Two weeks ago, I had the good fortune to spend a weekend guiding at Rincon de Osa. The last time I spent more than a day there was in 1999. Back then, there were fewer houses, and I recorded more birds but it’s still pretty much the same place. Rainforest still grows on the hills that form a backdrop to the road, and mangrove forests flank the gulf. We identified around 150 species and it was a good trip. Some other thoughts:
- More places to stay: The last time I stayed in Rincon, I stayed in what appeared to be the only place that offerred accommodation. I can’t recall the name of the place but it was listed in the Lonely Planet and was, basically, someone’s home. Nowadays, there are a few places to choose from, including Cabinas Chontal. This is where we stayed and I highly recommend it. Lodging is in very clean, wooden cabins outfitted with comfortable beds, a fan, and rather spacious bathroom. Meals were included and were very good! Meals were also tasty, imaginative, and more than enough food. I’m not sure how much it costs per night or per person but it was very reasonable. Contact the owners for information.
- Boat trips: If you like, Cabinas Chontal offers boat trips across the gulf. As with other boat trips, this turned out to be not as birdy as hoped but we still got some good stuff and it has potential. Not to mention, the boat driver was also helpful and determined to help us see birds, including a male Yellow-billed Cotinga that we saw displaying in the mangroves. We also saw a White Hawk and a few other species but the boat isn’t the best option for scanning the canopy of the rainforest.
- Good forest, but tough to access: Rainforest occurs along the road but there aren’t any trails that access it. Well, there is a very steep trail but climbing uphill in hot, humid weather makes for tough birding indeed. If there was better access to the forest interior, this would be a good area for Marbled Wood-Quail (we heard them), maybe Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager (I had them in the past), and other species of the forest interior. However, the canopy is visible and could turn up raptors, cotingas, toucans, and other species of the tall trees. While scanning the canopy, although we didn’t connect with cotingas, we saw Double-toothed Kite, toucans, aracaris, Blue Dacnis, Golden-naped Woodpecker, and others.
- Raptors: The place has good potential for raptors because it combines a good area of primary forest with good views of the canopy, and a ridge where raptors soar. Including the White Hawk seen from the boat, we had at least 9 species of raptors right from the Cabinas Chontal. These were Osprey, King Vulture, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Yellow-headed Caracara, Swallow-tailed Kite, Double-toothed Kite, Common Black Hawk, Roadside Hawk, and Short-tailed Hawk. I also had one distant soaring bird that was a very likely Black and white Hawk-Eagle but it was only for an instant, soared behind a ridge, and didn’t come back! Near Rincon, we also had Crested Caracara, White-tailed Kite, and Zone-tailed Hawk with a bonus flyby Ornate Hawk-Eagle on the drive back to the Pan-American highway. Oh, not to mention, Abraham from the Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge saw a Harpy Eagle at Rincon in 2004!
- Cotingas: Well, they are still present but they aren’t as common as they used to be. To give an idea of the difference between then and now, in 1999, I saw Yellow-billed and Turquoise Cotingas literally right after getting off the bus. Granted, there was a fruiting fig they were coming to but I also saw more than one of each while scanning the canopy. On this trip, despite a lot of canopy watching, we saw one male Yellow-billed in the mangroves, one at the edge of the mangroves, and one at the bridge. Oh, and no Turquoise. The lack of cotingas was probably related to lack of fruiting trees but I can’t help but wonder if their populations are being affected by consistent, drier conditions. They likely are and this doesn’t bode well for endangered species, especially in THE stronghold for Yellow-billed Cotinga.
- The bridge: This is what most birders know about Rincaon because it’s where they look for Yellow-billed Cotinga. It’s a nice spot to wait because you also see some waterbirds on the river, and a good assortment of rainforest species near the bridge. While birding at the bridge and along the road towards Drake Bay, our highlights were a very cooperative White-necked Puffbird, a pair of Red-rumped Woodpeckers, Black-hooded Antshrike, Baird’s Trogon (and the other three species that occur), Plain Xenops, and Black-hooded Antshrike.
- Birding along the road at Rincon: Fortunately, there was enough room on the side of the road to avoid occasional traffic and see a good variety of birds. The combination of forest edge, second growth, and a few scrubby, wet areas resulted in great looks at Pale-breasted Spinetail, Riverside Wren, a couple of migrant Eastern Kingbirds, tons of migrant Swainson’s Thrushes, and other species. Overall, it was nice, easy birding.
- Hummingbirds: No luck with the coquette although I have seen it there in the past. We still did alright, though, with 11 or 12 species including good looks at Bonzy Hermit, Band-tailed Barbthroat, Long-billed Starthroat, Purple-crowned Fairy, White-necked Jacobin, and lots of Charming Hummingbirds (more common than Rufous-tailed!). We also saw a couple of Mangrove Hummingbirds in the mangroves right behind the cabins. This endangered endemic was a bit hard to find but we eventually got good looks at a male and female.
- Good base for exploring the road to Drake Bay: You need four wheel drive, and various parts of the road are deforested or planted with the damn modern day agricultural scourge known as the African Oil Palm but this road has some serious potential. During brief exploration of this road (we might have also gone on some side road, I’m not sure), although we passed through too many areas of pasture, there were many, good views of forested hillsides, and we eventually passed through excellent forest at what seemed to be the top of the road. That area in particular looked good for White-tipped Sicklebill, and seemed like a good area to check for Red-throated Caracara, and other rare raptors. I would love to be there at dawn and spend the whole day in that area, scanning the hillsides for canopy species. This area of the road was about 30 minutes or so by car from Rincon.
- Rice fields: If you feel like seeing Red-breasted Blackbird and other, open country species, follow the road towards Drake Bay and take the first left. This crosses a small bridge and eventually loops back around to the highway to Puerto Jimenez (follow the orange arrows painted on trees). You eventually reach a rice field with the blackbirds. Hopefully, this field will continue to be planted with rice and not be drained and monocultured with oil palms as has recently happened to other rice fields in that area.
- Mirador de Rincon: While walking the road at Rincon, we noticed a sign and side road to this place. Although we didn’t walk all the way to the overlook, we did find some alright birding in old second growth on the side road. I bet it’s pretty birdy in the morning.
If you feel like spending more time in Rincon than a cotinga vigil at the bridge, the area does have potential. The birding is good, Cabinas Chontal is nice and worth it (if rather basic), and that road to Drake Bay beckons.