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Birding trip to Costa Rica

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birding trip costa rica

In mid March 2024, I completed a self-guided birding trip to Costa Rica. The country has been on my radar for many years and finally, the dream come true.

It was a last-minute decision because of the available flight at reasonable price. The itinerary has been sitting on my hard drive ready to be implemented so it didn’t take me much time to prepare. I had the route so just needed to book a flight, a car, and a couple of nights’ accommodation here and there.

We flew with TUI from London Gatwick which took us about 12 hours to get there. The airport in Liberia, Costa Rica is fairly small but happened to be busy with arriving jets so there was a bit of chaos when we landed. It took us some time to go via emigration and pick up our car but finally, we were on our way to our first destination: Arenal Volcano

Day 1:

What a fantastic area. It is indeed one of the most visited areas in the country. Everybody goes to La Fortuna for outdoor activities and the volcano including birders and there is certainly a reason for that. We had booked a fantastic lodge on the top of a hill. The lodge is called Nepenthe and I sincerely recommend it. I have to warn you though that access to the site is only with a 4wd vehicle. However, the lodge is on the top of a hill overlooking the volcano and the lake nearby. It has fantastic panorama, small swimming pool for cooling of and great birds.

We were woken up by the bird song quite early in the morning although we wanted to have some rest after the long flight the previous day. Shortly after we got out on the lovely veranda with a view we saw our first toucans. The excitement of seeing new birds woke us up immediately and we were ready to start our adventure. Here are some of them that we managed to identify, listed on an eBird checklist.

Breakfast was in a small cafe with traditional food and music. We had rice and beans with eggs, fresh Costa Rican coffee and fresh fruits. What a great start! In the meantime, we had communicated with friends from Bulgaria who were also in the area. We met shortly after breakfast to visit the Arenal Volcano National Park.

Arenal Volcano

At the very entrance to the park we saw our first Coati. How cute were these! The are just walking amongst the car and the people, climbing trees and pretending you are not there. At the same time, they are wild animals. The national park had a fantastic bird feeder and a flower bed where quite a few birds have been feeding. At the car park we saw our first Great Currasaws. At the feeder, we saw our first Tanagers, Oropendulas and a range of Hummingbirds.

Here is a link to my eBird checklist that i did at Arenal.

Rufous-tailed Jackamar (c) Image: Iordan Hristov

Bogarin Trail

In the afternoon we decided to visit the Bogarin trail. It is known for the Sloths but from trip reports i know that many birding groups visit the area as well. There is a fantastic bird feeding right by the gates which offers amazing opportunities for photography. Right by the feeding there is a small pond where we saw our first and only White-throated Crake. We did go for a walk on the trails to look for Sloths and eventually managed to see two of them. It did take us some time to locate them but finally managed it. During the walk around the park we saw our first and only Black and White Owl, Great Antshrite, Barred Antshrike, Rufous-tailed Jackamar and a few other birds. It was really productive! Here is my eBird checklist from the site!

White-throated Crake (c) Image: Iordan Hristov

It turned out that we couldn’t optimise our time around Arenal and we should have spent at least one more day in the area. Anyway, I will do it next time!

Day 2

Today we headed south towards Tarcoles river. The journey was long but we stopped for yellow-eared toucanet to break it up. We had information from people on social media about a possible site and luckily, we managed to find it. What a great find!

We drove across mountainous and winding roads, which made the drive quite slow but eventually we arrived on the ocean. Immediately upon arrival we started spotting new birds: Magnificent Frigatebirds, Scarlet Macaws, White Ibis, Inca Dove are some of the first birds we saw. It was a must to end up the journey with a drink on the Ocean. Sunset was spectacular and we spent a few hours photographing the Wood Storks, Whimbrels, Yellow-headed Caracara.

Common Paraque (c) Image: Iordan Hristov

In the evening we saw our first Common Paraque, which was the main reason to stay at Villa Lapas. What a great place this is! It has a few small swimming pools. It is situated right in the forest and you are very close to nature. From your room or just along the lanes you can see quite a range of birds. Sincerely recommend it!

Day 3: Tarcoles river boat trip

We started the day with an early morning boat trip along Tarcoles river. It was really productive! We had about 65 species seen for 3 hours. One of the highlights must be the Double-striped Thick-knee, Boat-billed Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Roseate Spoonbill and many more. We should not forget the crocodiles on the river which were also fantastic. For the boat trip, we used the services of Jungle Crocodile Safari. Here is the checklist of birds seen from the boat.

