Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica

Birds Lost and Found in Costa Rica

Birding at it’s most basic is just watching birds, paying attention to the life forms that have feathers, most of them also capable of flight. Look out the window at the sparrows, doves, and dare I say grackles and whether you want to admit it or not, you are doing a bit of birding. Take planes to Malaysia to search the forests of Taman Negara for peacock-pheasants and other out of this world species and you are also birding. There’s more effort involved (along with leaches, mud, and profuse sweating) but it’s still birding. I like birding either way; casually keeping track of vocalizations as I take a morning walk sans optics, or while searching out target species with intense focus.

Either way, as long as I am birding, it’s all good in the birdy hood. This past week, I was sort of partaking in the latter type of birding, the one where the focus is on target species. It was good, I got the chance to spend some birding days with Carlos Sanchez of Miami birding fame and guide for Naturalist Journeys as we searched for some species of the Caribbean slope. The endeavor reminded me that even when you know where you have the best chances of finding certain birds, some will be found and others will keep to the realm of lost birds. It’s a question of probability where less available time limits your chances, especially when looking to connect with low density forest skulkers. That’s why we failed to hear or see Ocellated Antbird and weather more akin to a Scottish highland November kept us from connecting with the night birds on Irazu. Maybe they were temporarily frozen? I know I was feeling that slow, steady crystalline creep of hypothermia.

But enough of talk about misses because we connected with a fair percentage of the targets, most of which were also fairly challenging species. These are some of the birds that went into the “found” category:

Pinnated Bittern– Birding in late afternoon at Medio Queso gave us a couple of these. One of the more reliable spots for the Neotropical Botaurus, the best times to look are early morning and late afternoon. On the drive in we also got another target, Nicaraguan Seed-Finch.

This used to be known as Pink-billed Seed-Finch until someone must have pointed out that actually, the bill doesn’t really look all that pink…  

We were up in Medio Queso because we were staying in Los Chiles for the night at the low priced yet comfortable enough and very friendly Cabinas Felicia. Felicia is indeed the owner and is super nice. The only drawback was the lack of hot water coming out of the hot water shower. I bet she would have fixed it but we were just there for one night. Oh, and we were also up there in Los Chiles to do a boat trip the following morning in Cano Negro.

This turned out to be an excellent way to find several lost birds. Thanks to local knowledge from boat guide Chambito, we got all of our main targets. These included the tiny, straw colored bird with the big toes, the one and only Yellow-breasted Crake,

and the skulky antbird with the semi bald head known as the Bare-crowned Antbird. Briefest of looks at that one but we made up for it with better bino views at Arenal. As a compromise, we had perfect looks at the likewise skulky Canebrake Wren.

Further on, Chambito took us straight to the only spot at that moment for Nicaraguan Grackle. Instead of city streets, these picky birds prefer to hang with ungulates in marshes.

Snowy Cotinga was also one of our targets. In Sarapiqui, it had been frequenting that elusive place where lost birds fly but Cano Negro gave us one more chance and thanks to Chambito, yes, it joined the growing group of found birds! We saw three or four individuals including one female. As is typical for this surreal species, the males butterfly swooped between some tree tops and perched up high so we could marvel over their weird, fruit-dove like shape and brilliant white plumage. I have seen them on several occasions but some birds you never ever get tired of seeing. For some birds, each sighting is like that exciting first time. That’s how it is with Snowy Cotinga, see that amazing, pseudo dove of peace in flight and you cannot deny the ultimate wonder of it. It’s like everything else just stops, that or you feel mesmerized by this brilliant white short tailed bird flapping its way through a blue tropical sky.

Senor and Senora surreal.

Those were the main targets at Cano Negro but as a bonus, Chambito even hooked us up with a roosting Pacific Screech-Owl at the end of the tour!

Back in Sarapiqui and Virgen del Socorro, although the cotinga was lost, we did find some other targets including the super tiny Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant and Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher. These flycatchers aren’t that rare, they just get lost because they masquerade as bugs. Speaking of pretending to be something that you aren’t, we also got the very warblerish Rufous-browed Tyrannulet.

Not the best of photos but look close and you might see a rufous brow. Basically, if you see a possible warbler that really isn’t one at Virgen del Socorro, you will have probably found this local Phylloscartes.

Other found target birds included a seen Slaty-breasted Tinamou that whistled from thick underground in the heart of Tirimbina Reserve, Great Green Macaws and Blue-chested Hummingbird near La Selva, Plain-colored Tanager, Streak-chested Antvireo, and, right at the cafe Colibri feeders, Buff-fronted Quail-Dove! We also stayed in Sarapiqui to try for other lost birds at El Tapir and Quebrada Gonzalez.

The best find was a prize Lattice-tailed Trogon at El Tapir although it was equally nice to be welcomed by Black-crested Coquette and Snowcap shortly after our arrival, and to get views of Emerald Tanager shortly after that. Quebrada was very quiet with no real mixed flocks but we did have one truly amazing sighting. Although it wasn’t a bird, seeing my first Bushmaster was a memorable moment indeed. We had both caught some movement ahead on the trail and after glassing it, realized that the thing we were seeing wasn’t a quail-dove or ground-cuckoo but a snake. I assumed it was going to be a Boa but nearly jumped out of my boots when I realized I was looking at one of the more elusive top predators of the Neotropical rainforests. The heavy, meter plus snake (small for a Bushmaster) gave us a show as it slowly, carefully left the trail. It seemed to be on the trail of something and didn’t take long to blend in with the forest litter.

Don’t get too close to this one!

In the Arenal area, at Bogarin, the Uniform Crake called but preferred its lost status. Not so for a beautiful Striped Owl that made an appearance on a roadside wire just north of town. The next morning, we focused our search at the Arenal Observatory Lodge and still failed to connect with the antbird that looks more like some laughingthrush from the Himalaya. But, we did see another Black-crested Coquette, had a nice mixed flock, close looks at Dull-mantled Antbird, and some other birdies, two of which were not targets but genuinely lost. Well, that, or they were just doing some adventurous scouting for the rest of their kind. Those two exciting species for Costa Rica were Cape May Warbler and Cedar Waxwing. Both were at the feeders and became choice additions to my Costa Rica year list. Interestingly enough, we saw another Cedar Waxwing at Lands in Love later that day.

