Author Archives: Johan Chaves
San Gerardo de Dota lays at the beautiful and picturesque Savegre valley. Home of the resplendent Quetzal and many other highland-Talamanca endemics.
It is easily accessible from the central Valley area and it makes it a perfect stop to those interested on looping down the coast and adding Carara on their birding trip.
On March 6th 2017 my friends Karen Castillo and Jason Solano and I went there on a day trip, leaving Quepos at 3:45am as the drive there is about 3hrs +- via San Isidro. On the way we did a stop on Villa Mills to try Costa Rican pygmy-owl, we also enjoyed some of the first birds of the day here such as mountain elaenias, long tailed silky-flycatcher, sooty-capped chlorospingus, black-cheeked warbler and more, all of which we saw later on the day, so at the end I felt it made little sense to stop here as we did not get the owl, but who would had guessed right?!
Our next stop was as we were driving down the road towards San Gerardo, we fund a fruting mistletoe and it was quite productive, flame throated warbler, more chlorospingus and elaenias, sooty thrushes, black-billed nightingale thrush, then Jason spotted a buffy tuftedcheek foranging at eye level so it gave us good looks of this funny-uncle Sam looking guy! After some few minutes we made our way down to miss Miriam’s soda, an excellent and convenient place for breakfast and birds too, here feeders often produce good birds such as Yellow bellied siskin and golden-browed chlorophonia and many of the common species such as yellow-thighed finch, large footed finch and acorn woodpecker.
After an excellent breakfast we went to the trails at Miss Miriam’s family cabins (nice little place to stay BTW) and looked specifically for Buffy-crowned wood-partridge which we got after a good while! we heard rufous-browed peppershrike, again many long-tailed Silky-FC, sooty thrushes, black billed nightingale-thrush and volcano, magnificent, and fiery-throated hummingbirds, and more.
Male volcano H.
We then continued to the entrance of the Waterfall trail, we we spent the rest of the day, this is known as a good location for resplendent Quetzal (although, up the road from Trogon lodge is among the best sites) The soonest we got to the entrance area we got birds such as yellowish Fc, slaty flower piercer, mountain elaenia, black-throated green warbler, then a torrent tyrannulet, gray-breasted woodwren, spangle-cheeked tanager, ruddy-capped nightingale thrush and black faced solitaire.
After a while we reached the gate to Truchas reales, we were lucky to get quick-yet good views of a male resplendent Quetzal it seemed it was working on a potential nest. Other birds we enjoyed were, emerald toucanet, black-thighed grosbeak, spot-crowned woodcreeper, tufted FC and a nice small flock which produced close views of both male and female golden-browed chlorophonia, all of those as we walked past truchas reales.
It was time for lunch! it was 2:00pm already after all! So we went back up to Miss Miriam’s for lunch, this time we added other birds to the day list such as barred parakeets flying distant but enough to see
On our way back to Quepos we went quickly to the communication towers up in Cerro Bella vista, a good spot for Volcano Junco and timberline wren, it was a bit windy and a little cold for us lowland people, so we saw on volcano junco for the year list and decided it was time to get back to warm whether.
After this trip I felt that this is a great option for the keen birder that comes to stay at Manuel Antonio with family (non birders) and is interested to get those highland specialists, it takes a keen birder to leave at 4:00am but certainly worth it if their holiday does not include other classic destinations such as Monteverde.
Esquipulas is located approximately 26km to the East of Manuel Antonio and unquestionably offers the best birding experience in the nearby vicinity of the park. The park itself is too poor for birds and it can be quite noisy and crowded, so any one birding Manuel Antonio would have far better time here than at the park itself!
On March 2nd 2017 for the second time I had the opportunity to lead a trip to miss Christine Kozlosky whom I birded at Carara with just days ago and got an impressive 150 in a full day!
As usual, we left Manuel Antonio at 4:45am and got to Esquipulas at 5:25am right with the sunrise, our first birds were some common pauraques as we drove the hilly gravel-country road up to Esquipulas.
The soonest we got out of the car it was wonderful! Birds calling everywhere (hence the beauty of leaving the bed early!), time to put hands on our bins.
A small fig tree located right where I usually start to walk was full of fruit and so with birds, soon we got chestnut headed oropendola (although not expected for the region on Garrigues 2014 there is a fairly established colony since 5+ years now, maybe the southern Pacific population expanding north). We quickly got the regular tanagers such as golden hooded, bay headed, palm, blue gray, green honecreeper, red leggued hc, blue dacnis and then masked tityra.
