Arenal is one of Costa Rica’s major tourism hotspots. An active volcano and hot springs are a double set of magnets that bring in locals and just about every visitor to Costa Rica. The area also attracts those of us who put the focus on birds and biodiversity. Easy access to quality habitat, a fine collection of uncommon birds, and near overload of tourism infrastructure make Arenal and surroundings a fantastic destination for birders. Whether you bird the place on a budget, watch birds in luxury, or somewhere in between, you are going to see a lot.
Since there’s really too much to say about Arenal birding in one little post, I decided to just talk about three, easy sites that, together, could turn up well over 200 species. A guide and several days of concentrated birding would be needed to make that happen but heck, if it was done in winter, I don’t even think that 300 species is out of the question. Here is some information about those three places:
The Roca Dura Reserve (aka Geovani’s Reserve or Fortuna Trails): This is where local birders go when they feel like looking for migrants around La Fortuna, getting in some easy-going birding, or ticking Uniform Crake. The reserve is the result of years of work carried out by guide Geovani Bogarin to reforest a spot just outside of the town of La Fortuna. It’s also an example of the bird life and animals that can come back when the grazing is put to a stop in deforested pasturelands. The habitat might not be ideal but you can still see a very good variety of second growth species and quite a few forest birds. Not to mention, there’s also the star of Geovani’s show, the Uniform Crake.
In fact, I dare say that this little reserve is a good candidate for being the easiest, most reliable place to see Uniform Crake anywhere in the world. According to Geovani, during certain times of the year, more than one can be seen hanging out right on the edge of the path. During two, mid-morning hours on the trail, we heard at least 4 crakes and saw one very well with the help of Geovani (he snuck through the low vegetation to “push” it towards us). In addition to the U Crake, we aso got wonderful looks at White-throated Crake and :
Olive-throated Parakeets, and Long-billed Gnatwren, Black-throated Wren, and a bunch of other second growth species. A Tropical Mockingbird at the entrance to the reserve was another bonus.
To visit this special place, head out of La Fortuna on the main road to Arenal and take a right just after the Backpackers Hostel. Geovani might be in the little shack at the entrance. If not, call him at 8626 9348 or email him at [email protected]. He can take you into the reserve. Please be generous with the donations, this reserve doesn’t receive any other sort of funding.
The la Fortuna Waterfall: This community owned site is a major, local attraction. It sees a stream of tourists on a daily basis but guess what? The birding is still excellent! As sandal-clad people march up and down the stairs of the well-maintained trail, you might see big mixed flocks led by White-throated Shrike-Tanager, antbirds, and even Lanceolated Monklet! It costs $10 to access the trail but if you just felt like birding the road, that works out too. Bird around the parking lot and on the road to and just above the waterfall and you might see everything from Crested Guan and Mealy Parrots to Bare-necked Umbrellabird and Lovely Cotinga. The latter two targets are rare indeed but they do show from time. We didn’t get them on a recent trip but did see Cinnamon, Pale-billed, Rufous-winged, and 3 other species of woodpeckers, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, three toucan species, and other birds right from the parking lot.
The Peninsula Road: This is the stretch of gravel road between the main road to Arenal Observatory Lodge and the dam. To give an idea of potential, this site has turned up 140 plus species during a full day of birding. The high diversity stems from a combination of Guava orchards, varying stages of second growth, and foothill rainforest. It’s always a birdy area and is regular for such uncommon, quality species as Great Curassow, Crested Guan, Plumbeous Kite, Semiplumbeous Hawk, parrots and parakeets, occasional Great Potoo, Black-crested Coquette, trogons, Broad-billed and Keel-billed Motmots, White-fronted Nunbird, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, toucans, Rufous-winged Woodpecker, Olivaceous Piculet, Great Antshrike, Bare-crowned Antbird, Thicket Antpitta, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, northern Bentbill, Bay and Black-throated Wrens, and Rufous-winged and other tanagers.
These are three of the easiest places to see lots of birds around Arenal. To add more forest species to the list, visit the trails at the Observatory Lodge, the Hanging Bridges, and Skytrek, and hike up to Cerro Chato. I can’t wait to get back to the Arenal area, especially for this year’s Christmas Count.