Thursday, April 28, 2016

Pura Vida VIII: Palo Verde #363-370

We stayed in a hotel that was a reasonable drive away from the next day's destination, since it would be a very early start. As we sat on the patio having a few drinks, we looked out into the total darkness of the grounds, until we heard this rumble that turned into a deep, loud, thunderous noise. I thought for sure there was a troop of wild pigs just around the corner. This was my first experience of the howler monkeys!

The grounds were home to a few other critters too:
Gecko in the light fixture! There was a row of these lamps, and each had one or more in it.
Rufous-naped wren

We reserved a Palo Verde Boat tour well in advance. Palo Verde is birding mecca and I had high hopes to spot a Jabiru, one of the biggest birds in the world, and I had visions of roseate spoonbills dancing in my head when I went to bed.

We had a nice morning, walking around the grounds looking for birds and animals, and got a pretty good head start to drive to the place we were supposed to catch our boat, which Google told me was 45 minutes away (or so I had written in my notes). This is where things started to go horribly wrong!

I put our destination in our GPS and it told me it would be twice as long to get there (going by the main road). Unfortunately, this day was highly scheduled and we couldn't be late of the boat would leave without us. There seemed to be a more direct route of smaller roads and we had to make a decision to see if we could cut time by racing down the back roads. We gambled on the back roads and were making up time fast, until the road became more and more rough, and then we made a few wrong turns that set us way back, and then we were really in The Middle Of Nowhere, Costa Rica. I asked some guy driving a tractor and he just shook his head at us. We clearly weren't going to make it to where the boat tour company is headquartered, so we decided to just go straight to the park and hope to catch up with them there.

We get to the park, well before the tour is to start, so I think we are ok. There's nothing there but a little hut and a guard and I explain the situation and he lets me call the tour company to let them know we'll just meet them there--no problem. He tells me it's the only entrance to the park--so I figure they have to come through here. And we wait, taking the opportunity to look at the birds there at the park entrance, even though it was HOT and DRY.
#363: Scissor-tailed Flycatcher; Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica; December 2015
Scissor-tailed flycatchers and doves on a wire.

I recalled when a scissor-tailed was reported in Pelee and we went nuts looking for it, and here they are  just perched on a wire like it's nothing. I discovered I don't really enjoy chasing birds! This feels so much more natural. 

#364: Swainson's Hawk; Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica; December 2015

Swainson's hawk (dark morph)
Except about an hour goes by and they definitely should have been there by now, and after way too long on the phone we figure out the boat doesn't come here. PALO VERDE BOAT TOURS doesn't go to PALO VERDE NATIONAL PARK. It goes to El Refugio de Vida Silvestre Dr. Rafael Rodríguez Lucas Caballero (which is adjacent, but still misleading). I really start to doubt my Spanish and go over and over the conversation on the phone but I'm certain I was clear about where we were. 

They apologized profusely but we finally got to where we needed to be and they put us on a later tour.  We weren't going into Palo Verde, so I was pretty disappointed. And in addition to that, we missed out on Barra Honda caves because you have to get to them by 11, and that's why we had picked the first boat tour of the day (in addition to being the best time of the day to see things). 

Nevertheless, we did see some great stuff. The boat driver was better than the actual guide and had crazy eagle eyes. When he spotted something good he's use a little mirror to reflect at the spot where it was.
Green iguana
Also a green iguana, which turn orange when excited!
These guys were hanging out on a tree over the river.....bats!
Doesn't this guy look like a dinosaur? Basilisk
Tree swallows

This guy was doing an amazing job of hiding out, but the boat driver was amazing at spotting things. Unfortunately we didn't get a better look than this.
#365: Boat-billed Heron; Tempisque River, Costa Rica; December 2015
Not far away this guy was hanging out, and looked like other birds I've seen, but that black bill and orange eye mean it's something special--a yellow-crowned night-heron!
#366: Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (juvenile); Tempisque River, Costa Rica; December 2015
 There were many others things hiding out in the trees:

Little Blue Heron

Snowy Egret

#367: Bare-throated Tiger-heron; Tempisque River, Costa Rica; December 2015

Lots of things lurking in the murky water!

During our ride, it was interesting listening to the conversations of the other people on the tour. It was pretty clear they had all been picked up on a bus from resorts and their experience so far had been SOOO different from ours. Since we came in our rental SUV, we drove out of the park in front of their bus, which didn't stop for more than a second when we pulled over to check out some monkeys. After a few minutes I noticed something different about one...and realized it had a baby clinging to it. And that is why I don't like being on anybody else's schedule!
We made the absolutely crazy decision to drive all the way back over to Palo Verde to see what we could find, though we had very limited light left and it was so much driving back and forth. For what was supposed to be a relatively light day of driving (about an hour and half), we ended up driving about six hours :(

The guard at Palo Verde laughed at us and wouldn't even let us into the park since the cutoff time was 4pm. But I begged him in Spanish and he finally let us in as long we promised to be back not a second past 5:30 when he locked the gate. Unfortunately you can't hire a boat there (it has to be pre-arranged, and we didn't have time anyway) so we couldn't get out to where we needed to be to look for Jabirus and Spoonbills. But there was a little boardwalk and we found these amazing little birds that look like they have buttercups on their heads (the males)
#368: Northern Jacana; Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica; December 2015
We spotted this bird flying overhead and I couldn't even find it in the book. It took a lot of research to figure out that it's a female anhinga. I always thought I would see my first in Florida, but here it is!
#369: Anhinga; Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica; December 2015

#370: Limpkin; Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica; December 2015
Melodious Blackbird
Finally at the end of the day, the sun started to set and we made our way to the ocean, finally. Jabiru, I will come back for you one day.

