Birding Carara national park is ALWAYS productive, its geographic position and combination of habitats and its surrounding areas makes this place a must see to any birder visiting Costa Rica. Target species/specialties here range from antbirds-ant thrushes, wrens, ant pittas, many ground dwellers etc but as well as king vulture, macaws, trogons an more. In the Other hand, bird-watching Manuel Antonio national park is less productive and can yield very little birds, nonetheless there are GREAT birding hot spots near this famous park that are only frequented by 2 guides and are kept hidden from the average nature lover. This sites are Esquipulas and El rey marshes, as well as La Gallega river. All with very easy access and located within 30-40 minutes drive from Manuel Antonio.
Carara: as known by many, the most see of the central pacific. One of the best experience while birding Carara is indeed to encounter the army ants, this fierce ants will clean a spot out of insects, therefore all those known as “antbirds” will join the chaos of caused by the ants so they can catch what tries to escape from the ants.
Above is a black faced ant-thrush, a ground dweller and very-hard to find bird specie due to its camouflage. I photographed this individual while leading a tour to Carara on the lagoon trail (AKA river trail) on February 2nd with Douglas Boyd; a client I had the pleasure to bird with on February 9th 2014. it is seen relatively often if known where to look for him.
This antpitta is the oh! ah! of many birders coming here, yes very hard to find as is normal of antpittas due to small size and often shy behavior. This bird was photographed on Feb 2nd while birding with MR and Ms Winter on the lagoon trail, but it is best looked for at the araceas trail or Quebrada bonita trail near main ranger station, as seen with Aaron Kortenhoven last Feb 10th. an antpitta covered by leafs!
Other birds commonly seen at Carara include trogons, toucans, few hummingbirds, wrens manakins and much more. One of the nice features of Carara is the fact that very few people visit this park, so it is never crowded (except for the main headquarters trails during the morning hours) and the few people who visit Carara are for the most part birders so it is very quiet here.
Other birding sites near Carara that should be birded by any vising Carara are the Bijagual road, the tarcoles river, Cerro lodge road and tarcoles River mouth mangroves. For this I plan to post separately later.
Esquipulas: This mountains are only about 45 minutes to the east of Manuel Antonio national park, a great option with a good level of endemism such as fiery billed aracary, river side wren, black hooded antshrike, white crested coquette and more. Other specialties here are king vulture, barred hawk, black mandibled toucan, baird’s trogon, and the various species of honeycreepers. Esquipulas has a good location at the foothills of the central pacific, where some species of middle-higher elevation descend to during the early dry season, e.g elegant euphonia, three wattled bellbird and others.
Bird-watching Manuel Antonio national park could be disappointing to many serious birders due to the crowd that comes to this park, how ever, Esquipulas is indeed the best option for the birder visiting Manuel Antonio with family as the park is one of the best destinations for the family and nature lovers. Also, those birders seeking for an off the beaten path location can find Esquipulas very convenient, easy to feet on a schedule when birding locations such as Carara national park and Dota/Savegre region and do not want to do the long drive and would prefer to spend a night at Quepos/Manuel Antonio.
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.
But this is what happens if you try to enter this park at 11:00 on December the 25th!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have been birding Manuel Antonio for more then 6 years now and have many local hot spots which are so worth to try, Manuel Antonio park itself is a great destination for the naturalist and animal lovers (one of the best indeed), nonetheless I personally thing this park will disappoint any avid birder visiting with the hope of seeing good birds.
So I currently offer birding tours completely off the beaten path, in the mountains of Esquipulas, La gallega river area as well as the marshes of El rey. Most of this places are accessible by 2WD car but the best is the upper part of Esquipulas where a 4WD is a must.
Now, in order to offer closer options, on November 5th I explored this place and what a found! the birding here in canopy el santuario superb, my wife and I got to the site later than planned, we arrived at 7:30 am and the guides there pointed us a black and white owl with its baby in a tree nearby, a great start!
After that we saw several Montezuma oropendola on flight, a double tooth kite
One of the good things of the site is that there is a nice combination of habitats, there is a small creek, flooded pastures, great for white throated crakes and pale breasted spinetails, montezuma oropendolas are abundant here, we saw at least 80 individuals or more, I think this is indeed the one place I have personally seen that many in one area. Nice pastures yielded variable, white collared seedeaters, gray crowned yellowthroat, blue black grassquits, black striped sparrow, pale breasted spinetail and others.
Pale brested spinetail
The trees have a lot of mistletoe, excellent for euphonias, we saw yellow crowned, thick billed and spot crowned euphonias. Paltry tyrannulet, several tanagers like golden hooded are common here thanks to the mistletoe and some bromeliads in the place, their gardens full of heliconias are good for hummingbirds including the very common rufous tailed hummingbird, also scaled breasted hummingbird, long billed and striped throated hermit are found here as well as the violet crowned woodnymph and I am sure many more species.
A very important thing is that the site has a good patch of primary rain forest, excellent for tinamues, we heard the little tinamu but I am sure there should be great tinamu, black faced anthrush and I think the elusive streaked breasted antpitta could be seen here.
I hope to do more birding time in the interior of their property, we only birded 2h45min and saw 54 species, and we only walked 700 meters but most things were seen in 200 meters! This place was much better that I expected, I mean, for being close to Quepos and surrounded by oil palm plantations in one side, this is truly a must see for birders visiting Manuel Antonio Area who don not want to drive 45 minutes to Esquipulas as the site is about 25 Minutes from MA. Currently the place is only open for those participating in the zip lining tours but hopefully the guys of santuario and I can work something out.
Here is the list of what we saw:
Canopy el santuario, CR-P
Nov 5, 2013 7:30 AM – 10:00 AM
Comments: Checking the place’s potential for eventual bird tours.
Little Tinamou 1 Heard only
Cattle Egret X
Black Vulture X
Turkey Vulture X
Double-toothed Kite 1
Roadside Hawk 1
White-throated Crake X Heard only
Ruddy Ground-Dove X
White-tipped Dove 1
Smooth-billed Ani 8
Black-and-white Owl 2 1 adult and 1 baby, it was pointed by local workers who say it has been there with the chick for a while now.
Scaly-breasted Hummingbird 1
Red-crowned Woodpecker 1
Lineated Woodpecker 1
Crested Caracara 1
Yellow-headed Caracara 2
Crimson-fronted Parakeet 25
Barred Antshrike 2
Chestnut-backed Antbird X
Cocoa Woodcreeper 1
Streak-headed Woodcreeper 3
Pale-breasted Spinetail X 2 individuals well seen, at least 3 more heard.
Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet 1
Yellow-bellied Elaenia 2
Paltry Tyrannulet X
Western Wood-Pewee X
Eastern Wood-Pewee X
Great Kiskadee 6
Boat-billed Flycatcher 1
Social Flycatcher X
Streaked Flycatcher 1
Tropical Kingbird X
Lesser Greenlet X
Brown Jay 1
House Wren 1
Rufous-naped Wren X Heard only
Clay-colored Thrush 1
Yellow Warbler X
Chestnut-sided Warbler X
Cherrie’s Tanager X
Blue-gray Tanager 2
Golden-hooded Tanager 2
Red-legged Honeycreeper 2
Blue-black Grassquit 5
Variable Seedeater 3
White-collared Seedeater 1
Black-striped Sparrow X
Summer Tanager 4
Melodious Blackbird X
Baltimore Oriole 1
Montezuma Oropendola 80 a rough estimation of 80 individuals, these specie is abundant here.
Yellow-crowned Euphonia X
Thick-billed Euphonia 2
Spot-crowned Euphonia 2