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January 1999

by Gordon Gover

We just completed a 17-day birding tour of Costa Rica in which we travelled fairly widely within the country.  Our expert local guide, Alex Villegas, was with us once again, as on our trip in November (See trip report on Birdchat of 12/10/98).  Our group included Mary Reese from Oregon, my wife Nancy, and me along with Alex and our driver, Eric.

We got off to a fast start on day one by going to a site that Alex had just learned about from a researcher working on three-wattled bellbirds.  Within minutes we were hearing the strange call(?) all around us and were treated to three individuals in the same scope field while a ferruginous pygmy-owl scolded us.

On the way up the mountain to Monteverde, the resident bat falcons were present.  We closed the evening with an owling session that yielded great looks at a bare-shanked screech-owl after following a trail off the road to Monteverde Reserve.

The next day was spent entirely in the Monteverde Reserve.  Alex found a perched resplendent quetzal male and showed it to all passersby, but the bird of the day was definitely the buff-fronted quail-dove that Nancy cut off at the pass.  The bird walked across the path about 5 feet from Gordon's 2 feet.  Mary even had time to take a picture.  Hope that one turns out.

The evening's owling session included Alex's wife and two daughters, ages 3 and 7.  After an hour or so, a mottled owl showed itself to the group.

The next morning was spent in the Santa Elena Reserve.  It was a day for skulkers and soarers.  A silvery-fronted tapaculo was seen well by Mary and Alex, not so well by Nancy and me.  Then a zeledonia was called out by Alex and literally walked through our ranks, closing with an angry display of wing-fluttering on a log so close we had to drop our binoculars as we watched the sun play on it's tawny crest.

At a scenic overlook of Arenal Volcano, Alex suddenly shouted "Black hawk-eagle!" Actually there were two birds displaying in flight.  I won't soon forget the words of one party member on being asked the current location of the hawk-eagles.  "Middle of the volcano, in the puffy cloud."

On the ride down the mountain, the car suddenly stopped.  Zone-tailed hawk soaring overhead.  I would have dismissed this bird 10 times out of 10 as a turkey vulture, but thanks to this lesson, I spotted two more later in the trip.

A stop at Solimar Farm in Guanacaste province yielded several hard-to-get species, including Nutting's flycatcher, greenish elaenia, and banded wren.  We invited a family to join us for a brief outing to the wetlands.  The father was French, the mother from New Zealand, and they live in Costa Rica.  Their four boys, ranging in age from approximately 5 to 12 years are all trilingual.  I commented that perhaps they would grow up to be diplomats.

"Or terrorists!" was the father's retort.

On our arrival at Ecolodge outside of Arenal, we went for a late afternoon walk in the gardens.  There were three birds in a bare tree and Alex at first pronounced them to be bay-headed tanagers, but then changed the call to rufous-winged tanager, a lifer for him!  What a great punctuation mark to the day!

The next day was spent entirely on the trails of the hotel.  The hotel maintains some terrific habitat for it's birding clientele.  One of the first birds of the day was the second (and final) lifer for Alex on the trip, dull-mantled antbird.  Alex sings, "New bird for meeee".  And for us, of course.

Other worthy birds this day were rufous-browed tyrannulet, nightingale wren, song wren, and the elusive white-throated shrike-tanager (great looks all).

We closed the day stalking a fulvous-bellied antpitta.  Alex heard the bird, positioned the group, and mimicked the call from varying positions on the trail.  Gordon got a reasonable look early on and stood back to watch the others try.  After about an hour of crouching and staring at the understory, the bird flew onto a branch for an "in-your-face" look for Nancy just a few feet away.  Another exclamation point!

The next morning was slated for mop-up of missed species, but started with a surprise.  A tiny hawk flew to a branch near the group.  In a flash, Alex's scope was trained on the diminutive predator and its prey - a song wren.  We watched a full scope view for about 40 minutes as the hawk proceeded with its breakfast.  This was a bird that was previously unknown to the site (Alex maintains the site list).

In the meantime, a slaty-backed forest falcon posed and some group members tried to improve their looks at ocellated antbird.  But bird of the day may have been the great looks the group had at a singing spectacled antpitta in the scope.

