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Costa Rica Birding News, September, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bird Migration in Costa Rica Kicking into Gear

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

New Species for the Costa Rica List!

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

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

New Update for the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide App

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

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

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

Updating My Bird Finding Book for Costa Rica

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

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

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

The Urban Birder is in Costa Rica

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

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

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

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

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5 Beautiful Benefits of Relaxed Birding in Costa Rica

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

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

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

Beautiful Garden Birds

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

Emerald Tanager is regular at the Arenal Observatory Lodge!

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

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

More Protected Habitat Makes for Easier Birding

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

A male Great Curassow.

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

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

Fun for the Non-Birding Partner

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

Birding Boat Trips

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

Look close and find the Great Potoo!

You Still See Lots of Great Birds

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

To learn more about carefully planned, fun and relaxed birding tours in Costa Rica taking place in January, 2023, contact me today at information@birdingcraft.com

I hope to see you here!

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Birding Trip to Costa Rica-5 Honest Expectations

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

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

White-bellied Mountain-Gem

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

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

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

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

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

eBird Sightings for Costa Rica- Not the Final Word

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

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

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

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

Raptors are Infrequent (But be Ready for Them!)

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

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

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

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

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

Purplish-backed Quail Dove on the trail at Pocosol.

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

Poor Lighting, Birds in Flight, and Bits and Pieces

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

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

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

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Costa Rica Bird Photography with Benefits- Tawny-faced Quail at Laguna del Lagarto

Bird photography in Costa Rica is fantastic. Sure, we could say the same about dozens of destinations and there might be excellent bird photography right in your own backyard but what you might not have birds like

yellow-throated-toucan

Yellow-throated Toucan

and Orange-chinned Parekeet.

You may not have access to a site that offers more than typical feeder species. In Costa Rica, one such top choice for bird photography is Laguna del Lagarto. It’s a place I have blogged about on more than one occasion and with good reason; this classic Costa Rica eco-lodge offers world class bird photography benefits that can be tough to beat, one of those being a chance to capture images of Tawny-faced Quail.

This image was taken at Laguna del Lagarto by local birder, Luis Ricardo Rojas.

Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of this beautiful little ground birds, if you haven’t seen many pictures. On account of its shy behavior and dense, dark rainforest habitat, this small quail is one of the most infrequently seen bird species in Costa Rica. However, thanks to the efforts of local birding guide Juan Diego Vargas and Laguna del Lagarto, chances to see Tawny-faced Quail have greatly improved. Even better, not only can you see it, you have a fair chance of getting pictures too!

The problem with seeing Tawny-faced Quail is that this species doesn’t like to be seen. This isn’t one of those birds that will walk into the open, it’s not a bird that takes many chances. In general, small groups carefully move over the forest floor and then freeze at the slightest hint of danger. Since their plumage acts as perfect camouflage in the dark forest interior, you could easily walk right past them and have no idea the bird was sitting still, just a few meters away.

Most birds that live in the understory of the rainforest are tough to see, most are experts at staying hidden. However, most also give whistled songs and calls that reveal their presence. Most do that but much to a birder’s chagrin, the Tawny-faced Quail bucks the trend. This little quail rarely sings and instead of using its voice in the morning, it often waits until dusk and even them, it calls just a few times.

The timing and manner of its song makes this bird incredibly easy to overlook. Even worse, in Costa Rica, this quail seems to sing more often during just two months; May and June. The bird can also be found and heard at other times of the year but based on the experience at Laguna del Lagarto, the most reliable time to see them is definitely during May and June. This is when they call the most and this is when Laguna offers your best chance to see them.

We all know that no bird is guaranteed, anything can happen while birding but I also know that May and June is when most of the local guides have visited Laguna to see and photograph this quail. I know that Laguna has found roosting sites for this bird and have followed careful protocols to make sure every visiting birder sees them. During the past two years, when a roosting quail at Laguna is known, the success rate of visiting birders for seeing this bird has been very high.

