are Very Common
This plain brown thrush isn’t our national bird for nothing. They can be very common in many areas, especially in the Central Valley and garden habitats. Keep that in mind when you see numerous brown, thrush-like birds flying past or in fruiting trees. On most occasions, that bird will be a Clay-colored.
So Are Winter-Plumaged Chestnut-sided Warblers
Another bird worth knowing is the winter plumaged Chestnut-sided Warbler. In humid and semi-humid habitats, this warbler species is pretty darn common. See a small gray bird with an eye ring that reminded you of a gnatcatcher? That was a Chestnut-sided. Some still have chestnut sides, many do not, you should see a lot of them.
White-ringed Flycatchers Only Live in the Caribbean Lowlands
Remember that if you become tempted to believe you are seeing White-ringeds in the Central Valley and Pacific slope.
Those aren’t White-ringeds. See a couple kiskadee-type flycatchers at the top of a tree in the Caribbean lowlands? Does the bird have a broad white eyebrow? Thin bill, bit of white below the eye, and a bit of white edging to the tertials? A sort of trilling call? Those are White-ringed Flycatchers.
Go Exploring in Guanacaste
The northwestern region of Costa Rica is spacious, birdy, and underbirded; perfect for exploration! Local birders do what they can but it’s a huge area with plenty of habitat. With that in mind, if you are wondering where to go birding in Guanacaste, you can see a heck of a lot with roadside birding. Check forested riparian zones, open habitats (a lot of that going on), and any wetlands.
To bird forest trails, you’ll have to visit national parks and protected areas like Santa Rosa, Palo Verde, Horizontes, and other places. To learn more about birding opportunities in Guanacaste and elsewhere, check out my 900 page bird finding guide for Costa Rica, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.
Consider Private Reserves or Roadside Birding Instead of National Parks
That might sound bonkers but it all comes down to access and entrance and exit times. While national parks protect critical habitat and do have great birding, sadly, most just aren’t open during the prime birding times of 6 to 8 in the morning and 3 to 5 in the afternoon. Trust me, in the dry season, you really have to be out birding by 6. If not, you’ll miss a lot!
For more productive birding, one idea is hitting the edge of national parks or nearby roads until opening time. Another is opting for private reserves or lodge grounds when the opportunity presents itself.
I’m sure I could think of some additional tips but that’s all for now. Remember to study before your birding trip to Costa Rica and be ready to get bird-dazzled.
Are there any “best birds”? How about “better” birds? In the spirit of showing equal appreciation for all things avian, the short answer to both of these questions would be “no”. However, in the spirit of wanting to see some bird species more than others because they are either rare, more appealing to the senses, or hard to see, it would seem that yes, some birds are better than other ones, if only temporarily so.
I enjoy watching any bird but there are times when I would rather see some bird species than others. Even while birding in Costa Rica, a country with such fancy and elegant species as Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Resplendent Quetzal, toucans, and hawk-eagles, I hope to see the less common birds. I still appreciate all the rest but I suppose preferring to see birds I don’t see so often is commonplace among birders everywhere.
Over the past 12 months, I was fortunate to see a healthy variety of birds, as of December 30th, 691 species (I still got one more day to add a few..). That’s a lot of birds alright and I am pleased and grateful. I am also lucky to live in a country where it is feasible to see so many birds in a year without a huge deal of effort. Our 930 or so species bird list helps as does access to a variety of habitats, showing people birds in many such habitats, and knowing how and where to find birds in Costa Rica.
Since I routinely see a lot of birds that visiting birders would love to see, oddly enough, my best of the year doesn’t include much wanted species like Snowcap, Wrenthrush, or even Yellow-billed Cotinga. I realize that sounds just wrong on more than one level but my favorite or “best” sightings from 2022 include birds I don’t see as often, and/or sightings that come with a story. These are my personal top ten.
One of these mega shorebirds stopped off in Costa Rica this past spring. Based on better coverage in the Pacific lowlands, I suspect one or a few birds make a rest stop in Costa Rica every year. This past year, myself, partner, and various other local birders were treated to an individual that chose to hang around Punta Morales for several weeks.
In addition to be being a rare bird for Costa Rica, when one contemplates how far this species travels (nearly from one pole to the other), it’s always cool to lay eyes on a Hudwit.
This one was probably my best bird of the year. Self found, new for my country list, rare and little known in Costa Rica, and very accessible, this bird has all the stuff to merit being my top bird for 2022. This Costa Rica Pacific Golden-Plover sighting took place at Puntarenas in April.
Another mega for Costa Rica, all sightings from the past few years may be of the same individual. Impossible to say but what matters most is local birders seeing it. We had wonderful studies of this beautiful gull earlier in the year at its favorite hotspot, Punta Morales.
Hearing and briefly seeing this bird ranks as a major event because it’s not really a Choco Screech-Owl but an undescribed species endemic to or nearly endemic to Costa Rica. My 2022 bird happened while helping guide a wonderful group from the Buffalo Ornithological Society.