The next day was at La Selva OTS Station.  We started fast with great and fasciated antshrikes outside the gate.  Nancy found some snowy cotingas in a distant tree and at one point Alex coaxed a great tinamou to walk through the party.

In late afternoon, yellow-tailed oriole and pink-billed (Nicaraguan) seed-finch were found and then it got hectic.  We were hoping for a look at the little tinamou that was calling maybe 15 feet away in the high grass when a white-throated crake sang out on the other side of us.  Alex threw himself on the hand grenade and went for the almost-impossible-to-see crake, though the tinamou would have been a lifer for him.  As we approached the crake, the tinamou decided it was a good idea to distract us by coming closer.  Our heads were spinning, trying to get looks at whichever bird presented itself first when Orlando, a guide at La Selva who joined us for the fun of it, yelled "short-tailed nighthawk".  A quick look over the shoulder and back to serious birding!  We got a full (if dark) view of the crake as daylight expired.  The tinamou will have to wait for another day.

Owling that night at a secret spot yielded our most up-close and personal ever encounter with an owl.  Alex called to a distant vermiculated screech-owl in the dark.  He saw one bird fly in, while I saw one fly past.  We could hear the faint call in the dark and Alex said "Get ready".  I thought he was kidding.  The call sounded a mile away.  Then he put the spotlight on the bird just 10 feet over our heads and 5 feet off the trail!  This bird is a ventriloquist.  The soft whimper still sounded a mile away.  Alex talked to this bird for about 15 minutes, imitating the owl, great potoos, and other species.  The bird never flinched and sometimes puffed itself up and angled its head to stare intimidatingly down at us with its deep yellow eyes.  I thought Nancy would lose all control when the bird suddenly winked its left eye.

The following day shall go down as the great green macaw hunt.  After finding a pinned down tawny-chested flycatcher at El Gavilan Hotel in the morning, we hired a boat for the one hour ride at full throttle to a site known to one of Alex friends who is closely involved with conservation efforts to save the great green.  Alex told us it was a 20-minute walk from the landing to the macaw tree.  20 minutes when it's dry, maybe.  But this day we found ourselves soon slogging through mud, trying to keep our shoes dry.

Once your shoes got submerged, you could go faster, because you no longer cared about staying clean (too late for that).  But then it became a matter of making progress in the ever-deepening mud.  The group got strung out as various members chose better or worse paths, and eventually Alex had to go back to try to help Mary, who had gone in quite deep.  Gordon and Nancy had regained a dry patch of ground up ahead with the boat pilot and watched a local farmer walking with a horse toward Alex and Mary in the distance.  Gordon offered a bet that Alex and Mary would return on the horse.  No one was foolish enough to accept.

Technically, they would have won because only Mary was astride the horse when they caught up to us.  Alex had told the farmer in a tearful voice "This lady came all the way from the United States to see your birds, and now she can't walk through the mud."

So we saw the macaws (10 in one tree in perfect light, with an eleventh calling from behind us).  SPECTACULAR!!!  And good news for conservation as there had previously been reported no more than six birds at this site.

Our day on Cerro de la Muerte (Ridge of Death) was one of extremes.  Cold, high wind, low oxygen, and hot birding!  Almost everything seen was new for the trip.  Highlights were a huge mixed flock led by a buffy tuftedcheek, timberline wren, yellow-winged vireo, the incredibly beautiful flame-throated warbler (eat your hearts out, Blackburnians) and a high stakes game of hide-and-seek with a peg-billed finch in the low scrub of the paramo.

Day 12 was simply magic.  The morning at Los Cusingos, the home of Alexander Skutch, the grand old gentleman of Costa Rican birding, was eye-popping.  The riot of color in his front yard was without precedent in my birding life.  Dr. Skutch places a banana on his window sill as he eats breakfast.  The species I recall partaking were clay-colored robin, blue-gray tanager, Cherrie's (scarlet-rumped) tanager, speckled tanager (many!), buff-throated saltator, palm tanager, bay-headed tanager, golden-hooded tanager, and green honeycreeper.  The nearby trees also gave good looks at male and female turquoise cotingas and a long-billed starthroat.  If I die and heaven isn't all I expected, I'm going back to Los Cusingos.

