(Bird and wildlife photos by Nancy Bell, text and scenic photos by Chuck Bell)
Wednesday, January 13
After a good night’s sleep in San Jose, we met up with our Costa Rica guide Steven Easely at 6 am and set off for Irazu Volcano to begin our birding. We drove up over 10500 feet to the park entrance. Steven wanted to turn down a road toward Turrialba Volcano but we were stopped by police, as the volcano is becoming increasingly active and a major eruption is feared. We retreated back down the road and stopped at a shade-grown coffee plantation and found a bird flock right away. We admired an Irazu subspecies of the Volcano Hummingbird that sat on a barbed wire fence, and we enjoyed a small group of Acorn Woodpeckers. Chuck got his life Yellow-winged Vireo, which Nancy had seen on our previous trip to Costa Rica. It turned out to be the only life bird of the day. The weather was lousy with fine rain and wind, from the huge winter storm that covered most of the U.S. We spent a lot of time looking in coffee groves for the Prevost's Ground-Sparrow, to no avail.
|Coffee groves in the rain|
Thursday, January 14
We left Sanchiri Lodge at 5:30 am. We were delighted to meet Steven’s wife, Magdalena, a very lovely young woman, who turned out to be a very good spotter as well as knowing her birds. We drove back to the coffee plantation we had worked so thoroughly the previous afternoon, and before long we spotted two Prevost's Ground-sparrows. We were delighted to finally get this bird, which had also eluded us here last year. We stopped at a little restaurant that had a feeding table for birds. We had breakfast and Nancy photographed birds coming in to eat the bananas and papayas.
We then drove on to the entrance to Tapanti National Park. By this time it had really started to rain, sometimes more of a mist; at others a good gentle downpour. Steven explained that this park gets one of the highest annual amounts of rainfall of any place in the world, something like 8 meters. We searched for the Sooty-faced Brushfinch. Chuck finally had a view but Nancy only saw the bird fly across an open area caused by a landslide. It started raining harder. We gave up and returned to Sanchiri to pack up, eat lunch and head down the Interamerican Highway, after a stop at a big supermarket in Cartago. We arrived at Talari Mountain Lodge at dusk, up out of Buenas Aires El General. We had a small basic room but it had a good fan, as we had descended a lot toward the Pacific, and it was quite warm. We had a good dinner and went to bed.
Friday, January 15
We were out birding the lodge's forested grounds at dawn. We saw Turquoise Cotinga in a tree over the dining room. Nancy ate breakfast while photographing the birds coming in to the fruit feeders, including Fiery-billed Araçari, Shining Honeyeater, Green Honeyeater and Spangled Tanager. After breakfast we drove up into the mountains, where untouched forest stretches all the way into Panama. This is where Steven had seen an Ornate Hawk-Eagle and a Solitary Eagle recently. We stood for a long time in the hot sun at a vantage point, but no special raptors came into view. We gave up, drove back down the mountain, and headed on south, continuing our gradual descent toward sea level. We stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch -- chicken with the house special, meaning rice and black beans -- and eventually turned off on the road out to the Osa Peninsula. We could see the Golfo Dulce in the distance as we crested some hills.
We met for coffee and cake at 5:20 am. We heard a Blue-crowned Motmot calling, and Steven imitated its call. The bird came zooming in under the veranda roof to where Steven was sitting, saw him, and swerved out of the way, so frightened that it crapped all over him. Boy did we have a good laugh out of that. We then went outside, and Magdalena got a lifer -- a Yellow-throated Vireo. We headed up the forest trail behind the lodge and soon heard Marbled Wood-quail. Bending low to look near the ground we got very good looks at this elusive bird. Then we saw 2 more target birds, the Charming Hummingbird and Black-cheeked Ant-tanager.
We climbed a very long hill on a muddy track to an open area, where we saw Spot-crowned Euphonia, and Nancy photographed a nice male Baird's Trogon sitting right near the path. As we were coming down, we ran into Stefan, the lodge guide, and mentioned we were hoping to see the Golden-naped Woodpecker. He said, "Look up, it's right above us," and sure enough there was a pair high up in a bare tree. We then walked back down to the lodge for breakfast, but as we were coming in, Abraham told us there was a Little Tinamou outside the kitchen, and Nancy got the bird that has eluded her so many times.
