Lagunas de Bonilla – Snowy Cotinga and Fasciated Antshrike

The beautiful Lagunas de Bonilla are located just over the border in the Caribbean province of Limón. They are located on private property and are not open to the public but they can be viewed from an overlook on a dirt road that leads off the newly paved Turrialba-Santa Teresita-La Alegría road.

Lagunas de Bonilla view

Here’s a similar view on a sunnier day:

Bajos de Bonilla (1)
Lush vegetation surrounds the Lagunas de Bonilla

Continuing from the overlook the dirt road gives access down to the old railway line that runs alongside the Río Revantazón. This was our target area, but we had to abandon our initial plan because of a steady drizzle that kept both us and the birds under cover. Thus we returned to the overlook, a fortunate decision because the weather then brightened and the birds magically appeared. At this elevation of approximately 450 m I was looking forward to seeing Caribbean lowland birds that are hard to find closer to Turrialba. We stayed at this one spot for the rest of a wonderful morning’s birding. I was spoiled for choice as John Beer and Larry Waddell were able to take numerous fine photos.

Long Tailed Tyrant
Male Long-tailed Tyrant sits atop a low guarumu

Friend Larry Waddell had promised that this area regularly has Long-tailed Tyrant (Colonia colonus), a five-inch black-and-white flycatcher whose tail adds another 4 inches or so. It’s quite unmistakable and we quickly found our target bird, a male investigating the nesting hole of a Black-cheeked Woodpecker (Melanerpes pucherani). The Tyrant, while fairly common in the lowlands, is a bird that I had previously found only once in our area. This particular bird sat within a few feet of us, returning continuously to the same spot and giving Larry and John ample opportunity for photographs. As a historical note,  when Stiles & Skutch‘s definitive A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica appeared, now almost 30 years ago, the eggs of the Long-tailed Tyrant had never been seen.

Flycatcher, Tyrant, Long-tailed, Lagos de Bonilla (2)
The Long-tailed Tyrant‘s tail barely fits in John’s photo here!

Highlight of the day for me, however, was the Snowy Cotinga (Carpodectes nitidus), a Caribbean lowland species that ranges from Honduras to western Panama and one that I had never seen well before. John and Milena Beer had found one months earlier at nearby Peralta, which is still in the province of Cartago but offers similar species to those at Lagunas de Bonilla. That bird was the subject of an earlier post of mine on Peralta that I wrote some 8 months ago.

Snowy Cotinga, Bonilla
One of three male Snowy Cotingas at Lagunas de Bonilla, courtesy of Larry Waddell

When you see a fairly small, mainly white bird in Costa Rica, you will usually be looking at a Masked Tityra (Tityra semifasciata) or the rather similar but much less common Black-crowned Tityra (Tityra inquisitor). Indeed, for most of the morning we had 4 Masked Tityra flying around noisily making their unique grunting sound (hence the local Spanish name of pájaro chancho, ‘pig bird’).

Black mask but red face and bill: Male Masked Tityra at Siquirres; photo by John Beer

Looking down towards the lake, however, we spotted a distant white blob that we were fairly sure was a Snowy Cotinga. The Pacific version of this bird, the Yellow-billed Cotinga (Carpodectes antoniae) is endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama but is never found in the Caribbean.

One hour later the blob down by the lake had disappeared but three male Snowy Cotingas were now perched right next to us. John snapped the following photos:

Cotinga, Snowy, Lagos de Bonilla (2)
Male Snowy Cotinga, courtesy of John Beer
Cotinga, Snowy, Lagos de Bonilla (3)
Snowy Cotinga, the name fits beautifully

The overlook area itself is not very heavily forested but the scattering of tall trees and low bushes provides great birding habitat. We were treated to lots of action and found many local species including Crested Guan (Penelope purpurascens)….

Crested Guan, Bonilla
Crested Guan, a large bird that is as much at home in trees as on the ground; photo by Larry Waddell
Guan, Crested, Lagos de Bonilla (1)
The red throat and beautifully patterned breast distinguish the Crested Guan; photo by John Beer

…..Lesser Greenlet (Hylophilus decurtatus)….

Lesser Greenlet
The Lesser Greenlet’s big-eyed look helps a lot with identification of this small resident vireo. Courtesy of Larry Waddell.

and Olive-backed Euphonia (Euphonia gouldi):

Euphonia, Olive-backed, female, Lagos de Bonilla (2)
Female Olive-backed Euphonia poses on a wire; photo by Larry Waddell

A beautiful migrant that, despite being fairly common in migration season in most parts of Costa Rica, I have seen only very infrequently here on the Turrialba Volcano slope, is the Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea). We found at least 3 of that species, two of which were females, to which the Latin olivacea applies. Here’s the black-winged male:

Tanager, Scarlet, male, Lagos de Bonilla
Male Scarlet Tanag(er at Lagunas de Bonilla, courtesy of John Beer

The Fasciated Antshrike (Cymbilaimus lineatus) is another bird that I have rarely seen, despite the fact that it is reasonably common in the Caribbean lowlands and can be found as high as 1200 m. Larry crept into the bushes one more time and managed the following shot of this inhabitant of the tangled undergrowth:

Fasciated Antshrike male Bonilla
Male Fasciated Antshrike at Lagunas de Bonilla

Thanks to John and Larry for a morning well spent in a beautiful location only 40 minutes’ drive from Turrialba!

Here is the link to the list of sightings:

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