25 – 27 May 2014
The Tawny-chested Flycatcher is endemic to foothill forests on the Caribbean slopes of Nicaragua and Costa Rica. In Costa Rica the best place to see this endemic is none other than Rancho Naturalista, a top-notch birding lodge located near Turrialba in the Cordillera Talamanca. Rancho Naturalista is a great place to see many of the Caribbean foothill specialties like White-crowned Manakin, Snowcap, Tawny-chested Flycatcher, Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, and perhaps even the Gray-headed Piprites. Rancho Naturalista protects 125 acres and maintains excellent well-groomed trails that lead you through secondary and primary forest. You can also spot a number of different hummingbird species that buzz the feeders all day long. I have never seen so many White-necked Jacobins in my life. The feeders there are full of White-necked Jacobins jockeying for position with Crowned Woodnymphs, Green-crowned Brilliants, Brown Violetears, and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds. The flowers around the lodge also provide great opportunities to see the more elusive Snowcap.
Our first mourning at the lodge we headed out early and quickly found the Tawny-chested Flycatcher right near the cabins where we were told it would be hanging out … check! And we even saw the Tawny-chested Flycatcher feeding a fledgling. After taking in the flycatcher we headed to the trails and passed the forest hummingbird feeders that were alive with White-necked Jacobins. Later down the trail we encountered White-crowned Manakin, Scale-crested Pgymy-Tyrant, Zeledon’s Antbird, White-ruffed Manakin, Bay-headed Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, Golden-hooded Tanager, Plain Antvireo, and 55 more species (eBird list). The birding at Rancho Naturalista is fantastic! Rancho is also great place to stay to explore additional birding locations nearby. The staff at Rancho Naturalista are super kind and very accommodating and aim to make your stay as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. They also know where to find all the birds and have excellent guides on staff. Thank you Rancho for making our stay so wonderful! We enjoyed every moment.
While in the area we also had the fortune to spend some time with Herman Venegas, a local guide, to talk about all things bird. Herman is super passionate about birds and birding and we loved chatting away the afternoon with him. Herman was kind enough to give us the inside scoop on birding in the area as well. Still on the lookout for the Gray-headed Piprites, Herman told us to check out the Vereh Valley, a place where he has most frequently encountered the Piprites. Not only did he tell us about where to look for the Piprites, Herman gave us some fantastic tips for trying to find the elusive bird. Herman said that the Piprites almost never comes to playback and if you hear it you better be ready to chase it through the forest. Armed with loads of information, Josh and I headed to Vereh Valley and started the hike up to the forest patch that Herman described. After a little bit of meandering through the fields, we finally made it to the forest and paced back and forth listening intently for the pip pip pip of the Piprites.
We came upon a mixed flock of Tawny-capped Euphonias and Slaty Antwrens in the understory and Ashy-throated Chlorospingus, Lesser Greenlets, Emerald, Golden-hooded, and Bay-headed Tanagers in the canopy when we heard a faint pip pip pip. We stopped dead in our tracks and looked at each other in amazement! Where was the pip pip pip coming from? The call was very faint and hard to localize but we knew without a doubt that we just heard a Gray-headed Piprites. We scanned every bird in the flock hoping to find the Piprites, but found none, only a few Ashy-throated Chlorospingus that made us take a second look. Whenever we are on the look-out for one bird I am always reminded of an old tootsie roll commercial from my childhood. Because every time you spot a bird you think … that’s it, but really … “whatever it is I think I see becomes a Gray-headed Piprites to me” (sung to the tune of the tootsie roll commercial). The flock disappeared quickly with the canopy birds heading one way and the understory birds heading the other direction and we never heard the Piprites again. We spent about 4 hours searching for the Piprites but never heard another pip. The Vereh Valley, however, is stunning and the birding is great. We had a number of mixed-species flocks composed of a several tanager species including White-shouldered, Silver-throated, Bay-headed, Emerald, Black-and-Yellow, and Speckled Tanagers. To get to the Vereh Valley we recommend that you contact Herman or the folks at Rancho and be guided to the area. The trail to the forest is not very easy to find and passes through indigenous lands so it is always nice to have a local with you.
Herman also gave us tips on where to look for the Rufous-rumped Antwren another hard to find Costa Rican bird. The Rufous-rumped Antwren, although not endemic to Costa Rica has a very spotty distribution throughout Central and South America and does not seem to be too common in any location. In Costa Rica, Rufous-rumped Antwren is only at mid-elevations along the Caribbean Slope and is hard to come by. A reliable place to see Rufous-rumped Antwren is along the road that leads to Silent Mountain at reserve owned by a lumber milled called Aravar. To access this area permission will need to be obtained from Aravar or you will need to hire Herman to take you up to the reserve. The hike up to the forest patch is very steep and the paths that lead through the forest are not maintained and difficult to follow, so heading up to Aravar is not for everyone. When we were there Aravar was for sale, so who knows what will happen to this place in the future, but the owners of Aravar where keen to know that a rare bird hangs out in their reserve. Perhaps in the future they will develop a bit of birding tourism, who knows. In addition to the antwren, Aravar is also a great place to look for the Red-fronted Parrotlet. Josh got a very fleeting look at a Red-fronted Parrotlet as it streaked through the sky but I missed it completely. There is a large fig tree up on the ridge that when it is fruiting is a fairly reliable place to see the Red-fronted Parrotlet. We were a little luckier with the Rufous-rumped Antwren however. We came upon a mixed flock of Ashy-throated Chlorospingus, Black-and-Yellow Tanagers, Lesser Greenlets, Tawny-capped Euphonias, Russet Antshrike, and more. High in the canopy we could hear the parts of the song of the Rufous-rumped Antwren but the song was jumbled with all of the other birds flitting in the canopy. We worked the flock for about a half an hour and found a little bird moving quickly and foraging like a warbler high in the canopy. Finally we both managed to get on the bird and stay on it long enough to see a dark cap and a pale lemon belly; two field marks (although not the most distinctive) for the Rufous-rumped Antwren. We tried and tried to get better looks at the Rufous-rumped Antwren but that was all we got. Rufous-rumped Antwrens are quick and always at the top of the canopy so getting good looks can be challenging. Although the trails are over-grown and difficult to follow we had a fair number of good birds at Aravar (eBird list).
To visit the Vereh Valley or Aravar contact Herman Venegas (506 8893-4847) or inquire at Rancho Naturalist.