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Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope

Birding Mirador Prendas

There are more places to bird in Costa Rica than Carara, Savegre, Monteverde, Rancho Naturalista, and La Selva. All of those sites are classic, great, and worth visiting but there are plenty of other places that await exploration. One of those little visited places is Mirador Prendas. Located at 200 meters elevation on the Caribbean slope near Horquetas, this site is a local tourism destination that features a tower-like structure, restaurant, some sort of accommodation, zip-lining, and other adventurous activities.

I first learned about the place when David Segura of the Tico Birder blog wrote about it. Since he saw White-fronted Nunbird, Semiplumbeous Hawk, and other nice birds, I have wanted to check the place out for some time. This past weekend, while perusing the Sarapiqui area for migrants, Susan Blank and I decided to do a detour to the Mirador Prendas area. We didn’t get there until post-dawn chorus so it wasn’t the most accurate of scouting bird surveys, BUT, we did get a taste of the area. Here is some delicious information along with some known and expected bird highlights:

  • Access is a bit of a challenge: If you go by vehicle, you will need one with four wheel drive; high clearance would also be good. Most of the road is alright but there are a few places where a small car would be stopped. Hiking or mountain biking would also work. During wet weather, the road past the place is probably inaccessible because of slippery clay that sticks to tires and tries to glide you right off the road.
  • Habitat: There is birdy second growth on parts of the road along with pastures and two rivers at the start of the road. Those rivers can be good for Fasciated Tiger-Heron and Sunbittern (we saw the heron). Closer to Prendas, there is nice rainforest near the road. The best habitat may be past Prendas, and since it’s connected to the forests of Braulio Carrillo, the area has a lot of potential.

    Good forest just uphill from Prendas.
  • Lowland species, some foothill birds possible: The habitats probably support most lowland species, and there could be foothill birds a bit further up the road. We had a fair variety of species despite spending just one morning in the area and missing the dawn chorus.

    Brown-capped Tyrannulet was one of the nice lowland birds we saw.
  • Trails: I’m not entirely sure but I think that Prendas has trails into the forest. I hope so because they could be good for antbirds, Olive-backed Quail-Dove, and who knows what else.
  • Green Ibis: We heard one near the rivers.
  • Crested Guan: Always a good sign.
  • King Vulture: Another good sign.
  • Hawk-eagles: We didn’t have any but I would expect all three in the area.
  • Tiny Hawk: We didn’t have this one either but it looks like a good area for this little raptor.
  • Night birds: Nope, we weren’t there at night but others have had Vermiculated Screech-Owl, Spectacled owl, Black and white Owl, and Great Potoo. All of the other lowland night birds should also be present.
  • Black-throated Trogon: Not an uncommon bird but always nice to see this one. We also had Gartered, and Slaty-tailed should be there too.
  • Bat Falcon: Saw a pair of those.
  • Brown-hooded Parrot: Nice looks at this one. We also had good looks at Mealy Parrot, Olive-throated Parakeet, and White-crowned Parrot.

    A Brown-hooded Parrot hanging from a branch.
  • Antbirds: Despite a sunny, late morning, we heard Chestnut-backed and Spotted Antbirds, and saw Checker-throated Antwren, and Streak-crowned Antvireo. Other ant-following birds should also be around.

    Male Streak-crowned Antvireo.
  • Black-striped Woodcreeper: A nice lowland bird to see. We also had Northern Barred, Wedge-billed, Cocoa, and Streak-headed.
  • White-ringed Flycatcher: It was nice to see some of these lowland canopy specialists.
  • Red-capped Manakin: A sign of good forest.
  • Shining Honeycreeper and Blue Dacnis: Expected but always nice to see. Although we didn’t connect with any mixed flocks, I bet some good ones occur around there.
    This is how Blue Dacnis is usually seen.

    We were surprised to see this female down in the grass!
  • Cowbirds: Not really exciting but interesting to find several Bronze, three Giants, and ten or so Shiny Cowbirds at a cattle trough. How are they affecting resident species? Especially the invasive Shiny? Actually, Bronzed should also be looked at as an invasive since it wouldn’t have occured when there was heavy forest and no cows.

    One of the many Shiny Cowbirds we saw.

To sum things up, the rough roads make birding a bit adventurous but time and effort should yield several quality species, especially further up the road.

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biodiversity Birding Costa Rica birding lodges caribbean foothills Introduction preparing for your trip

Recent Birding Highlights from Lands in Love

Over the past week, I have been pretty busy with guiding around Carara, Lands in Love, and Braulio Carrillo. Birding overall, has been kind of slow because of the unusually dry weather on the Caribbean slope (yeah, it may be the dry season but that lack of rain is supposed to be reserved for the Pacific side), but the place has still produced some nice birds.

Forest birding has been pretty slow but still turned up a Semiplumbeous Hawk. This lowland species was also been recently reported by other guests of Lands in Love.

A Semiplumbeous Hawk watches for prey from the canopy.

Despite the sunny, happy raptor flying conditions, the only other “good” raptor species has been King Vulture seen soaring from the Loveat Cafe. That said, it’s always worth watching for hawk-eagles and who knows what else.

The trails have turned up a few mixed understory flocks with Streak-crowned Antvireo, Slaty Antwren, and Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner but not too much else. If it would rain, I bet they will be really good and oh how the Caribbean slope needs rain! Since we are talking about forests that evolved with 4,000 meters per year and rain almost every day, dry conditions are not going to do anything good for the habitat.

Back to birds. Although I haven’t seen any Snowcaps at Lands in Love recently, flowering Erythrinas have been attracting Blue-throated Goldentail and should bring in some other nice hummingbirds. The best hummingbird, though, was a White-tipped Sicklebill heard and briefly seen on the beginning on the main trail. There are a lot of Heliconias in that area so keep an eye out for this mega hermit creature.

One day, antswarms were pretty good in the habitat right below the cabins. We saw a few Bicolored, at least three Ocellated, and a couple of Spotted. Other birds may have been with the ants as well but it was too difficult to look into the habitat to see them.

Spotted Antbird.
A rear view of that Spotted Antbird.

Speaking of that dense habitat, there were also one or two Sepia-capped Flycatchers, Northern Bentbill, Black-faced Anthrush, the usual Black-throated Wrens, White-collared Manakin, Red-throated Ant Tanager, and Black-headed Tody Flycatcher calling from the canopy.

As is typical for the area, we also had good looks at Tropical Parula.

Outside of the forest, we have had good looks at plenty of Black-mandibled and Keel-billed Toucans, occasional Crested Guans, oropendolas, and a good variety of edge species. One of the best were a pair of Great Curassows feeding on guava fruits at the edge of a horse pasture! It was fascinating to watch the male fly into a low guava tree to then knock the fruits to the ground. He then flew down to feed on them along with the female.

A bad hand held shot of a male Great Curassow in a Guava tree.
It was also nice to get looks at a pair of Gray necked Wood Rails hanging out at the ponds.

It’s the type of place where you always see something good. I can’t wait to go back so I can find Keel-billed Motmot, ground cuckoo, and other rarities.

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biodiversity Birding Costa Rica birding lodges birds to watch for in Costa Rica caribbean foothills Introduction

Bird Lands in Love for Some Seriously Good Birding in Costa Rica

I posted about birding at Lands in Love a few months ago and just have to do it again. It’s hard not to post about this overlooked birding destination because I am pretty sure that it’s one of the best sites in Costa Rica for birding. A short morning of recent birding there keeps me convinced that it has a lot to offer for both beginning birders, people who have been birding for decades, and even in country guides. I went there the other morning for the most part to record bird sounds, get a picture of a Lanceolated Monklet, and just scout the trails.

I knew that the monklet is there because our group found one in September and on that trip, the high quality of the habitat was also evident. In addition to lots of foothill primary rainforest, Lands in Love is also a great site for birding simply because it’s easy to get there. You don’t have to hike along some slippery trail or bounce along a horrible rough road. All it takes is a drive along the scenic paved road between San Ramon and La Fortuna to get to Lands in Love, tell them you would like to bird on the trails, pay an entrance fee ($5 was the most recent fee), and start birding. Of course you can also stay there and that’s even better because the habitat has grown up around the rooms and attracts a wide variety of edge species along with several forest birds and such wanted species as Snowcap, Crested Guan, and Crimson-collared Tanager.

Who doesn't want to see a Snowcap?
Or a Crimson-collared Tanager?

