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Birding Manuel Antonio; Esquipulas.

Several times before I had stated that Esquipulas is the best spot for bird-watching in Manuel Antonio. Although the park itself has however some good birds if birded early in the morning, taking the right trails can yield some quality birds. Currently a perch of black and white owls on the waterfall trail, some perches for lesser nighthawks and the current best; common potoo! nesting on the sloth trail! may make your visit to this park enjoyable!

Common potoo, courtesy of Manuel Cabalceta. Manuel Antonio birds

Common potoo, courtesy of Manuel Cabalceta.

Black and white owl, by Michael Araya

On the other hand other good birds easily seen here at MA NP are black bellied wren, riverside wren, long billed gnatwren, fiery billed aracary. Currently slaty-tailed trogon and black-throated trogon had been actively calling from the waterfall trail  and many others.

Long billed gnatwren. Foto taken in Puriscal, for illustration purposes.

   The elevated boardwalk on the sloth trail is quite good for black bellied wren, also for long billed gnatwren and blue crowned manakin.

 

But, I am not going to lie at you! the park itself is busy and could produce a small list if compared with other great parks such as Carara, great for general wildlife though, such as sloths, monkeys, frogs, snakes etc, a great option for the birder visiting this area with family or non-birding friends, if that is your case then Esquipulas is the place to go for birds, away from the crowds!

Thanks to it’s location on the foothills of the mountains near Manuel Antonio/Quepos region, this is the best site for birding, often including species not expected for the locality such as rufous-breasted wren, montezuma and chestnut headed oropendolas. A good morning here should produce any where between 60 species to 100 species, depending on the weather conditions as well as fruiting/flowering trees and of course! how good your eyes are to spot and ID those tropical beauties!

The road at Esquipulas

Chestnut headed oropendola

 

 

the very common roadside hawk.

Esquipulas is home to common species and various endemics but also to some highlights for many visiting Costa Rica such as white crested-coquette, turquoise cotinga, and great for raptors such as king vulture, white hawks, barred hawk and others.

This beautiful male turquoise cotinga was seen on my last birding tour to Esquipulas with Jennifer Timmer, not 1 but a pair!

This beautiful male turquoise cotinga was seen on my last birding tour to Esquipulas with Jennifer Timmer, not 1 but a pair!

 

Follow this link to eBird for the list of the birds reported for Esquipulas  http://ebird.org/ebird/hotspot/L1855002 or contact me for a checklist I have made which contains all the sightings reported here since the last 9 years

I hope to post about other small spots where you can get some good birds if you are bird-watching in Quepos, stay tuned!

 

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Yellow backed oriole near Manuel Antonio.

The yellow backed oriole is a bird distributed from Mexico, south to Ecuador, Venezuela and colombia, interestengly this bird skipped Costa Rica until it was first reported on October 13th, see my post here.

Well, the bird returned to the same spot it was first sighted last October.
It is believed that it had visited the same site since 2013 according to locals who had noticed a different bird than the usual one in their gardens, with a very different song to what is usually heard. This was 2013 at the beginning of the rainy season (June-August if I remember correctly).  At the time I failed finding this “unusual bird”. It was not until 2014, when my wife and I had the luck to be in the right place and time, with photo proofs of what was then its first time to be confirmed for CR.
Yesterday, walking in the same place where it was sighted for the first time we were lucky to see it again.

As interesting facts and stating first that I am not a biologist nor an ornithologist, nor that I pretend to be one I’d like to comment the following curious notes as I know many would be interested to hear this:

When it was first recorded on Oct 13th 2014 it was practically sighted every day until mid / late December. At that time it hanged with one black cowled oriole and what seemed to be two hybrids of these two, since they had features of both and vocalization of yellow backed.
During the summer the yellow backed was absent and never seen again despite the fact I kept going to the site once a week, however prospective hybrids were still be seen on the site and seen almost every time I came (once a week).

