Costa Rica has more than one Rio Frio. Even though “Rio Frio” means “cold river”, oddly enough, I have only visited sites known by this descriptive name in the Caribbean lowlands. This region’s tropical humid climate ensures that none of the rivers are particularly cold so I feel perplexed every time I end up being bathed in sweat when birding a place called, “Rio Frio”. I’m sure there are locals who do think their Rio Frio is actually cold but just as I didn’t grow up in a place with a greenhouse-like atmosphere and toucans in the backyard, they haven’t felt the nerve-numbing, life-force stealing grip of the Niagara River during the winter. Now that’s one heck of a rio frio! Of course I haven’t gone swimming in the Niagara River during the winter (otherwise I would have been immediately frozen) but I have felt the deathly chill coming off of the water when scanning gull flocks in December and have been touched by the river’s icy tendrils when fishing for Steelhead in November.
That is my definition of a cold river but that doesn’t mean that the Tico Rio Frios are named in error. I think the Rio Frios in Costa Rica earn their cool titles by merit of their oasis-like nature. Refreshing waterways in a warm, highly humid climate, they flow with a much more friendly connotation than the cold, powerful river of my homeland. While the Niagara provides important foraging sites for a number of birds, the diversity is still many times lower than the Rio Frios of Costa Rica. The Rio Frio that I visited this past weekend is the one located in the birding-famous region of Sarapiqui. This area is so well known among birders visiting Costa Rica because it hosts the La Selva biological station.
While the station is arguably the best site for birding in Sarapiqui, there are several lesser known sites that are pretty birdy all on their own. Even though too much of Sarapiqui outside of La Selva has been deforested, a good number of species persist in riparian groves, second growth, and patchy forest. I was reminded of this during some casual, family birding around Rio Frio. Ecotourists don’t generally make it over to Rio Frio, Sarapiqui because much of the area is dedicated to the production of bananas. Most of the rainforest was cut down decades ago to make room for groves of big-leaved banana plants but I found out that some birds still persist in remnant patches of habitat.
Visiting with the family and rain during my one morning put a severe limit on my birding but I still saw some stuff. A fair number of Olive-throated Parakeets foraged in a riparian area near our friend’s house, and a few Red-lored Parrots flew over along with a dozen or so White-crowned Parrots.
Olive-throated Parakeets are fairly common in the Caribbean lowlands of Costa Rica.
Montezuma Oropendolas moved through a riparian zone and I was surprised to see a pair of forest-loving Scarlet-rumped Caciques show up. Olive-backed and Yellow-crowned Euphonias called from the treetops while Passerini’s Tanagers, Buff-throated Saltators and Black-headed Saltators foraged in second growth. Yellow Tyrannulets called from the same area and a couple of Summer Tanagers showed up in the backyard. Collared Aracaris and Keel-billed Toucans also made an appearance as did Ruddy Ground-Doves, White-tipped Doves, Golden-hooded Tanagers, Chestnut-sided and Tennessee Warblers, Bananaquits, and several Variable Seedeaters.
A female Variable Seedeater– the only bird species that poised for a good shot!
A drive around the neighborhood also turned up a calling Gray-chested Dove, Gray Hawk, Gray-necked Wood Rail, Purple Gallinules and Northern Jacanas in marshy pasture, and Bronzy Hermit. I also got some nice woodpeckers in the form of Lineated, Pale-billed, and an awesome Chestnut-colored.
While the habitat was far from ideal, and my birding time very brief indeed, it was nice to be reminded that several bird species have persisted in the forest fragments and patchy habitats of the Caribbean lowlands. The region requires a lot of reforestation, more biological corridors, and more sustainable land use but there is hope for a more biodiverse future.
Future custodians of Costa Rica’s natural heritage: Dana, Sofia, and my daughter Miranda (the one wearing the “Live, Love, Laugh!” tee-shirt).