COSTA RICA BWC
BIRDING WITH A CAMERA
This is a Birding with a Camera® Tour (BwC). We try to balance seeing as many birds as possible while also trying to take great photos of them. We still target endemics and other specialties. We will also try to see and photograph other animals if any are around. Click here to see a comparison between our different types of tours. If you are looking for a traditional Birding Tour, you should check out our very popular Costa Rica Introtour (however, this BwC tour could still be enjoyable for birders who are not photographers, but are looking for a more relaxed trip.). If you are looking for a hardcore photography tour where the length of the bird list is not a priority, our Costa Rica Photo Tour would be a better option
Costa Rica is a birder’s paradise packed with many excellent sites. This tour has a similar length as our Costa Rica Introtour (Birding Tour), with a different itinerary to increase the number of bird species photographed while still amassing a respectable list of birds seen. This is a superb, short Birding with a Camera® (BwC) Tour with plentiful photo opportunities every day
The tour starts near San Jose looking for the recently-crowned endemic Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow (only found locally in Costa Rica), then moves to one of the country’s best eco lodges, Rancho Naturalista, which understands birders needs and interests like few others. Overlooking forested hills in the Caribbean foothills, this offers the best chance in the World at seeing the seductive Snowcap, which regularly frequents the garden. The lodge grounds and nearby sites often produce well over 100 bird species in a day, and some really treasured ones too, like Sunbittern and the local Tawny-chested Flycatcher. From there the tour heads up into the cloudforests of the Talamanca Mountains, which share a number of endemic species only found with this mountain range that just extends into western Panama. Among these are Collared Redstart, Talamanca and Fiery-throated Hummingbirds (both very easily photographed on this tour), and Black-and-yellow and Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers. This is also home to the must-see Resplendent Quetzal, and we shall be staying in one of the best lodges in the world to see this spectacular species, where they regularly nest on the grounds. Following a stint in the highlands we shall drop down the other side of the mountains and spend time in the foothills and lowlands of the Pacific Slope, to add yet more exciting species, like Turquoise and Yellow-billed Cotingas, Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager (a country endemic), Orange-collared Manakin, and Spot-crowned Euphonia, a South Pacific endemic. By the tour end, you will not only have sampled some of the most exciting birding sites in the country, seen plentiful specialty birds of the region (e.g. Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow), but also left with photographs to forever remember your trip by.
Note: starting with the August 2020 departure, we are modifying the following itinerary to spend only 2 nights (instead of 3) in the Talamanca Highlands, and to add a night on the central Pacific Coast.
Day 1: Arrival in San Jose. After arrival at the international airport in Alajuela (the official airport of San Jose), you will be transferred to a nearby hotel for the night.
Day 1: Arrival in San José. The tour begins this evening. After arrival in Costa Rica’s capital San José, you will be transferred to an excellent hotel. The hotel used is subject to availability, but many options have good chances to find birds right on the grounds.
Day 2: San José to Puerto Viejo via Cope Arte. We will visit the private Cope Arte reserve in the morning. Birds like the Russet-naped Wood-Rail, Long-billed Hermit, Crested Oropendola can all be regularly seen, along with Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, and the possibility of many others too. Well then continue on to the humid Caribbean lowlands, and will spend time at feeders in the local area. While the exact species make-up at the feeders varies from week-to-week, or even day-to-day, some of the species that are regular there include Yellow-throated Toucan, Gray-headed Chachalaca, Costa Rica’s national bird, the Clay-colored Thrush, and the black-and-red Passerini’s Tanager. Two nights will be spent at a lodge near Puerto Viejo.
Day 3: Frog’s Heaven and Nature Pavilion. We will stop at one of Costa Rica’s premier photography destinations: Nature Pavilion (recently renamed Dave and Dave’s Costa Rica Nature Park). The property has a series of both fruit feeders for songbirds and others, and also hummingbird feeders too, making for plentiful species to shoot. Nature Pavilion boasts natural perches that are set up between 2-5 meters away (6½-16½ft), in a 360° area, making shooting easy for the entire group, as there are always some of them bathed in the best possible light. The area for the photographers is spacious, and covered, so no matter rain or shine, we will be shooting there! The perches, complete with great backgrounds, can attract up to 20 bird species, with some of the most popular among bird photographers being Crimson-collared, and Golden-hooded Tanagers, Green Honeycreeper, and the black-and-yellow Black-cowled Oriole. Other possible birds there include, Buff-throated and Grayish Saltators, Olive-backed Euphonia, Baltimore Oriole, Great Kiskadee, and Black-cheeked Woodpecker. At the hummingbird feeders, only a few minute walk away from the fruit feeders, regular species include Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, White-necked Jacobin, and Green-breasted Mango. There is plenty of space and opportunity on this day to spend ample time with both the hummingbirds and the fruit-loving birds and get shots of a good number of species. We will also visit Frog’s Heaven, situated near Sarapiqui, where it is regularly possible to photograph amazing see-through glass frogs, the blue jeans form of Strawberry Poison Dart Frog and Green-and-black Poison Dart Frogs, and iconic Red-eyed Treefrog (“Pura Vida Frog”). Even the most ardent bird photographer will melt at the site of these amazing animals, with very good photos of some of these (if not all), virtually guaranteed.
