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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk
Costa Rica, Jan 25th - Feb 13th 2008 ,
How to see/find 500 species in 20 days without hiring a bird guide and not knowing any bird sounds. My sons Erlen and Aleksander and myself made it a reality winter of 2008. But then we also worked hard – very hard. We birded from dawn to dusk almost every day. My sons are of world class when it comes to birding. They are very good at finding the birds as well as identifying them. Their big handicap is that they don’t know the songs or the sounds.
I think it is also quite remarkable that all three saw all the species mentioned in the species list, except for a handful. The reason for this is that we were almost always together. Had we been familiar with the sounds, we would probably have added between 10 and 20 species to our list. 12 birds we didn’t see – only heard. A few places we were so lucky to meet a few bird guides when we heard a bird singing, and they could tell us what bird it was. That’s why we could add these species to our list. I must admit that we had a bird guide for an hour (we got it by a misunderstanding) at Paradise Quetzal close to Savegre, and he found a Zeledonia for us (by sound only of course). I don’t think it is that fascinating only hearing a bird, unless it is a bird that is active only during the night. I like to see them, and I like to see them well.
We had actually been speaking of this trip for a long time – a year or two. And we wanted to combine Costa Rica with countries in South America like Ecuador and Peru – 3 weeks in each country (see separate report from Ecuador). The guy to help us with the trip in Costa Rica was Kevin Easley. An American friend of mine recommended him, and we don’t regret that I contacted him for putting up our itinerary. I see on the net that others also think that he is simply the best guide in the whole country – a country that has many good and qualified bird guides. As mentioned we met a few of them while travelling around. Kevin has moved to this country and made a living out of his great hobby. Bird- and nature-guiding means business in Costa Rica.
We rented a Hunday 4 wheel drive for all the 20 days. Even if we didn’t need such a car, it was still very useful. We ended up by driving 2900 km and the only problem we had was one puncture (a screw in the tyre). Weather was just perfect, maybe a little hot a few days at the west coast.
Kevin arranged everything for us. He runs a firm that is called Costa Rica Gateway. (www.costaricagateway.com E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). Lodges and hotels were booked in beforehand, and he gave us a very good description of all the places, so we never wasted any time trying to find the locations nor the lodges/hotels. It was just perfect, and we thank Kevin for the excellent job he did in preparing this trip for us. Without him we would never have been able to see so many species as we did. And he made it cheap for us as well. We paid only 1427 US dollars each including the car, lodging, several meals and a boat trip on river Tarcoles. We paid only about 1200 US dollars (1 dollar was just above 5 Norwegian Kroner at that time) for a return ticket.
Compared to Europe most things are cheap here, including petrol, even if food was more expensive than we had expected. Traffic wasn’t as bad as we had been told or read, but road signs in this country are a big problem. It can be a nightmare, especially in big cities, but we avoided them for the most. Main roads are not that bad, but aware of big holes, even in roads like the Pan-Am highway. But when it comes to gravel or untarred roads you find a different story. I have never ever been driving on roads like those in Costa Rica, but when we came to Ecuador it was even worse there. Absolutely horrible! Poor cars!
It seems that the country’s infrastructure is pretty good, including phones and Internet. I transferred my pictures from my digital card onto a DVD, something you can do cheaply many places all over the country. People are friendly and the country is pretty safe, even if it is not uncommon that people break into your car. So don’t leave valuables there! However, we didn’t experience any episodes.
B Friday Jan. 25 – Orquideas Inn (Alejuela), road to Poas, La Paz, Casa Colibri
The pretty large garden at Orquideas Inn at about 1600 m above sea level (at the outskirt of the town of Alejuela) is a good place to start birding, and we can definitely recommend it to future birdwatchers coming to Costa Rica. Here we saw about 30 species.
Late morning we hit the road north to Poas (Volcano). We stopped by a bridge where there is a forest on both sides of the creek and thicked Black Guan, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Ruddy Treerunner and Black-and-yellow Silky-Flycatcher.
We turned at the entrance of the N P and on the way down we stopped a few places and saw three species of Hummingbirds, Band-backed Wren, Mountain Robin, Yellow-throated Vireo, Wilsons Warbler, Slate-throated Redstart, Collared Redstart, Three-striped Warbler and Rufous-capped Warbler. In a “garden” we saw a dark blue bird that we identified to be a Slaty Finch – a rare bird. Slaty Flowerpiercer was also present here as well as the ever present Rufous-collared Sparrow.
We stopped at La Paz Water Fall Garden where they feed birds and animals just by the road to the left of a very sharp right curve. We were delighted to see so many beautiful birds at close range: Red-headed Barbet, Prong-billed Barbet, Sooty Robin (coming down from higher altitude), Silver-throated Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, Yellow-thighed Finch, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch and Sooty-faced Finch.
We stopped by the beautiful waterfall, but didn’t find the Flycatcher that is supposed to be here. So we went to Mirador Casa Colibri – the famous restaurant where they have so many feeders for Hummingbirds as well as other birds. We were not disappointed and managed to observe 8 species of Hummingbirds. In addition to some of the birds we saw at the feeders earlier today, Emerald Toucanet also showed up.
Weather was rather nice, but a couple of showers. Temp. 26 and we drove about 120 km.
C Saturday Jan. 26 - La Selva OTS
At six o’clock the evening before we found our cabin where we should sleep for two nights.