As we were about to eat breakfast, an ant swarm moved across the outdoor dining room, and we all watched in fascination as it overwhelmed insects and even a gecko in its path, tearing their prey up into little pieces and heading back to the nest with food for the young. For safety we found one gecko had climbed to the top of the coffee pot on the table! The swarm attracted many of the ant-following birds and Nancy attempted to photograph them as they dove after the insects trying to escape the ants. The swarm eventually moved on, and we had a delicious breakfast of eggs, rice and beans with sour cream on top, and banana marmalade. The coffee was also very good. After breakfast, we donned Tevas and headed out across the Rio Tigre (several times) to a place where Stefan had located a Bronzy Hermit nest. The cold water felt good on our feet as the weather was hot and very humid. We observed some locals panning for gold.
|In the Rio Tigre|
We returned to the lodge for a good lunch of salad and sandwiches. Nancy photographed birds coming to the rocky area where rice is thrown, and Chuck wrote in the diary and took a snooze, before we went out again at 3 pm to try to get better looks at the crake. By lunch today, we had seen 75 species of birds, 8 of them lifers. We would be remiss in not mentioning the heat and humidity -- it was really hot and humid, and our laundry doesn't have a prayer of drying in this climate. We'll have to pack it away wet tomorrow. We donned the Tevas again and went back up the river. We tried for the crake again in the same place to no avail, then walked further to a cleared area, where after a bit of time we saw a lovely little White-crested Coquette. Nancy got good photos of this rare bird. On the way back we got very good looks at a Uniform Crake in the bushes only 10 feet away. Steven amused us with stories at dinner. We saw 101 species today. We now have 233 species so far, 18 new.
Sunday, January 17
We got up early and set off on the forest trails around the lodge again. We saw some good birds but nothing new. A Bicolored Antbird thought we were good at disturbing insects and followed us along the trail, at times only a few feet away! Chuck got a photo with his point-and-shoot but Nancy’s lens was way too big for such a close-up. We returned for another very good breakfast, packed up and headed out, after saying goodbye to Liz, Abraham and the staff. We stopped along the way and picked up a new bird -- Pale-vented Euphonia. We now have made a clean sweep of Costa Rican euphonias. It was actually quite a long drive around the Golfo Dulce to our next lodging, but we still got there well before noon. We stopped along a stream and birded, picking up Veraguan Mango and saw some other good hummingbirds. Nancy went off to photograph a young Yellow-headed Caracara in a cow pasture and was befriended by a very amicable Brahmin cow. The cow knocked down her tripod (fortunately she had camera in hand) and then sniffed her shoulder seeming very interested in having such a “critter” in the pasture.
We had a picnic lunch under the trees. It was hot and we were not full of energy. After lunch, Steven heard something up in the trees and discovered the Slate-colored Seedeater, which has only recently come into Costa Rica from Panama. We observed both male and female of this species, and Nancy got a rather good photo. We then drove up to Esquinas Lodge and checked in. It is a very well-appointed lodge in a lovely setting, with a Caiman pool, swimming pool, lots of trees, etc. Steven said it actually has greater diversity than the Bosque del Rio Tigre. We donned our rubber boots and went back to the stream to look for the Royal Flycatcher, which Chuck needed. After walking a bit downstream, we found a very nice male bird. Nancy had seen this bird on our honeymoon in Belize almost nine years ago but Chuck was napping and missed it. Unfortunately the stream was full of dirty baby diapers, looking like white bombs. We then drove south to the town of Neily, and turned west into an area of oil palm plantations. After driving along dusty roads we found the Sapphire-throated Hummingbird on a wire, apparently its favorite kind of perch, and saw Spot-fronted Swift overhead. The Sapphire-throated Hummingbird has only recently expanded its range north of Panama. We waited until near dark and then began to slowly drive back to Esquinas spotlighting for Striped Owl along the way. One nearly hit our windshield, but neither Chuck nor Nancy saw it. We went straight to dinner at the lodge, which was rather light fare, showered and went to bed. A ceiling fan kept us comfortable.
We met up with Steven and Magda at 0530 and before we even set off on the trail, Steven heard one of our few remaining target birds for this area, the Striped Woodhaunter. With a bit of work, we had very good looks at it in the dusky light of very early morning. Then we set off up the trail, picking up the White-throated Shrike-tanager. We returned for breakfast and headed out again. We saw the Green Shrike-vireo, which Nancy had only seen as a streak in the forest in Panama. We also saw the White-throated Thrush, which Steven said is very unusual for this part of Costa Rica. We made a very long climb up the La Trocha trail (it means "narrow"), going up at least 600 feet in the terrible humidity and heat. We all were dripping sweat. Steven was hoping to come up with a Speckled Mourner, which has not been documented in Costa Rica but lives in very similar forest in Panama. We did not find one. We returned to the lodge about mid-morning, terribly hot and sweaty, and decided to take most of the day off from birding, as we have now seen all of our targets for this area except the Striped Owl. Nancy now needs only three species to reach the 5000 species milestone on her world list. Chuck still needs 40 more birds. We re-hung our wet laundry from the previous day outside the room, hoping it would dry before it mildewed!