Boat-billed Heron (c) Image: Iordan Hristov

We spent the hot hours of the day in the swimming pool of the hotel enjoying and relaxing after the long drive on the previous day and the early morning start. We reunited again in the late afternoon for a birding walk along the ocean. On the way we saw our first Gartered Trogon. Then we found a small pool where quite a few waders had gathered. We saw our first Southern Lapwing, many Willets and a single Short-billed Dowitcher! What a great end of the day!

Yellow-crowned Heron (c) Image: Iordan Hristov

Day 4

Again, we could have spent another day in the area and visit Carara National Park we but we had booked a trip for the Resplendent Quetzal and had to go. The drive was not long but crossing San Jose was a bit slow. Anyway, we arrived in the early afternoon to the famous Myriam’s cafe just on time fo a beautiful lunch overlooking the feeders of the site. It was a fantastic experience to have all these birds nearby. We had our first Acorn Woodpecker, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-thighed Brushfinch, Flame-coloured Tanager, and many more.

Kindly enough, we also got some information for a nest of a Quetzal so we hurried up to see it. It wasn’t very difficult as the nest was right by the road. Oh, my! No wonder everybody is willing to see this bird. We spent a couple of hours watching this magnificent bird. Funnily enough, the tail feathers of the male were so long, that they could not fit in the nest and were showing outside the nest.

Resplendent Quetzal (c) Image: Iordan Hristov

We finished the day in a beautiful Sueños del Bosque Lodge. They had fantastic food and rooms.

Day 5: Sueños del Bosque Lodge and travel

Before breakfast, we did a fantastic walk along the trails of the Lodge and added some fantastic birds. The habitat was absolutely stunning: with old tree in a rain forest. Birding was difficult though. We got to an open areas where we managed to see some birds like Black Guan, Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrush, Slaty Flowerpiercer, Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher and more.

Resplendent Quetzal (c) Image: Iordan Hristov

The plan for the day was to head north and stop at several places en route. Our first stop was again at the Quetzals where the bird performed beautifully for me and I managed to take a flight shot. We spent about an hour enjoying this magnificent bird and then headed north towards La Selva Biological station.

We drove past San Jose and crossed the mountain to stop at the famous cafe Chincona. It is known for its bird feeders and I was expecting some good birds there. We did see some but it started raining which jeopardized our time at the place a little bit.

We arrived in the area of La Selva at the end of the end but still did a brief walk to stretch our legs after the long hours in the car.

Day 6: La Selva Biological Station

We spent the whole day at La Selva Biological Station and we did add a few good birds starting with Snowy Cotinga right at the car park and then added Semiplumbous Hawk by the visitors centre. On the reserve, we did a 3-hour walk with guide from the reserve but we didn’t enjoy that so much. The guide was running along the trails and was certainly not paying attention to every bird as we would have done. We still saw quite a few good birds like White-collared Manakin, White-whiskered Puffbird, Gartered Trogon, Rufous Motmot, Chestnut-backed Antbird and American Screech Owl.

White-wiskered Puffbird (c) Image: Iordan Hristov

After this walk with a guide we did the same walk by ourselves with our pace. We managed to find Great Tinamou and Orange-billed Sparrow.

All in all, it was a fabulous day which was very exhausting.

Day 7: Donde Cope and travel to Laguna de Lagarto

For the morning we had planned a visit to the famous Donde Cope’s place. What a beautiful area. First we visited the house of Donde Cope, where birds are coming to the feeders in the back yard of the house. We saw Chestnut-headed Oropendola, lots of Colibri like Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Green-breasted Mango, Stripe-throated Hermit, Long-billed Hermit, White-necked Jacobin and many more birds. We spent a relaxing hour watching the birds come and go.

Agami Heron (c) Image: Iordan Hristov

After this hide we went for a walk in the nearby jungle where Donde Cope showed us some fantastic birds the highlight of which must be the Agami Heron. We also has two species of owl: Crested and Spectacled. We finally managed to see the Laughing falcon and Great Potoo which were high on my list of wishes. Highly recommend the services of Donde Cope!

We had lunch in a local roadside restaurant and carried on towards our next place where were going to spend 2 full days: Laguna Lagarto Lodge.

En route we listed quite a few new birds as we changed the habitat. We drove along some farmland which were steaming with birds. Most of these were common birds but new for us like Nicaraguan Seed-Finch and our first King Vultures. A small pond just before the lodge held a few pairs of Purple Gallinule and Northern Jacana When approaching the lodge we had an amazing migration of Black Vultures. Literary hundreds if not thousands were flying overhead. Truly spectacular!

Day 8 & 9: Lagarto Lodge

We spent the next two days in and around Lagarto Lodge. To be fair, we could have done with a day but I had already booked it so we had to stay. Anyway we made most of it.

