Costa Rica: Birding Rio Celeste

The sound of a large truck woke me. It’s rumbling engines and tires crackling on the gravel road was a surprise, along with its brakes that squealed as they released compression. Howler monkeys in the distance screamed and bellowed in response. They weren’t happy to hear the truck either.

Aside from the truck and the annoyed howler monkeys, the tropical forest was unusually quiet as we barely heard anything but the constant rain. And on top of all the rain, I was sick. My memory of our two-night stay at Celeste Mountain Lodge is mostly of me sleeping in my packable down parka due to my slight fever.

We were at Celeste Mountain Lodge, our second stop during our 24-day birding adventure in Costa Rica. The lodge is named after Rio Celeste, which lies on the Caribbean slope between the Tenorio and Miravalles volcanos. The lodge borders Tenerio National Park, which under any other circumstances was the perfect location for birding, but the rain and my 48-hour bug hampered our plans.

We did not hike around the area to the brilliant turquoise waters of the Rio Celeste. Nor did we get to the nearby butterfly garden. And we certainly didn’t hike the trails around the lodge. It was muddy and damp and the birds weren’t keen on coming out into the rain either.

Steve looks for birds from the common area at Celeste Mountain Lodge during one of only a few breaks between rain storms.

The feeders were our best opportunity for seeing birds when the sun managed to make an appearance. My favorites included the stunning Green Honeycreeper and Red-legged Honeycreeper. There was also the reliable Blue-gray Tanager, the Yellow-throated Euphonias, Tropical Kingbird, and of course, Costa Rica’s national bird, the Clay-colored Thrush.

Green Honeycreeper
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Tropical Kingbird
Blue-gray Tanager
Yellow-throated Euophonia
Yellow-throated Euphonia – female
Clay-colored Thrush

What’s in a name?

Here’s a bird that’s the same bird, but it’s really not: The Passerini’s Tanager and Cherrie’s Tanager.

This striking bird with a red rump is found in both on the Carribbean side of Costa Rica (where we were at Rio Celeste) and also in the southern Pacific region of the country. And yet it’s not the same bird. In The Birds of Costa Rica (2nd edition) field guide by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean, you’ll find it listed as two birds: The Passerini’s Tanager and the Cherrie’s Tanager. The male birds are identical, with the Passerini’s Tanager found in the Caribbean lowlands and foothills and the Cherrie’s Tanager found in the southern Pacific lowlands. How to tell them apart? Look to the females. The females both have a grey head with a dark yellow, almost olive body, but the female Cherrie’s Tanager has an orange breast and rump.

Both tanagers were originally called the Scarlet-rumped Tanager, then the distinction was found between the females so they became the Passerini’s Tanager and the Cherrie’s Tanager. But by the the end of our trip, some guides were telling us that everyone now just calls it the Scarlet-rumped Tanager.

Just go prepared, knowing all its names and where they are found.

Passerini’s Tanager (or Scarlet-rumped Tanager)

Celeste Mountain Lodge

I was fortunate that we were spending our two days in the area at Celeste Mountain Lodge because I pretty much did not leave the place since I was under the weather. Our room was a spacious corner room with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the gardens. It had a great shower and bathroom, and the common area had plenty of seating for viewing the birds on the property as well as at the feeder. The staff even kindly put food out on the feeder when we arrived (since there was a brief break in the weather) and that drew the birds in like magnets.

The most memorable part of our stay was the fantastic food. The owner and founder, Joel Marchal, is from Quebec, Montreal Canada and he spent many years in France. You will notice the French influence in the food served at the lodge. His chef uses the finest ingredients (I was thrilled to see butter on the table!) and is wonderfully creative. “I don’t want you to just have beans and rice,” Joel told me. “You can get that anywhere else in Costa Rica.”

Some more of my favorite birds

You may not be convinced that it rained, because of all the photos here showing sunshine. I managed to snap as many photos as possible during the brief breaks between rain showers. My plan is to return again and stay at Celeste Mountain Lodge and hike the trails, visit the nearby butterfly gardens, see more birds and listen for the grumpy howler monkeys.

Blue-throated Goldentail
Great Kiskadee
Golden-hooded Tanager – by far, my favorite tanager of our trip.