December is not the ideal month for bird counts, at least not in Costa Rica. Yes, we do have warm, tropical weather and a fancy assortment of resident and wintering species. Nor is there any trudging through snow in search of extra hardy species or visits to feeders with the hope of finding a grackle or Red-winged Blackbird that failed to fly south. However, in Costa Rica, despite being wonderfully warm in December, the birding isn’t as straightforward as one might expect.

You see, December is also when cold fronts tend to soak the Caribbean side of the country. While heavy rains can’t compare with blizzards or the dearth of species in the frozen lands, constant rain does present challenges to bird counts. Even so, we still manage to find a heck of a lot of birds, even on counts where constant rain is very much expected.

One such event is the bird count at Arenal, a day typically replete with varying degrees of rain. The wet weather is expected and yet this year, perhaps because the count was held a bit later than usual, we lucked out with a hot, sunny day! Given the rain dodging we have had to do on past Arenal bird counts, I admit that it was a bit strange to shield the eyes from goold old helios while looking for warblers in the canopy. It was weird to position ourselves with the sun behind our backs so we could get better looks at dozens of low flying swifts. It was a nice change from needing to plan the count day around when and where the rain would fall.

Likely because of other bird counts being held around the same time, we had fewer participants in 2022. This left out of a route or two and may have contributed to a lower overall species total than expected but we still managed to record more than 300 species, we still saw lots of great birds on a memorable day of birding in the Arenal area.

These were some of the highlights.

The Count Meeting

The evening before the count takes place, we always have a meeting. This is a mini event replete with coffee, pastries, and a few vendors selling super cool bird art, shirts, earrings, and posters. A couple of presentations were also given; one by Diego Quesada of Birding Experiences regarding count routes, and another given by Juan Diego Vargas of Lifer Tours that provided interesting and novel information about the count species, the Keel-billed Motmot. This latter talk was excellent, Marilen and I were sorry to have to leave early so we could have enough time for dinner and early plenty of sleep before a long day of birding.

Diego Quesada talking about count routes.

Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo

This mega finally made it onto a count day list when two were seen by local guide Beto Palma at a large ant swarm at Pocosol in the Children’s Eternal Rainforest.


All possible quail-doves were found. When we take into account the sneaky, shy nature of these beautiful little doves, this is quite the accomplishment. Those species would be:

Violaceous Quail-Dove seen by our team, photo by Nancy Stevick.
  • Ruddy Quail-Dove- a bird of humid lowland and foothill habitats not encountered very often around Arenal.
  • Violaceous Quail-Dove– a rare and elusive bird that could turn up but is never expected. This was one we found and maybe the best species of the count.
  • Chiriqui Quail-Dove– a bird of middle elevation habitats. At least one was recorded by the brave folks who trekked up and into the humid forests of Cerro Perdidos.
  • Purplish-backed Quail-Dove– A foothill species and the one most expected at several sites near Arenal.

Raptors and Swifts

24 species of diurnal raptors were recorded including Bicolored Hawk, both Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks (rare birds in Costa Rica), and Black and Ornate Hawk-Eagles.

The swift action was also excellent, at least on our route. In the morning and even during mid-day, dozens of swifts coursed through the skies. White-collared was the most common but we also had many very good looks at Chestnut-collared along with a few Gray-rumped, two Lesser Swallow-tailed right at the end of the day, and views of both elusive species- White-chinned and Spot-fronted Swifts!

16 Hummingbird Species

Quite a few hummingbirds were around. These were mostly Rufous-tailed but we also had Black-crested Coquette, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, and other species including the only White-tipped Sicklebill of the count. No Snowcap but at least there were lots of other nice birds to look at.

A plumeleteer from another day.

Finca Luna Nueva and the Soltis Center

As they have always done on past counts, Finca Luna Nueva graciously provided our team with room and board for a night. Staying in a comfortable room and enjoying excellent, locally provided healthy cuisine is a rare treat for a bird count! I can’t express enough how good the food is at Luna Nueva. The surrounding habitat is also good for birds and as usual, we recorded more than 100 species by breakfast including Pied Puffbird (new for the count list), Rufous-winged Woodpecker, Green Ibis, Scarlet Macaw, and various other species of humid second growth and rainforest.

Many thanks also go to the Soltis Center for allowing us to enter and bird the foothill rainforests of this excellent site. Before entering the forest, we watched the hummingbird action at Porterweed bushes and flowering trees and picked up soaring Barred Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, and Black Hawk-Eagle. Inside the forest, we did well with finding a group of White-fronted Nunbirds flocking with Scarlet-rumped Caciques, Chestnut-headed Oropendolas, Rufous Mourner, and a few other birds. Then, we did even better by finding a first for the count and rare Violaceous Quail-Dove!

Lack of time meant we couldn’t look for Lanceolated Monklet at the waterfall area but we still did well.

Count Totals and eBird Trip Report

The final total for all routes was 307 species and our team had 152 species including 12 not recorded on any other route. Congrats go to the count organizers and all the participants who helped make the 2022 Arenal Count a wonderful and memorable day of birding. If you go birding in Costa Rica, you’ll see a lot around Arenal!

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.