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18 January - 01 February 2001

by David Bree

Three companions and I spent Jan 18th to Feb 1st/2001 in Costa Rica.  We rented a vehicle and drove to various locations in the country.  This journey was a bit of a departure from my usual in that I was not travelling with my wife who could not go for family reasons.  She graciously suggested that I might like to go somewhere on my own this winter - perhaps a 1 week Birding tour of Cuba?  Casting about I found a friend that was thinking of heading to Costa Rica with two of his friends for 2 weeks.  Hmmm... 2 weeks in Costa Rica, 830 birds species compared to 200 or so in Cuba, Hmmm...?  Not quite the trip my wife was envisioning missing, but we had been there 10 years earlier so I convinced her she wouldn’t be missing too much, and the chance to share costs with 3 other people was a chance not to miss.

This journey was not planned in any detail before hand as all 4 of us had different interests and agendas.  I was primarily interested in birds and dragonflies, my friend (Tyler) is a botanist and interested in tropical plant ecology, and the other two (Dayna and Peter), while having a deep respect for nature, were not “naturalist geeks” as Tyler put it, and were interested in exploring Costa Rica in a more general way.  We would follow our collective noises and see where we ended up.

Some Logistics

The Flight

Unlike 10 years ago charter flights from Canada now fly into the Liberia airport in NW Costa Rica.  This seemed like a good choice as it would avoid the hassle of newly arrived travelers being suddenly thrust into driving in a big foreign city.  Unfortunately the 3 of us flying from Canada booked a flight there, while Peter, flying out of the US could only go to San Jose and would arrive 36 hours later.  We would have to drive to San Jose to get him anyway!  Oh Well.  The airport in Liberia is basically a box in a field.  We found both coming in and leaving was a slow business (about an hour) as it just took a long time to process a plane load of people with the small staff there.  Also the line-ups coming and going are outside, the building is only big enough to house the staff.  Though these areas are covered and shaded, it’s still hot.  There is not much of a Duty Free leaving so purchases are best made in Liberia before.  Even so I still liked going into Liberia airport for its rural setting.  Also if your trip is including the dry NW habitats or the beaches there, this airport is certainly more handy, being 3 to 4 hours closer than San Jose.

The Vehicle

We rented a 4x4 drive/ 4 door Daihatsu Terios from Elegante Rent a Car. This company has a web site ( and Peter made all the arrangements over the web.  They handled things very professionally and I would certainly rent from them again.  They met us at the airport and drove the 10 minutes to their compound (as I said there is nothing at the airport). Cost was about $500.00 Cdn/ week.  This vehicle was a little small for 4 people and luggage but reasonably comfortable.  It had “surf racks” so I planned my packing such that my extra luggage (why do naturalists always carry more stuff?) would fit into a duffel bag that could be bungy corded to the roof (Industrial strength garbage bags and duct tape can do wonders).  This left enough room inside for the rest of the bags (one big pack each) to fit in without obscuring back window vision.

We debated long and hard about getting this 4 wheel drive.  My experience from 10 years ago suggested we could go most places in a regular car, though we were worried about the road to Monteverde.  As it turned out we could have gone everywhere we did (almost) in a 2-wheel drive car, but the extra clearance afforded by the Daihatsu just meant we could do so a little faster and without so much worry.   Also the cost of the 4 wheel drive from Elegante turned out to be the same as the Toyota Corolla we had initially thought of renting through our travel agent in Canada.  Gas was running about 7000 colones a fill up, or $35.00 Canadian, and the vehicle had a range of about 400km.  Even driving the length of the country and back, we put on less than 2000 kms.

We used the International Travelers Map, 4th ed. of Costa Rica, published in Vancouver and it seemed quite reliable.  For towns we relied on the little maps in the Lonely Planet.  Costa Rica is generally well sign-posted but getting through the bigger towns can be tricky.  Just by looking at them you can not always tell which is the street that heads onto the highway to the next town.  The little arrows that indicate this on the street maps in the lonely Planet Guide are worth the price of the guide alone.  Unfortunately these maps don’t always indicate that the way you want to go is a one-way street the wrong way!  You have to make your way up a parallel street until the one you want is two way again.  Also keep a sharp eye out for the “No Hay Paso” (one way signs), many of these are quite worn and hard to see.  But don’t worry if you start to head down one, the locals will very helpfully and quickly point out your mistake.


Colons were running about 317 to 1 US Dollar, I though about 200 to 1 Canadian dollar through-out the trip to estimate my costs. The US dollar is king here, certainly bring some in cash.  It is easy to change anywhere.  If you go to any of the tourist areas (Monteverde or any of the lodges, park entrance fees, etc.) everything is quoted in American dollars.  Also Visa and MasterCard are widely excepted at most larger places of business.  Colons are of course more useful for day to day expenses and in small shops.

We did have trouble with the A.T.M. machines.  While most offer an English option and are programmed to give either colons or US dollars, they didn’t seem to want to give us either currency.  They are only linked to the VISA “plus” network, and you have to find a machine that says so, but even so, despite having between us 6 different accounts in both Canada and the US, and both visa cards and bank cards, we only managed to get money out of a machine once in about 10 tries.  We were not desperate so didn’t try a lot, but if we had not all brought some cash we might have been in a bit of a mess.  I don’t know if this is just a case of phone lines just not getting through to Canada and the US at certain times or what.

Also being a Master Card user I could not get a Cash Advance on my card at the Banco National, only on Visa.  Luckily I was travelling with Visa card carriers so I borrowed a lot, again I don’t know if I had tried another bank if I could have got a cash advance on the MasterCard.   If you are going and like getting money directly from the A.T.M. or banks (I do, as being a Canadian I dislike having to change my money twice) I would definitely do a little more research in how to make this work for you down there.

The Birding

Despite traveling with non-birders I managed to get to many fine habitats and saw about 200 species.  While not as high a number as some trip lists I felt this was a good number for someone essentially looking for birds on my own.  Also I spent virtually all my time looking for forest birds, and made no effort to search out open country, or water birds.  The following locations are those we visited with notes on accommodations, restaurants and birds seen.  Those birds that I think would be more interesting to North American birders have been capitalized, migrants and the more commonly seen tropical birds have not been.  What gets capitalized is a very arbitrary and not wholly consistent decision made by me at the time of writing.


Tilaran is a pleasant little town in the hills by Lake Arenal.  It is a comfortable 90 minute drive from the Liberia airport and being a little higher offers a cooler temperature for the newly arrived unclimatized northerns!  The Pizzeria/Bed & Breakfast right behind the Church is run by Americans Tom Jafek and his wife and they are a great source of English language information on the area.  While the room rate of $55.00 US/ person price was too expensive for us we did eat there.  The Gallo Pinto (standard Costa Rican rice and bean dish) was the best we had in the country and the Macadamia Pancakes are worth the trip in themselves.  Tom did recommend the Naralit (Tilaran spelled backwards) Hotel, 1 block away.  This was excellent value at 3000 col/person, it was very clean, with fan, and had a guarded enclosed parking lot with the guard on all night so you could get your vehicle out for an early morning bird foray.

While there is no Reserve nearby there are some patches of forest to explore.  Tyler and I went to a small creek crossing just west of town on the main road for a look-see.  As soon as we stepped out of the car we were greeted by two Howler Monkeys siting in branches right over the highway!  Birding along the road we saw a good selection of the dry NW habitat birds, including GREY HAWK, CRESTED CARACARA, KEEL-BILLED TOUCAN, HOFFMAN’S WOODPECKER, MASKED TITYRA, SCRUB EUPHONIA, and BLUE-GREY TANAGER.  MONTEZUMA’S OROPENDOLAS flew in a steady stream over us as they carried nesting material to some unseen location.  Northern migrants were represented by Yellow Warbler and Baltimore Orioles.  A number of Parrots and Parakeets flew over, but never with the right light to see their colours to identify them (this was to become a common theme on this trip and I was only able to identify 3 species of the 6 or 8+ different Parrots I’m sure I saw on this trip).

