Unspotted now Spottable! by Kevin Easley

It was back in the fall of 2012 that Ernesto Carman, after many long nights up Turrialba Volcano, found and photographed an Unspotted Saw-whet Owl. It was considered rather mythical here in Costa Rica though we knew it occurred here. Steven and Magda went up that night and refound and photographed it at point blank range. I went up the next evening only to find rain and wind. A subsequent search with Steven, Magda and my Dad and Mom produced a sighting of the owl, albeit not at point blank range. Ernesto then found it again up Irazu Volcano and I have been able to see and show clients those birds just about every fall and early winter since then. Clients included Bart Brown with Steven, and with me, Tony & Martha Bauer, David & Susanne Cohen, Mike Mulligan twice, Ron Cicerello, and Ken Havard. Best time to look for it is prior to their breeding season when they are the most responsive; mid September to mid January. We have seen them in fog and a very light rain with some wind but if conditions are worse they tend not to show or most often times not call either. It is bone chilling cold up there at above 8,000 ft in altitude and you have to go prepared. Once into the nesting season you may get a response but they seem to go away rather than toward you which was the case in April of 2017 with owl enthusiasts Vaughan & Sveta Ashby. It has also been reported up Cerro de la Muerte and Chirripo as well with varying regularity. It is a spectacular owl to say the least and the most difficult of all of our Costa Rican owls.

Photo by Steven Easley, Turrialba Volcano

Photo by Kevin Easley, Irazu Volcano

Cuckoo for Cocos: 2009 Cocos Island Trip Report by: Kevin Easley


From April 25 – May 02 of 2009 I had the privilege of taking a group of birders to visit Cocos Island. This was my second time I have been on this trip with the Organization of Tropical Studies Biocursos group. This is a report of the 57 species of birds our group encountered during that trip with annotations for each species.

To view the selected photos from this Cocos trip and the a representative photos from Monteverde and San Gerardo Field Station pre-trip go to the bottom of this report.

I announced the trip to interested parties and in the end was able to put together an excellent birding group of 7 participants including myself: 

Left to right: Dick Coyler, Lorna & Dodge Engleman, Peter Robinson, Jim Zook, Kevin Easley, Jason Horn

Left to right: Dick Coyler, Lorna & Dodge Engleman, Peter Robinson, Jim Zook, Kevin Easley, Jason Horn

OVERVIEW OF TRIP: April 25 we departed from Playa Herradura North of Jaco on the Temptress at 7:00 PM.  The total time to reach Cocos Island was 35 hours, of those 35 hours the first 10 hours and the last 11 hours were at night giving us a full day (April 26) on the open sea. We had 4 full days at Cocos Island:

Apr 25: Departed at night from Playa Herradura (mainland CR) overnight

Apr 26: Full day out on Pacific Ocean

Apr 27: Arrived to Cocos Island at dawn, birded Wafer Bay in AM / on boat in afternoon

Apr 28: Chatham Bay in AM, hike over to Wafer Bay till noon / on boat in afternoon

Apr 29: Circumnavigated Cocos in zodiac in AM / on boat in afternoon

Apr 30: Both Bays in AM / Circumnavigated Cocos in afternoon / departed for mainland PM

May 01: Full day out on Pacific Ocean

May 02: Arrived to Playa Herradura (mainland CR) at 7:00 AM

We departed from Cocos Island in the late evening of April 30. It takes less time to return to the mainland (33 hours) due to currents. Of those 33 hours, the first 8 hours and the last 11 hours were at night giving us a full day (May 5) on the open sea. We arrived back to Playa Herradura around 7:00 AM on May 2.

On behalf of the group I would like to thank the OTS staff for all of their hard work in making this trip possible.  Cocos Island is truly a remarkable place. Through your efforts we learned its rich history, snorkelled in its clear waters, and saw not only the 3 endemics bird species but many others as well.

Also on behalf of the group I would like to send a huge thank-you to the crew of the Temptress. The accommodations and meals were excellent. The personal attention and professionalism of the staff simply superb. Well done!

