FLY LONDON NONSTOP TO SAN JOSÉ
Our April birdwatching tour to Costa Rica begins with a morning departure from London Gatwick on British Airways new nonstop service to San José, Costa Rica. We’ll be met on arrival in San José this afternoon and transfer the short distance to our comfortable hotel nearby.
The Trapp Family Country Inn is a tropical oasis located just one mile from the Juan Santamaria International Airport (near Alajuela), in Costa Rica’s beautiful Central Valley. This colonial style hotel is surrounded by beautiful tropical gardens and the perfect place to begin our tour. Night at Trapp Family Country Inn
GUANACASTE, COASTAL MANGROVES & HUMMINGBIRD FEEDERS AT MONTEVERDE
The gardens of our San José hotel will provide early risers with an exciting start to the tour as we get to grips with some of Costa Rica's more familiar birds. Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Red-billed Pigeon, Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Clay-coloured Thrush and Blue-grey Tanager are among the many treats in store!
Our route to the lush cloud forests of Monteverde will take us through a very different environment: the dry Guanacaste, along Costa Rica's Pacific Coast. Within an hour of our departure from the hotel we will find ourselves birding this unique habitat in search of Double-striped Thick-Knee, Turquoise-browed Motmot, White-throated Magpie-jay, Banded Wren, Stripe-headed Sparrow, Scrub Euphonia and many more.
A stop at Caldera Bay will certainly produce meancing Magnificent Frigatebirds and the big Brown Pelican along with a fine assortment of terns, gulls and waders. The adjacent mangrove-lined inlets hold several specialities including the endemic Mangrove Hummingbird and Mangrove Warbler.
As the temperature starts to rise, so shall we - in altitude that is - as we make our way up the winding and very scenic mountain road to the cool climes surrounding Monteverde.
In the afternoon we will visit the Monteverde Hummingbird Gallery, where no fewer than seven species of these beautiful winged jewels can be studied at close range. Specialities here include the lovely Magenta-throated Woodstar, the endemic Coppery-headed Emerald, the enormous (... for a hummingbird!) Violet Sabrewing and the vibrant Purple-throated Mountaingem. Other species to watch for in this area include the exquisite Resplendent Quetzal, Prong-billed Barbet, Golden-browed Chlorophonia and the spritely Slate-throated Redstart.
Our destination for this and the following two nights is a new and delightful timber lodge, with each guest room equipped with a private balcony giving views over the gardens to the cloud forest beyond. Night at Trapp Family Lodge
Days 3 & 4
CLOUD FORESTS OF MONTEVERDE
We will have two days in two different cloud forest reserves while in the Monteverde area in order to gain a comprehensive coverage of the range of species here.
An early visit to the nearby entrance of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve will always produce something of interest. Resplendent Quetzals feeding in a fruiting tree; Golden-bellied Flycatchers picking off insects at the night light; or Emerald Toucanets working on a nest hole are just a few of the possibilities.
After breakfast, we will take in another reserve where we have another chance to see quetzal as well as an active colony of Chestnut-headed Oropendolas. Once inside Monteverde's forests we will be on the lookout for many species of furnariids (or ovenbirds), which are well represented here. Possibilities include Red-faced Spinetail, Spotted Barbtail, Lineated Foliage-gleaner, Streak-breasted Treehunter and the elusive Grey-throated Leaftosser... you have to love those names! Mixed species flocks moving through the forest canopy and undergrowth may contain Spotted and Olivaceous Woodcreepers, Yellowish Flycatcher, Ochraceous Wren, Grey-breasted Wood-wren and Three-striped Warbler - along with the aforementioned furnariids.
Elusive skulkers to watch for on the forest floor include Highland Tinamou and Buff-fronted Quail-dove, while the handsome Azure-hooded Jay lurks in the canopy. With patience we will hope locate a few of these more difficult-to-find species. And there are some fascinating forest mammals to watch for, with chances of White-throated Capuchin, Central American Agouti and both Two-toed and Three-toed Sloths.
As night falls over Monteverde, we will return for delicious dinners and evenings at our lovely lodge - and an option afterwards to search for Mottled Owl and Bare-shanked Screech Owl; both are resident here. Nights at Trapp Family Lodge
THE TOLLING OF THE BELLBIRD & TRANSFER TO ARENAL VOLCANO
One key species we should see today is the amazing Three-wattled Bellbird. They are easily heard throughout the Monteverde area at this time of year and, with patience, we will enjoy excellent views of a displaying male with its three characteristic worm-like extensions dangling at the base of its beak. This remarkable canopy-dweller will certainly be one of the highlights of the tour. Other species to look for in the Bellbird reserve include the shy Chiriqui Quail-dove, Blue-crowned Motmot, Long-tailed Manakin, Rufous-and-white Wren, White-eared Ground Sparrow and Elegant Euphonia.
After lunch in Monteverde, will transfer to our next exciting destination: the Arenal Volcano. Soon, the pastures and farms along the route give way to a beautiful lush rainforest encircling the base of this impressive cinder cone volcano.
