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Esquipulas; trekking, camping, owling, herping and birding the upper mountian!

Tittle says it all! quite and adventure we had on October 26th, my friends Danny Vasquez, Brian Jimenez, Roy Orozco, Karen Castillo, my wife Karina and I planned a trip to the upper mountains of Esquipulas, specifically to Brian’s father’s property in the mountains.

Several times in the past has been suggested that Esquipulas is the best birding site near Manuel Antonio, however lately we had been exploring little birded areas in search for important species that we do not get to see on the regular toured site where we lead tour to at lower Esquipulas (aprox 375masl).

Photos Danny Vasquez



The hike was quite good, approximately 2hrs in a fairly steep terrain but as the rain fell it made the trail yet more entertaining (my definition o interesting rhymes with muddier and more slippery), once we arrived we prepared our tents and the wood-burning stove (and dried ourselfs from the downpour that received us), thanks to Brian’s initiative we prepared sugar cane juice! so glad Brian and Karen still had energies! and then some well-earned coffee!



After dinner and some good talk with friends we went out to see what the night would offered us, we got little as the night was quite slow, but highlights included masked smilisca/tree frog, a leaf litter toad, also green tree anole, common pauraques, mottled owl, new for the list of species I keep for Esquipulas, we also heard black-and-white owl and spectacled owl deep in the woods. 11:00pm “bed” time!

The recording I got from Mottled owl:′



Leaf litter toad (Rhaebo haematitcus)


Masked smilisca (Smilisca phaeota)



Next morning was amazing! the great view got improved by the call of many birds as the sun came out! a wonderful experience. Toucans, parrots, caciques, buff-throated saltators, wren, slaty spinetail, and so much more!

After breakfast we climbed the remaining of the mountain so we could be on the top, terrain was very difficult and really you have little chance to look for birds as you are either holding from a tree so you dont fall or look around so you dont step on a snake! The primary rain forest produces very little as most species tend to move in mixed flocks, naturally the visibility is limited  given the thickness of the woods.

After a while of hiking we finally got a very good mixed flock, white shouldered tanager, white-throated shrike-tanager and lesser greenlets and tawny crowned greenlets led the way! From all we got here the best bird was brown-billed scythebill as it is an uncommon specie.

The best of this trip were not necessarily the birds, but the great companion and experience, I hope this can be repeated soon!

Bicolored antbird


The “trail”



Birding Manuel Antonio Area.

In this post I’d like to share some photos and info about the birding potential that this area has. Manuel Antonio is an excellent national park for the  traveler seeking for a general nature experience, monkeys are fairly common, sloths, deers, frogs and many others that despite the crowd that shows up they are not afraid and rather can offer nice sightings. Naturally its crowded during the busy seasons (Christmas, new years, spring break etc) but visit this park in the morning (7:00am) should be enough to avoid most of the crowd).

In the other hand it is not a good birding spot and only a few-yet interesting species can be expecting such as brown boobies, black bellied and river side wrens, black hooded antshrikes, frigatebirds, some herons, gray necked woodrail as well as the long billed gnatwren and few others, but still, you wont get that much and the morning could end with about 20ish or so species.

One of the beaches during the low season, just beautiful!

A close encounter with a young white faced-capuchin monkey

Squirrel monkeys are very uncommon but often times the afternoon is when you have better chances at the park, bee on the look out since gray headed tanager, double tooth kite, slaty tailed trogon and a few woodcreepers follow this type monkey so they can eat the bugs that are flushed away by the monkeys.

But this is what happens if you try to enter this park at 11:00 on December the 25th!

But this is what the park looks like early in the am and during the “wet” season.


Depending on the season chances of seeing a common potoo are good, ask local guides for it during early rainy season

Orage billed sparrow in one colorful bird in the Arremon group, commonly seen at the sloth trail.

If you still want to come to MA and bird the park I suggest you to take the look out point trail (sendero Mirador), right at the bifurcation  of the Mirador and Gemelas beach trails is a good spot for great tinamou, as you walk towards the look out look for striped-throated hermit, red capped manakin and ochre bellied flycatcher. The punta catedral trail is the one that takes you to the end of the small peninsula (cathedral), it takes you “closest” to the islands so chances of seeing brown bobbies are good, notheless if you do not have a spotting scope views can be limited, as going up look for blue throated goldentail, little and great tinamoues.

Male blue-thorated goldentail

The area around Manuel Antonio offers a much better birding opportunity, these are Esquipulas, La gallega river and El rey.  And of course! your hotel garden!


Esquipulas is basically a small country town 45 minutes to the east of Quepos, located just at the foothills of the mountains of Nara mountains, the public road that leads to the Town is the birding spot, the varied landscape includes cattle fields, home gardens, secondary rain forest, orchards, creeks and the primary rain forest in the back! So it offers sightings variating from house wrens to Baird’s trogons, from rufous tailed hummingbirds to King vultures, simply a great spot.

Esquipulas Location, right at the foothills of the central pacific mountains, the Naranjo and La gallega rivers run down this mountains creating a small low pass which presumably helps middle elevation species to migrate to the lowlands during the attitudinal migration.


The access to Esquipulas requires a 4WD car or at least a car with good ground clearance and sometimes during the summer it can be done in a 2WD sedan.

White hawk


Laughing falcon

Baird’s trogon is seen often here at Esquipulas.

Bay headed Tanager



Close to Esquipulas is La Gallega river, this is located near the town of Naranjito, 8 km north east of Quepos, within 30 minutes  drive.

This river is home to some particular species of interest, such as red breasted blackbird, Southern lapwing, tropical mockingbird, collared plover and ferruginous pygmy-owl.

Southern Lapwing

Tropical mockingbird

Naturally other species such as mangrove swallow, southern and northern rough winged swallows, king fishers and others call this place home. If you do come to this river in search for this species make sure to wear long sleeves and hat, you will be in the open, if you have enough time then explore the grass in the other side of the river in search for pale breasted spinetail.

Collared plover isn’t easy finding, try!



EL REY marshes/rice fields.

El rey is located 16km south of Quepos, near the “Finca” Maritima, in the western side of the palm oil plantation.
This place consists of temporary rice fields with some canals that feed the rice paddies, these canals flood the area and during the rainy season, water remains between June to Mid February, it makes it an strategical stop for NA migrants such as mangrove Cuckoo, various warblers, swallows, scissor tailed Flycatcher and various FC spp. American pygmy kingfisher, gray necked wood rail, purple gallinules, green brested mango and other interesting species are common targets here.

One of the top wanted at el rey; American pygmy kingfisher

Purple gallinule

Bare throated tiger-heron

This little evil-eyed bronzed cowbird is abundant at El rey

Seeing mangrove cuckoo is not an every day opportunity but chances are good during migration.

Interestingly El rey is surrounded by a massive palm oil plantations, which is one of the main products of the area, the marshes, grasslands, mangroves close by and canals that feeds the area are important factors that make El rey a true oasis for many migrant species to stop and feed in order to continue their journey home. During 2013 2 bird species were added to CR list and were spotted here; Clay colored sparrow and lined seedeater.

Lined seedeater, a south american vagrant was seen at El Rey for 5 days in a row.


Manuel Antonio near by birding spots.
If you do not have a car or do not have the time to take one day to explore/tour the mentioned sites before there are some spots that are worth to try:

The road down to La mansion and Parador hotel.
If you find your self in this area take time to walk a long this road, species to expect are cocoa and streak headed Woodcreepers, palm, cherri’s, blue gray and golden hooded tanagers, red legged honeycreeper and green Honeycreeper are often seen right by the entrance of Arenas del Mar. Also black mandibled Toucan had been reported nesting here in 2 years in a row now. In the afternoon (3:00-5:00pm) chances to spot the squirrel monkeys are high, be in the look out for double tooth kite, gray headed tanager, northern barred woodcreeper and slaty tailed trogon who are known to accompany these monkeys in search for food.

The road down to playitas:

Once you reach the entrance to Arenas del mar, 30 meters before on the left hand side there is a gravel road, it leads to the playitas beach. Birding here can be basic but can offer possibilities to spot chestnut backed antbird, black hooded antshrike, yellow headed caracara as well as fiery billed aracaries in the morning. Try luck on king vulture and laughing falcon here.

The public beach area.

The southern end of the public beach leads to the exit of MA park. There is a small mangrove estuary, look for gray necked wood-rail near the roots of red mangrove trees, some times yellow crowned night heron roost by the end of the beach.

Green heron, little blue heron and white ibis are common.
Protonothary warbler, northern Waterthrush are possible during CR summer, and try luck on the endemic mangrove hummingbird which feeds on the flowers of pineapple mangrove trees.

Of course if you have a spotting scope available make sure to look on the near by islands, brown boobies and magnificent frigatebirds are abundant, but occasionally elegant tern can be spotted. Not much in the islands besides that.

A great birding week. Part 1

During this week I had the the opportunity to lead some birding tours in the area during Sunday 12th, Monday 13th, Tuesday 14th and Wednesday 15th.

A great time with avid birders John and Marcia Anderson from West Virginia US, and Mr John Strand from Sweden.

On Sunday 12th I had the opportunity to take John and Marcia Anderson to Esquipulas for an afternoon tour which was great for an afternoon trip I must say, after we had lunch we left to Villa Nueva/Esquipulas but in our way we stopped at la Gallega river as I know is a great spot to see specific birds of interest such as collared plover, tropical mockingbird, southern lapwing and some swallows, upon our arrival to the site we realized birding would be too good here since there were some people swimming at the river, loud music and birds dont get along so we decided to continue towards Esquipulas.  Still in 25 minutes we saw 13 species:

Little Blue Heron
Cattle Egret
White Ibis
Northern Jacana
Ruddy Ground-Dove
Groove-billed Ani
Amazon Kingfisher
Red-crowned Woodpecker
Great Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird
Yellow Warbler
Great-tailed Grackle
Baltimore Oriole

Once we got to Villa Nueva I spotted a Laughing falcon, Marcia’s bird of the day.

A laughing falcon at VillaNueva

After seen other birds we got to a spot were charming hummingbirds were feeding of a mimosa tree, then we noticed a pair of pale vented pigeon about 10 meters from us, which its ok, but got better when a Montezuma oropendula took its perch scaring the pigeons away, but that was not it, a fairy billed Aracari came and took the oropendula’s perch, but, if the excitement was not enough a Black mandibled toucan flew in taking the Aracari’s perch, we could not believe it!

A bad photo but here is a fairy billed aracari, knon in CR as cachí due to their call

A black mandibled toucan, formerly known as chestnut mandibled toucan which makes more sense.

Male Charming hummingbird

In Villa Nueva/Esquipulas we saw a total of 41 species from 3:00pm wen we got to the site until 5:30 when we finished, we so great birds including the  least common of all CR trogons: Baird’s trogon.

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