Costa Rica Trip Report (Part II) – The Pacific Lowlands

Picking up a Fiery-billed Aracari within your first 5 minutes of birding - that's the way every morning should start! At Hotel Villa Lapas 3-16-2015
Picking up a Fiery-billed Aracari within your first 5 minutes of birding – that’s the way every morning should start! At Hotel Villa Lapas 3-16-2015

This is the second in a series of posts documenting my Costa Rica birding trip from March14-28, 2015. To read the previous post, click here: Costa Rica Trip Report (Part I) – The Adventure Begins

As someone who normally requires multiple cups of coffee, breakfast, and a shower to peel back the sleep from my eyes, a good indicator of how much I was enjoying the trip was my ability to wakeup, get dressed, and get birding without those necessities. After the first day or two, I started showering at night before bed and when the alarm would sound at 5:10am, I’d be up, dressed, and out the door by 5:30. The excitement of being in a new country (and really a new location every 2 days) and the anticipation of what the day would bring was better fuel than any cup of coffee.

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Day 2 – Overnight at Hotel Villa Lapas – birding at nearby Carara National Park.

As would become common place throughout the trip, the morning started with birding on the grounds at Hotel Villa Lapas. These early morning birding opportunities – usually around 30 minutes – became one of my favorite daily rituals. It allowed me a few minutes each morning to bird on my own and spend as much time as I wanted watching or photographing whatever species caught my attention. Most mornings these were common species which could reliably be found on the hotel grounds, but since they were usually new to me from the day before, the extra minutes watching these helped cement their names and images in my mind. On this morning at Hotel Villa Lapas, I was taken by the beauty of the  Variable Seedeater shown below:

One of the other advantages of these early morning birding opportunities was the chance to pick up a bird you may have missed. The day before I missed on the Painted Bunting which was seen by the rest of the group. Fortunately, I came across it on this morning and spent about 15 minutes watching and photographing it. As I approached the bus I realized the rest of the group had boarded and was waiting on me. A few playful jabs about holding up the group were thrown my way, but after I explained the cause of my delay everyone was happy that I’d picked up the lifer I missed the day before (did I mention there was a great group of birders on the trip?).

If a black-and-white bird, even one as dashing as the male Variable Seedeater, is not your thing, than I’m sure this Painted Bunting will float your boat:

WOW!! I held the bus up briefly as I tried to capture a few photos – stunning colors! Painted Bunting 3-15-2015 at Hotel Villa Lapas.
WOW!! I held the bus up briefly as I tried to capture a few photos – stunning colors! Painted Bunting 3-16-2015 at Hotel Villa Lapas.

After breakfast we headed back to Carara National Park and within minutes of arrival picked up our first Two-toed Sloth just off the parking lot. Although I didn’t get a picture of the curled up ball of fur at the top of a tree, I did manage to capture a photo of the next non-bird critter we saw – a troop of White-faced Capuchins; a monkey most often associated as a companion to the organ grinder. What a sight – seeing the 10-12 individuals traveling across the top of the tree canopy, each following the same path.

White throated Capuchin at Carara National Park 3-16-2015
The first primates of our trip – White-throated Capuchin at Carara National Park 3-16-2015

One of my morning highlights wasn’t a bird, and it wasn’t exactly a critter either – it was a scream from a bathroom. Nancy, Carol, and I stopped to use the facilities within the park. Shortly after entering the stall I heard a loud scream followed by “Oh my god, oh my god” and then the sound of laughter. After Nancy assured us she was ok, we got the scoop: as Nancy grabbed a piece of toilet paper and pulled, a Gecko came flying out and landed on her. It seems the Gecko was taking a siesta on top of the toilet paper and was hidden by the holder. When Nancy gave a pull the Gecko came flying out and gave her quite a scare…and gave all of us quite a laugh!

IMG_4807 3-16
This Gecko was on the wall between my bathroom stall and Nancy’s. Little did we know his amigo was planning a sneak attack.

Before leaving Carara to have lunch back at Hotel Villa Lapas, our guide Richard heard the call of one of our target birds for the Pacific lowlands. After spending 30 minutes searching, and picking up a Rufous Piha during the search, Richard finally spotted our target high up in the canopy. I believe my question to Stuart – and this I repeated multiple times during the course of the trip – was “How the hell did he see that?” Now when I say it was high up in the canopy, I mean near the top of a large tree in a forest of other large trees and covered by leafs and branches. But alas, Richard was quick with the scope and there it was – a Baird’s Trogon! The following day we’d be leaving the Pacific lowlands and this was our one shot at this bird. We were rewarded richly for Richard’s tenacity.

