Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
Purple-throated Mountain Gem
All photos by Jon Lowes
This report including dozen more images is also available at: http://www.homepages.mcb.net/wormwell/costa_rica_trip_report.htm
The “must-see” Ecuador trip report gallery by Jon Lowes is at: http://www.homepages.mcb.net/wormwell/photo%20gallery%20test2.htm
As with our previous reports, I will only mention new birds recorded as each day passes. We booked our trip with Costa Rican Trails through GEOdyssey using their Freedom Self-drive package. This would enable us to pick and choose our route at will and adapt our itinerary to suit our needs as we went. Basically, you pre-pay for all the accommodation in advance and are given a large list of hotels from which to choose which you book the day before it is required. Flights were booked with Martinair (a KLM partner) and went from Manchester to San Jose via Amsterdam and Miami. It was a long, arduous journey in economy class!
3rd March 2007
We arrived at Jose Santa Maria Airport at around 10pm and were met by the rep' who transferred us to our first night's accommodation at the Hotel Don Fadrique in the Los Yoses district on the eastern edge of the city. Unfortunately, Jon's luggage had been offloaded at Manchester and would only be delivered to us at 10pm the following evening! This meant that we had stay in San Jose for a second night and already we were reaping the benefits of our chosen, flexible, method of travel. Fortunately, Jon had carried his binoculars and camera gear into his hand luggage. Always a wise move!
4th March 2007
Waking at 6am to the sound of 'birds unknown' singing outside our hotel, Jon, Ray and myself met in reception and proceeded to 'bird' the immediate environs of the hotel. Fortunately, we were situated in one of the more 'well-to-do' areas of the city and there were lots of well matured gardens and tree-lined streets for us to cover.
I had suspected that one of the singing birds I could hear from my room to be a Clay-coloured Robin due to its thrush-like quality and this proved to be the case as the first bird we got onto was indeed this species, singing from a roadside telegraph wire. Let's face it, this isn't a stunning bird and it proved to be one of the more common species seen during our visit. The robin was closely followed by a pair of Tropical Kingbirds, a Great Kiskadee, Greyish Saltator, White-winged and Mourning Doves, a poor view of fly-over Mississippi Kite, a drab House Wren (the song has overtones of European Nightingale), Summer and Blue-grey Tanagers, the exquisite little Rufous-collared Sparrows, Great-tailed Grackles, Philadelphia Vireo and a very bright Yellow-throated Vireo (I was particularly pleased to see this one as I had missed the Cornwall bird several years previously!). Jon's first hummingbirds came in the form of Rufous-tailed (very common during our stay) and a briefly seen male Magenta-throated Woodstar. Constantly flying over were some noisy parrots but we never managed to get good enough views to nail their ID (until we returned to the area 2 weeks later).
We returned to the hotel and had breakfast (joined by the Rufous-collared Sparrows!) whilst we waited for our hotel vouchers, hire car and mobile phone to be delivered. Eventually all logistical matters were sorted and we 'hit the road' in our Mitsubishi Montero Sport (4x4) at around 9am. The skies were full of Black and Turkey Vultures but, because we concentrating so much on driving and navigating, it wasn't until we arrived at our first destination - Braulio Carrillo National Park - that we started seeing identifiable birds again.
Eventually, and after some 'interesting' motoring experiences around San Jose, we pulled up at the Quebrada Gonzalez Ranger Station in Braulio and piled out of the car and started to 'bird' the car park area. The bushes were full of the most amazing butterflies but, because of the lateness in the day, birding was very difficult to say the least and, incredibly, we only managed to identify Stripe-breasted Wren and Tawny-capped Euphonia as we entered the rainforest proper. Still, this ancient forest was stunning to behold and the butterflies kept us occupied in the absence of any identifiable birds. Keren even managed to locate a pencil-thin, and 'harmless', Brown Vine Snake lurking in the undergrowth, which caused some excitement! Another, non-bird of interest was one of the world's largest damselflies - a male Helicopter Damselfly.
Leaving the reserve feeling a little deflated we stopped at various view-points to scan the skies and have lunch and were rewarded with a Swallow-tailed Kite, Common Black Hawk and a dashing little Bat Falcon which came across as sort of Eurasian Hobby x Merlin hybrid!
As were still a bit early to return to the hotel we decided to find somewhere that wasn't in the guidebooks and just see "what's about". Heading east towards Cartago from San Jose, Jon and I noticed a small sidetrack that led into some small cattle fincas at the base of the hills just to the south of the Pan American highway.
