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Arenal Volcano - Arenal Conservation Area

Arenal Area and Arenal Observatory Lodge

Arenal Onservatory
Overlooking the active Arenal Volcano the Arenal Observatory Lodge is an extraordinary location for birding and wildlife observation. Located within the Arenal Conservation Area it offers the chance to explore a the Caribbean Slope's rainforest. Its strategic location and elevation of 2,400 feet produces a combination of lowland and middle elevation species. The clouds move through the area quite constantly producing intermittent rain showers pretty much any time of the year. Cold fronts might produce rains that could last for a few days. Views of the Arenal Volcano can be as intermittent as the rain.

Birding around Arenal Observatory can produce a great variety of birds, just at the feeders you could watch Green Honeycreepers, Shinning Honeycreepers, Crimson-collared Tanagers, Passerine's Tanager. On the forest edge as well as garden areas you could easily find Hepatic Tanager, Orange-bellied Trogon, Black-crested Coquette, Green Thorntail, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Gray-headed Kite, White Hawk, Crested Guan, Great Curassow, Gray-headed Chachalacas, and tons of Montezuma Oropendolas.

The trails offering primary forest will produce species like Spotted Antbird, Dull-mantled Antbird, Bicolored Antbird, Nightingale Wren, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Streak-crowned Antvireo. Striped-breasted Wren, and Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush.

Arenal National Park

Arenal Volcano
For birding purposes the best trail inside the park is located right before you enter the Arenal Observatory Lodge's property. After crossing a stream to access the park you can explore a primary rainforest that could produce Spotted Antbird, Dusky Antbird, Ocellated Antbird, Dull-mantled Antbird, Nightingale Wren, Black-striped Woodcreeper.

Gravel road from the main road to Arenal Observatory Lodge.

This gravel road is most of the time quite bumpy although in occasions it is smooth right after maintenance. I find this road quite entertaining, a combination of open areas and later thickets and forest edge produce a great array of species. As you drive into this road you first find pastures with scattered trees often producing White-collared Seedeater, Thick-billed Seed-Finch, White-throated Magpie Jay, Blue-Black Grassquit, Tropical Pewee. Later as you drive along thickets and secondary forest edges you will encounter Barred Antshrike, Slaty Spinetail, Dusky Antbird, Great Antshrike, Crimson-collared Tanager, Lineated Woodpecker, Bay Wren, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Long-tailed Tyrant, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, and extremely difficult to see but heard all the time in the brush Thicket Antpitta.

Arenal Lake
Arenal Lake Road

Another road worth checking is the one heading towards Arenal Lake. After the park station turn right and drive towards the lake's edge. If you are coming from Arenal Observatory Lodge just continue straight instead of turning right towards the park station. You could find this road quite entertaining with of Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Violaceous Trogon, Black-throated Wren, Broad-billed Motmot, Rufous Motmot and in occasions Keel-billed Motmot. Looking up in high branches you might be able to find a Great Potoo and White Hawks, Gray-headed Kites as well as other raptors can be seen around soaring or perching. You will exit at the Arenal Lake Dam and need a 4x4 vehicle for this as some sections are quite rough for a regular vehicle.

Arenal Hanging Bridges
The Hanging Bridges of Arenal

This 1.9 mile trail is quite spectacular however very busy, it offers a total of 14 bridges of which 6 are hanging bridges. The forest here hosts a lot of wildlife, you will have chances to see Eye-lash Pit-Vipers, Howler Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, White-faced Monkeys. Birding here can be interesting, mixed flocks contain Streak-crowned Antvireo, Slaty Antwren, Spotted Woodcreeper, Northern Barred-Woodcreeper, White-fronted Nunbird, Scarlet-rumped Caciques. Other birds include Keel-billed Motmot, Rufous Motmot, Broad-billed Motmot, Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, Dull-mantled Antbird, Spotted Antbird.. Right from the parking lot area you can usually see Short-tailed Hawk, White Hawk, Gray Hawk and in occasions Ornate Hawk-Eagle.

Specialty birds for Arenal Observatory Lodge and the surrounding areas:

Black-crested Coquette -Common in the area, easy around the gardens of Arenal Observatory Lodge mainly around Porterweed - Verbenaceaes.
Black-crested Coquette

Emerald Tanager - Beautiful tanager, you could find it in mixed flocks inside the forest or along forest edge.

Rufous-winged Tanager - very scarce tanager, shows up usually in mixed flocks, I have seen it at Arenal Observatory Lodge and the Hanging Bridges.

Hepatic Tanager - easily seen at forest edge in Arenal Observatory Lodge, occasionally it visits the feeders. In the forest hard to see but heard as they travel in couples or bigger groups through the canopy.

Crested Guan - Fairly common in all second growth, primary forest and edge of forest, easy to find!

Great Curassow - Arenal Observatory Lodge is the best place to see it, the gardens bordering the forest near El Saino Trail are quite good for this.

Great Potoo - because of its great camouflage it is difficult to spot, usually roosts on mid to high branches mostly choosing gallery forest all around La Fortuna. The road near Lake Arenal is good for it.

Yellow-eared Toucanet
Yellow-eared Toucanet - Not very abundant but found in primary forest and around forest edges. Also occasionally in secondary forest.

Smoky-brown Woodpecker - this small woodpecker is quite common in the area, Arenal Observatory Lodge is a good site to see it.

Ocellated Antbird - if you find an army ant swarm you have great chances to find this species, although the Saino Trail seems to be quite good even without the antbirds.

Spotted Antbird - easy to find in any patch of forest in the area, the Saino Trail, Waterfall Trail, and Hanging Brdiges are good sites for it.

Dull-mantled Antbird - El Saino Trail seems to be the best to see this antbird. Also found in the Hanging Bridges of Arenal with frequency.

White Hawk - Common large raptor in the area, seen around Arenal Observatory Lodge, also at the entrance of the Hanging Bridges and in general all around the foothills of the volcano.

Ornate Hawk-Eagle - most of the time seen soaring over forest and near edges. Vocalizes a lot while flying.

Keel-billed Motmot - any of the forested areas here can host a Keel-billed Motmot, the Hanging Bridges of Arenal is good for it.

Three-wattled Bellbird - Mostly seen around February to June during its breeding season. Its call is magnificent and you will realize if they are around.

Black-throated Wren - Very common in the area usually heard before seen, found in the tangle inside or outside the forest.

Nightingale Wren - This wren offers one of the most interesting calls in Costa Rica, it is my favorite call by the way. It is found inside the wet fores, look in the ground and very low branches, its dark color and particular secretive behavior makes it hard to see.

Song Wren - look on the forest floor, this wren travels in small groups and its particular funny call will alert you of its presence.

Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush - this middle elevation nightingale-thrush can be found on the forest floor, you might surprise it on a trail or find it in the understory.

Thicket Antpitta - you will hear it calling all around the area. Prefers thickets on forest edge and it is hard to spot.

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