After seeing several birds we decided to walk into the bush for some meters as I heard a slaty spinetail which we did see, but also got yellow tyrannulet and then a piratic flycatcher and several views of the golden naped woodpecker (an endemic we share with Panama) Later we got northern barred woodcreeper collecting bark (with which they line their nest) and then tawny-winged woodcreeper! (doing the same?) At this time I kept scanning the forest canopy in hopes for turquoise cotinga! No luck for the moment but did get some swallow-tailed kites, a specie that Chris was very interested on seeing!
Back on the road, we continued walking seeing some of the regulars, tanagers, white crowned parrots, swifts, flycatchers and more, then we spotted a white hawk that flew to a perch at a good distance but close enough to see it well on the scope. This area of Esquipulas where I start the birding trip is a nice ravine with excellent opportunities for raptors, birds such as white hawk, barred hawk, king vulture, black hawk-eagle, short tailed hawk, broad winged hawk, swallow tailed kite, all which we saw, literally on the same thermal throughout the morning!
As we continued we got good views of crested guans, then, golden winged warbler, tennessee, yellow and chestnut sided warblers, blue black grossbeak, yellow billed cacique, riverside wren, and many more, but missed the laughing falcon which kept laughing at us as we could not find it where it was perched! but oh well, Chris remedied that with a close look of a male turquoise cotinga! and later we got both male and female Baird’s trogon! both endemics we share with Panama.
After some great views we continued on the walk, soon we got more swallow tailed kites, broad winged hawk and short tailed hawks! the raptors where finally coming out! It was 10:30am, we still needed blue crowned manakin and white ruffed manakin which we looked hard for, funny how a common, or somewhat easy specie can just disappear once you look them hardly (yes the blue crowned eluded us at Carara even!) so I guess that is a reason for miss Christine to come back! On our walk back to the car we got excellent views of short tailed hawk again, then 2 king vultures flying relatively low, right after that a Barred hawk flew just about 3 meters above our heads, chased by some kiskadees and tropical kindbirds, what a treat to see such beautiful hawk! not just flying so close but to perch for us to allow good views and even a picture (digiscoped with a cell phone, like all pictures on this post).
Once we thought we were done, siting at the car and just before I close my door I heard a distant Black hawk-eagle, out we went rapidly and searched the sky for it, after 3 to 4 minutes it came up form the mountain, to join the soaring black, turkey and king vultures.
After a while I took Chris to the La Gallega river, a location I know for collared plover as she mentioned she enjoys peeps as well, literally we got out of the car and there it was! not one but 2 adults and at least 3 chicks. La Gallega river is reliable for this specie, also good for red-breasted meadowlark (and eastern), tropical mockingbird and on occasion double striped thick-knees. This river is accessible via Naranjito.
Not done yet! We where having such great time we agreed there was room for another good bird before heading back to her Villa, this time a Mangove hummingbird! this bird, endemic to Costa Rica only. For this we drove to the town of Damas, an area where mosts tour companies start the locally famous Damas Mangrove tour. This is the best site I know locally for this hummer, the soonest we got to the mangrove there was a male perched at eye level, later, as we walked into the mangrove I played ferruginous pygmy-owl twice to see what could George bring out for us (a joke Roy and I use to say referring to the pygmy-owl recording) this was productive as we got prothonotary warbler, some chestnut sided and yellow (northern) warbler and then another bird that eluded us at Tarcoles the other day! a male resident Yellow warbler (mangrove raze).
Time to call it a day! we ended the morning with a total of 95 species, a new friend and many great memories!
Carara national park area is known as one of the must sees to any birders coming to CR, it’s position on a transition area offers a great variety of habitats of both life zones; Dry and wet forests.
No matter how many hundreds of times I had been to Carara I always enjoy leading trips here or just simply birding on my own to locate those sought after species as I know the area can bring surprises any time, after all Carara has a max list of 482 so there is always good stuff (data from the X-mas bird-counts organized by my friend Johan Fernandez).
On February 28th 2017 I had the opportunity to bird for a full day with miss Christine Kozlosky, an excellent-advanced birder from Athens, GA, USA. We met at her villa here in Manuel Antonio at 4:45am and after meeting each other we left onto what happened to be an extraordinary day!
