Costa Rica (Northern forests), 25 March - 4 April 1993

Birding trip report  John van der Woude   at 

Like in 1990, we made a short birding trip to Costa Rica from Curacao (Netherlands Antilles). This time we wanted to focus on forest areas in Northern Costa Rica, especially the N-Caribbean and the NW-Pacific sides. The report describes the sites chronologically and concludes with a species list.

See sketchy map with places mentioned.

For general information on Costa Rica we used the Lonely Planet book on Costa Rica (not the one on M-America in general). The author is a birdwatcher himself too.
Information on the lodges and hotels we used is given in the site descriptions.
As a matter of fact we used the excellent field guide Birds of Costa Rica by Stiles, Skutch and Gardner.
The weather was good during our visit, although rather hot in the NW. Especially the fact that we had no rains during the days at the Caribbean (moist tropical) side of Northern Costa Rica added to the leisure of birding there. It meant also that we didn't need rubber boots (although we met some snakes). December through March/April should be the best time indeed, although hotels and lodges may be fully booked then.

The first night we spent at the hotel in Heredia that is recommended in the Lonely Planet guide. It is basic but clean, in a quiet part of this small town. We got the last room they had (c. $20). We choose this site to be able to drive on the next morning (Friday 27/3) straight into the Sarapiqui pass, along the road to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui.

So we started early birding at the first site, a bend in the road, a few km after the pass, at a big sign indicating the Hacienda La Georgina. The first bird we identified was the funny Yellow-thighed Finch. Further we saw there Collared Redstart, Flame-throated Warbler and Sooty-capped Bush Tanager.

At the waterfall further along the road we saw several American Dippers, and a Golden-bellied Flycatcher. Torrent Tyrannulet should occur there too.

The main goal for this morning was Virgen del Socorro, a side road to the right some km after the waterfall. It is a wonderful semi-open forest area, and you can walk the road down to the river. We took the car as far down the road as possible for probably unnecessary safety reasons (see above). We were lucky to see the Solitary Eagle here, but further we didn't see that much as we expected (Slate-throated Redstart, Common Bush Tanager, Swallow-tailed Kite, Masked Tityra). We heard several Solitaires.

By noon we arrived at Selva Verde, an ecotouristic complex at the village of Chilamate, some 10 km before P. Viejo. Again we got the last room they had, our reservation made by telephone directly to the lodge some weeks before hadn't come through properly. Probably you better reserve through the office in San Jose, tel (506) 202121 or fax (506) 323321, and ask them to fax a reconfirmation back to you. We stayed here two nights, the first in the older, the second in the newer lodge further from the road (full board 44 and 57 dollar per person respectively; no credit cards in 1993). Here you are in the real moist tropical lowlands. The first afternoon we just sat at the veranda of that older lodge, where you have a good view on the bushes: Montezuma Oropendula, Golden-hooded Tanager, Palm Tanager, Shining Honeycreeper, Blue Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Lineated Woodpecker, Squirrel Cuckoo, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, and a wonderful view on a Snowy Cotinga in the crown of the forest at the other side of the river. A keen local birder leading a group of four people joined us there at the veranda. They payed him and his minibus & driver $100 per day. His name is Tomas Guindon, tel. (506) 611008, Apdo. 10165-1000 San Jose. He is from the North-American community at Monteverde and speaks English and Spanish fluently.

A late afternoon stroll along the road and some 100 m. into the mixed-forest reserve at the other side of the road resulted in Orange-chimed Parakeet, Crimson-collared Tanager, Collared Aracari and Mealy Parrot. The roaring of Howler Monkeys there concluded the first day.

The next morning (Saturday 28/3), a pre-breakfast walk in the bushes, esp. along the river, yielded Bay Wren, Orange-billed Sparrow, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Keel-billed Toucan, Black-striped Sparrow.

A longer morning walk in the reserve at the other side of the road brought us gradually into denser forest: White-ringed Flycatcher and Striped Cuckoo (along the road), Streaked-crowned Antvireo, Double-toothed Kite, Violaceous Trogon, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Bright-rumped Attila.

The late afternoon we spent in the primary forest reserve at the other side of the river: Red-capped Manakin, Gray-headed Chachalaca, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Great Tinamou.

Maps of both reserves, which both belong to the lodge, are available at the office. The trails are good (but may get muddy in the rainy season). The areas are slightly hilly.


