Birding and Beaches: Costa Rica Birdwatching Tour


Birding and Beaches: Costa Rica Birdwatching Tour

frigate bird costa ricaMany birdwatchers think that in order to visit a destination and find many new species to add to their life bird lists, they will need to trudge for miles and miles through swamps, forests, jungles, and muddy trails. Costa Rica is such a special place for bird watching because it is easy to create a birdwatching tour vacation for the birder and the non-birder in the couple, family or group.

Last week, my husband and I left our home in the Central Valley of Costa Rica to visit the Guanacaste beach area, and then make a stop at the Los Angeles Cloud Forest in San Ramon. We are both avid birders, so yes, of course, we were planning on some bird watching, but this was the first get-away we have had together for a while, so we also wanted some downtime for beaches, pools, and cocktails. Like normal, we hugged the dogs goodbye, re-checked for binoculars, wished our dog sitter good luck (10 dogs, lots of work), and set out northwest to the Pacific Coast and the beautiful Playa Conchal area. We generally keep our eyes to the skies, even as we leave our house. This was not planned to be a birdwatching tour, per se, but being passionate about birds, and since it was migration time, we were hoping to see some new species to add to our year bird list. Many birdwatching tours in Costa Rica will skip over Guanacaste in favor of the Central and Southern Pacific regions, but if you have done the Central Pacific, and the Osa Peninsula, your next trip to Costa Rica should include Guanacaste.

Spotting the First Birds

blue crowned motmot costa ricaBack to our trip, we bounced along in our good ol’ Toyota Four Runner, down the unpaved road taking us from our house to the main street outside our little town. We spotted turkey vultures, black vultures, rufous-naped wrens, yellow warblers, tropical kingbirds, Kiskadees, Steely-vented hummingbirds, and a short-tailed hawk (we were not even 1 mile away). We continued along the highway, spotting a lot of vultures of course, and a roadside hawk, until finally, we reached the coastal town of Puntarenas. There is a small mud-flat there, we stopped for a quick look and found a couple spotted sand-pipers but nothing else.  It is a 3.5-hour drive from the Central Valley to Guanacaste, so we decided to keep moving, as we wanted to make it to the beach by sunset. The drive was uneventful, we did see a troop of Howler Monkeys in the trees overhead, and several flocks of orange chinned parrots (signaling the start of the dry season in Costa Rica), but for the most part, there were what we call “the usual suspects.” Kiskadees, tropical kingbirds, vultures, roadside hawks, grey hawks, cattle egrets, great egrets, and social flycatchers.

Playa Conchal: Admiring The Birds and Wildlife Too!

Arriving at our hotel at Playa Conchal, we were happy to see the sprawling golf course (great place for bird watching) and to find a map of the trails at the on-site reserve. In the morning, we planned to rise early and check out the property in order to see what we might see in the area. We did take the late afternoon to have a few cocktails, take a lovely swim in the clear warm water at Playa Conchal, and watch the sunset beautifully over the Pacific Ocean. Just walking around the resort property that afternoon, we were impressed with the wildlife we encountered. We saw Variegated squirrels, Coatimundis (with babies, so cute), white-faced capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, an Armadillo, and lots of iguanas. The birding was great too because the resort has done a great job of maintaining lush green areas. The hotel also borders a 96-acre private wildlife reserve that includes a dry tropical forest, an estuary, and a mangrove swamp. This diverse array of habitats creates a fantastic place for birdwatching in Costa Rica.

