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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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Global Big Day- May 11th, 2024, Costa Rica

Another Global Big Day is in the books! if we birders had an official holiday, I’m pretty sure it would be Global Big Day. In a sense, it already is. After all, we put other things aside to celebrate, commemorate, and rejoice by going birding.

I almost wish we weren’t so busy birding on Global Big Day so we could likewise commemorate it with cake, special liquid refreshment, and a fun, phat and friendly party.

We could mix some of those factors with GBD birding but when you got 24 hours to work with, a full day to give yourself over to avian connection, the birds take precedence.

It’s always nice to share some time with birds like this Northern Emerald Toucanet.

Better to make it a two day holiday; Global Big Day (GBD) followed up by post Global Big Day of Rest (GBDR). If you bird 24 hours, you’ll need some recuperation and maybe some therapy too. If so, no problem, there’ll be plenty of free advice at the after GBD party. Share birding stories over quality cake (there’s a lot of bad cake out there, stick with the real butter deal), extoll birding achievements, and maybe even chase a bird or two your birding peeps found on GBD.

Hopefully, we can get GBD recognized as a holiday, or at least encourage celebrating it in double holiday fashion. In the meantime, here’s some of what went down in Costa Rica this past May 11th, 2024.

Good Totals

As of writing, birders in Costa Rica collectively identified 680 species and a few more are probably awaiting eBird review approval. I daresay that’s pretty darn good. 90 percent of the wintering birds already flew north and birders in Costa Rica found most of the rest of what’s possible.

I was also pleased to see that 1,094 ebirders in Costa Rica participated. Even if I didn’t run into fellow birders in the field, it’s still cool to know that we were all watching birds at the same time.

Heavy Rains

Those totals also stand out when you take the weather into account. The morning was sunny but the rest of the day was extremely wet. I recall a few drops happening around noon and then massive curtains of constant water for the rest of the afternoon.

Instead of counting birds, I was driving north on the coastal highway, hoping to make it to Tarcoles before the road maybe flooded. Luckily, that didn’t happen and we actually did manage to see a handful of final birds during a late afternoon break in the weather.

Such heavy rains weren’t surprising by the way. In Costa Rica, the wet season has most definitely started.

Some Highlights

Overall, we did really well. Despite very little if any pre GBD organizing, enough local birders targeted the tough ones to find most of them! I felt like the following were worth mentioning.

Masked Duck– Outside of late summer and fall, in Costa Rica, this reclusive little duck is seriously hit or miss. Unreliable by nature, I was pleased to see that someone found one in the Cano Negro area.

Paint-billed Crake– We got a fair handle on this sneaky species but it can still be tough. Someone had it at the Las Trancas rice fields.

Hudsonian Godwits– This one wins the prize! Late April and early May are the time to get lucky with this mega wader in Costa Rica but it’s still a lottery bird. Thanks to a local birder checking the Colorado salt pans, he found 8!

His numbers go way past the previous country high count of 1. I wonder what convinced the Hudwits to come to shore? Did they sense storm clouds a bit too dark and grainy? Maybe they’ve stopped there before, just for a few hours or a day. In any case, they weren’t there on GBDR.

Christmas Tahiti Parkinson’s– Amazingly, determined birders managed to do a pelagic trip! I say “amazingly” because it was so darn rainy, I don;t want to imagine what it was like offshore. I guess not too bad because they found and added a bunch of birds to the GBD country total. They even managed a trio of tougher birds. Tahiti Petrel is normal but Christmas Shearwater and Parkinson’s Petrel are much more of a challenge.

All three hawk-eagles– None of the hawk-eagles are common but if you get enough birders in the field, some of them will notice Black and Ornate Hawk-Eagles. Black-and-white is another story.

A truly rare bird in Costa Rica, if we’re lucky, there might be 20 pairs in the country (or maybe much less?). Fortunately, one was seen in Caribbean foothill forest in the Guacimo, Limon area. This is the same good area where a Crested Eagle was recently seen.

Tiny Hawk– These pint-sized raptors are present in many places but always tough to see. One was found at La Marta; a good site for it and another tough one that was found there too- Lanceolated Monklet!

Unspotted Saw-whet Owl– I’m pleased to say that I found this one. I’m guessing one or two other people also specifically looked for and found this special little owl but we certainly had the first one for the day.

It happened in pretty unexpected fashion during dawn birding at Lilianas Quetzals (aka Myriam’s Cabins). While attempting to see a Dusky Nightjar instead of just hearing them right around dawn, I couldn’t help but whistle like a Unspotted Saw-whet Owl. I knew the bird is heard there once in a while but didn’t really expect a response. However, as birds will do, one fricking called back!

The nightjar and screech-owl were quickly pushed aside to try for this highland mega but try as I did, the owl didn’t really come in, nor did it call enough to locate it. Still awesome to hear it and at least I know where to look for it next time I’m up that way…

Pewee and the Jay– Sounds like a movie or show from the 70s but nope, this is a pair of high elevation, Talamancan toughies. They still deserve their own show but it would be tough to make them come to the studio.

The Ochraceous Pewee and Silvery-throated Jay are two of the more evasive high elevation endemics from Costa Rica and western Panama. Getting them on any day is outstanding, finding them on GBD is cakeworthy.

One of the other sweet highlights was Speckled Mourner. Before a few were found at the Pitilla Biological Station, this bird was basically a no-show for the country. Awesome to have them on the Costa Rica GBD list!

Odd Misses

After a quick review of GBD sightings in Costa Rica, I didn’t notice too many expected birds. I suppose one might be White-chinned Swift. Unless we are still waiting for approval or a latent list, I do think it would be weird not to find this one.

White-chinned Swifts aren’t exactly abundant but there is at least one known nest site, and the rainy season is the best time to see them. As expected, recently, local birders have been seeing some at the edges of rain clouds, sometimes quite low over their houses.

Veraguan Mango and Sapphire-throated Hummingbird are two more species that should be on the GBD list. Since they are pretty easy to see in the Ciudad Neily area and Lesser Kiskadee is likewise missing, I’m guessing that no one covered that part of the country. That, or they just haven’t submitted their lists yet.

Not Surprising Misses

Birders found most expected species in Costa Rica but a few were unsurprisingly missed. The main three birds that come to mind are Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Black-crowned Antpitta, and Gray-headed Piprites. Yep, those three are always tough. These days, thanks to the people at Vista Aves Lodge, the piprites is a bit more manageable but the other two are always tough.

Both seem to get rarer by the day but if you go to just the right places, you can find them. We probably didn’t have folks in those particular spots.

As for my GBD, it was a day of guiding that took us from beautiful high elevation forest at Myriams Cabinas down to Vista del Valle and then on through Perez Zeledon and up the coast to the Tarcoles Birding Lodge.

Like I mentioned, heavy rain knocked out a fair part of the day but we still managed 108 species including birds as varied as Resplendent Quetzal, Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl, and Scarlet Macaw. Check out the trip report!

I hope you had a fun and exciting GBD in good company (along with a relaxed GBDR). You can learn more about the Costa Rica birding sites mentioned in this post in my Costa Rica bird finding ebook. I hope to see you here!

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Expectations for Birding in Costa Rica- 4 High Elevation Areas

Costa Rica is such a mountainous country. It’s quite the change from where I hail from. Even though I’ve lived in Costa Rica for several years, the uplifted scenery is still sort of unbelievable.

birding Costa Rica

In Western New York, the nearest biggest ranges gently slope their way up to 2,000 feet. As I write this, I’m at least a 1,000 feet higher and yet, that’s still low for Costa Rica! Let me tell you, around here, there’s some serious topography going on.

The middle of the country is a blend of volcanic and tectonic lands that push into the sky. Rivers and streams descend through canyons and pour into hot lowlands replete with parrots, macaws, and other tropical diversity. The average landscape makes for slow, winding drives but the scenery is pretty darn special.

The birds make up for slow drives too! If it weren’t for all of these mountains, we wouldn’t have nearly as many bird species in Costa Rica. The big hills are natural walls that simultaneously collect and block rain, stop dispersal, and create other circumstances for distinct habitats. Each of those habitats have their birds including one of the most special; high elevation forest.

By high elevations I mean lands more or less above 1,800 meters. That point is about where birders start to see the birds of the high, cool weather places, birds you’ll want to see because most of them are sweet endemics.

In the mountains of Costa Rica and Panama, we have 60 to 63 endemic bird species along with several endemic subspecies (maybe some will be changed to species level taxa). Of those birds, 20 or so only live in high elevations areas.

That’s like having more than 60 bird species that only live in the mountains of West Virginia or Wales.

Yeah, imagine how crazy that would be! Such happy avian craziness comes true in Costa Rica.

To see most of the high elevation species, you’ll have to visit one of four main areas. Here’s a run-down and what to expect from birding in those places. In case you wondering, I’ll just mention now that quetzals are equally fairly easy to see in all of these areas (in suitable habitat of course).

Why…hello there!

