November 1999 - January 2000
by Patrick O'Donnell
This is a trip report mostly dealing with lesser-known spots and a few stakeouts in Costa Rica from a three month visit that started in November/99 and ended in January/00. Highlighted species are those more often recorded at the site under which they are mentioned than at most other places in C.R.
Quebrada González, Braulio Carrillo National Park
This ranger station is located at about 500 meters elevation on the north-eastern edge of the park along the San José-Limón highway. The habitat is Caribbean slope foothill rainforest. Being that this area was the first rainforest I ever visited (in 92), I have to admit that such an experience may have influenced my feelings in calling this my favorite birding site in Costa Rica. However, the fact that I got lifers there on 12 consecutive visits might also have something to do with my preference for the place. The primary forest on the site is dense, beautiful, very wet (could receive 4-5 meters per year) and holds a nice mix of lowland, foothill, and occasional altitudinal migrants from higher up. The birding can be difficult, but this spot should not be excluded from any birding trip to C.R. due to what is there combined with the accessibility of the site. Trails have been improved with cement, as well as wooden steps, potable water, often cold drinks for sale, and helpful rangers present. Gerardo Obando is a birder/ranger who when present can give accurate, up to date birding info. to visitors.
I have had good mixed species flocks around the station itself. Flocks often had about 30 species and were usually led by BLACK-FACED GROSBEAKS (Caryothraustes poilogaster). Many Tanagers were evident with BLACK AND YELLOW (Chrysothlypis chrysomelas), EMERALD (Tangara florida), SILVER-THROATED (Tangara icterocephala), and SPECKLED (Tangara guttata) being the most common. There was usually a pair of BLUE AND GOLD TANAGERS (Buthraupis arcaei) and ASHY-THROATED BUSH TANAGERS (Chlorospingus canigularis) as well. Other interesting sp. were CINNAMON WOODPECKER (Celeus loricatus), RED-HEADED BARBET (Eubucco bourcierii), Yellow-margined Flycatcher (Tolmomyias assimilis), RUSSET ANTSHRIKE (Thamnistes anabatinus), GREEN SHRIKE VIREO (Vireolanius pulchellus) and SCARLET-THIGHED DACNIS (Dacnis venusta).The same area can also be good for GREEN THORNTAIL (Discosura conversii), BLACK-CRESTED COQUETTE (Lophornis helenae), and Snowcap (Michrochera albocoronata) when Inga sp. around the station are in bloom. The parking area is also the best spot to look for raptors (11 A.M. is usually the best time). I have seen at least 1 Hawk Eagle sp. on most visits (ORNATE, BLACK, and BLACK AND WHITE, frequency of sightings decreasing from left to right), and King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) almost guaranteed. Other sp. frequently seen from here were White Hawk (Leucopternis albicollis), Barred Hawk (L. princeps), and Great Black Hawk (Buteogallus urubitinga).
The loop trail behind the station is best for most of the foothill specialties. It is known as the "Las Palmas" trail and is 2-3 km long at the most. White-tipped Sicklebill (Eutoxeres aquila) can sometimes be seen amongst the heliconias at the start of the trail. With luck, the following species of interest could be seen anywhere along this trail:
Quebrada González is located along the San José-Limón highway, on the east or right side of the road, about 45 minutes driving time coming from San José. The station opens at 8 A.M. and visitors are charged the standard national park fee, which in 1/00 was $6 per day. Entering the trails before 8 and paying after was possible in 1/00 although this might depend upon who is working the office. Public bus: Any bus to Guapiles via this highway can drop off at the entrance to the ranger station. The ticket must be purchased for Guapiles and then the driver told. Even if the driver is told at the start of the trip, it is best to remind him again just after a bridge is crossed at the Rio Sucio (where a brown and a clear river join ). The station is about 4 ks past this point. Buses to Guapiles from San José leave from the Terminal Atlántico Norte every hour or so starting at 5:30 A.M.
A hot, somewhat decrepit looking town located along the shores of a small bay in the Golfo Dulce, it is backed by forested hills that are the Golfito wildlife refuge. A rough road goes from the soccer field near the south end of town up to the top of the refuge passing through mostly good forest. Taxis from town usually charge $10 for the 9k uphill trip. There was no entrance fee.
