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Manzanillo - BirdForum Opus

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The Refugia Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandonca-Manzanilla, or Manzanilla, is a forest reserve on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. It lies southwards of the resort of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and has 5013 hectares of lowland rain forest and wetlands, including mangroves.

Notable species

Birds seen here include Red-capped Manakin, Crested Owl, Olive-throated Parakeet, Pale-vented Pigeon, Masked Tityra, Collared Aracari, Black-crowned Antshrike, Keel-billed Toucan and Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Magnificent Frigatebird, Common Black Hawk, Scarlet-rumped Tanager and Black-cowled Oriole. There may still be Harpy Eagle in the area.


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Birds you can see here include:

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Site Information

History and Use

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Areas of Interest

Publicly accessible birding sites in & near Manzanillo include the following. Birding observations are from February-March 2013:

Laguna Gandoca: approximately 10 Km southeast of Manzanillo. According to UNESCO (http://www.unesco.org/csi/pub/papers/cortes.htm ) the mangrove forest here is the “least altered by human activities of any mangrove forest on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica”. Apparently more freshwater exits the lagoon than marine water enters. Features include the only Costa Rican population of the mangrove oyster & an Atlantic tarpon nursery. Access from Manzanillo is difficult except by boat and this is a site we did not visit. If I read Google Maps correctly & if the map is correct, the most straightforward access by land is via HWY 36 toward Sixaola & a tributary road (to the left when approaching Sixaola) through Finca Sadan and Finca Sixaola to Playa Gandoca. Using Google Earth’s path measurement tool I get an approximate driving distance from Manzanillo of 60 Km (37 miles). The lagoon is less than 5 Km from the Panamanian border at the mouth of Rio Sixaola. This might be a logical place for White-crowned Pigeon (which reportedly prefers coastal forests and mangroves and is listed by Angehr as a bird to be found in the area around nearby Changuinola).

Punta Manzanillo: approximately 1 Km east of Manzanillo, following an occasionally navigable road across the tidal channel (see below) and thence a trail that is often quite muddy. The road & trail offer good coastal forest, with a couple of informal tributary trails leading southward. The beaches along here are quite scenic, as is the rocky point. Good for Brown Pelican and Magnificant Frigatebird; this might be a place from which Red-billed Tropicbird could be seen (ranging from the breeding colony in nearby Bocas del Toro). Tidal Channel: approximately a half-Km east of Manzanillo, this channel reliably produces kingfishers (Ringed, Green, and presumably the smaller less common species sought by many birders in this area). It’s also good for waders, shorebirds, and flycatchers.

Manzanillo wetland: approximately 1 Km southeast of Manzanillo, a huge light green depression on satellite images of the region and with no reported trail. We did not visit this inaccessible site but we speculate that such a visit would add significantly to the known avifauna of the area. Adventurous birders might be able to bushwhack to the wetland from the trail at the end of RECOPE Road or from the track leading eastward (left, when approaching from Hwy 256) about 25 meters past the first small bridge along RECOPE Road.

Manzanillo wetland vantage point: approximately a half-Km southeast of Manzanillo,, via the southeasternmost dirt road. This open area includes what is reportedly a partially constructed viewing deck from which a planned boardwalk was to originate. Green and American-Pygmy kingfishers were found here during March 2013. Groove-billed Anis and long-tailed Tyrants were regular. We observed a pair of Common Black-Hawks aggressively harassing howler monkeys in what we interpreted to be perhaps an attempt to protect a nearby nest. We encountered one Blue Ground-Dove. Variable Seedeaters were abundant. This is possibly the location from which another observer saw Tiny Hawk. A distant bird during 2013 MAY have been Lovely Cotinga.

Manzanillo: Gray-necked Wood-Rails are common. During March 2013 we saw the Plain (Canebreak) Wren only in Manzanillo (near Faya Lobi, an excellent lodging choice). Blue-chested Hummingbird was common and we often found Chestnut-colored Woodpecker. Bright-rumped Attila proved to be uncharacteristically easy to observe on several occasions. Common Tody-Flycatchers, Bananaquits and Golden-hooded Tanagers were conspicuous, as were Pale-vented Pigeons and Ruddy Ground-Doves. Gray-breasted Martins foraged overhead.

Hwy 256 between Manzanillo and RECOPE Road: Nice forest edge was often productive. Red-throated Ant-Tanager was seen more than once along this stretch of road, as were Thick-billed Seed-Finch and Fasciated Antshrike. Regularly seen birds included Gray-headed Chachalaca, Squirrel Cuckoo, Long-tailed Hermit, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, White-collared Manakin, Gray Catbird (once) and Variable Seedeater. This is reportedly a good area for American Pygmy-Kingfisher.

