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Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope feeders Hummingbirds middle elevations

More great birding near San Ramon, Costa Rica

I have been more or less stuck in the not so scenic, urbanized areas of Costa Rica for the past few weeks. Work and family duties (including a children’s birthday party replete with scary clown dancing to reggaeton blasted out of an amplifier) have kept me from birding the beautiful, exciting, rainforests and cloud forests of Costa Rica.

This past Saturday, though, I happily exchanged the cracked sidewalks, barking dogs, and honking cars for the fresh air, tropical forests, and tanagers of rainforests near San Ramon, Costa Rica.

I had the great fortune of guiding our local birding club (appropriately named, “The Birding Club of Costa Rica”) on a day trip to this wonderful, birdy area and although that was just a few days ago, I already can’t wait to go back.

The combination of light traffic, beautiful mountain scenery, accessible Caribbean slope foothill forest, and hummingbird action make this area a true, Costa Rican birding hotspot. Don’t be surprised if you have never read about this area in any trip reports though because it has been almost entirely overlooked by birders visiting Costa Rica. The probable reasons for this are because in the past, there was much less infrastructure, the road connecting San Ramon to La Tigra was pretty bad, and birders could see similar species at Virgen del Socorro.

However, since Virgen del Socorro is no longer a birding option, infrastructure has improved, and because the road is in great shape, every birder visiting Costa Rica should make efforts to include this area on their itinerary, especially so if they are headed to Arenal.

Although the hour and twenty minute drive from San Jose can be tiresome, at least its a scenic one after leaving San Ramon and heading through the cloudy pass that separates the Tilaran and Central mountain ranges.

Despite hot, sunny weather keeping bird activity to a minimum during much of the morning, we still recorded over 100 species on our day trip this past Saturday, our only waterbird being Northern Jacana.

One of our first birds was a White Hawk seen perched across the road from our meeting place at the San Luis Canopy. As we waited for the rest of the group and searched the treetops vain for Lovely Cotinga, other notables were Tawny-throated Leaftosser singing from a ravine and a gorgeous male, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis that briefly lit atop a distant tree.

birding Costa Rica White Hawk

White Hawks shine like fresh snow when the blazing, morning tropical sun lights them up.

Zip-lining mannequins assure that you can’t miss The San Luis Canopy.

Once the entire group was present, we drove 10 minutes to the entrance of our birding road at Los Lagos. The lakes gave us our jacana but nothing else save heard only White-throated Crake and a few other open country species. Further up the road, the sunny weather was great for butterflies but made for very slow birding. We heard a few things now and then like Spotted Woodcreeper, Dusky Antbird, Thicket Antpitta, and Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant but saw very little other than a lone Piratic Flycatcher, Purple-crowned Fairy, lazy Black Vultures, Bananaquit, and Green Honeycreeper.

birding rainforests San Ramon, Costa Rica

Birding the road to Manuel Brenes Biological Reserve

Although the sunny weather was keeping bird activity to a bare minimum, the dry weather was a nice break from the heavy rains that had been soaking the central valley for the past two weeks.

As we made our way up the road, I kept an eye out for fruiting trees and mixed flocks. Small red fruits on an Inga species attracted a bevy of Golden-browed Chlorophonias (at 800 meters, a bit lower than their usual haunts), more Green Honeycreepers, and Scarlet-thighed Dacnis but mixed flocks had evaded us so far.

By 10 A.M., we reached a place along the road that I call “the overlook”. It’s a high point that looks down into a valley where much of the forest has been replaced by rows of plants most commonly seen in offices throughout the world. There are still number of canopy trees left standing though, and it pays to scan them for birds. Since you can look down at the huge trees, it’s a bit like birding from a canopy tower and in the past I have seen toucans, aracaris, tanagers, raptors, etc. from this point. Because of the elevation and habitat, it also looks like a good spot for Lovely Cotinga.

birding Costa Rica habitat

The overlook.

On sunny Saturday, as good as the overlook appeared, we saw zero birds. The fact that clouds were forming, though, gave us some hope that bird activity would pick up before lunch. It did and it nearly came all at once.

A massive mixed flock greeted us after we descended into the valley from the overlook. They were moving so fast and furious through the back-lit trees that most went unidentified. Those birds that stayed long enough to be seen or who at least paused to call were:

Orange-bellied Trogon (3 or 4 graced the flock), Rufous-winged Woodpecker, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Spotted Woodcreeper, Russet Antshrike, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Tropical Parula, Slate-throated Redstart, and Olive, Black and yellow, Emerald, Silver-throated, and Bay-headed Tanagers.

