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big year biodiversity Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica Introduction

My Best Bird from Birding Costa Rica in 2013

According to the “western calendar”, the end of the year is nigh. It’s time for us listers to count  up the birds we have identified over the course of 12 months, time to run out and see a few more for those doing a Big Year, and time to get ready to party if you want to celebrate the annual calendar change. Although I may have to attend just such a party, I would just as rather look for owls or stay home and sleep because the New Year doesn’t really mean anything to me. As for a Big Year, although I have been doing a sort of Big Year, it’s a relaxed one so by definition, I can’t really run out to get bird 660 today or tomorrow. However, I have counted up the bird species I have identified since January 1st of 2013 (659, my best year in CR yet) and will pick out a “best bird” from that list.

Yellow-naped Parrots are awesome but didn't make it onto this particular list because I see them quite often.

Since few birds really stand out as being the “best of the best”, I think I will talk about some highlights and then settle on a winner from that list. Before I start, I will say that this was a really good birding year for me in Costa Rica with several key lifers, lots of great birding, and many memorable days of guiding. I hope that this list of ten best birds encourages more people to come to Costa Rica for birding and get you psyched for your trip if you already have one planned for the near future! So, without further ado, here goes and in taxonomic order:

1. Red-billed Tropicbird: Not a lifer but a first for my CR list and a good bird to get for the country. Saw a juvenile on a Sierpe-Cano Island boat trip. Yee-haw!

2. Red-footed Booby: This is one of those bird species that had been busy burning a hole in my unchecked bird list for quite some time. I had hoped to glimpse one on the Sierpe-Cano Island boat trip and managed close looks at several! Black and Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrels from that trip get an honorable mention.

Where the Red-footeds hang out.

3. Pinnated Bittern: It’s hard to believe that it was nearly a year ago when I got my lifer big neotropical bittern at Cano Negro! Another list burner.

A Pinnated Bittern from a wetland near Cano Negro.

4. Crakes: I got 3 lifer crakes this year and if you have ever looked for those darn things, you know that a trio of them in a year is quite the achievement. They were a Yellow-breasted Crake from Cano Negro, an Ocellated Crake from the Buenos Aires, Costa Rica savannahs, and a Paint-billed Crake from a rice field near Rio Claro. If you cared to know, the Yellow-breasted was a typical small shy marsh bird, the Ocellated a fricking spotted mouse, and the Paint-billed a miniature gallinule.

5. Bridled Tern: A lifer always makes it onto a best bird of the year list!

6. Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo: Yes, it was a heard only on the Manuel Brenes road but even a heard one of these is pretty awesome.

7. Oilbird: Major, major target at the Monteverde Wildlife Refuge and although I have yet to finish the list, I  expect that this weirdo will come out on top.

My lifer Oilbird.

8. Lanceolated Monklet: I may have spoke too soon because this miniscule puffbird is another fantastic find for Costa Rica. I saw one and heard another at Lands in Love. I hope to go back and get some photos of this great little bird.

9. Bare-necked Umbrellabird: This endangered, amazing creature will always make it onto my best bird of the year list if I happen to see one. My only one for 2013 was a male near San Luis Canopy while guiding a lucky client in that area.

10. Blackpoll Warbler: I kind of hate to say it but this was one of the best because it’s a rare vagrant to Costa Rica. However, the bird seen on during the Bosque del Rio Tigre Christmas count really shouldn’t trump things like Yellow-billed, Snowy, and Turquoise Cotingas, Three-wattled Bellbird, Mangrove Hummingbird, Rufous-necked Wood Rail, Blue and Gold Tanager (and most tanagers), most quail doves, both macaws, and all owls save the Unspotted Saw-whet so I mention those because they all made it onto the year list too. In fact, I forgot about my lifer Sulphur-rumped Tanager from the Manzanillo area so that one at least ties with the Blackpoll.

A male Turquoise Cotinga from Rincona de Osa.
A male Yellow-billed Cotinga from Rincona de Osa.

Ok, so, after a moment of deliberation, I hereby crown my bestest bird of 2013……the Oilbird!

