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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Global Big Day- May 11th, 2024, Costa Rica

Another Global Big Day is in the books! if we birders had an official holiday, I’m pretty sure it would be Global Big Day. In a sense, it already is. After all, we put other things aside to celebrate, commemorate, and rejoice by going birding.

I almost wish we weren’t so busy birding on Global Big Day so we could likewise commemorate it with cake, special liquid refreshment, and a fun, phat and friendly party.

We could mix some of those factors with GBD birding but when you got 24 hours to work with, a full day to give yourself over to avian connection, the birds take precedence.

It’s always nice to share some time with birds like this Northern Emerald Toucanet.

Better to make it a two day holiday; Global Big Day (GBD) followed up by post Global Big Day of Rest (GBDR). If you bird 24 hours, you’ll need some recuperation and maybe some therapy too. If so, no problem, there’ll be plenty of free advice at the after GBD party. Share birding stories over quality cake (there’s a lot of bad cake out there, stick with the real butter deal), extoll birding achievements, and maybe even chase a bird or two your birding peeps found on GBD.

Hopefully, we can get GBD recognized as a holiday, or at least encourage celebrating it in double holiday fashion. In the meantime, here’s some of what went down in Costa Rica this past May 11th, 2024.

Good Totals

As of writing, birders in Costa Rica collectively identified 680 species and a few more are probably awaiting eBird review approval. I daresay that’s pretty darn good. 90 percent of the wintering birds already flew north and birders in Costa Rica found most of the rest of what’s possible.

I was also pleased to see that 1,094 ebirders in Costa Rica participated. Even if I didn’t run into fellow birders in the field, it’s still cool to know that we were all watching birds at the same time.

Heavy Rains

Those totals also stand out when you take the weather into account. The morning was sunny but the rest of the day was extremely wet. I recall a few drops happening around noon and then massive curtains of constant water for the rest of the afternoon.

Instead of counting birds, I was driving north on the coastal highway, hoping to make it to Tarcoles before the road maybe flooded. Luckily, that didn’t happen and we actually did manage to see a handful of final birds during a late afternoon break in the weather.

Such heavy rains weren’t surprising by the way. In Costa Rica, the wet season has most definitely started.

Some Highlights

Overall, we did really well. Despite very little if any pre GBD organizing, enough local birders targeted the tough ones to find most of them! I felt like the following were worth mentioning.

Masked Duck– Outside of late summer and fall, in Costa Rica, this reclusive little duck is seriously hit or miss. Unreliable by nature, I was pleased to see that someone found one in the Cano Negro area.

Paint-billed Crake– We got a fair handle on this sneaky species but it can still be tough. Someone had it at the Las Trancas rice fields.

Hudsonian Godwits– This one wins the prize! Late April and early May are the time to get lucky with this mega wader in Costa Rica but it’s still a lottery bird. Thanks to a local birder checking the Colorado salt pans, he found 8!

His numbers go way past the previous country high count of 1. I wonder what convinced the Hudwits to come to shore? Did they sense storm clouds a bit too dark and grainy? Maybe they’ve stopped there before, just for a few hours or a day. In any case, they weren’t there on GBDR.

Christmas Tahiti Parkinson’s– Amazingly, determined birders managed to do a pelagic trip! I say “amazingly” because it was so darn rainy, I don;t want to imagine what it was like offshore. I guess not too bad because they found and added a bunch of birds to the GBD country total. They even managed a trio of tougher birds. Tahiti Petrel is normal but Christmas Shearwater and Parkinson’s Petrel are much more of a challenge.

All three hawk-eagles– None of the hawk-eagles are common but if you get enough birders in the field, some of them will notice Black and Ornate Hawk-Eagles. Black-and-white is another story.

A truly rare bird in Costa Rica, if we’re lucky, there might be 20 pairs in the country (or maybe much less?). Fortunately, one was seen in Caribbean foothill forest in the Guacimo, Limon area. This is the same good area where a Crested Eagle was recently seen.

Tiny Hawk– These pint-sized raptors are present in many places but always tough to see. One was found at La Marta; a good site for it and another tough one that was found there too- Lanceolated Monklet!

Unspotted Saw-whet Owl– I’m pleased to say that I found this one. I’m guessing one or two other people also specifically looked for and found this special little owl but we certainly had the first one for the day.

It happened in pretty unexpected fashion during dawn birding at Lilianas Quetzals (aka Myriam’s Cabins). While attempting to see a Dusky Nightjar instead of just hearing them right around dawn, I couldn’t help but whistle like a Unspotted Saw-whet Owl. I knew the bird is heard there once in a while but didn’t really expect a response. However, as birds will do, one fricking called back!

The nightjar and screech-owl were quickly pushed aside to try for this highland mega but try as I did, the owl didn’t really come in, nor did it call enough to locate it. Still awesome to hear it and at least I know where to look for it next time I’m up that way…

Pewee and the Jay– Sounds like a movie or show from the 70s but nope, this is a pair of high elevation, Talamancan toughies. They still deserve their own show but it would be tough to make them come to the studio.

The Ochraceous Pewee and Silvery-throated Jay are two of the more evasive high elevation endemics from Costa Rica and western Panama. Getting them on any day is outstanding, finding them on GBD is cakeworthy.

One of the other sweet highlights was Speckled Mourner. Before a few were found at the Pitilla Biological Station, this bird was basically a no-show for the country. Awesome to have them on the Costa Rica GBD list!

Odd Misses

After a quick review of GBD sightings in Costa Rica, I didn’t notice too many expected birds. I suppose one might be White-chinned Swift. Unless we are still waiting for approval or a latent list, I do think it would be weird not to find this one.

White-chinned Swifts aren’t exactly abundant but there is at least one known nest site, and the rainy season is the best time to see them. As expected, recently, local birders have been seeing some at the edges of rain clouds, sometimes quite low over their houses.

Veraguan Mango and Sapphire-throated Hummingbird are two more species that should be on the GBD list. Since they are pretty easy to see in the Ciudad Neily area and Lesser Kiskadee is likewise missing, I’m guessing that no one covered that part of the country. That, or they just haven’t submitted their lists yet.

Not Surprising Misses

Birders found most expected species in Costa Rica but a few were unsurprisingly missed. The main three birds that come to mind are Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Black-crowned Antpitta, and Gray-headed Piprites. Yep, those three are always tough. These days, thanks to the people at Vista Aves Lodge, the piprites is a bit more manageable but the other two are always tough.

Both seem to get rarer by the day but if you go to just the right places, you can find them. We probably didn’t have folks in those particular spots.

As for my GBD, it was a day of guiding that took us from beautiful high elevation forest at Myriams Cabinas down to Vista del Valle and then on through Perez Zeledon and up the coast to the Tarcoles Birding Lodge.

Like I mentioned, heavy rain knocked out a fair part of the day but we still managed 108 species including birds as varied as Resplendent Quetzal, Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl, and Scarlet Macaw. Check out the trip report!