This was a great move and we added; White-tailed Kite, Montezuma's Oropendola (a fly-over only unfortunately), the misnamed Plain Wren (a fabulous mid-sized wren), a comical Common Tody-flycatcher, an elusive Louisiana Waterthrush, a showy Boat-billed Flycatcher was nearly dismissed as a kiskadee (but we nailed him in the end), Lesser Goldfinch, Hoffman's Woodpecker, Cattle Egret (yawn!), Tennessee Warbler, Groove-billed Ani, a great, summer-plumaged Wilson's Warbler, a Yellow-bellied Eleania and I got onto 3 fly-over Blue-ground Doves which the boys missed whilst they were 'grilling' the anis (shame, that!). Not a bad little patch to have found on spec. We ended the day on just 41 species, but were confidant that the list would rapidly improve tomorrow when we visited La Selva Biological Reserve to the north of Braulio. Fortunately, Jon's 'lost' luggage was delivered to the hotel at midnight.
5th March 2007
Leaving before first light (all the guidebooks tell you not to drive during the hours of darkness, but Jon and I are both very experienced drivers) we again headed north from San Jose through the hills to where we had booked a guide for the day at La Selva Biological Research Station. We stopped a few times once away from the numerous small towns and added the stunning Scarlet-rumped and Crimson-collared Tanagers, a single Purple Martin, Cliff and Blue & White Swallows, our first and best views of a male Barred Antshrike, Pale-vented and Short-billed Pigeons, a small party of roadside Mealy Parrots, and even a couple of House Sparrows!
As we were too early to enter La Selva proper we decided to 'do' the track which approaches the site. This area was fabulous and became one of our favourite sites. As we pulled-up, a couple of American birders called our attention to a large bird that was strolling across a small side-track; "What's this bird?" they asked and we all replied, in chorus, "Great Curassow" and what a fabulous creature it was. In the roadside trees were Grey-headed Chachalacas, White-crowned Parrots giving marvellous views, a distant, but distinctive with his red legs, male Shining Honeycreeper, Black-cowled and Yellow-tailed Orioles, a comparatively drab Cinnamon Becard, Grey-capped and White-ringed Flycatchers, a Masked Tityra, and several fly-over Lesser Swallow-tailed swifts. All within a 20 minute spell! It was during this mayhem that I picked up a distant Laughing Falcon but, before anyone else could get onto it, it took flight. Panic ensued but, luckily, it landed in a palm tree right above us and proceeded to spend the next 10 minutes just sat there looking around and wondering what all the fuss was below him! We'd added 23 species before we even entered La Selva but boy, was it getting hot!
At 07:45 we were introduced to our guide for the day, Kenneth (good old Spanish name!) and started to cover the immediate vicinity of the reception hut and restaurant. Kenneth's spoken English was excellent as was his knowledge of the local birds and we were soon ticking and photographing like lunatics. Even before entering the forest we added; Crested Guan, Red-footed Plumeleteer, Lineated Woodpecker, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, White-winged Becard, a female Snowy Cotinga, Pyratic Flycatcher, Bright-rumped Attila, Long-tailed Tyrant, Black-headed Tody-flycatcher, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Banded-backed Wren, Olive-backed Euphonia, Chestnut-sided Warbler (a glorious male), Palm Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, Golden-hooded Tanager, Variable Seed-eater and White-tipped Dove. The new birds were coming almost too quickly to comprehend, but Kenneth was very good and made sure that we all got on to them before moving on.
Just before entering the forest, a large group of vultures soared over in the distance accompanied by Swainson's and Broad-winged Hawks also a single Double-toothed Kite put in a brief show.
We took the first track to the right of the suspended bridge and proceeded to walk slowly through the forest. Within 5 minutes Kenneth piped up with "Ah, there he is" and right in front of us was a sleeping, partially hidden, 2-Toed Sloth. An amazing, if docile, creature. Keren was ecstatic! This, along with poison-arrow frogs, was one of the things she'd really wanted to see.
Just above the track we picked-up a Slaty-tailed Trogon, closely followed by, somewhat bizarrely, a Green Ibis that, unfortunately, Ray missed as he was some yards behind us. You've got to keep up, or you'll miss stuff!
I had told Kenneth about Keren's wish to see a 'Blue Jeans' Poison-arrow Frog and almost immediately he located one of these diminutive and colourful frogs sat in the trackside undergrowth, croaking away. An amazing thing.
There now follows a list, without my annoying commentary, of what we added in the forest and it's clearings; Osprey, Grey-rumped Swift, Long-tailed Hermit, Crowned Woodnymph, Violaceous and Black-throated Trogon, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Broad-billed Motmot, Chestnut-coloured Woodpecker, Wedge-billed and Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Fasciated Antshrike, White-collared Manakin, Rufous Mourner (dammit, I missed this one!), Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Yellow Tyrannulet, White-breasted Wood-wren, Black & White Warbler, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Red-throated Ant-tanager (dammit 2), Buff-throated Saltator and Dusky-faced Tanager.
In between all these great birds we had a great lunch back at the restaurant (including the ubiquitous 'Rice and Beans') and spent the afternoon birding the trail over the suspended bridge. The highlight for me, of this afternoon (indeed of the whole holiday), was locating a trackside Eyelash Pit-viper entwined around a small sapling. I approached it to within a foot (much to our guide's consternation) and took a load of photos of this stunning and highly-venomous snake.