Poas Volcano

Given its proximity to the San Jose area, Poas has the quickest and easiest access to high elevation habitats. Just drive 40 minutes up a main, nicely paved road from Alajuela and you’ll get there!

Some other advantages

  • Easy roadside birding on the way to Poas National Park.
  • Easy to combined with roadside birding in middle elevation habitats.
  • Especially good for silky-flycatchers and Fiery-throated Hummingbird.
  • Plenty of restaurants and cafes.
  • Perfect choice for a quick morning or day trip, especially from the Alajuela area.

Some disadvantages

  • Not as much high elevation forest as other areas.
  • If the road to the volcano gets closed, there is very limited or no real access to elevations above 2,000 meters. On rare occasion, this can happen!
  • Lacks Timberline Wren, Volcano Junco, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Silvery-throated Jay, and Ochraceous Pewee.
  • Usually busy on weekends.

Barva Volcano

No many people go birding at Barva Volcano. There’s a ranger station and great forest but access is not as easy as other spots.

Some other advantages

  • Good trails in excellent high elevation forest with expected excellent birding. Might be a good spot for Highland Tinamou.
  • A good choice for birders looking to avoid crowds.
  • Little birded (for those in search of personal discovery).

Some disadvantages

  • You have to drive up a narrow road also used by over-sized milk trucks.
  • You have to park your vehicle and hike uphill for at least two kilometers.
  • Trails are only accessed from the ranger station and that doesn’t open until 8. You probably also need to buy your tickets online and in advance.
  • Very few dining options, maybe one or two where you leave your car.
  • Like Poas, Barva also lacks Timberline Wren, Volcano Junco, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Silvery-throated Jay, and Ochraceous Pewee.

Irazu and Turrialba Volcanoes

I grouped these two volcanoes together because they are right next to each other. They mark the closest spot to San Jose that goes above the treeline. Irazu in particular has a nice, paved road all the way up to 11,000 feet!

Some other advantages

  • Easy access on good roads for Irazu.
  • Some good roadside habitat, especially in the Nochebuena restaurant area.
  • Reliable site for the mega Maroon-chested Ground-Dove. It might be “easier” here than anywhere else in the world.
  • High enough for chances at Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, and a good area for Volcano Junco and Timberline Wren.

Some disadvantages

  • Rough roads to Turrialba.
  • Often busy on weekends and holidays.
  • Rather limited access to extensive intact forest.
  • Silver-throated Jays and Ochraceous Pewees are very rare and local, and there aren’t any Sulphur-winged Parakeets.

Cerro de la Muerte and the high Talamancas

birding Costa Rica

This is the main high elevation area most tours and birders visit and with good reason. The Talamancas have the largest areas of intact high elevation forest, and chances at seeing all high elevation specialties.

Even so, the area still has its own ups and downs.

Some other advantages

  • Lots of great habitat to explore. There are several sites and roads that access excellent habitat.
  • Easy access to Timberline Wren and Volcano Junco.
  • Best chances at the jay and pewee (although they are still tough!).
  • Chances at Unspotted Saw-whet Owl.
  • Several lodging and dining options, especially in the Dota valley.

Some disadvantages

  • The main access road is good but landslides can affect some parts during the wet season.
  • Not very suitable as a day trip from San Jose. It’s possible but would involve a lot of driving time.

These are the four, principal high elevation areas for birding in Costa Rica. If you have more time, staying in the Talamancas is worth it. However, since some species seem easier at Irazu and Poas, it’s worth spending a day at one or both of these other sites too!

Want to learn more about where to go birding in Costa Rica? Support this blog by getting “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” ; a 900 plus page birding site guide for Costa Rica. Start planning your birding trip to Costa Rica now, I hope to see you here!

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Birding Costa Rica- April, 2024

April is an exciting time for birding in Costa Rica. Yeah, the birding is always exciting around here but I feel like April kicks it up a notch, just a little bit.

The fourth month is a transition between dry and wet seasons, a moment that reminds resident birds to nest and others to start heading north. This means more local birds singing along with migrants passing through Costa Rica.

It’s a great time to be birding in Costa Rica, a time when you might spot a Cerulean Warbler flocking with tanagers, woodcreepers, and other tropical delights.

Go birding in the right places and you’ll see critically endangered Yellow-naped Parrots.

Other birds are on the move too, hundreds, thousands of Eastern Kingbirds flying through Costa Rican airspace like odd-looking swallows. They are joined by the other birds that wintered in South America; Swainson’s Thrushes, Red-eyed Vireos, wood-pewees, Scarlet Tanagers, and more.

I look forward to seeing them, to reconnecting with the annual move of spring migrants, birds I grew up with. Hopefully, I’ll get some chances to connect with these April migrant waves.

