18 March–3 April 2014
Costa Rica possesses enormous habitat diversity, from mangrove swamps through cloud forest to sub-alpine Paramo above the tree-line at over 3400m, and from volcanoes down through tropical rainforest to the Pacific coastline. Approximately 840 species have been recorded, some of which are endemic, and there is an excellent field guide that illustrates them.
Day 1 Flight from London to San Jose and transfer to a lovely hotel half an hour from the airport for an overnight stay.
Day 2 Some of the first birds likely to be encountered in the beautiful hotel grounds this morning are Hoffmann's Woodpecker, Blue-and-white Swallow, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Baltimore Oriole, Blue-grey Tanager, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Great-tailed Grackle and the very common Clay-coloured Thrush. Slightly more difficult species we will be looking for are Orange-billed Nightingale-thrush, White-eared Ground-sparrow, Blue-crowned Motmot and Greyish Saltator. The highlight of the morning could quite possibly be the stunning Prevost's Ground-sparrow, a localised species within the central valley. After breakfast we will make our way over the Pacific slope to the dry, cowboy country called Guanacaste. Black-and-white Owl is almost always on a day-roost in a small town park and it is certainly worth a short stop to admire this spectacular species. Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth and Variegated Squirrel are seen easily near the owl's roost. Later in the afternoon we will birdwatch at one of the best wetland areas on the Pacific slope. Black-necked Stilt, Willet, Whimbrel, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitcher, Black-bellied and Wilson's Plovers, Stilt, Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Laughing Gull, Caspian, Royal and Gull-billed Terns and Black Skimmer are just a few of the many possibilities in this rich habitat. It is also a good area for the shy Lesser Ground-cuckoo, which is quite vocal at this season. An early-evening arrival at our hotel may give us the opportunity to search a nearby patch of woodland for Pacific Screech-owl.
Day 3 An early start will put us in open, scrubby habitat, ideal for searching for several of our target species including Crested Bobwhite, Laughing Falcon, Crested Caracara, Double-striped Thick-knee, Ferruginous Pygmy-owl, Common Ground-dove, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Canivet's Emerald, Plain-capped Starthroat, White-fronted and Yellow-naped Parrots, Orange-fronted Parakeet, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Scissor-tailed and Nutting's Flycatchers, Mangrove Cuckoo, White-throated Magpie-jay, Streak-backed Oriole and the tiny Scrub Euphonia. There is always a chance of seeing something uncommon, such as White-tailed Hawk or even King Vulture. Once inside Palo Verde, we will be birding in a much more wooded environment. Great Curassow, Thicket Tinamou, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Elegant Trogon, Olive Sparrow and Banded Wren are all found in this extensive park. Several more difficult possibilities include Collared Forest-falcon, Crane Hawk and Spectacled Owl. Mammals may include White-tailed Deer, Mantled Howler and White-faced Capuchin. The research station is a great place to view a very large and seemingly endless wetland where ducks, herons and egrets are numerous. Palo Verde is home to one of the largest concentrations of Black-bellied Whistling-ducks in Central America. Other birds normally present include Jabiru, Wood Stork, Limpkin, Snail Kite, Roseate Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Muscovy Duck, Blue-winged Teal and Fulvous Whistling-duck. After lunch at the research facility we will be departing for the mountainous country of Monteverde. The rough road on the way up is unforgiving, but the cooler climate will be much-appreciated. We will have the privilege of spending two nights in accommodation in this wonderful cloud forest habitat.
Day 4 We will spend the whole day around Santa Elena in Monteverde, where species we can expect include Black Guan, Swallow-tailed Kite, Prong-billed Barbet, Orange-bellied Trogon, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Streak-breasted Treehunter, Lineated Foliage-gleaner, Red-faced Spinetail, Spotted Barbtail, Grey-throated Leaftosser, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Slaty-backed Nightingale-thrush, Black-faced Solitaire, White-throated Spadebill, Chestnut-capped Brush-finch, Three-striped Warbler, Golden-browed Chlorophonia and Elegant Euphonia. Certainly one of the most spectacular species here is Three-wattled Bellbird, which we will have a good chance of seeing; its loud, intense call is the best way to locate one. Black-breasted Wood-quail and Bare-shanked Screech-owl are also residents but can be quite difficult to track down. The hummingbirds of the area include Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, Green Violetear, Green-crowned Brilliant, Coppery-headed Emerald, Violet Sabrewing and the uncommon Magenta-throated Woodstar. Many of these species can be photographed from just a few feet away, oblivious to the many onlookers. Mottled Owl is resident near the hotel and will be searched for after dark.
