Sunday, 15 March 2020

Costa Rica: 27th-28th February 2020



27th February:
Our BA flight left Gatwick on time at 1115 on a typically dank wet and almost snowy February morning for ten long hours west to San Jose.  Being positioned in the middle of the plane negated my usual attempt to see the first bird while taxiing in but by the time we were all through customs I had found a spiral of Black Vultures and the ever present world conquering House Sparrow.  The list was up and running but with the light fading the chances of more before dark were slim. Steve Bird was there to collect the squad and shepherd us to our hotel for the night but not before a sneaky Blue and White Swallow became the first new bird of the trip. 
San José in the rush hour was entertaining with traffic, bikes and people everywhere and seemingly no particular junction rules to be followed but we arrived safely at the Buena Vista Hotel up in the foothills to the north where Gina met us with cold refreshing water melon drinks with an optional splash of vodka. Dinner and bed followed at nine which our bodies said was about three in the morning but at last the long anticipated adventure had begun.

Glittering San Jose

28th February:
Dad and I were both awake by three, still hours away from first light but by just after five we ventured out into the gardens and the huge panoramic view over the city laid out below us in the hill surrounded bowl. Slowly the rest of the party joined us and we watched the sun come up with our first Costa Rican dawn chorus. Steve and Gina were on hand to help us but I gave it a good go. Needless to say almost every bird seen was new. 



A Mottled Owl ‘woofed’ down the valley and Clay Coloured Thrushes and what would turn out to be Blue Grey Tanagers were singing pre dawn along with a Lesson’s Motmot that ‘mot motted’ its way up the slope to perch against the city back drop showing off those racquet tail streamers. Blue and White Swallows and Vaux’s Swifts (a Chimney type) moved over head along with Black Vultures and a party of raucous Brown Jays bounced around a distant tree. 

Clay Coloured Thrush

Blue Grey Tanager

Lesson’s Motmot
Enormous Rufous Backed Wrens clambered around the canopy – they were the size of Starlings and our sized House Wrens did likewise in the flower beds while one particular bare topped tree was a magnet for stuff holding our first four flycatchers with the soon to be ubiquitous Tropical Kingbird (TK) and stripe headed and noisy Great Kiskadee along with the very similar but front heavy Boat Billed and more lightly built Social Flycatcher.

Rufous Backed Wren

Tropical Kingbird (TK)

Great Kiskadee

Boat Billed Flycatcher

A flock of dinky parakeets whizzed around – Orange Chinned on closer views and a larger short tailed species became White Crowned Parrot. The same flowering trees held Tennessee and Yellow Warblers, a brief Yellow Green Vireo and glow in the dark Baltimore Orioles and Flame Coloured Tanagers.  I was already in a complete daze and had not even got to breakfast yet. 

A pair of Hoffmann’s Woodpeckers with their ladder backs and splashes of yellow and red shared a tree with a Variegated Squirrel and a vivid Yellow-throated Euphonia and White-winged Dove, Great Tailed Grackle and the Purple Martin-ish Grey Breasted Martin were seen overhead.


Hoffmann’s Woodpecker

Variegated Squirrel

And then it happened – a tiny bird appeared in front of me on the flowers and whizzed back and forth flashing green body and ginger tail and thus became a Rufous tailed Hummingbird and elicited a very inappropriate squeak of delight from me. Steve and Gina pointed out that this was all normal garden stuff and was a taster of things to come.  My face already hurt from smiling.

Breakfast and then some Rufous Collared Sparrows in the borders and a better look at the Tennessee Warblers and then we were introduced to our bus driver (and excellent bird finder) Ramon, loaded our bags and got sent off by a closer group of Brown Jays.

Rufous Collared Sparrow

Rufous Collared Sparrow - Steve Cullum


We headed west for about 90 minutes with my face glued to the windows. Pale Vented Pigeon and Grey Hawk were both new and there were Black and Turkey Vultures all around along with elongated Crested Caracaras that I last saw twenty years ago at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.  Great White and Cattle Egrets were on a marshy pool in an otherwise very desiccated landscape. It was not what I was expecting at all but I was told that the area we were visiting was always very arid and hot in the dry season.

Our first stop on the Guacimal Road appeared very random but was seemingly otherwise.  It was seriously hot outside but a series of walks and pickups provided a wealth of species.
With a little nudge Ferruginous Pygmy Owls began to call but remained stubbornly out of view but while waiting a good selection was seen with larger Orange Fronted joining some Orange Chinned Parakeets and Streaked and the scarce Nutting’s joining Yellow Olive Flatbill on the flycatcher list. Chunky Stripe-headed Sparrows were alongside the dusty track while Olive Sparrows were in the understory near the river where our first Black-headed Trogon bogged us out with big soulful eyes for ten minutes. A male Scrub Euphonia sung from the track side, sounding for all the world like a Goldfinch.



