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Costa Rica Birding News, October, 2023

October. It’s the threshold of winter, Halloween, and pumpkins (with all of their orange colored spice). By the cool breeze from the north and the slowing down of deciduous trees, the birds know the deal is up. They know it’s past time to have fattened up and made the journey south. Indeed, up north, most of the first migrants have already paid heed to instincts and fled to the tropics. Thrushes, warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and Scarlet Tanagers; most have gone, many have made it to Costa Rica.

A fair number are here on winter territory, searching for insects in tropical trees and avoiding the eyes of Bat Falcons and creeping Vine Snakes. Others are just stopping off to fuel up and continue to the incredible forests of the Amazon, or to find a sweet wintering spot in mossy rainforest of the Andes.

Rainforests at Bosque del Rio Tigre-excellent wintering habitat.

In a few months, a number of birders will also make a temporary migration to Costa Rica. They will visit to delve into tropical birding, watch toucan antics while delighting in the coffee fruits of volcanic soils, and photograph Purple-throated Mountain-gems (like the multicolored bird featured above). The birds are awaiting, I can promise you that! Here’s some other news items from October, 2022, Costa Rica.

Very Heavy Rains=Tragic Flooding and Road Closures

October in Costa Rica is bird migration but it can also be a month of rains. The rains from this past October have gone from being exceptional to extreme. Sadly, in the Central Pacific region, more rain fell in a day or two than typically falls over the course of the entire month. We’re talking about a country where it normally rains every afternoon of every day in October, we’re talking about a horrible deluge.

During the past week, so much rain came slamming down in the central and southern Pacific regions, parts of the town of Jaco flooded. Flooding also occured near Parrita and in some other areas, and landslides affected several roads. Although people weren’t swept away like the terrible climate crisis induced floods in Nigeria, Pakistan, and other places, in Costa Rica, a number of people have lost everything, businesses have been terribly affected, and many roads have been damaged.

Those roads will likely be fixed well before the high season but if visiting Costa Rica over the news few weeks, you will need to pay close attention to information about road closures. Keep an eye on whatever driving app you may use, especially if traveling anywhere on Cerro de la Muerte, Route 32, and other mountain roads, and anywhere from Tarcoles south to Panama.

Arctic Terns near Shore, Fewer Migrants?

Arctic Tern from a few years back.

On the bird migration scene, one of the more interesting sightings has been that of Arctic Terns on the central Pacific Coast. At least a few (and maybe more) were documented by local birders in the Playa Hermosa area, foraging close to shore. Typically, in Cosa Rica, this species is a bird of pelagic waters although perhaps they occur closer to shore more often than expected? Were they overlooked in the less birded past? Who knows but in any case, this us always an uncommon species for Costa Rica.

As far as other migrants go, some local birders have wondered if we are seeing fewer numbers. Although various factors cloud accurate assessment of abundance during migration, given the effects of climate disruption, insect decline, and other nasty factors on breeding grounds and migration routes, yeah, I bet we are seeing fewer birds. That would match the latest State of the Birds Assessment that shows continued declines in many species.

Off hand, I have had a strong impression of far fewer Cliff Swallows than other years and can’t help but wonder if this is related to so much of their western breeding areas being impacted by climate-change induced drought and heat waves. I have seen quite a few vireos and pewees but perhaps less than in previous years, and although there have been many Swainson’s Thrushes, there still doesn’t seem to be as many as in other years.

Hopefully, there will be good numbers of wintering birds; we do have a good amount of habitat for them.

Southern Nicoya Peninsula= Probable Migrant Hotspot

Once again, the southern Nicoya yields a rare for Costa Rica migrant. On October Global Big Day, Wilfreddo Villalobos found a small group of Bobolinks! The smart looking hay meadow birds might be regular up north but in Costa Rica, you would be lucky to add it to your country list. In common with other migrant hotspots, the southern Nicoya Peninsula is bordered on each side by water and thus could possibly act act as a “funnel” for migrants, or at least attract lost birds flying over the Pacific Ocean.

Any migrant effect isn’t as pronounced as that of the famed hotspots but the place certainly does attract rare migrants every year. I wonder what else is hiding in the tropical forests of that fun, underbirded area? What would a birder see while seawatching from the coast near Cabuya? Go and see what you find!

Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo and Other Rare Resident Birds

The ground-cuckoo has been seen again at antswarms at the Pocosol Station. Honestly, this is no surprise, nor would it be surprising to find them at swarms in other suitable areas but given how generally difficult it is to see this species, it’s always good to know where and when they are being seen.

Another rare resident species seeen recently was a Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle at Nectar and Pollen (!). Lucky local birders had excellent looks at one that took to the air right in front of them! This site and other nearby sites are good places to look for this species but you still need a lot of luck to see one.

Newly Updated, Second Edition of Costa Rica Bird Finding Guide Now Available!

On a personal note, it took a while but the second edition of “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” is finally edited, updated, and available. Since the previous edition was more than 700 pages, one might not expect much more could be said about birding sites in Costa Rica. One could easily be wrong.

This edition includes:

  • Updated information on strategies to find and see tropical birds in Costa Rica, including the best ways to see uncommon and rare species.
  • Updated lists of birds to expect, birds to not expect, birds that could be splits, and more.
  • Updated information for dozens of sites to watch birds in Costa Rica.
  • Several new sites throughout the country.
  • Several updated sample itineraries.
  • Local insider, accurate information about finding birds in Costa Rica.

