No matter how many times I visit Costa Rica, there is always something new to experience. Many think of lush tropical rainforests or jungles when Costa Rica comes to mind, but there is another biome in this small Central American country that is equally fascinating. That is the tropical dry forest.

This habitat is not the same year-round. Most of the year, during the dry season which can last between five and eight months, the tropical dry forest looks similar to our forests and fields during the winter months: brown and bare. Parts of the tropical rain forest can be so dry at certain times of the year that they resemble a desert. This dry forest is found in Costa Rica at altitudes from sea level to about 2,000 feet.

The soil of the tropical dry forest is much more fertile that that of the rain forest. This is an unfortunate characteristic for it led to widespread clear-cutting of the precious hardwood trees for sale and to open up the area for pasture and crops. Now only about two per cent of the original tropical dry forest remains.

This forest is the driest area in Costa Rica and hosts a variety of semi-deciduous tree species that drop their leaves during the dry months. Many of these trees bloom before they produce leaves after the beginning of the rains.

We just returned from the Guanacaste area of Costa Rica, which is in the northwestern section of the country and hosts the Santa Rosa and Guanacaste national parks. Both these parks are designed to preserve the tropical dry forest biome.

It had rained recently and the savannah oaks and Cortez trees were in full bloom, the oaks a pale pink and the Cortez trees an egg yoke yellow. I was also surprised to see many small plants and flowers that resembled succulents we see on the Vineyard beaches as well as spiny shrubs and vines as well as cacti.

The birds are unique as well. There are three endemic species in the tropical dry forest. They are a white-bellied chachalaca, a blue-tailed hummingbird and a giant wren. The giant wren is not found in Guanacaste but other two are. Of the many birds found in this area the thicket tintamou, the banded wren and the black-headed trogon are my favorites.

I also really enjoy a group of birds known as the puffbirds. Puffbirds are so named because they are stout, short-tailed and puffy. They normally eat frogs, lizards and insects. According to Stiles and Skutch, Birds of Costa Rica, the puffbirds are considered “bobo (stupid) because of their energy saving manner of foraging: while they perch in apparent lethargy, their eyes are keen to detect insects and other small invertebrates and move within their range of vision . . . With a rapid dart, the puffbird seizes its prey and carries it back to its perch.”

One day, out at Punta Coral a private dry forest reserve in the Gulf of Nicoya, we watched a white-necked puffbird catch and eat a hummingbird. Either the puffbird was very hungry or the hummingbird was very slow. If you visit Costa Rica, don’t forget there is more to this great country than the tropical rainforest.

Bird Sightings

The best news of the week on the Island comes from two areas in Edgartown about woodcocks. Shane Ben David and Dina Salvatore heard one on Feb. 25 off Meeting House Road in Edgartown and Suzan Bellincampi heard a second woodcock the same day at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. Suzan also mentioned that the female barn owl that is on camera is sitting on four eggs.

Martha Moore watched first a peregrine falcon perched on the Long Point osprey pole and then later on the same day, Feb. 27, 11 great blue herons flew in. One heron landed on the osprey pole and the remaining 10 kept circling to try to settle in. These herons were undoubtedly a migratory flock looking for a spot to roost for the night. On March 3, Martha called to say that a flock of fifty Canada geese flew into Middle Cove on Tisbury Great Pond along with two snow geese, a first for Martha on the Pond.

Cathy Minkiewicz of Indian Hill has had some nice feeder birds, including four Eastern bluebirds on Feb. 29 and a Carolina wren on Feb. 27. Cathy added that between the flock of twenty to thirty red-winged blackbirds and American robins, there are no berries left on any of the shrubs and trees around her house.

Eleanor Hubbard had a first for her feeder, a brown creeper who joined her tufted titmouse, black-capped chickadees and nuthatches in West Tisbury.

Cindy Hough was visiting the Island on March 1 and spotted a Eurasian wigeon in with American wigeons and black ducks at the end of Fuller street in Edgartown.

Happy Spongberg noticed several hybrid ducks in with sixty mallards on the Old Farm Road Pond on March 3. Maybe someone could help Happy determine what mixes these are.

Many people have been noticing an increase in common grackles and red-winged blackbirds in their yards or around the Island. This is the cusp just before migrants start to move, so keep you eyes peeled.

Please call in your bird sightings to 508-627-4922.


Susan B. Whiting, the coauthor of Vineyard Birds II, has led bird watching tours to Central America for three decades.