COSTA RICA 2022 draft
This incomplete blog covers a trip made at fairly short notice by myself, Nick Preston and Paul Noakes. We'd all been to Costa Rica before, Nick and I in 1985 and Paul in 1987 so it was very much a targeted trip although we were all happy to see what we could. Paul was the main instigator suggesting an itinerary, making bookings and doing virtually all the driving. The timing wasn't ideal. An earlier trip to Costa Rica would have been better bird wise as well as giving us a longer gap than the single week before a much postponed Brazil trip but various other commitments prohibited it.
Since returning I have had time to sort only a fraction of my photographs and have added on a day to the draft blog. I'd also like to pad the text out a bit to mention more of the birds seen but have run out of time with a trip to Brazil imminent. A week between trips is no way to run one's life but with a two year hiatus due to Covid one must take the opportunities presented. Having just about got over jetlag here we go again ...
18 April. I left home at 12:40, bus to Brighton where I had an hour to wait for the Heathrow bus which arrived on time. The traffic was OK until Heathrow where it took 30 minutes to travel from T5 to T2. Nick was already there and Paul arrived soon after, his train having been cancelled at Ipswich. Only 5.5 hours to departure. Check-in proceeded with no issues. Our Avianca flight was on time but the most uncomfortable I can remember (Boeing 787) with snack food and disappointing entertainment.
19 April. We arrived in a wet Bogota at 09:30 with 5 hours to wait in transit. Our San Jose flight was on time and we picked up an Amigo rental car, a sturdy Toyota Rush, and were birding near Walmart by 11:00 with Cabanisi’s Ground Sparrow the first notable species seen. We birded along the way to Horquetas River Lodge, our first accommodation, spending time at La Paz waterfall and the higher road overlooking it. Here it took some effort to find Sooty-faced Finch. Heading for the lodge there was a major accident and traffic holdup on Highway 4 just before the lodge. In the dark we passed the lodge twice without seeing the turn-off. An attempt to bypass the stationary traffic by taking a dirt road failed with a ditch about 50m short or our rejoining the road beyond the accident – not the first time MapsMe was to let us down with impassable roads (unless on a motorcycle ). We finally reached the lodge after seeking the assistance of a passing traffic cop who spoke to the lodge on the phone then escorted us to it’s turning. A basic but convenient place to stay pretty equidistant between Braulio Carillo and La Selva and run by a friendly lady (who got up and made us breakfast at 05:00!), we made it our base for two days. An abortive look for a calling owl which was probably a frog was worsened by my losing my torch in the process.
|Crested Guan above La Paz waterfall|
20 April. After 05:00 breakfast we drove to Braulio Carillo’s Quebrada Gonzales Sector arriving about 05:30. The reserve was closed until 07:00 so we parked outside (OK as no gear in the car) and walked Sendero Ceibo opposite the headquarters building without seeing much. We entered the main part of the reserve soon after it opened and spent until 11:15 on Sendero Las Palmas, the main trail, which was also disappointingly quiet. Yellow-eared Toucanet was about the best bird I saw, Nick saw Nightingale Wren which I missed. After lunch we headed back to the lodge, being delayed again on Highway 4, this time 15 minutes for grass cutting. We had a quick look around the lodge but it was very hot with few birds, and no sign of my lost torch, and then drove to the La Selva. We walked the entrance road and nearby forest edge. White-ringed Flycatcher was the day’s first new bird but while watching it through my telescope Nick, saw a male Snowy Cotinga fly directly overhead. Paul nearby saw it in silhouette. Very frustrating for me as it was one of my key target birds. The day was later saved by two pairs of Great Green Macaws in a more open area although they were not approachable.
21 April. A calling Spectacled Owl gave brief flight views at dawn with an even earlier breakfast before we left at 05:00. We returned to the La Selva entrance road and adjacent track from 6-8 seeing a pair of Rufous-winged Woodpeckers but no repeat of the cotinga action and little else. An American couple staying there asked if we were going to Rancho Naturalista as they’d forgotten to hand in their key. We were passing and said we’d return it, hoping doing so would allow us to look around. We returned to Horquetas River Lodge and left at 08:45. We called in at Cope’s Place from 09:15-09:45. It was very tranquil considering its location but the semi-resident White-tipped Sicklebill wasn’t around and after seeing Green-breasted Mango, Bronze-tailed Plumleteer and Bare-throated Tiger-Heron we soon moved on. We drove to Rancho Naturalista, arriving early afternoon after stopping briefly at Las Quelitales where no hoped for Black-bellied Hummingbirds had been seen recently. By way of thanks for returned their room key we were taken up to one of the meadows above Rancho Naturalista where a Lovely Cotinga had been seen coming into a fairly distant tree. It was mainly seen in the mornings but we thought it was worth a couple of hours looking. No luck and we continued the short distance on to Cabanas Colibri where we were spending the night. A pleasant lodge with an owner with somewhat grand ambitions we felt might not be realized.
22 April. We met Cali, our guide for the morning, at 05:30 and drove for nearly an hour into tribal lands at Tsiripi to a Lovely Cotinga site. After 15 minutes of scanning Cali picked up a very distant Lovely Cotinga on the far side of the valley. Luckily the road went that way, although was exceptionally steep, and after scope views we jumped in the car and were soon enjoying much closer views of our first real target. We left the cotinga at 07:00 for an hour’s drive along more very rough dirt roads towards a piprites site, the last part being across a ford and along little more than a footpath. It was then a steep climb and we reached the area at 08:20. Finding Grey-headed Piprites took longer than anticipated but we eventually did so after about an hour although it took me another 30 minutes to obtain decent views and even then it could have been on view for longer. We were back at the car at 11:00, returned to Cabanas Colibri at 12:50 and left soon after 13:00. We arrived at El Copal at 14:00 to be greeted by Snowcaps on their Verbena. We dumped our stuff and walked the trail for 3 hours but saw very little, a Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush being the highlight.