The Oilbird gets the prize because it meets so many categories of awesomeness:

  • It’s a rare vagrant to Costa Rica- It probably shows up each year but just doesn’t get found in the dark of a steep cloud forest night and we have no idea where they breed.
  • It’s nocturnal-The Oilbird is also a Gothic bird because it lives in caves, makes guttural sounds, and look sort of like a feathered gargoyle. Maybe it will come in to playback of songs composed by Peter Murphy?
  • Rather like an avian nocturnal antithesis of the R. Quetzal, it roams through the tropical forest night in search of oily fruits.
  • A trio bird- Lifer, new for my CR list, and new for the year.

So, yes, the Oilbird is my personal Baby New Year. if you want to see it in Costa Rica, go on the night walk tour at the Monteverde Wildlife Refuge from July to September. Might not be there but this is when they have showed up and their night walk is fantastic in any case. Other highlights included a wonderful 140 plus species day around Carara while guiding some birders from Finland, enjoying the birds of the Manzanillo area with other clients and friends, releasing the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, and watching birds with Susan, Robert, Paul, Johan and Ineke, and other folks from the Birding Club of Costa Rica.  Hope to see you birding in Costa Rica in 2014!

Birding Costa Rica

Biggest Misses for Birding Costa Rica in 2011

I surpassed the 600 mark in 2011 but still missed a bunch of birds. That’s pretty much par for the course for any Big Year so I had already accepted a certain number of acceptable losses when I started counting birds on January 1st, 2011.  Since 894 species have been recorded in Costa Rica, my margins for missed species fell within a well-buffered comfort zone. Nevertheless, the fact that I could miss over 150 species and still get 600 for the year didn’t mean that I could simply ignore the laws of probability. Limiting factors such as birding time, weather, migration, and rareness meant that I had to be strategic right from the start. With unlimited time and resources, I probably could have hit 700 for the year but since work and family come first, a trip to the Caribbean coast for migrants was critical, I had to listen for migrants at 4 a.m., visiting most of the major habitats and bioregions was of basic importance, some night birding was in order, and I wouldn’t have broken 600 without trips for shorebirds and migrant ducks.

Since I didn’t spend much quality birding time near the Panamanian border, I won’t even put such species as Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, Crested Oropendola, and Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet into the “miss” category. These were part of the accepted losses because I didn’t get the chance to try for them. The same goes for pelagic birds that would have been easily ticked on any boat trip 20 miles off the coast. The real misses were the resident species that I typically see over the course of a year or that I should have seen given the amount of time spent in their habitat. There were also the “twitches” that I had missed- rarities recorded by others that didn’t hang around long enough for me to see them. That said, here are my top ten missed birds or groups of birds for 2011:

10. Azure-hooded Jay- an unlikely miss of a resident species: This uncommon jay is easiest in the Monteverde area and that’s probably why I didn’t hear or see one during 2011. Although I didn’t make any trips to that famous cloud forest reserve during the past year, I still should have picked one up while birding at Tapanti or near Virgen del Socorro.

An old, scanned image from the Santa Elena Reserve. This beautiful jay was foraging with army ants right at the entrance to the reserve in 1996.

9. Ochraceous Pewee- the rare, resident flycatcher eludes me once again: This uncommon regional endemic continues as a glaring blank spot on both my life and Costa Rican list. Granted I didn’t bird all that much in its bastions on Cerro de la Muerte, it’s really about time for me to connect with this one! I’m not worried though because I will be guiding a two day trip at Paraiso de Quetzales (a regular site for this species) in two weeks.

8. Band-tailed Barbthroat- the hummingbird that refused to show itself: This one is a big miss because it’s not even that rare. I figured I would have run into it at some time or another but that occasion just never presented itself despite watching for it at every lowland Heliconia patch.

7. Short-tailed Nighthawk- don’t know how I missed this one…: Sure it’s nocturnal but I did check at night for this bird in places where it is easily and regularly seen and still somehow missed it. None of these bat-like birds called, none showed themselves. Oh well, I still got 600 species!

