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Many birders that visit Costa Rica end up with an afternoon or a morning to kill in San Jose or the Central Valley. With so few options for birding in the sprawl of concrete and asphalt, most opt to relax in the garden of their hotel, visit a market in San Jose, or buy souvenirs. If you are birding with public transportation, then the constraints imposed by bus schedules and routes unfortunately leave you with little choice but to resort to such rather non birdy activities. If you have a rental car, though, forget the souvenirs and head over to the University of Peace. You can always find the same painted feathers, glass-enclosed Morpho Butterflies, and tee-shirts emblazoned with dolphins and “pura vida” while traveling between birding sites, and since you are in Costa Rica, you’ve got to keep your priorities in straight in any case.

The University of Peace (U. la Paz) is located at the southwestern edge of the Central Valley near Ciudad Colon and is a welcome change of tranquility and green space from the crowded Central Valley. Although it’s unfortunately not on any bus route, by car, it takes only 40 minutes (or more with traffic) to drive there from San Jose. It’s also pretty easy to get to by following the signs to Santa Ana, Cuidad Colon, and then the U la Paz. Once you get out of Ciudad Colon, the “Rodeo Drive” road along the way is also nice for a variety of common species that utilize the scrubby fields and semi-shaded coffee plantations. During brief stops along this road last week, I had my first male Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the year along with things like Boat-billed Flycatcher, Yellow Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Short-tailed Hawk. This route looked especially nice for birding from a bicycle.

We didn’t stop too much though because we figured our time was better spent at the U la Paz. I honestly don’t know much about this small, quiet university (majors in peace offered?), except that this learning institution has a private park with a fair amount of moist, Pacific-Slope forest, and an entrance fee of only 300 colones! This is another major reason for visiting U la Paz since this fee amounts to less than a dollar while most other parks in Costa Rica cost $8 just to waltz along the trails.

There is a pond at the entrance with the usual domesticated Chinese Swan Geese and Muscovies. The Muscovies were placid while the geese were typically belligerant and nasty. Luckily they were on the other side of the pond. For unknown reasons, the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and Montezuma Oropendolas that had been so plentiful around the pond in January were nowhere in sight. I suppose the ducks were galavanting through the countryside to take advantage of the abundant habitat by the rainy season. The oropendolas, though, have no such excuse other than taking (or giving) weaving classes at the adjacent U la Paz.

A friendly, feral Muscovy- wild ones don’t have those white specs.

Past the pond, we had a pretty good morning birding the forest edge and main trail at U la Paz considering that we didn’t arrive until 9 am, the absolute quietest time of the day for birds. The first bird action we ran into was at the start of the trail where a party of Groove-billed Anis were hanging out on a log and in the grass.

They were loathe to leave their log and upon closer inspection we found out why.

Army Ants! Long, black trails of army ants were swarming through the grass and over the logs. The anis were having a grand old time letting the ants flush their prey out of hiding as were Rufous-naped Wrens, Clay-colored Robins, Rufous-capped Warblers, and Brown Jays.

This Rufous-naped Wren got my vote for friendliest bird of the day. It jostled back and forth and poised along the same tree branches for at least 15 minutes and allowed us to take dozens of photos.

Overall the bird diversity at the swarm was pretty low but it was still fun to watch how common species took advantage of it.

Clay-colored Robin pretending to be an antbird.

Walking into the forest, we didn’t have long to go before running into a nice mixed flock along a stream. The nucleus species of the flock appeared to be Red-crowned Ant-tanager. It was too dark to get photos so you will just have to trust me when I say that the males are a deep, handsome red, and the females an unexciting shade of brown (a lot like a Clay-colored Robin). This widespread neotropical bird is rather local and tough to see in Costa Rica with the U la Paz area possibly being the easiest site in the country for this, my #499th species for the year. Other birds that appeared to be hanging out with the ant-tanagers with this and two other mixed flocks we ran into were Rufous and white and Rufous-breasted Wrens, Rufous-capped Warblers, Lesser Greenlet, Yellow-Olive Flycatcher, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Long-tailed Manakin, and Blue-black Grosbeak.

Further on, we finally tracked down one of the many Blue-throated Goldentails that were maddeningly singing over and over from hidden perches. This beautiful hummingbird with the plastic looking bill is fairly common along forest edge of the Pacific Slope in Costa Rica.

The first half of the trail at U la Paz winds through old orchards with rather few birds. Once the overlook is reached, the trail accesses some very nice, moist forest with an open understory.

