Arrival in Costa Rica

Orange-fronted Parakeet

Doran and I arrived in Costa Rica at 12:30pm on Saturday. We’d been planning this trip since February, and it was a thrill when we finally landed in Costa Rica after a 4:00am start that took us first to Toronto, then to Liberia after a five-hour flight down through Florida and across the Caribbean Sea. When we left Ottawa it had been cool and rainy, but the moment we stepped outside of the airport we were engulfed by the heat and humidity of the tropics. Although the humidity of the 30°C days seemed unbearable at first, we grew used to it by the end of the week – although any sort of exertion (such as hiking up the slopes of the volcanoes in the rainforest) was uncomfortably sticky. Still, we were thankful for the air-conditioning of the van that drove us to our resort, the Occidental Papagayo located on the Gulf of Papagayo in Guanacaste, about a 25-minute drive from the airport.


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.

Resort Entrance

Occidental Papagayo

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.

Ruddy Daggerwing

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.

Our room at the Occidental

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.

Occidental Papagayo

Occidental Papagayo

Walkway on the resort

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.

Mantled Howler Monkey

Mantled Howler Monkey

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.

Rufous-naped 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.

Variegated Squirrel

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.

Orange-fronted Parakeet

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.

Orange-fronted Parakeet

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!

Gulf of Papagayo

Gulf of Papagayo

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