Day 5 An early-morning visit to the Finca Ecologica is best when trying to see the shy and local Chiriqui Quail-dove. Other birds which can be found in the cool morning include Ovenbird, Rufous-and-white Wren, Long-tailed Manakin, Golden-crowned Warbler and sometimes a raucous family party of Black-breasted Wood-quails. White-nosed Coatis can also be seen in the reserve. We will be having lunch en route to our comfortable hotel near the Arenal volcano, where we will stay for two nights. If we have clear weather upon arrival we should be able to view this beautiful, very active volcano. The thick rainforest habitat at its base is always fabulous for birding. Before settling into our hotel we should have a couple of hours to explore the area. A few of the many possibilities here are Pied-billed Grebe, Ringed and Amazon Kingfishers, Crested Guan, Ornate Hawk-eagle, Grey, White and Short-tailed Hawks, Green-breasted Mango, White-necked Jacobin, Broad-billed and Rufous Motmots, Brown-hooded and White-crowned Parrots, Gartered Trogon, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Black-cheeked and Smoky-brown Woodpeckers, Slaty Spinetail, Piratic and Grey-capped Flycatchers, White-throated Thrush, Montezuma Oropendola, Hepatic, Passerini's and Crimson-collared Tanagers, Black-headed and Buff-throated Saltators, Buff-rumped Warbler and the colourful Black-cowled Oriole. Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth and Spider Monkey can also be seen from time to time, high in the forest canopy.
Day 6 Starting early, we will focus on the shy, skulking forest species. The antbirds are well-represented here and we may find several including Bare-crowned, Bicoloured, Dusky and Dull-mantled Antbirds and, with luck, the spectacular Ocellated and Spotted Antbirds. Other antbirds we will try to locate are Great, Fasciated, Barred and Russet Antshrikes as well as the uncommon Streak-crowned Antvireo. Thicket Antpitta is very tricky, but can sometimes be seen early in the morning for those willing to step into the thick forest undergrowth. While exploring the darker interior of the forest we may see Song Wren, White-collared Manakin and quite possibly the tiny White-ruffed Manakin. Mixed feeding-flocks in the area contain many Caribbean-slope specialities including Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Spotted Woodcreeper, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Black-and-yellow and Carmiol's Tanagers, Slate-coloured Grosbeak and the very energetic Tawny-crowned Greenlet. A wide variety of other birds are commonly seen along the roadside and we may encounter Pale-vented Pigeon, Red-lored Parrot, Squirrel Cuckoo, Streak-headed and Wedge-billed Woodcreepers, Stripe-breasted and Black-throated Wrens, Long-tailed Tyrant, Masked Tityra, Yellow-billed Cacique, Common and Black-headed Tody-flycatchers, Long-billed Gnatwren and several beautiful tanager species. Black-crested Coquette and Violet-headed Hummingbird can normally be found feeding on the many flowering bushes in the hotel grounds. After dark we will try our luck with the enormous Great Potoo. At times this species can be quite responsive and give good views. We will need more luck to find the difficult Crested Owl, a notoriously poor responder, but Common Pauraque should be located easily.
Day 7 The area of the Arenal Hanging Bridges is an excellent birding site. The well-built bridges offer amazing views of the forest and will give us a chance to view some of the rainforest canopy species up close and personal. Some of the many birds to be expected are White-fronted Nunbird, Thrush-like Schiffornis, Rufous Mourner, Nightingale Wren, Slaty Antwren, Bronze-tailed (Red-footed) Plumeleteer, Bay-headed and White-shouldered Tanagers, the wing-flicking Slaty-capped Flycatcher and the attractive Orange-billed Sparrow. Rarities sometimes found include Keel-billed Motmot, Purplish-backed Quail-dove and the stunning Rufous-winged Tanager. After lunch we will visit the wetlands and patchy forests of Cano Negro. Afternoon birding along the entrance road and in the woodland around our new hotel can produce a wide variety of exciting species including Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Roadside Hawk, Northern Jacana, Black-headed Trogon, Olive-throated and Crimson-fronted Parakeets, Chestnut-coloured and Rufous-winged Woodpeckers, Plain-breasted Ground-dove, Grey-headed Dove, Spot-breasted Wren, Pied Puffbird, Northern Beardless-tyrannulet, White-collared and Variable Seedeaters and the impressive Thick-billed Seed-finch. After dinner, those who are keen can join the nocturnal outing in search of Common (Grey) Potoo and possibly one of the area's owls.
Day 8 After a quick shot of coffee we will head towards the boat dock. This very tranquil boat-tour will take about three hours and it will cover some fantastic birding habitat. Just a few of the many species that can be seen from the boat include Anhinga, Boat-billed Heron, Black-collared Hawk, Grey-necked Wood-rail, Purple Gallinule, White-throated Crake, Bare-throated Tiger-heron, Royal Flycatcher, Cinnamon and White-winged Becards, Mangrove Swallow, Orchard Oriole, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Waterthrush and the lovely Grey-crowned Yellowthroat. An important bird to see on the boat-tour is Nicaraguan Grackle. Pairs of this sought-after species can be seasonally common in the tall grass along the riverbanks. We may also find Sungrebe, Pinnated Bittern and Southern Lapwing. Following the boat-trip and some final local birding we will drive to La Selva for a two-night stay.
Day 9 La Selva is one of the best places in Costa Rica to watch birds. The ecosystem is mainly primary rainforest, with scattered patches of secondary growth. In just a few hours it is possible to build up a list of more than 100 species. Birding along the entrance road in the early-morning will produce many memorable birding moments. Just a few of the species we might expect to see include Little Tinamou, Grey-headed Chachalaca, Grey-headed and Double-toothed Kites, Pale-vented, Red-billed and Short-billed Pigeons, Blue Ground-dove, Mealy Parrot, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, Black- (Chestnut-) mandibled Toucan, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Northern Barred-woodcreeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Bright-rumped Attila, White-ringed and Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Snowy Cotinga, Band-backed Wren, Red-throated Ant-tanager, Dusky-faced, Golden-hooded and Plain-coloured Tanagers, Green and Shining Honeycreepers, Yellow-tailed Oriole, Chestnut-headed Oropendola and the cute Olive-backed Euphonia. The large trees along the Sarapiqui River are home to a large population of Green Iguanas, some measuring more than a metre in length. We will soon make our way into primary rainforest. The bird activity is normally a bit slower here, but the rewards can be fantastic. Great Tinamou, Black-throated Trogon, White-necked Puffbird, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Western Slaty-antshrike and the diminutive Black-capped Pygmy-tyrant can often be found. At dusk, the very distinctive Short-tailed Nighthawk may suddenly appear over the forest edge. The river adjacent to our hotel is now one of the best places to find the sought-after Sunbittern, which can sometimes even be seen on the nest. Fasciated Tiger-heron can also be found in the rocky areas of the river. Some additional La Selva specialities are Slaty-breasted Tinamou, Agami Heron, Tiny and Semiplumbeous Hawks, Olive-backed Quail-dove, Great Green Macaw, Vermiculated Screech-owl, Central American Pygmy-owl and Spot-fronted Swift.
Day 10 The cooler climate today will certainly be a nice change. We will start birding in the breathtaking La Virgen del Socorro Valley, where we will try to locate Barred, Broad-winged and White Hawks, Vaux's and White-collared Swifts, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Torrent Tyrannulet, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Bay Wren, Pale-vented Thrush, Slate-throated Redstart, Tropical Parula and the skulking Sooty-faced Finch. Lanceolated Monklet does occur in the valley, but good fortune is needed in order to spot this little prize. We will stop at a small coffee-shop which has bird-feeders. These can attract Green Hermit, Brown Violetear, Black-bellied Hummingbird, White-bellied Mountain-gem, Green Thorntail, Red-headed Barbet and Emerald Toucanet. On our way to Braulio Carrillo we will make a short stop at El Tigre Marsh, where a few species fairly easily seen from the roadside include Green Ibis, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Giant Cowbird and the superb Nicaraguan Seed-finch. Our hotel for the night is located just inside the large Braulio Carrillo National Park. This is a perfect place to begin our birding the next morning.
Day 11 Braulio Carrillo is one of the largest intact forests on the Caribbean slope and is home to a wealth of birdlife. Mixed-species flocks can be encountered at any time on the numerous trails and, if we get a huge flock passing through, it might be one of the highlights of the tour. Species we may see include Bat Falcon, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Snowcap, Lattice-tailed Trogon, Striped Woodhaunter, Green Shrike-vireo, Black-headed Nightingale-thrush, Emerald and Tawny-crested Tanagers, White-throated Shrike- tanager, Black-faced Grosbeak, Scarlet-rumped Cacique and Tawny-capped Euphonia. Black Hawk-eagle, Red-fronted Parrotlet, Yellow-eared Toucanet, Grey-headed Piprites, Black-crowned Antpitta and Blue-and-gold Tanager are all very difficult species to find but we will have all morning to try for them. An afternoon arrival at Savegre will allow us to become familiar with some of the more common highland species. We will have a two-night stay at one of the most attractive lodges on the tour schedule.