I hope you had a fun and exciting GBD in good company (along with a relaxed GBDR). You can learn more about the Costa Rica birding sites mentioned in this post in my Costa Rica bird finding ebook. I hope to see you here!

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Lessons Learned on October Global Big Day, Costa Rica, 2023

October 14, 2023 was a random day for the non-birding part of humanity. For the rest of us, this date was one of the big ones; a special time when birding takes center stage. Thanks to eBird, October 14th was the perfect excuse to put birds at the forefront, lend them more importance than traffic jams and mall walks or milking cows.

That doesn’t mean you had to ignore such pleasantries or duties or otherwise. It just means that while you bumped along in that oil-infused taxi, while you worked or carried out the farm chores, you could still pay attention to birds and participate. Give them avians their due by remembering what you identified and uploading to eBird.

Of course there were other, more appropriate ways to celebrate October Big Day, the main one being all out birding. No chores, nothing else on the table, just you and the birds along with thousands of other like-minded people doing the same bird-focused thing.

During our collective watching of birds, what did we manifest? Alas, no Eskimo Curlew or other extinct species but us birders all around the world still managed to identify thousands of bird species. In Costa Rica, we played our part and tallied 718.

Thanks to better knowledge about finding birds in Costa Rica, our October GBD results included all the quail-doves, all the wood-quails, and some. I was surprised not to see any pelagics on the list but oh well, I guess no one made it offshore. Perhaps the waves were too high? In any case, 718 birds sans pelagics is a grand total, one worthy of self congratulation accompanied with fine cold beer.

buff-fronted-quail-do
Buff-fronted Quail-Dove- one of the quail-doves seen.

As I had mentioned in a previous post, Marilen and I also participated. Things didn’t go as planned as I had hoped but it was still good, we still saw a good number of birds. This is some of what I learned from October 14th, 2023.

Keep owl silhouettes on your mind

My outrageous Big Day strategy needed an early start. Well, I’m not sure if midnight is early but since that’s when you can start counting birds, I suppose we can refer to it as such. That early hour found us driving through the open areas of Ceiba de Orotina.

I stopped and listened every so often. No night migrants, no nothing but eventually a Common Pauraque. On Big Days, that road bird of the night is usually our species numero uno.

Moving along, I tried to keep an eye on the surroundings, hoped to spot an owl or something out of place. That idea worked when I noticed a distinct shadowy little shape standing on a post. Oh a Burrowing Owl would have been amazing but we were still happy with point blank views of a Pacific Screech-Owl.

That looking for owl silhouettes also came through with Striped Owl near Jaco. In classic Striped Owl fashion, it was perched on a roadside cable and gave us fantastic views.

Reconsider night driving

Our passage through the dark of quiet Orotina was fleeting. More time would have brought us several other birds but we had another, more vital place to be. Our destination required an hour and a half drive but it would be worth it. The site was our big shorebird break, our tern hattrick destined to reward us with waterbirds.

Getting there was not for the faint of heart. Nor for folks with cataracts or anything less than nerves of steel. Taking the Zen approach, I’m proud to say I managed to move us along without giving myself early arthritis. That would have been generated by gripping the steering wheel with hydraulic prowess.

You see, the road to Guanacaste is being worked on. At the moment, one big section is a rather narrow two lane road that looks more like a forgotten alley to limbo. At least during the dark of the night. And with very little to no illumination, oh yeah, it’s necessary night lights dark!

But what about the road lines? If they had been present, yes, they would have been a wonderful help. But in Costa Rica, such lane paint and reflective little things that keep you from sailing into a ditch are often absent. Especially on roads being worked on.

We traveled at a steady pace. Some other less concerned fools passed several cars at once or blinded everyone with bright lights. At least it didn’t rain. That came several hours after we had left the area. Thank goodness too because part of the “highway” became a lake, and another section suffered a landslide.

Suffice to say, if you can avoid driving in Costa Rica at night, by all means, avoid it!

Flooded roosting areas for shorebirds means no shorebirds

Night driving from Puntarenas to Punta Morales was not the dreamiest of trips but it had to be done. I wanted those roosting birds! Except that after we had bumped down that rocky little road to sandpiper salvation, all was quiet.

Oh snap! It couldn’t be! But nope, my ears weren’t fibbing. Instead of being greeted by calling Black-bellied Plovers, Willets, and Western Sandpipers, I heard a single flyover Royal Tern. Yes, that was a bird too and we took it but it wasn’t quite what we had hoped.

What Punta Morales should look like.

Upon checking the salt pans, we saw that yes indeed, they were as full as monsoon swimming pools. Not a single shorebird in one of the best shorebird spots in Costa Rica. I couldn’t blame them, little webbed footers and mud probers would have drowned.

As consolation, we picked up both night-herons and a bunch of Wood Storks but we left there ASAP. It was back to the night road to the other side of limbo; that would be Caldera and then on to Jaco.

Owls don’t always call when and where they did on other days

We made it to the much better lit road next to the Caldera mangroves and gave them a quick check. I was hoping to relive finding a Northern Potoo. We spotlighted some and stared at suitable branches but nope, “only” a couple more Pacific Screech Owls.

We got to Jaco around 3:45. That would be just in time to listen for more night birds, things like Double-striped Thick-Knees, whistling-ducks, and maybe a few other birds.

The thick-knee did indeed comply, one Purple Gallinule called to connect us with success, and yes, whistling-ducks flew over! Heading in on the Teleferico Road, we also quickly heard Tropical Screech-Owls and saw that aforementioned Striped Owl.

Things were going to plan but then….they weren’t. The other owls we usually heard at that site just weren’t calling. I did my best to coax them; barked like a Mottled Owl, wailed in true Black and white Owl fashion, even played calls of impossible to imitate Crested and Spectacled Owls.

Nope. They didn’t want to call on October 14th. That’s alright, we could still get them on the other side of the mountains, way over there at the exhausted end of the day.

Dawn chorus in October?

With dawn approaching, we drove up the Teleferico Road to some intact-looking areas of forest. With luck, maybe an owl would still call? After all, on other occasions, I have heard all of our wanted owl species during the dawn’s early light.

However, the main reason I went up there was to start the dawn chorus. The plan was to begin there and slowly bird/listen our way out to open areas, ticking everything en route!

That would have worked if the birds had called. Some did, birds like Riverside Wren and Gray-headed Tanager, but most did not. We needed more forest birds, the woodcreepers and so many others that can easily make it onto your list with their early morning calls.

birding Costa Rica
We only heard Gray-headed Tanager but that was enough to count it.

Except they didn’t. Maybe October is a bad time for them to vocalize? Maybe some of those birds just aren’t there anymore? Sadly, between rare forest habitat being degraded by climate change and destroyed for development (especially along that road), fewer birds is a real possibility.

Nor hearing enough, I headed to the more open areas. But nope, even there, almost nothing sang. Not even Black-hooded Antshrike and other species I know are present. We did eventually hear and see several other species but to approach any sort of record, we still needed more.

But hey, maybe we would get them in Carara?

BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN BUYING TICKETS FOR CARARA NATIONAL PARK

Except that we didn’t go in Carara.

Yeah, sadly, the national park system has succeeded in raising their levels of bureaucracy to even higher levels of ridiculousness. Not long ago, one could go to Carara, purchase a ticket at the gate, and go in to the park. You know, like how you normally do in most places?

Then, during Covid, entrance tickets could only by bought with a card. Nope, you only have cash? Sorry, you can’t walk these trails! However, you could still buy tickets right then and there, no problem.

Recently, for some unknown yet surely amazing reason, the national park system included Carara in the parks that require buying tickets online, in advance.

The system is cumbersome and doesn’t always work. I suppose yes, then, they know who exactly walks on those short trails and they already have their entrance fees. But what if the system doesn’t work? Well, then you are out of luck.

We tried to buy tickets the night before. However, each time I tried to get tickets, their system said something about there being an error. I tried a few more times, same thing.

I figured well, what are you gonna do, maybe we would try tomorrow? And then I noticed the email from my bank indicating that yes, my transactions actually did go through and that it was for Carara National Park.

So, on October Big Day, 2023, we arrived to Carara and went to the entrance booth. We explained what had happened, we showed them the receipt indicating that we had bought tickets not once but more than once and that SINAC had accepted the transaction.

But nope, they said, “I don’t know what to tell you but the system doesn’t have problems, it should have sent you one of these reservation codes.” I will mention that they did their best to find us in their system but no, even though they could literally see that SINAC had taken our money for entrance fees to enter that specific park, no, they just didn’t know what to tell us. There couldn’t be any problem with their system, we should have gotten that code. The fact that they could see the receipt to enter that park on that day didn’t compute. There was no way, we had to have the code.

Otherwise, you just can’t walk in on those trails. God forbid. Now we could have gone and bought tickets again but after they had basically forced me to give them a donation, I wasn’t too eager to do that again. I mean, if it didn’t work another time, even if I had made the purchase right in front of their faces and did not receive a code, I would have made another donation and they still wouldn’t have let us in.

I’m not sure if I ever will try again because sadly, if their system can take your money like that, what other problems might it have? It’s a sad situation but if you plan on going to any national park in Costa Rica that requires advance purchase of tickets, be very careful!

If you go through the cumbersome process and buy the ticket but don’t get a reservation confirmation, DO NOT TRY AGAIN. Accept that they have stolen your money and make other plans. The thing is if you try to buy it again, they will probably take your money every time you purchase tickets and you still won’t be able to enter the park.

Another option is doing a tour with a local company. That way, they take the risk. In all honesty, it probably doesn’t happen all that often but then again, one of the local guides did tell me that he had heard of that happening more than once.

It’s a shame but there are other options than visiting Carara. I’m going to see if I can set something up for a site or two near there that have the same birds along with actual common sense.

Be flexible but know when to quit

After not being able to enter Carara for ridiculousness, we decided to head up the road that goes to Bijagual. There’s always the chance that we could get many of the same birds from Carara.

We did see a White Hawk, Double-toothed Kite, and some other birds but no, it was very quiet. Far too quiet to approach the goal required for hitting a Big Day record. Who know’s maybe Carara would have been quiet too?

With that in mind, we aborted the full Big Day attempt. On the bright side, the pressure was off and we wouldn’t have to worry about time. We casually made our way over to Tarcoles, watched some shorebirds, and made the drive back uphill and home.

Lots of people birding is a recipe for rarity finding

Whenever more birders are in the field, more rarities are found! October 14th in Costa Rica was no exception. Thanks to other local birders, we have the option of trying to twitch rare migrant Palm Warbler, and two Prairie Warblers.

I’m sure there’s other stuff to look for too, I’ll have to check and see.

Inspiration to check the dawn chorus in other areas

This past October Big Day experience also encourages me to visit a few sites for the dawn chorus. Instead of Jaco and Carara, what can I find on the roads from the Macaw Lodge area to Tarcoles? There’s a lot of possibilities, I’m looking forward to finding out!

What about the dawn chorus at key sites in the Caribbean lowlands? I’m curious about that too. Will I find a Great Jacamar, Tawny-faced Quail? Only one way to find out.

This past October Big Day might not have gone as well as I had hoped but we still saw a lot of birds. Any morning with 150 species is a good one!

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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

Global Big Day, 2023 and Speckled Mourners in Costa Rica

May 13 was Global Big Day! GBD celebrates birds and birding but we don’t get festive with cakes, beer, and football. On GBD, us birders celebrate by giving ourselves over to birding.

Yeah, a lot of us do that on weekends and other random dates anyways and all year long, but this birding day is different. It’s GBD, we have this official excuse to go all out with birding, to make it our main thing no matter what else is happening.

Cars and traffic? Pay them motor vehicles no heed (unless they are barreling down on you), there goes a Short-tailed Hawk!

People watching sports or boating or celebrities wearing weird crap on runways…sorry but they become background noise on GBD. On May 13, it’s the Anhingas, the warblers, and the grouse that take center stage.

Gotta work? If the boss doesn’t seem to understand why you can’t go to work on May 13th, you just point them to the GBD eBird page.

Tell them it’s an international holiday, a sacred feast day for the league of avian appreciators. Sorry no, I can’t work today bossarola…it’s Global Big Day!

You might still work, though, especially if your job involves birdwatching. I mean, that way you can still partake in our birding feast day without worrying about calling in. Unlike other GBDs I typically celebrate with my partner (we are Team Tyto) but this past May 13th, I couldn’t. I had to work.

Luckily, that day of work was guiding someone in the Poas and Varablanca area. This destination is one of the best spots for birding near San Jose, Costa Rica. As usual, it was a fine day of birding with close views of a male Resplendent Quetzal, silky-flycatchers, and 100 plus other species.

Even better, when I got home, I picked up a few more birds. My partner and I took a last minute walk in the neighborhood and a pair of Yellow-naped Parrots flew over. They were followed by groups of flyby White-fronted Parrots and other common species. The best was a bunch of swifts driven low by rain clouds. Chestnut-collared Swift made it onto the day list and then, two dark swifts with bat-like wing beats zipped into view.

No big white spot on the face but….yes, a white chin! Yep, low enough to see the tiny white chin on a White-chinned Swift. A sweet species for GBD and right from a tiny, urban backyard. That’s urban birding for you, especially in birdalicious Costa Rica.

Further afield, birders were out in force in other corners of the country. A pelagic trip found Tahiti Petrel (now known to be regular) and other open sea goodies, Chambita and friends picked up the specialties of Medio Queso, and many other birds were found, 703 species total!

Oddly enough, I may have seen the only Barred Becard for the day. Other, much less common species seen by others were Great Jacamar at Veragua, Botteri’s and Rusty Sparrows at Rincon de La Vieja, and Lanceolated Monklet at La Marta.

A monklet from some years ago at Quebrada Gonzalez.

