Costa Rica part 3: The Pacific lowlands of the south-west: 05/04 – 08/04 2017.   Leave a comment

This post covers our visits to Los Cusingos, Las Cruces, Escinos Lodge and Rio Ricon, all locations in the far-south-west of Costa Rica’s Pacific slope.

 

Before we left San Isidro we birded around the hotel seeing a wide range of birds such as this Cherrie’s Tanager which is common in the south-west of the country. This male of this species is almost identical to the male Passerini’s Tanager which we saw commonly on the Caribbean slope. However the females differ and I think there are vocal and genetic differences too.

 

We headed for Los Cusingos, the former home of ornithologist Alexander Skutch. The forest surrounding his home is maintained as a reserve and his simple house which had no electricity or running water is maintained as a museum in his honour.

 

Alexander Skutch was one of the most prolific and distinguished ornithologists of all time. He lived a simple life with his English wife Pamela at Los Cusingos up until his death in 2004, eight days before his 100th birthday. He was a prolific author publishing 40 books and 200 papers, mainly on tropical birds.

 

We visited his reserve in 1981, as he knew our guide well and I was privileged to meet him and his wife. Los Cusingos (we just called it Skutch’s Finca then) was one of the few places that I visited 36 years ago that I still remembered when I returned this year.

 

Among the many species we saw were White-crowned Parrot ….

 

…. Speckle-breasted Hummingbird ….

 

…. Baird’s Trogon ….

 

…. and just as we had given up on it and were about to board the bus, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper.

 

After Los Cusingos we paid a brief visit to marshy area ….

 

…. where we saw Chiriquí Yellowthroat, a species restricted to the borders of Costa Rica and Panama.

 

From here we headed to the research centre at Las Cruces, another area that I remember from the 1981 trip. The centre has extensive gardens but also areas of mature tropical forest.

 

…. with enormous fig trees (previous photo) and stands of bamboo.

 

There were plenty of birds to add to our list such as Spot-crowned Euphonia (but you would need a magnifying glass to see the spots) ….

 

…. Charming Hummingbird (which I don’t think is quite as charming as some of the other hummers) ….

 

…. and the diminutive and recently split Mistletoe Tyrannulet.

 

In the extensive gardens where a huge selection of bromiliads and other plants are propagated ….

 

…. we saw migrants from North America like this Baltimore Oriole ….

 

…. as well as this resident male Green Honeycreeper (the females are undoubtedly green but the males look more bluish to me) ….

 

…. and best of all, the tiny and scarce Garden Emerald.

 

We took a dirt road near the Panama border to look for Panamanian species like Veraguan Mango that might just have crossed the border. It was very hot as we were now close to sea level. We had no luck with the mango but it was a very birdy area especially in the vicinity of this bridge.

 

Here we saw a good selection of waterbirds; White Ibis, Southern Lapwing, Little Blue Heron and Greater Yellowlegs are in this photo and there was quite a lot else further upstream but the setting sun produced dreadful viewing conditions.

 

Grey-breasted Martins perched on roadside wires ….

 

….nearby we had good views of  Mantled Howler Monkeys (we were to hear their howls and roars every morning in both the lowlands and on the slopes of the volcanos).

 

We saw the impressive Streaked Flycatcher ….

 

…. and a number of Bare-faced Tiger Herons were nesting in the area.

 

We also had good views of Grey-lined Hawk. For a long time it has been known that there are two different populations of ‘Grey Hawk’ in Costa Rica. The northern population (Grey Hawk) extends from the north of the country to southern USA and the southern one (Grey-lined Hawk) from SW Costa Rica to northern Argentina. Recent genetic work has confirmed what birders have long suspected, that they are two different species (this was announced in the Neotropical Birding journal under the heading of ‘no more guilt about ticking Grey-lined Hawk’).

 

We headed on to Esquinas Rainforest Lodge where for the first time on the trip we stayed at the same place for two nights. It was very hot and humid, probably the most uncomfortable conditions of the trip.

 

Good birds include this male Golden-naped Woodpecker ….

 

…. the scarce Grey-capped Flycatcher

 

… and best of all, wonderful views of this Ornate Hawk-eagle with prey, thought perhaps to be a Little Tinamou. I have seen this large eagle in flight before but have never had the chance to study this magnificent bird through a scope.

 

Nearby we saw a Purple Gallinule (not to be confused with an entirely different species in Europe that was once called Purple Gallinule but is now known as Western Swamphen).

 

The so-called ‘caiman pond’ held a Spectacled Caiman that was all of 30cm long. There was a small fence about 15cm high separating the pond from the path. When Pete stepped over the fence to get a photo a security guard came running up shouting ‘peligro‘, peligro‘!

 

A night-time excursion along the access road gave us wonderful views of this Striped Owl.

 

A pre-dawn departure the following day saw us at a bridge over the Rio Rincon. Viewing downstream was very difficult due to the early morning sun ….

 

…. but fortunately most activity was in the other direction.

 

From our elevated position we had great views of this juvenile White Ibis ….

 

…. several Green Herons ….

 

…. and Spotted Sandpipers, most like this one in full sum plum.

 

Along the bank the huge Ringed Kingfisher sat patiently ….

 

…. whilst downstream a Green Kingfisher used this stick ….

 

…. to launch its fishing forays.

 

Mangrove Swallows were common ….

 

…. as were Grey-breasted Martins.

 

But the bird we had come here to see was the exquisite Yellow-billed Cotinga. After quite a wait we saw up to eight. Most were fairly distant, appearing briefly at the tops of large trees upstream or flying past rapidly. The only one that came close enough for photographs was this female. The stunning male is pure white with a yellow bill.

 

Later we visited a nearby area of mangroves.

 

The highlights here was the subtle Mangrove Hummingbird ….

 

…. and gaudy Mangrove Warbler, a resident species that is sometimes lumped with the widespread and migratory Yellow Warbler.

 

We also had good views of Osprey ….

 

…. and the first Magnificent Frigatebirds of the trip. Back in 1981 I was desperate to see this iconic species. Of course since then I have seen many thousand but the memory of that first sighting in the Pacific lowlands is still with me.

 

 

From here we headed northwards along the Pacific coast, made a boat trip on the Rio Tarcoles and eventually reached Carara NP where we stayed for two nights. These locations will be the subject of the next post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: