This trip was organised on the internet through www.naturespecialist.com It was arranged with Roy Orozco, who did all the leg work, booking hotels, coordinating dates and travel itinerary. He did an excellent job because the whole trip went according to plan and if there were any hitches I knew nothing about them.
Day 1: I arrived in San Jose on a flight from Newark at 11:30pm which had been delayed for a couple of hours due to snow and de-icing and I found it is not easy to get a taxi to Hotel Aeropuerto if you are the only one going in that direction.
Day 2: Roy had emailed, to say he would pick me up outside the hotel at 5am. I arrived outside the hotel at 5 to 5 and Roy was waiting in the car for me. I made a joke about no breakfast and he said we would get something along the way but it was better to get out of San Jose before rush hour and I found out why two days later. We drove out of San Jose along the Guapiles Highway into the rainforest and as the dawn broke the views to be seen through the tree breaks were breathtaking. It was too early when we arrived at Braulio Carrillo National Park as the gates were not open and wouldn’t be for a couple of hours. So we agreed to stay going on to La Selva Biological Station. One thing I must say at this point, is that, as this was my first time in the tropics all birds seen by me are lifers. That it, except one which was a House Sparrow, seen at breakfast while at a road side cafe and the second bird seen today. The first bird spotted by Roy on the very top of a bare tree was a Bat Falcon but then he was looking for it and it was on the same tree two days later as we returned. Also seen at this cafe were Gray Breasted Martin and Montezuma Oropendola (or yellow tail as I called them) before we headed on to La Selva Biological Station. We arrived about an hour later and even as we drove in the road we saw Passerini’s Tanager with its bright red rump, Kiskadee and White Fronted Parrot. We saw a lot of birds on this first day the high lights being Great Green Macaw, Crested Owl, Black throated Trogon, Violaceous Trogon, White ringed Flycatcher, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Keel-billed Toucan and to finish the day Black-cheeked Woodpecker. We finished birding at around 4.30 and headed for the Hotel Heliconia Island which was to be our base for two nights.
Day 3: Breakfast was at 6:00a.m in this delightful little hotel set in grounds of about five acres between two rivers, one of which flows right in front of the breakfast balcony and the Kingfishers and Herons can be seen flying by as you eat. After breakfast, we took a walk around the grounds but I was a bit disappointed as I had heard of the great number of birds found here, Clay-coloured Robin (national bird of Costa Rica), Buff-rumped Warbler, Little Blue Heron, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, House Wren and Orange-billed Sparrow. Heading out we found a pair of Green Ibis feeding on the lawn and going up the road on our way back to La Selva Biological Station we found Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Variable Seedeater, Bananaquit, Great-tailed Grackle and Mangrove Swallow.
The trails from the main centre stretch for miles in all directions and some of the best birding for flycatchers, tanagers and warblers can be done in and around the living and working quarters which are in a large clearing in the forest. The main birds of today were White-necked Puffbird, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Collared Aracari, Band-backed Wren, Golden Hooded Tanager, Cinnamon Becard, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Crested Guam, Broad-billed Motmot and my favourite of the day the Three-wattled Bellbird which could be heard from about a mile away but took a long time to find in the top of one of the tallest trees in the forest.
We got back to Hotel Heliconia Island with about an hour of light left so I took a walk around the garden and down by the river and found a few new species like the Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Cattle Egret, Gray-necked Wood Rail, Anhinga, Great Blue Heron and two Spotted Sandpiper.
Day 4: This morning after breakfast we took to the road again, on the way out of the hotel in the early morning mist we saw a great Egret walking across a tilled field and a Pale-vented Pigeon sitting on the phone wire. Along the road near Braulio Carrillo National Park, Roy pulled into a small valley at the side of the road with a lot of flowering scrubs and to my surprise lots of hummingbirds Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Violet-headed Hummingbird and a brief view of the Snowcap.
A little further on we stopped at a house back off the road and Roy told me it was a private area of the Braulio Carrillo National Park and we walked up to the look-out with a lovely view out over the forest and up to the Volcanoes which dominate the skyline. Here we saw a beautiful pair of Lattice-tailed Trogon which are not regularly found in this area and Wedge-billed Woodcreeper and Garden Emerald. Heading back along the Guapiles Highway we passed the bare tree with the Bat Falcon sitting on top again. In San Jose it took at least 2-3 hours to get through and out into the open country again, the only thing to count were the black vultures flying overhead but I gave up after 100 and the only bird I saw was a White-winged Dove on the wires in San Jose.
