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Birding Costa Rica dry forest Introduction Pacific slope

Good Birding in Costa Rica near Playa Hermosa

Playa Hermosa is a beach in the northwestern part of Costa Rica. There may be other places called “lovely beach” in the country but this is the official one. The beach is decent but, for birding, you should really head inland. I went up that way this past weekend for a short family vacation with friends and was more than pleased with the birding. Even accounting for the extra enthusiasm associated with birding a habitat that I don’t get to that often, it was still pretty darn good.

Although Playa Hermosa itself has some alright birding in woodlands near the beach, the area I focused on was the road between Playa Panama and the turn-off to Golfo Papagayo (if you are driving, this will make sense). Maybe 10 or 12 kilometers in length, that stretch of road is so good because there are just one or two houses at most and agriculture is limited to rice fields that provide habitat for birds! As with any place in hot Guanacaste, you have to get out there and bird from 5:30 to 8:00 in the morning to really catch the avian action, find a shady or air-conditioned place until 3 pm, and then head back out into the nearby wilds. This birding rubric was perfect for a family that likes to sleep in on weekends and even though I skipped out on the afternoon birding, I still got more than what I was looking for.

On the first morning, I headed out onto the road and stopped at riparian woodlands near the coast. White-throated Magpie Jays were calling, Clay-colored Robins were singing, and other common birds joined in with the dawn chorus. Not hearing anything uncommon, I drove up into the coastal hills and stopped in a scrubby area to record a group of Yellow-naped Parrots that were flying past. Blue Grosbeaks and Stripe-headed Sparrows sang from the grassy areas and I heard my first Thicket Tinamou of the day and year.

As I continued on, I picked up Brown-crested, Piratic, and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers by voice and stopped off in a nice looking area of dry forest and riparian habitat about 7 kilometers from Playa Hermosa. This was the hotspot for the morning and I picked up just about every expected bird without even walking from the car. There was so much birdsong that recording individual species became a challenge. It reminded me of other mornings surveying birds in the pine forests of the Rocky Mountains or doing May point counts in the deciduous forests of northern New York where the quantity of birdsong makes you feel like you have walked into a little piece of Heaven.

The following species are in this recording of the dawn chorus from this site: Thicket Tinamou, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, Elegant Trogon, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Banded Wren, Hoffmann’s Woodepcker, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Black-headed Trogon, Inca Dove, Rufous-naped Wren, and Blue-crowned Motmot. It sounds like there might also be an Ivory-billed Woodcreeper near the beginning of the recording but it’s too far away for me to say for sure.

As Thicket Tinamous sang from the woods and Elegant Trogons called from the hillsides, a Streak-backed Oriole alighted in the top of a tree for my first photo opp. of the day.

Streak-backed Orioles are much more common that Spot-breasteds in Costa Rica.

A Pygmy-Owl imitation brought in one of the small owls and a host of small birds that mobbed it.

birding Costa Rica

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls are much more common south of the Texas border.

birding Costa Rica

Stripe-headed Sparrows are a handsome species that is easy to see when birdwatching in Costa Rica.

birding Costa Rica

birding Costa Rica

It was nice to get lots of looks at beautiful little Banded Wrens.

Plain-capped Starthroats were pretty common along that road.

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I found several Brown-crested Flycatchers but no Nutting’s.

I also got my year Canivet’s Emerald but failed to get a good picture! Other species that came in to the owl were Yellow-Green Vireos, Lesser Greenlets, Gray-crowned Yellowthroats, Blue Grosbeaks, Rufous-naped Wrens, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Yellow Warbler, Scrub Euphonia, and Great Kiskadee. Away from the owl, Turquoise-browed Motmots were visible while a Blue-crowned called from the dry stream bed, a Plain Chachalaca made a sudden appearance (good bird in Costa Rica!), Squirrel Cuckoo appeared, an Olive Sparrow sang a few times, and both Black-headed and Gartered Trogons called and revealed themselves. Overhead, Orange-fronted and Orange-chinned Parakeets flew past along with a handful of White-fronted Parrots.

As the song died down around 7:30, I drove 2 kilometers further to a flat area used for cultivating rice. Just as I had hoped, part of the field had been flooded and yielded a new country bird in the form of Pectoral Sandpiper (!). I also heard a few Leasts and a large white spot in the back of the field turned out to be a….

birding Costa Rica


Another country bird for me and an excellent find! I have heard of them showing up near this area in the past so knew it was a possibility but with 60 or in all of Costa Rica (I think), seeing one is an accomplishment. Oddly enough, there weren’t any other storks around and the only herons with it were Great Egrets and Cattle Egrets. After pulling off the road to check a vegetated ditch, I got a Limpkin and Bare-throated Tiger Heron as they flew into the nearby field.

birding Costa Rica

Limpkin- a good year bird to get.

birding Costa Rica

Bare-throated Tiger Herons are the easiest of the three tiger heron species in Costa Rica.

Although that field could probably turn up rails and Masked Duck, I didn’t get so lucky when I was there. On the dove front, however, I saw three Plain-breasted Ground-Doves compared to one Common and two Ruddys so the rice fields could be a good spot for that uncommon species. Heading back up the road towards Playa Hermosa, I made one more stop along the way where the it passes by nice forest on its western side and got pictures of

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Elegant Trogon and

birding Costa Rica

Streak-backed Oriole in its nest.

I also heard Long-tailed Manakins and Lesser Ground-Cuckoo there and the forest is probably good for other species.

The following day, I checked the hotspot once again and added Laughing Falcon, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet to the list. The rice fields had more water and both yellowlegs instead of the pecs as well as 5 species of swallows. The Jabiru was in the same spot and a pair of Southern Lapwings called from the fields. I was also hoping to bird the catfish farms but the ponds appeared to be dry and it didn’t look like any birds were present so I didn’t spend any time there.

The road between Playa Hermosa and the turn off to Golfo Papagayo is a bit too far to walk but it would be an excellent place to bird from a bicycle. There is very little traffic and there are several places where you can pull off the road and park the car. Although the area is pretty quiet and has low population pressure (hence habitat for birds), as with any roadside birding in Costa Rica, I wouldn’t walk far from the car to avoid possible break-ins. To get to this road from Liberia, just take the main road past the airport and turn right where signs indicate “Golfo de Papagayo”. They might also say, “Playa Panama” but I don’t think they mention “Playa Hermosa”. Follow that road and then take a left towards Playa Panama. You should see the rice fields shortly after. There is also some nice habitat at that intersection that probably holds some good Guanacaste birds.

biodiversity Birding Costa Rica high elevations middle elevations

How to see 11 Raptors and 16 Hummingbird species when Birding Costa Rica

I had been looking forward to guiding this past Saturday. My client wanted to see as many birds as possible and a combined trip to Virgen del Socorro and Poas Volcano seemed like the perfect choice for a birdy day. I figured we would see quite a few birds and some good ones at that but I didn’t expect to identify as many species as a Christmas Bird count at Carara or La Selva!

Warning- this is a bird-filled post that reads a bit like a trip report.

From 5:30 am to 5:30 pm, good birding weather (cloudy skies) and a high degree of bird activity rolled the dice in our favor to give us 122 species seen and 29 that were heard only. What makes that even more impressive is that only four of those were waterbirds. The rest were forest species and we would have actually added 10 or more species to the list if we had run into better mixed flocks.

Starting out from the Xandari Hotel in Alajuela, common species like White-winged Dove, Clay-colored Robin, and Great-tailed Grackle were ticked as we drove up to the mountain pass of Varablanca. At that first stop, we tried in vain to see a singing Flame-colored Tanager in a distant tree while putting the scope on perched Long-tailed Silky Flycatchers. Mountain Elanias called and flitted in the nearby vegetation but the tanager never did reveal itself.

