Jump to content

Costa Rica ...and scratched an itch!

Dave Williams

Recommended Posts

Dave Williams

I'm surprised how few recent reports there are on Costa Rica here on ST, maybe I was about to find out why but given it's reputation as a formidable birding destination it was a place I have wanted to revisit for many years.

My first visit was a last minute package deal which I recall cost just £800 for two people for an all inclusive hotel for two weeks. I hired a car for a few days and did some local birding trips as well as a couple of nights staying at the Arenal Observatory Lodge. That was 16 years ago and I had just had a taste of the possibilities so have wanted to return for a long time. A friend of mine, Christian, had been on two previous visits and when I asked him if I could join him on a future trip he was happy to agree, meanwhile a third friend, Phil, on hearing we were going asked if he could come too and so we became three, well four actually, the fourth being a Costa Rican resident who had driven Christian and a friend on his two previous visits in return for them paying all his expenses. The same deal was proposed again and we were all happy with that arrangement.

Christian is German and lives there but he's fluent in English, Phil is English and lives in the Greater London area, me, I live in North Wales. Phil and I are the oldies, Christian a mere baby at 59 and still has to work to earn a crust so the dates of the trip naturally fitted to his schedule and to make sure we all arrived together we planned to fly from Frankfurt to San Jose in Costa Rica. We booked the flights a year previously and they were the most expensive ones I have purchased at £1150 for an economy return starting from Manchester  with Lufthansa. Phil was to fly from Heathrow and Christian from Nuremberg. The trip planning was left to Christian's Costa Rican contact, a Dutch ex-pat who moved out there 18 years ago on the advice of his doctor in Holland who told him to move somewhere the climate would better suit him following injuries he had suffered as the result of a car accident some years earlier. He arrived in Costa Rica on his own having gone through a divorce but in due course met and married a Costa Rican lady, a now retired nurse who he believed had helped him get over his ongoing back problems with her own style of alternative medicine which involved magnets placed in strategic areas of his back.

I must admit I had paid little attention to the journey plan, I left it to those with experience to decide where best to go, ie Christian and his contact. Phil had been before too, more recently than me, but still a good 8 years or more previously. I was happy to just go with the flow and see what adventures unravelled as we went along. Added to the sense of excitement I guess. There was some last minute angst as we were told that our hired car might struggle if we brought too much luggage as room for four would be limited and my attempts to take less packing resulted in less clothing options and not much weight or volume saving. Christian , like me is primarily a photographer and carries quite a lot of photographic gear too. Phil is as much a  birder as a photographer but he still takes a camera, lens and laptop along and was the only one with a pair of binoculars. He's also adept at minimalistic luggage but that relies on washing clothing as you go along. Fine if the conditions allow which in actual fact they did! Anyway we each set off , myself at 4.30am UK time, and eventually we all met up at Frankfurt Airport to board the transatlantic flight to Costa Rica on board a Star Alliance aircraft that had seen better days if truth be known. Comfort was limited, food very average


and drinks were served just the once during a 12 hour flight. I wasn't very impressed to be honest but the fact that it was a Star alliance aircraft that fly the route rather than a Lufthansa one was to save the day on our return.Lufthansa have I'm told made huge record profits for three years in a row and staff want a piece of the rewards. Different departments are taking strike action and we were lucky to miss the ground crew strike by 24 hours on the way out. A close escape!

Anyway, we made it and arrived in Costa Rica at around 7 pm which is 1 am UK time so a long time on the road for us all. We were met at the airport by our 4th member where we then took a mini bus transfer to the Europcar rental place to pick up our car which took another 3 hours in total from the time we landed. Each rental seemed to take an age to sort out and we were last in a queue of only 6 or so people. Why so long I don't know but when it came to our turn it seems the purchased insurance arranged by our 4th member was rejected as unacceptable and so Christian had to buy another Europcar  policy before they would let us take the car.

At last and 30 minutes from the airport we were at the home of our Costa Rican friend's house which they run as a B&B. He has two cabins in the garden for this purpose and after a quick beer and a piece of apple pie I was glad to hit the pillow just before midnight, 25.5 hours after leaving home.

The next morning I woke early at 5 am because the time difference kicked in and to me it was 11am. Everyone else was up too, to Christian it was 12pm in Germany!  Before we had left home we had enquired if there was anything we could bring and a request was made for a car part which was unavailable at the moment and besides cost $300 dollars cheaper in Germany, and also a couple of bottles of a particular Greek liquor that none of us had heard of but was available in a couple of specialist outlets in London. Phil has picked up two bottles for $75 and I suggested that we give them to our host as a thank you . That's when Christian told us that our 4th member had, some 6 months after we had agreed the trip and booked our flights, demanded $500 for driving. Christian had intended not to tell us and absorb the cost himself but didn't want to give anything else in addition so this was the first we knew of it. We agreed that a) Phil should ask for the money for the bottles and b) Phil and I agreed we should split the $500 three ways the same as the rest of the trip would be.

No one was particularly happy that already the cost of the trip had risen by nearly $700 including the insurance cost but more so that our fourth member could no longer be considered just a new friend but was now our paid driver. He had reneged on the original deal and Christian had been too embarrassed to tell us.

I hadn't a clue what costs lay ahead which isn't like me not to have a clue what I was about to spend but it was "in for a penny, in for a pound" now. Nothing would diminish our enjoyment!

After a good breakfast , we had paid our host $100 for the overnight stay for which we had no complaints as we knew that before hand, we set of for our first destination a cabin in the woods , San Gerardo de Dota in the Valley of the Quetzals .







Edited by Dave Williams
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow, off to an interesting start! I am heading there in 3 months, for my 2nd time. The 1st time was 10 years ago. Fortunately my travel time will be much easier! Can't wait to read the rest of your report.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dave Williams

And so, off we went heading for our first stop at Miriam's Lodge in the valley of the Quetzals . This was a last minute change of accommodation because the place we had booked in to announced that their restaurant was closed for re-furbishment. From Turrucares Google maps suggests that it takes 2.5 hours for the 120km journey and from memory it took slightly longer as the roads around San Jose were gridlocked with traffic and the road heading up in to the cloud forest is not a good one for passing slow moving traffic especially if your own vehicle is fully loaded with four people and their luggage and isn't the most powerful of engines. Still, no matter, we had time to chat, take in the scenery and just take it all in.

