I had the opportunity to visit Costa Rica (for the fourth time) July 22 through August 2, 2012. The following is a synopsis of the trip and highlights from the various locations I visited.
This was my first trip to Costa Rica during the “wet” season, my previous three have all been during the U.S. winter. To be honest, this was the driest trip I have every taken to Costa Rica although it rained every day I was there, the rain was more predictable and short-lived. During other visits to the tropics (see my other trip reports), there were many more extended periods of heavy rain lasting for a day or more (in the case of Panama, for nearly a week). So in short, the weather was absolutely delightful, saw the sun every day and other than the steamy Caribbean slope and a sunny afternoon in the Pacific lowlands the weather was absolutely fantastic (for the tropics).
This trip was intended to be and intense, focused photographing session and I tried to mix in as many varied locations as possible during my 10 days of actual field time to give me as wide a variety of subjects as possible. I visited four main areas and then sub-areas within several of those locations including:
1) Pacific highlands – cloud forest and volcano environments – I stayed at Bosque de Paz for the first four nights and had several excursions into the field from there including the Poas Volcano, La Paz Waterfall Gardens, and Pacific mid-elevation regions.
2) Gulf of Nicoya area including Palo Verde National Park (Northern Pacific lowlands are a unique region in Costa Rica).
3) Pacific lowlands – Mainly Carara National Park and “Waterfall Road”
4) Caribbean slope and lowland area at La Selva Biological Research Station.
A rough map of the trip itinerary is shown below…
Map key: A) San Jose International Airport - B) Bosque de Paz area - C) La Paz Waterfall Garden area -
D) Poas Volcano area - E) Palo Verde National Park area - F) Carara National Park area - G) La Selva Biological Institute area
July 22, 2012 – Today was a travel day, I left San Diego at 9:50 AM and arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica on time at 7:00 PM with a short layover in Dallas. Even though it was a full day of travel, it felt great to be out and Beyond The Office Door. I picked up my Hertz rental car and checked in to the Airport Holiday Inn Express at the desk by the nice reception furniture around 9:00 PM, reorganized a bit for the upcoming days and hit the sack, anxious for the adventure to begin!
July 23, 2012 – The plan today was to drive toward Bosque de Paz, birding along the way and then drive to the Poas Volcano area with a stop at Virgin del Socorro if time permitted, then back to Bosque de Paz to spend the next four nights. After using the reception furniture to quickly go over my plans, I left the Holiday Inn at the airport just as dawn was breaking, a beautiful Costa Rica morning with a mixture of blue sky and puffy white clouds hanging over the mountains. The temperature was in the high 60's as I made my way through the heavy morning traffic, moving away from the cities and toward the foothills, passing through Naranja on my way to Zarcero. Several flocks of noisy parrots could be heard on my way up the side of the mountains toward Zarcero. Once again I spent the (well-worth-it) money for the GPS navigation system which has yet to fail me in Costa Rica. When you compare the accuracy of the system to the quality of maps that are available it's a "no-brainer" to cough up the extra $10 a day, the level of stress and aggravation (in particular if you attempt to navigate through San Jose proper) is reduced exponentially! Get it if you are planning on doing a lot of driving in Costa Rica!!!
Zarcero, Costa Rica, on way to Bosque de Paz
Road leading to Bosque de Paz
Ruddy Pigeons on road to Bosque de Paz
My first "stop" of the morning came near the bottom of the paved road that leads to Bosque de Paz, just before it turns to a dirt road I ran into a large, mixed flock of birds. In typical tropical fashion there were many species moving all over the place and at different levels of the forest. The first time you experience a large, mixed flock in the tropics you will probably end up with a headache, whiplash and in utter frustration. If you are foolish enough to attempt photography as well... certainly not for the sane... then you are really in trouble! First, 90 percent of the time, you will be working in less than optimum conditions. Poor light, dark shadows, bright back-light, mist, rain, fog or even bright sunshine (and usually multiple combinations of all of the above) will all make you feel totally inept as a photographer and you will end up with a bunch of either totally blurred pictures of some brown thing moving between some green things... or a very black silhouette of an unidentifiable bird high up in the branches. IT IS FUN! Keep telling yourself that (and if you have valium or Xanax or some other sedatives, it really helps!)... Actually, what you need to do (as some coach long ago kept telling me) is to breathe through your nose... The fact is that usually the birds do stay around the general area for a while and you will usually get to see your fair share of the species flittering through the canopy. I tell you all this because regardless of the number of times you experience it, the excitement level and adrenaline rush of the first flock after you have been away for a while is always exhilarating...
This morning, the flock was very large and lasted for almost one and a half hours in a two or three hundred meter radius. I did have to walk up and down the hill a bit but there were always several species of birds flittering about feeding on the insects. You will also note after you have experienced this a few times is that there are usually at least one if not several birds that seem to be calling cadence and while you hear these birds, you know that the flock is still around. There are books on the subject actually but I just know that you usually hear a bird calling over and over again while this flock is in a feeding frenzy. This morning was a particularly good flock and I totally sucked for the first half an hour at getting any decent pictures. There were several species of Woodcreepers, Foliage-gleaners, Woodpeckers, many of the native (non-migrating) Warblers (Tropical Parula, Three-striped Warbler, Black-cheeked Warbler, Slate-throated Redstart, Golden-crowned), Yellow-thighed Finch, Barred Becard, Tody Flycatcher, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Spotted Barbtail, an Orange-bellied Trogon and even a couple of hummingbirds mixed in... A few pictures that did come out are below.
Young Yellow-thighed Finch
After the flock dispersed, I continued on my journey wanting to end up at Poas Volcano. I had mapped out a route that would take me up the back side of the Volcano through the Cinchona area, past La Paz Waterfall Gardens and then on to the volcano, mainly on route 126 which climbs high into the mountains. In 2009 the area was devastated by an earthquake, over 30 people were killed in huge landslides and many more went missing. I had researched an area in the book “A Bird Finding Guide to Costa Rica” by Barrett Lawson that was of great interest as there were supposed to be many Caribbean slope high-mountain specialties in the area, unfortunately, after being unable to find the road to Virgin del Socorro mentioned in the book, I discovered that the entire area had been basically scoured clean by the earthquake and landslides. While the road was in good condition with the exception of the ever-present large pot-holes, it was quite evident driving through this area that the damage from the 2009 quake had been quite significant! A short note on the book in case you are interested in it... While I did find it useful in general for looking for specific areas and specific birds and some of the maps were useful once you got to a general area, the book is already outdated, several of the areas have changed (such as above) or access is now limited so you cannot depend on this book alone if you are using it to plan a trip to Costa Rica for bird watching. Also, I found the layout cumbersome when trying to find a particular area as it's divided by elevations/habitat as opposed to geography so you may have to flip to three different sections when driving up the same mountain road to find areas described.
I found a few subjects to take images of along the way and arrived at my destination, the Poas Volcano a little before noon.
Waterfall on way to La Paz Waterfall Gardens
One of several waterfalls visible from the road on highway 126 as it winds through the back side of Poas Volcano
I was surprised to see forty or so cars in the parking area for the volcano, it being a Monday and “off season” but soon learned that because the weather was so exceptional today, many people made the trek up to the volcano to view it on a beautiful, blue-sky, sunny mid-day. Apparently it’s rare to see the volcano not shrouded in mist and clouds but today was clear and cool at 8,500 feet.
While I would not say that the area was exceptionally “hopping” with birds, it was quite successful for me as I rapidly added several new “lifers”, all high-mountain specialists found only at these elevations and mainly on volcanos as they tend to be the highest peaks in the country.
In a brief amount of time I added Volcano Hummingbird, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Sooty Thrush, Peg-billed Finch and the aptly named Large-footed Finch to my list along with some other more familiar species such as Black Guan, Slaty Flowerpiercer and Fiery-throated Hummingbird.
I walked most of the trail system stopping for unbelievable views of the volcano which is still active by the way and probably a contributing cause to the great earthquake three years ago. I left the area around 2 PM heading for my final destination for the day, the Bosque de Paz lodge.
Looking down into the Poas Volcano crater. I am standing at 8,500 feet where this picture was taken, you can see some clouds rolling in from the south but it was absolutely clear and cool while I was up there
Slaty Flowerpiercer - a very interesting specialist. They, like the hummingbirds, eat nectar from flowers but unlike hummingbirds, their beaks are specially adapted to pierce the flower and lap up the nectar, you can see this male at work in the picture above.
I arrived at Bosque de Paz late in the afternoon and after checking in had just enough time to walk around the gardens and see a few familiar birds. As is always the case in the tropics, night came quickly as the sun passed behind the mountains and it was time for an excellent dinner and then rest before resuming early in the morning.
As I have mentioned in past reports, I highly recommend Bosque de Paz if you are staying any length of time in Costa Rica. It’s out of the way, the service and staff are excellent, the food is excellent and the wildlife is unique and fantastic! Here’s a link to Bosque de Paz for more information on their operation.
Central American Agouti
Purple-throated Mountain-gem (female)
Purple-throated Mountain-gem (male)
Paca - these large rodents, reaching 20 pounds or more are rarely seen outside of nature reserves as they are hunted and highly prized for food...
I ran into this Virgina Opossum while doing a quick search for frogs afer dinner...
July 24, 2012 - I woke before sunrise to a downpour which limited the early morning activity so I watched the activity from the viewing area (pictured below) and then had a great early morning breakfast as the rain began to ease. I was the only person staying at the lodge for my entire visit so the usual great service here was even better, it’s really an interesting feeling to be in an isolated area like this and the only one around other than the staff, I had the entire area all to myself! Right after breakfast one of the staff pointed out that an American Dipper had just appeared in the small stream that flows right by the dining room and I was soon taking tons of images of this amazing bird. I have seen American Dippers before but always at a great distance, this one allowed close approach and I watched it as it hunted for insects UNDER the water. That’s the Dipper’s claim to fame, they are stream specialists and actually dive under the water to catch insects.
Rainy start to the day...
Bosque de Paz, looking out from the viewing area to several of the hummingbird feeders
Bosque de Paz - covered viewing and social area, a great place to watch the wildlife go by...
The weather was now more on-again, off-again rain and in between I was starting to photograph some of the species I have become familiar with here. The weather changes here very quickly and one minute it can look like you should start building an ark and the next, there is puffy clouds and blue sky but eventually, just about every day, you will end up with a period of misty conditions like being inside a cloud, which is probably why it’s called a cloud forest… The usual small group of Central-American Agoutis were feeding on the cracked corn that is put out every morning to attract seed-eating birds. Among the birds seen at close range were Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, Yellow-thighed Finch, Pale-vented Pigeon, Black Guan, Chestnut-collared Sparrow, Scintillant Hummingbird, Green-crowned Brilliant, Magnificent Hummingbird, Black-bellied Hummingbird, Purple-throated Mountain-gem, Violet Sabrewing and a new on for me, Green Violet-ear!
Even the Agoutis seemed to be unhappy with the rain...
I took a brief hike up one of the trails that leads off from the lodge and only 100 meters or so up the trail I ran into a nice Orange-bellied Trogon sitting silently in the rain. I was able to get a few good images of him even in the poor light conditions. I spent most of the day dodging rain showers and wind which made it a bit hazardous to hike around in the deeper rain forest as the trees have a proclivity for shedding large branches laden heavily with bromeliads during heavy wind conditions. The other highlight of the day was some good views of a Chestnut-headed Oropendola that was foraging along a stream. Apparently they are rarely seen in this area and I was able to document its presence with several photographs. A bit of a slow day but still a good one, I also found an Olive Treefrog on the walkway to my room after dinner.
Female Barred Becard
July 25, 2012 - Dawn broke to beautiful blue skies with puffy white clouds and I took the first of many hikes about 1-2km up the road from Bosque de Paz before breakfast. This area would turn out to be the most productive area for birds over the next couple of days and I took several long walks up the steep road running into many mixed flocks and some good birds. The lodge at Bosque de Paz sits in a valley at about 4,500 feet in elevation but the mountains surrounding it rise significantly higher, the road rises at least another 2,000 feet I’d say at the top and the steep road that takes you down into the valley is often very productive for birds working up and down the slope. This is the same area that I saw my first Resplendent Quetzal in 2009. After breakfast I went on a search for a family of Spectacled Owls that were recently sighted about 1.5km from the lodge, though I was able to find the exact spot due to excellent directions for the lodge staff, I was unable to locate the owls... however, the rain was able to locate me! Remember that I mentioned that the weather can change quickly here? Well, today it did. I a matter of ten minutes it went from sunny and steamy to a tropical deluge that lasted for about three hours. I got drenched, I took a very hard fall in slippery conditions, but I was also prepared and was able to keep all of my equipment reasonably dry. On my way back to the lodge I also ran right into a small family of Collared Peccaries which scampered off for cover, all except one that is... We had a bit of a stare-down (photo below) that lasted for several minutes before he decided to find the rest of his crew. It was "interesting" to see who was going to flinch first but since he was blocking my way back to the lodge, I thought I'd just hold tight and see if I could wait it out, it worked, this time... Following are a few highlights from the day.
Trail leading to area where Spectacled Owls had been seen
July 26, 2012 - The morning again started out beautiful, clear and pleasant (which would really be the consistent theme for the remainder of the trip, a typical “wet season” weather pattern of clear skies in the morning with an afternoon build-up of thunderstorms and occasional deluges) and I took a pre-breakfast walk up the hill again and ran into pretty much the same species I had been seeing on the lower slopes: Speckle-cheeked Tanager, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, Black Guan, Yellowish Flycatcher, Barred Becard, Tropical Parula, Slate-throated Warbler, Black-cheeked Warbler, Three-striped Warbler, Brown Jay, Red-faced Spinetail, Mountain Elaenia, Clay-colored Thrush, Black Phoebe, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Torrent Tyrannulet, Spotted Barbtail, Hairy Woodpecker, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Blue-and-White Swallow, Purple-throated Mountain-gem and Gray-throated Wood-Wren were all present as I walked up the road. As I got a little higher on the mountain I also added nice views of Dark Pewee, Pale-vented Thrush and Golden-browed Chlorophonia to the mix.
