Costa Rica Birding Trip - June 2005
by Bill and Judy Adams
After years of
wishful thinking, we finally made it to Costa Rica in June
2005. We left Redding, California in the early evening
of June 14 and after flying all night arrived at San Jose
airport at 7:30 a.m. on the 15th. We were quite pleased
to make it through customs, rent our 4X4 and cell phone, and
were driving toward Orotina by 9:00 a.m. We had heard about the
black and white owls at the city park and wanted to have the chance to see
them. We speak (and read) very little Spanish and after seeing
the owls we preceded to drive the wrong way down a one way street. Probably
was a good thing we learned that lesson early in the trip.
We finally made
it to the Rio Tarcoles about 11:30 a.m. and stopped long
enough to take a quick look at the crocodiles
in the river. We counted 42 of them. Then we headed for
Villa Lapas to drop off our luggage so that we could bird and not
worry about the car being broken into.
While we were
still on the grounds of the resort, we saw a chestnut-mandibled
toucan, golden-hooded tanagers, a green kingfisher,
rufous-naped wrens, rufous-tailed hummingbirds,a yellow-throated
euphonia, common tody flycatchers, and a Hoffman's woodpecker.
After walking across the creek on a hanging bridge, we saw
a blue-crowned motmot, sulfur-rumped flycatcher, white-whiskered
puffbird, black-headed trogon and various other birds.
We wanted to be
back at the bridge in time to see the macaws fly over, so
we took a quick trip out to the mouth of the Tarcoles River. Along
the way we were pleased to see a yellow-headed caracara, some
scarlet -rumped tanagers (pacific race), a squirrel cuckoo, blue-black
grassquits, a pair of variable seedeaters, and a lineated
woodpecker. At the river, there were mangrove swallows, egrets, black-bellied
whistling ducks, a couple of white ibis, brown pelicans and a
frigatebird. It was getting close to sundown, so we headed
back to the bridge in time for the flyby! You could hear
them coming as we arrived and parked by the little police shed.
As we got out of the car, there in the trees right by the road was a flock
of orange-chinned parakeets.
The next morning,
after a restless night as the iguanas on our roof chose
to be quite noisy, we birded the road up to the waterfall fall.
It was a great morning. Gray-headed tanagers, a pair of rose-breasted
becards building a nest, a white hawk, violaceous trogon, black-headed
trogon, white-shouldered tanager, green and red-legged honeycreepers,
buff-breasted saltators, masked tityra, and orange-chinned parakeets.
At the gardens near the waterfall over look we saw a golden-naped
woodpecker, a long-tailed hermit, steely-vented hummingbird, scaly-breasted
hummingbird,a little hermit, and a fork-tailed emerald.
We found a nice
restaraunt right on the beach called Steve and Lisa's. A
perfect place to eat and wait out the afternoon shower. June
is part of the "rainy" season in Costa Rica and every afternoon
there was a nice downpour. A few of the days we were there
it also rained on into the night, but every morning, the weather was
either sunny or just overcast and stayed that way until about 3:00
p.m. We weren't bothered by the weather except on our visit to Tapanti
National Park. We just planned our day arround it and had our
ponchos handy to cover our cameras and binoculars.
When the rain stopped
we headed for Cerro Bed and Breakfast, a simple Tican home
on a hill overlooking the Gulf of Nicoya. The grounds were
very pretty and the home neat and clean. Federico Ferraro
was a friendly and gracious host, providing us with the best breakfast
we had on our entire trip. Knowing that we were meeting
a guide at Carara at 5:30 a.m. he got up early and fixed our breakfast.
His home is about a 15 minute drive to the entrance of Carara.
The added bonus of staying there was the birding we did as
we headed up the 3 km dirt road to his home. The first evening,
we stayed two, we saw 9 turquoise-browed motmots on the way in. The
second night we started a little earlier and saw, motmots, rufous-tailed
hummingbirds,a cinnamon hummingbird, a magpie jay (only one we saw
on the trip), ferruginous pygmy-owls, a squirrel cuckoo, rose-throated
becards, and a stripe-headed sparrow were the notable birds. The
next morning, there was a scarlet macaw flyby right over the property.
