ULTIMATE COSTA RICA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Ultimate Costa Rica: Day 1 Our tour begins this evening at San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital city situated in the Central Valley, where we will stay overnight.
Ultimate Costa Rica: Day 2 This morning we will make an early start and make our way east of the capital to the upper slopes of the Irazú Volcano. The chaparral-like paramo here contains dense stands of montane bamboo whilst lower down at treeline the elfin woodlands are surrounded by natural savannas. We will begin pre-dawn where we will look for Bare-shanked Screech-Owl and Dusky Nightjar, and if we are in luck, the sought-after Unspotted Saw-whet Owl. As dawn comes, we will listen out for the noisy Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge, and with persistence, we may be fortunate enough to see this shy species. Sometimes the calls of the remarkable Resplendent Quetzal also cut through the cool morning air, and we have our first chance of finding this iconic species here. Many of the other birds here are restricted to the mountains of Costa Rica and Panama, with this volcano offering our first chance at some of the more difficult to find of these specialities. Here we are likely to encounter Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Timberline Wren, Sooty and Mountain Thrushes, Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager, Slaty Flowerpiercer, the stunning Flame-throated Warbler, Yellow-thighed and Large-footed Finches, and Volcano Junco. At this time of year the tiny Volcano Hummingbirds can often be seen doing their amazing aerial display flights. Should the bamboo be flowering we could also encounter Maroon-chested Ground-Dove, Barred Parakeet, Cabanis’s (or Blue) Seedeater and the rare Peg-billed Finch, although these species can be very hard to find and are not often present.
Later we shall descend to Rancho Naturalista, located on the Caribbean slope, for a two nights stay. We will stop along the way to look for the shy endemic Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow.
Either today, in the Central Valley, or in other open habitats during the tour, we will come across a number of other widespread species such as Western Cattle Egret, Black and Turkey Vultures, Red-billed Pigeon, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Inca and White-tipped Doves, Finsch’s Parakeet, Squirrel Cuckoo, Groove-billed Ani, Blue-diademed (split from Blue-crowned) Motmot, Hoffmann’s and Lineated Woodpeckers, Tropical Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, Brown Jay, House and Cabanis’s Wrens, Clay-coloured Thrush, Palm and Blue-grey Tanagers, Bananaquit, Rufous-capped Warbler (the local form is sometimes split as Chestnut-capped Warbler), Greyish (Middle American) Saltator, Melodious Blackbird (a recent invader from Nicaragua), and the ubiquitous Great-tailed Grackle.
Ultimate Costa Rica: Day 3 Today we will visit the little known but very birdy reserve called El Copal, which is home to many interesting species. Here we will make our way along various trails through the forest as well as spending time in the clearings. In particular, we shall be looking out for the brilliant near-endemic Blue-and-gold Tanager, and the rarely-seen Yellow-eared Toucanet. Other good birds possible at this site include Crested Guan, both Ruddy and Short-tailed Pigeons (overlapping in altitude here), Green Hermit, the impressive Green-fronted Lancebill, Gartered and Collared Trogons, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, the range-restricted Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, the spectacular Brown-billed Scythebill, Russet Antshrike, Slaty Antwren, Dull-mantled and Zeledon’s (split from Immaculate) Antbirds, the elusive Ochre-breasted Antpitta, the uncommon Rufous-browed Tyrannulet, White-throated Spadebill, Rufous Mourner, the smart White-ruffed Manakin, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, the sneaky Northern Schiffornis, the delightful Song Wren, Black-headed Nightingale Thrush (with its eerie song), White-vented and Tawny-capped Euphonias, the scarce Ashy-throated Bush Tanager, colourful White-winged, Carmiol’s, Emerald, Silver-throated, Speckled, Black-and-yellow, and Bay-headed Tanagers, Black-faced Grosbeak and Scarlet-thighed Dacnis. On our way back to Rancho Naturalista we will make a stop at a small wetland where we may find a number of wetland species such Blue-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, Least and Pied-billed Grebes, Black-crowned Night Heron, White-tailed Kite, Western Osprey, Snail Kite and Purple Gallinule, whist at a nearby river we will look out for Fasciated Tiger Heron. We may arrive back in time for a little birding around our lodge.
