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February 1998


Note #1

by Gail Mackiernan

My husband Barry and I went to CR in January two years ago, so I have some suggestions.  First, there are several habitat areas which you should plan to visit to maximaize birds, and some important stops on the way.  The major habitat areas are: Caribbean slope/lowlands; highlands and paramo; Pacific slope/lowlands; tropical dry forest (Guanacaste).

If you have Taylor's book, this will help.  First, rent a car.  We got a new Toyota Tercel from American for a reasonable price, just flew into San Jose, walked across the street and picked it up (reserved from USA).  Some friends who didn't have a car (on same flight) went next door and got a Corolla as they were three people and needed more room, again it was a new car and not expensive.  What that suggests is you may wish to reserve a car but take a little while to shop around to get a better deal.

Major sites you should consider: La Selva (Caribbean lowlands) -- on way do the "Route 9" loop, especially stopping at La Paz Falls and Virgen del Socorro canyon (allow couple of hours for the latter, a wonderful place, walk all the way to the bottom, park well off the main road).  Not in Taylor's book, just past La Paz Falls is the "La Mirador" Restaurant, very famous for its hummingbirds and fruit feeders.  We had 12 species of HB there, including crippling views of Violet Sabrewing.  Green Thorntail is frequent.  Look carefully through the smaller species as sometimes an unusual one shows up.  Friut feeders attract barbets and brush-finches, as well as tanagers.  The orchard across the road is also good for birds.

Stay at La Selva and do the trails -- we got rained out here so allow a few days (we didn't, a mistake).  On way back we went via Volcan Arenal, a real hoot (very very active volcano) and stayed two nights at the Volcamo Observatory Lodge.  Birding is good, with a mix of Pacific and Caribbean highland species.  Umbrellabird has been seen (but not by us) at the waterfall.

Forget Monteverde in January, at least if you want Quetzal, they are not there.  Go instead to Finca Chacon, off the Panamerican Hwy.  over Cerro de la Muerte, for highland species including lots and lots of Quetzals, Long- tailed Silky Flycatcher, etc.  On way, do the walk up into the cloud forest at (I think) km 63 -- to the east -- where we had tons of feeding flocks with good birds, also Quetzal and Fiery-throated Hummingbird and Zeledonia.  It's in Taylor's book.  We also drove up onto the summit (paramo) to look for things like Volcano Junco, but it was windy and only semi-productive.

Finca Chacon is in Taylor's book as an addendum stapled into my copy -- if you can't find their phone number, I can locate it.  I would recommend Carara NP for Pacific lowland -- we had our best day of birding here (one of the best of our lives!).  It is near a beach resort and there are a lot of accomodations available; there are several birding lodges, which advertise in Winging It or are listed in Taylor.  Do the Vigilancia Trail, esp.

We stayed at a private ranch in Guanacaste, La Ensenada.  There are a number of places listed to stay at in the area.  This dry forest area has some unique birds, as well as wintering highland species like Bellbird in January.

We did all this in 11 days, if we had had two weeks or a little over it would have been better, but we saw 350 or so species, inclusing some really spectacular ones like Respendent Quetzal.

Gail Mackiernan
University of Maryland


Note #2

February 1998

by Nancy L.  Newfield

First of all, you just about can't go wrong anywhere in Costa Rica.  I have not used Keith Taylor's book because I find his attitude _vis a vis_ the locals offensive and because I found his checklists very uneven - as if whatever he saw in one visit was what you should expect.  After 8 tours, I'll say each time is different.  I got two lifers together [Barred Forest-Falcon and Immaculate Antbird] in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve last March - and I got a life hummer and a third CR record White-eyed Vireo outside my room at the Hotel Heliconia in Monteverde as well.  I've stayed at the Hotel Heliconia since 1990.

Anyway, Monteverde does have more people than it used to, but it still has a lot to offer.  Ideally, I would plan to spend about 4 - 6 days there.  You don't need to stay in the Preserve either.  And save this for your last stop!  La Selva is also excellent, though we had a lot of rain, which hampered birding last March.  I've never stayed on the grounds, but that would put you where the action is first thing in the morning.  3 days should be good there.

I have not been to Tiskita, but might suggest Carara and its environs as it is easier to get to and the birding has always been first rate.  If you select Carara, I have some recommendations on places to stay and places not to stay, as well as one birding spot that isn't in the guide books.  I might also suggest Rancho Naturalista - expensive, but they supply your transportation and meals.

Arenal Lodge is also good.

Needless to say, you can't see everything in 2 weeks, but .  .  .  Car rental is a double-edged sword.  It will give you a lot of mobility in going from place to place, but it is also one more thing you will have to be responsible for.  I would use a combination of car rental and public transportation.

Nancy L.  Newfield
Casa Colibri Metairie,
Louisiana USA


Note #3

by Heath Wakalee

My Costa Rica choices would be:

Carara Reserve area - 3 days - your only good chance for shore birds

Monteverde area including a day trip to Canyo Negro - 4 days

Lake Arenal area - 3 days

La Selva area - 3 days

Keep in mind that travel can take a full day between these areas because the birding along the road (especially on the way to Monteverde) is some of the best you'll experience.

Many people rent 4 wheel drive vehicles and go on their own.  Plan on getting lost since the roads and road signs are very poor.

Take your best binoculars and be prepared to get rained upon.  Best map of Costa Rica is by International Travel Maps, 345 West Broadway, Vancouver, B.C.  Canada V5Y 1P8 with a scale of 1:500,000, second edition.  Best field guide is Birds of Costa Rica by Stiles & Skutch.

Plan on going to an area and hiring a guide for at least one day in each location.  Costa Rica is a small country with some excellent guides (some not so good to).  Seeing a mixed flock in the canopy can be extremely frustrating without a bird guide.  Our first (and only) trip to Costa Rica was last November and we had a fantastic time.  I recorded 271 life list birds and would have missed many (probably most) of them if we had not hired guides along the way.

The food was great (except in San Jose) and the water was drinkable everywhere.  People are very friendly and many speak English but it would be a good idea to learn a little Spanish before you go.  Cars and trucks are almost all diesel in Costa Rica and they have no pollution controls so departing San Jose after only a short visit suited us just fine.

Heath Wakelee
Campbell, CA 60 miles south of San Francisco


Note #4

by Gara Hudson

I have been to CR birding on three different occasions in the last 6 years, 10 months ago being the latest.