As we headed down through the middle elevations of the Caribbean slope, Red-billed Pigeons flew around and perched on treetops. We made stops for Yellow-bellied Elaenia, got great looks at a pair of Olive-crowned Yellowthroats, were tantalized by a calling White-throated Crake, and watched the antics of Great Kiskadees, Yellow-winged Vireo, Brown-capped Vireo, Piratic, Social, and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers near the Peace Lodge. Rufous-browed Peppershrike and Dark Pewee also showed well but calling Golden-bellied Flycatchers kept out of sight.

Red-billed Pigeons are common, handsome birds in Costa Rica.

Our first raptor species also made appearances somewhere near Cinchona. These were the two everpresent vultures Black Vulture (1) and Turkey Vulture (2), Black-shouldered Kite (3) (which I have never seen on that road), a migrant Red-tailed Hawk (4), and Broad-winged Hawks (5). Further down at our main point of avian focus for the morning, Swallow-tailed Kites (6) entertained as they soared through the canyon at Virgen del Socorro, and a pair of White Hawks (7) took to the air for some courtship action.

As the lightly-plumaged raptors looked beautiful against the greenery of the middle-elevation forests, smaller birds also sang from the woods. Slate-throated Redstarts, Tropical Parulas, and migrant warblers flitted through mossy trees and were joined by Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Lesser Greenlet, and Red-faced Spinetail. Down by the bridge, Tufted Flycatcher called and Torrent Tyrannulet was seen but things like Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch and another pair of Golden-bellied Flycatchers opted for hiding in the dense vegetation. Down at the river itself, no amount of searching would turn up a much hoped for Sunbittern or Fasciated Tiger-Heron but at least a pair of Smoky-brown Woodpeckers made an appearance.

A glimpse of the middle elevation forests at Virgen del Socorro, Costa Rica.

As we worked our way up the opposite, better forested side of the gorge, Barred Hawks (8) called from high above, a pale phase Short-tailed Hawk (9) was seen and a massive group of Swainson’s (10) and Broad-winged Hawks headed due north high overhead. Around the same time, a small mixed flock eventually showed well and gave us great looks at Plain Xenops, several Russet Antshrikes, Silver-throated Tanagers, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Tufted Flycatcher, and Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner. It was nice but it still wasn’t the type of big, active mixed flock that can turn up at Virgen del Socorro.

Moving higher up the road, patience paid off in the form of good looks at the miniscule Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher and brief looks at Rufous-browed Tyrannulet. Bay-headed Tanagers and Common Tody-Flycatcher also turned up but Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant refused to come out and play. However, with flowering trees in that area filled with hummingbirds, we weren’t complaining! Several Brown Violetears called from their perches and chased the numerous Violet-crowned Woodnymphs. A few Green Thorntails were also seen and Violet-headed Hummingbird was heard but the coquette was a no-show.

We waited around for the 11 am bird wave but it never turned up so we birded our way back through the canyon and got good looks at Slaty-capped Flycatcher, more Red-faced Spinetails, and Spotted Woodcreeper. Two other, really good species that vocalized but did not show themselves were Azure-hooded Jay and Brown-billed Sycthebill. By then, lunchtime had arrive so we headed on up to the Cinchona “Cafe de Colibries” for delicious, home-cooked meals. The feeders were unfortunately slow but we still managed to pick up Green-crowned Brilliant, Coppery-headed Emerald, and White-bellied Mountain-Gem, and got point blank looks at a male Green Thorntail.

The male Green Thorntail looks like a spiky-tailed bug.

Cinchona is usually reliable for the local White-bellied Mountain-Gem.

After lunch, it was off to higher elevations and a new set of birds. At the Restaurante Volcan, the seeding bamboo on the other side of the road finally turned up great looks at a rare Slaty Finch. Two were singing and one showed us its dull yet rarely seen self. Yellowish Flycatchers also played around the stream, Long-tailed Silky Flycatchers called from overhead, Spangle-cheeked Tanagers were seen, and a funky pair of Prong-billed Barbets yodeled from the top of a nearby tree. The yodel.

The feeders and nearby habitat always make this a great spot for hummingbirds and Saturday was no exception with sightings of Violet Sabrewing, Purple-throated Mountain-Gem, Volcano Hummingbird, Green Violetear, Magnificent Hummingbird, and Green-crowned Brilliant. Yellow-thighed Finches were also spotted just before heading further up the volcano.

We drove right up to the gate for the national park and started hearing birds as soon as we exited the car. Black-billed Nightingale-Thrushes and Gray-breasted Wood-Wrens sang but the only birds we saw were two Fiery-throated Hummingbirds (always nice to see that one though!). We slowly made our way back down to where the bamboo was seeding and picked up Black and Yellow Silky Flycatcher in the process. At the bamboo, Peg-filled Finches were singing and one was found, admired, and given “junco status” on account of its appearance. Yellow-thighed Finches, Large-footed Finch, and a beautiful Black-thighed Grosbeak were seen. As two Resplendent Quetzals sang, we also got killer looks at a Black Guan and picked up the much wanted Sooty Robin. If you aren’t familiar with the Sooty Robin, it’s basically a Eurasian Blackbird that got teleported to the high mountains of Costa Rica and western Panama at some distant, ancient time (well, how else could it look so similar? Why settle on convergence when the teleportation theory is so much more exciting!).

The junco-like Peg-billed Finch.

Barred Parakeets also made an appearance but by then, the mist had become so thick that we could barely see the rufous on a Rufous-collared Sparrow so they flew through the fog heard but unseen. Back down below the foggy weather, another quick stop didn’t turn up anything of note so we continued to the lower elevations at Xandari. But wait! The birding wasn’t over yet! On the way down,  a road closure (some truck took out a power line post) detoured us through birdy coffee plantations that held our last raptor and hummingbird for the day: Gray Hawk (11) and Steely-vented Hummingbird. It also led us to an artificial pond that held 4 Least Grebes, 2 Blue-winged Teal, and 1 female Ring-necked Duck (a good bird in Costa Rica!).

We got back down to Xandari by dusk and after I got home, I was pleasantly shocked to discover that we had amassed the following total:

Species seenSpecies heard only
Black GuanWhite-throated Crake
Cattle EgretShort-billed Pigeon
Black VultureBarred Parakeet
Turkey VultureSquirrel Cuckoo
Black-shouldered KiteGreen Hermit
Swallow-tailed KiteViolet-headed Hummingbird
Red-tailed HawkResplendent Quetzal
Short-tailed HawkKeel-billed Toucan
Broad-winged HawkChestnut-mandibled Toucan
Swainson’s HawkSpotted Barbtail
Barred HawkBrown-billed Scythebill
White HawkImmaculate Antbird
Gray HawkSilvery-fronted Tapaculo
Blue-winged TealGolden-bellied Flycatcher
Ring-necked DuckScale-crested Pygmy Tyrant
Least GrebeBright-rumped Attila
Spotted SandpiperLesser Greenlet
Red-billed PigeonGray-breasted Wood Wren
Band-tailed PigeonOchraceous Wren
White-winged DoveBay Wren
White-crowned ParrotNightingale Wren
Crimson-fronted ParakeetBlack-faced Solitaire
Vaux’s SwiftBlack-billed Nightingale-Thrush
White-collared SwiftRuddy-capped Nightingale Thrush
Spot-fronted Swift- nice one!Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush
Violet Sabrewing

