Costa Rica - Rancho Naturalista

Published by Kevin Easley (ticokid AT

Participants: Kevin Easley plus 14 birders


“Warning - great birding and delicious meals at Rancho Naturalista!” I recently took a group of 14 birders to Rancho Naturalista, the first tour I have taken to Rancho Naturalista since the “warning report” that has been making its way around the web. Our experience was nothing like that described in the report by Andy Walker. I would like to address and set the record straight regarding many of the items that he reported based on my recent experience at Rancho Naturalista and more importantly, the comments about Rancho Naturalista from the group that was with me.

Balcony birds at Rancho Naturalista:

We spent some time on the balcony the first day we were at Rancho Naturalista, here is the list of birds we noted from the balcony that first day. Note: All of these species were seen from the balcony! Heard Species are marked (H).

73 species seen the first day and an additional 14 species were heard only. Total species recorded the first day from the balcony: 87 species

Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
Black Vulture Coragyps atratus
Laughing Falcon (H) Herpetotheres cachinnans
Barred Forest-Falcon (H) Micrastur ruficollis
Gray-headed Chachalaca Ortalis cinereiceps
Red-billed Pigeon Columba flavirostris
Short-billed Pigeon Columba nigrirostris
White-tipped Dove Leptotila verreauxi
Brown-hooded Parrot Pionopsitta haematotis
White-crowned Parrot Pionus senilis
Green Hermit Phaethornis guy
Stripe-throated Hermit Phaethornis longuemareus
White-necked Jacobin Florisuga mellivora
Green-breasted Mango Anthracothorax prevostii
Black-crested Coquette Lophornis helenae
Green Thorntail Discosura conversii
Violet-crowned Woodnymph Thalurania colombica
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird Amazilia tzacatl
Snowcap (males and a female) Microchera albocoronata
Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer Chalybura urochrysia
Green-crowned Brilliant Heliodoxa jacula
Rufous Motmot (H) Baryphthengus martii
Keel-billed Toucan Ramphastos sulfuratus
Black-cheeked Woodpecker Melanerpes pucherani
Hoffmann's Woodpecker Melanerpes hoffmannii
Golden-olive Woodpecker Piculus rubiginosus
Plain Xenops Xenops minutus
Streak-headed Woodcreeper Lepidocolaptes souleyetii
Cocoa Woodcreeper (H) Xiphorhynchus susurrans
Black-faced Antthrush (H) Formicarius analis
Masked Tityra Tityra semifasciata
Black-crowned Tityra Tityra inquisitor
Tropical Kingbird Tyrannus melancholicus
Boat-billed Flycatcher Megarhynchus pitangua
Bright-rumped Attila (H) Attila spadiceus
Social Flycatcher Myiozetetes similis
Great Kiskadee Pitangus sulphuratus
Great Crested Flycatcher (H) Myiarchus crinitus
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (H)Empidonax flaviventris
Yellow-olive Flycatcher Tolmomyias sulphurescens
Common Tody-Flycatcher Todirostrum cinereum
Yellow-bellied Elaenia Elaenia flavogaster
Paltry Tyrannulet Zimmerius vilissimus
Olive-striped Flycatcher Mionectes olivaceus
Brown Jay Cyanocorax morio
Band-backed Wren Campylorhynchus zonatus
Black-throated Wren (H) Thryothorus atrogularis
White-breasted Wood-Wren (H) Henicorhina leucosticta
Clay-colored Robin Turdus grayi
Wood Thrush (H) Hylocichla mustelina
Tropical Gnatcatcher Polioptila plumbea
Yellow-throated Vireo Vireo flavifrons
Lesser Greenlet Hylophilus decurtatus
Bananaquit Coereba flaveola
Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia
Golden-winged Warbler Vermivora chrysoptera
Tennessee Warbler Vermivora peregrina
Tropical Parula Parula pitiayumi
Blackburnian Warbler Dendroica fusca
Chestnut-sided Warbler Dendroica pensylvanica
Mourning Warbler (H) Oporornis philadelphia
Rufous-capped Warbler Basileuterus rufifrons
Chestnut-headed Oropendola Psarocolius wagleri
Montezuma Oropendola Psarocolius montezuma
Scarlet-rumped Cacique Cacicus uropygialis
Yellow-billed Cacique (H) Amblycercus holosericeus
Melodious Blackbird (H) Dives dives
Baltimore Oriole Icterus galbula
Tawny-capped Euphonia Euphonia anneae
White-vented Euphonia Euphonia minuta
Yellow-throated Euphonia Euphonia hirundinacea
Silver-throated Tanager Tangara icterocephala
Golden-hooded Tanager Tangara larvata
Bay-headed Tanager Tangara gyrola
Green Honeycreeper Chlorophanes spiza
Blue-gray Tanager Thraupis episcopus
Palm Tanager Thraupis palmarum
Passerini's Tanager Ramphocelus passerinii
Summer Tanager Piranga rubra
White-lined Tanager Tachyphonus rufus
Black-headed Saltator Saltator atriceps
Buff-throated Saltator Saltator maximus
Yellow-faced Grassquit Tiaris olivacea
Variable Seedeater Sporophila aurita
Orange-billed Sparrow Arremon aurantiirostris
Black-striped Sparrow Arremonops conirostris

