Ecotones always make for exciting birding. Where else can a birder get optics on one suite of species in the morning and a totally different bunch of birds in the afternoon? In Costa Rica, points where biodiversity converge and mingle are the norm. Drive a couple hours in one direction and we see the spectacular reds of Scarlet Macaws in flight above and the precious blues of Turquoise-browed Motmots closer to the ground. Drive two hours in the other direction and comical toucans yelp from the canopy while Chestnut-backed Antbirds and tinamous whistle from the humid undergrowth.
Another direction takes us to cooler elevations where quetzals, Black Guans, and several other endemics occur, yet another direction leads to a different group of endemic birds including the stunning Baird’s Trogon.
In a country where ecotones are the norm, it’s tough to pick a winner but in terms of biodiversity, the Carara area is probably the top ecotone in Costa Rica. Thanks to a crossroads of mangroves, dry forest, humid forest, and wetland habitats, the Carara ecotone is one heck of a birdy place. Keep looking and you will keep seeing more, while guiding there during the past few days, I recorded 210 species. These are some of the highlights and other things noted from that visit:
Tinamous and other tame birds
On account of the national park receiving so many visitors, many of the animals have become quite accustomed to people, birds included. Watch carefully for tinamous in the undergrowth and you might spy one or two right next to the trail. I did on both visits along with Streak-chested Atpitta, Stub-tailed Spadebill, Ruddy Quail-Doves, Orange-collared Manakins, and other birds.
Get in there at 7, be out by 4
During the high season (that would be now on through April), thankfully, the national park opens at 7. Six would be best but 7 is still better than 8! Get in there as soon as the park opens to be first on the trails and to catch more of the avian action. Unfortunately, you gotta be out by 4. Lately, the park has been strict about this rule, even evicting people on the trails at four. At the Meandrica Trail, the parking lot guard won’t even stay past 4 and you shouldn’t either because vehicle break-ins at that particular spot are a regular affair (when no one is there to watch the car).
Water, hydration, and heat
It’s hot and sunny at the Carara ecotone. Stay hydrated when out on the trails and take it easy! The good thing about being on the trails is that you at least have shade.
A busy bridge, some traffic jams
The crocodile bridge is being worked on, we can only hope that the work will be finished in a few weeks or a month. In the meantime, there are occasional traffic jams and always more vehicles than you expect. I was surprised to see so many on Monday morning at 6 a.m. where truck after car after bus rushed on past. We were scanning the brush for Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, it called a couple times but failed to come closer, maybe it was smarter than us for refusing to approach the busy road.
The forest was good for mixed flocks, it was nice to get repeated looks at several woodcreepers, Chiriqui Foliage-Gleaner, Dot-winged and Slaty Antwrens, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, White-shouldered Tanager, and Ruddy-tailed and Sulphur-rumped Flycatchers.
Try the Jaco Teleferico road
The road leading back to the Teleferico area and beyond can yield an excellent mix of species. Some of the special birds we saw included Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Scrub Greenlet, and Slate-colored Seedeater among others.
In the Carara ecotone, the birding is hot but it yields one species after another. Stay hydrated, stay in the shade, and be prepared to put your binoculars to the test!