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Birding Esquinas Rainforest lodge and Coto 47 – Field trip.

Between July 16th to July 18th I had the opportunity to lead a birding trip to the southern Pacific side of Costa Rica to my friends Jim and Gretchen Peterson whom I have had 4-5 consecutive years the opportunity to be their guide while during their last birding trips to Costa Rica.

After three years of trying Scaly-breasted Wren unsuccessfully we decided to try luck at Esquinas Rain-forest Lodge. My friends picked me up from Quepos and so another adventure began. We did some stops along the way,  including El Rey Marsh, where in just 20-30 minutes we got some of the common birds nevertheless the highlight was no doubt American Pygmy-Kingfisher.

A long drive we saw Gray and Roadside Hawks as well as a Double-toothed Kite perched on a wire (a bit unusual). We got to the town of La Gamba and began our Birding; our first birds included Red-crowned Woodpecker which is very common naturally, some of the typical Seedeaters, then Blue-headed Parrots flew over providing us some quick -poor views but fortunately later on we were able to spot some perched. As we continued we found Rusty-margined Flycatcher, one of our targets, then we stopped at River right before getting to Esquinas and we got entertained seeing a Band-tailed Barbthroat and then one of our targets showed up, Red-rumped Woodpecker, we began to run out of targets so soon! https://www.xeno-canto.org/426104 recording of the BTBT

Esquinas Rainforest Lodge

Curassows are the stars of the show here.

After dinner we went to do some owling which produced two owls; Black-and-white Owl and Tropical Screech-Owl, unfortunately we missed Striped Owl and potoos.

 

Gladiator tree frog

The next morning and with big expectations we decided to take the riverbed trail, soon enough we got one of the 2 main targets for Jim, Striped Woodhunter along with some of the common species including Great Curassow, Black striped and orange-billed sparrows, Bairds Trogon, the Costa  Rica only endemic Black-cheeked Anttanager and others.

After breakfast we had to focus on our next target; Scaly-breasted Wren, and taking Julia’s recommendation we took the waterfall trail looping back via la Fila trail and finally we were able to hear 1 singing! as we approached to its location our sudden moves and a bad maneuver from my part flushed the wren away, three years of effort flushed away in front of her eyes!! As rain came upon us we had to continue down the Fila trail and we found a small mixed flock feeding with an army ant swarm, after seeing a couple of Tawny-winged Woodcreepers, Bicolored antbirds, gray-headed Tanager, Lesson’s Motmot, another Scaly-breasted Wren sang so we knew we were back in the game!. After less than a minute of play back that little brown and elusive wren flew in front of us, walked up for 3 to 4 feet and began to call in front of us, great success!

On our Next day, after a short birding session and a good breakfast we left for Coto 47, a marshland south of Esquinas, not far from the Panama border. Although first we stopped at the Hospital road we got Sapphire-throated Hummingbird as the highlight. Later not one but three Gray-lined Hawks! We were just missing the famous Savanna hawk at this point.

Later we went to the sector known as Las Pangas, the flooded conditions where ideal for the thousands of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, hundreds of Northern Jacanas, however, we had to be so lucky to stop at a spot, where after some scanning I was able to spot a pair of Masked ducks! a new species to my life list, and new for Gretchen and Jim’s CR list! A duck I had tried many times at San Vito in the past!

A picture Gretchen got of me while digiscoping my lifer.

After that we then continued to another spot for more Red-rumped Woodpecker, unfortunately, given the floods suffered in the area some months ago the habitat is gone, nevertheless we got many Crested Oropendolas and a pair of Brown-throated Parakeet. After this, we checked another marsh and got a good glossy ibis, and right after that a bird that had characteristics of a Hybrid Northern x Wattled Jacana was foraging near the road.

The Hybrid Jacana, I saw, exactly on the same spot what I presume is the same individual (?) back in September

Followed that we had our last stop, Savanna hawk. I took Gretchen  and Jim to one of the spots and as we scanned the trees Jim asked – “Do they perched on the fence posts?” and soon enough a hawk was been harassed by some kiskadees and perched on the post – “now we know they do” I said!! (seconds before I just had said I had never seen them on posts, but only on trees, dead branches or the ground!).

Savanna Hawk

This is a trip I particularly enjoyed guiding, excellent and challenging at the same time due to the tough targets but above all for the wonderful companion. Enjoyed every minute of it.

 

Celebration selfie! From left to Right: Gretchen, me and Jim.

Photos by Jim and Gretchen.

 

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Cuba trip report: part 2, Birding Playa Larga with Angel Martinez

On May 17th I met my guide Angel Martinez just about sunrise and we drove to Soplillar, Angel’s favorite Birding spot, unfortunately due to the weather we had to skip the location for Zapata wren as the chances for rain were high and Angel wanted to get me as much of birds as possible so we had to sacrifice one for the others.

Female Fernandina’s flicker. Endemic to Cuba, forages on the ground,somewhat resembling an ani, often clings onto low trunks.

Once at the first spot the fun began and we got some of the birds I wanted to see the most just within 5-10min from our arrival; Cuban trogon which during the time I was there I learned that It was very common, great lizard cuckoo (which was seen several times at different sites we were at) and Fernandina’s flicker, which apparently is not too common here according to Angel.

