Chapter 7A. Costa Rica - Part A
(Shari) “Follow the little white piece of paper”, that’s my motto today. Another border crossing, the tale is funny in its telling and sad in its ridiculous waste of time. As soon as we get close to the border, we see a long line of trucks parked on the left side of the road facing our same direction. I sure hope we do not need to be behind them. We pass them up using the right lane and hope no one is coming in the opposite direction. Reaching the border, we stop. Now our caravan has the right lane blocked and the trucks have the left lane blocked. Many young men approach and ask if I need help. One even introduces himself as “Charlie” a name I recognize as a guide used last year by the Panama caravan. As I am paying a parking fee for the group and getting a little yellow piece of paper, I tell Charlie that we are to have guides here but that I will pay him $20 to help until they show up. Just then Yadira and Cindy show themselves and tell us to have the group come through the gates, giving the guard the yellow piece of paper I just picked up. Yadira has arrived two hours early and has completed our Nicaragua visas. I wait in line to have our passports stamped as exiting. Meanwhile, Yadira chases around doing what I do not know, but later I have better find out since Lee had a flat tire and he and Bob will be coming later and I will have to finish their paperwork. I sure hope they get here before we cross into Costa Rica.
About an hour later I finish the passports, Yadira finishes the vehicle paper exits and then I hear that Bob and Lee have arrived. Over the radio I tell them to pass up the trucks, stop, pay $1 per person and proceed through the gates where I will meet them. Here we obtain the little white piece of paper. What do I do with this, I wonder. Yadira and her helper have abandoned me so I read the border procedures from last year. Of the many steps for processing vehicles, Step One states “Find DGA official”. What is a DGA official? I ask myself. I know we have to get three initials and three ink stamps on this little white piece of paper. I send Bert to the window next to the one I am waiting in line for and he is told they need police initials before they can accept the little white piece of paper. Where are the police? In a casual wave of an arm, he is directed towards the back lot where the buses park. Walking to the back lot, no office says police so he returns with nothing accomplished. I still am in line waiting to get our passports stamped exit. When I finish, I help him find either a DGA person (since our sheet says that is step one) or a police officer. Meanwhile Yadira’s helper Cindy shows up and looks for a DGA official. She finds one, inspecting someone’s trunk and I notice that he wears a golf shirt with “DGA” on his breast. He initials the little white piece of paper and Cindy abandons me again. Where are the police? I go to the building that Bert was directed to and enter a room that looks like a customs room with suitcases and backpacks. I show my little white piece of paper to a man that looks scruffy, ragged, dirty and sweaty, and low-and-behold, he initials it. This guy must be the police. I then go to the window next to the one I started at and the woman behind that desk accepts my little white piece of paper and she puts her initial on it meanwhile confiscating the large beige piece of paper that we received in Nicaragua when we entered. We are free to exit Nicaragua and enter Costa Rica. My hard-earned little white pieces of paper with their three initials and three ink stamps are now confiscated and Bert continues toward vehicle fumigation, Arlene pays for fumigation and I wait for the passports to be stamped and pay for our entrance. Nowhere is Yadira to help. Where has she gone? After we complete this, Arlene and I walk towards fumigation. As I attempt to walk through, my ankles get sprayed. Apparently the spray is set off by a sensor. I radio to Bert and ask him where he is located. He tells me to walk the main road and as soon as I get there I see him coming towards me.
We finally find Yadira at the insurance office, obtaining insurance for each rig. New pieces of paper are typed out, copied, taken to another building, signed, stamped and now we are given another little white piece of paper to be kept with the passports and the medium-size piece of paper. I go with Yadira to customs and wait and wait and wait and wait while she sits with an official who types out yet another medium-size piece of paper. Now we have three sets of paper and passports. Bert gathers all the drivers and we have them sign the large piece of paper and have them check their license plate numbers and VIN numbers against the typed sheets of paper. Four out of twelve large pieces of paper are wrong, three out of twelve small pieces of paper are wrong and one out of twelve medium-size pieces of paper are wrong. Back to customs to correct the four large pieces of paper, waiting our turn in line again. Back to insurance to correct the one medium size piece of paper, waiting our turn in line again. Back to the little hut to correct the three small pieces of paper, waiting our turn in line again. Six hours from our start into Nicaragua, we are ready to exit Costa Rica. Again our hard-earned little white piece of paper is confiscated and we are passed through. All except Tom, that is. Seems one of the pieces of paper called his trailer a motor home and the guard will not let him pass. We decide that Bob and Arlene will wait with Tom to get the paperwork figured out and we will continue. We arrive at the Santa Rosa National Park and I am extremely disappointed that the guard did not know our group was coming, yet conversely, I am extremely pleased with the camping area. We have water and we have picnic tables under the shade of huge trees. Owing to our arrival time, we cancel our Valentine’s party, but still have our finger food potluck. Bob builds a campfire and we sit outside until 8:30 just enjoying food, roasted marshmallows and Chris’s slide show set to music of the trip birds he photographed so far.
(Bert) I’m sure Shari will write about the border crossing, so I’ll comment on other subjects. Fifty miles after leaving Granada at the marina on Lake Nicaragua, we again pass alongside the huge lake and follow its shoreline for another 15 mi. Perpetual lake winds push against R-Pup-Tent and the trees have grown 15º off vertical.
After our laborious border crossing we are finally into Costa Rica and immediately everything looks different: fewer people and villages, countryside that does not look ravaged and overused and a complete absence of roadside trash. We make the turn into Santa Rosa National Park and stop at the small entrance building. I am not really much surprised when the attendant is unaware of our anticipated arrival. I had e-mailed months ago, then telephoned in December and followed up with an e-mail and even got one response, but the administrator did not pass the word to the gate keeper. Nonetheless, the ample campground is ours alone and we all delight in what easily could be the best natural setting campsite of our journey so far. Liberally spread out under the overhanging branches of giant fig trees, our RV’s each have a private parking spot, although devoid of any facilities. I gather dry firewood and Bob ignites a campfire while we enjoy a bounty of finger-food hors d'oeuvres and I tell stories of what I know about this part of the Guanacaste region: the history of Walker’s 1856 attempt to conquer Costa Rica as his own, Somoza’s invasion from Nicaragua, the buyout of his hacienda, and the decades of scientific research conducted here.
(Shari) As I am sipping my morning coffee, I look out my window. What before my eyes should appear but five white-faced monkeys frolicking on the picnic table, two more drinking from the faucet and countless others swinging from the tree limbs above. Wow would my ten-year-old granddaughter Maddie love these since in December she told me monkeys were her favorite animal. I snap picture after picture. The monkeys are skittish and do not let me get very close but I get a great shot of one on a tree limb over R-Pup-Tent. Bert returns early in the morning and fills my “Maytag” bucket with water so I can do some wash by hand. People are in and out, keeping their own schedule, birding when the mood strikes, sitting under the big fig trees enjoying the shade and the wind while they are reading, washing clothes, napping or whatever. After a travel meeting, some go to the dining hall for a great dinner I am told. We eat tough steak in our rig.
