I can say it was a great tour. Forrest and Richard were fantastic leaders. I would bird with them anywhere.
The small nation of Costa Rica has geared itself heavily towards avitourism and has developed a superb infrastructure to service the numerous visiting birders, and with over 850 species it is easy to understand why! The backbone of the country is formed by a scenic mountain range, and here the cloud forests are home to exotic species including the unbelievable Snowcap, Resplendent Quetzal, Cabanis’s Ground Sparrow, Buff-fronted and Chiriqui Quail-Dove, Great Green Macaw, Snowy Cotinga, Black-crested Coquette, Black Guan and Golden-browed Chlorophonia. Our tour is also perfectly timed to coincide with migration at Kekoldi, considered one the best raptor migration observing points on Earth. With daily totals ranging as high as 100,000 Swainson’s Hawks, 80,000 Broad-winged Hawks, 20,000 Mississippi Kites and tens of thousands of other species mixed in – our time here will surely be one of the tour highlights! A wide variety of habitats that include the Caribbean highlands down to the humid coastal plain will be explored on our tour, and we can look forward to many striking species of trogons, toucans, motmots, hummingbirds and migrant warblers, among many other spectacular birds. Thrilling birding, quality lodges and a relaxed pace make this destination perfect for anyone who has yet to experience the exciting avifauna of Central America!
Snowcap, Resplendent Quetzal, Cabanis’s Ground Sparrow, Buff-fronted, Chiriqui & Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, Great Green Macaw, Snowy & Lovely Cotinga, Black Guan, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Hoffman’s & Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Lesson’s Motmot, Buffy-crowned Wood Partridge, Black Guan, Prong-billed Barbet, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Black-billed, Slaty-backed & Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrush. Sooty & Mountain Thrush, Black-and-yellow Phainoptila, Flame-throated & Black-cheeked Warbler, Large-footed & Yellow-thighed Finch, Wrenthrush, Black-breasted Wood Quail, Scaled & Thicket Antpitta, Golden-crowned & Costa Rican Warbler, Bare-shanked Screech Owl, Dusky Nightjar, White-throated & Uniform Crake, Bat Falcon, Keel-billed & Black-mandibled Toucan, Emerald, Black-and-yellow & Blue-and-gold Tanager, Spotted, Bare-crowned & Ocellated Antbird, Black-crowned Antshrike, White-throated Shrike-Tanager, Black-crowned Gnatpitta, Gartered, Slaty-tailed & Black-throated Trogon, White-collared, White-crowned, White-ruffed & Red-capped Manakin, Montezuma Oropendola
For Hummingbirds fanatics:
Snowcap, Admirable, Fiery-throated, Volcano, Scintillant, Black-bellied, Scaly-breasted, Steely-vented & Blue-chested Hummingbird, Purple-throated & White-bellied Mountaingem, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Violet Sabrewing, Green Thorntail, Coppery-headed Emerald, White-necked Jacobin, Green-breasted Mango, Black-crested Coquette, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Green Hermit, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Green-crowned Brilliant.
Central American Agouti, Central American Spider Monkey, Black-and-gold Howler Monkey
Caribbean highlands, humid coastal plain, cloud forest,
mostly tropical conditions; warm to humid with cooler conditions in mountainous areas
mostly relaxed with some longer walks
Kekoldi raptor migration, considered one the best raptor migration observation points on Earth
Day 1: Arrival in San José
After arriving at Juan Santamaría International Airport in San José, you will be transferred to a hotel near the city for an overnight stay. Today is scheduled as an arrival day so you can arrive at any time you wish. This evening we will all meet at dinner to discuss our forthcoming Costa Rica birding tour adventures.