Black Vulture

Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture - Steve Cullum


Nutting’s Flycatcher

Nutting’s Flycatcher

Streaked Flycatcher
Stripe-headed Sparrow


Capoc

Scrub Euphonia
Black Headed Trogon
A single almost bare tree, save for a few pink trumpet flowers held four Hummingbirds with Cinnamon, Canivet’s Emerald, Ruby-throated and Plain Capped Starthroat.  The RTH was tiny! 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Plain Capped Starthroat
A Costa Rican planted hedge - Dad reckons that they plant the branches and they root like Willow.  Not sure what the species is though.  They then run wire between the living posts.

Baltimore and yellow and black Streak-backed Orioles were seen and some quality pishing brought in a positive deluge of small birds to a tree in front of us with Blue Black Grassquits, Yellow Green and Yellow-throated Vireos, Chestnut-sided, Yellow and Tennessee Warblers, the warbler-like Lesser Greenlet, black and gold Common Tody Flycatchers and the much sought after White-lored Gnatcatcher.



Streak-backed Oriole - Steve Cullum




A Black-crowned Tityra was seen demolishing a large orthopteran in a shrike like manner and Ruddy Ground Doves exploded from cover in a whir of cinnamon wings.
Huge stripy Ctenosaurs dashed away from our approach and a small Brown Basilisk lounged on a rock in the stream where various unknown dragons, damsels and butterflies flew.
And breathe...

Brown Basilisk
Groove-billed Anies (pronounced Arnie by the way) and more Grackles were seen on the way back out but of the Turquoise Browed Motmot I had briefly seen by the main road junction as we came in there was no sign but there would be other chances.

Lunch was taken at Cerro Lodge and even the drive in produced a great bird with a pair of Double Striped Thick-knees panting in the shade of a roadside tree. An imposing wader with longer legs than our European versions.

Double Striped Thick-knees

We ate under cover overlooking the forest and gardens with entertaining White-faced Capuchins for company as they came down to snaffle a piece of banana or papaya from the bird tables which were visited by Clay Coloured Thrushes and Hoffmann’s Woodpeckers.


Cashew Apple and 'nut' - no wonder they are expensive!


Hoffmann’s Woodpecker

Hoffmann’s Woodpecker

White-faced Capuchin








Cinnamon Hummingbirds darted amongst the blooms with many equally mobile Swallowtail and Sulphur butterflies but nothing stopped long enough to snap.  
 
Cinnamon Hummingbird

Cinnamon Hummingbird - Steve Cullum

White-winged Doves and our only tiny Inca Doves were perched up in a very spiny tree and a party of Groove Billed Anies crashed around in the flower beds while a singing Rufous Backed Wren joined us for lunch as he searched for spiders in the roof.  A post lunch poke around produced some chunky and less skittish Ctenosaurs and a minuscule and hyper-active Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

White-winged Dove

Inca Doves

Groove Billed Ani

Rufous Backed Wren
 
Ctenosaur

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

The two Vultures were always on show and a Yellow-headed Caracara perched up briefly before dropping out of view but despite its brevity it was the slow flying Scarlet Macaw that made me smile.  I was assured that there would be more to come and indeed we found a pair perched up just before we rejoined the main road.

Yellow-headed Caracara

Black Vulture

Scarlet Macaw

Not far down the road we pulled over and did the tourist thing of crossing the Tarcoles River bridge.  This is primarily done to see the truly immense Central American Crocodiles loafing below. We were not to be disappointed.  A local man dangled half a chicken over the bridge on a wire encouraging the biggest male to rear up out of the water and snaffle the offered morsel.  The idea of leaning over the low parapet to take a picture of this was over ridden by the narrowness of the pathway and people at your back so I found a gap further way and took some better more relaxed shots! 

Central American Crocodile





There were plenty of birds to see too with Great Blue, Little Blue and Tri-coloured Herons, Great White and Snowy Egrets, White Ibis and a distant flock of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. Some Black-necked Stilts were on a sandbank and a male Amazon Kingfisher (we got this one wrong at the time) fished from a log alongside a Great Kiskadee with several House Martin-like Mangrove Swallows perched up around it. 

Amazon Kingfisher and a Great Kiskadee
A single Yellow-headed Caracara was picking titbits from the river surface and at least allowed everyone a chance to see it this time. A couple of Boat Billed Flycatchers and TKs hawked around the edges but it was the majestic sight of pairs of Scarlet Macaws sedately flying across the river that captivated me. Seeing these so familiar birds in the wild was magical.

Yellow-headed Caracara

Great tailed Grackle

Scarlet Macaw

Scarlet Macaw

From here it was only a couple of miles to our lodge at Villa Lapas and we were welcomed with a cold wet flannel each (yay!) and three flyover King Vultures!  A quick dump of the bags in the room and time for a look around before our late afternoon jaunt out.  



King Vulture
A pair of Palm Tanagers were busy making a nest under the eaves of the accommodation blocks and Cherrie’s Scarlet Rumped Tanagers flashed through the gardens. 