We will stay with him on our next trip to the Carara area. Contact
him at www.cerrolodge.net
Carara was awesome
and our list of birds long. I'll mention just a few
of the ones we were most excited about seeing. We didn't
get good photo-ops because it was overcast and the canopy so
thick that the low light caused most of our shots to turn
out blurry. Just a note to anyone planning a birding trip.
You can't get into the park until 7:00 a.m. unless you have
prescheduled a guide to go with you. Note-worthy birds for
us: purple-crowned fairy, long-tailed hermit, little hermit, gray-necked
woodrail, boat-billed heron, American pygmy kingfisher, black-hooded
antshrike, chestnut-backed antbird, barred antshrike, rufous-breasted
wren, rufous and white wren, royal flycatcher, slate-headed tody
flycatcher, dotted-winged antwren, bare-throated tiger heron,
plain xenops, orange-billed sparrow, spotted woodcreeper, tawny-winged
woodcreeper, streak-headed woodcreeper, white-winged becard,
slaty-tailed trogon, orange-chinned parakeets and a striped cuckoo.
We heard a collared forest-falcon and a rufous-tailed jacamar.
Here's the joke on us. While with the guide, we followed
the calls of scarlet macaws from the canopy, off the main trail,
craning our necks and getting eaten by mosquitos, sure at any moment
we were going to encounter some poisonous snake, but never did get a
look at one (macaw that is). About 3 in the afternoon, we decided
to go back for one last try at a close-up of a macaw. We returned
to the spots the guide had led us to earlier and finally got a couple of
long shots through the trees. It started to sprinkle so we headed
for the parking area. About 100 yards from the exit there were 3 macaws
sitting in plain sight of the main trail. We got our pictures!
Now, we were off
to San Gerardo de Dota in hopes of seeing a quetzal. We
headed down to Quepos thinking we might stop at the beach along
the way. Instead we stopped several times along the way
to look at hawks. Most of the times we didn't get stopped soon
enough to make identifications, but we did add a roadside hawk, gray
hawk, crested caracara and a swallow-tailed kite to our list.
Then came the road from Quepos to Dominical. Thank goodness
for the 4X4. Let's just say, it's very rutted and the trucks
in Costa Rica never pull over to let you by. In fact, they weave
from side to side dodging the holes without ever looking in the rear-view
mirror. We arrived in San Isidro de General in time for lunch after adding
an Amazon kingfisher and a blue dacnis to our list. Now our
dilema was what to do for lunch with all our belongings in the car. It
is not safe to leave things in your car in Costa Rica especially in
a big city (No different than L.A). The solution was McDonald's take-out.
We ate in the parking lot. San Isidro was the only big city we were
in during our stay in Costa Rica. We made a big circle around San
Jose as the airport is actually in the town of Alajuela. McDonald's
was the only fast food restaraunt we saw on this trip.
After lunch, we
began what was to be my worst 2 hours of the vacation. We
headed out of San Isidro on the Interamerican Highway, the main
highway connecting all of Central America. Within 10 minutes
we hit fog, fog so thick that my camera couldn't focus enough to
take a picture. The road was very steep, windy and narrow. Since
this is the main road connecting two of the biggest cities of
Costa Rica, it is used by many trucks. The trucks couldn't
travel faster than 20 kph, so everyone just pulled out and
passed, even if you could only see about 100 meters or less ahead
of you on a windy road. I have never been so happy to exit a
road in my life. Bill was happy too! No more listening to my
While in the San
Gerardo de Dota area we stayed at both the Trogon Lodge and
the Savegre Lodge. While the Trogon Lodge receives
a lot less acclaim than the Savegre, we were very pleasantly
surprised at how beautiful the rooms and grounds were. We
would have been happy to stay there the entire 3 days we were
in the area. The first morning we were there, Alex, an employee
of Trogon Lodge, showed us a quetzal nest near the parking area
for a waterfall just past the entrance to the Savegre Lodge.