In the meantime, for birders visiting Costa Rica, there’s some other birds and issues to think about. Check it out-

Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoos at the San Luis Canopy

The long-tailed mega has been there before, as with most sightings of this mega bird, it was seen with Army Ants. I’m not sure how long it will stay this time but if you visit San Luis, you’ll know right away.

One of the very helpful things about San Luis is that their workers keep track of ground-cuckoo sightings (and other birds too). Just ask at the front desk and they’ll know when and where they have been seeing it.

If they haven’t been seeing the cuckoo, you might want to enter anyways. The quality middle elevation rainforest at this spot is always good!

Keep in mind that the trails at San Luis may have an entrance fee of $30.

It’s also a good place for arm-length views of Bay-headed Tanager and other tanager species!

Poas is Active

Poas has been active all along but, lately, the volcano has been a bit too active for comfort. Small eruptions and other indications point to the volcano becoming even more active.

No one can predict what will happen but the volcanic situation could easily become worse. As far as I know, the park is presently closed and given the volcano’s serious recent activity, you might want to stay away from birding the entrance road too! It won’t be surprising if they close that too.

Good Birds at Pitilla Biological Sation

Pitilla Biological Station? Never heard of that place? Don’t be surprised, it’s very much off the regular birding track. Even so, this is one place you might want to try and visit.

It’s somewhat rough and only for the adventurous but the habitat is tops and the birding better than most sites in Costa Rica. This site is foothill/lowland rainforest with all expected goodies along with a couple of the rarest birds in the country.

Recently, a local biologist found nesting Ocellated Poorwill and lekking Speckled Mourner. Yikes! If you know how tough those species are in Costa Rica, you know what I’m talking about!

However, Pitilla isn’t the easiest place to visit and there’s no promise that the trails will be open. To visit, you must make arrangements via their website. If for whatever reason, you can’t visit Pitilla, or need more comfort, not to fret!

There are some other, excellent, little birded areas near there. Could they harbor the same birds? I wouldn’t be surprised. Check out sites on the northern slopes of Rincon de Vieja and other nearby places.

Crested Eagle Seen at Boca Tapada

Whoah! Yes, not that long ago, a Crested Eagle was documented from the Boca Tapada area, close to Mirador de Pizote. If I’m not mistaken, it may have been seen in the same spot where Harpy Eagle was sighted in 2022.

It’s possible that the eagles and other birds might use that spot as an occasionally corridor between forest from one side of the river to the next. The fact that both were seen there might not be a coincidence; it’s one of the only spots in that area where forest reaches the river on one side and then again on the bank just across the water.

Of course those eagles are just as rarely possible at other lodges in the area. If you go birding anywhere around Boca Tapada, it pays to be ready for some mega rare birds!

The area is also very good for Pied Puffbird and other lowland rainforest species.

Where to Go Birding in Costa Rica in April

In April, the answer is the same as most seasons. The best birding sites in Costa Rica depend on how you want to watch birds and what you want to see.

As long as you go birding in good habitat, you can’t go wrong. However, when I go birding in April, the spots I prefer are in the Caribbean lowlands and along both coasts.

More migrant species pass through those areas than other parts of the country, especially places like Tortuguero and the southern Caribbean coast. I wish I was there now, hopefully we can get down there in the next couple weeks!

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Highlights from a Big Morning in Costa Rica

The ultimate auto challenge in birding is doing a Big Day. In addition to birding for hours on end, it also incorporates various other birding challenges. You could, for example, put your ears to the sky to listen for and identify the faint chip notes of nocturnal migrants. On a Big Day, that can really help (granted that there are nocturnal migrants and that you can identify them)!

On the day of birding days, you are also encouraged to get into extreme birding Zen focus mode as you encounter fast moving rainforest canopy flocks. You may also call for owls on a hopelessly windy night.

Then there’s identifying Empids and other birds that look just like each other, without hesitation, and maybe calling out shorebirds by their vocalizations at 0 dark thirty or some other ridiculous hour. Any of those ventures are pretty challenging on their own but enjoying the mental burn during the same 24 hour period seems a bit much. It begs the question to why even do it?

With plenty of other, far easier birding practices to carry out, the concern is valid! Why challenge yourself for such extreme birding? I suppose the answer is the same for why people climb mountains or run marathons or play speed chess. I don’t know, I suppose it’s all for something to do, to see how far you can push yourself, to see what you are capable of within your realm of personal expertise.

Or, maybe just to see what happens if you try!

