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Birding Costa Rica caribbean foothills caribbean slope Introduction

Unpredictable Birding in Costa Rica at Quebrada Gonzalez

Costa Rica is in the tropics and every time I go birding I am reminded of this fact. Sure the rays of the sun are more intense than in western New York, winter just doesn’t exist (yay!), and there are a heck of a lot of bird species flitting around this place but that’s not what I am referring to. I know I am birding in the tropics because it’s just so darn unpredictable and this is especially the case for birding in complex habitats such as the foothill forests at Quebrada Gonzalez.

You can go birding in the primary forests of this site one day, come back the next and see a whole different set of bird species. It can be a bit frustrating if you only have one day to work with and want to see a Yellow-eared Toucanet, Sharpill, and Lattice-tailed Trogon but it ensures that when you go birding at Quebrada Gonzalez, you are bound to see something good. And if you go to the place two or three days in a row, you can bet that you will be in for some seriously exciting birding. For example, if you miss Emerald Tanager or only see some small green thing way up in the canopy on the first day, there is a pretty good chance that it will be inspecting the underside of mossy twigs at eye level height the following day.  Or if the rains keep the hawk-eagles from flying on Sunday, they might show with sunny weather on Monday.

The fact that you just never know what’s going to show up at Quebrada Gonzalez was emphasized once again this past weekend. To give you an idea of how different things can be from one day to the next, here are some similarities and contrasts between a full day of guiding with rain in the afternoon on Sunday and a sunny Monday morning of birding with Michael Retter, a friend of mine who just finished guiding a couple of excellent tours in Costa Rica for Tropical Birding:

Short-tailed Hawk– It didn’t show on rainy Sunday but made a brief appearance on sunny Monday.

Ornate Hawk-Eagle– It just couldn’t resist that sunny weather on Monday to soar high above the forest and give its distinctive call. A good bird for 2011!

Barred Forest-Falcon- While watching birds at a fruiting tree on the ridge part of the Las Palmas trail on Monday, a juvenile of this secretive species suddenly appeared and departed just as quickly. Although it didn’t catch anything, the small birds in the fruiting tree were pretty freaked out and gave alarm calls for the next ten minutes. An even greater bird for 2011!

Brown-hooded Parrots – I record this species in flight on every visit. On Monday, it was the usual flyovers but on Sunday, we started off the day by getting nice views of this rainforest species as they perched in the tops of some dead branches just behind the ranger station.

birding Costa Rica

This Brown-hooded Parrot was at Laguna del Lagarto but they look the same at Quebrada Gonzalez.

Trogons- Lattice-tailed Trogon was calling on both days but we only saw it on Monday. We also heard Black-throated and saw Slaty-tailed on Sunday.

Motmots- Broad-billed called and showed well on Sunday but was “replaced” on Sunday by a Rufous!

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Broad-billed Motmots sometimes let you get pretty close.

Woodpeckers- Rufous-winged called on Sunday but was hidden by the dense canopy foliage. On Monday, the same thing happened with a Cinnamon. On a side note, any use of the word “Cinnamon” on this website could refer to a becard or woodpecker but will have no connection whatsoever to rolls or pastries.

Striped (Western) Woodhaunter– Heard but not seen on both days. Laughing at us birders from the shadows of the forest?

Woodcreepers– The most common woodcreepers at this site, Spotted and Wedge-billed, were seen on both days while Northern Barred made an appearance on Sunday and Brown-billed Scythebill was heard but not seen on Monday.

Russet Antshrike– Seen on both days. If you find a mixed flock, this common species is more or less guaranteed at Quebrada.

Streak-crowned Antvireo– Briefly seen on both days but they were as quiet as an art gallery at 2 in the morning.

Dull-mantled Antbird– Not seen on either day but frequently encountered on other occasions.

Black and white Becard– A first record for me on Monday of this uncommon species at Quebrada Gonzalez! One female was hanging out with a motley crew of tanagers and Baltimore Orioles in the canopy. Super good year bird!

White-ruffed Manakin– Dapper males seen on both days.

Eye-ringed Flatbill–  Bespectacled and wide-billed, this is one of the nerdier looking flycatchers. I usually don’t see it at this site so it was interesting to get it on both days.

Nightingale Wren– Several serenaded us on Sunday but they must have taken the day off from singing on Monday.

