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Part 5:  Arenal Observatory Lodge

All photographs ©2018

 

After the tour officially ended, I still had a few vacation days to use, so I booked my remaining days at Arenal seeing as it was a place I always wanted to go!  I wish I had been able to spend the full five days here that I usually spend at a lodge when doing these excursions on my own, as a storm front came through on two of the three days there (and those on the tour who had also decided to spend extra time in the country also reported getting rained out by a nasty system, so I guess it was country-wide, almost...)!  But the first full day was just glorious!

Agua Caliente River along the entrance road

Looking the other way

The lodge...

I stayed in one of the Smithsonian Rooms, which turned out to be perfect:  these rooms are close to reception and the restaurant, and my room in particular was right on the end where I could peek around the wall and keep an eye on the feeders! J  Said feeders were actually just off the restaurant's deck, and always seemed to have Bananaquits at least, but other regular visitors included both Red-legged and Green Honeycreepers, Montezuma Oropendolas, and even a Great Currasow (who would also regularly display on the ground to try and impress two equally tame ladies)!  A Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer had the flowers around the feeders staked out, and cool butters that came in included Lilac-based Flasher and the biggest Gulf Fritillary I had ever seen!  When the clouds lifted, you had a great view of the Arenal Volcano, and I also had an unobstructed view of the jungle, from which emanated the songs of Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrants, Stripe-breasted and Black-throated Wrens, and Tropical Parulas; both Yellow-throated and Tawny-capped Euphonias actually showed themselves, and on one occasion a troupe of Spider Monkeys moved through!  A little Rufous-tailed Hummingbird I named "Rusty" always sat on the same perch in the bush in front of me (when he wasn't chasing the bees away J), and closer to the feeders a Green Thorntail would sit on the side of the bush, doing a pretty good leaf imitation!  One morning I woke up to a pair of Spectacled Owls "whoofing" at each other, but they were the only night birds I logged.

View of the feeders from my room (with obliging oropendola)

View from my patio

My room (with creatively-folded towel...)

I can't vouch for the quality of the other rooms, but I passed by them on numerous occasions:  one long line of rooms faced the garden area that was alive with flycatchers:  Sulphur-bellied, Social, Piratic, and Gray-capped Flycatchers; Long-tailed Tyrant, and Yellow-bellied Elaenia were the regulars.  Variable Seedeaters were all over, and additional hummers included Violet-headed and Crowned Woodnymph.  This was the place for butters as well; while I didn't come across anything flashy, had great looks at White Angled and Statira Sulphurs, Scarce Yellow, Transandean Cattleheart, and what I think was a Fuzzy Saliana.  There was apparently another set of rooms up on the hill where the museum was, and more rooms down the hill from the restaurant, but it looked like they all had a great view of Arenal!

There's a couple of nice villas available to families or groups as well; again, I didn't see the insides, but passed by them on various hikes: the White Hawk Villa had a beautiful view from the hill it was perched on (I assume, as it was socked in when I hiked past it), and Phil's Villa was on one of the cutover roads in the pasture area.  La Casona is apparently a little more rustic, and is situated down the entrance road a piece, but has a lovely view of Lake Arenal; I would swing by this spot on my pre-breakfast walks when I could.

The restaurant is fabulous, but no controlling portions here (except during breakfast, which was buffet-style; their French toast was great) - if you book a package deal (which I did), you basically order whatever you want off the menu!  Lunch was the best, with the Lava Burger and the Three Cheese Sandwich my favorites, and the best French fries I've ever had!  Their Tres Leches dessert is to die for, and since I was often so full from lunch I'd just have a glass of their blackberry juice for dinner! 

Arenal Volcano and the feeders from the deck

Lake Arenal from the deck

Sunset over the lake

The routine...

...was slightly disrupted by the weather, but the general plan was to explore the entrance road before breakfast, do a "big hike" after breakfast, and then do the series of short trails by the lodge after siesta.  On the early morning walk a pair of Black-striped Sparrows was often right there at the little pond next to the restaurant, and a Hepatic Tanager often sang in the pines near the buildings; on one occasion had a Slate-colored Grosbeak singing there!  Further on there was a convenient bench where you could listen to several types of woodcreeper (a Wedge-billed actually came in once), watch the oropendolas in their nest tree, and listen to the gun-shot double-rap of the Pale-billed Woodpecker!  Heading down the entrance road a troupe of Carmiol's Tanagers often moved through, and a Rufous-tailed Jacamar showed once.  At the overlook had a White-throated Thrush and Long-billed Gnatwren before I had to flee the rain...

