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Costa Rica Birding
November 1999 - January 2000
By Patrick O'Donnell
[Links to Costa Rica Birding Tours, Parks & Accommodations]
March-April 2001 Report
Suggestions for 4 days of birding near San José
This is a trip report mostly dealing with lesser-known spots and a few stakeouts in Costa Rica from a three month visit that started in November 1999 and ended in January 2000. Highlighted species are those more often recorded at the site under which they are mentioned than at most other places in C.R.
Quebrada González, Braulio Carrillo National Park
This ranger station is located at about 500 meters elevation on the north-eastern edge of the park along the San José-Limón highway. The habitat is Caribbean slope foothill rainforest. Being that this area was the first rainforest I ever visited (in '92), I have to admit that such an experience may have influenced my feelings in calling this my favorite birding site in Costa Rica. However, the fact that I got lifers there on 12 consecutive visits might also have something to do with my preference for the place. The primary forest on the site is dense, beautiful, very wet (could receive 4-5 meters per year) and holds a nice mix of lowland, foothill, and occasional altitudinal migrants from higher up. The birding can be difficult, but this spot should not be excluded from any birding trip to C.R. due to what is there combined with the accessibility of the site. Trails have been improved with cement, as well as wooden steps, potable water, often cold drinks for sale, and helpful rangers present. Gerardo Obando is a birder/ranger who when present can give accurate, up to date birding info. to visitors.
I have had good mixed species flocks around the station itself. Flocks often had about 30 species and were usually led by BLACK-FACED GROSBEAKS (Caryothraustes poilogaster). Many Tanagers were evident with BLACK-AND-YELLOW (Chrysothlypis chrysomelas), EMERALD (Tangara florida), SILVER-THROATED (Tangara icterocephala), and SPECKLED (Tangara guttata) being the most common. There was usually a pair of BLUE-AND-GOLD TANAGERS (Buthraupis arcaei) and ASHY-THROATED BUSH TANAGERS (Chlorospingus canigularis) as well. Other interesting sp. were CINNAMON WOODPECKER (Celeus loricatus), RED-HEADED BARBET (Eubucco bourcierii), Yellow-margined Flycatcher (Tolmomyias assimilis), RUSSET ANTSHRIKE (Thamnistes anabatinus), GREEN SHRIKE-VIREO (Vireolanius pulchellus) and SCARLET-THIGHED DACNIS (Dacnis venusta).The same area can also be good for GREEN THORNTAIL (Discosura conversii), BLACK-CRESTED COQUETTE (Lophornis helenae), and Snowcap (Michrochera albocoronata) when Inga sp. around the station are in bloom. The parking area is also the best spot to look for raptors (11 A.M. is usually the best time). I have seen at least 1 Hawk-Eagle sp. on most visits (ORNATE, BLACK, and BLACK-AND-WHITE, frequency of sightings decreasing from left to right), and King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) almost guaranteed. Other sp. frequently seen from here were White Hawk (Leucopternis albicollis), Barred Hawk (L. princeps), and Great Black-Hawk (Buteogallus urubitinga).
The loop trail behind the station is best for most of the foothill specialties. It is known as the "Las Palmas" trail and is 2-3 km long at the most. White-tipped Sicklebill (Eutoxeres aquila) can sometimes be seen amongst the heliconias at the start of the trail. With luck, the following species of interest could be seen anywhere along this trail:
Great Curassow (Crax rubra)
Crested Guan (Penelope purpurascens)
Black-eared Wood Quail (Odontophorus melanotis)
PURPLISH-BACKED QUAIL DOVE (Geotrygon lawrencii)
Olive-backed Quail Dove (G. veraguensis)
RUFOUS-VENTED GROUND-CUCKOO (Neomorphus geoffroyi): 1 very shy individual glimpsed a few times by Robert Dean in 1/00 along the ridge where the trail loops around.
Red-footed Plumeleteer (Chalybura urochrysia)
LATTICE-TAILED TROGON (Trogon clathratus)
Rufous Motmot (Baryphthengus martii)
Broad-billed Motmot (Electron platyrhynchum)
YELLOW-EARED TOUCANET (Selenidera spectabilis)
Lanceolated Monklet (Michromonacha lanceolata)
Rufous-winged Woodpecker (Piculus simplex)
Brown-billed Scythebill (Campylorhamphus pusillus)
BLACK-HEADED ANTTHRUSH (Formicarius nigricapillus)
BLACK-CROWNED ANTPITTA (Pittasoma michleri)
DULL-MANTLED ANTBIRD (Myrmeciza laemosticta)
STREAKED-CROWNED ANTVIREO (Dysithamnus striaticeps)
Tawny-faced Gnatwren (Microbates cinereiventris)
WHITE-RUFFED MANAKIN (Corapipo leucorrhoa)-very common
SHARPBILL (Oxyruncus cristatus) - usually mixed sp. flocks, can be overlooked as Speckled Tanager more easily than one would think.