(Bert) While I’m dressing I hear a Pauraque calling outside and then a Crested Guan. I hear another higher pitched song, one I do not recognize. I go outside with my camera and flash unit. Even though the persistent caller is directly above me in a thinly branched tree, it takes me 10 min. to see its outline in the 6 AM morning light. I take a photo and look at the review screen. It’s the rear end and bottom side of a flycatcher. I go back inside R-Pup-Tent and retrieve my microphone attachments to record the song. As more birders come out we puzzle over the bird’s identity. Glancing through the local list of possibilities and I suggest Beardless-Tyrannulet, but the different call makes us question whether it is Northern or Southern. When Chris, who is an expert on Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet since he wrote the feature article on that species for the Birds of North America series, he says the call is probably a morning song and therefore different from the more typical daytime calls. We are not quite yet in the range of the Southern version and this one lacks the expected yellower coloration.
After a mid afternoon discussion about distinguishing confusing Myiarchus flycatchers and a bird count off, I bird alone for an hour, taking lots of photos. I am especially intrigued by the Cinnamon Hummingbirds. It seems that at each patch of the small red Turk’s Cap flowers there is a territorial Cinnamon Hummingbird that alternately feeds on the flowers and rests on nearby branches. I watch as the hummingbirds stick their bills into the flowers, a perfect match of bill length to flower depth, just right for the transfer of pollen to head and for the bird to reach its nectar reward.
Shari told me earlier about the White-faced Capuchins that came to the camping area at 8 AM this morning. I wished I had been there. Now, returning from late afternoon birding I see her at a distance, sitting on a lawn chair, putting her index finger across her lips and gesturing with her arm for me to come quietly. In the trees I see the capuchins and immediately start photographing their antics. I motion to Clay to come over and he brings others. In a few minutes we notice that the monkeys are all around us, nimbly scrambling through the branches. These look like the “organ-grinder” monkeys, with cute human-like faces and lanky thin bodies and almost constant movement, unlike the heavy-set Mantled Howlers we watched earlier today who prefer sitting high in branches and moving laboriously. I meet a graduate student from the University of Calgary who is studying the capuchins and she tells me there are 26 in the troop, with three adult males and six adult females, the rest juveniles. She points out the oldest female as I take a photograph. I show her some of the earlier photos and she recognizes photo #3945 as Legalos, the alpha male. In fact, she can tell me the names of all the monkeys and points out some of the distinguishing unique features. Several of the monkeys start calling and she says it is an alarm call, this one meaning a Howler is present, and in fact we see one 50 ft. away in another tree. She recognizes different calls for bird predator warnings, people warnings, friendly communication calls, etc. The light fades, too dark for more photos and Shari and I sit under the broad fig trees surrounding R-Pup-Tent as the half-moon shines through the branches and the coolness of the evening arrives.
(Shari) “What is that quail-like thing?”, I say to Bert just a second before he spots it too. I never should have said anything because I may have gotten a lifer on him. As we are headed out of the park road, the bird starts to the cross the road, hurriedly changes its mind and heads back into the brush. I do get a good look at it and Bert tells me to look at crested or spotted bobwhite in his books. Yup, that is the bird I saw. Another one for my special list of those birds I see before Bert sees them. Yeah, a second before still counts!
We stop for propane on our way to San Jose. Then we stop for bottled water before we start the climb up the mountain behind one slow truck after another. Passing is difficult since the road, although smooth, is too curvy. We stop at part way to the top to refuel before making more slow progress towards San Jose. Traffic gets thicker as two lanes turn into three and then into four on our approach into the big city. We arrive at our camping spot in Belén and start the dumping process before traveling to the Butterfly Farm. While others wait on the side of the two-lane one-way road, one by one we make the turn, dump, fill with water and move forward. I talk with the owner about the butterfly farm and he decides to lead us to it. As we twist and weave through the populated narrow streets I think to myself that no way would I have been able to navigate this without a leader and no way will the group. When we arrive, we call the campground to tell the groups to wait until further notice. We look at the facilities and are pleased with the nice showers, restrooms, swimming pool and meeting area. However the entrance to the lawn-covered parking area is too narrow for our rigs. We doubt is we could make it, let alone the big rigs. We leave the disappointed butterfly farm owner and return to Belén deciding to squeeze into that campground with Panama 1 today that leaves tomorrow before Panama 2 arrives. It actually will be doable and more comfortable for us here. After a travel meeting and margaritas, we walk to a pizza restaurant and join Ralph and Dorothy, Carol and John for a pretty decent pizza.
Bert) Reluctantly we leave Santa Rosa, a park where I could have stayed a week and still enjoyed its peacefulness and wildlife, two words with oxymoronic first syllables: the peace of arising in cool mornings with gentle wind whispering through the fig trees and a tyrannulet singing its dawn song, the wild of capuchins gymnastically scampering through the trees or a deer competing with me in a staring contest or an agouti munching on a nut while I watch through binoculars, and the peace of sitting in near darkness in front of a crackling fire and roasting marshmallows on a stick whittled from a thin branch.
We are exiting the park when Shari gets a life bird a split second before I see it too. The quail-like bird is just at the edge of the road before disappearing in the grassy border. I stop suddenly – I’m only going 10 mph on the potholed access road – and Shari radios the two vehicles following us. I’m sure it is a quail, but would not be able to rule out a Little Tinamou were it not for the fact that they do not occur here. Shari got a better look, so I retrieve my two field guides for Costa Rica birds and she quickly puts her finger on the female Crested Bobwhite illustration.
The Central America Highway 1 through the Guanacaste province is newly paved and easy driving. In the distance we see cloud-shrouded volcanic mountains. Closer, dry grassy fields and scrub land interspersed with grandiose mushroom-shaped trees illustrate the dry forest. Too far in the distance to see lays the Pacific Ocean.
Traffic thickens and the two-lane highway becomes competition between domineering overladen trucks and sprinting cars passing whenever the few gaps and straightaway stretches open. We cross a river and I switch the GPS to the elevation screen. In just minutes we climb from 300 ft. to 700 ft. After refueling at one of the very few gas stations along the highway, the serious climb begins to the 3000+ ft. of the Central Plateau. Now the semis crawl in first gear, the forest crowds in the roadsides, the serpentine highway divides along a no-passing stripe and traffic transforms to train cars following an overworked semi-truck locomotive.
With only three small RV’s in our first group we manage relatively quickly through the traffic gauntlet, gaining nearly an hour over the second group. We need the extra time to check out our alternate campsite at the butterfly farm. We stop briefly at the oft-used regular campground to use the dump and obtain water and talk to Juan. He assures us that he could accommodate a second caravan and looking around the campground occupied now by the Panama group he does seem to have enough space on the grassy lawn, but we are concerned about whether stringing long electrical cords will suffice. Juan offers to lead us to the butterfly farm, a worthwhile suggestion since the directions sent to us are vague and the narrow winding transit through the San Jose suburbs is potentially confusing. The thick traffic, numerous impassable pedestrians and bicycles and narrow broken pavement make the 8-mi. drive time-consuming. The way opens up into countryside just as we arrive at the butterfly farm and the manager enthusiastically greets us with good English. We visit the proposed site and it has much to offer – flat parking, showers, swimming pool, good birding, secure fencing – but one serious drawback (besides the drive through the suburbs) puts a dampener on using the camping site: the driveway has a concrete posted fence on one side and a dense hedge on the other with only 8 ft. and a few inches separating them. Even if they trim some of the trees, we cannot drive our RV’s to the flat area proposed for camping. Juan uses a cell phone to call back to his campground and tell the second part of our group to wait there until we return. We get back just minutes before the third group arrives and with Juan’s excellent help at parking we have everyone wedged in a comfortable spot in about an hour’s time. This is the only real campground in all of our Central America tour and everyone is quite content to be parked at one spot for 12 nights without moving our RV’s. At our margarita party we have the feeling of having finally arrived at our destination after over a month of traveling.