In the morning we birded the road to the headquarter entrance. Around the entrance we observed Green Ibis, Grey-headed Chachalaca, several species of Pigeons and Doves, Parrots and Parakeets, Slaty-tailed - and Violaceous Trogon, Rufous-tailed Jacamar and some species of Hummingbirds.
After breakfast (all the meals included here) we went on a guided tour, but didn’t see that much. But there are several marked trails leading into the forest that look promising. We observed Double-toothed Kite, Hummingbirds, Woodpeckers, Woodcreepers, Wrens, White-collared Mannakin, Rufous Mourner and Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, but no Umbrellabird (rare). Around the campus we saw two Great Green Macaws flying over, several Hummingbirds, Broad-billed - and Rufous Motmot, White-necked - and White-whiskered Puffbirds, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed - and Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Rufous-winged Woodpecker, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Black-crowned Tityra, Long-tailed Tyrant, Piratic - , White-ringed - and Yellow-margined Flycatchers, Paltry Tyrannulet, White-throated - and Pale-vented Robins, Buff-rumped Warbler, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, White-vented Euphonia, Red-legged Honeycreeper and Black-cowled Oriole.
We spent the whole day here and enjoyed this lovely place. Sunny weather and about 25 degrees. Strangely enough we didn’t see the Great Currasow (they are here), but in the evening we saw a flock of Crested Guan feed on the ground outside the dining hall. Before going back to the cabins just before dark, we birded an area outside the gates and pished out Fasciated - and Great Antshrike from the bushes inside the fence we jumped over.
D Sunday Jan. 27 – Braulio Carrillo
Another early morning, and before daylight we saw two Pauraques flying just outside our cabin. We also found two White-whiskered Puffbirds hiding behind the cabin. We started birding along the road to the gate as yesterday and inside the gate before breakfast. After breakfast we drove to Braulio Carrillo N.P. (just northeast of San Jose), where we birded along the Los Palmas Trail Loop inside the forest. It was far from cold, but we had a little drizzle. Kevin told us to be patient, but probably we weren’t patient enough as we missed out on several of the good species you normally find here and not so easily see elsewhere, like Black-and-yellow Tanager. But at the parking lot we were lucky enough to observe 3 King Vultures and Black-chested (Barred) Hawk. Inside the forest we saw among others Collared Trogon, Stripe-breasted Wren, White-breasted Wood-Wren, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Yellow-winged Vireo, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Blue Dacnis and several Orange-billed Sparrows.
On our way to and fro BC we stopped along the way in open areas and also at a lake and ticked in Solitary Sandpiper, Catbird, White-shouldered Tanager, Giant Cowbird, Bronzed Cowbird, Red-winged Blackbird and Tick-billed Seed-Finch.
Only a couple of km from BC there is a so-called butterfly farm (overgrown and not operating, but still costing 5 dollars if you meet the owner). This is a very good place for Hummingbirds, especially Violet-headed Hummingbird, Black-crested Coquette, Green Thorntail and the funny looking Snowcap. Three of these were seen only here.
In the afternoon we went to El Gavilan Lodge for Short-tailed Nighthawk (which flew around the houses in good time before dark) and also because it is a great place where they feed the birds. Here we met a few other birders with a guide. Before dark we found several species including Green Ibis, Cinnamon Becard, Long-tailed Tyrant, Bright-rumped Attila, Tropical Pewee, Northern Waterthrush, Yellow-billed Cacique, Green Honeycreeper, Blue Dacnis, Crimson-collared Tanager and Dusky-faced Tanager. But no Sunbittern in the Sarapiqui River, only a Spotted Sandpiper.
Overnight at Puerto Viejo – only about 10 km from La Selva. About 25 degrees.130 km today
E Monday January 28 – La Virgen Area (Virgen del Socorro) & Arenal
We were up before sunrise. We stopped at a rather large pond/lake close to a restaurant by daylight on our way to La Virgen del Socorro. Here we enjoyed the crisp morning air and birds like Slaty Spinetail, White-throated Flycatcher, Olive-crowned - and Gray-crowned Yellowthroat.
We took a small road to the left right after La Paz Cascade (where we were on Friday). We stopped shortly after, before driving down to the river and enjoyed the rich bird life there – many Warblers and Tanagers. At the river – by the bridge – we at first glance observed two American Dippers and two Torrent Tyrannulets. We made a few stops further up the road and observed many new species. Our only White Hawk on the trip was one of the highlights. Other species worth mentioning: Sharp-shinned Hawk, Black-chested (Barred)Hawk, Collared Trogon, Red-headed Barbet, Prong-billed Barbet, Keel-billed Toucan, Red-faced Spinetail, Tufted Flycatcher, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Black-faced Solitaire, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Slate-throated Redstart, Golden-ringed Warbler, Tropical Parula, the rare Yellow-throated Warbler, Three-striped Warbler, Buff-rumped Warbler, Black-cowled Oriole, Emerald - , Speckled - , Blue-and-gold Tanager (among several others) and Sooty-faced Finch. Aleksander saw a male of the very rare Golden-cheeked Warbler (only a few sightings in C.R., and probably the second male record ever, according to the new book). This is a very good spot.
Our destination today was hotel San Bosco in the town of La Fortuna which is very close to Arenal. The distances are small in this country, so we reached Arenal before 3 o’clock. Here we birded a little along the dam and along the dirt road on the south side of the lake and later to Arenal Obs.Lodge until dark.
Lovely weather and around 30 degrees. Drove about 180 km today.
