The official Costa Rica bird list stands at 932 species but soon, it’s going to hit 933. The bird species about to bump the list up a notch is the Dark-billed Cuckoo, an Austral migrant that was expected for Costa Rica but had never been documented until January 16. When the star bird appeared, a few people wondered if this was the same species I may had seen near Ciudad Neily two years ago. Although they are related, no, that bird was the Pearly-breasted Cuckoo, yet another Austral migrant that could also certainly occur.
That particular sighting was never confirmed to be the Pearly-breasted or the extremely similar Yellow-billed Cuckoo but at least the Dark-billed Cuckoo has been found and documented. Even better, the bird was photographed and subsequently seen by several local birders. If it sticks around, and you bird the rice fields south of the Ciudad Niely hospital, maybe you will see it too! I hope the bird also stays around long enough for me to see it but if not, at least a bunch of other local birders “got” it.
I figured it was a matter of time before a Dark-billed was found in Costa Rica because the species migrates within South America, is fairly common, and has already been documented from Panama, Nicaragua, Belize, and even Texas and Florida. As for it being found near Ciudad Neily, perhaps it’s not a coincidence that one (or maybe two) were seen there; this part of the country seems to routinely attract Coccyzus species cuckoos.
While birding around Ciudad Neily, I have personally seen several Mangrove Cuckoos, the possible Pearly-breasted (but more likely Yellow-billed), and other have also seen Yellow-billed. Perhaps the second growth and woodland edges adjacent to wetlands provide especially good habitat for larvae prey preferred by the cuckoos? Following that line of thought, it’s also interesting to note that, in winter, Mangrove Cuckoos utilize similar habitats at and near Cano Negro (speaking of that hotspot and megas for Costa Rica, Chambita found a Greater Ani there yesterday!).
Whatever the explanation may be, a new species for Costa Rica and other cuckoos are yet one more good reason to go birding around Ciudad Neily. The rice fields and associated wetlands are fun but there’s also other, forested habitats in the same area that harbor an excellent variety of species. To learn more about birding around this hotspot and where to watch birds in Costa Rica, get the second edition of “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”; a 900 plus page bird finding book for Costa Rica and overall birding companion for this birdy country. Go see some cuckoos, I hope to see you here!
Birding in Costa Rica is always exciting.; as far as birding news for Costa Rica goes, honestly, that about sums things up. Go outside, visit any bit of green space and you will certainly see some interesting birds, often, more than expected. Bring the binos to the best habitats and you’ll see a lot more.
You could see a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat.
Even so, there are always some birds of note, some places turning up interesting species, and other information relevant for the visiting birder. As of late, the following are some of the more interesting bits of birding news I have noticed.
Waved Albatross and Tahiti Petrel
Not many people have seen a Waved Albatross in Costa Rica. In this birdy nation, the highly endangered pelagic species from the Galapagos Islands is typically recorded by fishermen off of Cabo Blanco or other parts of the Pacific Coast. The most recent sighting happened a few weeks ago and is a reminder to watch for these and other birds when taking a fishing trip, and impetus to take a pelagic trip focused on birds.
If interested in taking a pelagic trip, contact me at [email protected] . Head offshore and you also have a fair chance at another pelagic species recently seen off of Cabo Blanco; Tahiti Petrel. As it turns out, this long-winged wave master is regular in pelagic waters of Costa Rica. There’s also lots more to see!
Roosting birds are being seen at several sites, at least Great and Common Potoos. As in past years, regular current sites for roosting Great Potoos include Donde Cope (Cope usually knows of a spot or two), Centro Manu, and the Cano Negro area.
There have also been some nice roosting spots for Common Potoo in Cano Negro, the Dominical area, and Sierpe.
As for Northern Potoo, although there aren’t any known and accessible roosting spots at the moment, you might find one in mangroves at Ensenada, Caldera, and Punta Morales as well as other mangrove sites north of Tarcoles. You might also hear or find one in Horizontes or any number of wooded sites in Guanacaste. The bird isn’t exactly rare, it just hides very well and occurs in low density populations.
Costa Rica’s trickiest parrot species is still as tricky as ever. Think of it like a crossbill or other wandering winter finch. Since they roam up and downslope in search of food, you might see (or hear) a few fly over at Cerro de la Muerte, and in any number of Caribbean foothill and middle elevation forest sites.
One reliable spot might be the entrance to the Santa Elena Reserve, as well as in the reserve itself. A few birds have been recorded there recently and while I was birding that site nearly one year ago, I also had a few birds fly over. Get there early, and learn their calls to connect with this mega in miniature.
Aplomado Falcon at Las Trancas
In late December, one of these cool falcons was seen at Las Trancas. This species is likely a rare annual visitor to Costa Rica and can occur at any number of spots, especially places with wide open and marshy habitats. If visiting sites like Las Trancas, farm fields near Filadelfia, or Medio Queso, keep an eye out for this special bird.
Individuals of this much wanted mega species have been recently seen at Centro Manu, La Selva, and, just today (!), on the Waterfall Trail at Arenal Observatory Lodge. Note that they can also occur at various other forested lowland and foothill sites on the Caribbean slope, especially in lowland rainforest at the base of the mountains.
This cool cotinga also carries out altitudinal migrations and is, for the most part, currently in lowland and foothill zones. On the Pacific slope, watch for it in any lowland forest including remnant rainforest in the General Valley (especially near Peje). Interestingly enough, there have also been recent sightings from the Monteverde area; a place where bellbirds usually occur from late February to August.
Cape May and Yellow-Rumped Warblers
Although these species aren’t on the target lists of visiting birders from North America, local birders always hope to see them! If you see any of these or other wintering warblers, please do us a favor and make sure to eBird them (most visiting eBirding birders do and we appreciate it!).
There seem to be several Cape-Mays around, most are usually seen hanging with groups of Tennessee warblers at Bottle Brush and other flowering trees. It’s also a good year for Yellow-rumpeds, don’t be surprised if you run into one here and there (or even a flock at highland sites!).
Rancho is doing well and is birdy as ever. The male Lovely Cotinga is still being seen on a regular basis and Snowcap occurs along with other typical species of this wonderful hotspot. The picture of the Black-crested Coquette in the feature image was taken at Rancho Naturalista.
