Located at 1085 m above sea level, San Diego and its cabins are almost 200 m lower in elevation than San Antonio, and they are reached after a beautiful walk of about thirty minutes. San Diego is more a location than a village, since it consists really of just one steeply descending dirt road with a couple of dairy farms, two houses and some rustic cabins. If I want to get up close to thick forest, this is a great option without straying far from home. It’s located about mid-way between San Antonio and the Guayabo National Monument, which is accessible by a rough track from below San Diego. It is remarkably easy to get lost, however.
Because of its slightly lower elevation and its large forest remnants, San Diego attracts birds similar to those found at the Monument, which are slightly different to those found in San Antonio. I have the great fortune to have found friends, Gonzalo and Hannia, who own a cabin at San Diego. Their close neighbours, Eddie and Alice, and, a little further up the hill, doña Antonia, join in a lovely meal prepared by Hannia once a week when she and Chalo come for rest and relaxation after a week’s work in the capital, San José. Eddie’s cabin in particular has a stunning view down towards the Caribbean, with the Juan Espino Blanco Reserve up high to the right.
The path from my house follows the dirt road to La Cinchona at first, crossing the Quebrada La Loca at a small bridge where it’s a good idea to look for Sunbittern, Emerald toucanet and Black phoebe. Half-way up the steep hill from the bridge, while checking for Northern and Southern Rough-winged swallows on the wires, you turn right and beautiful views soon open up on both sides. A thick hedge of rabo de gato often attracts hummingbirds such as Green-breasted mango and then begins the descent to San Diego, after which motor vehicles can go no further. A track to the right before this descent takes you back down to San Antonio at its lowest point, crossing back over Quebrada La Loca.
Forest remnants become increasingly thick and Keel-billed toucans begin to be heard, sounding like frogs with their ‘ribbet’ call. This now very rough dirt road, passable only for four-wheel drive vehicles, ends at the cabins. From the first cabin, on the right, property of don Jorge, there is a steep descent to Quebrada La Loca and a beautiful waterfall. Blue morpho butterflies seem to abound here and then the descent is through thick forest with many, to me undecipherable, calls of forest species. As usual, the tropical forest is difficult birding because you hear so much and see so little.
From Gonzalo and Hannia’s cabin you can also access the waterfall path or skirt and enter the forest, with fabulous views down to the Caribbean. The rushing waters of Quebrada La Loca can be heard below. Several species can be found here that are difficult or impossible to find at San Antonio, just 200 m higher. I haven’t found any new birds of prey here so far, but the Brown-hooded parrot is a regular visitor to the jocote right at the side of the cabin, where it feeds more quietly than the White-crowned parrot, chucoyo, that is seen so frequently throughout the region.
A guava tree attracts Emerald toucanet and Violaceous trogon, recently rebaptised Gartered trogon (Trogon caligatus). Collared araçari is easier to find here. This common species, which almost always sticks together in small groups, rarely approaches San Antonio, where I have seen it just once in four years.
As soon as you get into the heavy forest, Plain xenops, Cocoa woodcreeper and Streak-headed woodcreeper are fairly easy to find. I have heard possible antbirds but not yet been able to identify any. Several flycatchers appear both here and at the forest edge, the most notable being Boat-billed flycatcher and Dusky-capped flycatcher. We are not yet in migration season and I am anxious to see what changes that will bring in San Diego. Resident warblers are, so far, Tropical parula , Rufous-capped warbler and Gray-crowned yellowthroat, all of which are very difficult to find in San Antonio. The Tropical parula can be easily confused at first sight with the Yellow-throated euphonia, which I have also found here. Euphonias have been conspicuously absent in San Antonio for quite a while, but San Diego also has the Olive-backed euphonia (Euphonia gouldi).
Among tanagers, the Bay-headed tanager and the Scarlet-thighed dacnis are regulars here, both of them really beautiful species that are easy to find in many parts of Costa Rica.
The last species that seems to be regular here, but not in San Antonio, is the Chestnut-headed oropendola. The large flocks of this beautiful bird, and of its relative, the Montezuma oropendola, are a spectacular sight with their yellow tails above the forest, in numbers of a hundred or more as evening closes in each day. The cabins afford excellent views down onto the tree tops and there is much to explore below, especially if you are the adventurous type and try and walk through to the Guayabo National Monument, about an hour away if you are lucky enough to find the path.
A shorter walk leads to a very pretty waterfall on the Quebrada La Loca. The path down from the cabins, although short, is very steep and muddy and rubber boots are a must. Much of it is through thick forest where many hard-to-find forest species are surely likely. However, it was away from the forest, back up close to the cabins, where we found a rare hummingbird, the Long-billed starthroat (Heliomaster longitrostris), subject of another post.
Photos to follow.