(Bert) Not much to report on a free day where I catch up on journals, e-mail, bird sightings entry and a report of birds seen so far. The trip list I hand out to everyone is 432 bird species seen as of yesterday.
(Shari) “Let the birding begin”. These past days have just been the pregame warm-up for the main event. Anxiously we gather for the bus before 6 AM. Happily we release our overnight bags to Hugo, our driver, who straps them onto the roof of the bus under a tarp, while we pile into our assigned seats designated randomly each trip by a playing card picked from a deck. Off we go through San Jose traffic, picking up our guides Randall (who Judy tells me looks like Fabio) and Julio (older but not too shabby either in the looks department). Both men are referenced in our birding book so we feel quite honored to have them guide us for the next three days. We travel through gorgeous scenery over twisty mountain roads covered with cultivated coffee plants. Men working the steep fields must have suction cups on their feet, like a tree frog, so as not to topple over.
I put the GPS device on the dash and watch the little marker twist and turn as we make our way to El Copal, a site Bert found I know not how. I, in fact, have to take Bert aside and let him know that I personally think that he has done a wonderful job in putting this trip together. It is amazing and I find a delight in every day, even when I have frustrations. Today it is the wonders of the green lush mountains, the flowing waterfalls and fast-moving clear water rivers, the clouds playing peek-a-boo with the mountain tops, lovely houses set on hillsides, flowering trees in oranges, pinks, reds, blues and yellows and, of course, the birds. Stopping three times in our journey, the group gets one lifer after another. At one point we almost trample over each other in our haste to get out of the bus to see a Lovely Cotinga. Alas, it is an electric blue and black red-thighed dacnis, a bird worthy enough to get on my life list.
When the snow capped humming bird is spotted I yell “Hold Bert back” as I race to see it before he does. We get great glimpses of a speckled tanager , as it rests on a tree limb after almost killing itself flying into a window. Did I mention the trash birds? Keel-billed toucans, passerine tanager, orapendula, efonias. Oh yes, I also see a Tayra, a cat like animal crossing in front of the bus from left to right. I can’t believe I am doing this, but I get a piece of paper, a pen, and Bert’s bird book and start to write down a list for today. When Bert returns from his bird walk, I show it to him and I have three lifers on him. Blue dacnis, gray capped tanager and red cassette. Right now it is 3:45 and the mountains are covered with fog that I can see moving towards us. Soon it won’t be long before no one will see farther than 10 ft. out. When the rain starts, both groups of birders come back quite wet, but higher than kites with so many lifers. Later we listen to Julio tell us of his new organization, an ornithological society for Costa Rica. It is so cold that I put on a long sleeve shirt and Carol looks around for a fireplace. A cold shower is not appealing but I take one anyway. I wish I had my sweatshirt. After dinner and a bird count, we collapse into our dorm-like shared rooms. The rain continues as we sleep.
(Bert) We picked up Randall in San Jose and Julio in Cartago and are now headed by bus into the remote mountains near Turrialba. The narrow road clings to the mountains like a thin thread on a brick wall and our view from the windows is almost straight down. Randall points out a forested mountain where his college mentor Julio studied Three-wattled Bellbird. We are fortunate to have such knowledgeable guides with us the next few days. In fact, without their help we never would have found out about this largely unknown birding site that is thought by those who have visited as the best in the country. Beyond Tucurrique, through the valley driving slowly – both to bird and because the road demands first gear – someone spots an unusual bird on the distant trees and we stop. I see a familiar blue color and yell “Lovely Cotinga”. The bus could not have evacuated faster if I had yelled “Fire”. The first out of the bus, I put my binoculars on the bird and now see black as well as blue and know it is not the cotinga, yet I am still struck by the beauty of this tanager. Randall tells us we are watching a flock of Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, a rarity this minute and a common sighting by the end of the day.
The bus laboring through the mountains and valleys, at one point driver Hugo turns off the A/C and we open the windows so that he has more power directed at the engine. We reach the driveway to El Copal and the bus stops. We will walk up the next two hills, about a half-hour hike, since the bus cannot make the incline. A tractor-pulled wagon later retrieves our luggage, bringing it to the rustic wooden lodge where we will spend the next two nights in shared rooms. From the expansive deck surrounding the lodge our view is of the dense primary forest covering the high mountains and, at closer view, the tops of shorter trees and blooming flowers that are attracting a plethora of tanagers and hummingbirds.
Our first delight is the highly sought after Snowcap, a small dark hummingbird with a striking white cap, and a bird only found at a restrictive narrow cut through mountains at 300-900-meter elevation. Sharing the flowers is a Violet-headed Hummingbird that I photograph, but I miss others. In fact, the birds are so plentiful that we find ourselves moving on all sides of the deck every time someone announces another species. Our eyes and minds swirl with too much new information as we see a blur of colored tanagers with names that we have not yet associated with clear recognition: Black-and-yellow, Olive, Crimson-collared, Passerini’s, Palm, Bay-headed, Golden-hooded are the ones I see and I hear the names of others I’ve missed. One is particularly memorable, however. Julio quickly grasps a Speckled Tanager when it collides with the building and he cuddles it his hand and then holds its feet as it recovers while resting on his finger. Iridescent banana yellow and lime green generously speckled with black vividly fills our eyes and our camera lens, a rare treat to see the tanager so close up. Julio gently moves the still-stunned bird to a short stick and it remains on the perch until he finally prompts it to take flight.
We take a short walk through the forest and Julio and Randall announce numerous birds they hear, but we do not see. When Julio conducts the bird count off this evening the list includes at least 17 species that only the guides saw or heard. Hopefully tomorrow we will have more time to absorb the onslaught of new sights and sounds and begin to recognize these on our own. With lights out very early as the only power comes from a few solar-generated batteries, we are all asleep by 8 PM, anticipating an early start in the morning.
(Bert) Up at 5 AM, I join a few others on the balcony watching blackness of the silent forest beyond, the grayness of the valley below, and the wisps of gray morning mist at the deepest recesses. A Common Pauraque calls in the distance. A few minutes before 5:30 Julio says, “Soon it will start”. I gather my recording equipment and move to the head of the trail just before it enters the forest. I hear and record a mixed chorus of singers whose names I know not. One is nearby and I point the mike toward short staccato bursts, oft repeated. Later, when we start our hike the bird is still calling and I ask Julio what it is. He replies and we soon see the Slaty Spinetail hiding deep into the base of a tall bush. This is the second bird I’ve seen today with a ratty tail. The first was a Green Thorntail, a hummingbird whose tail looks like it got caught in the blades of a fan.
