Birding Costa Rica 2016: Tirimbina Rainforest and La Selva
PART III: Rick’s and Iain’s excellent adventure!
Day 2 Tirimbina Rainforest
Day 2 starts again at 5:30 am. We booked one of the lodge naturalists, Michael, for the local trails at 6 am. He carries only his binoculars and a scope; the rest, identifications, songs and habitats are all in his head. He can’t be more than 25 but his knowledge is encyclopedic. Off we go for an hour around the gardens next to the lodge, seeing Trogons, Aracaris and believe it or not a flyby by a male White-collared Manakin. We quickly stop for breakfast and once there is enough light to bird the forest, we head out.
Half way over the swing bridge to the forest we climb down a set of spiral iron stairs onto a spit of land that is often flooded. First bird we see is a Canada Warbler! Soon we have a Jaramar, Striped-throated Hermit and Long-tailed Tyrant. These are heady times. The Oropendolas from their nests are making a racket as well as the Keel-billed and Chestnut-mandibled Toucans. The day is very hot and humid as usual and Rick survives the descent of the staircase that drops 45 feet from the bridge. He is suffering from a concussion he received months before we left so heights have been bothering him but birding is too important. By 10 am Michael has to return to the lodge so we decide to stay in the forest and keep birding. First hour we see nothing while climbing up hill and down dale. Then we reach a large valley with 100+ foot giant trees with plenty of space in between. The sight is hopping with birds. Nunbird families are singing, squawking and always in motion. In the background we hear a slow tapping and locate a Pale-billed Woodpecker (like a large Pileated) at the top of one of the giants. The final highlight as we exited the valley was a Great Curassow, size of a Turkey, walking nonchalantly through the forest.
We got back to the lodge at noon, so that was a 6 hour walk. Beers and lunch followed. After a shower, and just when I thought we are going to have a rest, we decide to stroll to the grounds of the next lodge where we find another set of birds including Cocoa Woodcreeper and Tody Flycatchers. Back to the bar to wait for dinner where we see a Pewee-like flycatcher hawking 1 foot off the ground in the garden. Local guy arrived with his scope and gave us an identification lesson. We could narrow it to Eastern or Western Pewee. He showed us the difference, the colour of the bills are different! Of course the day still had a surprise. While sucking on a frosty one, a very loud squawking came from above us and then disappeared. The staff all yelled “Great Green Macaw” but they thought it was long gone. Not for Rick and I. We raced to the road and heard the bird one lodge over where it was 30 feet up. A huge beautiful pair of Green Macaws and very noisy!!
To end the day we decided we should get around to arranging something for our final day in the lowlands and we wanted to get into the La Selva Research station as we had read it is the top birding sight in the area. Before we left Canada we saw online that it was 50$ a piece for 1 hour in the morning to bird at the entrance with no access to the 57 Kms of trails. That requires an approved guide which you need to pre-arrange, which we had not done. We chatted up Michael about it and he contacted a buddy, Luis Vargas a local birder, who is registered at La Selva. He handed over the phone and we quickly agreed with Luis on a much better rate for a full day with access to all of the trails. This is what I love about non-tour birding trips, by being open to changes and working with the locals surprisingly good things happen.
Day 3 La Selva
The next morning was another day of a 5:30 am start. I am starting to find this normal! By 6 Luis picks us up and off to the entrance of La Selva. La Selva is a large track of land going from the lowlands in a connected manner all the way to the volcanos to the north. The organization is a collection of dozens of universities from around the world who are trying to save and study pieces of our environmental heritage. The place is full of young enthusiastic students from around the world doing research. Good to see someone cares.
The roadside on the way in produced Black-faced Grosbeak, Streak-headed Woodcreeper and Red-eyed Vireos. We headed in to the station cafeteria for breakfast, a buffy of eggs, rice and great coffee. Did I mention that Costa Rican coffee is fantastic? While we ate, Band-backed Wrens chattered in front of us and Black Guans sat in the tall trees. After filling our tanks we headed out on one of the many trails in the 1750 hectare park with 57km of trails. The first one took us to several Manakin leks. Okay it is unbelievable when you are told that White-collared Manakins sound like breaking sticks but they do. The males somehow slap their wings together over their backs at high speed and a “Crack” results. You can break sticks to attract them. We saw several leks with dancing males (every girl’s dream). We saw 2 new woodies, Chestnut-coloured and Rufous winged; both beautiful. At one point we came a cross some large fronds of palm folded down and Luis showed us a family of sleeping Honduran White Bats, only ones in the world are here in southern Central America and down to roughly 900 total. Not allowed to take their pictures but felt privileged to see them.
Another day of heat and humidity combined with endless trails took a toll but we had some great looks at Poison Dart frogs on the trail and an Eyelash Viper sleeping inches off the trail. As well Bullet Ants which are huge and their bite hurts like hell. Earlier in the day Rick performed an “Ant” dance as he accidentally stepped on a hive of small stinging ants. The few that got to his ankles caused quite a reaction but he soon beat them into submission.
When we got back to the main station it was noon and the skies opened for a much needed rain. We still saw several additional species including a Scarlett Tanager and Black-cowled oriole. The rain stopped and we headed into Sarapiqui. Luis knew a place good for lunch by the river and we agreed to a river tour for birds. Lunch was excellent as we sat under a bamboo awning drinking cervezas and watching the birds. Our 2 hour boat ride was supposed to find Green Ibis but no luck; instead we expectantly saw several Bay Wrens on the banks with their loud and beautiful call notes. Despite no Ibis it was still enjoyable to let the breeze wash over you and not have to walk.
The end of the day finds us once again with a Pilsen in hand and a hope that the Spectacled Owl which is close by to the lodge will call tonight. End of Day 3 and we have seen 127 Species.