Poas Volcano is somewhat overlooked as a birding destination. Birders in search of highland specialties head off to the more extensive forests on Cerro de la Muerte and have a grand old time with the R. Quetzal, Collared Redstarts, Zeledonias, and other birds that got an evolutionary foothold in the rising Talamancas. Nevertheless, you can still see a bunch of darn good birds at places like the volcanoes of Barva, Poas, and Irazu. In fact, I see great birds there all the time. The habitat looks nicer in the Talamancas and you can access more of the temperate zone forests but Poas and Irazu are more easily done as day trips from San Jose. Poas also makes for a nice place to spend the night when staying in the valley and Irazu looks like the perfect spot to look for Unspotted Saw-Whet Owl. Poas is only a forty-five minute ride from the airport, there are more than a few hotels to choose from, and if you like strawberries, locals hawk bags of your favorite red berry on the side of the road.
So, don’t discount Poas as a birding destination but especially because it can turn up some great birds. For the time being, you also might want to fit a trip to Poas into the itinerary because the bamboo has seeded and some good birds have arrived! I almost discounted bamboo birds for the area because I kept checking the place and coming up with nothing save Mountain Elaenias and bush-tanagers. Well, to be completely honest, there were other birds too but none of the species that have a natural obsession with seeding bamboo. Maybe their absence stemmed from a lack of seeds? Maybe the crop just wasn’t ripe enough to please their avian palates? Whatever the reason for their no-show in the past, some bamboo birds are certainly in the house on Poas in the present.
Thanks to Steve and Liz for mentioning that they has seen LOTS of Peg-billed Finches on the road to Las Lagunillas, I decided to scout the area on Sunday with a friend of mine. Although we spent most of the morning on the San Rafael de Varablanca road and saw cool stuff like Bicolored Hawk, Gray-headed Kite, and Golden-bellied Flycatcher (until reaching a washed out part of the road), a brief trip to the Lagunillas Road in the afternoon was the prize as it yielded several Peg-billed Finches and flyover Barred Parakeets!
Golden-bellied Flycatcher- a cool, middle elevation near endemic.
Unfortunately, my camera has something against Peg-billed Finches. This was the best image of a bunch.
While guiding in the area on Monday, we didn’t even bother with the Lagunillas Road as we had several Peg-billed Finches along the main road to Poas as well as in front of the Restaurant Volcan. Many of the wild avocado trees were also in fruit and as luck and patience would have it, a male Resplendent Quetzal briefly glided past us as we waited for mixed flock activity. Although the flock never showed up, we were still rewarded with several Black and Yellow Silky-Flycatchers, many Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers, and one Green-fronted Lancebill! Saving the best bird for last, we heard at least one Slaty Finch. This serious rarity sang a few times from the dead bamboo at the stream across the street from the Restaurant Volcan and although we didn’t manage to see it, the high-pitched buzzy trill that rises and briefly falls couldn’t have been anything else.
The Restaurant Volcan seems to be reliable for Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher.
You will also be entertained by Yellowish Flycatchers.
Even if we hadn’t seen any bamboo birds, the hummingbird show at places like the Restaurant Volcan and Poas Lodge would have been reason enough to visit:
I don’t know how long those bamboo birds will be present on Poas but I will be visiting again soon! It’s probably my best chance at getting that Costa Rican Holy Grail of Columbids, the Maroon-chested Ground-Dove. I was very fortunate to see it once before but since that happened in 1994, I would love to have another look.