When I arrived the other day, I first stopped along the road that goes from the highway to the lodge. This road passes through various stages of second growth with older forest in gullies. Although I haven’t birded that area very much (in part because there are very few areas to park- would be much better to walk although you either go uphill or down), it has a lot of promise because the area was filled with birdsong the other morning. Among the several species that were heard were Thicket Antpittas, Black-throated Wren, Bicolored Antbird, Yellow-billed Cacique, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, and several other birds. It’s very birdy and who knows what else might turn up?

Habitat along the entrance road.
I saw a few Slaty-capped Flycatchers.

Down at the lodge itself, Crested Guans were feeding in trees next to the reception, lots of other birds were active, including a Smoky-brown Woodpecker. However, I wanted to spend most of my time in the forest so quickly made my way to the Ceiba trail to see what I could find.

The birdy reception at Lands in Love.
On another trip, I hope to spend a morning just watching from one of the overlooks to see which raptors and canopy birds turn up!

Once inside the forest, things quieted down but that’s par for the course in primary forest. The birds are there but they quiet down shortly after dawn, are way up there in the canopy, or keeping a low profile in the understory. I did see and hear some nice species but even if I hadn’t seen birds, it was a treasure to walk on trails through beautiful primary rainforest with clear streams and biodiversity all around.

One of the birds I had hoped to assess and find was Keel-billed Motmot. To do so, I used playback just to see if a bird would respond. Birds did respond but every time, it was one or two Broad-billed Motmots, a closely related species with an extremely similar call (I have yet to learn how to separate them). The Broad-billeds were pretty common but I do know that Keel-billed has been recorded there so I wonder if it’s using some slightly different habitat?

Saw probably six of these.

While looking for the motmot, I saw several Kentucky Warblers, ran into a few understory flocks with Streak-crowned Antvireos, Checker-throated Antwren, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, and Tawny-faced Gnatwren. Understory flocks like this are a sign of healthy forest and have unfortunately disappeared from much of the forests at the La Selva station. Another species that seemed to be moving with one or two of those flocks was the Song Wren.

In fact, the forest turned out to be very good for this uncommon species as I had at least 3 different groups. Three other quality rainforest species I encountered were Golden-crowned Spadebill (had 3 or 4), Spotted Antbird, and Scaly-throated Leaftosser (2 or 4 birds total). No canopy flocks but I’m sure they occur. As far as canopy birds go, I did see a tree full of quietly feeding toucans and heard Green Shrike Vireo. Oh yeah, and I did find a monklet! It was in a different place than the one from the birding club trip so may have been a different individual altogether. Try as I might, I could not find the thing though! The song was quite ventriloqual and the bird may have been singing from high overhead.

Once the monklet stopped singing, I gave up on seeing it and walked back out of the forest hoping for army ants. I actually found some near the cabins but there weren’t any birds with them! After this, I birded a bit more along the road on the way back up to the highway with nice activity of various edge and some forest species, and ate a pita with falafel and hummus at the great Loveats Cafe.

Had nice looks at a pair of Barred Antshrikes. Always nice to see this common species.
Spishing brought in this Common Tody Flycatcher.
Expect lots of these in humid forest areas.

In that short morning, I had over 100 species. Go there, you will see a lot!

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biodiversity Birding Costa Rica caribbean foothills caribbean slope Introduction

A Brief Trip Report from Guiding El Tapir and Quebrada Gonzalez One Day and the Poas Area the Next

This past weekend I had the privilege of guiding a client to foothill sites on Saturday and the Poas area the next. I hope to give you an idea of what that’s like in the following report:

Saturday

After a last minute check to make sure I am properly equipped with birding and guiding gear, I hit the road and happily drive through dark, empty streets. The lack of traffic is relaxing and an absolute contrast to most times of the day. I see a shape fly by somewhere between Heredia and Santo Domingo and figure that it was probably a Tropical Screech Owl. I get to the Hotel Bougainvillea just before 5, meet up with my client and off we go.

After slowly descending through the wonderful forests of Braulio Carrillo National Park, we pull in to El Tapir. As expected, a male Snowcap shows shortly thereafter. We see several of these dream-like bird along with such other hummingbird species as Violet-headed Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, White-necked Jacobin, and Crowned Woodnymph.

Male Snowcap
A female Crowned Woodnymph.

The nearby rainforest is pretty quiet but we still see a few Black-faced Grosbeaks, Emerald Tanager, flyby Mealy Parrots, scope a few Brown-hooded Parrots, see Cinnamon Becard, and a few other birds. It’s so quiet, though, that when the clock says “7”, I decide that we might as well check a few sites down the road. We drive 5 minutes to a small, birder-friendly diner (known as Chicharroneria Patona) and have a drink while scanning the forest canopy on both sides of the road. That turns up a juvenile Gray Hawk, Black-mandibled Toucan, Collared Aracari, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, and a few other birds including an unexpected flyby Peregrine Falcon. I also notice a flowering Inga and as hoped, a few hummingbirds are coming and going from this tree. Although coquette fails to show, we do see both male and female Green Thorntails. Since it’s quiet there too and knowing that this is my client’s only chance at Caribbean slope birds, I decide to drive down the hill and into the lowlands.

Although we can’t really access any good forest, we can and do scan rainforest canopy a few hundred yards away and bird the open areas. We pick up open country flycatchers like Gray-capped, Social, and Great Kiskadee, see a pair of flyby White-crowned parrots, hear but don’t see Orange-chinned Parakeets, and see some other edge species like Common Tody Flycatcher and Clay-colored Thrush. Just as we are beginning to drive off, serendipity strikes as I spot a trio of large birds flying towards us. A moment later, I realize my hunch was correct and we watch a pair of Great Green Macaws and their offspring fly overhead! They made nary a sound and seemed out of place as they flew over a busy bus station and roadside restaurants (or perhaps those, and not the macaws, were our of place).

We then head back up hill to the Patona Diner to check the flowering Inga once again along with the forest canopy. No such luck with Crimson-collared Tanager or other targets so we head on up to Quebrada Gonzalez Ranger Station now that it’s officially open. After paying the entrance fee, we see a student group head start walking the loop trail so we cross the highway and start walking the Ceiba trail instead. Overall, things are pretty quiet (not too much of a surprise since the most active time in the forest is from 6 to 8 in the morning) but we do see Dull-mantled Antbird, Broad-billed Motmot, and run into a bit of a mixed flock that mostly stays in the canopy. It has Black and Yellow Tanager, Tawny-capped Euphonia, and a few other good birds.

A close look at a Broad-billed Motmot.

Checking the streams doesn’t turn up anything more than Buff-rumped Warbler but as we move on, we get good looks at Streak-crowned Antvireo and Checker-throated Antwren.

A female Streak-crowned Antvireo.

The overlook appears to be promising as always and we actually spot a couple non vulture raptors far off above a ridge but they just don’t come close enough for identification. One of them was either a Short-tailed Hawk or a rare Black and White Hawk Eagle but it never came close enough to say for sure!

Continuing on, we head down the trail all the way to a stream crossing on the lower part. The trail is kind of rocky on the way down but if you hit a mixed flock here, you might get excellent looks at some canopy birds. We didn’t but did see Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, brief looks at Tawny-crested Tanager and a few other species. On the way out, we got looks at one of the many Pale-vented Thrushes in the forest but not much else. We then checked the sky for King Vulture sans success and saw a hawk-eagle species in the process but as soon as I glimpsed the hawk eagle, it went into a long stoop and out of sight! I’m pretty sure it was an Ornate Hawk Eagle but only saw it at a distance for a half of a second (yeah, frustrating).

It was then off to lunch at the Patona. The only downside to that small diner is the near constant sound of blasting air breaks on trucks that rumble on by. The birding can be good though, and they like watching birds so I like to support them. Lunch was good and filling and we may have seen a few other species there at that time but I don’t recall too much from the Patona at mid day. However, as usual, one of the owners told me about the birds he had seen that day. He is a birder sans binos and I need to get him some optics because he sees everything from umbrellabird to White Hawk, Sunbittern, and who knows what else.

After lunch, we headed back to Quebrada Gonzalez to do the loop trail around 1:30 in the afternoon. Yep, that’s a quiet time but we still got great looks at Black-headed Nightingale Thrush, White-bellied Wood Wren, and a few other birds including Tawny-faced Gnatwren. Mostly, we were hoping for mixed flocks and a ground bird or two but we got rained out before we could do much else. Just before the rain, hopes were raised when I heard Bicolored Antbird but it was too far off the trail to see and we didn’t see any ants. The army ants were probably far into the forest (and who knows what else was with them!). Just luck of the draw when it comes to army ants.

