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17 February - 03 March 2001

by Gavin Edmondstone

There are many ways to do a birding tour of Costa Rica.  This is the story of one of them.  It started while standing around looking for a bird that was not going to be seen that day with birding friend Jim Watt.  Jim was very excited about his then recent family vacation to Costa Rica.  His enthusiasm was contagious and we became infected.  We turned to Scott Connop of Turaco Nature Inc. for the cure.  Scott provided much helpful advice, booked our flights and suggested having Costa Rica Gateway make the arrangements in Costa Rica.

We had a few trepidations going into this trip, our first to the tropics.  Primary among them was the state of roads.  This was very important to us because of Sue's bad back which is greatly aggravated by bumpy roads.  Our destinations were chosen to give us a good representation of habitats and on not having to make long drives over poor roads.  This eliminated highland destinations such as Monteverde from consideration.  The plan that we settled on was of spending the first week birding fairly intensively at two locations on the Caribbean slope and then slowing the pace for the second week at a Pacific coast resort that I had selected.  All of our transfers were prearranged thereby relieving us of driving and navigation responsibilities.  Naturally it also meant that we were lacking in mobility but this was not a problem as things turned out.  All of the drivers were very good and quite accommodating of special requests for stops.  One driver, Carlos, got people on the streets of Orotina to help us find the Black and White Owls roosting in the town square.  All spoke at least a little English, one fluently.  We did not encounter any rain while out birding.  Rather than try to work every bird into a narrative I will provide an annotated trip list.

Itinerary and Accommodations

February 17

We flew American Airlines from Toronto via Miami to San Jose.  No problems with flights or airports.  Miami was very busy.  The first night was at the very pleasant Hotel Grano de Oro near the centre of San Jose. Sue greatly enjoyed the plants that decorated this hotel.

February 18-20 Rancho Naturalista

I saw a few city birds before breakfast then we were off to Rancho Naturalista.  Except for the last km the roads were mostly OK for bumps although conditions in most places do not allow for very rapid travel.  Rancho Naturalista is a well-known birding lodge in the Carribean slope foothills.  Life at Rancho is simple: eat, sleep and go birding.  Mostly go birding.  The food was very good, the accommodations were comfortable and the birding was terrific.  On the first day I tallied an amazing 45 lifers.  The day begins at first light, about 5:40, on the balcony of the main building.  A light jacket is desirable.  Banana slices and rice are put out to attract birds.  At 7:00 the breakfast bell is rung.  By 8:00 we are on the trails with resident guide Matt Denton leading us around the trails on the property.  We returned by noon, had lunch and hit the trails again by 2:30.  The lunch break allowed an opportunity for a little independent birding.  It's not very hot here at midday.  One could choose to bird independently all the time but why lose the benefits of Matt's expertise with the local birds?  One of the special joys of birding at Rancho is watching the frenetic activity at the hummingbird feeders.  Late afternoon also offers the opportunity to visit the pools where hummingbirds bathe.  Sue and I agreed after we returned home that Rancho was the best part of the trip.  With her bad back Sue is unable to go on many hikes.  One afternoon while the rest of us were slogging the trials she saw a Black-crested Coquette at a feeder on the balcony, the only one of the trip.

February 20-23 Selva Verde

Selva Verde is in the Caribbean lowlands and is much warmer than Rancho Naturalista but not uncomfortably so.  Here we were more on our own.  The accommodations were comfortable, no A/C but a ceiling fan and large screened windows were fine for us.  We used the provided mosquito netting when sleeping.  Meals are served at a buffet.  The food was OK but nothing special.  Many birds could be seen around the grounds.  Access to the primary forest across the river requires a guide (there is a locked gate) but there are trails through the secondary forest across the road which can be freely walked.  There is also good birding on a quiet road nearby.  From the main entrance turn right and walk for about five minutes to a school and turn right onto an unpaved road.  We saw a howler monkey on the island which can be reached from the bridge.

