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Costa Rica Birding News- June, 2024

Coming to Costa Rica in June? It’s gonna be good! More elbow room, lots of bird activity, I’m already looking forward to it. For me, it’s a good time of year to search for nesting birds, fruiting trees, and enjoy fresh, cloudy weather.

Yeah, fresh, cloudy weather in June. Who would have thought? It’s June but you gotta remember, Costa Rica doesn’t have any summer. No winter either. Just wet or dry, and high, middle or low elevations with some vacillations in local temperatures.

It’ll rain in the afternoon but I like it. Just before the storm, swifts reveal some of their waterfall mysteries and birds are active, all morning long. Partly rainy? Birds are moving all day!

It’s the good birding stuff. Here’s some birding news to whet your palette.

Mega Hummingbird near Boca Tapada!

The biggest local birding news has been the occurrence of a White-bellied Emerald in northern Costa Rica, near Boca Tapada. This plain looking hummingbird is common in Mexico and northern Central America. In Costa Rica, it’s another story!

Known in Costa Rica from a handful of old sightings, a couple of which might actually have been Mangrove Hummingbirds, local birders have long hoped for one to come back for a visit.

Earlier in the month, while birding near Boca Tapada, birding guide and owner of Lifer Tours Juan Diego Vargas had a brief look at one while guiding clients. Although he was pretty sure of its identification, since he didn’t get a picture, Juan Diego opted to hold off on announcing it until he could absolutely confirm such a rare bird. Check out his account here!

Not long after, Lisa Erb (the owner of Rancho Naturalista), Harry Barnard, and Meche Alpizar (top birding guides based at Rancho) had good looks at the hummingbird and could confirm that yes indeed, the White-bellied Emerald was back in town!

Since then, dozens of local birders have pilgrimaged north to see this mega in some roadside Verbena (Porterweed). Although the landowner started charging people $20 a person (a fair sum for Costa Rica) to leave the road and walk on his property, lots of birders have still gone to see it. He has also installed a plastic green “wall” to prevent non-paying birders seeing it from the public road.

I can’t help but wonder if drought caused the bird to vacate its typical range? I also wonder if a few more are around. I bet so! If you see any hummingbirds that have mostly white underparts, please take pictures! The same goes for Blue-vented Hummingbirds with rufous in their wings. Those might be another vagrant bird that could be around; the Blue-tailed Hummingbird.

This is a Blue-vented Hummingbird. If you see one of these with rufous wings, take those pictures!

More Sightings of Buff-collared Nightjar

Wait, Buff-collared Nightjar? In Costa Rica? Yep! A few years ago, a small population was discovered in Santa Rosa National Park. Recently, Guanacaste based birders turned up few more at a site just outside of the park!

This is exciting for two reasons. For one, we now know of another population in Costa Rica. The other big reason for celebration is that this new spot is not within the park and therefore much more accessible.

I don’t know how the road is and expect it to be rocky rough but the birds are there and several people have gone and seen them. Hopefully more birders will check additional suitable spots in that area. It seems like more should be out there.

White-tailed Tropicbird in the Caribbean Basin

Another fun sighting was an adult White-tailed Tropicbird in the Caribbean Sea! This good bird was seen during pelagic bird monitoring off the coast of Tortuguero. Not unexpected but still pretty rare for Costa Rica.

We actually have all three tropicbirds on the country list but Red-billed is the only regular one (and is still pretty uncommon).

A Good Time for Pelagics

I would rather take the ferry than this boat.

Isn’t it always? Yes, I suppose so but, to me, the wet season months have always seemed better for pelagic birds. Or, maybe it’s just better in the Gulf of Nicoya.

Rains bring more nutrients into the Gulf and that brings in the birds. At least that’s my theory. Past ferry trips during these months have always been good, it’s time for some more!

Preparing Updates for the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide App

On another birding note, I have been gathering new images and getting ready to update the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app. I might include another bird or two that are not on the bird list but that could certainly make an appearance.

Altamira-Oriole-Costa-Rica-birds-app
Altamira Oriole from the Costa Rica Birds app. Nope, hasn’t been seen yet but it’s very much expected!

I’ll definitely include more images in general to help birders identify more birds in Costa Rica, learn about them, and be fully prepared for their birding trip. No, we won’t have any automatic identification tools like Merlin but there will be accurate, localized information to help find and identify well over 900 bird species in Costa Rica, and the usual features that help people customize the app to their needs (making a target list, marking birds as soon or heard, and more).

