Category Archives: Birds
Cloudbridge reserve and Talamanca reserves are nestled right below Costa Rica’s highest peak; Chirripo mountain
with 3821 meters of elevation (Both reserves elevation is about 1500+ at the entrance area).
I visited this site with my wife and our baby on
Jan 10th 2018 as I needed to scout both places for upcoming birding and photography trips I will be leading here soon. Although I had birded the area in the past and I’m aware of the great birding here I needed to see the potential for photography.
Main parking site and entrance to the reserve. Cloudbridge reserve has a nice trail system which allows for some productive birding, from the entrance we got red-headed barbets, white tailed emerald, red faced spinetail, speckled tanager and so much more.
There is no “official entrance fee” to the reserve and all they ask is a voluntary donation, they suggest us$6 per person, this is used to help maintain the reserve and reforest, so feel free to be generous.
There is no official schedule, so according to volunteers at the entrance you can get in at dawn but you must leave before dusk.
As is typical of this habitat birds come and go in mixed flocks where one can encounter tanagers, furnarids, some wrens, warblers, common chlorospingus, vireos, and more.
The birding here is very good and we got birds such as (Northern) emerald toucanet, black-faced solitaire, gray-breasted woodwren, slaty antwren, spotted barbtailed, chestnut-capped brushfinch, orange billed nightingale-thrush, scaly-breasted wren and many more.
The trails here are wide enough for birding, although, it is too narrow to shoot with a camera mounted on a tripod, the trails was a bit steep at parts to be looking around for birds with a tripod on the shoulder, too dark and the forest a bit too thick so I did not feel that this would be a good place to photograph. Still, a nice hike and impressive views of the cloud forest with almost zero crowds.
We left the place to see Talamanca reserve, although on our way we were lucky to find a small bakery, a small touristic project called Garden house bird observatory. +506 71630339 contact is Christopher Instagram https://www.instagram.com/gardenhouseobservatory/?hl=es This little place is a small family business that believes in conservation and environmental education through the birds. They are getting started with some reforestation, also they have WELL maintained feeders that are extremely productive, I got here golden-olive and red-crowned woodpeckers, red-headed barbet, white naped and chestnut capped brush-finches, tanagers, thrushes, snowy bellied hummingbird, white-tailed emerald crested coquette (nailed some SE-CR and W-PA endemics from the chair) and more!
I am really fond of small family business like this as people had learned that birds can provide an income and hence a better interest to protect them and their forest.
After a nice chat with Christopher and 1000 clicks on my camera it was time to leave to Talamanca reserve. Once there we were received by Kenneth who is the manager of the place, I intermediately saw the potential for birding and bird-photography; their feeders are full of gree, red leggued, shinning honeycreepers, speckled, silver-throated, cherrie’s tanagers, thrushes, lesson’s motmot, fiery billed aracary, gosh was it busy!
The grounds of Talamanca are beautiful for photography or simple to bird watch, the trails of the reserve, although as steep as Cloudbridge’s are somewhat wider, thus allowing good views. Apparently the chance to see Quetzals at both places are good during the right time of the year.
The surfbird Calidris (Aphriza) virgata is a long distant migrant, breeding in Alaska – Yukon and can winter as far south as Chile. It is considered to be an uncommon passage migrant for Costa Rica, although it is perhaps more common that it is thought, as eBird shows a good amount of reports, this might be due to Costa Rican birders showing more interest on Scolopacids in the last decade or so?
Rarely seen inland, this species prefers coastal rocky shores bathed by splashing waves where it feeds on mollusks and barnacles as well as insects.
– 48 km South of Quepos is Dominicalito (south of Dominical, a small surfing town) the coast there is quite rocky and it serves as the perfect habitat to species like this as well as other good birds such as wandering tattler.
On September 19th, while leading a bird trip to Esquinas rainforest lodge Tom Dulski and I stopped here to look for it as he needed it for his list, sure enough we got about 5 individuals and I got some poor pictures through the binoculars. I went back with my wife on the 28th, hoping to get better pictures and fortunately we did. Surprisingly this species allows one to get relatively close (compared to other Calidris species).
The habitat is excellent, and quite large as you get the rocky line starting south of Dominical all the way to about Hermosa beach. If you are birdwatching Manuel Antonio I highly recommend that you go there and explore the place between Late Aug to Oct, also if you are birding Baru which is nearer or simply driving from the south Pacific to the mountains or north to Carara do a stop here, you might get lucky!
Here is an eBird link to the hotspot, there you can get driving directions: http://ebird.org/ebird/hotspot/L3859157
Paint-billed crake is, like most crakes, a secretive bird that dwells on thick grass rarely leaving concealment.
