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Birding Costa Rica birding lodges Osa Peninsula Pacific slope

Highlights and Observations From the Trip to Luna Lodge

Last week, I did a trip to Luna Lodge, one of the more remote ecolodges in Costa Rica, and one of the only ones that provides access to the interior forests of the Osa Peninsula. As befits any lodge in the heart of quality rainforest, the birding at Luna is always exciting. Upon arrival, you wonder if an extra large eagle might appear in the spotting scope while patiently scanning the canopy of a forested hillside. You wonder if the calls of a rare Red-throated Caracara will be heard echoing through the humid jungles. I personally wonder if I will finally glimpse a Puma while hiking through the rainforest. With the lodge surrounded on all sides by forest that extends into the heart of one of Costa Rica’s wildest areas, it truly seems like anything is possible. Although there haven’t been any recently documented sightings of Harpy or Crested Eagles in the Osa, and Pumas are around but always expert at staying hidden, Luna Lodge and nearby areas would be one of the better places for sightings like these to happen. This is, after all, rough, rugged rainforest where monkeys are heard and seen throughout the day along with lots of birds.

jungles

Check out them jungles…

spider monkey baby

and monkeys.

While they are still fresh in my mind, I present some highlights and observations from the trip:

A long drive: Driving from the Central Valley to Luna Lodge is an all day event. It takes around 8 hours to get there from the San Jose area and that doesn’t take into account any birding stops. Include birding en route and it takes a whole while longer to get there. Since the birding en route is very much recommended, you are better off not driving straight from San Jose but stopping for a night on the way. That, or just take a short flight to Puerto Jimenez or Carate (even more recommended!) and go from there. Although paved roads have made the trip far easier than in the past, you still have around 40 kilometers of rough, pot-holed, un-paved roads to drive over along with a few river crossings thrown in for good measure. That said, that section of the road also has some of the more exciting birding opportunities, and it would be worth it to slowly bird it from Puerto Jimenez.

Tarcoles: A small seaside settlement where the biggest attraction is a river with a high population of crocodiles might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is good for birding! We stopped there to check seasonal wetlands for whatever and the river mouth for shorebirds, terns, and other things with webbed feet. As usual the morning birding between Tarcoles and Playa Azul was nice and punctuated by Mangrove Vireo, Crane Hawk, Scarlet Macaws, and other species. Nothing unusual in the wetlands, nor on the beach, but always birdy. The best on the beach was probably Collared Plover.

wood stork pink feet

The pink feet of a Wood Stork were a close second.

Dominical: Once you reach Dominical, you have the temptation to stop and bird side roads that access good rainforest, or even look for stuff from a gas station. We did that with the hopes of seeing Spot-fronted Swift. As luck would have it, we did almost certainly see them but with the frustration of not seeing or hearing anything absolutely diagnostic because of uncooperative lighting and distance from the birds. This means that we did see a flock of swifts that, by shape and flight pattern, were not Costa Rican, Lesser Swallow-tailed, White-collared, or Chestnut-collared. Since Spot-fronted are seen here regularly, there was a 99% chance that this is what they were. BUT, since the very similar White-chinned Swift has been found near there, even though it is far less likely, that still leaves enough room to cast some doubt on the birds being Spot-fronted Swifts. If only they would have flown a bit lower!

Rice fields: These pseudo wetlands are en route and if they have water, can have some nice birds. Check enough of them and you might even find Spotted Rail, Paint-billed Crake, and Slate-colored Seedeater. We didn’t find those with the brief checks we allotted but we did see lots of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Southern Lapwing, and a small flock of Shiny Cowbirds. They are also always worth checking to see if you can find a lost Wattled Jacana for your Cosa Rican list.

Cuisine: The food at Luna Lodge is fantastic. So good. Creative, delicious, healthy dishes that use several ingredients right from their organic garden. Enjoy dining amidst the sounds of the rainforest.

Rooms: Comfortable, peaceful, and with views into treetops that can have Turquoise Cotinga.