BLACK-CHEEKED ANT TANAGER (Habia atrimaxillaris) was the best bird seen here, the rest being fairly common, expected sp. of lowland forest along the south Pacific slope. The Ant Tanagers were seen along the top part of the road. Spectacled Owl was seen at dusk near residences just where the road begins it's ascent. Spectacled Owl was also seen in front of the Gran Ceibo Hotel perched on a telephone pole at night along the main road going into town.
At the north end of town are mudflats and mangroves and fair birding around the perimeter of the airport which is mostly second growth. The mudflats hosted a fair variety of expected shorebird and Heron species including several Wilson's Plover (Charadrius wilsonia). The mangroves might support Yellow-billed Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae) although we didn't see any. The road around the airport was good for PALE-BREASTED SPINETAIL (Synallaxis albescens), while the flowering Ingas had many Beryl-crowned Hummingbirds (Amazilia decora) and 1 exquisite male White-crested Coquette (Lophornis adorabilis)! From this area, the road to Playa Cacao goes by primary and secondary forest and marshy habitat. Orange-collared Manakins (Manacus aurantiacus) were common along this road and Grey-breasted Crakes (Laterallus exilis) (and many White-throated) called from the grassy marsh.
Luna Lodge, Carate, Osa Peninsula
This was a newly built nature lodge I helped start a bird list for in 1/00. It is located in excellent lowland rainforest habitat just adjacent to Corcovado Park. There is some secondary forest around the lodge and along the steep road up to the lodge, the rest of the area being primary growth. The lodge is located on a hill above the Carate river, overlooking forested hills entering Corcovado park. The overlooks were good for raptors and Swifts. There is a fairly good trail system that passes through secondary and primary growth. The best trail for birding was the steep trail that left from the last cabin, passing up through secondary and then primary growth where it then was level as it followed a ridge. The second growth was good for Manakins, many Flycatchers, Tanagers and even Turquiose Cotinga. Good mixed flocks were found in the primary forest as well as occasional antswarms with several BICOLORED ANTBIRDS (Gymnopithys leucapsis), and Tawny-winged and Northern Barred Woodcreepers. The steep road on the way up to the lodge was very good for Hummingbirds when the Balsa and Inga sp. trees were in flower. Despite occasional hunting in the area in the past, there appeared to be healthy populations of GREAT CURASSOW (Crax rubra), Crested Guan (Penelope purpurascens), MARBLED WOOD QUAIL (Odontophorus gujanensis), 3 sp. of monkeys (at least 2 usually 3 seen daily), and Jaguar and Puma have also been seen near the lodge itself. The lodge was particularly good for the above sp. as well as such other interesting species as:
Around the end of the road at Carate, there are a couple of lagoons that may hold Rail sp.. This road from Puerto Jiménez is rough with 1-2 rivers as well as a few streams which must be forded to get to Carate. From June until January, this road is at times impassable 8 ks before Carate is reached. To get to Luna Lodge, the easiest and thus also most expensive is by plane. Public transport also goes there from Puerto Jiménez in the form of a covered truck. This left each morning from the main street at 6 A.M., charged around $5 for a one way trip in 1/00, and used the rough road to Carate. It takes about 2 hours to arrive (if the last 2 rivers are passable). From Carate, guests at Luna Lodge are usually brought up the steep hill by truck to the lodge. Walking upstream on the eastern or right-hand side of the river will eventually bring one to the road going up to the lodge after 40 minutes or so. The birding can be very good along the way.
The 1 Yellow-billed Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae) I saw at Luna Lodge was seen along the river. If transport can be arranged to bring one up the hill then I cannot stress the worth of this is unless one prefers to tredge up a rather steep grade for about 15- 20 minutes in oppressive, humid, lowland heat carrying all of your gear.
The lodge is expensive, but may offer more affordable rates for campers in the future. For more information on the lodge, it's best to visit their website at http://www.lunalodge.com/
Rincon de Osa, Osa Peninsula
I spent two nights here and had excellent birding along the roadside. The habitat along the road here is primary and secondary lowland forest along with extensive mangroves. In one day I recorded almost 140 sp. just walking along this road. This was a good spot for YELLOW-BILLED COTINGA (Carpodectes antoniae) with 1 being seen as soon as I got off the bus upon arrival and at least 5 different birds being seen the next day. These 5 birds (2 pairs and 1 young male) were seen together in a fruiting Ficus sp. along with 1 female TURQUOISE COTINGA (Cotinga ridgwayi). The Yellow-billed Cotingas fed on the figs by reaching while perched without much extension of the neck. They were joined by such common sp. as Short-billed Pigeon, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Baltimore Oriole, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Buff-throated Saltator, Bay-headed Tanagers, and Red-crowned and Golden-naped Woodpeckers.
