7-9 May 2014
The Quebrada Gonzalez station in Braulio Carillo National Park is well known as a birding destination where you can find fantastic primary foothill rainforest at about 500 m elevation. Just about a mile north of Quebrada Gonzalez is the small hummingbird garden of El Tapir, famous as a great place to find the Snowcap. However, El Tapir also has a fantastic loop trail and a trail down to a river that also accesses excellent forest and has terrific birding. Despite getting rained out each afternoon, we spent two mornings birding Quebrada Gonzalez and one morning birding El Tapir. We were also given permission to camp in our truck at El Tapir and were able to take in the terrific hummingbird show each afternoon and evening while just hanging out in the rain. The camping at El Tapir isn’t official and it is far from glamorous. There is a lot of highway noise and not only is there neither potable water nor a shower, there is no running water at all – the one toilet is flushed with a bucket of rainwater. That said, we camped for free and just shared food with and tipped the extremely nice attendant there. There is nowhere else to camp around the area and the only other lodging options would be the expensive rainforest aerial tram, some private cabinas along the highway further north of the park, or back in San Jose. Staying at El Tapir meant that we didn’t need to drive far to go birding and we called the ranger station before arriving to arrange to enter Quebrada Gonzalez at 5:30AM instead of the standard 8:00AM opening time, giving us the prime morning hours which really paid off in the large number of mixed flocks and good birds we found there!
At Quebrada Gonzalez, we birded the Las Palmas loop twice, encountering several mixed flocks each time, which typically contained many Black-faced Grosbeaks, Carmiol’s and Dusky-faced Tanagers as well as more interesting birds such as Blue-and-gold Tanager, Black-and-yellow Tanager, White-throated Shrike-Tanager, Striped Woodhaunter, Brown-billed Scythebill, Spotted Antbird, Russet Antshrike, Rufous-winged Woodpecker, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, Tawny-capped and White-vented Euphonias, Ruddy Woodcreeper, Streak-crowned Antvireo, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Plain Xenops, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, and several other more common species! Additionally, around this loop we also found Nightingale Wren, White-ruffed Manakin, Rufous and Broad-billed Motmots, Black-headed Nightingale Thrush, Tawny-faced Gnatwren,and a Double-toothed Kite perched in a snag above the parking area.Surprisingly, despite the fact that this is one of the best locations for the Lattice-tailed Trogon, we failed to turn up a single Lattice-tailed Trogon! We also birded the lower loops (El Ceibo & La Botarrama), though rain interfered. Despite the rain we still managed to hear White-fronted Nunbird and found a Green-fronted Lancebill, a very cool hummingbird that is not typically found at this site. (Interestingly a friend found one there as well, in a different location, a week or so later!).
At El Tapir, the garden was bouncing with many, many Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, Crowned Woodnymphs, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteers, and Violet-headed Hummingbirds, with visits from White-necked Jacobins, Brown Violetears and best of all, Snowcaps! At one point, in a pretty good downpour, I even had two male and one female Snowcap together in one binocular view! As well, I managed a 4 species in one view hummingbird party as well. There was also a nice assortment of Tanagers around the garden most of the time, including a beautiful pair of Emerald Tanagers. A few times at dusk and dawn we heard Central-American Pygmy-Owl, but it was calling from the inaccessible far side of the quite busy highway so we weren’t able to track it down. Our last nice surprise in the garden was being serenaded by a Crested Owl each morning around 3-4AM! The trail at El Tapir was quite productive as well, with the more interesting birds being a pair of Ashy-throated Chlorospingus, Green-crowned Brilliant, another Green-fronted Lancebill, White-flanked Antwren, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Spotted Antbird, Russet Antshrike, Ocellated Antbird, Black-and-Yellow and Speckled Tanagers, Rufous Mourner, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Striped Woodhaunter, White-ruffed Manakin, Nightingale Wren and Green Shrike-Vireo.
While we missed our sought after Lattice-tailed Trogon, and we didn’t manage anything as awesome as a Sharpbill, Black-eared Wood-Quail, Speckled Mourner or Black-crowned Antpitta, we did get one new bird, the Ashy-throated Bush-Tanager, and we still had a laundry list of fantastic birds as well as just plain having good activity and a lot of birds in general at both sites. Definitely some of the better birding we’ve had in Costa Rica, despite the rain, and both sites that I would very happily return to!
Sorry, all the rain during our time at Braulio Carillo also means no pictures expect one of a cool decomposing leaf.