Along the way we got some birds such as brown jay, scissor tailed flycatcher, yellow headed and crested caracaras and a gray hawk. Then by 6:15 we arrived to our first spot; Villa Lapas road.
The road to leads to Bijagual (mostly known by birders as the Villa Lapas road or the waterfall road) is an excellent birding site (one can perfectly spend an entire morning here), and often produces species that are either hard to see or just unlikely seen inside the park itself, our first bird at this site was a male blue grosbeak followed by an indigo bunting! then gray-crowned yellowthrhoat, northern and southern rough-winged swallows, macaws and more, although for the moment the best bird had been a striped cuckoo! although I did enjoy seen my first-for-the-year yellow-green vireo.
We then moved up the road a little, 1 mile from villa Lapas precisely. At this site you will see a nice new restaurant with an amazing view to the gulf, tarcoles river and Carara in general, I had never been disappointed here! Yellow-throated toucans (former black mandibled) and fiery-billed aracary were seen almost simultaneously, then gartered trogon and later crested guan! rufous naped wren, baltimore oriole, yellow billed cacique, hold on! not done yet! turquoise-browed motmot, blue black grossbeak, and the typical seedeaters and several more birds, I felt like I didnt want to leave the site, but it was time to move to Carara, it was 7:45am after all!
After paying our fees we drove 1 more mile to the river trail (best known as the lagoon trail) I prefer to bird the morning here for those dry (ier) forest species species since as the day warms up it offers good chances to see raptors, which otherwise would be missed since at the headquarter trails the forest is so thick and does not allow much views of the sky. Soonest we parked we got lucky with a pair of pale billed woodpeckers, the first 50 meters were a bit slow, but once reaching the first fig tree there was some activity, we got northern bentbill, clay colored thrush, we heard rufous tailed jacamar, royal flycatcher and streak chested antpitta, and missed a female orange-collared manakin, although 10 minutes later we got a goo looking male! After a few “regular” birds we worked hard to find a calling Baird’s trogon, our second trogon of the day!
For those who had never been to Carara and are planning a trip here, the lagoon trail is nice, fairly open trail, mostly shady but with some sunny patches, we did the “short cut” to the lagoon and looped back via the main trail, the short cut is only suggested with a guide as it is easy to take the wrong turn. On our way we saw white-whiskered puffbird, macaws of course, black bellied and rufous breasted wrens, dot winged antwrens (which are common here) golden hooded tanagers, plain xenops and various other birds. On our way back we got scrub greenlet, 2 black headed trogon and later near the exit a black throated trogon! at this point we had seen 4 out of 5 trogons species that occur here, slaty tailed trogon should not be that hard I said to Christine! its 11:00am after all!
At 11:15am after seen king vulture on a thermal as we drove to Tarcoles, we got to the Mangroves near the southern side of Tarcoles river mouth, here we got Panama Flycatcher, mangrove vireo, common black hawk, bare throated tiger heron, some peeps and birds associated to this habitat, then we got american pygmy kingfisher, and orange fronted parakeet, all which we only saw here.
After that we then went back to Carara, this time to cover the head quarter trails, now at 1:00pm we hoped to get the most out of it as Carara closes at 4:00pm (a bit too early in my opinion). We soon saw bicolored antbird and gray headed tanager, we knew it! army ants were there! although it seemed the flock (and ants) were a bit too far from the trail, fingers crossed for our return. Our priority was manakins tinamous and antpitta!
We then continued to the famous “manakin baths” located on the Quebrada Bonita trail, and there it was! red capped manakin! both male and female. We waited for the blue crowned to show up but unfortunately it did not, we needed to head back as we hoped the ants would come down so we could get those nice ant specialists! Getting some birds such as white whiskered puffbird, macaws, streak chested antpitta, great tinamous and more along the way.
(Play the video in the highest resolution possible)
Finally as we returned out (3:20pm) we got the ant swarm come down the trail! time to enjoy the birds! we got pretty much all the common birds that join this fierce swarms, highlights included black-faced antthrush and northern barred woodcreeper.
Now, once out of Carara, and because there is always room for more birds we decided to stop at Los Sueños Marriot as I know there is a pair of thick-knees there as well as least grebes at the golf course, we did see them as well as southern lapwings and some herons on the ponds! Not every day you go to a gold course from any of the Marriott hotels to find a bird right?!