I’m lucky if I get to see one of these miniscule raptors in a year. I usually see one or two but it can really come down to the line. Last year, my Tiny Hawk happened during the final days of December. This year, I was extremely lucky to see a juvenile in early December at the Cinchona hummingbird cafe.
None of the quail-doves in Costa Rica (and most places) are particularly easy to see. This one is especially challenging. If I get one for the year, it’s usually a heard bird but not this time! The excellent looks at this infrequently seen bird shared with my partner and friends was priceless.
Oh yes, nothing like seeing one of the top birds in Costa Rica during some last minute year birding. As with so many sightings of this endangered species, Marilen and I saw saw it Centro Manu. Thanks to local guide Kevin, we knew where to look and lucked out with excellent prolonged views of a female. A bit later, we saw this same individual with another female or juvenile male. That sighting also gave me a clean sweep of the cotingas that live in Costa Rica.
This isn’t a rare species in most of its range but it’s pretty uncommon in Costa Rica. For me, it was also looong overdue for my country list. I finally got my Costa Rica Black-chested Jay when I caught a bit of movement and scoped a distant bird near Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
One of the lovelier of the swallows and a rare visitor to Costa Rica, it was nice to start off the year with views of several Violet-greens during a boat tour on the Tarcoles River (Jose’s Crocodile Tour, a tour and company I wholeheartedly recommend).
I know, I know, how can I choose the original and common “butterbutt” over coquettes and cotingas?! Like I was saying, it’s all about birds rarely seen and the circumstances in which we see them. In the case of this species, most spend the winter much further north than Costa Rica. We’re lucky if we see one every other year. Based on the number of recent sightings, this past winter looks to be a good one for them in Costa Rica; Marilen and I have seen them at three different spots. It was surreal to watch a small flock of these beautifully patterned migrants sallying from a fencerow in Costa Rica.
I suppose I would choose the above bird sightings as my favorites for 2022 but I still appreciate the rest, too many to mention. Consolation prizes might go to watching a Common Potoo “sing” near Jaco, seeing stealthy Yellow-eared Toucanets, sharing the sighting of a male Lovely Cotinga at Rancho Naturalista with friends and clients, the list goes on… In Costa Rica, there’s a lot of birds to watch, I hope you can come visit and likewise experience the avian wealth of this birding nation.
“Wait. What’s that up ahead ?!?” We had been trudging slowly but surely uphill, one step after another, through the foothill rainforests of the Soltis Center in the Tilaran Mountains of Costa Rica. It was midday and expectedly quiet; peaceful but not the best hour for birding. Even so, while birding in rainforest, anything can happen, at any time. Even during the quiet times, you can’t let your guard down. You have to be constantly ready, always on the alert for a shy bird to pop into view, to notice a deathly still viper, or hear the soft notes of a mixed flock.
While our group of five participated in the 2022 Arenal Bird Count, fortunately, despite the noon time quiet, Robert Dean, the artist of “The Birds of Costa Rica” and other field guides had kept his bird radar on. The bird he had noticed was one of the truly rare ones, one of those species often possible but rarely encountered. Even better, the bird didn’t flush and fly off into the woods. Our lucky number fluttered from a low perch and down onto the trail, right in front of us. As I focused in on it, I could barely believe what I was seeing.
“Violaceous Quail-Dove!” There it was, right in the middle of the trail, the most elusive and weirdest of quail-doves in Costa Rica (and maybe elsewhere too). Uncharacteristically, the male dove let us watch it for several minutes as it walked back and forth and eventually flew back to its low perch. I should stress here that “several minutes” in quail-dove watching time is equal to at least three hours. Most forest encounters with quail-doves are painfully brief and give you scarce chance to appreciate their beautiful iridescence and plumage patterns. In other words, they might be pretty but away from any feeding situations, they aren’t all that birder friendly.
In fact, not long before we saw our super birder-friendly Violaceous, I might have glimpsed another quail-dove. I say “might have” because in true Q-Dove fashion, I saw a plump dove shape in the undergrowth and just as I raised my binos, the bird fluttered off into dove sp. netherland. It could have certainly been a Gray-chested Dove too but oh well, whatever name that missed species went by was made up for by our crazy good views of the V Q-Dove.
The bird sat on its perch until our need for more trail progress flushed it into the safety of the forest. This sighting was arguably our best bird of a 150 plus species day and the best I have ever had of that species. Given that I’ve only seen this species something like three times, that’s a pretty easy statement to make. Yes, it’s a dove, a bird in the same family as the classic pigeon of cathedrals and city streets, as Mourning Doves, Collared Doves, and other familiar birds but, along with several other little known dove species, it’s an odd and elusive one.
The ironic thing about the V Q-Dove is that despite it being very little known and infrequently seen, the bird is not considered threatened. This is mostly on account of its large, if disjunct, range and because we know little about the bird. It’s assumed that it occurs in regular numbers in various parts of its range and that may be true but honestly, what do we really know? How many are out there? Are they just tough to find?
