Monday 4 April 2022

Costa Rica - Day 3 – 15th March 2022

Waking up at Arenal is special. I lay there in the dark of pre-dawn with the thrum of cicadas outside and the gentle woofing of the still awake House Geckos and became aware of the first Pauraque calling somewhere close.  Another sound cut through at a lower pitch and I knew immediately what it was and hastily got dressed and headed outside.  Somewhere way off in the trees a pair of Spectacled Owls sang with the overlapping ‘wop wop wop’ at slightly different pitches worming into my head.  It was one of the highlights of my first visit when I was awoken at Villa Lapas by them singing above the chalets. 

This duo were a fair way off and I enjoyed them in my solitude as the other birdlife emerged with the Clay Coloured Thrushes being first up as usual.  The rest of our motley crew arrived at 530 for our walk just up the road and down alongside the river path.  A calling Piratic Flycatcher on the nearest Cecropia became the first new bird of the day and was an apparently surprise omission from the 2020 trip.  We would encounter them in many places subsequently.

We crept down the woodland trail with dense jungle on both sides and did our best there and back to connect with the generally secretive forest species that called within.  As usual it was hard work and for most it was their first taste of such a trail. It was dark and humid and many sounds went unidentified and certainly unseen but we did pretty well in my humble opinion. Both Dusky and Dull Mantle Antbirds – the latter chirping like sparrows as they moved through the leaf litter were close to the path and gave good views while invisible White-breasted Wood-Wrens and Nightingale Wrens serenaded us invisibly. 

The discordant haunting song of the second of these is oddly one of my favourites.  It somehow cuts through all the other jungle sounds with its simplicity and we all stood in silence for several minutes as one sang out of sight just a few feet away.

Nightingale Wren

Scale Crested Pygmy Tyrants also produce a lot of noise for a tiny bird that sounds like it is being pumped up and then deflated while a noisy Tanager flock included Carmiol’s, Black & Yellow and Emerald as they followed their chosen leader through the mid canopy.  He was a fine White-throated Shrike-Tanager and unlike last time even stopped for a short while for the gang (and us) to catch up.  The same flock also hosted a striped Western Woodhaunter (one of many superbly named Furnarids) and a selection of the usual wood Warblers with Chestnut-sided, Tennessee, Yellow and a stripy Black & White.  A Slaty-Capped Flycatcher with its dark ear covert splodge was new and showed well if briefly.

White-throated Shrike-Tanager

Plain Xenops and Cocoa and Wedge-billed Woodcreepers were poking around the trunks and branches and a Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush sang just out of view making our San Luis sighting even better. Gartered and Orange-bellied Trogons were seen and heard and one female of the latter was excavating a hole in a low stump and put on quite a show while alongside the path we found Northern Waterthrushes and Orange-billed Sparrows and Thicket Antpitta tempted up from way off in the forest but we knew to keep on walking.  

Orange-bellied Trogon

Wedge-billed Woodcreeper

Wedge-billed Woodcreeper

Both Toucans were in early morning voice and a male Great Curassow was booming somewhere up slope but we hoped to see these around the gardens later on while a pair of Broad-billed Motmots engaged in some food sharing and were unperturbed by our ogling.

Broad-billed Motmot

Broad-billed Motmot

Back near the edges both Olive Backed and Yellow-throated Euphonias were found and White Collared Manakins (forever known as Lemon Meringues…!)  were whip cracking away and even glimpsed as they flicked between display branches.   An Agouti scurried across the path and we had to be careful not to disrupt the Leaf-cutter Ants from their studious deconstruction of the jungle around us.

I think that these are both clubmosses

Leaf-cutter Ants

Arenal uncovered - a rare treat

The Breakfast Bridge

We ambled back for breakfast passing three sleepy fat Crested Guans in a tree and a short gap before we were due to leave for our trip out gave me another chance to scan about the gardens.  I found a pair of Great Curassows ambling across the lawn.  The male was booming as he walked and was following the seemingly uninterested female wherever she went although apparently she was later seen to consent to his amorous advances!  I still think that she has more going for her in the looks department.  

Crested Guans

Great Curassow

Great Curassow

Great Curassow

I managed to find a few of the others and get them onto these magnificent birds before being easily distracted by showy Grey-capped and Piratic Flycatchers and a pair of fantastic Band-backed Wrens.  The Black-cowled Orioles were still around and Variable Seedeaters were feeding back near the chalet.