If you are bird watching Manuel Antonio or a nearby site and are into searching for rarities this could be a good chance, Portalon is located 24 KM south of Quepos, using the 34. Once you leave the 34 to the small village, cross the first and only bridge, you will be able to see a small school, then the bridge and immediatly a small grocery store on the left painted light blue and some white. The bird is some times seen on the palm trees in front of this grocery store, its produces a very loud and conspicous song, thus making it easy to locate it. See my xeno-canto recording so you can familiarized with it, notice that the presume hybrids vocalize just like adult yelow backed.

Yellow backed oriole, Icterus chrysater

Yellow backed oriole, Icterus chrysater

Red breasted blackbird near Quepos

The red-breasted blackbird is found in the caribbean slope and south pacific, nonetheless the specie occurs in the central Pacific for more then 6 years now. A good population is well established at La Gallega River, near Naranjito de Quepos.  If you ever find your self birdwatching Manuel Antonio national park and are missing this species in your life list this is your place. Look for it on tall grass on the eastern side of the river, be in the lookout for tropical mockingbirds as well!

March 26th, 2015.

Male

Male

Birding Carara national park and Manuel Antonio area.

Birding Carara national park is ALWAYS productive, its geographic position and combination of habitats and its surrounding areas makes this place a must see to any birder visiting Costa Rica. Target species/specialties here range from antbirds-ant thrushes, wrens, ant pittas, many ground dwellers etc but as well as king vulture, macaws, trogons an more. In the Other hand, bird-watching Manuel Antonio national park is less productive and can yield very little birds, nonetheless there are GREAT birding hot spots near this famous park that are only frequented by 2 guides and are kept hidden from the average nature lover. This sites are Esquipulas and El rey marshes, as well as La Gallega river. All with very easy access and located within 30-40 minutes drive from Manuel Antonio.

Carara: as known by many, the most see of the central pacific. One of the best experience while birding Carara is indeed to encounter the army ants, this fierce ants will clean a spot out of insects, therefore all those known as “antbirds” will join the chaos of caused by the ants so they can catch what tries to escape from the ants.

Black faced antthrush

Black faced antthrush

Above is a black faced ant-thrush, a ground dweller and very-hard to find bird specie due to its camouflage. I photographed this individual while leading a tour to Carara on the lagoon trail (AKA river trail) on February 2nd with Douglas Boyd; a client I had the pleasure to bird with on February 9th 2014.  it is seen relatively often if known where to look for him.

Streak chested antpitta

This antpitta is the oh! ah! of many birders coming here, yes very hard to find as is normal of antpittas due to small size and often shy behavior. This bird was photographed on Feb 2nd while birding with MR and Ms Winter on the lagoon trail, but it is best looked for at the araceas trail or Quebrada bonita trail near main ranger station, as seen with Aaron Kortenhoven last Feb 10th. an antpitta covered by leafs!

rufous tailed jacamar, a common bird, seen at any trail, but more often at the lagoon trail.

 

Black hooded antshrike

Other birds commonly seen at Carara include trogons, toucans, few hummingbirds, wrens manakins and much more. One of the nice features of Carara is the fact that very few people visit this park, so it is never crowded (except for the main headquarters trails during the morning hours) and the few people who visit Carara are for the most part birders so it is very quiet here.

Other birding sites near Carara that should be birded by any vising Carara are the Bijagual road, the tarcoles river, Cerro lodge road and tarcoles River mouth mangroves. For this I plan to post separately later.

Red capped manakin, best seen at the baths at the araceas trail

A hard find! Marbled wood-quail.

Great tinamou, a common yet hard-to find bird, luckily this bird was taking a bath at Carara last Feb 18th while birding with David and Christine Northrup, a couple of birders who I had the pleasure to bird with on January 2013. Amazing birds we had!

Esquipulas: This mountains are only about 45 minutes to the east of Manuel Antonio national park, a great option with a good level of endemism such as fiery billed aracary, river side wren, black hooded antshrike, white crested coquette and more. Other specialties here are king vulture, barred hawk, black mandibled toucan, baird’s trogon, and the various species of honeycreepers. Esquipulas has a good location at the foothills of the central pacific, where some species of middle-higher elevation descend to during the early dry season, e.g elegant euphonia, three wattled bellbird and others.

