The purpose of this report is to publish some birding information about Bosque del Tolomuco, a worthwhile middle elevation birding site that doesn’t get a lot of attention. Compared to many of the more famous destinations in Costa Rica there’s relatively little birding gen available online about this spot. I spent two
nights at this lodge in July 2016.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Although I wrote this account during and shortly after my visit, and I intended to publish it in a timely manner, I completely forgot about it! Well, three years later there’s still not much birding info about this lodge online, so I’m going to publish it anyway.
I spent the morning birding at Paraíso Quetzal and the Savegre area in the highlands and then continued on to Bosque del Tolomuco late in the afternoon. It’s easy to miss – there is only one sign, right by the entrance. Coming from the highlands, if you get to the Mirador Valle del General restaurant and hotel, you’ve passed Bosque del Tolomuco. I arrived and was met by owners Rolf and Lize, who urged me to head down to the Mirador Valle del General restaurant with haste for dinner, since they evidently like to close fairly early.
Full day of birding at Bosque del Tolomuco, with lunch at Mirador Valle del General. This restaurant is less than five minutes from the lodge, and since breakfast is the only dependably available meal at BdT, it makes for a convenient option. You can eat for ¢4,000-10,000 per meal per person. I chose cheap, simple casados and was completely satisfied. Perhaps Lize and Rolf will prepare more meals at BdT for bigger groups but I was the only guest during my stay and it was a nice change to go down the hill a couple times.
A couple of side notes about the Mirador restaurant: the fruit feeders are inconsistently stocked, but there were still birds around as I lunched on the open-air deck, which works as something of a canopy tower. It’s a superb spot to look for soaring raptors and swifts and as I waited for my lunch, a scintillating Red-headed Barbet male probed in dead leaves in the tree just next to the deck. My server showed me a photo he said had taken that morning beside the restaurant of a Scaled Antpitta! He said it’s present most mornings. I asked if I could go look for it and he said the trails were closed for maintenance, unfortunately.
I woke around 05:00 and quickly departed for the forest trails. I birded for about three hours and easily racked up 50 species before returning for breakfast around 08:30. This seemed like a good approach to me and I’ll do it that way again if I return. It was useful to have some cookies to take with me on the trail to survive the gap between waking up and breakfast.
During breakfast I watched the hummingbirds and tried for some photos at the fruit feeders, which are visible just off the deck. Breakfast is $8 and gets you two eggs, two slices of bacon, two pieces of toast, oj, and bottomless coffee. There’s also a cereal and fruit option instead of eggs and bacon. At first the price seemed a little steep to me but if you consider it comes with the privilege of eating by the feeders, you don’t have to leave the property and drive somewhere, and the coffee is bottomless, the price seems just about right. After breakfast it rained hard and I welcomed the opportunity to write, before departing for Tapantí after noon.
Birding Bosque del Tolomuco
It’s an exciting mix of birds at Bosque del Tolomuco. Species that I thought of as more typical of the highlands, like Hairy Woodpecker, Black-faced Solitaire, Mountain Thrush, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, and Golden-browed Chlorophonia mix with foothill species like Scaly-breasted Wren, Olivaceous Piculet, Speckled Tanager, Rufous-breasted Wren, Slaty Spinetail, and Snowy-bellied Hummingbird. I found many middle elevation specialties, like Brown-billed Scythebill, Black-and-white Becard, Rough-legged Tyrannulet, Black-breasted Wood-Quail, Red-headed Barbet, White-naped Brush-Finch, Brown Violetear, White-winged Tanager, Spotted Barbtail, and White-ruffed Manakin.
During my visit there was not a lot of bird song (almost no dawn chorus), and several species seemed to be attending to advanced juveniles. The only evidence of active nesting I observed was a pair of Gray-breasted Wood-Wrens building a nest. The lack of vocalization is fairly typical of this time of year and makes racking up a big list a bit more difficult.
I would divide the birding at Bosque del Tolomuco into three main areas: the garden areas around the lodge, the upper trails through the forest, and secondary habitats along the driveway below the lodge. Elevation range is approximately 1730-1830m.
The fruit feeders were always busy during my stay, most frequently full of Silver-throated Tanagers, but also regularly attracting White-naped Brush-Finch and Speckled Tanager. About half the times I checked the lone feeder behind the cabins (near the chicken run) I found a Red-headed Barbet; this species never came to the front feeders during my stay.