Bare-necked Umbrellabird (Cephalopterus glabricollis)
Torrent Tyrannulet (Serpophaga cinerea)-along stream
Stripe-breasted Wren (Thryothorus thoracicus)
Nightingale Wren (Microcerculus philomela)
Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus mexicanus)
PALE-VENTED THRUSH (Turdus obsoletus)
Tawny-capped Euphonia (Euphonia annae)
Olive Tanager (Chlorothraupis carmioli)
White-throated Shrike-Tanager (Lanio leucothorax)
Slate-colored Grosbeak (Pitylus grossus)
Antswarms usually hold those 3 obligate ant-followers of the Caribbean slope, Ocellated, Spotted, and Bicolored Antbirds, usually Dull-mantled and Immaculate as well, and could be the best way to stir up both Black-crowned Antpitta and the Ground-Cuckoo.
Access: Quebrada González is located along the San José-Limón highway, on the east or right side of the road, about 45 minutes driving time coming from San José. The station opens at 8 A.M. and visitors are charged the standard national park fee, which in 1/00 was $6 per day. Entering the trails before 8 and paying after was possible in 1/00 although this might depend upon who is working the office. Public bus: Any bus to Guapiles via this highway can drop off at the entrance to the ranger station. The ticket must be purchased for Guapiles and then the driver told. Even if the driver is told at the start of the trip, it is best to remind him again just after a bridge is crossed at the Rio Súcio (where a brown and a clear river join). The station is about 4 ks past this point. Buses to Guapiles from San José leave from the Terminal Atlántico Norte every hour or so starting at 5:30 A.M. [Costa Rica bus schedule.]
A hot, somewhat decrepit-looking town located along the shores of a small bay in the Golfo Dulce, it is backed by forested hills that are the Golfito wildlife refuge. A rough road goes from the soccer field near the south end of town up to the top of the refuge passing through mostly good forest. Taxis from town usually charge $10 for the 9k uphill trip. There was no entrance fee.
BLACK-CHEEKED ANT-TANAGER (Habia atrimaxillaris) was the best bird seen here, the rest being fairly common, expected sp. of lowland forest along the south Pacific slope. The Ant-Tanagers were seen along the top part of the road. Spectacled Owl was seen at dusk near residences just where the road begins it's ascent. Spectacled Owl was also seen in front of the Gran Ceibo Hotel perched on a telephone pole at night along the main road going into town.
At the north end of town are mudflats and mangroves and fair birding around the perimeter of the airport which is mostly second growth. The mudflats hosted a fair variety of expected shorebird and heron species including several Wilson's Plover (Charadrius wilsonia). The mangroves might support Yellow-billed Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae) although we didn't see any. The road around the airport was good for PALE-BREASTED SPINETAIL (Synallaxis albescens), while the flowering Ingas had many Beryl-crowned Hummingbirds (Amazilia decora) and 1 exquisite male White-crested Coquette (Lophornis adorabilis)! From this area, the road to Playa Cacao goes by primary and secondary forest and marshy habitat. Orange-collared Manakins (Manacus aurantiacus) were common along this road and Grey-breasted Crakes (Laterallus exilis) (and many White-throated) called from the grassy marsh.
Luna Lodge, Carate, Osa Peninsula
This was a newly built nature lodge I helped start a bird list for in 1/00. It is located in excellent lowland rainforest habitat just adjacent to Corcovado Park. There is some secondary forest around the lodge and along the steep road up to the lodge, the rest of the area being primary growth. The lodge is located on a hill above the Carate river, overlooking forested hills entering Corcovado park. The overlooks were good for raptors and Swifts. There is a fairly good trail system that passes through secondary and primary growth. The best trail for birding was the steep trail that left from the last cabin, passing up through secondary and then primary growth where it then was level as it followed a ridge. The second growth was good for Manakins, many Flycatchers, Tanagers and even Turquoise Cotinga. Good mixed flocks were found in the primary forest as well as occasional antswarms with several BICOLORED ANTBIRDS (Gymnopithys leucapsis), and Tawny-winged and Northern Barred Woodcreepers. The steep road on the way up to the lodge was very good for Hummingbirds when the Balsa and Inga sp. trees were in flower. Despite occasional hunting in the area in the past, there appeared to be healthy populations of GREAT CURASSOW (Crax rubra), Crested Guan (Penelope purpurascens), MARBLED WOOD-QUAIL (Odontophorus gujanensis), 3 sp. of monkeys (at least 2 usually 3 seen daily), and Jaguar and Puma have also been seen near the lodge itself. The lodge was particularly good for the above sp. as well as such other interesting species as:
KING VULTURE (Sarcoramphus papa): at least a few easily seen daily.
