Trip reports from other birders and birding tours are a fantastic resource for planning a trip. Read enough detailed trip reports and you can pretty much plan your own tour. Most people will still be better off by hiring a guide and/or an experienced ground agent but trip reports can at least give you a heads up on what’s in store when your plane touches down in Costa Rica. One of the sites that makes a frequent appearance on tour reports is the “mysterious Guacimo Road”. Used as a quick, accessible spot for dry forest species near Carara, it’s gets the mysterious label because it’s exact location is nevertheless omitted from most reports.
Something that adds confusion to the mix is the occurrence of several “Guacimos” and “Guacimas” in Costa Rica. It’s the name of a tree, a racetrack, small towns on both slopes, and who knows what else. For birders visiting the country, though, there is but one Guacimo and I am going to clearly reveal once and for all where this birding site is located.
The Guacimo Road.
The Guacimo Road is a road that leaves the San Jose-Caldera highway between Orotina and Caldera. To get there by vehicle from San Jose, follow the highway towards Caldera and once you pass the exit for Orotina, watch for an exit that says, “Ceibo Guacimo”. Take that exit and go to the left or south (even though it looks like a one way bridge), cross the bridge over the highway and start looking for dry forest species on the famed Guacimo Road. If coming from Caldera, take that same exit and go right (south).
Susan Blank and I recently birded this road on our way to Bajamar to look for shorebirds and had a grand old time watching a a bunch of dry forest species. Doves were all over the place, including several Plain-breasted Ground-Doves. We could hear this uncommon species vocalizing along most of the road along with dozens of Common Ground-Doves, and a few Ruddy Ground-Doves.
Distant male Plain-breasted Ground-Dove. The pale gray head of the male is apparent even at a distance.
Blue Grosbeaks were seen at just about every stop we made, we heard a couple of Crested Bobwhites that refused to show themselves, saw several Blue-black Grassquits, and Gray-crowned Yellowthroats, and got all three dry forest parrots and parakeets. Orange-fronted were the most common, Yellow-naped the least common with just 4 birds encountered. We also saw such dry forest classics as Black-headed Trogon, Turquoise-browed Motmot, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Olive Sparrow, Scrub Euphonia, and lots of Stripe-headed Sparrows.
Here is what it sounded like that morning on the Guacimo Road
Species in order are: Orange-fronted Parakeet, Rose-throated Becard, Black-crowned Tityra, Blue-black Grassquit, Blue Grosbeak, Crested Bobwhite, Scrub Euphonia, Groove-billed Ani, Eastern Meadowlark,
A young male Blue Grosbeak molting into adult plumage.
In a riparian zone filled with birdy vine tangles, Banded Wrens sang while Streaked Flycatchers caught cicadas. Little Tinamous called from the thick undergrowth, Barred Antshrikes revealed themselves, and we watched both Tropical and White-lored Gnatcatchers do their hyperactive thing.
Eventually, the road led past interesting scrubby mangroves where a couple dozen White Ibis were nesting. Past that point, the condition of the road became much worse before meeting up with the main road heading to Bajamar. We handled the sketchy part alright with four-wheel drive but I would never attempt it with a two-wheel drive, low-clearance vehicle. On a positive note, that part of the road gave us nice looks at a beautiful Lesser Ground-Cuckoo perched in some grass.
That same Lesser Ground Cuckoo.
Over in Bajamar, we checked the rocky promontary for seabirds and waders and met with success in the form of five Surfbirds! I was hoping to add that pigeon-like shorebird to my Costa Rican list at that site because the wave-washed rocks seem perfect for it. We also saw some beautiful turnstones but dipped on tattlers. Out on the ocean, despite trying to make distant Black Terns into Brown Noddies and Bridled Terns, all of the candidates ended up hailing from North American marshes. I did pick up a Brown Booby though along with the idea of sea watching from that same spot during stormy weather.
Record shot of one of the five Surfbirds we saw.
Over on the beach, a couple of Sanderlings foraged with Whimbrel, Willet, Black-bellied Plover, Collared Plover, and Wilson’s Plover. Those birds gave us hope that the lagoons at the end of the road would be filled with waders of all sorts. However, when we got there, they held nothing more than a single, teetering Spotted Sandpiper. We wondered if high waves had filled the lagoons with water and erased the mud flats that usually attract a healthy supply of terns and waders. Whatever the reason, we opted for driving over to the other side of the Tarcoles River mouth to see if we could get closer to the birds that adorned a sand bar.
After a round-about thirty minute drive, we reached Playa Azul and got close enough to the sand bar to see that nearly every bird was a Brown Pelican. There were a few Royal Terns too but waders were limited to a few Semipalmated Sandpipers, Willet, Whimbrel, Wilson’s Plovers, and Collared Plovers foraging at the waters edge. It was a good mix of birds overall but oh how I need to head out to Chomes for a bigger dose of shorebirds.
To sum things up, I think you can expect fair dry forest birding on the Guacimo Road but four-wheel drive is needed for the most part. It’s a good dry forest fix if you are staying near Carara but there is better dry forest birding at several sites in Guanacaste.