Perhaps roosting birds will also be found at other times of the year? Hopefully, but at the moment, May and June are the best months to book a trip to Laguna del Lagarto and photograph this bird. It’s one of several excellent side benefits when visiting Costa Rica for bird photography. Laguna being one of the better places for bird photography in Costa Rica, some of those other benefits include close photo opps for toucans, tanagers, tityras, puffbirds, and a host of additional rainforest species like the stunning Green Honeycreeper shown below. I know I’m looking forward to the next time I visit this special place!

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Easy Going Birding in Costa Rica = 14 Hummingbirds, Black Guan, and More

Some of the best birding in Costa Rica is easy-going, relaxed birding. Although a definition of “best birding” is subjective and related to (1) what a birder wants to see and (2) how they want to do their birding, when the results of an easy morning of birding include several hummingbirds and various regional endemics (including uncommon and threatened species), that’s pretty darn good.

When birding in Costa Rica, you really don’t need to take long jungle hikes to see lots of great birds. To see a fantastic variety of species, visiting remote areas isn’t vital, nor is testing the limits of a rental vehicle’s suspension. It does help to know where to go birding in Costa Rica, know the best places to visit, and how to see those birds but you won’t have to buy any trekking boots.

Don’t get me wrong, expedition birding has its advantages too and I love being immersed in remote forest birding but Costa Rica offers much easier options. One of the best is the Poas and Cinchona area. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again; roadside birding from the Central Valley to Poas and along Route 126 can turn up an astonishing number of birds (a quick tally of birds that have occurred resulted in 500 species!). More than 100 are rare, various elevations are involved, and 50 of those birds are only present during the winter but that still leaves lots of birds to look for on any visit, any time of year. On a recent morning of birding with very limited walking, some birding highlights included:

14 Hummingbird Species

All were seen from the vehicle or at the Mirador San Fernando (the Cinchona Hummingbird Cafe). They included such sweet birds as

Fiery-throated Hummingbird

Fiery-throated-Hummingbird

Scintillant Hummingbird

scintillant-hummingbird

and the uncommon Black-bellied Hummingbird.

Black-bellied Hummingbird
At least you can still see Black-bellied Hummingbird and other hummingbird action in the rain.

14 hummingbird species are a good total but amazingly, on the route we took, further effort can turn up at least 7 or more additonal species.

Large-footed Finch and Other Highland Endemics

In the high elevation areas of Poas Volcano, bird activity was somewhat hindered by cold rain. Even do, we still had excellent looks at regional endemics like Large-footed Finch, Sooty Thrush, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, and Flame-throated Warbler along with various other montane species.

Large-footed Finch doing its foraging thing in the leaf litter.

The Large-footed Finch is a towhee-like bird that needs cool, wet forest habitats. Like so many other bird species on Poas, it only lives in Costa Rica and western Panama.

Coffee with Black Guan, Buff-fronted Quail-Dove, and other Great Birds

We spent around two hours at Cinchona and had excellent birding. Most of the usual species came to the fruit feeders including “the Cinchona trio” of Northern Emerald Toucanet, Prong-billed Barbet, and Red-headed Barbet.

The hummingbirds were also very active and gave us multiple close views of species like Green Thorntail, Green Hermit, Violet Sabrewing and others.

As a bonus, a Barred Hawk soared into view, Black Guan showed at the feeder, and two juvenile Buff-fronted Quail-Doves occasionally appeared on the ground below the feeder.

There’s nothing like accompanying quality coffee with constant tropical birds at Cinchona!

Costa Rica is made for birding. Whether taking the easy birding route or exploring remote locations, fantastic birding is in the cards. See “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” to learn about the best sites for seeing more birds in Costa Ricaa nd prepare for your trip. I hope to see you here.

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Costa Rica Birding News and Recommendations- June 27, 2022

It’s June in 2022. Looking to escape for a week or so? Birds in Costa Rica are pretty cool…

Speckled Tanagers are pretty cool.

If you expect to be birding in Costa Rica soon, the following information will help with your trip:

Route 32 is Temporarily Closed

This would be the main, busy and important highway that links the San Jose area to Guapiles and Limon. In birding terms, it’s the main road to such excellent sites as Cope’s Place, Nectar and Pollen, Centro Manu, and the Quebrada Gonzalez Ranger Station. Before you fret about not being able to go birding at those promising hotspots, fortunately, Route 32 isn’t the only way to get there.

