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Costa Rica 2004

Birding Trip to Costa Rica 25 FebruaryĖ8 March 2004

Participants: Ric and Betty Zarwell, Judi and Jerry LeTendre, Carol and Tom Sykes, Marge Hill, and Kay Niyo. Richard Garrigues of Costa Rica was our excellent guide. It was a great trip with ~352 species seen by members of the group.

Click on thumbnails to see enlarged photos.

Wednesday, 25 February

I flew from Denver through Miami to San Jose a day early to use frequent flyer miles. The room at Hotel Aeropuerto was nice with air conditioning. Dinner and cervesa at the hotel dining room were delicious.

Thursday, 26 February

Passerini's Tanager female on nest

Breakfast at the hotel was very good with fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, beans/rice, and delicious candied plantain. Great Costa Rican coffee! While eating on the veranda, I saw a Great Kiskadee, Yellow-breasted Vireo, and the national bird, Clay-colored Robin. A brown-gray squirrel called a variegated squirrel that is similar to our eastern fox squirrel picked a heavy mango off a tree in the garden and managed to carry it to a branch where he ate it! I spent the day birding and learning my new Canon Rebel with the Canon 100-400 IS lens. Lunch was very good with complimentary chips and three delicious dips with each meal! The exchange rate is 421 Colones = $1, but they also use U.S. dollars. I birded the hotel grounds in the afternoon and saw eight species with a Passerini's Tanager on a nest and a pair of Rufous-napped Wrens being the most exciting. It was a pleasant 75 degrees with a light breeze and cloudy to partly cloudy. Dinner was delicious. The rest of our group arrived at 10 p.m.

Friday, 27 February (Day 1 of official trip)

We met Richard Garrigues, our guide, and Memo, our excellent driver of a 25-passenger Toyota Tourismo bus, to depart at 5 a.m. for birding at El Rodeo Forest Reserve south of San Jose. We returned to the hotel for breakfast about 8:30 a.m., loaded the bus, and left for Poas Volcano Lodge.

Richard said a large Caribbean weather system was pushing rain into northeastern Costa Rica. It began raining as we drove north toward Poas Volcano Lodge, which is at about 7,200'.

We stopped in heavy rain at Cinchona, a small, open-air shop and viewing point with many fruit and hummingbird feeders, which was a great place for viewing hummers a few feet away. We saw lots of birds including an Emerald Toucanet, Crimson-collared Tanager, Silver-winged Tanager, Red-headed Barbet, Green Hermit, Violet Sabrewing, Brown Violet-ear, Green Thorntail, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Coppery-headed Emerald, White-bellied Mountain-gem, Purple-throated Mountain-gem. We also saw a white-nosed agouti. They had a pet Mealy Parrot on a stand.

We drove further up the mountain to Poas Volcano Lodge. It is a beautiful old remodeled stone lodge owned by an Englishman who was there. The chefs served gourmet food for dinner and breakfast. Richard assured us that we donít need to worry about quality of food or water anywhere we will be staying, which was reassuring to those of us who have experienced lesser conditions in other countries. We compiled our list before a fire in a sunken fireplace, which felt good due to the cold, damp weather. We birded out the window and didnít have a view of the volcano, which was unfortunate because it evidently is a beautiful sight.

Crimson-collared Tanager

Red-headed Barbet

 Emerald Toucanet

Passerini's Tanager

Saturday, 28 February (Day 2)

Harlequin Poison Dart Frogs

We arose early and after a delicious breakfast and birding out the rainy window, we headed up Hwy. 4 and around the loop to La Selva Biological Station, one of the Organization of Tropical Studies (OTS) research stations. On the way, we stopped at Salva Verde Lodge, a private 500-acre retreat, for a hike and lunch. We saw an emerald basilisk, green iguana, and strawberry and harlequin poison dart frogs. It was raining lightly but warm when we arrived at the La Selva OTS Biological Station. They served good cafeteria-style food at all meals.

Sunday, 29 February (Leap Year!) (Day 3)

Mantled howler monkeys woke us every morning at La Selva. We went into the rainforest with Rudolpho, an OTC guide, in the morning. There are extensive cement trails in part of the forest. Rudolpho pointed out two hummingbird nests and a Double-toothed Kite. We hiked to the old research station building that is in disrepair and serves as a bat research area for the white-lined sac-wing bat.

We had rain and more rain, but, finally, we were able to walk down the road in the afternoon. We had great birds when we were able to get out.

