Costa Rica: A Relaxed & Easy Tour Jul 16—24, 2016

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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It might have been a sunny afternoon on September 25, 1502, when Christopher Columbus (he liked to be called then Cristobal Colón) reached what today is called Puerto Limón, in the Caribbean lowlands of Middle America. I can only imagine his crew’s astonishment at seeing a pair of Great Green Macaws in flight, and some of the American natives with Collared Aracaris on their shoulders as pets. But, what really surprised Colón were the gold ornaments that many of the Quiribís were wearing and, having the false impression that such land was very rich in gold, he decided to call it Costa Rica. Neither Colón nor his crew ever imagined that the richness wasn’t gold or other precious metals, but the hundreds of bird species that decorate Costa Rica and make it a great birding destination. In fact, it wasn’t until the late 1800s and early 1900s that ornithologists started focusing on Costa Rica, and only then did they discover the true gold of this amazing country: its biological richness.

Resplendent Quetzal

Resplendent Quetzal— Photo: David Ascanio


To see and enjoy this incredible richness of nature is why we came to Costa Rica. Our first day in San Jose began at the wonderful gardens of the Hotel Bougainvillea where motmots, warblers, and hummingbirds were part of an incredible mix of birds, along with nicely arranged flowers in an amazing set of gardens.

From San José we drove to the famed Cerro de la Muerte  or, as we should call it, Cerro Buena Vista. This was the prime location to look for one of our target species, the Resplendent Quetzal. The first pair was seen from the road as they were making short sallies to feed on a fruiting tree right above our heads. What a view! But the quetzal was only one of the many gems of this incredible mountain. At a relaxed pace, we visited various hummingbird feeder stations, fruiting trees, and other bird feeders to enjoy amazing views of toucanets, tanagers, barbets, finches, and robins. Among the favorites of this part of the tour, I am sure the Collared Whitestart and the Fiery-throated Hummingbird made our jaws drop on various occasions.

Fiery-throated Hummingbird

Fiery-throated Hummingbird— Photo: David Ascanio








Next to Cerro Buena Vista were the Caribbean lowlands of Costa Rica. There we visited three locations: the Aerial Tram, La Selva Field Station, and the Sarapiqui River. The Aerial Tram gave us a prime opportunity to enjoy and understand forest structure, from ground level to canopy. While riding in the gondolas we came across canopy mixed species flocks, as well as butterflies and amazing epiphytes. We also learned about orchid ecology and discussed the importance of the buffer zones in protected areas. One of the best gifts of the Aerial Tram was the pair of Baird’s Tapirs that had made the meeting hall their home. This tapir is probably the most threatened of all! Later, in La Selva, we had a more intimate forest experience. Right on one of the trails we were welcomed by manakins, motmots, antbirds, wrens, and jacamars. We explored forest understory and discovered dart frogs and leaf-cutter ants very close to our feet. The boat trip on the Sarapiqui and San Juan rivers complemented both forest experiences. On a comfortable and roofed boat we were able to enjoy trogons, ibises, kingfishers, and other wildlife. The tour closed with a brief visit to the La Virgen Road and the access road reaching the Poás Volcano where we enjoyed superb views of more hummingbirds and feeders, as well as the intriguing Wrenthrush or Zeledonia (Zeledonia coronata). 

Thank you for joining us!