Turquoise Cotinga: Speaking of this one, it is fairly common at Luna Lodge and hard to miss. We had excellent views of males and females from the birding platform, from the rooms, and from a site near Luna Lodge (the hip sounding “Shady Lane”).

turquoise cotinga

Good morning starshine, I mean shiny blue and purple bird!

Trogons, honeycreepers, and other cool tropical birds: Being situated in the middle of rainforest, one does tend to see quite a few birds, many of which are rather exotic in appearance. Bird the lodge grounds and the trails and you might see four trogon species, Shining and Green Honeycreepers, euphonias (think colorful little tropical goldfinches), Rufous Piha, Blue-crowned, Red-capped, and Orange-collared Manakins (all pretty common), and Golden-naped Woodpecker among other species. You can also try for the endemic Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, Marbled Wood-Quail, and other deep forest species on the trails but be ready for hiking some fairly steep slopes (at least on maintained trails).

Spot-crowned Euphonia

Spot-crowned Euphonia is a common endemic.

golden-naped woodpecker

Same goes for the beautiful Golden-naped Woodpecker. It’s kind of like a Three-toed Woodpecker that went to the beauty salon.

rufous piha

Rufous Piha was pretty common right at the lodge.

Raptors: Yeah, we dipped on all eagles, even the hawk ones. But, we still saw 18 species of raptors, some on the ride to the lodge, and some right at the lodge. On the way there, we had the aforementioned Crane Hawk, Turkey and Black Vultures, Yellow-headed and Crested Caracaras, Roadside Hawks aplenty, White-tailed Kite, Common Black Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, and Bat Falcon. At Luna Lodge, mostly during a morning of raptor watching from the yoga platform (don’t you know that yoga platforms are always conducive with good raptor watching?), we also had White Hawk- a common, beautiful species in the area, Short-tailed Hawk, Great Black Hawk- nice to see that rare one, King Vultures, and Swallow-tailed and Double-toothed Kites. Collared Forest-Falcon was a heard only, and our last raptor was Laughing Falcon on the drive out.

Shady Lane: I love birding a place with a name like that! It would also be cool to bird it while wearing a bowler hat and walking with a Victorian style cane in one hand and a cold mojito in the other. The only problem would be that unwelcome extra bit of heat generated by the hat in 90 degree humid air, and dropping the cane while juggling the drink as you grab your binos time after time in that birdy spot. Actually, it was a bit slow during our morning visit. We still managed three trogon species (including Baird’s), Bicolored Antbird, Tawny-winged, Cocoa, and Northern Barred Woodcreepers, Turquoise Cotinga, White Hawk, King Vulture, Red-capped and Blue-crowned Manakins, Golden-crowned Spadebill, and other species (including three heard only too shy Streak-chested Antpittas), but the spot can be even birdier than that! Try as we might nor did we find a super rare Speckled Mourner but it was still a fine morning at Shady Lane.

Climate change: Now for something not as happy but deserving of mention. We got rained out each afternoon and that was a good thing because the forests of the Osa have been experiencing much less rain than they are adapted to. Lower amounts of rainfall in the Osa are because of global warming and this is almost certainly why we did not detect as many individual birds or species compared to 16 years ago. The differences are noticeable every time I go birding anywhere in Costa Rica, and anyone who has been birding here for more than ten years probably sees these changes as well. There hasn’t been any deforestation around Luna Lodge, and if anything, more forest in growing but there has been less rain and no, it’s not some natural cycle.

Why do I say that? Because I believe everything I hear? No, I say it because thousands of peer-reviewed papers come to that conclusion. If you don’t believe in human-caused global warming, then I suggest that you please be objective and consider these two options: 1.Human caused global warming is real because scientists who fiercely compete with each other over grant money and funding, publish thousands of peer-reviewed papers that indicate this to be the case, or 2. Human caused global warming is false because this is claimed in non-peer reviewed information distributed by organizations paid to do so by the fossil fuel industry. Which seems more likely? If you choose “2”, then you might as well not trust anything any medical doctor says (because they rely on peer-reviewed scientific studies) or believe that the moon is real. Although this might seem tangential, when it comes to bird populations (as well as the future of human civilization and possibly existence), mentioning global warming is all too relevant. I wish it wasn’t, but diminishing bird populations say otherwise. Please plant a tree and work for sustainable, non-fossil fuel energy now!

