Visit your favourite destinations
Western Europe
North America
Eastern Europe
South America
Middle East
East Indies

A Report from

Costa Rica February 17-March 3, 2001,

Gavin Edmondstone

There are many ways to do a birding tour of Costa Rica. This is the story of one of them. It started while standing around looking for a bird that was not going to be seen that day with birding friend Jim Watt. Jim was very excited about his then recent family vacation to Costa Rica. His enthusiasm was contagious and we became infected. We turned to Scott Connop of Turaco Nature Inc. for the cure. Scott provided much helpful advice, booked our flights and suggested having Costa Rica Gateway make the arrangements in Costa Rica. We had a few trepidations going into this trip, our first to the tropics. Primary among them was the state of roads. This was very important to us because of Sue's bad back which is greatly aggravated by bumpy roads. Our destinations were chosen to give us a good representation of habitats and on not having to make long drives over poor roads. This eliminated highland destinations such as Monteverde from consideration. The plan that we settled on was of spending the first week birding fairly intensively at two locations on the Caribbean slope and then slowing the pace for the second week at a Pacific coast resort that I had selected. All of our transfers were prearranged thereby relieving us of driving and navigation responsibilities. Naturally it also meant that we were lacking in mobility but this was not a problem as things turned out. All of the drivers were very good and quite accommodating of special requests for stops. One driver, Carlos, got people on the streets of Orotina to help us find the Black and White Owls roosting in the town square. All spoke at least a little English, one fluently. We did not encounter any rain while out birding. Rather than try to work every bird into a narrative I will provide an annotated trip list.

Itinerary and Accommodations

February 17

We flew American Airlines from Toronto via Miami to San Jose. No problems with flights or airports. Miami was very busy. The first night was at the very pleasant Hotel Grano de Oro near the centre of San Jose. Sue greatly enjoyed the plants that decorated this hotel.

February 18-20 Rancho Naturalista

I saw a few city birds before breakfast then we were off to Rancho Naturalista. Except for the last km the roads were mostly OK for bumps although conditions in most places do not allow for very rapid travel. Rancho Naturalista is a well-known birding lodge in the Carribean slope foothills. Life at Rancho is simple: eat, sleep and go birding. Mostly go birding. The food was very good, the accommodations were comfortable and the birding was terrific. On the first day I tallied an amazing 45 lifers. The day begins at first light, about 5:40, on the balcony of the main building. A light jacket is desirable. Banana slices and rice are put out to attract birds. At 7:00 the breakfast bell is rung. By 8:00 we are on the trails with resident guide Matt Denton leading us around the trails on the property. We returned by noon, had lunch and hit the trails again by 2:30. The lunch break allowed an opportunity for a little independent birding. It's not very hot here at midday. One could choose to bird independently all the time but why lose the benefits of Matt's expertise with the local birds? One of the special joys of birding at Rancho is watching the frenetic activity at the hummingbird feeders. Late afternoon also offers the opportunity to visit the pools where hummingbirds bathe. Sue and I agreed after we returned home that Rancho was the best part of the trip. With her bad back Sue is unable to go on many hikes. One afternoon while the rest of us were slogging the trials she saw a Black-crested Coquette at a feeder on the balcony, the only one of the trip.

February 20-23 Selva Verde

Selva Verde is in the Caribbean lowlands and is much warmer than Rancho Naturalista but not uncomfortably so. Here we were more on our own. The accommodations were comfortable, no A/C but a ceiling fan and large screened windows were fine for us. We used the provided mosquito netting when sleeping. Meals are served at a buffet. The food was OK but nothing special. Many birds could be seen around the grounds. Access to the primary forest across the river requires a guide (there is a locked gate) but there are trails through the secondary forest across the road which can be freely walked. There is also good birding on a quiet road nearby. From the main entrance turn right and walk for about five minutes to a school and turn right onto an unpaved road. We saw a howler monkey on the island which can be reached from the bridge.

February 21 day trip to La Selva

At first we were a little distressed to learn that unlike at Rancho Naturalista our birding companions for our guided tour were mostly not experienced birders. This meant a good deal of patient remedial training from our guide Carlos. That said, we did see some nice birds in the morning. The afternoon was a different story. We had Carlos to ourselves and then the magic started. Things got off to a promising start when a Violaceous Trogon perched too close to get in focus while we and many workmen carrying heavy loads crossed the narrow suspension bridge. Scope views of Double-toothed Kite and Vermiculated Screech-Owl were among the highlights. Snakes were also a theme of the afternoon. One decided to cross the concrete path as our small group went by. Sue tells me that I narrowly missed stepping on the snake which we now believe to be a fer-de-lance. Shortly after that close call Sue spotted a green parrot snake in the act of swallowing a frog.

