Birding Despite Disability

Obsessions Don't Care About Limitations

Guanacaste, Costa Rica, Feb/Mar 2020

Minnesota is not a good place to live if you travel often to the tropics. There are no direct flights from MSP airport to South America. As for Central America, during the winter and spring, Sun Country Airlines has a couple of flights per week to and from Liberia, Costa Rica. That is as far south as you can fly direct from the Twin Cities.

Yellow-throated Toucan

We had birded Costa Rica twice previously, both times coming in and out via San José, and birding the eastern slopes, central mountains, and south coast. Using Liberia as the gateway for this trip meant focusing on the Guanacaste province in the northwest.

Areas birded on this trip

We worked with local guide Adrián Arroyo for all seven days and had a fantstic outing, netting 50 lifers from our target species list of 97. The total count was 204, and would have been much higher if we had not been specifically looking for lifer targets, many of which were not easy. Any outing where we get half of the (mostly uncommon or rare) targets is a huge success.

Scissor-tailed fFlycatcher

We started in the lowlands west of Liberia, which are very dry during this time of year – there are vast areas with very little green, not something you might expect to see in this country.

West of Liberia

At the Estación Experimental Forestal Horizontes hotspot we found plenty of Thicket Tinamous calling; didn’t see anything beyond a skulking distant figure melting into the dry grasses, though. This was also a good are for Lesser Ground-cuckoo and Pacific Screech-owl.

Pacific Screech-owl

From here we headed to Rincón de la Vieja, one of the 29 lovely national parks packed into this little country.

Turquoise-browed Motmot

Here we finally defeated another long-time nemesis, the Ornate Hawk-eagle, as a pair of them were calling and displaying overhead. Also found a nice lek with dancing Long-tailed Manakins.

Long-tailed Manakin

Our guide Adrián was convinced that these manakins should be the national bird in place of the pedestrian and unremarkable Clay-colored Thrush – we would have to agree. Oddly enough the national animal of Costa Rica is the simple White-tailed Deer. Didn’t see any, but White-nosed Coati were everywhere.

White-nosed Coati

North of the park, near Dos Rios, our guide had a spot for Tody Motmot, another nemesis bird, notoriously hard to spot due to its small size and sedentary lifestyle. This area rewarded us not just with the motmots but with a decent look at a Bare-crowned Antbird that Adrián eventually coaxed out of the dense greenery.

Tody Motmot

Around Las Heliconias Lodge we picked up another couple of tough birds: Yellow-eared Toucanet and an utterly unexpected Black-eared Wood-quail.

Yellow-thraoted Euphonia

Nearby in Bijagua, we searched without succes for Snowcap. Russet-naped Wood-rail was an easy lifer here. Like the Grey-necked Wood-rail it was split from, it is a bold explorer of open areas with seemingly little concern about humans.

Russet-naped Wood-rail

Continuing east, we spent several days in the La Fortuna/Arenal area. The volcano was covered in clouds for us – a day or two after we left it all cleared up, of course.

Arenal volcano

At Sendero Bogarín in La Fortuna we picked up two crakes: Uniform and White-throated. Multi-crake days are always a welcome rarity! Especially when they are seen as well as heard.

White-throated Crake

We did not stay at the sprawling Arenal Observatory Lodge, but we birded the gardens and trails there. Great Currasows and Scaly-breasted Hummingbirds were other easy lifer targets. The feeders were covered with Emerald and Golden-hooded Tanagers and Montezuma Oropendulas.

Montezuma Oropendula

A few hours south from La Fortuna is the Monteverde region, which was perhaps the most productive area for the trip. We needed Three-wattled Bellbirds, and we got them (even seeing a female, which our guide was quite excited about – they are green and retiring, utterly unlike the showy males)

Three-wattled Bellbird

There are also glorious hummers here such as Coppery-headed Emerald, Magenta-throated Woodstar, and Purple-throated Mountain-gem.

Purple-throated Mountain-gem, female
Purple-throated Mountain gem, male

Most of our time here was at Curi-Cancha and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. These are great hotspots but were very crowded. The reserve does not open until 7:00 after a lot of good morning light is already gone. Still did really well despite this.

To be in birdy, lifer-rich habitat with an excellent guide – is there anything better?
Sooty-faced Finch – Monteverde
Keel-billed Motmot – near Arenal
White-throated Magpie-jay – seen everywhere
Great Currasow -near Arenal
Pale-billed Woodpecker – near Arenal
Emerald Tanager – Arenal

On the day of our flight back, we had a few hours in the morning to burn before heading to the airport, so Adrián took us out to some local catfish ponds to look for the two most probable remaining targets in this region: Plain-breasted Ground-dove, which we got, and Tricolored Munia, which we did not get. We did, however, find something far better than the munias – mixed in with the thousands of wintering Blue-winged Teal was a single female Masked Duck – a bird rare enough in Costa Rica that our guide hadn’t seen one before. Not often do you end a trip with the best and rarest of your targets but one that is also a lifer for your guide.

Female Masked Duck – bird of the trip!

Outstanding trip, outstanding guide. And we could get on the plane and fly right back home.

Next up: northern Peru, starting late next week.

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