Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Birding Costa Rica 2016: Tapanti and Home

Birding Costa Rica 2016: Tapanti and Home

PART VI: Rick’s and Iain’s excellent adventure!

NOTE: All photos by Rick Muise

One full day left in Costa Rica so we decide we should make the most of it; up at 4:30 am, eating at 5 and off by 5:15.  Despite the 11 hours of birding and hiking every day I seem to be only able to sleep for 6 to 7 hours.  Perhaps the realization that every minute sleeping is one less birding.  The night before we decide on Tapanti National Park, two hours west of our lodge.  It is comprised of primary forests still mostly untouched by man for thousands of years.  Our driver Tato and Rene the lodge birder lead the way as we wind through very mountainous country with less agriculture than yesterday.  Sometimes Tato thinks he is Stirling Moss as he slides the van around corners and at other times he is looney tunes when he tries to pass a truck as the road narrows to one lane for a bridge.  But in general, he is a safe driver.

tapanti-npBefore the park we bird an abandoned coffee plantation and picked up another Nightingale Thrush.  Sweet calls like our thrushes but very shy.  As we enter the park a Slate-throated Redstart plays right by the van and seems to want to fly in the window.  We are first at the park so they have to open the gates for us.  Tato stays with the van as we walk for several hours up the mountain.  The road-side birding is excellent but soon it puts us in the hot sun so we zigzag up the road from shade spot to shade spot.  The first few 100 meters produces plenty of birds; Silver-throated and Spangle-cheeked Tanagers, Bush-Tanagers and Red-faced Spinetail.   Beside the road at the edge of a shallow rocky stream we find a Sooty-faced Finch.


Slate Throated Redstart


Sooty Faced Finch

Sooty Faced Finch

We follow a wet river trail off the road where Antpittas are possible but instead get a Flatbill, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant and Black-faced Solitaire which sounds exactly like an iron gate slowly squeaking open and closed.  Rick is the only one to sight a Tapaculo which has only one member in the family in CR.  Lots of members in South America.

We lunch at a picnic table then off to near the top of the mountain while Tato sleeps in the van.   Eventually we see a raptor across the valley, Hook-billed Kite, which takes effort to identify given the distance.   Eventually it is time to descend the mountain and as we walk there are some Mountain-gems, Chlorophonia and various Flycatchers.  It is a good day but not as many new species as the day before.  At the end the day, Tato takes us to a small wooden cafe by the roadside which provides excellent coffee, helping to revitalize us and then the long drive back to Rancho.

Purple Throated Mountain

Purple Throated Mountain Gem

That night Rick and I tally our lists and find we have 258 species!    It turns out that I have got one more lifer on this trip than Rick.  We end the day with a scotch to celebrate.  The next day produces no new species but then it involves nothing more than a long long drive back to the San Jose airport and our flight back to Toronto at noon, so little opportunity to bird.  Our driver once again is Darwin who I wrote about earlier.  Once again he finds us a top notch coffee and pastry place in San Jose before we have to check in at the airport.


So this ends my reports of our trip.   Costa Rica is a paradise; I have been three times and despite it being a relatively small country I still have at least one more region to see so I may return.  When you travel away from home take a friend, meet the locals, try the local cuisine, and let something unplanned happen.  It is an amazing world.  Enjoy.

Cheers from Rick and Iain


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Birding Costa Rica 2016: Travel Day 4

Birding Costa Rica 2016: Travel Day 4

PART IV: Rick’s and Iain’s excellent adventure!

Day 4 is a travel day and we are kind of winging it.  It is about a 4-hour drive to our lodge in the Caribbean highlands south of Turrialba so we didn’t expect too much on the birding front; boy were we wrong!  The day before, Luis told us about a birding spot along the route, run by a friend of his called Cope, so he arranged for us to make a quick stop there and gave us a number to call to arrange a time and get directions.  This was a last minute arrangement and our only hope for birds.

So we are up just after 6, late, ate breakfast and headed to the Tirimbina forest for one last 2 hour walk before our driver arrives.  We saw what we thought were 2 ‘lifers’, Streak Crowned Antvireo and Plain Xenops.  Later Rick’s pictures when blown up revealed the Xenops to be a Wedge-billed Woodcreeper which we already have.  It was not the last time Rick’s pictures aided our identifications.

