El Copal andTapanti NP
Tapanti is a National Park south of San Jose. The high mountain forest habitat can add a lot of species that might be difficult to find elsewhere. It does not have the paramo habitat found in Cerro de la Muerte or the top of Irazu Volcano, but It has great tracts of forest and is good for several mid and upper-level species. One does have to drive through the Cartago area and finally to the town of small town of Orosi where there are accommodations.
Tapanti is a particularly good place for furnarids. Birds like Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner, Ruddy Treerunner, Streaked Xenops, Red-faced Spinetail, and Spotted Barbtail can be found more easily here. Brown-billed Scythebill is occasionally found in the more mature forests. It is the only place I have ever observed Rufous-rumped Antwren.
Lower and mid-level elevations around Orosi, can produce birds like Mountain Eleania, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, White-naped Brushfinch, and White-eared Ground-Sparrow. Cabanis's Ground Sparrow can sometimes be found in pastureland with associated coffee plantations.
The high forest in the park is a good location for birds like Black-and-Yellow Silky-Flycatcher, Black-bellied Hummingbird, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Dark Pewee, White-winged Tanager, Sooty Thrush, Elegant Euphonia, and Spot-crowned Woodcreeper. This park, Savegre Lodge, and Cerro de la Muerte are perhaps the most accessible parks for really high mountain birds if one is driving south from San Jose. For those only driving north or east from San Jose, the Poas Volcano and the Monteverde area are probably the most accessible locations for cloud forest species.
A GPS system is recommended if driving to Tapanti Park.
El Copal is a non-profit biological reserve. It is a small lodge surrounded by 160 hectares of primary forest. The lodge itself is very rustic with no cell phone service and limited wifi capability. It has three very basic rooms. However, the rooms are very inexpensive, the food is good, and people on site are very friendly. They do not speak English so it's best to have someone with you who speaks Spanish.
There is exceptionally good birding here. Tanager flocks stream through the trees and watching them from the veranda at eye level is easy and relaxing. On my trip, we scoped an Ochre-breasted Antpitta not far into the main trail. With playback, we called in several birds including a Tawny-throated Leaftosser and Dull-mantled Antbird. Further along we had Zeledon's Antbird, Russet Antshrike, Slaty Antwren, Rufous-browed Tyrannulet, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, and Northern Schiffornis. On the back side of the lodge veranda, we observed Tawny-crowned, White-vented and Yellow-throated Euphonias, White-ruffed and White-crowned Manakins, Emerald Tanager, Speckled Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Black-and-Yellow Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Ashy-throated Chlorospingus, Bananquit, Collared Aracari, Mistletoe Tyrannulet, and Collared Trogon. Farther off, we watched both Rufous-winged and Black-cheeked Woodpeckers. Below us in the garden, Snowcap, Green Thorntail, and Purple-throated Mountain-gems took turns on the flowering plants. Black-headed and Rufous-breasted Anthrush called from the forest floor throughout the morning. A Barred Forest-Falcon was called in with a playback right next to the lodge for a brief but very vocal personal encounter.
In what was my single most important sighting in Costa Rica, a Speckled Mourner made a lengthy appearance from the veranda. I was too stunned to get an iphone camera on it through a scope before it flew. Since there was no photo-documentation, the sighting will remain unofficial in Costa Rica ornithology, but I wrote up some details for friends.
I regard El Copal and the San Gerardo Field Station as the two best birding sites in Costa Rica.
La Marta Wildlife Refuge is also good Caribbean foothill birding about 30 minutes away from Tapanti and El Copal. There are many of the same birds here as Tapanti and El Copal along some well maintained trails. The area around the old coffee plantation was particularly good. Here we added Blue-and Gold Tanager, Bright-rumped Attila, Olive-backed Euphonia and Double-toothed Kite to a similar list of birds that we observed in the other two locations. The highly localized Rufous-browed Tyrannulet can also be observed at this location. This is a nice refuge with easy access.