Last Updated on 08 July 2016

Trip Report to Costa Rica

17-11-2011 - 05-12-2011

Tufted Flycatcher - San Rafael - 2011-12-04 - 04 copy PBase

Tufted Flycatcher near La Pazz Waterfall Gardens.

General Information
This is a report on a trip to Costa Rica by my wife and myself in november/december 2011. The main goal of the trip was to see as many bird species as possible, taking loads of pictures of them, as well a having a relaxed trip. In order to accomplish these goals we selected a rather limited numer of areas to visit (at least, to our standards) were we stayed up to three nights. This gave us some time to see everything we wanted to see.

We decided to visit Costa Rica at the end of the rainy season to avoid outrageous temperatures. Also we figured that the end of the wet season would mean a good deal of time to spend birding as the downpours should be nearly over by then. This strategy worked fine although a few days were spoiled by the rain anyway. Rainy season or not, bad weather is always something to be prepared for when visiting the country as it rains a lot anyway. Usually it is enough to carry a poncho with you, to shelter yourself and your equipment from getting soaked. They served us well on a number of occasions like Arenal and Rancho Naturalista.

During our visit we birded on our own, only with two exceptions: La Selva biological station and Selva Verde. To the former place it's hard to gain acces without a guide (although we did fine walking around the compound and even crossing the suspension bridge unsupervised). Taking a guide along is always a good idea and La Selva was no exception. The guide found us many birds that we would never have seen while birding on our own. At Selva Verde we went along with a guided walk through the patch of primary forest across the Sarapiqui river. Unfortunately we saw extremely few birds during this walk.

As our birding pace was rather high we ended up seeing 400 species exactly which was well over our expectations. Our list included some goodies like Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, Sun Bittern, Snowcap, Resplendent Quetzal, Orange-collared Manakin, Broad-billed Motmot, Three-wattled Bellbird and Barred Becard. For more information on which species we saw, please download the annotated trip list. Observations of all other wildlife are included in this list.

Resplendent Quetzal - San Gerardo de Dota - 2011-11-29 - 10 copy PBase

Getting good views of Resplendant Quetzal is not too difficult around San Gerardo de Dota..

In this report the names of each bird and of all important places we visited are typed in bold. This should make it easier to scan through the report for the information you’re after or skip the parts you are not interested in.

All photographs displayed in this report are produced during this trip. For each photo details are included about what it depicts and where the picture is taken. All photographs produced during this trip can be found at the travel picture gallery. All pictures are copyrighted but we are happy to provide you with a high res copy upon request. All the major bird observations of this trip can also be found at Observado, a website where anyone can enter their nature-related sightings. Details include the location, number of birds seen and sometimes details of the particular sighting as well. All other observations recorded during various other trips can be found at Observado as well.

If any questions still remain after reading this report or if would like some help while you're planning a trip to Costa Rica yourself, please do not hesitate to contact us and we'll try to help you as much as possible. For Future reference you may want to download this report in Word or PDF format.

 Itinerary

17 Nov - Flight from Amsterdam to San Jose. Arival at 18 Nov. Transfer to nearby Buena Vista Hotel in Alajuela.

18 Nov - Morning birding around hotel gardens of Buena Vista Hotel, pickup of rental car at the hotel and drive to Selva Verde Lodge, Sarapiqui. Afternoon birding at Selva Verde Lodge grounds.

18-21 Nov - Stay at Selva Verde Lodge and birdwatching the lodge and surroundings, as well as La Selva Biological station and it's surrounds.

21-24 Nov - Stay at Arenal Observatory Lodge, La Fortuna, birdwatching the entrance road, Senderos Los Quetzales, Saino and Las Hormigas trails and lodge grounds.

24-27 Nov - Stay at Cerro Lodge, Tarcoles, to visit the Tarcoles river area and the Carara National Park.

27-29 Nov - Stay at Savegre Mountain Lodge, San Gerardo de Dota. Birding the excellent trails of the lodge itself and visits to the Cerro de la Muerte radio towers, restaurant La Georgina, as well as birding the road leading to San Gerardo.

29-30 Nov - Stay at Chalet Orosi, Orosi with morning birding at Tapanti National Park on 30th.

30 Nov - 02 Dec - Stay at Rancho Naturalista, Turrialba. Birding at the lodge trails and some short excursions just outside the Rancho compound.

02-04 Dec - Stay at Poas Lodge, Poasito. Birding around the Volcano and a visit to the La Paz Waterfall gardens and a small but very productive stretch of forest just outside the park.


Transportation and getting around

Costa Rica is a well developed country when it comes to the road system. Most roads are of medium to good quality although you will find lots of potholes in some road sections. Therefore it is always wise to keep an eye out for any unexpected things while driving in Costa Rica. One of such unexpected things could be a landslide or even a LOT of them. Maybe the wet season had something to do with it but every time we travelled from one accommodation to the next always a few landslides were encountered. Many times we were delayed more or less severely by the construction work that had to be performed because of the road being washed away. It may therefore be wise to expect extra time to be added to your calculated travelling time.

File - Cartago - 2011-11-29 - 02 copy aaaaaaa

Traffic jams due to landslides can add significant travelling time to your itinerary.

As could be expected many roads are unsealed. This may make a 4x4 car usefull, depending on where you go. Places like Corcovado may not even be reached without one. We rented a Toyota RAV4 at Europe Car which was very well suitable for offroad driving and we even needed it desperately on some occasions like the road towards the radio towers at Cerro de la Muerte and the acces road to Rancho Naturalista (although one could argue that the road is suitable for saloon cars too, we were gladd to have a 4x4).

