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Budget Birding in Costa Rica, 19 January- 19 March 2005,
Udo Rijlaarsdam and Marina Dijs, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Although there are many trip reports on the internet dealing with birding in Costa Rica, we did not find any report on birding in this beautiful country of birders traveling with public transport. Most report are from travel agencies like Birdfinder or from birders hiring a 4WD for two or three weeks.
This report details a two months birding trip to Costa Rica from 19 January till 19 March 2005 and will focus on the possibilities of birding in Costa Rica while traveling with public transport and sleeping in budget hotels. It will show you that even on a budget it is possible to visit many national parks, and see a lot of beautiful birds.
However, several good birdwatching sites cannot be reached by public transport or have only expensive accommodation. Therefore we did not go to popular birdwatching destinations like Carara, Palo Verde or Selva Verde. But as this report will show you there are many good alternatives available in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is one of the smallest countries of Central America and about one-fifth the size of the United Kingdom. Because it is also the most mountainous of the Central American republics it has a great diversity of habitats and wildlife. About 850 species of birds have been identified.
FLIGHT AND VISA
We booked our flight from Amsterdam to San José with Martinair. This flight has a stopover in Miami and although you are in transit you have to go through all the hassle of the American immigration and customs authorities, including finger prints etc.. Nevertheless the flight was good and uneventful.
You do not need a visa for Costa Rica if you intend to stay for less than 90 days.
On leaving Costa Rica you have to pay a departure tax of 26 U$.
MONEY AND ACCOMODATION
The unit of currency in Costa Rica is the colon. The exchange rate during our stay was about 465 colones for an US Dollar. The inflation rate is about 1% a month. US Dollars are not only widely accepted, but prices of many hotels, excursions and entrance fees of the national parks are set in US dollars.
ATM machines were present in even relatively small towns.
Accommodation is easy to find and generally cheap. We nearly always slept in a double room with a private bathroom and shower. In most towns it is easy to find such a room for about 20 US$/double. Lodges in or near nature reserves are generally more expensive.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Costa Rica is according to Latin American standards a very safe country. In San José and the mayor tourists resorts it is wise to keep an eye on your belongings. We felt never threatened in any sense and during our trip nothing was stolen.
In 8 weeks we encountered only 5 snakes, some of which were poisonous. Therefore we never ventured into the jungle on open shoes.
Vaccinations and malaria prophylaxis are not advised for Costa Rica. Nevertheless insect repellent is necessary especially when visiting the jungle.
In tourist areas (Montezuma, Monteverde, Fortuna) English is widely spoken. This is also true for the southern part of the Caribbean coast where the inhabitants are predominantly blacks of Jamaican descent who speak a Creole form of English. In the more remote areas or less visited places people speak little or no English. It is therefore handy to speak some basic Spanish. This is generally highly appreciated by Costa Ricans.
Buses are the main means of transportation in Costa Rica. They are cheap (3-4 dollar cent/km) and run nearly always exactly on schedule. For the large distances it is advisable to buy a ticket on beforehand, but in many buses you just pay the driver the moment you get into the bus. Because it is such a small country every part of the country can be reached within one day from the capital San José
Taxis are also cheap and within the cities generally have meters. Outside cities it is advisable to negotiate a fixed price on beforehand. Taxis charge about 30-50 dollar cent for a kilometer depending on the state of the road.
The ferries to and from the peninsulas of Osa and Nicoya were also very cheap and generally give connection to ongoing buses.
Most birders visit Costa Rica during the dry season which lasts from December till April. In the Caribbean lowlands it also rains in the dry season. We lost 2 days because of heavy rains in this area. In the southern Pacific lowlands it was generally dry but often very humid with temperatures of around 30°C. The dry northwest it was very warm with often 35°C or more.
For Europeans this time of the year has the advantage that many Northern migrant are present.
BOOKS AND MAPS
Finally we used several trip-reports and bird lists from the internet.
The following list of birds we saw frequently and if you spend any time in the right habitat you will too:
Magnificent Frigatebird, Laughing Gull, Brown Pelican, Olivaceous Cormorant, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Striated Heron, Spotted Sandpiper, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Rock Dove, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Tropical Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, Social Flycatcher, Common Tody-Flycatcher, House Wren, Clay-colored Robin, Tennessee Warbler, Bananaquit, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Northern Oriole, Great-tailed Grackle, Palm Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Scarlet-rumped Tanager ( Passerini’s Tanager and Cheri’s Tanager), Buff-throated Saltator, White-collared Seedeater, Variable Seedeater, Blue-black Grassquit, Rufous-collared Sparrow and House Sparrow.
