Costa Rica 2011 - Trip Report


Costa Rica – December 13-23, 2011 – Trip Report

I was able to escape from work with Lynn in mid-December and spend 10 days at one of my favorite tropical destinations, Costa Rica! The following is a brief synopsis of the trip along with some photographic highlights. Many more photos are linked to the species accounts referenced at the end of this report. This was my third trip to Costa Rica (Lynn’s second) and by far the most ambitious in terms of areas covered/visited. The goal of this trip was to see some new areas and habitats and spend more time on the Caribbean slope than on previous trips more on the Pacific side.

The basic game plan is laid out below. 

We departed San Diego early in the morning of December 13th arriving in San Jose, Costa Rica around 7:30 P.M. via Dallas Texas. After quickly clearing customs we were shuttled over to the Hertz off-site car rental area where they would have given me tips on how to sell my car if I was trying to do so, but I wasn't, so instead we picked up our rental Hyundai 4x4 SUV and checked into the Hampton Inn right next to the airport.


December 14th

We were on the road the next morning shortly after 8:00 A.M. and driving toward our first destination, Bosque de Paz, a relatively quick 2-3 hour drive from the San Jose international airport. This was the only destination of our 10 day tour where I have previously stayed (see Costa Rica 2009 Trip Report) and is highly recommended by me for a “different” view of Costa Rica from what you would expect. It is cool, beautiful, remote, the staff is tremendous, the accommodations top-notch and the wildlife viewing is fabulous. The only downside I can think of is that, being in a cloud forest, it’s, well, cloudy and damp much of the time. We stopped for lunch in the town of Zarcero which is really the last town of any size before you reach Bosque de Paz (there are a couple of smaller towns after Zarcero and Bosque de Paz is a relatively short, 3-4 Km aware for Toro Amarillo but when I call them towns I am being very generous). We ate at a Costa Rican pizza place before proceeding toward our first destination. While the official “dry season” starts sometime in November the tropics are always a bit unpredictable in terms of weather and this would be a theme for the majority of our trip this time. Rain followed us just about everywhere with a large low pressure system circulating around most of Central America the entire trip, and while we were never entirely “rained out” for an entire day, wet weather was the rule everywhere we went and this day would be no exception. As opposed to the typical tropical thunderstorm weather where the mornings are usually clear and mid-afternoon deluges prevail from passing thunderstorms, on this trip we had many days of light to moderate rain which persisted throughout much of the day. We made several stops along the way to Bosque de Paz and ended up at the front gates around 3:00 P.M., checked into our room, organized our bags and basically hung out around the main facilities the rest of the day until dark. In the tropics days and nights are relatively equal in length throughout the year, at the latitude of Costa Rica this means that pretty much it’s light by 6 AM and dark a little after 5 PM and it does get dark quickly. Here are a few highlights from our first afternoon/evening around Bosque de Paz:

Female Green-crowned Brilliant

Violet Sabrewing at Bosque de Paz lodge

Green Hermits were plentiful on this trip, we saw many individuals

Rufous-collared Sparrows were also quite abundant at the lodge

Another one of my favorite hummingbirds, the female Purple-throated Mountain-gem


And, Common Bush-Tanagers were, well, quite common...

Several Central American Agoutis were always hanging around the feeders and were quite active early and late in the day

Bosque de Paz is one of the best places in Costa Rica to see the Black Guan, they are quite abundant not only at the lodge but also the surrounding areas

This is a Wandering Spider, don't know the exact species but they are quite abundant and large...  This one was wandering across my bed the first evening of our stay...


December 15th

Today we spent time between rain showers hiking around and exploring the area. It rained most of the day, not heavily but enough to keep us in ponchos and constantly drying our out our camera gear. It was actually chilly most of the day. Bosque de Paz sits on the edge of the Juan Castro Blanco National Park at nearly 6,000 feet in elevation so even when it isn’t raining, it’s relatively cool and comfortable but when it is damp, dark and rainy it’s actually quite chilly, the temperatures seemed to hover in the high 50’s to low 60’s most of the day. We also drove up the road a bit to even higher elevations searching for the magnificent Resplendent Quetzal which I have seen in this area on a previous trip but alas, to no avail on this day. Here are the highlights of the day along with some additional commentary:


The Violet Sabrewings (and also the Green-crowned Brilliants) here are quite tame and inquisitive. It was not unusual to have one or more zoom right in front of the camera lens or in my case right up to my glasses.  If you don't move quickly, they will literally get right in your face and check you out.  I have a Violet Sabrewing briefly perch on my camera lens while I was holding it...

