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biodiversity Introduction non avian organisms

Snakes and Birding in Costa Rica

Recent conversations and inquiries about snakes (especially the venomous ones) followed up by a close encounter with a Fer-de-Lance has prompted me to finally write “the snake post”. Like many birders, although I focus on the feathered, I am also interested in many other aspects of nature (I almost said, “the natural world” but how could it be anything but natural). Among the myriads of life forms on our precious planet, snakes rank pretty high up there as creatures I would love to see more of and I admit that I keep a casual world snake list (my best species are Anaconda and Eastern Hog-nosed) but the list is pathetically short because I hardly EVER see any of the 130 plus species found in Costa Rica. While tromping around the tropical woods, I often wonder where they all are and you probably will too unless you spend all of your time herping instead of birding (and even then it might be easier to see birds). In actuality, snakes are probably somewhere in the vicinity no matter you go in Costa Rica; they just don’t want to be seen. Since they are easy to catch and have such a wide spectrum of predators that include coatis, peccaries, a variety of birds, other snakes, and unforgiving people, they have more than enough reasons to remain hidden. Some have even evolved to hide in plain sight with the help of fantastic camouflage; a trait that despite being very impressive, tends to promote anxiety and paranoia among guides and field biologists. One starts to get a little paranoid because the more time one spends in tropical habitats, by sheer probability, the more likely it is that one will be too close for comfort to a Fer-de-Lance. Realizing that that they are common and incredibly camouflaged doesn’t help either even though there are plenty of stories of people walking close to or even grabbing this highly venomous snake without getting bit. As of this past Sunday, I can now add my own encounter with a Fer-de-Lance to the long list of stories with happy endings that involve this infamous pit-viper.

I was at Quebrada Gonzalez with a client and my driver for the day and we were doing the loop trail behind the station for the second time (I often find different species doing the trail more than once, the additions on Sunday being White-whiskered Puffbird, Streak-chested Antpitta, and Spotted Antbird). Earlier on, during our morning walk, one of the rangers had passed us on the trail and had casually mentioned that he was going to use the long pole he was carrying to remove a large Fer-de-Lance from the path. Being occupied with staring into the trees on our search for birds, we didn’t see him move the snake but didn’t see the Fer-de-Lance that first time around. Although he had lifted it off of the trail, he apparently didn’t relocate it far enough away from the path because much to our nerve-racking surprise, it came back in the afternoon. Despite knowing where the snake had been hanging out and watching where I was stepping, I didn’t see the 5 foot serpent until it was practically underfoot. Its camouflage worked so well that I only noticed it because it was kind enough to move off of the path before I stepped on it. Although it was rather alarming to find that I didn’t see the snake until it moved, at least I can say that I am pleased with my instincts and reaction time. As soon as I perceived motion near the ground, I moved so fast that the only thing I recollect is possibly flying for about ten feet while exclaiming, “Stop! Snake! Snake on the trail! Don’t move!” After uttering a few other choice words to release the tension, I quickly calmed myself down (kung-fu birding at its best), and noticing that Linda and Janet could make a safe detour around the snake, directed them past the scaly beast. Although I didn’t notice exactly where the Fer-de-Lance had been at the start of this encounter, it ended up moving entirely off of the trail and took up a defensive posture.

See if you can find the snake below!

Here is a close-up of the head.

And if you had trouble finding the snake, here it is outlined.

It was pretty big and I am very lucky that it didn’t strike. Its reaction, though, is consistent with most other encounters that I have heard about. The few people who have gotten bit in Costa Rica have not been birders. They are usually people who picked one up, were cutting low-lying vegetation with a machete in a garden, or were walking at night along a forest trail in bare feet (this from a Bribri woman who told me that she got bit during a full moon and so of course her foot aches at every full moon). Although it sounds like the Fer-de-Lance typically reacts the way this snake did, that doesn’t mean that you should ever get that close to one! I take this encounter as a warning of sorts and in addition to never walking where I can’t clearly see the ground, will also scan the trail 10 meters ahead with binoculars to specifically check for snakes, and will watch 2 meters ahead of where I am walking. If I had done this, I am pretty sure that I would have seen the snake before almost stepping on it because I was only checking the ground directly beneath my feet. Rubber boots probably also add some protection (I usually wear those anyways).

