Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Costa Rica Part V - Hotel Gavilan and Tirimbina

We got nice looks at Collared Aracaris while kicking it in front of our rooms at Hotel Gavilan, while trying-but-not-really to take afternoon breaks from birding.

Yeah, I'm doing it again...taking my sweet time with these Costa Rica posts aren't I? Well, these aren't normal times, or good ones. I could say that bird blogging feels silly, trivial and trite in light of current events and that I have not been in a good headspace to be churning these things out...but I won't say that because I've always had trouble churning out travel posts, even during The Perpetual Weekend (what is dead may never die). 

While the year has mostly been shit, steadily snowballing into an even bigger and more dangerous rolling boulder of shit that we are all trying to stay in front of while running down a mountain of doom, there have been good times, the pre-shit times. So while bird blogging seems as insignificant as ever, it's also about time BB&B gets some of the attention it deserves, from me anyways. Cass and Felis really nailed it with the last post, didn't they? BB&B is, after all, an institution, a life-changing blog. So without further witty banter to get us off the proverbial ground, I will just say I am packing this post with a shitload of photos...more in one post than ever before I reckon. So no more time to talk, away we go.

Getting to travel to some exotic location sounds especially tantalizing now doesn't it? Costa Rica continues to beckon, though I am really happy with how this year's trip turned out and grateful we did it when we did. Here at Hotel Gavilan, I eventually figured out that the aracaris were so reliable because they were getting their nest on in the legendary The Tree of Lifers.

We heard and saw many Yellow-throated Toucans over the course of the trip but I think this is the only one I have passable pictures of. They are exotic and large and ridiculous and, when I look at this photo, I feel that being bitten by one would be highly regrettable.

In 2012, Hotel Gavilan provided a pair of easily viewable Spectacled Owls. No such luck this time (here or anywhere else) but there was a Black-and-white Owl that could be seen from the parking area. Sick.

Here is the courtyard with the Tree of Lifers. Other good birds we had here included Short-tailed Nighthawks, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Brown-hooded Parrot (lifer for me), Gray-chested Doves, and a massive Turkey Vulture migration one day. Jen and Jacob also found a sloth latrine (lifer latrine) - sloths refuse to shit from up in trees for some reason, they descend all the way to the ground to unload. It is an interesting and unexplained approach.

Very unlike 2012 (rage) we actually put in effort trying to find interesting herps at night on this trip. The abundance of blue jeans frogs/strawberry poison dart frogs was surprising, as was my complete inability to spot them the first night. Obviously, this is one of the best frogs in existence. We also saw the legendary red-eyed tree frogs for the first time ever.

I have no clue what this is. An exotic-but-not-exotic-looking frog.

I do have a clue about this - this is a cane toad aka marine toad. They are huge and common. You are probably thinking "Aren't cane toads a terrible toxic pest?" and you would be right...if you were thinking about Australia. They are native in Costa Rica and therefore lovely.

My boy Steen already identified this for me but since I'm a bad person I don't remember what it is. We saw a few. Litter toad (Bufo haematiticus) perhaps?

Wow this is really turning into a major herp barrage. I don't think I've ever posted so many herps, ever. Exhilarating. Look at this very long/very thin anole thing. It's got a tail for days.

Finally it was time to check out of Gavilan and move on. After a preemptive ATM run and scraping together many colones (their card reader was down), and then much waiting around for the correct person to wake up in the morning (it's fine, this isn't the U.S.), we were taken care of. I would still recommend staying here, especially if you want to save some $$$...just don't expect much variety in the meals or a super comfy bed. It is definitely tranquilo though - not a tourist trap - and certainly has some good birds...and herps!

We didn't have to go far for out next stop though, the Tirimbina Preserve was right down the road.

The first birds we saw after parking, while still in the parking lot, was a small group of Plain-colored Tanagers....PARKING LOT LIFER. And no I don't mean that I've just never seen them in a parking lot before, I hadn't seen them anywhere. So not only were they parking lot lifers, we would never see them again! Birding in Costa Rica requires Constant Vigilance.

This Rufous-winged Woodpecker was hanging out near the reception area, devotedly pecking at the same spot and refusing to move. I can only remember seeing one before, very early in the morning with little light and a tremendous amount of bleariness. This was much better.

One of the species that drove me crazy in Belize after my piece of shit new Nikon camera body died was White-whiskered Puffbird. At Black Rock Lodge you can walk right up to them, they just sit there along the trail like you are utterly nonthreatening and unimportant. Still butthurt about missed photo ops, as you can probably tell. Anyhow here is a mediocre pic of a definitely non-mediocre bird.