As always, a lot more could be said about the birds of Costa Rica. Fancy trogons and motmots, colorful tanager flocks, hawk-eagles and more than 40 hummingbird species…they are all here and waiting to be seen! To learn more about the sites mentioned in this post and the best places to see all of the birds in Costa Rica, support this blog by purchasing my Costa Rica bird finding guide, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. I hope to see you here!
In Costa Rica, the dry and high season is most definitely here. I’m seeing beautiful sunny skies, dry conditions, and a lot more tourists than the times of the rain. Oh, it still rains, especially in the mountains and on the Caribbean slope but nothing like the deluges witnessed in 2022. With so many folks headed to Costa Rica any time now, I figured another post with some tips would be relevant.
Although this highland endemic has never been rare, as with other quail-doves, it can be tough to espy one inside the forest. Thankfully, in recent times, this pretty bird has become much easier to see. When visiting the Cafe Colibri at Cinchona, keep a close eye for quail-doves on the ground below the feeders. They are sneaky and easy to miss but if you keep watching for them, you have a fair chance of connecting. The usual species is Buff-fronted Quail-Dove, sometimes two individuals but, just in case, we should also watch for possible Purplish-backed Quail-Dove (it has a more pale gray front and smaller patch of purple on the back), and Chiriqui Quail-Dove. Both of these beauties also occur in the area.
If you won’t be visiting Cinchona, pay a visit to the birding oasis of Casa Tangara dowii. Buff-fronted and occasional Chiriqui Quail-Doves are regular at this special site.
Clay-colored Thrushes are Very Common
This plain brown thrush isn’t our national bird for nothing. They can be very common in many areas, especially in the Central Valley and garden habitats. Keep that in mind when you see numerous brown, thrush-like birds flying past or in fruiting trees. On most occasions, that bird will be a Clay-colored.
So Are Winter-Plumaged Chestnut-sided Warblers
Another bird worth knowing is the winter plumaged Chestnut-sided Warbler. In humid and semi-humid habitats, this warbler species is pretty darn common. See a small gray bird with an eye ring that reminded you of a gnatcatcher? That was a Chestnut-sided. Some still have chestnut sides, many do not, you should see a lot of them.
White-ringed Flycatchers Only Live in the Caribbean Lowlands
Remember that if you become tempted to believe you are seeing White-ringeds in the Central Valley and Pacific slope.
Those aren’t White-ringeds. See a couple kiskadee-type flycatchers at the top of a tree in the Caribbean lowlands? Does the bird have a broad white eyebrow? Thin bill, bit of white below the eye, and a bit of white edging to the tertials? A sort of trilling call? Those are White-ringed Flycatchers.
Go Exploring in Guanacaste
The northwestern region of Costa Rica is spacious, birdy, and underbirded; perfect for exploration! Local birders do what they can but it’s a huge area with plenty of habitat. With that in mind, if you are wondering where to go birding in Guanacaste, you can see a heck of a lot with roadside birding. Check forested riparian zones, open habitats (a lot of that going on), and any wetlands.
To bird forest trails, you’ll have to visit national parks and protected areas like Santa Rosa, Palo Verde, Horizontes, and other places. To learn more about birding opportunities in Guanacaste and elsewhere, check out my 900 page bird finding guide for Costa Rica, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.
Consider Private Reserves or Roadside Birding Instead of National Parks
That might sound bonkers but it all comes down to access and entrance and exit times. While national parks protect critical habitat and do have great birding, sadly, most just aren’t open during the prime birding times of 6 to 8 in the morning and 3 to 5 in the afternoon. Trust me, in the dry season, you really have to be out birding by 6. If not, you’ll miss a lot!
For more productive birding, one idea is hitting the edge of national parks or nearby roads until opening time. Another is opting for private reserves or lodge grounds when the opportunity presents itself.
I’m sure I could think of some additional tips but that’s all for now. Remember to study before your birding trip to Costa Rica and be ready to get bird-dazzled.
“Wait. What’s that up ahead ?!?” We had been trudging slowly but surely uphill, one step after another, through the foothill rainforests of the Soltis Center in the Tilaran Mountains of Costa Rica. It was midday and expectedly quiet; peaceful but not the best hour for birding. Even so, while birding in rainforest, anything can happen, at any time. Even during the quiet times, you can’t let your guard down. You have to be constantly ready, always on the alert for a shy bird to pop into view, to notice a deathly still viper, or hear the soft notes of a mixed flock.
While our group of five participated in the 2022 Arenal Bird Count, fortunately, despite the noon time quiet, Robert Dean, the artist of “The Birds of Costa Rica” and other field guides had kept his bird radar on. The bird he had noticed was one of the truly rare ones, one of those species often possible but rarely encountered. Even better, the bird didn’t flush and fly off into the woods. Our lucky number fluttered from a low perch and down onto the trail, right in front of us. As I focused in on it, I could barely believe what I was seeing.
“Violaceous Quail-Dove!” There it was, right in the middle of the trail, the most elusive and weirdest of quail-doves in Costa Rica (and maybe elsewhere too). Uncharacteristically, the male dove let us watch it for several minutes as it walked back and forth and eventually flew back to its low perch. I should stress here that “several minutes” in quail-dove watching time is equal to at least three hours. Most forest encounters with quail-doves are painfully brief and give you scarce chance to appreciate their beautiful iridescence and plumage patterns. In other words, they might be pretty but away from any feeding situations, they aren’t all that birder friendly.
In fact, not long before we saw our super birder-friendly Violaceous, I might have glimpsed another quail-dove. I say “might have” because in true Q-Dove fashion, I saw a plump dove shape in the undergrowth and just as I raised my binos, the bird fluttered off into dove sp. netherland. It could have certainly been a Gray-chested Dove too but oh well, whatever name that missed species went by was made up for by our crazy good views of the V Q-Dove.
The bird sat on its perch until our need for more trail progress flushed it into the safety of the forest. This sighting was arguably our best bird of a 150 plus species day and the best I have ever had of that species. Given that I’ve only seen this species something like three times, that’s a pretty easy statement to make. Yes, it’s a dove, a bird in the same family as the classic pigeon of cathedrals and city streets, as Mourning Doves, Collared Doves, and other familiar birds but, along with several other little known dove species, it’s an odd and elusive one.
