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Sharing the flowers with the hummingbirds was another nectar-loving bird, the bananquit.  Unlike the hummingbirds, which extract the nectar in flight, the bananquits alighted in the bushes and then engaged in acrobatic maneuvers to try to reach the flowers.









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One unusual feature at Rancho Naturalista is an area of creek which runs through the hills where the hummingbirds come to bathe each afternoon.  This is a curious behavior, not often seen, and not much is known about why they all descend upon this particular area.  They only do this in the late afternoon, when shafts of light are hitting the creek.  We tested this theory, and the guides were right: mornings were dead quiet.


The embankment down to the creek was very steep, so I wasn’t able to get close to the action.  We stayed on a deck built at the end of a trail, high above the water.









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Because I’m always drawn to birds with bling, one of my main targets while at Rancho Naturalista was the Rufous Motmot.  This is the second largest of the motmots, and at 18 inches (46 centimeters) in length, its cinnamon-rufous chest and head, with a black mask, green wings and a blue tail with bare-shafted racket tips, make it one of the showiest denizens of the forest.


Shortly after our arrival, we made arrangements with Mercedes, one of the three independent birding guides working at Rancho Naturalista while we were there, to lead us on a half-day bird walk the next morning.  We met her at 5:30 AM on the balcony for coffee, and once the blood was again running through my veins, we headed off to a property adjacent to the reserve, where motmots reputedly were often found.


We arrived at an open area bordered by dense vegetation on two sides, and we had not been there long before Mercedes screamed, “Motmot!”  And I do mean, screamed.  Mercedes blushed, and we laughed.  I had to appreciate her youthful enthusiasm, and fortunately the movement we saw in the thicket in front of us did not appear startled by the human alarm clock.


Suddenly, we saw a flash of color land nearby.  It was a motmot, alright…..the Blue-crowned Motmot. 






A fellow guest on our first visit at Bosque del Cabo had shown me a snapshot she had taken of one, and I had wanted to see this bird ever since.  They are found throughout the western half of Costa Rica, but in 12 collective days at Bosque I had not been successful.  Imagine my surprise, then, at finding one on the Caribbean slope, which is not their typical range.  Mercedes explained that the Blue-crowned (its name apparently has been changed to Lesson’s Motmot, but I’m a conscientious objector) is found with some regularity around Rancho Naturalista, but it is not nearly as common as the Rufous.



Eventually, we did encounter the Rufous Motmot.  One morning, we had not one, but a pair of Rufous Motmots show up. 


At dawn, illuminated by a spotlight held by our guide that morning, Luis.





Rufous Motmots are fairly common at Rancho, and in the days that followed, we encountered them again, once in the forest on the Mannakin Trail and again one evening at the lodge, just before sunset.








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Another target at Rancho Naturalista was the two toucan species regularly found in that region, both of which are different from those encountered on the Osa: the colorful Keel-billed Toucan generally replacing the Chestnut-mandibled there, and the smaller Collared Aracari replacing the Fiery-billed.  We were heartened to find both, but I’d like another chance someday for better photos.



Keel-billed Toucan





Collared Aracari






Edited by Alexander33
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Trogons are some of my very favorite birds, and we encountered the Gartered Trogon on several occasions.


Male Gartered Trogon





Female Gartered Trogon









Just as colorful, but much smaller and more active, are a variety of tanagers.  These are almost impossible to photograph, and I only managed a few of the most common species.


Blue-gray Tanager





Passerini's Tanager (Male)








Here's the Cherrie's Tanager, found from the western slope to the Pacific, from Bosque del Cabo again.  The males of the two species are indistinguishable.  Unfortunately, I did not manage to capture a photo of the female Passerini's, which is more dull than the female Cherrie's and is the only way to tell the two species apart visually.





The Crimson-collared Tanager gave me fits in trying to photograph it.  These are low skulkers that stay close to thick vegetation and are very shy about showing themselves.  Yet another goal of mine!






Edited by Alexander33
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There were some notable differences between Rancho Naturalista and Bosque del Cabo.  The first was that Rancho is not nearly as remote as Bosque is.  When the weather was clear, which was most of the time, we could see the distant lights of the city of Turrialba and we regularly heard road noise.  This didn’t really detract from our enjoyment of the place, though; it just served to illustrate how much more wild the Osa Peninsula is from a lot of places on the mainland.