White-tipped Dove looking for scraps in the garden

Torrent Tyrannulet is a specialist flycatcher of the tropics, they are closely tied to swift moving streams (hence their name).  This one was quite easily seen around the lodge as it worked up and down the stream all day fly-catching.

This Wood Thrush was a nice surprise as it suddenly appeared right in front of the lodge dining room at breakfast time.  Lynn and I both ran out in the middle of breakfast to take a few pictures...

A female Purple-throated Mountain-gem watching it start to rain...


And the male counterpart.  This is one species where both the male and the female, while quite different, are both quite attractive

Evidence that territorial disputes are not left up to the males of the species!  Here two females get into a bit of a squabble over who owns the leaf perch...

Another beautiful male Purple-throated Mountain-gem

Yellowish Flycatchers are also quite common in this area and are usually very cooperative photographic subjects as well

This is a great view of the hummingbird nectar collecting apparatus (their tongue)...

Another spectacular tropical bird, the Silver Throated Tanager, enjoying a fruity meal near our lodge room

This is the stream that the Torrent Tyrannulet favored...

Many times, if you just sit patiently, good things will come... In a matter of a few minutes, I was able to catch this Mountain Elaenia and then right after it, the bird below...

This is a male Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, another one of my "favorites"!

There are many interesting and beautiful plants just about everywhere you look if you spend the time.

Just about everything has something growing on it, in it or through it...  Here we have lichens, moss and bromeliads

This is another epiphytic Bromeliad


Hairy Woodpecker, much darker than the ones seen in the US but the same species.

Yellowish Flycatcher perched overlooking a stream

Swainson's Thrush

This is another Bosque de Paz specialty, the Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch!

The young males of this species (Green-crowned Brilliant) have rusty colored cheeks which makes them look quite different from their parents and can be quite confusing to someone beginning to bird in the tropics.  It would be easy to assume this is a different species from the adult.

This young male put on quite a show for Lynn who captured a great sequence!

One interesting fact about the Green-crowned Brilliant is that it typically feeds while perched unlike many species of hummingbirds which tend to hover while feeding on nectar, etc.  This young male repeatedly sought nectar from the flowers while on his perch.

Feliz Navidad!  From Costa Rica - would be the title of this shot...  A beautiful male Violet Sabrewing perched on some Christmas decorations...


The Black Guan

One of the resident warbler species, the Slate-throated Redstart

And another resident warbler, the Three-striped Warbler

This is why they call it a "cloud forest" it's pretty much like this most days, at least in the late morning and afternoon


The plant growth here is incredible and very difficult to capture appropriately in pictures as you lose the scale and enormity of the place.  The Philodendron leaves in the foreground of this image are easily six feet long for example...

The water was flowing quite well in the streams that surround Bosque de Paz

This is secondary-growth forest, being rehabilitated in the area.


This is the road that leads to Toro Amarillo, it's a great road to walk down early or late in the day as you have easy access to many flocks of tropical birds traversing the area.

This is looking up the slope across from the Bosque de Paz lodge, the tree in the center here is HUGE, it's hard to judge the scale but the lower "shrubs" surrounding the tree are probably 15-20' high to give you an idea of how big this tree really is!

This beautiful Golden-winged Warbler was flittering around a mountain slope above the lodge


These pictures were taken late in the day outside of Toro Amarillo as we stopped to check out a few river crossings, the weather remained quite cool in this area, I am wearing clothes I would much more likely be found wearing in San Diego in the winter than in the tropics.  I don't think it got much above 60F while we were at Bosque de Paz...

Here's Lynn taking a brief respite from her picture taking...

December 16th

Today was our first travel day to another destination. It was also the first day the sun actually peeked out behind the cloud cover and we started the day off with a magnificent morning with crystal blue skies and warmer weather. This lasted until around 8:30 when the clouds started moving back in and the persistent drizzle started up again. We spent the early morning doing some photography around the reserve and then packed up and headed toward our next destination, the La Selva area along the Sarapiqui river. We stopped about a mile from Bosque de Paz to catch a mixed flock of tropical birds that were moving along a high ridge along the side of the road and spent an hour or so photographing a nice mix of species. Lynn also found our first herp of the trip, a nice Anole (see below). We had a couple of more stops along the way driving through completely new areas arriving at our next destination, the Selva Verde hotel at 2:00 PM.   Here are some morning photos from around Bosque de Paz and the trip to Selva Verde:



Looking out from our room balcony toward the primary growth rain forest that surrounds the property


The place was thick with Purple-throated Mountain-gems, much more so than my last visit here, this male was aggressively defending his perching area in the garden below our room.