February 21 day trip to La Selva

At first we were a little distressed to learn that unlike at Rancho Naturalista our birding companions for our guided tour were mostly not experienced birders.  This meant a good deal of patient remedial training from our guide Carlos.  That said, we did see some nice birds in the morning.  The afternoon was a different story.  We had Carlos to ourselves and then the magic started.  Things got off to a promising start when a Violaceous Trogon perched too close to get in focus while we and many workmen carrying heavy loads crossed the narrow suspension bridge.  Scope views of Double-toothed Kite and Vermiculated Screech-Owl were among the highlights.  Snakes were also a theme of the afternoon.  One decided to cross the concrete path as our small group went by.  Sue tells me that I narrowly missed stepping on the snake which we now believe to be a fer-de-lance.  Shortly after that close call Sue spotted a green parrot snake in the act of swallowing a frog.

One thing that we had noticed is that automobile horns are used almost exclusively for exchanging greetings with friends and acquaintances.  And everyone seems to know everyone else.  One afternoon while birding at the side of the road in front of Selva Verde the horn of a small red taxi tooted at us.  It was the driver who had taken us to and from La Selva.

Hotel Punta Leona February 24-25

This large resort complex is on the central Pacific coast at the end of a long bumpy driveway and behind two sets of gates.  It has impressive beaches, pools and forest trails.  It seemed like a good combination.  Unfortunately it did not work out very well for us because Sue got heat stroke on our first daylight exploration of the expansive grounds.  The Pacific coast is noticeably hotter than our previous stops.  Getting to the restaurants was a problem because of the unshaded distance between them and our unit.  By the second day Sue asked me to see if it would be possible to go somewhere else.  Within two hours of calling Douglas Espinosa at the Costa Rica Gateway office in San Jose we were checking into Villa Lapas, a much smaller facility just down the road.  Impressive service indeed.  The most fortuitous aspect of this move was our introduction to Kevin Easley.  Kevin, who is the birding guide at Tarcol Lodge, had been dispatched to drive us to Villa Lapas.  Luckily for us he was subsequently able to able include us in a couple of outings in the area.

I did manage to do some good birding during our short stay at Punta Leona.  On the first morning I joined a pre breakfast birding walk led by a pleasant young guide who is learning rapidly.  It was an relaxed outing with amiable companions.  I also did some independent birding on shady forest trails.  The most memorable bird was a heard only Three-wattled Bellbird.

Villa Lapas February 25-March 2

Villa Lapas has good birding right on the grounds and there is a nice little trail at the back along the creek.  Open country birding is accessible with a modest walk across the main highway towards Tarcoles.  It is also fairly close to Carara and to Tarcol Lodge.  We were told that return transportation to Carara can be arranged for $12.  The buffet style food was adequate.  The rooms are air conditioned.  Reptiles are common.  Common tent making bats were seen roosting in the palm leaves.

Kevin was able to include me in an outing to the Carara Headquarters trail after he had moved us to Villa Lapas.  This is a good trail to do in the afternoon because it is heavily shaded.  Immediately upon entering the trail we were in the midst of a troop of white-faced capuchin monkeys.  The next morning Sue and I had an amazing outing with Kevin to the Tarcol Lodge area for Pacific mangrove specialties where I had a total of 22 lifers before breakfast.

That evening while passing the reception desk, we noticed four birding friends from home checking in.  Loralie Mitchell, Peter Van Dijken, Linda Nuttall and Mark Chojnacki were on a trip led by Scott Connop.  This was our first time meeting Scott in person.  They graciously permitted us to join them on their outings for the next two days.  The next morning we all went to the River Trail at Carara with the group.  Being less shaded than the Headquarters trail, this trail is best visited in the morning.  A flock of Scarlet Macaws was screaming by overhead while we working some nasty little flycatcher.

