web analytics
Birding Costa Rica preparing for your trip

Costa Rica = Easy Fantastic Birding

I haven’t spent much time birding lately. Now is when the guiding season reaches a low point, and by chance, now is also when I have been working on other projects. I am still grateful though, and I still see birds. I step through the front door and swifts pattern the skies every morning. Chestnut-collareds forage over a mango tree and nearby coffee farms along with three or four species of swallows, Vaux’s Swift, White-collared Swift, and one of those non-vocalizing Cypseloides. That’s what we call Spot-fronted and White-chinned Swifts most of the time, or, at least when they don’t vocalize and fly too high up there to see the pattern on their faces.

One of those friendly neighborhood Chestnut-collared Swifts. 

Right out the front door they are along with a Lesson’s Motmot or two, Brown Jays, a flock of Crimson-fronted Parakeets, handsome Hoffmann’s Woodpeckers (aren’t most woodpeckers handsome?) and other birds. This morning, Baltimore Orioles chattered from brushy trees. New arrivals and now here for the winter duration. May they thrive and fly all the way back to breed. The same goes for Yellow, Tennessee, and Chestnut-sided Warblers all here now and just outside the door. At times, I hear the calls of a Short-tailed Hawk from high overhead, that’s one of our common hawks. Other times, I detect the audible presence of one of the other common raptors, the Gray Hawk. And at night, I hear the occasional shriek of a Barn Owl canvassing the neighborhood, keeping the rat numbers down.

These, just outside, and I’m not even birding and that’s partly why Costa Rica is easy fantastic birding (EFB if you will). There’s a lot of green space, there are beautiful tropical forests, and because this country is not one of the bigger nations of our world, it’s all within arms reach. A few arguments for Costa Rica being synonymous wth EFB:

Easy to visit– Folks who live in southern Canada or much of the eastern USA can get here on one or two flights, usually six hours flight time at most. Yeah, that’s all! Before you know it, you are here and the list is 920 plus species. There are plenty of choices for accommodation and good infrastructure for tourism. As testament to this, I know many birders who visit Costa Rica over and over. They saw how easy it was to visit, the great birding is impossible to ignore and so they just keep coming back.

Because Northern Emerald Toucanet. 

Easy to access habitat– Every major habitat in the country and I guess even minor ones can be visited by vehicle. Easily. Want to try and see an Unspotted Saw-whet Owl? Um, yeah! It’s cold up there but it’s a drive into the mountains on good roads. How about ye good olde mind blowing quetzal? Ditto, although not nearly as cold. And, a couple dozen birds only found in Costa Rica and Panama live up there too…

Like the fancy Purple-throated Mountain-Gem 

Wetlands, lowland rainforest, foothill rainforest, cloud forest, tropical dry forest. Each have their own suite of species and all are accessible. Imagine driving from Florida to Colorado but in a couple hours and then to California a couple hours later, and then swinging down to sweet Arizona but in another hour. Except that the habitats have more birds, like hundreds of them. I’m not sure if that paints the best picture of birding in Costa Rica but I hope it hints at how amazing this place is for birding.

Easy to see birds…no..a lot of birds!– Like the ones out my front door. Or just up the road in the mountains. At other sites, the birds just keep on coming. Like the Carara area. Holy smokes, can you imagine identifying 100 species in a couple hours? And then adding birds all day long? That’s Carara for you, a major meeting point of different habitats with hundreds of bird species. Or, lowland rainforest on the other side of the mountains, likewise, lots of birds, lots of species, and they just keep coming. Or, the good birding in the highlands, or just innocently driving along. For example, the other day, while driving from the Caribbean lowlands to the highlands, minding my own business and without trying, six or more toucans couldn’t help but be noticed along with groups of oropendolas, four or five species of parrots and parakeets, the usual Bat Falcon on its perch, a couple other raptor species, Amazon Kingfisher, and I also heard the voices of several other species, some of which were missed by my Team Tyto during birding on Global Big Day in the same area! It’s almost like you can’t not see birds.

Hard to not see.

Fantastic birding– All this adds up to fantastic birding. I suppose that’s birding where additional species keep on popping into view. Where the action is good for much of the day. Where migrants mingle with coveted residents. Where mixed flocks of tanagers, woodpeckers, and whatever else make your head spin as they hurriedly forage their way through lush forest. I guess it’s a situation where the birding never seems to stop. There’s always more and it’s always exciting! It’s also fantastic when you bird with the right person or people,  and that’s why Costa Rica is also perfect for sharing with a birding partner and friends. As a bonus, heck, a birder doesn’t even have to take a trip with other birders to still connect with hundreds of species. Thanks to the abundant tourist offerings in Costa Rica, a birder can stay at key places with the family and sneak in early morning birding time during the trip with nary a critique from the non-birding ones.

