Mark Pretti Nature Tours, L.L.C.

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Costa Rica
Pacific Rainforest, the Chiriqui Highlands, and the Caribbean Slope

February 22 - March 4, 2019

Costa Rica has been blessed with several important ingredients for high biodiversity – a tropical latitude, tremendous topographic diversity, and a strong conservation ethic.  In addition to being a physical and ecological link between North and South America, it is biogeographically rich with tropical deciduous forest, lowland rainforest, mangroves, beaches, cloud forest, towering volcanoes, and an abundance of rivers and streams, all of which contribute to a tremendous wealth of flora and fauna.

From the spoiled comfort of some of Costa Rica’s finest accommodations – Hotel Villa Lapas, Savegre Mountain Hotel, and Rancho Naturalista – we’ll explore some of these habitats and their rich wildlife. 

We begin and end our trip at the lovely Hotel Bougainvillea which is well known for its comfortable rooms, excellent service, and productive garden.  Among the roughly 50 species we've seen here are common and widespread species like clay-colored thrush and grayish saltator and others such as white-eared ground-sparrow, rufous-capped warbler, Lesson's (blue-crowned) motmot, crimson-fronted parakeet, and Cabanis' (plain) and rufous-naped wrens. 

Our first destination is on the Pacific slope where northwest tropical deciduous forest meets an isolated patch of lowland rainforest that runs to the border with Panama.  From the comfortable and bird-rich Hotel Villa Lapas, we visit Carara National Park and the Rio Tarcoles area where we enjoy nice trails, great birds, and fascinating natural history.  In addition to common species such as yellow-throated toucan, Hoffman's woodpecker, cocoa and streak-headed woodcreepers, orange-chinned and orange-fronted parakeets, dusky antbird, and several euphonias, we also look for regional endemics including black-hooded antshrike, fiery-billed aracari, Cherrie’s tanager, Baird’s trogon, orange-collared manakin, riverside wren, and Costa Rican swift.  This is also one of the few spots in the country where scarlet macaws are common.  Mammals that we've seen in the past include mantled howler and white-throated capuchin monkeys, white-nosed coati, nine-banded armadillo, several species of bat, kinkajou, variegated squirrel, and Central American agouti.  Of course, we also learn about plant ecology, insects, reptiles, and amphibians as we explore the general natural history and ecology of the lowland neotropics.

We then head to the highlands and Savegre Mountain Hotel, a rather luxurious place with excellent food and top-notch service.  Here in the cool cloud forest, we learn about a very different habitat and an almost completely different suite of birds, many of which are  endemic to the Chiriqui Highlands of Costa Rica and Panama.  While the biggest avian attraction is the resplendent quetzal, we also have good opportunities to see fiery-throated and volcano hummingbirds, white-throated mountain-gem, ruddy treerunner, buffy tuftedcheek, yellow-winged vireo, golden-browed chlorophonia, black-cheeked and flame-throated warblers, long-tailed and black-and-yellow silky-flycatchers, sulphur-winged parakeet, and large-footed and yellow-thighed finches.  Some of the less common birds that we've had pretty good luck with include Costa Rican pygmy-owl, dusky nightjar, wrenthrush, scaled antpitta, and spotted wood-quail.

We conclude our trip at Rancho Naturalista.  The very nice rooms, excellent food, productive hummingbird and fruit feeders, and impressive property list make this lodge one of Costa Rica's best birding and wildlife destinations. The hummingbird feeders attract crowned woodnymph, white-necked jacobin, green-breasted mango, bronze-tailed plumeleteer, violet sabrewing, and green hermit, while the Verbena flowers in the garden are great for smaller species such as stripe-throated hermit, black-crested coquette, green thorntail, and the local star, the snowcap, a diminutive chestnut-purple jewel with, as the name implies, a snow-white crown.  

Other "special attractions" at Rancho include; a bug light that attracts up to twenty species, including woodcreepers, warblers, white-breasted wood-wren, red-throated ant-tanager, tawny-chested flycatcher, and orange-billed sparrow; superb trails through good forest where birds such as plain antvireo, spotted and dull-mantled antbirds, brown-billed scythebill, white-ruffed manakin, scale-crested pygmy-tyrant, stripe-breasted and black-throated wrens, bicolored hawk, and many others are found; porch feeders where collared aracari, Passerini's tanager, gray-headed chachalaca, mourning warbler, black-striped sparrow, Montezuma oropendula, and other eye candy can be seen; and a narrow stream with a series of pools that, in the late afternoon, attract bathing purple-crowned fairy, snowcap, crowned woodnymph, tawny-throated leaftosser, and scaly breasted wren. 

Costa Rica's long standing popularity with nature-based tourists is well deserved as it's an easily reached destination with superb infrastructure, easy access to many habitats, and many warm, talented people who help put together a memorable trip.

The 2019 cost will be about $3400 per person, double occupancy, and includes all lodging, meals, entrance fees, and ground transportation from San Jose, Costa Rica.  Limited to 9. 

Fiery-throated hummingbird and resplendent quetzal by Elizabeth Lauer

Last updated: March 12, 2018.