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Highlights from Two Days of Birding in Costa Rica

What can you see in two days of birding in Costa Rica? Like anywhere, experience is a function of location. In the birding way of things, we also need to factor in weather, time, and local birding knowledge. Beyond that, what we see depends on how those birds want to roll.

In Costa Rica, how the birds roll is where a mixed flock happens to move (will it cross your path?), if birds feed within your field of view, and if the skulkers opt to come out and play.

During the past seven days, I was birding in the Poas and Cinchona area one day and at sites near San Ramon the next. There was some overlap but we saw a good bunch of birds. No surprise there, it happens when you visit quality habitats in Costa Rica.

In addition to sharing birds with a wonderful bunch of people, these were some of the other highlights.

Wrenthrush

Wren what? Thrush? Wren? What’s going on with that funny little bird! Wrenthrush is certainly unique but personally, I prefer using the one and only name for its genus, “Zeledonia”.

Wrenthrush.

It’s a snappy sounding name, a one of a kind word for a one of a kind bird. It really is one of a kind too, I mean, has its own familia and everything. Yeah, what used to be an aberrant warbler is the only member of a bird family endemic to the highlands of Costa Rica and Panama.

And we had perfect looks at one on the road to Poas.

the bird’s not rare, I often hear them along that road and many other suitable spots but whether they let you see them or not, yeah, that’s another birding story.

Luckily, we had wonderful close looks at the orange-crowned, stub-tailed bird known as the Wrenthrush. I look forward to subsequent trips to wet highland forest where I can experience more of this special little bird.

Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow near San Ramon

The skulky ways and scattered populations of the endemic ground-sparrow can present challenges to seeing one. You’ll do best if you look for them early, like 6 a.m. In common with all local birds, you also need to look for them in the right places.

One such place is a site just outside of San Ramon. In my Costa Rica bird finding book, this site is known as 4.1 a UCR Campus San Ramon. In looking at what I wrote, I think I need to edit it and say that you can see a surprising number of bird species on the dirt road along the southern edge of the campus.

This dirt road is also a great spot to find the ground-sparrow but in testament to its skills at hiding, we only saw one and it took some effort to see it. We eventually got great looks but it wasn’t easy!

This spot was also bouncing with other birds. Long-tailed Manakin, several wren species, various wintering warblers, a couple woodcreepers, and more, the birds kept us busy!

White Hawk at Close Range

After our successful date with the ground-sparrow, we checked some roadside cloud forest along the road that passes through the Reserva Valle de Los Quetzales. I was hoping we would see a quetzal but nope, instead, the birding was fairly subdued.

We still managed excellent close views of a White Hawk and saw some middle elevation species like Collared Trogon, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, and Scarlet-thighed Dacnis.

Coppery-headed Emerald, Black-bellied Hummingbird, and a Bunch of Other Mini Dazzlers

Between birding around Poas and sites near San Ramon, we had a good bunch of hummingbirds, 17 species in total. This included wonderful, detailed views of Coppery-headed Emerald, a svelte male Black-bellied Hummingbird, and miniscule Scintillant Hummingbirds among other species.

As usual, on Poas, the Fiery-throated Hummingbirds entertained while Volcano Hummingbirds did their bee-like thing. Crowned Woodnymphs also dazzled at the Cocora, and we took in the bright beauty of a Purple-crowned Fairy near Varablanca.

Cinchona

Speaking of hummingbirds, this classic spot delivered several species including Violet Sabrewing, the aforementioned Black-bellied, Coppery-headed Emeralds, and some other species.

Black-bellied Hummingbird

It was also good for the other usual suspects along with a hungry Black Guan and occasional looks at Buff-fronted Quail-Dove down below. Northern Emerald Toucanet ghosted but maybe it will be there next time? Consolation happened with both barbet species, Crimson-collared Tanager, and other sweet birds in beautiful surroundings.

Despite poor weather on Poas and Cinchona, and windy, sunny weather near San Ramon, we still identified 150 species. Check out the eBird trip report. Two days birding is always good in Costa Rica, just about anywhere you bring the binos. Headed to Costa Rica soon? Practice using those bins and get ready for some major bird action!