It was actually a bit unusual to see a Fer-de-Lance deep inside the forest as they are much more common in second growth, grassy areas, at tree-fall gaps, and along streams. Be especially careful near marshy areas or other habitats that harbor lots of frogs because contrary to what has often been said about this infamous viper in books and TV shows, at least on the Caribbean Slope, they appear to be strict connoisseurs of the “grenouille”. I found this out last year when speaking with a naturalist who lives in the Reventazon Valley and is probably more of a herper than a birder. Over at least twenty years, in checking the stomach contents of at least a 100 Fer-de-Lances, every single one had fed almost exclusively on frogs no matter what size the snakes were. He also said that Bothrops asper were very common in fields with tall grass-keep that in mind next time you want to leave the trail! On his property, the venemous snakes that were taking larger rodents were Bushmasters. Much rarer and harder to find than Fer-de-Lance, on the Caribbean Slope of Costa Rica, they appear to be restricted to mature foothill forests (such as that of Quebrada Gonzalez) rather than in lowland forest. These observations also reflect my own experiences in Costa Rica and southeastern Peru. When I worked at the Posada Amazonas lodge in Tambopata Peru, during occasional explosions of mouse opossum and rodent populations, it was never Bothrops that suddenly showed up but Boas and Bushmasters (although it still took a lot of effort to find either of those). Regarding Bushmasters, they also blend in with the leaf litter but are more likely to occur near a log or base of a tree than on the trail itself (unless the log is lying across the trail). They are also pretty darn rare in Costa Rica so it is very unlikely that you will run into one (although rangers have told me that this species is untypically common at Hitoy Cerere).

Bushmaster or “Matabuey” at the Monteverde serpentarium.

Other snakes to watch our for on the ground are Jumping Viper (sounds scarier than it is), two species of Hog-nosed Vipers, and the Tropical Rattlesnake. The first three are rather small vipers that blend in quite well and could occur on a trail. Although I haven’t seen either of the Hog-nosed Vipers in the wild, I had a run in with a Jumping Viper at Bijagua that left me pretty frazzled. We were both in a hurry and like pedestrians on a crowded sidewalk, nearly ran into each other. Although I was the only one that jumped, I think it was just as startled because the viper opened its mouth and hissed at me. Hoping that it would continue on its way if I left it alone, I backtracked and birded for about twenty minutes before walking back up the trail. Much to my dismay, it hadn’t moved an inch and even knowing where it was, I still didn’t see the two foot snake until I was within ten feet of it. Oh yeah, just to make sure that I couldn’t miss it, the unfriendly serpent also hissed again. I ended up lifting it off the trail with a very long stick (which it struck repeatedly), and was hissed at as I walked past the snake even though it was at least ten feet away from me. Needless to say, I focused on the trail so much on my way out that I didn’t see any more birds.

Jumping Viper at the Monteverde serpentarium.

Western Hognose Viper at the Monteverde Serpentarium.

I don’t have any personal encounters with Tropical Rattlesnakes to relate but assume these are pretty easy to avoid because they would be easy to see along roads or the wide trails where most birding in the Pacific Northwest is done (don’t walk into the tall grass!).

Tropical Rattlesnake at the Monteverde Serpentarium.