I suspect that the answer is a little bit of low numbers and being difficult to detect but if it were more common, it seems that there would have to be a lot more records. Based on my experience with the species in Costa Rica, what I have read and heard about it from other places, and known life histories of other uncommon doves, here’s my take on the bird as well as a tip or two for seeing and identifying it:
This dove doesn’t like to stick around. Well, it probably will if the habitat is to its liking but it likely rolls with the changes and needs to keep moving until it finds what its looking for. This would explain its scarcity and why there are random records from heavily birded places like La Selva and San Luis Canopy. Similar nomadic behavior is also shown by several other dove species in various parts of the world.
I wish I knew what sort of food it was looking for but I do have an idea about its preferred microhabitat.
Advanced, Viney Second Growth in Mature Forest
I don’t know for sure but what I can say is that the bird we saw at Soltis seemed tied to this one distinctive part of the forest that was dominated by old second growth decorated with hanging vines. In fact, its favorite perch was this classic, thick, hanging u-shaped vine. Sturdy, maybe a meter above the ground, good visibility, and a nice ruddy color…I mean if I were a bird, I’d be claiming that perch too.
This microhabitat also happened to look very much like the other spot where I have encountered more than one individual of this species in Costa Rica. This was in Hitoy Cerere in advanced second growth at the edge of mature rainforest. For what’s its worth, that spot also had lots of hanging vines and at that site, Robert and I also saw the dove perched in them.
I don’t know if this microhabitat is what the bird truly needs but a preference for such a limited type of habitat would explain its scarcity and likely nomadic behavior.
There’s no way to know how many of this species are in Costa Rica or elsewhere but I don’t see how they could be numerous, at least not in Costa Rica. Even taking into account the challenges of seeing them, they are still very rarely seen or heard even in the most reliable of places. If they do need some special type of habitat, then any degree of deforestation could further limit their numbers. I doubt they are in serious trouble overall but then again, who knows?
In Costa Rica, I owuld guess that their numbers are probably pretty low, maybe less than 500 total.
Perhaps More Common in Moist Forest of the Nicoya Peninsula and Mountains of Guanacaste
According to Stiles and Skutch and sightings by local birders, this species is somewhat more reliable in moist forests of the Nicoya Peninsula and the northern volcanoes in Guanacaste. The plain dove with the amethyst nape and rufous tail is seen and heard more regularly in such places but even then, it’s not in any way common. Bird forested ravines near Cabuya, Bijagua, and Rincon de la Vieja and you’ll have some chance of finding it but it could still take a fair bit of focused effort.
What to Look For
With a good look, the V Q Dove is pretty easy to identify. Just in case, here are some tips.
Like a Leptotila– As in, it looks and even sounds a lot like a White-tipped Dove. This raises a further subset of questions; like has it evolved to mimic the White-tipped Dove (or other Leptotila) and does this perhaps help it blend in while looking for habitat? Or, did it evolve similar plumage and voice because it occurs in similar ecological situations? In any case, with its pale underparts and plain head, it looks a lot like a Leptotila (albeit a very elegant one).
Pale, plain head, white underparts, rufous rump and tail, rufous wings– Although other descriptions don’t mention the rufous tail, the bird sure has one and in conjunction with other field marks, this is a good characteristic.
Reddish bill– Although this wasn’t noticeable on the bird we watched, this is usually a good field mark.
Listen for calls, look for the perch– If you hear a funny sounding White-tipped Dove in appropriate habitat, look for that perched bird. It can sit high or low on a favorite hanging vine.
Will you see a Violaceous Quail-Dove when birding in Costa Rica? To be honest, the odds aren’t in your favor but I sure hope you see one anyways. Hopefully, the tips above can up the odds. To learn more about finding birds in Costa Rica, including the rare and elusive ones, support this blog by purchasing my recently updated bird finding book for Costa Rica, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.
Happy birding and wishing you the best of happy holidays, I hope to see you here!
All photos of Violaceous Quail-Dove were gracioiusly provided by Nancy Stevick.
It’s been a long, rainy season. In Costa Rica, the wet season is never short and always presents some challenges to birding but this year was especially torrential. Taking into account the extent of global warming induced flooding that took place in various places across the globe, perhaps Costa Rica having an extra wet rainy season isn’t the least bit surprising.
Some places in Costa Rica have also experienced flooding and tragically, a fair number of people lost houses, businesses have been affected, and the flowing water made its mark on several roadways. The good news is that the wet season seems to be nearly over. Lately in Heredia, I’m seeing more sunny days and much less rain. Things are looking up and by the time the high season kicks off, I would expect most roads to be in good shape (although with occasional heavy traffic on routes 32 and 27 and the usual congestion in the Central Valley).
Speaking of the high season for birding in Costa Rica, it’s just around the corner! Before we know it, dozens of birders will be bringing their binos to Costa Rica and I’m psyched; I wish every birder could come birding here, at least once in their lives. If you are visiting Costa Rica for birding soon, planning a birding trip to Costa Rica, or thinking about visiting in 2023, these insider tips may be of help:
Umbrellabirds are Back at Centro Manu
Centro Manu is one of the newer hotspots for birding in Costa Rica. Last year, local guide Kenneth found that it was a reliable place to see one of the most wanted species in Costa Rica; the Bare-necked Umbrellabird. This year, the birds are back! Although we don’t know how many of the big-headed, crow-black cotingas are present at Manu, based on the frequency of sightings, this spot seems to be a very important area for this endangered species.
