Costa Rica Birding 2021 Part 1 – Monteverde

Earlier this summer, my family went on a birding vacation to Costa Rica.  Previously (in 2016) we’d spent two weeks at Tortuguero National Park and the Osa Peninsula in the Costa Rican lowlands, so this time we planned our route to focus on highland ecosystems and bird species.  We flew into and out of San José and stayed one night just outside the city on either end of our trip.  We split the remainder of our time between four general areas — Monteverde, Arenal, Rancho Naturalista, and the Savegre Valley.  This post focuses on just our time at Monteverde, our first destination, but look for three more in the coming days with details about the rest of our trip.

The sky dumped rain as we drove into the small town of Monteverde on our second day in Costa Rica.  Throughout our trip it rained on and off for most afternoons, making the early mornings the superior birding time.  Despite the rain, we’d managed to see some common birds on our long drive from San José, including a crested caracara, many great kiskadees and tropical kingbirds, and our lifer brown jays.  Once we got to Monteverde we immediately went to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, as we were desperate to take a walk after sitting in the car for hours.  The forest was tall, green, wet, and very dark, and the birds were not very active.  In fact, we only saw three species on our walk, yellowish flycatcher, white-throated thrush, and Costa Rican warbler.  However, even in the pouring rain hummingbirds swarmed around the feeders by the entrance to the reserve, and we soon saw several lifers including green hermit, purple-throated mountain-gem, stripe-tailed hummingbird, and the Costa Rican endemic coppery-headed emerald. 

Yellowish flycatchers are… yellowish. This photo was taken the next day at Curi-cancha, not in the rain.

The next morning, we explored Curi-cancha Refugio de Vida Silvestre — another local cloud forest — with a guide named Johnny.  The refuge had many different habitats, including both wooded and open sections.  Birds were everywhere, and we soon saw over 50 species, a stark contrast from the previous afternoon in the rain.  Johnny quickly pointed out a three-wattled bellbird song, which was a very loud ringing call followed by a loud piercing squeak.  We listened to the bellbirds for the rest of the morning and were also able to see and photograph a few.  Other highlights (and lifers) from Curi-cancha included white-naped brushfinch, white-eared ground-sparrow, golden-browed chlorophonia, black-headed nightingale-thrush, long-tailed manakin, and smoky-brown woodpecker. 

three-wattled bellbird

We also spent the next morning with Johnny, birding around the town of Monteverde and then returning to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.  At the reserve we heard and eventually located several resplendent quetzals, perhaps one of Costa Rica’s most famous birds.  Much like bald eagles here, quetzals seem to be revered by birders and nonbirders alike.  They are indeed stunning birds, with intricately feathered glittering green backs and bright red undersides.  My photos do not do them justice, as for most of the time we were watching them they were high up in the lush canopy. 

resplendent quetzal

Johnny then showed us several other birds, including a scale-crested pygmy-tyrant, before saying goodbye.  After he left, we continued to bird the reserve by ourselves, finding prong-billed barbet, black-breasted wood-quail, spotted barbtail, eye-ringed flatbill, ochraceous wren, and a very cooperative collared redstart among many other species. 

collared redstart

The next day we went to Monteverde Sky Adventures Park, a place with many long and high bridges up in the canopy that spanned small valleys.  We watched butterflies glide from flower to flower and monkeys scramble between trees at eye level, barely noticing that we were over one-hundred feet in the air. Swallow-tailed kites circled lazily above nearby ridges. It was a fun experience to see some of the birds from previous days at eye level, and we did mange to find a few new species such as spangle-cheeked tanager and black-faced solitaire.

Here’s some howler monkeys on one of the bridges.