We will begin birding here along the entrance road to the Arenal Observatory Lodge, where new birds will likely come thick and fast! By late afternoon we will have arrived at our home for the next three nights, the beautiful Arenal Observatory Lodge. Perched high on a ridge less than two miles from the Arenal Volcano, the lodge offers stunning views of both the cinder cone and Arenal Lake. While for those that want, the hot tub by the pool might provide a relaxing finale to another great day of birding in Costa Rica! Night at Arenal Observatory Lodge
Days 6 - 7
THE ARENAL VOLCANO AREA
The Caribbean foothills of the Arenal Volcano are indeed spectacular and with two full days here we will be able to explore them thoroughly.
The gardens, woodland edge and forest trails of the Arenal Observatory Lodge are not only beautiful but provide excellent birding opportunities. Hummingbirds are abundant amongst the vervain (verbena) flowers. Stripe-throated Hermit, Crowned Woodnymph, Brown Violetear, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Violet-headed Hummingbird and the enchanting Black-crested Coquette are typical species to watch for. Around the edge of the garden and along Arenal's forest trails, we will endeavour to entice out 'skulkers' such as Thicket Antpitta, Spotted Antbird and no fewer than nine species of wren, including Song, Nightingale, Black-throated and Stripe-breasted, as well as the attractive White-breasted Wood-wren.
The fruit feeding station near the restaurant is a gathering place for our group... and for good reason! A ‘fruit salad’ of watermelon, papaya and bananas put out by the lodge staff attracts a fabulous variety of colourful birds. Here, the blues of Red-legged Honeycreepers and Golden-hooded Tanagers mix with the greens of Green Honeycreepers, yellow of Yellow-throated Euphonia, reds and blacks of Passerini’s and Crimson-collared Tanagers, and chestnut of Montezuma Oropendolas... to dazzling effect! Scraps that fall beneath the feeders attract engaging White-nosed Coatis, along with foraging Black-striped Sparrows and even the occasional Great Curassow. While all this is going on, we will enjoy our own breakfast in sight of the feeders.
Birding beside picturesque Lake Arenal is equally rewarding. Every stop is likely to produce new and interesting species. This is a superb area for Crested Guan and Grey-headed Chachalaca, and toucans are well represented with Keel-billed and Chestnut-mandibled Toucans, Collared Aracari and occasionally even the rare Yellow-eared Toucanet. We’ll also watch for three species of motmot: the big Rufous, Broad-billed and the rare Keel-billed Motmot. No less than four species of antshrike occur here, too: Russet, Great, Fasciated and Barred, while two more crowd pleasers - Rufous-tailed Jacamar and Long-tailed Tyrant - can often be seen hunting for insects beside the road. In the vine tangles we will search for Long-billed Gnatwren and Yellow-billed Cacique, while the ‘grassy bits’ hide White-throated Crake, Slaty Spinetail, both Olive-crowned and Grey-crowned Yellowthroats, and up to five species of seedeaters. Some very interesting raptors could also be seen overhead and possibilities include the beautiful White Hawk and Ornate Hawk-eagle.
Costa Rica’s forest mammals are often tricky to find, but we could see three species of monkey at Arenal: Mantled Howler, Central American Spider Monkey and White-throated Capuchin. Two-toed (or Brown-throated) Sloths are also present in the trees - though not always easy to spot as they are not quite so active!
On our second morning at Observatory Lodge we explore the nearby Arenal Hanging Bridges, which provides visitors here with a unique walk through the treetops. A trail system through the primary rainforest passes through steep ravines over which are suspended hanging bridges. These give an exciting, one-off opportunity to witness rainforest canopy species at eye level.
Mixed feeding flocks in this area can also carry with them an array of local specialities, with such treats as White-ruffed Manakin, Tawny-capped Euphonia and Emerald Tanager to check for amidst more numerous flock components such as Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Spotted Woodcreeper and White-shouldered, Bay-headed and Speckled Tanagers.
Whilst working Arenal’s trails we will keep watch for undergrowth skulkers such as Dull-mantled Antbird, Black-headed Nightingale-thrush and several of the aforementioned wrens. A real coup would be to encounter an army ant swarm with its attendant Spotted, Bicolored and Ocellated Antbirds! Just walking through the canopy on the bridges is reason enough to visit this marvellous site, but the potential for finding such seldom seen species should make this a truly unforgettable morning of birding.
All in all, our three-night stay in Arenal should prove to be very special, packed with dramatic scenery, good food... and plenty of great birds! Nights at Arenal Observatory Lodge
ARENAL TO CAÑO NEGRO WETLANDS
After savouring a final early morning near the Observatory Lodge, we will travel to nearby La Fortuna to visit a small reserve on the edge of town. Banana feeders attract a multitude of colourful tropical species making it an excellent opportunity to photograph them at close range. Other goodies within this reserve include the diminutive (for a woodpecker) Olivaceous Piculet, Slaty Spinetail and the localized Uniform Crake along with the sometimes more confiding White-throated Crake.
Following lunch we bid farewell to the Arenal area and travel to the far north-central sector of Costa Rica - and the wetlands of Caño Negro.
