It’s late March and we are at the tail end of the high season for birding in Costa Rica. April will still bring a good number of birders but, as with previous years, most birding trips to Costa Rica happen during the first three months of the calendar year. If you do happen to be visiting Costa Rica in April, you are in luck because the fourth month is a fantastic time for birding. It might even be the best time to bring the binos to this beautiful, birdy nation.
April is high time for our spring migration and although the warblers and other migrants won’t be singing like they do up north, this month features large numbers of swallows, Chimney Swifts, Eastern Kingbirds, Red-eyed Vireos, raptor migration, and other birds that winter in South America. This impressive spectacle of migration adds a nice cherry on top of a birding cake flavored with hundreds of resident bird species.
With that in mind, let’s start recent birding news with some tips on the best sites for spring migration in Costa Rica.
- Tortuguero– Situated on the Caribbean coast, this national park also sits smack in the middle of a flyway that features millions of birds. Watch the skies for flocks of kingbirds, swifts, swallows, and raptors as well as other odd birds making their way north. When I visit, I also check the coastal scrub and gardens in the village for small migrants like warblers, the occasional cuckoo, and various other species, and the beach for shorebirds and occasional pelagic species.
- Cahuita-Manzanillo– This general area is also excellent for migration and a wonderful area to mix migrant birds with fantastic birding in lowland rainforest. The seabirding seems better at Tortuguero but it’s still worth scoping the ocean around here too. I have seen Brown Noddy, Bridled Tern, and a jaeger or two, and other species are certainly possible.
- Sarapiqui– Another classic site for lowland rainforest, it can also be very good during migration. Although there won’t be any seabirding, you might find Cerulean Warbler, flocks of Scarlet Tanagers, a river of raptors, and several other species.
- Puntarenas and the Gulf of Nicoya– Puntarenas is a good place to do some seawatching and look for migrant terns and other species. Mud flats and other sites on the Gulf of Nicoya also act as important stopover sites for shorebirds.
In other birding news, here are some other items of interest for birding Costa Rica:
Gullmania in Puntarenas– Costa Rica isn’t really known for gull watching and with good reason. Although a good number of Laridae are on the official bird list for Costa Rica, most are vagrants, even bird species like Herring Gull and Ring-billed Gull. Our regular species only include Laughing Gull, migrant Franklin’s Gulls, and various terns.
Given the lack of birding coverage along extensive coastlines, inaccessible shrimp ponds, and other gullish sites, I bet more gulls visit Costa Rica than we realize. Not a huge number by any means but choice rarities surely slip by and over our local birding RADAR; we just don’t have enough people putting in the hours. However, we do have enough focused birders to come up with some really good finds. One of the best was a Heerman’s Gull at Puntarenas! A first year bird discovered by Daniel and Robert Garrigues, and Daniel Fernandez Duarte is the first officially documented record for Costa Rica. This species has been on my personal birding RADAR for some time, it’s great to see that one was found and that it has also stayed long enough to be seen by a number of local birders (my partner and I included).
The Heerman’s will probably be Costa Rica’s “best bird” of 2023 but, even better, it came with two consolation prizes; a Herring Gull and Ring-billed Gull in the same area! For many local birders, all three of these species were key lifers. Once again, it pays to bird Puntarenas.
Pacific Golden-Plover in Puntarenas- What was I just saying about Puntarenas? A very rare migrant Pacific Golden-Plover was found by local guide Beto Guido during a recent visit. It was with two American Golden-Plovers and although they seem to have flown north, the Pacific has stayed for several more days. As of March 26th, it was still present. Look for it on the beach and jetties from the lighthouse to parts of the beach east of the jetties.
8 quetzals in a day at and near Poas– Most birders visit the Dota Valley or Monteverde for their fill of quetzals but the ultra fancy birds also live in other places. I don’t always see or hear them on Poas but have a pretty good success rate. Last week, though, was exceptional with two quetzals heard on Poas and at least 6 (maybe more) heard and seen at a site near Varablanca.
Speckled Mourner seen!– This odd little bird is one of the rarest resident species in Costa Rica. With very few confirmed sightings, and not really knowing what they need for survival in Costa Rica, we really have no idea how many still occur in the country. On a high note, a bird was seen and photographed by a local birder and biologist at a site within the Guanacaste Dry Forest Conservation Fund Area (which also protects important rainforest and cloud forest habitats). This important sighting hints at the quality habitats protected by the fund and (along with the 2017 Harpy Eagle sighting) provides further impetus to explore and bird sites around those remote northern volcanoes.
Bellbirds near San Ramon- Lastly, the bellbirds are back at sites near San Ramon. Last week, we had excellent views of a calling male near the end of Calle Chaves, the Pagan Poetry Bed and Breakfast road. It’s four wheel drive only but the trip might be worth it. The bellbirds at this and other sites near there do move around but might still be possible until May or June.
These are some of the latest local birding news items and with dozens of birding hotspots, I could always say more. Learn more about where to watch birds in Costa Rica with my 900 plus page, recently updated ebook, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. I hope to see you here!