We went back out in the late afternoon, heading south once again to the area right near the Panama border beyond Neily. Nancy had to make a pit stop, and Steven found a dirt farm road for her. We decided to explore this dirt road, and Steven drove down it quite a ways. It had open brush on one side and a stream and forest on another. As we returned toward the main gravel, it had gotten dark, and Parauques, including little ones, were everywhere. We must have seen at least 100 of them with eyes glowing in our headlights as they perched on the dirt road. But one nightjar that appeared in our headlights was different. It turned out to be a Rufous Nightjar, which has not been reliably reported in Costa Rica for some time but which is more common just across the border in Panama. It did not respond to taped calls, which is typical for the Rufous Nightjar at this time of year, and it had other distinguishing marks, including clearly visible white on the tail, that ruled out a Chuck Will’s Widow. Excited about this find, we returned toward Neily, spotlighting for owls along the way. We continued spotlighting on the main highway, and Magda found both a Black & White Owl, and finally our Striped Owl on a wire. We returned to Esquinas for a late dinner and bed.
Tuesday, January 19
We were up at 0430 for a 0500 departure. We drove back to Neily and then turned off and headed up into the hills to San Vito, where Costa Rica Gateway has an arrangement with a landowner to access a mountain pond. We set up the scopes and within minutes we found a pair of Masked Duck. This was Nancy's 5000th bird! We also saw a wild Muscovy, and Chuck had a reasonable view of the tiny Garden Emerald as it flew by. We hung out at the pond hoping for a better view of the emerald, without success. Then we continued on up the road toward Buenas Aires. Once again, Steven found a farm road for Nancy’s pit stop. It turned out to be another neat road that led down to a beautiful clear river. We saw a flock of migrant Violet-green Swallows, which are very unusual in Costa Rica. We continued on to our modest motel in Buenas Aires. We stopped at a grocery and then headed up a road east of town into the higher mountains.
We stopped along a creek for our packed lunch and then continued on up a track to a cult community, known as Durika. It has about 30 members and the people we talked to said it is based on love of the environment and sustainability. But it left us with a very uneasy feeling. We walked through the community, with their permission, and on up a road that was originally built by the Spanish Conquistadores to cross this part of Costa Rica. We saw an Ornate Hawk-Eagle in the far distance but not well enough for either of us to count it. We had coffee at the Durika commune dining room, then drove back down the road to arrive at an area of grasslands by dark to look for White-tailed Nightjar. At Chuck’s suggestion, Steven turned into a soccer field, and after we spent some time looking at a huge toad in the headlights, we drove to the far end of the field and immediately spotted our target nightjar. As we descended further down the road, we saw two more. Back in Buenas Aires, we went into a pizza restaurant for dinner. It was quite good. We have now seen a total of 313 birds, 31 new for Chuck, 32 new for Nancy.
Wednesday, January 20
At 0545 we headed back up into the mountains to the grasslands, where we saw the nightjar the previous evening. We saw Plain-breasted Ground-dove up very close. Also, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, which was new for Nancy. Another Garden Emerald sped over but again Nancy did not get a good look at it. We returned to our motel to pack up. We drove on to San Isidro where we looked for better views of Garden Emerald to no avail in residential area with lots of flowering plants and trees. We had lunch at Bazooka's Restaurant, where Chuck had a very good club sandwich and Nancy had the day's plate. We also had a Wi-Fi connection here, and Chuck downloaded his email.
Thursday, January 21
We drove a short distance up the road before 6 am to the place where we came last year to see Resplendent Quetzals. Last year, they were at a distant tree. This year, they were very close to us. We spent about an hour there while Nancy photographed with pointers from Steven. There were several males displaying and at least a couple of females. Photography was a challenge as the light was very dim and the birds seemed to perch always with branches in the way. We returned to Cabinas Quetzales for an excellent breakfast, then went to the road up behind the big Savegre Hotel where we stayed last year. As we got out of the car at the top of the track, we heard Costa Rican Pygmy-owl tooting, and we soon found a pair of them high up in the oak trees. We walked up a beautiful forest trail climbing to a higher elevation where the Silvery-throated Jays could be found. We spotted a couple of them high in the trees, then a couple more. We then found a nest right near the trail. We were thrilled to see this very difficult and rare Chiriqui endemic. On the way back down the trail we stopped to watch and photograph a pair of quetzales working on a cavity nest. Marino Chacón, our guide from last year, came along with a Canadian client. We told him about the jay nest, and he told us about an even rarer Buff-fronted Quail-dove nest. He took us straight up a steep hill to see it. We were climbing using both hands and feet. This was our other big target. And Marino took Nancy’s camera and did a couple of shots of the nesting dove. We also heard a Highland Tinamou calling incessantly for more than an hour, but it was way off trail and impossible to reach.