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Costa Rica Birding Highlights- Nectar and Pollen

Where to go birding in Costa Rica? Where to see birds in Costa Rica? These are pertinent question for any birder, and, for some, all important concerns. The right answers vary; they wholly depend on what you would like to see. Walk outside and look around, as the Urban Birder says, “Look Up!”, and you will see birds, even in the concrete byways of San Jose. However, if you carry out that same action in and near primary rainforest, you could see ten times as many birds.

If “quetzal” is in your personal birding equation, any number of forested sites in the highlands will work. The same goes for many of Costa Rica’s near endemics including birds like Yellow-thighed Brushfinch, an arboreal towhee with legs that sport yellow pom-poms.

Yellow-thighed Brushfinch

As you can see, I wasn’t kidding!

Looking for tanagers? Well of course you are! The best sites tend to be in quality foothill and middle elevation rainforest. How about hummingbirds? Yes please and with sabrewings on top! You’ll find those and much more at various middle elevation sites.

Violet-Sabrewing-male

Nothing like seeing a massive purple hummingbird to get the birding blood flowing!

Now if you would like to see lots of cool, choice tropical birds, all at once, there are good birding sites in Costa Rica for that fast and furious happiness too. One such place is Nectar and Pollen, these are some recent highlights and birds to look for at this easily accessible, gem of a spot:

Raptors

Some of best places to see raptors in Costa Rica are sites with good views of the canopy and sky over extensive primary rainforest. Walk into the pasture at Nectar and Pollen and you’ll see what I mean, especially during a sunny morning, right around 9:00 a.m. This is high time for raptors to take to the skies and if you hit a good day at Nectar and Pollen you could see several of these species:

King Vulture

Hawk-eagles, even the rare Black-and-White

White Hawk

Barred Hawk

Great Black Hawk

Gray Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

Short-tailed Hawk

Double-toothed Kite

Rarely, you could also see Hook-billed and Gray-headed Kites

Scan the canopy at an early hour and you might also get lucky with finding a perched Tiny Hawk, Bicolored Hawk, Laughing Falcon, or other raptor species.

White-tipped Sicklebill and Other Hummingbirds

Plantings can attract sicklebill, hermits, and several other hummingbirds. A recent visit turned up:

White-necked Jacobin

A male White-necked Jacobin.

Blue-chested Hummingbird

Violet-headed Hummingbird

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Scaly-breasted Hummingbird

Crowned Woodnymph, and

Green-breasted Mango.

On other visits, I have also had Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Green Thorntail, Black-crested Coquette, Brown Violetear, Long-billed Starthroat, and that minute mega, the Snowcap.

A Flurry of Birds

If you do pay a visit, be prepared, the birds often happen fast and furious! One after another and sometimes, all at once. So as not to miss anything, your best bet is to let go and do what the guide says. A good guide will get you on the birds that need to be seen at that moment instead of looking at species more likely to be seen later the same day or on other days.

Be forewarned, whether birding with a guide or not, sensory overload is likely! Just try to stay focused, try to recall field marks, and wait until a lull in the bird action to check your birding app for Costa Rica or field guide book. Trust me, if you try to look up each bird as you see them, you could miss a lot.

As with any site, the fast birding at Nectar and Pollen varies but often includes troops of Black-faced Grosbeaks and Carmiol’s Tanagers, other tanagers in fruiting trees, euphonias, hummingbirds, parrots doing flybys and more. It’s bird action at its best!

Red-fronted Parrotlet and Other Uncommon Species

Although you can’t expect it on every visit, this is a perfect site to see the rare Red-fronted Parrotlet fly past in the morning and late afternoon. Watch for them from the small hill in the pasture while also enjoying views of Long-tailed Tyrant, Cinnamon, Rufous-winged, Black-cheeked, and Smoky-brown Woodpeckers, and other species.

If you walk the forest trail, keep a close eye out for Olive-backed Quail-Dove on the ground, Dull-mantled Antbird in the ravines, and White-flanked Antwrem and other small birds in understory mixed flocks. The umbrellabird and other rare species are also always possible!

