Trip report: Costa Rica; The Introtour (July 2015) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Sam Woods. This was a set departure tour.

In some ways this was a typical Costa Rica Introtour; a great selection of birds, with a sprinkling of other fascinating animals too, whether it be Strawberry Poison Dart Frog, sloths, monkeys, white bats, or agoutis scampering through the forest. However, in other ways, this tour was atypical. We ran this tour for the first time in July this year (in addition to our more traditional February departures), due to both high demand for this tour, and when the Costa Rica low season means that getting space in some of the most popular lodges is less troublesome than the North American wintertime. What this meant was some surprises in the bird list, with some common birds appearing uncommon, and other scarcer species, usually unexpected on this tour, making appearances. A great example of this was with Three-wattled Bellbird, for which July is a good time, and our sightings of the male made it one of the most popular birds of the trip; (this is a migratory bird that is very rarely seen in February). The upshot of all of this was a highly successful tour, with around 370 bird species recorded, comparing very favorably with many of our usual February tours; and this was totaled when almost no North American migrants were around to bolster the list as they are in February. I think it is the fair to say that this will be the start of many tours running in this season, to give greater choice to those for whom February is a month that they simply cannot do.

Costa Rica is rightly regarded as one of the World’s best birding countries for birds, and by the trip end all could understand, firsthand, why. In a country that packs in more species per square mile than any other on Earth, there was bound to be a struggle to narrow down the trip highlights, bird-wise, although some of these were: A memorable male Lattice-tailed Trogon in the foothills of Braulio Carrillo on our first morning that opened the floodgates for trogons; 9 species from the family (i.e. all that were possible on this itinerary) were seen!; the must-see Resplendent Quetzal was one of these, with it’s wispy long tail covert feathers trailing behind him within the scenic Oak cloudforest of Savegre. The full set of motmots on this itinerary were also seen (i.e. 4 species), including the stunning Turquoise-browed Motmot in the steamy lowlands of Carara a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean; a dozen species of woodpecker was found, with the large red, and black-and-white form of Pale-billed Woodpecker being a particular standout, due to the prolonged views obtained in the lowland jungles of the Caribbean; 14 species of parrots, with the Great Green Macaws and Scarlet Macaws seen on opposite sides of Costa Rica’s volcanic mountains being notable standouts among this crowd. For many, it was to be there first experience of Neotropical bird families, and so birds like Black-faced Antthrush and Stripe-chested Antpitta were not only unexpectedly easy on this trip, but also the first family encounters for some. While some of the manakins seen were, sadly, dowdy females, after some work, all present got to see a super male Long-tailed Manakin, shortly after a successful search for “bonking” Three-wattled Bellbirds in the dry forests of Bajo del Tigre. Two impressive, though strikingly different, jays also put in appearance; the arresting White-throated Magpie-Jay in dry forest en-route to Monteverde, and a small troop of Azure-hooded Jays in the wet cloudforests of Monteverde itself, a bird of more subtle, though unquestionable, beauty too. A Wrenthrush, usually one of the most elusive Costa Rican birds, defied this reputation, and instead hopped around, quite literally within arm’s length, of a shocked group in Savegre, (and just moments after a quetzal had revealed what a special valley that is).

An atypically large number of Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers around our mountain lodge and spa in Savegre were also notable, and made this always-popular bird especially conspicuous. A superb Lesser Ground-Cuckoo sitting in the open for what felt like an age, which Janice had noticed creep in quietly, during a short detour into the dry lowlands of the north Pacific was also a standout moment, and more than justified a little extra travel time. Super-confiding Great Tinamou and Great Curassow, and daytime roosting Crested Owl on the wonderfully easy trails at La Selva made this place a standout spot for many. Last, but by no means least, 30 species of hummingbirds peppered the tour, including such glittering species as the tiny endemic Coppery-headed Emerald, the achingly beautiful Fiery-throated Hummingbird, and just plain gorgeous Violet Sabrewing. And, it would be a travesty not to mention some of the other animals too, for Costa Rica is always a destination famous for its all round appeal to both birders and naturalists alike; 2 species of sloth were seen in as many days at La Selva. The mammal list of more than a dozen species, included spider-monkeys, howler monkeys, 2 species of “white” bats (Northern Ghost Bat and Honduran White Bat), and colorful poison dart frogs; and the prolonged look at a Mexican Hairy Dwarf Porcupine sitting on an overhead cable in the Talamanca Mountains was an unexpected mammalian highlight.

With all of these birds, and much more besides, there was a viciously fought battle for the Top Five Birds of the Tour, with a long and varied list of candidates nominated between the group; well over 20 species were contenders for this select list, although, in the end, it was ruthlessly whittled down to just five…

1 Three-wattled Bellbird (Bajo del Tigre)
2 Lesser Ground-Cuckoo (Puerto Morales)
3= Sunbittern (La Selva)
3= Wrenthrush (Savegre)
3= Pale-billed Woodpecker (La Selva)

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