Birding across Costa Rica

…rainforested Caribbean lowlands…, southern Pacific lowlands…, northern Pacific dry forests…high mountains…  All this great diversity… is found in a country the size of West Virginia.  Good roads and comfortable lodges make them readily accessible to tourists, who nearly everywhere find helpful Costa Ricans who speak English.  For an introduction to the rich Neotropical avifauna, Costa Rica offers many advantages.

Alexander F. Skutch, in Henderson, 2010. Birds of Costa Rica:  A field guide. Austin:  University of Texas Press.

All of this in a country roughly the size of Denmark or the  state of West Virginia.  How could we not have gone to Costa Rica before now?

My husband and I hadn’t been on a seriously fun trip in 18 months.  I was getting the itch for a major trip again.  But where to go?  Starting at the very top of my travel wish list, we had ventured to the Galapagos Islands with Elderhostel in Sept., 2009.  (You can read more than any sane human would want to know about that marvelous trip here.) 

NOTE:  As of late Sept., 2013, WordPress made some rather dramatic changes to how it handles photographs.  As a result, photos on this blog may display in odd formats–very large or very small.  To fix them, I have to go through the HTML code for each page and make appropriates changes.  Sigh.  I will make these changes, but they will take some time.  In the meantime, you can click on any photo on any page to see a “normal” version of any of the photos.  Ah, progress…

With that marvel under our belts, where might we go next?  A few of my colleagues had been to Costa Rica and raved about the country.  Since we had been impressed with Elderhostel’s (now Road Scholar) organization of the previous trip, we thought maybe we’d try another trip with them.  Since we were relatively decent birders, the Birding the hot spots of Costa Rica program caught my eye.  I compared the areas they were visiting to areas visited by other birding tours, and the coverage seemed just fine for our purposes.  (Really, though–what did I know?  Pretty much all of the birds would be new.  Who cares about specifics?)  So we signed up and off we went.

As a brief overview, our trip was fantastic.  We visited 5 different habitats, stayed in wonderful lodges, traveled on a comfortable bus with a terrific driver, and spent 12 days with our marvelous guide, Roger Meléndez Pereira.  Roger is a native of Costa Rica, having grown up in the Sarapiquí area, and has been guiding visitors through the wonders of Costa Rica for more than 15 years.  His English is excellent and he has a great sense of humor (always important, in my book!).  He is not only an superb birder, with a hawk’s eye for movement and a razor-sharp ability to identify birds by ear; but he is also a well-rounded naturalist with knowledge of Costa Rica’s mammals, reptiles, trees, insects—all aspects of the flora and fauna.  He takes great joy in sharing his knowledge and enjoys not just showing folks wildlife but also teaching about the finer points of the various creatures and plants.  He is patient, attentive, enthusiastic, and deeply motivated to help people see whatever it is they want to see in the world of nature.  Since he has children of his own, I’m sure he’d be a wonderful guide for families as well as adults traveling alone.  Heck, if he could handle as varied a group of Elderhostelers as we were, he can provide anyone with an unforgettable experience in this wondrous country.  You can contact him at  I’m sure you’ll be delighted you did!

Below is our schedule and the map gives a rough indication of the location of each site.  (Click on the map for  larger version.)  The pages here are not a blow-by-blow recounting of every single species we saw.  Instead, they are part diary, part travel log, part nature documentary.  I recount the travels (and, at times, my feelings about those travels) and spend a bit of time on those species that we (well, Zell really) got decent photos of.  Come along on our journey!

Site 1 (days 1 and 2):  Carara (Villa Lapas)

Río Tárcoles and Carara National Park, a transition zone between the Southern Pacific lowland rainforest and the Northern Pacific tropical dry forest.

Site 2 (days 3 and 4):  La Ensenada National Wildlife Refuge (La Ensenada)

Gulf of Nicoyo, tropical dry forest

Site 3 (days 5 and 6):  Caño Negro (Caño Negro Natural Lodge)

Río Frío, a vast drainage area for rivers in northern Costa Rica

Site 4 (days 7 and 8):  Río Sarapaquí (Selva Verde) and Braulio Carrillo National Park

La Selva Biological Station, Caribbean lowlands and rainforest

Site 5 (days 9 and 10):  San Gerardo de Dota (Savegre Mountain Hotel)

Río Savegre and Cerro de la Muerte, cloudforest

Finally, under the Practicalities tab, you’ll find pages that cover the trip as a whole—tips if you’re going on a trip dedicated to birding, some general suggestions about traveling in Costa Rica, and the bird species list for our trip.


One Response to Birding across Costa Rica

  1. Conor O'Shea says:


    My name is Conor O’Shea and I am the social media coordinator at Road Scholar, formerly Elderhostel. I recently came across this excellent blog entry. I was wondering if you’d be interested in featuring your blog in its original form on our Participant Blog Page on which participants, Road Scholar employees, group leaders and others provide firsthand accounts of their educational travel adventures:

    The entry would feature a picture of you and a short excerpt from one of the entries and then a link which would redirect the reader back to your wordpress. Your blog offers a captivating glimpse into this exciting birding program and we would be honored to include it on our website. If this interests you, please contact me at!

    Best regards,
    Conor O’Shea

    Tina writes:
    Thanks for the kind words. Indeed, there is a link to this trip report/blog already on the Road Scholar page you reference above. A number of people have already linked to this blog from that site, which is great fun!

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