Costa Rica is not a vast country. We don’t have endless landscapes that leap past the horizon and yet, there’s still much to discover. The humid tropical forests are packed with dense vegetation, looped with life. Hidden wetlands beckon and lurk from valleys, and even old overlooked fields could hide a Lesser Ground-Cuckoo.
What else shelters in “the weeds”?
As with every coast, seawatching is an open window to tantalizing opportunities. What will fly by today? What might wander in from distant marine realms, however small the possibility? Costa Rica’s dual shores provide two such chances at lottery birding redemption.
Even in the same old birding places, there’s always more to see. Bird some of the richer spots and you could get lifers on every one of a dozen visits (no kidding, you just gotta know where to go birding in Costa Rica). You could also stick to the popular birding circuit and connect with literally hundreds of species.
You can’t go wrong but, for the more adventurous, additional birding corners await exploration. These are places off the beaten track, too far from other sites to fit into tours or just too plain far. For a country the size of West Virginia, as one might surmise, such less visited sites tend to be close to Panama or Nicaragua.
Last weekend, we visited one of those far off places. It’s a spot I have wanted to check for some time but have always ended up birding similar sites that were just a little bit closer. That place is Gandoca and it’s pretty much right at the end of the road.
Gandoca is a tiny settlement just on the other side of the Gandoca-Manzanillo Reserve. Go there and you’re almost in Panama. Heck, on the way there, you can see forested hills in Panama that probably host Harpy Eagle. No such mega massive eagle welcomed us in Gandoca but we still had some fun and exciting birding. Check out the eBird trip report and some observations and suggestions based on this past trip:
The Road in to Gandoca is Bumpy and Not very Birdy
The highway is wonderful. Really. No holes, quick, easy-going, that’s not what you usually find in Costa Rica! However, once you turn off the highway, you’ll be in for several kilometers of classic, rocky road bumpiness.
It’s not too bad but just saying, it’s good to be prepared. The birding on the way in isn’t so great either. Yes, it’s Ok but at least half the road passes through banana farms, tree farms, and some pasture. We rode in at night with hopes of uncommon nightjars but nope, only Common Pauraques, at least on that night.
The Best Habitat is near Gandoca and the Colibri Ecolodge
The title says it all. The best habitats are the forests closer to Gandoca and the Colibri Ecolodge (Colibri Cabinas). Although they weren’t primary forest, they were still old enough to host a fair number of forest birds. I bet they could also host a surprise or two.
Rufescent Tiger-Heron! Uniform Crake! Hermits in Abundance!
I suppose these were our “best birds”. The tiger-heron was hanging out in a backyard ditch at the Colibri. Amazingly, we almost missed it! Luckily, we ran into Richard Garrigues (author of the Birds of Costa Rica) and some of his family. Richard told us about the tiger-heron and a few seconds later, we were all admiring this uncommon Costa Rica bird at close range.
The crake wasn’t surprising, this species is actually quite common in Costa Rica. However, you don’t get to see those mammal wannabes all that much. On our final morning, while admiring a caiman in a roadside pool, a juvenile Uniform Crake came scooting out of the forest and let us watch it pick at the edge of the water. We were pleased that the caiman didn’t turn around and try for a crake sandwich.
As for the hermits, they were just nice and common. It’s always nice to constantly hear and see Long-billed Hermits in action but the birding gets better when all four possible species appear.
We truly lucked out on Saturday. On Friday night, there must have been a huge wave of migration. In the morning, invisible, buzzing Dickcissels passed overhead while small flocks of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, and Swainson’s Thrushes foraged in the trees.
The foliage was also full of Bay-breasted Warblers, and wood-pewees and a few Empids sallied from the forest edge. An Olive-sided Flycatcher topped a snag, and Eastern Kingbirds flew into view.
No cuckoos seen nor other rare birds but it was still marvelous.
Not to mention, the migrants busied fruiting figs with trogons, Crested Guans, chachalacas, tanagers, and other local birds. Stuff was busy, it was deep chocolate goodness.
Check for New Birds for Costa Rica
One other thing I highly recommend while visiting Gandoca is looking for new birds for Costa Rica. I’m ashamed to admit I did not carry out this honorable task as much as I should have. However, in the future, I would suggest seriously looking for Pacific Antwren, White-tailed Trogon, Blue Cotinga, Cocoi Heron, Cattle Tyrant, Carib Grackle, and Rufous-breasted Hermit.
I daresay any of these birds are possible in that area (perhaps more along the main highway) and is why I included them on the Costa Rica Birding App as “not seen” birds. The hermit in particular could be easily overlooked. I mean it looks extremely similar to a Bronzy Hermit, you’ll need photos that show the undertail coverts and the face.
Bird Other, Nearby, Little Birded Sites
Bird Gandoca for sure but if you can, it’s also worth dedicating time to birding other sites in the area. Those would be places like the Paradise Road, sites near Bribri, Manzanillo, and the RECOPE road to name a few.
Visit Gandoca and you gotta be ready to drive for a good ways. Make sure your car is charged and don’t expect many stores in the area but you will find peace. You’ll also see a lot of birds, maybe something mega.