Location 13: Gerardo (Costa Rica)
Cloud forest with Resplendent Quetzal and other high-elevation birds.
San Gerardo de Dota is famous for the Resplendent Quetzal (a type of bird that famously feeds on avocados) which is found here relatively easily. This is a high-elevation location which also includes middle-elevation bird species. Due to the height it can be cold and other wildlife such as insects and mammals are less common.
I typically see Variegated Squirrels 2 or 3 times a day cheekily running around. I have seen monkey tracks but not the monkeys themselves which is not surprising as the population density will be lower in the mountains. Tapir have a strong population in the forests of Gerardo but, as they are mainly nocturnal and fairly secretive, most visitors do not see them.
- Site 1: Parque Nacional Quetzales A unique type of forest which is a contrast to the rest of Costa Rica. Some special species of birds for birdwatchers to see. (GPS coords 09.6155N 83.8185W)
- Site 2: Cerro de la Muerte The high point of the main road. Volcano Junco is common. Timberline Wren is difficult to see and probably needs an early morning start. Many footpaths easily found by the road. GPS coordinates are for a minor road close to the top with good habitat for birds and views to the Pacific Ocean and volcanoes in the distance. (GPS coords 09.5689N 83.7538W)
- Site 3: Quetzal Valley Cabins http://www.quetzalvalleycabins.com Budget cabins with convenient access to a number of trails. High-elevation bird species can be seen. (GPS coords 09.5831N 83.7981W)
- Site 4: Savegre A high quality hotel with perhaps the best network of trails in the whole valley. (GPS coords 09.5509N 83.8087W)
- Site 5: San Gerardo Road A description of the road, starting on the main highway and dropping all the way down to Savegre and the Waterfall Walk at the southern end. The elevation changes steadily as you go along it, improving the variety of bird species that can be seen. (GPS coords 09.5810N 83.7997W)
- Site 6: Waterfall Walk A local landowner allows access along an approximately 2km footpath along a river and through woodland to a series of waterfalls. Scenic and some good open canopy for birdwatching. (GPS coords 09.5448N 83.8143W)
- Site 7: Trogon Lodge A recommended place to stay according to locals I spoke to at San Gerardo. It looks excellent and has local walking opportunities including well-maintained trails owned and maintained by Trogon Lodge. (GPS coords 09.5737N 83.8011W)
Sulphur-winged Parakeet are a specialist species of parakeet that is only found in the mountains. I have often seen or heard them flying overhead but rarely seen them feeding like this in the trees.
A number of long-distance footpaths in theory exist in this area:
- There is the "Sendero Los Chanchos" that runs between the ranger staion (just off the highway at km 76) and San Gerardo.
- Halfway along Sendero Los Chanchos, "Sendero Providencia" runs south all the way to Providencia.
- A second "Sendero Providencia" runs from Providencia to the bottom of the San Gerardo road.
- "Sendero La Chaqueta" runs south from Providenca.
- "Sendero a Cerro Beunavista" runs east from Savegre to the interstate highway. This trail running from Savegre is relatively easy to find out about because the Savegre Hotel are very organised. I was able to buy a map and a permit from their reception in 2017 (although obviously access to paths like this can change). The trail from Savegre is difficult and for many hiring a guide is essential.
- "The Boulders" trail runs from Quetzal Valley Cabins to the interstate highway. It is approximately 4km long and it is described in the Quetzal Valley Cabins site description.
Apart from the paths starting at Savegre and Quetzal Valley Cabins, I found it difficult to find out about the other paths. I do know that the national park has been discouraging use of many of these trails which may explain why they are less-known and less-used now
I saw this male Magnificent Hummingbird during a rainstorm on the San Gerardo Road. We were both sheltering from the rain under the same tree.
Birdwatching at San Gerardo
- Birds more easily seen at San Gerardo compared to other locations include:- Resplendent Quetzal, Volcano Junco, Timberline Wren, Yellow-thighed Finch, Large-footed Finch, Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher.
- Over a total of 7 days visiting in the winter I have seen an average of 28 species per day with a total of 70 different species.
- Birds most commonly seen during 1 week visiting in winter:- (Starting with the most common.) Rufous-collared Sparrow (Zonotrichia capensis) 18x2 (m5), Yellow-thighed Finch (Pselliophorus tibialis) 16x2 (m3), Wilson's Warbler (Wilsonia pusilla) 15x2 (m2), Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager (Chlorospingus pileatus) 14x2 (m3), Black-cheeked Warbler (Basileuterus melanogenys) 11x2 (m3), Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus gracilirostris) 10x2 (m2), Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus frantzii) 10x1 (m1), Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher (Ptilogonys caudatus) 10x2 (m2), Black-throated Green Warbler (Dendroica virens) 10x2 (m2), Sooty Robin (Turdus nigrescens) 9x2 (m5), Collared Redstart (Myioborus torquatus) 9x2 (m2), Blue-and-white Swallow (Notiochelidon cyanoleuca) 8x3 (m4), Mountain Robin (Turdus plebejus) 8x2 (m2), Tufted Flycatcher (Mitrephanes phaeocercus) 7x1 (m1), Large-footed Finch (Pezopetes capitalis) 7x2 (m3), Black-capped Flycatcher (Empidonax atriceps) 6x1 (m1), Clay-colored Robin (Turdus grayi) 6x2 (m3), Green Violet-ear (Colibri thalassinus) 5x2 (m2), Gray-breasted Wood-Wren (Henicorhina leucophrys) 5x2 (m2), Black-faced Solitaire (Myadestes melanops) 5x1 (m1), Tennessee Warbler (Oreothlypis peregrina) 5x2 (m2), Flame-throated Warbler (Oreothlypis gutturalis) 5x2 (m2), Silver-throated Tanager (Tangara icterocephala) 5x1 (m1).
The Grey-breasted Wood-Wren was the only wren I saw. On both occasions the underside looked very dark and not grey. I have observed this at other places as well and it seems to be due to mainly seeing this species in the dark understory of the forest. The female Purple-throated Mountain-Gem and White-throated Mountain-Gem are fairly common and although I often got good views I rarely got a saw the tail clearly enough to be sure which species I was seeing. The Common Bush-Tanager has a very variable white spot behind the eye. The Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager and the Black-cheeked Warbler are very similar and I mainly relied on either seeing the green back of the tanager or the red on the head of the warbler to be sure which I was seeing.
The further south you go travel away from the main road, the lower the elevation. So, for high-elevation species either stay at the end nearer the highway or once you reach Savegre head up their long trail to regain height. I saw this elevation change along the road most clearly with Black-billed Nightingale-Thrushes being more common near the interstate highway and Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrushes being more common at the waterfall/Savegre end of San Gerardo. My personal experience is always that the official elevations a bird is supposed to be found at are just guidelines. At San Gerardo I found all the species of birds to be all the way along the road; simply the high-elevation specialists were more common nearest the highway (or up the slopes above the valley).
I regularly saw Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher in the trees when I visited the San Gerardo valley.
This article is part of the Nature Travel Guide and was published on June 2017.
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