Venture to Costa Rica

March 16 – 25, 2022

Narrative and photos by Kevin Burke

Guides: Jay Carballo, Birding Experiences of Costa Rica and Kevin Burke.  Driver: Pablo Jimenez. 

This was a fantastic trip to Costa Rica with over 300 species seen.  The weather was dry for the vast majority of the trip, with small rains coming at non-birding times.  There were so many great times and birds on the trip it will be hard to include them all here!

On March 16th we picked everyone up from the airport or hotels respectively.  Once gathered, we transferred to our first hotel, Casona de Cafetal.  This is a working coffee plantation on the shores of Lake Cachi. 

We arrived in time to do some open habitat birding around the grounds of the hotel.  Gray-headed Chacalacas greeted us in the trees above the van.  Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds were a common sight around the grounds, and for most of the rest of the trip.  We had magnificent views of Ringed Kingfisher, Northern Jacana, and Least Grebes on the lake.  We concluded our walk by seeing the ever-present Brown Jays.  We had dinner outside at the hotel looking over the shores of Lake Cachi. 

Our first full day of birding on the trip started with early morning birding around the grounds of the hotel.  A Lesson’s Motmot was calling from the trees, and a perched White-crowned Parrot was a crowd pleaser.  We had breakfast and drove a short distance to Tapanti National Park.  The Rio Grande de Orosi runs through the middle of the 12,500-acre park making it a great place to bird.  We walked the main access road looking searching for birds of the lower montane rainforest.  It was not long before we had Tropical Parula and Collared Redstart.

We had a great encounter with a pair Golden-browed Euphonia’s building a nest.  A short jaunt to the river gave us great views of Torrent Tyrannulet, this water loving flycatcher feeds along the fast-moving rivers of the central part of the country.  A Zeledon’s Antbird gave us quite a show on the side of the road.  This was a great way to get warmed up to the type of birding we would do throughout the trip.   

We ended the day at Quelitales, a lodge and restaurant that is run by a chef/birder.  He has created a fantastic feeding station on the upper part of his property, mostly for hummingbirds.  We got great views of Violet Sabrewing, Green-crowned Brilliant, and a Green-fronted Lancebill.  We finished by watching Montezuma and Chestnut-headed Oropendola’s from the dinner table. 

Having spent two nights at Casona de Cafetal, we transferred to Rancho Naturalista for our next two nights.  We packed up early before breakfast and went out on the grounds of Casona de Cafetal to search for the endemic Cabanis’s Ground-sparrow.  It didn’t take us to long to find the bird in the coffee fields.  A Roadside Hawk perched nicely for good views in a palm tree. 

On the way to Rancho Naturalista we stopped to bird at La Marta, a private reserve.  Here we enjoyed a nice hike and views of the petite Snowcap, beautiful Golden-hooded Tanagers, and Black-and-yellow Tanager. 

Afternoon birding was reserved for some feeder watching and a trip to Rancho’s famous hummingbird pools.  The hummingbirds were spectacular on the feeder deck.  We enjoyed great views of White-necked Jacobin, Crowned Woodnymph, and Green-breasted Mango. 

The short, but steep walk to the hummingbird pools was completely worth the trip.  We had so many birds coming in to bathe at the pools including: Golden-winged Warbler, White-ruffed Manakin, and Ochre-bellied flycatcher.  We finished the evening with a nicely prepared dinner at Rancho’s outdoor dinning area.  The service and accommodations here are world class! 

Day four started out by birding the grounds of Rancho Naturalista.  We walked up to the orchards above the lodge.  The views of the valley were extraordinary.  We quickly located our main target for the morning the Lovely Cotinga. 

The electric blue bird with a purplish throat and stomach was a crowd pleaser.  As we were watching the Cotinga from its perch we had a couple more birds fly in.  The Masked Tityra and Black-crowned Tityra also perched on a bare snag for good views.  We encountered a nice mixed flock of birds including White-browed Gnatcatcher, Blue-winged Warbler, and Cinnamon Becard.  It was a great morning! 

After lunch we headed off the grounds and ventured out to see what we could find.  A very surprising encounter came when we found a Sunbittern on a nest over a local river.  Next we traveled to a local reservoir and had Neotropic Cormorant, Limpkin, and Southern Lapwing.  It was nice to get to bird this reservoir that had just recently opened up to birders.  We headed back to Rancho for dinner and bed after a long day of birding.

We had to move on from Rancho Naturalista, but the memories from that great lodge will last forever.  The staff came out and rang the bell in gratitude as we departed. 

The next two days we were to spend in the cloud forest at much higher elevations. On our way to the cloud forest we had lunch at the famous Parasio Quetzal Lodge.  The Hummingbirds here are fantastic.  We were treated to great views of Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Talamanca Hummingbird, and Volcano Hummingbird.

The real highlight was when a local guide showed us a Resplendent Quetzal nesting hole.  We had great looks at the male and female, and even heard the chicks begging for food as the parents drew close. 

The next stop was also at a famous location: Miriam’s Restaurant. 

The feeders on the deck of this restaurant were alive with great birds including: Large-footed Finch, Flame-colored Tanager, and Slaty Flowerpiercer.  After enjoying some nice snacks and fresh blackberry juice we headed to our lodge for the night. 

Dantica Lodge in San Gerardo de Dota is at roughly 8600 feet.  The air was thin, but the birding was great!  We were greeted by Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers and Sooty Thrush.  We settled in and got ready to go birding at high elevations the next day. 

