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biodiversity Birding Costa Rica identification issues Introduction

Where to see Becards when Birding in Costa Rica

Almost everywhere is what comes to mind after writing the title for this post. No matter which woods you walk, riparian forest you frequent, or mangrove boat tour you take, you have a fair chance of running into a becard species or two when watching birds in Costa Rica. The becard experience in Costa Rica is quite the contrast from that of the ABA listing region (essentially Canada and the USA). Up in those temperate latitudes, North American birders consider themselves fortunate to run into the only becard species in town and to get that Rose-throated bird, they have to look for it in either southeastern Arizona or southernmost Texas.

Head south of the border, though, and these lunky-headed tropical birds become a regular feature of the avian scene. Formerly considered to be cotingas, lumped with flycatchers, and mysteriously categorized as “Incertae sedis”, becards have finally come into their own by being placed in the recently recognized Tityridae family. There are five species of becards in Costa Rica and you have a good chance of running into most when visiting this country on a birding trip. It pays to be familiar with becards before birding in Costa Rica to avoid being tricked into believing that you are espying some weird-looking antshrike or funny flycatcher. Here is a run-down on the Costa Rican reps of these funky little birds:

1. Rose-throated Becard (Pachyramphus aglaiae): That’s right, you don’t need to bird the northern fringe of the tropical zone in Texas or Arizona to see this one. Come to Costa Rica and you will get your fill of Rose-throated Becards when birding most Pacific Slope sites. The subspecies here lacks a rose throat so if you really want to see that pretty patch of magenta, you need to see them north of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (at least I think that’s the case).  Some rose-throated birds actually do winter in and migrate through the Caribbean slope in Costa Rica but they are pretty rare. Whistle like a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl in places like Cerro Lodge, riparian zones in dry forest, around the HQ at Carara or at the University of Peace and a pair of Rose-throated Becards will probably show up. Or, just watch birds in the Pacific slope lowlands and foothills and you will probably see some.

Male Rose-throated Becards are almost featureless.

birding Costa Rica

Female Rose-throated Becards are nice-looking birds.

2. Cinnamon Becard (Pachyramphus cinnamomeus): A bit smaller than the Rose-throated Becard, this handsome species is common on the Caribbean slope. It’s also fairly common in mangroves on the Pacific slope. Look for this rufousy little guy along rivers, in second growth, and at forest edge. It sometimes joins mixed flocks of edge species but is just as often seen on its own. I won’t even name sites because there should be a pair or two at just about every edge habitat in the Caribbean lowlands and foothills.

birding Costa Rica

Cinnamon Becard from near La Selva.

3. White-winged Becard (Pachyramphus polychopterus): This third one is the other most common becard species in Costa Rica. It’s one of those really widespread neotropical species that usually occurs in forest edge habitats. In Costa Rica, it can also show up inside rain forest but you usually find it at the edge or in semi-open areas. I have had them in moist forest near the University of Peace and around Cerro Lodge but they seem to be most common in gardens and at the edge of lowland rainforest. Although they aren’t as obvious as Rose-throated Becards, when you learn their plaintive vocalizations, you realize how common and widespread this species actually is. Watch for this cool-looking becard at any humid, lowland site. I often see them with mixed flocks in Carara and get them at just about any place where I expect them to occur (think any forest edge habitat in the humid lowlands).

birding Costa Rica

Male White-winged Becard from the Chilamate area.

birding Costa Rica

Female White-winged Becard from the Chilamate area. No, not the greatest picture but realistic in that this is how it might look through your binos.

4. Barred Becard (Pachyramphus versicolor): And now for one of the uncommon becards. In Costa Rica, this attractive species is much less common than the trio above but it’s still regular in many areas. It loves to vocalize and hearing the distinctive sound emitted by the Barred Becard is typically how I find this species. When you do hear one, you also know that a mixed flock is somewhere in the neighborhood because it is rarely seen away from groups of foraging birds. Look for it in highland forest sites like Tapanti, Cerro de la Muerte, or Poas. I actually see Barred Becard just about every time I bird humid forest above 1,500 meters. If you see one or two, don’t be surprised when it looks small and bar-less. That impression is influenced by the fact that they are actually quite small (a whopping 5 inches), usually stay high in the trees, and have faint barring in spite of their name.

birding Costa Rica

A wonderfully cooperative male Barred Becard near the La Paz waterfall.

birding Costa Rica

It’s slightly shyer mate.

5. Black and white Becard (Pachyramphus albogriseus): Last and definitely the rarest, this species is a tough one to get in Costa Rica. It’s much more common in western Ecuador (and probably western Colombia) so if you really want to see one, go birding there. However, if you just have to get this one for your Costa Rican list, try looking for it at El Toucanet Lodge, Quebrada Gonzalez, El Copal, or Tapanti. It doesn’t seem to be common anywhere but I have had it at those sites. To give an example of how sneaky this species is, at El Toucanet, although I heard a few singing at dawn, I didn’t see them during the day despite spending most of my time birding in the same area. When I have seen them, they have been both on their own and with mixed flocks. They are probably seasonal at Quebrada since they appear to move up and down slope (interesting for a supposed insectivore- maybe they are eating more fruits than is thought).

Sorry, no photos of this one but they are still pretty easy to identify with a good look.

Want to see becards while birding in Costa Rica but aren’t sure where to look? I am available to guide you and would be happy to show you becards and hundreds of other bird species in Costa Rica.

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!