Speaking of Lands in Love, we made a successful stop there for Tawny-chested Flycatcher before heading back to the Central Valley and our cold pre-dawn on Irazu. Shortly after that, a few other lost birds showed for a friend of mine, the best of which was a bird that seemed to be determined to not show itself to her. As if playing some part in an avian conspiracy, the Barred Hawks had apparently decided to give her a cold shoulder and shunned her or schemed with rain to stay out of sight. Eventually, perseverance paid off when one became diplomatic and broke with its conspiratorial ranks to soar right overhead, calling the entire time near the Fortuna Waterfall. No longer lost, the Barred Hawk will now surely display for her every time she birds where they occur because as we all know, that’s just what former bogey birds like to do. Speaking of bogey birds, perhaps this will be the year I make my peace with the Masked Duck. That said, I’m not sure if I can promise that I won’t give the lost duck the finger. We will see.

Barred Hawks sort of look like Black Vultures.

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Now is a Good Time to See Yellow-eared Toucanet in Costa Rica

At times, the number of birds on the Costa Rica list seems endless. Although some websites mention a robust 850 plus species, actually, the total has grown a fair bit since the list was pegged at that number. Some new birds were expected, some weren’t, but in any case, at the moment, the official list stands at more than 920 species, one of which was added just the other day (Great Black-backed Gull in Tortuguero!).

With such a large number of birds, we can also expect a fair number to be rare or hard to find. As anyone who has tried to see Tawny-faced Quail, Gray-headed Piprites, or Pheasant Cuckoo in Costa Rica can tell you, this is indeed true. Those three and several other species can be pretty tough whereas quite a few others are just plain uncommon. The uncommon ones are the birds that frequently escape detection on brief trips or even when you only have one day to bird a site. Check that same area over three days and you have a much better chance at connecting with the uncommon and secretive ones but who has the time for that when you have other sites to get to and just ten days to work with?

At the end of the day, this means that whether a birder resides in Costa Rica or visits once a year, he or she always has the chance to see new birds, at least for their country list. One species that frequently escapes detection during an average tour is the toucan species that most folks still need after two or even three trips to Costa Rica. The lack of a check (or tick in Brit-birder lingo) next to its name derives from its decidedly reclusive behavior, likely low density population, and often inaccessible foothill forest home.

Unlike bold toucan species that yelp and rattle from exposed perches, the toucanet with the yellow ears clacks from the shady depths of tall rainforest trees. It rarely if ever ventures into the open and would rather stay quiet than demonstrate any degree of vocal capability. In other words, a real stickler to see but there’s good news! When certain types of trees are fruiting, this species can’t help its hunger and lingers for as long as the tree provides the banquet. Lately, in foothill forests, those very trees have been laden with purple, round fruits, and the toucanets have come out to dine.

This male was with a female on the Ceiba trail at Quebrada Gonzalez.

The other day, despite near constant rain, we had three different Yellow-eared Toucanets at such fruiting trees in Quebrada Gonzalez, and we weren’t the only ones to have soul satisfying looks at this local mega. Other birders have also been reporting and posting fantastic pictures of the toucanet from the Arenal area. Since I am headed there soon, it will interesting to see if we find more of this fine bird species. Whether we see more toucanets or not, it will still be worth it to watch those clumps of purple fruits because they look just as delectable for umbrellabirds and other birds, maybe even a lovely bright blue and purple one.

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Recent Birding at El Tapir Costa Rica

According to the calendars on my computer, iPad and around the house, another year has started. On December 31st, I was also made aware of this fact by way of a flurry of small, controlled explosions that went off just around midnight. I wasn’t up on purpose, I was attempting to sleep or at least get enough rest to guide the following morning. The good thing is that whether because I had gotten enough rest or because of exhilaration at starting a new year list, fortunately, I did not feel exhausted on January first, 2018. I birded/guided all day long and lists at the end of the day included a bunch of quality species.

We started at El Tapir, right at dawn. No bat-like silhouettes of Short-tailed Nighthawks appeared but we made up for that with these and other highlights:

First birds were small hummingbirds: But wait, aren’t all hummingbirds on the smaller end of things? Well, yes, but if we were the same size as a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Violet Sabrewings might look as big as a Clydesdale, whereas Snowcaps would be sort of like Hobbits. I know, given the unkempt, hairy feet, and hole-dwelling behaviors, probably not the fairest of comparisons. But, when you consider the need for a second or third breakfast, maybe not so far from the mark…

Black-crested Coquette was one of the very first species we saw.

This was quickly followed up by views of Green Thorntail and Snowcap.

Ant swarm in the garden: Bicolored Antbirds called from the edge of the forest and the open areas played host to a few Wood Thrushes, Buff-rumped Warblers, and even Passerini’s Tanagers intently peering at the ground. A closer look revealed a partially hidden carpet of ravenous ants. Yes! Most people  might balk or reach for the Raid when hearing “ants” “swarm” and “garden” in the same sentence. Not us birders and especially not in Costa Rica because an antswarm in the garden means serious bird activity and photo opps. Although the true antbirds stayed in the shade of forest or a hedgerow, we did get looks at Bicolored and one stellar Ocellated Antbird.

Always stunning!

The small toucan with yellow ears: The other toucans in Costa Rica have normal ears. This one’s are yellow and it’s the one that we all want to see. Unlike its boisterous relatives, the Yellow-eared Toucanet is a much more stealthy creature. Usually seen in pairs, it creeps through the canopy of foothill and middle elevation rainforest as it searches for fruiting trees and small animals. Sort of like a ninja. Come to think of it, its mostly black plumage also makes it look a bit like an avian ninja. Well, then again, maybe not it’s still a champ at avoiding detection. That’s why watching one at El Tapir on the first day of the year was a major win in the realm of autonomous challenges.

