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slaty-flowerpiercerIt is always somewhat of a trial, especially in your advancing years, to come to terms with long-haul flights. In fact, it can put you off travelling to a great many destinations. If there is such a thing as compensation for the tiring experience of long distance flights then Costa Rica is it. The country is an all round destination, good food, great accommodation, scenically beautiful, fantastic wildlife and wonderfully friendly people. It always amazes me how varied a landscape such a small country offers and the diversity of birds reflects the great range of habitats present. If you haven’t yet been then go or at least put it on your life’s wish list!
By way of relaxing before and after our main tour, we booked an extra night prior to the start and at the end of our birding tour. We used the Hotel Bougainvillea in San Jose as our start and end point. I thoroughly recommend this hotel, set within its own grounds, beautifully landscaped and with several birds and plants to interest those given to strolling through gardens at their own pace.
The ambience, the food and friendly staff all conspire to relax you after your journey and makes for an ideal last night in preparation for your homeward flight. We set-off from San Jose to our first lodge based in the valley of the Rio Savegre, a wonderfully isolated location within the boundaries of the Reserva Forestal Los Santos. Resplendent-QuetzalSavegra Mountain Lodge makes for a good starting point for visitors from the ‘north’ as it is perhaps the coolest temperature of all of our destinations. It’s good to get acclimatised for the hotter parts to be visited later in our journey. Of course the area is also special for its birds and here we are always lucky enough to see Resplendent Quetzal, not to mention being ideally placed to visit Paramo habitat in the higher reaches of the valley which provides good birding for alpine species.
From Savegre we journeyed on for our next stop, Rancho Naturalista. It’s always a little disappointing to read negative press on this location. We have enjoyed our stays here and it can be relied upon to produce some stunning birds, plus great food! With beauties such as Snowcap, Brown Violet-ear, White-vented Euphonia etc., the area has never failed to produce birding highlights. It was good to see the gardens had been better managed and some scrub cleared, out back of the lodge, so you get a better view of the canopy woodland on the slopes. We use our own guide throughout the tour, so I can’t comment on the quality of the in-house personnel, but those who have taken to accompanying us on the trials have seemed okay.
Our next stop was La Selva, normally one of our highlights, but this year we had rains and the entrance to the main reserve was flooded and impassable. Fortunately we were in good hands and our guide was able to show other, accessible areas and we managed some decent species. I actually managed to catch-up with Nicaraguan Seed Finch this trip, so having dipped on previous visits I was a happy man. El Tigre marsh and Pozo Azul both came-up trumps for a number of target birds and lessened the disappointment of not being able to gain access to La Selva. It proves the value of having local guides with you when the unexpected can give problems.
We varied our route this year to take-in Caño Negro and again the rain continued to fall. At least the rains lightened and became sporadic. We were able to get around and visit all the locations we were keen to see. The weather had descended from the north and we missed the main storm front which hit the pacific side of the country with unexpected and rare high winds. A bizarre site, as a result of this weather front, was to witness a Magnificent Frigate Bird quartering the marshes as we entered the reserve! We made a pleasant river ride and here I managed to get another bogey bird of mine the elusive Mangrove Cuckoo. Our accommodation, I felt, was not the best and certainly we won’t stay here again. It was a shame, because the birds here were impressive and the area I enjoyed.

The next port of call was Arenal Observatory Lodge, a great lodge and welcomed so much more this year after our last lodge. It really is a stunning location and we were extremely lucky to get wonderful views of the semi active volcano for the second year running. The weather cleared and we were back into sunshine again! We did the hanging bridges again, but it is proving perhaps too popular with tour parties and not necessarily those with an interest in wildlife. We tended to focus on the area immediately surrounding the lodge and these trials can be fantastic with canopy flocks normally providing highlights to our walks. The feeders here always entertain and this year was no exception, with the White-nosed Coatis still persevering in their attempts to mount the feeders, we managed the ever present Emerald Tanager, a beauty amongst a spectacular family.
Our final destination was Punta Leona. For me this is the perfect place to spend the last nights of the tour. It is a resort, but is also a refuge for Scarlet Macaw amongst many other fine and beautiful species. It gives the less ornithological minded partner/other half a relaxing surrounding with beaches and pools close to hand, but it is also within striking distance of such great birding sites as the Rio Tárcoles and Carara national park. We had some very fruitful walks through the canopy of the forest in Carara and also two excellent river rides on the Rio Tárcoles. Also the grounds around and within the resort itself make for some memorable walks. Again I managed a new species here with Ruddy Quail Dove providing some superb views, normally so reclusive I reckon I was lucky to add this species.
Our last night and morning was spent at the Hotel Bougainvillea on the outer limits of San Jose. Another great tour and can’t wait until next year!
Daily accounts
Tour Leader: Peter Jones
Tour Guide: Steven Easley
Trip Report Author: Peter Jones
Day One 30th January - San José
San Jose to Savegre. Our journey today included the collection of a couple from the main airport and then an uneventful drive to Savegre. We of course managed a few species to get the list going and these were mostly seen by those staying the extra night at the Hotel Bougainvillea. Some typical birds noted in the hotel gardens were Tropical Screech Owl, Blue-crowned Motmot, Hoffman’s Woodpecker and White-eared Ground Sparrow.

