Our pre-breakfast walk at Villa Lapas was another resounding success and I suspect that you could walk just this short stretch every day and see different things. Puffbirds, Antbirds and Antthrushes were very showy with the latter throwing leaves hither and dither but the prize for ‘Most Obvious Forest Floor Disturber’ went to a Scaly-throated Leaftosser – quite literally. We got lucky and it came closer and even perched up and sang for us. Not the most attractive bird we had seen but very full of character nonetheless. The Waterthrushes, Buff-rumped and Kentucky Warblers were all seen again along with both Doves and two White Shouldered Tanagers found their way onto everyone else’s list. Two Red-eyed Vireos fed in the canopy above breakfast with a smart male Summer and Golden Hooded Tanagers.
|Orange Billed Sparrow|
|Orange Billed Sparrow|
After breakfast we drove up the road above our valley where a roadside stop proved most productive. Both Vultures greeted us on a tree by the bus and seemed reluctant to leave although we could smell nothing deceased. A couple of male Long-tailed Manakins fortuitously came up the slope and into the tree we were shading under, one without tail streamers and Rufous and White and Rufous Backed Wrens sung below us while a pair of Rose-throated Becards and Brown Crested Flycatcher hunted up the slope. In the skies above there were Plumbeous Kites with the Vultures and our first Frigatebird and a new song below us revealed a pair of very funky Chestnut-capped Warblers bouncing around in the undergrowth. A couple of Crested Guans honked from a fruiting tree across the valley and Scarlet Macaws and Mealy Parrots crisscrossed the canopy. And all of this was from the roadside.
We pulled up at the next bend for a listen and were invited into the property by a chap on a moped. He said we could go for a walk around and as it happened it was the same place that we visited in 2020 but via the official front gates. We even met the American lady taking her dog for a walk and she was most welcoming. The views down towards Tarcoles and the sweep of the Pacific and bay were stunning and the birds we saw were pretty good too with Hoffmann’s and Pale-billed Woodpecker, an invisible singing Bentbill, Brown Jays and even a booming Curassow and ‘pooping’ Ferruginous Pygmy Owl!
Piratic Flycatchers were nesting and Yellow-throated Euphonias and a showy Chestnut-backed Wren were seen while in the skies there were plenty of big birds with some almost at eye level and we had a Bat Falcon, six Plumbeous Kites, Broad-winged Hawks, a Double Toothed Kite (with Goshawk like undertail coverts), Vultures and Wood Storks. We could even see Frigatebirds and Royal Terns way down along the coast.
We continued up hill and stopped again at the waterfall viewpoint (where you can’t see the waterfall) and found a flock of feeding passerines in the roadside trees. There were at least six Philadelphia Vireos and three Red-eyeds feeding avidly along with a pair of Blue Dacnis and several Swainson’s Thrushes. A male Slaty-tailed Trogon sat impassively in the next tree and a female Blue-throated Sapphire was identified by its largely red bill.
|Blue Dacnis - Jim Willett|
Ramon spied a King Vulture circling high above and a single Grey Hawk flew through with a flock of White-collared Swifts while a Yellow-throated Toucan stopped just long enough to say hello to the cameras.
The taverna further up seems to be permanently closed now so we retreated back down the hill and went to do the touristy Tarcoles River Bridge. We parked one side and walked across to the other but it was actually very quiet with just a few Black-necked Stilts and an Osprey as well as the monster Central American Crocodiles lurking below. For those of you who have not been before this is the one place that you do not leave anything in the car on show or otherwise.
|Central American Crocodiles l|
Back to Villa Lapas for lunch but no time for a lengthy escape but I did manage to wander through the gardens and back but even that gave me a close view of a male Black-headed Trogon with his blue eye rings and a proper pied Variable Seedeater that looked like an odd Collared Flycatcher!
