Cahuita and the hawk migration

My best experiences of Costa Rica have been the friendships I have made here.  Above you see Fabio as he began work on the mural at my house in San Antonio.  He’s a talented artist with both pen and brush but he also shares my love of the outdoors, and so when the mural was finished (see end of the post) we celebrated with a three day visit to Cahuita and its environs, combining birdwatching with local food and beer.

It’s hawk migration time, an event that I’ve never seen before, and we decided to try and get to the hawk migration platform at the Keköldi indigenous reserve outside Puerto Viejo de Salamanca.  We also wanted to do the 7 km walk through Cahuita National Park, which neither of us had managed to do before.  As is often the case, birdwatching was at times incidental, and if you simply want to see the species list for the three days you’ll find it at the end of the post.

We set off at the crack of dawn and were treated to great views of the Turrialba Volcano because for the first time in more than two weeks we had an almost cloudless morning.  The views start here in San Antonio but are still fantastic forty minutes’ drive later from Guayacán on the road to Siquirres, so huge is the mountain.

It was still early morning when we saw the first swirls of migrating Turkey vultures overhead on the road between Limón and Cahuita.  There were several thousand birds in all, with a very few hawks mixed in.  These seemed to be Swainson’s hawks (Buteo swainsoni) and Broad-winged hawks (Buteo platypterus), but I’ll admit that identification is tentative at best.  Firstly, I am no great connoisseur of hawks and secondly we were seeing just silhouettes really.  Nonetheless it was a beautiful sight to see each kettle of birds disintegrate and reform after the birds filed off on their way east and south.  We saw at least two large falcons amidst all this, presumably Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus).

Migration on the Limon coast road

We made straight for Puerto Viejo to find the possible entrance to the Keköldi Reserve and its hawk-watching platform.  We saw no sign of any other birdwatchers and the sign indicating the Reserve, just before Puerto Viejo, does not lead either to the Reserve or the platform really.  Instead, there is a very nice little iguana conservation centre run by the Bribrí.  The young man in charge told us that the path to the platform is a little complicated and possibly required a guide, but we were able at least to find the entrance to it, a little farther on down the road to Puerto Viejo.  As it turned out, we never did take the path.

A German family that we bumped into recommended some very nice cabins in Cahuita, so we headed back there to freshen up and decide when to undertake either the walk to the platform or else the 8 km stroll through Cahuita National Park.  The Siatami Lodge is right by the road but is a beautiful restful spot because the cabins are set well back among lovely gardens.  The main source of noise are the howler monkeys that inhabit the patch of forest between the Lodge and the little town of Cahuita.  The other noisy group were the Mealy parrots (Amazona farinosa), a large species that we don´t see in Turrialba.

Mealy parrot, large and noisy!

The gardens at the Siatami Lodge are a nice spot for looking at warblers (Ovenbirds and Northern waterthrushes) and thrushes (Swainson’s).  Here are the warblers:


Northern waterthrush

I can recommend the friendly hosts and the very nice breakfast they serve.  Their daughters were just too cute.

Allanis y amiga

The walk through the Cahuita National Park should not be missed.  It’s an easy hike that can be done in flip-flops even.  We had intended to take it from Puerto Vargas, walking west back to the park entrance in Cahuita, but if you do it that way, foreigners (such as I) have to pay a $10 entrance fee, whereas if you take it from Cahuita in the other direction you are simply asked for a contribution.  Since we were in Cahuita anway, we simply walked in.  The path runs parallel to the beach and you are in shade almost all the way unless you choose to walk on the beach itself.  Birds were not very plentiful, but we got good close-up views of Western slaty-antshrike (Thamnophilus atrinucha) several times and also of Chestnut-backed antbird (Myrmeciza exsul).  When I return alone, I’m sure that a slow and patient walk will reveal many more species.

Trail through Cahuita National Park

Sea and shore birds were few and far between, but after crossing the river mouth at a good spot for kingfishers the beaches are even more beautiful

The old man (Fabio) and the sea

and the pilings remaining from the old Puerto Vargas had a small population of Royal terns (Thalasseus maximus).  I tried in vain to find a gull among them, but there was one Magnificent frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) perched magnificently but unfortunately out of camera range, while an Osprey (Pandion heliaetus) circled overhead.  Yellow-crowned night-herons  (Nyctanassa violacea) were more cooperative.