Later, my first crow flew right in front of us! Cuban crow.

We walked a little more while having a nice chat and seeing some birds, Angel took me to a narrow trail he knew he could get more of my targets, sure enough Cuban tody was there followed by Cuban vireo! Also white-crowned pigeon which in Costa Rica is a rarity, here I enjoyed more than a dozen of them!

Great Lizard cuckoo

 

This location basically consisted of open scrub habitat with some partially flooded pastures, Angel mentioned that it will be unpassable some months later due to the flooded conditions.

Then back to our ride, Angel took me to a forested area where they regularly get the quail-doves, however we were not lucky at that moment, we walked out of the forest to an open marshy area and got one of the ducks I desired to see the most, and never ever thought I could see it in Cuba!; wood duck, what a beautiful duck! Later a Cuban pygmy-owl and various other birds more were seen here.

 

 

 

Bare-legged owl, formerly known as Cuban screech-owl

Later Angel took me to a spot to see the cuban screech owl (Bare-legged Owl) which we got. I did know of this location based on other bird- trip reports I read prior to my visit as well as eBird lists, I thought that I could find the owl on my own, NO WAY! you need Angel as your guide! He knows every perch and roost. Here we got a pair of Gray-fronted quail-dove (resent split from gray- headed q-D).

The rain started, nonetheless he was determined to get me more birds, at another location he took me to show me the nest of a bee hummingbird (extremely small naturally, we got La Sagra’s flycatcher, Cuban pewee and black-whiskered vireo, the later one is abundant here, however it is uncommon in Costa Rica.

Then the storm came in, putting an end to our trip, a pity because it was so exciting to get so many quality life birds, but also sharing with a colleague of another country. On our way back we got antilliant nighthawk.

Although it was only half a day due to the rain I enjoyed every moment, every bird and all the chatting with Angel.

Angel Martínez García Cellphone 01 5294 1853 email: angelczcuba@gmail.com

In PLaya Larga we stayed at a Casa Particular, since the last 3 years the Cuban government is allowing people to rent rooms, we found, through a recommendation a house named Casa Yaima https://es.airbnb.com/rooms/17680234?s=51

Yaima Reyes – Phone (0053) 54115198 email: yaima.reyes@nauta.cu Yaima is a wonderful host, and she went the extra mile to make sure we had all we needed, particularly since we had our son and getting somethings for him was not so easy. Her house/room is extremely clean, excellent location, you will be happy staying here.

Part 1: Introduction, logistics, recommendations, playa Larga, stygian owl and bee hummingbird

Part 2: Birding Playa Larga with Angel Martinez

Part 3:

Part 4:

 

Cuba – Trip report; part 1

Cuba is a country full of history, wonderful beaches, extremely friendly people and of course with endemic birds any birder would wish to see! but also with unique politics!

I had the pleasure to visiting this interesting country between May 15-24th 2018 on a family holiday. We did all of the planning on our own using recommendations given to us by other friends whom I am thankful for sharing their experience. Blogs and traveling sources such as Loney planet were of great help. eBird was extremely helpful when I planned the birding sites, but also helped on getting an idea where my targets were most likely seen at, for the bird Field guide I used “Birds of the west Indies” by Raffaele, Wiley, Garrido, Keith and Raffaele. 2003 Princeton university press.

A bit of an old book now but I combined Avibase and eBird for updated taxonomy.

For maps and navigation I used an app called Maps.me, you can download the entire map of a country so you can use offline, notice that the internet in Cuba is from the stone age (will detail later) so using google maps is almost impossible. Like Google maps you can put markers, use it as a GPS, search for places etc.

The following trip report will be (as usual) written in English hoping to help a larger audience, however I also hope to help Costa Ricans who are planning a similar trip get their ideas to put a trip together, I wish I could had found a report as detailed as I am hoping this one to be. This was not a 100% birding trip due to our son’s age, but I did my efforts to get as many as I could. So if you are a birder the most helpful information will be between May 15th to the 20th, the rest is mostly beach and city traveling.

Did I mention Cuba is also well known for their old cars?

Flights:

We used Copa Airlines and found tickets for us$553 round trip for the 2 of us and our baby son (he was on our lap) with a connection flight in Panama each way (1hr30min approx). The flight to Panama took about 1hr and from Panama to Cuba 2hr10min (Costa Rica to Panama and then Cuba).

NOTICE that Cuba requires a travelers visa, we bought ours in the Cuban embassy for us$15 per person. You can buy it from Copa Airlines at their booth at the CR airport for us$60pp if I am not wrong. You can also buy it in Panama at the Copa Airlines desk for cheaper I believe. In CR Cubana de aviación (Cuban airlines) sells it for $25. Make it simple, just buy it at the embassy if you want to save $ or just do it in Copa Airlines desk (airport) if you can not make a trip to San Jose just for it.

A Travelers insurance is mandatory. We bought from INS in Quepos (A Costa Rican insurance company). Us$50 per adult.