F Tuesday January 29 – Arenal (hanging bridges and trail from lodge to the vulcano)
We took the Canopy Tour from 8 to 12. – a system of hanging bridges takes you through the canopy over primary forest. We met a guide that helped us with identifying some birds by their sounds. At the parking lot we spent some time chatting with him while we were eating. It was quite obvious that he was a knowledgeable guy, and he led our attention to our only Yellow-crowned Euphonia, which we eventually saw. It is always smart to talk to local guides, as they know things like the barn owl that breeds in the tower of a church in La Fortuna. In the evening we checked it out and found that he was right – of course. It is quite strange to stand in the street looking up at the tower while there is a service inside. You get a lot of attention that way. The hanging bridges are worth the money, but you have to be patient as there aren’t birds everywhere at any time – you mostly have to wait for mixed flocks. Here we saw our only Rufous-winged Tanager and our only White-throated Shrike-Tanager. (See the species list). Along the main road where there are houses and hotels on the way up to the dam, we found our only Grayish Saltator this morning.
After the hanging bridges we travelled around a bit and stopped to find the Fasciated Tiger-Heron along the creek, which we did. We also checked around the head quarter for White-throated Magpie-Jays and found several of them as well as several species of Seedeaters. In late afternoon we took the trail from the Obs. Lodge up to the Vulcano foot by crossing the creek. We were very eager to see the Great Curassows that were supposed to be here. Soon enough we nearly “stepped on” five of them – fascinating birds. At the foot of the mountain there were quite a few people. They were here in order to watch the sunset and see the burning lava in the dark, which you can do every night here at a distance. People come in buses to see this fascinating sight. Up here we met another bird guide that went with us down again. But before we left we saw small flocks of Crested Guans and Brown Jays. On our way back we got very excited over an Ocellated Antbird. And we heard the ever noisy Fulvous-bellied (Thicket) Antpitta, which you don’t know is singing from high or low. As we didn’t know any sounds, we always had to see the bird. We spent a lot of time checking out all the Wrens, a bird that is hard to spot. But our patience always paid. We saw a few of them along this trail. When it started to get a little dark, the Pauraques came out in the open. They were sitting on the trail itself. We got very good views of several of them.
After dark we stopped and watched together with other people the spectacular sight of red lava and glowing stones running down the mountain side.
It had been a long day and we were happy to come back to the hotel and the swimming pool.
After some clouds in the morning it cleared up and the temp was around 25 degrees. We didn’t drive far today, only about 50 km.
G Wednesday January 30 – El Silencio and Heliconia Lodge
It is always hard to leave a place when you know you haven’t seen all the main birds you can see there, so in the morning we went to a place called El Silencio (not on Kevins list, but recommended by a local guide) for some new species. Right at the parking lot we got our first Laughing Falcon – sitting in a tree. This place was very quiet in terms of no people around (referring to its name) and both the trail and the forest were good: Hummingbirds, Trogons, Motmots, Nunbird, Mannakins, Flycatchers and Wrens. We spent 3 hours here.
Today we were heading further northwest. Our destination was Heliconia Lodge – 3 km from the town of Bijagua and only about 40 km from the border of Nicaragua on the road to Upala. For one reason or another I felt a bit unwell today, and so did Erlen. Aleksander didn’t feel great either, so we suspected that we had been poisoned in some way by the food we eat for breakfast at the hotel in La Fortuna. I got worse during the day, and in the evening, after dark, I vomited for the first time since 1968. We were together with some young boys (guides living at Heliconia) in order to look for Owls and animals in the dark. I felt really sick, and when we came to one of the hanging bridges, I threw up over the rail. And so did Erlen. We both went back to our cabins in order to get some sleep, but I didn’t sleep much that night. I spent much of the time in the bathroom because of diarrhea. How inconvenient to get sick on such a trip, but if I should get sick anywhere, this was probably the best place. But before this happened we took the bridge trail and saw some good birds. We got good sights of Black-eared Wood-Quail, Crested Owl, Brown Violet-ear, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Blue-throated Goldentail, Red-footed (Bronze-tailed) Plumeleteer, Black-throated Trogon and Violaceous Trogon, White-fronted Nunbird, Cinnmaon Woodpecker, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Long-tailed - , White-ruffed - and White-collared Mannakin, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, many White-breasted Wood-Wrens, Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, Nightingale Wren (heard only), Tropical Gnatcatcher, Golden-winged Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Three-striped Warbler, Olive-backed Euphonia, Shining Honeycreeper, Blue Dacnis, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Passerinies Tanager, Blue-black Grosbeak.
In the dark (early evening before we threw up) we heard, by the help of the young guides, Great Tinamou, Mottled - and Black-and-White Owl. And on our way to the lodge earlier today we saw Wood Stork, Gray Hawk, Amazon Kingfisher and Black Phoebe.
Sunshine and 30 degrees today – about 130 km.
G Thursday January 31 – Heliconia Lodge
I was a little better today, but not in top shape. The boys discussed if they should take the trail up to lake Danto. I urged them to go up there, as we didn’t know much about this trail and which birds to expect, but they soon returned because Erlen didn’t feel strong enough to go all the way up. So instead they took the trail west of the lodge, where they bumped into a mixed flock in search of ants. They spent several hours here and took a lot of pictures. They fetched me and we took some more pictures, as we came really close to several of the species. There were about 30 Spotted Antbirds and 10 Ocellated Antbirds, but also a few of Chestnut-backed Antbird, Immaculate Antbird and Bicolored Antbird. In addition we saw Black-hooded Antshrike and Streak-crowned Antvireo. Wedge-billed - , Northern Barred – and Streak-headed Woodcreepers were also present together with Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner and Plain Xenops, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant and Rufous-and white Wren. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher we saw close to the houses.