Orange-billed Sparrow is an appealing ground-dweller that knows it is not always necessary to be skulky.

Tirimbina gave us our first taste of suspension bridges for the trip. I had forgotten how great they are for seeing things when absolutely no one is moving, and how maddening it is to see anything when someone is walking on it from even a great distance away. The highlight of the first bridge was this Purple-crowned Fairy nest that a guide pointed out to, not a nest I ever expected to see in my life. It's hard to even see one of these stay in any one spot for more than a few seconds, so this was some luxurious viewing.

Crossing over the Sarapiqui River.

On the other side of the river I found a pair of Black-crowned Antshrikes, another bird I hadn't seen since 2012. We then heard a strange sound coming from back by the bridge and so returned to watch a Chestnut-colored Oropendola fly past - life bird, and the only one of the trip! We then were tortured by a mostly uncooperative mixed flock for too much time.

A pair of Broad-billed Motmots allowed themselves to be seen well at least. This became a ho-hum bird after a while, but it was undeserved. It's truly an obscene species.

The trails at Tirimbina were muddy...very muddy. Maybe the trails we did not go on were less muddy, but this one was pretty gnar. I was glad I was wearing my hiking boots. Here is FJ doing a semi-controlled-but-almost-not descent down a steep mud slope with a Tirimbina employee doing trail work looking on approvingly.

This post is brimming with herps, so why not another? Here is some kind of whiptail thing that seemed pretty common.

While taking a brief break on the trail during some rain FJ noticed that we were standing right next to a Semiplumbeous Hawk. Everything is fine.

It was at this point that reality had confirmed my suspicions - that I was probably not the best member of our group at spotting things in the rainforest and I was probably lumbering past fantastic wildlife all the time. Oh well, at least my earbirding game was pretty good. Semiplumbeous Hawk didn't seem to care that we were all hanging out with it. After watching it for a long time we left it on its weird giant noodle perch and continued on our way. 

Pale-billed Woodpeckers seem too large and exotic to be common, but they seem to be in most places/countries I've seen them. Considering the luck that other large Campephilus have had in the Anthropocene, that's a very good thing. I don't think I can fathom the number of species (bird, mammal, insect and otherwise) that make their homes in old Pale-billed cavities.

After exiting the forest and crossing the suspension bridge again we ran into a big mixed flock - don't you love a mid day mixed flock? It's always such a pleasant surprise. This confiding Eye-ringed Flatbill (aka "flatbill jealous") was a trip bird and got a lot of attention from us. Be sure to note flatbill sad face/frowny mouth in the first photo

Female manakins can be very confusing, but when they are showing off glowing orange gams they are not - this is a female White-collared Manakin.

This post requires an additional hummingbird - how about a Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer? Green. Pink feet. Excellent.

A pair of mellowing Smoky-brown Woodpeckers were members of the mixed flock.

Finally we were able to stumble out the other side of the flock in search of food. It's not easy eating nothing but cookies for breakfast day in and day out. We ate lunch at Tirimbina's restaurant, which turned out to be challenging because there was pretty much a stationary mixed flock right outside the entire time, despite no feeders being present...BONUS GERI BIRDING. This Black-faced Grosbeak was kind enough to drop by for a minute.

Golden-hooded Tanager is a mixed flock staple in secondary forest/edge habitats but it's always painful to tear your eyes away from them. They cannot be ignored.

We had good times at Tirimbina, although the mature forest on the other side of the river was not quite as birdy as hoped. That said, there is no doubt the birding could be ace if we hit it on another occasion - just crossing paths with another mixed flock could have totally changed the outlook. The bird activity by the entrance/reception/restaurant was excellent though and I would totally recommend you consider staying there if you are birding the area - they were booked during our visit (and Geri were pretty thick) but they are affordable.

Phew, this was a hell of a post to finish, thanks if you made it through. The next CR post (whenever that is) will take us to the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge and the warm embrace of Chambita, an extraordinary guide.


  1. Like the post, like the pics!

  2. Love seeing others post about Costa Rica of my favorite places on earth.

  3. There is much to appreciate here and yet "giant noodle perch" left me laughing so hard I had to think if I was stoned or not.


  5. Fantastic post with some really interesting and beautiful photos! Just reading this one post gives me an idea of its incredible biodiversity.
    Greetings from Sri Lanka!

  6. Nice stuff. You make me want to scream though, as I had a great trip to Costa Rica planned, birding, a visit to my daughter who lives there, and then on to Peru for last spring, but alas Covid struck and screwed the whole freeking world. Nice to visit via your photos. Good birding.

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