It takes a detour to reach Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge in Costa Rica but oh how the trip is worth it. The mix of lowland rainforest, second growth and extensive wetlands makes it a very birdy place to bring some binos. With those avian temptations in mind, I make a point of visiting at least once a year. In 2021, I would have looked for crakes and Pinnated Bitterns in July but my scheduled visit coincided with heavy rains that flooded the entrance road (along with causing some terrible problems in other places). Fortunately, the waters have long since subsided and I was able to make the trip this past weekend to participate in the Cano Negro Bird Count.

Always a fun time, this count involves boat trips, an abundance of Anhingas, and many other birds. These are some of the highlights from our incredible route.

Wintering Wood-warblers

It was a treat to see several wintering members of the esteemed Parulidae family. They won’t sing and they won’t be dressed for reproduction but seeing them is always a gift. As expected, Chestnut-sideds were very common and there was no lack of Yellows, Prothonotarys, or Northern Waterthrushes. A few Golden-wingeds and Black-and-whites also entertained, and we were psyched to catch glimpses of a beautiful, bandit masked, male Hooded. The golden bird was on a buggy island in a wetland, a spot that also harbored many other wintering warblers including several Tennessees and a busy Worm-eating.

My favorite, though, was my year Blue-winged Warbler. An uncommon species in Costa Rica, it was in a brushy area that reminded me of its breeding grounds.

Agami Heron

This secretive beauty is always a highlight. Only two of us got a glimpse but that was enough to add it to our long list of species for the day.

171 Species

Speaking of bird lists, our’s topped out at a crazy 171 species. This included 12 hours of very little birding on foot, almost all birding from a boat, and with a stop for lunch. We did not look for owls nor had access to a marshy lagoon that would have given us more birds, and yet still saw or heard that many species. What can I say but go to Cano Negro when visiting Costa Rica. If you like seeing lots of birds, you won’t be disappointed!

Yellow-tailed Oriole

This hefty, eye-catching oriole was expected on our route but we still soaked up the perfect, close looks. Despite the range map showing it occuring over a broad swath of land in eastern and northern Costa Rica, unfortunately, the cagebird trade has eliminated this choice species from most of the country. Hopefully, we can eventually turn that trend around.

Sharing a Memorable Birdy Day

Best of all, it was wondrful to be able to share this memorable day with my partner Marilen and other people who get a serious kick out of birds and the outdoors.

Topping Off the Day with Striped Owl on the Drive Out

Last but far from least, on our night drive out of Cano Negro, we had excellent looks at two Striped Owls. This cool tropical Asio often perches on roadside cables in marshy or grassy habitats, the road to Cano Negro is one of the more reliable places to see it in Costa Rica.

As with previous counts in Cano Negro, many thanks goes to Tatiana and Renato of Cano Negro Experience for doing a fantastic job of organizing and coordinating the count. Gracias! If you plan on visiting Costa Rica, think about visiting Cano Negro for birding. I bet you will see a lot.

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.