PLACES WE VISITED
San Gerardo de Rivas
Mirador de Quetzales
Rincon de la Vieja
Bijagua: Volcan Tenorio
Laguna del Lagarto Lodge
Because our airplane landed in San José we stayed one night in this city, that has little to offer to the birdwatcher. At the airport we did not find a ATM machine, but you can pay the taxi in US dollars. At the airport you can buy a ticket for taxi transportation. The price depends on the part of the city you are going to. We paid US$6 a person and stayed in Hotel Bienvenido, 18 US$/double with hot shower (email@example.com)
Our last night we stayed in Alajuela, next to the airport in a nice hotel with a garden with many birds. My advice would be to stay there on your first night and wake up with the sounds of birds in the morning. (see the Alajuela section)
Dominical is a little village on the Pacific coast about 26 km west of San Isidro de el General. To reach it we toke a bus from the Musoc bus station in San José (taxi Hotel Bienvenido- Musoc bus station: US$1.25). The bus ride to San Isidro takes 3 hours (US$3).
From San Isidro the Lobo Blanco bus company runs several buses a day to Dominical (2 hours, US$1.40).
In San Isidro we saw our first Black Phoebe and Common Tody-Flycatcher.
We stayed one night in Dominical in Hotel Tierra del Sol, 32US$, double room.
In Dominical you will find a river estuary with many egrets and shore birds. You can reach the river by walking north over the beach.
The birds we saw here: Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Brown Pelican, Olivaceous Cormorant, White Ibis, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Green-backed (striated) Heron, Willet, Marbled Godwit, Whimbrel, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Sanderling, Red Knot, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Yellow-headed Caracara, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Inca Dove, Blue-and white Swallow, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Hoffmann’s Woodpecker, Great Kiskadee, Gray-capped Flycatcher, House Wren, Blue-gray Tanager, Scarlet-rumped Tanager, Variable Seedeater, White-collared Seedeater.
PLAYA BAHIA BALLENA.
Playa Bahia Ballena is a very quiet beach bordering the Parque Nacional Marino Ballena. We found this place on our first trip to Costa Rica more than 10 years ago (before our birding days) and were amazed by the wildlife in the remnant forest that is still present here.
We spent here 4 nights to acclimatize and stayed in Villa Leonor in one of the two cabins in their attractive garden (US$17/double). There is a bus from Dominical to Ciudad Cortes that passes Playa Bahia Ballena, but it leaves at 5.00 AM. We took a taxi for US$17. Villa Leonor also has a small restaurant that serves decent cheap food and drinks.
At the north end of the beach is the ranger station for the Parque. When we passed this station on the third day of our stay we suddenly had to pay an entrance fee for the park (US$6), but the other days the park warden did not bother us. In the weekends there are some Costarican tourists on the beach but during weekdays the place is deserted. Swimming is very good.
Although Bahia Ballena means Whale Bay we have never seen a whale here in the 5 times we visited this place.
New bird that we saw here: Brown Booby, Magnificent Frigatebird, Wood Stork, Laughing Gull, Black-bellied Plover, Wandering Tattler, Gray-headed Chachalaca, Common Black-Hawk, Road-side Hawk, American Swallow-tailed Kite, Short-billed Pigeon, White-tipped Dove, Mealy Parrot, Red-lored Parrot, Mangrove Cuckoo, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Mangrove Swallow, Long-tailed Hermit, Purple-crowned Fairy, Blue-throated Goldentail, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Baird’s Trogon, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Ringed Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Fiery-billed Aracari, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (juv.), Olivaceous Piculet, Streaked-headed Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Black-crowned Tityra, Clay-colored Robin, Tropical Kingbird, Streaked Flycatcher, Piratic Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Riverside Wren, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Bananaquit, Northern Waterthrush, Northern Oriole, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Groove-billed Ani, White-vented Euphonia, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Golden-hooded Tanager, Summer Tanager, Palm Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, Blue-black Grassquit
The majority of the birds we saw in the garden of Villa Leonor. In the morning the Howler Monkeys wake you up and you can start birding right in front of your cabin. There is also a trail parallel to the beach that is good for birding. About 1 km to the south along the main road a steep trail goes up in the hills with on one side undisturbed forest.
PENINSULA DE OSA
From Bahia Ballena we went straight to Osa Peninsula. At 5.30 we took the bus to Ciudad Cortes, where a connecting bus to Ciudad Neily left several minutes after we arrived. This bus dropped us at Chacarita where the buses to Puerto Jimenez, the main village on the Osa peninsula pass by. The total trip took about 6 hours and costs about US$4
Near Puerto Jimenez we had booked accommodation at The Jardin de las Aves (the Garden of the Birds), but when we arrived there we found out that the owner of the place just sold his propriety and had returned to the USA.
By mere accident we ended up in a wonderful birding lodge i.e. the Bosque del RIO TIGRE LODGE. (www.osaadventures.com, firstname.lastname@example.org) We stayed here for three nights. The lodge is owned and run by Abraham Gallo and Liz Jones a Tico-American couple who are both birders and excellent hosts. This is not really a budget option at US$88 a person a day, but the price includes three excellent meals, daily guided jungle walks and the lodge is set in beautiful surroundings. This is the best place in Costa Rica to see the endemic Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, that often comes to the feeders.
