Anyone visiting Manuel Antonio National Park will surely notice flocks of brown pelicans gracefully soaring overhead, plunging headlong into the sea after fish, or maybe even “wind surfing” as they playfully glide along the face of a wave with a wingtip almost skimming the wall of water. Magnificent frigate birds – large dark birds with long pointed wings and forked tails – will probably grab your attention, too, as they effortlessly cruise on the slightest breeze.
If you are at all interested in birds, you know that most species are not as easily seen as pelicans and frigate birds. But for those who make an attempt to find them, the Manuel Antonio area harbors hundreds of surprises. More than 270 species, including migrants, can potentially be observed in the park and the surrounding area extending to Quepos and the local airstrip.
Despite the image of beautiful beaches that the name Manuel Antonio conjures up in most peoples’ minds, the majority of its bird life is to be found in the forest – whether inside the park proper or in any decent patch of vegetation around your hotel. Screeching flocks of parakeets and parrots impart a decidedly tropical air to the birding here, as do the comings and goings of at least 15 different types of hummingbirds, including purple-crowned fairies, violet-crowned woodnymphs, white-crested coquettes, and blue-throated golden-tails.
If you come across a fruiting tree or shrub, you might be treated to a riot of color from a visiting parade of birds that could include scarlet-rumped, blue-gray, golden-hooded, and bay-headed tanagers; green,
shining, and red-legged honeycreepers; and yellow-crowned, spot-crowned, and thick-billed euphonias, among others.
One of the biggest thrills in tropical birding is encountering a mixed-species foraging flock, because the action can really get fast and furious as the birds stream past, each one seemingly different from the next. In the forest understory at Manuel Antonio, insectivorous flocks form around pairs of black-hooded antshrikes and dot-winged antwrens, and the entourage can contain plain xenops, long-billed gnatwrens, chestnut-backed antbirds, rufous-breasted wrens, russet antshrikes, buff-throated foliage-gleaners, sulphur-rumped flycatchers and, in winter months, any of a dozen or so species of migrant warblers, vireos, andflycatchers.
Of course, trying to identify all those fluttering creatures can be terribly frustrating to the novice. But what’s worse, too much or too little? After a flock has moved on, it can often seem as though there are no birds left in the forest. But even when you can’t see them, if you listen, you’re likely to hear birds. Perhaps my favorite singer in the Central Pacific forests is the black-bellied wren. From its preferred microhabitat of dense vine tangles, this difficult-to-see bird advertises its presence with an outpouring of rich liquid notes that are sure to stop any passersby in their tracks. Likewise, the clear tremulous whistles of great tinamous and the mellow phrases of blue-black grosbeaks are apt to please any human listener.