Getting out of the Cuban airport was no so bad. It is a small airport (yes! Even smaller than San Jose CR). Once outside, as usual there are many taxis who are offering their service, we, however never felt harassed by them, instead they made a respectful approach and kindly offered their service. We stood aside, saw the panorama and picked a driver/taxi of our preference. Our driver, a man named Alex, good driver and quite talkative, during our 20 min ride to our hotel in Havana gave us some friendly info about the country. Cellphone 53479157. Again, too many drivers, I did manage to get a drivers contact (although I did not use his service), he drives a toyota Hiace with rooms for 12 people: Delfin Cordero phone 52822134 email mherrera85@nauta.cu A private trip to places like Varadero cost approximately 150 cuc for a private ride ($180 approximately, find out about the exchange) for a family of 5, but a taxi for 2 should be between 90-100 CUC ($105 us$).

Cuba uses 2 currencies; the one used by the locals called CUP or Moneda nacional, which is about 23CUP to 1 CUC, and the other Currency is the CUC or moneda convertible, which is what tourists use, 1CUC = $0.70 or 1 Euro. I DO NOT recommend to use US dollars, use Euros instead as they have more acquisitive power. In Cuba you will find CADECAS, which is the place you can change currency, they as almost everything in Cuba belong to the government so the exchange is official.

We booked a room in Habana very near Viazul as we had a bus ticket to Playa Larga the next day. In Cuba you can stay at hotels, all run by the government but also you can rent rooms at private homes for a much better fee. We used VRBO (how was life before VRBO!?) and got a room for 25 CUC / $30 for the night! The rooms was very nice, very clean with TV hot shower and full A/C. Our hosts Miss Onelia, mr Carlos and daughter Sandra were super friendly and accommodating, we felt like at home thanks to their help. Onelia Rodriguez and Sandra Negrin. oneliarr@nauta.cu On this night we ate dinner at Habitania, which is walking distance from Viazul, I consider this the best dinner I had in Cuba! MAP HERE.

 

Restaurant Habitania

One of the 2 species of hummingbirds in Cuba, Cuban emerald is the most common of them, this was seen at the garden of our VRBO in La Havana.

 

Red legged thrush! why can’t our thrushes be this pretty?

Highlights of the day were Red-legged thrush (very common in Cuba), Cuban emerald.

      May 16th. After a delicious breakfast made by Miss Onelia we walked to Viazul as we had a bus to catch at 7:00am. They’d requested to be there one hour before. Our destination was Playa Larga where the Zapata Marsh is at.

The Viazul office.

VIAZUL: This is a bus company that offers transportation to most famous destinations (To Costa Rican readers: our Tracopa of 1990s!) the transportation in Cuba is a bit rustic as you must know, you can go by private taxi if you can afford it, or if you go to the office of Viazul there are taxis who offer a shared ride, we met other tourists who asked us if we were willing to take a taxi and divide the cost; we already had our Viazul tickets so we did not shared a taxi.

When you book a bus ticket through Viazul website and plan to go to Playa Larga it is hard to understand their website, there is a ride that goes from Havana and ends in Trinidad and does some stops to drop people off. The options that you have to buy on this ride do not mention Playa Larga, you must buy tickets to Playa Giron which pases by Playa Larga and simply get off in Playa Larga, cost is us$13 pp. The ride took about 2hr45min with a 10min stop at a restaurant called Pio Cua, south of Australia, yes! Australia! where I managed to see the following birds:

Little Blue Heron
Cattle Egret
Turkey Vulture
Cuban Emerald
American Kestrel
Gray Kingbird
Red-legged Thrush
Yellow-faced Grassquit
*Tawny-shouldered Blackbird
*Greater Antillean Grackle
House Sparrow Passer domesticus

*=lifers.

We finally arrived to Playa Larga at 9:45am, we took a “taxi-bike” ride to our Airbnb which was fun and cost us 2 cuc (little more than $2).

Here in Cuba there are plenty of Bike-taxis, with room for 2 and even luggage! the cheapest way to get around.

We were now established and went on a recon walk into the small village to buy groceries and here is where the first difficulty was faced; we were told that the cuban stores were not as supplied as those of other countries, but I never thought that this was that extreme! We had difficulties finding even the most basic things, no beans, no meat, no eggs! We really had to improvise using what we could, yes! There are some restaurants with excellent seafood as well as typical Cuban food but even there sometimes somethings from the menu were unavailable, not a problem if you are adults only but when traveling with a small child it makes things very, very hard.

We ended having lunch at a place called Chuchi el pescador. One of the best places we were told. Later on the day we figured that if you walk towards the local clinic/hospital there are many more options. Our walk produced 5 new birds; where the highlight was Cuban oriole, Cuban black-hawk, and west Indian woodpecker. 

West indian woodpecker

 

Here is where I want to advise you to bring as much as you could from your country in terms of food and snacks, items of personal use e.g batteries, face tissues, PLENTY of insect repellent (Dont you dare to come to Playa Larga without it!) medicines, sunblock, cereal bars, basically anything you might need.

During our walk in town, I met a man who figured I was looking for birds and recommended to go to a place for the bee hummingbird, or as it is called in Cuba; Zumzumbito, so glad he mentioned that as I knew there was a spot for that but did not know where exactly, a Taxi charged us 12cuc for round trip and waiting time. This place is located in the town of Pálpite, about 15minutes north of Playa Larga and it is well known, see the map here (22.326217,-81.183535 coordinates), mr Bernabe and Mrs Juana keep their garden with feeders, so getting the smallest bird of the world here is quite easy indeed.