I mention all of this because, recently, Marilen and I embarked on yet another Big Day. It involved some of the birding challenges mentioned above but since it also involved a quiet dawn chorus and not enough morning birds to break any records, we ended up converting the Big Day into a Big Morning.

It was still good and memorable. Challenges were had, things were learned and we still identified more than 200 bird species. Here be some occurrences highlights:

Windy Weather on Poas!

I was determined to bird Poas, was set on getting a screech-owl, pygmy-owl, and a nightjar. I also like being up there at night because maybe, on one of those nights, we’ll document Unspotted Saw-whet Owl.

Well, none of that happened on Friday night. It was just too windy! Hefty gusts scattered my owl imitations to the four corners and the birds were too smart to come out and play on a night like that. We took the hint and left the area well ahead of schedule.

Bare-shanked Screech-Owl and a Tapir!

I hoped that the San Rafael de Varablanca road would be calmer and that wish was granted! It was a beautiful moonlit night accompanied by lovely quiet, the tinking notes of an unknown cloud forest tree frog, and the anxious sounds of snapping branches!

Imagination influenced by the mysterious dark of the night, I sort of wanted to leap back into the safety of the car. Just as the hoped for Bare-shanked Screech-Owl responded and flew in, I also remembered one of the animals that might break branches in the middle of the night. The very next moment, sure enough, there it was! Baird’s Tapir!

The big herbivore grazed on leaves at the edge of the forest and then slowly rambled into the trees. Based on the amount of snapping branches, I suspect there were two. A nice start to a memorable night!

A Pleasant Nocturnal Drive to the Lowlands

After the tapir incident, we drove down route 126, all the way to the lowlands. It was a beautiful, easy-going drive happily bereft of mist and the many cars that ply this road during the day.

It was also lacking in Dusky Nightjars and other birds but oh well, at least we tried.

Owl Road Pays Off

Our next destination was a road through rainforest in the Pueblo Nuevo lagoon area. It’s an exciting place where I have often had success with owls and other nocturnal birds! I hoped they would likewise oblige in the hour and half just before dawn.

Although they didn’t call as much as on other nights, thankfully, the birds sounded off just enough to pretty much clean up. My “BAWK!” imitation of a Great Potoo was quickly answered by the real deal’s reluctant growl. In response to other imitations and calls, a Middle American Screech-owl softly whined, a Black-and-White Owl gave a cat-like call, and young Spectacled Owls vocalized with glee.

A bit later, we also heard the typical gruff calls of adult Spec. Owls, one distant Crested Owl, and the bark of a Mottled Owl! To top off our nocturnal birding dessert, Central American Pygmy-Owl tooted a few times and Short-tailed Nighthawk gave a few brief whistles.

Uniform Crake, Green Ibis, and a few others did not join in but we still had chances for those wild and crazy guys As I had hoped, we had effectively cleaned up on target night birds, including a sweet bonus bird.

A Common Potoo Flies in to Say Hello!

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I have never heard Common Potoo on this road. Even so, I know it must be there so I always try for it. I do my best to mournfully whistle like a Common Potoo and just as sad as the song sounds, none respond.

Early Saturday morning though, my potoo whistling finally paid off. At first, I wasn’t entirely sure what the bird was. Instead of giving its entire whistled song, it only sang the first two notes!

I figured that it was probably a Common Potoo but it would sure be nice to confirm when lo and behold, this long-winged thing pulls a tapir and flies right overhead! I almost passed it off as a Short-tailed Nighthawk before noticing the long tail. Luckily, it landed on top of a telephone pole for excellent views!

Dawn Marsh Madness

Next on the agenda was the break of dawn. I had hoped to scan a marsh before moving on to the main dawn chorus spot. However, our scanning was thwarted by a thick blanket of marsh mist!

How could we spot roosting birds? What about heron shapes? Well, at least birds were calling, a lot of them! Olive-crowned Yellowthroats and Canebrake Wrens, Northern Barred Woodcreeper, and other birds. Encouraged by the birdsong, I figured we would do some dawn birding around there until it became light enough to scan the wet grass.

More birds called and came out; parrots, a pair of Great Green Macaws flapped into view (!), Pied Puffbird, and more! It became light enough to scan the quiet patches of water and we found a few things but then it was time to move on, time to get to Chilamate, a key forested area 20 minutes away.

Chilamate Birding is Always Great

On the way there, we picked up more birds calling and perching in trees; the three saltators, Gray-headed Chachalaca, and various others. Upon reaching Chilamate, the river had Amazon Kingfisher and hoped for Fasciated Tiger-Heron (!) but not much else.

