Birding Costa Rica 2016: Irazu Volcano
PART VI: Rick’s and Iain’s excellent adventure!
NOTE: All photos by Rick Muise
Today is a big day. We are off to bird Irazu Volcano from the bottom to the top. The volcanos in Costa Rica provide different environments and hence different species as you go up in elevation with the top providing home for several endemics found nowhere else.
We start very early with Lynette and Otto joining us and both local guides, Harry and Rene. We drive through a lot of the best agricultural land around and no wonder given the beautiful volcanic soils. Cabbages, coffee, corn and potatoes everywhere. We see what are called “shade grown” coffee plantations, which just means the shade trees are there but are kept at maybe 3 feet taller than the coffee with no spreading branches so they don’t obstruct the sun. Hmmm, makes you wonder about some of the brands we buy in Canada that advertise they are “shade grown”.
The first stop was a small bridge over a gorge of fragmented forest. While dodging the occasional car, we see lots of Wilson’s Warblers, Mountain Elaenias and Acorn Woodpecker. Next stop was another piece of roadside forest with Collared Redstart, Flame throated Warbler and Yellow Winged Vireo; all beautiful birds. The Redstart works its way along a fence closer and closer to Rick while he watches a completely different bird. We chased Wood Partridges through the forest but only heard them and had to move on. Next was a farm with surrounding forests, at 9000 feet up. There were lots of workers hand-hoeing the soil and using oxen pulled plows looking exactly like it is centuries ago.
We stop here for Quetzals with permission of the owner. Around the field edges we find several Nightingale Thrushes singing their beautiful songs, two types of Silky Flycatchers and the Slaty Flowerpiercer. Eventually patience pays off and the Quetzals are located in amongst tall trees; 2 Males, 1 Female and 1 juvenile. Terrific looks. We are at 9500 feet by this point and all of us were feeling the altitude but we take it easy.
Finally, to the top of the Irazu, 11,200 feet, where it was misty and cool. Some people were forming a ring in the crater by holding up a long sheet of white cloth that had a diameter of maybe 250 feet. Not sure what was the point but from the behavior it might have been a team building session or a new age ritual. We ate at a picnic table while a scrawny cat begs for food as we watch the Volcano Juncos and Volcano Hummingbirds, two of the endemics we came for. We walked the crater rim listening to Timberline Wrens but never seeing them; overhead were Chestnut-collared Swifts and again there are lots of Wilson’s Warblers. The longer we are over 11,000 feet the quieter the 6 of us get, except for Harry who is still a non-stop stream of identifications. Later we discover all of us are suffering bad headaches from the altitude. Eventually a thunderstorm arrives and rain starts so we head back down.
The ride down the volcano is much faster, but the scary thing is the people who pass on blind curves. On the way back to the lodge we stop at a large pond to see Bank, Cliff, Northern Rough-winged and Blue and White Swallows. Lots of Spotted, and one Solitary Sandpiper. Got back to the lodge exhausted after an 11-hour day but the numbers were great.