Tonight I’m going to fly to the magical kingdom of Costa Rica, to reset and restart at Rancho Naturalista. This lodge has the longest checklist among the eBird hotspots of Costa Rica – over 55 % of the nation’s total, including about 40 hummingbirds.
Five years ago, I spent a day there and met Lisa Erb, the manager and owner, but also a former bird guide. “Hmmm…. well I moved in 1984 to live at Rancho and it was a coffee and sugarcane farm back then,” Lisa told me. “We tried everything, Hawaiian pineapple, black pepper, even jalapeños, and we could not make money from farming.”
Over 520 bird species were recorded in 140 ac / 60 ha of Rancho Naturalista’s private premontane forest reserve, at 3,000 ft / 900 m above sea level and belonging to the Caribbean (Talamanca’s) foothills biome: Sunbittern, hummingbirds such as Snowcap and Purple-crowned Fairy; Broad-billed and Rufous Motmots; Spotted Antbird, Lovely Cotinga…
“We loved the forest and had never cut it since we first owned the property. Then my dad spoke to some friends that lived up in the Costa Rican highlands who said they were going to have birdwatchers come to stay with them. My dad asked how did they do that? And they said they put an ad in Bird Watcher’s Digest and people would come, so we did that too! It started small and grew bigger. Over the years we had to expand but we never stopped being a strictly birding lodge.”
I am looking forward to start my mornings in a relaxed manner, with a coffee and sweets among the hummingbird feeders at the communal balcony of the lodge, observing Violet Sabrewing, White-necked Jacobin, Green Hermit, Green-breasted Mango, Crowned Woodnymph, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, etc.
“We started at the exact perfect time when ecotourism was starting – it was lucky! Plus, I love birds and birding and I began to guide and did that for 12 years. That background helps me feel what birders want and need in a lodge. We have also been lucky in having awesome guides and they go on to guide for different companies all over the world.”
You can also hike and bird the four ranch trails (ranging from 0.3 mi / 400 m to 1.6 mi / 2.5 km, and totalling 4 mi / 7 km) on your own, or with Rancho’s in-house guides, Mercedes and Harry. On a guided walk, it is possible to observe 120 to 140 species in a single morning, including Snowcap, Tawny-chested Flycatcher, Purplish-backed Quail-dove; White-collared (lek), White-crowned and White-ruffed Manakins; Dull-mantled Antbird, Thicket Antpitta, Black-throated Wren, Black-crested Coquette, Tawny-throated Leaftosser and the Grey-headed Piprites. Also a chance of Paint-billed Crake.
Nearby lies the El Copal Nature Reserve, offering Blue-and-gold Tanager, Snowcap, White-crested Coquette, Black-headed Antthrush and Tawny-chested Flycatcher. A bit farther away lies the Irazu Volcano National Park, reaching 11,000 ft / 3,400 m a.s.l. and offering a different set of birds, e.g. endemic Volcano Hummingbird and Flame-throated Warbler, Costa Rican Ground Sparrow, a chance of Resplendent Quetzal and Buffy-crowned Wood Partridge, and up near the crater, Volcano Junco and Timberline Wren.
I’ll fly tonight to the magical kingdom of Costa Rica.
Photos by Rancho Naturalista