Oropendola nests

Band-backed Wren

Grey-capped Flycatcher

Piratic Flycatcher

Shaving Brush Tree - Pseudobombax ellipticum 

We eventually set off after everyone had seen the Curassows and headed back down the entrance road. Our first random stop saw a pair of Rufous Tailed Jacamars perched up on the wires with a nest hole in the bank. Lemon Meringues cracked in the trees and a Buff-rumped Warbler waved its tail around hypnotically before slinking away. Rufous Browed Pepper-Shrike sang down the slope but as usual eluded my  eyes and both Northern and Southern Rough-winged Swallows were on the wires with our second Slaty-capped Flycatcher showing at much closer range. Ramon was on sky duty and found a dark phase Short-tailed Hawk and then a female Hook-billed Kite circling overhead with its curiously shaped bulging barred wings.

Buff-rumped Warbler

Hippobroma longiflora

Southern Rough-winged Swallow

Marpesia merops

Hook Billed Kite

Short-tailed Hawk

Short-tailed Hawk

On again and a stop on the big bridge to check for Sun-bitterns. Alas as usual there were none, but a pair of Amazon Kingfishers were exchanging a fish on some bamboo and a cloud of large mustard yellow Butterflies were coming down to a pool in the river to collect salts while a Spotted Sandpiper looked on.  Buff-rumped Warblers danced on the rocks and an immature Grey Hawk was despatching a snake on a log. I glanced forward out of the bus at this point and spied a creature crossing the road. ‘TAMANDUA!’ I shouted and dropped to my knees so that others could see over my head. It ambled slowly across with just a cursory glance our way and long curved front claws glinting and I even had time to get the camera up before sauntering into the leafy verge and disappearing from view.

Amazon Kingfisher - Angie Merrick

Spotted Sandpiper & Yellow Butterflies

Oh my - Tamandua


On again with beaming smiles and then off onto another track in the hope of a few foothill specialities.  We did this track last time and it was fairly quiet that time but we successfully tracked down out main target bird with Keel-billed Motmot which Martin expertly found after we had been hearing a pair for about 15 minutes.  Like many Motmots it just mysteriously appeared in view in a closer tree and showed very well in the scope.  Lemon Meringues whip cracked and I saw one well and a pair of Bay Wrens crashed across the road and sang explosively. Just before the view opened out Sally asked what a strange bird was and within seconds we were watching our first White Faced Nunbird on a mossy branch.  What a cracking bird with its blue-black plumage, big eyes and Puffbird red bill.  It sounded as if there were more than one and in fact four were in the same patch and all posed admirably for us.  I think ‘walk away views’ was the phrase used. 

White Faced Nunbird

We refused to let Thicket Antpittas get under our skin and a Squirrel Cuckoo was somewhat more obliging as it moved through.  A pair of distant Long-tailed Tyrants were hunting from a Cecropia and Black-headed Saltators were feeding in the next tree over.  Up above we saw Crested Caracara, Zone-tailed Hawk and a low flying Swallow-tailed Kite while Ramon casually located a magnificent Great Potoo high in the adjacent canopy where it sat in full profile.

Long-tailed Tyrant

Squirrel Cuckoo

Turkey Vulture

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Great Potoo

Lunch beckoned and we bumped our way back with a stop to take some shots of the mighty Arenal bereft of a single cloud and with only the little fumarole puffing at the summit.  It stayed on view throughout lunch (when we saw a White Hawk) and in fact was largely un-cluttered by fluff until dusk fell.  Violet Headed HBs actually stopped on the Verbena below the veranda and the Montys came in for a noisy fruit top up

Montezuma Oropendola

Violet Headed HB

Angel's Trumpet

A late afternoon walk was planned which of course meant that I had some time on my hands again and so while the others digested I walked back through the gardens and up to the first couple of hundred yards of the morning walk track.  It was very warm and oppressive but if anything it felt more lively than in the early session. The Manakins were still calling and I could hear the Orange-bellied Trogons further down and up above some Spider Monkeys were crashing about.  A White-breasted Wood-Wren was singing close to the path with a Nightingale Wren just beyond so I stood there and watched and waited and before too long the Wood-Wren popped into view followed by a quietly ‘tucking’ Golden Crowned Warbler. It moved closer to me and then a little black bird flicked up onto the closest trunk. ‘Hello Mr Nightingale’ I thought. It stayed for a few seconds before dropping back down into the leaf litter and disappearing. I smiled and retraced my steps.

Nightingale Wren

Back in the gardens the Piratic Fycatchers showed better and a little Stripe-throated Hermit zipped around the Heliconias and a little further on I found two Black-striped Sparrows in the borders almost exactly where I saw them in 2020.  A Woodcreeper in one of the bigger trees had me stumped but with Steve’s help we got it to Plain Brown. Red-billed Pigeons moved over and the Oropendolas were in fine voice as we set out on our evening forest walk.

