Excursion to Barra del Colorado

Thanks to the Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica,  last weekend I was able to enjoy a truly memorable three-day excursion to participate in a bird count in one of the furthest corners of Costa Rica, Barra del Colorado, at the country´s northeastern limit with Nicaragua.

Focal point for the count was the Estación Biológica El Zota, located perhaps 2 hours’ drive from Guápiles, a fairly large town on the Caribbean (northern) side of the Central Valley. I found it was surprisingly easy to reach in the (very brief) dry season, with a good paved road as far as the town of Cariari and a good bit beyond. We travelled from the MINAE (Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications) offices in Guapiles in vehicles kindly  provided to SINAC (National System of Conservation Areas) by the Government of Japan. In fact, three young Japanese, all working here environmentally in Costa Rica and speaking fluent Spanish, were among the count participants. Quite apart from the stunning topography and the forest and river environment, one of the very best features of excursions such as this is the chance to meet enthusiastic and highly knowledgeable birdwatchers, both young and old, and to learn from them.

Using the link at the top of the page, you can have access to the Association’s webpage and to the results of the count (more than 240 different species) once they are established and published. My post today deals for the most part only with my own personal sightings. You will find my listings at the end of the post.

Although some groups monitored a forest environment that boasts jaguars (all participants received a TNC Nature Conservancy publication with detailed information on jaguar populations and conservation efforts) , the group to which I was assigned covered the Laguna Pereira and, together with another group, the Río Colorado. This broad river is now as big as the Río San Juan that forms the border with Nicaragua. The Laguna, accessed through the Caño Pereira, seems to be located between the Isla Brava, Costa Rica´s second-largest island, but confined between the two aforementioned rivers, and the Isla Calero, recent source of friction between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Caños are slow-moving freshwater channels that cut through the forest. They are the highlight of the visit for tourists visiting, for example, Tortuguero National Park, a little further south. Joining the El Zota bird count gave me much more than the tourist experience and at a fraction of the cost. The road ends at Puerto Lindo, pictured below, from where we had to continue down the Rio Colorado by boat. There is bus service to Guápiles but it takes around two and a half hours, I am told.

Puerto Lindo on the Rio Colorado

Puerto Lindo on the Rio Colorado

In terms of bird species, I ended up with 8 species new to me in Costa Rica, five of which are life birds. I missed numerous other possibilities and enjoyed numerous other highlights, but here are the 5 life birds that I will forever associate with this excursion:

  1. Sungrebe (Heliornis fulica)
  2. Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer (Chalybura urochrysia)
  3. Black-throated Trogon (Trogon rufus)
  4. Crane Hawk (Geranospiza caerulescens)
  5. White-necked Puffbird (Notharchus hyperrhynchus)

The Sungrebe is a rather unique bird since there are only 3 species in the world. Ours here is the smallest and somewhat resembles a grebe with a striped head but it rarely dives and it pumps its head when it moves, rather like a coot. It likes quiet water with lots of overhanging vegetation. We found at least 3 individuals on different sections of the Caño Pereira. Here are two photos, one of a typical stretch of the caño and one, by courtesy of Richard Garrigues, of a Sungrebe. Photos of birds taken on this excursion will arrive in the next few days perhaps, when I will continue the post replacing/inserting photos where needed.

Sungrebe swims away

Sungrebe swims away



Caño Pereira

Caño Pereira was a delight, with lots excellent sightings, mostly of kingfishers and hawks. But in addition to the aforementioned Sungrebe, we had two White-necked Puffbirds sitting at separate locations, up high unfortunately, but on bare branches. I was particularly happy because until now I had never had even a sniff of any puffbird species, of which there are 5 in Costa Rica (pp. 150-1, Garrigues & Dean, The Birds of Costa Rica).

White-necked Puffbird

White-necked Puffbird, courtesy of Richard Garrigues

Hawks and Falcons – a good day!

My fifth life bird, the Crane Hawk, sat nicely on the Caño, well before we reached the Laguna Pereira. This fairly large hawk can be distinguished from some others by its dark plumage combined with red legs and lack of a yellow cere. My companions Andrey and Roger worked out the identification pretty rapidly. Another bird, which we at first thought was a juvenile Broad-winged Hawk, was subsequently identified from photographs taken as a juvenile Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis). Photo to follow. Other spectacular birds that gave close-up and long looks were the Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) (two separate individuals) and the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus). We also found 3 Bat Falcons (Falco rufigularis) perched, typically, on high bare branches at the entrance to the Laguna.

Snail Kite at Barra del Colorado, courtesy of Andrey Acosta.

Snail Kite at Barra del Colorado, courtesy of Andrey Acosta.