Bernabe’s contact. No reservation is needed, just walk in, there is no official fee but he does expect a tip to pay for the sugar etc.

 

Yes, there is a better photo!

Bernabe is quite familiar with the local birds, clearly he is used to receive birders and photographers.

Back in Playa larga, at dusk I got Antilleant nighthawk, and thanks to the recommendation of a local expert guide, Angel Martinez I got one of the owls I had wished to see the most; Stygian owl! Here the maps to the precise location on which I saw it: https://goo.gl/maps/RojQ3DjRxJK2.

Stygian owl

Part 1: Introduction, logistics, recommendations, playa Larga, stygian owl and bee hummingbird

Part 2: Birding Playa Larga with bird guide Angel Martinez

Part 3:

Part 4:

 

 

Birding Medio Queso and Caño Negro.

Caño Negro and Medio Queso, located Near Los Chiles in the northern zone of CR near the Nicaraguan border are (along with Palo Verde) known as one of the best marshlands in the entire country.

On April 9th I was able to join a group of birders, all friends and guides from the Manuel Antonio area, we left home at 1:00am and drove straight to Medio Queso, were Rafa was waiting for us. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/f46mASz23qS2

The canal at Medio Queso

We began our trip at 6:45am, inmediatly we got one of the highlights of the ride; Least bittern, perched on a reed at the edge of the canal, thus allowing us great looks, and why not? pictures! Naturally you can expect the typical herons such as boat-billed, yellow-crowned and Black crowned Night herons, etc.

Least bittern

Pinnated bittern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The boat ride took about 2hrs30min and we got most of the target species the group was looking for, including yellow-breasted crake, lesser yellow headed vulture, pinnated bittern, snail kite, ruddy breasted seedeater and other highlights such as canebrake, black-throated wrens, and bare-crowned antbird.

Snail kite

Yellow breasted cuckoo, this is a life bird for me! very exciting!

The boat used by Rafa is small, although enough room for us 9, although no roof so be ready for PLENTY of sun, or rain in the event of! Rafa has been a little irregular with his service lately, he sends a young man to ride the boat instead, this young man speaks no english just to keep in consideration, still this is the ONLY option for Medio Queso. Contact: Rafa Palacios +506-6385-3315

 

We then drove to Caño Negro which is Sout east of Los Chiles, about 21 KM but expect bad road conditions and it might take an hour to get there. Once we got there our lcoal guide and boatman Jimmy Guitierrez https://www.facebook.com/jimmito.gutierrez was waiting for us.

The boat here is different, spaceful and comfortable with a nice roof and 4 stroke engine. The habitat here at Caño negro is different, although there are some species in Medio Queso you wont otherwise get here, therefore doing both trips is an excellent way to get the most variety.

The view from the Tower at Caño Negro

With Karen at the Caño Negro tower

This trip was very productive and not only did get more variety but also got most quality, the best birds to me were American white Pelican, which had been showing to Caño Negro the last 3 years, Black-collared hawk, nonetheless other good birds include Jabiru, Costa Rica’s largest bird, green and glossy ibises, and sungrebe.

Both locations are a recommended, and it can be fitted in an itinerary if birding lactions such as La Fortuna and  Sarapiqui areas.

At the end of the trip, I ended with 4 new species for CR list, 3 life birds and several for the year list, what a fantastic trip indeed!

Sungrebe

Black collared hawk

Spectacled caiman, common at Caño Negro

Looking for white pelicans

Our team! From L to R Edwin Castillo, Elias Mora, Oscar Herrera, Dixon, Eidel Chaves, Andres Chaves, Dennis Reyes, Karen Castillo, Johan Chaves

 

Trip report: Birding with Susan and Ian Hardy part 2:

Day 4. San Gerardo de Dota.

Trogon Lodge

Cold in the highlands of CR! Not my favorite part of a trip, just consider I am use to the hot and humid 34ºC/93ºF of the lowlands of the central Pacific where I live!

We were fortunate to see the resplendent Quetzal on our first day up close, so there was no need to go early to the well known spot where everyone sees the quetzal, so we focused our attention to new birds, after some garden species and a good breakfast we took the waterfall trail and got a couple of small mixed flocks that produced our first Flame-throated and Black-cheeked warblers, Sooty capped and common (super common should I say?) Chlorospingus. various thrushes and long-tailed silky-flyactchers were nicely posing for pictures.

Larger flocks were compound by  furnarids, including a buffy tufted-cheek, spotted barbtails along with gray brested woodwren and more, later we got a close pair of Torrent tyrannulet and  american Deeper, and just when we thought we were done a male resplendent quetzal was seen feeding on “little avocados”.

 

After a late lunch we spent some time at Miss Miriam’s cafe for some photography, and just before our dinner at Trogon we went our for Dusky nightjar, the only endemic nightjar/Caprimulgid we have.

 

 

 

Day 5. Time for hummingbirds! We had some new birds at San Gerardo, including hairy woodpecker, rufous-browed peppershrike. We then moved to the upper mountains, where the telecommunication towers are at to look for Timberline wren and Volcano Junco, which we got after half an hour of search, this at an elevation of 3400+ meters.

