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17 -  24 October 1998

by David B. Collinge


I was in Costa Rica for a business trip and stayed with old friends who have moved from the eastern suburbs of San Jose Guadalupe and Sabanilla  in the foothills of Volcán Irazú, to Rohrmoser which lies roughly half way between the San Jose city centre and Alajuela close to the small airport "Tobias Bolaños". Due to work commitments, I only had the opportunity for day trips from Rohrmoser: to Río Sarapiquí and La Selva on 18/10; to Tárcoles and Carara on 19/10 and a morning trip to Copey de Dota on the western end of the Cordillera de Talamanca on the 21/10. It is the height of the rainy season in October which means (typically) sunny mornings and increasing cloud cover during the afternoon culminating in tropical rain storms (late) afternoon. These lasted from 1 to 5 h. The influence of Hurricane Mitch was felt at the end of the week - as grey weather and drizzle. Nomenclature and order essentially according to Stiles and Skutch, see my previous reports for further practical information. All transport was with my friend Kenneth in his Suzuki Sidekick. So no practical information on transport or accommodation here!  Despite the limited opportunities, this trip yielded 136 spp. of bird, 27 of which were global lifers, and others were old and now dear friends, so I was very satisfied. In addition to species listed I failed to identify several sbj's, flycatchers and swifts.


(This very Spanish family name - reflects German settlers who had coffee plantations here). This is the least interesting place (ornithologically) that my friends have lived in and only yielded 21 species from 4 early morning forays into the neighbourhood (and sharp ears at night). The habitat within 1 Km of their flat is suburban with some rough ground (including empty building plots) bordered by bushes and a few trees. Nice views of Volcán Poás some mornings.

Cattle Egret (small flocks flying east (up the valley) most mornings, Great Blue Heron (2 flying east 19/10), White-tailed (formerly Black-shouldered) Kite (hunting 18/10), Short-billed Pigeon (small flocks most mornings - not all positively identified), Crimson-fronted Parakeet (Finsch's Conure- several mornings), presumed PAURAQUE (20/10 oral obs), Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Hoffmann's Woodpecker (19/10), RUFOUS-WINGED WOODPECKER (19/10), Tropical Kingbird, Great Kiskadee (Kiskadee Flycatcher - common), Swallow (18/10), Blue-and-White Swallow (common - breeding on my friend's house), House Wren (dawn chorus), Clay-coloured Robin (Thrush), Tennessee Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Great-tailed Grackle (lots), Eastern (Common) Meadowlark, Blue-black Grassquit, Rufous-collared (Andean) Sparrow (earliest contributer to the PRE-dawn chorus - woke me at 5 am every morning)

San Jose

(35 spp.). Most time was spent at the new Biological Sciences complex (which houses CIBCM) about 1 Km east of the main UCR (University of Costa Rica) campus, and about 2 km as the White-tailed Kite (no crows (or roads) here) flies from Lourdes (and you thought Lourdes was in the south of France). There is a little stream running through grassland and several copses in the immediate neighbourhood. It didn't make an ornithological visit to the main campus this time. Other observations were from travel between Rohrmoser and the campus, and from Desamparados, Sto. Domingo and Sta. Ana. Observations from UCR unless stated otherwise (and I didn't even have a chance to walk in the main campus area this time.

