Wednesday 18 March 2020

Costa Rica: 29th February 2020

29th February:

I was awoken a little after four by some very strange noises outside.  My body said that it was time to get up so I got dressed and headed outside (stepping over a monstrous Cane Toad in the process).

Cane Toad

I had heard one of the other groups playing Spectacled Owl calls the previous evening and knew exactly what I was listening to as this pair duetted from the trees above in a curiously un-natural sounding deep quavering tremolo.
I grabbed my torch and had a quick look around but my beam was not really strong enough to illuminate but I did find one who turned and looked down with a big pale face. I switched off and left them to it and turned my attention to the other strange sound coming from the garden (over the sound of the ever present sprinkler system) and there on the tarmac was a Nighthawk of some description but to be honest I had not got a clue at that stage other than it had large white wing patches, a big white throat that it puffed out when it sang and that it definitely did not churr! I would have to wait until the others arrived for our pre-breakfast walk to be told that it was a Pauraque (pronounced Parakee).

I had refound one of the Spectacled Owls as one or two of the party arrived and they got to see a singing silhouette but it was always about the voice of this one!  Two Pauraque showed well to the group before slinking out of view and our first Mantled Howler Monkeys were getting going across the river before sun up.

This first short walk took us alongside the river upstream of the lodges and started well with a huge Crested Guan gliding across the valley on rounded wings with a skinny neck and tiny head protruding out the front.  Mealy Parrots raucously squawked in the tall trees and other new birds started to come thick and fast. A Bright Rumped Attila (a type of flycatcher) sang upslope but would prove tricky to pin down and a variety of other birds were heard but not seen but at this stage it was still all so new that only the plaintive song of the Attila stuck in my head and we would hear it almost everywhere we went. 

Grey Capped Flycatchers were nesting down by the river and a Bare-throated Tiger Heron was stalking the shallows while a couple of Spotted Sandpipers teetered around the margins.  The Mealy Parrots were trying to ‘out noise’ all other bird life but the arrival of some Scarlet Macaws soon put paid to that.

Bare-throated Tiger Heron

A loud double tap from way up above on the slope was the contact note of the imposing but invisible Pale Billed Woodpecker and a Summer Tanager sat up for all to see. Back over the water a stunning White-necked Jacobin was high flying, flashing his name sake white collar and blazing tail sides – another new Hummer  and he was followed by the silky white Purple Crowned Fairy with its needle thin bill while Rufous Taileds aggressively chased all and sundry.
Dad was especially pleased as one of his random trip wishes was to see a Balsa tree.  Much to his delight one of the first really imposing trees we came to had a helpful sign attached. He was very happy to reconnect with his childhood friend...

A small patch of trees between us and the river proved most productive with a much better view of the Streak-headed Woodcreeper, a wonderfully named Buff-throated Foliage Gleaner (doing what its name suggests) and a fat headed, patiently perched White Whiskered Puffbird.

Streak-headed Woodcreeper

White Whiskered Puffbird

We ambled back for breakfast with more ornithological food for thought with Northern Waterthrushes, House Wrens and Ctenosaurs on the lawns, a pair of Yellow-throated Euphonias nest building in the epiphytes on a tree at eye level and a giant Stick Insect on the bench outside out door.  I was also thinking of coffee and pancakes and cooked plantain with syrup...

House Wren


Ctenosaur eyeing up prey item

Stick Insect

Assassin Bug

Yellow-throated Euphonia

Trying to get me onto the bus was always going to be problematical and the simple loitering around to be last on – but not delaying proceedings – procured three more new birds for us in about two minutes with pairs of almost shrike-like Buff Throated Saltators (pronounced Sol Tat Or if I was listening correctly), Golden Hooded Tanager and those pesky but rather imposing Pale-billed Woodpeckers!

Pale-billed Woodpeckers

Our journey to the tiny car park for the entrance to the Carrara NP River Trail was just a few miles away but even then we had seen another Crested Guan before we got there.  The forest was dry and crunchy and we were advised not to veer off the trails but with the heat and high humidity it was more like having your own personal rain body than rain forest. It was obviously going to be hard work in the forest but we started well with the imposing ground loving Orange Billed Sparrow at the very start and swiftly followed this up with singing Black-hooded Antshrikes and heavily marked Rufous Breasted Wrens in the same tangle.  Patience was required and often you had to piece birds together but in time you generally saw birds well.
A pair of Dusky Antbirds obliged a little further up the path and two Buff Throated Saltators played chase and spooked up another well marked bird that only Angie and I saw – a Rufous and White Wren.   

The trick was to find pockets of activity and stay with it and the next sunny opening provided such an opportunity and we struggled to keep up with all the movement. Chestnut-sided Warblers, Lesser Greenlet, Common Tody Flycatcher and Yellow-Olive Flatbill had already been encountered but there were several black White Shouldered Tanagers, Tropical Gnatcatchers and three new Hummers in the shape of Scaly Breasted and both Long Billed and Stripe Throated Hermits along with more great views of Purple Crowned Fairy.

White Shouldered Tanager

Long Billed Hermit

Dad found a pair of Pale-billed Woodpeckers and Hoffmann’s were also seen while White Tipped and Red Billed Pigeons were also new.
The humidity was astonishing and we were melting but we stuck at it. The air reverberated to the sound of countless cicadas and other insects and imposing butterflies of every colour glided by and above but once again the majority refused to descend to be studied. 

Skipper sp

A Long-tailed Skipper sp
Our next hot spot threw more id challenges our way with the larger sturdier Cocoa Woodcreeper alongside the Streak Headed, the slightly recurved bill of the related Plain Xenops poking under bark fragments, the out of proportion needle bill of the Trilling Gnatwren, the brief polka-dots of a Dot-winged Antwren  and the pointy head of the large Dusky-capped Flycatcher.  We met up with a large Dutch group heading quickly the other way and stopped to let them past and promptly found our very first Lemon-tipped Helicopter Damselfly impossibly gyrating through the clearing at face height. It was huge and elegant and seemingly moving too slow to stay up.  It proved very difficult to find when it landed and it took an age to get everyone onto it.  Mel was particularly pleased as this was one of her most wanted.

More Cicadas and some high flying butterflies 
Every now and then the wind would really get up and give the canopy a good thrashing sending leaves, dust and timber crashing to the forest floor.  It was actually a little scary at times especially with the crack and thump of branches hitting the forest floor but there is not a lot you can do when this begins to happen while you are actually in the forest!  Sometimes you would find a clearing that would allow you to look up or across and see a towering giant way grander than any tree I had ever seen before; a true majestic entity with its leafy head way, way above the rest of the canopy.

We carried on around and everyone else managed to see Red-legged Honeycreepers but the chunky Grey Headed Tanagers blended in and were tricky to pick up despite being low down.  There were a few more settled smaller butterflies here and a green dragon that Steve said was Great Pondhawk. 

Strangler Figs cut fantastic humanoid shapes as they cemented themselves to the ground long after their parental carrier had succumbed and decayed leaving tunnels and splayed limbs through which we could walk  and jokingly look up for bats only to find some just sitting there. Lesser Sac-winged Bat by all accounts and down below them in the leaf litter were several very chunky Ctenosaurs lounging around in appropriately lizard like ways.

Dad in a Strangler

Bees on a pollinated Banana flower


Lesser Sac-winged Bat

Retracing our steps towards lunch added nothing new until we reached the bus and were guided to a palm from where a solitary large white bat hung.  Honduran White was the expected species but this (and another seen) was much too big and some digging by Jules later unearthed the Northern Ghost Bat which was a new species for Steve, Gina and Ramon too.  It had such a cute visage and was possibly the only cuddly looking bat I have ever seen.

Northern Ghost Bat

Lunch back at Villa Lapas and then apparently some downtime to chill in the pool and ‘relax’. Mmm... chill?  Sploosh water onto face and get back out. I concentrated on the riverside and spent my time working on some flycatcherish birds. One had a very tufty crest and yellowy lower belly and the other was shades of grey and white and with help from Steve we were able to get them to Yellow-bellied Elaenia and Eastern Wood Pewee while a third bird was more heavily built and cinnamon in colour with a dusky cap.  I wondered at a Becard and it was indeed a Rose-throated of that family.

Eastern Wood Pewee - I think

Rose-throated Becard

A Squirrel Cuckoo with a very long piebald tail and russet uppers lost itself in the bushes and some Morelet’s Seedeaters, Chestnut-sided Warblers and Cherrie’s Tanagers were coming down to bathe in an eddy. The Painted Buntings were back on the lawn and  Streaked and Grey Capped Flycatchers watched proceedings.