Luckily, scope scanning the forest canopy further down the road gave us treefulls of toucans and one of our best birds of the day, a male Snowy Cotinga. This is why you bring that scope on a Big Day- scan and yee shall find!

Back in the forest, though, things were already getting quiet. It was warm and rather dry and the birds don’t like that very much. We still had several species but not as much as on other days in that same area.

Even so, highlights included a Northern Royal Flycatcher that responded to my whistle, a surprise American Kestrel, a beautiful female Hook-billed Kite, calling Purple-throated Fruitcrows (uncommon there), and a nice canopy flock with Black-striped Woodcreepers, Rufous Mourner, White-fronted Nunbirds, and some other birds.

The nunbirds were especially entertaining. For their own coral-beaked reasons, they made loud cackling noises while pumping their tails up and down. It was sort of insane.

Eventually, Rufous Motmot, Slaty-breasted Tinamou, and some other birds finally called but we left the area lacking a bunch of key birds.

Hot Weather and Few Birds in the Foothills

Yeah, Saturday was hot and sunny. Although us humans often like that weather, rainforest birds do not! In foothill forests on the San Miguel to Socorro road, we had some birds but nothing like other days. It was pretty darn quiet as we continued on to the middle elevation forests past Albergue Socorro. Our nicest bird was probably White Hawk.

Ditto for the Socorro Forest

By this time, we figured that if we didn’t find a bunch of birds soon, there was no point in continuing on for the entire Big Day. The forests above Soccoro were our final hope but nope, they were quiet too, the quietest I had ever seen for that typically birdy area.

At least it was a beautiful area and we did see some birds but only a handful. By noon, we couldn’t deny it, this day was just too quiet for bird activity. Better to call it a day and enjoy some lunch in beautiful surroundings.

Navigating Holiday Traffic

Finishing with a Big Morning turned out to be a good idea. Even if we had wanted to continue on with the big original plan, we would have been seriously slowed down by holiday traffic.

Holy Week is like Spring Break for all of Costa Rica. That means lines of traffic, busy beaches, and a heck of a lot of people out on the roads. We had to wait for a while in a traffic jam at the Peace Waterfall (where consolation was a calling Sooty-faced Finch), witnessed a ridiculous conglomeration of people at the Cinchona Hummingbird Cafe, and saw lots of folks in rivers and everywhere else.

In other words, it was classic happy Semana Santa behavior- fun but not so much for Big Days.

Lessons Learned

Thankfully, we made it home safe and sound where we could catch up on sleep and reflect on the Big Morning. On the bird front, I was reminded that nunbirds are bizarre, Common Potoos don’t have to sing their full song, and that birds are pretty quiet on hot and sunny days.

On other fronts, I learned that you might not need to start a Big Day in the middle of the night. Missing one or three birds isn’t worth missing all of that sleep. It’s also best to avoid Big Days on holiday weekends, and to hope for cloudy weather.

Is trying for a Big Day in Costa Rica worth the efforts? If you don’t mind a localized Big Day, yes! A record breaking all out Big Day? Given the multiple factors that have to fall into place, and diminished bird populations, I’m not so sure.

You’ll still see lots of nice birds, maybe even a Crimson-collared Tanager or two.

To learn about the birding sites mentioned above and dozens of other birding sites in Costa Rica, you might like my ebook, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica“. I hope to see you here!

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Birding Costa Rica

Early Spring Migrants- On the Move in Costa Rica

Birds come and go with the seasons. When you get started in the ways of avian appreciation, it’s one of the first things you learn. As a kid, winter birding in Niagara was a freezing adventure where stark woodlands echoed with calling crows and the chattering of chickadees.

The rushing, ice-cold waters of the Niagara were a blizzard of gulls and diving ducks. There was a fortunate flock of January redpolls, maybe a few other things but where were the Baltimore Orioles? What about those pages of fancy warblers?

A lot were in Costa Rica of course but in my 80s universe, they were birds of distant summer months and wilder places than our street. Eventually, I learned how to catch up with them, to coincide May visits to old woods on Goat Island with waves of warblers and other migrating birds.

Birds in Costa Rica also come and go, not nearly as much as the northern places, but we do experience some avian changes. As far as seasons go, it’s mostly wet or dry but we have are times of transition too, weeks when birds pass through Costa Rica.

We have just started one of those transit periods, this is what’s happening now.

The First Raptors of the Spring River

The first of the raptors have begun to migrate through Costa Rica. Birders have been seeing whirling flocks of Turkey Vultures along with a scattering of Swainson’s Hawks. These birds are the initial trickles of a growing current in the biannual River of Raptors.

