Trip Report – Costa Rica

Tour Leader: Peter Jones
Trip Report : Peter Jones
Local Guide : Steven Easley

Day One January 25th – San Jose – Savegre
A day for liaisons at San Jose Airport and transfer to Savegre. The journey through heavy traffic in San Jose took its toll and normally a couple of hours journey took 3, but included a stop at a local supermarket to stock up on such absolute essentials as chocolate and chocolate.

Day Two January 26th – Savegre
Although weary from the previous day’s travel we were all well rested, so after a leisurely breakfast we walked downstream and around the grounds of our most excellent lodge. We were entertained, as we were on all our days in Costa Rica, by the floating Turkey Vulture (so reminiscent of Marsh Harrier in flight) and Black Vulture, with Osprey and Red-tailed Hawk also soaring in the heights. A cluster of Swallow-tailed Kites wheeled their way overhead and as they turned and the sun caught their undersides we all marvelled at their beauty. Downstream we added some great birds and for me Torrent Tyrannulet took some beating, but of course the awaiting Resplendent Quetzals were to figure foremost as most people’s star of this area. With White-collared and Chestnut-collared Swifts flocking overhead we also managed a range of hummers including Green Violet-ear, Gray-tailed Mountain-gem, Magnificent Hummingbird, Scintillant and Volcano Hummingbird. Acorn and Hairy Woodpeckers together with Emerald Toucanet and Spot-crowned Woodcreeper were regulars in the woodland part of walk and Ruddy Treerunner seemed to enjoy the company of passing flocks. Our rarity for the day was Townsend’s Warbler, but we also had some difficult species such as Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Barred Becard, Ochraceous Wren and Spangle-cheeked Tanager. With a host of other species we counted our first day as a great success.

Day Three January 27th – Savegre Highlands
What a lazy bunch, yet another slow start after a relaxing and complete breakfast. Not so much a walk this morning, but a waddle on full stomachs! We had great fun at the beginning of our walk being accompanied by an extremely confiding Collared Redstart, whether he recognised great people when he saw them or was just real friendly who knows? Later the bird was joined by another and our interest only waned when spotting Ruddy-capped and Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush quickly followed by our one and only sighting of Zeledonia (Wrenthrush)! We headed up the mountain road later in the morning and Golden-browed Chlorophonia made another appearance and we also heard another bird from the previous day a Rufous-browed Peppershrike. Resplendent Quetzals put on a great show in a fruit tree next to the river and gave real open views. Flights from the fruit tree gave us all a colour spectacular. Brown-capped Vireo and Flame-throated Warbler were again good sightings and today we saw Summer Tanager, a sight to behold on virtually every subsequent day of the tour. While watching American Dipper we also had our first Louisiana Waterthrush. Mountain and Sooty Robin were frequent encounters and Black-throated Green Warbler were evident at most stops of the day. In the afternoon we hitched a lift in an open truck and journeyed into the upland Oak Forest looking for a couple of difficult species. Apart from again having great views of Resplendent Quetzals we dipped badly on our targets of Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl and Silver-throated Jay, but there you go, you have to leave good reasons for visiting again! Still we did manage our only sighting of Black-faced Solitaire and had a flyby of a juvenile Ornate Hawk-Eagle. 

Day Four January 28th – Savegre – Rancho
After an ‘early’ morning walkabout (which gave good views of Yellow-bellied Siskin) we tucked into a hearty breakfast before setting-off to locate a couple of specialist birds. We needed to give ourselves time to find a few species at a couple of locations before heading to our next destination Rancho. We headed high and south climbing above the clouds into the highlands. Our first stop soon produced one of our targets the remarkably confiding Volcano Junco. Our next stop also produced the desired result, quite a contrast from yesterday, when we found the fabulous Fiery-throated Hummingbird. We broke our journey to Rancho with a few stops and a couple of waterside stops gave us the rare Lesser Scaup among White-tailed Kite, Northern Jacana, American Coot, Kildeer, Lesser Yellowlegs, Willet, Spotted Sandpiper and Blue-winged Teal. Yellow-billed Cacique made a show which was to be our only sighting of this bird on the tour. Arriving at Rancho then our hummer total immediately improved with excellent views around the feeders of such notable birds as Stripe-throated Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Green-breated Mango, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Black-crested Cocquette, Violet-crowned Woodnymph and the to be ever-present and aggressive Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. Around the feeders were probably excessive numbers of Gray-headed Chachalaca and these were joined by a bullying gang of Brown Jay with good numbers of Montezuma Oropendola making for a busy time at the feeders. Before retiring for the night we heard Mottled Owl, but the little bugger escaped any attempt to get a decent viewing!