Fortunately, the rain didn’t last too long and we were awarded with another male Snowcap at flowering bushes and Speckled Tanager while waiting for it to stop. We ventured back into the forest a bit after three and bird activity was picking up (and got close looks at Carmiol’s Tanager and White-throated Shrike Tanager) but the calling Striped Woodhaunters just wouldn’t come close enough to see them before we had to leave to be out of the forest before closing time at 4! Yep, closed during prime birding hours thanks to bureaucracy typically trumping common sense and good service.

White-throated Shrike Tanager

After checking the stream near the highway once more and seeing nothing, I decided that it would be worthwhile to check the Patona diner again. This turned out to be a good choice because we were awarded with nice looks at Scarlet-rumped Cacique, oropendolas, Green Honeycreeper, Crimson-collared Tanager, and a few other birds. The drive back was uneventful, had little traffic, and we got back to the Bougainvillea around 5. Although we had originally planned on going to Irazu the following day, after talking about it, we figured that Poas would be more productive, so that’s where we went.

Crimson-collared Tanager

To be continued…

Here is our list from the day:

Species seen- 81 Species heard only- 17
Cattle Egret Orange-chinned Parakeet
Black Vulture Short-billed Pigeon
Turkey Vulture Black-throated Trogon
White-tailed Kite Keel-billed Toucan
Gray Hawk Striped Woodhunter
Peregrine Falcon Russet Antshrike
White-tipped Dove Bicolored Antbird
Brown-hooded Parrot Chestnut-backed Antbird
Mealy Parrot Slaty-capped Flycatcher
White-crowned Parrot Black-headed Tody Flycatcher
Great Green Macaw Lesser Greenlet
Groove-billed Ani Stripe-breasted Wren
White-collared Swift Bay Wren
Green Hermit Band-backed Wren
Stripe-throated Hermit Louisiana Waterthrush
Snowcap Silver-throated Tanager
Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer Olive-backed Euphonia
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
White-necked Jacobin
Violet-headed Hummingbird
Green Thorntail
Violet-crowned Woodnymph
Purple-crowned Fairy
Broad-billed Motmot
Collared Aracari
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
Black-cheeked Woodpecker
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
Streak-headed Woodcreeper
Streak-crowned Antvireo
Checker-throated Antwren
Dull-mantled Antbird
Common Tody-Flycatcher
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Rufous Mourner
Tropical Kingbird
Great Kiskadee
Social Flycatcher
Gray-capped Flycatcher
Cinnamon Becard
House Wren
White-breasted Wood-Wren
Pale-vented Robin
Clay-colored Robin
Black-headed Nightingale Thrush
Swainson’s Thrush
Wood Thrush
Tawny-faced Gnatwren
Bananaquit
Golden-winged Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Buff-rumped Warbler
Black-and-yellow Tanager
Speckled Tanager
Emerald Tanager
Plain-colored Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Olive (Carmiol’s) Tanager
White-throated Shrike-Tanager
White-shouldered Tanager
Tawny-crested Tanager
Passerini´s Tanager
Crimson-collared Tanager
Palm Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Green Honeycreeper
Shining Honeycreeper
Summer Tanager
Scarlet Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Variable Seedeater
Orange-billed Sparrow
Black-faced Grosbeak
Black-cowled Oriole
Montezuma Oropendola
Chestnut-headed Oropendola
Scarlet-rumped Cacique
Baltimore Oriole
Tawny-capped Euphonia
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biodiversity Birding Costa Rica birding lodges caribbean slope Introduction lowlands

Little Known, Promising Sites for Birding in Costa Rica : The El Zota Research Station

Costa Rica is a small country and has been a popular birding destination since sometime in the 80s but it still holds a surprising number of little known, little birded sites. Given that we are talking about a place with political boundaries roughly equivalent to those of West Virginia, how can this be? Why don’t we know about the birding possibilities in every nook and cranny of this Central American nation? The answer to that can be summed up with three main reasons. In no particular order, they are:

  1. Access: Although the road situation has greatly improved in the last five years, before that time, a lot of the better hinterland birding sites were perhaps best accessed by mule or a Land Rover. Nowadays, it’s not much different for some areas and the uplifted, naturally broken young lands in this part of the world also present challenges to getting around and into various birding sites. I suppose I should also mention that most of the national parks have few trails and since they are treated more as wildlife preserves, most areas in national parks are actually off limits.
  2. Number of birders: There are birders who live in Costa Rica but we don’t have nearly as many birding people with time and resources to scout various parts of the country throughout the year. Oh, how I wish we did because then I would have more opportunities to twitch crazy vagrants and the like. That way, someone could find that Rufous-crested Coquette, a Swallow Tanager, and a Brown-chested Martin not too far from my home and I could just go on over and see them. On second thought, since I have so little free time to chase birds, I would probably be in a near constant state of frustration so never mind, don’t find those rarities without me!
  3. Tour routes: Logistics determine where tours go perhaps more so than the birds themselves and few tours leave the main birding circuits. That leaves little room for additional knowledge of other birding sites and likely explains why so many visiting birders choose the Hotel Bougainvillea as their place to stay near San Jose, and the Sarapiqui area for all of their Caribbean lowland birding rather than venturing further afield to such excellent lowland areas as Laguna del Lagarto and Maquenque, or the Puerto Viejo de Talamanca/Manazanillo area (although Sarapiqui is much closer, sorry but the birding at La Selva is truly not what it used to be).

I suppose another factor is habitat destruction in so many areas that are accessible. Don’t be fooled by the marketing put out by the tourism institute, a lot of forest in Costa Rica has been cut down and we really need to reforest in many areas to maintain the country’s biodiversity, especially in places that should host incredible lowland rainforest instead of hot cattle pastures and pineapples fields where anis and TKs play but not much else.

Looking for birds in deforested areas on the way to El Zota.

Despite that unfortunate bit of info, there is hope for both better knowledge of additional birding sites in Costa Rica and people who want to restore ecosystems and live in a sustainable fashion. Actually, everyone except maybe sociopaths would prefer to live sustainably if they could see how unsustainable land diminishes quality of life, especially for their descendents and other future people. But, in the meantime, we do have those who not only care but work hard to make a difference. El Zota Research Station is one of those very special places and I can’t recommend going there enough.

A small wetland at El Zota.

Situated just outside of Barro Colorado Wildlife Refuge (which means that it’s kind of more protected than other places even though people live there),  El Zota used to be a cattle farm. In the 1980s, this was pretty much common practice in lowland rainforest areas of Costa Rica. People didn’t know what else to do with the land so the forest was cut down, some of the wood was used, and the rest was turned into cattle pasture with some cultivations. The owner of El Zota started out like that but somewhere along the way, he decided that he would rather preserve most of his property than leave it to the cows. That decision has resulted in many hectares of former pasture being converted back into forest. In fact, I could hardly believe that one area I visited used to be pasture.

This forest used to be pasture.
We had these Honduran White Bats in that reforested area.

He also established trails through the habitats on his farm, has let many areas regenerate, and has a nice tract of primary rainforest. Oh, and he also keeps people from hunting on his property and tries to work with neighbors to hopefully convince them to regenerate forests and conserve biodiversity. The place is mostly used by student groups but birders are more than welcome and if you go there, get ready for some exciting birding, herping, and possible encounters with some choice wildlife. I base that statement on a short weekend trip to the place that I did withe the local birding club. As with any biodiverse place, one leaves feeling that he or she had barely scratched the surface. I feel that way when birding Laguna del LagartoLands in Love, or other excellent sites and El Zota was no exception. As my friend Robert Dean put it, “the place has lots of potential”. I couldn’t agree more, especially since Tapirs are fairly common there (we didn’t see one but saw lots of tracks), all cats are present including Jaguar (we found scat), and the station features habitats as varied as a big lagoon to primary rainforest and various stages of second growth. It’s the type of place that might even turn up a Harpy Eagle or other very rare lowland bird species and it’s that sort of exciting possibility that urges me to return.