Orange-bellied Trogon, birding Costa Rica

Orange-bellied Trogons are endemic to Costa Rica and Panama.

The views were frustrating but at least we were seeing birds! At this point, we made an about face because venturing further up the road would have required vehicles with four-wheel drive. As it had finally become overcast, birding on the way back out was an extreme contrast to our slow morning.

While stopping for a few Olive Tanagers, we had a major bird domino effect where one bird kept leading to another.  The Olive Tanager led us to another mixed flock that suddenly revealed itself in the form of Tawny-crowned Greenlets, Golden-crowned Warblers, more tanagers, and best of all, Brown-billed Scythebill (!).

While searching for this curlew billed woodcreeper, Yellow-eared Toucanet called nearby (!). As I looked for the toucanet (never did find it), two Purplish-backed Quail-Doves began to call (!). A Plain Antvireo revealed itself and the quail-doves glided across the road for brief but tickable views. A Rufous-tailed Jacamar then began to vocalize down the road so we walked over to it, promptly found it and while watching the jacamar, became aware of another, big mixed flock.

biridng Costa Rica Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Iridescent Rufous-tailed Jacamars are fairly common in the Tilaran mountains of Costa Rica.

One of the first birds I got onto was Green Shrike Vireo. This tough canopy skulker only showed itself to a few of the group but at least there were plenty of other birds to watch: Spotted Woodcreepers, another Brown-billed Scythebill giving perfect looks, White-ruffed Manakin, Tropical Gnatcatcher, several tanagers including the likes of White-throated Shrike-Tanager and Speckled in addition to everything we had at the other, big mixed flock.

It was fast, exciting birding but it was also time for lunch so as soon as the birds trouped out of sight, we headed back to our meeting place at the San Luis Canopy to dine at the Arboleda restaurant. The food was good as always although they had “gotten smart” and raised their prices by $1 to $2 per dish. They also changed up the dynamic of their hummingbird feeders which resulted in fewer species. Nevertheless, we still managed close looks at Violet-crowned Woodnymph (the dominator), Coppery-headed Emerald, Green-crowned Brilliant, Green Hermit, and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird.

Hummingbird feeders birding Costa Rica

The hummingbird feeders at the Arboleda restaurant.

birding Costa Rica Green crowned brilliant

After lunch and hummingbirds, we drove back up the highway for about 5 minutes to check out more hummingbirds at a hummingbird and butterfly garden. For $5 per person, we watched the same species as the Arboleda restaurant in addition to Violet Sabrewing and White-bellied Mountain-gem. Overall, the hummingbird watching was better at this place. The butterfly garden was good and they also had two loop trails that accessed nice, middle elevation forest.

birding Costa Rica hummingbirds

The nice, educational hummingbird feeder set up.

Coppery-headed Emerald birding Costa Rica

Coppery-headed Emeralds were the dominant species at the hummingbird/butterfly garden. This Costa Rican endemic even chased away the Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds.

Coppery-headed Emerald female

The female Coppery-headed Emerald looks pretty nice too.

The short loop trail is maintained whereas the second, longer one is slippery and muddy. We went on both and saw things like Slaty-backed and Black-headed Nightingale Thrushes, Silver-throated Tanager, Slaty Antwren, Spotted Woodcreeper, Slate-throated Redstart, and Golden-crowned Warbler. Our best birds were Blue and Gold Tanager both in the forest and right at the parking lot, and Rufous Motmot here at the upper limits of its range.

Rufous Motmot birding Costa Rica

Our Rufous Motmot posing in the dim understory. Check out the mud on its bill from excavating a hole.

birding Costa Rica

Navigating the muddy trail.

birding Costa Rica

Navigating a slippery log bridge over the Rufous Motmot’s hangout.

I’m not sure what time this place opens in the morning but I suspect that their under-birded forest harbors some sweet surprises (think quail-doves and antpittas). Although the forest isn’t very wide, the back part is connected to a large block of habitat.

Lot’s of birding and places to explore along the road between San Ramon and La Tigra- I can’t wait to go back!

Categories
Birding Costa Rica caribbean slope Hummingbirds middle elevations sites for day trips

Costa Rica birding near San Ramon

San Ramon is a small city on the western edge of the central valley in Costa Rica. The city itself doesn’t have much to offer for birding in Costa Rica but some nearby areas have a lot of potential. Although I know of a few local birders who visit the cloud forests and middle elevation rainforests near San Ramon, since I have never seen this area mentioned in a trip report, I suspect that it isn’t on most people’s birding agenda.

