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