We took it easy today and weren’t very efficient because we didn’t feel well, but went the bridge trail once more and saw a flock of 40 Olive Tanager. We had been told where we could see the little Tody Motmot, but actually we saw it several places. We also saw three of the other Motmots, which are more beautiful than the Tody, but far from so exclusive. Heliconia is the place to see it. I don’t know where else.
Aleksander went with the boys for a footballmatch indoors tonight, while Erlen and I went early to bed again.
Cloudy in the morning, but sunshine the rest of the day – about 25 degrees.
H Friday February 1 – Heliconia, Liberia, Santa Rosa
At 10 o’clock we left Heliconia. On our way down we were lucky to see another Laughing Falcon up in a tree and a few Brown Jays.
We found our hotel in the town of Liberia in Guanacaste and went immediately out into the bush again. First we headed for the road to Palo Verde (where we were going tomorrow) and found some good birds here: Mourning Dove, Common Ground-Dove, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Nuttings Flycatcher. Nuttings Flycatcher is very difficult to tell apart from Brown-crested Flycatcher. But I took some pictures and showed to Kevin, who of course knew how to tell the one from the other, and the one we saw here was Nuttings.
Later in the afternoon we went up to the entrance of Santa Rosa N.P – about 30 km north of Liberia. It was a very hot day (33 degrees), so other things than birdwatching were more tempting in the heat of the day. But at the entrance there were plenty of birds: Great-crested Flycatcher, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Rufous-naped Wren, Banded Wren, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Yellow Warbler, Rufous-capped Warbler, Western Tanager. Here in the northwestern part of the country it is rather dry, looking more like the African Savannah, so therefore some birds are found only here (that includes the Palo Verde area as well).
We wanted to go inside the park and down to the campsite, but didn’t want to pay as it was in the afternoon. We asked if we could pay for the next day, but that turned out to be impossible. When the guards left, we drove the dirt road to this place. Halfway we met one of the rangers (a lady). We expected her to turn round and stop us, so we speeded on. I was driving really fast, the condition of the road taken into consideration, but the lady was soon right behind us. So we didn’t have any choice than to turn round. Obviously they were afraid that we should camp there for free.
Along the main road from Liberia to the entrance of the park we observed Roadside Hawk, Crested Caracara, Orange-fronted Parakeet, White-fronted Parrot. On our way back to the hotel we witnessed a spectacular sight when more than 1000 Scissor-tailed Flycatchers came to roost in some trees by the road. This bird was high on our list, but never had we expected to see so many. About 10 Lesser Nighthawks were flying around at dusk.
Because of the heat it was difficult to fall asleep tonight (no aircondition). 180 km today.
I Saturday February 2 – Santa Rosa and Palo Verde
Six in the morning we went back to Santa Rosa NP and headed for the camp-site, which is situated rather close to the Pacific Ocean. The place was nice in itself, but we didn’t see so many species this morning, even if there were plenty of birds around. Crested Guan, Yellow-naped Parrot, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Black-headed Trogon, Hoffmans Woodpecker, Greenish Eleania, Banded Wren, Swainsons Thrush, several Streak-backed Orioles, Olive Sparrow (seen only here) were some of the birds of 3 hours work.
We should have stopped along the dirt road and worked harder for some species, but at ten we drove back to Liberia and from there found the road to Palo Verde OTS (30 km) – another terrible dirt road (at least part of it). But when we finally reached the place, it was kind of a revelation. This water-system attracts thousands of birds, and we had a very enjoyable afternoon spending much time in order to see all the species that were supposed to be here. There is also a tower here that gives you good view of the overgrown “lake” (marsh).
The road to Palo Verde is good for birds and we saw several species like American Kestrel, Double-striped Thick-Knee, (but searched in vain for the Bobwhite), Doves, Flycatchers, White-collared Seedeater, Stripe-headed Sparrow. Where the road goes to Catalina marsh (which we didn’t visit) we twice tried to find Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, but no luck.
In the marsh itself we saw species we didn’t see elsewhere in C.R.: Glossy Ibis, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Snail Kite, Common Moorhen. Two Jabirus were flying over. Limpkins, Purple Gallinules and Northern Jacanas were plentiful as well as Wood Stork, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Herons and Egrets. We also found three Muscovy Ducks. Up in a tree a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron was standing at her nest - probably breeding.
When you pay to stay here it also includes three meals and a guide if you want. We went on our own, even if the young guide was good, nothing wrong with him, but the rest of the group were kind of novices. Close to the cabins and by the marsh we found Crested Caracara, (but no Crane Hawk), Scarlet Macaw, Orange - and White-fronted Parakeet, Mangrove Cuckoo, Black-headed Trogon, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Hoffmans Woodpecker, Streak-backed Oriole, Scrub Euphonia.
Another hot day – 34 degrees. 140 km.