This particular crake has several reports on the Caribbean lowlands, including Sarapiquí area, Medio queso (Los Chiles) Turrialba near Rancho Naturalista, and Coto 47 near Villa Neily on the Pacific side.
Throughout the month of August, a birder friend Daniel Hernandez has reported repetitive sightings near Villa Neily, this located in the south Pacific of Costa Rica, at a site known as La Papayera road (the road that heads south of the hospital).
Thanks to his offers and helpful directions I finally decided to give it a try, this time accompanied by my wife Karina and our son Edrian.
We got to the spot little before 5:00am, what a wonderful moment did we enjoy with the different bird songs triggered by the sunrise! black-striped sparrow, streaked saltator, cherrie’s tanager and pale-breasted spinetail were among the first birds to sing.
After little less two hours finally the first crake responded to play back, this is the first part, the harder part was coming which is to actually get to see it! at about 7:20 I got the first glimpse of its back, although we needed better looks, something hard to achieve when you are holding a baby and trying to see a crake! Fortunately after 15 minutes we both finally got to see the bird much better, including one individual quickly crossing the road.
What a treat to see this beautiful crake!
During our time there we got several birds including streaked saltator, pale-breasted spinetail, several migrating barn, and cliff swallows (accompanied by southern rough-winged swallows and gray-breasted martins) tricolored munias, large flocks of dickcissels, blue-headed parrots, brown-throated parakeets, a Savannah hawk and ruddy-breasted seedeater were among the favorites.
This road is quite birdy, and it should be visited if birding near sites such as Esquinas rainforest lodge, the road is known to produce other southern specialties such as sapphire-throated hummingbird, brown-throated parakeet, savannah and gray-lined hawks, ruddy breasted and yellow bellied seedeaters, and more.
Later we went to quickly explore the rest of the marshes at Coto 47, the place is huge and we were fortunate to finds a wattled Jacana not too far off the road near Colorado River, I had seen this specie in Panama on my 2 trips there, but only seen it in CR once only almost a year ago here at Coto 47.
Our quick morning visit produced an excellent lifer and some species for the annual list, I wonder now what would take us back to Coto 47, special thanks to Daniel Hernandez who not only knows where the good birds are at but is so kind to share his finds!
Rancho Naturalista is unquestionably one of the best (if not the best) birding lodges in Costa Rica, not only loaded with a large variety of species, many of them specific targets when visiting CR, but also offers the visitors great lodging and top notch service.
After birding Tapanti we went to Rancho and spent the morning there, the gardens here are known to produce snowcap and black-crested coquettes with relative ease, sure enough after we parked our car we got our first 2 targets! While having our improvised breakfast we enjoyed the birds around the gardens such as black-headed saltator, various tanagers, green thorntail, keel-billed toucan, long-billed gnatwren and many more.
Time to enter the forest, one of the things you must do here at Rancho is visit the moth light, which above the many birds that attend to feed here the highlight is Tawny-chested Flycatcher, until recently considered endemic to CR and Eastern Nicaragua, now apparently rare in eastern Honduras.
After enjoying some minutes here we started to walk the trails, soon after we entered we were fortunate to find a mixed flock, golden-crowned warblers, tawny-chested flycatcher, slaty antwrens, red-throated antwren, woodcreepers, slaty-capped flycatchers, common Chlorospingus various Tanagers and honeycreepers, but perhaps the best bird was a female Cerulian Warbler which allowed good views for some seconds (it’s been 2 years since my last cerulian!).
Then at the forest hummingbird feeder we got green-crowned brilliant, crowned woodnymph, green, and stripe-throated hermits, along with collared aracary, striped breasted wren and olive-backed euphonia.
Andres and I covered some of the trails here hoping to get some audio and were able to get clear (more and less) audio recording of the scaly-breasted wren (AKA southern nightingale-wren) a specie you hear quite often but to see is a whole different story!
After some hours the activity slowed down, it was our time to leave and check other sites before returning back home, a stop at Hotel Casa Turire is a must as it allows access to La Angostura water reservoir, here we got at least 4 snail kites (juveniles and adults) a limpkin, along with the typical birds of this habitat.
At the end of the trip my favorite bird was rufous-rumped antwren, and my favorite phrase from Andres was “How fortunate we are to catch the sunrise birding with friends instead of catching the sunrise drinking at a bar, with no money, and issues”.
Aplomado Falcon (falco femoralis) is a casual to rare raptor that has been reported several times on the last few decades, with most sightings between 2010 to 2017.