One of the many hiking paths at Bosque de Paz that leads through a variety of habitats


Orchids were both growing naturally as well as planted throughout the grounds.  Bosque de Paz boasts one of the most extensive Orchid gardens featuring native orchids in Central America


A female Yellow-faced Grassquit in the early morning sun


This is the only place in Costa Rica where I have reliably found the Golden-bellied Flycatcher (as seen above)


Purple-throated Mountain-gem (female)


Green Hermit


This was the first time I have actually seen a Green Hermit perch.  I am sure they do it all the time but they are quite active birds and it was a welcome sight after taking hundreds of less-than clear shots of these great little birds...


One of the hummingbirds I regularly photograph in SE Arizona in the summer, the Magnificent Hummingbird


Another Violet Sabrewing


Blue-and-White Swallows came in to roost right in front of our room each night we were there.  A group of about 30 or so would roost under the overhang of the roof on a wooden beam.  During the day the same group was quite active around the lodge.


A female Green-crowned Brilliant


A North American migrant and very commonly seen throughout the trip was the Wilson's Warbler as seen above


A "life" bird for me on this trip, a nice Brown-capped Vireo made a very brief appearance at the right time for me to get a few quick shots before it quickly flew away...


Another Green Hermit shot...


Male Purple-throated Mountain-gem


And another shot of the beautiful Violet Sabrewing


Yellow-thighed Finch were around here but a bit skittish and usually just glimpsed flittering around in the undergrowth...


Violet Sabrewing


Yellowish Flycatcher


When we left the lodge on our way to our next destination, we stopped for a very active and large flock of tropical birds that were moving through the area about a mile down the road.  This is another North American migrant, the Blackburnian Warbler, in a bit drab color phase but an interesting warbler anyway...


Variegated Squirrels were seen at just about every stop we made on this trip.  Lynn grabbed a great series of action shots as the squirrel foraged around in the lower and mid-levels of the canopy


Same squirrel, reaching out to grab a quick snack...


The bromeliads grow everywhere!


Lynn found this Swift Anole (Norops tropidolepis) along the side of the road while we were chasing a mixed flock of birds around...


Another winter visitor from the states, a Black-headed Green Warbler made an appearance.  As I have written in other reports, it's actually easier to see North American wood warblers in Central America during their winter migration then it is to hunt them down in the US as they are concentrated in the same areas.   So while this bird would be a nice rarity to find in San Diego for example, it's quite easy to find in Costa Rica during the winter migration.


This little guy was flittering around in the bromeliads and was quite difficult to photograph, in particular since he kept quite a distance from me.  This bird is called an Ochraceous Wren...


Another one of my favorite neo-tropical birds is the Woodcreeper, they are similar to Woodpeckers but they do not tap or "drill" into the wood, they use their large bills to seek out insects under bark and on the trunks of trees.  This is a Spot-crowned Woodcreeper (above).


Yellow-faced Grassquit (male) were common in open areas, large flocks busily foraging for seeds...


This is a female of the same species as above.


The ever-present Clay-colored Thrush (used to be called Clay-colored Robin).


We ran into a several Broad-winged Hawks on our drive from Bosque de Paz to the Selva Verde hotel.

We had a couple of more stops along the way including seeing a large mixed flock of Montezuma Oropendola and Brown Jays (both pictured later in this report).  We drove through a variety of completely new areas (for us) before arriving at our next destination, the Selva Verde hotel at 2:00 PM. The Selva Verde hotel was a bit of a disappointment and I would not recommend it if you are staying in the La Selva area. First, we found the employees less than friendly and certainly less than helpful. The hotel sits right along the edge of the Sarapiqui river and while the hotel website states that there are lots of activities, wildlife, etc. what they don’t say is that all of these activities are off-site and have to be reserved and arrangements made through the front desk. The hotel also states that they have working phones and internet neither of which were working when we were there. Also, if you are a photographer, the way they have the hotel set up is an issue. Many of the pathways around the grounds are completely covered. While this is great for keeping you dry, you can’t see above and the cover really messes with your metering of shots and it also makes you feel a bit claustrophobic in my opinion. Lastly, of all of the places we stayed at (and all served food) this location had the least palatable food (while not bad, it wasn’t great like Bosque de Paz or Rancho Naturalista).  Even the pay phones in the hotel lobby which were supposed to take credit cards did not work...  The phones were a major issue for the first few days as I was having problems with my Verizon Blackberry world-phone and was not able to send or receive calls or emails for the first four days of our trip. This turned out to be due to a mix-up with Verizon who instead of activating my SIM card for use in Costa Rica, actually disabled it. Once this problem was cleared up we were actually able to send and receive calls making the trip a bit less stressful since it was impossible to make calls otherwise. We actually had to have the hotel call the U.S. for us, which they couldn’t seem to figure out how to do either, it took three trips to the reception area to get this done. Also of note was that the parking for the hotel was remote, at least 500 yards or so from the rooms and they offered absolutely no bag service, and for that matter any other service and again, in complete contrast to everywhere else I have ever been in Costa Rica, the people working at this hotel definitely had bad attitudes and seemed in general to be very unhappy. I usually wouldn't even mention this but when you are paying about $400 for two nights in a hotel in Costa Rica, you would at least expect there to be some way pay someone to help lug your bags a quarter mile... 