With a slight grin Scott commanded us NOT to look up.  The troops mutinied for a moment.  Scott takes pride in how long it takes him to bird a very short stretch of this trail.  It took almost four hours until we started back from the Boat-billed Heron spot with empty water bottles and full bladders.  It only took a few minutes to walk back to the parking lot.  Thirteen lifers this morning, pretty good for this late stage of the trip.  In the afternoon I returned to the Headquarters Trail with the group and picked a few more new birds but mostly enjoyed repeat looks at birds seen before.  While relaxing at the pool in the afternoon, Sue found a pair of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls and a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron nest.  The next morning I went with the group to bird the trails near Tarcol Lodge and then back to Villa Lapas.

After lunch Sue and I returned to Tarcol Lodge.  While Sue relaxed on the porch, I hiked out to the spit of land between the river and the ocean.  Luckily I was able to find a Collared Plover quickly without melting in the hot sun.  Back at the lodge we watched the tide come in and float the small boat that was to give us a tour of the river mouth and mangroves.  From the boat with Kevin spotting at the bow and Luis piloting we had great looks at Mangrove Black Hawks, a Mangrove Hummingbird, a variety of water birds and crocodiles.  There are many fancier boats that do a similar trip but this is the one that I would recommend for birders.

First thing on the last birding morning I walked the dusty road to the village of Tarcoles to see open country birds.  All I added to the trip list was Laughing Gulls at the beach but I did have some fine looks at birds seen previously.  While observing a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron in a field opposite the school I noticed that a group of young schoolboys in immaculate white shirts were standing behind me also watching the bird.  Unfortunately my Spanish was not up to conversation with them.  Back at Villa Lapas it was time to pack up, have some last looks at the birds and come terms with going home.  We got back to San Jose with some daylight left to explore the city on foot.  We flew home the next picking up one last new bird: Blue and White Swallows at the airport.

If you have not yet been to Costa Rica I highly recommend going.  You cannot spend too much time preparing, especially listening to bird sound recordings.  When I expressed the wish that I had spent more time preparing Sue asked: "Where was that time to come from?" My only answer was to quit my job.  Which is probably not a good idea, is it?

Annotated list of birds

(h) = heard only
Numbers refer to the number (usually small) seen
Location abbreviations:
RN = Rancho Naturalista
SV = Selva Verde
LS = La Selva
PL = Hotel Punta Leona
VL = Villa Lapas
TL = Tarcol Lodge, TL (boat) = late PM boat trip from the lodge
C HQ = Carara Headquarters trail
C river = Carara River trail
Tarcoles Road = The road from Villa Lapas to the village of Tarcoles

