Skip to navigation, or go to main content.

WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Costa Rica in July

2017 Narrative

In Brief: Costa Rica in July was the perfect getaway from the summer heat to enjoy an amazing selection of tropical species in an agreeable climate. We had nearly perfect weather throughout, beginning and ending with refreshingly cool elevations.  There were so many wonderful experiences with the birds we saw, a single outstanding favorite was not to be had. The exquisitely cute Central American Pygmy-Owl just barely got the most votes on the tour, and we were lucky to see a total of three of them. Great Tinamous singing their haunting songs (audible from our rooms), Snowcaps darting amongst the porterweed flowers, a Crested Owl called into view at Celeste Mountain Lodge, multiple radiant Resplendent Quetzals, a stately Bare-throated Tiger-Heron preening and going into a sun-worshipping pose (the video can be seen here:, and adorable Pied Puffbirds near Maquenque all tied, all receiving just one less vote than the pygmy-owl. Other favorites were the surprise White-crested Coquette and the huge and showy Violet Sabrewing at Rancho Naturalista. White-collared Manakin doing its firecracker displays and a sleeping Ringed Kingfisher on our night boat ride were favorites at Tortuguero. At Maquenque it was a pair of Lineated Woodpeckers that put on a lengthy show, and there we also had our best views of two more top favorites, Common Tody-Flycatcher and Green Honeycreeper.

In Detail: We had one of the most unexpected birds of the tour within the first hour of birding and just down the street from our San José area hotel when a juvenile Bicolored Hawk flew in and landed for extended views. We then made roadside stops where we netted the very local (and potentially splittable) Sedge Wren and Eastern Meadowlark before we found ourselves in the Talamanca Highlands. There we had good views of several Fiery-throated Hummingbirds and an unbelievably cooperative Wrenthrush, newly placed in its own family. In failing to find quetzals on our first attempt we instead saw Red-headed Barbet, Northern Emerald-Toucanet, and Large-footed Finch while watching endless flocks of Barred Parakeets fly over, a running total coming to 4530 birds. At our lodge, Flame-colored Tanager and Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher finished the day’s exciting birding.

We had no problem finding Resplendent Quetzals before breakfast, but then afterward they were even more cooperative right outside our rooms. We had a bit more birding near our lodge where we found a gorgeous Elegant Euphonia and super confiding Collared Redstarts, and then just up the road watched a Bat Falcon dive bomb a Red-tailed Hawk. The drive to Rancho Naturalista was highlighted by a Three-toed Sloth next to the highway (along with a good diversity of butterflies in the roadside weeds), and shortly after arrival saw our first Snowcap, a female in the porterweed hedge.

Our full day from Rancho Naturalista was spectacular. In the morning we had a stunning male Snowcap along the driveway. For the rest of the morning we drove to La Mina, stopping along the way for White-throated Flycatcher, at which location we continued to add birds, including our first stunning Passerini’s Tanagers and a Yellow-billed Cacique in the open. At La Mina we had more tanagers, including Bay-headed, but the prize bird here was our main target, Sunbittern, which we watched at length prowling the rushing river from the boulders and sandbars. Back at the Rancho we saw Golden-olive and Lineated Woodpeckers along the drive and then had a spectacular time watching the hummingbirds at Rancho Bajo, where the expected Black-crested Coquette was joined by a super rare White-crested Coquette.

We didn’t intend on doing much birding en route to Tortuguero, but a two-hour highway closure from an early morning accident forced us to find some rather good birds. While getting great views of a pair of White-throated Crakes, a singing and rather out-of-range Yellow-bellied Seedeater was singing from the power lines. A bit farther down, where there was some roadside habitat, a mixed flock had a Tropical Parula, while a pair of Bay Wrens eventually revealed themselves in the undergrowth before the traffic finally cleared. One of the tour highlights was our night boat ride on the canals once we finally got to our lodge at Tortuguero. We were continually impressed by our boatman John’s ability to spot things. We saw both and Common Great Potoos on their night foraging posts, a juvenile Rufescent Tiger-Heron still by the nest, and several sleeping birds, the most memorable of which were Russet-naped Wood-Rail, Ringed Kingfisher, and two American Pygmy-Kingfishers at arm’s length.