Day 2: San José to Bosque de Paz via Volcan Poas
This morning on our Costa Rica birding tour, we start the day out hitting a stakeout or two for the recently split endemic Cabanis’s Ground Sparrow. There are a couple good spots for this, and other San Jose Valley species like Hoffman’s Woodpecker, Lesson’s Motmot, and Buffy-crowned Wood Partridge (rare) en route up Volcan Poas, where we will spend the better part of our first morning in Costa Rica. Volcan Poas offers a suite of species that we won’t be encountering later on the tour. At nearly 9,000 feet elevation, many of the high-elevation montane scrub species endemic to Costa Rica and Panama can be found on the slopes of this active scenic, active, volcano. Specialty Hummingbirds are a highlight here, and a great way to start the tour! The recently-split Admirable Hummingbird is numerous, as it the gorgeous endemic Fiery-throated Hummingbird. Volcano and Scintillant Hummingbird are fairly common, as well. Other regularly encountered species occupying the beautiful temperate, bromeliad-clad forests here include Black Guan, Prong-billed Barbet, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Ruddy Treerunner, Dark Pewee, Black-capped Flycatcher, Barred Becard, Yellow-winged Vireo, Ochraceous Wren, Black-billed Nightingale Thrush, Sooty and Mountain Thrushes, Long-tailed Silky, Black-and-Yellow Phainoptila (Silky Flycatcher), Flame-throated and Black-cheeked Warblers, Collared Redstart, Sooty-capped Chlorospingus, Large-footed and Yellow-thighed Finches, even a shot at the tricky monotypic near endemic Wrenthrush! An amazing suite of birds possible here, though we would be very fortunate indeed to catch all of them on the first day.
After lunch at some very productive bird feeders, and a bit more birding in the lush roadside forest thereabouts, we will make our way to Bosque de Paz, where lush, hacienda-like accommodations, and amazing food, await us!
Day 3: Bosque de Paz
We will devote the entire day to seeking out the many wonderful highland birds on the property here. The lodge grounds at Bosque de Paz (at about 7,000 feet above sea level) are beautiful, and the feeder setup attracts a fantastic variety of mid-elevation cloud forests birds. More often than not, the first bird of the day is Black Guan. As many as a dozen of these beauties come to visit the feeders here in a given morning! Highland Tinamou, Black-breasted Wood Quail, and both Buff-fronted and Chiriqui Quail-Doves frequent the forest trail system which we will be focusing much of today’s birding efforts. Green Hermit, Purple-throated Mountain Gem, Green-crowned Brilliant, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Violet Sabrewing, and Scintillant Hummingbird are all regular at the feeders here, among other more widespread species.
Naturally, one of the most hoped-for species at this site, and also possible up Volcan Poas, is the iconic Resplendant Quetzal. This spectacular species is regularly seen on the property, and sometimes even from the road nearby! Orange-bellied Trogon, Prong-billed Barbet, Emerald Toucanet, Smoky-brown, Hairy, and Golden-olive Woodpeckers, Slaty Antwren, Zeledon’s Antbird, Scaled Antpitta, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Lineated Foliage-Gleaner, Streak-breasted Treehunter, Spotted Barbtail, Tufted, Yellowish, and Golden-bellied Flycatchers, Azure-hooded Jay, American Dipper, Black-faced Solitaire, Slaty-backed and Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrushes, Golden-crowned and Costa Rican Warblers, Spangle-cheeked and Silver-throated Tanagers, Chestnut-capped Brushfinch, and Golden-browed Chlorophonia are all resident along the trails and forest edge of this amazing conservation success. Being owned and operated by one of the most influential political families in the country, who have dedicated much of their lives to promoting and founding National Parks and natural preserves in the area, we can all feel privileged to patronize this fine establishment! A bit of night-birding might turn up, with great luck, Bare-shanked Screech Owl or Dusky Nightjar, though both are scarce.
Day 4: Bosque de Paz to Arenal via Cataratas del Toro
Today on our Costa Rica birding tour, we venture lower down the Caribbean slope of the cordillera to 5000 fasl and the stunning Cataratas del Toro. This special site, not yet as well-known as many other birding hotspots in Costa Rica, is a must! Ignoring the numerous viewpoints of the plummeting waterfall itself, set amidst literally of thousands of acres of pristine Caribbean slope montane cloud forest, the humble restaurant and abode of the owners is surrounded by hummingbird feeders and is the hub of a ridiculously productive loop trail that courses through a myriad of cloud forest habitats. One could easily spend one’s entire visit to this site, marvelling at the colours and sound hovering around the numerous hummingbird feeders. Some of the highest quality hummingbirds of our entire tour will be seen here: Green Hermit, Brown Violetear, Violet Sabrewing, White-bellied Mountain Gem, Green Thorntail, and two fine endemics – Coppery-headed Emerald and Black-bellied Hummingbird – are all regular visitors in good number here!!!