We returned to our lodgings for lunch, packed up and headed up out of the valley and on north. We stopped at a restaurant that has hummingbird feeders that are frequented by Fiery-throated Hummers, which Nancy photographed. The day was hot and sunny and the hummers did not frequent the feeders as often as they would if it was cool and misty. Near Paraiso, we stopped at a coffee farm of some Americans who have been here for 30 years. Their son Ernesto also guides for Costa Rica Gateway. We bought 6 pounds of delicious organic coffee, grown, dried, roasted, ground and packaged here on the farm under the label Café Cristina. When we went to leave, Steven's car would not start. We borrowed Ernesto’s car and continued on to El Copál, arriving well after dark. Steven amazed us as he found his way through a maze of increasingly smaller tracks to El Copál. The place is a rustic couple of buildings with bunk rooms, cold water showers, etc. It can actually sleep quite a number of people and is ideal for school science groups. It even has a classroom area. The food, which was quite acceptable, was served in a separate dining hall. We had a good dinner, Nancy braved the cold shower, and we went to bed.
Friday, January 22
We enjoyed coffee on the huge veranda at 0530 and watched it get light. We looked for birds but saw nothing new. The little Snowcap was a highlight. After a 0700 breakfast we climbed up a steep trail in the reserve. The 100 hectare reserve was purchased by area landowners and farmers who wanted to protect this excellent natural habitat. After a time of climbing, Steven called in a Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, one of our targets. A ways down the trail, we came upon a large tanager flock. Steven played the call of an Olive Tanager, which is a dominant flock leader in this habitat zone. Even though there was no Olive Tanager with this flock, the birds were fooled and just hung around feeding, since they thought their leader was still here. This enabled us to get good views of two new birds -- Blue & Gold Tanager and Black & Yellow Tanager. We returned to the lodge, had a nice lunch of steak followed by delicious rice pudding. We did our morning's bird list and headed back down the mountain. When we got back into cell phone range Steven called Ernesto and learned that his car was fixed. The problem was simply a fuse. Ernesto met us at a junction where we said goodbye to Magdalena, who needed to return home. We drove on toward Limón, turning off the main highway at Liverpool and heading up into the foothills to Veragua. This place is being developed as a day-trip destination for cruise liners docked at Limón. The accommodations are very basic, actually staff quarters with very thin walls. But Steven said it is worth putting up with in terms of the habitat here. And besides, we like to explore new places. Veragua is not on any birding itinerary. We had a basic but perfectly adequate dinner and went to bed to the sound of staff playing ping-pong.
Saturday, January 23
The generator came on a little after 0400, and we could hear the staff start to begin their day. Chuck started our coffee since it was difficult to sleep with all the noise. We met up with Steven at 0530 to begin birding around the building at first light. We had 4 lifers before breakfast. First, we saw Lattice-tailed Trogon in the forest behind the building. Then, we had Scarlet-thighed Dacnis and Rufous-winged Tanager. We had to watch a lot of other birds in a big flock before we finally saw the Sulphur-rumped Tanager. We got sore necks from looking up so much! We had breakfast and then went down the cable car to the bottom of the valley. There was a major boardwalk network, and we played calls for Spot-crowned Antvireo as we walked long it. We gave Nancy lots of time to photograph a roosting pair of Mottled Owls, and a roosting Crested Owl. After having a look at a waterfall, we heard the vireo and then had very good looks at it. Other than that they were very few birds to be seen or heard. There was a large group of Germans day visiting from a cruise ship. We had a cold drink in the café, then lunch, packed up and headed off to La Selva.
We arrived at La Selva about 4 pm and spent the remainder of the daylight in a farm area adjacent to the reserve where we had a view of a broad expanse of sky. We were looking for the Great Green Macaw on its way from a day's feeding in the forest to its night roost in distant mountains. It never appeared, reminiscent of our futile attempts to see it here last year. We went to the La Selva cafeteria, where again reminiscent of last year we had our worst meal of the trip -- rice with tuna and impossibly chewy squid! Chuck downloaded his email with the Wi-Fi in the cafeteria area. So far, we have seen 382 species, 43 of them new.