Wedge Billed Woodcreeper

Wedge Billed Woodcreeper   photo Rick Muise



Slaty Antwren photo Rick Muise

Slaty Antwren   photo Rick Muise

Darwin our driver arrived and off we went. The telephone number I was given for the bird stop on the way did not seem to work.  So we told Darwin about the arrangement and I showed him a picture of Luis who had set up the stop.  Small world as he knew Luis so he called him and got the location and time sorted.  On the way we stopped for fabulous coffee, food and sweet cakes at a set of roadside stores.  Seems Darwin, a 26-year-old single guy, knew all the best coffee shops in southern Costa Rica.   On arrival at a small town called La Union we found Cope’s place. He is an artist who has replaced his art income with birding tours, as they are much more lucrative.  He is busy with a tour from England so William one of his guys takes us on a fast tour.  First stop is a road side view of a Great Potoo with its baby.  This gets many high 5’s.  Now, there are two species of Potoos on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica,  Great and Common.  The Great imitates a slanted tree branch and the Common imitates a vertical branch/trunk.  Next a walk through a local forest provides great looks at a Spectacled Owl, and a Black Throated Trogon on the nest.  We could see the babies under her.  Finally, a quick stop at his house turns up a Gray-necked Wood-Rail and hummer feeders.  This all made for an excellent day!


Great Potoo and baby. photo Rick Muise

Great Potoo and baby    photo Rick Muise



Spectacled Owl photo Rick Muise

Spectacled Owl   photo Rick Muise



Grey Necked Woodrail photo Rick Muise

Grey Necked Woodrail   photo Rick Muise


We continued on to Rancho Naturalista which we chose because it is mostly geared to birders.   It has access to many local trails up and down the hills and it is near several local hot spots.  As well, the facilities are first rate with gourmet meals served family style.  A real treat after Tirimbina.  Our drive ended after passing the last village on lots of slow winding roads and then up a steep and rocky 1/2 km gravelly track which made the tires spin.  You definitely need a 4-wheel vehicle.  We finally arrived and are greeted by Harry (Englishman) the resident guide and the local German Shepard.  We are quickly in our rooms (nice, no flat screens or phones) and then onto the balcony where we try to identify all 12 species of hummers.  Beautiful Coquettes, Plumeteers, and Hermits fighting for a place at one of the many feeders.  We thought we had died and entered nirvana.


Rancho Naturalista photo Rick Muise

Rancho Naturalista   photo Rick Muise



Green Crowned Brilliant. photo Rick Muise

Green Crowned Brilliant   photo Rick Muise


Plan is to relax and then take a short walk to look for birds but then we meet Jackie and Tom on their way to the Pools to watch hummers.  Hmm, sounds interesting so off we go.  The Pools are really three or four very small puddles fed by a trickle of water which runs thru the middle of a forest gorge a few 100 meters from the lodge.  You stand maybe 10 or 15 meters above them on a wood platform and watch species come for their end of the day baths as the light slowly fades.  Woodnymphs, Snowcaps and Hermits dipping in to the water very much like dancers.  Then Silver-throated and Emerald Tanagers bathe for a while.  Foliage-gleaners and Leaftossers arrive and a Manakin races by.  This is an end of each day event.  Harry the guide just stands there naming birds, describing them and their calls.  His knowledge is impressive.  Eventually the light is so bad we head back to our rooms.


Snowcap photo Rick Muise

Snowcap   photo Rick Muise



Silver Throated Tanger photo Rick Muise

Silver Throated Tanger photo Rick Muise


After showering I hear the dinner bell and arrive at the table.  We are joined by the two Aussies (Jackie and Tom), as well as Harry the guide and Rene, a Brazilian birder who was asked to come to Costa Rica to do Macaw research and is now enjoying just birding and guiding at the lodge.  Food quality is terrific followed by coffee and scotch.  While eating we listen to the calls of a Mottled Owl.   Species count 151.



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Birding Costa Rica 2016

Birding Costa Rica, 2016

~Rick’s and Iain’s excellent adventure!

NOTE: From the man who brought you Lanark County’s Big Year of Birding, this is the first in a new series featuring Iain Wilkes as he takes his birding skills to Costa Rica!

Planning and Getting Started

Over the last 20 years I have become more and more focused on international birding.   This is partly because I have birded Canada and the USA since my parents first put my brothers and I in the Ingersoll Nature Club over 60 years ago.  The club is located in southwestern Ontario which provided easy access to places like Long Point and Point Pelee.  And while I still love the punctuated migration we enjoy in Ontario, the allure of new species in exotic locales has come to dominate my birding thoughts.  So in 2015 I planned on a “birding only” trip in 2016 which means my partner Zaza would not be joining me.    She did have one condition and that was I should not travel by myself so I quickly hooked up with my buddy Rick and we agreed to pick a place to bird our brains out.

