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Mixed Flock Birding Tips for Costa Rica

Mixed flock…bird wave…sudden bird bonanza. Three terms for the same wonderful situation but be forewarned; this birding experience may leave you speechless, it might leave you stunned and when birding in Costa Rica, you can expect it.

Personally, I prefer the term “mixed flock”. I don’t know why, I must have read it somewhere, it’s just what I have always called it. To be clear, this esteemed birding situation is when several species are seen flocking and foraging together. Contraringly, a mixed flock is NOT when birds come in to a pygmy-owl call and not when you see a few different heron species in the same part of the Tarcoles River. It IS when a bunch of tanagers convene on a fruiting tree and ESPECIALLY when those same tanagers are seemingly accompanied by a few woodcreepers, antwrens, flycatchers, and other birds.

A Back-faced Grosbeak at El Zota. One of several species commonly seen in mixed flocks when birding Costa Rica.

After many a quiet minute stalking though the rainforest, a mixed flock is a welcome burst of birding excitement, your chance to see one new bird after another in quick succession. If it happens during your only visit to a particular habitat or site, that mixed flock can also act as your one big break, your main chance at seeing a satisfying bunch of birds. The birding challenge is real but don’t panic! Keep calm, be quick with the binos and try these tips:

Mixed Flocks can Happen Anywhere but the Mega Flocks are in Mature Humid Forest

Some may dispute this statement but I stand by it. Yes, mature second growth can also entertain with groups of flocking birds and I have seen forest edge in the Caribbean lowlands doing the avian bounce but then again, that particular edge was the border of a large area of mature rainforest. I doubt there would have been as much variety in a smaller patch of woods.

When it comes down to it, remember that while birding tropical forest habitats, although you may find a mixed flock in second growth, you’ll find a lot more birds in large areas of mature forest. The higher degree of complexity generated by massive trees, vines tangles and profuse vegetation translates to a higher variety of specie and when they flock together, the result can make for some life goal birding madness.

The mega mixed flocks of Costa Rica can’t compare with those of the Amazon but I’ve seen a few that come close; notably in foothill rainforests birding on the Manuel Brenes Road, in the Osa Peninsula, and a couple other places. The mega mixed flock is a good thing to keep in mind while walking through quiet mature forest. Be ready for it because, at some point, the birding will pick up and things could get giddy.

Follow the Flock

A mixed flock doesn’t just move through and that’s all she wrote. They can and do move fast but at some point, the birds will slow down and work that forest, work it to the bone.

Like a classic house track, mixed flocks don’t stop moving. You gotta keep up, find the mixed flock groove, and you will eventually catch that Sharpbill, see most of the birds. Listen for the flock, try to find it and then stay with the birds as long as you can. But don’t leave the trail, potential hidden vipers and getting lost aren’t worth it.

Know the Flock Leaders Before You Go Birding

Even birds have leaders, choice birds followed for survivalist reasons. Anthropomorphisms aside, there are certain vocal species that act as nucleous species of a flock. Know what they sound like and you will find the flock. It also pays to know what they look like but since hearing birds is everything in the tropical forest, it pays to learn their calls.

In Costa Rica, the erstwhile mixed flock leader of foothill rainforest (and lowland rainforest of the Pacific slope) is the White-throated Shrike-Tanager. This stand out oriole-looking, flycatcher-like tanager is so associated with big mixed flocks, it deserves an invisible crown. Find it in mature forest and you will find birds. But be prepared, on some lucky days, there could be a mind-blowing bonanza of avian life being led by this bird wave king/queen combination.

White-throated Shrike-Tanager
The mixed flock king is in the house.

In Caribbean lowland rainforest, I’m not sure if there is similar royalty but there are noisy species that often occur with other birds. A couple of the stand outs are Black-faced Grosbeak and White-shouldered Tanager.

Up in the middle elevation cloud forest, mixed flocks are fairly common and can come in many sizes. Keep checking the Common Chlorospingus and listen and look for mixed flock standards like Lineated Foliage-gleaner and Spotted Woodcreeper.

In the high elevations, check the groups of Sooty-capped Chlorospingus and listen for the likes of Yellow-thighed Brushfinch and Buffy Tuftedcheek.

Take Notes and Look at Field Guides After Watching the Flock

If I was limited to mentioning just one tip, it would be this one. No matter how well or little you know the birds creeping up branches and flitting in the foliage, whatever you do, do not stop watching them to look in a field guide. The same goes for taking written notes. I know, the temptation is real but so are the consequences and those would be missed birds.

A mixed flock in tropical forest won’t behave like birds back home (unless your birds come in quick moving groups of a dozen or more species that can move on past in nearly every level of a dense forest with a tall canopy). When a flock appears, if you don’t stay focused and try to see as much as possible, if you take eyes off the bird action to look up one or two birds in a field guide, the other 20 will likely move right on out of view. Try to see as much as you can, keep looking, and take mential notes. After the birds have moved out of reach and the forest has gone back to being humid and seemingly unreasonably quiet, that is the time to jot down notes and check out your field guides to the birds of Costa Rica.

Mixed flock action is waiting in Costa Rica. To learn more about birding mixed flocks, the best places to experience them, where to go birding in Costa Rica and more, support this blog by getting How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica, a 700 plus page companion for birding this beautiful country. As always, I hope to see you here!

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High Season Costa Rica Birding Highlights, 2022

Tis the high season for birding in Costa Rica. Higher numbers of optic-associated folks began to arrive in December, more arrived in January, and by February, birders have become a common occurrence at hotels, in national parks, and on quiet country roads. Yeah, make no doubt about it, right now is high time for birding in Costa Rica. You can be entertained by birds in Costa Rica at any time of the year but it’s hard to beat escaping some of the winter’s cold frozen fingers while watching the long tail coverts of a quetzal stream behind it in crazy, colorful flight.

Birding Costa Rica

The influx of birders will continue right on through March. If you happen to be one of those lucky bino wearing people, these recent Costa Rica birding highlights will get you psyched for your trip. Some are from recent birding I was involved with, others stem for other reports. I hope all of them help with your birding time in Costa Rica:

Cotingas!

birding Costa Rica

Bright colors, loud voices, and odd shapes, who doesn’t yearn to see cotingas? In Costa Rica, they aren’t easy but if you go to the right places, you can get lucky. If you are headed to Rancho Naturalista, you will be in the right place for one of the toughest cotinga in Costa Rica, the Lovely one. Recently, a male Lovely Cotinga has been showing at Rancho just about every day. This is likely the same bird that visited this classic birding lodge on several occasions over the past couple of years. Up your cotinga odds by hiring one of Ranch’s excellent local guides.

The lovely cousin of the Lovely, the Turquoise Cotinga, has also been showing in patches of rainforest around Perez Zeledon as well as its stronghold in the Osa Peninsula. It can also be seen at Rincon de Osa but recently, the birds around Perez have been more reliable. Check eBird to do a cotinga stakeout or hire a good local guide.