6. Olive-backed Quail Dove- missed by 2 seconds!: These are always hard to see but this little rainforest dove gets 6th place on the list because I was soooo close to seeing one. The miss happened on a trail at Veragua where a few people in front of me actually saw one walking right on the boardwalk! It trotted away into the undergrowth before I could see it…

5. Barred Hawk- common middle elevation raptor is a no show!: It’s still hard for me to believe that I didn’t get this one because birding in several of the exact same foothill and middle elevation sites in 2010 resulted in multiple birds for that year.

4. Yellow-eared Toucanet- where are the toucanets?: Although I probably heard one give the briefest of calls once at Quebrada Gonzalez, I didn’t count it for the year. I usually see several of this uncommon species at Quebrada Gonzalez or along the road to Manuel Brenes. For some reason, this year, I just didn’t connect with them. Like other frugivores, they move around in search of fruiting trees. I probably just didn’t find the right tree at the right time.

A toucanet at Quebrada Gonzalez from another year.

3. Buff-breasted Sandpiper- always, always, always check your email before going to bed: These long distance migrants are rarely seen in Costa Rica so it was a BIG DEAL when several (!) showed up at turf farms near the airport. As I am a short drive from the airport, this should have been an  excellent, easy tick. HOWEVER, I missed them by one day because I failed to check my email the day they were found. Although they were seen on subsequent days, they weren’t there when I looked!

2. Sulphur-rumped Tanager- I saw it but don’t want to count this would-be lifer: What can I say? I was at the best site for them in Costa Rica (Veragua Rainforest Center), other people saw them in the same tree I was looking at, and I am 90% sure that I glimpsed two of them (one was very far away, the other a shape seen sans optics). Amazingly, I still missed this much wanted lifer! I will get them the next time I go there though so I’m not too worried.

1. Three-wattled Bellbird- the biggest miss: Hundreds or even thousands of birders surely saw this fancy species while visiting Monteverde in 2011. As with the Azure-hooded Jay, I didn’t visit that area at the right time of the year so I missed my best chance at seeing them. I usually get them at Carara but they haven’t spent as much time in the national park as past years (possibly due to changes in fruiting cycles?). I also expected to pick one up on the road to Manuel Brenes but no such luck in 2011. I would love to get a picture and recording of this iconic species though so I will probably go look for them soon.

These other species get honorable mentions:

Redhead: A first for Costa Rica, I went looking for it a week or two after it was found and came up empty-handed. I hope they can be refound so I can get it for my country list.

American Avocet: This rare migrant was found and seen by many at Punta Morales. Like the Redhead, I hope I can bird up that way sometime soon and get them for my country list.

Streaked Xenops: It’s uncommon in Costa Rica but I birded Tapanti enough to have connected with this one!

Tawny-throated Leaftosser: Hard to see but easy to hear in cloud forests throughout the country, I called out to it on several occasions but didn’t receive any replies in 2011.

Banded Wren: Although I spent very little time in Guanacaste, I still should have at least heard one of these guys.

Sedge Wren: Same situation as the Banded Wren but different location.

Blue-winged Warbler: I usually get this each year so I thought it was odd not to see even one.

Worm-eating Warbler: Same situation as the Blue-winged. Always see a few but not this past year.

Nicaraguan Seed-Finch: This one is uncommon but it gets honorable mention because I knew of spots to check for it yet never got the time to go there and look.

I won’t be making any Big Year attempts in 2012 but I just might do a Big Day! Happy birding in 2012, hope to see you in Costa Rica!

Birding Costa Rica

Two Months and 20 Species to hit 600 for the Year

Today is Halloween. The date conjures up images of jack-o-lanterns, trick or treaters, masquerades, and horror movie marathons. On the natural side of things, for those who reside in the temperate zone, the dark, cold winds of the early night and arrival of wintering waterfowl are reminders that freezing weather is right around the corner. It’s already here for millions of people from the northeastern states and winter’s imminent return is guaranteed for places that happened to escape the early snowstorm. I will happily miss that cold weather because the icy fingers of winter fall far short of Costa Rica. Nevertheless, I am still reminded that the year is quickly coming to an end. Just two more months and we are going to march right on into 2012 and the terminus of the Mayan calendar. In realizing that calendars are subjective, I’m not the least bit worried about that supposedly auspicious year. I am far more concerned about things like overpopulation, the health and well being of family and friends, and identifying 600 bird species within the boundaries of Costa Rica before the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, 2011.

