The Ultimate In Birding Tours

North America & The Caribbean


Quetzals, Bellbirds & More

Wednesday 31st March – Thursday 8th April 2021

Leaders: Chris Venetz and local bird guides

9 Days Group Size Limit 8

Birdquest’s Swift Costa Rica tours are a wonderful way to make a short visit to this classic Central American birding destination. Our Swift Costa Rica tour records numerous specialities of this small but wonderful country, including the incomparable Resplendent Quetzal and the amazing Three-wattled Bellbird, two species that are surely Central America’s most charismatic signature birds.

Had Christopher Columbus been a birdwatcher, he could not have christened his new found land on his last voyage in 1502 more aptly – Costa Rica or ‘Rich Coast’. Over 870 species of birds have been recorded from this small Central American country, the highest species diversity in an area of this size anywhere on earth. Not only is its avifauna exceedingly rich, but Costa Rica (together with neighbouring western Panama) is one of the greatest centres of avian endemism in the world, with nearly 70 species found nowhere else!

Costa Rica is now well-known as one of the best areas for birding on earth, for a series of stunning wildlife films and the many glowing reports from visitors have made people realize what a treasure house of nature this gem of a country really is. Costa Rica is utterly unlike the preconceived view of Central America. There is no recent history of revolutions, medal-bespattered dictators, political prisoners and masses of half-starved, landless peasants. Instead Costa Rica is one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America with the highest literacy level in the region, no army (it was abolished as unnecessary in 1949!), stable democratic government, excellent standards of public health and the highest percentage of land area devoted to national parks and reserves of any country in the world.

This beautiful land is an ornithological melting pot where the avifaunas of Central and South America merge. Here we will see Central American species at the southern limits of their range, South American species at their northern limits and numerous species that are endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama.

For the birdwatcher the factor that makes Costa Rica so attractive is not simply its astonishingly rich avifauna, but the fact that it is packed into such a small area. In Costa Rica one could, if one wanted, drive from the Pacific lowlands up over the central highlands and down to the Caribbean lowlands in a matter of five or six hours, passing through every major habitat zone found in Central America!

Superb, mostly easy birding, largely good accommodations and quite good roads make birding this small but incredibly rich country a real pleasure.

From San Jose, the capital city, we will make our way into Costa Rica’s central highlands, reaching the subalpine zone at over 3000m at Cerro de la Muerte. Here we will find many montane specialities, including the incomparable Resplendent Quetzal, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Ruddy Treerunner, Volcano Junco, Black-capped Flycatcher, Timberline Wren, Sooty and Mountain Thrushes, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Long-tailed Silky-flycatchers, Yellow-winged Vireo, Collared Whitestart, Flame-throated and Black-cheeked Warblers, the curious Zeledonia (or Wrenthrush), which was formerly often placed in a family of its own, Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager, Black-thighed Grosbeak, Slaty Flowerpiercer, Large-footed and Yellow-thighed Finches and Sulphur-winged Parakeet.

From the highlands we will descend to the Pacific lowlands, where we come to the famous Carara Reserve. Here we will explore coastal habitats including mangrove swamps and some of the best remaining areas of lowland rainforest along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Here, the magnificent Scarlet Macaw is still quite common and we will enjoy the host of other birds, including such stars as Boat-billed Heron, Bare-throated Tiger Heron and Black-hooded Antshrike.

We then return to the mountains for the magnificent cloud forest and lush pastures of the north-western highlands, staying at the renowned Monteverde. Amongst the many special birds here are the amazing Three-wattled Bellbird, Black Guan, Black-faced Solitaire, the endemic Coppery-headed Emerald, Chiriqui Quail-Dove and White-eared Ground-Sparrow.

Moving on to the Arenal Volcano, we will seek Caribbean-slope specialties, including Black-crested Coquette, Spotted Antbird and Thicket Antpitta, among a host of new birds.

Birdquest has operated Costa Rica tours to since 1987.

What makes the Birdquest Swift Costa Rica tour special? The Birdquest group size limit is lower than for most other Costa Rica tours, significantly so in some cases. Given the high proportion of forest birding during Costa Rica tours, this is a real advantage for our participants.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are of good standard. Road transport is by small coach and roads are mostly good.

Walking: The walking effort during our Swift Costa Rica tour is mostly easy, occasionally moderate.

Climate: At low altitudes it is generally hot, but at higher altitudes conditions range from warm to cool (even cold at the highest levels). Periods of sunny weather alternate with overcast spells. There is regular rainfall on the Caribbean slope, but elsewhere rainfall is less frequent and more irregular. It will be rather humid at times.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Swift Costa Rica tour are quite good.


Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

Deposit: £320, $400, €360.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates and deposit amount)

2021: provisional £2120, $2790, €2460. San Jose/San Jose.

Single Supplement: 2021: £300, $400, €350.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.


Swift Costa Rica: Day 1  Our tour begins late this afternoon at San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital city situated in the Central Valley. We will then make our way into the Cordillera de Talamanca just to the south of the city where we will stay for two nights at a lodge in a secluded valley below Cerro de la Muerte or the ‘Mountain of Death’, so named because of the many people who died of cold whilst crossing it en route between the Central Valley and Valle del General to the south. Nowadays the Pan American Highway crosses the mountain at over 3300m allowing for much more comfortable access to this endemic rich area.

Swift Costa Rica: Day 2  At Cerro de la Muerte we will be birding the temperate oak forests with their thick bamboo understory, open pastures and the chaparral-like paramo above the treeline. At these altitudes many of the birds seem remarkably tame and here lives one of the world’s most spectacular birds, the Resplendent Quetzal. This is one of the few places where these wonderful birds can be seen without too much difficulty, at least if their favoured Avocado trees are fruiting, and we should be able to watch in fascination as they fly from tree to tree with their incredibly elongated uppertail coverts dancing along behind them.

Hummingbird feeders at our lodge and elsewhere in the area attract several local specialities such as Admirable (split from Magnificent), Volcano, Fiery-throated and Scintillant Hummingbirds and Grey-tailed Mountaingem. Sooty and Mountain Thrushes, Ruddy-capped and Black-billed Nightingale-Thrushes, Yellow-thighed and Large-footed Finches forage at the edge of shrubbery that attracts spectacular Long-tailed Silky-flycatchers, Black-capped Flycatchers, Slaty Flowerpiercers, Sooty-capped Bush-Tanagers, Flame-coloured and Silver-throated Tanagers, Rufous-collared Sparrow and Mountain Elaenia plus wintering Wilson’s and Black-throated Green Warblers. The mossy forest itself is home to the delightful Collared Whitestart, Flame-throated Warbler, Grey-breasted Wood Wren, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Ochraceous Wren, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Ruddy Treerunner, Band-tailed and Ruddy Pigeons, Northern Tufted Flycatcher. Acorn and Hairy Woodpeckers and Yellow-winged Vireo.

Overhead, Amongst the numerous Turkey and Black Vultures we will be on the look out for the local race of Red-tailed Hawk and Swallow-tailed Kites plus White-collared and Vaux’s Swifts. Sulphur-winged Parakeets regularly fly-by, though finding them perched is seldom easy, and should the bamboo be flowering we could also encounter Barred Parakeet and the strange Peg-billed Finch, although these species can be very hard to find. With a little luck we will also encounter some of the other scarce inhabitants of the area such as Dark and Ochraceous Pewees, Costa Rican Pygmy Owl, Silvery-throated Jay, Barred Becard, Black-and-yellow Phainoptila, Lesser Goldfinch, Elegant Euphonia, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Black-cheeked Warbler, the curious Wrenthrush (or Zeledonia), which was formerly often placed in a family of its own, or even a covey of Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridges. Above the treeline on Cerro de la Muerte itself we will seek out the extremely localised Volcano Junco and Timberline Wren.

Swift Costa Rica: Day 3  After some final birding at Cerro de la Muerte we shall descend to the Pacific Coast for a two nights stay at the Carara Reserve.

Swift Costa Rica: Day 4  Before Carara Reserve was opened up to visitors, ornithologists were compelled to organise full-scale expeditions in order to reach Pacific-coast lowland rainforest. Now it is possible to walk into this endangered Central American habitat from a paved road!

Many of the region’s special birds can be found here including the magnificent Scarlet Macaw. These raucous, gaudy, long-tailed parrots are the park’s star attraction as they fly effortlessly amongst the large fruiting trees or flap slowly across to the nearby mangroves where they roost.