June birding in Costa Rica’s gonna be good. I hope to see you here!

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Is Summer a Good Time for Birding in Costa Rica?

Summer is here! Yeah, it’s still May but why beat around the bush? On the northern breeding grounds, a bevy of warblers are singing from fresh-foliaged woods. Ruffed Grouse are mixing it up with sub-sonic beats, Scarlet Tanagers are blazing through the woods, and Eastern Kingbirds are back on their royal territories.

An Eastern Kingbird pausing in Costa Rica on its way north.

I haven’t been up that way in many summers but the memories play easy. Mental recordings of American Goldfinches potato-chipping as they bounce through the air over sweet June hayfields. Chestnut-sided, Canada, and Mourning Warblers singing from Southern Tier thickets.

Warm weather was back and with it came baseball parades and the many other hallmarks of the grateful summer respite. It’s a fun and relaxing time up north, a fine span bereft of ice scrapers and eerie polar whispering. The weather is so generally welcome, travel can take a back seat and why not?

Why fly south when you can sip cold drinks in the warmth of your own backyard? Why travel when home is a bastion of garden beauty?

Whether you get on that plane or not depends on priorities. For example, unless you live in Monteverde, you can’t see Three-wattled Bellbirds at home. Can’t catch a glimpse of the secret glittering on Fiery-throated Hummingbirds, scan for soaring hawk-eagles, or stalk antbirds.

An antbird worth stalking.

Get on that plane to Costa Rica though, and you’ll be in range of those birds. Those and 100s of other species, even in the summer months. The resident birds don’t leave and summer might even be a better time to see them! Hundreds of bird species should be reason enough but of not, here’s some additional benefits of summer birding in Costa Rica:

A Time for Swifts

I know, maybe not the most colorful birds, perhaps not the birds that look like living feathered jewels. Birds nonetheless though, not easy to see at other times of the year, and with their own set of amazing abilities.

The swifts are always here too (at least as far as we know) but trust me, some species are far and away easier to see and identify than the winter months. “To see and identify” is key for these high-flying birds.

Let’s say you are birding Costa Rica in the winter and hit gold with a high wheeling King Vulture. As way up there as that jungle condor flies, you might pick up a few other birds above it. No, probably won’t spot them with the naked eye but in your binos, there they are, specking way up there, unidentified although you figure they must be swifts.

They are indeed swifts but which ones? Unless they call, no way to tell. Sorry, swift sp. they are and nope, that doesn’t help any but what can you do?

It’s not right but short of a super telescopic lens or mega focused listening device, those are the birding breaks.

The good news is that it’s not that way all year long. Once the rains start, all the swifts fly lower, even close enough to see actual, honest to goodness field marks!

Where do they fly you may ask? Oh, in lots of places, like even above my urban neighborhood. Just today, during post lunch relaxation on the couch, I swore I heard the pip pips of a Black Swift. At first, I thought I may have been tricked by some odd, distant calls of a Great-tailed Grackle but I went outside, looked up, and sure enough, yes!

There they were, swifts scything through nearby skies, even swooping low over houses. Black Swifts! Chestnut-collared Swifts zip zipping and either Spot-fronted and/or White-chinned Swifts higher up. Although they didn’t give away specific identification by calling or flying lower, they have on many other days. I’ve even seen both species flagrantly courting right over non-natural rooftops and urban streets.

Summer is a good time to connect with these birds, a nice bonus after watching a wealth of other, easier birds to see.

Bellbirds Anyone?

Summer is a darn good time to see bellbirds, and I mean ones with three crazy wattles. Although these mega cotingas are always present in Costa Rica, they aren’t always easy. During their non-breeding season (September to March), Three-wattled Bellbirds are mostly in less accessible areas.

Visit Costa Rica in winter and you might get lucky and see one but you’ll really be taking your chances. Go birding in Costa Rica now and it’s some pretty easy birding pie. Sure, you gotta go to the right places but that’s easy enough.

Try Monteverde, give the San Ramon cloud forests a shot, check out a few other breeding areas. The males are calling, put in some time and you should see them!

Male Three-wattled Bellbird.

Crakes and Masked Ducks

In these modern, connected birding days, we’ve got a lot of crake action locked in, all year long. Even so, the skulky ones are easier in the wet season. In Costa Rica, that would be summer.