Day Five January 29th – Rancho
was up at dawn for the bird breakfast served at Rancho! The first new bird was seen overhead a Broad-winged Hawk and coming to the feeders we had the usual gangs of Gray-headed Chachalaca, Brown Jay and Montezuma Oropendola, the later being joined by the smaller Chestnut-headed Oropendola. New hummers included Snowcap, Green Hermit, Violet Sabrewing, Brown Violet-ear, Green Thorntail, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer and Magnificent Hummingbird. We took a walk around the forest area and grounds after breakfast and this produced some tour firsts including Violaceous Trogon, Squirrel Cuckoo, Collared Aracari, Black-cheeked, Golden-olive, Lineated and Hoffman’s Woodpeckers, Brown-billed Scythebill, Plain Antvireo, Masked Tityra, a splendid White-ruffed Manakin, the rare Tawny-chested Flycatcher, Band-backed Wren, Swainson’s Thrush, Golden-crowned Warbler and the difficult White-vented Euphonia. The forest area both in the morning and late afternoon gave us a good selection including a host of Tanagers. Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Black-striped Sparrow also figured on a extremely good days birding. Few would not have concerns about the way Rancho looks to be headed i.e. It is becoming increasingly an island surrounded by cleared areas, plus the management of both the gardens and forest trails leave an awful lot to be desired, but it is still a great place to stay and worthwhile. We hope Tim and Christal are given the chance to make much needed improvements and intend to visit again next year.

Day Six January 30th – Rancho – Platanillo – CatieThrough consensus we again rose early and before breakfast visited the moth-trap to view a number of species feeding around the area of the trap on insects. Tawny-chested Flycatcher was seen at very close quarters and this particular site remains one of the best in Costa Rica for seeing this bird. We also had close views of Hepatic, White-shouldered Tanager with also good views of Blackburnian Warbler! After breakfast we headed down to the river valley and a track which led us to more secluded forest and riverside views. We hadn’t been at the river for more than a minute when we heard the plaintive calls of Sunbittern. After we located the bird we were able to spend time enjoying this strange bird and beautiful wing markings as it flew from one rocky outcrop to another, fantastic! In the forest area we were able to get decent sightings of Crimson-fronted Parakeet and saw a large flock of Sulfur-winged Parakeet. Perhaps the most difficult bird of the day was great views of Dull-mantled Antbird. We also managed Russet Antshrike, Plain Antvireo, Checker-throated Antwren and Slaty Antwren all difficult birds. Other good birds were Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Band-backed Wren, White-breasted Wood Wren, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Blue-black Grassquit and Blue-crowned Motmot. After a fine lunch and after we were rested we visited the botanical gardens of Catie. Waterbirds figured well at this site with good views of Purple Gallinule, Northern Jacana, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Cattle Egret, Green Heron, Little Blue Heron and Great Egret. We had good showings by White-fronted Parrot, Groove-billed Ani, Black and White Owl, Pauraque, Vaux’s Swift, Amazon and Green Kingfisher, Rufous-winged and Lineated Woodpecker, Northern Barred, Cocoa, Spotted and Streak-headed Woodcreeper. A couple of real bonus birds were Plain Xenops and Yellow-margined Flycatcher.

Day Seven January 31st – Rancho – Rio Corinto – Rio San Jose – La Quinta
Today saw our departure for La Quinta, our base for the next 3 nights and we were all looking forward to visiting the surrounding areas including La Selva Biological Reserve. We had plenty of time to take a last look at the hummer feeding stations and take in Snowcap et al for the last time. We stopped at a couple of rivers en route and were lucky enough to have fantastic views of Sunbittern whilst eating our packed-lunch!! We managed a couple of new birds in Fasciated Tiger-Heron and our only sighting of the tour for Black-crowned Tityra. We also had our last look at Tropical Gnatcatcher. Next to one of the rivers we saw Rufous-capped Warbler and our first Olive-backed Euphonia, but with everyone taking in the change of scenery and simply relaxing, then the journey proved to be enjoyable and relatively quiet on the bird front.