White-throated Shrike-Tanager: Is it a shrike? How about a tanager? It’s actually sort of both- a tanager that has a shrike-like bill but also acts like a flycatcher. I know, like what on Earth is going on here? To top off the weirdness, shrike-tanagers also make lots of noise. Like the toucanet, this bird is another mature forest snob. You gotta venture into the old woods to see the White-throated Shrike-Tanager. It was very nice to encounter three or four at El Tapir.

Other tanagers: In Costa Rica, foothill rainforests are also where the other tanagers roam. Hard to think of a better way to start the year than watching a colorful display that included Emerald, Speckled, Black and yellow, Tawny-crested, and Silver-throated tanagers among other species.

If you see an Emerald Tanager in good light, please feel free to gasp.

It was a great first day of the year, especially when we ended it with an afternoon of Great Green Macaws, Rufous-winged Woodpeckers, trogons, and Broad-billed Motmot in the Sarapiqui area. Are you birding in Costa Rica? Wishing you a Snowy Cotinga and lots of other birds in 2018!

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Things I was Reminded Of and Learned During Several Days of Intense Guiding in Costa Rica

If you have tried to contact me during the past several days, I apologize. I wasn’t home. Nor did I have a chance to check emails because I was helping someone find target species like Ochre-breasted Antpitta, owls, Dusky Nightjar, and so on. We didn’t get all the targets but with less than five full days to work with, we knew that was always going to be the case. So, we dipped on some of the species that typically require more time, ones like Silvery-throated Jay, the pewee (that would be the Ochraceous one), Scaled Antpitta, and Maroon-chested Ground-Dove among a few other not so easy birds. It wasn’t for lack of trying though and given the rain, I think we did pretty well in compiling a list with checks next to these choice species:

Buff-crowned Wood-Partridge

Spotted Wood-Quail

Ornate Hawk-Eagle

Black and white Owl

Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl

Vermiculated Screech-Owl

Spectacled Owl


Lattice-tailed Trogon

Chestnut-colored Woodpecker

Tawny-throated Leaftosser

Peg-billed Finch

During the course of birding, I was also reminded of the following:

The Unspotted Saw-whet Owl responds to vocalizations of Stygian Owl: Whether because it has experience with that potential predator, or just doesn’t like how it sounds, we had one saw-whet respond in an agitated manner to the high-pitched call made by the Stygian. In fact, since the saw-whet responded with a similar squeaking high-pitched noise, I thought it might actually be a Stygian. However, much to my frustration, almost as soon as I caught the saw-whet in the light of the torch, off it went and my client didn’t see it. We did manage to relocate a calling bird but that one was inside a veritable shield of dead vines and we couldn’t see it before it flew off to call a few more times just as the dawn was breaking on Irazu.

Hotel Grandpa’s yes, Kiri Lodge maybe not: Hotel Grandpa’s acts as a good base (with a funny name) for exploring Irazu. Good service, comfortable rooms, and a nice restaurant (which we didn’t use because we had birds to see). The only down-side was sleeping near a cabin where the guests were having their own karaoke party in the middle of the night. Once again, a shame I didn’t have some firecrackers to light right at their front door before we disembarked on the saw-whet search at 2:00 a.m.

As for Kiri Lodge, I hate to say this because the owners are nice but the room was so small and basic, and the choices in the restaurant so limited (unless you like trout or fried chicken), I don’t see myself staying there again. I know they have wanted to sell the place, I wish I had the money to buy it so it could be converted into a wonderful birding lodge. We would have wood-quail parties, engagements with antpittas, constant hummingbird action, roosting owls, etc.

The Crimson-collared Tanager can be much less friendly than you think: When a bird that has been typically easy to see decides to hide and skulk and fly off as soon as you might see it, sorry but it’s not being very friendly. Well, at least not birder friendly. If there was such a thing as “Bird Advisor”, I would have given it one star.

Tapanti is great as always and birder friendly: Tapanti National Park, thank you very much! The day before we were scheduled to bird the park, I asked the guard if we could enter early. He said, “Sure, what time?” I hesitantly responded, “Er, 5:30?” “Sure, no problem.”

We got there at the scheduled time and yes, out he came to open the gate. After thanking him from the bottom of my heart, in we went and onto the Oropendola Trail. Despite our early arrival and careful scanning, no antpittas hopped into view. But, we did make up for it with an Ochre-breasted on the Arboles Caidos trail (!), a pair of Ornate Hawk-Eagles that almost flew too close for binoculars, and views of such targets as solitaires, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Sooty-faced Finch, and the two hummingbirds among several other non-target species. Mixed flocks were good and by 11:30, we had a healthy list.

Our Ochre-breasted Antpitta.

The guard at La Selva, not so much: If you bird the entrance road, God forbid that you scan with binoculars near the guard shack. Such common birding behavior caused the guard to abandon his post and tell us that we could bird along the road but not right there because that costed money to do so. Seriously. Scanning for a few seconds, looking in the direction of the reserve. He was clearly perturbed and then even more so when we left the road near there to see a Black-throated Wren even though we were clearly in sight, and obviously watching a bird for a very short time. I said, “I’m sorry, there was a bird there we really wanted to see, please don’t worry, we aren’t going to try and sneak into the grounds of La Selva.” He said something like, “There are houses here, you can’t leave the road.” I saw the houses, we weren’t near them. At all. Whether he was worried that administration would perhaps berate him or was just taking his job to new heights of security, when it comes down to it, this is yet another sign that La Selva could use some consulting regarding birders. If the OTS La Selva Biological Station would like to capitalize on birding and thus raise more funds for the station, for a fee, I would be more than happy to advise them on how that could be accomplished and of course in ways that would not affect the main objectives of the station. Contact me at

Now before we make excuses like “it’s a research station”, or that “the guard was just doing his job”, we would also need to ask ourselves if La Selva would actually like to earn more money from visiting birders, and if part of the guard’s job should involve efforts to try and stop people from watching birds in the vicinity of the guard shack (and thus convince them to perhaps not stay at a place that does not welcome birders and recommend other birders to do likewise).