I don’t like to end that on an alarming note but as my friend Brad used to say, “That’s the way the ball bounces Little P”.

Ok, well, I will end it on a more positive note after all. Lana Wedmore, the owner of Luna Lodge told us that a sustainable public school will be built in Carate! Instead of kids having to travel several kilometers to school, they can learn right there at the start of Shady Lane. Also, she is selling really cool White Hawk shirts for what else but the White Hawk Foundation- http://www.whitehawkfoundation.org/. The goal of this foundation is to purchase forested lands between Corcovado Park and Luna Lodge to keep them protected. Please check out the link to see the White Hawk video, information, and how to purchase some of those shirts.

white hawk shirt

Lana shows the White Hawk shirt.

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Birding Costa Rica

Birding Costa Rica News, August 2016

Growing up in western New York, August was a time of dusky, hazy weather. During those muggy, late summer days, I used to wonder if it was like that in tropical places with palm trees, white sand beaches, and turquoise water. I only knew those places well south of the border through travel brochures, National Geographic, and books in the Earl Bridges Public Library. At the time of teen years during the late 1980s, the closest I had come to anything tropical was the wave pool at “Niagara Splash”. It acted as my temporary tropical proxy, especially on beautiful summer days when white fluffy clouds floated through blue skies, but I surmised that it was nothing like the real thing. Some days, it was kind of too cold to go into the water (hence the eventual closure of the water park after a few years), and the avian scene was punctuated by crows and gulls instead of parrots and toucans.

gulls

Although Niagara gull watching in winter can be nice…

Little did I know that I would get a chance to experience the true essence of the tropics while birding in Costa Rica a few years later. While the hazy humidity was reminiscent of a northern august, the sun was ten times hotter, it got dark by six, and yes, there were indeed hundreds of new and excitingly unfamiliar birds including parrots, toucans, tinamous, and tanagers. Today, as I write this, August at my place in Costa Rica is cloudy, warm and fairly humid, and the skies are preparing for the afternoon rains. If I look outside, I might see a Tropical Kingbird perched on a wire, see vultures turning circles high above, and espy White-winged Doves and Red-billed Pigeons zipping by. Summer is eternal down here in the tropical latitudes but not all the beaches have snow-white sand or clear, turquoise waters. I felt a mild earthquake today but that comes with the scenery. The birding is always exciting, though, so if you are going to be here these days, enjoy the feathered show. Now for some birding news related to Costa Rica:

Some migrants are back in town: Up north, a lot of birds are moving but still have some time before they reach Costa Rica. Nevertheless, change is in the air and some migrants are leaving as other arrive. Shorebirds have been turning up in the usual haunts, I no longer hear or see Piratic Flycatchers, Swallow-tailed Kites are on the move to their winter Amazonian haunts, and I was surprised by a sighting of an American Redstart just the other day. Waterthrushes have also been seen as have wood-pewees. It will be interesting to see what other migrants I might find during the next four days of solid birding from here to the Osa peninsula. I’ll let you know!

To see what else has been reported from Costa Rica the past couple of weeks, search eBird for Costa Rica, bar charts, and set the dates for August, 2016. Sorry about non link, at the moment, there is some problem related to adding links to my posts.

Great Green Macaws are in the foothills: Although this endangered species is usually associated with the Caribbean lowlands, during the wet season, it is more often found at foothill sites. Lately, I have had a few in the early morning at Quebrada Gonzalez and El Tapir, and had a flock of 14 near Virgen del Socorro a few days ago. In the past, I have also had fairly large flocks of this species in the foothills between Virgen del Socorro, and Ciudad Quesada. The ones from the other day were seen from the road between San Miguel and Virgen del Socorro.

ornate hawk eagle

You might also see an Ornate Hawk-Eagle in flight. This one was flying high overhead in the same area as the macaws.