A little Anole pretended to be a stick and the big Brown Basilisk did the full running on its hind legs thing as it scampered from outside the gift shop to a less populous spot! There were a few more butterflies and what I think is a female Tropical Woodskimmer. Cherrie’s Scarlet Rumped Tanagers were nesting in the gardens and the females are so bright compared to the Passerini’s we see to the north of San Jose.
|Not sure - possibly a female Ruby Spot species?|
|Cherrie’s Scarlet Rumped Tanagers|
It was soon time to head out for our boat trip on the Tarcoles but first we headed down to Playa Azul for a walk along the shining silver sand beach. The sky was full of Frigatebird with drifting squadrons approaching from the river mouth area and at one stage we counted over 200 in the air like some scene from a prehistoric age. Brown Pelicans glided the other way and down along the deserted beach we found a small group of 11 Sanderling with a single Grey Plover (both CR ticks). I was hoping for more beach waders but apparently not that many come this far down the coast.
A heap of Pelicans were roosting out on a spit near the river mouth with a few Neotropic Cormorants, an Osprey and at least 30 American Royal Terns. Scanning the sea also produced two Laughing Gulls and a flock of 15 Sandwich Terns which on the Pacific coast means Cabot’s Tern. Even if they had been closer we would have struggled to tell otherwise!
|Sanderlings and Grey Plover|
|Frigatebirds around the distant fishing boats|
|Looking up the Tarcoles river|
|Brown Pelicans for the most part|
The sand itself was host to industrious little Hermit Crabs and a superfast Sand Crab with eyes on big stalks that scurried away if you got too close while higher up the beach Tiger Beetles dashed around before blending in with the sandy background. On closer inspection they had shiny green leg joints!
|Sifted crab sand pellets|
Steve had mentioned about seeing Lesser Nighthawks in the vegetated top part and so I walked back that way (and managed to keep one or two or the others with me) which was fortunate as I found one perched up just in front of me but no amount of waving could attract the rest of the group just a hundred yards ahead. It sat there, pretending to be invisible and so we just watched it, took some pics and left it to snooze again. At least I was confident that we would all be seeing this species before sundown.
|the waterfall we were at the top of that morning|
It was not long before boarding our boat and after ensuring that Ken was not left behind in the banos we set out for our final river trip of the holiday. It began well with a Green Kingfisher and two Hudsonian Whimbrel by the jetty and Mangrove Swallows were seemingly waiting for the boat to head out too.
Our guide took us up river to start with and we very quickly picked up the expected assortment of Herons along the banked margins with Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Little Blue and Snowy Egrets and two posturing Bare-throated Tiger-Herons who were engaging in a full on slow moving ballet of moves that felt more like threat than display.
|Little Blue Herons|
|Neotropic Cormorant with a huge catfish|
|Great White Egret|
|Yellow-crowned Night Heron and Green Iguana|
|Yellow-crowned Night Heron|
Green, Amazon and Ringed Kingfishers watched us as we bobbed by and a smart Belted Kingfisher sat up for a good look. A couple of Ospreys watched the river from elevated snags and these birds seem much more monochrome that our European birds being simply white and chocolate brown with no patchiness in the upperparts.
A Peregrine did likewise and surveyed from on high while Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras and Turkey and Black Vultures patrolled the sandbanks looking for things that had died.
Turquoise Browed Motmots hid in dappled overhangs with Brown Basilisks and Green Iguanas for company and a male Blue Ground Dove whizzed past the boat giving brief but good views to those who got on it quick enough.
A little pied bird with a rusty back popped up in a small bush before flying off but I had no idea what it was until we found a party of them a little further on and discovered that they were naturalised Chestnut-backed Munias (from Asia) but they are highly mobile and Steve had never seen them in Costa Rica before so was equally happy at the addition. They were feeding with Morelet’s and Variable Seedeaters in the tall grasses with Red-winged Blackbirds and Great Tailed Grackles for company. The latter like to use the boats and snaggy river island as song perches.
|Great Tailed Grackle|
|Great Tailed Grackle|
|Great Tailed Grackle|
One of our prime targets was Collared Plover – a species we missed last time – but we had no problem on this occasion and saw at least eight on the muddy shore where they ran around like long, pink legged chunky Kentish Plovers. We watched one come down to the waters edge and dip its belly feather in for a good soak, presumably to take a drink back to the already mobile young or perhaps even to cool the eggs down? Least, Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers were seen on the same stretch along with a few Southern Lapwings.
