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Posts Tagged ‘Costa Rica’

After breakfast and a little birding around Guayabo Lodge on the morning of December 12, we headed up a steep and mostly unpaved road towards Irazu Volcano.  We hoped to get a view down into the volcano crater and also see some high-elevation birds.  But when we reached the entrance to the national park, the cloud cover was so thick that we could barely see the road.  It didn’t make sense to spend time there, so we slowly started towards Savegre Hotel Natural Reserve & Spa in the Savegre Valley.

After a couple of quick stops for birding along the way, we arrived at our hotel mid-afternoon.  We were thrilled to see two Long-tailed Silky-flycatchers before we even checked in.

Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher

Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher

The accommodations on this trip were all excellent with Savegre Hotel being the best.  The only other place I’ve ever stayed on a birding trip that was as nice was Tiger Camp in India.  I quickly got settled in my room and then went out to meet Paul for a little pre-dinner birding.

Within minutes I had another life bird right outside my room, a Slaty Flowerpiercer.  These birds live on a diet of insects and nectar.  A flowerpiercer will perch on a branch or flower stalk and pierce the base of the flower with its hooked bill.  It then extracts the flower’s nectar with its tongue.  The bird “cheats” by obtaining sweet nectar without providing any pollination services to the plant.

Slaty Flowerpiercer

Slaty Flowerpiercer

After a wonderful dinner at the hotel restaurant, we headed back towards our rooms.  We were stopped in our tracks when we saw this gorgeous snake right in front of us.  Paul immediately knew that it was something rare and special, but all of us could see that it was incredibly beautiful.  After taking a few photos, I went on to my room.  Later I learned that it was rare and special indeed – a Talamancan Palm-pitviper which was just discovered in 2016.

Talamancan palm-pitviper, Bothriechis nubestris

Talamancan palm-pitviper, Bothriechis nubestris

The following morning we met our guide, Marino, shortly after 5:00 AM to look for Resplendent Quetzal.  We slowly drove down the road from the lodge and soon saw a large crowd.  Many cars were parked on the side of the road and birders were watching the trees with binoculars, scopes, and cameras.  Knowing that they must be watching a quetzal, we parked, too, and soon saw our target bird in the trees.  Marino had me follow him as he quickly moved from one spot to another to get the best views.  Over the next few minutes we saw a total of three Resplendent Quetzals – a very exciting start to the day.

We saw many birds with Marino that morning.  Some of my favorites were the Golden-browed Chlorophonias we watched in a little apple orchard.  We had good looks with the scope, but I wanted to get closer, so Marino climbed up the hill with me – carrying a heavy scope – and made sure that I got good looks and photos of the birds.

Golden-browed Chlorophonia

Golden-browed Chlorophonia

We also saw a Scintillant Hummingbird on her nest, Sulphur-winged Parakeets, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Black-faced Solitaire, and too many others to list. The hotel grounds were beautiful and included this lovely pond and garden.

Garden at Savegre Hotel

Garden at Savegre Hotel

Lunch was at the famous Miriam’s Restaurant, a favorite with birders because of the amazing feeders behind the deck in addition to excellent food (especially the fresh mountain trout, which I had both days we ate there).  The next four photos were all taken at Miriam’s that day.

Scintillant Hummingbird

Scintillant Hummingbird

 

Flame-colored Tanager

Flame-colored Tanager

 

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

I counted six Acorn Woodpeckers at Miriam’s that day and could easily have missed some.  Everyone enjoyed watching these colorful woodpeckers with the clown face, but what really attracted attention was this little Hairy Woodpecker.  It appeared much smaller and darker than the birds we see at home.  There are 17 subspecies of Hairy Woodpecker with significant variation across their wide geographic range.

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Next we went to Batsu Gardens, a favorite spot for photographers.  I shot the Silver-throated Tanager below at the area set up for photos.

Silver-throated Tanager

Silver-throated Tanager

I also photographed this Tennessee Warbler at that spot.  Although it’s a familiar bird that I see at home, this may be my favorite photo of the entire trip.

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tufted Flycatcher was one of the life birds that I got at Batsu Gardens.  There were two individuals and they could not have been more cooperative as they returned to their favorite perches time and again after sallying out for insects.