Oilbirds in Monteverde: This sweet target twitch for Costa Rica has been seen during night hikes at Curi Cancha and the Refugio (Monteverde Wildlife Refuge). I’m so dying to head up there and watch those weird birds, hope I can somehow find the time to do it. I just spoke with Robert Dean today about them and he said that there might just be a few, or there might by several, really no way to know. But, they are definitely showing, make sure to go on the night hike at either of those sites and ask to see the Oilbirds. Better yet, one of them has a transmitter on it! Hopefully, we can finally find out where these birds are coming from. Robert also mentioned that the wild avocados up that way are also full of fruit. With luck, that will keep the Oilbirds around for a while.

The Costa Rica Festival of Birds and Nature is coming up: Have you ever wanted to see a Cerulean Warbler in Costa Rica? How about seeing one while looking at lots of cool resident birds? That will happen during the third Festival de Aves y Naturaleza de Costa Rica. It all happens on September 3rd and 4th and will be an excellent weekend of birding, frogging, and helping with local conservation. On a side note, local top guide and field researcher Ernesto Carman also has a cool, new website and guiding endeavor. Check out http://www.getyourbirds.com/

olive-backed euphonia

Maybe one of the species you will see will be an Olive-backed Euphonia.

Costa Rica Birding Hotspots will be at BirdFair: If you are going to be at BirdFair 2016, check out Serge Arias’ presentation about the Endemic Birds of Costa Rica, Friday, 1:30 pm, Lecture Marqee 1. I wish I could be there! – http://www.birdfair.org.uk/events/the-endemic-birds-to-costa-rica/

The sad passing of a local birding guide: By far, the saddest news is the recent passing of Roy Orozco. Roy was a local, excellent birding guide, naturalist, and artist as well husband and father. I last saw Roy in late March while birding at Arenal Observatory Lodge. As usual, we exchanged sightings and I looked forward to birding with him without clients. Sadly, his last battle with cancer kept that day from arriving. Roy was a kind, generous, positive person who loved birding and the natural world, and made a positive impression on many people. In being a birder, he was also one of our “tribe”. Whether it’s because as a young person, I always wanted to meet other people like myself who yearned to experience birds at all times, and/or because I feel a sense of companionship with those who share this passion, I can’t help but view other birders as part of my tribe, my people, and Roy was one of them. At this time, probably because of bureaucracy, it appears that Roy’s widow and children are in need of help, and one of his good friends and fellow guides, Johan Chaves, is working hard to help them survive. Please consider helping the family of a fellow birder and guide who likewise helped hundreds of people experience and appreciate the beauty of the natural world by contacting Johan at: johanchaves@yahoo.com.mx

or, by phone: (506) 88504419

See his Facebook page at:

That’s all for now, keep your fingers crossed that I can post a picture of a big rainforest eagle some time next week!

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Birding Costa Rica caribbean foothills

Short Report from a Recent Day of Birding at El Tapir and Quebrada Gonzalez

The easiest place to experience quality rainforest birding when staying in the San Jose area is El Tapir and Quebrada Gonzalez. Or, maybe I should say the quickest, most accessible place because the birding there is never actually easy. Instead, it’s a mysterious challenge that always comes with a temptation of birding gold. But, even if you are just getting started with birds, it’s still worth a visit, especially if you have a free day around San Jose.

A lot of people ask me about the birding in San Jose and my reply is always the same. I tell them that birding in the city isn’t really worth the effort, especially when you can do an easy day trip for foothill species at El Tapir and Quebrada Gonzalez, or highland birds up in the Poas area. Both areas are a close hour’s drive, and always offer quality birding. Compare that to looking for common species in public parks or gardens while worrying about someone trying to steal your binoculars and there’s really no comparison. Maybe if you want to safely look for the endemic ground-sparrow and hang with common birds while staying at places like the Bougainvillea, Xandari, or Zamora Estates, but, in general, if you want to see more, then you need to head over to the mountains. In the case of the foothill sites, that would actually be up and over the mountains.

