The trails at Quebrada Gonzalez march through beautiful primary rainforests. It’s quality habitat for sure but that doesn’t make it easy to see birds. In fact, the sky high canopy and dense riot of foliage make the birding pretty darn challenging. Nevertheless, if it weren’t for the quality of the forest, Quebrada Gonzalez wouldn’t offer the chance of seeing birds like Tiny Hawk, all three hawk-eagles, Barred Forest-Falcon, Black-eared Wood-Quail, Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, Black-crowned Antpitta, and a colorful host of tanagers.
I wish I could say that I saw all of these birds on every visit but the quirks of birding in tropical forest make that an impossibility. I bet I would have a fair chance of seeing all of the above and much more during a week of intensive birding (and I would love to try just that), but even one morning is bound to turn up species that are tough to see elsewhere in Costa Rica. For example, here is a run down of what the birding was like during a recent morning of guiding in the wet, foothill forests of Quebrada Gonzalez:
Arrived at 6 a.m. to meet with clients. Went on in to OK our early visit with the rangers (you must contact them in advance to enter before 8). A quick check around the parking lot turned up close looks at Dusky-faced Tanagers. Scanned the forest canopy and distant trees but nothing perched up on them today (Tiny Hawk can sometimes be found this way). A fair amount of birdsong though- Carmiol’s Tanagers, Bay and Stripe-breasted Wrens, Broad-billed and Rufous Motmots, Buff-rumped Warbler, Striped Woodhaunter, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, and Orange-billed Sparrow to name those that I recall.
We entered the forest but despite carefully watching and listening, saw rather few birds at first. At least we got the chance to watch more Dusky-faced Tanagers, Carmiol’s and Tawny-crested Tanagers, Orange-billed Sparrow, and a cooperative Spectacled Antpitta! I heard at least 3 different Spectacled Antpittas over the course of the morning and this one popped into view because I whistled like one where we good view into the undergrowth. Always a good bird to see, and especially so for the clients because the antpittas at Carara had refused to show themselves.
Further on, we came across activity in the canopy that eventually turned into a full fledged mixed flock! It was just as I had hoped, and especially so when White-throated Shrike-Tanager began to call and then perched for prolonged views. We were kept busy for more than an hour as tanagers and other small birds flitted through the tall canopy. Views were tough but we managed to glimpse a good number of species. The one that we didn’t see, however, caused us some painful frustration. This anguishing heard only bird was a Sharpbill that just wouldn’t reveal itself despite singing on three occasions. The experience mirrors other encounters I have had with this weird species at Quebrada Gonzalez and thus makes me suspect that the bird (or birds) keep still as they sing from some hidden perch way high up in the canopy.
So, no Sharpbill seen, but we still had a pretty good tally for the flock:
Black and yellow Tanager
Blue and gold Tanager
Thirty-two species (if counting the Sharpbill) and I am sure that we missed a few birds! While we were scanning the vaulted roof of the forest to identify the birds in the flock, we also had a separate, understory mixed flock move through the area that included Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, Checker-throated Antwren, and Streak-crowned Antvireo. Other bird species identified (most by their vocalizations) during the flock activity and shortly thereafter were:
Cinnamon and Rufous-winged Woodpeckers
Green Shrike Vireo
Gray-rumped and Chimney Swifts
American Swallow-tailed Kite
We exited the forest by 9:30 a.m. and by then, things were typically quiet. Scanning the skies for around 15 minutes revealed a few swifts, brief American Swallow-tailed Kite, and high-flying Black Vultures, but no hoped for King or Black Hawk-Eagle. We probably would have gotten more raptors if we had looked for an hour or so but since we only had until 11, we did the trail once more to improve our chances of running into Sharpbill, Yellow-eared Toucanet, or some other rarity. Our mid-morning walk turned up a blank on those and other birds but at least we gave it a try!
Soon after, we parted ways and the rain began to fall. As I crossed the bridge over the Rio Sucio, I noticed my last bird for the day- a Bat Falcon perched high up on a snag overlooking the river. I wished I could have stayed there and watched the forested hillsides like that falcon was doing, but it was time to go back home on the other side of the mountains.