At more than 900 pages, this book is a tome of birding information meant to enhance every birding trip and birding tour to Costa Rica. One of the benefits of this book is that since it is digital, it doesn’t weigh anything and any subject matter can be easily searched from the table of contents or within the text of the book.

This Costa Rica birding site guide e-book is perfect for birders and bird photographers of all levels planning a birding trip to Costa Rica, wanting to learn more about the birds of Costa Rica, and hoping to see more birds in Costa Rica. Not to mention, every purchase helps keep this blog going. As always, I hope to see you here!

If you purchased the first version in 2022, let me know and I’ll send you the updated version for free. If you bought the book before 2022, this updated, second version is available for $9.00.

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Birding in Costa Rica on Paradise Road

The concept of paradise may be subjective but most would agree that it encompasses feelings of happiness in absolutely beautiful surroundings. Most would also equate those beautiful surroundings with natural beauty, often, tropical places with textured vegetation that appeases in a dozen shades of jade. However, peaceful green isn’t the only color on the paradise block. It’s a lovely garden au-naturelle highlighted with the purples, yellows, and deep reds of tropical flowers, and the plumages of “exotic” birds.

In Costa Rica, those birds include toucans, parrots, tanagers, and a few dozen hummingbirds, each adorned with their own set of refracted jewels.

Crowned Woodnymph is one of the more common rainforest hummingbirds in Costa Rica.

With so much tropical beauty beaing easily accessible, refering to birding in Costa Rica as a certain type of paradise becomes easy. Perhaps it’s no surprise that some places have “paradise” as part of their name. In celebration of October Global Big Day, 2022, my partner and I birded one such place in southeastern Costa Rica, a site known as “Paradise Road“.

Paradise Road is a rural gravel road that connects the coastal road near Punta Uva with another route that leads to Sixaola and the border with Panama. I’ve done some birding on it in the past but never at dawn and never enough for my liking. I guess I end up feeling that way about most sites that host extensive habitat, and especially when they see very little birding.

On this trip, I was pleased to finally bird this road at dawn. These were some highlights:

Owl Chorus

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Most lowland tropical forest sites are good for owls and other nocturnal birds. You can spend hours at night looking for and finding some but the best time to hear them call is just before dawn, say from 4 until 5, maybe most of all from 4:30 to 5:00.

On our morning, shortly after our 4:30 arrival, a Middle American Screech-Owl started trilling close by, a Crested Owl vocalized a couple of times, and the mournful whistles of a Common Potoo sounded off in the humid distance. Closer to dawn, as the decibals of Howler Monkeys filled the air, the screech-owl continued, a Short-tailed Nighthawk called, and we heard Spectacled Owls gruffing from the woods.

If we had arrived earlier and maybe checked a few more sites, I’m sure we would have also heard the two other common owl species of lowland sites in Costa Rica; Mottled and Black-and-White Owls. It was also surprising to not hear Great Potoo, a fairly common bird in that area. However, we couldn’t complain with hearing the voices of four nocturnal species with such little effort.

Constant Birds

As the light grew, as is typical for morning birding in lowland rainforest, things got busy with the calls of forest birds. Woodcreepers sounded off (we eventually got all 6 possible species), a few antbirds sang, and other species revealed themselves, one by one.

There were groups of Tawny-crested Tanagers, a few Dusky-faced Tanagers, various flycatchers, Swainson’s Thrushes hopping in the road, toucans in the treetops, and a Collared Forest-Falcon calling from its hidden foliaged lair.

Dusky-faced Tanager.

From dawn until 8, it was a morning of constant birds, and I’m sure more than we managed to identify.

Migration Happenings

Many of those birds were migrants, species arriving on wintering grounds or stopping to feed before moving to the Andes and the Amazon. As expected, the most common migrants were Red-eyed Vireos and Eastern Wood-Pewees, each flitting through trees and sallying from the tips of dead snags. There were also a few swallows flying ovehead, Broad-winged Hawks taking to the air, a few warblers here and there, Scarlet Tanagers, Great-crested Flycatchers, and a Peregrine Falcon watching and waiting to see what it could catch. My favorites were the Kentucky and Mourning Warblers that skulked in their wintering territories, and, by the grace of its “chip” call, an Alder Flycatcher that made it onto my year list.

Snowy Cotingas

Thanks to good areas of lowland rainforest, the southern Caribbean zone of Costa Rica is also a good place to see Snowy Cotinga. We had wonderful views of a surreal white-plumaged male that foraged in a tree with semi-cotinga tityras and other birds.

We didn’t have anything super rare but more than 120 species in four hours is nothing to complain about. With more effort, I bet we could find uncommon and rare species like Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon, Black-crowned Antpitta, and Spot-crowned Antvireo. Not to mention, birding this road and area also comes with the odd chance of adding a species to the Costa Rica bird list. I look forward to my next visit.

On this trip, we rented a cabin at Olguita’s Place, a friendly, locally owned spot close to the beach at Punta Uva. To learn more about where to watch birds in Costa Rica, including dozens of insider sites off the beaten path, get How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica. Support this blog by buying it in October, 2022 and I’ll also send you the updated version as soon as it becomes available (it’s almost ready).

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Better Birding in Costa Rica: Preparations for 2023

The end of the year and high season for birding in Costa Rica is still a few months away but I’m already getting ready for it. It’s raining a lot and there’s not a whole lot of birders here at the moment but in a way, the high season is already happening. Main birding hotels are filling up for dates from January through March and guides and transportation are getting booked too.

