Costa Rica Birding South, Part 1

A year ago, Kathy and I took a Road Scholar birding trip to Ecuador. It was fabulous! So, we decided we should do a similar trip this fall, and chose Road Scholar’s Costa Rica South offering. It was subtitled: Motmots to Quetzals, and it lived up to that billing. The itinerary would take us through the southern parts of Costa Rica, which we had seen little of on prior trips there. Those trips took place in the 1980s and 90s, and were centered on rafting. The one birding foray we made at that time was to Monteverde, in an attempt to see the Resplendent Quetzal – Costa Rica’s most famous bird. And though we tramped around for a good while on muddy trails, no go. The one vivid memory of that outing that sticks with us is the earthquake that shook our hotel one evening. When we saw the lamps suspended over the dining table begin to sway, we got right up and went outside.

Back to this trip, which didn’t begin well. Our afternoon flight from Albuquerque to Dallas was delayed, which blew our connection to San Jose, CR. We were re-routed to Los Angeles, and re-ticketed onto a Delta red-eye flight from there to San Jose. Instead of getting there at 9 PM on Nov. 1, we arrived at 7 AM the next morning, and were, thus,  just able to connect with our group prior to the scheduled departure at 9 AM for our first birding venue. That location was the Hotel Villa Lapas, and Carara National Park and the Rio Tarcoles, on the central Pacific coast. The hotel name – “lapas” – means scarlet macaw, and we were assured that we would have plenty of opportunity to see that bird.

Our group of 9 consisted of older people, which included the 88 year-old Alice. Kathy and I were the only non-retired persons represented. Some in the group were ardent birders, while others were fairly new to the game. By virtue of participating in, now, two dedicated birding trips, Kathy and I must be considered “birders”. While that might be so, however, we both do not keep life lists, which disqualifies us as serious birders, whose aim always is to add “lifers” to their life lists. My primary attraction to birding has lately become a quest to photograph birds, more than merely to check new birds off the list. Our guide, Erich Guzman, was, of course, the single most important individual in the mix. As was the case with our guide in Ecuador, Edwin, he was an exceptional individual. And, in a similar fashion to Edwin, Erich had an “eagle eye” – the ability to spot birds in dense foliage that far exceeded the rest of us; carried a Swarovski spotting scope; and had the means to play bird songs to attract them to us. What Erich added was the invitation to use our iPhones in conjunction with his spotting scope to take “digiscope” photos of birds. Such photos are usually of higher resolution than those taken by all but the most expensive DSLR cameras, equipped with long lens. Kathy took such photos on a number of occasions, and they are included in what follows. The camera I used exclusively is the Nikon Coolpix P900, a superzoom that zooms to 83X. The photographs I present here range from very sharp to considerably less so, but all serve the larger purpose of documenting as fully as possible the birds we saw, which totaled 245 species. The first two photos seen below were taken at the Villa San Ignacio, located in the San Jose suburb of Alajuela (the first night’s lodging that Kathy and I missed), and the second two beside a pond that was located along the road that we followed on our departure from Alajuela.


Clay-colored Thrush, photographed at a feeder at the Villa San Ignacio, Alajuela. The National Bird.


Hoffman’s Woodpecker, photographed at the same feeder as above


Northern Jacana


Orange-chinned Parakeet

The Villa Lapas is set in a lush lowland rainforest, bisected by a clear creek. The grounds and the creek upstream of the hotel abounded in birds.


Fiery-billed Aracaris, eating palm fruits, on the hotel grounds.

Fiery-billedAracarisKATH MG_0937

Same as above, but “digiscoped” by Kathy, using Erich’s spotting scope and her iPhone. As can be seen, this method provides better resolution.


Fiery-billed Aracaris


Great Kiskadee flycatcher




Ginger family


The creek, viewed from the foot bridge that connects the two areas of the hotel


Summer Tanager




Chapel, located on the grounds of the hotel


Palm trunks


White-whiskered Puffbird (female)


White-whiskered Puffbird

White-whiskeredPuffbirdKATH IMG_0972

Same as above, digiscoped


Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, seen along the creek

SteveKATH IMG_0997 (1)

The blogger, iPhone photo by Kathy Miller

What else did we see as we walked the path along the creek? The cryptically-colored snake seen below was passed by seven persons, including guide Erich, before it was noticed. Those seven persons walked within 18″ of the snake. It’s the very poisonous Fer de lance.

FerDeLance(Bothrops asper)DSCN4249

Fer de lance


Our next destination was Carara National Park, located close by to the hotel.


The park receives much visitation


Trail sign


Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Below: 3 second digiscoped movie of the same bird.


Turquoise-browed Motmot


Same as above, with caterpillar prey


Turquoise-browed Motmot


Nesting Scarlet Macaw. Two macaws occupied this and another cavity located just above this one.


Same as above, digiscoped


Gartered Trogon

GarteredTrogonKathIMG_0969 (1)

Same as above, digiscoped


Fungi. Below: Movie of Leafcutter ants


Walking stick

Two side-trips provided these owl sightings:


Spectacled owl


Old growth, next to plantation of teak trees (right)


Ferruginous Pygmy Owl


Same as above, digiscoped


Crepe ginger

Our last outing was a boat trip to the estuary and mangrove forest of the the Rio Tarcoles.


Rio Tarcoles, upstream view


Black-necked stilt, Rio Tarcoles


Great Egret


Boat-billed Heron


Green Kingfisher on a mangrove root


Mangrove forest


Mangrove Swallow


Osprey on the left, and Wood Stork on the right. Discarded fishing net is seen in the foreground


Roseate Spoonbill


Same as above


Roseate Spoonbills


Scarlet Macaws


Same as above


Roosting Great Egrets


Evening at the Rio Tarcoles estuary


Looking out of the estuary to the Pacific Ocean at sunset

We departed the Villa Lapas after two nights, for a drive south along the Pacific coastline to the Esquinas Rainforest Lodge, located at Gamba. On the way, we stopped at the Baru Reserve, where we walked some of the trails and had lunch. See map:


This is the link to Part 2:


About Evensteven

I am a photographer and author, and live in Embudo, New Mexico, alongside the Rio Grande. I have published a book of photography and accompanying text on running the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The first (print) edition is out of print, but a second edition is available as an iBook (eBook) through the iTunes bookstore. All Grand Canyon, river and nature lovers will enjoy my book: The Grand: I have also published six additional iBooks: 1. The Salt River: 2. Coyote Buttes: 3. Four Cornered, the Land: 4. Four Cornered, The Rivers: 5. Rio Marañon: 6. Rio Grande:
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