Going to Tapanti Kiri Lodge our home for the next two days we saw Brown Jay and Blue and White Swallow. This lodge with its trout pools is in more open terrain than the rainforest I had seen up to this and on arrival we were greeted by a Green Ibis and a tree full of Montezuma Oropendola and today was the only day in the fortnight there was a little light shower of rain to keep down the temperature. The lodge is made up of cabins with a bar and restaurant. The cabins were very basic but had lots of hot water and the food was first class with fresh trout from the pools below a speciality. The birds seen here before the light faded were Black Vulture which sat on the tree right outside the cabin, Ringed Kingfisher catching trout out of the pools, Black Phoebe, American Dipper, Torrent Tyrannulet and my first Rufous-collared Sparrow.
DAY 5: Today was one of those days which is best to forgotten as there was a lot of walking but with little to show for it. Before breakfast, we took a walk around the lodge and round the pools and an Osprey was seen over the pools and a Melodious Blackbird at the lodge itself. After breakfast, we drove down the road to the National Park where just inside the gates the Chestnut-headed Oropendola were nesting. Next we came upon a mixed flock of Tufted Flycatcher, Spotted Barbtail, Paltry Tyrannulet, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper and Long-tailed Woodcreeper. This type of birding is the norm it seems in forest, running into mixed groups of small birds and the next group contained, one of two lifers for Roy because he saw a Dark Pewee with the following Silver-throated Tanager, Common Bush Tanager, Red-faced Spinetail, Black & Yellow Silky Flycatcher and Spangle-cheeked Tanager. We found a Sunbittern, beside the main road through the Park, who had no fear on people or cars or even buses passing within a couple of metres of it (got lots of pictures ).
After lunch, we headed into the park again but this time we saw very little, Black-headed Nightingale-thrush beside the road, Three-striped Warbler, Tropical Kingbird and Elegant Euphonia.
Day 6: Dawn saw us up and birding before breakfast and the sky was blue without a cloud. Down the road we went in search of more birds and we found Yellow-faced Grassquit, Yellow-bellied Elaenia with its double crest, back for food and on the feeders were Palm Tanager, Montezuma Oropendola, Blue-Gray Tanager and Melodious Blackbird.
We packed and hit the road for Savegre Valley along the way as we passed through a small village we stopped as in front birds were flying back and across the road and seen were Black-headed Saltator, Southern and Northern Rough-winged Swallows, Green-breasted Mango nesting on the electricity wires, Lesser Elaenia, White-lined Tanager and Variable Seedeater to name a few.
Our next stop was at a lodge high up over the Savegre Valley to look for the bird everyone must see in Costa Rica the Respendent Quetzal, Roy said that this was one sure place to see this amazing bird. Up at these heights breathing can be difficult after coming up from the lowlands but the local guide had no problem running up the track to show us the Respendent Quetzal. Also seen here were Green Violet-Ear, Magnificent Hummingbird, And Collared Redstart. After lunch, Swallow-tailed Kite, Wrenthrush a very hard bird to get a good look at, Mountain Elaenia, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Black & Yellow Silky Flycatcher, Sooty-capped Bush Tanager, Flame-colloured Tanager, Black-capped Flycatcher and Sooty Robin were seen. The last bird seen today was a Red-tailed Hawk which landed in the trees behind the Cabinas el Quetzal lodge when we arrived for the night.
Day 7: The night was spent in Cabinas et Quetzal and is exactly as advertised below: A quiet place surrounded of an exuberant landscape in the margin of the Savegre River, one of the cleanest rivers and less polluted in Costa Rica and Latin America. Our cabins are in front of the public street, and behind of them the river; they have terrace, a construction with a combination of wood and concrete, hot water, small living room.
The staff were most obliging getting up to get food for us at 5:30a.m so we could get down to Savegre Mountain Reserve early and get a whole day’s birding. The Savegre Hotel has a lot of feeders and a lot of hummingbirds some of the new ones were Volcano Hummingbird, White-throated Mountain Gem, and Scintillant Hummingbird. Also, seen on the feeders and around the hotel were a pair of Acorn Woodpecker, Flame-coloured Tanager, Slaty Flowerpiercer, Black Guan which we had been looking for for the last two days, Black-faced Solitaire, Blue-White Swallow and a Mallard(?), Wilson’s warbler and Yellow-winged Vireo. The main trail here was very steep so a jeep was provided to bring people up to the top of the trail and you walked down birding we did this either side of lunch. The first bird we met at the top of the trail was a lifer for Roy, a Costa Rican Pygmy Owl in a hole at the top of a tree. The first time down the trail we saw Sooty-capped Bush Tanager, Yellow- thighed Finch, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, White-collared Swift and Yellowish Flycatcher. The second time down we saw Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Mountain Robin and Band-tailed Pigeon this was not all that was seen but a good cross section.