Before departing Tilaran in the late morning we made a visit to a local farm (Finca) that Tom directed us to.  The owner has set up a small reserve around his “Palo Grande”, the Big Tree, which is reputedly the largest in Coast Rica (girth not height).  Certainly an interesting sight and he has a ladder that goes up a little ways and down into the hollow interior of the 12 foot? wide trunk.  While it was later in the day I did see a few birds here, including BROWN JAYS, Hoffman’s Woodpecker, and Montezuma’s Oropendola.  The farmer, who doesn’t speak English., indicated that Motmots are around and the Toucans will come in to be fed by hand in the morning.  A donation box is present and a “cost” of 400 col/person (Tom’s suggestion) is little enough to promote conservation amongst the land owners.

While not a very birdy day I think Tilaran would make a great base for a more detailed exploration of the area.

Heredia/Volcan Barva

We stayed in Heredia in the Central Valley on the second night. Not a prime natural location but it was handy to the airport to pick Peter up from his late arriving Delta flight from Atlanta.  Did you know that there are two terminals at the San Jose airport?  We didn’t.  Delta uses the one we were not at.  Luckily Peter found us.  We stayed that night at the Hotel Heredia, run down but clean and cheap with a place to lock the car in.  Being in town it was noisy all night.  If you get stuck staying in the area and have the budget, one of the hotels in the surrounding hill suburbs might be a better choice.

Next morning, while the other two slept in, Tyler and I drove up to the Barva entrance of Braulio Carrillo Park.  This back entrance to the park is about 12 km out of Heredia on the road to Sacramento.  The road is narrow, but paved all the way to Sacramento, however the last three km to the park entrance was impassable, even for the 4x4.  We decided to walk.  This road goes through deforested dairy fields.  Patches and individual trees from the former cloud forest are scattered along the route.  I found it a rather somber landscape, forest remnants standing stark in the misty, cloudy sky.

Walking along we did see some good high altitude birds.  I got a close look at a BUFF-FRONTED QUAIL-DOVE foraging along the road.  The FLAME-THROATED WARBLER above us in a tree I at first mis-took for a Blackburnian Warbler.  The orange throat glows a similar hue.  These two plus the rare SLATY FINCH, that only briefly stopped in a nearby bush, were all life birds for me.  Other birds included MOUNTAIN ROBIN, Brown Jays, COLLARED REDSTART, SOOTY-CAPPED BUSH-TANAGER, and an unknown WOODCREEPER.  RUFOUS-COLLARED SPARROWS were singing away everywhere and the Black-throated Green and Wilson’s Warblers reminded me that this was their winter home.  Tyler might have seen a Quetzal fly by out of the corner of his eye but was not sure.  Another frustration was the hummingbirds.  One of the Hermit? species was singing away in a lek but try as we might we could not actually see one of these birds!

We spent so much time poking along, taking pictures of flowers and looking for birds that by the time we got to the park entrance (open at 8am).  It was time for us to head back and collect the others!  The undisturbed forest raising up behind the guard house was certainly beckoning and I suspect this would be an interesting place to explore further.

Caribbean Slope

The Caribbean slope apparently doesn’t have a wet and dry season - it is always wet.  From what we experienced in our three days there I believe it.  While it didn’t rain constantly the sun came out for about 3 of the 72 hours we spent on this slope.  The usual pattern was misty/fog/rain in the morning, some clearing around noon, cloudy with more rain in the afternoon and then possibly enough clearing to see a sunset.

1) La Paz Falls and Mirador Restaurant

Driving north from San Jose the road to San Miguel and Puerto Viejo in the Sarapiqui River valley crosses the continental divide and winds down through forested slopes too steep to have been cleared.  The La Paz river flowing off of Poas Volcano falls into a valley beside the road.  This is a spectacular sight and many people stop to look at the falls and walk up a short trail that takes you behind the water.  While my companions were doing that I was checking out a small feeding flock around the bridge.  THREE-STRIPED WARBLERS made up most of the birds but SLATE-THROATED REDSTARTS were also present.  All birding has to be done by sight here as the roar of the falls drowns out all other sounds - including the sound of passing cars, so be careful!

Continuing away from San Jose the road rises sharply again.  It is a couple kms further on that the Mirador (View) Restaurant is perched on the right side of the road.  This place is well known for its hummingbird feeders and certainly worth a stop.  Since we had just eaten lunch we only bought a couple of drinks and went out to the balcony.  Immediately you are overwhelmed by zipping flashes of colour all around you.  Even my non-birding companion’s eyes were wide with wonder at this sight.  I was frankly over-whelmed.  I just sat and stared and eventually tried to figure out what I was seeing while they took pictures.

In the half hour we were there I saw VIOLET SABREWING (3-4), GREEN THORNBILL(1m), RUFOUS-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD (many), COPPERY-HEADED EMERALD (5-6), WHITE-BELLIED MOUNTAIN GEM (5-6), and GREEN-CROWNED BRILLANT (6+).  I suspect there were at least 2 other species present but I had a hard time focusing - there were just too many of them, all moving fast!.  And to top it all off, the view is fantastic, the steeply sided forested valley drops sharply below  with La Paz falls visible at the valley end.  It's a tribute to the hummers that we were there 10 minutes before anyone noticed the view!  We spent the whole time on the balcony and no one came to ask if we wanted to spend any money.  A very relaxing spot, I donated 1000 colons for the Colibri (hummers) on the way out.

Apparently 11 different hummingbirds have been seen here, plus other mid-altitude species.  I could have spent all afternoon there.  Indeed this is where I’d like to live!

2) Puerto Viejo and the Sarapiqui River Valley

Despite the well-settled nature of the valley this region still seems to have retained a lot of forest cover.  The last 20km leading into Puerto Viejo runs close to the Sarapiqui River and is developing rapidly to take advantage of the tourist trade.  A number of lodges are situated along this stretch, all in nice looking, birdy grounds.  One would think accommodations would be easy to come by.  It took us three trys.  The first spot was the Isla de Rio Lodge which according to Lonely Planet had reasonably priced rooms and could arrange various adventure and nature trips.  They are still working on the accommodations and nothing was yet available.  The plan is for bunkhouse style rooms, charging about $6.00 US/day.  The building looked very nice and this might be the place for future budget conscious travelers to the area.  The english-speaking manager was very helpful in recommending other accommodations and invited us to look around their property.  It seemed crawling with birds and in the10 minutes we were there I saw several KEEL-BILLED TOUCANS, a BAY WREN, and a FASCIATED TIGER-HERON, along with many other common small birds and a big orange-frilled iguana.

Next stop was the La Quinta de Sarapiqui at the "Big Yellow Sign".  This looked very nice, and with rooms at $50.00US double, seemed a good deal.  There is lots of good habitat right on site and supposedly Poison Arrow frogs are often found along their trails.  Unfortunately they were full.  But again the english-speaking attendant was extremely helpful and phoned around to find us a spot, even securing us a discount at the next place down the road.

We ended up at the Centro Neotropico Sarapiqui, a huge complex developed by Belgium interests. The extensive grounds and rooms looked somewhat ostentatious for my tastes, and despite our discount, the $75.00 US double we were spending was pushing our budget.  But we were tired and didn't want to spend the next day on the road so took the rooms for two nights.

This lodge was just a little too pricey for me to feel totally comfortable there, everything was extra.  All meals were extra, dinner at $10.00 US was so unappealing that we went into Puerto Veija next day to eat.  In addition to their extensive grounds, which includes an arboretum and botanical gardens with labeled plants, they also control a 350 hectare  reserve of primary and secondary rainforest.  Access costs a further $10.00 US - though the pass is good for the length of your stay.  It was this latter feature that really attracted Tyler and I.  The good variety of habitats certainly ensured lots of birds.

While we didn’t have much time to explore that night before dark, the GOLDEN-HOODED TANAGERS, and BLACK-CHEEKED and LINEATED WOODPECKERS at the forest edge boded well for the next day.  Early next morning Tyler and I headed over to the reserve serenaded by the disembodied cries of the Howler Monkeys coming out of the mist.   Access to the reserve is by canopy bridge that crosses the main channel of the Sarapiqui River to an island, through the canopy and over a smaller channel to the mainland beyond.  There are three locked doors to go through and if you want to go early you have to arrange to get the keys the night before.  The bridge itself provides an interesting perspective.