Tanagers and White-vented Euphonia

The number of tanagers can vary but fruiting trees usually attract Green and Shining Honeycreepers, Scarlet-rumped and Crimson-collared Tanagers, and various other species. Emerald, Silver-throated, Speckled, and Bay-headed are regular and once in a while, Rufous-winged, Black-and-yellow, and even Blue-and-Gold Tanagers occur! On a recent visit, although the tanager scene was somewhat subdued, we still had uncommon White-vented Euphonia and several other nice birds.

As you may have surmised, the birding at Nectar and Pollen can be pretty darn good. The same goes for bird photography, especially for hummingbirds, Rufous Motmot, and tanagers. Visits must be arranged in advance but that’s easy enough to do. Just send Miguel a message at the Nectar and Pollen Facebook page and give him the date of your visit. A visit for one to two people costs $25 per person, $20 per person for groups of three or more. If you go, please leave a comment with your sightings or link to eBird list at the end of this post. I hope to see you there!

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Easy Going Birding in Costa Rica = 14 Hummingbirds, Black Guan, and More

Some of the best birding in Costa Rica is easy-going, relaxed birding. Although a definition of “best birding” is subjective and related to (1) what a birder wants to see and (2) how they want to do their birding, when the results of an easy morning of birding include several hummingbirds and various regional endemics (including uncommon and threatened species), that’s pretty darn good.

When birding in Costa Rica, you really don’t need to take long jungle hikes to see lots of great birds. To see a fantastic variety of species, visiting remote areas isn’t vital, nor is testing the limits of a rental vehicle’s suspension. It does help to know where to go birding in Costa Rica, know the best places to visit, and how to see those birds but you won’t have to buy any trekking boots.

Don’t get me wrong, expedition birding has its advantages too and I love being immersed in remote forest birding but Costa Rica offers much easier options. One of the best is the Poas and Cinchona area. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again; roadside birding from the Central Valley to Poas and along Route 126 can turn up an astonishing number of birds (a quick tally of birds that have occurred resulted in 500 species!). More than 100 are rare, various elevations are involved, and 50 of those birds are only present during the winter but that still leaves lots of birds to look for on any visit, any time of year. On a recent morning of birding with very limited walking, some birding highlights included:

14 Hummingbird Species

All were seen from the vehicle or at the Mirador San Fernando (the Cinchona Hummingbird Cafe). They included such sweet birds as

Fiery-throated Hummingbird

Fiery-throated-Hummingbird

Scintillant Hummingbird

scintillant-hummingbird

and the uncommon Black-bellied Hummingbird.

Black-bellied Hummingbird
At least you can still see Black-bellied Hummingbird and other hummingbird action in the rain.

14 hummingbird species are a good total but amazingly, on the route we took, further effort can turn up at least 7 or more additonal species.

Large-footed Finch and Other Highland Endemics

In the high elevation areas of Poas Volcano, bird activity was somewhat hindered by cold rain. Even do, we still had excellent looks at regional endemics like Large-footed Finch, Sooty Thrush, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, and Flame-throated Warbler along with various other montane species.

Large-footed Finch doing its foraging thing in the leaf litter.

The Large-footed Finch is a towhee-like bird that needs cool, wet forest habitats. Like so many other bird species on Poas, it only lives in Costa Rica and western Panama.

Coffee with Black Guan, Buff-fronted Quail-Dove, and other Great Birds

We spent around two hours at Cinchona and had excellent birding. Most of the usual species came to the fruit feeders including “the Cinchona trio” of Northern Emerald Toucanet, Prong-billed Barbet, and Red-headed Barbet.

The hummingbirds were also very active and gave us multiple close views of species like Green Thorntail, Green Hermit, Violet Sabrewing and others.

As a bonus, a Barred Hawk soared into view, Black Guan showed at the feeder, and two juvenile Buff-fronted Quail-Doves occasionally appeared on the ground below the feeder.

