Author Archives: Johan Chaves

Birding Talamanca reserve and cloudbridge reserve; San Gerardo de Rivas.

Cloudbridge reserve and Talamanca reserves are nestled right below Costa Rica’s highest peak; Chirripo mountain

with 3821 meters of elevation (Both reserves elevation is about 1500+ at the entrance area).

I visited this site with my wife and our baby on

Jan 10th 2018 as I needed to scout both places for upcoming birding and photography trips I will be leading here soon. Although I had birded the area in the past and I’m aware of the great birding here I needed to see the potential for photography.

Main parking site and entrance to the reserve.  Cloudbridge reserve has a nice trail system which allows for some productive birding, from the entrance we got red-headed barbets, white tailed emerald, red faced spinetail, speckled tanager and so much more.

There is no “official entrance fee” to the reserve and all they ask is a voluntary donation, they suggest us$6 per person, this is used to help maintain the reserve and reforest, so feel free to be generous.

The trails are wide enough to walk around. although a bit narrow and dark for photography.


There is no official schedule, so according to volunteers at the entrance you can get in at dawn but you must leave before dusk.

As is typical of this habitat birds come and go in mixed flocks where one can encounter tanagers, furnarids, some wrens, warblers, common chlorospingus, vireos, and more.

The birding here is very good and we got birds such as (Northern) emerald toucanet, black-faced solitaire, gray-breasted woodwren, slaty antwren, spotted barbtailed, chestnut-capped brushfinch, orange billed nightingale-thrush, scaly-breasted wren and many more.

The trails here are wide enough for birding, although, it is too narrow to shoot with a camera mounted on a tripod, the trails was a bit steep at parts to be looking around for birds with a tripod on the shoulder, too dark and the forest a bit too thick so I did not feel that this would be a good place to photograph. Still, a nice hike and impressive views of the cloud forest with almost zero crowds.



Chestnut capped brush-finch and black faced solitaire

A picture of the wall map at Cloudbridge.

We left the place to see Talamanca reserve, although on our way we were lucky to find a small bakery, a small touristic project called Garden house bird observatory. +506 71630339 contact is Christopher Instagram  This little place is a small family business that believes in conservation and environmental education through the birds. They are getting started with some reforestation, also they have WELL maintained feeders that are extremely productive, I got here golden-olive and red-crowned woodpeckers, red-headed barbet, white naped and chestnut capped brush-finches, tanagers, thrushes, snowy bellied hummingbird, white-tailed emerald crested coquette (nailed some SE-CR and W-PA endemics from the chair) and more!

I am really fond of small family business like this as people had learned that birds can provide an income and hence a better interest to protect them and their forest.

Red-headed barbet, a bird with attitude

My favorite off all CR tangara spp; Speckled tanager

After a nice chat with Christopher and 1000 clicks on my camera it was time to leave to Talamanca reserve. Once there we were received by Kenneth who is the manager of the place, I intermediately  saw the potential for birding and bird-photography; their feeders are full of gree, red leggued, shinning honeycreepers, speckled, silver-throated, cherrie’s tanagers, thrushes, lesson’s motmot, fiery billed aracary, gosh was it busy!

Lesson´s motmot. Portrait capture using Canon 7DMII + Swarovski TLS APO + Swarovski ATX scope. Subject at 10 meters. No flash. 1/125 ISO 1000. NO aperture nor focal length available with this technique

Fiery billed aracary

The grounds of Talamanca are beautiful for photography or simple to bird watch, the trails of the reserve, although as steep as Cloudbridge’s are somewhat wider, thus allowing good views. Apparently the chance to see Quetzals at both places are good during the right time of the year.




Snowy plover at Tarcoles and Yellow Bellied Sapsucker at Esquipulas.

During the 11th Christmas Bird Count at Carara area celebrated on December 22nd 2017 a team of birders were fortunate enough to see what to us is rarity; Snowy plover!