Yellow-crowned night-heron at the beach

And here’s one of an immature that posed almost as readily.

Immature Yellow-crowned night-heron

Monkeys are easily seen on the Cahuita walk.  They are mostly howlers, but a group of White-faced monkeys looked us in the eye as we walked the final stretch out of the park and towards a well-deserved beer.

White-faced monkey near Puerto Vargas

A bonus was a brief view in the open of a Gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis), my first since years ago in Texas.

Gray catbird, courtesy of Karel Straatman

I knew that at some point beer had finally to come into my blog, although the beers here were actually consumed the day before!

Our reward

Cahuita is still a very small place that hardly seems to have changed in the last five years.  It does have quite a few nice places for tourists to stay, yet its main street offers no more than three or four places to eat.  I think I like it that way.  By contrast, Puerto Viejo is beginning to look like Beach Town Anyplace, and many rather trendy places have opened since I was last there.  The road east towards Manzanillo is becoming much more developed and, amazingly, is in much better condition than the still partially dreadful main road into Puerto Viejo from the east that brings all the tourists.

We stopped at the Jaguar Rescue Center, an animal conservation centre that is clearly well funded and has several beautiful exhibits.  Unfortunately, we had little time since they were about to close, though we were able to see several animals up close, as well as a pair of Black-and-white owls (Ciccaba nigrolineata) that were being rehabilitated.

Manzanillo is at the end of the hard-top road.  It is still a real town, little dependent on tourism it seems, and it was a welcome sight after Puerto Viejo.  Clearly though, it won’t stay this way for too long.  Its beaches are just too beautiful and are already being claimed by beachfront hotels.  Several caimans and a Boat-billed heron (Cochlearius cochlearius) were the final memorable sightings.

Here is the bird list for the trip:

1.   Brown pelican

2.   Neotropic cormorant

3.   Magnificent frigatebird

4.   Great egret

5.   Great blue heron

6.   Cattle egret

7.   Snowy egret

8.   Green heron

9.   Tricolored heron

10. Boat-billed heron

11. Yellow-crowned night-heron

11. Black vulture

12. Turkey vulture

13. Osprey

14. Roadside hawk

15. Broad-winged hawk

16. Swainson’s hawk

17. Common black-hawk

18. Peregrine falcon

19. White-throated crake

20. Willet

21. Wilson’s plover

22. Royal tern

23. Ruddy ground-dove

24. Mealy parrot

25. Rufous-tailed hummingbird

26. Belted kingfisher

27. Amazon kingfisher

28. Keel-billed toucan

29. Black-cheeked woodpecker

30. Western slaty-antshrike

31. Chestnut-backed antbird

32. Common tody-flycatcher

33. Olive-sided flycatcher

34. Eastern wood-pewee

35. Empidonax (sp.)

36. Dusky-capped flycatcher

37. Great kiskadee

38. Social flycatcher

39. Gray-capped flycatcher

40. Tropical kingbird

41. Red-eyed vireo

42. Cliff swallow

43. Gray-breasted martin

44. Southern rough-winged swallow

45. Barn swallow

46. House wren

47. Swainson’s thrush

48. Clay-colored robin

49. Gray catbird

50. Yellow warbler

51. Chestnut-sided warbler

52. Prothonatary warbler

53. Ovenbird

54. Northern waterthrush

55. Bananaquit

56. White-lined tanager

57. Summer tanager

58. Passerini’s tanager

59. Golden-hooded tanager

60. Blue-gray tanager

61. Palm tanager

62. Shining honeycreeper

63. Variable seedeater

64. Black-striped sparrow

65. Great-tailed grackle

66. Black-cowled oriole

67. Baltimore oriole

68. Montezuma oropendola

Our house mural set up the trip and here’s the finished product, complete with oropendola and kingfisher:

Thank you, Fabio!

2 thoughts on “Cahuita and the hawk migration

  1. Thanks for your “Cahuita and the hawk migration”
    I’m going there soon.
    Do you mind saying where you saw the White-throated crake?
    Thanks in advance!
    Madison WI, USA


    • Hi Mark,

      You will find the White-throated crake throughout Costa Rica. It can occur in almost any ditch or reed-bed with water in it but you will hear it make its typical churring sound and probably not see it, even when it is right under your nose.

      Good luck with your visit. I’m stuck in California for the meantime.



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