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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Costa Rica in July

2014 Tour Narrative

In Brief: Rain is good for life – the tropical forests and the residents depend on it, and that’s what we came to Costa Rica for. So when I hadn’t seen a drop in my first three days in the country, I was starting to get a bit worried that things would be too dry. I need not have feared – by the end of the tour the news came that it had been the wettest July on the Caribbean slope in 30 years, thanks to a very persistent El Niño-influenced weather pattern, and we got to enjoy more than our share of it. But there were plenty of breaks and gorgeous spells, and through the showers and occasional downpours we persisted and saw some truly fantastic birds and tropical nature. There were many birds chosen as tour favorites, but getting the most votes by far was the very cooperative (and notably silent) Black-and-white Owl that Ricardo spotted as he was walking to the dining hall before dinner at Maquenque Ecolodge. Others getting high marks were Scarlet Macaws allopreening, Resplendent Quetzal feeding on aguacatillos, Blue-crowned Motmots the very first morning, delightful Snowcaps bathing in the stream below, Spotted Antbirds at an ant swarm, Sunbitterns showing their stunning wing pattern, two different Band-tailed Barbthroats on their hanging nests attached to the undersides of palm fronds, and bonus White-throated Magpie-Jay on the day we escaped the wind and fog.

In Detail: We started the tour with a short walk on the our first night’s hotel grounds where we lucked into a pair of White-eared Ground-Sparrows after enjoying the more reliable Blue-crowned Motmots and numerous Red-billed Pigeons and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds. Then a brief roadside stop near Cartago resulted in a burst of bird activity, with a group of Social Flycatchers living up to their name before we spotted a Sedge Wren already perched out in the open. White-tailed Kite and Eastern Meadowlark were also here before we moved on up to the Talamanca Highlands. We birded on the Providencia road where Timberline Wrens peered out of every thicket. Wrenthrushes calling revealed an almost equal abundance, but we were lucky to find one that was responsive enough to perch out in the open. Paltry Tyrannulets were a daily mark on our checklists, but here there were most common and seen well. A pair of Ochraceous Pewees was our rarest find here, and we saw several Fiery-throated Hummingbirds before we found a patch of nasturtium flowers that allowed us to see the amazing colors in the surprisingly difficult-to-see gorget.

Down in the Savegre river valley in the spread out community of San Gerardo de Dota we managed to see most of the remaining Talamanca specialties in an afternoon and morning. Green Violetears and Magnificent Hummingbirds at the feeders were augmented by a Striped-tailed, several Volcano, a single female Scintillant, and a bossy female Green-crowned Brilliant at flowers. A closely perched Collared Trogon provided that tropical bird color that some were really looking forward to seeing. Sulphur-winged Parakeets were unexpectedly easy in the fruiting trees at our lodge, and the normally shy Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush was ridiculously common and easy to see. We enjoyed Long-tailed Silky-flycatchers and Mountain Elaenias feeding on fruits, while one particular brush pile yielded Yellow-thighed Finch, Large-footed Finch, and Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch at the same time. A Buff-fronted Quail-Dove was seen by only a couple of lucky participants right by our rooms, as was the Emerald Toucanet that flew over at the same location. Not to be forgotten is the main target here, Resplendent Quetzal. One grove of fruiting trees on the roadside just 10 minutes above our lodge was the known spot during this time. We got to enjoy the early morning beauty here, with Tufted Flycatchers overhead and a distant singing Spotted Wood-Quail, but then tourists from all of the valley’s lodges descended on the site just as the first female quetzal appeared, followed by the male. Those who were watching in the right direction also picked up a Black Guan that had been foraging on the fruits of nearby tree and flew across the road. An search for owls and nightjars didn’t result in any birds, but a Mexican Porcupine munching on roadside vegetation was worth the effort. After picking up a pair of Black-cheeked Warblers we found a single juvenile Volcano Junco in the otherworldly habitats of Cerro de la Muerte. Another highlight from here was the gorgeous Highland Alligator Lizard.