Some of the Birding Club of Costa Rica birding at El Zota

So, after all of that talk, here is some truly useful information and other impressions:

Birds and wildlife

  • Lots of monkeys: We were seeing monkeys more often than most other places in Costa Rica, especially Spider Monkeys. It’s a sign of good habitat, little or no hunting, and tells you that many birds are also possible.
  • Red-throated Caracara: Ok, I couldn’t keep this one in. Although I missed this very rare bird species, other people on the trip heard at least two not too far from the lodge. Despite doing a lot of looking and listening in the same spot at other times, we did not get them again but the fact that they were recorded is still pretty big news for birding in Costa Rica.
  • Very birdy second growth: We had quite a few birds while walking along the road through the farm on our first afternoon and on our last morning. These were expected Caribbean lowland species like Black-faced Grosbeaks,
    A Back-faced Grosbeak at El Zota.

    Chestnut-colored, Cinnamon, Pale-billed, Rufous-winged, and Black-cheeked Woodpeckers,

    A Cinnamon Woodpecker.
    A Pale-billed Woodpecker.

    various flycatchers, Blue Dacnis, Plain-colored Tanager,

    We saw several Plain-colored Tanagers.

    Pied Puffbird, trogons, Collared Aracari, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, both motmots, heard Slaty-breasted Tinamou, and so on. It seemed like lots of other stuff could show up.

    There were a few Pied Puffbirds around.
  • Black and white Owl at the lodge and other night birds: We almost had to not look at a pair that called both nights right at the lodge cabins. Israel, the resident guide (he knows a fair number of birds but is more into herps) said he was surprised that we didn’t get the Great Potoo because it’s often present right at the lodge.
  • Quiet primary forest: The primary forest was maybe 6 kilometers from the lodge so we were brought there by truck in the early morning.
    Getting on the truck.
    Inside the forest.

    There were amazingly few birds overall but I still think the forest has serious potential because a couple of hours in primary rainforest never gives a fair idea of the birds that actually occur. We still managed to hear Great Green Macaw, White-necked Puffbird, and Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant, and see both motmots, trogons, Black-crowned Antshrike (the new name for Western Slaty Antshrike),

    Black-crowned Antshrike

    Tawny-crested and White-shouldered Tanagers, Red-capped Manakin, both motmots, and others. This was also where we had the Jaguar scat.

  • A nice big lagoon: More like a lake, they usually have a canoe so you can check it out and find things like Sungrebe and small kingfishers. Although we didn’t see those, they surely occur. We did have one or two Green Ibis for consolation.

    Nice big lagoon.
  • Raptor migration: We saw some raptors migrating through the area.
  • Frogs: Although we didn’t go look for them, I was hearing frogs all of the time so I bet it’s a good area for them!


    Not a frog but a small Fer-de-Lance. See if you can find it!
  • Enticing bird list: The bird list has such very good species as all three hawk eagles, Speckled Mourner, and Gray-headed Piprites.

    This shy Semiplumbeous Hawk is one of many resident raptors on the list.
  • Not sure about antbirds: On a low note, several antbird species are not on the bird list and we didn’t get them either. That’s not to say that they aren’t there but El Zota might not be good for Ocellated Antbird and other forest based antbird species.

Some lodge info

  • Good food: We enjoyed nice, country Tico fare and were treated to a delicious barbecue on our last night.
  • Basic but good rooms: Rooms are basic but this a research station and the place is meant to be enjoyed outdoors.

    One of the lodge cabins.
  • Low cost: The rooms might be basic but the beds are comfortable and guess how much you pay to stay there? How does $40 per person per night sound for lodging with 3 meals and access to excellent birding? Sounds like a bargain to me!
  • Four to five hours from the San Jose area: It takes around four or five hours to get there without doing any birding on the way. Four wheel drive is needed for the final 6 kilometers of road but the station can help with transportation.
  • Proximity to Barro del Colorado: Before heading home on Sunday, we checked out some of the road into Barro del Colorado. The road was good and the habitat looked even better with nice primary forest and some interesting wetlands. I sure would love to bird there early in the morning! El Zota can also arrange boat tours in the refuge. Since it’s basically a pristine wilderness area that is almost certainly visited by both large eagles, yeah, I want to do that some day.

    Good habitat on the road through Barro del Colorado.

I wonder when I will get back to El Zota. Hopefully soon but if any readers of this post happen to go, please leave a comment with a link to a trip report and or/summary of highlights so the world can know what you saw!

Categories
big year Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope

The Veragua Rainforest Christmas Count (part one)

Not many birders make it down to southeastern Costa Rica. Although the towns of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Cahuita are major stops on the backpacker circuit, you don’t see many people walking around with roof prism, light-gathering optics. Birdwatchers are a rare sight in the southeast because they get their Caribbean lowland fix at La Selva and other sites in the Sarapiqui region. I can’t blame them for rarely straying south of Guapiles. I mean even if La Selva has lost a bunch of understory species, it still is the Caribbean lowland birding site that is closest to San Jose and fits nicely into Costa Rican birding itineraries that also include a visit to Arenal.

Since other birders rave about the Sarapiqui region in their trip reports, why go anywhere else for Caribbean lowland species? Well, not that you shouldn’t visit Sarapiqui, but just because you read about the area in trip reports doesn’t make it the only site in Costa Rica for Caribbean lowland birds. It’s good birding around there for sure but it’s not as wild as the forests near Limon. While the port city itself isn’t exactly a booming birding destination, there are several, little known sites in southeastern Costa Rica that offer up some pretty exciting birding. I have talked about the great birding around Manzanillo in the past and always yearn to get back to that birdy lowland village. This past weekend, I got the chance to check out another exciting southeastern site and similar to my feelings about Manzanillo, I can’t wait to go back!

The place is a fairly new ecotourism and research project called “The Veragua Rainforest” and if you can go birding there, by all means, do it! Since the place opened, local birders have been raving about it. Excellent lowland forest, Sulphur-rumped Tanagers, awesome mixed flocks, and big birding potential. When I got the chance to participate in this year’s Christmas count, I jumped at it like a hungry antpitta hopping after a big, juicy worm. Not only would I get the chance to check out Veragua, but I also had the opportunity to get 600 species for the year.

Plans were made, gear was packed, and on Friday morning, I drove on down with friends who were also participating in the count. Despite taking our time, stopping for coffee, running into road work, and doing a bit of birding on the way, it still took just 3 and a half hours to get there. If you drove straight to the place from San Jose and ran into little traffic, I bet it would be 2 and a half hours. As you leave the main highway to Limon, forested ridges and patchy habitat near the road can turn up a bunch of lowland species. Although the beautiful sunny morning resulted in little bird activity, on the day of the count, birds like Snowy Cotinga, Blue-headed Parrots, and Sulphur-rumped Tanagers were seen so that might give you an idea of the quality birding on the way in to Veragua.

Scene from the road to Veragua.

The road eventually went from asphalt to gravel and stones but it was still navageable by two-wheel drive vehicles. A guard greeted us upon arrival at the gate to Veragua.

After verifying that we were there for the count, we drove on in to one of the better birding sites in Costa Rica. The entrance road passed through lowland forest that had been selectively cut at some time in the past. At a glance, it doesn’t appear to have affected the birding too much and I bet spending a day on this road would turn up a wealth of lowland species.

How would you like to bird along this road?

Marcos, one of Veragua’s excellent guides, showed us around on Friday. While waiting to take the tram down to the Rainforest Giants Trail, we hung around their hummingbird garden and watched several Blue-chested Hummingbirds in action. It was nice to be in a place where this species outnumbered Rufous-taileds.

A Blue-chested Hummingbird posing for a picture.

While waiting for our tram ride down into a beautifully forested canyon, we actually added a new bird to the Veragua list in the form of a flyover Wood Stork. King Vulture also made an appearance but the White and Barred Hawks that are often seen from the tram were no-shows. Down at the bottom, a boardwalk passes beneath massive old growth trees, heliconia patches that sometimes hold White-tipped Sicklebill, and flanks a rushing river.

The excellent Rainforest Giants trail at Veragua.

Although we didn’t find Spot-crowned Antvireo (a localized species in Costa Rica) a canopy flock of medium-sized birds entertained us from above. Montezuma Oropendolas, Scarlet-rumped Caciques, and a couple of Black-striped Woodcreepers foraged high overhead with a Cinnamon Woodpecker, tityras, Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, and the star of the show, White-fronted Nunbird. While this orange-billed, clownish creature has disappeared from many areas in Costa Rica, it’s still fairly common at Veragua. A few lucky birders in our group also managed to see an Olive-backed Quail-Dove.

