Costa Rican Birding Adventure
by Ned C. Hill

Part 3—The Arenal Volcano Area




Around Lake Arenal

We left Monteverde at around 9:00 am and headed down that long, bumpy, dirt road towards Lake Arenal. We arrived at a paved road (applause and shouts of joy) at Tilaran. We stopped several times to bird but the wind kept most birds down and out of sight. We did find a Swainson’s Hawk (so this is where they come in the winter) and some Montezuma Oropendula. The road took us all around Lake Arenal, the largest lake in Costa Rica. It is about 50 miles long, narrow and surrounded by volcanic mountains. At this lower elevation, the wind died down and we started to see more birds. At a finger of the lake, we found Muscovy Duck (wild down here), Passerini’s Tanager (males identical to Cherrie’s but females are much plainer), Gray-capped Flycatcher and Yellow-bellied Elaenia (a flycatcher). We found Black Phoebe and both Green and Amazon Kingfishers perched in low trees along the shore. We ate lunch at a very nice restaurant with a terrace and saw a Black-cowled Oriole visiting the flowers bordering the lawn.

Arenal Volcano

Turning off the main highway, we drove about 10 miles up a dirt road to our motel, the Linda Vista del Norte a few miles from the Arenal Volcano. It is active, but the top was shrouded in clouds. When the night is clear, one can sometimes see the lava flows glowing red. The motel is very nice and commands an excellent view of the forested valley below on one side and the lake on the other. From the parking lot, we looked into some nearby trees and found Melodious Blackbird, Giant Cowbird, Thick-billed Seedfinch, Tropical Peewee, White-winged Dove, and Grayish and Buff-throated Saltators. We checked into our rooms. I took the upper bunk—hoping I wouldn’t fall out during the night!
A trail leads along a ridge overlooking the forest just outside the motel. We took that and found a huge tree in a field. As we looked at the Red-lored Parrots in the tree, we saw something chasing them—a Laughing Falcon! This is a great find for Costa Rica. The bird feeds on snakes and is generally a challenge to find. It evidently has a nest up there—as the field guide says "in a great tree." We also found a kettle of tanagers: Red-thighed Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Golden-hooded, Blue-gray, and others. We saw several toucans and Rufous-collared Sparrows were common. Dinner at the motel was excellent; most of us enjoyed "lapia" a local fish from the lake. We’re starting to drink the water up here—they said it’s from a local spring and very pure. Hope that’s right. As darkness descended, I heard a familiar sound—Common Pauraque coming from the direction of the lake. I had heard and seen them in Bentsen State Park, Texas. We tried calling them in but failed.
I telephoned home to talk to Claralyn and she excitedly reported that Elizabeth Smart, the 15-year-old girl (daughter of my second cousin) who was kidnapped last June, was found in Salt Lake City alive. She was living with a strange couple that had abducted her. The man who called himself "Emanuel," professed a new religion and claimed Elizabeth as his second wife. She had been held for several months in the hills just above the Smart’s Salt Lake City home. Amazing! I did not think they would ever find her alive. I quickly went around to everyone’s room and shared the good news. We were all so happy for the family.


Arenal Volcano and Lake  by Ned Hill 



       Huge "Laughing Falcon" Tree   by Ned Hill






The Howler Monkeys

We awoke to very strange sounds coming from the forest below us—Mantled Howler Monkeys. They roar like a tiger with a cold—a hollow, haunting, penetrating roar. We looked and looked but could not see them in the trees. It rained lightly but we went out anyway and were not disappointed. Some of the same birds were there—this time I got to see the Red-thighed Dacnis myself. We also heard and then found an Olive-crowned Yellowthroat and later a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat for comparison. Back on the motel grounds we found a gorgeous Crimson-collared Tanager—one of the most colorful of all the tanagers. A Bronzed Cowbird—also in the SW US—was in a tree in the motel property.
After breakfast at the motel, we loaded up and headed down towards our next location. But we stopped along the way and found a tree full of Black-headed Saltators. At that same site we found a Purple-crowned Fairy working the flowers and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker—a familiar woodpecker of the eastern US. We also saw a Yellow-billed Cacique in some vines. Gray-headed Chachalacas called from the trees and displayed for us.
Then we headed down to a much lower elevation on the Caribbean side towards the most famous birding site in all of Costa Rica: la Selva.

   View from the Lodge  by Ned Hill







Copyright 2003 © Ned C. Hill – All Rights Reserved
The photographs in this article can be used only with permission of the photographer.