We both quickly focused in on Ecuador as it has a fantastic selection of habits and birds; Cock of the Rock and the Andean Condor were a couple of my favorites to see.    Of course the best laid plans of mice and men often change.  Once I noticed that 2015/2016 was a significant El Nino year I started to watch the weather predictions for Ecuador and they were not good.  Lots of rain with good chances of flooding.  Now I don’t mind birding in the rain but not if it lasts every day and especially if some of the hot spots we were focusing on are in the Amazon where flooding often means you can’t get there.  On top of that there were predictions on major jumps in the mosquito populations which would increase the risks of malaria and dengue fever.   After reading about rain happening every single day and all day with temperatures of 7C to 12C in Quito, we decided to rethink our destination.

I started by using my sightings database to determine which countries had the highest potential number of lifers, as well as being affordable and was within a reasonable travel distance.  Turns out Costa Rica was at the top of the list despite 2 past trips there.  Even though it is a small country it has many different environments; Atlantic and Pacific coasts, lowlands and highlands, northern and southern, forest and grasslands and volcano tops.   I spent a few hours mapping birds to regions and quickly determined that the Caribbean lowlands and highlands plus volcanos would maximize our number of new species.

We finalized our travel dates as the last 10 days of April, the shoulder season in CR, and booked our flights out of Toronto.  Nothing left to do but study bird guide books and pack.  Our plan was to find and use local guides for a few of the days there but mostly to bird on our own.  This means you don’t get 300 our 400 species like you do on a bird tour but it also means you generally spend half of what you would pay for a tour.    But the real reasons I avoid tours is I love the flexibility to change what I do and where I go during the trip and meeting people and exploring their food and culture.  I end a trip with the feeling that the experience was mine including the birds.

We flew out on April 20th on the 8:30 AM flight to San Jose, arrived at noon to be picked up by our driver Rolando whose job was to get us to our first destination; La Tirimbina Lodge near Sarapiqui.   The first leg involves a drive north out of San Jose through the Braulio Carrillo N.P.  An amazing lush protected forest of highlands so of course we got the driver to stop at one of the trail heads to bird for an hour.  Unfortunately the skies opened up as we hiked the trail so the birds were few but not without reward;  Near the end we found a Dark Pewee hawking from the top of a dead tree.  Tough identification given the downpour.  We continued the drive on to our first mulit-day location, La Tirimbina Lodge at La Virgen in the Caribbean lowlands.

The plan is to break the trip up into several posts each focused on a particular region, its birds, food and people.  I hope you enjoy the collection of observations, anecdotes, and pictures.

Cheers Iain

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Costa RIca 2012 Local field naturalists return from international nature trip they won’t soon forget

Press Story

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

Friday, March 30, 2012

Local field naturalists return from international nature trip they won’t soon forget

by Mary Vandenhoff and Joel Byrne

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One of the many Costa Rican species seen:  jacana on a water plant. Photo courtesy Jack Donaldson (Perth) who also travelled to Costa Rica in February.

A glorious trip to Costa Rica in mid-February brought together sixteen nature lovers from Arnprior, Perth, McDonalds Corners, Almonte, and Carleton Place. Most had met on local nature outings and share a love of nature closer to home as members of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) club, the trip organizer. A few members of the Friends of Bon Echo and the Ottawa Field Naturalists also joined them. They trekked to Costa Rica to learn about the flora and fauna of that lush and beautiful region on the isthmus of Central America. This was the third international nature outing organized by MVFN with the first being to Mexico to view the wintering grounds of the monarch butterfly and the second to Cuba. The tour was co-ordinated by MVFN member and Mississippi Mills resident Cliff Bennett.


