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This past weekend, I co-guided the Birding Club of Costa Rica trip to a site that never fails in dealing out a wild card of high quality species. Birding at Heliconias Lodge is akin to shopping at an international antique bazaar where treasure awaits for those who know how to find it. Walk carefully and patiently watch on those trails through beautiful primary forest and ye shall find any number of avian rarities! Heliconias and other sites on the flanks of Tenorio Volcano are so darn good for birds mostly because there is a lot of high quality habitat. Bird large areas of extensive, protected forest and you are going to find species that have disappeared from other, more fragmented sites. It can’t just be large areas of old second growth either. Species like Yellow-eared Toucanet, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Gray-throated Leaftosser, Song Wren, and Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo appear to require (or are at least more common in) the type of old, intact primary forest that occurs at Heliconias.

People in our group had all of the above species except for the ground-cuckoo. Since we didn’t come across any army ants, that was no big surprise as at Heliconias, they are usually seen at anstwarms. Nevertheless, we saw a bunch of other excellent species, including a lifer for your’s truly. I knew this bird had been sighted at Heliconias in the past so I admit that it was my main personal goal for visiting the place. The ground-cuckoo would have also been nice but I knew that the other target bird would be much more reliable, especially since a friend of mine told me where he had found a pair the previous year.

My bird of the weekend and latest lifer was…

Keel-billed Motmot!


We got a pair right at the largest of the canopy bridges and they allowed us to study them at our leisure. Talk about soul satisfying looks, these birds perched at eye level directly in front of us like they were in some kind of zoo. There was always the possibility that they might be immature Broad-billed Motmots, but since they looked like images of other Keel-billeds and acted like a pair of adult birds, I’m counting this as my latest lifer. It was long overdue, so now I can move on and search for the nefarious Masked Duck, the elusive Ochraceous Pewee, and several skulking marsh birds.

Other quality species that gave us killer looks were:

Crested Owl and

Black-crested Coquette.

The owl is widespread in Costa Rica but can be a real pain to see even when they are calling. One of the guys at Heliconias often knows where a pair are perched and is happy to show them to visiting birders. The coquette is also commonly seen throughout the year right near the entrance to the lodge. We had at least two, and the local birding guide, Jorge, says that he sometimes sees four in the area.

For whatever reason, Heliconias is also one of the most reliable sites in the country for Song Wren.

Here’s one doing its usual skulking thing in the understory vegetation.

Although the weather can be trying, head to Heliconias and bird the road to the Rio Celeste and you are going to see a bunch of high quality birds. I hope I can get back up that way sometime soon!

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2 Responses to “A Few Gems from Birding in Costa Rica at Heliconias Lodge”

  1. Congrats Pat!! Amazing pics of that beast, a dream for many (me included).
    Cheers,
    Eduardo

  2. @Eduardo- thanks! Well, I know just where a pair are hanging out if you come back to CR for a visit.

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