A WEEK IN COSTA RICA
This actual display of the 98 birds seen in our week (Apr 4-12 2018) in Costa Rica can be found here.
The two locations we stayed at (3 days at each) were:
- Arenal Observatory Lodge:
..in the North of Costa Rica, at an elevation of about 2400 feet. Nice spot, but more or
less what you'd expect from a high-volume tourist destination; the restaurant food was
particularly uninspiring. But the grounds and view were beautiful and the guides were excellent
We also visited the La Paz Waterfall gardens on the way to the lodge and
Hanging Bridges Park during our stay—both
well worth the time spent.
- Tiskita Eco-lodge:
in the south, almost at the
border with Panama and within sight and sound of the Pacific ocean. Run by a nice family of
eco-minded pioneers. Friendly, some rough edges but generally comfortable.
Birding: General Notes
As a casual birder I didn't intend to start a list, but we had such an interesting
morning on our first day (spotted the Keel-billed Toucan just sitting there watching us)
walking with a guide in Arenal that I did write down the birds we had seen...added to it
next day...the list began from that.
Most of these identifications were made by the guides; there were several that the guides
spotted but I wasn't quick enough with the binoculars and didn't record.
The guides were all outstanding on this trip. In other countries, birding is usually second
or third behind other interests, and some guides feel that a good guess is enough for most tourists.
In Costa Rica, birds and birding are a priority interest for all the guides
and they have to undergo specialized training to get the top jobs, including learning how to make
calls for most of the birds. They were truly amazing at spotting and identifying them, and there were
no occasions when I had any serious doubts about an identification.
There may be a few errors here but a much greater number of omissions.
A simple list doesn't do justice to the colors and shapes of birds so I 'borrowed' images from such
sites as Costa Rica Birding Tours and
occasionally from WikiPedia, suspecting that no more than a dozen people will see this page but
just in case, please do not link this page to any site with commercial interests!
Neither the list nor the pictures seemed to reflect the adventure of our explorations, so
perhaps these more detailed notes will infuse the account with the Indiana Jones spirit:
- On the way to Arenal, we saw a Ringed Kingfisher sitting on a wire above a river; it's a large bird,
almost the size of our Belted Kingfisher. Then heard and saw our only Baltimore Oriole. At lunch, were
entertained by the startling color of a Scarlet-collared Tanager that appeared in the shrubbery
near where we were eating while a four-foot long Green Iguana climbed a vine nearby!
- The impressive scarlet-black combo was a feature of other birds in Costa Rica. Passerini's
Tanager later—scarlet butt rather than collar— and later still the red and black of the blackbird.
- The first thing that one sees at Arenal lodge are the Oropendula's coming to the
fruit at the feeders in the garden. Dozens of these very large, flashy (brown with a yellow tail)
birds nested in tube-sock nests that hung from the trees in a field nearby and during the day,
they would form a constant procession to the feeders opposite the restaurant.
- In Arenal, we saw some of the more exotic birds
fairly close up: The Keel-billed Toucan was sitting on a branch only thirty
meters from us on one of the walks, and it remained there while we inspected,
photographed and looked at it through the scope that the guide set up. The two
Motmots were also quite still. But we didn't need to be out in the woods: a
Chestnut-billed Toucan, and the Collared Aracari both appeared in the same tree
at different times, again only 50 feet away from the main restaurant at the lodge!
- Lynda first spotted the Gray-necked Woodrail at Arenal lodge and couldn't
believe that such a large bird would simply pop out of the bushes; at Tiskita
the same bird frequented the grounds of the lodge and its loud call often woke everyone
up on the mornings (I finally got to see it on our last day).
- The startling flash of blue and green of the
Dacsins and Honeycreepers was a regular occurrence in the hedges behind our
room at Arenal and they would sometimes (when the Oropendulas were taking a
break) come to the feeders.
- A Swallow-tailed Kite swept over the buildings where we gathered at the end of
the Hanging Bridges tour, no more than 50 feet from us.
- We saw the second Kingfisher at the end of a walk in Tiskita. We
were crossing a stream when I remarked to the guide that we were only missing a
kingfisher to complete an excellent day of birding. At that moment he heard
something upstream and headed up, and seconds later pointed out the "Green"
Kingfisher. At first it looked like the Ringed Kingfisher I had seen earlier but then I
realized that it was only about ½ the size of that bird and it was the light that was
making the green look blue.
- Hummingbirds are everywhere and ever-present, but
many are difficult to identify. The brilliance of some, like the Violet-crowned Woodnymph
or the Green Hermit are easy, but the rest are tricky. They are fortunately not shy and can be seen
relatively close-up, but their tiny size demands use of binoculars, which are tough
to focus at short range with something that is seldom still. The books also do
not seem to replicate the colors well. I relied mostly on the guides for identification,
and it was only when they told us to look out for the "violet ear" or the white
tail that we understood the basis for their identification.
- Swallows create many of the same difficulties; they are larger but usually at a
distance. There were quite a few out above the tarmac as we were waiting for our flight to
Golfito and the light was so poor that I didn't put much hope in being able to discern what
they were. But then I noticed that a fair number of them were not swallows but swifts and very
large ones at that. I checked the book and the only swift that fitted the
description was the white-collared swift at 9"! I had to wait for a glimpse of
the white collar (apparently difficult to discern in poor light) but one flew close a few
minutes later, and there was the flash of white!
- There was a peak, of perhaps about 1,000 feet of
high jungle, just behind Tiskita lodge where a number of raptors and vultures seemed
to cruise around. The Macaws too, in their characteristic pairs, could be heard squawking and
seen high overhead on the way to this peak. We saw the White Hawk up there, apparently building
a nest, and the King Vulture could be seen often cruising with the Black and Turkey
- Probably the birds I heard most but identified few of were the parrots; their distinctive squawks were
everywhere but usually at a distance and often in cover of trees. There was a cacophony coming from a large tree opposite our hotel room
window on our last night in San Jose but I didn't see one. Mario, our guide helped identify the three we saw in Tiskita,
and we actually did see these. But without his expertise there was no way of identifying which
particular parrot/parrokeet I was hearing/seeing.
- We saw animals only sporadically at Arenal but
continuously at Tiskita. At Arenal, a family of Coatimundis would occasionally
cross the lawn and gather under the bird feeders, picking up scraps, completely
ignoring the tourists snapping photos only feet away. In Arenal we'd
see them almost daily on the path to our room but they were more shy. Part of the
raccoon family, the young ones seem to have the same playful nature.
- But by far the most prevalent animal at Tiskita was the Agouti. Sitting on its
haunches, it looks and acts like a large squirrel, but when it gets up and hops off
it has hind legs like a ... rabbit? But we'd see three or four regularly when we
walked the path back to our cabin.
- Monkeys: the giveaway is always the movement of branches and trees in the nearby
except the Howler monkeys that one hears first perhaps at considerable distance. We saw a
few Howlers at Arenal but usually partially hidden; we did spot a Spider
Monkey on the grounds of the lodge just before we left. But in Tiskita, all
four kinds trouped across the grounds on a regular basis. A particular Howler seemed
to include our cabin in his territory and one afternoon,
as I read a book on the verandah during a rainstorm, he sat in a tree no more
than 20 feet away and howled mournfully for about an hour (possibly empathizing with my own
feelings about the weather).
- We saw bats often, especially at Tiskita
where they seem to have a roost in the Admin office at the lodge and came
whizzing in and out during the evening. The guides sometimes pointed out or
noted the sound of frogs, such as the Blue Dart frog, known for the poison
on its skin. We heard Cicadas producing an astonishing range of sounds...
and volume, especially at night, when we least appreciated it.
- Two black iguanas lived in the drainage at the lodge
in Tiskita, and were such regulars that the staff named them something like Harry and Fred.
These are smaller—say about ½m long— than the possible
2m of the Green Iguana, but after seeing one chase then eat a lizard,
there was no mistaking them for vegetarians.
- Almost forgot about the constant presence of butterflies throughout
our trip, many merely pretty but some more striking: we saw the almost flourescent Blue
Morpho butterfly in the wild and the spooky Owl Butterfly (confined) at La Paz Waterfall gardens.
There's a good selection
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- To John Aspinall and Costa Rica Sun Tours for a brilliantly organized
and perfectly executed trip
- All the guides were outstanding but I only have this
one photo of Mario, at Tiskita