On the fourth full day of our tour in Costa Rica we headed for the hot and dry Guanacaste region in the north-west of the country where we had a two-night stay at Hacienda Solimar.
We made several stops on the journey north including one at the salinas at Punta Morales, a habitat that was 'home from home' for me. However, most of the birds were different from those I see on the saltpans here in Tavira with Black-necked Stilts, Western and Least Sandpipers the most numerous shorebirds. One bird familiar from the Algarve was a Caspian Tern that somehow, after a prolonged struggle, managed to swallow a fish so big that it would have made a meal for me!
Hacienda Solimar is a working cattle ranch adjacent to Palo Verde National Park. I've no idea how many Brahman cattle they have here but it's quite a lot! They are beef cattle, said to have a greater ability to withstand heat than European cattle and to be more resistant to parasites and disease. In short, they are ideally suited to the Guanacaste climate. Perhaps not surprisingly one of the most numerous birds at Solimar was Cattle Egret!
The lodge offers simple, family-style accommodation and some excellent birding in gallery forest, tropical dry forest and extensive wetlands; local guide, Demetrio, knows the area like the back of his hand and helped us find a remarkable variety of bird species.
For me, the highlights of our morning in the gallery forest were White-necked Puffbirds, Laughing Falcon and Great Black-Hawk but for some of our group the Mantled Howler Monkeys were equally popular.
Probably the 'star' bird at Solimar is Jabiru, a large stork that actually stands more than four-feet tall. We managed to see two of them as well as a variety of other wetland species in the same area: Wood Storks, Northern Jacanas, White Ibises, Roseate Spoonbills, hundreds of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and Blue-winged Teal and several shorebird species, notably Solitary Sandpiper and Southern Lapwing. It was good for raptors, too, with Harris's Hawk, Snail Kites and a Peregrine Falcon. And not surprisingly, where there were Snail Kites, there were also several Limpkins, another bird that feeds largely on molluscs, particularly apple snails.
There was also plenty of bird interest just around the lodge. Both Spot-breasted and Streak-backed Orioles were regular, Yellow-naped Parrots were usually heard before they were seen, a family of Pacific Screech-Owls were roosting in a tree by the main driveway and a Barn Owl was also nearby. In the evening, Pauraques could be heard and seen right by the lodge. And the wildlife interest isn't restricted to birds - just as in the rest of the country, butterflies, mammals, reptiles and amphibians mean that there is always something to look at.
For those whose perception of Costa Rica is simply as a country of tropical rainforest, Solimar comes as something of a surprise but the variety of habitats and wildlife for me make it an essential element of any tour here.
Next stop: Monteverde...