I visited Costa Rica for the first time in 2008. Alone and without hiring a private car. 7 weeks from the 25th of March to the 11th of May. I had troubles with my right leg, which collapsed completely on a trip to Taman Negara in 2007. Therefore I avoided muddy and steep trails and had to rest a lot, which made an impact on the number of birds recorded. My aim was 400 birds for the whole period, but I only recorded 340, which however seemed to be a lot of birds at the time being. My leg acted worse than expected. And I missed several good birds, among them the Antpittas and most Cotingas.
I recorded many different Hummingbirds (29), Parrots (14), Wrens (13), Trogons (6) and Euphonias (7), which seemed satisfactory. Also most of the Toucans, which was quite easy to see.
25.3. Copenhagen – Atlanta – Costa Rica, 1.180$ (return ticket)
25.3.-27.3. Adventure Inn, Alajuela 2 x 76$
27.3. San José – Monteverde, Interbus, 35$
27.3.- 31.3 Hotel Sunset, Monteverde 4 x 30$
31.3.-5.4. Monteverde Inn 5 x 24$
Monteverde – San Jose, Interbus, 35$
5.4.-6.4. Adventure Inn 1 x 76$
Alajuela – Golfito, SANSA Air, 102$
6.4.-12.4. Purruja Lodge, Golfito 6 x 24$
12.4.-15.4. Esquinas Rainforest Lodge 3 x 135$
15.4.-18.4. Hotel El Gran Ceibo, Golfito 3 x 32$ AC
18.4. Golfito – Alajuela, SANSA Air, 102$
18.4.-19.4. Adventure Inn 1 x 76$
San Jose – Tarcoles, Interbus 25$
19.4.-25.4. Hotel Villa Lapas 6 x 116$
Tarcoles – La Fortuna, Interbus 29$
The prices mentioned are the spring 2008 prices. The price for Selva Verde Lodge was the after season price.
I started at Adventure Hotel near the airport. From there I moved to Monteverde using the very good shuttle bus system, they have in Costa Rica. It will bring you directly from your hotel in one region to your hotel in another region. I used Interbus, which is the largest shuttle bus company (www.interbusonline.com). The are however several large hotels in the Alajuela area (around the airport) which are not part of the shuttle bus system.
I had chosen Sunset Hotel (can be booked via www.monteverdeinfo.com) at a sideroad to the road from the Santa Helena Town in Monteverde to Santa Helena Cloudforest and Monteverde Inn (can also be booked via www.monteverdeinfo.com) on a sideroad to the road to the Monteverde Cloudforest. Both were good value for money and both had a adjacent second growth forest. In the forest at the Sunset Hotel I found for instance Black-breasted Wood-Quail, Rose-breasted Rosebeak, Green Violet-Ear, Green-crowned Brilliant, Emerald Toucanet and a large group of the rare White-throated Robin. In the forest at Monteverde Inn I found among other birds Highland Tinamou, Emerald Toucannet, Keel-billed Toucan, Orange-billed Nightingale Trush, Slaty-backed Nightingale Trush, Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Trush, Long-tailed Mannakin, Blue-crowned Motmot, Chiriqui Quail-Dove and Buff-fronted Quail-Dove.
Two trips to Monteverde Cloudforest gave Black Solitaire, Resplendent Quetzal, Three-wattled Bellbird, Prong-billed Barbet, Violet Sabrewing, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Scintillant Hummingbird and a lot of other Hummingbirds.
Local busses leaves the village of Santa Helena several times each day for the Monteverde Cloudforest and a couple of times each day for the Santa Helena Cloudforest.
There is a bakery, a bus station and a very good supermarket in the village of Santa Helena.
Interbus brought me back to Adventure Hotel from where I went on to the main airport from where I flew to Golfito to the south with SANSA Air (www.flysansa.com) The price was around 200$ for a return ticket. The purpose was to visit one of the rainforest lodges in the area. My choice was the Esquinas Rainforest Lodge (Piedras Blancas NP), but I was late and the booking was not easy. I had to settle there for three days only. Then I searched the internet for other interesting possibilities in the area and found a description from an Australian - Ray Leggett - who had birded at the Purruja Lodge ten years earlier. He saw 114 species at the Purruja Lodge and near surroundings during his stay. It was interesting. I had six days in the Golfito area before Esquinas Rainforest Lodge and three days after. I decided to book Purruja Lodge (www.purruja.com) for the first six days. From the 6th to the 12thof April 2008.The Golfito/Corcovado/Piedras Blancas is no doubt the best birding area in Costa Rica. The rainforest is extensive and always close by and it is raining a lot partly because of the rainforest (a good circle). However it seldom rains before 2 o’clock in the afternoon. There are plenty of fruiting trees, flowers and insects. And therefore also plenty of birds. I saw 107 species at the garden of the Purruja Lodge and 12 species more if I add the surroundings (1½ km south). It was nearly the same result as Ray Leggett had ten years earlier. However I only added very few species during the last days. So spending three days there will be a good choice.The Purruja Lodge is placed near the main road from Golfito to San José. If you come from the San José side you meet a signpost to Purruja Lodge around 4 km before Golfito.
