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One of the best and most accessible sites for middle elevation birding in Costa Rica is just 30 minutes from Cartago. It’s the place where most birders in Costa Rica see their first Streaked Xenops, Rufous-breasted Antthrush, Rufous-rumped Antwren, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, and other decidedly uncommon, middle elevation species that are much easier to see in the Andes. Although these can still be easily missed at Tapanti, it is the most reliable site in Costa Rica for the birds mentioned above (except the antthrush- easier at the San Gerardo field station). Lots of other quality birds also show up in the quality, mossy forests at Tapanti, including Scaled and Ochre-breasted Antpittas, Red-fronted Parrotlet, Sharpbill, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, and so on. So, why is it then, that I rarely bird there? After all, it’s pretty close to the Central Valley.

Some fine forest at Tapanti.

Ironically, the vicinity to the Valley is also what keeps me from going there. You see, it’s near the eastern side of the Valley while I live on the western side. Lack of a good ring road means a trip through the traffic of San Jose and then Cartago to get there, and then again to come back. Hit the rush hour traffic and we are talking two to three hours of slow going vehicles with more than a few people who appear to not know how to operate them. And that’s just one way. So, that’s what keeps me from Tapanti and I wish it didn’t because the birding is always good and the forests are fantastic.

Last weekend, since we hadn’t been there in more than a year, Susan and I decided to visit Tapanti on Saturday. A weekend always means more people in the park but I doubt that it affects birding that much. There was some light rain, but for the most part, we lucked out with cloudy weather and had around 70 species.

One of the first was a Streaked Xenops seen just outside the park!

We also saw a flock of Barred Parakeets in flight.

I was very pleased with the xenops because in Costa Rica, Tapanti seems to be the only accessible, reliable place for it. A year bird and also one that I needed for the Birding Field Guide apps for Costa Rica and Panama. It was hanging out with a small mixed flock that also had Slaty-capped Flycatcher, some tanagers, and a few other species.

Slaty-capped Flycatchers are common in Costa Rica.

After hanging with the xenops, we headed towards the entrance. It was still too early for the eight o’clock opening time but you can still run into quite a few good birds in that stretch of forest before the gate. We checked the streams for lancebills without any luck, but saw another mixed flock with several expected, small bird species. No rarities but still nice to watch Tawny-capped Euphonias, Golden-browed Chlorophonias, Spangle-cheeked Tanager,  and so on.

Spangle-cheeked Tanagers are common at Tapanti.

Once the park opened, we went in, paid our entrance fees, and birding along the main road to the Pavas Trail. The cloudy weather resulted in lots of activity including Rufous Mourner, Black-faced Solitaire, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, Lineated Foliage-gleaner, and other birds. Still none of my other targets (which are pretty rare anyways), but still fun birding in beautiful surroundings.

We saw a few Ruddy Treerunners.

And more than one Spotted Barbtail.

I figured we would check out the Waterfall/Pavas Trail to look for forest birds. It’s not as steep as the Arboles Caidos, and based on habitat, looks ideal for everything from antpittas to Sharpbill and maybe even Lanceolated Monklet. Although we didn’t find any of those, I bet you could. The thing about tropical birding is that birds can be present but go unseen one day and then be hopping on the trail the next. It also means that it’s worth it to spend several hours of several days in quality forest. You will see new birds every day and probably eventually run into most of the rare species. I bet that would happen on the Waterfall/Pavas Trail, I sure wish I had the time and resources to test that hypothesis with four or five days of surveying that site!

On the Waterfall Trail.

We had more of the same that we had already seen along with heard only Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner and Tawny-throated Leaftosser, and a Silvery-fronted Tapaculo that showed well but just wouldn’t stop long enough for photos. Even if it had stopped for more than three seconds, the understory was probably too dark anyways. By then, it was around 11, and the rain was starting up so we walked out of the trail and checked along the road a bit higher up. Things were pretty quiet but we had nice looks at a female Black-bellied Hummingbird.

Female Black-bellied Hummingbird.

This Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush was having a picnic.

Birding on the way out was likewise quiet so we decided to check out a soda (small diner) just outside the park entrance. The place is called “Los Maestros” and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s such a shame that I didn’t know about the place before I finished my bird finding/Costa Rica birding companion e-book but at least I can mention this special spot now. Los Maestros is up the first small road outside of the entrance to the park with a sign that says “Tapanti Ecoturs”. Go up that road (and watch birds on the way, this is where we had the xenops), and walk up to the small soda on the left. It seems connected to a house but don’t worry about that. The food was surprisingly good and is inexpensive, the view looks suitable for raptors and seeing other birds in the treetops (we didn’t see much because of the rain), the owner has her heart in the right place (she talked about our need to improve the environment, has worked with local kids along those lines, and has a grandson who is a birder), and Black-billed Hummingbirds fed in the Porterweed. A fruit feeder and food scraps on the ground for other birds could bring in everything from tanagers and barbets to Scaled Antpitta. I hope I can somehow convince her to do that…

The sign for the soda.

After lunch, the rain lessened so we gave the entrance to the park one more check. Once again, we ran into another nice mixed flock with several expected species. Nope, nothing rare but you gotta keep trying!

On a sobering note, large areas of semi-shade coffee have been cut down on the way to the national park. These areas were very birdy, acted as habitat for Golden-winged Warbler, Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge, and many other species, and will now be rather birdless. Will the Golden-wings that wintered there survive? Who knows but most probably won’t. Some of the shade coffee is still around but who knows for how long? I suspect that the coffee bushes stopped producing due to drier, hotter weather, so the landowners cut everything down and planted tomatoes and other crops instead. It was a sad reminder of the link between a suddenly warmer world, shifting agriculture, and the subsequent, detrimental effects on biodiversity.

Sobering.

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4 Responses to “A Day of Birding at Tapanti National Park is Always a Good One”

  1. Yet another inspiring post, beautifully written and thoroughly detailed. Here I am, on the right side of Cartago to visit Tapantí with ease and yet I keep waiting for better weather when I should just plan for the rain. I swear I WILL visit Tapantí this very week! Many thanks for this great post.

  2. I know that area fairly well and believe I have a photo of the same hillside mentioned in your blog “before.” We also found a family of Hook-billed Kites hunting in there one day. We also had a roosting Tropical Screech Owl. Very sobering indeed.

  3. I remember the shade grown coffee area outside Tapanti, Pat.
    Some of the larger trees were “Rainbow Trees”, si?
    Liz and I want to go back to that beautiful park. Maybe we can get a few
    hours of birding without rain!
    I’d like another chance at the Antthrush that you and Liz saw.

    Steve

  4. @Steve- Some probably were Eucalyptus although I recall most being Poro (Erythina). Yes, always a good place to visit, so many potential birds. You would really like the Los Maestros place just outside the park- very good, home cooked food for great prices in birdy surroundings. Yes, I would like to see the antthrush again too! I think one would have a fair chance at looks by spending most of the day on either the Arboles Caidos trail or the Waterfall/Pavas trail. Easier if one can get in earlier but still feasible just hanging out on the trail to locate one.
    @Nic- Yeah, that valley is a good area for Hook-billed Kite. Screech-owl is always a nice find! Such a shame.
    @Paul- Thanks Paul, I hope you get there, always have to expect rain I am afraid but still good birding. We have to get together some time.

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