As the afternoon wore on, we took the tram back up to the top of the canyon and put the focus on mixed tanager flocks. A group of birds that frequents the trees around the reception was quickly located and several lucky birders got great looks at Sulphur-rumped Tanager. Incredibly, I missed that would be lifer despite looking in the same tree! I just happened to be scanning through several Plain-colored Tanagers when the Sulphur-rumped was seen and it took off before I could find it. Oh well, at least Rufous-winged Tanager was new for the year.

Other new 2011 species were Chestnut-collared Swift and a very obliging Great Potoo that entertained count participants by calling from a spotlit perch near the parking lot. It’s apparently there most nights and might take advantage of the insects and bats that come to a lit-up moth sheet. After dinner, we received information about our routes, got our boxed lunches, and also got the news about breakfast. It would be ready at 3:30 a.m. and most of us were scheduled to leave by 4. I would be hitting the Brisas de la Jungla site with two other guys. The plan was to drop us off at 4:30 a.m. and pick us up at 4:30 p.m. A long day of birding awaited and it might include grueling marches through the humid lowland heat and clouds of mosquitoes. I had to be prepared by getting a good night’s rest so I hit the sack by 7:45 and tried to sleep.

to be continued…

Categories
Birding Costa Rica birding lodges caribbean foothills caribbean slope lowlands

Good Costa Rica Birding at the Finca Luna Nueva Lodge

What makes a hotel truly worthy of the “eco-lodge” title? How about one that is also an organic farm, protects primary rainforest, provides employment to locals, prefers guests who dig the natural world, and strives to be sustainable. In all of the above respects, the Finca Luna Nueva Lodge fits the bill perfectly. I was fortunate to be able to visit this gem of a spot with my wife and daughter over the past weekend and look forward to doing a lot more birding at this site in the future.

birding Costa Rica

They also have a nice ozonated pool.

I heard about and was invited to the Finca Luna Nueva Lodge by fellow guide and birding friend of mine, Juan Diego Vargas. Juan Diego spends much of his time looking for birds in Liberia but also guides in many areas of the country and helps out with a number of ornithological projects. One of these has been inventories of the birds at Luna Nueva (check out this link for the details). A few of the more interesting finds were White-fronted Nunbird, Green Thorntail, Black-crested Coquette, and even Great Green Macaw. The nunbirds appear to have a healthy resident population and are readily seen along a trail that accesses primary forest. The hummingbirds are probably seasonal but we had one female Black-crested Coquette over the weekend. The macaw is a very rare, seasonal visitor during October but the fact that it does show up reflects the healthy bird habitat on the farm.

Yes, the fact that the place is a working farm makes it all the more interesting and acts as a ray of sustainable hope in a world whose ecosystems are stressed by the needs of several billion people. Farm workers arrive in the morning and you will probably see a few while birding, but unlike farms that raise monocultures, you will also see lots of birds. At least I did while walking past a mix of cacao, ginger, medicinal herbs, chile peppers, scattered trees, and areas that were allowed to naturally recover. White-crowned Parrots were very common and filled the air with their screeching calls. Bright-rumped Attilas, three species of toucans, Black-throated Wrens, Barred Antshrikes, and other species of the humid Caribbean slope flitted through bushes and treetops while a pair of Gray-necked Wood-Rails ran along paths through the organic crops. The birding was definitely good in the farmed area of the lodge but I think the food was even better.

birding Costa Rica

I finally got a good shot of an atilla!

The Luna Nueva is a proponent of what they call, “slow food”. The apparent antithesis of hamburgers, fries, milkshakes, and other quickly made, over-sugared, and fatty foods, slow food is all about the good taste that comes from using carefully groomed, high quality products. At least this was the impression I got after having eaten slow food at Luna Nueva over the course of the weekend. Everything they served was not only damn good, but it also left me feeling super healthy. Really, if you want to eat some of the healthiest, tastiest food in the country, eat at Luna Nueva.

Now back to the birds! Mornings started off with a fine dawn chorus of humid lowland edge and forest species. This means a medley of sound that included Laughing Falcons, Gray Hawk, toucans, the bouncing ball song of Black-striped Sparrow, Black-throated Wrens, Long-billed Gnatwrens, Dusky Antbirds, Barred Antshrikes, Cinnamon and White-winged Becard, Long-tailed Tyrant, Blue-black Grosbeak, and others.

birding Costa Rica

We also enjoyed a pair of Lineated Woodpeckers that worked a snag in front of our family bungalow.

A few flocks of Olive-throated and Crimson-fronted Parakeets sped overhead and Red-billed Pigeons flapped their way around scattered trees. As morning progressed, hummingbirds became more obvious as they zipped and chipped between patches of heliconias and Porterweed planted to attract them. Speaking of hummingbirds, Luna Nueva is an especially good site for those glittering avian delights. I had at least 8 species during my stay and I’m sure you could see more.

birding Costa Rica

A male Violet-headed Hummingbird was one of the eight species.

In the primary forest, Western Slaty-Antshrikes, Golden-crowned Spadebills, Great Tinamou, and Chestnut-backed Antbirds called from the understory while Chestnut-mandibled Toucan and a few Black-headed Tody-Flycatchers vocalized from the canopy. That latter species is not all that common in Costa Rica so it was good to record it (my first for 2011). Although some of the deep forest species are unfortunately lacking or rare because of poor connectivity with other, more extensive forest, you could use the lodge as a base to bird more intact forests around Arenal or the Manuel Brenes Reserve (both 20 minute drives).

I didn’t do any nocturnal birding but was awakened by the calls of  a Black and White Owl on my first night. The habitat is perfect for this species so you should probably see it without too much effort around the lodge buildings.

This was what the habitat looked like around the lodge buildings,

birding Costa Rica

this was what the primary rainforest looked like,

birding Costa Rica

and this was a view from the canopy tower.

birding Costa Rica

Oops, did I say canopy tower? It turns out that the Luna Nueva has had a canopy tower for years but the birding community didn’t know anything about it! The lodge has gone unnoticed and rather undiscovered because it was marketed to student groups and botanically slanted tours for most of its history. Birders, herpitologists, and other aficionados of our natural world should start showing up on a more regular basis once the word gets out about this place.

birding Costa Rica

Hognose Viper- one of the many reasons why herpitologists will like this place. Others are frog ponds that attract Red-eyed Tree Frogs and Cat-eyed Snakes, and a healthy herp population inside the forest.

From the tower, I mostly had common edge species but the looks were sweet as candied mangos and it should turn up some uncommon raptors, good views of parrots, and maybe even a cotinga or two at the right time of the year.

birding Costa Rica

A Blue-Gray Tanager from the tower.

birding Costa Rica

A Squirrel Cuckoo from the tower.

birding Costa Rica

A Yellow-crowned Euphonia in a fruiting Melastome at the base of the tower.

birding Costa Rica

A Common Tody-Flycatcher on the side of the road (they were pretty common and confiding- my kind of bird!).

The following is my bird list from our stay (115 species):

