DAY 1 – Fri 19th February 2010
CLOCKING UP THE AIRMILES
On Thursday night following a snowbound journey, until Reading at least, Bridgette, Michael and I had an overnight stay at the Crowne Plaza Hotel near Heathrow.
The only notable species of the whole day was a Green Woodpecker in the hotel grounds, before travelling to the airport. We were flying Continental to Houston and then on to San José in Costa Rica. Apart from a few minor gripes the flights were good. On arrival at Houston after about 12 hours I thought that I might get a couple of Texas ticks whilst waiting for the connecting flight. However thanks to the thoroughness of U.S. Immigration and Customs we took an hour and a half to get through so only had about 30 minutes before the flight. I had to settle for two Feral Pigeons.
We flew down to San José in about three hours. Costa Rica Gateway had made all our ground arrangements and I can’t emphasise their efficiency enough, it certainly made the whole holiday easier. We were picked up by a driver who introduced himself as Roberto. We travelled through the city bright lights then through some more run-down areas, then after 35 minutes we arrived at the lovely Hotel Bougainvillea in a quiet residential neighbourhood in Santo Domingo de Heredia.
Sat 20th February 2010
SHOCK & AWE
Despite poring over Garrigues Field Guide for weeks when I got up early and ventured out into the walled garden I knew zilch. It was total shock and awe. Brightly coloured species, unfamiliar bird songs and by breakfast an hour later I had put names to just nine species, although others had gone begging, including a distant raptor and an egret which zipped over that I didn’t get on to. The weather was a little cool early morning and it was quite cloudy.
Most of the bird calls came from just one abundant species, CLAY-COLOURED ROBIN (pic below), the Costa Rican National bird. It looked very much like a female Blackbird. When I later asked why it was their National bird, with all the colourful choices available, I was told that the Yigüirro as it is known, represents the fertility of the earth and the richness of Costa Rican soil. The Yigüirro generally sings at the beginning of May and is a signal to farmers that the rainy season has begun.
Other species seen were a RUFOUS-COLLARED SPARROW, 6+ RUFOUS-TAILED HUMMINGBIRDS, a stunning male Baltimore Oriole (I knew that one), two GRAYISH SALTATORS, two RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLERS, a loud and familiar House Wren, a BLUE-GRAY TANAGER and a SQUIRREL CUCKOO.
I went and found Bridgette and Michael for breakfast, which consisted of scrambled eggs, gallo pinto (rice and beans), various meats and cheeses, lots of fresh fruit and plenty of coffee. We watched a continuing procession of Clay-coloured Robins coming to fruit on the bird table outside the window.
After breakfast we were picked up in a minivan by Carlos and his wife for the three hour drive to the Trapp Family Lodge at Monteverde, up in the cloud forest. We saw a few species on the way up and Carlos did his best to keep us interested with local points of interest, and stopping once we were away from the main roads to look at a few birds. Although not a birder he had an interest in wildlife and had a good eye for species beside the road. Most of the birds identified whilst travelling were large species and most of these were familiar, including White-winged Dove, Great-tailed Grackles, Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures. Just after a rest stop break near San Ramon a RUDDY PIGEON was sat in a dead tree. At Guaçimal Carlos spotted a Crested Caracara in a roadside tree and stopped to let us get out and look. It was now very hot and sunny. A little further on stops were made for four GROOVE-BILLED ANIS, which I always thought would be bigger than reality, a Yellow Warbler in a river valley, a SOCIAL FLYCATCHER on wires over the road, a RUFOUS-NAPED WREN, two Great Crested Flycatchers and a noisy BROWN JAY as well as a BLACK SPINY-TAILED IGUANA in the centre of the road, which necessitated stopping until it moved.
Eventually we arrived at the Trapp Family Lodge, the nearest hotel to the Cloud Forest Preserve (Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde) (walking distance), said goodbye to Carlos and checked in to well-kept wooden rooms on the ground floor of the main building. I also booked a bird guide for 6am-12MD for the following day.
After lunch we checked out our surroundings and found a spectacular BLUE-CROWNED MOTMOT (reclassified as Lesson’s Motmot now) in the hotel garden right outside our window (pic below).
Then we went for a walk towards the Cloud Forest reserve. When we arrived there we found that it was $17 each entry fee and with less than two hours daylight left we decided to return the next day. So we walked back along the road a bit to the Hummingbird Gallery Café. Here they sold nice food and had about twenty hummingbird feeders outside and they were alive with hummers. I sat down and got out the field guide and started working out what we were seeing. There were maybe six PURPLE-THROATED MOUNTAIN GEMS, a GREEN HERMIT, 4+ VIOLET SABREWINGS, 2+ GREEN VIOLET-EARS, 2+ MAGENTA-THROATED WOODSTARS, 2+ GREEN-CROWNED BRILLIANTS and a BANANAQUIT (not a hummer). We were entranced for about an hour watching and filming the comings and goings. There was also a wasps nest near to the entrance and we found a colourful millipede, which we later found had the ability to release cyanide if harassed! (pic below of Purple-throated Mountain Gem (L) and Violet Sabrewing (R))
On the walk back Michael and Bridgette went on ahead but I took my time a found an EMERALD TOUCANET (a small Toucan, cover pic for the Garrigues Field Guide) and a pretty SLATE-THROATED REDSTART. A great start to the holiday.
Because Costa Rica is quite near the Equator the sun rises at 5:30am and sets at 5:30pm at this time of year, with practically no change in those timings. So after a nice evening meal and a couple of bottles of Imperial beer, and feeling worn out after all the travelling we were all asleep by 9pm.
Sun 21st February 2010
We had booked Eric Bello who was going to take us birding for six hours this morning. Michael declined to come, so Bridgette and I were up at 5am and met with Eric in Reception at 6am. His first question is what do you want to see most, an easy one and Quetzal was the answer, so we climbed into his Jeep and headed for the Cloud Forest Preserve. On arriving Eric said there’s a male calling, it sounded a bit like the coo of a pigeon, and two minutes later he had found a male RESPLENDENT QUETZAL sat in a tree in the car park. A stunning, colourful bird complete with very long tail feathers (pic below). Then Eric found a female nearby, still colourful but sans tail feathers.