White-necked Jacobin was the most abundant bird during our stay at Rancho Naturalista, but we varied that with some time spent watching the trickling stream down the trail by our rooms, where the incomparable Snowcap, Purple-crowned Fairy, Crowned Woodnymph, and Streak-throated Hermit came into bathe by plunging their bellies into the pools. Another set of feeders in the forest had a stunning, huge Violet Sabrewing, Green Hermit, and a male Green-crowned Brilliant, while blooming eucalyptus trees down the road had Green Thorntail and Black-crested Coquette. The same area also had our only Scarlet-thighed Dacnis and White-vented Euphonias of the trip, thanks to the abundant mistletoe berries. In the deeper forests we had good views of Dull-mantled Antbird but heard the interesting song of Scaly-breasted Wren, while the Carmiol’s Tanagers and White-crowned Manakin also allowed us only to hear them. Countless moths at the moth sheet were a delight, but each morning several birds would come pick a few off for breakfast, including Cocoa Woodcreeper, Spotted Woodcreeper, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Tawny-chested Flycatcher, White-breasted Wood-Wren, and Red-throated Ant-Tanager. We also ventured a bit farther to the Platanillo River where we immediately found a Fasciated Tiger-Heron and a rather out-of-habitat Black-crowned Night-Heron. The Torrent Tyrannulet experience here was even better than up in the mountains, with several adorable birds on the rocks below us. We had a fabulous Sunbittern experience with a pair that instead of flushing and disappearing around a bend continued on their foraging route towards us, eventually to the rocks right below, often making a couple flaps between the more separated boulders so we had repeated views of the miraculous wing pattern. After our first rain shower abated, we checked a roadside marsh where we saw Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Thick-billed Seed-Finch, and the local White-throated Flycatcher, while some got merely a glimpse of a White-throated Crake. What turned out to be our only Bat Falcon of the tour was spotted zipping over the marsh with something in its talons and a Blue-and-white Swallow right on its tail; just a few moments earlier there had been two swallows here, so that was our best guess as to the identity of the prey item; the falcon flew far and high out of sight, we presumed to carry the food back to a nest, rather than eating it there on the spot.

Our two days in Tortuguero National Park were an adventure, dominated by four wondrous boat rides on the canals, backwaters, and lagoons. The water was extremely high after the previous weeks of rain, and this is where we finally experienced that. Our first afternoon boat ride, which began with Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Stripe-breasted Wren, a Band-tailed Barbthroat on a nest, and a Long-billed Hermit coaxed out from its lekking perch, ended with a tropical downpour that had us huddling under our ponchos and then ecstatic with the triumph of having survived such an onslaught of energy. But the showers continued. The two and a half hours we waited that night on the airport tarmac with several other expectant groups of tourists (as well as some volunteer high schoolers who had given up on their camp to take shelter in the airport’s “control tower”) was not the hoped for natural history experience as no sea turtles were found for us, but the fireflies and lightning from various directions made for a nice atmosphere. The next morning was our longer boat ride, replete with monkeys (all three species – howlers, spiders, and a single capuchin), ultra-tame Green Ibis, various parrots, a Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, fabulous palms of all sorts, a Satiny Parrot Snake (a different species than we originally thought it was, noted by the two dark lines down the keels on either side of its back), and a closer fly-over of Great Green Macaws that the perched ones we had had upon arrival. We had a fair amount of sun during which we saw soaring Plumbeous Kites and a very out-of-place and worn Barred Hawk, several nice dragonflies and damselflies, as well as a couple Blue-orb Morphos – a bounding hologram of ethereal blue and yellow. Around Turtle Beach Lodge were some birds as well, such as our only Magnificent Frigatebirds, a pair of Slaty-tailed Trogons, fruiting trees with easy-to-see Short-billed Pigeon, Red-capped Manakins, and White-collared Manakins, and singing Bronzy Hermit, and a bold Northern Barred-Woodcreeper. The walk on the muddy forest trail was more than we bargained for – the high water levels meant that the rubber boots we borrowed from the lodge were little more than cosmetic, and all of us ended with wet socks at the least; some got a little wetter than others. Lots of Strawberry Poison-dart Frogs and amazing views of nesting Boat-billed Herons right next to the trail were he rewards for our effort. The night boat ride was much drier and started with singing Green Climbing Toads and a Smoky Jungle Frog, followed by several very cool mammals, best being a bright orange Central American Woolly Opossum with a striking white tail and a Kinkajou clambering about almost as agilely in the canopy. One last boat ride in the early morning was a delight with much more bird song and better weather; responsive birds included a Brown-capped Tyrannulet that wouldn’t stop singing, a pair of Black-crowned Antshrikes (formerly Slay Antshrike, then Western Slaty-Antshrike, but now known to not be closely related to that group), and excitable Bright-rumped Attilas. A pair of Tawny-crested Tanagers were unusual so far from the foothills, and our local guide and boatman showed off their skills by first spotting a White-necked Puffbird and then, even more impressively, a roosting Short-tailed Nighthawk on a high branch. Our grand finale at Tortuguero was the family of several Great Curassows gathered under some breadfruit-like trees as we were making our way back to Ricardo and his bus.

Other than our first Olive-throated Parakeets, Red-lored Parrots, only Mealy Parrots, and countless Gray-breasted Martins, the drive onward to Maquenque passed by uneventfully, and we saw no rain, with a shower just ending as we arrived. We tried owling a short ways up the trail, hearing a yowling Mottled Owl, but turned around just as the real rain set it. It might have rained all night, but those who slept through it were at least woken by the thunder clapping just outside our rooms at 3:00 a.m. The morning started fine though, and hearing both Great and Little Tinamous, we started down the trail where a perfect location allowed us to see White-throated Crake at very close range. But heavy clouds made it dark inside the forest, and birds were quiet; a gorgeous Green-and-black Poison-dart Frog caught by our local guide Pablo was a highlight before the serious rain set in, and we were then forced to watch the parade of colorful birds at the bananas from the dining building for the next several hours. These included, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Black-mandibled Toucan, Crimson-collared, Passerini’s, Golden-hooded, Palm, and Blue-gray Tanagers, and many Red-legged Honeycreepers in every imaginable stage of molt. When the rain finally stopped we found a female Nicaraguan Seed-Finch and a preening Slaty Spinetail at a nearby marsh, then later tried for owls back at the ranch, where instead we were serenaded by a string of Green Ibis flying from treetop to treetop, followed by a pair of Short-tailed Nighthawks and Common Pauraque as it grew dark. Then as we were starting our checklist session before dinner, Ricardo ran up to announce he had seen an owl land over the track while walking back from his room, but he hadn’t spotlighted it, hoping it would stay for us. And stay it did; a gorgeous and silent Black-and-white Owl perched out in the open long enough for everyone to be notified from all areas of the lodge before it flew off, never to be heard. A final morning in the gardens and on the trail with much improved weather resulted in a few new things such as Fasciated Antshrike, Bay Wren, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, and a Long-tailed Tyrant missing its streamers, while a Central American Agouti, White-nosed Coati, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, and flyover Great Green Macaws were closer to the lodge. As we departed a pair of Snowy Cotingas were a terrific send off, as was a Scarlet Macaw right by the road in Boca Tapada. We made our way to Celeste Mountain Lodge, stopping for lunch by a bunch of Green Iguanas and the best ice cream in Costa Rica. Another good find by Ricardo was a Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth in a cecropia tree right by the road, not far from our next lodge.