Along the way we stopped off at a popular restaurant that has a viewing platform and Hummingbird feeders. I really regret not making a note of where it is but it's not long before Miriam's place and there are signs on the main road. I try to mark places using the "what3words" app on my phone but I forgot this one, I was too excited getting stuck in to the Hummers!

I can't say I have that much experience of hummingbirds, I saw a couple of different ones in Cuba and I remember being frustrated trying to photograph them in Costa Rica on my last trip. This was something I had earmarked as top of my wish list!

My initial attempts were a bit of a disaster. Getting the shutter speed right to freeze the action and then trying to get the light right to say nothing of trying to follow these very active and fast moving birds to capture an image in the camera. 

Having feeders that attract them is a major help but you don't want artificial feeders in your shot so you try and capture the bird before it gets to the feeing station.

53591130373_fdeb762344_h.jpgHumming bird confusion by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Then you can crop the image and just have a flying bird...well that's the idea anyway. The birds were buzzing and so was I! There were several different species but trying to make sure you capture images of all of them isn't easy because noting the difference isn't that easy either if it's your first experience. In that last shot there are both Talamanca (the in focus one) and Fiery-throated hummers but they look almost identical.

To make matters worse, the light can play tricks too.

This Talamanca is sat side on.

53590051052_fad403c8c6_h.jpgHumming bird confusion by Dave Williams, on Flickr

But as it changes position look what happens

53591130458_da9be00c1d_h.jpgHumming bird confusion by Dave Williams, on Flickr

First it's throat and then its head changes colour.

53591242069_edef16d553_h.jpgHumming bird confusion by Dave Williams, on Flickr

The feeders are placed around the balcony but there are bushes they rest in too but the images from there are not particularly good as you can see. ldeally you want a nice clean back ground but it's obviously easier to capture an image of a motionless bird. It was decided it was lunch time but I was too pre-occupied to eat anything, a quick coffee and I was back on the terrace which incidentally they charge a $5 dollar pp fee for using. I'd checked what I'd taken so far and things had to improve.

The weather wasn't as bright, in fact it started to rain very slightly which wasn't a bad thing as the light had been too bright previously.

Then we got a lucky break. two American's had arrived with their guide and he was better prepared for Hummingbird photography and luckily we were able to take advantage too. He removed one of the feeders and instead clamped a flower he had brought with him to what appears to be something from the Gorrillapod range. The flower was then sprayed with a sugar solution and the job's a good 'un!

53591242079_608541fecc_h.jpgClean background trick by Dave Williams, on Flickr

If only I'd known before we could have gone prepared, why hadn't our driver/guide/organiser suggested it or done something about it. He'd been before!

From there on it was so much easier but it was soon suggested it was time to leave although I could have stayed all day. I did manage to get some of the species that were there at the flower though.


53590944881_8491acaae3_h.jpgTalamanca Hummingbird  Costa Rica 2024 by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Fiery-throated....and you can see where the name comes from in this shot.

53590983711_964d063930_h.jpgFiery-throated Hummingbird.  Costa Rica 2024 by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Volcano Hummingbird was the smallest there.

53591762800_7cac5da6d7_h.jpgVolcano Hummingbird. Costa Rica 2024 by Dave Williams, on Flickr

but I relied on the earlier shots away from the plastic feeder for Lesser Violetear

53591475370_334dc96a50_h.jpgLesser Violetear Hummingbird.  Costa Rica 2024 by Dave Williams, on Flickr

and the Purple-throated Mountain-gem.

53593296890_f24f026a59_h.jpgPurple-throated Mountain Gem by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Yes, that IS the right ID on the latter...it's the female. I don't think I saw a male which looks totally different but there again I might have done as it's another mainly green bird!

Just one more tip when it comes to Hummer photography. Choosing the right background makes a big difference too!

53591263884_718f6bda37_h.jpgTalamanca Hummingbird  Costa Rica 2024 by Dave Williams, on Flickr

And so the session ended. 

I could have stayed for days but I hadn't a clue how far we still had to travel and I was told there would be more opportunities.

I just hoped there would be!


Link to comment
Share on other sites


Beautiful photos, thanks for sharing.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dave Williams

Carrying on our journey from the Hummingbird place were were soon turning up a rather rough unmade road in search of a particular high altitude bird, the Volcano Junco. Even Phil remember the spot from his previous visit years ago and as we left a tour bus arrived despite the huge potholes it had to traverse. Unfortunately I couldn't mark the spot with the What3words app as there was no signal on my phone so I can't share that one either, however we did find the bird and quite quickly too.

It was a bit elusive at first but there were a pair and one eventually gave us some excellent views.

53593262894_f44839bc5c_h.jpgVolcano Junco by Dave Williams, on Flickr

The bird though isn't that spectacular to look at and doesn't live up to it's rather exotic name!

With that in the bag we moved on and finally arrived at Miriam's place. The reception and restaurant is at the top of the valley, our room, a cabin in the woods was some distance below and a steep road to get there. We were glad we had a car because the walk up for meals would be a killer!!

The restaurant itself has a viewing platform and feeding station offering both Hummer feeders and fruit, particularly bananas, for other birds and the resident squirrel too. The platform is free to access for allcomers which might also explain why it was very crowded when we arrived. In the evening the sun was putting everything in deep shade that was close to the platform but there were some excellent birds to be found there as there were in the morning around breakfast time too.

Acorn Woodpeckers are very attractive and love bananas!

53593391605_d0ad9ad977_h.jpgAcorn Woodpecker by Dave Williams, on Flickr

The Flame-coloured Tanagers seemed to prefer the fruiting trees nearby.

53592945456_66c4b79eb7_h.jpgFlame-coloured Tanager by Dave Williams, on Flickr

as did this stunning little beauty, the Golden-browed Clorophonia.

