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big year Birding Costa Rica Introduction

536 species so far for 2010 with two months to go

As always, I would love to do an official Big Year in Costa Rica. Slowly track my way up and down the hot, hilly terrain of the Osa while scanning the canopy and listening for distress calls of monkeys that would lead me to a Harpy Eagle. Maybe find a Red-throated Caracara or two (if they still roam the rainforests of Corcovado), or chance upon a Speckled Mourner in some massive mixed flock.

I would have raced over to Monteverde to add Oilbird to my 2010 list, shivered in the dark, high up on Cerro de la Muerte until an Unspotted Saw-whet Owl revealed itself, and birded off the beaten track at Hitoy Cerere to pick up Great Jacamar, Violaceous Quail-Dove, and Sulphur-rumped Tanager.

I would have stationed myself for a time on both coasts during both migrations to comb through waves of passerines and shorebirds in search of the expected as well as the unforeseen. I might even have braved a bout with sea-sickness to pick up the pelagics….on second thought, no I wouldn’t have subjected my wimpy inner ear to such punishment.

BUT, I would have certainly gone up north to pick up Elegant Trogon and Thicket Tinamou at Santa Rosa National Park, and would have scanned the marshes of Palo Verde National Park with the hope of espying a distant Jabiru through the heat waves, as well as getting Glossy Ibis, Snail Kite, and after the sun went down, White-tailed Nightjar.

Cost Rica birding

Wind-swept Guanacaste- Where to see Thicket Tinamous and Elegrant Trogons in Costa Rica

In short, I would love to spend a year exploring every brushy corner, wooded ravine, palm swamp, amazing rainforest, and mystical cloudforest found within the borders of Costa Rica BUT (in addition to such an endeavor being impossible), since that would require abandoning my family and becoming instantly rich (at least moderately),  I have opted for diligently keeping track of every bird species I identify by sight or sound when guiding, birding on my own, listening for nocturnal flight calls with cupped ears in my backyard, or involved in much more mundane activities such as driving my daughter to the babysitter.

Costa Rica birding

Cloud forest canopy at Monteverde, Costa Rica

Given that I do some birding at least once per week and still might get the chance to visit some of the places mentioned above before we switch our calendars over to 2011, my unofficial big year is coming along nicely (and much more comfortably than if  were camping and profusely sweating in the humid lowlands).

My latest species was Prevost’s Ground-Sparrow (also and perhaps more appropriately known as Cabanis Ground-Sparrow). I am pretty sure that I got a glimpse of one sans binoculars back in April but “pretty sure” doesn’t quite do it for the 2010 list.  Fortunately, this past Sunday, I was able to definitely mark it down for the year when an individual was spotlighted by the morning sun at the edge of a coffee plantation near my house. The view, lighting, and composition were so darn perfect that I of course didn’t have my camera with me. This species is apparently a strong proponent and practitioner of Murphy’s Law because although I got a recording of its call (and there are very few recordings of this taxon), I somehow managed to erase it the next day! Of course, it was the only recording that got banished into nothingness and I honestly have no idea how it happened.

I went back to the same site the following morning with camera at the ready but the ground-sparrow had hightailed it along with all of the Swainson’s Thrushes, migrant warblers, and vireos that had been happily chipping (and harshly cackling in the case of the vireos) from the vegetation the day before.

Here’s a a soundscape of birds from this site on the day of the ground-sparrow (October 17th):

santa barbara morning

Another recent addition to the 2010 list was a Streak-breasted Treehunter that popped into view after spishing resulted in an avalanche of curious birds in a forested ravine on the way up to Volcan Barva. I had my camera on that occasion but mist and shade combined forces to ensure that the only pictures coming out of that bastion of dimness  would have been grainier than a World War One documentary filmed at night.

Black-cheeked Warbler seen in the high-elevation forests of Volcan Barva was also a new one for the year and reflects how little birding I have done at high elevations in 2010 because this is a pretty easy bird to get. It’s hyperactive though so pictures are tough.

The ground-sparrow may have been 536 but even better was a Dickcissel that got ticked off for 2010 after one let out its rude-like, dry-rattle flight call as it winged its way over Santa Barbara de Heredia.

I kind of doubt that I will  break 600 for the year but I might come close if I can get in some shorebirding and focus on a hodgepodge of gettable target species, Slaty-breasted Tinamou, Sunbittern, Fasciated Tiger-Heron to name a few.