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bird finding in Costa Rica Birding Costa Rica dry forest

The Tambor Christmas Bird Count, 2020

Several CBCs take place in Costa Rica and I have participated in most of them at one time or another. However, a few have been missing from my personal count repertoire, one of those being the Tambor Bird Count, an event that has taken place since 2012. Organized by Juan Carlos Cruz of the Tambor Tropical resort, and Ruth Rodriguez of Rainforest Publications and Raptor Ridge, this count has provided valuable data about bird populations and has helped promote birding in one of the least birded parts of the country.

The Nicoya Penisula doesn’t often find itself on the itineraries of birders visiting Costa Rica because not only does getting there involve a bit of a detour from the usual birding circuit, but also because few people know about the quality birding in that area. On January 4th, accompanied by Mary and her daughter Samantha, I finally got the chance to help count birds near Tambor in the southern Nicoya Peninsula and in doing so, get a good taste of what sort of birding this part of the country can offer. Since I was always impressed with the habitat on the few occasions when I had birded the area in the past, it was exciting to head back and take part in an official count. These were some of the highlights and happenings:

The ferry ride

Knowing what might show at any time in the Gulf of Nicoya, for me, the boat ride between Puntarenas and Paquera is always a highlight. On January 3rd, although the boat was full of folks heading to the peninsula for vacation and didn’t leave until 9 a.m., we still managed to see a few birds looking between and through the other passengers. The best happened while waiting to put the car on the ferry. While casually scanning the water from shore, I could hardly believe it when a Black Storm-Petrel materialized in my field of view! I have seen this and two other species of storm-petrel a few other times from the point at Puntarenas, always where the inner gulf meets the outer gulf but finding one of these special marine birds is always an unexpected treat. From the point and looking past the many people on the boat itself, we also had looks at Sandwich, Black, and Elegant Terns, two Common Terns, and one Least Storm-Petrel that was working a drift line.

Nice organization

The count was wonderfully organized and had eager groups of birders counting on several different routes. During the count meeting at Tambor Tropical, after enjoying a delicious welcome drink in the form of a coconut flavored cocktail, Juan Carlos and Ruth told us about the history of the count and how they have been promoting birding and the conservation of Scarlet Macaws in the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula. And yes, Scarlet Macaws are doing very well in that area, we saw them every day!

Curu Wildlife Refuge

Our count route included the Curu Wildlife Refuge, a large hacienda that protects tropical dry forest, mangroves, and other habitats along with a beautiful beach. It was the beach that drew the many day visitors we saw but Curu is also an excellent site for birding. While walking the main road and a few trails, we had more than 80 species including such birds as Collared Aracari, Northern Scrub Flycatcher, Mangrove Vireo, White-necked Puffbird, Double-striped Thick-Knee, and others. Although we did not get lucky with the elusive and rare Pheasant Cuckoo, nor any quail-doves, these birds have been found at Curu in the past.

Nice, easy birding

Overall, the Tambor area was nice, easy birding. There were plenty of forest, edge, and coastal habitats easily accessed on any number of roads, and many species are possible including Elegant Trogon, occasional Plain Chachalaca, and Scarlet Macaws among many other common dry forest species.

Limited choices for food

If you do visit the area, be prepared for fairly limited dining options. There are a few good options at Tambor and many more in Montezuma but don’t expect much between Tambor and Paquera!

Raptor Ridge

A visit to this exciting site was a fantastic way to begin the year because I heard about Raptor Ridge for some time and seen photos of various birds from there. So, with anticipation, we accepted an invitation from Larry Langstrom, Ruth Rodriguez, and their daughter to stay the night at this special place and found ourselves heading up a track into the hills above the Tambor area.

The stunning view from Raptor Ridge.

Although we didn’t have time to bird the road in, it goes through nice habitat where others have seen quite a few species. At Raptor Ridge itself, we were treated to near constant views of Painted Buntings and other birds visiting a small water feature at the edge of the forest. Since some of those other birds included Long-tailed Manakin, Olive Sparrow, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Yellow-billed Cacique, and Worm-eating Warbler, a birder can’t go wrong in sitting back and watching what comes in!

One of the many Painted Buntings, the most common species at the water feature.

At the same time, fruiting trees planted by Larry and Ruth also brought in Western Tanagers, Philadelphia Vireos, and other species while in keeping with the name of the place, King Vultures were seen at close range and we also recorded such other raptors as Collared Forest Falcon, Laughing Falcon, Gray Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, and White Hawk. The nocturnal raptor scene was replete with Mottled Owl, a distant heard only Black-and-white Owl, and a fantastic close look at a Middle American Screech-Owl!

One of those King Vultures!

As for the count, our total of 80 plus species was part of a grand total of more than 230 including several pelagic species seen from a boat taken out by Wilfredo “Pollo” Villalobos of Cabuya Birdwatching, and such species as Plain Chachalaca, Northern Potoo, Elegant Trogon, and other birds seen by the many other participants. It goes without saying that much of the success of the count happened thanks to organization along with local birders like Ruth, Juan Carlos, Pollo, and Ariel Rojas Cruz who knew just where to find Rufous-necked Wood-Rail. I look forward to visiting this beautiful area again and hope to see it added to the official ICT Costa Rica bird route.