Thursday 16 April 2020

Costa Rica: 10th March 2020

10th March:

The Central American Pygmy Owls eventually went quiet last night but started up again right overhead quite merrily at 4am precluding any further sleep.  Dad and I headed out into the pre-dawn light to the sound of both Little and Great Tinamous again and fortuitously decided to follow the path beyond our Lodges.  I was a short way ahead and as I came around the corner I heard the undergrowth moving. I stood still and a large shape emerged onto the path. I put my bins up and realised the literal enormity of what was standing there.  

I ushered Dad to join me and said... ‘Tapir!!!!!!!!!’  

He said ‘Where?’ 

I said ‘It’s blocking the f**cking path!'. 

‘oh... so it is’ says he.

This gentle giant plodded on huge feet towards us with ears turning and trunklet whiffling around before hanging a left into the shrubbery.  It was moving very quietly but we were so close that we could retrace our steps around the corner in the hope of another view. 

We stopped and the crunching stopped. ‘It should be just in here’ says Dad. I caught a slight bit of movement and the glint in a big liquid eye and realised that it was at eye height with me up the bank, almost asking permission to go on its way.

I took half a pace back and she came down the slope just a few feet away and slowly and silently plodded up the path past all the other Lodges with her trunk tasting the air as she went.

Baird’s Tapir on the move
I was whisper shouting for Steve & Gina to get up (they were next door to ours) but their room was in darkness but Hazel chose that moment to appear on her veranda as our Baird’s Tapir ambled past her door too! There was a mini-squeal of ‘Tapppiiirrr!’ followed by her trying to get her own Steve outside to see it too. 

Baird’s Tapir- every time I watch this it gives me goosebumps

Everyone slowly emerged but by then she had veered off back into the jungle as silently as she had appeared. It felt like everything else that day would be an anticlimax but this is Costa Rica and this marvellous country always seems to have something up its Neotropical sleeve.

Our pre-breakfast walk took us all the way down the entrance road to the river. Both Keel-billed and Yellow-throated Toucans were singing from up high and Mealy Parrots glowed green in the early sunshine. Barred Antshrikes were counter singing and Tawny Crested and Carmiol’s Tanagers moved through the lower storeys while up higher there were Green Honeycreepers, Wedge-billed Woodcreepers, Cinnamon Becards, Baltimore Orioles and a single White-lined Tanager.

After not moving since we saw it at dusk, the Three Toed Sloth decided to get up - Steve Cullum

Keel-billed Toucan

Keel-billed Toucan - Steve Cullum
Mealy Parrots - Steve Cullum

Mealy Parrots

So straight! - Peter Vaughan

A Barred Forest Falcon was calling just into the woods and shortly afterwards a small belly-barred Accipiter like raptor zoomed out and low overhead.  Some of the views out over the forests were amazing and the clouds were doing some very strange things.

Down at the river Ramon found a small Muntjac type Deer crossing the river bed – a Central American Red Brocket and up above White Collared and Vaux’s Swifts danced along the ridge line. 

Given the steepness of the climb back up, a lift had been arranged by our staff guide and we were all grateful of an earlier arrival at breakfast where the Orange-billed Sparrows were chipping in almost ultrasonic squeaks from the bushes.

It was time to move on again and we had another day of tortuous travelling to do so we hit the road early and immediately ran into the most bizarre roadworks on the high road to get us to San Jose.  They were running on a twenty minutes each way cycle which given the length of road they were resurfacing was understandable but it sure did make the trip take even longer. Periodically you would get a view out over the unspoilt jungle ridges with no sign of human interference whatsoever.

Gunnera insignis on the roadside

However, the worst was to come with the nightmare that is navigating the metropolis of San Jose. Every road was a free for all and Ramon navigated with ease and avoided numerous attempts to cut up the bus before deviating through a succession of back roads to get us out the other side with a bonus stop for a superb speedy Subway lunch which was something of an education for those who had not been to one before! Mmm... Steak and cheese, toasted with jalapenos, gherkin and chipotle sauce...

