The resort was beautiful…it was built onto a long, sloping hill and contained large expanses of lawn, clumps of palm trees, mango trees, and other tropical trees, and a beach composed of sand and rocks. As the rainy season had started about a month ago, everything was lush and green, with flowers blooming on trees and shrubs.
I was immediately distracted by all the insects flying about, mostly dragonflies zipping through the air and butterflies flying from flower to flower – I had never seen so many insects on the wing before, reminding me once again that I was far from the cold Canadian north. I wanted to rush out and look at everything, though first we enjoyed a drink as we waited to check in. There is a long line of neatly clipped shrubs growing next to the grand staircase, on which many small flowers were in bloom. Several butterflies were stopping to nectar on the flowers.
After we finished checking in, a small open-air van drove us and our luggage to our room, which was situated in a low building on the cliff facing the ocean about as far away from the main building at the top of the staircase as you could get. Once we were settled in I took a walk to the edge of the cliff, which had a screen of trees growing down the slope; it was here that I got my first life bird, a White-throated Magpie Jay on a nest! Once again I’d printed a list of target species from eBird for the province of Guanacaste, although I wasn’t sure how accurate it would be for our region, the tropical dry forest of the Pacific Northwest – Guanacaste also includes rain forest near its borders, which gave me a total of 386 species needed for my world life list. The White-throated Magpie Jay – a member of the corvid family – was no. 4 on that list, and one I had expected to see here after reviewing photos of the resort online.
I was impressed by all the lush vegetation and green space on the resort. While the lawns and shrubs around the buildings and pool were all clipped and manicured, the areas around the fringes – particularly around the cliff and the area near the beach entrance – were allowed to grow more naturally, although I suspect this may change in the future as the resort was busily building another pool near a large grove of trees. Still, there were lots of trees and shrubs to attract a variety of birds, and even the blossoms of the hedges attracted a good number of butterflies. This was quite different from the resort we stayed at in Mexico, which was much smaller, and had a higher concrete-to-grass ratio.
As I was trying to get a photo of the Magpie Jay someone came along and said there was a family of Howler Monkeys in a grove of mango trees down the path. I followed and saw the monkeys high up among the leaves. They looked black in the shadows, and I saw a couple of smaller individuals that looked like babies! I tried to get some photos but it was fairly dark beneath the trees with dark clouds moving in.
Then the movement of something smaller in tree caught my attention, and I saw a bird ambling along the tree trunk. It had a white belly and black and white barring on its back, but when I saw the reddish patch on the back of its neck I immediately knew what it was – a Rufous-naped Wren, the second most common bird in Guanacaste according to eBird. These birds are common in the northern Pacific, inhabiting middle and lower levels of dry forest, second growth, and gardens near human habitations. It has a few different calls, though the one I heard most often was a whistling call that sounds like a Whip-poor-will. Unlike the wrens of Ottawa, it was large and conspicuous, looking more like a Downy Woodpecker and acting more like a nuthatch than a wren.
I headed back to my room after that, stopping when I saw a squirrel sitting on a tree trunk. It was initially running down the tree, but stopped when it saw me. I thought it might turn around and disappear, but apparently it is as used to humans as the squirrels back home. The unique colours identified it as a Variegated Squirrel, a species that comes in black, white, and red, or mixtures of each colour. The dark line down the back and the frosted white tail help to identify this species. It is the largest squirrel in Costa Rica, and is both common and widespread. It was about as large as our Eastern Gray Squirrels back home, and its body structure was very similar.
I got one more life bird on my way back to the room, an Orange-fronted Parakeet eating fruit in a mango tree. I got good looks at the yellow eye-ring, the blue crown, and the orange patch above its bill as it fed. For the first time I felt I was in the tropics, and I enjoyed watching it eat.
At no. 17 on my list of expected birds for Guanacaste, this was a bird I had expected to see on the trip, though I didn’t know if I would see any perching – apparently a lot of parakeets and parrots are seen on the wing, which makes identification more difficult. Fortunately it was content to hang upside down in the tree for several minutes and feed on the fruit there.
There were other birds around, familiar from my trip to Mexico last year: Great-tailed Grackles, White-winged Doves, a Tropical Mockingbird seen briefly while checking in (this was the only one I saw during the entire trip), Black Vultures, and even a few Magnificent Frigatebirds over the gulf. I wasn’t able to explore as much of the resort as I wanted, as a thunderstorm moved in later that afternoon; the rain lasted until after dinner. The sun never came out again, as it started getting dark around 6:30 – much earlier than I had expected.
So far Costa Rica was everything I had hoped it would be, from the tropical heat to the abundance of insects and Central American birds, from the wild mammals on the resort to the beautiful Gulf of Papagayo sparkling just outside our door. Even though our room was at the bottom of the hill, far from the front desk and the dining room in the main building at the top of the hill, we were surrounded by nature – exactly what we had wanted!
Hi I am going to the same hotel next year. Do you have a complete list of birds and butterflies seen you could e-mail me
Butterflies (and one moth) seen at the resort are (updated to current 2022 taxonomy & identifications per iNaturalist):
1. Long-tailed Skipper (Urbanus proteus)
2. Thoas Swallowtail (Papilio thoas)
3. White Angled Sulphur (Anteos clorinde)
4. Yellow Angled Sulphur (Anteos maerula)
5. Cloudless Sulfur (Phoebis sennae)
6. Tiger Longwing (Heliconius hecale)
7. Zebra Heliconian (Heliconius charithonia)
8. Banded Orange Heliconian (Dryadula phaetusa)
9. Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)
10. Julia Heliconian (Dryas iulia)
11. Northern Tropical Buckeye (Junonia zonalis)
12. Banded Peacock (Anartia fatima)
13. Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)
14. Glaucous Cracker (Hamadryas glauconome)
15. Guatemalan Cracker (Hamadryas guatemalena)
16. Ruddy Daggerwing (Marpesia petreus)
17. Elf (Microtia elva)
18. Black Witch Moth (Ascalapha odorata)
Birds seen around the resort or a short walk outside the gate:
1. Inca Dove
2. White-winged Dove
3. Groove-billed Ani
4. Squirrel Cuckoo
5. Plain-capped Starthroat
6. Cinnamon Hummingbird
7. Magnificent Frigatebird
8. Neotropic Cormorant
9. Brown Pelican
10. White Ibis
11. Black Vulture
12. Turkey Vulture
13. Pearl Kite
14. Common Black Hawk
15. Black-headed Trogon
16. Turquoise-browed Motmot
17. Ringed Kingfisher
18. Hoffmann’s Woodpecker
19. Crested Caracara
20. Orange-chinned Parakeet
21. White-fronted Parrot
22. Orange-fronted Parakeet
23. Great Kiskadee
24. Streaked Flycatcher
25. Tropical Kingbird
26. White-throated Magpie-Jay
27. Gray-breasted Martin
28. White-lored Gnatcatcher
29. Rufous-naped Wren
30. Streak-backed Oriole
31. Great-tailed Grackle
Hope this helps!