Day Eight February 1st – La Quinta – La Selva Biological Reserve
Yet again we were blessed with first rate accommodation and food. The complex had been very well laid out with exceptional gardens, lakes and river frontage. Feeders were kept stocked and local birds easy to find, including a resident pair of Spectacled Owl! The gardens also contain a butterfly house for those interested and normally Hoffman’s two-toed Sloth is in the grounds. Anyway enough rambling and on to the high point of the day a visit to Selva BR. We hadn’t ventured far into the park before we had several new species including Great Tinamou, Great Blue Heron, Green Ibis, both Gray-headed and Hook-billed Kite, Crested Caracara, Laughing and Bat Falcon, Pale-vented Pigeon, Gray-chested Dove, Red-Lored Parrot and Mealy Parrot, a superb Vermiculated Screech-Owl, Short-tailed Nighthawk, Gray-rumped and Lesser Swallow-tailed Swifts, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Broad-billed Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar a real beauty, White-necked Puffbird and the gloriously outrageous Chestnut-mandibled Toucan. And so our list grew and grew a superb venue for such an array of species. Our bird for the day was the rare Tiny Hawk! Later in the day we also had some notable species including White-winged Becard and Snowy Cotinga, but also a joy to see were Red-capped and White-collared Manakin, but a favourite with me was Long-tailed Tyrant. We ended up with a few more goodies and among these were Gray Catbird, Pale-vented Robin, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis and Black-faced Grosbeak. I am loathe to mention it amongst such illustrious company, but we also managed our first House Sparrow!

Day Nine February 2nd – La Quinta – Sarafiqui – La Virgen – Cinchona
We had a fairly leisurely breakfast as we had made arrangements to take our first river trip of the tour and didn’t have to be on board till around 09:00am. I have to admit to scheduling this trip based on purely selfish motives. I have dipped badly in the past on that elusive bird Sungrebe, so listening to locals I had decided we ‘should’ relax with a nice boat ride! We of course clocked-up a few expected firsts such as Mangrove Swallow, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Neotropical Cormorant and Anhinga, but I guess everyone enjoyed just sitting back and watching the world drift by. We did have great views of Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Band-tailed Barbthroat, Coppery-headed Emerald, Collared Trogon, Cinnamon Becard, Rufous Mourner, Yellowish Warbler, Yellow Tyrannulet, but yes and a thousand yeses, yer man spotted Sungrebe, yep in the flesh so to speak and cruising completely unfazed by the close proximity of the boat and an overexcited birder yours truly!!!! I have to say, a bit like the Sunbittern, the Sungrebe seems a strange mixture reminiscent of half diver and half duck! Onward and upward from our boat trip we ventured high into the surrounding mountains and were able to get a few more sought after species namely Red-headed and Prong-billed Barbet. We also had our best views at Cinchona of Green Thorntail. As a finale to our day we had super views of the pair of Spectacled Owls at our accommodation.  

Day Ten February 3rd – La Quinta – La Virgen – La Fortuna – Arenal Observatory LodgeWe began our day with another tour to La Virgen and spent time looking for a few previously missed species. We were quick to pick-up on a few aquatics such as Pied-billed Grebe, Snowy Egret etc., but the bird of our day was Black-chested (Barred) Hawk. We again had Broad-billed Motmot, what a great family Motmots are. We also finally caught up with Mourning Warbler and Slate-throated Redstart. We made La Fortuna for lunch and enjoyed the restaurant’s feeding station which was covered by Blue-gray Tanager and Red-legged Honeycreeper. From La Fortuna we had the short drive to our next base for 3 nights the Arenal Observatory Lodge, a great location under the shadow of an active volcano where it is impossible to ignore the pure spectacle of rock-falls and noises of explosions gushing from the top of the volcano! Incredible! Photographers among the group were begging for our transport and driver to stop whilst there were White-throated Magpie-Jay sitting close to the track, but the qualified reason for carrying-on was the birds are common and we will see plenty during our stay! Of course the photo lobby said they had heard all this before and insisted on taking the opportunity now. Just as well really, as is Murphy’s Law, we never saw them again!! We had time to settle into our rooms and decided to walk down by the nearby lake. Here we had Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Osprey, White and Gray Hawk, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Keel-billed Toucan, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Slaty Spinetail, the very elusive Dusky Antbird, White-throated Flycatcher, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Torrent Tyrannulet, Barn Swallow, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat and of course the specialist of this location Emerald Tanager. The day also produced our one and only White-collared Seedeater. Again we enjoyed a grand finale to our day with a Black and White Owl perched on our accommodation sign after dinner!!