There was a Crested Guan and a Collared Aracari in a leafless tree right by the cafeteria. Masked and Black-crowned Tityras also frequented that tree.

Seen in the nearby trees and flowering shrubs were Common Tody Flycatcher, Bright-rumped Atilla, Passeriniís Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Olive-backed Euphonia, Silver-throated Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Red-legged Honeycreeper, White-necked Puffbird, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Blue-chested Hummingbird, the nearly ubiquitous Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, and the Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer. The Passerini's Tanager was making a nest in a shrub along the road.

 Crested Guan

Collared Aracari

Golden-hooded Tanager

Monday, 1 March (Day 4)

Volcano Hummingbird female

Festive Whiptail

Gray-tailed Mountain-gem

Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher

Focus on Magnificent Hummingbird

We birded La Selva in the morning and then drove back up through Puerto Viejo on the same route, down to north of San Jose, and then on Hwy. 32 to Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo.

We stopped at El Tapir, a defunct hummingbird garden, and saw lots of hummers including Black-crested Coquette while we ate lunch. We also saw a Festive Whiptail in the garden.

We hiked in the tropical forest of Braulio Carrillo in the park on a narrow, dark trail with very dense growth. It was rather slow birding until we found antbirds foraging in an ant colony. They eat the other insects that the ants stir up, and I also saw one bird "anting" or preening using an ant. The group had great looks at Chestnut-backed, Spotted, and Bicolored Antbirds, and some of us had good looks at Ocellated Antbird.

We heard two Tawny-crested Eagles calling and saw them fly overhead. One that Richard thought was a juvenile landed in a far away tree. They prey on monkeys and we had just seen probably a howler monkey in a tree that was hunkering down while the eagles were calling.

We drove along the continental divide at about 10,000' and onto the western slope down a very steep curvy road to Savegre Mountain Lodge in the late afternoon. The family that owns Savegre produces apples from orchards planted in cleared patches on some of the very steep mountainsides. We had great looks at a Large-footed Finch scratching in the leaves along the road as we were driving into the lodge.

We had drinks and a delicious buffet-style dinner including wonderful candied plantain again! The grounds are full of flowers and shrubs and grassy areas ó a really beautiful place with lots of hummingbird feeders and hummers including Volcano Hummingbird, Green Hermit, Green Violet-ear, Gray-tailed Mountain-gem, Magnificent Hummingbird, and Scintillant Hummingbird. To bed at 9 p.m. in lovely small cabins.

Tuesday, 2 March (Day 5)

Resplendent Quetzal male

Green Violet-ear


We arose early for a delicious buffet-style breakfast. We rode in a pickup truck up a steep road into old growth forest and then hiked back down. It was very quiet in the old growth forest when we first started hiking, but we saw some good birds a little farther down including Ruddy Treerunner, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Gray-breasted Woodwren.

Walking back down along a creek was more birdy with good looks at Black-billed Nightingale Thrush and several Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrushes. We also saw Black-faced Solitaire.

We had a delicious lunch and then walked in the gardens and along the river. As we started out, there was a Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher in a nearby shrub. A friendly male Collared Redstart wanted to land on Carolís hand but decided not to chance it! We also saw a Flame-throated Warbler in the same area.

We walked down the road and Richard set up his scope on a mystery bird in the shadows of a large tree. It was a female Resplendent Quetzal, which is the bird that Marge had really wanted to see! There was a man photographing it with a Canon 500 mm lens. There also was a male quetzal in a nearby tree, and the photographer and his wife told us the pair had been going in and out of a nest hole in a tree along the river. I took lots of photos through the dark tree limbs and leaves and managed to get some decent shots.

Later while walking back, a male Resplendent Quetzal without the long tail feathers flew over Richardís head. We also saw a Collared Trogon.

We walked up a small stream and saw some nice birds including several Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrushes. We then enjoyed margaritas and another delicious dinner and retired at 8:30 p.m.

Wednesday, 3 March 2004 (Day 6)

We enjoyed an early breakfast at Savegre Lodge and then departed up the steep winding road getting our only looks at Mountain Robin.

We drove up to a very high point at timberline (> 11,000') where there were lots of radio and microwave towers. There we saw Volcano Junco and Timberline Wren, a very secretive little wren living in very dense, short vegetation that includes a native bamboo. We enjoyed beautiful views of the valley and the Pan American Highway (Hwy. 2) when the clouds and mist coming up from the eastern slope and trickling down the Pacific side allowed.

