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5 Things Learned from Chasing American Avocets in Costa Rica

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

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

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

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

“Twitchworthiness” Doesn’t Guarantee Anything

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

It’s pretty nice when they become visible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

birding Costa Rica
Distant mud flats at Chomes.

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

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

Slow Ride, Take it Easy…

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

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

Late Afternoon Dining in Puntarenas- a Big Yes!

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

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

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

Don’t Do Ensenada as a Day Trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recommendations for Birding Costa Rica- December, 2023

Will you be birding Costa Rica soon? Need some recommendations? Here’s my take on birding Costa Rica in the final month of the year. These suggestions probably work for every December. In any case, I hope they help with your upcoming trip.

Expect Rain in the Mountains and on the Caribbean Slope

“It’s raining again…”

It’ll will be raining…but it won’t be that bad. Well, at least not on the Pacific slope! Yeah, in December, the dry season does kick into gear but not everywhere in Costa Rica. This country might be small but it sits at a major junction, one called the continental divide.

Put your pishing skills to the test at Walmart Woods and you’ll be urban birding on the Pacific slope. Go anywhere south of the mountains and it’s the same- all that water is headed to oceans where Nazca Boobies dive and Black Storm-Petrels nighthawk their way over the waves.

Bird the Pacific and the rains should be trailing off or stopping altogether.

Go to the other side of the mountains, anywhere north of the volcanoes and tectonic lift and you’ll be joining currents that flow to the Caribbean. The Atlantic Ocean that is, waters where Great Shearwaters shear and Black-capped Petrels arc and wheel. And oh how we hope to see those lost birds in Costa Rica!

Over on the Caribbean slope, it’s generally wetter and there is no historic, actual dry season. In fact, it usually rains more in December but don’t fret! If you are bringing binos to Arenal, La Selva, or any other site on Costa Rica’s Caribbean slope, the birding will still be good. In fact, when the rain stops, it can be downright fantastic.

What about the mountains? What about folks headed to Paraiso Quetzal, Savegre, and other montane birding sites in Costa Rica? Yeah, bring a rainjacket or poncho and/or waterproof stuff. It’s more hit or miss in December but once again, when the rain stops, the birds come out. They like it more than the hot, beating sun.

Don’t Rely on eBird Too Much- Birds are Where the Habitat Is

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

eBird is such a font of knowledge. Where would we be without it? It is very useful, and for those of us OG phone bird alert, pager, and listserv folks, I daresay the platform is still revolutionary.

However. In Costa Rica, it’s not really the final say on birding. That’s because:

  1. Most coverage occurs at the same sites and main birding circuits.
  2. Most lists do not show all the birds that were seen or heard (because a high percentage of people using eBird in Costa Rica don’t know all of the bird vocalizations).
  3. And most lists probably have errors that can be tough to filter out.

This doesn’t mean that eBird is useless. By no mean! In Costa Rica, it’s a great resource for birding. It just means that you should always remember that birds are not restricted to hotspots or sightings on eBird. They occur in their appropriate habitats.

Umbrellabirds at Centro Manu and Other Lowland Forest Sites

It’s that time of year again! Centro Manu continues to be one of the better sites for Bare-necked Umbrellabird. Even so, this endangered bird is not common there. You may need to walk the trails for some hours and really look for them. BUT, you’ll have a very good chance of seeing this mega, especially if you hire the on-site guide Kenneth. As a bonus, he might also know of roosting sites for owls and potoos.

He sometimes has Crested Owl on the premises.

As for other lowland forest sites, yes, umbrellabirds should be there too. The best places are Veragua, the Rainforest Aerial Tram, and Pocosol but they can also occur at Quebrada Gonzalez, the San Luis Canopy, the road to Manuel Brenes, Nectar and Pollen, La Selva, Tirimbina, Arenal, and any site where primary lowland and foothill forest is connected to highland forest.

Those weird big cotingas are just tough to chance upon.

Look for Rare Birds- You’ll See the Common Ones Too!

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

The best birding isn’t in hotel gardens. Ok, so that all depends on what one mean by “best birding” but in this case, I mean birding that gives you the best chances at the most bird species. As with all places on Earth, that means visiting the largest areas of intact habitat. In Costa Rica, that usually translates to mature, intact forest.

Naturally, such places also coincide with the best sites for rare birds. Focus on those rare species and you’ll see the common ones too. You’ll also see plenty of uncommon bird species. Just make sure to spend some time at the edge of the forest and scanning the canopy before walking beneath the trees.

Want to see leaftossers? I know, say what? But seriously, leaftossers, foliage-gleaners, more manakins, and many other birds. You’ll need to leave the tanagers in the garden and visit quality forest habitats.

Avoid Driving Rush Hour in the Central Valley

As a final note, I’ll just mention, no, urge you to avoid driving in the Central Valley during rush hour. The Central Valley is basically San Jose and all its urban connections. There are major traffic jams on a daily basis, perhaps exacerbated by roadwork, always by daily fender benders.

Drive in it and you’ll be missing out on hours of birding time (in addition to testing your stress levels). Avoid it by NOT driving Monday through Friday in the Central Valley at these times:

5:45 am-8:30 am

4:00 pm-6:30 pm

It can also get gridlocked on Saturdays! Sundays, though, Sundays are fun driving days except when ascending Route 27. On Sunday afternoons, the weekday rush hour traffic gets transferred there by the many folks coming back from the beaches.

If you must drive in and out of the Central Valley, leave early, even by 5, and stay out all day. Instead of wasting time in traffic, dine out and then go owling somewhere. That’ll be way more fun!

I’m sure I could day more but these suggestions will help for now. For more Costa Rica birding information, search this very blog and support it by purchasing “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. It’s also a great way to prepare for your birding trip- it has up to date information about most birding sites in Costa Rica along with tips for seeing and identifying everything.

I hope to see you here! Happy Thanksgiving and happy birding!

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5 Study Essentials for a Birding Trip to Costa Rica

Going birding in Costa Rica? Awesome! Epic! Boss! Or, as various overdressed, bespectacled folks used to say, “Splendid!”. I for one, certainly recommend birding in Costa Rica wholeheartedly and completely. While you are here, get up early, focus on birds, and the trip will be a memorable blast.

Orange-collared Manakin

But study for it? What? Wasn’t that like something we did when we were taking classes? Going to school and so on? I mean, in some circles, studying for a vacation could be interpreted as an odd form of torture. After all, isn’t a vacation all about relaxation accompanied by sunsets, cold drinks, and not worrying about responsibilities? Like, if you were gonna study, it would be about margarita flavors, picking the best beach sandals, and where to get a yoga massage or something.

However, that would be for ye olde regular vacation. The birding trip does not fall into such a sun-drenched, easy-going category. When we do birding trips, birding vacations if you will, we go with a different set of goals. The focus of the trip is birds, seeing them, probably taking pictures of them, experiencing them.

It’s a very specific type of trip, a special type of travel, one always better when you study for it.

So you can marvel over birds like this Red-lored Parrot.

Sure, yeah, you could go birding in Costa Rica without laying a finger on a field guide. You could bring those binos to this here birdable land without having looked at any birding apps for Costa Rica. Sure, you could do all that but check it out- birding in Costa Rica ain’t no joke.