This is probably due to the sites being located off the regularly beaten path when birding Costa Rica. However, after some recent exploration near San Ramon, I think that every birder should make some time for birding this area, especially if they are on their way to Arenal.

Since the closing of the Cinchona road (nope, not fixed yet and don’t expect that anytime soon), there are three main routes that people usually take to get to Arenal from San Jose. The most popular route is the road that passes through Grecia and Zarcero before crossing over to the Caribbean Slope and reaching Ciudad Quesada. This route is probably the quickest but it’s also the least birdy.

The most adventurous route is the road that passes through Bajos del Toro. This steep road goes through some nice cloud forest and isn’t very busy but I will post about that some other time.

The third route (and the one that this post does deal with) is highway 141 that leaves San Ramon and passes through Los Angeles (the Costa Rican version is vastly different from the American one) on its way to La Fortuna. In fact, even if you didn’t want to stop for birds on your way to Arenal, this is the most direct and scenic route to La Fortuna. That said, you should ALWAYS stop and bird along the way because this underbirded area has lots of great middle elevation forest!

This road provides access to a number of excellent sites including Pocosol, but the two places I visited this past Sunday are the most accessible; (1) The road to Manuel Brenes Reserve, and (2) the San Luis Canopy Restaurant.

You will see the road to Manuel Brenes on the left, just as you reach an interesting marsh (aren’t they all) and lakes on the right side of the road. These lakes are supposedly good for Pied-billed Grebe although we didn’t see this uncommon Costa Rican resident on Sunday. I was expecting the usual rutted, rough track but was pleasantly surprised to find that it was in pretty good condition. Although you have to watch out for menacing rocks, and feel scared crossing small bridges, even a two wheel drive could manage this birdy track.

Yes, the road to Manuel Brenes Reserve is a birdy track AND it has almost no traffic!

A birdy looking track.

It passes through nice middle elevation forest (800 meters) for several kilometers before coming to a more open area where the road forks. Even the open area was good and looked like the perfect place to scan treetops for Lovely Cotinga. We didn’t continue past the fork and I suspect the road gets worse from there but who knows?

Despite getting rained out for half of the morning, we had a pretty good selection of species and I know this area has much more to offer (others have seen antswarms and Tiny Hawk for example). Once the rain stopped, we saw:

Too rainy to fly today.

Perched Short-tailed Hawks. I am pretty sure this is the only time I have seen this species on a perch anywhere (I have probably seen at least a couple hundred in flight). We also got a perched White Hawk from the same location

The beautiful White Hawk is seen now and then when birding Costa Rica.

in addition to Keel-billed Toucans, Crested Guan (pretty common along the road), flybys of Brown-hooded Parrot and Crimson-fronted Parakeet, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, and tanagers such as Passerini’s, Crimson-collared, Silver-throated, Palm, and the local Blue and Gold.

Blue and Gold Tanager sharing a tree with a much duller Palm Tanager.

Mixed flocks along the road had Spotted Woodcreeper,

Spotted Woodcreeper is the common woodcreeper of foothill and middle elevation forests when birding Costa Rica.

Russet Antshrike, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Rufous-browed Tyrannulet (no pic but trust me, we had perfect looks at this warbler-like flycatcher), Plain Xenops, White-ruffed Manakin, Lesser Greenlet, noisy Olive Tanagers, Black and Yellow Tanagers, and White-throated Shrike-Tanager.

The lack of trails going into the forest makes it very difficult to see the Thicket Antpittas and Black-headed Antthrushes that we heard but the area is still very much worth a visit and can even be done as a day trip from San Jose (about an hour and a half drive).

Another view of this birdy road.

The other thing that makes this a great site for a day trip is the nearby Arboleda Restaurant at the San Luis Canopy. Watch for it on the east side of the road on your way back to San Jose. Or, you can stop there before you get to the road to Manuel Brenes but it’s better to visit this site for lunch.

The Arboleda Restaurant is a quick 10 minute drive from the entrance to Manuel Brenes road.

The San Luis Canopy site mostly does those canopy zipline tours but they also have several hummingbird feeders and views into the cloud forest from the restaurant (which is very good and has decent prices). They also have a trail but it’s not very developed and is more for maintaining the ziplines. The hummingbird feeders are the main attraction and showcase such stars as Green-crowned Brilliant,

Green-crowned Brilliants are common at cloud forest feeders when birding Costa Rica.

Coppery-headed Emerald,

One of Costa Rica's endemic bird species.