Later in the day when I was back here on my own I had a great view of a SEMIPLUMBEOUS HAWK, and also spotted several canopy birds like SCARLET-RUMPED CACIQUE, WEDGE-BILLED WOODCREEPER, COMMON TODY-FLYCATCHER, TROPICAL GNATCATCHER, and LESSER GREENLETS.  A PURPLE-CROWNED FAIRY hovered in front of my face for about 20 seconds as if trying to determine if there has anything worth sticking her bill into.   Thankfully she didn’t think so and flew off, leaving behind only her after-image in my mind.  A most striking hummer and probably my favourite of the many seen in Costa Rica.  I would have liked a more leisurely look.

The first morning was spent on the Botarama Trail (Tyler the Botanist couldn’t resist).  Many of the trails are supposed to be restricted access - closed unless you hire a guide. However it was a weekend and no guides were working and when the sign says.  “No access without a guide.  If you go on the trail the lodge accepts no responsibility for injury”, it seems to me they are saying go ahead but we don’t want to hear about it. The main trails are marvels of engineering.  A lot of work went into them, using various surfacing materials, and even in wet weather you don’t really need rubber boots.  That’s the main trails, the restricted access trails are still being worked on and the trails quickly degenerate into the slippery muddy tracks I remember so well from 10 years ago.  This is the country that convinced me to wear rubber boots birding- something I continue to do to this day in most places.

Unfortunately for us the rain come down pretty steadily all morning.  I still managed a good view of a male SLATY-TAILED TROGON, and a small group of birds that comprised  OLIVE-BACKED EUPHONIA and RED-CAPPED MANAKIN, males and females of both species.  Strangely next day, in a completely different area, I came across the same two birds together again.  Do they have some kind of symbiotic foraging relationship or was this just a coincidence?

Lunch found us down by the river where a forging flock of whirring and snapping WHITE-COLLARED MANAKINS worked their way down the edge of the river bank.  Despite their proximity they proved very difficult to get clear looks at.  I came across these birds twice more, always by the river, and always easier to hear than see.  A nearby fenced clearing at the edge of the reserve provided good views of  both species of toucans sitting side by side in an open tree.  There were also BLUE-GREY TANAGERS and a SUMMER TANAGER flying from tree-top to tree-top.  I reflected on what an aptly named bird this latter species is.  It is present in Costa Rica in what they call their summer (Jan-March), and in N. Am. for our summer.  Another common migrant in the reserve was the Chestnut-sided Warbler, with some starting to show their chestnut sides again.

We continued along the trail which got progressively less defined and with the continuing rain, decidedly damper.  While not helping the birding any, this weather probably was responsible for providing us with one of my trip highlights - Poison-Arrow Frogs!  We saw several “Blue-jean” Frogs (Dendropbates pumila), bright red with blue legs, and one Golden-striped Poison-Arrow Frog.  The former, while conspicuous enough, was reluctant to pose for pictures and we had a fun time crawling around in our hands and knees trying to get close enough for a macro shot (but not too close!!).

We ended up back at the main trail eventually and rested by a hummingbird feeding station.  Not the same level of activity here as compared to the Mirador Restaurant but the RED-FOOTED (BRONZE-TAILED) PLUMELETEER that had staked out the feeders was a welcome find.  The only other hummer I saw here was the LONG-TAILED HERMIT which would swoop in for quick sips.

We checked out the Colibri Trail in the afternoon.  The 90 minutes of sun we had before the rain started again was great for butterflies and dragonflies but the birds seemed to reduce their activity until the clouds came out again.  This trail eventually goes through an old Cocao Plantation before ending at a scenic little waterfall.  The plantation provides a little better visibility and I was able to watch a pair of BLACK-THROATED TROGONS feeding for some time.  The GREY-HEADED CHACALACAS were not so cooperative, moving quickly away and I never saw a whole bird through the trees.  Other good birds along this trail were a female WESTERN SLATY ANTSHRIKE, and a BUFF-RUMPED WARBLER down by the river.

Also down by the river was an AMAZON KINGFISHER, BAY WRENS, and a Northern Waterthrush.  The trail is named for the LITTLE HERMITS, as it goes right through the middle of one of their leks.  These little things call continuously, perched just inches above the ground.  Despite crouching down within feet of at least 6 sound sources I only managed to glimpse one, which seemed to sense immediately it was spotted and zipped off.  We also saw a lone Capacuan Monkey along this trail.

Despite my determination to concentrate on forest birds, the rigors and frustrations of trying to see anything in the rainforest convinced me to take a break next morning and check out the gardens and grounds of the lodge.  In addition to being birdy they provided an interesting collection of herbaceous and trees species to peruse.  Most memorable was the herb garden that included patches of lovingly tended Taraxacum officinale and Plantago lanceolata, better known as the Common Dandelion and English Plantain, two common “weeds” back home.

One of the most common birds here was the SCARLET-RUMPED TANAGERS, but Baltimore Orioles, MONTEZUMA OROPENDOLAS, BLUE-BLACK GRASSQUIT, RUDDY-GROUND DOVES, Yellow Warblers, CLAY-COLOURED ROBINS, House Wrens, Tropical Kingbirds, Social Flycatchers, GREY-CAPPED FLYCATCHERS, and RUFOUS-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD were all conspicuous.  Less commonly seen were the skulking BLACK-HEADED SALTATOR, the single pair of BLACK-COWLED ORIOLES, and one WHITE-LINED TANAGER.

In summary the Sarapiqui River valley seems to have lots to offer.  While we spent two nights there I didn’t feel I had explored the lodge’s Reserve properly let alone get into La Selva, or the Socorro Road.  (Both these latter sites have been written up in other Costa Rica accounts).  These and other sites are only a short drive away.  Pick a spot to stay for a few days and go explore the area.  As for the Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre, visiting their reserve for $10.00 US a day is certainly worthwhile but I suspect you can get better value for rooms at some of the other lodges in the area.  We were going to stay in the area one more night but my companions had a line on a river rafting trip in Turrialba they wanted to go on which, when they phoned, was only leaving that week the next morning.  We decided to go for it and a 4 hour drive found us back in the Central Valley by night fall.

3) Turrialba

Turrialba is small city on the east end of the Central Valley.  It is the centre for a number of rafting companies, so it made sense for us to stay here one night for an early rafting start in the morning.  We stayed at the Turrialba? Hotel.  Very basic but cheap and clean accommodations.  It is located 1 block off of the central square right beside the Police Station (A nice quiet spot we were assured by the rafting guide).  Turrialba is not known for its birding as there is very little forest cover left in this part of Costa Rica, however the Monumento Nacional Guayabo is 19 km out of town.  This small 250? hector reserve protects the most significant pre-Columbian ruins in Costa Rica.  While the ruins are pretty small compared to other meso-American ruins in Mexico and Guatemala, they are similar in having also protected some natural habitat.  Guayabo harbours the largest stand of mid-elevation forest left in Cartago Provence and seemed worth a visit while the other three braved the roaring Pacuare River.

The original plan was for me to head off in the car about 6:30am and collect the rafters at 3:00 pm, but the morning dawned misty and rainy and they were not sure if they would indeed be leaving at 8:00am.  So I stayed around town until eight to make sure they got off.  All was not lost birding-wise, as the Turrialba River runs just across the road from the hotel.  Water level’s were low enough that I could walk along the exposed boulders and explore a little along the bushy river-side growth.  Again Scarlet-rumped Tanagers were very conspicuous, and a number of other common birds kept them company.  I was particularly stuck by small flock of both male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks feeding at the top of a Mimosa Tree.  Familiar birds in an unfamiliar setting.  Best bird here was undoubtedly the TORRENT TYRANNULET that flew down the river, stopped for 30 seconds on a mid-river boulder in front of me and then continued on out of sight.