I did that for a recent day of guiding, and I hope this short report gives an idea of what you might run into over that way. As might these eBird checklists:

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S30965280

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S30965322

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S30965263

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S30965222

If you haven’t previously talked with the guards at Quebrada Gonzalez about leaving the gate open before eight (the usual opening time), go past the ranger station for a couple kilometers and watch for the entrance to El Tapir on the right. Don’t expect a sign but know that it’s the first entrance for a car on the right. If the gate is closed, open it and head on in. Hopefully, the Snowcaps will be active along with lots of other hummingbirds. They were when we were there, including 5 or 6 Snowcaps of all ages and genders, and several other species including Brown Violetear.

brown violetear

Brown Violetear.

Not a whole lot else was going on and the surrounding tree tops were nearly absent of birds, but that can change from one day to the next with various species of raptors showing up, toucans and parrots perching in view, and even Great Green Macaw making an appearance. That large, endangered parrot did indeed show for us even if it was a quick flyby. That happened while we were trying to get good looks at Russet Antshrike, Spotted Antbird, and Slate-colored Grosbeak, all of which were singing (and hiding) at the same time. The antbird didn’t play ball very well, but the other two eventually showed. We also got onto some of our first tanagers as they moved through in a quick flock with several Black-faced grosbeaks.

Deeper into the forest, my hopes and excitement kicked up a notch upon hearing Ocellated and Bicolored Antbirds but eventually went back down to birding standby as those ant followers moved off. They never showed and just kept going so I assume they were wandering in search of Army Ants. I played calls of mega R.V. G. Cuckoo and the gnatpitta anyways but got nothing in response. On we went and saw that recent heavy rains had dropped too many branches to go much further. Unfortunately, it was the same situation on the trail down to the river, so we couldn’t explore much of that part of the forest, an area where I suspected that we had more of a chance at Lattice-tailed Trogon or even umbrellabird. However, we still saw found one understory insectivore flock with hoped for Streak-crowned Antvireo, and White-flanked and Checker-throated Antwrens.

Back out in the hummingbird garden, we looked some more before heading over to Quebrada Gonzalez for the rest of the day. Sunny weather kept things pretty quiet but we still managed a few mixed flocks with target White-throated Shrike-Tanager, several other tanagers, a few more Streak-crowned Antvireos, Pale-vented Thrush, and some other birds. No ground birds seen, nor even singing Nightingale Wrens nor Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush (usually a given on those trails). But, we did see a King Vulture in flight, heard the Caribbean slope subspecies of Streak-chested Antpitta, saw Striped Woodhaunter, and eventual nice looks at Speckled and Emerald Tanagers.

emerald tanager

A good site for the easy on the eyes Emerald Tanager,

speckled tanager

and the Speckled Tanager.

The only break we took was for lunch just down the road at Chicharronera Patona. It’s small and there’s not a lot on the menu but the food is home-cooked, plentiful, fair-priced, and the owners like birds. It also offers a look into some tall trees and a hillside of forest. You never know what might show at that site. When we were there, we had close looks at Black-cheeked and Rufous-winged Woodpeckers, Band-backed Wren, and some other species. The spot also features some awful road noise but since the owner once saw either Crested or Harpy Eagle perched on that hillside, yeah, it’s worth a stop!

At the end of the day, we had a fairly modest list but we still got a fair percentage of the targets, including several species tough to see elsewhere. For someone with a free day or morning, it’s always a good bet.

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Birding Costa Rica birding lodges birds to watch for in Costa Rica

Birding in Costa Rica this August? Fantastic Deal at Luna Lodge, one of the Best Birding Lodges in Costa Rica

As befits a country where tourism plays a big role in the economy and lives of a few million people, Costa Rica offers a long list of accommodation options. There are bed and breakfasts, hostels for the young and/or super thrifty, large, all-inclusive hotels, small, family owned operations, and lodges geared towards those who visit Costa Rica to experience and appreciate an abundance of tropical nature. Falling within that latter category are a few hotels that focus on birding, or at least have a local guide or two who are avid birders, keep track of the avifauna at and around the hotel, and are always happy to share those birds to guests. Since most of the birding hotels in Costa Rica are used by bird tour companies, anyone who reads trip reports or who looks for information about birding in Costa Rica will be pretty familiar with those lodges.