Carara provided a fitting conclusion to the holiday.  Consecutive owling sessions yielded a pair of black-and-white owls sharing a branch and a striped owl 10 feet from the car.  Other good finds were american pygmy kingfisher, king vulture (seen through a hole in the canopy), scrub flycatcher, rufous-browed peppershrike, green shrike-vireo (illuminated in the canopy by Alex's trusty mirror), mangrove vireo, and scrub greenlet.

The total species for the trip was 485 birds in 15 full days.  16 were "heard only" birds.  These are designated with an (H) on the list.  Our thanks once again to Alex and his amazing ears.  We're thinking more than ever of moving to this wonderful country one day and eagerly anticipate our next trip with Alex.


Great Tinamou
Little Tinamou (H)
Slaty-breasted Tinamou (H)

Least Grebe

Brown Pelican

Brown Booby

Neotropic Cormorant


Magnificent Frigatebird

Bare-throated Tiger-heron
Boat-billed Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Black-crowned Night-heron
Great Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Little Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Cattle Egret
Great Egret
Green Heron

Wood Stork

Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
King Vulture

White Ibis
Glossy Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Muscovy Duck


Swallow-tailed Kite
Snail Kite
Double-toothed Kite
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Tiny Hawk
Semiplumbeous Hawk
Gray Hawk
Mangrove Black-Hawk
Harris's Hawk
Roadside Hawk
Short-tailed Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Zone-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Black Hawk-eagle

Crested Caracara
Yellow-headed Caracara
Laughing Falcon
Slaty-backed Forest Falcon
American Kestrel
Bat Falcon

Gray-Headed Chachalaca
Crested Guan
Black Guan

Black-breasted Wood-quail


Gray-necked Wood-rail
White-throated Crake
Purple Gallinule


Northern Jacana

Black-necked Stilt

Double-striped Thick-knee

Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Wilson's Plover
Snowy Plover

Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Spotted Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
Western Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper

Laughing Gull
Franklin's Gull
Royal Tern
Sandwich Tern

Black Skimmer

Rock Dove
Scaled Pigeon
Band-tailed Pigeon
Pale-vented Pigeon
Red-billed Pigeon
Ruddy Pigeon
Short-Billed Pigeon
White-winged Dove
Common Ground-Dove
Ruddy Ground-Dove
Inca Dove
Blue Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove
Gray-chested Dove
Buff-fronted Quail-dove
Chiriqui Quail-dove

Scarlet Macaw
Great Green Macaw
Crimson-fronted Parakeet
Olive-throated Parakeet
Orange-fronted Parakeet
Orange-chinned Parakeet
Brown-hooded Parrot
White-crowned Parrot
White-fronted Parrot
Red-lored Parrot
Yellow-Naped Parrot
Mealy Parrot

Mangrove Cuckoo
Squirrel Cuckoo
Groove-billed Ani
Striped Cuckoo (H)
Lesser Ground-Cuckoo (H)

Pacific Screech-owl
Vermiculated Screech-owl
Bare-shanked Screech-owl
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
Mottled Owl
Black-and-white Owl
Striped Owl

Common Potoo

Short-tailed Nighthawk
Lesser Nighthawk

Chestnut-collared Swift
White-Collared Swift
Vaux's Swift
Band-Rumped Swift
Gray-Rumped Swift
Lesser Swallow-Tailed Swift

Bronzy Hermit
Long-Tailed Hermit
Green Hermit
Little Hermit
Scaly-breasted Hummingbird
Violet Sabrewing
White-Necked Jacobin
Brown Violet-Ear
Green Violet-ear
Green-breasted Mango
Violet-headed Hummingbird
Green Thorntail
Fork-tailed Emerald
Crowned Woodnymph
Fiery-Throated Hummingbird
Blue-Throated Goldentail
Beryl-crowned Hummingbird
Blue-chested Hummingbird
Steely-Vented Hummingbird
Snowy-bellied Hummingbird
Cinnamon Hummingbird
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Stripe-tailed Hummingbird
Coppery-Headed Emerald
White-bellied Mountain-gem
Purple-Throated Mountain-gem
Green-crowned Brilliant
Magnificent Hummingbird
Purple-Crowned Fairy
Plain-capped Starthroat
Long-billed Starthroat
Magenta-throated Woodstar
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Volcano Hummingbird