Great Tinamou

Gray-headed Chachalaca

Black Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Gray Hawk

Gray-headed Kite

Laughing Falcon

Gray-necked Wood-Rail

Red-billed Pigeon

Ruddy Ground-Dove

White-tipped Dove

Gray-chested Dove

Crimson-fronted Parakeet

Olive-throated Parakeet

Orange-chinned Parakeet

White-crowned Parrot

Red-lored Parrot

Squirrel Cuckoo

Groove-billed Ani

Black and white Owl

White-collared Swift

Long-billed Hermit

Purple-crowned Fairy

White-necked Jacobin

Steely-vented Hummingbird

Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Green-breasted Mango

Violet-headed Hummingbird

Black-crested Coquette

Violaceous (Gartered) Trogon

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Keel-billed Toucan

Collared Aracari

Black-cheeked Woodpecker

Smoky-brown Woodpecker

Rufous-winged Woodpecker

Pale-billed Woodpecker

Lineated Woodpecker

Plain Xenops

Northern barred Woodcreeper

Wedge-billed Woodcreeper

Cocoa Woodcreeper

Black-striped Woodcreeper

Streak-headed Woodcreeper

Barred Antshrike

Western Slaty Antshrike

Dusky Antbird

Chestnut-backed Antbird

Dull-mantled Antbird

Yellow Tyrannulet

Golden-crowned Spadebill

Paltry Tyrannulet

Yellow-bellied Ealenia

Piratic Flycatcher

Yellow-olive Flycatcher

Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher

Common Tody-Flycatcher

Northern Bentbill

Ochre-bellied Flycatcher

Bright-rumped Atilla

Long-tailed Tyrant

Tropical Pewee

Dusky-capped Flycatcher

Boat-billed Flycatcher

Great Kiskadee

Social Flycatcher

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher

Tropical Kingbird

Cinnamon Becard

White-winged Becard

Masked Tityra

White-collared Manakin

Lesser Greenlet

Brown Jay

Gray-breasted Martin

Long-billed Gnatwren

Tawny-faced Gnatwren

Tropical Gnatcatcher

Stripe-breasted Wren

Bay Wren

Black-throated Wren

House Wren

White-breasted Wood Wren

Clay-colored Robin

Buff-rumped Warbler

Bananaquit

Red-throated Ant-Tanager

Olive (Carmiol’s) Tanager

Passerini’s Tanager

Golden-hooded Tanager

Blue-gray Tanager

Palm Tanager

Blue Dacnis

Green Honeycreeper

Red-legged Honeycreeper

Thick-billed Seed-Finch

Variable Seedeater

Yellow-faced Grassquit

Blue-black Grassquit

Orange-billed Sparrow

Black-striped Sparrow

Buff-throated Saltator

Slate-colored Grosbeak

Black-faced Grosbeak

Blue-black Grosbeak

Melodious Blackbird

Bronzed Cowbird

Yellow-billed Cacique

Montezuma Oropendola

Yellow-crowned Euphonia

Categories
Birding Costa Rica caribbean foothills middle elevations

A Day of Birding at Arenal, Costa Rica

Last week, while winter storms were wreaking havoc in northern climes, I had the great fortune to spend a day of guiding in much warmer, snow-less weather in and around Arenal Observatory Lodge, Costa Rica. Although lower temperatures than normal and saturating morning mist were a reminder that the frigid fingers of those northern blizzards can tendril their way south to Costa Rica, we still had a pretty productive day with over 130 bird species identified.

Starting out at the Miradas de Arenal Cabins, a number of common, edge species were identified as they came to fruiting trees, best birds probably being Black-cowled Oriole and Black-headed Saltator. Foggy weather didn’t let the birds show much color but at least boosted their activity. As the mist gradually lifted and visibility increased, we drove to our main birding destination, the entrance road for Arenal National Park and Arenal Observatory Lodge. The stony entrance road cuts through pasture, guava orchards, patches of old second growth forest, crosses rivers, and eventually reaches older forest to provide a variety of habitats that can turn up a large number of bird species. It’s the type of place where fruiting trees could potentially host cotingas, where crakes may lurk in marshy grass, and where uncommon raptors might fly past. One of our first birds of the day was in the latter category although instead of quickly winging its way through our field of view, it perched in a bare tree long enough to take  its picture (and some of my only shots for the day due to the inclement weather).

Bicolored Hawk!

birding Costa Rica

birding Costa Rica

This medium sized Accipiter is widespread in the neotropics but always tough to see and nearly impossible to predict when and where it will show up. A most welcome addition to my year list!

Pigeons were also plentiful along the road with Band-tailed and Pale-vented being the most common. Both species occurred in flocks of 15 to 60 individuals and were feeding in fruiting trees or hanging out in tree tops.

birding Costa Rica

birding Costa Rica

There are a few side roads that can also be productive. On one of these, while getting close looks at a Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, a male Great Curassow flew down from the trees to strut along the shoulder of the road! This was a nice surprise and a probable sign that the general area sees very little hunting pressure.

No image of the curassow but at least the toucan sat long enough for a photo.

birding Costa Rica

Continuing on, we added species such as Long-tailed Tyrant, Bay Wren, and other expected birds but those were nothing compared to one of our best finds of the day, Fasciated Tiger-Heron! Always a tough bird to come across, ours was an adult that gave us perfect, close looks at the river just before the entrance to the Observatory Lodge. I regret not taking photos but it was getting a bit too rainy to risk short-circuiting my camera.

After studying the tiger-heron, we paid our $4 entrance fee to use the trails of the Observatory Lodge (open 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.) and ticked off a soggy Broad-billed Motmot perched in the rain as we drove up to the restaurant and viewing platform. The looming volcanic cone known as Volcan Arenal is what is supposed to be viewed from this point but even better for birders are the fruit feeders that attract oropendolas, orioles, and tanagers. On sunnier days,  this is a perfect spot for bird photography but because the soaking rain only made mental images possible, you will just have to believe me when I say that we had eye popping views of Montezuma Oropendolas, Buff-throated Saltators, Clay-colored Thrushes, Olive-backed Euphonias, and Blue-gray, Palm, Passerini’s, Silver-throated, and Crimson-collared Tanagers. Emerald Tanager also sometimes shows up at their feeders although they didn’t make an appearance while we watched.

Despite the windy and rainy weather, we were determined to make the most of our day at this birdy site and therefore walked a short loop trail near the cabins that can be good for Thicket Antpitta. There are also Porterweed bushes near there that can attract Black-crested Coquette, Violet-headed Hummingbird, and other hummingbird species of the Caribbean foothills. If our visit was any indication, though, none of these birds come out in the rain! While on other visits, I have heard and seen the antpitta fairly easily on this trail and have seen several coquettes buzzing around like insects in those same flowering bushes, we hardly saw or heard anything. As it was mid-morning, time of day may have also been a factor but I suspect that the weather was the main culprit.

Upon exiting the trail and getting looks at Hepatic Tanager (fairly common here), it was time for lunch and I am pleased to say that their restaurant has improved! It’s still over-priced but the service was good and the food drastically better than any of my past gastronomic experiences at the Arenal Observatory Lodge.

By the end of our meal, amazingly, it had stopped raining and we could even see the top of the volcano! After a quick check of the flowering bushes and only espying Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds and one or two Violet-crowned Woodnymphs, it was off to the Waterfall Trail for middle elevation forest birding. Perhaps because the rain had just ended, bird activity was pretty good and constant with several mixed flocks making their way through the forest. Golden-crowned Warblers and Slaty-capped Flycatchers seemed to lead the way while Wedge-billed and Spotted Woodcreepers, Sulphur-rumped Flycatchers, Olive Tanagers, and the occasional Spotted Barbtail followed. In the canopy, Russet Antshrikes, and Black and Yellow and other tanager species rustled the vegetation while Montezuma Oropendolas displayed. A quick walk down to the waterfall didn’t turn up hoped for Torrent Tyrannulet or Green-fronted Lancebill but both should be possible there (as well as Sunbittern).

We didn’t hit any antswarms inside the forest but got lucky anyways in seeing a lone Spotted Antbird. Outside the forest, before leaving the grounds of the Observatory Lodge, we made one last stop at the “Casona” to check fruiting trees and were rewarded with close looks at Short-billed Pigeons, White-crowned Parrots, Emerald Tanager (!), and Yellow-throated Euphonia. No luck with cotingas but I wouldn’t be surprised if they turned up in that area (Lovely Cotinga is occasionally seen around Arenal Observatory Lodge).

After our visit to the lodge and getting another look at the tiger-heron, we birded along the road that leads to the Arenal Sky Tram and Neopenthes. A few spots along this road pass near marshes that probably hold some rare, skulking waterbirds. We didn’t see these of course (because they were skulking) but did get good looks at Olive-crowned Yellowthroat. Near there, along the roadside, we also got our only antswarm of the day. As luck would have it, the ants were moving through an open area and therefore no antbirds were present but we still got to see a bunch of thrushes that were taking advantage of the easy pickings. Clay-coloreds were the most common but there were also one or two Swainson’s, and several White-throated.

By this time, the day was coming to an end and birds were heading to their roosts for the night. As Red-lored Parrots flew past, we were treated to a beautiful view of the volcano lit up by the red rays of the setting sun; a memorable way to finish a great day of birding around Arenal.

