Month: December 2020 (Page 2 of 4)

Costa Rica (2018) #2 – Birding Dominical: Toucans, Hawks, Kites, and Vultures

Yellow-throated Toucan Dominical Costa Rica

Yellow-throated Toucans were regular visitors to the property

Birding Dominical: The Big Birds

Because the birding was so unbelievable where we stayed (I tallied 95 species on the property in a week, and dozens more I couldn’t identify), I’m going to break up the recap into several posts. But first, a few words about our amazing home for the week. The property is called Selva Escondida. It sits between the towns of Dominical and Uvita on a steep slope about 1,200 feet above the Pacific Ocean. The accommodations are known as Villa Chill.  It has 8 bedrooms splits between a main house (with a pool) and two small guesthouses. There were 15 of us staying together, so we needed all the rooms. It’s not cheap, and I think you have to rent the whole thing, so small groups and budget birders will need to look elsewhere. Any place in the area would be great, frankly. But this place had 250 acres of diverse habitat, laced with a couple of roads and a few miles of hiking trails. For a birder, it was nearly heaven.

Dominical Villa

The balcony in Dominical – great for spotting soaring birds

Of the 95 species I identified on the property, a lot of them were big birds. I saw 3 species of vultures (King, Black, Turkey), 4 species of kite (Double-toothed, Swallow-tailed, Gray-headed, Hook-billed), 2 species of hawks (Roadside and Broad-winged), a Crested Caracara, and whatever a Hawk-Eagle is (Black Hawk-Eagle).  EBird says Double-toothed Kites are frequently seen soaring “with wings bowed down, tail closed, and puffy white feathering visible under the base of the tail—a distinctive combination of features.” That’s exactly the picture I got! It also says they are rarely seen perched, but I managed to photograph one perched on the property. 

Double-toothed Kite Dominical Costa Rica

A Double-toothed Kite made a low fly-by

I came to suspect that the Roadside Hawks I kept seeing were actually a single bird that resided on the property. On multiple morning walks, I found it standing on the same rock. Each time, at first glance, I thought the rope it was standing on was a snake. Broad-winged Hawks were more often hidden in the branches of forest-edge trees.

At any moment of the day, if you could peel your eyes away from the small birds flitting around the bushes and trees and look up, you were bound to see something soaring by.  Three days in a row a Black Hawk-Eagle circled overhead, screeching like an Osprey. I was stoked to see this bird, but would have loved a closer view. They have crest feathers on their head, and look like they’re wearing striped leg warmers. Twice a King Vulture wandered past.  The Swallow-tailed Kites stayed over the ridge, but close enough to make out their awesome tails. And I lucked into my lone look ever at Wood Storks when a group of 9 went by headed south.

Of the massively-billed birds, I saw Yellow-throated Toucan (daily) and Fiery-billed Aracari (two disappointingly fleeting views). The toucans are elegant fliers, who swoop up to their landing spot. When they weren’t hopping from branch to branch gobbling up fruit, they were conspicuously perched and calling loudly.

This hut on the slope above the property was also great for hawkwatching and chilling

There were big birds who weren’t soaring above, too. During my wandering, I stumbled into Great Tinamou, Crested Guan, Great Currasow, and Gray-headed Chachalaca.  It’s always odd to see such large creatures in the trees, but that’s always where the Crested Guan and Chachalaca were. Because of their size and the way they shake the branches, you often think at first that they are monkeys.

Great Currasow Dominical Costa Rica

This pair of Great Currasow wandered the property

Crested Guan Dominical Costa Rica

Crested Guan somehow move through the canopy pretty skillfully

A Bare-throated Tiger Heron lurked along a creek. In the lower right of the photo you can see an adult Basilisk, also known as the Jesus Christ Lizard, for its ability to run on water. While my oldest son isn’t as in to birding as he used to, the possibility of finding Basilisks got him to accompany me on several 6:00am walks (to this father’s great delight).

Bare-throated Tiger Heron Dominical Costa Rica

Costa Rica (2018) #1 – Driving to Dominical

Magnificent Frigatebird Costa Rica

Magnificent Frigatebird in magnificent Costa Rica

Birding Costa Rica: San Jose to Dominical

At the end of December, we were supposed to take a family vacation to Costa Rica. The plan was a few days around the Arenal volcano and then a week at an incredible villa in the hills above Dominical on the Pacific Ocean coast. But those plans were scrapped a long time ago due to the pandemic. To distract myself from that disappointment and the ongoing isolation, I’ve decided to do some recap posts of our trip to Costa Rica in December 2018 and January 2019. Like every birder who has been lucky enough to travel to Costa Rica, I was literally left speechless over and over again. On a daily basis, I wanted to stay exactly where I was for the rest of my life. I now better understand what a gambling addict feels when he walks into a casino. It’s a birding bacchanal. Indeed, I literally suffered a birding hangover after Costa Rica for weeks.

In short, the birding is indescribably amazing. Indeed, essentially everything else about Costa Rica was awesome, including: the villa in Dominical, surfing lessons, ziplining through the jungle canopy, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, white-faced capuchin, sloths, Jesus Christ lizards, coati, agouti, peccary, the cloud forest, hanging bridges, the fruit, waterfalls, and an erupting volcano. I imagine it will take me quite a few posts to do the trip justice. And I’m honestly looking forward to putting the posts together.

Montezuma Oropendola Costa Rica

Montezuma Oropendola demand the attention of your eyes and ears

We flew in to San Jose, waited three hours for a rental car, and were finally on our way. Since we were staying in the Talamanca Mountains for the second half of our trip, we drove west toward the coast and then headed south to Dominical. My first lifer of the drive was a Magnificent Frigatebird soaring over the ocean near Jaco. At the Tarcoles Bridge, a Yellow-Headed Caracara flew past. We stopped for lunch at a joint called Pizza Pata. As we ate, we found giant lizards in the trees, saw two Scarlet Macaws fly across the highway, and had our first looks at Montezuma Oropendolas. The rest of the drive produced incidental looks at a Gray Hawk and a Fiery-billed Aracari. All told, it was 7 lifers before we pulled up to our destination, and about 25 “what was that?”‘s. 


Yellow-headed Caracara

Yellow-headed Caracara

The drive was just prelude. Our arrival at the Dominical villa was one of the most magical moments of my life. It sits up a steep hill. It’s about a thousand feet above sea level and only 1,200 feet from the coast. It offers sweeping views of the mountain ridge to our northeast and the ocean to our southwest. The grounds are a gated property, with hiking trails, rainforest, creeks, and orchards. And, of course, birds. So many birds. An incredible array of dazzling birds everywhere you looked. 

The birding was so easy and good that even my 10 year old got in on it

The driving from San Jose was pretty easy. The road south (34) is a two-lane highway. You won’t set any speed records on it. But it felt safe. I definitely recommend renting a 4WD/AWD vehicle, wherever you are headed. Once you get off the highway, it’s dirt roads everywhere. And if you can get a non-birder to drive, that’s probably a good idea too. 

White-faced Capuchin Dominical Costa Rica

What lifers did I miss while looking at this White-faced Capuchin? 


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