Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Birdwatching at Rainmaker

Today we were returning to San Jose, but our pickup wasn’t until 1pm. Plenty of time for an activity before then. We’d planned a bird watching tour with Brian, but he had to cancel at the last minute – the staff at reception were excellent, they called around and arranged an alternative tour for us, we weren’t sure what to expect, but it wouldn’t feel like an opportunity wasted. We were up at 5:30am for our last Costa Rican wildlife trip.

Birdwatching at Rainmaker

Rainmaker is a nature reserve about 30mins drive outside of Quepos, surrounded by palm plantations (which used to be banana farms). Here we met our guide, Luis. We were the first to enter the park.

We followed the “river walk and canopy bridge” trail, starting off along the Rio Seco river edge, then climbing up to six canopy bridges, 250m of suspension bridges high up in the trees – a little rickety, with old wooden planks to stand on. The trail ends back down by the river, where there’s a waterfall and natural pool to cool off in. Luis explained to us that throughout the park there are many different microclimates, and in different parts we’ll find different birds; the active riverside wren, and its nests, are only seen near the water’s edge. Higher up are bigger birds, like toucans.

Hanging bridges at Rainmaker
Hanging bridges at Rainmaker

Dart frogs and morphos

Around our feet we saw black and green poisonous dart frogs. But they were different to those in Cahuita. They were larger, they were mostly black with green stripes, and they were not turquoise, instead the green was kind of muddy. Luis explained that their poison comes from the ants they eat; until they’ve eaten enough ants they aren’t poisonous, which is usually as this time in the morning.

Flying up and down the river, back and forth, were beautiful blue morpho butterflies. In the morning they need to warm their body temperatures up, and they do this by slowly pacing up and down above the river, like a morning stroll. It’s mesmerising to watch.

Phone shot of black and green dart frog
Phone shot of black and green dart frog

Birds near the river

In this microclimate, where the treetops are thick and the air slightly humid, live birds that like to be by the river, those that can dominate here – where larger birds don’t venture. We heard an orange billed sparrow, and the little tinamou (also known as “wild chiken”, or “chicken of the forest”), the common cherrie’s tanager was vocalising – “ciri ciri ciri lo”, it says. The songs of a bright-rumped attila were also heard. But in these dense woods it was hard to see them all, and our guide didn’t carry a scope to point them out.

Two birds we did get a good look at were a female blue crowned manakin and a male spot crowned euphonia.

One of the notable trees we passed on our way up to the canopy was a wild cashew, a monster that grows up to 30m tall. Its poisonous nuts were littered along the trail, a favourite food of bats. There were wild pygmy bananas growing too; some small farms cultivate this species for local sale, but they aren’t exported.

We hadn’t put our mosquito repellant on this morning, we’d simply forgotten, and were growing tired of its chemical smell. Perhaps this is the time we regretted that; neither of us were bitten by mosquitos – its the dry season, there are hardly any, but Sam was bitten on her foot by a horsefly. That bite itched and itched.

On the floor were more green and black dart frogs, and we watched a tiny pygmy squirrel scuttle up a tree trunk; like a miniature squirrel with a tiny thin tail – perhaps it was just a young’un.

Crested owl

Higher up, where the foliage was less dense and a little more sunlight could penetrate the forest floor, we found a sleeping crested owl. Even with its beak down and its eyes closed, this bird was easily identifiable by its large white tufts above its eyes; a magnificent bird. Sam was so incredibly excited.

Sleeping crested owl
Sleeping crested owl

Birds in the canopy

After a short climb we reached the highest parts of the trail. One viewpoints affords spectacular views of the Pacific ocean to the west, before returning into the trees to cross the high hanging bridges.

Sam and Paul at viewpoint
Sam and Paul at viewpoint

Here we didn’t see any bigger birds, the toucans remained elusive, but we saw plenty of tiny ones. Zipping about, chirping wildly to defend their territory, we saw little aggressive hummingbirds; the violet headed hummingbird, the little hermit hummingbird, and the most beautiful hummingbird we saw in all of Costa Rica – it flew right up to us, before darting away in alarm – it was fairly small, was an iridescent purple, with a white chest. It wasn’t in Luis’ comprehensive bird book.

Violet headed hummingbird
Violet headed hummingbird
Little hermit hummingbird
Little hermit hummingbird

We also saw the radiant turquoise “green honeycreeper”, male and female; which we’d seen once in La Fortuna too (where we got a better picture).

While Samantha spent a short while trying to photograph a transparent-winged damselfly, I caught sight of something moving in the trees, something big. Only I could see it, it was large, definitely a mammal – a monkey, a sloth, what is it? I got excited as I tried to identify if, it turned its head and looked at me; oh, it’s a coati.

Samantha on a hanging bridge
Samantha on a hanging bridge
Sam and Paul on a hanging bridge
Sam and Paul on a hanging bridge

Down by the river

The walk back was short, a steep decline down some steps, to a waterfall and pool. We dipped our toes in and cooled off. High above us, circling, was a majestic and beautiful bird of prey – the American swallow-tailed kite.

We continued along, past the nesting riverside wrens again, and on to reception where a gallo pinto breakfast awaited us. From the clearing, over breakfast, we saw a couple more birds, a red-crowned woodpecker, and a tropical kingbird.

Gallo pinto breakfast
Gallo pinto breakfast

Birds:

  • Blue crowned manakin (female)
  • Spotted crowned euphonia (male)
  • Crested owl
  • Green honeycreeper
  • Violet headed hummingbird
  • Little hermit hummingbird
  • Possibly white-necked jacobin hummingbird
  • Riverside wren
  • American swallow tailed kite
  • Red-crowned woodpecker
  • Tropical kingbird

Other:

  • Coati
  • Green and black poison dart frog
  • Damselflies and dragonflies

Homeward bound

Our driver returned us to Villas Nicolas, we packed-up and checked out, ready for the transfer back to San Jose and our original hotel – Le Bergerac. The shorter trip, 180km, from Manuel Antonio to the capital was easy-going and on well-paved roads, until we hit rush-hour traffic; the last stretch took forever, the journey was just shy of 5 hours. Once again our Interbus driver was excellent; and while his English wasn’t excellent, we enjoyed many half-translated jokes and conversations.

Goodbye Costa Rica

We fell in love with Costa Rica. It’s a magnificent country that truly respects and understands nature, conservation and ecotourism. They’re a country that seems to just “get it”; they abolished their army and spent the budget on police and education. They pay a subsidy to farmers who re-forest their land. Every child plants and looks after 2 trees each school year, and their assignments include setting up camera traps to help measure wildlife populations. All hunting is illegal. Swimming with dolphins is illegal. They place huge value on their natural habitat and have designed a system that encourages its protection – it’s symbolised by the wildlife on their money, wildlife has value, nature has value. They recycle a lot, all public bins are split into rubbish types. They aim to be the first carbon neutral country by 2021. Their energy comes from solar, wind and hydrothermal - and they produce an excess that they sell to their neighbours. They are simply light years ahead.

If only the rest of the world were like Costa Rica, if the world valued its parks, its nature, its biodiversity, as much as Costa Rica, we might not now be facing an ecological catastrophe.

The flight home would take us via Newark, New York, and was 3 hours shorter than our outbound trip. Still, changing flights in the US and having to go through the entire immigration procedure is tiresome. There’s a new direct flight from Gatwick to Liberia now; we’re already planning our second trip – so many more things to see.

We’ll be back.


Google map generated from a GPS tracker of our travels around Costa Rica