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Some of the Best Road Birding in Costa Rica: the Ceiba-Cascajal Road

Great spots for birding in Costa Rica aren’t limited to national parks and protected areas.

Don’t get me wrong, many of those special places are excellent and you can’t go wrong with a day of birding in Carara or Tapanti but they aren’t the only sites to enjoy quality birding time.

In Costa Rica, byways that pass through a mix of private lands with varying degrees of protected status can be replete with excellent “road birding”. One such hotspot is the Ceiba-Cascajal Road, a promising area
that has been consistent with generating a fine variety of rare, uncommon, and serious mega species. As with so many other good birding spots in Costa Rica, it also has an excellent sampling of more expected birds.

Situated west of the town of Orotina in the hot Pacific lowlands, the area is dotted with patches of tropical dry forest, riparian zones, pasture, sugarcane fields, and at least one seasonal wetland. The end result is
habitat for a large number of species and most can be encountered from a good gravel road. This country road links the town of Orotina to smaller settlements and the main coastal highway. Additional side roads probably offer up similar good birding but they might not be as maintained as the main route linking Orotina to Ceiba and Cascajal.

Head to Ceiba and you can keep on birding dry tropical forest and other habitats all the way to Bajamar and Guacalillo; classic areas for birding tours in search of dry forest species. Take the Cascajal route and although it might cover a smaller area, there’s still plenty enough habitat for a fine day of birding. From what I have seen, this road also accesses
more interesting habitat; a mosaic of promising wooded areas with big trees and an open area with a seasonal wetland.

Where to look for birds? While there are plenty of birds to see anywhere along on the roadside, this information should give some notion of expectations:

Dry Forest Birds

A good percentage of tropical dry forest species are present. Although you probably won’t find birds that require larger areas of more intact forest, notably Thicket Tinamou, Elegant Trogon, and Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, there are plenty of Long-tailed Manakins, Turquoise-browed Motmots, Black-headed Trogons, and Striped-headed Sparrows to look at. The more wooded spots and riparian zones will also be good places to look for possible Stub-tailed Spadebill, Royal Flycatcher, Nutting’s Flycatcher, and various other dry forest birds.

One of the many Turquoise-browed Motmots from this road.

Scrubby areas can have Striped and Lesser ground-Cuckoos, Crested Bobwhite, wintering Painted Bunting, and wintering Grasshopper Sparrow (an uncommon, much desired species for local birders), as well as other rare sparrows. Both wooded and scrubby areas occur on various parts of the road.

Wide Open Habitats

When you feel like taking a break from peering into vegetation, scan the open fields for Double-striped Thick-Knee, Southern Lapwing, raptors, swallows, and various other open country species. The thick-knees may be seasonal but even if you don’t see them, there will still be other interesting open country birds to look at including occasional Red-breasted Meadowlark. One such visit to a spot with open fields turned up Costa Rica’s best documented Burrowing Owl!
The sighting prompted Costa Rica’s subsequent biggest twitch which then sadly became Costa Rica’s biggest dip. Did the bird get scared off by too much photography harassment (a growing problem)? That’s always possible but we will never know.

Double-striped Thick-Knee

Seasonal Wetlands

These can occur in a few different parts of the road; one is a low, wet spot in the area with large open fields on both sides of the road, and the other is on the road to Cascajal. This second wetland is particularly interesting as it has some freshwater marsh vegetation and low scrubby growth in wet fields. Although I didn’t see any on a recent visit, the site looks perfect for Wilson’s Snipe and may host uncommon or vagrant wetland species from time to time. I’m eager to give it a good check!

Night Birding

The nocturnal birding on this road can be very productive. Although it may take some time to find the birds, Barn and Striped Owls occur, Pacific Screech-Owl is common in wooded areas with large trees, Mottled Owl is also fairly common in those same spots, Black-and-white Owl sometimes occurs, and Spectacled Owl can show up in the more wooded riparian zones. And those aren’t the only night birds lurking in the dark!

Although uncommon, both Northern and Common Potoo have been found, Lesser Nighthawks are commonly seen in the evening skies,
and Common Pauraques will flush from the track at night. Given the open habitat, it wouldn’t be out of the question to find a rare White-tailed Nightjar and Chuck-will’s Widdow may be found in the winter months.

It’s also a good idea to pay careful attention to any nightjar seen on or perched near the road just in case you find a rare wintering Whip-poor-will or document Spot-tailed Nightjar for Costa Rica. Although not on the official list, some years ago, one may have been seen by Robert Dean and Eduardo Amengual in dry habitat on the road to Monteverde.

Given this possible sighting and its migratory nature, I included it as one of several species to look for on the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app.
The wet, open fields along the Ceiba-Cascajal Road look like a very good place for this mega to occur.

I should also mention if you do go night birding on this road, keep an eye out for snakes. Please watch for any of these shy and over persecuted creatures on the road and be careful to not injure them!

Raptors

The mosaic of tropical habitats and large dove and rodent population make this road an excellent area for raptors. Keep an eye on soaring birds and check the electric pylons and big trees for perched birds.

Here’s the raptor deal on some of what to look for:

Pearl Kite– Uncommon but regular.
Vultures– Among common Black and Turkey Vultures, keep an eye out for the occasional King and rare Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture in open wet fields.
Osprey- There must be more water in this area than I think because I have often see an Osprey or two flapping overhead!
Hook-billed Kite– Uncommon but present.
Gray-headed Kite– Rare but could occur from time to time in more wooded areas.
Plumbeous Kite– An uncommon summer visitor, more common in the Guacimo-Guacalillo part of the road.
Crane Hawk– Rare but does occur in this area.
Bicolored Hawk– Rare but has been recorded.
Cooper’s Hawk– This is a good area for this uncommon wintering species.
Sharp-shinned Hawk– Another uncommon wintering species in Costa Rica.
Northern Harrier– A rare wintering species in Costa Rica, this is a fair spot for it.
Harriss’ Hawk– This road is one of the easier sites for this species in Costa Rica.
Broad-winged Hawk– A common migrant and wintering species.
Short-tailed Hawk– As with many areas in Costa Rica, one of the more commonly seen raptors.
Gray Hawk– One of the most frequent raptor species in Costa Rica.

Roadside Hawk- Another common raptor in Costa Rica, especially in the lowlands.