What a day and one that will go down in my memory as one of the birding greats.
6th March 2007
During the research phase of our trip we had read, with concern, that one of our intended destinations, Rancho Naturalista, had been the source of some controversy, with various acerbic comments being posted on the web. However, not being the sort of people to be easily swayed by rumour and unsubstantiated vitriol, we decided to continue with our route and visit the site to judge for ourselves.
Rancho Naturalista is run privately by Kathy Erb and she proved extremely helpful and accommodating in arranging our visit for the day.
On the pre-dawn drive east from San Jose, Jon and Ray got a brief view of an unidentified caprimulgid as it flew through the car's headlights. We took a short break in the town of La Suisse (aka La Suiza) and got great views of a nesting pair of Blue & White Swallows and our first Green-breasted Mango - one of the easier to ID female hummers.
Arriving on site at 07:00 (seriously accurate directions, thanks Kathy) we were greeted by one of the staff who offered us breakfast and to be our guide for the day. Unfortunately we were now in ticking mode and wanted to get off birding by ourselves so were unable to take him up on the offer. But not before he had pointed out a nearby pair of Collared Aracaris and a bush next to where we had parked that had been playing host to a Black-crested Coquette for the last few days.
After staring at the empty bush for 10 minutes we headed up through the forest on the well-maintained track to the hummingbird gallery. This place was stunning.
The air was filled with the sounds of the the wings and calls of hummingbirds as they dashed between the ? dozen or so feeders.
Most noticeable were the White-necked Jacobins, but there were also Scaly-breasted Hummers, Green Thorntails, Green Hermits, Brown Violet-ears, belligerent Violet Sabrewings, Green-breasted Mango, Little Hermits, Steely-vented Hummers and then there was the star of the show - Snowcap! It was really difficult trying to get shots of these active little birds away from the feeders so after a while we just sat and enjoyed the spectacle. Oh and Ray and I located, in the undergrowth, a male Blue-black Grassquit but he was always going to be an also-ran! After an hour so so, we wandered back to down to the lodge through the forest adding Rufous Motmot, and Dusky Antbird to the list.
Back at the lodge we headed straight up to the balcony and more hummingbird feeders and bird tables. Here we added Brown Jay, Bronzed Cowbird, White-lined Tanager and Grey-fronted Dove amongst the oropendolas and chachalacas. A pre-lunch saunter around the grounds provided us with Yellow-faced Grassquit and Mistletoe Tyrant. We had a lovely lunch in the company of Kathy Erb, all the while keeping an eye on the feeders and bird tables. As we had a long drive ahead of us that afternoon, Ray and I decided to stake-out the 'coquette bush' whilst Keren went back up to the hummingbird feeders in the forest and Jon, bizarrely, decided to review his photos on his laptop.
After about 10 minutes of staring at this purple-flowered bush, I noticed what I took to be a large flying insect feeding at the blooms so, with nothing else to look at, I raised my binoculars and got straight onto a fabulous male, Black-crested Coquette. Once I got Ray onto it, I fired off a couple of very dodgy photos before the bird flew. Ray then went to fetch the computer nerd from his laptop and eventually we all had great views of this little beauty.
Reluctantly leaving Rancho, we headed back west and to the Pacific coast via a horrendous traffic jam in San Jose but not before adding Black Phoebe on a fence at the side of the road, a male Roadside Hawk (guess where he was!) and a briefly-seen Yellow-headed Caracara that only the driver had 'tickable views' of. Fortunately, I was that driver!
As we dropped down to the coast we drove past a small beach just north of Jaco which had ? dozen Magnificent Frigatebirds soaring over it. A pity then that we couldn't stop because of the traffic, but a drive-by tick is a tick nonetheless!
We arrived at the Hotel Copacabana as the sun set over the pacific and it really did look idyllic. However, the hotel wouldn't honour the booking that Keren had made the previous morning and she then had to make some frantic phone calls to Costa Rican Trails who eventually found us an alternative hotel - the Pochote Grande - just ? mile up the coast.
Completely knackered, we unpacked our gear, showered and headed into Jaco town for something to eat at one of the many roadside bar/restaurants.
We finished the day with our list on 143 species.
7th March 2007
A pre-breakfast walk (yes, I know I said breakfast is for wimps, but our previous night's meal hadn't been the best) up the beach to a nearby river mouth added Brown Pelicans, lots of Spotted Sandpipers, a Snowy Egret feeding in the Pacific surf, a Reddish Egret dashing around like a bird possessed, Little Blue Heron, Green Heron, Great Blue Heron and Belted and Amazon Kingfishers on wires crossing the river. I then located a Chestnut-mandibled Toucan sat in a tree on the hillside. It was at this point that Keren, who was a few yards behind us shouted "What's these big parroty things flying over?", we looked up to see a pair of Scarlet Macaws calling loudly. What stunning birds!