Liz and Abraham also showed us some species that are really hard to find yourself like the White-tipped Sicklebill (on its nest) and the White-crested Coquette. You can walk along and through the Rio Tigre to the border of the Corcovado Park. They also organize excursions in the surroundings.
New birds that we saw here: Least Grebe, Boat-billed Heron, Purple Gallinule, Gray-necked Woodrail, King Vulture, White Hawk, Blue Ground-Dove, Gray-chested Dove, Scarlet Macaw, White-crowned Parrot, Squirrel Cuckoo, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, White-collared Swift, Little Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, White-tipped Sicklebill, Band-tailed Barbthroat, Long-billed Starthroat, Beryl-crowned Hummingbird, White-crested Coquette, Violaceous Trogon, Blue-crowned Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Golden-naped Woodpecker, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Great Antshrike, Black-hooded Antshrike, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Dotted-winged Antwren, Slaty Spinetail, Orange-collared Manakin, Masked Tityra, Yellow-billed Cotinga, Turquoise Cotinga, Great-crested Flycatcher, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Buff-rumped Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Yellow-billed Cacique, Thick-billed Euphonia, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Blue Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Gray-headed Tanager, White-lined Tanager, White-shouldered Tanager, Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, Blue-black Grosbeak, Orange-billed Sparrow, Black-striped Sparrow
On our way to Golfito we stayed one night in Puerto Jimenez. The taxi from Bosque del Rio Tigre to Puerto Jimenez was US$14. In Puerto Jimenez we stayed in Cabinas Brisas del Mar, a basic place for US$16/double. The Scarlet Macaw can be seen flying through the center of the village and is feeding on the almond trees around the soccer field. In the village we also saw our first Lineated Woodpecker.
The coast at the Parrot Bay Village hotel in Puerto Jimenez hotel is good for shorebirds. We saw here our only Ruddy Turnstones and Wilson’s Plovers of the trip. In the trees along the entrance road we identified a Crane Hawk. According to Liz and Abraham the endemic Mangrove Hummingbird can be seen in the flowering plants close to the mangroves in Puerto Jimenez, but we failed to do so. The mangroves can be found near the Parrot Bay Village hotel.
Golfito can be reached from Puerto Jimenez by a daily passengers ferry. The ferry leaves at 6 AM and takes 1,5 hours (US$2). In Golfito we stayed 2 nights at the highly recommendable Hotel El Gran Ceibo (16US$/double), at the southern edge of town. There are frequent buses along the coastal road. This is a very hot town and birding after 10 AM was hardly possible for us. The steep hills surrounding the town have been converted into a national park: the Refugio Nacional de Fauna Silvestre Golfito. The best way to bird this park is taking a taxi first thing in the morning to some radio towers, locally know as Las Torres and than hike down the steep road, birding as you go. We did this one morning and saw some good birds like the Great Currasow, Laughing Falcon, Black-throated Trogon, and Yellow-throated Vireo. We forgot to negotiate a price with the taxi driver and got probably ripped off by paying US$10.
Other new birds we saw in the town and around our hotel: Stilt Sandpiper, Pale-vented Pigeon, Smooth-billed Ani, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Crimson-fronted Parakeet, Band-rumped Swift, Lesser Greenlet, Thick-billed Seed-Finch.
The main reason to go to San Vito is the Wilson Botanical Garden. The Gardens are an excellent location for seeing some of the middle elevation specialties of southern Costa Rica.
From Golfito there are regular buses to Ciudad Neily, from where you take a bus to San Vito. The total trip costs less than US$2. In San Vito we stayed in Cabinas Las Mirlas, adequate for US$11/double. It is also possible to stay at Wilson Botanical Garden but this is a much more expensive option. In the garden of Cabinas Las Mirlas there were some flowering trees that attracted many birds like Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-lored Parrot, White-crowned Parrot, Crimson-fronted Parakeet, Yellow-crowned Euphonia and Green Honeycreeper.
According to a trip report near the airstrip of San Vito about 2 km from town there are supposed to be some ponds and marsh lands that are a good location for the Chiriqui Yellowthroat. We walked down there and found some ponds (with a female Masked Duck) but no marshy area and no Chiruiqui Yellowthroat.
The Wilson Botanical Garden opens officially at 8 AM but it is possible to enter earlier on request (tel. 773.4004). A taxi from San Vito is US$3. To return you can take one of the buses from Ciudad Neily to San Vito, that pass the entrance gate.
