I am pretty sure that the Lands in Love Hotel has the potential for being one of the best places for birding the Caribbean slope foothills (if not the best). You probably haven’t heard of this place as a Costa Rican birding destination because it’s mostly been marketed for the average tourist, and isn’t situated on the main birding tour circuit. Well, as someone who has birded for years in most parts of Costa Rica, I have to say that birding tours and birders visiting Costa Rica might be very pleased indeed to include this place and nearby sites on their itineraries.
I first became aware of the potential at Lands in Love during a brief sort of non-birding visit about 4 years ago when a short walk in the forest produced sightings of a Great Curassow, and large numbers of common yet pleasing edge species (such as Crimson-collared Tanager and Gray-headed Chachalaca) were easily seen from the rooms. I was also impressed by the large amount of primary forest near the hotel and the ability to scan the canopy and skies above said forest. Although I have brought clients to the delicious LoveEats cafe for lunch and tanagers on many occasions, I had yet to go back and actually stay at the hotel until this past weekend. Well, now I can’t wait to go back because the birding was just as good as I had hoped. We would have seen much more if rain hadn’t put a stop to birding one afternoon and most of the following morning but here are some highlights and reasons why I recommend staying there for three to five nights:
- Quality habitat means quality birds: The road down to the lodge passes through young and older second growth, some of it connected to a large area of primary forest. Trails pass through some old second growth but mostly access beautiful foothill primary rainforest. Habitat is also growing up right around the rooms. This translates to excellent birding opportunities almost everywhere you look and a selection of species that includes edge birds like Tropical Pewee, second growth species such as Thicket Antpitta and Black-throated Wren, and old growth bird species such as Streak-crowned Antvireo, etc., etc. and so on. In being located at around 400 meters elevation, the lodge also has a nice mix of lowland and foothill birds.
- Indications of a healthy forest ecosystem: During just a couple of walks on the forest trails, we ran into three or four understory mixed flocks, each with such indicator species of quality forest as White-flanked Antwren and Streak-crowned Antvireo. Both of these birds have become much less common in Costa Rica and seem susceptible to edge effects. We also saw two different canopy flocks of large birds, one of which had 10 or so Black-mandibled Toucans. The presence of canopy flocks of large birds is another indicator of a healthy forest.
- Views into the canopy: There are several places where you can scope the canopy both near and far. We found White Hawk, parrots, and toucans this way but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to also see rarities like Lovely Cotinga, hawk-eagles, and who knows what else. We didn’t do so great on raptors but since the weather wasn’t exactly conducive for soaring birds, that wasn’t too surprising.
- Quality service and organization: The hotel was organized at every point of our trip and provided wonderful service.
- Excellent vegetarian food: I love the food at this place! Although I am not a vegetarian, I could be if I had the chance to eat food like the wonderful dishes they serve. Good variety and the continental breakfast is probably one of the better ones in the country.
- Access: Lands in Love is also simple to access. Just take the main highway from San Ramon to La Fortuna and watch for signs on the right. It’s only a half hour or so from San Ramon and maybe an hour and a half from San Jose on good, paved roads.
- Near other good sites: Several other good birding sites are a 30 minute drive from the hotel, including the road to Manuel Brenes Reserve, the Cocora hummingbird garden, and Finca Luna Nueva.
Ok, so now the real reason why birders should stay there for several nights. Here are our top ten species from a couple days of birding, and keep in mind that we got rained out for almost half the time:
1. Sunbittern: A pair foraging on the lawn near the reception on one morning! Staff mentioned that they seen Sunbittern most days at the hotel.
2. Black and white Owl: A quick owl search turned up nothing the first night but the second eventually resulted in hearing three Black and white Owls and seeing one right at the rooms.
3. White Hawk: Rather expected there but it’s still nice!
4. Crested Guan: Quite a few of these around, even at the rooms.
5. Snowcap: Yes, Snowcap and right at the rooms! We had at least four different birds.
6. Short-tailed Nighthawk: One flying right around the rooms.
7. Antwrens and antvireos: A good place to see these.
8. Sepia-capped Flycatcher: We had at least two of this rare species for Costa Rica. New country bird for me!
9. Scarlet-thighed Dacnis: These are fairly common at many sites but always great to see.
10. Lanceolated Monklet: Yep, that’s right. Saving the best for last, we got this very rare bird! To give an idea of how tough it is to encounter this species, I have looked for and whistled like one at many sites in Costa Rica for more than ten years sans results. After noticing that the hanging bridge at Lands in Love looked perfect for this sneaky little puffbird, I decided that the group should go there shortly after dawn on Sunday morning. Not long after arrival, I heard one vocalize and tried calling it in. It took a while to find the bird but I eventually did and we got so-so looks in dark, misty weather before rains convinced us to head back to the hotel. The old growth forest at that spot also looked good for all sorts of things!
Speaking of other avian things, check out the quality on the bird list compiled for the place by Jim Zook (notice the ground-cuckoo and Keel-billed Motmot). We had four or five species not on the list and I suspect that several other species can show up, including Lovely Cotinga and Bare-necked Umbrellabird. I hope to talk to them soon to see about details on day trips to the hotel trails and hope to do some surveys.
To listen to a taste of the dawn chorus near the rooms, check this out:
This one has Thicket Antpitta, Clay-colored Thrush, Bright-rumped Attila, Howler Monkey, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, and a distant Slaty Antshrike: Dawn 1 Lands in Love
The hotel doesn’t have feeders nor people checking for owls, fruiting trees, and antswarms yet but the birding is still great. Rooms are nice too although I think they could use air conditioning rather than fans. Showers just might be the best in the country!