Cope’s Place books up in advance too. If you want to visit, let me know ASAP!

The following are recommendations and things I have been doing to prepare for the main birding season:

Updating a Birding Companion for Costa Rica- “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”

Editing and updating this resource has kept me pretty busy but it will be worth it. The new version will include updates for existing sites and information for many new places. With so many birding-focused sites popping up, I’m sure it won’t cover everything but it’s going to come close.

As always, the goal of this book is to help birders of all levels have a more fulfilling birding experience in Costa Rica.

The new version should be available by the end of October. If you buy the current version of this Costa Rica bird finding guide from now until the new version comes out, I’ll also send you the new version free of charge.

Updating the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide App

I have also been updating the most complete birding app for Costa Rica. Not that long ago, we updated it to include new additions like Spectacled Petrel and Lesser Black-backed Gull. However, recently, a couple of local birders discovered Buff-collared Nightjar in Costa Rica (!) and there were a few other edits to make. With that in mind, we decided to make another update, one that will hopefully be ready by the end of this month.

The new version will have:

  • Images for 941 species on the Costa Rica list.
  • Vocalizations for 870 species on the Costa Rica list.
  • Images, information, and sounds for 64 additional species that may eventually occur in Costa Rica.
Altamira-Oriole-Costa-Rica-birds-app
Altamira Oriole is one of those eventual birds for the Costa Rica list.

Birding in More Places

I have been trying to do more birding in out of the way places as well as easily accessible overlooked sites. Results have included Blue Seedeater, sites for Striped and other owls, and more. As with anywhere, the more you go birding, the more you find.

Make Reservations Now…

Just another reminder to not wait to make reservations. The most popular places are really filling up!

Plan Your Trip Around eBird?

If you still want to plan a trip, what about just planning it around eBird? While that wonderful birding platform can give you some good ideas, I wouldn’t use it as the sole resource to plan a birding route in Costa Rica. EBird is great but in Costa Rica, it’s also naturally biased towards the birding circuit and popular sites, and lists for such sites don’t have all of the birds mentioned (us reviewers are trying but there’s still a lot to do). These are the places birded the most often but other birding spots also exist, many with fantastic birding. Just remember that, as most everywhere, in Costa Rica, the best birding is where the best habitat is.

As always, I hope to see you here in Costa Rica. Hope you see a lot this October 8th on October Big Day!

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A Fine Morning of Excellent, Accessible Birding in Costa Rica

The birding in Costa Rica is always good but some places are better, some birding mornings are more memorable than others. Recently, I had one such morning while birding a place I have visited much more than other sites. Easy, accessible, and good forest, I have made the 40 minute drive for birding at Poas on many an occasion. It’s always all good when I bring the binos to those high elevations but September 27th was one of the better visits, one that just might take the cake. Here’s why:

First Stop Has Most of the Birds

Upon reaching the high elevations, I stopped the car and said, “Let’s see what we find”. We barely exited the vehicle when a mixed flock found us. Yellow-thighed Brushfinches and other birds trooped into view and then stayed to feast on berries and I suppose to entertain us. I’m not sure how else to explain the close, constant, and easy views of so many Sooty-capped Chlorospingus, Fiery-throated Hummingbirds, Black-and-Yellow Silky-Flycatchers (we got tired of looking at them), Flame-throated Warblers, and more.

I didn’t think we would top that fantastic avian introduction but the highlights kept on coming.

Quetzal Perched in the Open

Next on the plate of birding happiness was a quetzal on a bare branch, backdrop of blue sky. It happened just after mentioning that we would search for quetzal but that we would still have to be lucky to find one. I pull up to the spot, look up to my left, and unbelievably, there goes a male Resplendent Quetzal, right in the open. It didn’t stay long but we got excellent, close looks. This was quickly followed by views of a Black Guan and a couple of Northern Emerald Toucanets. They must have been feeding from the same fruiting tree.

A Bunch of Chlorophonias

This was also a good morning for the miniature quetzal, the Golden-browed Chlorophonia. We had great looks at more than one male and were hearing their quaint calls at every stop.

Barred Parakeets Seen

I often hear the soft calls of Barred Parakeets when birding on Poas but rarely see the pint-sized parakeets. In needing to move around in search of feeding areas and doing so in flocks, this species reminds me of a crossbill. After hearing the birds, lo and behold, our luck continued when we saw a small group buzz overhead.

Barred Parakeets in flight.

Blue Seedeater (!)

This was arguable the rarest bird of the morning. Although it has been seen near the main road to Poas, I had never previously seen one at this site. If I recall correctly, the small dark finchy bird was responding to pishing. I heard its chip note and at first thought we may have found another uncommon bird for Costa Rica, a MacGillivray’s Warbler.

Even so, it didn’t sound quite right and with good reason because the bird that took form in my binoculars was a male Blue Seedeater. As is typical for this special species, it was calling from a patch of old bamboo.

Black Hawk-Eagle Displaying

Yes, Black Hawk-Eagle. Earlier this year, I was surprised to see one of these large raptors in the highest part of Poas. The other day, we had a pair and one was calling as it quivered its wings like a giant deadly butterfly.

The Poas area is always good but the other day was one for the books; we had all of these birds and some before 8 in the morning. It makes me wonder what else is lurking in the forests that overlook the cars and winding roads of the Central Valley?

To learn more about Poas, other birding sites, and how to identify hawk-eagles, promote the birding resources at this blog by purchasing “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. I hope to see you here!

