Northern Barred-Woodcreeper is most easily found attending a swarm of army ants in the rain forest. Photo: Rich Hoyer
This small Central American country compacts more biodiversity within its borders than seems possible. A central spine of mountains creates contrasting Pacific and Caribbean slopes as ocean currents and prevailing winds create a drier north and wetter south. This unique itinerary, which we offer only every two or three years, largely explores the super diverse Caribbean Slope by visiting four lodges: from the foothills in the south to Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast in the east to two lodges in the far north. We’ll also have time in the Cerro de La Muerte highlands, rich in regional endemics and the fabled Resplendent Quetzal. The small size of the country and the well-developed tourism infrastructure, with lodges stressing sustainable ecotourism, make such an itinerary a delight. Midsummer is a wonderful time in Costa Rica: Rain falls mostly later in the day or at night, and temperatures are even a bit cooler than in the spring; it’s the post-breeding season for most birds, meaning our trip coincides with peak numbers; it’s right at the start of Green Sea Turtle nesting season; and finally the press of tourists is much reduced from the peak winter season.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening in San José. Night in San José.
Day 2: The next two days of high-elevation birding will offer refreshingly cool temperatures, luxuriant cloud forests, and flower-filled gardens - and some amazing birds. Resplendent Quetzal, far and away the most celebrated bird of the region, can be surprisingly easy to see, and we’ll be sure to spend time with this most amazing of trogons. Among the other highland specialities we’ll search for are Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Black-capped Flycatcher, Yellow-winged Vireo, Flame-throated Warbler, and Large-footed and Yellow-thighed Finches. Night at Savegre Lodge.
Day 3: We’ll spend much of today in the Talamanca Highlands looking for any species we might not have seen the day before and revisiting hummingbird feeders and fruiting trees frequented by Resplendent Quetzals. In the afternoon we’ll make our way over to the Caribbean slope and a wonderful lodge at a unique mid-elevation location. Night at Rancho Naturalista.
Day 4: We’ll begin the day on the deck at Rancho Naturalista listening to the dawn chorus and watching birds such as lanky Gray-headed Chachalacas and colourful Collared Aracaris visit the feeders below while the hummingbird feeders at eye level are abuzz with activity. Trails that begin just outside our rooms lead into the private forest reserve, where we’ll see a variety of antwrens, manakins, and tanagers. Night at Rancho Naturalista.
Day 5: After another fabulous dawn chorus and burst of activity at the feeders from the balcony of our lodge, we’ll descend the Turrialba Valley to the Caribbean lowlands and on to the coast at Limón. At Caño Blanco, near Limón, we’ll embark on the scenic 90-minute journey by boat up the intercoastal canal to our next lodge in Tortuguero National Park. Along the way we’ll have time to relax, but the vigilant could detect King Vulture, herons, and egrets, as well as parrots flying between their roosts and feeding trees. Night in Tortuguero.
Day 6: We’ll have a full day in Tortuguero National Park, one of Costa Rica’s most famous national parks but one that is seldom visited by birding tours. Our lodge, located right in the gorgeous tropical rainforest, is accessible only by water. The boat rides on the channels will be the highlight of our stay, though we’ll also do plenty of birding on the trails and right around the lodge. We’ll be a bit early for the largest numbers of nesting of Green Sea Turtles, but sightings this time of year are nearly nightly, and with luck we may find a female laying eggs. Frogs, butterflies, and mammals, in addition to the birds, will make our stay here varied and delightful. Night in Tortuguero.
Day 7: Today is a travel day, but we’ll make good time with an early boat departure to meet our vehicle and a new highway to connect with the road north. In the open country along the way we might find Red-breasted Blackbird or Southern Lapwing, both of which are undergoing range expansions, and we’ll make stops for the attractive Laughing Falcon, the huge pink-billed Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, Red-lored Parrot, and many other species. Once we arrive at our lodge we’ll be distracted by Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, and a lovely garden as we check into our rooms. Night near Boca Tapada.
Day 8: Tucked away near the Nicaraguan border, a new lodge gives us access to the lowland rainforest of the Caribbean slope, the most diverse forest anywhere in Costa Rica. Slaty-breasted Tinamou, Great Curassow, and Chestnut-backed Antbird walk the forest floor, while the mid-story is inhabited by Thrushlike Schiffornis and Ochre-bellied Flycatcher. We might even get lucky and discover an army ant swarm. As the ants - harmless to humans - search the leaf litter for prey, and crickets, roaches, and spiders are forced out of their hiding places as they flee the advancing swarm. Many birds take advantage of the easy prey, and some, like Ocellated Antbird, Bicolored Antbird, and Ruddy Woodcreeper, are rarely found away from ant swarms. Sometimes ten or more species of birds can be in attendance, making this an exciting event. We’ll try to cover all the habitats near the lodge and to include some nightbirding in search of owls and other nocturnal creatures. Night in Boca Tapada.
Day 9: We’ll have one last morning to bird near our lodge before departing by road for the foothills of the Cordillera de Guanacaste. These foothills, a series of isolated volcanoes of only moderate elevation, have a dramatic effect on the climate: the western slopes face the seasonally dry Pacific coast while the eastern slopes receive the prevailing winds from the Caribbean and support a lush forest with many streams. Bridges over such streams may help us find Fasciated Tiger-Heron and, especially on the smaller streams, Torrent Tyrannulet and American Dipper. Our hotel for the next three nights is on the Caribbean slope of the dormant volcano of Tenorio. Night in Bijagua.
Days 10-11: We’ll have two full days to explore the birds and natural history of Volcán Tenorio National Park and the Celeste River region. The trails into primary forest and roads along the forest edge will be full of birds. We’ll make a special effort for Tody Motmot, here at the southern edge of its range. Mixed-species flocks here contain multiple tanagers, wrens, and tyrannulets, among many others. We’ll also take an afternoon drive into the open country north of the town to search for Nicaraguan Grackle and Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, both found only in this part of Costa Rica. Nights in Bijagua.
Day 12: On our last morning in Costa Rica we’ll enjoy a final dawn chorus near our hotel grounds and then head for Liberia airport where the tour concludes. **It might be possible for participants to return to San Jose with our tour vehicle, arriving in the afternoon of Day 12.
Updated: 17 November 2020