Costa Rica: A Relaxed & Easy Tour Nov 14—22, 2015

Posted by David Ascanio


David Ascanio

David Ascanio, a Venezuelan birder and naturalist, has spent over 35 years guiding birding tours throughout his native country, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, the...

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Once again, Costa Rica provided an amazing mix of birds, mammals, and reptiles, along with unique opportunities to learn about the interrelations between birds and their habitats.

Our tour started in Cerro de la Muerte, a mountain that’s part of the Talamanca Cordillera, where a hummingbird-filled week gave us views of the near-endemics Volcano Hummingbird, White-throated Mountain-Gem, and Fiery-throated Hummingbird. Easy birding along the road allowed us to see other wonderful birds such as Spangled-cheeked and Silver-throated tanagers, Slaty Flowerpiercer, and Yellow-thighed and Large-footed finches.

Emerald Toucanet

Emerald Toucanet— Photo: David Ascanio


Cerro de la Muerte is notorious not only for its unique tanagers and hummingbirds, but also for hosting a healthy population of the incomparable Resplendent Quetzal, a bird species named after the main deity for Mesoamerican Amerindian Cultures. Thanks to the efforts of Marco and Santiago, you got to see not only a female, but also an adult male through the scope. Seeing the quetzal wrapped-up a successful (although rainy) first part of the tour in the Talamanca Mountains.

The second part of our tour focused on the lowlands of the Costa Rican Caribbean and included a visit to the Braulio Carrillo National Park. In the buffer zone of this park we took a gondola ride along the aerial tram, and we were welcomed with views of orchids, epiphytes, and canopy-feeding flocks, at eye level! Add to this list of wildlife a view of the Bare-necked Umbrellabird, a member of the Cotingidae only found in Costa Rica and Western Panama, and also the rare Baird’s Tapir.

Baird's Tapir

Baird’s Tapir— Photo: David Ascanio


Using the gondolas (and having the opportunity to slow down the speed when we found birds) allowed us a close encounter with a canopy-feeding flock, virtually at eye level and without having to curve our necks. All these birds were foraging frenetically as if the food source was going to be scarce or gone in seconds. We first saw a group of Carmiol’s Tanagers accompanied by a pair of Tawny-headed Tanagers and later a flock containing Silver-throated, Spangled-cheeked, Emerald, Golden-hooded, Black-and-yellow, and Blue-and-gold tanagers. These species were showing up in such a progressive way that we were able to nail one after the other in a relaxed pace.  There were also honeycreepers, Bananaquits, tyrant-flycatchers, Lesser Greenlet, and Common Chlorospingus (previously called Common Bush-Tanager). This feast happened and ended suddenly, thus leaving us with the forest silence and the opportunity to enjoy more bromeliads, flowers, and orchids.

American Pygmy Kingfisher

American Pygmy Kingfisher— Photo: David Ascanio









In the Caribbean lowlands of Costa Rica we visited the famous La Selva (OTS) station. This impressive land mixes tropical humid forest with edge habitat and covers approximately 3,900 acres. As we were in a relaxed and easy style, we birded the entrance area and walked the flat trail along the river’s edge. Here, we nailed Broad-billed and Rufous motmots, White-collared Manakin, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and Gray-chested Dove. I believe everyone agreed that the edge habitat was the most bird-productive of all. Tyrant-flycatchers, becards, trogons, and hummingbirds kept us distracted for nearly two hours at the OTS entrance area.

To complement the mix of habitats, we took a boat trip to the Sarapiqui and San Juan rivers. From the starting point we were exposed to seeing new species, from the common Mangrove Swallow to the less common and hard-to-find American Pygmy Kingfisher. We came across Buff-rumped Warbler, trogons, and found a tree packed with figs where 4 male Snowy Cotingas were pulling fruits continuously. On our way back to the dock we saw something jumping into the water. It was a flash view of a Neotropical Otter that disappeared inside the dark river. We waited patiently and tried to follow the ripples of the water left by this individual anytime it showed its face to look at us. Eventually, I heard the smashing sound of its canine teeth and discovered it hiding behind roots in the water, digesting a head of a catfish. This magical moment wrapped up a tour that I am sure will take many days for you to digest, once you´re back home, in a cooler but drier environment!