The Gone Birding Newsletter

Vol. 1, No. 3

October 2000


This edition is dedicated to the memory of Terry Pratt, a friend and fellow birder. 



 Let the Migrations Begin

The unofficial inauguration of this year's fall migration was held on Sunday morning, July 29, at La Fortuna de San Carlos (near Arenal Volcano) when Rafa Campos spotted a male Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius). Rafa called again on the 31st to report a Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus) seen in Monteverde. Both of these species are known to arrive in Costa Rica as early as late July, so the sightings don't come as a great surprise, but they are the first reports of northern migrants that I am aware of this season.

My first migrant sighting didn't come until August 20, when I picked up a Louisiana Waterthrush (Seiurus motacilla) along the Tuis River while birding out of Rancho Naturalista with Paul Murgatroyd, Nancy Newfield, and Andy Walker.

So far (end of September), there haven't been very many rarities reported. The most noteworthy items that have reached my attention have been a Pine Warbler (Dendroica pinus) seen on September 9, and a male Prairie Warbler (Dendroica discolor) seen on September 25, by Ernesto Carman at his family's organic coffee farm just east of Paraiso. The former is considered by the authors of A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica as an "accidental fall visitor," based on ten sightings in 1976. Nonetheless, Ernesto had an individual around the farm for several days in early October 1999, and I saw one while visiting Tortuguero on November 8, 1999. The latter is known from more reports, but is still considered a casual visitor, at best. (See the previous newsletter for a report of a Prairie Warbler in Monteverde last winter.)

On September 17, an immature Black-throated Blue Warbler (Dendroica caerulescens) was found at La Virgen del Socorro during the Costa Rican Ornithological Association's (AOCR) monthly outing. Like the aforementioned two species, most individuals winter in the Caribbean islands with only the odd bird straying to Central America.

Robert Dean observed a female Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea) in Montezuma in early September. The Cerulean Warbler is more likely to be seen in Costa Rica than the previous species, but Robert's bird on the southern end of the Nicoya Peninsula is possibly a new record for that part of the country (the field guide mentions only the north and central highlands as Pacific slope sites for this species when heading south in autumn).

It will be interesting to see what the next two months hold in store in the way of wayward migrants.




Shorebirds Keep Out: Propiedad Privada

If you've ever looked through the section entitled "Some Costa Rican Birding Localities" at the back of the field guide, you may have noticed entry number five:

"Coris. Interesting wet pastures and marsh with volcanic hot springs . . .."

Sounds like it could be worth checking out, especially at this time of year for a variety of migrating shorebirds (e.g., Upland Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper, and Buff-breasted Sandpiper) that the field guide mentions as occurring in the central highlands. So on September 10, my four boys, Robert Dean, and I drove out towards Cartago to have a look. We (minus Robert) had actually been to this area last October, accompanying Julio Sánchez and several members of the AOCR in search of an Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) that had been seen several days earlier but in its haste to reach South America had apparently decided not to wait for us.

On that particular outing we didn't penetrate very far into the valley of Coris, so on our recent visit I decided to drive further up the road and find the site described in the back of the field guide. We reached the large pig farm known as La Granja Porcina Americana after having passed seemingly endless expanses of shade houses where the principal product appeared to be ferns. I got out of the car and walked over to the guard at the entrance gate. Even though it was a Sunday, there was obvious activity inside the piggery. However, none of this energy rubbed off on the watchman, who remained seated with his back to me during our entire conversation. His refusal to grant us entry to check the sewage ponds (visible several hundred meters back inside the compound) was countered by the friendly advice offered by one of the workers who happened to be standing near the gate: we could follow the road around to the other side of the valley and approach from there.

We attempted this, but could find no obvious entrance. Worse, we could find no suitable-looking stopover habitat for migrating shorebirds. As much as half of the valley is currently converted to shade houses, and more are being built as you read this. Drainage ditches channel the little remaining pastureland. As if this weren't bad enough, there had been extremely scant rainfall in August and at the time of our visit there was nothing that resembled an "interesting wet pasture."




