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Birding Costa Rica 2016: Tapanti and Home

Birding Costa Rica 2016: Tapanti and Home

PART VI: Rick’s and Iain’s excellent adventure!

NOTE: All photos by Rick Muise

One full day left in Costa Rica so we decide we should make the most of it; up at 4:30 am, eating at 5 and off by 5:15.  Despite the 11 hours of birding and hiking every day I seem to be only able to sleep for 6 to 7 hours.  Perhaps the realization that every minute sleeping is one less birding.  The night before we decide on Tapanti National Park, two hours west of our lodge.  It is comprised of primary forests still mostly untouched by man for thousands of years.  Our driver Tato and Rene the lodge birder lead the way as we wind through very mountainous country with less agriculture than yesterday.  Sometimes Tato thinks he is Stirling Moss as he slides the van around corners and at other times he is looney tunes when he tries to pass a truck as the road narrows to one lane for a bridge.  But in general, he is a safe driver.

tapanti-npBefore the park we bird an abandoned coffee plantation and picked up another Nightingale Thrush.  Sweet calls like our thrushes but very shy.  As we enter the park a Slate-throated Redstart plays right by the van and seems to want to fly in the window.  We are first at the park so they have to open the gates for us.  Tato stays with the van as we walk for several hours up the mountain.  The road-side birding is excellent but soon it puts us in the hot sun so we zigzag up the road from shade spot to shade spot.  The first few 100 meters produces plenty of birds; Silver-throated and Spangle-cheeked Tanagers, Bush-Tanagers and Red-faced Spinetail.   Beside the road at the edge of a shallow rocky stream we find a Sooty-faced Finch.

SlateThroatedRedstart

Slate Throated Redstart

 

Sooty Faced Finch

Sooty Faced Finch

We follow a wet river trail off the road where Antpittas are possible but instead get a Flatbill, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant and Black-faced Solitaire which sounds exactly like an iron gate slowly squeaking open and closed.  Rick is the only one to sight a Tapaculo which has only one member in the family in CR.  Lots of members in South America.

We lunch at a picnic table then off to near the top of the mountain while Tato sleeps in the van.   Eventually we see a raptor across the valley, Hook-billed Kite, which takes effort to identify given the distance.   Eventually it is time to descend the mountain and as we walk there are some Mountain-gems, Chlorophonia and various Flycatchers.  It is a good day but not as many new species as the day before.  At the end the day, Tato takes us to a small wooden cafe by the roadside which provides excellent coffee, helping to revitalize us and then the long drive back to Rancho.

Purple Throated Mountain

Purple Throated Mountain Gem

That night Rick and I tally our lists and find we have 258 species!    It turns out that I have got one more lifer on this trip than Rick.  We end the day with a scotch to celebrate.  The next day produces no new species but then it involves nothing more than a long long drive back to the San Jose airport and our flight back to Toronto at noon, so little opportunity to bird.  Our driver once again is Darwin who I wrote about earlier.  Once again he finds us a top notch coffee and pastry place in San Jose before we have to check in at the airport.

coffee-and-pastryrick-and-i

So this ends my reports of our trip.   Costa Rica is a paradise; I have been three times and despite it being a relatively small country I still have at least one more region to see so I may return.  When you travel away from home take a friend, meet the locals, try the local cuisine, and let something unplanned happen.  It is an amazing world.  Enjoy.

Cheers from Rick and Iain

 

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Birding Costa Rica 2016: Irazu Volcano

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.

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

 

Collard Redstart. Photo Rick Muise

Collard Redstart. Photo Rick Muise

Farming at 9000 feet

Farming at 9000 feet

 

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.

Birding Irazu

Birding Irazu

 

 

Quetzal. photo Rick Muise

Quetzal. photo Rick Muise

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.

At the top!

At the top!

 

 

Volcano Hummingbird

Volcano Hummingbird

 

 

Volcano Junco

Volcano Junco

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.

Species     233

Iain

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Birding Costa Rica 2016: Caribbean Highlands

Birding Costa Rica 2016: Caribbean Highlands

PART V: Rick’s and Iain’s excellent adventure!

We are up again at 5:30 and having coffee at the hummingbird feeders by 6.  Hermits, Woodnymphs, and Coquettes are darting about.   Each night the staff sets up a sheet with a light behind it in a grove near the lodge and by morning it is covered in beautiful moths.  All food for the birds.  So before breakfast you head out and stand 10 feet away and watch for an hour.  The moths attract Ant Tanagers, Woodcreepers, Tanagers and Antbirds.  Great show and no walking!    Rene is supposed to shake it off afterwards but refuses because one side has a few dozen African bees on it!  Yikes.  By now it is time for a breakfast of fruit, eggs, mandatory rice and beans and strong coffee.

Morning birding at the moth sheet. photo Rick Muise

Morning birding at the moth sheet. photo Rick Muise

 

Green breasted mango. Photo Rick Muise

Green-breasted mango. Photo Rick Muise

We decide to walk the trails of the Rancho and the local area for the morning and take the afternoon off.  I know it is hard to believe.  Rene our guide, here from Brazil for 9 months, leads us up the hill (small mountain).  Hard hot slog with a climb of over 1000 m, but the birding is worth it.   In a field of guava trees, we find the Green Forktail.  A small hummer with a long forked tail.  A gem; then back into the forest where we get several Manikins, all White-crowneds.  Sitting less than 20 feet away and singing.  Only two left to get; Red-capped and White-ruffed.  The trails are quite narrow in sections and while staring at birds I lose one leg down the slope but saved myself from a nasty fall.  Rene turns and quietly says “don’t push me”.  I realize it is just his sense of humour, so from then on I would drop the line regularly.  A kind of mantra for “stay safe”.   On the way back I comment that one song I am hearing sounds like our Northern Parula –  turns out to be the Tropical Parula and very similar to ours.  The walk also produces Plain Xenops, Lesser Greenlet and Spadebills.  We hit the pools at the end of the day for another display of Harry’s knowledge and pick up Chestnut-capped Brush Finch and Immaculate Antbird.

Evenings are spent eating another top-notch meal, sharing the day’s experiences with each other and retiring to the couches where Rick and I can update our lists and listen to the Mottled Owl close to the lodge.

Green Thorntail. photo Rick Muise

Green Thorntail. photo Rick Muise

 

White Crowned Manakin. photo Rick Muise

White-Crowned Manakin. photo Rick Muise

The second day is another relatively easy go.  Out at 6 on the local trails with Rene.  In conversation, I discovered he guided Noah Stryker in Brazil for 3 days as part of Noah’s big year for the whole planet where he got 6042 species.  So, he is no slouch.  You can find Noah’s blog for every day of that year on the Audubon site at http://www.audubon.org/features/birding-without-borders  The pasture we visit produces some good birds: Crimson-collared Tanager (not so common here) and Cinnamon Becard, my first Becard ever.

For the afternoon, we convince a husband and wife at the lodge (Otto and Lynette), who were not birders, to join us for the afternoon.  They are blueberry farmers from the gold coast of Australia and want help identifying birds.  It is a 20-minute drive to a river and village, an area called La Mina.    Right away we got our target bird the Sunbittern, a rather strange looking bird as it is shaped more like a turkey but elongated.  It is the only species in the family of Sunbittern.  The name is apparent once you see it fly, huge multi-coloured circles on their wings.    Quite amazing.  The river is fast, shallow and full of rocks so we get the little Torrent Tyrannulet, which is whitish and black and hawks insects from the rocks.  A walk up the roadside produces a wealth of species, Chestnut-collared Sparrow, Tawny Euphonia, Blue Black Grosbeak, Grayish Saltator and Yellow-green Vireo.  The place is rocking.  This time Rick and Lynette both step on an ant hive followed by some dancing and swatting. They are very small but pack a wallop.

Sunbittern. photo Rick Muise

Sunbittern. photo Rick Muise

 

Chestnut Collared Sparrow. photo Rick Muise

Chestnut-Collared Sparrow. photo Rick Muise

Back to the lodge for lunch and a rest.  I convince the Aussies, but not Rick, to try once again for more Manakins, so we hiked the trails for nearly two hours, with little to show for it.  Good choice Rick.   But back at the lodge while sitting by the feeders with a beer before supper produced the White-crested Hummer (expected) and the Scintillant Hummer, not expected!!!  It made me smile.

Purple Throated Mountain Gem. photo Rick Muise

Purple-Throated Mountain Gem. photo Rick Muise

 

Bi-coloured Hawk. photo Rick Muise

Bicoloured Hawk. photo Rick Muise

Species    195

Cheers

Iain

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Birding Costa Rica 2016: Travel Day 4

Birding Costa Rica 2016: Travel Day 4

PART IV: Rick’s and Iain’s excellent adventure!

Day 4 is a travel day and we are kind of winging it.  It is about a 4-hour drive to our lodge in the Caribbean highlands south of Turrialba so we didn’t expect too much on the birding front; boy were we wrong!  The day before, Luis told us about a birding spot along the route, run by a friend of his called Cope, so he arranged for us to make a quick stop there and gave us a number to call to arrange a time and get directions.  This was a last minute arrangement and our only hope for birds.

So we are up just after 6, late, ate breakfast and headed to the Tirimbina forest for one last 2 hour walk before our driver arrives.  We saw what we thought were 2 ‘lifers’, Streak Crowned Antvireo and Plain Xenops.  Later Rick’s pictures when blown up revealed the Xenops to be a Wedge-billed Woodcreeper which we already have.  It was not the last time Rick’s pictures aided our identifications.