Congratulations are definitely in order to Jim Zook, a long time Costa Rica birder and friend,  who went over the 800 mark for species seen in Costa Rica, the first to do so!

Species List for Cocos Island Trip, April 25 – May 2, 2009

American Wigeon Anas americana – Group of 5 flying open ocean during the return crossing was a very surprising find. This species is very rare in Costa Rica and not reported every year.

Galapagos Petrel Pterodroma phaeopygia – My personal highlight of the trip! This species is only known in Costa Rica from one report without voucher (no photos or video). We were able to verify it with photos taken as it swooped Pterodroma style over the waves. An endemic breeder on the Galapagos Islands, this species was formerly lumped into the Dark-rumped Petrel group.  Photos

Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus – Common during the crossings, most however were on the return crossing. Photos

Audubon’s Shearwater Puffinus lherminieri – Several during both crossing as well as regular sightings while anchored at Cocos. Photos

Leach’s Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa – Several sightings on the return crossing, some of which were very close to the boat. Photos

Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma tethys – The most common storm-petrel encountered, mostly on the return crossing. Photos

Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus -2 sightings on the crossing to Cocos, first at breakfast and then after lunch an adult over the boat

Masked Booby Sula dactylatra – Nesting colony (30+) on Cocos with young, none on crossings. Photos

Nazca Booby Sula granti – Fairly common on the crossings, beak color and tail pattern diagnostic. Photos

Red-footed Booby Sula sula – Common on crossings, abundant in nesting colonies on islets around Cocos, all in brown phase except on return crossing where we had 1 white phase. Photos – all brown phase

Brown Booby Sula leucogaster – Common on crossings, several colonies on islets around Cocos. Photos

(Brewster’s Brown Booby) Sula leucogaster brewsteri -This distinctive subspecies is known to breed off Baja California, several on Cocos which most likely is the first records of this subspecies for Costa Rica. Photos

Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens – Several on crossings, few seen on Cocos. Photos

Great Frigatebird Fregata minor – Abundant on Cocos. Photos

Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias – An individual was seen at Wafer Bay on Cocos most days. Photos

Great Egret Ardea alba – An individual was seen at Wafer Bay on Cocos most days.

Snowy Egret Egretta thula – At least one individual seen daily on Cocos. Photo

Little Blue Heron Egretta caerulea – 1 individual on Cocos. Photo

Tricolored Heron Egretta tricolor – 1 individual on Cocos. Photo

Osprey Pandion haliaetus – At least 2 different individuals on Cocos. Photos

Black-bellied Plover Pluvialis squatarola – 1 large flock of 23 individuals on the crossing to Cocos

American Golden-Plover Pluvialis dominica – 1 individual with an injured wing at Wafer Bay, fly however. Photos

Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus – Several at Wafer Bay on Cocos. Photos

Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia – 1 individual at Wafer Bay on Cocos. Photos

Solitary Sandpiper Tringa solitaria – 1 individual at Wafer Bay on Cocos. Photos

Wandering Tattler Heterosceles incanus – Several at Wafer Bay on Cocos and on rocky shorelines. Photos

Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes – 2 flocks totaling 18 on the crossing to Cocos

Upland Sandpiper Bartramia longicauda – 3 at Wafer Bay, 1 with broken leg. Photos

Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus – Several at Wafer Bay. Photos

Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla – 1 individual at Wafer Bay on Cocos. Photos

Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotos
2 migrating groups on crossing plus 1 individual at Wafer Bay on Cocos. Photos

Swallow-tailed Gull Creagrus furcatus – 1 sub-adult following the boat spotted by Jason Horn at 2:45 AM on April 27. We later had 3 adults on Dos Amigos Pequinos Rocks just off Cocos. Also while docked in Wafer Bay we saw an individual fly past a few times. Not sure if this was a different individual. Nearest known breeding grounds are in the Galapagos Islands and on an island well off Columbia . Photos

Sabine’s Gull Xema sabini – 1 adult during crossing to Cocos, not seen by everyone in the group.