We continued down to Hwy. 2 and arrived at Dr. Alexander F. Skutchís home and research station about 11:15 a.m. We were in luck because he was still sitting by his window reading, and he warmly welcomed us into his home. He will be 100 years old on 20 May 2004! We all shook hands with him and told him where we live. He signed my and Carolís books. He is very alert and sharp and looks like he is about 70 years old! He is amazing. He came to Costa Rica over 60 years ago as a botanist working on coffee. He became interested in birds and coauthored A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, which was published in 1989.

We ate our sack lunches at a picnic table in Dr. Skutch's yard while enjoying many birds. I photographed a Gray-headed Tanager eating bananas that Richard had placed on a feeder tray near the picnic table. We saw a Northern Barred-Woodcreeper on the forest edge. There also was a Red-crowned Woodpecker, a very loud Rufous Piha, and a Fork-tailed Flycatcher (the only place on the trip we saw it). During our drive we stopped to see a Black Hawk-Eagle.

We continued down Hwy. 2 and 236 through San Vito to the Wilson Botanical Gardens, which also is the Las Cruces OTS station. It is a beautiful place with several 10-yr-old buildings that were built to replace older ones that burned. They are built on a hill site, so the dining area, which served delicious food family style, has a large balcony with long tables where we could enjoy meals while looking out over a wide valley with mountains in the distance.

Each individual room with two twin beds had a private balcony overlooking nearby trees and shrubs. So there were always parrots, parakeets, etc. calling and landing in the trees.

After arriving, we birded the gardens and saw some great birds: Crimson-fronted Parakeet, White-headed Parrot, Red-thighed and Green Honey Creepers. We finished the evening with a delicious dinner, compiled our group list as we did every evening, and retired about 8:30 p.m.

Dr. Alexander F. Skutch signing Kay's book (this photo by Tom Sykes)

Gray-headed Tanager

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Ric, Tom, Jerry, Richard

Green Honeycreeper male

Green Honeycreeper female

Thursday, 4 March 2004 (Day 7)

Purple-throated Mountain-gem

Violet Sabrewing

Speckled Tanager

We spent all day at Las Cruces OTC (Wilson Botanical Gardens). We walked trails through the forest down to the river in the morning and within the gardens and heard Marbled Wood-Quail. Some of the birds we saw were Crimson-fronted and Orange-chinned Parakeets, Blue-headed and White-crowned Parrots, Vaux's Swift, Garden Emerald, Beryl-crowned Hummingbird, Long-billed Starthroat, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Plain Xenops, Plain Antvireo, Slaty Antwren, Mistletoe Tyrannulet, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Bright-rumped Attila, White-winged Becard, Rose-throated Becard, Rufous-breasted Wren, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush, the ubiquitous Clay-colored Robin and Tennessee Warbler (both seen every day), Tropical Parula, Blackburnian Warbler, American Redstart, Slate-throated Redstart, Buff-rumped Warbler, Common Bush Tanager, Summer Tanager, Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Thick-billed Euphonia, Speckled Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dachnis, Green Honeycreeper.

In the afternoon, we went to San Juakeen Marsh (private), where we had great looks at one Wattled Jacana and several Northern Jacana, a female Masked Duck, Purple Gallinule with a fluffy slate gray chick, Green Heron, and Blue-winged Teal. The owner showed us around his marsh and also showed us his familyís two pet rabbits, 3-month-old black poodle, and milk cow with a very young calf.

We then drove to within about a mile of the Panama border to a pasture with a huge baobab tree that had several Crested Oropendula nests and several birds courting. This was a life bird for Richard. A researcher who does contract surveys told Richard that he discovered this colony just inside the Panama/Costa Rica border. They were previously only known to be in Panama and further south.


Friday, Saturday, Sunday, 5, 6, and 7 March 2004 (Days 8, 9, and 10)

We birded Wilson Gardens early in the morning and left about 9 a.m. for Bosque del Rio Tigre on the Osa Peninsula, traveling south until we joined the Pan American Highway (Hwy. 2) again at Ciudad Neily. We headed northwest until just past Piedras Blancas where we took a paved road around the Golfo Dulce. It was a 5-hr drive, but we drove through interesting wilderness and then banana and oil palm plantations. We saw Magnificent Frigatebird, Wood Stork, and Brown Pelican on the way. We stopped on the peninsula at a bridge over the Rio Rincon. There were shore birds including Willet, Spotted Sandpiper, and Whimbrel on the river sandbars. The bridge was only one lane wide and had a very large hole in the floor that someone had partially covered with sheet metal and a board. So we had to keep running off the bridge when cars and trucks came over it. One of the trucks was a very large logging truck filled with large logs. Most of us exited the bridge for that one!

