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Birding around Carara, Costa Rica- Always Exciting, Always Excellent

The first time I visited Carara National Park was in 1992. I went by bus with a few friends, one of whom was also a birder. We stayed in the hot coastal village of Tarcoles and made the long, even hotter walk to the national park. There was good birding on the way and on the short trails that left from the HQ; a small building at the southern edge of the park. There were lots of birds; trogons, various flycatchers, antbirds, manakins and many other classic species of lowland rainforest. Fast forward to the present and there are more places to stay, better knowledge of where to find birds around this hotspot, and although populations of humid forest species have declined in response to a drier climate, the birding continues to be exciting and excellent.

One of the new trails at Carara- expect great birding here!

I was reminded of the world-class birding during a recent day of guiding in and around Carara. This is a bit of how that long good day of birding went:

Dry forest habitats along the Guacalillo Road

A good road rather near Carara, it’s probably the closest spot to connect with all possible species of dry forest habitats. Since the national park didn’t open until eight, we began the birding on this route. The birding is typically sweet along this road and Saturday was no exception. We were entertained and kept buy by:

Multiple Turquoise-browed Motmots perched on wires, handsome Stripe-headed Sparrows chattering from the roadside, and seeing numerous other common edge species.

Turquoise-browed Motmot- always impressive.

-Of note was the calling activity of Crested Bobwhites. We always had at least one within earshot and had excellent looks at the first one encountered.

-Although Lesser Ground-Cuckoo was quiet, we eventually got looks at one.

-Nice looks at Scarlet Macaw, Red-lored, Yellow-naped, and White-fronted Parrots.

This beautiful bird is the most numerous parrot species in dry Pacific coast habitats.

White-throated Magpie Jay, Double-striped Thick-Knee, and other dry forest species.

Carara National Park

After nearly two hours of constant great birding, it was time to extend the awesomeness to another completely different habitat, the lowland rainforests of Carara National Park. Although the mosquitoes were pretty bad, highlights there included:

-A close, singing male Ruddy Quail-Dove, views of Streak-chested Antpitta, and even closer prolonged looks at Marbled Wood-Quail.

-Army Ant swarm with several Gray-headed Tanagers, Black-faced Antthrush, Chestnut-backed and Bicolored Antbird, Tawny-winged and Northern Barred Woodcreepers, and Chiriqui Foliage-gleaner.

Chiriqui Foliage-gleaner was split from Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner.

Royal Flycatcher, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, White-whiskered Puffbird, Blue-crowned Manakin, views of Slaty-tailed and Baird’s Trogons, and other nice rainforest species. Oh, and a soaring adult King Vulture right from the parking area.

The Tarcoles area

A post-lunch stop, the edge habitats and seasonal wetlands around Tarcoles turned up a few nice bird species, the best being a sweet roosting Black-and-white Owl (thanks to gen from a local farmer!), Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, Lineated Woodpecker, and Black-headed and Gartered Trogons.

Black-headed Trogon is one of the easiest trogons to see in Costa Rica.

Cerro Lodge Road

Leaving this birdy site for last, we had some of the same species as the morning but also saw our target Crane Hawk, Plumbeous Kite, Nutting’s Flycatcher, and some other new birds before the rains convinced us to call it a day.

Crane Hawk- an uncommon raptor.

After tallying the results, including birds that were heard only, we had a list of more than 140 species. Incredibly, around Carara, that’s pretty much par for the course (!). However, considering that the birding takes place in three or four distinct biodiverse tropical habitats, a consistent high total is also perhaps unsurprising. As always, I wonder what I will find the next time I visit the Carara area? Birding there is best done over the course of two or three days but if you can only manage one, that single exciting day of birding is still worth the trip.

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bird finding in Costa Rica

How to See 150 Bird Species in Costa Rica in One Day of Birding

Would you want to see 150 bird species in a day? The immediate response tends to be a big fat “yes!” but if we pause, step back and contemplate what a birding blur of a day that might be like, we of course still say “YES!” and just as emphatically as the call of a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher.

Actually, though, if all the birds are new, you might not want to have 150 species in one day. Although the generally accepted rule in birding is the more the merrier, if we see too much in one day, we can end up being confused about what we have seen, and might feel less appreciation for the birds we encounter. But hey, if a birder in Costa Rica doesn’t mind accepting the challenge, here are a couple of ideas to see 150 species in a day:

The Carara area– This is probably the easiest place to connect with that many birds in one day. It will be a long, likely hot, day of birding but you will be surprised at how many birds are on the list when the clock shows 5 p.m. Last week, I had just such an experience during an exciting day of guiding around Carara. To keep it brief, we began the birding on the Guacalillo Road, moved to the Cerro Lodge Road, then Carara National Park for the rest of the morning. Lunch at a seaside restaurant was followed by Tarcoles then the road to Pura Vida Gardens.

The end result was Pearl Kite, White-throated Magpie-Jay, various parrots, parakeets and Scarlet Macaw, Crane Hawk, point blank views of Streak-chested Antpitta, Red-capped Manakin, an excellent antswarm, and a bunch more to hit 143 species seen and 20 plus more heard. And that’s not running around like the proverbial headless jungle fowl either but just steady birding until 4:30 p.m. or so.

La Gamba– Way down south, the road to the Esquinas Lodge area and trails in the forest can yield 150 plus species. Several will likely be heard only but a full day of birding around there is typically fantastic on account of the winning combination of open wet fields, riparian zones, gardens, and mature lowland rainforest. If you still have energy to bird, the night birding in that area is also excellent!

Sarapiqui- This classic site can also turn up 150 or so species in a day. A birder would probably need to visit more than site in the area doing that can certainly result in a large number of species. Last month, I did just that while guiding and we got around 150 by birding on roads near Quinta de Sarapiqui, behind Selva Verde, and at the edge of La Selva.

Are you ready to see more than your share of tropical birds in one day? How about a few hundred or more during a week? Support this blog and check out my 700 plus page e-book “How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica”. If I don’t transfer the book right away, it’s because I am out guiding and will get it to you within a few days.

Hope to see you in Costa Rica!

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Birding Costa Rica Around Carara- Always Hot, Always Birdy

Carara National Park and vicinity isn’t that far from the Central Valley, especially with the highway that cuts 30 to 40 minutes from the former route. The cut in driving time has made day trips to Carara from the San Jose area quite feasible, and the high number of bird species makes this Central American hotspot a worthy place to sling the binos on any birding trip to Costa Rica. Every time I go, I am reminded and convinced of Carara’s hotspot status. BUT, I don’t hightail it down to Carara every chance I get because I am also always reminded of the omnipresent heat and humidity.