We’re talking about hundreds of bird species. Up in birdy here, there’s literally centuries of possible lifers. Trust me, it’s not gonna be like home, not even like the slightest whit call of a Least Flycatcher.

Used to seeing what, 40, maybe 70 species on a really good day? Do some all day birding in Costa Rica and those numbers are nothing. Around here, the bird factory keeps on a rolling. We’re talking well over a hundred species in a day, regularly, in more than one region (even days with 150 plus species). Yeah, it’s some birding gone crazy in Costa Rica alright.

Costa Rica is a place worth getting ready for. It’s worth it to study before any birding trip but in Costa Rica, it’s not just worth it, it’s pretty much requisite. At least a necessity if you want to see more birds, if you want to make the most of your trip, if you want to have some of the best birding in your life.

If you come to Costa Rica for birding, you want all of the above so all I can say is start studying now, start studying as soon as you can. Taking a tour or not, your trip will still be ten times better if you train that mind, get yourself ready for some major birding.

There’s a lot you could study, here’s five main things I recommend:

Learn 50 Bird Vocalizations

What? I know, sounds daunting. I mean, right, you’re still trying to figure out those dang warbler songs at home and now you gotta learn a few more? Right, easy to Hall and Oates the situation with a, “No can do”. But trust me, you can, oh yes you can.

You’ll be surprised at how well you can learn some of those new bird songs. Go for ten at first, then kick it up to twenty, and shoot for fifty. Yes, you have to give yourself some time but you can do it! Try learning one a day before your trip, pick a bird and focus on it while waiting in line, or making dinner, or when your significant other insists on watching some show that gives you the cringes.

Put that smile on your face by listening to the barking song of a Barred Antshrike. Check out the whistles of a Chestnut-backed Antbird and learn how the Laughing Falcon got its name.

Getting ready to laugh.

But where to learn them? Xeno-Canto has more than enough bird songs to browse but, for more a more versatile, customized experience, I suggest using the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app. That way, you can use the filter to pick and show common birds for each region. Listen to the Olive-backed Euphonia and other birds from the Caribbean lowlands. Move on to common highland birds like the Mountain Elaenia, and then change the filter to the South Pacific and study Black-hooded Antshrike.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to listen to megas like the Resplendent Quetzal, Three-wattled Bellbird, and the macaws. You sure want to be ready for those ones!

Study Woodcreeper Heads

That might sound grim. It might seem odd. But honest to goodness, that is really what you need to study for woodcreeper identification. Don’t worry about those eye-catching reddish wings and tail. They all got those. Instead, focus on beak shapes and head patterns. That’s the ticket to woodcreeper identification, that’s what you need to look at to ID them in the field.

birding Costa Rica

On a side note, for woodcreepers, expect big birds with large beaks. Know that they might not give the best of views either. These guys aren’t exactly treecreepers.

Learn Birds by Region

See which places you will be visiting in Costa Rica and study accordingly. For example, if you won’t be birding in the dry forests of Guanacaste, you don’t have to worry about Elegant Trogons and Ivory-billed Woodcreepers.

However, if you are headed to the Sarapiqui lowlands, yeah, you should look into the three trogons, two main motmots, White-ringed Flycatcher, and other birds that live there.

Once again, the easiest way to study birds by region is with the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app. Filter for region and you’ll see the birds possible at Sarapiqui, or Monteverde, or wherever else you might be birding. With the app, you can also get more detailed and study birds in certain habitats, forest strata, and more.

Study the Hummingbirds

There’s lots of birds to study so yeah, why not study the hummingbirds? I could just as well say to pick any avian family to study but, in Costa Rica, you’ll have chances at dozens of hummingbird species. They also look nice and are much easier to identify than the small ones up north.

However, instead of solely focusing on identification, I suggest also learning where they live and something about their behaviors. Which are forest birds? Which are more likely in second growth? Which hummingbirds only live in southern Costa Rica? You’ll find answers to these and most other questions about the birds of Costa Rica in “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. Basically, I wrote this book to help answer questions spurred by my first trip to Costa Rica, and to prepare fellow birders for their trips to Costa Rica.

Learn About the Bird Families in Costa Rica

Before your trip, I also suggest learning about some of the bird families in Costa Rica. Some of them won’t be anything like birds from home! They won’t just look different, they will also act different and will most definitely throw you for a birding loop.

I’m talking about birds like tinamous, hawk-eagles, antbirds, manakins, puffbirds, and other Neotropical birds. Knowing more about these bird families will help you see more of them. That knowledge will also give you better appreciation for them, get you psyched for your trip, and just might turn your birding trip into a deeper, truly fantastic learning experience.

Tinamous are beings from odd birding dreams made real.

There are more things you could study for a birding trip to Costa Rica but you can’t go wrong by starting with these five suggestions. There’s nothing wrong with learning about margarita flavors either but, I would do that after the birding trip.

That way, you can make drinks to celebrate a successful, fulfilling birding trip to Costa Rica. When you get done celebrating, then you can start studying for your next trip to Costa Rica. You’ll need to, there’s a lot of birds around here.

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5 Days Birding Costa Rica- Highlights and Insider Tips

Birding Costa Rica comes with lots of benefits. Mostly, they happen in the form of multiple birds no matter where you go! Much of that birding grace stems from Costa Rica providing easy access to quality birding habitats. Follow that classic good birding recipe in Costa Rica and you’ll get your birding dish, each and every day.

I’m reminded of this birding truth every time I head into the proverbial field. Some days, the field means a walk to a thread thin, neighborhood riparian zone. Other days, it’s a short trip to cloud forest with quetzals, the one and only Wrenthrush, and lots more.

Wrenthrush.

However, the best reminders of Costa Rica’s adherence to the classic birding recipe are when I guide or bird for multiple days in different spots. This past week I was doing that in a few very different places; focusing on targets, peering into crowns of massive rainforest trees, exploring tropical wetlands, always listening for hints of hidden birds and avian surprise.

The following are some highlights and tips from these recent days of birding in Costa Rica:

Irazu Birding and The Nochebuena

The best way to see Timberline Wrens and Volcano Junco on Irazu are by getting up there nice and early. It’s cool up there at 11,000 feet, especially at 7 a.m. However, the extra fresh breeze is worth it. Later in the day, those birds hide, they often take longer to see.

We also birded the trails at the Nochebuena. You gotta be in some fair shape to walk them; there’s less oxygen up there and you’ll feel it! Take your time and do the walk though, it’s worth it. The birding is very good and reliable for the mega Maroon-chested Ground-Dove. We had at least three along with good views of Bare-shanked Screech-Owl, quetzal and various other high elevation species.

It’s also worth it have lunch at their small, cozy restaurant.

Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow

This cool little endemic can be tricky but go to the right places at the right time and you’ll see it. Yeah, you could try those Walmart woods in a pinch but there are better places. One of them is the Calle Viquez area and the road that goes by the Finca Rosa Blanca.

However, no matter where you try for them, make sure to do some of that classic early birding. You have a much better chance of seeing the ground-sparrow at like 6 in the morning than later in the day.

Buff-fronted Quail-Dove and Other Birds at and Near Cinchona

Emerald Toucanet striking a photogenic pose.