Cherrie’s Tanager

Grey Capped Flycatcher

A random dangling parrot

Tiny bees and their resin tube home on a wall
Gina found a Satiny Parrot Snake trying to hunt House Wrens behind the lodges and being in the open it allowed superb views as it slithered its slender five foot form in and out of the tiniest crevice.  It was lime green above and certainly sky blue under the head and apparently harmless but none of us fancied moving it to a safe spot!

Satiny Parrot Snake
Satiny Parrot Snake - Steve Cullum

Part two of the Carrera NP followed after lunch as we headed for the Figure of Eight trail. It started very nicely with an obliging day roosting Pauraque in the car park.


This was a different sort of trail completely with largely ‘proper’ paths and even hand rails occasionally and plenty of elevation changes. The group excelled in the art of jungle creep but getting everyone to connect with all the wildlife seen was tricky but we were largely successful.
We began with the rifle crack of displaying Orange Collared Manakins.  The fiery males were glimpsed briefly bounding between ground level stems but our attempts to lure them out only attracted the females who came very close and showed off their vivid green plumage and pink legs!  The forest floor was our main concern with everyone told to look for any movement and before too long I found a Great Tinamou ambling about a few yards in like a brown football with a cartoon skinny neck and head. 

A Grey Chested Dove head bobbed up the path in front of us and a Buff-rumped Warbler flashed its best asset like a bright torch in the gloom of the understory. Chestnut–backed Antbirds were also picked up with their little blue face patches, scratching around tree stumps and the curiously rail like Black-faced Antthrush picked through the leaf litter with flicking tail and mournful song between rummages.  This was to become one of my favourite birds although we never saw it again. A female Black-hooded Antshrike had us confused (for several days) and both Wood and Swainson’s Thrushes were seen in the gloom.

Black-faced Antthrush

Black-faced Antthrush

Buttress roots

Owl Butterfly

We reached the river and a fine drake Muscovy Duck swiftly swam away from us eager eyes, resplendent in shiny black and sparkly white and a gleaming yellow warbler became my much hoped for Prothonatory.  I have never looked up until now why it is named as such but thanks to the joys of the internet... It gets its name from the eighteenth century Louisiana Creoles who thought the bird's plumage resembled the golden robes of the protonotarius (papal clerk), a Catholic Church official who advised the Pope.  Well there you go.

Muscovy Duck

The river bridge gave us cracking views of an adult Brown Basilisk with huge back sails and a whip like tail.

Brown Basilisk - his tail is just touching the water!

A Rose-throated Becard was another get back from my lunchtime foray and a Black-faced Trogon came to watch us from a branch just above the path.  They were a strangely curious family and would often seemingly alight on a perch close enough or open enough to give them a view of what you were doing.

Black-faced Trogon

Time was pushing on and the light was dropping and just as we climbed some steps Steve stopped us and pointed excitedly. A Streak Chested Antpitta was perched just a few feet away on a log.  We had heard them as we walked along but they are notoriously difficult to see and here was one sitting there like some rotund tail-less thrush. Steve was thrilled for us.  

Streak Chested Antpitta
Streak Chested Antpitta

Streak Chested Antpitta - Steve Cullum
Streak Chested Antpitta - Steve Bird

It hopped off and we moved onto to a small stream where more new birds were just itching to be seen. A couple of male Red Crowned Manakins with their golden trousers were coming down to bathe and with them was a female Blue Crowned Manakin too.  A Hummer flicked around and became a Blue Throated Sapphire while a yellow fronted flycatcher was identified (by range) as a Sulphur Rumped Myiobius.

Red Crowned Manakin - Steve Cullum

There was a degree of uncertainty as to the direction of the trail back but Steve chose right and after a bit of an undulating yomp we were ready to be collected by the waiting Ramon.

Back at Villa Lapas there was time for a shower only to be disturbed by the Spectacled Owls and Pauraque starting up once again. This time Steve had the super torch on hand and both owls flew into the tree above us and sang together while we watched from below – a superb pre-dinner treat.

Spectacled Owls

Grub consumed and then we were back out again for a night drive down to Jaco on the coast in the hope of the difficult Striped Owl.  It was nice to be out in the cool and the dark with a myriad of stars and an upside down crescent moon gleaming in the heavens.  Some funny squeaks were heard but nothing matching any owl but there was plenty of eye shine from numerous Pauraque dotted around the fields and the air was full of insect sounds. 

The bus lulled me and I nodded all the way back to camp where my bed and few hours sleep beckoned.

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