We are torn between hiking the dark primary forest in search of the harder-to-find and fewer ovenbirds, woodcreepers and antbirds or to stay on the deck watching the almost constant parade of tanagers and hummingbirds. I try to do a bit of both. In the forest, as always, we hear more birds than we see and when we do see a bird it may be by only one or two of us and the view only momentary, as the undergrowth and mid story is dense with interleaving branches and leaves. The ones we do see are rewarding, however, and the image remains fixed in my memory recall: the blinding whiteness of the throat on the tiny black male White-ruffed Manakin, the erect posture and contrasting facial pattern on the yellowish breasted Slaty-capped Flycatcher, the long curved bill and dark body of the Green Hermit, the oft-heard but rarely-seen Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant that alighted on an umbrella leaf and displayed just enough of its crest to be sure of its identity, the Ashy-throated Bush-Tanagers in the canopy that reminded me of Common Bush-Tanagers but had just enough different facial markings to know it was a new species for me.
Later when we move to the open areas again near the lodge, I also see the Common Bush-Tanager and add others to my tanager list here: White-lined, Summer, Emerald, Silver-throated. I finally get a good long look at the sporty yellow, green, blue and brown colors of the Bay-headed Tanagers, perhaps the most colorful of the 21 tanagers we see here at El Copal. Perched on a bare limb of a horizon tree at least a half-mile away on the crest of the mountains is a King Vulture. The vulture stays there all afternoon, sometimes spreading its wings to dry after light rain, sometimes pirouetting so we can see its back side.
Randall points out two Ruddy Pigeons and nearby are very similar looking Short-billed Pigeons; this submontane location is in the narrow overlapping range since Ruddy favors high elevation and Short-billed lives in low elevation.
At tonight’s count off the tally reaches 157 species, partly because our group split up into two forest birding groups and others spent the day watching from the deck.
(Shari) “I have to go to the bathroom but I don’t want to miss anything,” Arleen says as we log one bird after another. A mixed flock has appeared and we can’t write down the names fast enough as we sit from our vantage point on the deck. Dorothy, Pat, Ralph, Carol, Arlene, Bob and I are left to our own devices since two groups of birders left after breakfast to bird the paths. This is my type of birding: just sit in a chair and let the birds come to me. Dorothy with the patience of Job and the knowledge of Solomon is just such a great help. In only two hours I have quite an impressive list of birds and get another lifer that Bert does not have, a gray headed chacha laca. After lunch they bird some more; I read and bird a little. Then dinner and another count off. By 8:45 the lights go out and we collapse into bed, most not noticing the thin mattresses.
(Bert) A predawn Mottled Owl calls at 5 AM. At 5:30, with just enough light to see where I am walking, I join Julio and five others on the steep mountain trail into the primary forest. We are a few hundred feet into the dark forest when Julio turns and whispers “Black-headed Antthrush” and points along the path ahead another 70 ft. The rotund hen-shaped dark bird – yet much smaller than a robin – struts in the darkness; except for its movement it would easily go undetected. We watch it for a minute until it disappears uphill around a curve. Only when the trail is this dark, according to Julio, would we have a chance of seeing the antthrush venture out of cover on to the closed-canopy trail. I take the sighting as a good omen for today. I have my recording equipment with me and ready to capture the sounds of the early morning forest. Some songs are not repeated or too distant, so I miss my chance for the singing Spotted Wood-Quail, Tawny-throated Leaftosser and Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush. Yet I do record Broad-billed Motmot, Ruddy Pigeon and the dawn song of a wren we first think is Song Wren but later consider as White-breasted Wood-Wren. Several Brown-billed Scythebills are nearby and I record their song. We anxiously search for the bird and everyone gets a good look at one, but I see only the body. When I tell this to Julio he says seeing only the body and not the bill is like not seeing the bird at all. So, we seek out another and this time I get a chance to see the incredible long sickle-shaped bill on this woodcreeper.
Julio hears a leaftosser and John plays just a few seconds of a call when the Gray-throated Leaftosser flies nearby in the forest. Not 20 ft. from us it perches on an inclined dead branch a few inches above the forest floor. I record its song and make a second recording. The leaftosser sings incessantly, not missing a beat, for ten minutes while we watch. I try to take a photograph but my flash will not go off. I change batteries only to find out those are dead also. I try another set to no avail. The bird goes unphotographed, yet not forgotten.
We add more exciting birds to the list, the best though is the Song Wren that sings for us and then comes into range for a few magical moments, long enough to get a perfect view of this petite wren with the stubby tail, dark body, conspicuous rufous throat and odd blue-gray orbital skin much like antbirds. No question about it, this is a high-five bird sighting!
Too soon we turn about on the mountain trail and head back for 8:30 breakfast. We hear that the other groups had exciting sightings also: Collared Forest-Falcon, Gray-chested Dove, Violet-crowned Woodnymph and Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner. Judy was entertained by a half-dozen Crested Guans that squabbled above her in tree branches. Shari beats me on another lifer when she sees a Gray-headed Chachalaca
The tractor takes away our luggage and some ride down the mountain on the wagon. The rest of us bird our way downhill and then along the road, adding new species as we go. Julio identifies a wren as Black-throated and John plays its song. The excited wren zips across the road and repeats the crossing a half-dozen more times, always diving into deep cover. Even in mid-air we can make out its dark features. Randall suggests placing the disc player on the ground at the side of the road and all of us stepping back. The wren zips back and forth a few more times, unable to zero in on the music source. Julio tells Randall to move the player to a spot just below the roadside bushes where it last landed and this time the bird sings profusely from a few feet away, being careful not to give us more than a few fragmentary views from its well hidden perches.
Next on the parade of birds is a pair of Brown Violet-Ears that sing from high in the canopy adjacent to the road. One is silhouetted against the bright sky, the other is more hidden. We adjust our positions until we finally see the brown color of the hummingbird against a green tree-leaf background. I take several out-of-focus photos of the far-off bird that show details when blown up on the view screen.
Back on the bus heading home we pause for a few more birds. Far off in the distance, swarming above a dip in the mountains are White-collared Swifts. Hundreds swirl in a maelstrom, slowly churning northward and in our direction. When the storm passes overhead we can hear the chirping chorus of the multitude participants.
It is late when we finally return to Belén and as darkness sets in we have one more count off for today’s birds. Tomorrow I’ll enter the three days of records and we will find out the grand total of remarkable birds we found in at El Copal. In early e-mails regarding this side trip I suggested that this might be the highlight of our 79-day adventure. Certainly the past few days are going to be very hard to beat.
(Shari) The birders are gone on another foray and our little group of five bird and/or read from the deck, enjoying a relaxing morning with delicious coffee. By 8:30 we are eating in the dining area a hearty breakfast of beans and rice, tortillas, fruit and scrambled eggs. I must say the food has been good here. Our suitcases are packed and put on the tractor for the ride down to the bus. I was going to walk down but when I see the mud I change my mind and ride the wagon with the suitcases behind the tractor. The birders still have not had enough of this place and bird along the road, while some of us stay on the bus and read. We stop for lunch at a great restaurant and finally get home by 5 PM. What an outing this has been! Bert does a count off and talks about the next outing before we go inside for dinner. It is not much to eat: leftover pizza from the other night.
(Shari) Today is a free day, although it keeps me pretty busy. After breakfast Bert and I walk a little over a mile uphill to a shopping mall with a grocery store. Before getting groceries, we look around for a book on birds to buy for the bus driver since he has taken an interest in them and a long sleeve shirt since I lost my good one in Granada. We walk back with the equivalent of $50 of groceries in our backpacks. It is not a bad walk since it is downhill in this direction. As soon as the groceries are put away, I go to the Butterfly Farm with John and Chris (Wagonmasters for Panama 2) and Lester and Nancy (Wagonmasters for Panama 1). John agrees that parking for big rigs would be a challenge if it could be done at all. We take the 2-hr. butterfly tour which starts with a movie about the farm’s history. Then we walk into the butterfly garden planted with specific plants for specific butterflies. Many brilliant butterflies flutter around us as our guide talks about their life cycle and defense mechanisms. Inside the hatching room we see eggs, larva and cocoons of all shapes and sizes. One of the cocoons is shiny gold, but we are told that color disappears with age. In the gift store I buy T-shirts, candy and a gift, spending way too much money. It is almost 4 by the time I return and after a short social hour we join ten others for a walk to dinner at a Chinese restaurant.
(Bert) Another free day to recharge batteries, figuratively and literally, and to accomplish errands. I enter the bird sightings of the past few days at El Copal and our trip there and back through the Tucurrique area. Totals come to 182 species identified at El Copal and 203 for the area. Most impressive is that 92 species were identified from the high deck surrounding the lodge: barefoot birding from bench seats or standing at the railing.
(Shari) It is 5:30 AM and I cannot believe I did not hear Bert get up, get dressed, eat breakfast and leave by his 4:30 departure time. I, on the other hand, get out and start my two loads of wash, hang the clothes to dry before my 8 AM bus departure with Panama 2. Pat, Carol and I are joining them on their city tour, tour of the national theater and the gold museum. We are given a special treat at the theater when we are allowed to listen to the rehearsal of the national orchestra. Thirty-eight rather young men and women dressed in blue jeans and T-shirts practice for tonight’s concert. The theater was built in the 1800s and was the third place in the world to have electricity. It is one of three others with a floor that rises up to stage level in order to sponsor big fancy balls. Marble steps lead up to the second and third floors and the reception area is guided in gold with painted ceilings much like the grand castles in France and Germany.
After our tour of the theater, we go around the corner to the Gold Museum. Here we learn of the early history of Costa Rica up until the arrival of the Spanish. Many artifacts remain, much of them done in gold and the museum is well done with English as well as Spanish verbiage explaining the displays. We separate from the tour and linger in the museum, visiting its gift shop and then walking across a pigeon-littered square to a fancy hotel to eat our lunch outside on the veranda. Sitting at umbrella tables I eat a delicious seafood salad and have a beer. We talk of going back to the theater’s café to have dessert but by the time lunch is finished we are no longer hungry. Our food is only spoiled by a loud demonstration of people complaining about teacher salaries. It lasts a good 20 min. and we are glad when the loud speaker is shut off and the people disperse. Grabbing a cab for our ride home we comment on our great day and how we are NOT sorry at all to have missed the bird outing. My wash is dry when I get home and I take it off the line, pack it away and pack clothes in a suitcase for tomorrow’s overnight trip before taking a shower.
(Bert) Carara National Park takes us to new habitat – the Pacific coastal lowlands – and thus a whole new set of birds. Randall again is our guide and now he is on home territory and knows where to find special species. Forest doves are usually much more easily heard than seen, so I’m impressed when we watch a Gray-chested Dove strutting along the path ahead of us. Even better is the Ruddy Quail-Dove walking the forest floor, a bird I have heard dozens of times but this is only the second time I’ve seen one and later today I see two more.
We find five species of trogons: Black-headed, Baird’s, Black-throated, Slaty-tailed and Lattice-tailed. Trogons are the ideal bird for bird watching; they call to announce their presence, they sit still for long periods of time, they are big and easily observed once located, and they are brightly colored.
The most famous birds at Carara are the Scarlet Macaws, a highly threatened bird that has disappeared throughout much of its former territory, but still easy to find here. We hear them first with deep guttural calls that transport far across the forest canopy. Our first glimpse of a pair is through a gap in the trees looking toward a nesting area. Throughout the day we hear more and see them flying above the canopy.
New to the trip list is Streaked Flycatcher and Cocoa Woodcreeper and new to my life list are Yellow-headed Caracara, Rufous-breasted Wren, and Cherrie’s Tanager (a Passerini’s Tanager lookalike). It’s the hard-to-find antbirds that are among the most rewarding discoveries. During the morning we regularly hear Black-hooded Antshrikes and see the black birds with white speckling several times lurking in dark shadows and I even get several chances to photograph them. Randall finds Chestnut-backed Antbird three times and we watch one of them walking along a log. The small 6-in. bird walks slowly and silently and is easily hidden. I wonder how many times we have walked past antbirds like these and never knew they were only a dozen feet from us. Judging by their calls, some like the Black-faced Antthrush seem to be everywhere. For others we are lucky to see or hear one or two, including Barred Antshrike, Russet Antshrike, Plain Antvireo, Slaty Antwren, Dot-winged Antwren, Dusky Antbird and Streak-chested Antbird. I missed several of these and Judy alone saw others when she hired a guide just for herself.
Among the best birds of the afternoon is a Great Tinamou which I have heard calling dozens of times, but remember seeing only once before. I guess Randall hears one deep in the forest because he starts whistling an imitation. The response comes closer and after much patience we finally get a glimpse of the big bird hesitantly walking through the undergrowth. Only factionary glimpses make it hard to photograph and my camera constantly focuses on the surrounding branches. I eventually get a few recognizable photos of part of the bird. Having seen enough, the others continue on the hiking trail. I stay back to try to get better photos and I slowly walk into the woods toward the bird. The tinamou seems oblivious to my presence and goes about its chicken-like pecking under the leaves. I take dozens of photos, some as close as 10 ft. from the bird before I finally turn around. For a bird that is so hard to see in the wild, a Great Tinamou is surprisingly tame once located.
At 3 PM Randall suggests that we sit quietly beside a wooded stream and wait for manakins to come to drink, an event he has often seen occur here around 4 PM. Our group makes not a stir and for an hour we hear only the soothing sounds of the trickling stream and the calls of a few birds. The flock of Mealy Parrots feeding in the canopy is the noisiest and the Slaty-tailed Trogon is the most persistent. At about 4:10 a Red-capped Manakin shows up and excitedly we stand up to get a better look. We should probably have stayed sitting quietly and more would have come. We settle down again and a few minutes later a Blue-crowned Manakin magically appears on a short upright twig in the swallow water. The darkness of the forest makes its tiny black body almost invisible, but its bright blue crown stands out like a beacon of light. It jumps to the water and takes a drink and I snap a few photos, disappointed that a twig interferes, obstructing a clear shot. Our bifocal eyes compensate for twigs and our minds eliminate non-essential material, making a whole out of only parts. The camera takes it all in, including the interference.
