FLY LONDON NONSTOP TO SAN JOSÉ
Our April birdwatching tour to Costa Rica begins with a morning departure from London Gatwick on British Airways nonstop service to 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 veritable little oasis located just minutes away 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 Trapp Family Country Inn
THE ARENAL VOLCANO AREA
The gardens of Trapp Family Country Inn 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 possible treats in store!
Leaving San José, our scenic drive this morning will take us from the Pacific Central Valley to the lush foothill Caribbean rainforests of the Arenal Volcano. Making birding stops along the way as species present themselves, we’ll plan to arrive at La Fortuna for lunch.
From here, it is only a short distance to our home for the next three nights - Arenal Observatory Lodge. Perched high on a ridge less than two miles from the impressive Arenal Volcano, the lodge offers stunning views of both the cinder cone and Lake Arenal. Our birding here begins right along the entrance road this afternoon, where new birds will likely come thick and fast!
The gardens, woodland edge and forest trails of the lodge are not only beautiful but provide excellent birding opportunities. Hummingbirds are abundant amongst the vervain flowers, with Stripe-throated Hermit, Crowned Woodnymph, Brown Violetear, Green Thorntail, Violet-headed Hummingbird and the enchanting Black-crested Coquette among 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, Bay, 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! An avian ‘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 rich 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, with every stop 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 Yellow-throated 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 very local Keel-billed Motmot. No less than four species of antshrike occur here, too: Great, Russet, 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’ hold 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, Ornate Hawk-eagle and the graceful Swallow-tailed Kite.
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 Arenal Observatory Lodge we will explore the trails near the Arenal Sky Walk, which pass through an area of steep ravines and primary rainforest that offers a great opportunity for viewing specialist forest species. Mixed feeding flocks in this area can carry with them an array of local specialitie. White-ruffed Manakin, Tawny-capped Euphonia and Emerald Tanager are among treats 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 forest is reason enough to visit this marvellous site, but the potential for finding such seldom seen species should help to make this a truly unforgettable morning of birding.
All in all, our stay in Arenal should prove to be very special, packed with dramatic scenery, good food... and plenty of great birds! Three nights Arenal Observatory Lodge
TO CAÑO NEGRO VIA BOGARIN RESERVE AND MEDIO QUESO BOAT RIDE
After savouring a final early morning near Arenal Observatory Lodge, we travel back to nearby La Fortuna to visit a reserve, literally on the edge of town. Banana feeders attract a multitude of colourful tropical species making it an excellent spot to photograph them at close range. Goodies within this small private reserve include the diminutive (for a woodpecker) Olivaceous Piculet, Slaty Spinetail and the localised Uniform Crake along with the usually more confiding White-throated Crake and Rufous-naped Wood Rail. A roosting owl is not out of the question and everyone enjoys seeing the iconic Red-eyed Leaf Frogs that are resident here.
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, where late afternoon will find us enjoying a boat trip on a canal near Los Chiles. This exciting new addition for birders has proved to be a gold mine for localised specialities such as Pinnated Bittern, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Plain-breasted Ground Dove, Nicaraguan Seed-finch, Ruddy-breasted Seedeater and the seasonal and localised Nicaraguan Grackle to name but 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 stay for two nights in comfortable and air-conditioned rooms just metres away from the wetlands. Night Natural Lodge Caño Negro
CAÑO NEGRO, INCLUDING TWO BOAT RIDES & A WILDLIFE NIGHT DRIVE
A major highlight of this area for visiting birders is the opportunity to enjoy some excellent boat trips along the Caño Negro waterways. Birds are plentiful and the Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge is home to a fine array of specialities. 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 here in the Caño Negro region of 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 the morning trip, we will be keeping a keen eye open for the strange Boat-billed Heron, hiding in trees at their day roosts. Other possible highlights might include the Sungrebe with its ‘dazzle-camouflage’ feet, swimming near trees overhanging the water; Russet-naped Wood Rail (which is plentiful here), the enormous Jabiru, furtive Mangrove Cuckoo and up to five species of kingfishers. Spectacled Caiman are a common sight and, though their appearance is menacing, they seem to just drift lazily in the water.
After lunch and a welcome siesta (or maybe a dip in the pool), we will take a second boat trip along a different section of the 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 and both Great and Common Potoos, along with the ubiquitous Common Pauraque. Night Natural Lodge Caño Negro
THE GUANACASTE & HUMMINGBIRD FEEDERS AT MONTEVERDE
On our final early morning at Caño Negro we will bird the productive small forest patches nearby. Woodpeckers are especially well represented, with Lineated, Pale-billed and the amazing Chestnut-coloured as well as the more common Black-cheeked and Hoffmann’s. Other more widespread species to watch for include Olive-throated and Crimson-fronted Parakeets, Pied Puffbird, White-collared Manakin and even the immaculate Snowy Cotinga.
After breakfast, we will make our way west to a much drier habitat: the Guanacaste of Pacific NW Costa Rica. Detouring on to a side road should produce many of the specialities of this unique area - from Double-striped Thick-Knee, Cinnamon Hummingbird and the glorious Turquoise-browed Motmot, through a host of flycatchers to ‘rose-less throated’ Rose-throated Becards, loud-voiced White-throated Magpie-Jays, inquisitive White-lored Gnatcatchers, Scrub Euphonia and Olive and Stripe-headed Sparrows to name but a few.
