Costa Rica Trip Report (Part I) – The Adventure Begins

Sunrise over San Jose, Costa Rica 3/15/2015
Sunrise over San Jose, Costa Rica 3/15/2015

This is the second in a series of posts documenting my Costa Rica birding trip from March14-28, 2015. To read the prologue, click here: Costa Rica Trip Report – The Prologue

NOTE: My original plan was to do a 7 part weekly series to cover my trip to Costa Rica. As I started writing this weeks article the text began to grow and the photos numbered 30….then 40…..then 50, I began to struggle with how to incorporate the photos and tell the stories I wanted without boring you to death with a series of  War and Peace length posts. Well, my genius gene kicked in this morning and I realized it’s my blog and I can do with it what I want! So, I’ve decided to do a single post for each day of the trip – the posts will still be photo heavy, but I should be able to post them more frequently and hopefully you won’t keel over from boredom. (On a side note, I’m also converting a number of my photos (and all new uploaded ones) to a smaller file size in order for them to load faster on the site.) Enough with this drivel and onto the birds……

Flying over Costa Rica the first thing one notices – at least those of us from the U.S. – is the vast tracts of green; such a stark difference compared to the expansive, highly organized grids of cement and concrete known as Chicago – a place I had departed 5 hours earlier. Seeing all that green put a giddy-up in my step and without any checked luggage I was able to make my way through Customs and out of the airport within 45 minutes. Outside I immediately entered birding mode and spotted a couple of birds flittering around the airport rafters. I grabbed my camera as the distance required higher power than my bins (binoculars) and snapped a few photos. As anticipation grew from a simmer to a boil, I checked my viewfinder to see what my first bird in Costa Rican bird would be; a Tropical Kingbird maybe? How about a Great-tailed Grackle? Nope and nope. With a bit of disappointment, the viewfinder clearly showed two House Sparrows. Not exactly the bird I wanted as my first Costa Rican bird, but hey I thought – it can only get better; and get better it most certainly did!

After checking into the Hotel Buena Vista, I immediately put on some shorts, grabbed my birding gear, and headed down to the gardens. Since Tom & Carol had been in Costa Rica since mid-January, Dar had arrived the night before, and Michael & Nancy earlier in the day, by the time I hit the gardens, I had 5 tour guides getting me on the resident birds. Although it was mid-afternoon by the time I got out, I still tallied 21 birds (16 lifers) and a couple of Imperials (that’s Costa Rican beer). Man, it was good to be in Costa Rica!

Grayish Saltator - one of the 16 lifers found during my first evening in Costa Rica. At Hotel Buena Vista 3/14/2015.
Grayish Saltator – one of the 16 lifers found during my first evening in Costa Rica. At Hotel Buena Vista 3/14/2015.

The next morning, Sunday, March 15th was the first official day of the tour and the group was gathered and birding on the hotel grounds by 5:30am (a few minutes before sunrise). Morning highlights included a beautiful pair of Barred Antshrike, a Flame-colored Tanager, and a Yellow-green Vireo. It was the start of a productive morning which would morph into a productive day! After breakfast at the hotel, we set out for Hotel Villa Lapas located near the Pacific coast, but more importantly, within close proximity to the nearly 13,000 acre Carara National Park.

Travel from Hotel Buena Vista to Hotel Villa Lapas - Sunday March 15th.
Travel from Hotel Buena Vista to Hotel Villa Lapas – Sunday March 15th.

As he would do on all of our drives, our guide and author of The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide, Richard Garrigues would make targeted birding stops along the route. In a small plot of scrubland located along a stream between a residential neighborhood and several businesses we added a Cinnamon Hummingbird, Inca Doves, and a couple of cows. Although the birds were of utmost interest, it was interesting to see the cows come wandering out of the shrubs in this urban area and proceed to walk across both lanes of traffic in order to go around us.

"No Amanda, you can't pet the cows"
“No Amanda, you can’t pet the cows”
Just a couple of boring dull gray doves right?
Just a couple of boring dull gray doves right?
No, BAM - Inca Doves! Say what you will about doves, but the scaled back, rufous and black wings, and pattern make this one cool lookin' bird! 3-15-2015No, BAM - Inca Doves! Say what you will about doves, but the scaled back, rufous and black wings, and pattern make this one cool lookin' bird! 3-15-2015
No, BAM – Inca Doves! Say what you will about doves, but the scaled back, rufous and black wings, and pattern make this one cool lookin’ bird! 3-15-2015

Before we arrived at the hotel for lunch, we stopped again and picked up a Rufous-browed Peppershrike and our first owl, a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. “Ooohhhs” and “aaahhhhs” were heard throughout the group as the pygmy-owl obliging sat in one spot providing excellent looks. On our next stop, we were introduced to owl #2 for the day – a Black-and-white Owl which trying to top the pygmy-owl, sat still allowing everyone extended looks and photo opportunities.

