Trip report: Costa Rica, The Introtour Group 1 (Feb. 2017)

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

There can be few countries in the World as welcoming to birders as Costa Rica; everywhere we went birds were plentiful and frequently people with binoculars were in attendance too. Indeed, Costa Rica makes you feel odd if you are NOT wearing a pair. We enjoyed a fantastic tour of some of the most revered sites in Costa Rican birding; we started out near San Jose in the dry Central Valley, before driving over to the Caribbean side, where foothill birding was done in and around Braulio Carrillo National Park, and held beautiful birds from the outset, like Black-and-yellow Tanager, Black-thighed Grosbeak, and daytime Spectacled and Crested Owls. A tour first was also provided by a Thicket Antpitta seen well by all. From there we continued downslope to the lowlands of that side, and the world famous La Selva Biological Station. La Selva is a place where birds feel particularly plentiful, and we racked up a heady list of birds on our one and a half days there, including Rufous and Broad-billed Motmots, Black-throated Trogon, Pale-billed, Cinnamon and Chestnut-colored Woodpeckers, Keel-billed and Yellow-throated Toucans, and Great Curassow, to name just a few of the highlights, which also included several two-toed sloths, the iconic Red-eyed Tree Frog (photo last page), and Strawberry Poison Dart Frogs of the much publicized “blue jeans” form that adorns so many tourist posters in this Sarapiqui region.

After sweating it out in the Caribbean lowlands, we were relieved with the much more tolerable climate offered at our next famous birding hotspot, the Oak-dominated cloudforests of the Savegre Valley. After several days in the highlands we had racked up many of the available endemic birds, like Spangle-cheeked Tanager, the evergreen Collared Redstart, Black-and-yellow and Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers, White-throated Mountain-Gem and Fiery-throated Hummingbird. It was also good to see the odd Wrenthrush down to a minimum of ten feet away from us all, a bird that is neither wren nor thrush, but currently at least, considered to be a weird ground-dwelling warbler that almost completely lacks a tail, or the song or feel of a normal warbler! We also ventured above the treeline to Cerro de la Muerte (“Hill of Death”), where birds of this more extreme environment included tame Volcano Juncos, the unpredictable Peg-billed Finch, and the stunted Timberline Wren. Returning to the lowlands, this time we descended on to the Pacific side, in order to visit one of Costa Rica’s most treasured birding areas-Carara National Park. However, on the way there, we made a short, but productive, stop in the foothills of the Pacific slope near the city of San Isidro, our only such session at this elevation, which yielded our main “hope” target, the spectacular Turquoise Cotinga. The purple and electric blue male of this species performed so well, it easily won the bird of the tour competition, (as it should have done), following 20-minute long ‘scope views of it bathed in perfect afternoon light! Once in the Pacific lowlands, Carara National Park featured, of course, but we also took in a wonderful, lazy boat ride on the Tarcoles River one afternoon too. The area’s flagship bird, the raucous Scarlet Macaw was suitably seen first within the grounds of our hotel, Villa Lapas, which is named after this bird. Other highlights in this area, which represents the transition of the great avifaunas of the dry northern Pacific with the wetter, more humid southern Pacific lowlands; included the breathtaking Turquoise-browed Motmot, a big favorite of many on this particular tour; a beautiful male Baird’s Trogon that lingered in our scope for some time high in the tall primary rainforest; two separate looks at the well-named Fiery-billed Aracari; some serious close ups with Bare-throated Tiger-Herons, a daytime Barn Owl, Black-headed Trogons above the reception of our sprawling hotel and a slow, long look at that oddity that it is the Lesser Ground-Cuckoo. An immaculately clean white Northern Ghost Bat suspended from a palm by one leg in Carara also bought some distraction from all that is avian.

After our last period in the lowlands, we again rose up into the mountains, but this time to the highlands further west in and around the world famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve. A visit to several, markedly different, reserves in the area brought us what we had desired most; good long looks at Costa Rica’s most hyped bird, the resplendent Resplendent Quetzal, whose long emerald green feathers gently caught the breeze as they hung below the male. Some final, brief coastal birding, added some birds of the dry country, as did an add on trip to some sites in the Central Valley at the tour end, bringing us stellar final views of a group of confiding Fiery-billed Aracaris, and added to our burgeoning trip list that halted at an amazing 433 species recorded, 409 of which were seen by the group. Costa Rica is a tiny country with much to offer, and no one left with a smidgeon of doubt about this, some even yearning to return to visit some of the more “off the beaten track sites” later too, having fallen helplessly for this unique central American country that is so jam-packed with wonderful natural spaces, all of which appear to be loaded with colorful tropical birds!

TOP FIVE BIRDS OF THE TOUR:

1 TURQUOISE COTINGA – San Isidro (18 February)
2 AMERICAN PYGMY-KINGFISHER – Tarcoles River boat tour (19 February)
3 SPECTACLED OWL – (Daytime) Cope’s Place, La Union (14 February)
4= TURQUOISE-BROWED MOTMOT – Tarcoles River boat tour (19 February)
4= BLACK-CRESTED COQUETTE – El Tapir Hummingbird Garden (14 February)

As usual, in a place like super-diverse Costa Rica, this was a hard fought competition with many other birds mentioned among the highlights, including:

Bare-throated Tiger-Heron
Laughing Falcon
Swallow-tailed Kite
Lesser Ground-Cuckoo
Orange-bellied Trogon
Resplendent Quetzal (Please note: Not in the TOP FIVE!)
Scarlet Macaw
Long-tailed Tyrant
Bay-headed Tanager
Blue-black Grassquit (displaying)
Elegant Euphonia
Golden-browed Chlorophonia

Full TROPICAL BIRDING Costa Rica The Introtour Feb. 2017 Trip Report here (pdf format; 5.1 MB size file)