Some days around Carara are hotter than others but you are always going to sweat. Or, at least I do, I think because I carry a bunch of stuff and wear clothes. When I walk through the forest I can’t help but wonder how indigenous people must have lived around there. Visions of Amazonian people typically come to mind,, people who wear little clothing, go swimming a lot, and take it easy during the heat of the day. I dare say that it must have been the same around Carara although locals also had the big side benefit known as the ocean.

Last weekend, I figured that the time had come to do a non-guiding trip to Carara. You see, I mostly visit the park and surroundings when guiding, and those are always exciting, bird-filled days, but it’s also nice to to go there in search of recordings, some tough target species, and just to see what happens in the forest. So, with a big frozen bottle of water, Gatorade, and a bunch of snacks (including two chocolates truffles that of course melted but didn’t fail to satisfy), birding friend Susan and I did a day trip to Carara on Saturday.

I wanted to check for Red-rumped Woodpecker and Black-tailed Flycatcher around the mangroves, and hope for pictures of Marbled Wood-Quail, Scaly-throated Leaftosser, Long-billed Gnatwren, and Tawny-crowned Greenlet in the forest. I have never had the two targets in the mangroves, nor have heard of anyone else getting them there but based on habitat, they might be very rare residents. Two of the forest birds are uncommon and the other two are always recorded but happen to be an incredible pain to photograph. I knew that I might not find anything I was looking for but I also knew that we would see more than our fair share of birds.

Our first stop was Bajamar to check the waters of the Gulf of Nicoya. The seas were nice and wavy but the avian result was zilch except for one distant Royal Tern. Although it looks good for seawatching, the marine birds are much better from the ferry and watching from the tip of Puntarenas.

To check the mangroves, from Bajamar, we drove south along the coast right the end of the road and the mouth of the Tarcoles River. There isn’t a whole lot of mangrove access but you get pretty close and there’s a fair number of birds. Although the woodpecker and flycatcher were predictably absent, we weren’t complaining about the fun combination of wading birds, edge species, and others including Common Black Hawk, Plumbeous Kite, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Yellow-naped and White-fronted Parrots, and a calling Collared Forest-Falcon.

One of the Plumbeous Kites we saw.

When it was time to catch the 8 a.m (not ideal for birding) opening time for the national park, we left Guacalillo, drove back out to the main road, crossed the crocodile bridge, and went to the HQ. Entrance tickets were quickly purchased, restrooms visited, and into the forest we went. It became quickly apparent that the birds were nice and vocal on Saturday, and they stayed like that for most of our time in the forest.

All of these people are looking at American Crocodiles below the bridge.

Since my targets were far more likely back in the primary forest away from the road, we spent very little time in the old second growth, and bee-lined it back to the trails on the other side of the bridge. There are really too many birds to mention although expected and  interesting ones included Rufous-tailed Jacamar, White-whiskered Puffbird, Golden-crowned Spadebill (heard only and would not let us see them!), Riverside Wren, Black-hooded Antshrike, lots of Dot-winged Antwrens, Orange-billed Sparrow, calling Great Tinamous, and so on.

On the other side of the bridge, more deep forest species became apparent as we heard Baird’s Trogon (one of five trogon species for the day), Scaly-breasted Wren, Red-capped Manakins, Blue-crowned Manakin, Black-striped Woodcreeper, and Streak-chested Antpitta. As luck would have it, we also got lucky with one of my targets!

Scaly-throated Leaftosser

Leaftossers are always a pain but this one perched more than long enough for me to get shots of it.

Not long after, we had a male Ruddy Quail-Dove scooting away from us. It eventually crossed the trail for excellent views.

Around there, we also had Lesser Greenlets and Red-capped Manakin nagging at something off in the woods but it was just too far to see if it was s snake or owl. One of my other targets also sort of cooperated although it stayed too high and in bad light for the best of shots.

Although we didn’t encounter as many mixed flocks as I had hoped, we did find one with Russet Antshrike, a couple woodcreepers, Plain Xenops, tanagers, antwrens, and a few other birds.

We had excellent looks at Black-striped Woodcreeper.

Dot-winged Antwren was one of the most common species in the forest.

The morning wore on but the birds never really stopped calling. Even though we didn’t come across any other targets (the greenlet was heard several times but never close enough to photograph), we still had a good, birdy time in the forest. That’s typical for Carara. By the time we exited the trees, it was two p.m. and stifling hot. That’s also typical for Carara. Thank goodness for vehicles with air conditioning!

I think this Mealy Parrot was also looking for cooler temperatures.

Even though we were sort of casually birding and stopped at 2, when I counted up all of the species we saw or heard from the time we left San Jose to the time we returned, we ended up being just shy of 160 species.

Yes, that many! That’s what happens, though, when the birds are singing in a major tropical ecotone with quality forest. Just be ready for the heat.

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Where to go for Target Species when Birding in Costa Rica at Carara National Park- part uno

In the highly important block of habitat known as Carara National Park, the birding is always productive even though there are few trails that actually access the forests of the park. Even so, they are enough to provide access to just about every species that occurs there and can even turn up some amazing surprises. For example, one resident guide told me that he was pretty sure that he saw an Oilbird once and another very reputable person is certain that he saw a Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo. As bizarre as that sounds, he was 99% sure about the cuckoo, so was the person he was guiding, and although I won’t say who the guide was, believe me when I say that you can trust his observations. The only scenario we could think of was that this shy, low density species may have an undetected population that normally keeps to the higher parts of the park.

Unfortunately, since the national park service doesn’t show any indication of putting in trails that would access those areas, they will keep their avian secrets  and birders will have to “settle” for the River Trail and the forest trails near the HQ.  Although they barely scratch the surface of the park, they do provide access to most of the bird species that occur at Carara and are exciting no matter how many times you bird them. Recently, a reader of my blog was inquiring about target species along the trails at Carara. Is the River Trail better for certain species than the HQ trails? Is it passable during the wet season? Or maybe you were wondering how these trails differ?  Read on for some answers:

General Differences and Similarities between the two sets of trails:

Habitat:

  • The River Trail passes through a mosaic of semi-open, viny, riparian forest. It also accesses thick, second      growth, and towards the end of the trail, an oxbow lake and closed, primary rainforest.

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A scene along the River Trail.

  • The HQ trails access some second growth but mostly pass through beautiful, old-growth rainforest with immense trees. A couple of forest streams are also found along this trail.