Late afternoon will find us enjoying a boat trip on a canal near Los Chiles. This new addition for birders has proved to be a gold mine for a number of localized specialities including Pinnated Bittern, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Plain-breasted Ground Dove, Nicaraguan Seedfinch, Ruddy-breasted Seedeater and the rare Nicaraguan Grackle to name a few. Crakes are well represented here so we'll keep alert for these denizens of the wet edges.
Our destination for dinner this evening is Caño Negro, where we will spend two nights at the comfortable and air-conditioned Natural Lodge. Night at Natural Lodge Caño Negro.
CAÑO NEGRO INCLUDING TWO BOAT RIDES & A NIGHT DRIVE
A major highlight of this area for visiting birders are the excellent boat trips on Lake Caño Negro. Birds are plentiful and the Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge is home to a fine array of speciality birds. This and the surrounding area is the only regular site in Costa Rica for Black-collared Hawk, Grey-headed Dove and Spot-breasted Wren. But perhaps the most notable species here is the Nicaraguan Grackle, a species whose range is restricted to only three lakes and surrounding wetlands - two in Nicaragua, and the other being Caño Negro in Costa Rica. Even here, the grackle is present only as a breeding visitor from Nicaragua - but April represents the heart of the nesting season, so we should have little difficulty finding this localised speciality during our boat trips in the area.
During the morning trip, we will be keeping a keen eye open for the strange Boat-billed Heron hiding in trees on their day roosts. Other possible highlights may include the pied-footed Sungrebe swimming near trees overhanging the water, Grey-necked Wood Rail (plentiful here), the enormous Jabiru, Mangrove Cuckoo and up to 5 species of kingfishers. Spectacled Caiman are common, resembling a smaller, broad-snouted version of the more sinister American Alligator as they drift lazily in the water.
After lunch and a siesta (and even maybe a dip in the pool), we will enjoy our second boat trip near Lake Caño Negro, providing more sightings and photographic opportunities in this bird-rich environment
Caño Negro is also a superb spot for nocturnal species and we will conduct a night drive this evening in hopes of finding such highly prized species as Striped and Black-and-white Owls, Pacific Screech Owl, both Great and Common Potoos and the ubiquitous Common Pauraque. Night at Natural Lodge Caño Negro
CAÑO NEGRO TO LA PAZ WATERFALL GARDENS & POAS VOLCANO LODGE
This early morning, while it is still cool, we will bird the small forest patches near Caño Negro, which can be very productive. Woodpeckers are well represented here, with Lineated, Pale-billed and the amazing Chestnut-coloured as well as the more common Black-cheeked and Hoffmann’s Woodpeckers. Other, more widespread species found here include White-throated Crake, Olive-throated and Crimson-fronted Parakeets, Pied Puffbird, White-collared Manakin and the occasional Snowy Cotinga.
We will depart Caño Negro in time to arrive to La Paz Waterfall Garden, where a lunch fit for a king awaits us! After lunch we will concentrate on the incredible variety of hummingbird species that attend the garden’s feeders, enjoying the ceaseless comings and goings of Green Hermit, Green Thorntail, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Violet Sabrewing, Purple-throated Mountaingem and Black-bellied Hummingbird to name but a few. There are plenty of other birds in the area, too - from Silver-throated and Crimson-collared Tanagers to Sooty-faced Finches and Black-cowled Orioles. Along the forest trails we may well run into roving feeding flocks that can hold Red-faced Spinetail, Spotted Barbtail, Spotted Woodcreeper, Slaty-backed Nightingale-thrush and gorgeous Bay-headed and Spangled-cheeked Tanagers among many others.
From La Paz, we will make our way a short distance to Poas Volcano Lodge, located on the Continental Divide between the Poas and Barva. volcanoes. Set at an elevation of 1,850m (6,000ft), it will be quite cool this evening. Night at Poas Volcano Lodge
MORNING AT POAS VOLCANO NP, RETURN TO SAN JOSÉ & FLY LONDON
After a good breakfast at the hotel, we set off for the nearby Poas Volcano National Park, which lies just 25 minutes drive from our lodge. This being our first visit to the highlands, new species will come with relative ease. The Poas area also gives us another opportunity to look for what many birders consider the most beautiful bird in the New World: the Resplendent Quetzal. But other highlights in this wonderful oak-dominated highland forest might well include Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Long-tailed and Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatchers, Sooty Thrush, Black-billed Nightingale-thrush, Yellow-winged Vireo, Black-cheeked Warbler, Sooty-capped Chlorospingus, Large-footed Finch, Black-thighed Grosbeak... and perhaps even a rarity such as Zeledonia (or Wrenthrush).
Situated at an elevation of 2700m (8858ft), the impressive crater lake of the dormant Poas Volcano is another ‘must see’ today, with its turquoise and green waters and sulphurous fumaroles. We will take the trail to the overlook to witness this amazing natural spectacle.
Bidding a reluctant farewell to the majestic highlands after lunch, we board our bus for the transfer to San Jose airport and check-in for our late afternoon British Airways flight home.
ARRIVAL IN LONDON
Morning arrival at London Gatwick, where our April birdwatching tour to Northern Costa Rica concludes.