The prize for the “best bird” may go to Speckled Mourner. This rufous guy is one of the rarest and little-known bird species in Costa Rica. Given the extreme paucity of sightings, I have wondered where it still occurs. I have my suspicions and one of those spots was where two birds were found.

Last month, local birders found one or two of these odd megas in the foothill rainforests at the Pitilla Biological Station on OrosiVolcano. Several local birders have gone and seen this special species, at that time, arguably, the only reliable spot to see a Speckled Mourner in Costa Rica.

I figure they live in other spots too and it is worth checking those areas but it’s always good to know of a reliable spot. As luck would have it, just yesterday, another spot for Speckled Mourner came to light!

Meche Alpizar and Lisa Erb saw and photographed one of these elusive birds at Selva Bananito. It makes sense that one was seen at this site, a spot with ample lowland rainforest habitats. What’s interesting is that even though the species hasn’t been seen at this site before, they saw it right at the reception.

Given the habitat, it makes sense to see it there. Maybe there are previous sightings from Selva Bananito, but I haven’t heard of any.

It’s also interesting that this bird was seen shortly after the other sightings up north. Before these sightings, there hadn’t been any documented Speckled Mourners in Costa Rica for many years. There should be but nope, nothing.

Are they showing in more places? No, I bet it’s just more birding coverage by experienced observers. We really don’t have a lot of coverage in the remote areas where these birds are most likely to occur. Throw in their unobtrusive nature with low density populations and it’s easy to see why more Speckled Mourners have not been seen.

In any case, these and other sightings on GBD, 2023 are encouragement to get out there and explore, get into the good forests and see what you can find. You gotta pay close attention, you gotta listen carefully to those woods, the birds are out there.

To see where to find birds in Costa Rica and how to find them, support this blog by purchasing “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”.

it’s sort of like an international holiday

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Birding Costa Rica

708 Species Identified in Costa Rica on Global Big Day, May 8, 2021

This past Saturday, Global Big Day (GBD) 2021 happened. Unlike pre-pandemic GBDs, this big birding day was potentially limited by driving restrictions and other measures meant to slow the spread. In some countries, birding was somewhat sidelined by tragedy in the form of instability and a massive rise in cases. It can be hard to watch birds when you don’t feel safe, feel outrage, or when you or loved ones are suffering from a terrible disease. On the other hand, birding can also act as an escape, a mental salve for temporary yet needed and real healing to get you back on track, give you strength to keep on moving (yellow is the color of sun rays…).

Despite some driving restrictions in Costa Rica, the local birding community kept on moving and kept up with local GBD tradition to surpass 700 species. 708 to be exact! It wouldn’t have happened if the local birding collective had not reached most corners of the country, had not made a serious team effort to find and count key rare birds.

Those would be birds like the Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, a denizen of cold dark high mountain nights. This tropical cousin of the Northern Saw-whet Owl made it onto the list because someone spent nocturnal time up there in he mountains to hear one call. Local and rare bird like Sharpbill, Lovely Cotinga, various crakes, Lanceolated Monklet, Red-fronted Parrotlet, and other species also made it onto the day list because various people focused their birding in just the right places.

Although around 20 possible species were still missing from the list (mostly very rare or local species like Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle, Speckled Mourner, and Black-crowned Antpitta), we still ended up with a high percentage of birds likely to occur in Costa Rica at this time of year. Once again, it shows what can be found, what can be seen when you get hundreds of people outside and birding on the same day. It shows how rich Costa Rica is in terms of avian diversity, how incredible the birding in Costa Rica can be.

As for Mary and I, we were fortunate to be healthy and able to head further into the field on this past GBD than the previous year. Really, “the field” just means birding away from home and although we didn’t try for any major Big Day madness, didn’t go for any 300 species bird focused trip, we still managed to escape and celebrate with some memorable birding. That’s par for the course. This is Costa Rica after all.

During our somewhat casual GBD, we started with early morning birding from the back balcony, listening for and recording expected regular species like White-eared Ground Sparrow, Crested Bobwhite, Ringed Kingfisher, and other species from the riparian zone out back. After submitting that first list, we made our way to the Pacific Coast to look for shorebirds, see if we could connect with a Savannah Sparrow that had been seen a few days before, and just see whatever else we might find.

Stops near Carara gave up various moist and humid forest species including Long-tailed Manakin, Chestnut-backed Antbird, and Gray-capped Flycatcher. If we had stayed longer, we would have seen and heard much more than 30 or so species but we didn’t want to linger. We wanted to explore the Playa Hermosa area, see if a sparrow might jump into view.

Over at Playa Hermosa, we saw far more surfers than any sparrows but leaping Mobula Rays were cool! We also saw birds- tiger-herons and other waterbirds in the wetlands of the Playa Hermosa Wildlife Refuge, more Groove-billed Anis than you could shake a stick at, a Laughing Falcon focused on looking for its serpent prey, and other birds here and there. No sparrow but any time near the ocean is much appreciated.

An ocean view just outside of Jaco.

Next on the site list for our casual GBD was the Jaco wetlands. These are a series of wetlands just outside of Jaco that always host an interesting set of birds. Maybe not as many in the hot mid morning hours of our visit but that’s quiet time for tropical birding no matter where you go. Even so, we still saw birds, still heard and saw some choice species. The best was a sweet surprise Paint-billed Crake that happened to give its diagnostic call just as we stopped next to a ditch!

We waited with camera in hand, wished it to walk into view, even if for a moment but had to settle on it being a heard only bird. I can’t blame the crake. I mean, if I was a small bird that could either (1) hide in the grass and keep my feet cool or (2) walk into a sunny opening where any number of raptors could swoop on down for an easy kill…yeah, I would stay in the ditch too.

From Jaco, we drove a ways up the coast to our next main stop, the salt ponds at Punta Morales.

Birding this hot lowland site at noon can be chancy for connecting with the birds. Even if the visit does coincide with high tide (high tide floods the mud flats of the adjacent Gulf of Nicoya and drives the birds to salt and shrimp ponds), the birds might be elsewhere. Luckily, upon arrival to the salt ponds we were fortunate to be treated to the welcome sight of shorebirds and terns resting on the berms.

It didn’t take long to scan and see that several were Black Skimmers and that the majority of species were Whimbrels, Black-bellied Plovers, and Marbled Godwits. Among them were some Willets, a scattering of Wilson’s and Semipalmated Plovers, and some other species. It was some hot lowland heat scanning bereft of getting lucky with a Hudsonian Godwit or other rarity but it was still worth being there.

We ended up seeing what was probably the only Stilt Sandpiper for Costa Rica’s GBD list, saw a Northern Scrub Flycatcher, and added some other dry forest species to our day list before driving back towards home. Since one or two choice birding spots were on the route back, well, we couldn’t not bird there. At least not on the Ceiba-Orotina road.

A mix of open fields, dry forest, and scattered trees, this is an excellent area for odd birds to occur. Our casual birding turned up a pair of Harriss’s Hawks, another Crested Bobwhite, many Turquoise-browed Motmots, and 3 species of cowbirds among various other dry forest species. No amount of scanning revealed any Upland Sandpipers, nor could we parse out a Eurasian Collared Dove among the many White-winged Doves but the other birds were nice.