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The forest along the Universal Access segment of the HQ Trails at Carara.

Climate: Pretty similar for both trails but it feels hotter on the River Trail due to its more open nature.

Difficulty: Both are mostly flat and easy for walking. The HQ trails also have a cement, “Universal Trail” that can be accessed by wheelchair.

Accessibility: Both are easily accessed along the coastal highway between Orotina and Jaco. The trailhead for the HQ trails is at the main entrance to the national park. The River Trail is 2-3 kilometers from the main entrance along the highway, heading back towards Orotina and San Jose. Drive slow, ignore the horns of impatient drivers, and watch for a strip of yellowish paper tied to a tree on the right (east) side of the road that marks the entrance to the trail. If that sounds easy to miss, you are right, it is! It’s kind of ridiculous but watch for that strip of paper and a steep turn-off that goes down to a small parking area. The River Trail does flood on an annual basis and is closed when this occurs. This of course depends on the rains but usually happens from September to December. Check at the HQ to see if it’s open.

Restrooms and drinking water: Best to bring your own water for both but the HQ trails do have restrooms at the HQ and on the Universal Trail. Such facilities are lacking at the River Trail. The water is potable from faucets at the HQ but who knows if it will always be like that.

Safety: Both trails are safe but vehicles should always be parked where someone can see them. For the HQ trails, this is in front of the office where tickets are purchased. For the River Trail, this is at the trail head but only park the car there if someone is present to watch it as vehicles left alone have been broken into on many occasions. That said, it goes without saying that you should never leave anything of value in the vehicle.

And now for the birds.. Keep in mind that many of these can also be seen elsewhere and some are easier to see in mangroves, etc.

Species that are only found on the River Trail:

  • Boat-billed Heron: A few are usually found roosting in trees at the edge of the oxbow lake.

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Boat-billed Heron or NAG- the “neotropical avian gargoyle”.

  • Other waterbirds: Widespread species such as Northern Jacana, Anhinga, Black-necked Stilt, and various herons and egrets are often seen at the oxbow lake.

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The oxbow lake at the River Trail- always some good stuff here.

  • Plumbeous Kite: Sometimes seen soaring high above the River Trail but easier at Cerro Lodge and in mangroves.
  • Crane Hawk: Occasionally encountered on this trail, but easier at Cerro Lodge and in mangroves.
  • Ringed and Amazon Kingfishers: Yep, at the oxbow lake.
  • Olivaceous Piculet: Rare but if you are lucky, this is where you will probably see one at Carara. Keep an eye out for it in mixed flocks and learn its high-pitched, quiet, trilling song.
  • Black-bellied Wren: Listen and look for this babblerish skulker in the heliconia thickets.
  • Cherrie’s Tanager: Rare at Carara but sometimes seen along this trail.

Species that are only found on the HQ Trails:

  • Blue-crowned Manakin: I suppose one could also turn up on the River Trail but I have never seen it there.

Both trails actually harbor many of the same species but it’s worth it to allocate quality birding time to each because some species are easier along one compared to the other. If you don’t see something mentioned (Rufous-tailed Jacamar for example), it’s because I have encountered it along both sets of trails with the same degree of frequency.

Species that are easier to see on the River Trail:

  • Collared Forest Falcon: More regular along this trail.

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A rather bad picture of this large raptor from the River Trail.

  • Swifts: The more open nature of this trail facilitates watching (and being subsequently confounded by) swifts.
  • American Pygmy-Kingfisher: Much easier near at the oxbow lake.

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The American Pygmy-Kingfisher is one gem of a bird.

  • Barred Antshrike
  • Royal Flycatcher: If you can’t do the River Trail, look for it near the stream on the HQ Trail and along the Universal Trail.
  • Orange-collared Manakin: Although I have seen it almost as often along the HQ Trail, especially along the beginning of the trail and the Universal Trail.
  • Yellow-billed Cotinga: Rare but easier to see at fruiting trees along the River Trail.
  • Turquoise Cotinga: Ditto.
  • Rufous-breasted Wren: It’s common along the HQ Trails too but easier to see along the River Trail.

Species that are easier to see on the HQ Trails:

  • Great Tinamou
  • Muscoy Duck: Oddly enough, yes, along the creek!
  • Blue-crowned Motmot: Although still easier in hotel gardens of the Central Valley.
  • Long-tailed Woodcreeper: I see it much more often in mixed flocks along the forest trails than the River Trail although I have also encountered it there.
  • Black-striped Woodcreeper
  • Black-faced Antthrush
  • Streak-chested Antpitta

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Carara National Park is one of the more reliable places to see Streak-chested Antpitta.

  • Golden-crowned Spadebill
  • Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher
  • Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher
  • Eye-ringed Flatbill
  • Red-capped Manakin
  • Thrushlike Schiffornis
  • Rufous Piha
  • Scaly-breasted Wren
  • Tropical Parula: More common and much easier to see at middle elevation sites.
  • Spot-crowned Euphonia

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The S-P Euphonia is a nice little near-endemic.

If you can’t bird the River Trail, don’t fret too much about missing Royal Flycatcher or Orange-collared Manakin because you still have a pretty good chance for them along the Universal Trail, especially if you hire a guide who is familiar with birding the park. For the Black-bellied Wren, though, I am afraid that you will have to bird some Heliconia thickets a bit further south.

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O-C Manakin males are fancy little birds!

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Some Thoughts on Birding Costa Rica at Punta Leona

Carara National Park is one of the premier birding locations in Costa Rica. In addition to the easily accessible rainforests of the park, the area also boasts tropical dry forest, mangroves, and estuarine habitats and other wetlands. It’s a must on every birding trip to Costa Rica but ironically, there are few places to stay near the park. The top option for me has been Cerro Lodge (contact me for reservations) since the place opened 6 or so years ago. Situated in forests that transition between wet and dry, this small eco-lodge also strives to be sustainable, has an open air restaurant with views of flyby parrots, parakeets, and Scarlet Macaws, and  frequented by Black and White Owls at night. It’s fairly close to Carara (maybe 6 kilometers) and the price is also lower than other options but you trade air conditioning for a ceiling fan (albeit a fast one!).

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The View from the Cerro Lodge restaurant.