The birding in Costa Rica really is easy and fantastic, as always, I hope every birder gets a chance to bird Costa Rica at least once in their lives. Need guiding and/or help to set up your trip? I would love to help. I know some excellent birding tours offered for great prices and can also set up custom trips. Contact me at [email protected]

Birding Costa Rica Introduction

Thinking of Birding in Costa Rica? Sign up for a Natura Birding Tour!

When taking a birding trip to Costa Rica, there are two basic ways to do it. Either (1), do the trip on your own, or (2) take a birding tour. The first option guarantees adventure and that’s why a lot of people opt for the latter. It’s easier to let someone else take care of logistics, accommodation, and transportation in a foreign country, especially if you don’t speak the local lingua franca. For those reasons, a lot of folks go the tour route even if they aren’t birders but people who would rather focus on seeing as many species of glittering hummingbirds, trogons, and tanagers as possible have yet another major incentive for taking a tour.

When venturing into uncharted birding territory, a birding guide helps you see more birds. That’s true for any place on the globe but especially so in tropical regions such as Costa Rica. You see, the birdwatching dynamics aren’t the same as in the temperate grasslands, coniferous forests, and hardwood forests you may be familiar with. As with  most tropical forests, while there are hundreds of bird species in Costa Rican habitats, the birding comes with a subtle but definite catch. Instead of coming out of the underbrush with a simple spish or revealing themselves every 2 minutes, most of those species are naturally rare because they occur in low density populations. Add that natural rarity to shy, unobtrusive behavior along with a natural penchant to stay hidden, and a lot of those birds can very hard to find!

Seeing them requires time, patience, and luck but the odds will be upped in your favor if you bird with someone who knows where to look for them, how to recognize the scarce resources they use, and perhaps most of all, someone who recognizes their vocalizations. Bird with someone like this and you will certainly see a lot more bird species than birding on your own for the first time in Costa Rica. Of course, to see certain targets and maximize species, you also have to visit a key set of sites. I mention all of this because in February, 2013, I am going to help guide a Natura Tours Birding Tour to Costa Rica.

I normally stick to guiding clients on day trips and short tours on my own, but what can I say, I like this company! Set up by an enthusiastic Canadian naturalist who knows Costa Rica quite well, Natura Tours is serious about making efforts to run tours in an ethical, sustainable fashion. A portion of the proceeds for each tour go to local conservation efforts, and the company also has a set of ethics and values that are followed.

The tour will visit classic sites such as Carara (south Pacific rainforest, wetlands, and dry forest), Monteverde (dry forest, moist forest, and cloud forest), La Selva (Caribbean lowland rainforest), San Gerardo de Dota (high elevation forest), and Braulio Carrillo National Park (foothill rainforest). While these sites are visited on many other tours, what those other tours don’t have is someone on the ground who can extensively scout out the trip beforehand to see where rarities are hanging out, where fruiting and flowering trees are attracting the birds, and other tidbits that result in a higher number of bird species during the tour. Yes, I will be doing just that. It’s something I do on a regular basis anyways but I will be putting some extra time and effort into it in the two weeks before the tour.

While I probably won’t guide the entire tour, I will be there for much of the itinerary. The tour will also be co-led by friend and fellow birder Steve Pike. Steve started out at a young age like myself and it shows in natural, excellent fieldcraft honed from years of birding and guiding at Point Pelee. Dedicated to seeing as many birds and experiencing as much of the natural world as he can, Steve has traveled extensively and taken thousands of pictures of birds wherever he goes. Since he is also one of the more positive individuals you will probably ever meet (no exaggeration!), he makes for an excellent, always helpful tour leader

While the complex nature of birding in the tropics always makes it tough to hazard a guess at the numbers and species of birds to be encountered on any tour, the following represent some of the more exciting birds that will probably be encountered. I base that statement on having birded those sites for several years as well as knowing stakeouts for species mentioned:

Costa Rica birding tour

Sunbittern: A very good chance at this bird during time in Sarapiqui.

Costa Rica birding tour

Bat Falcon: Uncommon but I know at least a few reliable sites for it on the tour.

Costa Rica birding tour

Crimson-fronted Parakeet along with at least 12 other parrots, macaws, and parakeets.

Costa Rica birding tour

28 or more species of hummingbirds including the surreal Snowcap.

Costa Rica birding tour

R. Quetzal.

Costa Rica birding tour

The gorgeous Turquoise-browed Motmot.

Costa Rica birding tour

Collared Redstart

Add a litany of tanagers, trogons, wrens, toucans, woodpeckers, and flycatchers and it’s going to be a fantastic, bird-filled trip! To see testimonials from birders I have guided, please see the comments for this post. Hope to see you on the tour in February!