Tufted Flycatcher

Tufted Flycatcher

On our final full day, we started by heading to the mountain at the top of Savegre Valley, Cerro de la Muerte (“Hill of Death”).  Several species of birds can only be found in the paramo at the top above the tree line.  And, most of those birds are skulty and challenging to see, especially for me with my crappy vision.  So, I missed a couple of species, but with persistence and Paul’s help, I did finally get a look at a Peg-billed Finch.  No one has ever worked harder than Paul did to help me see difficult birds.  The Volcano Juncos were more numerous and cooperative.

Volcano Junco

Volcano Junco

It was back to Miriam’s for another fabulous trout lunch and more time at the magic feeders.

Talamanca Hummingbird

Talamanca Hummingbird

This afternoon we had two toucanets, one of my favorite birds.

Northern Emerald-Toucanet

Northern Emerald-Toucanet

The Yellow-thighed Brushfinch kindly showed off his thighs!

Yellow-thighed Brushfinch

Yellow-thighed Brushfinch

The most exciting moment was when a breathtaking male Resplendent Quetzal few in to the trees behind the feeder area.  We shared this wonderful experience with a few other birders who were there.  I enjoyed talking with Mike Canzoneri, an American living in Costa Rica, and I was standing beside him when we saw the quetzal.  Mike generously shared the photo that he took that afternoon and gave me his permission to use it in this post.

Resplendent Quetzal. Photo by Mike Canzoneri.

Resplendent Quetzal. Photo by Mike Canzoneri.

I could have stayed at Miriam’s forever, so when the others left to go shopping at a local indigenous craft store, I stayed for more birds.  I saw a few that I had not seen the previous day and also enjoyed better looks at some of the same birds.  You can actually see the big feet on the Large-footed Finch in this photo.

Large-footed Finch

Large-footed Finch

Finally, I had to say goodbye to Miriam’s and we started back to the hotel. We made a stop at another craft store; Paul and I birded instead of shopping.  We were rewarded with great looks at two Spangle-cheeked Tanagers, a bird that I had missed earlier and very much wanted to see.  This species can only be found in Costa Rica and western Panama.

Spangle-cheeked Tanager

Spangle-cheeked Tanager

The next morning, December 15, it was time to head to the airport for our flights home.  What a trip!  Incredible scenery, birds, snakes and other wildlife, wonderful food and lodging, and excellent guiding – the Epic Nature Tours trip led by Paul and Amanda was a wonderful success.  I can’t wait to go back again!

Left to Right: Paul, Amanda, "Resplendent Quetzal", Diane, Shelley

Left to Right: Paul, Amanda, “Resplendent Quetzal”, Diane, Shelley

More of my photos can be seen in eBird Costa Rica 2019:

 

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On December 9, we left our little spot of paradise on the Caribbean coast and started towards Yorkin where we would spend the night in the Bribri indigenous village, which can be reached only by boat.  We traveled up the Yorkin River in a long wooden dugout canoe with a motor assist piloted by Bribri men who were highly skilled in navigating the fast-flowing river.  It took about an hour for the travel up the rock-filled Yorkin River which runs along the border with Panama.

Traveling up the Yorkin River

Traveling up the Yorkin River

After we climbed up the riverbank trail, we were immersed in the culture of the Bribri people.  We would not have Internet or electricity for our nearly 24 hours there.  But, those things were not missed at all as we explored the grounds, ate simple meals, and learned all about chocolate and how to process it into an edible form.  The best part of the chocolate demonstration was the taste-testing at the end – absolutely delicious!  

Our home for the night

Our home for the night

The Bribri support their village mostly by farming bananas and cocoa, but they have also begun allowing visitors.  The added income from tourism is helping the village to be self-sufficient and maintain their traditional way of living.  

I particularly enjoyed the “pets” of the Bribri village – a Crested Guan and several parrots.  The guan was quite bold and even came into the thatched huts, where he was promptly shooed outside.

Crested Guan

Crested Guan

The parrots were quite tame and allowed me to get close for photos.

Red-lored Parrot

Red-lored Parrot

Crimson-fronted Parakeet

Crimson-fronted Parakeet

Birding was not our main reason for visiting the Bribri village, but we did see birds. Perhaps most exciting were two Short-tailed Nighthawks flying around just before dark.  The time went quickly and after breakfast and a little birding around the village the next morning, it was time to head back to civilization.