Just past the park to the south is another of the main options for lodging when birding at Carara National Park. Villa Lapas (means Macaw Villas) is a bit more upscale than Cerro Lodge, the rooms have air conditioning, and the price is higher. Birding is good but you see the same species in the national park. One cheaper option I know of is the Hotel Carara in Tarcoles. A moderately priced place situated right in the middle of Tarcoles, it’s also close to the park and mangroves that are the home of Panama Flycatchers, the rare Mangrove Hummingbird, Mangrove Vireo, and other choice birds. Although it’s just off the beach, that doesn’t count much for swimming because the water on that particular strand is the most polluted in the country (hosts effluent straight from the over-populated Central Valley).

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Villa Lapas.

Heading further south, we come to some nice roadside restaurants (try the Marisqueria Ranchoticos!) and eventually reach the next major option for lodging near Carara: Punta Leona. I stayed there while guiding this past weekend and here’s my two colones about the place as an option for accommodation while birding Costa Rica near Carara:

Upsides:

  • Comfort: I didn’t see all of the rooms but the one we stayed in was certainly comfortable enough. Two queen-sized (I think) beds, cable TV, hot water in the bathroom, clean, mini fridge, and a master blaster of an air conditioning unit! That last factor was pretty important because that general area is a natural greenhouse with the heat turned on.
  • Birding around the lodging: There was fair habitat right around our lodging and this was demonstrated by a good number of common species as well as Slaty-tailed, Gartered, and Baird’s Trogons (!), Scarlet Macaws, and Gray-headed Tanagers. One afternoon, we even had an antswarm near the restaurant and got great looks at the aforementioned tanagers and Tawny-winged Woodcreepers.

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Habitat near the rooms.

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Gray-headed Tanager.

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Rufous-breasted Wren- common but can be tough to see and much more difficult to photograph!

  • Forest Reserve: On the way in, you drive through some beautiful, old growth rainforest. The trees are massive, the birds are calling, and there are a couple of good trails that access it. “Good birds” that seemed to  be fairly common were Great Tinamou, Baird’s Trogon, Black-hooded Antshrike, White-whiskered Puffbird, Rufous Piha, Dot-winged Antwren, Riverside, Rufous and white, Rufous-breasted, and Scaly-breasted Wrens, and some other nice birds.

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The forest reserve is beautiful.

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Rufous Pihas were pretty common.

  • Good for the family: If you are traveling with a non-birding spouse or offspring, Punta Leona is a nice option. Although they should obviously be experiencing the endemic biodiversity of rainforests at Punta Leona, there are also swimming pools on hand, a zipline tour they can take, other activities, and two beautiful beaches.
  • Breakfast with monkeys: Eat breakfast at the Carabelas restaurant and you get to see White-faced Capuchins and Coatis up close! This can also be a downside though is they steal the food off your plate. Although that didn’t happen to us, the animals at breakfast seemed bold enough to be capable of doing it.

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I had to chase this White-faced Capuchin off so she wouldn’t jump up on our table!

  • Security: The controlled access to the place makes it quite secure (or at least that’s the way it appeared). Honestly, though, I think it’s a pretty darn safe place.

An now for the downsides…

  • Access: Getting into the place in strictly controlled so you can’t just drive on in. You have to make your reservations in advance and they check at the front gate. Will they let you in to bird if not staying there? I kind of doubt it but maybe they will if you eat at the restaurant? Before we left, we even had to get an exit pass from the reception! It was quite Hotel Californiesque and that doesn’t sit so well with me.
  • The plastic pink bracelet: You have to wear this plastic pink bracelet during your stay that marks you as a verifiable tourist in and outside of the place. If it attracted hummingbirds, that would be one thing but the hermits wizened up to those bracelets some time ago.
  • Price: A visit to Punta Leona doesn’t come cheap and the restaurants are ridiculously priced. By that statement, I mean $20 for lunch and similar prices.
  • Food: If the food didn’t cost so much, I probably wouldn’t throw Punta Leona vittles in with the other downsides. Lunch and dinner might be much better but if they are like breakfast, they aren’t worth $20 a person. Now, at first glance, I admit that I was impressed by the breakfast buffet. After all, there was a a table that offered sliced fruit, copious amounts of pinto (rice and beans), sweet plantain, pancakes, cereals, ham slices, rolls, a few pastries, and an omelette station. Nevertheless, my wife was non-plussed and reminded me that everything was actually pretty darn basic. After a second, closer glance, I realized she was right! The pinto had little flavor, some of the fruit was bland, her omelette wasn’t very good, and several of the pancakes were little traps that revealed, raw, liquid interiors upon cutting into them. The ham slices were cheap cold cuts but most of all, I couldn’t get my own coffee! You have to wait for a server to bring it to you and although they try, it might not arrive straight away (a huge disadvantage in the morning hours!). I should also mention that my wife, daughter, and I all had some stomach problems and we suspect that it came from the food at Punta Leona. I can’t prove it but that would be the most logical explanation.
  • Habitat destruction: This is the biggest reason why I won’t be going back to Punta Leona. While I laud them for their forest reserve, quite a few areas were cleared for housing and more hotel buildings, and other forested areas appeared to be slated for development (read destruction). This was noted in places where the undergrowth has been cleared. Someone told me that they do this to then support their claim that such areas aren’t actually forested and can thus be developed. I haven’t researched that possibility or anything but it seems plausible. At the same time, they say that they have made efforts to be sustainable but I just feel like the habitat destruction negates that.

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An example of the construction going on at Punta Leona.

  • People: Punta Leona is quite popular as a weekend destination for tourists from San Jose. While it wasn’t all that noisy, if you are looking for a place to watch birds and see few vehicles or other people, this isn’t one of them. I should stress that it didn’t feel crowded and this isn’t necessarily a downside, it also didn’t feel as if I was heading into some wild, remote place. I didn’t expect it to be that but I just mention it so birders know what to expect.

To sum things up, Punta Leona is fair site for birding, it’s a short drive to Carara, and is family friendly. However, it’s definitely not an eco-lodge (nor is it advertised as such), is fairly expensive, and has traded a bunch of habitat for buildings. As for myself, I will stick to staying at Cerro Lodge for birding near Carara.

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Birding Costa Rica Pacific slope

Recent Birding News from Carara National Park, Costa Rica

I had a long, bird-filled day while guiding in and around Carara National Park yesterday and thought that I might share some news, tips, sightings, what have you. In no particular order:

1. Stay on the trails: While looking for birds along the Laguna Meandrica trail (the “river trail” of Carara birding fame), our group saw signs that read, “do not enter” at just about every opening that looked like a secondary trail. Apparently, the policy of only walking on established trails is being enforced as another guide warned me to keep everyone on the trail or we could get kicked out of the park (and we were just ten feet off the trail at a spot that looked like part of the trail and lacked a do not enter sign). So, when birding Carara National Park, stay on the trail or you may be evicted from the park. Not that anyone needs to leave the trails anyways.