We drove through cane fields that they were cutting (they were really 12 feet high), filling the canes into massive trucks, and burning off whatever was left on the ground (the guard at the gate told me it was to put nutrients back in the soil). They had massive fires everywhere and the air was dry and full of smoke. And this is how they make sugar! I then realized how dirty this process is, with the fields getting burned off and the product burned at the mill too. 

Eventually we got to the main highway, and drove in the dark (again) to Samara. The day was crazy and not what we expected at all, but there wasn't much we could do about it. Whatever, just go with it. There are worse things that could happen. We saw seven new birds! PURA VIDA!

The last part of the trip wasn't really going to involve much birding, but we still managed to see quite a few more, so I think there's one more post in this series!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pura Vida VII: Monteverde Finale #357-362

Once we were full of coffee and pastries and had a good fill of hummingbirds, we went back into the park (in case you missed it, we are still at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve). We wanted to look on our own without a guide and managed to find a few other birds. They wouldn't let us on some of the trails since they were already at capacity (and it seemed a little unfair that they gave priority to people who had paid for guides). We also scoped out some other trails with very different terrain and had a bit of luck (even managed to find a few quetzals on our own). We walked the park until we were both physically exhausted, but it was hard to leave knowing we wouldn't be back, and there were so many more birds to find. It was a very long day.
I'll just come right out and say it--the photos from inside the canopy definitely don't compare to the pics from the previous post, which kills me a little inside, being the perfectionist that I am--imagine dark, wet and rapidly flitting but mostly undetectable birds! It was a major photographic challenge. If only I had more time! 

If any bird is eligible for the coolest name award, the common chlorospingus might be among them.  Remarkably, it was not long ago known as a common bush-tanager, until it was changed on a recommendation of the South American Classification Committee (do you think this information might come up on trivia night? I'm hopeful, but doubtful).
#357: Common Chlorospingus (Bush Tanager); Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica; December 2015
This black beauty was one of the most easily heard and recognized in the forest, but rather difficult to locate.
#358: Black-faced Solitaire; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica; December 2015
#359: Slate-throated Redstart; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica; December 2015
#360: Three-striped Warbler; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica; December 2015
#361: Gray-breasted Wood-wren; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica; December 2015
I'm still working on identification for a few birds. We may never know....
Woodcreeper of some kind

Spotted barbtail maybe?
We had seen a motmot in the forest earlier that day. They are seriously magnificent birds, and a good size, and Matt spotted one right beside the trail, where I would have walked right by and not even noticed. I snapped a few pics but wasn't too worried, knowing we'd seen them in Yelapa. Well, turns out we saw russet-crowned motmots, not blue-crowned! We also saw this gorgeous one just sitting by the window at the place in town where we went for dinner.
#362: Blue-crowned motmot; Beside the Paz y Flora Restaurante Vegetariana in Santa Elena, Costa Rica; December 2015
At this time we shifted gears in the trip. After dinner, we started to make our way to the coast! Out of the volcanoes and mountains on our way to the Nicoya Peninsula. We did that thing everyone tells you not to do--drove in the dark--but needed to be in position for a big day of birding the following day.

Our day in Monteverde was memorable to say the least. We counted 20 new birds in one day alone!
Just looking like a true birder!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Pura Vida VI: Hummingbird central in Monteverde #348-356

At the end of our morning tour in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, our guide dropped of us at Cafeteria el Colibri at the gate to the park. He rhymed off the names of a bunch of hummingbirds while pointing in wild zigzags and then left us to our own devices. We stayed there for at least an hour, and in all honesty, this was the highlight of the day for us. Go figure, it's the part where anyone can go with there's no admission fee, and the place we saw the most birds! It was one of the most magical things I have experienced!

The coffee shop was buzzing - not just because it's the only place to get food at the park, but it was literally buzzing with hummingbirds! Multiple feeding stations were set up and there were several birds at each, some of them even competing for spots!

(Click the gear to watch in 1080 HD--look especially for violet saberwing and bananaquit in this video)

The violet saberwing was certainly the most striking hummingbird--a very brilliant blue that just doesn't photograph quite like you see it in person, and it was quite bit bigger than the others (14-15 cm).
#348: Violet Saberwing; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (Cafeteria El Colibri); December 2015

Because they zipped around so quickly, it was hard to photograph these little beauties, and also to catch the brief moments when the sun hit their feathers at just the right angle and made them shimmer. The purple-throated mountain gem was breathtakingly striking.
#349: Purple-throated Mountain Gem; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (Cafeteria El Colibri); December 2015

Purple-throated mountain gem (female). Love the splotchy green pattern!

I furiously snapped as many pictures as I could, hoping that I didn't miss any of the varieties. It was a little chaotic, and hard to focus on one at a time!
#350: Green Violetear; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (Cafeteria El Colibri); December 2015

#351: Coppery-headed Emerald; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (Cafeteria El Colibri); December 2015
#352: Green Hermit; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (Cafeteria El Colibri); December 2015
This little cheeky monkey was coming to the hummingbird feeder too. One of these things is not like the others...
#353: Bananaquit; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (Cafeteria El Colibri); December 2015

#354: Stripe-tailed Hummingbird (female); Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (Cafeteria El Colibri); December 2015
Note brown square at top of wing.
#355: Green-crowned Brilliant; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (Cafeteria El Colibri); December 2015

Unfortunately I didn't get a sitting shot of this next one, but it just seemed to never sit!
#356: Magenta-throated Woodstar; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (Cafeteria El Colibri); December 2015

(Click the gear to watch in 1080 HD and look for great shot of the blue throat on a green-crowned brilliant at the start of the video!)

It was hard to believe and easy to forget that it was just two days past Christmas, until I was served this sweet little reminder of what things were like back home. This was just a short little sugar rush before heading back into the park! Yes, there's more!