Carara National Park and surroundings is always a good bet for birding in Costa Rica. Whether it happens to be your first time in the neotropics or your 20th, the easy access to a variety of habitats and high quality forests in the national park turn the general area into a birding paradise. However, if I had to make a critique or two, they would be:
1. The place is damn hot (at least for me).
2. The park doesn’t open at 6 am, nor does it offer refreshments (like say an ice bath).
3. The pastures between the rainforests of the park and the Tarcoles mangroves may doom the local Yellow-billed Cotinga population. I don’t say this lightly. Since, the cotingas appear to have decreased over the years and the population is probably fewer than 10 individuals, who knows how long this endangered species will persist in the area.
Solutions to such complaints might be:
1. Do the usual fluid drinking thing (and drink the very refreshing, cold coconut water often sold by a guy at the crocodile bridge).
2. The park hours aren’t going to change anytime soon so just bird outside of the park at sites such as the Bijagual road, around Tarcoles, or near Cerro Lodge.
3. We need to plant more fruiting trees near the Tarcoles mangroves and make better corridors between the mangroves and the national park.
Ok, so as far as updates and highlights for Carara go…
1. The Universal Trail is finally done. For the past 5 months, the Universal Trail was closed but now it’s finally done, and there is a new booth for park tickets right there at the the main parking lot. Oh, and the trail looks great too with several spots to sit and wait for Great Tinamous and Spectacled Antpittas to walk on by.
2. Outside of Carara, the vegetation around Cerro Lodge continues to grow and attract birds, and air conditioning is planned for at least some (maybe all?) rooms later this year!
3. Speaking of Cerro Lodge, Striped Cuckoo was showing well from the restaurant the other day, along with flyby Yellow-naped, White-crowned, and White-fronted Parrots, Black-headed and Gartered Trogons, Turquoise-browed Motmots (very easy there), and other species.
4. Inside the park, bird song resounded among the immense trees and dim understory. Although it took a while to actually see some of those birds, the morning song ambiance was priceless. Some of the first birds we saw ended up being species like White-whiskered Puffbird, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, and Gray-headed Tanagers at an antswarm! We also got fantastic looks at a Black-faced Antthrush that was walking back and forth and a couple of Bicolored Antbirds.
5. Around the same time, we had amazing, close looks at a Great Tinamou that carefully walked on past and stood in the forest as we took photos.
6. Further up the trail, the next big highlight was finding a small group of Marbled Wood Quail while trying to watch a lek of Stripe-throated Hermits! This was a serious treat because these unobtrusive understory birds are rarely seen at Carara. I found them after hearing the quail scratching in the leaf litter. It was kind of ridiculous trying to digiscope birds in very low light conditions that look like leaf litter and are obscured by vegetation but try I did and some shots sort of came out..
After foraging for a bit, the wood quail got up onto a low branch and roosted together. We could actually watch them through the scope for several minutes.
Leaving the wood quail, we got close looks at a Rufous-tailed Jacamar, had very good looks at a rare Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, and got onto some nice mixed flock activity before eating lunch at a seaside restaurant (where we also saw a dozen Surfbirds for a new year bird bonus!).
It seems like no matter how many times you bird Carara, you are always in for an exciting, birdy time.