Unfortunately, not as much as we used to. Last week, I had the chance to spend some quality time around Rincon de la Vieja while guiding a trip for the Birding Club of Costa Rica. We stayed at Rinconcito Lodge, birded around there, and spent one morning at the Las Pailas sector of the park. Rain and other factors, some natural, at least one not, tied our birding hands more than we expected. Based on last weekend’s trip, this is what birders might expect from the Rincon de la Vieja area in 2016:
- Not as many birds: I hope I’m wrong but if the observations from last weekend were any indication, I’m afraid that the birding outlook doesn’t look promising. I hope things are different in the primary forest and more humid areas of the national park because something really doesn’t seem right in old second growth and other sites on the way to Rincon de la Vieja. Although time of year could be a factor, three days of dawn chorus were more like whispers in the dark. No woodcreepers, no becards, very few wrens, few wintering warblers, and few tyrant-flycatchers. In other words, something is going on with the insectivores and it’s not exactly rosy. That’s my impression and I hope I’m wrong but based on years of experience with bird surveys and the Costa Rican avifauna, I do believe that I should have recorded more birds. Who knows but I suspect that the lack of birds in second growth and dry forest areas is related to much less rain than normal over the past few years.
- Keel-billed Toucans, oropendolas, and jays: You might see lots of these. I know we did. The number of Keel-billeds was pretty impressive and we saw dozens of Montezuma Oropendolas, and Brown and White-throated Magpie-Jays. We wondered how small birds could survive with such a large number of nest predators in the neighborhood. Fair numbers of Red-billed and Band-tailed Pigeons were also around along with lots of Orange-fronted Parakeets.
- Sunbittern!: I wasn’t aware of this but Sunbittern is fairly common on forested streams and rivers in and near the park. The Ficus Trail at the Rinconcito Lodge appears to be quite reliable for it.
- Tody Motmot!: This target species is still regular in the area. We had one on the Ficus trail at Rinconcito and it should still be regular in the national park. It might prefer areas of old second growth or spots with vine tangles.
- Great Curassow: Rincon de la Vieja is yet another good site for this species. If you don’t see one in the national park, you can see some at very close range at Rinconcito Lodge.
- Hard work for the sparrows: Since Botteri’s, Grasshopper, and Rusty Sparrows are much easier to see elsewhere, this might only be of interest to local birders. We did quite a bit of looking in suitable areas near the park, including a good site on Miravalles, with nary a peep. I am sure they are around but they sure aren’t common.
- Closed trails: Back to bad news. The main trail to the crater is closed and probably won’t open any time soon. Disappointing to be sure but the reason is a good one. It seems that although the activity at Arenal has slowed down, Rincon de la Vieja has picked up the pace and has even spit out a boulder or two.
- The Las Pailas travesty: This certainly deserves an article of its own but I might as well sum it up here. Although the trail is open for business, it’s also open for construction, literally. We weren’t sure what they were exactly doing but the tractor-like equipment and power saws weren’t about to attract any ground-cuckoos or other good birds. The place was more or less a mess, and the loop trail was closed off at one point. This closing off required us to an about face and walk back through the same stretch of rainy, birdless mud. In retrospect, it would have been nice if the person at the park information desk would have mentioned the construction and the partial trail closure. Since the work is supposed to fall under the category of trail improvements, it’s logical to assume that it will be done at some point, perhaps before your trip. BUT, sadly, that might not be the only construction going on. Geothermal wells have also been built near the trail, forest was cleared in the process, and muddy access trails seemed to lead to those wells. Luckily, there are other trails in the park.
- The other trails: For birding sake, skip Las Pailas and take the Catarata Escondida trail. I wish we would have! I don’t think there is construction on that one and it’s quite long, either leading to a waterfall, or heading up to a grassy area where Rock Wren, and Rusty and Botteri’s Sparrows have been seen. We didn’t make it up there but it was raining anyways. That trail probably provides the same chances at quail-doves, ground-cuckoos, and other goodies as Las Pailas used to and the closed Crater Trail still does.
- Santa Maria Sector: Our original plan was to bird this part of the park in lieu of Las Pailas anyways. But, scouting showed that even the best of high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles would have trouble on the last 500 meters of the road. So, with great disappointment, we didn’t make it to that part of the park. The situation will probably improve with drier weather and the birding is pretty good.
- Entrance fees and hours: The Hacienda Guachipelin charges 700 colones per person at one part of the road (they have done this for many years), and the main fee for non-residents is $15 per day. Hours are a non-birder friendly 8 to 3.
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