RECOPE Road: Approximately a half-Km south of Manzanillo along Hwy 256. Perhaps the best easily accessible birding site in this area, the road is about 1.3 Km in length, though a rough trail extends from its termination point. One subsidiary road leads to the right in a southwesterly direction just past the entry gate to the RECOPE recreation center; this road ends at El Arbol vacation house rental (http://www.elarbolcostarica.com/index.php ); it was along this subsidiary road that we encountered a Semiplumbeous Hawk. During March 2013 a small flock of Dusky-faced Tanagers frequented the area at which this road intersected with RECOPE Road. Perhaps a half-Km past the recreation center the forest on the right gives way to a more open habitat apparently cleared for agriculture or other reasons. During early 2013 a small concentration of indigenous people occupied a small shack on the left.

Species seen along RECOPE Road and its subsidiary road, tracks and trails included Gray-headed Chachalaca, Crested Guan, Common Black-Hawk, Bat Falcon (twice), Laughing Falcon (once), Short-billed Pigeon, White-crowned and Mealy Parrots, Squirrel Cuckoo, Spectacled Owl (once), Common Pauaraque, Long-billed & Stripe-throated Hermit, Band-tailed Barbthroat, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Purple-crowned Fairy, White-necked Jacobin, Violet-crowned Woodnymph (once), Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Black-throated, Gartered and Slaty-tailed Trogons, White-whiskered Puffbird (once), woodpeckers (Rufous-winged, Chestnut-colored, Cinnamon, Pale-billed and Lineated), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (once, considered rare in lowlands), Plain Xenops, woodcreepers (Nothern Barred-, Plain-Brown, Wedge-billed, Streak-headed, Cocoa and Black-striped), Black-crowned Antshrike, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Yellow-margined Flycatcher, White-ringed Flycatcher (once), Cinnamon Becard, Masked Tityra, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, White-collared Manakin, Red-capped Manakin, Lesser Greenlet, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Stripe-breasted Wren, tanagers (Golden-hooded, White-shouldered, White-lined, Tawny-crested, Plain-colored and Palm), Buff-throated Saltador, Montezuma Oropendola and Olive-backed Euphonia. We encountered a few mixed flocks.

After more than two weeks of regular birding along this road we were accosted one evening just past the highway intersection by one of the indigenous men, apparently inebriated. He spoke a dialect that to our un tutored ears sounded close to Spanish, but we certainly did not understand him. His gestures suggested that he expected to be paid for access along the road. When we attempted to diplomatically walk away he became more animated and menacing, and he yelled at us until we were out of sight. We decided to pursue other transects for at least a few days and we limited our surveys after that incident to the portion of the road from the highway to about 100 meters past the RECOPE recreation center. During the entire period we often encountered younger indigenous men along the road; their demeanor was somewhat reticent and perhaps even suspicious. Reliance on a familiar local guide (like Abel Bustamante) would almost certainly mitigate any potential threat, as would birding in groups of larger size.

Pulperia Jassiel and Casas el Panadero: approximately 0.75 Km from Manzanillo alongHwy 256, just past the sharp curve at which the highway becomes a westward (rather than southerly) road. The Jassiel family operates the small store (pulperia) and occupies most of the homes in this small isolated neighborhood but they also offer houses for rent. During February-March 2013 we stayed for one month in one of the houses. Birding from the front porch and from the road passing in front of the house produced many interesting species, including Gray-headed Chchalaca, Gray-chested Dove, Blue-headed Parrot, Pied Puffbird (once), Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Sulphur-rumped Tanager, and Blue-black Grosbeak. A colony of Chestnut-headed Oropendolas occupied trees just behind the house & they occasionally repelled the incursions of Giant Cowbirds. Long-billed Hermits were common, but we were also treated to close-up views of Stripe-throated & Bronzy Hermits and Band-tailed Barbthroats, all foraging at the numerous Helconias in our garden. Melodious Blackbirds were not seen during our first two weeks but we saw them semi-regularly after that. Two roads lead into and beyond the neighborhood. The shorter eastern access road (the first into the neighborhood, if approached from Manzanillo) terminates at a trail that almost immediately leads to fenced forest. The second access road is by far the more interesting and leads past the neighborhood to and beyond a somewhat steep hill. During the first two weeks of our stay it was an overgrown track along the climb up the hill but remained moderately accessible for perhaps 200 meters. We were surprised one day to find that the road had been cleared for most of that 200 meter stretch; in general, the clearing did not cause much habitat destruction, with the exception of one small forested depression. Along this road before the hill we heard Vermiculated Screech-Owl and Great Potoo; we saw Black-and-White Owl one evening, very near the intersection with the highway. We regularly saw Crested Guan, Common Black-Hawk (nesting), Short-billed Pigeon, Crimson-fronted and Olive-throated Parakeets, White-crowned, Red-lored and Mealy Parrots, Squirrel Cuckoo, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Gartered and Slaty-tailed Trogons, Black-crowned Antshrike, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Cinnamon Becard, several tanagers (Golden-hooded, White-shouldered, Tawny-crested, Plain-colored and Palm, among others), Blue Dacnis, Shining Honeycreeper, Black-striped Sparrow, Black-cowled Oriole, Montezuma Oropendola and Olive-backed Euphonia. We saw one Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant.