Roadside-Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawk- Uncommon but regular.
Red-tailed Hawk– In the lowlands, occasional wintering individuals occur. This is a good site for migrants from the north.
Swainson’s Hawk– Although most migrate through Costa Rica, some winter in open areas of the Pacific lowlands.
White-tailed Hawk– An occasional visitor to this area.
Collared Forest-Falcon– As with many sites, fairly common but secretive. Easiest to detect when it calls in the early morning and evening.
Laughing Falcon– Fairly common.
American Kestrel, Merlin, and Peregrine– The open fields of this road are good sites for these wintering species.
Bat Falcon– A pair or two seem to be present and can be seen anywhere along the road.
Aplomado Falcon– Yes! Not expected but this vagrant migrant to Costa Rica has been seen at this site and given the open habitat could occur from time to time.
Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras– fairly common.

Parrots

It’s always fun to see parrots! The three most common species in this area are White-fronted Parrot, Orange-fronted Parakeet, and Orange-chinned Parakeet.

Yellow-naped Parrot, Red-lored Parrot, White-crowned Parrot and Crimson-fronted Parakeet are also regular and even Scarlet Macaw can be seen.

One of several overlooked birding destinations in Costa Rica, in large part, we can thank some local birders for bringing attention to the avian richness and potential of this site, especially Beto Guido, Mckoy Umaña, and others.

I look forward to my next visit, hopefully, one that begins before dawn. To learn more about where to see birds in Costa Rica along with insider tips to look for them, check out “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica“. Happy birding, I hope to see you here!

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Birding Manzanillo, Costa Rica on October Global Big Day, 2021

October is migration season in Costa Rica. It can also be heavy afternoon rain season or even rain all day season but the massive influx of birds is fair compensation. This is the month when us local birders do well by watching green space and inspecting the many Red-eyed Vireos for birds with black whiskers. I’ve put in a fair amount of vireo checking time and although I’m still whiskerless, I’ll keep on looking.

Looking at every gray-capped, pale white and olive bird is worth it and not just because one might have black whiskers. I enjoy each and every one because they have flown from the leafy green summer woods of Ohio, New York, and Ontario. I owe it to them; these are the birds that survived the window gauntlets of the north. I admire their soft, unobtrusive ways and knowing that Costa Rica is just one stop on the flyway train to Amazonia makes these foliage-colored birds sort of unbelievable.

During October Global Big, 2021, I had expected to pass the time checking vireos and other less mobile species right around the home. On account of local driving restrictions, we weren’t allowed to use the car on October 9th, I had become resigned to the idea of local exploration. Not to mention, I had things to do on the day after Global Big Day so why go anywhere? It was birding from home or no birding at all. That was alright, there’s always stuff to see, especially during migration times.

At least that was the idea until my Sunday plans were changed to a later date. Suddenly, the door of possibilities opened to going somewhere for the big eBird count on October 9th! We would have to leave on Friday in order to stay overnight in a place where we could bird on foot or bicycle on Saturday (because of those driving restrictions). Since we would have to wait until Sunday to drive home, well, we would just have to watch birds on that morning too.

It took some quick planning and very few places had availability but before we knew it, our later afternoon and evening plans for Friday included a long drive to Costa Rica’s promised land for migration; the southern Caribbean zone.

The South Caribbean region of Costa Rica includes any of the lands south of Limon. I always love visiting this underbirded part of the country because there is a good amount of nice forest habitat, beaches and estuaries that turn up interesting seabirds, cool resident species, interesting Caribbean culture, and fantastic bird migration.

Stay just about anywhere south of Limon and you will see a lot. Partly because of room availability, we ended up in Manzanillo. I’m not complaining. This little town near the end of the line around 15 kilometers past Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is surrounded by the rainforests of the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, an excellent underbirded area that host a healthy variety of lowland species along with a big helping of migrants. Since the village of Manzanillo acts as a clearing in that forest, it can attract some interesting open country species as well as be a great place to see birds in flight as they make their way south.

Some suggestions and highlights from our trip:

Guapiles-Limon Highway- Night Driving is a No No

This principal highway has been under construction for some years now. It will still be some years before it’s finished. When it is finished, the driving should be fantastic, day and maybe night too. Until then, I highly advise only driving that road during the day. On Friday, we found ourselves doing some night driving and…it was like participating in a road trip from another dimension, one where nightmares are the norm. No illumination, no painted road lanes, the only reflectors being some small posts that marked the edge of the road (which happened to be a small cliff that dropped a meter or more). There were also big trucks, a few confusing lane changes, and a few random criminally negligent road craters.

If you do find yourself driving that particular byway during the dark hours, if you make it to Limon and its any consolation, the driving after that point is sweet and easy-going. Time your trip accordingly.

Birding in Manzanillo Village- Check the Streams

In the early morning of October 9th, I walked a block or two up the road to a small stream that passes next to an empty weedy lot and heads straight into wetlands with Raffia palms. As soon as I got there I heard a splash followed by soft ticking calls. I knew it had to be one of the small kingfishers and as I had suspected, yes (!), it was the smallest one.

That American Pygmy-Kingfisher flew downstream but right after its departure, I heard more ticking calls, this time from the part of the stream next to the vacant lot. A quick scan and I couldn’t believe my luck, it was the rarest of the small kingfishers, a Green-and-Rufous! Next thing I knew, it was zipping my way, seemingly pursued by a Clay-colored Thrush. The jade and burnt orange kingfisher flew about a meter next to me as it jetted past.

This is a Green-and-rufous Kingfisher from Cano Negro.

Birding that same spot also gave us nice looks at Prothonotary Warbler, Canebrake Wren, and some other birds, the most interesting being a surprise Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, a bird much more normally encountered on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific slope.

Pay an Early Visit to the Trails in Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

We ended up visiting the official trails of the refuge after in the later par of the morning. We hadn’t planned it that way, in fact, we hadn’t planned on doing that at all. But since we were walking over that way, we ended up entering and walking the trails for a short ways.

We saw several Tawny-crested Tanagers (very common in this area) and some other birds but if I could do it again (and I would like to), I would enter the trails right at the opening time of 6:30. That would result in much more bird activity coupled with less people activity. On our weekend visit, the place was crowded like Disney.

I should mention that visiting the trails (of which there are a few, most follow the beach) was as easy as writing down your name and some other information, having your bag briefly checked for alcohol beverages (leave the wine back at the hotel!), and visiting a hand washing station (commonplace in Costa Rica since the start of the pandemic).

