Valley of El General, the Land of

Doctor Alexander F. Skutch

Valley of El General (average elev. 720 / 2,362 ft)  

The long and beautiful intermontane Valley of El General lays just east of Mt. Chirripó (3,820 m / 12,532 ft) the highest peak of the Talamanca Mountain Range. The Valley is covered with agricultural areas, primarily coffee and sugar cane and abundant patches of secondary forests. The foothills offer beautiful middle elevation tropical rainforest and cloud forest. To the south and west the valley is bordered by the coastal range known as “Fila Costera”, a low mountainous system that splits off the Talamancas, it reaches its highest point at San Antonio Refuge at 1300 m / 4,265 ft. Previous bird count efforts in the Fila Costera alone, produced a comulative result of 500 species of birds over 7 years of observations. The diverse environ land use and  topography have contributed to incredible species diversity, perhaps quite underestimated by many birdwatchers and naturalists. One person, however loved this area from the moment he arrived and took the locality of Quizarrá as home in the 1930’s, Dr. Alexander F. Skutch, the famous botanist and ornithologist who wrote the first bird book for our country: “A Guide To The Birds Of Costa Rica.” He lived in this area most of his life until he passed away in 2004 just days before he became a hundred years old. He not only left behind a bird book, but an exquisite legacy of nature books and scientific papers.

Los Cusingos Nature Reserve, former land of Dr. Alexander F. Skutch (elev. 800 m / 2,624 ft)

Named after the famous Fiery-billed Aracaris, locally known as Cusingos,  this reserve is only 25 minutes away from downtown San Isidro de El General. Los Cusingos offers a wonderful short trail with an excellent gravel surface, suitable for almost any physical level. The fraction of the forest you visit is only a small portion of the 70 hectare property. A museum house, former home of Dr. Skutch and his wife Mrs. Pamela Lancaster, is open to the public and displays the rooms and  items that this couple used while they lived here simply. The open green areas around the house offer a fantastic garden with lots of fruiting trees and bushes that attract a great variety of bird species. Birds species in Los Cusingos include: Turquoise Cotinga, Red-capped Manakin, Blue-crowned Manakin, a lek of Orange-collared Manakins, Lesson’s Motmot, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Scaly-breasted Wren, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Great Tinamou, Fiery-billed Aracari, Riverside Wren, Rufous-breasted Wren, Baird’s Trogon, Bicolored Antbird, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Common Potoo, Golden-naped Woodpecker, Olivaceous Piculet, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Ruddy Woodcreeper, Black-faced Antthrush, Northern-barred Woodcreeper, White-crested Coquette, Bronzy Hermit, Long-billed Hermit, Stripe-throated Hermit, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet. The feeding station in the garden can yield very good birds: Speckled Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Spot-crowned Euphonia, Shining Honeycreeper, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Green Honeycreeper, Blue Dacnis, Silver-throated Tanager, Scarlet-rumped Tanager and Gray-headed Tanager.

Cloudbridge Nature Reserve (elev. at gate 1590 m / 5,216 ft)

Located just above the trailhead for Chirripó National Park in the community of San Gerardo de Rivas, this reserve offers wonderful second growth and semi-open areas in combination with a fantastic middle elevation cloud forest. As well as magnificent views of the Chirripó Pacific River and one its waterfalls. Early morning birding can produce excellent birds like: Chestnut-capped Brushfinch, White-naped Brushfinch, Red-headed Barbet, Flame-colored Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Speckled Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Slate-throated Redstart, Golden-crowned Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Brown-capped Vireo, Elegant Euphonia, Chiriqui Quail-Dove, Northern Emerald-Toucanet, Black Guan, Spotted Barbtail, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Brown-billed Scythebill, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Red-fronted Parrotlet, Brown-hooded Parrot, White-tailed Emerald, Green Hermit, Brown Violetear, Lesser Violetear, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, Garden Emerald, White-throated Mountain-gem, Squirrel Cuckoo, Lesson’s Motmot, Spotted Wood-Quail, Torrent Tyrannulet, American Dipper, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Smoky-Brown Woodpecker, Acorn Woodpecker, Masked Tityra, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Barred Hawk, Black-faced Solitaire, Collared Trogon and with certain frequency the Resplendent Quetzal.