What’s better than 2 owl species and 2 lifers on the same day? How about 3? Yep, after lunch on the grounds at Hotel Villa Lapas we were shown our third owl of the day – a Spectacled Owl. Later that night over drinks I remember someone commenting, “Three owls on day 1, can’t wait to see him [our guide Richard] top that tomorrow.” And top it he did…day after day.

Rufous-browed Peppershrike - 3/15/2015
Rufous-browed Peppershrike – 3/15/2015
Sunday AM owl - Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl 3-15-2015
Sunday morning and owl #1 – Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl 3-15-2015
Owl #2 and it still ain't lunchtime! Black-and-white Owl 3-15-2015
Owl #2 and it still ain’t lunchtime! Black-and-white Owl 3-15-2015
Owl #3 on the day! Spectacled Owl at Hotel Villa Lapas 3-15-2015
Owl #3 on the day! Spectacled Owl at Hotel Villa Lapas 3-15-2015

Starting the trip with two night at Hotel Villa Lapas was a great choice. Accommodations were excellent, as were the food (all inclusive for food and drinks), and birding on the property was productive. Plus, it’s location near Carara National Park is advantageous for taking morning and afternoon trips.

Some of the birds we saw on the hotel grounds:

Bay-headed Tanager 3-15-2015 at Hotel Villa Lapas
Bay-headed Tanager 3-15-2015 at Hotel Villa Lapas

Following lunch we made an afternoon excursion over to Carara National Park. The highlight for me was getting to see one of my target birds – the Royal Flycatcher. It was a bird I had asked about seeing and as I soon found out, Richard continually delivered on getting us on our wish list birds.

Get prepared to be Wow’d and in awe here at Bird It Up as I introduce an exciting new feature: the embedded video (queue dramatic John Williams music). In this video you’ll see some of the grounds at the Hotel Villa Lapas, our tour bus, and some of the rooms. My main reason for recording this video was to capture the sounds just before sunset – it was one of the those moments I’ll never forget; walking back to the room the surrounding hillsides exploded into a roaring insect factory; it went from relative quiet and calm to a continuous buzzing alarm.

To say our first day was a success would be an understatement. As a group we easily topped 100 species – something we would do everyday on our trip! If you haven’t been on a birding tour before, realize that the group total is what everyone together sees – not every individual sees every bird. Plus, everyone has a different standard for adding a bird to their list – if you seeing a flash of brown and the guide calls out the bird, do you mark it as seen? Or do you wait until you can see it and ID it? My point is – we each decide what we add to our lists based on our own criteria. That being said, I added 88 birds (including the few hours I birded on Saturday afternoon) and 72 lifers! Any question whether I went to bed with a giant smile on my face??? Content and eager for more, I drifted off into sleep so I’d be rested for day 2 in order to get out there and Bird It Up!

Since I’m sharing only a small portion of my photos, and since those only represent a small fraction of what we saw, below are a few other notable species seen on the first day:

Chestnut-backed Antbird

Black-hooded Antshrike

Wood Stork

Black-mandibled Toucan

Scarlet Macaw

White-crowned Parrot

Dusky Antbird

Northern Bentbill

Plain Wren

Red-legged Honeycreeper

Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher

Click the link to jump to the next post in this series: Costa Rica Trip Report (Part II) – The Pacific Lowlands

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7 thoughts on “Costa Rica Trip Report (Part I) – The Adventure Begins”

    1. Definitely – we had a Scarlet Macaw put on a show for us right outside the bus on day 3. I have some photos I’ll post of it. Believe it or not, most of us thought the Great Green Macaws were even more impressive! Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

    1. Thanks for stopping by and checking in!!! Hoping to have the next part done tomorrow or Friday – kind of crazy trying to keep up with editing photos and blogging as migration is picking up at home. If only I didn’t have to work!!

      That Royal Flycatcher was one of my top target birds and we picked him up on day 1! We ended up seeing another one up near the Nicaraguan border, but only a fleeting glimpse.

      Thanks again for checking out the post!

      Liked by 1 person

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