Check Out the Soccer Field (Football Pitch)

As with settlements of all sizes in Costa Rica and most parts of the world away from Canada and the USA, Manzanillo had a soccer field (football pitch). This is always a good place to check, especially during migration. It’s where Costa Rica’s sole record of Whistling Heron was made and where other occasional vagrants have appeared.

On our visit, the field hosted a bunch of Eastern Kingbirds, Dickcissels, and a few resident species. The kingbirds were perched on the ground either resting and/or fluttering after bugs. I have never seen anything like it! As a major bonus, one of the only kingbirds perched in a tree next to the pitch just happened to be a long overdue country bird; a Gray Kingbird!

The pale Caribbean version of a TK gave us fantastic looks in perfect light. At some point, we had to stop watching it, a shame we didn’t bring the camera!

Bird the RECOPE Road or the Road Towards Puerto Viejo for Great Forest Birding, or Bird Both

Both of these options are just outside of the village and both are excellent for a number of Caribbean lowland species. We didn’t see anything crazy but the birding early Sunday morning was nevertheless excellent. I heard fruitcrows and Central American Pygmy-Owls, had fun watching Northern Barred and Black-striped Woodcreepers, and was challenged by trying to watch dozens and dozens of small birds way up there in the canopy. Most were Red-eyed Vireos but other bird were with them too, it was the fun type of busy.

Central American Pygmy Owl

Don’t Forget About the Village Birding

Manzanillo itself also makes for some nice birding. We enjoyed flocks of Eastern Kingbirds and streams of migrating swallows. Common Nighthawks in the evening and plenty of parrots, tanagers, flycatchers, and other birds during the day. There were also the two aforementioned kingfishers, a calling Great Potoo at night, the Yellow-crowned Tyarnnulet, and other species. It’ the type of place where every bird should be checked and where a Tiny Hawk can suddenly appear at the tip top of a tree.

Our October Global Big Day turned out to be a pleasant 127 species surprise. Not bad for doing all of our birding on foot, taking a short afternoon nap, and meeting with friends for drinks on the beach. I can’t wait for my next birding trip to the southern Caribbean zone of Costa Rica.

To learn more about this and other birding sites in Costa Rica, check out “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica“; a 700 plus page birding companion for Costa Rica.

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Costa Rica Birding News October, 2021

October in Costa Rica is a month of migration. It’s our May, the time of year for local birders to perk up their ears, check those recent sightings in eBird and get themselves into the birding zone. Knowing that thousands of birds are passing through Costa Rican territory night and day, it’s a challenge to not wander outside and connect with that migration flow.

However, if there were a birding bible, it would likely say, “One cannot live on watching birds alone, there are other important things in life too.” With that in mind, I am grateful to be able to get in an hour of birding on most mornings and I also venture further afield now and then. Thanks to eBird and Facebook pages, I’m also kept informed of some sweet sightings made by Costa Rica’s strong (and growing) local birding community. Check out some of the latest notable birding news from Costa Rica:

White-cheeked Pintail at Punta Morales

Local birder Mckoy Umana has found more than one rarity. Thanks to his skills of observation and dedication, Mary and I saw a beautiful mega Gray-hooded Gull last year at Punta Morales. A few days ago, he did it again by finding a mega White-cheeked Pintail at the same site! Several other birders have gone to see this vagrant duck, I hope it stays long enough for us to lay eyes on it too. One can’t help but wonder if it’s the same individual that was seen near Ciudad Neily earlier this year. It also makes me wonder what other cool vagrant waterfowl are waiting in present and future birding wings.

Oilbird Tracked with Transmitter!

Thanks to another talented local birder and guide, an Oilbird in Costa Rica has finally been tracked with a transmitter! Given that we don’t know where these nocturnal birds are coming from, this is probably the most important Costa Rica bird news of the year. Thanks to persistence and hard work carried out by David Rodriguez, for the first time, data are finally available showing movements of an Oilbird in Costa Rica.

Oilbird in Costa Rica
The Oilbird is some weird, nocturnal, mega whatnot. This was my lifer from 2013.

Although the transmitter stopped recording before it entered any caves (as far as is known), it did show that the bird traveled more than 200 kilometers while visiting sites near the Pacific Coast.

Cerulean Warblers Tracked with Transmitters!

Odd nocturnal birds weren’t the only species tracked in Costa Rica. Thanks to MOTUS towers that were recently erected, Cerulean Warblers fitted with transmitters have been tracked in Costa Rica and in Panama. This work was accomplished by Ernesto Carman, Paz Irola, and other folks associated with the Cerulean Project.

A Good Year for Buff-breasted Sandpipers (or Just Better Detection?)

This fall migration seems to have been especially good for Buff-breasted Sandpipers. This long distance Arctic migrant was seen by several local birders at sites in Guanacaste and at the Juan Santamaria Airport (my partner and I were pleased to have seen one a few days ago). Each year, “Buffies” migrate through Costa Rica but since they don’t have a huge population and can just fly right on over Costa Rica in a jiffy, they can be easily missed.

For the past few years, though, Buff-breasteds have been seen in Costa Rica at several sites on an annual basis. Unfortunately, I doubt the additional sightings are from an unknown yet very welcome increase in their numbers. Don’t we all wish that were the case! Such a hopeful situation would be wonderful and I would love to be proved wrong but more Buffies being seen in Costa Rica is almost certainly a result of there being higher numbers of skilled local birders looking for them. The more people looking the better, now who’s going to find us a Red-necked Stint? If not one of those Sibs, a Curlew Sandpiper will do…

Pacific Golden-Plover Seen at Cocos Island

Speaking of lost shorebirds, in September, a Pacific Golden-Plover was reported from Cocos Island. Given that one was also seen there last year, a few other records from mainland Costa Rica have also come to light, and because we are talking about a bird all too easily passed off an an American Golden-Plover, I can’t help but wonder if the bird from Alaska occurs as an annual vagrant. Yet another situation for observant local birders to be aware of.

Bare-necked Umbrellabirds at Centro Manu

Yes, finally, some news about a resident species every birder headed to Costa Rica would love to see! This rare mega is a choice species equally hoped for by local birders. It can turn up at any number of sites but because they are so few in number, chances at seeing them always seem frustratingly dismal. Not at the moment!

Although far from guaranteed, lately, several of this endangered species have been seen at Centro Manu. This species moves around so it’s hard to say how long they will be there but recently, one or more have been seen on a daily basis. Might they stay until January? The answer probably depends in part on how much food is available.