Day 4: Macaws and Cataratas del Toro. In the morning, we will take a short drive out for a very special photo shoot of one of Costa Rica’s most dramatic birds, the Great Green Macaw, as well as the incredible Scarlet Macaw too. A local farmer has habituated a number of these huge parrots, and great shots are possible due to his intimate connection with these birds, as he has a series of natural perches on which to take them. Later we will travel back into the mountains, stopping at Cataratas del Toro, where feeders regularly attract Violet Sabrewing, Green-crowned Brilliant, Green Hermit, and sometimes also White-bellied Mountain-Gem and Black-bellied Hummingbird. The grain and fruit feeders alongside regularly bring in Brown Jays and Melodious Blackbirds, while scarcer visitor include the regional endemic Sooty-faced Finch and Buff-fronted Quail-Dove. We have two nights at the lovely Bosque de Paz ecolodge.
Day 5: Bosque de Paz. Nestled in a beautiful forested valley, Bosque de Paz has great birds active feeders. We stand a good chance of nailing shots of Black Guan, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, Yellow-thighed Finch, Green Hermit, Violet Sabrewing, Purple-throated Mountain-gem, Talamanca Hummingbird, Ruddy-caped Nightingale-Thrush, Silver-throated Tanager, Torrent Tyrannulet and others, and maybe even a few mammals such as White-nosed Coati.
Day 6: Bosque de Paz to Laguna del Lagarto Lodge. In the morning, we will make our way west to another quality lodge and photo destination; Laguna del Lagarto Lodge. The change in locality offers some new and exciting species to shoot from those experienced earlier on the tour, as the lodge fruit feeders are quite different from anywhere else in the country. Species like the dramatic Keel-billed Toucan, spectacular Montezuma Oropendola, dashing Collared Aracari, and smart Brown-hooded Parrot are most reliably photographed here. Other exciting bird possibilities include Red-legged Honeycreeper, Great Curassow (a large and impressive gamebird), Masked Tityra, and Bananaquit. A mammal, the White-nosed Coati is also a regular thief at the bird feeders! Canoeing in the three private lagoons is also possible on request, for no extra fee. Two nights will be spent at this location.
Day 7: Laguna del Lagarto Lodge. This morning we have a very special treat and activity in store; we will visit a special blind for photographing the striking King Vulture, which is best photographed at around 8am in the morning, in terms of light and the reliability of the bird at this time. After two hours or so, we will leave as the heat in the blind will become troublesome, and we should have got plenty of shots by that time also. We will focus much of our time on the feeders right at the lodge, in particular for the amazing Keel-billed Toucan, which is best looked for in the morning. We can also visit some local hummingbird feeders (not on the lodge grounds but very nearby). Here, we will have a session using multi-flash photography techniques with some lowland hummingbirds like White-necked Jacobin, Crowned Woodnymph, Scaly-breasted and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds.
Day 8: Laguna del Lagarto to La Ensenada. After more time at Laguna del Lagarto, we’ll head west to somewhere very different, the dry, wooded lowlands of the North Pacific. The bird list and photography list will change markedly, with the rapid change in habitat we will have undergone by then. The Pacific lowlands in northern Costa Rica comprise of open woodland and scrub, with easier lighting conditions than further south (i.e. Carara), and an abundance of colorful and confiding birds to shoot. We will stay in a lodge near the ocean where birds are plentiful and often quite tame, such as White-throated Magpie Jay, Turquoise-browed Motmot, and White-fronted Parrot.