The other difference is that Rancho Naturalista is much more bird-centric.  We knew this would be the case when we made our reservation, but I had just thought that the emphasis of the lodge was on birds.  In fact, birds were largely the exclusive wildlife offering.  Aside from a few squirrels and the regular appearance of an injured (and very large) male coati, which likely was dependent on the bananas and other offerings from the bird feeders for his survival, we did not see any other mammals.*


*That does not necessarily mean there aren’t any there.  At dinner one night, Mercedes mentioned that a large male jaguar recently had been spotted on an adjacent property.  This surprised me, because I was not aware that jaguars were found away from the coasts at these higher elevations.  My curiosity must have registered on my face, because she quickly pulled out her cell phone and showed me camera trap video footage.  And there he was, a massive jaguar, meandering along the trail not 10 days previously.


Following are photos of some of the other birds we saw at Rancho Naturalista:


Bi-colored Hawks were found only in dense forest.  The female is noticeably larger than the male in this species.


Male Bi-colored Hawk





Female Bi-colored Hawk








Northern Barred Woodcreeper (these are really large for woodcreepers)





Squirrel Cuckoo





Yellow-bellied Flycatcher








We spent a morning with guide Luis walking through the grounds of C.A.T.I.E. (Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensemenanza), a research center on large acreage below Rancho Naturalista where toucans normally can be spotted. We did see both toucan species, but from a distance, and the light was harsh.  Other than that, it was relatively quiet, the notable exception being a rookery of Boat-billed Herons.





Edited by Alexander33
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The lack of mammal sightings is not a strike against Rancho Naturalista.  After all, the Osa Peninsula is unique and arguably the most wildlife-rich area of Costa Rica.  But, having never before been to another part of the country, I had booked the length of our stay at Rancho Naturalista – 6 nights – based on the level of wildlife sightings and abundance that we had experienced at Bosque del Cabo the previous year.  It was an impossible performance to live up to.


Fortunately, Rancho Naturalista offers a number of half- and full-day field trips for those who want to venture farther afield.  Lisa Erb, Rancho’s lively owner (and a fellow Texan), cheerfully arranged everything for us, and over the course of the next few days, we were able to broaden our Costa Rican experiences in ways that we had never envisioned at the outset of the trip.

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Costa Rica has more than 600 archeological sites, but only one, Guayabo de Turrialba, is open to the public.  Given its close proximity to Rancho Naturalista and our love of history and culture, we jumped at the chance for a day tour to see Guayabo.  At its height around 800 A.D., Guayabo was a prosperous city of approximately 10,000 people.  Only a small portion of the settlement has been excavated, revealing stone paved streets, round stone platforms that served as the bases for wooden structures, aqueducts and ponds, and carved stone designs and drawings of animals.


A private guided tour led by Park Service employee is available for a small fee, and, best of all, we had the place entirely to ourselves.  During our 3 hours there, we only saw one other couple.  There are trails through the surrounding forest where you can search for wildlife as well. 














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Given my penchant for relatively slow travel, I had intended to focus a subsequent trip to Costa Rica around the Resplendent Quetzal, perhaps the most spectacular bird in the neotropics, which is found only in scattered, mountainous regions from southern Mexico to northern Panama.  However, as soon as it became apparent that our 6-night stay at Rancho Naturalista, as lovely as it is, was a bit too long to maintain our interest, I booked a day trip through the lodge to Paraiso Quetzal, a small, family-run lodge where we would have a private guided walk to search for the Quetzal.


This turned out to be a great decision. 


First, my vision for a future trip emphasizing the Quetzal had focused almost exclusively on Monteverde Cloud Forest in the north central region of Costa Rica.  This is a famous reserve, and it can get quite crowded with tourists, but it seemed like the best place to be almost assured of good sightings of the Resplendent Quetzal. 


However, Paraiso Quetzal Lodge is located in the more remote and less-known San Gerardo de Dota region in the south central highlands.  What a discovery!  I absolutely fell in love with this area.  The landscape reminds me of the wildscapes north and west of California’s Sonoma Valley, with gurgling streams, rocky hills, and scores of fragrant plants and flowers, altogether different from the dense jungles of both the Osa Peninsula and the foothills of the Caribbean slope.



Landscape at Paraiso Quetzal (San Gerardo de Dota Region)





We left Rancho Naturalista before dawn and had to endure morning rush hour traffic in chaotic Cartago before turning south and climbing into the mountains.  We arrived at Paraiso Quetzal around 9:00 A.M.  Even though the sun was out, the air was brisk enough to warrant a jacket, and we sat by a fire in the lodge sipping coffee as our guide, Eric, organized our tour.


One of the best aspects of touring for Resplendent Quetzals in San Gerardo de Dota is that the lodges have partnered with local farmers to preserve wild avocado trees on their properties.  The wild avocado trees attract the birds and provide their primary food and nesting sources.  In return, the farmers are paid a portion of the tour fee for each person who sees a Resplendent Quetzal on their property.  As a result, the locals work hard to maintain a vigilant lookout for the birds and eagerly call the lodges whenever they see one. This is a creative and effective partnership, which helps conserve the birds’ natural habitat while also exponentially increasing visitors’ chances of seeing this icon.


We soon were off, with Eric explaining that a blackberry farmer nearby had spotted a Resplendent Quetzal on his property.  Twenty minutes later we were standing with the farmer above a small ravine, looking at a young male.





Young males have all the spectacularly colored and iridescent feathers that give this bird its name, but they lack the signature long tail feathers.  Nevertheless, we were happy to spend a good half-hour with it.


Suddenly, Eric pointed to a dense tree on the edge of the ravine.  A fully-developed male had just flown in, complete with long streaming tail feathers.  For the next two hours, we kept pace with the bird, with Eric expertly keeping track of where it was while we climbed and descended the beautiful landscape.









While we were trekking for the Quetzal, a bright yellow bird momentarily caught my attention.  I didn’t know what it was, but I quickly snapped a few shots before we moved on.  It turned out to be the Collared Redstart, a sought-after bird that is endemic to the highlands of Costa Rica and northern Panama.






The hummingbirds in the highlands are also a star attraction.














The spectacular Magnificent Hummingbird was the largest species present.






And, my favorite, the pugnacious little Fiery-throated Hummingbird, endemic to the highlands of Costa Rica and Panama.








The "fire" in full flame.  As with most hummingbirds, it's only when they turn their heads just so, usually close to looking directly at you, that the iridescence fully manifests itself.  





In my opinion, these outshone the hummingbird species we had seen at Rancho Naturalista. 


After a lunch of fresh brook trout and a short tour around the property, it was time to return back down to the warmer climes of the Caribbean Slope.  I’m normally not a day-tour type person, but given that I might not have discovered the San Gerardo de Dota region but for this particular outing, I’m very glad I made an exception this time.  Not only did we have some great sightings of the Resplendent Quetzal, but we also found a new region in Costa Rica to explore in greater depth.  The rare Emerald Toucanet is found in this area as well.  We will definitely return.




Edited by Alexander33
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This has been somewhat of an odd little report for me. Thanks for your indulgence. 


Reflecting back, especially now, it’s obvious that my state of mind was not at peace during the trip.  I was distraught, sometimes not fully present.  But Costa Rica coddled me.  This beautiful country, with its surprising mixture of vibrant life and varied scenery, is perfectly suited for someone who needs to be off the grid for a few days – or a lifetime.  Proceed at your own pace.  No one’s judging.  There’s always a friendly smile waiting to greet you and something to take your breath away just around the next corner. 


Gray-headed Chachalaca overlooking the Valley at Rancho Naturalista 





How fitting it was that, as Costa Rica gave me space and soothed my grief, at the very end she also pointed in the direction of the future.  A new region.  A new place to explore.  Come back, she beckoned.


That’s a comforting thought when development in the world continues to encroach on our natural environment at an alarming pace, and my urge to see the many unique places on this amazing planet only surges.  I have always considered it an immense privilege to have the opportunity to travel, both near and far, and to experience the wonder of nature in all its diverse forms. 


But, with my mother’s death, this last visit to Costa Rica had a special poignancy to it.  I find myself ruminating more.  How much more time do I, do any of us, have left to see all this?  In fact, at the rate we are going, how much longer will “this” even be around?