Green Hermit,

Green Hermits are pretty common in foothill and cloud forests when birding Costa Rica.

Violet-crowned Woodnymph,

Violet-crowned Woodnymph is one of the more commonly seen hummingbirds of Costa Rican rainforests.

the good old Rufous-tailed Hummingbird,

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird- the de-facto hummingbird when birding Costa Rica.

and Green Thorntail.

Green Thorntails are rather local in Costa Rica.

I hope to make this one of my regular birding sites and will offer day tours here soon because I am sure that the forests near San Ramon have a lot more in store when birding Costa Rica!

Categories
Introduction Panama birding Panama trips

Birding at David and the Lost and Found eco-hostel, Panama

In early August, 2008 I took a short trip from Costa Rica to David and the Lost and Found eco-hostel, both in Chiriqui, Panama. I would have liked to explore more around David but due to time and transportation limitations, wasn’t able to look for Veraguan Mango. Nor was I able to bird the extensive mangroves and nearby forested islands in the Chiriqui gulf. Nevertheless, I hope to give birders an idea of what to expect and at the same time encourage them to explore underbirded, promising areas near David. I certainly hope to do so at some future time.

Birding in David

David, the second largest city in Panama, is pretty birdy as a result of green space in the form of empty lots, gardens and many remnant trees. Found in the Pacific slope lowlands of western Panama, David is hot and humid and located at the junction of drier habitats to the east and wet forests of the Chiriqui Endemic Bird Area to the west. As is the case of most urbanized areas, birding is better outside of the city but if you can’t do that at least you should see a fair number of widespread neotropical species. I visited Pedegral Port one morning hoping to get images of aquatic species. Although I didn’t get lucky with aquatic birds, it sounds like a boat trip through nearby mangroves would be very worthwhile according to Guido Berguido who apparently found Yellow-billed Cotinga!

Pedregal is found at the end of the main road heading south from the airport. There is a small yacht club with small restaurant. Overall, the place was undeveloped; don’t expect that to last for long! This would be an excellent place for mangrove education and tourism. I took a taxi there for about $3-$4. Buses are also available but may be infrequent.

The following is a list of species (most very common) recorded while casually birding around the Parque Cervantes and empty lots and shaded streets near the Purple House Hostel http:// www.purplehousehostel.com as well as a few hours one morning at Port Pedegral. There are certainly many more possibilities including at least a few owl species:

P= only recorded Pedregal

Magnificent Frigatebird (P)

Anhinga (P)

Great Egret (P)

Little Blue Heron (P)

Neotropic Cormorant (P)

Black-bellied Whistling Duck (P)

Spotted Sandpiper (P)

Collared Forest Falcon (P)

Yellow-headed Caracara

Crested Caracara

Black Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Pale-vented Pigeon

White-tipped Dove

Ruddy Ground Dove

Red-lored Parrot

Blue-headed Parrot

Crimson-fronted Parakeet

Orange-chinned Parakeet

Brown-throated Parakeet

Squirrel Cuckoo

Short-tailed Swift

Mangrove Swallow (P)

Grey-breasted Martin

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Blue-crowned Motmot

Lineated Woodpecker

Red-crowned Woodpecker

Barred Antshrike

Tropical Kingbird

Piratic Flycatcher

Social Flycatcher

Boat-billed Flycatcher

Great-crested Flycatcher

Dusky-capped Flycatcher

Common Tody Flycatcher

Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet

Southern Beardless Tyrannulet (P)

Yellow-bellied Elaenia

House Wren

Cay-colored Robin

Bananaquit

Baltimore Oriole

Orchard Oriole

Bronzed Cowbird

Great-tailed Grackle

Blue-grey Tanager

Buff-throated Saltator

Black-striped Sparrow

Thick-billed Seed Finch

Blue-black Grassquit

Yellow-faced Grassquit

Yellow-bellied Seedeater (P)

Below are some bird photos from David and Pedregal

Blue-black Grasquit; one of the most common neotropical bird species.

Crimson-fronted Parakeets are especially common in David.

Mangrove Swallows fall into the cute category.


Red-crowned Woodpecker is one of the most common birds in David

Ruddy Ground Doves are also pretty common

Tropical Kingbirds are aggressive!