In addition to watching where one walks, one also has to always be careful of the understory vegetation. In other words, don’t brush up against the leaves and do not grab any stems or tree trunks. Spines, thorns, nasty caterpillars, and sting-happy ants are just waiting to give you a surprise, and Eyelash Vipers won’t ask if you really meant to grab them before biting. The Eyelash Viper could be the most common venomous snake in Costa Rica and is the one most often seen. Rather small, this arboreal pit-viper rarely reaches more than two feet in length. It prefers to sit and wait in bushes, and on the understory vegetation for lizards, frogs, and birds. The beautiful golden phase stands out but the more typical mottled, green phase blends in perfectly with the mossy vegetation. Just don’t get too close to the vegetation though, and you will be alright.

A small Eyelash Viper at Quebrada Gonzalez.

Another at Bijagua.

There are also other rarer, arboreal vipers found at higher elevations but I don’t have any images of those.

Coral Snakes are far from rare in Costa Rica and at least a few species occur here with the two most common being the Central American and Allen’s Coral Snakes. I see a Coral Snake every once in a while in the woods, on a grassy lawn, or even in a coffee plantation. Although highly venomous, since they don’t blend in with their surroundings, you aren’t likely to step on one and are only likely to get bit if you pick one of these cobra relatives up and play with it (an obviously bad idea that herpetologists somehow can’t stop themselves from doing).

Central American Coral Snake at at the Monteverde Serpentarium.

Of course the poisonous snakes are the most exciting but in reality, on the rare occasions when I come across a serpent, it is of one of the many non-venomous species. One of the more frequently seen species is the Oriole Snake. This arboreal species can get quite big- in fact the largest snake I have seen in Costa Rica was a 8-9 foot individual of this species hanging out in the trees next to the HQ at Quebrada Gonzalez.

Oriole Snake in the Monteverde Serpentarium.

And here is a Tiger Rat Snake I saw at Rara Avis.

Some other fairly common snakes that I do not have pictures of are Salmon-bellied Racer, Mussarana, and Vine Snakes. I would like to have more images or at least augment my snake list but it’s just so hard to focus on looking for herps when there are so many birds to look for, watch, and study.

In any case, I hope this post doesn’t scare anyone from visiting Costa Rica. I think no matter where one travels, visitors will be safe as long as they take proper precautions for any potentially dangerous organisms. In Costa Rica, this means staying on the trail, watching where you walk, and it doesn’t hurt to hire a guide.

Birding Costa Rica Introduction

How to see Tinamous in Costa Rica

I wish I had photos of tinamous but other than pics of Undulated Tinamous from Tambopata, Peru, I haven’t been lucky enough to get adequate pics of any other of these goofy-looking, wonderful, feathered footballs (and by “footballs” I mean the somewhat cylindrical, all American “pigskin”). So, if you were hoping for lots of breathtaking imagery in this blog post, I am sorry to disappoint.

However, if you want to find out how to see tinamous in Costa Rica (and elsewhere) read on!

Tinamous as a family range from tropical Mexico all the way south to the cold, windy grasslands of Patagonia. They stick to the ground in both humid and dry forests, thick second growth, above the treeline in the October-colored paramo, and in the grasslands of the southern cone. They are also pretty tough to see no matter where you go but at least love to vocalize with haunting songs that are easy on the ears; a boon for birders who happily make ticks on their life list with “heard onlys”. For those of us who need visual confirmation to add one more precious bird to our life lists, though, the ventriloquil songs of Tinamous can quickly turn from being magical and beautifully mysterious to being maddening and horribly frustrating. Although they may be rather “primitive” birds, tinamous aren’t exactly dumb. On the contrary, they must be pretty smart to have survived as a family for several million years and are very adept at remaining unseen. Like avian ninjas of the neotropics, tinamous start the day by taunting birders with their loud, beautiful songs, but then carefully slink through and hide in the undergrowth as soon as binocular-toting, khaki-wearing people hit the trails. After a tinamou-less day inside the forest, and usually while musing about tinamous over drinks right around 5 P.M., the football-shaped birds laugh at the birders with a flurry of vocalizations emanating from deep within the forest. Some tinamous think the joke is so good that they just can’t help themselves and insist on singing in the middle of the night. Really, its’ no wonder that so many people who live near tinamous want to shoot and eat them!