The quail-dove is still visiting the ground below the feeders at Cinchona. That would be the Hummingbird Cafe or the Mirador Catarata San Fernando. It’s sneaky as always but if you keep up a careful watch below the feeders, it should eventually show.

Cinchona has also been having the usual nice parade of birds however, now, there’s yet another cool option. If you can speak Spanish, and don’t mind hiking to see birds, ask the cafe owner Jorge (or whomever else seems to be in charge) if you can walk up to the area behind the barnyard stuff (you’ll see what I mean).

The abandoned town of Cinchona is up there along with lots of good birds. Take the main road that goes uphill and to the left. It eventually reaches forest. There aren’t many trails but recent birding turned up uncommon species like Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl, Buff-fronted Foliage-Gleaner, and Black-banded Woodcreeper!

Sarapiqui- Always Good

As always, the lowland rainforest habitats in Sarapiqui make for easy, productive birding. While birding from a couple choice roads, we had White-fronted Nunbirds, Purple-throated Fruitcrows, Black-striped Woodcreeper, King Vulture, Blue Dacnis, and other lowland species.

White-fronted Nunbirds- uncommon in Costa Rica, always fantastic!

Cano Negro

It’s far out there and the roads in are not fun ones to drive but there’s always lots of birds at Cano Negro. Highlights during our morning boat ride with Chambita tours included several American Pygmy-Kingfishers, the tough Green-and-Rufous Kingfisher, two Sungrebes, Bare-crowned Antbird, Black-collared Hawks, and others!

The night birding also tends to be good at Cano Negro and our jaunt into the dark was no exception. During a quick drive on the main road towards Los Chiles, we had close looks at Great Potoos, Pacific Screech-Owl, and Striped Owl.

Heliconias Bridges Trail

It was nice to visit this classic site again. Over the years, I’ve seen it change and transform from a small and little known site to a fantastic birding site that offers good accommodation and a well-maintained trail.

Our main reason for visiting is called Tody Motmot but we also had several additional possible targets. The trails cost $14 and go through excellent humid forest. They are fairly well maintained and also include a few, long, hanging bridges.

During our visit, we lucked out with the Tody Motmot, seeing a pair on the main trail, and then two more pairs on the lower heliconias trail! The other top bird was another one easier to see here than many other sites; the Purplish-backed Quail-Dove. Before our birding was curtailed by rain, we also had some other species but nothing crazy.

Rainforest canopy, Heliconias, Costa Rica

However, the birds are in there, bird these trails slowly and carefully and you’ll see a lot! After birding them, if you enjoy craft beer, visit the nearby Blue River Brewery. This great and friendly little spot also has good views of nearby forest. With luck, you could scope a Lovely Cotinga and see a soaring Ornate Hawk-Eagle while enjoying your beer!

I hope this info. helps with your birding trips to Costa Rica. Check out the trip report. To learn about more sites and support this blog, get my bird finding guide to Costa Rica, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.

Use it to plan your trip and if you have any questions, just send me an email. I hope to see you here!

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Casual Birding in Costa Rica- What Can You See?

Birding in Costa Rica! If you are into birds, into watching them, you know why that phrase ends in exclamation. If not, take some high level excitement, spray it with major dream essence, and wrap it up with soul satisfaction. Now imagine savoring that ultra dimensional sandwich and you get an inkling of birding in Costa Rica.

At least that’s how it is for birders, us folks who deeply dig finding, watching, photographing, and/or communing with birds in other ways. No matter how often you go birding in Costa Rica, the excitement is always there but the first trip to southern Central America, now that some ten-fold excitement!

Here in this bastion of biodiversity, birding is like being a kid in a candy store. Like opening up them presents or being 11 and going to the roller rink with best friends and possible crushes. Ok, you had to have grown up in the 70s-80s for the roller rink but you might get what I mean.

Imagine a close encounter with this jaw dropper!

There’s a lot of birds in Costa Rica and that’s one heck of an understatement. With so much to look for, so many birds to look at, it would seem that you gotta bird Costa Rica serious. That would be birding with high-focused concentration, birding with quick bino action, and keeping it cool in the face of a mighty mixed flock.

But no, you don’t have to bird Costa Rica serious! You can function as such, oh I do recommend it, but as with every destination, you bird the way you bird. If you are happy with garden birding, cool drink in hand, sure, that works in Costa Rica. If you want to go ultra casual with the birding endeavors, casual works too.

To be honest, you’ll see fewer birds but you know what? You’ll still see a lot! I sort of tested that presumption earlier today when, instead of heading out the door at dawn (or before then), I had a leisurely breakfast and didn’t leave until 9:45 a.m.!

I know, say what? Might that be a waste of time? Not if you are into casual birding! To be truly casual, maybe we should have done our birding from beach chairs while listening to Long Hot Summer by the Style Council.

Margarita sipping would have been required along with a toast to the late great Jimmy Buffett (RIP).

Today, we didn’t go that far, didn’t even go birding in chinos and penny loafers but we still did our birding in Costa Rica a la casual. And it was good.

Check it out.

Cloud Forest Mixed Flocks

Our casual birding day took us to one of the closest, easiest birding areas; the mountains above the Central Valley. This area is pretty awesome and has an easy recipe. Drive 45 minutes and you can reach honest to goodness cloud forest. That’s about it and what would be tropical highland forest replete with bromeliads, mist, and lots of cool birds.

Shortly after getting into the habitat, right away, we coincided with a mixed flock. A pair of Yellow-thighed Brushfinches moved into view, towhees that act like tanagers, pumping their tails and showing off their natural yellow pom-loms.

They were hanging with a couple of rude-sounding Ruddy Treerunners, a bunch of Common Chlorospingus, softly calling, emerald green Golden-browed Chlorophonias, and a few other birds.

A closer look at the crown and bill of Golden-browed Chlorophonia.

But we were casual birding, we had a stream to saunter over to, rushing water to gaze at, fresh air to inhale, and leaf rustling to listen to. Even so, the birds followed us, passed through our field of vision. A couple Spangle-cheeked Tanagers insisted by perching on ferns, right out in the open and at close range. Others flew through and so we watched them, casually yet assuredly.

Olive-sided Flycatchers are Back in The House

As we moved along that quiet mountain road, I saw a hefty songbird making a beeline to perch on top of a snag. There’s not many birds that fly like the one I saw. Not back up north, nor in Costa Rica. Today’s first Olive-sided Flycatcher was just like the first one I saw so many years ago at the edge of a boggy lake in Algonquin Provincial Park.

Dark sides, big crested head, and sitting there right on top. Further on, we saw another, and then two more all doing that same Olive-sided Flycatcher move of flying in a long direct line and then going straight back to the same high perch. Only this time, it’s at the edge of cloud forest, fueling up to fly a bit further, move to bigger equatorial mountains.

The Flutes of Slaty-backed Nightingale Thrushes and Burbling of Barbets

It can be quiet when you go casual birding in Costa Rica. This is on account of not birding when our feathered friends prefer to sing. Oh well, you have to accept the silence of the mid-day, dwell in it and appreciate the quiet. Up there, it’s all good, I mean, the quiet is in good surroundings of ruffled green mountains and mist-touched backgrounds.

Eventually, the birds do sing and call, especially cloud forest specialties like Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrushes and Prong-billed Barbets. The thrush sings classic, flutey phrases in hidden shaded spots while the barbet makes a long, yodeling vocalization, usually as a duet.

We heard those and some other birds as we casual birded in the Costa Rican mountains. With a bit more time on that cloud forest road, I’m sure we would have heard a lot more but by then, it was noon, it was time to look for lunch.

Toucanets, Red-headed Barbets, and Big Purple Hummingbirds at Cinchona

Our lunch stop was a classic birding spot in Costa Rica, a special place most birders eventually visit. It’s the perfect place to do some casual birding because, check this out; the birds are right there in front of you, while you sit, while you drink your cappuccino.

The places in called “Mirador de Catarata San Fernando” at Cinchona and it must be one of the most ideal places on earth to watch birds with ease while taking in beautiful tropical surroundings and ambiance. Today, as with most Sundays, our visit was accompanied by bunches of people coming and going. Some had kids who excitedly pointed at the hummingbirds while adults attempted selfies with toucanets and hidden waterfalls.

It was a good day for Northern Emerald Toucanets. Two or more of these surreal green birds were in constant view as we casually enjoyed our mid day repast. Barbets came in too, the burbling ones from the cloud forest road and a fancy female Red-headed Barbet.

We did not see any of the migrant Cerulean Warblers that other local birders have been espying but a female Blackburnian Warbler was cool! As she fluttered and checked the leaves, we also had the chance to ponder over the vivid purple plumage of big Violet Sabrewings, the subtle beauty of a Brown Violetear, and the natural lights on a Green-crowned Brilliant.

After leaving Cinchona, we did some casual checking of roadside habitats for migrant warblers. No Cerulean but the Halloween colors of a male American Redstart were welcome, as were euphonias, Bay-headed Tanagers, and a few other species to finish off the day.

Before leaving the cafe, the waiter told us that just 20 minutes before we arrived, an Ornate Hawk-Eagle had flown in and perched in full view. In Costa Rica, you never know what casual birding will bring but you can bet you’ll see a lot.

To learn more about these birding sites and where to go birding in Costa Rica, support this blog by purchasing “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”, a 900 plus page ebook designed to enhance every birding trip to Costa Rica.

To get you in the right frame of mind for happy birding in Costa Rica, I leave you with this obscure track from the 80s. Casual birding or not, I hope to see you here!

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5 Key Strategies for Your Best Birding Trip to Costa Rica

What does it take to have the best birding trip to Costa Rica? The birding trip that surpasses your goals?

Make no doubt about it, the birds of Costa Rica are calling- literally and figuratively. This morning, in my residential neighborhood, I heard the laugh of a Lineated Woodpecker. There were Rufous-collared Sparrows bringing some morning cheer and groups of excited Crimson-fronted Parakeets screeching overhead.

Looking to the north, I can see green mountains topped with clouds. There’s different bird voices up there and they might be too far to hear but as I gaze into the distant living jade, I still know what’s calling.

Black-billed Nightingale-Thrushes sing like Hermit Thrushes from the top parts of Poas Volcano.

birding Costa Rica

Their voices are joined by the odd cascading calls of Large-footed Finches (think big, weird, olive-colored towhees), the chips of Sooty-capped Chlorospinguses, and even the high-pitched calls of the unique Wrenthrush.

You will also hear the soft mournful calls of Golden-browed Chlorophonias.

There are dozens of other birds up there, even more on the way to the mountains, and hundreds of species on the other side. All are calling, beckoning birders to come see them.

At least that’s the way I see it. I hear them and my perpetual hope is that birders everywhere can hear those birds too, can come and witness this treasure of biodiversity, this natural gift.

It’s also why I hope that when you do go birding in Costa Rica, you have the best birding trip to Costa Rica. To make that happen, consider these five suggestions. Whether birding Costa Rica a tour or on your own, stick to these tips and you can’t go wrong.

Decide how you want go birding in Costa Rica and know what that means

These days, birding isn’t just looking at birds. There is strict bird photography, adventurous full on focused birdwatching, relaxed birding combined with beach visits, you name it. It’s still birding but before you take a birding trip anywhere, you need to decide what sort of birding you want to do and arrange your trip accordingly.

For example, if bird photography in Costa Rica is your thing, you won’t want to spend a lot of time in low light situations. You’ll be on the road to surpassing expectations if you focus on the very best sites for bird photography. This means that you’ll probably sacrifice seeing some other species but you’ll get great shots of lots of other birds.

If you want to see as many birds as possible and are willing to work to make that happen, true full monty birding requires early starts, long days, and maybe some visits to sites off the beaten track. This is giving yourself over to the birds and although that means no coffee tours or beach time, it could also translate to 400 species and some of the best birding days of your life.

Relaxed birding in Costa Rica? Sure! Most people actually do this type of birding and it just means watching birds at a less frenzied pace. Maybe birding with some pool time, maybe some time on a beach, and perhaps doing a few other things. You’ll still see a lot but know that you probably won’t see various shy birds or other species that require focused birding ay key sites.

Go birding with friends

I like to bird on my own too but let’s face it, the best birding is shared with like-minded people whom you enjoy spending time with. Yeah, you gotta pick the right travel companions but there’s nothing like experiencing the unreal nature of a Three-wattled Bellbird and the magnificent madness of a Resplendent Quetzal with birding pals.

Your local birding club will work too!

Hire an experienced local guide

No matter where you go, the birding trip will be much better if you hire a good, local guide. Even one or two days of guiding can help you see dozens more birds, and maybe even owls and rare species.

However, to make this work, you can’t just hire any old guide. Sure, a number of guides will help you see some new birds and will be alright but you’ll have a better chance of surpassing expectations if you find a birding guide with lots of experience, who truly knows where every bird is, what it takes to see them, and how to identify them in an instant.

Your guide should be able to recognize every elaenia species in Costa Rica.

If you go the birding tour route, do your research and see which company has the best local guides.

On your own? Research where to go

If you do the trip on your own instead of taking a tour, research that trip far in advance. Do that and you’ll find the places best for you and your birding needs with as little in-country travel as possible.

But where to find the best birding information for Costa Rica?

Checking out other trip itineraries and eBird hotspots are good places to start. Keep in mind, though, that they aren’t the final word. I can promise there are dozens of other fantastic sites for birding in Costa Rica that are not visited on tours. Such sites don’t work with the tour route or just with the logistics of a group. However, they can be perfect for birding on your own.

However, many of these sites don’t stand out on eBird either. This is because, in Costa Rica, a high percentage of eBirding takes place at the same places commonly visited on birding tours, and there isn’t nearly as much coverage as in the USA and Canada.

So how can a birder know about other good, possible birding sites? Satellite maps. As with everywhere, in Costa Rica, the birds are where the habitat is. Check maps and it won’t take long to find the largest areas of forest.

You have to factor in accommodation and access but at least you will know where a lot of the best birding sites are.

Sites with a better chance at seeing Yellow-eared Toucanet for example.

But what about suggestions on social media sites? While you will get plenty of answers on where to go birding, from what I have seen, the majority of answers come from people who simply enjoyed their time in Costa Rica, are selling something, or are submitted by local casual birders. In other words, there’ll be lots of suggestions but few answers from the real experts.