Also in the same tree was a turkey-sized BLACK GUAN eating berries. Following this immediate success we were back in the Jeep and heading down the hill to Stella’s Bakery on the outskirts of Monteverde town.
Up a side track he pointed out a VARIEGATED SQUIRREL and then two species of woodcreepers together, two STREAK-HEADED WOODCREEPERS and a SPOTTED WOODCREEPER, brown woodpeckers, which were one of those nightmare species with only nuances separating one from another. He also pointed out a MOUNTAIN ROBIN, very like Clay-coloured but with a dark bill and a BUFF-THROATED SALTATOR. We crossed the village green and as well of many of the species we saw yesterday, new ones came thick and fast, I didn’t know whether to watch or write them down because I would never remember them. In the end I did both as best I could and Bridgette just tried to see as many as she could get on. There was a BLUE-AND-WHITE SWALLOW, a WILSON’S WARBLER, a LESSER ELAENIA, which Eric said was not always easy to get, a WHITE-FRONTED PARROT flew over, a HOFFMANN’S WOODPECKER, male and female YELLOW-THROATED EUPHONIAS, colourful finch-like birds, a RUFOUS-BROWED PEPPERSHRIKE, a STEELY-VENTED HUMMINGBIRD, a RED-BILLED PIGEON and a MASKED TITYRA, all in the space of about 15 minutes. Phew! In a tree on the green a pair of BOAT-BILLED FLYCATCHERS were nesting, these being part of another difficult group to identify.
Around the stables the other side of the green we added another nice selection of species including a showy Blue-crowned Motmot, a male Baltimore Oriole glowing orange in the sunlight, a LESSER GREENLET, male and female Black-and-white Warbler, a PALTRY TYRANNULET, which Eric said was really Mistletoe Tyrannulet in this area but the new book had lumped them, a Blackburnian Warbler and a STRIPED-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD.
We drove a short distance back towards the Cloud Forest before stopping at a stream where Eric looked for a Sunbittern, but it wasn’t there and didn’t show there later in the week when we checked either. However a PLAIN WREN was singing in compensation.
Another short drive and we parked up at La Colina Lodge, where a huge tree held a pair of highly colourful GOLDEN-BROWED CHLOROPHONIAS, similar to the Euphonias seen earlier. We walked along the track past the Lodge and straight away found a DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, two White-fronted Parrots flew over and in the horse paddocks below us 10+ BRONZED COWBIRDS were busily feeding. Another huge tree was popular with birds feeding on the fruits and included more Chlorophonias, two Tennessee Warblers, a WARBLING VIREO and an Emerald Toucanet. A little further on and we stopped at a field where another six Bronzed Cowbirds fed amongst the cattle and a YELLOW-FACED GRASSQUIT showed well (pic below). The milk delivery went by whilst we stopped, first a man on a horse with milk churns either side of the saddle and then a cart full of churns pulled by cattle.
Just a few paces further and a junction was busy with yet more species included a pair of Baltimore Orioles, two TROPICAL KINGBIRDS, another Lesser Elaenia, a GREAT KISKADEE, two male ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS, a MOUNTAIN ELAENIA, a Squirrel Cuckoo and a male YELLOW-CROWNED EUPHONIA, as well as many other species already recorded. We descended a path beside a stream, where Eric was constantly whistling different bird songs very accurately often with success, a neat trick he did all morning. The speciality here was LONG-TAILED MANAKIN and although we didn’t get an adult male a juvenile male was almost as good. A RUFOUS-AND-WHITE WREN responded vigourously to Eric’s calls and eventually showed flying through the branches. On the return to the car we picked up a HEPATIC TANAGER, another Wilson’s Warbler, a Chestnut-sided Warbler, another Lesser Greenlet and a GRAY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, as well as a good selection of butterflies pointed out by Eric, the most impressive of which was a BLUE MORPHO.
We returned to Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve where we had started the day. This time we bought entry tickets ($17 USD per day) and after a quick refreshment break headed into the reserve with Eric. He immediately chatted with the other guides to see what was about and then led us straight to a spot where a male Resplendent Quetzal was showing very well. Eric took a picture for me through his scope. After enjoying the Quetzal we walked straight into a mixed flock of birds, which is often the case even in forests at home. The species came thick and fast and there was barely time to enjoy each one. There was a GRAY-BREASTED WOOD WREN, a GOLDEN-CROWNED WARBLER, a THREE-STRIPED WARBLER, a BLACK-FACED SOLITAIRE, a SPOTTED BARBTAIL, two Spotted Woodcreepers and a BLACK-HEADED SALTATOR, all lifers except the woodcreepers, which we had seen earlier. Eric saw and heard other species too but we just didn’t get on to them, most of them we saw again later in the holiday anyway. We walked on further and in true forest fashion saw nothing but heard plenty, all called out by Eric. He showed us two sleeping MEXICAN TREE PORCUPINES and a HOFFMANN’S TWO-TOED SLOTH. Finally on our way back to the Centre Eric found another hummer, COPPERY-HEADED EMERALD and four COMMON BUSH TANAGERS.
Eric took us back to our Lodge and we settled up with him, he charged us 67000 Colones (about £82 or $126 USD) for a wonderful morning’s birding.
We met Michael and he wanted to see the Preserve for himself so we decided to skip lunch at the Lodge and grab a bite to eat at the Hummingbird Gallery Café. The food was reasonable and cheap and we got to see the hummers again. New birds for the day were a Green Hermit, two Green-crowned Brilliants and a Magenta-throated Woodstar (Great name!). Outside the Café I found a SLATY SPINETAIL, which was a bit like NZ Fernbird. Our tickets for the Reserve were valid all day so we just bought another for Michael. Immediately we were in we found a guide with a small party who had found five Resplendent Quetzals together. It was a male and four admiring females and they showed very well. We showed Michael a Tree Porcupine and set out on a different trail to the one we had walked earlier. Michael soon became our official bug finder and was excellent at turning up all manner of creepy-crawlies. Bridgette found a small party of three BLACK-BREASTED WOOD-QUAIL, shortly after this we separated as they stayed photographing bugs and I wandered off in search of birds. It was quieter in the afternoon but I managed to find a SOOTY ROBIN, an AZURE-HOODED JAY, two BUFF-FRONTED QUAIL DOVES, which I had missed earlier with Eric, and a CENTRAL AMERICAN AGOUTI. On the walk back to the Lodge I found a pair of Slate-throated Redstarts and a WHITE-THROATED ROBIN, which I eventually found by following its distinctive call was the last lifer of the day.