53593152578_2c838d20ff_h.jpgGolden-browed Clorophonia by Dave Williams, on Flickr

If you think that's a mouthful of a name how about this one!

The Sooty-capped Chlorospingus! Who on earth thinks them up?

53593391425_8454dc2691_h.jpgSooty-capped Chlorospingus by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Hummingbirds were coming to the feeders but it was much too dark in the shade to photograph them but some did perch on better locations than I'd seen at the first stop.

Volcano Hummingbird

53591525058_da9686d276_h.jpgVolcano Hummingbird. Costa Rica 2024 by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Lesser Violetear

53591237073_30545965dd_h.jpgLesser Violetear Hummingbird.  Costa Rica 2024 by Dave Williams, on Flickr

and Fiery-throated were all present here too.

53591191853_d3f86dfc3f_h.jpgFiery-throated Hummingbird.  Costa Rica 2024 by Dave Williams, on Flickr

We only had one full day in the Valley of the Quetzals , in hindsight I could easily have enjoyed another day at the viewing platforms but hindsight is a wonderful thing! After a good breakfast we set off in search of the valley's namesake, the Resplendent Quetzal!

Our driver/guide knew how to find one! The valley is full of lodges all of which attract tourists who have the same ambition. To see the Quetzal. 

Consequently the best plan is to drive down the valley until you find a group of people all looking at a tree and the chances are they have a professional guide that has found one!

It worked for us anyway and pretty quickly too.

53593152573_6c65c650f8_h.jpgResplendent Quetzal by Dave Williams, on Flickr

The Quetzal stayed put in the same place for a good ten minutes so everyone had a chance to get a decent image. It was most obliging in that its tail was bent for a short while allowing you to crop the shot to see a bit more detail of the whole bird. that long tail is very long and most close up shots you see tend to have the tail cut out of the shot.

Anyway, we searched for more sightings but failed to get the views we had here so instead elected for a riverside walk which if I'm honest wasn't very productive.

A Yellowish Flycatcher

53592956386_1162f0b04a_h.jpgYellowish Flycatcher by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Yellow-thighed Brushfinch

53593488705_1dd5dc93fb_h.jpgYellow-thighed Brushfinch by Dave Williams, on Flickr

and a Slaty Flowerpiercer

53592073752_3540b9b048_h.jpgSlaty Flowerpiercer by Dave Williams, on Flickr

were about all we added to our sightings list but for me they were all "lifers" as were to be most of the birds I saw.

Speaking of odd names, at least the Flowerpiercer lives up to it's name in the way it seeks out the nectar using it's sharp upper bill to pierce the stem of the flower.

53593392280_143f51dd33_h.jpgSlaty Flowerpiercer by Dave Williams, on Flickr

The walk along the river was about 5 miles but it was mainly flat. After stopping for lunch we headed back to our cabin in the woods but I decided to ask to be dropped off back at the viewing platform whilst the others went for a rest/siesta or whatever. I rejoined them later before heading out on foot  in search of Quetzals again. We had failed the previous evening and fail we did again with only a Black-capped Flycatcher to show for two evenings work!

53592074037_9b8c193bdd_h.jpgBlack-capped Flycatcher by Dave Williams, on Flickr

The cabin in the woods actually had a few visiting birds, in particularly there were two very confiding Collared Redstarts that visited us. Lovely little birds.

53593391955_bbdb9760a9_h.jpgCollared Redstart by Dave Williams, on Flickr

but the cabin itself was a little cramped for four adults plus their gear despite having two bedrooms and a living space. it was also a bit cold up in the mountains too, particularly at night when the temperature plummets to not far above freezing so be sure to take warm clothing if you visit!

On our final evening our driver was struck down with back pain which was so disabling he decided not to go up to Miriam's for dinner and his only request was we brought him back a beer which we did, however he was asleep by then. The next day he was so in pain he couldn't drive although he managed to go for breakfast where the viewing platform gave us a special gift before leaving. 

An Emerald-Toucannet. A cracking little bird and the only one we saw, so despite it sitting on a pile of rotting bananas I'll happily settle for that!

53592945971_2298f56706_h.jpgNorthern Emerald Toucanet by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Our driver wanted to go home to his wife the nurse to sort out his back pain. We would have to carry on without him for the time being but hopefully , he said, he'd soon be fit enough to continue. He'd previously mentioned we'd be returning via his house if we wanted to leave our cold weather gear there and that was before his back pain had started. We wondered if there was an alternative motive. He requested we went straight to his house rather than stop off at Europcar to add another driver on to the hire agreement but as it meant doubling back we told him we would go to Europcar first.

Christian was fortunately already a named driver in case there was a need so he took over at the wheel, meanwhile our driver/guide sat in the back with me and winced loudly every time we went over a slight bump during the initial part of the journey but seemed much better when we went over big pot holes near to home when there was not a peep to be heard from him.

Ah well, we dropped him off and continued our journey to our next destination, somewhere near to Tocoles on the Pacific coast.

During the journey the situation was discussed. We were highly suspicious that our driver had an alternative reason for wanting to be home again for the weekend...he proposed he might be better by Monday and we could pick him up again.

To do so was a big detour backtracking before continuing on again.

His birding skills were minimal so no loss there.

If his pain was genuine then he was a risk that it might return and interfere with our trip.

He'd already been paid for driving and his accommodation fee, if we were to carry on alone we would at least save on the cost of his food and drinks plus any extra activities we might undertake. The rooms were already booked for four people so probably no saving there. When we returned to Europcar I had added myself to the existing insurance policy having removed the drivers so he couldn't drive us now anyway. I wasn't going to pay yet another insurance policy so just changing names was free of charge.

We had a big decision to make.

What would you have done in the circumstances?



Link to comment
Share on other sites

First of all, fabulous photos, especially that Quetzal shot!


As for the driver, I would definitely ditch him...the whole situation seems suspect. It's really not that hard to self-drive in Costa Rica (even we've done it, and my spouse HATES driving.) He'd been paid already, and he wasn't really a birding guide. And it sounds like the car was already cramped with four, so why not carry on with just three and be more comfortable? I hope that's what you decided to do!

