Cerro Lodge – a Fitting Finale

 

Our superior bungalow accommodation, Cerro Lodge

Our final stop was at Cerro Lodge, on the edge of the Carara National Park – a fitting finale for our Costa Rica adventure. Bob & I had stayed here on our previous trip and we had fond memories of the place. Things immediately got off to good start when the receptionist informed us that, although we’d booked standard cabins, they’d upgraded us to their new superior bungalows – and superior they were too! The birding around the grounds was every bit as good as we remembered and the National Park also lived up to expectations. As we only had one full day in the park we decided to do the river trail in the morning with the main park trails in the afternoon. We enjoyed a very full day’s birding from the moment the gates opened right up until closing time. On the morning of our departure we did manage to squeeze in a couple of hours early morning birding around the grounds of the nearby Hotel Villa Lapas, at the start of the waterfall road. The birding was again excellent and provided us with a couple of ‘eleventh hour’ ticks. This hotel, though large and more touristy, would provide a very acceptable and cheaper alternative to Cerro Lodge. The rest of our time in Costa Rica was spent driving back to San Jose and finding our ‘off-airport’ car hire depot. It took us an hour to find a way across the airport runway and main road to return the car!

On our way between Sierpe and Cerro Lodge, we stopped off for a few waders and herons on one of several estuaries on route. This is Least Sandpiper

and Bare-throated Tiger-Heron

First bird we saw on our walk around the lodge grounds was this Stripe-headed Sparrow

This rather magnificent White-throated Magpie-Jay was a wary visitor to the feeding station

Middle of the afternoon and we came across this guy calling continuously around the chalets. Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

and he really did have ‘eyes in the back of his head’!

Another ‘garden bird’ – this is the unbelievable Painted Bunting

Once in the park proper we had a succession of interesting birds – unfortunately many of them in deep, dark undergrowth, with very little prospects of getting a decent photo. This female Black-hooded Antshrike was no exception!

This Common Tody-Flycatcher was a little more obliging

At the end of the River Trail – a river!, where we watched Crocs and Green Kingfisher  

In the afternoon we walked the main trails and saw some excellent birds. Two in particular stand out, Great Tinamou – not photographed unfortunately, and Ruddy Quail-Dove, which was!

as was this Red-capped Manikin – but rather badly

On our last morning we did manage a couple of ‘ticks’ in the grounds of Hotel Villa Lapas. The aptly named Eye-ringed Flatbill

and Blue-black Grosbeak

Then it was back to the lodge, load up our bags and enjoy the final few minutes of this wonderful place over a cup of coffee on the veranda with, of course, a few birds. Red-legged Honeycreeper, male and female

and the truly breath-taking Scarlet Macaw – a bit of a Cerro Lodge celebrity

Costa Rica is a ‘premier league’ birding destination. The people are friendly, the food is good and the scenery spectacular. With so much variation in habitat from sea to mountain, the Caribbean to the Pacific, wet forests to dry grassland, it’s not surprising that this small country is home to more than 800 species. In just a couple of weeks, entirely self-guided, we manage to find and identify over 320. Pushing my overall Costa Rica bird list to over four hundred, in just three weeks of birding. You can’t go wrong with this place.. if you haven’t tried it already, then give it a go!

The Magic of Marenco Lodge

Our chalet at Veragua River House, Sierpe

We took a leisurely drive from San Vito down to the Pacific coast, arriving at Sierpe by mid-afternoon. We stayed one night at the old colonial style Veragua River House Bed & Breakfast, on the edge of town, before departing on the boat for Marenco Lodge the following day. We had two nights at this fabulously located lodge, including Jane’s 60th birthday, in cabanas over-looking the ocean and watching the sunset over Cano Island. The bird and animal life seen around the various trails was excellent.

In the grounds of our accommodation at Sierpe, this Mangrove Black Hawk

Other birds around the grounds included Cocoa Woodcreeper

 this diminutive Inca Dove

and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Along the river edge, Purple Gallinule

Just outside our chalet at Marenco Lodge, a resident pair of Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

In the dense forests surrounding the lodge, lots of interesting stuff – this was the rather skulking Black-hooded Antshrike

Riverside Wren

Orange-billed Sparrow – seen at several previous locations, but not quite so well

Another one of the superb Trogons – this one is Black-throated

And the ‘star of the show’, the electric sparking, hopping and popping! – Orange-collared Manakin

Shorebirds were scarce but we did catch up with Magnificent Frigatebird

and Wandering Tattler

Marenco Lodge was a wonderful experience. The isolated location, with access to largely undisturbed rain-forest and coastline, was a memorable experience. The chalets were comfortable and the food reasonable. There is however an air of neglect about the place and the staff, whilst friendly, are too busy with their own stuff to be of much help to the self-guiding birder. Another expensive lodge which is trading on it’d former reputation, sadly in this instance, there is no ready alternative.