Think of someone asking where to go birding in your region and a dozen people answer how they had wonderful times at local parks seeing common birds. They are giving answers based on their experiences but what do they really know about birding in your region? Probably very little. This doesn’t mean their experiences aren’t valid and that they didn’t have a good time, but maybe they didn’t visit places where owls roost, nor the best places for certain species.

You’ll get the best answers from expert local guides or from other, more detailed information (my 900 page birding site guide for Costa Rica will probably help).

Accompany early morning coffee with the dawn chorus

One of the simple joys in life is sipping high quality Costa Rican coffee while listening to the dawn chorus, especially in tropical habitats. I was going to start that sentence with “For the birding crowd” but then I realized that this is a simple joy suited for everybody.

Well, as long as you like coffee but seriously, sipping fantastic coffee as the rainforest comes to life? Hard to beat my friends, hard to beat.

Bonus Tip- Study Your Field Guide (learn some sounds too!)

As with birding in any new place, even if you go with the best birding guide, your trip will always be better if you study beforehand. Take time to see which birds to expect, and which ones you want to see the most. Learn about their habits, habitats, and what to expect. It’s also worth learning some of their songs.

The Boat-billed Flycatcher’s song is a good one to learn.

Maybe not all 930 plus species (yes, that many, sites that say 800 species either don’t know what they are talking about or need a serious update) but learning vocalizations for 50 or even 20 common birds can enhance your trip.

At the moment, there are a couple must have field guide books. They are “The Birds of Costa Rica- A Field Guide” by Garrigues and Dean, and “The Birds of Costa Rica” by Dyer and Howell. Both are good for any birding trip to Costa Rica.

The best digital field guide is the Costa Rica Birds app. Yes, Merlin is free but this app has:

  • All species on the Costa Rica list and various expected species that could occur including all pelagic birds.
  • Sounds for most species on the app.
  • Tips for identifying and seeing each bird.
  • Filters to show birds by region, habitat, and more.
  • It can be personalized to show target species, birds that you see, and more.
  • At this time, it’s only available for IOS.

I could always say more but at least the tips mentioned above will help you set up your best birding trip to Costa Rica. If you need help arranging a trip or guiding for yourself or for a group, I’m happy to help! Contact me at [email protected]

As always, I hope to see you here while watching some White-fronted Parrots or marveling over a roosting Great Potoo.

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The Top 5 Questions about Birding in Costa Rica

Questions about birding in Costa Rica. As with any birding destination, there’s a lot to think about. Where to stay? Where to watch birds? Can I find good New York style pizza? Well, maybe that last question isn’t as common but it’s still valid to wonder if you can have coffee each morning. Heck, when you travel, there’s a lot to think about, even if you are “just” visiting Cape May for the weekend.

No matter where you don those birding shoes, no matter where you sport them bins, all our questions are meant to fulfill our birding needs. You want your trip to be the best it can be, hopefully, to surpass expectations and give you a life experience high that lasts long after you walk back through your own front door.

Oh yeah, that is possible. Do the birding trip to Costa Rica right and you’ll be dreaming about quetzals for days to come. Yearning for twittering tanagers while trudging through traffic? Wondering why you are still haunted by the hidden words in woodcreeper whistles as you sip a choice craft brew? That’s Ok! All of it means your trip was a success, that it went way beyond the boundaries of average expectations.

Those are the type of results we would love for every birding trip, the type of birding that makes us feel fire-eyed alive. I suppose that if you move with the right type of expectations, you can have them fiery eyes any day of the week. Easier to have them after birding though, especially after watching the dizzying passage of a mixed flock in Costa Rica. Certainly after experiencing the ancient cries and flights of macaws in the humid skies of a late afternoon rainforest.

Expectations and state of mind will always be key factors for fire-eyed birding success but maybe answers to the following questions about birding in Costa Rica will help too.

Is there a quetzal season in Costa Rica?

A male quetzal is always the star of the avian show.

In a word, no. There is no real quetzal season in Costa Rica. At least I don’t believe there is. Yeah, for some reason, a number of people talk about there being a season to see quetzals but I think there are confusing “nesting season” with some actual best time for seeing the birds.

So, yes, the mega dream birds mostly nest in March and so, if you know where a nest is, yes, you can go and wait until they appear. But, not only should people NOT bother quetzals at nest sites, you don’t need to visit during their nesting season. Check out this birding truth; the Resplendent Quetzal is a permanent resident.

Yeah, unlike its famous cloud forest cotinga counterpart, the Three-wattled, ye olde quetzal is not migrating to some remote corner or playing hard to get.

Seeing a quetzal in Costa Rica is like seeing most birds. The formula goes like so- bird in the right habitat, visit the right place, know how to look for them, and you’ll probably see them. At least I see quetzals on just about every visit to their habitat, in every month of the year.

So, when planning a birding trip to Costa Rica, don’t worry too much about it being a so-called “quetzal season” or not. Think more about where the best places are to see them, how to find them, and if you should hire a local guide who knows what they are doing. Hint- if the guide tells you that no, sorry, it’s not quetzal season, find someone else.


When is the best time to visit Costa Rica?

This question is probably the top one and rightly so. I mean I wonder about the best time to visit places like Borneo and Argentina, it makes sense to concern oneself with choosing the best time to see the most birds.

That said, in Costa Rica, heck, no matter when you visit, yes, you will see lots of birds. Just like quetzals are here all here all year long, in Costa Rica, more than 600 other birds are also in this birding house, 24/7.

To figure out the best time to visit, I suggest asking yourself a few sub-questions:

-Do I really want to see a bellbird?- If so, visit any time from March to July and include the Monteverde area.

-Can I chance getting rained out for part of most days?- If yes, then you can visit any time of the year. If not, bird Costa Rica from January to April. The rains tend to be especially challenging in November and early December.

-Do I need to see wintering birds?- If yes, November to March will work (and part of April too).

-Should I experience migration?- I am a firm believer in experiencing migration no matter where you are. Visit the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica in April or October and you’ll be in for some major bird passage.

Where should I go birding in Costa Rica?

Another common and all important question. However, it’s one that doesn’t have any easy answers. Where you go depends on what you want to see, how you want to go birding, or if you want to focus on bird photography.

Figure those things out and then go from there. In the meantime, here are a few recommendations:

-Don’t necessarily base your trip on eBird hotspots. Whoah, but what? Isn’t that where the best birding sites are? Well, yes and no. Like, yeah, the top hotspots have great birding and you can’t go wrong birding at them but they aren’t the only places to watch birds in Costa Rica. AND, most hotspots have inflated site lists because they include birds that are no longer there or, most of all, include species at other, separate sites.

It’s still Ok to visit those eBird hotspots. I’m not saying they are bad, most are wonderful but remember that the birds are where the habitat is. Just because a site in good habitat has fewer species than a hotspot doesn’t mean that it isn’t as good. It only means that many more people have birded the hotspot and that sites in good habitat with low lists probably haven’t been adequately surveyed.

-Spend at least two nights in each major habitat. For lowland and foothill rainforest, three nights will be even better. You won’t see all the birds in an area in one day. No one can see them all in one day, not even psychic birding ninjas. But, you can have a fair chance at connecting with a good percentage of them during three or four days of birding.

