Birds We Rarely See (possibly because they don’t want to be seen): part II

Oilbird: photo courtesy of Randall Jimenez

The bird you see above is an extreme rarity…the Oilbird. Rarely seen for three reasons:

  1. It is a nocturnal bird and is dressed in the colors of the night.
  2. It lives primarily in caves during the day.
  3. It is,,,rare. To learn more about the Oilbird, one of the most unusual bird species on Earth, follow the link below. But be sure to come back.

Now let’s have a look at some more of our local birds; those with subtile and clandestine coloration.

Ruddy Foliage-gleaner: photo courtesy of David Rodriguez Arias.

A lot of birders come down to Coto Brus to see rarities and localized species. These species are often referred to as ‘target birds’. The Ruddy Foliage-gleaner (above) is definitely one of our most targeted. You’ll hear it more often than see it; and almost always in the lower stratum of the forest.

Rose-throated Becard (female): photo courtesy of Randall Jimenez
Barred Becard (male): photo courtesy of Randall Jimenez

A bit like Cotingas, a bit like Flycatchers the Becards are an interesting family. Dressed in subtile and elegant earth-tones you’ll find them (if you’re lucky and quick) in the upper middle to canopy level of our forests. Both the Rose-throated Becard (the first one above) and the Barred Becard (just above) have distinct sexual dimorphism; meaning males and females look different. But all Becards seem to have heads just a little too big for their bodies.

Brown-billed Scythebill: photo courtesy of David Rodriguez Arias

If you ever need a bird to retrieve the last olive out of the olive jar, may I suggest the Brown-billed Scythebill (above). One of our many Woodcreeper species; all having a shadowy brown coloration and robust calls.

Black-and-White Owl: photo courtesy of Randall Jimenez

For the gloriously-marked Black-and-Whitle Owl (above), a bright street light on a clear, dark night has all the attraction of a full buffet to a hungry tourist. Big moths and other nocturnal insects are irresistibly attracted to bright lights…Black-and-White Owls are irresistibly attracted to big moths (and bats!). As Walt Disney taught us; IT’S THE CIRCLE…THE CIRCLE OF LIFE.

Birds We Rarely See (but would like to see more often). Part 1

Do birders like colorful birds more than drab birds? That’s a tough question…but the answer is clearly a YES! However, when two or more birders get together you will often hear them waxing rhapsodic about such features as ‘…that subtile bran-colored wash on the primaries‘ ‘…a slight pinkish tinge on the lower mandible‘ and especially ‘…wing bars‘; we just LOVE talking about wing bars.

But when beautiful, colorful, charismatic birds (like the ones below) show up, birders turn into little kids who have been let into an ice cream shop.

So, yes; we like pretty birds more than drab birds just like everyone else.

The photos below, all submitted by our good friend Pepe Castiblanco, are examples of colorful, beautiful and charismatic birds that we rarely see but would like to see more often.

Turquoise Cotinga: photo by Pepe Castiblanco
Resplendent Quetzal: photo by Pepe Castiblanco
Rosy Thrush Tanager: photo by Pepe Castiblanco
Golden-browed Chlorophonia: photo by Pepe Castiblanco

Next week, on ‘Birds We Rarely See‘ the focus will be on some of those bird species that are less brightly colored and with more subtile beauty…and possibly wing bars.

ps: If I ever open a saloon for birders I’m going to call it ‘The Wing Bar’.

Surprise Bonus! Where We Bird

I’m not recommending you should drop everything you’re doing and speed out to this spot; but our Bonus Where We Bird location does have a couple of nice birds you can add to your list. The location is the Rio Java Gas Station (between the BM supermarket and Grupo Materiales). These two species are not your typical stand-offish, I-must-have-privacy, please be quiet birds. These two species seem to just LOVE being around us humans…with all of our noises and smells and dropped potato chips.

The House Sparrow and the Gray-breasted Martin.

Please enjoy watching these two species when you are there. They are as worthy of our time and admiration as any of the other 900 bird species in Costa Rica.

Welcome to New SVBC Members and Neighbors

Tom and Kim

A very warm and enthusiastic San Vito Bird Club welcome to Tom Johnson and Kimberly Dawson; new members and new neighbors. These two great birders have settled into their new home in Santa Teresa de Sabalito and plan to become active in the San Vito Bird Club.

Tom and Kim are both long time birders; Tom for over 30 years and Kim for over 8 years. Kim is also a skilled photographer (see her work below). They hail from west and southern Texas (a great birding area) and have participated in many birding tours including Belize. But, as with us all, they have fallen and fallen hard for Coto Brus.

Please join me in welcoming them.

(Hopefully, we’ll be doing some bird walks very soon!)

Photos from Kim Dawson:

Barred Antshrike-male. Taken on the Magic Road, March 17th.
Yellow-throated Toucan in nest. Tres Rios, March 17th.
Bay-headed Tanager
Scarlet-thighed Dacnis-male.

