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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Costa Rica in Spring

2017 Narrative

In Brief: No one could be blamed for choosing Resplendent Quetzal as their favorite bird on the Costa Rica in Spring tour: we had wonderful views of this magnificent species on three different days, one finally all to ourselves on a quiet trail near the famous town of Monteverde. As a result, it was at the top of the list right next to Scarlet Macaw, always a top contender for bird of the trip. But a surprise Collared Forest-Falcon, rarely seen so well, made it very high on the list, as did the highly endangered Yellow-billed Cotinga. Others voted as favorites were the Crested and Tropical Screech-Owls, always worth the extra effort to see.

In Detail: But in reality it was very difficult to choose favorites when we saw so many species, so many of them colorful gems, and so many of them well. We started with owling in the hotel gardens on the first night, and though not a single toot was uttered, some sharp spotting netted us a close and gorgeous Tropical Screech-Owl. Our first stop the next morning at the Orosi River bridge just below Tapantí-Macizo Cerro de la Muerto National Park was almost overwhelming, with new birds in all directions making it hard to keep up. Montezuma Oropendola was a favorite here, as was Golden-winged Warbler, which we saw in a couple other mixed flocks along the road, and our first stunning Golden-hooded Tanagers. In the first patch of forest we had a handsome Collared Trogon and were surprised by a family group of Black-breasted Wood-Quail right next to the road; a Green-fronted Lancebill on a nest in an abandoned building was fun to see here to. Higher up the road in the national park proper we got lucky with a cooperative Silvery-fronted Tapaculo as well as a stunning male Red-headed Barbet, and finding a pair of rare Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaners was a new experience for everyone. Birding was mostly done for the day, but a couple of quick stops yielded a pair of Emerald Toucanets seen briefly, some gorgeous Long-tailed Silky-flycatchers, and our second species of quail for the day – Spotted Wood-Quail skulking through some bamboo.

Our full day in the Cerro de la Muerte highlands was rich with memorable sightings. We started the day with an impossibly green Resplendent Quetzal, which we shared with about 30 other ecotourists. Some of the best birds of the day were right around the lodge, such as the Spangle-cheeked Tanager that allowed amazingly close approach on the deck, Collared Redstarts around the gardens, Long-tailed Silky-flycatchers feeding on fruiting bushes near our rooms, and Lesser Violetears at the feeders and in the flowers. We enjoyed spectacular views of a pair of Large-footed Finches at our feet, and nearby our patience paid off with excellent views of two enigmatic Wrenthrushes. Higher up we enjoyed Timberline Wrens and a Buffy Tuftedcheek in a mixed flock while endless groups of Barred Parakeets flew over in unprecedented numbers. Our afternoon hike on the trail system resulted in great views of Barred Becard, a pair of curious Black Guans on the road, and a Streak-breasted Treehunter going into a nest burrow in a bank above the road.

The Volcano Juncos at Cerro de la Muerte took much more time than usual, but once they gave up hiding, we couldn’t kick them out of the way. We then began the tropical portion of the tour, easing into the tropical heat at Bosque del Tolomuco, where highlights included Buff-throated Saltator, Bananaquit, Cherrie’s Tanager, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, White-tailed Emerald, Speckled Tanager, and Red-headed Barbets. Making a last birding stop at Rincon before arriving at our home for the next three nights, we had the rare Yellow-billed Cotinga in the middle of the afternoon, while a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron and Summer Tanager seen below eyelevel at the bridge competed for our attention with several Scarlet Macaws flying overhead and landing in the trees.

Our two full days at Bosque del Rio Tigre were among the birdiest of the tour. Some of the bird highlights were right by the lodge, including scads of Blue Ground-Doves and a couple different Little Tinamous at the feeder, Lesson’s Motmot on the bananas (as was a Common Basilisk), and a pair of White Hawks right over the lodge. We didn’t have to go far down the trail system to encounter such amazing birds as Pale-tailed Barbthroat, a very confiding American Pygmy-Kingfisher, Royal Flycatchers foraging near their nest, and a pair of Baird’s Trogons. We went owling one evening and very quickly had a fabulous Crested Owl perched on an open branch. A little higher on the trails system brought us to an Orange-collared Manakin lek where at the same time we had a close encounter with a bold Black-faced Antthrush and overhead too many Yellow-throated Toucans to count. Rufous-tailed Jacamar. White-necked Puffbird, King Vulture, Short-tailed Hawk, Northern Barred-Woodcreeper, Golden-naped Woodpecker, and Philadelphia Vireo were just a few more of the daily highlights seen from this part of the trail. Our walk through the town of Dos Brazos before breakfast featured a pair of White-throated Crakes, an extremely loud Gray-cowled Wood-Rail that began singing just as we spotted it, a pair of Pale-billed Woodpeckers, and the recently split Isthmian Wren building a nest.

The drive northward was long, but featured some fine birds, such as a single Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift at Dominical, as well as a Zone-tailed Hawk and a tree-perched Wood Stork during a quick stop along the main highway. Late afternoon saw us in a drier, more open habitat where Gartered Trogon was a hit, and the hotel grounds had a lovely Turquoise-browed Motmot as well as a noisy Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl right at dusk. The boat trip on the nearby Tárcoles River and in the mangroves was delightful. Southern Lapwings were right near singing Red-winged Blackbirds, the very bold Collared Forest-Falcon flushed from the riverside vegetation and flew to an open perch for amazing photos, Mangrove Warbler and Mangrove Vireo were right where they were supposed to be as were the Yellow-naped Parrots, and Brown Pelicans were over the mouth of the river. We birded the dry forests of the Northwest just a bit, but we racked up many of the specialties including Streak-backed and Spot-breasted Orioles, White-lored Gnatcatchers, White-throated Magpie-Jays, Olive Sparrow, Banded Wren, Turquoise-browed Motmot, and the nominate subspecies of Nutting’s Flycatcher. A bit more of a surprise was a Lesser Ground-Cuckoo which sounded far and impossible, but amazingly we actually saw it skulking in the shade of a hedgerow.