In the evening we had a nice meal in the restaurant again followed by a few well-earned beers, and were spark out in our rooms by 9pm.
DAY 4 – Mon 22nd February 2010
I got up and was out at first light at 5:30am again. It was a really nice time of the day as the birds were singing and the temperature was pleasantly warm. I headed down the hill this morning rather than towards the forest. My first bird of the day was a lifer, an attractive WHITE-NAPED BRUSH FINCH just opposite the Lodge. A couple of Black Guans were noisily crashing around in the trees before flying off, the male giving his whirring wings rattle. A roadside tree that was festooned with berries had three Golden-browed Chlorophonias, a Common Bush Tanager, two Emerald Toucanets and a Variegated Squirrel all enjoying the bounty. In the field there was a Swainson’s Thrush, a male Yellow-faced Grassquit, a Rufous-collared Sparrow and four raucous Brown Jays.
I took a left turn down a lane and came to more open countryside, a little like England. Blue-and-white Swallows were flying around a barn and a Wilson’s Warbler was along the hedgerow. Then I found a CHESTNUT-HEADED OROPENDOLA sitting on top a dead tree singing its unusual song. Down below me in the field was a Common Yellowthroat, a species I had seen many times in the U.S.A. I looked back towards the Oropendola tree but it was gone, however three birds were flying towards the tree looking a bit like flying bananas. The unmistakeable bill shape could only mean one thing – Toucans – I was elated and as they landed I could see the multi-coloured bills which identified them as KEEL-BILLED TOUCANS. This was about the only time on holiday I wished I had my scope and digiscoping kit, however I took a record shot through my bins, which given the distance and heat haze didn’t turn out too bad. This was a big tick and I knew Bridgette and Michael would be jealous.
I started to walk back towards the Lodge for breakfast. I saw a few more new birds for the day on the return including a couple of Tennessee Warblers, the first Northern Rough-winged Swallow of the holiday and a woodcreeper species which I just couldn’t nail.
Today we had booked to go to Selvatura Park, which had a three kilometre walkway through the treetops amongst other attractions. After breakfast whilst we waited for the minibus we watched birds in the Lodge garden and were pleased to see a CHIRIQUI QUAIL-DOVE on the lawn. We also saw a Summer Tanager, a Mountain Elaenia, a couple of House Wrens and two Common Bush Tanagers, whilst the ever-present Black Vultures were overhead.
The minibus arrived but we hadn’t realised when we booked that it was calling at several other hotels picking up passengers, making a half hour journey double on rough roads. However the stop at the first hotel was fortunate as there was a WHITE-EARED GROUND SPARROW on the lawn, the only one of the trip. When we arrived at the Park we bought a package which gave us different tickets for each area (although we passed on the 13 treetop zip wires, very difficult to bird from). First we did the treetop walkway, which was a very pleasant walk through some stunning forest. There were three new species on the walk, OCHRACEOUS WREN, a WEDGE-BILLED WOODCREEPER and a BLACK-THROATED WREN. Birding was hard though with lots heard and less seen. Worst of all was the distinctive calling of THREE-WATTLED BELLBIRDS all the way around, but couldn’t I even get a glimpse of one, which was disappointing. As we completed the walk and returned to the centre a WHITE-NOSED COATI was foraging outside.
We went for lunch but I kept my eyes on the skies and was rewarded with three WHITE-COLLARED SWIFTS, which came quite low as impending thunder clouds gathered and a flock of nine BAND-TAILED PIGEONS flew through. After lunch we had a tour of the reptile house, insect collection and butterfly house with a very knowledgeable guide, and once he found we had birding in common he couldn’t have been more helpful. When we left him at the Centre we stood outside wondering what else we had time for, he came running back out of the building calling me to come with him. I followed him through the Centre and a male ORANGE-BELLIED TROGON (pic below) was sat just feet from the window, the female was nearby. I thanked him and we went and had a quick look around the hummingbird garden, which had the same species as the Gallery up at the Cloud Forest, but much more restless and difficult to photograph. The final bird was a YELLOWISH FLYCATCHER sat near the Centre (pic below) . Although the minibus was free we booked a taxi to bring us directly back to the Lodge as we were booked on a Night Walk at Hidden Valley.
We got back to the Lodge and just about had time to change and grab torches before a taxi appeared bang on time at 5pm to take us to the Hidden Valley. Wildlife watchers were arriving there from the many different Lodges and Hotels, and I paid for our tickets (US$20 each) and we were assigned to small groups each with a leader. Ours was Jorge, he said he was called Jorge (George) the fifth in his village as there were four other Jorge’s. After some basic safety instructions he led us into the Forest as night fell.
We had only gone a few yards when he found two Agoutis, which showed down to a few feet, and just a few yards away from them was a noisy family party of White-nosed Coatis. A PACIFIC SCREECH OWL started calling distantly, whilst he was showing us a PYGMY RAIN FROG, the size of a thumbnail. An Orange-bellied Trogon was roosting in the bush above it. Then he showed us some of the trees and plants around us and the trails of Army Ants and gave us a continual stream of wonderful knowledge of the forest. Then he pointed up into the hollow tree where we were stood and showed us a sleeping Mexican Tree Porcupine. All the time Jorge was in contact with the other guides and told us the owl had been located, and plunged off through the undergrowth with us following. The owl got louder and louder but we just couldn’t locate in the thick overhead foliage. One of our party found a roosting WOOD THRUSH though (pic below), and Jorge pointed out an ants nest fully 2 metres high and the same in width – we had no choice but to skirt around its edge carefully.