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A Fine Morning of Birding in Costa Rica- the Road to Manuel Brenes

The best places for birding in Costa Rica don’t have to be the most visited places, they just need to be the places with the best habitat. Then again, “best places” are subjective, they depend on the birder doing the talking, what someone prefers to see, or how a person prefers to go birding.

“Best birding” for birders who would much rather scan for shorebirds might not include a walk in rainforest. There are birders who would rather watch migrating raptors than study the subtleties of flycatcher plumages, and many people prefer the nice looks that come from easy-going edge birding rather than catching glimpses of occasional rare birds in places shaded by towering trees.

For me, I suppose the best places for birding depend on what I want to see, the number of birds present, and the variety of birds available. Based on those factors, I tend to lean towards sites with extensive forested habitats. Such places host the highest avian diversity and even though dense vegetation, tall trees, and low light conditions present challenges, patient watching still yields results. However, I would be remiss if I did not mention that forest also lends itself to earbirding; something I do just as much or even more than sight birding.

Although I find all natural habitats interesting, I have also, always been partial to forest. As a young person, that’s where I took the wild things to be. In my pre-teen mind, the forests of the Southern Tier of New York state, Pennsylvania, and Algonquin were where the birds lived. I would gaze at maps and look for the wild places, the areas with the most amount of forest and imagine what lived therein and how much more area used to be covered with extensive stands of massive, ancient trees.

These days, we can look at satellite maps, see where the remaining forests occur, note where to focus reforestation efforts, and where we might find the best sites for birding, at least for birding in rainforest. In Costa Rica, one of those better, little birded sites is the road that leads to the Manuel Brenes Reserve. Like other country roads, it’s not paved and a combination of mud and rocks doesn’t make it very suitable for a small vehicle with two wheel drive. However, it is flanked by good-sized areas of intact foothill rainforest and that’s why the birding is simply excellent.

Yesterday, my partner and I paid a visit to that site, one that was long overdue. During a morning of birding, we identified 90 species, these were some highlights:

Three-wattled Bellbirds

Male Three-wattled Bellbird.

Quite often, birding at this site is accompanied by the loud calls of bellbirds. Start birding near the entrance and you might hear one or two of these cool cotingas calling from somewhere in your auditory surroundings. Venture further on the road and you get much closer. With luck, you might see one perched high above but just as often, they are in trees just out of sight, just out of reach.

Mixed Flocks with Tanagers and More

This particular site can have fantastic mixed flocks. Some of the best I have ever seen in Costa Rica have happened on this road; dizzying flocks with too many birds to look at. Yesterday morning, compared to past visits, mixed flock activity was a bit subdued but we still managed to come across a few that yielded close looks at Emerald, Speckled, and Black-and-yellow Tanagers along with less colorful birds like Russet Antshrike and Eye-ringed Flatbill.

Russet Antshrike from another day and place.

Northern Schiffornis

This plain brown bird doesn’t look like much and can be tough to see in its dim understory home but what it may lack in looks, it makes up for with its intriguing whistled song. We heard at last two of these special rainforest birds and also enjoyed listening to other songs of the foothill rainforest; the complex song of the Nightingale Wren and the simple phrases of Black-headed Nightingale-Thrushes.

Quality Species Heard

Other uncommon species we heard included Lattice-tailed Trogon (at least 5!), Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, Bicolored and Ocellated Antbirds, and Streak-crowned Antvireo.

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The road to Manuel Brenes isn’t regularly visited on tours and its not in the best of shape but the birding is always good. I would love to spend a few days exploring that road and also visiting at night. Including the small marsh at the beginning of the road, it already has a 400 plus species list, I wonder what else uses those beautiful, mossy forests?

To learn more about where to watch birds in Costa Rica, support this blog and buy “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.

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Costa Rica Birding News, September, 2022

September is here. It means we are that much closer to winter and the high season but most of all, birds up north are on the move. Soon, waves of the avian kind will be passing through Costa Rica, the heralds of the annual fall passage are already here.

As always, we’ve also been seeing some interesting bird species, some rarities among the many, more common and beautiful birds. Planning a trip or have a birding trip planned to Costa Rica? Hundreds of birds are waiting for you. Check out the latest news items for Costa Rica birding and get psyched for your trip:

Waved Albatross, Gray-bellied Hawk, Red-fronted Parrotlet, and Oilbird

In terms of rare birds and notable records, these ones come to mind. There wasn’t any photo for the albatross but when it comes to massive sea wandering birds in Costa Rica, there’s not a lot of room for confusion. This report comes from the Marino Ballena area and is a reminder that this rare mega from the Galapagos can turn up anywhere near the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, at any time.

The hawk was spotted by local guide Randy Gomez during some casual birding around Chilamate. This austral migrant and excellent Ornate Hawk-Eagle mimic seems to be a very rare yet annual visitor to Costa Rica. Although it may migrate south very soon, hopefully, this young bird will decide to stick around for the winter months. It’s a good reminder to take a closer look at any Ornate Hawk-Eagle.

Red-fronted Parrotlet is always here but it’s also always tough. These small and uncommon parrots are typically heard and, if you are lucky, quickly glimpsed in flight. It’s a rare day when they are seen foraging. That rare day recently happened in the Bajo de Paz area when local birders spotted this species feeding at a fruiting tree.

Oilbird is another annual visitor (or rare resident) typically seen during the wet season. Recently, a perched Oilbird treated lucky birders with great views at the Curi-Cancha Reserve.

