Birding and Wildlife attractions of the Carara and Tarcol Area

Northern Royal Flycatcher
Carara National Park forest trails: There are two trails in Carara NP, the heavily canopied headquarters trail with mostly primary Pacific rainforest, and the more open canopied river trail with an oxbow lake and both secondary and primary forest habitats. Both trails offer excellent birding and wildlife and should be walked with patience at least once each during your stay. The trails are well maintained and mostly level for easy walking. Expect a multitude of birds, too many to list even the specialties, (see checklist). Other wildlife includes morpho and heliconia butterflies, Mantled Howler and White-fronted Capuchin monkeys, Collared Peccary, Coati, Central American Agouti (large rodent type), both Spiny-tailed and Green Iguanas, and Common Basilisk (a dragon-like lizard that can run across water). A knowledgeable bird guide will enhance your birding and wildlife viewing in this amazing park.
Mangroves: These unique trees are endangered in Costa Rica but prolific along the Tarcoles River as you near its mouth. You can access good stands along the road to and just beyond Playa Azul, by trail or by boat.
Specialties in the mangroves and adjacent scrub include Boat-billed Heron, Mangrove Black-Hawk, Mangrove Hummingbird, Panama and Northern Scrub-Flycatchers, Mangrove Vireo, Scrub Greenlet, Mangrove Warbler, and an occasional Mangrove Cuckoo or Yellow-billed Cotinga along with a host of other birds.

Boat-billed Heron
Tarcoles River Boat Ride: A great way to explore the mangroves and estuary is by boat. The boat captain typically has excellent spotting skills, knows the English names of the birds and where to find them. Highlights on this river cruise may include the endemic Mangrove Hummingbird, and the tiny American Pygmy Kingfisher, Roseate Spoonbills in all their glory, and many others. “What a Croc!” takes on a different meaning, here referring to the large, menacing looking Central American Crocodiles which are common along the river but very mild tempered, sleeking off into the water as your boat passes by. This boat trip is 2 1/2 to 3 hours in duration and can be arranged in advance through at Costa Rica Gateway.
Mangrove Birding Tour boat ride

Tarcoles River Estuary: There are not many good areas for waterbirds/shorebirds in the whole of Costa Rica, the Tarcoles River estuary Lodge being an exception. Magnificent Frigatebirds, herons, Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, gulls, terns, and waders of all types are present here in good numbers. Scarlet Macaws are regular in the early morning and late afternoon flying in pairs and groups over the estuary. October through April is best when the northern migrants are present. This area can be overwhelming for first time birders to the Americas.

Tropical Beach: This area can also accommodate those who want great birding combined with some quality sun-n-surf time on the beach. Punta Leona is a pleasant combination of both and still fairly close to Carara and Tarcol area. Guests staying at Villa Lapas will need to travel a short distance south to the public beaches of Playas Herradura, Jaco, or Hermosa.

We recommend at least three nights in this area in order see its amazing variety of birds and wildlife. We also recommend the Mangrove Birding Tour boat ride on the Tarcoles River and a guided day tour to Carara National Park.

Specialty birds of the Carara and Tarcol area:

Great Tinamou

Great Tinamou – Can be found on the forest trail leading out from the Carara NP HQ’s. Its long, tremulous call is rather haunting in the dark, late afternoon forest. Boat-billed Heron – Resident near oxbow lake in Carara NP and in mangroves along the Tarcoles River, guaranteed on the Mangrove Birding Tour boat ride. King Vulture – Always exciting, watch for them soaring above Carara NP and other well forested areas in the region. Mangrove Black Hawk – Readily seen along the Tarcoles River mangroves. Rufous-necked Wood-Rail – Very rare in Costa Rica, many recent sightings on Mangrove Birding Tour boat along narrow canals. Collared Plover – Quite local in Costa Rica, resident at mouth of Tarcoles River. Shorebirds – The estuary at the mouth of the Tarcol River is possibly the best location in Costa Rica for a large variety of shorebirds. Scarlet Macaw – A spectacular and raucous bird now readily encountered throughout the Carara NP and Tarcol area. Pacific Screech-Owl – Resident near Playa Azul, prefers drier habitats with large trees. Mangrove Hummingbird – Endemic to Costa Rica, uncommon in the mangroves, found with regularity on the Mangrove Birding Tour boat ride. Baird’s Trogon – This near-endemic can be seen along the trails in Carara NP. American Pygmy Kingfisher – UC at oxbow lake in Carara NP, excellent chances on the Mangrove Birding Tour boat ride along with 4 other Kingfisher species. White-whiskered Puffbird – Usually found in a mixed flock sitting motionless, 8 – 30 feet off the ground within the Carara NP forest. Fiery-billed Aracari – This very attractive near-endemic is not uncommon at Punta Leona, Villa Lapas, or Carara NP. Black-hooded Antshrike – Readily seen at Carara NP and other well forested areas within the region. Streak-chested (Spectacled) Antpitta – A stunning bird! With patience and a bit of luck it can be seen on the forest floor in Carara NP. 4 species of Cotinga – Yellow-billed (r), Turquoise (vr), Three-wattled Bellbird (seasonal), and Rufous Piha (fc), all in Carara NP, The Yellow-billed sometimes venturing into the mangroves and mangrove scrub areas in the area.
Mangrove Hummingbird

Mangrove Vireo
5 species of Manakin – Orange-collared, Blue-crowned, Red-capped, Long-tailed, and Thrushlike Schiffornis (formerly considered a manakin). Leks of Orange-collared can be found on both trails in Carara NP. Leks of Long-tailed occur above Villa Lapas and occasionally along the trails within Carara NP.
Northern Royal Flycatcher – Carara NP is the best place to see this uncommon and local tyrant flycatcher. Pairs often place their hanging nest over streams. Northern Scrub-Flycatcher - Very local in Costa Rica, a good population is resident in the mangroves and mangrove scrub near Playa Azul. Panama Flycatcher – This local and somewhat distinctive Myiarchus is fairly common in the mangroves and mangrove scrub near Playa Azul. Black-bellied Wren – This skulker can be difficult to see though it is quite vocal on the river trail in Carara NP. Riverside Wren – A near-endemic readily seen in Carara NP. Mangrove Vireo – Uncommon and local in Costa Rica, the mangroves near Playa Azul being the best place in the country to see it. Mangrove Warbler – Unfortunately still considered a subspecies of Yellow Warbler, this distinctive beauty is fairly common in the mangroves near Playa Azul.
Orange-collared Manakin