I don’t want to do tinamous any harm whatsoever, nor do I even mind their sneaky behavior. As Zen as I would like to believe myself to be, I have to admit that it’s easy to withstand the tremulous laughs of the tinamous because I am the one who gets the final guffaw. You see, I think that one must think and act like certain birds to see them. In the case of tinamous, this means taking the birding gloves off and getting downright sneaky. You can try playback with tinamous, but aside from over-harrassing the birds, they don’t respond so well. I admit that I have had some success with playback on tinamous, but don’t find it to be as useful of a tool as some other tricks to see these guys.

The most basic and best way to see more tinamous is to walk carefully, quietly, and slowly through the forest. Stop often, be patient, constantly scan the undergrowth, and keep an eye on the trail ahead. Most of all, do not talk, and remember to think like a ninja! Don’t worry about rushing; there are birds around and some might be looking at you. In addition to tinamous, I often end up seeing other ground birds this way such as quail-doves, antthrushes, and wood-quail.

Watch for food sources. Although tinamous mostly eat small creatures such as bugs and lizards, many will also take fallen fruit. Watch for tinamous at antswarms, below fruiting trees, and at spots where flowers that have fallen from the canopy may attract more insects.

Track down singing tinamous at dawn and dusk and bring a flashlight. Get out there when they sing- you might be able to sneak up on one close to the trail.

If the above advice pays off and you do see a tinamou in Costa Rica, at least their identification is pretty straightforward. The five species in Costa Rica are:

Great Tinamou : Common in lowland and foothill rainforest, if you see a brown tinamou with grayish legs that looks bigger than a chicken, it’s this one. Although found at a variety of sites, the most reliable places are Carara and La Selva because Great Tinamous tend to be more tame in these protected forests. It sings with deep, tremulous whistles.

Slaty-breasted Tinamou : Restricted to the northern half of the Caribbean slope, there aren’t too many places to see this species in Costa Rica because of extensive deforestation. To me, they don’t seem as common as they used to be at La Selva although they are still fairly reliable there. Other possibilities are Tortuguero, the forested areas around Laguna del Lagarto lodge, and around the Arenal area. Slaty-breasted Tinamous also occur at Rara Avis and Quebrada Gonzalez, although they are more common in the lowlands. This species might be easier in countries to the north. I recall seeing one or two at Palenque in Mexico. Listen for two very low-pitched whistles that are the song of this one and watch for the gray breast.

Thicket Tinamou : If you see a tinamou in the dry forest, it’s probably this one. Watch for the barring on the upperparts, rufescent tones of the plumage, and reddish legs. During the dry season, especially watch for it in gallery forest and listen for the low, whistled song.

Little Tinamou : The most common and at the same time most difficult to see tinamou in Costa Rica, you will know that one is near when you hear what sounds like a horse that has been sucking on helium balloons whinny from the thick, humid, second growth. Their preference for dense vegetation makes them very difficult to see. Peering into the forest edge might reveal one or you might see one foraging below the Rara Avis feeders or at shaded kitchen middens behind restaurants in the lowlands that are adjacent to thick second growth. The Little Tinamou is indeed little (American Robin-sized) and is mostly plain brown.

Highland Tinamou : This is a tinamou of the cloud forest and the one you are most likely to see along the trails at the Monteverde and Santa Elena Reserves. In fact, try as hard as you can to see it at these sites because the Highland Tinamou is more regularly seen here than other sites in its range. Watch for the lightly spotted back, and the gray head with rufous throat. It doesn’t not sing as much as other tinamous, nor does it sound anything like the other species in Costa Rica. Listen for the repeated, short, rather harsh notes that make up its song.

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

Introduction lowlands Pacific slope

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

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

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

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

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

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

The view from the restaurant.

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

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

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

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

This Lineated Woodpecker loved its dead, palm trunk!

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

The Pacific Slope subspecies of the Variable Seedeater.

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

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

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