4) Guayabo National Monument

Eight AM arrived along with the bus to pick up the rafters.  So waving goodbye I headed up to Guayabo.  I soon found myself driving into the clouds that had been drizzling on me all morning.  With reduced visibility and some questionable decisions on which turns to take, I did not arrive at the Monument until 9:00am.  It was supposed to open at 8:00am but no-one was about.  Not to worry, as I sat in the car two rangers under umbrellas made there way up the road to their gate house.   I guess they wait to see if any one shows up before walking up from their residence down the road.

Upon paying my $8US entrance fee I received a site guide and a background info brochure, both in English!  The monument boasts two short (1-1.5 km) loop trails.  The historical trail loops through the excavated ruins, but also goes through the best forest.  Unfortunately canopy birds were out of sight in the fog but walking slowly I was able to intercept one feeding flock that I followed for almost an hour.  Birds identified included, LESSER GREENLETS, SPOTTED BARBTAIL, GOLDEN-CROWNED WARBLERS, Brown Jays, Clay-coloured Robins, Black-and-white Warbler , many Chestnut-sided Warblers, Wilson’s Warblers, Golden-hooded Tanagers, Montezuma’s Oropendola, and what I though was a White-shouldered Tanager but it seemed a bit out of its lowland altitude range.  An OLIVE-STRIPED FLYCATCHER that appeared to be singing on territory, allowed me a close and detailed study.  Finally I was able to figure out one of the small flycatchers!

I went to the picnic ground on the other side of the road from the entrance for lunch.  While walking back from the toilets, I was suddenly in the midst of a frenzied feeding flock.  Many Golden-hooded Tanagers, a SILVER-THROATED TANAGER, and a TAWNY-CAPPED EUPHONIA were all seen in quick succession in the low fruit trees before winging off!  I’m glad I had decided to carry my binocs with me for the short trip between the picnic table and the washrooms!   Also in the grounds was a BUFF-THROATED SALTATOR and another very cooperative flycatcher.  This time it was a YELLOWISH FLYCATCHER.  Despite the weather a number of small tour buses had arrived.   Everyone must have been down at the ruins as I had the picnic grounds to myself.  Camping is also possible here.

After lunch I walked the Nature Trail.  This trail goes through mostly second growth with a thicker understory shrub layer, including different Heleconias.  Despite the vegetation, visibility was increased with clearing skies and I came across a couple of nice feeding flocks.  One flock included a Yellow-throated Vireo, some wren I never got a view of and very nice looks at a CINNAMON BECARD.  A second flock was a study in yellow warblers; GOLDEN-CROWNED, with a Wilson’s and a Kentucky.  The latter was only the third I’ve seen.  1 in Canada, 1 in Mexico and now 1 in Costa Rica.  Someday I’ll make it down to the States to see it in its breeding range.   I finished off with a Swainson’s Thrush back at the gate.

Through-out the afternoon a number of hummingbirds and parrots flew by or over but I was never able to see them well enough to id.  On the drive back I added YELLOW-FACED GRASSQUIT to the trip list.

Central Mountains - Cerra Alto Lodge

Even though it was late afternoon we decided to leave Turrialba for our journey to Golfito.  We figured we would put a few miles on before dark and make the journey the next day shorter.  We only got a little beyond Cartago when darkness fell.  As we were heading into the intimidating sounding Cerra la Meurte (Mountain of Death) we decided to take the first lodging available to us.  This was the Cerra Alto Lodge just outside of Empalme.  Our only difficulty here was finding the office as during the week they don’t open the main office and just run the place out of their house.  In the dark we at first missed the poorly marked left turn down to the house and ended up at a pig farm.  If anyone follows our footsteps, take the turn after the “Watch Tower”.  Ten thousand colons rented us a large cabina.  With the wet weather and howling wind it was a bit cool but we managed to light a small fire in the fireplace with the provided wood that took a little of the chill out of the place.

I had about an hour to look around in the morning.  There is some forest cover and the lodge offers a couple of short trails through this habitat.  The best birds however were seen in the garden around the edge of the parking lot of the main house.  There were both an astounding variety and number in what I considered to be a rather exposed (the wind continued to blow) and “alien” habitat for most of these birds.  SPOTTED-CROWNED WOODCREEPER,  RUDDY TREERUNER and a female SLATY ANTWREN all came out of the trees to grab insects in the open garden and quickly take their prizes back to the forest.  The MOUNTAIN ROBIN seemed much more at home on the lawn and it was interesting to see the mid-elevation COMMON BUSH TANAGERS and high elevation SOOTY-HEADED BUSH TANAGERS foraging side by side over the grass.  I was most captivated by the YELLOW-THIGHED FINCHES that hopped about enthusiastically with their yellow thighs puffed out like fuzzy leg-warmers.  Also seen were Rufous-collared Sparrows, 2 different species of the usual unknown small flycathers, a very nice looking BLACK-CHEEKED WARBLER, several Black-throated Green Warblers, and a RUFOUS-BROWED PEPPERSHRIKE.  The latter seemed out of place to me as I associate this species with the hot lowlands of Mexico.

I watched these birds for some time and was struck that a large percentage of their prey were big, fat moths.  My theory is that the lights of the main house drew the moths in during the night.  Once mourning comes they try to find cover in the nearest vegetation.  This would explain both the abundance of this specific prey as well as why there were so many birds flipping about a marginal looking habitat.  As we drove out a pair of Acorn Woodpeckers called from an exposed perch above us.  A most productive hour!

The drive over the Mountain of Death was rather uneventful.  Unfortunately the weather was closed right in and we could barely see the unique Paramo vegetation through the fog.  On the bright side we made good time and reached the Golfito area by 2pm.

South Pacific

Golfito and the Esquinas Rainforest Lodge

Our plan for the Golfito area was to stay at Playa Cocoa across the bay from town as this seemed like a good compromise location for varied interests.  Beach and boat access for Peter and Dayna and Rainforest for Tyler and I.  As we neared Golfito we saw the back turn-off for the town.  This is a 12km dirt road that goes through Gamba.  The main road is better but longer at 50km.  We decided we would try the back road, which turned out to be OK for the 4x4 and passable in a 2-wheel drive car.  About 4km along this road is the Esquinas Rainforest Lodge. This place is not in Lonely Planet and we thought we would stop in to see what it was like.  It turned out to be a very nice place, right against the edge of the rainforest of the Esquinas National Park.  The manager spoke English and was very helpful in answering our questions about the area.   As this seemed the easiest access to Rainforest from Golfito we booked a hike with their Naturalist for next morning at 8:00am, and continued on to Golfito.  This road goes through some pretty good-looking forest habitat on the Golfito end and would probably be good birding.  At this time of day we only stopped to take pictures of a basking Caiman.

There is a road to Playa Cocoa from Golfito but most people take a boat across the bay. This is probably a good idea as the road was barely passable in our 4x4, and the proprietress of the hotel at Playa Cocoa seemed very surprised that we had driven in.  Unfortunately the Playa did not live up to our imaginations.  While a pleasant enough spot, with a good-looking restaurant and a couple of hotels, there was no real beach and the water was silt laden and not very appealing.   Hotels in the port town of Golfito, while plentiful and cheap, were even less appealing.  In the end we all agreed that the Esquinas Rainforest Lodge looked more pleasant and we arranged by phone to book three nights there and maybe go on some day trips using it as a base.  As it turned out the area around the lodged offered so much that I never did leave the place.

The lodge was set up by Austrian interests and the forest land it owns (paid for by donations from the Austrian people), is now part of the Esquinas National Park.  The usual Research Station is located near-by. This Park has been designated by the government but it doesn’t own the land.  The current landowners can’t develop it and I gather are just waiting for money to be raised to buy them out.  In any event it’s a fabulous piece of forest, and easily accessible from the main road, unlike much of the Osa Peninsula forest.