As we leave the stream, Randall hears a Riverside Wren and since that would be a life bird for almost everyone we stop so that John can play a recording. A pair of the wrens pops into view, a nice ending to our birding day. As we hike out, the darkness of 5 PM starts to close in and Randall’s reminder that this is the time the snakes come out keeps us in line and moving. Later when we do a bird count off, we hear that Mike, who usually hikes quickly and alone through the forest, came upon a Three-wattled Bellbird. Seen in addition to heard!
(Shari) My alarm rings at 5. I turn it off and roll over. Fourteen minutes later Bert says I had better get up. Darn, I have to be ready for our overnight trip in 45 min. Hugo arrives promptly and straps our luggage on top the bus. Off we go birding again. Our first stop is rather boring for me. It is just more walking in the jungle looking for birds. I soon turn around and set my chair in the shade. I had bought Hugo a bird book and he shows me a bird in a tree. Together we identify it as a black faced groesbeck. He seems to just love his bird book and, along with the binoculars that Mike and Kay loaned him, is getting into this birding stuff. We always see him walking around taking pictures, looking at the birds, studying the book and pointing them out to some of us. After 2 hr. we leave and head for the aerial tram but are turned away since busloads of cruise ship people came in and reserved all the cars until after 12 PM. We do not want to wait that long so decide to go back and bird the trail across the highway. I sit on the bus and read.
At noon we are caught in traffic. Apparently about 1 mi. from us there was a bad accident with a car going over the side of the mountain. An ambulance drives past us and we later learn three people were killed. That could have been us had we had left just a bit earlier. We are thankful that it was not and do not mind that our lunch is delayed almost 3 hr. Finally we arrive at La Selva. I check on our room arrangements and am pleasantly surprised to discover we do not have to share rooms. Arleen, Bob and I fill out the paperwork, assigning rooms, meal tickets and information sheets before looking for the bus to take us to the rooms. We go outside but find no bus. I walk to the entrance but no bus. I call on the personal radio but Bert does not answer. Bob and I decide to walk the 1.2-km path to the rooms. After crossing a swinging bridge, the path forks in two directions. I look at the map and realize we are going wrong. Back across the bridge we go and find the cement path around the soccer field that we should have taken. We walk and we walk and we walk some more, always wondering if this is the correct way. It is dark in the jungle. There are snakes in the jungle. The path is littered with dry leaves and branches and I am a little frightened. We walk and walk and it seems like it takes forever. Finally we reach a clearing and I see the bus. There has been some miscommunication and Hugo did not wait for us, instead driving here with the luggage. But the group is not here. They should have beat us here or at the very least we should have met them on the path. I call on the personal radio. No answer. I have Hugo honk the bus horn. We wait. Finally I suggest that Bob take the bus back and I walk the path in reverse. Bob says that he will walk the path and I take him up on the offer before he changes his mind. I did not like walking the path the first time. Now it is even later and darker. I ride the bus and still no group. Finally I see them straggle up the path towards the dining hall. They too had crossed the swinging bridge but went much farther than Bob and I did before realizing they had made a mistake, but since they were birding the whole way it did not much matter, except to Carol who was carrying one of her overnight bags.
I make the room assignments before we go into the dining hall for dinner. Meals are served cafeteria style with plenty to eat and drink. None of us are very hungry since lunch was so late and we are quite full by the time we head to our rooms. As I open the door to my room, I wonder about its facilities. I am pleasantly surprised when I find a motel-like room with two twin beds, a huge walk-in closet, a nice desk and big bathroom with a grand shower and a deck out back with two chairs overlooking the jungle forest. I am so pooped that after a wonderful shower I am asleep by 8.
(Bert) Braulio Carrillo is a magnificent primary forest above San Jose, virtually untouched by humans but for the modern highway that slices through the tall forest and winds around the mountain peaks. We arrive at one of the very few trails into the forest, Quebrada Gonzalez, shortly after 7 AM. Only a hundred feet into the forest trail I see a black tanager I do not recognize. The females have brownish heads somewhat like cowbirds and then I see the male with a red line of feathers through its crown, much brighter than the illustration I see in the book when I identify it as Tawny-crested Tanager. In the same mixed flock is a Stripe-breasted Wren, the same species that we heard so often at El Copal, but did not see. I’m surprised how dark the bird is and how vivid the underside streaking. A bird we do not see, although are delighted to hear is the Nightingale Wren. Joanie and Joyce find a Buff-rumped Warbler and later many in the group find one on another trail; I miss it twice as I separated from them on the narrow single-file trail. We encounter a large flock of Black-faced Grosbeaks that are hard to miss, given their boisterous nature and willingness to stay on the outside of leaves.
We rejoin on the bus and drive the short distance to the aerial tram. The parking lot is jammed with large buses and an attendant tells us they we would have to wait two to three hours for the tram. When she says the rate is now $57 per person for the 1.5-hour ride and guided walk, it is pretty obvious not many would have been willing to pay that much anyway. So we return to the trails and hike some more. We split up and Mark, John and Lee find a White-throated Shrike-Tanager, while I am getting great photos of a pair of Broad-billed Motmots that Joyce discovered.
Back on the bus, we are headed for a restaurant for lunch. Barely a quarter mile along the highway, the bus stops dead in a traffic jam. Both lanes are blocked and no on-coming traffic meets us. Since this highway is the only connection through the enormous park, we have no choice but to wait. We suspect an accident and almost 3 hr. later we advance another few miles to the scene, seeing a heavily damaged semi, two oversized wreckers and a deep gash over the side of the road plummeting a hundred feet almost straight down. The traffic jam on the opposite side continues for miles, as only one lane opens past the wreck. We eat a very late lunch and then continue on to La Selva.
Our late arrival gives us only an hour or so to bird. Fortunately, Shari, Bob and Arlene take care of registration and room assignments while we explore. Almost immediately we find a Long-tailed Tyrant perched on the highest bare twig in the headquarters area. It repeatedly sallies forth and quickly returns to its perch, each time displaying tail feathers that stream more than one and a half times longer than its body. In a nearby tree I add Gray-capped Flycatcher to my life list and we get our first looks at the gaudy Chestnut-mandibled Toucans. As dusk darkens the understory, I also see Scarlet-rumped Caciques, one of the birds Shari saw before I have when we were at El Copal. Now she is still has two others that I have missed so far on this trip. Tomorrow’s another opportunity.
(Bert) Arising at 5:30 I gather my recording equipment and hear the dawn chorus already beginning. My recording is such a mixture of songs I’m not sure I can sort it all out: Common Pauraque, Great Tinamou, Broad-billed Motmot, Blue-crowned Motmot, Bright-rumped Attila, Clay-colored Robin, plus a lot of others I do not recognize.
We bird along the road and among the many birds we see are Gray-headed Chachalacas, another species Shari got before me. Now it’s down to one more to find. Another birding group has scopes set on a female Snowy Cotinga and our walking group gets to see it. When Hugo pulls up with the bus carrying those that didn’t want to walk a mile to breakfast, I motion to stop the bus and come see the cotinga. I even get Hugo out of the bus to see the bird. Late in the day a few of us also get to see the brighter white male Snowy Cotinga.