1) If you want to experience birding like you never have before then I would say a trip to Carara Reserve, on the central west coast, is a MUST!!!  I have been there on my last 2 trips and probably will try to go again on my next trip..........What a place!  It does not matter if it is dawn, dusk or 12:00 noon, the birds are just constant and continuous..........this is the place I really was thinking of when I described below the need to have a tape recorder.  You will read in the books and magazines about the thief problem, but if you leave NOTHING in your vehicle and keep the glove compartment door open, you should not have any probleMs. This is a terrible road, and it leads to the Jaco Beach area, which is a good place to stay, but noisy!  There is a lodge on the Tarcoles river that I would try to stay at the next time, of course it will be more expensive than some places at Jaco.

2) There is also no place like Monteverde, but I have not been there for about 3 years and a lot may have changed.  The birding is not as fast, and the trees there are taller and the birds not as easy to see but being in the Cloud Forest is an experience that I don't think you should miss.  The town itself is a very interesting place, founded by the Mormons, and there is a place I would stay the next time and it is the Bosque (?) or the Forest something.  I'm sorry but I am at work and do not have access to my notes and books but it is in Taylor's book and has a great Restaurant there that we ended up going to every night for supper, so it would help to be staying there.

3) There are specialty birds for the dry NW area of Guanacaste but I would save that for a second trip.  It's not nearly as 'special' a type of birding as Monteverde or Carara.

4) If you decide not to go to Monteverde another place where you can see some of the same birds is SE of San Jose at the top of the Pass at "Cerro de la Muerte" (SP?).  This is a great place, cool temp's, right in the cloud forest, mostly roadside birding but some places to get off.  We went there on our last trip and it was my 1st time but I would make it a stop on my next trip.  You might take time to see this area EVEN if you do go to Monteverde.  While in this area there is another place lower on the east slope by the name of Tapanti.  It has a lot of the Caribbean Slope birds and is a great Park/Reserve.  I wrote down a phone number when we left this park last March for a place to stay very close to the reserve as I plan on spending at least 2/3 days there the next time.

5) Then of course there is La Selva...........almost as fast paced birding and as special as Carara Reserve.......A 1st time must see.  You MUST reserve a space early in you trip planning to bird there but I will say that ANY efforts to bird this special spot on earth is more than worth the trouble.

6) I want to go south almost to Panama for some of the specialty birds there also on my next trip but you just do not have enough time to do it and some of the other 1st TIME MUST SEE'S.

3 days in Monteverde
3 days in Carara
3 days in La Selva
3 days in Cerro de la Murete and Tapanti Reserve


4 in Monteverde
4 in Carara
4 in La Selva

About renting an auto......

I have had no problems on any of my visits but you would want a 4WD.  The roads are rough, filled with pot holes, they drive fast and the roads are filled with people, horses, carts and animals in the smaller villages but I would not want to be without an auto.  This is probably just a personal thing with me as they have a lot of buses and I think you could get around fairly ok without your own car but I love the freedom, the space to carry your stuff and the extra time it gives you if you are not standing around waiting for buses and having to watch schedules.........

I LOVE Costa Rica and will be going back again (even getting robbed the last time and losing my Passport, plane tickets, scope, money and most of my belongings.  It was probably my fault and could have happened anywhere but I would be glad to make some suggestions to you before your trip).  I have LOTS more to say about the country and the wonderful people but this has gotten long enough so will sign off at this point.  If you have more questions I would love to answer them for you.....or make an attempt.

Skutch and Ridley (?) A field guide to Costa Rican Birds is the main one I've seen used on my three trips there and the one I have used on all occasions.  It IS a little bit bigger then, say, a Peterson's BUT you can get a slightly oversized pouch to carry it in.  You can order them before you go from most bird suppliers, such as the ABA and I think the Los Angeles Audubon Bookstore (which has a web site) and I'm sure there are others, or you can buy one when you get there, as I did on my 1st trip, in the gift shop at Monteverde.

A suggestion someone had about the weight of carrying the book was to tear out the pages with the bird plates on them, make a cover for them front and back, and then do your reading when you get back to your room later in the evening.  As a long time BOOK LOVER this is hard for me to deal with but I did see two different people on my last trip there, about 10 months ago, who had done just that and said it worked great.  You will have to make that decision for yourself.

One thing that I personally think is a MUST is a small mini tape recorder.  I use it in two ways:

1) If it is your 1st trip to the area the new birds will be coming at you so fast and so quickly that you really don't have time to be doing much looking in the guide, or you will be missing something else, or better looks of the one you are trying to identify.  So..........the recorder!  I just talk into it (sometimes very excitedly) giving a description of the bird, etc.  Later that night you can do all your looking up in the book by playing back the tape, stopping it as needed.  A real help if you do it this way is to have done YOUR HOMEWORK before leaving home.  By this I mean to have really studied the field guide, knowing which birds have several that look very similar, and what field marks to be looking for to tell them apart.  I also got several bird call tapes for the area and played them in the car for 6 months before I went.  Believe it or not I surprised myself with how many I could name off just looking at them or hearing their call by the time we got there.  Knowing the voices saves you time spent looking for a calling bird that then turns out to be one you really don't "need"!

2) taped the calls onto several mini-recorder tapes and carried them with me.  This way if I needed to check a call in the field or wanted to use a call in a less heavily birded area ( a much debated subject now-a-days) I had it handy.  It's light and easy to go in a pocket!  > One other thing I would strongly suggest you do is get a copy of Keith Taylor's "Bird Finding Guide to Costa Rica" (?).  It is newly updated and a wealth of information about where to look for the birds and sometimes more importantly when to stay while looking for birds, including phone #'s, addresses and even places to eat.  I had used his older version and then got his updated one before going on this last trip.

I hope any of this helps you and I know you will LOVE Costa Rica and it's birds.

Gara Hudson
Orlando Florida


Note #5

by Garry George

I spent ten days in Costa Rica in August 97 in three happytats - high mountain near Cerro Muerte, mid-level East slope and West Coast mangrove/coastal area seeing 322 species.  I didn't have to rent a car and transportation and guides were provided by the tour company I booked through.  It seems to me that Costa Rica could be birded on a limited basis only via public transportation and without a car, but I could be wrong.  I didn't see a lot of buses.  I avoided the crowd forest at Montverde and the bandits at Braulio-Carillo but saw most of the same birds.

My trip report is available by email attachment (as a .txt or .wpd file) upon request.

There are also trip reports to Costa Rica on Urs Geisler's website ( ) and links to other websites with trip reports.

Garry George
los angeles


Note #6

by Marc Fenner

I have been to Costa Rica 4 times, though I'm not an authority, there are a number of places I really enjoyed.  The first trip was similar to what you're planning.  Four of us went to Costa Rica having made only two reservations prior to getting there.  One was the rental car, the other was Monteverde.  Since our flight arrived late, we should have made reservations for a motel the first and last nights.  Since we wanted freedom to do what we wanted when we wanted, we got a rental car.  I'm glad we did.

