Monday, 7 May 2012

Rancho Naturalista, Costa Rica, April 2012

Following a 7hr flight out of Dublin to Newark then a 5hr wait for another 5hr flight to San Jose we thought we could have booked a slightly tighter connection, but then there’s Starbucks and wi-fi!  Ground transport, accommodation and some trips were booked through Costa Rica Gateway but each can be booked individually. I was going to drive like a real man but the Mrs wouldn’t have it and to be honest I’m glad I didn't as it is a bit scary.  In SJ we stayed at Hotel Bougainvillea, the grounds to which are a renowned first point of call at dawn and its chorus is well underway at 4am and would wake the soundest of sleepers.  Being my first time to the Americas almost everything was going to be new.  Around the grounds the first species were Clay-coloured Robin, Blue-grey Tanagers, Montezuma Oropendula, Grayish Saltator, Rufous-collared Sparrow, White-collared Swifts, Blue and White Swallow, Blue-crowned Motmot, Squirrel Cuckoo, White winged Dove, Black Vulture, Rufous-tailed Hummer and some N American species: Baltimore Oriole, Yellow and a Tennessee Warbler and Swainson’s Thrushes:- time for breakfast.  

We were picked up and headed SE to Rancho Naturalista which turned out to be amazing, see  A laid-back and friendly welcome, the best food of the trip, the best guides of the trip and some intense birding.  Was I really on my honeymoon? Was there really 10 species of hummingbird on our balcony? Wow!

The hummers were constant all day, Rufous-tailed, Red-footed/Bronze tailed Plumleteer, Brown Violet-ear, White-necked Jacobin, Green-crowned Brilliant, Violet-crowned Wood Nymph, Green-breasted Mango, Sabrewing, Green Thorntail and Green Hermit. The branches providing bananas encouraged White-line, Palm, Passerini’s and Blue-grey Tanagers, Brown Jay, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Grey-headed Chachalaca, Orange-billed and Black-striped Sparrows.  The forest and its sounds beckoned and the next morning and I’d booked Harry Barnard, one of the guides for an all morning jaunt starting at 4:45.  Having got chatting to Harry on our arrival it became clear he wasn’t a local and turned out I’d seen him before whilst birding at Spurn, East Yorkshire!  What a small ‘birding’ world.  Before dusk he offered to go with me to the river pools to see any birds coming in to bathe before last light.  The river was low and held small pools of water below each fall.  Here hummers would hover and dip-bathe while other birds appeared cryptically from the edge before returning to cover.  Birds added here were Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, Tawny-throated Leaf-tosser, 2 Snowcap, Dull-mantled Antbird, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Scaly-breasted Wren, Red-throated Ant Tanager.  One thing became apparent and that was Harry was first class and I was comparatively useless in the new environment.     

The morning began before full light watching a Common Potoo catch and return to a stunted bow in a tree to dispatch a bat. Further on a Scaly-breasted Wren was roosting in a small burrow, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Violaceous Trogon, Buff-throated Foliage Gleaner, Tawny-chested Flycatcher, Wedge-billed and Spotted Woodcreepers, Black-headed Tody Flycatcher, White-collared and White ruffed Manakins, Paltry Tyrannulet, both Titiras and Collared Aracari were all seen.  A few N American species were added including: Golden-winged Warbler, a few Blackburnian and Wilsons, many Canadas, Tennessees, Red-eyed and 1 Philli Vireo.  We had heard Great Tinamou, Rufous Motmot and Thicket Antpitta.

After lunch rained clouds and thunder loomed but a group of birders out in the morning had found a roosting family of Striped Owls in a nearby village so 3 of us decided to chance it and go in the afternoon.  On the way we saw Tropical Parula, Grassquits, Northern and Southern Rough-winged Swallows, Vaux’s Swift and the Owls were still there.  Two Swallow-tailed Kites, Turkey and Black Vultures were overhead and Tropical Gnatcatcher, Slatey Spinetail, White-tailed Kite were added on the way back.  I’d gained around 120 lifers in less than 24hrs.  After dinner a log was called and I thought I was back on Scilly.  I had to explain to my new wife that I didn’t think it would happen at every site we visited. We left in the morning after some more birding from 5am trying to spot Rufous Motmot under the canopy from where they called with their magnificent bubbling call but I could get a decent enough view and we left to get to Tortuguero on the Carribean Coast.

 Tons of Swainson's in Carrib foothills.
 Tennessee and Yellow War at Bougainvillea 

 Hotel Bougain'
 Green-breasted Mango at Rancho
 Orange-kneed Tarantulas at Rancho
 Hog-nosed Pit Viper at Rancho or Hoggy to his friends.  Thought it was going to be massive going by reactions but still got a bit of a nip!
 Rufous Mourner-usually a skulker
 WN Jaco-female- Rancho
 Grand Designs not quite reached the nearby village of Platanillo 
 Another view in the village
 Tropical Parula
 Striped Owl chicks above and watchful adult below-pics phone-scoped by Graham Floyd

 White-necked Jacobin- Rancho
 Moth sp. They had a sheet trap at Rancho which attracted hundreds of moths and then birds around the trap in the morning.  Jewel Beetle below- impossible to photograph to make it look as perfect as it did.  Absolutely flawless mirror effect.

 The rear of Rancho lodge; note free supply of bananas for birds and birders.  Feeders on the right.
Tawny-chested Flycatcher- a Rancho underdog highlight species nesting near the lodge.


  1. Superb Rob. Spent one day in Costa Rica on a cruise and had brill day at Braulio Carrillo rain forest reserve even though it rained all time. Star bird there for me was red-footed plumelteer nesting right above our heads in the reserve centre. I think hummers are superb. Also saw my first sloths. Looking forward to rest of report.

  2. Sounds like it was worth getting married for then Rob - superb. Looking forward to the WBNW slide show one evening.

  3. Nice one Rob.
    Hope your still married! Sounds amazing and makes me even more oissed off that we had to cancel our trip there and go to Fuerteventura instead! Just 3 new birds instead of 200, and 2 broken bones in my leg!
    Looking forward to earring more.