They flow north in spring, then back south in fall. It’s an absolute marvel, a wildlife spectacle that should be shown to all schoolchildren in its path.

“Look up! See all those flying birds? Get a closer look with these binoculars. Those vultures and hawks are flying to Pennsylvania, to Utah, and on to Canada. Where are those places? Here’s a map, look! Some will fly over Bison, others will hear the howls of wolves. Many will be watched by people in those places, even young people like you.”

Swallows

On one of my first sojourns in Costa Rica, back in 1995, I learned a word. I had probably read it somewhere but had never really said “Hirundines” out loud, had surely never deployed it in a sentence.

I learned (or relearned) the term from Steve, an English birder my friend Alec and I met while birding in Carara National Park, back when the River Trail was almost too birdy to believe and ended at an oxbow lake.

Dedicated Steve was carrying some heavy stuff, a scope and I don’t know what else but enough to generate waves of sweat. He was constantly wiping his glasses, cleaning off his personal coolant. That’s what he was doing when we asked Steve what he had been seeing.

“This and that, some Hirundines…”.

I thought, “What the heck is that bird?” and he surely noticed my confusion.

“You know, swallows. Martins.”

These days, the Hirundines are beginning to move back through Costa Rica, starting to fly back north to colonial nesting grounds for another season of bugs, mud nests, and youngster care.

I saw my first Cliffs of the year the other day, the pioneers of millions on the verge of flying over Costa Rica. A few Banks have arrived too while flocks of Purple Martins are already coursing along the Caribbean shore.

I hope I see some of those martins, am eager to scan the sky for Hirundines.

Prothonotary Warblers and Louisiana Waterthrushes are Leaving

Some birds are arriving to Costa Rica from wintering grounds in South America, others that wintered here are packing their bags. It’s no surprise that the early migrants of the north are birds that depart these mountains and mangroves first.

Recently, I watched Prothonotary Warblers in dry forest, away from their usual watery haunts. I suspect they were migrants soon to be joined by the ones that winter here. Like all nocturnal migrants, they make their departure in secret. No goodbyes, no final calls as they lift off and mark their way north.

A bunch in the mangroves one day, just a few the next, and then, before you know it, none at all. It’s the same for the Louisiana Waterthrush except that tail bobber departs from rushing mountain streams. You know, a lot like its nesting grounds but with cloud forest on the banks.

Costa Rica Summer Birds are Back!

Technically, our year round residents are summer birds too. Technically, we don’t really have a summer. And yet, we do have some birds that migrate to Costa Rica for the same months as baseball, fireworks, and other outdoor summer fun in the north.

Recent birding showed me that those birds are back. Yellow-green Vireos reminded me with constant caroling phrases. The first Piratic Flycatchers were whistling with anticipation for the upcoming breeding season, not to nest mind you, but to steal or pirate some other bird’s nest. I heard the squeak of my first 2024 Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and have already been witnessing the elegant antics of Swallow-tailed Kites.

Wintering Birds Tuning up Vocal Chords

Another sign of spring in Costa Rica are the voices of wintering birds. We rarely hear warblers sing but, in March, a few can’t resist the urge. They haven’t sang for a while, the young birds haven’t sang at all. It shows when a Black-throated Green tries out a song or two, when a Wilson’s Warbler chatters or an Indigo Bunting lets loose with a bizarre mix of jumbling notes.

Their songs are weak and tend to be quiet, pretty much what you would expect from restarting the vocal chords.

Other birds can sing too, March and early April are the one time in Costa Rica when we might hear Chuck-will’s-Widows and Eastern Whip-Poor-Wills say their names. A few lucky birders have heard Chuck-will’s sing just before they leave, and I know a pair of very lucky birders who heard a Whip-poor-Will near Atenas.

That’s a rare bird for Costa Rica, we have no idea how many winter here but the number is surely low. They told me how, one April dawn, they heard the distinctive song of a Whip-poor-will, a species they were very familiar with. Their account makes me want to be out there around dawn these days, to be in green space and just listen as the day begins.

I want to see who sends their farewells, to see which birds are ready to fly back into the night sky and set the compass for the north.

Birds in Costa Rica are on the move. Migrants moving through the country, and Three-wattled Bellbirds and other resident species are tuning up too. Some are singing more to mark their territories. Whether you’re wondering where to see birds in Costa Rica for an upcoming trip, or are already here, it’s a good time to be birding in Costa Rica. Hope I see you here!