At the end we sat to work on today’s list and what a surprise! we counted 150 species total, this includes all the species that were actually seen, including the villa lapas road, the mangrove path at the river mouth of Tarcoles and Carara NP, it excludes species that were heard only such as green shrike-vireo, rufous tailed jacamar, royal flycatcher, slaty tailed trogon and others.
On February 18th I had the opportunity to lead a birding trip to the Poas Volcano and Cinchona area to miss Loretta Pelettier from Maine who I had the pleasure to bird with in 2 occasions in the past few years both at Esquipulas and Carara NP, accompanied by my friend Karen Castillo.
We met at El Robledal hotel which is right near the airport at 5:15am, we soon made our drive to Poas area, as we started to go up the hills of Poas we did our first stop which produced some of the common species for this region such as mountain elaenia, Philadelphia Vireo, rufous-collared sparrow, melodious blackbird, rose-breasted grossbeak which we only saw at this stop! And many more common garden species.
We did another stop some kilometers up the hill which produced collared redstar, stripe tailed hummingbird, olive striped flycatcher, all which we only saw at this stop plus others we saw elsewhere too such as common chlorospingus, slaty flowerpiercer, short tailed hawk, just to mention some.
By 7:30ish we got to Fredo Fresas restaurant which was convenient (highly recommended not just for good food but for birds! Here the coordinates) the soonest we got into the hummingbirds garden we got great views of a hermit warbler, considered rare to CR and sure a life bird to me!
The feeders produced green crowned brilliant, magnificent hummingbird, magenta throated woodstar, green violet ear and violet sabrewing, however despite our efforts we did not see volcano hummingbird.
There is a little trail down the feeder area, a 50 meters loop that is ok to do, we got black faced solitaire and heard golden browed chlorophonia, prong billed barber and long tailed silky-flycatcher.
Later up the road we got a nice resident raze red tailed hawk, we then continued to Poas, we tried to bird the road past the stone gate but found it rather very slow, the narrow road with heavy traffic was not comfortable at all, so we decided to bird the gravel road that turns left right before the stone gate and glad we did! Immediately we got large footed finch, Karen found a hairy woodpecker and then an ochraceus wren!
Later we got a small mixed flock that produced the beautiful endemic flame-throated warbler, sooty capped chlorospingus, black and yellow silky-flycatcher, then we got fiery-throated hummingbirds and even a black guan!
It was time to move to Cinchona area as Loretta’s most wanted target was the emerald toucanet!
We drove past the Restaurante Cinchona and did a stop at La Paz Waterfall to look for black phoebe, torrent tyrannulet and american deeper, saw all but the last one.
After that another stop by the old “El Angel” plant/factory, this was great as we got golden-olive woodpecker, red faced spine tail, tufted flycatcher, red headed barbet as the highlights.
After that we turned around and got directions to the cinchona restaurant, we got there at about 2:30pm and wow! This was productive! They just put some fresh fruit and immediately silver throated, blue gray, palm, Passerini’s tanagers came in, then red headed and prong billed barbets, after other various birds our target came in! Not 1 but 3 emerald toucanets!
After a delicious soup for lunch it was time to call it a day, everyone was happy, we all got lifers and truly enjoyed the birds and the wonderful companion.
Birding Cinchona and Poas area is indeed great! not only for the wonderful scenery you get to see but the variety of habitats in which you will be will let you nice an interesting mix of species.
On our last day, Jan 17th we were ready at 5:50 AM, this was our last day together, the end of any field trip it is always a sad day after meeting wonderful birders but above all nice new friends!
We birded some part of the gardens as usual, although this time we just focused on the bright-rumped attila which he heard every day but could not see, well, we could not see it at this time neither (high up on tree canopy and fog does not rhyme well) but managed to find one later on the morning finally!
After getting great looks at a black-bellied wren and rose-throated becard right behind Malcom’s and Eleanor’s room. We continued the road towards the Tropical station, as this road is productive most times, the forest edge, road side and pasture allowed views of southern-beardless tyrannulet, various tanagers, social and gray capped flycatchers and white-whinged becard among several others, time flew so fast! we walked fast back for breakfast so we would not miss it! (breakfast here is served from 7:00am to 8:00am). On a safety note, be careful if you plan to walk this road at night, the night before we saw a fer-de-lance (venomous snake) cross the road, although it does not mean there are snakes there all the time it is not bad to just watch were you step.