Chestnut-mandibled toucan, formerly known as black mandibled T. Common at Esquipulas, however best chances for this specie is the afternoon.

Bird-watching Manuel Antonio national park could be disappointing to many serious birders due to the crowd that comes to this park, how ever, Esquipulas is indeed the best option for the birder visiting Manuel Antonio with family as the park is one of the best destinations for the family and nature lovers. Also, those birders seeking for an off the beaten path location can find Esquipulas very convenient, easy to feet on a schedule when birding locations such as Carara national park and Dota/Savegre region and do not want to do the long drive and would prefer to spend a night at Quepos/Manuel Antonio.

Barred hawk, mostly seen on flight. Among with king vulture, white hawk and black hawk are the highlights of the sky at Esquipulas.

Elegant euphonia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pelagic trip. Sept 3rd 2014

 

Magnificent frigatebird

 

Pelagic birding my not be the main interest for the birder coming to the tropics expecting to see colorful toucans, hummingbirds or macaws, but it sure is for those of us who had birded the CR forests for some years now.
Shearwaters, storm-petrels, petrels and other pelagic species are so hard to ID, besides far distance, fast motion of the birds plus the movement of the ship sure brings birding to a whole different level!

On September 3rd I joined my second pelagic trip (see post on the 1st trip) organized by my friend Johan Fernandez, who was able to gather a great team of excellent birders together, what a pleasure to join!
We got on the ship at 4:45am and soon left Quepos  for our adventure that yielded me 4 species new to my life list and 1 for my CR list:

Wed Sep 03, 2014 4:45 AM
Protocol: Traveling
Party Size: 11
Duration: 10 hour(s)
Distance: 40.0 kilometer(s)
Comments:
Pelagic trip organized by Johan Fernandez, 25+ miles off sore, between Quepos and Jaco
10 species (+1 other taxa) total
3
Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel
5
Black Storm-Petrel NEW
2
Red-billed Tropicbird New for CR list

2 individuals seen in different times and location.

1
Masked Booby NEW

nice views, beak clearly yellow, NOT orange as in Nazca B.

22
Brown Booby
15
Brown Booby (Brewster’s)
20
Brown Pelican
40
Red-necked Phalarope NEW
15
Sabine’s Gull NEW
1
Least Tern
25
Black Tern

 

Preparing the “bait”

Dolphins all over

Red necked phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) in non-breeding plumage.

 

Red necked phalarope

 

Brewster’s brown Booby, a subspecies from brown booby. Sula Leucogaster (brewsteri)

Black storm-petrel.

heaven in the sea!

Sabine’s gull and red necked phalarope, 2 lifers in one picture, does not get better right?!

 

Wedge rumped storm-petrel. Notice the extensive white rump and the dark tail “corners”

shore birds, Southern migration 2014th

While any birder from the US or Canada, as well as european birders come to Costa Rica in seek of the brilliantly colored toucans, macaws, Quetzal, trogons, the fast, hard-to identify hummingbirds or the elusive hard-finding tinamues or antpittas we local birders are in seek for those plain colored (due to winter plumage) very hard to identify shore birds, ironic isn’t it?

Roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) at least this are colorful!

 

Near Quepos (where I am from) there are some good spots for waders, most close by, these are Parrita shrimp farms, Parrita river, Paquita river, El rey, Damas and others.

 

Shorebirds are represented by the families Charadriidae, recurvirsotridae, Jacanidae, Haematopodidae, Phalaropodidae and Burhinidae (Stiles and Skutch 1989).

Many of this group members use Costa Rica as a pass to get to wintering grounds, some of them considered passage migrants and many others which might reside in CR during the northern winter e.g spotted sandpiper, willet, whimbrel and more.

The best time of the year to observe these birds is that between August to September or April to May and thanks to the amount of gulfs, rivers, and muddy habitats/mangroves and river mouths present on the pacific side makes it the best side of the country to observe them while the stop to feed and/or rest in order to continue with their journey.

Willet and whimbrel at Parrita shrimp farms AUG 30th, 2014

 

This year I am particularly interested on this group and hope to see as many as possible and perhaps to add 1 or 2 to my life list, or simply to see those I have not seen with regularity, so far I had 2 pectoral sandpipers (Calidris melanotus) and 1 stilt sandpiper (calidris himantopus) as the “less” common sightings I’ve had so far in this last week.

semipalmated plover, short billed dowitcher, and possibly least sandpiper (at the bottom right) At Parrita Shrimp farms, AUG 30th, 2014

A BAD picture taken trhough my spotting scope and my cellphone, notice the importance of the shrimp farms for this birds. At Parrita shrimp farms, Aug 30th

 

 

Royal terns, at Bandera beach, Parrita. Sept 1st

 

Collared plover (Charadrius collaris) a plover not found in north america except for NW and E Mexico. Small with abut 7″ in size.

Sanderling, palest of all CR Calidris species, typically seen foraging on the beaches, runs for short distance, then stops, looks and then pecks rapidly for various invertebrates.

 

Sanderling

Not exactly what I was looking for!

I bet you imagine where the kick ended!

 

So, what I am really hoping to see this year are wondering tattler, which in not that rare, I just had not been lucky, surfbird and upland sandpiper. Lets see what this migration has for me this time!

 

 

 

Birding Manuel Antonio Area.

In this post I’d like to share some photos and info about the birding potential that this area has. Manuel Antonio is an excellent national park for the  traveler seeking for a general nature experience, monkeys are fairly common, sloths, deers, frogs and many others that despite the crowd that shows up they are not afraid and rather can offer nice sightings. Naturally its crowded during the busy seasons (Christmas, new years, spring break etc) but visit this park in the morning (7:00am) should be enough to avoid most of the crowd).

In the other hand it is not a good birding spot and only a few-yet interesting species can be expecting such as brown boobies, black bellied and river side wrens, black hooded antshrikes, frigatebirds, some herons, gray necked woodrail as well as the long billed gnatwren and few others, but still, you wont get that much and the morning could end with about 20ish or so species.

One of the beaches during the low season, just beautiful!

A close encounter with a young white faced-capuchin monkey

Squirrel monkeys are very uncommon but often times the afternoon is when you have better chances at the park, bee on the look out since gray headed tanager, double tooth kite, slaty tailed trogon and a few woodcreepers follow this type monkey so they can eat the bugs that are flushed away by the monkeys.

But this is what happens if you try to enter this park at 11:00 on December the 25th!

But this is what the park looks like early in the am and during the “wet” season.

 

Depending on the season chances of seeing a common potoo are good, ask local guides for it during early rainy season

Orage billed sparrow in one colorful bird in the Arremon group, commonly seen at the sloth trail.

If you still want to come to MA and bird the park I suggest you to take the look out point trail (sendero Mirador), right at the bifurcation  of the Mirador and Gemelas beach trails is a good spot for great tinamou, as you walk towards the look out look for striped-throated hermit, red capped manakin and ochre bellied flycatcher. The punta catedral trail is the one that takes you to the end of the small peninsula (cathedral), it takes you “closest” to the islands so chances of seeing brown bobbies are good, notheless if you do not have a spotting scope views can be limited, as going up look for blue throated goldentail, little and great tinamoues.

Male blue-thorated goldentail

The area around Manuel Antonio offers a much better birding opportunity, these are Esquipulas, La gallega river and El rey.  And of course! your hotel garden!

Esquipulas:

Esquipulas is basically a small country town 45 minutes to the east of Quepos, located just at the foothills of the mountains of Nara mountains, the public road that leads to the Town is the birding spot, the varied landscape includes cattle fields, home gardens, secondary rain forest, orchards, creeks and the primary rain forest in the back! So it offers sightings variating from house wrens to Baird’s trogons, from rufous tailed hummingbirds to King vultures, simply a great spot.