One more word on logistics if you are planning a trip to Costa Rica and going to drive: Get the GPS option with your rental car! It works FANTASTIC! This was actually one of the highlights for me as I find it a bit stressful to try to navigate in foreign countries with no road signs or lights or highway numbers with less than detailed maps and trying to find very specific locations. We got the Costa Rica GPS navigation system from Hertz ($12 a day but worth every penny) and never had any issue in finding anything! All directions were completely accurate and in English and it really took a lot of stress off of us in terms of finding specific destinations! It even had very accurate warning information regarding dangerous bridges (one-way traffic), yield areas, speed bumps, dangerous curves and even speed traps with traffic cameras in the larger cities of Limon and San Jose. Anyway, that’s it for the complaining and critique, back to the trip…

We spent the afternoon walking around the hotel grounds, trying to make phone calls and reorganizing. Lynn also booked us on a boat trip on the Sarapiqui river the next day so after dinner and after a long day, we hit the sack by 8:00. Here are some additional photos from the afternoon around Selva Verde:


Lynn and I ran into this little guy while we were hauling our luggage to our room at the Selva Verde lodge.  They turned out to be quite common around the area including on the hotel grounds.  We saw at least two dozen of them while there.  (Green-and-Black Poison Dart From - Dendrobates auratus)


This is the Sarapiqui river that runs right behind the Selva Verde lodge.


I ran into this little guy at night walking back from the lobby of the hotel.  It's called a Litter Toad.

While they look quite similar to a frog, for example a Rain Frog, the large parotoid glands (seen above as the big bumps on either side of the back right above the front legs) give it away as a type of toad...


December 17th

I awoke to torrential rain around 6:00 AM, it was pouring but we checked with the front desk and they said that our boat ride was in a covered boat and it went down the river rain or shine and departed promptly at 9 AM.  The rain actually let up for about an hour in the morning and we did a quick walk around the hotel grounds before breakfast.  Getting back to the lodge just as the skies opened up again.  Here are a few shots from the early morning at Selva Verde:


All of the rooms here are above ground on stilts, not sure if this is due to the river flooding at times or because of heat dissipation but given that the river was cresting here and it was pretty close to the top of the banks I would assume that this area floods on occasion.

The grounds were planted with many nice tropical varieties

Another Poison Dart Frog.  We would see them in bunches of three or four at a time as we walked around the hotel grounds.

Here I am standing along the banks of the Sarapiqui River along one of the trails that wends its way around the hotel grounds.

Sarapiqui River

And one more dart frog...  You would think that they would be easy to photograph but they are not.  Not sure if it's the color combo or the reflective qualities of their skin or what but we took dozens if not hundreds of images and barely any of them were decent enough to show...

The Great Kiskadee is never far away, they are ubiquitous in Costa Rica, I cannot recall ever not seeing MANY of them in a day down here.

This Northern Barred-Woodcreeper was near the fruit feeders in front of the hotel lobby

Blue-gray Tanagers are nearly as commonly seen as the Great Kiskadee, another very attractively colored tropical bird

And then it started to pour again...


After breakfast we headed off to take our boat tour of the Sarapiqui River but it took us a little longer to get to the place than we were told it would (remember I told you that everything is off-site from the hotel here so we had to drive to the next town to get the boat ride) and we arrived at the boat dock around 9:03 AM. We watched our boat cruising down the river in the pouring rain without us. Turned out to not be a bad thing however as the boat ride owner said we could go out on the 2:00 ride instead. The rain was relentless throughout the morning and we decided to visit a place we had seen on the way in that advertised bird watching and photography opportunities. It turned out to be a nice place to hang out and watch the rain for the rest of the morning. The place is called Sarapiqui Eco-Observatory and is run by an American that has been running various businesses in Costa Rica for the past 30 years. He was very nice, he showed us around, we talked about Costa Rica, how he got there, what he had done, etc. and we also did some photography from a protected blind he had set up. We departed there early in the afternoon to go back to our hotel to grab lunch before heading back for our afternoon boat trip.  Here are some pictures from our morning adventure in the rain:

The grounds at the Sarapiqui Eco-Observatory.  The gentleman that purchased this land told me that it was once an Oil Palm plantation and that after he removed the palms he replanted it to attract birds.  He has a nice set up in front with great backgrounds for taking pictures.  The property behind us here is primary and secondary-growth rain forest and an river island that abuts against a much larger reserve.  I would have loved to check out this area on a day that was not so nasty.  I would guess that we received about 3 if not 4 inches of rain in the morning.