Just below Cloudbridge, along the road towards San Gerardo de Rivas and the road into Herradura de Rivas some good birding can take place.

Where to Stay? - Talari Lodge  (elev. 800 m / 2,624 ft)

Located just 9 km outside of San Isidro de El General, on the road to the village of Rivas, the Talari Lodge offers a simple natural setting with excellent birding on the grounds. The property is composed of a patch of second growth forest and gardens with a great combination of fruit trees. On the northeastern end of the property, runs the mighty General River. Early morning and late afternoon walks can be very productive producing birds like Turquoise Cotinga, Fiery-billed Aracari, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Rufous-breasted Wren, Riverside Wren, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Olivaceous Piculet, Lineated Woodpecker, Elegant Euphonia, Speckled Tanager, Scarlet-rumped Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Blue Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Greenish Elaenia, Orange-collared Manakin, Gray-cowled Wood-Rail, Long-billed Starthroat, White-crested Coquette, White-crowned Parrot, Crimson-fronted Parakeet, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Pearl Kite, Green Kingfisher, Common Pauraque, Common Potoo and Tropical Screech-Owl.

The lodge offers comfortable rooms, hot water, and a small porch outside of each room. The open air restaurant is located on the upper part of the property, Wi-Fi is available although it is typically slow, food is quite good, although it is difficult to eat your breakfast sometimes with some many birds coming to the banana feeders and moving in the surrounding vegetation. A swimming pool is available.

Talari Lodge can be a good base of operation to birdwatch this area.

Las Quebradas Biological Reserve (elev. 1000 m / 3,281 ft)

A short drive into the foothills into the north portion of the valley will take you into Las Quebradas Biological Reserve. This protected area offers access to a good tract of wet middle elevation rainforest. The trails have some easy portions but most of the paths are actually a bit steep. A short loop of diverse terrain can produce Black-breasted Wood-Quail, Sooty-faced Finch, White-ruffed Manakin, Blue-crowned Manakin, Scaled Antpitta, Ochre-breasted Antpitta, Scaly-breasted Wren, White-throated Spadebill, Golden-crowned Warbler, Spotted Barbtail, Brown-billed Scythebill, Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner, Great Tinamou, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Red-headed Barbet and Yellow-green Vireo.

Road Birding In The Valley (average elev. 720 / 2,362 ft)

Tropical Feathers’ Headquarter is in San Isidro de El General giving us the chance to invest time and explore the valley thoroughly. A lot of countryside roads and even roads near town can produce fantastic birds. A good early morning or late afternoon drive can take us into good country to look for Turquoise Cotinga, Fiery-billed Aracari, Yellow-throated Toucan, Red-breasted Meadowlark, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Tropical Mockingbird, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Lesser Elaenia, Pearl Kite, Roadside Hawk, Yellow-headed Caracara, Crested Caracara, Laughing Falcon, White-tailed Kite, Southern Lapwing, Boat-billed Heron, Ringed Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Least Grebe, Pied-billed Grebe, Green Heron, White-crowned Parrot, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Yellow-green Vireo, Painted Bunting, Great Antshrike, Barred Antshrike, Bran-colored Flycatcher, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Slaty Spinetail, Isthmian Wren, Rufous-breasted Wren, Riverside Wren, Garden Emerald, Long-billed Starthroat, Striped Cuckoo, Squirrel Cuckoo, Gray-headed Chachalaca, Gray-cowled Wood-Rail, Lineated Woodpecker and Red-crowned Woodpecker.

Exploring The Coastal Range Or “Fila Costera” (average elev. 800 m / 2,624 ft)

Only 20 minutes drive from San Isidro de El General on road 243 to the Pacific coast, and you will reach excellent countryside dirt roads where bird watching can be quite spectacular. Several roads starting from Tinamastes Ridge can produce a fine collection of birds like: Black Hawk-Eagle, King Vulture, the rare but possible Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, Barred Hawk, White Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Tiny Hawk, a nesting area for Swallow-tailed Kite, Bat Falcon, Turquoise Cotinga, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Black-bellied Wren, Riverside Wren, Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Costa Rican Swift, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Thick-billed Euphonia, Spot-crowned Euphonia, Brown-billed Scythebill, Olivaceous Piculet, Charming Hummingbird, White-crested Coquette, Bay-headed Tanager, Grayish Saltator, Black-cowled Oriole, Montezuma Oropendola, Striped Cuckoo, Northern Schiffornis, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Black-throated Trogon, Gartered Trogon, Collared Trogon, Striped Woodhaunter, Bare-crowned Antbird, Zeledon’s Antbird, Bicolored Antbird, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Streak-chested Antpitta, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Yellow-billed Cacique and Black-crowned Tityra.