Although initially we were going to bird Coto 47 and after lunch we would do the species found at the town of La Gamba we decided to invert our plans, we then looked for one of out main targets; rusty-margined flycatcher which we got, a pair is known to hang out by the house with the corral, just 500-600 meters outside Esquinas. There we got several good birds we needed such as pale-breasted spine tail, yellow tyrannulet, and fork-tailed flycatcher, and other good birds we had seen already but nice to see again such as red-breasted meadowlark (blackbird), Baird’s trogon, ithsmian and riverside wrens, blue-ground dove, laughing falcon and more.
Then, after some good birds near that house area we continued little more by car to the spot he had heard the striped-cuckoo some nights ago, and there it was! other good birds we got here where the best views of yellow bellied seedeater (a common bird in this region), white lined tanagers and streaked saltator. Then we continued to the town of La Gamba, turned left towards the Piedras blancas national park and drove for 400 meters only as I knew a site to try great antshrike which we missed unfortunately but got a bright-rumped attila at last! After checking the river for a while we then went back for lunch.
After lunch it was time to run, we needed to drive to Coto 47 near Villa Neily and had at least 35 min drive, our main targets were savanna hawk and sapphire, throated hummingbird. Soonest we got to Coto we found a small marsh drying out due to the normal summer conditions, birds everywhere! birds such as the typical herons and egrets, black bellied whistling ducks, blue winged teal, glossy ibis, spoonbills, storks, gallinules, jacanas (no wattled was seen although we looked hard for it) osprey, lesser yellowlegs and so much more, I really regret I did not take a picture as it would had been a nice memory!
We drove a few more kilometers and I heard brown-throated parakeet, one of our targets, we got at least 6 to 8 individuals and later in the afternoon we got a large flock.
We went to the site where I had seen Savannah hawk nest in the past, despite our efforts we could not see them and I fear that no matter how hard we look for the sapphire throated hummingbird at all sites, La Gamba, Coto and Ciudad Neily, the flowers all/most looked old and fading now, so we missed the hummer too. We got 3 kingfisher spp: ringed, green and amazon, as well as the common southern lapwing which was new for the trip.
A very productive day indeed!
Our day ended with a lovely dinner, we did the day’s list and counted all we saw during our five days together. Good birds, many lifers for miss Eleanor and Malcom who had visited the country various times now, on this field trip we all had great moments lived and the best, new friends!
On Jan 16th we were up and ready at 6:00am, time to put on some lowland birds!
The morning was quite fresh given last nights rain, which was very nice to get during a classic hot January! it was foggy however and made it hard to get those distant, high-perching birds. The first hour we birded the gardens as there are several species that were on the wanted list that show up on the gardens regularly.
We immediately checked the caiman pond as once in a while the rare and elusive agami heron is reported at Esquinas, considered the best place in the south pacific for this beautiful heron (why do beautiful birds are always rare?!) Unfortunately we were not lucky and the pond itself only produced gray-cowled woodrail (former gray necked w.r) and cherrie’s tanager, meanwhile, the gardens where full of calls and songs! we then got extremely close ups to great curassow, Eleanor’s most wanted target!, well, this birds are so tame here at Esquinas we could had taken a selfie with them! they seem to like the area where they do the compos, plenty of worms to eat!
we got some hummers such as band-tailed barbthroat, long billed hermit, violet headed hummingbird, the local endemic charming hummingbird and the abundant Rufous tailed, all from the potterweeds, and heliconias around the gardens.
By 6:40 am the fog finally cleared out, and allowed views to the canopy of the trees, a small passing mixed flock produced red legged and shining honeycreepers, buff-throated saltator, golden hooded tanager, spot crowned euphonia, and finally! one of our targets, white-vented euphonia, although views were distant through the scope the white vent was clearly seen.
Just before breakfast we walked for 50 meters into the ocelot trail (entering behind the cabins, not by the riverbed trail-area), and were lucky to get good views of a pair of gray-chested doves, and then, at the first creek we got a quick look of the hard-to-see scaly-breasted wren!
As we walked back for breakfast a crested guan was awaiting for us, this was just the start of an excellent day!