Despite the downpour, several hummingbirds stayed active including this Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

As well as several White-necked Jacobins

White-necked Jacobin, presumably trying to try off its wings...

Another shot of the White-necked Jacobin

A female Passerini's Tanager with a Blue-gray Tanager looking on in the back

A pair of Montezuma Oropendola, seemingly drenched as well were doing the same thing we were, watching it rain mostly...

This is the "back-yard" at the Eco-observatory.  The train was very steep and muddy and with it pouring, Lynn and I decided to forego a trek into the area but it looked very, very interesting.

This was the sign that caught our attention the day before...

Another extremely common species is the Tropical Kingbird, we sometimes get these in our back yard in San Diego in the summer as they are somewhat migratory.  They are also quite common in SE Arizona during the summer months.

Back at the hotel for lunch, the rain had stopped and the animals were back at the fruit feeders picking out scraps left over from earlier in the day.  Variegated Squirrels were commonly seen here as well as other areas we visited

A very nice example of Heliconia, not sure which species but these are very impressive plants!

Another bird you can see in the U.S., a Summer Tanager

Any yet another migrant, the Louisiana Waterthrush

This is one you will NOT see in the US unless you have a box of Fruit Loops in front of you or you are at a zoo...  Chestnut-mandibled or Swainson's Toucan depending on which naming convention you wish to abide by...


As I said earlier, missing the morning boat turned out to not be a bad thing as the rain stopped around 1:00 PM and the sun actually started to poke through the clouds. That being said, we arrived at the boat dock right on time at 2:00 just in time to see our boat once again heading down the river without us… Apparently, they never got the word that they were expecting two more people on the boat and it departed with a couple from North Dakota on board about 5 minutes before we got there. Lucky for us however, this time the owner of the operation was  able to call the boat back to pick us up… Day saved! Here are some highlights from our trip down the Sarapiqui River: The rain started up again just as we were getting back to the docs and the other interesting thing was that the river was starting to crest from the substantial rain that had fallen all day, so much so that the dock that we had been standing on to get on the boat a couple hours earlier was not a good two or three feet under water and the river was raging! The boat captain had to actually beach the boat and we had to get off it at the bow along a low point on the river bank as the landing was completely submerged under raging brown water! We drove back to the bird watching place to spend the last hour or so of light taking some pictures as the rain was merely a drizzle at this point, got back to the hotel for showers and dinner and another early night in bed. Here are some additional photo highlights from the day:

First bird seen was this Mangrove Swallow perched on a stick jutting out of the middle of the river.

The morning rain storm was starting to be felt on the river as well.  You could see the river rising and gaining velocity as we continued our journey up river on the Sarapiqui.  Here you can see that the river is nearly cresting by looking at the plant life along the banks.  There is no space between the bottom of the green and the brown of the river, indicating that this is about as high as it flows on a regular basis...

We spotted a Two-toed Sloth high up in a tree along the banks of the river.  Two-toed sloths are much bigger than their three-toed cousins and also have a slightly more varied diet, adding some fruits and additional vegetation to their diets.

You can see the two claws on the front foot of the sloth, giving it the name "two towed" sloth.  Both the two and three-toed sloth have three claws on their hind feet...

A female Green Kingfisher was along the bank of the river

This is the other species of Toucan found in the area and typically not as gregarious, this is the Keel-billed Toucan

The most commonly encountered animal on the boat trip was the Green Iguana.  I think we saw at least 8 and perhaps as many as 10 of them along the banks.  This male with the orange fringes was extremely large, probably over six feet total length with tail.  A much smaller iguana, perhaps a female is perched below.

Another male, this one probably about 4 feet total length.

Any yet another Iguana

A Great Egret was watching us motor by

And right next to him, this Snowy Egret

Beautiful Oak Trees along the banks of the river, certainly not in any need of a good watering here.

Another large Green Iguana, this one a little closer to the boat...

This is an Anhinga, it is related to the Darters and is cormorant-like in appearance.  Also called a "Snake Bird" some places.  They are different in that their wings do not have the same oily substance that covers the likes of ducks and other water birds so while water is repelled by a ducks feathers, an Anhinga's features can get soaked and waterlogged.  This works to the birds favor when it is fishing for food as it dives under the water and is not as buoyant as a duck for example so it can go deeper.  The problem is that the wings need to be dried out when they get to wet which is what you see here.

