Sadly, the places that act as true models for sustainable living are far and few between. This is all too apparent when driving along just about any road in Costa Rica. Look out the window in any direction and you come face to face with urbanization, pasture, or intensively farmed land. Patches of habitat are seen here and there and intact forest is found in protected areas but sustainability is clearly not part of the picture. If maintaining biodiversity were an essential part of land use, then there would be more forest, no monocultures, much less pasture, and more green space shared on private lands and connected to large areas of forest on public lands. Although most land owners don’t manage their property in such a fashion (and we can’t blame them if they don’t know how to), there are a few people here and there who make serious efforts to use their natural resources in a sustainable manner.
One such place that acts as a model for sustainable farming and living is the Finca Luna Nueva eco-lodge near San Isidro de Penas Blancas. An active, successful, organic farm and eco-lodge, the Finca Luna Nueva is also an excellent site for birding. Unlike farms that use chemicals, grow just one or two crops, and cut down most of their forest to make room for Zebu Cattle, the Luna Nueva cultivates a wide variety of crops, has limited areas of pasture, and leaves nearly half of the farm cloaked with lowland rainforest. The fact that they are managing the land in a way that preserves and promotes biodiversity is apparent in the numbers and types of birds that you can see there.
Over 200 bird species have been recorded at Finca Luna Nueva and more are expected for their site list. In fact, as testament to the seasonal variation and low population densities so typical of birding in Costa Rica, we recorded 7 new species for the list. These were Bat Falcon, Uniform Crake, Mealy Parrot, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Rufous-winged Woodpecker, Northern Bentbill, and Canada Warbler. The crake was species 547 for my year list and would have been missed had a pair not given their usual duet at dusk. Whether in the humid forests of Costa Rica or the Amazonian lowlands or Ecuador and Peru, this is how I have always recorded this species. Now if I could just see one, I could remove the “h” in front of its name and increase my official life list by one.
The birds mentioned above were all nice to see or hear but our main quarry was another, much rarer species; the clownish White-fronted Nunbird. It cackles like a maniac, has a crazy, big, orange bill, and used to be common on the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica. It’s still fairly common in the lowland forests of Hitoy Cerere Reserve but has either disappeared from or become rare just about everywhere else in the country. The nunbird is apparently very susceptible to edge effects as it has even disappeared from La Selva for unknown reasons (although an overabundance of peccaries are probably to blame). It hangs on at Luna Nueva though and I suspect that its continued occurrence there is just as much a result of pesticide-free habitat as the presence of intact lowland forest.
White-fronted Nunbird a good bird to get when birding Costa Rica.
In being one of the apex insectivores of the lowland rainforest, nunbirds require a steady diet of large katydids, hefty bugs, and small frogs and lizards. Luna Nueva offers up a smorgasbord of items to Nunbirds because they simply don’t try to kill off those forms of life. The limited area of rainforest at Luna Nueva keeps the nunbirds at low levels but they are still around and birders should see them during a weekend tour. We got our nunbirds back in the beautiful primary forest on the Cabalonga Trail although they also show up on the Rainforest Mystery Trail and in the biodynamic areas of the farm (basically where most of the cultivations are located). While looking for the nunbird, we also had a male Great Curassow calling from a cecropia (another indicator species of quality, protected habitat), Crested Guans, toucans, and Black-throated and Slaty-tailed Trogons.
Black-throated Trogons prefer the interior of lowland rainforest.
The Rainforest Mysteries Trail was also productive and gave us mixed flocks of Dot-winged and Checker-throated Antwrens, Western Slaty Antshrike, Plain Xenops, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Northern Bentbill, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, and Canada Warbler. Migrants weren’t as abundant as I had hoped but several Canada Warblers, a few Yellow Warblers, American Redstarts, Black and White Warblers, Red-eyed Vireo, Summer Tanager, Eastern Wood Pewees, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, and hundreds of Barn, Cliff, and Bank Swallows were reminders that birds are definitely passing through Costa Rica. We saw some of these birds from the tower along with flybys of Red-lored Parrots and close looks at a female Black-crested Coquette that visited Porterweed growing in planters on the tower itself.
Night birding was more or less halted by rain but a pre-dawn walk did yield calling Spectacled Owls and Common Pauraques (no nocturnal migrants though). On a non-bird note, the food was as super healthy and fantastic as it always is, and hotel service was great. If you are headed to La Fortuna, you should seriously consider staying at the Finca Luna Nueva. Who knows, if you find a fruiting tree, maybe you will add Bare-necked Umbrellabird or Lovely Cotinga to the list!