The elevation, quality, and location of the lowland-foothill rainforests at Manu are ideal for umbrellabirds from June to February (when they migrate to lower elevations after breeding). Visit this easily accessible site in December and January and you have a fair chance of finding umbrellabird (and other great birds!), especially if you contract Kenneth for guiding. However, it’s best to make reservations first. Contact them at the Centro Manu Facebook page.
Reservations Needed: Cope, Nectar and Pollen
It’s worth mentioning that two other excellent hotspots near Manu also require reservations. To visit Cope in the high season, you will likely need to make reservations in advance; the bird oasis and rainforest experience offered by this highly talented local artist and naturalist are popular and world class.
Nectar and Pollen is also a wonderful place to visit. Expect exciting foothill birding replete with hummingbirds, tanagers, raptors, and more. However, since Miguel, the local guide responsible for creating this special place, doesn’t live there, you need to contact him in advance.
eBird Won’t Have All the Answers
eBird has revolutionized birding, it’s wonderful in many ways and I love using the app and encourage people to do the same. However, you really shouldn’t use it as the only resource for planning a trip to Costa Rica. Definitely check it out and look at recent sightings in Costa Rica but when making decisions, keep these factors in mind:
-Unequal coverage. Since most tours visit the same set of places, these sites have higher bird lists than other places. Don’t get me wrong,these are good sites to go birding but they aren’t the only sites to see a lot of birds. Several places are visited more often because they are more accessible and suitable for group tours.
-Errors. Many lists for hotspots include birds that were obviously seen elsewhere. There’s also a fair amount of misidentification. Both of these factors result in inflated and incorrect lists for various sites.
-Lists that only show what is identified leave out lots of other birds. That’s not the case for every observer but when we take into account the high number of first time birders in Costa Rica, yes, a good deal of species go unrecorded. This means that just because certain shy or ID challenging bird species don’t show on site lists doesn’t mean they aren’t present.
This also all means that us local eBird reviewers got a lot of work to do. In the meantime, while it is worth using eBird and checking data for sites and bird sightings, just remember that it’s not the final word on where to go birding in Costa Rica; habitat is always the most important factor.
Less Visited Sites Could be Better
Birds are where the habitat is. While you will see lots of cool birds at the most popular sites (and places such as Rancho Naturalista and Laguna Lagarto and others are truly fantastic), there are plenty of additional places with excellent birding. A side benefit of birding at such lesser known sites is having them to yourself.
New Entrance Fees for Bogarin Trail and Arenal Observatory Lodge
The Bogarin Trail has come a long way from the days when it was a hotspot only known to local birders in the Fortuna area. The trails are well maintained, some of the forest has grown, interesting species like Tiny Hawk and Ornate Hawk-Eagle have made appearances and Keel-billed Motmot occurs.
The birding is wonderful and the place has become a popular destination for tours that look for sloths and other rainforest wildlife. In concordance with its popularity, the Bogarin Trail now charges a $15 entrance fee and is open 7-4. In addition, from what I understand, birding tour groups have to make reservations in advance with a time slot for entrance and prepayment.
The Observatory Lodge has also realized the value of day visits to their trails and facilities. The entrance fee for this site has also increased, now costs $15 per person, and is open 7-9.
As far as birding news goes, expect fantastic birding at classic sites, new places, and anywhere with good habitat. These days, with so much access to sites for more or less everything, it can hard to figure out where to spend your time! Rest assured, it’s gonna be good. I hope this information helps with your trip to Costa Rica. Learn more about where to go birding in Costa Rica including sample itineraries and lesser known sites with “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”-a 900 page ebook that covers everything from how to find tropical birds to identification tips, and a complete site guide to the places you’ve heard of lots more that you haven’t. As always, I hope to see you here in Costa Rica!
The plane descends through the cloud bank and the eyes take in a living mosaic of mountains, pastures, wind breaks, roads, urbanization, and wooded ravines. It’s surprising to see how close everything is; jade cloud forest on the volcanoes, city and towns in the valley, riparian zones making ribbons of green. You know its January but way down below, it looks like summer never ended. There are palm trees and a dozen shades of tropical green, the black circling specks are Black Vultures. Other, much more enticing birds await; congratulations on arriving in Costa Rica! You’ve made it to tropical latitudes where Tennesee Warblers share trees with Baltimore Orioles and Masked Tityras.
It’s all birding gravy for the next several days, so many birds in Costa Rica, it hardly matters where you stay! It would be really nice if that was the case but no, as with everywhere, Planet Earth, lodging choices have a definite impact on birding success. They play a major role in seeing more birds, that also goes for the first night of a birding trip to Costa Rica.
