Best of Costa Rica Mar 21—Apr 02, 2017

Posted by David Wolf


David Wolf

David Wolf is a senior member of the VENT staff and one of our most experienced tour leaders. After birding the U.S. and Mexico for over a decade, an interest in the wildli...

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Even after many trips over many years we continue to be amazed by Costa Rica, so small in size but huge in possibilities! There are few other places where such a diversity of birds can be seen so readily, in such a compact area, and our 2017 “Best of Costa Rica” tour took full advantage of this wealth as we roamed from one side of the country to the other. Costa Rica has done much to promote conservation, and this really paid off for us, with an astounding number of birds seen. Even more important, most of them were seen well, including many large and spectacular species that have declined over much of their ranges. Such is the joy of birding in Costa Rica!

Resplendent Quetzal

Resplendent Quetzal— Photo: David Wolf


This tour covered four very different regions, each producing its own specialties and surprises. We got off to a great start right in the garden at the Cariari Hotel in San Jose, with a nice selection of typical Costa Rican birds that included some not commonly seen on this trip, like the Green-breasted Mango, Steely-vented Hummingbird, and Grayish Saltator. From here we traveled west across the Meseta Central, eyeing the unusual and beautiful cloud formations hanging over the great volcanoes and ridges to the north. Unfortunately, we soon found ourselves driving right up into those clouds, into a fog that became even thicker as we reached our destination at Villa Blanca Lodge. The fog continued through the afternoon, making birds and their colors hard to see, but with persistence we found both Black and Crested guans, Orange-bellied Trogon, and some of the smaller birds of these lush forests.

We awoke the next day to thick fog and wind again. This was a bit discouraging, but again we dug out some great birds, with especially good studies of forest specialties like the Spotted Barbtail, Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner, Spotted Woodcreeper, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Pale-vented Thrush, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, and Blue-and-gold Tanager. All of these are typical of the lower subtropical zone, but are rarely easy to see. The fog finally lifted in the afternoon, at last fully revealing the brilliant colors of the Bay-headed, Silver-throated, and Passerini’s tanagers that had previously been only silhouettes in the fog. Dawn the next morning brought fog again—this is called the “cloud forest” for a reason—but it wasn’t quite as dense, and we were able to study a parade of “mini-birds” coming to a fruiting tree, including Olive-striped Flycatcher, a female White-ruffed Manakin, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Black-and-yellow Tanager, and Tawny-capped Euphonia. It was only after leaving the mountains that afternoon and descending to the steamy Pacific lowlands in the vicinity of Carara National Park that we learned that this unusual weather system had blanketed much of the country with rain and cooler-than-expected temperatures, caused by a late cold front in North America.

Read David’s full report in his Field List.