Resplendent Quetzal
Slaty-Tailed Trogon
Baird's Trogon
Black-Headed Trogon
Collared Trogon
Orange-Bellied Trogon
Black-Throated Trogon
Violaceous Trogon

Ringed Kingfisher
Belted Kingfisher
Amazon Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
American Pygmy Kingfisher

Broad-Billed Motmot
Turquoise-browed Motmot
Rufous Motmot
Blue-Crowned Motmot

Rufous-Tailed Jacamar

Lanceolated Monklet (H)

Red-Headed Barbet
Prong-Billed Barbet

Emerald Toucanet
Collared Aracari
Fiery-billed Aracari
Keel-Billed Toucan
Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan

Golden-Naped Woodpecker
Black-Cheeked Woodpecker
Hoffmann's Woodpecker
Red-Crowned Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Smoky-Brown Woodpecker
Golden-Olive Woodpecker
Rufous-Winged Woodpecker
Lineated Woodpecker
Pale-Billed Woodpecker

Plain-brown Woodcreeper
Tawny-winged Woodcreeper
Olivaceous Woodcreeper
Wedge-Billed Woodcreeper
Barred Woodcreeper
Cocoa (Buff-throated) Woodcreeper
Spotted Woodcreeper
Streaked-Headed Woodcreeper
Brown-Billed Scythebill (H)

Slaty Spinetail
Red-Faced Spinetail
Spotted Barbtail
Ruddy Treerunner
Buffy Tuftedcheek
Lineated Foliage-Gleaner
Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner
Tawny-throated Leaftosser (H)
Plain Xenops

Fasciated Antshrike
Great Antshrike
Barred Antshrike
Black-Hooded Antshrike
Slaty Antshrike (H)
Russet Antshrike
Plain Antvireo
Slaty Antwren
Dot-winged Antwren
Dusky Antbird
Chestnut-Backed Antbird
Dull-mantled Antbird
Bicolored Antbird
Spotted Antbird
Ocellated Antbird

Black-faced Antthrush
Black-headed Antthrush (H)
Spectacled Antpitta
Fulvous-bellied Antpitta

Silvery-Fronted Tapaculo

Barred Becard
Cinnamon Becard
White-Winged Becard
Rose-Throated Becard (H)
Masked Tityra

Rufous Piha
Turquoise Cotinga
Snowy Cotinga
Purple-Throated Fruitcrow
Three-wattled Bellbird

Red-Capped Manakin
Blue-Crowned Manakin
Long-Tailed Manakin
White-Ruffed Manakin
Orange-Collared Manakin
White-Collared Manakin
Thrushlike Schiffornis (Manakin)

Black Phoebe
Long-Tailed Tyrant
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Fork-tailed Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Piratic Flycatcher
White-ringed Flycatcher
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Bright-Rumped Attila
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
Streaked Flycatcher
Golden-Bellied Flycatcher
Gray-Capped Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Rufous Mourner
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Nutting's Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Dusky-Capped Flycatcher
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Western Wood-Pewee
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Tropical Pewee
Tawny-chested Flycatcher
Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher
Yellowish Flycatcher
Black-capped Flycatcher
Tufted Flycatcher
Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher
Black-Tailed Flycatcher
Royal Flycatcher (H)
White-Throated Spadebill
Golden-Crowned Spadebill
Yellow-olive Flycatcher
Yellow-margined Flycatcher
Eye-ringed Flatbill
Black-headed Tody-flycatcher
Common Tody-flycatcher
Northern Bentbill
Scale-Crested Pygmy-Tyrant
Black-Capped Pygmy-Tyrant
Rufous-browed Tyrannulet
Yellow Tyrannulet
Torrent Tyrannulet
Yellow-Bellied Elaenia
Lesser Elaenia
Mountain Elaenia
Greenish Elaenia
Scrub Flycatcher
Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet (H)
Paltry Tyrannulet
Slaty-Capped Flycatcher
Olive-Striped Flycatcher
Ochre-Bellied Flycatcher