Day 8: I was first out the door this morning, just as dawn was breaking and the first bird I saw sitting on the wires is a Collared Trogon, which Roy had been trying to find for last few days, he came over and landed about three feet in front of me on a railing but flew away at soon as he saw me. We left Savegre for Manuel Antonio and the Pacific coast today after breakfast stopping off at a garden of a friend of Roy’s to look at their hummingbirds on the feeders which include Green-crowned Brilliant, Volcano Hummingbird (male), Purple-throated Mountain Gem, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and the beautiful Violet Sabrewing and also seen was the lovely looking Speckled Tanager. At lunch time in a little roadside cafe with feeders as we eat we saw Cherrie's Tanager, Black-striped Sparrow and Gray-necked Wood Rail. A walk down behind the cafe produced a Blackburnian Warbler and a Green Hermit. We descended quickly to the lowlands and on to the Interamerican Highway and spotted on poles along the road, Roadside Hawk, Gray Hawk, Smooth-billed Ani, Crested Caracara, Rock Pigeon and Little Blue Heron. We then pulled off the road and down a gravel road into one of the most unusual places I have ever seen. After we spotted a Crocodile beside road, we saw four types of Herons, three breeds of Hawk, three types of Egret, Kingfishers, Flycatchers, Northern Jacana, Grove-billed Ani, Bronzed Cowbird and Pale-vented Pigeon.
Day 9: Today was a later start as Roy was back on his home turf but I was up with the dawn as usual. I went down to the beach and had a swim before breakfast which was at 8:00a.m and took a few photos. Birds observed on my little walk were House Wren, Inca Dove and Piratic Flycatcher who were in the act of taking over a Tropical Kingbirds nest. Roy arrived on time as always and we headed into the Park which is about 50 yards from the hotel. This park is a rather small park compared with what I had seen, with a lot more people on guided tours but Roy knew the area very well and where to find all the best birds like Black-hooded Antshrike, Thick-billed Euphonia, the cute Riverside Wren, Common Pauraque on its nest on the ground, the lovely looking Prothonotary Warbler, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Lesser Nighthawk and Yellow-headed Caracara. This park contains an abundance of wildlife with three types of monkeys, Squirrel, Howler and White-faced, Masked Tree Frog, Red-eyed Tree Frog, great big Green Iguana, Caquetá Lizard, Jesus Christ Lizard, Coati, Three-toed Sloth and Two-toed Sloth and Raccoons. The afternoon was meant to be a beach day but as I had no interest in lying on a beach, Roy and a local birding friend brought me out to the estuary of the Pueblo Nuevo (I think) to see the local seabirds. The bird list was increased with birds like the Black-shoulder Kite, Amazon Kingfisher, Willet, Whimbrel, Semipalmated Plover, Black-necked Stilt, Royal and Sandwich Terns and my favourite the Black Skimmer. We took a few detours on the way back and added Southern Lapwing, Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, Rufous-naped Wren, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl and Black-headed Grosbeak to the list.
Day 10: This morning we went for a walk at Hacienda Baru in the foothills the weather was its usual 35+, dry and humid but the birding was on the slow side not that I minded as it was good to be out and about in such a lovely place. The first bird we saw was a Black Hawk Eagle, followed by Baltimore Oriole, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper and Blue-crowned Motmot. After the morning walk, we packed up and headed for Carara National Park making a few birding stops on the way. The first stop produced Scissor-tailed Flycatcher along the side of the road, the next stop was one of the best of the tour as Roy took us to a place on the beach and in the tree tops you could hear the Scarlet Macaws fighting. The Macaws were in the top on the trees and as I tried to get a better photo I went around the tree still looking to the top of the tree. When I got to the other side of the tree I came face-to-face with a Scarlet Macaw about 10 feet up and 10 feet in front. The next stop was on the side of a little road leading onto the main Highway but the bird array was excellent with Blue-throated Goldentail, Steel-vented Hummingbird, Tennessee Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, Blue Black Grosbeak, White-collared Seedeater and further along Black-bellied Whistling Duck and Orange-fronted Parakeet. The Cerros Lodges where we spent the next two nights was the place to see Black-and-White Owls but they did not appear for us. Instead a pair of Pacific Screech Owl did and we had a lot of fun trying to get photos of them in the dark (in some of them you can see the owl).