I thought I was going to break that magic number in 2010 by merit of my one and only Costa Rican pelagic trip but I just didn’t have the time to track down my missing species. At the end of the year, I was 12 birds short of my goal and realized that I had to plan this out much better for 2011. Not that I did, but I have definitely put in more targeted effort to increase my chances of hitting the big 600. I have tried to get to places that yield new year birds and spent more time in the field during migration and it has paid off.  With just 20 species to go, I feel as confident as a Turkey Vulture riding a swift tail wind south on a sunny, thermal-filled day. However, this doesn’t mean that I can be complacent. Au contraire, I am well aware of the speedy calendar flipping effect that comes from the time devouring combination of family duties and work (I think that’s what happened last year when the end of December suddenly appeared in an unwelcome flash). I still need to carefully plan out my moves to increase my chances of getting those missing birds. At the end of the day, no matter how skilled you are, it comes down to probability and I am going to up the odds by putting myself in the right places.

For example, with luck, we will do another family trip to Guanacaste, maybe even next weekend (!). If it doesn’t rain too much (there’s always that monkey wrench), I have a good chance at picking up 6 or even 10 species. If I can get to some quality wetlands, I might add another 5 or so. The jackpot, though, is way down in the southern zone. This is what we like to call the area from Perez Zeledon and Dominical south to the Osa, San Vito, and the Panamanian border. If I make it down there, I have a very good chance at 10 species or more. Add short trips to pick up uncommon species I still need such as Snowy Cotinga, Yellow-eared Toucanet (huge miss!), Scaled Antpitta, Slaty-breasted Tinamou, Barred Parakeet, and Ochraceous Pewee, and I have a very good chance of breaking the 600 mark.

Twenty of this year’s highlights have been:

1. Agami Heron- New CR bird for me and a major tick for the year. Laguna del Lagarto is the place to be for this bird!

2. Northern Harrier– I know, how can that be a highlight? Well, it’s a lot more uncommon in Costa Rica than say an Ornate Hawk Eagle (several of those for the year).

3. Semiplumbeous Hawk– Also at Laguna del Lagarto and a good one for the year.

Birding Costa Rica

Mystery shot of a Semiplumbeous Hawk.

4. Uniform Crake– Like all of those rallids, they love to be secretive so it was great to hear a pair at Finca Luna Nueva.

5. Upland Sandpiper– Standing in the backyard at 4am was worth hearing two of these call as they flew over in September!

6. Red-fronted Parrotlet– I still haven’t adequately seen the darn thing but I definitely heard one as it flew through the misty air near Cinchona.

7. Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner– Very pleased to get this uncommon species on the San Rafael de Varablanca- Virgen del Socorro road.

birding Costa Rica

8. Ochre-breasted Antpitta– Possibly my best bird of the year because it was such a long awaited lifer.

9. Rough-legged Tyrannulet– Unseen but certainly heard near El Toucanet and Cinchona.

10. Tawny-chested Flycatcher– Good to get this one at El Copal. Soooo uncommon.

11. Black and white Becard– Also heard this uncommon species at El Toucanet and saw a female at Quebrada Gonzalez.

12. Silvery-throated Jay– Another major tick near El Toucanet.

13. Gray-cheeked Thrush– It pays to listen for nocturnal migrants!

14. Tropical Mockingbird– Nice surprise on the slopes of Irazu.

15. MacGillivray’s Warbler– They are around but never really common.

birding Costa Rica

16. Blue Seedeater– Excellent find in seeding bamboo on Volcan Barva.

17. Dickcissel– The invisible bird. I have heard maybe 10 as flyovers but none have stopped.

18. Bobolink– Super rare bird in Costa Rica, it was exactly where I expected it to be- in a rice field in the Caribbean lowlands.

19. Yellow-bellied Siskin– Not unexpected in the Talamancas but a nice highlight anyways.

birding Costa Rica

20. Black-crowned Antpitta– The “northern gnatpitta” is always a highlight albeit expected over the course of several visits to Quebrada Gonzalez.