Wandering the trails here, mixed flocks are practically an eventuality. Though some of the species will be known to us already, new species we may find here include Red-fronted Parrotlet, Red-eyed and Warbling Vireos, Buff-fronted and Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaners, Spotted and, if we are lucky, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Rufous Mourner, Slaty Antwren, or even Black-thighed Grosbeak!
After spending ample time, and enjoying a leisurely lunch viewing hummers, we will drive to La Fortuna, at the base of the conical, iconic, Arenal Volcano. We will stop briefly at another relative “hole-in-the-wall” locally known as Sendero Bogarin. This small trail at the edge of town runs adjacent to a heavily vegetated wetland and thick tangles. Though not always cooperative, on previous visits, we have seen both White-throated and Uniform Crakes walking practically at our feet!!! Views like this, of Crakes, are rare indeed. Hopefully, the birds will oblige in short time, and we will arrive early at our ideally located lodge. For the next two nights, we will be nestled in the foothills on the south side of the Arenal Volcano, with commanding views of both the mountain (should the clouds oblige!) and Lake Arenal below.
Day 5: Arenal
We have a full day to bird the Arenal area, spending much of our time on the trails, bridges and overlooks of the fabulous Arenal Sky Trek property. Some of the many splendid birds that we have good possibilities of finding here are Grey-headed Chachalaca, Bat Falcon, Keel-billed and Black-mandibled Toucans, White-crowned Parrot, Squirrel Cuckoo, Rufous and Broad-billed Motmots, the rare Yellow-eared Toucanet, Golden-olive and Lineated Woodpeckers, Bay and Stripe-breasted Wrens, Slaty Spinetail, Yellow-crowned, Yellow-throated, and Tawny-capped Euphonias. We will also keep a close eye out for Fasciated Tiger Heron along the river course and hope to locate the bright Lovely Cotinga that often perches motionlessly in the canopy for long periods of time.
Tanagers will continue to add colour to the day with flocks containing the eye-searing Crimson-collared, Golden-hooded, Bay-headed, Black-and-yellow, Blue-and-gold, and lovely Emerald Tanager amongst others. The call of Thicket Antpitta will no doubt taunt us from the dense undergrowth, though we will require a good dose of luck to see this notoriously uncooperative species! However, in the end, it might well be the hummingbirds that steal the show with species including Scaly-breasted and Steely-vented Hummingbirds, the boldly-patterned White-necked Jacobin, Green-breasted Mango and delicate Black-crested Coquette.
While the above list of birds makes up a good array of high-priority, showy species, the trails at Sky Trek also provide one our tour’s best opportunities for another host of birds – understory flock followers. With luck, we will encounter an army ant swarm, accompanied by the corresponding ant-following birds that are amongst the most famed of all neotropical speciality species. In the Arenal area, the list of special understory and ant followers is huge and impressive! From the ground up, Spotted, Bare-crowned, and Ocellated Antbirds, Streak-crowned Antvireo, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, White-throated Shrike-Tanager, Brown-billed Scythebill and some 5 species of Woodcreepers are all regularly encountered here.
Day 6: Arenal to La Selva
Today on our Costa Rica birding tour, we bird our way to famed La Selva OTS station. One popular birding site on our way is known to locals as “La Cinchona.” Although relatively close to San José, a number of private enterprises here protect large tracts of Caribbean Foothill and mid-elevation habitat for specialty species. These include regional endemics such as the dazzling Black-and-yellow and Blue-and-gold Tanagers!