-Think about where you would like to stay. If eco-lodges and good ,easy going birding in comfort is necessary, by all means, visit Hotel Quelitales, Rancho Naturalista, and Quinta Sarapiqui among other places. However, if you just need a place to spend the night, look into air bnbs and book your own cheap cabinas. However, be warned that cheap cabinas often also mean loud surroundings and possible bugs.

How can I see a Snowcap? What about an umbrellabird? Macaws?

The Snowcap is unreal. It looks like burgundy come to life and crowned with powdered sugar. I mean, yeah, that’s one heck of an enticing bird! And yes, you can and should see one. To make it happen, the best sites are Rancho Naturalista, El Copal, Nectar and Pollen, and Centro Manu. It can also show up elsewhere but those places are good for some of that lovely hummingbird madness.

Umbrellabird? The crazy crow-like bird is never easy but you’ll have a better chance at Veragua Rainforest, the Rainforest Aerial Tram just outside of Braulio, and Centro Manu. Keep in mind that it can also occur at various other sites but it’s easy missed; sadly, the umbrellabird of Central America is endangered.

Macaws! Compared to the other species mentioned above, thankfully, these fantastic birds are a piece of cake. That’s always good but especially for giant, larger than life, must-see parrots as these. The Scarlet is wonderfully easy in many places and the Great Green ain’t that tough either. Bird Sarapiqui, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, or Tortuguero and you’ll have a good chance of seeing them.

great-green-macaw

What field guide should I use?

Another common and important question indeed. These days, in terms of books, there are two main field guides for Costa Rica. There is the classic Birds of Costa Rica by Garrigues and Dean, and the Bird of Costa Rica by Dyer and Howell.

Both will be good but personally, I still like the Garrigues and Dean. However, the Dyer and Howell is more recent, and has some interesting and insightful takes on taxonomy. In any case, either book will be good to have and I know many people who have bought both.

In terms of a digital field guide, there is the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app and the Merlin app. The Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app is currently only available for IOS while the Merlin app is available on IOS and Android devices. I admit that I am one of the creators and co-owners of the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app but everything I say here is true. Both apps are good, here’s how they compare:

-Bird species- The Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app includes all birds on the Costa Rica list and several species that could eventually occur. Merlin has most of the species but leaves off some rare ones and some pelagic birds.

-Bird sounds- Merlin includes several sounds for most species. The Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app also includes sounds for most birds on the app- vocalizations for 870 species.

-Customization- Merlin is a great, easy to use app with good information but the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app includes more features. You can customize it to include target lists, show regional endemics, show birds by region, and more. This makes it a good study guide before your trip as well as a handy tool during your trip.

-Accuracy- The maps on the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app are up to date and pretty accurate. The ones on Merlin are mostly accurate but not entirely. The information for the Costa Rica Bird Field Guide app is also written specifically for Costa Rica and now includes tips on how to see each bird.

-Cost- Merlin is free and that is obviously a major bonus but the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app has more features and more overall information.

Planning a birding trip to Costa Rica? I hope these questions can help! Just keep in mind that no matter where and when you visit Costa Rica, as long as you go birding in quality habitat in different eco-regions, you’ll see a lot! I hope you get here, I hope to see you here.

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Costa Rica Birding Tips- Southern Caribbean Zone, 2023

Birding in Costa Rica is all sorts of birding goodness. Lots of birds can be seen in all sorts of places, even away from the usual spots. Sure, watching quetzals with a bunch of other smiling people is fine. Marveling over hummingbird action is some “dolce vita” indeed but, in Costa Rica, there’s more. Always lots more.

If you don’t mind traveling a bit further afield, the birding might even be better. That’s how I feel when I visit the southern Caribbean zone. That would be the part of Costa Rica south of Limon, the corner of the country with Jamaican influence, intriguing seas, and fantastic birding.

The southern Caribbean might be at its best during migration. In October, the bird movement in this area is constant, fierce, and mesmerizing. Visit when the birds are passing through and you get enveloped in rivers of raptors, massive fronts of Hirundines, and rivulets of songbirds.

Sometimes, you can also see kettles of Swallow-tailed Kites.

However, if you have to check out the Southern Caribbean in other months, not to worry. The birding is still good! It’s all about rainforest and avian residents that reside in huge crowns of massive trees. They can be hard to spot way up there but isn’t that what a scope is for? Use it to scan the canopy, use it to scan the ocean.

You’ll see stuff, you’ll see lots.

We just got back from a short trip to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Here’s some tips to improve your trip and help answer common questions.

How’s the birding in the Southern Costa Rica?

Expect a healthy selection of lowland rainforest birds. At times, I feel like the birding in on par with La Selva. It’s still a bit different but there’s a heck of a lot of birds to see and you don’t have to travel far to see them.

Most lowland species are present including lots of toucans, parrots, even Great Green Macaw (re-introduced), puffbirds, owls, Great Potoo, Green Ibis, yeah, you name it.

Some of the more regular, especially cool species include Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Snowy Cotinga, Central American Pygmy-Owl, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Great Potoo, Black-crowned Antshrike, and White-flanked Antwren.

birding Costa Rica

There aren’t as many tinamous and motmots seem hard to come by but there’s lots of everything else. Not to mention, when we factor in the lack of birding coverage, there’s probably more out there than we think. More Great Jacamars, probably rare species from Panama wandering in from time to time, and who knows what else?

Go birding in the southern Caribbean zone and you can expect a lot. You should also be ready for the unexpected; this region has some of the most exciting birding in Costa Rica.

When to go birding in southern Costa Rica

The best time to go birding in southern Costa Rica is whenever you visit. Yeah, April and October are the best months to experience some sweet fantastic tropical migration but the resident species are there all year long.

It tends to be a bit drier in September and October too but you should always be ready for rain.

How to get there (and driving expectations)

The birding sites south of Limon are reached by good roads. It’s pretty straightforward getting there but the main question is whether you want to drive yourself or have someone else do it.

From the San Jose area, the trip takes around four hours. However, construction and traffic can easily make it a five hour drive. Since the road to Limon is a major route for truck traffic, it’s hard to say what departure time is best. That said, I feel like it’s usually worse in the afternoon.

At the moment, there is still a lot of work being done on the section of the road between San Jose and Limon. All of that construction can slow things down but on this past trip, the main challenge was the lack of signage. I’m not talking signs that mention distances or places or any of that simple stuff. No, I mean good clear signage that shows you which lane to drive on.

At present, this two lane road is being converted into a four-lane highway. Much of it is already completed and in some places, there are four actual lanes! This is of course wonderful for driving and if the road is ever completed, the trip from San Jose to Limon might become an easy two hour trip.

At the moment, though, most of the highway is still two lane traffic. In many places, a pair of inviting, nice-looking lanes are present on the other side of the road. However, they aren’t officially open. You might see a few local cars using those yet to be opened lanes and, as you trudge behind some hefty truck, you will feel tempted to do the same. However, you need to just keep following that truck.

Because if you don’t, you might drive on a part of the road that ends with a drop off, odd concrete blocks, or other nasty ways to finish your trip. Fortunately, those seemingly open yet closed parts of the road are easy to avoid but other parts of the trip can generate anxiety.