Day Two 31st January - Savegra
As with the evenings, early morning can be decidedly on the cool side here. The lodge, set in wonderfully tranquil settings, borders the Rio Savegre and the combination of high altitude and cool mountain river adds to the coolness. Still, mornings bring breakfast and what better way to enjoy the first meal of the day than watching Hummingbirds whilst munching some yummy pancake or whatever takes your fancy? We counted 8 species of hummers around the restaurant feeders including a personal favourite of mine the Scintillant Hummingbird. Careful not to put a foot down upon the ever present Rufous-collared Sparrow we set-off on our morning walk and, as last year, didn’t have to wait long before we were watching our first pair of Resplendent Quetzal. Who can get tired of these strange and wonderfully colourful birds? It seems a feature of the area, that for at least part of your walk, you are accompanied by the very confiding and beautiful Collared Redstart. Along the river we saw our first American Dipper, later joined by its partner and it didn’t seem long before we saw the attractive Torrent Tyrannulet. Next along the river we found adult Ruddy Treerunner feeding young, making the photographers among us very happy. You always get one and so it proved, we heard Lineated Foliage-gleaner but the little blighter stayed out of sight. Hoffmann’s and Acorn Woodpeckers kept us amused and a beautiful Spot-crowned Woodpecker showed well, fortunate really as we didn’t another on the tour. Mountain Elaenia is a bird we paid attention too as we were not likely to get the bird again at any of other destinations. We found a pair of Tufted Flycatcher building their nest, attractive little birds. We managed a few one off birds for the tour today and these included Yellowish Flycatcher, Black-capped Flycatcher, Barred Becard and although heard on subsequent days we only saw Rufous-browed Peppershrike today.
Day Three 1st February - Savegre, Cerro de la Muerte and Mirador de Quetzals
A morning walk along the river produced Great Egret, which I think surprised everybody. Black and Turkey Vultures filled just about every piece of air space and Band-tailed and Ruddy Pigeon were constant companions for our walk. Sulpur-winged Parakeet, Fiery-throated and Stripe-tailed Hummingbird showed their best on the walk. A couple of birds that I was particularly pleased with in the early morning were Olive-striped Flycatcher and the beautiful Spangle-cheeked Tanager. Black-cheeked-WoodpeAfter our breakfast we headed up to Cerro de la Muerte to catch-up on some localised species such as Volcano Hummingbird and Junco, but the bonus bird of the morning was Peg-billed Finch. Vaux’s Swift dotted the sky and amidst the cool mountain air we managed Dark Pewee (actually most days in the area). We managed Yellow-winged Vireo, heard Brown-capped, and missed out on a bird of yesterday Philadelphia Vireo. However, Timberline Wren although difficult rewarded our patience with good views for one and all. From our visit to high reaches we journeyed to Mirador de Quetzals and despite the name we never saw one. A bird that showed for everyone was the Golden-browed Chlorophonia and was probably everyone’s favourite for the day, beautiful and stunning little bird. Black-thighed Grosbeak was an unexpected find and the more frequently seen Rose-breasted was also giving great views. Our late afternoon foray gave us some other species such as our best views of Green Violetear, Paltry Tyrannulet, Black Phoebe, Ochraceous Wren, Grey-breasted Wood Wren, Black-faced Solitaire, Black-billed and Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrush, Sooty and Mountain Thrush and Black and Yellow Silky Flycatcher. For the duration in the area we had Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher and for two days we had the great little Flame-throated and Black-throated Green Warbler. Down by the river we managed Louisiana Waterthrush, the common Wilson’s Warbler and a whole lot more species to add to our already impressive tour list.

Day Four 2nd February - Savegre, Caerago, Lancaster Ponds, Tapanti National Park and Rancho.

