Birdwatching in Costa Rica

Old Dec 21st, 2008, 01:32 PM
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Birdwatching in Costa Rica

I am in the phase of activity planning for our 2-weeks vacation to Costa Rica in February. We will be staying 4 nights in Arenal (Lost Iguana), 4 nights in Manuel Antonio(BVVC), 4 nights Osa (BdC) and 2 nights at the Peace Lodge.

For Arenal we are considering: Hanging Bridges, Cano Negro, hot springs, lava hike, and an early birdwatching tour.
In MA, the park, the mangrove boat tour, a dolphin cruise and another early birdwatching tour. Plus relaxing on the beach.
In Osa, the night frog tour, horse riding, hike the trails and of course, some birdwatching

My question, for those who visited all 3 areas – are the birdwatching tours redundant? Would we see the same birds in all 3 locations? Or there is some merit in doing all 3 of them, because what we might see would be different? If we need to choose 2, which one would you choose? I suppose BdC is one, but which other one?

In Arenal, if we do the Cano Negro, is the birdwatching tour redundant? Or should we just go to Arenal Observatory Lodge and tour their grounds on our own?
Thanks a lot

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Old Dec 21st, 2008, 02:20 PM
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Completely different birds at Cano Negro and at the AOL. Lots of tanagers and guans and oropendolas at the AOL--lots of egrets, ibises, and herons at Cano Negro
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Old Dec 21st, 2008, 03:00 PM
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Has anyone done the Hanging Bridges or the morning birdwathcing tour with Sunset Tours?

Their 2009 rates for each of the tours above is $67 per person. Seems expensive, what do you think? Any other recommended option?

Thanks
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Old Dec 21st, 2008, 03:26 PM
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Costa Rica is quite amazing in the variety of different birds you can encounter in various locations. You will see different species in each area [with, of course, some overlap.]

Arenal is on the Caribbean slope - the most diverse area for birds in Costa Rica. Somewhere like AOL would be ideal -especially since they have fruit feeders that attract some beautiful birds of many species.. If this is your first taste of Central American birding I suggest a guide who can help sort out the similar species and identify birds by song, as well as knowing good locations to visit.

Cano Negro is a seasonal wetland that has plenty of wading birds [as noted by RAC above,] as well as lots of land birds.

Manuel Antonio, of course is on the Pacific coast with a variety of different birds. MA is relatively close to the Tarcoles River and Carara National Park - both very rich in bird life. This is an especially rich area since it is in the transition zone between the dry northwest and moist southwestern area of Costa Rica. If you could somehow arrange an all -day tour to Carara [in the morning] then a boat trip on the Tarcoles in the afternoon you could add many exciting species to your list.

Peace Lodge is much too developed for my taste but the hummingbird and fruit feeders are very good and you are at a higher altitude than in your other locations so will see numerous new species. There are also some excellent birding locations just a few miles from Peace Lodge.

The Osa has some overlap with the MA area and Arenal in bird species but is also very rich and because it is relatively undisturbed offers great birding opportunities as well.

All of the locations you have mentioned should be very good. A note that you need to ensure you get good BIRDING guides, rather than just 'nature' guides. I can think of a couple of experiences I've had where the local guides were terribly mis-identifying birds for folks birding close to us - but the best guides are truly amazing in their knowledge and spotting skills.

One note -birding for the great majority of birds is MUCH better early in the morning [about 545 to 830am] than any other time of day.

Please let me know if I can offer any more specific information. I've been fortunate enough to bird Costa Rica several times.

