Birding is inherently dynamic. Even in patches as small as a backyard, supposedly tiny changes can have major impacts on the numbers and types of birds that visit. Put in a water feature and suddenly, your morning coffee can be accompanied by views of warblers and other migrants. Stop cutting (destroying) part of the back lawn, let more vegetation grow, and birds will find that new bit of habitat too.
On the contrary, replace your personal green space with plastic grass and the patch will only be suitable for birds adapted to the new melted carbon paradigm (unfortunately, no species have attained such special traits). In essence, whether your birding takes place in a backyard or in a massive wilderness area, changes to have habitat have consequences.
When it comes to birding in Costa Rica, luckily, many sites are intact and not subject to the destruction so commonly and horribly seen in many parts of the world. Even so, changes have still occurred in some places, some for better and others for worse. A few such places in Costa Rica are listed as eBird hotspots but the truth of the matter is that (1) they have changed to the point where they are no longer worth visiting, or (2) you simply can’t visit because of lack of access.
This means that in Costa Rica (and elsewhere), eBird hotspots can still be listed as hotspots even when the hotspot status is more of a label harkening back to better birding days. Although the birds won’t be the same, keeping such places listed as hotspots can at least give us hope and data to eventually, properly restore natural places back to how they should be.
The following are two of the most impacted eBird hotspots in Costa Rica:
Check the species list for this site and you might pencil it in as a chance for Pinnated Bittern, Paint-billed Crake, and other choice wetland birds. Get over-enthused and you might even scratch Cano Negro from the itinerary in lieu of more time spent at the Tigre Fields. Before you make those changes, check when such birds were seen there last, better to get an idea of what’s being seen by reviewing recent lists from the site.
If you don’t see much of note, don’t be surprised for this former gem of a spot is nothing like it used to be. Whether because of draining or a drying climate, wet, flooded pastures have become dry stomping grounds for cattle. As for the large area of rich second growth across the street, the places that used to be full of chattering Scarlet-rumped Tanagers and other birds, well, that was eliminated and replaced with poisoned earth pineapple (not many birds there).
Sadly, although a few wetland birds can still occur, this particular hotspot has become an average birding site at best. Who knows, maybe some day, it can be restored? In the meantime, stopping there is probably not worth your while.
El Tapir still boasts great foothill rainforest habitat but it has become a major tease; you can’t really bird it. If you can gain access, maybe you can but rights to this wonderful site appears to have been purchased by someone who has yet to give any indication of opening it to the public. For the sake of easy views of Snowcap and a host of other species, hopefully, access issues will change but in the meantime, it’s best to allocate birding time in foothill rainforest to other sites.
Fortunately, there’s not many birding hotspots in Costa Rica that have seen changes to habitat nor access as radical as these. Even so, this situation is a good reminder to view hotspot eBird information for Costa Rica with a grain of salt. Check dates for the latest sightings of target birds and always remember that the bird birding doesn’t necessarily happen where people bird the most. It takes place at sites with the highest degree of intact habitat.
Get local information for the best birding sites in Costa Rica and support this blog by purchasing “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”; a 900 page ebook that shows you where to see birds in Costa Rica, how to find them, and identification tips. I hope to see you here!