Laughing Gull Leucophaeus atricilla – 1 sub-adult was seen at Wafer Bay on Cocos. Photos

Franklin‘s Gull Larus pipixcan – Several sightings on the crossings. 1 lone individual on Cocos along with a most impressive sighting of a migrating group in flight of 400+ individuals the afternoon of April 29. Photos

Brown Noddy Anous stolidus – Several sightings on the crossings, very common on Cocos. Photos

Black Noddy Anous minutus – 1 individual on small island in Wafer Bay. Photos

White Tern Gygis alba – Common on crossing but toward Cocos side (late afternoon on crossing to Cocos, early morning on return to mainland), abundant on Cocos where seen in pairs and feeding young. Photos

Sooty Tern Sterna fuscata – 1 individual on small island in Wafer Bay. Photos

Black Tern Chlidonias niger3 on crossing to Cocos, 2 on return crossing.

Common Tern Sterna hirundo – 3 on return crossing.

Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus – 1 adult on crossing to Cocos

Parasitic Jaeger Stercorarius parasiticus – 1 adult on crossing to Cocos

Cocos Cuckoo Coccyzus ferrugineus – Endemic – seen daily at Wafer Bay on Cocos and also at Chatham Bay. Listed as Cocos Island Cuckoo in some literature. Photos

Cocos Flycatcher Nesotriccus ridgwayi – Endemic – easily encountered once voice is recognized, seen or heard daily at Wafer Bay and Chatham Bay. Listed as Cocos Island Flycatcher in some literature. Photos

Great Crested Flycatcher Myiarchus crinitus – 1 at Chatham Bay. Photos

Fork-tailed Flycatcher Tyrannus savana – 1st record for Cocos Island. Initially found by Erick Castro on April 27 at the top of the grassy hill above Chatham bay. Our group re-found this lone adult the next day in the same area. Photos

Red-eyed Vireo Vireo olivaceus – 1 individual along trees at the mouth of the creek, Wafer Bay. Photos

Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor – 1st record for Cocos Island. 1 individual with other swallows at top of the grassy hill above Chatham Bay. Photos

Bank Swallow Riparia riparia – 1 following boat on crossing to Cocos and 2 with other swallows above Chatham Bay.

Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota – Several with other swallows foraging over grassy area above Chatham Bay, 1 following boat on return crossing. Photos

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica – A few on both crossings plus another 8 on Cocos Island above Chatham Bay

Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia aureola -fairly common on Cocos Island seen mostly along the beach areas, listed as same subspecies as found on Galapagos with rusty crown. Photos

Palm Warbler Dendroica palmarum palmarum – 1 foraging in grassy area at Wafer Bay. This is an a rare species to be seen in Costa Rica, only my 2nd one ever. Western race. Photos

Northern Waterthrush Seiurus noveboracensis – 3 individuals on Cocos, at least 2 at Wafer Bay and 1 at Chatham Bay. Photos

Cocos Finch Pinaroloxias inornata – Endemic – abundant on Cocos Island. Note: although considered by some to be closely related to the “Galapagos” finches it is listed taxonomically quite distant from them. Listed as Cocos Island Finch in some literature. Photos

Bobolink Dolichonyx oryzivorus – 2 pairs together at the top of the grassy hill above Chatham Bay. Photos

Baltimore Oriole Icterus galbula - 1 seen at Wafer Bay.

Pre-Cocos trip to San Gerardo Field Station:

The pre-trip was also very successful. Dick Coyler and Peter Robinson joined me for 1 night at Monteverde and 2 nights at San Gerardo Field Station where we searched out their target species. The main target being the lekking Bare-necked Umbrellabird which we had amazing views of along with up to 20 displaying Three-wattled Bellbirds in the general area. We also made a stop in the Mangroves in route to the boat dock for the endemic Mangrove Hummingbird.