2. Do not leave your car in the parking lot after 4 pm.: A couple of guys got their car locked into the park because they left it there after four PM. Why did they do that? Probably because there was no signs indicating that the park closed at that time! At least they didn’t notice any sign, nor did they see anyone at the building in the parking lot, so they walked into the park unawares and were confronted with a locked gate when they came out of the forest. Part of the problem is related to the next point…

3. The HQ is up the dirt road that goes uphill from the parking lot: For whatever reason, park tickets are no longer sold at the main building in the parking lot. It is pretty much abandoned and you have to go up the dirt road near the entrance to the trail to buy tickets. Once again, I don’t think there are any signs indicating this. I’m not sure why the main building appears to be abandoned- perhaps it’s waiting for repairs?

4. Blooming heliconias on the River Trail: Patches of heliconias are in bloom on the river trail and could turn up any number of hummingbird species. I had 2 Violet Sabrewings there on Monday (site bird for me) as well as Scaly-breasted Hummingbirds, Long-billed Hermit, and Stripe-throated Hermit. It might be a nice place to just hang out and see what shows up. Watch those heliconias near the start of the HQ trail too- I have often heard Band-tailed Barbthroat in that area.

5. Yellow-billed Cotinga on the river trail: We didn’t see it but another guide told me he had one just the day before.

6. Antswarm on the river trail: Ok, so this can happen anywhere in the park but I have had antswarms on several occasions on the river trail. Spend a full morning on that trail and you might run into one.

Bicolored Antbirds show up at antswarms in Carara.

7. Rather quiet on the river trail on Monday: We saw several species of birds, including Royal Flycatcher, Bicolored Antbird, Stub-tailed Spadebill, and Long-tailed Woodcreeper, but the trail was probably the deadest I have ever seen it. As with most tropical forests, you never know what you are going to encounter when birding Carara though so it’s always worth a visit!

8. Scaly-breasted Hummingbird on the mangrove birding boat tour: On an afternoon boat tour, we were shown a “Mangrove” Hummingbird that turned out to be a Scaly-breasted Hummingbird. Just keep in mind if the boat driver takes pains to show you a hummingbird, it might not be a Mangrove.

9. Orange-collared Manakins lekking on the river trail: They have been lekking there for as long as I can remember so that isn’t exactly novel information. It is, however, always noteworthy so watch for those little orange-collared sprites when birding the river trail!

One of them there orange-collared sprites.

10. Plumbeous Kite on the river trail: I guess it’s pretty obvious where we went birding. One Plumbeous Kite was seen flying high above the river trail. We had another during the mangrove birding boat tour.

I hope that information will be helpful to anyone visiting Carara National Park in the near future. Good birding!

Categories
Birding Costa Rica Pacific slope

Birding Carara National Park, Costa Rica on October 3rd

Most birders visit Carara National Park in Costa Rica during the dry months of January, February, and March.  Those sunny months represent Costa Rica’s high season for birding (and tourism) simply because much of the country is significantly drier at this time of the year. Coincidently, the birding also tends to be more productive so watching birds and the dry season make for a nice fit. In the latter part of the dry season, more birds are singing and responding to playback (oh yes, the majority of tours fire up those iPods), some migrants are passing through, and wintering birds boost the species list.

Those upsides outweigh the downsides such as blazing hot weather on the Pacific coast and groups of non-birding tourists that send shockwaves through the forest with garish clothing and loud voices. Many of these non-forest people also feel compelled to share their monkey and macaw sightings with you, and to make sure that you don’t miss out on this vital information, do so with booming voices.

“DID YOU SEE THE MONKEYS?!?

Whether I saw “the monkeys” or not, I tell them that, “Yes, I did” in the hope that they won’t proceed with telling me where they saw them. They usually do however and follow that up with information about the nesting macaws.

“WE ALSO SAW MACAWS. DID YOU SEE THOSE?” (as four of these spectacular birds flush from the canopy with intimidating screams).

Or, sometimes, it’s just one person who tells me where to see the macaws in a much quieter voice. Clad in snow-white tennis shoes, this person picks his or her way through the rainforest along with the rest of his or her repellent-doped, erstwhile companions . Many times, such a person also happens to be wearing sunglasses (which is strange because the understory of primary forest is already so dim that you might be better off wearing night vision goggles). The sunglasses seem to add to the intrigue as, unsmiling, he or she briefly stops to tell me out of the corner of the mouth, “There’s macaws by the bridge. Up in a big tree. Nest. Can’t miss em.” This purveyor of insider bird information then continues on with the rest of the group as if nothing happened. I am left enlightened, speechless, and wondering if I should leave the trail and hide along with the antthrushes, quail-doves, and other cool birds that already did so.

I would probably find my feathered friends huddling behind a log and there would be a couple of Black-faced Antthrushes, a White-whiskered Puffbird or two, Gray-chested and Ruddy Quail-Doves, and a Spectacled Antpitta. To be polite, I would ask them if they minded me joining their quietly concealed party. They would surely agree when noticing my binoculars, lack of shades, and subdued clothing and we would keep out of sight until the long line of tourists wearing spotless outfits had reached their respective habitat; the parking lot.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see thousands of tourists visit Carara National Park on a daily basis if that would help with conservation efforts. I know they are just trying to be helpful. I also, know, however, that finding birds in tropical forest requires constant vigilance and concentration so I do my best to avoid non-binocular wearing people. One easy way to avoid running into a bunch of non-birders when searching for antswarms and waiting for tinamous to appear at Carara National Park is by visiting in October. I did just that yesterday when guiding a client and although we ended up seeing a few non-birders here and there (and one guy who asked what we were looking at when trying to espy a Nothern Bentbill) the place was pretty quiet.

The wet season also boosted the biting bug population but not enough to chase us out of the forest. We couldn’t do the river trail because it was flooded (as it does every year during the wet season) but we still had interesting birding along the HQ trail despite a starting time of 9 am. We got lucky upon arrival with two King Vultures circling into the air on thermals above the parking lot. A dark phase Short-tailed Hawk was with them along with an accompaniment of Black Vultures. Cloudy weather kept things pretty active inside the forest and we had a pretty good number of mixed flocks for the next few hours.