Until the highway is fixed (it could easily be a week or more), you’ll have to take a more circuitous route. The birding upside is that one of those routes is the road that passes by Cinchona. This road, Route 126, is very birdy and scenic but if using it to reach the aforementioned sites, it would make for a very long day trip from the Central Valley. It will be much easier to visit those sites as a trip from lodging in or near the Sarapiqui area.

Red-headed Barbet and Silver-throated Tanagers are often seen at Cinchona.

This important route was closed a few days ago after heavy rains caused a small landslide. Steep slopes and wet weather converge to make such road problems a regular issue on Route 32. Unfortunately, on this occasion, continuous heavy rains resulted in a major landslide; maybe the biggest I have ever seen on Route 32.

It will eventually be fixed but could take a while. With that in mind, if you need to travel to Limon, you might want to consider Route 10 as an option.

Heavy Rains

Route 32 isn’t the only part of Costa Rica recently affected by heavy rains. There has been some localized flooding and a few other roads have also had problems. For the most part, most roads are open but since that could easily change, make sure to use Waze to stay updated about road closures and conditions during your time in Costa Rica.

The rains also present obvious challenges for birding but one advantage is higher bird activity during pauses in precipitation. Seriously, the birding can be fantastic in the mornings and when the rain stops.

Lovely Cotinga at Arenal Observatory Lodge

In June and July, some individuals of this species move to elevations lower than their upper middle elevation breeding grounds. A recent sighting of a female in the gardens of the Observatory Lodge was a reminder of this behavior. These days, birders should scan treetops in any foothill and middle elevation forest on the Caribbean slope for the turquoise blue of male Lovely Cotinga and the pale, dove-like aspect of the female. They aren’t exactly common but you could find one.

If you don’t have cotinga luck, you might sitll see a Green Thorntail.

Better for Rails and Masked Duck (aka Duck-billed Pseudo-Rail)

Now that the rains are here, rails and Masked Ducks are more accessible. Seeing them still requires a considerable amount of time and effort but they are much easier now than the dry season. Lately, local birders have been watching Paint-billed Crake and Spotted Rail in the Las Trancas rice fields, and Masked Duck has been seen at a private wetland site in Guanacaste. Paint-billed Crake has also been showing in its usual Coto 48 haunts and could also be found in other suitable wetlands. Rice fields on the Pacific slope are good places to look for this gallinulish crake but they can also appear in any number of marshy areas. Masked Duck could easily be lurking in those same spots.

A Pelagic Trip Might be Nice

As with pretty much everywhere, pelagic trips in Costa Rica are always exciting. At this time of year, it’s possible that rainy weather may bring more nutrients into coastal waters that in turn, attract more birds. I’m not sure if that is the case but I do know that I’ve seen more interesting pelagic species from the Puntarenas-Paquera ferry at this time of the year than in the dry season.

Head further from shore and you have a fair chance of seeing Tahiti Petrel and some chance of connecting with Christmas Shearwater in addition to regulars like Wedge-rumped, Black, amd Least Storm-Petrels, and Wedge-tailed and Galapagos Shearwaters. NOT TO MENTION, you could also have some serious powerball birding luck and see something like the country first Salvin’s Albatross that was spotted in late May!

Costa Rica is wet and rainy right now but the birding is still fantastic. Plan your birding trip to Costa Rica with rain in mind and stay updated on road conditions and you’ll do fine. I hope to see you here!

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Guided Birding or Birding Costa Rica on Your Own- What’s the Difference?

There are a lot of birds in Costa Rica. More than you think. Some information says 800 plus species and that’s a heck of a lot but the real total is more like 930. Yes! Around 930 species have been identified in a place the size of West Virginia. Those crazy numbers translate to a lot of birds waiting to be seen, always more birds to look for, even after several visits.

Red-headed Barbet male
The Red-headed Barbet is one of those birds.