Rates were about $55US/per person triple occupancy, meals included.  They didn’t really have a room for 4 but let us all squeeze into one.  (My excess luggage sleeping mat and bag came in handy here).  We all really enjoyed this place, meals were good, the lounge area was pleasant and mostly mosquito free, the bar was serve yourself, the weather turned out very nice, if a bit on the hot side, and the birds very good.  Info can be found at “”. There were several kms of trails on the grounds and my early morning foray next day along the Ocelot trail provided good views of ORANGE-BILLED SPARROW, Euphonias, Chestnut-sided and one Mourning Warbler, RIVERSIDE WREN, COMMON-TODY FLYCATCHER, STREAK-HEADED WOODCREEPER, WEDGE-BILLED WOODCREEPER, BAND-TAILED BARBTHROAT, and a CRESTED GUAN feeding overhead in a fruiting tree.

I returned to the lodge for our 8AM guided hike and picked out SHINING HONEYCREEPER and VARIABLE SEEDEATER feeding high in the canopy at the forest edge.  At our start point I met Jose, our guide.  Jose is a local farmer and the lodge naturalist, who knows a great deal about the forest.  In our three days at Esquinas we were to learn that Jose led all the trips and hung around the lodge in the evening for discussions.  (he found us a Blunt-headed Tree Snake the second night).  He proved to be very personable and fun as well as knowledgeable about plants and most birds but I found he needed more work on his small forest birds, like flycatchers. (don’t we all).  His English was also not as good as we would have liked to understand all he could have told us about the complex relationships of the forest, but I found I could talk “birds” quite well with him.  While we were waiting for the others he quickly pointed out a KING VULTURE, Swallow-tailed Kite, CRESTED GUAN and Laughing Falcon flying overhead.  He then indicated some other calls for me, including ORANGE-COLLARED MANAKIN.  While I didn’t see them then I filed the sound away for future reference.

Our hike itself ($5.00US/person/hour) was mainly focused on the plants.  We were lucky as another guest that came with us translated and we were able to ask Jose more detailed questions.  The only birdy moment came when he pointed out the call of the GREAT TINAMOU.  I was so impressed with Jose’s knowledge of bird calls that I booked him for the next AM for a two hour bird hike (still $5.00US/hour - what a deal!).  He wanted to take me into the rice fields along the access road into the lodge as we would see more birds but I wanted to learn some of the forest bird calls and insisted we go into the forest and told him not to worry about seeing too much.

For the rest of the mid-day period I hung around the lodge grounds - pond, fruit trees, running stream, and a natural water (no chlorine) pool.  They don’t allow swimming in the pool after dark in case of encounters with caiman and snakes (which go in after the frogs).  What a great place!  I spent much of my time stalking dragonflies, as this was the only location we had been where there were a good number present.  I of course kept a look-out for passing birds and had great views of GOLDEN-NAPED WOODPECKER, Rufous-tailed and BERYL-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRDS, GOLDEN-HOODED, SCARLET-RUMPED, Palm, and Blue-grey Tanagers, more Euphonias, Tropical Kingbird, Grey-capped Flycatcher, House Wren, and Clay-coloured Robins.
Central American Dwarf Squirrel were also present at the forest edge.  But the stars were the CHESTNUT-MANDIBLED TOUCANS.  Their calls rang out around the lodge all day but at noon a pair came in to feed at the banana feeder and I was able to get with-in picture-taking distance.

I had a lot of trouble here with Euphonias, 3 similar species are possible, and despite seeing a number of males, very closely, while they called, they just didn’t hold still enough for me to pick out the features needed to make an ID.  In the end I saw the more distinct looking female SPOTTED-CROWNED and had to say the males I’d seen were also that, but both Thick-billed and Yellow-crowned were probably there too.

In the late afternoon I went on another bird search.  This time I headed down the road towards the entrance and added Smooth-billed Ani’s to the list and got a glimpse of a possible BICOLORED HAWK.  Soon I came across what was to prove my favourite trail.  A 100 meter path through second growth at the edge of the forest, ending at the dump!  It’s a small lodge so the dump was small and only a little smelly but the birding was my kind of birding.  I like nothing better than standing quiet in the forest, watching the small birds go about their lives around me.  And there was lots to watch.  Good views of both BLUE GROUND DOVE and the ubiquitous SHORT-BILLED PIGEON.  A Grey-necked Wood Rail and the Little and Long-tailed Hermits that zipped by only provided brief glimpses, while the FIERY-BILLED ARACARI that flew in proved to be much more cooperative.

Right at the end of the trail I watched a BLUE-CROWNED MOTMOT swoop down on the lizards that moved over the open ground around the garbage pits.  Other good birds seen were BLACK-BELLIED WREN, CHESTNUT-BACKED ANTBIRD, SLATE-HEADED TODY-FLYCATCHER, BUFF-THROATED SALTATOR, Orange-billed Sparrows, BLACK-STRIPED SPARROW, and a YELLOW-BILLED CACIQUE doing his usual noisy foraging in any dry tangle available.  The highlight for me however was the flock of ORANGE-COLLARED MANAKINS.  Even the females are striking with their bright orange legs but seeing a group of 5 males suddenly break into a spontaneous display, bouncing up and down in the understory like demented orange ping-pong balls, may have been the trip bird highlight!  (This sight was only slightly marred by the 10 foot wide garbage pit between the birds and I).

Next morning Jose and I headed into the forest along the same trail I had taken the morning before.  He quickly pointed out calling SPECTACLED OWLS and BAIRD’S TROGONS.  The former we didn’t see but the latter was located.  The Crested Guan was in its usual spot, and both Mealy Parrots and Blue-headed Parrots flew overhead.  Again I couldn’t see any distinguishing markings during the brief glimpses I had of the parrots but Jose recognized the calls.  He also recognized calls for Squirrel Cuckoo, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Rufous Piha, and BLACK-CHEEKED ANT TANAGER but we didn’t see any of these.  The latter is endemic to the area around Golfito and has quite a distinct harsh call that I would later use to locate this bird .  We did manage glimpses of SCARLET-RUMPED CACIQUES, and a SULPHUR-RUMPED FLYCATCHER before running across a small feeding flock that included RED-CAPPED MANAKIN.  We also got a good look at the RUFOUS PIHA, a common bird that Jose sees so infrequently he was not sure it was a Piha until it called for us.  The ANT-TANAGER also made another appearance and I got a brief look.  We also saw a small brownish bird calling from near ground level.  We both got good looks but didn’t know what it was.  Jose was leaning towards a Olive-sided Flycatcher but this is a bird I am quite familiar with so knew it wasn’t that.  This bird was so cooperative and loud that I was able to record it with my field note recorder - not designed for picking up bird songs.  It was only after I was home and able to compare it to the CD of Costa Rican Bird calls that I recognized it as a THRUSH-LIKE MANAKIN!  Nothing like adding one more lifer from 3000 miles away.

All this activity occurred at the spot we had stopped at to check out the Three-toed Sloth Jose had picked out.  On the walk back a number of White-collared Swifts were foraging “below” us in the valley.  An unusual angle to watch swifts from.  We also saw the back end of a blackish, long-tailed mammal disappearing into the bush that Jose said was a Jaguarundi!  I wish I had been able to see its face.  All in all a most enjoyable hike and while I went off for breakfast Jose rushed off to get four horses from his farm to take my three companions on a non-naturalist oriented horse-back trip to a near-by waterfall.  We didn’t know that he did all the outings when we booked our trips the day before or we would have allowed for a break between.  Jose certainly had a busy day!

While they went off to the Waterfall I returned to the Sloth to take some pictures.  On the way I added GREEN HONEYCREEPER to the list and got a great view of a calling male BLACK-HOODED ANTSHRIKE.  After taking my pictures of the two blobs in the tree (she had a baby) I continued on and picked out a BICOLORED ANTBIRD and was able to get a much better look at the BLACK-CHEEKED ANT TANAGER.  In total I saw three individuals of this bird during our stay, none showed the orange crown.  Jose mentioned that it rarely shows this and despite being probably the most globally rare bird I’ve ever seen, it doesn’t remain in my memory like some of the other birds seen at Esquinas. One final bird for the day was a TAWNY-WINGED WOODCREEPER.  It was the only bird attending an ant swarm that covered no more than a square metre, and allowed a close enough approach for identification.