Here is a list of all birds seen or heard from our day:

Great Curassow
Anhinga
Pied-billed Grebe
Great Egret
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Fasciated Tiger-Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Gray Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Bicolored Hawk
Double-toothed Kite
Laughing Falcon heard
White-throated Crake heard
Spotted Sandpiper
Pale-vented Pigeon
Band-tailed Pigeon
Red-billed Pigeon
Short-billed Pigeon
White-tipped Dove
Red-lored Parrot
White-crowned Parrot
Orange-chinned Parakeet
Squirrel Cuckoo
White-collared Swift
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift
Green Hermit
Stripe-throated Hermit
Violet-headed Hummingbird
Purple-crowned Fairy
Violet-crowned Woodnymph
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Orange-bellied Trogon
Broad-billed Motmot
Ringed Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Rufoustailed Jacamar heard
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
Hoffmanns Woodpecker
Black-cheeked Woodpecker
Smoky-brown Woodpecker
Spotted Barbtail
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
Spotted Woodcreeper
Streak-headed Woodcreeper
Great Antshrike heard
Barred Antshrike
Russet Antshrike
Spotted Antbird
Thicket Antpitta
Yellow Tyrannulet heard
Yellow-bellied Elaenia
Slaty-capped Flycatcher
Paltry Tyrannulet
Common Tody-Flycatcher
Yellow-olive Flycatcher
Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Long-tailed Tyrant
Bright-rumped Attila heard
Dusky-capped Flycatcher heard
Great-crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Social Flycatcher
Gray-capped Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Tropical Pewee
Masked Tityra
White-ruffed Manakin
Yellow-throated Vireo
Lesser Greenlet
White-throated Magpie-Jay
Brown Jay
Northern Roughwinged Swallow
Southern Roughwinged Swallow
Band-backed Wren heard
Stripe-breasted Wren
Bay Wren
Black-throated Wren heard
White-breasted Wood-Wren heard
House Wren
Long-billed Gnatwren heard
Black-faced Solitaire
Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush
Clay-colored Thrush
White-throated Thrush
Swainson’s Thrush
Wood Thrush heard
Tennessee Warbler
Tropical Parula
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black and white Warbler
Louisiana Waterthrush
Olive-crowned Yellowthroat
Gray-crowned Yellowthroat heard
Wilson’s Warbler
Slate-throated Redstart
Golden-crowned Warbler
Buff-rumped Warbler
Bananaquit
Common Bush-Tanager
Black-and-yellow Tanager
Olive Tanager
Hepatic Tanager
Summer Tanager
Crimson-collared Tanager
Passerini´s Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Olive-backed Euphonia
Tawny-capped Euphonia
Golden-browed Chlorophonia heard
Emerald Tanager
Silver-throated Tanager
Bay-headed Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Variable Seedeater
White-collared Seedeater
Yellow-faced Grassquit
Orange-billed Sparrow
Black-striped Sparrow
Buff-throated Saltator
Black-headed Saltator
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Blue-black Grosbeak heard
Melodious Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Black-cowled Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Montezuma Oropendola
Categories
Birding Costa Rica caribbean foothills caribbean slope Introduction preparing for your trip

Updates on birding at the Quebrada Gonzalez ranger station, Costa Rica

I had the fortune of birding Quebrada Gonzalez for two consecutive Saturdays after a three or four month hiatus.

birding Costa Rica

The entrance to Quebrada Gonzalez.

It was good to be back, especially so because it wasn’t pouring down monstrous sheets of rain. Yes, the area does get its fair share of precipitation. The heavy load of epiphytes and moss growing on everything from metal railings to understory leaves hints at the 6 or meters (18 feet) of rain that soaks the area on an annual basis. What’s even crazier is that locals claim that the northern Caribbean lowlands and foothills used to be deluged with even more falling water in the past.

Therefore, I always appreciate sunny weather at Quebrada Gonzalez despite the fact that it tends to make the forest quieter than the steps of a dormouse ninja.  While I relish the fact that my  umbrella (a poncho is too hot) can remain rolled up and tucked out of sight in my day pack, I wonder why the darn birds can’t also enjoy the absence of rain by becoming more active. Maybe they’re sun bathing up in the canopy? Whatever the antbirds, tanagers, toucans, and trogons are up to, they sure don’t shake the foliage and sing to their hearts content like they do on cloudy days.

So things were pretty quiet on Saturday but as with every visit to Quebrada Gonzalez, we still saw birds, including several species that are tough to see elsewhere in Costa Rica. One of our best sightings was Dull-mantled Antbird. This ravine-inhabiting, understory bird is regular at Quebrada (and at most Caribbean slope foothill sites) but it’s always a pleasure to watch them sing and show off the white patch on their backs.

Where we saw the Dull-mantled Antbirds.

Other bird species from the morning included a Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher flitting around the undergrowth, Emerald and Black and Yellow Tanagers feeding on berries in the subcanopy, and Buff-rumped Warblers hanging out on the trails.

Buff-rumped Warbler birding Costa Rica

A blurry, Buff-rumped Warbler that was foraging in the parking lot on different, rainy day.

With the hope that the sunny weather would encourage raptors such as Barred Hawk and hawk-eagles to show themselves, we made our way back to the parking lot by 10 am.

Where we watched the skies for raptors.

It took awhile for anything to show itself but eventually we were rewarded with 2 King Vultures. We also saw the other two commonly occurring vultures but no other raptors whatsoever! This was rather surprising to me because I usually see one or two other species of soaring raptor from the parking lot on every visit. Did they take to the air earlier than expected? Were they pretending to be antbirds? We will never know but I suspect it had more to do with the fact that one of our group was hoping to see his first hawk-eagle. No doubt, all three hawk-eagles showed up on Sunday or as soon as we left the area.

Still hoping for soaring raptors, we took the trail on the other side of the road to an overlook with a broad view of a forested ridge. We watched and watched and heard some Dusky-faced Tanagers in the nearby undergrowth and scoped a nearby Broad-billed Motmot but saw nary a vulture! Out on a river island, however, we noticed over 100 Band-tailed Pigeons hanging out in the crowns of a few trees!

birding Costa Rica

The gray things are distant Band-tailed Pigeons.

I have seen these elevational migrants on several occasions at Quebrada Gonzalez but never at this time of year and never in such large numbers. This sort of unpredictable occurrence is one of the reasons why I always love birding at this site- no matter how often I visit, I never really know what I am going to see. There are several species that I encounter on a regular basis but the vagaries of fruiting trees and other not so obvious factors that influence bird distribution in tropical forests always keeps me wondering what will turn up as I walk down the trail.

The trail of surprises.

The solitaires and White-crowned Manakins of the previous week had mostly returned upslope to their usual middle elevation haunts but we still managed to get looks at one female White-crowned Manakin. Hyperactivity on the manakin’s part conspired with vines and leaves to keep us from getting a clear look at her head (and thus identifying her) but perseverance eventually paid off with prolonged views of two diagnostic field marks- a mostly gray noggin and reddish eyes.

Around this time, the vocalizations of one or two Bicolored Antbirds had nearly convinced me that an antswarm was in the works but neither ants nor antbirds showed themselves. However, at least some of us got looks at a Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush and Pale-vented Thrush before we headed back to the parking area for lunch.

short billed pigeon birding costa rica

We watched the antics of these three Short-billed Pigeons during lunch.

In the afternoon, back into the forest we went and a mere ten minutes later I heard the telltale signs of a mixed flock as  a White-throated Shrike-Tanager called. We barely had time to prepare ourselves before we were overrun by a horde of small birds that flitted, crept, and hopped through the surrounding vegetation. As is typical of mixed flocks at Quebrada, Olive (now Carmiol’s) Tanagers were the most abundant member of the flock and their chunky, green forms manifested again and again in our binoculars. Other birds showed up too including Emerald Tanagers, Ashy-throated Bush-Tanager, Russet Antshrike, a sneaky Plain Xenops that refused to give an encore, Wedge-billed Woodcreepers, Streak-crowned Antvireo, Red-eyed Vireo, and the flock leader, a nice oriole-like White-throated Shrike-Tanager.

Aside from a beautiful, male White-ruffed Manakin that briefly displayed on a mossy log, that mixed flock was our last hurrah for birding on Saturday before the rains came back to push us out of the forest.

Back out in the parking lot, I met the new manager of the station, Rodolfo Tenorio. Jovial, upbeat, and friendly, Rodolfo seemed eager to support birding at the site. We will probably set up a sightings log so visiting birders will know where Bare-necked Umbrellabirds have been seen, where antswarms have terrorized communities of arthropods, or where the Tiny Hawk has been perching. He also wanted me to get the word out about rules for visiting the place before 8am:

Although the station doesn’t officially open until 8am, birders can enter as early as they want as long as they let him know in advance. He asks to be contacted at rtenorio45@hotmail.com or and can also be reached at 8823-7678.

Since he can’t check his email on a daily basis, make sure to email him at least a week before your visit to tell Rodolfo the date and time of your visit.