The next morning (Sunday 28/3) we headed for the long dreamed of reserve La Selva. This is a biological station and a lowland wet tropical forest with an extensive trail system. The access is limited to a certain number of visitors), and making reservations was a real problem. A telephone call from Holland to the office in San Jose learned us that we would not be able to enter. We went to the reserve nevertheless, and got a permission for the next day (Monday), whereas they didn't bother if we would stay this Sunday morning only at the entrance area, which is in fact the best birding area of the whole reserve: Rufous-tailed Jacamar, White-lined Tanager, Laughing Falcon, Spotted-crowned Euphonia, Black-faced Grosbeak, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Crowned Woodnymph, Olive-backed Euphonia, Cinnamon Becard, Black-cowled Oriole, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Red-footed Plumeleteer, Black-throated Trogon (in the forest), Ochre-bellied Flycatcher (in a mistnet), Long-tailed Hermit. Mind that this entrance area comprises as well the entrance road as the areas around the reception building and around the biological station across the river Sarapiqui (photo right).

You find the entrance road as an initially broad side road bending to the right from the newly asphalted road from P. Viejo to Guapiles, at a sign for the Ecolodge Sarapiqui. We moved into this cosy, simple lodge which is beautifully situated at a bend in the river at only 200 m from the reception building of La Selva. The friendly couple that runs this lodge (Victor and Gilda) are completely used to birders, and may arrange a permit for La Selva if you make a reservation for the lodge (tel. 506-766122; Postbox 1270, 2100 Costa Rica). We payed $30 for the room (toilet and hot and cold showers downstairs), and $7.50 for a tipico meal. We had a refreshing swim in the river. In the late afternoon we discovered a bit back on the road Long-tailed Tyrant, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Crimson-fronted Parakeet, and at last the Pauraque (nightjar).

The next morning (Monday 29/3) we slowly wandered around in the entrance area described above. New species were Black-headed Saltator, Olive-throated Parakeet, Buff-throated Saltator, Thick-billed Seed-Finch. Going further in the rainforest reserve itself birding is of course much slower: Black-crowned Tityra, White-fronted Nunbird, White-breasted Woodwren, White-collared Manakin (along the SHO-trail), Red-capped Manakin again, and in the afternoon many Long-tailed Hermit at SAT 450 (trail SAT, at pole indicating 450 m from the start), and also once more the Gray-headed Chachalaca at SAT 550. Slaty-tailed Trogons (with a misleading blue shining of the green head) were at SOC 635 and SAT 550. At SAT 200 we discovered a Grey-necked Woodrail.

In the early hours of the last day at this site (Tuesday 30/3) we added Red-legged Honeycreeper, Semiplumbeous Hawk, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Yellow Tyrannulet to the list, as well as the rare Northern Parula (male), all again along the entrance road. The latter was foraging together with several other northern warblers in the small brook forest some 200 m before the gate of La Selva.

After that, we drove first to the village of Los Chiles, at the border with Nicaragua. We wanted to see if there was any remaining rainforest along the rather new road, and then cross the Rio Frio to pass the Lago Caño Negro to see some marsh forest. Rainforest was visible at most places along the road to Los Chiles, but always to distant to get close to. And at Los Chiles, there was no bridge across the Rio Frio, so we had to drive back (to Muelle). Nevertheless, it was worthwile: Mangrove Swallow, Nicaraguan Grackle, Blue Ground Dove, Wood Stork, Jabiru, and a huge flock of migrating hawks (some 3 to 5 thousand; many Swainson's). This was all seen from the quay at the Rio Frio.

Driving further from Muelle along the north side of Lake Arenal to Tilaran produced a.o. Olivaceous Woodcreeper. In this area we spotted in 1990 (photo) many Caribbean birds, especially at a crossing of the (rather bad) road with a brook some km after you get really alongside the lake.

In the pretty, small town of Tilaran we had a room in a nice hotel called Cabinas el Sueño ($25, credit card possible).


