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A Report from

Costa Rica August 11-22, 2003,

Chris Starling

As many of you know there are few things that I enjoy more then birding our local environs. You can hardly beat a day like we had last October at Turkey Point when nearly four hundred raptors were seen in a mere six hours or the sights and sounds of the annual passerine migration that encompasses Fair Hill. -Notice I said, "you can hardly beat." I hate to say it but I think I found something that not only beats it but also blows it out of the water. 

Last winter I was invited to accompany my wife's family on a seven-day vacation to Costa Rica's northwestern coast for a little fun in the sun Latino style. Now while that in itself would be cause for celebration, inside I was doing handsprings and somersaults knowing what a birding Mecca Costa Rica is!  My wife and I immediately began to alter our itinerary to include not only the seven-day stint on Costa Rica's pacific coastline but also a five-day stay in Costa Rica's central mountain cloud forest where we would be able to see a wider variety of avifauna then we would on the coast.

Before we left I spent seven months researching the birds of Costa Rica. In doing so I turned to internet resources as well as the book "A Guide To The Birds of Costa Rica" by F. Gary Stiles and Alexander Skutch. I found this book to be extremely useful and easy to follow. The Illustrations by Dana Gardner are superb in showing minute field marks essential for proper identification -I highly recommend it. Another area of research that I pursued was that of the two areas that we would be spending most of our time in, namely the high mountain village of Santa Elena and the coastal beach town of Playa Carrillo and Samara. Santa Elena is a very tiny village that is mostly made up of part Tico (the local name of the Costa Rican People) and descendants of the indigenous people that inhabited the area for hundreds of years. There is little to see or do in town but there are a few small art galleries and eco-friendly attractions. One such attraction that we visited while in Santa Elena was the Selvatura Zip Line and Canopy Tour. What a trip that was "zipping" through the dense rain forest canopy enjoying the wide vistas and interesting flora that inhabit this strange habitat.  The main reason people come to Santa Elena is for the birding. Santa Elena is home to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. This is a world renowned sanctuary set aside for the study of rain forest ecosystems. As a result there are a surprisingly large number of hotels in the area, which in my observation are nearly full to capacity most of the time, even in the "off" season of mid August. Much of my time spent birding in Costa Rica was spent here. In addition to the obvious birding opportunities that exist here there are "hummingbird galleries" set up to attract a few of the scores of hummingbird species native to Costa Rica. 

The climate of Playa Carrillo and the villa of Samara, the coastal areas that we visited, are entirely different than that of the central Costa Rican Cloud Forest. Located along Costa Rica's northwestern pacific coast in the Province de Guanacaste it is relatively dry. It has two seasons, rainy and wet. The "rainy" season, the time in which we were there, was still pretty much dry -at least by our standards. The weather was mostly sunny with short periods of rain at least some time during every day. The flora was green and lush -more like Hawaii then the south Texas-like aridness we were told to expect. We did see pictures of the place in the "dry" season and it was completely brown like in those bad Mexican westerns. We were glad we were there during the "wet" season, which is also the "off" season. Therefore everything in town was reduced in price and the crowds that you find at normal beach towns were nowhere to be found.  The beaches were great with plenty of shallow sandy swimming areas. We learned after we left that salt-water crocodiles inhabit them!  I am happy to have not known this while we were there, as that would have made snorkeling not so much fun.  The towns themselves were relatively small. I would compare both towns to the size of North East or Charlestown which was great because most of us on the trip aren't really "night-life" kind of people. The boys on the trip did manage to muster-up enough college know-how to spend a night on the town casino hopping in the BIG city of San Jose, the capital and our place of entry and departure from Costa Rica.

Most of my birding was done alone between dawn and noon. My wife joined me on a few occasions and I took two guided trips, one in Santa Elena and one in the villa of Samara. Totals for the trip were very satisfying with 142 total species seen by me. This included 109 additions to my life list!

Species List

The list below is of the birds that were seen by me during my journeys in Costa Rica. After each birds name I have indicated whether the bird was seen in the high rain forests of Santa Elena (SE), the coastal areas of Province Guanacaste (PG), or on the move from the mountains to the coast (mc). I have also indicated the number of days in which the birds were seen in parenthesis next to where it was seen. For Example: "Roufous-naped Wren*; SE(1), PG(6)". 

* Indicates a life bird for me.

Brown Booby; PG(1)
Masked Booby*; PG(1)
Blue-footed Booby*; PG(1)
Great Frigatebird; PG(4)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater; PG(1)
Audubon's Shearwater*; PG(1)
Gull-billed Tern*; PG(1)
Bridled Tern*; PG(1)
Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel*; PG(1)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel*; PG(1)
Black Storm-Petrel*; PG(1)
Franklin's Gull*; PG(1)
Brown Pelican; PG(4)
Wood Stork*; PG(1)
Roseate Spoonbill*; PG(2)
White Ibis*; PG(3)
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron; PG(1)
Little Blue Heron; PG(1)
Snowy Egret; mc(1), PG(1)
Cattle Egret; mc(1), PG(2)
Great Egret; mc(2), PG(2)
Bare-throated Tiger-Heron*; PG(1)
Green Heron; PG(4)
Gray-necked Wood-Rail*; PG(1)
Purple Gallinule*; PG(1)
Northern Jacana*; PG(1)
Black-bellied Whistling Duck*; PG(2)
Moscovy Duck*; mc(1)
Willet; PG(3)
Whimbrel; PG(4)
Wilson's Plover*; PG(1)
Semipalmated Plover; PG(4)
Ruddy Turnstone; PG(3)
Wandering Tattler*; PG(1)
Solitary Sandpiper; PG(1)
Spotted Sandpiper; PG(4)
Sanderling; PG(4)
Western Sandpiper; PG(1)
Least Sandpiper; PG(1)
Black Guan*; SE(2)
Turkey Vulture; mc(2), SE(2), PG(5)
Black Vulture; mc(2), SE(1), PG(7)
Zone-tailed Hawk*; mc(1)
Crested Caracara*; PG(3)
Swallow-tailed Kite*; SE(1), PG(1)
Slatey-backed Forest-Falcon* mc(1)
Roadside Hawk*; PG(2)
Broad-winged Hawk; mc(1)
Gray Hawk*; PG(1)
Band-tailed Pigeon*; mc(1), SE(3)
Red-billed Pigeon*; mc(1), SE(1), PG(3)
Short-billed Pigeon*; SE(1)
Ruddy-ground Dove; mc(1), PG(2)
Inca Dove*; mc(1), PG(4)
White-winged Dove*; PG(1)
Mourning Dove; mc(1)
Rock Dove; PG(1)
White-fronted Parrot*; SE(1) PG(3)
Brown Hooded Parrot*; SE(1)
Crimson Fronted Parakeet*; SE(1)
Striped Cuckoo*; PG(1)
Squirrel Cuckoo*; PG(1)
Groove-billed Ani*; mc(1), PG(5)
Common Paraque*; mc(1), PG(5)
Black Swift*; mc(1), PG(2)
Barn Swallow; mc(1), PG(1)
Cliff Swallow; PG(1)
Gray-breasted Martin*; PG(2)
Bank Swallow; mc(1)
N. Rough-winged Swallow; mc(1)
Blue & White Swallow*;  SE(2), PG(1)
Green Hermit*; SE(2)
Green Violet-ear*; SE(2)
Violet Sabrewing*; SE(3)
Green-crowned Brilliant*; SE(2)
Purple-throated Mountain Gem*; SE(2)
Fork-tailed Emerald*; PG(4)
Coppery-headed Emerald*; SE(1)
Striped-tailed hummingbird*; SE(3)
Respledent Quetzal*; SE(2)
Orange-billed Trogon*; SE(1)
Black-headed Trogon*; PG(2)
Ringed Kingfisher*; PG(2)
Green Kingfisher*; PG(1)
Blue-crowned Motmot*; SE(1)
Turquoise-browed Motmot*; PG(2)
Emerald Toucanet*; SE(2)
Keel-billed Toucan*; SE(3)
Lineated Woodpecker*; PG(1)
Hoffman's Woodpecker*; SE(2), PG(1)
Ruddy Treerunner*; SE(1)
Streaked-headed Woodcreeper*; PG(1)
Barred Antshrike*; PG(3)
Rose-throated Becard*; PG(1)
Masked Tityra*; SE(2), PG(2)
Black-crowned Tityra*; mc(1)
Three-wattled Bellbird*; SE(2)
Tropical Kingbird*; SE(1), PG(1)
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher*; SE(1)
Great Kiskadee*; mc(2), SE(2), PG(4)
Social Flycatcher*; mc(1), SE(1), PG(2)
Brown-crested Flycatcher*; SE(1)
Dusky-capped Flycatcher*; PG(1)
Black Phoebe*; mc(1)
Eastern Wood-pewee; SE(1)
Tufted Flycatcher* SE(1)
Lesser Elaenia*; SE(1)
Roufous-naped Wren*; PG(6)
Roufous and White Wren*; SE(1)
House Wren; SE(1)
Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush* SE(1)
Mountain Robin*; SE(2)
Sooty Robin*; (1)
Clay-colored Robin*; SE(1)
White-throated Magpie Jay*;  PG(5)
Brown Jay*; SE(2)
Roufous-browed Peppershrike*: SE(1)
Roufous-capped Warbler*; SE(2)
Bananquit; mc(1), SE(1)
Wilson's Warbler*; SE(1), PG(1)
Collared Redstart*; SE(2)
Slate-throated Redstart*; SE(1)
Gray-crowned Yellowthroat*; PG(1)
Montezuma Oropendola*; mc(1)
Bronzed Cowbird*; SE(1)
Great-tailed Grackle*; mc(2), SE(2), PG(5)
Three-stripped Warbler*; SE(1), PG(1)
Yellow-throated Euphonia*; SE(2)
Golden-crowned Chlorophonia*; SE(1)
Common Bush Tanager*; SE(2)
Scarlet-thighed Dacnis*; SE(1)
Silvery-throated Bush Tanager*; SE(1)
Blue-Gray Tanager*; SE(1)
Scarlet-rumped Tanager*; mc(1)
Chestnut-capped Brush Finch*; SE(1)
White-collared Seedeater*; PG(2)
Yellow-faced Grassquit*; SE(2)
Blue-black Grassquit*; mc(1), PG(2)
Striped-headed Sparrow*; PG(1)
Roufous-collared Sparrow*; mc(1), SE(2)
Olive Sparrow*; PG(1)
House Sparrow; mc(1)


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