After the sighting, several birders kept going to the site and had been lucky to find it. I had been really eager to make the time to go, however it had been a few days since it was seen so I hesitated at a point. On January 2 after I finished to guide a morning birding trip to Carara for a family of Utah (David, Natalie and Jordan Tanner) I went on my own to the Tarcoles river mouth following my friend’s Diego Quesada and Johan Fernandez directions and boy was I lucky! Literally the 8th bird I put my binoculars own! It is so exciting to feel the thrill of finding a rare bird and more special when it is a new bird to the life list! Way to start 2018!


The location to the site can be found on this google maps link.’38.9%22N+84%C2%B038’14.0%22W/@9.780263,-84.6373509,15.25z/data=!4m6!3m5!1s0x0:0xa89a0b2d9b790cdd!7e2!8m2!3d9.7774555!4d-84.6372288?hl=es-419

Near the river mouth of Tarcoles, standing on the southern side of the mouth is a small “lagoon” or tidal pool, this is the site where the plover has been reported, many semipalmated, wilson’s and some collared plovers, along with many semipalmated, western, and spotted sandpiper as well as sanderlings, whimbrels and more.

the ocean is on the back, the river-mouth on the right and the water between is the spot.


now on the other side of the tidal pool. the ocean behind me, the river-mouth north of where I am standing and the plovers on the southern edge of the pool.


On the other hand, just today (January 4th), while guiding a birding tour at Esquipulas (my favorite Manuel Antonio bird watching

image digiscoped using iPhone 7 and Swarovski ATX 65mm

spot) for the Tanners we were lucky to spot a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (no picture unfortunately). This is a North American bird which I was hoping to see at a point, naturally I was so excited for it while David and Natalie just allowed me to enjoy my moment! Their moment was the fiery billed aracary!


Esquipulas is an excellent option for the birder coming to bird-watch Manuel Antonio and it often produces good Pacific foothills and lowland species with an excellent level of endemics.



Yellow throated toucan at Esquipulas.



What a way to start 2018!

Happy new year 2018!

My 2017 Top ten birds.

We are only 7 days away from the end of 2017! It is time to be with family and friends, to think of everything we had done this year and what will we do on the next year, learning from the positive and negative things the year brought to us.

2017 has been a beautiful year, I have had the chance to meet many wonderful people that had leaved a positive impact on my life, both personal and professional.


In terms of birds, 2017 has been a bit of a slow year for my personal birding, being a father brought me different priorities which I greatly enjoy, and I hope as Edrian grows up I can catch up with my hardcore birding style on 2018. Simply being a father is the best thing it has ever happened to me!



Roy Orozco

On the other hand, I really, really miss my friend Roy with whom I chased birds all around the country, birding simply has not been the same to me since he left.  Although close friends had been there for me and I had really had fun with them birding, I am thankful for their friendship and for all they had thought to me.


Karen Castillo, Andres Chaves, Oscar Herrera, Johan Chaves, South CR endemics. Global big day,

From Left to Right:
Karen Castillo, Andres Chaves, Oscar Herrera, Johan Chaves. Photo By Andres Chaves.

From left to right: Karen Castillo, Johan Chaves, Andres Chaves “Socio” and Manuel Cabalceta. Photo courtesy of Socio.

I am very excited for 2018! and looking forward to the birding tours I will be leading but also looking forward to birding with my peeps.

Here is a list of my favorite birds of 2017.

10: Cedar Waxwing. A bird we chased quite a bit back in 2015 and 2016, but finally I managed to see it early in the year while leading a birding tour in Carara NP.

9 Rufous-rumped antwren:

We saw this bird in Tapanti NP with my friends Oscar H, Andres Ch. and Karen C. on Sept 1st. A bird I was hoping to see at one point.

8 – Yellow-rumped warbler:

A bird I had seen at El Rey in the past, but this warbler are certainly always a good bird to Costa Rican birders! I saw one at Maquenque eco-lodge on early December while I was working as the naturalist guide on a photo tour.

7- Hooded warbler:

My first lifer of the year! I got this bird at El Rey on Jan 05th while birding with a friend Andres E.

6- Plain chachalaca:

A bird Roy and I chased in Guanacaste are but we failed to see it back in 2014-2015.