Our journey is drawing to an end now, last stop is Cerro Lodge, on the edge of the fabulous Carara National Park.

 

 

South to San Vito

Our journey took us south to San Vito, close to the Panamanian border and more than 5,000 feet lower than Quetzal Lodge. We stayed in the cabanas at Cascata del Bosco, five kilometres from the town and situated practically at the entrance to Las Cruces Biological Station, ‘a quintessential example of a (primary) forest fragment.’ This very well appointed hotel/restaurant complex has good facilities and extensive grounds, with very similar species to the Biological Station – only free! George and his excellent team of helpers made for a very pleasant stay. This is a highly recommended stop-over if you are visiting this area of Costa Rica.

First stop on the way down was the road-side cafe with feeders at San Isidro de El General . Several new species were added, including this Tropical Mockingbird, a recent but increasingly well distributed colonist

and two colourful tanager species –  Bay-headed 

and Flame-coloured

In the grounds of Cascata del Bosco we saw plenty of interesting species including yet another tanager – this time the appropriately named Speckled

Collared Trogon – although in some lights it looked more like Orange-bellied!

Two new parrots were added to the list during this leg of our journey. These Orange-chinned Parakeet were first seen sitting on a street sign above the ATM in San Isidro

and this Brown-throated Parakeet, another recent colonist from Panama, was in our hotel grounds

Black and White Warbler is a common and widespread North American species which winters in Costa Rica. Nevertheless, still a very striking bird

In the gardens of the Las Cruces Biological Station we had several new hummers – this one I think is Snowy-bellied, but happy to be corrected!

and this one, Blue-throated Goldentail

Also on the feeders outside the Restaurant building, this Thick-billed Euphonia

At a site, close to the border, we came across the third and final Oropendola on the Costa Rica list – Crested Oropendola. First recorded in the country less than twenty years ago, but now expanding

On a nearby pond – not the most attractive of wildfowl but a tick nonetheless – Muscovy

To end this section a Variable Seedeater, of the Pacific race

and Great Kiskadee attacking a Yellow-headed Caracara!

Next stop Sierpe, the departure point for the boat which will take us an hour and a half around the coast, towards Isla del Cano and the remote Marenco Lodge.

 

 

 

Quetzal Quest

 

The sunset from our cabanas on the first evening 

Our next stop was at Paraiso Quetzal Lodge, located in the Talamanca highlands, off Route 2. Our purpose, to see Resplendent Quetzal. The cabanas, glorified timber sheds really, are adequate in terms of comfort levels but spectacular for location. The extensive grounds and trails give resident birders access to a variety of habitat and plenty of birds – we must have had half a dozen new species just walking from Reception to our cabin! The lodge is also well situated to explore several other well-documented sites in the Central Highlands and we visited plenty of interesting locations during our three night stay. Unfortunately, we failed to find Quetzal locally (I suspect very few visitors see them at the lodge) and in the end had to resort to paying a guide to show us some. We were glad we did though – they are truly amazing.

IMG_5152

IMG_5166

Not all birds in this region are bright or brash though. Reminiscent of our UK Blackbird, if it weren’t for the pale eye, this is in fact Sooty Robin – seen in the grounds of the lodge

IMG_4686

Nor is every parrot species garish or gaudy – what about this super-subtle Barred Parakeet

IMG_4936

An intriguing species, first seen in the grounds, were these ‘Big Feet’ – Large-footed Finch, which feed by continuously raking through the leaf-litter 

IMG_5258

Another stunning regular species – Black and Yellow Silky-Flycatcher

IMG_5367

There are several hummingbird feeders located in the grounds, attracting a select group of species – this Green Violet-ear amongst them

IMG_4745

and this Magnificent Hummingbird

IMG_5315

or what about this, aptly named, Fiery-throated Hummingbird!

IMG_5323

IMG_4704

Further up the mountain range, at or above the tree-line we came across several of these scarce endemics – Volcano Junco. It had taken us an hour, in sweltering heat, to track them down, but when we returned to the car there was one sheltering under it!

IMG_5009

Another species of the area was this rather diminutive and under-stated Black-capped Flycatcher

IMG_5121

Meanwhile back at the cabanas – another woodpecker makes the list. This time it’s Hairy, of the Costa Rican race

IMG_5357

and another local endemic, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, seen near-by

IMG_5253

Last word (or photo) goes to another skulking endemic – Black-cheeked Warbler

IMG_5084

Paraiso Quetzal Lodge is a good place to stay, well located with plenty of birding interest. But if you go expecting Resplendent Quetzal on the doorstep, you’ll be disappointed. Paying ‘top dollar’ for average facilities and very limited access to ‘free’ information and locations, you might do well to look elsewhere. Next stop, San Vito – close to the Panamanian border, with more great birding on route.