Another bonus of re-checking my year list was the realization that I broke 700 species for my Costa Rican list! Unfortunately, I missed celebrating the occasion because I had somehow overlooked ticking off heard birds like Paint-billed Crake and Spotted Rail, and things I had seen in the past such as Pied-billed Grebe and Marbled Godwit. However, I am happy to say that I was able to count back and uncover the identity of my 700th bird for Costa Rica. It happens to be none other than my lifer Ochre-breasted Antpitta seen at Tapanti National Park. Thank goodness it wasn’t a Wilson’s Snipe (I think that was #698)

big year Birding Costa Rica Introduction

536 species so far for 2010 with two months to go

As always, I would love to do an official Big Year in Costa Rica. Slowly track my way up and down the hot, hilly terrain of the Osa while scanning the canopy and listening for distress calls of monkeys that would lead me to a Harpy Eagle. Maybe find a Red-throated Caracara or two (if they still roam the rainforests of Corcovado), or chance upon a Speckled Mourner in some massive mixed flock.

I would have raced over to Monteverde to add Oilbird to my 2010 list, shivered in the dark, high up on Cerro de la Muerte until an Unspotted Saw-whet Owl revealed itself, and birded off the beaten track at Hitoy Cerere to pick up Great Jacamar, Violaceous Quail-Dove, and Sulphur-rumped Tanager.

I would have stationed myself for a time on both coasts during both migrations to comb through waves of passerines and shorebirds in search of the expected as well as the unforeseen. I might even have braved a bout with sea-sickness to pick up the pelagics….on second thought, no I wouldn’t have subjected my wimpy inner ear to such punishment.

BUT, I would have certainly gone up north to pick up Elegant Trogon and Thicket Tinamou at Santa Rosa National Park, and would have scanned the marshes of Palo Verde National Park with the hope of espying a distant Jabiru through the heat waves, as well as getting Glossy Ibis, Snail Kite, and after the sun went down, White-tailed Nightjar.

Cost Rica birding

Wind-swept Guanacaste- Where to see Thicket Tinamous and Elegrant Trogons in Costa Rica

In short, I would love to spend a year exploring every brushy corner, wooded ravine, palm swamp, amazing rainforest, and mystical cloudforest found within the borders of Costa Rica BUT (in addition to such an endeavor being impossible), since that would require abandoning my family and becoming instantly rich (at least moderately),  I have opted for diligently keeping track of every bird species I identify by sight or sound when guiding, birding on my own, listening for nocturnal flight calls with cupped ears in my backyard, or involved in much more mundane activities such as driving my daughter to the babysitter.

Costa Rica birding

Cloud forest canopy at Monteverde, Costa Rica

Given that I do some birding at least once per week and still might get the chance to visit some of the places mentioned above before we switch our calendars over to 2011, my unofficial big year is coming along nicely (and much more comfortably than if  were camping and profusely sweating in the humid lowlands).

My latest species was Prevost’s Ground-Sparrow (also and perhaps more appropriately known as Cabanis Ground-Sparrow). I am pretty sure that I got a glimpse of one sans binoculars back in April but “pretty sure” doesn’t quite do it for the 2010 list.  Fortunately, this past Sunday, I was able to definitely mark it down for the year when an individual was spotlighted by the morning sun at the edge of a coffee plantation near my house. The view, lighting, and composition were so darn perfect that I of course didn’t have my camera with me. This species is apparently a strong proponent and practitioner of Murphy’s Law because although I got a recording of its call (and there are very few recordings of this taxon), I somehow managed to erase it the next day! Of course, it was the only recording that got banished into nothingness and I honestly have no idea how it happened.

I went back to the same site the following morning with camera at the ready but the ground-sparrow had hightailed it along with all of the Swainson’s Thrushes, migrant warblers, and vireos that had been happily chipping (and harshly cackling in the case of the vireos) from the vegetation the day before.

