BIG DAY 2018
It was quite a few years ago I became interested in doing a Big Day, but it wasn't until 2014 I gave it a try. The first two attempts were not very productive having not planned the best route, but in 2015 I set a new route and together with Jairo Jiménez we also set a new record for Costa Rica and third highest in the world tallying 351 species.
This year we decided it was time to do it again, but for a very different reason. This time we were going to use the Big Day as a fundraiser to support the Cabanisi Project which is one of the several conservation projects led by Get Your Birds!. This project is directed towards the conservation of the Cabanis's Ground-Sparrow (Melozone cabanisi). The donations will be used to underwrite important research documenting the loss of habitat threatening this species' survival.
Abiding by the American Birding Association's rules for a Big Day the GYB team was ready to go: Paz Angulo, Jairo Jiménez and myself. We drove the afternoon prior to our starting point at some small cabins in Las Juntas de Abangares, Guanacaste. As we arrived we were excited to hear Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls singing in the tree above the cabin, thinking for sure this would be our first species on the list.
At the stroke of midnight we all hopped out of bed, drank some coffee as we stood outside to listen for the pygmy-owls, but we never would have guessed Melodious Blackbird and Clay-colored Thrush were going to be the first birds on our list! These two species are not usually nocturnal, but they were eating insects under a street light. We began our drive through the dry forest, using a spotlight and listening for calls and soon had picked-up Common Pauraque, Barn Owl and Double-Striped Thick-knees. We drove from Las Juntas to Colorado which is right on the Nicoya Bay, then south following the coast through Abangaritos, Costa de Pájaros, Punta Morales and finally reaching Caldera just before sunrise. By this time we had logged 26 species including several owls, nightjars and shorebirds.
The Mata de Limón estuary road near Caldera was very active at sunrise, on one side of the dirt road is mangrove and on the other dry forest with open fields providing a great combination of habitats. Many typical dry forest species such as Banded and Rufous-naped Wrens, White-throated Magpie Jay, Cinnamon and Steely-vented Hummingbirds and Nutting's Flycatcher, as well as several mangrove specialties such as Mangrove Vireo, Panama Flycatcher, Northern Scrub-Flycatcher and the mangrove sub-species of Yellow Warbler.
From here we drove further down the coast to the mouth of the Tárcoles River where we added a few more waterbirds like Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Brown Pelican and Magnificent Frigatebird.
Next in line was Carara National Park, so after grabbing a quick bite to eat from the stash in the back of the car we ran off to bird the trails. We started off well with a pair of Rufous Pihas just in the parking lot, then Carara was its usual self providing non-stop activity and producing bird after bird, several of which are south Pacific endemics: Charming Hummingbird, Black-hooded Antshrike, Riverside Wren, Baird's Trogon and Spot-crowned Euphonia. By the time we were leaving Carara at about 9:00a.m. we were up to 197 species and we could only hope our luck continued as we drove to the highlands.
The sun was blazing down as we reached the western slope of Irazú Volcano and bird activity was quite low, but we were still able to find some of the highland specialties such as Volcano, Scintillant and Talamanca Hummingbird, Lesser Violetear, Purple-throated Mountain-Gem, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, Ochraceous Wren, Collared Redstart and Black-cheeked Warbler.
From here we hurried on down to Braulio Carrillo National Park on the Caribbean foothills. As we got out of the car we were immediately greeted by a pair of Yellow-eared Toucanets! Though the trail was rather quiet we still managed to pick out some really great species. Black-faced Grosbeaks were by far the most prevalent species, but hanging out with them were other birds such as White-throated Shrike-Tanager, Ashy-throated Chlorospingus, Carmiol's, Emerald, Silver-throated, Speckled, Black-and-yellow and Tawny-crested Tanagers, Tawny-faced Gnatwrens, Tawny-capped and White-vented Euphonias. Nearby at the Old Butterfly Garden we picked-up a nice male Black-crested Coquette.
As it got later in the afternoon we began losing daylight so we picked-up the pace and sped on down to a location which is a personal favorite of mine, EARTH University. Here the birds came fast and furious with Purple-throated Fruitcrows, Scarlet-rumped Caciques, Montezuma and Chestnut-headed Oropendolas, Black-throated, Bay and Canebrake Wrens, Mealy and Red-lored Parrots, White-necked Puffbirds and as dusk approached a Central American Pygmy-Owl showed itself very well and a large flock of Eastern Kingbirds flew over the treetops on there journey north to their breeding grounds.
As the sun went down we switched back to owling mode and got ourselves caffeinated for the next six hours. We first heard Short-tailed Nighthawk and shortly after we found a pair of Spectacled Owls. We continued working our way out the long driveway with a spotlight and it was not long before we found the bright, orange reflection of a Great Potoo and as we got out of the car to look at it through the scope a Black-and-white Owl began calling from the forest behind. We spotted yet another Great Potoo before leaving EARTH, then we drove to Las Brisas Nature Reserve and found a Crested Owl and another Great Potoo. We decided we had done well in the lowlands and our best move would be to head up to higher elevations. At about 11:00p.m. we reached my home at Café Cristina and added three more owls: Bare-shanked and Tropical Screech-Owls, and just before midnight a Mottled Owl finished off our list.
After 24 hours birding non-stop, our tally totalled 346 bird species. Although we did not surpass the previous Costa Rican Big Day record of 351, it is still an impressive amount of birds for this small country.
Breaking the record was not our main goal anyway! This edition of Big Day was sponsored by Café Cristina, Las Brisas Nature Reserve and Get Your Birds!, and with this event we intend to bring attention to the Cabanisi Project and raise funds for the Cabanis's Ground-Sparrow conservation efforts.