Mallard Must Have Been Migrant

For the past three years there has been a female Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) on the small pond at Las Concavas (behind Lankester Gardens). The field guide states that the last Costa Rican record of this species was that of two females seen by Paul Slud during the winter of 1950-51 in Turrialba. Given the possibility that an individual of this species could well be a "barnyard" bird, we had been dubious about this particular bird's validity as a wild duck.

On several visits, one or more of my sons walked down to the water's edge to see what would flush. Inevitably, the Mallard would burst into flight—showing not a single white feather anywhere—along with the hundreds of teal, whistling-ducks, and whatever else happened to be around. This behavior certainly seemed befitting of a wild bird, but we figured the final proof would be to not find the bird there during the northern breeding season.

Curiously, two successive summer seasons slipped by without our (or anyone else to my knowledge) going out to check on this bird. Finally, on July 15, we paid a visit to the farm for this express purpose. Leonardo walked the edge on two sides of the pond and no Mallard flushed. We were only at Las Concavas for 45 minutes (checking both ponds); though previously, when the Mallard hen was there, we usually found her within the first five minutes of birding the smaller pond.

Another brief visit on the morning of August 19, with Paul Murgatroyd, likewise produced no Mallard. So, all evidence considered, the duck was very likely a "good" bird.



Rufous-necked Wood-Rail Nests in Monteverde!

One of the more hard-to-believe (but true!) reports I've heard in quite a while came from Robert Dean who called me from Monteverde in mid-August with news of a Rufous-necked Wood-Rail (Aramides axillaris) that had nested at the Ecological Farm in Cerro Plano. The habitats described in the field guide for this rare species are mangroves (Gulf of Nicoya) and swamp forest (Caribbean foothills and lowlands). The habitat where the Monteverde bird was nesting is humid forest—a far cry from the two aforementioned environments. The way I heard the story, the Rodríguez family (who owns the farm) has videotape of the bird, which apparently reared two fledglings.

Could this be a range/habitat extension, or has this elusive wood-rail just been overlooked in other habitats?

At about the same time, there were also reports of Ochre-breasted (Grallaricula flavirostris) and Scaled Antpittas (Grallaria guatimalensis) being seen in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, even right around the field station!

Speaking of Scaled Antpitta, a nest was found at the Vista del Valle Restaurant, above San Isidro del General, Pérez Zeledón. In mid-August, Morris Quesada phoned to narrate his experience of stopping for refreshments with a tour group enroute to points south. The proprietor told Morris of an "antbird" that was nesting in a tree fern near his house. Morris was incredulous when he went to check it out and discovered that the nesting bird was a Scaled Antpitta with two chicks in the nest!



Bob French's Report

Back in June, Bob French visited Costa Rica for a couple of weeks. Prior to the trip, he had asked me some questions about birding sites, and specifically the recently created Diriá National Park in Guanacaste. Since I'd never been there (this country is A LOT bigger than it looks on a map), I apologized for my lack of familiarity with the site and asked him to let me know what he discovered. Here's his report, along with some news from further south:

"I visited the Cerro Vista al Mar site mentioned in Stiles and Skutch [#31]. I think it would be possible to access from the ocean side, but close to impossible to figure out which road to use. I gave up and drove up from Santa Cruz using directions in Stiles and Skutch. It was an easy 4WD road. It's a pretty area. On the top I found Rufous-browed Peppershrike (Cyclarhis gujanensis), Yellow-billed Cacique (Amblycercus holosericeus), Lesser Ground-Cuckoo (Morococcyx erythropygius), and lots of Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus aurantiirostris), which seemed out of place. To the east of the road, up the ridge is a forested valley which I am guessing is part of the mythical Diriá NP. At any rate, about 2/3 of the way up the road is a sign indicating "Bosque Diriá" and pointing that way.

"Just showing up and "paying at the door" worked fine at Los Cusingos ($10). The Turquoise Cotinga (Cotinga ridgwayi) showed up around 1p.m. in really bad light at the top of a tree. Before I got a satisfying look, a Boat-billed Flycatcher (Megarhynchus pitangua) chased it away.