We then added a Royal Tern flying out to sea and several Barn Swallows feeding over the beach followed by a more obliging Yellow-headed Caracara. Back in the hotel grounds and during breakfast, we had great views of the huge (comparatively) Rufous-naped Wren as it collected nesting material and an Inca Dove crawling around the flower beds. In a bird-filled tree by the entrance to the hotel car park we added Orange-chinned Parakeet.
After breakfast we headed-off to our main venue for the day, Carara National Park, but not before calling in at what we had dubbed 'Frigatebird Beach'. Here we had stunning views of at least 10 of these huge birds as they soared overhead amongst the vultures. On the shore there was a flock of scruffy-looking Laughing Gulls which Jon seemed more interested in - honestly, once a reservoir-birder always a reservoir-birder! Out to sea a White Ibis briefly distracted him away from these dreadful birds. I mean, gulls? Come ON!
We pulled into the car park of Carara intending to go off on our own, but the persuasiveness of the guides and their cheap $20 per head fee convinced us to go with one of them. His name was Victor Chaves and he helped us find some really good stuff not least of which were Royal Flycatcher (unfortunately not displaying it's crest), Squirrel Cuckoo, Blue-throated Goldentail, Dotted-winged Antwren, Chestnut-backed Antbird (dammit 3), Rufous-bellied Wren (eating a particularly unpleasant-looking spider), our second manakin species came in the form of an Orange-collared, followed by Tropical Gnatcatcher, a Northern Waterthrush at the edges of a puddle in the middle of the trail, a stunning Turquoise-browed Motmot and then down by the river whilst getting hammered by mosquitoes, we added the ridiculous Boat-billed Herons, Streaked Flycatcher, Anhinga, Northern Jacana, Black- necked Stilt and a drab Slate-headed Tody-flycatcher.
Yet another great morning's birding. So much so that we decided to book with Victor to go on his mangrove boat tour the following afternoon.
I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but that afternoon we spent our time 'duding-it' around the hotel pool, but you have no idea how hot and sticky it was down at the coast! Anyway, after a thoroughly relaxing and refreshing afternoon, we headed back out into the heat and up to the mountains just north of Jaco and the mirador (viewpoint) way above the Hotel Villa Lapas which had been recommended to us by our new friend Kathy Erb at Rancho Naturalista.
Here we added Grey Hawk, Crested Caracara, Fiery-billed Aracari and had some fabulous views of King Vultures, and Short-tailed Hawks not to mention the awesome site of several pairs of Scarlet Macaws flying over the rainforest below us.
That evening we headed back in to Jaco town to meet up with our old friends from Florida, Trevor and Jackie, who had flown into Costa Rica that afternoon and would be joining us for the next couple of days. A nice meal and more than a few beers in the Hotel Poseidon ensued and we proceeded to grip-off Trevor with what we had seen so far.
After arranging for Trevor to join us on our pre-breakfast walk (P-BW) the following morning, we retired to our hotel with the trip list now on 184 species.
8th March 2007
Before our P-BW I had to go and meet Trevor so I could show him the way back to our new 'local patch' and was greeted with one of the most amusing sights I've ever seen. I should explain that Trevor is a big bloke and to see him climbing into his pathetic little Suzuki Jimny hire car will long remain with me. Anyway, enough of such trivialities, as we approached the hotel we crossed over a tiny wooden bridge that crossed a rubbish-strewn stream and I spotted a Bare-throated Tiger Heron sat therein. Duly grilled and ticked, we continued to the hotel to grip-off Jon and Ray who dashed-off to get onto the bird before the morning pedestrian rush-hour flushed it.
Whilst we waited for them to return, I did my best to point out some of the local, previously-seen stuff to Trevor and his reaction was quite amusing, being somewhere between utter bewilderment (you really should research the field-guide BEFORE going to a new country Trev') and excitement. 10 minutes later the boys returned and did their own gripping-off with tales of Red-lored Parrot seen whilst watching the heron. (Dammit 4).
Anyway, the P-BW didn't really produce much new apart from a Willet on the river mouth, a Tri-coloured Heron a little upstream and a fly-by Ruddy Ground-dove.
After breakfast we drove back up to Carara (I endured the ignominy of sharing the cramped Jimny with Trevor) and started to 'bird' the first trail from the car park which followed the main road for a short distance. There were birds everywhere and it was a mental ? hour or so as we were all trying to get each other onto different birds. There was a Rufous-capped Warbler (Jon's only view of it came in the form of a silhouette through a banana leaf! Hahaha!), a very dubious Hepatic Tanager, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Ruddy Quail-dove (sorry Jon) and a Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher.