Hummingbird feeders were usually dominated by aggressive Green-crowned Brilliants and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, with Violet Sabrewings and Brown and Lesser (Green) Violetears pushing their way in from time to time. Abundant portwerweed hedges around the grounds always held Snowy-bellied and Scintillant Hummingbirds. A few White-tailed Emeralds and Violet-headed Hummingbirds frequented the porterweed as well. It seemed one could find these nine hummingbird species in about 15 minutes at any point during my stay.
On a sunny morning the lodge/garden area would probably be a great place to look for soaring raptors or spot parakeets or pigeons perched up the treetops, but I did not get to test that theory.
Some tall secondary forest with dense viny thickets makes for appealing habitat as you follow the switchbacks down toward the main highway. (It’s only a few hundred meters.) I found a big flock with furnariids, woodcreepers, Slaty Antwrens, Yellow-thighed Finches, and others. My only Green Hermit sighting was along the stream beside the driveway, down near the highway. This area is probably best birded in the late morning or after lunch.
There are a couple of short tracks (<200m) that branch off the driveway near the lone cabin about 2/3 of the way up. The one that goes through more open habitat is a dead-end at a small quebrada. The one that goes through taller wooded habitat wraps up and around to a flat, open area. From there you can continue to loop back to the lodge on a smaller trail, passing through a steep, forested quebrada and arriving behind the chicken coop.
If you’re looking for hard-to-find middle-elevation species, this is the main event at Bosque del Tolomuco. I found good birding in the forest, and quite a few mixed flocks. Some sections of the forest seem sufficiently mature to hold species dependant on old-growth, although it doesn’t have the appearance of true primary forest. However, Lize and Rolf tell that the forest has grown up a lot just in the last decade; the quality of habitat will probably only continue to improve. The cloudforest must have pretty good connectivity with higher and lower elevation forests because there are species at both ends of their altitudinal ranges here.
There are about 4km of trails, and all seem to have fairly similar forest, but the Pizote Trail seems most sheltered from the noise of the highway below, so if you’re interested in sound recording or just want to have the most peaceful cloud forest experience possible, that’s the best trail. As mentioned earlier, I recommend getting up to the forest trails around dawn and birding for a few hours before breakfast. Walk quietly on the trails and you’ll have a chance to find secretive ground-dwellers like quail doves, wood-quail, or even Highland Tinamou, which vocalized constantly on my morning walk. Keep your eyes alert for motion in the trees and ears tuned for a surge in chips and chirps, and you will find mixed flocks moving through all strata of the forest.
I was hoping for wood-quail or Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge during my visit and although I never detected the Dendrortyx, I heard at least couple of coveys of wood-quail calling. I eventually lucked into one on the trail, evidently a sentry for the rest of the group. We saw each other at the same time; it started an alarm call and retreated. The rest of the covey chorused from a nearby ravine. However, it wasn’t a Spotted Wood-Quail, which was the Odontophorus I was expecting based on the bird list on the lodge web site, but rather a Black-breasted. Given the elevation of the lodge, it seems likely that both species occur here.
Don’t forget to look for hummingbirds in the forest too I only saw White-throated Mountain-gem and Stripe-tailed Hummingbird in the forest; they did not come near the feeders during my brief stay.
A few remaining birds that I was pleased to find at Bosque del Tolomuco:
Black Guan – seen once below the lodge along the driveway.
Buff-fronted Quail-Dove – seen or heard each time I went to the forest trails.
Red-headed Barbet – seen in mixed flocks in the forest and at the fruit feeders.
Spotted Barbtail – in at least three flocks in different parts of the property.
Streak-breasted Treehunter – moving with an understory flock.
Brown-billed Scythebill – fairly common by voice, seen in flocks.
Rough-legged Tyrannulet – recognized by voice near the Pizote/Pewee junction; hard to see in the canopy.
White-throated Spadebill – common by voice.
Golden-bellied Flycatcher – a vocal pair on the Quail Run trail; only detected on my first morning.
Black-and-white Becard – silently moving through mid-levels; couldn’t tell if it was accompanying a nearby flock.
White-ruffed Manakin – fairly common by voice in the forest above the lodge, especially along the Quail Run trail and the connector between the mirador and the main trail junction.
Speckled Tanager – seen in several flocks around the property and once at the feeders.