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BEST OF COSTA RICA

Sunday 23rd February - Sunday 9th March 2014

Chris Kehoe

Three-wattled Bellbird (Chris Kehoe)

Three-wattled Bellbird (Chris Kehoe)

Costa Rica is one of the world's top birding destinations and our 2014 Birdquest tour showed just why. As a first introduction to Neotropical birding it is hard to imagine a better choice as this tiny country, with excellent infrastructure, contains a broad cross section of species from a wide range of exclusively Neotropical bird families, ranging from Motmots and Manakins to Tinamous and Toucans. Moreover, Costa Rica is home to a long list of species endemic to southern Central America, many of which occur only marginally in neighbouring countries, plus several species with a broader distribution which, due to the country's superb network of protected areas are more easily found in Costa Rica than elsewhere. Add to this an excellent selection of wintering migrants from North America and it is a heady mix. We began in the mountains south of San Jose where many localised highland species occur. The amazing Resplendent Quetzal was understandably at the top of everyone's most wanted list - it took a while but we eventually enjoyed excellent views of several birds in a fruiting avocado tree and went on to see further birds later in the tour too. Amongst the many other highlights in this beautiful area were showy Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrushes, Dark Pewees, Black-capped Flycatchers, Golden-browed Chlorophonias, Tawny-capped Euphonias, tame Volcano Juncos, smart Spangle-cheeked Tanagers, Fiery-throated, Volcano and Scintillant Hummingbirds, Grey-tailed and White-bellied Mountaingems, Ochraceous Wrens, delightful Collared Whitestarts, Black-cheeked and Flame-throated Warblers, Yellow-winged Vireos, Large-footed and Yellow-thighed Finches, tuneful Black-faced Solitaires and spectacular Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers. Around San Isidro we watched the very localised White-crested Coquette plus Charming Hummingbird and Garden Emerald, Baird's Trogon, Fiery-billed Aracaris and numerous Cherrie's Tanagers with a supporting cast that included Pale-billed Woodpecker and the first of several Great Tinamous. The humid southern Pacific lowlands at Carara National Park and the nearby Tarcoles Estuary gave us a host of new species with standout highlights such as numerous Scarlet Macaws, Yellow-naped Parrots, Riverside Wrens, Northern Royal Flycatcher, Orange-collared Manakins, Black-hooded Antshrikes, Stub-tailed Spadebill, Panamanian Flycatcher, Bright-rumped Attila, Mangrove Hummingbird, Bare-throated Tiger Herons, Boat-billed Heron and Costa Rican Swifts. In the arid northwest Pacific we found the superb Turquoise-browed Motmot, roosting Pacific Screech Owl and impressive Spectacled Owls, Spot-breasted and Streak-backed Orioles, Cinnamon Hummingbird, White-lored Gnatcatcher and White-throated Magpie-Jays while an afternoon in the wetlands of Hacienda Solimar produced masses of waterbirds including several immense Jabirus. Returning to the uplands we visited Monteverde where the cloudforest gave us further Quetzals plus Blue-throated Toucanets, very obliging Black Guans, Azure-hooded Jays and a host of new hummingbirds including Magenta-throated Woodstar, Purple-throated Mountaingem, Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, the endemic Coppery-headed Emerald and amazing Violet Sabrewings. Drier forest nearby produced smart White-eared Ground-Sparrows and spectacular Long-tailed Manakins but pride of place went to the bizarre Three-wattled Bellbirds which showed to perfection. At Arenal we found White-throated Shrike-Tanagers, a furtive Thicket Antpitta, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrushes, Carmiol's and Crimson-collared Tanagers, Dull-mantled and Spotted Antbirds, Black-crested Coquettes, Great Curassows and a Purplish-backed Quail-Dove. Our final base was in the Caribbean lowlands at La Selva where the much-wanted Great Green Macaws put on a fine show, as did sparkling Snowy Cotingas. Additional highlights here included Shining Honeycreeper, Black-throated Wren, Plain-coloured Tanager, Yellow-crowned Euphonias, Black-crowned Antshrike, Rufous-winged and Chestnut-coloured Woodpeckers and lekking White-collared Manakins. The journey back to San Jose was punctuated by a visit to Braullio Carillo National Park in the Caribbean foothills where the undoubted highlight was the incomparable Snowcap which showed beautifully. Also found where Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, White-ruffed Manakin and a smart Rufous Motmot. The weather during the tour was generally very good, bright and sunny, though the prevailing dry conditions (referred to locally as ‘the drought’), did mean that bird activity was rather subdued at times and we had to work very hard for our birds in some of the more forested areas where fruiting trees were in short supply and no ant swarms were encountered.

Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush (Chris Kehoe)

Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush (Chris Kehoe)