Stripe-throated Hermit

Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush
Brown VioletearAzure-hooded Jay
Green VioletearFlame-colored Tanager
Green ThorntailChestnut-capped Brush Finch
Violet-crowned Woodnymph
Fiery-throated Hummingbird
Steely-vented Hummingbird
Magnificent Hummingbird
Green-crowned Brilliant
Purple-crowned Fairy
Coppery-headed Emerald
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
White-bellied Mountain-Gem
Purple-throated Mountain-Gem
Volcano Hummingbird
Collared Trogon
Prong-billed Barbet
Hoffmann’s Woodpecker
Smoky-brown Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Red-faced Spinetail
Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner
Plain Xenops
Spotted Woodcreeper
Russet Antshrike
Paltry Tyrannulet
Rufous-browed Tyrannulet
Common Tody-Flycatcher
Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher
Yellow-olive Flycatcher
Yellowish Flycatcher
Mountain Elaenia
Yellow-bellied Elaenia
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
Dark Pewee
Wood Pewee species
Social Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Piratic Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Tufted Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Torrent Tyrannulet
Slaty-capped Flycatcher
Masked Tityra
Brown-capped Vireo
Yellow-winged Vireo
Rufous-browed Peppershrike
Brown Jay
Blue and white Swallow
Roughwing Swallow species
House Wren
Stripe-breasted Wren
Sooty Robin
Clay-colored Robin
Mountain Robin
Black and Yellow Silky Flycatcher
Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher
Golden-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Tropical Parula
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Golden-crowned Warbler
Buff-rumped Warbler
Slate-throated Redstart
Olive-crowned Yellowthroat
Common Bush Tanager
Palm Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Passerini’s Tanager
Silver-throated Tanager
Spangle-cheeked Tanager
Bay-headed Tanager
Summer Tanager
Tawny-capped Euphonia
Golden-browed Chlorophonia
Scarlet-thighed Dacnis
Yellow-faced Grassquit
Variable Seedeater
Slaty Finch
Peg-billed Finch
Yellow-thighed Finch
Large-footed Finch
Rufous-collared Sparrow
Grayish Saltator
Black-thighed Grosbeak
Eastern Meadowlark
Melodious Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
Montezuma Oropendola

Needless to say, you can see a heck of a lot of birds in one day in Costa Rica! As nice as Saturday’s total was, though, just wait and see how many birds are produced by the Big Day I will probably do next weekend or shortly thereafter!

Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica caribbean foothills caribbean slope Hummingbirds

Black-crested Coquette at El Tapir

El Tapir is a defunct butterfly garden (how many sites have that claim to fame?) a couple kilometers past Quebrada Gonzalez on the right side of the highway as you head towards Limon. During the latter 90s it received a fair number of visitors and cabins were being built to provide accommodation for excited, happy birders. I don’t know if that was actually the goal for the cabins but excited, happy birders would have certainly been the outcome. The place is easily accessible, has the full complement of foothill specialties, good populations of other birds that require primary forest, acts as a good lookout for raptors, and has a bunch of Porterweed bushes that are one of the few reliable sites in the country Snowcap.

However, to visiting birders great misfortune, the cabins were never finished and El Tapir was let to its own devices. The buildings are falling down, you would never know that a beautiful little, enclosed butterfly garden used to grace the entrance to the place, and there aren’t any more souvenirs for sale. Nevertheless, despite it’s defunct appearance, El Tapir can still be visited, there are a few trails through the forest, and hummingbirds still show up at the Porterweed bushes. Many of those magic flowering hedges have been cleared from the garden for unknown reasons and this has diminished the numbers of hummingbirds that show up but the place still sees visits by most of the expected species.

This past Sunday, while guiding at El Tapir, we were entertained by one of the more uncommon hummingbird species to visit the garden, an exquisite male Black-crested Coquette. It came to one of the flowering Porterweed bushes near the caretaker’s house and he let us know every time it made an appearance. It buzzed in low like a bumblebee for fantastic, close looks…

Black-crested Coquette is so small that it can just about hide behind a Porterweed stem!

It slowly moved into view and showed off its fine-plumed crest.

Neither common, nor rare, like so many other tropical bird species with low density populations, the Black-crested Coquette is perhaps best described as “uncommon”. This means that they are probably in the neighborhood when visiting their habitat but could easily escape detection if you don’t find the right type of flowering trees. Other factors that make it that much more difficult to locate this species are their tendency to move up and down slope in search of food and their naturally inconspicuous behavior that aids them in poaching nectar from flowers in the territories of other, larger, nastier hummingbirds.

I don’t see this species that often at El Tapir so don’t be surprised if you go birding there and miss it. However, even if you miss the coquette, consolation prizes often come in the form of Snowcap, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Green Thorntail, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Violet-headed Hummingbird, and Violet-crowned Woodnymph. You might also run into some good mixed flocks, pick up foothill birds in the forest, see King Vulture, and even run into a tapir! On Sunday, we had all of the hummingbirds listed above along with White-necked Jacobin and Purple-crowned Fairy. A sunny day made for pretty quiet birding inside the forest but we still managed to see Spotted Antbird (also heard Bicolored and Ocellated), Streak-crowned Antvireo, White-flanked Antwren, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Speckled Tanager, and King Vulture.

If you do visit El Tapir, just ask the caretaker if you can enter and pay him $5 per person. On a side note, the forest looked much drier than normal this past week and that could be why we picked up a few ticks so put on the sulfur powder and wear rubber boots!

Birding Costa Rica preparing for your trip

Some Tips for Visiting and Birding Costa Rica

The high season for tourism in Costa Rica is approaching as fast and steady as the flight of a White-collared Swift. Many hotels have already adjusted their rates and on the Pacific slope, better weather is on the way. After cloudy days and many rain-filled afternoons, the sun was shining in Santa Barbara de Heredia today. It still rained in some other parts of the Central Valley and the cloud banks hovering at the continental divide showed that the wetter season on the Caribbean slope is just kicking into gear. Nevertheless, drier days are on the way in much of the country and so are the tourists. If you are coming to Costa Rica for a good dose of wonderful neotropical birding, surfing, or adventure activities, here are a few tips from the perspective of someone who lives in the land of gallo pinto and Resplendent Quetzals:

Go see a R. Quetzal: Since I mentioned them I might as well emphasize that you should include this spectacular bird in your itinerary. If you are a birder, you probably already have but even so, it’s still worth reminding you to go and see some. Notice that I said, “some” and not “one”. This was deliberate because it reflects how accessible these amazing looking birds are in Costa Rica. They also occur in southern Mexico, are still revered in Guatemala, and frequent the cloud forests of other Central American countries but Costa Rica is arguably the easiest place to see them. Hire a guide at Monteverde, San Gerardo de Dota, Paraiso de Quetzales, or stay at El Toucanet and you are just about guaranteed to fill your binocular with the view of quetzals.birding Costa Rica

Don’t change money at the airport: I used to think this was a good place to change money. I was wrong. When you change money at the airport, they give a much lower rate than banks. Even with 3$ fee, you get a better rate when simply taking money out of ATMs. You can also do it at the bank but I don’t advise it unless you enjoy waiting in lines.

Hang out at some hummingbird feeders: Obviously on your itinerary if birding Costa Rica. If you aren’t so inclined to watch our feathered friends, spending some time at hummingbird feeders might convert you to our clan, obsession, hobby, or whatever else you would like to call watching birds at all possible moments. But seriously, check out the hummingbird gallery at Monteverde, the Hummingbird Garden along the San Ramon-La Tigra road, and the feeders at La Georgina. There’s also others here and there in the country and some charge a fair fee to experience them but keep in mind that you can usually see the same species for free at other feeders.

Sunscreen and a small umbrella: Come in the dry season and you are going to experience the sizzling rays of a much more direct and focused sun than northern climes. Don’t mess around with that bad boy; always slather on the high power sunscreen! Also, if you are traveling anywhere other than the dry northwest, expect some rain. Although a poncho works out at high elevations, I prefer a small umbrella in warmer climes.

Don’t expect to see many large mammals: Like many areas in the neotropics, megafauna doesn’t make up a big component of Costa Rican wildlife. While it is true that you could always get lucky and see a Jaguar, Puma, or Tapir, don’t count on it. However, you can expect to see monkeys, sloths, dinosaurish iguanas, Scarlet Macaws, trogons, Chestnut-backed Antbird, and lots of other cool birds!