While we are waiting for the group to gather our guide Joel tells us that the swifts we have been watching high in the sky above us are Gray-rumped Swifts, although from this distance they seem a lot like Vaux’s. The group splits between Joel and our other guide Laneen and our group lists for Joel some the birds we have missed so far. He soon picks up some of them, starting with the male Fasciated Antshrike we see near the suspension bridge. On the other side he stops at a patch of Heliconia where he often sees Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer feed. We wait for about 10 min. when Joel spots the hummingbird resting in the shadows. Most prominent are the red feet, hence its former name Red-footed Plumeleteer.
Joel leads us into the taller forest and begins imitating the call of the Rufous Motmot. After 20 min. of up-and-down trails he gets a response. This motmot is close by and extremely patient with us as we all view it through binoculars then through Mark’s spotting scope and take many photos, including digiscoped shots. Largest among the long-tailed motmots, this one has a vivid rusty brown head and breast with black eyestripe, green wings and blue tail.
After watching a Crested Guan in a tree, we hike toward a creek and just before crossing the bridge, look up to see a perched Double-toothed Kite, a raptor I see most often in flight and then only briefly. Strangely named, perhaps for the dark tooth-like vertical line set against a white throat, this one gives me many chances for photographs and even switches positions to give frontal and rear views.
After lunch a few of us take a side-walk trail in light rain, standing under umbrellas or inside rain jackets when it rains more forcefully. Sheltered from the rain is a Band-tailed Barbthroat and with my flash unit I get several photos since the hummingbird is not anxious to leave its dry perch.
Today was one of many birds and many lifers and not a few other animals. At the count off our group responds with sightings of Collared Peccary, Two-toed Sloth, Mantled Howler, White-faced Capuchin, White-nosed Coati, Central American Agouti, Boa Constrictor, Bufo marinus, Black River Turtle, Spine-tailed Iguana, Green Iguana, Anole sp., Strawberry Poison Dart Frog and Bullet Ant.
(Shari) Carol, Pat, Nelda and Gilford are the late risers this morning. The others have been gone since before 6 walking and birding their way to breakfast. We ride the bus. After breakfast, most go on a 3-hr. bird walk but I stay back on the pleasant deck area with Dorothy, Ralph and Carol to read my book, visit the gift store and do a little birding from my arm chair. Three hours pass quickly and soon it is time for lunch. But before eating Bert takes me to the bridge to see the Two-toed Sloth feeding in a tree. Did you know that the sloth only comes down from the tree every 1-2 weeks to poop? I’ll bet it takes a day to go back up a tree since they move in slow motion. Most of us take the bus back to our rooms and rest before heading out again to bird. Pat and I meet at 4:30 and walk the long path to the dining hall. It seems shorter than it did yesterday afternoon, nevertheless I am still alert to possible snakes. Luckily we do not find any. After dinner Bert has a bird count and I find out that he has narrowed the gap between us. At one time I had 5 lifers on him. He has picked up 4 of them. If he gets the vermiculated screech owl, I will scream. Everyone says I just have to work harder at it. However, a birder I will never be. Again we take the bus back rather than walking the 1.2 km path through the jungle in the dark.
(Bert) I’m out before dawn with my recording gear, donned in rain coat and rain pants as last night’s rain has not yet dissipated. A mile down the road the bus passes me with those headed to a 6 AM breakfast. After a quick breakfast we bird together along the entrance road. We again here a call we heard the last two evenings and were unable to identify, first thinking it was a trogon and then an antbird. I played multiple songs last afternoon, but could not get a match. Earlier this morning, John came across the song on his mini-disk while searching for another. We now know the bird we have been hearing is a Streak-crowned Antvireo.
John excites interest when he spots a woodpecker that looks like Golden-olive, a bird we have seen often before. We study the bird carefully and Mark gets his scope on it. We are delighted to add another bird to the list and a lifer for many when we get all the field marks to match Rufous-winged Woodpecker. Birds are almost continuous here and we find a female Fasciated Antshrike, much different and perhaps prettier than the male we saw yesterday. From a conversation with another birding group, John suspects a Great Antshrike near a creek, so I play its recording. In a few minutes it comes out of the woods to investigate. The recording wound up this bird’s interest and now it sings continuously as it reclaims its territory.
We split up, heading in multiple directions as there are miles of hiking trails, most nicely paved with a thin strip of concrete or stepping stones. Clay and I are walking alone through a tall dark forest and we hear the chorus of Strawberry Poison Dart Frogs. We creep softly up to a sound coming from near the pathway and see the tiny red treefrog with the blue-jean hind legs. I photograph it while its throat is expanded with croaking and then I record its call.
Later when we all meet again, Judy reports seeing Great Green Macaw, a fantastic find and one that Tom heard yesterday. With a personal guide again, Judy adds more birds that the rest of us have not yet seen: Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Three-wattled Bellbird, Bay Wren, and Dusky-faced Tanager.
After lunch we leave in the bus, heading back to camp. We make a stop in the tiny village of Cinchona and disembark at Colibris y Arañas (hummingbirds and tarantulas) where the owners have multiple hummingbird feeders and fruit feeders. The profusion and chaos of dozens of hummingbirds zooming within inches of us is overwhelming. Excitedly, the hummers race around us, almost into the open windows overlooking the valley and the mostly ignored tall San Fernando waterfalls. The hummingbirds are so confusing I don’t even try to identify them and, instead, keep my camera continuously taking photos. Dorothy takes notes and has the most complete list of what we are witnessing: Green-breasted Mango, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird , Brown Violet-ear, Coppery-headed Emerald, Violet Sabrewing , Green Thorntail, Green-crowned Brilliant , White-bellied Mountain-Gem and Green Hermit. Binoculars are not needed and, in fact, useless for birds this close. We can see feather details with our naked eyes.
However, hummingbirds aren’t the only birds here. Fruit feeders, some only a foot from where we stand, are filled with dozens of Silver-throated Tanagers , eye candy gluttonously feeding on melons. The show stealers are the Emerald Toucanet , Prong-billed Barbets and Red-headed Barbets. Seeing a Red-headed Barbet only arm’s length from the end of my camera lens is unimaginably beautiful: a fire-engine red head and breast, banana-colored grosbeak-like bill, red eye surrounded by black, white collar, green back, yellow and black belly and white vent - a splash of colors so vivid you would think it was freshly painted. I can’t wait to see what my photos look like when I transfer them to my computer.
(Shari) I always feel good whenever I see Hugo and the bus. He comes to pick up the later risers at 7 AM, just like I asked him in Spanish last night. He must have been here for the early risers at 6 since I don’t see them. My Spanish works! We enter the dining hall about 20 min. before breakfast service stops and load up our trays with rice and beans (again), scrambled eggs, toast, some kind of sweet and fruit. Pat and I visit the gift store, and chat with others as I work on some cross stitching. Later we walk across the swinging bridge and beyond, stopping to photograph a poison dart frog. This one is red with blue legs and its name according to Joanie is the blue jean frog. It is quite cute. We walk back to our comfortable chairs and talk some more. Soon the birders come back for lunch. We stand in line ahead of a huge group of young people who have just arrived by bus since we want to leave right after eating our lunch. After meal tickets and keys are collected and luggage strapped onto the top, we head out.