Baird's Trogon - Carara National Park 3-16-2015
Crappy shot, I know, but this should give you a good idea just how high up and covered this bird was. This is a cropped photo taken with a 50x optical zoom. Baird’s Trogon – Carara National Park 3-16-2015

In the afternoon, we birded a different section of Carara. It was here that I learned that although Richard always had a plan, he also liked to surprise us. After hiking for about 20 minutes with little bird activity, I thought maybe we had hit our first lull – things were relatively quiet and I don’t remember adding any lifers. We stopped at a small stream and shortly after the lifers came to us.

Richard had positioned us at a water source during the final few hours of sunlight and minutes later the birds started to arrive. Although photo opportunities in the late afternoon light of the forest were few with my bridge camera, the views we had of the birds were outstanding. The birds would come in, spend some time bathing in the stream, and then fly to a perch to dry off and preen. It was one of the highlights of the trip – we stood still, the birds came to us, and many were within 10-15 feet giving excellent views. Highlights included: Red-capped Manakin, Blue-crowned Manakin, and Green Honeycreeper.

Needless to say day 2, like day 1, was a smashing success! Later that night I remember being disappointed that we were leaving the wonderful accommodations of Hotel Villa Lapas the next morning. That feeling was quickly washed away by the anticipation of what was to come; 2 days down, 12 to go! Bird It Up!

Muscovy Duck at Carara National Park 3-16-2015
Muscovy Duck at Carara National Park 3-16-2015
Pale-billed Woodpeckers at Carara National Park 3-16-2015
Pale-billed Woodpeckers at Carara National Park 3-16-2015

Since I’m sharing only a small portion of my photos, and since those only represent a small fraction of what we saw, below is a list of other notable species from day 2:

Marbled Wood-Quail

Ruddy Quail-Dove

Stripe-throated Hermit

Purple-crowned Fairy

Golden-naped Woodpecker

Great Tinamou

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Black-faced Antthrush

Chestnut-backed Antbird

Black-faced Antthrush

Plain Xenops

Stub-tailed Spadebill

Riverside Wren

Orange-billed Sparrow

Click the link to jump to the next post in this series: Costa Rica Trip Report (Part III) – The Ledge, The Cloud Forest, and One of the Top Five

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8 thoughts on “Costa Rica Trip Report (Part II) – The Pacific Lowlands”

  1. Thanks Carol!! There are so many wonderful birds, moments, and stories to tell. Going through my photos I’m reminded of a lot of things I had forgotten about. I’m really looking forward to a return visit (hint, hint) or a new destination with you and Tom 😀

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  2. Thanks for your report Matthew, I really enjoy your sometimes entertaining descriptions – and your right about adrenaline levels during holidays as compared to office days… Great woodpeckers by the way! Looking forward to more 🙂

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    1. Thanks mate!! Appreciate you stopping by! It’s been fun reliving the trip through the photos and blogs, but now I want to hit the road again for more travel! Happy birding!!

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  3. I really shouldn’t have come for the 5-day read all at once. Now I REALLY want to go back to CR. Rats, if I’ve gotta start saving some money. It’s gonna break us to fly and accommodate six birders, not to mention buying some extra camera gear. LOL Thanks for that. 😀

    On birding days, my family is lucky if I smell good on an outing. Gotta get out quick! It’s a do-rag and sink bath for me, ’cause birds don’t wait. Plus, we all smell like mosquito spray and sweat (or fish, if was coastal) at the end of an excursion.

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    1. Shannon – the one benefit would be saving and then keep tabs on flights and hotels. Definitely going to be pricey flying all of you down there, but maybe you can score some cheaper tickets if you’re flexible on your dates. All I can say for sure is, “It’s worth it!” There is nothing better than submersing yourself in a foreign country, meeting new people, and of course…seeing lots and lots of birds.

      I really hope you’re able to swing it someday. And as for the smells – I’d rather smell bad and get the bird than be cleaned up and miss it 😉

      Happy birding!

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