Highlights were many and included the following:

Highland Tinamou Scaly-throated Foliage-Gleaner
Black Guan Gray-throated Leaftosser
Crested Guan Brown-billed Scythebill
Black-breasted Wood-Quail Scaled Antpitta
King Vulture Black-headed Antthrush
Bicolored Hawk Silvery-fronted Tapaculo
Tiny Hawk                                                 White-throated Spadebill
Barred Forest-Falcon Rufous-browed Tyrannulet
Buff-fronted Quail-Dove Three-wattled Bellbird
Bare-shanked Screech-Owl Bare-necked Umbrellabird – displaying
Mangrove Hummingbird – endemic Long-tailed Manakin
Coppery-headed Emerald – endemic Sharpbill
White-bellied Mountain-Gem Azure-hooded Jay
Magenta-throated Woodstar Nightingale Wren
Orange-bellied Trogon Blue-and-gold Tanager – nesting
Prong-billed Barbet White-eared Ground-Sparrow
Streak-breasted Treehunter A fine list of birds!!!

We will be conducting another Cocos Island Cruise in late April of 2011 along with the San Gerardo Field Station trip so contact us for more information regarding these fabulous tours.

Wafer Bay, Cocos Island

Galapagos Petrel

Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo sightings! by: Kevin Easley


During a February 09 tour with Jim and Beth Dewilde from Michigan we were very fortunate to find one of the rarest species in Costa Rica, that being the elusive Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo.  After many days of rain on the Caribbean side of the country we found ourselves at Heliconias Lodge in the NW.  It rained on and off all night but fortunately we awoke to a fairly nice morning and soon were walking the trails of the lodge.  Birds were active and we noted Broad-billed Motmot, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Spotted Antbird, Nightingale and Song Wrens, White-ruffed and Long-tailed Manakins in the fruiting trees, and several other nice species.  Our luck got better when I was pointing out a Gray-chested Dove and Jim noticed a Tody Motmot well hidden in the understory.  A couple of hundred meters down the trail we came upon a Ruddy Woodcreeper, then a Northern Barred Woodcreeper…and I knew we had us an army ant swarm nearby.  We waited patiently noting Spotted, Bicolored, and Ocellated Antbirds but have to admit that I was hoping for something a bit larger.  I saw something scamper under a bush and after a couple of minutes it ran back out – the distinctive roadrunner like shape zipped across my bins – we had us an attending Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo!  Jim refound it perched a couple of feet off the ground and we watched it for almost 5 minutes as it preened.  This was my first for the country having seen it in Peru and Panama previously but oh how I wanted to see it in Costa Rica.

Jason Horn was guiding a CRG group there a week later and chanced on the cuckoo near where we had seen it.  This was just after seeing a male Bare-necked Umbrellabird just minutes before – quite a 1, 2 punch!

Macklin Smith had scheduled a 3 day target trip with me starting at 1:00 PM on Feb 25 and this was his most wanted bird.  We changed our itinerary to concentrate our efforts on the cuckoo and drove straight to Heliconias Lodge that afternoon.  We awoke to driving rain the following morning and decided to wait it out.  It finally subsided about 11:00 AM and we began to pace back and forth along the trail where it had been seen previously, listening for the low growl of antbirds to tip us off to an ant swarm.  A Yellow-eared Toucanet appeared, ALWAYS nice, and a Spotted Antbird, but not much else.  About 45 minutes later and at the end of the section I had been pacing I saw the cuckoo run across the trail.  I turned to Macklin to see if he had seen it and seeing his eyes as big as saucepans I knew he had.  We watched it run through the undergrowth a couple of times and then waited patiently.  All of sudden it came bursting out of the brush and posed for us in the open giving us great views.  As we waited for more views one of the local guides, Henry, came up the trail and announced that he had the cuckoo.  I told him we saw it as well and that it was probably still in this thicket.  Henry was surprised and then began to tell us that his cuckoo was on the other side of the property and that I could probably get photos.  Back by the lodge for my camera and up the trail we went.  We were soon at the army ants which were descending from 35 feet up a tree where they had spent the night.  Looking into the undergrowth Henry re-found the cuckoo and I was able to get a few photos.  I was hoping that my brother Steven, his wife Magda, and our client and long time friend Bart Brown had arrived to the lodge but no silver Isuzu Rodeo in the parking lot.  We left the lodge about 3:00 PM and passed my brother en-route.  We talked briefly as I wanted them to get up to the lodge ASAP to look for the cuckoo.  In talking with them later that evening on the phone they confirmed that Henry had taken them to the swarm right after they arrived and that they had seen the cuckoo.  Always nice when you can share your joy of seeing a great bird with others and what a truly amazing bird it is!!!