After that final stop, we drove straight back home. We were happy to have participated with thousands of other global birders on a day dedicated to birding that identified more than 7,000 species, happy to not have had to drink any Red Bull, and look forward to a GBD when we just might have to drink Red Bull to keep on moving during 20 hours of record breaking birding. Until then, stay healthy, be happy, and consider visiting Costa Rica for birding.

Categories
biodiversity bird finding in Costa Rica

Team Tyto + Global Big Day (+ Caffeine) = 300 Plus Species

It’s the Monday after Global Big Day. I write this as the Grayish Saltators call and a breeze threatens to bring rains and almost find it hard to believe that we birded from midnight until dawn and on through to the next night, from one side of the mountains to the other. From the hot low coastal region up to more than a cool 2,000 meters. A non-stop birdathon, a day dedicated to celebrating birds collectively shared with thousands of birders across the globe and to think that we almost didn’t partake in Global Big Day, 2019. We wanted to, I had a route planned, but Mary’s daughter had exams, she had to study, needed help studying and we also needed someone to watch her.

Nevertheless, thanks to being able to study during the week and family members who were happy to watch her, it all worked out. With enough refreshments, snacks, sandwiches and caffeine drinks on hand to last us through a night and day, Mary and I (aka Team Tyto) were ready to dedicate ourselves to finding as many birds as we could in Costa Rica, on May 4th. Luckily, I even had a chance to sleep during the day before the clock struck midnight. That happened for us somewhere on the road to the Pacific Coast and there was no quick first bird. Only highway and occasional street lights, no luck with roosting birds, nor a serendipitous flyby Barn Owl.

A Striped Owl from another day.

The first of many happened at our first stop, a dusty road in the Pacific lowlands. Common Pauraques took that distinguished title as they called and leaped from the road. No Pacific Screech-Owl though, no other night birds, no faint calls of migrants up there in the dark sky. There was a light rain and that probably kept things extra quiet but we pushed on, eventually picking up shorebirds that roost at salt ponds. As we arrived, the “terlee!” of Black-bellied Plovers echoed over the dark still waters and Black-necked Stilt gave their sharp barking calls. Eventually, by way of brief looks and vocalizations, we picked up several other shorebird species and even Wood Stork before flying through the night to the next stop, the mangroves at Caldera.

A brief stop there was just as quiet but spotlighting paid off with close, perfect looks at a target Northern Potoo! With that excellent addition to our GBD, we continued on towards more humid lands south of Carara National Park, spotlighting roadside wires en route. Despite our efforts, Striped Owl failed to show and Barn Owl never called but we did pick up the faint notes of a Pacific Screech-Owl just before needing to move on to our main birding venue for the day, the Jaco area.

Pacific Screech-Owl is one of the more common owl species in Costa Rica.

Although it was tempting to start the morning at Cerro Lodge (and that plan might be just as good or better), the combination of forest, edge, and open country birds near Jaco seemed to promise bigger returns. Not mention, our starting point is also very good for owls. At least it was in February and much to our pleasure, it was just as good on May 4th! Tropical Screech-Owls called from the second growth, thick-knees vocalized, and then we heard Mottled, Black-and-white, and Crested Owls calling from the hills. At one point, a flying shape materialized right over our heads and quick work with the flashlight got onto our only Barn Owl of the day!

We had 7 owl species under our belts and the first light of day was quickly approaching; just how you want a Big Day dawn to happen! It came with a cavalcade of bird songs that issued forth from a good combination of habitats. We must have had 50 species by sound alone before actually seeing anything and that included several key species like Great Currasow, Crested Guan, Marbled Wood-Quail, tinamous, woodcreepers, two motmots, Slate-colored Seedeater and others. As the light of day grew, we started picking up more species by sight including a surprise Shiny Cowbird, Giant Cowbird, both tityras and others. At the same time, more birds vocalized giving us five species of trogons among many others!

The Near Threatened Baird’s Trogon was one of our better dawn birds.

Whether because of the cloudy weather, time of year, Zen attitude birding or a combination of the above, The Big Day birding was good and it kept getting better.

Just before leaving the Jaco area, a last minute attempt brought in such key species as Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Scrub Greenlet, and Red-breasted Meadowlark. No luck with Upland Sandpiper but well over a 100 species by 7 a.m. was nothing to complain about! Onward we went to Tarcoles before entering Carara National Park at 8 a.m. We added most key waterbirds at Tarcoles and then, just as last year at this time, the park treated us very well with vocalizations from a high percentage of possible species. Green Shrike-Vireo! Streak-chested Antpitta! Dot-winged Antwren and a few dozen others. Ruddy Quail-Dove scooting off the trail! We didn’t get everything and hummingbirds were disturbingly absent but at times, it almost seemed too easy! And that’s just how we want a Big Day because although I welcome challenges in birding, I absolutely treasure and am very grateful for a day when all the birds are calling and making themselves available.

After Carara (where we ran into other teams of GBDers, including the guys who got a mega Gray-hooded Gull!), we went back to Tarcoles, checked a roadside wetland, and made a stop in dry forest. Although the beach was more sand and water than birds, we still picked up a few expected species, got onto Solitary Sandpiper and a couple other shorebirds at the wetland, and connected with several dry forest birds before beginning the two hour drive to highland habitats on Poas.

Thankfully, the driving was also quick, and we even picked up Vaux’s Swift and a few other birds before birding the road to Poas. Thanks to lots of vocalizations and knowing the area quite well, we managed a high percentage of key species in a short amount of time, best of the bunch being Resplendent Quetzal, Wrenthrush, and Yellow-bellied Siskin. As both silky-flycatchers also showed along with several other birds, I mentioned to Mary how good that afternoon would have been for guiding. With more time, I think we would have found 90% of the species that live up there. But, we had run out of time, we had other places to be and so we drove down to Varablanca and Cinchona.

En route, we picked up several more species by call and got some birds at Cinchona. At a stop between Cinchona and Virgen del Socorro, we also found our best bird of the day, a Yellow-winged Tanager! The only one for GBD in Costa Rica, we lucked upon it on the side of the road while also adding Black-throated Wren, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, and some other species.

Prong-billed Barbet did us a favor at Cinchona.

On down the road we went, scoping and adding a Roadside Hawk, American Dipper and some other species before reaching our final main stop, the San Miguel-Socorro road. Thinking that we wouldn’t reach the lowlands in time and knowing that this area harbors a high number of bird species, we focused our final efforts at this site. Broad-billed Motmot, Red-throated Ant-tanager, Cinnamon Becard, Carmiol’s Tanager, and other birds of the Caribbean slope came out to play. Although I have had many more species on other days at this site, we still added a good number of birds especially when a Central American Pygmy-Owl (!) appeared.

