Mountains are a boon for birding. Although marching up and down and up and down can be a literal pain, the feathered rewards come in the form of super cool local species that rarely or never make it down to lower elevations. At least that’s the case for Costa Rica. The montane forests of Costa Rica and western Panama are home to at least 50 species of birds that live nowhere else except for one or two that also occur in northwestern Colombia. Bird the high elevation habitats of the Talamancan Mountain Range and the regional endemics rule. For example, of the 60 or so species of birds that I saw last weekend in the upper, 2,500 meter reaches of the Dota Valley, 40 or so were highland endemics. Here are ten of those special species:

Volcano Junco  This yellow-eyed bird is a Volcano Junco. Although it does occur on a few volcanoes, a more accurate name would be “Paramo Junco”.

Sooty ThrushNo, not a Eurasian Blackbird. This is a Sooty Thrush, a common species high up there in the mountains.

Sooty-capped Bush Tanager

This smart looking bird used to be known as a Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager. Recently, the “bush-tanager” part was changed to “Chlorospingus”. This is one of the more common species in high elevation habitats.

Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher

The Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher is sort of like a Phainopepla that took a vacation in Costa Rica and stayed for a million years.

white throated mountain gemThe White-throated Mountain-Gem is one of the few hummingbird species that live up there.

Black billed Nightingale Thrush

Black-billed Nightingale-Thrushes can hop around at your feet.

Flame-throated Warbler

Finally, some color! Happily, the Flame-throated Warbler is common.

Yellow-thighed Finch

The Yellow-thighed Finch is also common. This bird is basically a brush-finch with yellow boots.

Costa Rican Pygmy Owl

Don’t let those big, imploring eyes fool you. Like other pygmy-owls, the Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl is a pint-sized terror.

Dusky Nightjar

If you hear something that sounds like an Eastern Whip-Poor-Will, it’s a Dusky Nightjar.

But wait, what about the Resplendent Quetzal? Isn’t that a high elevation endemic too? Nope, in addition to Costa Rica and western Panama, the good old R. Quetzal also lives in cloud forests in southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Nevertheless, despite it refusing to let Mike or Corey see it, Costa Rica is usually a good place to find one.

Resplendent Quetzal This one was showing its crazy colors at the La Georgina trails.

Since most of these pictures were taken at a place called Myriam’s Cafe and Cabins, I have to give a shout out to those very birder friendly people.

myriams signAny place that displays a sign like this should win a prize.

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Written by Patrick O'Donnell
Patrick O'Donnell became a birder at the age of 7 after seeing books about birds in the Niagara Falls, New York public library. Although watching thousands of gulls in the Niagara Gorge was sublime, more bird species (and warmer weather) eventually brought him to Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and other very birdy tropical places. A biologist by training, he has worked on bird-related projects in Colorado, Washington, Peru, and other locales, and has guided birders in Peru, Ecuador, and Costa Rica. These days, he lives in Costa Rica where he juggles guiding, freelance writing, developing bird apps for Costa Rica and Panama, posting on his Costa Rica birding blog, and discussing dinosaurs with his young daughter.