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Great photos in the "Valley of the Quetzals" Dave, I'm sure we must have visited the same places back in '22,  Your Quetzal & Slaty Flowerpiercer could even have been on the same Tree/bush! 


Another vote for "Ditch the Driver".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dave Williams

There were just too many things that weren't quite right with our driver friend and yet Christian had been with him twice before without any issues but even he felt something wasn't quite right. 

Why the decision to go home? Ok we might have taken that route to go to the next destination anyway but there again we might have travelled a new more interesting but slower route instead of the route already travelled.

How come he suddenly became overcome with pain which wasn't nearly as apparent as we got closer to home? We suspected that he had a reason to be home, something pre planned perhaps?

The next day he sent us a message to say he was already 50% better and should be fine by Monday.

We had decided that he wasn't coming back whatever the outcome and sent a message suggesting that it was better if he stayed at home to fully recover from what was his obvious pain ( ????) and that it wasn't worth risking a recurrence. We would carry on without him and he could give us any help we might need from home.

The message was obviously ignored because on Monday he said he was 100% better now but just to make sure he would stay at home for another three days and we could then arrange to meet up again.

That's when we told him he was no longer required at all.

It didn't go down well!

When we'd dropped him off at home we accidentally missed his suitcase which we still had but he hadn't noticed. Odd? Perhaps!  Perhaps not!

Last Friday when we discovered the suitcase we messaged him but he told us it was not a problem there was nothing in it he needed urgently.Suddenly he demanded we returned it immediately as it had some things he needed desperately, he was abusive, particularly towards Christian which Phil and I thought was particularly unfair. Christian had gone out of his way to source and bring a car part to Costa Rica saving him $300 in the process.

We wrote a message back that he had no room for complaints. We had paid him $600 for one days driving and an overnight as well as the car part. If his suitcase was that important we'd leave it at our current stop for him to collect otherwise we'd drop it off on our way to the airport in a week or so's time.

We heard no more from him. That's how important the suitcase was. He'd already told us he wasn't going to help us from there on should any problems arise re our bookings.

We were glad to be rid of him and yes, three in the car was far more comfortable even if we had an extra suitcase taking up luggage space! 

We also had the option of one person having a room to themselves  where two rooms had been booked.

And we would recover the unexpected $500 we'd paid him by saving on costs. 

Christian is used to driving on the right and the car certainly seemed more responsive with him behind the wheel. The roads in Costa Rica are not too bad although some rural routes you have to be careful of the pot holes.

We'd be fine.  Happy to continue on the route to Tarcoles down on the coast.




Link to comment
Share on other sites


I'm up to the hummingbirds.  Gorillapod and sugar solution, very clever and the results...simply stunning!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dave Williams

If anyone is using my report to help plan their own future trip, and that is indeed one of the main reasons I'm writing this one....besides trying to entertain the reader....... I now have more accurate details of the spots for Hummingbirds and the Volcano Junco. Both are an easy drive from Miriam's where we stayed which as mentioned, also has a viewing platform.

The cabin in the woods was functional, allowed self catering if required but the restaurant there was more than adequate and the breakfast particularly good.

In my opinion you need transport and I'd happily have returned for another Hummingbird session at Paraiso Quetzal lodge but next time I'd take some accessories to aid better photographs!

The area in general wasn't the best for birding overall but the locations mentioned raise my score to 10/10 for birding and Miriam's gets a 7/10. 

This is a destination definitely worth returning to!



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dave Williams
Posted (edited)

Anyway, back to our journey plan and after two nights at Miriam's we were heading north to a place near Tarcoles on the Pacific Coast. Having left our driver behind the journey was uneventful and certainly more comfortable with just three people in the car!

First stop was the beach at Tarcoles where we timed our arrival to perfection as the fishing boats were landing their catch which attracted Frigatebirds  snatching pieces of fish from the sea.

53599774995_7802932565_h.jpgFrigatebird. by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Nice action to see as usually they are flying high above looking to scavenge or pluck prey from the surface of the water. They don't want to get their feathers wet as they are not water repellent.

Joining in were numerous Brown Pelicans and I was taken aback at how handsome the species can be having not seen their breeding plumage previously.

53598444712_1bc67845ae_h.jpgBrown Pelican by Dave Williams, on Flickr

There were also numerous Black Vultures on the beach and although I heard them I missed the flypast Scarlet macaws that Phil and Christian had spotted. Fingers crossed for another opportunity.

It was time for lunch and we found a restaurant bar in the middle of town where I opted for grilled Octopus.



Like most of the meals we had it was "OK" but not as exciting as you hoped for and not particularly good value either for what you got.

Likewise our accommodation was in a gated community south of the town and we were delighted when we walked in to our rented house for three nights, first impressions were "Wow!".

The open plan kitchen/diner/lounge was huge.


but  although one bedroom was en-suite the other two were packed with beds but little else. They felt cell like even.



having booked in we headed back north to explore a pathway in to the Carara National park which Christian knew of. It's not the main entrance and we missed the sign saying tickets needed to be obtained before entering until we were leaving but by now it was after closing time at 4pm so we couldn't have bought any even if we'd known! Parking for the chosen pathway is on the side of the road and when we were leaving a couple of days later we spotted a police car parked behind the few vehicles we presumed had parked to go in. Checking for tickets? I doubt it, more likely a parking offence so we were lucky we hadn't been spotted! To be honest the pathway through the jungle is full of bird song but seeing something is a whole different issue. Very,very difficult. I didn't want to return there anyway.

Our day had started with the Toucannet at Miriam's but other than that we hadn't had the most prolific day in terms of birding and photography. Far from it in fact.

Tomorrow would hopefully be be different , we were booked in on a boat trip at 6.00am.

We decided to get a take away Pizza and a stock of beers to take back to the house.

That's when we realised the house wasn't all it appeared. Nothing suitable to put the pizza on to warm it up in the oven, no hot water to wash the dishes without boiling a kettle ( cold showers too) and besides there was no plug for the sink or washing up bowl. 

The house wasn't cheap, over $500 for three nights and they wanted cash too.

