Journey to the Northwest: Coastal Puntarenas & Guanacaste’s National Parks
|Beach at Chomes, north Puntarenas|
|Collared Forest Falcon, Micrastur semitorquatus,|
First stop was at 6.30am: Chomes, located just north west of the port of Puntarenas. On the way to some shrimp farms we noticed a flock moving around, so we stopped to bird on the dusty roadside and my first lifer was a very nice pair of Orange-fronted Parakeets that were perched on a flowering Pochote tree (Bombacopsis quinata). Minutes later a Collared Forest-Falcon began to sing, a very funny song by the way, which made it easy to locate between the branches of a densely foliaged tree. It was a gorgeous pale morph falcon, big if you compare it with the other falcons in Costa Rica (20 in, 51cm).
Already at the famous Chomes shrimp farms, we had the chance to see a large number of Black-necked Stilts, Wood Storks, Whimbrels, Willets and a beautiful Tricolored Heron flying around, one more lifer. Continuing farther in we reached the seaside and I was delighted sighting a festival of shorebirds feeding along the large expanse of mudflats exposed by low tide, meaning a delicacy for a lot species that take advantage everyday of this phenomenon. Between all the species, I must highlight the beautiful American Oystercatchers with their distinctive scarlet eye ring and bill, another lifer for my list! At noon we knew we must make our way to Punta Morales, to get to the Cocorocas salt flats. I had done my homework, so I knew that high tide was going to be around 3 pm so we had to be there earlier to see how different flocks arrived to the salt flats. When high tide comes in the water from the Nicoya bay completely covers the mudflats which does not allow shorebirds to feed, so they take a break and move all together to congregate and rest. They fly in multitudinous flocks, each species keeping to its own single species group, flying in an amazingly well-organized formation, moving their wings in synchronization on their way to land in the salt flats. They sit there, resting until low tide so that food is available again.
|Black Skimmers (Rynchops niger), & Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus) at Cocorocas salt flats|
Although using human made environments such as salt flats represents more chances to survive, they will also use natural environments such as river mouths. Definitely a natural spectacle were I achieved 14 lifers. It was marvelous! A selection of terns from which I have to mention Forster’s Tern as the rarest one, and Sandwich Tern that matched with the lunch we were having at that moment! The most numerous ones were: Black Skimmers (322), Royal Tern (275), Whimbrel (135) and Marbled Godwit (124). I think I have never seen so many birds (and different species) in the same view! Amongst the Whimbrels we spotted one solitary Long-billed Curlew that allowed me to study the differences between both species (obviously longer bill). Also, we spotted six Plumbeous Kite flying around, which I managed to identify correctly (I have only see them in the bird guide before!)
|Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) & Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) at Cocorocas salt flats|
Heading to Liberia (our base for the rest of the trip), we made a quick stop at 4 pm at the Corobici Hydroelectric Project and I was amazed with the view of more than five thousand Blue-winged Teal that had taken the lagoon as their own during their migration. It was hard to find but finally after minutes of searching, we spotted four American Wigeons among all the teals (one more lifer!).
|Blue-winged Teal, Anas discors, at Lagoon at Corobicí Hydrolectric Project, Guanacaste|
|Zoom: Blue-winged Teal, Anas discors, at Corobici Hydroelectric Project|
Next day we got up early expecting to spot a special target bird for me: Jabiru (stork). Since I fell in love with birds in 2007, it was one of the birds that caught my eye the most, because of its size (1.35m tall) and because of its situation at that moment, it was endangered due to habitat loss (there existed only sixteen individuals in 1990). Nowadays, thankfully, it has recovered successfully with almost one hundred individuals in the Tempisque River Basin (Greatest Wildlife Spectacles, 2016). First place we looked for it was in the fields on the way to Pamana Beach, but it wasn’t there, although I got several lifer raptors: Harris’s Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk and Pearl Kite perched on the wires on the way back.
|Pearl Kite, Gampsonyx swainsonni,|
The second place to look for Jabiru was Palo Verde National Park. An exceptional wetland which as it dries-up it concentrates an amazing quantity of water birds, migratory and resident. As soon as we reached the park we saw two Double-striped Thick-knees which were very tame, by the way. Even though they are nocturnal they seemed to be quite active.
|Double-stripped Thick-knee, Burhinus bistriatus, Palo Verde National Park|
When we got to the wetlands we were astonished with an uncountable quantity of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks between the marshes, but no Jabiru in view (when it’s there it is easy to spot because of its huge size). Nevertheless, I got five more lifers there: Glossy Ibis, Sora, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Common Gallinule and later our patience was rewarded with long views in flight through the scope of a gorgeous Jabiru (Yes! Finally!). After a nice walk to the mirador, we went back to Liberia to rest and be ready for the next morning tour: Rincón de la Vieja National Park.
