My Costa Rican Birding Adventure

12:51 PM

On January 3rd I left Toronto for my first ever trip to Costa Rica to do some birding with my brother Matt who had just wrapped up some volunteer bird work down there. We spent 8 days birding some of the best places Costa Rica has to offer and were not disappointed.

Starting off at a rather relaxed pace, my brother had arranged a “touristy” day trip from San Jose to a coffee plantation, Poás Volcano and another local attraction with a hummingbird garden. Despite the rainy and windy weather we picked up interesting birds at each location, but the hummers stole the show. The hummingbird feeders were buzzing with 7 species of hummingbird, and the fruit feeder attracted 5 species of tanager including Crimson-collared, Spangle-cheeked, and Silver-throated. 

Boat-billed Heron

Next stop was the fabled cloud forests of Monte Verde where the prehistoric looking forests yielded amazing views of Black Guan, Azure-hooded Jay, Orange-bellied Trogon, and both Slate-throated and Collared Redstart. The hummingbird feeders located just outside the park are a great place to have a coffee and add a few more species of hummingbird to your list. Birding along roadways outside the park proved to be equally productive. That`s where we found Emerald Toucanet, Blue-crowned Motmot, White-eared Ground Sparrow, and White-naped Brush-Finch to name a few. 

Scarlet Macaws

Having spent the past 3 days birding under wet and windy conditions, the sun finally came out for a few days of birding at La Selva Biological Station. Exploring only a small portion of the myriad of trails (some paved no less!), we easily saw over 120 species. Seeing Great Green Macaws fly over was a treat but we were really spoiled when we came across one resting in a tree! Other highlights included King Vulture, Sunbittern, Green Ibis, Great Curassow, Snowy Cotinga, Parrots, Trogons, Toucans, Manakins, Tanagers, Honeycreepers, Euphonias, and Dacnis`s to name just the most dazzling!  

Great Curassow, Male

Our final destination was the Tarcoles area and Carara National Park. Highlights from the park proper include: Royal Flycatcher, Turquoise-browed Motmot, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Green-shrike Vireo, Bay-headed Tanager, Streak-chested Antpita, and Black-faced Antthrush. Walking back to our Lodge down back country roads gave us the opportunity to find Pearl Kite, Orange-fronted Parakeet, White-throated Magpie Jay, and Blue Ground-Dove. 

While in the Tarcoles area, taking a boat tour of the river and mangroves is an absolute must for any birder. Highlights were Crane Hawk, Roseate Spoonbill, Boat-billed Heron, Double-striped Thick-Knee, Southern Lapwing, and the `Mangrove Warbler`, a distinct subspecies of the familiar Yellow Warbler. After the tour we headed to the beach to pad the list with a few seabirds and were pleasantly surprised to find several Scarlet Macaws feeding in almond trees! These gorgeous birds seemed carefree as they skilfully picked apart the almonds with their impressive beaks. 

Double-striped Thick-Knee

We ended the trip with 308 species between the two of us, with countless birds that escaped identification. My only regret was not coming to Costa Rica sooner, and for staying such a short time! 

Here are some tips I learned on this trip:
  • Go with an experienced birder that knows the birds. Had I been doing this trip by myself I would have had my nose stuck in a bird book the whole time!
  • Don`t let bad weather get you down. You can`t expect every day to be sunny so suck it up buttercup! There`s still lots to be found in rainy and windy weather.
  • You make your own luck. You won`t see any birds from your hotel room so get outside! From dawn until dusk you can find new birds if you put in the time and effort. Just make sure you do get rest and drink plenty of water if you are out in the mid-day sun.
  • Choose some target birds.  You can ask guides and other birders about where you might look for a choice few birds. This allows you to better manage your time and energy and give yourself the best chance of seeing them.
  • Don`t choose target birds! I went to Costa Rica with 0 target birds on my `must-see` list. This allowed me to enjoy every new bird we found, from the drab flycatchers to the showy euphonias. It also meant I didn`t get down when we missed a particular species! (O.k. I`m fibbing a bit. I was a little disappointed to not find a Quetzal J ) Oh well; now I have an excuse to go back!

~ Adam Timpf

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