Great Tinamou                              1 RN
Little Tinamou                               RN (h)
Magnificent Frigatebird                 PL, TL, 87 soaring over VL
Neotropic Cormorant                   TL
Anhinga                                        TL
Brown Pelican                               PL, TL
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck      TL (boat)
Reddish Egret                                TL
Tricolored Heron                           TL
Little Blue Heron                           SV, TL
Snowy Egret                                   SV, TL
Great Blue Heron                           SV, TL
Great Egret                                     TL
Cattle Egret                                    RN, SV,
Green Heron                                   TL
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron        TL
Boat-billed Heron                           TL (boat), C river
Bare-throated Tiger-Heron             TL, VL (nest by entrance)
Fasciated Tiger-Heron                    1 SV
White Ibis                                        TL, VL
Roseate Spoonbill                           TL
Wood Stork                                      C River, VL
Black Vulture                                  Everywhere
Turkey Vulture                                Everywhere
King Vulture                                    1 SV
Osprey                                             TL
Swallow-tailed Kite                        1 RN
White-tailed Kite                             Tarcoles Road.
Double-toothed Kite                        LS, SV, C river
Plumbeous Kite                               TL
Mangrove Black-Hawk                    TL
Gray Hawk                                       Tarcoles Road, VL
Broad-winged Hawk                       VL
Short-tailed Hawk                           1 SV
Black Hawk-Eagle                          1 RN
Crested Caracara                             SV, TL
Yellow-headed Caracara                 TL, C river
Laughing Falcon                              TL, C river
Collared Forest-Falcon                    C HQ (h)
Gray-headed Chachalaca                 RN, SV
White-throated Crake                      2 RN
Gray-necked Wood-Rail                  2 SV
Purple Gallinule                              TL (boat)
Northern Jacana                              TL (boat), C river
Whimbrel                                        TL
Greater Yellowlegs                         TL
Spotted Sandpiper                           SV, TL
Willet                                              TL
Ruddy Turnstone                            TL
Sanderling                                       TL
Semipalmated Sandpiper                TL
Western Sandpiper                         TL
Least Sandpiper                               PL, TL
Pectoral Sandpiper                         TL
Black-necked Stilt                          TL (boat)
Black-bellied Plover                       TL
Semipalmated Plover                      TL
Wilson's Plover                               TL
Collared Plover                               1 TL (on the spit at the mouth
of the Tarcoles River)
Laughing Gull                                  Tarcoles
Royal Tern                                       TL
Rock Dove                                        San Jose
Red-billed Pigeon                             RN
Short-billed Pigeon                            RN, PL, C river
White-winged Dove                           San Jose, Orotina
Inca Dove                                           SV
Ruddy Ground-Dove                          PL, VL
Blue Ground-Dove                             C river, VL
White-tipped Dove                             VL
Gray-chested Dove                             SV
Ruddy Quail-Dove                              1 C HQ
Scarlet Macaw                                     PL (h), TL, VL, C
Crimson-fronted Parakeet                   RN, PL
Sulphur-winged Parakeet                    RN
Orange-chinned Parakeet                    LS, SV, PL,
White-crowned Parrot                         RN, SV
White-fronted Parrot                           TL
Red-lored Parrot                                  Tarcoles River bridge
Yellow-naped Parrot                          TL, Tarcoles River Bridge
Mealy Parrot                                       SV
Squirrel Cuckoo                                  RN, VL, PL
Groove-billed Ani                               RN, SV, VL
Pacific Screech-Owl                           1 TL
Vermiculated Screech-Owl                1 LS
Mottled Owl                                       2 RN
Black-and-white Owl                         3 South side of Orotina central
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl                    VL
Lesser Nighthawk                              Tarcoles Road, C HQ parking
Pauraque                                            SV, TL
White-collared Swift                        RN, SV, C HQ, VL
Band-rumped Swift                          C river
Gray-rumped Swift                           SV
Vaux's Swift                                     RN
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift             SV, C
Bronzy Hermit                                   C river, VL
Green Hermit                                     RN
Western Long-tailed Hermit               LS, SV, C river
Little Hermit                                      RN
Scaly-breasted Hummingbird             TL, VL, C river
Violet Sabrewing                               C river
White-necked Jacobin                        RN