Brown-capped Vireo– My first record for this cloud forest species at Quebrada Gonzalez on Sunday. Maybe it went back upslope on Monday because it hates sunny weather.

Tropical Parula– A few heard on both days. I don’t get this species very often at Quebrada as it seems to prefer forests at slightly higher elevations.

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Tiny Tropical Parulas get dwarfed by large tropical leaves.

Tanagers– Pretty good mixed flocks on both days although most birds were way up in the canopy. White-throated Shrike, Emerald, Black and yellow, and Speckled all showed well but the Silver-throateds seem to have moved back upslope. Blue and gold only appeared on Monday but Ashy-throated Bush, Common Bush, and Bay-headed only turned up on Sunday.

Black-faced Grosbeak– Lots of these livened up the forest on both days!

In conclusion, if you are headed to Quebrada Gonzalez, it’s kind of hard to say what you will run into. I have tried to make sense of this forest for years but have found that there are just too many variables involved to make many predictions about what you are going to see. I suppose the most accurate birding forecast I could give for the place is just that no matter what time of year you go, you are bound to see something good!

Birding Costa Rica Introduction

Birding the La Selva entrance road, Costa Rica

The OTS (Organization for Tropical Studies) station, “La Selva” is one of the most famous research centers for studying tropical ecosystems in the world. It is located near Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui in the north Caribbean lowlands of Costa Rica and protects 1,600 hectares (3,900 acres)of primary and secondary lowland forest. With so much of the lowlands already deforested and La Selva a 2 hour drive from San Jose, its lowland rain forests are also some of the most accessible in Costa Rica.

Being that it is a research station first, ecotourism site second, they charge an entrance fee that unfortunately isn’t as low as its elevation. It costs over $30 for a guided walk (guide necessary), more for overnight stays. At least early birding walks are offered and the guides are top notch. Meals are pretty costly though especially for being quite basic ($12 for lunch!). Most unfortunately, the rates are the same for Costa Rican residents. Since the average wage in Costa Ricais far less than wages of most visitors, guess who has little incentive to visit La Selva and learn about the wonders of the rain forest? Guess who is more likely to continue with beliefs that rain forest, although pretty useless, is for some weird reason valuable to rich foreigners? I am guessing and hoping that OTS probably has a community outreach program with free guided visits for local school groups. If they don’t, they better start since it is the local people who ultimately decide how natural resources are preserved, used, or obliterated.

Oh yes, since this post is supposed to be about birding the entrance road, though, I better start writing about that! If you don’t want to bird the reserve proper, people in the past have often had good birding along the access road. I visited the road for a few hours last week and the birding is not just good; it has improved! I saw more forest based species than in the past; especially in the vicinity of the stream crossing. Activity was good all morning (I recorded nearly 80 species) and I hope to get back there soon- not just because I love a morning of good birding but also because workers were building what looked like a kiosk just past the entrance to the road. I won’t be surprised at all if this structure ends up being something to control access to the entrance road itself which will probably mean goodbye to the good birding there unless you want to pay an exhorbitant entrance fee. I will keep readers posted about that. Meanwhile, enjoy these pics of the fine morning I had along the La Selva entrance road:

The view of a road with great tropical birding

Grey-capped Flycatchers are a common sight in the humid lowlands.

One usually sees Plain-brown Woodcreepers at antswarms. Woodcreepers are actually not that toigh to ID if you get a good look at the head. Note the straight bill and near lack of markings on Plain-brown. Got lucky with this at the stream crossing along with…

Black-throated Trogon,

a beautiful Broad-billed Motmot,

and best of all, Rufous-winged Woodpecker!

The Woodpecker is a pretty uncommon sight. I also had flyover Double-toothed Kite, a small kettle of Broad-winged Hawks and several Ospreys steadily flapping their way southeast towards the same place I would go for winter; the Caribbean.

Other highlights and interesting sightings were Pied Puffbird calling across from the bus stop, flyover Brown-hooded Parrots, good looks at lots of Yellow Tyrannulets, both Yellow-Olive and Yellow-Margined Flycatchers, Rufous-tailed Jacamar,

very close looks at Cinnamon Becard

and a big flock of both Oropendola species rummaging through and ravaging the bromeliads and foliage in their search for arthropodic delights.

Sightings weren’t just limited to birds; I also saw this Two-toed Sloth,

and Green Iguana as well as Howler Monkeys.

Like I said, I hope to get back there soon!