As for the white cotingas, the Snowy is frequenting its usual Caribbean lowland strongholds while the endangered Yellow-billed is most easily seen at Rincon de Osa, in the Sierpe mangroves, and from the tower at Cerro Lodge right around 7:30 to 8:15 in the morning.

Quetzals

Resplendent Quetzals are waiting for you at most cloud forest sites. They aren’t common but if you go to the right place and know how to find them, you have a very good chance of seeing this mega spectacular bird. Recently, I have seen them calling and displaying at a site near Varablanca, on the Providencia Road (one of the bext spots), and in the Dota Valley.

Megas at the San Luis Canopy

A bridge at the San Luis Canopy

The San Luis Canopy (or the Parque de Aventura de San Luis) might be off the main birding routes but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the better birding hotspots in Costa Rica. Seriously. How else to describe a place that has been good for Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, and Ochre-breasted Antpitta along with tanagers, hawk-eagles, hummingbirds, and more? You have to descend and ascend steps and cross canopy bridges but there are some serious birding prizes at the end of this cloud forest rainbow.

Owls and Potoos Oh My!

Great Potoo

Owls and potoos are always present, the main issue is where and how to find them? Here’s a rundown of some good recent spots for these crafty nocturnal creatures:

  • Great Potoo- As per usual, fairly common in the Caribbean lowlands. Recently, I had great looks at roosting birds in the Cano Negro area; both at the Caiman restaurant and in the Las Cubas area (hire Chambita to guide you!).
  • Common Potoo- These birds aren’t all that common in Costa Rica but do occur in many open and edge habitats. I have had recent, fantastic views of birds near Jaco and around La Gamba. Cano Negro is another of several great spots.
  • Spectacled Owl- This large owl occurs in many lowland foothill sites, especially (and perhaps appropriately) at ecolodges. I have had good recent looks at Quinta de Sarapiqui, while taking Cope’s tour, and at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge. They also occur in many additional spots.
  • Black-and-white Owl- One has been roosting on the Bogarin Trail, the birds at the Arenal Observatory Lodge are also still being seen, and one often visits the restaurant at Laguna del Lagarto.
  • Crested Owl- A couple have been showing very well on Cope’s tour and I also had them calling at Hotel Quelitales, Rancho Naturalista, and at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge.
  • Mottled Owl- There has been a roosting, extremely well hidden bird at Curi-Cancha and others are commonly heard and seen at many other sites.
  • Striped Owl- This uncommon species can show up at any number of open, wet habitats and is usually seen perched on a power line.
  • Screech-owls- Although not rare, all of the Megascops species in Costa Rica can be elusive unless they vocalize. Some of the better spots for Tropical have been at Talari Mountain Lodge, and around La Gamba. Pacific occurs in Cano Negro and most dry areas where large trees are present. Middle American has been showing on trails at Arenal Observatory Lodge as well as other lowland Caribbean sites. There is a supposed roost of Bare-shanked at Curi-Cancha and it continues to be common at most highland sites. The “Choco” has also been vocal at and near Esquinas Ranforest Lodge but its propensity to call from dense vegetation makes it tougher to see than the other Megascops.
  • Pygmy-owls- Ferruginous is common and easy in edge and open areas of the northern and Pacific lowlands and foothills, Central American has been showing well at Laguna del Lagarto, and Costa Rican has been ocassionally showing in its usual best haunts.
  • Unspotted Saw-whet Owl- This most challenging of owls continues to be a challenge but some have seen it around Paraiso Quetzal and the upper part of the Dota Valley.
"Choco" Screech-Owl
One of the few pictures of the undescribed local race of “Choco” Screech-Owl. I took this picture in 2016 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge.

Hotel Quelitales

I have already mentioned this birding hotspot and with good reason; the birding is simply fantastic. Having an owner who is also a birder makes all the difference. This is why we had great looks at Green-fronted Lancebill, close Sooty-faced Finch, and saw various cloud forest species on the trails. On our one morning there, I also heard both Crested and Mottled Owls near the cabins and although they failed to appear during our brief visit, Scaled Antpitta and Black-breasted Wood-Quail have become regular from the blind on the birding platform. We topped off our morning with views of Barred Hawk and Hook-billed Kite. I can’t wait to go back!

Bogarin Trail

Uniform Crake

This excellent birding oasis has become a new classic hotspot. Roosting Black-and-white Owl, Uniform Crake on the trail (which we saw!), White-throated Crakes, Russet-naped Wood-Rail, and American Pygmy Kingfisher around the trail entrance…that’s some quality birding! Not to mention motmots, jacamars, and occasional visits by a juvenile Ornate Hawk-Eagle, this place is easy birding that rocks.

Alma del Arbol in the Dota Valley, Stella’s Bakery in Monteverde, and Casa Tangara dowii on the road up Cerro de la Muerte.

All of these spots combine great food and drink with great birding. Alma del Arbol is a small restaurant/cafe/bistro in San Gerardo de Dota. Located across the street from Savegre at Batsu, one of the best bird photography hotspots in Costa Rica, this well run gem of a spot has a delicious, fusion menu and some desserts to die for.

Stella’s is a landmark bakery and cafe in Monteverde that serves excellent, creative cuisine and some of the best desserts in Costa Rica. Given the euphoric delicousness generated by the brownies, it’s probably good that I don’t live near this special place.

Casa Tangara dowii is a wonderful spot to have lunch accompanied by locally brewed beers and cloud forest birds. Designed with birders in mind, owner Serge Arias (who also runs Costa Rica Birding Hotspots) will make you feel very welcome. Our group sure did, another place I can’t wait to go back to!

I could mention more birding highlights but isn’t that always the case? Visit the right places for birding in Costa Rica and it’s going to be more than good. Use the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app and How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica to get ready for your trip. To get connected with the best local guides, contact me at information@birdingcraft.com. I hope to see you in Costa Rica!

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A Day in the Life of a Gray Hawk in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is home to a wide variety of raptor species but most are scarce or rare birds of forested habitats. Not so for the Gray Hawk. This tropical relative of the Red-shouldered Hawk is one of our more common raptors, in many places, the de-facto urban hawk.

Gray-Hawk

Go birding in remnant green space or edge habitats in many parts of Costa Rica and it won’t take long to see a Gray Hawk. One or two might soar high overhead or you might glimpse a bird as it moves from one patch of trees to the next. Quick flaps and a glide, you might be reminded of a chunky Accipiter. It often calls, listen for its clear whistled song.

You won’t see them inside rainforest or cloud forest but bird the edges and semi-open habitats and a Gray Hawk will eventually appear. Its also one of the more regular raptors of roadside wires (along with the rightly named Roadside Hawk). These small-medium raptors persists because they don’t require much more than habitat with enough small lizards, birds, and other creatures to feed on, large trees for nesting, and nobody shooting them. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons they occur in much of Costa Rica’s Central Valley?

