Text Box: Costa Rica Rare Bird Reports



New Costa Rican Birding Blog Now Online


Lance Barnett recently initiated a new web service for noteworthy Costa Rica bird sightings. All birders, whether living in CR, or just visiting, are encouraged to post sightings. However, although anyone can view the site, in order to post, you will have to email Lance lbarnett@earthlink.net for an invitation to become a blog member. You will also have to have a Google account. Both requirements are rather straightforward matters, and I heartily encourage all readers to utilize this new resource, as it promises to be an even better way of getting the word out quickly than this venue, which I do not always get around to updating as often as I should.



First Costa Rican Record of Savanna Hawk


15 Apr: I received a wonderfully understated message from Jerry O'Donahoe asking, “Is a sighting of a Savanna Hawk Buteogallus meridionalis in the Golfo Dulce lowlands this AM anything to get excited about?”


As it turns out, “the sighting was at some rice fields 2.5 miles south of Zancudo, which is south of Golfito. Observers were myself and my wife Sharleen Squier, and two non-birders, Pat Gleason and Jeannie Berger (who took the photo). The rice fields were being readied for seeding with disc harrows and many egrets (cattle and great), vultures and caracaras were present, but not many other raptors. The bird was quite un-fussed at our approach (by car). It stood stock-still for a long time. I finally shouted to encourage it to fly, which it did, to a nearby fence post. It subsequently flew to the ground, giving us an excellent view of the upperparts and the black wingtips. It's a lovely bird.”

Twenty years since the publication of A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, Stiles and Skutch have finally been vindicated after writing: “Savanna Hawk, found from W Panama to C Argentina, will probably soon invade the Golfo Dulce lowlands, as have other open-country species following deforestation in recent years.”


Some Unexpected Species at Carara


09 Apr: Carara NP is one of the places that I most frequently bird. In fact, while visiting with Shane and Katy Patterson, I logged my 101st and 102nd field days there in just the last ten years, for a total of 494 hours of observation. Given that amount of effort, it’s a very uncommon experience for me to see something totally new in the park. So, imagine my amazement upon looking up and seeing an adult Mangrove Black-Hawk Buteogallus subtilis when Katy announced that a raptor had just landed above us, as we stood on the metal bridge over the Quebrada Bonita. A very common species just a few kilometers to the west, I don’t remember ever having seen a black-hawk in the forest at Carara. After a short perch, the bird flew away downstream (to the west).


Stranger still, was looking overhead a minute or two later and noticing a Tropical Parula Parula pitiayumi foraging in the crown of a large wild cashew tree Anacardium excelsum, along with a pair of Tropical Gnatcatchers Polioptila plumbea. I recalled Paco Madrigal’s sighting of a pair of parulas in July 2007 somewhere along the same trail and my amazement at the report, but here was another one!


10 Apr: The next day, while birding the Oxbow Lake Trail, I spotted a dove just inside the forest that I thought might have been a Gray-headed Dove Leptotila plumbeiceps. Unfortunately, the bird flew off before we could get a sufficiently good look at it. Resigned to that feeling of knowing that one will never be sure what the bird was, we continued down the trail, but hadn’t gone more than 100 m when a dove flew across in front of us and landed at eye-level a few meters into the forest. This time I even got the scope on it and we all had excellent views of what was unquestionably the first Gray-headed Dove I’ve seen in Carara!


Jay VanderGaast had a similar experience with a Gray-headed Dove on this same trail on 20 March 2007.



Nazca Booby Confirmed on Cocos


02 Apr: Felipe López visited Cocos Island and took the accompanying photos of Masked Booby Sula dactylatra (right, with egg) and Nazca Booby S. granti (left). Both species of booby were found on the small, rocky islet Dos Amigos Grande, about a kilometer southwest of Cocos. In his report, Felipe mentioned that, since 1999, a small resident population of Masked Boobies (some 20 to 30 individuals) has nested on the islet—and nowhere else in the Cocos area, not even on the nearby islet Dos Amigos Pequeño, which has very similar characteristics. Elsewhere (e.g., Clipperton Island), Masked Booby nests on flat, sandy surfaces and so it seemed odd that the species should choose to nest on a rocky islet with abrupt topography—precisely the sort of situation that Nazca Booby prefers for its nest sites. This led to the suspicion that perhaps Nazca Booby might be present on Dos Amigos Grande, and hence the reason for Felipe’s visit.


Felipe’s images prove the existence of both species on Dos Amigos Grande, however, there is still no evidence that Nazca Booby actually nests there, despite conditions that would seem suitable.



More Swallow-tailed Gull Sightings off Pacific Coast


From mid-March to mid-April, Bruce Mactavish was acting as a marine mammal monitor on a seismic ship working off the Pacific coasts of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. He reported having “seen and photographed five Swallow-tailed Gulls Creagrus furcatus—three off Costa Rica and two off Nicaragua. Four were adults in breeding plumage, one adult like but white head. Four fed around the ship at night for several hours each, and one flew around the ship one time in broad daylight. I believe the first Swallow-tailed Gull for Costa Rica was in 2006 (Mike Mulligan et al.). Being so rare in Costa Rica I wonder if it has previously been recorded in Nicaragua. Considering the time I've spent out here and how few and far between the five individuals were, the species could be regular in small numbers without previously being detected, especially if you weren't looking at night!”