Palm Tanager
A pair of both Yellow Crowned Euphonias and Red-legged Honeycreepers were having canopy baths in a large bromeliad and Grey Capped Flycatchers replaced Social here alongside the every present Kiskadees and TKs

Yellow Crowned Euphonia

Red-legged Honeycreeper

Great Kiskadee

Great Kiskadee

Great Kiskadee showing the hidden yellow crest - Steve Cullum
Down towards the river Ruddy Ground Doves came up and a party of Morelet’s Seedeaters fed in the tall grasses with a pair of boisterous Rufous Backed Wrens crashing about behind.
Two Northern Waterthrushes bobbed around the lawns in and out of the numerous Ctenosaurs and Dad and Chris found at least four Painted Buntings with some Morelet’s Seedeaters just outside the chalet door. Such amazing colours and one of my most wanted birds although I did not expect to see one here.

Northern Waterthrush

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

Ctenosaur

female type Morelet’s Seedeater
I ambled towards the restaurant to be told about a Bare-throated Tiger Heron on the river so I sent the others off to see the Painted Buntings and we swapped birds. The heron was sheltering from the sun under a large leaf but someone threw some bread from the dining area into the river and the fish swarmed in and so did the heron who followed the floating pieces until he too could pick off an easy snack.

Bare-throated Tiger Heron

Bare-throated Tiger Heron

Bare-throated Tiger Heron
We reconvened at the bus with smiles of more new birds only to look up and see a couple of Magnificent Frigatebirds soaring overhead with the Vultures.  Flashbacks of August 1989 seawatching sprang vividly to mind.

Magnificent Frigatebird

It was only a short ride back down the road to Playa Azul passing a tidal creek on the way amongst the trees that held a mass of herons and egrets along with a party of pink Roseate Spoonbills and some White Ibis.

Roseate Spoonbill

Black and White Owl was our target here but our first tree search did not reveal any but there was ample recompense in the technicolour shape of a Turquoise Browed Motmot that caught grubs from a conveniently low perch.  

Turquoise Browed Motmot

Turquoise Browed Motmot

Turquoise Browed Motmot- Steve Cullum

Grey and Mangrove Black Hawks were seen and Baltimore Orioles glowed in the canopy. A gang of Melodious Blackbirds rummaged in a back garden and two Variegated Squirrels occupied the same trees and had a bit of a punch up. 

Baltimore Oriole - Steve Cullum

Melodious Blackbirds

Melodious Blackbird

Variegated Squirrels

Variegated Squirrels

Ramon had news of another possible owl spot and just a few minutes later a solitary Mango tree offered us superb views of this most magnificently bi-coloured species with an added splash of a bright orange bill.  This pair were completely unconcerned by our presence and even here we were distracted by our first Streak Headed Woodcreeper as it clambered up and down the bare trunks.

Black and White Owl

Black and White Owl

A path down to the beach took us past a local football pitch with energetic players and a party of Ruddy Ground Doves before a tidal lagoon opened up with a monstrous Ringed Kingfisher perched on a close stump and a smaller version Belted Kingfisher a little further out. Willets and Spotted Sandpipers were along the margins and a lone Reddish Egret was seemingly a notable find. Snowy and Tri-coloured Herons were also seen while offshore Caspian Terns and couple of distant Laughing Gulls were seen.  Brown Pelicans and Frigatebirds cruised low over our heads and a lone Cormorant was a Neotropic – there is thankfully only one to chose from!


Ringed Kingfisher

Brown Pelicans

Magnificent Frigatebird

Magnificent Frigatebird

Magnificent Frigatebird

We had one more stop to make and were waved down by a local guy before we got there. He had an Owl nest and we were lucky enough to all get onto a diminutive Ferruginous Pygmy as it perched firstly on top of its dead palm trunk and even turned around to show the false eyes on the back of the head before popping in and out of its nest hole.  It was obviously not happy by our enforced close proximity and we soon left.

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
The Screech Owls (can’t remember which one) did not reveal themselves in the next lot of beach palms but a Lineated Woodpecker watched us from its nest hole before performing superbly on the trunk in the low evening light and as the sun set over the Pacific flocks of Lesser Nighthawks appeared over the treeline acrobatically hunting for insects and parties of raucous Scarlet Macaws slowly headed off to roost.

Lineated Woodpecker

Lineated Woodpecker- Steve Cullum





It was dark upon our return to Villa Lapas but there was still time for an after dinner frog walk.  The ornamental pond in the gardens was full of croaks, blips and belches and we found a species of Red-eyed Tree Frog with no blue flank bars, tiny Yellow and Hourglass Tree Frogs, Central American Bullfrog with its deep base note rumble, ginormous Cane Toads, a mini replica Toad, a type of Raft Spider, tiny Anole lizards with prehensile tails, green irritated Cicadas that kept flying into us with ferocious buzzing and barking House Geckos.

Red-eyed Tree Frog sp

Red-eyed Tree Frog sp

Red-eyed Tree Frog sp - camo mode

Red-eyed Tree Frog - possibly another small species

Red-eyed Tree Frog - possibly another small species

Red-eyed Tree Frog - possibly another small species

Yellow Tree Frog

Hourglass Tree Frog

Hourglass Tree Frog

Hourglass Tree Frog

Hourglass Tree Frog

Central American Bullfrog

Cane Toad

Small Toad sp

Cicada and Anole

Anole

House Gecko

Cricket

Millipede

Raft type spider

Cicadas at Villa Lapas

Quite a way to end our first full day. Perhaps sleep would come easy after such a sensory overload?

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