Wedge Billed Woodcreeper

Wedge Billed Woodcreeper   photo Rick Muise

 

 

Slaty Antwren photo Rick Muise

Slaty Antwren   photo Rick Muise

Darwin our driver arrived and off we went. The telephone number I was given for the bird stop on the way did not seem to work.  So we told Darwin about the arrangement and I showed him a picture of Luis who had set up the stop.  Small world as he knew Luis so he called him and got the location and time sorted.  On the way we stopped for fabulous coffee, food and sweet cakes at a set of roadside stores.  Seems Darwin, a 26-year-old single guy, knew all the best coffee shops in southern Costa Rica.   On arrival at a small town called La Union we found Cope’s place. He is an artist who has replaced his art income with birding tours, as they are much more lucrative.  He is busy with a tour from England so William one of his guys takes us on a fast tour.  First stop is a road side view of a Great Potoo with its baby.  This gets many high 5’s.  Now, there are two species of Potoos on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica,  Great and Common.  The Great imitates a slanted tree branch and the Common imitates a vertical branch/trunk.  Next a walk through a local forest provides great looks at a Spectacled Owl, and a Black Throated Trogon on the nest.  We could see the babies under her.  Finally, a quick stop at his house turns up a Gray-necked Wood-Rail and hummer feeders.  This all made for an excellent day!

 

Great Potoo and baby. photo Rick Muise

Great Potoo and baby    photo Rick Muise

 

 

Spectacled Owl photo Rick Muise

Spectacled Owl   photo Rick Muise

 

 

Grey Necked Woodrail photo Rick Muise

Grey Necked Woodrail   photo Rick Muise

 

We continued on to Rancho Naturalista which we chose because it is mostly geared to birders.   It has access to many local trails up and down the hills and it is near several local hot spots.  As well, the facilities are first rate with gourmet meals served family style.  A real treat after Tirimbina.  Our drive ended after passing the last village on lots of slow winding roads and then up a steep and rocky 1/2 km gravelly track which made the tires spin.  You definitely need a 4-wheel vehicle.  We finally arrived and are greeted by Harry (Englishman) the resident guide and the local German Shepard.  We are quickly in our rooms (nice, no flat screens or phones) and then onto the balcony where we try to identify all 12 species of hummers.  Beautiful Coquettes, Plumeteers, and Hermits fighting for a place at one of the many feeders.  We thought we had died and entered nirvana.

 

Rancho Naturalista photo Rick Muise

Rancho Naturalista   photo Rick Muise

 

 

Green Crowned Brilliant. photo Rick Muise

Green Crowned Brilliant   photo Rick Muise

 

Plan is to relax and then take a short walk to look for birds but then we meet Jackie and Tom on their way to the Pools to watch hummers.  Hmm, sounds interesting so off we go.  The Pools are really three or four very small puddles fed by a trickle of water which runs thru the middle of a forest gorge a few 100 meters from the lodge.  You stand maybe 10 or 15 meters above them on a wood platform and watch species come for their end of the day baths as the light slowly fades.  Woodnymphs, Snowcaps and Hermits dipping in to the water very much like dancers.  Then Silver-throated and Emerald Tanagers bathe for a while.  Foliage-gleaners and Leaftossers arrive and a Manakin races by.  This is an end of each day event.  Harry the guide just stands there naming birds, describing them and their calls.  His knowledge is impressive.  Eventually the light is so bad we head back to our rooms.

 

Snowcap photo Rick Muise

Snowcap   photo Rick Muise

 

 

Silver Throated Tanger photo Rick Muise

Silver Throated Tanger photo Rick Muise

 

After showering I hear the dinner bell and arrive at the table.  We are joined by the two Aussies (Jackie and Tom), as well as Harry the guide and Rene, a Brazilian birder who was asked to come to Costa Rica to do Macaw research and is now enjoying just birding and guiding at the lodge.  Food quality is terrific followed by coffee and scotch.  While eating we listen to the calls of a Mottled Owl.   Species count 151.

Cheers

Iain

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Birding Costa Rica 2016: Tirimbina Rainforest and La Selva

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.

Black Headed Trogon

Black Headed Trogon

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.

Montezuma Oropendula

Montezuma Oropendula

Chestnut mandibled toucan

Chestnut mandibled toucan

 

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!!

Common Tody Flycatcher

Common Tody Flycatcher

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.

Eyelash Viper

Eyelash Viper

Iain, Luis and Rick at La Selva

Iain, Luis and Rick at La Selva

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.

Sarapiqui River Tour

Sarapiqui River Tour

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.

Cheers

Iain

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