I certainly wouldn't recommend it should you come across it on Booking.com. Give me a rustic chalet in the woods over a view of a small piece of lawn and a high fence covered in tarpaulin! Still although there was not much to see from the house it was well placed both for the boat trip and Cerro Lodge which we'd been tipped off was worth a visit.


Edited by Dave Williams
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dave Williams
Posted (edited)

We were up at 4.30 am for cold showers and coffee before heading back to Tarcoles for the boat trip. We headed for the map reference on Google showing "Jungle Crocodile Safari and Birdwatching tour' which didn't fill you with confidence as a tour for serious birder photographers but on arrival our guide, Juan Carlos, was already waiting for us in an otherwise deserted car park. 

We soon realised our man knew his stuff and showed us a tiny Owl way up in a tree we'd never have spotted ourselves.

53599585393_7dc2b2de46_h.jpgFerruginous Owl by Dave Williams, on Flickr

He also asked if we'd like to see the Boa Constrictor he'd just found too.

53599835360_e5f9b6e9a2_h.jpgBoa Constrictor by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Yet another lifer for me! We didn't know it at the time but that wasn't the last time we'd see the snake and the consequences would be dire.

Before getting on the boat Juan Carlos pointed out Trogans and a Motmot in the grounds of the visitor centre...something to come back for then!

The boat itself was suitable for up to about thirty people


but we had it on private hire for just three 



Here's Christian and Phil with Juan Carlos at the wheel!


The bird fest was about to begin! The scene was idyllic. We had the river to ourselves, well to other traffic anyway, the sun was just coming up and everything was perfectly still. Pure bliss.

The birds were coming thick and fast , so much so I'm not sure which I should post photos of to be honest. There were so many seen.

Great Blue Heron

53599585438_453421fa9e_h.jpgGreat Blue Heron by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Least Sandpiper

53599377106_7c213eba07_h.jpgLeast Sandpiper by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Tricoloured Heron

53599584498_e0e278f1c8_h.jpgTricoloured Heron by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

53599375796_bdf26e843d_h.jpgYellow-crowned  Night-Heron by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Little Blue Heron

53599707714_caf91b1b77_h.jpgLittle Blue Heron by Dave Williams, on Flickr


They were coming thick and fast , it was difficult to keep up with Juan Carlos and his shout outs although he did his best to give us views of everything.

And what views they were most of the time.

A great Point of View from the boat which at times could get really close to the subject, water depth permitting of course.

The not so spotted Spotted Sandpiper

53599833175_0b3f1d06d2_h.jpgSpotted Sandpiper by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Little Green Heron

53599583248_d2e5fdbe43_h.jpgLittle Green Heron by Dave Williams, on Flickr

and many more all seen in the first 30 minutes of the trip.

As the sun got higher the light became more challenging and we were glad to have had the best light to begin with. We later noticed that most tours don't start until well past 9.00am , many at almost mid day which is far too late in my opinion still, if you can't get out of bed it's what you have to put up with! I'm sure a lot of tourists go just to see a Crocodile and they are there all day!

53598690247_ccf7acaa0d_h.jpgAmerican Crocodile by Dave Williams, on Flickr

I'm afraid we paid them little attention but they are quite big and I'm sure could;d give you a nasty nip!

Our guide spotted more than then obvious too. Small birds away from the river bank with this spot of a Striped Cuckoo some 50m away was an outstanding one. We'd have never seen it without him.

53598503367_577078f201_h.jpgStriped Cuckoo by Dave Williams, on Flickr

A little local knowledge goes a long way too.

A pair of Double-striped Thick-knee had a nest just off the edge of the river.

53599375266_0778949569_h.jpgDouble-striped Thick-knee by Dave Williams, on Flickr

and he knew just where to look for the Boat-billed Heron, a bird I really wanted to see.

53598504267_d58541c24a_h.jpgBoat-billed Heron by Dave Williams, on Flickr

It was deep in the mangroves unfortunately but although a tad disappointed it was a wish list ticked. Juan Carlos said the best chances of seeing one in the open is during the wet season which is not a time I'd likely visit!

Another sight you'd only see if you visited the roost was this male Frigatebird showing off his pouch in trying to attract a mate.

You can see who's going to win this one.

53598503667_28bc47a17e_h.jpgFrigatebird. by Dave Williams, on Flickr

But there was stronger competition not far away!

53599377176_b6935f635a_h.jpgFrigatebird by Dave Williams, on Flickr

To give the bird it's true title it's a Magnificent Frigatebird and now you know why.

Actually I think it looks a little ridiculous and reminded me of Kenny Everett and his Rod Stewart sketch.


But I'm not a Frigatebird!

Anyway, the boat trip continued and we were in our element.

So much I turned to Christian as we photographed a Belted Kingfisher

53599583078_060de225c9_h.jpgBelted Kingfisher by Dave Williams, on Flickr

and whispered " One trip is not enough, we have to do it again!"

He passed on the message to Phil saying he'd been thinking on exactly the same lines.

So it seemed had Phil. 

A repeat was on!

It didn't matter what we saw on the next one, just being out on the river would suffice. It was blissful.

The previous day had been a birding famine, today it was a feast!!

There are just too many to show so I'm not going to post anymore shots from this trip other than a shot of the rarest bird we saw, again only with Juan Carlos's aid. It was a huge distance away, several hundred metres in fact so the image quality is poor.

A lifer for Phil and Christian but oddly one I saw at a reasonably close distance 10 years ago on an Amazon Cruise.

If you want to take a look there are more images on my Flickr site.

53599375211_3012b64edc_h.jpgBat Falcon by Dave Williams, on Flickr


What would the next trip bring?

We'd have to wait and see but it would be hard to top this one.

Immediately off the boat we went to re-book at the visitor centre, again a private tour for the three of us and with a special request to have Juan Carlos again who hopefully was available and wanting to take us..we'd given him a decent tip so fingers crossed! The original tour price had been $200 but on paying I negotiated a discount and we paid $165 each for our trips so we had already saved $70 from being just three! 

We also requested a 5.30am start next time. The three hour trips were getting a bit too bright by 9.00am and besides the best light was perhaps earlier than 6.00?



Edited by Dave Williams
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dave Williams

When you have just experienced the highs of a sight loaded boat trip what can you do for the rest of the day!

Well first we headed back to the beach with the priority finding the Scarlet Macaws which are known to be regulars in the trees down there.

They give themselves away with the racket they make with their calls.

They are a stunning bird and this area is a great place to find what is a fairly endangered species in some places due to their being a target for the illegal pet trade as well as a loss of their natural habitat.

53599562301_1a38cdb0dc_h.jpgScarlet Macaw by Dave Williams, on Flickr

We also found some Black Vultures feeding on a discarded fish head and giving better views than in the mud the previous day.

53598689947_c65464f0cb_h.jpgBlack Vulture by Dave Williams, on Flickr

It was getting too hot and too bright so we retreated back to our house to download our photos, stopping for some shopping to self cater that night on the way.

Once the sun had gone down a bit we headed off to Cerro Lodge, an hotel just north of Tarcoles. One of Christian's friends recommended we visit as a possible birding hot spot.

The local birding on the road outside remained largely unexplored and what little grounds of the hotel we explored revealed little but they did have a bar and veranda from where you could view the feeding station. No Hummingbird feeders here but there was a drinking pool which attracted the White-winged Dove.

53598841442_6398015d27_h.jpgWhite-winged Dove by Dave Williams, on Flickr

and if you don't mind the rotting Banana you can get a close up of a Hoffman's Woodpecker!

53600020995_d8234b3f00_h.jpgHoffmans Woodpecker by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Although my own preference was to try and get them in the nearby tree before they flew down to feed.

 53599562101_22a8ef1a09_h.jpgHoffman's Woodpecker by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Also in the trees were Streaked Flycatcher, quite a big chunky bird unlike other Flycatchers I have seen.

53600173425_9a0f4dec1e_h.jpgStreaked Flycatcher by Dave Williams, on Flickr

We also got some great views of a Turquoise-headed Motmot although not in as attractive a light as we'd seen them that morning before the cruise.

53600173350_33405938bb_h.jpgTurquoise-browed Motmot by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Back on the road outside the Lodge we stopped for further sightings of Motmot, Groove-billed Ani

53599769908_7d459be0f7_h.jpgGroove-billed Ani by Dave Williams, on Flickr

and a most obliging White-throated Magpie-Jay

53598841392_210770979a_h.jpgWhite-throated Magpie-Jay by Dave Williams, on Flickr

It was then a race to catch the sunset we'd nearly missed the night before



but tonight it was too late. We'd have a last try tomorrow.

Back home it was time to cook and I had promised beer can Chicken on the provided BBQ.

I had forgotten the need of a stand and the chicken was perched precariously on a can of beer. Getting frustrated with the time it was taking to cook I impatiently turned the heat up with disastrous results. It caught fire!!

I had to turn the gas off to stop it getting any further damaged and then had to dismantle the BBQ to re-ignite the gas because the automatic button didn't work. 

Our house was what I'd describe as "All skirt and no knickers" in other words all show and nothing underneath.

The chicken was eventually served and considering it had cost around £12 , nearly three times the price of an equivalent small bird in a UK supermarket, it barely fed the three of us and was tough into the bargain.

We wouldn't be self catering again that's for sure!!


Link to comment
Share on other sites


Certainly shows the merits of having a good guide Dave and now I know what a Ferruginous Owl looks like - I'd heard an owl when we in Panama last month and the Merlin Bird app "sound ID" said it was a Ferruginous but even though it was hooting for quite some time I couldn't get the slightest glimpse :(

Link to comment
Share on other sites


What an odd situation with Guide #1.  Things certainly picked up as far as the birds and bird photos go.  Nice find of Rod Stewart impersonation with the frigate-bird-like-bum.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dave Williams
17 hours ago, AfricIan said:

Certainly shows the merits of having a good guide Dave and now I know what a Ferruginous Owl looks like - I'd heard an owl when we in Panama last month and the Merlin Bird app "sound ID" said it was a Ferruginous but even though it was hooting for quite some time I couldn't get the slightest glimpse :(


We came across another one at the next place we stayed and despite it constantly calling it took a couple of days to actually see one Ian. I claim the success:). I think another photo in due course.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dave Williams
7 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

What an odd situation with Guide #1.  Things certainly picked up as far as the birds and bird photos go.  Nice find of Rod Stewart impersonation with the frigate-bird-like-bum.


The Kenny Everett Show was extremely funny back in the day. It's a shame the video is such poor quality but there might be better out there on Youtube. Worth a look if you want cheering up at any time.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dave Williams

We had a day to kill between our two booked boat trips and we decided to spend the morning in and around the visitor centre where the boats run from. We'd be there for some better light so we'd see what there was about.

In actual fact not a lot but my first objective was to track down where the Howler Monkeys where in the trees not far away beyond the centre car park.

If you have never heard a Howler Monkey calling you may, like me when I heard one close by but unseen, find yourself terrified! The noise they make is something out of the dinosaur era, it's a roar like nothing else! They are vegetarian fortunately, at least I think they are!

53601915313_8840eae8f1_h.jpgHowler Monkey by Dave Williams, on Flickr

There were several Black-headed Trogans in and around the visitor centre again.

53602047019_b4e14dea45_h.jpgBlack-headed Trojan by Dave Williams, on Flickr

and the Tropical kingbirds were flitting around too.

53600834192_8bf16f1b29_h.jpgTropical Kingbird by Dave Williams, on Flickr

We spotted a Northern Caracara flying in to a tree and when we investigated it was carrying lunch.

53602172475_3f45c0b248_h.jpgNorthern Caracara by Dave Williams, on Flickr

I told you the future was looking dire when it came to the Boa Constrictor and here it was. Lunch. The Caracara feeds primarily on carrion and by the looks of it that's what the snake was. I have a feeling it spent too much time on the road and got flattened by a motor vehicle by the looks of it. It's a shame when we asked if we could touch the Boa the day before we were told by our guide not to. We wanted to put it somewhere safer. Ah well, nature takes it;'s course and the Caracara won this won.