Boat ride with a guide in Medio Queso and you’ll probably see Yellow-breasted Crakes. You might also see them in Coto 47 near Ciudad Neily. If not, save the birding at that big rich site for Paint-billed Crake and Gray-breasted Crake. Summer is a really good time to look for these challenging birds!

The rice fields are wet and those birds can be pretty common. With some effort, they can also be pretty easy to see! Same for Spotted Rail in Guanacaste rice fields.

The Zorro Duck is out there too, always a pain and unfriendly to birders but summer is a better time to see them. Check seasonal lagoons with lots of emergent vegetation, especially in Coto 47. Check them well too because Masked Ducks are aquatic, web-footed ninjas. Don’t worry, they don’t carry throwing stars or sharp knives but these masters of stealth can still cut in other, less visible ways. Scan carefully to bring the joy and avoid missed lifer pain.

Masked-Duck

What About the Rain?

All those birds sound nice and dandy but aren’t we missing something. Isn’t it going to rain all the time? Yeah, probably not.

Yes, there will be rain and it’ll probably be heavy. But, them sky torrents won’t be rushing 24/7. The natural tap doesn’t usually get turned until the afternoon. Morning is typically good and if it rains on and off, you’re in luck! Expect avian action all day long.

Yes, heavy rains can affect some roads and cause other issues but it shouldn’t be an entire wash out. Bird here in summer and you should connect with a good number of birds, uncommon and challenging ones included.

Thinking of birding in Costa Rica soon? It is summer and there’s rain but I wouldn’t worry too much. Instead, study field guides and birding apps for Costa Rica. Get “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” to prepare for birding in Costa Rica and pick the best birding sites for your birding needs. Get ready because the birding in Costa Rica is excellent and exciting, even in the summer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lowland Rainforest 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lowland Rainforest 2

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

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

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

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

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

Lunch Highlights

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

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

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

Cloud Forest Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You should see this one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thick-knees are odd, fun birds to see.

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

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

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

It’s Always Good for Raptors

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

Expect the Unexpected

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

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

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

Tarcoles is Hot

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

Be prepared for 90 degree weather and bring the hydration.

Tarcoles Can Get Busy on the Weekends

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

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

It is a good place for Scarlet Macaws though…

The River Mouth is Pretty Far

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

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

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

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

Drive Back to the Central Valley Before Noon

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

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

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

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

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Birding in Costa Rica = High Value Birding

All birding has value. Watching a Downy Woodpecker hitch its way up a backyard oak. Relaxing to the lazy serenades of Cedar Waxwings. It’s all good and it’s all appreciated. Connection with birds is connection with nature, and the experience is priceless.

And yet, most of us see far more woodpeckers than the shadow of a Gyrfalcon. Lots of birds are much easier to see than others, and to see most species, you gotta buy some plane tickets.

Emerald Tanager- yeah, you’ll need a plane ride or some adventurous travel for this beauty.

Species that are rare or very difficult to see also require far more investment than others. DYI a Swainson’s Warbler and you’ll probably be in for some mosquito bites, could end up spending hours before you glimpse one.

In Costa Rica, it’ll probably cost more to see a Black-crowned Antpitta. They don’t sing as much as those canebrake birds, are rarer, and tend to revel in the art of hiding. It can take days to see one, even in places where they are known to occur!

Pittasomas are avian royalty but luckily, Costa Rica has a lot of other birds too. Like literally hundreds. Costa Rica is some high value birding indeed. Here’s why:

More Bird Species in a Small Area

The country really is one giant hotspot. I’m not kidding. I mean I can go for a walk in an urban area plagued with morning traffic and still see Crimson-fronted Parakeets and White-fronted Parrots fly overhead, hear the laughter of a Lineated Woodpecker, and watch Blue-gray Tanagers in the palms.

I might also see a Short-tailed Hawk kite over the neighborhood, smile at a wintering Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and note 30 other bird species. It’s pretty nice and yet compared to the cloud-forest topped mountains visible during my walk, it’s ranks somewhat lower on the ladder of excitement!

Up there, only an hour’s drive away, quetzals call, and Flame-throated Warblers brighten mixed flocks replete with regional endemics. Between here and there, more than a dozen hummingbird species are zipping around, and three different nightingale-thrush species sing.