We stop at a small little house on the side of the road with a sign out front proclaiming it to be “A Butterfly Station”. We walk in and find the whole open air back of the building hung with hummingbird feeders and the hillside below containing fruit-filled flat feeders. Over seven species of hummingbirds arrive during our short 90 min. stay. They arrive so fast that I just snap pictures to study later since I do not want to miss any while my head is in a book. In addition to the hummingbirds I add silver throated tanager, red-headed barbet, chestnut capped brushfinch and Emerald Toucanet to my life list. I do like this kind of birding. All I have to do is stand still and the birds almost knock me down. I could have reached my hand out and swatted them if I had wanted to. I think Costa Rica is spoiling me for any other birding location. Later, back on the bus, Hugo stops for us to take pictures of two coatis trying to cross the road and La Paz waterfall where we find the Torrent Tyrannulet. While most look at the bird, I glance its way but look at the goods for sale by the two vendors on the side of the road. We get home at 5 and unpack, relax outside, before our dinner salad.
(Bert) Hugo, our bus driver, is a new birder. He started the first day of driving bus for us. At El Copal, with a day of driving and a day off while we enjoyed birding the area, he had no duties. Mark loaned him a pair of binoculars and Hugo began looking at birds with occasional help from one of us. With his pocket camera he started taking pictures. No better place in Costa Rica to see a multitude of colorful birds without hiking, Hugo was hooked. A few days later Shari and I bought a bird book for him and now he could study and identify the birds himself. On our next trip Mike and Kay loaned him their extra pair of binoculars. Now whenever he has idle time while waiting for us we can see him thumbing through the book, climbing on top of the bus and using the binoculars and exploring near the bus, taking photos whenever he can get close enough to the birds. When the group piled out of the bus to see a Snowy Cotinga in the scope, I motioned to Hugo to come out too, which he eagerly did. After I got back to the bus I saw him in the driver’s seat with the book open to the cotinga drawing. At La Selva, during a downpour, he was at the edge of the porch snapping photos of birds trying to escape the rain. He showed me his photos of a drenched Chestnut-sided Warbler and a Passerini’s Tanager. Yesterday, while eating lunch at the restaurant he was reading a different bird book that the guide had, studying the figures page by page. We all have noticed his new interest in birding and delighted that another has joined our favorite hobby.
(Bert) Visiting volcanoes in the tropics is usually a visit to a cloud so dense you see nothing of the volcano. Such it was 15 mo. ago when Shari and I visited Arenal and Poas volcanoes. I’m much more optimistic this morning as we make the steep drive up the mountain under azure blue skies absent of a single cloud wisp. We stop at Tramo El Quetzal, where a sign advertises that quetzals are often found here. Not today, but we do get good views of Mountain Robins and we hear a quail-like call that our guide Lloyd says is a Prong-billed Barbet. We arrive at the entrance gate to Poas Volcano before it opens at 9 AM, so we check out a wooded path nearby. Within minutes we see Mountain Elaenia, Slaty Flowerpiercer and Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher. This could be a good day!
Inside the gates, I suggest we walk straight to the volcano brim before the weather changes. We could not have wished for a better day. Standing in front of the clearly visible crater, we can scan the horizon to a forever distance and have a clear view of smoking Arenal Volcano. I snap photos of Arenal periodically over the next half hour and notice the clouds forming around its peak. The rest of the sky remains clear, so later in the day from a different perspective we also clearly see Barva Volcano and Irazú Volcano.
A Merlin suddenly appears from near the base of the crater and chases another raptor. The second bird lands in trees that border the crater, but even with Mark’s spotting scope aligned on its perch we cannot agree on the identity of the distant bird. From the volcano peak the world is so big it is easy to loose perspective on how small a hawk is when viewed only a quarter of the way around the rim. The main crater diameter is nearly one mile across.
Now we hike the trail through the incredibly dense thickets capping the volcanic mountain. The snarled branches remind me of a mangrove jungle, so strangely out of place here at 8872 ft. until I remember that in typical weather this is a wet cloud forest – technically a premontane wet forest with 138 in. of annual precipitation. The 25-ft. high thicket is so dense I could not imagine an experienced machete-wielding man could penetrate more than a foot per minute. Fortunately for us we can walk a path through the tunnel of trees, finding Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Yellow-thighed Finch and many Sooty-capped Bush-Tanagers. At one point I see a Sooty Thrush and while I’m trying to point out the small bird to Lee, he sees a much larger and more obvious bird nearby: a Black Guan feeding high in the trees above us.
The trail leads to Botos Lagoon, a biologically sterile but picturesque blue lake surrounded by the cloud forest arrayed by many colorful flowers such as the profuse purple flowers of Volcanic Myrtle. Before leaving the park we stop at a more open and grassy area and Mark finds a Black-capped Flycatcher, which he centers in his scope. Not wanting such a distant photo, I slowly walk toward the bird and am surprised that even when I get to 10-ft. from the bird it does not leave its perch except for quick forays of insect snatching.
Back on the bus, Hugo drives to Virgen del Socorro. Lloyd predicts that the first bird we will find is American Dipper and he is right. From the bridge, we see the dipper in the fast moving stream, along with a Black Phoebe. Nearby we hear a new song and Lloyd identifies it as Sooty-faced Finch. I play a recording and immediately two spring to the forest edge in clear view. Hiking into the wet forest the birding is good and we add Ruddy Treerunner to our list. The small bird reminds me of a woodcreeper, but with a brighter cinnamon color and no streaking. We agree to meet at 3:15 so that we have time to go back to Cinchona where the hummingbird feeding station was so wonderful day before yesterday. This time, between taking multiple photos again, I pay more attention to what I am watching. With many individuals representing each species, we see Green Hermit, Coppery-headed Emerald, Green Thorntail, Brown Violetear, Green Violetear , Violet Sabrewing, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and Green-crowned Brilliant. One of the most surprising birds we find is a warbler not uncommon in the U.S., but one I’ve never found south of the Texas border: a Blackburnian Warbler. The sky is darkening now and a light rain begins. Time to head home.
(Shari) Betting the odds, I choose not to join the group on the bird outing. Eighty percent of the time the volcano goes unseen by its visitors because of fog and clouds. Instead, Dorothy, Carol, Pat and I choose to visit the Britt Coffee Plantation and eat lunch there. Bert and I enjoyed that tour in 2006 and I know the others will too. We arrive 30 min. early and visit the nice gift store, mentally marking items for purchase later. We sample the various roasts and taste a wonderful concoction of coffee, milk and coffee liquor that I intend to make for a social tomorrow. Our tour begins and we follow the “actors” through the coffee-making process from seed to store. The tour is a bit different than it was last time and this time we get to visit the packing and roasting plant. Britt makes gourmet shade-grown coffee that is picked by hand. One person can pick about 25 lb. per half-hour. Then only 20% of that actually will turn into coffee once the outer shells and moisture are removed. The taste of the coffee is worth the effort and all of us buy many pounds of coffee to take home for gifts and for ourselves. We enjoy lunch in their open-air dining room before picking out our purchases to take home. So many packages are carried out that the trunk of our taxi is full. When the birding group gets home, I find out their weather was superb and that they saw all four volcanoes in the clear blue sky. Darn! I’d say “Win some and lose some” but I think Bert and I both came out winners today, just different.
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