It had started to rain lightly but the forest proved to be good cover. Next we saw a Two-toed Sloth, which was awake and moving very slowly through the upper branches of a huge tree. A little further on an ORANGE-KNEED TARANTULA was coaxed out of its hole with a twig, probably a nightly trick for the punters. It was impressive though, the size of my hand, and would have given my daughter nightmares for a year (pic below). Finally on the return to the Centre we saw a Raccoon, more unusual in CR than the U.S.A. and a COMMON OPOSSUM high in a tree. Just before we got our taxi back to the Lodge a huge CANE TOAD was seen. An excellent evening!
DAY 5 – Tue 23rd February 2010
I was out at the crack of dawn again because today was moving day, down to the Pacific coast at Punta Leona, so I wanted to make the most of the morning. We were due to leave at 1pm and were in for a three hour minibus journey.
I walked to the Cloud Forest reserve, passing our garden Blue-crowned Motmot as I left the Lodge. I didn’t see anything new on the walk up but a pair of Orange-bellied Trogons were a nice find. I just birded around the car park of the reserve and was rewarded with a SILVER-THROATED TANAGER, which fed on berries with several other species in a large tree, including four Mountain Robins and a pair of noisy Boat-billed Flycatchers. I called in on the Hummingbird Gallery but it was early and a lot of the feeders had not been filled so there were only a few hummers around. A Quetzal called its dove-like call but I couldn’t find it in the canopy. On the return journey I stopped where Eric had pointed out a Leaf-Gleaner species from the jeep yesterday when it flew across the road. I didn’t see anything other than a bird flash across, so didn’t tick it. I couldn’t find it even though he said it bred near here, but I did find a RUFOUS-WINGED WOODPECKER, which showed really well. As I arrived back at the Lodge for breakfast a Chestnut-headed Oropendola flew over.
After breakfast we decided to use the morning by walking down into Monteverde, and trying to see the toucans on the way. They didn’t show but a Sand Martin (Bank Swallow) amongst the Blue-and-white Swallows was a trip tick. There was no sign of the Sunbittern in the stream again either. Four VAUX’S SWIFTS overhead went straight through, and Michael at least got to see an Emerald Toucanet. We visited the Bat Jungle in Monteverde, where we had an interesting 45 minute tour with a very knowledgeable and keen guide. Then we had lunch at Stella’s Bakery before heading back up to the Lodge for our transport. A female Hooded Warbler showed well in the hedgerow on the return walk.
An army of ants were taking a shortcut through the Lodge reception whilst we waited for the van. It was bang on time and we began the long, sometimes bumpy descent to the Pacific coast. The scenery was wonderful but the birdlife was sporadic, and the driver apologised because the air-con had packed up in the heat and we had to drive with all the windows down. He stopped for close views of Black Vulture and a Squirrel Cuckoo. The only new trip bird was two Feral Pigeons (Rock Doves) at Rio Ciruelas. When we finally arrived at the coast at Puntarenas, the scenery and the birds changed. Four CRIMSON-FRONTED PARAKEETS flew parallel with the car over gardens. We could see the Pacific beside the road and saw a Brown Pelican and c20 Cattle Egrets in a field. After passing the bridge at Carara there were another 15 Cattle Egrets and 10+ Magnificent Frigatebirds were flying along the coast towards Punta Leona, we would find out why later.
Soon after we turned through the gates to Punta Leona we travelled along what must be surely one of the longest driveways in the world, through 750 acres of private tropical rainforest. We thanked our driver and check-in was quick and easy. Then we were whisked to our accommodation, adjoining cottages about five minutes drive from the reception. Once we had unpacked we had a couple of hours to kill before dinner so we walked back towards reception to explore the site. We saw several Rufous-naped Wrens all actively engaged in building large scruffy nests. A pair of ORANGE-CHINNED PARAKEETS were nesting in a hole high up in a huge Kapok tree and passed a large Black Spiny-tailed Iguana that was nearly a metre long. (pic below).
Bridgette and I booked for the following mornings pre-breakfast birding walk and for a night walk later in the week. There was no charge for either. Then the three of us headed for the beach. A couple of Spotted Sandpipers were at the water’s edge and we could see a large roost of birds on the headland, which needed closer inspection. Suddenly Bridgette was calling and pointing at the sky behind us and we turned to see three SCARLET MACAWS flying over calling raucously. Then we found some amazingly camouflaged crabs, and a couple of Inca Doves fed at the top of the beach. As we neared the tree roost on the headland we could see that it comprised around 100+ Brown Pelicans and 100+ Magnificent Frigatebirds and a few Turkey Vultures with more of each species arriving all the time. Then I spotted a WHITE-TIPPED DOVE feeding on the beach and a Willet, two Ruddy Turnstones and six Least Sandpipers fed on the flat rocky foreshore. Michael decided to cut the corner and swam back in his clothes towards the resort.
Walking back to our cottages in the fading light dozens of HALLOWEEN CRABS (also known as Harlequin Crabs) were scuttling along the gutters at the sides of the road and occasionally running hell-bent across the road. A few bats, possibly Mexican Free-tail, flew amongst the palm trees.
After changing and showering we headed out to the restaurant for dinner and a LESSER NIGHTHAWK was sat on our path, but not for long, flying short distances in front of us sometimes landing on the road.
DAY 6 – Wed 24th February 2010
Today we decided we needed a fairly relaxing day after all our exertions so far so we decided to stay on site and do just that. However it didn’t stop Bridgette and I joining the early morning guided bird walk at 6:15am. As we arrived at reception there was a GREAT BLACK HAWK sat in a tall tree with a Crested Caracara. We met our guide and a German family who had also signed up for the walk, but strangely had no bins, so Bridgette lent them hers. We were pointed first at an all-black bird and our guide asked if we knew what it was. I didn’t look properly and crashed and burned immediately by saying Grackle. It was a MELODIOUS BLACKBIRD, which although quite similar proved I needed to looked harder at the common black birds around here. Next our guide found a beautiful pair of TURQUOISE-BROWED MOTMOTS sat on a low branch in a tree they shared with a Tropical Kingbird. We saw a few commoner species, which the German family enjoyed and then he pointed out three CHESTNUT-MANDIBLED TOUCANS, which flew in quite close to us. This pleased Bridgette as she really wanted to see wild Toucans.