After another great breakfast, I loaded up my car and took off down the road toward Toro Amarillo and eventually back to highway 126. The plan today was to visit the beautiful grounds at La Paz Waterfall Gardens mainly for hummingbird photography and then to leisurely make my way back through the lowlands and visiting the Bajos del Toro Waterfall park near Toro Amarillo on the way back to Bosque de Paz.
I arrived at La Paz Waterfall Gardens around 9:30 AM, after an uneventful drive and noted large thunderheads already building up over the Caribbean slope. I paid the very expensive (for Costa Rica anyway) $38 entrance fee and spent about two hours there photographing hummingbirds, there were many! Violet Sabrewing, Black-bellied Hummingbird, Coppery-headed Emerald, Green Thorntail (in huge numbers), Brown Violet-ear, Green Violet-ear, Green Hermit, Purple-throated Mountain-gem, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Magnificent Hummingbird, and Green-crowned Brilliant were all abundant. One or two Stripe-tailed Hummingbirds flittered around the gardens as well but seemed reluctant to come to the feeders. The place is sort of a zoo plus botanical park and I would personally not stop here at all if it were not for the great hummingbirds that you get, the gardens tend to get very packed with people more than willing to shell out the bucks and it’s got a very commercial flavor to it, sort of for people that want the tropics without actually getting dirty or too sweaty I guess… Highlights below:
Passerini's Tanager (female) from La Paz Waterfall Gardens
On my drive back toward the Bajos de Toro waterfall, I had several stops on raptors, the first two were well known to me as I found a pair of White-tailed Kites in a tree perched over a plowed field and a pair of high-flying Swallow-tailed Kites flying east over the valley. As I came to a long bridge that spans a deep river gorge and with a light mist starting to fall from approaching thunderstorms I spotted a new life bird sitting on a dead tree right next to the bridge, my first Laughing Falcon (and first of six that I would see on this trip!). Photo’s below:
I arrived at the Bajos del Toro Waterfall Park at about 2PM with loud thunder booming and imminent rain coming, paid my $10 entrance fee and started to walk along the trails. This was my first visit to this neat little park which provides you with absolutely breathtaking views of a huge waterfall and a trail that leads down to the bottom of the falls with many scenic vista views along the way (note: the condition of the viewing platforms which are set out over a very steep cliff seem to be in less than optimum condition, the metal supports all seem to be very rusted and in disrepair so if you go there, use some caution on these platforms, I don’t think they will last much longer).
There are numerous hummingbird feeders at this park and seemed quite active with a few different species than seen at Bosque de Paz, about 10 miles away. I would say that the elevation here is approximately 1,000 feet lower than Bosque de Paz which explains the difference in species. I added White-bellied Mountain-gem to my list here as well as seeing Black-bellied Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Green Thorntail, Magnificent Hummingbird and Green-crowned Brilliant. The habitat around the area looks fantastic and I would love to come back for an early-morning visit, the late afternoon was not terribly active and then it started to pour from the thunderstorm that had been following me pretty much for the last hour…
I waited the storm out under shelter for about thirty minutes before it let up and then decided to head back to the lodge as it was starting to get “late” with the sun quickly approaching its daily meeting with the mountain peaks to the west. Photos of the Bajos del Toro Waterfall below:
Rain forest view from the Bajos del Toro waterfall area
Bajos del Toro Waterfall
Many interesting tropical plants were found along the trails
I returned to Bosque de Paz following the thunderstorm that had drenched me earlier and the rest of the day was pretty much rained out so I took the opportunity to get packed and organized as I was leaving at 4:00 AM the next morning for the 3.5 hour drive northwest to Palo Verde National Park.
July 27, 2012 - I left Bosque de Paz at 4AM in dark, foggy and damp conditions, the first hour of my drive was quite challenging as I had to navigate a very steep and slick narrow mountain road in pea-soup thick fog with drizzle and a window that just wouldn’t de-frost no matter what I tried. As I reached to town of Zarcero just before 5 AM and with the first hints of dawn on the horizon the weather cleared slightly making it a little easier for me to drive. I worked my way down the mountain toward highway 1, and other than the extremely slow-moving trucks, driving became less and less of a concern. It is a long drive from Bosque de Paz to Palo Verde National Park. When I said 3.5 hours earlier, that’s actually just to the dirt road that takes you to the park proper, which is another 20 or so km from the main highway. However, once you are on the dirt road, there is plenty to see so I don’t count that as pure driving time.
A short word on driving in Costa Rica in case you haven’t done so yet… It’s not for the faint of heart, the major roads are in reasonably good condition however you do need to be on the lookout for car-swallowing pot-holes which seem to pop up from nowhere and also remember that being in the tropics, rain can be torrential and roads that were in great condition the day before can be totally destroy by a storm overnight. To me there are two things to be aware of, the first is that Tico drivers (Costa Ricans call themselves “Ticos”) are very aggressive and they love to pass! Pass, pass and pass again… I think it’s a sport and they must be good very judges of speed and distance because I have seen several instances where they have made it past a long line of cars with just inches to spare. I think this is a result of concern #2 which are the trucks, zillions of them, all heavily loaded and moving extremely slow or hauling-ass back as fast as they can to pick up another load. They cause huge backups in traffic on the typical single-lane roads. On my way to Palo Verde, I was almost taken-out by one such fast moving, empty truck that was trying to pass a bunch of fully loaded trucks I was following. I saw him in my rear view mirror as he started to pass a long line, as he was about broadside with me a large bus came around a blind curve not too far ahead and he decided it was a good idea to get back into the other lane, problem was, I was there, but that didn’t seem to deter him as he got closer and closer to me. I had to go off on the dirt shoulder (which luckily was there) and was headed right for a rather large tree that was along the side of the road. I was able to brake enough to swerve in right behind him but it was a little too close for me. You have to be alert driving in Costa Rica, AT ALL TIMES! Now, most of the time for me, I try to find the very least traveled roads for several reasons, not the least of which is that I am looking for wildlife but just be alert at all times!!!
I got to the turn off for Palo Verde National Park in the town of Bagaces around 8AM, the day was hot but not too humid and there were fast moving clouds and a nice breeze blowing making it a pleasant start to the day. I spent the next couple of hours slowly driving the dirt roads that lead to the park, some highlights below:
At some point I began to wonder if I would ever get to the park itself, there was abundant bird life all along the road, doves were everywhere and many new species for me as well. About 30 minutes into my drive I found the first “target” species of the morning, the Double-striped Thick-knee, a pair sitting and standing quietly in an overgrown field. I had already taken photos or seen Rufous-naped Wren (abundant and then some), Crested Bobwhite, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Common Ground-Dove, White-winged Dove, Orange-fronted Parakeet (lifer), Stripe-headed Sparrow (lifer), Groove-billed Ani (abundant), Hoffmann's Woodpecker, and more. Was a great start to the morning!
