Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Costa Rica: The Urban Birding Report

Parque Nacional
Every year, I like to take a walk on the wild side and do some urban birding at the places we stay.  I usually add a couple lifers from the long walks, but that's not the main purpose of this type of birding.  It's just a "fun" exercise into the world of local birding.  What do the people living in these urban places see?  So today, I'll take you to THREE places we visited. We'll visit Parque Nacional in downtown San Jose, Parque Metropolitano La Sabana just outside of the downtown, and CATIE near Cartago.

First off.  For those of you following our travel plans.  We left Monteverde by public bus.  There were two times that this bus left Monteverde.  There was a direct bus to San Jose at 7:30 and 2:30 PM. We noticed that the bus was FULL.  So buy your tickets early.  When you travel, you always go during the light of day as it's much safer. Plus you get more birding time for that day.  

Several hours later, we arrived in San Jose at our hotel.  It was very nice and near many of San Jose's museums and restaurants. At this point, Micheal wasn't having anymore birding for the day.  It's hard to switch off the birding button when there are so many lifers to be discovered. For non-birders, they want to kill the birders for their non-stop chatter of birds.

Crimson-fronted Parakeets were common everywhere in and around San Jose
And at this point, I think the true birder, Gordon wanted to strangle me.  I'm kind of a spontaneous birder who likes to sing the song "Qué será, qué será! Whatever will be, will be!"  I tend to meander sometimes and he is super target focused:) We push each other to do better and that's teamwork. But I kinda got a day to play and research. And be a gyspy. 

Always seen in pairs feeding or just....cuddling
We did add the very common Crimson-fronted Parakeets to our lists.  I love parrots and parakeets so it was pretty exciting.  As for the safety at the Parque Nacional?  It was safe during the day, but according to the locals, not so safe at night.  Watch your things at all times.  While we were there, I spotted a group of guys watching people.  Fortunately for us, there were lots of school kids, families, tourists and locals enjoying the park. 

Blue-gray Tanagers were common almost everywhere we went
Then we passed the train station on the way back to our hotel and said, "Hey, let's take a look."  I saw this schedule and got excited.  We could take a train to Cartago for cheap!  Why not??!!  I asked the workers in the train station if that schedule was legit and their shook their heads yes.  

LOL!!!  The next day we were on our way to Cartago to meet up with friend and birder, Serge Arias.  This train was CRAZY!  It was open, as in NO doors, and very rocky.  At times, I thought the train would fall apart.  Our taxi driver was shocked that we even took that train.  "That's not safe! Cars hit that train all the time"  LOL!  Again, we traveled by day and were surrounded by nice people. So that's always a good thing. And it took us to the very beautiful city of Cartago for a little more than the US $1.50!  You can't beat that price!

Ahhh, look at Gordon's face.  This is classic.  And Micheal!  They're enjoying the torture:)  Serge Arias met up with us and we had a blast.  I'll focus more on Serge and his guides in the next two posts.  Right now, we're going to explore a really cool location just outside of Cartago to expand on this idea of urban birding. 

University of Costa Rica-Cartago division
Universities are great places to explore.  Granted, in Costa Rica, there were always guards at the entrances.  Normally you need a student pass, but I've discovered several ways I can weasel my way onto most campuses. I'm also an educator so I'm part of the academic world. Not that it matters, but it's the unknown benefits of teaching that can help open doors:) Plus, we're adding data to ebird.  So how is that not citizen science at work for the academic world?:)  During our treks to San Jose and Cartago, we'd explore two campuses.  For the San Jose campus, I spoke with the guard in Spanish and he was really kind to let us enter through the gates.  And for the Cartago entrance, Serge was able to get us into the area without any problems.  Although he warned us that we might be turned away.  Oh yeah....:)

Boat-billed Heron
We had almost given up hope that we'd ever see a Boat-billed Heron after dipping on the bird at Playa Tamarindo.  But Serge knew that there were several around this lagoon/lake.  And there were!!

Northern Jacana
Safety factor?  Safe.  Well, except for the caiman in the area.  We always had to watch out for them while birding the perimeter of the lake. 

Purple Gallinule
It rained and rained......

Cattle Egret
.......but the birds were really cool.  

After our day with Serge, we returned to San Jose via a local bus. During my research, I was shocked to discover Yellow-naped Parrots at a local park.  Now had I known what I know now, we wouldn't have gone because we added this bird later in Liberia.  But this story is worth telling.....