Next morning was our last at Esquinas and I spent it along the creek-side “Bird” trail.  Additional birds seen here were a WHITE-THROATED ROBIN, new for the lodge list, and a BLACK-STRIPED WOODCREEPER.  The latter was high up in a tree but is probably the only woodcreeper that I can recognize without a close approach.  I also spotted the Jaguarundi again, but once more only the back end disappearing.  In compensation I was able to watch two Coatis foraging for a couple of minutes before they moved out of sight.

By ten-thirty we were on the road and in San Jose before nightfall.  Peter wanted to check out a couple of the museums in town next day before we headed up to Monteverde for our last stop in the country.  The only bird note for San Jose were the number of CRIMSON-FRONTED PARAKEETS I got excellent looks at on roof-tops and power lines around the area of the zoo.  Ironic that the only decent parrot views I got the whole trip came in the middle of the biggest city!

North Pacific Slope - Monteverde

Monteverde is a bit of a shock after the quiet of Esquinas.  While far from developed by N Am. standards, the amount of hotels and restaurants and tourist attractions in the small area of Santa Elena-Monteverde I found quite staggering.  I can’t ever imagine there not being a place to stay if you just showed up.  Even with tourists seemingly walking everywhere the place was far from capacity.  Having the car was nice but there are shuttle buses to all the natural attractions, some leaving quite early in the morning, and someone without a vehicle would be able to get to all the birding locations without a problem.

We stayed at the Sapo Dorado (Golden Toad) with whom we had made reservations over the internet before leaving Canada.  This was a bit expensive, at about $50.00US/person but everyone thought having a nice place booked for our last (nearly) three nights would give us a safety net if the rest of the trip hadn’t worked out.  The Dorado was nice enough, with birdy grounds.  Some of the cabinas have nice views but ours did not.  The scorpion found in the room one night was a bit disconcerting but I put it outside after we had all taken a picture.  There is a restaurant attached but we ate dinner out at one of the many local restaurants each night.

The weather for our stay was a bit unusual for Cloud Forest habitat.  It was bright and sunny most of the time with only a few clouds leaking over the continental divide from the Caribbean side.  The wind was tremendous, blowing just under gale strength for our entire stay.  Once in the forested areas it was not very noticeable however so not a real birding issue.

Sapo Dorado Hotel

As I mentioned the grounds of the Sapo Dorado held some good birds.  I spent a total of about 2 hours over three days looking around.  Right around the cabinas I came up with GREEN VIOLET EAR, STRIPED-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD, COPPERY-HEADED EMERALD, BLUE-CROWNED MOTMOT, PLAIN WREN, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blue-grey Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, several WHITE-EARED GROUND SPARROWS, Tropical Kingbird, and Dusky-capped Flycatcher. Brown Jays called constantly every morning and evening and the White-throated, Clay-coloured and Mountain Robins provided a good side-by-side comparison.  Up on the ridge behind the cabinas I added GREY-CROWNED YELLOWTHROAT, Yellow-faced Grassquit, and YELLOW-THROATED BUSH FINCH.  Great-tailed Grackles were of course everywhere.  With a few exceptions (notably hummingbirds) this was the only place I saw most of these birds.

Monteverde Reserve

I spent day one at Monteverde Reserve.  Despite the number of tourists around town I did not meet that many on the trails.  The trails again were in excellent shape, being surfaced with either concrete blocks or wire mesh stapled on log slices, and rubber boots were not needed.  Monteverde offered the usual forest birding - hard to see anything most of the time with a few moments of activity as a feeding flock flew by.  Surprisingly the first bird I saw was a diminutive WHITE-THROATED SPADEBILL, well seen through a tiny opening in the understory.  Other birds that turned up in fits and starts were COMMON BUSH-TANAGER (as I overheard one local guide saying “they are thinking of changing this bird’s name to the Very Common Bush Tanager” - it is.)  THREE-STRIPED WARBLER flocks, OLIVE-STRIPED FLYCATCHER, YELLOWISH FLYCATCHER (I had worked these out at Guayabo so “knew” them here), and SLATY-BACKED NIGHTINGALE THRUSH.  It would have been good to know more calls here as I heard many birds but could not even get close to seeing them.

About mid-morning I came across a natural clearing where a large tree had fallen down by a little creek.  I ended up spending about 90 minutes here watching what came through.  A family of three GREY-BREASTED WOOD WRENS were first.  These birds are very common in the area and are easy to pick out once you know their song.  A pair of TUFTED FLYCATCHERS were foraging from a number of exposed perches and provided good views from all angles.  SPANGLED-CHEEKED TANAGERS, RUDDY TREERUNNER, Bananaquit, SLATE-THROATED REDSTART, and COLLARED REDSTART all moved through, and I got a nice view of a GREEN HERMIT preening in the sun.

I headed back to the entrance for a late lunch and on the way spotting a HepaticTanager flying away.  The entrance of the park and the near-by Hummingbird Gallery gift-shop have hummingbird feeders set up.  While eating lunch I got great views of VIOLET SABREWING, GREEN VIOLET-EAR, STRIPE-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD, COPPERY-HEADED EMERALD, PURPLE-THROATED MOUNTAIN GEM (the female with her rufous breast is quite striking despite the lack of iridescence), GREEN-CROWNED BRILLIANT, MAGENTA-THROATED WOODSTAR, and Bananaquits.  After lunch I amused myself trying to take pictures.  You can actually get quite close and even the pictures I took on my automatic point and shoot were OK, but not a calendar picture in the lot - oh well.  Later in the day Dayna and Peter were sitting here and witnessed a Kinkajou come in and rob the feeders!

I headed back into the reserve for one last quick look around and almost immediately saw a GRAY-THROATED LEAFTOSSER madly tossing leaves about with great abandon.  This was the last new bird for me for the day, but Tyler who had taken the guided tour in the morning (good value he said) saw a QUETZAL through the scope, so they are present in late January despite what I had previously heard.


Canopy Tours of all types are offered in the Monteverde area.  Many are of the “zip” variety.  Strapped into a harness you slide down a cable through the forest.  Hard to hold onto binoculars this way.  The other option is the “Sky Walk” facility run in conjunction with one of the zip tours.  It is located about 3 kms from the entrance of the Santa Elena Reserve and consists of a 1.5km trail that includes 6 bridges that span very steep narrow valleys.  These bridges get you up into the canopy of the valley trees, 150 feet in the air in places.  This seemed worth a visit.  Since I wanted to get there when it opened at 7am and the others were looking at a more leisurely start in the morning, I decided to walk the 5 km and meet them on the trail later.  I figured that I would maybe see a few open-country and edge birds on the way.

Walking turned out not to be that good an idea.  I good portion of the walk was up-hill and all of it seemed to be into the teeth of the howling wind.  The only bird I saw other than grackles, was a Wilson’s Warbler huddled in a road-side bush.  I did arrive at the site right at 7am however.  I thought the entrance fee of $12US a little steep for something they recommend might take an hour and a half.  As it turned out I got more than my money’s worth, staying until 4:30pm.  For the first hour and a half I didn’t see anyone else.  I spent the first two hours on bridge three with the morning sun on my back recovering from my ordeal.

Birds seen here included a COPPERY-HEADED EMERALD that was preening in the sun.  Despite seeing this bird at a distance of 2 feet the day before I didn’t truly appreciate the coppery part until seeing it glow in the sunlight!  Other birds seen were two ORANGE-BELLIED TROGONS, BARRED BECARDS (the field guide doesn’t do these birds justice), MISTLETOE TYRANNULET, BLACK-FACED SOLITAIRE, Black-throated Green, THREE-STRIPED, and Golden-winged Warblers, SPANGLED-CHEEKED TANAGER, Hepatic Tanager, and SLATY FLOWERPIERCER.  During the latter part of my stay on this bridge I had met a couple of other groups of bird watchers and we were pointing things out to each other.