23 April. We were out at 05:00 walking the El Copal trails. We started on the anti-clockwise section of the main forest trail hoping for an early Quail-Dove but without success. A Tawny-chested Flycatcher was heard but views were brief as it failed to perform. We retraced our steps to the lodge and birded the trail clock-wise. After a short distance a Purplish-backed Quail-Dove responded to tape and Nick picked it up walking below us. It crossed the trail ahead of us giving good views as it did so. It was then a long gradual climb up a ridge to the hill’s summit. We continued down a steeper ridge and a second try for Tawny-chested Flycatcher gave me another, still not great, view. We returned for breakfast at 09:50 and were out on the anti-clockwise section of the trail again from 10:00-12.30 when we returned for lunch. We left soon after 13:00 for the cross-county drive to Hotel Las Brumas, in Cartago at the base of Volcan Irazu. After dumping our bags we drove to the Nochebueno Museo & Sendero where a quick walk on the trail produced a Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge for Paul and Nick, I was behind them and missed it. We continued up to our rendezvous at the entrance of Irazu National Park, seeing a Volcano Junco while waiting. Pablo and Diego were involved in an Unspotted Saw-whet Owl project on some of the private farms in the area and had agreed to help us see one on a Finca nearby. We were told it wasn’t be best time of year but they were hopeful one having been seen on the previous visit. We spent 5 hours with them visiting 3-4 territories without seeing any owls, not even the commoner Bare-shanked Screech Owl. We heard both species erratically and rarely close. The one time a Saw-whet was close some rather injudicious torch waving before it could be pinned down didn’t, in our view, appear to help the cause. Silhouette views of Dusky Nightjar were hardly any compensation. Pablo and Diego tried hard for us but it was a very disappointing outcome.
24 April. After a short night we left Las Brumas at 05:00 and arrived back at Nochebueno at 05:30. We headed for the potato fields above and disturbed a pair of Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridges with chicks in a rough weedy field on the way. We birded the potato fields and forest edge to 08:50 seeing Volcano Hummingbird, Maroon-breasted Ground Dove and male and female Resplendent Quetzal (in flight). We returned to the hotel at 09:15 for breakfast then drove to Casa Tanagra dowii arriving at 11:30 to find the gate locked. Paul went up the road to the nearest neighbour to ask if they knew if anyone was around and they phoned the owner to say there were some birders asking for access. Soon after Paul returned the owner appeared, he’d locked the gate as his wife was away and he wasn’t expecting anyone – we’d failed to ‘book’ in advance not knowing his number although he said it was widely available on WhatsApp. We followed him to his house and were surprised to find Graham and Richard there, friends of Nick’s from the NE. While we watched the feeders we chatted and had an excellent meal although the gourmet aspects of the local produce were rather lost on me. Highlights at the feeders were a pair of Buffy-crowned Wood Partridges with 3 chicks, 2 Buff-fronted Quail-Doves, Chestnut-capped Brush Finch and obviously the Spangle-cheeked Tanagers after which the property was named. We stayed watching the feeders until 16:00 enjoying the activity there and in the hope that the Scintillant Hummingbird seen by Nick’s friends before we arrived might reappear. It didn’t and with the rain increasing we left for the Cerro de la Muerte area. It was a 25 minute drive to Iyok Ami, a very basic hostel which was to be our base for the next three days. Having booked a single and a twin room we were disappointed to be given a dorm in an outbuilding, more akin to something I might have expected while trekking in Nepal in the late 1970s, although we had t to ourselves. We spent half an hour on the veranda as the light started to go. The rain eased off but the clouds rolled in. Nothing was heard calling during an evening owling session below the lodge and soon after we returned the ran became really heavy. The temperature dropped and we added layers of clothing and bedding, distributing all the dorms blankets and quilts between us.
25 April. As the rain had stopped we were up at 04:00 and owling around the lodge but with no success. We drove two kms down the Providencia Road arriving at 05:00 just as it was getting light. No owl response here either and a very poor flyover view of a Dusky Nightjar was little compensation although an Ochraceous Pewee soon after dawn was welcome. We continued birding for a couple of kms down the road. A superb Wrenthrush at one of the bends was an immediate candidate for bird of the trip even though Nick and I had seen them on our previous visit. Otherwise, it was disappointingly quiet although perhaps not surprising with the sun taking a long time to reach our side of the valley. We returned to the car at 08:30 and drove to the top of the antenna road where we looked unsuccessfully for Peg-billed Finch but did see Timberline Wren, although not brilliantly in my case. With the clouds rolling in at 10:45 we left, stopping for a final look for Peg-billed Finch nearer the main road. No finch but an Upland Sandpiper by the car was more of a surprise! Back to the main road we returned to the main road and turned off to San Gerardo stopping at Miriam’s Quetzals feeders. Graham and Richard had beaten us again and we had a brief chat with them while looking at the feeders. It was quiet and after 20 minutes we decided to visit another time for a meal and instead we went on Savegre Hotel Natural Reserve & Spa, stopping to bird along the way and seeing a pair of Resplendent Quetzals then further down the road another male visiting a nest hole with what looked like a juvenile (but might have been a female) inside. There we enquired about a permit for visiting their trails the flowing day and were told we could from 06:00. We were told we could also use the trails that day if we stayed for lunch. It was a very posh place but finding the menu nothing like as expensive as we feared we did, choosing a table with a view of hummingbird feeders. We stayed from 13:30-15:00 walking a forest trail which was very quiet in increasing rain but the hummingbird feeders had been good. We drove to Pareso Quetzal Lodge but it was still raining and we sat in the car for half an hour before giving up on another owling session. It was 10 minutes back to Iyok Ami where a better room in the man building was available (and well worth the effort of moving all our stuff into).