The garden is beautifully laid out with an astonishing amount of plant species and luckily also many birds. We visited the garden twice (entrance fee US$6)
New birds we identified here: Marbled Woodquail, Brown-hooded Parrot, Green Hermit, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Rose-throated Becard, Plain Wren, Rufous-breasted Wren, Blue-crowned Manakin, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Bright-rumped Attila, Silver-throated Tanager, Speckled Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Common Bush-Tanager, Slate-throated Redstart, Black-and-white Warbler, Streaked Saltator, Yellow-faced Grassquit
Other birds seen in San Vito and Wilson Botanical Garden : Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Purple Gallinule, Gray-chested Dove, Red-lored Parrot, White-crowned Parrot, Crimson-fronted Parakeet, Squirrel Cuckoo, Masked Tityra, Mourning Warbler, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Green Honeycreeper, Summer Tanager, Black-striped Sparrow
SAN GERARDO DE RIVAS.
This small village is the entry point to Parque Nacional Chirripo, with over 50.000 hectares Costa Rica’s main mountain park. The village is 22 km northwest of San Isidro de el General. There are two buses a day from San Isidro to San Gerardo. Because the bus had just left we took a taxi for US$18. In San Gerardo we stayed at Hotel Roca Dura, US$13, double. The hotel was rather basic but had a nice birdfeeder with many Tanagers. There are also some other budget hotels and it could be worthwhile to check them out.
San Gerardo is situated at an altitude of about 1200 meters and therefore like San Vito a good location for Pacific middle elevation birds.
New birds we saw in and around this village: Violet Sabrewing, Emerald Toucanet, Red-headed Barbet, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Wilson’s Warbler, Blue-headed Euphonia and Brown Jay.
The entrance of the Chirripo park is about 2 km from the center of San Gerardo. We hiked up the Chirripo reaching an altitude of about 1800 meters and experienced the problem that birding and covering distance are not easily combined. The area is heavily deforested and we encountered the first forest at an altitude of about 1600 meters. We saw some new birds and enjoyed the beautiful landscape but on the whole the trip was strenuous and a little bit disappointing.
New birds on this hike: Spotted Woodquail, Hairy Woodpecker, Flame-colored Tanager and Yellow-tighed Finch
Other birds seen in and around San Gerardo: Short-billed Pigeon, Squirrel Cuckoo, Green Hermit, Blue-crowned Motmot, Lineated Woodpecker, Masked Tityra, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Rufous-breasted Wren, Black-and-white Warbler, Slate-throated Redstart, Common Bush-Tanager, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Blue Dacnis, Scarlet-tighed Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Silver-throated Tanager, Speckled Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Summer Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow-faced Grassquit.
MIRADOR DE QUETZALES,
Mirador de Quetzales, also known as Finca Eddie Serrano is located on Cerro de la Muerte at an altitude of 2650 meter. (www.exploringcostarica.com/mirador/quetzales.com) It is on the Panamericana at km. 70. We took a direct bus from San Isidro to San José (US$3) and asked the driver to drop us of at km. 70. From the road it is about 700 meters walking to the Mirador. They offer good cabins for 80US$/double including breakfast and a morning Quetzal-walk. Lunch and diner are also available and rather cheap. Because of the altitude the nights are very cold. This is probably the best spot in Costa Rica for the Resplendent Quetzal that is virtually guaranteed here. We stayed three nights and saw Quetzals every day, sometimes even while we were sitting in front of our cabin. Furthermore there is a nice 3 km. trail that is rather strenuous because of the altitude.
New birds seen here: Red-tailed Hawk, Band-tailed Pigeon, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Volcano Hummingbird, Resplendent Quetzal, Ruddy Treerunner, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Black-capped Flycatcher, Mountain Elaenia, Ochraceous Wren, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Mountain Robin, Sooty Robin, Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher, Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher, Collared Redstart, Flame-throated Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Yellow-winged Vireo, Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager, Spangled-cheeked Tanager, Large-footed Finch, Slaty Flowerpiercer
Other birds seen: Hairy Woodpecker, Blue-and-white Swallow, White-collared Swift, Black-and-white Warbler, Summer Tanager
Cahuita is a small village on the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. The village is next to Parque Nacional Cahuita which protects a stretch of coastal rainforest.
To reach Cahuita we took a bus from Mirador de Quetzales on the Panamericana to San José (US$2). In San José buses to Cahuita leave from the Terminal Caribe and take about 4 hours (US$5.50). In Cahuita we stayed at Hotel Safari ((US$18, double). Because the village is on the gringo-trail there are many other budget hotels. The park is right next to the village and can get crowded. There is no set entrance fee but visitors are asked to pay a voluntary contribution.
During our stay in Cahuita we experienced lots of rain making birding sometimes impossible. We planned to visit the nearby Gandoco-Manzanillo national park (there are several buses a day), but had to skip this plan.
New birds we saw: Great Blue Heron, Double-toothed Kite, Keel-billed Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, White-flanked Antwren, Long-billed Gnatwren, Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Ovenbird, Black-throated Wren, Bay Wren, Cinnamon Becard, Long-tailed Tyrant, Black-cowled Oriole, Montezuma Oropendola, Gray Catbird, Bronzed Cowbird, Olive-backed Euphonia.