The gorgeous cloud forests of Celeste Mountain Lodge yielded some great birds, at least when the unseasonal rain, fog, and wind relented, which it did from time to time. The best time on the trail was an afternoon when the sun came out and birds began to sing and feed. An apparent ant swarm held a Northern Barred-Woodcreeper, Spotted Antbirds, and Bicolored Antbirds, while just down the trail a Nightingale Wren sang its amazing composition. We came across a Keel-billed Motmot that seemed paired and duetting with a Broad-billed Motmot, but a third bird with them turned out to be another Broad-billed, so who knows what sort of relationship they were in. A group of Tody Motmots once again proved this to be one of the best areas in the country for this local species. Other trail highlights were a huge flock of Carmiol’s Tanagers, a furtive Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, a small group of Brown-hooded Parrots frozen in the midstory, a pair of Zeledon’s Antbird (formerly known as Immaculate Antbird), a Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush hopping on the trail, and a pair of Crested Guans in a cecropia tree, later resighted in the same trees visible from across the valley at the lodge deck. We manage quite a few nice birds along the road where the taller trees were more visible, at least in the afternoon and morning when it wasn’t raining with constant wind and fog. Cinnamon Woodpecker proved to be unusually common by call, and we saw one quite well. A female Golden-browed Chlorophonia was seen but not quite as cooperative, and we all finally saw Bronze-tailed Plumeleteers, Gartered Trogon, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, White-fronted Nunbird, White-ruffed Manakin (everywhere), Rufous-winged Tanager, and Golden-bellied Flycatcher among the highlights. At the lodge itself, we spied several Swallow-tailed Kites taking advantage of one of the nice sunny moments, and several times a pair of bold Barred Antshrike came under the roof of the lodge, even into the lushly-planted atrium. Other birds that came into the lodge interior included a Long-billed Hermit that tried out a flower arrangement, Clay-colored Thrush, Great Kiskadee, Hepatic Tanager, and, of course, House Wren. We did a couple short but productive night walks, the prize being a Crested Owl that flew in overhead in the same cecropias as the Crested Guan. The tiny little pond in the garden was most productive with herps – five species of frogs, including the gorgeous Red-eyed Treefrog, and three amazing little snakes (Lichen-colored Snail-eater, Cloudy Snail-eater, and Northern Cat-eyed Snake) were all in the surrounding foliage. The weather finally did force us to lower elevations on our last full day, where we did at least escape the fog. White Ibis, White-tailed Kite, and a lovely male Nicaraguan Seed-Finch were the highlights on the Caribbean side near Upala, while a trip to the Pacific slope resulted in quite a few additions, such as Laughing Falcon, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, White-throated Magpie-Jay, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Stripe-headed Sparrow, and a tree full of Yellow-crowned Euphonias.

- Rich Hoyer

August 2014

Beginning the tour with Resplendent Quetzal, one of the fanciest, most beautiful birds in the New World, may not seem like the best idea for a birding tour. But it meant only that the birding started fabulous and stayed that way – this was Costa Rica, after all. Especially memorable highlights mentioned by the observers this year included Green Violetears flaring their ear coverts at the Savegre feeders; a gorgeous Sunbittern which showed its wing pattern near Rancho Naturalista; and Nightingale Wren, which at first taunted us with only distant but amazing songs, but would eventually show itself unusually well in the dark forest understory. At Tortuguero National Park, the highlights were an American Pygmy Kingfisher, a very close Boat-billed Heron that barely opened its eyes to acknowledge our presence and a Crested Owl that scared off a Spectacled Owl and then looked down upon us. Maquenque Ecolodge’s undoubted highlight was a heard-only Tawny-faced Quail, but an ornate Ocellated Antbird away from army ants and a displaying Red-capped Manakin (doing the moon walk, among other actions) were hard to beat. Finally, at Celeste Mountain Lodge, a Tiny Hawk chasing two Yellow-eared Toucanets was a once-in-a-lifetime observation, while other especially memorable birds from there were an incredibly confiding Thrushlike Schiffornis and White-throated Crake and a surprise pair of Jabirus.

 

We began our birding in the cool cloud forests of the Talamanca Mountains not far from Costa Rica’s capital. They are frequently foggy, drizzly or rainy, but we arrived on a gorgeous sunny morning and within moments were taking in the brilliant hues of a Fiery-throated Hummingbird feeding from roadside flowers. The entire body was glittering green with golden highlights throughout, contrasting with the rich purple tail, always visible as it darted between flowers in the Erica and Lobelia families. Then every few moments, taking our breath away, was the brilliant starburst that lit up its throat, centered with cherry red, blending outwardly with orange then yellow, continuous with the glittering green of the breast. It was a great bird to start the tour with. After great views of the enigmatic Wrenthrush, Black-capped Flycatcher and Timberline Wren, we tried to make our way to our hotel for lunch only to be sidelined by a female Resplendent Quetzal perched over the road. This is the spot we would return the next morning only to find five or six quetzals feeding in the same trees. The rest of our birding in the Talamanca Highlands was terrific, from the hummers at the feeders to perched Sulphur-winged Parakeets, a Silvery-fronted Tapaculo crawling around in the open and Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrushes so common and confiding we had to almost kick them out of the way.