Short-tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus)
Bat Falcon (Falco rufigularis)
WHITE HAWK (Leucopternis albicollis): pair seen almost daily.
ORNATE HAWK-EAGLE (Spizaster ornatus)
HARPY EAGLE (Harpia harpyja): a pair almost certainly seen (no photo) by a French ornithologist in 97, and likely seen twice by lodge personnel in late 99. In late 99, several people saw the bird well, one of whom is familiar with Hawk-Eagle sp.. From their description, it sounded like either Harpy or Crested Eagle (Morphnus guianensis) was seen, either of which would be excellent records for C.R.
SCARLET MACAW (Ara macao): several seen daily in flight as well as perched near lodge.
White-tipped Sicklebill (Eutoxeres aquila)
BERYL-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRD (Amazilia decora): the most frequent Hummingbird sp. at feeders and in second growth.
WHITE-CRESTED COQUETTE (Lophornis adorabilis): up to 3 seen daily feeding from flowering Inga sp. in second growth areas.
Blue-throated Goldentail (Hylocharis eliciae)
Long-tailed Woodcreeper (Deconychura longicauda)
RED-CAPPED MANAKIN (Pipra mentalis)
TURQUOISE COTINGA (Cotinga ridgwayi): a group of 5 seen twice (2 males, 3 females) feeding near lodge and in second growth.
WHITE-THROATED SHRIKE TANAGER (Lanio leucothorax): appeared to be nucleus sp. of large mixed flocks.
BLACK-CHEEKED ANT-TANAGER (Habia atrimaxillaris): family groups seen several times in understorey of secondary and primary forest.
Access: Around the end of the road at Carate, there are a couple of lagoons that may hold Rail sp.. This road from Puerto Jiménez is rough with 1-2 rivers as well as a few streams which must be forded to get to Carate. From June until January, this road is at times impassable 8 ks before Carate is reached. To get to Luna Lodge, the easiest and thus also most expensive is by plane. Public transport also goes there from Puerto Jiménez in the form of a covered truck. This left each morning from the main street at 6 A.M., charged around $5 for a one way trip in 1/00, and used the rough road to Carate. It takes about 2 hours to arrive (if the last 2 rivers are passable). From Carate, guests at Luna Lodge are usually brought up the steep hill by truck to the lodge. Walking upstream on the eastern or right-hand side of the river will eventually bring one to the road going up to the lodge after 40 minutes or so. The birding can be very good along the way.
The 1 Yellow-billed Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae) I saw at Luna Lodge was seen along the river. If transport can be arranged to bring one up the hill, then I cannot stress the worth of this unless one prefers to trudge up a rather steep grade for about 15- 20 minutes in oppressive, humid, lowland heat carrying all of your gear.
The lodge is expensive, but may offer more affordable rates for campers in the future. For more information on the lodge, it's best to visit their website at www.lunalodge.com
Rincón de Osa, Osa Peninsula
I spent two nights here and had excellent birding along the roadside. The habitat along the road here is primary and secondary lowland forest along with extensive mangroves. In one day I recorded almost 140 sp. just walking along this road. This was a good spot for YELLOW-BILLED COTINGA (Carpodectes antoniae) with 1 being seen as soon as I got off the bus upon arrival and at least 5 different birds being seen the next day. These 5 birds (2 pairs and 1 young male) were seen together in a fruiting Ficus sp. along with 1 female TURQUOISE COTINGA (Cotinga ridgwayi). The Yellow-billed Cotingas fed on the figs by reaching while perched without much extension of the neck. They were joined by such common sp. as Short-billed Pigeon, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Baltimore Oriole, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Buff-throated Saltator, Bay-headed Tanagers, and Red-crowned and Golden-naped Woodpeckers.
Other interesting sp. recorded along this road were:
Great Curassow (Crax rubra): a few heard
Marbled Wood Quail (Odontophorus gujanensis): heard calling from hillsides
Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao)
Blue Ground-Dove (Claravis pretiosa): common sp. in many places but I have never seen so many in one place as here.
Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor)
Beryl-crowned Hummingbird (Amazilia decora): most common Hummingbird sp.
Black-striped Woodcreeper (Xiphorynchus lachrymosus)
Black-headed Antshrike (Thamnophilus bridgesi): nice to have an endemic common in most of it's range.
4 Trogon sp.
MANGROVE HUMMINGBIRD (Amazilia boucardi): a couple seen in the short mangroves near Cabinas Golfo Dulce.