Before heading for our next destination, Rancho, we took a pre breakfast stroll along the track beside the Rio Savegre. Well who could resist a final seek and find mission for Resplendent Quetzal? Luck was with us and we found a pair, plus we managed a few other species including Summer Tanager. Our Great Egret was still in the area, plus a Red-tailed Hawk, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, White-collared Swift, a Hairy Woodpecker at last after hearing them previously. Emerarld-ToucanetWe managed a few others and notable among these were Immaculate Antbird, Tropical Pewee, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Plain and Ochraceous Wren. Slate-throated Redstart was seen and gave us our only viewing of the tour. Flame-coloured Tanager greeted us back at the lodge and this would be the last time we would gaze upon this beauty during the tour, as was true for a number of species seen during our time at Savegre. We made our way in leisurely fashion to Caerago and passed through the town to visit the nearby Lancaster Ponds. We always think it a worthwhile place to pick-up some waterbirds. We were soon scoping Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Least Grebe, Little Blue Heron, Common Moothen, American Coot and also some other pluses such as Broad-winged Hawk, Kildeer, Northern Jacana and Spotted Sandpiper. On a nearby tree we had Crimson-fronted Parakeet showing well. Continuing our journey we passed and stopped in the area of Tapanti National Park. We soon had good views of White-crowned Parrot and White-collared Swift. Around here we also had Barred Forest Falcon and our first of many Crimson-collared and Passerini’s Tanager, Variable Seedeater, Green-fronted Lancebill (our only one of the tour), Yellow-faced Grassquit, Black Guan and Buff-throated Saltator. We continued on and reached Rancho in time to get cleaned up and have time to watch the hummer feeders. In no time we added Snowcap, Green Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Green-breasted Mango, Green Thorntail, Voilet-headed Hummingbird, White-bellied Mountain Gem and other species hardly noticed as we gawped at the sheer beauty and numbers of Hummingbirds. Welcome back to Rancho!
Day Five 3rd February - Rancho Naturalista.
Well I guess the feature of our day was the start of the unseasonable rains, which although not dampening our spirits, certainly restricted our birding. We were fortunate to be here as the rains didn’t stop birds arriving at the feeding station and we enjoyed an impressive array of birds from the undercover balcony of the main lodge. Collared-AracariAmazing really, our group lacked nothing in enthusiasm and despite conditions went a wandering into the adjoining forest where they were rewarded for their troubles by getting great views of Mottled Owl, Band-tailed Barbthroat, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Russet Antshrike, Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrant, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, White-collared and White-ruffed Manakin, Golden-winged and Blackburnian Warblers. On their return leg Mourning Warbler, Tropical Gnatcatcher, White-shouldered and White-lined Tanager all showed well and we even had Scarlet-thighed Dacnis! Near to the lodge we were fortunate to see our only Chestnut-capped Brush Finch and White-vented Euphonia of the tour. Again near to the lodge we picked out White-breasted Wood Wren, which can be a difficult bird, so reward proved to be in the doing and not being put-off by the weather! Around the feeders we had time to relax, coffee or teas in hand, to witness the spectacle of hummers and others in good numbers, whilst also enjoying the much improved views of the nearby canopy. We heard Great Tinamou, but no sightings, we did of course see the ‘packs’ of Grey-headed Chachalaca bully their way in-front of other birds at the feeding area. We saw a single Short-billed Pigeon resting in the cover of the canopy and had good views of Grey-chested Dove. Brown-hooded and White-crowned Parrot made their presence heard and we also enjoyed their antics, goading each other as they moved noisily through the canopy. Around the feeders we added to our growing and impressive list of hummers by listing Stripe-throated Hermit, Violet Sabrewing, Brown Violetear, Voilet-headed Hummingbird, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer and Purple-crowned Fairy. Near to the main feeding area we also had good views of Violaceous Trogon, Blue-crowned Motmot, Kell-billed Toucan, Rufous-winged and Golden-olive Woodpecker, Masked Tityra, Wood Thrush, Bay-headed Tanager and our first views of both Orange-billed and Black-striped Sparrow. A good bird for me was to get excellent views of Scarlet-rumped Cacique and a surprisingly elusive bird for me the Yellow-faced Grassquit.