After a while the path opened up on the right to overlook a beautiful river and Keren immediately located a skulking Green Kingfisher just before it flew off upstream. Further along we located a Blue-tailed Hummingbird followed by one of my favourites, a White-whiskered Puffbird found by Jon. There were lots of Riverside Wrens calling from just off the track and eventually we got reasonable views of one of these little skulkers. At a small shelter beside a bridge over the river, Ray got us all onto a stunning male Purple-crowned Fairy - unfortunately the views of which were very brief.
By this time, I was starting to suffer with a bad back and only just managed to get back to the car. During our circuit of this part of the reserve we met one of the guides we had briefly spoken to the previous day and had arranged for him to take us to see 'his' Spectacled Owls at a secret location up the road. Unfortunately, my back problem made it impossible for me to join them and I had to stay in the car whilst Keren, Jon and Ray went off on their twitch. (Trevor also missed out having had to go back to Jaco). What a nightmare.
From what I gleaned after they returned an hour later, this is what happened: They followed the guide along the same path that Victor had taken us along the previous morning before "diving off" the track into "seriously dense" jungle where there were no trails at all. They "scrambled over fallen trees, under fallen trees, got smacked in the face by branches, scratched by thorns, bitten by mosquitoes" and all the while they had no clue where they were or where they were headed presumably a ploy by the guide to prevent undue disturbance of their target birds). They saw very little on this "jungle yomp" and still they continued into the hidden depths of the forest. Eventually, the guide stopped for a rest and showed them a Green & Black Poison-arrow Frog before continuing with their "torture". (I'm sure they exaggerated their suffering so that I wouldn't feel so bad at missing out!). Then there there it was, a superb male Spectacled Owl sat in a tree beside it's nest site. Apparently the photos (the many hundreds of photos they took of it, which I endured for the rest of the bloody holiday) don't do it justice. Keren was overjoyed, not only did she get to see another species of poison-arrow frog, but she also got to see one of her favourite family of birds (something of an owl-freak my wife!). Oh, they also saw an American Pygmy Kingfisher as well.
Later that afternoon we, along with Trevor and Jackie, reconvened at Carara and followed Victor down to the edge of the Tarcoles River where we were to go on a mangrove tour by boat. This was a wonderful experience. We had stunning views of Yellow-crowned Night-heron, the massive Ringed Kingfisher, Least Sandpiper (yeeeuch!), Hudsonian Whimbrel, Brown-hooded Parrot, Mangrove Swallows, Prothonatory Warbler, the local, endemic form of Yellow Warbler known as Mangrove Warbler and several Olivaceous Cormorants.
The 2 highlights of this tour for me, were the pair (with chick) of Double-striped Thicknees at an undisclosed location and the several small flocks of high-flying Lesser Nighthawks as we docked back ashore.
We had a short walk after our evening meal at the Colonial Restaurant in Jaco looking for a calling owl but couldn't locate it. We finished the day on 215 species - but guess what was the 200th.....yep, that bloody Spectacled Owl.
9th March 2007
Trevor again joined us for a P-BW, but this time we headed inland to an area of scrub that had mostly gone to seed. In just over an hour here we added White-collared Seedeater, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Grey-crowned Yellowthroat and a grotty Indigo Bunting.
On returning to the hotel we were greeted by a smugly smirking Keren who was holding out her camera body for us to look at a picture she had taken. "I don't ****ing believe this" I said. She had found and photographed a pair of Pacific Screech Owls whilst we were away! "Never mind the sodding pictures, where's the birds?" to which she responding by pointing to a tree right next to where we were stood. Not 20 feet from our room!!!
After breakfast we departed the Pochote Grande and headed back inland towards our next base at Monteverde. We did however, have a couple other sites to cover, the first being the Tarcoles River bridge where we added Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Orchard Oriole and Purple Gallinule.
Our next stop was in the 'fruit-town' of Orotina to photograph what must be one of the world's most photographed pair of birds - the famous 'Orotina' Black & White Owls. I again stayed with the car for security reasons whilst the crew wandered off in search of our quarry and after 15 minutes or so (and some apparently hilarious conversations with a local 'hobbit-like' beggar) Keren returned to swap places with me and to point out where they had found the birds. I say "found", apparently Jon had them pointed out to him by a groundskeeper! What wonderful birds - much better than Spectacled Owls... Feeling elated we continued on our long drive (appx. 4 hours with a long traffic jam at road works) up to Monteverde. On the way, Keren phoned Trevor, who was following on later, to give him the location of the owls, but Jackie answered saying they would ring back as they had just been pulled over for speeding! What? In the Jimny? Hahahahaha! As it turned out, Trevor just pleaded ignorant and he got away with it. Must have been a convincing performance.
Once off the Pan American highway we stopped off at a river crossing to have a "quick scan" and picked up a male Yellow-crowned Euphonia and further towards Monteverde and on higher ground the fabulous White-throated Magpie-jay. Somewhere along this road Jon claimed a Red-crowned Woodpecker (dammit 6).