After an excellent breakfast (food is always good here at Esquinas ) we walked to the Riverbed trail, we checked the small river hoping for the rare agami heron, we soon got red-capped manakin, band tailed barbthroat, a pair of scarlet-rumped caciques making their nest, some tropical gnatcatchers and wedge billed woodcreeper. After searching the lagoon area for the agami which we had to give up, it had not been reported lately here so time to flip the page, as we entered the River bed trail we luckily found a good mixed flock led by one one of the must-see targets to anyone who comes birding Esquinas rainforest lodge, i.e black-cheeked ant-tanager. Black striped woodcreeper allowed clear views, various white shoulder tanagers, then the anttanagers, then for our surprise a stripe-breasted woodhaunter let Malcom and I see it well, which we then worked hard to ensure Eleanor would see it too, and she did later! Very excited to see it as I had only seen it near Esquipulas where I bird regularly, a place called Quebrada Arroyo but that’s another story.
As we continued enjoying this flock we got rufous-winged woodpecker, and just after that a red-rumped woodpecker, 2 more targets checked!
After that bird frenzy we continued our walk with good sightings such as Bairds trogon, cocoa woodcreeper, ruddy quail-dove, yellow throated toucan and more, time flew by, we earned our lunch!
After lunch and a short break we went back to the riverbed in hopes to see streaked-chested antpitta or a tinamou, as part of this trail is fairly flat and allows for good views of the forest floor, however it was not our luck, we then covered part of the trocha trail and it was a bit slow and the hilly terrain made birding a bit difficult.
From all of the trails here at Esquinas, the best for birds are the Riverbed and the bird trail due to it’s flatter terrain and and width, the last one unfortunately is closed as the river damaged a very good portion, I didnt feel like there were plans to repair it unfortunately.
The other trails such as the waterfall and particularly the ocelot trail are productive too but notice it is hilly and the lack of steps could be a limiting, highly suggested for rufous piha, scaly breasted wren, bairds trogon, and I am sure one or two forest-interior raptors.
Arter dinner we trieded some owls again, no luck but did heard a striped cuckoo calling, it was interesting to hear it call this late! After that and seeing some common pauraques it was bed time.
On out third day, we went very early into the jungle trail (5:00am), the entrance near the soccer field as we had heard mottled owl at night, this time we heard the bird very close to us but despite our efforts we could not see it, too close but too far! Also heard distant calls of collared forest falcon.
As light made it through the forest we got some of the birds we had seen, with excellent look of buff-throated foliage gleaner, Scale-crested pygmy tyrant, crowned woodnymph, striped throated hermit, and various species more.
After breakfast (served from 6:30am to 7:30am) we drove to the airport and San Joaquin March, both known as spots for bran-colored flycatcher, chiriqui yellowthroat (former masked YT) and Wattled Jacana (the last one had not been reported for quite a while) on the drive we got tropical mockingbird thanks to Malcom, a group of fiery-billed aracaries (only site we actually saw this somewhat common endemic specie), once at the lagoon across for the San Vito airport we got our first giant cowbirds (it was about time they showed up!) among the several birds seen here we got purple gallinule, common gallinule, northern jacana, gray-cowled woodrail (former gray necked w.r) and excellent views of mourning warbler, but no bran colored flycatcher nor yellowthorat. We drove to the San Joaquin Marsh, where we only got blue winged teals and black-bellied whistling duck, various herons, our first yellow-bellied seedeaters of the trip and the best looks of isthmian wren (this unpronounceable name is a split from plain wren, endemic to south CR and West Panama).
The San Joaquin Marsh is known as the spot for masked duck which is reported a few times a year here. Located east of San Vito, about 5 min/3-4km from the town, past the airport on the left hand side as you drive towards Sabalito. Look for the crested oropendola nesting colony across from the marsh, which we saw, dealing with some giant cowbirds who were trying to parasite the nests.
After lunch we left for Esquinas rainforest lodge with several stops that produced some birds we only saw once, including a least grebe (between San Vito and Ciudad Neily), and little tinamou near Rio Claro. As we arrived to Esquinas we heard a lesser elaenia which called from the forest edge near the reception area, unfortunately a heavy rain ruined our plans, but in the good side it helped with the heat for a good, fresh night!