Hummingbirds were few and far between, at least on my part of the trip. On the morning of the final day, at the El Zota Biological Station, I missed a Bronzy Hermit that visited a feeder next to the breakfast room, but at a nearby small forest patch I had a decent view of what turned out to be a Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer. I did not see the famous red feet, but the sighting was happily confirmed by several of my birding colleagues. Richard Garrigues’ photo below shows an individual with those aforementioned red feet well in evidence.

Note the red feet on Richard Garrigues' excellent photo of the Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer

Note the red feet on Richard Garrigues’ excellent photo of the Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer. 

I had lingered at that location after spotting a female Gartered Trogon in the understory. To my surprise, another nearby trogon, with its back towards me, turned out to be a female Black-throated Trogon, a species new to me, but one which can be easily identified, in the case of the female, by its brown upperparts. I was only sure that two different trogon species were present when a male of each respective species appeared. Bill colour distinguishes the males.

A juvenile male Black-throated Trogon, courtesy of Richard Garrigues

A juvenile male Black-throated Trogon, courtesy of Richard Garrigues

Here’s my list for the three days. Note that it includes some species seen at the Rio Santa Clara in Guapiles next to the MINAE offices, from where we set off and to where we returned but it does not include numerous other species, some common, some not, seen/heard by colleagues.

  1. Gray-headed Chachalaca
  2. Sungrebe
  3. Blue-winged Teal
  4. Anhinga
  5. Brown Pelican
  6. Bare-throated Tiger-heron
  7. Green Heron
  8. Tricolored Heron
  9. Little Blue Heron
  10. Great Egret
  11. Great Blue Heron
  12. Cattle Egret
  13. Snowy Egret
  14. Yellow-crowned Night-heron
  15. Green Ibis
  16. Limpkin
  17. Wood Stork
  18. Spotted Sandpiper
  19. Least Sandpiper
  20. Northern Jaçana
  21. Purple Gallinule
  22. White-throated Crake (voice only)
  23. Gray-necked Wood-rail
  24. Black Vulture
  25. Turkey Vulture
  26. King Vulture
  27. Osprey
  28. Snail Kite
  29. Crane Hawk
  30. Mississippi Kite
  31. Short-tailed Hawk
  32. Roadside Hawk
  33. Broad-winged Hawk
  34. Bat Falcon
  35. Peregrine Falcon
  36. Laughing Falcon
  37. Common Pauraque
  38. Swift sp.
  39. Mangrove Swallow
  40. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  41. Barn Swallow
  42. Stripe-throated Hermit
  43. Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
  44. Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer
  45. Pale-vented Pigeon
  46. Short-billed Pigeon
  47. Ruddy Ground-dove
  48. White-tipped Dove
  49. Gray-chested Dove (voice only)
  50. Olive-throated Parakeet
  51. Great Green Macaw
  52. Red-lored Parrot
  53. Mealy Parrot
  54. Groove-billed Ani
  55. Squirrel Cuckoo (voice only)
  56. Gartered Trogon
  57. Black-throated Trogon
  58. Slaty-tailed Trogon
  59. Ringed Kingfisher
  60. Green Kingfisher
  61. Amazon Kingfisher
  62. White-necked Puffbird
  63. Collared araçari
  64. Black-cheeked Woodpecker
  65. Rufous-Winged Woodpecker
  66. Barred Antshrike
  67. Streak-headed Woodcreeper
  68. Yellow-bellied Elaenia
  69. Common Tody-flycatcher
  70. Bright-rumped Attila
  71. Eastern Wood-pewee
  72. Tropical Pewee
  73. Contopus sp.
  74. Alder/Willow Flycatcher
  75. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
  76. Empidonax sp.
  77. Great Crested Flycatcher
  78. Dusky-capped Flycatcher
  79. Great Kiskadee
  80. Boat-billed Flycatcher (voice only)
  81. Social Flycatcher
  82. Gray-capped Flycatcher
  83. Tropical Kingbird
  84. Eastern Kingbird
  85. Masked Tityra (voice only)
  86. White-collared Manakin
  87. Swainson’s Thrush
  88. Clay-colored Thrush
  89. Bay Wren
  90. Black-throated Wren
  91. House Wren
  92. Swainson’s Thrush
  93. Clay-colored Thrush
  94. Northern Waterthrush
  95. Golden-winged Warbler
  96. Prothonotary Warbler
  97. Chestnut-sided Warbler
  98. Blackburnian Warbler
  99. Buff-rumped Warbler (voice only)
  100. Passerini’s Tanager
  101. Blue-gray Tanager
  102. Thick-billed Seed-Finch
  103. Variable Seedeater
  104. Orange-billed Sparrow (voice only)
  105. Summer Tanager
  106. Great-tailed Grackle
  107. Baltimore Oriole
  108. Montezuma Oropendola

To finish with, here’s Andrey Acosta’s great photo, taken that day, of a female Amazon Kingfisher (Chloroceryle amazona):

Lots of kingfishers here, up close and in person!

Lots of kingfishers here, up close and in person!

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