Rising early the next morning, we traveled to Parque Nacional de Quetzales, a national park in the cloud forest that is part of a continuous protected tract that spans all the way into Panama.  We got our first glimpse of Flame-throated Warbler here.  The highlight of the walk was locating a Costa Rican Pygmy Owl feasting on a poor Mountain Elania. 

Raptor migration was in full swing as we saw nearly one hundred Broad-winged Hawks, with a few Swainson’s Hawks mixed in flying North.  We will be seeing the Broad-winged Hawks up in the states shortly.  More great range restricted birds we saw in the park were Black-and-Yellow Silky-Flycatcher, Yellow-thighed Brushfinch, and Collared Redstart.  It was a great way to spend the morning. 

Lunch was spent in the Savegre Valley.  A beautiful valley dotted with birding lodges following the Savegre River.  The road ends at the bottom where there are a few lodges and some great birding locations.  We took a short, but very steep ATV ride up the mountain side to a beautifully constructed feeding station, complete with lounge chairs and bathrooms!  Highlights from these feeders included Northern Emarald-Toucanet, Chestnut-capped Brushfinch, and Spotted Wood-Quail.

 The last stop of the day was just down the mountain for a short walk along the Savegre River.  Here we had great views of a male and female Resplendent Quetzal.  It was a great way to end another productive day of birding.  We spent a little time after dinner searching for owls.  We heard a pair of Spectacled Owls and got a brief view of one. 

It was time to move again so we packed up in the morning and headed down the mountains.  Until this point we had been in relatively cool weather compared to what you might expect for Costa Rica.  Most days were in the 70’s and lows in the 50’s.  We were about to head toward the Pacific coast and more hot and humid weather.  First we had to make a quick stop at 11,400 feet to get Volcano Junco.  We quickly tracked down this bird and away we went. 

Next we stopped at a feeding station and gardens owned by a nice Canadian couple.  Elegant Euphonia, Red-headed Barbet, and Speckled Tanager were the highlights.  At lunch we watched birds from an awesome feeding station and had close views of Collared Trogon, Gray-cowled Wood Rail, and Snowy-bellied Hummingbird.  What a great way to spend lunch! 

A quick stop at the town of San Isidro for Turquoise Cotinga was successful, and off we went to our lodge for the night.  During the late afternoon it rained at the lodge, but we still managed to see a family of Laughing Falcons from one of the rooms. 

We only stayed at Los Pelicanos Lodge for one night.  This is a hiker’s lodge in the shadow of the 12,533 foot El Chirripo, the tallest mountain in Costa Rica.  We spent the morning wandering the farm of the great ornithologist and naturalist Dr. Alexander Skutch.  Dr. Skutch was born in the United States in 1904.  He purchased this farm/preserve in 1941 and he studied and worked here until his death in 2004.  He was regarded as one of the best ornithologists ever.  As you can imagine he had a fabulous piece of property for birding.  We had four species of Trogons including: Baird’s, Black-headed, Slaty-tailed, and Gartered.

Tanagers were another highlight with Bay-headed, Spectacled, and Golden-hooded all being present.  We also had great looks at Red-capped and Orange-collared Manakins.  To finish off a great morning of birding we were treated to a home cooked lunch by a local mother and daughter.  It was a great way to end the morning.  Next we headed toward Tarcoles on the Pacific coast to round out our tour.  We did have one quick stop for great looks at Common Potoo. 

The Cerro Lodge near Tarcoles is where we finished our tour.  The lodge is situated on a hill overlooking the Gulf of Nicoya. When we arrived in the late afternoon, we were immediately greeted by the local Scarlet Macaws.  These massive parrots were numerous at the lodge, even landing on the restaurant railing giving numerous chances for photos. 

Our final full day was packed with birds.  We started the morning before breakfast with a boat ride on the Tarcoles River.  This was a huge treat to get to go out and bird on a beautiful sunny morning. 

Mangrove Swallows chased us everywhere we went.  Four species of Kingfisher were present including: Belted, Amazon, Ringed, and Green.  The interesting looking Double-striped Thick-knee was a great surprise. 

This boat ride netted us 68 species in total.  Other highlights included the endemic Mangrove Hummingbird, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Turquoise-browed Motmot and too many Magnificent Frigatebirds to count.  When the boat ride was over, we went back to Cerro Lodge for breakfast. 

Our next birding location was Carara National Park.  We walked the trails of this tropical rain forest and were able to get good views of Plain Xenops, Green-Shrike Vireo, and Dot-winged Antwren. This was also a great location to see White-face Capupuchin Monkeys.

Next, we headed to the other part of Carara to hike the trail from the main headquarters. A pair of Yellow-throated Toucans perched for great views.  Buff-rumped Warblers bounced around on a fallen log.  We also had good views of the secretive Chestnut-backed Antbird and Marbled Wood-Quail.  It was a nice hike to end the day.  We headed to dinner at a great seafood restaurant, but not before enjoying the sunset over the Pacific on the beach.  Some of us even put our feet in to feel the bathtub-like water. 

This was a great tour of Costa Rica encompassing many different habitats.  There were too many awesome experiences and birds to describe each in detail in a trip report.  The people were awesome, the food was great, and the birds were spectacular.  You must experience Costa Rica at least once in your life.  Why not come down and go birding?  The infrastructure of Costa Rica is made for Ecotourism.  The lodges are comfortable and clean, the service is always top notch, and everyone you meet is genuinely happy.  Join us on our next Venture to Costa Rica.  Until then, Pura Vida!

–Kevin

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