Our next stop was Paraiso Quetzal for lunch and hummingbirds, fiery-throated hummingbird of course was seen here. The feeders bring basically 3-4 species, good chances for photos, but notice Flash is COMPLETELY forbidden at the feeders, but if you pay the fee they charge then you can use flash! even set up multi-flash! (Sarcasm). There is a small building dedicated for hummingbird photography where you can set up your multiflash. Food here is really good and the trails produce Wrenthrush and timberline wren. After some photography it was time to our next lodge; Rancho Naturalista, with some stops for Sedge wren and fasciated tiger-heron.

Sooty thrush at Miriam’s

Ochraceous wren seen various times at San Gerardo

Day 6 Rancho Naturalista.

We started very early so we could enjoy the moth light, we got many of the regular species that attend to it, plain-brown and northern barred woodcreepers, red-throated anttanagers, white throated woodwren and many, many more.

The breakfast bell rang! So we walked back to the dinner, the bird feeders are quite active, many gray headed Chachalacas abound, thrushes, oropendolas, collared aracaries, motmots and more, and for our surprise a Chiriquí Quail-dove came under the feeders, a bird seen by Meche (Mercedes), a local birder at Rancho who reported this bird some days ago here.

The trails at Rancho are well known for many specialty birds, including Tawny-Chested Flycatcher, Checker-throated antwren, Dull-mantled antbird and more. The Verbena is well known for Snowcap, a Classic at Rancho. Also, there is access to some nearby birding sites; a guide friend Cali, was very nice on pointing a place for Sunbittern which thanks to his help we got, Ian has some beautiful pictures he got there!

Contact:

Carlos Rodriguez “Cali” +506 8571-6877

Herman Venegas +506-889-34847

Both great local bird-guide for Rancho and surroundings.

Ranchonaturalista.net Great resident guides Mercedes Alpizar and Harry Barnard are available too.

Sunbittern

Male crowned woodnymph

 

The food at Rancho is exquisite!

Day 7th and 8th. Our morning was spent on the gardens and some trails, the goal was to improve the pictures Ian had taken of the Snowcap, after lunch we then drove to El Copal, a reserve I was very keen to bird as it said to extremely good!

It was fantastic! we were received by a large flock of Tanagers, emerald, crimson collared, paserinni’s, black-and-yellow tanagers, euphonias, and the rare Rufous-browed tyrannulet, what a welcome we all said!

El Copal is a reserve owned by a cooperative of Farmers, who had decided to keep this place for conservation, and with it they manage to help maintain their economy. The place is nestled in the jungle, solar panels will help you keep your electronics charged, a weak wifi network, no cellphone reception, but extreme peace, great food, great birding, friendly hosts and a wonderful experience awaits for you here at El Copal!

Cotact:

Patricia +506-8880-0432 / +506 2531-2124 elcopal98@gmail.com

 

Lovely dinner at El Copal.

Day 8: We spent all morning birding EL copal, then drove to La Selva Biological Station.

Notice that the road from The town of El Pejiballe and el Humo is in percet conditions as some work is currently been done, but the road from the gate to the reserve still is in bad conditions, you need a 4WD vehicle to get there. If you are renting 2WD then consider hiring Mauricio, who can drive you in his 4WD to the place and pick you up for the way back, he can arrange a place to leave your rental car. CONTACT Mauricio +5068828-4561 NO english.

Snowcap

Keel-billed toucan

White vented euphonia

Day 9: La Selva.

Nothing new I can say here but to join the rest of the people that go to la Selva, it is SUPER!

Our day began with Great-green macaw which were feeding on an Tonka Bean/ almond tree (Dipterix panamensis)  then the famous great Currasows along with the common garden species. After breakfast we walked into the forest where we spent the rest of the morning.

Trail at La Selva

 

After lunch we visit Frogs heaven, a great place for frog (yes you guessed right!) photography.  Jose +506 8891-8589

 

Day 10: Last Day. We bird La Selva again in the am to getting the last few new birds for the trip, we birded some of the surroundings to get Nicaraguan Seed-Finch which was one of the top 3 requested species (and we got them all) after lunch we did a variation of the trip and decided to skip Braulio Carillo and visited Cope instead, so Ian could enjoy the last day doing some photography. Fortunately Cope was able to clear some hours for us and as usual he gave as a very warm welcome to his house! We got good birds there including Russet-naped woodrail, white-tipped sicklebill, various tanagers, woodthrush and more. Other creatures we photographed were Jesus Christ lizards, helmet headed lizard, three toed sloth and of course the spectacled owl and white tent-making bats on the trail he took us to.

Male black-throated trogon, the last trogon of the trip.

Nicaraguan Seed-finch

 

From right to left: Jose “cope” Ian, Susan, me.

The trip was very successful, 10 days, 5 lodges, 352 species, plenty of photos and wonderful experiences! and of course new friends in England!

Three toed sloth

 

Trip Report. Birding with Susan and Ian Hardy: Part 1

Between March 2nd to March 11th I had the opportunity to lead a 10-day trip for a couple of birders from England; Ian and Susan Hardy, well experienced birders who had been to the neotropic in various occasions.