26 April. We were up at 03:30 and on the road above Pareso Quetzal Lodge at 04:00 owling. We heard a distant Bare-shanked Screech-Owl responding to tape. After 3-4 minutes it, or another, came closer and was spotlighted in a tree beside the road. Graham and Richard were staying in the lodge and fortuitously arrived while it was in view. A brilliant start, we left at 04:30. Hoping we might be on a roll we birded the first few kms of the Providencia Road trying for Unspotted Saw-Whet Owl but nothing, not even the Dusky Nightjar we’d heard there the previous morning. We arrived at Savagre at 06:15, paid $10 each for trail access and after a quick look at the feeders drove up to just below the viewpoint on the road to the Los Robles trail. We birded along the trail from 06:30-13:45. We had an excellent morning but the weather deteriorated in the afternoon with some rain and lower clouds. The highlights were 3 small groups of Spotted Wood-Quail (totaling 7 individuals), a Costa Rican Pygmy Owl that took a while to give itself up, 6 obliging Sulphur-winged Parakeets and 6 Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrushes. Paul also had good views of Silvery-fronted Tapaculo which we all heard while Nick saw a female Peg-billed Finch in a bird flock. We called in again at Miriam’s Quetzals for a late lunch and another look at her feeders but the species there were much a previously and didn’t include the hope for Scintillant Hummingbird which I was getting quite concerned about. While at Miriam’s the weather deteriorated with persistent rain which continued into the evening.
27 April. We were up at 03:30 and drove to Pareso Quetzal Lodge trying to find where Graham and Richard had seen Dusky Nightjar well the previous morning. We couldn’t find the area in the dark and it being obviously private (and us not staying there) and a few barking dogs put us off so we drove to the Providencia Road (2km) site. There after some effort we had decent views of Dusky Nightjar. We returned to the car and drove another 2km down the road before realizing we had a flat tyre. We soon discovered the spare was under the chassis held in place by a chain. Accessing it wasn’t so obvious and the car had no instruction manual. We found an opening from which the chain was presumably accessed and amongst the tools two rods which when fitted together could be inserted to reach it but to no effect. It was 4km back to the main road where there had been a few buildings and we decided the best thing was to bird our way back and seek assistance. I was fairly confident a vehicle would pass us and we could flag them down so as not to have to walk it all but none did in the 90 minutes or so we were walking (and birding, seeing another Costa Rican Pygmy Owl). At the shop/restaurant on the main road Nick found a helpful local involved with a Tapir project and we explained our problem. He had a set of tools in his pickup but none seemed likely to fit. One of the few cars parked there was a Toyota but not our model. We’d hoped to speak to them about how to change a tyre but they were in the restaurant and in a rush to get to San Jose, the only unhelpful people we met in the whole of Costa Rica. The Tapir guy took us back to our car in his pickup but despite his help we were making no progress on releasing the tyre when a Toyota Hi-Lux approached. We flagged it down and explained the problem. The driver got out looked through our tools, attached a hook to one of our rods and showed how the tyre was wound down. He made us feel pretty silly as the answer had been staring us in the face all along – we’d rather overlooked the hook but why have two rods when only one was needed? Our problems weren’t quite over as the jack wouldn’t raise the car enough to change the tyre. Being on a slope wasn’t helping but our helper had a better jack. His enabled us to remove the punctured tyre but the car still wasn’t high enough to fit the replacement. He had a mattock and dug out a bit of the earth road under the wheel arch until it was. Tyre changed we thanked our helper, gave him a donation to his project and returned for Nick who was pleased/relieved to see us mobile again. We returned to Iyok Ami to collect our stuff and settle up with them and drove to the Transmitter Road for a final look for Peg-billed Finch. I thought I saw a female briefly then Nick found a male nearby which gave good views. An unexpected success with a tricky species. A male Black-throated Green Warbler was pretty stunning and presumably a recently arrived migrant. We stopped at La Georgina where I’d stayed with Nick and Colin for three nights in 1985 and just about recognized it. Nick and Paul had a meal there. Still very much the Arroz con Carne con Frijoles that I remembered but rather greasier which didn’t appeal. I looked around outside seeing little and wondering where we might have gone birding while there, nowhere looked obvious. We left La Georgina at 14:20 and dropped into low cloud, poor visibility causing us to miss the entrance to Bosque Tolomuco. In trying to turn around we ended up on a steep gravel track it was impossible to reverse up, not helped by the car being rear-wheel drive and our spare tyre not getting much purchase. We continued down the track, did a several point turn and managed to get back up onto the main road. We arrived at Bosque Tolomuco in the rain at 15:05. A fantastic place for hummingbirds with feeders and Verbena everywhere. We saw Brown and Lesser Violetears, 15+ Green-crowned Brilliants, 6 each of Talamanca and Fiery-throated Hummingbirds, 3 Grey-tailed Mountaingems, 2 Volcano Hummingbird, 2 Violet Sabrewing and 4 Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds. I failed to see a Scintillant Hummingbird Paul found which shot off before I could get onto it (my eyesight letting me down in poor light again). Seeing a White-tailed Emerald with Nick didn’t seem like much compensation at the time. My mood wasn’t improved by receiving an unhelpful email about a dispute I was having with VISA about a crashed airline booking.
28 April. The heavy rain continued for much of the night but it was dry before dawn. We had an excellent early morning around the garden with White-crested Coquette and particularly Scintillant Hummingbird the highlights. We’d been lucky to stay at Bosque Tolomuco as the elderly owners had almost completed the process of selling up and moving to the coast. After a quick breakfast we left at 06:50 and arrived at El Peje, an area of Del Monte pineapple crops just off highway 2. Here while parked on some open ground 0.5km south of town and wondering where to go a local birder stopped and asked us what we were looking for. He told us he’d seen a couple of Turquoise Cotingas that morning and directed us to a muddy dirt track he had emerged from. Rosy Thrush-Tanagers were in most patches of woodland and again he indicated somewhere a couple of km away. We tried his cotinga site but saw nothing in an hour. It was getting hot and we feared we might be too late in the day. Most of the area was fairly flat and had been cleared for pineapples with thin strips of forest separating them which, from a distance, looked more substantial blocks of forest than they were. We decided to try a junction off Highway 2 just over a km SE of El Peje where there were some recent ebird sightings. It was an inspired decision as we arrived to find a local ebirder (I thought he was called Leandro but looking at ebird lists I can’t find him) watching a male Turquoise Cotinga in a fruiting tree. Amazing, but he then proceeded to show us photos on his phone of nearby of Rosy Thrush-Tanager and Green Shrike-Vireo and offered to show us them. It seemed too good to be true but wasn’t. We followed him on his motorbike along a track into the pineapple plantation and after a 100m walk and a bit of tape playing a superb Green Shrike-Vireo appeared. We then returned to the rough ground we’d first stopped at and in the nearest woodland, less than 100m from where we had been wondering where to go, taped in a superb Rosy Thrush Tanager. We paid him $40 although Nick was only prepared to contribute $10. Our guide seemed very pleased with the money so perhaps Nick was right that we’d been too generous. We drove to Buenas Aires keen to replace our damaged tyre. We found a garage on the edge of town but they were unable to repair it and directed us into town to buy a new one. Nowhere was obvious but we flagged down two motorcycle policemen who lead us through a couple of back streets to a building we would never have found ourselves. We bought a replacement, the last they appeared to have, and returned to the garage for the tyre to be fitted. We were back on the road by 12:00 and arrived at Las Cruces and the Wilson Botanical Gardens soon after 15:00, but not before the rain. It looked a very impressive place, Nick and me in one room and Paul another. Paul had arranged for local guide Jiesson to guide us the following morning and spoke to him to confirm it.
29 April. We met Jiesson at 05:30 and birded around the Wilson Botanical Gardens seeing Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, Fiery-billed Aracari, Spot-crowned Euphonia and Costa Rican Brushfinch before returning for breakfast at 06:20. At 07:00 we left and drove a short distance along a dirt track into the hills to look for Ruddy Foliage-Gleaner. In a couple of hours we failed to elicit any response in isolated forest patches, first by the track then on a hillside through a farm. It was very slow going until we saw a Baird’s Trogon on our return. Back at Las Cruces Jiesson took us along the main trail for a couple of hours where we saw a superb male Orange-collared Manakin and tantalizingly heard Ruddy Foliage-Gleaner several times but it never called consistently or showed itself at all. After Jiesson left we drove to a nearby site for Chiriqui Yellowthroat, seeing a pair in a damp overgrown field without too much difficulty. By now it was drizzling steadily and we returned to Las Cruces where we walked to the Observation Tower. I climbed it but the cloud had come down and it was impossible to see very far. As the rain increased we returned to our rooms, me to work on my response to VISA which preoccupied me and I didn’t notice the rain lessening before dusk. Paul did and ventured onto the ‘football pitch’ trail seeing 3 Marbled Wood-Quail which was rather gripping.
30 April. We tried for the Marbled wood-Quai at first light but only heard one rather distantly before returning for breakfast at 06:00. We tried the main trail again drawing another blank with Ruddy Foliage-Gleaner, not even hearing one, but a male Blue-crowned Manakin was some compensation. After a last look around the Wilson Botanical Gardens for a final look at Snowy-bellied Hummingbird and Fiery-billed Aracari we drove to Coto 47 outside Cuidad Nielly. Despite extensive searching in unpleasantly hot conditions we failed to find any Veraguan Mangos in the limited hummingbird habitat between paddyfields. Five Bare-necked Tiger-Herons were the pick of the limited wetland species seen, which included a few waders to keep Nick happy. Dark clouds approached when we were out on a track through some paddyfields but we just made it back to the car before the heavens opened. It was a two hour drive on to Danta Corcovado Lodge on the Osa Peninsular, arriving just before dusk. Our accommodation and surroundings exceeded expectations and was amongst the best we had on the trip.