A Perfect Day for Birdwatching in Central Guanacaste

ferruginous pygmy owl bird costa rica

Our first morning, we set the alarms for 5:00 a.m. (it gets light about 5:30) and were greeted by the hoots of owls, right outside our terrace door. Upon investigation we found two Pacific Screech Owls perched just a few feet away. That was a great omen to start the day. We headed through the grounds of the hotel, towards the golf course, and saw Clay-colored robins, white-winged doves, boat-billed flycatchers, and the gorgeous streak-backed oriole (to name a few). We continued to the golf course, and at the first pond, we were happily surprised to find two lovely Lesser Scaups. They were so pretty in the early morning sunlight. Under a large Guanacaste tree, we spied several double-striped thick knees and at the second pond a Ringed Kingfisher and a Tri-colored Heron. Next, we took a trail into the wooded portion of the reserve. There were Scrub Euphonias, a Thicket Tinamou, Lesser Greenlets, a Black Headed Trogon, Banded Wrens, and many Melodious Blackbirds. The trail looped us around to the paved road, which turned out to be successful as we encountered several mixed flocks. Tanagers were everywhere, Blue & Grey, Summer, Western, as well as a cute Brown Crested Flycatcher, Groove-billed Anis, Rufus Capped Warblers, Squirrel Cuckoos, and a long-tailed manakin. Continuing down to the beach we first visited the river mouth. There we found the spotted sandpipers, a Yellow Crowned Night Heron, Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, and mangrove swallows. Along the beach, we enjoyed both the Elegant and Royal Terns, and lots of Brown Pelicans. We had a very special sighting too, a White-necked Puffbird, perched on a bare limb, right in the open. We had a great look. We only spent about 2 hours around the hotel, on the trail, and then on the beach and we logged about 100 species. Imagine a day like that, at a beach hotel, that is why Costa Rica Birdwatching is so great.  

Papagayo Peninsula: Relaxing and Birdwatching

The following morning, we left central Guanacaste to the Northernmost peninsula, The Papagayo Peninsula. Our hotel was located at the beach surrounded by the dry tropical forest typical of Guanacaste. Again, we chose well because the combination of resort amenities, beautiful pool and spa, natural beach, and the clear water of Culebra Bay PLUS the surrounding forest made us know we were in for a great time relaxing and bird watching experience. It was a typical hot Guanacaste afternoon so our first stop after check-in was the swimming pool. No sooner had we gotten in the pool when a huge troop of white face capuchin monkeys visited the pool. There were tiny newborn babies, clinging to their mamas, and juveniles chattering and playing with each other, jumping through the trees, chasing each other everywhere. It was really cute. I guess that one of the youngsters thought the pool looked pretty good, as he came to the edge of the infinity pool, and lay down, dangling an arm and a leg into the cool water. He lay there, looking at us like, “Yeah? What’s wrong with this?”  “I’m just doing what you’re doing.” It was incredible. We were also visited by toucans, white-fronted parrots, Brown-hooded Parrots, and an Osprey. It was a great start to our visit on the Papagayo Peninsula. We spent the next day mostly relaxing by the pool. From the pool, we Coppery Emerald Hummingbird, a Great Crested Fly Catcher and a Rose-throated Becard. To make the day even better, I spied something moving mid-canopy, at first, I thought it was a monkey, but WOW, it was a Tamandua (Anteater). That was really special.

Los Angeles Reserve: Birding in the Cloud Forest

migration ruby throated hummingbird costa ricaAfter two days enjoying the sun of Guanacaste, it was time for us to move on to our last stop, the cool misty cloud forest of the Los Angeles Reserve, just outside the town of San Ramon. We were greeted by a blanket of mist, and temperatures that dropped rapidly. It felt good to be in the cool fresh air after the heat of Guanacaste. The gardens at our hotel were alive with hummingbirds, sparrows, and wrens. The Violet Sabrewing (the largest hummingbird in Costa Rica) zoomed by, the charming little Bananaquits chirped in the verbenas, and the Mountain Elaenias came to check us out.  When the fog got too dense and the afternoon too dark, we retired to the hotel lounge and sat in front of a roaring fire enjoying a glass of wine and one of our favorite typical dishes, Ayote Soup (Squash soup). We planned for an early morning walk into the cloud forest, so we went to bed early. Our quaint, rustic room included our own fireplace. We lit a toasty fire and fell asleep to the sound of the wood crackling, it was heavenly. The rain was our morning alarm, but we decided to brave the conditions and at least get an hour in the Cloud Forest. So, ponchos on, we made our way down an easy path through the mystical, magical cloud forest. There is no way to fully describe the cloud forest. You simply must experience it. The lushness, the depth of the greens, the smell of the earth, the plants and vines, and trees and the birds, Oh the birds. We only had about 30 minutes before the deluge came but, in that time, we spotted a Dusky Antbird, Red-Faced Spinetail, Rufous-Tailed Jacamar, Spotted Woodcreeper, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler and much more (see full list below). We could have easily spent hours exploring the area but hard rain and the need for breakfast called us back to the lodge. With an unfavorable weather forecast upon us, we decided to pack it up and head back to the Central Valley. It was an amazing trip, and a great reminder of how amazing bird watching in Costa Rica truly is. Visitors can experience several different climate zones, and see a huge array of birds, even on a 5-night birding tour to Costa Rica.