We turned around at this point but no before an amazing encounter with a monstrous Croc. He had been up on the bank before we got there but the boat in front with ‘tourists’ had driven up the beach and the guide had leapt out and touched it before leaping back on and backing the boat off. Absolute madness.
Our boat stopped and he slid back in and drifted like a knobbly tree trunk towards us before turning side on. We all agreed that he was at least five metres long and it made most of us strangely nervous to be so close to a seemingly docile reptilian monster that could in a moment explode into action.
We let him be and continued back down river passing our first Roseate Spoonbills of the day and a Battle to the Death between four Mangrove Swallows one of which was determinedly trying to drown another. Barn and Northern Rough Winged Swallows flicked around us and a flock of Muscovy Ducks was engaged in The Chase with smaller more agile females keeping ahead of the game.
|Roseate Spoonbill & Tricoloured Heron|
|Would it rain?|
|Mangrove Swallows - Jim Willett|
|Barn Swallows & possibly a Rough-winged (mid upper) |
and a female Seedeater? top left
|Northern Rough-winged Swallow|
The mangroves beckoned and we started to see more ‘Herons’ in the edges with all three Night Herons, Snowy Egrets and Tricoloured Herons, White Ibis and Little Blues. Some Frigatebirds came in behind the boat and played around before dipping down for a splash bath and drink.
|Yellow-crowned Night Heron|
|Yellow-crowned Night Heron & Snowy Egret|
|Black-crowned Night Heron - almost greeny black|
Hudsonian Whimbrels and a Turnstone were roosting up on a partially submerged dead tree but the only other wader was Spotted Sandpiper but there hundreds! At one point I counted nearly eighty on one small bit of mangrove bank where they were probably looking to roost. One or two were already spotty but most were not.
|From the top: Turnstone, Hudsonian Whimbrels & Anhinga|
The Mangroves themselves were dark and sultry but our guide and boatman were top notch and stealthily nudged us in and out of the best spots where with a bit of patience and luck were got excellent views of the darting green and white bellied Mangrove Hummingbirds along with chestnut headed Mangrove Yellow Warblers, glowing Prothonotary Warblers and at last for the others – several American Redstarts.
|Mangrove Yellow Warbler|
|Mangrove Yellow Warbler|
A pair of Rufous Browed Peppershrikes ensured that they were no longer on the heard only list and it was one of those birds that I knew when I saw it. There was a good selection of Flycatchers with Streaked, Yellow-bellied and Dusky Capped and a new one in the shape of the basically greyish-brown and white Panama along with a pair of Cinnamon Becards.
|Panama Flycatcher - a scarce and tricky species to see|
Scarlet Macaws could be heard but were usually just out of view and the distinctive ‘enck enck’ of Yellow-naped Parrots (thanks for the clue from the guide) echoed through the trees before a party would cross the river.
We drifted back under a White Ibis and Roseate Spoonbill colony and a furry ball in a tree resolved itself into my very first Common Racoon who opened an eye to give us a cursory glance as we passed by.
|Common Racoon - pale hands|
The sun was setting as we emerged back onto the wider river and the Lesser Nighthawks were starting to hunt and my peak count on a scan around was 37 as they glided after several stiff mechanical beats.
They were a fine way to end another exhilarating day.
New Birds: * = life tick ** = new to Costa Rica but previously seen elsewhere
56: Scaly-throated Leaftosser*
57: Chestnut-capped Warbler*
58: Sanderling** (UK etc)
59: Grey Plover** (UK etc)
60: American Royal Tern** (Florida)
61: Cabot's Tern*
62: Turnstone** (UK etc)
63: Chestnut Backed Munia*
64: Collared Plover*
65: Panama Flycatcher*