The second and third trips were trips I led.  We had a mini-bus with a window seat for all participants and we had to be at certain places at specific times.  Not too much flexibility.

The fourth trip was a private trip I led for 2 friends of mine.  I tried to make my own reservations, which was getting expensive (phone call-wise and time-wise).  I then called someone I've used before to make reservations for the places I wanted to go.  Once you plan where you want to go, this is what I would recommend as far as actually making your reservations.  The outfitter gets paid by the hotels themselves and his cost to me and the cost I got on my own were identical.  For our schedule, we needed a rental car for only about five or six days instead of two weeks.  That helped cut the cost.

Some of the places I've been are:

Monteverde(4 times)* Tortuguero(4)* La Selva(1)* Selva Verde(3)-because we could not get in to Selva Verde Tiskita(1) Carara(4)* Manuel Antonio(1) La Pacifica(4)* Lomas Barbudal(3)* Cerro de la Muerte(2)* Braulio Carrillo(2)* Solimar(almost 1) Palo Verde(4)* Rara Avis(0)

The places listed above that have an asterisk are my favorite spots that I would recommend.  Having said that and before I go any further, I would like to go to Rara Avis and Solimar next time.  Solimar would replace Palo Verde since it borders Palo Verde and has similar birds (a few more are possible here I think).  To answer your specific questions.

1.  Picking a few spots: Monteverde 3 or 4 nights, Solimar 3 nights, Tortuguero 3 nights, La Selva the rest.

2.  Having a rental car is handy, but you can get to alot of places without one.  For Tortuguero, you need to fly or boat in, thus you wouldn't need a car there.  On my last trip, the outfitter drove us from San Jose to Selva Verde.  After our stay, we took a taxi (cheap) somewhere near La Selva where we picked up a small boat that took us to Tortuguero (just the 3 of us).  After our stay, another boat (everyone that was leaving) took us South to a waiting bus that drove us to San Jose.  We then rented a car.

3.  La Selva - get there if you can.  You may need to make a reservation a year in advance.  Well worth it.

Tiskita - I hadn't been there before, so it was nice going someplace new; I also saw some new birds which is always nice, however, there weren't too many trails there.  The birding was very limited.  To add to the rental car theme.  The outfitter picked us up at the airport, dropped us off the next day for our flight to Tiskita.  After Tiskita, he again picked us up from the airport, thus starting the Selva Verde part.  No car for over a week.

Monteverde - There are other places to go to see some of the birds, such as Quetzal, but I recommend Monteverde despite what you've heard.  It is true, there are more people and they are limiting the number of people they let in.  If you're not there early in the morning, you may not be able to get in till the afternoon.  All the times (seperate days) I've entered Monteverde, even when there were alot of people at the entrance, once on the side trails, I've run into very few people.  Along the main trail in and out, there are many people, but not the smaller trails.

Other places - Palo Verde (nights at La Pacifica) or Solimar on the Pacific side offer habitats you shouldn't miss.  This is where a car would be handy.  You would also add Lomas Barbudal as a day trip from either of these spots and on your way to or from San Jose, you should visit Carara even though it's out of the way.  You will get new birds.

Tortuguero - One of my tops.  Once you are there, you get around the small channels on boats.  You generally get very close to the birds.  If memory serves me correctly, the lodges offer these trips as part of the service.  The night trips are extra amd well worth it.  We were able to get a private boat with just our group, as opposed to joining the rest of the people staying at the lodges who may or may not be birding.

Day trips out of San Jose to consider:

Cerro de la Muerte - The top (La Georgina restaurant) is the best, however, we found that stopping along the road almost anywhere was good, especially the San Ysidro side.

Braullio Carrillo - I hesitate to mention this spot because of problems with bandits that I'm not sure have been taken care of.  The problem is it's way to close to San Jose.  That said, I've never had as many species of tanagers in one flock It can be an amazing place to go birding.

Costa Rica is an easy country to get around, whether you speak Spanish or not.  The people I've run into have always been friendly and helpful.  I probably said way too much for someone that's only been to Costa Rica a few times, but I loved it and will be back.

Marc Fenner


Note #7

by Marjorie Rhoades

We went to Costa Rica several years ago.  Monteverde was fascinating but my dream place will always be Torteguero (sp?), on the Atlantic side, a sea turtle research site.  You have to fly in (no roads), land on a little beach, and then depend on boats to explore the river.  We saw, in the wild, such marvels as sloths, the greater potto, many indigenous species of birds, the fishing bats and the Jesus Lizard walking on the water.  We went with the California Native Plant Society tour and the birders out-numbered the plant people.

I was originally from Oklahoma and love the Scissortail Flycatcher.  There, in the dry northern area (has a name that I can't think of at the moment), they were wintering in numbers.  Jansen is studying that area.  They are scarce now in the Oklahoma region I know best.

Lots of hummingbirds at Monteverde, some people also saw the Resplendent Quetzel, lots of marvels.  Costa Rica also has sea turtles laying eggs (this, for us, was on the Pacific side), a wide variety of wildlife, seafood in many forms, protects its wilderness for the monkeys etc.  Development pressures are spoiling the woodlands but see it while it still exists.  Hope for the best -- they may wake up in time to save the habitat.  You'll need a car.

Marjorie Rhoades in Fort Collins, CO


Note #8

by Georgann Schmalz

I have taken groups to various places in the country; five times over the past four years with another trip planned for April 1999.  So I definitely have opinions.  You have chosen a good time to visit since it is the dry season from Dec to April.

It is wise not to try too many places since you can always go again and again.  If you don't use a travel company like Costa Rica Expeditions, then I would definitely rent a car and not rely on public transportation.  There are many places to stop along the road and busses wouldn't do that.

I would recommend three places that will get you good birds and varied habitat.  Rancho Naturalista is one hour east of San Jose.  If you arrive in San Jose by noon, you can get there easily by early afternoon.  I would spend at least two nights there.  Lots of tanagers, etc.  The best are the hummingbirds including snow-capped.  The lodge and food is great, feeders outside the porch, pleasant company.

Then drive south down the Pan-American highway past Cartago to Cierra de la Muerte and Tapanti, high elevations of 10,000 feet for volcano hummingbirds, juncos, peg-billed finches, fiery-throated hummers, etc.  A beautiful place to stay is along the highway.  Actually two places-we have stayed at both and it's hard to advise which is better.  The Trogon Lodge and Finca Chacon.  They are about 6,000 feet elevation and only one mile apart.  The road going down to both lodges is dirt, winding, and full of birds including quetzals.  There is a pair of questzals that nest in a tree behind the rooms at Finca Chacon.  But if you walk down the road a little, there are other places.  We found a farmer's kid who took us to three quetzals.  (Cost a dollar each:-)

After two or three nights there, drive back through San Jose and over to the west Pacific side to Carara.  We stayed at the Dundee Ranch, but there are other places.  We got 90 species of birds along the l/2 mile trail at Carara, including macaws.  You could easily spend two nights there.

If you have more time, go back towards San Jose and go up to Socorro del Virgin.  It is a small road (hard to find) off the highway north of San Jose.  It leads down to the Sarapiqui River.  Lots of tanagers, hummers, antwrens, torrent tyranulets, etc.  You could make it a day trip out of San Jose.  Another day trip would be Braullio Carillo.  We went into the forest at a guarded entrance-Park employees were there to guard the cars.  The jungle here is fantastic, the best I have seen in Costa Rica, Peru, and Venezuela.  The birds are hard to see because of the dense vegetation, but when a flock comes through the canopy, it's to die for.

Monteverde can be crowded unless you get there at the crack of dawn.  Monteverde is great, lots of quetzals, hummers, bellbirds, and many small things that are hard to see in the jungle.  This is were a guide comes in handy.

Another place, if you choose Monteverde, is Rancho Humo at Punta Arenas at the Tempisque River.  We took a river trip for two days and got herons, egrets, kingfishers, more wood storks than you could imagine.

La Selva is great; we stay at the Research Station every time, but it is usually inaccessible unless you arrange it through an agency like Costa Rica Expeditions.  But you can arrange a day trip to the Research Station.  Good tinamous, manakins, toucans, etc.  You can stay LaSelva run by Holbrook tours.  I haven't stayed there, but it is supposed to be great.

I have numbers and directions to all these places.  If you want an organized tour for the two of you, with a guide, I would try contacting Costa Rica Expeditions.  We use them every time, asking for Carlos Gomez or Marcos Soto.  You may have to pay a little more for their service.  But you can do the trip without the travel agency and save a little money.  For a eight day trip with one of the guides, including airfare from Atlanta, we usually pay about $2,000.  Without the services of a guide and CR Expeditions, you could do it for less.

Wherever you decide to go, if I can help, let me know.  You can't go wrong with any place anyone recommends.  There are so many places, so little time.

Georgann Schmalz,
Ornithologist Fernbank Science Center,


Note #9

by Gerald C.  Hammon

We were there in 1996 (late March).  Some observations:

1.  Roads in Costa Rica are abysmal.  Be prepared.  We rented a Toyota Corolla and got along, but when we go back, I plan on a 4 - wheel drive for the clearance.  In the same token, it will take you much longer to get from one place to another than you might think.  The maps are deceptive because everything seems so compact.  It's not when you are fighting roads that are badly torn up.  Costa Ricans have a propensity to pass on blind curves, which is always exciting when you are heading the other way.

2.  Monteverde is great but all the stories you've heard about getting there are true.  Plan on at least a couple of hours from the Interamerican highway.

3.  La Selva is a gem.  We were there our last day in Costa Rica and still saw 25 new birds.

4.  Carara on the west coast is a great place to bird.  When we go back, we hope to spend more time there.

5.  It can still rain heavily in the "dry" season.  Go prepared.  If you haven't finalized your plans, don't be afraid to consider going during the "rainy" season.  Costa Ricans told us the usual pattern during the wet season was beautiful mornings, intense but short lived early afternoon storms and beautiful weather following.

6.  Selva Verde, a "resort" near La Selva, is an excellent place to stay in the La Selva area.  Selva Verde's accomodations are rather basic, and meals are served cafeteria style.  But the place has enormous grounds with abundant opportunities to nail many Costa Rica specialties including both Toucans.  They have resident birders on staff and daily bird walks that go into the adjacent rain forest.  Selva Verde caters to Elderhostel groups but many of them are there for the birding.  Definitely a place to consider.  The folks at Selva Verde arranged our tour of La Selva for us, but it was a La Selva staffer who led our tour (four people yet).

On La Selva, it was once rather difficult to get access and you may pick up hints of that in stuff written about Costa Rica if it is more than a couple years old.  That doesn't seem the case any more.  We found the folks at La Selva quite willing to have birders come and look over the premises.  As I recall, the cost was really cheap, but that was 1996.

Jerry & Shary Hammon
Apache Junction, AZ


Note #10

by Francis Toldi

I'm sure you are getting a flood of responses to your inquiry, and here's another.  Isn't it great!  I think part of the fun on trips like this are the months of preparation before and the months of post-mortem.  There is one critical fact not outlined in your RFI--your budget.  Many of the lodges favored by birders are VERY expensive.  Similarly, renting a car can be pretty pricey (more on that below).  Obviously, the more money you have to spend, the easier the trip planning.  I'll assume in this reply that you have a moderate to high budget, but if you are trying to do this on a shoestring let me know, and I can get more specific about how to bring the price down.

I applaud your planning strategy--3-4 locations in two weeks will make for a more enjoyable time, if a somewhat shorter list than the whirlwind trips done by most.  Roughly speaking, you want to select one Carribean slope, one Pacific slope, and one montane location.

CARRIBEAN SLOPE.  La Selva would be a good choice.  A car would not be necessary for that part of the trip.  If access isn't possible or is too expensive (La Selva is fairly cheap if you can swing a student rate, but quite expensive for general tourists), other nearby areas can deliver many of the same birds.  Check the most recent guides for hotels in the Puerto Viejo (de Sarapiqui) area.  If not at La Selva you will probably need a car to get around to the various locations.  I'm not a huge Selva Verde fan, which costs almost as much as La Selva anyway (but the birds there are very good).

Another option in this region is Rara Avis.  They have two lodges, with the more primitive one significantly less expensive.  Because of the elevation you lose some of the lowland birds you would find at La Selva, but then you can pick up some of the Braulio Carillo specialties not possible at La Selva.  A car would also not be necessary here.

One last place to mention is favored by many on the tour route, Rancho Naturalista.  It is fairly expensive, but they will take good care of you and take your around to a number of locations including Tapanti and their own spectacular facility.  Many of Rich Kuehn's amazing video shots were taken there (Rich's video is a wonderful resource if you don't already have a copy).

MONTANE.  This is a tough one.  I MUCH prefer Cerro de la Muerte to Monteverde, but the bird diversity can be somewhat less overall.  Also Monteverde is justly famous for its beauty and unique culture.  It is more crowded and parts are more trampled.  It is definitely NOT a waste of time to go there, no matter what anyone says.  Still, on the whole, I like the Cerro better.  If you go to the Cerro, you should consider staying at the Savegre Lodge, aka Cabinas Chacon.  No car necessary (you can bus it up to the turnoff, then they will bring you down into the lodge).  This is THE location for Quetzal and a number of other mouth watering specialties.  You can make side trips up to higher elevations for the paramo specialists.  Others like to locate higher up such as at Genesis, but I think those places are pretty expensive, unless you are willing to work (probably not on a medium length trip).  Some stay at the Albergue de la Montana Tapanti, but a car is definitely necessary there, and it isn't cheap.  The most economical strategy is to bus it to La Georgina, stay in the basic hotel there, and hike all over the place.  Plenty of good birds that way!

One other montane area is the highlands south of Chirripo, deep into Amistad Park.  THat area is genuine frontier, both birding and otherwise.  It is not on anyone's typical itinerary, and who know what could be found there.  There logistics are probably too tough for a shorter trip, but the guidebooks show a few lodges here and there springing up.  Someday some birder is going to go there and find a Harpy Eagle.

PACIFIC SLOPE.  Your best bet here is probably the Carara/Tarcoles area.  A car is probably necessary, since the more economical places to stay are in Tarcoles, a long walk from Carara (but doable).  There is quite an array of birds here.  At the Tarcoles river mouth are mangroves and sandy shore.  Back in Carara is first rate forest and birds that seem to be active all day.  The Rancho Naturalista people run a facility in the area called Tarcoles Lodge, but it seems to be overpriced.  Tiskita is a great place, but with fewer birds than Carara.  It is on the whole a much nicer place to be (a swimmable beach, nice people, delicious food, and very good birding).  It isn't really wet enough to have the Corcovado specialties, so I'm not sure what you would see there that you wouldn't also see at Carara.  If the most important thing is number of bird species, then I'd go with Carara.  If the total experience (incljding birds) is the key then I'd say Tiskita wins.  Tiskita is expensive, but again, you wouldn't need a car there.

OTHER AREAS.  If you want to squeeze in one more location you might consider something in the Northwest (Guanacaste).  Although many of the birds there make it down to Carara there are some that don't.  A few days in Canas (La Pacifica, or cheaper places in town), possibly a trip into Palo Verde for waterbirds, could add some species to your list.  A car is not mandatory, but is extremely helpful for some of the specialties.

If you want more details on any of the areas, including likely species, let me know.  Remember that there are many trip reports on Costa Rica available at ABA Sales (including mine!) and a few more on the Net.

Francis Toldi
Burlingame, CA


Note #11

by John van der Woude

You might have a look also at my trip report on my home page.  That was in March too.

I think that also in Costa Rica, like in Venezuela (see my recent report on BirdChat), public transport should do for several locations, and take taxi's for others, and leave out the remaining sites.  But we had a rental car then.

If the lodge just to the left of the entrance of La Selva still operates, that would be a good base for several days of biridng in real lowland rainforest.

The NW is also good birding (Sta Rosa NP and before that).

We liked the area at the back side of Lake Arenal too (see my report).  I cannot imagine that there are better spots than Monteverde for the cloud forest.  Just be there very early in the morning I would say, before they open.  Esp.  when you take your time like you would like to do, it will be possible to arrange things at the spot.  Comments about queues there might also come from people who come along only for 1 day or so.  Try the lodge we had.

Somewhere on the Internet I once saw a cheap lodge in the mountains in the South.

John van der Woude Kudelstaart
(near Amsterdam), The Netherlands (my birding trip reports)


Note #12

by Eric Lundquist

I have been there twice, once in college when I worked in Monteverde, and once about three years ago for vacation.  First of all, Costa Rica is a primo place to go and learn neotropical birds.

The people are very friendly and you can get around without much fear about your safety.  I have much experience in Monteverde, and have been to La Selva twice, birded along the highway from San Jose to Limon, and have been to Santa Rosa NP.

If I were to go back, I would first go to the Caribbean side near Limon.  There are some birds that only occur in Costa Rica south of there along the coast.  I've never been that way, but I believe there are a couple of biological reserves that you can go to.

La Selva is a must, but it is expensive to stay at the Reserve (~$80/night which includes 3 meals).  It might be worth it since they don't allow anyone on the trails without a guide.  If you stay there, you could sneak out and get a couple of hours in before the station officially opens!  Staying in the town nearby was much cheaper and gave me the opportunity to interact with the locals.  Was there in the wet season (lots of antbird flocks) and the dry season (great looks into the canopy).

Monteverde I know the best, having spent three months there in 1988.  What a neat place.  I have recently heard bad things about peak season.  However, there is a lesser known newer entrance to the reserve that might be less crouded.  In the reserve, listen for Black Guans, whose call ( they vocalize commonly in the early morning) sounds like wet machine gun fire.  The description sounds weird, but that's what they sound like.  Quetzals can be found wherever there is a tree in fruit.  In late June and July, they move down towards the community to feed in the large trees related to the avocado in the pastures.  One time, I saw FIVE males chasing a female around one of these trees!

If you do spend more than a couple of days, I would highly recommend hiking to the Caribbean side to Eladio Cruz's place (you set this up at the reserve headquarters).  Once you leave the continental divide, you descend through a series of elevational zones that get little attention in central america, mainly because the conditions are nearly uninhabitable.  The birding is fantastic and the scenery stunning, making it worth the 5 hour hike (2 hours in the dry season) to Eladio's place.  Once at Eladio's, there are a bunch of trails where you can search for Sharpbills, Ornate Hawk-eagle, and my best bird ever, Bare-necked Umbrellabird.  These birds breed in this area and the males call in the ~2 hours around daybreak from, I think, April through June.  A couple of the males have display perches right along the trails.  I spent 20 minutes watching one male at a distance of about 25 yards nearly straight above me!  Also, look for a fruiting tree (also at La Selva) and hang out.  Birds come and go throughout the day.  You can usually find one by listening for the sound of falling seeds.  As the birds eat the fruit, they regurgitate the seeds.  When they fall to the understory, it sounds like the forest floor is being showered with pebbles.  There is usually some type of tree in flower.  Hang out and look for hummingbirds.  Some species are from the area and are breeding, others are seasonal migrants, breeding elsewhere, but in the area only as long as a particular species of tree is in flower.  It can be a little discouraging without a scope, but you can usually identify some of the individuals there.

I have been to Santa Rosa once in the dry season.  Very desolate but easy to see animals and the handful of birds that only occur in Costa Rica here.  The wet season (late April through September in all of Costa Rica) might be more interesting, but the foliage will make it difficult to se things.  One other place that I would recommend is Corcovado.  I haven't been there, but I read good things about it including some of the specialties that occur there and nowhere else in Costa Rica.

Getting around?  Rental is fine if you have the budget.  A warning about getting out of San Jose: there are NO signs telling you "This way to Limon" (the highway you need to take to at least go to La Selva) or "This is the Pan American Highway".  It's very frustrating, but I was eventually able to find my way out of the city.  Also, watch the speed limit.  I did get busted (by radar on the Pan American highway in the middle of nowhere) but since I was leaving the country the next day, they let me off!

If you don't go the rental route, buses can take you anywhere in Costa Rica, but you don't have the luxury of travelling at your own pace, etc.  If you have a chance to spend a day in San Jose, go to the Central Market (Mercado Central).  An interesting open market.  On one corner there is a little booth where they sell coffee.  It's shade grown, very rich, and worth bringing back a few kilos.

Eric Lundquist


Note #13

by Jim Turner

Reference, renting a dar: Most people do, and driving is quite straightforward and discip;lined in Costa Rica.  The road up to Monteverde is not good, but wasnt a problem for for my toyota Corolla.  If renting -- I've heard a lot of bad stories about people who rent from cut-rate agencies and and wind up spending their whole vacation trying to get them fixed/ going/replaced.  Probably a good idea to rent from Hertz or another high-0end company.  Pay twice as much, but much more likely to bail you out of a jam.

Jim Turner
Salem MO

Note #14

Mangrove Hummingbird Amazilia boucardi
Coppery-headed Emerald Elvira cupreiceps
White-throated Mountain-gem Lampornis castaneoventris
Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager Habia atrimaxillaris

Cocos Cuckoo Coccyzus ferrugineus
Cocos Flycatcher  Nesotriccus ridgwayi
Cocos Finch Pinaroloxias inornata

Black Guan Chamaepetes unicolor
Black-breasted Wood-Quail Odontophorus leucolaemus
Buff-fronted Quail-Dove Geotrygon costaricensis
Chiriqui Quail-Dove Geotrygon chiriquensis
Sulfur-winged Parakeet Pyrrhura hoffmanni
Red-fronted Parrotlet Touit costaricensis
Dusky Nightjar Caprimulgus saturatus
Fiery-throated Hummingbird Panterpe insignis
Black-bellied Hummingbird Eupherusa nigriventris
White-tailed Emerald Elvira chionura
Purple-throated Mountain-gem Lampornis calolaema
Magenta-throated Woodstar Calliphlox bryantae
Scintillant Hummingbird Selasphorus scintilla
Volcano Hummingbird Selasphorus flammula
Orange-bellied Trogon Trogon aurantiiventris
Prong-billed Barbet Semnornis frantzii
Ruddy Treerunner Margarornis rubiginosus
Streak-breasted Treehunter Thripadectes rufobrunneus
Silvery-fronted Tapaculo Scytalopus argentifrons
Golden-bellied Flycatcher Myiodynastes hemichrysus
Dark Pewee Contopus lugubris
Ochraceous Pewee Contopus ochraceus
Black-capped Flycatcher Empidonax atriceps
Zeledon's Tyrannulet Phyllomyias zeledoni
Silvery-throated Jay Cyanolyca argentigula
Ochraceous Wren Troglodytes ochraceus
Timberline Wren Thryorchilus browni
Sooty Robin Turdus nigrescens
Black-faced Solitaire Myadestes melanops
Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush Catharus gracilirostris
Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher Ptilogonys caudatus
Black-and-yellow Silky-Flycatcher Phainoptila melanoxantha
Yellow-winged Vireo Vireo carmioli
Flame-throated Warbler Parula gutturalis
Collared Redstart Myioborus torquatus
Black-cheeked Warbler Basileuterus melanogenys
Zeledonia (Wrenthrush) Zeledonia coronata
Golden-browed Chlorophonia Chlorophonia callophrys
Spangle-cheeked Tanager Tangara dowii
Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager Chlorospingus pileatus
Black-thighed Grosbeak Pheucticus tibialis
Peg-billed Finch Acanthidops bairdii
Slaty Flowerpiercer Diglossa plumbea
Large-footed Finch Pezopetes capitalis
Yellow-thighed Finch Pselliophorus tibialis
Sooty-faced Finch Lysurus crassirostris
Volcano Junco Junco vulcani

White-crested Coquette Lophornis adorabilis
Garden Emerald Chlorostilbon assimilis
Beryl-crowned Hummingbird Amazilia decora
Snowy-bellied Hummingbird Amazilia edward
Baird's Trogon Trogon bairdii
Fiery-billed Aracari Pteroglossus frantzii
Golden-naped Woodpecker Melanerpes chrysauchen
Turquoise Cotinga Cotinga ridgwayi
Yellow-billed Cotinga Carpodectes antoniae
Orange-collared Manakin Manacus aurantiacus
Riverside Wren Thryothorus semibadius
Whistling Wren* Microcerculus luscinia
Spot-crowned Euphonia Euphonia imitans
Cherrie's Tanager Ramphocelus costaricensis

*also present on Caribbean slope
Snowcap Microchera albocoronata
White-bellied Mountain-gem Lampornis hemileucus
Lattice-tailed Trogon Trogon clathratus
Rufous-winged Woodpecker Piculus simplex
Streak-crowned Antvireo Dysithamnus striaticeps
Snowy Cotinga Carpodectes nitidus
Bare-necked Umbrellabird Cephalopterus glabricollis
Tawny-chested Flycatcher Aphanotriccus capitalis
Stripe-breasted Wren Thryothorus thoracicus
Black-throated Wren Thryothorus atrogularis
Nicaraguan Grackle Quiscalus nicaraguensis
Yellow-crowned Euphonia** Euphonia luteicapilla
Blue-and-gold Tanager Bangsia arcaei
White-throated Shrike-Tanager** Lanio leucothorax
Sulphur-rumped Tanager Heterospingus rubrifrons
Black-and-yellow Tanager Chrysothlypis chrysomelas
Nicaraguan Seed-Finch Oryzoborus nuttingi

**also present on southern Pacific slope

Note #15

The following request for information, along with specifically uncredited replies, was posted in December 1996.

>>> My husband and I are planning a leisurely birding trip to Costa Rica for Thanksgiving.  Our usual trips involve renting a car and covering as much area as we can in a limited time period.  This time, we intend to settle into the lodge at Rara Avis for five days and enjoy being at one spot.  This plan leaves us with 3 days to go to other places close by.

We could then rent a car, although it might require a trip back to San Jose to pick one up.  Or we could continue with public transportation to another nearby birding spot, such as La Selva, or change to Rancho Naturalisto lodge, or some other lodge in the area.  We've looked at some trip lists where there seem to be a few different species at the other locations, but not very many in practically the same habitat.

We would like to hear your comments about birding in this part of Costa Rica, or about any of the lodges.  Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks to all the people who replied: Nancy L.  Newfield, Matt Heindel, Brenda S.  Scott, Francis Toldi, Barbara Drummond, Doug and Ann White, JRF0704, and Ann W.