A closer look at the Anhinga

These Black Vultures seemed to be mimicking the Anhinga and drying their wings as well... it was a wet day!

We had the pleasure of meeting this nice couple, Roger and Deb from North Dakota, who were our companions on the afternoon boat trip, they were already heading up the Sarapiqui river when it was turned around to pick us up at the dock...

After we finished our boat ride, we decided to revisit the eco-observatory we had visited earlier and finished the day up there.  It was pretty late in the day by the time we got there but we did manage to get a few more pictures, highlighted below...

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Lynn took quite a few pictures of some interesting and beautiful tropical plants, this is another great example of Heliconia

I believe this is some sort of ginger...

Another interesting ginger of some sort...


After dinner at the lodge, Lynn and I took a quick walk around the grounds to see if we could spot any interesting nocturnal animals.  These rainforest millipedes were quite common both here and in other areas we visited.

This is a very interesting spider, I believe it's some sort of Harvestmen spider (daddy long-legs family).  It has a thin, plate like abdomen that extends out quite a ways from the main body, it looks sort of like a dead leaf.  It had extremely long, thin legs and tiny little silver nodules where the legs attached to the body.  If anyone knows what species this is please email me through this web site, would love to know the identity.

This is another Wandering Spider, not sure what the species is but it was rather large, tarantula sized, perhaps 2-2.5" body length and was prowling around a banana tree on the hotel grounds.

December 18th

Another travel day today, we spent the early morning before breakfast at another area of the hotel which is actually across the road from where we were staying.   Lynn was walking along one of the concrete sidewalks and it was covered in some green moss which turned out to be more like green slime which turned out to be the equivalent of ice, I watched her as she totally lost traction and slid toward a large pond of water, her arms flailing to try to keep her balance and finally ending up with one leg in the pond and the rest of her body inclined on the concrete walkway. I had run over to try to do something, not sure what but I lost my traction too and just about ended up on my butt as well. Lynn was quite lucky ending up only with a contusion on her ankle and some bruises and soreness the next couple of days, could have been a lot worse! Other than the near disaster, the area was actually much nicer and wilder than the area across the street at the main grounds and I actually got into a quite exciting little flock of tropical birds including some Trogons, Squirrel Cuckoos, etc. Here are highlights from the morning at Selva Verde:


This is the dining area at the Selva Verde hotel.

This is the pond that Lynn ended up in after her nearly disastrous slide and fall on the slick, moss-covered walkway

The hotel grounds across the street from the main lodge were quite a bit less well maintained, there are studio-type accommodations on this side of the road and it didn't appear that anyone was staying over here.  While the area may not have been as aesthetically pleasing, there was certainly more wildlife on this side of the road.

Gray-capped Flycatcher very early in the morning

I spotted a pair of Trogons and then a second pair, all within a few minutes of one another.  This is a male Slaty-tailed Trogon, the female was perched just a few feet to the right of him.  Unfortunately, he was fairly high up in a tree and the backlighting was horrible.  The morning was quite bright but the cloud cover made it very difficult to photograph anything that wasn't near eye-level.  I have much better pictures of this particular species from other trips but just for documentation purposes I included him here.

Another new bird for me was this Rufous-winged Woodpecker who made a brief appearance in a very nice mixed flock of birds that was working the general area.

Right alongside the woodpecker above was this Black-cheeked Woodpecker

This is a Cinnamon Becard.  As you can see, he stayed a little higher up in the trees so again, there were issues with backlighting due to the bright overcast morning.  These birds (Becards) are very similar to flycatchers both in appearance as well as behavior.

One of the highlights of the morning was this little guy.  He's not real spectacular to look at but is an interesting species, he is one of the few hummingbird species to have pink feet which is basically how you identify him.  This is a Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer.

Passerini's Tanagers were quite common in the area and always draw your attention with their shocking red rumps

A little flock of Red-lored Parrots also came in for a visit and Lynn was able to capture several good shots of these raucous birds!

Red-lored Parrot

We made our way back to the lodge for breakfast before packing up to head to Rancho Naturalista and during breakfast they restocked the fruit feeder on the hotel grounds.  This in turn brought in a nice variety of birds that ate alongside us...

Collared Aracari - There was quite a debate going on about how to pronounce this birds name.  Most people pronounce it ARE-A-CAR-EE, but the correct pronunciation, according to the experts and my research is actually ARE-A-SAR-EE 

The ever present Great Kiskadee

The first close-up looks we had gotten of Montezuma Oropendola, a very interesting bird and very common in the area.  I started thinking of them as if they were the equivalent of crows back home...  Just more colorful!

