Bijagua de Upala is a small town nestled between the slopes of Miravalles Volcano and Tenorio Volcano in northern Costa Rica. While situated on the Caribbean slope, Bijagua is also very close to the junction of Pacific dry forest, resulting in a high level of biological diversity and lots of great birding opportunities! I spent five days in this area, the first two of which I was joined by “Chambita” from Caño Negro.
Las Heliconias Rainforest Lodge is a community-owned lodge and reserve on the slope of Tenorio Volcano, just 3.5km from Bijagua. Over 400 species of birds have been recorded here, including 18 species of hummingbirds. During my visit I saw Black-crested Coquette, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Crowned Woodnymph, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Blue-throated Goldentail, and the near-endemic Coppery-headed Emerald. (While Coppery-headed Emerald is often heralded as being endemic to Costa Rica, there are small known populations of this species in both Nicaragua and Panama.)
With the reserve extending from 700-1150m (2,300-3,800 ft.) in elevation, there is an interesting dynamic at play here. In front of my room there was a fruiting ficus tree (“Higuerón Colorado”) that attracted a wide variety of species, including several Golden-browed Chlorophonias (which are normally found in the highlands). On the steep trail up to Laguna Danta, I encountered a few highland species including Spotted Barbtail, Yellowish Flycatcher, and Slate-throated Redstart. I also found a juvenile Chestnut-capped Brushfinch on the Hanging Bridges Trail, at an unusually low elevation for this species, and the first eBird record for the reserve.
Some further highlights of several days birding the trails here included King Vulture, Orange-bellied Trogon, Tody Motmot, Keel-billed Motmot, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Spotted Antbird, Bicolored Antbird, Ocellated Antbird, Dull-mantled Antbird, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, White-throated Spadebill, Long-tailed Manakin, Northern Schiffornis, Green Shrike-Vireo, Nightingale Wren, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, White-throated Thrush, Golden-crowned Warbler, and Hepatic Tanager.
On my final morning I spent several hours on the trails with Abner Soto Brenes, the son of the manager. At 15 years old, his birding skills were quite impressive, including the ability to identify most birds by ear. If you visit Las Heliconias, I highly recommend having Abner take you out on the trails.
Celeste Mountain Lodge has some extremely-well maintained trails that offer much of the same possibilities as Las Heliconias. Two days birding the trails here produced two outstanding rarities, Black-eared Wood-Quail and Speckled Mourner.
Other highlights included White Hawk, Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, Snowcap, Black-crested Coquette, Bronze-tailed Plumleteer, Lattice-tailed Trogon, Tody Motmot, Streak-crowned Antvireo, Dull-mantled Antbird, Spotted Antbird, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Yellow-margined Flycatcher, Slaty-capped Flycatacher, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Northern Schiffornis, Nightingale Wren, Black-thighed Grosbeak, and Rufous-winged Tanager.
Bird Songs Gardens is a hummingbird garden alongside the road between Bijagua and Celeste Mountain Lodge. A short stop here produced Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Black-crested Coquette, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, and Blue-throated Goldentail.
There are some fields near Rio Chicito, about 20 min. from Bijagua where some Pacific dry forest species can be found. The winds were very gusty when “Chambita” and I visited this site late one afternoon, but we still managed to locate a Grasshopper Sparrow and a few other species including Short-tailed Hawk, White-fronted Parrot, Long-tailed Manakin, and White-throated Magpie-Jay.