Upon arriving at the La Selva Biological Station this afternoon, our avian ‘welcoming committee’ should include a profusion of parrots, trogons, toucans, flycatchers, honeycreepers, and tanagers that could well make it difficult to concentrate on the tasks of checking in and unloading! We have an afternoon to explore the trail systems at La Selva, allowing us to access a variety of habitats ranging from primary forest to river margins, although tearing ourselves away from the morning bird activity around the park’s secondary forest edge can sometimes be a real challenge! The haunting calls of Great and Slaty-breasted Tinamou will likely be some of the first sounds of the morning, while as the dawn breaks there should be plenty to keep us busy with noisy Great Green Macaws and Olive-throated Parakeets cruising by overhead, Blue-chested Hummingbird, White-necked Puffbird, Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Black-cowled and Baltimore Orioles, Olive-backed Euphonia and if we are lucky, the striking Snowy Cotinga. Tonight we can venture out for some night birding, with a few possibilities including Middle American (split from Vermiculated) Screech Owl, Mottled Owl, the outrageous-looking Spectacled Owl, and Short-tailed Nighthawk flying over the forest at dusk.
Day 7: La Selva to Kekoldi via Braulio Carrillo NP
This morning on our Costa Rica birding tour, we set out early to reach the famed Quebrada Gonzalez entrance to Braulio Carrillo NP, or the Sky Tram trails nearby. This is one of the top three birding destinations in Costa Rica, from a list standpoint. Admittedly, birding narrow forest trails does have its obstacles, which we will overcome by focusing on some of the park’s most-wanted species and, likely, judicious use of Central American Pygmy Owl playback. This particular species is certainly resident along the trail, which is evidenced by the often immediate and overwhelming response of the forest’s other denizens to the playback of the Pygmy-Owl’s song. Often, a dozen or more species will come right in on top of us to mob and scold! Less likely, but always a possibility is that the enigmatic Owl comes in itself. Mixed flocks here are likely to overwhelm the senses, with noisy bird parties moving through the forest’s various layers in flashes of movement that might include White-throated Shrike-Tanager, Black-and-yellow, Blue-and-gold, Tawny-crested, Carmiol’s, Emerald, and Speckled Tanagers, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Cocoa, Northern Barred, Olivaceous, or even Long-tailed Woodcreepers. Understory flocks are regularly seen, in which Streak-crowned Antvireo, Checker-throated and White-flanked Antwren, and Stripe-breasted Wren are often at the core. Another species recorded here is the mythical Black-crowned Gnatpitta (Antpitta), which, if calling, we have an outside chance of actually setting eyes on! This will also be our only chance (albeit an outside one) for the near endemic Black-eared Wood Quail.
We expect to encounter some twenty-odd passerine migrants during the tour, many of which occur at the elevation we will be visiting today. Rare migrants such as Cerulean, Golden-winged or Blue-winged Warbler might be possible. White Hawks are often seen soaring and this is one of the few places in Costa Rica where Lanceolated Monklet has been recorded, though an encounter with this retiring species is unlikely.
Days 8 & 9: Birding Kekoldi (Cahuita & Casa Calateas)
Kekoldi National Park is one of the least-birded areas of Costa Rica, given the global fame it has. This might have to do with the topic of that fame, which does not necessarily appeal to every birder the way it captivates others. That topic is raptor migration. Every year numerous hawkwatchers volunteer to monitor the spectacle that, on certain days, defies imagination. At its peak in October, more than half a million Swainson’s Hawks, and nearly as many Broad-winged Hawks will be passing overhead during a few short weeks!
With day totals ranging as high as 100,000 Swainson’s Hawks, 80,000 Broad-winged Hawks, 20,000 Mississippi Kites, and tens of thousands of other species mixed in, Kekoldi is considered as the best raptor migration observing point in Earth. And, it’s not just the amazing raptors that people come to see. In the humid lowland rainforest habitat here we can search for Snowy Cotinga, Keel-billed Toucans, Black-chested Jay, Gartered, Slaty-tailed and Black-throated Trogons, White-collared and Red-capped Manakins in fruiting trees and bushes. Mixed flock activity can produce Spot-crowned Antvireo, Fasciated and Black-crowned Antshrikes, Green Shrike-Vireo, the flock-leading Red-throated Ant Tanager and family-oriented Blue-black and Black-faced Grosbeaks. Rufous-winged Woodpecker, Black-throated and Canebrake Wrens, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Long-billed Gnatwren, the impressive Rufous-tailed Jacamar, the range-restricted Sulphur-rumped Tanager, and tiny Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant are all part of the diverse avifauna in the mosaic of secondary and primary woodlands here, where mammals are also abundant. Signs of digging along the trails are the tell-tale markers of Collared Peccary and Central American Agouti, while movements in the forest canopy above could well signal troops of Central American Spider Monkeys or the massive Black Howler. Overhead we will also keep our eyes peeled for soaring raptors such as Short-tailed Hawk, Plumbeous Kite or even the scarce Semiplumbeous Hawk.
