I've just returned from leading an Avian Adventures tour in Costa Rica, my 14th visit to this wonderful Central American country that always seems just full of colourful birds. My locally-based guide and co-leader on this occasion was Jason Horn who I last worked with here back in 2006.
After a first night in the country spent at the Orquideas Inn, just a short drive from the airport, next morning we headed for the Pacific Coast. As usual, we stopped on the way in the town of Orotina where for several years now Black-and-white Owls have been a feature in the small town-centre park. Owls are always popular and not for the first time we were able to get the tour off to a good start.
Next stop was at the bridge over the Rio Tarcoles where huge American Crocodiles are a regular tourist attraction. Unlike most of the other people who were there, we also found quite a lot of birds, mostly wetland species but also a lovely little Pearl Kite, a bird that is becoming increasingly widespread in Costa Rica.
Our base for three nights was Hotel Vila Lapas and after lunch there we spent the afternoon getting much closer to the egrets, kingfishers, herons and shorebirds by taking a boat trip on the river. This also gave us great views of some of the specialist birds of the mangroves, including Mangrove Vireo and Mangrove Black-Hawk.
The hotel is conveniently located close to Carara Biological Reserve, a 4,700-hectare reserve that occupies a unique position at the transition zone between the dry forests of the northwest and the tropical wet forests of the Pacific lowlands. We spent a full day in Carara where, particularly along the Sendero Natural Laguna Meandrica, the birding was excellent although trogons, woodcreepers, flycatchers, antbirds, manakins and hummingbirds proved to be something of a challenge to those of our group who were in the Neotropics for the first time! Brightly-coloured, wing-snapping Orange-collared Manakins at a lek were most people's favourites. I was just as taken with the rather dull and difficult to see Scaly-throated Leaftosser!
A morning was spent along the road to Guacalillo where at the lagoon an Elegant Tern, a Gull-billed Tern, two Common Terns and several Black Skimmers were found amongst the many Royal and Sandwich Terns and Laughing Gulls. Searching through flocks of gulls, terns and shorebirds isn't everyone's cup of tea but I really enjoy it. Off-shore fishing boats attracted Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans and one or two Brown Boobies.
There was the usual evening excursion to Jacó to find a Striped Owl and, of course, it wasn't hard to find Ferruginous Pygmy Owls during the daytime.
Raptors were also a feature with Turkey, Black and King Vultures, Double-toothed and Plumbeous Kites, White Hawk and Short-tailed Hawk all seen particularly well.
Next - we head north to Hacienda Solimar...
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