Driving down into Guanacaste the next day (Wednesday 31/3) we sped along the Interamericana from Cañas to Santa Rosa National Park, to be there still early in the morning (7 a.m.), because the climate changes here considerably to hot and dry. Along the asfalted entrance road into the park we saw Yellow-naped Parrot, Red-lored Parrot, Crested Guan and Cinnamon Hummingbird in semi-open forest. At the so-called fort (historic monument, photo) is a trail through the dry forest: Black-headed Trogon, Rufous-naped Wren, Hoffman's Woodpecker, Banded Wren, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Rufous-capped Warbler, Elegant Trogon, Turqoise-browed Motmot, Northern Bentbill, Orange-fronted Parakeet.
In the afternoon, life dies out here in these hot plains (photo). We had a reasonable hotel in Liberia (hotel La Siesta; $35, credit card; see the Lonely Planet book). At dusk, at the border of the small town, some 200 m to the SE of the hotel, Lesser Nighthawks were flying out to their feeding areas. The small, cosy central plaza serves as night roost for some thousands of Grackles.
Hoping to see Long-tailed Manakins we drove the next morning (Thursday 1/4) up a rather rough road to Rincon the la Vieja National Park, a broad vulcanic mountain with forests of medium height and not too dry. We took the well signed road from the Interamericana some 8 km N of Liberia. After parking the car at the house of the park warden, we found displaying Long-tailed Manakins just some 100 m down the Las Pailas trail (7 to 8 a.m.). Around the warden's house, in the semi-open (photo right), we saw displaying Vaux's Swift, Fork-tailed Emerald, Lesser Ground Cuckoo and Rufous-and-White Wren. King Vultures were sailing lower on the slope. The forests were nice but didn't yield new specialties, as was the open vulcanic grassy area of Las Pailas. Driving down again in the afternoon through the open slope area, we added Gray-crowned Yellowthroat and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher to the trip list.

Driving south the next morning (Friday 2/4) we first went just 1 km along the gravel road from Bagaces to Palo Verde N.P. We had a close encounter with a group of Howler Monkeys, and saw a.o. Black-headed Trogon and Cinnamon Hummingbird, all in a brook forest along the road.

Then we paid a special visit to the gallery forest of La Pacifica, a lodge along the Interamericana some km N of Cañas. Here is a spot with sleeping and/or breeding Boat-billed Herons. We saw one on a nest. To find the spot go first to the reception house of the spacious lodge terrain and ask if you may drive on to the river for the herons. Drive on and at the end to the left, park your car (at P5) and walk on to the border of the gallery forest. Go left over the lawn and take a little bridge over a brook parallel to the river. Turn right again and walk on till the second barbed wire fence (with openings for pedestrians). After that second fence, turn left towards the river and carefully spot the bushes at the other side.

Our last destination was Monteverde with its famous Cloud Forest Reserve. The road up there is bad and long, but careful driving (take 1.5 to 2 hours for it) will bring you there also with a normal car. Mind especially the stony patches (which you won't easily see in the contrasting shade of a solitary tree).

After checking in at the simple but adequate, new Albergue Bellbird, near the petrol station, we strolled through this mountain village with many bushy spots to the Restaurant El Bosque (good food) and saw the Emerald Toucanet. The Bellbird lodge had been kindly reserved for us by a girl at the reception of La Pacifica (see above). Going to Monteverde in the weekend in spring without a reservation for a lodge is a bit risky, but if you come by car you will always find something I think (because you are able to cross the long village at ease).

In the late afternoon we made a first walk into the cloud forest reserve (which is still some km from the centre of the elongated village). As the office was closed already (4 p.m.) we didn't have to pay ($15 p.p.). Along the enchanting Sendero Nuboso (photo) we noted Three-wattled Bellbird, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, Azure-hooded Jay, Three-striped Warbler, Gray-breasted Woodwren, Prong-billed Barbet, Black-faced Solitaire. The next morning (Saturday 3/4) we added, first at the bushes some 100 m back along the entrance road, Yellow-throated Brush-Finch Spotted Woodcreeper, Black-headed Nightingale Thrush and Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch. Then after paying at 7 a.m. (which ensures entrance - later on the day they may stop selling tickets if there are already too many visitors), again walking along the Sendero Nuboso we saw Barred Forest-Falcon, Eye-ringed Flatbill, and Violet Sabrewing at pole 18.

For the hummingbirds however, visit the free Hummingbird Gallery just 50 m left before the reception. There we saw 7 species of Hummingbird at the feeders (most at arm length), see the list.

Some 200 m on the Camino a Peñas Blancas we saw Spangled-cheeked Tanager, Olive-sided Flycatcher and Orange-bellied Trogon.


Finally, we went up the Sendero Rio to look for the Resplendant Quetzal (we were told at the office that they had been seen most recently there). Indeed, we found one (female) about halfway to the waterfalls. It was sitting high on a branch of one of the most moss-festooned, largest trees (like on photo left). There too, we saw a Spotted Barbtail (a woodcreeper-like ovenbird).

