16 February - 3 March 2000
by Mike Mulligan
Visiting: Volcan Poas, Cerro de la Muerte highlands (Chacon's), Rancho Naturalista, Pacific coastal (Tarcol Lodge), Caribbean lowlands (Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui), Braulio Carrillo National Park
Jay, the two Dougs, and Karen and Merrill arrive a day early. We bed down at the nearby Hampton Inn and prepare for the next day's "pre-trip extension."
Our competent driver Marvin meets us at 8:00 and we drive to Volcan Poas, climbing through the coffee fields. We note acres of black plastic sheeting covering cultivated ferns and flowers. Poas, located in a national park, is chilly and foggy. Standing on the viewing platform, we are about to give up when the mists lift and afford us a great look at the crater's center. Marvin finds us a comfortable country place for lunch, and on the way back we visit Sarchi, where furniture and oxcarts are made in the traditional manner. Birds spotted include Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Slaty Flowerpiercer and Large-footed Finch, which the entire group picks up later. Our only White-winged Dove was also seen. Elena, Marta and Alan arrive later in the evening.
A Swallow-tailed Kite is found from the hotel grounds by early risers. After a leisurely breakfast we meet guide Kevin Easely, and set off in our Coaster for the highlands. Kevin points out several birds along the road down to Chacon's. Altitude here is about 2200 meters, air is refreshingly cool, and Rufous-collared Sparrows sing in the yard. We arrive in time for a fine trout lunch. Get into our cabins, bird around the trails nearby. Supper and checklist, and in our beds early. We pick up Ruddy Pigeon, Crimson-fronted Parakeet, White-throated Mountain-Gem, Collared Trogon, the first of many Hoffman's Woodpeckers, Ruddy Treerunner, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Tufted and Black-capped Flycatchers, Mountain and Sooty Robins, Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, Collared Redstart, a brilliant Flame-colored Tanager, Yellow-thighed Finch, and Yellow-bellied Siskin. We struggle with separating Scintillant and Volcano Hummingbirds at the feeders.
Morning hike in the forest above Chacon's, work our way slowly down. Following our afternoon break we drive up the road and bird our way back. Dusky Nightjar heard only by the church (at dusk!). Today's birds are Green Violet-ear, Resplendent Quetzal, Lineated Foliage-gleaner, Paltry Tyrannulet, Yellowish and Boat-billed Flycatchers, Ochraceous Wren, Black-faced Solitaire, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Yellow-winged and Brown-capped Vireos, a striking Flame-throated Warbler, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Golden-browed Chlorophonia and Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager.
On bus early (6:30), drive back to highway and on up the Cerro de la Muerte Tower Road. My altimeter says 3500 meters. Clear, windy, treeless, can see forever. Finally spot a Volcano Junco. On the way down Kevin takes us on a trail and--very carefully--shows everyone a skulking Zeledonia (Wrenthrush). We move on up the highway to bird Chespirito Road for a couple hours. Here we find great views of a male quetzal and another chlorophonia. Back to Chacon's for a late lunch and some leisurely birding along the stream. After dinner my good friend and guide Rudy Zamora talks to us for a few minutes about Costa Rica and its incredible diversity. We note Ochraceous Pewee (a seldom-seen bird), a Barred Becard pair, the haunting song of a Whistling Wren, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Black-and-yellow Silky-Flycatcher, our only Black-thighed Grosbeak, and get a super look at a Buffy Tuftedcheek.
We leave Chacon's about 8 o'clock and drive to Lankester Gardens near Paraiso for some birding (White-eared Ground-Sparrow) and box lunch. We also check nearby ponds. Continue on to Rancho Naturalista and some fun birding from the deck. Late afternoon Kevin takes us to the upper hummingbird feeders. Light rain most of the time. Lots of birds today: White-tailed Kite, Roadside Hawk, Gray-headed Chachalaca, Northern Jacana, White-crowned Parrot, Groove-billed Ani, Blue-crowned Motmot, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Cinnamon Becard, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, White-breasted Wood-Wren, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Rufous-capped Warbler, Bananaquit, Golden-hooded, Palm, White-lined, Crimson-collared, and Passerini's Tanagers, Buff-throated and Black-headed Saltadors, Black-striped Sparrow, Blue-black Grassquit ("Johnny Jump-up"), Variable Seedeater, Yellow-billed and Scarlet-rumped Caciques, Montezuma Oropendola, and a host of hummers: Green and Little Hermits, White-necked Jacobin, Green-breasted Mango, Green Thorntail, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Snowcap, and Green-crowned Brilliant.