By slowly walking along the excellent trail system we may well find birds such as Dot-winged Antwren, Black-hooded and Barred Antshrikes, Northern Bentbill, Plain Xenops, Northern Mealy Amazon, Lesser Elaenia, Blue-throated Sapphire, Slaty-tailed Trogon, White-whiskered Puffbird, Long-tailed and Wedge-billed Woodcreepers, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Black-faced Antthrush, Squirrel Cuckoo, the smart Red-capped Manakin and the near-endemic Orange-collared Manakin, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Orange-billed Sparrow, Northern Royal and Ruddy-tailed Flycatchers, Greenish Elaenia, Stub-tailed Spadebill, Rufous-and-white, Riverside and Black-bellied Wrens, Long-billed Gnatwren and Yellow-crowned Euphonia. If we are very fortunate we will even see the stunning Yellow-billed Cotinga or one of the other elusive inhabitants of this forest such as Double-toothed Kite, Collared Forest-Falcon, Blue Ground-Dove, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher or the lovely Spectacled Antpitta. Mammals are not conspicuous, but we should encounter Mantled Howler and Central American Agouti and perhaps White-faced Capuchin.

Along the forest edge, or in nearby open country, we expect to encounter Yellow-throated (or Chestnut-mandibled) Toucan, Masked Tityra, Hoffman’s and Pale-billed Woodpeckers, Roadside Hawk, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Pale-vented Pigeon, Rose-throated Becard, Streaked Flycatcher, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Inca Dove, Red-lored Amazon, Scaly-breasted and Steely-vented Hummingbirds, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Grey-breasted Martin, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Variable Seedeater and Buff-rumped Warbler. Overhead may be found the localised Costa Rican Swift (split from Band-rumped), King Vulture and Grey and Short-tailed Hawks while overwintering species include Philadelphia Vireo, Painted Bunting, Northern Waterthrush and Tennessee Warbler.

We will also explore the mangrove-fringed Tárcoles estuary which attracts many waterbirds, typically including Brown Pelican, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Magnificent Frigatebird, Western Cattle, Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Blue, Little Blue, Tricoloured and Green Herons, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Wood Stork, American White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Black-necked Stilt, Western, Semipalmated, Spotted and Least Sandpipers, Yellow-headed and Northern Crested Caracaras, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern, Ringed, Belted, Amazon and Green Kingfishers, and Mangrove Swallow. One of the main attractions is the strange Boat-billed Heron, whose huge eyes and massive, ridged bill create a strange, almost prehistoric appearance. A search of the mangroves should reveal Common Black-Hawk, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Panamanian Flycatcher, Mangrove Warbler (split from American Yellow) and Prothonotary Warbler. With luck, scarcer species such as Collared and Wilson’s Plovers, Plumbeous Kite, Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, Mangrove Vireo, Rufous-necked Wood Rail and the threatened endemic Mangrove Hummingbird are also possible. One evening we will take a short drive to look for Striped Owl as well as Pauraque.

Swift Costa Rica: Day 5  After some final birding in the Pacific lowlands we will travel into the central highlands of Costa Rica for a two nights stay in the Monteverde area.

Swift Costa Rica: Day 6  During the 1950s a group of Quakers, disillusioned with some aspects of life in the United States, came to Costa Rica. They settled at Monteverde, initiating the dairy farming which is a prominent feature of the area today. Realizing the importance of a stable watershed for the local economy, they ensured that the forests on the surrounding hills remained intact. We owe these far-sighted pioneers a great debt of gratitude, for today this magnificent area is protected by two major reserves, the world-renowned Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve and the Santa Elena Reserve.

A large and varied bird community inhabits the epiphyte-laden cloudforests in these protected areas, which straddle the continental divide. Lower down on the Pacific slope there is a more pronounced dry season and here the cloudforest is replaced by semi-humid evergreen forest, home to a different set of birds. Sometimes the mornings at Monteverde are gloriously clear and one can see the forested ridges extending away into the distance. Lineated Foliage-gleaners, Red-faced Spinetails and Spotted Barbtails search the moss and bromeliad-encrusted branches, whilst at some strategically positioned feeders we will have wonderful opportunities for prolonged views of a multitude of iridescent hummingbirds including Violet Sabrewing, Green-crowned Brilliant, Coppery-headed Emerald (endemic to Costa Rica), Purple-throated Mountaingem, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Green Violetear and Stripe-tailed Hummingbird.

Monteverde offers cloud forest birding at its best, although we shall doubtless have to work hard to find some of the more retiring inhabitants of the area, and the local Resplendent Quetzals are no longer as easy to see as they once were.