Black and yellow Silky Flycatcher are up there too.

I head in the other direction, drive on down to the Pacific slope, and hundreds of other birds await. Birds like Scarlet Macaws, Double-striped Thick-Knees standing in open fields, spoonbills and egrets in the estuaries, trogons, motmots, puffbirds, and more (oh my!).

Yeah, the birding in Costa Rica really is crazy like that. The mountains give us literally hundreds of bird species within close range of each other. You don’t have to go far to see them, it’s a heck of a lot of birds for your time and expenditures (when a friend of mine and I have arranged 10 days tours, we have always seen more than 400 species).

A High Number of Endemics

Ok, but let’s say you don’t really care how many species you see. Let’s say you are more interested in the special birds, the ones only or mostly found in this little corner of the world.

Birding in Costa Rica can help you there too. Most of the birds in the mountains only live in Costa Rica and western Panama. There’s even one funny bird known as a Wrenthrush. Wren? Thrush? What?

The friendliest Zeledonia I ever knew.

Yes. Exactly. Wren or thrush or orange-coiffed weirdo, this funny little bird is so unique, it’s got its own little family thing going on! And if you know where to look, where to go birding in Costa Rica, it’s not even rare!

Head down to the Pacific and more endemics await. Throw in a few more on the Caribbean side of the mountains, and a handful of true country endemics, and there’s a lot special, local birds to look for. Maybe something like 90 special Costa Rica target species.

Easy to See Fancy Birds like Toucans, Macaws, Parrots, Curassows, and More

High value birding also takes the form of fancy birds. Dream birds. Birds you saw in books and thought, “no, that can’t be real, that’s gotta be a mistake”.

Yeah, nope, no mistake, nature is always far more amazing than we imagine, birds included. In Costa Rica, as with most tropical places, dream birds abound.

Pretty dreamy…

Toucans? Not rare! Parrots? Yeah, lots. Macaws? Two species and easy to see! Yes, you still have to know where to go and a good guide always makes the birding easier but in Costa Rica, dream birds are the norm.

Very Easy Birding Access

Another factor that adds value to birding in Costa Rica is the birding access. Yeah, for national parks, you may have to buy tickets in advance and most don’t open until eight but the access is still pretty easy.

Not to mention, there’s lots of excellent roadside birding, private reserves, and other places accessible on good roads. It’s very easy to go birding in Costa Rica, very easy to see well over one hundred species in a day.

Costa Rica is Pretty Close to the USA and Canada

This country isn’t very far either. Fly from Texas and it’s a few hours. Fly direct from New York and it’s only around six hours away! Costa Rica is much closer than you expect and is so much easier to visit than many places in the world.

Common Costa Rica Birds Include Brown Jay, Mottled Owl, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Golden-crowned Warbler…

Currently, lots of birders are seeing these species in Texas. However, they are only seeing them on guided trips at a private ranch, and they are shelling out a lot to do it.

There’s nothing wrong with that. In general, people are free to charge what they want for goods and services, and the people doing the buying decide how they want to spend their money.

Now, that said, one could argue that if they wanted to see those birds in the ABA region, then they also don’t have much of a choice. There’s a point to that but if the birds are on private property, well, what are you gonna do, that’s the deal.

However, if the deal doesn’t seem so great, you might want to consider another one. Like maybe seeing those birds somewhere else. Maybe not worrying about seeing bird species within human-contrived boundaries, but enjoying them in places where they are so common, you could even see them without a guide.

Look for those birds in Costa Rica and you’ll definitely see them. It won’t be hard either. Brown Jays and the other species are very common birds here, so common that although we do like to see them, we don’t exactly prioritize it.

Yes, as with all owls, it’s always good to see a Mottled Owl but since that’s probably our most common owl species, it’s not too hard to find one…

Think Blue Jays, Great Horned Owls, Tricolored Herons, and some common warbler. In Costa Rica birding terms, that’s pretty much what those birds are like.

So, instead of paying a hefty fee to see them in Texas, why not watch flocks of Brown Jays in Costa Rica along with bonus quetzals, 40 species of hummingbirds, dozens of tanagers, and like 300 or 400 other lifers?

Yeah, the trip would cost more and I know it’s not the same thing but I daresay that the value would be hard to beat. Paying a hefty, per person fee to see some nice birds for a day, or paying a similar per day amount to see those same birds, dozens of Red-billed Pigeons, dream birds, hundreds of other species…

Yeah, that might be a better deal.