YELLOW-CROWNED TYRANNULET (Tyrannulus elatus)
Access: Any bus headed to or leaving from Puerto Jiménez can drop off birders along the main road as it passes through the village of Rincón de Osa. Cabinas Golfo Dulce appeared to be the only place to stay in town. I was charged close to $10 for a large, clean room. Dinner can also be bought from the owners who just might serve it to you in their dining room.
Universidad EARTH (Escuela de Agricultura en la región tropical humedo)
This agricultural university located in the Caribbean slope lowlands near Guacimo has a 900 hectare forest reserve that is free and open to the public. The reserve appeared to be mostly primary forest with some swampy areas and had a fair trail system. On a morning visit in 12/99 I recorded slightly over 100 sp. I was the only visitor there despite it being the high season for ecotourism in C.R. Birding was good both inside the forest and along the road near the reserve. The grounds of the university was mostly deforested with some maintained gardens as well as cultivated fields used for research.
Bird sp. of interest recorded:
GREY-NECKED WOOD-RAIL (Aramides cajanea): a common bird in many locales, it was very common and easily seen here foraging on the trail itself.
Slaty-breasted Tinamou (Crypturellus boucardi): frequently heard
White Hawk (Leucopternis albicollis)
Black Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus trannus): 1 heard. Near patches of, as well as in sizeable forest, I have often heard and/or seen this sp. in flight in the Caribbean lowlands.
Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinanns)
GREAT GREEN MACAW (Ara ambigua): at 15 seen in flight and feeding along the road just outside the reserve.
Pied Puffbird (Bucco tectus): 2 heard
Cinnamon Woodpecker (Celeus loricatus)
Chestnut-colored Woodpecker (Celeus castanea)
Western Slaty Antshrike (Thamnophilus punctatus)
PURPLE-THROATED FRUITCROW (Querula purpurata): 2 seen very well in mixed flock of Oropendola and Cacique sp..
Although such sp. as Agami Heron, Green Ibis, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, and Speckled Mourner were not recorded, the reserve appeared to be good habitat for them.
Access: EARTH is located along the San José-Limón highway between Guacimo and Siquirres. It is on the north side of the road and the entrance is totally obvious. There is security at the entrance which require visitors to sign-in and leave their passports in exchange for a day pass. The guards were helpful and gave me directions to the reserve. Inside the school were free buses that traversed the school grounds. To reach the forest, one can exit the bus (or with private car, take a right at) the orchid garden to cross a bridge over a river. There was fair birding at the bridge. The road continued on through banana fields until a fork was reached. Upon following the signs at the fork, I went to the left walking through the banana field until I had to take a right on a stony road. This road eventually reached the reserve and was good birding passing through mostly second growth along the way. These roads were passable by vehicle to the reserve entrance. It would probably take at least 45 minutes to reach this entrance by foot without birding. When I was there, it was one long, hot walk although the Great Green Macaws in particular made it a nice one. Admission was free and buses from Guapiles took about 20-30 minutes to reach the main entrance. During student vacation (between about 12/15 until Feb.), special permission must be obtained from the university to enter.
Trinidad, C.R.-Nicaraguan border
Trinidad is the name of the junction of the Sarapiquí and San Juan rivers just at the Nicaraguan border. I had hoped to access more intact lowland forest there but unfortunately, almost the entire length of the Sarapiquí along both banks was deforested. Noting that there were just a couple of families that live at Trinidad, there must have been a lot of hard work done so the mosquitoes could flourish and keep the cows company in the swampy pastures that were not so long ago forest just as tall and full of life as the wall of green on the other side of the river appeared to be. There was a small patch of primary forest where the cattle actually went for shade and there was intact forest not too far away, but it was on private land and was more or less inaccessible. This larger forested area is 3000 hectares owned by the Oro Verde Lodge [no longer operating] which is located along the Sarapiquí. Access to this forest can only be gained from there. It probably has excellent birding. Around Trinidad, there were such interesting birds around as:
Great Green Macaw (Ara ambigua): flybys of small flocks
Several other Psittacid sp..
Short-tailed Nighthawk (Lurocalis semitorquatis)
Scarlet-thighed Dacnis (Dacnis venusta)
Plain-colored Tanager (Tangara inornata)
Pied Puffbird (Bucco tectus): pair seen foraging at edge of forest patch.
Access: Access was by boat from Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí. It left at 12:30 P.M. and cost about $4. It returned from Trinidad at 4:40 A.M. leaving from in front of the Cabinas Gran Paraíso (AKA Trinidad hotel). It appeared to be the only place to stay in the area as well as comprised the entirety of Trinidad itself. It cost around $7 per night and the family in charge also served basic meals.