These are the replies I got:

>>>I'd recommend Rancho Naturalista.  It is a little higher in elevation than Rara Avis and is quite good for a short stay.  By and large, Rara Avis is so impressive, that anywhere else will seem tame.  Or you could rend a car and do 1 day on the Cerro de le Muerte and another 2 at Carara.  That would give you three different aspects of the country.

>>>I have been there five times.  One of my favorite places- great people, food, scenery and birds.  Rara Avis should keep you plenty happy.  You will not be too far from a new jungle 'skywalk' where they have erected a walkway in the canopy.  It is off the main highway before you would turn left to La Selva.  From San Jose, you will pass through Braulio Carrillo.  It is the single best birding place in CR, but I recommend you pass on it.  The most popular spot is a pullout a few miles below the tunnel off to the left.  Unfortunately, banditos have hit small groups and, in fact, I was almost killed there last year.  A mile below there is a trail and station to the right which I hear is safer, but I just do not think it is worth it.  I had not planned on going there, as I had heard of troubles, but while in CR heard that the police had cleaned it up.  I tell you this so that if you hear everything is OK, take it with a grain of salt.  Do not let that dissuade you- I will return to CR in a moment.  It is still a favorite place of mine, just like all countries, there is an occasional bad element.

Something worth considering is a visit to Monteverde, a cloud forest 3 1/2 hours nw of San Jose.  Yes, it means you would have to go back through San Jose, but it is as beautiful as it gets.  Very green and cool.  You will be coming up to their winter weather which usually means it is breezy at Monteverde, but tonos of birds, wonderful scenery, etc.  If I was told I had a week to live, I would spend it here.  Great, charming/rustic hotels with views, great food.  Even though La Selva is close, and I do love that place to bird.  It is not as relaxing.  It is warm and humid (not unbearable by any means) and the birdlife will be only slightly different than Rara Avis.  Something like Monteverde will be entirely different.  Also, Volcan Poas, just 45 minutes north of San Jose, is beautiful and good for birds, including some you will not get at Monteverde.  I think it is at 10,000' or so (Monteverde is 5-6K').  If you plan your day well, you can hit it on the way back form the lowlands by taking the northerly road to San Jose.

>>>Hi!  My husband and I were in Costa Rica March, 1994, and March, 1996.  The first trip we stayed at Selva Verde and Monteverde.  The second trip we stayed at the Tarcol Lodge and Rancho Naturalista.  We spent a week at each of these places.  You might see more different birds if you go to Rancho Naturalista instead of La Selva.  Rancho is very nice.  If you go there, say hello to Jay Vandergaast, the guide, if he is still there.  If you have any other, specific questions that you think I might be able to answer, let me know.

>>>I saw your RFI on birdchat.  Rara Avis is a fantastic place, both for birds and general atmosphere.  One thing you might consider if you are in fairly good physical condition is to walk out, rather than take the tractor or horses.  It's almost all downhill, but does go on for quite a while (15 kilometeres or so).  If you haven't birded in Costa Rica before it would be a good way to find open country species that don't appear at Rara Avis.  There are also some good pockets of forest where very interesting things can be found.  Last spring my brother and I saw Collared and Slaty-backed Forest Falcon, Violacious Trogon, and Collared Aracari among many other birds on the way out.

Your choice for your additional 3 days depends a lot on what your goal is.  If you want to maximize bird species seen, your best bet would be to get over to another ecological zone, preferably on the Pacific Slope, where the avifauna changes dramatically.  You could get back to San Jose, rent a car and make it to Carara in a single slightly frenzied day, then spend 2 days at that marvelous place.  Or you could get back to San Jose and head up into the mountains, either Poas or Cerro de la Muerte for montane species.  Going to La Selva or Selva Verde would certainly allow you to add some new interesting lowland species, but there would be much more overlap with what you had at Rara Avis.  I haven't ever been to Rancho Naturalista, but my good friend Dan Keller leads trips regularly to Costa Rica and says it is terrific.  Again, it is Caribbean Slope, so there would be some new and a lot the same as at RA.

Traveling without a car is certainly possible, especially if you are going to only one other place besides RA.  Buses are cheap, plentiful, relatively clean, and go most anywhere you would want to go.  The problem from a birding perspective is that you can't stop wherever the birding looks good, and it is hard to cover a lot of ground.

If maximizing bird species is not your primary goal you have a much wider array of options.  Many like Selva Verde, but I wasn't really wild about the institution.  The location is great--excellent trails into good forest, lot's of birds, monkeys, and other animals.  I thought the main lodge area was overdone and overrun.  It felt like we were in Adventureland in Disneyland.  If you do go there, stay in the cabinas that are across the road and away from the main lodge.  We saw Great Green Macaw, Bare-necked Umbrellabird and Keel-billed Toucan within a few hundred feet of our cabina.  Black and White Owls call at night.

Another idea would be to go out to the Cahuita/Puerto Viejo area.  It is very Caribbean--slow moving, beach-and-palms, good seafood, not a lot to do.  The birds are nice, but not outrageous.  A car is definitely not necessary here.  If your budget is not too tight another option might be to go back to San Jose and fly out to Tortuga Lodge.  That is a wonderful place, with good hearty food, good birds, possibly sea turtles (depending on exactly when you go), and lots of rain.  You ride little boats around the canals and river sloughs.  Expect many waterbirds, including all the herons (we saw Agami Heron there), all the kingfishers, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Sungrebe, caiman, otter, and many other birds.  Weather permitting (it wasn't for me), a night trip should get you both potoos.  Dendrobates frogs are not rare.  The flight in is a little crazy, but quite spectacular (DON'T do it if you are squeamish about small aircraft!).  I could go on and on, and I will if you have any more questions.  You will have a great trip, no matter what!

>>>.......We have gone back many times together and each with other people (I alone twice).  The standard places have become so touristy that I dread even going to that country.

If you have not been to Rara Avis before, (and I'm assuming you haven't) you have made the right decision to stay there 5 nights.  It is absolutely my favorite place in Costa Rica.  I've been there twice, each time 6 nights.  In fact I bought stock when they were offering it!  Be sure you have a room in the Waterfall Lodge or in one of the cabins (at least one cabin has electricity).  If you are in the lodge, ask ahead of time for one of the rooms upstairs and on the right as you face the lodge.  The best flocks go by your porch on a regular basis.  I saw my first Yellow-eared Toucanet from that porch!

The trails are difficult --some are too steep for me ( my arthritis limits where I can go).  They are very muddy.  Bring your highest rubber boots.  The ones they loan to you there are not high enough.  However, the birding is fabulous, though you have many hours of the typical quiet punctuated by fast-moving feeding parties.  Most of all is the feeling of being in a paradise.....a virgin forest with no noise, no signs of civilization except for the other guests and the daily tractor arrival around lunch time.  You can actually go all day without seeing another person.