 

We were then off to Rancho Naturalista, first stopping to see Volcano Junco at Cerro de la Muerte and doing a bit of roadside birding where Crimson-fronted Parakeets and an Eastern Meadowlark added themselves to our lists. At Rancho Naturalista we were dazzled by the birding from the balcony – the hummers at the feeders really stole the show, but Orange-billed Sparrow, Montezuma Oropendola and female and immature male Snowcaps at the flowers were outdone by the immature Bicolored Hawk one morning. It took a bit of patience to find male Snowcap, but we were rewarded with two – one at flowers, and one showing its blindingly white crown as it bathed in the ponds below us. Not to be forgotten here was the amazing show of moths at the nightlight and white sheet on our last morning.

 

On to famous Tortuguero, we did see Green Sea Turtles on the regimented visit to the beach one night; alas we were only able to see females returning to the ocean, as is sometimes the case. But the birding was worth the trip, especially our late afternoon boat ride where we saw American Pygmy and Green-and-rufous kingfishers, three Gray-headed Kites, Semiplumbeous Hawk, a Crested Guan and a super-close Boat-billed Heron. Our morning boat ride also had some memorable birds, such as Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, a Snowy Cotinga and a singing Bare-throated Tiger-Heron up in a tree. By the lodge, we were treated to the Crested Owl and a Plain-brown Woodcreeper going to roost, as well as a group of Red-ruffed Fruitcrows and a very confiding Short-billed Pigeon. Among the other critters we enjoyed the amazing chorus of frogs, and frequent sightings of Strawberry Poison-dart Frogs were complete with one male carrying a tadpole on his back.

 

Returning to the center of the country with a short flight, we added a bit of birding and a lunch stop in the central highlands, which was extremely productive, again with the hummingbird feeders dominating the show. New for us were the Coppery-headed Emerald, Black-bellied Hummingbirds, Violet Sabrewings and Purple-throated Mountain-gems, but walking the trails through the mossy and ferny cloud forest was also good, with mixed flocks containing birds such as Spotted Barbtail, Spangle-cheeked Tanager and an albino Gray-breasted Wood-Wren.

 

The birding continued to be more than excellent near the Nicaraguan border at our next lodging of Maquenque Ecolodge. It was only a little frustrating not to see the rarest bird of the trip, a very close Tawny-faced Quail, but the dense understory, steep slopes above us, and beckoning breakfast drew the line for us. The habitat behind our rooms was amazingly birdy (we even heard the quail from here), with Cinnamon Becard, Lineated Woodpecker, glowing Blue-necked Tanagers and Mottled Owl just a few examples. The gardens planted with a mind-boggling diversity of heliconias always had hummers such as Green-breasted Mango, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird (doing its amazing song of mimicry) and Bronzy Hermit, but our best birding was on the trails. The uncommon Ocellated Antbird rivals many of the South American members of the family for its gaudy plumage, so we were very lucky to find one away from an ant swarm. We finally managed to pull in a Pied Puffbird onto a visible perch, heard a Rufous Piha from the same high branches, had very close Chestnut-backed Antbird, and spent a good amount of time enjoying the different display elements of the Red-capped Manakins there. One day we had many close views of Scarlet Macaws, and in a nearby marsh some Nicaraguan Seed-Finches with the huge pink bills on the males were a good find. Finding two small Hog-nosed Vipers by the trail was a treat (and happily for us, they were small and not aggressive), as were a Pug-nosed Anole and the almost plastic-looking Green-and-black Poison-dart Frogs.

