Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Costa Rica - Week 3, The South

View from the ridge above Wilson Botanical Gardens.
In case you missed the first two installments:

Week 1 - The Lowlands

Week 2 - The Central Highlands and Caribbean Lowlands

We continued south from the highlands on the Inter-American Highway to the Pacific-
side lowland south, and the Wilson Botanical Gardens, or Las Cruces Biological Station. A full day birding this area added many new species to our lists, including the near endemic Garden Emerald and skulking Pale-breasted Spinetail.

Wilson bird list

Birding Wilson Botanical Gardens
Silver-throated Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Garden Emerald
Pale-breasted Spinetail
Leaving Wilson early the next morning we drove south to seasonal rice fields near the town of Cuidad Neily. For such an unassuming area we sure cleaned up on birds. It was here, within the time-span of about 3 fast and furious minutes, that I got my last three species needed for 3000 world life birds (and more before we left!). Number 3000 was the spectacular Veraguan Mango which just barely reaches Costa Rica in the south. 

Rice Fields bird list 1
Rice Fields bird list 2

Seasonal rice fields
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
Smooth-billed Ani
Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet
Veraguan Mango for 3000!
Saphire-throated Hummingbird
We headed west from there and onto the Osa Peninsula and Corocovado National Park, one of the most biologically diverse places on earth. On our arrival, in beautiful evening light at the Rio Rincon bridge, a pair of male Yellow-billed Cotingas perched in their usual way high atop the tree canopy. Spectacular.

Rio Rincon bridge list

Afternoon at the river Rio Rincon. Cotinga trees on the far right
Beautiful male Yellow-billed Cotinga sits high in a tree

Birding the forest around the lodge we found an active Orange-collard Manakin lek. These manakin males join together to attract females, snapping their wings overhead in a sound like popcorn popping. What a hoot. In the afternoon a quick stop at an open field turned into an all afternoon affair as we just kept turning up more new birds, and some mammals! 

Lodge bird list
Afternoon bird list

Birding the lodge trails
Canopy tower view
Charming Hummingbird

Baird's Trogon
Orange-collared Manakin
Neotropical River Otters
Scarlet Macaws
Fiery-billed Aracari
We started back north the next day as it was time to start wrapping up the trip. Some grassland habitat along the way turned up an amazing variety of seed-finches and seedeaters. 

Yellow-bellied Seedeater
As we got closer to the central valley again we stopped near San Isidro at the historic home of Alexander Skutch, the father of ornithology in Costa Rica. It was a fun stop and added a few more birds to our lists on the surrounding trails. And lunch at a nearby small restaurant produces some great looks at Fiery-billed Aracari.

Skutch home bird list

Skutch home
Historic Skutch home
Spot-crowned Euphonia
Fiery-billed Aracari
Fiery-billed Aracari
The next morning we stopped at the small private property of Bosque de Tolomuco for the exceptional hummingbird gardens. It was a veritable free-for-all as we ran from one life bird to the next. The Magenta-throated Woodstar and White-crested Coquettes stole the show.

Bosque de Tolomuco bird list

Long-billed Starthroat
Snowy-bellied Hummingbird
White-crested Coquette
White-crested Coquette
White-crested Coquette
Swallow-tailed Kite soaring over the action
By evening we were back in San Jose but had one more full day-trip before departing. The La Paz Waterfall Garden is only about an hour from the city near Poas Volcano National Park. This private property, which could (or should) easily be another national park, has exceptional scenery and magnificent birding (especially hummingbirds). The weather wasn't so good, with morning rain and mist, but we made the best of it and had a great time, especially when the staff brought out the hand feeders for the hummers.

La Paz bird list

One of several large waterfalls in the park
Jon feeds a Green-crowned Brilliant while Mike waits his turn
Susan has fun with a hummer
Green Hermit
Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush

And the fun wasn't over as our lunch spot just down the road had an insane view of the "Costa Rica Grand Canyon" and many birds at the feeders. 

Bird list

Lunch spot view
Black Guan
Black Guan
Black-cowled Oriole
Blue-gray Tanager
Common Chlorospingus
Northern Emerald-Toucanet
Northern Emerald-Toucanet
Prong-billed Barbet
Tennessee Warbler

Susan and I finished up the 20 days in country with over 500 species of birds, an amazing accomplishment that is mostly due to our guides and trip organization. And after three weeks Susan and I were number 1 and 2 for eBird for all of Costa Rica for the year (only because guide Mario hasn't submitted all his lists yet... but still...). How cool is that!


All too soon our time in Costa Rica was over. This whole trip was made special by a cast of wonderful people. To our fellow trip folks: Susan and Frank, Liga and Tom, Debbie and Mike, and Jon - thanks for the wonderful memories, good camaraderie, and all the birds. Many thanks to Alberto and his wife Andrea, owners of Transportes Vivratur, for the wonderful hospitality at the start of our trip and your excellent transportation team. To our primary driver Rodrigo (and excellent bird spotter!), muchas gracias amigo. And to our guide and new friend Mario Cordoba H. of Crescentia Expeditions, thank you so much for your hard work, patience, exceptional bird finding skills, and friendship. I hope we will see you again soon.

And a special thank you has to go out to our friend Bob Barnes who spent months of his time putting this trip together for us. Please know that we really do appreciate your knowledge of Costa Rica and efforts in organizing an outstanding trip. Thanks again.

Pura Vida!