Other interesting birds seen: Black Hawk, Mangrove Cuckoo, Squirrel Cuckoo, Violaceous Trogon, Streaked-headed Woodcreeper, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Plain Wren, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Red-legged Honeycreeper, White-lined Tanager, Summer Tanager, Thick-billed Seed-Finch, Black-striped Sparrow
Tortuguero National Park is a large area of lowland rainforest on the northern Caribbean coast. There are no roads in this area, all the transport goes by a network of streams and canals. Most people visit Tortuguero by booking a roundtrip from San José that includes a two or three night stay in an expensive lodge. However it is also possible to arrange your own transport and in the small village of Tortuguero you will find several budget hotels.
Several tour operators in Cahuita offer transport directly from Cahuita to Tortuguero village. We bought a ticket at Roberto Tours for US$40pp. The ticket includes transport by van from Cahuita to the small port of Moin and from there a boat trip to Tortuguero on the canals that run parallel to the coast. The boat trip takes 3-4 hours and offers ample opportunity to do some birding. On this trip we saw our first Anhinga, Black-necked Stilt and Osprey
In Tortuguero we stayed at Italian owned Cabinas Tortuguero for US$20, good value with friendly staff, non-electric hot showers and a nice restaurant. Food and drinks in Tortuguero are generally a little bit more expensive than elsewhere in Costa Rica.
At the northern end of the village you will find the park headquarters from where a short but nice trail runs through the jungle. The entrance fee is 7US$ a day or US$10 for 3 days. The park is famous for the turtles that lay their eggs on the beaches. The best season for turtle watching is July to mid-October. A boat trip on the canals is a must and easy to organize. We arranged a canoe trip with a guy named Chico. You can contact him via Restaurant Mirjam next to the soccer field. He charged us 30US$ for a three hours private boat trip.
New birds seen in Tortuguero : Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, American Coot, Sungrebe, Gray-rumped Swift, Slaty Antshrike, Cedar Waxwing, White-collared Manakin, Striped-breasted Wren, White-crowned Pigeon.
Other birds seen: Royal Tern, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Purple Gallinule, Black-bellied Plover, Whimbrel, Common Black Hawk, Pale-vented Pigeon, Red-lorred Parrot, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Keel-billed Toucan Ringed Kingfisher, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Dotted-winged Antwren, Plain (Canebrake) Wren, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Gray Catbird, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Montezuma Oropendola, Orange-billed Sparrow.
From Tortuguero we traveled to Montezuma on the Nicoya Peninsula at the Pacific coast of the country.
In Tortuguero you can buy a combined boat/bus ticket to the town of Cariari for US$10. The boat leaves you at the dock in a place named Pavona, where a bus is waiting for you to bring you to Cariari. In Pavona, we saw our first Black-bellied Whistling Duck en Northern Jacana.
From Cariari buses leave to Guapiles (US$0.50) from where regular buses go to San José (US$1,50).
In San José we took the bus to Puntarenas, a port on the Pacific coast from where the boat to Nicoya departs. In Puntarenas we saw the first of many White-winged Doves that are common in towns in the dry north-west of the country. We stayed overnight in the Hotel Gran Imperial (US$23/double), a place that despite its impressive name can better be avoided.
There are several ferries a day from Puntarenas to Paquera on the Nicoya peninsula (US$1,30) from where a bus will bring you to Montezuma (US$2,20). In Montezuma we stayed at El Pargo Feliz with nice spacious rooms (US$30)
Because of its beaches and relaxed atmosphere Montezuma has become very popular among younger gringo travelers so you will see more gringos than Costaricans in this village. Montezuma is not very interesting for the average birder but in and around the village we saw several new birds that are common in the dry north-west : Spotted Ground-Dove, White-fronted Parrot, Orange-fronted Parakeet, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Green-breasted Mango, Rufous-naped Wren, Banded Wren, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, White-throated Magpie-Jay
Other birds seen in and around the village: Royal Tern, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Inca Dove, White-tipped Dove, Short-billed Pigeon, Hoffmann’s Woodpecker, Masked Tityra
The main reason to go to Montezuma is the nearby Cabo Blanco nature reserve on the tip of the peninsula. The park that opens at 8AM is closed on Monday and Tuesday. There are several busses a day from Montezuma to the ranger station (US$1). The first bus from Montezuma leaves at 8AM and arrives at 8.30. The entrance fee is US$8.
In the park are several trails that lead to the beaches at the tip of the peninsula, where a breeding colony of Brown Boobies should be present. Although we visited the park twice we never made it that far because of the numerous birds we encountered on our walk.
New birds seen: White-necked Puffbird, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Barred Antshrike, Long-tailed Manakin, Rufous-and-white Wren, Stub-tailed Spadebill, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Rufous-capped Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Spotted-breasted Oriole, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Olive Sparrow
Other birds seen in Cabo Blanco; Squirrel Cuckoo, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Streaked-headed Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Streaked Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Lesser Greenlet, Tropical Gantcatcher, Black-and-white Warbler.