Next up was a small flock of 4+ Groove-billed Anis and soon after we were shown three GRAY-HEADED CHACHALACAS, which were feeding on the road until they flew up into nearby trees. A larger tree behind that held three lifers, a male BLUE-BLACK GRASSQUIT, doing its strange jumping display, a pair of VIOLACEOUS TROGONS and the first of two SULPHUR-BELLIED FLYCATCHERS.
In a tree nearby one of the swimming pools was a pair of Yellow-throated Euphonias and a female ROSE-THROATED BECARD, later I saw a pair and I’m not sure where the Rose-throated description comes from? The final lifer of the walk was a STREAKED FLYCATCHER, again the first of two, another of the very difficult Flycatcher group, which are all very similar. On the return to reception we had the first Osprey and the only Mourning Dove of the holiday, as well as eight Scarlet Macaws.
We went back to the cottage and met Michael for breakfast. The previous evening we had enquired about the possibility of seeing monkeys on site and the staff just smiled and said haven’t you been to breakfast yet. Breakfast it turned out was a regular zoo, the dining area was covered but open on all sides. There were monkeys everywhere, at least twenty WHITE-FACED CAPUCHINS (pic below) , as well as a family party of White-nosed Coatis (pic below).
There were signs asking people not to feed the animals as food was provided on a big “bird table” out back in the trees. The monkeys however were not averse to stealing any uncleared leftovers and for some reason had a particular liking for taking white paper napkins and taking them onto the roof to rip up. It was entertaining but the food was too good to be distracted for long. At lunchtime the monkeys and coatis had been joined in the restaurant by a couple of big Black Spiny-tailed Iguanas and a COMMON BASILISK was sat in the shade. We spent most of the morning in the pool and the afternoon on the beach and exploring the site generally. I saw a GREEN KINGFISHER along a stream leading to the beach and two Spotted Sandpipers and three Least Sandpipers were on the beach. In the evening two Lesser Nighthawks were outside the cottages.
DAY 7 – Thu 25th February 2010
THE GREATEST DAY
I got up at 5am and after a quick coffee was outside and heading towards the long driveway through the forest. A gang of monkeys were in the trees outside the cottages. A fruitless walk up a very steep hill was energy sapping particularly when the security guard at the top said I was heading the wrong way. However on the way back down I found an attractive male BLACK-HOODED ANTSHRIKE. I entered one of the forest trails and although I heard plenty, as is often the way with forests, I saw little. Blue Morpho butterflies were the easiest things to see as they floated around in the early morning sunshine. As I was about the rejoin the driveway from the circular route I discovered a pair of ORANGE-BILLED SPARROWS feeding on the ground. I rejoined the driveway and began to see lots of birds at the forest edges including two Chestnut-mandibled Toucans and three White-fronted Parrots. A monkey calling up in the treetops to another more distant one in the forest turned out to be a GEOFFROY’S SPIDER MONKEY (or Black-handed) once I got good views of it.
We had an early breakfast and a pre-booked taxi arrived at 8am to take us to Carara National Park. It has been a National Park since 1978 and covers an area of 52 km², much of it primary rainforest. When we arrived there was only a ranger around and no-one to issue a ticket so he said trustingly just go and enjoy the park and pay when you leave.
We took the trail he suggested and immediately found another ranger showing around a couple. She had found a tiny GREEN AND BLACK POISON ARROW FROG, which didn’t really look big enough to be harmful, but was something we really wanted to see. Just past here was a pair of Scarlet Macaws high in the trees. Eventually we came to a river where we stood quietly for five minutes. A Violaceous Trogon sat out in the open on a hanging liana, a couple of WHITE-NECKED JACOBINS (hummers) zipped around the forest edge and a female Baltimore Oriole showed well. Moving on I found a STUB-TAILED SPADEBILL in the undergrowth, a tiny crest-sized bird which lived up to its name. A little further on we came to another forest river where we found a MUSCOVY DUCK, two BUFF-RUMPED WARBLERS, a Spotted Sandpiper, which seemed misplaced in a rainforest, and a Green Kingfisher. We later learned that this is one of the few places where you can see genuine wild tickable Muscovy Ducks. A little further still and we found a troop of Spider Monkeys. There were 6+ including a mother and baby, we watched for quite a while trying, but mostly failing to take photos. A White-nosed Coati was up at the same giddy height as the monkeys. Then at the forest edge we found two Black-hooded Antshrikes and a WHITE-WHISKERED PUFFBIRD (pic below).
We returned to the Centre and bought permits. A BLUE-THROATED GOLDENTAIL, another hummer, was feeding amongst the flowers, and three huge Black Spiny-tailed Iguanas were around the building. There was time for another short foray into the forest, before our taxi picked us up at 12 noon. We found a little flock of birds moving through including a Tennessee Warbler, a Summer Tanager, a Yellow-throated Vireo, a TROPICAL GNATCATCHER and both Wedge-billed (pic below) and Streak-headed Woodcreeper.
It had become just too hot at this point so we returned to the shade of the Centre for some respite. Our taxi came back spot on time, he had promised he would and wouldn’t take our money when he dropped us off so we were assured he would return. Just prior to leaving three RUDDY GROUND DOVES were feeding under trees by the entrance. As we drove back up the drive into Punta Leona c20 White Ibises were feeding in the riverbed.
After lunch we were booked on a Riverboat on the Tarcoles River for an afternoon of birding. Just before our taxi picked us up a female Chestnut-sided Warbler was feeding in trees outside our cottage. Just by the security gates on the way out a YELLOW-HEADED CARACARA was stood in the road.
We were greeted at Tarcoles dock by Randall Ortega, who was an incredibly enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. MANGROVE SWALLOWS were flying around the boat and we found out why when we were on board, there was a nestbox at the stern, so they went where we went (pic below).
We headed upstream to start with where Snowy Egret, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Yellow-crowned Night Heron and Little Blue Heron were all new for the trip. Randall pointed out a large GREEN IGUANA sunbathing on a log, the only one we saw. Then three different kingfishers were all seen in the space of a couple of minutes, AMAZON KINGFISHER and RINGED KINGFISHER being lifers and the first of several Green Kingfishers. The boatman took the boat close to the shore where we got excellent views of BOAT-BILLED HERONS (pic below), other new trip birds here included Anhinga (pic below), Green Heron, Tricolored Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, 20+ Black-necked Stilts and five Blue-winged Teals. The first of five NORTHERN JACANAS were seen next and also a large American Crocodile (pic below).