The side road to the Purruja Lodge is about 100 meter long and goes steep down, crosses a watercourse and goes steep up again.
The Purruja Lodge is placed between forested hills. The forest along the garden is not good to the far left side but to the right side you have a patch of mixed forest starting about six meters below the garden. It is too difficult to enter. But you can stand in the garden and watch the birds in this forest. The best place – however - is to stand or sit in the pavillon to the other side of the garden looking down on several fruiting trees on the lower part of the garden. This part of the garden is rather dense and partly shaded. Other parts of the garden is more open and less interesting.
Birds seen included Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Orange-collared Mannakin, Mealy Parrot, Brown-hooded Parrot, White-crowned Parrot, Red-lored Parrot, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Charming Hummingbird, Garden Emerald, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Green Honeycreeper, Summer Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Fiery-billed Aracari, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Swainson’s Trush, White-vented Euphonia, Thick-billed Euphonia, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Long-billed Gnatwren and Tropical Gnatcatcher.
You can see my full bird list for Purruja Lodge and the surroundings on the home page for Purruja Lodge (www.purruja.com).
You can go to the town with a shared taxi. You can just walk to the main road and stop a taxi and for a very small amount you can go anywhere in the town.
Close to the Purruja Lodge (about 300 meters to the south) there is a small food shop. In Golfito there are banks, supermarkets, internetcafés and a postoffice. You will also note the big United Fruit Company pier – a reminiscence from the huge banana export which ended quite dramatically in 1985. Golfito is a very long but narrow town created by the United Fruit Company in 1938. It has now more than 10.000 inhabitants and has a tax free area close to the airport. It is beautifully placed between the Golfo Dulce and the forest covered mountains. You can take the boat to Puerto Jiménez several (six or seven) times a day each way. The trip takes about 45 minutes with the fast boat. You may see Brown Boobies from the boat and you will see a lot of Scarlet Macaws at Puerto Jiménez. You can also walk the hill forest at Golfito (Golfito Rainforest Reserve). It can be approached from two side roads in Golfito, one starts near Banco National (it turns into a trail at the back of the colourful – former - United Fruit Company’s houses) and the second one starts about 200 meters before the south end of the town. You can also go south to Zancudu or Pavones (extensive mangroves at the Coto River).
You can fly from San Josè to either Puerto Jiménez or Golfito with either SANSA or Nature Air.
From Purruja Lodge I moved to the Esquinas Rainforest Lodge (www.esquinaslodge.com) which is part of the Piedras Blancas NP. The owners of the lodge – who are Austrians - try to create an unbroken rainforest in the area, but it takes time and cost a lot of money. Close to the lodge there is a farming area, but the lodge is placed in the rainforest. And the trails moves from second growth forest around the lodge into primary forest. The trails are often muddy and steep and were therefore sometimes a problem for me.
I saw a lot of birds in the area including Spot-crowned Euphonia, Band-tailed Barbthroat, Bronzy Hermit, Blue-throated Goldentail, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Black-throated Trogon and Bairds Trogon, Crested Guan, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Fiery-billed Aracari, Black-billed Cuckoo, Belted Kingfisher, Amazone Kingfisher, Rufous-winged Woodpecker, Eastern Meadowlark, Least Grebe, Wood Trush, Ruddy Quail-Dove and the pretty Buff-rumped Warbler.
Esquinas Rainforest Lodge was quite expensive but a nice place serving food of good quality.
From there I moved back to Golfito to the Hotel El Gran Ceibo. Hotel El Gran Ceibo (www.hotel-elgranceibo.com) was placed in the south end of the city with 200 meters walking distance to the side road leading to the Golfito Rainforest Reserve. Otherwise the place is of no interest for birders. However Hotel El Gran Ceibo is – like Purruja Lodge -
good value for money. El Gran Ceibo has a very suitable A/C-system.