One thing that we had noticed is that automobile horns are used almost exclusively for exchanging greetings with friends and acquaintances. And everyone seems to know everyone else. One afternoon while birding at the side of the road in front of Selva Verde the horn of a small red taxi tooted at us. It was the driver who had taken us to and from La Selva.

Hotel Punta Leona February 24-25

This large resort complex is on the central Pacific coast at the end of a long bumpy driveway and behind two sets of gates. It has impressive beaches, pools and forest trails. It seemed like a good combination. Unfortunately it did not work out very well for us because Sue got heat stroke on our first daylight exploration of the expansive grounds. The Pacific coast is noticeably hotter than our previous stops. Getting to the restaurants was a problem because of the unshaded distance between them and our unit. By the second day Sue asked me to see if it would be possible to go somewhere else. Within two hours of calling Douglas Espinosa at the Costa Rica Gateway office in San Jose we were checking into Villa Lapas, a much smaller facility just down the road. Impressive service indeed. The most fortuitous aspect of this move was our introduction to Kevin Easley. Kevin, who is the birding guide at Tarcol Lodge, had been dispatched to drive us to Villa Lapas. Luckily for us he was subsequently able to able include us in a couple of outings in the area.

I did manage to do some good birding during our short stay at Punta Leona. On the first morning I joined a pre breakfast birding walk led by a pleasant young guide who is learning rapidly. It was an relaxed outing with amiable companions. I also did some independent birding on shady forest trails. The most memorable bird was a heard only Three-wattled Bellbird.

Villa Lapas February 25-March 2

Villa Lapas has good birding right on the grounds and there is a nice little trail at the back along the creek. Open country birding is accessible with a modest walk across the main highway towards Tarcoles. It is also fairly close to Carara and to Tarcol Lodge. We were told that return transportation to Carara can be arranged for $12. The buffet style food was adequate. The rooms are air conditioned. Reptiles are common. Common tent making bats were seen roosting in the palm leaves.

Kevin was able to include me in an outing to the Carara Headquarters trail after he had moved us to Villa Lapas. This is a good trail to do in the afternoon because it is heavily shaded. Immediately upon entering the trail we were in the midst of a troop of white-faced capuchin monkeys. The next morning Sue and I had an amazing outing with Kevin to the Tarcol Lodge area for Pacific mangrove specialties where I had a total of 22 lifers before breakfast.

That evening while passing the reception desk, we noticed four birding friends from home checking in. Loralie Mitchell, Peter Van Dijken, Linda Nuttall and Mark Chojnacki were on a trip led by Scott Connop. This was our first time meeting Scott in person. They graciously permitted us to join them on their outings for the next two days. The next morning we all went to the River Trail at Carara with the group. Being less shaded than the Headquarters trail, this trail is best visited in the morning. A flock of Scarlet Macaws was screaming by overhead while we working some nasty little flycatcher. With a slight grin Scott commanded us NOT to look up. The troops mutinied for a moment. Scott takes pride in how long it takes him to bird a very short stretch of this trail. It took almost four hours until we started back from the Boat-billed Heron spot with empty water bottles and full bladders. It only took a few minutes to walk back to the parking lot. Thirteen lifers this morning, pretty good for this late stage of the trip. In the afternoon I returned to the Headquarters Trail with the group and picked a few more new birds but mostly enjoyed repeat looks at birds seen before. While relaxing at the pool in the afternoon, Sue found a pair of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls and a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron nest. The next morning I went with the group to bird the trails near Tarcol Lodge and then back to Villa Lapas.

After lunch Sue and I returned to Tarcol Lodge. While Sue relaxed on the porch, I hiked out to the spit of land between the river and the ocean. Luckily I was able to find a Collared Plover quickly without melting in the hot sun. Back at the lodge we watched the tide come in and float the small boat that was to give us a tour of the river mouth and mangroves. From the boat with Kevin spotting at the bow and Luis piloting we had great looks at Mangrove Black Hawks, a Mangrove Hummingbird, a variety of water birds and crocodiles. There are many fancier boats that do a similar trip but this is the one that I would recommend for birders.