Fortunately, we may have some good gen about the big cotinga’s daily occurrence thanks to local birder Kenneth Guttierez. His family owns the place and he checks the trails just about every day. Let’s hope the birds stay into February. I should also add that their presence highlights the importance of forest reserves in the transition zone between foothills and lowlands. This ecotone is what umbrellabirds (and various other birds) need, it should be a priority for reforestation efforts.

That’s about all for Costa Rica birding news for today. I could also mention that hundreds of resident species are waiting to be seen but that’s actually not news because in Costa Rica, fantastic birding is expected. Hope to see you here!

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Birding Costa Rica: Classic Sites or Off the Beaten Path?

The routes that birding tours in Costa Rica follow are like those of most nations; you go where the birds are BUT in accessible places near enough to other sites to make the route feasible during a week or two of birding. They also need to offer the right blend of comfort, service, food, and security.

A Black-crested Coquette from Rancho Naturalista, one of Costa Rica’s classic birding sites.

No matter where you bring the binos, this winning tour combination is basically why so many birding tours tend to follow similar routes. Not always, but for logistical reasons, many tours follow a similar circuit and why not? If a birding tour route keeps clients happy and can lessen the chances of running into snags, its a good one. Why not always use the same or similar routes? Those routes can also help with planning a birding trip. Using a blend of trip reports and tour company itineraries as a template for your own trip has long been an easy way to know where to go. After all, you can’t go wrong by visiting the same places as the group tours, right?

Maybe…trip success depends on what birds you want to see and how you want to go birding. See a good number of birds while staying in comfortable rooms? Yeah, those tour itineraries will work but if Black-crowned Antpitta and other uncommon target species are reasons for the trip, the well traveled birding byways won’t be your best option.

The same goes for adventurous birders who would rather explore on their own, visit less birded sites, or pay less. Solo birding, or with a private group? The classic sites will still work to produce a wonderful birding trip to Costa Rica but if you want something a little bit different, perhaps see if you can document a Solitary Eagle, don’t overlook the luxury of having the liberty to bird wherever and whenever you want.

Birding on your own, in a small group or on a custom tour and you have a lot more leeway but there’s that one big catch; how do you know where to go? Check out Google Maps and there’s promising looking patches and extensions of ruffled green. But what’s it like on the ground? Some places seem to have roads, some don’t, and some of the better looking spots only have one eBird list.

With that in mind, it’s all too easy to stick to the spots that have been eBirded to the max because after all, at least you know what’s there. With so much coverage, you have a fair idea of which birds roam the woods of places like Rancho Naturalista and La Selva Biological Station (even with an error or two) but what if you want to bird other, lesser known spots?

Isn’t it just as worthwhile to bird places with large areas of forest even if they lack or have smaller eBird lists? You bet it is. The birds aren’t where people have uploaded lists, they occur where the habitat exists and the places with the most species will always be sites with the largest areas of mature, intact forest. It’s pretty simple, if you want to connect with rarities, see more raptors, and see the highest number of species, spend more time in mature forest.

Don’t worry too much about the second growth, you will still see plenty of edge species at and near the forest. If you are up for exploration, try these routes and regions:

Large areas of forest in the north

Check out forest along roads north and west of Rincon de la Vieja, and north and east of Laguna del Lagarto. Not that one could expect to be so lucky but it’s still worth mentioning that Costa Rica’s most recent documented Harpy Eagle sighting happened north of Rincon de la Vieja. I know I wouldn’t mind spending a lot more time up that way. The same goes for sites near Laguna del Lagarto, Maquenque, and east of there.

The area south of Limon

There’s a lot of excellent forest habitat near and south of Limon. It’s underbirded, it probably hosts some sweet surprises, and the region seems to be the best part of the country for Black-crowned Antpitta and Great Jacamar. What else might live out there? Various roads that penetrate forest will work for some birding excitement including ones near Cahuita, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Gandoca, and Hitoy Cerere.

Great Jacamar

The Osa Peninsula

Want to look for Crested Eagle while watching Baird’s Trogons and Black-cheeked Ant-Tanagers, try the La Tarde area and birding on the road to Rancho Quemado and Drake Bay. Seeing one of the prize eagles would be a maybe lottery ticket but it’s always fun to look for it.

Black cheeked Ant Tanager

Other Spots With Promising Habitat

Any other spot with habitat will be good birding, a few to try include the road from Varablanca to San Miguel de Sarapiqui, roads east of Tirimbina, sites south of Guapiles and Siquirres, roads near Dominical, and the Las Tables area north of San Vito.

Still not sure where to go birding in Costa Rica? Don’t sweat it too much, find some habitat and the birding will deliver. Find out more about birding sites in Costa Rica with How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica , a site guide and birding companion to Costa Rica. If you do find a Solitary Eagle, please get a picture and let me know, I know a lot of local birders who would love to see one. Until then, happy birding wherever you might be raising the binos.

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Costa Rica Birding News Flash- Early September, 2021

Fall is happening in Costa Rica. There won’t be any foliage color changes nor any cool, crisp weather but autumn still happens. Much to the enjoyment of birders, in tropical Costa Rica, the signs of September change take an avian form. It’s not exactly like temperate zone migration (don’t expect skeins of geese, nor massive movements of grackles and blackbirds) but then again, we don’t live in a place with annual freezing conditions.

In Costa Rica, the signs of fall are flocks of shorebirds, some of the them staying for the duration, others moving much further south. Fall in Costa Rica is flocks of Red-eyed Vireos hiding in the foliage; more intent on imitating leaves than testing their vocal chords. It’s thousands, millions of swallows and Chimney Swifts flowing south. Keep looking up and you also see the river of raptors; Mississippi Kites, Swainson’s Hawks, and Turkey Vultures.

These are some signs of our autumn, ones that arrives in force but on quiet wings. Some of the newsworthy birding items from Costa Rica for early September, 2021:

First Passerine Migrant Push

The first songbird migrants have arrived on the scene. Both wood-pewee species have started moving through the country along with good numbers of Willow/Alder Flycatchers, Red-eyed Vireos, and the first wood-warblers. Those would be American Redstart, Yellow Warblers, and a few others including the cherry on the birding cake; the coveted Cerulean Warbler. A few of these special canopy birds have been spotted here and there, especially in expected middle elevation habitats on the Caribbean slope. I’m still waiting to get lucky with one out back any day now.

Upland Sandpiper (!)