The ironic thing about the V Q-Dove is that despite it being very little known and infrequently seen, the bird is not considered threatened. This is mostly on account of its large, if disjunct, range and because we know little about the bird. It’s assumed that it occurs in regular numbers in various parts of its range and that may be true but honestly, what do we really know? How many are out there? Are they just tough to find?
I suspect that the answer is a little bit of low numbers and being difficult to detect but if it were more common, it seems that there would have to be a lot more records. Based on my experience with the species in Costa Rica, what I have read and heard about it from other places, and known life histories of other uncommon doves, here’s my take on the bird as well as a tip or two for seeing and identifying it:
This dove doesn’t like to stick around. Well, it probably will if the habitat is to its liking but it likely rolls with the changes and needs to keep moving until it finds what its looking for. This would explain its scarcity and why there are random records from heavily birded places like La Selva and San Luis Canopy. Similar nomadic behavior is also shown by several other dove species in various parts of the world.
I wish I knew what sort of food it was looking for but I do have an idea about its preferred microhabitat.
Advanced, Viney Second Growth in Mature Forest
I don’t know for sure but what I can say is that the bird we saw at Soltis seemed tied to this one distinctive part of the forest that was dominated by old second growth decorated with hanging vines. In fact, its favorite perch was this classic, thick, hanging u-shaped vine. Sturdy, maybe a meter above the ground, good visibility, and a nice ruddy color…I mean if I were a bird, I’d be claiming that perch too.
This microhabitat also happened to look very much like the other spot where I have encountered more than one individual of this species in Costa Rica. This was in Hitoy Cerere in advanced second growth at the edge of mature rainforest. For what’s its worth, that spot also had lots of hanging vines and at that site, Robert and I also saw the dove perched in them.
I don’t know if this microhabitat is what the bird truly needs but a preference for such a limited type of habitat would explain its scarcity and likely nomadic behavior.
There’s no way to know how many of this species are in Costa Rica or elsewhere but I don’t see how they could be numerous, at least not in Costa Rica. Even taking into account the challenges of seeing them, they are still very rarely seen or heard even in the most reliable of places. If they do need some special type of habitat, then any degree of deforestation could further limit their numbers. I doubt they are in serious trouble overall but then again, who knows?
In Costa Rica, I owuld guess that their numbers are probably pretty low, maybe less than 500 total.
Perhaps More Common in Moist Forest of the Nicoya Peninsula and Mountains of Guanacaste
According to Stiles and Skutch and sightings by local birders, this species is somewhat more reliable in moist forests of the Nicoya Peninsula and the northern volcanoes in Guanacaste. The plain dove with the amethyst nape and rufous tail is seen and heard more regularly in such places but even then, it’s not in any way common. Bird forested ravines near Cabuya, Bijagua, and Rincon de la Vieja and you’ll have some chance of finding it but it could still take a fair bit of focused effort.
What to Look For
With a good look, the V Q Dove is pretty easy to identify. Just in case, here are some tips.
Like a Leptotila– As in, it looks and even sounds a lot like a White-tipped Dove. This raises a further subset of questions; like has it evolved to mimic the White-tipped Dove (or other Leptotila) and does this perhaps help it blend in while looking for habitat? Or, did it evolve similar plumage and voice because it occurs in similar ecological situations? In any case, with its pale underparts and plain head, it looks a lot like a Leptotila (albeit a very elegant one).
Pale, plain head, white underparts, rufous rump and tail, rufous wings– Although other descriptions don’t mention the rufous tail, the bird sure has one and in conjunction with other field marks, this is a good characteristic.
Reddish bill– Although this wasn’t noticeable on the bird we watched, this is usually a good field mark.
Listen for calls, look for the perch– If you hear a funny sounding White-tipped Dove in appropriate habitat, look for that perched bird. It can sit high or low on a favorite hanging vine.
Will you see a Violaceous Quail-Dove when birding in Costa Rica? To be honest, the odds aren’t in your favor but I sure hope you see one anyways. Hopefully, the tips above can up the odds. To learn more about finding birds in Costa Rica, including the rare and elusive ones, support this blog by purchasing my recently updated bird finding book for Costa Rica, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.
Happy birding and wishing you the best of happy holidays, I hope to see you here!
All photos of Violaceous Quail-Dove were gracioiusly provided by Nancy Stevick.
Guanacaste is the big northwestern part of Costa Rica. In Costa Rica birding terms, its a mosaic of tropical dry forest, pasture, and wetlands. In non-birder terms (or birders who wouldn’t mind blending birding with relaxation), this distinctive, sun-drenched region of Costa Rica is also a place of beaches, resorts, and trails for birding in Rincon de la Vieja National Park. That latter bit is also important for the birding crowd; there are birds in those old forests, even if they are sometimes hard to find.
For the past few days, my partner Marilen and I did some exploration birding in a few corners of Guanacaste. We picked up several year birds while also discovering a few other aspects of birding this fun part of the country. Based on our recent journeys, here are some tips I hope will help with your birding endeavors in Guanacaste.
Chomes isn’t Getting Any Better but Punta Morales is Good and Bebedero Birding can be Excellent!
As part of my over enthusiastic master birding plan, on the first day, I figured we would drive and bird through La Ceiba de Orotina, seawatch for a bit in Puntarenas, and then check Chomes and Punta Morales before spending the night in Canas.
That sort of worked out in the form of a lucky randomly flushed a year Wilson’s Snipe in a remnant wetland at Ceiba, and year Caspian Tern at an otherwise dry Chomes. Even if we did not see any distant jaegers or rare tropicbirds at Puntarenas, it was still nice to have lunch there and watch the waters of the Gulf of Nicoya. As for Chomes, sadly, this important site has seen much better days. The squatter community continues to grow and edge its way into the mangroves, and the main ponds were completely dry. I’m not sure if they are being maintained, it didn’t really look like it.
Punta Morales had the birds but none of the rare species or odd seabirds we had hoped for. For whatever reason, no skimmers or terns or gulls flew in to roost for the night. You just never know what will turn up (or not) at Punta Morales. All a birder can do is check the place out.
As for the Bebedero area, yes, that was good. Situated a short drive from Canas, we decided to bird there early before returning to the hotel for breakfast at 8. As luck would have it, that all worked out with roadside wetlands sporting dozens and dozens of yellowlegs and Least Sandpipers foraging and flying overhead. We didn’t pick out any rarities but based on the number of birds we saw, that would certainly be a good area to check.