Sapphire-throated Hummingbird in SW Costa Rica! by: Kevin Easley

Near Golfito Costa Rica:  Day 4 – I met Dave and Jayne Barnard along with their excellent birder son Harry for a pre-dawn coffee and a spotlighted Bronzy Hermit at the nearby heliconia flowers.  We had heard Uniform Crake the day before at dusk and after an initial response this morning the crake went quiet but Harry and I saw one in the middle of a side trail.  We decided to give this one another try the next morning.  On the trail we had stunning views of Black-cheeked Ant-Tanagers, Gray-headed Kite, Great Tinamou, and other more common species.  A calling Brown-billed Scythebill refused to come closer.  After breakfast we decided to try the obscure trail we tried the day before.  I stopped for about 10 minutes by some flowering Chinese Sword Trees (a type of erythrina) hoping for Long-billed Starthroat but no hummingbirds were present.  Further along I heard a Striped Cuckoo and asked the Barnards if they would like to see it even though we saw one on our previous trip.  They like seconds on birds and agreed to give it a go.  I noticed a few more Chinese Sword Trees in bloom so I decided to stand by those while I called in the Striped Cuckoo.  After a few minutes a male Long-billed Starthroat showed very well.  The cuckoo was getting closer but in flies a female Mango.  I had not seen a Mango sp. in the Southwest and thought to myself that it was probably the rare Veraguan Mango – the females of this and the Green-breasted are quite similar with no definite field marks to separate them.  What we needed was a male and we were not disappointed when soon after 2 male Veraguan Mangos appeared showing the throat and breast features separating them from Green-breasted.  A lifer for us all, something I don’t get very often in Costa Rica these days.  Another smaller hummingbird flew in and did not show very well but enough to puzzle me.  After a few minutes I had a thought in the back of my head that it could have been a Sapphire-throated Hummingbird.  The cuckoo came in and I shook off that crazy notion about the hummingbird.  Minutes later this same hummingbird appeared and this time showed extremely well.  I asked Harry if he knew what it was and he said it was a Sapphire-throated Hummingbird to which I replied an enthusiastic YES!  Having left my camera gear in the room, as it doesn’t go well with walking up creeks, I went back to fetch it in order to document this species – who would believe me without proof?  At the lodge I called Jim Zook and my brother Steven to inform them of this find and to spread the word to any birders coming to this area.  I also left a message on the cell phone of Ernesto Carman (CRG bird guide) who was guiding John and Karen Shrader and Tricia Glass for us on the Osa Peninsula at the time.  If Ernesto got my message then he could just drop down the next day on his way out and try for these two hummers.  Back at the flowers I was able to get definitive photos of the Sapphire-throated Hummingbird which eased my mind a bit – a picture is worth a thousand words and no better example of this is in the identification of birds in my opinion.  On that high we headed up the creek again and this time we were successful with a male White-throated Shrike-Tanager and a very cooperative Brown-billed Scythebill.  Late afternoon had us again on La Gamba Road watching Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, a pair of Red-rumped Woodpeckers, Yellow-billed Cacique, Blue-headed Parrot, and Thick-billed Euphonia. A late afternoon drive through many fields eventually produced 7 Southern Lapwing.  The following day I received a text message from Ernesto…”Nailed both hummers…Muchas Gracias!”  3 days later my brother Steven and his wife Magda made a special trip to the area and were able to get these remarkable photos of the 2 species including both male and female Veraguan Mango.  To finish the story on the Uniform Crake above…the following morning we tried again for this mega-skulker and were thrilled to see 3 of them.