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biodiversity bird finding in Costa Rica

Birding Costa Rica May, 2020- a Time for Discoveries

May is the golden birding month, the magic time when any visit to green space comes with an exciting promise of possibility. Birds are on the move, millions of birds and the uncommon ones, even the outrageously rare ones can be anywhere. A seriously lost Fork-tailed Flycatcher is more likely to appear where weather and geography move and funnel other birds but there’s always a small chance of it gracing the local patch.

Locally common in Costa Rica.

Happily, the only way to find out, to see what has flown in during the night is by going birding and in May, there will be birds. At least up north there will be birds and they will represent with bright plumage and constant song. It’s a wonderful time to walk in woods made fragrant by fresh leaves, new blossoms and the chestnut beauty of Bay-breasted Warblers high above, flashy Magnolia Warblers below.

In Costa Rica, the May warbler parade passes us by but this month can still be an exciting time for birding. This truth was recently made known by several exciting finds, discoveries that would have never been made, would have never been imagined, if local birders hadn’t gone into the field to look. Check these out!:

Hooded Merganser at Lake Arenal

This would be like seeing a Smew in Buffalo, NY, or finding some other, very rare vagrant, lost duck in the Netherlands. Even though some years ago, a female of this species also made an appearance in Costa Rica, this second country record was still very much unexpected. A bird that normally winters only as far south as northern Mexico isn’t really on the rarity radar for Costa Rica and especially not in May. But, on May 16th, that did indeed happen when a female Hooded Merganser was found by Ever Villegas near Nuevo Arenal. On that day, local birder Dennis Palma also helped other local birders tick this serious mega for Costa Rica. I’m not sure if it is still there, I hope so and that it stays for a while!

Hudsonian Godwit at Paquera

Having found the second documented record of Hudsonian Godwit for Costa Rica in 2014, this rare long distance migrant is on my mind every spring migration. Although most fly over Costa Rica, I believe that a few must also stop off in this country each April or May. The increase in local birding has indeed resulted in a few more sightings of this species but finding one is still akin to winning the lottery. As luck would have it, one was seen on May 16th, the same day that the merganser showed near Arenal! The Godwit turned up at the shrimp ponds of Paquera, a town on the shores of the Gulf of Nicoya. Even better, the bird has stayed around long enough for some local birders to tick this excellent addition to their country and life lists. Maybe it will stay a bit longer?

Oilbird on Global Big Day

This intriguing sighting deserves a mention because it was not made at Monteverde during the height of the wet season. Each year, some of these odd nocturnal birds make it to Monteverde and other highland areas but their origin is still a mystery. The fact that the birds on Global Big Day were found near San Vito in May and that they have also been found in that area on previous occasions, supports the idea that the birds may be nesting somewhere near there or in adjacent Panama.

White-chinned Swifts Nesting near Grecia

Thanks to local birder Luis Barrantes, a few of these rare Cypseloides species swifts were found nesting behind a small waterfall above the town of Grecia. Due to near constant difficulties identifying this species, it’s hard to know how many live in Costa Rica and where they actually occur. The fact that some were found nesting in mountains within sight of where I live is a reminder to pay even closer attention to the swifts seen in the skies above the neighborhood.

My best definite image of a White-chinned Swift, kind of how you see them in the field.

As for Team Tyto, we haven’t found anything amazing where we live but we have managed to add a couple of year birds during the past week. One was a Tropical Screech-Owl calling from a nearby coffee farm, the other was Black Swift when several foraged quite low and vocalized just over the apartment. More new birds are still possible, I could for for a Black-billed Cuckoo just out back…