Day 12 It can be cold in the Savegre valley but, once the sun appears over the high mountain peaks, it warms up nicely. Starting early, we will try to locate the amazing Resplendent Quetzal. It can normally be found fairly easily in the fruiting trees just behind the cabins. The massive oaks and scattered fruiting trees near the lodge also often produce Ruddy Pigeon, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Acorn and Hairy Woodpeckers, Ruddy Treerunner, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Yellowish and Black-capped Flycatchers, Ruddy-capped Nightingale-thrush, Yellow-winged and Brown-capped Vireos, Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher, Flame-throated and Black-cheeked Warblers, Collared Redstart, Common and Sooty-capped Bush-tanagers, Flame-coloured and Spangle-cheeked Tanagers, Yellow-thighed Finch, Black-thighed Grosbeak and the glowing Yellow-bellied Siskin. The beautiful resident subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk can be seen soaring right above the lodge. The hummingbird-feeders near the restaurant are a great place to study the field-marks of Magnificent, Scintillant and Volcano Hummingbirds and White-throated Mountain-Gem, all of which are in regular attendance. The afternoon will be spent at a slightly higher elevation. Birds we will be looking for include Spotted Wood-quail, Costa Rican Pygmy-owl, Silvery-throated Jay, Black-billed Nightingale-thrush and the always-active Large-footed Finch. During the evening we will make our way up into the mountains from the hotel and look for the local Dusky Nightjar.
Day 13 After some final birding around the lodge we will drive to Providencia Road and then to the stunted paramo section of Cerro de la Muerte. Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Ochraceous Pewee, Barred Becard, Timberline Wren, Sooty and Mountain Thrushes, Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher, Wrenthrush, Peg-billed Finch and Volcano Junco are a few of the species we may be able to find in this habitat-zone. Later we will descend to Talari Lodge near San Isidro del General, stopping en route to try for White-tailed Emerald at a roadside restaurant. Talari, where we will spend the night, is a small, quaint hotel with some exceptional birds around the property. Afternoons in this location can be very productive with new species coming fast and furious. Highlights may include Pearl Kite, Scaled Pigeon, Chestnut-collared and Costa Rican Swifts, Garden Emerald, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, Long-billed Starthroat, Fiery-billed Aracari, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Olivaceous Piculet, Turquoise Cotinga, Cherrie's and Speckled Tanagers, Scrub Greenlet and Streaked Saltator. Every so often the tiny White-crested Coquette appears to feed on the many flowering trees. Tropical Screech-owls can sometimes be heard in the evenings, but tracking them down is not easy.
Day 14 Today we will begin birding in the agricultural scrub country not far from our hotel. Some of our target species are Least Grebe, Yellow-headed Caracara, Striped Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Lineated Woodpecker, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Lesser Elaenia and the small Yellow-bellied Seedeater. The elegant Fork-tailed Flycatcher can be seen easily in the open country just outside town. After some final birding around Talari we will drive further north to Carara on the Pacific Coast for a two-night stay.
Day 15 Carara is certainly one of the most productive birding sites in Costa Rica. It is home to most of the lowland Pacific rainforest specialities and should provide us with many new species. Birds to be on the lookout for include Zone-tailed Hawk, Grey-chested Dove, Ruddy Quail-dove, Scarlet Macaw, Lesser Nighthawk, Long-billed Hermit, Purple-crowned Fairy, Blue-throated Goldentail, Baird's Trogon, Long-tailed and Tawny-winged Woodcreepers, Black-hooded Antshrike, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Dot-winged Antwren, Streak-chested Antpitta, Black-faced Antthrush, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Greenish Elaenia, Slate-headed Tody-flycatcher, Northern Bentbill, Rose-throated Becard, Orange-collared, Blue-crowned and Red-capped Manakins, Rufous-breasted, Black-bellied and Riverside Wrens, Western Tanager, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Blue-black Grosbeak, Painted Bunting and the uncommon Spot-crowned Euphonia. Occasionally Yellow-billed Cotinga can be spotted near the Tarcoles Bridge. The Central American Agouti occurs in the darker areas of forest undergrowth. Reptiles are common, with Spiny-tailed Iguana and Central American Whiptail being two of the more conspicuous. At night we will search for the stunning Striped Owl.
Day 16 If we have time we will take a boat-trip along the peaceful Tarcoles River. Birdlife is prolific and most of the wildlife is fairly tame. Species that can be found while cruising the small mangrove-lined channels include Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Reddish, Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Blue, Little Blue and Tricolored Herons, Yellow-crowned Night-heron, White Ibis, Osprey, Plumbeous Kite, Common (Mangrove) Black-hawk, Collared Plover, the endemic Mangrove Hummingbird, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Mangrove Vireo and the brilliant 'mangrove' subspecies of Yellow Warbler. Huge Central American Crocodiles measuring a whopping five metres can be found easily in the murky water and sunning themselves along the riverbanks. Once we finish birding in the Pacific lowlands we will begin our trip back to the international airport in San Jose for our overnight flight to London, arriving on Day 17.
General Information The climate varies from hot and humid in the rainforests to cold in the Paramo zones. Some rain is possible. The tour pace is moderate with generally easy walking, although at altitude extra effort is needed. There are some health requirements which should be referred to your GP. Insects can be a minor problem at some localities and repellents are recommended. The tour is run in partnership with Costa Rica Gateway, the premier birdwatching tour company in Costa Rica.
Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 12 with main leaders and local guides.