Bird Migration in Costa Rica Kicking into Gear

Shorebirds and kites are making major movements but most other birds are just arriving to Costa Rica, and many aren’t here yet. This morning, I saw my first of hopefully many fall Red-eyed Vireos and my first fall American Redstart. Where did those birds spend the summer? The vireo will continue on but perhaps the redstart will stay. Hopefully, thousands more birds will be on their way and visiting these bio-rich habitats soon.

New Species for the Costa Rica List!

Yes, another bird makes it onto the country list! This latest special addition was the Lesson’s Seedeater, a small migrant from South America photographed by a local researcher in Tortuguero National Park in June. This smart little bird lives in northern South America and usually migrates to the Amazon. Indeed, the only time I have seen one was years ago while birding with Alec Humann in the incredibly fantastic forests of Yasuni National Park.

This species is one of several Austral migrants not unexpected for Costa Rica. A rare occurrence indeed but given the plain appearance of the female, one can’t help but wonder if one or two have been overlooked on past occasions.

New Update for the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide App

A recent update will be available for the IOS version of the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app (no Android version is available at this time). It will include Spectacled Petrel and Yellow-nosed Albatross (two other recent additions to Costa Rica), and some other updates to enhance every birding experience in Costa Rica.

After this update, this birding app for Costa Rica will feature

  • Images for 940 species on the Costa Rica list.
  • Vocalizations for 869 species on the Costa Rica list.
  • Images, information, and sounds for 65 additional species that may eventually occur in Costa Rica.

Updating My Bird Finding Book for Costa Rica

I’ve been busy updating “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. The new version will be edited and include more than 60 additional sites for birding in Costa Rica. It’s quite the task but it will be worth it for birders to have the most up to date, accurate, and comprehensive information for birding in Costa Rica. It should be ready before the start of the high season.

You’ll learn about the best places to see this and hundreds of other species.

In the meantime, the book can still be purchased to support this blog. If you do buy a copy from now until the end of October, when it becomes available, I will also send you the updated version.

The Urban Birder is in Costa Rica

David Lindo, the Urban Birder is currently doing a tour in Costa Rica. I first met David in Israel at the 2016 Champions of the Flyway and had hoped to eventually share birds with him in Costa Rica. It was nice to be able to do that with him and one of his tour participants before they started their tour. I was also fortunate to have him sign a copy of his children’s book for birds, “The Extraordinary World of Birds“.

This book is a veritable treasure, not just for young people interested in birds, but perhaps even more so for young people who don’t know a thing about birds. A fun encyclopedia of information about all things avian, it’s chock full of images and illustrations of birds from all over the world and is exciting to read. Hopefully, it will find its way into the hands of as many kids as possible and get just as many interested in birds and their natural surroundings.

On a personal note, it also reminds me of the books I used to gaze at in the Niagara Falls public library, books that opened my mind to birds and so much more. One big difference is that David’s book is so much better in every way; I suppose just what I would expect from someone who has an encyclopedic knowledge of birds and a passion to connect young people with nature. Want to help birds? Buy a copy of this book to donate to schools and the young people in your life.

As always, there’s lots more to say about birding in Costa Rica but there’s nothing like coming to this beautiful country to see them with your own eyes. I hope to see you here.

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Watching Shorebirds in Costa Rica- 5 Benefits

Most birders don’t visit Costa Rica to look at shorebirds. Their rung on the birding priority ladder is outpaced by endemics and hundreds of other species not possible at the home patch. Even so, sandpipers and plovers are always fun to watch and if you get a chance to do some shorebirding in Costa Rica, you’ll reap the following benefits:

Lots of Birds

Bird in Costa Rica in the right places and you might hit a wader jackpot. Thousands of shorebirds migrate through and winter in Costa Rica, much more than we manage to document. As I write, I’m sure that fantastic flocks of sandpipers and plovers are moving along both coasts. Some birds stop, many fly on and pass through Costa Rica’s bit of air space in less than a day. Among those migrating groups of birds, among the birds that stop to rest and others that continue on, a rarity or two could certainly be present.

Marbled Godwits, Surfbirds, and Wilson’s Plovers

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Birders who aren’t from this side of the globe will get their fill of Western Hemisphere waders. Yellowlegs, Willets, “Hudsonian” Whimbrels, Western, Semipalmated, Least, and Stilt Sandpipers, and more. Among some of the more interesting and wanted shorebirds are Marbled Godwit, Surfbird, and Wilson’s Plover, lot’s of Wilson’s Plovers!

Chomes is a good site for Wilson’s Plover.

Find a Siberian Vagrant

As with other places that concentrate shorebirds, Costa Rica can also host vagrants from Siberia. So far, such lost shorebirds have taken the form of Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, and Pacific Golden-Plover but given Costa Rica’s position on the Pacific Coast flyway, more are certainly possible. I’m sure a few of those species have been here but passed through unseen or unnoticed. Four species of stints are possible, the most likely ones maybe being Red-throated and Little Stints, the others being Little, Temminck’s, and Long-toed Stints. Sharp-tailed Sandpiper is also likely (one was seen in Panama), and Lesser Sand Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit could also make a surprise appearance.

Yeah, real long shots but all are long distance migrants that migrate through or too similar latitudes in southern Asia and all have occurred in Washington state or California. Some have probably made it to Costa Rica at some point, hopefully a few will make it here again. It doesn’t hurt to be ready to recognize them (and is why these and other possible vagrants are included on the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app). Unfortunately, separating winter-plumaged Red-necked and Little Stints from Semipalmated Sandpipers is an incredible challenge. If you see any funny looking Semis in Costa Rica, take a closer look and take a lot of pictures.