The male was on the nest when we arrived. About half
an hour later the female arrived with a grasshopper to feed the
young. She called from a tree nearby. The male exited and
sat in the tree for a while until an emerald toucanet got too close
to the nest and the male quetzal began to attack it, trying to drive
it off. After about 3 attacks, the toucanet headed off. It
Besides the quetzals
and toucanet, we saw 61 other species of birds in the San
Gerardo de Dota area. Some of our favorites were the
gray-tailed (white-throated) mountain gem whose female is as
beautiful as any male, volcano hummingbird, scintillant
hummingbird, green violet-ear, violet sabrewing, collared trogon
female, spotted wood-quail, sulpher-winged parakeet, buffy tuftedcheek,
tufted flycatcher, torrent tyrannulet, spot-crowned woodcreeper,
long-tailed silky flycatcher, black-faced solitaire, flame-throated
warbler, collared redstart, black-cheeked warbler, flame-colored
tanager, silver-throated tanager, spangle-cheeked tanager, slaty
flowerpiercer, black-thighed grosbeak, yellow-bellied siskin, and
the elegant euphonia (blue-hooded).
We left Savegre
Lodge in the rain and headed for Tapanti National Park. This
was the only day that the rain really impacted us. We
had planned to spend an hour birding before heading out, but reminded
each other that this would give us extra time at Tapanti, where
we had only planned on a 24 hr period of time. What we didn't know
was that it would only stop raining for a short period of time that
day. Of course, that would be the time while we were driving. We
left our things at Kiri Lodge during a break in the weather and hurried
to the park. We were about 15 minutes down the first trail when
the heavens opened up. Thankfully there was a covered picnic area about
100 meters away. As we ducked underneath, we startled a slaty-backed
nightingale-thrush that hopped away just out of sight, but continued
to sing to us from somewhere close by. But this downpour was
even more than we wanted to brave with our ponchos. We waited
for an hour then headed back to the SUV during a slowdown. About
40 minutes before sunset, it stopped long enough for us to take a short
walk down the road. The birds were happy to be out of the rain
and several varieties showed up. Activity included a red-headed
barbet, several silver-throated tanagers, golden-browed chlorophonia,
tufted flycatcher, chestnut-headed oropendola, scarlet-thighed dacnis,
olivaceous woodcreeper, red-faced spinetail, slate-throated redstart,
palm tanager, a male collared trogon, and a black-faced grosbeak.
Early the next morning on the road to the
park (it also didn't open until 7) we added a red-eyed vireo, green
thorntail, tawny-capped euphonia, spotted antpitta, mistletoe tyrannulet,
dusky-faced tanager, passerini tanager, white-eared ground sparrow,
and a yellow-throated brush-finch, there were other misc. ones we
didn't bother to write down as we had seen them before..
Our day at Rancho
Naturalista was jam-packed. Since we were the only
guests there, I think we got extra special attention. We arrived
at noon and were met by Leo, a young man who turned out to be the
best guide of our entire trip. (We had 3 others) He knew
every bird sound and if he heard it he could almost always find it,
just where to look for specialty birds and great ways of calling
them in. He also carried a pointer that he used when we
were having trouble spotting some far off bird. We had to leave for
La Selva by noon the following day, but in that short period of time
we saw 104 species and Leo saw a few more that we missed. Our
favorites: sunbittern, brown-headed parrot, white-crowned parrot,
green hermit, white-necked jacobin, brown violet-ear, violet-headed
hummingbird, blue-throated goldentail, snowcap, rufous motmot,
blue-crowned motmot, rufous-winged woodpecker, golden-olive
woodpecker, brown-billed scythebill, russet antshrike, checker-throated
antwren, dusky antbird, immaculate antbird, white-collared manakin,
white-crowned manakin, white-ruffed manakin, scale-crested pygmy
tyrant, rufous mourner, piratic flycatcher, cinnamon becard, black-throated
wren, stripe-breasted wren, black-headed nightingale-thrush, yellow-green
vireo, tropical parula, golden-crowned warbler, black and yellow
tanager, white-lined tanager, bay-headed tanager, speckled tanager,
yellow-faced grassquit, black-striped sparrow, and Montezuma oropendola.
The staff at Rancho Naturalista
stuffed us one final time, and we were off to La Selva. The
food at Naturalista was top of the line! Best guide, good
food, terrific accomodations and without a doubt our visit to Rancho
Naturalist was a highlight of our trip to Costa Rica. The
pictures below are of our room and of Bill and Leo (guide) on the
open patio where we enjoyed all of our meals and watched hummingbirds
at the same time. There was a lovely diningroom too, but we
enjoyed being outside.
Just as we arrived at Gavilan
Rio Sarapiqui Lodge a collared aricari flew past our SUV and landed
above the room we would be staying in. WOW! The manager
had arranged a guide for us at La Selva for the morning of the 24th
and a boat trip on the Rio Sarapiqui for the morning of the 25th.
We had really been looking forward
to our trip to La Selva. It has the largest list, by far, of species
found in the area. We arrived at the gate at 5:45 a.m. and after
paying for entrance fees and for the guide ($72 for the 2 of us) we
headed out with the guide at about 6:10. About an hour and a half
later, with only 29 species on our list (8 life birds), the guide informed
us it was time to head back as he had another group to lead at 8:00. As
he was dropping us back at headquarters at 7:50, Bill and I looked
at each other and shook our heads and Bill made the comment that he wished
we could have brought Leo with us. Since no one kicked us out, we retraced
the path we had followed with the guide and in fact made it out to the
end of the main pathway. Life birds seen with the guide, red-lored
parrot, mealy parrot, bay wren, buff-rumped warbler, gray-rumped
swift, black-crowned tityra, scarlet-rumped cacique, laughing falcon
(h) and plain-colored tanager. Life birds seen by ourselves, white-necked
puffbird, chestnut-collared woodpecker, rufous-tailed jacamar, white-breasted
wren, olive-backed euphonia, great antshrike, king vulture, yellow
tyrannulet, band-backed wren, smoky-brown woodpecker,striated-green
heron, thrushlike manakin, yellow-billed cacique and crimson-collared
tanager. Other good birds seen without the guide, golden-hooded
tanager, masked tityra, black-cowled oriole, barred woodcreeper, little
hermit, blue dacnis, scarlet-thighed dacnis, bronzy hermit, long-tailed
hermit, red-footed plumeleteer, rufous motmot, and a white-collared manakin
that played the "click" game with us for about 10 minutes. Bill would
entice it to one spot by snapping his fingers, then we'd head about
20 feet down the pathway and Bill would snap a few times again and
it would follow us there. We gave up the game when the jacamar
we had been straining to see through the undergrowth earlier landed
on the pathway in front of us and proceeded to take a dust bath. Oh,
as we were peering in the tangle of vines, looking for the manakin, I
suddenly realized that about 15 feet away there was a boa stretched out
and resting away from the heat. A big one too!!!
After leaving the main gate, we walked down the road a ways. Actually
we were following a slaty-tailed trogon, looking for photo ops.
Just past a decorative entry that was under construction, we both
saw what appeared to be a green macaw fly from treetop to treetop in
the distance, but it was too far away for a positive ID. As we headed
back to the SUV, there near the gate were 6 peccaries. So it wasn't such
a bad morning after all.
That afternoon there was a thunderstorm
that lasted into the night. In a simple Tican dwelling, the noise
is quite deafening. But the relief from the heat was welcome.
Our boat met
us at the Gavilan dock in the morning and the driver, guide, assured
us that since we were the only clients on board (green-season)
we could just yell stop at any time and he would move the boat in
for a closer look. Most of the time he stopped for things before we
asked and made a real effort for us to get pictures along the way. He
even pulled the boat up under a tree beneath a sleeping sloth and proceeded
to shake the tree and bang on the boat until it "moved" for us.
On June 25, we moved to the La Quinta
Country Inn. It has beautiful grounds and nice rooms, each
with its own patio with chairs and hammock. And we had our own
Bronzy Hermit that spent long periods sitting on the flowering vines
that surrounded our patio. A short walk around the grounds yielded some
great birds. Olive-backed euphonia, red-legged honeycreeper,
keel-billed toucan, gray-necked woodrails, golden-hooded tanagers,
green kingfisher, Montezuma oropendolas, black-cowled orioles, passerini
tanagers, and of course, blue-gray tanagers which are very pretty, but
common in Costa Rica.
June 26 was a busy one. We
headed out just at dawn for Virgen del Socorro. As we tiptoed
past the other rooms, we saw the funniest thing. A red-legged
honeycreeper looking at itself in the glass on the pool room windows.