We met a Canadian birder who had seen a Three-wattled Bellbird in this park but we failed to do so.
From Montezuma we traveled back to Puntarenas from where a direct bus to Cañas is available (US$1,50). In Cañas we stayed in Hotel Cañas for US$18/double.
Cañas is not interesting for birdwatchers, but the town is close to Hacienda la Pacifica, according to Nigel Wheatley in his book “Where to watch birds in Central America & the Caribbean” a strategically situated ranch with excellent gallery forest and a bird list of more than 200 species. When we arrived there early one morning by taxi (US$3) we found out that the hacienda is now a restaurant and that birdwatchers are no longer welcome.
As an alternative we walked 500 meters north to Restaurant Rincon Corobici from where a trail runs along the bank of the Rio Corobici. On this trail we saw more mosquitoes than birds but we finally managed to see three new species: Black-headed Trogon, Nutting’s Flycatcher and Striped-headed Sparrow.
On the other side of the road in some irrigated rice-field large numbers of Red-winged Blackbird and a couple of Muscovy Ducks were present.
From Cañas we made an excursion with Cata Tours (www.catatours.com) on the Rio Bebedero to the Palo Verde National Park (US$42 pp, including a good lunch). Actually the tour only goes to the border of the park, so you will not see the many water birds that are reported from Palo Verde. But still it was a nice trip with several new birds: Black-crowned Night-Heron, Crested Caracara, Yellow-naped Parrot, Turquoise-browed Motmot, White-ringed Flycatcher and a Barn-Owl in a hole in the river bank. In the garden of the Cata Tour building in the small town of Bebedero the guide showed us a pair of perching Pacific Screech-Owls, a nice bonus.
RINCON DE LA VIEJA
If you do not have your own transport Rincon de la Vieja national park is difficult to visit on a day trip so we booked two nights in Rincon de la Vieja Mountain Lodge. This place is not a budget option (US$88, double including breakfast) but this lodge is the closest to the park of all lodges. You can book this lodge via Selva Mar Tour Operator (email@example.com ; www.exploringcostarica.com)
To reach the lodge we took one of the numerous buses from Cañas to Liberia (US$1) from where we took a taxi to the lodge (US$22). On the whole the stay at Rincon de la Vieja was a little bit disappointing although we saw some nice birds. To get from the lodge to the park you still have to walk several kilometers and in the park the birding was slow. Maybe the best trail was the old Azufrales trail near the lodge that starts behind cabin 34.
New birds seen: Ticket Tinamou, Crested Guan, Broad-winged Hawk, Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, Plain-capped Starthroat, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Elegant Trogon, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, Giant Cowbird.
Other birds: Great Curassow, Squirrel Cuckoo, Band-tailed Pigeon, White-winged Dove, White-tipped Dove, Violaceous Trogon, Blue-crowned Motmot, Keel-billed Toucan, Green Kingfisher, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Long-tailed Manakin, Rufous-capped Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Banded Wren, Rufous-and-white Wren, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Brown Jay, Cedar Waxwing, Gray-headed Tanager, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Striped-headed Sparrow.
The little village of Bijagua is not interesting but nearby is an excellent lodge for birders the Heliconias Lodge on the slopes of the Volcan Tenorio. We booked this lodge in advance via the internet with Simbiosis Tours(firstname.lastname@example.org). At an altitude of 760 meters the lodge itself has about 100 hectares of cloud forest but it is part of an area of 18.000 hectares of tropical forest. The lodge offers more than 5 km of trails which include three suspension bridges and a platform to watch canopy birds. The trails are among the best kept trails we have seen in Costa Rica and the staff of the lodge is very friendly and helpful. The accommodation (US$ 40/double) is a little rustic but the birding is good. The lodge is famous for the Ornate Hawk Eagle that is nesting here but unfortunately we missed this impressive raptor (it was seen during our stay by other birders).
New birds seen here: Gray Hawk, Least Pygmy-Owl (Central American Pygmy-Owl), Brown Violet-ear, Crowned Woodnymph, Collared Aracari, White-breasted Wood-Wren, Woodthrush, Tropical Parula, Olive Tanager.
Other birds seen: American Swallow-tailed Kite, Crested Guan, Great Curassow, Squirrel Cuckoo, Mealy Parrot, Brown-hooded Parrot, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Green Hermit, Violaceaous Trogon, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Keel-billed Toucan, Lineated Woodpecker, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Barred Woodcreeper, Black-hooded Antshrike, Masked Tityra, Plain Wren, Striped-breasted Wren, Lesser Greenlet, Yellow-bellied Eleania, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, Ovenbird, Brown Jay, Montezuma Oropendola, Olive-backed Euphonia, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Green Honeycreeper, Silver-throated Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Orange-billed Sparrow, Black-striped Sparrow
Caño Negro is a refuge of over 10.000 hectares close to the border of Nicaragua. Next to Palo Verde, Caño Negro is the most important wetland of Costa Rica. It is also the only place in Costa Rica where the Nicaraguan Crackle regularly nests. The small town of Caño Negro is inside the refuge. The town offers some accommodation and boats to visit the Rio Frio river and the lakes surrounding the village are easily organized. The entrance fee to the refuge is US$4.
