La Selva Biological Station - Jim Peterson and Carrie Steingruber
La Selva OTS is a popular destination for lowland Caribbean birding. As a biological reserve of some importance, there are many researchers there. Consequently, people aren't supposed to walk the trails without a guide. There are guided walks in the morning, and a birding walk at around 5:45 am.
Good birds abound at La Selva. Just walking to the research station from the parking lot, you might see three species of honeycreeper, several hummingbirds, and birds like Plain-colored Tanager. La Selva is also a good place for seeing Fasciated Antshrike and White-ringed Flycatcher around the station. Rufous Motmot and perhaps a Great or Slaty-breasted Tinamou can sometimes be found on the trails. On the early morning walks, occasionally a Great Potoo or an owl be located. Around the La Selva vicinity is one of the best places to see the endangered Great Green Macaw. I've also had great looks at Semi-plumbeous Hawk on two occasions and a lengthy look at a Collared Forest-Falcon on another. La Selva OTS is highly managed, so you might read up on all the rules and make sure you have a lunch ticket in advance if you plan to stay that long.
My personal opinion of La Selva OTS has changed over the years. It's very good for birders new to Costa Rica because the birds are so active at that location, but it can seem overly-managed for a really productive target-birding experience.
Some other roads nearby offer some good birding, but a guide service may be required. A road known as Pueblo Nuevo runs north from La Selva and can be very productive for birds like Pied Puffbird. Another drive south on the highway will take you to a place called Rio Corinto which has a short trail that might be good for Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant and Dusky-faced Tanager. The drive south will also take you by Rio Tigre marsh which will be on the left as you drive that direction. That area can produce the rare Nicaraguan Seedfinch and occasionally Ruddy-breasted Seedeaters. Most of the marsh species can be seen if one stands next to the fence that surrounds the property. The marsh has been under some strain recently and the grass is infrequently cut. At present, the La Selva OTS is attempting to buy the property so that it is protected for birds.
There are some accommodations in the area with birding habitat. I have personally stayed at the more upscale Selva Verde Lodge, the mid-priced LaQuinta Sarapiqui, and the cheaper Tirimbina Lodge. Selva Verde Lodge has their own guides that can be hired to bird around the lodge property. It's a good place to see the endangered Great Green Macaw flying over or a Sunbittern along the river. Tirimbina can only be described as "adequate" in terms of accommodations and food but does have some deep forest habitat and a good trail system. However, the nice system of trails around Tirimbina are offset a bit by not opening those trails until 7:00 AM - a time perfectly fine in temperate zones, but almost too late in the tropics. I did have a Snowy Cotinga at the first Tirimbina bridge, but birding the trails at Tirimbina didn't yield as much as I had hoped. Other budget places like El Gavilan can be found in close proximity to La Selva OTS and they do cater to birders with their use of fruit feeders. In the proper season, these feeders can produce Dusky-faced Tanager. Many birding tour groups stay at the mid-priced LaQuinta Sarapiqui (my recommendation) which is a big step up from the budget accommodations and still remains close to La Selva with good habitat and fruit feeders.The Nature Pavilion - only a few hundred meters up the road from Tirimbina and well-marked. This is not so much a birding location, nor is it a place to stay overnight, but it is a place to become visually acquainted with several regular lowland and foothill species. The Nature Pavilion has a significant feeder system and will make sure it's well-stocked when customers are there. It's also a great place to take photographs. Several feeding stations exist for both hummingbirds and fruit-eaters. Even birds like the Red-throated Ant-Tanager was seen skulking around the pavilion.
Red-legged Honeycreeper, Nature Pavilion - Jim Peterson
On my trip, I took close-up photos of Red-Legged and Green honeycreepers, Buff-throated Saltator, Golden-hooded Tanager, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, and a few hummingbirds. The Collared Aracari has been known to come to the feeders and both Toucans are usually in the trees surrounding the property. The price is about $20 a person, but the value is really in the up-close viewing. It can be very satisfying for new birders in the tropics and people wanting to take pictures. I enjoyed my two hours there. Target birders, however, don't need to stop.
Not too far up the road from La Selva, is the dirt road to Virgen del Soccoro - a good place for mid-altitude Caribbean birding. I deal with this location on a separate page.
Credits: La Selva OTS (Jim Peterson), Las Selva OTS Bridge (Carrie Steingruber), Red-legged Honeycreeper (Jim Peterson)
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