Cattle Egret, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, White-tailed Kite (seen several places, a pair were resident in a dead tree next to the CIBCM building and were seen eating a rat and a meadowlark), AMERICAN KESTREL (20/10 UCR), Snipe (21/10 east of San Jose, early morning migrant), Rock Dove (urban), Red-billed Pigeon (21/10), Short-billed Pigeon (lots), Crimson-fronted Parakeet (Finsch's Conure - great flocks (OK c. 60) flew around the campus at UCR disturbing our scientific discussions), Groove-billed Ani (successful breeding at the UCR campus, I enjoyed watching adults chasing insects disturbed by cows and scolding me for straying to close to their four fledglings), TROPICAL SCREECH-OWL (17/10 Juan Santamaria - while Kenneth was paying the car parking fees), FERRUGINOUS PYGMY OWL (20/10 Desamperados and 23/10 UCR - at dusk next to the little bridge across the stream adjacent to the CIBCM building), WHITE-COLLARED SWIFT (21/10 Santa Domingo - at Hotel Bourgonvillia - nice place and nice food), CHIMNEY SWIFT (24/10 Juan Santamaria), Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Blue-crowned Motmot (same bridge as the owl), Hoffmann's Woodpecker, Tropical Kingbird (this and the next species are very common and conspicuous), Great Kiskadee (Kiskadee Flycatcher), Grey-breasted Martin (several times at UCR), CLIFF SWALLOW (17/10 Juan Santamaria Airport), Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Blue-and-White Swallow (the most conspicuous swallow in San Jose, Brown Jay (most afternoons), Clay-coloured Robin (Thrush), Montezuma Oropendola, Great-tailed Grackle (common as magpies in Denmark), ORCHARD ORIOLE (20/10), NORTHERN ORIOLE (23/10 - flock of about 8), Eastern (Common) Meadowlark (up to 10, and one being eaten by a kite), Blue-Grey Tanager, Hepatic Tanager, Rufous-collared (Andean) Sparrow (common)

La Selva

18/10 was my first full day in Costa Rica and the chosen destination the La Selva Biological reserve ( or email - tel (506) 240-6696 fax (506) 766 6535) at the edge of Carribean lowlands about 2 h drive north of San Jose (via Braulio Carrillo and Santa Clara). We picked up a second friend (and colleague, Roy who had spent 6 months with us in Demark in 1995) from Guadalupe (East of San Jose) and arrived at la Selva at about 9 a.m. Currently, public admission to La Selva is (at least on day tours?) only with a guide so we had to wait for the tour at 13:00. So we continued to Puerto Viejo where we took a 2 h boat tour on the Río Sarapiquí (arranged from the tourist office/souvenir shop at the north end of the high street - cost about 3000 colones each). There is a creek and lots of trees, one of which was fruiting, behind this shop/office. This yielded several interesting species. The boat tour was very pleasant, mainly in sunshine, but not as rich as at, say, Tortuguero or Río Frío. There are clearly banana plantations close to the river which was inhabited by caymans. We drove a bit further - to Chilamente (I think) where there is access to the river by some rapids - and an (American-run?) company offering white water rafting. There was a large flock of Oropendolas here.

The entrance area to La Selva was remarkably rich - and most of the species seen at La Selva were seen either here or along the drive from the gate. However, whereas the biological experience of visiting the reserve was definitely worthwhile (e.g. 70 m high trees, poison arrow frogs etc), the ornithological success on our visit was limited to North American thrushes which didn't seem to mind feeding in the torrential rain that accompanied our 3 h tour. I am not exaggerating when I say emptied about L water from each Wellington on returning to the headquarters. But it was great fun and definitely not to be missed. The guide, Jool Alvarde and duty administrator were very knowledgeable ornithologically speaking and both confirmed (and corrected) my identifications and pointed out a number of species as we waited, enjoying the coffee which is included in the price. Conclusion - spend at least 2 days here or hereabouts.