Even if you are only staying at that first hotel for one night, even if you don’t plan on doing any birding there the following morning, it’s worth it to play it safe and sleep in the right place. No matter what you have planned, you might end up birding there anyways, there might be time to look for owls or other birds and since this may be your one and only trip to Costa Rica, there won’t be any time to waste.
The “right” place depends on your travel situation but whether you are a lone birder traveling on the cheap, birding with family, or arriving one day before a tour, the best place for the first night should be a place that has as much habitat as possible. That way, you might see an owl or two, you might connect with a surprising number of species, and, best of all, your first morning in Costa Rica will be accompanied by a wealth of birds. It will be the welcome you deserve, a proper greeting to one of the top birding destinations in the world.
Try the following suggestions to pick the right place for the first night of a birding trip to Costa Rica.
Arriving one Day Early for a Tour
A number of people arrive one or two days before the official start of their tours. Given the propensity for airlines to rechedule and rearrange and cancel flights, this is a really good idea. This will sound like a no brainer but…if taking a birding tour in Costa Rica, you might as well stay at the same hotel as the one where the tour starts.
It will make logistics much easier, the hotel will likely have good birding on the grounds, and even if your tour does plan on birding at the hotel, it will still be worth birding there on your own. You might see birds not found during the tour and getting in some personal birding time will also act as an easy-going introduction to the birds of Costa Rica.
If the hotel is full, please read on.
A Place with Habitat
I mentioned it above but its worth reiterating; habitat is everything. Pick a place with as much habitat as possible. Some good choices for birding hotels in Costa Rica include:
Villa San Ignacio- A lovely place where huge fruiting figs grow in the garden and a riparian zone has Long-tailed Manakin, wrens, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, and other birds. The featured image at the top of this post shows this lovely birding hotel.
Hotel Bougainvillea- A classic, nice hotel with extensive manicured gardens that often have a roosting owl or two and various common species.
Hotel Robledal- Another small but nice hotel with pretty gardens and a good number of birds.
Xandari- A boutique hotel with lots of green space and woodlands. The birding is great.
Other lodging options in the upper parts of the Central Valley- This includes various places situated in green zones away from the main urban areas of the Great San Jose area. Several such places are covered in the recently released second version of my Costa Rica bird finding guide, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.
Somewhere Close to the Airport
No matter where you travel, this is an important factor to take into consideration. After a long day of standing in line and waiting for a plane to land, its pretty nice to NOT have to drive through an hour or more of traffic. Fortunately, there are some good birding hotels in Costa Rica within easy striking distance of the airport.
A Place Familiar with Birders and Birding
Although this isn’t imperative, hotels that routinely work with birders will be more likely to know that they should tell you about roosting owls or other special birds. They may be able to give you an early breakfast and may have contacts with local guides.
When planning a birding trip to Costa Rica, don’t take that first night for granted. Every morning counts, stay at a place where your first bout of birding in Costa Rica will be replete with everything from ground-sparrows to Rufous-naped Wrens, and maybe a Fiery-billed Aracari or two. I hope to see you here!
To support this blog, learn more about where to watch birds in Costa Rica, and prepare for your birding trip or tour, get my Costa Rica bird finding guide, a 900 page ebook designed to enhance your birding time in Costa Rica.
The birding in Costa Rica isn’t just good, it’s downright fantastic. No matter where you go on this planet, there will be a bunch of cool birds to see. Even so, some places just have more birds than others.
Costa Rica is one of those places.
Despite being around the same size as Denmark or West Virginia, this beautiful, dynamic nation has a bird list of 930 species (and more species are expected!).
Yes, really that many. Literally hundreds of species on the Costa Rica bird list and most of them are possible in easily accessible sites. Not all of them are common and some are more difficult to see than others but when you go birding in Costa Rica, one thing’s for sure; you’re going to see a lot of birds.
A stable, friendly country in easy reach of the USA and Canada with literally hundreds of tropical birds awaiting- it’s no wonder so many people from North America move to Costa Rica, birders included. Most are retired (Costa Rica has a good retiree residency option) and some live here all year long but I also know a number of people who live in Costa Rica for a few months each year.
Many times, after witnessing the beauty and ease of Costa Rica, birders ask me what it’s like to live here, how feasible that is, and how much property costs. They also ask that if they were to buy property in Costa Rica, where would the best places be to live? The answer to that question depends on what sort of climate one prefers, breathing room, and other needs. From a birding perspective and having lived in Costa Rica since 2007, here’s some of what one could expect from the following regions:
The Central Valley
A good area for birders who like a warm climate that isn’t too hot, and who need to be near the many aspects of urban living.
Central location with easy access to more hospitals and a wider variety of healthcare options.
Close to the airport.
Greater variety of restaurants.
Warm climate, cooler in the mountains, beautiful dry season from Dec-April.
Species like Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow, Chestnut-capped Warbler, Long-tailed Manakin, and other common birds.
Not as many bird species as other regions.