Watch where you step and don’t leave the trail: While getting bit by a snake is highly unlikely, there’s no point in taking any chances. The Fer-de Lance is a big, common viper whose venom will digest your flesh. They are camouflaged sit and wait predators. This means that they are both hard to see and easy to step on if you can’t see the ground and always lose at poker. As unlikely as an encounter is with them and other snakes, don’t chance it. Never walk where you can’t see your feet and always watch where you step. Also, don’t grab any branches or other vegetation in humid areas because there are other camouflaged vipers that sit and wait there too. I guess you shouldn’t swing on vines in the forest and fall to the ground either. Some poor guy did that in Carara this past year and fell straight onto a large Fer-de-Lance. He was bit and died that same day (although he may have had heart problems that contributed to his demise).

Drive defensively: If driving, you will quickly discover that a lot of people don’t operate their vehicles in a very safe manner, that the conditions of some roads require a fair amount of swerving to avoid pot holes, motorcycles do whatever they want at any time, and that slow-going boxy trucks are a royal pain in the “?$%. Just be extra careful and know that just because a turn signal is on doesn’t mean that the person is going to turn and vice-versa. To be fair, there are also a lot of good drivers who make their intentions known and are courteous about letting other cars turn or join their lane of constant traffic. They do this by flashing their lights.

Don’t speed: Be careful and follow speed limits even when other drivers don’t. The police love to use radar guns at speed traps and this is usually where the limit goes from 80kph down to 60kph. There may or may not be a sign but it will be painted on the road itself.

Never, ever park the car in an unguarded situation: Do this and someone is sure to break in and steal something. Luckily, there are lots of guarded parking lots. Personally, I like to park the car where I can always see it.

Be patient with the birds: Birding in areas of high biodiversity comes at a price. There might be lots of bird species but many require specialized habitats, most have large territories, and quite a few are naturally shy. You can walk into excellent forest one day and see 30 species, then see 40 more species the following day in the same area.  Be patient, check every little movement and sound, and the cool denizens of the rainforest will show up.

    Hire a guide: If you want to see more when birding Costa Rica, hire a guide who knows how to identify birds by sight and sound, and where to find them. Although the complexities of neotropical birding make it an endeavor that brims with surprises on a daily basis and is subject to a fair degree of probability, going with a guide will up the odds of seeing more birds when watching them in Costa Rica.

    Birding Costa Rica Introduction Pacific slope

    A Brief Guide to Birding around Montezuma, Costa Rica

    Montezuma always makes me think of Mexico but there is another one much closer to home (at least for me). This is the seaside village of Montezuma located on the southern part of the Nicoya peninsula. If any birders make it there, it’s usually by accident or with a non-birding tour group set on checking out this “smoky” backpacker haven. There are good reasons for Montezuma not making it onto the regular circuit when birding Costa Rica. If you don’t bounce and four wheel drive your way from more established towns to the north, you have to take a ferry across the gulf of Nicoya. Although this can actually be quite interesting for birds, it eats up valuable time like a starving Wood Stork in a fish pond.

    Although, like many areas of Costa Rica, Montezuma and surroundings can be nice for birding, most people who visit the country have just two or three weeks to work with and feel that their time is better spent in places like Tortuguero, the Osa peninsula, and Cerro de la Muerte. I would have to agree so there’s a fair chance that you won’t make it over to Montezuma. However, if non-birding family or chance brings you to this surf/backpacker touristy village, read on to see what awaits in terms of getting there and birds.

    1. Puntarenas: The town of Puntarenas is built on a sandspit so it has a naturally elongated shape. If driving there, be aware that the signs indicating the entrance to Puntarenas can be 100% misleading. Use your GPS and/or common sense and you will eventually arrive but be very wary of the signs or you could start driving back towards San Jose. I speak from recent experience and kid you not! As tempting as it is to speed into town, don’t do it or you will be rewarded with a nasty ticket (and rightly so because there’s a lot of bikes and pedestrians on the streets). As for the birds, you might find a spot or two to check out mudflats and mangroves to the north of town.

    2. The Ferry: There’s more ferrys nowadays so if you are driving, you probably won’t have to wait for hours in line like you used to. If using the most mundane of transportation, walk on over to the Musmanni bakery to buy your boarding tickets (less than $2 this past weekend), head to the top of the boat, claim a shady spot,and start scanning the water. Not many people bird this area on a regular basis so who knows what will show up? Although most birds will be expected species don’t discount the possibility of some rare waterbird making an appearance! I have seen some good stuff on each of the few trips I have done from Puntarenas to Paquera (the dock on the other side). Parasitic Jaeger, Least Storm Petrel, and Sooty Shearwater have all made appearances. On the most recent trip, an uncommon young Blue-footed Booby flew into view. We also had Franklin’s Gulls, Royal, Common, Black, and Sandwich Terns, Brown Booby, a sea turtle, and lots of jumping fish. On the way back to Puntarenas, the sea was so calm that it was downright surreal. Scanning with binos revealed patches of jumping fish far out on the water and scattered flocks of Black Terns as far as we could see!

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    There’s birds out there in them there waters (yee haw!).

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    Docking at Paquera.

    3. Paquera to Tambor: After leaving Paquera, you drive past some promising looking riparian zones with big, old trees. I didn’t have time to bird there but it would be worth a stop. The edges of mangroves would also be worth checking.

    4. Tambor: This tiny place is better known for the big Barcelo hotel that destroyed a bunch of mangroves far more valuable than the town itself.  To be fair, though, Barcelo has funded Scarlet Macaw recovery efforts in the area and planted a bunch of trees. The best birding is in the fields and mangroves just east of the village. From a mini-plaza at the east end of the village, walk in along old roads meant for a development that never happened until you reach trails that go near the mangroves. Spish and toot like a pygmy owl and you might see Northern Scrub Flycatcher, Mangrove Cuckoo, and even Mangrove Hummingbird (!). Lots of other cool birds in there too.

    5. Curu National Wildlife Refuge: Somewhere along the way, watch for signs that lead to this birding site. Double-striped Thick Knee occurs in fields on the entrance road, there are semi-wild Spider Monkeys that may attack your car (I’m not exaggerating!), and trails that access mangroves and dry forest.

    6. Tambor-Montezuma: After Tambor, you will drive into a larger town called, “Cabuya” (I think that’s its name). From there on to Montezuma, the road is dirt and adorned with pot holes. At one point, you will see signs for Montezuma that want you to go to the right. This will take you there but it’s closer and quicker to just go straight ahead. However, no matter which route you take into the village, go to the right, go past the cemetery and start birding. We did that on Saturday and were immediately rewarded with Plain-breasted Ground-Dove! For me, this was quite the serendipitous find because it was new for both the year and my Costa Rica list!  We also had American Kestrel there (uncommon in Costa Rica), and thick-knees called from the field at night. I bet other uncommon stuff could show up. Further on, the road passes by fields, riparian zones, and eventually descends to Montezuma. You might also get Plain Chachalaca in this area and Three-wattled Bellbirds from December to April.

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    Plain-breasted Ground Dove!

    7.Montezuma: While the village isn’t ideal for birding, the coast has lots of rocky outcroppings, tidal pools, and a chance at Wandering Tattler. Although I only saw Ruddy Turnstones, Whimbrel, and Spotted Sandpipers, it does look ideal for the tattler and Surfbirds. Scanning the ocean here might also turn up some wayward pelagic- you never know! Watch for the magpie jays that look for handouts on the streets.

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    The Ruddy Turnstone looks down at the crab in disdain…

    8. Cabo Blanco: I have never gone there so everything I write for this little section is hearsay but I bet it’s pretty good for birding. There is a good amount of forest, it is protected, and it’s pretty darn hot. You can’t really drive there so expect a long, hot trudge to bird Cabo Blanco.

    Birds in the areas mentioned: Ok, so now for the most interesting part! While much of the area is deforested, there are patches of habitat, places that are growing back into forest, and riparian zones that support quite a few species. Any remnant wetlands and lagoons should be checked for things like Pinnated Bittern, Masked Duck, and other uncommon species. Not that I have seen those there but there’s a fair chance they occur if you find the right habitat. This part of the Nicoya peninsula is more humid than areas further north and demonstrates it with species such as Collared Aracari and Red-lored Parrot.