"Off the San Isidro - Dominical road is a dirt road that goes south from Tinamaste (17 km from Dominical) along one of the ridges of the Fila Costeña. This was a delightful road to bird, with little patches of forest, small coffee plantations, and killer views of the Pacific coast and a sizeable waterfall to the east. Both mornings I birded this road, a flock of 15-20 large (noticeably bigger than band-rumped) black swifts flew south around 7a.m. I guess they were Black Swifts (Cypseloides niger), perhaps using the aforementioned waterfall. I also had a good look at a female Turquoise Cotinga, to go with my poor look at a male. Anyway, since Domincal is our favorite CR beach town, this road was a nice find."

Thanks Bob, hopefully that info will be of use to other readers, and also a stimulus for others to share their "discoveries."



Orotina Owls Worth a Stop

For nearly two years now, I have known about a Black-and-white Owl (Ciccaba nigrolineata) that roosts in the park in the center of Orotina—a now-forgotten little town just off the road most people take to get to Carara from San José. However, back in June, I finally made a point of detouring into the town to have a look for myself (and to hopefully show this handsome owl to Buzzy Pickren and his family members who were traveling with me). At first, it looked like we had picked the wrong day as municipal workers were doing some heavy pruning of trees on the west side of the park. Fortunately, we found the owl high up in a tree on the north side of the square. As we admired it, someone noticed a second owl on a branch above the first one!

Two weeks later, on a family outing to Carara, we stopped in to check on the owls and, sure enough, they were there. This time each one was in a different tree, both on the west side of the park (farthest from the church).



October Is Count Time, Can We Count On You?

My friend Koji Tagi recently sent me the following message, which I gladly pass along to all of you, hoping that you will in turn continue to spread the word:


Dear friends/colleagues,

Please circulate this message to your friends/colleagues who are interested in birdwatching or nature conservation.

BirdLife International, Wild Bird Society of Japan, and NTT-ME are organizing the 6th World Bird Count in this October. We would like to extend our invitation to our international friends.

As in the previous World Bird Count, NTT-ME will kindly make donation to the BirdLife International to help its conservation activities in Asia in proportion to the reported number of bird species. Therefore, please send in your birding reports to us. Please note that the list of bird names needs to be from your birding activities in October, 2000.

In addition to the birding report, it is highly appreciated if you send us "messages from waterbirds" which we will be presented at the Workshop for Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy to be held in Japan, 16-19 October, 2000. We appreciate to receive your message by 5 October. The workshop is a milestone meeting of the three flyway networks (crane, anatidae, and shorebird networks) which are coordinated by Wetlands International and the Migratory Waterbird Conservation Committee (MWCC). The WBSJ has strong commitment to this project by proposing and coordinating the crane network.

Please send your birding lists and waterbird messages to us.

For more detail, please kindly have a look at the web site:

We are looking forward to hear from you.

Sincerely yours,


International World Bird Count coordinator



On behalf of


International Center

Wild Bird Society of Japan





Christmas Bird Counts Aren't Far Off Either

Since the next newsletter isn't due out until the start of next year, I'll take this opportunity to pass along the dates and contact info for the various CBC activities that traditionally take place here in Costa Rica. All interested birders are welcome to participate. Hope to see you out there!

Cartago: 9 - 10/12/00 Julio Sanchez < 551-2509

Grecia: 17/12/00 Rafael Campos 444-6572

La Selva: 30/12/00 Orlando Vargas 766-6565

Monteverde: 22/12/00 Alex Villegas 645-5343



What People Are Saying About the GBN

Again, I'd like to take a moment to collectively thank everyone who bothered to send their comments following the last edition of the Gone Birding Newsletter. Here's just a sample of what people are saying:


"Provides further proof of the existence of black holes in our knowledge of the Costa Rican avifauna." - Stephen Hawkins


"Shakespeare, for all his starlings and sparrows, couldn't have said it better." - Clive Barnes


"Picks up where the Book of Revelations leaves off!" - John Paul II


"I couldn't put it down." - Don Rickles


"Dad, can I use the computer now?" - Daniel Garrigues


I hope that you've enjoyed this newsletter and welcome any comments at or if you're in Costa Rica, feel free to give me a ring at 293-2710.

Wishing you all great birding,

Richard Garrigues


April 2000

July 2000