This part of the country encompasses the busy greater metro. area of San Jose/Heredia/Alajuela, Cartago, and rural areas with small farms and tropical green space near Grecia, Atenas, and San Ramon. There are plenty of nice housing options in and near Escazu and other urban zones but birders in search of a place with ample green space would be happier in the Grecia area, Atenas, and the upper slopes of the Central Valley.
San Isidro del General
A good area for birders who like to be within striking distance of small town living but who also enjoy having a tropical garden and plenty of birding opportunities.
Tropical climate with a pronounced dry season.
Wonderful tropical birding. Fancy birds like Fork-tailed Flycatcher and Turquoise Cotinga could be on the yard list.
Not as crowded as the Central Valley.
If you need to visit the capital area, it’s a long drive over the mountains.
This part of the country is an intermontane valley and small city located on the other side of the mountains, southeast of San Jose. It’s a beautiful valley with a nice climate and I know more than one birder who moved to this area and absolutely loved it. There are lots of great birding opportunities (the godfather of Costa Rica birding, Alexander Skutch, lived there) including many lowland foothill tropical species in the valley and easy access to many cloud forest species in higher elevations.
There are also many properties available, I know of one, spacious two story house near lots of green space.
A good area for birders in search of a cooler climate, dynamic culture, tourism infrastructure, and access to trails in forest preserves.
Cool climate with a pronounced dry season.
Tourism hotspot with a variety of restaurants, wildlife reserves, and activities.
Excellent birding with many dry and cloud forest species including Resplendent Quetzal, Northern Emerald Toucanet, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, and many hummingbirds.
Wind and rain at some times of the year.
Not as many healthcare options.
High demand for housing, expensive real estate.
One of the world’s first ecotourism hotspots, the Monteverde area continues to draw large numbers of visitors. This could be a drawback for some, a boon for others. Either way, housing can be found away from the main places frequented by tourists. One possible option for folks in search of extra elbow space is living at the edge of the Monteverde area.
A good area for birders who want their own piece of tropical rainforest paradise and an exciting yard list in quiet, rural surroundings. This is for birders who like to be somewhat self sufficient although a few areas are still pretty close to towns and cities.
Warm and humid climate.
Living off the beaten track.
Excellent birding with possible yard birds like Speckled and Crimson-collared Tanagers, toucans, and many other species.
Might find cheaper real estate.
Lots of rain.
Somewhat isolated, may need to be somewhat self sufficient although many places are still within easy driving distance of towns and small cities.
Not as many healthcare options.
This region includes such places as the Arenal area, sites along the road between San Ramon and La Fortuna, sites near Cinchona (which is only a bit more than an hour’s drive from Sam Jose), and sites near Turrialba. The Caribbean foothills host some of the more exciting birding in Costa Rica and a yard planted for hummingbirds could attract everything from Snowcaps to Black-crested Coquettes and Brown Violetears.
Lowland Jungle Areas
These are good places for birders who love hot and humid weather, lots of tropical birds, and who are willing to live in places with fewer amenities. That said, the Jaco area offers a great variety of excellent restaurants and other services.
Hot and humid climate.
Chance to live off the beaten track.
Great tropical birding with possible yard birds like toucans, macaws, parrots, and much more.
Might find cheaper real estate in some areas.
Heavy rains in some areas that can result in flooding (DO NOT LIVE IN RIVER VALLEYS OR OTHER PLACES WHERE FLOODING HAS OCCURRED IN THE PAST).
Hot and humid weather.
Many places can be isolated and you may need to be somewhat self sufficient (although some places are still within easy driving distance of towns and small cities).
Some parts of the Caribbean lowlands have problems with crime (places near Guacima, Siquirres, the city of Limon, and perhaps Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui).
Not as many healthcare options.
This region includes any of the lowland areas on both slopes except for the region north of Tarcoles on the Pacific slope. Move to the humid lowlands and you will be moving to areas with rainforest or sites with bananas, pineapples, oil palms, and cattle pasture that used to be forested.
The birding is always fun and includes lots of species including toucans, parrots, and more. Reforest the garden and you could create your own little wildlife sanctuary.
A good region for birders in search of wide open spaces, a dry climate (for at least half the year), having a farm or a place with horses, and living in the country. You should be somewhat self sufficient although most areas are close enough to towns.
Hot, dry climate.
Living off the beaten track.
Dry forest species like White-throated Magpie-Jay and Orange-fronted Parakeet, and being serenaded by thick-knees in the evening.
Perhaps the chance to put up nest boxes for the critically endangered Yellow-naped Parrot.
Living near beaches.
Can be heavy rain during the wet season with some places prone to flooding.
Can be very isolated, may need to be somewhat self sufficient although many places are still within easy driving distance of towns.
Not as many healthcare options.
This region includes anywhere roughly north of Tarcoles on the Pacific slope. Many farms and properties are for sale, it pays to look around before buying. If you live near Liberia, various beautiful beaches are within easy striking distance as well as an international airport. Several famous actors, athletes, and musicians have properties in Guanacaste.
Cerro de la Muerte
A good region for birders in search of very cool weather in beautiful high mountain surroundings with rather few neighbors. This area can get lots of rain and nights can be cold but the birding is unique and you could have quetzal as a yard bird.