We continued down the peninsula to within a few miles of Pto Jimenez where we drove inland following the Rio Tigre. We went through the very small village of Tigre and followed a few marginal signs for Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge to a river crossing with no bridge! Our great driver, Memo, got out and walked to the river to check the feasibility of crossing it in our 25-passenger Toyota bus. He came back and said it looked doable! It turned out to be three crossings over three foot-deep braids of the river! We made it fine and arrived at the most unusual lodge during our trip!

Liz Jones and Abraham Gallo bought 30 acres that was formerly a gold mining area and built a unique lodge in a clearing just above the river about seven years ago! It is a two-story square building with four open air bedrooms on the second floor! The beds (twins or doubles) have mosquito netting draped from ceiling to floor! We didnít really need the netting, however, because there were no or few mosquitoes or other insects! Rainfall is great there though, and it did rain on and off while we were there. The temperature was probably 85 degrees in the day and the humidity felt like it was the same or greater! But it was pleasant. The food was gourmet and served with wine at a large dining table on the open-air first floor.

There were a few feeders that attracted the Blue-crowned Motmot, Cherrie's Tanager, and a few hummers. Liz and Abraham have carved trails through the rain forest and we saw many amazing birds. There is a large pond that contained nesting Boat-billed Herons, a Least Grebe, and caiman. We saw and photographed adult Boat-billed Herons, a heron chick in the nest, and a heron nest with three white eggs! We visited a small area in the forest and watched a male Orange-crowned Manakin do his click dance to attract females.

We saw King Vulture along with Black and Turkey Vultures; Swallow-tailed and Double-toothed Kites; Tiny, Roadside, and Short-tailed Hawks; White-throated Crake; and Gray-necked Wood-Rail. We had long looks at Scarlet Macaws and saw Orange-chinned Parakeet; Brown-hooded, Blue-headed, White-crowned, and Red-lored Parrots. I photographed an obliging Squirrel Cuckoo from the second floor bedroom and saw Striped Cuckoo. We saw the Costa Rican Swift. New hummers for the trip included White-tipped Sicklebill and nest, White-crested Coquette, Blue-throated Goldentail. Trogans included Bairdís, Violaceous, and Slaty-tailed. Blue-crowned Motmot was utterly tame here! We saw Green Kingfisher, Fiery-billed Aracari, several Chestnut-billed Toucans, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Scaly-throated Leaf-tosser, Black-striped Woodcreeper, Great Antshrike, Black-hooded Antshrike, Dot-winged Antwren, Turquoise Cotinga, Scrub and Lesser Greenlets, Plain and Scaly-breasted Wrens, White-shouldered Tanager, Thick-billed Euphonia, Blueblack Grassquit, and Orange-billed Sparrow.

Other fauna seen here included spectacled caiman, black river slider, red-headed gecko, forest gecko, white-lined bat, proboscis bat, brown-throated three-toed sloth, Hoffman's two-toed sloth, and painted turtle. We also saw many click beetles.

On the way to the airport at Pto Jimenez on the 7th, we saw one adult and two juvenile Yellow-headed Caracaras. We flew from a very small airport in a 12-passenger plane for a 47-minute flight over the bay, along the Pacific coast, and through the mountains to San Jose. We had a delicious farewell dinner at the Hotel Aeropuerto that evening and said goodbye to Richard and Memo after doing our final-day list. Marge bought everyone a margarita to celebrate seeing her first Resplendent Quetzal!

It was a great trip with a companionable group of people. Our driver, Memo, was superb and always smiling. Richard is a phenomenal naturalist, guide, and birder. He knows all the birds by call, song, and sight. And he knows the flora and other fauna equally as well. We talked to him about arranging another trip to some other areas of Costa Rica. It was a great trip and no one wanted to see it come to an end when we flew home on the 8th.

We finished our trip with approximately 352 bird species seen by the various group members. Costa Rica is home to more than 830 bird species.

Memo driving bus across Rio Tigre

Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge

Canopy beds at Rio Tigre

Tiny Hawk

Blue-crowned Motmot

Boat-billed Heron

Boat-billed Heron with chick

Violaceous Trogon

Blue-gray Tanager

Ric, Betty, Jerry, Judi, Kay, Richard, Marge, Tom, Memo, Carol


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