Hwy 256: This relatively new highway (apparently the first road to Manzanillo, completed only in 1986 and reportedly paved just 2-3 years ago, as of this 2013 writing) connects Manzanillo to Punta Uva and thence Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. In many places the primary rainforest remains unspoiled on either side for several kilometers. A very few trails (one notably to and past Almonds and Coral Hotel) permit some entry into the forest, but the birding along the highway can at times be extraordinary (especially during the early morning hours). During one survey day along the highway from Pulperia Jasseill to Punta Uva we counted more than 70 species, including the birding highlight of our trip: Tiny Hawk. We regularly saw Magnificent Frigatebirds overhead and we often saw Common Black-Hawk, Short-billed Pigeon, Crimson-fronted and Olive-throated Parakeets, White-crowned and Mealy Parrots, Squirrel Cuckoo, Long-billed Hermit, Gartered and Slaty-tailed Trogons, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Plain Xenops, several woodcreepers (Northern Barred-, Wedge-billed, Streak-headed, Cocoa and Black-striped), Black-crowned Antshrike, Cinnamon Becard, White-collared Manakin, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Stripe-breasted Wren, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, tanagers (Golden-hooded, White-shouldered, White-lined, Tawny-crested, Plain-colored and Palm), Buff-throated Saltador, Black-cowled Oriole, Scarlet-rumped and Yellow-billed Caciques, Montezuma Oropendola, and Olive-backed Euphonia. We also saw (one time each) Checker-throated Antwren, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher and Red-capped Manakin; we found Buff-rumped Warbler a couple of times. Mixed flocks were not uncommon.

Almonds & Coral Road: Off Hwy 256, perhaps 1 Km west of Pulperia Jassiel. A trail system associated with the Almonds & Coral Lodge is restricted to guests. The road terminates at a presumably public trail (not posted) that leads through forest to a wide expanse of sandy beach. Not far west of the beach-side trailhead is a short trail that leads to a small viewing platform.

Forest Road: approximately 2 Km west of Pulperia Jassiel, this is the first publicly accessible road to the left (south) from the highway; it’s probably about 1.3 Km from Punta Uva. We found no road name but did note a prominent sign at the entrance regarding lots for sale. This road is perhaps a half-Km or more in length and ends at a river (downed logs enable intrepid souls to continue across to follow a track after scaling a steep and slippery river bank). This road offers excellent access into rainforest habitat and the bonus of two vantage points from which stretches of river may be viewed. Our most memorable birding experience was an encounter with White-throated Capuchin monkeys being followed by a Double-toothed Kite (a textbook ornithological moment). We saw several species among those listed for RECOPE Road and Hwy 256, but we only surveyed the road twice. Interestingly, it was along this road that we saw the only Orange-billed Sparrow of the trip. We believe we may have seen two Great Green Macaws (presumably from a captive-release program) overhead.

Finca La Isla Botanical Garden: in Puerto Viejo. We spent a couple of hours along an adjacent trail one morning. The target birds (unseen by our group) include Spot-crowned Antvireo, 3 antwren species, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher and Black-chested Jay.

Quebrada Dos Aguas: a small private “park” along Hwy 36 between Puerto Viejo and BriBri that features a short hike terminating at a scenic waterfall. The name used here is from the highway sign at the bridge, approximately 100 meters east of the nondescript entrance to the park. We were with a group devoted to non-birding pursuits during the 90 minutes or so spent there, but this site (along the northwestern perimeter of the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge) did produce (at the bridge) Green Kingfisher and White-ringed Flycatcher (one of only two trip sightings). It looks like a good place to seek Sunbittern. As was true at almost every site listed here, Tawny-crested Tanagers were plentiful and conspicuous.

Access and Facilities

The trails within the reserve are muddy. A bus will take you from PVdT to the village of Manzanillo which is in the reserve. As well as birds the beaches are home to nesting Leatherback Turtles and caiman can be found in the wetlands.

English speaking guides can be hired at Manzanillo. See especially Abel Bustamante (http://manzanillo-caribe.com/abel/abel.html).

Contact Details

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External Links

Candoca Mansanilo Wildlife Refuge