At various spots, as you travel along, your lane may be detoured to the other side of the road. There’s little signage about it, there might be a hole or two, and you may wonder if you are about to drive headfirst, straight into oncoming traffic. Just follow the truck in front of you. At least we hope they know what they are doing.

Or, you might want to opt for a shuttle service. That would certainly be the easiest and most comfortable way to reach the southern Caribbean zone. The downside is not having a personal vehicle to visit birding sites around your destination. However, that can be fixed by renting anything from a bike to an electric moped or other small vehicles in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

If you do drive yourself, be sure to charge or fill up at the Hone Creek gas station. There aren’t any more after that one.

Oh, and one more thing. To keep stress on the downlow, don’t ever make the drive at night.

Where to go birding on the southern Caribbean slope?

One of the best things about this part of Costa Rica is easy access to good habitat with lots of birds. South of Limon, you’ll be happily surprised by the amount of mature rainforest right along the road.

Whether you stay in a hotel, small lodge, or rent a house, you’ll probably have good birding right there, on the grounds. For example, this past trip, we stayed at an Air BnB in the Playa Negra area. The habitat wasn’t ideal but there were still plenty of big trees and a few small streams and wet areas.

During casual birding, we had Great Potoo at night, and White-necked Puffbird, Scarlet-rumped Caciques, Red-lored Parrots, Green Ibis, and lots of other birds in the day.

Visit the Paradise Road or other roads that pass through more intact habitat and you’ll see more. During Friday morning guiding in that area, we had Black Hawk-Eagle, Snowy Cotinga (briefly), Pied Puffbird, Blue-headed Parrot, and more than 70 other species.

Where to stay?

There are honestly too many places to mention. Most hotels are small and lots of people rent houses and similar lodging. The best on-site birding is probably at Almonds and Corals, the few lodging options on Paradise Road, and any other place situated in good habitat.

But really, the birding will be good no matter where you stay. There won’t be as many species at places in the middle of Puerto Viejo but you will still be in easy striking distance of forest with lots of birds, even at the edge of town.

Restaurants

Once again, there are too many places to mention but I will say that there are places for various budgets. A good number of spots are not cheap but there are also several that serve really good food.

A few of my favorites are the DeGustibus bakery (a pretty good Italian bakery that also has good sandwiches and pasta), the Pecora Nera (run by a chef from Tuscany), and a great little spot called, “Take it Easy”.

Take it Easy is a roadside, outdoor spot owned by a Rasta guy in Playa Chiquita. It’s usually open from noon and if you are looking for some quality Caribbean food, oh this place will do the trick!

We had lunch there and the rice and beans with chicken was the best I have ever had (and I have sampled a lot). The chicken was juicy, just spicy enough, and had a delicious ginger zing. Even better, the spot is right on the beach and has seating on benches where you can scan the ocean or watch birds visit big trees just across the road.

Mosquitoes…

Some places in this area can have a mosquito problem, especially house rentals. Make sure to use that repellent, ask for mosquito coils, and check for and plug any holes in your mosquito bed netting.

Planning a birding trip to Costa Rica? Consider visiting the southern Caribbean zone. This region has a lot to offer and has some of the most exciting birding in Costa Rica. To learn more about places to go birding in Costa Rica and much more, support this blog by getting, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.

I hope to see you here!

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5 Suggestions for Better Birding in Costa Rica, July, 2023

Birding in Costa Rica this July? Maybe you are already here! I hope so, I mean, one of my constant hopes is for every birder to experience the avian splendor in this beautiful Central American nation. Although most folks visit in the dry season, July is our other, mini high season for birding.

July usually gives us a break in the rains and more time for birding, Even better, a lot of resident species have just finished breeding, more juvenile birds are around, and the activity…well, the bird activity is simply delish and delightful.

Mixed flocks call, scramble, and roam the foothill rainforests, quetzals are doing their spectacular thing in the highlands, and there’s lots more, always lots more Costa Rica birds to experience.

To help improve and enhance your birding trip to Costa Rica, here are five tips for “better birding”.

Don’t Worry About eBird, Just Keep Watching Birds in Good Habitat

EBird data for Costa Rica are helpful but the platform doesn’t have the final say on where to go birding. Yes, you can see where certain birds have occurred and learn about various hotspots BUT birds are not restricted to where eBirders have seen them. Whether a site is on eBird or not, the best birding is always in the places with the best habitats.

Now that doesn’t mean that eBirders aren’t visiting excellent sites. They certainly are but there are lots of additional sites with just as good or better birding. Many areas of good habitat don’t stand out or even show on eBird simply because they don’t receive much coverage.

birding Costa Rica

With that in mind, don’t be shy about watching birds in Costa Rica wherever you find good forest and other suitable habitats. That’s where the birds are.

Visiting the Pacific? Scan the Ocean, Maybe Get on a Boat, and Take Pictures!

El Nino has been bringing us some seriously rare birds. The latest stars of the local birding show have been Peruvian Boobies, Blue-footed Boobies, and Sooty Shearwaters but various other species are possible too.

This is the year to scan the ocean or take a pelagic trip in Costa Rica. Scan the sea or get out on a boat and you’ll probably see something good! Since weird stuff can appear that is not in most field guides for Costa Rica, please take pictures of as many seabirds as possible. You never know, you might find some crazy rarity!

birding Costa Rica

To be ready for it, get the Costa Rica Birds-Field Guide app for IOS devices. All possible seabird species are on the app, including some that have yet to be found in Costa Rica but are expected to occur. Get ready for your trip by marking target birds, studying bird sounds, and more.

Visiting the Caribbean? Scan that Ocean and Take Pictures!

The Caribbean side of Costa Rica is also turning up major records. There have been tantalizing reports of a possible Gannet, Great Shearwater was seen from shore, and a pelagic trip turned up Cory’s, Great, Audubon’s, and Manx Shearwaters! Those might be normal off North Carolina but in Costa Rica, those birds are riding the aquatic Mega train!

Although I do suspect that these and other pelagic species visit the deep waters of the Caribbean more often than expected, they are still rare birds around here (except for the Audubon’s).

Once again, you might document some serious rarity. Keep looking!

Keep an Eye Out for Red-fronted Parrotlets

Costa Rica has a bunch of parrots, parakeets, and even two monstrous macaws. Most of these cool, fancy birds are easy to see but there’s one special little species that stays out of the spotlight; the Red-fronted Parrotlet.

This miniature parrot seems to be genuinely uncommon and is the toughest member of its family to see in Costa Rica. The challenge stems from its tendency to wander up and down mountains in search of just the right food coupled with its habit of quietly feeding high in the canopy of dense rainforest.

In June and July, Red-fronted Parrotlets may move around a bit more. With that mind, keep a close eye and ear out for these birds at fruiting figs and other fruiting trees, even in the Central Valley and the Caribbean lowlands. Lately, they have been seen in the high Talamancas as well as in typical sites like the Monteverde area and El Copal.

They make distinctive, high-pitched reedy calls, are small, and show red in their wings. Good luck!