From what I have seen in the riparian zone out back and while birding other bits of rich remnant green space in the Central Valley, I figure a Gray Hawk’s day in Costa Rica goes somewhat like this.

As its gets light outside, a Gray Hawk watches for movement from its curtain of leaves. Will a lizard creep into view? Has some large katydid neglected to find cover in time? Maybe a small bird looks tired or a bit too slow. There are more of those more catchable birds when the vireos and kingbirds are moving through, that’s the best time to catch them but a bird never knows, hungry raptors have to be ready to literally seize any opportunity.

Seeing nothing of promise, the adult Gray Hawk flies to its next hidden perch. A Tropical Kingbird twitters and flies after it, kiskadees calls and other birds give the alarm. They would have to be much slower to catch but they aren’t taking any chances. A few Brown Jays pick up the alarm and join in with their own raucous calls. Big enough to intimidate, the Gray Hawk races to find cover before the big, long-tailed birds can bother it. The hawk is in luck, the jays also need to find breakfast and so they move on. Not that they could directly hurt the hawk but they could certainly scare away prey and give the raptor more stress than it needs.

Watching from its new perch, it scans the sunny edge of a large patch of bamboo. The bamboo was imported from Asia but it can still host something to eat. This fine morning, it looks like breakfast may take the form of a Spiny Lizard. The lizard didn’twant to leave cover but it didn’t have much of a choice. It needed that sunny spot, needed to recharge its cold blooded bio batteries so it could find something to eat and run from being eaten. All it could hope was that its coloration would keep it hidden. Unfortunately for the lizard, the bright sun was lighting it up, turning it into an unwritten sign that said, “Free Meal Here!”.

The hawk saw that sign and didn’t hesitate to make its move. With straight, steady flight, the bird flew in and thrust its legs out. Still too cold to react, the lizard was caught and pierced with talons. It died while carried away to a neaby perch; where the hawk enjoyed its breakfast.

After resting, rising warm air encouraged the Gray Hawk to take flight and soar high above its territory. It could see a green sliver among a mosaic of fields and rocky looking housing. Once in a while, it flew over that rocky stuff but not that often, there wasn’t usually much to catch there. The green thread ran up to a larger area of trees but that place was already taken by a pair of Gray Hawk who objected to its presence. At least this patch of green, this bit of area with food could sustain it, at least for now.

High above it flew and called in the warm skies, always hoping to find a mate. No other Gray Hawk called back on this day but it might eventually happen. In the meantime, the raptor flew back down to a favored patch of tall Eucalyptus. It was another tree that would have been foreign to the hawk just 200 years ago but not anymore. They made a fine perch, an excellent vantage point to watch for unwary birds, lizards, and rodents.

Watching from the tall Australian trees, the Gray Hawk could see large noisy things moving dust, throwing the dirt into the air. It was a spot that used to have some trees and bruchh, a place where it had caught food, where bobwhites and Blue Grosbaks had sang. The area had given it a little extra breathing room. Not any more. It was being changed to more of those rocky things and it was bereft of green.

Looking in the other direction, the hawk noticed a small bird on the ground, an Inca Dove that fluttered wrong. Automatically noting a bird that might be in trouble, something that could be easy to catch, the hawk’s attention was immediately focused on the dove. It readied itself for an attack.

This was automatic, it needed to eat and if it didn’t catch it, something else would, maybe one of the Short-tailed Hawks that also hunted this area. As the dove continued to flutter, the Gray Hawk made a quick, straight lfight at it and easily caught it with its sharp talons. It wasn’t every day the hawk caught a dove. This one had some sort of problem. Maybe it was too old, maybe sick, either way, nature doesn’t hold any place for the weak. The hawk almost never caught a dove but this day, this bird was an easy invitation and the hawk gladly came to dinner.

After eating the dove, the lesser light of the late afternoon, the noisy chattering of Crimson-fronted Parakeets flying to roost reminded the raptor that it was time to do the same. The Gray Hawk moved back to the shady tree where it had began the day and readied itself for night. This came quickly, it always does in tropical latitudes. Bats eventually chittered and a Mottled Owl barked but the day raptor didn’t pay them any attention, it was already asleep.

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Why is the Black-crowned Antpitta So Rare?

What makes a bird rare? Is it because, like the Red-cockaded Woodpecker or Aquatic Warbler, it is threatened by various factors related to its ecological needs? Is a bird naturally rare because it requires certain types of uncommon habitats or situations? Or, is the species something like a Boreal Owl in not being really threatened but just hard to see?

In complex tropical habitats, birds can be “rare” because of these and additional factors. In the case of the Black-crowned Antpitta, this big understory player is probably affected by all three of the factors mentioned above. Hard to detect, difficult to see, we don’t know much about this northernmost Pittasoma but what we do know is that it’s one of the most challenging species to connect with in Costa Rica.

Even the skulking Thicket Antpitta is easier to see than the Black-crowned Antpitta.

During birding tours to Costa Rica, this cool looking species has the tragic distinction of being one of the least likely birds you will run across. In part, the paucity of sightings is related to few tours actually visiting places where it occurs. However, even then, it can still be a challenge and worse, it seems to be getting rarer with each and every year.

This wasn’t always the case. Although, seeing a BC Pittasoma in Costa Rica has never really been easy, some years ago, it was petty reliable at Quebrada Gonzalez. When the foothill rainforest at this excellent site was perpetually dripping wet, this Pittasoma was regularly heard and seen. At one point, I recall hearing and seeing birds right behind the station and at two different points along the trail. Incredibly, it was a regular bird at this site! You still had to know how to look for it but it could be expected.

Antpitta habitat

That began to change as the forest became hotter and drier. Bit by bit, as the forest at the beautiful forests of Quebrada Gonalez saw longer days with less rain and decreased humidity, there seemed to be a concurrent decrease in the numbers and types of birds. One of the most affected species was the Pittasoma. It still seems to occur on occasion but much much less than in the past.

With that in mind, this is my take on why this mega bird of the forest floor has become much more rare in Costa Rica:

It Needs an Especially Wet Microhabitat in Areas of Intact Habitat

The Black-crowned Antpitta seems to be a bird of very wet forest replete with plenty of streams and muddy, wet soil. At least that’s my impression and those are the only places I have encountered them. I suspect they are adapted to this type of microhabitat because it harbors more of the worms, large insects, and other small animals they feed on. Perhaps there are other factors associateed with this microhabitat they also require?

But that’s not all! It seems that they also need this microhabitat to occur in large areas of intact habitat and even then, they can seem to be absent from what appear to be suitable sites (which hints at this species maybe requiring more specific needs than expected or apparent).

