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Dark-billed Cuckoo Makes 933 for the Costa Rica Bird List

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.

Some of the habitat near Ciudad Neily.

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!

Even if you don’t see the cuckoo, you might still see a Sapphire-throated Hummingbird.
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Costa Rica Birding News- January, 2023

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.

Gray-crowned Yellowthroats are pretty common in brushy fields.

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!

Potoos

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.

A Northern Potoo from Rincon de la Vieja.

Red-fronted Parrotlet

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.

Bare-necked Umbrellabirds

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.

Three-wattled Bellbird

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 Naturalista

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!

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More High Season Tips for Birding Costa Rica in 2023

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.

Buff-fronted Quail-Dove

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

birding Costa Rica

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.

Nope.

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.

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My “Best” Costa Rica Birds of 2022

Are there any “best birds”? How about “better” birds? In the spirit of showing equal appreciation for all things avian, the short answer to both of these questions would be “no”. However, in the spirit of wanting to see some bird species more than others because they are either rare, more appealing to the senses, or hard to see, it would seem that yes, some birds are better than other ones, if only temporarily so.

I enjoy watching any bird but there are times when I would rather see some bird species than others. Even while birding in Costa Rica, a country with such fancy and elegant species as Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Resplendent Quetzal, toucans, and hawk-eagles, I hope to see the less common birds. I still appreciate all the rest but I suppose preferring to see birds I don’t see so often is commonplace among birders everywhere.

Over the past 12 months, I was fortunate to see a healthy variety of birds, as of December 30th, 691 species (I still got one more day to add a few..). That’s a lot of birds alright and I am pleased and grateful. I am also lucky to live in a country where it is feasible to see so many birds in a year without a huge deal of effort. Our 930 or so species bird list helps as does access to a variety of habitats, showing people birds in many such habitats, and knowing how and where to find birds in Costa Rica.

Since I routinely see a lot of birds that visiting birders would love to see, oddly enough, my best of the year doesn’t include much wanted species like Snowcap, Wrenthrush, or even Yellow-billed Cotinga. I realize that sounds just wrong on more than one level but my favorite or “best” sightings from 2022 include birds I don’t see as often, and/or sightings that come with a story. These are my personal top ten.

Hudsonian Godwit

One of these mega shorebirds stopped off in Costa Rica this past spring. Based on better coverage in the Pacific lowlands, I suspect one or a few birds make a rest stop in Costa Rica every year. This past year, myself, partner, and various other local birders were treated to an individual that chose to hang around Punta Morales for several weeks.

In addition to be being a rare bird for Costa Rica, when one contemplates how far this species travels (nearly from one pole to the other), it’s always cool to lay eyes on a Hudwit.

Pacific Golden-Plover

This one was probably my best bird of the year. Self found, new for my country list, rare and little known in Costa Rica, and very accessible, this bird has all the stuff to merit being my top bird for 2022. This Costa Rica Pacific Golden-Plover sighting took place at Puntarenas in April.

Gray-hooded Gull

Another mega for Costa Rica, all sightings from the past few years may be of the same individual. Impossible to say but what matters most is local birders seeing it. We had wonderful studies of this beautiful gull earlier in the year at its favorite hotspot, Punta Morales.

“Choco” Screech-Owl

"Choco" Screech-Owl

Hearing and briefly seeing this bird ranks as a major event because it’s not really a Choco Screech-Owl but an undescribed species endemic to or nearly endemic to Costa Rica. My 2022 bird happened while helping guide a wonderful group from the Buffalo Ornithological Society.

Tiny Hawk

I’m lucky if I get to see one of these miniscule raptors in a year. I usually see one or two but it can really come down to the line. Last year, my Tiny Hawk happened during the final days of December. This year, I was extremely lucky to see a juvenile in early December at the Cinchona hummingbird cafe.

Violaceous Quail-Dove

None of the quail-doves in Costa Rica (and most places) are particularly easy to see. This one is especially challenging. If I get one for the year, it’s usually a heard bird but not this time! The excellent looks at this infrequently seen bird shared with my partner and friends was priceless.

Bare-necked Umbrellabird

Oh yes, nothing like seeing one of the top birds in Costa Rica during some last minute year birding. As with so many sightings of this endangered species, Marilen and I saw saw it Centro Manu. Thanks to local guide Kevin, we knew where to look and lucked out with excellent prolonged views of a female. A bit later, we saw this same individual with another female or juvenile male. That sighting also gave me a clean sweep of the cotingas that live in Costa Rica.

