I have mentioned from time to time how much I enjoy birding near Limon, Costa Rica. Also referred to as the Southern Caribbean zone, this part of the country still features a good deal of mature lowland rainforest, much of which is accessible. Not to mention, since the area is very much underbirded, there’s always a chance of finding something unexpected. Add forested streams, swamps, other wetlands and a migration corridor to the birding equation and we have an impressive bird list with nearly 400 species (see bird lists at the end of this post).
The only downside of the Southern Caribbean zone is that it is located around four to five hours by car from where I live. This prevents me from visiting more than once or twice a year, or staying for longer than a weekend. If the new road to Limon is ever finished (maybe in 4 years), it should be an easy, quick ride but until then, the long, slow haul keeps me from visiting more often. I sure wish I could though because the birding is always great and if a birder gets lucky with a good wave of migrants, the avian experience is fantastic.
This past weekend, I made my annual trip while guiding the local Birding Club of Costa Rica and, as with last year, we stayed at Olguita’s Place. Also known as Cabinas Olguita, this friendly spot offers tranquil accommodation in basic yet cozy and equipped cabins within easy walking distance of a beautiful beach and good birding habitat. If you don’t feel like cooking, dine at any of several good restaurants in the area and then look for Great Potoo and any of five owl species on the drive back.
The Black-and-white Owl sometimes occurs at Olguita’s.
Some other information from this recent trip:
On this trip, unfortunately, we more or less dipped on migration. We did have some Chimney Swifts and swallows flying over and some raptor migration on the way to Punta Uva but there were few other migrants. We may have done the trip a bit late or perhaps the good weather kept the birds on the wing long past Costa Rica but whatever the case, we had rather few migrant species and low numbers of the most common migrants; Red-eyed Vireo, Bay-breasted Warbler, and Swainson’s Thrush. There were quite a number of Eastern Wood-Pewees around as well as Alder/Willow Flycatchers but very few warblers and nothing rare. All of that said, we still saw some migrants and it was fun watching them.
Birding at Cabinas Olguita
The birding at Olguita’s was easy-going yet productive. Some Eastern Kingbirds flew into the surrounding trees, and we also saw other migrant species like Olive-sided Flycatcher, Empids (including a likely Least Flycatcher), Scarlet Tanager, and a few others. On good days, this place can see waves of migrants passing through the surrounding vegetation. As for resident species, the thick wet grass and hedgerows held Slaty Spinetail, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Canebrake Wren, and some other birds. The edge of the forest in back of the grassy area turned up White-necked Puffbird, Plain-colored Tanagers, and White-vented Euphonias among more common expected species.
One of a few roads that go up and over the nearby coastal hills, it provides access to the mature rainforests that occur there. Many species are possible even White-fronted Nunbird, interesting raptors and antbirds. We only had one afternoon to bird this road but we still did alright with looks at Pied Puffbird, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Tawny-crested Tanagers, Double-toothed Kite, and Central American Pygmy-Owl among other species. A lot more is possible, I would love to spend a few early mornings just counting everything that calls and makes itself otherwise known. Does Great Jacamar occur? How about cotingas or Red-fronted Parrotlet? It would be fun to try to answer those questions via dawn birding.
One of the other classic sites in the area, this flat road passes through beautiful, tall forest, much of it former shaded cacao farms. We got in some birding there as well as on the main road between Punta Uva and Manzanillo. The birding was great with fine looks at Purple-throated Fruitcrows, toucans, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Black-striped and other Woodcreepers, White-flanked and Checker-throated Antwrens, and other species. I also heard Semiplumbeous Hawk. This was actually where most of our migrants were, I can’t help but wonder how many other migrants were out there in the forest? What rarities were hiding back in the woods?
On Sunday morning, I figured we would visit the town of Manzanillo as a last chance for migrants. This hardly worked out although we still saw both Cinnamon and Chestnut-colored Woodpeckers, Gray-cowled Wood-Rails, and a few other birds. We also saw that the official entrance to the wildlife refuge now has a bridge over the creek that we used to wade across, and that they charge an entrance fee.
As a bonus, our car made a quick stop in Cahuita on the way back, mostly to check for Black-chested Jay. We stopped at the Puerto Vargas entrance for that but even though we dipped, some last minute birding still managed to give us close looks at a male Snowy Cotinga, Gray-headed Chachalacas crashing through bushes, and White-faced Capuchins eating coconuts. After that, we went on an unsuccessful ice cream quest in mid-day Cahuita. Several bars but no ice cream! On the drive out, the jays still managed to elude us but we did get lucky with one final bird and a key one at that- Yellow-billed Cuckoo!
While driving out of Cahuita, I noticed the quick, sleek shape of a cuckoo zip into a tall tree. It was brief but I was sure it was a cuckoo. I stopped and after scanning the tree, sure enough, there it was, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo! Eventually, the stealthy migrant positioned itself higher up for a better view. One last bird for the trip, I was happy to see it before the long drive back.