A Wonderland of Wildlife, Scenery and Culture

I was recently invited by friends to go on a two-night trip to the San Vito area of Costa Rica. The main purpose was to look for specific birds my two friends wanted to see to check off their bird lists. The plan was to drive to San Vito, stop on the way at an area called Las Pangas to look for the masked duck, and then continue to Ciudad Neily to look for the rare Veraguan mango hummingbird and the rare savanna hawk.

San Vito is a district and city of the Coto Brus canton in Puntarenas province. It is located 271 kilometres southeast of San José, close to the Panama border. San Vito has an area of 74.88 square kilometers, at an elevation of 1,009 meters, and is surrounded by lush jungle and spectacular mountain ranges. The weather is much cooler than what I am used to in Jacó. The average temperature this time of the year is 18 to 23 degrees Celsius (64 to 73 degrees Fahrenheit). Pants and long-sleeved shirts are required at night, and sometimes even a jacket is needed. Air conditioning is not.

In the 1950s, many Italian immigrants moved to San Vito, and to this day, the area is known for its amazing Italian food. San Vito is also known for its wonderful coffee, which is one of the most valuable exports grown and produced there. 

Early bird sightings

We started watching for birds on the way to Las Pangas heading south from Jacó. We soon spotted a beautiful grey-lined hawk on top of a pole off the highway. We found a road next to the pole and drove closer to try and get better pictures. The grey-lined hawk is similar in looks to the roadside hawk. I have seen many roadside hawks but never the grey-lined hawk, so I was happy to see one.  

Once in Las Pangas, we had to stop and ask for directions from a local man as we could not find the correct road. Once we located the road, we saw many nice birds out in the fields. We saw a trio of glossy ibis, many wood storks, and many other herons, ducks and sandpipers. We also saw a beautiful scissor-tailed flycatcher diving into the water. We did not see the masked duck even though we tried for hours to find one. 

Next, we stopped for a quick lunch at a local soda in Ciudad Niely. After lunch, we were off to our hotel, Casa Botania. One of my friends had stayed there once before and loved it. The grounds and views are beautiful. A couple and their son own the hotel and live on premises. The husband, Pepe, is an avid birder and expert on the San Vito area. It was raining when we arrived, so we relaxed a bit, had some amazing local coffee, headed to dinner and then to bed for an early rise.

Early the next morning, we had breakfast and then headed out with several goals. First, we stopped to look for the bran-colored flycatcher. After walking a bit, our guide heard the bird and we got great glimpses of it on a fence and in some bushes. Score! 

Next, we headed into the town of Sabalito to try and see the turquoise cotinga, which had recently been spotted there at a local soda called Mercado Veriteca. The turquoise cotinga is a very rare bird. Mercado Veriteca has an area in the back with a deck over a river and many fruit trees where birds like to spend time. We stayed about 30 minutes at Mercado Veriteca but didn’t see the turquoise cotinga. So with more birds to find, we headed off with plans to return to Mercado Veriteca later. 

Patience rewarded

Next, we drove to a remote area with a jungle trail to look for the lance-tailed manakin. We walked along the beautiful trail and then into the forest after Pepe heard a lance-tailed manakin there. After about 50 meters, we stopped and listened and both a male and female lance-tailed manakin appeared. This is a very rare bird and we were all excited to see it up close. The manakins hid behind branches and leaves, so pictures were difficult to obtain but the beautiful colors of the male made identification easy. 

We then headed back to Sabalito and Mercado Veriteca to try again to spot the turquoise cotinga. This time, it awaited our arrival. The turquoise cotinga is one of the most beautiful birds I have ever seen. It was far back in the trees but after about 15 minutes, it flew closer to feast on the aguacatillo in a tree above the river. It was an incredible moment for all of us! I will never forget my time seeing this bird.

We soon grabbed some snacks and headed back to Las Pangas. We were in search of the masked duck for a second time. This time, with Pepe’s help, we found it! We saw two males and two females. The masked duck hides in ponds and swims very low to the water, making it difficult to spot even though the male has a bright blue bill. Next, we headed out to dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant in San Vito called La Casa Italiana, recommended by Pepe. I had vodka sauce pasta and it was amazing. Everyone else at my table also enjoyed their food.

The next morning, we got up early to look for the ruddy foliage-gleaner. Pepe has the pleasure of having this bird live right on his property near a jungle trail, so we went there to search for it. We heard the very distinct call of a ruddy foliage-gleaner before we even started to walk on the trail. We then quietly walked and stood waiting and the bird flew in. The ruddy foliage-gleaner is dark brown in color. Since we saw it very early in the morning and it was still dark out, pictures weren’t really possible.  

Later that morning, we walked in another area looking for the black-chested jay and heard the foliage-gleaner again. However, this time we didn’t see it. While looking for the black-chested jay, we got some amazing views of a speckled tanager. The speckled tanager is stunning, in various shades of green and blue in color. Unfortunately, we came up empty on our search for the black-chested jay.

“Magical” is the word I would use to describe San Vito and the surrounding areas. Everywhere we went to look for birds, the views were gorgeous and surreal. Pictures do not do this area justice. The food, people and wildlife there are also unique and wonderful. I highly suggest going to San Vito to relax and experience its beauty and enchantment. Pura Vida!

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