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When visiting another country, most of us stick to the same itineraries followed by tour companies and birders doing it on their own. Why not? That way, we already know the logistics, and more or less what to expect. It is the easiest route to take so why not stick to the road well traveled?

While there is nothing wrong with birding in the same places as thousands of other folks with binoculars have done, there are a few good reasons to leave the trodden path for birding in Costa Rica. Some excellent sites are actually not visited by tours and not because they don’t come with suitable accommodation. Such sites are usually left off the itinerary because the distances and travel times just don’t work with the rest of the tour, or the agency doesn’t even know about those places where you can watch birds in primary rainforest, enjoy excellent organic meals, and where the non-birding spouse can do some fish watching while snorkeling.

I visited just such a place last weekend when I guided our local birding club at Saladero Lodge. Situated on the forested shores of the Golfo Dulce, Saladero is run by an American-British couple who always make guests feel at home and strive to give them an unforgettable trip. At least that’s how I felt after two nights at Saladero. The food was excellent as was the service, and the scenery wasn’t so bad either…

But what about the birding? Well, that was pretty nice too…

The best species was Yellow-billed Cotinga, a highly endangered bird that requires lowland rainforest near tall mangroves. That uncommon combination combined with a small range of just southern Costa Rica and Panama makes it a rare bird indeed. But, since Saladero meets those requirements, the cotinga can be seen most mornings as it moves through the area. Thanks to local guide Stacey Hollis, we saw four. Check out Stacie’s well written blog!

Other benefits of birding right from the area around the cabinas were sightings of various tanagers, Baird’s Trogon, Golden-naped Woodpecker, woodcreepers, Black-bellied and Riverside Wrens, White Hawk, and other rainforest species. A tame Great Tinamou was a good sign of a protected forest sans hunting pressure as were the presence of calling Great Curassows and Marbled Wood-Quail in the nearby forest.

Band-tailed Barbthroat was also common near the lodge.

Speaking of the forest, it looked fantastic; immense, old trees were the norm. I would have liked to have birded more inside that beautiful part of Piedras Blancas National Park but will hopefully do so on my next trip there. The little interior forest birding that was done yielded Golden-crowned Spadebill, Black-faced Anthrush, Scaly-throated Leaftosser, trogons, and some other birds. I’m sure there is also a lot more to be had, especially considering that a Crested Eagle was photographed in this area just two years ago!

Add in the good birding in open and edge habitats en route to Golfito and a trip to Saladero can result in a large number of species including an excellent selection of quality species (including birds like Red-rumped Woodpecker and Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, both of which were seen en route).

Last but not least, I should also mention that the night birding is pretty good. Crested Owls were heard each night and appear to be fairly common there, Mottled was also heard and Black and white is sometimes also present. Tropical Screech-Owl can also be found, and we heard the local variety of Vermiculated Screech-Owl. If we would have done some night birding inside the forest, I dare say we would have probably seen that and more.

The South Pacific form of Vermiculated Screech-Owl, a likely split. This one was from Esquinas Lodge.

Other benefits of staying at Saladero include supporting a sustainable venture that is closely involved with local conservation efforts, watching sea turtles and other occasional aquatic wildlife of the gulf, fishing in pristine waters for your own dinner (we dined on a fantastic Snook!), snorkeling in clear tropical waters with lots of fish, and staying at one of the more remote and wild spots in Costa Rica. If that sounds interesting, let me know, we can plan a trip!

Until next time!

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