The overlook.

We didn’t see too much in this area because of the time of day but still managed a large group of White-faced Capuchins that seemed to be attended by Brown Jays, more of the same species we had already been seeing, and a couple of Fiery-billed Aracaris!

We left the forest around 11:30- the perfect time for mixed flocks and sure enough we ran into a bunch of common, edge species that were hanging out together in an open, park-like area. One of them was a Baltimore oriole masquerading as a Western Tanager.

A Blue-crowned Motmot also made a pleasant addition to the flock,

as did a Boat-billed Flycatcher that foraged low enough for me to finally get good shots of this species (they usually stick to the tree-tops).

Other species in the flock were Squirrel Cuckoo, Hoffman’s Woodpecker, Great Kiskadee, Masked Tityra, Yellow-thoated Vireo, Rufous-naped Wren, Clay-colored Robin, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Summer Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, and Rose-throated Becard.

A male Rose-throated Becard. I know, no rose throat- gotta go to Mexico to see that.

Overall, the U of Paz is nice birding and a great escape from the Central Valley if you have a free morning or afternoon and a rental car to get you there. I hope to bird there in the early morning sometime as I am sure it has a lot more to offer than what we saw during our short visit.

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12 Responses to “Birding the University of Peace, Costa Rica”

  1. Nice set of pictures, Patrick. This info may come in handy for departure day of our upcoming trip. How far to the international airport from U.O.P.?

  2. Hello Patrick,

    Another wonderful blog of yours that I read a while ago. I want to ask about the oriole and how it got the red breast. Today I had a Rufous-tailed hummingbird with a bright yellow crown. I almost ran for the bird guide until I realized which part of my climbing vine was giving it the yellow dusting. Thank you for the beautiful photographs. I’m hoping to show up at Carara for the bird count in a couple of weeks. It will be a pleasure to meet you.

    Best regards,

    Paul

  3. Steve- the U of Paz is I would guess a30-40 minute drive from the airport and is a bit of a detour. It’s a good option for someone with a day to kill in the Central Valley.

    Paul- I suspect the oriole has its face covered in reddish pollen, possibly from a Porro tree? I am glad to hear you are doing the Carara count but regret to say that I won’t be doing it this year. I will be guiding in the Carara area though- maybe we will run into each other. Carara is pretty good at this time of year. Everyone should see lots of birds.

  4. Maarten Haverkamp
    June 2nd, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Hi,

    Thanks for info. I,m going to Upeace for two weeks in august. Ive time enough to visit the park. I,m a birder but also interested in butterflies and (the most in) dragonflies.

    Do you know anything about that in the park?

    Are there ponds, small streams etc.

    Thanks and all the best from The Netherlands,

    Maarten

  5. @Maarten- Glad to hear that. I don’t know anything about the butterflies nor dragonflies there but wish I did! I have noticed a fair number of butterflies at the U of Peace but didn’t take note of dragonflies. Should be good for them though as there are ponds and a forest stream.

  6. Maarten Haverkamp
    June 22nd, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Thanks, i hope the stream is easy to find.

    Maarten

  7. @Maarten- It is, just stay on the main loop trail through the woods and you will cross it twice.

  8. Maarten Haverkamp
    June 29th, 2012 at 6:53 am

    Okay, thank you.

    let you know in september.

    Maarten

  9. Hi,

    I,m back from Costa Rica. I was capable to visit the forest five times early in the morning, it was great. Highlights: Black Guan, Crested Guan, Fiery-billed Aracaris, Blue-throated Goldentails, Hofmann,s woodpecker, Blue crowned motmot. The scary bridge is amazing for butterflies en some rare dragonflies.

    I,m missing on your great blog: La paz waterfalls, touristic but the hummingbird garden is amazing. You can see there 24 species.At the moment i,m bussy to figure out what kind of species i have photographed. Another great place for birding is the crocodile bridge
    ( Tarcoles river, on the way between Orotina and Jaco).

    All the best,

    Maarten

  10. Is it possible that you help me to identify some hummingbird species?

    I can send you the pics.

    Maarten

  11. @Martin- sure, send me the pics, we can post them on the blog and talk about their identification!

  12. @Maarten- Yes, the La Paz Waterfall Gardens are very good for hummingbirds. I haven’t posted about it because it’s expensive to go in and a bunch of animals are in captivity. To be fair, they seem to be illegally kept wildlife that was confiscated by authorities and may be released back into the wild. If I want to see a zoo, though, I prefer ZooAve.

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