Road signs are not very common in Costa Rica, the same is true for road names. It is not rare to drive up to a major intersection without a single roadsign. Especially when navigating through San Jose or any other city this can, and will, be a big problem. To avoid troubles in finding our way we purchased a Garmin GPS system and a separate Costa Rica map before the trip. We obtained GPS locations from all accommodations so we had no trouble finding our way. Without the GPS it would have been near impossible to do.

While hiring a car is pretty expensive in Costa Rica, driving it is not. Petrol is very cheap and therefore it was not a problem that our car was using 1 litre of fuel for every 8 kilometres traveled. We typically paid about 350-400 colones (equal to € 0,55) per litre of unleaded fuel.

 

Weather

Being in the middle of the small landstretch that separates northern America from the south, the climate system in Costa Rica is complex. Generally speaking Costa Rica has a wet and a dry season. Although "dry" does not really mean "dry" but "not as wet". The wet season starts around april and runs all the way to the end of november. Normally a day in the wet season would start bright and sunny, while during the afternoon clouds would roll in. Then in the afternoon it would typically rain for a few hours before the sky breaks open again.

During our stay we encountered quite some rain (after all it was the end of the wet season remember) but only during our stay at Arenal NP and Rancho Naturalista it rained most of the time during our three days stay. As said before: be prepared and take along good rain gear, this should help you through and avoid you having to stay in for days in a row and therefore miss some of the important birds.

Costa Rica's location pretty close to the equator gives the country a rather stable temperature. It may be slightly warmer during the dry season but outside the mountainous areas temperatures usually rise above 30 degrees Celcius. This combined with a very high humidity sometimes make it uncomfortable to be very active. Once you start to move to higher altitudes temperatures drop quickly to acceptable levels.

 

Safety

Crime ratings in Costa Rica are not very high but this doesn't mean that there's no crime. There's only one real issue concerning safety for the tourist which is the number of car burglaries, especially in the Carara/Tarcoles area. It's even advised that your car should not be left unattended when parked. The authorities and most accommodations acknowlegde this by employing guards 24/7 on most parking places that we parked at. Nevertheless we never felt unsafe where ever we went.


Currency

The Costa Rican national currency is the Colon. In november 2011, 660 Colonnes were equal to 1 Euro. All purchases however can also be payd in US dollars, which is preferred by some hotels and gass stations as well.

 

Literature

For finding the best spots at each site "Where to watch birds Costa Rica" (2009) by Barrett Lawson (ISBN 978-1-4081-2512-0) was used. The book covers a lot of information on many aspects of the country including how these may be affecting your bird watching activities. Among others the 35 page introduction deals with the climate, geology, forest characters - and how these affect the birdlife in it, how the country is divided into climatic and/or geographic regions - and why this categorization was chosen for this book, tips on which other books could be of use and much more.

After the introduction all major birding areas are discussed. Each chapter starts with a small map that pinpoints the location of the subject. This map is virtually useless and its best to refer to the map overview in the first few pages of the book. Each chapter starts with some key figures: Recommended length of stay, elevation, trail dificulty, reserve hours, entrance fee and if bird guides are available. Additionally each chapter gives an introduction to the site including everything you need to know about it: detailed information on the key spots within each site and the target birds to see. Sometimes a detailed site map is included especially when a site has a few subsites that can be visited. Last but not least information is provided for nearby important areas and which accommodation you could stay in. All information is offered in a well-structured manner which makes the book an easy to use reference.

It is one thing to know what you should see and where, another is to be able to identify the birds you are actually seeing. A few options are available for Costa Rica, every single one of them having their own up and downsides. "Birds of Costa Rica" (2007) by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean (ISBN 978-0-7136-8369-1) was our choice and we would recommend it strongly. Although the quality of the plates may not be the best available, it has some advantages over other guides. One of the most important to us was the relatively few numbers of bird species that are depicted on each page. Typically only 6 species are depicted which also guarantees enough spce for a proper-size drawing of each bird. Not only that, it also leaves enough space on each page to add some actually useful information on key characters, habits and habitat. One other upside of the book is that all the bird's key characters in the species text are printed in bold. This makes it extremely easy to focus on the characters that really matter.

 

Other wildlife

Besides the extremely rich fauna that can be found in Costa Rica, many mammals can be found as well. Due to the lush growth everywere it can be extremely difficult to see them although you could increase your chances by going to the Corcovado National park in the south east. Among the most sought-after mammals are the felines, for some of which you may have a reasonable chance of seeing one. For instance an Ocelot has been known to wander around the Arenal Observatory lodge. Other mammals like sloths are rather common and should be encountered during a typical two-weeks stay.

Black-and-Green Poison Dart Frog - La Selva - 2011-11-19 - 04

 

Accommodation

The general quality of the accommodations we stayed in was very good. Nearly all national parks we visited could well be reached from the chosen accommodations, on some occasions the accommodation was even right in the middle of the visited area. Below all accommodations are discussed. Click each link to go to the accommodation’s website.


Buena Vista Hotel, Alajuela

A good hotel to stay in when you need a place close to the airport, which is 20 minutes away. As many reports recommend this hotel for birdwatchers we were looking forward to stay there but we were a bit disappointed. There's not much natural habitat around the hotel which makes the birdlife not very abundant. The hotel provides some trails through coffee plantations which are not very rich of birds although this was the only place were we saw Veery, Ochraceous Wren, Warbling Vireo and American Redstart.

Buena Vista Hotel - Alajuela - 2011-11-18 - 01 copy

The Buena Vista hotel is OK from a birdwatchers point of view, nothing more, nothing less.


Selva Verde Lodge, Sarapiqui

Probably one of the best hotels you'll ever stay in when it comes to combining lodging with birdwatching. All the hotel buildings are built leaving as much of the original habitat untouched. The main buildings south of the road are close to the Sarapiqui river, some cabins are right at the river's edge which make it possible to spot Sun Bitterns right from your balcony! The restaurant faces the river as well which makes for a good place to spend the first or last hour of our day, or simply use it as a shelter when the rains are too heavy to be active. Many trails are even covered by a roof which again is perfect when one of those tropical rains are pouring down. Selva Verde Lodge also provides some nature walks, including ones for frogs, nocturnal animals and ofcourse birds. Some of them are complementary to your booking, others require a small amount to participate.