Eventually after climbing the long, winding, rough road up to Monteverde, we arrived at out next hotel – the Hotel El Bosque which is set in some beautiful grounds backing on to the rainforest. A quick debunk and unpack and we set about wandering around the grounds where we added a pair of Fork- tailed Hummingbirds (outside chalet #25), Mountain Robin (even duller than Clay-coloured) and behind our own chalets Rose-breasted Grosbeak whilst out front there was a beautiful male Black-throated Green Warbler and Jon and I managed to identify a Spotted-crowned Woodcreeper.
Trevor and Jackie eventually joined us and, as it turned out were staying in the room next door. Trevor regaling us with tales of brushing-off the local law and his motoring expertise in manhandling the Jimny up the treacherous Monteverde approach road. "No problem for this beast of a car" he bragged. Jackie's pained expression said otherwise.
On a practical note, the Hotel el Bosque has a very popular restaurant called Tramonti's and if you wish to dine there, I recommend that you book a table. it was certainly packed when we got there at 8pm.
We finished the day on 232 species.
10th March 2007
Sadly this was our last day with our friends from Florida as they were moving on towards Arenal Volcano and would be gone before we arrived 3 days later. So we set about repeating the previous evening's circuit of the hotel grounds on our P-BW and added a further 4 species. Trevor was obviously getting in to the swing of things and found our first Emerald Toucanets (granted, they were only a few yards from our rooms) and we replied with Orange-billed Nightingale-thrush, White-eared Ground-sparrow and fly-over Band-tailed pigeons.
I don't think Trevor ever got to see the Chestnut-mandibled Toucan right behind his room! We said our "goodbyes" to Trevor and Jackie and set off up to the flagship reserve of Monteverde.
Our first port of call was to the world famous hummingbird gallery just before the entrance to the reserve itself and we added 3 more hummers - Coppery-headed Emerald, Purple-throated Mountain Gem and Green Violet-ear were located easily amongst the dozens of hummingbirds in the area. Having paid our entrance fees $13 a head if I remember correctly, we set about slowly walking the trails. A lot of it was hard work as it was quite steep and the constantly swirling mists and light drizzle made viewing
and especially photography, very difficult. But what a beautiful place, forests don't get better than this, or do they? in the first kilometre from the entrance we added Slate-throated Redstart, Common Bush-tanager and their ever accompanying 3-striped Warblers, Black-faced Solitaire sounding like a rusty gate, Yellowish Flycatcher, Plain Ant-vireo, Collared Redstart and Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner. The rest of the forest was very heavy going and after a brief lunch, my back started playing up again, so I, again, stayed in the car whilst the rest went off on an afternoon walk around a different part of the forest. By all accounts "it was a steep hike, up and down" and I only missed Spangle-cheeked Tanager and a Spotted Woodcreeper.
Feeling a little better, I joined them for the third walk of the day and we added Black Guan and high up in the mist-shrouded canopy the silhouettes of several male Resplendent Quetzals. We must get better views of these birds. A brief return to the hummingbird gallery, now bouncing with loud American Tourists we added Snowy-bellied Hummingbird.
We ended the day with the trip list now on 252 species.
11th March 2007
This morning's P-BW found us back at the entrance to Monteverde reserve following a tip-off that the quetzals had been showing well most mornings until 07:30 in a fruiting tree right outside reception. we got great if a little brief views of the birds before they flew off, but Keren then located several more further back down the road and these were accompanied by a pair of Prong-billed Barbets. Breakfast was then enjoyed in the garden at the rear of Stella's Bakery watching the bird table and adding Yellow-throated Brush-finch.
We spent the rest of the morning aimlessly and, ultimately, fruitlessly wandering around Bajo Del Tigre, part of the Children's Eternal Forest right next door to our hotel. Honestly, the hotel grounds were much better than this place.
Emerging from this seemingly bird-free zone (I can only assume we were unlucky as everywhere else had been overflowing with wildlife of all sorts) we walked up the road for a few hundreds metres where we added a pair of Mountain Eleanias, Stripe-tailed hummingbird and a Slaty-backed Nightingale-thrush back up towards Monteverde.
We spent the rest of the afternoon eating cake and drinking shakes at Stella's fabulous Bakery. The trip list was slowing down now and we had only advanced to 258 species.
12th March 2007
After breakfast, surprisingly spent at Stella's, we headed off up to Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, which is at an even higher altitude than Monteverde and reputedly even wetter! This was a really magical place and Keren and I fell in love with it immediately, taking lots of pictures of the stunning scenery. During our 4 hours here we added Chestnut-capped Brush-finch, Yellow-thighed Finch, Sooty Robin, Spotted Bar-tail, Ruddy Treerunner, several wonderfully cute Tufted Flycatchers, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Grey-breasted Wood-wren and I was the only one to see a Veery. Dropping down the road a short time after lunch, we visited what appeared to be more of a theme park than a nature reserve, Selvatura. Certainly the dominant sounds of the area were those of mental tourists flying through and over the forest on the myriad of zip-lines.
