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bird finding in Costa Rica caribbean foothills

Recent Birding at the Pocosol Station in the Children’s Eternal Rainforest

Costa Rica is a fantastic place for birding and not only because more than 900 species are on the official list. The observation of the avian side of life in Costa Rica also earns five stars because so much habitat is accessible. A birder doesn’t need to go far or walk for hours to see lots of birds; dozens of hummingbirds, tanagers, and even hawk-eagles are within two hour’s drive from the main airport.

Violet Sabrewing- one of those hummingbirds.

Of those places where birds thrive in Costa Rica, some sites are better than others simply because more mature forest is present. These are the sites where more species occur, where the rare ones live, and where the excellent birding acts as a window to times when the country was cloaked in a heavy, incredibly complex array of biodiversity.

These remaining heavily forested sites can also act as key nodes for ecosystem corridors required to adequately conserve biodiversity. One of those nodes is the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, an area of middle elevation and foothill rainforest that connects the Monteverde area to Arenal. Named after donations made by children to purchase much of the land in this protected area, as one might surmise, these forests offer up fantastic birding. A few sites provide access to the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, one of them being the Pocosol Station.

Situated at 700 meters deep within the forests of the protected area, Pocosol is one of the better places to connect with Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Purplish-Backed Quail-Dove, and many other uncommon species. The birding is typically excellent, these are some reflections from a recent trip:

The station has improved

The rooms are basic but still good with nice hot showers, and the service continues to be very accommodating. Tasty, local food, early coffee, good trails, and lots of birds.

Great birding from the balcony

Since the buildings are surrounded by forest, you don’t need to go far to see a lot! Birding from the balcony is good for many tanagers, mixed flocks, and views over the forest. We even had Ocellated Antbirds, Northern Schiffornis, and other forest species calling right next to the main building. The balcony birding is especially helpful during rain (which thankfully gave us a break last week).

You don’t need to go far to see a lot!

Birding around the edge of the small clearing and along the entrance road is excellent. We had a lot of activity with various species coming to fruiting trees. The best was the mixed flocks and and other birds just 100 yards from the station. While watching tanagers (including brief look at Blue-an-Gold), White-throated Thrush, and mixed flocks with Brown-billed Scythebill and other species, we also had point blank looks at a small group of Yellow-eared Toucanets!

Trails that also lead from the station get into excellent forest right away and can turn up pretty much anything.

Good for owls

As with any site that features quality habitat, owls are present. Mottled, Spectacled, and Black-and-White were all heard from our rooms. The Black-and-Whites were also seen in the small clearing, they apparently often use the clearing to hunt bats.

Miradores Trail? Be prepared

There are a few trails at Pocosol and they must be visited to see some of the more reclusive species. One of the best areas is back on the Miradores Trail heading to the waterfall. On past trips, we have heard Great Jacamar back there and others have had the monklet, umbrellabird, and other rare species. On our trip, I unfortunately made the mistake of taking the Laguna Trail to go to Miradores. Although the forest was beautiful, the combination of three small creek crossings and up and down trudging was a bit too much. If you go that route, just be prepared.

We didn’t see much but any part of that trail has a lot of potential, especially early in the morning. As for the other trails, they are all exciting. Some of our better species included Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, Rufous-browed Tyrannulet, heard only Black-headed Antthrush, Song Wren, antbirds, and mixed flocks with Streak-crowned Antvireo, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, and a brief look at Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner (!). We also saw Tawny-throated Leaftosser and heard Scaly-throated Leaftosser.

A dearth of raptors

One of the more surprising aspects of this trip was the lack of raptors. Although hawks and their taloned ilk are typically uncommon in Costa Rica, the places where they show more often are sites like Pocosol. Despite frequent scans of the sky and canopy, brief views of just one White Hawk along with a few vultures is worrisome.

Where were the oropendolas?

The other strange absence was that of the oropendolas. Whereas past trips have yielded a constant parade of Montezuma and Chestnut-headed Oropendolas, neither were present on this one! There were also far fewer toucans. Where are the large frugivores? I am guessing that they had moved to areas with more food.

Take the road to Pocosol north of the Penas Blancas River

With road improvements, visiting the station has become much easier but it depends on which road is taken. Avoid the old road that goes from La Tigra because there is a very rough section that leads to an old, very much one lane bridge that looks ripe for collapse. Instead, take the road that leaves from near San Isidro on the north side of the Penas Blancas. This one still has a few rough parts but nothing compared to the other one and its precarious bridge.

Ye olde bridge to Pocosol.

As with other tropical forest sites with high degrees of biodiversity, a birder could visit Pocosol for a week and keep seeing new birds every day. That said, a day visit is still worth the trip. If going that route, I recommend staying at Finca Luna Nueva because the birding is also great there, this organic farm and eco-lodge also acts as a good base to bird other sites in the area, and staying there also supports regenerative agriculture. Need help in setting up your birding trip to Costa Rica? Contact me at information@birdingcraft.com .

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Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope Introduction middle elevations

Pocosol: Little known Costa Rica Birding Destination

“Pocosol” may have rhythm as far as words go, but except for the occasional vampire wannabee (or unfortunates who are extremely sensitive to ultraviolet rays), “Little Sunlight” doesn’t sound all that inviting. Despite being strongly diurnal in nature, the Birding Club of Costa Rica was nevertheless undaunted in planning and doing a trip to Pocosol and although we found that the place lived up to its name, we had a great time anyways. Actually, we were a lot more concerned about constant rain than the lack of sunlight and therefore chose to visit Pocosol in September, the driest month at this very humid, Caribbean foothill forest that gets drenched with more than 4 meters of rain per year. This strategy worked out in avoiding the agua but Pocosol still managed to stay true to its name with constant, heavy cloud cover. Even during the driest of times, this cloud cover apparently ensures a high level of humidity. Although the watery air made photography difficult (at least with my silly set-up), it makes Pocosol a haven for frogs. Even without doing a night walk or having any focus on amphibians, we couldn’t help but notice the large number of frogs that were calling and we saw several right around the cabins and on the trails without really searching for them.

Here is an undentified tree frog trying to hide on one of the dormitory windows.

It would have been cool to go herping but that required more than the three days that we dedicated to full time birding. We essentially started at the Pocosol office near the town of La Tigra and saw several of the usual suspects that do well in non-forest and forest-edge habitats. Birds such as Gray Hawk (a juvie that casually flapped by and got all the small birds giving high-pitched alarm calls), Ruddy Ground-Dove, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Groove-billed Ani, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Social Fly, Great Kiskadee, TK, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Passerini’s Tanager, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, and Yellow-throated Euphonia.

Yellow-bellied Elaenia

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Common Tody-Flycatcher

While enjoying these common birds, the real treat was seeing hundreds of Northern Rough-winged Swallows, a smattering of Cave Swallows, and a few Purple Martins that were passing over in flock after flock on their way south. Much to our chagrin, this was not a preview of our Pocosol birding experience. We must have got unlucky and hit a a dry spell during fall migration because we saw hardly any warblers, vireos, or thrushes during our stay at Pocosol. One of our only warblers was this Black and White female.

The poor thing was probably exhausted as she attempted to forage and rested on the steps of the dormitory.

At least the resident species were around and the birding was pretty good overall. I admit that I expected more, but that’s the way it goes at high diversity sites; you just have to put in the time and effort if you want to see rare species and a couple days of birding just wasn’t enough for that trip. Sure, we identified something like 130 species but saw no hawk-eagles (and the habitat looked perfect), no Crested Eagle (has been seen here on occasion), dipped on Keel-billed Motmot (Pocosol is a good site for this rare species and means that I have to go back), Black-crested Coquette (we saw few of the flowering trees they prefer), and Lattice-tailed Trogon, Yellow-eared Toucanet, and Sharpbill (these three are never guaranteed anywhere).