Black-chested Jay

This isn’t a rare species in most of its range but it’s pretty uncommon in Costa Rica. For me, it was also looong overdue for my country list. I finally got my Costa Rica Black-chested Jay when I caught a bit of movement and scoped a distant bird near Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Violet-green Swallow

One of the lovelier of the swallows and a rare visitor to Costa Rica, it was nice to start off the year with views of several Violet-greens during a boat tour on the Tarcoles River (Jose’s Crocodile Tour, a tour and company I wholeheartedly recommend).

Yellow-rumped Warbler

I know, I know, how can I choose the original and common “butterbutt” over coquettes and cotingas?! Like I was saying, it’s all about birds rarely seen and the circumstances in which we see them. In the case of this species, most spend the winter much further north than Costa Rica. We’re lucky if we see one every other year. Based on the number of recent sightings, this past winter looks to be a good one for them in Costa Rica; Marilen and I have seen them at three different spots. It was surreal to watch a small flock of these beautifully patterned migrants sallying from a fencerow in Costa Rica.

I suppose I would choose the above bird sightings as my favorites for 2022 but I still appreciate the rest, too many to mention. Consolation prizes might go to watching a Common Potoo “sing” near Jaco, seeing stealthy Yellow-eared Toucanets, sharing the sighting of a male Lovely Cotinga at Rancho Naturalista with friends and clients, the list goes on… In Costa Rica, there’s a lot of birds to watch, I hope you can come visit and likewise experience the avian wealth of this birding nation.

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Notes on Rare and Elusive Birds in Costa Rica- Violaceous Quail-Dove

“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.

A Buff-fronted Quail-Dove running for cover.

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:

Nomadic

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.

For what it’s worth, this is where we saw the bird at Soltis Center.

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.

Low Population

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.

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First Night of a Birding Trip in Costa Rica! Where to Stay?

The plane descends through the cloud bank and the eyes take in a living mosaic of mountains, pastures, wind breaks, roads, urbanization, and wooded ravines. It’s surprising to see how close everything is; jade cloud forest on the volcanoes, city and towns in the valley, riparian zones making ribbons of green. You know its January but way down below, it looks like summer never ended. There are palm trees and a dozen shades of tropical green, the black circling specks are Black Vultures. Other, much more enticing birds await; congratulations on arriving in Costa Rica! You’ve made it to tropical latitudes where Tennesee Warblers share trees with Baltimore Orioles and Masked Tityras.

Not a Tennessee Warbler

It’s all birding gravy for the next several days, so many birds in Costa Rica, it hardly matters where you stay! It would be really nice if that was the case but no, as with everywhere, Planet Earth, lodging choices have a definite impact on birding success. They play a major role in seeing more birds, that also goes for the first night of a birding trip to Costa Rica.

Even if you are only staying at that first hotel for one night, even if you don’t plan on doing any birding there the following morning, it’s worth it to play it safe and sleep in the right place. No matter what you have planned, you might end up birding there anyways, there might be time to look for owls or other birds and since this may be your one and only trip to Costa Rica, there won’t be any time to waste.

The “right” place depends on your travel situation but whether you are a lone birder traveling on the cheap, birding with family, or arriving one day before a tour, the best place for the first night should be a place that has as much habitat as possible. That way, you might see an owl or two, you might connect with a surprising number of species, and, best of all, your first morning in Costa Rica will be accompanied by a wealth of birds. It will be the welcome you deserve, a proper greeting to one of the top birding destinations in the world.

You will probably see Crimson-fronted Parakeets.

Try the following suggestions to pick the right place for the first night of a birding trip to Costa Rica.

Arriving one Day Early for a Tour

A number of people arrive one or two days before the official start of their tours. Given the propensity for airlines to rechedule and rearrange and cancel flights, this is a really good idea. This will sound like a no brainer but…if taking a birding tour in Costa Rica, you might as well stay at the same hotel as the one where the tour starts.

It will make logistics much easier, the hotel will likely have good birding on the grounds, and even if your tour does plan on birding at the hotel, it will still be worth birding there on your own. You might see birds not found during the tour and getting in some personal birding time will also act as an easy-going introduction to the birds of Costa Rica.

If the hotel is full, please read on.