I spent my first night at the Trompestation (tropical station) while Malcom and Eleanor stayed at Esquinas, after dinner we did some owling by car as I knew some spots for striped owl and were told of one for black and white owl by Fernando and Julia from Esquinas, however we missed those but luckily got tropical screech-owl! not to forget the super-common pauraques!
Las Cruses as commented before is a field station that also Covers the Wilson’s botanical Gardens. The rooms at this OTS station are the best of the 3 OTS stations in the country (La selva and Palo Verde are the other 2).
The Gardens are excellent and the feeder outside the dinner is very productive. The trails along the gardens are worth to check and the best trail inside the forest to look for birds is the Rio Java trail, a wider, more open trail that it is often birdy.
On the next day, Jan 14th we birded before breakfast (notice breakfast here is served between 6:30am to 7:30am) so we used the time between 5:45 until breakfast to explore the feeder and gardens in search for garden species. It is great there as you can get great close up views of speckled tanagers, streaked saltator (one of our targets) red faced spine tail, various euphonias, crested oropendolas and blue headed parrots, right by our rooms and more. After breakfast our first forest adventure began.
Same as yesterday, the tree-fern hill never disappoints, we got tropical parula, riverside wren, white breasted wood-wren, slate throated redstars, olivaceous woodcreeper, orange billed sparrow, white throated thrush and more. Time to enter the forest, we looked had for marbled wood-quails which are found regularly foraging near the entrance to Java trail but were unlucky with that. We got several motmots, a road side hawk (from the tower) good looks at a male charming hummingbird, yellow bellied, slaty-capped and sulphur rumped flycatchers, and some few more, however, the forest felt very quite and there were no fruiting trees, we even explored the Melissa’s meadow which is a narrower, steeper trail and part of the ridge trail hoping for more activity, luckily towards the end of the morning Eleanor found a fruiting tree and wow were we paid for the slow hours we spent! White ruffed manakin, white shoulder tanagers, gray capped and social flycatchers, philadelphia vireos, various warblers, silver throated, speckled and various tanagers and some honeycreepers made the morning!
Tips/notes: Rio Java trail is the more productive trail of Las Cruses, nice open habitat, relatively flat terrain allows good birding, however most birds here move with mixed flocks so listen for white shoulder tanager, tawny crowned greenlet and silver throated tanagers. Or bicolored antbird, red-crowned anttanger or tawny winged woodcreepers. Melissa’s meadow is good for chiriqui yellowthorat, bran colored flyatchers and lesser elaenia, consider you need to cross 1 or 2 creeks but it represents no challenge, it only takes a couple of hopes. Trail there is steeper so bring walking sticks.
After lunch we decided to venture into the jungle trail, not known to be a productive trail but today we got proved wrong! this trail has a short loop which takes you back to the big, green bamboo which is located below the reception, near tree-fern hill, we did the long loop, hoping to venture deeper into the forest, we entered by the soccer field, this longer version loops back to the soccer field. This time we got really lucky, we found some bicolored antbirds and then I knew our luck had changed! I got a glimpse of gray headed tanagers, but we all saw bicolored antbirds, tawny winged woodcreepers, sulphur rumped flycatchers, plain antvireo, black hooded antshrikes, black faced antthrush, buff-throated foliage gleaner, and finally, today’s most wanted target, ruddy foliage gleaner!
This bird is found in a very limited range in Costa Rica, here at San Vito area, and like many furnarids it is often hard to see, in the past I had seen poor views of it in various occasions, not today, we saw everything we wanted to see of it! we all agreed it was the best bird of the day! time to cheer!
Las Cruses biological station is one of the three research stations administrated by the OTS, protecting 326 hectares of both primary and secondary forest, to many the site is also known for hosting the Wilson’s botanical garden. Located in San Vito de Coto Brus (South east CR), part of the southern pacific intermontane valleys with elevations ranging from 1400 to 1000 meters.
Between January 13th to the 18th I had the pleasure to guide a wonderful couple from Portlan, Maine USA. Miss Eleanor Goldberg and MR Malcom Burson , excellent, experienced birders with various trips to the tropics of Costa Rica, so we had lots of fun!
Our day began on January 13th when we met at Tiskita lodge, Located at Pavones (Punta Burica, southern most corner of CR!) at 7 a.m. and we soon put on some birds, with most common garden species such as Philadelphia lirio Baltimore Oriole, Great Crested Flycatcher, white necked jacobin, summer tanager, and more. Right after breakfast we departed on was started to be a great trip!