A last ditch attempt to reach lower elevations was mostly futile except for a roadside Rufous Motmot ticked from the moving car. Nor did any more owls or other nightbirds call but by 7:45 p.m., I was ready to call it a day. In a small hotel in Puerto Viejo, I submitted our final lists and we tallied the results. We checked it once, we checked it twice, and we were pleased indeed to see that we had surpassed 300 species, 305 species to be exact! Although Mary almost talked me in to heading back out to see if we could find a Green Ibis or that missing Spectacled Owl, no amount of caffeine energy drink could have moved me back into birding action.

But we had more than 300 species (!) and although the guys who had found the gull got the highest bird list for Costa Rica (with 335 species!!), we still ended up with the fourth highest list in the world for Global Big Day, 2019! Although eBird shows us in 14th place, that’s because several of the lists with more species are actually group lists and should therefore be shown in another category.

It was satisfying indeed to finally break 300 species in a day in Costa Rica. Now if I look into that route a bit more, I wonder how much better we could do…

Team Tyto with a Post GBD coffee at Mi Cafecito, Costa Rica.

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Categories
Birding Costa Rica

Getting Ready for Global Big Day in Costa Rica Part Dos

This past May, a fair part of the birding world celebrated Global Big Day, Costa Rica included. Thanks to a winning blend of organization, coordination, and enthusiasm, we surpassed our goals. Of the species that were possible, that were feasible, more than 300 birders in Costa Rica identified nearly 90%. We had a such a collective great time, the enthusiasm carried over into the following post GBD calendar, many of us expressing interest in doing another one this same year.

Black-crowned Tityra is one of more than 680 species found in Costa Rica in Global Big Day, 2018. Widespread but uncommon, we could easily miss it.

We weren’t the only ones wanting more GBD action. Not long after, eBird announced another Global Big Day for later in 2018, October 6th to be exact and why not? The only requirement is convincing people to watch birds on the same date and eBird everything. Even better, in Costa Rica, a lot of the species that weren’t present in May are back and waiting to be counted! Maybe not the rare ducks or vagrant Cedar Waxwings but most of everything else. That said, I doubt we will identify as many species as we did in May because we just don’t have the same degree of participation. Although that could change between now and the end of this week, so far, it looks like we might lack coverage in more than a few parts of the country. There will be some last minute participation and all eBird data will count but will it be enough to identify 700 species?

There’s only one way to find out and I’ll be doing my part. Oddly enough, as enthused as I am about having an excuse to lose myself in birding for 24 hours, I’m still not exactly sure which route I will take, where I will be straining to hear call notes at night, and where I will practice some serious kung-fu birding (Eagle Claw style of course). But, I will be birding in Costa Rica somewhere and do plan on identifying as much as I can. Part of the problem is too many great places to choose from. Fortunately, I don’t have to do a lot of planning because I already have two possible routes arranged and know where most of the birds are likely to be. These are some other things I need to do to prepare myself for this next adventure in birding:

Review warbler call notes

Not that I will hear any flying through the night skies but one can never be over prepped for a Global Big Day! Actually, I don’t pretend to be able to identify tiny passerines by their nocturnal flight calls but I do plan on finding them via chip notes during the day. Kentucky, Hooded, the waterthrushes, Worm-eating…they all announce their presence with distinct vocalizations as do the rare ones that don’t usually make Costa Rica a winter destination. Those would be local mega bird finds like Black-throated Blue, Palm, and Prairie Warblers as well as other species with a winter preference for Caribbean isles. BUT, since the chances of finding them increase ever so slightly by knowing their calls, listening time this week will include the notes of those hidden wood-warblers.

It might be a good year for Cape-Mays and maybe Bay-breasteds too, I hope we see them on October 6th.

Remember to listen for snipe, cuckoos, and thrushes

Ah yes, listen carefully to the night sky and hopefully pick up more birds for GBD October. I have yet to hear a cuckoo call when they fly over Costa Rica but it must happen and I will be listening. I have heard all possible thrushes, snipe, and Upland Sandpiper in the past, I hope they vocalize overhead on October 6th, even more so, I hope it doesn’t rain! Sound daunting? Maybe not as much as one might think. Check out these study materials for nocturnal flight calls.

Remind myself to stick to Zen birding

In other words, take the day as it comes, roll with it, go with the flow. I hope I can follow the advice of slogans meant to keep one from succumbing to frustration and emitting a choice set of New York vocabulary at the truck blocking the road, or the rain slamming into the soil. There will be no frustration on GBD, only birds and feeling grateful for what we all hear and see. Amen. Keep it Zen, focus on the birds, and stick to the schedule. I hope so, but maybe I should bring some organic chocolate to help with the Zen…

Buy birding supplies

As in beverages that have caffeine. Treat yourself to a few favorite such energy drinks and stay alert (or simply awake!) to better celebrate this day of birding. Dream birds don’t count and if you fall asleep while driving, it won’t just be the end of your GBD. High quality chocolate is also important as are favorite snacks, fruit, charged batteries, and clean optics. Oh yeah, and remember to bring sunglasses and proper birdingwear (like count shirts, Wunderbird shirts, or whatever works best).

Scouting? Maybe

The more one scouts, the more birds will be seen. Now if I could just find time for scouting. Regular life takes up time and rightly so, you gotta be there for progeny. Furthermore, if you forsake the offspring for scouting, forget about them ever becoming birders (which is of course the main hope and goal of every serious birder, Zen or not)!  Fortunately, since I guide a fair bit on the routes I have in mind, I sort of scout them on a regular basis anyways. eBird also helps! I hope I do scout a bit though because knowing where fruiting trees are located and where wintering species have set up territories are of great help.

GBD October is nigh and although I need some supplies, could use more scouting, and need to figure out where my Team Tyto will bird, I’m still ready to rock, bird, and roll! As some world birders say, “Bring it”! As I say right now (and may indeed some day regret), “Kung-fu birding will be in the house on October 6th”!

Check out where some other teams will be birding in Costa Rica on October 6th!

Categories
Birding Costa Rica

Final Preparations for Global Big Day in Costa Rica

Just a few days left until a fair percentage of the birding public participates in Global Big Day. It’s easy enough to do, you just need to watch birds on May 5th for any amount of time, count those birds, and submit the information to eBird. In these days of instant social media, you can also post your successes, failures, or pictures of your favorite birding snacks in real time. Did you admire a Scarlet Tanager or two in breeding plumage? Hear the winnowing of a snipe in the cold of the dawn? Compare the virtues of high-quality organic chocolate to crumbly, sugar infused doughnuts? And, most of all, have any run-ins with interesting non-birders? Post it on Facebook to make the day that much more memorable!

A tree decorated with Scarlet Macaws would be memorable.

Here in C0sta Rica, we seriously got our birding game on. At least it seems that way at our Whatsapp group for GBD (that’s what we call it around here). Lots of people have signed on and we will have birders in most corners of the country, many of which will be focusing on key species. For example, a few Tico birders will be looking for the elusive Red-throated Carara in the Osa, others will be slinging the bins at El Copal and Tapanti in search of specialties of that birdy zone, and some of us will be hoping to add tough species like Blue Seedeater, and Unspotted Saw-whet Owl to the results. There’s lots of good vibes going on, it’s going to be interesting to see what we all find.