Coastal Environments Along The Pacific Coast And Ballena Marine National Park (sea level)

Adding a trip to coastal environments from San Isidro is quite doable as the coast is only 36 km away, it may even allow for some off birding time to enjoy the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean.  An irregular coast with long dark sand beaches, abrasive terraces of basalt and some rock cliffs are the scenarios you will find in this area. A few exposed rock formations and sandbars can produce interesting shorebirds like Collared Plover, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, Wilson’s Plover, American Oystercatcher, Wandering Tattler, Surfbird, Whimbrel, Willet, Forster’s Tern, Sandwich Tern and Royal Tern. The rocky islands, particularly Ballena Island, can offer good sightings of Brown Booby (a boat is needed for this one – however they can be seen at the distance from the shore). Magnificent Frigatebird and Brown Pelican are quite abundant, and the estuaries and river mouths usually offer looks of Tricolored Heron, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron and Great Egret. A visit to a small patch of mangroves has proven to be a reliable location for Mangrove Hummingbird. Additionally you can look for Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Panama Flycatcher, Mangrove (Yellow) Warbler, American Redstart, Common Black Hawk, Northern Waterthrush, Cinammon Becard, American Pygmy Kingfisher. Occasionally a flock of resident Scarlet Macaws can be seen flying along the coast line as they look for fruiting Beach Almond trees.

Savannas Of Ujarrás – Buenos Aires (elev. 954 m / 3129 ft)

A drastic change in habitat, with just 1 hour and 20 minute drive from San Isidro de El General, you can reach this beautiful area above the village of Buenos Aires of Puntarenas. The savannas here composed of large extensions of grasses and very few small trees. The landscape provides magnificent views of the lowlands and towards the north, sights of the Talamanca Mountain Range. The main reason to visit this area, besides the beauty of the site, is the unique set of species we can find here: Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, Ocellated Crake, White-tailed Nightjar (at dusk), and up the road into an interesting forest you get good opportunities for Rosy Thrush-Tanager and Bare-crowned Antbird, and good chances to find some really good mix species flocks. This area requires a full day and we typically take box lunches with us.

Sub-Alpine Tropical Rain Paramo In Cerro de la Muerte (elev. 3,491 m / 11,453 ft)

A 50 minute drive will have you exploring the paramo of Cerro de La Muerte. This habitat is typically above 3,000 m (9,840 ft) and reaches elevations of 3,491 m (11,453 ft), the vegetation is mostly dominated by a small bamboo of the genus Chusquea and grasses, Indian Paint Brushes, Hypericums, Asters and Lupines. Easily accessed by car and part of Los Quetzales National Park. In a couple of hours of birding you could observe Volcano Junco, Volcano Hummingbird, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Timberline Wren, Peg-billed Finch, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Red-tailed Hawk and Sooty Thrush. Occasionally Maroon-chested Ground-Dove and Slaty Finch can be observed here as well, specially when large patches of bamboo are seeding.

Lagunillas Road (elev 1,880 m / 6,168 ft)

Driving north up the Pan-American Highway for 25 minutes will get you to Lagunillas Road. This almost abandoned road comes off the main highway and leads into a patch a second growth forest. Basically a transition spot from upper middle elevation rainforest to tropical cloud forest. A 300 m walk in this steep mountainous road offers very good birding. A mix species flock is regularly working this specific spot so waiting a little bit surely yields good results. Birds include Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, Ochraceous Wren, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, White-winged Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Elegant Euphonia, Northern Emerald-Toucanet, Collared Trogon, Black Guan, Lineated Foliage-gleaner, White-tailed Emerald, Red-faced Spinetail, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Spotted Barbtail, Common Chlorospingus, Golden-crowned Warbler, Flame-throated Warbler, Black-cheeked Warbler, Scaled Antpitta, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Red-fronted Parrotlet, Barred Parakeet, Ornate Hawk-Eagle and White-collared Swift.