Other interesting sp. recorded along this road were:
Any bus headed to or leaving from Puerto Jiménez can drop off birders along the main road as it passes through the village of Rincon de Osa. Cabinas Golfo Dulce appeared to be the only place to stay in town. I was charged close to $10 for a large, clean room. Dinner can also be bought from the owners who just might serve it to you in their dining room.
EARTH (Escuela de Agricultura en la región tropical humedo):
This agricultural university located in the Caribbean slope lowlands near Guacimo has a 900 hectare forest reserve that is free and open to the public. The reserve appeared to be mostly primary forest with some swampy areas and had a fair trail system. On a morning visit in 12/99 I recorded slightly over 100 sp. I was the only visitor there despite it being the high season for ecotourism in C.R. Birding was good both inside the forest and along the road near the reserve. The grounds of the university was mostly deforested with some maintained gardens as well as cultivated fields used for research.
Bird sp. of interest recorded:
EARTH is located along the San José-Limón highway between Guacimo and Siquirres. It is on the north side of the road and the entrance is totally obvious. There is security at the entrance which require visitors to sign-in and leave their passports in exchange for a day pass. The guards were helpful and gave me directions to the reserve. Inside the school were free buses that traversed the school grounds. To reach the forest, one can exit the bus (or with private car, take a right at) the orchid garden to cross a bridge over a river. There was fair birding at the bridge. The road continued on through banana fields until a fork was reached. Upon following the signs at the fork, I went to the left walking through the banana field until I had to take a right on a stony road. This road eventually reached the reserve and was good birding passing through mostly second growth along the way. These roads were passable by vehicle to the reserve entrance. It would probably take at least 45 minutes to reach this entrance by foot without birding. When I was there, it was one long, hot walk although the Great Green Macaws in particular made it a nice one. Admission was free and buses from Guapiles took about 20-30 minutes to reach the main entrance. During student vacation (between about 12/15 until Feb.), special permission must be obtained from the university to enter.
Trinidad, C.R.-Nicaraguan border
Trinidad is the name of the junction of the Sarapiqui and San Juan rivers just at the Nicaraguan border. I had hoped to access more intact lowland forest there but unfortunately, almost the entire length of the Sarapiqui along both banks was deforested. Noting that there were just a couple of families that live at Trinidad, there must have been a lot of hard work done so the mosquitoes could flourish and keep the cows company in the swampy pastures that were not so long ago forest just as tall and full of life as the wall of green on the other side of the river appeared to be. There was a small patch of primary forest where the cattle actually went for shade and there was intact forest not too far away, but it was on private land and was more or less inaccessible. This larger forested area is 3000 hectares owned by the Oro Verde Lodge [no longer operating] which is located along the Sarapiqui. Access to this forest can only be gained from there. It probably has excellent birding. Around Trinidad, there were such interesting birds around as:
Access was by boat from Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui. It left at 12:30 P.M. and cost about $4. It returned from Trinidad at 4:40 A.M. leaving from in front of the Cabinas Gran Paraiso (AKA Trinidad hotel). It appeared to be the only place to stay in the area as well as comprised the entirety of Trinidad itself. It cost around $7 per night and the family in charge also served basic meals.
Santa Elena Reserve, Monteverde
The Santa Elena Reserve in the Monteverde area has birding similar to that of the Monteverde Reserve although there are usually fewer visitors and more second growth at the entrance. The reserve is particularly good for BLACK GUAN (Chamaepetes unicolor) and BUFF-FRONTED QUAIL-DOVE (Geotrygon costaricensis). Along the entrance trail, there is often a pair of roosting BARE-SHANKED SCREECH OWL (Otus clarkii). They are usually about 3 meters up in a tree on the right hand side of the trail. Approximately 10 meters off the trail, the roost is about 50 meters after the entrance. Staff at the desk could probably give visitors more precise directions and/or point out one of the birds. The reserve costs $5 for one days admission.
Pension Manakin, Monteverde
The Pension Manakin is an affordable ($6-7 per night for cheapest room), comfortable place to stay in the Monteverde area. There are a good number of places like so around Monteverde, but not so many have CHIRIQUI QUAIL-DOVE (Geotrygon chiriquensis), White-eared Ground-Sparrow (Melozone leucotis), and Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus aurantiirostris) staked out in the backyard. There are picture windows looking into a moist woodland which makes up the area behind the pension. The above mentioned species are daily visitors to the ground just outside the windows where a bit of leftover rice and other food refuse is thrown out. A troop of Coatis and Central American Agoutis were also daily visitors and I have also seen Grey Fox and Grey-necked Wood Rail (Aramides cajanea). The Quail Doves came close enough for me to get full frame shots with a 210mm lens.