Where We Bird — Rio Negro

The trail entrance at Rio Negro. Photo by Alison Olivieri

Walk with us into the tunnel of ‘To-le-do’, the song of the Lance-tailed Manakin. A superstar of San Vito birding, this active and beautiful bird also makes a mewing, catlike call. The red cap, blue back, tiny tail and orange legs make males unmistakeable; females are greenish, as are all the lady manakins, but she does have that tail! Here, they are only found at our southern Pacific border with western Panama but their range extends from Costa Rica to

See the tail? Photo by Pepe Castiblanco

Venezuela. Inhabiting the humid and second growth forests, Chiroxiphia lanceolata males are active at leks from Janury to March. Excellent and acrobatic dancers, you can find them on YouTube but, really, why not come here and see for yourself?

Bicolored Hawks can be found all around Costa Rica but they are categorized as ‘rare’. Luckily for us, they are regularly seen at this site or from the car on the way! The rufous thighs are diagnostic in adults but the juveniles are easily confused with forest-falcon species.

Juvenile Bicolored Hawk, Accipiter bicolor, photo by Jo Davidson

These raptors prey on birds, diving after them from perches at any height in mature, wet forests and tall secondary growth — even forest edges and gardens. They are in the same genus with Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks in the north.

Finally, we come to a bird found at lower levels of the forest following ant swarms: Bicolored Antbird. Plump and endearing with a big, blue eye-ring, it’s hard not to want to scurry after them. This species is said to have been the favorite of Dr. Alexander Skutch, author of ‘A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica’ with F. Gary Stiles.

Bicolored Antbird, Gymnopithys leucaspis, photo by David A. Rodriguez Arias

Where We Bird — the Poro Road

Riverside Wren with nesting material. Photo by Sarah Beeson-Jones

Thanks to Julie Girard-Woolley, the SVBC has been birding this hidden road for a few years and found some pretty great birds there. Julie is a ‘walker’ (and an SVBC founder) and this spot is spectacular in March with a huge grove of blooming Poro trees. But we are not there for the trees — so let’s start with a bang: the Riverside Wren.

Endemic to southern Costa Rica and western Panama, Cantorchilus semibadius is one of many very loud wrens

Rufous-capped Warbler. Photo by Jo Davidson

Next up, we have not a migrant but a resident, Rufous-capped Warbler. Although ‘common’ in the northern Pacific, Central Valley and southern Pacific, it’s always a jolt to see that red head, white eyebrow and cocked up tail. Basileuterus rufifrons shares its genus with three other resident Tico warblers.

Here is another photo from Jo who has documented so many species in San Vito from her porch, she is admired far and wide. This is her Smoky-brown Woodpecker — just the head, but that is enough. Who doesn’t love woodpeckers? These are found in the northern half of the Caribbean slope and on the Pacific slope but are ‘uncommon’ in both locations. How did she get this photo? See below for a view you would be lucky to see in the field. Picoides fumigatus shares its genus with the Hairy Woodpecker, the Costa Rican race of which is smaller and darker than those in North America.

Smoky-brown Woodpecker by Jo Davidson

By now you will have noticed the photos are all out of synch with the text but it’s hard to resist including all these birds because obviously we are trying to entice you to visit us in San Vito, when you feel safe, and we will be here to welcome you.

One last bird — yes, we saved the best for last — and then the local spot where we go for breakfast when our walk is over. 

The last bird photo is a Double-toothed Kite and we saw two, building a nest, on one of our excursions to the Poro Road. It was pretty exciting! See below for a photo by Randall Jiménez Borbón who works as the Community Outreach Coordinator at the  Asociación Ambiental Finca Cántaros.

Double-toothed Kite, Harpagus bidentatus, by  Randall Jiménez Borbón, aka Ciccio

Double-toothed Kites often perch in the forest waiting for a troop of monkey to follow. They fly low to pick off any tasty critters the monkeys spook, like lizards and large insects.

See below for another photo we hope will be of interest: the Soda La Negra where we often go for breakfast after a Poro Road bird walk. Highly recommended are the scrambled eggs, rice and beans, sausages, tortillas and the coffee. The interior of this welcoming place is full of plants for sale, too, so you can augment your garden or your porch with some nicely potted flowers after breakfast.

Soda La Negra, just below the San Vito Hospital. Photo by Alison Olivieri


Frederick D. Schroeder 1934-2021

Treasurer Schroeder at a SVBC Annual Meeting. Photo by Jo Davidson

Fred and Jean Schroeder have been loyal members and generous supporters of the San Vito Bird Club since its inception in 2004. We probably don’t have to tell you how sad we are to report Fred died last weekend after a long illness.

As the Treasurer of the SVBC for nearly a decade, he kept us on the straight and narrow, tracking your membership dues, donations, restricted and general gifts.

Jean and Fred visited San Vito every winter for 12 years, staying at their beloved ‘Jungle Cottage’ at Hacienda Pino Collina, adjacent to the Wilson Botanic Garden. During these trips, they made so many devoted friends in San Vito and helped so many, they will be missed by all their Tico friends — and others all over the world where their travels took them. 

Fred’s gentle but sly sense of humor, his kindness, his truthfulness, intellligence and probity were readily apparent. His interests? Birds, butterflies, books, history, gardening, international travel, the wines of France, the arts — a long list in an extraordinary life.

