Rio Roca – Middle-elevation Cloud Forest Excursion

Want to see middle-elevation cloud-forest species? You really can’t beat the eastern slopes of the Turrialba Volcano. Friend John Beer took me in his trusty Landcruiser back to , a tiny cheese-producing hamlet located not far from my home here in San Antonio de Santa Cruz. John had scouted the area several times previously but this was just my second visit. The elevation is between 1400-1500 m.

Bonilla Arriba (114)

Rio Roca cloud forest

I well remembered our previous trip to Bonilla Arriba, a highly enjoyable outing. My post on that occasion ( ended with the promise to explore further the road/path from Bonilla that eventually leads downhill to Ojo de Agua in the Caribbean province of Limón. We actually did not get a great deal further, though we crossed two arms of the Rio Roca, but we were absolutely delighted with the forest environment and with the abundant bird life.

Finch, Sooty-faced, Bonilla Arriba-Rio Roca (4)

Sooty-faced Finch (Lysurus crassirostrus), a species that now seems to appear everywhere I go

On this second excursion, we missed the White-faced Monkeys but heard and saw the much larger Howler Monkeys for the first time in our area. I say ‘our area’ despite the fact that shortly after leaving the farms at Bonilla Arriba we were actually no longer in Cartago Province and had passed into that of Limón. It is worth mentioning that it is also not uncommon to find the tracks of the endangered danta, Baird’s Tapir, in this area. On today’s excursion the final river that we reached actually bears the name Río Danta.

Bonilla Arriba (19)

One of the broader sections of the path from Bonilla Arriba to El Destierro/Ojo de Agua

Point of interest: a centipede imitating a leaf:

CentipedeBonilla Arriba-Rio Roca (158)

Centipede on the path – who knows what species?

And now the birds! There were many highlights and one new species for me, the Tawny-throated Leaftosser (Sclerurus mexicanus), which popped out briefly at the side of the path giving me an excellent view. This species is a skulker that is very hard both to see and of course to photograph. Friends at the Asociación Ornitológica are working on it!

We found four different species of hummingbirds, the most abundant of which was the Black-bellied Hummingbird (Eupherusa nigriventris). Both males (below, left) and females posed nicely for John:

Several flycatchers were of particular interest, chief among them a supposedly common species, the Tufted Flycatcher (Mitrephanes phaeocercus), which I have seen only very infrequently:

Flycatcher, Tufted, Bonilla Arriba-Rio Roca (2)

Tufted Flycatcher sitting in the sunlight

By contrast, I hear the loud-voiced Bright-rumped Attila (Attila spadiceus) daily at home but it’s hard to get a good look because it usually sings from a high, concealed perch. This time, however, we found a nesting pair in an open location. They sang a truncated version of their song, perhaps simply an alarm, but were down low so that John was able to get very nice photos:

Attila, Bright-rumped, Bonilla Arriba-Rio Roca (1)

Bright-rumped Attila at nest site

Another fairly common forest bird that is difficult to see clearly is the Spotted Barbtail (Premnoplex brunnescens), a medium-elevation furnarid. Great luck again as this one popped into full view! Woodcreepers and such were otherwise surprisingly scarce on this forest hike.

Barbtail, Spotted, Bonilla Arriba-Rio Roca (0)

Spotted Barbtail feasting on some poor insect.

On the other hand, the Prong-billed Barbet (Semnornis frantzii), a member of the toucan family, was fairly easy to find. Its Spanish name of cocora tells rather precisely what it sounds like! Its voice carries a great distance. We located a nest in a tall tree stump and found this youngster peeking out:

Barbet, Prong-billed, nest hole, Bonilla Arriba-Rio Roca

Young Prong-billed Barbet looks out at the world

The handsome Black-thighed Grosbeak (Pheucticus tibialis) is found at higher elevations also. Like the Prong-billed Barbet, it can be seen only in Costa Rica and the adjacent mountains of Panama. We saw only one and John was lucky to be able to get the following photograph:

Grosbeak, Black-thighed, Bonilla Arriba-Rio Roca

Big bill,  black and yellow and a white wing-patch distinguish the Black-thighed Grosbeak

The last two of John Beer’s bird photos show common but alluring species:

Woodpecker, Golden-Olive, female, Bonilla Arriba-Rio Roca (2)

Female Golden-olive Woodpecker (Picolus rubiginosus)

Tanager, Silver-throated, Bonilla Arriba-Rio Roca (2)

Silver-throated Tanager (Tangara icterocephala) stretches its wings


Finally, here is one of the happy birdwatchers in this magical environment:

Bonilla Arriba-Rio Roca - Paul (239)

A joyful day for the author of this post – looking back just after our turn-around at the Rio Roca

The day’s list of some 50 species can be found on eBird at the following link:


9 thoughts on “Rio Roca – Middle-elevation Cloud Forest Excursion

      • The female RH Barbet is almost as lovely as the male.. Those soft blues against the stark black mask are especially pretty.

        Do all Barbets nest in tree cavities? I have a section of a fallen upper section of a dead tree, and it has a nice hole probably large enough to poke a golf ball through… I was wondering what bird might have made that hole in order to use the ‘artifact’ as reference and place the appropriate species in the painting/ My guess was a woodpecker or woodcreeper – haven’t done my homework!


  1. What a great looking day. You saw a lot of great birds. Almost 1/3 the species numbers of what’s even possible here. Can’t wait to join you again.


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