Chestnut-mandibled Toucan in full display
near Puerto Viejo 19 Dec 2007
ATLANTIC LOWLANDS La Selva, Puerto Viejo, and Braulio Carrillo NP

We structured our two-week trip so that our 12 days of actual birding would be divided between three localities: one or more sites in the Atlantic lowlands (5 days), the high mountains (3 days), and the Pacific lowlands (4 days).

Our visit to the Caribbean slope centered around the famed La Selva Biological Reserve (sign) but we saved a lot of money by staying elsewhere. This decision had mixed results because now we were required to hire a guide to enter the Reserve. The guided trips were very expensive (especially the privately guided ones, as we chose) so our actual time in the forest was substantially limited. Only the entrance road into La Selva and the entrance clearing was free.

On 17 December we spent our time along the entrance road and headquarters clearing, until a mid-day downpour wiped out further birding. Even these habitats were productive, including superb views of Broad-billed Motmot (right) along the entrance road. We had lunch at La Selva's cafeteria and watched the clearing as the rain came down. Golden-hooded Tanager (below left) foraged in the fruiting bushes along the sidewalk, as did an assortment of other species, including Common Tody-Flycatcher, Bright-rumped Atila, and Paltry Tyrannulet, while wintering Northern Waterthrush walked through the grass.

The clearing was also a fine spot to watch toucans flying over or perching atop the tallest forest trees, both the noisy Chestnut-mandibled and the less common Keel-billed. For a brief time around noon on 17 Dec, a male Snowy Cotinga (below right), a much-wanted species, perched atop a bare tree in the forest-edge canopy.

The main birding, though, starts in the lowland rain forest across the wide and swift Puerto Viejo River (above). On 18 December we arranged for a guided walk, starting at dawn, and crossed the suspension bridge (below left) into the jungle, with our guide Kenneth Alfonso (below right). Quite to our surprise, many of the trails at La Selva are paved or nice boardwalks, even deep into the forest.
The walk was a success for me right away, because as we crossed the bridge and looked down into the shadows of the riverbank, we saw a male Great Curassow (right) perched on a huge log. The spot was so dark and the distance so great that my flash barely penetrated, and I've had to lighten this shot substantially in PhotoShop, which gives it that grainy, almost impressionistic feeling. The huge turkey-sized bird then flew across the river and into the forest.
We saw a good selection of birds on our two walks with Kenneth, including a White-necked Puffbird (left) sitting in the canopy next to a huge bromeliad. We also had two species of monkey, an agouti, peccaries, and poison-dart frogs, photos of which are elsewhere on this site. But by far the highlight was perched in the compound across the river, and spotted by Kenneth: a young Ornate Hawk-Eagle (below). When the word was spread via radio, a dozen other workers and guides came running to see this rarely-seen species.
We stayed a couple miles away from La Selva at a very reasonably priced bed & breakfast, Posada Andrea Christina, at the edge of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui. We had a lovely private bungalow (right) and breakfast is served in a roofed but open-sided cabana in the garden (below left), right next to the feeders. The owner is Alex Martinez (below right), who is very knowledgeable about natural history subjects. He and his son Kevin are available as guides and drivers, schedule permitting, and we even arranged for a pickup at the San Jose airport. The grounds held a sloth (see mammal page) and the feeders were great for photographing birds (a gallery is below).
Clay-colored Robin (above)
male Passerini's Tanager (below)

Black-cheeked Woodpecker (above)
female Passerini's Tanager (below)

male Shining Honeycreeper (above)
Buff-throated Saltator (above)

There are open farm fields mixed with riparian corridors across the road from Posada Andrea Christina, and we also visited nearby farms with Kevin. Here we walked at dusk to some huge wild almond trees that had attracted a pair of Great Green Macaw (right), a species we had very much hoped to see. Alex Martinez has been in the forefront of the conservation movement for this macaw locally, including purchasing rights to nest-trees so that the nest is not disturbed.

During our days in the Caribbean lowlands, we engaged Alex or Kevin to drive us up into the foothills to visit Braulio Carrillo National Park (the mountains shown in the photo below, from which the Susio River springs, are part of that park); the small abandoned gardens at 'El Tapir' (a fine hummingbird spot); and the feeders at Mirador Cinchona, up on the slopes of Volcan Poas. The latter two sites are featured prominently on the hummingbird page of this trip report.

Atlantic Lowlands
Montane Cloud Forest
Reptiles & Amphibians
Pacific Lowlands
Dragonflies & Damselflies
Complete TRIP LIST
with birds, mammals & herps
page created 21-22 Jan 2008
© Don Roberson 2007