Lower in the village is the Bajo Tigre trail (dryer, lower forest and open spots). We went there in the late afternoon (leave the car at the shops), but didn't see much (White-eared Ground Sparrow at the entrance). There was (as often here) much wind, which here in the more open areas hinders the birding, and probably also resulted in less birds in the cloud forest reserve than at windless days.

The final morning (Sunday 4/4) we made a walk up the side road from our lodge and added Yellow-bellied Elaenia (in front of the hotel Belmar) and Yellow-throated Euphonia in this semi-open area.

During the drive along the Interamericana back to the airport we tried to visit still some forest in the higher areas near San Ramon and Naranjo but this area is all cultivated. Meanwhile, the drive took longer time than expected, so we didn't have much time for any birding and we were glad to be in time at the airport.


Species list

Note that in 1993 we focused on forests in Northern Costa Rica. If you visit the open areas, high mountains, coastal areas and the middle and southern Pacific areas as well, your list will be longer. Also, just staying longer at e.g. La Selva or Monteverde will result in longer lists. A British couple that we met saw 415 species in three weeks time.

VS = Virgen del Socorro and up
SV = Selva Verde
LS = La Selva
LC = Los Chiles
AR= N-side of Lake Arenal
SR = Santa Rosa N.P.
RV = Rincon de la Vieja N.P.
MO= Monteverde

Anhinga LS
Olivaceous Cormorant LS LC

Jabiru LC
Woodstork LC
Boat-billed Heron La Pacifica
Little Blue Heron SV LC
Cattle Egret everywhere
Green-backed Heron La Pacifica

Gray-necked Wood-Rail LS
Northern Jacana LC

Spotted Sandpiper SV

Great Tinamou SV
Gray-headed Chachalaca SV LS
Crested Guan SR

Turkey Vulture everywhere

Black Vulture everywhere
King Vulture LC RV
Solitary Eagle VS
Crested Caracara LC
Black-shouldered Kite SV LC
Am. Swallow-tailed Kite VS MO
Laughing Falcon BCR LS AR
Double-toothed Kite SV LS
Barred Forest Falcon MO
Semiplumbeous Hawk LS
Roadside Hawk SR
Gray Hawk LC SR RV
Swainson's Hawk LC
Red-tailed Hawk VP
Osprey SV LS LC

Band-tailed Pigeon RV
Pale-vented Pigeon LS
Short-billed Pigeon LS
Blue Ground Dove LC
Ruddy Ground Dove LC
Common Ground Dove RV
Inca Dove Liberia town RV
White-winged Dove AR
White-tipped Dove SR RV

Mealy Parrot SV LS
Red-lored Parrot SR
Yellow-naped Parrot SR
White-crowned Parrot everywhere
Crimson-fronted Parakeet LS
Olive-throated Parakeet LS
Orange-fronted Parakeet SR RV
Orange-chinned Parakeet SV

Common Barn Owl LS
Least Pygmy-Owl LS

Striped Cuckoo SV LS LC
Squirrel Cuckoo SV LS SR
Groove-billed Ani LS RV
Lesser Ground-Cuckoo RV

Lesser Nighthawk Liberia town
Common Pauraque LS

White-collared Swift SA MO
Vaux's Swift AR RV
Barn Swallow LC
Purple Martin LC
Bank Swallow LC
S. Rough-winged Swallow LS
Blue-and-white Swallow BCR MO
Mangrove Swallow LC

Little Hermit LS
Long-tailed Hermit LS
Green Violet-ear MO
Violet Sabrewing MO
Red-footed Plumeleteer LS
Green-crowned Brilliant MO
Crowned Woodnymph LS
Purple-throated Mountain-gem MO
Cinnamon Hummingbird SR
Striped-tailed Hummingbird MO
Coppery-headed Emerald MO
Magenta-throated Woodstar MO
Fork-tailed Emerald RV
Violet-headed Hummingbird LS

Resplendant Quetzal MO
Orange-bellied Trogon MO
Elegant Trogon SR
Violaceous Trogon SV LS
Black-throated Trogon LS
Black-headed Trogon SR
Slaty-tailed Trogon LS