Parties of Black-hooded Antshrikes, Dot-winged Antwrens, Plain Xenops, and Tawny-crowned and Lesser Greenlets moved through the tall rainforest and were joined by Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, Eye-ringed Flatbill, and the three most common woodcreepers- Streak-headed, Cocoa, and Wedge-billed. Greenish Elaenia, Northern Bentbill, Streaked, and Yellow-olive Flycatcher increased our list of Tyrannids and White-winged Becard was also seen well.

More colorful birds were represented by a stunning male Red-capped Manakin (sorry, too dark for a photo!), Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and Bay-headed Tanager. We didn’t see any trogons in the forest but this came as no surprise because they are decidely more difficult to see at this time of the year (they vocalize less and could be molting). Parrots were also noticeably absent. Other than hearing a few macaws, our only other psittacine was Orange-chinned Parakeet. It was interesting to find a large number of this edge species feasting on figs inside the forest. Oddly enough, we didn’t see any other birds at the fig tree.

We also did poor on ground birds and the lack of flowers resulted in very few hummingbird sightings. A couple of Spectacled Antpittas were calling but none were close enough to see, and we got a glimpse of one very shy Black-faced Antthrush as it raced away from us. The only ground bird that we got decent looks at was Gray-chested Dove.

As with every visit to rainforest, however, we had an excellent, unexpected encounter. Just past the bridge over the Quebrada Bonita, the chipping call of some unknown bird caught my attention. Since I didn’t recognize the vocalization, I figured it was probably an alarm call of sorts. Although I didn’t see what was making the call, I did find the probable reason for the alarm when my binocular turned a ball of leaves into  a roosting Spectacled Owl! I also noticed its mate when that bird looked down at us with those fierce, yellow, owl eyes.

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I almost never see roosting owls so this was a prize! It will be interesting to see if I can refind them on future visits to Carara.

As is typical of visits to Carara and surroundings, we kept on adding birds in wetlands and dry habitats outside of the park until calling it quits around 4:30. We got about 115 species and would have gotten more if we had started at dawn so I suppose the point of this post is to expect a bunch of birds when birding Carara National Park no matter what month it is.

Categories
Birding Costa Rica Introduction Pacific slope

Antswarms at Carara National Park on

This past Saturday, I spent most of the morning in the rainforests of Carara National Park. I usually visit this birdy protected area for guiding, but on Saturday, I cruised down the new highway to the hot coastal plain not to help birders see Turquoise-browed Motmots, Great Tinamous, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatchers, and Spot-crowned Euphonias, but to make recordings of their voices and digitally capture them. Well, at least that was the plan. The recordings were fairly productive but good photos were as elusive as sightings of the Selva Cacique.

The cloudy, humid weather in the already dim understory of the rainforest just couldn’t provide enough light for my digiscoping set-up no matter how much I fiddled with the camera. For unknown disappointing reasons, my camera also demonstrated its propensity to focus on sticks instead of birds even when the bird was smack dab in the center of the screen. I realize that the Sony Cybershot wasn’t developed for getting shots of birds, but it surely wasn’t designed to amass a photographic catalogue of twigs either. Oh well, I’m sure there’s a way to take better bird pictures with it, I just need to figure out how to do it.

Since the park doesn’t open until 8 a.m. during the low, rainy season, I started my birding day along the road to Bijagual. This is the same dirt road that passes in front of Villa Lapas and is always productive for birds. Although you don’t see species of the forest interior such as Great Tinamou and Black-faced Antthrush, views of the forest edge and hillsides are good for mixed flocks and raptors. On Saturday morning, I picked a spot that lacked stream noise and recorded such targets as Rufous and white wren1 and Northern Bentbill. Cocoa Woodcreeper and other species called in the distance as did Marbled Wood-Quail (species 527 for the year). There was also enough light for me to adequately capture Scrub Euphonia and Northern Bentbill.

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Scrub Euphonia- these guys are actually related to goldfinches.


Northern Bentbill- Carara is an excellent site for this species.

Once the clock “struck” 8, I headed over to the park entrance, paid my fee, and entered the forest. Shortly after, I realized that I had made a grave error in not bringing along some serious plastic melting DEET as I was assaulted by a healthy population of thirsty mosquitoes. Those little vampires are around during the dry season too but their numbers pale in comparison to what I experienced on Saturday. It’s still not as bad as any wet, summer woodland of the far north but be forewarned that you will need repellent in Carara during the wet season!

To avoid recording cars along with bird sounds, I walked straight back into the forest as far as the figure eight trail would go before setting up my LS10 recorder, Sennheiser microphone, and headphones. I walked through the forest with headphones on and it must have looked a bit strange, but if only those bemused non-birding tourists could hear what I did!  Black-faced Antthrushes were especially vocal, Plain Xenops bickered, Rufous Pihas occasionally called in the distance, and a Black-striped Woodcreeper sang from some canopy tree trunk. Long-tailed Woodcreeper also vocalized once in a while but I wasn’t able to capture its song (unfortunately as there are few recordings of this taxon that almost certainly deserves to be split from Amazonian Long-tailed Woodcreepers because it sounds radically different from them).

The back part of the trail also resulted in a neotropical prize- an army antswarm! I noticed the columns of ants crossing the trail but it wasn’t until I scanned the forest floor in the direction they were heading that I saw some birds. Two Black-faced Antthrushes were running back and forth in the front of the swarm and a handful of Bicolored Antbirds clung to vertical stems as they pumped their tails and quietly “churred” (new word describing the vocalizations that this and other related antbird species give). A pair of Chestnut-backed Antbirds and Riverside Wrens were also taking advantage of the easy pickings but other birds such as woodcreepers, tinamous, Gray-headed Tanager, and Spectacled Antpitta were strangely absent.

So it is with antswarms. You will see some birds with the swarm but you often need to wait around and follow the front until other birds show up. Even if you don’t see much at first, it’s always worth it to follow the swarm if you can because in addition to the expected bunch of ant following birds, things like motmots, foliage-gleaners, and even forest-falcons will suddenly pop into view. Of course, you have to be in a position where you can follow the ants though, and on Saturday, as the nomadic predators marched off into thick second growth, I realized that this wasn’t one of those occasions.

Nevertheless, I still managed to get some grainy shots of:

birding Costa Rica

birding Costa Rica

Black-faced Antthrush,

birding Costa Rica

Bicolored Antbird,

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and Riverside Wren.