Neotropical (Olivaceous) Cormorant (Río Sarapiquí - single), ANHINGA (Río Sarapiquí - single), Cattle Egret (Río Sarapiquí - 7, accompanying, wait for it, cattle), Great (White) Egret (several through the lowlands between Santa Clara and Puerto Viejo), Turkey Vulture (La Selva), Black Vulture (about 50 all told, singles and in flocks of 8-10), Spotted Sandpiper (Río Sarapiquí, about 5), Common Ground Dove (Puerto Viejo), Grey-chested (Cassin's) Dove (La Selva - 3-4 at the entrance gate. These 3 spp. are very tricky - you need to hear them), Orange-chinned Parakeet (La Selva 4), WHITE-CROWNED PARROT (La Selva 4 flew into the same tree as the parakeets), Squirrel Cuckoo (Río Sarapiquí, just by the landing stage and at La Selva), GREY-RUMPED SWIFT (La Selva, several, good views, also several unidentified swifts along the river presumed this sp.), Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (La Selva was the first of many of the trip - I was disappointed with the hummers this time), AMAZON KINGFISHER (Río Sarapiquí - 4), KEEL-BILLED TOUCAN (La Selva 2-3 with next sp.), CHESTNUT-MANDIBLED TOUCAN (La Selva - what would a trip to Costa Rica be without seeing - and hearing - a group of Toucans?), BLACK-CHEEKED WOODPECKER (Río Sarapiquí), CINNAMON BECARD (La Selva), GREY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER (La Selva at reception), Great Kiskadee (Kiskadee Flycatcher - common all day), YELLOW-MARGINED FLYCATCHER (La Selva), MISTLETOE (PALTRY) TYRANNULET (La Selva), SOUTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (along the Río Sarapiquí), Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Puerto Viejo and along the Río Sarapiquí), Mangrove Swallow (Río Sarapiquí - common), House Wren (La Selva), White-breasted Wood-Wren (Braulio Carrillo - distinctive song), Clay-coloured Robin (Thrush - at entrance), PALE-VENTED ROBIN (Thrush - Río Sarapiquí - single, very distinctive), WOOD THRUSH (La Selva), SWAINSON'S THRUSH (La Selva), VEERY (La Selva), RED-EYED VIREO (La Selva and Puerto Viejo), BANANAQUIT (La Selva), Tennessee Warbler (Río Sarapiquí), Chestnut-sided Warbler (La Selva), Montezuma Oropendola (Río Sarapiquí several times. I've still not seen a Chestnut MANDIBLED among the 3700 odd spp. I've now seen in CR), YELLOW-TAILED ORIOLE (La Selva - at a marshy area near the entrance gate), OLIVE-BACKED EUPHONIA (Río Sarapiquí), GOLDEN-HOODED TANAGER (Río Sarapiquí), PLAIN-COLOURED TANAGER (La Selva), GREEN HONEYCREEPER (La Selva), SHINING HONEYCREEPER (Puerto Viejo), SCARLET-THIGHED DACNIS (Puerto Viejo, remarkably (I thought) in the same tree - both were positive identifications), Blue-Grey Tanager (La Selva), PASSERINI (formerly SCARLET-RUMPED) TANAGER (La Selva), BUFF-THROATED SALTATOR (La Selva), Variable Seedeater (Santa Clara)

Río Tárcoles bridge, Carara and Tárcoles

19/10 (56 spp.) After the successful trip to the Caribbean lowlands the intention for the Monday was a highland day. The day dawned bright and sunny but even as we set off at about 7 a.m. destination Cerro de la Muerte the clouds were descending and already hiding the radio masts on Volcán Irazú. The alternative plan was the Carara biological reserve (anyone know a web site for this and other reserves - I failed to locate any), which I had failed to enter on my previous trips - it was closed due to flooding in 1994, and, with my experience trails at Tortuguero, I didn't think it was appropriate with the children in 1996 (I would happily take the children there now). We drove down to the coast via Atenas and Orotina and arrived the famous Río Tárcoles bridge at about 9 am. This yielded 4-5 large and active crocodiles (yes, they actually swam around). The river has meandered somewhat since the hurricane and ensuing floods in July 1996 (the bridge was impassable). According to Kenneth, TV pictures showed that the river had spread to about 200 -300 meters wide at the bridge by the Monday after I left). After half an hour or so we continued to the reserve entrance and took the loop trails. The Vigilancia trail was closed due to flooding. We spent nearly 3 h meandering along 4-5 Km of trails. We deliberately took the lower loop trail against the recommended route (the trails are one way loops) as we arrived with the only other guests at the time - a large group of students from UCR. We saw little for the first hour - the Kingfisher (by the first stream) and Scarlet Macaws, but things brightened up a lot once we crossed the suspension bridge and we came across 2 waves of birds, the first containing several species of Ovenbirds and Antbirds.