Where to See The Cotingas

No matter where you go birding in the Neotropical Region, if cotingas are in range, these birds perch right at the top of the wish list. Colorful or cool and bizarre, cotingas are a welcome sight for any birding eyes.

birding Costa Rica

Unfortunately, in Costa Rica, most are not common and a few are kind of rare. With that in mind, here are some tips for seeing them in the next few weeks:

  • Bare-necked Umbrellabird- Some are still in middle elevation forests but others have already moved to lower elevations. At least one has been seen in Centro Manu and there have been other sightings from Monteverde, Veragua, and the foothills of Braulio Carrillo National Park. Other good areas right now may be the San Luis Canopy, Arenal, and other forested foothill sites on the Caribbean slope as birds move between middle elevations and the lowlands.
  • Three-wattled Bellbird– Several bellbirds are still on breeding grounds around Monteverde and near San Ramon but some are definitely on the move. There have been recent sightings from the Sarapiqui lowlands and other areas indicating that some of these cool, crazy birds are moving to post-breeding, lower elevations.
  • Snowy Cotinga– This awesome bird is at its usual lowland rainforest haunts. Best places are lowland forests from Guapiles to Panama (especially south of Limon), Sarapiqui, and Cano Negro.
  • Yellow-billed Cotinga– Although it is not listed as endangered on the IUCN list, this is definitely a mistake. The Yellow-billed Cotinga is seriously endangered and only occurs in a few areas. The most reliable site continues to be Rincon de Osa and mangroves near Sierpe. Sure, it can occur at a few other spots and you might still see it at Cerro Lodge or Carara but, tragically, that population is doomed. It has steadily declined, nothing has been done to improve habitat for it, there are further plans to destroy vital corridor habitat at the Nativa Resort, and there might only be three birds left.
  • Lovely Cotinga– Always tough in Costa Rica, they might still be on breeding grounds in middle elevation forest but some are surely moving lower. A female was recently seen at Arenal Observatory Lodge. Other suitable areas include any good middle and foothill elevation forest on the Caribbean slope.
  • Turquoise Cotinga– This uncommon bird is still showing at the usual spots in the General Valley, Esquipulas, and in and near the Osa.

Support a Local Conservation Project

The folks at the Ibycter project are working hard to learn more about one of the only known remnant populations of the Red-throated Carara in Costa Rica.

This formerly common species has seriously declined in Central America but no one knows exactly why.

To learn more about these birds and develop strategies to protect them, they have been observing and recording a small family of Red-throated Caracaras in northern Costa Rica. They hope to attain information about their life history and learn about their movements by place transmitters on the birds.

To learn about and help this local conservation effort, please visit the Carara site and Facebook page.

Supporting the project might help you see some very special birds in the future, and, most of all, you will be helping to conserve one of the most threatened bird species in Central America.

I could say a lot more but perhaps it’s best to finish by saying that as long as you go birding in Costa Rica, you’ll have good birding. The best birding depends on what you want to see and how you want to do your birding thang but, you’ll always see more if you, (1) get up and out there early, (2) go birding in high quality habitats, and (3) hire a good local birding guide.

To learn more about all of the best sites for birding in Costa Rica, and how to see cotingas and much more, support this blog by purchasing, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica“. As always, I hope to see you in Costa Rica!

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New and Rare Birds in Costa Rica- Coming Soon?

When it comes to birding in Costa Rica, the country is fairly well covered. Many a birding pilgrimage is made to this beautiful and biodiverse nation and with good reason. There are hundreds of bird species and a high percentage of sites are accessible. We also have a sizeable local birding community and, as with every place, it’s a vital factor in finding more birds.

At present, the official Costa Rica bird list includes 930 plus species, including the Black-bellied Hummingbird shown above. It’s hard to imagine more bird species showing in a place the size of West Virginia and yet, during the past month, we added two more.

How is that even possible? What can I say, on our planet, it seems that high biodiversity is the norm, especially in tropical regions. Not to mention, as a bus driver friend of mine likes to say, “Patrick, remember, anything is possible in Costa Rica.” Gerardo was mostly referring to the behavior of local drivers but we can also apply such sage advice to birding, at least with some caveats.

While wild vagrant Emus are definitely not possible in Costa Rica, some other, more likely species can and will occur. As with anywhere, the main question is if those birds will be found.

Rare vagrants happen because they flew the wrong way, wandered a bit too far, were Dorotheyd by rough weather, or were driven far from home in search of food.

The vagrant birds are out there, waiting to be discovered, and in most cases its local birders who find them.

Pacific-Golden-Plover-Puntarenas-Costa-Ric

Pacific Golden-Plover is one of those vagrants being found with more regularity.

Luckily, in Costa Rica, we’ve got a good number of people paying close attention to birds, and they take pictures. This is how Chamba found a Yellow-billed Tern some years ago. It is also why local guides made sure to document an odd-looking duck at Lago Angostura in April. That odd duck turned out to be an incredible Common Pochard.

These factors are also how a crazy Lesser Kiskadee was found in Costa Rica! Discovered on May Global Big Day, 2023, a pair of these unlikely birds have been confirmed near Ciudad Neily (I sure hope they stay long enough to see them…).

I have a list of likely new additions for Costa Rica. To help birders be ready for any possibility, I included them on birding apps for Costa Rica, Panama, and Belize. I figured, it’s digital space, the more information the better and I would like to have those possibilities at my fingertips so…why not? Even so, I had not included the pochard nor the kiskadee! Neither of those odd birds were on my birding radar.

I had placed by birding bets on other, what I believed to be, more likely new species. Two of those prime candidates are the Guanay Cormorant and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Both of these birds have been seen in Panama and I’m sure a lost and adventurous Sharp-tailed has occasionally probed the mud in Costa Rica. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before someone finds one.

Heck, Panama’s second record was seen this past Global Big Day! That of course means that the bird probably flew over and/or landed in Costa Rica. I guess we’ll have to keep on waiting and looking for that particular Siberian. As for the cormorant, I think there’s a pretty good chance one will appear in Costa Rica, sometime soon.

Sadly, I’m not expecting it for good reasons. It won’t be a lost and adventurous cormorant exploring new waters to the north. No, unfortunately, this bird of the cold Humboldt Current will appear because it can’t find food in its regular haunts. As I write, hundreds have apparently turned up in southern Ecuador. They are moving north because the waters where they usually occur are much warmer than normal. Hot really.

It’s the famed El Nino effect but this one is probably augmented by the oceans absorbing extra heat from the atmosphere. How long will it last? Who knows but it won’t be good for seabirds nor myriads of other creatures that rely on colder waters.

The effect could drive a Guanay Cormorant or two to Costa Rica along with birds like Inca Tern, Peruvian Booby, and maybe even Peruvian Pelican. Not to mention, we could see albatross species and other pelagic birds too!

I admit, seeing those birds in Costa Rica would be exciting but the event would also be bittersweet. Essentially, any Humboldt birds in Costa Rica are refugees searching for better conditions. I’m not sure if they will find them here but if they do show up, I hope they will survive and eventually make it back home.

Heck, such birds could be here right now! I’m guessing, though, that they are more likely to occur within the next couple months. An Inca Tern could appear, a penguin might even swim into view. Seeing them won’t be signs of anything good but I’ll still be watching for them, probably from Puntarenas. A pelagic trip would also be a good idea.

If you are headed to Costa Rica in July, maybe some of those El Nino birds will be around? Maybe not but there will still be a lot to look at. Hundreds of expected, resident species are here, my ebook, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” will help you find them.

As always, I hope to see you here, birding in Costa Rica.