Leaving the heat of the lowlands behind, we soon find ourselves climbing up the Pacific slope to the cooler climes that await us in mist-laden Monteverde, where the well-apointed Hotel Fonda Vela is our base for a two-night stay.
Late afternoon will find us at 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. The exquisite Resplendent Quetzal, Prong-billed Barbet, Golden-browed Chlorophonia and spritely Slate-throated Redstart are among many other exciting birds to watch for, too!
Each guest room at our delightful timber lodge is equipped with a private balcony giving views over the gardens to the Pacific Ocean far below allowing for spectacular sunset views. Night Hotel Fonda Vela
CLOUD FORESTS OF MONTEVERDE
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 perhaps; a Golden-bellied Flycatcher picking off insects at the night light; or Blue-throated Toucanets working on a nest hole are just a few of the possibilities.
After breakfast, we head over to nearby Curi Cancha Reserve, where we have another chance to find Resplendent Quetzal as well as enjoy an active colony of Chestnut-headed Oropendolas. Once inside the forest we will be on the lookout for the reserve’s many species of furnariids (or ovenbirds). 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! While mixed species flocks moving through the forest might contain the likes of Spotted and Olivaceous Woodcreepers, Yellowish Flycatcher, Ochraceous Wren, Grey-breasted Wood-wren and Black-eared Warbler.
Among some fascinating forest mammals here we have chances of White-throated Capuchin, Central American Agouti, and Hoffman's (three-toed) and Two-toed (Brown-throated) Sloths.
As dusk descends over Monteverde's forests, we return for another delicious dinner at our lodge - and have an option afterwards to search for Mottled Owl and Bare-shanked Screech Owl; both are resident here. Night Hotel Fonda Vela
THE TOLLING OF THE BELLBIRD & TRANSFER TO POAS VOLCANO
One key species we have very high chances to see this morning is the amazing Three-wattled Bellbird. They are easily heard throughout the Monteverde area at this time of year and, with patience, we should enjoy excellent views of a displaying male with its three characteristic worm-like extensions dangling at the base of its beak. Other species to look for in the Bellbird reserve include the shy Chiriqui Quail-dove, Lesson's Motmot, Long-tailed Manakin, Rufous-and-white Wren, White-eared Ground Sparrow and Elegant Euphonia.
After lunch in Monteverde, we transfer to our final stop: the highlands of the Poas Volcano.
Our route takes us first along Costa Rica's Central Pacific coast, where a stop at Caldera Bay should produce menacing Magnificent Frigatebirds and the big Brown Pelican - plus a few terns, gulls and waders to keep us entertained. The adjacent mangrove-lined inlets are home to specialities such as the endemic Mangrove Hummingbird and the snazzy ‘Mangrove’ Yellow Warbler.
By late afternoon, we will be climbing up through the Central Valley to Poas Volcano. Our destination - lovely Poas Volcano Lodge, where we stay for two nights - is situated on the Continental Divide between volcanoes Poas and Barva. At an elevation of 1,850m (6,000ft), expect cool to cold temperatures here in the evenings. Night Poas Volcano Lodge
LA PAZ WATERFALL GARDENS AND POAS VOLCANO NATIONAL PARK
A short distance down the Caribbean slope of Poas Volcano is La Paz Waterfall Garden. The major highlight here is the incredible variety of hummingbirds that attend the garden’s feeders. Here we will enjoy at close range the ceaseless comings and goings of Green Hermit, the endemic Coppery-headed Emerald, Green Thorntail, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Violet Sabrewing, Purple-throated Mountain-gem and the very local Black-bellied Hummingbird.
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.
After a buffet lunch fit for a king, we will take the scenic waterfall trail that leads along the river. The scenery alone is worth the walk but we’ll also watch for riverine specialities, which here include Green-fronted Lancebill, Torrent Tyrannulet and American Dipper.
Later in the afternoon, we will try for highland species closer to the lodge, with dusk finding us poised for a response from the resident Bare-shanked Screech Owl. Night Poas Volcano Lodge
POAS VOLCANO NATIONAL PARK, RETURN TO SAN JOSÉ, FLY LONDON
After breakfast at our hotel, we set off for the nearby Poas Volcano National Park, which lies just 25 minutes by bus from our lodge. Birding here affords us a last opportunity to see what many birders consider the most beautiful bird in the New World: the Resplendent Quetzal. But other avian highlights in this enchanting oak-dominated highland forest might include Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Long-tailed and Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatchers, Black-capped Flycatcher, Black-billed Nightingale- thrush, Sooty Thrush, Yellow-winged Vireo, Flame-throated and Black-cheeked Warblers, Sooty-capped Bush Tanager, Large-footed Finch, Black-thighed Grosbeak... and perhaps even a rarity such as the monotypic Wrenthrush - which is neither a wren nor a thrush!
If there’s been no recent volcanic activity, the summit road will be open to visitors allowing us to drive up to an elevation of 2700m (8858ft), from where we will take a 300-metre paved trail to the overlook. Here we can witness the amazing natural spectacle of Poas Volcano's impressive crater lake, with its turquoise and green waters and sulphurous fumaroles.
Bidding a reluctant farewell to the majestic highlands after lunch, we board our bus for the transfer back to San José airport and check-in for our nonstop British Airways flight home.
ARRIVAL IN LONDON
Morning arrival at London Gatwick, where our April tour to Northern Costa Rica concludes.