Not many have been recorded but it’s likely that dozens of the classic grasspiper are passing through the night skies. Most probably don’t stop, others perhaps settle down in wide open, underbirded fields in Guanacaste. A few, though, pause in open habitats of the Central Valley, especially at sites around the airport. On September 3rd, thanks to a message from Diego Quesada of Birding Experiences, and the Garrigues brothers for finding and reporting the bird, Marilen and I saw our annual Upland Sandpiper.

While we watched it, I was reminded how well this prairie species can blend in with its surroundings, it was more or less impossible to see without binoculars.

Tahiti Petrel and Other Pelagic Species

Local birders on a recent pelagic trip off of Malpais were treated to wonderful looks at a Tahiti Petrel along with Sabine’s Gull and other sweet species of the deep marine zone. The numerous trips arranged by Wilfredo Villalobos have had a wonderful double impact on local birding; increased knowledge of pelagic birds in Costa Rican waters while helping local birders connect with cool lifers.

Thanks to these and other trips, we now know that Tahiti Petrel is quite regular in Costa Rica (although perhaps related to warmer waters caused by climate change?) and great pelagic birding is possible just 30 minutes from the coast.

Yellow-green Vireos in Costa Rica- Still Singing

In some ways, the Yellow-green Vireo is analogous to the Red-eyed Vireo of temperate North America. Like the Red-eyed, it migrates to breeding areas and then returns to South America for the winter. On the breeding grounds, it also sings for hours on end and looks a bit like the Red-eyed Vireo. Unlike the Red-eyed, though, it can occur in more fragmented habitat, has a larger bill, and more yellow in its plumage (among other field marks).

The past few days, it has been interesting to hear snatches of song from a Yellow-green Vireo. Maybe this common wet season resident of Costa Rica’s Central Valley couldn’t help itself but I wonder if the vocal behavior was associated with an especially rainy wet season. Did it think that maybe it should try for one more nesting attempt? Since the songs weren’t all that emphatic, its instincts to move south probably got the better of it.

Bare-necked Umbrellabirds at La Selva

La Selva guide Ademar Hurtado has been making local birders smile by way of Bare-necked Umbrellabirds. After breeding in cloud forests, this endangered mega migrates to lower elevations, including la Selva biological station; a classic post-breeding site for the species. Hopefully, those individuals and additional umbrellabirds will linger at La Selva until they move back upslope in February.

Birding Influencers and Guides in Costa Rica on Proimagen Futuropa Promotional Trip

This past week, several birding influences and guides from several nations have been visiting sites in Costa Rica on a promotional trip known as “Birdingbliss 2021”. Arranged by Proimagen and Futuropa and with help from I.C.T (the Costa Rica tourism institution), Costa Rica Birding, and various hotels, the participants have been getting a taste of Costa Rica birds at Tortuguero, the Dota Valley, the Sierpe Mangroves, Quepos, and other birdy places.

Hopefully, as they experience and showcase the avian side of Costa Rica, they will see plenty of target species and eventually return with guests of their own.

In Costa Rica, with the main part of fall migration just getting started, I better go outside and see what’s around. Happy birding, I hope to see you here!

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biodiversity bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Tinamous in Costa Rica: How Common are They?

Tinamous are one of several types of birds guaranteed to be completely unfamiliar to birders from North America and northern Eurasia. Birders from other places may also feel perplexed but may also find their appearance slightly more normal. Africans may be reminded of Guineafowl and Francolins, and folks from Asian and Australia might have visions of Megapodes.

An ancient lineage of terrestrial birds restricted to the neotropical region, tinamous haunt the undergrowth of tropical forest, second growth and, in the Andes and southern South America, grassland habitats. As with other ground birds, tinamous can be tough to see. We can’t blame them, over the course of several million years, it was always in their best interest to stay unseen in home ranges stalked by a fantastic host of deadly predators.

Being highly evolved to stay alive is why they tip their way through the leaves so quietly and carefully, why they would rather sing from the shadows than run into the open, and why tinamous are heard way more often than seen. Those carefully honed attributes work well because in many places, as long as the habitat is present and hunting is controlled, most species are common.

Not that one can expect to see tinamous all the time but in protected areas, these odd, football-shaped birds aren’t that rare, especially in Costa Rica.

Go birding in any sizeable area of lowland rainforest and you will probably hear the calls of a Great Tinamou. This species can also range into the foothills but seems more common in lowland forest. Listen for its tremulous whistles and watch for it in places like Carara, Tirimbina, and La Selva. In these and other sites where it has become accustomed to people, the Great Tinamou can be downright tame.

Slaty-breasted Tinamous aren’t seen as often as Great Tinamous but they are still pretty common. La Selva is probably the easiest place to see them, with patience, you can even connect on the entrance road. In other places, I have heard a surprising number of Slaty-breasteds give their low pitched calls from lowland rainforest, perhaps especially in sites with treefall gaps or other spots with some thick, protective understory.

Like the Great, the Slaty-breasted also occurs in lowland and foothill forest, although only on the Caribbean slope.

Go birding in Costa Rica in lowland and foothill sites with second growth and you will probably hear the loud whistles of the Little Tinamou. Listen for a bird that sounds like a horse that inhaled a hefty dose of helium. Seeing it is another matter; this small quail-like bird jst loves dense second growth habitat. The Little Tinamou might even be one of the most heard, unseen species in Costa Rica. As with other tinamous, with patience, it can eventually be seen. It might just take a while.

Go birding in tropical dry forest and the low whistles of the Slaty-breasted Tinamou are exchanged for the single whistle of the Thicket Tinamou. As with other tinamou species in Costa Rica, this one is much more common than expected. However, in many places, it seems to be shyer than other tinamous and thus more difficult to see. This is probably because it gets hunted more than the other species.

Thicket Tinamous can be viewed in dry and moist forest from near the Ensenada area north to Nicaragua. As with laying eyes on other tinamous, patience is a big virtue, your best chances are in places where they aren’t as shy, places like Palo Verde and Santa Rosa National Parks.

Lastly, we have the least common feathered American football in Costa Rica, the much coveted Highland Tinamou. Among international birders, this species tends to be more of a target than other tinamous because even though it ranges from Costa Rica to parts of northern South America, reliable sites for this bird are few.

It’s not as common as the lowland tinamous but it’s not all that rare either. I have heard them in many places, including a few calling from the cloud forests on the road to Poas, and they occur in fair numbers in most cloud forest sites (up to 2,000 or so meters). With that in mind, the best place in the world to see a Highland Tinamou is probably the Monteverde area. Stalk trails through cloud forest and you might lay eyes on this prize.