The area leading to Palo Verde National Park is a mixture of grasslands and agricultural fields
On road to Palo Verde National Park
After chasing a pair of Orange-chinned Parakeets around for way too long, I finally arrived at the entrance to Palo Verde National Park around 10:00 AM, but not without a little drama… As I was about to enter the park a beautiful Laughing Falcon landed on a utility pole right in front of my car and I instinctively slammed on the brakes, got out and started to take massive amounts of photos. The Falcon could have cared less and allowed very close approach as it scanned the area oblivious to my presence. After I was satisfied that I have enough good shots I walked back to my car. I should mention that I had not seen a single soul in the last hour, I was in a new area that I was completely unfamiliar with, there was absolutely no cell coverage, etc. in other words, I was in the middle of nowhere… Anyway, got back in the car to start the engine, NOTHING… Not a click, not a noise, nothing. I then noted that not only did the battery appear dead, there was absolutely no power at all which of course is not characteristic of a dead battery, in particular when the car had been running fine for the past five hours. There was no power at all. So, I did all I could think of to do and popped the hood. I started jiggling wires, etc. and all of a sudden the ding-ding-ding of the open door alert gave me hope! It turned out that the positive batter post of the battery was broken and when I slammed on the brakes, it moved enough to loose whatever contact it had with the cable. I played around with it a bit just to verify my findings and sure-enough, if I pushed the terminal and cable backwards toward the drivers compartment, everything would go dead, if I pushed it forward, everything came on. I basically found some stuff to jam the battery more securely into place and started the engine… Whew! I had to do this several more times during the trip, mainly on dirt roads when the car got bounced around a lot but the day was “saved” and I continued on the guarded entrance. From where I had been stopped, I couldn’t actually see that there were people not 300 yards ahead of me at the guard station that you pass through to enter the park, so some of my angst was in vein… I paid the $10 entrance fee at the guard station and continued on into the park.
Palo Verde National Park
There was an abundance of wildlife inside the park, not as much bird life as I would have liked to have seen but the day had grown hot and was quite sunny so I expected the birds to be a bit sedated. There were Collared Peccary everywhere and Northern Raccoons and lots of Black Spiny-tailed Iguanas including many juvenile ones still with their green coloration. You can easily tell the difference between a Spiny-tailed Iguana and their Green Iguana cousins even though the young look strikingly similar at first glance. As their name implies, Spiny-tailed Iguanas have spines that run down their tails, large ones, that you can see in the pictures below, Green Iguanas to not, even more dramatic is the large scale that is on the side of the Green Iguana’s head, right below the ear, it is absent on the Spiny-tailed Iguana.
I drove all the way thought the part to where the road ends at the Rio Tempisquea and then worked my way back the way I had come. I noted that the area was supposed to be flooded this time of the year, it being the "wet season" but it was pretty darn dry which probably was the reason that I saw very few of the water-related birds I was hoping to see. This area is supposed to one of the few places in Costa Rica where you have a shot at the Jabiru Stork, Snail Kite and Hook-billed Kite, but I saw none, nor did I see any potential areas where they may have been lurking. Here are a few more highlights:
Black Spiny-tailed Iguana
Black Spiny-tailed Iguana
Black Spiny-tailed Iguana
Black Spiny-tailed Iguana
As I was driving back out of the park, I was driving very slowly with all of my windows rolled down listening for potential wildlife and I heard a very loud call coming from the brush just to my left, pulled over and after much straining and searching I found a very nice Roadside Hawk calling and calling and calling. It was another raptor that could have cared less about my presence but sure was calling for something, either a mate or perhaps it was a juvenile looking for its parents to feed it, don’t know but it was sure cooperative. As I was about to get back into my car however, I heard another, strange sounding call from the bush directly in front of me and I walked over to investigate. I walked passed some scruffy looking brush and my eyes were met by the stare of the strange but impressive White-throated Magpie-Jay, another “target” species for me here. A lone individual, that seemed to be just as curious about me (or my camera lens) as I was about it. It actually came closer and closer checking me out, cocking its head from side-to-side to get a better view of this weird thing with a huge eye staring at it from the road… It stayed around for a minute or two before it either got bored or just had enough of me and flew away, its long tail swaying in the breeze as it took off slowly, like a large bomber to parts unknown…
The species list for my drive through the park was pretty good, everything I had hoped for and I got a lot of my “target” species to boot. I will certainly come back here on another trip and schedule more time but I had another three hour drive ahead of me to get to the Cerro Lodge in Tarcoles on the edge of Carara National Park and left Palo Verde at 3:00, back on the road again. Species seen in the park and surrounding areas included: Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Cattle Egret, Green Heron, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Roadside Hawk, Crested Caracara, Laughing Falcon, Crested Bobwhite, Northern Jacana, Double-striped Thick-Knee, Rock Pigeon, White-winged Dove, Common Ground-Dove, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Inca Dove, White-tipped Dove, Orange-fronted Parakeet, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Ringed Kingfisher, Hoffmann’s Woodpecker, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Gray-breasted Martin, Rufous-naped Wren, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, Variable Seedeater, Blue-black Grosbeak, Red-winged Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Streak-backed Oriole.
I made pretty decent time to my final destination for the day, arriving at the dirt road entrance to the Cerro Lodge at 5:00 PM, as the sun was getting low on the horizon and reflecting off the Gulf of Nicoya. As I drove the final 3km of my trip to the lodge there was one more surprise in store for me and another “target” species I had on my list. Almost as if it were a present from above, the most beautiful and impressive Turquoise-browed Motmot landed on a branch not 50 feet from my car as I was driving by and then just sat there as if to allow me the privilege of taking its picture! I saw a couple more of these cool birds on the trip but never got anywhere as close or with such good light as this one (below). After taking a few pictures it just flew off as if to say “enough” and I continued on to the lodge, checked in and called it a night after a very long (and productive) day!
July 28, 2012 – After getting a nice fish dinner last night at the Cerro Lodge and a good night’s sleep, I was up and at it before dawn. The Cerro lodge is a very nice, newer lodge situated on a hill close to the Tarcoles River and only a couple of miles from the main entrance to Carara, they seem to want to cater to eco-tourists and in particular birders. As an example, they will serve you a very early breakfast (which they did for me each of the three mornings I was there). This allowed me to get an early start and I was out the door and headed to the Carara area shortly after 6AM. This is an area that I am very familiar with and one of my favorites in Costa Rica. I would spend the better part of the next three days within a twenty or thirty mile radius of the hotel and see quite a number of great species. My plan for the morning was to first bird the “waterfall road” which is a dirt road that heads past the famous Hotel Villa Lapas and then up into the foothills to the west of Carara National Park headquarters. You actually skirt the park on this road for several miles and now can even go in to the park from a higher elevation on the “back side” which would be to the SW of the entrance (which I did on this trip). Today however, as stated, I was going to bird the road as I waited for the park to open at 8:00 AM by driving up waterfall road, stopping and walking several areas to see what I could see.
After birding the area for about an hour I made my way back to the park, paid my $10 entrance fee and then drove down to the “other” entrance which is close to the Tarcoles River. This area is much wetter than the trail system at the Park Headquarters and often has a wider variety of birds. When I arrived there a few minutes later and parked it soon became very evident that in contrast to Palo Verde which seemed exceedingly dry, Carara was quite wet! The trail system was basically flooded, a small group of what appeared to by exchange students or summer students were a few hundred meters down the trail digging deep trenches down the middle in an attempt to drain the train system I guess. There were a couple of problems with this, first, it didn’t seem to be doing any good and second, they were extremely noisy, yelling at each other (and seemed to be having a great time!), this didn’t help with the bird life which seemed to be non-existent but I trudged along anyway about another 4-500 meters before coming around a corner to a muddy, mucky swamp! There was no trail, just knee deep water and muck. I did not have my knee-high rubber boots (which is always a good idea to have) only my hiking boots and made a decision that since I a) had only seen three birds in the first 45 minutes here (albeit good birds – Black-faced Antthrush, Turquoise-browed Motmot and Gartered Trogon) and b) the fact that despite a ton of Deet on me, the mosquitoes were still swarming around me in mass droves, I decided to go back to the park headquarters and forego a trek into the mud, especially with all of my camera gear… So, I got back to the car, cleaned off my boots as best I could and drove back to the other park entrance to hike the trail system there.
As would turn out to be the case every day I was there, the rainforest areas at Carara within the park were exceptionally quiet, more so than I have ever experienced here (however I have always been here in the past during fall migration, never during the “wet season”). There also seemed to be way more people in the park than usual, bus loads in fact and there was never more than a two or three minute period before a noisy group of people would walk by, probably wondering why they didn’t see anything… For instance, a little group of Capuchin Monkeys had come down from the canopy not too far off the trail and I was watching them and trying to get a good shot when this group of about twelve people came up, talking very loudly and seemingly making as much noise as possible. Still the monkeys, while obviously concerned, continued to forage until one of the people in the group saw me looking at the monkeys and then saw one of the monkeys and then yelled, very loudly “MONKIEEEESSS” at which time the rest of the group lifted their heads up and way from (apparently) watching their feet move and the group sort of jogged-ran to my position. Well, the five or six Capuchins that were within twenty feet of me disappeared in about five nano-seconds! They are really FAST when they want to be, up to the top of the canopy and gone before you could count to three. About three of the people actually saw one of the monkeys… The others I am sure saw a branch or leaf moving or a brown blur…
After making sure I had spent enough time looking over the park, I headed back to waterfall road to spend the rest of the day there in a much more peaceful and relaxed environment. I had a good day seeing a variety of species along the road and on some side roads and trails, here are the highlights for the day:
Scarlet Macaws greeted my at sunrise at the Cerro Lodge every morning
Cinnamon Hummingbird's were plentiful at the lodge as well!
White-throated Capuchin seconds before being terrorized by a group of "nature lovers"
Blue-black Grassquit (female)
Road into "back-end" of Carara National Park
Flowers of some sort, blooming all over the place on one hillside...
View of the Pacific Ocean from waterfall road
Looking out over the Gulf of Nicoya from above Carara National Park (waterfall road)
Tarcoles River valley
At the very end of the day, I made a quick trip down to the beach by the mouth of the Tarcoles River, highlight being the Common Black-Hawk (used to be considered a separate species – Mangrove Black-Hawk) seen below. Here’s a list of birds seen during my adventures today: Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Great Egret, White Ibis, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Crane Hawk, Common Black-Hawk, White-winged Dove, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Ruddy Ground-Dove, White-tipped Dove, Scarlet Macaw, Orange-chinned Parakeet, White-crowned Parrot, Squirrel Cuckoo, Groove-billed Ani, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Black-headed Trogon, Gartered (Violaceous) Trogon, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Black-mandibled Toucan, Acorn Woodpecker, Hoffmann's Woodpecker, Black-hooded Antshrike, Black-faced Antthrush, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Streaked Flycatcher, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Black-crowned Tityra, Gray-breasted Martin, Rufous-naped Wren, Clay-colored Thrush, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Spot-crowned Euphonia, Blue-gray Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Blue-black Grassquit, Variable Seedeater, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Stripe-headed Sparrow, Buff-throated Saltator, Blue-black Grosbeak, Melodious Blackbird.
Common Black-Hawk (formerly Mangrove Black-Hawk)
July 29, 2012 – Today I spent the entire morning and early afternoon on the “waterfall road” area, I parked a several areas and then walked up and down the road searching for birds. Another relatively quiet day but still some good birds were to be found. In the early afternoon, I drove to Jaco as I needed to find an ATM to get some cash, this turned into a small adventure… The first two machines were out of order, the third was out of money… I finally found one at the far end of the town that worked and then, with some pretty threatening skies looming, decided to drive south about 10 km to the Playa Hermosa wildlife area. This area is a nesting site for Green Sea Turtles and there is research done there, sometimes there are good birds there as well. That pretty much took the rest of the day and I arrived back at the Cerro Lodge around 5:00, ready for dinner and some sleep. The highlights of the day follow:
Blue-black Grosbeak (female)
Juvenile Crested Caracara
Black Spiny-tailed Iguana
Juvenile Yellow-headed Caracara
Black Spiny-tailed Iguana
Scarlet Macaws again flew over the Cerro Lodge...
Today’s (7-29-12) bird list: Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Green Heron, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Crested Caracara, Yellow-headed Caracara, Laughing Falcon, Northern Jacana, White-winged Dove, Common Ground-Dove, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Inca Dove, White-tipped Dove, Scarlet Macaw, Orange-fronted Parakeet, Mealy Parrot, Squirrel Cuckoo, Groove-billed Ani, Blue-throated Goldentail, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Fiery-billed Aracari, Hoffmann's Woodpecker, Slaty Spinetail, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Black-hooded Antshrike, Greenish Elaenia, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Masked Tityra, White-winged Becard, Gray-breasted Martin, Rufous-naped Wren, Rufous-breasted Wren, House Wren, Scaly-breasted Wren, Clay-colored Thrush, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Brown Jay, Scrub Euphonia, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Gray-headed Tanager, White-shouldered Tanager, Cherrie's Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Blue-black Grassquit, Variable Seedeater, Orange-billed Sparrow, Stripe-headed Sparrow, Buff-throated Saltator, Blue-black Grosbeak, Eastern Meadowlark, Melodious Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle
July 30, 2012 – My last morning at Carara and then the plan was to drive to La Selva Biological Institute on the Caribbean side of the country, this would be my final stop for the trip and I was hoping would be much better than my last visit to the area last December when torrential rains dominated my stay. But that’s later, first I had another half-day on the Pacific slope and I decided to once again start at “waterfall road” and then would bird Carara National Park headquarters one last time before heading for La Selva. I had a check out time of noon at Cerro Lodge and left shortly after 6:00 AM to start the day.
The morning started out well with a nice Yellow-Green Vireo that actually let me take pictures of it, it was about the fourth one I have seen but these were my first pictures and as I walked up the road I startled a small group of Crested Guan that had apparently been foraging low on the slope, a good start to the day!
After that, only the “usual” species were seen on the lower elevations of the road and as 8:00 approached I headed over to the park headquarters to pay my entrance fee and walk around. After paying my fee and parking I noted that it was another busy morning at the park, there were small tour buses unloading passengers and a large group of high-school aged kids were also lining up, I liked them, about half of them had snake sticks! Anyway, I walked the main trail picking up one more new life-bird for me when a cool looking Wedge-billed Woodcreeper came swooping down from nowhere and landed on a tree just next to me.
That was the highlight of the morning, I left Carara behind around 11:00 and drove back to the Cerro Lodge to pick up my bags and settle my account and then started the long drive to La Selva just after noon.
This is where the GPS really paid off! I know one route by heart to La Selva but it is not by any means the shortest route so I let the GPS take over, it took me directly through the heart of San Jose, across three freeway changes, down one-way city streets jammed with cars and people and then all of a sudden, I was on a road heading up into the mountains on highway 32 through Braulio Carrillo National Park, over the peaks and down onto the Caribbean slope and was at La Selva Biological Institute at 2:00 PM. This presented another problem as I found out later that check-in was at 3:00 PM. You have to pass through two manned guard stations just to get to the check-in area of the institute; this was the only semi-bad experience I had as it relates to La Selva and mainly my problem, not theirs. The second guard did not speak a lick of English and my pigeon Spanglish was either not good enough for him or he really had no clue what I wanted. Finally after producing my paper documentation for my reservation, he directed be back to my car to sit and wait. I did, for one hour. Precisely at 3:00 PM he told me to proceed through his gate and down 500 meters to the check-in area.
I was a little bit surprised at the level of security but after being there for a couple of days understand it better now. There’s a lot of people coming and going and a lot of valuable equipment not to mention research going on there so they have to have a security protocol! Anyway, after that it was no-problema for the rest of my stay! I checked in, they informed me that my cabin was actually .6km away and that I had the option of leaving my car parked where it was and lugging my bags the .6k or I could exit the park and drive to a side entrance where I could park right next to the cabin… I of course took option 2 and was in my room by 3:15.
I will probably be very redundant in this section but WHAT A GREAT PLACE La Selva is! It is run by the Organization for Tropical Studies which in turn is directed by a consortium of over 60 Universities, here’s a brief description I took off the internet: The Organization for Tropical Studies is a network of ecological research stations created in Costa Rica in 1963. OTS is run by a non-profit consortium of 63 universities, based in the United States, Australia and Latin America . The corporate headquarters of OTS are at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina. OTS offers a variety of courses in Spanish and English for high school, university, and graduate students. Most of the coursework and research conducted at OTS stations focuses on tropical ecology, and the three research stations are located in distinct eco-zones.
I will elaborate more on the institute as I describe the remainder of my trip and stay here however, back to the trip report in general… I quickly unloaded my car, got my gear in order and started walking the .6km trail that lead from my cabin back to park headquarters (I would do this walk at least 12 times over the next two days and each time it was GREAT!). About 500 meters down the trail I ran into what could only be described as one of the most fantastic mixed flocks of tropical birds I have ever encountered, and it all started out with this:
The Great Curassow walked right out in front of me, perhaps 50 yards away and just walked back and forth and toward me, seemed to care less as I snapped pictures and then, just as quickly walked back into the dense rain forest and was gone. As I was standing there, totally stoked I noticed that the canopy was quite alive with birds and I was standing right in the middle of a quick moving flock. It was about 4 PM, already starting to see the effects of dusk as the shadows were growing longer and darker but birds were everywhere. There were Ant-Tanagers, Tityra, Becards, Trogons, Tanagers, Antshrike, Toucans, Flycatchers, Woodcreepers and Woodpeckers, Parrots and even a Manakin or two mixed in a solitary Gray-lined hawk was perched high overhead, seemingly watching the procession of birds move through as well. I started trying to get pictures and identify at the same time, had to stop and just start looking through the binoculars as the birds were moving fast. I followed the flock, taking pictures as I went as it moved away from me down the trail and then off the trail, some stragglers hung around for a while to allow me to get a few good shots but there was a large number of birds moving in all directions. Highlights below:
Passerini's Tanager (male)
Passerini's Tanager (females)
Gartered Trogon pair
Gartered Trogon (female)
Fasciated Antshrike (male)
Finally, the birds all left and I continued my walk to the headquarters and dining area, which is why I had walked this way to begin with. Food is served cafeteria style at La Selva and I was hungry… There were little families of Collared Peccaries all over the place, must have seen over one-hundred in the couple days I was here. I had a good dinner and then walked back to my cabin after dark, finding frogs along the way…
Collared Peccary and a persistent youngster...
Marine or Cane Toad
Large spider hanging at eye level on trail...
Smokey Jungle Frog
Spider eating a tadpole
The last bird of the night was this Common Pauraque that flittered around under the lights by my room. I sorted through my pictures and then hit the sack, excited to have a full day tomorrow to explore the area!
Bird list for 7-30-2012: Black Vulture, Gray-lined Hawk, Crested Guan, Great Curassow, White-winged Dove, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Inca Dove, White-tipped Dove, Scarlet Macaw, Orange-chinned Parakeet, White-crowned Parrot, Mealy Parrot, Squirrel Cuckoo, Groove-billed Ani, Common Pauraque, Blue-throated Goldentail, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Violaceous Trogon, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Keel-billed Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Hoffmann's Woodpecker, Rufous-winged Woodpecker, Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Northern Barred-Woodcreeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Fasciated Antshrike, Black-hooded Antshrike, Slaty Antwren, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Rufous Mourner, Masked Tityra, Rose-throated Becard, Rufous-breasted Wren, Riverside Wren, Clay-colored Thrush, Brown Jay, Yellow-green Vireo, Gray-headed Tanager, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Passerini's Tanager, Stripe-headed Sparrow, Buff-throated Saltator, Melodious Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Yellow-tailed Oriole, Black-cowled Oriole, Scarlet-rumped Cacique
July 31, 2012 – Today was my last full day and night at La Selva and my plan was to make the best of it! I was up before down and hiking the trails before breakfast. Part of the deal staying here is that you are “given” a guided three-hour walk through various areas of the institute and that was scheduled for after breakfast so I took a couple of trails and saw some interesting stuff including another new life bird, a Gray-headed Kite perched over the Rio Puerto Viejo one of the two large rivers that flows through the area (the other being the Sarapiqui which I described in my prior visit to the area). Pretty much saw the same birds that I saw late in the day yesterday with the other exception being a lone Anhinga also on the river.
After breakfast I met my guide and another guest who spoke only French and we were off and about. Everything started out well, we even saw a few interesting species including a nice Eyelash Viper that I spotted along the trail. However, the tropical rain gods were at work and as we walked the trails a downpour ensued, pretty much putting a damper on the “finding” thing for the next couple of hours. However, this didn’t dampen my guides spirits as he was really into fungus, in fact, he couldn’t stop talking about mushrooms, etc. I did learn a lot I guess but not what I was after… One cool thing was that he took us into the library and storage rooms where they keep the specimens they have collected for various projects and we got to see some interesting stuff.
As I was saying earlier, La Selva is run by OTS and there are tons of research projects going on here from many universities. There was a study of ants being conducted in one area where every colony had been marked with a little flag, it was amazing! What was more amazing what the fact that there are over 600 different species of ants at La Selva! Another group was studying CO2 levels and had a variety of measuring devices mounted all over the trees and even in balloons hanging high overhead. Several groups of high school students were also onsite and conducting field studies. It was a really interesting place, lots of activity and tons of smart people all over! Anyway, the tour finally ended just as the sun decided to push the clouds away and boy did it get hot and steamy! It was now nearly lunch time so I spent a little time birding the area around the headquarters and then had lunch.
