Once a month, I usually guide a weekend trip for the local Birding Club of Costa Rica. We get around to most corners of the country and in October the destination tends to be on the Caribbean. The 10th month is the best time of the year to visit sites near Limon because it’s high time for migration in the best part of the country for migration, and, as a bonus, it doesn’t usually rain as much in this part of the country. In the past, we have done trips to Manzanillo and Tortuguero on more than one occasion and have been treated to flocks of Eastern Kingbirds, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and Scarlet Tanagers along with other migrants while Gray-cowled Wood-rails prowled the ditches and lots of other rainforest species foraged in the trees.
A molting male Scarlet Tanager- a common sight on the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica in October.
This year, I had hoped to try a different site, and one that was before rather than after Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. This way, we could avoid the crowded streets seen in the small tourist town at this time of year, and maybe have a better chance at the uncommon Black-chested Jay. I was also hoping to find a place where I might have a chance at getting pictures of Sulphur-rumped Tanager, an uncommon, rarely photographed species that I still need an image of for the birding apps I work on. The place I settled on was Casa Calateas, a small, rural tourism initiative situated in the forested hills near Cahuita. It turned out to be a good choice, and here’s why:
Easy to get to: It was easier than I expected. Good paved roads get you to Cahuita and the turn off for Casa Calateas, then you drive up a gravel road to the lodge. Most of it was good enough for two wheel drive although to be sure, it’s probably best to visit with a vehicle that has four wheel drive. Birding on that entrance road is also good for a variety of edge and forest species.
Low cost: I forget what we paid but it was pretty cheap. To learn more, message Luis at the Casa Calateas Facebook site. Whatever we paid, I know that it was a good deal that included very basic yet clean rooms with mosquito nets, great local food and friendly service, and fine birding. If you need a place with more comforts, a pool, and air conditioning, this isn’t the place for you. But, if you don’t mind staying in a rustic place with good birding that directly helps local families, you might want to give Casa Calateas a try.
Lowland Forest Species: Much to my happiness, the place is surrounded by forest. Although much of it is old second growth, there is some mature forest, and old-growth forest can be visited with a really long hike. I would love to go back and check out that older forest in this under-birded area but we still had plenty of good forest birds around the lodge itself. There are a few trails that access the forest but you can probably see just as much by birding the entrance road. We did quite well with several sightings of Red-capped Manakin, Purple-throated Fruitcrows, White-flanked, Dot-winged, and Checker-throated Antwrens, both motmots, Black-crowned Antshrike, and several other expected species. Although we didn’t see it, Luis mentioned that he often spots Sunbittern foraging on the lodge entrance road.
Red-capped Manakins were pretty common and the males were doing their dancing thing.
“You should be dancing…”
The calls of Black-crowned Antshrike were a constant sound in the background.
Night birds were also good with at least two Great Potoos that called all night long, Crested Owl close to the lodge, and Mottled Owl.
I was very happy to get recordings of Crested Owl, and very close looks at one of the Great Potoos was also nice!
Other indicators of nice forest habitat were Bicolored and Spotted Antbirds, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, and Slate-colored Grosbeak.
The grosbeak is actually a canopy saltator. I find it interesting that this orange-billed bird has a call that sounds like the sharp, chip note of another orange-billed bird, the Northern Cardinal, while the other saltator species in Costa Rica don’t.
Semiplumbeous Hawk: This uncommon raptor is always a good bird. We had sightings of two or three from the canopy platform and inside the forest.
Not all plumbeous, just semi.
Raptor watching overlooks: Not just for raptors and I was psyched to check this out. It was indeed a bit like a canopy tower although most of the trees were pretty far off. Although we didn’t see any cotingas, we did scope White-necked Puffbird, parrots, toucans, Laughing Falcon, and some other species. We also enjoyed views of migrating raptors although those could also be seen right from the lodge and from another viewing spot. Because of the angle of the sun, the platform is best during the morning. Keep watching, you might see a hawk-eagle and lots of other possibilities. If you happen to get super lucky and spot a cotinga species that is not a Snowy, take pictures, you just might find Costa Rica’s first Blue Cotinga.
View from the platform.
River of raptors: It goes right overhead during migration and as the name implies, yes, it is spectacular. We had flock after elegant flock of Mississippi Kites, and had plenty of practice separating those from the more bellicose Peregrine Falcons that often zipped overhead.
The river flies overhead.
Kettles like this are commonplace.
We also had thousands of Broad-winged Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and Swainson’s Hawks along with a few Ospreys. Since other species can also fly over, Casa Calateas is a pretty good spot to just hang out and watch the skies.
Other migrants: Not as many as I had hoped and I was surprised to see nary a single Eastern Kingbird. But, we still glassed many a Red-eyed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager, Summer Tanager, Swainson’s Thrush, lots of pewees, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. We also had several Bay-breasted Warblers, and saw some other migrant warblers as well including an uncommon for Costa Rica Magnolia Warbler. As with any site used by waves of migrants, every day can bring new things, I wonder what showed up after we left? The best find was probably my much appreciated year Chuck-will’s-Widow.
Since I know there’s good stuff down there around Casa Calateas, I wish I could head right back, right now. If you go, enjoy the rainforest birds, the sounds of frogs and monkeys, and please leave a link to your eBird list in the comments.
My eBird lists from this site: