web analytics
bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica

October Global Big Day, Costa Rica, 2019

This past Saturday, thousands of birders around the globe took part in October Big Day. While early May takes center stage as the main GBD, the one in October is just as exciting, especially in Costa Rica. There might be more vocalizations happening in the fifth month but in October, there are definitely more species and therefore more opportunities for a higher total.

One of many wintering species much more common in late October than May.

Overall, despite fewer people participating, we still had enough people getting into the GBD spirit to give Costa Rica the nation’s highest total yet. 716 species were reported and even if a few of those might be attributed to misidentification, we still ended with a fantastic number of birds. Some of the rarer species included Tawny-faced Quail at a site somewhat near Cinco Ceibas heard by Juan Diego and Maria of Lifer Tours, several sweet pelagic species thanks to observers on a trip from the Nicoya Peninsula and on Cocos Island, White-rumped and Baird’s Sandpipers at a couple of spots, and many other species.

As for myself, I was finishing up six days of guiding, our final day taking place in the Carara area. Since my two clients were up for getting in a final major day of birding, we began GBD at Cerro Lodge around 3:45 a.m. These are some highlights from our October GBD:

Tropical Screech-Owl

Our final owl species of the trip rounded out an excellent total of 7 owl species seen and one that was heard only (Middle American Screech-Owl). The Tropical Screech was in the Jaco area and was, surprisingly, the only owl we heard in a spot that has generated several species in the past. We also had one flyover owl but I couldn’t discern whether it was a Striped or a Barn.


While birding around the Jaco area, we had a fair raptor round up of 16 species, our best probably being Harriss’s Hawk, King Vulture, and Peregrine Falcon. The highlight was probably a pair of Zone-tailed Hawks on a ridge way above Jaco that called and nearly locked talons, at close range and in good light. Collared Forest-Falcon, Crane Hawk, and Mississippi Kites seen the previous day made for a good couple days of raptor sightings even if we did just miss a very rare Savannah Hawk.

The Birdy Teleferico Road

Although we didn’t hear as many species as on my previous visits with Mary, the road that passes in front of the Pacific Rainforest Aerial Tram still delivered over a hundred species in a matter of hours. Plain-breasted Ground-Doves, Scrub Greenlet and other birds of open habitats were on the first section of the road. Several Slate-colored Seedeaters sang and other species were seen where the forest meets rice fields and stream, and more humid habitats on upper parts of the road gave us some nice species like Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Blue-crowned Manakin, and Golden-naped Woodpecker.

We also had Riverside Wrens.

The Jaco Wetlands

Wetlands around Jaco? Oh yes and they are birdy. The flat areas just outside of Jaco form natural wetlands that are mostly used to grow rice and that also attract a good bunch of birds. The best as of late has been a super rare for Costa Rica Striated Heron. Although we did not see the heron (despite really trying for it, one of us even walking out into the muddy fields under the blazing tropical sun), we did add several species to our GBD list. These were birds like Solitary Sandpiper, various herons, our Peregrine, Harriss’s Hawk, and some other birds.

After the wetlands, we drove back up to the Central Valley in the afternoon, the heavy rains starting at the same time. That rain kept us from adding maybe one or two other birds during the drive but we still ended our GBD with a wealth of species; more than 140. It was a memorable final day of a 6 day tour that yielded more than 350 species, and a great way to celebrate Global Big Day.

Birding Costa Rica Introduction Pacific slope

Antswarms at Carara National Park on

This past Saturday, I spent most of the morning in the rainforests of Carara National Park. I usually visit this birdy protected area for guiding, but on Saturday, I cruised down the new highway to the hot coastal plain not to help birders see Turquoise-browed Motmots, Great Tinamous, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatchers, and Spot-crowned Euphonias, but to make recordings of their voices and digitally capture them. Well, at least that was the plan. The recordings were fairly productive but good photos were as elusive as sightings of the Selva Cacique.

The cloudy, humid weather in the already dim understory of the rainforest just couldn’t provide enough light for my digiscoping set-up no matter how much I fiddled with the camera. For unknown disappointing reasons, my camera also demonstrated its propensity to focus on sticks instead of birds even when the bird was smack dab in the center of the screen. I realize that the Sony Cybershot wasn’t developed for getting shots of birds, but it surely wasn’t designed to amass a photographic catalogue of twigs either. Oh well, I’m sure there’s a way to take better bird pictures with it, I just need to figure out how to do it.

Since the park doesn’t open until 8 a.m. during the low, rainy season, I started my birding day along the road to Bijagual. This is the same dirt road that passes in front of Villa Lapas and is always productive for birds. Although you don’t see species of the forest interior such as Great Tinamou and Black-faced Antthrush, views of the forest edge and hillsides are good for mixed flocks and raptors. On Saturday morning, I picked a spot that lacked stream noise and recorded such targets as Rufous and white wren1 and Northern Bentbill. Cocoa Woodcreeper and other species called in the distance as did Marbled Wood-Quail (species 527 for the year). There was also enough light for me to adequately capture Scrub Euphonia and Northern Bentbill.

birding Costa Rica

Scrub Euphonia- these guys are actually related to goldfinches.