El Gavilan can be a pretty good base for Sarapiqui birding: El Gavilan, one of the oldest choices for accommodation in the Sarapiqui area, continues to be a welcome, relaxing places to sit back and see which birds come on by. Although the habitat consists of various stages of second growth along with mature riparian forest, it is pretty darn birdy (check out the eBird list from late morning). After seriously searching for Snowy Cotinga at the edges of La Selva and other areas in the vicinity, we managed to see a female fly over the clearing at Gavilan. Sadly, she did not perch for scope views but the pale gray bird was still the only one we saw. Other species were Gray-chested and White-tipped Doves, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Red-throated Ant-Tanagers, flocks of migrating Miss. Kites and streams of swallows, Alder Flycatcher by the river, Rufous-winged, Smoky-brown, Black-cheeked, and Cinnamon Woodpeckers, and various other species of the Caribbean lowland edge and canopy. No deep forest birds but that can be resolved with walks at Tirimbina, El Tapir, or Quebrada Gonzalez. Not to mention, one of the friendly managers brought us to a roosting family of Spectacled Owls.

The baby.

I’m sure there is more to say about these days but given our fast-paced, focused birding, at the moment, it’s all sort of blurring together. Suffice to say that, as always, when you put in the time and effort, Costa Rica provides the birds.

Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica

Cerulean Warbler Count and Other Suggestions for Birding Costa Rica

Summer is still happening up north but not for long. The cooler nights of autumn are just around the corner, and for most birds, the big seasonal insect boom is over. For species like Cerulean Warbler, Hooded Warbler, and Louisiana Waterthrush, the chicks have been fledged and the time has come to once again take the long trip south. In Costa Rica, we are already seeing this trio of wood-warblers and we hope to see many more in a month or two. Yes, the exquisite Cerulean Warbler passes through Costa Rica in as good numbers as its threatened population allows and right now is the time to see them. They mostly occur on the Caribbean slope, especially so in foothill and middle elevation forests and can be encountered for much of September in small numbers although the best place in Costa Rica to see this choice warbler of the deciduous canopy seems to be at the Las Brisas Reserve.

This private protected area in the foothills above the town of Siquirres seems to be especially good for migrants as well as nice resident species like Royal Flycatcher, White-tipped Sicklebill, and other birds. Since it’s an excellent place to count Ceruleans while looking for other migrants, local birding guide and ornithologist Ernesto Carman has organized an annual Cerulean Warbler count at this site for the past several years. Past counts have turned up several Ceruleans along with flocks of migrating kites and many other birds shared in good company. This year’s count promises to be just as good and also includes a bird walk at the EARTH University, an excellent site for species of the lowland rainforest. To participate in the count on September 2-3, contact Ernesto at

Le Royal Flycatcher

When not counting Cerulean Warblers, here are some suggestions for birding in Costa Rica during the final week of August and the first week of September:

Visit Albergue del Socorro– Off the beaten track, but not too far off for an easy visit, this small lodge is run by a friendly local family who care deeply for the excellent middle elevation forests and biodiversity in their neighborhood. Needless to say, the birding is excellent and I can’t wait to go back. This is a site to look for Lovely Cotinga and Bare-necked Umbrellabird among many other species.

Check out wetlands in Guanacaste– The waterbirds are more spread out but with more wetlands to access, it seems like it’s easier to find major targets like Jabiru and Spotted Rail. Don’t overlook the rice fields, especially if they are being harvested. Sit back and see if you can identify the rails that are flushed by the tractor!

The Jabiru is more or less king of the Western Hemisphere wading birds.

Look for the Aplomado Falcon in Coris– There has been a juvenile Aplomado in Coris, Cartago terrorizing the local blackbirds and doves for more than a month now. Park across the road from the entrance to the Kimberly-Clark factory and watch for the Falco fun from there!

Expect flooded conditions near Golfito– It’s been raining Jaguars and Maned Wolves in southern Costa Rica. As has often happened when massive amounts of water come to that part of the country, fields and other areas have become flooded. Be careful when driving any side roads from the La Gamba area to the border.

Keep an eye and ear out for Saw-whets and Oilbirds in the highlands– This is a good time of year to at least hear the little known Unspotted Saw-whet Owl up on Irazu and Cerro de la Muerte. It’s also a good time to look for Oilbirds. Although there have only been a few sightings this year, there are probably more of those weird nocturnal birds up in the mountains.

Enjoy the great birding in Costa Rica, as always, I hope to see you in the field!

Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica

Northern Scrub Flycatcher- the Mini-Myiarchus

Tyrant-flycatchers are a seriously successful family. In terms of life on Earth, that means there are a lot of species in a lot of place and for this family, “a lot” means hundreds of Tyrannidae evolved to occupy habitats from the cold, windy grasslands of Patagonia on through the steamy lowland rainforests in the heart of South America north through familiar places in Virginia, and the way up north in the conifers of Alaska. Anyone who has been birding for any amount of time also knows that this family has been good at generating species that are a pain to identify. For whatever reason, apparently, that pattern of dull olive and grayish plumage, two wings bars, and not much else is perfect for survival because we can’t seem to get away from it. Lots of birds from different families wear that uniform but in the western hemisphere, flycatchers just might love it the most.

We are taking over AND MANY OF US wear the same uniform!- anonymous Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in Costa Rica.

Numbers of Tyrannid species go up the closer you get to the equator and since Costa Rica is just 9 degrees north of that invisible line, yeah, we have a lot! But, before any possible seeds of anxiety are planted at the thought of identifying dozens of extremely similar flycatchers, you can sit back and breathe a sigh of relief. Identifying them in the field is pretty straightforward and easier than sorting through Empids back home, the confusion might be more of a product of trying to remember all of those names; flatbill, spadebill, flycatcher, tody-flycatcher, pygmy-tyrant, and so on! If you can learn them by genus, I actually find that to be an easier way to mentally categorize and remember them (if you feel like memorizing bird names instead of using Sudoku to devour time).  That doesn’t mean that there won’t be some challenges thrown your way (especially when trying to separate Brown-crested and Nutting’s Flycatchers), but, as long as you get a good look at the head and bill, it will be easier than many flycatchers back home (or “warblers” if you hail from the Palearctic).