After lunch, I started to walk down the trail back toward my cabin when I saw a smallish hawk land on a branch just 30 or so yards away, it had a large lizard in its talons and I got to watch as it dispatched its freshly caught prey – A Semiplumbeous Hawk (another lifer) as seen below:
Semiplumbeous Hawk snacking on a Striped Basilisk (lizard)
Semiplumbeous Hawk with a Striped Basilisk for lunch
The rest of the day was spent basically walking the trails, I estimated that I walked about 30km or so in the couple days I was there, near the end I started to feel it but here are some highlights from the afternoon:
As I was walking along a side trail I started hearing the loud popping noise, not sure how describe it other than that of a small fire-cracker going off. Sometimes however I would hear a pop and then a whirr short of sound as well. At first I thought it must be some sort of mollusk in the mud or something. I had heard a similar sound in Mexico in Mangrove Swamps where I think a species of clam clamps its shell closed quickly causing a pop, but this was much louder. Finally, the sound got closer so I knew that whatever it was, it was moving but I was still mystified as to what it could be! As I stood quietly all of a sudden I saw this blur of white on the forest floor and then POP-whirr. Then I saw it again, however this time the little blur of white was bouncing around on the floor of the forest back-and-forth with dizzying speed. POP-whir again and then another and then white blurs going by me and across the path… Finally my mind caught up with what I was seeing… MANAKINS, came the voice in my head… A lek of White-collared Manakins were displaying to females right there in front of me. Soon I found three females higher up in the branches and watched the display go on for some time. They were IMPOSSIBLE to photograph, the speed at which they move is incredible but after a while you could see the males dance on the floor, the white color on them sort of looks like a triangle with rounded edges as it bounces back and forth, the POP is caused by special feathers they have evolved for this purpose, as they move their wings over these feathers it creates the popping sound, it’s really quite amazing. The great Sir David Attenborough of BBC fame has done some documentaries on these fascinating birds, try searching the internet for more info if so inclined, it was an amazing event to witness first hand and certainly one of the highlights of the trip for me!
A large spider...
Gartered Trogon with a caterpillar for dinner!
Blue Dacnis (female)
Blue Dacnis (male)
Fasciated Antshrike (male)
After dinner, I decided that I would do a mega night-hike and see what I could find. I took the hike, walked all over the place, over the bridge and river to the deeper parts of the forest, etc. I had found a lot of interesting stuff, many spiders and other insects but the herps were quite repetitive. A ton of Smoky Jungle Frogs, which are very neat amphibians, very large and very approachable until you get into their “zone” at which point they typically make one turn and a hop and disappear down a hole which always seems to be nearby. There were Litter Toads everywhere and Common Rain Frogs were, well, common… Dink Frogs were calling from just about every bromeliad-laden tree and there were lots of mammals out as well (no cats however, bummer…) Also, while I searched and searched, I had absolutely no luck on finding another snake, my hopes were high, the conditions were perfect but nothing! Need to come back here and spend more time, is what I kept thinking to myself and I do! This place is just fantastic, it’s really hard to sleep because there is something interesting going on all day and night, it’s a really wild area considering the amount of people that come through here.
Common or "Fitzingeri's" Rain Frog
Smokey Jungle Frog
Smokey Jungle Frog
As I was walking along one trail I saw a light colored object reflecting in a tree ahead of me, at first I thought it was an owl, the place is famous for several owl species that can be found here regularly. As I approached my mind just couldn’t figure out what I was looking at. It sure appeared to be some sort of bird but what was it? And it was BIG and FAT, see first picture below:
Hmmm, what the heck is this? Oh, wait, what are those little eyes starting down at me from under the wing?
It took me a minute or two as I walked around the bird that was perched about 20 feet up on a tree that it was in fact a mother and chicks. I have seen this behavior before but not in a tree! What an incredible piece of luck to find a Slaty-breasted Tinamou (an ancient, primitive bird) up in a tree. In a billion years I would never of thought to look for a Tinamou in a tree at night… I took just enough pictures to make sure I captured the moment as I didn’t want to over-stress the poor bird that was probably thinking the same thing as I was… What the heck is that thing on the ground flashing light at me?
Slaty-breasted Tinamou with four chicks
Common or "Fitzingeri's" Rain Frog
That was the highlight of the night for me and as the rain started to get a bit heavier than just a mist, I slowly walked back to my cabin, arriving around 12:30 AM with plans to be up at 5:00 as it would be my last day in Costa Rica…
Bird list for 07-31-2012: Slaty-breasted Tinamou, Anhinga, Gray-headed Kite, Semiplumbeous Hawk, Crested Guan, Short-billed Pigeon, Red-lored Parrot, Squirrel Cuckoo, Western Long-tailed Hermit, Stripe-throated Hermit, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Violaceous Trogon, Green Kingfisher, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Northern Barred-Woodcreeper, Fasciated Antshrike, White-collared Manakin, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Gray-capped Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Bay Wren, Stripe-breasted Wren, House Wren, Clay-colored Thrush, Olive-backed Euphonia, Buff-rumped Warbler, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Passerini's Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Variable Seedeater, Great-tailed Grackle, Montezuma Oropendola
August 1, 2012 – It’s funny how fast trips seem to go, regardless of the length of time you are actually on them! What a whirlwind it seemed to be to me as I packed all of my bags pre-dawn so that I could spend as much time here as possible. My immediate regret was that I hadn’t booked a couple of more days at Las Selva (at least) but also my thought was that “next time” this is going to be a much longer visit! I had two things to accomplish today, the first was to spend all of the daylight hours being productive and the second was to end up back at the Holiday Inn Express at the San Jose Airport tonight… I thought about it for a while and then decided to at least spend the entire morning here, check out at the obligatory 1:00 PM time and then decide what to do in the afternoon. I could either spend the rest of the day here or drive back toward San Jose and make stops along the way. So with that in mind, I headed out as the sun was starting to peek over the eastern horizon, large thunderheads were already coming in from the Caribbean (east) which told me that there would be rain today but at the moment, the day was spectacular with lots of blue sky in between the clouds, warm and humid but not uncomfortable.
I started my now, very familiar trek toward the institute headquarters and the cafeteria for breakfast… Once again however, the birds stopped me! Another large mixed flock was foraging about 500m down the trail, many of the same birds as the first day I was here but some new ones as well. It started off with a beautiful Rufous-tailed Jacamar that flew on up on a branch, right over the trail at eye-level. It was still a little dark inside the canopy as the sun was just rising but there were birds everywhere! Rufous Mourner, Gartered Trogon (a pair, male and female), Black-cheeked and Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Masked Tityra, Parrots, Manakins, Wrens, you name it, they were all over the place. The flock was once again fast-moving and soon left me behind and as I walked down the trail I ran into one of the local bird guides was with a guest and told him about the flock, pointing to the direction for the Jacamar in case they were interested, which they were. He told me that they had just scoped a Long-tailed Manakin perched high up on a dead tree, which was apparently a bit unusual for the area so I thanked them and went to check it out. I found the bird but the back-lighting was so bad all I was able to do was capture the silhouette and the characteristic tail, still a new bird for me again!