J Sunday February 3 – Colorado Salt Pans and Monteverde
We left Palo Verde in the morning. In order to reach our goal of 500 species, we just had to visit a place where we could see waders, ducks and terns. Colorado Salt Pans is such a place – in the Gulf of Nicoya. The Salt Pans are to the west of the small town and very rich in bird life. We spent three hours in the area and saw about 60 species altogether. Here were big flocks of Terns (4 species) and big flocks of Black Skimmer and 15 species of Waders (including the rare Surfbird). Both Mangrove Black-Hawk and Zone-tailed Hawk put up a nice show for us while we checked out the waders. In the mangroves we found Panama Flycatcher and Mangrove Warbler, while Mangrove Swallows were flying around.
The road up to Monteverde was steep and terrible for 25 km. We stayed at Quetzal Inn at Santa Elena ( a small “town”) – a very quiet place with some good birds around: Masked Tityra, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Wrens, Warblers and Tanagers. We arrived at 4 p.m. and checked around a little before we ended up close to the entrance of the Cloud Forest Reserve, called Hummingbird Gallery. Feeders are put up here for the Hummingbirds and there are always plenty of people around. We stayed here quite a long time in order to identify the birds and to take a lot of photos. (See species list). It became dark too soon for us. Tonight we ate pizza in town for a change, but first we checked our E-mails. The daily log took more than an hour every night, and after that we got so tired that we fell asleep very fast.
Sunshine, 32 degrees and drove 180 km.
K Monday Feb. 4 – Monteverde (Finca Ecological, Montev. Reserve, St Elena Reserve)
Early morning we birded around the head-quarter at Finca Ecologica south of the town, and later on we walked some of the trails here. We worked hard for Chiriqui Quail-Dove around head-quarter, but to no avail. It’s supposed to be here. But we got good views of some other good birds: A Blue-crowned Motmot in the garden that was very willing to be photographed, Long-tailed Mannakin, White-throated Robin, Ovenbird, many species of Warblers, including Worm-eating Warbler and Golden-crowned Warbler.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve was next. We were very keen on finding the Resplendent Quetzal, and therefore went where we were told it was seen last this morning. After a while we found it inside the wood close to the trail going left at the entrance. It wasn’t as fantastic as we had expected, but we saw Quetzals later in Savegre, and those we saw there were just what we had anticipated with their long tail.
Kevin had written down that the Green-fronted Lancebill was to be found at the waterfall at this trail, and rightly enough there it was – having a bill like a lance. It seems this species prefers water and waterfalls. We didn’t see much more as we didn’t spend much time here. I really can’t explain why, as there are many trails in this reserve, and there were many birds here that we hadn’t seen yet. But before we went back to town, we once more checked the Hummingbird Gallery and took some more pictures.
Back in town we checked the Internet before we went up to Santa Elena Reserve in the afternoon. Unfortunately it was already late, but we got good views and good pictures of Azure-hooded Jay and Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush on and close to the ground. At the feeders the Hummingbirds were still very active and we got more pictures of them.
We felt this day didn’t turn out to be the success we had expected and hoped, mostly because we weren’t as efficient as we usually were. Had we become lazy already? Therefore we missed a few species we should have seen here. But I would say this place is absolutely worth visiting, despite what one of the guides told us.
Nice weather with some fog. 23 degrees. Only 22 km today.
L Tuesday February 5 – Carara NP and Tarcoles
We went up late today and left Monteverde 8 in the morning. On our way down to the main road we saw Plain-breasted Ground-Dove and Blue Grosbeak. It was a lovely day, so we didn’t spend that much time watching birds. We stopped at the bridge crossing Tarcoles River and watched people feeding all the crocodiles – some really big ones. Down the river we found a Collared Plover.
But before we came so far we stopped at the town of Orotina to see the roosting Black-and-white Owls, which we easily found. In a tree nearby there was a Fiery-billed Aracari and a very sleepy Sloth.
Kevin had booked a very nice lodge for us – Villa Lapas. It was situated in the middle of a big garden with plenty of birds around, and it had a swimming pool and a jacussi. What a lovely place! And it was very close to the entrance of the National Park as well as Tarcoles and Tarcoles River. It was tempting to spend more time here instead of walking around in the hot sunshine (34 degrees today). We checked out the beach and saw a Scarlet Macaw, a species that was quite common at Carara, but few waders around, though plenty of Magnificent Frigatebirds as well as a few Laughing Gulls and a Grey-necked Wood-Rail in a garden.
140 km today.
L Wednesday February 6 – Carara NP
Late morning we went into the NP and spent some hours there. Of the birds we saw there I can only refer to the species list. In forests like this a guide who knows the sounds are very helpful, while we were forced to check up on every bird-sound. When it is as hot as it was today, the best place to be is inside the forest, but also here we had to wait for mixed flocks.
Later in the day we tried another “entrance” to the park to see the Royal Flycatcher we were told was close to the parking lot. Others saw it, but we had no luck, even if we tried three times. But there were other good birds along this mud road that went into the forest. Here we met an Englishman that took pictures of birds (later we found out that he stayed at the same place as us) as well as a German photographer who took pictures of snakes mainly. He had seen several, while we hadn’t seen any.
At the old headquarter we met two traffic polices that had a speed control. They never stopped anyone if they drove less than 10-15 km above the speed limit, and tourists never got a fine how fast they drove we were told. (One of them spoke English very well).
We took an early evening, but tried just after sunset to find the Pacific Screech Owl down at Tarcoles town, but no luck. Instead we saw a Black-crowned Night-Heron. Later that evening we heard a Screech Owl at Villa Lapas.
Lovely day – 34 degrees. Only 22 km today.