    We actually did most of our birding around the Finca los Caballos Hotel and this is probably representative of      much of the surrounding area. Long-tailed Manakins were especially common.

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    Long-tailed Manakin- Costa Rica’s faux Bird of Paradise.

    We had 8 species of hummingbirds sans feeders!

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    Green-breasted Mango is the most common hummingbird species near Montezuma.

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    Long-billed Starthroat isn’t supposed to be there according to the range maps.

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    This psycho looking White-fronted Parrot landed right next to the hotel deck.

    Brown-crested Flycatcher and Yellow-bellied Elaenia perked up when I called like a pygmy owl.

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    The Elaenia.

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    The Myiarchus.

    Some other interesting species included Orange-fronted and Orange-chinned Parakeets, Northern barred and Olivaceous Woodcreepers, Peregrine Falcon, Barred Antshrike, Plain Wren, American Coot (sorry, but it’s uncommon in Costa Rica!), Olive Sparrow, Stripe-headed Sparrow, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Blue-throated Goldentail, and Greenish Elaenia. Although many of the species are common and widespread, the open nature of the habitat made for great looks at most and excellent bird photography opportunities. Check out the newly formed birding club Picasa album for more pics! Many thanks to Dewald Reiner for taking great photos and setting that up.

    Bird pics:
    Montezuma pics:

    Birding Costa Rica high elevations Hummingbirds weather

    What to Do When Birding in the Rain in Costa Rica

    October is part of the official rainy season in Costa Rica. Each year, low pressure systems get together to stew up a massive dumping of water upon Costa Rica and other parts of Central America. The results often include landslides, flooding (albeit typically in floodplains), and lower temperatures. On a side note, I should add that much of the Caribbean slope is spared these 72 hour or more deluges from the sky. The sun still reigns during the morning hours over on the other side of the mountains and that’s where you should go when birding Costa Rica in October.

    I was recently made aware of this wise piece of advice over the past weekend. Mike Bergin of 10,000 Birds and test preparation fame came down for a short visit and I was happy to show him around. During the trip planning stage, I had mentioned that rain might be an issue but also that the near future was looking bright and so we didn’t expect too many weather-related problems. After all, the sunny mornings and afternoon thunderstorms of September and the first week of October were downright pleasant and predictable. It looked as if Mike could come on down, we could sweep up on regional endemics, and generally have a good, solid dose of non-stop, exciting birding. When you are optimistic, these sort of things run through your mind because you want them to come true. The only hitch is that they don’t necessarily reflect how things are going to turn out.

    This past weekend, the rains were triumphant in the imaginary battle between optimism and weather conditions. The more I wished for sun, the harder it rained but in keeping with the determined, undaunted nature of the Zen-birding tradition (I don’t know what that really means but it sure sounds good), we failed to surrender arms! Ha! Even after Mike’s plane was delayed for more than 800 minutes (according to flightstatus.com), we surged on down to Carara shortly after his arrival. When we reached the second tool booth, we found out that the rains had thrown a landslide into our path to keep us from reaching Carara. No problem! We turned straight around and wove our way through the pot-holed maze of Central Valley streets to head up into the mountains. About 10 minutes past Alajuela, we were stopped by another road closure, this one related to the repair of downed power lines. No problem! The car was stopped and there was green space so we started birding. Spishing and pygmy-owl toots called a few species out of the woodwork and Mike got his second regional endemic in the form of Hoffmann’s Woodpecker (Crimson-fronted Parakeet was the first).

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    Not the Hoffmann’s we saw but I can assure that it looked just like this one.

    No new birds popped up so we consulted the trusty GPS navigator and took another route towards Poas Volcano. It didn’t take long, though, for us to be confronted with a true, honest to goodness landslide.

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    This is why motorbikes are popular in rural areas of Costa Rica.

    Mist saturated the entire area (and hid a calling Flame-colored Tanager) so we took another route up the volcano. This time, we were successful in reaching a place where we could watch birds without getting soaked. Known as the “El Volcan” restaurant, it’s the perfect place for a tasty, home-cooked lunch accompanied by a nice selection of cloud forest hummingbirds. Despite the wet weather, we quickly tallied 7 species of hummingbirds.

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    These included several Purple-throated Mountain-gems,

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    a few Volcano Hummingbirds,

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    and Violet Sabrewings.

    Slaty Flowerpiercers also moved through the restaurant garden on one of their constant nectar filching missions, and forest on the other side of the street hosted Yellow-thighed Finches, Wilson’s Warblers, Red-faced Spinetail, Spangle-cheeked Tanagers, and other birds adapted to cool, misty, 2,000 meter climes. The restaurant was nice and dry but how could we stay when there were other birds to be seen higher up the road? We drove uphill and made occasional stops to search for birds. The constant, saturating mist and rain attempted to drown out my pygmy-owl imitation but I still managed to attract that hefty-billed beauty known as a Black-thighed Grosbeak. Golden-browed Chlorophonias also softly called from the canopy but refused to reveal themselves. As much as I attempted to ignore the rain while looking at Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Large-footed Finch, and Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, I couldn’t help but admit that the experience was akin to watching birds while taking a  cold shower. A quetzal might have given us enough internal birding power to stave off any and all discomfort but since none showed up, we headed back downhill and made our way to the Zamora Estates in Santa Ana.

    In conclusion, if you must go birding in Costa Rica during October, stick to the Caribbean slope because it’s drier there at this time of year. If circumstances or location make it impossible to avoid the rain, you can always go to the El Volcan Restaurant and watch the hummingbird action. Other highland species will also show up without being accompanied by a supposedly invigorating, warmth-sapping natural cold shower.  You could also immerse yourself into sudoku but that will keep you from seeing birds so leave those numeric puzzles at home or on the plane and just keep looking for birds!

    The El Volcan restaurant is situated past Poasito, on the road up to Poas Volcano. Look for it on the left or west side of the road. It looks like this:

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    birding Costa Rica

    biodiversity Birding Costa Rica birding lodges feeders high elevations Hummingbirds middle elevations

    Birding El Toucanet Lodge, Costa Rica

    Two weekends ago, I finally got the chance to experience El Toucanet Lodge near Copey de Dota, Costa Rica. This highland birding site has popped up on the Costa Rican birding grapevine on a number of occasions so I was enthused about birding there while guiding the local Birding Club of Costa Rica. I have guided a number of birders who have enthralled me with tales of El Toucanet’s exciting hummingbird action, easy views of quetzals, great food, and quality hospitality. After staying there, I echo their sentiments and definitely recommend the place when birding the Talamancas.

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    The majority of birders get their fill of high elevation birding in Costa Rica at Savegre Mountain Hotel in San Gerardo de Dota. Since the oak forests there are more accessible than at El Toucanet, you can’t go wrong with birding at Savegre Mountain Lodge, but it’s also more expensive. For a more moderately priced option, El Toucanet is $30 cheaper per night on average and is situated at a lower elevation with drier forest that turns up an interesting suite of species. In addition to good birding around the hotel, birders who come with a rental vehicle will find it to be a good site to use as a base for birding higher elevations.

    At the lodge itself, two hummingbird feeders were enough to entertain us with views of the following species:

    Violet Sabrewing

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    Stripe-tailed Hummingbird

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    Green Violetear

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    Magenta-throated Woodstar

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    Scintillant Hummingbird

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    Purple-throated Mountain-Gem

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    and the good old Rufous-tailed Hummingbird.

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    There were also camera shy Green-crowned Brilliants, Magnificent Hummingbirds, and in flowering Ingas on the property, a few Steely-vented Hummingbirds. White-throated Mountain-Gems, and Volcano and Fiery-throated Hummingbirds seen at higher elevations gave us a respectable total of thirteen hummingbirds species seen during our stay.