I returned to Adventure Hotel and from there I took Interbus to Hotel Villa Lapas (www.villalapas.com) close to Carara NP. From there I took two trips to the Caraca NP (the river trail) where I among other birds saw Crested Guan, Scarlet Macaw, Brown-hooded Parrot, Black-headed Trogon, Turquoise-browed Motmot, White-throated Magpei-Jay, Rufous-breasted Wren, Barred Antshrike, Dusky Antbird, Dot-winged Antwren, Boat-billed Heron, Roseate Spoonbill and Black-necked Stilt. When you visit Carara NP, you must first buy a ticket at the headquarter and later show the ticket at the entrance to the river trail. You can also bird at the headquarter part of the Caraca NP, but I was told that the bird trail is the best place for birding.
I also took a boattrip at the Taracoles River. I was the only person on the trip, which costed 60$ and I could therefore decide that it should be a birdwatching trip, The normal price is 40$ for a shared boat.
I saw a lot of birds on the boattrip including American Pygmy Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, Roseate Spoonbill, White Ibis, the rare Southern Lapwing, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Anhinga, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Mangrove Warbler, Yellow-naped Parrot and Panama Flycatcher. Mangrove Vireo was heard.
I connection with Hotel Villa Lapas there are some forest along a river. You can follow the river for a long distance but if you are not doing that, you will find that the forest is quite small. The forest is second growth but it can sometimes be quite good for birdwathing. Birds seen included Gartered or Violaceous Trogon, Long-tailed Mannakin, Black-hooded Antshrike, Riverside Wren, Black-bellied Wren, Rufous-and-white Wren, Rufous-naped Wren, Bay-headed Tanager, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Muscovy Duck, Ringed Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Belted Kingfisher and Blue-crowned Motmot.
From Hotel Villa Lapas I once again took Interbus this time to La Fortuna with the nearby Arenal Volcano. I stayed at Cataratas Resort (www.cataratasresort.com) and birded the surrounding areas. It was mainly an agricultural area mixed with patches of forests and scattered trees.
It was mainly birds from the Caribbean region, I saw. I recorded among other birds Violet-headed Hummingbird, Bronze-tailed Plumeteer, Green Thorntail, Green-breasted Mango, Olivaceous Piculet, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Black-crowned Tityra, Montezuma Oropendola and Red-winged Blackbird.
From La Fortuna I went to Puerto Vieja de Sarapique – again with Interbus. First I stayed at Gavilan Lodge (www.gavilanlodge.com) an area with a garden, a small former banana plantation and a riverine forest. It is bordered by the Sarapique River to the one side and by a road and a large banana plantation to the other side. And agricultural areas to the north and south. Therefore the area is quite isolated.
But it is rather good for birds. I saw among other birds Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Green Ibis, Solitary Sandpiper, Broad-wined Hawk, Blue Ground-Dove, Common Nighthawk, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Amazone Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Keel-billed Toucan, Collared Aracari, Cinnamon Becard, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, Shining Honeycreeper, Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, Greyish Saltator, Black-headed Saltator, Black-cowled Oriole, Yellow-billed Cacique and Montezuma Oropendola..
Next stop was Selva Verde Lodge (www.selvaverde.com) which is placed in second growth forest along the Sarapiqui River. A bridge over the river leads to a primary forest. But you can not go there by yourself. The only way into this forest is to join a naturewalk, but this walk has not birdwatching as an important subject. I joined one of these walks and saw a very interesting area with a good potential for birdwatching. I met the female owner of Selva Verde Lodge and asked her to do something about the birdwatchers access to this primary forest. She promised to consider that.
At Selva Verde Lodge I saw several birds. Among them were Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Sunbittern, Aztec or Olive-throated Parakeet, Great Green Macaw, Red-lored Parrot, Mealy Parrot, Black-headed Trogon, Garteret Trogon, Black-throated Trogon (H), Broad-billed Motmot, Green Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, White-necked Puffbird, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Nothern Barred Woodcreeper, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Ocellated Antbird, White-collared Mannikin, Band-backed Wren, Bay Wren and Montezuma Oropendola.
I ended my trip to Sarapiqui at Hotel El Bambu – right in the center of Puerto Vieja (www.elbambu.com) – which was a nice place to rest but of no special interest for birders.
After that back to Adventure Inn and home.
Field Guides & CD for Costa Rica:
Richard Garrigues & Robert Dean: “Birds of Costa Rica”; London 2007.
Gary Stiles & Alexander F. Skutch: “A guide to the Birds of Costa Rica”, New York, 1989.