Continuing on, another roadside check of wetlands turned up a mega Jabiru (!) in a roadside ditch along with more usual herons and Wood Storks. We then looped our way to the Bebedero Road that passes by La Soga and reaches highway 1. Although we found little in wetlands and rice fields in this area, it can be fantastic during migration, and we did chance upon our one and only Northern Harrier (a rare wintering bird in Costa Rica). I can still see that gray ghost course fast just over an open, windy field. In retrospect, I would have liked to check out as much of that area as possible over a couple of days. I bet there’s some rare birds out there.
Need to Stay in Canas? Stay at the Kam Tu
We stayed in a local hotel known as the Kam Tu. It’s nothing fancy but rooms were clean and with AC, the place was well maintained, it had a nice pool, good friendly service, and it was a bargain. Your stay also comes with a good breakfast. They won’t serve it super early but if you feel like birding and coming back at 8:30, that can work. I would absolutely stay there again.
Palo Verde- Maybe Not…
Palo Verde National Park is a big, important protected area in the Tempisque River basin. The birding here and on the road in can be great but, as with so many wetland areas, that good birding is dependent on water levels. On our way back home, we decided to drive in with the hope of seeing a bunch of birds in the main Palo Verde marsh, maybe some wetland and dry forest birds on the way in.
Unfortunately, very little of this plan worked out and I would not recommend a visit. With so little of the marsh accessible, you are much better off saving your wetland birding for Cano Negro, Viejo Wetlands, and maybe a couple other sites. Our visit consisted of a looong drive in on a very bumpy road, fewer wetlands than in the past (some have been converted to birdless sugar cane), and the marsh having no open water and no uncommon birds. A November visit could have better conditions but then again, the road might also be impassible. With that in mind, go to Cano Negro instead.
Liberia is a Good Birding Base but Don’t Stay at the Hotel Wilson
Liberia can act as an excellent base for visiting various national parks and other birding sites in Guanacaste. It also has a restaurant with good Indian cuisine and other good places (we enjoyed the MariaJuana for craft beer and tasty fare). There are also several places to stay, one which I cannot recommend being the Hotel Wilson. It was never anything special and mostly caters to corporate clients but it’s still worth mentioning that you’ll be better off staying somewhere else.
It wasn’t all that bad but just pretty basic, uncomfortable, and with noisy AC that kept us awake. There are other and better options for Liberia.
Take a Break at the Alma Dolce Cafe
On a much brighter note, a place I can’t recommend enough is the Alma Dolce cafe at the Do It Lagar plaza. This small, family run establishment offers reasonably priced, authentic Italian pastries, pizza, espresso, and gelato. What more could you want? It’s a gem of a place we always look forward to visiting. On our final morning, after checking Las Trancas and the Catfish Ponds (which were mostly dry and birdless), breakfast there was perfect before continuing on with our drive.
Rincon de la Vieja
This big national park is always a good place for birding but before you go, keep these tips in mind:
Closed on Monday.
The Waterfalls Trails are long walks only meant for fit hikers and by the time you reach the grassland areas where the sparrows live, they probably won’t be active.
The park hours are terrible for birding. Bird early on the drive to the national park, it doesn’t open until 8.
Consider walking and birding on the Las Pailas trail and the in the Santa Maria sector. Both of these are easier than the waterfall trails, especially Las Pailas, and are just as good.
Guanacaste is big and much of it little birded. I could say a lot more, I would love to bird less accessible corners of those wild and windy lowlands. To learn more about where to go birding in Costa Rica in this and all regions of this birdy nation, support this blog by getting the 900 plus page ebook and Costa Rica birding companion, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. I hope to see you here!
Costa Rica is kind of a birding wonderland. I know, is such hyperbole necessary? It is when the statement is accurate. I mean how else can you describe a place where you can drive for less than an hour and see a quetzal and then smile over near endemics like Flame-throated Warbler and Golden-browed Chlorophonia?
Head downslope and you start to see barbets, tanagers, and keep on adding to the hummingbird list. Not much further and you reach lowland rainforests replete with parrots, macaws, and toucans. And that’s just one small part of this birdy nation.
Other corners of Costa Rica also have their own special birds, one of them being the wetland-forest mosaic of Caño Negro. Situated in northern Costa Rica, this wildlife refuge harbors a fantastic variety of birds including many species difficult or nearly impossible to see elsewhere while birding in Costa Rica. Sort of like a smaller yet more diverse Everglades, the rivers and lagoons at Caño Negro are the easiest places in Costa Rica to see Sungrebe and Nicaraguan Grackle, and also offer chances at dozens of other wetland and rainforest species.
You’ll have to excuse me for going on about the great birding at Caño Negro. A few days ago, myself, my partner Marilen, and more than 40 other local birders had the fortune of participating in the annual count and I’m still feeling that birding afterglow. Based on our recent visit, here are some expectations and suggestions for birding at Caño Negro this upcoming high season.
Water Levels are Everything
Whether high or low water, the birding at Caño Negro is still going to be fantastic. Even so, less water is probably easier for birding that high water because more flooded areas means more places for Agami Heron and small kingfishers to hide, and more places for Jabiru to forage. When the water levels drop, it’s just easier to find these and some other birds. Contrareingly, lower water levels can make it difficult to connect with Yellow-breasted Crake and Pinnated Bittern as well as access more parts of the refuge but that’s why you should also take a boat trip at Medio Queso.
Yellow-tailed Oriole, Nicaraguan Grackle, Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, and More
On a bright note, Yellow-tailed Oriole seems to be increasing in numbers. This large and beautiful Icterid is being seen at more sites in Caño Negro, even on the road to the refuge and village. Your boat driver should know a good site or two to see them along with the other specialties. Speaking of specialties, we did well with seeing the grackle and seed-finch. Both were on the road in as well as in the refuge itself.
Rainforest Species Too…
It’s always good to remember that Caño Negro is much more than wetland birds. Remnant forest also harbors an excellent variety of species including top birds like Snowy Cotinga, possible Gray-headed Kite, occasional Tiny Hawk, woodcreepers, several woodpeckers, Royal Flycatcher, and more.