 

Our final lodging near Tenorio National Park was perfectly situated adjacent to extensive protected habitat in the form of private easements and the national park itself, as well as being at a comfortable middle elevation and offering the best food of our entire stay in a very nice hotel. The birding to come was hinted on a short stroll on our first afternoon by the immature Tiny Hawk we watched in the scope at length. We then had two full days of one highlight after the next, such as the same Tiny Hawk dreaming it might be able to catch the larger Yellow-eared Toucanets just a few yards from us; a pair of Dull-mantled Antbirds just a few feet below the trail; multiple Tody Motmots (whose dawn duets were audible from our rooms!); rarely seen Keel-billed Motmots; Lattice-tailed and Orange-bellied Trogons; White Hawk; and some great critters such as a shield mantis, bizarre giant katydids that looked like clumps of lichen, gorgeous Red-eyed Tree-Frogs, and several moths. It seemed like a tie though between a stunning Eyelash Viper that one of the trail maintenance guys found in t

Beginning the tour with Resplendent Quetzal, one of the fanciest, most beautiful birds in the New World, may not seem like the best idea for a birding tour. But it meant only that the birding started fabulous and stayed that way – this was Costa Rica, after all. Especially memorable highlights mentioned by the observers this year included Green Violetears flaring their ear coverts at the Savegre feeders; a gorgeous Sunbittern which showed its wing pattern near Rancho Naturalista; and Nightingale Wren, which at first taunted us with only distant but amazing songs, but would eventually show itself unusually well in the dark forest understory. At Tortuguero National Park, the highlights were an American Pygmy Kingfisher, a very close Boat-billed Heron that barely opened its eyes to acknowledge our presence and a Crested Owl that scared off a Spectacled Owl and then looked down upon us. Maquenque Ecolodge’s undoubted highlight was a heard-only Tawny-faced Quail, but an ornate Ocellated Antbird away from army ants and a displaying Red-capped Manakin (doing the moon walk, among other actions) were hard to beat. Finally, at Celeste Mountain Lodge, a Tiny Hawk chasing two Yellow-eared Toucanets was a once-in-a-lifetime observation, while other especially memorable birds from there were an incredibly confiding Thrushlike Schiffornis and White-throated Crake and a surprise pair of Jabirus.

We began our birding in the cool cloud forests of the Talamanca Mountains not far from Costa Rica’s capital. They are frequently foggy, drizzly or rainy, but we arrived on a gorgeous sunny morning and within moments were taking in the brilliant hues of a Fiery-throated Hummingbird feeding from roadside flowers. The entire body was glittering green with golden highlights throughout, contrasting with the rich purple tail, always visible as it darted between flowers in the Erica and Lobelia families. Then every few moments, taking our breath away, was the brilliant starburst that lit up its throat, centered with cherry red, blending outwardly with orange then yellow, continuous with the glittering green of the breast. It was a great bird to start the tour with. After great views of the enigmatic Wrenthrush, Black-capped Flycatcher and Timberline Wren, we tried to make our way to our hotel for lunch only to be sidelined by a female Resplendent Quetzal perched over the road. This is the spot we would return the next morning only to find five or six quetzals feeding in the same trees. The rest of our birding in the Talamanca Highlands was terrific, from the hummers at the feeders to perched Sulphur-winged Parakeets, a Silvery-fronted Tapaculo crawling around in the open and Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrushes so common and confiding we had to almost kick them out of the way.

We were then off to Rancho Naturalista, first stopping to see Volcano Junco at Cerro de la Muerte and doing a bit of roadside birding where Crimson-fronted Parakeets and an Eastern Meadowlark added themselves to our lists. At Rancho Naturalista we were dazzled by the birding from the balcony – the hummers at the feeders really stole the show, but Orange-billed Sparrow, Montezuma Oropendola and female and immature male Snowcaps at the flowers were outdone by the immature Bicolored Hawk one morning. It took a bit of patience to find male Snowcap, but we were rewarded with two – one at flowers, and one showing its blindingly white crown as it bathed in the ponds below us. Not to be forgotten here was the amazing show of moths at the nightlight and white sheet on our last morning.

