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The Arenal volcano may have cooled down over the last decade, but there’s another sense in which it remains Costa Rica’s hottest hotspot.

EBird, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s birding database, which has taken over D’s life, ranks the Arenal Observatory Lodge as the number one birding hotspot in all of Costa Rica. For a country in which birding tourism contributes a significant percentage of GDP, that is an amazing distinction. More than 500 different birds have been spotted at the lodge and its environs — well over half of the country’s 923 recorded species.

We had booked a three-night stay at the lodge, the only accommodation inside Arenal National Park, with D’s parents. Despite our birding disappointment at Selva Verde in Sarapiqui, which also cracks eBird’s Costa Rica top ten, D was giddy with excitement for the possibilities at Arenal. Unlike Sarapiqui, Arenal did not disappoint. In fact, D added a couple of new birds — the great curassow and the crested guan — to his life list within seconds of setting foot on the observation deck. We had arrived in the late afternoon. D stayed on the deck until dinner, watching fanciful birds he had never seen before flit to the fruit-laden feeders as if on command: emerald tanagers, scarlet-thighed dacnis, several different hummingbird species…D was in heaven.

In addition to a long menu of guided excursions and adventure tours, the lodge also offers a free guided walk every morning, which managed to thread the needle perfectly between D’s quest to find new birds and his parents’ desire for a low-key nature walk. Our first morning we saw a nesting sulphur-bellied flycatcher and a family of keel-billed toucans, which are harder to come by than their more common yellow-throated cousins. We also found a lattice-tailed trogon, which nearly brought our guide to tears. He said it was the second time he had ever seen this magnificent bird at the lodge; his only other sighting of it was fourteen years ago!

There are nine different trogon species in Costa Rica, including the famed resplendent quetzals, which we have yet to see. Some, like the lattice-tailed, are harder to find than others. Two — the lattice-tailed and the Baird’s trogon we found in Uvita — are regional endemics, and can be seen only in Costa Rica and Panama. Others, like the gartered trogon pictured above, practically beg to be photographed. We found this one on a stroll through the gardens around the lodge. In fact, we did quite well birding on our own, adding several new flycatchers, wrens, and tanagers to D’s rapidly growing life list in addition to finding a striking spotted antbird on a trail hike we did one afternoon while D’s parents took care of the kids.

We also went on a guided bird walk one morning. A heavy rainstorm had passed the night before; though the rain had mostly stopped by the morning, we did not have great weather for this walk, unfortunately. Our guide was excellent, but even he was largely powerless against the elements. He rattled off the birds that he heard, and D would tell him which ones he was still missing; we would then try to locate them by sight, sometimes having success but more often failing miserably. The best find of that morning was a thicket antpitta, which was a true team effort. The guide led us to a spot where this furtive bird tends to lurk and played its song off a birdcall app until it answered. Then he and D scoured the bushes with their binoculars until D spotted movement. We got good looks with the binos, but the bird was too deep in the thicket for a photo, so the guide set up a scope and we took pictures through the scope on our phones.

In three days at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, we logged nearly 100 different birds, including 32 additions to D’s life list, which now tops 1,300. Some of our favorites are included in this post. From top to  bottom, with the new ones bolded, these are: scarlet-rumped tanager; great curassow; crested guan; lattice-tailed trogon; gartered trogon; spotted antbird; bay-headed tanager. 

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