Our itinerary included a nice combination of habitats, birding some of Costa Rica’s well known localities as we as those little more off-the-beaten path; Carara which includes lowland transition between dry forest to rain-forest. San Gerardo de Dota, Pacific middle and high elevation. Rancho Naturalista and El Copal reserve with it’s amazing caribbean middle elevation and foothills. Then La Selva biological station and its amazing Caribbean lowland VERY humid forest.

Day 1, we change our route slightly given Ian photography requests and we drove up to the mountains of Poas, stopping at Freddo Fresas for hummingbirds and coffee, although activity was very slow, our first birds of the trip were Baltimore oriole, mountain elaenia, sparrows, purple-throated Mountain-gem, purple sabrewings, and some others.

We then continued to the famous La Paz waterfall (El Angel). A quick stop here produced American deeper, after that and some good Costa Rican corn bread and snacks we continued to Mirador Cinchona; Ian’s main target of the day was awaiting.

The feeders at soda y mirador Conchona were, as usual, quite good. Red headed Barbet, Northern Emerald-toucanet, prong billed barbet were there along with the various common tanager species that fill the feeders. We also got some specialties such as the white-bellied Mountain-gem, green Thorntail, and coppery headed emerald. Unfortunately we did not see the famous Buff-fronted quail-dove that has been coming to feed under the feeders lately.

Male red-headed Barbet, this has got to be the best place in CR to photograph this bird!

Road to La Virgen Del Socorro.

On this day the activity was a bit slow, perhaps due to the hot hours on which we were there. Nonetheless we did see the rufous browed tyrannulet, on the exact same spot where I saw it with friends some days ago! Other birds were black Phoebe, tufted flycatcher, later emerald tanager, swallow-tailed Kite, and more tanager and honeycreeper species. Birding this road is quite good normally and it is a place you must stop if you are around.

On our return we stopped near Freddo Fresas again and were lucky to see a pair of resplendent quetzals near the road! what a way to end our first day with this beautiful bird!

Day 2: we stayed at Cerro lodge, this is an excellent lodge for those who are birding Carara and want to get the best of both worlds; Rainforest and dry forest habitats.
Our day inside Carara was very productive, we got slaty tailed, gartered, black-headed and Baird’s Trogons. Various wren species, orange collared and red-capped Manakins, some antbirds, although hard to choose we agreed our best birds were the close looks we had of Streak-chested antpitta and the young male Yellow-Billed cotinga we saw while returning to Cerro lodge!

Scarlet macaw at Cerro Lodge

Streak chested antpitta. This is what a Canon 300 f2.8 and 7D Mark II can do huh! Not my lens, Ian was so kind to let me use his lens for this picture!

The road of Cerro lodge is a good option for owling, on this night we got Pacific screech-owl and we heard the calls of spectacled owl up in Villa Lapas road.

Pacific Screech-owl

Day 3– we covered the Tarcoles river vicinity and Mangroves, also we birded the road to Cerro lodge and villa Lapas. We were fortunate to get most of the Mangrove specialists such as Mangrove vireo, Northern scrub FC and Panama Flycatcher, yellow (mangrove) warbler and more. Along our drive to San Gerardo de Dota (Trogon lodge) we did some strategical stops and got Double-striped Thickknee, mangrove hummingbird, American pygmy kingfisher and other species. Later while driving up to San Isidro fiery-billed aracary was seen, lucky us as I thought we would had missed this near endemic toucan specie already!

 

 

Ferruginous pygmy-owl

Turquoise-browed Motmot

Orange fronted parakeet

Double-striped Thickknee seen in Jaco area

It was fantastic, by the end of the day, we had a total of 187 species in 3 days! Now we were off to a different habitat!

Day 4. San Gerardo de Dota.

To be continued.

Birding the road to Virgen del Socorro.

Poas, Vara Blanca and Cinchona areas are well known and birded localities either as a one-day trip from San Jose or as the first stop for birders when driving from the airport area to sites such as La Fortuna or La Selva.

On February 24th my friends Karen Castillo and Oscar Herrera went there to bird the area and do some photography, our first stop was as usual, Freddo Fresas to see the hummingbird feeders and to have breakfast, lately the activity has been a bit slow but still worth it for Magenta-throated woodstar and the common hummers. On addition we got Long-tailed Silky-FlycatcherNorthern emerald Toucanet as a highlight, the common birds included mountain and clay colored thrushes, rufous-collared sparrows, hoffmans woodpecers and more. We did look for quetzal just 300 meters up the hill as the “little avocado” tree was loaded with fruits but no luck.

White-nosed coati – Be a responsible tourist, Do NOT feed wild animals. They do not need your food.

We continued to the little, but well known Restaurante Mirador cinchona, excellent for Emerald toucanet and red-headed barbet, which we saw along with many of the species that come to feeders. We did look for the Buff-fronted Quail-Dove that has been showing under the feeders but we were not lucky with it.

The bird activity here is good indeed, but for photography is ok, the perches are not the best but you can still get nice pictures of the 2 main targets, not to forget the hummingbird feeders produce good species such as Green Thorntail, White-bellied Mountain-gem and coopery-headed Emerald (the last 2 endemics).

Silver-throated Tanager abound here.

This barbet is a rockstar here in Restaurante Mirador Cinchona!