A female Green Honeycreeper

The beautiful Olive-backed Euphonia

At the feeding station here we have a Clay-colored Thrush, with a Blue-gray Tanager and a Great Kiskadee on the sidelines...

Here is an apparent squabble between a Clay-colored Thrush and a Palm Tanager.  Look guys, there are plenty of bananas to go around!

A female Red-throated Ant-Tanager


Another Blue-gray Tanager

The impressive Buff-throated Saltator

Another bird you may see in your backyard in the US, the Baltimore Oriole

Male Baltimore Oriole at the feeders...

A Buff-throated Saltator watching the activity at the feeding station

Another Blue-gray Tanager

This is a female Blue Dacnis, another fruit-eating bird of the tropics

This is a male Red-throated Ant-Tanager

Summer Tanager

A group of Blue-gray Tanagers fussing over the bananas...

Orange-billed Sparrow was another bird first seen by me on this trip here and at Rancho Naturalista

Olive-backed Euphonia eyeing a meal...

Olive-backed Euphonia, grabbing a meal

Olive-backed Euphonia, eating and running...

Male of the same species as above (Olive-backed Euphonia)

This is a Blue Morpho butterfly.  It's interesting for a couple of reasons.  First, the inside of the wings are neon blue, it's quite spectacular in flight and a common sight in Central America.  Second, is the drab bottom of the wings, shown here.  Note the large eye-spot.  This is thought to mimic the eye of a large predator, an owl for example and scare away potential butterfly predators such as a bird who may think twice before taking an easy snack off the twig...

Here's Lynn with her gear, in good spirits and shape despite her fall earlier in the morning.

As I described earlier, a lot of the walkways at the hotel are covered like this one, I guess it's great for when it's raining but it really makes it hard to see what's going on around you and the grounds.  I found it a bit frustrating and stifling myself...

As we were lugging our gear the quarter mile back to our vehicle to leave this Central American Whiptail (Ameiva) crossed our paths...


We departed Selva Verde around 11:00 AM for the Caribbean foothills and Rancho Naturalista, about a 3 hour drive through some very scenic country and a very sparsely populated area of the country along the side of another active volcano. We arrived at Rancho Naturalista very late in the afternoon, around 4:00 and were able to sneak in a few photographs before losing the light completely. Here are the highlights from the late afternoon at Rancho Naturalista:

On our way to Rancho Naturalista we passed by one of several active volcanoes found in the country.  In the distance you can see the Turrialba volcano, it has erupted violently several times in the past couple hundred years...

One of dozens of rivers that transverse the valleys in the area.


On a quick pit stop we captured this butterfly.

In pleasant contracts to our previous accommodations, we found Rancho Naturalista to be top-notch in every possible way!  I would highly recommend this lodge for anyone that is interested in Costa Rican natural history.  It's in a great location with easy access to a variety of habitats, the lodge itself is quite comfortable, and the staff and guides were pleasant, helpful, friendly and knowledgeable.  All the things you would expect from a world-class eco-lodge which it is!  So, that being said, we arrive around 4:00 and Oscar, who I believe was cooking that night, greeted us in the driveway and showed us to our room.  He helped with some of the luggage and we were all settled in and ready for a quick walk-around as the sun was getting low on the western horizon...

White-necked Jacobin were quite common in the gardens and at the hummingbird feeders

As were Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds

The spectacular Violet-crowned Woodnymph was also obvious although not as plentiful as the first two

A male Rufous-tailed Hummingbird in a slightly agitated state!

The feeders were quite busy in the late afternoon, White-necked Jacobin, Green-breasted Mango were busy getting in a few more sips before the sun went down.

White-necked Jacobin

Female Violet-crowned Woodnymph


Male Violet-crowned Woodnymph


December 19th

Turned out that we were the only guests at the hotel for our brief 2 night stay and we had excellent service, excellent food, excellent rooms and excellent wildlife as well as weather on this portion of our journey. As stated above, Rancho Naturalista would come highly recommended by me. Not only in terms of the actual location and staff but also the wildlife and in particular the birding was excellent! There was also a visiting bird guide, Oliver Slessor from the U.K staying there.  We had met Oliver the previous night after our arrival and discussed using his services to guide us.  Lynn and I decided to go it alone the first day and focus on photographing the areas around the hotel and various trails and made arrangements with Oliver to guide us the following morning to explore some different areas around the region but for today, we explored the area on our own.

