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Birding Costa Rica middle elevations preparing for your trip

Recent Birding at Tapanti National Park

It’s always exciting to visit Tapanti National Park because of the avian possibilities that haunt the mossy forests of this middle elevation site. Rarities that have been seen there include Red-fronted Parrotlet, Lanceolated Monklet, Scaled and Ochre-breasted Antpittas, Rufous-rumped Antwren, Streaked Xenops, Buff-fronted and Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaners, and Sharpbill. Does this mean that you will any of these “quality” bird species? Absolutely not! BUT if you spend a few days intensely birding the park, I would say that you have a fair chance of seeing at least half of the bird species listed above. I wish I had the time to intensely survey Tapanti over the course of a week and hang out with rare birds, but since I simply don’t have the time, I make do with day visits.

This means that my chances of seeing rarities are diminished, but a day visit to this biodiverse park always turns up good birds anyways. Black Guan makes a regular appearance,  Black-faced Solitaires and Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrushes provide background music, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrants complain from hidden perches in the forest, Prong-billed and Red-headed Barbets hang out in fruiting trees, Green Thorntail and Black-bellied Hummingbirds are fairly common, Collared Trogon is always cool to see, Dark Pewee and Golden-bellied Flycatcher are rarely missed, and even hawk eagles will show up.

Whether guiding there, or birding with a friend, I love going to Tapanti. Well, except when the rain comes pouring down for hours on end, but if you luck out with cloudy or misty weather, the birding can be pretty darn good. This past Sunday, we had good, cloudy birding weather in the morning that was followed up by a saturating, after-lunch rain. As you may surmise, we didn’t see much in the afternoon, but the morning was OK. It would have been much better if we had run into a good mixed flock, but we just didn’t get lucky enough to cross paths with any. Nevertheless, here is a rundown of our birding day (morning):

After a drive through pouring rain and openly questioning the predictive ability of weather forecasts in Costa Rica, the skies cleared up sometime after Orosi, so we stopped in a birdy looking spot that had thick second growth on one side of the road and shade coffee on the other. A forested hillside on the opposite bank of the river also begged to be scanned for perched raptors and cotingas (one can always wish). Nothing showed up with scans of the hillside but birds on the side of the road were going nuts. They were mostly common, edge species but still fun to watch and included White-naped Brush-Finch, White-eared Ground-Sparrow, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Brown Jay, Montezuma Oropendola, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird,Tropical Gnatcatcher, Yellow-green Vireo, Slaty Spinetail, Plain Wren, Yellow-faced and Blue-black Grassquits, Variable Seedeater, Grayish, Buff-throated, and Black-headed Saltators, and Blue-gray, Passerini’s, Silver-throated, and Crimson-collared Tanagers.

There was also a  calling Barred Antshrike,

Costa Rica birding

The Barred Antshrike may be widespread, but it’s always cool to see a bird that looks like kind of like a zebra.

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White-tipped Dove,

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and the ubiquitous Rufous-collared Sparrow.

Costa Rica birding

Further on, the colony of Chestnut-headed Oropendolas just across the bridge was still active.

Sulphur-bellied and Piratic Flycatchers, and Yellow-bellied Elaenias were hanging out in this area, as was one of our best (if dullest) birds for the day; a White-throated Flycatcher. Costa Rica’s only breeding Empid. is most easily seen in the remnant sedge marsh in front of the Lankester Gardens but it can also be found in the Orosi valley and a few other sites.

At the park entrance, we were welcomed by the squeeky calls of Golden-bellied Flycatchers, Tropical Parula, Brown-capped Vireo, Common Bush-Tanagers, and Spangle-cheeked Tanagers. Immaculate Antbird, Rufous-breasted Antthrush, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, and Spotted Wood-Quail were also heard in the distance.

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Golden-bellied Flycatcher.

Up the road through the park, Black-bellied Hummingbird and Green Thorntail made appearances and Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush refused to show itself.

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Male Green Thorntail vainly attempting to blend in with a twiggy tree.

Hoping to see Ochre-breasted Antpitta and other uncommon species, we walked about a kilometer up the “Arboles Caidos” trail. The name of this trail means “fallen trees” but a more accurate title would be something like “climb the mountain” or just “damn steep trail”. It could also be an allegory to just falling back down the hill instead of attempting to mountain goat it back down to the road. Improvements have made walking this trail better than in the past (you no longer need to grasp muddy tree roots to pull yourself along), but it’s still a challenge.

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The Arboles Caidos trail- gateway to rare middle elevation species and, if you aren’t careful, an acute case of shin splints.

We defy gravity on the Arboles Caidos trail not because we want to climb Chirripo Mountain or train for a triathalon, but because birders have encountered things like Rufous-breasted Antthrush, Ochre-breasted Antpitta, and Black-banded Woodcreeper (only place I have seen it in Costa Rica). We didn’t see any of these on Sunday, but we did hear White-throated Spadebill and Chiriqui Quail-Dove as consolation prizes. One day, I am going to spend most of a day on this trail to see what shows up and get recordings of that miniscule antpitta illustrated on the back cover of Garrigues and Dean (it’s Robert’s favorite bird). You don’t have to walk the entire time and it’s a beautiful place to hang out in any case.

We were severely impressed by this red flower on the Arboles Caidos.

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We also saw that feisty little creature known as the Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant.

The rest of the day was dedicated to finding mixed flocks along the main road through the park. Our strategy involved slowing driving along while listening for Slaty-capped Flycatcher and Spotted Woodcreeper with the windows down and sun-roof open. We found a few more species for the day such as Tufted Flycatcher, Spotted Barbtail, and White-throated Thrush, but no luck with mixed flocks. The strategy was a good one until it started to rain and the open sun roof became an ambassador for falling water. Not much else happened after that although I did run into birding guide Steven Easley (we had some nice conversation about Prevost’s Ground-Sparrows), and managed to get pics of Collared Trogon.

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I soooo like birds that let me take their picture.

The drive back to the Central Valley was like a ride through a monsoon on steroids. Well, I guess not that crazy but I will say that it was raining so hard that it was more like “jaguars and wolves” than “cats and dogs”. Yep, the rainy season is here but birding Costa Rica is as great as ever (as long as you go birding in the morning).

4 replies on “Recent Birding at Tapanti National Park”

A friend of mine ask my about helping lead a group of birders (6-8) to Costa Rica next March for 6 nights 7 days, of course first and last days are mainly flying. Suggestions on where you’d bird at that time of year?
Gallus Quigley

@Gallus- March is good just about anywhere in the country so I would gear the trip around most wanted target species. With such a short amount of time, I suggest 3 days at El Toucanet or the Dota Valley for high elevation endemics and Resplendent Quetzal, and perhaps two days at either Cerro Lodge (Carara area) or La Selva/Sarapiqui.

Thanks, I suggested just that, those are my 2 favorite spots to stay Cerro and el Toucanet! Hoping I can actually go with them since they keep cutting my pay at work affording any trip is tough… I may have them contact you about guiding them a few days if I can’t go along and even if I do since I really have problem with sulkers and still learning the calls. I told them to check this blog out since it is awesome!

@Gallus- Interesting to see that our ideas coincided. I hope the work situation improves and that you can come on down back to Costa Rica. I would be happy to help them see more Costa Rica birds and help you get your targets. Let me know what you need and I can give you some ideas on where to find them. Thanks for referring them to the blog!

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