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!
Gartered trogon, crested guan and fiery billed aracary.
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!
Orange collared manakin, bairds trogon and long billed hermit
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!
Black headed trogon
scrub euphonia, a common dry forest specie
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.
Orange fronted parakeet, panama fc, common black-hawk and mangrove vireo.
american pygmy KF.
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!
Great tinamou, scarlet macaw and gray headed tanager, Carara is got to be about the best site in the west coast fro tinamou 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.
white whiskered puffbird