Previously, in planning each of our journeys, one particular quote, attributed to a variety of sources, always lurked in the back of my mind: “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” 


Suddenly, however, I find those words to be a little too boastful, a little too self-assured.  They seem to belong to an era that, to me, has somehow passed.


Now, from this point forward, I have a new quote to live by.  One that’s much simpler.  Much wiser.  It is the quote from my mother, spoken from her bed as she sent me off this one last time:








Edited by Alexander33
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"Go" is the perfect quote for all of us here.


Thank you for this report, Peter, I really enjoyed it. Some wonderful bird photos in this latest section, I look forward to seeing some of these myself next year.

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A superb report, giving a wonderful view of the country, and your emotional feelings as you were there. I am very sorry to hear of your loss, but also heartened by the comfort that Costa Rica gave to you.

Excellent photos throughout - the Quetzal is a stunning bird. And I agree with Michael - "Go" is the perfect quote.

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Thanks for this very informative and enjoyable trip report @Alexander33!     I am taking notes for when I make it to Costa Rica.


Question for you:    in general, how safe for gringos is the tap water in Costa Rica?    

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What a selection of hummers you?ve photographed at Rancho, @Alexander33! I can only hope that we will be as lucky as you were. And more hummers at Paraiso de Quetzal Lodge! I do remember how owner took us over the hills in search for one; hard work but so rewarding when finally seeing the splendid bird!

"Go" is what should be reply to anyone asking about Costa Rica.

Edited by xelas
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Thank you for such an inspirational trip report, your mother, I am sure would have been with you in spirit. We go to BDC in February 2018, so wonderful to see such beautiful pictures. I hope we are as lucky, it looks to be a special place. Did you use a guide at BDC, or just self guide?

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@Alexander33, what a great conclusion to your trip!  Your collection of bird photos is simply stunning especially the hummingbirds.  You certainly got your camera settings right on those shots and I believe they were all handheld since I thought you mentioned not taking a tripod.


Also, what a great decision to day trip to the San Gerardo de Dota.  That area has been on my radar for a while and your experiences there with the Quetzal just elevated it up the list.  I think a combined San Gerardo de Dota and BDC trip itinerary is already forming in the the back of my head.


I am also glad to hear that you had good experiences with Anywhere Costa Rica just like we did.  It's a beautiful country but one I don't plan on ever driving in...especially when I am on vacation.



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Thanks for following along.  I hope you love Costa Rica as much as we do.  That's quite an epic trip you all have planned for next year!





Thanks for your supportive comments. And,yes, once you've seen the Quetzal, everything else looks just a little more dull in comparison. 





Thank you.  My qualified answer is, yes, generally the tap water in Costa Rica is safe to drink, but I'd ask at the place you are staying and, if self-driving, I'd stick to bottled water while on the road. In San Jose and at Rancho Naturalista, the water was fine.  At Bosque del Cabo, which is much more remote, we were advised to take advantage of the pitchers of purified water, which were provided in our cabins. A larger vessel of purified water was also available for fill-ups at the main lodge building.  





Thanks.  I'm posting some more detailed information about Rancho Naturalista below, and will also respond to your PM.  I'm already jealous of your plans for next year.



@Red Squirrel


First of all, welcome to Safaritalk.  We have quite a Bosque del Cabo following on here.  In fact, it was from Safaritalk that I first learned about it.  It gets a lot of repeat visitors, and February should be a great time to be there.


BdC publishes a list of scheduled guided activities, and you need to sign up for them a bit in advance (the afternoon before for a morning activity, and perhaps at breakfast for an afternoon activity).  If no one signs up for a particular activity, then it will be cancelled.  We learned this the hard way on our first visit last year, when we just showed up at 3:00 PM for an afternoon bird walk and there was no guide around.  There is a per-person fee for each activity.


For a first-time visitor, I'd recommend taking at least a few guided tours near the start of your stay, just to help you get better oriented.  Philip offers a 4-hour morning rainforest tour that is well worth it.  A morning birding tour with Carlos can be interesting.  And then there are more adventurous activities, such as rappelling and deep sea fishing, and these may require more advance planning (say a couple of days, perhaps more on the fishing expeditions).


Once oriented, though, it's kind of nice to just wander the trails on your own.