Randall then had the boat manoeuvred close inshore again in order that we could see two of the river’s specialities – a DOUBLE-STRIPED THICK-KNEE (heat-haze affected pic below) and two SOUTHERN LAPWINGS, which arrived in CR from South Africa as recent as 1997. Barn Swallow and American Purple Gallinule were added to the trip list and a VARIABLE SEEDEATER was a welcome tick before we headed back downstream towards the mango swamp, which was necessary as it was very easy to get grounded here.
We were grateful for the canopy over the boat and the iced water provided by Randall as it was now very hot. Four ORANGE-FRONTED PARAKEETS flew over as did a Wood Stork, which was a trip tick. Randall once again had the boat moved into the bank and he showed us a tiny COMMON TODY FLYCATCHER. The first of six Roseate Spoonbills were seen, another trip tick and a MANGROVE BLACK HAWK was on top of a dead tree. As we moved into the mangrove swamps we began to see more new birds. A BARE-THROATED TIGER HERON stood on some dead branches, a ZONE-TAILED HAWK flew over, Randall said they were often passed off as vultures and a male MANGROVE WARBLER was seen. This is currently a subspecies of Yellow Warbler, although split by some authorities, the male has a reddish head. A female American Redstart was a trip tick and Randall said he had heard a Wood Thrush, but I couldn’t and the chance of seeing it was nil as it remained deep within the mangroves anyway. The boat stopped again whilst we admired a tiny AMERICAN PYGMY KINGFISHER. Randall was excellent in that he always stayed on a species until everyone had had good views or got the photo they wanted. Next up was the first of two PANAMA FLYCATCHERS (pic below), which Randall said was the bird of the trip although fairly nondescript.
It wasn’t mine though, that came next, a luminous yellow male PROTHONOTARY WARBLER. We turned around and headed back towards the dock. The only NEOTROPIC CORMORANT of the trip flew downstream over the boat. The sun was beginning to get low in the sky and the light was fabulous, but we weren’t done yet. A Raccoon appeared at the edge of the mangroves, then three RED-LORED PARROTS flew over, a solitary GRAY-BREASTED MARTIN was perched in a dead tree and then two pairs of MEALY PARROTS flew by. As we docked after nearly three hours 14 Scarlet Macaws flew through the sunset, it looked brilliant but all cameras were stowed, so that’s one for the memory only.
Randall wasn’t quite finished, he said I can show you one last special bird and spoke to our taxi driver to follow him. After about a mile he pulled up and pointed to a PACIFIC SCREECH OWL looking out of its hole in a dead tree. It was so well camouflaged it took a minute to realise that we were actually looking at an owl at all as it looked like a spur on the trunk. Even the taxi driver enjoyed it, and just to wrap up the day six Lesser Nighthawks together with several bats were hawking above the trees. We thanked Randall and exchanged details, I hope we meet again when we go back.
Arriving back at Punta Leona we had just a few minutes to spare before leaving for the Night Walk we had booked, Michael decided to go back to the cottage instead, a good move as it turned out. We were driven to the forest edge in a van with a party of Swiss tourists. It started well with a LITTLE TINAMOU roosting in a tree beside the path and a couple of MOTTLED OWLS were heard calling. The guides pointed out a few bugs and creepy-crawlies, but then things went downhill. It started to rain, Bridgette fell over on the already slippery path, I wrenched my back catching her, then there were problems with a couple of nasty tempered bees and finally we all lurched to a halt in the centre of an Army Ant column. Bridgette and I were largely unaffected but the Swiss party went into meltdown with a funny thigh-slapping dance trying to beat off the ants accompanied with loud yells and screams, which frightened off all but any stone-deaf wildlife. We didn’t see anything else and the guides gave in too, leading us and the agitated Swiss back to the bus.
We met Michael for dinner and afterwards he and I stayed on for a few beers. When we left a White-nosed Coati and a Raccoon were together by the pool at the restaurant. Apart from the Night Walk it had been a fabulous day’s birding with many lifers and we all fell into bed exhausted at around 10pm.
DAY 8 – Fri 26th February 2010
Today we were moving back to San José before flying home tomorrow. I decided to make the best of it by getting a really early start along the driveway to see if I could pick up a last few ticks. Scarlet Macaws were already flying around calling raucously when I left the cottage. The first new birds I encountered was a beautiful pair of RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPERS, which was very pleasing as I had missed one Eric saw up at Monteverde. A troop of White-faced Capuchins were being very noisy in the treetops. Then I found four Chestnut-mandibled Toucans, together with three FIERY-BILLED ARAÇARIS, my fourth species of toucan. I walked for an hour and was still a long way from the security lodge at the entrance, so I turned to return for breakfast, as I turned I spotted a BAIRD’S TROGON sat on the edge of the canopy in the open.
On the return leg of the journey good birds included another FIERY-BILLED ARAÇARI, a White-whiskered Puffbird, three Masked Tityras, a BLACK SWIFT soaring overhead and 6+ Blue Morpho butterflies.
We enjoyed a final lazy breakfast with the monkeys and returned to the cottages and packed up. Then Michael went off to use the internet and Bridgette and I went for a final walk around the grounds. There were plenty of birds to see as ever but the best of the lot was a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH that I found in an almost dry stream bed.
We took an early lunch at midday where a RUDDY QUAIL DOVE was the last lifer for the site (pic below).
As ever, with the clockwork precision that Costa Rica Gateway had provided, our taxi was bang on time. Our driver was Juan Carlos, who unlike our driver down to Punta Leona spoke some English, and said to us “You want to see Black-and-White Owl?” We said yes, and it was apparent this was a party piece the drivers did for birders on the way back to San José. He came off the motorway, only open for a week, and drove into the busy town of Orotina. In the town’s small Central Park, we disembarked feeling distinctly foreign amongst the locals, not least because I was wearing a particularly loud yellow beach shirt my daughter had bought me. Juan Carlos shook hands with several people and between them they located the BLACK-AND-WHITE OWL in the low branches of a big tree in the middle of the park. Then they showed us even more surprisingly a Two-toed Sloth in a nearby tree. The park was surrounded on all four sides by busy roads, so we asked how it got there. Juan Carlos said six had been introduced as a breeding population by the Council, but nowadays only two remained. He then showed us a CINNAMON HUMMINGBIRD sat on its nest (pic below).
After that the remainder of the two hour journey passed uneventfully, although Bridgette told me later she thought she saw a Swallow-tailed Kite, a bird I still need!
We arrived at Hotel Orquideas on the outskirts of San José and were quickly checked in to pleasant rooms. We sat and had a beer by the pool and then I walked around the grounds seeing mostly common fare. The view to the city was panoramic and the skies were full of Black and Turkey Vultures and Blue-and-white Swallows, two Northern Rough-winged Swallows and a couple of Vaux’s Swifts. The food in the restaurant that evening was excellent.
DAY 9 – Sat 27th February 2010
It was home time today but there was still time for one last pre-breakfast walk. As I stepped outside I could hear an owl calling in the valley, a fairly monosyllabic call. I imitated it and the call got louder and louder until we were duetting and it had to be very close indeed. Then I spotted it, a tiny owl the size of a sparrow, it was a FERRUGINOUS PYGMY OWL, my final tick of the holiday. The early hour meant more birds were around the gardens including two Yellow-headed Caracaras, a male Baltimore Oriole, a Yellow Warbler, two Rufous-crowned Warblers, a Summer Tanager, a Yellow-throated Vireo, a pair of Ruddy Pigeons and a couple of Vaux’s Swifts.
After breakfast we took an interesting but agitated taxi ride to the airport with a very cheerful driver. We found that our flight was delayed because of snow and ice problems in the U.S. and as a consequence it looked like we would miss our connection. To Continental’s credit they held our connection in Texas so that problem didn’t materialise. I spent the delay watching distant vultures and unidentified raptors from the airport window and the nesting Blue-and-white Swallows were the final birds. We spent a very bumpy couple of hours over the Atlantic and arrived home on Sunday morning at Heathrow. We were tired but happy and had had a brilliant holiday in a new country for us, with fabulous wildlife, friendly people and lovely weather. It’s a place to be revisited for sure. If you require any further information contact me at the usual address.
Tips the books don’t always tell you:
It’s not really necessary to take a scope unless you are planning on seawatching or want to be digiscoping. It’s an encumbrance, it’s way too hot and sticky to be carrying it around and if you hire a guide he/she will have one anyway. It’s also not very useful in the forests.
Take all of your electronics out of your bag when you go through U.S. Customs, because they’ll make you do it anyway.
All of the hotels/lodges we were in did not have plugs in the sinks, take your own or improvise as we did with the free shampoo bottles, which just fitted.
Carara National Park does not take Credit/Debit cards but cash only, don’t get caught out. There are no refreshments here either, but you can drink the water.
Most places will advise you that you can drink the tap water, we did and had no problems, but if they don’t tell you it’s safe, ask.
We tipped all of our drivers and hotel staff, for which they were very grateful.
Always carry water, it gets very hot and it’s easy to get dehydrated.
If you are in San José it is best not to wander around with your bins around your neck and keep your valuables very safe as pickpocketing is a problem here.
If you are booking a Tarcoles river boat tour, make sure you are booked on a birding tour and not the tourists Crocodile boats. Also try and book with Randall Ortega, a top guide, a birder’s birder.
In the Cloud Forest be prepared for rain with waterproofs, although it will remain warm, and you may prefer getting wet as I did, to sweating inside wet weather gear.
If you go off track beware of the possibility of snakes and more likely stumbling into one of the many Army Ant trails, which can get painful quickly.
If you go on a Night Walk avoid putting your hands on handrails in the dark, you never know what might be sat there.
You have to pay an exit tax at San José Airport before you can check in for your flight, there is a desk just inside the main doors. It is currently $26 USD each.
The Birds of Costa Rica by Richard Garrigues & Robert Dean published by Helm
A Bird-Finding Guide to Costa Rica by Barrett Lawson published by Cornell University Press
Bradt Guide – Costa Rica http://www.bradtguides.com
Eric Bello – firstname.lastname@example.org
P.O. Box 655 655 Monteverde, C.R.