This was undoubtedly the highlight of the day but as usual when birding Carara, I still identified a bunch of other birds. The tally for the morning in the park and along Bijagual road was 94 species and included:

Great Tinamou

Black Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Laughing Falcon

Gray Hawk

Marbled Wood-Quail

Short-billed Pigeon

Gray-chested Dove

White-tipped Dove

Inca Dove

Scarlet Macaw

Brown-hooded Parrot

Orange-chinned Parakeet

Squirrel Cuckoo

Striped Cuckoo

Groove-billed Ani

Long-billed Hermit

Stripe-throated Hermit

Purple-crowned Fairy

White-necked Jacobin

Charming Hummingbird

Steely-vented Hummingbird

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Blue-throated Goldentail

Violaceous (Gartered) Trogon

Blue-crowned Motmot

Turquoise-browed Motmot

White-whiskered Puffbird

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Golden-naped Woodpecker

Plain Xenops

Long-tailed Woodcreeper

Wedge-billed Woodcreeper

Cocoa Woodcreeper

Streak-headed Woodcreeper

Black-striped Woodcreeper

Black-hooded Antshrike

Barred Antshrike

Slaty Antwren

Dot-winged Antwren

Dusky Antbird

Chestnut-backed Antbird

Bicolored Antbird

Black-faced Anthrush

Greenish Elaenia

Ochre-bellied Flycatcher

Northern Bentbill

Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher

Common Tody-Flyatcher

Yellow-Olive Flycatcher

Golden-crowned Spadebill

Royal Flycatcher

Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher

Dusky-capped Flycatcher

Great Kiskadee

Boat-billed Flycatcher

Piratic Flycatcher

Tropcial Kingbird

Rufous Piha

White-winged Becard

Rose-throated Becard

Long-tailed Manakin

Lesser Greenlet

Tawny-crowned Greenlet

Gray-breasted Martin

Southern Rough-winged Swallow

Rufous-naped Wren

Riverside Wren

Rufous and white Wren

Rufous-breasted Wren

Scaly-breasted Wren

Long-billed Gnatwren

Tropical Gnatcatcher

Clay-colored Robin

Rufous-capped Warbler

Tropical Parula

Blue-gray Tanager

White-shouldered Tanager

Bay-headed Tanager

Red-crowned Ant-Tanager

Green Honeycreeper

Variable Seedeater

White-collared Seedeater

Blue-black Grassquit

Blue-Black Grosbeak

Orange-billed Sparrow

Buff-throated Saltator

Bronzed Cowbird

Montezuma Oropendola

Yellow-throated Euphonia

Scrub Euphonia

Yellow-crowned Euphonia

Spot-crowned Euphonia

Categories
biodiversity Birding Costa Rica birds to watch for in Costa Rica Introduction Pacific slope

Carara National Park is good for ground birds

Carara National Park is one of the better sites in Costa Rica for seeing ground birds of the forest interior. These are the terrestrial bird species that opt for shade over sun, that relish quiet, careful walks through the leafy texture of the forest floor, that haunt the dark understory with ventriloquial voices. You wont get warbler neck gazing at any of these birds but good luck in just getting a glimpse! The leaf litter may be rife with tasty arthropods but its always a haven for bird hungry predators so to stay alive, ground birds of the forest interior need to keep alert at all times and feign invisibility. The only problem with this strategy is that it also works on birders. You might see one tinamou and antthrush for every 6 heard, a quail-dove if your lucky, and where the heck are the antpittas and leaftossers?

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Great Tinamou

Its always frustrating to walk through beautiful rainforest without seeing such strange and cool birds when you know that they must be somewhere in the vicinity. In most places, the birds hear you coming down the trail and fade away into the recesses of the forest because they decide that its better not to take any chances on whether or not the two legged thing with binoculars will kill and eat them. If they learn that Homo sapiens doesnt pose a threat, however, then the shy, feathered denizens of the forest floor can lower their guard enough to let you watch them at your leisure. You still have to play by their rules and thus walk and watch in a quiet, unobtrusive manner but at least you get to watch them go about their business.

In Costa Rica, there might be no better place for doing this than Carara National Park. La Selva is also a good site for seeing tinamous and antthrushes in this manner but unfortunately, along with many other understory species, they have become much less common. I was reminded of just how good Carara is for seeing ground birds during guiding there this past weekend. During two mornings of birding along the trails that leave from the park headquarters, we had good looks at most of the ground birds that occur in the park. Our main misses were Great Curassow and Marbled Wood-Quail although these species are pretty rare in that part of the forest in any case. As for the more expected species, we had:

Great Tinamou: At least six were heard but only one was seen as it quietly foraged at a small antswarm. It allowed us watch it for at least ten minutes as we hoped and waited for other birds to show (only Northern Barred Woodcreeper made an appearance).

Ruddy Quail-Dove: A female sitting right on the cement pathway of the Universal Access Trail was a bonus. As she slowly made her way into the forest, we watched her for at least ten minutes while being entertained by very tame Chestnut-backed Antbirds.

Gray-chested Dove: This is one of the easier of the ground birds that occur at Carara. Three to four birds total gave us good views.

Streak-chested Antpitta: One of the star birds of Carara, a calling bird revealed itself by hopping near the trail and puffing its breast feathers in and out. We marvelled at the similarities between its plumage and that of other understory species such as thrushes and Ovenbird.

Black-faced Antthrush: None were vocalizing but we still mananged excellent looks at three birds. Each was noticed by the leaves that were being tossed about as it foraged.

Scaly-throated Leaftosser: Speaking of leaves being tossed, this was also how we got prolonged, close looks at the juvenile of this shy species. It was nice for me to get this uncommon species out of the way so early in the year!

Some of the other ground loving species we got that usually arent so difficult to see were Chestnut-backed Antbird, Wood Thrush, Swainsons Thrush, Ovenbird, Kentucky Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, and Orange-billed Sparrow.

Another reason why Carara is so conducive to seeing ground bird species well is simply because the forest understory is rather open. Although it helps to know their vocalizations, patiently spending an entire day of peering into the understory while carefully and quietly walking along the trails should yield looks at all of the species listed above and maybe some that we didn’t get such as the curassow, wood-quail,  Gray-headed Tanager, and Bicolored Antbird.

Categories
Introduction lowlands Pacific slope

Where to stay when birding Carara, Costa Rica; Cerro Lodge

I made a short trip to the Carara area this past Friday to scout the vicinity of Cerro Lodge, a new option for accommodation near the national park. From visiting their website, communicating with the owner, noting its proximity to Carara, and taking into account the habitats near Cerro Lodge, I had a hunch that these cabinas could finally be just the sort of place I have been waiting for as a good, moderately priced option for birders visiting Carara. Even with a short visit during non-birding hours (9-12), I could tell that my hunch was right. A problem with birding Carara has always been the limited number of options for accommodation near this top birding site. Don’t get me wrong, there are places to stay but they are pricey, horrible, or just not geared towards birders or ecotourists. The two main ecolodges that are geared towards birders, Villa Lapas and the Tarcol Lodge are, at well over $100 per person per night for lodging and meals, just absurdly pricey for Costa Rica.