There’s nothing like accompanying quality coffee with constant tropical birds at Cinchona!

Costa Rica is made for birding. Whether taking the easy birding route or exploring remote locations, fantastic birding is in the cards. See “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica” to learn about the best sites for seeing more birds in Costa Ricaa nd prepare for your trip. I hope to see you here.

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Fine Birding on the Slopes of Poas

In Costa Rica, Poas looms to the north of the airport. A big mound of a mountain, the roomy crater hidden in the clouds. It can be seen from the window of a plane, the turquoise, unwelcome water in the big hole briefly glistening in the sun. The rocky crater is framed in textured green, for folks on the plane, a distant, unreal broccoli carpet. There’s no indication of the true nature of that forest way down below, nor the other rivulets and waves of tropical forest that reach down the northern slopes of the volcano. The riot of life going on down there, Pumas and Ocelots doing their stealth dance beneath the wet canopy. Bright and sunny Collared Redstarts singing from the bamboo understory, bush-tanagers and Yellow-thighed Finches rummaging through the bushes and trees.

Bright and beautiful, one of many highland species endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama.

Quetzals are there too, whistling and cackling from the misty forests. But, as with any scene from a plane, it’s just a distant natural portrait, the only soundscape one of humming motors and occasional requests for coffee, the hiss of sugary carbonated drinks poured over ice in a plastic cup. We only truly experience the forest on Poas and anywhere else with boots on the ground, can only get lost in the quick variety of mixed flocks, fluttering of quetzals, and the air scything ability of swifts by walking with those trees.

On Poas, it’s easy to walk near the oaks and wild avocados. The road up there is a good, quick hour or 45 minute ride from the San Jose area and after the village of Poasito, the birding improves. The national park itself has also been good for birding but ever since eruptions put access on hiatus, I’m not sure if the same trails are accessible. It has just re-opened though, I hope to assess the birding situation at some point. In the meantime, I can attest to the quality of roadside birding on the road up to the national park as well as along Route 126 (the Via Endemica), a recent day of guiding was no exception. Some of the good stuff:

Resplendent Quetzal

The sacred bird is up there on Poas, according to locals, not as common as it used to be but it’s still there. I was surprised to see one after another flutter between trees until I had counted six including the male pictured above!

Fasciated Tiger-Heron

Not in the high parts of the mountain but present along a roadside stream much lower down. The heron of rocky Neotropical streams posed nicely for us as it blended into the dark gray river stones.

Hummingbirds

 

Brown Violetear

Talamanca Hummingbird

Purple-throated Mountain-gem

Coppery-headed Emerald

From Fiery-throated in the high parts to glittering Crowned Woodnymphs past Cinchona, hummingbirds are a welcome mainstay on Poas. Including a Steel-vented near Alajuela, we had fifteen species.

Northern Emerald Toucanet

Visit the Soda Mirador de Catarata (aka Cafe Colibri, aka the Hummingbird Cafe) to spend quality time with this exotic beauty.

Buffy Tuftedcheek

Not so common but this bromeliad bird us indeed present along the higher parts of the road. If you see a silhouette of one, this image shows what to expect.

Nightingale-thrushes

Not rare but skulky and always cool to see four or even five species in a day, most at different elevations. We had good looks at four and without too much trouble. This is a juvenile Slaty-backed N.-Thrush that was visiting the Cafe Colibri.

Black-thighed Grosbeak

A few were singing and showed nicely.

These were some of the one hundred plus species we saw on the slopes of Poas the other day, each stop adding more birds to the list. Many more were still possible and some calling birds remained unseen but any day spent birding is a good one. A day with more than a hundred species is even better especially when the birder can walk within reach of old, mossy trees frequented by quetzals, treerunners, and other cool birds with fantastic names.

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Five Tips for Better Birding in Costa Rica, December, 2017

Another end of the year is nigh. Although the keeping of time is a subjective endeavor, putting a name to the end of another solar cycle is still a good excuse to get in more birding. I know, like any of us birders require a reason to put the focus on birds. We do it anyways, most of the time, so why try and get more busy with digging nature now? Although we don’t really need to watch more birds now than say June, with Christmas counts on the near horizon and year lists coming to an end, I guess we just better get out there and put the binos to an end of year, smash bang kung-fu birding test!