One of the sites that you should include in a visit to Selva Verde Lodge is La Selva Biological station. this is a research instution about 15 mintues east of the Selva Verde Lodge and probably holds a much better potential than Selva Verdea although it seems to be part of the same primary forest patch. Entering the compound can be difficult as you will read in the "Sites visited" accounts but only if you want to get inside without being part of an organised tour. This can easily be solved by staying in the biological station itself.


Arenal Observatory Lodge, La Fortuna

There's probably not too many lodges that feature the stunning views that Arenal Abservatory lodge does. The restaurant and many rooms face the impressive Arenal volcano, that is, if the volcano is not covered by thick clouds during your visit. One big disappointment was that the volcano was dormant already for a few months when we arrived. Sadly we only discovered this upon arriving to the lodge. As this was one of the main attractions of our Costa Rica trip, we would probably have postponed it if we had this information at hand earlier.

The quality of the lodge is excellent so is the area surrounding the lodge. A fair amount of trails lead you to a variety of habitats, including some primary forest and open gardens. The latter are very good for hummingbirds and many small songbirds can be found here too. One thing you should be aware of before staying at the Arenal Observatory Lodge is that it's rather overprized, as is the restaurant.

Arenal Observatory Lodge - La Fortuna - 2011-11-24 - 04 copy

Not looking at the volcano from the Observatory Lodge restaurant.


Cerro Lodge, Tarcolés

The location of this accomodtion is perfect for a visit to both the Tarcoles area as well as the Carara area just a bit further away. The bungalows are big enough for two to four persons. No airconditioning is installed which would come in handy as temperatures in the area are very high as is the humidity. Although the Cerro Lodge claims to be a birdwatchers accommodation there's little to support that claim. Surely, there's a lot of porterweed planted in the rather spaceous gardens, there's hummingbird feeders and even a lot of fruit being put out in various places but that's just about it. Further knowledge about the bird themselves or the best places to visit in the area is not to be obtained from the staff. Birding the accommodation is rather good with many hummers around as well as Fiery-billed Aracari's. Scarlet Macaws can be seen from the lodge and even come to feed in the tall trees surrounding the lodge. At night keep an eye out for the pair of Black-and-white Owls that hunt the gardens and are probably difficult to miss year-round.

Cerro Lodge - Tarcoles - 2011-11-25 - 08 copy

The perfect bathroom for a birdwatcher at Cerro Lodge! Hummers regularly visit these flowers.


Savegre Mountain Lodge

One of the best situated accommodations, right in the centre of the San Gerardo de Dota valley and again one that offers many great trails in various grades of difficulty. It may not be the best location to visit all the other sites in the area, which you need to do at least a few times to see all specialties, but this is made up entirely by the great trails. In front of the restaurant the lodge provides a few hummingbird feeders which are put to good use by the local hummer community. Also a lot of fruit is laid out for the many tanagers and woodpeckers that are around. As always there's the posibility to hire one of the guides from the lodge, the best one probably being Marino, the owner of the lodge.


Chalet Orosi, Orosi

Chalet Orosi is little more than a chalet right next to a privately owned house. As the place looked very relaxing we would have liked to stay much longer than the one night we did. The chalet is spaceous and a hot tub is on the porch. The owners try everything to make your stay as convenient as possible, they even went out very early to do grocery shopping for our breakfast. Sadly we only had one morning for a visit to the Tapanti National park which was mostly washed away by rain. Despite this we still saw many good birds.

Orosi Chalet - Orosi - 2011-11-30 - 01 copy

For those who are into hot tubbing Chalet Orosi has it all. Unfortunately we arrvied too late and left too early to enjoy it.


Rancho Naturalista, Turrialba

Rancho Naturalista is probably one of the most well known birdwatcher´s accommodations in the country. This lodge is also situated perfectly for exploring the surrounding area although many of the best birds will be found around the lodge compound. All meals are prepared at fixed times and a bell rings when it's time to get seated. All meals are provided communally which makes sure that all guests interact with each other. By eating together we got to know some of the other guests and we ended up birding together with them, which was great fun.

Rancho Naturalista - Turrialba - 2011-12-03 - 02 copy

Main building of Rancho Naturalista. The second floor serves as a vantage point for the feeders and gives good views of the surroundings.


Poas Lodge, Poasito

A nice but small lodge located on the flanks of the Poas volcano with a stunning view over the central valley, especially at night. This place is operated by two very nice South African guys who have been living in Costa Rica for some years now and know the area quite well. With many things to see (the La Paz waterfall gardens and the Poas volcano to mention two) you could easily stay here more than two days and not be bored at all. The food in the restaurant is great, be sure to try it!

Alajuela by night - Poasito - 2011-12-05 - 01 copy

Bedroom view over Alajuela, one of the capital's suburbs.

Sites visited

Below all important sites we visited are described and discussed. For all sites the species are mentioned that we saw at 6 sites/occasions or less. This does not necessarily mean that those birds are among the most rare or sought-after, it just gives you an impression of how commonly that species is encountered. If a species is a target bird we tried to give it extra attention as that particular bird may only, or most reliably, be found at that particular site. All recorded sightings can be found in the trip list.


Selva Verde

As said before Selva Verde is one of those destinations that you should include in your itinerary, if only for a visit to nearby La Selva biological station. We stayed three nights in the cabins north of the road beyond the botanical gardens. A visit to Selva Verde can be tailored to anyones wishes: you can either venture out by yourself or take along one of the very skilled guides. Only a visit to the primary rainforest on the other side of the Sarapiqui river requires a guide since this area is closed to anyone but the Selva Verde staff.