Raining. Upper deck and coffee at 7 o'clock. Bird the near trails, stop again at upper feeders. After lunch (great food here) more trails and fields and mud. Visit the hummingbird pools. Today's birds include a heard Great Tinamou, Sulphur-winged Parakeets flashing by, Brown Violet-ear, Broad-billed Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Plain-brown, Wedge-billed and Spotted Woodcreepers, Russet Antshrike, Plain Antvireo, Thicket (Fulvous-bellied) Antpitta heard in front of lodge (often heard but never seen), Ochre-bellied, Yellow-bellied and Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Masked Tityra, White-collared and White-crowned Manakins, Black-throated Wren, Tropical Parula, Slate-throated Redstart, Golden-crowned Warbler, Silver-throated and Olive Tanagers, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, Chestnut-headed Oropendola.
More balcony (wonderful way to bird!), more forest trails. After lunch we board the Coaster and drive a few miles to the Rio Tuis valley where we experience a trip high point: marvelous scope looks at a Sunbittern foraging in a wet field. Then another on the river! Then flying and flashing the sun! This elusive and highly-sought-after species is seldom seen by visitors. Other birds: Gray-chested Dove, Mottled Owl, White-collared Swift, Amazon Kingfisher on the river, Slaty Antwren, Dusky Antbird, Torrent Tyrannulet, Stripe-breasted Wren, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Buff-rumped Warbler, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Orange-billed Sparrow and Black-cowled Oriole.
Breakfast precedes a bit of birding. We load up and head out. After a quick check at the Rio Burris reservoir and a Cartago supplies stop, we pass through San Jose and on to the Pacific side. Pausing in the town of Orotina, we are impressed by a couple Black-and-white Owls and a two-toed sloth hanging out in the town square. We arrive at "quaint and rustic" Tarcol Lodge about 2: 30 and find our rooms in the lodge and in the annex. Upside: annex air conditioners are functioning. Downside: large tree frog in the toilet. We sit on the deck overlooking the tidal flat and enjoy a cool fruit drink. An easy walk around our new (and warm) neighborhood. Rancho birds are Little Tinamou, Rufous-winged Woodpecker and a decent look (finally) at a Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant.
We see many familiar herons and shorebirds on the Tarcol flats, plus Least Grebe, Magnificent Frigatebird, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Boat-billed Heron, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Gray-headed Kite, Mangrove (Common) Black-Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras, Red-billed Pigeon, a Blue Ground-Dove flyby, spectacular squawking Scarlet Macaws, Orange-fronted Parakeet, White-fronted, Yellow-naped and Red-lored Parrots, Squirrel Cuckoo, finally a look at at Pauraque, Black-headed Trogon, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Lineated Woodpecker, Barred Antshrike, Yellow-olive and Panama Flycatchers, Gray-breasted Martin, Mangrove Swallow, White-throated Magpie-Jay, an outsized Rufous-naped Wren, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Cherrie's Tanager, Giant Cowbird. Kevin shows us the mandible and eyes of a tiny Olivaceous Piculet in a fencepost cavity.
We cover the Carara National Park River Trail, and after lunch the Figure Eight Trail. Fine view of a Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher at the pools. Rosa's excellent baked fish dinner caps a satisfying birding day. Birds are White Hawk, Laughing Falcon heard laughing, Crested Guan, Black Skimmer, Short-billed Pigeon, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Orange-chinned Parakeet, a pair of dozing, human-tolerant Pacific Screech-Owls, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Band-tailed Barbthroat, Long-tailed Hermit, Scaly-breasted and Steely-vented Hummingbirds, Violet Sabrewing, Blue-throated Goldentail, Purple-crowned Fairy, Slaty-tailed, Baird's and Violaceous Trogons, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Plain Zenops, Black-hooded Antshrike, Dot-winged Antwren, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Black-faced Antthrush, Greenish Elaenia, Northern Bentbill, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Royal and Streaked Flycatchers, Orange-collared, Blue-crowned and Red-capped Manakins, Rufous-and-white, Riverside and Rufous-breasted Wrens, Long-billed Gnatwren, Tawny-crowned and Lesser Greenlets, Green Honeycreeper, Yellow-crowned and Yellow-throated Euphonias, Gray-headed and White-shouldered Tanagers, Blue and Blue-black Grosbeaks.
The noisy parking lot at Carara NP gives us Double-toothed Kite, Fiery-billed Aracari, Zone-tailed and Gray Hawks, Bay-headed Tanager, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat and a White-necked Puffbird in the scope. Great start for another sunny day which we enjoy after Rancho's clouds and rain. Kevin goes off-trail to locate a Streak-chested (Spectacled) Antpitta and almost steps on it. We cover part of the Waterfall Road and relax on an afternoon boat ride on Rio Tarcoles. Additional birds are Sandwich Tern, Brown-hooded and Mealy Parrots, Striped Owl, Mangrove Hummingbird, Black-throated Trogon (smallest of trogons), American Pygmy Kingfisher, White-whiskered Puffbird, Barred and Cocoa (Buff-throated) Woodcreepers, Ruddy-tailed and Gray-capped Flycatchers, Black-crowned Tityra, Mangrove (Yellow) Warbler and Blue Dacnis.
After watching the spectacle of a thousand Scissor-tailed Flycatchers take off from their night roost we find a perched Crane Hawk just outside the lodge. We enter the Mangrove Trail and cross the simple bridge held together with binder twine. Check out the river mouth and beach. Load our Coaster and hit the road for the Caribbean lowlands. Bypassing San Jose we take our box lunch at a country restaurant on the slopes of Poas. Stop at La Paz Waterfall. Continuing down the Sarapiqui Valley we see from the bus a huge ball of White-collared Swifts preparing to roost. Up close feeder views at the hummingbird "restaurant", plus a pair of colorful Prong-billed Barbets. We pull into La Quinta Lodge around 5 o'clock. Shortly after finding our bright and cheerful-looking rooms Kevin is yelling "Spectacled Owl", and we all get great looks at this impressive bird in the gathering dusk. Daily checklist, buffet dinner, and bed. We find Bat Falcon (which feeds on swifts and bats), Collared Plover at Tarcoles beach, Coppery-headed Emerald, White-bellied and Purple-throated Mountain-gems, Slaty Spinetail, Great Antshrike, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Scrub and Brown-crested Flycatchers, Tropical Pewee, White-winged Becard, Mangrove Vireo, Scrub Greenlet, Scrub Euphonia, Melodious Blackbird.
Early breakfast and good results on the road to La Selva Biological Station. We fill out the required registration forms and pick up Eric our local guide. Purple-throated Fruitcrows display for us, puffing their bare red throats. We're further rewarded with a rectal view of a three-toed sloth. We cheer Jay's 1000th bird, a Snowy Cotinga, and respectfully observe several poison-dart "bluejeans" frogs, red with blue legs. About 27 degrees C today, and humid. After lunch and a break we bird the La Quinta grounds and Rosenberg Road in the evening. A long day. Spotted are Green Ibis, Muscovy Duck, Tiny and Semiplumbeous Hawks, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Pale-vented Pigeon, Vermiculated Screech-Owl in the dark, a called-in Great Potoo, Gray-rumped Swift, Bronzy Hermit, a nest with Black-crested Coquette tail feathers sticking out, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Red-footed Plumeleteer, Rufous Motmot, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Yellow Tyrannulet, Long-tailed Tyrant, Bright-rumped Attila seen at last, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Plain-colored Tanager, Shining Honeycreeper, Olive-backed Euphonia, Grayish Saltador, both Nicaraguan and Thick-billed Seed-Finches, and Yellow-tailed Oriole.
Meet Eric at La Selva for another round. Overcast and relatively comfortable today. A sneaky White-throated Crake is seen by most. Following lunch and a bit of rest we check out the El Gavilan Lodge grounds. Birds: Slaty-breasted Tinamou, a perched-up Scaled Pigeon, Olive-throated Parakeet, Crested Owl (tied with the tinamou for Bird of the Day), Chestnut-colored and Black-striped Woodpeckers, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant (world's smallest passerine), Band-backed Wren, Black-faced Grosbeak.
We make a river stop on the way to Braulio Carrillo National Park. Arriving there we hike Sendero Las Palmas behind the administration building. After a lunch break we take the Botarrama and El Ceibo trails across the highway. Late afternoon some of us climb the morning 's trail for another look. Kevin hears a Black-headed Antthrush which a few are fortunate to see in the dusk. We take off leaving Elena in the bathroom, and return to pick up her and a couple Short-tailed Nighthawks! Back to La Quinta for a late supper. More new birds are Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Striped Cuckoo, Lattice-tailed Trogon (toughest one to find), a brightly-colored Red-headed Barbet, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Long-tailed Woodcreeper, Streak-crowned Antvireo, Checker-throated Antwren, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, our only White-ruffed Manakin, a reclusive Song Wren, Pale-vented Robin, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush seen at last, Green Shrike-Vireo, Emerald Tanager, White-vented Euphonia, White-throated Shrike-Tanager, Tawny-crested and Black-and-yellow Tanagers.
Leaving La Quinta behind we drive to and bird La Virgen del Socorro Road, located in a lower middle-elevation wet forest valley. Eat our lunch at the hummingbird restaurant and stop at El Angel Ice Cream Factory for a sweet treat. On into San Jose and the Hotel Don Carlos gift shop. Check in at Hampton Inn and enjoy our final meal together at the excellent Restaurante Cencerro in Alajuela.
Goodbyes, shuttle to airport, fly home, birds on the brain.