5- Hermit warbler.

A surprise bird to me, while leading a tour to a friend and client Miss Loretta P. near Poas volcano area.


4 Central american pygmy-owl.

A nestling bird at Laguna Lagarto lodge during a visit there on April 9th.

3- Pain billed Crake.

Oh big thanks to my friend Daniel Hernandez! who insisted I should go to see this bird! Coto 47 Sept 14th

2- Agami Heron.

A bird I had seen only once ever back in 2006. A bird had been seen regularly in Cahuita Natinal park, my wife and I happen to be there during that time and thanks to the directions given by a friend Daniel Martinez we got the bird.


1- Aplomado Falcon

A bird got established for several days in Coris De Cartago back in Late Jul early Sept. thanks to my friend Johan Fernandez for the heads up.


Have a merry Christmas and may the 2018 bring you health, peace and prosperity, but also excellent birding!

Johan Chaves.

Johan Chaves- Photo courtesy of Nancy Barcelo




Surfbird – Rocas de Amancion, Dominicalito

The surfbird Calidris (Aphriza) virgata is a long distant migrant, breeding in Alaska – Yukon and can winter as far south as Chile. It is considered to be an uncommon passage migrant for Costa Rica, although it is perhaps more common that it is thought, as eBird shows a good amount of reports, this might be due to Costa Rican birders showing more interest on Scolopacids in the last decade or so?

Rarely seen inland, this species prefers coastal rocky shores bathed by splashing waves where it feeds on mollusks and barnacles as well as insects.

– 48 km South of Quepos is Dominicalito (south of Dominical, a small surfing town) the coast there is quite rocky and it serves as the perfect habitat to species like this as well as other good birds such as wandering tattler.

On September 19th, while leading a bird trip to Esquinas rainforest lodge Tom Dulski and I stopped here to look for it as he needed it for his list, sure enough we got about 5 individuals and I got some poor pictures through the binoculars.  I went back with my wife on the 28th, hoping to get better pictures and fortunately we did. Surprisingly this species allows one to get relatively close (compared to other Calidris species).


Surfbird, shot with a 100-400 canon lens @ 400mm about 18ft away

The habitat is excellent, and quite large as you get the rocky line starting south of Dominical all the way to about Hermosa beach. If you are birdwatching Manuel Antonio I highly recommend that you go there and explore the place between Late Aug to Oct, also if you are birding Baru which is nearer or simply driving from the south Pacific to the mountains or north to Carara do a stop here, you might get lucky!

Here is an eBird link to the hotspot, there you can get driving directions:




Paint billed crake at Coto 47.

    Paint-billed crake is, like most crakes, a secretive bird that dwells on thick grass rarely leaving concealment.

This particular crake has several reports on the Caribbean lowlands, including Sarapiquí area, Medio queso (Los Chiles) Turrialba near Rancho Naturalista, and Coto 47 near Villa Neily on the Pacific side.

Throughout the month of August, a birder friend Daniel Hernandez has reported repetitive sightings near Villa Neily, this located in the south Pacific of Costa Rica, at a site known as La Papayera road (the road that heads south of the hospital).

Thanks to his offers and helpful directions I finally decided to give it a try, this time accompanied by my wife Karina and  our son Edrian.

This map, taken from eBird shows the regions on which it has been reported.

We got to the spot little before 5:00am, what a wonderful moment did we enjoy with the different bird songs triggered by the sunrise! black-striped sparrow, streaked saltator, cherrie’s tanager and pale-breasted spinetail were among the first birds to sing.

After little less two hours finally the first crake responded to play back, this is the first part, the harder part was coming which is to actually get to see it! at about 7:20 I got the first glimpse of its back, although we needed better looks, something hard to achieve when you are holding a baby and trying to see a crake! Fortunately after 15 minutes we both finally got to see the bird much better, including one individual quickly crossing the road.

Paint-billed crake

What a treat to see this beautiful crake!