One of those flycatchers that looks as if it might be a problem but really isn’t that difficult is the Northern Scrub Flycatcher. While this little guy does share that wonderfully adapted pattern of grayish head, pale yellow belly, pale wing bars , and some pattern on the head, take a closer look and you will be forced to admit that you have seen a Northern Scrub Flycatcher. You may wonder why on Earth it has to have such a darn long name, especially when you are seeing it in mangroves instead of scrub but just be thankful it doesn’t have as cumbersome a name as the Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Oleaginous Hemispingus, or White-cheeked Tody-Tyrant.

Like most tyrant-flycatchers in Costa Rica (and the majority of bird species), for the Northern Scrub, you need to focus in on the head, especially the bill. This bird has such a tiny bill, it may also occur to you that the species is hiding out in the mangroves because it feels woefully inadequate, even incomplete, when sharing a branch with the Great Kiskadee or pretty much any other tyrant-flycatcher in the country.

Yep, that’s it’s claim to fame, a small, dark bill.

Take a look at the wings and you might also notice that this flycatcher sort of has three wing bars. Maybe not all of the time but don’t be surprised if it looks that way.

Once you see the extra wing bar and the tiny bill, you can then relax and check out some other subtle features and impressions. You might notice that the gray head has a short crest and a bit of a dark line through some sort of broken eye rings, and that the gray also comes down onto the breast. You might also feel like the bird looks kind of like a mini Myiarchus (at least it does to me, sort of), or maybe a cross between a tyrannulet and an elaenia (if that helps). As for vocalizations, although the brief whistled note is diagnostic, it’s all too easy to over look. Or, you might just decide to look at something more colorful or eye-catching that happens to be coming in to the pygmy-owl call, and no one would blame you if you did so.

The smart looking Mangrove Yellow Warbler will probably be there.

Or, there might be a Turquoise-browed Motmot begging for attention.

In Costa Rica, look for the Northern Scrub Flycatcher in mangroves in the Gulf of Nicoya and the Gulfo Dulce. If you see one elsewhere, take a closer look at the bill, it’s probably a Greenish Elaenia or some other bird wearing that flycatcher uniform.

Like a lot of flycatchers, the Greenish Elaenia is…greenish.


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A Few Birds To Look For On The Cerro Lodge Road

Cerro Lodge is one of the main accommodation options for birders visiting the Carara area. It’s also one of the only real options but that doesn’t take away from its value in terms of proximity to the park, service, comfort, and (best of all), good, on-site birding. Given that reforestation efforts have resulted in more birds at the lodge itself, more fruit feeders, hummingbird bushes, and an overlook that can turn up everything from raptors, macaws, parrots, parakeets, Yellow-billed Cotinga (typically distant), trogons, and flyby Muscovy Duck, don’t be surprised if you feel completely satisfied with birding from the lodge restaurant. But, if you feel like stepping off the lodge property, get ready for more great birding on the road that runs in front of Cerro Lodge.

This road gets birdy by way of patches of roadside dry forest, second growth, mango orchards, fields, a small seasonal marsh, and a flat, floodplain area near the Tarcoles River. As one might expect, that mosaic of habitats has resulted in a fair bird list, and I suspect that several other species could show. In addition to a wide variety of common edge species, these are some other key birds to look for:

Crane Hawk

This raptor might be the star of the Cerro Lodge bird assemblage. Although not exactly abundant and never guaranteed, the lodge and the road are probably the most reliable sites in Costa Rica for this species. In this country, the raptor with the long, red legs prefers riparian zones with large trees in lowland areas, mostly on the Pacific slope. The proximity of the Tarcoles River to the road and the lodge apparently works well for this cool bird because it’s seen here quite often. If you don’t get it from the restaurant, a day of focused birding on the road should turn up one or more of this nice raptor. In addition to both caracaras, other raptors can also show up including Short-tailed, Zone-tailed, Common Black, and Gray Hawks, Gray-headed Kite, Plumbeous Kite, and Collared Forest-Falcon. Down in the floodplain, keep an eye out for Pearl Kite.

Muscovy Duck

It might not seem exciting but it’s still worth knowing that this area is a good one for wild Muscovy Ducks. One or more can fly over the lodge, road, or be visible from the lodge restaurant. The abundance of this species probably varies with water levels in the surrounding area. I usually see one or more flybys in the morning but there are times when I haven’t seen any, and I recall one morning when more than a dozen were seen from the restaurant.

Double Striped Thick-Knee

If you still need this weird one, watch for it in open fields anywhere on the road, but especially in the floodplain area just before dawn.

Striped Cuckoo and Lesser ground-Cuckoo

The Striped is regular from the lodge and along the road and the ground-cuckoo is probably increasing.


Although Black and White used to be a given at the lodge, unfortunately, it’s not as regular as in the past. It still occurs in the area though and does still visit the lodge on occasion. Other owl species that can show up include Barn, Spectacled, Mottled, and Pacific Screech. Striped is also heard and seen from time to time. The most common owl species is Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl.

Various dry forest species

Many dry forest species are common at the lodge and along the road including stunners like Turquoise-browed Motmot and Black-headed Trogon.

The motmot

The trogon

These two can occur at the lodge and anywhere on the road along with species like Stripe-headed Sparrow, Brown-crested and Nutting’s Flycatchers, and White-lored Gnatcatcher. Checking spots with dense vegetation and a more forested aspect can turn up Olive Sparrow, Banded Wren, Royal Flycatcher, and even Stub-tailed Spadebill. Beauties like Blue Grosbeak and Painted Bunting are also regular in scrubby habitats along the road.

Stripe-headed Sparrow

White-lored Gnatcatcher

White-necked Puffbird

This cool bird seems to be increasing at this site and is now regular along the road and even at the lodge itself.

Macaws, parrots and the like

Thankfully, Scarlet Macaws are doing very well in Costa Rica. While watching them fly past and perch in trees at and near Cerro, you can also watch for flyby Yellow-naped, White-fronted, and Red-lored Parrots, White-crowned Parrots, Orange-fronted and Orange-chinned Parakeets, and, when certain trees are seeding, hundreds of Crimson-fronted Parakeets. At times, Brown-hooded and Mealy Parrots can also occur for a fine Psittacine sweep.

