Thursday, January 28, 2016

Pura Vida I: Feliz Navidad! Rincon de la Vieja #323-327

Happy new year! I'm back for what seems to be my once-a-year series of posts. Not that there hasn't been any shortage of things to talk about (the first thing that comes to mind is the many birders from far and wide who descended on nearby Pakenham to spot a rare "Bullock's Oriole," which was followed by a dramatic rescue, but then it turned out...not to be a bullock's oriole? Or earlier this year when a Little Egret made an appearance and birders zig-zagged across the city on a daily basis, reporting sightings (and non-sightings) by the day, hour and sometimes even minute. Hmm...seems I forgot to count that one.). But I've got to admit, there's nothing like a lifer to get you excited, and nothing like travelling to a new place to guarantee a nice string of new and amazing birds to spot and observe, especially when they are BIG (and teeny tiny), colorful ones in Costa Rica!

We made a really last-minute decision to take off for the holidays. I had it in my head I needed to get away and Costa Rica was where I wanted to go most. We got really lucky and found a really awesome deal on a flight (booking last-minute accommodations during the holidays was not so much of a great deal, but I don't need to write about that here!).

So, we had basically 2.5 weeks to prepare, find places to stay, order The Birds of Costa Rica and get it in the mail just in time. As it turns out, it was also a frantic 2.5 weeks of research and searching for a new/used camera body to add to the current inventory (more on that later).

So let's just jump right into it. We landed in Liberia on Christmas Eve and headed inland. Yes, it was really hard to turn away from the beach, but I thought it would be better to end on the beach than to start there. Plus, the way I travel, I'd need some rest after a few days of "vacation." Our first challenge was just driving through the myriad of streets of Liberia and attempting to comprehend the logic and rules where street signs, traffic lights and stop signs seemed to be completely non-existent. We got honked at constantly and had no clue what we had done wrong. The rest of the day was spent caked in mud at the Rio Negro hot springs, skyping/messaging home to family, and sitting down to a long table with all the other guests at our bed and breakfast for a Christmas Eve dinner. So it wasn't home, but it was something special nevertheless.

Birding in earnest wouldn't start until Christmas day. I guess you could say we did our own version of a Christmas Bird Count! We set our alarm for 5:30, but the sun wasn't really up enough yet. Finally at about 6 we headed out and just birded around our cabina (which was a revamped storage was very cool!) set on a large rural property.

A few birds were familiar to us (or at least looked that way). I definitely wish I'd had time to use the new camera before we left, but it was literally, fresh out of the box and I couldn't figure out a few things right away---important ones, like selective focus points.  Aye! It's also SO frustrating when you set such a high standard for yourself, and you only see a bird ONCE for a few split seconds, and the lighting is hard, or the settings are wrong, and the picture is just crap. But it's the only shots you've got. This is why vacations need to be longer--so you have more chance to spot and photograph those elusive ones :)
Groove-billed ani, looking a little molty

 #323: Rufous-naped wren; Rincon de laVieja, Costa Rica; December 2015
One of the first birds I noticed  moving around the property in the morning. We had a heated discussion about the type of wren it was over communal breakfast - gallo pinto smothered in salsa lizano. The other guests likely thought we were bananas. They ended up being quite a common sight over the week.

Inca Dove hanging out in front of our container
Great Kiskadee - a familiar one!
Didn't quite figure this one out but it sure is a beauty. Feel free to contact me if you have ideas :)
#324: White-necked Jacobin; Rincon de la vieja, Costa Rica; December 2016
It was so frustrating shooting these teeny tiny, incredibly fast little birds zipping around WAY up in a massive tree in pretty harsh light. Matt managed to get this shot, which isn't our best, but it's perfect for identification!
#325: Orange-chinned parakeet; Rincon de la vieja, Costa Rica; December 2016.
Another shot Matt managed to get while I was off wandering, doing I don't know what (I'd given up on shooting). This pic was so dark but I boosted the exposure, which revealed something very interesting--a clincher for ID--the orange under the chin! Booyah!

You have to be really careful and  not just assume they are the same as similar birds you've seen before, and I did this so many times while Matt kept shooting, only to get home and look at the pictures and realize it was something completely new--I won't fall for that again!

CASE IN POINT: As I was finalizing this post and adding tags, I was wondering why "white-throated magpie jay" wasn't popping up in my previously used tags. BECAUSE I'VE NEVER USED IT. We saw a BLACK-throated magpie jay previously in Mexico, not a white-throated. And I just realized that...right now. Literally, after I'd already written this entire post, even edited the pictures. Assuming---bad, bad, bad!
My book is seeming to indicate to me this is a Western Kingbird, but I'm going to be conservative (ha, for once!) and wait to make a call.
#326: Hoffmann's woodpecker; Rincon de la vieja, Costa Rica; December 2016. Another once I was convinced we'd likely seen. Thank goodness we stopped for a few shots. What a gorgeous bird!
After wandering the property, we headed back up to Rincon de la Vieja, mainly to hike the trail to see the mudpots and other volcanic activity. There was bird activity in the forest but we didn't linger--with our typical jam-packed itinerary (I'm trying to slow down, really!), we had other places to be later in the day.

Saw this little guy (I *think* it's a ruby-throated). Seems like odd behaviour--looking for insects? Sourcing mud? I'm not sure and can't find info on ruby-throats using mud.
#327: White-throated magpie jay; Rincon de la vieja, Costa Rica, December 2016.
They are so majestic--like GIANT blue jays (about 50 cm). Compare to the Black-throated magpie jays we saw in Mexico.
When I showed this picture to the ranger after our hike, he had to look twice. This is NOT a poisonous coral snake but it's safe cousin, a milk or king snake. The rhyme to remember it is "Red touch black, safe for Jack. Red touches yellow, kills a fellow."
A coati hanging out near the ranger station--they remind me a lot of raccoons.
As we were on the move that day, we didn't stay to do any of the waterfall trails. Instead, we started weaving our way through the countryside to Tenorio Volcano National Park. We wanted to do lots each day, but it's difficult when the sun sets at 5:30. I was thinking this was because it was winter, but no, it rises at 5:30 in the morning and sets at 5:30 at night every day. As a result, we never slept in (ok, maybe once), but if you want to see anything in daylight, you need to get up! So coming home to Canada was great, because I got to sleep an extra hour and half in the morning!

Let's keep in mind, it's Christmas Day.  And it couldn't feel less like it. No snow, no presents under tree, no family and no Rudolph on TV. But they celebrate a little differently. This isn't a bird-related picture (and I'm going to really try to stick to the birding activities for this series of posts or I would be writing this blog for the next year--plus, the bird stuff is what you're here for, right?!), but it was pretty cool that we stopped at this waterfall on Christmas Day and it was fill of Costa Rican families swimming and having picnics.  Later that night we'd drive through a little town and many of the casitas had Christmas lights and decorations up (sometimes decorated full-size fake Christmas trees on the front porch). It was so strange to see.
Looks like I'm going to have to cut this one short--I've already run out of my 200-character tag limit, and I know it's hard to read super-long blog posts. Be back soon!