Birding the trails above and around Savegre Hotel
It certainly isn’t ideal to recount incredible days of birding more than 2 years after they happened. But it has been a delight to revisit our trip to Costa Rica, and to drag it out over these many months of varying degrees of isolation. As I’ve mentioend, there are amazing birds on the grounds of the Savegre hotel itself. And the Resplendent Quetzal is just a short drive up the road. But that’s just a part of the astounding birding in the Savegre River valley. The miles of trails above and around the Savegre Hotel are not to be missed. I mean, did you know there is a kind of bird called a chlorosphingus? And that it used to be called a bush tanager, but is now thought to be a brush finch? Buckle up, because there are many more long bird names ahead.
The first morning in Savegre Valley my son and I headed up the trails above the lodge. I thought this was the way to the quetzal. But it wasn’t. It nevertheless was good birding. The trail starts as a road, and the hill is a bit steep heading up from the hotel. But it’s not far until a trial or two branches off the road into the forest. We took the first offramp, for the Canto de Aves trail, which loops back to the road. From there, we explored a bit of the Quebrada trail, but didn’t do the whole loop. Each are magical trails full of birds. As everywhere else in Costa Rica, there were lifers around every curve. We saw a Spangle-cheeked Tanager and a Black-cheeked Warbler, a Flame-throated Warbler and a Black-capped Flycatcher. Yellow-thighed Brushfinches worked the edges of the trail. Our best find of the hike, the relatively short-named Highland Tinamou, rumbled through the brush down a steep slope. It evaded being photographed, but I got good looks through the binoculars.
Later that afternoon, we took a family hike down the Sendero Catarata (waterfall trail). This trail leads from the hotel downstream. It’s a great, level hike with a cool bridge and a rewarding waterfall. The boys climbed a cliff covered in vines. And, of course, more birds. I added 5 lifers on this hike, including Mountain Elaenia, Yellowish Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Ruddy-capped Nightingale-thrush (I told you the names were long!) and Yellow-bellied Siskin. I even got my first ever photograph of, and only my second ever look at, a Golden-winged Warbler.
We went back to the trails above the lodge the next day, this time as a full family hike. The highlights included the Northern Emerald-Toucanet, and tracking down a Collared Trogon. We heard the trogon calling from the forest along the trail, but couldn’t find it. One of us walked down the windy trail until he was sure he was past the bird. I walked the other way until I was sure I was past it. Then, our sharp-eyed 12 year old searched in the middle and, as he always does, found the bird. It took nearly 15 minutes to get eyes on the bird. It always amazes me how birds can call out repeatedly, from 10-20 yards away, and remain hidden. In the thick forest, moving just a foot or two left or right can reveal, or obscure, a bird perched in the canopy.
All around the hotel, the trails are great. In a couple of places, you come across suspension bridges like this one. Not only are they thrilling to walk across, they put you at the top of the canopy, for clearer views of birds you otherwise strain your neck to see.
If you ever make it to San Gerardo de Dota and the Savegre River Valley, allocate 2-3 nights to allow yourself to take it all in and a proper pace. And if you are into fishing, or eating delicious trout, this spot is world-famous for that, too.