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A Weekend Birding Trip to Pocosol Research Station

“Pocosol” can be translated to “little sun”.  While a place with such a foreboding name sounds more like somewhere to stay away from rather than visiting for birding, in the case of the Pocosol Research Station, just the opposite is the case. It will probably rain and visitors can expect cloudy weather, but they can also expect fantastic foothill forest birding with chances of seeing several rarities.

Pocosol is the part of the Monteverde forest complex situated on the lower end of the Caribbean slope and is officially gazetted within the Children’s Eternal Rainforest. Like the name says, these forests were bought with funds donated by kids around the globe. Each one of those children (who are now adults) should receive some sort of gilded thank you note or get a free pass for entering the area because they made a truly wonderful gift to the world. Although Pocosol is rarely visited by birders doing Costa Rica, it’s probably one of the best sites in the country for lower middle elevation birds. There’s a very simple reason why Pocosol is so good for birding: quality habitat.  Pocosol is located within a large block of well-protected primary forest and this is immediately demonstrated by the quality and quantity of the birds that are encountered.

The forest at Pocosol.

On a recent weekend of guiding the local birding club at Pocosol, the bird activity was nearly non-stop from the time we arrived to the time we left the station. Cloudy weather, the breeding season, and fruiting trees gave us birds to watch nearly everywhere we looked. At the station itself, Montezuma Oropendolas had filled a tree with their long, hanging nests.

Montezuma Oropendola having a stretch.

In another, nearby tree, Chestnut-headed Oropendolas were also nesting.

Chestnut-headed Oropendolas have such strange faces.

In between all of this giant, ornate oriole action, a fruiting Lauraceous tree was bringing in common birds like Clay-colored Thrushes and Bay-headed Tanagers, fancy species like Keel-billed and Black-mandibled Toucans, and colorful birds typically seen in flight like Brown-hooded Parrots.

While some of the habitat in front of the station is thick  second growth, this provided a stage for many singing Black-throated Wrens, Long-billed Gnatwrens, Dusky Antbirds, and Thicket Antpittas (which some of us saw). Many birds also trooped through Cecropias and the crowns of nearby trees that were visible at eye level from the balcony of our lodging.

Cinnamon Becards were frequently seen around the station.
Black-cowled Orioles were a common sight.
As were Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers.

The station also has several trails with exciting birding. Although a couple days wasn’t enough time to properly bird all of them, they gave us a glimpse into the excellent birding in store for anyone who walks them. The trail down to and near the lagoon goes through forest and an old Guava plantation and while the plantation area isn’t as good as the forest, it can still turn up quail-doves and who knows what else. On other parts of this trail, we had Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Tawny-throated Leaftosser and

Purplish-backed Quail Dove foraging on the trail.
Rufous-browed Tyrannulet (good site for this warblerish flycatcher).
Black and yellow Tanagers (if only it would have turned its head!).
Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, and other goodies.

Continuing past the lagoon, you can either veer off to the Miradores Trail or go straight on towards the Los Eladios station. Either way, you will be in for some great birding as you venture through excellent primary forest. If it sounds like I was impressed, yes I certainly was. I think the area has some of the highest quality forest in the country and I would love to go back and just spend an entire day deep in the woods back where the Miradores Trail reaches a stream.

Although the birding is tough in such places, it’s where you have a chance at seeing things like forest-falcons, antpittas, and maybe even a surprise or two like Crested Eagle and Great Jacamar. No, we didn’t see those but student groups have seen them at and near Pocosol during the past two years! While waiting for bird action back in the primary forest on our last morning, we may have even heard a distant Great Jacamar. Although it was far off, and the call sounded a bit lower in pitch than Great Jacamar vocalizations I am used to, the quality was pretty much the same and matched a recording of a slightly lower pitched call of this species. Unfortunately, it didn’t come in to playback and only called three times so I can’t say for sure what it was but since it sounded like nothing else, and I am very familiar with bird vocalizations from the avifauna at Pocosol, I suspect that it probably was a Great Jacamar- all the better reason for going back there!

Deep in the rainforest at Pocosol.

But now back to birds we did see. While hanging out in that same area, we got looks at Song Wren, heard Nightingale Wren (one of many heard during our stay), and got onto a canopy mixed flock with expected birds like Russet Antshrike, various tanagers, and Rufous Mourner. We also found a roosting Spectacled Owl back along the Miradores Trail.

The other main trail we checked out was the Fumaroles or ridge trail behind the station. This also accesses beautiful primary forest with a different aspect than the woods on the other trails. While we did not see species that can show up there like Sharpbill, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, and Ochre-breasted Antpitta, we did see Plain Antvireo, Brown-billed Scythebill (fairly common at Pocosol), White-throated Shrike Tanager, Thrushlike Schiffornis, and other birds, including a pair of Spectacled Owls (our second roosting Spectacled for the trip!).

Spectacled Owls at Pocosol.

Speaking of owls, we also heard Mottled and Crested near the station but couldn’t coax them into view. Nor did we find an antswarm but did hear at least two Ocellated Antbirds, a couple Bicoloreds, and one Spotted. Oh, not to mention, the trip yielded a lifer for myself, Robert Dean, and several other people. This special bird was White-chinned Swift, a species quickly identified by its scratchy vocalization, and distinct bat-like flight. We only saw 3 or 4 birds for about ten seconds compared to near constant sightings of many Vaux’s and White-collared Swifts.

As far as the station itself goes, setting up the trip was an easy affair that involved contacting them at their website and making a deposit into their account. I’m not sure how easy that would be for people outside of Costa Rica but I bet they have a way of doing that as it is run by the Monteverde Conservation Association. Lodging was in comfortable bunkbeds and service was very good with breakfast at the requested time. Downsides are cold water in the showers and a rough road in that is best done with four wheel drive.

As with other high quality sites, I wonder when I will get the chance to go back and hang out beneath those old, tall trees. If you go, please leave a comment about your trip!

It will be nice to bird from that balcony again.

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