Santa Elena Reserve, Monteverde
The Santa Elena Reserve in the Monteverde area has birding similar to that of the Monteverde Reserve although there are usually fewer visitors and more second growth at the entrance. The reserve is particularly good for BLACK GUAN (Chamaepetes unicolor) and BUFF-FRONTED QUAIL-DOVE (Geotrygon costaricensis). Along the entrance trail, there is often a pair of roosting BARE-SHANKED SCREECH-OWL (Otus clarkii). They are usually about 3 meters up in a tree on the right hand side of the trail. Approximately 10 meters off the trail, the roost is about 50 meters after the entrance. Staff at the desk could probably give visitors more precise directions and/or point out one of the birds. The reserve costs $5 for one days admission.
Pensión Manakin, Monteverde
The Pension Manakin is an affordable ($6-7 per night for cheapest room), comfortable place to stay in the Monteverde area. There are a good number of places like so around Monteverde, but not so many have CHIRIQUÍ QUAIL-DOVE (Geotrygon chiriquensis), White-eared Ground-Sparrow (Melozone leucotis), and Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus aurantiirostris) staked out in the backyard. There are picture windows looking into a moist woodland which makes up the area behind the pension. The above-mentioned species are daily visitors to the ground just outside the windows where a bit of leftover rice and other food refuse is thrown out. A troop of Coatis and Central American Agoutis were also daily visitors and I have also seen Grey Fox and Grey-necked Wood Rail (Aramides cajanea). The Quail-Doves came close enough for me to get full frame shots with a 210mm lens.
Volcán Tenorio, Bijagua
The vicinity of the town of Bijagua is situated amongst much intact moist and wet Caribbean slope forest as well as nearby drier habitat that allows for an interesting variety of sp. I spent 2 nights there around Christmas and had some good birding despite the constant windy, rainy weather. I did most of my birding in a community owned reserve with good forest on the slopes of Volcán Tenorio. This was called "Reserva Heliconias" and was about a 30 minute walk from town. There was a good trail system with one trail that went up into cloud forest, and a shaky footbridge that went from the edge of a forested canyon out to a huge tree. This bridge allowed views into the canopy and had a pair of ORNATE HAWK-EAGLES (Spizaetus ornatus) near the bridge. Apparently, the pair regularly nests in the vicinity. Most of the trails are in primary forest with Caribbean slope and some dry forest sp. An antswarm had Ocellated and Spotted Antbirds as well as Song Wren (Cyphorynus phaeocephalus). Tody Motmot (Hylomanes momotula) MIGHT occur in this forest as well as Violaceous Quail-Dove (Geotrygon violacea) and Keel-billed Motmot (Electron carinatum). This area in general appeared to have good potential for a wide variety of birds. On a good morning, one could probably hit over 100 sp. easily.
Other interesting sp. recorded were:
Great Curassow (Crax rubra)
Crested Guan (Penleope purpurascens)
Bat Falcon (Falco rufigularis)
Short-tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus)
Brown-hooded Parrot (Pionopsitta haematotis)
Prong-billed Barbet (Semnornis frantzii)
Nightingale Wren (Microcerculus philomela)
American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla)
Long-tailed Manakin (Chiroxiphia linearis)
Olive Tanager (Chlorothraupis carmioli)
Tawny-crested Tanager (Tachyphonus delatrii)
Sp. not recorded by myself but that have been seen along the loop trail are:
Bare-necked Umbrellabird (Cephalopterus glabricollis), Three-wattled Bellbird (Procnias tricarunculata), and Black Guan (Chamaepetes unicolor).
Access: From the highway, the reserve is about 3 km uphill (not too steep) along the road heading east where the Banco Nacional and police station are found. I was charged no entrance fee to use the trails. There were cabins at the reserve which cost $15-20 per night. There was also a restaurant there that served affordable, good food. From the restaurant and cabins, there is a view of Lake Nicaragua just to the north. I stayed in town at the Cabinas Zamora. I was charged $6-7 per night for a clean room with private bath and hot water. The owners were kind people and the place was quiet. I recommend this place to stay especially in comparison to a couple other cabinas in town I looked at which seemed to be dirty and not as secure. To get to the Cabinas Zamora, one must go west on the first street south of the stream that is south of the Banco Nacional. After 2 blocks, take a left and the cabins are behind the second house on the left.