The Pittasoma Mostly Occurs in Less Accessible Places or Does Best in Habitats that Have Beeen Destroyed

The bird is rare but I do think inaccessible areas are part of the situation. Most of the intact foothill forests where it occurs are in less accessible spots, especially in the Talamanca Mountains, its likely stronghold in Costa Rica. Another idea is that the bird might be most suited to the places where foothill forest meet lowland rainforest; places that have been largely destroyed. This idea is supported by more observations of the Pittasoma coming from sites like Hitoy Cerere and Kekoldi.

Additional places to look for it are in Barbilla National Park and less accessible spots in and near Braulio Carrillo National Park.

Top of the Understory Food Chain = Low Reproductive Rate

One of the other main factors that make this species such a rare bird is its likely low reproductive rate. That’s just a guess but given its status near the top of the forest floor avian food chain, I bet this is true. As with many other tropical birds, it may have a long lifespan over which rather few young are successfully raised. This adds up to there being few birds to find over a large area.

Hopefully, we can find more accessible sites to see this spectacular bird of wet forest. Sadly, I fear that if/as climate change continues to decrease rainfall and humidity in foothill forests of Costa Rica, the Black-crowned Antpitta will either move upslope or it will continue to decline and maybe even disappear. Populations also occur in Panama (although birds typically seen are of another subspecies) but if the same factors affect the species there, it could become one more of many amazing facets of life eventually obliterated by a long, lethal combination of greed, ignorance, and refusal to accept that long-term sustainable living is of crucial importance.

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A High Octane Birding Itinerary for Costa Rica

Birding itineraries can take many forms. They can range from easy-going, relaxed trips that put more emphasis on sampling local culinary delights to focused birding jaunts where sacrifices to see as many species as possible are the norm. Such sacrifices include proper food, proper sleep, maybe feeling the creeping fingers of hypothermia, you know, that sort of thing.

As one might expect, the latter type of trip makes for an exhausting, exciting, mind-numbing adventure. Given that such birding trips require propious energy and concentration, they are perhaps more suited to the younger crowd (or birding ninjas).

I have done such trips, have sweated by fair share of electrolytes and been bitten by ants, I’m not sure I would be so keen on doing them again. I enjoy all the wondrous facets of birding but I don’t feel the need to get too crazy to see birds. I don’t think you have to. Bird the right way, get in the Zen birding mode and you’ll do alright. Focus is important, working with local guides can help, and coffee is paramount (organic dark chocolate ispretty good too…).

With all of that in mind, I would like to present an idea for some high octane birding in Costa Rica. This itinerary can be done the crazy way or with more time on your hands. Either way, I carefully constructed it to see a solid number of uncommon or rare species that frequent highland habitats and the southern Pacific slope of Costa Rica. It’s chock full of endemic/near endemic birds, this is how it goes:

Start in the Central Valley

No, not the birdiest of places but do it to save travel time to and from the airport and have a chance to look for Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow the day of arrival and the next morning. While checking for this endemic towhee, you will also run into various other common birds. Keep an eye on the skies for swifts, even Spot-fronted and White-chinned are possible (although they are a challenge to identify when flying high and being silent).

Stay in the right place and you could also pick up various dry forest species.

Irazu

Head to the mountains! Actually, a big volcano with some nice birds on top. On the way, try for Grass Wren and then spend the afternoon on the Nochebuena trails to look for Maroon-chested Ground-Dove and other high elevation species. Additional specialties include wood-partridge, Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl, Rough-legged Tyrannulet, Peg-billed Finch, Slaty Finch, and maybe Blue Seedeater too. If you enter the national park or bird in nearby paramo, you can also try for the junco and Timberline Wren Stay until it gets dark and you could look for Unspotted Saw-whet Owl too. If so, dress for November weather!

Hotel Quelitales

After Irazu, head to this newish site; a real hotspot with chances at Scaled Antpitta, Crested Owl, and other nice middle elevation birds! Hummingbirds are fantastic and the food and lodging are pretty darn good too. This is also a good base for birding Tapanti National Park.

Rancho Naturalista

After Quelitales, go to Rancho, one of the classic birding lodges of Costa Rica. It’s still really good and is an excellent place for Tawny-chested Flycatcher, Bicolored Hawk, and many other birds including Sunbittern and Snowcap. The elusive and weird piprites may be present as well as Lovely Cotinga. If not, they could be at other nearby sites. Other possible places in the area fit for lower budgets (and comfort) but with excellent birding include El Copal and La Marta.

One of the coquettes from Rancho…

With this itinerary, Rancho will also be your main chance for Caribbean slope species. To see some marsh and low elevation birds, do day trips to the Angostura area and sites between Turrialba and the lowlands.

Cerro de la Muerte

It’s time to head back into the mountains! Go up to the Cerro de la Muerte area to check the birding in the high elevation rainforest. There are several places to do this and see birds like Resplendent Quetzal, Spotted Wood-Quail, and all the highland endemics. The toughest ones are the pygmy-owl, the pewee, and the jay. Peg-billed Finch can be tough too.

The General Valley

Descending Cerro de la Muerte, Bosque Tolomuco can offer up some fine middle elevation birding. Further down, differents sites in the valley can turn up Turquoise Cotinga, Rosy Thrush-Tanager and lots of other new birds for the trip. If you have enough time, you can also try for Ocellated Crake, Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, and a few other specialties of the savanna habitats near Buenos Aires.

San Vito and or Ciudad Neily

If you want birds for your Costa Rica list like Lance-tailed Manakin and Ruddy Foliage-gleaner, you will need to visit San Vito. That’s not a bad thing, the birding is exciting and excellent! If you have enough time, the trip is worth it. If not, a trip to Panama or northern Colombia will get you a few of those same specialties.

Whether going to San Vito or not, Ciudad Neily is worth a visit! Not necessarily the town but you should visit the nearby open wetlands. This newish hotspot can turn up any number of odd rarities, can provide a good chance at Masked Duck, Paint-billed Crake and other rails, and local birds for Costa Rica like Red-rumped Woodpecker, Savanna Hawk, and some other species.

Masked Duck
Masked Duck from Costa Rica

Golfo Dulce

Just up the road from Neily are sites in and around the Golfo Dulce including the Osa. Pick some good ones and you can harvest a bonanza of southern Pacific endemics along with many other species of forest and edge habitats. The owling can also be very good (and provides your best chance at the local variety of Choco Screech-Owl (likely a distinct undescribed species), and Common Potoo is present.

The Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager only occurs in and around the Osa peninsula.

During your visit, make sure to check Rincon de Osa for cotingas, raptors, and other species.

North-Central Pacific

It’s a long drive from the Osa but now that we have a good coastal highway, the trip is worth it. There are also several good stops for food. I personally love Pizzatime and Bageltime (?) in Uvita but that might just be me missing some good old NYC pizza and bagels. Other nice food options also exist especially in the Jaco area.

Aside from food, as you make your way north, once you cross the Tarcoles River, there are several opportunities for dry forest species. Shorebirds are also possible especially at Punta Morales or Chomes (where Mangrove Rail also awaits).