01 May. We left Danta Corcovado Lodge about 05:50 and drove to Rincon Bridge where we arrived soon after 06:00. After a few minutes scanning a distant male Yellow-billed Cotinga was spotted. We stayed to 08:50 seeing at least 6 and probably 8 or 9 cotingas but most were distant and those seen closer quickly moved on. As impressive were the Scarlet Macaws flying over, heading NW in pairs. We returned to the lodge for an excellent breakfast then walked its trails until 15:00 seeing most of the desired species including Golden-naped Woodpecker, Black-hooded Antshrike, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Riverside Wren and Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager. Rain while we were on the Canopy Tower at 10:00 was early but we were able to shelter on the lower level until it passed over. Late afternoon we drove to Playa Sandalo and walked along the beach looking for Mangrove Hummingbird which Nick found feeding in a flowering tree on the edge of the mangroves. We were back in La Palma where we had a meal in a local bar. Arroz con pollo again for me, after skipping an evening meal yesterday. Rain started in earnest as soon as we were back in our cabin.
02 May. We were up at dawn and soon after walked the trails up to the Lookout Tower where we spent a couple of hours before returning for breakfast. Paul found a Charming Hummingbird on the Verbena near the car park which Nick and I successfully twitched. After a brief return to our cabin we revisited the Lookout Tower where I had a tantalizing view of what looked like a Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet but didn’t respond to tape. We spent more time on the trails where Paul taped in a Chiriqui Foliage-Gleaner but otherwise we saw similar species to yesterday. It was very hot and humid but remained dry. We drove 2km past the lodge and walked along the road without seeing much. Returning I walked up to the Lookout Tower to watch the sunset.
03 May. Our final morning at Danta Corcovado looked to be a dry one and we were up soon after 04:00 for an hour’s owling which produced no responses. We returned to Rincon Bridge from 05:30-07:15 but the Yellow-billed Cotingas were even less obliging than previously with all 6 I saw being in flight. Again I failed to take any photos. Back at the lodge we had an hour on the trails before breakfast and half an hour after, packed and left just after 10:00. More epic driving by Paul got us to Cerro Lodge near Carara in 4 hours. We were disappointed to learn that their Observation Tower was out of operation so we decided to try and find some mangroves near the entrance of the Rio Tarcoles. The lodge was on the north side of the river and the dirt road we’d come in on headed south so we continued down it but it petered out, meeting the river in open grassland. We returned to the main road and drove down to Carara to find out about access for the following morning. The heavens opened as we arrived and we were dismayed to discover that Carara didn’t open until 08:00 although one could often go in with a guide before then, there usually being guides around from 07:30 or earlier. We continued to Playa Azul near the mouth of the Rio Tarcoles to suss out any likely mangroves. We soon found some, the rain stopped and Paul taped in a Mangrove Vireo before the rain started again. We were back at Cerro Lodge at 16:15 by which time the rain was torrential again.
04 May. We left Cerro Lodge at 05:15 and spent from 05:30-07:15 on the northern trail at Carara as access was more open, although perhaps not officially. Continuing to the main trail at Carara the gates were locked so we parked outside, as another car was doing, but no one was about so we went in and spent 07:30-10:20 on the main trail. The highlights were a very obliging pair of Streak-chested Antpittas, Turquoise-browed Motmot and Orange-collared Manakins. We returned to headquarters to pay and were given a rudimentary telling-off for entering before the National Park was open, our car having been spotted by the officials. We returned to Cerro Lodge, left at 11:05 and drove to La Ensenada where after a fairly slow journey we arrived at 13:45. It was very hot, the area typified by farmland with thin strips of gallery forest between fields. A Pacific Screech-Owl with two large chicks roosting in a mango tree near the restaurant was an excellent start as was a Lesser Ground Cuckoo found by Paul in a small forest strip as we spread out to check some of the trails around the finca. We birded until heavy rain drove us inside at around 17:00.
05 May. We walked the trails at Ensenada from 05:30-08:45 with Thicket Tinamou our main target. We heard distant birds and finally tracked one down to a patch of scrubby woodland where we hoped to attract it to the edge. It came closer but presumably saw us and never showed. We tried again where a track bisected the woodland hoping to entice it across a track. Again it came closer and this time appeared at the edge of a more open area before it saw us. I also saw Cinnamon Hummingbird, 8 Black-headed Trogons, Turquoise-browed Motmot and White-lored Gnatcatcher before returning for breakfast. The Pacific Screech- Owl family, this time with both adults, were roosting in their mango tree. We packed and left at 10:00 for the nearby salinas seeing a Lesser Ground-Cuckoo on the track as we approached them. The Salinas were hot and mosquito infested and, seeing very little there, we didn’t linger. One of our main misses during our first few days in central Costa Rica had been Black-bellied Hummingbird in the central mountains. We were heading back that way and had booked a chalet at Cateratas del Toro where they were being seen with some regularity. It was another trying drive for Paul with MapsMe not always helpful by suggesting windy dirt roads which might be a 100m shorter than a straight paved one. The last two hours were also in heavy rain. We arrived at Cateratas del Toro at 14:00, found our chalet 400m further down the road but it was locked with no one about. Returning to Cateratas we located the lady who owned the chalet working in the restaurant. It was still raining hard so we watched the hummingbird feeders from inside, having negotiated our entrance fee would include the following morning too. Lots of hummingbirds were in evidence with Purple-throated Mountaingems and Violet Sabrewings the highlights. The closest we came to a Black-bellied Hummingbird was a female we couldn’t be sure wasn’t Stripe-tailed. We stayed watching them until 17:00 by which time the rain had eased off but it was getting cold and the light was starting to go. Our cabin was unlocked and although quite basic had a well provided kitchen, not that we had any food to cook. I did make use of the toaster though.
06 May. We entered Cateratas del Toro at 06:00 and spent the first two hours around the feeders and flowers by the centre. We soon saw male and female Black-belied Hummingbirds on the Verbena. The male was really quite smart and vindicated our decision to visit the site. We spent the next two hours on the trails to the Jardin and back where more Verbena hosted White-bellied Mountaingem, more Black-bellied and a Scintillant Hummimgbird. We saw Zeledon’s Antbird and Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrushes on the trail but Nick and I failed to find a Ruddy Woodcreeper Paul had seen there. We left the chalet at 10:15 and drove to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui where we arrived at noon. Our accommodation, Andrea Christina, was in a cool shady setting under tall trees but it was still very hot. We unpacked and sorted our stuff out before calling in at a supermarket on the way to the La Selva entrance road. There we met Graham and Richard again. They were staying at La Selva and grippingly had seen a female Snowy Cotinga above the entrance gate that morning. We birded along the entrance road from 13:45-17:15 when heavy rain came in. No cotingas although we did see Rufous-winged Woodpecker again, Black-throated Wren and Red-throated Ant-Tanager.
07 May. This was likely to be my last chance at seeing Snowy Cotinga as we were leaving La Selva and would be unlikely to return. We had a spare day at the end of the trip but Paul and Nick were not keen to spend it here. It was dry so we were on the entrance road at 04:25 playing Middle American Screech Owl recordings but all they seemed to attract was a Spectacled Owl we saw poorly. I birded the end of the entrance road and the car park by the main gate from dawn to 08:45 hoping a cotinga might appear, as one had the previous day, but had no success. While I was concentrating on the ‘favoured’ cotinga trees Nick had a brief view of a female fly across the road 200m away and later he and Paul saw a male fly across a clearing 400m away while sitting by the road. Needless to say I saw neither and found the situation very frustrating to say the least although good views of a Semiplumbeous Hawk was some compensation. For a change of scenery, we decided to try the road along the edge of La Selva where Nick had seen one fly over my head on our second day. Returning to the scene of the crime did not fill me with confidence but amazingly in almost the same area I picked up a male Snowy Cotinga flying into a tree where it landed! Albeit partially obscured I managed to scope its top half (one of the few times it had really been worth carting a scope around Costa Rica) before it dropped out of the back of the tree and disappeared. I was quite elated and hugely relieved, not having fully realized how much I was stressing over not seeing one. It also levelled off cotingas for the trip: Blue 2 White 2. We returned to the lodge, me on a real high, the others relieved not to have to try any longer, packed and tried a short scrubby trail behind our accommodation but only saw a Green Ibis. We drove to the Sleeping Mountain Arenal at La Fortuna, arriving before noon. It was a basic town centre hotel with a rudimentary kitchen run by a very helpful lady. We drove up to the very posh Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spar to suss it out for the morning. Access to their trails was from 05:30 and cost $12 each which was better than we’d expected in both cases. We walked a section of the dirt road a km below the lodge entrance and Nick heard a close Thicket Antpitta calling below us. It was in an area we could access so we scrambled down the bank towards it. Paul strategically placed his speaker and we sat quietly while he taped it in. It took a while but suddenly I spotted it in a gap deep in the vegetation although initially Nick and Paul were unsighted. It soon reappeared and gave decent views, sometimes fleeting and usually brief and partially obscured but very pleasing all the same. We returned to La Fortuna and spent the last three hours of the day on the Bogarin Trail. At the small overgrown pool by the entrance and along the trails we saw Rufous-naped Wood-Rail, American Pygmy Kingfisher, 2 Keel-billed Motmots, a female Black & White Owl with fully grown youngster and Laughing Falcon as well as sloths and agoutis. It is a good site for Uniform Crake but only I saw one, while walking the trails. It had been an excellent day, with the start forgotten perhaps the best of the trip!
08 May. We birded the trails at Arenal Observatory Lodge but found them rather quiet. Highlights were 2 male Great Currasows, 3 Rufous and 2 Broad-billed Motmots, 2 Rufous-tailed Jacamars, 2 Red-lored Parrots, Russet Antshrike, male Dull-mantled Antbird, Stripe-breasted Wren, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush and 2 White-throated Shrike-Tanagers. The antbird was my only new bird, its name hardly doing it justice. We called in at Sky Adventures on the way back, having been told it was a good site for Blue & Gold Tanager which Paul was particularly keen to see (Nick and I had in 1985, not that I have any recollection of so doing). We arranged, and paid, for access from 05:45 the following morning and met a local guide who implied the tanagers were widespread, without being specific. I asked about Tody Motmot and was told he’d heard one a few days before at the far end of the second bridge, increasing my interest in the place significantly! We called in at Bogarin Trail again, having been told we could use yesterday’s tickets as we’d not all seen Uniform Crake. Paul tried a trail and found a couple with his thermal imager while Nick and I saw one run across the main track while watching a Rufous-naped Wood-Rail at the entrance pool. I did a quick circuit of the main trail failing to find Keel-billed Motmot or the Black & White Owls but we’d left it rather late to visit.