Roadside Umbrellabird a Surprise at Cinchona


Mar 26: Coming up the road from San Miguel, about 200 m before arriving at Cinchona, Paco Madrigal’s driver, Carlos, stopped the bus for a large, black bird he saw perched near the road. To everyone’s surprise, the “pava negra” turned out to be an adult male Bare-necked Umbrellabird Cephalopterus glabricollis! After admiring and photographing the bird for about five minutes, the group continued on to the hummingbird mirador. As they watched hummers and other species from the balcony, the umbrellabird flew past in front of them—not once, but three times! On the third occasion, Paco ran out to the street side of the building to see where the bird had flown, and discovered it had landed about 100 m up the road in a fruiting fig tree, where he and his group were able to view this spectacular creature for yet another good while.



Agami Heron Seen in Tarcoles Mangrove


Mar 20: While enjoying a mid-day Mangrove Birding Tour with Luis Campos on the Tarcoles River, Paco Madrigal and his group of birders were astounded to encounter an adult Agami Heron Agamia agami, resplendent in full sunlight, in the mangroves!


When I did the tour a week later, 26 March, there hadn’t been any subsequent sightings.



Dunlin Still at Chomes


Mar 15: Kevin Easley and Jason Horn stopped at Chomes at low tide, “but waded barefoot in the mud on the mud flats and were rewarded with American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus and American Golden-Plover Pluvialis dominica, both new for Jason in CR, and then Jason found the prize for me, a winter plumaged Dunlin Calidris alpina—probably the same individual he had seen two months prior. There were also about 30 Marbled Godwits Limosa fedoa there and a cracking adult Reddish Egret Egretta rufescens.” Kevin took this photo of the foraging Dunlin.



Solitary Eagle Reported at Aerial Tram


Feb 29: Gerardo Vega sent word that a guide colleague at the Guápiles Rain Forest Aerial Tram had seen a Solitary Eagle Harpyhaliaetus solitarius perched in the forest. When Gerardo went by the spot about thirty minutes later, the bird was not to be found.



Rare Migrant Ducks Found on Guanacaste Fish Pond


15 Feb: Jim Zook reported two male Green-winged Teal Anas crecca on the catfish ponds between Comunidad and Sardinal, on the road to Playas del Coco. This is the first CR report of this rare NA migrant since 2000, when a male at Las Concavas (behind Lankester Gardens) was the catalyst that sparked the Gone Birding Newsletter.


Along with the two teal and some 1,500 Blue-winged Teal Anas discors, Jim also found five female Northern Shovelers A. clypeata and a female Northern Pintail A. acuta. The birds were on ponds not visible from the main road, but Jim says that Rob Willis, the manager of the restaurant and the son of the pond owner, is happy to let birders on the property as long as they ask permission first. (It would also be appropriate to patronize the restaurant.)


28 Feb: Carlos Jiménez went to check out the ponds and in addition to one male Green-winged Teal and a male and female Northern Shoveler, spotted a male Cinnamon Teal A. cyanoptera.


16 Mar: Kevin Easley and Jason Horn paid a visit to the site and, along with the abovementioned birds, added a female Green-winged Teal to the list of rarities now reported. Jason picked it out of a large flock of Blue-winged Teal in flight. Kevin also took the accompanying photo of the Cinnamon Teal and reported two “separate Jabirus Jabiru mycteria closer than I have ever seen here in CR.”



Golden-cheeked Warbler Returns to El Cedral


09 Feb: While leading a Birding Club of Costa Rica outing to El Cedral (Lat 9.83979, Lon -84.1433), in the Cerros de Escazú, Dan Keller logged his 700th bird species for the country: Golden-cheeked Warbler Dendroica chrysoparia. Unfortunately, I didn’t get more detailed information of the sighting. However, if the bird was a female (so far, the majority of the sightings in CR have been), there’s a strong likelihood that it was the same individual that Robert Dean saw last spring on a BCCR outing to the same site. At any rate, it’s the first time that this rare NA migrant has been seen again at the same site a season, or more, later.


Now that this species is illustrated in our new field guide, it will be interesting to see if more people report the species. I say this because of how the mind tends to work: one sees what one knows, to a great extent. The problem with making a correct ID of this species is highlighted in the reports of Jim Zook’s first record for CR, and my second record.



For reports prior to these, please check previous Costa Rica Rare Bird Reports:


Jan 2008/Dec/Nov 2007

Oct/Sep 2007

Aug/Jul/Jun 2007

May/Apr/Mar 2007

Feb/Jan 2007

Dec/Nov/Oct 2006


For reports prior to those, please check the Gone Birding Newsletter.




Have you seen a rare bird in Costa Rica, or a species in an unexpected locality, or exhibiting odd behavior? If you have any noteworthy sightings, I (and the rest of the birding community) would appreciate hearing about them. Please send reports to Richard Garrigues gonebirdingcr@gmail.com and include pertinent details such as location (as precise as possible), date, time, and observers’ names. If you have digital images, all the better; however, please send images at file sizes of less than 500 kb.


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