Tag: Yellow-headed Caracara

Costa Rica (2018) #5: Birding Dominical beach and Rio Baru

Yellow-headed Caracara Dominical Costa Rica

Yellow-headed Caracara

Birding Dominical: The beach and Rio Baru

This is (finally) my last post about the week we spent in December 2018 in Dominical, Costa Rica. And for the first time, I’ll be talking about birds I saw somewhere other than at our villa property . During the week, we did leave the property. I never birded Hacienda Baru, which has an extensive (425 species) eBird list, except for the birds I saw without binoculars while doing an amazing zipline tour there. It seemed like pretty similar habitat to our villa, and you had to pay to bird there, so I just explored close to home. An afternoon trip to Parque Reptilandia was surprisingly unproductive for birds, but good for lizards.

I rounded out my area list in and around the little town of Dominical, which sits on the Rio Baru where it flows into the ocean. We did surfing lessons at Dominicalito Beach, and had delicious tacos in Dominical a couple of times.

Great Kiskadee Dominical Costa Rica

I’ve never seen the yellow stripe on top of a Great Kiskadee’s head before

The trips to the beach and river mouth produced 9 lifers: Melodious Blackbird, Mangrove Swallow, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Ruddy Ground Dove, Lesser Greenlet, and the only trip sightings of Common Black Hawk, Amazon Kingfisher and Common Tody Flycatcher.  There’s a trail along the southern shore of the Rio Baru that heads from one end of town to the beach.

There were other familiar birds at Dominical. Indeed, much of my list could have just as easily been a 5MR list. We saw Brown Pelican, Willet, Sanderling, Spotted Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Royal Tern, Snowy Egret, Great-tailed Grackle and Osprey.

Sandwich Tern Dominical Costa Rica

Sandwich Tern

There were also plenty of birds around that I couldn’t find close to home. Sandwich Terns and Gull-billed Terns flew about. Laughing Gulls lounged on shore. A Tricolored Heron and Little Blue Heron fed in the shallows. And of course there were Tropical Kingbirds, which are ubiquitous in the area.  

Magnificent Frigatebird Costa Rica

Magnificent Frigatebird

We never made it to Parque Nacional Mario Ballena, a whale’s tail shaped beach south of Dominical. Nor did we go to Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio (monkeys and sloths, but we had those on the property, without crowds or entrance fees). If I was back in the area again (please let that happen), I’d spend a day checking out locations even further south like Sierpe and Gamba. I’d add a day trip to San Isidro del General, too, which is at a higher elevation and promises some different birds. 

And I’d go back to Dominical in a second. Laid back vibe. Not crowded. Easy to get around. Incredible scenery. And so many awesome birds.

Costa Rica (2018) #1 – Driving to Dominical

Magnificent Frigatebird Costa Rica

Magnificent Frigatebird in magnificent Costa Rica

Birding Costa Rica: San Jose to Dominical

At the end of December, we were supposed to take a family vacation to Costa Rica. The plan was a few days around the Arenal volcano and then a week at an incredible villa in the hills above Dominical on the Pacific Ocean coast. But those plans were scrapped a long time ago due to the pandemic. To distract myself from that disappointment and the ongoing isolation, I’ve decided to do some recap posts of our trip to Costa Rica in December 2018 and January 2019. Like every birder who has been lucky enough to travel to Costa Rica, I was literally left speechless over and over again. On a daily basis, I wanted to stay exactly where I was for the rest of my life. I now better understand what a gambling addict feels when he walks into a casino. It’s a birding bacchanal. Indeed, I literally suffered a birding hangover after Costa Rica for weeks.

In short, the birding is indescribably amazing. Indeed, essentially everything else about Costa Rica was awesome, including: the villa in Dominical, surfing lessons, ziplining through the jungle canopy, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, white-faced capuchin, sloths, Jesus Christ lizards, coati, agouti, peccary, the cloud forest, hanging bridges, the fruit, waterfalls, and an erupting volcano. I imagine it will take me quite a few posts to do the trip justice. And I’m honestly looking forward to putting the posts together.

Montezuma Oropendola Costa Rica

Montezuma Oropendola demand the attention of your eyes and ears

We flew in to San Jose, waited three hours for a rental car, and were finally on our way. Since we were staying in the Talamanca Mountains for the second half of our trip, we drove west toward the coast and then headed south to Dominical. My first lifer of the drive was a Magnificent Frigatebird soaring over the ocean near Jaco. At the Tarcoles Bridge, a Yellow-Headed Caracara flew past. We stopped for lunch at a joint called Pizza Pata. As we ate, we found giant lizards in the trees, saw two Scarlet Macaws fly across the highway, and had our first looks at Montezuma Oropendolas. The rest of the drive produced incidental looks at a Gray Hawk and a Fiery-billed Aracari. All told, it was 7 lifers before we pulled up to our destination, and about 25 “what was that?”‘s. 


Yellow-headed Caracara

Yellow-headed Caracara

The drive was just prelude. Our arrival at the Dominical villa was one of the most magical moments of my life. It sits up a steep hill. It’s about a thousand feet above sea level and only 1,200 feet from the coast. It offers sweeping views of the mountain ridge to our northeast and the ocean to our southwest. The grounds are a gated property, with hiking trails, rainforest, creeks, and orchards. And, of course, birds. So many birds. An incredible array of dazzling birds everywhere you looked. 

The birding was so easy and good that even my 10 year old got in on it

The driving from San Jose was pretty easy. The road south (34) is a two-lane highway. You won’t set any speed records on it. But it felt safe. I definitely recommend renting a 4WD/AWD vehicle, wherever you are headed. Once you get off the highway, it’s dirt roads everywhere. And if you can get a non-birder to drive, that’s probably a good idea too. 

White-faced Capuchin Dominical Costa Rica

What lifers did I miss while looking at this White-faced Capuchin?