To reach Caño Negro we took a bus from Bijagua to Upala from where a bus leaves to Caño Negro(US$1.20). In Caño Negro we stayed at Cabinas Martin Pescador (Kingfisher Cabins, email: email@example.com)) for 30US$/double with airco. We arranged a boat-trip with Juan Rios of Pantanal Tour. Juan is very knowledgeable about the region and knows his birds, but speaks only Spanish. We paid 60US$ for two persons for three hours for a private trip along the canals and lagoons.
New birds seen in Caño Negro: Jabiru, Roseate Spoonbill, Green Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Limpkin, Blue-winged Teal, Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-collared Hawk, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Tropical Peewee, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Spotted-breasted Wren, Nicaraguan Crackle.
Other birds seen: Anhinga, Wood Stork, White Ibis, Boat-billed Heron, Black-crowned Night- Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Great Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Purple Gallinule, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Northern Jacana, Black-necked Stilt, Osprey, Laughing Falcon, Blue Ground-Dove, White-crowned Parrot, Olive-throated Parakeet, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Blue-and-white Swallow, Mangrove Swallow, Black-headed Trogon, Ringed Kingfisher, Belted Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Streaked-headed Woodcreeper, Collared Aracari, Lineated Woodpecker, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, White-ringed Flycatcher, Montezuma Oropendola, Red-winged Blackbird, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Golden-hooded Tanager, Thick-billed Seed-Finch
Fortuna is the nearest town to the spectacular Volcan Arenal. Many tourists visit this small town, but for birders it is not very interesting. From Caño Negro a bus goes to Los Chiles from where several buses go to Ciudad Quesada. In Ciudad Quesada regular buses go to Fortuna. The total trip takes about 7 hours and cost us less then 5 dollars.
In Fortuna we stayed at Cabinas Hidalgo-Alfaro (US$12/double), but there are numerous cheap places to stay. According to the Lonely Planet the road to the Catarata de la Fortuna (Fortuna waterfall) offers good birding opportunities. We went there early one morning and found that there is now a lot of traffic on this road making quiet birding impossible. We still managed to see some new birds: Red-billed Pigeon, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Black-headed Saltator and Grayish Saltator.
From Fortuna you can buy a direct Jeep-Boat-Jeep ticket to Monteverde; according to Nigel Wheatley one of the prime birdwatching locations in Central America. We finally paid 15US$ for the trip that includes a boat trip on Lake Arenal.
Maybe our expectations were to high but for us Monteverde was a little bit disappointing.
As an eco-tourist destination Monteverde is a success story with thousands of tourists visiting the place. But the Monteverde Cloud Forest is also called the Monteverde Crowd Forest as all the tourists that visit Costa Rica have to see the Quetzal. Furthermore the place is rather expensive: as my wife put it “if you have more than 5 trees you have to pay an entrance fee”.
Having said that we of course saw some beautiful birds in Monteverde and every birder visiting Costa Rica should al least spend some days here.
The first night we stayed in the small village of Santa Elena in Pension Santa Elena. As we did not like the crowded village we moved out the next day and booked a room in Pension Manakin on the Santa Elena-Monteverde road. Here we paid 36US$ for a double room with breakfast.
In Monteverde we visited the Bosque Eterno de los Niños (Children’s Eternal Rainforest, US$7), Bosque Nuboso Monteverde (Monteverde Cloud Forest, US$13) and the Santa Elena Reserve (US$9). The differences in altitude of these reserves are reflected in the birds you may encounter, with the Bosque Eterno being the lowest reserve and the Santa Elena Reserve being the highest. Near the entrance of the Bosque Nuboso Monteverde you will find the hummingbird gallery, one of the highlights of our trip to Costa Rica, where we saw a total of eight new hummingbird-species.