One major attraction of Selva Verde are the poison dart frogs which are abundant everywhere. It shouldn't cost you any trouble finding Black-and-Green- and Blue-jeans Poison Dart Frogs but you probably have to work a bit harder for Red-eyed Tree-frog. Just try and keep inspecting the back-sides of any large leaves and you will be paid with good views of them. Finding the Red-eyed Tree-frogs should be easier at night as they are nocturnal.

Red-eyed Tree-Frog - Sarapiqui - 2011-11-19 - 22 copy

Red-eyed Treefrog should not be too difficult to find at Selva Verde Lodge.

During our stay we went to several places which are listed below:

- The botanical gardens: these gardens are located north of the main road, across from the reception just a bit to the east. We visited the gardens two times early morning which were both great. Among the target birds we've seen here were Great Green Macaw and Rufous-winged Woodpecker. Other good birds here included Laughing Falcon, Orange-fronted Parakeet, Long-billed Hermit, Chestnut-backed Antbird and Streak-headed Woodcreeper. The gardens around the main buildings south of the road (along the path leading from the reception to the restaurant) is also very good for birds. Many of the species that we saw in the botanical gardens were also found here.

- The restaurant area: Next to the restaurant is a fruit feeding station and although we always missed the birds here, there should be plenty around. We were told that Keel-billed Toucans drop in regularly for a snack as do a variety of other birds. From the restaurant first floor deck there's a good view over the river which usually holds some water birds including Bare-throated Tiger-Heron.

Bare-throated Tiger-Heron - Agus Zarcas - 2011-11-21 - 03 copy PBase

Bare-throated Tiger-Heron can be seen anywere along the Sarapiqui river (or anywere else in Costa Rica).

There used to be a suspension bridge across the river but it was washed away during a big earthquake some years ago. On the concrete remains that are still in the river we were lucky enough to spot a Tropical River Otter coming out of the water!!

- The suspension bridge and primary forest: As said before there used to be a suspension bridge next to the restaurant but it got destroyed by an earthquake. A new suspension bridge was built about two-hundred metres east of the old one. The bridge can be used as a vantage point to scan the river. Great Green Macaws will no doubt pass and make lots of noise doing so. Be sure to keep an eye out for Sunbittern along the river banks which we saw very close to the bridge. Many other birds occur along the river banks but most are associated with water and can be seen anywhere. Nevertheless it can be very rewarding walking one of the paths along the river bank as well.

When we encountered a group that was about to enter the primary forest (the suspension bridge is the entrance gate to the primary forest) we decided to come along. The walk itself was rather tough, even worse due to the tremendous humidity, and so was it to see birds. During a three hour walk we only saw eight species but some good ones: Great Tinamou, Semiplumbeous Hawk, Broad-billed Motmot, Great Antshrike and White-breasted Wood-Wren. Non-avian treat: a Reticulated Glassfrog that was guarding it's brood.


 La Selva biological station

At this site the organisation for tropical studies does just that: studying ecosystems of the wet tropics. The compound consists of a large area of primary forest (although it takes you considerable time to reach the area by foot), the research centre itself including housing facilities for the students and professors. Besides that the compound offers facilities for visitors that want to stay overnight. It is not mandatory to stay at the biological station to participate in an excursion or if you want to book a private tour with one of the highly specialized guides. Other than that it is difficult to enter the compound, we were not even allowed to linger around after or before the tour. When we were there to book one of the tours we were specifically told that we should leave within ten minutes. Ofcourse we did not and were not detected by the staff. We even got to the other side of the bridge and explored the forest there which was quiet due to it being around noon.

The morning walk that we took with one of the guides was excellent. The guide was very knowledgable and friendly and found many birds that we would never have seen on our own. Sadly we just missed a Sungrebe that had just been seen on the river for a while but that was compensated by many other good things such as Little Tinamou, White-shouldered Tanager, Vermiculated Screech-Owl, Band-tailed Barbthroat, Willow Flycatcher, Long-billed Gnatwren, Grey Catbird and Black-faced Grosbeak.

 Cinnamon Hummingbird - Carara - 2011-11-24 - 09 copy PBase

Cinnamon Hummingbird is one of the most commonly encountered hummers.

A staggering 37 species were only seen in the Selva Verde area, including La Selva biological station: Great- and Little Tinamou, Semiplumbeous Hawk, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Grey-chested Dove, Orange-fronted Parakeet, Mealy Parrot, Vermiculated Screech-Owl, Spectacled Owl, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, Band-tailed Barbthroat, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Broad-billed Motmot, Rufous-winged Woodpecker, Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Yellow-margined Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Great Antshrike, Northern Barred-, Black-banded- and Cocoa Woodcreeper, Yellow-throated Vireo, Plain Wren, Long-billed Gnatwren, Grey Catbird, Olive-backed Euphonia, Northern Waterthrush, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Yellow-tailed Oriole, Giant Cowbird, Shining Honeycreeper and Black-faced Grosbeak.

Total number of species seen at Selva Verde and La Selva: 148


 Arenal National Park

Our stay at the Arenal area was slightly hampered by the bad weather. On the second day we started birding despite the heavy rains but around ten o'clock we gave up our hopes for a weather improvement and drove back to the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Despite the rain birding at Arenal was great. There are many porterweed bushes planted at the lodge area, especially between the suspension bridge (be sure to check for monkeys at the bridge itself) and the pool. Hummers to look for are Black-crested Coquette, Green Thorntail, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Blue-chested Hummingbird and Snowcap which we just missed here by a minute or so.

 

black-crested coquette - la fortuna - 2011-11-23 - 02 copy

Black-crested Coquette: one fine example of a spectacular hummingbird that can be encountered in Costa Rica.