|Rufous-tailed Jacamar at Arenal Observtory|
09 May. We arrived at Arenal Sky Adventures Park at 05:45 and spent all day on the trails. During the day we walked to bridges 1 &2, back to 1 in the hope of seeing some canopy flocks, then the long loop back to reception – bridge 2, waterfalls and bridges 3 & 4. Blue & Gold Tanagers did not appear to be at all common as we did not encountered any. We had more success with Tody Motmot with two birds responding to tape at the far end of Bridge 2, something I’d wanted to see for years. The whole place was somewhat futuristic with people on a couple of different zipwires shooting over the canopy and a three coach cable car taking others up to the start of one of them. Back at reception mid-afternoon we met the bird guide who had told us about the tanager and motmot. He was a bit more specific about the tanagers suggesting they were best seen on the one trail we’d not done. It wasn’t actually marked on my map but was a turning off the main trail after bridge 2. We quickly headed back over bridges 1 & 2 and followed the new trail but our only encounter was about halfway round when Nick saw one in an almost invisible canopy bird flock that neither Paul or I managed to get onto. As the light was fading I managed to miss several wrens and 3 Dull-mantled Antbirds in the gloomy undergrowth which was frustrating, not helped by Nick’s directions for one of the latter – ‘it’s by the dead leaf’, me ‘there are a lot of dead leaves’, Nick ‘by the brown one’, virtually all were brown! Returning to bridge 1 for a final scan we were turfed out (nicely) at 17:30 and back at the entrance ours was the only car remaining. Other birds I saw during the day were Purple-crowned Fairy, 2 White-crowned Parrots, Russet Antshrike, Spot-crowned Antvireo, an Ocellated and 3 Spotted Antbirds, Bay Wren, 2 Black-headed Nightingale-Thrushes, Canada Warbler and Black & Yellow and White-throated Shrike-Tanagers.
|Spotted Antbird in Arenal Sky Adventure Park|
10 May. Paul had decided to return to Arenal Sky Adventure Park for a final look for Blue & Gold Tanager while I was keener on trying the Arenal Peninsular Road to look for Bare-headed Antbird. Nick fancied a change of scenery too so Paul drove to the Sky Adventure Park for 05:30 where Nick took over and we went to the Peninsular Road. The start of it was very rough so we ended up parking and walking 1-2km. The track was wide and banked in thick vegetation making it hard to see into the forest and other than a Dull-mantled Antbird we saw little, although heard several Thicket Antpittas. We reached the Sector Peninsular reception where a decent trail took us into the forest. There in short succession we saw a Great Tinamou and several Great Curassows. We continued to an observation tower before returning. Half-way back to reception Nick decided to try a more direct route but I thought the original trail would be more enclosed and so better. I increased the regularity of playing Bare-crowned Antbird recordings and after five minutes a small black bird with a flash of blue flew across in front of me. A male Bare-crowned Antbird! Nick chose that moment to appear behind me having been put off his route by an approaching group. We had nice views of the antbird then returned to the car to collect Paul. We hoped he’d been successful but him not waiting for us in the Sky Adventure car park, even though we were a bit early (10:30), didn’t bode well. He appeared 10 minutes later having seen very little. We returned to Sleeping Mountain, loaded the car and left at 11:15 for Cano Negro. We approached from the north to look for Nicaraguan Seedfinch in an area of damp fields. It was very hot and we failed at the specific site we had but the habitat nearby all looked pretty similar. We walked sections of the road checking the grassy ditches until Nick found a male in a roadside tree. A shyer female joined it. We continued to Cano Negro and Poponojche Lodge, somewhat basic but we were given a large room with three fans. We drove to the village park looking unsuccessfully for Grey-headed Dove although we heard one, and flushed a White-tipped Dove which are also present. We continued to a nearby riverbank pontoon to watch herons and grackles fly in to roost in some riverside trees. Nicaraguan Grackles, our main target, were easy to pick out being significantly smaller and seemingly more numerous than Great-tailed Grackles. We then drove the roads until 19:45 looking for owls, particularly Striped which would be new for me, but only managed 5 Pauraques although an adult and 2 juvenile Tropical Screech-Owls seen in Poponojche Lodge gardens were excellent. Walking to our room my camera strap came loose. Fortunately I was holding the camera at the time, rethreaded the strap and tied a knot in it to prevent it happening again.
|female Great Currasow on the Arenal Peninsular Road|
11 May. We had booked a Cano Negro Expeditions boat trip from 06:00 and on the way spent another hour unsuccessfully looking for Grey-headed Doves. We were on the boat with our guide Renate for three hours seeing our target Yellow-breasted Crake and a good selection of wetland birds including Boat-billed Heron, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Jabiru, Rufous-naped Wood-Rail, Greater Yellowlegs and Black-collared Hawk. Shortly after returning to the dock my camera strap came undone on the other side, why-oh-why hadn’t I paid attention to it when fixing the other end? Before I could catch my camera it fell onto the hard ground and the impact fractured the lens mount. Not the first time this has happened although I doubt m any lens would survive a similar impact. After the boat trip Renate tried to entice a calling White-throated Crake into view in damp grassland by the riverside. He did a bit of gardening and it appeared briefly although I only saw its head and upper-back, hardly a countable view. Renate left for another tour and we had another try for the crake. Paul put a bit more thought into the gardening creating something a bowerbird might have been proud of and we tried again. This time we had several longer views. Later efforts for Grey-headed Dove were not so successful and we soon gave up although we did see a pair of Barred Antshrikes and a Northern Waterthrush. We packed and left Poponojche Lodge and drove back south to Horquetas River Lodge where we’d spent our first two nights. On the way it was nice to drive past Sarapiqui without having to worry about Snowy Cotinga. We dropped our stuff and continued on to Cope’s place. He wasn’t home but his wife summoned him and he arrived 15 minutes later. He agreed to take us to see roosting Crested and Spectacled Owls and Great Potoo in the nearby forests and we set off immediately. We drove across the main road and down a dirt track for a few minutes and as we parked the car a noisy flock of 8 Great Green Macaws flew over, quickly followed by another pair. We could still hear a macaw calling and located one feeding in a nearby palm then another with two more joining it as it flew out making an impressive total of 14 seen. A short distance into the forest Cope showed us 2 roosting Crested Owls and a little further on Nick found a juvenile Agami Heron along a narrow stream. We were also shown a roost of cute Honduran White or White Tent Bats before crossing to the other side of the track and along the forest edge to a more open line of trees where a Spectacled Owl glared at us. Dark clouds were approaching and all hopes of seeing the roosting Great Potoos (adult and juvenile) a few km away were abandoned as the rain beat us to the car. We dropped Cope back at his place, had a meal in a roadside restaurant and returned to Horquetas River Lodge.