Caño Negro refuge has good freshwater aquatic habitats and is a fairly reliable place to see GREAT POTOO (Nyctibius grandis) from most boat trips. I took the opportunity to go there on a trip in 1/00 with an English speaking bird club from Costa Rica and so unfortunately don't know too much about planning a boat trip or transportation there because everything was prearranged. We stayed in Los Chiles which has good marsh habitat just outside of town as well as down by the docks on the Rio San Juan. Looking out from the docks in the evening, we had several LIMPKINS (Aramus guarauna), SNAIL KITES (Rostrhamus sociabilis), and many MUSCOVY (Cairina moschata). Despite looking through the many Grackles and seeing an occasional bird that might have been smaller, I didn't feel secure about calling any of those Nicaraguan Grackles. Despite playing Rail tapes here, White-throated Crake (Laterallus albigularis) was the only sp. calling. Just outside of town along the main road, we saw a STRIPED OWL (Asio clamator) at dusk. This bird perched on the roadside wires and then flew low over the ground, swooping up to another similar perch further down the road. It did this again and again until we could no longer keep up with it. The road that goes to the village of Caño Negro, passing through the refuge, was good birding with several raptors (including Harris Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus) which is local in C.R.) and many expected waterbirds. We were at the wrong time of year for Jabiru and so dipped on that immensely-billed creature. The best bird along this road was probably the small group of Nicaraguan Seed-Finches that we saw feeding on the seeds of some tall grass that grew in a wet area. This road looked like it might be good for Rails at night and was passable when we were there during the dry season, but might not be during the wet season. From Caño Negro, we took a boat trip seeing a perched Great Potoo very well as well as many expected waterbirds, caimans, and 1 BLACK-COLLARED HAWK (Busarellus nigricollis).
Well, there is some information that hopefully would be helpful for birders headed to Costa Rica.
More Costa Rica Sites
May 1, 2001
Here is some information on a few birding sites in Costa Rica from a recent two-month trip.
Hitoy Cerere Biological Reserve
This reserve is located in southeast Costa Rica near Limón and the Panamanian border and is mostly lowland rain forest in hilly, precipitous terrain (no swamp forest). During the past year, new administration buildings and lodging for visitors was built. I was able to visit the reserve twice and found the birding to be very good with some lowland species that have become difficult to find elsewhere in Costa Rica due to extensive deforestation. The habitat around the HQ appeared to be old second growth that had been logged at sometime during the past 30 years. Old growth forest was found on the short Tepizquintle loop trail and along the Espavel trail (best area of forest). Birding in the vicinity of the HQ was generally productive with such species as Pied Puffbird, Snowy Cotinga, White-whiskered Puffbird, Buff-throated and Black-striped Woodcreepers, Fasciated Antshrike, Plain-colored Tanager, and Black-cowled Oriole being regularly seen. Blue-headed Parrot was the most common psittacid, and Chestnut-headed Oropendola far outnumbered Montezuma Oropendola.
The wetland referred to in A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica where either Paint-billed or Colombian Crake was seen by Stiles et al, has been filled in.
Tepuiscuintle or loop trail: This provided some fair birding. In the second growth on the way to the loop trail were a few Thicket (Fulvous-bellied) Antpittas singing that at times were NOT difficult to see as well as many Western Slaty and Fasciated Antshrikes, Dot-winged Antwren, Long-billed Gnatwren, Northern Bentbill, 3 expected Trogon species, etc. Just past the entrance to the loop trail, Violaceous Quail-Dove was seen several times. Along the loop trail itself, Great Jacamar was seen just once on one day despite repeated attempts to find another one on at least 5 separate days. Whistling or Southern Nightingale-Wren was heard but not seen several times along this trail. Scaly-throated Leaftosser was also seen once.
Espavel trail: excellent primary rainforest, this block of which is probably connected to a larger block in Panama and thus just might hold some surprises. The good forest is found after ascending a hill about 30-40 minutes walking from the HQ through old second growth and patches of old growth (all of which is good birding). White-fronted Nunbirds were common along this trail as were Purple-throated Fruitcrows, Cinnamon and Rufous-winged Woodpeckers, Rufous Piha, Red-capped Manakin, and Black-striped Woodcreeper. We flushed a Common Potoo along this trail as well. Unfortunately, we only became aware of the good forest back along this trail on one of our last days at Hitoy and so were only able to bird it one afternoon.
River: Walking along the river provided good views of forested hillsides and seemed to be good for viewing raptors, but only White Hawk was observed by us. Supposedly the river is also good for Sunbittern, although we didn't see it.
Out of about 150 species recorded over two 3-day visits, the most notable records were the following:
Uniform Crake (Amaurolimnas concolor): 1 was heard in the thick second growth along the stream directly in front of the HQ calling at dusk.
Black-eared Wood-Quail (Odontophorus erythrops): 4 coveys heard calling one morning along the main trail, just past the entrance to the loop trail. This species has become difficult to find in Costa Rica.