This stunner is always around.

White-throated Magpie-Jay

Last but not least, watch for this spectacular jay on the road and at the lodge feeders.

Enjoy birding at Cerro and vicinity, I hope to see you out there! Please see an updated bird list below:

List of birds identified at Cerro Lodge and the road in front of the lodge, with abundance as of 2017
This list probably awaits more additions, especially from the more heavily wooded area on the northern part of the property.
c- common, u- uncommon, r – rare, vr- very rare and vagrants
Please send additions to the list or rare sightings to
Area covered includes the vicinity of Cerro Lodge and the road to Cerro Lodge from the highway to where it dead-ends on the river flood plain.
Keep in mind that the abundance of various species is likely changing due to the effects of climate change.
Great Tinamour
Little Tinamouu
Muscovy Ducku
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducku
Blue-winged Tealr
Masked Duckvr
Gray-headed Chachalacar
Least Greber
Magnificent Frigatebirdu
Wood Storkc
Neotropic Cormorantu
Bare-throated Tiger-Heronc
Great Blue Heronu
Great Egretc
Snowy Egretu
Little Blue Heronc
Tricolored Heronu
Cattle Egretc
Green Heronc
Boat-billed Heronr
Yellow-crowned Night-Heronr
White Ibisc
Roseate Spoonbillu
Black Vulturec
Turkey Vulturec
King Vulturer
Pearl Kiter
Hook-billed Kitevr
Gray-headed Kiter
Double-toothed Kiter
Plumbeous Kitec
Tiny Hawkvr
Crane Hawku
Gray Hawkc
Common Black-Hawkc
Broad-winged Hawkc
Short-tailed Hawkc
Zone-tailed Hawku
Swainson’s Hawkr
Red-tailed Hawkr
White-throated Crakevr
Purple Gallinulec
Gray-cowled Wood-Railu
Double-striped Thick-Kneeu
Southern Lapwingu
Northern Jacanac
Black-necked Stiltu
Solitary Sandpiperu
Spotted Sandpiperu
Lesser Yellowlegsr
Pale-vented Pigeonvr
Red-billed Pigeonc
White-winged Dovec
White-tipped Dovec
Inca Dovec
Common Ground-Dovec
Plain-breasted Ground-Dover
Ruddy Ground-Dovec
Blue Ground-Dover
Squirrel Cuckooc
Groove-billed Anic
Lesser Ground-Cuckoor
Mangrove Cuckoou
Barn Owlu
Spectacled Owlr
Mottled Owlu
Black and White Owlc
Pacific Screech Owlc
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owlc
Striped Owlr
Common Pauraquec
Lesser Nighthawkc
Northern Potoovr
White-collared Swiftc
Chestnut-collared Swiftu
Black swiftr
Spot-fronted Swiftr
Vaux’s Swiftu
Costa Rican Swiftu
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swiftu
Long-billed Hermitr
Stripe-throated Hermitu
Scaly-breasted Hummingbirdc
Canivet’s Emeraldu
Steely-vented Hummingbirdc
Blue-throated Goldentailc
Cinnamon Hummingbirdc
Rufous-tailed Hummingbirdc
Charming Hummingbirdr
Mangrove Hummingbirdvr
Ruby-throated Hummingbirdc
Plain-capped Starthroatu
Green-breasted Mangoc
Slaty-tailed Trogonr
Black-headed Trogonc
Gartered Trogonc
Lesson’s Motmotu
Turquoise-browed Motmotc
Ringed Kingfisheru
Belted Kingfisherr
Green Kingfisheru
Amazon Kingfisherr
American Pygmy-Kingfisherr
White-necked Puffbirdc
Yellow-throated Toucanr
Keel-billed Toucanvr
Fiery-billed Aracarir
Olivaceous Piculetr
Hoffman’s Woodpeckerc
Lineated Woodpeckerc
Pale-billed Woodpeckeru
Bat Falconr
Peregrine Falconu
Collared Forest-Falconu
Crested Caracarac
Yellow-headed Caracarac
Laughing Falconc
Crimson-fronted Parakeetc
Orange-fronted Parakeetc
Orange-chinned Parakeetc
White-crowned Parrotc
Brown-hooded Parrotu
White-fronted Parrotc
Red-lored Parrotc
Mealy Parrotr
Yellow-naped Parrotc
Scarlet Macawc
Barred Antshrikec
Olivaceous Woodcreeperu
Streak-headed Woodcreeperc
Cocoa Woodcreeperu
Northern Barred Woodcreeperr
Northern Beardless Tyrannuletc
Southern Beardless Tyrannuletr
Paltry Tyrannuletu
Northern Bentbillr
Stub-tailed Spadebillr
Royal Flycatcherr
Yellow-bellied Elaeniau
Yellow-olive Flycatcherc
Greenish Elaeniac
Common Tody-Flycatcherc
Bright-rumped Atillac
Tropical Peweeu
Yellow-bellied Flycatcherc
Willow Flycatcherc
Alder Flycatcheru
Panama Flycatcherr
Great-crested Flycatcherc
Brown-crested Flycatcherc
Nutting’s Flycatcherc
Dusky-capped Flycatcherc
Boat-billed Flycatcherc
Great Kiskadeec
Social Flycatcherc
Streaked Flycatcherc
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcherc
Piratic Flycatcherc
Tropical Kingbirdc
Western Kingbirdr
Eastern Kingbirdu
Scissor-tailed Flycatcheru
Yellow-billed Cotingar
Three-wattled Bellbirdvr
Long-tailed Manakinu
Rose-throated Becardc
Masked Tityrac
Black-crowned Tityrac
Scrub Greenletvr
Lesser Greenletu
Yellow-throated Vireoc
Philadelphia Vireoc
Yellow-green Vireoc
Red-eyed Vireor
White-throated Magpie-Jayu
Brown Jayc
Cliff Swallowc
Southern Rough-winged Swallowc
Northern Rough-winged Swallowc
Barn Swallowc
Bank Swallowc
Mangrove Swallowu
Gray-breasted Martinc
White-lored Gnatcatcherc
Tropical Gnatcatcherc
Long-billed Gnatwrenu
Rufous-naped Wrenc
Rufous-breasted Wrenu
Banded Wrenu
Rufous and white Wrenu
Cabanis’s Wrenc
House Wrenc
Clay-colored Robinc
Swainson’s Thrushc
Wood Thrushu
Tennessee Warblerc
Yellow Warblerc
Hooded Warblerr
American Redstartr
Prothonotary Warbleru
Rufous-capped Warblerc
Chestnut-sided Warblerc
Black and White Warblerc
Northern Waterthrushc
Gray-crowned Yellowthroatc
Summer Tanagerc
Western Tanageru
Blue-gray Tanagerc
Palm Tanageru
Cherrie’s Tanagerr
Gray-headed Tanageru
Red-legged Honeycreeperc
Stripe-headed Sparrowc
Buff-throated Saltatorc
Grayish Saltatoru
Blue-black Grassquitc
White-collared Seedeaterc
Variable Seedeaterc
Rose-breasted Grosbeakc
Blue Grosbeakc
Indigo Buntingu
Painted Buntingu
Eastern Meadowlarkc
Red-winged Blackbirdu
Melodious Blackbirdc
Great-tailed Gracklec
Baltimore Oriolec
Orchard Orioleu
Bronzed Cowbirdc
Montezuma Oropendolau
Yellow-crowned Euphoniau
Scrub Euphoniac
Yellow-throated Euphoniac
Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica middle elevations

