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Birding Costa Rica

Waiting for the Hurricane

I’m often asked if there are hurricanes in Costa Rica. I asked the same question some years ago because after all, there is a coast on the storm-prone Caribbean Sea, and it’s all too easy to have hurricanes come to mind when talking about earthquakes and other natural disasters. While Costa Rica is a young, seismic land punctuated with volcanoes, it sits in a quiet corner of the Caribbean where hurricanes refuse to venture. They just can’t seem to get their act together around here. Tropical storms, yes. Hurricanes, no, at least not until now. And I mean right now as I write this.

Bucking all historical trends, an adventurous storm named “Otto” is making its way towards the coasts of Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The eye has yet to stare down at us but the first bands of wind and rain are brushing the coast. It’s not a huge one but a category one or two is still big enough to cause flooding and landslides, especially when the rivers and steep slopes of eastern Costa Rica are already saturated with water. Thousands of people have been evacuated and, now, there is talk of expected power losses and road closures. I guess that means I should take an extra trip to the store this afternoon, and might not be sending out any emails for a few days.

Sadly, it also means potential loss of homes and damage to crops. Hopefully enough people will have been evacuated to keep them safe. I’m also hoping that the winds don’t get strong enough to affect our home because Otto is scheduled to go stomping right across the country on his hike to the Pacific.

On the birding front, Rancho Naturalista has urged people to check their flights and stay safe. They should be alright because they aren’t in the direct path of the storm. Paraiso de Quetzales just stated that they would be closed for the weekend, a good call given that the highway to the lodge will probably see fallen limbs and maybe a landslide or two. Hopefully not, but better safe than stranded on Cerro de la Muerte or worse (although there might not be much worse than being stuck at night on the Mountain of the Dead). Personally, I would see it as an excuse to look for Unspotted Saw-whets. Cold, shmold, I grew up in Niagara Falls, NY!. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve also just said that it will be closed and that probably goes for most montane birding sites as well.

But, as with most things, there is a potential bright side, especially for birders. As with any hurricane, there’s always that chance that the storm will bring unusual birds our way. Since the storm is coming right off the ocean and migration is pretty much a done deal, there’s not a whole lot of crazy avian options but the ones that could occur would still be smart additions to my country list (and maybe even a lifer?).

Having missed out on amazing hurricane bird experiences in western New York (like storm-petrels on the Niagara River), I’m keen to have one of those crazy birding times in Costa Rica. That said, I do realize that I would still need a fair modicum of fortune to find lost Audubon’s and Black-capped Shearwaters, Sooty Terns, tropicbirds, and White-crowned Pigeons, especially because the roads might not be so vehicle worthy. Of course, if we have problems with the house, birding will be the very least of my worries. But, let’s say that it won’t get that bad and I can still look around with the good old binos.

As the storm passes through, I might be looking out of the window, but the best chance at finding stuff will be right after the storm has passed, and the best place may be the reservoir at Arenal. I doubt I would be able to drive there but I hope local birders will look for lost seabirds. Maybe one or two would even stick around for next week’s Christmas Count?

There aren’t too many other large reservoirs around here but perhaps a lost bird or two could show up at the one near Turrucares? There’s also the Pacific coast to check, Caldera and Puntarenas being good spots to take a look around. As for land birds, they could be anywhere on the Caribbean but once again, access will probably be an issue. If you are already at La Selva, watch for White-crowned Pigeon and odd warblers, I’ll probably be looking for odd birds on foot around Santa Barbara.


I was surprised by my year Yellow-billed Cuckoo last week, right in my tiny backyard- you never know what might show up!