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Quality Costa Rica Birding at Irazu Volcano

Costa Rica birding covers a wide range of avian experiences. There are dry lowlands with Turquoise-browed Motmots and Double-striped Thick-Knees, backyard Blue-gray Tanagers, and toucans yelping from the tree tops.

This is a thick-knee. I know, what an odd, orthopedic sounding name for a bird!

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

There’s a whole lot of birds up in here, even uncommon species or ones that are hard to find no matter where you bring the binos. That’s what this post is about and although I’ve written a similar thing or two about birding on Irazu Volcano, here we go again.

Irazu is the name of this 11,000 foot volcano that rocks its way up the east side of the Central Valley. If you find yourself looking over that way while watching Crimson-fronted Parakeets, notice the big hulking mountain with distant antennas on top.

That’s Irazu and way up there on that natural behemoth, you can bet there are some quality birds. Here’s how things went on a recent Sunday morning of birding on Irazu.

Maroon-chested Ground-Doves

Irazu continues to be a reliable spot for this little mega dove. You will probably have to trudge uphill for it but don’t be fooled, the birds are there.

Often, I hear them as soon as I arrive at the Nochebuena but not this past Sunday. Things were actually a bit quiet for morning birding. Maybe the birds were feeling cold too? Could be, once the mist burned off and the sun came out, they eventually started calling.

Two, maybe three ground-doves hooted or cooed from the dense foliage. That’s par for the course for this pretty little dove. It vocalizes from a tree and if it thinks you see it, the bird pulls a shy woodpecker and moves to the other side of the trunk!

We kept watching and eventually got some brief looks of a perched male. Better views were had of two males in flight, one of which zipped low over the ground. I can still picture its dark, wine-colored chest contrasting with the dove’s ghost-pale head.

Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl and Buff-crowned Wood-Partridge

While we looked for the doves, another Irazu specialty called; the Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl. They are up there and it’s a good spot for them! However, they don’t always come out to play.

Sometimes, like this past Sunday, you only hear them from a distance.

What the Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl looks like when you see it.

Quiet often, that’s also the case for the wood-partridge. However, on Sunday, after hearing their hoarse calls echoing around us, we got brief but nice views of a couple creeping through the undergrowth!

Resplendent Quetzals

What do you know, Irazu is also good for quetzals. Seriously, I see Resplendent Quetzal on pretty much every visit. On this recent trip, I wasn’t hearing them, I wondered if I would finally miss the spectacular birds while birding Irazu.

But nope, they still showed up, at least four different birds including one wildly displaying male and another male that perched and called between bouts of feeding on avocados.

Long-tailed Weasel!

No, not a bird but Mustelids are mega too! Irazu seems to be a good place for wildlife, and I mean even on the side of the road. I have seen Coyotes several times, Gray Fox, and, on Sunday, we had perfect looks at a Long-tailed Weasel.

The elusive mammal bounded across the road in front of us, it was a treat!

Peg-billed Finch and Timberline Wren

After an early morning at the Nochebuena, we drove up to the paramo area just next to the national park. It was sunny, it was a bit windy, and it was bird quiet.

However, we still saw a pair of Timberline Wrens, one Peg-billed Finch, and other species easier to see. We did not see the junco but we weren’t really looking for it. They are around, hang out long enough up that way and you’ll probably see them.

Lots of Hummingbirds at the Nochebuena

Back at the Nochebuena, we stopped for lunch and enjoyed close views of the four expected hummingbird species. These are Volcano Hummingbird, Talamanca Hummingbird, Lesser Violetear, and Fiery-throated Hummingbird.

Lesser Violetears are never lesser.

We had also see them on the trails but close, leisurely looks were even nicer!

An Irazu Sunday also Means People

Oh yeah, and we saw a lot of humans. Irazu is a big Sunday destination for locals. The Tierra de Suenos restaurant and other places were jam packed. That didn’t affect us because I’m partial to the Nochebuena anyways. Good food, nice people who support birds and birders…yeah, I’ll be dining at the Nochebuena.

Other people sightings included roadside picnics and selfie shots against spectacular above-cloud backdrops, a line of determined hikers walking up a high-elevation hill, a few cyclists, and too many motorcycles, a few of which were pulling wheelies while riding uphill.

If you aren’t into watching people, you might opt for another day to visit Irazu. However, if you gotta do the trip on Sunday, you’ll still see birds!

Birding in Costa Rica on Irazu is pretty easy but it’s still worth knowing where to go. If you’d like more details on where to go birding in Costa Rica on Irazu and pretty much anywhere else in this small birdy nation, get “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.

You’ll also be supporting this blog while learning how to see tinamous, more trogons, and all the other birds in Costa Rica. I hope to see you here!

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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.