3 April 2014

Under the Volcano

Before arriving in Costa Rica we had decided on four places to base ourselves for a two-week stay, based in part on Barrett Lawson's site guide to the country "Where to watch birds in Costa Rica" (Helm, 2009).

Lawson's book is very thorough, and what comes across well is the notion that moving a short distance to a new site can produce lots of new birds.  Different elevations and different habitat types can hold differing sets of species, even though Costa Rica is not a big country.  

So we moved from "Caribbean Middle-Elevations" (Rancho Naturalista) to another part of the same zone, Arenal Volcano National Park.  While Rancho is a former coffee plantation in a fairly rustic corner of the country, the volcano at Arenal and the nearby town of Fortuna have become the centerpieces of some fairly intense tourist activity. Hiking, horse riding, zip-lining and white-water 
rafting are all industries that got kick-started when tourists came to gawp at Arenal Volcano, which was active between 1968 and 2010.

We stayed at Arenal Observatory Lodge.  

Lodge reception

Observation deck at the Lodge

Oropendolas in control - apart from two Brown Jays
The hotel was busy and well-run, but not exclusively for birders. The much-vaunted view of the volcano was obscured by mist for most of our stay, but the birds were more than adequate compensation. The deck at the front of the restaurant had a fine view of the bird-feeding set-up, which was usually dominated by Montezuma Oropendolas.

Montezuma Oropendola

Red-legged Honeycreeper

Arenal Volcano - we could almost see the top !

And, of course, many of the other birds we saw  were new to us, both on the trails and along the access road.

Orange-bellied Trogon

Orange-bellied Trogon

Hoffman's Woodpecker
Although we had seen one rather mangy Coati at our previous site, at Arenal they went around in large groups, and were obviously well used to cadging scraps of food from visitors.


Shall we be friends ?
Here's one who thinks Jemi is going to give it some food. Wrong ! Obviously, we had no intention of feeding any animals that should be "wild".

Don't think we'll try this in the Hire Car
Finally, photographed from the car at a small bridge, another member of the "Green Kingfishers of Central America" set !

Amazon Kingfisher


  1. Spectacular birds all beautifully photographed John. What an adventure. Incredible.

    1. Thanks, Russell ! The marvel of CR was colourful birds everywhere !

  2. Back in the late 80's and early 1990's, I used to go to the Fortuna area before the hordes of tourists discovered it. Everything was quiet, dirt cheap, and wildlife abounded everywhere. It was my favorite part of Costa Rica.
    Judging by your photos, there are still good things to see there, but you should have seen it back then.

    1. John,
      I can imagine. I was talking to someone about a Chinese birding site and he said "You should have gone in 1993 !"
      Better late than never..

  3. Wow, just wow! Love the wider shot of the oropendolas at the feeder. Birds must be 'numerous' there!

    1. Ayuwat,
      There's no shortage of Oropendolas, that's for sure….