I’m often asked how many bird species I have seen in Costa Rica, or which birds I’m missing. Other than some pelagic species, not much although I have seen a bunch of birds on the Costa Rica list elsewhere. That is, I still need various species for my country list, birds like Black-throated Blue-Warbler and Botteri’s Sparrow for example.

This makes my lifer possibilities pretty slim but I’m still excited every time I go birding in Costa Rica and how not- there’s always lots to see; dozens of birds to listen to while walking beneath huge rainforest trees draped with epiphytes, interesting seabirds to scan for from rough beaches on the Caribbean and the scenic tropical bays of the Pacific. There’s also high mountain birding punctuated by dawn quetzals and Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers undulating through October airs.

It’s always good!

On my first trip, even though I had studied the field guide for months in advance, the biodiversity still blew me away. I suppose it still does, the more you get into it, the more you discover. When I visited Costa Rica in 1992, I didn’t hire a guide but if I could go back in time, I probably would. Even so, it’s worth asking if you need a guide when birding in Costa Rica. It’s worth considering birding on your own. Trip funds play a basic role but answers about guiding also depend on additional factors:

How You Prefer to Experience Birds

If you don’t mind birding in a group, or even prefer that birding dynamic, a guided tour is a must. With dozens of companies to choose from, it can be hard to know which tour is best. Before signing up, think of your needs, what birds you would like to see, how you want to experience them, and go from there.

For example, if birding for you means some relaxed birding in the morning and taking it easy the rest of the day, you might want to avoid tours with descriptions like “constant birding”, “non-stop birding”, or “we don’t stop until we see the bird”. Such tours might still be able to accommodate a more relaxed birding style but you’re better off delving into the itinerary and speaking with a company well before sending a deposit.

If the group thing is not your slice of birding pie, touring with other birders isn’t going to work. You can still hire a guide though and you’ll have them all to yourself. That can be a very good thing, you’ll get personalized attention and see more birds, especially shy ones. However, without any shring of cost, you of course pay more for the personalized experience.

streak-chested antpitta Caribbean subspecies
Having the guide to yourself may give better chances at seeing shy birds like the Streak-chested Antpitta.

If cost is a factor, one solution is doing a few day tours during the trip instead of having a guide the entire time. Of course, the other main option is doing birding on your own. If you do go your own way, though, do it knowing that you’ll likely miss some species as well as possibly missing out one some little known hotspots. Contraringly, birding on your own does open the door to exploration. Get off the beaten track and you might find your own birding hotspots, might find a rare bird or two.

How Much You Want to See

This is probably the biggest difference between guided birding and birding on your own. Studying before a trip will help in finding more birds and also enhances the experience but no amount of studying can compare to being guided by a highly knowledgeable, local birding guide. The best guides don’t just know principal vocalizations for their local complement of species, they also know many lesser known calls and songs, behaviors, habitats, and sites. These factors along with knowing the lay of the land adds up to more bird species including better chances at rare and little known birds.

With all of that in mind, if you want to see as much as possible, and/or see certain rare species, hiring the right guide is an essential part of the trip. Sure you could still chance it and might do alright but a top local guide will boost your birding opportunities.

How Much Time You Have

This third factor is just as important and is tied into the number of birds you want to see. If you have all the time in the world, you have plenty of time to find and identify a good number of birds in Costa Rica. If you only have a day or a week of birding at different sites, a good guide makes a huge difference. That doesn’t just go for Costa Rica either but anywhere in the world.

Unfamiliar Birds

white-whiskered puffbird

This is another main factor that comes into play when birding with or without a guide, especially on a first birding trip to the Neotropical Region. Most of the birds will be more than species you have never seen. They will be completely different and nothing like the birds from home (unless your local park has trogons, puffbirds, and antthrushes). Most birds won’t be remotely familiar and this will be fun but if you go birding on your own, it can also be confusing. You might find yourself wondering where certain birds are and how to see them.

Peace of Mind

Another advantage of birding with a local guide is simply peace of mind. Bird with a guide and common worries associated with language, cultural differences, where to eat, stay, and visit are neatly wooshed away. The same goes for worrying about bird identification, finding certain species, and so on.