At Villa Lapas (expensive number 1) the grounds and rooms are nice, the food and service good, and there is good birding on the grounds (including their canopy bridges), but you will see the same bird species on visits to the National Park. As for the Tarcol Lodge (expensive number 2) I have heard both positive and negative comments about their rooms, the food is good, and it is situated in a mangrove estuary with good birding although many of the aquatic and mangrove species that occur at the lodge can be seen on the mangrove boat trip or on your own. If you would rather not pay over $100 per person per night (in all fairness Villa Lapas sometimes has discounts during the wet season), I always felt that birders could see just as much and eat just as well by staying at a moderately priced hotel with comfortable, clean rooms and either taking meals there or dining at nearby sodas. The problem with this, however, was that the only moderately priced hotel near Carara was the basic “Hotel Carara” in Tarcoles village. Resembling a North American motel, although the rooms are ok and are sometimes offered at discounted prices, for not being located in particularly birdy habitat, the $70 rooms just never seemed worth it. I don’t think dining at their restaurant is worth it either. The small fish pond, pleasant decor, “relaxing” new age elevatorish music, and seaside location will never be enough to overcome the shortcomings of their small menu with overpriced, mediochre food that sours the dining experience like a lemon flavored slap in the face.

There have always been cheaper digs available at quiet, ramshackle cabinas along the beach just north of Tarcoles, but unless you are filiming a horror movie, on a scorpion hunt, or don’t mind sharing the place with cockroaches, then you probably shouldn’t stay there. Don’t be fooled by the $30 rooms offered at the Crocodile restaurant either (the one at the bridge on the highway). Those are the worse I have stayed at in Costa Rica mostly because upon opening the bathroom door, I was greeted by a small bat who was squinting and squeeking at me from the grimy floor. He was probably pleading for help out of that dirty place and after evicting (or maybe saving) him, I became honestly concerned about his bloodsucking cousins attacking me in the night after seeing the large hole in the bathroom ceiling combined with the fact that there were horses and cattle in back of the place that were probably fed upon by vampire bats on a regular basis. At least I didn’t have to worry about spending any time in the bathroom since nary a drip came out of the naked pipe that protruded from the wall. Although the room was so dirty that not showering seemed to be part of the theme, unless you are an adamant follower of Pigpen, I wouldn’t call that a plus. The bed was also uncomfortable, the fan didn’t really work, nor was the birding good at the Cabinas Crocodilos so do yourself a favor and don’t ever stay there even if the restaurant is ok.

Fortunately, two moderately priced options have become available near Carara! Although they are too far to walk to the park entrance, no present or future hotel will ever be close enough to the entrance for most folks to get there by foot because the HQ it is several kilometers from the limits of the park on a busy highway. The cheaper but noisier and less birdy option is the Cabinas Vasija (or something like that). Found along the main highway about 15 minutes from Carara on the east side of the road, they charge around $20 for basic, dingy rooms and also have a cheap restaurant on site. Being located along the highway though ensures that earplugs will be necessary for a good night’s sleep. The birding in the vicinity (especially along the road towards the river), however, is OK for dry forest and open country species.

Although more expensive, ($50 single, $70 double room), in my opinion, Cerro Lodge is the place I and other birders have been waiting for. This price includes all taxes and breakfast served from 5:30 A.M. at a restaurant that looks into the canopy of trees that host, among dozens of other bird species, Scarlet Macaws. Although these spectacular parrots move around in search of seeding and fruiting trees and thus might not visit the trees at the Cerro Lodge restaurant at all times of the year, they certainly do in October. It was especially interesting to note that the macaws fed upon the seeds of Teak (an introduced species) in addition to foraging at the more typical “Almendra” trees.

The view from the restaurant.

The rooms are in six, clean, pleasant cabinas equipped with ceiling fans and a bathroom that is partly outdoors (in a good way).

Plenty of heliconias, Verbenia, and other flowering plants were attracting hundreds of butterflies during our visit and should also attract hummingbirds. Although we saw few of these glittering, hyperactive sprites, we were told that they sometimes visit the flowers that graced the tables of the restaurant. More exciting was  hearing about the pair of owls that make nightly visits to the light in their parking area. Although I wasn’t there at night, I am betting that they are Black and White or Striped Owls.

There is a trail on the Cerro Lodge property (a small, working farm) that passes through pasture, dry, scrubby habitat, and streams with moister, taller riparian growth. Birding in similar habitats is also possible along the quiet, 3 kilometer entrance road, and along the 4 kilometers of this same road that continues past Cerro Lodge and accesses dry forest, small wetlands, provides distant views of the Tarcol River. There is no traffic of note along these roads which helps make Cerro Lodge a very quiet, tranquil place.

Being there at the wrong time of day for birding, we didn’t see very much but still managed around 30 of the 150 species recorded at Cerro Lodge. Our best birds being Scarlet Macaws, Lineated Woodpecker, Black-crowned Tityra, Orange-fronted Parakeet, Lesser Ground Cuckoo (h), Violaceous Trogon, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Nutting’s Flycatcher, White-lored Gnatcatcher, and Red-legged Honeycreeper. In that some of these birds are signature dry forest species, combining the drier habitats around Cerro Lodge with the rain forests of Carara should result in a quite a large list of species.

This Lineated Woodpecker loved its dead, palm trunk!

Gray-crowned Yellowthroats are a common, open country species in Costa Rica.

The Pacific Slope subspecies of the Variable Seedeater.

This is why these used to be known as Black-bellied Tree-Ducks.

Another nice thing about Cerro Lodge is that birders who feel like eating outside of the hotel can do so at a good soda just across the highway from the entrance road. The entrance to Carara National Park is ten minutes further along the highway from this point.

To get to Cerro Lodge, just follow the main road to Carara and Jaco and watch for the large Cerro Lodge sign at the entrance road about 10-15 minutes after Orotina.  From there it is 3 kilometers up a well graded dirt road to the best option for birders and aficionados of tropical tranquility who have Carara National Park on their itineraries. I can’t wait to go back and seriously bird the place at dawn, during the evening, and at night.