Our full day at Tortuguero was the only one that was hampered by any rain, but we still managed to see some great birds. John once again impressed us with his eyesight when he spotted a roosting Black-and-white Owl from the boat. Elsewhere on our boat ride to and from town we spent time with a very tame Northern Jacana, spied a pair of Great Green Macaws perched above the river, and found an early southbound Purple Martin. In town we were lucky to catch sight of a Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle as it departed the canopy for its morning soar. At the lodge we saw few birds, but a Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, White-collared Manakin, and Red-capped Manakin were memorable. We had an unforgettable experience watching a Green Sea Turtle laying eggs, and on our late night return to the lodge were woken by the boatman who suddenly stopped the boat for a stunning adult Agami Heron on its roost right over the river.

On our final morning at Tortuguero a brief early morning rain shower fooled most participants into thinking it was a long, heavy rain, but it lasted only about 15 minutes, and our delightful dawn boat trip didn’t have a drop of water. Bird activity was high, with Stripe-breasted Wrens singing around every bend, and mixed flocks and mobs decorated the trees with Green Honeycreepers, Shining Honeycreepers, and hummingbirds while kingfishers cruised the edges. Before we departed, Scarlet Macaws and big flocks of Red-lored Parrots flew over the lodge, while a Louisiana Waterthrush waltzed on the ground by the walkway. The drive to Maquenque Ecolodge was mostly uneventful, but late afternoon bird activity picked up and highlights were Bat Falcon and Laughing Falcon during quick roadside stops.

Maquenque was such a pleasant place to watch birds on our one full day here. The forests were mostly silent, making us wonder if Hurricane Otto hadn’t done some serious harm to the birds. We did see Blue-black Grosbeak there and tooted in our first Central American Pymgy-Owl. But open areas were teeming with birds, and Long-tailed Tyrant, Yellow Tyrannulet, Purple Gallinules with chicks, Scarlet Macaws, and a Nicaraguan Seed-Finch were highlights from the day.

We returned to a side road nearby to get the Nicaraguan Seed-Finch again, and here we also had a repeat performance of Pied Puffbirds and very close Olive-backed Euphonia and a flyover of Great Green Macaw. The day was then mostly devoted to the drive to the slopes of Volcán Tenorio, but hearing and just barely glimpsing a pair of Ocellated Antbirds was a treat not long after we arrived at Celeste Mountain Lodge.

Two days based at our lodge in the cool elevations of Volcán Tenorio were delightful. We had had some views of King Vulture, but it was here we finally got really good views of a low-flying individual. The pair of Costa Rican Pygmy-Owls were being harassed by the scarce and beautiful Rufous-winged Tanager along the same road nearby. The trail system just cross from the lodge finally yielded its Tody Motmots, but not before we had an amazing encounter with a Nightingale Wren, a pair of Dull-mantled Antbirds, and a Purplish-backed Quail-Dove. But the real highlight from the trail were the mother and baby Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloths cradled in a branch in the cloud forest canopy, found by Enrique, our driver. The video of them cuddling was Rich’s most watched Facebook uploads (2200 views), which can be seen here:

On our last full day we hiked in to Tenorio National Park, hoping for a few new birds and we had one very fine one – Keel-billed Motmot right overhead. Rufous-winged Tanager was also a highlight there, but all birds were outshone by two snakes – a Common Lancehead and a Cope’s Vine Snake, both right next to the trail and providing amazing photo opportunities. Back near our lodge, the trail again produced Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, while Buff-rumped Warbler, Barred Antshrike, and Passerini’s Tanager all were memorable sightings from nearby.

Created: 06 October 2017