L Thursday February 7 – Tarcoles Mangroves and boat-trip Tarcoles River
This morning we went down to the mangrove forest at Tarcoles River in order to see the specialities. There were plenty of birds around and we could add these species to our list: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Prothonotary Warbler, American Redstart, Orchard Oriole, Painted Bunting.
In the middle of the day we got lazy and relaxed at the pool. There are other things in life that are worth doing too. Bird activity is always best in the morning and late afternoon.
In the afternoon Kevin had booked a boat trip on Tarcoles River with his brother as a guide from 3 to 6 pm. He was a guide for a bigger and lively group of bird-watchers. We were happy to be with them, and we had an enjoyable afternoon together. Thanks to Steve we added a few species to our list that we only heard, like Blue Ground-Dove and Rufous-browed Peppershrike. Several Grey-headed Kites, Mangrove Black-Hawks and Yellow-headed Caracara were seen as well as a Peregrine Falcon.
Late in the afternoon up the river we saw 7 Southern Lapwings, 70 Muscovy Ducks and more than 100 Lesser Nighthawks. But before enjoying these birds at a beautiful sundown, we could add some other birds to our list: Two Kingfishers, Mangrove Hummingbird, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and ten of the strange-looking Boat-billed Heron. Mangrove Vireo, Mangrove Warbler and Panama Flycatcher were also around as well as Costa Rican Swift. A pair of Mangrove Swallow had their nest on the boat, so they had to follow us all the way up and down the river also after it got dark – amusing.
Another fantastic day – 34 degrees. 25 km today
M Friday February 8 – Jaco, Quepos, San Isidro and Talari Lodge
After a morning trip in the garden, we were ready to leave after breakfast at 10 o’clock, but before we left I checked the trees a last time. A bird sitting high up in a tree close to our cabin turned out to be a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. Soon it got company of another one.
Back on the main road we headed for Jaco – only 20 km away. Here the boys took their first bath in the Pacific Ocean and afterwards we found a place where they had Internet. Our next stop was the town of Quepos. We followed the map Kevin had written for us because we wanted to see Brown Booby and Wandering Tattler. It took us only a couple of minutes before both of them showed up. Wandering Tattler is a very strange wader, all on its own and mostly found on stones close to the shore.
Strangely enough there is only a dirt road going south from Quepos to Dominical along the coast (43 km). Such roads are a pain in the ass, and in order to pass through fast, I drove mostly in 90 km an hour. That I could do because there were very few holes in the road. But still we managed to find out that the Anis here were Smooth-billed and not the earlier common Groove-billed. The border between the two is right here at Quepos – Groove-billed north and Smooth-billed south of the town, roughly speaking.
We drove through San Isidro at rush hour and finally found Talari Lodge northeast of the town, where we arrived at 5 p.m. – a quiet and beautiful place. We were eager to find out which birds were around. The last thing we did before dark was to play football with some guys at the village’s football field. Another lovely, but hot day – 35 degrees.175 km.
M Saturday February 9 – Talari Lodge and Los Cusingos Reserve
This morning we were supposed to visit Los Cusingos Reserve, the homestead of the author of the book: A guide to the Birds of Costa Rica – Alexander F. Skutch. Unfortunately the restaurant where we were supposed to ask for direction didn’t open before 8 (we learned later that day), so we drove without a good enough idea where to find the place early morning. We tried several roads and asked people here and there, but only one knew about this place. Therefore we arrived this lovely homestead several hours late. But we were not without birds: Swallow-tailed Kite, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk and our only Yellow-bellied Seedeater.
We found the entrance finally, but by now it was noon and therefore we most likely missed out on some birds. Still there were plenty of birds around, especially close to the feeders including the one at the entrance: White-vented Euphonia, Speckled Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Shining Honeycreeper, Blue Dacnis, Cherries Tanager, Gray-headed Tanager, Streaked Saltator (seen only here).
Back at Talari Lodge we relaxed in the hammocks by the pool in the lovely weather. But we had our eyes open and saw a King Vulture flying over as well as a White-tailed Kite passing by. Over our heads flew Chestnut-collared -,White-collared - and Vauxs Swifts. By the pool we saw a flock of Indigo Buntings, American Redstart, Yellow-green Vireo and we pished out a Barred Antshrike.
Later in the afternoon we went for a walk and behind the restaurant found several Piculets and a White-throated Spadebill. Further up the trail we saw Orange-collared Mannakin. Further down again we saw Gray-necked Woodrail, Piratic Flycatcher, White-throated Robin, Mourning Warbler and Spot-crowned Euphonia.
Sunny and 29 degrees – drove 50 km.
N Sunday February 10 – Savegre and Cerro de la Muerte Mountain.
We departed for Savegre Valley today, but stopped for Hummers at La Georgina Restaurant. After having ticked the Fiery-throated Hummingbird we went up into the Paramo area and the mountain of Cerro de la Muerte (about 3500 m). Up here at the radio towers we were assured that the Vulcano Junco could be found, and soon we did. But even if it is high up, there are other birds than the Junco that live at this altitude. Timberline Wren, Black-capped Flycatcher, Flame-throated Warbler, Peg-billed Finch.
We drove down the narrow road to Savegre Valley and arrived Cabinas Quetzal at 1 p.m., where we were going to stay for two nights. On our way down we saw several Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush and Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush. After having checked in we were eager to go a little further down to Savegre Mountain Lodge for some more bird-watching before dark. We spent the rest of the day around the lodge and its surroundings. We got “new” hummers at the feeders outside the reception and took a lot of pictures. In the tree close to the entrance we found Yellow-billed Siskin and plenty of Acorn Woodpeckers were around. A flock of 15 Sulfur-winged Parakeets flew to and fro, and Band-tailed Pigeons, Flame-colored Tanagers and Yellow-thighed Finch were added to our list. Again we met the Englishman we first greeted in Carara and Villa Lapas. He was now a guide for a group of tourists. (He had been to the country several times).
In the river we spotted an American Dipper and two Torrent Tyrranulets as well as a Louisiana Waterthrush.
In order to check out a tree where the Resplendent Quetzal often comes to feed, we found the beautiful Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher back the road we came from where we stayed, but no Quetzal. Just outside our “home” we saw a Red-tailed Hawk very close.
Lovely weather (except for a little fog up in the mountains) and 24 degrees. We drove about 100 km today.
N Monday February 11 – Savegre
Savegre Valley was discovered in 1952 and today only about 130 people live in this narrow valley about 90 km southwest of San Jose. After breakfast we went up into the mountain from Savegre Mt Lodge – driving up the road to Robles Trail. It is situated several hundred metres above the Lodge (about 2700 m) and a good place for many species. It turned out to be a good day. We didn’t walk very far, waiting for mixed flocks to show up, which they did a couple of times. Then it gets pretty hectic before the flock moves on. You do your best to identify them all. But first we met at the place where the Resplendent Quetzal is seen regularly early in the morning and late afternoon. We saw a few of them together with a lot of people this morning and also again in the afternoon, where we also could take some photos of one of them.
Up at the Robles Trail we were lucky enough to meet Marino Chacon, who has written the Checklist of the area. He was guiding a couple from USA. He helped us with two interesting species right where we met him on the trail. First he used playback to get the Golden-olive Woodpecker to show itself and after that he showed us the nest of the Silvery-throated Jay, a beautiful bird which we got good views of after a short while. He also told us that he heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, but according to Kevin this is more than unlikely, so we haven’t added it to our list.
Before we met this guy, we had already seen Spotted Wood-Quail, Large-footed Finch, and Gray-breasted Wood-Wren. Later we met a group of people and a mixed flock at the same time and ticked Barred Becard, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Ruddy Treerunner, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Mountain Eleania, Black-cheeked Warbler, Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager and Black-thighed Grosbeak. Before we met the group we found the Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl in the nesting tree that the guide told us about, and shortly after we saw a Barred Forest-Falcon.
Later in the day we went to the waterfall – not far from the Mt Lodge. We found Tufted Flycatcher on our way and a Dark Pewee. Close to the houses around the Lodge we saw Osprey, Swallow-tailed Kite, Vauxs Swift, Hairy Woodpecker, Yellowish -, Black-capped - and Olive-Striped Flycatcher, Mountain Robin, Black-faced Solitaire, Flame-throated Warbler, Townsends Warbler, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Peg-billed Finch, Slaty Flowerpiercer.
Before sunset we drove back a few km to check the Dusky Nightjar that is supposed to show up here before dark, but no luck. We had to be satisfied with the noisy Sooty Robins.
We are always tired after a long day of good exercise (a lot of walking), so normally we are too tired to do the daily log, but of course it has to be done. When you bird countries like C.R. the daily log takes a lot of time, so it got too late every evening for us. But we slept very well. At 2200 m it gets cold during the night. The first morning here it was 12 degrees and the second 8 degrees. Lovely weather today and 23 degrees, and we drove about 10 km.
O Tuesday February 12 – Kiri Lodge and Tapanti NP
We left Savegre before nine after doing a little birding in the morning and having a last look at the Resplendent Quetzal (everyone in the area knows the exact place/trees, so just ask). Our final destination today was Kiri Lodge southeast of San Jose. But first we wanted to check out a couple of places. Coming back unto the main road to San Jose we took a dirt road to the left, (Providencial Rd) which is supposed to be good for several species. We drove some km on this road, stopping at a few places, but nothing of great interest showed up. Back on the main road, we found the dirt road to Paradise Quetzal Lodge, a place we knew a Swedish group had stayed earlier and found to be good. It has a very nice view. We asked in the reception and ended up with a bird guide who should show us the Zeledonia (Wrenthrush), a much sought after species for us. We didn’t ask for a guide actually, but when he showed up, we hired him for an hour (10 US dollar). He did his best to find one for us and in order to do so we had to crawl and walk through dense bush and up a creek. We never saw one, but heard a few. Was it worth it? I guess, as we saw some other good birds as well: Silvery-fronted Tapaculo (only heard), Black-and-yellow Silky-Flycatcher and Black-cheeked Warbler.
To get to Kiri Lodge at Tapanti NP you have to drive through Cartago town with a lot of traffic, which shouldn’t give you a hard time. We spent two and a half hours on Internet (they are all over), and I transferred the pictures from my card onto a CD. While we were driving up the Orosi Valley, it had started to drizzle for the first time since Braulio Carrillo, so Kiri Lodge in the afternoon wasn’t very pleasant and didn’t give us our best opportunity for watching birds. But the tree outside the restaurant gave us our first Blackburnian Warblers – a quite common bird in C.R. at this time of year, even if we hadn’t seen any until now.