During these final last hours of preparation, although I’m not sure what others are doing, this is what I will be up to:

Checking eBird: One last check to see if and where certain target species have been seen. I also checked the bar charts today to see which migrants can be expected. Most warblers and viroes are gone, but flycatchers are still in the house as well as shorebirds.

Making the coffee: I really should mention that no one has to do GBD like a birding machine whereby you start at midnight and focus on birds for the next 24 hours. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. But, you might want to start earlier than usual, or at least be out right before dawn. Whether you go that midnight route or start the madness after the rise of the sun, just make sure to brew more than enough coffee the night before because the last thing you want is to be lacking on the caffeine when the birding gets fierce. Just in case I need an extra influx of natural stimulants, I’ll be rolling and ready with my coffee and chocolate covered coffee beans.

Making a pizza: Yeah, you read that right. I often make a pizza before a bird count because what can I say, I love good pizza and I love birding; it makes for a perfect combination! So, I plan on making one or two, I’m not quite sure about the toppings but it’s still gonna be good! Cold slices of course but when the pizza is fresh, the flavors are always fantastic. Hopefully, I will be enjoying a slice as I see a Solitary Eagle! Well, actually, no because then I would end up wasting the pizza slice after spitting it out in shock, or choking on it, or accidentally throwing the pizza on the windshield of the car in my race for the camera, or sauce up the camera lens or something. It would be tough for it not to be a bit of momentary birding pandemonium. Hopefully, the eagle will show at a more opportune time…

Not a Solitary Eagle but Hook-billed Kite would still be a great find for the day! Not enough to drop the pizza but still good.

Studying obscure bird sounds: To maximize results, we gotta be ready for the calls of flyover Upland Sandpipers, a super rare singing Black-whiskered Vireo, vocalizations of rare Black and white Becards, and whatever else might fly our way on GBD. The vireo probably won’t show but it’s all about being ready for anything, so now is the time for a last minute check of possibilities and making sure you know their respective calls.

Getting stuff ready on May 4th: Do this to avoid any nasty last minute surprises like no gas in the car, a lack of gourmet snacks, forgetting the sunblock (although to avoid wasting time, I suggest putting it on before you leave the house), charging whatever batteries are needed, or putting on the wrong shoes. Trust me, these and other SNAFUs can happen in the dark of the blurry-eyed night, especially when you got the focus on birds and are straining the ears for the faint bubbling call of an Upland Sandpiper.

Checking yourself before you wreck yourself: Um, what I mean by this in my personal birding terms is to curb the enthusiasm, and be honest with yourself. For example, don’t mark down an Upland Sandpiper if you may have actually heard some odd sounding, distant motorcyle (likely in Costa Rica). Are you sure that distant hawk-eagle was an Ornate and not a Black? Sorry, but if the doubt is there, just leave it off the list. I know, it hurts but we gotta keep things real on GBD! If Ice Cube were a birder (I would love if he were), I think he would be checking himself.

Black Hawk-Eagle silhouette.

Don’t forget the Jedi Zen state of being!: In other words, focus on seeing and hearing birds in the present, challenge yourself but do enjoy the experience (because, like, if you don’t enjoy something, why do it?). Stay focused and the birds will show! Don’t worry about the ones that refuse to play, try and refrain from referring to them as “asshats”, they got their own agendas and plenty other birds will be seen. Who knows,  maybe they’ll make an appearance later on, and you would have to take back that you called the previously absent Barred Hawk “eco figlio della puttana”, “sargeant major f$%kf#ce” or (gasp!) a glorified Black Vulture. Keep the peace with the birds and lots will show!  If it makes you feel better, keep in mind that thousands of other birders are also watching birds pretty much around the world as part of Global Big Day.

Ok, I think I’m ready, I’ll be rocking the birds in Costa Rica as part of Team Tyto! Based on our name, our main goal is putting Barn Owl on the list but we also hope to add a few others here and there as we bird through lowlands, highlands, and coastal habitats. Not sure if I can update from the field but if it doesn’t get in the way of my attempts to maintain a Zen-Jedi birding thing, you might see a post or two on Facebook, most definitely if we see a Solitary Eagle. Hope to see you out there with the birds! If I have any cold, left over pizza, I just might share a slice.

Categories
Birding Costa Rica

Tips to Prepare for Global Big Day in Costa Rica, 2018

The golden birding month of May is just about here and I know of more than a few birders up north who must be giving a collective sigh of anticipated relief. April wanes and yet the snow keeps coming back, and as much as folks in upstate New York are accustomed to the cold white stuff, eventually, enough is enough. It might even snow up there in early May but birders know that by the 10th, the birds should be migrating through local patches throughout the eastern USA and southern Canada, accentuating the fresh green of new foliage with equally bright feathers and eager song.

In Costa Rica, we are also looking forward to May but not for migration. Some birds like Red-eyed Vireo and Eastern Kingbird will still be on the move but most will have already passed through the country by then. No, we are looking forward to one day in particular, that of May 5th, the official date when thousands of birders across the globe will be celebrating Global Big Day by counting birds and putting those data into eBird.

I have been pleased to see that a lot of birders in Costa Rica are eager and ready to bird in most parts of the country. Many posted their routes more than a month ago and organizers are still working to get more birders on board to see if we can record every possible species, and hopefully a few more! Although I haven’t worked out an exact route, I do plan on participating and will once again see if I can break 300 for the day. While working out the logistics, I thought of a few suggestions and tips for Global Big Day in Costa Rica. These might also be applicable to GBD everywhere or when birding in Costa Rica any time of the year:

Don’t feel obligated to bird for 24 hours

You can if you want but you don’t have to because there won’t be any secret birding police knocking on your door if you don’t begin the count at the stroke of midnight. Just bird as much or as little as you want but please put the data into eBird. However, if you do want to go nuts and lose yourself with birds beyond normal hours, there are one or two tips below that might help.

Scout if you can!

If you have time to scout your route, do so and as often as possible. Although those Golden-bellied Flycatchers that were always present for the past year can certainly take a silent vacation on count day, you will see more key birds if you scout for them. It’s also best to scout as close to count day as possible to know where fruiting and flowering trees are attracting hummingbirds, tanagers, and other count day delights. Not to mention, there might be some hidden wetland, roosting owl, or other chance at more birds that would otherwise be overlooked.

I want to get a Great Potoo for the day.

Make a plan and stick to it

If you plan on doing a serious Big Day or to shoot for a certain number of species, you really do need to carefully plan out the mad endeavor in advance. Take things like traffic, different habitats, and expected species into account, but most of all, be careful with the timing at each site and for driving between stops, and stick to those times on count day. If you stay longer for even ten minutes at a few sites, you won’t get those thirty or more minutes back. Allocate the appropriate amount of time for each stop as a function of the likelihood of identifying numbers of new species for the day and keep to the schedule whether the birds show or not!

