Thursday, March 11, 2010

Costa Rica- Day 3- Volcano to the Cloud Forest

Since I was up fairly early, our hotel had a balcony, and I had seen very few "caribbean slope" birds so far, I was able to see 7 lifers before breakfast- Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Black-striped Sparrow, the tiny Bananaquit, the really cool black-and-red Passerini's Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, Ruddy-ground Dove, and a female Green Honeycreeper (nowhere new as colorful as the male, which I didn't see, but still green- sort of like seeing a female painted bunting without the male). Not a bad list, but unfortunately it was even rainier and foggier, so I did not see my life volcano.

After breakfast we decided to go to the Silencio Reserve, a private reserve that is about as close to the volcano as it is safe to get. Notice anything unusual about this sign?:

Just in case, they have you park facing the exit. That's how close the volcano is. Notice the fog, rather than spectacular volcano view, in the background. 

Still, the birds were good. On the way there, I saw what I was fairly sure was a crow flying away. Then I realized that there are no crows in Costa Rica. Hmmmm. 

When we pulled into the parking lot, my mom solved the mystery by spotting a large black bird with a yellow tail, orange-tipped bill, and some bare facial skin. Montezuma Oropendola. I had underestimated the size of these blackbird relatives. Instead of being grackle-sized, as I was assuming, they were easily crow-sized. The bright yellow tail contrasts with the overall black plumage, especially in flight. 

In the parking lot I also found Bananaquits, an unidentified Pewee, and a lifer, Yellow-faced Grassquit. 

We drove up to the parking lot where the photo above was taken, and started to walk down a trail. There were a pair of Chestnut-manibled Toucans in one tree, and Red-lored Parrots in another. Both lifers. Toucans and Parrots!!

Then, when I looked back, the Chestnut-manibled Toucans had been replaced with a Keel-billed Toucan, with an even more brightly colored bill. The birds on this particular walk tended towards the large and impressive- Oropendola, Parrots, Two Toucans. It turned out to be a great stop, even without a volcano.

Back at the hotel, when we were checking out, I still managed to get a few more birds, one of which I would have no chance at for the rest of the trip. In the parking lot I found a Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Palm Tanager, and Black-cowled Oriole (a Caribbean slope specialty). Toucans were trash birds by now- there were 4 chestnut-manibled and one fly-by keel-billed. 

Palm Tanager camouflage:

Black-cowled Oriole:

We departed for what would be our best birding spot of the trip, the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. On the way, my mom pointed out a Crested Guan- an arboreal turkey-like (though unrelated) bird. At one point we ran into a roadblock of White-nosed Coatis (Also called Coatimundis), which apparently really like cookies. 

Of course, feeding wild animals, even cute ones like coatis, is a bad idea, but we got good looks because of it. 

By this time, we were skirting Lake Arenal, the largest lake in the country. We stopped for a couple minutes for the view at a restaurant. I stayed in the car at first, but then we switched off. I asked my mom and sister if I should bring binoculars. They said probably not. So I didn't. When I went across the street, it turned out that there were 4 Collared Aracaris (toucans) and 6-7 Gray-headed Chachalacas. I went back to the car to get my binoculars ("Sure, Mom, no need for me to bring my binoculars. It's not like anyone would want to look at toucans through them.") I got great looks at both. The Chachalacas were a lifer, and with the Creasted Guan my 2nd Cracid (Currasows, Guans, and Chachalacas) of the trip.

We stopped for lunch at the Lucky Bug cafe/art gallery/gift shop. The food was good, and the fresh fruit drinks were really good. So were the birds. Keel-billed Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Palm Tanager, Montezuma Oropendola, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, and two lifers, White-necked Jacobin and Yellow-throated Euphonia, were all present. 

Black-cheeked Woodpecker:

Female and Male Yellow-throated Euphonia, A curious Palm Tanager:

White-necked Jacobin

We left Lake Arenal for the dry mountain regions on the way to Monteverde. (The 2nd photo is panorama. Click on it to see the whole thing)

The road up to Monteverde is known for being one of the country's worst. It is not paved, and has enough bumps so that we were very glad to have 4-wheel drive. The road was also not very crowded, which was good, because it was not very wide. Another good thing about that was that we could stop if I saw a bird. That would be useful on two occasions. 

Because we were now in more of an open, cattle-pasture habitat, I shouldn't have been as surprised as I was when a Crested Caracara flew by. Great bird, easily one of my top 5 favorite birds. The next bird we saw was quite a bit smaller, but far more vibrant. I was looking out the window, and spotted two brilliant blue birds. They were really blue. Not like the blue-gray tanagers, which are, well, blue-gray. These birds recalled indigo buntings, but they had a decurved bill, red legs, and bright yellow underwings. Red-legged Honeycreepers. Awesome. And unlike the Green Honeycreeper earlier, both were males. 


See the yellow underwing on the left-hand bird in the last photo?

We drove higher, entered the cloud forest, finally reached a paved road, got to the town of Santa Elena, and found our hotel, the Arco Iris, which was really nice. A little birding around the hotel grounds got me 2 lifers- Blue-and-White Swallow and Wilson's Warbler, plus another spectacular Blue-crowned Motmot.

Good Birding!

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