Much More than Shorebirds

A befits the bird-heavy nation of Costa Rica, one of the other benefits of watching shorebirds is seeing lots of other birds too. As one might expect, various other waterbirds will also be present, often, birds like Roseate Spoonbill and White Ibis. On the Pacific Coast, there will also be a fair selection of dry forest species and mangrove birds including chances at uncommon species like Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, Mangrove Rail, and Mangrove Hummingbird.

This Mangrove Hummingbird was seen at Mata de Limon.

Provide Important Data on Wintering and Migrant Species

As with all birds, keeping them around depends on knowing how many occur and where they make a living. Taking a day or two to focus on shorebirds, making careful counts and then uploading the data to eBird is an easy way to help.

It’s always worth it to watch shorebirds. In addition to helping with eBird data, in Costa Rica, a scopeful of elegant migrants from the far north can act as a relaxing break from the challenges of forest birding. Learn about the best spots to see shorebirds in my Costa Rica bird finding guide. I hope you see a lot!

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5 Beautiful Benefits of Relaxed Birding in Costa Rica

Birding isn’t just watching birds. It can be a fun and stress-free outlet, an educational journey, and a personal challenge. However, no matter how many birds you see, no matter how you experience birds, birding is always a key way to relax and connect with your natural surroundings. A relaxed birding trip is when you go birding but you also sample and enjoy local cuisine, maybe spend some time in the pool, maybe spend more time in one bird-rich place to watch bird at your own pace.

Costa Rica is ideal for relaxed birding. It’s a place where relaxation and nature connection go hand in hand, especially for birders with non-birding partners. Beautiful tropical scenery and an incredible number of birds make this friendly country ideal for a relaxed birding trip.

The following are 5 additional benefits of relaxed birding in Costa Rica:

Beautiful Garden Birds

In Costa Rica, you don’t have to go far to see a lot of exotic, beautiful birds. Some photographers visit this birdy country and take pictures of a couple hundred species without setting one foot on a single trail. Stay in the right gardens and fruiting trees can host euphonias, tanagers and other small species.

Emerald Tanager is regular at the Arenal Observatory Lodge!

Incredibly, stunning Golden-hooded Tanagers are also regular garden birds!

Flowering bushes and other plantings attract hummingbirds. The Violet-headed Hummingbird is one of several glittering species regular at many sites in Costa Rica.

More Protected Habitat Makes for Easier Birding

Costa Rica is such an excellent place for easy-going birding because there’s a lot of easily accessible and protected habitats. Even better, several quality eco-lodges are found within or next to such protected areas. It’s why Costa Rica is an easy place to see large birds like Great Curassow and Crested Guan,

A male Great Curassow.

and even critically endangered mega species like the Great Green Macaw.

In general, more habitat means more birds without having to go on long, muddy hikes.

Fun for the Non-Birding Partner

Relaxed birding works very well when visiting Costa Rica with a non-birding partner. This type of birding means that you can get in fantastic birding in the morning and enjoy the rest of the day doing fun things with your partner. It can also mean birding for most of the day while your partner does other activities. There’s always plenty of fun stuff to do in Costa Rica.

Birding Boat Trips

Don’t feel like going on a long, hot hike? You aren’t alone! Boat trips in the right places are an excellent substitute. Float down a tropical river and you can see everything from waterbirds to trogons, raptors, and a roosting Great Potoo.

Look close and find the Great Potoo!

You Still See Lots of Great Birds

This is probably the best thing about relaxed birding in Costa Rica. When a well planned, easy going birding tour in Costa Rica stays in the right key places, many species are seen right at the lodge, even birds like trogons, motmots, toucans, parrots, and literally hundreds of other species.

To learn more about carefully planned, fun and relaxed birding tours in Costa Rica taking place in January, 2023, contact me today at [email protected]

I hope to see you here!

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Harpy Eagle Seen in Costa Rica, July 21, 2022

The official list of the Bird of Costa Rica boasts more than 900 species. That much biodiversity in a place the size as West Virginia or Denmark makes for a heck of a lot of birds to see. Go birding in Costa Rica and you’ll see a lot of them too, probably watch trogons, motmots, tanagers and maybe three dozen hummingbirds. However, one of the birds you aren’t so likely to see is one of the birds we all want to see the most. That special, evasive bird is the Harpy Eagle.

Rainforest habitat in Boca Tapada, Costa Rica, a place where Harpy Eagle still occurs in Costa Rica.

A bird true to its name, the Harpy is a taloned monster, an apex predator of the rainforest. Reaching a length of three feet, the bird is literally larger than life. Pairs of this magnificent eagle of eagles use extensive areas of forest replete with monkeys sloths, and other prey items. It’s one of the top birds of the world but sadly, the Harpy is not an easy bird to see. Unlike many other raptors, this eagle rarely soars. Similar to forest Accipiters, forest-falcons, and cats, it uses stealth to catch prey, lurking under cover until it sees its chance to quickly fly and use massive claws to snatch animals by surprise. Factor in a large territory and it’s no wonder the Harpy is tough to see, even in rainforest that supports healthy populations of the eagle.

The Harpy is a recurring topic of conversation among local birders because very few have seen one in Costa Rica, we don’t know if any breeding pairs still occur, and, every birder who has not seen a Harpy must see one. Honestly, like the Resplendent Quetzal, the Harpy is a bird species every birder deserves to eventually witness. I wish there were funds and special programs developed with this goal in mind, to help birders experience the Harpy Eagle, help them make a pilgrimage to meet this life goal.