During our time there we got several birds including streaked saltator, pale-breasted spinetail, several migrating barn, and cliff swallows (accompanied by southern rough-winged swallows and gray-breasted martins) tricolored munias, large flocks of dickcissels, blue-headed parrots, brown-throated parakeets, a Savannah hawk and ruddy-breasted seedeater were among the favorites.

This road is quite birdy, and it should be visited if birding near sites such as Esquinas rainforest lodge, the road is known to produce other southern specialties such as sapphire-throated hummingbird, brown-throated parakeet, savannah and gray-lined hawks, ruddy breasted and yellow bellied seedeaters, and more.

This specie is quite common here.

Isthmian wren, a split from Plain wren.

Later we went to quickly explore the rest of the marshes at Coto 47, the place is huge and we were fortunate to finds a wattled Jacana not too far off the road near Colorado River, I had seen this specie in Panama on my 2 trips there, but only seen it in CR once only almost a year ago here at Coto 47.

Our quick morning visit produced an excellent lifer and some species for the annual list, I wonder now what would take us back to Coto 47, special thanks to Daniel Hernandez who not only knows where the good birds are at but is so kind to share his finds!

Male ruddy breasted seedeater

Following a Proverb: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Today I got to show him the way to birds


Birding trip to Cartago Part 2: Rancho Naturalista

Rancho Naturalista is unquestionably one of the best (if not the best) birding lodges in Costa Rica, not only loaded with a large variety of species, many of them specific targets when visiting CR, but also offers the visitors great lodging and top notch service.

After birding Tapanti we went to Rancho and spent the morning there, the gardens here are known to produce snowcap and black-crested coquettes with relative ease, sure enough after we parked our car we got our first 2 targets! While having our improvised breakfast we enjoyed the birds around the gardens such as black-headed saltator, various tanagers, green thorntail, keel-billed toucan, long-billed gnatwren and many more.

Male snowcap

White necked jacobin, a very common hummingbird here.

Black-crested coquette

Time to enter the forest, one of the things you must do here at Rancho is visit the moth light, which above the many birds that attend to feed here the highlight is Tawny-chested Flycatcher, until recently considered endemic to CR and Eastern Nicaragua, now apparently rare in eastern Honduras.

The party starts at down here!

Bright-rumped attila, normally hard to see on forest sub-canopy, here it literally comes to the ground level!

After enjoying some minutes here we started to walk the trails, soon after we entered we were fortunate to find a mixed flock, golden-crowned warblers, tawny-chested flycatcher, slaty antwrens, red-throated antwren, woodcreepers, slaty-capped flycatchers, common Chlorospingus various Tanagers and honeycreepers, but perhaps the best bird was a female Cerulian Warbler which allowed good views for some seconds (it’s been 2 years since my last cerulian!).

Then at the forest hummingbird feeder we got green-crowned brilliant, crowned woodnymph, green, and stripe-throated hermits, along with collared aracary, striped breasted wren and olive-backed euphonia.

Andres and I covered some of the trails here hoping to get some audio and were able to get clear (more and less) audio recording of the scaly-breasted wren (AKA southern nightingale-wren) a specie you hear quite often but to see is a whole different story!

Is not the quality of the picture what matters here, it is the specie in it! Scaly breasted wren


The forest hummingbird feeding station.

Rancho Naturalista

After some hours the activity slowed down, it was our time to leave and check other sites before returning back home, a stop at Hotel Casa Turire is a must as it allows access to La Angostura water reservoir, here we got at least 4 snail kites (juveniles and adults) a limpkin, along with the typical birds of this habitat.

At the end of the trip my favorite bird was rufous-rumped antwren, and my favorite phrase from Andres was “How fortunate we are to catch the sunrise birding with friends instead of catching the sunrise drinking at a bar, with no money, and issues”.

Andres and I scanning the water lilies from Casa Turire, photo by Oscar H.

From left to Right: Oscar Herrera, Karen Castillo, Eidel Chaves, Andres Chaves, Johan Chaves.

Birding trip to Cartago. Part 1; Aplomado falcon and Tapanti NP.

Aplomado Falcon (falco femoralis) is a casual to rare raptor that has been reported several times on the last few decades, with most sightings between 2010 to 2017.