Day Eleven February 4th – Arenal Observatory Lodge – Hanging Bridges
If the AOL had any disadvantage it was not serving breakfast before 07:00am, which largely affected our morning schedules, but worth every moment I would point out. The lodge, the scenery, the birds are all mightily impressive and we all enjoyed the close proximity of the ‘Volcano’. Our pre-breakfast stroll took us into the surrounding forest and here we were able to see Semiplumbeous Hawk, Crested Guan, great views of Brown-headed Parrot, Green Hermit, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Black-throated Trogon, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Spotted Woodcreeper, the amazingly difficult Streak-crowned Antvireo and White-ruffed Manakin. After breakfast we headed for the famous Hanging Bridges. Here we had Wood Thrush, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, Buff-rumped Warbler and the star of our show the rare and most difficult of all Motmots the Keel-billed Motmot! Overhead we had good numbers of Vaux’s Swift and were lucky to see our one and only King Vulture of the tour. On our way back to the lodge we spent time walking on the main track and had some very good shows of Broad-billed Motmot, Spotted Antbird, Black-throated and Nightingale Wren, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Olive Tanager and Yellow-faced Grassquit. We arrived back in good time to enjoy watching the feeders and of course the entrancing actions of the volcano as our backdrop!

Day Twelve February 5th – Arenal Observatory Lodge
Today was very much do as you please day. We spent the entire day in and around the area of the lodge. With pre-breakfast walks, morning and late afternoon walks all taken as optional for the members of the tour party and why not? The lodge has some great facilities including hot tubs and Jacuzzi!! The morning produced Hook-billed Kite, Gray and Broad-winged Hawk, our last views of Stripe-throated Hermit, Purple-crowned Fairy and Violet-headed Hummingbird. Later we had both Slaty-tailed, Violaceous and Orange-bellied Trogon, Broad-billed and our first Rufous Motmot, Collared Aracari, both Keel-billed and Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Golden-olive Woodpecker and incredible poses from a Lineated Woodpecker, but one of our birds ‘for the day’ was Spotted Barbtail. Later in the afternoon our walk was along the track leading to the lodge from the main road to La Fortuna. The walk produced some excellent birds that included Striped Woodhaunter, Fasciated, Great and Barred Antshrikes, plus a Russet Antshrike a little later in the day, Bare-crowned Antbird, Streak-chested Antpitta, Great-crested Flycatcher, Nightingale Wren, Long-billed and Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Black-headed Saltator, our only sighting of Blue-black Grosbeak and a host of rich goodies. For a relaxed day our quality was excellent.

Day Thirteen February 6th – Arenal Observatory Lodge – San Ramon – Caldera – Punta Leona
We spent some time in the area before setting off on our journey to the Pacific and our next destination Punta Leona. Stopping before La Fortuna we had Gray-headed Kite, White-tailed Kite, Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, White-collared and Vaux’s Swift, Rufous Motmot and probably our little gem for the day White-fronted Nunbird. We again had Spotted Antbird and the magnificent Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher. Surprisingly it took until now to find our first Red-winged Blackbird and of course yet another sighting of House Sparrow!! We had some miles to do and decided to make for our lunch stop at San Ramon and proceed to Caldera for a relax before heading to our accommodation. Around the Caldera area we clocked-up some maritime species including Laughing Gull, Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Willet and Royal Tern. On arriving at Punta Leona we soon had Scarlet Macaw, White-crowned Parrot, Green Kingfisher, Gray-breasted Martin, Barn Swallow, Rufous-naped Wren (flocks!), Orange-billed and Black-striped Sparrow. Here the temperature changed and became hot and humid. The resort had great facilities and the accommodation was very good, but foodwise it was below what we had come to expect, still no complaints overall the place was great.