Should you hire a birding guide in Costa Rica? Although what I have written above seems to make a case for that, I’m just being honest about the benefits of hiring a guide. You can still bird without a guide and see a lot of birds but whether birding in Costa Rica or elsewhere, birding with a good, local guide does make the trip easier.

If visiting Costa Rica for birding, whether taking a tour to Costa Rica or birding on your own in Costa Rica, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” will enhance your trip. Get it to see identification tips, where to go birding, prepare for your trip, and to support this blog. As always, I hope to see you here in Birdlandia!

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

A Fine Morning of Caribbean Lowland Birding in Costa Rica

The first guide for the birds of Costa Rica was a book written by Alexander Skutch and Gary Stiles, and illustrated by Dana Gardner. Published in the late 80s, this tome helped kick off birding tourism in Costa Rica and although its use in the field has been largely replaced by The Birds of Costa Rica by Garrigues and Dean, and the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, it still contains a wealth of information.

More suited for reference than use in the field, in Stiles and Skutch, in addition to detailed species accounts, we also learn about different regions and habitats. One of those regions is known as the “Caribbean Lowlands”, a part of the country that actually has very little in common with islands like Cuba or Puerto Rico. However, since this eastern section of Costa Rica does border those beautiful waters, the name has stuck, at least for birding.

It would be equally justified to refer to this part of Costa Rica as the “Eastern Lowlands”, the “Eastern Lowland Rainforest”, or, in the birding realm of things, “Green Macawlandia”. “Rainforest Wonderland Birding” would also work- that pretty much sums up the general birding experience in these warm and humid lowlands. They are lots of birds to look for, including exotic species like toucans, antbirds, puffbirds, and potoos. Bring binocs to the right places and you could see well over 100 species in a day.

Yesterday morning, I was reminded of the fine birding to be had in the Caribbean Lowlands during a couple hours around Chilamate. These were some highlights:

Both Macaws and Other Parrots Too

Seeing flyby Scarlet Macaws is always a gift. Such views have become commonplace on the Pacific slope of Costa Rica, and are regular in some parts of the Caribbean Lowlands. They only get better when you see a pair of perched Critically Endangered Great Green Macaws shortly after. Witnessing the raucous calls and flights of Mealy, Red-lored, White-crowned, and Brown-hooded Parrots was also pretty nice. Throw in views of Crimson-fronted, Olive-throated, and Orange-chinned Parakeets and the morning becomes a fine birding experience indeed.

Semiplumbeous Hawk

As the name says, the bird is not entirely plumbeous. It’s not all that common either so it was sweet to scan the treeline and find one of these small rainforest raptors. Even better, the views were accompanied by the sights and sounds of 3 toucan species, tityras, Long-tailed Tyrant, and other rainforest species Bird early in the Caribbean Lowlands and there’s almost too much to look at (just how we like it)!

Semiplumbeous Hawk

Motmots

Early morning in the Caribbean Lowlands is often accompanied by the hooting of Rufous Motmots and the hoarse calls of Broad-billed Motmots. Seeing these shade-loving birds can be another matter but we eventually managed.

Green Ibis

What’s not to like about a noisy bird with prehistoric flavor? We started the day with a bird stalking the lagoons at Quinta de Sarapiqui and wrapped up our early morning birding with another one or two filling the air with their crazy calls.

Green Ibis

Woodpeckers

The tall forests of the Caribbean Lowlands can be great for woodpeckers. In addition to the expected Black-cheeked Woodpecker, we also had Rufous-winged, a high flying Cinnamon, and a pair of Pale-billed Woodpeckers that foraged on roadside posts! We didn’t look for the beautiful Chestnut-colored Woodpecker because we had already seen it the day before.

Pale-billed Woodpecker is in the house.

There were other birds too; toucans, tanagers, White-ringed Flycatchers, and more. Even better, none required any muddy rainforest hikes, nor hardly any walking at all. We had all of this wonderful lowland rainforest while birding from easy roads, hardly even leaving the car. I can’t wait to get back and explore more site around Sarapiqui. To learn more about the best birding sites in Costa Rica and enhance your birding in Costa Rica, get “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. I hope to see you here.