Other notable species seen from the balcony during our stay at Rancho Naturalista included:

Barred Forest-Falcon
Violet Sabrewing
Violet-headed Hummingbird
Violaceous Trogon
Rufous-winged Woodpecker
Collared Aracari (on the feeders)
White-collared Manakin
White-winged Becard
Emerald Tanager
Scarlet-thighed Dacnis
Orange-billed Sparrow (coming to rice under the feeders)

Additional hummingbirds noted at the forest hummingbird feeders at Rancho Naturalista included:

Band-tailed Barbthroat
Violet Sabrewing
Plus at least 4 Snowcaps on a regular basis (3 males and 1 female were seen at one time), there may have been more but it is difficult to tell if the same ones are coming back etc.

Bathing hummingbirds at the pools in the late afternoon included:

Green Hermit
Stripe-throated Hermit
Violet Sabrewing
Violet-crowned Woodnymph
Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer
Purple-crowned Fairy

Notable species seen at Rancho Naturalista and nearby sites during our stay included:

Boat-billed Heron
White Hawk
White-throated Crake
Sulphur-winged Parakeet
Rufous Motmot
Plain-brown Woodcreeper
Brown-billed Scythebill
Checker-throated Antwren
Dull-mantled Antbird
Immaculate Antbird
Spotted Antbird
White-crowned Manakin
Tawny-chested Flycatcher (great looks on several occasions, right in front of the lodge)
White-throated Flycatcher
Black-throated Wren
Scaly-breasted (Whistling) Wren
Crimson-collared Tanager

In the “warning” report there was mention that most (if not all) of these birds can be found elsewhere in Costa Rica. The word “most” I would agree with simply because that is birding in general. However, the word “all” is not correct as good luck finding Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, Snowcap, Checker-throated Antwren, Dull-mantled Antbird, Tawny-chested and White-throated Flycatchers, and White-crowned Manakin at other locations. Other species that are more widespread but still local which can be found at Rancho Naturalista or in the surrounding area include Sunbittern, Gray-headed Chachalaca, Black-crested Coquette, Rufous Motmot, Spotted and Immaculate Antbirds, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Brown-billed Scythebill, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Black-throated Wren, Scaly-breasted Wren, White-vented Euphonia, Emerald Tanager, Ashy-throated Bush-Tanager, and Black-and-Yellow Tanager to name a few. If you include the difficult Silent Mountain hike then the list gets ridiculous with such mythical species that are regularly encountered on this hike including Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl, Rufous-rumped Antwren, Rufous-browed Tyrannulet, White-fronted (Zeledon’s) Tyrannulet, and Sharpbill along with a chance to see Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Buff-fronted Quail-Dove, Red-fronted Parrotlet, Ochre-breasted Antpitta, Black-banded and Strong-billed Woodcreeper, and LOVELY COTINGA among many others! There are nesting Resplendent Quetzals up there as well.

Meals at Rancho Naturalista:

The group I had was overwhelmed by the delicious meals they had while at Rancho Naturalista. The night before our departure they called the kitchen staff into the dining room and gave them a raucous round of applause. After the applause, one of the guests made a speech thanking the kitchen staff and waiters for all of the great meals, the great variety of meals during our stay, for taking care of the vegetarians or restricted diets of some members in the group so well, and to the waiters for their great service. I personally have been going to Rancho Naturalista for over 10 years with groups and the meals they serve there are always one of the highlights for my guests. The comments in the “warning” report regarding meals is completely unfounded.

Trails at Rancho Naturalista:

As I mentioned above, I have been going to Rancho for over 10 years and the trail system is as good or better now than it ever has been in the past. They also have installed more handrails making it safer than ever. Someone could break a leg on the seemingly safe concrete trails at La Selva! I have not had one of my tour participants injure themselves while on the trails at Rancho Naturalista.

Cleanliness of rooms:

I routinely accompany guests to their rooms after arriving to Rancho Naturalista and have never had any complaints from guests in regards to cleanliness, in fact, they typically look around the room and comment on how nice their room is including the bathrooms. Rancho Naturalista looks better now than ever before in regards to the rooms for guests, the dining room, the balcony…… During my recent stay there was a toilet that acted up in one of the guests rooms which was quickly (within 30 minutes) remedied.

It is quite apparent to me that the author of the “warning” report had a grievance against the owners of the lodge and after departing from Rancho on obviously unpleasant terms that he decided to do whatever he could to damage the reputation of this lodge. Reports back from my guests who have stayed and birded at Rancho Naturalista are overwhelmingly positive as was the case for the group I had there recently.

Kevin Easley
Bird Guide in Costa Rica