By quietly walking along the maze of trails we may find Black Guan, Black-faced Solitaire, Collared Trogon, Blue-throated Toucanet (split from Emerald), Prong-billed Barbet, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Spotted Woodcreeper, Red-faced Spinetail, Spotted Barbtail, Brown-billed Scythebill, Slaty Antwren, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Black-eared Warbler (split from Three-striped), Brown-hooded Parrot, Golden-winged and Golden-crowned Warblers, Common Bush Tanager, Yellowish Flycatcher, Slate-throated Whitestart, White-throated Spadebill, White-crowned Parrot, the secretive Silvery-fronted Tapaculo and Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush. Less frequently encountered species, of which we may see one or two, include the secretive Grey-throated Leaftosser, Highland Tinamou, Barred Forest Falcon, Black-breasted Wood-Quail, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, Azure-hooded Jay, Streak-breasted Treehunters, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Buff-fronted Quail-Dove, Bare-shanked Screech Owl and Green-fronted Lancebill.

In the lower areas at Monteverde we will be wanting to see one of the star birds of Costa Rica, the Three-wattled Bellbird. At this time of year these amazing birds will have returned from their lowland wintering areas and will be uttering their deafening calls from exposed perches in the canopy.

Other species of interest in this habitat include Chiriqui Quail-Dove, Brown Jay, Canivet’s Emerald, Ruddy Woodcreeper, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, White-throated Thrush, the superb Long-tailed Manakin, Plain and House Wrens and the smart White-eared Ground-Sparrow.

Swift Costa Rica: Day 7  After some final birding at Monteverde we will transfer to Arenal Volcano for a two night stay. Costa Rica’s most active volcano has a perfect conical shape and depending on the weather usually allows breathtaking views. In certain years, ash columns and underground rumbling occur with nightly spectacles of glowing rocks tumbling down the slope from the volcano’s explosive eruptions.

In the afternoon we will begin our birding along the usually productive road that skirts the scenic lake at the foot of the volcano for species such as Black Phoebe, Bay Wren, Passerini’s Tanager, Plain Antvireo, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Tropical Parula and Black-cowled Oriole, Northern and Southern Rough-winged Swallows, Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Long-tailed Tyrant and Broad-billed Motmot. If fortunate we also have a chance here of the very localized Keel-billed Motmot, Double-toothed Kite, White Hawk, Rufous-tailed Jacamar and the retiring Bare-crowned Antbird.

Swift Costa Rica: Day 8  The protected forests surrounding the Arenal volcano are widely known for their abundant birdlife and other wildlife. Our lodge here offers the most stunning views of the volcano and its birdy gardens and forest trails hold an enticing collection of specialities. Flowering hedges around the lodge attract a variety of hummers including Violet-headed Hummingbird, Crowned Woodnymph, Green and Stripe-throated Hermits, White-necked Jacobin, Brown Violetear, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, the amazing Black-crested Coquette and Green Thorntail, whilst fruit feeders are visited by Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, Montezuma Oropendolas, Buff-throated Saltator, Bananaquit and such attractive tanagers as Double-toothed (split from Hepatic), Emerald and Crimson-collared plus Red-legged and Green Honeycreepers and Olive-backed Euphonia. After dark, Black-and-white Owls are sometimes active near our rooms.

Along the lodge’s forest trails we should find such species as Crested Guan, Red-billed and Short-billed Pigeons, Grey-chested Dove, Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, Gartered (split from Violaceous) and Black-throated Trogons Keel-billed Toucan, White-crowned Parrot, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Olivaceous, Cocoa (split from Buff-throated) and Streak-headed Woodcreepers, Slaty Spinetail, Western Woodhaunter (split from Striped), Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Dull-mantled Antbird, White-ruffed Manakins, Black-crowned Tityra, Sulphur-rumped Myiobius, Cinnamon Becard, Ochre-bellied and Olive-striped Flycatchers, Song and Stripe-breasted Wrens and, White-breasted Wood-Wren, Northern Nightingale-Wren, the shy Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Tawny-capped Euphonia, White-throated Shrike-Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Golden-hooded, Bay-headed, Carmiol’s and White-lined Tanagers, Chestnut-capped Warbler, Black-headed Saltator, Yellow-faced and Blue-black Grassquits, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Black-striped Sparrow, Black-faced Grosbeak and Melodious Blackbird (a recent invader from Nicaragua).

During our birding we will be keenly observant for the growls of Spotted Antbirds that may lead us to a swarm of raiding army ants that could in turn attract a spectacular Ocellated Antbird. With some patience and luck we may also see the shy and aptly named Thicket Antpitta, while if fruiting trees are bearing ripe fruit at the time of our visit we may also see the much-desired and well-named Lovely Cotinga.

Swift Costa Rica: Day 9  After some final birding at Arenal we will return to San Jose airport, where our tour ends in the afternoon.



by Dani López-Velasco

View Report

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