Entrance road and the path to La Casona

View of Lake Arenal from the La Casona overlook (with incoming rain)

There are lots of good roads that can make several good loops; I only got to do two (and the second one I got dumped on halfway through), but they take you through a variety of habitats and some knockout gorgeous scenery!  On my first (and only dry) day I took the Red Road through the Green Gate, then hung a right onto the Danta Waterfall Trail.  This took you through deep forest where Lanceolated Monklet was a possibility, but not this day; instead, had lots of skulky stuff such as Bicolored, Spotted, and Dusky Antbirds, Thicket Antpitta, and Nightingale Wren (all heard-only, although I did get fleeting glimpses of the Bicolored).  A Tawny-capped Euphonia showed well, and even a Great Currasow boomed!  I joined the Yellow Road at the Danta Hanging Bridge, then continued to "The Farm", where you cross the Danta River; one of the staff had seen Sunbittern here, and it looked great for Fasciated Tiger Heron, but Buff-rumped Warbler was the only thing to show.  Not too far beyond that is a terrific butterfly garden made up of verbena that had loads of Statira Sulphurs, but also several longtails and a Yellow-tipped Flasher.  Joining up with the Red Road again took you through gorgeous pastures and euc/pine forests; had a knockout Hercules Skimmer on a fence along here, plus lots of Yellow-faced Grassquits and both Variable and White-collared Seedeaters. 

Start of the Red Road

Pasture on the left (with Arenal of course)

Danta Waterfall Trail

Danta Waterfall

Danta Hanging Bridge

Pasture on the other side

Along the Yellow Trail

Danta River

Pine plantation near the work shed

Butterfly garden

Coming back along the main road (Red Trail)

The road going off to the right ahead (barely visible) is the road to White Hawk Villa

Returning to the Green Gate (the black sign on the left is the turnoff to the Danta Waterfall Trail)

My second loop the next day consisted of taking the road up to White Hawk Villa, then taking the Orange Road through more pastureland to the Pink Road, which took you down into the jungle again before meeting up with the Green Road, which cut over to the main Red Road.  It was misty and downright nippy this time, with the avian highlights being Red-lored Parrots, a White-throated Thrush in the jungle, a singing Thick-billed Seedfinch, and a flyover Swallow-tailed Kite!  At the cutover the hurricane really started, so it was just a matter of getting back home without a eucalyptus branch falling on your head!  Day Three had the same weather pattern, so instead of hiking I wisely snuggled up on the back patio and did a Big Sit, with "Rusty" keeping me company! J

Turnoff (to the left) to White Hawk Villa

Road to the villa

White Hawk Villa from the overlook

Along the cutoff trail to the Orange Road (note that the weather is continuously deteriorating...)

Looking back at the overlook

The Pink Road going down into the woods

The trails around the lodge area were fabulous, and this constituted the afternoon hike:  after crossing the Spider Bridge (a great suspension bridge), you'd enter the garden area just below those rooms up on the hill, then I would hang a left and take the Saino Trail down into the forest, check out the Frog Pond, then take the La Horminga Trail back up to the parking area, from which you could either go by the spa or take the trail past the aforementioned "garden rooms" and then along the main room back to reception.  My only lifer of the trip, the Black-headed Nightingale Thrush, sang in here, along with both Black-throated and Stripe-breasted Wrens, Thicket Antpitta, and Dusky Antbird.  I once had a jacamar in here, along with a Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher!  The Buff-rumped Warblers were very friendly around the Frog Pond, but the more open garden areas were more "birdy" in the sense that you could spot things easier:  both Gray-headed Chachalacas and Crested Guans were in full view, while smaller things encountered included Scarlet-thighed Dacnises and Passerini's Tanagers, as well as the aforementioned flycatchers.  On one occasion a small group of Brown Jays moved through, not making a peep, which is really unusual!

Trail to the Spider Bridge

Said bridge...

Connector path between the Spider Bridge and the Saino Trail

Scenes along the Saino Trail

Arenal from the garden area

  Part 1: Hotel Buena Vista & Braulio Carrillo NP

  Part 2: Selva Verde Lodge

  Part 3: La Selva Biological Station

  Part 4: Laguna del Lagarto Lodge

  Part 6: Return to Hotel Buena Vista

Illustrated and Audio Bird Lists Index Page

Butterflies and Moths

Dragonflies and Damselflies

Herps, Mammals, and Other Critters

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