Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Costa Rica, Day 2 - Motmotfest and #300

I could have slept in, but when you are in a foreign country, there are motmots to be found, and practically every small brown (or brilliant blue) bird is a lifer, you have to get your priorities right. Birding is more important. So I got up as early as would be worthwhile (5:45- it would have been dark any earlier) and took the long, strenuous hike down the hall to the hotel gardens (This is serious birding here :-).

I was immediately struck by how many Clay-Colored Robins (which, by the way, is Costa Rica's national bird- no idea why) there were. They had been common the day before, but now there was one every 10 feet. The previous day, I had seen a couple of places where fruit was put out for the birds. It had been gone then, but I figured that they would be refilled and could get some good birds. This thought proved correct when I ran into the same birder from yesterday and she mentioned that a motmot had been at those feeders 10 minutes earlier.

On the way there I found an Inca Dove nest, and saw Baltimore Orioles, Tennesse Warblers, House Wrens, Grayish Saltators, and my first lifer of the day, a loud and large (for a wren) Rufous-Naped Wren. Plus, of course, more Clay-colored Robins.

At the feeders, the same was true. They were dominated by the robins, though occasionally a Blue-Gray Tanager or Grayish Saltator would get a bite before being chased away.

A Clay-Colored Robin eating Papaya:

I walked around a little more and then returned to the feeders to find a Blue-crowed Motmot feasting. Apparently they can fend off the robins. I got incredible looks- literally 7 feet away. Unfortunately, I left my real camera back in the hotel room, and the shots I got using my cell phone were probably the worst possible- its amazing what 1.2 megapixels and no zoom can do to what probably would have been the shot of the trip. Still, just seeing such a great bird so close made the morning of birding.

I returned to the hotel room, and looked around from the balcony. I quickly spotted a kiskadee nearby on a palm tree. Taking a second look, however, I realized that it was actually a Boat-billed Flycatcher, a life bird. For a little context, here's a panorama of the view of our hotel balcony:

After breakfast, I tried to refind the motmot for my family, but was unsucessful. However, consolation came in the form of a very cooperative Canivet's Emerald, a tiny, practically bee-sized hummingbird that was asleep on a twig 5 feet away.

The emerald brought me up to 297- just 3 birds away. We left the Hotel Bouganvillea to drive up to Arenal Volcano, an active volcano with frequent spectacular eruptions. The route we took passed through some mountains and cloud forest, and for a few really cool but strange portions of the drive we were in fog so thick that anything more than forty feet away (including other cars) was invisible. I took these photos when we pulled over to look at a waterfall (click to enlarge):

We stopped at a rest area/ziplining tour headquarters (at least, that's what I think it was. I'm not positive) to use the bathrooms. It turned out there were hummingbird feeders there. It was awesome. In contrast to my many futile or semi-successful attempt to attract hummingbirds in New York, there were at least 10 at any given time, and no break in the activity.

The most beautiful, conspicuous, and common were the Violet-Crowned Woodnymphs. The larger Green-crowned Brilliant were a bit less spectacular but still bright green (their name is puzzling though- they are entirely green, so why specify the crown color.) The third hummingbird there was smaller, and very special- it is endemic to Costa Rica alone. If you were keeping count, you would also notice that these Coppery-headed Emeralds were my 300th bird! Of course, at the time I was too busy watching the hummingbirds to think about numbers- all of them were new. A Green Hermit, a somewhat bizarre hummer with a long bill and long, decurved bill made an appearance twice. The only bird there that was not a life bird was the Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, which had been ubiquitous back at Hotel Bouganvillea.

Violet-crowned Woodnymph:

My video recording skills are not great, and neither is the narration, but this video does have all the species we saw there.

When we reached the hotel, one of the first things I noticed was a bird's silhouette on top of a fairly distant tree. Looking through my binoculars, I realized it was a toucan. How's that for a good first impression? To be more specific, it was a Collared Aracari, and there ended up being four of them, two very close eating fruit. I got 2 photos (You might recognize one- it was my banner on this blog for a couple weeks)

After we unpacked in our room and spotted a Spotted Sandpiper and my life Ringed Kingfisher(below), we braved the rain to go to go to some hot springs for relaxation, etc, but also, for me, birding.

One of the first birds I found was a Long-billed Hermit, a fairly drab hummingbird but, like the green hermit, long-tailed and billed. There were a few males lekking, essentially getting together, perching a few yards apart, and making an annoying chirping sound constantly for hours to attract a female. If there were no other birds around, I could always just try to refind some of there hermits, a challenging but fun task.

But there were other birds around. Between dips in the hot springs, which were fun and relaxing, I found an Orange-billed Sparrow and a Gray-chested Dove. The sparrow was cool-looking, the dove not as much. I didn't get any photos of either, but one of the sparrow is here.

I was trying to refind the sparrow in a thicket when I glanced up for a second, did a double-take, and realized that there was a Rufous Motmot right in front of me.

Rufous Motmots are like other motmots, meaning that they are really cool, but they are also larger with a bright rufous head and chest and a black mask. Probably my new favorite bird. Then a second one arrived, which made it even better. I got spectacular looks- I don't think it really would have been possible to get any better looks at these birds. I even heard their odd vocalization.

After seeing a few more hermits and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, as well as some migrants- Chestnut-sided Warblers and a Wood Thrush, we headed back to our hotel, Montanas del Fuego, where a pair of birds in the same tree gave me two more lifers- Variable Seedeater and White-colored Seedeater, and a kiskadee was very cooperative, though the fog was detrimental to photo-taking.

You might be wondering about the volcano, since this is, after all, the Arenal Volcano area, and the hot springs were volcanic. Unfortunately, it was so rainy and foggy that it was hard to see across the street, let alone to the volcano. There was no indication that it was even there. It would turn out to be the only real "miss" of the whole trip.

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