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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!

14 replies on “More great birding near San Ramon, Costa Rica”

I’m stuck in North Carolina, a lot worse off than being stuck in an “urban area of Costa Rica”! And you keep adding to the list of places I want badly to go, when I already have more than I can get to in the next five years. 🙂

Some damn fine birding up that way, I’d say. Many of them I have yet to lay eyes on.

Can you tell me what the significance of “Socorro” is? I have seen this recently attached to several names of towns. Is it an area above the central valley? (Yes, I now know that it is a Star Wars planet in the Outer Rim Territories, thanks to Google.)


Ha ha, I didn’t know that “Socorro” was a Star Wars planet! “Socorro” means “help” “Succour” or “relief” and is often part of a longer, religious name like “Virgen del Socorro” or “The Virgen of Help” or perhaps better translated as “The Virgen who saves us” or something along those lines. So, you can find places with “Socorro” as part of their names throughout Latin America because of the strong Roman Catholic tradition.

Yeah, it is very good birding in those forests near San Ramon. I bet there are sites for rarities like Lovely Cotinga, Lanceolated Monklet, various antpittas, Keel-billed Motmot, etc. I hope to look for those on future trips to the area.

Trust me, you don’t want to be stuck in urbanized Costa Rica -there is just so little green space because people have steadily turned bird friendly backyards into house additions or apartments. I do admit though, that it’s pretty easy to get “unstuck” because the country is so small.

I find your website very informative. I’ll be flying to Costa Rica on Dec 3rd and I plan to bird in the San Ramon area for about 3-4 days before spending the winter down on the Osa Penisula. I’ll be traveling to San Ramon by bus and then take daily buses up and down highway #141, stopping at hot spots mentioned in this article and similar earlier ones. A good website for Costa Rican buses is http://www.thebusschedule.com. Google Earth has pictures of the Butterfly Garden and the mamakins at the Canopy Tour you can click on. I should have no trouble finding these spots and having the bus driver drop me off. Dos Logos area is obscured by clouds on Google Earth but should also be easy to find. You mention that the road to Manuel Brenes is marked. What are the marks/signs? Since I will be walking up the road, what is the state of the forest for the first 3 miles? How far is the ‘overlook’? How far above the Canopy Tour in miles/km, instead of 10 minutes, is Dos Logos? Is the Arboleda Restuarant located at the turnoff for the Canopy Tour? Has highway #141 recovered from the October rains? Lots of questions.

One last question. Is there a Bird Club of Costa Rica outing on the first weekend of December and do they allow non members to tag along? Since I am spending more time in Costa Rica I would like information about becoming a member.

Pura Vida,

@Bob- Winter in the Osa sounds nice! Signs for the road to Manuel Brenes are on the western or left side of the road if traveling from San Ramon to La Tigra. The road itself is on the left and right where you see a fairly large lake on the right. Bus should be able to drop you there no problem. Forest is pretty good for the first three miles. I’m not sure how far the overlook is- could be 3 miles? I am also not sure of distance from the Canopy Tour/Arboleda Restaurant. A rough guess might be 5 miles. As far as I know, the highway is fine as it hasn’t been mentioned in any of the reports about damaged highways and I know a few guys who visited the area a few days after heavy rains in November sans problems.

There isn’t any Birding Club outing at that time but for future reference, yes, non-members can go on one trip to get a taste of the club. I will send you more info. on how to join soon.

Hi Patrick,

Thanks for the information. After looking at Google Earth again I see that there are quite a few places along Highway 141 that have captions of Los Lagos. Are the lakes I’m interested in the first lakes past San Luis Canopy Tours? If you have any GPS or Lat/Long coordinates they would be helpful.

Thanks Again,

Hi Bob,

I don’t have any GPS points yet but might get some for the site you get to Costa Rica. I know what you mean about the confusing Los Lagos captions and overcast conditions for the area on Google Earth for the area. I think Los Lagos might be the general name for the area but in any case, you really can’t miss the site as it is the first area with a large lake on the right (east) and extensive marshy area on the left (west) after the San Luis Canopy (and might be the only area like this along the entire length of the road). Just ask the driver to let you off the bus at the lake- you will see the birding road with signs to Manuel Brenes on the left or west side the road. It is probably a ten to twelve minute drive past the San Luis Canopy.

Hi Patrick,

Just an e-mail to thank you for your information and to let you know about some of the highlights of my trip to the area of Los Lagos, north of San Ramon. Got a room in San Ramon on 4 Dec 2010 and walked to the University and started birding around the property. A guard was kind enough to show me a paved nature trail on the back part of the University. The trail wasn’t that long but I found some good birds and a 2 toed sloth over the span of the couple times I walked it this first day and in the afternoon of the following two days. Best birds were a male Long-tailed Manakin, Mottled Owl and a female White-bellied Mountain Gem. On 5 Dec I caught the 0530 bus to La Fortuna and got off at the restaurant just over the bridge at Los Lagos. I hiked up the road to the nature reserve to just past that first house on the right. It was at the overgrown road, just before the house, that I found my best mixed flock. Birds of note in this flock were a Brown-billed Scythebill, Emerald Tanager, and the best bird of the trip, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner. I had good looks at all of them. Along the main dirt road I also had a couple small flocks of Olive Tanagers, one Blue and Gold Tanager and one Orange-bellied Trogon. As I have birded little on the Caribbean Slope, all the above mentioned birds were life birds. Along this road I caught a 20 inch snake, a Drymobius melanotropis, which was a life snake. When I got back to the paved road I walked north about 200 meters and then followed a few dirt roads leading toward the lake. I had another Emerald Tanager and a life bird, a Slaty Spinetail. While waiting on the steps of the restaurant from 230pm to 323pm, when the San Ramon bus arrived, I watched a pied-billed grebe fishing on the lake. It was the first one I have seen in Costa Rica. The day was overcast with the sun peaking out a few times.

The next day, Dec 6th, it drizzled or rained all day. I got off the 0530am bus at Jardin de Mariposas and hung around on their porch waiting for the rain to stop or someone to come and open up the place. It was even too foggy to see birds across the street. Got bored and walked up and down the road some but saw few birds and nothing of interest. Finally I set out on foot for the San Luis Canopy Tour to check out the feeders. It drizzled the whole way, but I checked out every place that looked birdy. About 1 km before the Canopy Tour are two overgrown roads going off to the east. I walked the south one and although it looked good for understory birds, I saw nothing of interest. At the Canopy Tour I got a cup of coffee and watched the hummingbird feeders. I saw both of the hummers that I had hope to see, both were life birds. I saw lots of Coppery-headed hummingbirds of both sexes and a female green thorntail. I would have like to have seen the male thorntail but the female was quite striking. Caught the 1110am bus back to San Ramon and sunny climes. Twice I birded the University nature trail and it was today I saw the Mottled Owl and the Two –toed Sloth.

Caught the bus back to Alajuela the following morning to pick up some luggage I had left there and the following morning caught the bus to Palmar Norte, another bus to Sierpe and a boat to Bahia Drake. I think I may do the Los Lagos birding again the days before my trip back to the US on June 2nd. I may have to swing by Orotina first to see the Black and White Owl, if it’s still there.


You do not have to post this. I sent it here because I didn’t know how else to get it to you.

@Bob- Thanks for posting that! Any reports like this, especially from underbirded areas are very helpful and always welcome. Congrats on getting some good birds. That lake is also one of the only areas where I have seen Pied-billed Grebe in Costa Rica.

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