On to famous Tortuguero, we did see Green Sea Turtles on the regimented visit to the beach one night; alas we were only able to see females returning to the ocean, as is sometimes the case. But the birding was worth the trip, especially our late afternoon boat ride where we saw American Pygmy and Green-and-rufous kingfishers, three Gray-headed Kites, Semiplumbeous Hawk, a Crested Guan and a super-close Boat-billed Heron. Our morning boat ride also had some memorable birds, such as Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, a Snowy Cotinga and a singing Bare-throated Tiger-Heron up in a tree. By the lodge, we were treated to the Crested Owl and a Plain-brown Woodcreeper going to roost, as well as a group of Red-ruffed Fruitcrows and a very confiding Short-billed Pigeon. Among the other critters we enjoyed the amazing chorus of frogs, and frequent sightings of Strawberry Poison-dart Frogs were complete with one male carrying a tadpole on his back.

Returning to the center of the country with a short flight, we added a bit of birding and a lunch stop in the central highlands, which was extremely productive, again with the hummingbird feeders dominating the show. New for us were the Coppery-headed Emerald, Black-bellied Hummingbirds, Violet Sabrewings and Purple-throated Mountain-gems, but walking the trails through the mossy and ferny cloud forest was also good, with mixed flocks containing birds such as Spotted Barbtail, Spangle-cheeked Tanager and an albino Gray-breasted Wood-Wren.

The birding continued to be more than excellent near the Nicaraguan border at our next lodging of Maquenque Ecolodge. It was only a little frustrating not to see the rarest bird of the trip, a very close Tawny-faced Quail, but the dense understory, steep slopes above us, and beckoning breakfast drew the line for us. The habitat behind our rooms was amazingly birdy (we even heard the quail from here), with Cinnamon Becard, Lineated Woodpecker, glowing Blue-necked Tanagers and Mottled Owl just a few examples. The gardens planted with a mind-boggling diversity of heliconias always had hummers such as Green-breasted Mango, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird (doing its amazing song of mimicry) and Bronzy Hermit, but our best birding was on the trails. The uncommon Ocellated Antbird rivals many of the South American members of the family for its gaudy plumage, so we were very lucky to find one away from an ant swarm. We finally managed to pull in a Pied Puffbird onto a visible perch, heard a Rufous Piha from the same high branches, had very close Chestnut-backed Antbird, and spent a good amount of time enjoying the different display elements of the Red-capped Manakins there. One day we had many close views of Scarlet Macaws, and in a nearby marsh some Nicaraguan Seed-Finches with the huge pink bills on the males were a good find. Finding two small Hog-nosed Vipers by the trail was a treat (and happily for us, they were small and not aggressive), as were a Pug-nosed Anole and the almost plastic-looking Green-and-black Poison-dart Frogs.

Our final lodging near Tenorio National Park was perfectly situated adjacent to extensive protected habitat in the form of private easements and the national park itself, as well as being at a comfortable middle elevation and offering the best food of our entire stay in a very nice hotel. The birding to come was hinted on a short stroll on our first afternoon by the immature Tiny Hawk we watched in the scope at length. We then had two full days of one highlight after the next, such as the same Tiny Hawk dreaming it might be able to catch the larger Yellow-eared Toucanets just a few yards from us; a pair of Dull-mantled Antbirds just a few feet below the trail; multiple Tody Motmots (whose dawn duets were audible from our rooms!); rarely seen Keel-billed Motmots; Lattice-tailed and Orange-bellied Trogons; White Hawk; and some great critters such as a shield mantis, bizarre giant katydids that looked like clumps of lichen, gorgeous Red-eyed Tree-Frogs, and several moths. It seemed like a tie though between a stunning Eyelash Viper that one of the trail maintenance guys found in the vegetation over the trail and the Olingo (a procyonid, a distant Raccoon relative) walking around in the forest canopy on our last night walk, scenting the branches.

This new itinerary was a terrific mix of high, middle and low elevations at a time of year that turns out to be superb for birding and a variety of tropical wildlife, and we look forward to another return to some of the finest lodges in Central America.

- Rich Hoyer

August 2011

he vegetation over the trail and the Olingo (a procyonid, a distant Raccoon relative) walking around in the forest canopy on our last night walk, scenting the branches.

 

This new itinerary was a terrific mix of high, middle and low elevations at a time of year that turns out to be superb for birding and a variety of tropical wildlife, and we look forward to another return to some of the finest lodges in Central America.

 

- Rich Hoyer

August 2011

Updated: September 2014