After departing the reserve we drove to the first coastal restaurant (called Steve n' Lisas), just opposite the road to the "hidden waterfall" and Hotel Villa Lapas (south of the coastal village of Carara) and had lunch. Food was OK but quality and price clearly reflect location. i.e. a little expensive but this was more than compensated for by the quality of the view. About 15 Pelicans were resting on the moored boats and an osprey was working hard and unsuccessfully for the lunch which was readily provided for us. A trawler sailed by with several cormorants and frigate birds resting on the rigging whilst some 50 Pelicans were alternately resting or fishing in the wake along with the terns. Quite a sight and a major contrast to our "energetic" morning!

After lunch we decided to visit the waterfall and perhaps attempt to drive back to San Jose cross country via Bijagual, Delicias, La Gloria and Santiago de Puriscal. The steep gravel road was blocked after 2 Km by a landslide which had occurred a couple of hours previously. The bulldozers had almost finished clearing it and we continued to the waterfall where Kenneth gave a lift to the ticket man who assured us that the cross country route was feasible. We dropped him off in Bijagual and continued to Delicias where the local Bobby "could not recommend us" to continue as there had been a landslip which blocked the asphalt road north of La Gloria. "Well, the bus didn't make it through today". So we drove 20 km back to the coast road making it to the Río Tárcoles bridge in time to see the last 6 Macaws fly past on their way to roost in the mangroves. A satisfying end to a satisfying day.

BROWN PELICAN (Tárcoles), Neotropical (Olivaceous) Cormorant (Tárcoles), MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD (Tárcoles), Cattle Egret (Río Tárcoles), GREEN-BACKED HERON (Río Tárcoles), LITTLE BLUE HERON (Río Tárcoles), TRICOLOURED (LOUISIANA) HERON (Río Tárcoles), SNOWY EGRET (Río Tárcoles), Great (White) Egret (Río Tárcoles), Great Blue Heron (Río Tárcoles), WOOD STORK (Río Tárcoles), ROSEATE SPOONBILL (Río Tárcoles), RED-BILLED (BLACK-BELLIED) WHISTLING DUCK (Río Tárcoles), Turkey Vulture (Carara), Black Vulture (especially between Atenas and Orotina), OSPREY (Tárcoles), ROADSIDE HAWK (Bijagual), CRESTED CARACARA (Carara), WILSON'S PLOVER (Carara), Spotted Sandpiper (Río Tárcoles), WESTERN SANDPIPER (Río Tárcoles), LEAST SANDPIPER (Río Tárcoles), FORSTER'S TERN (Tárcoles), ROYAL TERN (Tárcoles), Rock Dove (San Jose (Carara), RUDDY GROUND DOVE (Atenas), INCA DOVE (Orotina), GREY-FRONTED DOVE (Carara), SCARLET MACAW (Carara, Río Tárcoles), Orange-chinned Parakeet (behind Carara, "Waterfall Road"), RED-LORED PARROT (almost certainly this species near Delicias), Groove-billed Ani (Atenas), LONG-TAILED HERMIT (Carara), VIOLACEOUS TROGON (behind Carara), GREEN KINGFISHER (Carara), OLIVACEOUS WOODCREEPER (Carara and behind Carara, "Waterfall Road"), STREAK-HEADED WOODCREEPER (Carara), BUFF-THROATED FOLIAGE-GLEANER (Carara), PLAIN XENOPS (Carara), DOT-WINGED ANTWREN (Carara), DUSKY ANTBIRD (Carara), CHESTNUT-BACKED ANTBIRD (Carara), Tropical Kingbird (most localities), SOCIAL (VERMILLION-CROWNED) FLYCATCHER (Atenas), Great Kiskadee (Kiskadee Flycatcher) (Tárcoles), GOLDEN-CROWNED SPADEBILL (Carara), Grey-breasted Martin (Río Tárcoles), Swallow (Río Tárcoles), SAND MARTIN (Río Tárcoles), Mangrove Swallow (Río Tárcoles), Brown Jay (behind Carara, "Waterfall Road"), RUFOUS-NAPED WREN (behind Carara, "Waterfall Road"), RUFOUS-AND-WHITE WREN (Carara), White-breasted Wood-Wren (behind Carara, "Waterfall Road"), Great-tailed Grackle (Río Tárcoles), Bay-headed Tanager (Carara), Blue-black Grassquit (Carara)