    On the non-hummingbird side of page, some of the highlights at the lodge and in nearby, similar habitats were Dark Pewee (common), Barred Becard (fairly common), Spotted Wood-Quail (heard only although they sometimes show up at the lodge), Collared Trogon, Black and white Becard (very uncommon species in Costa Rica), and Rough-legged Tyrannulet. Much to my chagrin, this last bird was also a heard only as it would have been a lifer! I tried calling it in but the bird just wouldn’t come close enough to see it- all the more reason to head back up there!

    Flame-colored Tanagers were fairly common and came to the lodge feeders once in a while

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    but the lodge namesake seemed to be pretty uncommon. We still saw a few Emerald Toucanets but not as many as I had expected; maybe they are more common at other times of the year or are down in numbers like the Resplendent Quetzal. As with other areas in Costa Rica, the wacky fruiting season seems to have had an impact upon quetzal numbers so it took us a few days to actually see one. This is in contrast to the norm at El Tocuanet whereby guests often view more than one of these fancy birds on the daily quetzal tour (free for guests).

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    A Resplendent Quetzal near El Toucanet being resplendent.

    One of our best birdies during our visit was Silver-throated Jay. This tough endemic needs primary highland oak forest and, at El Tocuanet, is only regularly found at higher elevations where the road to Providencia flattens out. It was nice to get this rarity for the year even if it was a pain to get clear views of it in the densely foliaged crowns of massive, moss-draped oaks. That same area also hosted three or four calling, unseen Buff-fronted Quail-Doves, the aforementioned high elevation hummingbirds, and a mixed flock highlighted by Buffy Tuftedcheeks. We also had our weirdest bird of the trip in that area- a Magnificent Frigatebird! If it wanted to masquerade as an American Swallow-tailed Kite, those raptors weren’t buying it and demonstrated their discontent by dive-bombing the modern day Pterodactyl.

    We also had calling quetzals around there, and at night, heard Dusky Nightjar, Bare-shanked Screech-Owl, and Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl. During our after dark excursion, we tried for the near mythical Unspotted Saw-whet but didn’t get any response. Maybe it occurs at higher elevations? Maybe it just doesn’t like birders? No matter because I am going to get that feathered gnome before 2011 comes to an end!

    Our final morning was when we got the quetzal (thanks to the owners son Kenny who whistled it in) in addition to being our best morning of birding. Streak-breasted Treehunter hung out at a nesting hole (burrow) in a quarry. Barred Becard and bathing Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers entertained in the same area. Tufted Flycatchers, migrant Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Dark Pewee were sallying off perches like jumping jack flash, and Yellow-bellied Siskins did what all birds should do-

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    sing from exposed, eye level perches for long periods of time at close distances. Challenges are OK but relaxed, easy birding is always better!

    One drawback to birding near El Toucanet is that hunting still occurs in the area. We didn’t see any guys with guns or floppy eared, baying dogs, but we were told that locals do hunt in the Los Santos Forest Reserve (illegally). I suspected as much because of the flighty behavior of birds in the area (except at El Toucanet where they know they are safe). Even so, aside from making it a bit more challenging to watch birds close up, I doubt that it affects the birding all that much. Black Guans are probably more difficult to see but you may still have a good chance for them when birding the long road through Providencia and the highway. Much of this underbirded road cuts through beautiful forest. If you have the time and vehicle, please bird it and let us know what you see! I plan on surveying the road sometime this year and will blog about it.

    In the meantime, check out El Toucanet! I bet the area around the lodge holds more surprises, the fireplace is certifiably cozy, the food very good, and the owners as nice as can be.

    Here was a very cool surprise that I ran into just next to the lodge- my lifer Godson’s Montane Pit-Viper!

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    Birding Costa Rica caribbean foothills caribbean slope Hummingbirds

    Visit The New Cinchona Hummingbird Cafe when Birding Costa Rica

    Cinchona is known in Costa Rica as the town that was destroyed by a 6.1 magnitude earthquake on January 9th, 2009. Most structures in that quaint town and the surrounding area collapsed, landslides wiped out large sections of route 126, and more than 30 people lost their lives. Birders were especially familiar with the area around Cinchona because of several birding sites situated along route 126. Virgen del Socorro was one of the most famous sites as it was an excellent area for middle elevation birds of the Caribbean Slope and the most reliable place in Costa Rica for seeing Lanceolated Monklet.

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    Virgen del Socorro before the earthquake.

    The La Paz Waterfall Gardens were another site that was frequented by birders and many tourists, but the crown jewel for birding were two cafes with serious hummingbird action and fruit feeders that attracted both species of barbets, tanagers, Emerald (Blue-throated) Toucanet, and others. The abundance of birds, friendly owners, and lack of an entrance fee made those cafes a welcome, requisite stop when taking this scenic route to the Sarapiqui area.

    All of these places were unfortunately very close to the epicenter of the quake and were severely damaged or seemed to have just disappeared. The road also vanished in places (it ran along the fault line that caused the quake) and it looked as if those classic birding sites were gone for good. More than two years later, I am happy to report that this is not the case. The Waterfall Gardens were back up and running a matter of months after the earthquake, and major improvements have been made to route 126. On a trip to the area last weekend, we were surprised to see how much work had been done on the road. Although it still lacks pavement, it has been widened and graded for at least half of its length and it looked like road crews were fixing up the other half as well. Although the upper section wasn’t officially open, many cars (including two wheel drive vehicles) and public buses are using it.

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    Wide, graded road.

    Habitat isn’t as good as it used to be along the lower parts of the road but there are some promising areas on the upper section that produced birds such as Dark Pewee, Tufted Flycatcher, a flyby Chiriqui Quail-Dove (!), Barred Becard, Red-faced Spinetail, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, and other expected middle elevation species during visits in February. You can also visit the La Paz Waterfall Gardens to watch an abundance of hummingbirds and see their “zoo” of rescued animals but to be honest, the $35 per person entrance is too steep of a price to pay for birding in my opinion, and especially so because you can see the same species at other sites in the area.

    One of these is the new Hummingbird Cafe. It appears to be located on or near the same spot as the former and might be run by the same people. It is much smaller and a shadow of its former birding glory but it’s still worth a stop. On a visit last weekend, the following hummingbird species came to their three feeders: Violet Sabrewing, Green Violetear, Green Thorntail, Green-crowned Brilliant, and White-bellied Mountain-Gem. Most of these were single birds and there wasn’t a huge amount of action but I still got some ok shots and other species probably show up from time to time.

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    Green Thorntail

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    Green Violetear

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    Green-crowned Brilliant (female)

    We also had a White-crowned Parrot that perched on a snag and showed off its colors.

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    Virgen del Socorro was visible down below and a road could be discerned that descended into the gorge but as far as we could tell, it was only accessible from the other side of the river. Despite being very familiar with the entrance road to Virgen del Socorro, I failed to find it. I still hope it’s there but strongly suspect that it was more or less destroyed. Perhaps the forested gorge at Virgen del Socorro can still be visited from the village of the same name on the other side of the river? I fear that much habitat was destroyed by earthquake spawned landslides and floods but it would be nice to see if the monklet is still around as well as Bare-necked Umbrellabird (I have heard them there in the past and they were also seen on rare occasions).

    Birding Costa Rica central valley middle elevations preparing for your trip

    Tapanti National Park is always worth a visit when birding Costa Rica

    With so many excellent possibilities to choose from when birding Costa Rica, it can be difficult to decide upon an itinerary. “Classic” sites like Sarapiqui, Monteverde, the Dota Valley, and Carara tempt with easy access, good infrastructure, and mouth watering trip reports. The biologically hyperactive Osa Peninsula, tall forests of Tortuguero, and monkey rich Santa Rosa National Park beckon to birders looking for a wilderness experience. Adventurous birders and naturephiles will be impressed with the fantastic birding and high diversity at sites located off the radar such as Heliconias Lodge, Hitoy Cerere, and Manzanillo.