The beautiful Yorkin River

The beautiful Yorkin River

On the way back, the boat suddenly stopped and the boatman pulled us over to one side of the river.  None of us had noticed it, but the sharp-eyed Bribri man had spied a Gray Hawk in a tree on the side of the river and he knew that we would want to see it.

Gray Hawk

Gray Hawk

The afternoon brought our drive to Turrialba with a pleasant stop for lunch at Restaurante Mirador Sitio de Angostura where we had a nice meal and saw a few birds including the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and the Common Today-Flycatcher below. 

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

 

Common Today-Flycatcher

Common Today-Flycatcher

Later that afternoon, we arrived at Guayabo Lodge, where we would spend the next two nights.  The lodge was inviting and comfortable and the gardens surrounding it were beautiful and birdy.  I loved mornings at the lodge; we had coffee on the veranda while we watched birds.  The day after our arrival, we went to Guayabo National Monument.  My favorite bird of the morning was a female Golden-olive Woodpecker working on a nest.

Golden-olive Woodpecker (female)

Golden-olive Woodpecker (female)

That afternoon back at the lodge was one of my favorite times of the entire trip.  We casually birded the hotel grounds, sometimes together and sometimes drifting apart.  I enjoyed close-up looks at common birds like Great Kiskadee, Social Flycatcher, and Rufous-collared Sparrow as well as the less familiar Melodious Blackbird, Brown Jay, and Scarlet-rumped Tanager – all of which came to the fruit feeders.  One of my favorite birds that came to the feeder was this Barred Antshrike.

Barred Antshrike

Barred Antshrike

The Mistletoe Tyrannulet did not come to the feeders, but it was quite cooperative and I was happy to get my best looks ever at this species.

Mistletoe Tyrannulet

Mistletoe Tyrannulet

I was enjoying watching and photographing these accommodating birds so much that I stayed in the gardens when the others went for a hike to a nearby waterfall.  Suddenly, Paul came running back and breathlessly said, “Come quick, we’ve got a Laughing Falcon.”  Paul and I ran as fast as we could for the 200 or so meters back to where Amanda was still watching and photographing the falcon.  It was closer than any of us had ever dreamed we would see one.  It continued to stay a while longer, moving its head and looking around, but otherwise appearing relaxed.  We were all thrilled to see this gorgeous bird so close.

Laughing Falcon

Laughing Falcon

I fell asleep that night listening to a Common Pauraque calling outside my hotel window.  It was the perfect ending to a wonderful day.

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Resplendent Quetzal is the species that most birders want to see on their first trip to Costa Rica.  And, why not?  It’s a gorgeous bird, among the most beautiful in the world.  But, I optimistically assumed that we would see the quetzal and put Sunbittern at the top of my most-wanted list.  It’s also an amazing bird which I had hoped to see in Panama in 2017, but the birding gods had not favored me with a sighting.  I won’t keep you in suspense – I was fortunate to see both the quetzal and the Sunbittern.  But, let’s start at the beginning.

Resplendent Quetzal

Resplendent Quetzal

I was not actively looking for a trip last fall, but Costa Rica had been on my mind.  When the Carolina Bird Club announced a trip with Amanda and Paul Laurent of Epic Nature Tours, I almost ignored it.  But, I didn’t ignore it; I called to ask about the trip.  Amanda told me that due to quirks of scheduling only one couple was signed up, but they would run the trip regardless of the number of participants.  Because of poor vision, I struggle in large groups, so I quickly decided that this was a unique opportunity.  It would be worth the stress of squeezing it into my schedule between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I flew to San Jose on December 4.  Paul and Amanda met me and the other participants, Diane and Gary, at the airport and whisked us off for a meal before checking into our hotel.  Our first new birds were right in the hotel parking lot – Hoffmann’s Woodpecker and a cute little Rufous-naped Wren.

Rufous-naped Wren

Rufous-naped Wren

The following morning we were on our way towards Manzanillo on the Caribbean coast where we would spend the next four nights.  We arrived at Congo Bongo Ecolodge mid-afternoon after several birding stops and lunch along our drive from San Jose.  The lodge has nice trails, including one that leads right to the beach, where we headed after settling in our rooms.  It was a lovely spot and it had birds, including my most-wanted shorebird, Collared Plover, a life bird for me.

Collared Plover

Collared Plover

December isn’t officially the rainy season, but it rained anyway.  Paul and Amanda were quick to adjust our schedule day by day and it didn’t feel like we missed a thing.  The lodge was so lovely that I think we all actually enjoyed having a little more time there due to a couple of rainy mornings.

