13 Jul 2014

La Selva Biological Research Station, Costa Rica

Pale-billed Woodpeckers, La Selva

Our first taste of the public bus system in Costa Rica saw us on board a shiny new Chinese-made "Higer" coach, thundering southeast from Los Chiles near the Nicaraguan border to San Carlos. The coach had the customary television rack on the ceiling behind the driver, but mercifully there was no blaring TV in it. 

San Carlos Bus Station
We changed buses at San Carlos, and got to Puerto Viejo in late afternoon. We arrived at Estación Biológica la Selva in a Taxi and picked up our "Welcome Package" from the gate attendant. (On the phone a couple of days earlier, we had booked four nights at La Selva by phone.) The website is here:


La Selva is a protected area of 1,600 hectares of lowland forest at the tip of Braulio Carrilio National Park.  A network of well-maintained paths runs through the site. 

There are plenty of birds around, including this pair of Currassows at the edge of the football field.

Great Curassows - pair

Great Curassows - pair

Nearby, another large and characteristic bird..

Crested Guan

La Selva is not a hotel, so the rooms are rather spartan for the money you pay, and meals are taken in the canteen with the researchers, students and staff. Still, the birds and other wildlife made it great value.

Staff accommodation

In the "other wildlife" category.

Eyelash Pit Viper

The station has a public birding session from mid-morning  and keen birders can hire one of the available guides from 06:00 for a couple of hours at first light. Our rooms were actually a full kilometer from the main station area, but we always saw "good" birds along the broad concrete track between the two places.

Great Tinamou

While there we saw a number of foreign birding tour groups coming and going. Some were staying at the station, but others were obviously staying in the variety of lodges and hotels in the area outside it. With a lot of active birding going on, the visitor can pick up the latest "gen" quite easily.

Snowy Cotinga

Rufous-winged Woodpecker

Semiplumbeous Hawk
A good example of following up "gen" was news that Bare-necked Umbrellabird could be seen near a certain junction of two of the tracks.

Bare-necked Umbrellabird
This was "only" a female, but we were pleased to find it. Another species we stumbled over by ourselves was a party of Purple-throated Fruitcrows.

Purple-throated Fruitcrow

La Selva turned out to be a great way to bring our Costa Rican birding to a conclusion.  We saw a good number of birds that were new to us, even though we had been in Costa Rica for four full weeks by then.  There were "best yet" views, too of species we'd seen before. The birds were relatively unafraid of people, too, so there were some decent photo opportunities.

With generally poor light under the forest canopy, I used the tripod quite a lot at this site. This crocodile was a reminder not to stray off the paths.

A fairly typical example of the "small stuff" on the forest floor. We didn't have any bird tapes, so it took a bit of patience to get a clear view.

White-breasted Wood-Wren

More birds were encountered in the forest between the canteen and our rooms.

Rufous Motmot

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Our last night in Costa Rica was back at the Hotel Gavilan, where we said "Adios" to our friends there, including the Spectacled Owls.

From there, we took a taxi to San Jose Airport (2 hours).

While in Costa Rica we saw about 350 bird species. The well-organized or well-guided birder would probably see more birds than we did, but we did it at our own pace, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

And who would have guessed*, Costa Rica's football team did far better than England at the 2014 World Cup.

(*Actually, about four million Costa Ricans could have guessed, probably)


  1. It's interesting to see somewhere I visited through someone else's eyes, especially as we didn't stay "on site". You had better views of some, and some different birds, to those I did as well. It's a bit surprising re the World Cup considering the populations, but I imagine they might be fitter in general as they do seem to walk quite a lot.

    1. There are so many birds at La Selva, it seems inevitable that some are going to be missed ! - a good excuse to go back.
      As for the football, it was great to see Costa Rica get so far.

  2. I do hope you are going to keep stunning us with more pics from Costa Rica! What an incredible visit with wonderful birds (reptiles too - love the Basilisk). My favorite of the bunch must be the Toucan - an amazing bird!

    1. Thanks, Jeremy, the Basilisk looks like the sort of thing the computer graphic special effects people might make up, doesn't it ?

  3. Beautiful birds and fantastic photography. A trip I hope to make some day.

    1. Thanks, Lyle… Costa Rica is a great country to visit.

  4. Another stunning series of birds from the other side of the world! I've always wondered why so many birds in Latin America look so otherworldly beautiful. The pit viper is also stunning!

  5. Thanks, Ayuwat, there is plenty of tropical variety in CR !

  6. Just jaw-dropping stuff, John. Beautiful pictures and what a BBC production of species to behold. Love the woodpeckers you started with. I think I met them in the 80s. And that pit viper just looks too beautiful to be dangerous. Is it? What a great adventure. Thank you for showing us.

  7. Thanks, Russell. The Pit Viper IS venomous, apparently - one of the other guides had found it and told ours. The 500mm lens wasn't the ideal length for photographing such a creature, but - strangely - I was comfortable at a 500mm kind of distance !

  8. More amazing photos John..................