    No matter where you decide to focus birding time and energy when visiting Costa Rica, make room in the schedule for Tapanti National Park. At least a day but two or three would be even better. My reasons for getting excited about birding Tapanti and surroundings are probably why most birding tour companies include a visit to the lush forests of this middle elevation site:

    1. There are few other places in Costa Rica where you have a fair chance at seeing the likes of: White-bellied      Mountain-Gem, Green-fronted Lancebill, Black-bellied Hummingbird, Scaled Antpitta, Ochre-breasted Antpitta (good candidate for splitting from South American taxa), Black-banded Woodcreeper, Lineated Foliage-gleaner, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Streaked Xenops, Immaculate Antbird, Rufous-rumped Antwren, Lesser Elaenia, White-fronted Tyrannulet, Dark Pewee, Sharpbill, and White-winged Tanager.
    2. You also have a fair chance of seeing target species such as: Black Guan, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Violet Sabrewing, Green Thorntail, Red-headed Barbet, Prong-billed Barbet, Brown-billed Scythebill, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Streak-breasted Treehunter, Red-faced Spinetail, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Brown-capped Vireo, Black-faced Solitaire, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, American Dipper, Azure-hooded Jay, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager,  Ochraceous Wren, and Elegant Euphonia.
    3. The park is easily accessible and there are various options for lodging within a twenty minute drive.
    4. Most of the birds can be seen along a wide, easily walked road through the park or along an easy, loop trail.
    5. Situated 2 kilometers from the park entrance, Kiri Lodge is a good place for lunch and has excellent bird feeding tables.

    On a day trip to the park last weekend, my birder friend Susan and I didn’t come close to getting all of the above but we still had a great day of birding in beautiful surroundings. Here is a quick run-down of our day:

    Susan picks me up in Santa Barbara de Heredia at 5 a.m. and off we go through the streets of the Central Valley on our way to Tapanti! Light traffic at dawn is a serious boon but twisting, winding roads and occasional lights and signs that tell us to stop make it an hour and a half drive. We both agree that we should have left at 4.

    Scenery doesn’t become truly beckoning or beautiful until we decend into the Orosi Valley, take in huge draughts of fresh, country air, and listen to the Orange-billed Nightingale Thrushes, Clay-colored Robins, Black Phoebes, Brown Jays, Plain Wrens, Rufous-capped Warblers, Yellow-faced Grasquits, and other birds that chip, sing, and call from surrounding coffee plantations.

    Nearing the park, we stop at an inviting spot along the road with a brushy field on one side and a lush forest on the other.

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    Hoping for migrants, I start up with the spishing as soon as I step out of the car and a few birds show up- three Chestnut-sided Warblers, two Wilsons Warblers, a couple of Tennessees, and one smart looking male Golden-winged Warbler. They are just as likely to have have arrived for the winter as they are migrants stopping for a “coffee break” on their way to more southerly haunts.

    I was hoping that the brushy field would turn up a Lesser Elaenia or White-throated Flycatcher but Black Phoebe, Yellow-faced Grasquit, Golden-hooded Tanager, and Gray-crowned Yellowthroat were the only birds that made an appearance. Nevertheless, it was a perfect place to just stand still, watch the sun begin to chase away the shadows, and listen to the dawn chorus. Birds in Costa Rica don’t sing as much during October but I still heard Bright-rumped Atilla, Smoky-brown Woodpeckers, Brown Jays, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Immaculate Antbird, and Rufous-breasted Antthrush.

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    This is the latter half of a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat.

    We continue past non-birdy sun coffee and stop just outside the park entrance where forest finally greets us on both sides of the road. This area is always productive and Saturday was no exception with Silver-throated and Common Bush Tanagers trooping through the treetops, Black-faced Solitaire and Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush popping into view, and Tawny-capped Euphonias feeding on a branch that hung over the road.

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    At 8 a.m. (opening time for the park), we went to the park entrance and the friendly ranger urged us to check out their exhibit of road killed animals. I stress “road killed animals” as opposed to “road kill” because the animals were stuffed and on display as opposed to being shown in sad, squashed, and mangled positions (although they had some gruesome pictures of this too). In their hope to educate visitors about biodiversity in the area and the hazards local fauna face on the roads, they showed a Tapir

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    a Puma,

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    and an Ocelot!

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    Cases of ridiculous looking insects were also on display.

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    birding Costa Rica

    Just outside the ranger station, we ran into a nice flock of birds and got close looks at Red-headed and Prong-billed Barbets, Spotted Barbtail, Red-faced Spinetail, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Brown-capped Vireo, Slate-throated Redstart, Golden-crowned, Rufous-capped, Black and White, and Chestnut-sided Warblers, Elegant Euphonia, and more Common Bush Tanagers. Not with the flock but in the same area were Stripe-throated Hermit, White-bellied Mountain-Gem, and Black-bellied Hummingbird.

    I was also hearing Golden-bellied Flycatcher and Dark Pewee at this time but they stayed out of sight.

    As we were on a mild-mannered mission to see antpittas, we drove up the road to the oddly named Oropendola Trail (because you don’t usually see them there) and crept down towards the river with the hopes that a Scaled Antpitta would bound into view. Just as we made a silent, ninja-like approach  to a suitable, wet-looking spot that looked like home for an antpitta, a park worker came happily bounding down the trail instead and foiled our plan. Ahh, but a trick was up our sleeve (actually in my backpack) and it came in the form of a Scaled Antpitta recording. I played the odd bubbling sound of this skulking king but despite our careful scanning of the undergrowth absolutely nothing was seen so we conceded defeat and moved on. The rest of the Oropendola Trail was quiet but we managed to pick up Slaty Antwren and got nice looks at Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrant (it wasn’t nice enough to keep still for a photo).

    Both feeling fit enough to scale the steep trail known as the “Arboles Caidos” (means “Fallen Trees” but should be called “Personas Caidos” (Fallen People) because of its gradient), we slowly walked up and into the old growth, crazily mossed cloud forests found along this trail. Our target here was the Ochre-breasted Antpitta. It has been seen on both trails at Tapanti but is espied more often on the Arboles Caidos. Lots of other good birds are also possible but the going sure is tough! Fortunately, you are more likely to see Black-banded Woodcreeper, antpittas, and Rufous-breasted Antthrush if you move along at a slow pace and do lots of sitting around and waiting (nearly required anyways if you haven’t been training for triathalons).

    birding Costa Rica

    A rough trail through the best of habitats.

    I managed to get photos of Sooty-faced Finch but we saw few other birds (including of course the other antpitta) although I shouldn’t be surprised because in being there during the mid-morning, we were absurdly looking for birds at the quietest time of the day AND only spent an hour at most on the trail.

    birding Costa Rica

    Sooty-faced Finch- a regional endemic you don’t want to miss when birding Costa Rica.

    Back down to the car, we made our way to Kiri Lodge just outside of the park and ate fried chicken while watching the awesome action on their feeding table. Check my other post about that avian eye candy experience!

    Still hoping for a hefty mixed flock, after lunch, we headed back into the park and stopped whenever we heard birds. A female Collared Trogon was turned up, more looks at Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush that were feeding with tiny Labidus sp. army ants, Golden-browed Chlorophonias, and yes, we got a couple of mixed flocks.

    The action was fast and furious (and who knows what was missed) but we got onto some good ones such as Streak-breasted Treehunter, Lineated Foliage-gleaner, Spotted Woodcreeper, Barred Becard, Spangle-cheeked Tanagers, and Streaked Xenops.

    Not long after, it began to rain and we started the trek back up into the concrete, paucity of trees, and “civilization” of the Central Valley after a much needed breath of fresh air and birds at Tapanti National Park.

