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biodiversity bird photography Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica high elevations Introduction

A Couple Hours of Birding on Poas is Always Good

Green space is where the birds are and that’s why I drive 45 minutes up to Poas Volcano. That’s one of the closest places with intact forest habitat and the birding is always good. Between the house and Poas, there are riparian zones that snake through coffee plantations but that habitat is rather inaccessible compared to the highland forests on Poas. This past Tuesday, after dropping off Miranda at pre-K, I decided to do the trip to Poas in search of migrants, photos of various species ,and maybe a recording or two. Most birds are vocalizing much less now compared to the months of February, March, and April but I still managed a recording a the resident Red-tailed Hawk subspecies and will be including that on the next update of our Costa Rica birding app (coming soon and with a bunch of new species and vocalizations).

On the way up to the volcano, I made a few stops at groves of Guatemalan Cypress. Although these introduced species don’t harbor as many birds as native vegetation I always check them in the hope of finding Hermit, Townsend’s, or even Golden-cheeked Warblers and other rare vagrants. Although the fact that these are rare birds indeed is reflected by never finding any of those species in those introduced evergreens, that doesn’t stop me from looking and I bet there are some uber rarities out there somewhere. Just gotta keep checking and pishing.

Speaking of pishing, the bird that invariably shows up in high elevation habitats of Costa Rica is the cheeky Wilson’s Warbler. This blocky headed wood warbler just might be the most common species in the highlands during the winter months. While pishing in one spot on Tuesday, I brought up a veritable parade of around 30 of them along with just one Black and white and one Blackburnian.

Wilsons Warbler- the most common highland bird in Costa Rica from October to March.
A closer look at a Wilson's Warbler.

In addition to looking for migrant warblers, I also saw a bunch of nice resident species including several flocks of Sooty-capped Bush Tanagers.

Sooty-capped Bush Tanagers are common high elevation endemics in Costa Rica and western Panama.
A Sooty-capped Bush Tanager feeding on fruit.

I also saw some Commons and they do seem to be creeping upward in elevation bit by bit. The bush-tanagers were super busy with feeding on small fruits and were occasionally joined  by Black and yellow Silky Flycatchers and a few other birds (although no Spangle-cheeks- a bird I was hoping for). One of those birds was Golden-browed Chlorophonia. I usually hear several of this gorgeous little thing while birding on Poas but they can be hard to see well. Fortunately, a couple of these technicolor goldfinches were busy feeding on berries in a short bush and stayed still long enough for proper digiscoping.

A male Golden-browed Chlorophonia from the side.
Golden-browed Chlorophonia from the front.
A closer look at the crown and bill of Golden-browed Chlorophonia.

Those same bushes were also flowering and filled with hummingbirds. A conservative estimate was 6 Fiery-throateds, 4 Magnificents, 6 Purple-throated Mountain-gems, and 4 Volcano Hummingbirds. Of course, several Slaty Flowerpiercers were also taking advantage of the nectar bonanza.

Female Slaty Flowerpiercer.

Up near the entrance to the park, a pair of Large-footed Finches hopped right out and foraged along the side of the road. I swear, you just never know when these over-sized ground sparrows are going to come out into the open. When guiding birders up that way, we usually get the Large-footed Finch but it can take a while and they rarely forage on the curb.

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

The entrance to the park can also be good for mixed flocks and Tuesday delivered with a flock that held Buffy Tuftedcheek, Collared Redstart, bush tanagers, and other species.

The Yellow-thighed Finch looks a lot like a blackbird if you don't see the yellow thighs.
A poor shot of a Ruddy Treerunner from that flock.
Flame-throated Warblers were in the flock too.

Oddly enough, although the bamboo in the understory of that area is totally seeding, I haven’t heard a single Peg-billed Finch or other bamboo bird there despite checking several times. Maybe I need to focus on the area a bit more to see if I can rustle up a Maroon-chested Ground-Dove (a rarity I have only seen once ever during a bamboo seeding event on Chirripo in 1994). Only species I did hear in the bamboo was a Wrenthrush. Hopefully, the next post about Poas will report Slaty Finch and other choice bamboo birds!