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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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October-The Most Exciting Month for Birding in Costa Rica?

Birding in Costa Rica is always good. No, it’s more than good, more like some birding wonderland. 24/7. All the time. Even so, you always hear that the best time to go birding in Costa Rica is January to March.

Yeah, that is the dry season on the Pacific and that’s always good. You can also skip out on some of those northern winter blues but honestly, it doesn’t really matter which month you want to see Costa Rica birds.

Head to Costa Rica in January and it’ll be awesome. Bring those binos to Tiquicia (local name for Costa Rica) in June and it’ll still be awesome. Come to this lovely land of hummingbirds, trogons, and tanagers any other month and you’ll still see a lot.

Cinnamon Hummingbird- one of the common hummingbirds waiting for you.

Yeah, in some places it rains more than other places but that’s always the case, even in the dry season. To see those birds, you just work with the precipitation any which way you can.

Now if you ask local Costa Rica birders about the best month for birding, you’ll probably get a bunch of different responses. The winter months could be a common answer, it’s when we can see wintering birds. The raptophiles among us might mention March or April but if you ask me, I’ll say that the best birding month in Costa Rica is any month.

However, if I had to pick the most exciting month, well, for me, that would be October. Halloween month is sort of like our May. It’s when migration hits full swing, it’s when we welcome birds back to these tropical shores.

There’s the common and expected birds like Baltimore Orioles, various warblers, Western Sandpipers, and other common species. I saw some of those this very morning, right here in the neighborhood.

Baltimore-Oriole
Baltimore Oriole- one of our appreciated wintering species.

Those birds are good, watching a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher in the same fig tree as Baltimores, Yellow Warblers, and a bunch of local birds was a sweet gift. However, some birds are more exciting simply because we don’t see them so often. October might be our best month for those choice birds.

As with all places where birds are funneled into the local viewing frame, on any given day in October, we might find one of those mega, unexpected species. These are the birds that result in white knuckle driving, leaning forward with anxiety, hoping to reach the mega in time.

October in Costa Rica is major birding, everywhere and at all times. It’s just getting started and yet we’ve already had some tantalizing sightings, some sweet birding experiences. Some of those birds were from late September but maybe they’ll be signs of things to come. Check it out:

Mega Migrants

It’s either a good year for migrants or we just got more birders in the field. Either way, the twitchworthy birds are turning up. You’ll laugh if you live in Pennsylvania but a bunch of us dropped everything and ran to see a Chipping Sparrow. Even better, this ultra rare bird for Costa Rica was sighted at Calle Viquez- a hotspot pretty close to home!

Marilen and I checked it out a day after the bird was found but so far, no dice. The small sparrow of northern pine-dotted parks was either a one day wonder or has yet to be refound. Hopefully, we’ll find it again.

Other, similarly local megas were Lark Sparrows in Sarapiqui and the Osa, and a Yellow-headed Blackbird near Cartago! These two didn’t stay around all that long but at least a bunch of birders got to see the Lark Sparrow.

It makes you wonder what else is out there? Some adventurous Clay-colored Sparrow down the road? Maybe a Nashville Warbler? A hidden Connecticut? Only way to know is to get out there and look!

Wonderful Warblers, Thousands of Swallows, and More

In more expected birding news, I have been enjoying daily movement of migrating swallows. Every morning, dozens of Cliffs, Banks, and Barns fly just over the roofs. If I could watch all day, I’m sure I’d see hundreds, maybe even thousands more.

They might seem like normal birds, and they are, but when you think of where they came from and where they are going, each and every swallow is a living sign of the incredible.

Warblers are also back in town. Not all of them yet but a good number of those much loved little birds. On Sunday morning, we figured we’d try out luck at the Rio Loro Park. This small park near Cartago can be good for migrants, and it’s also a nice place to walk. No luck with cuckoos or a Veery but we did alright with the Parulids.

While enjoying views of BOPish Long-tailed Manakins, had our first Golden-wingeds of the season along with small numbers of Wilson’s, Chestnut-sided, Blackburnian, Black-and-white, Mourning, Canada, and Tennessee Warblers. We also had Northern Waterthrushes and close, appreciated views of at least two Worm-eating Warblers.

Wilsons Warbler- the most common highland bird in Costa Rica from October to March.

