Bird Field Guides - The 1989 Skutch and Stiles "The Field Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica" was a classic as a tropical field guide, but it is both heavy and out-of-date. The newer Garrigues and Dean field guide, "The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide" 2nd edition, is a lighter, more efficient guide when out on the trails. Trying to carry the older Skutch and Stiles guide is like carrying a cord of wood. The newer Garrigues and Dean guide has good color plates and, finally, easy-on-your-eyes range maps. It's generally a more user-friendly field guide.
Still, for avid birders, some of the maps of Costa Rica at the front of the Skutch and Stiles guide are important references, and I continue to refer to them even after 20 trips to Costa Rica.
Personal Guide Services (birding only) - It's possible that Costa Rica has the highest density of qualified bird guides of any country in the world. There are some birding guides that may be available for customized day trips around some of the better-known parks if they are not doing tours at the time. I'm speaking of thoroughly trained professional bird guides and ones who, depending on the trip, will likely show up with a scope and playback system. Just remember, "natural history" guides are not the same as birding guides.
I have hired specific, qualified bird guides for day trips at Carara, near Manual Antonio National Park, Arenal, Heliconias Lodge, San Gerardo, Monteverde, Rincon de Vieja, Esquinas Lodge, Coto 47, and Savegre Lodge. All were well worth the money. One reason birders might consider a guide is the difficulty of deep-rainforest birding. A guide becomes more important in this particular habitat. It's a place where birds sounds and play-back are more critical to seeing the bird. A guide will likely know where the manakin lek is or where the antpitta is more likely seen. A few birds like Timberline Wren or Striped Owl are sometimes easy birds for guides who know in advance where those birds are more likely to be seen.
Two places - Bosque del Rio Tigre in the Osa Peninsula and Rancho Naturalista near Turrialba - can budget in their own guided birding package. These lodges have expert guides at the lodge. In my opinion, it's worth it to purchase their services rather than relying on your own skills.
Below are some of the most respected bird guides in Costa Rica.
Juan Diego Vargas - Bird Guide
Juan Diego Vargas currently works both independently for individuals and leads tours throughout Central and South America. He is the eBird editor for all of Costa Rica and works as a ground agent for birding and wildlife photography companies through Lifer Bird Tours at http://lifertours.com. He has also worked with the Costa Rica national park system and as a birding guide with Costa Rica Gateway tour company. You can read all about Juan at his personal website, http://www.birdingwithjuandiego.com as well as his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/jd.vrg
I have used Juan specifically for the Arenal and Cano Negro areas, but Juan has expanded to leading birding and photography tours throughout all of Costa Rica. Birders should make an effort to acquire Juan's services. Juan has near-perfect English, and his history as a bird guide is obvious when you are with him in the field. Juan can work with advanced birders on a target list or lead birders on their first trip to the tropics. Juan will need some advanced notice for guide services because of his current job, but he answers email regularly.
Juan Diego will give a 5% discount on his birding tour packages just by mentioning they saw his name on this website.
Will guide for: Birding, Photography
Ernesto Carman - Bird Guide
Ernesto Carman was born and raised in Costa Rica to American parents. Ernesto has been birding and exploring Costa Rica since the late '90s. He has been leading bird tours throughout the entire country and enjoys both target trips as well as general bird tours. His involvement in research projects adds a great bonus to his guiding, because his research subjects are some of the most sought after targets in Costa Rica, such as Unspotted Saw-whet Owl and Cabanis's Ground-Sparrow. Ernesto has experience at the well known birding sites in Costa Rica, but he has made the effort of exploring new, fresh birding sites unknown to most. He currently works as a free-lance guide for several companies within Costa Rica, Central and South America. He is the Costa Rica bird guide for Eagle-Eye Tours (https://www.eagle-eye.com/Costa-Rica-Birding-Tour )
Will guide for: Birding
Johan Chaves - Bird Guide
Johan Chaves is a qualified naturalist and bird guide who specializes in the area around Manuel Antonio National Park and now much of the Puntarenas Province. However, Johan is also capable of guiding individuals on multiple-day trips in Costa Rica for both birders and photographers. He can organize logistics and lodging for any trip in which he guides. He has guided regularly in Carara National Park, the Osa Peninsula, El Copal, Tapanti National Park, Cano Negro, Arenal, and into the high mountains of San Gerardo de Dota. You can read about Johan's tour packages on his website at http://johanchaves.weebly.com/bird-watching-tours.html . I personally have used Johan for guide services on at least five different occasions.