Undeterred we paid our entrance fee ($20) and set about walking the circuit of 8 sky-walks (or suspension bridges). It wasn't until we got to the 5th bridge on the circuit that I pointed out to the rest that I could hear what sounded very much like a 3-wattled Bellbird 'bonking' in the near distance. We scanned the canopy immediately in front of us but nothing was on show, so I sat down and said "I ain't moving until I see this thing!". 30 seconds later, Keren said to Ray "is that a bird at the top of a tree, way in the distance?" as she pointed to a white spot in the canopy at least ? mile away. And that is how she found our first and only 3-wattled Bellbird. What an absolute darling. Keren's not a bad sort either.
We added nothing further until we got into a large mixed flock of birds alongside bridge #8 when we got Red-faced Spinetail, Slaty-capped Flycatcher and Ochraceous Wren all with the background sound of zip-lining lunatics. Bizarre. A couple of hours spent in the hummingbird garden of Selvatura (a further $5) added no new birds but was a much better site for photography than the previous hummingbird feeders we had visited.
A reluctantly brief visit to a certain well-known bakery added Wood Thrush as the last new bird of the day and leaving us on 272 species.
13th March 2007
Our last P-BW before leaving the Monteverde area was again spent up at the entrance to reserve hoping to finally get photographs of the quetzals. And boy did we hit the jackpot! Arriving on site at 06:15 there were at least 4 males and 2 females in the fruiting tree outside reception and no canopy-feeding for these chaps, they were only 20 feet off the ground! As you can imagine the cameras went into full meltdown mode with me almost filling a 2Gb memory card on these birds alone!
Sadly leaving the area we headed off to our next destination and the area around the volcano of Arenal where we were to stay at the Lavas Tacotal hotel. It was a long boring drive and we added nothing new all the way across, although stopping off at the cafe and gallery shop known as Toad Hall was a good decision as they have a very busy feeding station out the back (human and bird!) and we got some great shots of birds we had only seen briefly or distantly previously.
Eventually we pulled up at our hotel which had stunning views of the volcano, virtually at the bottom of the garden! In the grounds that evening we added Plain-breasted Ground-dove whilst, on the edge of the grounds, and under the watchful eye of the smoking volcano, we also found Eastern Meadowlark and had several fly-over Red-winged Blackbirds.
It's a strange phenomenon, but wherever we stayed there always seemed to be a single tree nearby that provided us with some great birding and Arenal was to be no exception. Just out of sight and around the corner from the bottom of the hotel grounds was a small tree about 25 foot high that was literally covered in epiphytes and bromeliads which in turn attracted a whole load of birds. Nothing new, but at one stage there must have been nearly a dozen species on or around this one isolated tree.
Trip list now on 275 species. Surely we would easily clear 300 now?
14th March 2007 - Black Wednesday
Prior to breakfast, we did a short walk around the fields at the bottom of the hotel's grounds and added a male Black-crowned Tityra to our list. The day was getting off to a good start! We didn't really have a 'Game Plan' for today, so a quick reference to the guidebooks and we agreed on a visit to Arenal Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately, on arrival, we discovered that it was closed! Instead, there was a steep track running up the side of the site which we drove a short way then dismounted to cover the area more thoroughly. Almost immediately Ray and I got onto a fabulous little Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant but Jon was unfortunately too far away to see the bird before it completely disappeared - having been on show for less than 10 seconds.
Nothing else new revealed itself and, seeing as we were so close, we decided it would be rude not to pay a return visit to Toad Hall and avail ourselves of its fabulous Macadamia Nut Chocolate Brownies! The feeding station,wasn't quite as busy as last time, but, nonetheless we again got some great views of species we had only seen briefly previously. By this time we really were scratching our heads as to where to go and eventually decided on driving back through La Fortuna and going to Arenal Mundo Aventura, which sounded a bit theme-parky, but the promise of canopy trails swung it for us.
Only a hundred yards from the entrance to the 'park' we crossed a bridge over a beautiful river and decided to "have a quick look for Torrent Tyrannulet and Buff-rumped Warbler". We parked next to another vehicle and went for a short wander, which became a bit of a walk once we'd discovered the path leading down to the river's edge. There was nothing dramatic on show - a couple of Black Phoebe's and a Northern Waterthrush - but after a few minutes scanning I found a Buff-rumped Warbler lurking behind a boulder at the edge of the river. The bird flew a short distance, allowing Ray to get good views, but once again Jon was some way away from us and he missed it. Despite our best efforts we couldn't relocate the bird and headed back to the car, picking up a Streak-headed Woodcreeper on the way, ready to drive the very short distance to the car park of Arenal Mundo Aventura.