An individual has been reported lately in Coris, Cartago and it had been the best report of the month so far with many birders coming to see and many obtaining great shots of this beautiful falcon.
On September I had the chance to join some birding friends Karen Castillo, Andres Chaves (and son Eidel Chaves) and Oscar Herrera to search this species. We left Manuel Antonio at 1:45am and did some stops on the Talamanca/cerro de La Muerte mountain range to search for the rare Unspotted saw-whet owl which we did NOT see unfortunately but got at least one individual respond to our play back.
Once in Cartago we looked for the Falcon, which after 30 minutes or so Andres spotted hunting pigeons on a field right across Kimberly-Clark (see this ebird list for map details). The bird perches on the trees about 100 meters away from the fence, we failed obtaining permission to enter the field so we had to settle with distant (good though) views.
Other birds we did enjoy were some killdeers and mourning doves, which to North Americans might not be that special they sure are to Costa Rican birders!
After the joy of getting a new bird added to the life list we then went to look for sedge wren, a specie with an extremely reduced range, and unfortunately it’s habitat is disappearing rapidly, some say this is perhaps one of the species that might soon disappear if serious conservation efforts are not taken.
Once on site (a place I had seen it before thanks to a friend’s recommendation) we quickly got the bird, but better yet it allowed recordings, pictures etc! best view I had ever had of this wren.
After that we left for Tapantí National park where we would spend the rest of the day, activity was a very slow with some of the common birds showing up such as spotted woodcreeper, white bellied emerald, chlorospingus, bay headed tanagers and more, until we were lucky to find a mixed flock! (that is the typical way of birding here on the caribbean middle elevation, you just hope for a mixed flock) of all of the birds we saw on this flock the highlights were white-winged tanager (which I only had seen at Panama), Louisiana waterthrush, black and white warbler (good news, migration is starting!) and the best of the day to me; Rufous-rumped antwren.
Tapanti is certainly a great site, and it can sometimes produce good surprises, often is good to combine with a visit to Rancho Naturalista and explore some of the hotspots nearby….. which we did of course.
As usual, every July, the AOU publishes the AUK magazine, I am always keen to read it as the July supplement often comes loaded with interesting taxonomic changes, this year is not the exception. Below you will find a short summary on the CR species affected by this changes, this includes splits, new common/english names, new families and sub families.
Blue-winged and cinnamon teals, as well as northern Shoveler. Formerly in the genus Anas, now Spatula.
American wigeon, formerly in the Genus Anas, now Mareca.
Magnificent hummingbird (Eugenes fulgens) splits in 2, Rivoli’s hummingbird from South Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to North east Nicaragua. For Costa Rica: Talamanca hummingbird (E. spectabilis) which is endemic to CR and Pa.
Emerald toucanet Aulacorhynchus prasinus: Split in 2, for CR Aulacorhynchus prasinus obtains a new common english name; Northern Emerald-Toucanet.
Prevost’s ground-sparrow splits in 2; White faced ground-sparrow M.biarcuata from MX, Guatemala, Salvador and Honduras. Costa Rica gets a new endemic Melozone cabanisi; Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow.
Red breasted blackbird AKA red-breasted meadowlark (Sturnella militaris) Changes to genus Leistes. English name is Red-breasted Blackbird. L. militaris
Rhodinocinclidae; Rosy thrush-tanager
Passerellidae: members of the family Emberizidae (which disappears from CR) are now placed here, e.g finches, brush-finches, sparrows etc. Best known as New world sparrows.
Zeledoniidae: Includes one specie, wrenthrush (zeledonia) which was placed in Parulidae)
Icteriidae: this new family includes Yellow breasted chat, which was formerly placed on Parulidae.
Mitrospingidae: This new family includes Dusky-faced tanager which was placed in Thraupidae.
Subfamilies: see page 18 of the AUK supplement.
April 9th, 5:45am up and ready!
Since breakfast was served at 7:30am I decided to bird the loop that goes around the gardens again and checked the lagoons, this time I got lucky with a sungreebe sitting on a log for a few seconds. I basically did the loop around the main pond and got essentially the same birds as yesterday, red-winged blackbird, canebrake wren, tanagers, white riged fc, green ibises, collared aracary, keel billed toucan, nothing I had not seen yesterday except for cinnamon becard and the sungreebe. After breakfast our plan was to bird the forest trail, although our plan was messed by the rain (remember it is quite rainy here) after some minutes the rain stopped and I managed to walk into the forest, it was very slow and all the activity was basically outside in the gardens, I felt there was no point to continue and instead went out to Laguna Lagarto lodge, another site I needed to visit.