Test them on a Double-toothed Kite.

If you happen to be in Costa Rica these days, there are few better excuses to carry on with some non-stop birding. Literally hundreds of species await including more than a few with some seriously fancy looks. Here are five tips to see more of those cool birds in Costa Rica right now:

The Arenal Christmas Count– Ok, so you need to see this blog tonight or tomorrow to make it happen but if you are in Costa Rica on November 30th and want to participate in an awesome count in a super birdy area this weekend, contact the count organizers now at [email protected] I’m going and I can’t wait to see what we find. Hopefully a rare migrant warbler or two (although I guess I would trade them for a Crested Eagle).

Visit Cope– Some time with Cope is especially well spent if you are into photography. If not, roosting owls, fine feeder displays, and a chance to purchase excellent bird art might also float your boat. Since he is in the lowlands, and the lowlands have lots of trees in fruit right now, there’s always the chance that Cope also has some good frugivores staked out.

Scarlet-rumped Cacique at Cope’s.

Hire a guide for a day trip– If you don’t have a guide for the entire time, consider hiring one for a day or two. If he or she is experienced, you will see more birds than on your own and a better chance at more of your target species.

Don’t shy away from “new” sites– There are a lot of good birding sites in Costa Rica, “hotspots” if you will, and some are on par with or even better than more established birding locales. Keep in mind that although eBird gives an indication of what can be found at a site, places that have been eBirded much more also tend to have more species on their lists. This doesn’t mean that those sites shouldn’t be visited or anything like that, but just to keep in mind that some of those species might have been more common in the past. The more birding that takes place in an area, the more species also eventually make it onto the list. I guess the only thing I’m really trying to say with this ramble is to not be afraid to check out spots off the regular birding circuit. If the habitat is there (lots of primary forest), that’s where the best birding is. Some sites that come to mind are Albergue del Socorro, the Finca Luna Nueva area, Volcan Tenorio, and Laguna del Lagarto.

Hit different elevations– When birding in Costa Rica, it’s well worth it to include sites or visits to the lowlands, foothills, middle elevations, and high elevations. Each elevational section has different habitats and forests with different birds. Leave one of those elevations out of the birding picture and you eliminate chances of seeing whole suites of bird species.

Purple-throated Mountain-gem awaits in middle elevations.

I hope those five tips help your birding trip to Costa Rica, especially if you can go to the count on Saturday! If I don’t see you there, I hope to see you somewhere else in the field. To learn more about birding sites throughout Costa Rica as well as how to see more birds, see my 700 plus page e-book, How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica.

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caribbean foothills

Some Birds to Expect at El Tapir

One of the most interesting things about birding in tropical habitats is the unpredictable nature of the endeavor. It seems like the more biodiverse a place is, the less predictable the bird species encountered. When venturing into rainforest with binoculars at the ready, the end result of this bio-trick is eventually ticking off species after species with careful, patient birding. After wondering where the other bird species were, you go back out that same afternoon and find some, and then a bunch more the following day. Keep visiting and you keep seeing more wondering where the heck those birds were the first time around.

As with most rainforest sites, this is the status quo at El Tapir. You never know what will show at the edge of the forest, and never know what will pop into view beneath the trees, but you do know that just about anything seems possible. “Just about anything” is code for a bunch of rare bonus species like umbrellabird, Sharpbill, the ground-cuckoo, maybe a Strong-billed Woodcreeper, maybe even Black-eared Wood-Quail. Since those birds are rare, no, they hardly ever show at the site but they always can, and on any visit.