cheers

Jerry
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Old Dec 21st, 2008, 03:34 PM
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I agree; we saw completely different birds at all 3 locations. Cano Negro tends to have water birds. Osa and Arenal have completely different varieties. We did a morning bird watching tour with Zender from Sunset Tours in Arenal and we loved it - he took us right near the Lost Iguana where the electric company owns some land. He brought two other guys with him, and they made coffee and wrote down all the birds we saw - great day, and we also saw a peccary, anteater, and howler monkeys - things I had never seen in Arenal before. We didn't hire a guide at the Hanging Bridges, and we ended up not seeing any wildlife at all - well ants if you count those. If we did it again, I would definitely hire a guide.
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Old Dec 21st, 2008, 03:38 PM
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I should also mention Carlos at BdC; we went several days and didn't see a single toucan, so we did an early morning bird watching tour with Carlos, and he wouldn't quit until we found one! I guess they are usually plentiful, we really had to hunt to see one. The the next day we found several on our own! He was also a great guide. I carried the Birds of Costa Rica book by Garrigues and Dean to record all our sightings. The guides got excited when they saw it; they really like people who have a true interest in birding.
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Old Dec 21st, 2008, 04:41 PM
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Thanks for all the responses – at least we know we can do them all, and not get bored. At least I won’t – DH is not a birder, but would tolerate it, considering the unusual, colorful birds he might see.

Gannetmusic, yes, this is the first time to Central America. So now I know that the 3 areas will have different things to offer – good. Still need to decide if going to AOL on our own would be as good as doing the Sunset Tours birdwatching tour. What do you think? Or can you recommend another birdwatching tour or guide in the area?

Volcanogirl, how did you get Zender – did you contact him individually, directly? Or through Sunset Tours? I do have the Birds of Costa Rica book, and plan to take it with me. Thanks
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Old Dec 21st, 2008, 06:46 PM
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Would it be possible for you to do both the Sunset Tours birding trip and also go yourselves to AOL?

It could be fun to go with Sunset one day, then go yourselves to AOL another day [and see what you remember.....] An advantage at AOL is that there will likely be other English -speaking birders around the feeders who can help with identification.

I do suggest you study the guidebook a bit before you go to CR. The range maps will give you a good hint as to what to look for in each area - and what you can eliminate. For example. a beautiful and fairly common bird is the 'Scarlet-rumped Tanager' which now is considered to be 2 separate species. Knowing you are on the Caribbean slope at Arenal you will quickly be able to say if it is a Cherrie's or Passerini's Tanager you are looking at - and then pick out the differences in the female birds coming to the feeder to confirm your identification.

And don't be afraid to ask your birding guide "What is it about that bird that tells you [for example] that it is a Crested Guan?" Many birding guides enjoy someone who shows a bit more than the average interest. Many folks will just write down whatever the guide says, and, if looking at the same bird the next day, not have a clue what it is......

One note of warning - sometimes the scenery, butterflies, flowers, mammals etc make it very difficult to focus on birding - a good problem to have !

cheers

Jerry
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Old Dec 21st, 2008, 07:24 PM
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Jerry,
Doing both the Sunset birding tour and AOL on our own birding would be too much for DH – I think in the end we’ll do a volcano hike and then go to AOL on our own. This way there is more variety in our schedule and he doesn’t get birding overload.

For me, flowers, butterflies, frogs, mammals, are as exciting as the birds – so it’s a win-win situation. Thanks for the advice to study the books before going there. Will definitely report back in a couple of months

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Old Dec 21st, 2008, 07:25 PM
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He was our guide on the Cano Negro tour. Our tour group was full of a folks that didn't seem all that interested in the wildlife. He saw our book and got excited that we might want to see something more in depth, so he told us he would take us birding if we were interested. We just called Sunset and asked for him specifically, and the next morning we went out together. The thing that has impressed me with all our guides is that they are self-taught - just have a real thirst for learning and a passion for wildlife. He's a nice young guy, very sweet and fun guide.
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Old Dec 22nd, 2008, 05:14 AM
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Hi there xyz99!
Sorry to hijack this post, but I believe I'll be at BDC the same time as you in February. We will be staying in Toucan from Feb 12-16th. So don't be surprised if you hear someone calling your name "costaricalover looking for xyz99!!!" over dinner one evening.
Happy planning!
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Old Dec 22nd, 2008, 07:29 AM
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We stayed in Tucan and loved it. It has an outdoor bathtub!
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Old Dec 22nd, 2008, 08:18 AM
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Hi XYZ99,
Hope all is well with you. Regarding your ?s, I would do the Cano Negro tour while at the LI, that's a full day where you'll see lots of wildlife. For the Hanging Bridges, the first time we went, the LI arranged a guide for us (I think it was $25). The next time we did it on our own, which is easy. All depends on how keen your eyesight is. Sometimes it's nice to do a little exploring on your own.