Once beyond the crush we headed south to Paraiso Park in the heart of a bustling town. The park was full of families and walkers and bench sitters with the church occupying one end.  We were after two Owl species here but our time was short. Western Barn Owls are usually in the palms but it was just too busy with workmen jetting down railings and groups of noisy Finsch’s Parakeets in most of them but we got lucky with the other species – Tropical Screech Owl - as a local saw us with bins and took us to the tree with a pair sitting nicely on view.  After a good look we made our escape!

Finsch’s Parakeets

Tropical Screech Owl

Tropical Screech Owl
From here we were able to hit the open road as it began to climb steadily. Until this point I did not know that we would be travelling so high but our intention was to reach the Paramo way up above the treeline at over 10,000 feet.  

There were a couple of species that we were after up here and the weather at the top would undoubtedly reflect on our success.  We passed the 10k mark and then 11k with Steve having a handy phone app to celebrate the occasion.

And we were not at the top yet...

Our first Sooty Thrushes scooted like Blackbirds across the road and Band-tailed Pigeons flew over the road in groups before we came off on a dirt track at the crest of a hill and wended our way up towards some radio masts that birders know as The Towers at around somewhere above 11,500 feet.

I expected to be in the cloud but there was blue sky all around with fluffy cloud off in the distance. Before I had even got out I could see a Volcano Junco hopping towards us and this beady yellow eyed little speciality was most obliging.  He was blue ringed and there is obviously a project going on up here with this localised species.

Volcano Junco

Volcano Junco

His general brown and grey tones made him quite Dunnock-like at times.  The air was very thin but I seemed ok so I headed off to a high point for a better view passing a green Spiny Lizard on the way. A Yellow Warbler flicked in the low scrubby bushes below and two Barn Swallows flicked through on their way back to the States.

Volcano Junco

There was no wind and it was cool but not cold so we set off for a walk along the road to search for Volcano Hummingbird and the very tricky Timberline Wren.  The still conditions helped us find both.

The Timberline Wrens were singing out of sight but one eventually popped up close to us and spent ten minutes working its way along the edge of the road, predictably appearing in the same gaps as it moved back and forth.  This was a chunky little russet species with pale underparts and a good white supercilium.

The Volcano Hummer whizzed in and out a couple of times to feed on the orange trumpet flowers where it jostled with the bumblebees but it never lingered – a real micro!

Pieris? and Bumblebee
Spiny Lizard

Back down we came before turning off at the signpost to Savegre and a host of other Lodges.  About a dozen bends down the valley we pulled over at Miriam’s Cafe for a cuppa and another one of those surreal balcony feeder experiences.

No sooner had we stepped out the bus than some hulking Large-footed Finches appeared and began scrabbling around in the verge and under cars while Dad pointed out a bird in a bush and helped add Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher too. Sooty Blackbirds and our first dark billed Mountain Thrush were also seen before we even went inside.

Large Footed Finch
Large Footed Finch
Large Footed Finch
Sooty Thrush

Sooty Thrush

Acorn Woodpeckers leapt about the tables and trunks with Rufous Collared Sparrows, Mountain Squirrels and gleaming Flame-coloured Tanagers while Sooty-capped Bush-Tanagers snuck shyly around the edges.

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

Rufous Collared Sparrow

Rufous Collared Sparrow

Mountain Squirrel
Flame-coloured Tanager

Flame-coloured Tanager

Flame-coloured Tanager - Steve Cullum

A gleaming Wilson’s Warbler with his little black Kippah zipped in and out but seldom stayed still.  This was a species I had always wanted to see after having that solitary image of the 1985 Rame bird lodged in my head since I was a kid.

Band-tailed Pigeons and Turkey Vultures flew overhead and a couple of Long-tailed Silkies did likewise.