During two recent visits, I had hoped that the cards would fall into place and give us an umbrellabird. After all, the big endangered cotinga has been seen near there recently, it occurs at that elevation at this time of year, and I still need it as a year bird. Although those cards didn’t play out, we were still dealt a deck with various other nice species. With the caveat that nothing there is guaranteed on a one day trip, these are a few things to sort of expect when birding this foothill site:

Lattice-tailed Trogon: El Tapir is a good site for this uncommon, localized foothill trogon. I do see it on most visits and that makes El Tapir one of the best places for it anywhere in its small range. Bird any of the trails the whole day and there’s a fair chance it will show. You still need to know what it sounds like though, because the big trogon hides exceptionally well in its extra-vegetated habitat.

lattice-tailed-trogon

Snowcap: Sounds like candy. Looks like candy. This is avian eye candy! The Porterweed bushes usually harbor several of these wonderful little hummingbirds. If you don’t see it here, or want to see it in more comfy settings where fantastic meals are served, give it a shot at Rancho Naturalista.

snowcap

Black-crested Coquette: These guys come and go but one often shows up. Last week, two eventually turned up, the male at one point sharing perching space on a  bare sapling with a Green Thorntail and a Snowcap.

black-crested-coquette

Mealy Parrots and toucans: They can also be seen in many other places but these usually show quite well at El Tapir.

toucans

King Vulture and other raptors: The site is still pretty good for this condor of the jungle. If it’s sunny, watch the skies from the parking area between 9 and 12. Other raptors often show too, including Ornate Hawk Eagle this past Sunday.

Antwrens and antvireos: The heavy forests at El Tapir are usually reliable for Streak-crowned Antvireo, and Checker-throated and White-flanked Antwrens. These uncommon little birdies are tough to see at many sites because they need lots of mature forest but are regular at El Tapir to the point of seeing them on most visits. You have to bird on the forest trails but they usually, eventually show up, and often have other small birds with them.

Tanagers: As with other quality foothill sites, this is a good one for tanagers. Numbers vary and a lot can be around if there are fruiting trees. Most possible tanagers can also be seen if you connect with a big mixed flock “led” by White-throated Shrike-Tanager.

emerald-tanager

Keep looking and don’t be shy about birding El Tapir for more than one day!

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Finding Green-fronted Lancebill in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a fantastic place for close looks at hummingbirds. Feeders and gardens planted with the hummingbird delicacy known as Porterweed bring in most species for soul satisfying views, and hundreds of digital captures.

Coppery-headed Emerald is one of several species commonly seen at feeders.

However, although most birders end up with 30 plus species during a two or three week trip to Costa Rica, most also end up with the same set of missing species. Those blanks usually include White-crested Coquette, White-tipped Sicklebill, Garden Emerald, and a few other species. One of those usually missing birds is the Green-fronted Lancebill, a rather dull hummingbird with a long, needle-like, oh so slightly upturned bill.

A typical look at a Green-fronted Lancebill.

This one can be a pain because it happens to be genuinely uncommon, ignores feeders, and doesn’t even visit Porterweed. Look in those places and you will see lots of hummingbird action but won’t see any lancebills. The lancebill prefers more refined food and places, look there and you might find them. Here are a few tips on finding and seeing this choice Costa Rican hummingbird:

  • Cloud forest: Although it can show up in foothill forests, the lancebill is most at home in the cloud forest zone. These are the forests shrouded in mist and draped with moss and epiphytes, and the lancebill lives in them from the Monteverde area south to Panama, and on both slopes between 800 and 2,300 meters.

    Cloud forest.
  • Hanging flowers: This odd hummingbird doesn’t have that long bill for nothing. Its bill seems to be adapted to clumps of tubular, hanging red or pink flowers because this is where it often feeds. Like a miniature Sword-billed Hummingbird (a South American, surreal specialty), lancebills sneak underneath those hanging flowers and feed from each tube with delicate precision. If you see a bunch of these flowers in cloud forest, a lancebill will probably show up sooner or later.
  • Streams and waterfalls: This is the best tip for finding a lancebill because whether you run into those special flowers or not, these birds are almost always found along streams. Like a wannabe dipper or Black Phoebe, they will even perch on a rock in the middle of the rushing waterway. They seem to like small waterfalls even more and will perch near the base or plunge basin to fly and out and catch unseen bugs.