Day Fourteen February 7th – Punta Leona – Tarcoles Bridge – Mangrove Boat Trip
our pre-breakfast stroll we set-off to the Tarcoles Bridge and the Carara areas. One of the objectives was to head up into the hills to a viewing platform hoping to see King Vulture, but afraid to say we dipped! We did manage Gray-headed Kite and a new bird a Plumbeous Kite. Around the bridge area we had Yellow-headed Caracara, Peregrine Falcon, Purple Gallinule, Black-necked Stilt, Spotted and Least Sandpiper, White-winged Dove, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Costa Rican Swift, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Tricolored Heron and Great Egret. Around the Carara area we also spotted Zone-tailed Hawk, Crimson-fronted Parakeet, Scarlet Macaw, Turquoise-browed and Blue-crowned Motmot, Hoffman’s Woodpecker, Northern Barred Woodcreeper, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Masked Tityra, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Philadelphia Vireo and Prothonotary Warbler. We later made our way to the Tarcoles River and our much anticipated Boat Trip! I reckon the start time of 1500 to 1800hrs is just about right and the ride produced some notable birds such as Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Black and Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Green Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Snowy and Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Wood Stork, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Mangrove Black-Hawk, Double-striped Thick-Knee, Southern Lapwing, Whimbrel, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Lesser Nighthawk, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Mangrove Hummingbird, all the Kingfishers, Rose-throated Becard, Mangrove Vireo, Mangrove Warbler, American Redstart, Scrub Euphonia and Cherrie’s Tanager. Quite a day and a great selection.

Day Fifteen February 8th – Punta Leona – Tarcoles – Carara Nat.Park
We took a brief walk before breakfast and then headed straight to Carara National Park. The area is so rich in bird life and is an absolute must for any visiting the area. The under-canopy walks and just the atmosphere in the forest areas are worth the visit alone. It is certainly worthwhile to seek a good local guide here as the paths and water areas are far from obvious and there is ‘nothing’ to beat local knowledge on sites, time of year and favoured watering holes! No amount of trip reports or passed-on information is going to give you the best of this area. Our day began with seeing the now familiar Mangrove Black-Hawk, Gray-headed Kite and again the Zone-tailed Hawk. In the park area we saw Crested Caracara, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Inca Dove, Scarlet Macaw, White-crowned Parrot, (later in the evening Striped Owl), Long-billed Hermit, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Blue-throated Goldentail, Baird’s and Black-headed Trogon, Turquoise-browed and Blue-crowned Motmot, White-whiskered Puffbird, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Black-hooded Antshrike, Dot-winged Antwren, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Rufous Piha, Red-capped and Blue-crowned Manakin, Thrushlike Schiffornis, Streaked and Northern Royal Flycatcher, Northern Bentbill, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Riverside Wren, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, White-shouldered Tanager and Blue Grosbeak and last but not least Stripe-headed Sparrow. So a grand collection and the more common or previously seen birds I have left out! 

Day Sixteen February 9th – Punta Leona – Tarcoles Boat Ride – Orotina – Atenas – San Jose
We took a stroll and after breakfast were due to board the boat trip into the mangroves on the Tarcoles River. Compared to the 7th, when we took the late afternoon boat, then this trip was not anywhere near as good. Quite simply we believe we missed the early birds! Having said that we managed much better views of such species as American Pygmy Kingfisher, Wood Stork, Yellow-headed Caracara, also a stunning Yellow-naped Parrot, Green-breated Mango, Blue-throated Goldentail, a new birds Steely-vented Hummingbird and Long-billed Starthroat, Rose-breasted Becard and Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet. Later in our day we had Fiery-billed Aracari. We stopped a few times heading back to San Jose and the most notable was a picture shoot for Black and White Owl in Orotina and we managed to pick-up Least Grebe and Muscovey Duck at Atenas Dam. Later when we arrived at our hotel we found Tropical Screech-Owl in the gardens within a stand of giant Bamboo.

Day Seventeen February 10th – San Jose
Before our departure for the airport we had all morning, so a little time was spent walking the grounds of the hotel, which are absolutely stunning. During the walk we found Tropical Screech Owl again, plus a couple of new birds Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush and White-eared Ground Sparrow. A couple of regulars to the garden are Prevost’s Ground-Sparrow and Canivet’s Emerald, but we failed to see either, but we will be back!


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