Day Six 4th February - Rancho, Guapiles, La Selva.
And the rains kept-a-coming! Either I’ve been very lucky in the past or these conditions were unusual for the dry season? Faced with weather like this, then you can only really shrug your shoulders and make the best of what is possible to do. At least today we were to travel to La Selva and being in the vehicle would not be exposed to the rain for some of our day. Well, just think of it as liquid sunshine and you already start to feel better! We took our early pre-breakfast look from the covered balcony at Rancho and had our senses heightened by the usual comings and Montezuma-Oropend0lagoings of hummers, saying farewell to some real beauties such as Snowcap and White-bellied Mountain Gem. Collared Aracari put in an appearance as did the rampaging gangs of Brown Jay plus both Montezuma and Chestnut-headed Oropendola. Before setting off we did manage sightings of Cinnamon Becard, which was nice as we had only heard it before today. Handsome bird. Our journey was pretty uneventful apart from a road blockade by striking Taxi drivers! Typically the blockade slowed us down at a time when there was a lull in the rains, but by the time we made our lunch stop, it rained again. At least now it had turned to showery rain and when we made our hotel it had stopped again. Rivers were running very high and there was already a sense of foreboding as to whether or not we would gain access to the La Selva reserve the next morning. Still, here we were and the feeders at the hotel and also their wonderful gardens proved a rich source for afternoon birding. Little Blue and Green Heron were around the lakes together with Northern Jacana and Amazon Kingfisher. Along the banks of the river we needed umbrellas as protection from dripping trees, but spirits not dampened we soon had Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Rufous Motmot, Spotted Woodcreeper, Plain Antvireo, Tawny-chested Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, a nesting pair of Piratic Flycatchers, Stripe-breasted Wren, Swainson’s Thrush and Yellow Warbler. A glass of something long and cool was in order, despite the damp weather it was hot. We settled down to watch over the feeders and soon had typical birds for the hotel Red-throated Ant Tanager, Green and Red-legged Honeycreeper and Grayish, Buff-throated and Black-headed Saltator. A quick look outside the hotel produced Blue-black and variable Seedeater.
Day Seven 5th February - La Selva, Pozo Azul, El Tigre Marsh
Guess what? Yep it was raining. Our hotel was such a great place, that it failed to put-off our group for a single moment. At least temperatures were good and for breakfast we could enjoy superb food whilst also watching the feeders. Here we were full board, so we could make short forays to the surrounding area and always have the comfort of our base close at hand. Mid morning we headed for the park entrance and sure enough the way was blocked, and the park closed, by swollen rivers. No putting these guys off though, we walked a little ways from parking our bus and were soon picking-up some good birds. Both Pale-vented and Red-billed Pigeon put in their first showing of the tour and then our only sighting of Blue Ground Dove. Olive-throated Parakeet got everyone in the groove and soon we also had Orange-chinned Parakeet with both Brown-hooded and Red-lored Parrot in the woodland fringe of the park, we spotted our first Squirrel Cuckoo. Spectacled-OwlAfter lunch we headed along to El Tigre Marsh and the surrounding wetlands (which were getting wetter by the hour). Great Egret, hosts of Snowy and Cattle Egret and Green Ibis were our first birds and soon we had a few raptors including White-tailed Kite, Roadside Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Grey Hawk and Crested Caracara, but a fly past by a Bat Falcon was to be our raptor for the day. Purple Gallinule and Northern Jacana were common as too were Groove-billed Ani. Nearby we again saw Violaceous Trogon, Keel-billed Toucan, Yellow Tyraanulet and Yellow-bellied Elaenia. Further along the main road, a dodgey place to do your birding, we saw Tropical Pewee, Yellow-throated Vireo, Mangrove Swallow, American Redstart, Buff-rumped Warbler and my bird for the day (dipped on previous tours) Nicaraguan Seed Finch. Some bonus birds we saw on returning to the main marsh were Red-winged Blackbird, Melodious Blackbird, Giant Cowbird and Black-cowled Oriole. We had time in the late afternoon to wander around the hotel grounds and watch the feeders and again were able to add a few species including Bronzy Hermit, Long-billed Hermit, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Cocoa Woodcreeper (heard only), Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Band-backed Wren, Plain Wren, Wood Thrush and Olive-backed Euphonia.

Day Eight 6th February - La Selva, Rio San Jose, Rio Caristo
Umm, rain anyone? Liquid sunshine interspersed with dry periods! By now of course we were veterans of what to do and where to go when it was raining. In fact, because the reserve remained closed, we explored the area more than normal and found some really worthwhile and new sites (assuming an old fella like me is able to remember them for next year). We walked along a track near to the entrance of the reserve and managed a few notable species and certainly Chestnut-coloured Woodpecker added to what was to be an impressive list for our tour total for Woodpeckers. We added Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, White-winged Becard and Olive-crowned Yellowthroat to our tour list. Mantled-Howler-MonkeThe visit on the riverside track of the Rio San Jose disappointed and was made to feel worse by heavy showers! After lunch we headed for the track and wetland area near and next to the Rio Caristo. Soon we added Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, Laughing Falcon, Ruddy Ground Dove, Crimson-fronted Parakeet, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, heard a Lesser Greenlet and saw Thick-billed Seed Finch. Back at the hotel we added Lesser Nighthawk and heard Common Pauraque, Green Kingfisher, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Chestnut-backed Antbird and Mourning Warbler. Although we had seen them the previous day it was good to get Black-cowled Oriole and Olive-backed Euphonia again. The day ended with a semblance of clear skies and what held a promise that tomorrow could be a better weather day! We also knew we were headed for Caño Negro the next day and it was a new destination for me in Costa Rica, so I looked forward to what lay ahead.

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