Very cool climate (some might call it cold).
Living away from urban centers.
High elevation species like quetzal, various hummingbirds, and Collared Redstart.
Good amount of forest habitat.
Heavy rains during the wet season can cause landslides and road closures.
Not as many healthcare options.
Somewhat cold weather.
This region includes Cerro de la Muerte, a high mountain southeast of San Jose. Living up there is somewhat isolated and nights can be cold but the main road is a fairly quick drive to more heavily populated and warmer urban centers. The birding is wonderful and includes a high number of endemics.
These are most of the main regions where a birder can move to in Costa Rica. Although some places are more isolated than others, most areas are still within fairly easy driving distance to urban centers with stores, clinics, and so on. Although some areas have more healthcare options than others, even remote places have access to state run clinics and regional hospitals. It’s also worth mentioning that tropical fruits and other many veggies can be grown in most gardens all year long, and owning property in Costa Rica is an excellent way to help local and migrant birds through reforestation.
I live in the Central Valley for various reasons but if I could move anywhere I wanted, I would probably have a place in every bioregion in Costa Rica. It’s a tough choice but for the best of reasons; each region has its own set of unique birding opportunities in beautiful places. That said, I would probably opt for the Caribbean foothills, maybe near Cinchona. That way, I could watch an incredible number of birds, maybe have Snowcap in the yard, reforest to help the endangered umbrellabird and Lovely Cotinga, and still have the option of easy visits to the lowlands, highlands, and everything the Central Valley has to offer.
I might even choose this place. A friend of mine is the owner and although he loves this place and has spent most every weekend there for many years, he wants to sell so he can spend more time with family. It would be perfect for reforestation, is quiet, and has fantastic birding within easy reach of all amenities. If you would like to have your own little piece of tropical birding paradise in Costa Rica, send me an email to learn more. The birds are waiting!
October. It’s the threshold of winter, Halloween, and pumpkins (with all of their orange colored spice). By the cool breeze from the north and the slowing down of deciduous trees, the birds know the deal is up. They know it’s past time to have fattened up and made the journey south. Indeed, up north, most of the first migrants have already paid heed to instincts and fled to the tropics. Thrushes, warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and Scarlet Tanagers; most have gone, many have made it to Costa Rica.
A fair number are here on winter territory, searching for insects in tropical trees and avoiding the eyes of Bat Falcons and creeping Vine Snakes. Others are just stopping off to fuel up and continue to the incredible forests of the Amazon, or to find a sweet wintering spot in mossy rainforest of the Andes.
In a few months, a number of birders will also make a temporary migration to Costa Rica. They will visit to delve into tropical birding, watch toucan antics while delighting in the coffee fruits of volcanic soils, and photograph Purple-throated Mountain-gems (like the multicolored bird featured above). The birds are awaiting, I can promise you that! Here’s some other news items from October, 2022, Costa Rica.
Very Heavy Rains=Tragic Flooding and Road Closures
October in Costa Rica is bird migration but it can also be a month of rains. The rains from this past October have gone from being exceptional to extreme. Sadly, in the Central Pacific region, more rain fell in a day or two than typically falls over the course of the entire month. We’re talking about a country where it normally rains every afternoon of every day in October, we’re talking about a horrible deluge.
During the past week, so much rain came slamming down in the central and southern Pacific regions, parts of the town of Jaco flooded. Flooding also occured near Parrita and in some other areas, and landslides affected several roads. Although people weren’t swept away like the terrible climate crisis induced floods in Nigeria, Pakistan, and other places, in Costa Rica, a number of people have lost everything, businesses have been terribly affected, and many roads have been damaged.
Those roads will likely be fixed well before the high season but if visiting Costa Rica over the news few weeks, you will need to pay close attention to information about road closures. Keep an eye on whatever driving app you may use, especially if traveling anywhere on Cerro de la Muerte, Route 32, and other mountain roads, and anywhere from Tarcoles south to Panama.
Arctic Terns near Shore, Fewer Migrants?
On the bird migration scene, one of the more interesting sightings has been that of Arctic Terns on the central Pacific Coast. At least a few (and maybe more) were documented by local birders in the Playa Hermosa area, foraging close to shore. Typically, in Cosa Rica, this species is a bird of pelagic waters although perhaps they occur closer to shore more often than expected? Were they overlooked in the less birded past? Who knows but in any case, this us always an uncommon species for Costa Rica.
As far as other migrants go, some local birders have wondered if we are seeing fewer numbers. Although various factors cloud accurate assessment of abundance during migration, given the effects of climate disruption, insect decline, and other nasty factors on breeding grounds and migration routes, yeah, I bet we are seeing fewer birds. That would match the latest State of the Birds Assessment that shows continued declines in many species.
Off hand, I have had a strong impression of far fewer Cliff Swallows than other years and can’t help but wonder if this is related to so much of their western breeding areas being impacted by climate-change induced drought and heat waves. I have seen quite a few vireos and pewees but perhaps less than in previous years, and although there have been many Swainson’s Thrushes, there still doesn’t seem to be as many as in other years.
