The next destination on our trip was Rancho Naturalista, located in the foothills of the Cartago province. Unlike the other lodges we’d been staying at in Monteverde and Arenal, Rancho Naturalista specifically advertises itself as a birding lodge. They had two very skilled birding guides, a Costa Rican women named Mercedes and a British man named Harry. Both had extensive experience birding the region of Costa Rica and had also traveled elsewhere in the tropics. Every meal at Rancho Naturalista was cooked for us, and honestly it was some of the best food we had our entire trip. Aside from us, the only other guests at the lodge were a couple of photographers.
Rancho Naturalista is a great place to see many different bird species, but the one we were most excited about ahead of time was the snowcap, because Rancho Naturalista was the spot on our itinerary where we were most likely to see one. Snowcaps are a small and extremely charismatic species of hummingbird endemic to the mountains of southern Central America. Males have an iridescent wine purple body with a bright white cap. Females are glittering green on the back and white below.
We arrived at Rancho Naturalista in the early evening. After dropping off our bags in our rooms we walked down a short path to the lodge’s communal area, where a deck overlooked a set of fruit and hummingbird feeders, and more distantly, the mountains. As the sun set, we watched birds on the feeders and surrounding trees. The most numerous hummingbirds were large species, particularly white-necked jacobins and green-breasted mangos, but other species were also present, including green hermit, crowned woodnymph, and rufous-tailed hummingbird. Cocoa and streak-headed woodcreepers worked the trees behind the feeders, and a buff-throated foliage gleaner poked cautiously around the edge of the small clearing the lodge was built in.
The next day we were up bright and early, guided by Harry. We walked down the dirt road from the lodge, stopping constantly to look and listen to a somewhat bewildering array of birds. Slaty-capped, yellow-olive and tawny-chested flycatchers were all present near the lodge, the first two of which were lifers. Harry led us to a house off the main road where there was a large clump of the purple Verbena the hummingbirds love. It was only a few minutes before the first snowcap flew in, chattering excitedly. Occasionally he would take a break from his feeding and perch on a small twig, allowing us to get close for photos. Other hummingbirds were also using the Verbena patch, including green thorntails, brown violetears, and rufous-tailed hummingbirds. We spent the rest of the morning walking the trails and roads around Rancho Naturalista, exploring forests, pastures and gardens. We saw a total of eighty species, some of the most exciting of which to me (that weren’t already mentioned) were tropical gnatcatcher, white-vented euphonia, speckled tanager, stripe-throated hermit, checker-throated stipplethroat, and dusky antbird.
Following Harry’s advice, before we left Rancho Naturalista the next day, we stopped at a bridge crossing a small, swiftly flowing stream in the adjacent town. Sure enough, on a branch across the stream about thirty feet away was a small nest, with a sunbittern sitting on top. At some point the sunbittern got up to go hunt, revealing two downy white chicks. With that last lifer we headed off to our final destination of the trip, Savegre Hotel in the Savegre Valley.