The lodge is very close to the NPs entrance, so we went down to check because we wanted to be here early next morning. Back at the lodge we met Kevin who was there as a guide for a British couple. We enjoyed the evening with them and went early to bed. Kevin had promised that we could go with them early next morning to the NP to see the very shy Scaled Antpitta (he almost guaranteed it).
Nice weather during the day, but a little rain in the afternoon and evening - 23 degrees. About 100 km today.
O Wednesday, Feb. 13 Tapanti NP – Cartago and Alejuela.
We were very optimistic this morning when we left for Tapanti, and it didn’t take long before Kevin tracked two of the Antpittas. We even got good view of one of them. Everything is of course so much easier when you are together with such excellent guides as Kevin. He knows the birds and their sounds as well as where to find them. Afterwards he showed us the place where the Green-fronted Lancebill normally stays – just by the road at a small bridge. And yes, there it was. The weather wasn’t that good this morning, (a little rain and fog) so we didn’t get that good pictures of it, but still a great experience as we came so close. Soon after this we left the three as we didn’t want to bother them too much or be in their way. After all they had paid for the guide. So we tried on our own again. The area between the lodge and the Park is known to be the home of the White-naped Brush-Finch. Therefore we wanted to have a go on that one, but no luck.
We went back to the NP to see Spotted Barbtail, a bird we hadn’t seen yet. Kevin meant that it should be no problem to find it here. We met him and the couple again and shortly after we added the Brush-Finch to our list - from the road. Happy with that tick, we went into the forest. Soon a mixed flock showed up, and there it was – Spotted Barbtail (five of them). Streaked Xenops was also seen among the flock. On our way back Aleksander saw a Slaty Antwren.
Weather had now cleared up. We left at eleven and headed back to Alejuela and to the hotel we stayed the first night. When we were talking last night, the Eastern Meadowlark was mentioned. Kevin told us where to see it – just outside the town where we came from yesterday. We found it in the area right away – on a line. By now our bird-trip was almost over.
Our hotel wasn’t that easy to find obviously, so we stopped at a gas station, and there a friendly man offered to drive in front of us to it. We had been quite wrong as the hotel was on the other side of the town. We spent the rest of the afternoon here – by the pool.
Lovely weather from noon and 29 degrees – drove about 110 km.
Thursday Feb. 14 – Departure for Ecuador
Today was our departure day, but we were not leaving for home. We had had three wonderful weeks in lovely Costa Rica and wouldn’t mind staying a few more days. But our next destination was awaiting us, and everything was arranged there. We were expected at a certain hour, so we had to stick to our appointment.
It was a beautiful day and we were excited going to a new country – a very bird rich one – Ecuador. Strangely enough we weren’t fed up with birds yet. We took a taxi to the airport and the plane we had booked in Norway left on time at 10.25. The flight took only 1 hour and 50 minutes and at the airport in Quito our driver met us as promised – to our great relief. See my bird report from Ecuador.
We are thankful for having had the privilege of visiting this lovely country and can recommend it to anyone – a great experience. We saw some great birds and took a lot of pictures that will remind us of three wonderful weeks for the rest of our lives. Out of the 47 regular Hummingbirds that can be found in this country we saw 41 of them. We saw 7 out of 9 Trogons, 5 out of 6 Kingfishers, 5 of 6 Motmots, 5 of 6 Toucans and both Barbets, 13 of 16 Woodpeckers, 17 of 22 Wrens, 7 of 9 Euphonias, 5 of 6 Grosbeaks, 28 Tanagers, Honeycreepers and Bush-Tanagers out of 38 and so on. But – of course – if we had visited other places (the southern part for instance), we would easily have added several more species to our list. But you can’t get them all, and so we also have one good reason to come back one day.
Thanks again Kevin for putting up such a great itinerary for us in Costa Rica – arranging everything to an inexpensive/comfortable price.
PS. If you have any questions or wonder about anything please feel free to contact me.
Species List (39kB .pdf)
EXPLANATIONS TO THE SPECIES LIST
B Orquideas Inn, Alejuela (about 10 km from the international airport) plus the first day when we drove to La Selva (about 80 km) via Poas, La Paz and Casa Colibri (the restaurant with many names where they have feeders).
C La Selva OTS and El Gavilan Lodge (only about 5 km from La Selva)
D Braulio Carillo N P and the so-called Butterfly Garden
E La Virgen del Socorro
F Arenal N P - outside the town La Fortuna
G Heliconia Lodge - south of the towns Upala and Bijagua
H Santa Rosa N P - north of the town Liberia
I Palo Verde N P - south of the town Liberia
J Colorado Salt Pans - outside town at Golfo de Nicoya
K Monteverde/Santa Elena/Finca Ecologica Reserve - south of Arenal
L Carara N P and Tarcoles and Tarcoles River
M Talari Lodge and Los Cusingos - outside the town San Isidro del General
N Savegre and Paradise Quetzal Lodge
O Tapanti N P and Kiri Lodge
X = not counted or many (usually more than 10)
+ = more than. Example: 10+ = minimum 10
* Along the road
h = heard
Q = Quepos (south of town) - about 80 km south of Carara/Tarcoles
O = Orotina (inside town) - about 30 km north of Carara/Tarcoles
F = La Fortuna - town east of Arenal
PQ/P = Paradise Quetzal – a lodge not far from the road to Savegre (north)
M = Cerro de la Muerte – mountain top southeast of the road to Savegre
C = just outside Cartago - town southeast of San Jose and northwest of Tapanti
Species List (39kB .pdf)