However, such hotels aren’t the only places that cater to birders. Other, lesser known lodges with resident birding guides don’t make it onto trip reports because they are way off the usual beaten birding track. One of those locales is Luna Lodge- http://lunalodge.com/. Ironically, the main reason why fewer birders get there is also why it is one of the best sites for birding in the country. As with most high quality sites anywhere, habitat is key to birding success and Luna Lodge has it. It comes in the form of the primary lowland rainforests of the Osa Peninsula and not at the edge either, but pretty close to the heart of the forest. Combine high quality rainforest with a nearby coastal lagoon, and flat lowland sites with second growth and riparian zones where Speckled Mourner has been seen (one of the rarest resident species in Costa Rica), and you know that you are in for some fantastic birding.

luna lodge view

On the deck at Luna Lodge.

I know this because I helped start the first bird list for Luna Lodge several years ago. It was during the time of the millenium (I actually spent New Year’s eve there in 1999/2000), and the place was just getting started. Although I didn’t get lucky with a Harpy or Crested Eagles, both species were seen at the lodge not long after my stay (gripped!). However, I did see things like:

-Daily sightings of several King Vultures.

-Flocks of Scarlet Macaws every day.

-All three hawk-eagles, usually at least one of them every day.

-Tiny Hawk.

-White-tipped Sicklebill, White-crested Coquette, lots of Charming Hummingbirds, and other expected species.

-Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager pretty much every day- a species endemic to the Osa peninsula and adjacent rainforests.

Black cheeked Ant Tanager

-Turquoise Cotinga- one of the only accessible sites where it is common.

-Great Curassow and Crested Guan daily.

-Large mixed flocks with tanagers, flycatchers, woodcreepers (including the elusive Long-tailed), and many other species.

Rufous-winged Woodpecker

Rufous-winged Woodpecker is often in those big flocks.

-Lots of monkeys and other animals.

It was simply fantastic birding in beautiful rainforest. The food was also good but it’s hard to compare the lodge then to what it’s like after years of success. Nowadays, there is a yoga platform with a distant view of the ocean where Scarlet Macaws fly against a rainforest backdrop. Yeah, that sounds like a commercial or documentary but I’m not going to lie, that is what the view looks like. There are also several trails, and overlooks to scan the canopy for raptors and other birds. The food is also fantastic as is the service, attention, and Gary, the local birding guide knows his stuff very well.

luna lodge view 2

Another view at Luna Lodge.

I’m writing about Luna Lodge not because I have been there recently, but because I will be there in a few weeks. From August 18th to August 21st, I will be guiding a trip to Luna for the local Birding Club of Costa Rica. Although I don’t usually post such announcements on my blog, I am doing so this time because we still have a few spots open for the trip, and it’s an excellent opportunity to experience the birding at Luna Lodge for a fantastic low price. If you are going to be in Costa Rica during these dates and want to go on this trip with us, this is what you can expect:

-Several looks at Turquoise Cotinga as well as the other stuff I mention above.

-High quality lowland rainforest birding in one of the most biodynamic places in Central America. Including birding en route, we will probably identify around 170 species including many uncommon species and regional endemics including…

Black-hooded Antshrike

Black-hooded Antshrike and

rivserside wren

Riverside Wren

-Good birding en route that could turn up Pearl Kite, Savanna Hawk, and a variety of other edge and open country species. You could also stop at the Rincon bridge to look for Yellow-billed Cotinga…

-Three nights lodging and excellent meals for  $255. The guide fee depends on the number of participants but might be around $75 to $100.

If you are interested in this excellent birding deal, please email me at information@birdingcraft.com before August 8th. I hope to help you experience the fantastic birding in the Osa peninsula at Luna Lodge!