Surfbird (Calidris virgata)

The Surfbird is a medium-sized coastal bird that appears in September in the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, as they migrate towards the south to escape from winter. They are mainly grayish-brown on the upperparts, throat and chest, white with some dark spots on the underparts, bright yellow legs and a relatively small black bill with a little yellow on the base. Its color pattern helps them camouflage easily among the dark shore rocks.

American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus)

The American Oystercatcher is the only species that reaches Costa Rica, out of 12 species that compose the family Oystercatcher family. They are all very similar, mainly varying in terms of their plumage color. The American species has a brown-gray back, white underparts, pink legs and black head. The eye is yellow with surrounding orange orbital skin, and the bill is large and slim, orange in coloration, which is used to grab and eat shellfish. The inner plumage of the wing is also white, and is shown during flight, or also during displays when wading in the shallow water.

Due to their peculiar look, they are easy to identify among flocks of migratory birds, which normally are composed of gulls, terns, plovers and sandpipers, but are not as abundant during migration and any of those families. They are among the largest of such migratory bird groups. They prefer mud and salt flats that are exposed and shallow, where they can wade to grab prey. They feed by either severing the muscles that enable the mollusks to close tight, hereby getting the meaty interior out, or by grabbing the entire body with the shell, and hitting it against rocks to slam it open.

Northern Waterthrush (Parkesia noveboracensis)

The Northern Waterthrush is a member of the Warbler family with a body plan more similar to that of a thrush, albeit smaller. It is brown in the upperside, with brown streaks on a white belly. It has a white superciliary and flecking on the throat. The very similar Louisiana Waterthrush has a wider superciliary, with a white throat. Both species are terrestrial, with the Northern preferring slower moving streams and edges of ponds. Both species teeter their body as they move around. They are both migrants that occur in Costa Rica mainly from mid August to mid May, with the Northern being the most widespread and commonly seen in the territory.

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)

The Killdeer is a small bird similar to the Plover family. They are migrants that spend winter in Central and Southamerica, from late August to May. It is the only plover that shows two black bands on the chest, along with the orange edge of the eye. During the flight, they show mostly white on the underparts, brown on the upperside with tawny rump. They are noisy when flying, particularly if spooked, delivering a very high-pitched sound for which it receives its English common name.

Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens)

The Eastern Wood-Pewee is part of the Contopus family, a very difficult family to identify to species level in the field. It is very similar to the Tropical Pewee and the Western Wood-Pewee. The best field mark is the bill, which has orange lower mandible with a black tip. This species, unlike the Tropical Pewee, is a passage migrant and will only stay in the country from mid-August to November, and from mid-March to May. In similar fashion to the Western Wood-Pewee (and further differentiating from the Tropical), this bird will return to the same perch after a sally, so observing the behavior can help with identification.

Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)

Most Sandpiper species are pretty similar, specially as they come to Costa Rica in non-breeding plumage. Having a few different species mixed up in a single group can help for identification, as some of them will be showing the breeding plumage that distinguishes them, as well as other features like leg color. In this case, the Least Sandpiper has yellow legs, distinguishing it from the very similar Semipalmated Sandpiper. Also this bird is similar to the Pectoral Sandpiper, however the Pectoral is a lot bigger, has a yellowish bill, and the breast is streaked and delineated vs the white belly.

Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra)

If there is one bird that represents migration in Costa Rica, is the Summer Tanager. The bright red coloration of the male is marvelous, and the orange of the female is equally striking. I have seen males in Santa Ana while riding my bike, perched on the electricity wires. I have seen the females on a number of places, including El Copal (Tucurrique), Estación Biológica La Selva (Sarapiquí), my parent’s home (Río Frío), and most recently at Laguna del Lagarto Lodge (Boca Tapada), during a birdwatching tour with Fundación Rapaces de Costa Rica, on November 25th and 26th, 2017. The pictures below were taken at the lodge, where the Summer Tanager shared the feeders with Honeycreepers, Orioles and other Tanagers.

It also became apparent to me that the Summer and Scarlet Tanagers are very much alike. Female Summer Tanager’s resemble a lot the Female and non-breeding male Scarlet, however the Scarlet has black wings, which render them unmistakable if seen side by side. Body size and shape are almost identical, so depending on the posture it was difficult to identify them accurately.

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularis)

The Spotted Sandpiper is a common sight at the Pacific coast during the migration period, from August when they are going south, through April when they are returning to the north to spend the summer and raise their chicks. This species has a strange behavior, which helps to identify them very easily: They teeter their tails up and down continuously, as they forage in shallow waters. Even when they are not walking, they continue to display this movement.

Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)

The Baltimore Oriole is a colorful, migratory bird that can be seen all around the country during migration season. With such bright orange body and black head and wings, the male almost looks like a very poisonous beetle, but no bird species is poisonous to the extent of my knowledge. The female is duller, and does not have a black head as opposed to the male. The juvenile bird is even duller or pale when compared with both adults, though in low light it can be confused with the adult female.

This species comes from North America during late autumn and winter to escape the harsh, cold weather and find the abundance of the Costa Rican Tropical Rain Forest every year. I have seen it in various places, including Ciudad Colón, Río Frío, Sarapiquí and now Boca Tapada, where a lot of individuals were feasting on the fruit that the lodge administrator puts on the feeders. They can be seen fighting for the best feeding spots with Tanagers and Honeycreepers.