Easy Raptor Watching Near San Jose

Costa Rica might have a lot of raptors on the country list but we don’t really see them very often. They are out there but populations are naturally low, and many require high quality forest. Well, lets just say that there are more in high quality forest because there’s just more food available.

Ironically, the problem with seeing lots of raptors in Costa Rica is related to the high levels of biodiversity. Basically, hawks of all sizes have to compete with other hawks, flycatchers, and other birds. The result is fewer hawks but the flip side of the birding coin is more species of hawks. Nevertheless, some places are better for seeing more raptors in a short amount of time than others, and one of the best ones near the Central Valley is the Cinchona-Virgen del Socorro area.

This spot is an excellent site to hang out and wait for raptors because the area is easily accessed by good roads (it takes about an hour and 15 to 20 minutes to drive there), and there are several spots that overlook a forested canyon. As a bonus, this area is also close enough to Braulio Carrillo to up the odds of having a few of the rarer species fly into view.

Some of the species to look for:

White Hawk

The Socorro area is one of the classic sites for this beautiful hawk. Look for it perched in the canyon or just flying around on sunny days.

Barred Hawk

This one is also best seen on sunny days as it soars, calls like a gull, and displays. Its shape is a heck of a lot like a Black Vulture.

Short-tailed Hawk

One of the more commonly seen raptor species in Costa Rica, including this area.

Swallow-tailed Kite

From February to August, this expression of avian elegance is commonly seen around Cinchona and Socorro.

Broad-winged Hawk

This common, wintering species often perches on roadside trees or is seen soaring overhead.

Gray Hawk

Another commonly seen species, this adaptable hawk is a good one to know because it can occur almost anywhere in the country.

Bat Falcon

A pair or two lives in the canyon. In the early morning, watch for them perched on snags, including the one near the Colibri Cafe. We also see this species soaring or in flight and looking a lot like a White-collared Swift in the process.

In addition to the two regular vultures, bonus birds can also show up including Ornate and Black and White Hawk-Eagles, and Great Black Hawk. On the San Miguel section of the road, you might also see Laughing Falcon, Double-toothed Kite, and King Vulture. In the past, Solitary Eagle was also regular in this area. Although it hasn’t been seen for several years, maybe it could turn up again?

For more information about finding and identifying birds in Costa Rica, see How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica middle elevations

Expectations and Changes at the Cinchona Colibri Cafe

Last week, as usual, I made a stop at the Colibri Cafe during a day of guiding. I usually spend an hour or so at the Cafe after a few early morning stops on the route between there and Alajuela. There have been a few recent changes at the Cafe but the birding expectations are just as good, if not better. If you plan on checking out the Cafe while traveling to or from Sarapiqui, or as a day trip from Sarapiqui or the San Jose area, here are some suggestions and expectations:

More Feeders, More Birds: The owners have steadily updated and improved the cafe ever since the original was destroyed by the 2009 earthquake. Now, instead of watching one set of feeders, there is another set of feeders lower down and accessible by concrete steps. Recently, they also put up a large bunch of bananas at eye level that might eventually pay off with large toucan species and parrots. Maybe, but at least that’s what goes on with a similar set up at Laguna del Lagarto Lodge. If you can do the stairs (there aren’t that many), make sure to check the feeders below because these are closer to forest vegetation and might end up attracting different species.


This site continues to be an easy spot for Emerald (Blue-throated) Toucanet.

Both Barbets: The Prong-billed has always been regular but the Red-headed has been scarce ever since the earthquake. It has been showing up a bit more from time to time, though, and with luck, will become a regular visitor again especially with the vegetation growing back.


Prong-billed Barbet- we actually did not see this one at the Cafe on Saturday but did catch up with it up on Poas.

White-bellied Mountain-Gem and other hummingbirds: Expect a good hummingbird show with six to eight species. This varies depending on time of year and what’s flowering out there in the woods but is always worth a look. The bird to look for is White-bellied Mountain-Gem, a local species seen at very few sites. Other regulars include Violet Sabrewing, Green-crowned Brilliant, Coppery-headed Emerald, Green Thorntail, Green Hermit, and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird.


The other day was good for the mountain-gems.

More birds in the morning and on cloudy days: As is typical of bird activity just about everywhere, expect to see more at the Cafe between 6 and 7, and on cloudy days.

Cool souvenirs: The Cafe also sells a fair variety of quality souvenirs. Check it out and know that anything purchased there supports this bird and birder friendly locale.