Copey de Dota

21/10 West end of the Cordillera de Talamanca. Wednesday morning was our only other opportunity for a day trip - we had to be back at the institute for 13:30 so we set off at about 6 a.m. for the Cerro de la Muerte. There is little traffic in San Jose at this time of day and we bypassed Cartago at about 7 a.m. The Copey area is mountainous ranging from about 1900 to 3000 m in altitude with a landscape which includes hillsides reminiscent of the English Lake district to cloud forest like Monteverde. I wouldn't want to encourage any tourism but it is really rather nice, but like Monteverde, the roads are really rather dreadful - though the chances of meeting a bus load of tourists are perhaps lower. Not suitable for ordinary saloon cars. Apart from a morning visit to Tapantí in 1994, this was my first foray into Talamanca. This list refers to all locations in the Copey area. We drove from Cañon on the Carretera Interamericana, signposted down to Copey. After 2 Km descent you come to an unnamed village (Kenneth thinks it is called La Cima) (on my maps) which has a school and church where you need to bare right down the hill - past the school then after 2 km over two rivers and left up the Río Pedrogoso (I presume) towards Providencia (a perfectly passable road which is not marked on the Quepos sheet of the official Instituto Geografico 1:200.000 map CR2 CM7 (no revision date given) or the 1990 edition of the "International Travel Map" 1:500.000 - ISBN 0921463547). We did not have time to go to Providencia (1700 m) but Kenneth has driven back up to the Carretera Interamericana (at 3000 m) in the dry season. We ascended to about 2500 through wonderful cloud forest interspersed with cattle pasture then returned the same way, stopping frequently for birds and short walks (at the sites designated "A", "B" and "C" in the species list. All heights are guesses. We were back in San Pedro at about 12:15 for lunch.

Turkey and Black Vulture (lots) including a mixed flock of the former with Broad-winged Hawk (4), Red-tailed Hawk (my first Costa Rican individual between Cañon and Copey), Red-billed Pigeon (5 near "A" - a woodland and pasture setting 1-2 Km out of Copey along the Río Pedrogoso), Green Hermit (at a productive corner/summit ("C") at about 2500 m in beautiful cloud forest probably 5-6 Km from Copey), Blue-crowned Motmot, Acorn Woodpecker (common - seen at least 4 times between El Empalme and about 2000 m - especially at "B"), Red-faced Spinetail (at "C"), Black Phoebe (at "B" 2200 m - steeply sloping meadow 2-3 Km out of Copey), Tropical Kingbird (Cañon), Black-capped Flycatcher (common from about 2000 m), Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Blue-and-White Swallow (at least 30), Clay-coloured Robin (Thrush - at Cañon), Mountain Robin (presumed to be this but not seen - 2400 m), Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher (8 at about 2200 m not far above "B"), Golden-winged Warbler (1800), Flame-throated Warbler (both sexes at "C"), Yellow-throated Warbler (at "C"), Chestnut-sided Warbler (3), Wilson's Warbler (by far the most common and conspicuous warbler, especially at lower elevations), Slate-throated Redstart (Whitestart - at "A"), Great-tailed Grackle, Hepatic Tanager ("B"), Flame-coloured Tanager (5-6 at "B"), Common Bush-Tanager (also at "A"), Yellow-faced Grassquit (Cañon), Yellow-thighed Finch ("A"), Rufous-collared (Andean) Sparrow (villages).

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