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Photo 1: The MVFN group in Costa Rica. Front (seated): Nancy Madregal-Castro (Costa Rican guide); Kneeling (l-r): Dave Milsom (Canadian guide), Mary Vandenhoff , Olga Janoska , Rysha Colp (Ottawa Field Naturalists); Standing (l-r), Tim Pullen, Betty Pearce (Friends of Bon Echo), Joan Lindey (Friends of Bon Echo), Gary Hanes, Howard Clifford, Jean Clifford, Terry MacIver, Dorice Hanes , Al Potvin, Joel Byrne, and Wally (Costa Rican driver). Photo courtesy Cliff Bennett

The tour began February 9 from the capital San Jose where the excitement built as the group divided into four small aircraft and flew over the mountain range and the Pacific to a lodge in the southern lowlands near the Panamanian border. For three days, hikes through rain forest and along the Pacific were undertaken during which dozens of bird species and three species of monkeys were seen. Trip participant Mary Vandenhoff: “Our introduction to Costa Rica was a bird’s eye view of the country from a single prop Cessna flying from the capital nestled in the mountains (yes, under a volcano) over the mountains and along miles and miles of sandy coastline south to a jungle lodge. Where oh where is the runway? All I could see was forest rising from the beaches, but circling round, suddenly between the trees, lies a grassy strip. . . . We had arrived at Tiskita Jungle Lodge for three days of blissful immersion in exotic plants and flowers, spectacular birds (a daily treat was a flypast of Scarlet Macaws glittering in the rays of the setting sun) – even whales, sloths, and a white Ghost Bat sharing the cabin…”

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One of the many Costa Rican species seen: a blue morpho. Photo courtesy Jack Donaldson (Perth) who also travelled to Costa Rica in February.

After flying back over the mountains, the group was met by a bus, transportation for the rest of the tour which first headed north into the Braulio Carrillo National Park on the Sarapiqui River and the trails of the Selve Verde Organization of Tropical Studies Research Station. Here they were able to see three-toed sloths, poison-arrow frogs, green iguanas, caymans in the river and agoutis. One group walked by a well-camouflaged poisonous eye-lash viper, not two feet off the trail! Next stop was up the mountains and into a valley and the famous Arenal Volcano. This perfectly conical volcano exploded in 1968, leaving many casualties. Scars from a more recent eruption were evident but the cone was silent and mostly cloud covered when MVFN was there. Local hikes were undertaken including a boat ride through the Cano Negro Reserve on the Rio Frio and a visit to Danaus Ecocentre with its dozens of orchid species. The next few days were spent in the cloud forests of Bosque de Paz Biological Reserve. There, the group were keen to glimpse one of the most beautiful neo-tropical birds, the quetzal. Though this species remained elusive many others were seen as the group hiked several mountain trails and at the lodge, where the dozen hummingbird feeders attracted at least fifteen species, including Eastern Canada’s only hummingbird, the ruby-throated.

Trip participant Joel Byrne: “Great memories, all . . . How about the incredibly iridescent Blue Morpho butterfly that nobody could get to sit still long enough to get a photo of? On a side trip our Costa Rican guide very gently captured a Morpho on the fallen leaves, and we had our picture taken with it in full splendour, and immediately released it unharmed. Or . . . the beds in our jungle cabins that shook mildly at 5 am, no, not room service, but Mother Earth grinding her plates out in the Pacific. How about the rogue wave that wiped my glasses off my face, and the outgoing tide sucking sand, pebbles and my feet and legs out to sea. . . and the words of caution about rip tides and undertows surfaced in my brain as my body sank into the froth. Scramble for the blessed beach! . . . Capuchin monkeys looking like little men cowled and intrepid, defying death in the treetops, devouring fruit as if sitting at table while we clung to long, narrow bridges swinging above gorges with no visible bottoms. Secretive forest beasts, pacas, and agoutis, like giant rabbits (without the long ears) that nibbled at laid-out fruit, ready to bolt from some big cat. And of course the ubiquitous, laid-back lizards enjoying life in paradise.”

On the way back to San Jose, the group visited Poas Volcano Park and toured a coffee plantation. At a dinner prior to departure the group celebrated their experiences and toasted tour group leaders, Quest member David Milsom of Bolton, Ontario and Nancy Madregal-Castro, guide from San Jose’s Sun Tours. In all, they had trekked through four distinct climate zones and a variety of microclimates. Mary Vandenhoff: “We visited jungle, rain forest, cloud forest, river and ocean shorelines. Travelled by plane, bus, boat and walked, and sometimes just sat and the birds would come to us. Full days filled with awe and laughter – look, fig tree, 11:00 o’clock, 3rd big branch above the red bromeliad, a Trogon, a Honeycreeper, a Toucan . . . and 16 pairs of binoculars whip up to gawk in wonder at the brilliant colours of the magnificent birds. We never lost the sense of wonder at the incredible diversity of Costa Rica with its brilliant colours. Thank you Cliff for this incredible experience.” 

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