Birding at the Arenal area actually starts at the moment you turn on to the gravel road that lead to the many accommodations in the area, including Arenal Observatory Lodge. The road leads along open areas and some small streams which are good for Fasciated Tiger-Heron and Green Kingfisher. During the handfull of visits to the more open area we came across a wide array of species, many of which live in open areas like Sharp-shinned Hawk, Finsch's Parakeet, White-crowned Parrot, Grey-crowned Yellow-throat and White-collared Seed-eater. Two very unexpected ones were a Uniform Crake that was fouraging in a small stream right next to the road and the only Olivaceous Piculet that we saw during the trip.

The trail system directly around the lodge is evenly good for birding. It even holds some primary forest, but that stretch was particularly quiet each time we passed through it. Many birds can be found right where the hotel gardens and the original forest meet. Here we found many flocks of passerines including Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Slate-headed Tody Flycatcher, Rufous Mourner, Fasciated Antshirike, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Streaked Xenops, Yellow-crowned- and Tawny-capped Euphonia and Yellow-billed Cacique. Three-wattled Bellbird was heard only at the last morning and again during heavy rains. Just outside the lodge gate is the start of the Sendero los Tucanes which we visited, but again during heavy rains. Consequently we did not see a lot but this should be different in dryer conditions.

Olivaceous Piculet - La Fortuna - 2011-11-21 - 02 copy

Finding an Olivaceous Piculet in the Arenal area was a pleasant surprise.

The garden that is overlooked from the restaurant is worth a visit anytime as fruit is put out on a regular basis. This always attract Passerini's- and Blue-greyTanagers, Oropendolas, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Black-cheeked Woodpecker and many more. No doubt the most spectacular bird here was a splendid Ornate Hawk Eagle lingering around the view point.

Arenal dam may be worth a visit for finding Mangrove Swallow which we found easily.

 Blue-grey Tanager - Sarapiqui - 2011-11-20 - 01

 Blue-grey Tanager is among the commonest bird species recorded in Costa Rica.

 

19 Species were only seen in the Arenal area: Sharp-shinned Hawk, Uniform Crake, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Black-crested Coquette, Black-headed Trogon, Olivaceous Piculet, Three-wattled Bellbird, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, White-collared Seed-eater, Hepatic Tanager and Blue Grosbeak.

Total number of species seen at Arenal: 128


 Tárcoles

Viewing the river from the Rio Tárcoles bridge as mentioned in the "where to watch birds" guide is not a very safe options as the traffic over the bridge is extremely busy and there's little space for pedestrians to walk along the road. Nevertheless this is a very popular spot for locals to see the Aligators and crocodiles. We would highly recommend that you explore the river by boat which can be easily arranged at Tárcoles village. We took the Crocodile Safari's tour which is not tailored to the needs of birdwatchers. Therefore we did not visit the best places for Mangrove Hummingbird and missed it.

 

Tarcoles River - Tarcoles - 2011-11-25 - 02 copy

Mudflats and mangroves line the shores of the Tarcoles River.

Many North American shorebirds winter in Costa Rica and can easily be seen at the Tárcoles river. Some of the specialties can readily be seen during a river tour including Boat-billed Heron, Southern Lapwing (steeply increasing in recent years), Collared Plover, Mangrove Black Hawk, Yellow-headed Caracara, Scarlet Macaw (hard to miss anywhere early morning or late afternoon) Yellow-naped Parrot, Ringed Kingfisher, Mangrove- and Prothonotary Warbler.

Southern Lapwing - Carara - 2011-11-25 - 01 copy PBase

"Taking the nation by storm": Southern Lapwing

Cerro Lodge holds little species that can't be seen anywhere else but we were very happy with a pair of Black-and-white Owls feeding around our cabin. Due to the porterweed many hummers fight around, especially Green-breasted Mango and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Others saw Scarlet Macaws coming to feed in the garden the evening before we arrived. Also at Cerro lodge we encountered the best Fiery-billed Aracari that we saw during the trip. As the gardens at the lodge are very open it's certainly a good idea to spend some time with a camera as you will find many amazing opportunities to burn away some meg's or even gig's!

Black-and-white Owl - Carara - 2011-11-24 - 07 copy

One of two Black-and-white Owls hunting at the Cerro Lodge.


Carara

The Carara National Park is an extremely diverse place and should be visited at least a few times to make the most of your visit. We concentrated on two spots:

Waterfall road (see the WTW guide for directions): just as the next spot large stretches of forest along waterfall road can be very quiet but once you hit a feeding flock the fun begins. We visited waterfall road three times and each time we found new species. We drove the road al the way up to the point were a suspension bridge can be accessed. Long before that the road has become quite rough so a 4 wheel drive would come in handy here. Do enjoy the views over the Tárcoles river every once in a while too.

Waterfall road produced a lot of good species including Barred Forest-Falcon, Squirrel Cuckoo, Baird's Trogon, White-ruffed- and Orange-collared Manakin, Black-crowned Tytira, White-winged Becard, Rose-throated Becard, Streked Flycatcher, Panama Flycatcher, Black-hooded Antshrike, Dusky Antbird, Streaked Xenops, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Scrub Greenlet, Black-bellied Wren, Stripe-headed Sparrow, White-shouldered Tanager, Blue-black Grassquit, Scarlet Tanager, Western Tanager and Painted Bunting.


Trails around the visitor centre: The trails consist of a few loops that can be combined, depending on the time you will spend and where the birds are. During our visit the birds where at the second loop and around the last one. Although the list of birds seen at Carara is not massive the quality is certainly there. Many species can also be seen along Waterfall road which is a good altenative if you're only visiting Carara shortly en route to another destination.

