Day 4 (Monday, 20th February)
About 400m South of the Tarcoles River, we found the entrance to the reserve at around 6am, where the gate to the Riverside Trail was closed (it was in fact closed all morning) – the sign did ask for no entry before 7am. So we entered before 7, and started birding the forest encrusted trail. This is supposed to be the better of the 2 trails (the other is a smaller circular trail from reception), and is about 2-3 km long, ending up alongside the river, which seemed to be freestanding at this point. The first half an hour was hard work, with poor light, dense forest and birds few and far between, although it was then that we chalked off singing Black-hooded Antshrike and 3 Pale-billed Woodpeckers above us. Progress saw a slight thinning of the forest, and bird life increased as the morning wore on. Some hotspots for birds seemed to be present, one of which had Rufous-tailed Jacamar out in the open, and Dusky Antbird and a pair of Barred Antshrikes nearby. Hummingbirds were common but fleeting, until a superb Long-tailed Hermit fed close and long enough for good views. With Scarlet Macaws overhead, we found small numbers of White-shouldered Tanagers, and feeding with a Pale-billed Woodpecker, a group of Red-legged Honeycreepers hosted a single Scarlet–thighed Dacnis.
The river at the end of the trail seemed almost static, but was an excellent spot for birds. First and most obvious of the critters were some close (and small) Spectacled Caimans, with much larger adults near to the opposite bank, accompanied by a flock of Black-bellied Whistling-ducks. Closer inspection near to them also found Northern Jacana and Bare-throated Tiger-heron. The longer we stayed here, the more birds appeared. Directly in front of us was a roosting flock of 8-10 Boat-billed Herons, belying their nocturnal nature by periodically making the effort to snap at each other before returning to slumbers. Common Tody-flycatchers shared their tree, and reappeared regularly. Perhaps prize of the birds here were the Kingfishers, with Green later on, but perhaps personally the best of a good bunch, an American Pygmy Kingfisher, which eventually landed to fish on branches only a couple of metres from us. The peace was broken by the huge crash of a large tree falling not far from our spot – it seemed to startle not only the animals and birds, but also one of the on looking group, who damaged her leg when in flight. But the birding had to continue, and we unearthed more new species on the return walk, with initially White-winged Becard and Black-capped Tityra amongst Black-hooded Antshrikes, but had also totted up 4 Wrens for the morning by the end, with the prize possibly going to Black-bellied, with a combination of explosive song and skulking nature. Rufous-naped Wren had been calling on and off at the river, but we also encountered a couple of Rufous-bellied Wrens. Rounding off the walk was a stunning Turquoise-browed Motmot, which landed just above the latter pair of Wrens. Back at the car park, we paid our dues of a couple of thousand Colones to the boy in attendance – good value for a superb morning.
After a very hearty buffet lunch at the restaurant here, we walked the trail which follows the river upstream. This is quite a nice little resort, certainly a lot more comfortable and birder friendly than Punta Leona, with plenty of Great Kiskadees, Grey-capped & Social Flycatchers populating the many open areas around the accommodation. Amongst these were Black-mandibled Toucan and Passerini’s Tanager. The nesting hole of a pair of Hoffman’s Woodpeckers was pointed out to us, directly above one of the chalet blocks. The trail was at the end of the chalet area, and began with a rickety rope bridge over the river. The start of the trail at the other side of the bridge had 4 very vocal but very elusive Riverside Wrens. Quietly meandering their way along the forest floor here were the first (positively identified) Grey-chested Doves. This short curved part of the trail ended in another rope bridge, and it was here that we had what could have been the best find of the site – a juvenile Tiger-heron was slowly and contentedly feeding amongst the boulders of the river, with a female Green Kingfisher on the far bank. The dark bill and habitat seemed to point to Fasciated Tiger-heron, a species more likely to be found on the Caribbean slopes, but more detailed examination of the bill shape pointed to Bare-throated Tiger-heron. We continued over the bridge, and through the dry forest, until this trail terminated again at the river, where we added only Streaked Flycatcher and a second Grey-chested Dove, as well as another Dusky Antbird and Riverside Wren. The return was uneventful, apart from a lone White Ibis standing in the centre of the river back at the chalets, and male Summer Tanager in the trees in front of the accommodation.
Last call of the day was back to Villas Lapas, since some of the residents had told us of Scarlet Macaws flying in to roost the previous evening. We waited a short time, during which only 2 birds landed on some distant trees in the fading light. However, as we were approaching the car, a Nightjar flew around the car park. We weren’t sure of the identification, but it was nice to see.