For day trips, Johan has been guiding birders for several years into the Pacific foothills near the small community of Esquipulas - about a 20 minute drive from Manuel Antonio National Park. Esquipulas is at about a 400 meter elevation and has far better birding than Manuel Antonio National Park. This area is good Pacific rainforest habitat. Johan can also take you to the coastal marsh of El Rey which can be very productive for marsh birds and lowland species.
One can follow Johan at https://manuelantoniobirding.wordpress.com/ - his birding blog. Not only can Johan assist in guiding, he is particularly gifted at taking pictures through his scope with the client's smartphone. You can go home home with digiscoped videos like this. If camera photography is your main hobby, you may also wish to use Johan in this capacity since he is now a regular assistant on certain Costa Rica photography tours. You can view some of his images at https://www.manuelantoniobirdwatching.com/photo-gallery
Johan has naturalist and tour-guide credentials from the ICT (Costa Rica Tourism Board), and is the official ebird reviewer for the Central and South Pacific area of Costa Rica. His tours have earned the Certificate of Excellence from reviewers of TripAdvisor (TripAdvisor gives a Certificate of Excellence to attractions that consistently earn great reviews from travelers).
Johan's Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/Johannatureandbirding .
Will guide for: Birding, Photography, Natural History
Johan Fernandez - Bird Guide
Johan Fernández works as a birdwatching and wildlife photography guide in Costa Rica and South America. He leads groups and private tours for advanced birdwatchers and professional photographers. Johan can organize and manage your entire trip through his own company, BirdingCR at https://www.costaricanbirder.com/ . Johan also leads trips for National Geographic Expeditions and Naturalist Journeys. He has organized the Audubon Christmas Bird Count for Carara National Park, and is part of the organizing committee for the Shore Birds Count of Costa Rica. You can follow Johan Fernandez on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/johanbirdingcr
Will guide for: Birding, Photography
Patrick O'Donnell - Bird Guide
Patrick is the author of the "Costa Rica Living and Birding" blog. He also does birding tours around the central mountains and foothills near San Jose and in Carara National Park. His favorite patch of ground is the bird-rich Braulio Carrillo National Park, but he also does tours for high-elevation endemics as well lowland Pacific birding at Carara. Patrick originally hails from New York, but now lives near San Jose. It's easy to get to know Pat since his birding blog is updated frequently and is well worth a visit even if you're just mildly interested in birding Costa Rica. Patrick can be reached at his birding blog web site at http://birdingcraft.com/wordpress/costa-rica-birding-tours/
Will guide for: Birding
Esteban Mendez Vargas - Bird Guide
Esteban Mendez Vargas generally does guided bird tours in the Monteverde area but will also do the Guanacaste region if the tour is at least two days of guiding. His email is email@example.com . He has his own website at http://www.estebandailyguidedtours.com/
Will guide for: Birding, Natural History
Abraham Gallo - Bird Guide
Abraham is stationed exclusively at the Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge in the Osa Peninsula. With Abraham guiding, this birding lodge experience may give birders the possibility of several hard-to-see birds like Turquoise and Yellow-billed Cotinga sometimes within walking distance of the lodge. I have also seen Little Tinamou and Black-faced Antthrush by merely looking over the lodge balcony on the second floor. Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager sometimes come to the fruit feeders, and Marbled Wood-Quail call from most of the trails. Abraham can lead specific types of day trips for specialty birds in found in the Osa Peninsula. Abraham's easy demeanor makes birding with him a pleasure.
Will guide for: Birding, Natural History
Abraham Gallo - Osa Peninsula
Steven Easley - Costa Rica Gateway
Guided Group Birding Tours
Several Costa Rican, Canadian, European, and American birding tour companies offer trips to Costa Rica. They are generally first rate. Because of Costa Rica's infrastructure, tourism capabilities, and birding guides, Costa Rica is an easy and well-known destination for birders. Museums and other organizations also tap into this market. The Costa Ricans themselves have set up very strong competition to American and British tour companies for birding and natural history tours. They are capable of doing this in ways other Central American countries cannot. Costa Ricans have extremely capable bird guides, a strong tourist infrastructure, a good fleet of vehicles, and a very good understanding of the needs of travelers.
Birding Tour Guide, Steven Easley
Steven is currently running his own tour company called Easley Birding between May and November. In the months of December - April, Steven continues to lead tours for the company, Costa Rica Gateway.
If one has a target bird list or is looking for a specialized bird tour, Costa Rica Gateway is a company that is known for its guide services in this regard. This company is tailored for putting together customized tours for groups or providing services on a daily basis where birders are seeking help with specific birds or specific locations. I have used their guides and consider them some of the best qualified guides I have seen in any country. They are a good company to use when ready-made clients are available through non-profit organizations, small private groups, museums and Audubon chapters.