If you are interested, here is the full list of birds we spotted on our trip:

  1. Tropical King Bird
  2. Black-Bellied Whistling Duck
  3. Clay-colored Robin
  4. White-throated Magpie-Jay
  5. Pacific Screech Owl
  6. Rufous Naped Wren
  7. White Tipped Dove
  8. Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher
  9. Magnificent Frigatebird
  10. Rufous Tailed Hummingbird
  11. Great-Tailed Grackle
  12. Yellow-headed Caracara
  13. Crested Caracara
  14. Orange-Fronted Parakeets
  15. White-Fronted Parrot
  16. Great Kiskadee
  17. Rock Dove
  18. White Winged Dove
  19. Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
  20. Yellow Naped Parrots
  21. Ringed Kingfisher
  22. Amazon Kingfisher
  23. Lesser Scaup
  24. Northern Jacana
  25. Spotted Sandpiper
  26. Thicket Tinamou
  27. White Lore Gnatcatcher
  28. Lesser Greenlet
  29. Blue-Crowned Motmot
  30. Black Headed Trogon
  31. Western Tanager
  32. Summer Tanager
  33. Turquois Browed Motmot
  34. White Necked Puffbird
  35. Royal Tern
  36. Elegant Tern
  37. Brown Pelican
  38. Tri-colored Heron
  39. Great Egret
  40. Great Blue Heron
  41. Cattle Egret
  42. Yellow Crowned Night Heron
  43. Green Heron
  44. Melodious Black Bird
  45. Baltimore Oriole
  46. Streak Back Oriole
  47. Banded Wren
  48. Rufous-naped Wren
  49. Boat Billed Flycatcher
  50. Social Flycatcher
  51. Brown Crested Flycatcher
  52. Blue-winged Teal
  53. Double Stiped Thick knees
  54. Scrub Euphonia
  55. Common Black Hawk
  56. Pauraque
  57. Turkey Vulture
  58. Black Vulture
  59. Mangrove Swallow
  60. Barn Swallow
  61. Ruby Throated Hummingbird
  62. White-tipped Dove
  63. Red billed Pigeon
  64. Orange Chinned Parakeet
  65. Groove Billed Ani
  66. Hoffman’s Woodpecker
  67. Yellow Warbler
  68. Rufous Capped Warbler
  69. Northern Beardless Tyrannulet
  70. Rose Throated Becard
  71. Stipe Headed Sparrow
  72. Squirrel Cuckoo
  73. Great Crested Flycatcher
  74. Long Tailed Manakin
  75. Red-Eyed Vireo
  76. Grey Breasted Martin
  77. Broad Winged Hawk
  78. Osprey
  79. Canivet’s Emerald
  80. Red lored parrots
  81. Brown hooded parrots
  82. Yellow-billed Cacique
  83. Gray Hawk
  84. Ochraceous Wren
  85. Grey breasted Wren
  86. Scaly Throated Foliage Gleaner
  87. Scaly Crested Pygmy Tyrant
  88. Chestnut Capped Brush Finch
  89. Orange Billed Nightingale Thrush
  90. Green Hermit
  91. Violet Crowned Woodnymph
  92. Coppery headed Emerald
  93. Violet Sabrewing
  94. Green-Crowned Brilliant
  95. Rufous Collared Sparrow
  96. Stripe Headed Sparrow
  97. Silver Throated Tanager
  98. Anhinga
  99. Black Necked Stilt
  100. Least Grebe
  101. Greater Yellowlegs
  102. Southern Lapwing
  103. Keel billed Toucan
  104. Wood Stork
  105. Dusky Antbird
  106. Red-faced Spine tail
  107. Common Ground Dove
  108. White Crowned Parrot
  109. Rufous Tailed Jacamar
  110. Spotted Woodcreeper
  111. House Wren
  112. Yellow Faced Grassquit
  113. Mountain Elaenia
  114. Common Chlorospingus
  115. Black Phoebe
  116. Tufted Flycatcher
  117. Rose-throated Becard
  118. Yellow throated vireo
  119. Blue Grey Tanager
  120. Chestnut sided Warbler
  121. Tropical Parula
  122. Tennessee Warbler
  123. Blue and White Swallow

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