A few days ago, birding friend Susan and I did some morning birding on the road to Manuel Brenes Reserve in the foothills of the Tilaran Mountains. I have yet to make it all the way to the reserve (which is a private reserve for the University of Costa Rica in any case) but the main reason I have never ventured that far is because you can stick to the first 3 or 4 kilometers of the road and have yourself some might fine and fantastic birding. As with any tropical forest site, the birds you come across can vary from one day to the next but spend a few mornings on that road and you are bound to see something good. Crested Eagle has been seen there in the past and such uncommon species as Sharpbill, Tiny Hawk, Purplish-backed Quail Dove, Yellow-eared Toucanet, Rufous-browed Tyrannulet, and Blue and gold Tanager are regular.
The road goes through good foothill forest and although the absence of trails into the forest is a disadvantage, you can still see into the understory in many areas. The road is best done with four wheel drive, or (even better) on foot. The road eventually leads to cultivations of ornamental plants and there aren’t any buildings, stores, or other facilities but that’s why the birding is so good. On Sunday, we had a cloudy, misty, rainy morning in that order but still wonderful birding with the following highlights:
- Good looks at a male Three-wattled Bellbird: I often hear this crazy cotinga at this site but it usually stays out of view. Thankfully, on Sunday, one male perched right in the open and entertained us with its wacky, loud vocalizations (wacky sounds of a bellbird with a Hepatic Tanager thrown in for kicks) as various tanagers and other mixed flock species moved through the trees.
- Great mixed flocks: We ran into 3 or 4 mixed flocks, one of which had at least 60 to 70 birds. Bad lighting and a high canopy ensured that we missed getting good looks at most of the species in the flocks but they were still fun to watch and included such goodies as White-throated Shrike Tanager, Blue and gold Tanager, Orange-bellied Trogon, Emerald Tanager, Black and yellow Tanager, and Rufous-browed Tyrannulet.
- Black Hawk Eagle: We got pretty nice looks at one molting bird in the pouring rain.
- Crested Guans: Had a few of these and not uncommon while birding in Costa Rica but always good to see.
- Purplish-backed Quail Dove: A heard only but that’s still nice. Almost always hear this species in this area.
- Dull-mantled Antbird: A pair heard calling was a nice addition to the morning.
- Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo: Wait…what?!? Yep, saving the best for last, we heard an RVGC calling four or five times! I have only heard this species call once before in the wild but it makes a pretty diagnostic, slightly rising, dove-like sound. We positioned ourselves to look into the forest and used playback of both the dove-like song and bill clacks but got no response. The bird stopped calling once we used playback though and given the low frequency of its song, I couldn’t tell how far it was. May have been close or could have been a hundred meters into the forest. No antswarms around either, just a calling mega cuckoo. Sounded exactly like Andrew Spencer’s fine recording posted at Xeno Canto:
So, we departed the road in pouring rain around 11 and headed down the highway to find a gas station. In a show of the microclimates common in montane areas, it was bright, dry, and sunny down that way! We then headed back up to the LoveEats cafe for a delicious lunch and watched for soaring raptors and other species visible from the cafe.
No Solitary Eagle or other rarity but we did pick up Gray Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, and saw pretty birds like Green Honeycreeper, Crimson-collared Tanager, and others near the cafe.
After driving back up hill, we once again found the rain and headed on back to the Central Valley.
A link to the eBird checklist from that memorable morning : http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S14975216