Violaceous Quail-Dove (Geotrygon violacea): seen several times along the main trail and loop trail mostly in old second growth. This is probably the toughest sp. of Geotrygon to find in CR, and Hitoy could be the easiest place to see it. Birds usually flushed and flew to a perch about 2 m. above the ground. One bird was also observed singing, puffing out its iridescent neck feathers as it did so (a low pitched call similar to Blue Ground-Dove (Clavaris pretiosa) but going slightly down in scale).
Crested Owl (Lophostrix cristata): although not seen, the most frequently heard Owl sp. at night.
Vermiculated Screech-Owl (Otus guatemalae): 1 seen on two occasions. Found along the right fork of the trail behind the cabins. Came in to a tape of the sp. song, calling very quietly close by.
Short-tailed Nighthawk (Lurocalis semitorquatis): 1 seen briefly at dusk most nights in front of the HQ.
Great Jacamar (Jacamerops aurea): 1 heard and seen well along the loop trail one day. A difficult sp. to find in CR.
White-fronted Nunbird (Monasa morphoeus): seen along loop trail but most common along Espavel trail. This sp. has declined at some sites in CR (La Selva for eg.).
Rufous-winged Woodpecker (Piculus simplex): common along Espavel.
Black-striped Woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus lachrymosus): common along Espavel, also seen in front of HQ.
Snowy Cotinga (Carpodectes nitidus): groups of up to 5 seen daily around HQ.
Purple-throated Fruitcrow (Querula purpurata): appeared to be common most places in the reserve, especially along Espavel.
Northern Royal-Flycatcher (Onychorhynchus coronatus): 1 seen where loop trail meets river.
Brown-capped Tyrannulet (Ornithion brunneicapillum): singing during April and so found more easily - mostly around HQ.
Song Wren (Cyphorhinus phaeocephalus): 1 family group seen along Espavel.
Slate-colored Grosbeak (Pitylus grossus): song frequently heard in the reserve, seen once or twice.
How to get to Hitoy: Via public transportation, take a bus to Finca 12, Valle de la Estrella. Any bus that goes to Valle de la Estrella can probably drop you off at Finca 12. At stop for Finca 12 is a wooden sign indicating the direction of Hitoy and the distance (maybe about 12 ks from there). From here, truck taxis can bring you and also pick you up from the reserve at a prearranged time. They have been known to overcharge people though, so for the most fair deal, try to arrange a ride with station personnel who charged us 2000cs instead of 3 or even 4000cs. With one's own car, take the turn off towards Valle de la Estrella heading towards Cahuita from Limón and then stay on this road until Finca 12 is reached (watch for the brown sign with yellow lettering indicating Hitoy Cerere). From there, I don't know the exact way as it appeared to be a bit tricky (maybe ask locals along way?).
Staying at Hitoy: Best to make arrangements in advance particularly on the weekends when student groups could fill up the rooms. Call the office in Limón at: 758-3996 or try 798-3170. You will probably get an answering machine telling you which extension to dial. I believe it is extension 4. Someone will then be able to make arrangements for you over the radio to Hitoy concerning lodging and/or getting picked up at the bus stop. During our stay we were charged about $5 each day for food (although you can bring your own), the national park entrance fee ($6 or 500cs for residents) for each day, and a donation for lodging. They weren't officially charging for lodging yet because they only had bare matresses for the beds. Thus, if you stay there, you need to bring your own bedding (it does not get that cold at night).
Hitoy was interesting not only because of what we found but also because of what we did not find. For example we we recorded not a single White-breasted Wood Wren, only a few Mealy Parrots, and no Hawk-Eagles despite good vantage points overlooking the forested hillsides. Monkeys also seemed to be rare (just one Capuchin seen, Howlers infrequently heard, and no Spiders seen). The reserve borders indigenous reserves where extensive hunting does occur. If hunting has affected monkey populations in Hitoy as well, then despite the reserve being connected to extensive forest in Panama, this could be a limiting factor for Harpy Eagle reestablishing itself in the area (assuming that it is not there).
Sites for Central American Pygmy Owl, Glaucidium minutissimum
April is probably the most reliable time of the year to find this species in CR. This sp. was singing at a few different places. I found it at 5 sites, one of which was a nest. The two easiest sites to see it were:
1. Along the main highway heading from Cahuita to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, about 1-2 ks (?) after Cahuita village, there was a road on the right, the entrance to which had a device set up to prevent cars from entering (metal spikes). Just after this was a small garbage dump. About 300-500 meters in, we saw one Pygmy Owl well that was very responsive to imitations of its call. The habitat was old second growth and is probably good for a many other sp. as well.