Tinamous are more common than you think; learn their calls and practice patience and you might see a few. Wondering where or how to see tinamous and other unfamiliar species in Costa Rica? Find some answers in How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

In the meantime, happy birding!

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biodiversity Birding Costa Rica migration

The First Fall Migrant Out Back, Costa Rica, 2021

I should have gotten up earlier this morning. As a birder knows, the early hours are when the action really takes place. Watch a suitable spot in that first main hour of another glorious day and you might be surprised by the birds that fly through your field of view. However, start watching two hours later and you might want to curb the expectations. By then, the height of the avian rush hour has passed, you will have missed out on most of the action. At least, that’s how it is in Costa Rica and is why I wasn’t expecting anything when I started this morning’s casual back balcony bird watch.

Not having planned on birding this morning, the watch out back began well after dawn. It was more of a casual listen and look just to see if anything was out there. No focused, dedicated birding, I didn’t even bring the binoculars. I wasn’t surprised to see more of trees and other types of vegetation than birds but there were still a few things of avian origin, there always is.

Red-billed Pigeons were on their usual perch.

Cabanis’s Wrens called from a leafy wall of second growth, Blue Grosbeaks sang, and a Yellow-bellied Elaenia “screamed”. Fresh coffee is good but it’s always better with bird song! My casual coffee and birding changed when I noticed a small, “dull” bird perched on the tip of a thin, broken snag. I hustled back inside to get the binocs but sure enough, even though it was a two second interval, the bird had gone.

You can’t expect a bird to wait, it’s got survival to be concerned with. I kept my eyes on that snag, though, because I had a fair notion about the bird I had glimpsed. I figured it might come back and sure enough, a few seconds later, it zipped back to materialize on its perch. By instinct, I got my binoculars on the bird and a quick check confirmed my suspicion.

Western Wood-Pewee (from another day but on the same perch)

For birders from western North America, a WEWP might not seem like much, especially if you are visiting Costa Rica. For me, though, it won the prize as my first fall, 2021 passerine migrant seen out back. It was expected and the perch it chose was where I often see them but I was still impressed.

Impressed because the small flycatcher with the long wings could have spent the summer in Alaska. It could have flown from the conifers of Colorado, shared space with Lazuli Buntings and watched Cougars prowl. It could have come from Yellowstone, been seen by birders there or so many other places. Before it came to Costa Rica, it had to watch out for and avoid the Sharp-shinneds and Merlins that would be ever eager to end its life (they gotta eat too). Around here, it has to avoid Bat Falcons, snakes, and other hungry predators.

This past summer, “my” WEWP may have fled from horrendous fires, may have seen the clouds of smoke and high-tailed it south earlier than expected. No matter where it came from, it probably stopped off in Mexican mountains on the way, maybe even in places where I watched Red Warblers decorate dark conifers long ago.

All I can say for sure is that it came from some far off place to fly through long nights, always flying south, and when it got to Costa Rica, it chose a perfect perch out back. I hope it caught its fill of bugs. I hope it stays well on its way to wintering grounds on Andean slopes. When Western Wood-Pewee migration happens in spring, as it makes the journey back to the mountains of the north, I hope it stops here again. Most of all, I hope we can make the changes needed to ensure habitat for the bird, for us humans, and for future people to see a WEWP and feel amazed.

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biodiversity Birding Costa Rica

What are These “New” Birds for Costa Rica?

Costa Rica just got some birds added to the country list! Well, at least some common name changes in eBird. Since the recent, latest taxonomic changes made to the super popular birding platform, if you happen to spot a Tawny-throated Leaftosser doing its reclusive ground bird thing while birding in Costa Rica, you won’t find it listed with that name. As of the latest taxonomic change, it has been officially renamed “Middle American Leaftosser”.

Why the new name? An official change in nomenclature for a bird can happen for a few different reasons, one of the most common being that the bird in question was split into more than one species. Since we have yet to be converted into robots, instead of calling the newly recognized evolutionary groupings something like Tawny-throated Leaftosser Number One, Tawny-throated Leaftosser Two, and so on, they are usually given names that reflect certain distinctive aspects of their plumages. But wait, don’t leaftossers look sort of you know, the damn same? Yes, many do but there’s an easy, fitting fix resolved by distribution. When the separate species look pretty darn similar, they can just be named after where they occur.

That works out just fine for Middle American Leaftosser. It fits and since vocalization differences and high molecular differences have been known for this taxon for some time, the split was also very much anticipated (welcome to the world of birding Middle American Leaftosser!). But why did the split take so long to happen? The reason why this particular renaming and other new names for birds in Costa Rica happened now is because studies were finally published that demonstrated evidence to propose splitting those birds. Proposals were then made to taxonomic committees (oh yes, they do exist!), and once accepted and included in the Clements List, eBird then also accepted those changes. And voila, here we are.

Since the official Costa Rica bird list also follows the Clements list, we can probably expect those new names in the next edition of the Birds of Costa Rica Field Guide by Garrigues and Dean, and in update for the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app.

These are the other “new birds” for Costa Rica, the ones to look for when making those eBird lists:

White-browed Gnatcatcher– This is a split from the Tropical Gnatcatcher and is the name given to birds that occur in Central America and in some dry habitats west of the Andes. Although descriptive, now, in addition to worrying about separating this bird from the similarly plumaged White-lored Gnatcatcher, we can also worry about confusing their names (and they do occur together in many places too).

Grass Wren– See a Sedge Wren in Costa Rica? Not any more! The Sedge Wrens in Ohio and other places in the north have been separated from the non-migratory Grass Wrens of Mexico and lands to the south. Keep an eye on the birds in Costa Rica, you never know if or when the populations of “Grass Wren” there and Panama might be given species recognition. They are also very local and probably locally endangered.

Chestnut-capped Warbler– The many years in waiting and anticipated split of the Rufous-capped Warbler has finally taken place! This is a change that will certainly please listers, splitters, systematists, and wood-warblerists (if you like wood-warblers, this means you) and should be appropriately celebrated with your choice of libation. If you saw one of those white-bellied birds in Arizona, it was a Rufous-capped. See one in Costa Rica? Chestnut-capped!