After some stops along the road to get some birds (the highlight of the road trip was lesser goldfinch as we only saw it once as you drive up the road from V. Neily) and lunch we got to Las Cruses OTS /Wilson’s botanical garden and started birding on the gardens right away! We then got birds such as speckled tanagers, silver throated tanagers, lesson’s motmots, and several other common birds that attend to the feeders/gardens. The highlight of the day was a beautiful male golden-olive woodpecker, I was particularly glad for this one as Malcom and Eleanor are fond of woodpeckers! The busiest site was down towards the tree-fern hill, a good mixed flock passed including tropical parula, slate throated redstar, olive striped flycatcher, olivaceous woodcreeper, spot crowned euphonia, riverside wren, orange billed nightingale-thrush and more, a good start indeed! After dinner we went to look for owls although we were only able to hear a distant mottled owl.
CBC (Christmas bird counts) are annual bird census practiced by volunteer birders and administrated by Audubon society. The data collected during this events is used for scientific purpose so bird population in different sites can be studied.
Another great thing of CBC is that not only you get to see excellent birds or even learn from those advanced or even beginning birders who also volunteer but you get to catch up with friends from other regions of the country or even make new friends!
This year I only had the opportunity to participate in 2 of them, although both in opposite sides of the country they have one thing in common, both offer the best lowland birding experience in the country, i.e Carara NP (Central Pacific bird count) at the Pacific side and OTS La Selva in the caribbean lowlands.
Both Bird-counts were dedicated to the memory of an excellent birder, guide, artist and my closest friend Roy Orozco (RIP).
Carara is located on the central Pacific side, with more than 400 species recorded on the historical CBC records (Ten counts celebrated). Birding Carara is always very productive as it is located on a transitional zone where the dry forest meets the tropical rain forest, therefore it is always exciting to go there no matter how many times I had guided there! For the CBC on December 15th our group was made of 5, Karen Castillo, Kassandra Villalobos, Andres Martinez, Oscar Herrera and myself and were in charge of the Lagoon trail and the Limonal road.
The lagoon trail is located is located 1.5km north of the park headquarters and offers great birds, mostly good for Furnarids, orange collared manakin (might be the best site at the park for this sp) Antbirds/Antshrikes/Antwrens, wrens, trogons, motmots, king vulture, macaws as the main must-sees of this trail.
The lagoon trail is closed from September to November as it floods, it is best birded from late December to April. Although consider that when it is semi-flooded is good for boat-billed heron. Boots are for rent with the local guides.
The limonal road, our second half of the day is little north of the Cerro lodge entrance, good for dry-forest species although birders staying at Cerro lodge might find Cerro road more productive, despite that we got about 84 species for the afternoon including some common spp such as cinnamon hummingbird, nutting’s flycatcher and white fronted parrot that one does not get commonly at the lagoon trail, King vulture was the highlight certainly.
Carara’s most emblematic bird, scarlet macaws.
La Selva Biological station, located in the Caribbean lowlands is Carara´s counterpart, birding La Selva is always impressive as must birders would agree, it is perhaps the best, accessible lowland birding in the country! The CBC here has been done since 1985, making this the oldest, and most constant birdcount in the neotropics with more than 5000 species in the records.
Our team lead by Jimmy Trejos, was sent to the Sendero Tres Rios 2750 STR and Sendero rivereño SR, the STR is a well done cement trail which allows to walk silently (so are most trails at La Selva), the habitat we were on ranged from advanced secondary forest, primary forest, Scrub, rivers, creeks, swamp inside the forest, it has it all!
The soonest the sun came out it was a madness! we soon got some of the common caribbean species such as red-throated ant-tanager, black-crowned antshrike, black capped pygmy-tyrant (which is fairly common here), honeycreepers, and so, so much more. The highlight of our morning was perhaps seeing 2 sunbitterns, calling quietly from the swamp, allowing good looks and even audio recordings!
Great green macaws are the rarest species of the 2 that occur in CR.
I did have a great experience comparing both sites on these events and can tell I love both sites, clearly La Selva has a much more developed trail system which gives you tons of access to so many trails it is very hard to actually get to bird them all! I must thank the organizers for allowing me to participate and hope it is not the last time I get to volunteer on these bird-counts.