At BDC, definitely do the bird tour w/Carlos, we saw some really cool things with him (inlcuding an anteater).

costaricalover, if you are at BDC at the same time, you'll be very lucky, xyz99 and her husband are really nice people who we've had the pleasure of meeting at the Fodors CTG and also had dinner with. I'll be thinking of you at BDC.

I was almost tempted to go back today, AA had Miami-CR at $79 each way, we're going to Miami in January, but I think we'll save CR for another time.
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Old Dec 22nd, 2008, 01:05 PM
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We did the Sunset Tours volcano hike, and also had Zender. I hadn't expected to - but we saw tons of birds out with him on that tour. It was just my husband and I, so I'm not sure how it would be if there was a bigger group. But he was great at pointing out a lot. We saw Toucans, parrots, a white hawk, a mot mot, and plenty of others. So hopefully if you choose to do the volcano tour, you could ask for Zender and see birds too!
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Old Dec 22nd, 2008, 05:59 PM
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costaricalover,
Check your email.

owlwoman,
Thanks for all the suggestions – we’ll definitely do the Cano Negro and Hanging Bridges. We’ll get a guide that LI can arrange for us, $67 per person with Sunset tours seems a little too much. Also, yes to the birding with Carlos at BdC. Plus some other things there, but we’re playing it by the ear.

I think costaricalover and we will be there together for one night, so we’ll get to meet. And think of you and all the other helpful ones from this forum
I think you're going back to Argentina (in March?), so maybe we can get together after you come back to share impressions. Our 2010 trip is to Argentina.

Sealstep, we might opt for the volcano hike with Sunset tours instead of the birdwathcing one. Good idea, thanks.
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Old Dec 22nd, 2008, 06:30 PM
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We did the volcano hike with Zender and didn't see very many birds at all - in fact, one toucan is all that I remember. I really preferred the birding hike with him a lot more because he took us to such a great area. seal, you guys had such good sightings!
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Old Dec 22nd, 2008, 07:12 PM
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Hmmm, same tour, same guide, 2 totally different experiences.

VG, seal,
What time of the year were you there?
What tour did you take (early morning, afternoon, etc.)?

VG, without seeing a lot of wildlife, would you recommend the tour? Was it worth it? Never toured an active volcano, so I'm not sure what to expect...
Thanks
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Old Dec 23rd, 2008, 02:30 AM
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Hi, x - to be honest, I didn't love the volcano hike. It started raining during our hike, so that may have affected seeing wildlife for us. I thought we would get a lot closer to the volcano than we actually did. We hiked around and learned the history of the volcano but we stayed pretty far away behind a fenced area then they drove us to an observation point near the river and we waited for lava - then it started pouring rain so there just wasn't great visibility. We did see a little lava come down and then they rushed us off to the van because it was still pouring. The birding hike we did was amazing - we both loved it. Our volcano hike ended with a night at Eco Termales - I loved that, a great dinner and relaxing hot springs. Our trip was in July.
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Old Dec 23rd, 2008, 02:36 PM
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Interesting- we did the hike that ended at Eco Termenales too (which we loved.) They picked us up at about 3 pm, and we got to the hot springs around 7 maybe. We were there in September. It did not rain on us, although it rained earlier in the day. I wonder if that could have affected things. I guess we didn't get all that close to the volcano, but I was so happy that we saw all the unexpected birds! I think the volcano hike is good if you're not staying where you have a view of the volcano, but at the Lost Iguana you'll be able to see it well. I'd say it's not essential, but we did have good luck with the birdwatching.

I have to say for us, while we loved Manual Antonio for different reasons, we didn't see a lot of birds there. But maybe the early morning hike is the key. By the time we were up and about it was too late I guess.
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Old Dec 23rd, 2008, 02:44 PM
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Yep, I think we were spoiled by staying at the Lost Iguana - it has great volcano views.
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