Saturday, March 27, 2010

Costa Rica, Day 5- Cloud Forest to the Coast

The morning was not particularly birdy, but it was really fun- we went ziplining through the cloud forest. It was really awesome. The longest cable was a quarter mile long and 100 feet up. Afterwards, we did a tarzan swing, where you are strapped to a rope, tossed off a 30 foot platform, and then swing out. That was much scarier than the zipline. Birds seen included Black-faced Solitaire, Common Bush-Tanager, and Violet Sabrewing.

Back at the hotel, a quick birdwalk produced Blue-and-White Swallows, Yellow-faced Grassquits, a Wood Thrush, 2 White-eared Ground-Sparrows, and a pair of lifers- Gray-breasted Martin and Paltry Tyrannulet.

Unfortunately, then we had to leave the highlands. The upside, however, is that we were going to the beach, and that our next target were Scarlet Macaws, the ultimate parrot, and the bird most people think of when they hear "rainforest."

Looking back towards Monteverde, we had a great view of the cloud forest and the valley below it.

As we decended towards Carara National Park on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, we were passing through dry cattle pastures, and we saw two denizens of this habitat- Groove-billed Ani and the remarkable long-tailed, sky blue White-throated Magpie-Jay. Another very cool bird that we saw while driving by fast was a Turquoise-browed Motmot. In NY you see pigeons and starlings by the side of the highway. In Costa Rica you see Magpie-Jays and Motmots. 
We wanted to get the the Tarcoles River Bridge by dusk to see the Macaws, but we did have time for a quick stop- in the town square of Orotina, home of what has to be the most famous Black-and-White Owl in the world. 
So me, my sister, and my dad, the only Americans in the town, were walking around with binoculars and cameras looking up trees. The ice cream vendor there must be used to that kind of thing, and he approched us, saying, "Black-and-White Owl?" It turned out that was the only English he knew. 
But sure enough, he knew right where the bird was, and pointed it out. Of course, we had to buy his ice cream too. 

We arrived in Tarcoles, checked into our hotel, saw a Turquoise-browed Motmot and some more Anis,  and headed to the bridge.

Sillouette of the motmot (look at the tail!)

When we arrived, I began finding some of the common coastal birds that one might see in Florida or the SE United States- Great, Snowy, and Cattle Egrets, Little Blue, Great Blue, and Tricolored Herons, Laughing Gull, Black-necked Stilt, and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. 

Also interesting were the dozens of gigantic crocodiles in the Tarcoles River.

A Wood Stork flew past, as did some Montezuma Oropendolas. I spotted two lifers, a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron and a Northern Jacana, the latter with yellow wing feathers and very long toes. 

Around this time, a bird flew towards us from the direction of the forest. It called once, and flew on. Originally puzzled by the bird's shape, I suddenly caught a glimpse of the color on its wings- Red, Yellow, Blue. Scarlet Macaw!! It was a brief and somewhat distance look, but still a great bird. It got darker, and it became clear that that was the only one we would see for the night. 

Still on alert for another macaw, I watched a different spectacle. When we had arrived, in broad daylight, there were huge amounts of swallows, mostly barn but with some mangrove swallow mixed in, catching insects over the river. As it got later, these birds began to move out, racing under the bridge and away towards their roosts, all in the same direction, alone or in small groups. At the same time, single Costa Rica Swifts were flying in the opposite direction under the bridge, to forage in the same spot that the swallows were before. When it grew even darker, the swifts, like the swallows had done earlier, began to move out. This time there was not as clear of a migration in, but suddenly there was a Lesser Nighthawk above me. The numbers grew until there were dozens of them, erratically chasing insects. They were the first of their family that I had seen, and they immediately became one of my favorite birds. The three groups of birds with similar food and foraging habits all used the same spot- swallows in day, swifts at dusk, and nighthawks at night, and I was there to watch their daily procession as the sun set.

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