Not sure how tasty it was though as the bird was discarding some bits!

53602172485_8a59c40031_h.jpgNorthern Caracara by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Anyway, the three of us spent some time on the gangway leading to the boat moorings. From there you had a view of the river and bird movements along it. We spotted Spoonbills in the far distance and a Wood Stork moving up river too. Hopefully targets from the boat the next day. We also spotted the tour boats were pretty full too and one of them had stopped and was feeding the birds whilst moored at the bank. Well we thought the fish they were throwing were for the birds, they might have been for the Crocodiles but whatever the birds were moving in for a free meal.

I was still trying for a Scarlet Macaw flight shot and from the gangway I saw one fly out of the woods before flying back in further down the river.

53602183955_ef16e0ff72_h.jpgScarlet Macaw by Dave Williams, on Flickr

I decided to investigate that further and found the bird sat in a tree eating the fruit so I waited until it moved to try and see what sort of shot I might get.

53601915093_17da8ce593_h.jpgScarlet Macaw by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Not what I really wanted but I was pretty pleased with myself anyway!

As the day was getting hotter we decided to retreat back to the house with the intention of returning back to the Cerro Lodge Hotel later that evening, that however did not happen. Before setting out Google Maps suggested it was going to take over an hour to get there and when we got up to the main highway we could see why. The traffic was nose to tail and apparently was for many kilometres.

We returned to the house and decided to search the grounds locally.

It was surprisingly better than we expected!

Even our garden fence had a Tropical Kingbird visit.

53601798761_b98afc1a42_h.jpgTropical Kingbird by Dave Williams, on Flickr

In a far corner of the housing estate there was a drainage ditch and some marshy ground that had a Northern Jacana in residence.

53601798816_c42016c4ef_h.jpgNorthern Jacana by Dave Williams, on Flickr

One house had a visitor in their plant pot,a Rufous-naped Wren one of several in a feeding pack

53602143799_74e99acf2a_h.jpgRufus-naped Wren by Dave Williams, on Flickr

At the top of the estate it opened up on to as yet unbuilt land that was part developed.

A pair of Scarlet-rumped tanagers were the only current house builders.

53602143769_17a65823e8_h.jpgScarlet-rumped Tanager by Dave Williams, on Flickr

You can see why the male had been christened the Ferrari Bird by Christian.

53601798561_f9b9d87096_h.jpgScarlet-rumped Tanager by Dave Williams, on Flickr

There were two species I didn't see anywhere else on our trip too.

Inca Dove

53602143624_318bc76b07_h.jpgInca Dove by Dave Williams, on Flickr

and Blue-black Grassquit

53602143534_cf837332c5_h.jpgBlue-black grassquit by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Well, I might of seen them elsewhere and not noticed them as they are apparently common species.Still the exploration was worthwhile, we even discovered a small stream running alongside the estate which had quite a few different birds on it but they were distant, like this pair of Jacanas.

53600930407_2484c61fcd_h.jpgNorthern Jacana by Dave Williams, on Flickr

The light fades fast in Costa Rica and it was soon too dark to continue so we decided to get something to eat. We'd promised no self catering tonight but the traffic posed a problem so we elected to stop at the place next to the gated entry.the Hicaco grill.

It looked expensive and it was but the food was exceptional and for me the best I ate in Costa Rica.

An early night followed , we had after all got an early Strat tomorrow for the much anticipated return boat trip!


Link to comment
Share on other sites


Airborne Scarlet Macaw, like stained glass windows of a cathedral!


Link to comment
Share on other sites


You don’t have to convince me Dave that Costa Rica is a top destination ; if I would go elsewhere than Africa it would be there in the first place and your bird pictures are awesome as always : we miss you in the BY !

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dave Williams
Posted (edited)


5 minutes ago, BRACQUENE said:

You don’t have to convince me Dave that Costa Rica is a top destination ; if I would go elsewhere than Africa it would be there in the first place and your bird pictures are awesome as always : we miss you in the BY !


You are very kind Peter but I honestly find the BY too time consuming, writing a trip report takes more than enough! I know some get great pleasure from keeping lists, Phil, my Costa Rica fellow traveller does, but personally I'm not bothered how many I have seen and it's more relaxing not having to chase everything just to add to a BY score.

Edited by Dave Williams
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dave Williams

I guess I should at this point make mention of what camera gear I was using for those with any interest. Primarily I have a Canon R5 , an RF 100-500 zoom plus the 1.4TC, and an EF 500mm f4, plus the 1.4 and 2.0x TC's. 

The R5 is a superb piece of kit but it's prone to overheating and mine actually stopped working  altogether on the last day of a trip a year back so I have been nervous of that happening again. I have been waiting for a new R5Mk2 to be released but decided, against my real wishes, to buy an R7 which arrived a few days before the Costa Rica trip began.

The worst thing you can do is set off on a trip with a new piece of gear you don't know how to work and it's something I have always advised against.  Who's the idiot who did just that? Me !!

I struggled at first because the controls are different but as the holiday progressed I felt more and more confident in the abilities of the R7, well in some circumstances anyway. For the money it's an excellent value camera body but it's not in the same league as the R5. It does take excellent images that can be just as good as the R5's but the conditions need to be good light and so far for me, stationary subjects. I'm working on practicing for birds in flight  but mine have been a disaster so far. I have seen others have done really well using the same gear so it's down to me to find out what settings I need to change in the camera.

The biggest difference between the two cameras is the fact that the R5 is full frame and the R7 is a 1.6 cropped sensor. Effectively giving me a bigger image than using a 1.4TC on the R5. This means that the 100-500 zoom will have more light hitting the sensor . In other words the zoom at 500mm will be exactly that and f7.1 on both cameras whereas if I were to add a  1.4 TC to the R5 combination the aperture is reduced to f10 and the image still not quite as big as with the R7. On the negative side though the ISO sensitivity on a cropped sensor isn't as good as the full frame one. It produces noisier images.

Am I making any sense? 

You probably know all this anyway so I'll shut up and carry on the report!!

Link to comment
Share on other sites


"The worst thing you can do is set off on a trip with a new piece of gear you don't know how to work and it's something I have always advised against.  Who's the idiot who did just that? Me !!" 