First thing on the last birding morning I walked the dusty road to the village of Tarcoles to see open country birds. All I added to the trip list was Laughing Gulls at the beach but I did have some fine looks at birds seen previously. While observing a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron in a field opposite the school I noticed that a group of young schoolboys in immaculate white shirts were standing behind me also watching the bird. Unfortunately my Spanish was not up to conversation with them. Back at Villa Lapas it was time to pack up, have some last looks at the birds and come terms with going home. We got back to San Jose with some daylight left to explore the city on foot. We flew home the next picking up one last new bird: Blue and White Swallows at the airport.

If you have not yet been to Costa Rica I highly recommend going. You cannot spend too much time preparing, especially listening to bird sound recordings. When I expressed the wish that I had spent more time preparing Sue asked: "Where was that time to come from?" My only answer was to quit my job. Which is probably not a good idea, is it?

Annotated list of birds encountered in Costa Rica February 18-March 3, 2001.

(h) = heard only
Numbers refer to the number (usually small) seen
Location abbreviations:
RN = Rancho Naturalista
SV = Selva Verde
LS = La Selva
PL = Hotel Punta Leona
VL = Villa Lapas
TL = Tarcol Lodge, TL (boat) = late PM boat trip from the lodge
C HQ = Carara Headquarters trail
C river = Carara River trail
Tarcoles Road = The road from Villa Lapas to the village of Tarcoles