    Bird list from our day trip on October 23rd, 2010

    Black Vulturea few
    Turkey Vulturea few
    Osprey (they like to hang out at the Kiri Lodge trout ponds)2
    Broad-winged Hawk1
    American Kestrel (my first for the year!)1
    Spotted Sandpiper1
    Red-billed Pigeonseveral
    Crimson-fronted Parakeet6
    Brown-hooded Parrot4
    Green Hermit4
    Stripe-throated Hermit1
    Purple-crowned Fairy1
    White-bellied Mountain-Gemseveral
    Black-bellied Hummingbirdseveral
    Green-crowned Brilliant1
    Rufous-tailed Hummingbird1
    White-collared Swiftseveral
    Red-headed Barbet4 inside the park, 2 at the Kiri tables
    Prong-billed Barbet4 inside the park
    Collared Trogon1
    Smoky-brown Woodpecker1 heard
    Wedge-billed Woodcreeperseveral
    Spotted Woodcreeper1
    Tawny-throated Leaftosser1 heard
    Streak-breasted Treehunter1
    Lineated Foliage-gleaner1
    Spotted Barbtailseveral
    Red-faced Spinetailseveral
    Rufous-breasted Antthrush1 heard
    Immaculate Antbird2 heard
    Slaty Antwren2
    Silvery-fronted Tapaculo1 heard
    Golden-bellied Flycatcher2 heard
    Boat-billed Flycatcher1 heard
    Dark Pewee1 heard
    Black Phoebe4
    Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrantseveral
    Slaty-capped Flycatcher3
    White-ruffed Manakina few Heard
    Barred Becard1
    Blue and white Swallowseveral
    Black-faced Solitaireseveral
    Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrushseveral
    Swainsons Thrushseveral
    Clay-colored Thrushseveral
    Black and yellow Silky Flycatcherseveral
    Brown-capped Vireo1
    Brown Jay5
    House Wren2
    Ochraceous Wren3
    Band-backed Wren1
    White-breasted Wood Wren1 heard
    Gray-breasted Wood Wrenseveral Heard
    Gray-crowned Yellowthroat2
    Rufous-capped Warbler6
    Three-striped Warbler4
    Golden-crowned Warblerseveral
    Black and white Warbler4
    Black-throated Green Warbler1
    Tennesee Warbler4
    Chestnut-sided Warblerseveral
    Golden-winged Warbler1
    Common Bush Tanagerseveral
    Blue gray Tanager2
    Palm Tanager2
    Spangle-cheeked Tanagerseveral
    Silver-throated Tanagerseveral
    Golden-hooded Tanager1
    Summer Tanager1
    Sooty-faced Finch1
    Chestnut-capped Brush Finch1 heard
    Yellow-faced Grasquitseveral
    Tawny-capped Euphoniaseveral
    Golden-browed Chlorophoniaseveral
    Elegant Euphonia4
    Baltimore Oriole4
    Black-cowled Oriole1
    Melodious Blackbird2
    Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope Hummingbirds preparing for your trip

    The El Tapir Hummingbird Hotspot has Been Destroyed

    Update about El Tapir- Since I wrote this post, happily, the Porterweed bushes have grown back and the place is still great for Snowcap and other hummingbird species. When I wrote this. it didn’t seem likely because every bit of green in the garden looked herbicided, brown, and dead. Current entrance fee is $12 and also includes use of the trails. The forest is excellent foothill birding but be careful about the high number of small ticks on the trails.

    El Tapir was this fantastic birding site in Costa Rica that mysteriously became defunct about ten years ago. Situated a few kilometers after Quebrada Gonzalez along the highway that connects San Jose and Limon, it provided access to foothill forests that buffer Braulio Carrillo National Park. There were a couple of trails into this beautiful, mossy habitat, one of which led to a stream where you could see Sunbittern and Fasciated Tiger-Heron.

    On the way to the stream, there were amazing mixed flocks, Dull-mantled Antbird, and all the other foothill specialties. I also saw my best antswarm in Costa Rica along that trail- although the ground-cuckoo and Black-crowned Antpittas had apparently taken the day off or were competing with each other in a skulking contest,  everything else was there. By everything, I mean Barred Forest-Falcon, Rufous Motmot, Striped Woodhaunter, Song Wren, Northern Barred and Plain-brown Woodcreepers, and those stars of the show: Bicolored Antbird, Spotted Antbird, Ocellated Antbird, and the fastidiously clean Immaculate Antbird. At one time, this latter species was known as Zeledon’s Antbird. That’s the name I learned in the decades old Irby Davis field guide for Central America and I kind of wish that name would come back because it has such a ring to it- rather like the name of a rapper or a a foe of Conan the Barbarian.

    “Who’s that imposing, musclebound, hooded guy with the blue paint around his eyes?” asks one of Conan’s temporary sidekicks.

    To which Conan replied, “Crom! That be my foe ZELEDON! The prophets say that one day a feathered one that follows army ants will be named after him.”

    “Huh?!” (it was some centuries or ages before the idea of birding for fun was invented)

    “Oh never mind. The prophets are always spouting nonsense anyways- saying things like one day people will watch birds through magic eye pieces. If I weren’t a barbarian, I would laugh in a hearty, good-natured manner at such a silly idea instead of doing my usual hoarse, hacking guffaws heavy with the effects of mead. Enough! Time to challenge ZELEDON!….”

    Anyways, El Tapir was one of the best birding sites in Costa Rica and it probably still is but the nets of the butterfly garden have fallen into mold-patched disarray, the buildings are empty and probably home to hordes of scorpions, and the trails probably aren’t trails anymore. Cabins were also being built but were never completed. If they would have been finished, I tell you this would have ranked among the best accommodations for birding in Costa Rica. I have no idea what happened but suspect that it had something to do with that evil and insane affliction of governments called bureaucracy or that the money ran out.

    So the El Tapir began to resemble some haunted place in the tropics that had started out as a bastion of hope and sunshine until the decay of the jungle slowly worked its natural, nefarious magic via the vectors of disease, itchy fungus, and eventual madness until the survivors ran for their lives…BUT the bold and courageous hummingbirds carried on (well, they were always there but someone has to play the hero in this story and because barbarians aren’t allowed to be heroes, hummingbirds are the chosen ones)!

    Formerly trimmed patches of Porterweed exploded with flowers and took over the abandoned gardens and grounds. For hummingbirds, this was nothing short of trick or treating in rich neighborhoods while Halloween just repeats itself day after day after day.

    Green Thorntail birding Costa Rica

    Green Thorntails buzzed around like a swarm of bees.

    Snowcap birding Costa Rica

    Snowcaps set up shop.

    Violet-headed Hummingbird birding Costa Rica

    Violet-headed Hummingbirds moved into the neighborhood.

    The place became a veritable supermarket for the Colibridae, a metropolis for small nectar feeding creatures, and a jackpot for hundreds of birders who have popped in to get their lifer Snowcap or take photos.

    HOWEVER, all of that changed sometime during the past two weeks.

    During a day of birding Quebrada Gonzalez with Michael Retter and Alan Knue (they were down in Costa Rica for two weeks of scouting out bird sites for tours and getting Talamancan lifers), we scooted over to El Tapir to get more looks at Snowcaps (you can never get enough of that bird) and maybe glimpse a Black-crested Coquette when we came upon a strange sight.

    The overgrown hummingbird hotspot looked oddly clear and upon closer examination, all of the Porterweed bushes appeared to be dying! Aside from a Green Hermit that happily zipped around from heliconia to heliconia, there were no other hummingbirds! It was a good thing that Michael and Alan had seen loads of Snowcaps two weeks before because on Saturday, there was almost nothing. Nary a Snowcap. Not even a Rufous-tailed. None. Nada. Zilch.

    We could only surmise that whomever was taking care of the place had finally decided to eliminate the flowering bushes that were so delectable to dozens of hummingbirds. The hummingbirds will hopefully find food elsewhere but birders hoping for a quick and easy Snowcap at El Tapir will from now on be out of luck.