I eventually moved off the bridge and shortly after was watching a YELLOWISH FLYCATCHER when some of my companions from the bridge came up.  I turned to point out the flycatcher when one of the them looking right at me started yelling Quetzal!  Quetzal!  I whipped my head back around. Where?, Where?  It seems one had flown right in front of me just as I had turned.  It might have landed and everyone was bobbing and weaving trying to see it.  I didn’t bother mentioning the flycatcher.  Eventfully we all got good looks at a male RESPLENDENT QUETZAL.  A good bird and one I didn’t expect to see here at this time of year.

After that excitement I came across a feeding flock of small birds at close range.  I again spent a lot of time with these birds and got great looks at BARRED BECARDS, BLACK-FACED SOLITAIRE, COMMON-BUSH TANAGER, GREY-BREASTED WOOD WREN, TUFTED FLYCATCHER, RUDDY TREERUNNER, SPOTTED BARBTAIL, RED-FACED SPINETAIL, and a SMOKY-BROWN WOODPECKER.  I actually enjoyed quietly sorting out these birds more than the frantic viewing of the Quetzal.

Most of the rest of the day was spent in picture taking and enjoyment of the canopy views.  At one spot it was possible to see 5 species of flowering epiphytic orchids, 3 on one tree branch!  As we were heading out (I had met up with Tyler by then) we saw an Agouti foraging below us.  It went into a bush and a SLATY-BACKED NIGHTINGALE THRUSH popped out the other side!  Then to finish the day off nicely a BLACK-THIGHED GROSBEAK ate tree buds almost within arms reach of us just as we were leaving the last bridge.

Santa Elena Reserve

Next day was get away day but I did manage a quick drive up to the Santa Elena Reserve for an hour just to see what it was like.  They too have hummingbird feeders at the entrance and I amused myself watching these until the reserve opened at 8am.  With only time for a quick look I hiked the lookout trail.  This turned out to go through secondary forest (quite remarkable growth in 25 years) and my brief visit didn’t yield any new birds.  I’ve heard the birding can be good here and this reserve no doubt deserved a better look, maybe next time?

Since we were flying out from Liberia next day we drove down to the coast at Playa Coco for our last night.

Playa Coco

Playa Coco is definitely a tourist oriented beach town but not as developed as I thought it might be considering it is 30 minutes from the airport.  Interestingly most of the tourists on the beach were Costa Ricans.  The warm sunny weather was a nice contrast from the cool mountains.  The beach is black sand and quite scenic.  Brown Pelicans and Elegant Terns fish offshore, and a couple of Magnificent Frigatebirds could be seen wheeling above them.  A Great Egret , Ringed Kingfisher and Little Blue Heron fished in a tiny back beach pool alongside the road.  Next morning I took a walk down the road that runs parallel to the beach.  I never really got into good dry forest but the patches left between the buildings yielded a few birds.  RUFOUS-NAPED WRENS, RED-BILLED PIGEONS, Ruddy Ground and Inca Doves were very common, and I did see some parrots up close - ORANGE-FRONTED PARAKEET this time.  Down at the end of the road there was a nice TURQUOISE-BROWED MOTMOT, and a couple of White-throated Magpie Jays, also a number of small birds including Hoffman’s Woodpecker, Orchard and STRIPE-BACKED ORIOLES.  The usual assortment of tropical flycatchers were also present.  Howler Monkeys were present in some of the bigger wood-lots right in the middle of town, and the striking white-phase of the Variegated Squirrel are common in the town’s gardens.

The field beside the car rental compound furnished the last trip bird, a STRIPE-HEADED SPARROW and then it was back to the land of snow and ice.  Only 3 more months until I’ll be looking for the warblers making there way back from Costa Rica.


This was a very enjoyable trip.  I was struck by the development that had taken place in Costa Rica in the ten years since we were last there.  While deforestation continues to be a problem I got the feeling that the level of appreciation for the natural habitat and the conservation ethic in the general population was very high - probably higher then anywhere else in the world that I have been.  It is certainly easy to get around Costa Rica and there is a good infrastructure developed.  The populous is well educated and I saw almost no signs of poverty.  I certainly wouldn’t classify the country as third world.  As to be expected in a developed country it isn’t as cheap to travel here as it once was.  The budget traveler can still do well but the middle of the road traveler is going to pay approximately North American rates for many things.  Costa Rica has much to be proud of and I certainly hope they stay on the track of conservation that they seem to be traveling today.