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Wet Season Birding in Costa Rica: 5 Top Sites

Here comes the rain again, falling and drenching the forests and fields, filling the rivers of Costa Rica. It’s wet as the ocean but it’s all good, it’s what’s supposed to happen. At this time of year, every ecosystem in Costa Rica expects water, needs it to lubricate the wheels and cogs of life and keep them running. Everything needs this humid abundance; orchids decorating cloud forest, massive trees with butressed roots, foliage that feeds bugs that then feed pigeons and guans preyed upon by hawk-eagles.

Sunny skies please the tourist but it’s not the best weather for birding. In Costa Rica, better birding happens on cloudy days, days like now. Go birding in Costa Rica in June and you’ll miss out on northern migrants but you might have a better chance at seeing resident species. At least they can be more active, might even sing more. Right now, the birding is good in all of Costa Rica’s tropical corners. Even so, I wonder, are some sites better during the wet season? Maybe not, but you couldn’t go wrong with birding in these 5 places:

The Poas Area

The upper slopes of this active volcano are always worth a visit. Good highland forest habitats are a quick 45 to 60 minute drive from the airport. Even better, those rich habitats are easily birded, right from the road. When birding Poas, Resplendent Quetzal is possible any time of year but it might be easier in the wet season. Once, I had 6 of the iridescent birds, right next to the road. It was birdingly ridiculous. While looking for one of the top world megas, mixed flocks can also be checked for highland endemics like Flame-throated Warbler, Buffy Tuftedcheek, and Ruddy Treerunner.

Ruddy Treerunner.

As a bonus, Golden-browed Chlorophonias can be pretty common, Black Guan is regular, and many other choice species are also possible.

Rincon de la Vieja

June is when local birders vtrek to the quality habitats of this excellent national park. Their main targets are Rusty and Botteri’s Sparrows, two local species more easily seen at this time of year than during the windswept dry season. They sparrow search in natural grasslands located on the back part of the Catarata Escondido trail. It’s a long walk but at least a birder passes through excellent forest. On the way, they might see fun species like Elegant Trogon (a subspecies that might be split from the trogons of Arizona), Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Tody Motmot and Thicket Tinamou. With luck, an antswarm could host a Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo.

This national park is always good, maybe a bit better during the wet season.

Guanacaste Rice Field and other Wetlands

As the rains fill rice fields and more natural wetlands, they attract birds, lots of birds. In addition to flocks of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, watch for Jabiru, various raptors, and Masked Duck. Most of all, listen and look for Spotted Rail. Rice fields during the wet season are the best time to find this local species in Costa Rica.

The dry forest birding won’t let you down either!

Carara

The rainforests of Carara National Park are wet and buggy in June but the birding is excellent. Use repellent and check the trails for Streak-chested Antpitta, Black-faced Antthrush, mixed flocks, and more. Cloudy weather also boosts bird activity and keeps things somewhat cooler than the heat of the dry season.

birding Costa Rica

Bring an umbrella for rain and binos for some great birding.

Bellbirds in San Ramon Quetzal Valley and Monteverde

At this time of year, both of these sites are good for Three-Wattled bellbird. Monteverde is better known and has more tourism infrastructure but Quetzal Valley also makes for an excellent day trip. A couple of great guides work in that area and know where to find everything from bellbirds to quetzals and Ornate Hawk-eagle. Email me at information@birdingcraft.com to put you in touch.

As always, in birdy Costa Rica, it’s tough to pick any “top sites”. No matter where you look for birds in Costa Rica, visit good habitat and the birding will entice you. Visit now and although you will witness the rain, you will also see tons of birds. Not to mention, it won’t be as hot and there will be fewer fellow tourists. Enhance your trip with a good Costa Rica bird finding guide. As always, I hope to see you here!