A Place with Habitat

I mentioned it above but its worth reiterating; habitat is everything. Pick a place with as much habitat as possible. Some good choices for birding hotels in Costa Rica include:

  • Villa San Ignacio- A lovely place where huge fruiting figs grow in the garden and a riparian zone has Long-tailed Manakin, wrens, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, and other birds. The featured image at the top of this post shows this lovely birding hotel.
  • Hotel Bougainvillea- A classic, nice hotel with extensive manicured gardens that often have a roosting owl or two and various common species.
  • Hotel Robledal- Another small but nice hotel with pretty gardens and a good number of birds.
  • Xandari- A boutique hotel with lots of green space and woodlands. The birding is great.
  • Other lodging options in the upper parts of the Central Valley- This includes various places situated in green zones away from the main urban areas of the Great San Jose area. Several such places are covered in the recently released second version of my Costa Rica bird finding guide, “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.

Somewhere Close to the Airport

No matter where you travel, this is an important factor to take into consideration. After a long day of standing in line and waiting for a plane to land, its pretty nice to NOT have to drive through an hour or more of traffic. Fortunately, there are some good birding hotels in Costa Rica within easy striking distance of the airport.

A Place Familiar with Birders and Birding

Although this isn’t imperative, hotels that routinely work with birders will be more likely to know that they should tell you about roosting owls or other special birds. They may be able to give you an early breakfast and may have contacts with local guides.

When planning a birding trip to Costa Rica, don’t take that first night for granted. Every morning counts, stay at a place where your first bout of birding in Costa Rica will be replete with everything from ground-sparrows to Rufous-naped Wrens, and maybe a Fiery-billed Aracari or two. I hope to see you here!

To support this blog, learn more about where to watch birds in Costa Rica, and prepare for your birding trip or tour, get my Costa Rica bird finding guide, a 900 page ebook designed to enhance your birding time in Costa Rica.

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Birding in Costa Rica on Paradise Road

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.

Crowned Woodnymph is one of the more common rainforest hummingbirds in Costa Rica.

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:

Owl Chorus

birding Costa Rica

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.

Constant Birds

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.

Dusky-faced Tanager.

From dawn until 8, it was a morning of constant birds, and I’m sure more than we managed to identify.

Migration Happenings

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.

Snowy Cotingas

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).

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Better Birding in Costa Rica: Preparations for 2023

The end of the year and high season for birding in Costa Rica is still a few months away but I’m already getting ready for it. It’s raining a lot and there’s not a whole lot of birders here at the moment but in a way, the high season is already happening. Main birding hotels are filling up for dates from January through March and guides and transportation are getting booked too.

Cope’s Place books up in advance too. If you want to visit, let me know ASAP!

The following are recommendations and things I have been doing to prepare for the main birding season:

Updating a Birding Companion for Costa Rica- “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”

Editing and updating this resource has kept me pretty busy but it will be worth it. The new version will include updates for existing sites and information for many new places. With so many birding-focused sites popping up, I’m sure it won’t cover everything but it’s going to come close.

As always, the goal of this book is to help birders of all levels have a more fulfilling birding experience in Costa Rica.

The new version should be available by the end of October. If you buy the current version of this Costa Rica bird finding guide from now until the new version comes out, I’ll also send you the new version free of charge.

Updating the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide App

I have also been updating the most complete birding app for Costa Rica. Not that long ago, we updated it to include new additions like Spectacled Petrel and Lesser Black-backed Gull. However, recently, a couple of local birders discovered Buff-collared Nightjar in Costa Rica (!) and there were a few other edits to make. With that in mind, we decided to make another update, one that will hopefully be ready by the end of this month.

The new version will have:

  • Images for 941 species on the Costa Rica list.
  • Vocalizations for 870 species on the Costa Rica list.
  • Images, information, and sounds for 64 additional species that may eventually occur in Costa Rica.
Altamira-Oriole-Costa-Rica-birds-app
Altamira Oriole is one of those eventual birds for the Costa Rica list.

Birding in More Places

I have been trying to do more birding in out of the way places as well as easily accessible overlooked sites. Results have included Blue Seedeater, sites for Striped and other owls, and more. As with anywhere, the more you go birding, the more you find.

Make Reservations Now…

Just another reminder to not wait to make reservations. The most popular places are really filling up!

Plan Your Trip Around eBird?

