Costa Rica: A Relaxed & Easy Tour Nov 12—20, 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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Our second-of-the-year Costa Rica Relaxed & Easy tour was, once again, a great success. How different can it be when such a small country hosts an amazing mix of hummingbirds, tanagers, tyrant-flycatchers, toucans, and great people? 

Fiery-throated Hummingbird

Fiery-throated Hummingbird— Photo: David Ascanio


We started the tour in the Hotel Bougainvillea, a unique place with an incredible set of gardens. There between flowering bushes, lilies, orchids, and bromeliads, we discovered a pair of White-eared Ground-Sparrows. We also enjoyed many Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds and grasped (for seconds) a view of the Lesson´s or Blue-diademed Motmot. After breakfast we started ascending the road to the infamously named Cerro de la Muerte, and the goal was to reach montane wet forest (cloud forest). This mountain (also known as Cerro Buena Vista) is part of the Cordillera de Talamanca in the central mountain range of Costa Rica. Its cloud forest hosts one of the largest populations of Resplendent Quetzals anywhere in Central America, and you bet, we got to see it well. But Cerro de la Muerte is also a glorious location to look for hummingbirds and tanagers, all easy to see at eye level. In the Restaurante Los Colibríes we enjoyed a delicious lunch while our eyes were delighted with views of the endemic Fiery-throated Hummingbird, the Magnificent Hummingbird, and the always-territorial Green Violetear. The Flame-colored Tanager showed its unique plumage as we discussed the taxonomic changes including members of this genus, the Piranga, which are not tanagers anymore but cardinals. 

After lunch we tried to reach the road to the subparamo vegetation to look for unique avifauna, but the rain prevented us from leaving the bus. So we decided to drive towards the Caribbean slope of the mountain and visit Miriam’s feeders. This happened to be a great decision, as a parade of tanagers, warblers, and woodpeckers showed up timely. Also, a flowering bush was a magnet for a pair of Scintillant Hummingbirds and the unique White-throated Mountain-Gem. If I had to compare this day with a baseball game, I would say that our first day rounded-up a great first inning, as we had batted many hits and doubles.

Resplendent Quetzal

Resplendent Quetzal— Photo: David Ascanio


The second day started with great expectation. From the early morning we had heard about a fruiting tree (Persea, relative of the avocado) that was attracting quetzals. So everyone quickly ate breakfast, and we drove to a mud trail with handrails that would allow us to reach the canopy of this tree, thus seeing our targets at eye level. As we were reaching the upper part of the trail, I saw an emerald-green movement in the tree, and after scoping it we realized it was a male Resplendent Quetzal. What a view! Everyone got superb views of it, but, of course, we wanted more. So we reached the observation level of the trail and from there we waited for these quetzals to show up. After a while we saw not one, not two, but three quetzals, one of which perched in the open, showing all its incredible feathers and elongated uppertail coverts (in one of the males). Apart from seeing quetzals we also observed three Golden-browed Chlorophonias. But, the real surprise of the morning was a Townsend’s Warbler exploring the bark and mosses of the tree. This is an uncommon to rare Neotropical migrant in Costa Rica. So, to give a score on this second inning, I will have to say that we batted a grand slam today!

The third day gave us a different perspective of the cloud forest in Cerro de la Muerte. In the forest garden we had a close approach with Volcano Hummingbird and the unique Long-tailed Sylky-Flycatcher, the latter being closer to waxwings than to tyrant-flycatchers. Other species seen well were Slaty Flowerpiercer, Passerini’s Tanager, Yellow-thighed Finch, and Sooty-capped Chlorospingus (once believed to be a tanager). Close to midday we drove back to San José and continued to the Caribbean lowlands in Sarapiquí. A stop in the Vervain Garden provided another super-exciting moment for the trip. Look at the species we saw: a male Black-crested Coquette; a male, a subadult male, and a juvenile Snowcap; various males of Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer; male and female Crowned Woodnymphs; and the ubiquitous Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. Such a mosaic of hummingbirds rounded-up a third inning with two grand slams, several hits, and scored a good number of runs.

Golden-hooded Tanager

Golden-hooded Tanager— Photo: David Ascanio


The tour continued in the lowlands and mid-elevations of the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica, with visits to La Selva Field Station, the Aerial Tram in the buffer zone of the Braulio Carrillo National Park, a boat trip to the Sarapiquí and Puerto Viejo rivers, and the feeders of Cope, a local artist. All of these were complemented with birds in the feeders at our lodge, La Quinta, which allowed views of Collared Aracari, Red-throated Ant-Tanager (another species that’s not a true tanager!), Passerini’s Tanager, and Orange-billed Sparrow. Naming birds will only add more lines to this paragraph. Instead, I have to say that innings four; five, and six were packed with doubles, triples, several runs, and another grand slam!

For the last full day of birding in Costa Rica (and the last inning of this imaginary game) we decided to visit another hummingbird feeder, located in the mountains of La Virgen, in Cinchonta. The site was packed with two other birding groups and we waited patiently to find ourselves in a suitable place to see the feeders. Our waiting proved advantageous because only after we were virtually the only group on the terrace did a parade of hummingbirds come to the feeders, including the endemic Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, the commonest Green-crowned Brilliant, and Green and Long-tailed hermits. This was a day with several hits, surely more runs, and rounded-up a trip with such a mosaic of colors, plumages, experiences, and people that it would be unfair to pick one as a favorite. I believe that everyone agrees that the highlight of the tour was, in all, Costa Rica, a truly magical country. I hope to see you again!