Later we went down to he road that leads to La Virgen del Socorro, a very productive place. We did some birding along this road and were lucky to get some small mixed flocks. The area near the first bridge is quite good and there we had various raptor such as white, short tailed and barred hawks. Also king vulture, swallow tailed Kite, but the best raptor we got there was Ornate Hawk-eagle which soared above us for a while at the entrance to this road.

picture taken from the first bridge. No worries! this is not the bridge you will cross! Good site for Black phoebe.

At this site we got Zeledon’s antbird (Formerly Immaculate antbird) along with many common mixed flock species such as slate throated redstar, tawny-capped euphonia and more.

Later, we moved the car a bit higher up the road and walked more, birds we got along the walk included Nightingale wren, black headed Tody-flycatcher, along with many others. This place seems to be one of the best in CR to find the rare Rufous-browed tyrannulet based on eBird reports. We were not even expecting this bird got so lucky and had nice looks at one , this is a bird that had been on my wanted list!

Rufous-browed tyrannulet

https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/87453481 a recording of the Rufous-browed tyrannulet, this seems to be the 3rd recording in Xeno-Canto for CR.

 

 

 

 Nightingale wren’s call https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/87449531

 

 

https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/87451891 Zeledon’s antbird call

Overall, birding there is excellent, a bit hilly so expect to do some good hiking along a wide gravel road, unless you plan to bird using your car doing some stops along the road as we did. We hope we can return soon but this time to stay and bird the Albergue El Socorro, which is said to be excellent!

Bat falcon, this place is excellent for raptors

 

 

Birding with Miriam and Shlomo Saish, Jan 29th-Feb 8th; Part 3/Last

Day 9. San Gerardo de RIVAS. Talamanca reserve.

Talamanca reserve http://www.talamancareserve.com is located in San Gerardo de Rivas, this town is the gate way to Costa Rica’s highest peak; Chirripó mountain with an elevation of 3821 meters.

 

The hotel is beautiful with nice rooms, the staff is very accommodating and always willing to make sure you are comfortable. The food is exquisite! But that is not all! the grounds are very birdy and loaded with many of the South Pacific specialists, the bird feeders are very, very well kept!

On this day we decided to go to a small project called Garden house bird observatory for breakfast +506 71630339 contact is Christopher Instagram https://www.instagram.com/gardenhouseobservatory/?hl=es

This little place is a small family business that believes in conservation and environmental education through the birds, I had been coming to this place lately, they are getting started with some reforestation, also they have WELL maintained feeders that are extremely productive.

During our breakfast and walk we got similar birds than  what we got at Talamanca reserve; speckled tanagers and many Tangara species, violet sabrewing, Lesson’s motmot, etc etc but we also got here red-headed barbet, snowy bellied hummingbird, stripe-tailed humingbird, orange-billed Nightingale-thrush and more which we missed at Talamanca, most during a short walk we took along a trail.

Tropical mockingbird

 

After that we then left for Carara/Macaw lodge along the coast, stops included El Rey rice field and marsh, a well known marsh near my home city Quepos, then a stop in Jacó to enjoy the sunset, this was our longest drive of the trip.

 

Day 10 and 11: Macaw lodge.

Charming hummingbird

Macaw lodge is an excellent lodge and has a beautiful setting, wonderful gardens and a well maintained trail system. We got our first few new birds off the balcony, including gray-cowled woodrail, least grebe, Muscovy duck (yes, had not seen one on the trip till then), charming hummingbird and more.

The trails are good and produced some good birds including a pair of Baird’s trogon, riverside wren, blue-crowned manakin, golden naped woodpecker, crested guan and gray-headed Chachalacas, tropical gnatcatcher, ferruginous pygmy-owl was seen on the gardens.

 

This lodge is not precisely close to Carara NP, the road that leads there is not always in good condition, although being here allows you to get most of the birds that you would normally see in Carara, therefore I would recommend you stay a minimum of 2 nights here, you will love the food too!

Black hooded antshrike

On our last day we left after breakfast and birded the road back down, here we got Black-hooded Antshrike, king vulture, plumbeous kite,  among other common birds,  we then made it to Tarcoles river area and explored the mangroves near the river mouth. Here we got (beside the many species expected for this habitat) Black headed trogon, mangrove (yellow) warbler, Panama Flyctacher, turquoise-browed Motmot. The mangroves are a  must do while birding near Carara, either by foot, or better yet, By boat.

 

 

Small mangrove patch near Tarcoles river

Black headed trogon

Mangrove Yellow warbler

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birding with Miriam and Shlomo Saish, Jan 29th-Feb 8th; Part 2

Day 5: February 2nd. La Selva Biological Station

The rain persisted during the early morning hours, so we had breakfast and saw the birds on the gardens, once the rain stopped we finally got our first sunny skies!

Soon we got the common garden birds, including white-ringed Flycatcher, Band-backed Wren, black-thighed Grosbeak, and more.

Once inside the trail we were greeted by Black-crowned Antshrike and then a group of white-collared Peccaries which are known to forage near the lag clearing area. Later we got white-throated wood-wren, rufous-tailed Jacamar, white-whiskered puffbird, after a while we got great tinamous and a male Slaty-breasted which slowly crossed the trail for us! Essentially we got the typical birds from la selva during our short walk, plus a gray catbird when we returned for lunch!