In front of Stella’s bakery on the road to the Monteverde Cloud Forest are some big fruiting trees (i.e. in march) that attracted a lot of birds like Emerald Toucanet, Gray-headed Chachalaca and Golden-browed Chlorophonia
New birds in Monteverde : Black-Guan, White-tailed Hawk, Green-crowned Brilliant, Green Violet-ear, Fork-tailed Emerald, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Purple-throated Mountain-gem, Coppery-headed Emerald, Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, Magnificent Hummingbird, Spotted Barbtail, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Red-faced Spinetail, Prong-billed Barbet, Gray-breasted Woodwren, Three-striped Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Black-faced Solitaire, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Olive-striped Flycatcher, Eastern Woodpewee, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, White-eared Sparrow
Other birds seen: Gray-headed Chachalaca, American Swallow-tailed Kite, Band-tailed Pigeon, Squirrel Cuckoo, Violet Sabrewing, Resplendent Quetzal, Blue-crowned Motmot, Emerald Toucanet, Hoffmann’s Woodpecker, Ruddy Treerunner, Plain Xenops, Rufous-and-white Wren, Plain Wren, Ochraceous Wren, Long-tailed Manakin, Mountain Elaenia, Mountain Robin, Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher, Brown Jay, Rufous-capped Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Slate-throated Redstart, Collared Redstart, Black-cowled Oriole, Common Bush-Tanager, Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager, Silver-throated tanager, Spangled-cheeked Tanager, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Black-headed Saltator, Black-striped Sparrow, Yellow-faced Grassquit,
LAGUNA DEL LAGARTO LODGE
This lodge is situated in the northern Caribbean lowlands a few kilometers from the small town of Boca Tapada. We booked a room for 4 nights through the internet (US$68,20/double; www.lagarto-lodge-costa-rica.com). Reaching Boca Tapada is quite easy although you need some time. From Monteverde we took the Jeep-Boat-Jeep to Fortuna (20US$) from where we took a bus to Ciudad Quesada and subsequently to the small town of Pital (US$1.50). In Pital we stayed overnight in Habitaciones La Yunta (13US$/double), good value. From Pital there are two buses a day to Boca Tapada. The bus takes 2 hours and in Boca Tapada we were picked up by the staff of the Laguna del Lagarto Lodge.
This lodge is an excellent birding location. Both the Scarlet Macaw and the endangered Great Green Macaw can be seen here and there are some good jungle trails next to the lodge. On one of our walks we hit on a group of army ants with a flock of Antbirds, for us the most impressive birding experience during our two months stay in Costa Rica.
New birds: Bat Falcon, Olive-backed Quail-Dove, Great Green Macaw, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Ocellated Antbird, Bicolored Antbird, Spotted Antbird, Streaked-crowned Antvireo, Red-capped Manakin, Shining Honeycreeper, Snowy Cotinga, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant.
Other birds: Least Grebe, Anhinga, Muscovy Duck, Crested Guan, Gray Hawk, Short-billed Pigeon, Scarlet Macaw, Red-lored Parrot, Brown-hooded Parrot, Groove-billed Ani, Little Hermit, Long-tailed Hermit, Crowned Woodnymph, Mangrove Swallow, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Violaceous Trogon, Amazon Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Streaked-headed Woodcreeper, Barred Woodcreeper, Chestnut-backed Antbird, White-flanked Antwren, White-collared Manakin, Cinnamon Becard, Masked Tityra, Black-crowned Tityra, Long-tailed Tyrant, Wood Thrush, Montezuma Oropendola, Yellow-billed Cacique, Golden-hooded Tanager, Black-striped Sparrow
The town of Alajuela is situated next to the international airport of San José, so we decided to spent our last night here. We stayed in hotel Villa Pacanda (US$35/double, including breakfast) , situated in the suburbs of the town and linked with the centrally located Hotel Pacanda (www.villapacanda.com) . The hotel is actually a large house with a nice garden. In the morning we were literally woken up by the birds in the garden.
We did not see any new birds but I think this is the place of choice if you want to stay the first night in a nice place close to the airport.
Birds seen: White-winged Pigeon, Red-billed Pigeon, Squirrel Cuckoo, Blue-crowned Motmot, Hoffmann’s Woodpecker, Rufous-capped Warbler, Rufous-naped Wren, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Grayish Saltator and of course a lot of the more common birds.
A taxi from the hotel top the airport is only US$5. At the airport you have to pay a departure tax of US$26, which is also payable (partly if you want) in colones. After the customs prices for food and drinks tend to be threefold of the prices normally encountered in Costa Rica. The souvenirs are also rather expensive.
BEST BIRDING SPOTS
After a trip of two months it is quite difficult to decide what the best birding spots are in Costa Rica. If you define a good birding spot as a place where you will see birds you do not encounter in others places, then according to our birding list Osa is the place to go. During our stay in Osa we saw 26 species for the first and last time during our trip. Of course this is partly due to the excellent guiding we had during our stay at the Bosque del Rio Tigre, but even without this help Osa would have scored highly on our list. Next to Osa, comes Monteverde with 24 species confined to this spot. Also good are Caño Negro (13 spec.), Laguna del Lagarto (13 spec.) Mirador de Quetzales (12 spec.) and Playa Ballena (9 spec.).
Many of the endemic species or species confined to Costa Rica and Panama are found at the higher altitudes i.e. Monteverde and Mirador de Quetzales (on Cerro de la Muerte), so both places are a must for any serious birder visiting Costa Rica
In our opinion the best place for shorebirds was Dominical, the best spot for waterbirds was Caño Negro.
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