This past weekend, I guided the Birding Club of Costa Rica’s trip to Esquinas Rainforest Lodge and surroundings. I’ve been there once before and as with that first experience, I am just dying to get back there!
The birding is pretty much first rate, the herps are pretty darn good too, the service is excellent, they have trained, bilingual guides, the service is good, and the food is excellent. It’s no wonder that guidebooks have raved about the place and called it one of the top eco-lodges in the country. After the recent trip, I have to say that I agree with those accolades.
Watching birds at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge.
I won’t bore with too many details about the lodge because there’s too much to say about the birds. The road from the highway to the lodge passes through fields and edge habitats that turn up rather local species in Costa Rica such as Pale-breasted Spinetail, Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, Red-breasted Blackbird, Scrub Greenlet, and others. Even though we started birding that road at the hot lowland hour of 11:30 A.M., we picked up several of the targets in less than an hour. The spinetail came to the edge of the road and as several birds bathed in puddles, we got great looks at the seedeater as it perched in a roadside tree.
Those bathing birds.
Smooth-billed Anis also put on a long-tailed, arch-billed show.
Other interesting species could certainly occur in the marshy ditches that run along part of the road but we didn’t have time to adequately investigate them (nor good access).
Rice fields near the lodge have unfortunately been converted into pasture but they still held Southern Lapwing, Red-breasted Blackbird, and Striped Cuckoo among other species. At Esquinas itself, the gardens around the lodge were busy with birds more or less all day long and provided easy looks at a good variety of edge and forest species. Just after dawn, I saw more than one Black-faced Antthrush doing its rail-walk through the gardens and even near the rooms. Gray-chested Doves were also easily seen at that hour while Orange-billed Sparrows hopped around in plain view throughout the day.
We got repeated, great looks at nice birds like Green Honeycreeper, Golden-naped Woodpecker, Spot-crowned Euphonia, Cherrie’s Tanager, Bananaquit, Riverside Wren, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Black-hooded Antshrike, Yellow Tyrannulet, and brief views of less common species such as Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, White-vented Euphonia, and Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager. Gray-necked Wood-Rails were common and easy to see every day of the trip and on the last morning, we got killer looks at Great Curassows feeding in the garden (!). After my recent experience at Esquinas, I think this lodge tops La Selva for curassow encounters.
When I showed my daughter this photo she said it was a peacock.
We also saw Gray-headed Tanagers on several occasions.
A Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher was nesting over the stream and thus allowed prolonged studies of this smart little rainforest flycatcher.
Crested Guans hung out and called from the canopy in the morning and we got scope views of Mealy and Blue-headed Parrots and Orange-chinned Parakeets while four other Psittacid species were flyovers. A pair of Spectacled Owls also called from the vicinity of the lodge and the place looks very promising for owls in general. On our one owl search, although we didn’t hear any (probably wrong time of the year), we got fantastic looks at a Striped Owl in the fields just before reaching the lodge. On another night, some of the group did a fantastic frog tour with the excellent local guide, Mario while my friend Susan and I searched for frogs and snakes on our own. In a matter of minutes, we saw several frogs and this Blunt-headed Snake with an anole in its jaws!
The gardens were also excellent for hummingbirds and we recorded a total of 11 species during our stay. Charming Hummingbird was the most common species.
Here you can see why the Charming Hummingbird was formerly known as Beryl-crowned Hummingbird.
Nesting Bronzy Hermit constantly posed for photos!
Although the lodge has trails through primary and secondary forest, we spent little on them because several are steep and slippery. Our one foray onto parts of the Bird Trail turned up very few species but we spent little time on it and it looked promising. A few of us did a bit of birding on the Laguna Trail and we got great looks at Black-bellied Wren, Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Orange-collared Manakin, and other species of old second growth.
I was a bit surprised by the dearth of trogons (heard 3 species, only saw one) and raptors seem scarce but overall, the birding was great and we recorded more than 160 species. Several of those were uncommon, I was impressed with the excellent looks that we got at most of them, and the photo opps for birds were likewise excellent. For example, on our final morning, I was amazed to get this shot…
Little Tinamou !- although common, this second growth skulker is typically shy and tough to see. This individual came right to the edge of the road and looked at us! Yes, Esquinas is pretty darn good. It’s expensive but you truly get what you pay for and some at this first class eco-lodge.
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