Some leaf mines just for Antony

Black-striped Sparrow

Black-striped Sparrow

Gartered Trogon - Angie Merrick

Red-legged Honeycreeper

Rufous Tailed HB

Scaly Breasted HB

Variable Seedeater

Red-billed Pigeon (which of course has a largely yellow bill)

Umm... House Wren

Passerini's Scarlet Rumped Tanager - female

Passerini's Scarlet Rumped Tanager - male

We started off very well with a pair of smart Golden Olive Woodpeckers that stayed put long enough to actually watch for a while. So often these smaller species seem to be energetically on the move higher up.

Golden Olive Woodpecker

A Crested Guan dust bathed near the hotel moth sheet and around the opposite side a group of Grey Headed Chachalacas got up from their own dusty divots and flapped off into the trees for a quick shake and preen.  Social Flycatchers were on the wires and the Wood-Wrens were vocal but invisible as usual as we walked deeper into the wood.

Crested Guan

Grey Headed Chachalaca dust bathing bowls

Grey Headed Chachalaca

Blakea litoralis bud

Blakea litoralis flower

Blakea litoralis seeds


Justicia aurea 

In 2020 we were incredibly fortunate to discover an Army Ant swarm and its associated collection of amazing Antbirds, Shrikes and Wrens.  I do not think I realised just how special that experience was until this time when the denizens of the forest stayed hidden and tantalized us with calls and songs. Spotted Antbirds came close and but refused to show and somehow I got a few seconds of Manakin action.

White Collared Manakin

I do not actually remember taking this and must have pressed video by mistake!

Mantled Howlers and Spider Monkeys clambered above us with downward cursory glances and the tiny Scale Crested Pygmy Tyrants came in for a look and even flashed those bizarre pink and black hidden head plumes.  Two dingy Ochre-bellied Flycatchers were encountered at low level and a Sulphur Rumped Myobius flashed like a giant Firefly up one of the wet gullies.  This actually proved to be a good little spot with a fine Rufous Motmot sitting silently mid-level and my very first Kentucky Warbler was coming down to bath in a tiny pool. Such a smart little bird and the scene was etched in my head as a future artistic endeavour.

Mantled Howler

Spider Monkey

Stripe-breasted Wrens were foraging in a tangle up the path a short way and a pair of Slaty tailed Trogons did that thing where they suddenly appear in full view without you seeing them move and then proceed to try to outstare you.  I find all Trogons slightly disturbing… Rufous Tailed Jacamars as much less intimidating!

Rufous Tailed Jacamar

Rufous Tailed Jacamar

Slaty tailed Trogon - male

Slaty tailed Trogon - female

We retraced our steps and I ended up as back marker and found the Curassows crossing the path at the start of the gardens between me and the rest of the crew with the male still quietly booming as he went. The Coatis were having a good root around and the big male was up a tree munching berries.


female Great Curassow

A second female also crossed my path

Violet Headed, Rufous tailed and another smart male Black-Crested Coquette were on the first bank of Verbena by the Spa and I manged to get some of the team back to enjoy some quality Hummer views before we all dispersed before dinner.

Black-Crested Coquette 

all above Black-Crested Coquette 

female Violet Headed HB

The usual garden suspects were encountered again and there were now two Scaly-Breasted HBs on territory by the chalet while Jim and I saw a Giant Cowbird leave the Oropendola colony.

Dinner was not the end of the day as we had been told that a Black & White Owl had been favouring a tree by a streetlight at the furthest rooms so we drove down there at the appointed 9pm and there he was.  Seeing an owl at night is often so different to encountering one during the day.  It was alert and watchful but completely unphased by our collective rumble of appreciation and the whir of cameras.

Black & White Owl - all the above by Andy Reid

As a finale for the day it was a fine one but there was still time to go and check on the moth traps and although they were poorly attended by insects we did find a handful of smart moths, a large green Katydid and an even bigger Antlion.

Prolimacodes triangulifera 



Long-horn Beetle

Yellow Cricket

Hopefully as Steve works his way through the moths I will add more names

I was soothed to sleep once more by the thrum of jungle insect life.


New Birds: * = life tick ** = new to Costa Rica but previously seen elsewhere

7: Western Woodhaunter *

8: Piratic Flycatcher *

9: Slaty-capped Flycatcher *

10: Hook-billed Kite *

11: White-faced Nunbird *

12: Plain Brown Woodcreeper

13: Kentucky Warbler *

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