Monteverde

To cap off the trip, spend some time in the cloud forests of the Monteverde area. You will have seen some of those birds at Quelitales but not all of them! Spend a couple nights there to connect with Ruddy Woodcreeper, bellbird (in season), and lots of other birds. You could also hike to more rugged sites on the Caribbean side of Monteverde to try for umbrellabird, Sharpbill, and the monklet.

After Monteverde, head back to the airport zone and celebrate a fantastic, mega birding trip with appropriate drinks and meals. How many birds will you see? That all depends on how much time you have and if you go with an excellent local guide. If all goes well, 500 species are possible but even if you don’t reach that high water mark, the birding will still be fantastic. Get ready for your fantastic Costa Rica birding trip with the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app and How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.

Soon, I will be doing a trip somewhat like this, I’ll let you know how it goes!

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Costa Rica Birding News, January, 2022

I can’t believe it’s 2022 but here we are! Time for a new year list, time to make some annual birding plans, maybe time to sit back and enjoy bird and biodiversity no matter where you may bring your bins. Here in Costa Rica, these are a few of the latest birdingworthy items.

Recent Pelagic in the Pacific Finds Band-rumped Storm-Petrel

A recent long range pelagic trip done by Wilfredo of Cabuya Birding didn’t find any new birds for Costa Rica but they did get close looks at an apparent Galapagos subspecies (or species) of Band-rumped Storm-Petrel. Although this species is expected and has been seen on some previous trips, it is rarely seen and little known in Costa Rican waters. What will they find next?

Recent Pelagic Trip in the Caribbean Finds Manx and Audubon’s Shearwaters

Another pelagic trip in late December found a rare Manx Shearwater in addition to more expected Audubon’s Shearwaters. Since the Audubon’s breeds on nearby islands in Bocas del Toro, they aren’t unexpected. The Manx Shearwater is another matter!

Results Published from Vital Study of Cabanis’s Ground Sparrow

The Cabanis’s Ground Sparrow is a Costa Rican endemic with much of its range in the heavily urbanized Central Valley. Given the seemingly uncommon nature of this bird with a very limited range where many areas of green space are under constant threat, natural history studies have been urgently needed. Now, thanks to years of efforts made by paper authors Roselvy Juárez, María de la Paz Angulo Irola, Ernesto M. Carman, and Luis Sandoval, crucial information needed to conserve this endemic towhee is available! See the paper here.

By following 21 pairs and carrying out various other studies and observations, they deduced territory size, what this bird requires, potential threats, and more. Hopefully, this important information can be used to create adequate plans to conserve this threatened species. Many thanks goes to the authors of this vital study.

Bare-necked Umbrellabird Still Being Seen at Centro Manu!

The umbrellabird that has been spending its non breeding time at centro Manu is still present. Hopefully it will still be there for the next month or so. To try and see it, contact Kenneth at Centro Manu.

Crested Owls with Cope

A day trip with local artist Cope has often been a good way to see roosting Crested Owl. However, because the owls move around, they are never guaranteed. Lately, participants on Cope’s tour have been lucky to see one or two of these roosting beauties. Let’s hope they keep using the same spot for the next two months!

Yellow-billed Cotingas and Tiny Hawk at Rincon de Osa

Yellow-billed and Turquoise Cotingas are still frequenting Rincon de Osa. They aren’t always present but you might find them if you keep scoping from the bridge. Another good spot to check is looking towards the hill next to the mangroves from the edge of the village. In late December, we noticed several males moving through this area.

Another bird to watch for is Tiny Hawk. On a visit in late December, we had two distant birds perched in and near mangroves visible from the bridge.

Crimson-backed Tanagers in Costa Rica

Lastly, an additional bird seems to have definitely made it onto the Costa Rica list. Although the Crimson-backed Tanager seen near Dominical was deemed to be a possible hybrid, views of a bird near Horquetas and another possible sighting elsewhere seem definitive. Based on these sightings, I would guess that this edge species from Panama is probably breeding in a few places somewhere in Costa Rica. How many more are in country? If you see one, please get a picture and eBird it!

More can always be said about birds in Costa Rica but that’s all for now. If you are visiting during the next month or so, I hope to see you in the field. Happy birding!

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2021 Birding in Costa Rica: Racing Past 700 Species

Today is December 31st, tomorrow is a brand new year. On the birding side of life, if you keep a year list, tonight is your final chance for new year birds. If you need owls and nightjars for 2021, you could make one final run, see if you can spotlight one last bird or two. If not, then you might as well celebrate one more trip around the sun, one more year of birding. I suggest a libation of your choice, high quality chocolate, and some excellent cheese (not necessarily in order and you can of course switch up those options for your preferred nibbling delights).

As the sun sets, I could still look for a few more birds. I know at least two species are within striking distance, maybe even 3 more species for 2021. But I’m not doing it. Having already set my year goals, unless I hear the call of a Barn Owl before midnight or catch an auditory wiff of a Tropical Screech-Owl at the last minute, those two won’t make it onto my year list. I’m totally fine with that because my birding strategies for a final push in December paid off; I am ending 2021 with 704 species for Costa Rica.

This Crested Owl tried to hide behind a fern but we still saw it! I heard more than a few of this choice bird in 2021.

Surpassing 700 species in a year of birding in Costa Rica isn’t easy, especially if you have other things you need to do, but if you know where to see birds in Costa Rica, have a good birding app for Costa Rica, and faithfully execute your birding plans, the goal is feasible. According to eBird, several other birders identified more than my 704 species! I guess I’m not surprised because I did miss several birds that I typically hear or see, often on more than one occasion over the coure of 12 months.

The fact that several birders saw or heard more than 700 species in a year shows how many birds are waiting in this incredible, birdy country. They also show the extent to which local birding knowledge has improved. EBird plays a big role but as with any place, the biggest thanks goes to local birders who spend the time in the field needed to broaden our understanding of bird distribution.

In November, thanks to the efforts of various local birders and folks whom I guided, my year list was close enough to 700 try and reach that goal in December. These are some of the places I visited to make that happen:

Cano Negro

The distinct birding aspects of Cano Negro paid off with 10 new year birds. These were species nearly impossible or tough to see elsewhere like Spot-breasted Wren, Nicaraguan Grackle, Yellow-bellied Tyarnnulet, Bare-crowned Antbird, and various others. I still missed some birds that I usually see in that rich mosaic of wetlands and rainforest but participating in the annual bird count still gave me a much needed push to reach 700.

A Few More Birds in Sarapiqui

There weren’t too many new birds waiting for me in the Caribbean lowlands but I still managed to add three year birds. These were a sweet Rufescent Tiger-Heron, a surprise Keel-billed Motmot, and overdue Hook-billed Kite.

Exploring the Poas Area

I end the year lacking a few key cloud forest birds but exploring the Poas area for future birding prospects was still worth it. My main reward was finding a rare for Costa Rica Black-and-White Becard. Seeing it while hearing the songs of a distant quetzal gives me hope that the same spot also harbors additional choice species.