    Lancebill habitat.
  • A few good sites: Any forested stream with small rapids and waterfalls in cloud forest is a good place to watch and wait for Green-fronted Lancebill but some of the more reliable spots are streams in Tapanti National Park (especially the one at the entrance), Monteverde (try the waterfall trail), The San Luis Canopy and nearby, and the La Paz Waterfall Gardens (take the forest trail and watch around the base of any small waterfall).

Since this hummingbird probably has linear territories along streams, you usually have to wait for it to show up. Like other birds, it’s easiest in the early morning when it calls, is more active, and sometimes gets in chasing fights with other lancebills. No matter what time of day you look, once you find a suitable spot, be patient and keep scanning the rocks, twigs, and flowers until one shows up. You will probably see a few other good birds in the meantime.

If you see one, don't expect bright colors!

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Yesterday’s Highlights from Birding in Costa Rica at El Tapir

It’s the day after guiding at El Tapir and it’s hard to believe that less than 24 hours ago, I was looking at White-ruffed Manakins and listening to the whistles of hidden wood-wrens. Such is the big old contrast between a computer desk and the humid, dim interior of rainforest. There weren’t any crazy highlights but we had some nice birds nonetheless. The antithesis of a highlight was the odd absence of the Snowcap. Odd, because I have never not seen that fantastic hummingbird at El Tapir. I hope they come back soon and have not returned to the dream dimension to which they obviously belong.

Yes, this bird is from a dream dimension.

No Snowcaps, but we did see some other nice birds, one of which is easy to hear but is a menace to try and see. That toughy was a Nightingale Wren and oh how nice it was to come in and hang out a few short meters from our feet.

What a Nightingale Wren usualy looks like.

Now you know why the Nightingale Wren prefers to stay out of sight- it looks kind of like a piece of dirt.

Another look at this ridiculously reclusive rainforest soprano.

If you hear someone whistling out of tune in foothill rainforest, you are listening to a Nightingale Wren and not a short, bearded fellow with a pointed red hat (although some claim to have seen those beings in the forest as well).

No elves but we did have a nice view from an overlook. It was not so easy to get to this spot.

Other “good” birds we saw inside the rainforest were Spotted Antbird, Pale-vented Thrush, Lattice-tailed Trogon, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Tawny-crested Tanager, and a bunch of White-ruffed Manakins.

Male White-ruffed Manakin.

The manakins were feeding on fruiting Melastomes. Several other birds paid visits to those important trees too but no hoped for cotingas or random Sharpbill.

Back out in the hummingbird garden, we were treated to one of the other top candidates for bird of the day, a male Black-crested Coquette. We got to watch that fine little bird as much as we wanted along with a couple of Green Thorntails, Crowned Woodnymph, and Violet-headed Hummingbirds among the over-abundant Rufous-taileds.

We often saw it through the flower stems.

Then it would fly into view.

Or put its head into the flowers.

Scoped views on a perch were also nice!

I will be at El Tapir again within a week for another Snowcap vigil. I hope they come back from their vacation from parts unknown.

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bird photography Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope Hummingbirds middle elevations

Some Good Reasons for Visiting the Catarata del Toro

The Catarata del Toro is a massive, scenic waterfall at the edge of Juan Castro Blanco National Park. if you are wondering where that is, think central Costa Rica, the mountains between Poas and La Fortuna. If it helps, it’s also near Bosque de Paz. If you aren’t headed to Bosque de Paz, it’s a bit of a detour off the route between Arenal and Sarapiqui but here are some reasons why the detour is worth it:

  • A couple of loop trails through good cloud forest: Although I have only birded on them twice, I think there is a lot of birding potential. The elevation is around 1,200 meters, the forest has a lot of big trees (indicators of quality habitat), and the forest is connected to the national park. On my limited time on those trails, I have had Highland Tinamou, Emerald Toucanet, Prong-billed Barbet, Pale-vented Thrush, and various common middle elevation species. I bet a lot more could occur.
  • Hummingbird feeders:  This is the main reason for paying a visit. Sometimes, they can be slow but during rainy weather and, when hummingbirds are hungry, the Colibridae action is out of sight.