Ultimate Costa Rica: Day 4 Mainly catering to birders, hospitable Rancho Naturalista is perched on a hillside overlooking the fertile Tuis river valley. Behind the lodge a fine patch of primary foothill forest hosts two of Costa Rica’s most localized birds. Early in the morning the near-endemic Tawny-chested Flycatcher advertises its presence with its characteristic song, whilst the exquisite Snowcap, undoubtedly one of the most spectacular ‘hummers’, is regularly seen each morning in the garden. Here we shall wait for this tiny jewel to show itself in all its splendour, and we should also see Stripe-throated Hermits, Violet-headed Hummingbird, White-necked Jacobin, Green-breasted Mango, Brown Violetear, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Crowned (or Violet-crowned) Woodnymph, Bronze-tailed (Red-footed) Plumeleteer and Green-crowned Brilliant.
During our visit to the area, we shall also have a look for Sunbittern along a nearby river as well as visit a good area for the localized White-throated Flycatcher.
Other birds we may well see in the open areas or along the forest trails include Double-toothed Kite, Grey-headed Chachalaca, Grey-chested Dove, White-crowned and Brown-hooded Parrots, Common Pauraque, Dusky-backed (split from Vaux’s), White-collared and Chestnut-collared Swifts, Keel-billed Toucan, Collared Aracari, Golden-olive and Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, Wedge-billed, Cocoa (split from Buff-throated), Spotted and Streak-headed Woodcreepers, Plain Antvireo, Mistletoe Tyrannulet (split from Paltry), Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Common and Black-headed Tody-Flycatchers, Tropical Pewee, Ochre-bellied, Sulphur-bellied, Piratic, Social, and Grey-capped Flycatchers, Bright-rumped Attila (the local form is sometimes split as Flammulated Attila), Masked Tityra, Cinnamon Becard, White-crowned Manakin, Blue-and-white and Northern and Southern Rough-winged Swallows, White-breasted Wood-Wren, Band-backed, Stripe-breasted and Black-throated Wrens, Tropical Parula, Golden-crowned Warbler, Golden-hooded, Scarlet-rumped (the form here is sometimes split as Passerini’s) and White-lined Tanagers, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Black-headed and Buff-throated Saltators, Yellow-faced and Blue-black Grassquits, Variable Seedeater (the black form here is a potential split as Black Seedeater), Thick-billed (or Lesser) Seed-Finch, Orange-billed and Black-striped Sparrows, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Montezuma Oropendola, Scarlet-rumped and Yellow-billed Caciques and Bronzed Cowbird.
During the northern winter period, visitors include Broad-winged Hawk, Olive-sided and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, Tennessee, Kentucky, Chestnut-sided, Golden-winged and Blackburnian Warblers, and Baltimore Oriole.
Later we will drive up into the Cordillera de Talamanca for a two nights stay at Cerro de la Muerte. In the afternoon we will have time for some initial exploration of the splendid mountain habitat.
Ultimate Costa Rica: Day 5 Cerro de la Muerte or the ‘Mountain of Death’ was 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 and a comfortable lodge ensures that it no longer holds such fears.
Here we will be birding the temperate oak forests with their thick bamboo understorey. At these altitudes many of the birds seem remarkably tame, and whilst the number of species is not great, most are confined to the high mountains of Costa Rica and adjacent Panama. 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 difficulty and we will be able to watch in fascination as they fly from tree to tree with their incredibly elongated uppertail coverts dancing along behind them.
We shall also concentrate our efforts on finding such birds as Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl (split from Andean), Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Ruddy Treerunner, Buffy Tuftedcheek, the secretive Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, the rare Ochraceous Pewee, Black-capped and Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Black-faced Solitaire, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, Black-and-yellow Phainoptila, Yellow-winged Vireo, Collared Whitestart, Black-cheeked Warbler, the curious Wrenthrush (or Zeledonia), which was formerly often placed in a family of its own, Grey-breasted Wood-Wren, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Black-thighed Grosbeak, and Golden-browed Chlorophonia. With patience, we should also see the scarce Silvery-throated Jay and a covey of spectacular Spotted Wood-Quail.
The hummingbird feeders at our hotel provide excellent opportunities for studying Green Violetear, Admirable, Scintillant and Volcano Hummingbirds, and Grey-tailed Mountaingem (split from White-throated). We shall also keep a lookout for Dark Pewee in the nearby treetops.