Volcán Tenorio, Bijagua
The vicinity of the town of Bijagua is situated amongst much intact moist and wet Caribbean slope forest as well as nearby drier habitat that allows for an interesting variety of sp. I spent 2 nights there around Christmas and had some good birding despite the constant windy, rainy weather. I did most of my birding in a community owned reserve with good forest on the slopes of Volcán Tenorio. This was called "Reserva Heliconias" and was about a 30 minute walk from town. There was a good trail system with one trail that went up into cloud forest, and a shaky footbridge that went from the edge of a forested canyon out to a huge tree. This bridge allowed views into the canopy and had a pair of ORNATE HAWK EAGLES (Spizaetus ornatus) near the bridge. Apparently, the pair regularly nests in the vicinity. Most of the trails are in primary forest with Caribbean slope and some dry forest sp. An antswarm had Ocellated and Spotted Antbirds as well as Song Wren (Cyphorynus phaeocephalus). Tody Motmot (Hylomanes momotula) MIGHT occur in this forest as well as Violaceous Quail Dove (Geotrygon violacea) and Keel-billed Motmot (Electron carinatum). This area in general appeared to have good potential for a wide variety of birds. On a good morning, one could probably hit over 100 sp. easily.
Other interesting sp. recorded were:
Bare-necked Umbrellabird (Cephalopterus glabricollis), Three-wattled Bellbird (Procnias tricarunculata), and Black Guan (Chamaepetes unicolor).
From the highway, the reserve is about 3 km uphill (not too steep) along the road heading east where the Banco Nacional and police station are found. I was charged no entrance fee to use the trails. There were cabins at the reserve which cost $15-20 per night. There was also a restaurant there that served affordable, good food. From the restaurant and cabins, there is a view of Lake Nicaragua just to the north. I stayed in town at the Cabinas Zamora. I was charged $6-7 per night for a clean room with private bath and hot water. The owners were kind people and the place was quiet. I recommend this place to stay especially in comparison to a couple other cabinas in town I looked at which seemed to be dirty and not as secure. To get to the Cabinas Zamora, one must go west on the first street south of the stream that is south of the Banco Nacional. After 2 blocks, take a left and the cabins are behind the second house on the left.
Cano Negro refuge has good freshwater aquatic habitats and is a fairly reliable place to see GREAT POTOO (Nyctibius grandis) from most boat trips. I took the opportunity to go there on a trip in 1/00 with an English speaking bird club from Costa Rica and so unfortunately don't know too much about planning a boat trip or transportation there because everything was prearranged. We stayed in Los Chiles which has good marsh habitat just outside of town as well as down by the docks on the Rio San Juan. Looking out from the docks in the evening, we had several LIMPKINS (Aramus guarauna), SNAIL KITES (Rostrhamus sociabilis), and many MUSCOVY (Cairina moschata).
Despite looking through the many Grackles and seeing an occasional bird that might have been smaller, I didn't feel secure about calling any of those Nicaraguan Grackles. Despite playing Rail tapes here, White-throated Crake (Laterallus albigularis) was the only sp. calling. Just outside of town along the main road, we saw a STRIPED OWL (Asio clamator) at dusk. This bird perched on the roadside wires and then flew low over the ground, swooping up to another similar perch further down the road. It did this again and again until we could no longer keep up with it. The road that goes to the village of Cano Negro, passing through the refuge, was good birding with several raptors (including Harris Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus) which is local in C.R.) and many expected waterbirds. We were at the wrong time of year for Jabiru and so dipped on that immensely-billed creature.
The best bird along this road was probably the small group of Nicaraguan Seed Finches that we saw feeding on the seeds of some tall grass that grew in a wet area. This road looked like it might be good for Rails at night and was passable when we were there during the dry season, but might not be during the wet season. From Cano Negro, we took a boat trip seeing a perched Great Potoo very well as well as many expected waterbirds, caimans, and 1 BLACK-COLLARED HAWK (Busarellus nigricollis).
Well, there is some information that hopefully would be helpful for birders headed to Costa Rica.
Niagara Falls, NY