Sunday, January 24
We went right to breakfast at 0600, then headed up to the Quebrada Gonzales trail in Braulio Carrillo National Park. We picked up our first lifer upon getting out of the car -- a pair of Pale-vented Thrush in a tree over the parking area. We then went on a nice trail refurbished fairly recently with funding from LL Bean, according to a sign. We tried for Lanceolated Monklet but no luck.
We had a very nice tanager flock with lots of Tawny-crested Tanager in it, the males sporting orange Mohawks. We then took a 1.6 km deep forest trail that went up the hill. We still tried for the monklet but got no response to playback. We got a huge response from the Black-eared Quail-dove, an extremely difficult bird to see. We managed to get a fast view of a hen with a young right behind her. Steven said he has only seen this bird three times in all of his tours. We continued along the trail hearing and seeing very little until we came upon a large mixed flock. It had both canopy and understory birds in it. Steven tried for the Sharpbill and to our considerable surprise we got a response. We worked for nearly 10 minutes sifting through all the rapidly moving birds to pick out the Sharpbill. We didn’t want it to slip though as the birds quickly moved through the trees. Steven finally found it and we got good looks at its speckled belly and other features. We were thrilled. Not only was this a lifer but it is its own family, bringing us one closer to seeing all the world's bird families. A little further down the trail, we finally got a response from the Streak-crowned Antvireo and eventually saw a pair of this secretive little bird. We returned to La Selva for another lousy meal, took a snooze and then went out at 2:30 pm to look for Great Green Macaw over at the town of Puerto Viejo, where we heard it had been seen. We didn't see it. We also tried for it at La Selva but no dice there either. We had a lousy dinner and returned to our room for a very welcome shower after the day's heat and humidity. We have now seen 401 birds on the trip, 47 of them new.
Monday, January 25
We began the day scanning the skies from Puerto Viejo for the Great Green Macaw. It did not appear, so we returned to La Selva for breakfast. We then watched in vain for the macaw again for a bit on our way out of the area. Our next destination was Arenal Lodge at the base of Arenal Volcano. We stopped in the forest near the lodge at a spot where Steven and Magda had found a Keel-billed Motmot. Steven started playback, and a Broadbilled Motmot came in close enough for Nancy to photograph. He kept playing the call, and before long we got an answer on the other side of the road. We had to go back in the forest to see it, and Nancy tried to photograph it but was more concerned about the possibility of encountering a snake than getting a photo. We continued up the road to the lodge, a very high-end place with beautiful grounds and a spectacular view of the volcano, which was spewing huge lava boulders down its steep barren slopes. We found our target bird here, the tiny Black-crested Coquette, rather quickly in spite of the lodge trimming back nearly all the flowering verbena that the coquette loves. Since it was now lunchtime we ate at the lodge. Chuck had a Lava Burger and Nancy had the typical luncheon plate of grilled chicken, rice and beans and fried plantain. Total cost was $30 but the view of the volcano from the dining room was worth it.
We were up at our usual 0500, had some coffee and met Steven at 0545 for some pre-breakfast birding. We walked down the lower trail into deep forest crossing a long suspension bridge that spanned a steep valley. These farmers sure made a big investment here, as such bridges must be quite expensive. We came to a second bridge, with Steven playing the call of the Yellow-eared Toucanet. We heard a response and soon had a reasonable view of a male with the yellow streak on the side of his face high up in the trees. We turned around, with our target achieved, and back on the trail, to our great surprise, we came upon a Rufous-vented Ground-cuckoo. We got a fleeting view as it slipped away in the understory, and we heard its distinctive bill-clacking as it made two quick alarm calls. Its shape is similar to a roadrunner. Nancy saw the whole bird in silhouette; Chuck saw the back half with the cocked tail. We then came upon a Nightingale Wren which shot across the trail in front of us in response to playback. Nancy had a good view of the bird perched but Chuck was at a bad angle.
|Hoffman's Two-toed Sloth|
After breakfast, we returned to the upper trail where we had seen the ants. We found a minor swarm attended by at least three pairs of busy Spotted Antbirds and a pair of Bicolored Antbirds. We heard the ground-cuckoo make at least 10 of its moaning calls about 100 yards below us. We watched the ants for more than three hours but the ground-cuckoo never appeared. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to just watch the birds, including two woodcreepers, work the ant swarm, catching insects fleeing the ants' path. We speculated that the cuckoo wasn't as attracted to this swarm because it was rather diffuse and in a relatively open area. Nancy enjoyed photographing the lovely little Spotted Antbirds. We returned to the lodge, packed up, had lunch and set off on the 4-hour drive to San José and the airport for our return home to Colorado.