Still Good for Night Birds
Caño Negro is one of the better spots for nocturnal species. The road in often has a Striped Owl or two, Pacific Screech-Owls live in town and are usually seen on boat rides, and Mottled, Black-and-White, and Spectacled Owls occur in wooded areas even right around the village. It’s also an excellent area for both Great and Common Potoos, and with luck, you might even find the rare Ocellated Poorwill.
Road In- a Bit Rough but Still Possible with Two-Wheel Drive
Despite attempts to put some paving down on the road in to Caño Negro, heavy rains and flooding have given it a bunch of holes and ruts. It’s still possible with two-wheel drive but you’ll have to take it slow and easy. At least you can watch birds on the way in!
Book a Medio Queso Boat Ride for Crake Insurance
If water levels are too low to look for Pinnated Bittern and Yellow-breasted Crake (and they likely will be by February), you can still see those birds and lots more at Medio Queso. Most local providers can set up a boat trip to this excellent site; the best area in Costa Rica for Pinnated Bittern.
If you are headed to Caño Negro, I hope this information helps. If not, think about going, the birding is worth the trip! To learn more about the ins and outs of birding in Costa Rica at Caño Negro and elsewhere, get “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” to help with trip planning and supporting this blog. Happy birding, I hope to see you here!
It’s been a long, rainy season. In Costa Rica, the wet season is never short and always presents some challenges to birding but this year was especially torrential. Taking into account the extent of global warming induced flooding that took place in various places across the globe, perhaps Costa Rica having an extra wet rainy season isn’t the least bit surprising.
Some places in Costa Rica have also experienced flooding and tragically, a fair number of people lost houses, businesses have been affected, and the flowing water made its mark on several roadways. The good news is that the wet season seems to be nearly over. Lately in Heredia, I’m seeing more sunny days and much less rain. Things are looking up and by the time the high season kicks off, I would expect most roads to be in good shape (although with occasional heavy traffic on routes 32 and 27 and the usual congestion in the Central Valley).
Speaking of the high season for birding in Costa Rica, it’s just around the corner! Before we know it, dozens of birders will be bringing their binos to Costa Rica and I’m psyched; I wish every birder could come birding here, at least once in their lives. If you are visiting Costa Rica for birding soon, planning a birding trip to Costa Rica, or thinking about visiting in 2023, these insider tips may be of help:
Umbrellabirds are Back at Centro Manu
Centro Manu is one of the newer hotspots for birding in Costa Rica. Last year, local guide Kenneth found that it was a reliable place to see one of the most wanted species in Costa Rica; the Bare-necked Umbrellabird. This year, the birds are back! Although we don’t know how many of the big-headed, crow-black cotingas are present at Manu, based on the frequency of sightings, this spot seems to be a very important area for this endangered species.
The elevation, quality, and location of the lowland-foothill rainforests at Manu are ideal for umbrellabirds from June to February (when they migrate to lower elevations after breeding). Visit this easily accessible site in December and January and you have a fair chance of finding umbrellabird (and other great birds!), especially if you contract Kenneth for guiding. However, it’s best to make reservations first. Contact them at the Centro Manu Facebook page.
Reservations Needed: Cope, Nectar and Pollen
It’s worth mentioning that two other excellent hotspots near Manu also require reservations. To visit Cope in the high season, you will likely need to make reservations in advance; the bird oasis and rainforest experience offered by this highly talented local artist and naturalist are popular and world class.
Nectar and Pollen is also a wonderful place to visit. Expect exciting foothill birding replete with hummingbirds, tanagers, raptors, and more. However, since Miguel, the local guide responsible for creating this special place, doesn’t live there, you need to contact him in advance.
eBird Won’t Have All the Answers
eBird has revolutionized birding, it’s wonderful in many ways and I love using the app and encourage people to do the same. However, you really shouldn’t use it as the only resource for planning a trip to Costa Rica. Definitely check it out and look at recent sightings in Costa Rica but when making decisions, keep these factors in mind:
-Unequal coverage. Since most tours visit the same set of places, these sites have higher bird lists than other places. Don’t get me wrong,these are good sites to go birding but they aren’t the only sites to see a lot of birds. Several places are visited more often because they are more accessible and suitable for group tours.
-Errors. Many lists for hotspots include birds that were obviously seen elsewhere. There’s also a fair amount of misidentification. Both of these factors result in inflated and incorrect lists for various sites.
-Lists that only show what is identified leave out lots of other birds. That’s not the case for every observer but when we take into account the high number of first time birders in Costa Rica, yes, a good deal of species go unrecorded. This means that just because certain shy or ID challenging bird species don’t show on site lists doesn’t mean they aren’t present.
This also all means that us local eBird reviewers got a lot of work to do. In the meantime, while it is worth using eBird and checking data for sites and bird sightings, just remember that it’s not the final word on where to go birding in Costa Rica; habitat is always the most important factor.
Less Visited Sites Could be Better
Birds are where the habitat is. While you will see lots of cool birds at the most popular sites (and places such as Rancho Naturalista and Laguna Lagarto and others are truly fantastic), there are plenty of additional places with excellent birding. A side benefit of birding at such lesser known sites is having them to yourself.
New Entrance Fees for Bogarin Trail and Arenal Observatory Lodge
The Bogarin Trail has come a long way from the days when it was a hotspot only known to local birders in the Fortuna area. The trails are well maintained, some of the forest has grown, interesting species like Tiny Hawk and Ornate Hawk-Eagle have made appearances and Keel-billed Motmot occurs.
The birding is wonderful and the place has become a popular destination for tours that look for sloths and other rainforest wildlife. In concordance with its popularity, the Bogarin Trail now charges a $15 entrance fee and is open 7-4. In addition, from what I understand, birding tour groups have to make reservations in advance with a time slot for entrance and prepayment.
The Observatory Lodge has also realized the value of day visits to their trails and facilities. The entrance fee for this site has also increased, now costs $15 per person, and is open 7-9.
As far as birding news goes, expect fantastic birding at classic sites, new places, and anywhere with good habitat. These days, with so much access to sites for more or less everything, it can hard to figure out where to spend your time! Rest assured, it’s gonna be good. I hope this information helps with your trip to Costa Rica. Learn more about where to go birding in Costa Rica including sample itineraries and lesser known sites with “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”-a 900 page ebook that covers everything from how to find tropical birds to identification tips, and a complete site guide to the places you’ve heard of lots more that you haven’t. As always, I hope to see you here in Costa Rica!