Turkey Vulture
Three Hummers were present and all were new.  The largest was an emerald green Talamanca (part of the Magnificent complex) while the dazzling Fiery-throated flashed that light catching gorget and the tiny White-throated Mountain Gem popped in a couple of times. We only saw a cinnamon underparted female here though.  The shadows had fallen over the Hummer feeders so we knew that all three of these delights would look better in the sunshine!

female Talamanca Hummingbird - Steve Cullum

Fiery-throated Hummingbird

Fiery-throated Hummingbird

Fiery-throated Hummingbird
Strangely enough my favourite here was a rather uniform grey little bird – a Slaty Flowerpiercer but he was so full of character as he moved between blooms using that curious hook tipped bill to make a hole in the base of a flower so that he could steal the nectar.  He was completely unconcerned by our group and was often at eye level at just a few feet.

Slaty Flowerpiercer

Slaty Flowerpiercer

Slaty Flowerpiercer
A quick ten new birds under the belt, a nice coffee and off again down the valley.

We pulled over at a spot amongst the trees where the guys had seen Quetzal before and although we drew a blank here it was not a wasted stop (it never was). A party of birds was moving through the trees and amongst the Sooty-capped Bush-tanagers were our first Ruddy Treerunners (like smaller more energetic Woodcreepers) and Flame-throated Warblers while Long-tailed Silky Flycatchers hawked from the tops and a Black Guan crashed through at head level. A Black-faced Solitaire was singing and showed briefly and would become a song we would come to love over our last couple of days.

Not far to go now but would we get to Savergre without stopping? Nope. A group of birders at the roadside had something exciting – we could tell from the smiles.  A few seconds later we were joining them in watching our first female Resplendent Quetzal (pronounced Ketz-al) as she moved about the grove in flashes of green, red and white.  She went to a hole in a tree and the male appeared alongside her. 

Resplendent Quetzal- female

It really does not matter how many times you see a bird in a book or on film; there really is nothing to compare with that first moment when something as outrageous as a male Quetzal in all his finery lands in front of you. He was nervous and fidgety, constantly flashing white tail sides and twitching those astonishing three foot long tail plumes. He shone like a huge shiny Greenbottle around a bowl of Strawberries with Vanilla icecream.

Resplendent Quetzal

Resplendent Quetzal - Steve Cullum
The sheer wonderment of the experience was writ large across all our faces.  To have made our tame entomologist, Phil, utter forth a stream of superlatives about such a bird was a testament to the effect it had on us all.

The fact that I found both Dark Pewee and Spot-crowned Woodcreeper at the same place was rather lost on most of the party who were still bathing in iridescent greens.

It was literally only about a mile to the Savegre Lodge where we were greeted by some hefty Yellow-thighed Finches feeding in the watercress on the river as we crossed the entrance bridge and then by a silky smooth Mountain Elaenia in a bush by reception and we had not even got out of the bus yet.

Mountain Elaenia
Our rooms were not far and the planted gardens were full of blooms and birds. A quick glance up at a circling Red-tailed Hawk; then a speedy bag dump and straight back out. Rufous-collared Sparrows hopped around our feet and Mountain and Clay Coloured Thrushes checked the lawns for evening worms. 

The Jamaican Verbena was being fought over by Talamanca and White-throated Mountain Gems and a tiny female Volcano Hummer zipped in and out while a new one, a Lesser Violetear was singing ‘tick tock’ from a tree top.  The light was fading and clouds of White-collared Swifts descended for a good trilling scream, up and down the valley.

White-collared Swifts
I certainly was...

I think that the thinner air (we were still at about 8500 feet) and excitement was conducive to a good night’s sleep, after a log where I tried not to smile too much when we got to the mammals section for the day...

1 comment:

  1. I ushered Dad to join me and said... ‘Tapir!!!!!!!!!’

    He said ‘Where?’

    I said ‘It’s blocking the f**cking path!'.

    ‘oh... so it is’ says he.
    Classic :-)