Refugio La Marta

Entrance to La Marta, Pejibaye, Turrialba

Alone with my candle in a very rustic cabin turned into totally alone without even a view of any of my body parts, as soon as I blew out the candle.  La Marta is a great experience even if many of its highly-touted species decide to hide out during torrential rain.  The rain came down in buckets and brought down, with a big crashing sound, a huge tree close to the cabin during the night.  It’s hard to be too terrified when you can see absolutely nothing.  In the morning, not 15 yards from the cabin, I found the tree and the path it had cut through the surrounding vegetation.

The bird list attached is again a modest one, and it refers to March 18 and 19 of 2009, in my pre-blogging days, when I made the trip in the truck to La Marta via Pejibaye.  I knew of the place from a conversation with Kathy Erb at the Rancho Naturalista, near Tuis.  The Rancho is one of the best bird-tour experiences in Costa Rica, although beyond my budget at the present time.   I simply drove up there and was given a very friendly welcome, including a free breakfast, by Kathy, who is the owner.  The place was full of birders gaping in amazement at the dozens of birds, including the beautiful Snowcap, zipping around the feeders.  Life is wonderful.   I certainly hope to be able to stay there at some future time.

But I digress.  On the trip to La Marta, some of the aquatic species, including a surprise pair of Blue-winged teal, were seen on the Río Pejibaye on the way from Turrialba.  However,  I saw two beautiful tanager species at the Refugio that were life birds for me at the time (Bay-headed tanager and Tawny-crowned tanager).  Surprise, surprise, since then I have seen them only in my dreams despite their bird-guide status as, and I again quote, ‘common’.  I merely caution birders visiting here for a week or two that they are probably not going to see too many of the Costa Rican species listed in the literature as common.

It’s a nice little drive up a dirt road from Pejibaye to the Refugio La Marta.  It passes through a couple of villages full of the nice friendly folk you find everywhere in this country.  It also passes through some forest remnants and might in itself have some nice species without entering the refuge.  Since I had set off with my usual impatience and total lack of forethought, I had to return to the nearest village to get enough food to last me the couple of days I was expecting to stay.  As it turned out, all I got was the second half of this first day, having dallied en route, and the morning of the next one.  The heavy rain then made further birding sheer impossible.

The entrance fee was a strange affair.  You pay the guards at the entrance $12 if you want to go into the refuge, which is heavily forested along a mountain river and its tributaries.  However,  if you stay overnight in the cabin they charge you only $10, although this amount didn’t seem to be set in stone.  Perhaps I paid less because I told them I lived near Turrialba, but I don’t think so.  At all events, it was money well spent and I was the only human being in the whole refuge once I left the gate-house.  Fantastic.  The guards were extremely helpful and supplied me with several items, such as matches and candles, that I ought to have brought with me.  Fortunately, I had brought a sleeping bag, which is required.

The beautiful Rio Gato, La Marta

The cabin is reached via a suspension bridge over a river just made for American Dippers and Sunbitterns (I got the latter but not the former), but the road approaching the bridge was the most productive for birding.  After the bridge it’s thick forest, which is a wonderful natural environment but thinly populated with birds.  You walk along muddy paths next to the river for at least 15 minutes before you get to the clearing with the cabin.  On the way you pass the remnants of what was, I think, a sugar-cane mill.  This area was very productive for birds and you can’t miss the Sunbitterns there.

Acueductos, La Marta

If I hadn’t seen a single species, I wouldn’t have missed La Marta for the world and  I really must return when the weather is a little more cooperative.  I’d also like to explore the possibility of reaching the Parque Nacional Tapantí from there on foot.

Photos courtesy of La Marta’s website at

Here´s the list:

1.   Blue-winged teal (Río Pejibaye)

2.   Black guan

3.   Little blue heron

4.   Great egret

5.   Cattle egret

6.   Snowy egret

7.   Sunbittern

8.   Black vulture

9.   Turkey vulture

10. Roadside hawk

11. Northern jaçana

12. Rock pigeon (in Pejibaye)

13. Red-billed pigeon

14. Crimson-fronted parakeet

15. Groove-billed ani

16. Common pauraque

17. Vaux´s swift

18. Steely-vented hummingbird

19. Violet-crowned woodnymph

20. Rufous-tailed hummingbird

21. Green kingfisher

22. Keel-billed toucan

23. Lineated woodpecker (at Atirro)

24. Plain-brown woodcreeper

25. Streak-headed woodcreeper

26. Barred antshrike

27. Yellow-bellied elaenia

28. Common tody-flycatcher

29. Torrent tyrannulet

30. Black phoebe

31. Great kiskadee

32. Social flycatcher

33. Gray-capped flycatcher

34. Tropical kingbird

35. Brown jay

36. Blue-and-white swallow

37. Southern rough-winged swallow

38. House wren

39. Gray-breasted wood-wren

40. Clay-colored robin

41. Tennessee warbler

42. Chestnut-sided warbler

43. Black-throated green warbler

44. Black-and-white warbler

45. Buff-rumped warbler

46. Tawny-crested tanager

47. Summer tanager

48. Passerini´s tanager

49. Crimson-collared tanager

50. Golden-hooded tanager

51. Bay-headed tanager

52. Blue-gray tanager

53. Palm tanager

54. Variable seedeater

55. Yellow-faced grassquit

56. Black-striped sparrow

57. Great-tailed grackle

58. Black-cowled oriole

59. Baltimore oriole

60. Montezuma oropendola

4 thoughts on “Refugio La Marta

  1. Hey, Paul –
    Sadly, we’re back from our two weeks in CR. Two more weeks would have maybe satisfied me (temporarily). We spent a few days at Rara Avis on the Carribean slope and met with a student from a University in or near Turrialba by the name of Diego Nunez C. (at least that’s what it looks like in my notebook). He is studying biology and has a high interest in birds. I wrote your name down and told him to Goggle your blog.
    Hopefully, sooner than later, I’ll write a trip report. We spent our first two days with Pat O’Donnell in Carara then it was off by bus to other places, high and low, Pacific and Carribean.



    • Hi Steve,

      I’ll look forward to your trip report. Where will you write it? Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to Carara. I’m hoping to participate in a count at Tapantí in a couple of weeks, however. The folks at CATIE have invited me to join them for bird banding once they restart after January 10th, so I’m looking forward to that too. I assume you’ve seen the Harpy eagle report from Tortuguero on the Birds of Costa Rica Forum. Very exciting. I continue to see birds I can’t identify here close to the house. Yesterday afternoon late I walked over towards the Guayabo National Monument and bumped into a warbler and a flycatcher of species that I haven’t seen here yet. Each gave me just one brief look, and, as usual, I couldn’t pin them down in the guide later. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.



  2. I was not aware of the “Birds of Costa Rica” site. Can you give me a link for that?
    I’ll be writing the trip report here at home here in western North Carolina in the US. Liz and I have full time jobs plus we’re renovating a house. We also operate two other rental properties. Spare time is difficult to come by, to say the least.
    We also have our problems identifying flycatchers, winter warblers, female hummers, etc, etc. Without the lack of challenge though, I don’t think we’d be as attracted to birding as we are. Occasionally, the books seem to fail us also. Eventually, I’m going to post a description of a bird we saw at an ant swarm that we can’t find in either Skutch’s or the newer G and D book.
    Liz informed me that Diego is not going to school in Turrialba but in some place close to San Jose. His home is in in Turrialba. He was one of the guides at Rara Avis while we were there.



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