Some of the more widespread species we should encounter here include Band-tailed Pigeon, American Swallow-tailed Kite, Acorn and Hairy Woodpeckers, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Torrent Tyrannulet, Mountain Elaenia, Northern Tufted and Yellowish Flycatchers, Black Phoebe, Brown-capped Vireo, Ochraceous Wren, Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush, Slate-throated Whitestart, Flame-coloured Tanager and Rufous-collared Sparrow. During the northern winter period, Black-throated Green and Wilson’s Warblers are present. A night-time excursion will give us another opportunity to find Bare-shanked Screech-Owl, Dusky Nightjar or even the rare Unspotted Saw-whet Owl.
Ultimate Costa Rica: Day 6 After some final birding at Cerro de la Muerte we shall descend to the San Isidro area for an overnight stay, stopping en route to look for the stunning but threatened Turquoise Cotinga and the near-endemic Snowy-bellied Hummingbird.
Ultimate Costa Rica: Day 7 In the morning we will make a visit to the famous private reserve of Dr Alexander Skutch, who was one of the world’s leading authorities on neotropical birds. A wide variety of birds can be seen in his ‘garden’ and in the forest along the entrance road. Some of the species we expect to find here are Great Tinamou, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Charming (or Beryl-crowned) Hummingbird, near-endemic Garden Emerald (split from Blue-tailed), Purple-crowned Fairy, Baird’s Trogon, the near-endemic Fiery-billed Aracari, Olivaceous Piculet, Golden-naped Woodpecker, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Yellow Tyrannulet, Northern Bentbill, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, the scarce Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Dusky-capped and Boat-billed Flycatcher, White-winged Becard, the near-endemic Orange-collared Manakin, Rufous Piha, Tawny-crowned and Lesser Greenlets, Rufous-breasted Wren, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, White-shouldered and Gray-headed Tanagers, Green, Shining and Red-legged Honeycreepers, Blue Dacnis and Buff-rumped Warbler. If the Vochysia trees are flowering, our concerted effort to find the elusive, near-endemic White-crested Coquette should result in good views.
We shall also explore fields, scrub and open country where we should find such species as Pearl Kite, Roadside Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Yellow-headed Caracara, Scaled Pigeon, Smooth-billed Ani, Striped Cuckoo, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Bran-coloured and Fork-tailed Flycatchers, Lesser Elaenia, Isthmian Wren, Yellow-throated Brush-Finch, Scarlet-rumped Tanager (the local form is sometimes split off as Cherrie’s Tanager) and Streaked Saltator. Later we shall continue southwards to the Wilson Botanical Gardens near Las Cruces for an overnight stay.
Ultimate Costa Rica: Day 8 The pleasant Wilson garden is a very birdy spot, with a host of flycatchers, warblers and tanagers, including many North American migrants, but we will be concentrating on the near-endemic White-tailed Emerald. Some of the additional species we might find here are Marbled Wood-Quail, Ruddy Foliage-gleaner and Elegant Euphonia. Two of the specialities of the area are the near-endemic Chiriqui Yellowthroat, which can regularly be found around some nearby marshy ponds, and Costa Rican Brush-Finch (split from Stripe-headed), a localized denizen of the forest edge.
Later we will head for the Golfito region for an overnight stay. Recent deforestation has created a corridor of open country that has allowed a variety of colonizing species to invade the area as well as some other more widespread species. These include Wattled Jacana, Southern Lapwing, Pale-vented Pigeon, Brown-throated Parakeet, Veraguas Mango, Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, Red-rumped Woodpecker, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Red-breasted Blackbird and Crested Oropendola.
By late afternoon we will arrive at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge for a two nights stay.
Ultimate Costa Rica: Day 9 Esquinas Rainforest Lodge is found within the Piedras Blancas National Park, which together with the wilderness area of Corcovado National Park, provides some of the last remaining habitat for many of the south Pacific slope endemics. The star bird of the area and the great prize of this morning will be the very localized Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, one of just a handful of species entirely endemic to Costa Rica (most of the regional endemics are shared with Panama). Two fairly common near-endemic specialities of the area are Black-hooded Antshrike and Spot-crowned Euphonia, and we will make a special trip to a reliable site for the threatened endemic Mangrove Hummingbird and the stunning Yellow-billed Cotinga. Our lodge is a good site for the elusive Uniform Crake, and uncommon Bronzy Hermit often visits the rich tropical gardens of Esquinas.