Tel: (506) 6455291
Fax: (506) 6453706
Randall Ortega http://www.costaricabirdingjourneys.org/html/aboutUs.htm
Costa Rica Gateway http://www.costaricagateway.com/
1. Clay-coloured Robin
2. Rufous-collared Sparrow
3. Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
4. Baltimore Oriole
5. Grayish Saltator
6. Rufous-capped Warbler
7. House Wren
8. Blue-gray Tanager
9. Squirrel Cuckoo
10. White-winged Dove
11. Great-tailed Grackle
12. Turkey Vulture
13. American Black Vulture
14. Ruddy Pigeon
15. Crested Caracara
16. Groove-billed Ani
17. Yellow Warbler
18. Social Flycatcher
19. Rufous-naped Wren
20. Great Crested Flycatcher
21. Brown Jay
22. Blue-crowned Motmot
23. Purple-throated Mountain-gem
25. Green Hermit
26. Violet Sabrewing
27. Green Violet-ear
28. Magenta-throated Woodstar
29. Green-crowned Brilliant
30. Emerald Toucanet
31. Slate-throated Redstart
32. Resplendent Quetzal
33. Black Guan
34. Streak-headed Woodcreeper
35. Spotted Woodcreeper
36. Mountain Robin
37. Buff-throated Saltator
38. Blue-and-white Swallow
39. Wilson’s Warbler
40. Lesser Elaenia
41. White-fronted Parrot
42. Hoffmann’s Woodpecker
43. Yellow-throated Euphonia
44. Rufous-browed Peppershrike
45. Steely-vented Hummingbird
46. Red-billed Pigeon
47. Masked Tityra
48. Boat-billed Flycatcher
49. Lesser Greenlet
50. Black-and-white Warbler
51. Paltry Tyrannulet
52. Blackburnian Warbler
53. Striped-tailed Hummingbird
54. Plain Wren
55. Golden-browed Chlorophonia
56. Dusky-capped Flycatcher
57. Bronzed Cowbird
58. Warbling Vireo
59. Tennessee Warbler
60. Yellow-faced Grassquit (pic below)
61. Tropical Kingbird
62. Great Kiskadee (pic below)
63. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
64. Mountain Elaenia
65. Yellow-crowned Euphonia
66. Long-tailed Manakin
67. Rufous-and-white Wren
68. Hepatic Tanager
69. Chestnut-sided Warbler
70. Gray-capped Flycatcher
71. Gray-breasted Wood-Wren
72. Golden-crowned Warbler
73. Three-striped Warbler
74. Black-faced Solitaire
75. Spotted Barbtail
76. Black-headed Saltator
77. Coppery-headed Emerald
78. Common Bush-Tanager
79. Slaty Spinetail
80. Black-breasted Wood-Quail
81. Sooty Robin
82. Azure-hooded Jay
83. Buff-fronted Quail-Dove
84. White-throated Robin
85. White-naped Brush-Finch
86. Swainson’s Thrush
87. Chestnut-headed Oropendola
88. Common Yellowthroat
89. Keel-billed Toucan
90. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
91. Chiriqui Quail-Dove
92. Summer Tanager
93. White-eared Ground-Sparrow
94. Ochraceous Wren
95. Three-wattled Bellbird (heard only)
96. Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
97. Black-throated Wren
98. White-collared Swift
99. Band-tailed Pigeon
100. Orange-bellied Trogon
101. Yellowish Flycatcher
102. Wood Thrush
103. Silver-throated Tanager
104. Rufous-winged Woodpecker
105. Sand Martin (Bank Swallow)
106. Vaux’s Swift
107. Hooded Warbler
108. Crimson-fronted Parakeet
109. Cattle Egret
110. Brown Pelican
111. Magnificent Frigatebird
112. Orange-chinned Parakeet
113. Spotted Sandpiper
114. Scarlet Macaw
115. Inca Dove
116. White-tipped Dove
118. Ruddy Turnstone
119. Least Sandpiper
120. Lesser Nighthawk
121. Great Black Hawk
122. Melodious Blackbird
123. Turquoise-browed Motmot
124. Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
125. Gray-headed Chachalaca
126. Blue-black Grassquit
127. Violaceous Trogon
128. Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
129. Rose-throated Becard
130. Streaked Flycatcher
132. Mourning Dove
133. Green Kingfisher
134. Black-hooded Antshrike
135. Orange-billed Sparrow
136. Riverside Wren
137. White-necked Jacobin
138. Stub-tailed Spadebill
139. Muscovy Duck
140. Buff-rumped Warbler
141. White-whiskered Puffbird
142. Blue-throated Goldentail
143. Yellow-throated Vireo
144. Tropical Gnatcatcher
145. Ruddy Ground-Dove
146. White Ibis
147. Yellow-headed Caracara
148. Mangrove Swallow
149. Snowy Egret
150. Hudsonian Whimbrel (pic below)
151. Yellow-crowned Night Heron
152. Little Blue Heron
153. Amazon Kingfisher
154. Ringed Kingfisher
156. Boat-billed Heron
157. Green Heron
158. Tricolored Heron
159. Blue-winged Teal
160. Great Blue Heron
161. Black-necked Stilt (pic below)
162. Northern Jacana
163. Great Egret
164. Double-striped Thick-Knee
165. Swallow (Barn Swallow)
166. Southern Lapwing
167. American Purple Gallinule
168. Variable Seedeater
169. Orange-fronted Parakeet
170. Wood Stork
171. Common Tody-Flycatcher
172. Roseate Spoonbill
173. Mangrove Black-Hawk
174. Bare-throated Tiger-Heron
175. Zone-tailed Hawk
*** Mangrove Warbler (subspecies of Yellow Warbler)
176. American Redstart
177. American Pygmy Kingfisher
178. Panama Flycatcher
179. Prothonotary Warbler
180. Neotropic Cormorant
181. Red-lored Parrot
182. Gray-breasted Martin
183. Mealy Parrot
184. Pacific Screech Owl
185. Little Tinamou
186. Mottled Owl (heard only)
187. Red-legged Honeycreeper
188. Fiery-billed Araçari
189. Baird’s Trogon
190. Black Swift
191. Northern Waterthrush
192. Ruddy Quail-Dove
193. Black-and-white Owl
194. Cinnamon Hummingbird
195. Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
Variegated Squirrel Sciurus variegatoides
Mexican Tree Porcupine Sphiggurus mexicanus
Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloth Choloepus hoffmanni
Central American Agouti Dasyprocta punctata
Common Raccoon Procyon lotor
White-nosed Coati Nasua narica
White-faced Capuchin Monkey Cebus capucinus
Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey Ateles geoffroyi
Common Opossum Didelphis marsupialis
Bat sp, possibly Mexican Free-tail –
REPTILES & AMPHIBIANS
Black Iguana Ctenosaura similis
Slender Anole Norops limifrons
Yellow-headed Gecko Gonatodes albogularis
Common Basilisk (Jesus Christ Lizard) Basiliscus basiliscus (pic below)
Green Iguana Iguana iguana
American Crocodile Crocodylus acutus
Pygmy Rain Frog Eleutherodactylus ridens
Cane Toad Bufo marinus
Green and Black Poison Arrow Frog Dendrobates auratus
INSECTS & CRUSTACEANS Just a few I’ve identified so far (this will get added to when I id photos)
Halloween Crab (or Harlequin Crab) Gecarcinus quadratus (pic below)
Orange-kneed Tarantula Brachypelma mesomelas
Golden Orb-Web Spider (Banana Spider) Nephila clavipes
Army Ant Eciton burchellii
Leaf-cutting Ant Atta cephalotes (pic below)
Blue Morpho Morpho peleides
Orange Julia Dryas Julia
Banded Peacock Anarthia fatima
Orange-barred Sulphur Phoebis philia
Meander Prepona Archaeprepona meander
Zebra Longwing Heliconius charitonius