Imagine our dismay, on arriving back at the car, when we discovered that it had been broken into (the front passenger's door-lock had been forced) and all the gear we had in there had been stolen!! Without going into the full list there were several lenses, a camera body, return flight tickets, Ray's passport, a small amount of cash and the biggest loss of all, our Flashtrax XT portable hard-drive containing all of the 7k+ photos we had taken up to the previous day. We immediately alerted the Police who arrived on the scene in less than 10 minutes. To cut a long and heart-breaking story short we ended-up spending the whole of the rest of the afternoon at La Fortuna Police Station filing a report and listing the $14k dollars-worth of items taken. I was completely devastated.
The only good thing was that Jon had downloaded all his photos onto his laptop and that was still back at the hotel - it is these shots that make up the bulk of what you see in this report. Still, we had lost 90% of the fabulous scenery shots Keren had taken and several species that Jon had missed photographing. Back at the hotel, we tried to console ourselves with a cold beer or two but failed miserably. We also had to make plans to get back to San Jose the following day and visit the British Consulate to get Ray a replacement passport.
A short stake-out at the bottom of the hotel grounds got Pale-billed Woodpecker for Ray, whilst I was in our room, inconsolable.
As a strange footnote and a testament to Costa Rican honesty, we received a phone call saying that a local farmer's daughter had discovered "a lot of documents" dumped in their sugar-cane field. The police were good enough to accompany us into the back of beyond, 30km distant, during the hours of darkness and we took return of our flight tickets and the 2 stolen field-guides, but all things of saleable value were still missing - including the most valuable of all, our photographs. Still, we are heavily indebted to the wonderfully honest family for those things we did get back.
15th March 2007
I really wasn't in the mood for keeping my eyes out for birds on the long journey back to San Jose, but a 2-toed Sloth on roadside telegraph wires did it's best to provide a somewhat bizarre diversion.
Further down the road, I began to stir from my slumbers and felt something akin to being tickled on my left arm. I don't know what made me look, ordinarily I would have just swatted the offending annoyance away. But look, I did. "Jon, please stop the car NOW" was my urgent request. There, crawling down my forearm onto my lap, was a 4" long scorpion! To say panic ensued would be something of an understatement as we temporarily forgot the previous days' disaster! Fortunately, I managed to get the door open and flick the scorpion out of the car (it had reached my groin by this stage!).
Nothing special happened for the rest of the morning and it wasn't until after 2pm that we got away from the consulate but had to return the following day to collect Ray's replacement passport. A short walk in the hills just east of San Jose, added a pair of Flame-coloured Tanagers and a flock of fly-over Sulphur-winged Parakeets. But, to be honest, I just wanted to go home.
16th March 2007
As this would be our last morning's birding, we headed out before first light and returned to the scene of one of our favourite sites - the approach 'road' to La Selva. We spent a fabulous 2? hours walking back and forth along this amazing 1km stretch and added Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Grey-necked Wood-rail, Grey-headed Kite, White-collared Swift, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Plain-coloured Tanager, Black-faced Grosbeak and Semi-plumbeous Hawk. I managed to catch up with Red-lored parrot and the boys finally caught up with Blue-ground Dove.
17th March 2007
Just a short P-BW was done by Ray and I before leaving for the airport and we finally identified the parrots from two weeks ago as Crimson-fronted Parakeet. We the endured the 32-hour journey (including delays) back to the UK and the Isle of Man.
So that was it, a marvellous holiday with some stunning birding, scenery and wildlife that was marred right at the very end by the loss of our equipment (fully insured) and over 7,000 photographs (irreplaceable). We had seen in excess of 290 species, 250+ of which were new for me. Top bird highlights were the Spectacled Owl at Carara (apparently), Snowcaps at Rancho Naturalista, Black & White Owls in Orotina, The 3-Wattled Bellbird at Selvatura and the Laughing Falcon at La Selva. Non-bird highlights were Arenal Volcano, Eyelash pit-viper and Blue-jeans Frog at La Selva and the stunning cloud forest reserve of Santa Elena.
So, in hindsight, would we change anything?
I think the itinerary was mostly fine as it was and that it was just circumstances that were against us. Perhaps Arenal could have been done as a day trip or just as a single o/night stay as there didn't appear to be the quality birding sites up there and we could then have gone on to, say, Cano Negro on the Nicaraguan border and mopped-up some of the water birds we missed. Certainly the flexibility of booking our hotels as we went was a Godsend when you take into consideration the problems encountered with missing luggage and the theft. We effectively lost 2? days birding because of the theft and had to miss out on Selva Verde because of the missing luggage.
The full list of birds seen and the sites they were recorded at can be downloaded as a Pdf. file at http://www.homepages.mcb.net/wormwell/costa_rica_trip_report.htm
Mammals seen: Tayra, White-faced Coati, Collared Peccari, Olingo, 2-Toed Sloth, Leaf-nosed Bat.