by Terry Witt
Have just returned from a 2 week organized tour of Costa Rica and have some current information that may be of help to the many birders traveling independently to this deservedly popular destination. Some of the following comments are intended to update or supplement information in the original Keith Taylor book "A Birders Guide to Costa Rica" (out of print?), and Aaron Sekerak's "A Travel and Site Guide to Birds of Costa Rica".
Major sites visited: Carara, Monteverde, Arenal, La Selva, Volcan Poas
Melodious Blackbirds have invaded the country and were seen on the grounds of the hotel near the airport.
Black and White Owl may still be seen in the small city park in Orotina at a day roost; this is a convenient stop on the way from San Jose to Carara. Previously, there were as many as 4 birds present, but now only one is available. Adequate time may be needed to find this striking bird.
Carara Reserve: Currently, the river trail is every bit as crowded as the Headquarters Loop Trail. This may be due to the presence of Maned Howler and White-faced Capuchin Monkeys, which are common and popular with the locals. River trail birding - Chestnut-backed Antbird and Black-hooded Antshrike are both very common. An occasional Orange-collared Manakin may be heard but they are difficult to observe here and no lek is currently present. Scaly-breasted Humminbird is not present at least at this time of year. Boat-billed Herons roost at the oxbow lake. Cherie's Tanager is present but not common. Headquarter's Loop Trail - There is a large active OC Manakin lek now present. Take the left portion of the first loop and in about 200 meters you will hear the wing-snapping to the left across a small stream. There are a number of Streak-chested (Spectacled) Antpittas singing on territory along the loops, and with tape and patience, these can be observed. One silent Riverside Wren was seen along the trail.
The bridge over the Tarcoles River is a popular spot for tourists as well as Ticos to stop and see the many American Crocodiles sunning on the bank. It is also a good spot to try for Yellow-billed Cotinga early to mid-morning.
Taracol Lodge currently harbors 2 desirable species. The hummingbird feeders have had a Mangrove HB visiting for several years. There are many aggressive Rufous-tailed Hummers present that make leisurely observation difficult, but with time and patience, adequate views may be obtained. Pacific Screech-Owls are roosting in the yard across the street. Up to date info might be obtained from the residents. This is all private property and gratuities would be indicated.
Villa Lapas Hotel is an excellent birding stop, but the trails above the lodge are closed during the rainy season. However, they have recently opened an aerial tramway above the lodge. Current price is US $20 which includes a lift to the top. There is a nice trail with 5 suspension bridges which leads back to the hotel. An early morning walk yielded 4 species of trogon including Baird's, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, 3 Nightingale Wrens, King Vulture, and many more common species. Gray-headed Tanagers are nesting on the grounds, and a flock of Fiery-billed Aracaris was seen working their way up the stream. A Scaly-breasted Hummingbird was seen several times spider-gleaning from a web near the dining room.
Monteverde is a very popular location, even in the off season. Hotel Fonda Vela is an excellent accomodation for birders and is only a 3 km walk to the reserve, though mostly uphill. From the porch on arrival, both Three-wattled Bellbirds and R Quetzals were seen on the lawn! During rain, birds continue to move through the large field behind the hotel and one can see a wide variety of species from the porch while staying dry. WE Ground-Sparrows are common, and Scarlet-thighed Dacnis are regular visitors. There is a trail which circles the field below the hotel and quail-doves have been seen here. Black-breasted Wood-Quail sing each morning but would be difficult to see without the aid of tape. Our best sighting at the reserve was a very responsive Zeledonia singing a few hundred meters up the Sendoro Nubosa trail from the picnic tables at the overlook. The Finca Ecologica is still an excellent site for Long-tailed Manakin - ask at the desk for the location of the lek.
Arenal Observatory Lodge is a comfortable if pricy accomodation while birding this area. Fulvous-bellied (Thicket) Antpitta is commonly heard on many of the trails but difficult to impossible to see here. Many Stripe-breasted Wrens are present and a Black-throated Wren was seen on a trail near the hotel. Crimson-collared Tanagers are present in the yard.
There is a wonderful new (5 years?) spot above the cutoff to Virgen del Socorro in the village of Cinchona. Look for the small sign for the Mirador de Catarata across from Rosita's Variedade. There is a small museum with beverages available and the best hummingbird feeders in the area. At close range, 10 species were seen including Green Thorntail (a few), White-bellied Mountain-Gem(a few), and Black-bellied HB (one). Prong-billed and Red-headed Barbets visit the fruit feeders. Barred Hawk may sail by below. They are currently asking for a one dollar donation, and after visiting here, one may feel more generous.
La Selva: 2 excellent guides are Freddy Madrigal and Erick Castro. Both speak fluent English and are friendly and capable; they know where to try for most of the less common species on the reserve. One may not walk the trails here without a guide and arrangements in advance would be advisable. You can e-mail Erick at email@example.com. The Selva Verde Lodge is a convenient lodging and Chestnut-backed Antbird, Bay Wren, and Orange-billed Sparrow are all common on the grounds. The Botanical Garden across the street is worth checking as there is an active White-collared Manakin lek at the top of the hill on the Boundary Trail. A Blue-throated Goldentail was seen guarding an area of Heliconia in the garden.
The Braulio Carrillo Aerial Tram is expensive and not particularly rewarding for birds. It is like a pelagic trip and can be frustrating if any good birds should be seen. In summer, Snowcap can be found in the area at flowering Verbenia. We saw an adult male at a yard with barbed wire guarding the house several km above the Tram just short of the Butterfly Garden across the road. It is an altitudinal migrant and seldom seen on the winter/spring tours.
There is a small cafe worth visiting on the road to Volcan Poas about 5 km below the park called Mirador el Quetzal. Two feeders on the porch are busy and several Scintillant HBs were visiting in addition to Magnificent, Green-crowned Brilliant, and Purple-throated Mountain-Gem. The view of San Jose is spectacular and Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers were flying back and forth in the field below.
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507 HIghland Terrace
Murfreesboro Tn 37130
I wanted to correct what might cause some confusion (I know we had heard the same thing and were confused) -- At La Selva OTS, you only need to have a guide to walk the trails IF YOU ARE NOT STAYING AT THE RESEARCH CENTER. If you are lodging there, you are free to walk the trails at leisure for as far and as long (and when) you choose, without a guide. You are only asked to observe certain obvious rules such as not interfering with any research set-up, and to wear Wellingtons if you actually walk *off* the trail, because of fer-de-lances.
If you stay at OTS, you get a morning's guided walk as part of the deal. We stayed eight days and saw Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Great Green Macaw, Great Currassow, and a host of other forest species in that time. Although we were out every day from dawn (or before) to dusk, we never were able to walk all of the research center's 45 km of trail! Arrangemnts to stay at OTS can be made through their office in Durham NC, although we eventually contacted the San Jose office via email for more up-to-date info on availoability of accomodations. They get a lot of groups and space is not always available. However, it is worth checking in at the office on site since these folks know *exactly* how much space will be needed by groups -- that is we were told by San Jose that we could only stay 4 days but the La Selva ofice manager said there was no problem for the full 8 days.
I will second Terry's endorsement of Erick Castro as a guide. We hired him on his day off to take us to Braulio Carillo since we were nervous about the problems others had encountered (which btw, Erick seconded -- a friend of his had been attacked on one of the high trails and badly beaten). He knew where it was safe to go, and some "short-cuts" to back trails well away from the main road where most of the problems are. We had a brilliant time at B.C., and saw one of the largest feeding flocks I have ever encountered anywhere there.
Silver Spring, MD