The Lost and Found Eco-Hostel

The Lost and Found Eco-Hostel is probably one of the only hostels in the world nestled within it’s own cloud forest preserve. After running into several of their pamphlets at other Panamanian hostels, I finally got the chance to visit for a few days in early August, 2008. Located at 1,200 meters on the Pacific slope, aside from some shade coffee and a small orchard, this hostel is surrounded by a large area of old growth moist and cloud forest. Birding was pretty good around the hostel itself with American Swallow-tailed Kite being one of the more common, spectacular species. For most of the day at least a dozen graced the sky with their aerial acrobatics. Mixed flocks and frugivores often came through the trees near the hostel, especially the forest edge at the trailhead.

The few trails that accessed the forest were fairly muddy and rough but offered good birding and extended for a few ks. One trail apparently reaches a river and enters forest with a more Caribbean slope aspect. The upper part of the trail that follows a ridge with stunted trees and bamboo probably has specialties such as Maroon-fronted Ground Dove and Blue Seedeater.

Although one of the owners, Andrew, is there most of the time, it’s probably best to contact them before visiting. Both he and Patrick were very helpful and friendly. They manage the place quite well and even have a feeding platform for nocturnal animals. I look forward to my next visit.

For more information including pricing and directions, see http://birdingcraft.com/wordpress and http://www.moreinpanama.blogspot.com

Lost and Found email: thepanpro@yahoo.com

Phone: 65819223 or 66545961

The following is a list of all species recorded (66 total) during a stay of about three days with notes on abundance. As I was focused on bird photography, birders working the trails should come up with several more species. Regional endemic taxa are highlighted, a few photos at the end.

Little Tinamou

heard below orchard

Black-breasted Wood Quail

few coveys heard

Black Guan

a few seen fruiting trees

Turkey Vulture

a few seen

Short-tailed Hawk

1 seen

White Hawk

1 seen

American Swallow-tailed Kite

very common

Band-tailed Pigeon

a few flyovers

Ruddy Pigeon

1-2 heard

Chiriqui Quail Dove

1 quick flyby in orchard

Sulphur-winged Parakeets

good views of flyby flocks

Mottled Owl

1 heard

Squirrel Cuckoo

1 seen

White-collared Swift

100 or so in flock

Green Hermit

several seen

Green Violetear

several seen

Violet Sabrewing

a few seen

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

a few seen

Mountain Gem species

a few seen

White-tailed Emerald

several in orchard-quite common

Orange-bellied Trogon

a few seen

Emerald (Blue-throated) Toucanet

several seen

Prong-billed Barbet

a few seen

Golden-olive Woodpecker

a few seen

Red-crowned Woodpecker

a few near road

Spotted Barbtail

pair in forest

Red-faced Spinetail

a few near orchard

Spectacled Foliage-gleaner

several-pretty common

Lineated Foliage-gleaner

one heard forest

Spotted Woodcreeper

1-2 seen

Wedge-billed Woodcreeper

1 seen

Olivaceous Woodcreeper

1 seen

Ruddy Woodcreeper

pair in forest

Rufous-breasted Antthrush

1-2 heard

Immaculate Antbird

a few heard

Slaty Antwren

few in forest

Three-wattled Bellbird

1-2 heard

Dusky-capped Flycatcher

1 pair

Tropical Peewee

1 orchard

Yellowish Flycatcher

common around hostel

Paltry Tyrannulet

several

Mountain Elaenia

a few

House Wren

hostel mascot

Gray-breasted Wood Wren

A few heard

Southern Nightingale Wren

1 heard

Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush

several, common around hostel

White-throated Thrush

1 seen

Mountain Thrush

few seen

Long-billed Gnatwren

fairly common forest

Tawny-crowned Greenlet

A few forest

Lesser Greenlet

Several

Brown-capped Vireo

Several

Three-striped Warbler

A few forest

Golden-crowned Warbler

A few

Bananaquit

A few

Tropical Parula

Several

Slate-throated Redstart

Several

Common Bush Tanager

A few

Scarlet-thighed Dacnis

A few

Silver-throated Tanager

Several

Bay-headed Tanager

A few

Crimson-collared Tanager

A few

Flame-colored Tanager

1

White-winged Tanager

Pair

Yellow-throated (White-naped) Brush Finch

Several

Here are a few bird photos from the Lost and Found eco-hostel

Saw this stunning White Hawk sitting in the pouring rain.

The most common, widespread Myiarchus Flycatcher: Dusky-capped Flycatcher.

Young Trogons are funky looking birds indeed! This is an Orange-bellied.

Here is the dapper adult male.

Orange-billed Nightingale Thrushes were very common.

As were Paltry Tyrannulets

And Spectacled Foliage-gleaners

This White-tailed Emerald is sticking its tongue out.