Sunrise at 2500+masl


An individual has been reported lately in Coris, Cartago and it had been the best report of the month so far with many birders coming to see and many obtaining great shots of this beautiful falcon.

On September I had the chance to join some birding friends Karen Castillo, Andres Chaves (and son Eidel Chaves) and Oscar Herrera to search this species. We left Manuel Antonio at 1:45am and did some stops on the Talamanca/cerro de La Muerte mountain range to search for the rare Unspotted saw-whet owl which we did NOT see unfortunately but got at least one individual respond to our play back.

Once in Cartago we looked for the Falcon, which after 30 minutes or so Andres spotted hunting pigeons on a field right across Kimberly-Clark (see this ebird list for map details). The bird perches on the trees about 100 meters away from the fence, we failed obtaining permission to enter the field so we had to settle with distant (good though) views.

Other birds we did enjoy were some killdeers and mourning doves, which to North Americans might not be that special they sure are to Costa Rican birders!

Mourning dove.

Eastern meadowlark

After the joy of getting a new bird added to the life list we then went to look for sedge wren, a specie with an extremely reduced range, and unfortunately it’s habitat is disappearing rapidly, some say this is perhaps one of the species that might soon disappear if serious conservation efforts are not taken.

Once on site (a place I had seen it before thanks to a friend’s recommendation) we quickly got the bird, but better yet it allowed recordings, pictures etc! best view I had ever had of this wren.










Recording at:  

Celebrating it! I can read the boys thoughts….

After that we left for Tapantí National park where we would spend the rest of the day, activity was a very slow with some of the common birds showing up such as spotted woodcreeper, white bellied emerald, chlorospingus, bay headed tanagers and more, until we were lucky to find a mixed flock! (that is the typical way of birding here on the caribbean middle elevation, you just hope for a mixed flock) of all of the birds we saw on this flock the highlights were white-winged tanager (which I only had seen at Panama), Louisiana waterthrush, black and white warbler (good news, migration is starting!) and the best of the day to me; Rufous-rumped antwren.

Tapanti is certainly a great site, and it can sometimes produce good surprises, often is good to combine with a visit to Rancho Naturalista and explore some of the hotspots nearby….. which we did of course.

Forest at Tapanti NP


Birding San Gerardo de Dota.


San Gerardo de Dota is nestled in the Savegre Valley, within the Talamanca mountains of Costa Rica. The Small country mountain village that several decades ago began to see the first lumberjack and hunters getting established now flourishes as a wonderful off the beaten track nature destination, specifically a great place for birders.

One of my favorite reasons for which I like birding San Gerardo as part of a one-day trip itinerary from Manuel Antonio is that one gets to cover different habitats and elevations in one day, ranging from 2000masl up to 3,200masl, thus allowing a good combination of species. The high peaks of the Talamanca Mountains it has created an interesting array of endemic species, most which which we share with Panama.

This week I had the opportunity to lead 2 Birding trips here, departing Manuel Antonio at 4:00am as the drive to get there normally takes about 2hr45min to 3hrs. However our first stop was little before reaching San Gerardo at a place called Villa Mills (see here for eBird hotspot), here elevation is little more than 3,000 meters above sea level, this gravel road loops around 1 km back to the main paved road, it is often birdy and produces some of the Highland must sees such as  timberline wren, Silvery-fronted tapaculo, barred becard, fiery throated hummingbird, black capped Flycatcher, and even with some luck Costa Rican pygmy-owl!

One of the treats you get to see when you wake up early!

the endemic (and fairly common) Flame throated warbler – Oreothlypis gutturalis

After some birding here for a short while it’s also good to stop at La Georgina restaurant, it is particularly good for those interested on photography as the hummingbird feeders often produce some nice close-ups to magnificent, fiery throated, volcano, and scintillant hummingbird, and oh don’t forget some hot coffee or chocolate!

Fiery-throated hummingbird – Panterpe insignis A very common CR-PA endemic.