In any case, most of these are more dependable at the far more accessible Quebrada Gonzalez. When I head for that elusive Motmot (which I may have heard and wrote off as Broad-billed Motmot-they sound very similar), I am going to spend a bit more time birding the road to Pocosol. This will be easy because although the place is just 3 hours from San Jose, it might be best to trot up there on a horse, hike the 13 kilometers from La Tigra, or motor up on an ATV. If you don’t go for one of those options, then be ready to test out the four wheel drive and clearance on your rental vehicle. The first nine kilometers are ok and pass near some nice habitat in the Penas Blancas river valley (where I am sure a morning trip would be great for birding). The other four kilometers also pass near or through birdy-looking areas but you might be too preoccupied with figuring out how to navigate the rocks and furrows to even raise your bins for a TK.

Scenery along the road to Pocosol.

Arriving to Pocosol.

As long as you have four-wheel drive, you will see immediately see why it was worth the efforts in getting here. All around the station is beautiful secondary and primary forest where birds like this Black-faced Grosbeak

and animals such as this Three-toed Sloth can appear at any time. We even saw a group of Spider Monkeys moving through the trees next to the station.

Some of the best birding was right from the balconies in the spacious dormitory building that gave beautiful views into the nearby and distant canopy. We often saw tanagers and other small birds from the balconies and frequently had good looks at Blue and Gold and Black and Yellow Tanagers, and Scarlet-thighed Dacnis. Although I kept scanning the forested hillside, I saw nary a cotinga and it wasn’t until our final morning that we saw a couple of birds perched out there; a White Hawk and adult King Vulture (always nice!).

View from the balcony.

From the balcony, the nearby lagoon at Pocosol was also visible if fairly birdless (a few Least Grebes and Green Kingfisher). More birds were seen along the trail that led to this crater lake and included small mixed flocks led by Golden-crowned Warblers, Tawny-throated Leaftosser foraging on the trail, Brown-billed Scythebill, and several Thicket Antpittas that called (laughed at us?) from the undergrowth. This hard to see but constantly heard species was pretty common at Pocosol. We heard them from dawn to dusk but only a few of us were lucky enough to glimpse one in the dense second growth they prefer. Trails around the lake passed through abandoned guava plantations and weren’t so good for birds but were great for peccaries. These wild pigs were so concentrated in this area that there must have also been a jaguar or at least a puma around which we of course didn’t see (although others have).

The lagoon at Pocosol.

The other main trail at Pocosol is a loop that goes up onto a ridge, passes by fumaroles, and passes through some of the best primary rain forest I have seen in Costa Rica . Since we did one quick walk here at the slow time of day (mid-morning), we didn’t see too much but still managed Song Wren, Slaty Antwren, heard Dull-mantled Antbird and Black-headed Antthrush, and got fair looks at one, large mixed flock led by White-throated Shrike-Tanager that held Rufous-browed Tyrannulet, most of the tanagers, and Russet Antshrike. The next time I go to Pocosol, I would love to spend a whole day just slowly birding that beautiful trail- it looked like the type of place where rare birds or a cat could show up at any moment.

The other area we birded was along the section of the entrance road closest to the station.

Habitat was more open with lots of Cecropias but there were still quite a few birds. The best were Rufous-winged and Smoky-brown Woodpeckers (fairly common at Pocosol), Immaculate Antbird (h), and great looks at…

Rufous-tailed Jacamar.

We didn’t get lucky with owls but the caretaker has seen Spectacled and Crested right around the station and I heard one Mottled Owl. Speaking of the caretaker, he did a great job and I would go back in a second as the service and food were good, the dormitory rooms comfortable, and the forest as peaceful as it was beautiful. Costs for visiting Pocosol are an affordable $45 per night that includes a bed and meals. They can also provide transportation up the road but charge a lot for it. For more information and making reservations, see http://www.acmcr.org/pocosol_biological_station.html