If you still want to plan a trip, what about just planning it around eBird? While that wonderful birding platform can give you some good ideas, I wouldn’t use it as the sole resource to plan a birding route in Costa Rica. EBird is great but in Costa Rica, it’s also naturally biased towards the birding circuit and popular sites, and lists for such sites don’t have all of the birds mentioned (us reviewers are trying but there’s still a lot to do). These are the places birded the most often but other birding spots also exist, many with fantastic birding. Just remember that, as most everywhere, in Costa Rica, the best birding is where the best habitat is.

As always, I hope to see you here in Costa Rica. Hope you see a lot this October 8th on October Big Day!

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A Fine Morning of Excellent, Accessible Birding in Costa Rica

The birding in Costa Rica is always good but some places are better, some birding mornings are more memorable than others. Recently, I had one such morning while birding a place I have visited much more than other sites. Easy, accessible, and good forest, I have made the 40 minute drive for birding at Poas on many an occasion. It’s always all good when I bring the binos to those high elevations but September 27th was one of the better visits, one that just might take the cake. Here’s why:

First Stop Has Most of the Birds

Upon reaching the high elevations, I stopped the car and said, “Let’s see what we find”. We barely exited the vehicle when a mixed flock found us. Yellow-thighed Brushfinches and other birds trooped into view and then stayed to feast on berries and I suppose to entertain us. I’m not sure how else to explain the close, constant, and easy views of so many Sooty-capped Chlorospingus, Fiery-throated Hummingbirds, Black-and-Yellow Silky-Flycatchers (we got tired of looking at them), Flame-throated Warblers, and more.

I didn’t think we would top that fantastic avian introduction but the highlights kept on coming.

Quetzal Perched in the Open

Next on the plate of birding happiness was a quetzal on a bare branch, backdrop of blue sky. It happened just after mentioning that we would search for quetzal but that we would still have to be lucky to find one. I pull up to the spot, look up to my left, and unbelievably, there goes a male Resplendent Quetzal, right in the open. It didn’t stay long but we got excellent, close looks. This was quickly followed by views of a Black Guan and a couple of Northern Emerald Toucanets. They must have been feeding from the same fruiting tree.

A Bunch of Chlorophonias

This was also a good morning for the miniature quetzal, the Golden-browed Chlorophonia. We had great looks at more than one male and were hearing their quaint calls at every stop.

Barred Parakeets Seen

I often hear the soft calls of Barred Parakeets when birding on Poas but rarely see the pint-sized parakeets. In needing to move around in search of feeding areas and doing so in flocks, this species reminds me of a crossbill. After hearing the birds, lo and behold, our luck continued when we saw a small group buzz overhead.

Barred Parakeets in flight.

Blue Seedeater (!)

This was arguable the rarest bird of the morning. Although it has been seen near the main road to Poas, I had never previously seen one at this site. If I recall correctly, the small dark finchy bird was responding to pishing. I heard its chip note and at first thought we may have found another uncommon bird for Costa Rica, a MacGillivray’s Warbler.

Even so, it didn’t sound quite right and with good reason because the bird that took form in my binoculars was a male Blue Seedeater. As is typical for this special species, it was calling from a patch of old bamboo.

Black Hawk-Eagle Displaying

Yes, Black Hawk-Eagle. Earlier this year, I was surprised to see one of these large raptors in the highest part of Poas. The other day, we had a pair and one was calling as it quivered its wings like a giant deadly butterfly.

The Poas area is always good but the other day was one for the books; we had all of these birds and some before 8 in the morning. It makes me wonder what else is lurking in the forests that overlook the cars and winding roads of the Central Valley?

To learn more about Poas, other birding sites, and how to identify hawk-eagles, promote the birding resources at this blog by purchasing “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. I hope to see you here!

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Costa Rica Birding News, September, 2022

September is here. It means we are that much closer to winter and the high season but most of all, birds up north are on the move. Soon, waves of the avian kind will be passing through Costa Rica, the heralds of the annual fall passage are already here.

As always, we’ve also been seeing some interesting bird species, some rarities among the many, more common and beautiful birds. Planning a trip or have a birding trip planned to Costa Rica? Hundreds of birds are waiting for you. Check out the latest news items for Costa Rica birding and get psyched for your trip:

Waved Albatross, Gray-bellied Hawk, Red-fronted Parrotlet, and Oilbird

In terms of rare birds and notable records, these ones come to mind. There wasn’t any photo for the albatross but when it comes to massive sea wandering birds in Costa Rica, there’s not a lot of room for confusion. This report comes from the Marino Ballena area and is a reminder that this rare mega from the Galapagos can turn up anywhere near the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, at any time.