Don’t fret the monklet

The Lanceolated Monklet is not exactly reliable. Even if you see one the day before the count, don’t expect the anti-social featherball hermit to come out and play when you need it. Just stick to a well planned schedule, don’t worry, enough birds will show. Other birds not to fret because they are either few in number and/or are seriously unfriendly include various raptors, antpittas, Yellow-eared Toucanet, owls, and Great Jacamar. Give the unseen birds the one finger salute if it makes you feel better but don’t waiver from the schedule.

Will anyone identify a monklet in Costa Rica this May 5th, 2018?

Practice Tai Chi birding

This doesn’t mean that you need to practice the Chen Canon Fist form or get meditative with Yang 108  while also watching birds. Although that would make for quite the interesting video, and I would be seriously impressed to see someone carry out the “Teal Dragon Emerges from Water” movement while also calling out a vocalizing Scarlet Tanager, “Tai Chi birding” just means putting the focus on listening and watching for birds in as relaxed a manner as possible. Maintaining a high degree of concentration in a relaxed state during an exciting, bird filled day could indeed be a challenge but I guarantee that the birders who manage to do this will notice that hidden potoo, pick out the Barred Hawk conspiring to be a standard Black Vulture, and get more birds. If it makes you feel better, or cooler (as in Fonzi cool), you can also refer to this as “Jedi birding”.

Coffee, chocolate, and champagne

Yeah, pretty much in that order. Make enough coffee for the day and some. Coca-Cola can also work but I prefer the java because it can be made as strong as one likes, and, based on all those Coca-Cola dissolving videos, must be better for you. Also, use quality coffee because this is a special occasion! Speaking of very special times, this is also why we want to celebrate throughout the GBD with serious chocolate. This means spending some extra Colones for extra dark chocolate bars that put the percentage of cocoa right on the front of the package, and staying away from the cheap, sugary perversions of the holy Mayan bean. Get the good stuff! It might help you see a monklet! Oh, and of course, once the counting is done, get out the bubbly stuff! That or some fine craft beers or whatever floats your boat as a celebratory drink, snack, or dance.

Enjoy it!

Most of all, enjoy GBD. Do it however you want and whatever way makes you most happy. The part I like the most is knowing that I am sharing the collective experience with thousands of other birders. I fricking love that.

 

Categories
Birding Costa Rica Where to see birds in Costa Rica

Some Nice Finds on Global Big Day, 2017

Last Saturday, May 13, more than 20,000 birders went birding and put their results into eBird. It was the third Global Big Day and the biggest one yet. If the day would have been a competition (and some countries did sort treat the day as such) Colombia took first place with more than 1,400 species identified, Peru came in second, and Ecuador was third. Surprisingly, the highest list came from northern Argentina (and thus highlighting the biodiversity in this less birded area), and Costa Rica had the highest total for Central America. Thanks to some last minute organizing and a good number of local birders getting on board, this small country finished the day with more than 640 species.

Birding in Costa Rica during Global Big Day, 2017.

Since most of the migrants had already left, the local birding community was very pleased at topping 600. Consider that all of these species were found in an area roughly equal to that of West Virginia and it’s quite the impressive total. We are already thinking about next year to see if we can hit 700. As for me, I birded a 60 kilometer route from the Central Valley, up and over the mountains, north to the Sarapiqui Caribbean lowlands, and then back up the mountain to hit highland forests before heading back down into the valley for some dry forest and wetland species. As usual, I did this route with my faithful Big Day birding companion and friend, Susan. Although we ran out of time twarads the end of the day and thus missed out on dry forest species, we were seriously lucky with good weather, especially because a lot of other birders in Costa Rica got rained out during the critical morning hours.

During our long day and night of birding, some of our nicest finds were:

Striped Owl– This was a big one on my radar because a Striped Owl had been calling just about every night for the past two months right near my house. Thankfully, good old “Stripey” decided to participate in the Global Big Day by giving its shrill vocalization as soon as we stopped to listen for it. I can’t say the same for other owls in the valley and mountains but at least the Striped Owl piped up right on cue!

A surprise wetland– Deciding where to greet the dawn on a Big Day is of vital importance because it’s when we have the best chance at the most birds. If it rains, there goes a sizeable chunk of the daily total. If you pick the wrong spot, you probably miss the species that would have put you over your end goal. With all that in mind, we started where the most species were possible; in the Caribbean Lowlands. The site had to be close enough to the rest of our route to save time but also in or next to an extensive area of forest. After scouting and checking Google Earth, I decided on an area just north of Tirimbina where a road cuts through a corner of a large forest block and then passes near a wetland mentioned in eBird. As it turned out, the forest block wasn’t as birdy as expected, nor did the lagoon from eBird have much, but we did luck out with a fine marsh just outside the forest. This was a surprise because I had seen the satellite view of the open area but had assumed that it was pasture. Although some of it did turn out to be grass for cows, most of it was a shallow river bordered by marsh vegetation! Since such habitat is difficult to find and access in Costa Rica, and offers a chance at various additions to the day list, this was a fantastic Big Day surprise.

Our best bird there was Rufescent Tiger-Heron, a rare species in Costa Rica and thus not exactly expected. We also picked up Purple Gallinule and some other water birds as well as various edge species and some forest birds.

Our tiger-heron and one of all three species we found during the day!

Birds before dawn– You never know what will call at night from one day to the next. Next to the march and adjacent forest, luckily, we had a calling Black and white Owl, Central American Pygmy-Owl, one Uniform Crake (maybe the only one for Costa Rica), and one Great Potoo. No response from Short-tailed Nighthawk or other owls but some good night birds nonetheless.

White-ringed Flycatcher and other lowland specialties–  I had hoped to get the flycatcher but it was particularly sweet to get our only one right from the car, and rather low down. In Tirimbina, we picked up several other nice lowland targets including Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, antwrens, the hoped for White-fronted Nunbirds that live there, Black-striped Woodcreeper, and some others. We also missed several but it was still fun trying for them!

White-ringed Flycatcher

Tanagers in Socorro– These were expected but still nice to get them and weren’t as common as we had hoped. Black and yellow, Bay-headed, Silver-throated, Speckled, and a few other showed, including Blue and Gold and the exquisite Scarlet-thighed Dacnis.

Blue and gold Tanager

A quetzal in the cloud forest– We always knew it was possible but with limited time to work with, the chances of bumping into one are never really good. As if to make up for the many highland species that were hiding or just keeping silent, a male Resplendent Quetzal fluttered and then flew right across our field of view in an area of cloud forest that is now quite accessible from the San Jose area. Thanks to road work and new bridges, the route that goes from San Rafael de Varablanca towards Socorro and San Miguel is easy going right up to this area of forest. Beyond that, the road requires four wheel drive but you might not need to go much further for some really good birding because this area of forest is connected to Braulio Carrillo National Park. Since it’s not that far from the homestead, I hope to check it out from time to time.

Although I always want more birds, I was pleased with our total of around 230 species. I wonder how many more we could get on that route with additional scouting and when there are migrants in the area.