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Birding Costa Rica

The Birding Situation in Costa Rica During the First Part of the Covid-19 Era

Too many people were eating pangolins and other wild animals for ridiculous reasons and here we are with a global pandemic. As with almost everywhere, Covid-19 and the subsequent repercussions have reached Costa Rica, these are some ways in which the situation is affecting us birding and otherwise:

Borders closed to non-residents

This happened sooner than I had expected. Only two weeks before, although some part of the population seemed to be concerned about the virus, things were still fairly normal. However, that changed in a matter of days as a few cases were confirmed, more began to suddenly appear in various parts of Costa Rica, and a whole bunch of people just went to the beach. Given the juxtaposition of a growing infectious threat and too many people making contact instead of avoiding others, events were cancelled and bars were closed. But cancelling of flights? I didn’t expect that so happen so soon. Tourism plays a major role in the local economy, limiting it could hit Costa Rica like a fa-jin blody blow from a Tai Chi master. With that in mind, I had hoped that travel restrictions wouldn’t happen for another month.

However, the virus had other plans and as cases jumped in Europe and the USA, on March 16th, Costa Rica took the very difficult step of closing the border until April 12 to everyone except legal residents. Those residents who do return in this time face two weeks quarantine. For the moment, tourists in country can also still travel around and leave. There is freedom of movement but there is also a strong push for social distancing, if things get worse, I would not be surprised if restrictions to movement are imposed on the public.

Birding tours cancelled, huge losses for the tourism industry

I’m not sure when the first cancellations were made but I do know that by the first week of March, pretty much every tour and probably every hotel stay was cancelled. Even if they had waited, the subsequent border closure would have made the decision for them. This being part of the high season, it goes without saying that the hundreds of cancellations are a major blow to our tourism industry. All we can hope is that the virus can be contained, vaccinated, and defeated as quick as possible and that folks who had cancelled trips will still want to come to Costa Rica. I hope so because the birds and beauty of this friendly country will still be here!

Plump Prong-billed Barbet- still gonna be here…

National Parks closed

Even if you could go birding in Costa Rica right now, you wouldn’t be able to use the binos in a national park. Just as much to protect the park guards as to promote social distancing, all parks were closed yesterday. That said, this doesn’t affect local birding all that much since excellent birding in Costa Rica also happens outside of the national parks.

A run on some items

Stores ran out of hand sanitizer and Lysol much quicker than expected although come to think of it, I never saw huge amounts of it in stores anyways. We bought an extra gallon of bleach and some other staples a couple weeks ago (including the biggest item of 2020- several rolls of TP) so hopefully we will be set for some time. Some other products have nearly sold out but it doesn’t seem to be as crazy as in the USA. Except for maybe PriceMart. This local version of Sam’s Club or Aldi’s or other big warehouse full of stuff being sold in bulk saw huge lines of people buying up the store. I just hope that none of them were carrying the virus because ironically, in preparing for quarantine to avoid the virus, they put themselves in a perfectly contagious situation to catch it.

Liquor production turns to hand sanitizer

The local liquor factory had gone from producing alcohol for drinks to alcohol for killing viruses. As much as I appreciate a delicious mojito from the excellent Pandora restaurant at Villa San Ignacio, I appreciate even more, there being more than enough hand sanitizer available to the general public.

Backyard birding

As with other places, in Costa Rica, a lot of backyard birding is taking place. Folks from the Birding Club of Costa Rica are even holding a competition to see who can identify the most birds from their respective homesteads. On account of windy weather I haven’t seen all that much around here but that could change. The more you look, the more you find, especially in birdy Costa Rica. Since migration is also happening, there are probably lots of things waiting to be found!

Sometimes, we see this bird just outside.

Still good birding in the field

Since we can still move around for the moment, these days of social distancing are a fine time to go birding. Although I would stay away from places with other people, it’s easy enough to keep a safe distance from others almost anywhere in the outdoors. We did just that on Sunday when we visited the San Ramon area to look for Three-wattled Bellbirds. On the road known as Calle Quetzal, we did indeed find and enjoy scope views of one adult male that called from excellent cloud forest! Although we did not see the Ornate Hawk-Eagle that a couple of other local birders saw, we did hear Black-breasted Wood-Quail, saw a female kestrel, chlorophonias, and some other sweet species of the middle elevations.

To sum things up, for the moment, Costa Rica is off limits to any visitors but it won’t be forever and as soon as this place is ready to safely receive tourists, we will be back up and running with tanagers, hummingbirds, and quetzals waiting to be seen. As for Mary and I, there’s a local mega Western Gull being seen in Puntarenas. We just might go for it.

biodiversity Birding Costa Rica Introduction preparing for your trip sounds of Costa Rican birds

What do Those Costa Rican Birds Say?

I recently realized that I was far more removed from popular global culture and fads than I had ever imagined. That realization took place during a Skype video call with my parents when they asked me if I had seen the “What Does the Fox Say” thing. I responded that no, I had no idea what they were talking about. They said that they weren’t sure what it was either but that everyone was talking about it. So, nearly a week later, I finally searched for this fox thing and lo and behold it’s a crazy viral video and more than 200 million people know all about it. I also like it and it’s just the type of hilarious silly thing that certain friends of mine and I would have created had we had the time to do so. I love the fact that the popularity of this Norwegian ditty has finally topped that of Norway’s other main claim to popular music fame, A-Ha’s “Take on Me” (which is overplayed on at least once Costa Rican radio station). The silliness of the song sort of reminds me of the satirical and equally awesome Troll Hunter movie (all fans of the fantasy genre must watch!) but is far removed from the excellent, emotive, and more serious music composed by the Kings of Convenience. Most of all, though, the crazy viral fox video has inspired me to write a post about the things said by Costa Rican Birds. No, it won’t be a video because I don’t have the time nor tech know-how to produce such a damn cool thing but I hope you enjoy this post anyways.

Unlike foxes in Norway, we know what most of those Costa Rican Bird say. The Black and yellow Silky Flycatcher looks as if it’s going to say, “Yoo hoo, guess what I am! An oriole? A Tanager? Wrong again humans! I’m some high elevation berry eating thing with fine, silky feathers”.

A male Black and Yellow Silky Flycatcher ready to explode after eating maybe a thousand berries.

Actually, they say very little. Check out the sound of a Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher.

What about the Wrenthrush? This is another highland weirdo. It masquerades as an out of place, Asian Tesia and says, “Ha! Try to see me now! I’m as hyperactive as a Chihuahua on Mountain Dew! Take a picture…not!”

A Wrenthrush risks it all and comes out into the open.

Now you know exactly what this bird is saying when you hear its high-pitched calls issuing from a dense patch of bamboo: Wrenthrush

How about another highland bird species? The Prong-billed Barbet has a crazy voice and it says exactly what it sounds like it’s saying, “Yodel, yodel,yodel,yodel,yodel…”.

Shall we yodel again?

Yes, this cloud forest oddity is a determined yodeler: Prong-billed Barbet Note Rufous-browed Peppershrike there as well.

Of course, not all Costa Rican birds are stranger than fiction. Some sing stirring, beautiful songs and they say, “Listen to me. Listen to these avian siren melodies that chase away the shadows of worry and compliment the subtle harmonies of water dripping from clumps of moss and the tips of orchids”.  This is some of what the Black-faced Solitaire says. A good candidate for being the most solemn, serious singer on the block, it probably has the most pleasing song in the country although it has close contenders in the form of the Nightingale Wren and Slaty-backed Nightingale Thrush. Compare for yourself:

Black-faced Solitaire

Nightingale Wren song

Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush

At lower elevations, the bird song chorus becomes nearly as busy as the din of a Manhattan sidewalk. Keel-billed Toucans croak away like lost, feathered frogs, parrots rend the air with screeching sounds, Long-billed Gnatwrens give their pixie-like laugh, wrens blast the vegetation with loud, ringing melodies (check out the Black-throated), woodcreepers whistle away from the gloom of the morning forest, and Great Tinamous say, “I am the true ghost of the woods. Find me if you can but know that my kind has been evading predators for more than 15 million years”. A Great Tinamou sings from the forest interior: Great Tinamou.

A Keel-billed Toucan is kind of...well...colorful.

Keel-billed Toucan

A Black-throated Wren attempts to hide behind a branch.

Black-throated Wren

Common garden species also have plenty to say, especially the Clay-colored Thrush during the end of the dry season and beginning of the wet. Just so you know, it says, “No, I won’t shut up, I won’t shut up, I won’t shut up. Never shut up, have to find a mate, defend this territory, sing non-stop, no I won’t shut up…” . And no, it really doesn’t stop singing at that time of the year.

This funky immature Clay-colored Thrush just cannot wait to fill its surroundings with song.

Clay-colored Thrush and such other birds as Tropical Screech Owl and Blue-crowned Motmot in this dawn chorus along with the requisite barking dog.

You will also hear the nagging sounds of the Boat-billed Flycatcher, “Naaaaag! Naaaag! What the hell are you looking at!”

Boat-billed Flycatcher That chip in the background is a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.

Another interpretation of a Boat-billed Flycatcher's "song": "Great Kiskadee, shmreite kiskadee. Who's got the bigger bill in the house? Yeah, thought so"!

Yes, that big-billed kiskadee creature does have issues but let’s not forget that we are mere observers. Let them chase each other around and vent their mysterious anger.

Saving the best for last, we come back to the weird and wonderful with the Three-wattled Bellbird. Yes, non-birders, snicker if you like but dammit, it describes both the bird’s appearance and its song so the joke’s on you NOB!

A male Three-wattled Bellbird.

It just says, “Creak, creak…BONK!”

Three-wattled Bellbird This is the much louder noise than the Long-tailed Manakin and cow that just had to compete for attention with a “moo”.

I have no idea what the bellbird is really saying there because I have yet to untangle the mysterious language of the cotingas.

There’s like nearly 900 other species to talk about too but in the absence of timewarp technology, I only have space to write about a handful of these Costa Rican birds. The best way to experience them is of course to come on down to Tiquicia (that’s the local vernacular for Costa Rica) and take a listen for yourself. You could also get ready for your trip by listening to my recordings of more than 350 species out of 560 plus species on the Costa Rica Birds Field Guide app, or if you don’t want to make a holiday gift of that digital field guide for yourself, you can still check out some sweet sights, sounds, and info of Costa Rican birds by downloading the free lite version.