Carrara National Park
We left early the next morning, taking a very beautiful drive across the hills toward the Pacific Ocean. By chance, we were the only guests on the tour, so the guide was able to pay special attention to my birding needs.
Our first stop was Playa de Jaco. As we took a break on the beach after our long drive, I spotted some Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans offshore. Next, we proceeded south to Rio Tarcoles, and stopped to look for wildlife from the bridge. We saw several crocodiles , as well as Roseate Spoonbills, a Little Blue Heron, a Snowy Egret, and several kinds of swallows: Mangrove, Northern Rough-winged and the very recognizable Barn Swallow.
We arrived at Carrara National Park very early, and proceeded to take a trail into the rainforest. According to the guide, much of the land had once been cleared, and there were still some spots that had not yet been fully reclaimed by the rainforest. In some places, we were walking through open fields, and in others, we were in such ancient forest that the guide pointed out plants that were endemic to the surrounding one or two square mile area!
This provided an awesome variety of habitat for the animals. I could not believe how many birds we saw that day: In the densest forest, we found Pale-billed Woodpeckers , Violaceous Trogons, Dot-winged Antwrens, Chestnut-backed Antbirds, a Greater Tinamou. In the clearings, we saw Roadside Hawks and hummingbirds like Long-tailed Hermits. In the canopy were Chestnut-mandibled Toucans and Mealy Amazon Parrots.
Also of note were the most popular bird in the place: Scarlet Macaws. The macaws were a delight to watch. They were so active: feeding, preening each other, flying from treetop to treetop, and chattering nonstop.
Later on, we stopped at a very narrow vantage point to have a look at a little pond, and see if we could spot another crocodile . It seemed quiet, except for an Amazon Kingfisher that was perched on a nearby branch. As I scanned the area, I suddenly started noticing birds! Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, a Green Heron, a Boat-billed Heron, a Reddish Egret, Anhingas, and a Least Grebe. When the guide found a croc, I looked right past it, and noticed a Northern Jacana, daintily treading on the waterliles very near the big reptile.
We also spotted a small group of Capuchin (White-faced) Monkeys climbing around in the canopy, as well as large numbers of migrants from North America. Among these were a Northern Waterthrush, Yellow Warblers and Pine Warblers.
At the end of the day, we stopped on the bridge at Rio Tarcoles again, this time to watch the flocks of Scarlet Macaws as they made off to roost for the night. As the light began to wane, the bright red birds started passing over us in loose formations, shriekly loudly all the way. Mixed in with them were also a few pairs of Red-lored Amazon Parrots, dwarfed in size and almost plain in comparison!
Irazu National Park/Cartago
Having one additional day in San Jose, we decided to take another tour, this time to Irazu Volcano National Park. Although the volcano was very interesting, we didn't see too much in the way of animal or birdlife. The most interesting bird I saw at the high elevations was a Volcano Hummingbird.
Later on, we decided to continue on the tour and go to a shade-grown coffee plantation and botanical gardens at Cartago. On the drive down to the coffee facility, I noticed a Bat Falcon perched on a utility wire near a dam. At the botanical gardens I saw a White-breasted Wren, as well as a few Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds at their feeder.
The birding that day was very slow compared with the previous day. The good news was that the guide on this tour happened to be studying ornithology at the university, and he offered us some tips on finding the Resplendant Quetzal at some orchards near San Jose. That information might be useful if we didn't have any luck finding them at Monteverde. Our next stop, however, was Arenal. We picked up our rental 4x4, and started for Arenal early the next morning.