Some of the species that are often encountered in the more open, and secondary areas nearby birding sites include Green Ibis, Black-cheeked and Pale-billed Woodpeckers, Collared Aracari, Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Masked Tityra, White-collared and Lesser Swallow-tailed Swifts, widespread Roadside and Grey Hawks, Shining, Red-legged and Green Honeycreeper, Long-tailed Tyrant, Chestnut-headed and Montezuma Oropendolas, and Black-headed Saltator among many others.
Day 10: Kekoldi to Rancho Naturalista
After breakfast, we shall head to one of the premier birding lodges in Costa Rica. Rancho Naturalista is the perfect conclusion to our Costa Rica birding tour – relaxed, friendly and servicing delicious locally sourced gourmet food. Expect to be enchanted by the view from the balcony, the distant, smoking Turrialba Volcano on the horizon and numerous hummingbirds at arms-length. With over 450 species recorded in the general area, the next few days are sure to be packed with excitement.
Starting on the balcony, we shall work our way through a myriad of hummingbirds that may include Violet-crowned Woodnymph, White-necked Jacobin, Green Hermit, Green Thorntail, Violet Sabrewing, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer and Green-crowned Brilliant. Aside from the numerous hummingbirds, we can also expect to see the brightly coloured Passerini’s and Blue-grey Tanagers, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Montezuma Oropendola and bossy Collared Aracaris. Moving off the deck, our focus will remain on hummers as we reach the Verbena hedges and search for one of the most targeted birds in Central America, the Snowcap. It is a frequent visitor along the flower-laden hedges, where we may also find Black-crested Coquette, Violet-headed Hummingbird and possibly Garden Emerald.
We will also spend some time near the Hummingbird Pools, where any number of hummers and other birds arrive in the afternoon for a dip in the water or a drink. Aside from various hummingbirds, we may also see such skulking species as Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Dull-mantled Antbird or Great Tinamou venturing into the open, if only for a few seconds.
Day 11: Rancho Naturalista
We have a full day of our Costa Rica birding tour to fully explore the surrounding forests for as many of the speciality birds as we can find. Taking advantage of the early morning dapple light, we will search for some of the true skulkers. Walking quietly along the trails is our best chance to find Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, while often heard calling, they are sometimes seen walking in the open. We visit a known lek for the uncommon White-crowned Manakin, perhaps the most accessible site for this pitch black manakin with a bright white crown. Delving deeper into the forest, we hope to track down a singing Thicket Antpitta. A truly difficult species to see, we will need a good slice of luck to have views of this species. While targeting the specialities, we shall also keep a keen eye out for Bicolored Hawk, Rufous-winged Woodpecker, Zeledon’s Antbird, both White-collared and White-ruffed Manakins, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Brown-billed Scythebill and Scaly-breasted Wren. Having worked our way through the forests, we shall also spend some time in the nearby swampy pastures searching for the patchily distributed White-throated Flycatcher.
Moving into the secondary growth, we shall certainly hear Black-throated Wren before a little work should produce good sightings of these birds feeding in vine tangles. At this time of year, we stand a good chance of locating a Grey-headed Piprites, a poorly known and rarely seen species. Tawny-chested Flycatcher is another rare and localised species that we shall pay special attention to. Restricted to small patches of increasingly fragmented forest, our surroundings are perhaps the best place in the world to see this species. Medium sized, dull brown and taxonomically challenging, the Northern Schiffornis is another species located primarily by call. The more open secondary growth areas also provide us with good chances of finding Grey-headed Chachalaca, Brown-hooded Parrots and Finsch’s Parakeets overhead, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Black-headed Saltator and a host of tanagers including Black-and-yellow, Carmiol’s, Speckled and Crimson-collared.
Day 12: Rancho Naturalista to San José
We have another morning to work our way through the forest and mixed flocks in search of new species or perhaps those we desire better views of. After lunch, we will begin our road transfer back to San Jose.