Additional to the species listed for the Waterfall road the following species were seen at the loop trail that starts from the visitor centre: Blue-throated Goldentail, Black-throated Trogon, Dot-winged Antwren, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Riverside Wren, Rufous-and-white Wren, Wood Thrush and Kentucky Warbler. Although we did not see it oursleves King Vulture is seen in the Carara area very regularly so keep an eye out for it!


41 Species were only seen in the Carara area including Cerro Lodge and Tarcoles River: Blue-winged Teal, Wood Stork, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Boat-billed Heron, Great Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Pelican, Yellow-headed Caracara, Barred Forest-falcon, Grey-headed Kite, Mangrove Black Hawk, Black-necked Stilt, Southern Lapwing, Collared Plover, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Sanderling, Black-and-white Owl, Costa Rican Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Black-throated Trogon, Turqoise-browed Motmot, Fiery-billed Aracari, Orange-collared Manakin, Black-crowned Tityra, White-winged Becard, Rose-throated Becard, Streaked Flycatcher, Panama Flycatcher, Black-hooded Antshrike, Dot-winged Antwren, Dusky Antbird, Black-bellied Wren, Riverside Wren, Mangrove Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Blue-black Grassquit, Western Tanager, and Painted Bunting.

Total number of species seen at the Carara area: 129.


San Gerardo de Dota

Being situated in one of the mounainous regions of the country, San Gerardo de Dota offers spectacular views over the surrounding hills. Not the least along the steep road leading into the valley. The varying altitude makes up for a wide array of species although not as many as most other places you will visit in Costa Rica. Nevertheless the quality of the birds is usually better. One of the main attractions of the valley are the Resplendent Quetzal which are present everywhere. Still they can be difficult to find because of them being dependent of fruiting avocado trees. Many people that have a Quetzal in their garden will put out a sign advertising it. The downside of this is that everybody wants to make a living out of it charging you prices varying from 1 to 5 dollars per person to access the property. During our visit the best places were the Mirani restaurant and the trout fishing farm 2 kiometres north of the Savegre Mountain Lodge.

The San Gerardo area has many good spots, in order of importance we visited:

- Savegre Mountain Lodge trails

The trails that start in various places just outside the lodge are extremely productive and worth a visit anytime. Best choices usually are the Los Robles trail and the Las Quebradas trail. Again the best thing to do is find yourself a feeding flock. Besides the flocks theres a lot to see although you have to work a bit harder to see good birds outside a flock.

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Magnificent Hummingbird at Savegre mountain Lodge.

Best birds seen along the Quebrada/Los Robles trails: Elegant Euphonia, Black Guan, Collared Trogon, Black-capped Flycatcher, Ochraceous Pewee, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Ruddy Treenrunner, Yellow-winged Vireo, Grey-breasted Wood-Wren, Black-faced Solitaire, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush and Flame-throated- and Black-cheeked Warbler.

 There's two other trails around the lodge that can be worth your while: the Oaks trail and the Canto de las Aves trail, both were not visited.

- Savegre Mountain Lodge

At first sight there doesn't seem to be a lot attractive to the Savegre Mountain Lodge compound but it turned out to be very productive too. The small hummingbird feeder station at the restaurant attracts Magnificent Hummingbird, White-throated Mountain-gem and Green Violet-ear. It's also the only place where we saw Stripe-tailed Hummingbird. When seated in the restaurant usually one or two hummers hit the window, giving us the opportunity to pick up a gorgeous male White-throated Mountain-Gem that turned out to be still alive!

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A lot of Yellow-bellied Siskin can be found right in front of the reastaurant of the Savegre Mountain Lodge.

Many other birds linger in the well planted gardens around the cabins and surely some time should be spent here, especially for anyone carrying a photo camera. Also some fruit is available in various places which attracts lots of tanagers. You are in most cases guaranteed to find Elegant Euphonia, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Chestnut-collared Swift, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Volcano Hummingbird, Torrent Tyrannulet, Yellowish Flycatcher, Yellow-winged Vireo, Grey-breasted Wood-Wren, Sooty Thrush, Yellow-bellied Siskin, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, White-naped Brush-Finch, Silver-throated Tanager, Slaty Flowerpiercer, Common Bush-Tanager, Flame-colored Tanager and Black-thighed Grosbeak. Also a Bat Falcon was hunting the area very regularly.

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Slaty Flowerpiercer piercing non-slaty flowers.

- San Gerardo de Dota entrance road

Probably the best thing about the road leading to the settlement of San Gerardo de Dota is that it holds many good places to bird. Especially the first part of the road (starting from the intersection with the Pan-American Highway) is steep and narrow and holds few places were one can stop along the road. Where the road levels there's many places to stop and explore the area. Some of the species seen were only found along the main road including Barred Becard, Dark Pewee, Wrenthrush, Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher and Large-footed Finch. Many other birds were seen along the road including Elegant Euphonia, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Resplendant Quetzal, Ochraceous Pewee, Black-capped Flycatcher, Yellow-winged Vireo, Brown-capped Vireo, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Black-cheeked Warbler, Slaty Flowerpiercer, Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager and Black-thighed Grosbeak.

- Communication towers

The communication towers are to be visited for two species in particular: Timberline Wren and Volcano Junco. Although it took us some time to find the junco we suppose it's safe to say that the species is guaranteed here. In the end we saw over half a dozen of them. The wren though was much more difficult and despite our tape luring it could not be found. Later we learned that Timberline Wren just doesn't respond to tapes at all so that explains why we had trouble finding them. Other birds found at the radio towers were Slaty Flowerpiercer, White-throated Mountain-gem, Volcano Hummingbird and Peg-billed Finch.