Chasing Geese in Guanacaste

I ended up going to northern Costa Rica twice and I’m glad I did! I saw the mega Greater White-fronted Geese that edged up the official Costa Rica list by one more bird, the cooperative mega Lark Sparrow, and seven other year birds, These included a Spotted Rail giving its low pitched “drumming” calls, Soras flushing in a rice field as it was being harvested, strolling Limpkins that filled the marsh air with their odd vocalizations, their Snail Kite counterparts, and a bird I rarely get to see, Fulvous Whistling-Duck.

Southern Costa Rica

Most of all, a final trip to southern Costa Rica by way of Cerro de la Muerte gave me the birds needed to meet my goal. We took the mountain route so we could successfully stop for Grass Wren near Cartago, make a brief look for Silvery-throated Jays on the Providencia Road, stop in Bosque Tolomuco to pick up a hummingbird or two, and then check for Rosy Thrush-Tanager in the General Valley.

To make a story of a long day short, we saw the wren in all its pallid unobtrusive glory right away, saw quetzals and other birds but not the jay (and also met world birding couple Ross and Melissa Gallardy), spotted White-tailed Emerald at birdy, friendly Tolomuco, and had no sign of the thrush-tanager at one of its main sites (that’s not really a surprise).

Red-headed Barbet overlords tanagers at Tolomuco.

It was only two new birds in the mountains but when the year list comes down to the wire, every bird counts! Even so, it was more in the southern lowlands where most of my birding chances waited. It was in the rainforests and edge habitats where some common, expected species waited along with odd chances at various rare ones. Our birding began in Ciudad Neily where local birders had a key Savanna Hawk waiting for us in the scope!

We also had wonderful looks at most other specialty species from that site but since we had already seen them earlier in the year, our focus stayed on potential year birds like Red-rumped Woodpecker, Yellow-breasted Chat, Masked Duck, and a few others. The woodpecker showed very well on more than one occasion, the chat skulked but called and was briefly seen, and the duck just had too many places to hide.

We also had this Fork-tailed Flycatcher perch right next to the car- my kind of bird!

Over in and near Rincon de Osa, we did well with adding some of the common birds as well as getting distant looks at less common species like Tiny Hawk (!), Turquoise Cotinga (many thanks to Ross Gallardy for spotting a distant male and being generous with his scope), and Yellow-billed Cotinga. The expected Marbled Wood-Quails didn’t call nor did Baird’s Trogon or some other species but by December 28th, I got my 700th bird (which may have been one of the cotingas) and the next day, I added a few more.

The drive back was a long one but at least it gave us a chance to have lunch at PizzaTime in Uvita. Serious NYC style bagels and excellent pizza (and I kid you not, I appreciate good pizza so much, I usually make my own), it’s probably a good I don’t live closer to this tasty spot!

One more year down, another one starts tomorrow. I’ll keep a year list but I won’t try for 700. I’m not sure where my Costa Rica birding will take me but I hope you visit, I hope to see you here in this place of quetzals, mountain-gems, and more.

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Costa Rica Birding at Cinchona and Route 126: 3 Strategies

Birding as a kid in the 70s and 80s was about using cheap but precious binoculars to look at birds in the backyard, in nearby fields, and at state parks. It was about checking out and studying bird books in the public library and back at home, trying to see the differences among sparrows streaked with differents shades of brown, gazing at photos of Prairie Warbler, Indigo Bunting, and other birds (in books), and wondering how I could see them.

It was also about seeing how I could reach places outside of my backyard and joining local trips with an older birding crowd. I went on day trips with the Buffalo Ornithological Society and the Ranbow County Birders to local reserves to look for warblers in May, shorebirds in August, and migrating hawks in early spring. Living in Niagara, we had a fantastic gull trip and were fortunate to have Canadian friends that treated us to 9, even 10 owl species in a day in cold, snowy places. There were different levels of interest but the way we went birding was pretty much the same.

A trip usually started with a meeting time and place that tended to be a McDonald’s parking lot. That way, folks could use the restroom, get a coffee, and maybe a quick breakfast. Before GPS and associated modern digital wayfaring, the big golden arches came in handy as an easy and obvious point of reference. From our meeting spot, the trip leader would convoy us to our morning birding stops and we would watch birds, talk about how to identify them, and maybe look at some through scopes. We would check out field marks in field guides, maybe a Perterson or a Golden Guide. After the Nat. Geo. became available, that fantastic storehouse of updated birding knowledge took center stage. It was a huge help with identification, especially with gulls and shorebirds. We would bring our own lunches and at some later point, say our goodbyes and head back home.

This was how most birding trips were. It was birding without digital cameras, apps, nor any access to broader, collated information about sightings and advanced identification. In other words, birdwatching was just that; watching birds, and there was a big emphasis on field identification. There had to be. The birding community was still figuring out how to identify all sort of things and didn’t have any immediate picture taking devices to check the birds we had seen. Sometimes, people would bring print-outs of articles on identification. When Kenn Kaufman’s book on advanced bird identification was published, that fantastic resource also found a place in the car. Birding was often about getting good looks as fast as you could, knowing what to look for, taking notes and maybe making field sketches.

Since those pre Internet days, birding has evolved and expanded into a many-faceted hobby. The birding spectrum includes everything from watching birds to simply watch them and not worry much about their names, solely taking pictures of birds, and using every technolgical resource on hand to race and see as many species as possible. People also watch birds for other reasons but no matter how you go with the birding flow, in Costa Rica, everyone is welcome at the birding table.

Birds like the stunning Crimson-collared Tanager are waiting for you.

Costa Rica has enough birds and birding sites to please every aspect of the hobby. One of several choice areas to visit for any degree of birding or bird enjoyment or bird photography is Cinchona and Route 126. Situated around an hour or less from San Jose, this route provides access to several habitats, each of which have their fair share of birds. Cinchona is the name of a small settlement on that road where a small restaurant with a wealth of birds is located. It’s called the “Cafe Colibri” or “Mirador San Fernando“.

More than a dozen hummingbird species, tanagers, Black Guan, quetzal, Flame-throated Warbler and other highland endemics, Cinchona and Ruta 126 has enough birds and birding sites to please all aspects of birding. These are three strategies for a day of birding in this area, each tailored to a distinct manner of birding:

Focusing on Birds in Costa Rica and Not Much Else

I admit, this is the birding I have usually done, the birding I prefer to do because it pushes me to concentrate on my surroundings, to listen and look closer and become enveloped by natural surroundings. This type of full scale birding makes for some nature connection at its finest. If you bird like this on Ruta 126 and Cinchona, there are a couple of ways to start your long yet exciting day.