Great Tinamou 1 RN
Little Tinamou RN (h)
Magnificent Frigatebird PL, TL, 87 soaring over VL
Neotropic Cormorant TL
Anhinga TL
Brown Pelican PL, TL
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck TL (boat)
Reddish Egret TL
Tricolored Heron TL
Little Blue Heron SV, TL
Snowy Egret SV, TL
Great Blue Heron SV, TL
Great Egret TL
Cattle Egret RN, SV,
Green Heron TL
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron TL
Boat-billed Heron TL (boat), C river
Bare-throated Tiger-Heron TL, VL (nest by entrance)
Fasciated Tiger-Heron 1 SV
White Ibis TL, VL
Roseate Spoonbill TL
Wood Stork C River, VL
Black Vulture Everywhere
Turkey Vulture Everywhere
King Vulture 1 SV
Osprey TL
Swallow-tailed Kite 1 RN
White-tailed Kite Tarcoles Road.
Double-toothed Kite LS, SV, C river
Plumbeous Kite TL
Mangrove Black-Hawk TL
Gray Hawk Tarcoles Road, VL
Broad-winged Hawk VL
Short-tailed Hawk 1 SV
Black Hawk-Eagle 1 RN
Crested Caracara SV, TL
Yellow-headed Caracara TL, C river
Laughing Falcon TL, C river
Collared Forest-Falcon C HQ (h)
Gray-headed Chachalaca RN, SV
White-throated Crake 2 RN
Gray-necked Wood-Rail 2 SV
Purple Gallinule TL (boat)
Northern Jacana TL (boat), C river
Whimbrel TL
Greater Yellowlegs TL
Spotted Sandpiper SV, TL
Willet TL
Ruddy Turnstone TL
Sanderling TL
Semipalmated Sandpiper TL
Western Sandpiper TL
Least Sandpiper PL, TL
Pectoral Sandpiper TL
Black-necked Stilt TL (boat)
Black-bellied Plover TL
Semipalmated Plover TL
Wilson's Plover TL
Collared Plover 1 TL (on the spit at the mouth
of the Tarcoles River)
Laughing Gull Tarcoles
Royal Tern TL
Rock Dove San Jose
Red-billed Pigeon RN
Short-billed Pigeon RN, PL, C river
White-winged Dove San Jose, Orotina
Inca Dove SV
Ruddy Ground-Dove PL, VL
Blue Ground-Dove C river, VL
White-tipped Dove VL
Gray-chested Dove SV
Ruddy Quail-Dove 1 C HQ
Scarlet Macaw PL (h), TL, VL, C
Crimson-fronted Parakeet RN, PL
Sulphur-winged Parakeet RN
Orange-chinned Parakeet LS, SV, PL,
White-crowned Parrot RN, SV
White-fronted Parrot TL
Red-lored Parrot Tarcoles River bridge
Yellow-naped Parrot TL, Tarcoles River Bridge
Mealy Parrot SV
Squirrel Cuckoo RN, VL, PL
Groove-billed Ani RN, SV, VL
Pacific Screech-Owl 1 TL
Vermiculated Screech-Owl 1 LS
Mottled Owl 2 RN
Black-and-white Owl 3 South side of Orotina central
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl VL
Lesser Nighthawk Tarcoles Road, C HQ parking
Pauraque SV, TL
White-collared Swift RN, SV, C HQ, VL
Band-rumped Swift C river
Gray-rumped Swift SV
Vaux's Swift RN
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift SV, C
Bronzy Hermit C river, VL
Green Hermit RN
Western Long-tailed Hermit LS, SV, C river
Little Hermit RN
Scaly-breasted Hummingbird TL, VL, C river
Violet Sabrewing C river
White-necked Jacobin RN
Brown Violet-ear RN (not expected in dry
Green-breasted Mango RN
Violet-headed Hummingbird RN, SV
Green Thorntail RN
Violet-crowned Woodnymph RN, SV
Blue-throated Goldentail C HQ
Mangrove Hummingbird 1 TL, 1 TL (boat)
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird Every day
Snowcap RN (common at feeders)
Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer LS, SV
Green-crowned Brilliant RN
Purple-crowned Fairy 1 C river
Slaty-tailed Trogon C river
Baird's Trogon PL, C river, VL
Black-headed Trogon TL
Collared Trogon RN
Black-throated Trogon RN
Violaceous Trogon RN, LS, SV, PL
Belted Kingfisher TL
Ringed Kingfisher SV, TL
Amazon Kingfisher SV, TL, VL, C river
Green Kingfisher TL, VL
Broad-billed Motmot RN
Turquoise-browed Motmot 1 TL
Rufous Motmot RN
Blue-crowned Motmot RN
Rufous-tailed Jacamar 1 RN
White-necked Puffbird TL
White-whiskered Puffbird PL, C HQ
Collared Aracari RN, SV
Keel-billed Toucan RN, SV
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan SV, PL, VL
Olivaceous Piculet TL
Black-cheeked Woodpecker RN, SV
Hoffmann's Woodpecker RN, SV, PL, TL, VL
Rufous-winged Woodpecker 1 LS
Golden-olive Woodpecker RN
Chestnut-colored Woodpecker 2 LS
Lineated Woodpecker 2 near Tarcoles
Pale-billed Woodpecker SV, PL
Olivaceous Woodcreeper 1 RN
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper 1 PL
Barred Woodcreeper 1 C river
Cocoa Woodcreeper RN, TL
Black-striped Woodcreeper 1 C river
Spotted Woodcreeper RN,
Streak-headed Woodcreeper RN, PL, TL
Brown-billed Scythebill RN (h)
Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner 1 C HQ
Plain Xenops RN, C river
Barred Antshrike PL, C river
Black-hooded Antshrike PL, C river
Russet Antshrike RN
Slaty Antwren RN, PL
Dot-winged Antwren RN, PL, C river
Dusky Antbird RN, C river, VL
Chestnut-backed Antbird SV, PL
Black-faced Antthrush C HQ
Streaked-chested Antpitta C HQ
Thicket Antpitta RN (h)