An important note is that the google marker for laguna is incorrect, there are 3 markers indeed, Laguna is about 4km past Maquenque here is the real marker.
Once we got to Laguna for my surprise I found a friend there leading a trip, Herman Venegas, who after a quick hello pointed a central American pigmy-owl! And bam! Another bird added to the life list!
I was fortunate to see mr Alex Vargas (whom I met the night before at Maquenque) a renowned Costa Rican photographer/photography instructor residing in Indonesia. A special thanks to both Herman and Alex who shared their knowledge and time with me.
Once here basically I checked the feeders, and I now see how the Costa Rican photographer community get those incredible shots of keel billed toucans and brown hooded parrots!
There are boats on site so one can paddle along the lagoons in search for agami heron which is seen here often, as well as for those common species associated to this habitat.
The lodging here is more basic than that of Maquenque lodge, it is also much more affordable than Maquenque, nonetheless the rooms are nice and clean, food is good and reasonably priced, the food at Maquenque is really good but be ready to pay little more too. In terms of birding and photography opportunities Laguna Lagarto is unquestionable the best! birds, feeders, trails, guides, hides etc.
Back in Maquenque, the night was quite active, heard and saw lots of common (super common) pauraques, a distant common potoo and a nearby great potoo about 30-40 yards from our cabin.
The next morning (April 10th) I did manage to bird the trails at Maquenque for an hour before leaving and had fun seeing great tinamous, olive-backed euphonia, crowned woodnymph, a surprise gray catbird which I had not seen in a while and olive crowned yellowthroat (recording below). The trails are nice and clean, and the forest is a bit mature so expect slow birding as it is typical of forest interior, good chances for red-capped manakin, some antbirds, some woodcreepers and more.
Striped cuckoo, last bird of the trip.Contacts: https://maquenqueecolodge.com/es/inicio/
On out third day, we went very early into the jungle trail (5:00am), the entrance near the soccer field as we had heard mottled owl at night, this time we heard the bird very close to us but despite our efforts we could not see it, too close but too far! Also heard distant calls of collared forest falcon.
As light made it through the forest we got some of the birds we had seen, with excellent look of buff-throated foliage gleaner, Scale-crested pygmy tyrant, crowned woodnymph, striped throated hermit, and various species more.
After breakfast (served from 6:30am to 7:30am) we drove to the airport and San Joaquin March, both known as spots for bran-colored flycatcher, chiriqui yellowthroat (former masked YT) and Wattled Jacana (the last one had not been reported for quite a while) on the drive we got tropical mockingbird thanks to Malcom, a group of fiery-billed aracaries (only site we actually saw this somewhat common endemic specie), once at the lagoon across for the San Vito airport we got our first giant cowbirds (it was about time they showed up!) among the several birds seen here we got purple gallinule, common gallinule, northern jacana, gray-cowled woodrail (former gray necked w.r) and excellent views of mourning warbler, but no bran colored flycatcher nor yellowthorat. We drove to the San Joaquin Marsh, where we only got blue winged teals and black-bellied whistling duck, various herons, our first yellow-bellied seedeaters of the trip and the best looks of isthmian wren (this unpronounceable name is a split from plain wren, endemic to south CR and West Panama).
The San Joaquin Marsh is known as the spot for masked duck which is reported a few times a year here. Located east of San Vito, about 5 min/3-4km from the town, past the airport on the left hand side as you drive towards Sabalito. Look for the crested oropendola nesting colony across from the marsh, which we saw, dealing with some giant cowbirds who were trying to parasite the nests.
After lunch we left for Esquinas rainforest lodge with several stops that produced some birds we only saw once, including a least grebe (between San Vito and Ciudad Neily), and little tinamou near Rio Claro. As we arrived to Esquinas we heard a lesser elaenia which called from the forest edge near the reception area, unfortunately a heavy rain ruined our plans, but in the good side it helped with the heat for a good, fresh night!
I spent my first night at the Trompestation (tropical station) while Malcom and Eleanor stayed at Esquinas, after dinner we did some owling by car as I knew some spots for striped owl and were told of one for black and white owl by Fernando and Julia from Esquinas, however we missed those but luckily got tropical screech-owl! not to forget the super-common pauraques!
CBC (Christmas bird counts) are annual bird census practiced by volunteer birders and administrated by Audubon society. The data collected during this events is used for scientific purpose so bird population in different sites can be studied.
Another great thing of CBC is that not only you get to see excellent birds or even learn from those advanced or even beginning birders who also volunteer but you get to catch up with friends from other regions of the country or even make new friends!
