Saturday, March 13, 2010

Costa Rica, Day 4- Quetzals in Monteverde

This was expected to be the best birding day of the trip. We hired a guide for a 4 hour hike in Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. On the way to breakfast, in a clump of trees with berries that had been good for tanagers and Clay-colored Robins, I spotted a Masked Tityra, a pale gray bird with a black tail, wing patch, and black surrounding bright red facial skin. It is also a taxonomically interesting bird, in a group of birds, along with other Tityras and Becards, that have been placed with Cotingas, Flycatchers, and in their own family at different times. Now they are placed as Incertae Sedis, Latin for "we have no idea where to put them." It would be the first of many cool life birds that day.

At breakfast we met our guide, Adrian, who outlined his plans for the morning. We left our hotel and the paved roads of Santa Elena, us in our car an Adrian on his motorbike, which seemed to be the preferred mode of transportation for most people living there. It did better on the dirt roads than us, though it would probably be tricky to drive 2 hours on mostly unpaved roads while carrying a spotting scope and tripod, which he was going to do the next day. 

After pulling into the parking lot, Adrian quickly found two good birds, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, an endemic that looks like a Kiskadee with a malar stripe, and Mountain Robin, a slightly darker version of the Clay-colored Robins, with a diagnostic black, not yellow, bill. Those two demonstrated how useful it was to have a good guide along. Without Adrian, I could have overlooked the flycatchers and passed the Mountain Robins off as Clay-colored Robins. 

We started down one of the trails, and quickly found birds. Adrian would hear a bird ahead of us on the trail, then find it as we got to that spot. In this was we quickly picked up Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, Plain Antvireo, Yellowish Flycatcher, Common Bush-Tanager, and Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, a tiny flycatcher with a long name that Adrian was very happy about seeing- apparently it is uncommon in Monteverde. 

The Gray-brested Wood-Wrens were the loudest and had the most distinctive songs. Adrian said that they were often called "R2D2 birds," and hearing them, we could tell why. They sound exactly like the droid from Star Wars. See if you agree:

I spotted a Slate-throated Redstart, and Adrian heard and then found a Black-faced Solitaire. Adrian had a good description for its song too- It sounds like the sound made when you run your finger along the edge of a wineglass. For the whole time we were in the cloud forest, you could almost always hear them or the wood-wren, and often both. Two more birds that we heard, but did not see, were the Silvery-fronted Tapaculo and Prong-billed Barbet.

A little futher along the trail, we came to a group of people, with a guide, looking at something to the left of the trail. We soon saw what- a male Resplendent Quetzal at a nest hole in a dead tree. After a couple minutes of watching in awe, it flew closer so that it was facing us. A female flew to where the male had been, then joined him on the branch nearer to us. It was incredible. We took a ton of photos, some digiscoped and some not, and, though it was very foggy, some came out pretty well. Us and 30 other people all were watching the quetzals, and when we left, they were still perched there. 

Adrian and I looking at the quetzals (Note the huge crowd of birders on the right side of the photo):

After the quetzals, we contined birding, obviously. A Black-and-White Warbler, which would be up in NY in the summer, was spending its winter with the quetzals. Soon we found what looked like a black turkey, but high in a tree. It was the endemic Black Guan, all black with blue facial skin, red legs, and a loud, "machine gun" wing  rattle when it flapped. Mammal-wise, we found a Three-toed Sloth and a Mexican Porcupine. 

Adrian found a mixed flock composed primarily of Three-striped Warblers and Common Bush-Tanager, which also contained a Golden-crowned Warbler and an endemic Ruddy Treerunner. From a suspension bridge high in the forest, we could see epiphytes, a Yellowish Flycatcher, and Collared (endemic) and Slate-throated Redstarts. A Stripe-tailed Hummingbird buzzed by, and a secreative Ochraceous Wren (also endemic) was seen. A vocalizing Spotted Woodcreeper was my first woodcreeper, and my 350th bird. 

Another really cool bird was a Violet Sabrewing, a giant, brilliant purple hummingbird. Though we would see many at close range later, this one seemed like more of a wild bird than the ones at the hummingbird feeders. 

Another flock of Three-striped Warblers was accompanied this time by a Red-faced Spinetail. There was also a Slate-throated Redstart foraging a couple feet above the ground, giving great looks. 

After that we returned to the parking lot, got great looks at Yellowish Flycatcher,  and went up to the Hummingbird Gallery, an incredible collection of hummingbird feeders that produced 8 species and the best photos of the trip. That will get its own post later, but here's one shot for now- Purple-throated Mountain-Gem:

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