On the first morning of the two days we visited a hide for King Vulture. That was an absolutely awesome experience. I really wanted to see and photograph these amazing creatures. They were relatively tame and were coming literary a few metres away from the hide. The hide was just a small shelter with a few chairs. There is no glass or anything like that. Birds were just performing beautifully. The sky was cloudy so I could photograph longer hours. At some point it started raining which contributed for some moody pictures. See the gallery at the end of the post.

King Vulture (c) Image: Iordan Hristov

For most of the time were just sitting on the veranda of the lodge enjoying the birds at the feeders. It was an absolutely fantastic set-up. I can see why many photography groups visit the place. Just from the verande we could see the Brown Hooded Parrots, Olive-backed Euphonia, King Vultures, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Collared Aracari, Montezuma Oropendula and many more. Great Curassow was just feeding on the ground around the yard of the lodge.

Keel-billed-Toucan (c) Image: Iordan Hristov

On the second day in the morning, we did a walk in the adjacent forest but it started raining and the only bird we saw was a Blue Ground Dove. Birding in the forest is really difficult.

Day 10: travel to Monteverde

Today we headed towards the mountains at Monteverde where were going to spend another 2 days. En route we stopped at a roadside cafe with bird feeders called Montezuma cafe. You can understand why immediately after you stop. They had a big tree with dozens of nests of Montezuma Oropendula. Quite a few birds were landing on the feeders as well and I managed to take some great pictures. It was great to see again the White-throated Magpie-Jay and the Brown Jay which were still missing from our list although a common bird.

Gray-headed Chachalaca (c) Image: Iordan Hristov

The drive to Monteverde up the mountains was rather rough. The road was only on tarmac which was really strange to have it leading to such a well-known place.

Day 11: Monteverde, San Luis Finca Ecologica

We spent the next two days in the area of Monteverde which were great regardless the road to the site. On the first morning we visited a small lodge called San Luis where we wanted to see the Three-wattled Bellbird and Ornate Hawk. We started the morning with rain and a bit mixed feeling but patience paid off. For the 5 hours we spent on the site we listed 50 species. See my list on e-bird here for the full account.

imm Three-wattled Bellbird
Three-wattled Bellbird, (c) image: Iordan Hristov

We were struggling with the Bellbird for quite some time and wondering what to do. Initially, the hosts were not helping much when asking them for directions but eventually, they changed their tone after seeing us we were so motivated to see the bird. It wasn’t until the sun came out 4 hours after we had arrived on the site when we heard the Bellbird calling from nearby trees. Horray! Finally! We spotted it! It was an I’m male but was still calling. This is definitely one of the most peculiar birds I have ever seen. Then a local person heard a Long-tailed Manakin which was another highlight of the visit. Bat Falcon turned up as well, which was another bird high on my list. Well, that made it all worth it!

In the afternoon we visited both reserves in the area to make up our mind where to go on the following day. We voted for Curi-Cancha as more accessible and with more information.

Hummingbird Gallery

At the end of the day, we visited a Hummingbird Gallery. This is a cafe right at the entrance of Monteverde national park which had several well-visited bird feeders by hummingbirds. We saw Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, Purple-throated Mountain-gem, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Coppery-headed Emerald and few more goodies. See the full list here.

Day 12: Monteverde, Curi-Cancha reserve

On the second day we visited Curi-Cancha reserve on our own. We did consider hiring a guide but decided that we would do the trip ourselves mainly because of budget concerns. I think we did quite well especially having in mind the great number of groups and guides on the reserve who were always happy to help.

We started with great views of Resplendent Quetzal who performed very well for us. Some of the highlights of the visit though must be the Black-breasted Wood-Quail which is really difficult to see. It was only because were quiet and walking slowly which allowed us to see 4 birds crossing the path. We also saw Bicoloured Hawk which was kindly shown to us by a local guide., Rufous-and-white Wren, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, White-naped Brushfinch and another 30 birds. See here the full list of birds seen on the reserve.

Day 13 & 14

We were approaching the end of our trip and we decided to head to the Pacific coast and spend the last couple of days on the beach.

We still did some birding though as you can imagine. From the balcony of our hotel we added quite a few new birds: Cinnamon Hummingbird and Rose-throated Becard were some of them. Walking around the area and along the beach produced fantastic views of Turquoise-browed Motmot, Hoffmann’s Woodpecker, Yellow-tailed Oriole but the highlight must be the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher which were willing to see.

In conclusion

Well, this came to an end. A dream trip … What shall i say! It was really worth it! Costa Rica is a must-visit place! The variety of habitats, the rainforest, the beach are just stunning. Hope to be able to visit it again one day!

Here is a link to my trip report on eBird which tallies to 267 species seen during the trip. It is amazing to have 256 new birds! Well, it was my first time in the region ever.


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