Esquipulas Location, right at the foothills of the central pacific mountains, the Naranjo and La gallega rivers run down this mountains creating a small low pass which presumably helps middle elevation species to migrate to the lowlands during the attitudinal migration.

 

The access to Esquipulas requires a 4WD car or at least a car with good ground clearance and sometimes during the summer it can be done in a 2WD sedan.

White hawk

 

Laughing falcon

Baird’s trogon is seen often here at Esquipulas.

Bay headed Tanager

 

 

Close to Esquipulas is La Gallega river, this is located near the town of Naranjito, 8 km north east of Quepos, within 30 minutes  drive.

This river is home to some particular species of interest, such as red breasted blackbird, Southern lapwing, tropical mockingbird, collared plover and ferruginous pygmy-owl.

Southern Lapwing

Tropical mockingbird

Naturally other species such as mangrove swallow, southern and northern rough winged swallows, king fishers and others call this place home. If you do come to this river in search for this species make sure to wear long sleeves and hat, you will be in the open, if you have enough time then explore the grass in the other side of the river in search for pale breasted spinetail.

Collared plover isn’t easy finding, try!

 

 

EL REY marshes/rice fields.

El rey is located 16km south of Quepos, near the “Finca” Maritima, in the western side of the palm oil plantation.
This place consists of temporary rice fields with some canals that feed the rice paddies, these canals flood the area and during the rainy season, water remains between June to Mid February, it makes it an strategical stop for NA migrants such as mangrove Cuckoo, various warblers, swallows, scissor tailed Flycatcher and various FC spp. American pygmy kingfisher, gray necked wood rail, purple gallinules, green brested mango and other interesting species are common targets here.

One of the top wanted at el rey; American pygmy kingfisher

Purple gallinule

Bare throated tiger-heron

This little evil-eyed bronzed cowbird is abundant at El rey

Seeing mangrove cuckoo is not an every day opportunity but chances are good during migration.

Interestingly El rey is surrounded by a massive palm oil plantations, which is one of the main products of the area, the marshes, grasslands, mangroves close by and canals that feeds the area are important factors that make El rey a true oasis for many migrant species to stop and feed in order to continue their journey home. During 2013 2 bird species were added to CR list and were spotted here; Clay colored sparrow and lined seedeater.

Lined seedeater, a south american vagrant was seen at El Rey for 5 days in a row.

 

Manuel Antonio near by birding spots.
If you do not have a car or do not have the time to take one day to explore/tour the mentioned sites before there are some spots that are worth to try:

The road down to La mansion and Parador hotel.
If you find your self in this area take time to walk a long this road, species to expect are cocoa and streak headed Woodcreepers, palm, cherri’s, blue gray and golden hooded tanagers, red legged honeycreeper and green Honeycreeper are often seen right by the entrance of Arenas del Mar. Also black mandibled Toucan had been reported nesting here in 2 years in a row now. In the afternoon (3:00-5:00pm) chances to spot the squirrel monkeys are high, be in the look out for double tooth kite, gray headed tanager, northern barred woodcreeper and slaty tailed trogon who are known to accompany these monkeys in search for food.

The road down to playitas:

Once you reach the entrance to Arenas del mar, 30 meters before on the left hand side there is a gravel road, it leads to the playitas beach. Birding here can be basic but can offer possibilities to spot chestnut backed antbird, black hooded antshrike, yellow headed caracara as well as fiery billed aracaries in the morning. Try luck on king vulture and laughing falcon here.

The public beach area.

The southern end of the public beach leads to the exit of MA park. There is a small mangrove estuary, look for gray necked wood-rail near the roots of red mangrove trees, some times yellow crowned night heron roost by the end of the beach.

Green heron, little blue heron and white ibis are common.
Protonothary warbler, northern Waterthrush are possible during CR summer, and try luck on the endemic mangrove hummingbird which feeds on the flowers of pineapple mangrove trees.

Of course if you have a spotting scope available make sure to look on the near by islands, brown boobies and magnificent frigatebirds are abundant, but occasionally elegant tern can be spotted. Not much in the islands besides that.

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