Cinnamon-bellied Saltator– Now that name has a ring to it! Goodbye Grayish Saltator, hello three way split with birds from Middle and Central America now being known as le Cinnamon-bellied Saltator. A nice name for a common garden bird with an easy-going, whistled song.

But that’s not all! There are also birds that were split but continue to have the same name in Costa Rica. Speaking of splits, it would also be negligent to not mention a few good candidates for future splits in Costa Rica (although I have done it before, it’s still worth doing again). Keep an eye on these birds and celebrate the eBird armchair ticks!:

Gray-rumped Swift– Birds in Central America are at least separate from some other taxa in South America.

White Hawk– Not the same as the White Hawks from the Amazon.

Great Black-Hawk– A good one to look into as plumage and perhaps behavior differ from birds in the Amazon (which act more like Common Black-Hawk there).

Choco Screech-Owl– Make sure to see those birds in southern Costa Rica because they are probably something new.

Black-faced Antthrush– If you have seen “this bird” in Mexico or northern Central America (except eastern Honduras), open a beer for the Mayan Antthrush! If you have also seen it in South America, keep tabs on where because although it hasn’t been split yet, based on vocal differences, there could be anywhere from 1 to 3 more species waiting in the evolutionary wings.

Black-headed Antthrush– The birds that occur in Costa Rica and western Panama could have enough differences in their songs to separate them from the ones in western South America (and maybe the Darien).

Streak-chested Antpitta– This is a split I would probably bet on as the differences in song and plumage as as much as ones shown by similar, accepted splits of taxa from the Amazon. Try to see birds from the Caribbean slope and from the Pacific slope (easier said than done unfortunately).

Long-tailed Woodcreeper– An eventual split, at least from Amazonian birds.

Olivaceous Woodcreeper– Several distinct groups have been known for many years, one of them occurs in Central America including Costa Rica. The others occur in various places in South America which means that you have to try and see as many as you can!

Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner– The Chiriqui ws already split, hopefully, studies can elucidate how many other species are involved.

Sharpbill– There’s a good chance that each main group is a distinct species. Maybe, maybe not but always cool to see in any case (and not exactly easy in Costa Rica).

Scrub Euphonia- Crack open another cold one for the newly recognized Godman’s Euphonia of western Mexico!

Want to know how to identify and where to find these and other birds in Costa Rica? See “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. Until then, I hope to see you in Costa Rica!

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Recent Rains, Tragedy, and Rare Birds in Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, we are in the midst of the wet season but a recent extreme event brought more rain than we needed. Too much rain. Enough to foster terrible flooding, landslides and additional havoc that have upended the lives of many. The rains started sometime on Wednesday, July 23rd and continued to pummel and drench the ground for the next couple of days. Although most of the country experienced a thorough soaking, the brunt of the wet wave from above blasted the Turrialba area and the adjacent southern Caribbean zone.

At home in the Central Valley, the rain was constant and reminiscent of a hurricane only with much less wind. Not being related to Aquaman, there was no way I was venturing outside. I can only imagine what it must have been like in Turrialba where the rains were much worse; nearly 100 square meters more rain fell in one day than typically falls in a month (and these places aren’t exactly dry to begin with!).

Additional parts of the country affected by this extreme rain event were Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, Boca Tapada (think the road to Laguna del Lagarto), Caño Negro, and other sites in the north. One of the most nightmarish accounts came from the village of Boca San Carlos. Situated at the confluence of the San Carlos and San Juan Rivers, the small settlement became completely inundated. Then, the rivers rose to became one and kept on rising until the massive amount of flowing waters reached the roof of the local school. Folks took refuge on top of their humble homes and killed snakes that tried to reach those same “dry” sanctuaries (several of the serpents were likely the Fer-de-Lance, a deadly viper). A woman who survived the ordeal mentioned an unknown hero who arrived with a small boat to ferry them to safety and thus save their lives. She talks about the life-threatening experience at this link to Costa Rica Hoy (in Spanish).

If there is any good news after the sudden loss of homes, possessions, and missing people (which thankfully appears to very few), it’s that the rains did stop, most people were evacuated to shelters in time and are receiving at least some assistance, and all of the roads were quickly repaired. However, as much as that is excellent, positive news, it would be negligent to not mention that given the current climate crisis (and yes, I would say that boreal forests burning, major droughts, life-threatening heat, etc. make it an absolute crisis), such extreme events like this one, floods in Germany, and elsewhere are likely the new norm. We need massive change everywhere and we need it now because if not, it’s only going to get worse.

On the bird side of things, the birding in Costa Rica is wonderful and exciting as ever. Various bird populations are also affected by climate change but it’s still great birding. Ironically, this year being a wet one will also likely help them, maybe give them a respite from prolonged drier than normal weather that has affected productivity which has thus likely, in turn, affected nesting success. This may explain why raptors, woodcreepers, hummingbirds, oropendolas, and various other species seem to occur in rather lower numbers than ten or more years ago.

That said, you can still have plenty of great, exciting birding. Last week, as I navigated rains and looked for weather forecasts, I had excellent birding while guiding on the Manuel Brenes Road, at Pocosol Research Station, El Copal, and other sites.

Birding on the Manuel Brenes Road

Light rain on the Manuel Brenes Road gave a constant boost to bird activity nearly to the point of there being too many birds to look at (and that’s how we want it!). Every time we stopped the vehicle, we had mixed flocks of tanagers and other species including close looks at uncommon Blue-and-Gold Tanagers, Black-and-Yellow Tanagers, and much more.

While the small birds rushed through the misty rainforest, a few Three-wattled Bellbirds called just out of sight, and we heard such coveted species as Lattice-tailed Trogon, Black-headed Antthrush, and Northern Schiffornis. In a few hours, we had more than 70 species. I wonder what an entire day there may have turned up?

Birding Irazu

In late July, the star bird species of the Noche Buena complex was present. Not just one or two calling males either but 12, maybe even 14 Maroon-chested Ground-Doves. Seeding bamboo? Nope! The small, colorful doves were foraging in fallow potato fields along with Mourning Doves, Rufous-collared Sparrows and a couple other common species. They were extremely timid but we still got good looks at them in flight and perched. Having a male Resplendent Quetzal fly over and land in a nearby tree while watching the doves made the day that much more memorable. Good looks at Wrenthrush and Timberline Wren were also a treat, as was hearing the unrepentant calls of an Unspotted Saw-whet Owl that remained hidden in the cold, dark night.

Maroon-chested Ground-Doves were feeding in this field.

Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow

I can’t call this bird rare but it’s pretty uncommon and skulky. We were pleased to have good looks at a pair in coffee farms north of Villa San Ignacio. I think it might be easier during the wet season (or less difficult).

Birding El Copal

El Copal has excellent foothill and middle elevation rainforest. It’s off the beaten track and it’s rustic but the people who run the place are really nice and the birding is wonderful. In addition to the constant tanager show (that included Emerald Tanager, Black-and-Yellow Tanager, and Ashy-throated Chlorospingus), we also connected with such stand-outs as Chiriqui Quail-Dove, White-crowned Manakin, Bicolored Hawk, and Barred Hawk.

No Lovely Cotinga for us on that day but a few lucky birders did see a blue and purple male at the Arenal Observatory Lodge a few days ago.

Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle

One of the least common raptors in Costa Rica, this species is usually seen by lucky birders who scan the skies at Braulio Carrillo, Selva Bananito, or other choice lowland foothill rainforest sites. Much to the local birding community surprise and glee, one or two were found and photographed at a site in the upper parts of the Central Valley! Discovered a couple days ago, and seen by several people today, (August 2), we can only hope for it to take a liking to that area and stay for a while.

I am pretty sure this rare species has never been seen in these parts before and I suspect that it came up there because it wasn’t finding enough food in the place it came from. It’s impossible to say where that may have been but I dare say that the lack of food is likely related to destruction of habitat for pineapple fields and/or fewer of the medium to large birds that this species preys on. There might be enough pigeons and guans for it to feed on in the highlands above Sarchi, though. I sure hope so as it would be wonderful to have a reliable Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle within easy striking distance from hotels in the Central Valley!

Until next time, as usual, good birding, I hope you see that Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle!

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biodiversity bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica

Saltators- The Pseudo Cardinals of Costa Rica

Northern Cardinals don’t live in Costa Rica and maybe it’s better that way. I admit that I am biased by memories and early birding impressions of snowy backyards where the fancy, crested bird was accompanied by chirping House Sparrows. It was a bird of cold places with steel gray skies that thawed into floral scented Springs and warm temperate woodland Junes.

“Northern cardinal” by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Midwest Region is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In my mind, the Northern Cardinal belongs in brushy woodlands and places where Red-winged Blackbirds sing from reedy ditches and skeins of geese fly their way north. While the crested “Redbird” does play a role in many such situations, as strong as my first cardinal impressions may be, they only tell a small, subjective part of its story. Cardinals don’t just live in the annual frozen landscapes of the north. In southern Mexico, they also share ecological space with many tropical birds. Visit pyramids in the Yucatan and you might find yourself listening to a soundscape where a cardinal’s cheerful whistles are accompanied by the haunting calls of a Collared Forest-Falcon and the screeching of Brown Jays.

With that in mind, if a cardinal sang in some parts of Costa Rica, maybe it wouldn’t be all that out of place. It might even feel more at home upon hearing the warbled songs of Blue Grosbeaks; a common species in many parts of the Central Valley and northwestern Costa Rica. Most mornings, I hear one of those over-sized beautiful buntings warble its way into the start of a new day. Shortly after, other birds make themselves auditorily known and although there aren’t any “what-cheering” cardinals around, I do hear a bird that sort of takes its place. That species is the Grayish Saltator, a bird that, along with the other saltators of Costa Rica, is sort of like a pseudo-cardinal.

Saltators aren’t red and they don’t have crests but were nevertheless previously suspected to be cardinal relatives. Those suspicions were firmly put to rest when molecular studies revealed that they shared a more recent common ancestor with tanagers (and not the Cardinalid ones). Even so, they still remind me of cardinals because saltators are similar in size and shape, share some behaviors, and have a few vocalizations reminiscent of the whistled sounds that cardinals make. Several saltators occur in South America, these are the five saltator species that live in Costa Rica:

Grayish Saltator

A common bird of edge habitats in the Central Valley and elsewhere, around my place, this is the pseudo-cardinal. It has a variable, whistled rising song and frequents brushy habitats with the type of structure cardinals might. Watch for this bird in hotel gardens, especially in the Central Valley.

Buff-throated Saltator

Given the huge range of this species, its a contender for being one of the most successful of all Neotropical birds. In Costa Rica, since its more a bird of humid tropical habitats and forest edge, I rarely see one near my place. Once in a while, one or two show up in the riparian zone out back, maybe just moving through. Go birding in the humid foothills and lowlands and you will probably hear their somewhat thrush-like warbling song and see several.

Black-headed Saltator

Closer to a jay in size, this hefty bird would be a monster of a cardinal. Despite the large proportions, this is a rather shy species that somehow manages to skulk in dense second growth. Historically restricted to the Caribbean slope, likely because of deforestation and climate change, Black-headed Saltators now also occur in many parts of the Central Valley. They have a harsh, loud and choppy song.

Streaked Saltator

This primarily South American species reaches its northern distribution on the southern Pacific slope of Costa Rica. Like the Grayish Saltator, it mostly occurs in gardens and edge habitats and more or less replaces the Grayish. It’s especially common in the Valle del General. Listen for its distinctive slow whistled song and don’t be surprised if you also run into one or two in the Central Valley; a few occur here and there.

Slate-colored Grosbeak

Despite the name, this is actually a fancy saltator and cool canopy bird of lowland and foothill rainforest. In Costa Rica, it lives in such forests on the Caribbean slope (although one or two sometimes wander all the way across the mountains to Carara!). Unlike the other saltators, this bird sings over and over from up in the canopy and has an orange bill a lot like that of a cardinal. It also has a chip call that sounds more like a cardinal than anything but even so, it’s still a saltator. Listen for its frequently given song and watch for it at fruiting trees and with mixed flocks.

Will you see saltators when visiting Costa Rica? I would think so. All of them are fairly common, most visit fruit feeders, and they aren’t as shy and skulky as antbirds. As with so many other birds, one of the best ways to find them is by knowing their songs. Try learning the songs of saltators with the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app. When I study bird vocalizations, it’s a big help for me to listen to a bird while looking at its picture. Since this birding app for Costa Rica has images for 927 species and vocalizations for 863 species on the Costa Rica bird list, plus 68 additional birds that could eventually occur, there’s more than enough to listen to and look at!

While studying songs of Costa Rica birds, you might also want to mark your target birds. Start studying now because cool pseudo-cardinal saltators and hundreds of other birds are waiting to be seen in Costa Rica. I hope to see you here.