Orosi & Tapanti National Park

 

IMG_3897

The final species we saw at Alex’s place, before departing for Orosi, was this female White-collared Manakin

The route between Sarapiqui and Orosi, our next stop, takes you through some interesting countryside, past a well-known humming bird reserve on Route 32 – little more than an over-grown garden but packed full of these exquisite but frustrating little birds.

At the mountain garden reserve on Route 32, our target bird was Snowcap – quite different from other ‘hummers’

IMG_4034

Other nice species included Green Thorntail

IMG_4652

and this tiny Black-crested Coquette

IMG_3975

The small town of Orosi is well placed for visiting the excellent national park of Tapanti, describe in the site guide as ‘a birding gem, providing access to a wide diversity of species in beautiful upper-midddle-elevation forest.’ We stayed in the conveniently located and well appointed Chalet Orosi – Silvia the manageress, who speaks excellent English, couldn’t have been more helpful. The chalet is situated in well kept grounds with good views over the surrounding countryside. We saw forty species of birds just whilst enjoying our leisurely breakfasts! We had scheduled two full days for visiting the park – on the first day it rained continuously and it was near impossible to bird outside. Luckily, we came across Kiri Lodge, the nearest accommodation to the main entrance to the park, but which was full at the time of organising our trip. They have an excellent open-air restaurant, with extensive views over the approach to the National Park, and so we spent most of our first day birding from their veranda. By the following day the weather had improved and we spent the whole time in the park, finding and observing a wide range of species.

Chalet Orosi – an excellent base from which to explore the Tapanti National Park

IMG_2507

One of the first species seen near the park on our first rain-drenched day was this one, Chestnut-headed Oropendola 

Another bird seen on the approach track was this Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, one of several of this family seen on our trip  

Black Guan, observed from the Kiri Lodge veranda, whist enjoying a leisurely lunch – it’s still raining!

You’re never far away from this watchful fellow – Roadside Hawk, one of the commonest Costa Rican raptors

Once inside the park, more colourful tanagers were added to the list, including, Spangle-cheeked

also more ‘hummers’ – this one is Green Hermit

and this rather under-stated Rufous Mourner – named after it’s melancholy song

Final photo from the Tapanti National Park, Black-faced Solitaire – ‘it’s ethereal song, a characteristic feature of montane wet forest – extremely difficult to locate whilst singing.’

On our way to the next destination, the world renowned Paraiso del Quetzal lodge, we stopped off at Lankester gardens, on the outskirts of Cartago – ‘a small oasis set among fields, cattle pastures and residential neighbourhoods’. Much more of the latter since the guide book was written, but still a good place to catch-up with some interesting species.

This Green Heron gave exceptionally close views on one of the ornamental garden ponds 

as did this White-eared Ground-Sparrow, watched whilst drinking coffee in the gardens cafe

Costa Rica – 1st stop, Sarapiqui

The first stop on our two week tour of Costa Rica was three nights at the excellently located bed & breakfast, run by the very friendly and knowledgable Alex, of Posada Andrea Cristina, located on the outskirts of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, central to the protected area of La Selva and close to the Nicaragua border. This is a great place to become acquainted with many of the common birds of Costa Rica as well as catching up with some of the specialities of the area, including Great Green Macaw, which can be seen flying over the property.

Alex’s garden is a great place to start your Costa Rican birding experience, with several interesting species coming to his feeders. This one is the electric blue male Green Honeycreeper

Seen on feeders at a roadside cafe in a nearby valley, this subtly marked female Red-headed Barbet

Also seen in the area, one of a huge variety of colourful tanagers – this one is Crimson-collared 

Just across the road from our bed & breakfast was a farm track leading to the river – home to many different species including Laughing Falcon

this Black-thighed Grosbeak

our first woodpecker species of the trip, Rufous-winged

this exquisitely marked Keel-billed Toucan and superficially similar Collared Aracari

This is a good area for hummingbirds including Green-breasted Mango – this is the more easily identifiable female

and the relatively straight-forward Violet Sabrewing

Found whilst birding close to the Nicaraguan border – a troop of Mantled Howler Monkey

An unexpected bonus, whilst staking out the Great Green Macaws, was this King Vulture – a target species for much later in our trip

Our next stop was in Orosi, on the Caribbean side of the central highlands – strategically located close to the excellent Tapanti National Park.

Splendid Resplendent!

I couldn’t resist the temptation, whilst the WiFi lasts out, to post todays top bird – Resplendent Quetzal! A pair, located on farmland 10k from the lodge, with the aid of Michael, our local guide. Words cannot capture the sheer splendour of the male. An overdue Costa Rica ‘tick’, after Bob and I missed out on our 2011 visit.