I think we walked 20 some miles on this day.  The Yellow-naped Parrot is endangered in several areas of Central America due to poaching.  The bird can mimic sounds and is very popular with people. So we headed to this park, La Sabana.  I'm ALWAYS careful with my camera.  I put it in a backpack away from the public eye and I ONLY take it out once we are at our location and in a "safe" area. 

Parque Metropolitano La Sabana is not for the faint of heart.  It may be an ebird hotspot but it's not a safe one
I've tried several times for this bird during my various treks into Central America and have dipped.  And this bird is the reason why we went.  We arrived at the park and I was already getting a sketchy vibe, but I saw joggers and elderly people walking.  THAT'S always a good sign.  But the park was unevenly safe.  People had warned us that there were areas where men would disappear into the bamboo groves with other men. oh oh.  But that didn't bother me.  Bamboo doesn't scare me, but here's what did.  

Variegated Squirrel
No.  No.  It wasn't this Variegated Squirrel above either.  We had located the Yellow-naped Parrots, or at least one of them.  I took out my camera and put it together to snap photos.  The area was clear and there was a kind woman walking on the track.  Safe.  Right?  WRONG.  She warned Micheal that I needed to hide my camera because of two boys in the distance.  She pointed in their direction.  I kept my eyes out for them.  But the birds distracted and before I knew it, they were closer. 

Yellow-naped Parrot seen at a restaurant stop heading towards Monteverde.  This was a captive bird. 
At one point, the young sketchy man told his friend in Spanish to stop riding his bike because he saw that I had a camera. Little did he know that I knew Spanish. What did we do? Before any of this had happened, I made a gamble. I had located the patrolling police with my eyes and also kept my eyes open as to where the runners were in case the teenagers got close.  And as predicted they got CLOSE!  I stopped and looked at the biker letting him know I knew he was eyeing up my camera. I should have taken a pic with my Iphone:) Wait?!!  Just how many thousands of dollars do birders carry on their bodies? We're like walking banks!  Then I signaled for the police at the other end of the lake.  They came.  As they did, we moved quickly to where the crowds were. Poor Micheal was wearing flip flops. It was serious at the time. I disassembled my camera and packed it back up.  The young men were trapped by the police and we left the area. We got our bird but I would not recommend gambling like this.  If the police hadn't come when they did, I might have been without a camera. Or worse! This isn't my first time at the rodeo though.  Again language is super useful here. I would not have played this game in any new culture that I was unfamiliar with.  In short, I won't forget our first experience finding the Yellow-naped Parrot anytime soon. 

When we returned back to our hotel, we were greeted by these little kittens.  I wanted to be a hoarder so badly and take them all home with me.  So, for this Parque Metropolitano La Sabana, I would, based on our experience, not recommend for birding unless it's on the weekend when there are lots of families grilling out.  People do bird there and it is a hotspot on Ebird but unless you're with a group of people, I would not recommend visiting alone.  

Urban birding is an adventure.  The number one danger factor in birding comes from...(drum roll)...other people.  Grizzly bears and Jaguars and Tigers got nothing on the evil world of humanity.  Every place has its challenges.  In Arizona, it's the lack of water and extreme heat. Anyhow, here are the reports from our urban trekking.....
For San Jose, Parque Nacional, click here.  Safety factor.  Safe during the day.  Be careful at night. Go with others. 
For the University of Cartago, click here. SAFE! But keep your eyes open for Caiman. 
For the Parque Metropolitano La Sabana, click here. I do not recommend this park unless you visit on the weekend and with a larger group of people. 
For the University of Costa Rica, click here. Safe!  Try to go when the garden is open because there are some great birds hiding in that area.  There is also a river that runs through the campus.  Very nice place to bird.  


  1. Your blog is so safe! I feel good reading your Adventures and it's fun to look at the two Jacanas.

  2. More lovely photos and birds :) That is a frightening story about those youths - you can never be too careful! So glad you managed to attract the police and you and your camera etc. were safe.

  3. Well that waswuite an adventure adn cold have ended up badly. I am very glad hearing all this that I went on a group to CR and saw none of what you are talking about - danger from people

  4. Hello Chris!:)You sure need your wits about you in these places. I'm glad the police were near, and you were able to leave with both photos and camera. You got some beautiful shots. I love the Boat-billed Heron image,..have never heard of this great looking bird. Be save, take care!


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