Hopefully, there will be good numbers of wintering birds; we do have a good amount of habitat for them.
Once again, the southern Nicoya yields a rare for Costa Rica migrant. On October Global Big Day, Wilfreddo Villalobos found a small group of Bobolinks! The smart looking hay meadow birds might be regular up north but in Costa Rica, you would be lucky to add it to your country list. In common with other migrant hotspots, the southern Nicoya Peninsula is bordered on each side by water and thus could possibly act act as a “funnel” for migrants, or at least attract lost birds flying over the Pacific Ocean.
Any migrant effect isn’t as pronounced as that of the famed hotspots but the place certainly does attract rare migrants every year. I wonder what else is hiding in the tropical forests of that fun, underbirded area? What would a birder see while seawatching from the coast near Cabuya? Go and see what you find!
Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo and Other Rare Resident Birds
The ground-cuckoo has been seen again at antswarms at the Pocosol Station. Honestly, this is no surprise, nor would it be surprising to find them at swarms in other suitable areas but given how generally difficult it is to see this species, it’s always good to know where and when they are being seen.
Another rare resident species seeen recently was a Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle at Nectar and Pollen (!). Lucky local birders had excellent looks at one that took to the air right in front of them! This site and other nearby sites are good places to look for this species but you still need a lot of luck to see one.
Newly Updated, Second Edition of Costa Rica Bird Finding Guide Now Available!
On a personal note, it took a while but the second edition of “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” is finally edited, updated, and available. Since the previous edition was more than 700 pages, one might not expect much more could be said about birding sites in Costa Rica. One could easily be wrong.
This edition includes:
Updated information on strategies to find and see tropical birds in Costa Rica, including the best ways to see uncommon and rare species.
Updated lists of birds to expect, birds to not expect, birds that could be splits, and more.
Updated information for dozens of sites to watch birds in Costa Rica.
Several new sites throughout the country.
Several updated sample itineraries.
Local insider, accurate information about finding birds in Costa Rica.
At more than 900 pages, this book is a tome of birding information meant to enhance every birding trip and birding tour to Costa Rica. One of the benefits of this book is that since it is digital, it doesn’t weigh anything and any subject matter can be easily searched from the table of contents or within the text of the book.
This Costa Rica birding site guide e-book is perfect for birders and bird photographers of all levels planning a birding trip to Costa Rica, wanting to learn more about the birds of Costa Rica, and hoping to see more birds in Costa Rica. Not to mention, every purchase helps keep this blog going. As always, I hope to see you here!
If you purchased the first version in 2022, let me know and I’ll send you the updated version for free. If you bought the book before 2022, this updated, second version is available for $9.00.
The end of the year and high season for birding in Costa Rica is still a few months away but I’m already getting ready for it. It’s raining a lot and there’s not a whole lot of birders here at the moment but in a way, the high season is already happening. Main birding hotels are filling up for dates from January through March and guides and transportation are getting booked too.
Cope’s Place books up in advance too. If you want to visit, let me know ASAP!
The following are recommendations and things I have been doing to prepare for the main birding season:
Updating a Birding Companion for Costa Rica- “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”
Editing and updating this resource has kept me pretty busy but it will be worth it. The new version will include updates for existing sites and information for many new places. With so many birding-focused sites popping up, I’m sure it won’t cover everything but it’s going to come close.
As always, the goal of this book is to help birders of all levels have a more fulfilling birding experience in Costa Rica.
I have also been updating the most complete birding app for Costa Rica. Not that long ago, we updated it to include new additions like Spectacled Petrel and Lesser Black-backed Gull. However, recently, a couple of local birders discovered Buff-collared Nightjar in Costa Rica (!) and there were a few other edits to make. With that in mind, we decided to make another update, one that will hopefully be ready by the end of this month.
The new version will have:
Images for 941 species on the Costa Rica list.
Vocalizations for 870 species on the Costa Rica list.
Images, information, and sounds for 64 additional species that may eventually occur in Costa Rica.
Birding in More Places
I have been trying to do more birding in out of the way places as well as easily accessible overlooked sites. Results have included Blue Seedeater, sites for Striped and other owls, and more. As with anywhere, the more you go birding, the more you find.
Make Reservations Now…
Just another reminder to not wait to make reservations. The most popular places are really filling up!
Plan Your Trip Around eBird?
If you still want to plan a trip, what about just planning it around eBird? While that wonderful birding platform can give you some good ideas, I wouldn’t use it as the sole resource to plan a birding route in Costa Rica. EBird is great but in Costa Rica, it’s also naturally biased towards the birding circuit and popular sites, and lists for such sites don’t have all of the birds mentioned (us reviewers are trying but there’s still a lot to do). These are the places birded the most often but other birding spots also exist, many with fantastic birding. Just remember that, as most everywhere, in Costa Rica, the best birding is where the best habitat is.
As always, I hope to see you here in Costa Rica. Hope you see a lot this October 8th on October Big Day!