Purple-throated Fruitcrow LS, SV (h)
Three-wattled Bellbird PL (h)
Red-capped Manakin C HQ
White-crowned Manakin RN
Blue-crowned Manakin C HQ
White-ruffed Manakin RN
White-collared Manakin RN, SV
Orange-collared Manakin PL, C river
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher LS, C river
Slaty-capped Flycatcher RN
Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher C River
Common Tody-Flycatcher RN, SV, TL, VL
Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher RN, SV
Paltry Tyrannulet RN
Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet TL, C river
Yellow Tyrannulet 1 TL
Northern Scrub-Flycatcher 1 TL
Greenish Elaenia TL, C river, VL
Yellow-bellied Elaenia TL
Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant RN
Northern Bentbill PL (h), C river (h)
Eye-ringed Flatbill 1 RN
Yellow-olive Flycatcher RN, TL
Royal Flycatcher C River
Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher RN, VL
Tawny-chested Flycatcher 1 RN
Tropical Pewee RN, TL
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher RN, PL, SV
Long-tailed Tyrant 1 SV
Bright-rumped Attila LS, SV
Dusky-capped Flycatcher RN, LS, SV, C river
Panama Flycatcher TL
Great Crested Flycatcher VL
Brown-crested Flycatcher TL
Tropical Kingbird Almost everywhere
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher TL
Boat-billed Flycatcher RN, LS, SV, PL, VL
Streaked Flycatcher PL, VL, TL
Social Flycatcher RN, SV, VL
Gray-capped Flycatcher LS, SV
Piratic Flycatcher SV
Great Kiskadee Almost everywhere
Cinnamon Becard RN
White-winged Becard PL, C river
Rose-throated Becard PL, VL
Masked Tityra RN, LS, SV, PL, VL
Black-crowned Tityra LS, VL
Brown Jay RN, PL, VL
Rufous-browed Peppershrike TL
Mangrove Vireo TL
Yellow-throated Vireo TL
Philadelphia Vireo PL, VL, TL
Scrub Greenlet TL
Lesser Greenlet SV, PL, C river
Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush RN (h)
Wood Thrush SV
Clay-colored Robin Almost everywhere
Gray Catbird 1 RN
Rufous-naped Wren PL, VL
Band-backed Wren 1 LS
Black-bellied Wren 1 VL
Rufous-breasted Wren PL, C river
Riverside Wren PL, VL
Bay Wren SV
Stripe-breasted Wren RN
Rufous-and-white Wren C river
Plain Wren RN
House Wren RN, PL, VL
White-breasted Wood-Wren RN
Scaly-breasted Wren PL
Tawny-faced Gnatwren RN
Long-billed Gnatwren PL, C river
Tropical Gnatcatcher RN, SV, TL
Mangrove Swallow TL
Gray-breasted Swallow TL (boat)
Blue-and-white Swallow San Jose airport
Northern Rough-winged Swallow RN, VL
Southern Rough-winged Swallow SV, VL
Barn Swallow C river, TL
Golden-winged Warbler RN, SV
Tennessee Warbler RN, SV, PL, C river, VL
Tropical Parula RN
Yellow Warbler SV, PL, "Mangrove Warbler" on
TL boat trip
Chestnut-sided Warbler Everywhere
Blackburnian Warbler RN
Black-and-white Warbler RN
American Redstart RN, C river
Prothonotary Warbler TL
Northern Waterthrush TL, C river, VL
Mourning Warbler RN
Wilson's Warbler RN
Slate-throated Redstart RN
Golden-crowned Warbler RN
Rufous-capped Warbler RN, VL
Buff-rumped Warbler LS, SV, VL
Rufous-collared Sparrow San Jose
Stripe-headed Sparrow Tarcoles Road
Orange-billed Sparrow RN, SV, PL, C HQ
Bananaquit RN, LS, SV
Black-and-yellow Tanager RN
Dusky-faced Tanager LS
Olive Tanager RN, SV
White-shouldered Tanager RN, C HQ
White-lined Tanager RN
Red-throated Ant-Tanager RN, SV
Summer Tanager RN, PL, TL, VL
Crimson-collared Tanager RN
Passerinii's Tanager RN, SV
Cherrie's Tanager TL
Blue-gray Tanager Almost everywhere
Palm Tanager RN, SV, VL
Scrub Euphonia 1 TL
Yellow-crowned Euphonia SV
Yellow-throated Euphonia 1 C river
Olive-backed Euphonia LS, SV
Tawny-capped Euphonia RN
Golden-browed Chlorophonia 1 RN
Emerald Tanager 1 RN
Silver-throated Tanager RN
Speckled Tanager RN
Bay-headed Tanager RN, C river
Golden-hooded Tanager RN, LS, SV
Blue Dacnis SV
Green Honeycreeper RN, C river
Shining Honeycreeper 1 SV
Red-legged Honeycreeper SV, PL, C river, SV
Blue-black Grassquit SV, PL, Tarcoles Road
Variable Seedeater RN, SV, Tarcoles Road
Thick-billed Seed-Finch SV
Yellow-faced Grassquit RN
Rose-breasted Grosbeak RN
Black-faced Grosbeak SV
Black-headed Saltator RN
Buff-throated Saltator RN, SV, PL, C HQ
Blue-black Grosbeak C river
Blue Grosbeak Tarcoles Road
Chestnut-headed Oropendola RN
Montezuma Oropendola RN, LS, SV
Scarlet-rumped Cacique RN, SV
Yellow-billed Cacique RN
Baltimore Oriole RN, LS, SV, PL, TL
Orchard Oriole 1 TL
Black-cowled Oriole LS
Red-winged Blackbird TL
Melodious Blackbird RN, SV
Great-tailed Grackle Everywhere except RN
Bronzed Cowbird RN
Giant Cowbird 1 RN

309 records

Gavin Edmondstone
Oakville, Ontario

Why not send us a report, or an update to one of your current reports?