Brown Violet-ear                                RN (not expected in dry
Green-breasted Mango                        RN
Violet-headed Hummingbird               RN, SV
Green Thorntail                                    RN
Violet-crowned Woodnymph              RN, SV
Blue-throated Goldentail                     C HQ
Mangrove Hummingbird                    1 TL, 1 TL (boat)
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird              Every day
Snowcap                                             RN (common at feeders)
Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer                 LS, SV
Green-crowned Brilliant                   RN
Purple-crowned Fairy                        1 C river
Slaty-tailed Trogon                            C river
Baird's Trogon                                   PL, C river, VL
Black-headed Trogon                        TL
Collared Trogon                                RN
Black-throated Trogon                      RN
Violaceous Trogon                            RN, LS, SV, PL
Belted Kingfisher                              TL
Ringed Kingfisher                             SV, TL
Amazon Kingfisher                     SV, TL, VL, C river
Green Kingfisher                         TL, VL
Broad-billed Motmot                    RN
Turquoise-browed Motmot          1 TL
Rufous Motmot                             RN
Blue-crowned Motmot                  RN
Rufous-tailed Jacamar                  1 RN
White-necked Puffbird                 TL
White-whiskered Puffbird            PL, C HQ
Collared Aracari                            RN, SV
Keel-billed Toucan                          RN, SV
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan            SV, PL, VL
Olivaceous Piculet                            TL
Black-cheeked Woodpecker             RN, SV
Hoffmann's Woodpecker                   RN, SV, PL, TL, VL
Rufous-winged Woodpecker              1 LS
Golden-olive Woodpecker                  RN
Chestnut-colored Woodpecker            2 LS
Lineated Woodpecker                         2 near Tarcoles
Pale-billed Woodpecker                      SV, PL
Olivaceous Woodcreeper                    1 RN
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper                  1 PL
Barred Woodcreeper                              1 C river
Cocoa Woodcreeper                               RN, TL
Black-striped Woodcreeper                    1 C river
Spotted Woodcreeper                              RN,
Streak-headed Woodcreeper                 RN, PL, TL
Brown-billed Scythebill                       RN (h)
Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner             1 C HQ
Plain Xenops                                        RN, C river
Barred Antshrike                                   PL, C river
Black-hooded Antshrike                        PL, C river
Russet Antshrike                                   RN
Slaty Antwren                                      RN, PL
Dot-winged Antwren                           RN, PL, C river
Dusky Antbird                                      RN, C river, VL
Chestnut-backed Antbird                      SV, PL
Black-faced Antthrush                          C HQ
Streaked-chested Antpitta                     C HQ
Thicket Antpitta                                   RN (h)
Purple-throated Fruitcrow                   LS, SV (h)
Three-wattled Bellbird                        PL (h)
Red-capped Manakin                          C HQ
White-crowned Manakin                     RN
Blue-crowned Manakin                      C HQ
White-ruffed Manakin                       RN
White-collared Manakin                    RN, SV
Orange-collared Manakin                   PL, C river
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher                     LS, C river
Slaty-capped Flycatcher                      RN
Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher             C River
Common Tody-Flycatcher                    RN, SV, TL, VL
Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher             RN, SV
Paltry Tyrannulet                                  RN
Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet          TL, C river
Yellow Tyrannulet                          1 TL
Northern Scrub-Flycatcher              1 TL
Greenish Elaenia                             TL, C river, VL
Yellow-bellied Elaenia                   TL
Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant           RN
Northern Bentbill                            PL (h), C river (h)
Eye-ringed Flatbill                          1 RN
Yellow-olive Flycatcher                 RN, TL
Royal Flycatcher                            C River
Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher            RN, VL
Tawny-chested Flycatcher             1 RN
Tropical Pewee                              RN, TL
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher              RN, PL, SV
Long-tailed Tyrant                         1 SV
Bright-rumped Attila                      LS, SV
Dusky-capped Flycatcher                RN, LS, SV, C river
Panama Flycatcher                         TL
Great Crested Flycatcher               VL
Brown-crested Flycatcher              TL
Tropical Kingbird                           Almost everywhere
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher                TL
Boat-billed Flycatcher                    RN, LS, SV, PL, VL
Streaked Flycatcher                        PL, VL, TL
Social Flycatcher                            RN, SV, VL
Gray-capped Flycatcher                 LS, SV