Amanda making breakfast for us in our open-air kitchen

Amanda making breakfast for us in our open-air kitchen

Our bedrooms were at each end of the house and the kitchen, an eating area, and hammocks were in the large open-air middle part.  Even without nets, we had no bugs.  It was truly a tropical paradise!

The patio on the other side of our house

The patio on the other side of our house

Eyelash Viper

Eyelash Viper

On our first full day we went to Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge.  We saw birds, but the highlight was an Eyelash Viper, which gets its name from the enlarged scales over its eyes.

Eyelash Vipers are one of the smallest venomous species in Central America, reaching only 22-32 inches (females are larger than males).  These nocturnal pit vipers live in trees and palms and are not usually aggressive towards humans unless threatened.  They come in a wide variety of colors; ours was a beautiful yellow/gold.

Also in yellow was this Gray-capped Flycatcher, another life bird for me, that we saw on one of our stops near Manzanillo.

Gray-capped Flycatcher

Gray-capped Flycatcher

The next day we spent the morning kayaking on the Punta Uva River.  The river was beautiful with thick vegetation of both sides and we saw quite a bit of wildlife.

Black River Turtles

Black River Turtles

I photographed this caiman on our journey up the river.  Later, when we passed by again on our way back, it didn’t appear as if it had moved an inch.

Spectacled Caiman

Spectacled Caiman

We paddled as far upriver as it was passable, and then Paul and Abel, our local guide, knowing how much I wanted to see a Sunbittern, walked a ways into the rainforest with me following a small stream in hopes of finding our target bird.  This location was the only one in our itinerary where we had a realistic chance of finding the sought-after bird so we wanted to try as hard as possible to find one.  Our quest was unsuccessful, so we abandoned our hopes and started back down the river.  We paddled a short distance and then suddenly, magically, two Sunbitterns appeared right in front of us!

Sunbittern

Sunbittern

That afternoon we visited the Ara Project, now Ara Manzanillo, a conservation initiative working to save the endangered Great Green Macaw from extinction.  We were thrilled to watch 35 to 40 macaws enjoy their afternoon feeding.

Great Green Macaws

Great Green Macaws

On our last full day on the Caribbean Coast, we had a long 7-hour walk at Cahuita National Park.  Like other areas near the coast, the park was teeming with wildlife.  We saw so many “lizards” that I couldn’t keep up with all of them.  This Emerald Basilisk was especially accommodating about a photo op.

Emerald Basilisk

Emerald Basilisk

One of my favorite creatures was this big gorgeous spider.  This one, Orange Rusty Wandering Spider, is harmless, but it is sometimes confused with Brazilian Wandering Spider, the world’s most toxic and dangerous spider.  Fortunately, Paul is not only an expert birder, but also an expert on spiders, snakes, and lizards.

Orange Rusty Wandering Spider, Cupiennius getazi

Orange Rusty Wandering Spider, Cupiennius getazi

There were pretty flowers in the rainforest, too.

Swamp Lily, Crinum erubescens

Swamp Lily, Crinum erubescens

And, of course, we saw birds.  The avian highlight for me was an American Pygmy Kingfisher.  The others had a brief look at one, but I missed it.  Abel patiently waited with me for the bird to reappear while the rest of our group walked on.  We were rewarded with an extremely cooperative female who put on quite a show for us flying back and forth, but also sitting still for photos.

American Pygmy Kingfisher

American Pygmy Kingfisher

Near the end of our walk, we encountered a large group of white-faced Capuchin monkeys.  Capuchins are highly intelligent animals known for their ability to use tools.  The only other primates that use tools are chimpanzees and orangutans (and humans, of course).  Fascinated, we watched for quite a while, especially enjoying the young monkeys playing, but the little ones didn’t hold still for photos.

White-faced Capuchin Monkey

White-faced Capuchin Monkey

We had a quick stop on our way back to the lodge for a Northern Jacana on the side of the road and then our wonderful day was done except for dinner. This was also the end of our time on the Caribbean coast as we would check out of Congo Bongo and head to the Bribri indigenous community in the morning.

Our group (minus Amanda). Left to right: Gary, Abel, Paul, Shelley, Diane.

Our group (minus Amanda). Left to right: Gary, Abel, Paul, Shelley, Diane.

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