Gray-Breasted Martin
Barn Swallow
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Blue and White Swallow
Mangrove Swallow

White-Throated Magpie-Jay
Brown Jay
Azure-Hooded Jay

Band-Backed Wren
Rufous-Naped Wren
Plain Wren (both races)
Rufous and White Wren
Stripe-breasted Wren
Bay Wren
Riverside Wren
Banded Wren
Black-Throated Wren
Black-Bellied Wren
Rufous-Breasted Wren
House Wren
Ochraceous Wren
Timberline Wren
White-breasted Wood-wren
Gray-Breasted Wood-wren
Nightingale Wren
Song Wren

Gray Catbird

White-Throated Robin
Clay-Colored Robin
Pale-Vented Robin
Mountain Robin
Sooty Robin
Black-Faced Solitaire
Wood Thrush
Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush
Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush
Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush
Orange-Billed Nightingale-Thrush
Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush

White-Lored Gnatcatcher
Tropical Gnatcatcher
Long-billed Gnatwren
Tawny-faced Gnatwren

Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher (H)
Black-and-Yellow Silky-Flycatcher

Rufous-browed Peppershrike
Green Shrike-Vireo
Mangrove Vireo
Yellow-winged Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo
Yellow-green Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo
Brown-capped Vireo (H)
Scrub Greenlet
Tawny-crowned Greenlet
Lesser Greenlet


Black-and-white Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Worm-Eating Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Flame-throated Warbler
Tropical Parula
Yellow Warbler
Mangrove Warbler
Black-Throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Chestnut-Sided Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Louisiana Waterthrush
Kentucky Warbler
Olive-Crowned Yellowthroat
Gray-Crowned Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
Slate-Throated Redstart
Collared Redstart
Three-Striped Warbler
Golden-Crowned Warbler
Black-cheeked Warbler
Rufous-Capped Warbler
Buff-rumped Warbler

Chestnut-Headed Oropendola
Montezuma Oropendola
Scarlet-Rumped Cacique
Yellow-Billed Cacique
Bronzed Cowbird
Melodious Blackbird
Great-Tailed Grackle
Orchard Oriole
Yellow-tailed Oriole
Spot-breasted Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Streak-Backed Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark

Golden-browed Chlorophonia
Blue-hooded Euphonia (H)
Tawny-Capped Euphonia
Scrub Euphonia
Yellow-crowned Euphonia
Thick-billed Euphonia
Yellow-throated Euphonia
Olive-Backed Euphonia

Emerald Tanager
Speckled Tanager
Silver-Throated Tanager
Golden-Hooded Tanager
Plain-Colored Tanager
Rufous-winged Tanager
Bay-headed Tanager
Spangled-cheeked Tanager
Green Honeycreeper
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Shining Honeycreeper
Blue Dacnis
Scarlet-thighed Dacnis
Blue and Gold Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Passerini's Tanager
Cherrie's Tanager
Crimson-collared Tanager
Summer Tanager
Hepatic Tanager
Olive Tanager
Red-crowned Ant-tanager
Red-throated Ant-tanager
White-throated Shrike-tanager
White-lined Tanager
White-shouldered Tanager
Gray-headed Tanager
Dusky-Faced Tanager
Black-and-Yellow Tanager
Common Bush-tanager
Sooty-capped Bush-tanager

Black-headed Saltator
Buff-throated Saltator
Grayish Saltator
Black-faced Grosbeak
Slate-colored Grosbeak
Black-thighed Grosbeak
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Blue-black Grosbeak
Yellow-Faced Grassquit
White-collared Seedeater
Variable Seedeater
Pink-billed (Nicaraguan) Seed-finch
Thick-billed Seed-finch
Blue-Black Grassquit
Slaty Finch
Peg-billed Finch
Slaty Flowerpiercer
Large-footed Finch
Yellow-thighed Finch
Yellow-Throated Brush-Finch
Chestnut-Capped Brush-Finch
Sooty-Faced Finch (H)
Orange-Billed Sparrow
Olive Sparrow
Black-Striped Sparrow
White-Eared Ground-Sparrow
Striped-Headed Sparrow
Volcano Junco
Rufous-Collared Sparrow
House Sparrow

Gordon Gover
Bridgewater, NJ

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