Good, local food: Want to sample some delicious, Tico country cuisine? This is the perfect place to do just that, the prices are fair, and once again, you will be supporting a business that has helped thousands of people see Violet Sabrewings,  barbets, and other species at close range. In essence, the owners have acted as unofficial bird and birding ambassadors.

Photography Fee: On my last visit, one of the owners explained to me that they are now charging a fee of $10 for people with professional looking cameras. This pretty much means anything beyond a simple point and shoot. They hadn’t put a sign up about that yet but hopefully will. I was actually going to suggest something like this because setting up the feeders and keeping them stocked has been and continues to be a substantial investment. Although they have a contribution box, that clearly isn’t working, and according to the owner, they haven’t been very pleased with the behavior of some photographers, saying that more than one had set up shop for a few hours without leaving a donation. Given the photo chances, especially now, $10 is a pretty good deal and they aren’t even charging by the hour. Who knows if that might change, though, so just be clear about the cost of using a DSLR at the Cafe Colibri upon arrival at the Cafe.


Some shots will be worth it.

Raptors: The good view of a forested canyon has also always made this site a good one for raptors. It varies but species to look for include White Hawk, Barred Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, and Gray Hawk, along with such possibilities as Red-tailed Hawk, Great Black-Hawk, Bat Falcon, and even Ornate Hawk-Eagle. Keep in mind that Solitary Eagle, Black Hawk-Eagle, and Black and white Hawk-Eagle have also been seen near there in the past. Maybe they could turn up again, especially by scanning the other side of the canyon with a scope.


This white blob is an over-exposed White Hawk that was soaring around a few days ago.

Enjoy the birds, good food, and view at this special place!

Birding Costa Rica birding lodges birds to watch for in Costa Rica

Birding in Costa Rica this August? Fantastic Deal at Luna Lodge, one of the Best Birding Lodges in Costa Rica

As befits a country where tourism plays a big role in the economy and lives of a few million people, Costa Rica offers a long list of accommodation options. There are bed and breakfasts, hostels for the young and/or super thrifty, large, all-inclusive hotels, small, family owned operations, and lodges geared towards those who visit Costa Rica to experience and appreciate an abundance of tropical nature. Falling within that latter category are a few hotels that focus on birding, or at least have a local guide or two who are avid birders, keep track of the avifauna at and around the hotel, and are always happy to share those birds to guests. Since most of the birding hotels in Costa Rica are used by bird tour companies, anyone who reads trip reports or who looks for information about birding in Costa Rica will be pretty familiar with those lodges.

However, such hotels aren’t the only places that cater to birders. Other, lesser known lodges with resident birding guides don’t make it onto trip reports because they are way off the usual beaten birding track. One of those locales is Luna Lodge- Ironically, the main reason why fewer birders get there is also why it is one of the best sites for birding in the country. As with most high quality sites anywhere, habitat is key to birding success and Luna Lodge has it. It comes in the form of the primary lowland rainforests of the Osa Peninsula and not at the edge either, but pretty close to the heart of the forest. Combine high quality rainforest with a nearby coastal lagoon, and flat lowland sites with second growth and riparian zones where Speckled Mourner has been seen (one of the rarest resident species in Costa Rica), and you know that you are in for some fantastic birding.

luna lodge view

On the deck at Luna Lodge.

I know this because I helped start the first bird list for Luna Lodge several years ago. It was during the time of the millenium (I actually spent New Year’s eve there in 1999/2000), and the place was just getting started. Although I didn’t get lucky with a Harpy or Crested Eagles, both species were seen at the lodge not long after my stay (gripped!). However, I did see things like:

-Daily sightings of several King Vultures.

-Flocks of Scarlet Macaws every day.

-All three hawk-eagles, usually at least one of them every day.

-Tiny Hawk.

-White-tipped Sicklebill, White-crested Coquette, lots of Charming Hummingbirds, and other expected species.

-Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager pretty much every day- a species endemic to the Osa peninsula and adjacent rainforests.

Black cheeked Ant Tanager

-Turquoise Cotinga- one of the only accessible sites where it is common.

-Great Curassow and Crested Guan daily.

-Large mixed flocks with tanagers, flycatchers, woodcreepers (including the elusive Long-tailed), and many other species.

Rufous-winged Woodpecker

Rufous-winged Woodpecker is often in those big flocks.

-Lots of monkeys and other animals.

It was simply fantastic birding in beautiful rainforest. The food was also good but it’s hard to compare the lodge then to what it’s like after years of success. Nowadays, there is a yoga platform with a distant view of the ocean where Scarlet Macaws fly against a rainforest backdrop. Yeah, that sounds like a commercial or documentary but I’m not going to lie, that is what the view looks like. There are also several trails, and overlooks to scan the canopy for raptors and other birds. The food is also fantastic as is the service, attention, and Gary, the local birding guide knows his stuff very well.

luna lodge view 2

Another view at Luna Lodge.

I’m writing about Luna Lodge not because I have been there recently, but because I will be there in a few weeks. From August 18th to August 21st, I will be guiding a trip to Luna for the local Birding Club of Costa Rica. Although I don’t usually post such announcements on my blog, I am doing so this time because we still have a few spots open for the trip, and it’s an excellent opportunity to experience the birding at Luna Lodge for a fantastic low price. If you are going to be in Costa Rica during these dates and want to go on this trip with us, this is what you can expect:

-Several looks at Turquoise Cotinga as well as the other stuff I mention above.

-High quality lowland rainforest birding in one of the most biodynamic places in Central America. Including birding en route, we will probably identify around 170 species including many uncommon species and regional endemics including…

Black-hooded Antshrike

Black-hooded Antshrike and

rivserside wren

Riverside Wren

-Good birding en route that could turn up Pearl Kite, Savanna Hawk, and a variety of other edge and open country species. You could also stop at the Rincon bridge to look for Yellow-billed Cotinga…

-Three nights lodging and excellent meals for  $255. The guide fee depends on the number of participants but might be around $75 to $100.

If you are interested in this excellent birding deal, please email me at before August 8th. I hope to help you experience the fantastic birding in the Osa peninsula at Luna Lodge!