Having grown up just out of reach of “Wormers”, I always love seeing them. Pretty uncommon but regular wintering birds in Costa Rica, the ones from Sunday were my year birds.

Possible Highest Ever Count of Least Terns in Costa Rica

On Sunday, we began the month with some warblers at Rio Loro. However, on Saturday., we ended September with morning birding at Puntarenas. It’s a good time to be at that birding hotspot and Saturday morning certainly delivered.

On the way there, we picked up year Surfbirds at Caldera. At Puntarenas itself, we scored with another bird, in far larger numbers than I had ever imagined.

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A Surfbird from another day in Costa Rica.

Least Terns usually pass through Costa Rica in late August and September, mostly on the Pacific coast. If you don’t see them then, you might have to wait until the following year. As luck would have it, as soon as we arrived at the lighthouse in Puntarenas, there went a small group of Least Terns zipping by.

I figured they might be the only ones we would see. Maybe a few more but not that many. I mean, that’s how it usually goes with that tiny tern in Costa Rica. But then I start seeing more flying way out there in the Gulf of Nicoya; tiny, fast wing beating terns, all with a smart black patch in their wings.

I get to scanning the birds on a distant sand bar and there’s a good scattering of egrets and shorebirds. Too far away to identify most of them, I envy the clam diggers and fishermen who are nearly within arm’s reach of those birds.

I keep scanning and notice a big group of terns on a sand bar. Really big group. Maybe a clam digger gets too close and suddenly, they take flight. And I can hardly believe my eyes. Every last one of them was a Least Tern! They were far but at 40 X, were still close enough to note that they were the same size as Least Terns foraging near them. They bank, I can see the black primaries, and I figure I better start counting.

To make sure, I had to count them twice. It just didn’t seem possible but yeah, 250 was the total number of Least Terns flying past and on the sand bar. Since that didn’t take the previous groups of Least Terns into account, I bet there at least 300 of them out there.

It was unheard of number for Costa Rica but that’s how many there were. For whatever reason, some big number of Least Terns were gathered in the Gulf of Nicoya on Saturday morning, September 30th. By 9 a.m., all of them had left. I wonder where they went, if they would cross over to the Caribbean in Panama? Or, maybe winter in the deltas of northwestern Colombia?

To top off the excitement at Puntarenas, we scored with a distant Sabine’s Gull, and saw a small group of Common Terns. It would have been a good day to take the ferry!

Snowy Plover and Bobolink in Tarcoles

That same day, we also visited Jaco and swung by Tarcoles. The tide was high and we didn’t see anything but oh we sure missed some good birds! That same day, a mega Snowy Plover was found! Granted, the only way we could have seen it was if we had hiked out to the river mouth but that bird was present when we visited, just beyond the scrubby mangroves, just out of sight.

A bunch of local birders saw it the following day and today, and one of them also found a Bobolink! This cool blackbird is a rare one in Costa Rica. I’m sure we get more than we realize but still in low numbers, likely scattered in several places.

Ruff in Guanacaste

Topping off the recent rare birds was a Ruff seen near Filadelfia in Guanacaste. It was seen near Buff-breasted Sandpipers and some other nice birds. It’s a good reminder that rare birds are out there, you keep looking and you’ll find them.

October birding in Costa Rica is indeed exciting. There’s lots more to come too including large numbers of thrushes, Bay-breasted Warblers, raptors, and so much more!

I suppose I’ll end by noting that several Upland Sandpipers have been seen in Guanacaste and at the airport. What will be next? Is a pipit or wagtail too much to ask for? Ha ha, probably but on a rare October birding day in Costa Rica, it seems like anything is possible.

FAQs

When is the best time to go birding in Costa Rica?

The best time to go birding in Costa Rica is any time of the year. However, most people prefer the drier months of January to March.

Can you still see a lot while birding Costa Rica on your own?

You can always still see a lot while birding Costa Rica on your own. However, as with any destination, you’ll always see more with an experienced local guide. My bird finding guide for Costa Rica will also help.

Which Costa Rica Birds can I see?

With a country list of 930 plus species, you can see so many Costa Rica birds, there are too many to mention. 400 plus species on a serious two week trip is likely. Toucans, macaws, parrots, tanagers, several hummingbirds, and more are even possible on shorter trips.

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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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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 information@birdingcraft.com

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