Northern Bentbill- Carara is an excellent site for this species.

Once the clock “struck” 8, I headed over to the park entrance, paid my fee, and entered the forest. Shortly after, I realized that I had made a grave error in not bringing along some serious plastic melting DEET as I was assaulted by a healthy population of thirsty mosquitoes. Those little vampires are around during the dry season too but their numbers pale in comparison to what I experienced on Saturday. It’s still not as bad as any wet, summer woodland of the far north but be forewarned that you will need repellent in Carara during the wet season!

To avoid recording cars along with bird sounds, I walked straight back into the forest as far as the figure eight trail would go before setting up my LS10 recorder, Sennheiser microphone, and headphones. I walked through the forest with headphones on and it must have looked a bit strange, but if only those bemused non-birding tourists could hear what I did!  Black-faced Antthrushes were especially vocal, Plain Xenops bickered, Rufous Pihas occasionally called in the distance, and a Black-striped Woodcreeper sang from some canopy tree trunk. Long-tailed Woodcreeper also vocalized once in a while but I wasn’t able to capture its song (unfortunately as there are few recordings of this taxon that almost certainly deserves to be split from Amazonian Long-tailed Woodcreepers because it sounds radically different from them).

The back part of the trail also resulted in a neotropical prize- an army antswarm! I noticed the columns of ants crossing the trail but it wasn’t until I scanned the forest floor in the direction they were heading that I saw some birds. Two Black-faced Antthrushes were running back and forth in the front of the swarm and a handful of Bicolored Antbirds clung to vertical stems as they pumped their tails and quietly “churred” (new word describing the vocalizations that this and other related antbird species give). A pair of Chestnut-backed Antbirds and Riverside Wrens were also taking advantage of the easy pickings but other birds such as woodcreepers, tinamous, Gray-headed Tanager, and Spectacled Antpitta were strangely absent.

So it is with antswarms. You will see some birds with the swarm but you often need to wait around and follow the front until other birds show up. Even if you don’t see much at first, it’s always worth it to follow the swarm if you can because in addition to the expected bunch of ant following birds, things like motmots, foliage-gleaners, and even forest-falcons will suddenly pop into view. Of course, you have to be in a position where you can follow the ants though, and on Saturday, as the nomadic predators marched off into thick second growth, I realized that this wasn’t one of those occasions.

Nevertheless, I still managed to get some grainy shots of:

birding Costa Rica

birding Costa Rica

Black-faced Antthrush,

birding Costa Rica

Bicolored Antbird,

birding Costa Rica

and Riverside Wren.

This was undoubtedly the highlight of the day but as usual when birding Carara, I still identified a bunch of other birds. The tally for the morning in the park and along Bijagual road was 94 species and included:

Great Tinamou

Black Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Laughing Falcon

Gray Hawk

Marbled Wood-Quail

Short-billed Pigeon

Gray-chested Dove

White-tipped Dove

Inca Dove

Scarlet Macaw

Brown-hooded Parrot

Orange-chinned Parakeet

Squirrel Cuckoo

Striped Cuckoo

Groove-billed Ani

Long-billed Hermit

Stripe-throated Hermit

Purple-crowned Fairy

White-necked Jacobin

Charming Hummingbird

Steely-vented Hummingbird

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Blue-throated Goldentail

Violaceous (Gartered) Trogon

Blue-crowned Motmot

Turquoise-browed Motmot

White-whiskered Puffbird

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Golden-naped Woodpecker

Plain Xenops

Long-tailed Woodcreeper

Wedge-billed Woodcreeper

Cocoa Woodcreeper

Streak-headed Woodcreeper

Black-striped Woodcreeper

Black-hooded Antshrike

Barred Antshrike

Slaty Antwren

Dot-winged Antwren

Dusky Antbird

Chestnut-backed Antbird

Bicolored Antbird

Black-faced Anthrush

Greenish Elaenia

Ochre-bellied Flycatcher

Northern Bentbill

Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher

Common Tody-Flyatcher

Yellow-Olive Flycatcher

Golden-crowned Spadebill

Royal Flycatcher

Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher

Dusky-capped Flycatcher

Great Kiskadee

Boat-billed Flycatcher

Piratic Flycatcher

Tropcial Kingbird

Rufous Piha

White-winged Becard

Rose-throated Becard

Long-tailed Manakin

Lesser Greenlet

Tawny-crowned Greenlet

Gray-breasted Martin

Southern Rough-winged Swallow

Rufous-naped Wren

Riverside Wren

Rufous and white Wren

Rufous-breasted Wren

Scaly-breasted Wren

Long-billed Gnatwren

Tropical Gnatcatcher

Clay-colored Robin

Rufous-capped Warbler

Tropical Parula

Blue-gray Tanager

White-shouldered Tanager

Bay-headed Tanager

Red-crowned Ant-Tanager

Green Honeycreeper

Variable Seedeater

White-collared Seedeater

Blue-black Grassquit

Blue-Black Grosbeak

Orange-billed Sparrow

Buff-throated Saltator

Bronzed Cowbird

Montezuma Oropendola

Yellow-throated Euphonia

Scrub Euphonia

Yellow-crowned Euphonia

Spot-crowned Euphonia