It was so engrossed that we had time to get our cameras out of
their cases and take about 6 pictures each before it came to its senses
and flew away.
After a great morning walking
the dirt road down to the bridge, we headed for La Paz Catarata. Virgen
birds: blue dacnis, scarlet-thighed dacnis, shinning honeycreeper,
emerald toucanet, red-headed barbet, silver-throated tanager, spangled-cheeked
tanager, slate-throated redstart, sooty-faced finch, wedge-billed woodcreeper,
yellow and black tanager, green honeycreeper, bay-headed tanager, sooty-capped
brush-tanager, dotted-winged antwren, tropical parula, American dipper,
slaty-backed nightingale-thrush, black phoebe, white-ruffed manakin,
bright-rumped attila, black-breasted wood-quail, crimson-collared tanager,
torrent tyrannulet, and a collared trogon.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens are an unforgettable
experience. The entire garden is beautiful. Each of the waterfalls
are spectacular,but we only had our long lenses along and couldn't
get pictures of the waterfalls because we were too close. (catching
the spray close) As we were heading back to La Quinta, we found a place
where we could pull off and take a picture of the La Paz Waterfall from
the road, but even then we were too close to get the entire waterfall in
the picture, and the pool at the bottom is half the beauty.
In the covered Butterfly Garden, not only are
the butterflies beautiful, but there was a kiosk with hundreds
of chrysalis' from each of the varieties, some hatching as we
At the Hummingbird Garden there were hundreds
of hummingbirds zooming around. The garden provided individual
feeders that you could hold and the hummers would come right in.
We took pictures and held feeders for about half an hour. We had
planned to come back after walking the trails and just sit and look for
the rare birds, but the afternoon showers began around 3:30 and we left.
On the way down the hill we stopped for lunch/supper
at a little "soda", a little restaraunt called Mirador de Catarata
which means "overlooking the waterfall". We had heard this was
a great place to view hummingbirds and we were not disappointed. The
back patio overlooks the San Fernando Waterfall, and has 7 or 8 feeders
that are constantly full. We added a striped-tailed hummingbird to our
list and we got a great male thorntail picture while we were there. It
was a pleasant experience.
just 3 days left of our vacation and while birding was the main purpose
of this trip, we now set off to enjoy the Arenal Volcano. We had heard
that the top of the mountain is frequently obscured by a cloud cover
so we were pleased to see the mountain as we pulled into La Fortuna.
That evening we drove around to the west side of the mountain
to watch the molten rocks that regularly spill over the top and down the
side. You could hear the rumble of the moving rocks and follow their
path downward. We returned to the lodge and ended up sitting on
the porch listening to the mountain. (The lava activity was
not visable from this side.) Suddenly, there was a really loud rumble
and fire and molten rocks began shooting out the top. It continued
for about 8-10 seconds. It was really awesome!!
The next day we hiked down to the La Fortuna
Waterfall. It was very beautiful. We just sat and watched
it for awhile. Then several groups of people came and began swimming
in the pools near the bottom, so we left.
If you look at the
right side of this
Watching the mountain at night
A southern lapwing
in the field
picture, you can
see the smoking
beside the Hotel Tacotal.
June 29 and our final day in Costa Rica.
We went in the morning to the Hanging Bridges, a 3 km walk in
the rain forest complete with 6 hanging bridges and 8 fixed bridges
that get you up into the canopy. It was while we were in this
forest area that Arenal had its biggest eruption while we were in the
area. There was a huge roaring and rumbling, about 3 times as loud
as anything we had heard before. It lasted for about 20 seconds.
How I would have liked to have seen what was going on!!!! But we
did get to see poison dart frogs, an eyelash pit-viper, howler monkeys
and a rufous motmot. We also heard the distinct calling of a Bellbird.
And then the vacation was over. We headed back to Alajuela
telling each other how much we would like to do it again sometime!
During the trip we saw 314 species of birds.
240 of them were life birds for us. If you would like to ask us
any questions or make any comments please contact us at email@example.com
Cameras used were a Canon 10D with a Canon 100-400 IS lens
and a Pentax istD with a Tamron 100-300 lens.
All pictures have been compressed and have lost some of their
resolution and their abiltiy to be enlarged.