There were plenty of new birds at the Monteverde area though it was the repeat Resplendent Quetzal on a peaceful stretch of trail that really stole the show. A small group of Azure-hooded Jays played coy near the entrance of the Monteverde Reserve, while highlights along the trail included Emerald Toucanets, an Orange-bellied Trogon, Costa Rican Warblers just an arm’s length away, lively Slate-throated Redstarts, super confiding Collared Redstarts, and ethereal Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrushes and Black-faced Solitaires singing. The hummingbird feeders nearby were lively with huge Violet Sabrewings, tiny Coppery-headed Emeralds, and a very recently fledged Green-crowned Brilliant that didn’t quite seem to know the social norms around the feeders. At the Santa Elena Reserve in the afternoon the highlight (besides the quetzal) was a covey of Black-breasted Wood-Quail. A Cabanis’s Wren (duetting with a recording of Canebrake Wren!), cooperative Rufous-and-white Wrens (with their deep, luscious whistled duet), and Brown Jays on the hotel grounds were memorable, and just a couple miles away at the Santuario Ecologico we connected with Long-tailed Manakin and our only Rufous-breasted Wren and Ovenbird of the tour.

Finally on the Caribbean slope, we unlearned “Cherrie’s” and quickly became familiar with Passerini’s Tanagers, while Crimson-collared Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, and Emerald Tanager added some more color. We had our first Keel-billed Toucans along the roadside as well as perched Crested Guan and Great Potoo as we headed to our hotel in the afternoon rain, also a first on the tour. We dodged raindrops much of the next morning, giving us a chance to enjoy the many Montezuma Oropendolas and tanagers at the feeders, but it was quite a shock to see a huge Great Curassow leap out to feed on the elevated platform of watermelon. Also on the grounds were Brown Violetear, Black-crested Coquette, and the most beautiful of amphibians, Red-eyed Treefrog. We had a break in the weather to find Mourning Warbler and Long-tailed Tyrant along the entrance track, and migrating raptors taking advantage of the improved weather included a Peregrine Falcon and an immature Red-tailed Hawk, very scarce here. Tantalizing from the deep, impenetrable undergrowth were singing Thicket Antpittas and Bare-crowned Antbirds. At lunch we were treated to a Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth show as it stretched out on a branch to sun itself, ate a few leaves and shoots, and scratched a few itches. Also at lunch was a handsome Red-billed Pigeon right near a roosting Boat-billed Heron. Red-winged Blackbirds and Laughing Falcons along the drive to our lodge in Horquetas were nice additions, and we finished a long travel day with an amazing heron roost behind our rooms, including more Boat-billed Herons and a locally extremely rare Reddish Egret.

Our full morning at La Selva featured a distant Snowy Cotinga perched up, a close encounter with a Buff-rumped Warbler on the path, Great Curassows and Crested Guans in abundance, a solitary Black-crowned Antshrike along the trail, super loud and close duetting Black-throated Wrens, and Olive-backed Euphonias, Golden-hooded Tanagers, and Blue Dacnises in fruiting trees offering great views. Migrant warblers included a “Lawrence’s” Warbler and Yellow Warbler, as well as a heard-only Kentucky Warbler, right across from a heard-only Vermiculated Screech-Owl, which we decided must be in the perfect hiding place, despite sounding so close. Strawberry Poison-dart Frogs were everywhere. A final highlight of the day was a Laughing Falcon perched right on the entrance road to the lodge, as our afternoon outing was shortened by a prolonged rain that began just as we were heading out.

Our next to last day of the tour turned into something of a marathon to make up for lost time and because the weather was so agreeable all day. We started with hummingbirds at a garden near Braulio Carrillo National Park, where Snowcap, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Crowned Woodnymph and Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer were present, along with our first Black-faced Grosbeaks. At the national park we caught up with a lot of the mixed flock specialties, including Black-and-yellow Tanager, a very cooperative Blue-and-gold Tanager, Striped Woodhaunter, White-ruffed Manakin, and Carmiol’s Tanagers. With the weather being very mild, we were able to bird right through the afternoon back at the lodge, with just a short break. A pair of Barred Antshrike, a striking Summer Tanager, a pair of very confiding White-whiskered Puffbirds, White-collared Manakins, Bay Wrens singing loudly, migrant Chimney Swifts, Least Bittern, and a huge kettle of migrating Swainson’s and Broad-winged hawks were some of the afternoon highlights. We continued owling as it got dark, and Common Pauraques came out to the road and fluttered around us, a Short-tailed Nighthawk danced in the sky overhead, and with patience we watched a magnificent Great Potoo fly in an land on a snag in the open, where it began to emit its growling-stomach song, apparently in a duet with its distant partner.

With one last morning at the lodge, we enjoyed Black-crowned Tityras, a Blue-black Grosbeak, Rufous-tailed Jacamars, always stunning Passerini’s Tanagers, and good views of Royal Flycatcher before we moved back to cooler elevations at La Paz. Along the trail there we had yet another striking red Summer Tanager, our first Slaty Antwrens, ridiculously tame Sooty-faced Finches, and Bay-headed Tanager, while the favorite at the feeders was the unusual Black-bellied Hummingbird. A final walk down to the waterfalls along the La Paz River yielded a pair of American Dippers, our final (and 486th) addition to the official bird list.

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