The hawk was spotted by local guide Randy Gomez during some casual birding around Chilamate. This austral migrant and excellent Ornate Hawk-Eagle mimic seems to be a very rare yet annual visitor to Costa Rica. Although it may migrate south very soon, hopefully, this young bird will decide to stick around for the winter months. It’s a good reminder to take a closer look at any Ornate Hawk-Eagle.

Red-fronted Parrotlet is always here but it’s also always tough. These small and uncommon parrots are typically heard and, if you are lucky, quickly glimpsed in flight. It’s a rare day when they are seen foraging. That rare day recently happened in the Bajo de Paz area when local birders spotted this species feeding at a fruiting tree.

Oilbird is another annual visitor (or rare resident) typically seen during the wet season. Recently, a perched Oilbird treated lucky birders with great views at the Curi-Cancha Reserve.

Bird Migration in Costa Rica Kicking into Gear

Shorebirds and kites are making major movements but most other birds are just arriving to Costa Rica, and many aren’t here yet. This morning, I saw my first of hopefully many fall Red-eyed Vireos and my first fall American Redstart. Where did those birds spend the summer? The vireo will continue on but perhaps the redstart will stay. Hopefully, thousands more birds will be on their way and visiting these bio-rich habitats soon.

New Species for the Costa Rica List!

Yes, another bird makes it onto the country list! This latest special addition was the Lesson’s Seedeater, a small migrant from South America photographed by a local researcher in Tortuguero National Park in June. This smart little bird lives in northern South America and usually migrates to the Amazon. Indeed, the only time I have seen one was years ago while birding with Alec Humann in the incredibly fantastic forests of Yasuni National Park.

This species is one of several Austral migrants not unexpected for Costa Rica. A rare occurrence indeed but given the plain appearance of the female, one can’t help but wonder if one or two have been overlooked on past occasions.

New Update for the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide App

A recent update will be available for the IOS version of the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app (no Android version is available at this time). It will include Spectacled Petrel and Yellow-nosed Albatross (two other recent additions to Costa Rica), and some other updates to enhance every birding experience in Costa Rica.

After this update, this birding app for Costa Rica will feature

  • Images for 940 species on the Costa Rica list.
  • Vocalizations for 869 species on the Costa Rica list.
  • Images, information, and sounds for 65 additional species that may eventually occur in Costa Rica.

Updating My Bird Finding Book for Costa Rica

I’ve been busy updating “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. The new version will be edited and include more than 60 additional sites for birding in Costa Rica. It’s quite the task but it will be worth it for birders to have the most up to date, accurate, and comprehensive information for birding in Costa Rica. It should be ready before the start of the high season.

You’ll learn about the best places to see this and hundreds of other species.

In the meantime, the book can still be purchased to support this blog. If you do buy a copy from now until the end of October, when it becomes available, I will also send you the updated version.

The Urban Birder is in Costa Rica

David Lindo, the Urban Birder is currently doing a tour in Costa Rica. I first met David in Israel at the 2016 Champions of the Flyway and had hoped to eventually share birds with him in Costa Rica. It was nice to be able to do that with him and one of his tour participants before they started their tour. I was also fortunate to have him sign a copy of his children’s book for birds, “The Extraordinary World of Birds“.

This book is a veritable treasure, not just for young people interested in birds, but perhaps even more so for young people who don’t know a thing about birds. A fun encyclopedia of information about all things avian, it’s chock full of images and illustrations of birds from all over the world and is exciting to read. Hopefully, it will find its way into the hands of as many kids as possible and get just as many interested in birds and their natural surroundings.

On a personal note, it also reminds me of the books I used to gaze at in the Niagara Falls public library, books that opened my mind to birds and so much more. One big difference is that David’s book is so much better in every way; I suppose just what I would expect from someone who has an encyclopedic knowledge of birds and a passion to connect young people with nature. Want to help birds? Buy a copy of this book to donate to schools and the young people in your life.

As always, there’s lots more to say about birding in Costa Rica but there’s nothing like coming to this beautiful country to see them with your own eyes. I hope to see you here.