Jean and Fred have been married for 62 years, shared a wonderful life together and  made the most of the short time alloted to each of us.

In addition to his work as our financial officer, he served on the board of the Connecticut Audubon Society, the Connecticut Ornithological Association and the Redding Conservation Commission.

In closing, this photograph by Jo Davidson portrays, better than words ever could, Fred and Jean’s remarkable love affair showing the joy of life and the joy of love.

Photo by Jo Davidson

If you would like to honor his memory in some way, please make a contribution to Connecticut Audubon by emailing: or click on this link to the New Pond Farm Fred Schroeder Memorial Fund 


Where We Bird — the Wilson Botanical Garden

Entrance to the Wilson Garden, photo by Alison Olivieri

The San Vito Bird Club’s roots are here in the Robert and Catherine Wilson Botanical Garden at the Organization for Tropical Studies Las Cruces Biological Station — this is a long name for a magical place. Birders come from all over the world to this spot with its list of half of the country’s land birds. We have been offering bi-monthly Bird Walks here, free and open to the public since 2004, binoculars included!

In and around San Vito, we have many ‘specialties’ — birds not easily found elsewhere. Two of the most sought-after are reliably found here where you can stay in comfortable cabins with three meals a day included, a birder’s dream destination.

Ruddy Foliage-gleaner, Clibanornis rubiginosus, photo by Randall Jiménez Borbón, aka Ciccio

The Ruddy Foliage-gleaner can be found in early morning at the beginning of the Rio Java Trail. The best way to find it is to learn the call as it is usually vocalizing as the flock moves along the forest edge.

Another, smaller beauty — the White-crested Coquette — is also here in the Pollinator Garden and can be found at virtually any time of day. It is endemic to southern Costa Rica and western Panama

White-crested Coquette, Lophornis adorabilis, photo by Pepe Castiblanco

from the canopy to forest edge and gardens. You’ll have to be on your game as this exquisite creature is ‘bee-like’ in flight.

We are sure these coquettes are stealing your heart and reminding you to clean your binoculars.

And the female White-crested Coquette in this lovely photograph by Yeimeri Badilla


Continue to scroll down from here to see just a few more photos from of this special site. The lovely garden vista was designed by Roberto Burle-Marx, a renowned Brazilian landscape designer who was a board member of the Wilson  Garden in its very early days.

This is followed by the Canopy Tower donated by the SVBC in 2011. If you get lucky up there, you might even see a field mark on a fast-flying swift.

Meeting spot at The Wilson Botanical Garden, photo by Alison Olivieri

The Canopy Tower at Las Cruces, photo by Harry Hull III

The last beauty shot of the Wilson Garden Mirador, photo by Alison Olivieri

Greetings of the Season and Two Presents for You

We wish you Happy Holidays with some hope on the horizon. Here are two fun gifts from us to you:

1) No Membership Dues for 2020. If you were thoughtful enough to send dues this year, we will extend them to 2021 when we hope to offer Bird Walks, Outings to local hotspots, the Annual Meeting, other Special Events and Detectives de Aves classes in local schools.

2) A rooted, ready-to-plant Hampea appendiculata, full of brown clusters of fruit at this time of year and feeding tyrannulets, warblers, flycatchers, tanagers, thrushes, saltators, motmots, aracaris and toucans! If you don’t have one of these in your garden, you DO want one — trust us. It’s a small, thin tree and doesn’t get super tall so all these birds are readily seen.

Please send an email to: to place your order!

It’s a Hampea Holiday!

Special thanks to Harry Hull for his festivication of the Hampea photo.

Happy Birding! High Hopes for 2021!


Zooming With Owls — Part 5, the End

What is the first thing you do when planning a birding trip? Buy or borrow a bird book and note the ones you really want to see. In the case of your trip to Costa Rica, who didn’t include the Crested Owl?

Crested Owl at Finca Cantaros, photo by David Rodríguez Arias, Biólogo Regente de Vida Silvestre at Finca Cántaros

So, we’ve saved the ‘best’ for last and we’re saying ‘best’ because this owl is San Vito’s Most Distinguished Avian Visitor of 2019-20. For the past two years, one — and sometimes two — of them have spent the green season right here, in a huge stand of bamboo near the lake at Finca Cántaros: arriving in June and departing in December.

We have many questions, not the least of which is ‘where do they go’? And ‘why’? Thirty years ago, when the definitive book A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by F. Gary Stiles and Alexander F. Skutch was published, not a huge amount of this species’ natural history was known. Their diet was described as “. . . beetles, orthopterans, roaches, caterpillars.” But, as one of their habits was said to be “. . . daytime roosts, especially at gaps and edges and along streams. . . “, what do you want to wager the diet included aquatic insects, frogs, small fish?

So here is the question we asked this beguiling owl, “Where do you go when you leave Finca Cántaros?” and the owl said, click here and hit ‘play’ to hear its answer.

Roughly translated, this means, “. . . to Guanacaste, like everybody else!” Just kidding, we have no idea what this Crested Owl was saying but it was recorded by Costa Rica’s own Patrick O’Donnell (Google him, if you haven’t already).

And now, we are sorry to say, it is time to ‘End Meeting for All’.