|Boat-billed Heron at Cano Negro|
12 May. Our last full day. Breakfast was prepared for us at 05:00, we packed and a final search for my lost torch was expectedly unsuccessful. We drove to the Quebrada Gonzales sector of Braulio Carillo, arriving at 06:00. In May it didn’t open until 08:00 so we birded along Sendero Ceibo opposite, climbing through the fence to do so. It was dull and drizzly and we didn’t see very much. We were clocked coming out so when we bought our permits at headquarters I was given a Spanish lecture about the reserve not being open until 08:00. My pointing at my watch which now showed it to be 08:05 wasn’t appreciated but the tirade soon ended. Once over and I was given our tickets I was told in English to watch out for dangerous snakes (this time we didn’t see a single snake while in Costa Rica). While heading for the trail Nick heard a trogon calling adjacent to the car park. Playing the tape it sounded just like Lattice-tailed but it then appeared to call from the other side of the main road and went quiet when we approached. We feared we’d blown our opportunity to ee this tricky species and were uncertain what to do next. While deliberating it called again on our side of the road and came a bit closer in response to playback. We looked from the start of Sendero Las Palmas as the trees were a bit more open there and with the help of my thermal imager I spotted the Lattice-tailed Trogon, a male, in the distant canopy. It was the first decent bird I’d found with the imager although as it flew even closer it was ultimately unnecessary to have done so. It was a bird neither Nick nor I had seen and judging by trip reports one that most struggled with. It was one of the more impressive trogons and a real bonus. Also by the car park was a Yellow-eared Toucanet and 2 Collared Aracaris. We spent until 11:30 on Sendero Las Palmas climbing clockwise to the top and returning the same way to concentrate on the area by a big fallen tree trunk where we believed a Black-crowned Pittasoma had been seen a week or so earlier. No luck with the pittasoma and not a lot else – Streak-crowned Antvireo and White-throated Shrike-Tanager were the best I saw. We returned to Horquetas River lodge to collect our bags and check-out, a very convenient location as it saved us having to leave luggage in the car unattended, Braulio Carillo being a notorious area for car break-ins. We drove back past Braulio and through some atrocious weather (rain and low cloud) and heavy traffic to San Jose and out past Cartagao. We missed a turning on our way to revisit Las Quelitalis and MapsMe took us on an increasingly narrow dirt track down a mountainside before ending in a field! Retracing our steps we returned to the right road and arrived at Las Quelitalis at 15:45. We had called in briefly earlier in the trip hoping to see Black-bellied Hummingbird but our target this time was a Scaled Antpitta that was being fed. We saw White-eared Ground-Sparrow along the entrance road and birded mainly around the waterfall from a sheltered viewing area as it was still raining. We waited until dusk for the Scaled Antpitta and had given up on it and were thinking of leaving when it came hoping down the track towards us. Unfortunately the light had pretty much gone by then and it disappeared into cover while still over 50m away making the views very disappointing, verging on uncountable. I only saw its warm underparts and couldn’t rule out Plain-backed Antpitta, other than on range. We had a decent meal at Las Quelitalis, the deal for access, left about 20:00 and were at Las Brumas in Cartagao half an hour later.
13 May. We left Las Brumas soon after 05:00 and arrived at Las Quelitalis at 05:30 fairly confident of improving on last evening’s Scaled Antpitta views but we were to be very disappointed as it failed to show at all, at least by 09:15 when we had to leave. During our wait we saw 2 White-bellied Mountaingems, a pair of Sooty-faced Finches feeding a juvenile, a White-faced Ground-Sparrow and 2 Chestnut-naped Brush-Finches. Birding in Costa Rica didn’t finish on the high we’d hoped for but we’d had a very enjoyable trip and I’d seen 60 new birds exceeding expectations. We returned to Las Brumas, had breakfast and checked out. Paul drove us to San Jose airport with few traffic holdups, we dropped off the car with no issues and there were no queues at airport check in. At Immigration Nick and I were bumped to the front of the queue on account of our age, one of the few benefits of being a pensioner. Flights were on time, if not particularly comfortable and the airline food was no better than usual.
14 May. We landed at Heathrow a few minutes late due to our first attempt being aborted as another plane hadn’t cleared the runway. Immigration was painfully slow, not helped by many of the automatic passport readers not appearing to work. Despite that I caught an earlier bus to Brighton than I’d anticipated and was home about 20:30. Very nice to be back but not sure I’ll be ready to go off again in a week.
Many thanks to Nick and Paul for great company and helping me get onto some of the birds. Paul's organisation of the trip was excellent and he did virtually all the driving.