At the moment, birders do the Harpy trip to eastern Panama or the Amazon. They are taken to known nesting sites because that situation is by far the most reliable way to see this stealthy canopy predator. If we knew of a Harpy nest in Costa Rica, oh that would be major game changer. It would be aboost for tourism, it would help all of us local birders finally lay eyes on this elusive bird in this birdy nation. Until then, all we can do is keep looking for them in the right places. On July 21st, 2022, the right place ended up being a section of road in northern Costa Rica.

On that fateful day, a group of tourists happened to make local headlines when they chanced upon an adult Harpy Eagle while driving along the main road between Mirador de Pizote and Boca Tapada. It’s a road I have traveled several times, the main road that goes to Laguna del Lagarto, Maquenque Lodge, and other birding spots in that area. The sighting was a welcome surprise but I’m not surprised it happened where it did. It’s exactly where one would expect to see a Harpy Eagle in Costa Rica.

This part of northern Costa Rica has large areas of intact primary forest connected to larger areas of forest in the Indio-Maiz Reserve of Nicaragua. Based on the amount of habitat and sightings of Harpy in Indio-Maiz, Harpy Eagles should be present in the forests near Boca Tapada; if not a pair or two, then at least occasional wandering individuals. But if that’s the case, then why aren’t we seeing them?

The answer to that question gets back to the fact that Harpy Eagles are very difficult to detect, even in places that harbor healthy populations. Factor in birding coverage being rather limited and Harpy sightings become even less likely. With that in mind, it’s interesting to note that more people are visiting the Boca Tapada area, especially Mirador de Pizote, the site closest to where the Harpy was seen. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that more eyes in the field resulted in a Harpy being noticed. The sighting also occured on one of the few spots where forest comes right up to both sides of the road. It looked like a good place for a Harpy to cross the road, a good place for it to sneak through the trees.

Thanks to the local guide who reported the bird, the sighting was made known right away and that same day, several local birders raced there to see if it could be refound. Some of the those same birders also took a boat trip on the Rio San Carlos the following morning. These efforts were worth a try and I’m glad they made the attempt but I wasn’t surprised they did not see the bird. I was rooting for them and hoping they would see it and there were several very experienced guides and birders on board but seeing a Harpy Eagle requires a good deal of luck. Having extensively birded in forests where the Harpy occurs in “good numbers” and knowing how incredibly infrequently myself and other guides saw them, away from a nest, I know all too well how unreliable that bird can be.

A Harpy passes through an area but then where does it go? The bird likely moved to another part of its territory to look for prey. Or, it kept moving around in search of a mate, or, it was somewhere nearby but hidden inside the forest. We’ll never know where that special bird went but the sighting was nevertheless monumental. It shows that, without a doubt, in 2022, Harpy Eagle still occurs in Costa Rica and, it was seen where it was expected.

This sighting is the best of incentives to go birding in the Boca Tapada area, even more incentive to educate local folks about Harpy Eagles and reforest. It might not have been sighted later that same day nor the next but when it comes to Harpy Eagles, that means nothing. A Harpy is a tough bird to see, unless you go birding in places where they could occur, you’ll never see one anyways. The good thing about birding in the places where they do live is that there are hundreds of other cool birds to see too.

A couple days after the sighting, my partner Marilen and I spent a couple of nights in Boca Tapada. We knew we had little chance of refinding that Harpy but it was still good to try, still good to scan the canopy and keep looking. Not to mention, any day birding in lowland rainforest with Green Ibis, Pied Puffbird, Cinnamon Woodpecker, and dozens of other cool birds is always a good time.

For our brief sojourn, we stayed at Las Iguanitas, a small and fiendly place right in the village of Boca Tapada. That worked for us, if you don’t might basic yet friendly lodging for a good price, it’ll work for you too. It was also fun speaking with the owner. He does tours in the area and had some interesting things to say about Harpy Eagle, most of all, possible additional sightings in less accessible spots. He also showed us a Black-and-white Owl that visits the lodge nightly, major points for that!

black-and-white-owl Costa Rica
Black-and-white Owl from another spot in Costa Rica.

Additional choices for accommodation include Mirador de Pizote (a nice little place that caters to photographers), Maquenque Lodge (more upscale, good for families and small groups), Pedacito de Cielo (nice little place, also caters to photographers), and the lodge I have always visited, Laguna del Lagarto (oldest ecolodge in the area, good for groups, photographers, and has trails in excellent habitat).

Birding around Boca Tapada has always been exciting, now, even more so! I can’t wait to get back for more raptor searches. With that in mind, it’s important to mention that a Harpy isn’t limited to the one spot where it was seen. It has a huge range, it could potentially occur along any road or trail with good forest around Boca Tapada. I hope you visit the area too, maybe I’ll see you there.

For more information about Harpy Eagles and finding birds in Costa Rica, please support this blog and get “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.

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Birding Trip to Costa Rica-5 Honest Expectations

Birding trips to Costa Rica are exciting, eye-opening birding events. The first trip dazzles with a colorful and fantastic barrage of species and most are lifers. Visit a different part of the country and the second trip will be just as exciting as the first. You should also catch up on some of those unseen species from the first trip, maybe a Royal Flycatcher,

maybe a tinamou or a White-bellied Mountain-gem.