Other birds we could well find in the area include King Vulture, Grey-necked Wood-Rail, Blue Ground-Dove, Blue-headed Parrot, Costa Rican Swift (split from Band-rumped), Band-tailed Barbthroat, Long-billed Hermit, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Black-striped and Tawny-winged Woodcreepers, Chiriqui Foliage-gleaner (split from Buff-throated), Western Woodhaunter, Bicoloured Antbird, Black-crowned Tityra, Blue-crowned Manakin, Riverside and Black-bellied Wrens, Yellow-crowned Euphonia and Blue-black Grosbeak. At night we will look for Striped and Spectacled Owls, and Tropical Screech Owl.
Ultimate Costa Rica: Days 10-11 After some final birding in the southern lowlands, we will drive northwards to Carara Reserve for a two nights stay. 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 Northern Mealy Amazon, Slaty-tailed and Black-headed Trogons, White-whiskered Puffbird, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Northern Barred and Long-tailed Woodcreepers, Dot-winged Antwren, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Black-faced Antthrush, the lovely Streak-chested Antpitta (often confiding here), the smart Red-capped Manakin, Greenish Elaenia, Stub-tailed Spadebill (we will need some luck to see this tricky species), Ruddy-tailed and Streaked Flycatchers, Northern Royal Flycatcher, Rufous Mourner, Rose-throated Becard, Rufous-baked (split from Rufous-naped) and Rufous-and-white Wrens, and Trilling Gnatwren. If we are very lucky we will come across Scaly-throated Leaftosser.
Mammals are not conspicuous, but we should encounter Mantled Howler and White-nosed Coati.
Along the forest edge, or in nearby open country, we will expect to encounter Grey and Short-tailed Hawks, Northern Crested-Caracara, Red-lored and Yellow-naped Amazons, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Lesser Nighthawk, Turquoise-browed Motmot, White-necked Puffbird, Barred Antshrike, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Grey-breasted Martin, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Scrub Greenlet, Grey-crowned Yellowthroat, Scrub Euphonia, Variable Seedeater (the pied form here is a potential split as Black-breasted Seedeater), Blue Grosbeak and Stripe-headed Sparrow.
We will also explore the mangrove-fringed Tárcoles estuary by boat. The area attracts many waterbirds, typically including Brown Pelican, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Magnificent Frigatebird, 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-bellied Whistling-Duck, Northern Jacana, Black-necked Stilt, Semipalmated, Wilson’s and Collared Plovers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Willet, Spotted and Western Sandpipers, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern, Ringed, 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 Plumbeous Kite, Common Black-Hawk, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Panamanian (or Panama) Flycatcher, Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, Mangrove Vireo and Mangrove Warbler. During the winter period, migrants from North America include American Yellow Warbler, Northern Waterthrush and American Redstart.
Ultimate Costa Rica: Day 12 Today we will drive through the Pacific lowlands before climbing into the northwestern highlands of Costa Rica, to Monteverde for a two nights stay.
We will stop in dry country areas en route to search for Double-striped Thick-knee, Common Ground-Dove, Orange-fronted Parakeet, White-fronted Amazon, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Banded Wren, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Yellow-green Vireo and Olive Sparrow. With patience, we should see the shy Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, and if we are in luck we will also come across Spot-bellied Bobwhite. We will also visit some roadside mangroves where, with a bit of luck, we will see the shy Rufous-necked Wood-Rail.
Ultimate Costa Rica: Days 13 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. Three-wattled Bellbirds utter their deafening calls from exposed perches in the canopy, Lineated Foliage-gleaners and Streak-breasted Treehunters 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, Coppery-headed Emerald (endemic to Costa Rica), Purple-throated Mountaingem, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Stripe-tailed Hummingbird and Blue-vented Hummingbird (a recent split from Steely-vented 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-breasted Wood-Quail, Buff-fronted Quail-Dove, ‘Orange-bellied Trogon’ (nowadays regarded as a colour morph of Collared), Prong-billed Barbet, Blue-throated Toucanet (split from Emerald), Smoky-brown Woodpecker, the secretive Grey-throated Leaftosser, Red-faced Spinetail, Spotted Barbtail, Slaty Antwren, Eye-ringed Flatbill, the tricky Azure-hooded Jay, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, Black-eared Warbler, Common Bush Tanager and Yellow-throated Euphonia. In the lower areas at Monteverde we will look for Chiriqui Quail-Dove, Salvin’s Emerald (split from Canivet’s), Ruddy Woodcreeper, the superb Long-tailed Manakin and the smart White-eared Ground-Sparrow.