I understand Amos has "improved" the lower part of the road.  The upper part is often unassailable even by their tractor and you have to get out and walk along a road made of the soupiest mud you've ever known.  I advise you to get off the wagon and to walk the Atajo trail for the last three kilometers from El Plastico....I saw the Spot-crowned Antwren there the day I arrived on my first trip.  This is the best kept trail and usually has the most variety of birds.  It is the only one I can negotiate easily and I spend most of my time just going up and down and sitting in one place.  I know for a fact that the Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo (my most wanted bird) was seen along that trail, unfortunately by someone who could have cared less.

My trips were in March, and I know November is toward the end of the wetter season (it's always wet there), so you might have a different experience.  Sounds like you are taking the bus to Horquetas.  When you leave Rara Avis, you will leave after lunch and arrive at Horquetas between 5 and 8, depending on circumstances.  It will be dark.  The ride back up that mountain to San Jose at night is a living nightmare (you recall Nick driving that winding road back from Limon?).  You might have RA arrange a taxi to meet you and drive you to La Selva (if you can get a room there) or Selva Verde just up the road.  It might be worth your while just to bird those two places for the rest of your trip.

Alternatively, there is another place back nearer to the Guapiles highway and close to the aerial tramway--Casa Rio Blanco, Apdo 241, 7210 Guapiles-Pococi.  I have always wanted to stay there.  I don't think you'd get any different birds, however.  Alternatively, you could go back to San Jose that night and meet the Rancho Naturalista people next morning.  You could stop at Tapanti on your way to their place ( they do the driving).  We went there with them (we stayed there 2 or 3 nights in 1990) and had great birding.  They know where to go.  The Rancho is quite comfortable and there are some interesting birds in the forest nearby, but I suspect no lifers for you, except maybe Lanceolated Monklet.  Anyway, I think you'd love Tapanti if you haven't been there before.

>>>You may have had lots of info by now.  I was away for the weekend so am just replying.  I stayed at Rara Avis 3 nights in January this year.  There was lots of mud there - we wore our rubber boots all the time.  The journey up was tortuous by tractor, because it got stuck repeatedly and we had to walk up all the hills and wait while the driver moved rocks and tried valiantly to get it up the terrible road.  They had had 18 days of continuous rain before our visit.  You could find it different.  The lodge was nice and food excellent.  Plenty of hot water for showers, but no electric lights.  Be sure you have flashlights to move between the dining and sleeping buildings at night, and you might be advised to take waterproof matches with you!  Their matches for the lamps are so damp they often won't work at all.  We saw lots of great birds there.  It is very peaceful and remote.  Because we were moving on we sent our luggage down the previous day, and ordered horses when we left.  The tractor wasn't getting up till around 3, and then had to go back down with people leaving that day; with horses we were down in the village by 2ish.

>>>I have never taken the bus to Rara Avis, simply because I am traveling by myself and I can't handle a large bag.  Also I do not relish the thought of standing out on the highway after dark at a bus stop, though there are often other guests who might be going back the same way.  Rara Avis should have told you that if you get down to Horquetas after a certain hour, you can no longer get the more local bus; you must get the express coming from Limon/Siquirres or somewhere like that.  That means you stand out on the Guapiles highway as motorists speed by.  No thanks!  I paid for a taxi from the hotel in SJ directly to the Rara Avis office (the departure point).  It is expensive, but worth every bit.  I also get to practice my Spanish with the driver.

I guess you know the tramway is no longer located on the Rara Avis property; it came down in a storm even before my first visit there.  However, it has been reestablished in the same general area, close to that Casa Rio Blanco lodge I wrote you about.

You mention a guide who knows the birds.  Well, some of them do, and others are just general naturalists.  I hope when you are there one of the bird specialists is on duty; my luck has not been good either time, although the second visit there was a woman who knew something about where to find certain species.  Mostly I just explored on my own.

My more interesting species seen at RA have been Striped Foliage-Gleaner, Fasciated Antshrike, Immaculate Antbird, Dull-mantled Antbird (at edge of forest, from the porch!), Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush (heard only), Blue-and- Gold Tanager (in tallest tree behind lodge and on Azul trail), White-throated Shrike-Tanager, Tawny-crested Tanager, + the birds I mentioned in my first missive.  There really isn't much bird song, but you do need to know the antbirds, trogons, and thrushes.

By the way, be prepared for the forest rats that invade the lodge every night, scampering around your room!  If you take food, it must be stored in a closed metal or glass container.  The lodge supplies a large jar.

>>>Enjoy Rara Avis -- it is a wonderful place.  I hired the manager's wife as a guide for birding and she was wonderful even with the language barrier.  I rode horses in and rode the wagon out.  Less of a birding destination but the nicest people go there.

I don't know if you have been to Costa Rica but plan more time to drive to places than it looks.  Don't drive at night-- the roads are too unmarked to find your way.  LeSelva is close to Rara Avis and has more birds.  Consider the raft trip there--but not on a holiday--people line the river and scare the birds away.  Again hire a local guide to see more birds.  You could also go to the reserve nearby with a guide--I didn't have time.  Again you didn't give enough info to know if you had been there before but different habitats means more birds and more traveling and thus more stress.

My comments after my November 20-30, 1996 trip:

I will try to write up a trip report eventually.  November is not the time to go, which we knew.  Entirely too much rain.  A major, major storm had hit the weekend before we arrived, so both Rara Avis and La Selva had major tree blow-downs, which made the difficult trails at Rara Avis even more challenging.  The trails there are in really bad shape, with more mud and slick logs than I would recommend for birding.  I had to give up on camera equipment because I fell down so frequently.  Maybe other times of year are better...

Rara Avis is popular with tourists who come to see the rain forest and like the adventure of being taken in by tractor, and testing themselves on the trails.  Birding is difficult, but could be good in a season when the birds are singing.  The people working there knew where a few birds had been seen, but weren't birders.  The trail system is vast, and it is true that you have the trails to yourself, so it could be good for recording -- without rain.

We preferred La Selva since the trails are easy, many paved or with boards, and we enjoyed the meal-time conversations with other bird enthusiasts.  We also loved the Great Green Macaws that flew over regularly!  Even though the two places are very close by road, the difference in elevation means that quite a few of the birds are different.  For example, at Rara Avis, Purple-crowned Woodnymphs and Green Hermit visited the porch feeders.  At La Selva, Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds were the most common hummers.

Anyway, I hope to get the trip report completed over the holidays.

Thanks again to all the people who sent information.  I am using it to plan my next Costa Rica trip -- in the spring!

Marcia Braun
Houston, TX (work) (home)

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