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.
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!