Ultimate Costa Rica: Day 14 After some final birding at Monteverde we will continue our exploration of Guanacaste province with an overnight stay at Hacienda Solimar. This modern cattle ranch with its system of irrigation canals also serves as an effective reserve for a wide variety of wildlife. Here we can see such species as Harris’s and Crane Hawks, Snail Kite, Peregrine Falcon, Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, Limpkin, Glossy Ibis, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Plain-capped Starthroat, Red-winged Blackbird and Morelet’s Seedeater (formerly known as White-collared). The star of the show at Solimar is the mighty Jabiru, which each year breeds at the ranch.
Here the dry forest landscape of rolling hills highlighted by the brilliant colours of flowering trees will provide a marked contrast from our rainforest birding. The park-like landscape around the guesthouse holds Laughing Falcon, Mangrove Cuckoo, Yellow-naped Amazon, White-throated Magpie-Jay, and Streak-backed and Spot-breasted Orioles. With luck, we will even see a Thicket Tinamou and Collared Forest-Falcon. We may find Pacific Screech-Owl and Spectacled Owl at their day roosts, but if not we can look for them after dark.
Ultimate Costa Rica: Day 15 After some final birding at Hacienda Solimar, a relatively short drive takes us across the Cordillera de Guanacaste’s continental divide onto the Caribbean slope of the dormant Tenorio Volcano and the humid forests of the beautiful Celeste River for an overnight stay. We will arrive in time for some initial exploration, mostly looking for the rare Lovely Cotinga at what was one of its most reliable site in the country, though they have been tricky in recent years.
Ultimate Costa Rica: Day 16 The foothill forest of the Volcán Tenorio National Park is home to an exciting array of species including Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, Tody Motmot, Western Woodhaunter (split from Striped), Checker-throated Antwren, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, White-throated Shrike-Tanager and Black-faced Grosbeak. During our birding we will be keenly observant for the growls of Spotted, Bicoloured and Ocellated Antbirds attending a swarm of raiding army ants. With a huge amount of luck, we may find the king of the aforementioned spectacle, the rarely seen Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, also be following the swarm, though we would be very fortunate to observe this reclusive forest floor dweller. We can always dream! We will also search here for the rarely seen Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon, a species that has recently been recorded here. An evening excursion could yield both Mottled Owl and the spectacular Crested Owl.
Later in the day, we will be heading into ornithologically little known territory not far from the border with Nicaragua. Our destination is a remote but comfortable lodge at Caño Negro, where we shall overnight. This evening we will likely see Great Potoo (and there is a slim chance of Common Potoo).
Ultimate Costa Rica: Day 17 This morning we will travel by boat along the Río Frío and into the marshy expanses of Lago Caño Negro. Our prime target will be the Nicaraguan Grackle, which inhabits the reedy vegetation and is only found in southern Nicaragua and northernmost Costa Rica.
More spectacular, however, will be the sheer variety of kingfishers and the large numbers of Spectacled Caiman. No fewer than five species of kingfisher occur here, and we have a good chance of seeing all of them, including Belted and American Pygmy. This is also a great trip for seeing the strange Sungrebe, either resting on a sloping riverside branch or swimming stealthily along the river margins. The rare Yellow-breasted Crake is present here and we will make a special effort to try and see one.
Back on land, we will be looking in particular for the restricted-range Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, while other new birds may well include Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Grey-headed Dove and Spot-breasted and Canebrake Wren and, with luck, the cryptic Pinnated Bittern.
After some final birding at Caño Negro, we will transfer to Arenal Volcano for an overnight 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 White Hawk, Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Broad-billed Motmot, Bare-crowned Antbird, Bay Wren and Black-cowled Oriole.
Ultimate Costa Rica: Day 18 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 the amazing Black-crested Coquette and Green Thorntail whilst fruit feeders are visited by an assortment of woodpeckers, oropendolas, saltators, and such attractive tanagers as Emerald and Crimson-collared. From the forest trails of our lodge and at the nearby ‘hanging bridges’ private reserve we should find such species as Semiplumbeous Hawk, White-fronted Nunbird, the localized Keel-billed Motmot, Streak-crowned Antvireo, Carmiol’s, Tawny-crested, Rufous-winged and Black-and-yellow Tanagers and Olive-backed Euphonia. With some patience and luck, we should also see the shy and aptly named Thicket Antpitta and we will also be able to enjoy the awe-inspiring Great Curassow. Later we will transfer to the little-known Pocosol Reserve for a two nights stay.