Great Tinamou

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Slaty-tailed Trogon

Later at night, we walked back in to search for Vermiculated Screech-owl which we saw, along with common pauraque; Costa Rica’s most common nightjar.

Pauraque

Red-eyed Tree-frog

Day 6: Basically consisted of a morning bird-walk at La Selva, we got better looks at Great green Macaws and improved our views of white-collared manakin, along with various new species for our list. Then we drove to San Gerardo De Dota after lunch.

Crested Guans were commonly seen on the trip

Day 7, San Gerardo de Dota. Our first attempt to get the resplendent, unfortunately with no success, although we got many of the birds for this habitat, the highlights were Flame-throated warbler, long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher and a dark morph Broad-winged hawk. Most of our birding was done at the trails at Miss Miriam’s cabins (Miriam’s Quetzals) my favorite place to eat while at San Gerardo.

Broad Winged hawk Dark morph

Day 8, we got it! The Quetzal was not easy but we got good (distant) views though the spotting scope, after that we then focused our attention to get the most birds as possible once we checked the Quetzal off the list; The Waterfall trail as usual was very productive and got various highlights including torrent tyrannulet, American dipper, spangle cheeked tanager, various furnarids, warblers and more, it was time to move to our next Destination; Talamanca reserve at San Gerardo de Rivas, naturally we stopped at the telecommunication towers to get the regional endemic Volcano Junco, at 3400+ meters of elevation, which we did find!

Waterfall trail

The Volcano Junco is an endemic specie shared with Panama

The restaurante La Georgina in Villa Mills is an excellent option to stop for lunch and hummingbirds. Here a green crowned brilliant

Birding with Miriam and Shlomo Saish, Jan 29th-Feb8th Part 1.

During Jan 29th to Feb 8th I had the opportunity to lead an 11-day birding trip that included some of the common birding sites such as La Selva, La Fortuna and Carara area, but also other less visited such as Talamanca Reserve and Macaw lodge, our route covered Caribbean Middle elevation, Caribbean foothills, lowlands, then moving to the highlands of CR and Pacific middle elevation, then descending to Pacific foothills and finally Pacific lowland. Thus allowing a good mixture of habitats and species.

On day 1, – Jan 29th-  we meet bright and early at the hotel near the airport, after a good breakfast and a quick chat about how our trip would be like we started our adventure!

Our first stop at Fredo Fresas in route to Poas Volcano area produced little due to the windy conditions, however, here we got Magenta-throated Woodstar which we did not see again during the trip. We then moved to our next destination, the small-yet famous Cinchona restaurant which has very productive fruit and hummingbird feeders, here we got one of the best birds of the trip; Buff fronted Quail-dove. Also, other highlights include Red headed barbet, Coppery-headed Emerald, Northern Emerald Toucanet and more.

 

Prong-billed Barbet

After 40 minutes or so we continued to the road that leads down to La Virgen, here we got a good mixed flock and although we tried for American dipper we did get Black Phoebe which we only saw here on the trip. After that we drove to La Fortuna with a stop at Aguas Zarcas to look for sloths which we got.

 

 

Other non-avian creatures include Mantled Howler-monkey

 

On day 2, we saw the birds at the hotel feeders and garden during breakfast time, golden-olive Woodpecker was seen here and the only time we saw it during the trip, then we move to Sky Adventure park where we had some bad rainy weather, although we got our first looks of Rufous motmot and broad billed motmots, highlights were a distant nest of Ornate hawk-eagle, orange-bellied trogon, spotted antbird, and White-throated shrike tanager.

 

 

the amazing canopy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 3: We visited the Bogarín trail, a well known short trail just outside La Fortuna, activity was slow due to the rainy weather, however we got our first looks of collared aracary, excellent views of Crimson-collared tanager and of course white-throated Crake, our main target here. No uniform crake. NOTE: Bogarin has changed some things here lately, before he asked for a donation that would help maintain the short trail and the feeders, naturally as he gets more visitors we now he decided to charge an official fee of us$10 per person, I just felt that for $10 then he should improve the perches at least.

the very common Gray-headed Chachalaca

Crimson-collared tanager

After that we drove to Caño Negro, as usual, the road that turns to Caño Negro leaving route 35 is in awful conditions! On the drive we got Nicaraguan Seed-finch, rose-breasted Grosbeak, once in Caño Negro we got most of the typical waterfowl, along with Common potoo and Nicaraguan grackle.

Nicaraguan Seed-Finch

Spectacled caiman

Green ibis

 

Barnaby Romero, our boat/man and local expert guide has a very comfortable boat, you can contact him via barnabycr7@gmail.com

Day 4: After breakfast we visited the Dam road best known as the Peninsula road, most birding was done by car given the bad weather, we were treated with good views of white-fronted nunbirds, keel-billed Motmot, laughing falcon, and more. Time to drive to our next Destination; La Selva Biological station. Here we did very little birding, although we got (aside from the common garden birds) Great Curassow and Semi-plumbeous hawk.

Laughing falcon

 

enjoying some coffee at La Selva while waiting for short-tailed Nighthawks

To be continued.

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