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Good Birding on the Manuel Brenes Road- It’s All About the Habitat

Birding tours in Costa Rica tend to visit the best sites, especially when the tour is organized local experts. However, no matter how good a site is, it might not make it onto a tour because of factors related to logistics. For example, even if a Great Jacamar was living in those woods, visiting the area may require too much of a detour from the tour route. Or, the site with the hawk-eagles and parrotlets is just too difficult to bird with a group. This is why most tours don’t make it to Rara Avis, El Copal, or sites south of Limon. Some do, but most don’t and it’s also why most birding tours in Costa Rica don’t check out the excellent sites along the San Ramon-La Fortuna road. Although that route is a good and paved road and easy to visit, it’s just hard to fit into most of the classic Costa Rica birding itineraries.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that a birder can’t visit on his or her own and possibly see Blue-and-Gold Tanager, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, and Three-wattled Bellbird. Go to the right places and you might see those megas and much more! I was reminded of the quality birding in this area during a recent morning on the road to Manuel Brenes Reserve.

Although I never actually make it to the excellent cloud forests of the university owned reserve, high quality birding on the road there is par for the course and with good reason. As with so many other great birding sites, it’s all about the habitat and since this road passes through an extensive area of mature foothill/middle elevation rainforest, the species count is typically high and punctuated with the uncommon.

Some highlights and tidbits from a recent morning:

Three-wattled Bellbird

Although it is likely seasonal, this mega cotinga is regularly heard and seen in the area of the Manuel Brenes Reserve. The one on Monday was a female that appeared in the mist, a dove-sized bird perched on an exposed branch of a roadside Cecropia. She let us watch her for a good spell before swooping off her perch and into the misty green of the forest.

Mixed mega flock

White-throated Shrike-Tanager

Mixed flocks can be composed of a handful of birds, ten species, or many birds of many species racing through the trees for some frenzied over stimulation of the avian kind. Usually, the better the habitat, the more likely a birder will encounter such a memorable experience. We had one of these the other morning, although I couldn’t get on all of the birds, we had nice looks at White-throated Shrike-Tanager along with various other tanagers, woodcreepers, Russet Antshrike, flycatchers and so on.

Umbrellabird or Toucanet?

Just before we saw the mixed flock, I glimpsed what appeared to be a large black bird fly over the card. The view was the briefest of brief but I swear it was black underneath and was fairly large. Unfortunately, although I tried, I just couldn’t find where it had flown, maybe it went too far in to see. Based on what I saw, I suspect that it was either an umbrellabird or a Yellow-eared Toucanet. Both are possible at this site, I wonder which of those choice species it was!

Tawny-chested Flycatcher!

I have had this local near endemic just down the road at Lands in Love but never at the Manuel Brenes road. It was nice to find one, I hope it sticks around!

No monklet, Lattice-tailed Trogon, or quail-doves

I just mention that we did not find these species to emphasize that one doesn’t usually see every possible bird on every visit, no matter how nice the habitat is. Maybe we would have found that Lattice-tailed Trogon in the afternoon? I wasn’t surprised about the monklet but it’s always worth it to listen and look for this miniscule puffbird in the right places. The more you visit a site with high quality habitat, the better because every time you bird that same forest, the laws of probability make it more likely to find that Sharpbill or even an RVG Cuckoo.

State of the road

Four wheel drive can be required in a few spots. You might make it with a small car but if it has been raining for several days before the visit, you might also get stuck!

Most of all, I was reminded that the best places to see more birds in Costa Rica are the places with the best high quality forest. To learn more about where to go birding in Costa Rica, support this blog by purchasing How to See, Find, and Identify Birds in Costa Rica. I hope to see you in Costa Rica!

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