The birding in Costa Rica isn’t just good, it’s downright fantastic. No matter where you go on this planet, there will be a bunch of cool birds to see. Even so, some places just have more birds than others.
Costa Rica is one of those places.
Despite being around the same size as Denmark or West Virginia, this beautiful, dynamic nation has a bird list of 930 species (and more species are expected!).
Yes, really that many. Literally hundreds of species on the Costa Rica bird list and most of them are possible in easily accessible sites. Not all of them are common and some are more difficult to see than others but when you go birding in Costa Rica, one thing’s for sure; you’re going to see a lot of birds.
A stable, friendly country in easy reach of the USA and Canada with literally hundreds of tropical birds awaiting- it’s no wonder so many people from North America move to Costa Rica, birders included. Most are retired (Costa Rica has a good retiree residency option) and some live here all year long but I also know a number of people who live in Costa Rica for a few months each year.
Many times, after witnessing the beauty and ease of Costa Rica, birders ask me what it’s like to live here, how feasible that is, and how much property costs. They also ask that if they were to buy property in Costa Rica, where would the best places be to live? The answer to that question depends on what sort of climate one prefers, breathing room, and other needs. From a birding perspective and having lived in Costa Rica since 2007, here’s some of what one could expect from the following regions:
The Central Valley
A good area for birders who like a warm climate that isn’t too hot, and who need to be near the many aspects of urban living.
Central location with easy access to more hospitals and a wider variety of healthcare options.
Close to the airport.
Greater variety of restaurants.
Warm climate, cooler in the mountains, beautiful dry season from Dec-April.
Species like Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow, Chestnut-capped Warbler, Long-tailed Manakin, and other common birds.
Not as many bird species as other regions.
This part of the country encompasses the busy greater metro. area of San Jose/Heredia/Alajuela, Cartago, and rural areas with small farms and tropical green space near Grecia, Atenas, and San Ramon. There are plenty of nice housing options in and near Escazu and other urban zones but birders in search of a place with ample green space would be happier in the Grecia area, Atenas, and the upper slopes of the Central Valley.
San Isidro del General
A good area for birders who like to be within striking distance of small town living but who also enjoy having a tropical garden and plenty of birding opportunities.
Tropical climate with a pronounced dry season.
Wonderful tropical birding. Fancy birds like Fork-tailed Flycatcher and Turquoise Cotinga could be on the yard list.
Not as crowded as the Central Valley.
If you need to visit the capital area, it’s a long drive over the mountains.
This part of the country is an intermontane valley and small city located on the other side of the mountains, southeast of San Jose. It’s a beautiful valley with a nice climate and I know more than one birder who moved to this area and absolutely loved it. There are lots of great birding opportunities (the godfather of Costa Rica birding, Alexander Skutch, lived there) including many lowland foothill tropical species in the valley and easy access to many cloud forest species in higher elevations.
There are also many properties available, I know of one, spacious two story house near lots of green space.
A good area for birders in search of a cooler climate, dynamic culture, tourism infrastructure, and access to trails in forest preserves.
Cool climate with a pronounced dry season.
Tourism hotspot with a variety of restaurants, wildlife reserves, and activities.
Excellent birding with many dry and cloud forest species including Resplendent Quetzal, Northern Emerald Toucanet, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, and many hummingbirds.
Wind and rain at some times of the year.
Not as many healthcare options.
High demand for housing, expensive real estate.
One of the world’s first ecotourism hotspots, the Monteverde area continues to draw large numbers of visitors. This could be a drawback for some, a boon for others. Either way, housing can be found away from the main places frequented by tourists. One possible option for folks in search of extra elbow space is living at the edge of the Monteverde area.
A good area for birders who want their own piece of tropical rainforest paradise and an exciting yard list in quiet, rural surroundings. This is for birders who like to be somewhat self sufficient although a few areas are still pretty close to towns and cities.
Warm and humid climate.
Living off the beaten track.
Excellent birding with possible yard birds like Speckled and Crimson-collared Tanagers, toucans, and many other species.
Might find cheaper real estate.
Lots of rain.
Somewhat isolated, may need to be somewhat self sufficient although many places are still within easy driving distance of towns and small cities.
Not as many healthcare options.
This region includes such places as the Arenal area, sites along the road between San Ramon and La Fortuna, sites near Cinchona (which is only a bit more than an hour’s drive from Sam Jose), and sites near Turrialba. The Caribbean foothills host some of the more exciting birding in Costa Rica and a yard planted for hummingbirds could attract everything from Snowcaps to Black-crested Coquettes and Brown Violetears.
Lowland Jungle Areas
These are good places for birders who love hot and humid weather, lots of tropical birds, and who are willing to live in places with fewer amenities. That said, the Jaco area offers a great variety of excellent restaurants and other services.
Hot and humid climate.
Chance to live off the beaten track.
Great tropical birding with possible yard birds like toucans, macaws, parrots, and much more.
Might find cheaper real estate in some areas.
Heavy rains in some areas that can result in flooding (DO NOT LIVE IN RIVER VALLEYS OR OTHER PLACES WHERE FLOODING HAS OCCURRED IN THE PAST).
Hot and humid weather.
Many places can be isolated and you may need to be somewhat self sufficient (although some places are still within easy driving distance of towns and small cities).
Some parts of the Caribbean lowlands have problems with crime (places near Guacima, Siquirres, the city of Limon, and perhaps Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui).
Not as many healthcare options.
This region includes any of the lowland areas on both slopes except for the region north of Tarcoles on the Pacific slope. Move to the humid lowlands and you will be moving to areas with rainforest or sites with bananas, pineapples, oil palms, and cattle pasture that used to be forested.
The birding is always fun and includes lots of species including toucans, parrots, and more. Reforest the garden and you could create your own little wildlife sanctuary.
A good region for birders in search of wide open spaces, a dry climate (for at least half the year), having a farm or a place with horses, and living in the country. You should be somewhat self sufficient although most areas are close enough to towns.
Hot, dry climate.
Living off the beaten track.
Dry forest species like White-throated Magpie-Jay and Orange-fronted Parakeet, and being serenaded by thick-knees in the evening.
Perhaps the chance to put up nest boxes for the critically endangered Yellow-naped Parrot.