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biodiversity Birding Costa Rica

6 Months of Birding in Costa Rica, 635 Species

Half a year has come and gone. In Costa Rica, the hot and sunny weather of the high season is a distant memory. April brought the rains and since then, they have been dutiful in humidifying and soaking this birdy nation. It’s expected and needed even if we could do without the landslides and local flooding. I should mention that the landslides haven’t been major but small ones do affect roads now and then, even closing the main highway between San Jose and Limon for a few days.

Such closures are an annual occurrence, all one can hope for is not having to use that important road when they do happen. One good way to avoid any such road issues is by avoiding that highway during days and nights of heavy rain. Luckily, I haven’t had to drive there this past week. Eventually, I will need to take Route 32 and as long as my driving happens during better weather, I look forward to it. I hope I can stop at an overlook on that highway to listen for uncommon birds and scan for rare raptors.

Some of those birds could be new for my year list. Not that I’m trying for anything in particular but needless to say, I’ve got a pretty good running total. Since January 1st, I’ve identified 635 species in Costa Rica, almost all of them seen while guiding or watching birds for fun.

Ironically, I’m not striving for any Big Year goal. Those 600 plus species are more of a hint at the incredible variety of birds that occur in Costa Rica, and the high number of species one can see after birding in key spots. Some of those 2022 birds include Red-fronted Parrotlets heard and briefly glimpsed flying over the entrance to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, hearing and seeing both Black and Ornate Hawk-Eagles flying high overhead at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge, the male Lovely Cotinga at Rancho Naturalista, other cotingas, migrant Cerulean Warblers gleaning rainforest leaves, 70 flycatcher species, Scaled Antpitta at Bajos del Toro, Black-chested Jay, and so much more.

Whether because of their rare status or memorable birding situations, the following highlights stand out:

Hudsonian Godwit

After missing it our first time around, Marilen and I were very pleased to see this choice mega migrant upon arrival at Punta Morales. With more birders in the field, more regular yet uber rare migrants are being found. The Hudwit is one of them.

Pacific Golden-Plover

Pacific-Golden-Plover-Puntarenas-Costa-Ric

Like the godwit of Churchill, Manitoba fame, this species might also visit Costa Rica on a regular basis. However, since “regular” could mean one or two birds per year, you gotta be pretty lucky to connect. Fortune was with me while birding in Puntarenas this past April.

Gray-hooded Gull

For the past few years, one of the nicer looking gulls has been showing its elegant self in Costa Rica. I assume it’s the same bird but it’s not here all of the time. It may pass through in spring and fall, or might be wandering around Central America. All we really know is that a birder has to be seriously lucky to chance upon it. As luck would have it, while dipping on the first appearance of the godwit, this gull flew in to make it onto the year lists of Marilen, myself, and other local birders.

Maroon-chested Ground-Dove

Views of this fantastic and uncommon species are always a treat but especially when you can share it with other birders. I was pleased to hear and see it at a reliable spot, the Museo Nochebuena on the high slopes of Irazu Volcano.

Bare-shanked Screech-Owl

bare-shanked-screech-owls
Bare-shankeds from another day and place- we had much better views.

On one of those same Maroon-chested mornings, a client and I had fantastic looks at a Bare-shanked Screech-Owl. Sooty Thrushes were calling, other high elevation birds were singing and yet based on past experience, I wondered if this owl might also decide to call back, even during the light of day. After an imitation, sure enough, one of these beautiful owls responded and gave us perfect views, no flashlight required.

Mangrove Cuckoo

Cuckoos are always cool. I was happy to have seen this neat species around Ciudad Neily in southern Costa Rica, near Tarcoles, and a fantastic bird sunning itself in Tortuguero.

Chuck-will’s-widow

Watching one of these uncommon wintering species on a humid night near Esquinas Lodge was a treat.

48 Hummingbird Species

white-bellied mountain-gem
I’m partial to the White-bellied Mountain-Gem.

That means all of the regular ones except for the Garden Emerald, a bird I should come across at some point in 2022.

What else will 2022 bring? The only way to find out is by going birding. I’m eager to watch some mixed flocks and explore out of the way places. It can be drier in July, I hope you get a chance to bird Costa Rica soon!