This is excellent news because it leaves open the possibility of looking for owls at the station-something I will certainly be doing sometime soon!

Categories
Birding Costa Rica birding lodges caribbean slope lowlands middle elevations Pacific slope weather

Highlights from guiding while birding Costa Rica this past weekend

One of the most exciting aspects of birding Costa Rica is the variety of different habitats that are easily accessible from the Central Valley. For example, if you get tired of sweating it out in the lowlands while watching flyovers of Scarlet Macaws, you can head up into the mountains for cool, cloud forest birding (both cool as in anti-perspiration and cool as in Arthur Fonzarelli).

This past weekend, I was very fortunate to guide birders in two very different habitats;  the Pacific Slope lowlands and the middle elevation forests of the Caribbean slope. Saturday on the Pacific Slope, we birded Cerro Lodge and the Carara area. This bastion of Costa Rican biodiversity is actually an ecotone between the dry forests of northern Central America and the wet forests of southern Costa Rica so I think there’s actually two bioregions involved.

On Monday, I guided some other folks in foothill forests of the Caribbean Slope between San Ramon and La Fortuna. The higher elevations and rainfall than Carara made for a very different set of birds (as did the fact that we were on the other side of the continental divide).

Despite this being the rainy season, the birding was great and might even have been better than the dry season because the overcast skies kept birds active for most of the day at both sites. The sky blanket of clouds also made photography tough, however, so I’m afraid to say that there won’t be many images in this post.

Saturday Costa Rica birding on the Pacific Slope.

Just after a friend of mine picked me up at dawn, the rain started and didn’t really stop until we reached the Pacific Coast. We had to take the old, curvy road down through Atenas and Orotina because the new road is closed for three months (I was not surprised having seen the obvious possibilities for landslides earlier in the year). Because it was raining, we saw few birds during the drive and were pretty happy when it stopped just as we arrived at Cerro Lodge although even if the rain had continued, we still would have seen a lot from the shelter of their outdoor restaurant.

Janet Peterson and I met up with the Slatcher family and got off to a good start with a Striped Cuckoo seen through the scope, flybys of Orange-chinned Parakeets, and a pair of Violaceous Trogons that perched close to the restaurant.

birding Costa Rica Striped Cuckoo

Striped Cuckoos are common in edge habitats of Costa Rica.

We left shortly thereafter for the rainforests of Carara National Park, birding along the way in the scrubby dry forest near Cerro Lodge. A gorgeous male Blue Grosbeak greeted us as by calling from its barbed wire perch as soon as we exited the car. Before I could call up a resident Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, there it was, perched in plain sight in the top of a nearby tree. The owl was promptly scoped while we searched for other birds. Stripe-headed Sparrows were chipping from the top of a roadside tree and a Turquoise-browed Motmot showed its beautiful colors as it poised on a branch but Olive Sparrow and Black-headed Trogons remained hidden as they called from dense vegetation.

At Carara, overcast skies made for comfortable, warm weather. Scarlet Macaws were seen in flight as they screeched over the forested hills, Rose-throated Becard “whined” from the forest edge in the parking lot, and a pair of Yellow-throated Euphonias gave us great looks. Inside the forest, we actually didn’t see too many birds but were entertained by fantastic encounters with several Spider Monkeys and White-faced Capuchins that appeared to be feeding high in the canopy of fruiting figs along the handicap accessible trail.

After tasty casado lunches at the Guacimo Soda, we made a brief stop along the Guacimo Road to pick up Rufous-capped Warbler, Yellow-green Vireo, and Tropical Pewee before heading back to Cerro Lodge. As always the birding was pleasant from the shelter of the restaurant with views of Rufous-naped Wrens, White-throated Magpie-Jays, Black-crowned Tityra, a tree full of Fiery-billed Aracaris, and other species.

birding Costa Rica White-throated Magpie Jay

White-throated Magpie Jays are signature birds of dry forest in Costa Rica.

Our best species was the most distant. Similar to other occasions at Cerro Lodge, a male Yellow-billed Cotinga showed as a bright, white dot way off in the mangroves that are visible from the restaurant. I think this was Janet’s 500th Costa Rican bird. It may have actually been the sparrow but she should certainly name the cotinga as her Costa Rican milestone! This milestone also came just in time as Janet will be leaving the country soon for a new embassy post in Zambia (!). As happy (and envious) as I and other bird club members are for her, we will miss her. Hopefully she will send me some images of Zambian birds to drool over!

Our other best bird during our afternoon at Cerro Lodge was Yellow-naped Parrot. We had 6 or so of these rare parrots as they flew by and perched in nearby trees. The overcast skies made for perfect light on these beautiful parrots and I don’t think I have ever seen the yellow patches on their napes stand out as well as they did on Saturday.

After saying our goodbyes to the Slatcher family and wishing them good Costa Rica birding luck, Janet and I drove back up into the rainy highlands of Costa Rica. Fortunately, we still had time to stop for Black and White Owl in the Orotina plaza. I was glad that Janet finally got to see this “famous” owl. I think it was #503 on her Costa Rican list- a fitting end to a great day of Costa Rica birding!

Monday Costa Rica birding near San Ramon.

Some people call the middle elevation forests near San Ramon the “San Ramon cloud forests”. There are cloud forests in the area, but it’s not really a fitting name for the area we birded because it’s actually just below the cloud forest zone. I suspect that the area lacks an official birding name because so few people bird there. After the excellent birding we had along the road to Manuel Brenes Reserve this past weekend, though, I can tell you that it definitely merits an official birding name and it should be an auspicious one too! Maybe something like “the San Ramon hotspot” or to be more geographically precise, the “Dos Lagos Forest”. Either way, EVERY birder headed to La Fortuna should make time to bird here.

Over the course of a day trip from San Jose, we got over 100 species and most of these were forest birds! I would have taken Stan and Karen Mansfield to Quebrada Gonzalez but since the highway to that excellent site has had frequent landslides this past month, I figured it was safer to show them the birds of the San Ramon hotspot. Although the road to Quebrada remained open on Monday, the birds near San Ramon made the longer trip worthwhile.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by common edge species such as Tropical Pewee, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, Variable Seedeater, and Passerini’s Tanager while an uncommon summer Osprey watched over the lake and a Northern Jacana foraged in the marshy grass.

birding Costa Rica Northern Jacana

Northern Jacanas are seen on most birding trips to Costa Rica.

We barely moved up the road when a mixed flock combined with a fruiting tree brought us to a halt. There was so much bird activity that we must have stayed put for an hour or so to watch White-throated Shrike-Tanager, Emerald Tanager, loads of Black and Yellow Tanagers, Olive Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Black-faced Grosbeaks, Slate-colored Grosbeak, Russet Antshrike and other species as they feasted on fruit and rustled the vegetation with their foraging.

After it appeared that this first mixed flock had moved on, we stopped a hundred meters up the road to pick up Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant and a Black-throated Wren that was uncharacteristically singing from fairly high up in a vine tangle. The morning continued on like this with new birds at virtually every stop we made! Other highlights were excellent looks at a beautiful Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, American Swallow-tailed Kite, Rufous-winged, Smoky-brown, and Golden-olive Woodpeckers, Rufous Motmot heard, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Stripe-breasted Wren, and Spotted Woodcreeper.

At noon, we lunched at the tasty Arboleda Restaurant (a ten minute drive from the San Ramon hotspot) and picked up 6 species of hummingbirds at their feeders (best were Green Thorntail and Coppery-headed Emerald).

After photos of the hummingbirds and updating the list, it was back to the San Ramon hotspot. The afternoon rains had started by this time so birding wasn’t as active as the morning, but it slacked off enough to pick up several new birds where the road reaches a large cultivated area. We scoped out Keel-billed Toucans, Brown Jays, both oropendolas, Hepatic, Crimson-collared, and Silver-throated Tanagers, Black-striped Sparrows, Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, and Crimson-fronted Parakeets. Many of these were actually perched in the same dead tree!

birding Costa Rica Keel-billed Toucan
"Don't even think of asking me about Fruit Loops"!

Keel-billed Toucans are a fairly common sight when birding Costa Rica.

By four pm, we began our journey back to the central valley with stops on the way for Common Bush Tanager, Grayish Saltator, Social Flycatcher, and Yellow-bellied Elaenia. Shortly after our last birds, the rains poured down out of the sky for our drive back to San Jose to end a long yet very birdy day in Costa Rica.