If you can’t sleep, at some pre-dawn hour, drive up the road towards Poas Volcano as far as you can go. Listen and look for Bare-shanked Screech-Owl and Dusky Nightjar. Keep an ear out for the less common tooting whistles of Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl and be aware that Unspotted Saw-whet might also occur up there (it has yet to be documented from Poas but you never know..).

Roosting Bare-shanked Screech-owls near Poas. This species is a common bird of highland habitats in Costa Rica.

From dawn to 9, get in roadside high elevation birding in that same area before making your way to Varablanca. Keep an eye out for Black Guan, quetzals, silky-flycatchers, and just about everything else. Make sure to stop at the Volcan Restaurant and enjoy a coffee and a snack while watching the hummingbird feeders. Still need Scintillant Hummingbird? Maybe Magenta-throated Woodstar? Check out the Porterweed bushes in the parking lot for the Corso farm.

When you reach Varablanca, make the turn towards Sarapiqui, drive downhill for a little bit and turn right on the San Rafael Road. Bird forest patches there and watch for Dark Pewee, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, and various other cloud forest species.

At some point, head back to Ruta 126 and keep driving downhill. You could make stops at the Peace Waterfall to look for American Dipper and and other species, and at one or more overlooks to watch for Ornate Hawk-Eagle and other soaring raptors.

Ornate Hawk Eagle is uncommon but regular in this area.

Arrive at Cinchona just before noon. If you visit on a weekend, the cafe could be crowded. From January to March, it might also be crowded with birders. Find a table, order some food and enjoy the avian show.

While keeping an eye out for both barbets, Black-bellied Hummingbird, and White-bellied Mountain-gem, don’t forget to check the undergrowth and nearby vegetation for surprise birds like a quail-dove or two, Middle American Leaftosser, Black-faced Solitaire, and other species. Make sure to support this important, birder friendly place with a donation.

Post Cafe Colibri, watch for perched Bat Falcon and soaring raptors as you continue driving downhill. For the rest of the afternoon, you can’t go wrong with birding Virgen del Socorro (four wheel drive), Mi Cafecito, and lower foothill birding on the San Miguel-Socorro Road. Checking streams could yield Faciated Tiger-Heron and other nice birdies.

Finish off the day by relaxing at Albergue del Socorro or further on in the Sarapiqui lowlands with a cold beer, or dinner, or counting the 100 plus species you have seen.

Bird Photography in Costa Rica

You still want an early start but unless you want to take a stab at capturing images of night birds, pre-dawn birding won’t be necessary. You might even want to stop for breakfast at Freddo Fresas. That way, you can also set up in their gardens just across the road.

birding Costa Rica

Although you can do bird photography on the road up to Poas, if you can, I suggest saving high elevation photography for places like Batsu or other spots in the Dota Valley. Whether you stop at Freddo Fresas or not, you may want to check out the hummingbird bushes in the parking area of the Corso farm and ice creamery. Further on, make your way down Ruta 126 towards Sarapiqui and on to Cinchona and spend a good few hours there. Make sure to buy lunch and also give them a donation of at least $10 per person. They may also charge a small photography fee. Whatever you do, please do what you can to support this important, fantastic, locally owned place. They have suffered tragedies, worked very hard to rebuild after being destroyed by an earthquake in 2009, and have supported birding and bird photography for many years.

Post Cinchona, keep an eye out for perched and soaring raptors on the drive downhill. The next best stop for photography would probably be Mi Cafecito. Although photo options vary, the area of the canyon overlook can have toucans, guans, tanagers, and other species at fruiting trees. Be careful on that cement trail, it can be very slippery!

After Mi Cafecito, head to your hotel in the Sarapiqui lowlands. To maximize photo opps, you may also want to skip Mi Cafecito altogether and visit Dave and Daves, or just shoot at your hotel.

Dave and Daves

Easy-Going Birding in Costa Rica

If you just feel like seeing whatever you can see, you should still get up early but you won’t need to rush out the door. If you are staying at a place like Villa San Ignacio, enjoy some nice easy birding in their gardens before and during a tasty breakfast. After that, drive up towards Poas and stop at Freddo Fresas to visit their gardens and perhaps buy some strawberry bread for an afternoon snack.

After checking out the gardens, continue on towards Varablanca and start driving downhill towards Sarapiqui on Ruta 126. Stop at one or two overlooks (with small parking areas), scan for flying raptors, and enjoy the scenery. Further on, if you feel like seeing various rescued wildlife in a somewhat zoo-like setting in beautiful surroundings and nice trails, visit the La Paz Waterfall Gardens (there is an entrance fee). If not, continue on, make an optional stop at the Peace Waterfall and then visit the Cafe Colibri at Cinchona.

The Cafe Colibri is a fantastic, reliable place for getting good shots of Silver-throated Tanager.

Pick a table, order some food and drinks, and enjoy the birds. Take your time and keep watching, see how many species you can find! You might also want to browse their souvenirs and pick out some quality organic chocolate before easing on down the road. Please give a donation to help support this special place.

Further downhill, if you feel like walking a short trail in foothill rainforest, visit Mi Cafecito and walk to the overlook (be careful of slippery trail conditions). This place is also an excellent spot to take a coffee tour. After Mi Cafecito, continue on or head back to your hotel.

No matter how you watch birds, in Costa Rica, there’s a heck of a lot to see. For example, on the route mentioned above, over the years, I have seen more than 330 species. You won’t see all of them there in one day, but you can expect to see a lot and if you visit the Cafe Colibri at Cinchona, the norm has been close, prolonged views of fantastic tropical bird species.

To learn more about birding routes in Costa Rica, sites, and how to find and identify more birds, prepare for your trip with How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica. I hope to see you here!

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Costa Rica Birding News December, 2021

December birding in Costa Rica is a blend of sun, wind, rain, and hundreds of bird species. A host of migrants add flavor to a speciose sampling of resident birds. The birding is fun, the birding is exciting, and its snowless. It will get cool in the highlands , especially when looking for Unspotted Saw-whet Owls, but you won’t see any of that frozen white stuff in a Costa Rica Christmas.

Instead, you can see tanagers, catch up with the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Baltimore Orioles that left the summer gardens up north.

Go birding and you can and will see a lot. Here’s some of what’s been happening in Costa Rica on the birding front, some of our December birding news:

Greater White-fronted Goose

This small group of adventurous waterfowl are still frequenting a rice field in Guanacaste. Many a local birder has enjoyed this early, unexpected Christmas gift. I hope they stick around much longer, most of all, long enough for us to see them too!

Lark Sparrow

This is what happens when one rare bird attracts a bunch of birders. More eyes in the field help find additional rare birds. This time, it was a Lark Sparrow seen right on the main road to Palo Verde National Park! There are very few records of this handsome little bunting-like species for Costa Rica and this seems to be the first twitchable individual. Once again, I hope it stays for a while, long enough for us to see it.