|View of the flooded area at Palo Verde National Park|
The third day we were very optimistic about our next visit, the wind was blowing softer than the other days, meaning a better condition for birdwatching. On the way to the park we stopped at the Colorado River bridge to look for Nutting’s Flycatcher, a specialty of the area. The view of the canyon was great, but our target bird wasn’t there, after fifteen minutes we decided to go back to the car to keep rolling, but we realized someone had broken into the car.
|Guanacaste Colorodo River Canyon|
We lost one birding morning at the police office and waiting for the rental car company to replace our vehicle, so we decided to stay one more day so we could visit Santa Rosa National Park during that afternoon and reschedule the visit to Rincón de la Vieja for the next day. As soon as we could we continued birding, trying to go straight to Santa Rosa’s National Park but had to do one mandatory stop 8km before the entrance of the park, two gorgeous raptors (lifers) flying low, over the pastures on both sides of the road: White-tailed Hawk and Swainson ’s Hawk; that was exciting!
|White-necked Puffbird, Notharchus hyperrhynchus, Santa Rosa National Park|
Long-tailed Manakins were singing on a lek (several males that make courtship displays together in order to attract females) all over the place, with it’s song that gives it’s Spanish name: Toledo (to-le-do). Soon after we heard a mixed species flock with a variety of warblers and flycatchers, Barred Antshike and the first lifer there: Black-crowned Antshrike. We kept looking around when suddenly I saw something, reminiscent of a fat parrot that flew to perch very near to us, I was totally surprised when I looked through my binoculars and discovered, staying silent and almost without motion a White-necked Puffbird.
After finding four more lifers we turned around to head back to Liberia, but Mother Nature had a special present for us. At 4.40 pm, 1km before reaching the main entrance to the park an outstanding big cat jumped from the left side of the road about 100m ahead of the vehicle, crossed the road with big leaps in a straight line and disappeared between the leafless trees on the right side of the road. We stopped immediately, completely wordless only to shout: PUMA! This was a magical moment, it was the first time I had ever seen a wild cat, I felt so excited that I thought right away that this was how things were supposed to happenand (like in a butterfly effect). Everything that had occurred during the day made it possible for us to have such a wonderful experience. I felt and still feel rewarded.
On the fourth and last day (extra day), we woke up early to get to Rincón de la Vieja National Park at opening time, so that we could be at the best hour for birding and spend all day there. This place is amazing to bird, the park and the trails are located at the foothills of Rincon de la Vieja’s Volcano, representing a special spot where you can find species from higher and lower altitude, a place where altitudinal migrants converge. The soft breeze created a pretty birdy day, and allowed me to see fourteen lifers, it was a long day full of surprises, birds that I had only seen in the field guide and that I had dreamed of (awake and sleeping) seeing, passed in front of my eyes during the day.
I must confess I’m in love with the motmot family, they are guilty of my bird passion since ten years ago and Tody Motmot was the bird for which we had planned this tour. In Costa Rica you can only find it on Orosí, Miravalles and Rincón de la Vieja Volcanos (all of these volcanoes form a chain). It’s the most difficult motmot to see in the country and also the smallest one (7in, 18cm) and we were there hearing it. Finally I spotted the bird and it was a glorious moment for all of us!
|Tody Motmot, Hylomanes momotula, Rincón de la Vieja National Park|
Probably the rarest bird of the tour was White-chinned Swift, 29 individuals flying above the national park’s entrance, which I didn’t realize until I came back to Rancho Naturalista, were I work as a birdguide, that my coworkers told me how rare they are! Among other special species we saw there, the Ivory-billed Woodcreeper was very nice to spot (I love woodcreepers, very challenging to ID), Thicket Tinamou, Red-crowned Ant-tanager and Lesser-ground Cuckoo who showed-up only a meter from us when we were almost leaving the park, it was amazing!
|Lesser-ground Cuckoo, Morococcyx eryhtropygius, Rincón de la Vieja National Park|
At the end I achieved 52 lifers and 65 new birds for the year, 455 species up to February 14th. Although the most important thing is that those trips contribute incredibly to my knowledge about birds and natural history, I now understand that they also teach me about life. At this point I’m appreciating how wonderful everything is attached in a perfect chain, habitats, climate, animals, food availability and uncountable little details that flow with the universal energy, making possible this miracle we are blessed to see everyday.
|Pacific Screech-Owl, Megascops cooperi, Sardinal de Carrillo|
|Map: Visited area, northwest Costa Rica|