Ultimate Costa Rica: Day 19 Since the disappearance of the regular Bare-necked Umbrellabird lek at San Gerardo, this iconic species has become extremely difficult to see. One site where it seems to pop up more often than others is Pocosol, so we will give it our best shot here but will still need luck to be on our side! Whilst searching the trails, we should encounter a number of other scarce or interesting species such as Barred Hawk, Purplish-backed and Ruddy Quail Doves (it’s always good to have more chances of quail doves!), the smart Rufous-winged Woodpecker, the sneaky Northern Nightingale Wren, Black-headed Antthrush, Thicket Antpitta (in case we missed it before), Black-crowned Tityra, the unique Sharpbill and the scarce Pale-vented Thrush. It’s also a great spot for mammals and species we could encounter include Central American (Geoffroy’s) Spider Monkey, Mantled Howler Monkey, Olingo and Mexican Mouse Opossum. It is also another place where we can hope to experience an antswarm where all of the obligate antbirds could be in attendance, and perhaps even that elusive ground-cuckoo!
Ultimate Costa Rica: Day 20 After a final morning at Pocosol, we will head to La Selva for a three nights stay. On the way, we will also make a stop at a place where both Uniform and White-throated Crakes are pretty reliable and often show well. Later we will begin our exploration of this excellent area.
Ultimate Costa Rica: Days 21-22 La Selva is the most accessible tract of humid lowland rainforest on the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica. Most of this superb reserve is primary forest; whilst other parts consist of secondary growth, swamp forest, river margins, former plantations and abandoned pasture. The area is now maintained as a natural laboratory by the Organization for Tropical Studies and an excellent network of trails allows access to every habitat. Nowadays, the accommodation at the biological station is quite comfortable and staying at this thriving research facility allows us to be right in the middle of prime habitat at all times of day and night, in contrast to the restricted access hours allowed to those who stay outside the reserve. One feels privileged to have unrestricted access to this unique place, something that comparatively few visitors experience.
Over 400 species have been recorded from the area and a great many of the birds we will encounter will not have been seen earlier in our travels. Rainforest birding is always extremely rewarding, but one must cultivate patience and keep a vigilant watch from ground level to the canopy high above our heads. The easiest birding is to be had around the clearing where the research station is situated. Here the flowering and fruiting trees act as a magnet for many different species of hummingbird and tanagers. As we walk the trails we will hear the plaintive whistles of ground-dwelling tinamous, whilst after a quiet period we may suddenly be surrounded by strange calls and have to play hide and seek with an antbird flock amongst the tangled vegetation. Overhead in the canopy gaudy tanagers, honeycreepers and cotingas are attracted to flowering and fruiting trees.
Amongst the superb selection of birds we expect to find here are Little and Slaty-breasted Tinamous (both hard to see as opposed to hear), Grey-headed Kite, Olive-backed Quail-Dove, Olive-throated Parakeet, Vermiculated Screech-Owl, Short-tailed Nighthawk, Grey-rumped Swift, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Pied Puffbird, Chestnut-coloured and Cinnamon Woodpeckers, Great, Fasciated and Black-crowned Antshrikes, the handsome Snowy Cotinga, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, Long-tailed Tyrant, White-ringed and Yellow-margined Flycatchers, Plain-coloured and Dusky-faced Tanagers and perhaps Yellow-tailed Oriole.
We will also be able to enjoy the awe-inspiring Great Green Macaw and with some luck the shy Agami Heron, and the scarce Spot-fronted Swift. Mammals are elusive, but we will see Collared Peccary and Central American Agouti and may be lucky enough to see a sloth or a noisy troupe of Central American Spider Monkeys, whilst caimans sometimes bask on the riverbanks.
During our stay, we will also make an excursion to Braulio Carrillo National Park to see the near-endemic Lattice-tailed Trogon and also to look for the rare Black-crowned Antpitta (a species that has become very hard to find in recent years).
Ultimate Costa Rica: Day 23 After some final birding in the La Selva area, we will make our way on to the lower slopes of the Poás Volcano for an overnight stay.
Ultimate Costa Rica: Day 24 This morning we will have a final opportunity to look for any species that we have missed up until now. We will also make a special effort to find two more sensational new hummingbirds, namely the exquisite Black-bellied Hummingbird, and the scarce White-bellied Mountaingem, and this is excellent territory for finding one last regional endemic, the smart Sooty-faced Finch. Later we will return to San Jose where our tour ends in the early afternoon at San Jose airport.