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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica dry forest

The Tambor Christmas Bird Count, 2020

Several CBCs take place in Costa Rica and I have participated in most of them at one time or another. However, a few have been missing from my personal count repertoire, one of those being the Tambor Bird Count, an event that has taken place since 2012. Organized by Juan Carlos Cruz of the Tambor Tropical resort, and Ruth Rodriguez of Rainforest Publications and Raptor Ridge, this count has provided valuable data about bird populations and has helped promote birding in one of the least birded parts of the country.

The Nicoya Penisula doesn’t often find itself on the itineraries of birders visiting Costa Rica because not only does getting there involve a bit of a detour from the usual birding circuit, but also because few people know about the quality birding in that area. On January 4th, accompanied by Mary and her daughter Samantha, I finally got the chance to help count birds near Tambor in the southern Nicoya Peninsula and in doing so, get a good taste of what sort of birding this part of the country can offer. Since I was always impressed with the habitat on the few occasions when I had birded the area in the past, it was exciting to head back and take part in an official count. These were some of the highlights and happenings:

The ferry ride

Knowing what might show at any time in the Gulf of Nicoya, for me, the boat ride between Puntarenas and Paquera is always a highlight. On January 3rd, although the boat was full of folks heading to the peninsula for vacation and didn’t leave until 9 a.m., we still managed to see a few birds looking between and through the other passengers. The best happened while waiting to put the car on the ferry. While casually scanning the water from shore, I could hardly believe it when a Black Storm-Petrel materialized in my field of view! I have seen this and two other species of storm-petrel a few other times from the point at Puntarenas, always where the inner gulf meets the outer gulf but finding one of these special marine birds is always an unexpected treat. From the point and looking past the many people on the boat itself, we also had looks at Sandwich, Black, and Elegant Terns, two Common Terns, and one Least Storm-Petrel that was working a drift line.

Nice organization

The count was wonderfully organized and had eager groups of birders counting on several different routes. During the count meeting at Tambor Tropical, after enjoying a delicious welcome drink in the form of a coconut flavored cocktail, Juan Carlos and Ruth told us about the history of the count and how they have been promoting birding and the conservation of Scarlet Macaws in the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula. And yes, Scarlet Macaws are doing very well in that area, we saw them every day!

Curu Wildlife Refuge

Our count route included the Curu Wildlife Refuge, a large hacienda that protects tropical dry forest, mangroves, and other habitats along with a beautiful beach. It was the beach that drew the many day visitors we saw but Curu is also an excellent site for birding. While walking the main road and a few trails, we had more than 80 species including such birds as Collared Aracari, Northern Scrub Flycatcher, Mangrove Vireo, White-necked Puffbird, Double-striped Thick-Knee, and others. Although we did not get lucky with the elusive and rare Pheasant Cuckoo, nor any quail-doves, these birds have been found at Curu in the past.

Nice, easy birding

Overall, the Tambor area was nice, easy birding. There were plenty of forest, edge, and coastal habitats easily accessed on any number of roads, and many species are possible including Elegant Trogon, occasional Plain Chachalaca, and Scarlet Macaws among many other common dry forest species.

Limited choices for food

If you do visit the area, be prepared for fairly limited dining options. There are a few good options at Tambor and many more in Montezuma but don’t expect much between Tambor and Paquera!

Raptor Ridge

A visit to this exciting site was a fantastic way to begin the year because I heard about Raptor Ridge for some time and seen photos of various birds from there. So, with anticipation, we accepted an invitation from Larry Langstrom, Ruth Rodriguez, and their daughter to stay the night at this special place and found ourselves heading up a track into the hills above the Tambor area.

The stunning view from Raptor Ridge.

Although we didn’t have time to bird the road in, it goes through nice habitat where others have seen quite a few species. At Raptor Ridge itself, we were treated to near constant views of Painted Buntings and other birds visiting a small water feature at the edge of the forest. Since some of those other birds included Long-tailed Manakin, Olive Sparrow, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Yellow-billed Cacique, and Worm-eating Warbler, a birder can’t go wrong in sitting back and watching what comes in!

One of the many Painted Buntings, the most common species at the water feature.

