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Morning at Carara National Park - Afternoon walk in the Billa Lapas Valley – return to Carara later


We met at 6am for a walk around the hotel grounds and the approach track which runs along a peninsular and offers panoramic views of Nicoya Bay and the coastline down to the river and town called6ku Tarcoles. A small flock of Scarlet Macaws dropped into the gardens and perched close-by for a short while, what a colourful and noisy start to the day.

We spent just 30 minutes walking along a track where several, previously not seen species, were added to our list, these included Turquoise-browed Motmot, Stripe-headed Sparrow, Rose-throated Becard, Yellow-naped Parrot, Scrub Euphonia, Orchard Oriole, and Cinnamon Hummingbird. The area was buzzing with bird life. Back at the terraced restaurant we ate breakfast from where we could see across vast tracts of forest, we picked out a very distant Yellow-billed Cotinga, our third cotinga species of the tour, this pure-white bird stood out like a miniature beacon in the bare branches of a tree about a kilometer away!

After breakfast we headed out for our morning walk in Carara National Park, it is a wonderful place, a great birding location and it has a very impressive sightings list, however it does not surrender its prizes easily you do have to work for them. Carara protects  4600 hectares (11,600 acres) of low-level forested land and offers two very well maintained trail systems, we took the ‘Headquarters Trails’ as soon as we got there.

It was quite hard going at first in the forest, birds were few and far between but there was plenty of other wildlife to be seen, not just birds! The Red-rumped Agouti was common so was Spiney-tailed Iguana, Variegated Squirrel, Spider Monkeys, White-faced Capuchin and we saw Lesser White-lined Bats in a roost.

Bird-wise we did eventually find Long-billed Gnatcatcher, Black-hooded Antshrike, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Dot-winged Antwren, Brown-capped Greenlet, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher and the endemic Yellow-naped Woodpecker. We also had several sightings of Northern Bentbill, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Barred Antshrike, our first Northern Waterthrush, Scarlet Macaws, Mealy Parrots and several Chestnut-sided Warblers.

Just before lunch we made a quick walk along another section of the forest called the ‘Riverside’ Trails, this wide trails system is the most well-known of all trails in the park. We hoped for Royal Flycatcher but couldn’t find one and the only significant find was a Red-crowned Ant-Tanager.

At lunchtime the bus picked us up at the entrance to the trail and we all went to lunch together at a roadside restaurant  near the Tarcoles River. A Plain-capped Starthroat was seen feeding in the garden of the restaurant, this was a new hummer for our list.

For the afternoon we walked along a metalled road, a quiet lane than led us high into the foothills inland from Tarcoles, called Billa Lapas. We quickly found riverside Wren but generally not too many species were on show. We did find Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Swainson’s Thrush, Spot-crowned Euphonia, Black-mandibled Toucan, Black-headed Trogon, a Lesser Swallow-tail Swift and several other species.

At 3:30pm we drove back into the forest where Johan led us to some small pools, this was the site where many species, especially Manakins, were coming to bathe before going to roost. We waited an hour but only a Northern Waterthrush and an Orange-billed Sparrow turned up! We did notice a Basilisk Lizard lingering around the pools and we did see it dash across the water (hence the alternative name Jesus Christ Lizard) and Johan’s theory is that this lizard has been grabbing the bathing birds, so they have stopped coming!

Undeterred we ventured further into the forest, the light was fading but we had high hopes of seeing an Antpitta. Sure enough Johan found two Streaked-chested Antpittas, we got very close views as they ventured onto the track, marvellous, what a great sighting. Even better than that we found a Black-faced Anthrush doing a similar thing, so we had great views of two of the most highly prized species. It was a mesmerizing experience we all stood rigidly still, in perfect silence as these birds ambled by in close proximity, wow!

We set off back to the lodge driving towards a colourful setting sun, we could see several Lesser Nighthawks in silhouette as they hawked insects against a red-sky background. Later, sipping a cold beer on the terrace was a tranquil end to another day in paradise! Ah bliss!