Masked Tityra (male)
Masked Tityra (female)
I flushed this Brown-hooded Parrot and unfortunately only got one shot at it, was an incredibly beautiful bird...
Mantled Howler Monkies - one on right saying "Wow, I could have had a V-8!"
I finally made it to the cafeteria around 8:30 and had a quick bite to eat then walked another trail that I had not been on yet (there are something like 35 miles of trails here inside the institute FYI, so it takes a while to explore everything…). I saw basically the same common species I had been seeing elsewhere but I did not that the herps were out in force this morning! The first time of the trip when I could say that there were abundant reptiles out. Ameivas were everywhere, seemed you couldn’t go fifty feet without seeing one, and there were quite a few Strawberry Poison Dart Frogs around too, they are so cool with their “blue jeans” and they are so tiny compared to their Green and Black cousins which I saw a lot of on the last trip to this area but none this time. Anoles were also abundant but not very cooperative in terms of viewing or photography, they were already pretty heated up and quick to flee on my approach. I spotted a nice Black Wood Turtle sitting on a log on a small tributary stream that flows into the main river but he too wanted nothing to do with me and dove straight into the water as I raised my lens to get a shot… Mantled Howler Monkeys were also very active, foraging mid-level in the canopy and Green Iguanas were basking high up on the trees, in abundant numbers!
Mantled Howler Monkey
As I was chasing yet another Ameiva to photograph it stirred up a Strawberry Poison Dart Frog which I in turn tried to photograph when I heard the tell-tale sound of a larger animal slithering through the brush. I was sure it was a snake and as I slowly inspected the leaf litter and cover I saw the tail-end of it, it was BIG and I wasn’t sure what it was at first but I knew that it wasn’t a Fer-de-Lance or a Bushmaster or a Coral Snake so I knew it wasn’t extremely venomous at least. I moved a little to my right and spotted the business end of the snake. BIRD-EATING SNAKE! Yes! I was stoked, but there was a problem… I only had my long lens and the 2x extender at that, not optimum for taking close-up pictures of snakes… I quickly removed the extender and was able to get a good angle of the snakes head and get a couple of identifying pictures as you can see below. I wanted to get a shot of the entire snake but that was not going to be possible with it slowly moving through the vines and undergrowth of the forest and I didn’t have my short lens with me (Stupid!). So, I thought about it and figured that if I could get it into the open I may have a shot at it, the 300mm lens can focus on stuff about four meters away so I was going to have to get the snake into the open and then run back four meters or so and take its picture… RIGHT! I tailed the snake (grabbed it by the tail) and gently removed it from the bush. It was about 5 and perhaps 6 feet long, fat and beautiful but it also got very pissed off when I removed it from whatever it was doing. I tried to get it to stay put, I put it in the middle of the trail and ran back. They are FAST! The first time it escaped I was able to tail it again and move it back, sometimes the snakes will at least sit still for a few seconds trying to figure out what the heck is up, not so with this one! The second time I dropped him down in the middle of the trail, he took off another direction, at the speed of a racer and straight down a hole that I could swear I saw a Smoky Jungle Frog jump into the night before… So much for the great snake pictures but a great find for me anyway! Now I was really stoked and the adrenalin rush got me moving again albeit I was now soaked with sweat as the sun and humidity were doing their usual tropical number…
Strawberry Poison Dart Frog
Well, now time was flying by and it was getting close to noon so I walked back to my cabin to get the car packed up and check out. As I was zipping up my bags I heard the tell-tale sign of some significant bird activity out the back window of my room. There was a small balcony there that looked right into the edge of the forest and sure enough, another mixed flock of birds was cruising by… I just sat down in a chair and took pictures… Now that’s how it should be every time!
Cherrie's Tanager (female)
My final tally for the day on birds was: Green Ibis, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Laughing Falcon, Crested Guan, Gray-chested Dove, Brown-hooded Parrot, Red-lored Parrot, Squirrel Cuckoo, White-collared Swift, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Northern Barred-Woodcreeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Spotted Woodcreeper, Fasciated Antshrike, White-crowned Manakin, Long-tailed Manakin, Paltry Tyrannulet, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Rufous Mourner, Bright-rumped Attila, Masked Tityra, Bay Wren, Clay-colored Thrush, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Olive-backed Euphonia, Dusky-faced Tanager, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Passerini's Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Variable Seedeater, Great-tailed Grackle. Montezuma Oropendola.
I hope you have enjoyed this incredibly long post, I have included links to more pictures below. It would be impossible to post all of the good pictures in this report or it would never load on your computer so please, if interested in more, click on some of the links below… and THANKS FOR LOOKING!
Best regards to all! - Brad
BIRDS SEEN (LL = New for Life List):
Slaty-breasted Tinamou (LL)
Little Blue Heron
Gray-headed Kite (LL)
Crane Hawk (LL)
Semiplumbeous Hawk (LL)
Great Black-Hawk (LL)
Laughing Falcon (LL)
Great Curassow (LL)
Double-striped Thick-knee (LL)
Ruddy Pigeon (LL)
Short-billed Pigeon (LL)
Gray-chested Dove (LL)
Orange-fronted Parakeet (LL)
Brown-hooded Parrot (LL)
Mealy Parrot (LL)
Common Pauraque (LL)
Green Violet-ear (LL)
Cinnamon Hummingbird (LL)
White-bellied Mountain-gem (LL)
Volcano Hummingbird (LL)
Black-headed Trogon (LL)
Turquoise-browed Motmot (LL)
Chestnut-colored Woodpecker (LL)
Slaty Spinetail (LL)
Spotted Barbtail (LL)
Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner (LL)
Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner (LL)
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper (LL)
Slaty Antwren (LL)
Silvery-fronted Tapaculo (LL)
White-crowned Manakin (LL)
Long-tailed Manakin (LL)
White-throated Spadebill (LL)
Bright-rumped Attila (LL)
Black-crowned Tityra (LL)
Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher (LL)
Riverside Wren (LL)
Bay Wren (LL)
Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush (LL)
Sooty Thrush (LL)
Pale-vented Thrush (LL)
White-throated Magpie-Jay (LL)
Scrub Euphonia (LL)
Spot-crowned Euphonia (LL)
Gray-crowned Yellowthroat (LL)
Black-cheeked Warbler (LL)
Spangle-cheeked Tanager (LL)
White-collared Seedeater (LL)
Peg-billed Finch (LL)
Large-footed Finch (LL)
Stripe-headed Sparrow (LL)
Streak-backed Oriole (LL)
Bird Eating Snake (LL)
Black Spiny-tail Iguana
Central American Ameiva
Black Wood Turtle
Marine (Cane) Toad
Common (Fitznigri’s) Rain Frog (LL)
Strawberry Poison Dart Frog
Smoky Jungle Frog (LL)
Common Mexican Treefrog (LL)
Olive Tree Frog (LL)
Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth
Central American Agouti
Collard Peccary (Javelina)
Mantled Howler Monkey
Page updated 9-4-2012