Talamanca hummingbird-Eugenes spectabilis, a recent split from Eugenes fulgens. A new CR-PA endemic.

A convenient place to have breakfast during this trip is Miss Mariam’s restaurant, not only food is tasty, but the feeders can produce some of the common birds such as flame colored tanager, Acorn woodpecker, large-footed Finch, yellow-thighed finch and others, all while you wait for your food.

San Gerardo is known as one of the best places in Costa Rica for resplendent Quetzal, which we did see on both trips. After some good birds we continued to well known Waterfalls Road down the hill from the famous Savegre Lodge, gosh is good here! The trail that leads to the waterfall goes parallel to the Savegre river, which gives opportunities to spot torrent tyrannulet, American depper, as well as those forest species that often  forage with mixed flocks such as streak-breasted tree hunter, spotted Barbtail, spot-crowned with creeper, black cheeked warbler, yellow thighed finch, lineated foliage-gleaner and so much more.

Resplendent Quetzal


Most males are “tailless” during this time of the year.

Green-fronted lancebill-Doryfera ludovicae, spotted by Leonardo on the second trip! This is one of my favorite hummingbirds!


Tangara dowii — Spangle cheeked tanager

Talamanca Hummingbird, formerly conspecific with Magnificent hummingbird.












Not only the birds are wonderful here.

Needless to say both common and Sooty-capped chlorospingus are quite common and are a good indicative of the presence of a mix flock, often you can walk several minutes and find no bird, but suddenly a passing flock can entertain for minutes, keeping you busy watching either up to the canopy, understory or both! After a good birding session in route back to Manuel Antonio it is good to stop at the telecommunication towers up in Cerro Buena Vista, at 3400masl for volcano junco.

Cerro Asuncion, along with Cerro Buena Vista are among the highest peeks of Cerro De La Muerte. Paramo forest in the back.

If you are birding Manuel Antonio area, despite the fact that you might had already birded Monteverde visiting San Gerardo de Dota is a good idea that can put on some birds you might not get in MV, see a different habitat and enjoy some good cold weather while you are in the tropics!










Taxonomy updates! 2017

As usual, every July, the AOU publishes the AUK magazine, I am always keen to read it as the July supplement often comes loaded with interesting taxonomic changes, this year is not the exception. Below you will find a short summary on the CR species affected by this changes, this includes splits, new common/english names, new families and sub families.



Blue-winged and cinnamon teals, as well as northern Shoveler. Formerly in the genus Anas, now Spatula.

American wigeon, formerly in the Genus Anas, now Mareca.

Northern shoveler and blue winged teals, Spatula clypeata and S. discor respectively.


Magnificent hummingbird (Eugenes fulgens) splits in 2, Rivoli’s hummingbird from South Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to North east Nicaragua. For Costa Rica: Talamanca hummingbird  (E. spectabilis) which is endemic to CR and Pa.


Emerald toucanet Aulacorhynchus prasinus: Split in 2, for CR Aulacorhynchus prasinus obtains a new common english name; Northern Emerald-Toucanet.

Northern emerald-toucanet


Prevost’s ground-sparrow splits in 2; White faced ground-sparrow M.biarcuata from MX, Guatemala, Salvador and Honduras. Costa Rica gets a new endemic Melozone cabanisi; Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow.


Red breasted blackbird AKA red-breasted meadowlark (Sturnella militaris) Changes to genus Leistes. English name is Red-breasted Blackbird. L. militaris

Male Leistes militaris Red-breasted Blackbird.









New families:

Rhodinocinclidae; Rosy thrush-tanager

Passerellidae: members of the family Emberizidae (which disappears from CR) are now placed here, e.g finches, brush-finches, sparrows etc. Best known as New world sparrows.

Zeledoniidae: Includes one specie, wrenthrush (zeledonia) which was placed in Parulidae)

Icteriidae: this new family includes Yellow breasted chat, which was formerly placed on Parulidae.

Mitrospingidae: This new family includes Dusky-faced tanager which was placed in Thraupidae.

Rosy thrush-tanager gets a new family.

Subfamilies: see page 18 of the AUK supplement.


















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