During the day we basically took a few short hikes around the area, mostly down the road that starts from the hotel and goes down a steep, winding hill back toward the town of Tuis. There was excellent birding all along the road but we started the morning spending some time before breakfast at the feeders, here are some highlights from then: 

A view from Rancho Naturalista as the sun was starting to rise

Gray-headed Chachalaca were ready to go at sun-up!

The ubiquitous Variegated Squirrel hogging a whole banana

Another view from Rancho Naturalista toward the "lowlands"

A young Orange-billed Sparrow - the bill has not turned orange yet indicating a first-year bird.

The hummingbird feeders were quite active, this is a male Green-breasted Mango with the early-morning sun on his back

Another shot of the same species again reflecting the morning sun

A close-up look at the White-necked Jacobin

White-lined Tanager were seen frequently in the gardens

This is a female White-necked Jacobin

The Green-breasted Mangos were spectacular!

Another White-necked Jacobin.


A sort of 3D effect from the hummingbirds (White-necked Jacobin) and looking down to the valley

Female Passerini's Tanager

Another Violet-crowned Woodnymph


Male Green-throated Mango

Busy at the feeders!

This single, beautiful Crimson-collared Tanager made a very brief visit to the lodge grounds, the only one  have ever seen and/or photographed

As stated earlier, we decided to spend the day hiking around the general area.  After breakfast, we headed down the road we had driven up the previous day.  The first bird I encountered on the walk was a new species for me, the White-collared Manakin

Next, a Squirrel Cuckoo came cruising across the road and perched in a tree almost directly above my head.  I had to back-track to get a photo as I was too close to the bird at first.  He was quite busy catching insects so I only got a few seconds to get a good shot of him...

Lynn had one of the best finds of the morning when she found this Long-tailed Tyrant.  She didn't even know it was anything interesting to me, the long tail equated to her to either the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher or something else with a long tail that she knew I had seen already.  I asked her if she had seen anything interesting and she said something like, "no, just one of those long-tailed birds.."  This of course got me quite interested and when she pointed it out to me I was quite happy to see one for the first time...

Long-tailed Tyrant from another perch, he was quite actively fly-catching as we observed him

I stood in one place for more than an hour as a small mixed flock of tropical birds was working its way up and down a little side canyon off the road.  I caught this Common Tody-Flycatcher ever-so-briefly as it whizzed around catching small insects.  These little guys are extremely active and hard to catch sitting still!

My best find of the morning was this Rufous-tailed Jacamar which I saw out of the corner of my eye as he caught an insect in flight and then returned to his perch which was quite well hidden in the dense growth of the canyon.  If he hadn't of gone after that insect, I would never of seen him in a million years...

White I was photographing the Jacamar, this little hummingbird came slowly up the hill inspecting red flowers, I had seen this species before but never photographed it.  This is a Stripe-throated Hermit...

Stripe-throated Hermit

And another shot of the Rufous-tailed Jacamar

This Yellow-throated Vireo was part of the mixed flock of birds I mentioned earlier

As was this Chestnut-sided Warbler

This Tropical Gnatcatcher was loosely associated with the flock as well although I think we was working more of a home territory as he seemed to stay around longer than the other birds and I think I saw him in the same general area later in the day.  However, mixed flocks also can have regular routines as well and visit the same areas over and over, in any event, he was busy fly-catching as well...

Tropical Gnatcatcher

Long-tailed Tyrant

A butterfly of some sort...  still need to ID a lot of insects!

Palm Tanager at the fruit feeder at Rancho Naturalista

The hummingbird feeders seemed to always be buzzing.  The brilliant male hummingbird above is a Violet-crowned Woodnymph

I ran into a nice flock of Golden-headed Tanagers my second time down the road, there were a couple dozen slowly working a stand of trees off to the side of the road. 

Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds were the common hummingbird you would see away from the feeders, they were present just about everywhere there were a few flowers.

This Spot-crowned Woodcreeper was working a up a tree on my second hike

This little guy is called a Green Thorntail - they were rather uncommon but we did manager to see a few of them.

A very small hummingbird that reminded me of the Coquette hummingbirds I have seen in Panama

This is another Rufous-tailed Hummingbird feeding

Female Yellow-bellied Seedeater

And more Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds...

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

This is the Green Thorntail in flight

A nicely colored Dipper...

This is an Olive-striped Flycatcher, the little white patch behind the eye is the key identifier of this elusive little bird

Back at the lodge we had a visit from another small group of Montezuma Oropendola in the afternoon

The Variegated Squirrels were regular visitors of just about every fruit feeder we saw in Costa Rica

This Passerini's Tanager had a band on its leg, obviously part of someone's research project

Another male Passerini's Tanager


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