At the same time, fruiting trees planted by Larry and Ruth also brought in Western Tanagers, Philadelphia Vireos, and other species while in keeping with the name of the place, King Vultures were seen at close range and we also recorded such other raptors as Collared Forest Falcon, Laughing Falcon, Gray Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, and White Hawk. The nocturnal raptor scene was replete with Mottled Owl, a distant heard only Black-and-white Owl, and a fantastic close look at a Middle American Screech-Owl!

One of those King Vultures!

As for the count, our total of 80 plus species was part of a grand total of more than 230 including several pelagic species seen from a boat taken out by Wilfredo “Pollo” Villalobos of Cabuya Birdwatching, and such species as Plain Chachalaca, Northern Potoo, Elegant Trogon, and other birds seen by the many other participants. It goes without saying that much of the success of the count happened thanks to organization along with local birders like Ruth, Juan Carlos, Pollo, and Ariel Rojas Cruz who knew just where to find Rufous-necked Wood-Rail. I look forward to visiting this beautiful area again and hope to see it added to the official ICT Costa Rica bird route.

biodiversity Birding Costa Rica

The 2019 Christmas Bird Count Season in Costa Rica

December is here and in the Central Valley of Costa Rica, we know it by the quick change from rainy days to sunnier, more windy weather. As with the USA and Canada, this final month of the year is also synonymous with Christmas music, the hoods of cars adorned with red reindeer noses, and vehicles topped with tied down, freshly cut conifers as they bring home “the tree” (in Costa Rica, a small Guatemalan Cypress). Us local birders also know that December has arrived by the announcements and preparations being made for our annual Christmas Counts!

In Costa Rica, these annual counts aren’t just times when birders organize to count the birds within a given radius. Many counts in Costa Rica have evolved into mini birding events that promote local enterprise, community, and conservation. Although some of the counts occur outside of the official National Audubon Christmas Count time frame, we do them anyways because, well, any time of the year is a good time to celebrate birds! One such count was recently held at Cangreja National Park, a little visited area in central Costa Rica where Sunbitterns lurk in the shade of forested waterways and Blue-crowned Manakins twitter from the understory.

A picture of Cangreja from last year’s count.

Thanks to support from the Asociacion de Ornitologia de Costa Rica and others, several people from the community near the national park took part in a birding course and helped count birds on the day of the count. I wish we could have made it to that one but work and other responsibilities took precedence. Nor can we do all of the counts taking place this month but we will at least focus on birds at a few.

Similar to past counts, the schedule will probably involve a pre-counting meeting where the organizers go over the routes, provide a talk, and have everyone introduce themselves while we eat a meal together. During the night, some will likely run out there at midnight to look and listen for nocturnal species while we try to get some sleep. On count day, we will be up somewhere around 4 to try for some night birds before getting into counting mode on our respective routes. This will last for much of the day with a break for a boxed lunch before everyone meets in the evening to go over the results. The following day, many of the counters will get in another fun morning of birding, maybe even chasing rarities discovered on count day.

I could go for a nice close look at an Ochre-breasted Antpitta.

I hope we pick up some year birds, I know we will see and hear a lot, and it will be fun to hang out with and share the birding life with other local birders.

If you are in Costa Rica now or will be here in December and want to participate in any of the counts, this is a list of the counts taking place with contact information. Since several of these counts fill up, contact the organizers sooner rather than later! Wishing you lots of birds no matter where you end up counting them this December, 2019!

R.N.V.S. Caño Negro
December 5, 2019
[email protected]

Arenal National Park
December 7, 2019
[email protected]

La Selva Biological Station
December 14, 2019
[email protected]

XXVI Monteverde Count
December 14, 2019

Pacífico Central Carara
December 16, 2019

Cloud Forests of San Ramón
20 and 21 of December, 2019
[email protected]

Osa Península and Corcovado
December 21, 2019

The Rainforest Aerial Tram Bird Count
December 21, 2019
Alan Rodríguez [email protected]  or Luis Diego Castillo [email protected]

Santa Rosa National Park Bird Count
December 28, 2019
Frank Joyce [email protected] and María M. Chavarria Diaz [email protected]

Volcán Cacao Bird Count
December 30, 2019
Frank Joyce [email protected] and María M. Chavarria Diaz [email protected]

Nicoya Peninsula
January 12, 2020
[email protected], [email protected]

Chirripó National Park
January 30, February 1 and 2, 2020
Enzo Vargas Salazar [email protected]

​Tortuguero National Park
February 1 and 2, 2020

La Amistad International Park
March 6, 7 and 8, 2020

[email protected]