Here’s a a soundscape of birds from this site on the day of the ground-sparrow (October 17th):

santa barbara morning

Another recent addition to the 2010 list was a Streak-breasted Treehunter that popped into view after spishing resulted in an avalanche of curious birds in a forested ravine on the way up to Volcan Barva. I had my camera on that occasion but mist and shade combined forces to ensure that the only pictures coming out of that bastion of dimness  would have been grainier than a World War One documentary filmed at night.

Black-cheeked Warbler seen in the high-elevation forests of Volcan Barva was also a new one for the year and reflects how little birding I have done at high elevations in 2010 because this is a pretty easy bird to get. It’s hyperactive though so pictures are tough.

The ground-sparrow may have been 536 but even better was a Dickcissel that got ticked off for 2010 after one let out its rude-like, dry-rattle flight call as it winged its way over Santa Barbara de Heredia.

I kind of doubt that I will  break 600 for the year but I might come close if I can get in some shorebirding and focus on a hodgepodge of gettable target species, Slaty-breasted Tinamou, Sunbittern, Fasciated Tiger-Heron to name a few.

big year Birding Costa Rica preparing for your trip

Costa Rica birding: my year list for 2010

It has often been said that time flies when you are having fun (such as when birding Costa Rica).

I, however, have discovered that it zips along like a hungry Merlin chasing a Chimney Swift when you are:

1. Running a business.

2. Have a not quite two year old, active, inquisitive daughter, and

Miranda trying out my glasses
Birding Costa Rica at the Cloudbridge Reserve

3. Are a birder who lives in Costa Rica.

2010 is approaching the half way point (!) but I am coming along well with my annual Costa Rica bird list. Sure, I’m low on shorebirds and will end up with very few (if any) pelagics, but I still have a chance at boosting numbers during fall migration. I’ve got 484 species so far and that’s with very little time spent on the Caribbean Slope.

Unfortunately, I have only been to my patch once so far this year (!) which explains the absence of birds such as Checker-throated Antwren, Pale-vented Thrush, and Ornate Hawk-Eagle.

Most of my birding in Costa Rica for 2010 has been on the Pacific Slope around Carara National Park. It’s soooo hot there but routinely getting over 100 species in a day kind of makes up for all of that sweating. This upcoming weekend I will be guiding once again on the Pacific slope of Costa Rica but at a site much further south (but just as hot).

We will be headed to the Esquinas Lodge in Piedras Blancas National Park. I have never been there but it should be exciting as the lodge is surrounded by lots of lowland rainforest and is near edge habitats that have turned up several “Panamanian” species such as Brown-throated Parakeet, Crested Orpendola, Wattled Jacana, and others.

I have a feeling that this upcoming trip will push my 2010 Costa Rica birding list over the 500 species mark and I may even get lucky with a lifer or two (I would have to be pretty darn lucky). No matter what happens, I will be sure to post about the trip.

Although I haven’t seen much in 2010 that I would call super rare, some of my best birds have been:

Herring Gull- yes, one of the thousands that use the river corridor at my hometown of Niagara Falls, NY made its way down to Tortuguero National Park in March of this year. As boring as it is, this is a pretty rare bird in Costa Rica and was new for my Costa Rican list.

Blue-footed Booby- this is a good one to get for the year. Saw at least one in flight way out over the waves off of Tarcoles in February.

Gray-headed Kite- it’s widespread but like many Costa Rican raptors is pretty uncommon. Had my only one of the year so far at Cerro Lodge.

Hook-billed Kite- another uncommon bird in Costa Rica. I had brief but good looks at a juvenile in Tortuguero. This was the first time I have seen this species on the Caribbean slope. You have a better chance at this species in Mexico but if you want to see it in Costa Rica, it seems to be more frequent in remnant forests of the central valley and moist forests of the Pacific slope (such as around Santa Elena or Rincon de la Vieja).

Black-collared Hawk- another one that is easier in Mexico than Costa Rica. The best place for it when birding Costa Rica is in Cano Negro. We saw one near Pavona on the way into Tortuguero.

Collared Forest-falcon- ok, so this species isn’t rare but it is more often heard than seen. I have been pretty lucky with it so far this year along the river trail in Carara and at Rancho Oropendola.

A bad shot of a Collared Forest Falcon from the river trail at Carara.

Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge- these are easy to hear around Orosi and in the upper reaches of the central valley but they are a serious pain to see. I watched a few take flight from the road up to Finca Dos Lados.

Sungrebe- not the easiest bird to see in Costa Rica but when I went to Tortuguero in March, I was in the right place for this secretive, odd waterbird.

Looking through the pigeons and doves, I realized that I am quail-dove less for 2010! Hopefully, I will get over to my patch and bird some nice highland forests to remedy this hole in my 2010 list.

Yellow-billed and Mangrove Cuckoos- always good to get these uncommon birds. I saw one Mangrove in mangroves near Tarcoles and another at Tortuguero. Also got Yellow-billed at Tortuguero.

Resplendent Quetzal- it’s just about guaranteed on any birding trip to Costa Rica but it’s such a spectacular bird that I have to mention it. Have had them in the Dota valley and around Varablanca.

Turquoise, Yellow-billed, and Snowy cotingas- cotingas are always special birds. Had Turquoise at Talari Mountain Lodge and at Carara, Yellow-billed at Carara and Cerro Lodge, and Snowy near Tortuguero.

Cerulean Warbler- saw a few of these at Tortuguero during March migration madness!

Yellow-bellied Siskin and Lesser Goldfinch- widespread but pretty uncommon in the highlands of Costa Rica due to trapping (they sound nice- let’s put them in a cage!-so say the ignorant ones). Had both of these at San Gerardo de Rivas (the take off point for Chirripo).

big year Birding Costa Rica

A Big Year in Costa Rica

In the birding world, many of us are a list obsessed bunch. The lists other people use are temporal and pretty much inconsequential; a nearly forgotten, crumpled note that mentions milk, bread, butter, flour, cereal, mahi mahi (for those of us lucky enough to reside where this fish is standard) and other essentials like snickers bars and salt.
For birders, though, lists often play a principle role in one’s life. Lists of birds that is. Aside from the all important life list,  there is also the yard list, the wish list (similar to but not quite the target list), the day list, the state list, the country list and so on. There is also a year list. This latter list is not to be confused with a BIG YEAR though; the endeavor or madness that I am doing/carrying out/attempting in 2009. Oh yes, I need to clarify that I am doing a BIG YEAR  for Costa Rica. That is to say, I am striving to identify as many species as possible within the territorial boundaries of Costa Rica. This is different from a year list because that would be simply keeping track of all species identified.

To truly be recognized as a BIG YEAR, I think one has to make serious efforts to see EVERYTHING. For example, if that means that I will have to waltz around in the middle of the cold and windy nights in the high mountains while monotonously whistling like an Unspotted Saw-whet Owl then so be it! One has to do what one has to do for a BIG DAY or BIG YEAR. It’s going to be especially challenging because I work a weekday job in a birdless environment (birds have not evolved to occupy office space) and most of all because I have a 6 month old daughter but I am giving it a shot. “Giving it a shot” means that I might not only have to do that waltzing and Saw-whet sans spots whistling but also take a trip to the Osa, bird near the Panamanian border on both slopes, hit Palo Verde, Cano Negro and Guanacaste, bird migrant hot spots, probably take the Puntarenas ferry several times and carry out other as of yet unknown birding missions. At least Costa Rica is a small country and you can get to just about everywhere. One thing I won’t do is carouse around the open ocean chumming for pelagics. Pelagic birds are super cool but seasickness isn’t and I get roaringly sick out on those darn waves. At least I can handle that Puntarenas ferry though and that will probably give me a few pelagic or semi-pelagic birds.

Although I haven’t been able to get out too much as of late February (and I need to because its going to rain from May to December), I have broke 300 species. My best bird so far is Tiny Hawk! This a good one because even though they are around, you can hardly plan on seeing one. I got lucky with a glimpse along the La Selva entrance road. We were attempting to locate some hidden Tanagers that were giving alarm calls when this thrush sized bird with blunt head and tail barring burst out of a palm to fly across the road and out of site. Yep, typical Tiny Hawk experience.

I hope to up the BIG YEAR list soon with some rare migrants along the Caribbean coast during March and April. I will keep you updated with that and good birding to all in 2009!