3 hours ago, Atdahl said:

I am also glad to hear that you had good experiences with Anywhere Costa Rica just like we did.  It's a beautiful country but one I don't plan on ever driving in...especially when I am on vacation.


I'm with you on that, my friend.  A lot of people (like @xelas) self-drive with no problem, and when you're going to numerous different places, that could be fun in its own way.  But since we only had two destinations, a car would have been more of a hindrance, and it sure was nice just looking out the window and letting someone else handle the logistics.  Thanks again for that recommendation.



Edited by Alexander33
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Overview of the Particulars


I won’t go into detail about the accommodations and set-up at Bosque del Cabo, as I covered that subject quite thoroughly in my report last year. 


As to Rancho Naturalista, we enjoyed our stay there.  The food was very good, and coffee, teas, and cookies were available free of charge throughout the day.  Beer and wine was available at any time at the bar, self-serve and on the honor system.  The overall atmosphere was very relaxed and laid-back.  The only negative I would proffer was that meals generally were served at specific set times (7:00 A.M. for breakfast; noon for lunch; 6:00 P.M. for dinner, which is early for me).  However, if you’ve got an activity planned that could interfere with the meal schedule, that’s probably something you successfully could work out in advance.  


For our first four nights, we stayed in Room 4, which is upstairs in the main casa with glass doors that open onto far end of the balcony.  I think this is the best room on the property.  Room 2, across the hallway, also opens onto the balcony, but that section of the balcony is where the public seating area and hummingbird feeders are located, so it is not as private.  Room 1, also on the second floor, has a private entrance and its own private balcony, but the balcony overlooks the roof of the covered staff dining area below, which might detract from the view, and the room is located directly above the kitchen area and its attendant noises and scents (which usually were mouthwatering).


Unfortunately, Room 4 was not available for the duration of our stay, so for the last two nights, we stayed in Room 10, which is located in a duplex cabin a short stroll away from the main house.  These rooms have large glass windows that face a narrow, dark shared patio and seating area facing the jungle.  We have no complaints about it, but we preferred the views and convenience of the rooms in the casa.


The guides at Rancho Naturalista work as independent contractors, meaning that they keep 100% of their fees.  The lodge does not take a cut.  That arrangement is one that I can only respect, and I think it is reflective of the ethical nature of the operations there.


As happy as we were at Rancho Naturalista, I think a 4-night stay (or even 3, if you like to move around more than we do) is sufficient to sustain a thorough experience in the area. 


For such a small country, Costa Rica has such rich biodiversity and is such an easy place to visit that I feel quite assured we will return repeatedly in the coming years.  San Gerardo de Dota, obviously, will be on our list, and I’ve previously targeted Bosque de Paz in the northern highlands; Selva Verde Lodge in the Sarapiqui region on the northern Caribbean slope; Tortuga Lodge near the northern Caribbean coast; and Selva Bananito near the southern Caribbean coast as places we want to stay someday in the future.  Fellow guests at Rancho Naturalista reported intriguing wildlife sightings during their stay at Macquenque Lodge near the central Nicaraguan border, so that now is also on my radar. 


As you can see, I have lots of material to wallow in as we plan our next adventure in Costa Rica.  For now, other destinations await us.


In the meantime, happy travels!

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Many thanks for this addendum, @Alexander33, as it is very useful for our upcoming trip. As for your list of places to be visited, absolutely add San Vito with Wilson Botanical Garden, and Rio Magnolia Nature Lodge on the Pacific side. I am looking forward to read your reports from those sites :)!

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I finally got to read this...wow! Great trip with some amazing photographs that brought back fond memories. So sorry about your mom...I'm sure she was with you somehow on this trip.

I relived all the excitement of finding and seeing a new animal or bird, you have a gift of telling the story.

Our time at Rancho was nowhere as good as yours because of too much rain. We got to see the hummers, but a lot of other birds were not too active. Just a glimpse once of the snowcap, but luckily we got to see the quetzals at Savegre :-)

Thanks for the memories!

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  • 3 weeks later...

@Alexander33 - thank you for a beautifully written and photographed report. That's an awe inspiring set of birds. It'll be a while before I get to Costa Rica but when I do this will definitely be an inspiration

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Damn @Alexander33 I just got to the end of this lovely report and you made me cry. Seriously- thank you :)


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