Living near beaches.
Can be heavy rain during the wet season with some places prone to flooding.
Can be very isolated, may need to be somewhat self sufficient although many places are still within easy driving distance of towns.
Not as many healthcare options.
This region includes anywhere roughly north of Tarcoles on the Pacific slope. Many farms and properties are for sale, it pays to look around before buying. If you live near Liberia, various beautiful beaches are within easy striking distance as well as an international airport. Several famous actors, athletes, and musicians have properties in Guanacaste.
Cerro de la Muerte
A good region for birders in search of very cool weather in beautiful high mountain surroundings with rather few neighbors. This area can get lots of rain and nights can be cold but the birding is unique and you could have quetzal as a yard bird.
Very cool climate (some might call it cold).
Living away from urban centers.
High elevation species like quetzal, various hummingbirds, and Collared Redstart.
Good amount of forest habitat.
Heavy rains during the wet season can cause landslides and road closures.
Not as many healthcare options.
Somewhat cold weather.
This region includes Cerro de la Muerte, a high mountain southeast of San Jose. Living up there is somewhat isolated and nights can be cold but the main road is a fairly quick drive to more heavily populated and warmer urban centers. The birding is wonderful and includes a high number of endemics.
These are most of the main regions where a birder can move to in Costa Rica. Although some places are more isolated than others, most areas are still within fairly easy driving distance to urban centers with stores, clinics, and so on. Although some areas have more healthcare options than others, even remote places have access to state run clinics and regional hospitals. It’s also worth mentioning that tropical fruits and other many veggies can be grown in most gardens all year long, and owning property in Costa Rica is an excellent way to help local and migrant birds through reforestation.
I live in the Central Valley for various reasons but if I could move anywhere I wanted, I would probably have a place in every bioregion in Costa Rica. It’s a tough choice but for the best of reasons; each region has its own set of unique birding opportunities in beautiful places. That said, I would probably opt for the Caribbean foothills, maybe near Cinchona. That way, I could watch an incredible number of birds, maybe have Snowcap in the yard, reforest to help the endangered umbrellabird and Lovely Cotinga, and still have the option of easy visits to the lowlands, highlands, and everything the Central Valley has to offer.
I might even choose this place. A friend of mine is the owner and although he loves this place and has spent most every weekend there for many years, he wants to sell so he can spend more time with family. It would be perfect for reforestation, is quiet, and has fantastic birding within easy reach of all amenities. If you would like to have your own little piece of tropical birding paradise in Costa Rica, send me an email to learn more. The birds are waiting!
October. It’s the threshold of winter, Halloween, and pumpkins (with all of their orange colored spice). By the cool breeze from the north and the slowing down of deciduous trees, the birds know the deal is up. They know it’s past time to have fattened up and made the journey south. Indeed, up north, most of the first migrants have already paid heed to instincts and fled to the tropics. Thrushes, warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and Scarlet Tanagers; most have gone, many have made it to Costa Rica.
A fair number are here on winter territory, searching for insects in tropical trees and avoiding the eyes of Bat Falcons and creeping Vine Snakes. Others are just stopping off to fuel up and continue to the incredible forests of the Amazon, or to find a sweet wintering spot in mossy rainforest of the Andes.
In a few months, a number of birders will also make a temporary migration to Costa Rica. They will visit to delve into tropical birding, watch toucan antics while delighting in the coffee fruits of volcanic soils, and photograph Purple-throated Mountain-gems (like the multicolored bird featured above). The birds are awaiting, I can promise you that! Here’s some other news items from October, 2022, Costa Rica.
Very Heavy Rains=Tragic Flooding and Road Closures
October in Costa Rica is bird migration but it can also be a month of rains. The rains from this past October have gone from being exceptional to extreme. Sadly, in the Central Pacific region, more rain fell in a day or two than typically falls over the course of the entire month. We’re talking about a country where it normally rains every afternoon of every day in October, we’re talking about a horrible deluge.
During the past week, so much rain came slamming down in the central and southern Pacific regions, parts of the town of Jaco flooded. Flooding also occured near Parrita and in some other areas, and landslides affected several roads. Although people weren’t swept away like the terrible climate crisis induced floods in Nigeria, Pakistan, and other places, in Costa Rica, a number of people have lost everything, businesses have been terribly affected, and many roads have been damaged.
Those roads will likely be fixed well before the high season but if visiting Costa Rica over the news few weeks, you will need to pay close attention to information about road closures. Keep an eye on whatever driving app you may use, especially if traveling anywhere on Cerro de la Muerte, Route 32, and other mountain roads, and anywhere from Tarcoles south to Panama.
Arctic Terns near Shore, Fewer Migrants?
On the bird migration scene, one of the more interesting sightings has been that of Arctic Terns on the central Pacific Coast. At least a few (and maybe more) were documented by local birders in the Playa Hermosa area, foraging close to shore. Typically, in Cosa Rica, this species is a bird of pelagic waters although perhaps they occur closer to shore more often than expected? Were they overlooked in the less birded past? Who knows but in any case, this us always an uncommon species for Costa Rica.
As far as other migrants go, some local birders have wondered if we are seeing fewer numbers. Although various factors cloud accurate assessment of abundance during migration, given the effects of climate disruption, insect decline, and other nasty factors on breeding grounds and migration routes, yeah, I bet we are seeing fewer birds. That would match the latest State of the Birds Assessment that shows continued declines in many species.
Off hand, I have had a strong impression of far fewer Cliff Swallows than other years and can’t help but wonder if this is related to so much of their western breeding areas being impacted by climate-change induced drought and heat waves. I have seen quite a few vireos and pewees but perhaps less than in previous years, and although there have been many Swainson’s Thrushes, there still doesn’t seem to be as many as in other years.
Hopefully, there will be good numbers of wintering birds; we do have a good amount of habitat for them.
Once again, the southern Nicoya yields a rare for Costa Rica migrant. On October Global Big Day, Wilfreddo Villalobos found a small group of Bobolinks! The smart looking hay meadow birds might be regular up north but in Costa Rica, you would be lucky to add it to your country list. In common with other migrant hotspots, the southern Nicoya Peninsula is bordered on each side by water and thus could possibly act act as a “funnel” for migrants, or at least attract lost birds flying over the Pacific Ocean.
Any migrant effect isn’t as pronounced as that of the famed hotspots but the place certainly does attract rare migrants every year. I wonder what else is hiding in the tropical forests of that fun, underbirded area? What would a birder see while seawatching from the coast near Cabuya? Go and see what you find!
Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo and Other Rare Resident Birds
The ground-cuckoo has been seen again at antswarms at the Pocosol Station. Honestly, this is no surprise, nor would it be surprising to find them at swarms in other suitable areas but given how generally difficult it is to see this species, it’s always good to know where and when they are being seen.
Another rare resident species seeen recently was a Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle at Nectar and Pollen (!). Lucky local birders had excellent looks at one that took to the air right in front of them! This site and other nearby sites are good places to look for this species but you still need a lot of luck to see one.
Newly Updated, Second Edition of Costa Rica Bird Finding Guide Now Available!
On a personal note, it took a while but the second edition of “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” is finally edited, updated, and available. Since the previous edition was more than 700 pages, one might not expect much more could be said about birding sites in Costa Rica. One could easily be wrong.
This edition includes:
Updated information on strategies to find and see tropical birds in Costa Rica, including the best ways to see uncommon and rare species.
Updated lists of birds to expect, birds to not expect, birds that could be splits, and more.
Updated information for dozens of sites to watch birds in Costa Rica.
Several new sites throughout the country.
Several updated sample itineraries.
Local insider, accurate information about finding birds in Costa Rica.
At more than 900 pages, this book is a tome of birding information meant to enhance every birding trip and birding tour to Costa Rica. One of the benefits of this book is that since it is digital, it doesn’t weigh anything and any subject matter can be easily searched from the table of contents or within the text of the book.
This Costa Rica birding site guide e-book is perfect for birders and bird photographers of all levels planning a birding trip to Costa Rica, wanting to learn more about the birds of Costa Rica, and hoping to see more birds in Costa Rica. Not to mention, every purchase helps keep this blog going. As always, I hope to see you here!
If you purchased the first version in 2022, let me know and I’ll send you the updated version for free. If you bought the book before 2022, this updated, second version is available for $9.00.
The concept of paradise may be subjective but most would agree that it encompasses feelings of happiness in absolutely beautiful surroundings. Most would also equate those beautiful surroundings with natural beauty, often, tropical places with textured vegetation that appeases in a dozen shades of jade. However, peaceful green isn’t the only color on the paradise block. It’s a lovely garden au-naturelle highlighted with the purples, yellows, and deep reds of tropical flowers, and the plumages of “exotic” birds.
In Costa Rica, those birds include toucans, parrots, tanagers, and a few dozen hummingbirds, each adorned with their own set of refracted jewels.
With so much tropical beauty beaing easily accessible, refering to birding in Costa Rica as a certain type of paradise becomes easy. Perhaps it’s no surprise that some places have “paradise” as part of their name. In celebration of October Global Big Day, 2022, my partner and I birded one such place in southeastern Costa Rica, a site known as “Paradise Road“.
Paradise Road is a rural gravel road that connects the coastal road near Punta Uva with another route that leads to Sixaola and the border with Panama. I’ve done some birding on it in the past but never at dawn and never enough for my liking. I guess I end up feeling that way about most sites that host extensive habitat, and especially when they see very little birding.
On this trip, I was pleased to finally bird this road at dawn. These were some highlights:
Most lowland tropical forest sites are good for owls and other nocturnal birds. You can spend hours at night looking for and finding some but the best time to hear them call is just before dawn, say from 4 until 5, maybe most of all from 4:30 to 5:00.
On our morning, shortly after our 4:30 arrival, a Middle American Screech-Owl started trilling close by, a Crested Owl vocalized a couple of times, and the mournful whistles of a Common Potoo sounded off in the humid distance. Closer to dawn, as the decibals of Howler Monkeys filled the air, the screech-owl continued, a Short-tailed Nighthawk called, and we heard Spectacled Owls gruffing from the woods.
If we had arrived earlier and maybe checked a few more sites, I’m sure we would have also heard the two other common owl species of lowland sites in Costa Rica; Mottled and Black-and-White Owls. It was also surprising to not hear Great Potoo, a fairly common bird in that area. However, we couldn’t complain with hearing the voices of four nocturnal species with such little effort.
As the light grew, as is typical for morning birding in lowland rainforest, things got busy with the calls of forest birds. Woodcreepers sounded off (we eventually got all 6 possible species), a few antbirds sang, and other species revealed themselves, one by one.
There were groups of Tawny-crested Tanagers, a few Dusky-faced Tanagers, various flycatchers, Swainson’s Thrushes hopping in the road, toucans in the treetops, and a Collared Forest-Falcon calling from its hidden foliaged lair.
From dawn until 8, it was a morning of constant birds, and I’m sure more than we managed to identify.
Many of those birds were migrants, species arriving on wintering grounds or stopping to feed before moving to the Andes and the Amazon. As expected, the most common migrants were Red-eyed Vireos and Eastern Wood-Pewees, each flitting through trees and sallying from the tips of dead snags. There were also a few swallows flying ovehead, Broad-winged Hawks taking to the air, a few warblers here and there, Scarlet Tanagers, Great-crested Flycatchers, and a Peregrine Falcon watching and waiting to see what it could catch. My favorites were the Kentucky and Mourning Warblers that skulked in their wintering territories, and, by the grace of its “chip” call, an Alder Flycatcher that made it onto my year list.
Thanks to good areas of lowland rainforest, the southern Caribbean zone of Costa Rica is also a good place to see Snowy Cotinga. We had wonderful views of a surreal white-plumaged male that foraged in a tree with semi-cotinga tityras and other birds.
We didn’t have anything super rare but more than 120 species in four hours is nothing to complain about. With more effort, I bet we could find uncommon and rare species like Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon, Black-crowned Antpitta, and Spot-crowned Antvireo. Not to mention, birding this road and area also comes with the odd chance of adding a species to the Costa Rica bird list. I look forward to my next visit.
On this trip, we rented a cabin at Olguita’s Place, a friendly, locally owned spot close to the beach at Punta Uva. To learn more about where to watch birds in Costa Rica, including dozens of insider sites off the beaten path, get How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica. Support this blog by buying it in October, 2022 and I’ll also send you the updated version as soon as it becomes available (it’s almost ready).