In the parking lot, we spotted our first howler monkeys!
|Not leaving much to the imagination|
|Options included pineapple and CHILI beer -- only in Costa Rica!!|
|#342: Yellow-faced Grassquit; December 2015, Costa Rica|
|#343: Rufous-collared sparrow; December 2015, Costa Rica|
We arrived in Santa Elena, which was by far the most touristy town we had been to yet. It is renowned for its nearby cloud forest and the birds that can be found there (and I was corrected multiple times that is not the rainforest - it is a cloud forest, which is higher in elevation and cooler than the rainforest).
Still, it's a relatively small town, with a busy main drag through town with restaurants and shops. We arrived later in the day, and decided to skip the regular casado and splurge on dinner at a restaurant that was basically in a tree. You only live once, right? (I ended up eating casado anyway, just paying more for it, lol!)
We had read that you have to get to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve early in the day, since access is limited and you may not get in if you show up late. We had also discovered at this point how tricky it can be to find birds in CR, and if there was anywhere to hire a guide, this was it. Unfortunately though, we hadn't reserved in advance and the ones that came recommended were busy. So we just drove to the park and there was already a huge crowd waiting to pay to get into the park. As it turns out, there were also guides just milling about, waiting for people to hire them. This was a first to see. So we picked a guide, forked over a wad of cash, hoped he was good and off we went.
There are a few birds that people come to this location to see: most notably, the Resplendent Quetzal and the Three-Wattled Bellbird (which apparently sounds like a rusty gate closing--I couldn't confirm, because we didn't see or hear it, sadly).
The cloud forest was so wet and it was next to impossible to keep things dry. I was feeling really happy I had splurged on a new camera body right before leaving that is weather-sealed! Things started out very quiet--it seemed like nothing was moving and nothing was even singing, other than our guide who had the uncanny ability to reproduce multiple bird calls with incredible accuracy.
It seemed that for quite some time we didn't see anything at all and we started to wonder about the value of the whole thing. It can be hard to remember to be patient! We did hear some birds that our guide identified immediately, but it's just not the same as seeing it.
Finally our guide somehow spotted one the birds everyone comes for--it was really far up in the canopy, and only a small bit of it visible, and it took him about five minutes of him pointing until I finally spotted it, but we had a Resplendent Quetzal!
We managed to find a few other Quetzals, but the views were never really amazing. There is so much greenery in the way, and they are so tricky to find. This is pretty much the best shot I got. Other photographers have had much better luck (and likely time), so here's a link so you can see what this magnificent bird looks like: http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species/overview?p_p_spp=284856.
|#344: Resplendent Quetzal; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve; December 2015|
There were quite a few small groups with guides on the trails and the guides would yell back and forth to each other when they found something interesting. This network was really interesting to watch and meant all guides were able to help their clients as much as possible.
We also spotted these large black birds in the same area. The guide didn't seem to think they were much to get excited about but it's easy to forget what a life bird is for someone, even it's a rather plain-looking thing. This pic is so bad it makes me laugh...makes me think of bad Loch Ness photos. Yes I saw a black guan....see?!?
|#345: Black Guan; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve; December 2015|
Our guide did find us a few other birds that there is no way we could have possible found, and that he likely knew the locations of from being there day to day, and talking to other guides. He also showed us this owl--again, it took a lot of pointing and head tilting to finally spot this one.
|#346: Mottled Owl (through our guide's scope); Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve; December 2015|
|#347: Black-faced Solitaire; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve; December 2015|
The last stop of the tour was back to the gates of the park and at the Café Colibri. I'll do a separate post for that....it was magical, and ironically, a place where you don't even need to pay park admission or a guide to find you some wonderful birds!