Manx Shearwater in the Pacific

I wasn’t expecting this one! In restrospect, I probably should have because there are several records from the Pacific, including from Panama. This choice species was seen during a pelagic trip from Cabuya and was well documented by several visiting and local birders. They also saw three White Terns along with several other more expected pelagic species. The pelagic birding trips in Costa Rica are kicking it! Who will document our first Bulwer’s Petrel? Our first Juan Fernandez Petrel or other deep sea Pterodroma? Those possibilities are why I included them on the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app. Several local birders are on a pelagic trip out today, what will they find?

A Day Total of 171 Species in Cano Negro, 176 in Sarapiqui

I’m not so sure if this qualifies as a newsworthy item but it’s still good to be reminded of how incredibly birdy Costa Rica can be. During the Cano Negro Bird Count on December 4th, during 12 hours of birding, our small team identified 171 species while birding from boat and just a little bit on foot. This is without doing any night birding, without running around to try for more birds, getting some rain, and without visiting a key lagoon that would have given us a few more species.

Yeah, I would say that’s pretty birdy! It not only shows how fun the birding can be in Costa Rica, but also how exciting the Cano Negro area is. You just keep seeing more and more birds, including highlights such as Snowy Cotinga, Sungrebe (we had 4 or 5), Yellow-tailed Oriole, a few good migrant warbler, Nicaraguan Grackles, and the list goes on…

snowy-cotinga
A Snowy Cotinga from another day at Cano Negro.

Not to be outdone, while birding in Sarapiqui a couple days later, we had 176 species! It was a full 12 hour day but once again, we didn’t do any serious running around to chase birds, had a good stop for lunch, and still missed some expected species.

The Costa Rica Birding Extravaganza

During the first week of December, several international birders were guided by Diego Quesada of Birding Experiences on a promotional trip that touched on birding in various spots. Highlights were many and included Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, Yellow-breasted Crake, Jabiru, Snowcap, and 400 plus other species. Us local birders are hoping that they will spread the news about the exciting and easy birding in Costa Rica.

Classic and New Sites Open for Business

Just a reminder that classic sites like Cinchona, national parks, Rancho Naturalista, Laguna del Lagarto, and other places are open and waiting for birders, and new sites like Nectar and Pollen are doing the same. The new sites are also a personal reminder that I need to update How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica. There’s nothing like getting close looks at beautiful tropical birds!

Health Protocols in Place and Followed

Also, just another reminder that in Costa Rica, health protocols of hand washing and mask wearing are widely followed and enforced (as in if you don’t wear a mask when entering a mall or other similar place, they won’t let you in). Vaccination is also pretty good with more than 63% of the population having had two doses and more than 70% with at least one dose. You can check out the shot progress here

If you are headd to Costa Rica soon, remember to study for your trip, bring an extra data card, and get ready for some fantastic birding. I hope to see you here!

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A Cold Front Brings a New Bird to Costa Rica

Winter in Costa Rica doesn’t arrive with snow squalls, white winged gulls and early nights. Located in tropical latitudes, I’m not even sure if I can call it winter. Ticos don’t. To them, it’s “summer” because, for much of the country, December marks the beginning of a pleasant, sunny dry season. The “winter” is from April on through November; when we get all of that rain.

Yorkin-rainforest-2
The forests need all of that rain.

To be honest, we still get plenty during other months of the year, especially on the Caribbean slope. It’s why heavy rains are a frequent accompaniment to Christmas Counts at Arenal and La Selva, why a small umbrella is essential gear for a birding trip to Costa Rica no matter when you travel. I won’t knock the rain though, it’s a main reason why we also have such an abundance of biodiversity and birds.

Speaking of all things avian and getting back to winter, since these are the winter months of the northern hemisphere, Costa Rica does see some cooler weather in December and January. It’s mostly in the mountains, it happens with cold fronts and it can also bring birds. No winter finches this far south but we do get other species, the ones us local birders we hope to see are ducks, sparrows, and waxwings, maybe a Yellow-rumped Warbler, maybe something super rare.

Based on some recent sightings, if the trend continues, it looks like this winter could end up being one of the best seasons for rare birds we have ever had. Well, at least for local birders. If you will be taking a birding tour to Costa Rica or visiting to bird Costa Rica on your own, our “rare birds” probably won’t float your boat but no worries, the resident species will be waiting for you!

Hepefully, you will get a chance to check out the Easter colors of a White-bellied Mountain-gem.

We like those fancy resident birds too but the species we run to see, that we twitch, are analogous to species local birders twitch in other places. They are birds that visit Costa Rica once in a blue moon or are even new for the country list. One such species is the latest star of the local birding show. It’s a goose and I was not expecting it! Even though I included more than 60 potential species for Costa Rica on the latest version of the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, the Greater White-fronted Goose was not one of them.

Yep, you read that right. A Greater White-fronted Goose. In Costa Rica. A bird that brings me back to cold March mornings in western New York when we would scan the large flocks of Canada Geese for one or two White-fronteds. A bird of other places than Costa Rica.

Since there is at least one record for Belize, maybe I should have had the Arctic migrant in mind as a potential addition for the Costa Rica bird list. I thought other new additions would happen first but the Greater White-fronted Goose beat them to it. It’s not officially accepted for the Costa Rica bird list yet but the five birds found at the Las Trancas rice fields on November 29th are sure acting like wild ones. Five together whose appearance may have coincided with the arrival of a northern cold front, and with no signs of anyone keeping them in these here parts, I think there’s a very good chance these are the real, non-domestic deal.

Fortunately, several local birders have already seen them. Unfortunately, we have not and since work has begun in the fields where they are being seen, it doesn’t seem likely they will stick around until we get up that way. If they do leave that spot, hopefully, they won’t go too far and we can also witness a seriously out of place species for Costa Rica.

The other main vagrant will be even less exciting for birders from the north but around here, this species is one heck of a rarity. Costa Rica’s first twitchable Chipping Sparrow is hanging out at an organic farm in the Talamancas. Several local birders can now claim it for their country lists and with luck, it will stay long enough for many others to see it too.

I’m not sure if I’m going to chase that one but then again, it never hurts go birding is in the mountains of Costa Rica. Beautiful scenery, wonderful birding, and fantastic coffee. Life can be good!

Another reason to always go birding, to always pay close attention to every bird is because other super rare species are waiting to be found, perhaps more so this year. They are out there, some vagrant sparrow could easily be skulking in some fallow, unbirded field. Today, birders in Panama added Red-breasted Merganser to the country list! Since two rare for Costa Rica Herring Gulls were also seen today in Tortuguero, I bet the recent cold front has brought some other lost or adventurous birds to this birdy nation.

Since we have more local birders in Costa Rica now than ever before, let’s hope that more of the rare ones turn up and stay long enough for local birders to find and see them. I wonder what else is out there waiting to be found?

Many thanks goes to Ruzby Guzamn Linares for discovering the mega goose and sharing the information.

Many thanks goes to Adrian Alvarado Rivera for the Chipping Sparrow.