Rufous-tailed Jacamar LS

Ringed Kingfisher LC
Belted Kingfisher LC
Amazon Kingfisher SV

Turqoise-browed Motmot SR RV

Collared Aracari SV
Emerald Toucanet MO
Keel-billed Toucan SV LS LC RV
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan SV

Prong-billed Barbet MO
White-fronted Nunbird LS

Lineated Woodpecker BCR SV
Pale-billed Woodpecker SV LS SR RV
Black-cheeked Woodpecker LS
Hoffman's Woodpecker SR RV MO

Spotted Barbtail MO

Wedge-billed Woodcreeper LS
Olivaceous Woodcreeper AR
Plain-brown Woodcreeper BC
Buff-throated Woodcreeper LS
Spotted Woodcreeper MO

Streaked-crowned Antvireo SV

White-collared Manakin LS
Long-tailed Manakin RV
Red-capped Manakin SV LS
White-ruffed Manakin MO

Cinnamon Becard LS
Masked Tityra VS SV LS AR MO
Black-croned Tityra LS
Snowy Cotinga SV

Purple-throated Fruitcrow SV
Three-wattled Bellbird MO

Tropical Kingbird LS RV MO
Eastern Kingbird LS
Fork-tailed Flycatcher
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher RV
Bright-rumped Attila SV LS
Golden-bellied Flycatcher VS MO
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher LS RV
Boat-billed Flycatcher LS SR
Great Kiskadee everywhere 1990 SV LS
Social Flycatcher SV
Gray-capped Flycatcher SV LS
White-ringed Flycatcher SV LS
Brown-crested Flycatcher SR RV
Dusky-capped Flycatcher LS MO
Nutting's Flycatcher SR
Olive-sided Flycatcher MO
Long-tailed Flycatcher LS
Western Wood-Pewee MO
Tropical Pewee VS
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher LS
Northern Bentbill SR
Common Tody-Flycatcher SV LS
Yellow Tyrannulet LS
Eye-ringed Flatbill MO
Yellow-bellied Elaenia MO

Rufous-naped Wren SR
Banded-backed Wren LS
Banded Wren SR RV
Rufous-and-white Wren RV
Bay Wren SV LS
Gray-breasted Wood-wren MO
White-breasted Wood-wren LS
House Wren LS MO

Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush MO
Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush MO
Wood Thrush LS
Mountain Robin CM
Clay-colored Robin LS MO

American Dipper VS
Black-faced Solitaire VS? MO

Azure-hooded Jay MO
White-throated Magpie-Jay SR RV
Brown Jay VP RV MO

Lesser Greenlet RV
Rufous-capped Warbler SR
Three-striped Warbler MO
Tennessee Warbler LS MO
Bananaquit VS MO
White-lored Gnatcatcher SR
Tropical Gnatcatcher LC
Northern Parula ! LS
Flame-throated Warbler VS
Black-and-white Warbler LS
Yellow Warbler SR
Wilson's Warbler VS MO
Collared Redstart VS
Slate-throated Redstart VS MO
Gray-crowned Yellowthroat RV
Chestnut-sided Warbler SV
Northern Waterthrush LC

Black-cowled Oriole LS
Northern Oriole SV
Montezuma Oropendula everywhere on Carib. side ('90 & '93)
Bronzed Cowbird MO
Great-tailed Grackle everywhere 1990 LC MO
Nicaraguan Grackle LC

Spotted-crowned Euphonia LS
Olive-backed Euphonia LS
Yellow-throated Euphonia MO
Common Bush-Tanager VS MO
Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager VS
Olive Tanager BC
Palm Tanager SV LS
Shining Honeycreeper SV
Red-legged Honeycreeper LS
Blue Dacnis SV
Green Honeycreeper SV LS
Spangled-cheeked Tanager MO
Golden-hooded Tanager SV LS
White-lined Tanager LS MO
Crimson-collared Tanager SV
Scarlet-rumped Tanager everywhere Carib. side ('90 & '93)
Summer Tanager LS
Red-throated Ant-Tanager SV

Black-headed Saltator LS
Buff-throated Saltator LS
Black-faced Grosbeak LS
Rose-breasted Grosbeak LS
Yellow-throated Brush-Finch MO
Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch MO
Orange-billed Sparrow SV
White-eared Ground-Sparrow MO
Yellow-thighed Finch VS
Variable Seadeater SV AR
Yellow-faced Grassquit AR MO
Thick-billed Seed-Finch LS
Striped-headed Sparrow RV
Rufous-collared Sparrow MO