Some of that sweet hummingbird action.

The feeders are also scenic.

Lots of fantastic Violet Sabrewings to look at.

  • Crazy, close shots of hummingbirds:

Juvenile Green-crowned Brilliant.

Adult Green-crowned Brilliant.

Adult male Green-crowned Brilliant with photo-bombing White-bellied Mountain-Gem.

White-bellied Mounatin-Gem

Green Hermit

  • Black-bellied Hummingbird: Not a whole lot of accessible sites for this one.

Black-bellied Hummingbird

Black-bellied Hummingbird showing its flat crown.

  • Coppery-headed Emerald: Common, near endemic (one population was found in Nicaragua).

    Coppery-headed Emerald shaking off the rain.

    Coppery-headed Emerald showing its colors.
  • Black-breasted Wood-Quail: They used to come into the garden but one of the owners told me that she thought their recent absence might be related to Coatis showing up now and then. She is probably right but the wood-quail should still be in the forest. I wonder if Ochre-breasted and Scaled Antpittas are also around.

Not to mention, the owners also provide good service, can provide meals, and also offer 3 simple rooms. Sounds like a good place for a lone birder or small group to stay and check out. If you do, please send me a report to publish on the blog.

There's also that waterfall to look at. Probably harbors some good swifts.

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Birding Costa Rica birding lodges Introduction

Fun, Birds, and Food at Rancho Naturalista

If Costa Rica has a pioneer birding lodge, it would have to be Rancho Naturalista. I am pretty sure that this gem of a destination was the first place in Costa Rica to put most of the focus on birders and continues to please birdwatchers to this day. Rancho’s legacy includes several in-house guides who have gone on to guide tours around the globe, hundreds (or maybe thousands) of happy photographers, and legendary food. In trip reports, that culinary aspect of Rancho is at times overshadowed by the birds but oh how it does deserve a mention!

For example, after a recent trip with the Birding Club of Costa Rica, we finished off the first day with a dinner of Morrocan Chicken. Meat falling off the bone, scrumptious, honest to goodness Morrocan recipe chicken. Every meal was just as fantastic and it prepares you for the fun birding on and off the grounds of the hotel.

As far as birding goes, feeders and birdy habitats always ensure plenty to look at. Upon arrival, we were treated to the ongoing hummingbird party. This glittering festival never ends and includes such guests as

White-necked Jacobin,

Green-breasted Mango,

Crowned Woodnymph,

Brown Violetear,

and Black-crested Coquette visible in the Porterweed for most of our stay. We also had other hummingbird species along with more than a few close looks at birds coming to fruit and rice feeders. Among those were

Brown Jay and

Gray-headed Chachalaca along with other species.

On more than one occasion, we also saw one of the least common, widespread raptors in the neotropics-

Bicolored Hawk! Rancho just might be the most reliable place for this species anywhere in its range.

But these birds were just some of the ones around the buildings. Up on the trails, the birding wasn’t as easy but we still saw White-crowned Manakin, heard Zeledon’s Antbird and Carmiol’s Tanager, and saw a fair selection of other middle elevation species. If you spent the whole day on the upper trails, you would have a fair chance at Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, Brown-billed Sythebill, tanagers, and lots of other species.

Female White-crowned Manakin.

Although we didn’t do much on the upper trails, we had fun with one of the coolest attractions at Rancho. This gem was the moth sheet. The insects that come to the sheet at night are in turn eaten by birds that show up early in the morning and most are shy, forest interior species. The most common bird was Red-throated Ant-Tanager although we also had close looks at Plain-brown and Spotted Woodcreepers, White-breasted Wood-Wren, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Plain Antvireo, and great looks at another reliable rarity at Rancho, the Tawny-chested Flycatcher.

Tawny-chested Flycatcher.

Staying at Rancho isn’t cheap but you get more than what you pay for with excellent birding, fantastic food, excellent service, and the oportunity to hire very good guides. Take the La Mina excursion and you have a 95% chance of seeing Sunbittern.

We saw this pair!