Piratic Flycatcher                          SV
Great Kiskadee                             Almost everywhere
Cinnamon Becard                         RN
White-winged Becard                   PL, C river
Rose-throated Becard                   PL, VL
Masked Tityra                              RN, LS, SV, PL, VL
Black-crowned Tityra                  LS, VL
Brown Jay                                    RN, PL, VL
Rufous-browed Peppershrike        TL
Mangrove Vireo                           TL
Yellow-throated Vireo                 TL
Philadelphia Vireo                       PL, VL, TL
Scrub Greenlet                              TL
Lesser Greenlet                              SV, PL, C river
Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush     RN (h)
Wood Thrush                                    SV
Clay-colored Robin                            Almost everywhere
Gray Catbird                                      1 RN
Rufous-naped Wren                           PL, VL
Band-backed Wren                           1 LS
Black-bellied Wren                        1 VL
Rufous-breasted Wren                    PL, C river
Riverside Wren                         PL, VL
Bay Wren                                  SV
Stripe-breasted Wren                 RN
Rufous-and-white Wren             C river
Plain Wren                               RN
House Wren                              RN, PL, VL
White-breasted Wood-Wren     RN
Scaly-breasted Wren       PL
Tawny-faced Gnatwren             RN
Long-billed Gnatwren               PL, C river
Tropical Gnatcatcher               RN, SV, TL
Mangrove Swallow                  TL
Gray-breasted Swallow TL (boat)
Blue-and-white Swallow          San Jose airport
Northern Rough-winged Swallow     RN, VL
Southern Rough-winged Swallow     SV, VL
Barn Swallow                                  C river, TL
Golden-winged Warbler                  RN, SV
Tennessee Warbler                          RN, SV, PL, C river, VL
Tropical Parula                                RN
Yellow Warbler                               SV, PL, "Mangrove Warbler" on
TL boat trip
Chestnut-sided Warbler                    Everywhere
Blackburnian Warbler                       RN
Black-and-white Warbler                  RN
American Redstart                            RN, C river
Prothonotary Warbler                        TL
Northern Waterthrush                        TL, C river, VL
Mourning Warbler                             RN
Wilson's Warbler                              RN
Slate-throated Redstart                     RN
Golden-crowned Warbler                 RN
Rufous-capped Warbler                   RN, VL
Buff-rumped Warbler                       LS, SV, VL
Rufous-collared Sparrow                  San Jose
Stripe-headed Sparrow                     Tarcoles Road
Orange-billed Sparrow                     RN, SV, PL, C HQ
Bananaquit                                        RN, LS, SV
Black-and-yellow Tanager                 RN
Dusky-faced Tanager                         LS
Olive Tanager                                 RN, SV
White-shouldered Tanager             RN, C HQ
White-lined Tanager                       RN
Red-throated Ant-Tanager              RN, SV
Summer Tanager                             RN, PL, TL, VL
Crimson-collared Tanager              RN
Passerinii's Tanager                         RN, SV
Cherrie's Tanager                            TL
Blue-gray Tanager                           Almost everywhere
Palm Tanager                                   RN, SV, VL
Scrub Euphonia                               1 TL
Yellow-crowned Euphonia              SV
Yellow-throated Euphonia              1 C river
Olive-backed Euphonia                   LS, SV
Tawny-capped Euphonia                 RN
Golden-browed Chlorophonia         1 RN
Emerald Tanager                             1 RN
Silver-throated Tanager                   RN
Speckled Tanager                             RN
Bay-headed Tanager                         RN, C river
Golden-hooded Tanager                   RN, LS, SV
Blue Dacnis                                      SV
Green Honeycreeper                        RN, C river
Shining Honeycreeper                      1 SV
Red-legged Honeycreeper                SV, PL, C river, SV
Blue-black Grassquit                        SV, PL, Tarcoles Road
Variable Seedeater                            RN, SV, Tarcoles Road
Thick-billed Seed-Finch                   SV
Yellow-faced Grassquit                    RN
Rose-breasted Grosbeak                   RN
Black-faced Grosbeak                       SV
Black-headed Saltator                       RN
Buff-throated Saltator                       RN, SV, PL, C HQ
Blue-black Grosbeak                        C river
Blue Grosbeak                                  Tarcoles Road
Chestnut-headed Oropendola           RN
Montezuma Oropendola                  RN, LS, SV
Scarlet-rumped Cacique                   RN, SV
Yellow-billed Cacique                      RN
Baltimore Oriole                               RN, LS, SV, PL, TL
Orchard Oriole                                 1 TL
Black-cowled Oriole                        LS
Red-winged Blackbird                     TL
Melodious Blackbird                        RN, SV
Great-tailed Grackle                         Everywhere except RN
Bronzed Cowbird                             RN
Giant Cowbird                                  1 RN

309 records

Gavin Edmondstone
Oakville, Ontario 

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