Day 9: Hacienda Solimar. We’ll take a day trip to a ranch dedicated to birders and nature photographers, where local guides will help us shoot what we desire, whether it be White-throated Magpie-Jays, Turquoise-browed Motmots, Streak-backed Orioles, and Black-headed Trogons in the wooded areas, or storks, herons, ibises, ducks, and spoonbills in the large wetland areas that dot the property, which borders the vast reserve of Palo Verde National Park. (PLEASE NOTE: While, typically, this ranch is famed for its amazing abundance of waterbirds in their multiple wet spots, in occasional recent years, there have been unpredictable and highly unusual drought periods that have dried some of these wet areas out completely and led to very low numbers of waterbirds. However, even if this rare situation were to occur again, Solimar is still well worth the visit for the woodland birds alone, as they provide plentiful photo action all on their own). The day will be spent shooting in and around this vast property, where open woodlands provide good opportunities to shoot colorful songbirds, and the wetlands, which pepper the property provide ample chances to photograph a wide range of waterbirds. The expert local guides are also likely to offer stakeouts for other birds, like day-roosting Pacific Screech-Owls or Spectacled Owls. More cryptic species like Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and Lesser Nighthawk can sometimes be found too, well within photographic range.
Day 10: La Ensenada to Carara NP. We’ll drive a couple of hours south along the Pacific coast, where we will enjoy a short stop around Carara National Park during the afternoon. A single night will be spent just outside Carara National Park.
Day 11: Tarcol River to the highlands. A morning boat ride will be taken along the Tarcol River in the South Pacific. The boat cruise starts out on the wider part of the main river, where subjects like Southern Lapwing, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, and American Crocodile often allow close approach. This boat trip can be good for kingfishers (PLEASE NOTE: This is very tide dependent); Amazon, Green and American Pygmy-Kingfishers all occurring in the area, and relatively easy to find on some trips and difficult if the tide is high on others. Either way, there will be a number of birds to photograph during the cruise, but the specific species varies from trip to trip. We shall also take a short trip down a tributary through the mangroves, where different species may take center stage; at this time of year good numbers of dazzling lemon-yellow Prothonotary Warblers can be found in the mangroves, and Common Black-Hawks often stand sentry on perches overhead. One of the most photogenic of all birds on this cruise are the abundant Mangrove Swallows that often dart around the boat, and even land right on the boat, meaning that big lenses are not usually required for them! Later in the morning, we will drive several hours up into the Talamanca mountain range in central Costa Rica. Three nights will be spent in the area, divided between two different lodges with feeders. In the afternoon, we will begin by shooting amazing hummingbirds, like Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Lesser (Green) Violetear, and Talamanca (Magnificent) Hummingbird. There will be the opportunity for one session of multi-flash photography with these hummingbirds at some point, although it will be decided on arrival at the lodge whether to do this on this afternoon, or the following morning instead (this decision is based on local weather conditions at that time).
Day 12-13: Paraiso Quetzal and Savegre. These two areas are some of the most reliable places in the world to see, and photograph, the Resplendent Quetzal. The “best” place varies unpredictably from year to year; sometimes it is in the Savegre Valley, sometimes it is right on the grounds of Paraiso Quetzal, and sometimes it is somewhere totally unexpected; we can visit whichever sites are best at the time. Feeders at both sites provide plentiful photographic opportunities, from the Flame-colored Tanagers and Yellow-thighed Finches which visit the fruit feeders at Savegre, to the procession of hummingbirds at the nectar feeders, which regularly host species birds like White-throated Mountain-Gem, and Volcano Hummingbird at Savegre, in addition to those mentioned before at Paraiso Quetzal, which attracts higher elevation species. Lights at night also attract insects, which subsequently attract birds too during the following mornings, making for spectacular chances to photograph birds like the stunning Collared Redstart and tame Silver-throated Tanager. As previously mentioned, there will be a multi-flash session with the hummingbirds of Paraiso Quetzal, which may occur on this day, if we choose not to do this the afternoon before.
Day 14: Return to San Jose. After some final time in the highlands, we’ll drive back to San José, where we spend the final night of the tour.
Day 15: Departure from San José. The tour ends this morning with transfers to the airport; there are no photo shoots planned for this day, but you are welcome to do so on your own around the wonderful hotel grounds.
For later departure please call the office
20 February- 6 March
Price $6990; single supplement: $530
Tour leader: TBD
Please read the Trip Considerations before booking.
Length: 15 days
Starting city: San Jose
Ending city: San Jose
Physical difficulty: easy
Focus: wildlife and bird photography
Max group size: 6 + 1 leader
A system of superb lodges, fantastic feeder set ups, and an excellent network of exciting protected areas, make this a must-do destination for both the budding or experienced wildlife photographer.
There are no scheduled extensions, although productive, custom, extensions could be provided to go photographing in the southeast, where a whole suite of other avian "models" awaits.