Palo Verde

Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica

Birds in Palo Verde
Birds congregate in Palo Verde

The Palo Verde National Park on the banks of the Rio Tempisque is one of the best wildlife and bird watching spots in Costa Rica. The remote wetland sanctuary harbors one of Central Americas largest concentration of aquatic » birds and is the most important migratory bird site of the Mesoamerican Pacific.

Hemmed in by limestone hills and rivers, the lowlands of the Tempisque basin become a vast area of wetlands in rainy season. Towards the end of the rainy season Palo Verde is home to at least 250,000 birds.

For » birdwatching in Palo Verde the dry season, from Jan – April, is the best time because waters largely subside and the park’s many birds cluster by the remaining marshes and waterholes. Observing the fauna is particularly good because in dry season there is little vegetation to obstruct views of the roosting birds.

The Tropical Dry Forest and Wildlife

Palo Verde also protects one of the last significant remnants of dry forests of the Neotropics. This sensible eco-system once covered most of the Central American Pacific lowland, from Southern Mexico until Panama. During the colonial era already the Spanish destroyed vast areas for cattle and today only 2% of the original dry forest area is left over in a patchwork of nature reserves.

Tropical dry forest in Palo Verde
Dry forest in Palo Verde

Trees in the dry forest rarely grow higher than 12 meter. With little or no precipitation for half the year, most shrub and trees shed their leaves in dry season to conserve water. At the peak of dry season however, many trees burst into a riot of colors showing yellow, rose, violet or red flowers on bare branches.

Palo Verde forms part of the Tempisque Conservation Area which includes the Barra Honda National Park, the Caballero Wildlife Refuge, the Lomas Barbudal Biological Reserve and other patches of biological interest. The total of protected areas in the Tempisque river basin encompasses 73,000 hectares and presents 15 different habitats thus being one of Costa Rica’s most biological diverse sites.

Around 75 species of » mammals, including peccaries, armadillos, deer, monkeys, and coatis roam the thickets. Palo Verde harbours Costa Rica’s largest population of » jaguarundis, a brownish, small wild cat. 55 species of reptiles and amphibians are found, and the Tempisque river has the largest concentration of crocodiles in Costa Rica.

The abundance of flowers and fruit in the national park also feed myriads of insects and colonies of » bats. Especially the Lomas Barbudal Biological Reserve, adjacent to Palo Verde, is a heaven for insectologists. An abundance of wasps, butterflies, moths and other insects inhabit the forest and in rainy season you can count on swarms of mosquitoes. Of particular interest are the bees in the reserve: 250 species have been counted – a quarter of the world’s bee species.


Palo Verde Bird Watching

Birds in Palo Verde
A flock of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks

In the middle of Costa Rica’s hottest and driest region, the floodplains of the Rio Tempisque form an extensive and diverse patchwork of habitats including fresh and saltwater marshes, lagoons, lakes, savanna woodlands and forests.

Within the marsh, such species as the black-bellied whistling duck, the blue-winged teal and northern jacana have been observed by the thousands.
Teal, geese and ducks arrive from North America to winter in the park each year, along with many neotropical migrants, including hummingbirds, flycatchers, warblers, tanagers, orioles, vireos, owls, and falcons. See: » Birds on the Nicoya Peninsula

A 2-km trail along the marsh between the Biological Station and the ranger station of Finca Palo Verde affords excellent birdwatching. A great outlook point is the observation tower in the marshland.

Little blue heron

A boat tour along the Tempisque River is a popular way of exploring the bird life of the mangrove forests. Nesting colonies of » boat-bill herons are easily spotted, along with little-blue herons, yellow-crowned herons and others. The Tempisque River has a 4 meter rise and fall with the tide. » Crocodiles and caimans can often be seen on its banks.

Boat tours pass by Isla de los Pajaros, the most important nesting colony for wading birds in northwest Costa Rica. Some 3000 aquatic birds nest there including white ibis, roseate spoonbills, anhingas, wood storks, jabiru storks, and the nations largest colony of black-crowned night herons. Many » boas inhabit the island, feeding on bird eggs and nestlings.

Roseate Spoonbill Palo Verde
Roseate spoon bill

Palo Verde harbours also other avian exotics such as toucans and the only permanent colony of scarlet macaws in the dry tropics. Endangered species such as great curassow, yellow-naped parrot and king vulture are found as well and the wetlands presents the only nesting site for the rare jabiru stork, the largest stork in the world.

The rich and diverse eco-systems boasts 279 different species of birds. See » List of Birds in Palo Verde (pdf). The number increases to 300 taking into account the habitats of Lomas Barbudal which offers excellent birdwatching of dry forest species like long-tailed manakin, turquoise-browed motmot, stub-tailed spadebill, olive sparrow, and black-headed trogon.

How to get to Palo Verde:

With a car take the road from Bagaces, 26 km south of Liberia, across from the gas station. Continue 28 km on a rock-strewn road through dry forest, passing by sugar cane and rice fields until the Park Entrance of Palo Verde. From here you can drive on for 8 km until you arrive at the Biological Station and the marshes where you see lots of birds. Another 2 km further is the ranger station with a camping site, showers and bathrooms. There are also 6 cabins with bunk beds available.

If you want to visit the Lomas Barbudal reserve, it is 5 km before the entrance of Palo Verde.

Without a car you can take the morning bus from » Nicoya to “Rosaria”. Get off the bus in Puerto Humo where locals take you over the Tempisque by boat to the Chamorro dock. The trip takes 25 minutes and costs around $ 60 for up to 6 people. From the dock you walk 2 kms to the ranger station. For an overnight stay rustic but clean and comfortable dormitory style accommodations are available. For reservations call OTS Palo Verde (506) 2524 0607.

At the Tempisque bridge there are also boats who take you on a tour to Isla de Pajaros or into the Rio Bebedero. The tour takes 2 hours and costs $30 per person if there are at least 4 people.