I have spent the best part of the last 15 years birding in the tropics, seven of which have been spent living in Ecuador. However, in spite of this there has been a massive gap on my travel/birding list that seemed to be all the more glaring each year that passed: Costa Rica. I had never had the chance to go there, and see for myself why so many people wax lyrical about it. And so when the opportunity came to join the Tropical Birding tour being led by Michael Retter I jumped at the chance; I warned Michael, jumped on to a plane to San Jose, and my great Centra American adventure began. My plan was to join the Introtour for Tropical Birding, then spend a further week or more scouting further sites and species with fellow "Tropical Birder" Andrew Spencer and his girlfriend, manic sound recordist Tayler Brooks, before re-uniting with Michael Retter in Panama City for a leg in that country too.
Our first morning's birding in Costa Rica was manic, and quickly made me think, "I am gonna like this place; a lot". A short stroll around the lavish gardens of our hotel just outside the capital, produced a trio of Blue-crowned Motmots whooping from the trees, Rufous-naped Wrens were so tame they challenged me not to walk away with wonderful photos, and our major target, White-eared Ground-Sparrow, helpfully bounced out of one of the hedgerows and onto our life lists just in time before the doors for breakfast opened.
After this frantic start in what is the most depauperate part of Costa Rica, the Central Valley, we headed north out of there to the middle elevations of the Caribbean Slope, and Braulio Carrillo National Park, which Michael warned us might just be the hardest birding on this Introtour. Tall trees and dense foliage often providing a substantial barrier to the many avian treasures hidden within this park, which lies just an hour from the Costa Rican capital. However, we needn't have worried. The first bird we saw as we entered the trail was a Dull-mantled Antbird hopping around in the open on some stream-side rocks; not normal for this rainforest skulker! Next up was a very responsive Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush which sung back at us from eye level. A Black-thighed Grosbeak hiding out close to the distinctly more common Black-faced Grosbeak was a nice surprise there too. Once the trail fell quiet as the heat of the day approached fast, we emerged from the forest, drove 2km and settled in next to a purple-blooming bank of Porterweed and admired a heady collection of hummingbirds fighting over the nectar crop. Most prominent were Violet-crowned Woodnymphs, although shortly after a deep purple bird with a gleaming white "snowcap" appeared: the legendary Snowcap hummingbird. This calmed everyone's nerves, as this was our best shot, and some were at least banking on this bird for the trip. Then a large dark hummer hiding in the shadows revealed its bright red feet, and led us to its identity: Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer (both of these were lifers, BUT I was looking for one more notable hummer for the day)...It did not take much longer before the shout went up-tiny hummer at the Porterweed. We checked the back, and there was a clear white band strapped across the rump, and fine plumes of black feathers making a punky crest; there was not mistaking the star of this show, the Black-crested Coquette!
After this super opening to our time in Costa Rica we got some refreshments and headed further north into the lowlands of the Carribbean slope, and the La Selva Biological Station, a center for tropical research and a legendary birding spot in its own right...