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Volcano Junco at the communication towers

- Restaurant La Georgina

A small cafe along the Pan-American Highway east of SanGerardo de Dota is a good place for many of the high-altitude species. The cafe itself has some feerders that attract Fiery-throated Hummingbird. A path (Sendero Quetzal) leads steaply down into a valley overgrown with bamboo where you can find Wrenthrush and Silvery-fronted Tapaculo. During our visit the path itself was very slippery due to the rain and it took us much trouble to get all the way down. The potential list of species to see here is long and it includes a lot of goodies like Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Ruddy Treerunner and sometimes Resplendent Quetzal. Having said this, nearly all species can be found in the direct vicinity of the Savegre Mountain Lodge.

Total number of species seen at San Gerardo de Dota: 79

 

Tapantí National Park

The only thing we regret concerning our visit to the Tapantí National Park is the fact that we visited it only for one morning. As Tapantí holds a mind-blowing amount of birds you should include two full days in your itinerary. Equal to the Arenal area we were seriously hampered by the heavy rains but still we managed to see many new birds. Birding could mainly be done from the car although the initial plan was to explore one or two of the great trails here.

Birding along the road from the car we encountered several large feeding flocks of which we could only identify so little birds. We were lucky though with this very cooperative Sunbittern feeding leisurely alongside the road, enabling us to take some great photo's. This made up for at least some of the bad weather!

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At the end of the only road leading through the park we found a picknick spot that provided some shelter from the rain and we stayed there for over 2 hours enabling us to scan the surrounding forest. This way we did manage to see lots of birds: Black-faced Solitaire, Finsch's Parakeet, White-bellied Mountain-Gem, Purple-throated Mountain-Gem, Collared Trogon, Prong-billed Barbet, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Common Bush-Tanager, Yellow-Olive Flycatcher, White-throated Spadebill, Tropical Pewee, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Spotted Woodcreeper, Red-billed Pigeon, Blackburnian Warbler, Slate-throated Redstart, Paltry Tyrranulet, White-naped Brush-Finch, Blue-and-gold Tanager, Rufous-capped Warbler, Spangle-cheeked Tanager and Ashy-throated Bush-Tanger.

Total number of species seen at Tapantí: 51

 

Rancho Naturalista

Arguably the most well-known birding spot in the country and the most well-known place to see Snowcap. Although this species is getting increasingly difficult around the lodge due to the decreasing number of open areas. During our visit only a female Snowcap showed up at the porterweed each day. For the male we had to work a bit harder around the house of the parents of Lisa (the owner of Rancho Naturalista) which is somewhat down the entrance road. These folks are just as nice as Lisa and welcome everyone to try for the Snowcap.

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The word "Snowcap" ranks in the top ten of most spoken words at Rancho Naturalista.

The best spots in rancho are:

- Lodge main building

Many people love the feeder setup at Rancho Naturalista in front of the main building. It consists of many tables and trees were fruit is spread out several times each day. The viewing deck on the second floor of the main building also has a lot of hummingbird feeders that attract many of these spectacular birds. Among the many Violet-crowned Woodnymp, White-necked Jacobin, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and Green-breasted Mango, look out for Green Hermit, Stripe-throated Hermit, Violet Sabrewing, Brown Violetear, Green Thorntail, Black-crested Coquette and Green-crowned Brilliant. Snowcap will not come to the feeder but only feeds on the porterweed. 

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White-necked Jacobin is one of the many spectacular hummingbirds that visit the feeders at Rancho Naturalista.

 The fruit at the feeding station attracts a whole different aray of species including: Grey-headed Chachalaca, Blue-crowned Motmot, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Hoffmann's Woodpecker, Brown Jay, Clay-colored Thrush, Montezuma Oropendola, Baltimore- and Bullock's Oriole, Banaquit, Blue-grey-, Olive-, Crimson-collared-, Passerini's, Palm- and Bay-headed Tanager, Black-headed- and Buff-throated Saltator. At night Mottled Owl was heard.

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Black-cheeked Woodpecker looking for fresh fruit at Rancho Naturalista.

- Trails around the lodge

As with many other accomomdations we stayed in, Rancho Naturalista has an extensive trail system to explore. The most interesting during our stay were the Quail-Dove trail and the trail lthat leads you to it from the lodge. Many birds were seen during our exploration over two different days: Grey-headed Chachalaca, Crested Guan, Black Guan, White-tipped Dove, Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, White-crowned Parrot, Green Hermit, Green Thorntail, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Golden-olive Woodpecker, White-crowned Manakin, Yellow Tyrranulet, Paltry Tyrranulet, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, White-throated Spadebill, Tawny-chested Flycatcher, Fasciated Antshrike, Russet Antshrike, Plain Antvireo, Streak-crowned Antvireo, Checker-throated Antwren, Slaty Antwren, Plain Xenops, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Black-throated Wren, Stripe-breasted Wren, Scaly-breasted Wren, Wood Thrush, White-vented Euphonia, Worm-eating Warbler, MacGillivray's Warbler, Golden-crowned Warbler, Olive Tanager, White-lined Tanager, Crimson-collared Tanager, Red-throated Ant-Tanager and Black-headed Saltator.

- Hummingbird Pools

One well-known feature are the hummingbird pools in which many hummers come to bath in the late afternoon but numbers vary from day to day. Waiting for the hummers produced Tawny-chested Flycatcher, Fasciated Antshrike, Streak-crowned Antvireo and Ochre-breasted Antpitta.

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It took us some time to find a Long-tailed Tyrant but when we did, it turned out to be rather co-operative despite the pouring rain.

The entrance road to the lodge was birded as well and quite extensively too. Many birds are easier to find here as the area is much more open. During these excursions some birds were found that we did not see at the trails or around the lodge: Short-billed Pigeon, Red-fronted Parrotlet, White-collared Manakin, White-crowned Manakin, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tyrant, Grey-capped Flycatcher, Bright-rumped Atilla, Red-eyed Vireo, White-breasted Woodwren, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Mourning Warbler, Bronzed Cowbird, Black-striped Sparrow, Variable Seed-eater and Thick-billed Seed-Finch. Many of these species are asociated with more open areas.