This year I only had the opportunity to participate in 2 of them, although both in opposite sides of the country they have one thing in common, both offer the best lowland birding experience in the country, i.e Carara NP (Central Pacific bird count) at the Pacific side and OTS La Selva in the caribbean lowlands.
Both Bird-counts were dedicated to the memory of an excellent birder, guide, artist and my closest friend Roy Orozco (RIP).
Carara is located on the central Pacific side, with more than 400 species recorded on the historical CBC records (Ten counts celebrated). Birding Carara is always very productive as it is located on a transitional zone where the dry forest meets the tropical rain forest, therefore it is always exciting to go there no matter how many times I had guided there! For the CBC on December 15th our group was made of 5, Karen Castillo, Kassandra Villalobos, Andres Martinez, Oscar Herrera and myself and were in charge of the Lagoon trail and the Limonal road.
The lagoon trail is located is located 1.5km north of the park headquarters and offers great birds, mostly good for Furnarids, orange collared manakin (might be the best site at the park for this sp) Antbirds/Antshrikes/Antwrens, wrens, trogons, motmots, king vulture, macaws as the main must-sees of this trail.
The lagoon trail is closed from September to November as it floods, it is best birded from late December to April. Although consider that when it is semi-flooded is good for boat-billed heron. Boots are for rent with the local guides.
The limonal road, our second half of the day is little north of the Cerro lodge entrance, good for dry-forest species although birders staying at Cerro lodge might find Cerro road more productive, despite that we got about 84 species for the afternoon including some common spp such as cinnamon hummingbird, nutting’s flycatcher and white fronted parrot that one does not get commonly at the lagoon trail, King vulture was the highlight certainly.
Carara’s most emblematic bird, scarlet macaws.
La Selva Biological station, located in the Caribbean lowlands is Carara´s counterpart, birding La Selva is always impressive as must birders would agree, it is perhaps the best, accessible lowland birding in the country! The CBC here has been done since 1985, making this the oldest, and most constant birdcount in the neotropics with more than 5000 species in the records.
Our team lead by Jimmy Trejos, was sent to the Sendero Tres Rios 2750 STR and Sendero rivereño SR, the STR is a well done cement trail which allows to walk silently (so are most trails at La Selva), the habitat we were on ranged from advanced secondary forest, primary forest, Scrub, rivers, creeks, swamp inside the forest, it has it all!
The soonest the sun came out it was a madness! we soon got some of the common caribbean species such as red-throated ant-tanager, black-crowned antshrike, black capped pygmy-tyrant (which is fairly common here), honeycreepers, and so, so much more. The highlight of our morning was perhaps seeing 2 sunbitterns, calling quietly from the swamp, allowing good looks and even audio recordings!
Great green macaws are the rarest species of the 2 that occur in CR.
I did have a great experience comparing both sites on these events and can tell I love both sites, clearly La Selva has a much more developed trail system which gives you tons of access to so many trails it is very hard to actually get to bird them all! I must thank the organizers for allowing me to participate and hope it is not the last time I get to volunteer on these bird-counts.
Rancho Naturalista as is known is one of Costa Rica’s best birding lodges, not only the infrastructure itself is nicely design but the birding here is superb and so are the great guides found at Rancho such as Harry Barnard, Herman Venegas, Luis Murillo and others.
Well, if Rancho was not great enough already, one of the 2 rarest hummingbirds in Costa Rica re-appears at Rancho, Rufous-crested coquette! According Skutch and Stiles (1989) […known from 4 captured birds in October on different years 1892-1906…]yes! little more than a century ago!
On October 30th one bird was noticed by a local guide; Ludovico Vega and photographed by a birder Beltran Lara (know in Facebook by his pseudonym Astro Natura) who generated an excellent alarm in all aspects, needless to say this caused what many might consider the best twitch in MANY years!
One thing that I must detach is that the birding ethics here at Rancho are second to no one, and while the owners Miss Kathy, mr John, and Lisa Erb are extremely wonderful and welcoming they make sure the birds are not stressed.
After some attempts I finally made it to Rancho on Nov 2nd to see this fantastic bird, we literally got out of the car at 2:35pm and Harry pointed the bird immediately! how pleasurable after a 5.5hr drive! I must thank Miss Kathy and mr John, Lisa Erb for being so generous and welcoming, to Harry Barnard for taking the time to bird with me on the trails!
I am not a photographer myself, but sure one enjoys taking photos of the hummers here at Rancho, the site is known as one of the best places in the entire country for Snowcap, and well, as of today the only site you could see all 3 CR coquettes i.e. white-crested, black-crested and rufous-crested coquettes! I truly enjoyed birding Rancho Naturalista once again, the trails are good and very productive.