Appreciate the humility and the warning, which of course we know, but sometimes do not heed.  The photos you are posting must be after you figured it all out.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dave Williams

It was an early start for our second boat trip. oOur requested guide was there ready and waiting at the visitor centre and we headed straight to the boat this time. It was only just getting light! He asked us if we had anything particular we wanted to see and I said Roseate Spoonbill so he suggested we did the trip in reverse order to last time heading downstream first . That was fine by us. He didn't go very far before heading to the bank at the spot we'd seen the birds being fed the previous day. Juan Carlos doesn't , I don't think, feed the birds but the birds don't know that and several started to arrive including this Great Blue Heron.

53603231332_8241bf3a80_h.jpgGreat Blue Heron by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Facing in to the sunrise the light was challenging to say the least

Three Spoonbills soon arrived but again the light the opposite direction was very poor.

53604445984_f5a64a55c1_h.jpgRoseate Spoonbill by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Next up a Wood Stork wandered in to the picture.

53604319798_95e546aafb_h.jpgWood Stork by Dave Williams, on Flickr

We seemed to be moored at the same spot for quite some time whilst the light gradually got better.

A Tricoloured Heron was hunting further downstream which gave some decent action shots

53604569945_f2694a5777_h.jpgTricoloured Heron by Dave Williams, on Flickr

It got closer and closer  before heading away again

53604445289_3db9da006c_h.jpgTricoloured Heron by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Of the three Spoonbills, only one remained, but one was enough!

I was pleased to get a wing flap after a spot of grooming.

53603229707_3839a9b108_h.jpgRoseate Spoonbill by Dave Williams, on Flickr

They might have stunningly coloured feathers but the bald head lets them down!

53604446534_f05686907d_h.jpgRoseate Spoonbill by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Anyway, satisfied we had got our shots we asked to move on further towards the sea.

I have a feeling it must have been low tide as a high expanse of sandbank was exposed although the birds beyond it were on partially in view with their legs hidden, still there were some that showed really well.

The light was getting better all the time as this White Ibis demonstrated

53604446224_ba7c5daf4b_h.jpgWhite Ibis by Dave Williams, on Flickr

We got much closer views of a Willet than we'd had on the last trip.

53604320058_734cb9783c_h.jpgWillet by Dave Williams, on Flickr

A Yellow-crowned Night Heron was out for a stroll in the glorious sunshine that was lighting up the river.

53604106216_2c3346b2c3_h.jpgYellow-crowned Night-Heron by Dave Williams, on Flickr

A new bird for the trip was this Reddish Egret searching for breakfast

53604319498_b448391ecf_h.jpgReddish Egret by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Further down river death was lurking for some unfortunate fish that happened to swim too close

53604320053_33b6bac65e_h.jpgThe stalker by Dave Williams, on Flickr

The sinister beast was waiting patiently in a watery hell!

53603231232_47a0e4cb06_h.jpgHell awaits! by Dave Williams, on Flickr

A Common Black Hawk had somehow acquired a huge fish,I somehow think it had acquired an Osprey's catch.

53604107271_2c714d71bd_h.jpgCommon Black Hawk by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Unfortunately a substantial breakfast was lost.

53604446429_9704b4ed84_h.jpgCommon Black Hawk by Dave Williams, on Flickr

and the Hawk could do no more than forlornly watch as the fish floated away, I presume too big and too difficult to retrieve from the water which was my reasoning that it was not the birds catch in the first place.

53604105266_0bc9d39082_h.jpgCommon Black Hawk by Dave Williams, on Flickr

The true Topgun of the fishing world was hunting for a meal for itself as it flew over our boat.

53603231392_67164753f6_h.jpgOsprey by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Whilst another, possibly a mate, was already tucking in to their catch.

53604569685_a1ebdf4f92_h.jpgOsprey. by Dave Williams, on Flickr

We didn't bother going as far as the frigate bird roost instead hading back upstream. Once again Juan Carlos and his amazing eyesight found us some small and difficult birds to spot.

A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

53604570260_66046b581e_h.jpgScissor-tailed flycatcher by Dave Williams, on Flickr

A Common Today-Flycatcher

53604319308_56779ee05a_h.jpgCommon Tody-Flycatcher by Dave Williams, on Flickr

and this stunning Antshrike

53603230767_a697e6e733_h.jpgBarred Antshrike by Dave Williams, on Flickr

We had spent a lot of time on the subjects we had found so there was less spent up river on the things we saw the previous day.

We did stop for a Southern Lapwing pair.

53604105771_46fa75e90d_h.jpgSouthern Lapwing. 1 by Dave Williams, on Flickr

and the Bare-throated Tiger Heron was back on it's territory where it had been seen two days previously.

53604320913_7902640820_h.jpgBare-throated Tiger -heron by Dave Williams, on Flickr

All too soon though the trip ended. Our earlier start didn't buy us any extra time and we were back at the visitor centre by 8.30am. Would I set out at 5.30am next time? No! 6.00am is perfect. When I think back our first trip didn't leave until 6.30 by the time Juan Carlos had shown us what was around in the visitor centre grounds and we got back at 9.30am when the light was getting too harsh. 6.00am to 9.00am would have been perfect.

Would I recommend the trip? Absolutely. For some maybe the species are common sights where they live but for me virtually everything was a bonus. I would go out of my way to make that trip so Tarcoles gets a definite 10/10 for birding. The accommodation maybe a 6/10.

Anyway it was time to move on now. heading north to our new destination. Who knew what lay ahead but we were full of anticipation!



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Excellent photos from the two boat trips @Dave Williams.

They sound really good and well worth doing 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

Safaritalk uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By using Safaritalk you agree to our use of cookies. If you wish to refuse the setting of cookies you can change settings on your browser to clear and block cookies. However, by doing so, Safaritalk may not work properly and you may not be able to access all areas. If you are happy to accept cookies and haven't adjusted browser settings to refuse cookies, Safaritalk will issue cookies when you log on to our site. Please also take a moment to read the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy: Terms of Use l Privacy Policy