Total number of species seen at Rancho Naturalista: 117

 

C.A.T.I.E.

This small wetland is located some 25 kilometres west of Rancho Naturalista along the mainroad to Turrialba. It consists of little more than a pond and a small island which hold many wetland species. A visit of a few hours is enough to find the main targets: Boat-billed Heron and Purple Gallinule. On one side you will find a rookery hosting Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron and many more. A small entrance fee is charged.

Total number of species seen at C.A.T.I.E.: 15

 

Poas Volcano

As the drive from Rancho Naturalista to Poas took us extremely long we had much less time to visit the Poas volcano than we intended. When arrived at the entrance of the park we where told that the park would close in half an hour so we were not allowed in anymore. Therefore we birded the entrance road and the first side road to the right coming from the entrance gate of the park. Birdlife was not very abundant and contrary to what the birdguide said not very much was seen: Purple-throated Mountain-Gem, Magnificent Hummingbird, Scintillant Hummingbird, Northern Tufted flycatcher, Bright-rumped Atilla, Pale-vented Thrush and Black-cheeked Warbler. Fortunately the next day this was made up somewhat when we birded early morning around the Poas Volcano National Park entrance road again. Some good birds were added to the list including Lineated Foliage-gleener and Orange-billed Sparrow. Poas holds many higher-altitude species seen in other parts of Costa Rica so birding is definitely not boring. For more specificic details of which birds were seen here please refer to the full species list.

Total number of species seen at the Poas Volcano: 30

 

La Pazz Waterfall Gardens

If you spend your holiday with your family this is certainly a place you want to bring them to. The waterfall gardens are interesting in more than one way as it has many things to keep everyone in your travelling party happy: it has a small zoo that was originally started with neglected, abandoned and injured animals, many of them being native to Costa Rica. The park features an aviary in which you can encounter birds that you have might have missed on your trip, but also you can have toucans sit on your shoulder while they are fed. Admittedly this may not the best attraction in the eyes of a birdwatcher, but it may be a chance to make some of your family members turn over to the birdwatchers community. One toucan in particular very much likes to be padded making all sorts of strange noises in the process, this will surely make some of your non-birding friends laugh. More wildlife is featured in the form of an indoor garden with poison dart frogs and another with many more reptiles and amphibians, again many of which are native to the country.

 

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 The famous hummingbird garden of La Pazz Waterfall Gardens Park.

 Some cultural exploration can be done as well as the park hosts a miniature village in which ancient times are brought back by showing how live in Costa Rica looked like some hundreds of years ago.

The park's name suggest that some water is involved as well, which is true. A nice (but sometimes slippery) trail leads you along all waterfalls that the park derives it's name from. Some of them are downright spectacular, not the least because of the scenery around them. At the end of the trail a bus will bring you back to the main entrance of the park which saves you a strenuous walk back.

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Many waterfalls along the trail have a nice viewing point although you might get yourself wet at times.

Last but not least, birding at the La Paz waterfall gardens is excellent. First of all there's a great hummingbird garden featuring a lot of feeders, consequently featuring a lot of (all-wild) hummers. Early morning they can be fed by hand feeders and this is even fun for a birdwatcher as they will come very close to you and even sit on your hand!

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Green-crowned Brilliant sits on your hand just before the hand feeders are distributed

The bulk of hummers consist of Violet Sabrewing, Coppery-headed Emerald, Black-bellied Hummingbird and Green-crowned Brilliant. The more time you spend here, the more you will see. Time permitted you'll probably see Green Hermit, Green Thorntail and Purple-throated Mountain-Gem as well. We only saw one each of Canivets Emerald, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, White-bellied Mountain-Gem and Purple-crowned Fairy which may suggest that they can be difficult to find if time is limited.

Compilatie

Some of the hummers at La Pazz Waterfall Gardens. Clockwise starting upper left: Green Thorntail, Black-bellied Hummingbird, Violet Sabrewing and Purple-throated Mountain-Gem.

After your time spent around the hummingbird gardens it's surely no waste of time to just bird at the park itself. As always you'll find flocks of birds with quite a different composition than you will find elsewere. Black Guan, Red-faced Spintetail, Spotted Barbtail, Lineated Foliagegleener, Streak-breasted Treehunter, Long-tailed Woodcreeper, Tropical Parula, Three-striped Warbler, Sooty-faced- and Yellow-thighed Finch and Common Bush-Tanager were all found within the park's boundaries.

Just before and after our visit we explored a small stretch of forest along a sideroad 3 kilometers south of the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. The exact location of the road is pin-pointed here. As the book promised this was very productive indeed despite it's tiny size. Early morning was better than in the afternoon but both visits were still very good. The forest was teeming with life and we were happy to spend the last few hours here. Obviously many of the species seen at the Waterfall Gardens will turn up in this patch of forest such as Black Guan, Violet Sabrewing, Red-faced Spinetail, Lineated Foliage-gleener, Long-tailed Woodcreeper, tropical Parula, Three-striped Warbler, Sooty-faced- and Yellow-thighed Finch and Common Bush-Tanager. But others were found exclusively at this spot: Short-tailed Hawk, Prong-billed Barbet, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Tufted Flycatcher, Dark Pewee, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, White-eyed Vireo, Grey-breasted Wood-Wren, Slate-throated Redstart, Bullock's Oriole, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch and Spangle-cheeked Tanager.

Total number of species seen at La Paz Waterfall Gardens and surrounds: 60

If any questions still remain after reading this report or if would like some help while you're planning a trip to Costa Rica yourself, please do not hesitate to contact us and we'll try to help you as much as possible.