Day 11: We ate breakfast before dawn and we headed for Carara National Park down over the bridge with the crocodiles on the mud below. This park was full of new birds, on the trail in the morning I will just name a few to give you an idea of the range of species here, Black-hooded Antshrike, Chestnut-backed Antshrike, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Riverside Wren, Slaty-tailed and Baird's Trogon, a pair of Pale-billed Woodpeckers, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Yellow-crowned Euphonia and the noisy pair of Barred Antshrike, Boat-billed Heron, Green Kingfisher, Summer Tanager, Spotted Sandpiper and Bare-throated Tiger-Heron. The trail after lunch was not as productive but still...... Grey-headed Tanager, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Bay-headed Tanager, Muscovy Duck, Dot-winged Antwren, a pair of White-Whiskered Puffbird sitting side by side, Northern Waterthrush and back at the lodge Hoffmann's Woodpecker on the feeder.
Day 12: We headed up into the mountains this morning and as we turned off the highway, on a tree was a Striped Cuckoo singing away, at our next stop which had a view to die for, the whole way down over the forest, over the river Delta and over the Pacific, we found Brown-capped Vireo, Crimson-fronted Parakeet, Rufous-capped Warbler, a pair of Baltimore Oriole (M&F), Rufous-and-White Wren and my first and only King Vulture. Further on up into the mountains at a lookout view of the Bijagual Waterfall we spotted two lovely hawks, Laughing Falcon and White Hawk. On the way back to the lodge to pack and head on to our next port of call at Hacienda Guachipillin in Rincon de La Vieja we spotted Black-headed Trogons in the trees and at the lodge itself Scrub Euphonia and Ruby-throated Hummingbird a magnificent bird when the light catches it. Roy had promised to find a Potoo for me if he could so on the way to the hotel we picked up, Olivier a birding guide who lives here and a friend of Roy’s, who knew where there was a Northern Potoo roosting at the time. Olivier took us to see the Potoo and also showed us a couple of other interesting birds like the great big Jabiru, Limpkin, Greater Yellowlegs and Lesser Yellowlegs but the Double-striped Thick-Knee eluded us.
Day 13: The Hacienda Guachipillin is a working farm with horses and cattle and the chance to see new birds which inhabit a more open area. We went for a walk early to see what new birds were a foot and the first find was a White-fronted Parrot, Yellow Warbler and Turquoise-browed Motmot, Brown-crested Flycatcher and Orange-fronted Parakeet. This hotel is probably the biggest hotel we stayed at and is run managed excellently with the dining room operated in a buffet style for all meals. The rooms are large and spacious with on suite and very clean. After breakfast we observed Red-billed Pigeon, White-winged Dove, White-throated Magpie Jay, Stripe-headed Sparrow, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Yellow-Olive Flycatcher, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat and Indigo Bunting.
After lunch, we headed to Santa Rosa Natural Park the birding was a bit slow but this was probably due to the time of day but we did find some nice birds like Olive Sparrow, Elegant Trogon (we only missed one of the 10 trogons on this trip), Tennessee Warbler, Summer Tanager, Western Tanager and on the way out Broad-winged Hawk and Mangrove Cuckoo. Along the road home, we stopped as we saw a large amount of birds flying across the road these turned out to be Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Baltimore Oriole and Orchard Oriole flying to roost where, I don’t know.
Day 14: Last day birding things started well with the appearance of a group of Masked Tityra in a tree right in the middle of the hotel complex. After packing up the Green Hornet (which we had christened the car) for the last time we headed up to the forest behind the hotel and after climbing up into the forest we found that the wind was blowing quite hard so birding was next-to-impossible, the only bird to be seen was an Ovenbird. An hour later we quit and headed to a place Roy know about but had never been and this turned out to be a great chose as the guide here at Hacienda Solimar took us on a three hour trip around and showed us some of the birds we missed on our tour like a pair of Spectacled Owl, Snail Kite, Blue-winged Teal, Black-necked Stilt, Black-crowned Night Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Veraguan Mango, Double-Striped Thick Knee (at last), Eastern Meadowlark, Plain-breasted Ground Dove and a family of Pacific Screech Owls both parents and two young. This lovely view of two young screech owls sitting side by side on a branch with the father sitting a branch above and the mother a branch below is how I finished my birding trip to Costa Rica.
I would like to finish this report by thanking Roy for all his help and kindness along the way. If you ever want to go to Costa Rica birding for a day or a week or like me for a fortnight you could not do better than hiring Roy.
Roy’s English is brilliant once he got used to the Irish accent and found out “I was pulling his leg” a lot of the time but he got his own back on me many times as well. I can’t praise him enough as anyone who can put up with me for a fortnight must be good.
Thanks for everything Roy.