Costa Rica Bird List - Jan 18-Feb1/2000
Great Tinamou heard frequently at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Brown Pelican many at Playa Coco
Magnificent Frigatebird 2 at Playa Coco
Fasciated Tiger Heron 1 along road south of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui
Great Egret few seen in fields around Esquinas Rainforest Lodge, 1 at Playa Coco
Little Blue Heron few seen in fields around Esquinas Rainforest Lodge, 1 at Playa Coco
Cattle Egret common in open fields
Green Heron 1 flying over at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Wood Stork several overhead along highway in General Valley
Black Vulture common, usually near towns
Turkey Vulture common most areas
King Vulture 1 seen overhead at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Swallow-tailed Kite 1 seen over head at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Bicolored Hawk 1 possible at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Semiplumbeous Hawk 1 at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Grey Hawk 1 outside Tiliran
Crested Caracara common in dry NW and open fields in S. Pacific slope
Yellow-headed Caracara couple along highway in S. Pacific Slope
Grey-headed Chachalaca flock at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre, and 1 at Playa Cocao
Crested Guan seen daily at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Grey-necked Wood rail 1 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Spotted Sandpiper 1 at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre, 1 at Turrialba 
Jacana couple in fields outside Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Royal Tern 8-10 at Playa Coco
Rock Dove few in cities
Red-billed Pigeon few in N Pac zone
Short-billed Pigeon common at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge "Who cooks for you" call heard constantly
White-winged Dove common in Pacific NW
Ruddy Ground Dove in most open areas
Inca Dove common at Playa Coco
Blue Ground Dove few at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Buff-fronted Quail Dove 1 on Barva access road
Crimson-fronted Parakeet flocks in San Jose 
Orange-fronted Parakeet many flocks at Playa Coco
White-fronted Parrot common in Pacific NW
Blue-headed Parrot apparently present at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Mealy Parrot apparently present at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Squirrel Cuckoo 1 overhead at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Groove-billed Ani common on road to Monteverde
Smooth-billed Ani common in open country around Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Spectacled Owl heard nightly at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Paraque heard at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
White-collared Swift dozens at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge in one flock
Band-tailed Barbthroat common at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Long-tailed Hermit few around at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre and Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Green Hermit common in forested areas around Monteverde
Little Hermit lek at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre and couple seen at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Violet Sabrewing common at feeders at Mirador Restaurant and Monteverde
Green Violet-Ear couple at Monteverde feeders
Green Thornbill 1 at Mirador Restaurant feeder
Beryl-crowned (Charming) Hummingbird few around Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Steely-vented Hummingbird 1 seen outside Tiliran
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird common in more open areas in more humid zones
Stripe-tailed Hummingbird common at feeders at Monteverde
Coppery-headed Emerald common at feeders and elsewhere at Mirador Restaurant and Monteverde
Red-footed (Bronze-tailed) Plumeleteer pair at feeder along Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre trails
White-bellied Mountain Gem common at Mirador Restaurant feeders
Purple-throated Mountain Gem abundant at Monteverde feeders
Green-crowned Brilliant common at Monteverde and Mirador Restaurant feeders
Purple-crowned Fairy 1 at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Magenta-throated Woodstar couple at Monteverde feeders
Volcano Hummingbird 1 along road going through Cerro la Muerto
Resplendent Quetzal one male at Sky Walk Monteverde
Slaty-tailed Trogon 1 male Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Baird's Trogon 1 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge, more heard
Orange-bellied Trogon 2 at Sky Walk Monteverde
Black-throated Trogon 1 male, 2 females at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Violaceous Trogon poss 1 female at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Turquoise-browed Motmot 1 at Playa Coco
Blue-crowned Motmot 1 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge, pair at Sapo Dorado grounds, Monteverde
Ringed Kingfisher 1 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge, 1 at Playa Coco
Amazon Kingfisher 1 at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Rufous-tailed Jacamar 1 heard Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Collared Aracari couple seen Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Fiery-billed Aracari couple seen at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan several seen in the Sarapiqui River Valley and at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Keel-billed Toucan couple outside Tiliran and a couple at the Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Acorn Woodpecker pair at Cerra Alto Lodge
Golden-naped Woodpecker pair at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Black-cheeked Woodpecker 1 at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Hoffman's Woodpecker common in the Pacific NW
Smoky-brown Woodpecker 1 at Sky Walk, Monteverde
Lineated Woodpecker 1 at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre and 1 along road to Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Tawny-winged Woodcreeper 1 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper 2-3 at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre and 2-3 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Black-striped Woodcreeper 1 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Streak-headed Woodcreeper couple at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Spotted Crowned Woodcreeper 1 at Cerra Alto Lodge
Red-faced Spinetail several at Sky Walk, Monteverde
Spotted Barbtail 1 at Guayabo, 1 at Sky Walk, Monteverde
Ruddy Treerunner 1 at Cerra Alto Lodge, common in forests of Monteverde area
Gray-throated Leaftosser 1 at Monteverde
Black-hooded Antshrike 1 male at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Western Slaty Antshrike 1 female at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Slaty Antwren 1 female at Cerra Alto Lodge
Chestnut-backed Antbird pair at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Bicolored Antbird 1 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Barred Becard few seen at Sky Walk, Monteverde
Cinnamon Becard  1 at Guayabo
Masked Tityra pairs at Tiliran, La Paz, and Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Rufous Piha commonly heard, rarely seen at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Red-capped Manakin couple groups at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre, 1 group at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Orange-collared Manakin fairly common in secondary growth at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
White-collared Manakin fairly common along river at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Thrushlike Manakin 1 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Black Phoebe 1 at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Tropical Kingbird common in most open areas
Gray-capped Flycatcher pairs at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre and Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Social Flycatcher common in most edge areas
Great Kiskadee 1 each at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre, Sapo Dorado Hotel and Playa Coco
Brown-crested Flycatcher 1 at Tiliran
Dusky-capped Flycatcher 1 at Sapo Dorado Hotel
Empidonax sp. 1 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Yellowish Flycatcher 1 at Guayabo and common in Monteverde area.
Tufted Flycatcher pairs at Monteverde Reserve and Sky Walk
Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher 1 possible at Guayabo, and 1 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
White-throated Spadebill 1 at Monteverde
Common Tody-Flycatcher a few at both Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre and Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher couple at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Torrent Tyrannulet 1 at Turrialba in river
Yellow-bellied Elaenia 1 probably at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Mistletoe Tyrannulet 1 probably at Sky Walk, Monteverde
Olive-striped Flycatcher 1 at Guayabo, couple in Monteverde area
Gray-breasted Martin few at Tiliran
Barn Swallow few at Playa Coco
Blue and White Swallow few at Tiliran and in San Jose
Violet Green Swallow 1 at Liberia airport
White-throated Magpie Jay fairly common in dry NW, seen many places along road
Brown Jay common in deforested mid-altitude and highland areas, usually at forest edge
Rufous-naped Wren abundant in Playa Coco
Plain Wren couple in the Sapo Dorado grounds, Monteverde
Bay Wren common in the Sarapiqui river valley
Riverside Wren common to abundant at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge along waterways
Black-bellied Wren common at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge away from water
House Wren around buildings at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre, Esquinas Rainforest Lodge and in Golfito.
Grey-breasted Wood Wren common in forested areas of Monteverde
Tropical Gnatcatcher 1 at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
White-throated Robin 1 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge, 1 at Sapo Dorado Hotel, Monteverde
Clay-coloured Robin very common in most edge and garden habitats
Mountain Robin common at Barva, Cerra Alto Lodge, and around Monteverde
Black-faced Solitaire common at Sky Walk, Monteverde
Swainson's Thrush 1 at Guayabo
Slaty-backed Nightingale Thrush 1 at Monteverde, and 1 at Sky Walk
Rufous-browed Peppershrike 1 at Cerra Alto Lodge
Yellow-throated Vireo 1 at Guayabo
Lesser Greenlet common at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre and Guayabo
Bananaquit common at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge, and abundant around Monteverde hummingbird feeders
Black and White Warbler 1 at Guayabo
Golden-winged Warbler 1 at Sky Walk, Monteverde
Flame-throated Warbler 1 along Barva access road
Yellow Warbler few seen in various lowland habitats
Black-throated Green Warblers common in highland habitats like Barva, Guayabo, Cerra Alto Lodge, Monteverde
Chestnut-sided Warbler common in lowland humid areas. Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre, Guayabo, Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Northern Waterthrush 1 at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Kentucky Warbler 1 at Guayabo
Mourning Warbler 1 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Gray-crowned Yellowthroat 1 at Sapo Dorado, Monteverde
Wilson's Warbler common at Barva, Guayabo, and a couple at Sky Walk, Monteverde
Slate-throated Redstart 1 at La Paz Waterfall, and common in the Monteverde area
Collared Redstart 1 at Barva and common in the Monteverde area
Three-striped Warbler at la Paz Waterfall and common in the Monteverde area
Golden-crowned Warbler common at Guayabo
Black-cheeked Warbler 1 at Cerra Alto Lodge
Buff-rumped Warbler 1 at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Tawny-capped Euphonia 1 at Guayabo
Scrub Euphonia 1 at Tiliran
Olive-backed Euphonia few at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Spotted-crowned Euphonia present at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge, might be quite common or other species might also be present
Silver-throated Tanager 1 at Guayabo
Golden-hooded Tanager 1 pair at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre, common at Guayabo and Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Spangled-cheeked Tanager common in forested areas around Monteverde
Green Honeycreeper 1 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Shining Honeycreeper 1 or 2 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Blue-Grey Tanager fairly common in most lowland areas with some trees
Palm Tanager 1 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Scarlet-rumped Tanager abundant at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre, Turrialba, Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Summer Tanager 1 at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Hepatic Tanager 1 at Monteverde, 1 at Sky Walk
Black-cheeked Ant Tanager fairly common around Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
White-lined Tanager 1 at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
White-shouldered Tanager 1 possibly at Guayabo
Common Bush Tanager common at Cerra Alto Lodge, abundant in Monteverde forested areas.
Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager 1 at Barva, few at Cerra Alto Lodge
Black-headed Saltator couple at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre, 1 in San Jose
Buff-throated Saltator 1 at Guayabo, 1 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Black-thighed Grosbeak 1 at Sky Walk, Monteverde
Rose-breasted Grosbeak couple at Turrialba, couple at Sapo Dorado, Monteverde
Yellow-faced Grassquit small flocks outside Turrialba and at Sapo Dorado, Monteverde
Variable Seedeater fairly common at forest edge at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Blue-black Grassquit common at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Slaty Finch 1 along Barva road
Slaty Flowerpiercer 1 at Sky Walk, Monteverde
Yellow-thighed Finch 1 along La Paz road, couple at Cerra Alto Lodge
Yellow-throated Bush-Finch 1 at Sapo Dorado, Monteverde
Orange-billed Sparrow very common at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Black-striped Sparrow 1 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
White-eared Ground Sparrow fairly common in Sapo Dorado grounds
Stripe-headed Sparrow 1 seen near Liberia airport
Rufous-collared Sparrow common at Barva, Cerra Alto Lodge and in San Jose
Great-tailed Grackle abundant in most open country locations
Black-cowled Oriole pair at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Orchard Oriole 1 male and couple of females at Playa Coco
Streak-backed Oriole few at Playa Coco
Baltimore Oriole common around Tiliran and at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre
Scarlet-rumped Caique small canopy flocks at Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre and Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Yellow-billed Cacique 1 at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge
Montezuma Oropendola generally common in Caribbean and Central Valley, seen at Tiliran, Sarapiqui Rainforest Centre, Guayabo, and San Jose.

David Bree
Yvette Bree
Box 123
Bloomfield, Ont
K0K 1G0

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