2. Nest found at EARTH near Guacimo. EARTH is an agricultural university found along the main highway between Guapiles and Siquirres. There is a big sign at the entrance. To visit their 400 hectare forest reserve, they now require reservations and accompaniment by a guide. Near the entrance to the reserve was where I found the Pygmy Owl nest. Follow the signs to the reserve (turn off from the main campus road is at the orchid garden), driving through a banana plantation. About 1 k (?) after the end of the plantation, on the right hand side of the road, the nest was in a cavity about 15m. or 45 ft. up in a dead tree with a diameter of maybe half a foot. The tree was quite close to the road and was in regenerating pasture. It also had at least 3 bunches of mistletoe growing in branches below the nest. The pair was quite active and often gave an insect like trilling call. A pair of Uniform Crakes (Amauolomnas laterallus) were also found calling near one of the streams along the left hand side of this road as well. In CR, I have only heard of this sp. being found in areas of thick, wet, second growth.
3. I also found Central American Pygmy Owl at a private reserve called, "Terrafolio" near Rara Avis, at the entrance to the El Tapir reserve and near "El Higuito" along the Las Palmas trail at Quebrada Gonzalez, Braulio Carrillo.
El Tapir, or Jardín de Mariposas
This is a private reserve that borders the eastern edge of Braulio Carrillo National Park with good foothill forest and flowering Verbania bushes that attract some good Hummingbird species. It is found along the main highway between San Jose and Limón about 4ks after Quebrada Gonzalez. Visitors are charged $5 to enter. The Verbania attract Green Thorntail (Discosura conversii), Snowcap (Microchera albocoronata), and Black-crested Coquette (Lophornis helenae) amongst others. Around the entrance and across the street at the bus stop, were flowering bushes with many tanager species. The forest is good in particular for Lattice-tailed Trogon (Trogon clathratus), Dull-mantled Antbird (Myrmeciza laemosticta), and Ashy-throated Bush-Tanager (Chlorospingus canigularis). Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias) nest - the main trail ends at a stream where I found a Sunbittern nest April 25. The nest was virtually impossible to see but at least one adult returned again and again, each time bringing a small fish to the tree and so was easy to watch. The nest was directly across the stream from where the trail ended just upstream from a tree that had fallen across the water.
Best spots to hit in Costa Rica in 4 days
April 22, 2001
If you have just 4 days to bird on your own in Costa Rica and must rely on public transportation, and want to hit as much diversity as possible, here is a suggestion for at least one day, although this site is so diverse that for a first timer to Costa Rica, visiting here an 2 consecutive days will yield numerous lifers both times.
If you must be based out of San José, visit Quebrada González ranger station, Braulio Carrillo National Park. It is 45-50 minutes from San José by bus, first one of which leaves at 05:30 each morning. Habitat is dense foothill rainforest at an elevation of about 500 meters. If it is sunny all day, birding can be slow. Sometimes it rains all day and that can be a bummer. Either way, if one spends the whole day there (until 3:00 PM or so), you are virtually guaranteed to see at least some local or interesting birds or other life forms and might also see something really rare. Today I had a very slow day there and ended up with the following sp: Black-eared Wood Quail - heard only, Gray-rumped Swift, White-collared Swift, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Collared Aracari, Yellow-eared Toucanet, Lattice-tailed Trogon (good site for this sp.), Rufous-winged, Smoky-Brown, and Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, Rufous Motmot, Ornate Hawk-Eagle - nice adult.
Other sp. that I see on most visits I didn't see today are: White-crowned Parrot, Dull-mantled Antbird, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Ashy-throated Bush-Tanager, Purple-crowned Fairy, and Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, White Hawk, Rufous-winged Tanager, Pale-vented Thrush.
Rarities that are present but are either mega skulkers or just rare for whatever reason:
Black-crowned Antpitta, Lanceolated Monklet, Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle, Sharpbill, Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo (a very sneaky extremely timid bird has been seen along the back part of the Las Palmas trail), Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Ocellated, Bicolored, Spotted, and Immaculate Antbirds at antswarms, Purplish-backed Quail-Dove (have also seen Olive -backed), and Black-headed Antthrush.
Really, out of possibly 30 visits to this site, I have seen something new or interesting on almost every visit, especially since so many sp. in Costa Rica make altitudinal migrations that haven't been very well documented. The best trail seems to be the "Las Palmas" loop trail behind the ranger station. Entrance fee for non-residents is $6. It can be paid after exiting trail if one wishes to enter before rangers are awake.
How to get there: Take any bus to Guapiles from the "Terminal del Gran Caribe" asking the driver to let you off at "La Estación de Quebrada González". To get back to San José, flag down any passing bus until one picks you up (they come by about every half hour until 6 or 7 (?)).
Patrick O'Donnell patcotinga [at] hotmail.com
Copyright © 1992-2012 John Wall