White-bellied Mountain-Gem

Subsequent trips can be equally exciting, even when visiting some of the same bird rich sites. The complex nature of tropical birding promises novel experiences and is invariably accompanied by chances of seeing rare species and better views of uncommon birds. Whether stepping onto Costa Rican soil for the first time or the tenth birding trip to Costa Rica, the experience will also be accompanied by expectations, some more valid than others.

As with every birding destination, in Costa Rica, changes can happen to habitats and other aspects of the local birding scene. The following are five honest expectations from the perspective of an insider. I hope they help your birding trip.

Clay-colored Thrush is Abundant, Pale-vented Thrush..Not So Much

Yes, you can expect to see a lot of Clay-colored Thrushes. The national bird, the “Yiguirro” is numerous and present in most edge and garden habitats. It’s less expected in dry areas, inside the forest, and in the highest of elevations but it can show up in all sorts of places. Its ubiquitous nature makes it a good bird to know. See a brown, thrush-sized bird flit to a branch and move its tail after landing? You’ll see a lot of those, most will be Clay-colored Thrushes.

Does this mean the similar looking Pale-vented Thrush is just as common? No, it does not. That shy species only occurs in foothill and lower middle elevation rainforest and can be quite uncommon.

eBird Sightings for Costa Rica- Not the Final Word

In Costa Rica, eBird is a great tool. It can show where some rare birds have been seen and give some ideas on where to go birding. However, naturally, the handy app only shows data where people have submitted eBird lists.

This is good to keep in mind if you see quality habitat but aren’t sure if the site is worth birding because no one submitted any eBird lists. Always remember- appropriate habitats determine where birds occur, not where people have gone birding.

Speaking of birding in Costa Rica, it’s also worth mentioning that even when bird species are reported in eBird, that doesn’t mean you will see them. Yes, that sort of goes without saying but honestly, many species are naturally rare and/or refuse to play the birding game. It can take a good deal of time to see such anti-social birds, even when birding with an experienced guide. Not to mention, some of those sightings in eBird are errors and quite a number of species are left off of lists because the observer couldn’t identify their vocalizations or didn’t get an adequate view as dozens of birds flash-mobbed their way through the rainforest in mixed flock madness.

In brief, it is good to check out eBird for Costa Rica, but it’s not the final word on where to go and what’s been seen.

Raptors are Infrequent (But be Ready for Them!)

If you have read this blog on previous occasions, you are likely already familiar with the infrequent raptor concept. Same goes if you have already been birding in Costa Rica. We got this amazing raptor list and yet, we don’t see tons of raptors. That’s just the way it is but it doesn’t mean you won’t see them. I know, like, say what? In the classic words of Arnold Drummond, “What you talking about Willis?” (RIP Gary Coleman, one of the coolest 80s kids).

But yes, really, if you bird in the right places and keep looking, you will probably see a bunch of raptors in Costa Rica. It won’t be like birding at home, you’ll have to look for them in the right way or bird with a good guide but those hawk-eagles can happen. Don’t stop looking, you can easily miss them.

Quail-doves, Tinamous, Wood-Quails, Antpittas, and Leaftossers- Quiet and Patience Please

All of these birds look really cool, look like species from our collective birding dreams. Sadly, their shy nature can keep them in those special, imaginary places. They can come into your birding life but you have to look for them in the right places and in the right way. In general, that birding way is the way of patience, habitat knowledge, and quiet footsteps. Mosquitoes buzzing? Resist the temptation to massively slap and destroy them; quail-doves and their terrestrial skulking friends aren’t into loud sudden noises. Instead, let repellent do the work.

Feel the urge to tell a joke, talk about dinner plans or just can’t keep your mouth shut? Before you venture onto that shaded trail, before you move into the realms of the shy forest birds, remind yourself that these birds don’t go for small talk. These birds don’t want to hear a thing. This walk might be your only chance to glimpse a Purplish-backed Quail-dove. Move in silence, you’ll be surprised at what scurries across the path.

Purplish-backed Quail Dove on the trail at Pocosol.

As luck would have it, such ninja-inspired trail stalking goes hand in hand with another major tinamou watching factor- patience. For effective birding in tropical forest, patience is far more than a virture. To see more birds, especially the shy ones, staying patient is a necessity. While birding in rainforest, don’t worry if no birds seem to be present, don’t fret that you aren’t seeing birds. Oh you can bet some are nearby, be patient and don’t let down your guard. Keep looking and ye shall eventually find.

Poor Lighting, Birds in Flight, and Bits and Pieces

None of the above will be surprising for folks who have done plenty of birding. When you bird in Costa Rica, you’ll also see a good number of silhouettes, of small birds waaay up there in the canopy, others zipping in and out of views or only showing a tail, or other small bit revealed through a green mosaic of tropical vegetation.

To further challenge your birding skills, there will also be birds in flight, parrots not showing enough colors, unfamiliar raptors shapes teasing over a distant forested ridge. These are all part of the birding game, winning requires patience and persistence.

I could talk about other things to expect when birding in Costa Rica but will end this post by mentioning the most important expectation of all; that of seeing a heck of a lot of birds. Watch birds in Costa Rica and it’s going to happen. Three days of birding can yield 300 species. A week or ten days can have 400 plus species of birds. Go birding at a slower pace and you’ll still see a lot, still see toucans, parrots, macaws, and more. Make a target list from nearly 1000 species on the Costa Rica birding app and get ready for the trip. Costa Rica is a pretty birdy place.